Sep 22, 2010

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way.

Today's question:

Greetings, everyone, and welcome to Free Range. What's on your mind? Olive oil? Sous-vide at home? Booze, booze, and more booze? We can help with all that, and more. We have Spirits columnist Jason Wilson in the house, and the brave under-pressure-cooking David Hagedorn, along with us regulars to help answer any and all questions you might have.

To entice, we'll have for our favorite chatters these prizes: a (signed!) copy of Jason's new book, "Boozehound," and "Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills."

Ask away!

Jason: I loved your book excerpt! Maybe I'll buy it, although wouldn't it be lovely to win a copy? Wouldn't it make my day? Yes, it would. I'm just embarking on an exploration of the world of spirits. I'm the guy who sent the question last week about pear brandy, and who asked in earlier chats about how to start a home bar for beginners. You've supplied great links to stories you've written about these subjects, and I've read and have benefited from them. My question today has to do with the proper glasses for drinking various spirits. Is this really a big deal? Can't I just pour my spirit of choice into a small glass and enjoy it? When I sample the pear brandy, I was forced to buy a glass in which the sample was poured. Instead of a traditional brandy snifter, the pourer used a glass that looks like a champagne flute, but with a bubble shape on the bottom. This, he said, condenses the aroma of the drink so that its aroma can be better appreciated before drinking. This got me thinking: Are spirits like wine? Is the taste something that comes later in the drinking experience, as with wine, where the experience starts with the bottle and cork, then an examination of the wine's color, its "nose," and only later the actual way it tastes? I don't know if most spirits stand up to that kind of examination, but again, I'm a novice.

Yes! I would love you for you -- for everyone -- to win my book. But, alas, this decision is in my editor's hands and only one super lucky person will win.

As for glassware...yes! Glassware is important when it comes to spirits and cocktails. In the past, I've ranted about the horrible proliferation of super-sized "martini" glasses. But when it comes to spirits served neat, like your pear brandy, it's also important. Brandy snifters -- I hate to say it -- suck. Even Mr. Riedel, he of the famed glassware, tells me that he hates the brandy snifter. The brandy snifter gives your nose way too much diffused alcohol to deal with. The advice you received is actually sound. With many spirits, such as eau de vie or tequila, you want something like a glass similar to a champagne flute. In fact, if you don't want to buy the fancy schmancy eau de vie glass, a champagne flute works very well. 

In this week's Health section, they mentioned substituting smoked salt for bacon as a way to get the smoky flavor without calories and preservatives. I am so intrigued - I've never seen or heard of smoked salt before. Are there local sources for buying smoked salt? Any types better than others? In what types of recipes would you suggest using it?

You can easily find a variety of smoked salts at gourmet stores -- Cowgirl Creamery, Dean and DeLuca. I use the Danish Viking smoked salt which has a ton of smokiness to it. Seriously, a little dab will do you. I bought it in Boston from Formaggio Kitchen after a local chef there turned me on to it. It's pricey but I've had it for years. (My favorite thing is to grill brussels sprouts and sprinkle with smoked salt.)

I'm interested in making one of the dessert recipes you had during the summer (raspberry frangipane I think; the recipe is at home) and it calls for almond paste. Where can I get almond paste? Would it be at your everyday Giant/Safeway or should I go to TJ's, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter or another location? Thanks for helping me out, especially since I'll miss the regular chat due to a meeting.

I adore almond paste. You would certainly find it at HT and WF. has anyone seen it at Giant/Safeway? You also could find it in Italian groceries such as Vace or the Italian Store.

Most of the Boeuf Bourguignon recipes I see call for sauteing bacon or lardons. Is this for fat or taste? I don't eat pork and was wondering what I can use to substitute for the added flavor dimension.

Lots of flavor. You could experiment with a dash of liquid smoke or some smoked Spanish paprika.

I've just opened a jar of molasses and I wasn't sure if it needed to be refrigerated or it could be stored in the cupboard. I would love some ideas of how to use it, too. Somehow, gingerbread cookies are the only thing that come to mind.

Molasses is fine in the cupboard. The high level of sugar preserves it.  It's great to add to a barbecue sauce or spice cakes (not gingerbread). Here's our list of recipes that include molasses so browse through and find some inspiration.

You've suggested Mahogany Short Ribs in the past as a favorite recipe. As fall approaches I'm eager to give it a try. Instead of the two-hour stovetop cooking, will that portion work in the slow cooker during the work day? If so are there any adjustments I should make?

Yeah, I think the slow cooker would work well with these. The main adjustment would be at the end: You'd probably end up with more liquid and might need to spend more time reducing it on the stovetop so it gets nice and syrupy.

Hi Food Section! Tom Sietsema isn't chatting today, so I thought I'd try you all...Any recommendations for a casualish first date restaurant in Silver Spring/Rockville? Diners are early 20s, one is a vegetarian. Was thinking Mosaic, but maybe there's something more ethnic on your radar? I really love Ethiopic and Raku, but have to go out to the burbs for this one. Decent beer menu a plus. Thoughts?

I love the Burmese restaurant Mandalay. Also, Addis Ababa is an excellent Ethiopian restaurant. Both are in the heart of Silver Spring. 

I've found it at Wegman's

Jason - Your are my Booze Best Friend Forever. I clicked on the excerpts from your book in the WP today with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. Because of your wonderful articles in the Post, I eschewed the dreck I was drinking and now use Plymouth for gin-based libations. I am very wallet, not so much. Because of you, I moved on from my bone dry martini of old (four parts gin - take vermouth bottle out of fridge - wave bottle once, ceremniously, over martini glass - return vermouth bottle to fridge) to wondrous concoctions using sweet vermouth, exotic liqueurs and bitters. One conction in particular, which I named The Amber due to it's beautiful amber color, was completely inspired by your writing. Oh yeah, and because of you, that little bottle of bitters that had been living a totally neglected life in the dark recesses of an ofter forgotten kitchen cabinet, now lives front and center on my drinks tray. Thanks, BBFF! Congrats on the new book!

Ah! Thank you thank you thank you! Since we're now BBFFs I feel like we should get one of those heart pendants that break in half, and you can wear one half and I'll wear the other! What is the recipe for The Amber?

I was thinking that the Free Rangers could give Leigh a bread machine as a maternity gift so she could play with it (and maybe come up with recipes to share) while on maternity leave. It would benefit her greatly as she could spend 5 minutes putting in the ingredients when the baby finally fell asleep, and then the machine could do the rest.

Unfortunately for us, Leigh decided not to come back after her maternity leave. We'll be trying to fill her Flour Girl shoes with other sources...

So I tried the Best Buns recipe, and yum, yum, they were delicious. My one question though is if I want to make these lemon instead of vanilla what should I do? I tried lemon extract but that wasn't quite right. Should I do lemon zest and the juice of a lemon instead? And if so, how much of each? Thanks!!

Have you ever worked with lemon oil? I'd put that in instead of the vanilla, along with the zest of 1 lemon, and then I'd make a glaze of fresh lemon juice with confectioner's sugar added to taste. Try, say, 1/2 cup of lemon juice and then sweeten until you've taken the edge off but it's still nice and tart. Then brush that on liberally when the cupcakes are still warm. Top with lemon curd.

Are we still in a shortage? I haven't seen it, although I haven't looked that hard yet. Thanks.

Stories I've seen from pumpkin land (Illinois) suggest Libby's will be back on track, with cans in the stores. The organic canned stuff has been around all summer.

The link for the fruit cocktail link didn't work for me.

Which link are you referring to? The one on the Food section front online, under This Week's Recipes, works. It's here. The ones from the article itself work. Or are you looking at something else? Send us the URL of the page that you're looking at where the link doesn't work.

The last time I tried baking my own beans, instead of just opening a can, I spent a fortune on just the right ingredients, like real maple syrup, baked them all day, and wound up with something that tasted like...good canned baked beans. I want to try again, with simpler ingredients and more realistic expectations. So I dug around the internet and found the traditional recipes don't include anything tomato, do include molasses instead of maple syrup, start with parboiled beans, and still demand the beans be baked for a good six hours. Is there any way I can move those recipes from the oven to the crock pot? I don't want to sit around the house all day while my beans bake, and I feel a safer leaving an unattended crock pot than I do leaving an unattended oven. Besides, it won't heat the apartment up the way the oven will. Oh, and while I'm at it, in practical terms for a recipe like this, is there a difference between salt pork and bacon? I already have thick-cut bacon; I'd have to buy salt pork specially, and I always have a hard time finding it.

I just tested a baked bean recipe, which will be in next week's paper. Did you know they freeze really well? Actually improves the texture o' the beans.

So I bought some "seconds" peaches at the farmers market to can and tackled the project last night. Used 1/2 pt jars (only ones I could find). Peeled them, put them in the cans, poured the light sugar syurp in, tightened only to "fingertip" tightness. Used my big pasta pan and at a friend's suggestion, set them upside down in the pan. Encountered two problems -- (1)I heard a "pop," which sounded like a seal breaking a minute or two after I removed one of the jars from the pan but the jar was intact. And the contents didn't seem to expand so there's still the 1/2" head room in the top. Question -- how do I know if I did it right and if the cans are actually sealed. Can I unscrew the rings to check? (2) I cut the bad spots out of the peaches before putting them in boiling water. Some were intact and I cut an X in the bottom. The boiling water never really released many of the skins -- even after 5 minutes -- so they were really hard to peel. Any ideas as to why that trick didn't work? The skins were somewhat easier to remove but they didn't slide right off. Any help would be much appreciated because I'd like to try this again.

The pop is a good sound. That's the jar sealing. The reason you leave the headspace is so that when you put the jars into the hot water, there's room for the food, peaches in this case, to expand, forcing out any remaining air. Then, when you remove the jar from the water, the food contracts, forming a vacuum seal. The ping is the jar sealing.

As for the skin, I'm not sure unless the peaches were really unripe. If you're not terribly fussy, one way to do it would simply be to peel them with a knife or a peeler. It won't be as perfect looking and you lose a tiny bit of fruit, but it will work.

I've started using a serrated peeler for peaches rather than blanching. Good for tomatoes, too.

Sylvie Rowland says this:
The fact that the jars have "pinged" do not mean that they have sealed properly. If you take a cold unsealed Mason jar with lid & ring that you use to store stuff in your fridge, and leave it on the counter for a few minute, it will ping as the air inside the jar warms up and pushes the lid out. The poster needs to let the jar cools thoroughly after canning (12 to 24 hours) in a draft free place, then test the seal by 1. pressing on them with her finger to ensure there is no movement and that it is neither bulging in nor out AND 2. Removing the rings and grabbing the lid gently bu its edge: if the lid stays on, the jar's sealed.

Jars will ping just because the air temperature inside changes and pushes the lid out or pulls it in (depending whether the air is warming off or cooling off). If the jar is overfilled, it will ping but bits of food will have inserted themselves between the lid and the jar this preventing a sound sealing. One wants to find out NOW (when the jar maybe consumed right way) and not 3 month later. It is dangerous to rely only on pinging as proof that the jars have sealed.

Additionally there is NO NEED to leave the ring on when storing the jars on the shelves. There are actually several good reason not to do it (the most prominent being that's it's easier to monitor that the jars remain sealed. Plus it's encouraging corrosion to leave the rings on. Not good.

I always enjoy the chat. But I did had to send my comment in - as somebody who's been canning for quite a while, canned closed to 200 jars this season (and has yet more to do since tomatoes, peppers, apples etc are still coming) and teaches canning classes.

Sylvie Rowand

For a quick dinner, I like to bread and fry up chicken strips, shrimp, or tofu and toss it in a green salad. One method I've used (from a recipe) is to coat the protein in flour, dip it in a beaten egg, and then coat it in breadcrumbs. What is the purpose of the flour? Do I need this step? And then what does the egg do? How much oil do you think I need it the pan, and do you have any other tips or insight?

The method you mention is the standard way of breading items for frying. The flour step has a triple purpose: it gives the egg something to hold on to, and then, when it hits the oil, it creates a barrier between the crumbs and the water that will exude from the protein. That water activates the gluten in the flour, which serves as a barrier that keeps the hot oil from penetrating the protein. The flour step also helps ensure even coating.

The egg is the glue to which the crumbs adhere. The idea is for the crumb coating to crisp up quickly so that oil won't seep in and make the items greasy. What should cook the protein is its own water heating up from inside, not oil getting into it from the outside. Not exactly Harold McGee, but I think that's an accurate answer.

Could you do without the flour? The short answer is yes, but you risk uneven coating and winding up with a greasy or soggy product. In other words, it's doing the job sloppily. Take the time to do it right, I say.

As to how much oil you need, it depends on how much you are frying. For chicken strips, shrimp and tofu pices, you really only need a half-inch or so of oil in the pan.

Jason, I can't wait to read your book! I have a question about aged rum. My favorite sipping rum (on the rocks) is Flor de Cana Grand Reserve 7 year. The bottle claims "slow aging." Is there really any other way to get 7 year old rum? Or do some distillers lie about the age on the bottles?

Thanks! Hahaha. It's true. I love Flor de Cana 7-year too -- for me it's wonderful combination of sipping and mixing rum. But yeah, "slow aged"...I mean, seven years is seven years, right? There are actually new ways to sort of "speed" aging, which whiskey distillers are experimenting with. One guy says he's invented a process that ages whiskey six years in six months. I guess you can't stop science! But yes, some producers are cagey about ages. Maybe they'll say their spirits are aged "up to" 10 years or whatever. That means, what's blended could have 10 and a lot of other ages, too.

While I haven't cut off a finger yet, I have seriously injured myself several times while cooking. It's to the point where my husband can not even be in the kitchen when I'm using a knife b/c he's so afraid I'll cut myself. We recently upgraded our knives, so while sharper knives seem to be helping, I'm worried I'll just cut myself with a sharper blade now. I think I would benefit from in-person instruction - any recommendations on affordable classes in the Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights (or metro accessible DC) area? Also, I love our new chef's knife, but have no idea what it's actually for!

A basic knife skills class will really help you: on technique and confidence. Most cooking schools offer knife skills lessons -- they are among the most popular. I know they have them at L'Academie in Gaithersburg/Bethesda, Culinaerie downtown and Open Kitchen in Fairfax. Check out our updated list of cooking classes.

Oh and a chef's knife -- I use it for just about everything. In fact, I pretty much use two knives: my 8-inch chef's knife and a paring knife.

This recipe looks divine. My one question though is how to cook chickpeas? I'd really rather use real chickpeas so a recipe/instructions would be great. Thanks!

Good for you.  It's easy to do: Soak dried chickpeas in water overnight, then drain. Place in a medium saucepan, and cover with water and a lid; cook over medium to medium-low heat for 90 minutes, until the chickpeas are tender. A half-cup of dried chickpeas yields 1 generous cup, cooked.

Beyond trusting the source is there any way to validate this assertion?

Send a sample for independent testing? Check on certification of the farm that's saying its products are organic?

Where could I purchase smoked whitefish so that I could make my own whitefish salad? Which fish is whitefish?

Whitefish salad is usually a smoked fish salad. Is that what you are thinking of? And as long as we're on the topic, I'll put it out there: Chatters, where are your favorite places for smoked fish in the area?

Please help! No matter what I do, when I bake a pie, it turns out watery. I have tried corn starch instead of flour as a thickening agent, I have uppped the amounts, allowed my fruit to drain after chopping, allowed the pie to rest. I don't know what I am doing wrong! Its apple pie season and I want to get this right!

Perhaps you should try tapioca? As I understand it (and I haven't perfected my pies yet either), tapioca can hold more liquid than other thickeners like cornstarch.

I follow Rose Levy Beranbaum's technique and boil down the juices and then recombine them. She does that with the Perfect Peach Pie recipe we ran, and she does it with apple pie, too. Try it; if the apple works as well as the peach, and I have no doubt that it would, it will rock.

Is it available locally? And, do you consider it not-yet-ready for prime time? Regardless -- Thanks for the article, I asked during last week's chat for olive oil suggestions and I do hope you'll publish a comparison chart sometime soon-ish (ie, best on salad, best for dipping, best for high-temperature cooking -- etc). Thanks!

Next year's the first year the Georgia farmers will harvest  and press their oil, weather permitting; I just got a sneak preview. I still hope we can compare and update our olive oil tasting. A usage chart's a great idea.

Hi, Jason! I wanted to get your opinion on how to stock the bar at my (very low-key 25-person) wedding. The guest list is so small, I didn't think there was any need to hire a bartender so we're just going to set out wine, beer and liquor and let folks help themselves. Wine and beer I can figure out, but what spirits and mixers would you include? I figure we should have some decent scotch, gin, rum and whiskey on hand. Plus some tonic water, juice and soft drinks. Anything else that you would recommend?

I think your first impulse is good -- simple. If you have Scotch drinkers in your life, you definitely want a nice one, since that's all they're going to want to drink. As far as other whiskey, maybe a nice bourbon or Irish whiskey would be good -- and you can put out a little ginger ale if people are mixers. Or maybe some simple syrup and bitters so people can make Old Fashioneds. Definitely gin and rum, and so you'll need tonic and lime, and ginger beer and lime with  the rum would be nice for Dark and Stormys. And probably Coke. To take it to the next level, you could put out a bottle of tequila and Cointreau, and pre-squeeze some lime juice and have guests mix up their own margaritas. Above all, make sure you have lots and lots of ice on hand. And honestly, it might be nice to deputize someone to be the bartender -- maybe a college-aged cousin or niece/nephew?

I want to make a Devil's Food (or other chocolate-on-chocolate) cake this weekend for a friend's birthday. I've found a few different recipe contenders on smitten kitchen and David Lebovitz's blog, but they both call for hot brewed coffee. I don't have a coffee machine... is it cool to substitute hot water or even milk? To what extent will the flavor be affected by omitting the coffee? Or should I just find a different recipe? Thanks! You guys ROCK!

OK, Philadelphia (may I call you Philly?), I'm going to divulge one of my favorite cooking tips. Run to your nearest Italian market or specialty store and buy a jar of Medaglia d'Oro instant espresso powder. This is a smasheroo product. It imparts a nice, rich coffee flavor without the cloying chemical aftertaste of regular instant coffee. I use it in practically every chocolate recipe, particularly my chocolate cake and brownies.


Like many people, I've just taken on a part-time job in addition to my regular work. Now, several nights a week I'll be going from my 9-5 gig straight to a 6-10 gig. I've got packing lunch down to a science; but the thought of packing dinner too is throwing me off. What do you suggest for dinner? Perhaps a one-pot meal or casserole I could make on Sundays and divide up for the week? The meal needs to be exceedingly well-balanced so I have the energy to get through the 6-10 shift. I'll have a refrigerator available during the day but may not be able to warm dinner before eating it. Your suggestions would be really helpful.

Wow. Good luck to you. It's tough out there these days. I like the idea of one-pot meals. Do you like Indian food? I feel like these do well after sitting a while; in fact sometimes they taste better. Try Monica Bhide's Butternut Squash, Coconut and Lamb stew (it can be made in a slowcooker too) or for a cheaper, vegetarian but filling option a classic cauliflower and potato curry would be nice with rice. And then, of course, there's that workhorse, lasagna...

Anyone else have other favorites to help a guy out?

If you have the info at hand, what brand/s of olive oil did you use in all of today's recipes? Why does the rice pilaf use regular olive oil instead of extra-virgin? And is it cost considerations that led to a general "vegetable oil" recommendation for the 6 cups of oil in the egg-in-a-nest recipe?

I can answer the egg-in-a-nest part of the question. If you mean why vegetable oil over olive oil, it's mostly because olive oil burns at high heat where veg. oil doesn't. It is also a cost consideration. Why use expensive oil when veg. oil is fine, especially for the minute or so of frying required here?  You could use peanut oil if you wish, but it is a needless expense.

David and I disagree a bit about the olive oil/frying part of your question.  It's definitely more expensive to use (maybe not, after that Georgia oil comes in). But cooks in Israel and Morocco and Turkey use extra-virgin as well as virgin oil to fry in with no ill effect. The so-called smoke point, at which the oil tends to break down -- and we don't want that -- is around 400 degrees, and we're not frying that hot at home, are we?

Ignore every advice you get, DO what Joe told you to do. I started reducing fruit juices when I got RLB's book and I never stopped: my pies are considered the best among my friends and colleagues. Good luck.

I've been looking for organic lemons for about a month now, without success. Whole Foods doesn't have them and doesn't know when they'll be in; likewise, Giant. I've found a few loose ones at Safeway that cost lots more than the bags I'm used to buying -- but still, that's preferable to grating insecticide-laden peel into today's, or any, recipe. Any idea why organic lemons have become so scarce? Are they available at a store I haven't tried, preferably in DC? And -- is it silly of me to worry about using non-organic lemon rind? Thank you!

I think about that every time I gently scrape my Microplane zester against a lemon I just casually rinsed off.  And yet, I'm still standing....You have to do what you need to in order to be comfortable with what you're eating. Mom's Organic Market has them in stock now. They're grown in California.  Unfortunately, that store's not in D.C.

Some friends and I went for crabs this weekend and I got the bounty of leftovers to take home. Last night I picked the meat (almost 3/4 pound) and now am thinking about what to do with it. My first thought was to make a soup -- my grandpa used to make an awesome Manhattan clam chowder, and I thought I could just sub the crab meat for the clams -- but I'm open to ideas. Also, if I'm not ready to cook with it right now, can I freeze the meat? And if I do that, and then let's say I make soup, can I freeze the soup, or is that considered a dangerous re-freezing of the meat? Thanks for your help!

OMG, Crabby, I'm having an awful image of you THROWING AWAY all of the bodies and shells after you picked to meat from them. Please tell me you didn't!!

For the recipe for egg-in-a-nest soup with crab in today's food section, I used several containers of crab stock made from the detritus of the crab feast I wrote about in Real Entertaining in June. That stock made all the difference between a soup that was merely good and one that was ethereal.

About the meat. Yes, you can freeze it for later use and yes, you can then freeze the soup that you make. Will the carb in it be optimal? No. Will it hurt you? No.


So many things to do with that crab. Use it to make mini-crabcakes for a cocktail party or a quick stuffed avocado lunch, make a quick curry with it, soup or gumbo. You chowher sounds terrific. A creamy, sherry-touched bisque would be lovely, too.

Odd schedule lately has given me the opportunity to see old episodes of Barefoot Contessa, and thereby ponder food science v. food myth. Perhaps you can help. In one episode, Ina Garten advocated the use of a room-temperature egg in a mixture, and said as an aside that in-shell raw eggs can safely be left out for hours, "days, really" because they come in convenient "hermetically sealed packages" (by which she meant the shell, not the carton). True? In another show, she said that there is no need to pierce potatoes before baking them. True? Not likely that I'd leave the eggs out for any significant amount of time, but I might skip piercing taters if I can. But I'd rather trust a second opinion from you than clean my oven or microwave when it turns out there is a catch to the "rule." Love the chats. Thanks for all the inspiring ideas and encouragement.

Hmm. I'm sure the Contessa's getting her eggs straight from chickens she's acquainted with -- or at least their owners.  When I cooked at a villa in Italy, I did leave the fresh eggs from there out in a bowl all day, but the room was cool. Eggs that are commercially produced, packaged and shipped to grocery stores often get cleaned in a way that destroys a natural protective coating on the shell. So if your eggs come in a plastic foam container from a big brand, I'd refrigerate them.

As for the potatoes, I would recommend the piercing. Why would she be against it? Allows steam to escape. Various state extension services and potato commissions  are in favor it, so I guess I'll go with them. Sorry, Ina!

The NY Times has an article today on spiking summer fruit. I was wondering if any of you have any favorite fruit/alcohol combos? Also, if I want to soak some fruit for a few months in brandy, does it matter how high a quality the brandy is? Can I get away with something cheap(ish)? Thanks!

What is this NY Times you speak of? Is it a periodical? I think soaking fruit in brandy is a great idea, and I would definitely to stick to a decent quality brandy. You don't have to go top-shelf cognac, but Asbach Uralt from Germany or a decent Spanish brandy would work well. What will you be soaking? Peaches are a good thing. I don't have any straight-up infusion recipes, but here are a couple of fresh peach ideas: the Molly Ringwald and the Ginger Peach Julep.

My dad just gave us nearly three cases' worth of assorted wines--mostly reds, but also a few whites. Is there a good web resource for which of these wines are considered good and which aren't? Also, how long should I keep some of these around? I've got a 2001 chardonnay (I don't know the brand off the top of my head), but I usually hear that whites don't age well. Thanks!

Dave McIntyre says:

The best idea would be to compile a list with winery names, wine name, vineyard, appellation and vintage date for each wine and show it to a trusted retailer. The 2001 chard really depends. If it's a top one it might be beautiful right now. Ultimately there is no substitute for popping corks.

Is there an appreciable difference? I've wanted to try my hand at home-made hummus but balk at wasting the excess tahini that I'd need.

Um, yes. HUGE. Tahini is made with sesame seeds, is more liquidy and savory. Almond paste is sweet and much more pastelike.

Tahini lasts forever. Don't worry about wasting it. You'll make hummus again. Or baba ghanoush. And when you do, the tahini will still be fine. 

YAY for Libby's coming back. In the meantime, Snider's market in Silver Spring often has lots of an organic version. Waterier than Libby's, but you can compensate.

I use a teaspoon or so in Asian recipes that ask for black or sweet soy sauce (along with regular soy) or for palm sugar or even, sometimes, in place of regular sugar in an Asian recipe. Tastes great if you don't overdo it.

Please help! I'm almost done with the bottle of sriracha I inherited from an old roommate and this has thrown me into a near-panic. Any ideas where to find this amazing condiment in the Boston area?

Super 88 or Ming's.

When I was going to grad school at night while working, I would sometimes have a piece of quiche for dinner. It can be served at room temperature, the crust makes it relatively portable and you can put almost anything in it.

We wanted to do the same thing, but thinking of sloshed folks pouring their own drinks made us balk. I hired a friend-of-a-friend college student and it worked out perfectly, plus we paid way less than if we had hired a professional.

I'm pretty sure I've seen almond paste at Safeway, sold in small cans in the baking section (with the chocolate chips, baking powder, etc.) Make sure you buy almond paste and not marzipan; they are not interchangeable. Different amounts of sugar, I think.

We often do this sort of setup for parties, and it works great! People are generally happy to make their own drink as long as they have what they need. My husband will select four or five common drinks (Manhattan, Old Fashioned) and some simple but interesting drinks (Grasshopper) and write each recipe in large print with a Sharpie on a single sheet of paper. He posts the "recipes" on the wall behind the drink table. People always comment that this is extremely useful, and it's also helpful for us because we can stock up on those ingredients. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage!

Whole Foods had some in the prepared food section, but it didn't look like the traditional whitefish I was used to. Instead, I found smoked plain whitefish in the seafood department, and mixed it w/ mayo and a pinch of cayenne. Could use a tiny squirt of lemon juice if you like too

I just read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" Let's just say "organic" doesn't mean much to me anymore and i think it's more important to know where your food is coming from and how it is grown or raised. I will be doing my best to visit the local farms and buy local, seasonal food that is grown without pesticides or petroleum based fertilizers and is pasture raised hormone and antibiotic free. It's going to be difficult, but certainly worth it.

It's easy to be disillusioned with "big" organic but I think it's not quite fair to write off its importance. There certainly are examples where a big organic farm is worse than a small conventional one but even those large farms are, in the big picture, much kinder to the earth and result in less chemical run off etc and, in some cases, more nutritious food. I wrote a recent story about a new study of California strawberries that showed that the organic farms, all big, had healthier land and more nutritious and, in one case, tastier fruit. Another study, woefully unreported in my opinion, also makes me want to give organic a thumbs up. The study showed a tight link between the use of pesticides on fruits and vegetables and the rising levels of ADHD in children.

I love wine and grew up in a family where we drank wine with every meal (okay, not breakfast). My dad is a real wine enthusiast so that rubbed off on me. That being said, I'm a recent college grad and can't really afford expensive bottles of wine. When I'm in the store, I tend to look for bottles between the 10-20 dollar range. I've found some pretty good bottles. Any additional recommendations?

Dave McIntyre says:

The $10-$20 range has a lot of good value wines. Look for my Recession Buster lists for suggestions under $15. Actually, any of my columns should have suggestions in your price range, as I try to be cost conscious in my selections. Look especially to Spain, southern France, Italy and Argentina for great values right now.

It is for flavor and searing the meat and veggies. Sorry, liquid smoke and Spanish paprika are not good substitutes. There are no substitutes for the bacon. And you should use a quality bacon. Wegman's in Fairfax has Libby's canned pumpkin right now for $1.59 a can and organic for $1.99. Organic has always been in stock. Canned pumpkin is great for settling upset dog tummies.

Dog tummies. Now there's a consideration.

I've actually found Sriacha at larger supermarkets in the Asian section. It's becoming pretty ubiquitous.

looks nice, but inquiring minds must know -- why the admonition not to use pre-crumbled feta???

Sorry, didn't mean to be cryptic.  Block feta stays moist, and you get to break it up into irregular chunks. You don't necessarily want the feta to melt in this recipe.


Your answer about cooking chickpeas reminded me to ask a long-standing question I've had. When it's recommended to soak dried beans overnight, how long does that actually mean? Can it be adapted to mean workday? Because I'm imagining all sorts of people in their pajamas cooking their carefully presoaked beans in the morning, and that just can't be right. Thanks!

Overnight usually means about eight hours so, yes, soaking them while you're at work is just fine. And more sensible if you are cooking them for dinner.

Joe, You're the best. Thanks!!!

I want to love my slow cooker, but I barely use it, and here's why. Most recipes seem to require some prep work (browning meat, chopping) which means you can't just throw ingredients in and turn it on before you leave for work. Also, most recipe times are 5 - 7 hours, and I'm away from the house for at least 10 hours on weekdays. I can't be the only one with these problems, so how can I overcome them?

I've had some of the same problems -- really the latter more than the former. The browning could be done the night before, and the chopping is quick. But I feel your pain about the latter. I want them to be even slower! I'd suggest you look for one that has an automatic go-to-warm function on it, so it will hold your food for a few more hours after it's done.

I have some eggplant that I would like to make into eggplant parm, but I don't have any breadcrumbs or time to go to the store. Are there any alternatives that might work well with eggplant (e.g., I thought of cornmeal or crumbled saltine crackers, but am not sure how well that will go....)

In a pinch, you could use some kind of cornflake-y cereal. (Assuming you don't have bread to process into crumbs, then bake them on a baking sheet till lightly browned?)

I have a decent and small-ish board that I use but it is getting stained. Should I try to get a big board, really nice one, and do the upkeep, or is it just easier to use cheaper, small ones until they fall apart?

I suggest not making it an either/or situation. Use composite plastic boards, have a nice big wooden board with a moat for cutting juicy meats, have several small boards that you use for diff. veg and fruit prep. You'll be cooking like a professional.

I bought a hunk of manouri cheese at the Greek Festival this weekend. So now what do I do with it??

One thing you can do is cut it into wedges, coat lightly with flour, dip into a bowl of whisked a couple of whisked eggs, then fry in hot oil on each side till golden. Let cool slightly. Serve with preservers and sliced bread. Makes a great appetizer.

I also like it as is, maybe with a drizzle of honey, and some fresh fruit and perhaps some honeyed nuts on the side as a dessert. 

Here's more inspiration from our Say Cheese blogger, Domenica Marchetti. (She's taking a break to finish a project but will be back soon.)

Not only you have written the most sensible article on sous vide cooking technique I have read so far, you saved me oodles of money. I was seriously considering doing my share to support the stimulus. G However, you left me wondering; what kind of sous vide equipment restaurants use? Most restaurants kitchens I've seen have limited space and they never have enough time... Nevertheless, great article. No, this is not your mother.

Considering this is a compliment, I know it's not my mother.  There are some good home  applications for sous vide. The other night, I popped some frozen, already cooked, sous vide chicken breasts in some boiling water for a few minutes and then sauteed various bits of leftover things to go with it for a quick dinner. The chicken was juicy and very tasty. So it would be useful to have a bunch of those in the freezer for quick, last-minute meals. Also chops, etc., even a steak. It's like canning in a way. A lot of upfront prep work, a lot of unwieldy equipment you have to haul up from the basement every now and then, and a deferred payoff.


I was recently in a tiny restaurant kitchen where they set up the sous vide bin in the corner of an upstairs room our of the way. They have time in restaurants because they just build it into the shcedule of doing the myriad other things they have to do. What takes up room is the enormous vacuum-sealer they use, which is a much better, and more costly, version of what home cooks use.

When I tried to compress melon (using a vacuum-sealer to compact the cellulose and intensify the natural juices) using the dinky vacuum-sealer I had at home, all the water came rushing out of the bag, thus ruining the seal and creating a big, sticky mess all over the machine. It was a Lucy Ricardo moment for sure. really easy to make at home if you have a food processor (or even a blender). I make a batch using 1 lb. of almonds at a time, freeze the leftover paste in a freezer carton with a piece of cello wrap on top of the paste, then the carton lid over that. I can give you my recipe, or you could check online: it's just almonds (blanched in hot water, then slip the skins off, and toast ever-so-lightly, mostly just to dry); sugar; egg whites; and, of course, pure almond extract.

Please share your recipe!


what farmer's market has them?

The US doesn't officially recognize organic seafood. There is some salmon, farmed, from Europe that claims to be organic but that is based on private certification or European standards (or both?) and not stamped by the USDA.

Question for Jason: My nephew has expressed an interest in wine, and has just moved into his first apartment. What would you suggest as a book, article, Web site, etc. to introduce a 20-something to wine? Something practical, such as "here's the difference between pinot noir and merlot, and here are some budget-friendly labels to look for." Thanks!

I've really enjoyed Drink This: Wine Made Simple by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl. I think that would be perfect -- both in tone and advice -- for a young wine drinker.

Dave McIntyre adds:

Find a copy of "How to Taste" by Jancis Robinson. It is the best all around primer for wine lovers, written by one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject. (Yes, I have wine-writer's crush ...) Once your nephew gets really hooked, or shows signs of being hooked, I recommend "Reading Between the Wines" by Terry Theise. More
inspirational than educational, but it really captures why wine is fun. When he gets really nerdy and starts spending all his free time in wine stores, he might enjoy a subscription to Wine Enthusiast or Wine Spectator, or the new book "On Wine" by Spectator columnist Matt Kramer. You could also buy him some Moleskine notebooks so he can start keeping track of the wines he's tried.

When I forget, I boil the beans for 10 minutes and the soak them for an hour. Works fine.

You can use it to make sauce for sesame noodles a la chinese. Lots of recipes around - the secret to the best I've ever made is putting in a little milk instead of water or stock. Find your own balance of tahini, ginger/garlic, soy, sugar or molasses, vinegar, hot pepper flakes, and that little bit of milk. Scallions are good with it too.

Can I use schmaltz?

You know what? Just leave out the bacon and call it beef stew. I'm sure it will be perfectly delicious. Don't get hung up on the bacon thing.

Really rough week, and I could use a really good new cocktail. Any suggestions? I like something on the sweet side, but not overly sweet. Any kind of alcohol is fine.

Wow, and it's only Wednesday! Let's make this easy and straightforward. How about a simple, perfect daiquiri.

When you put that chart together, please include best "bargain" or less-expensive oils. And maybe approximate shelf-life. This'll be great! Thank you so much!!


Is there a difference between the two?

Almond paste is made with blanched almonds and no skins that are mixed with  sugar. The sugar traps the oils and mixes with the almonds so that a "butter" doesn't form. Almond butter is usually made with roasted nuts and no or very little sugar.

Recently, Jason's column had a recipe that called for yellow chartreuse. Intrigued, I went to my local liquor store and asked for it, but discovered that they don't carry it, only green, and the guy indicated they never carry yellow, as it's not popular (and this is a pretty respectable place). Could I have made it with the green and substituted something else? I find liquor substitutions in general daunting. If something calls for orange bitters (which I don't have), can I confidently use angostura instead (which I do have)? This is something I would like to understand better, as I attempt more interesting drinks without (hopefully) ruinous results.

I'm not sure whether green or yellow is more popular. bu if your liquor store is a respectable place, they can certainly special order you a bottle of yellow Chartreuse. Beyond, that you could try substituting the green, though I'd use a little less of it -- it is higher proof. You should seek out orange bitters (I know I find them at Ace Beverage and other places). The recipes are being specific when it calls for orange vs. Angostura vs. Peychaud's or other bitters.

I have a half-full can of tahini in the back of my fridge that's 10 years old. My first and last attempt at making hummus made people overdose on garlic. I'm afraid to open the can - who knows what primordial life forms are growing in there.

You know what? Throw it out. Even if it is still good (and I can't imagine how it wouldn't be rancid at this point), you have already planted the seed of doubt in your mind, which ruins any dish from the get-go.

I'm glad this was mentioned. I want to buy one but there are different grating surfaces suggested for, say, nutmeg vs lemon rind and a different zester for each one. If I'm only going to buy one zester , which is the best bet as an all-purpose? (Right now, I mostly grate citrus, but that could change, especially as Christmas cookie season approaches.) Many thanks.

Go for the microplane classic citrus zester. It will do fine on nutmeg if the need arises. Or ginger. Or garlic.

I accidentally added too much celery seed to a pot of beef vegetable barley soup. Anything I can add to counteract it? I don't want to trash the whole pot because that's a lot of soup to waste, but the celery seed is overwhelming. Thanks for the advice!

Okay, I guess there is a statute of limitations on "forever." I use jars of tahini, not cans. That way, they stay sealed after I use them, like peanut butter. I've not actually kept a jar forever. But I have kept the same jar of tahini for over three years and there was no problem. (Still, now I buy smaller jars.)

You can get a timer that you can plug your slow cooker into, so that you can set it to turn on later in the day. I haven't tried that yet but my friend swears by it.

Interesting -- but only appropriate for things that can be at room temperature for hours, don't forget. So don't do this with meat, for instance.

Any interesting cocktails with anise Liquor? I've tried it before with Caribbean rum and a coffee bean (weird but sublime combination!), what else can be done?

What you describe sounds interesting. I haven't been using a lot of anise liquors, but I do use absinthe a lot -- though usually just a dash here and a dash there. One of my favorite uses of it is in the Phoebe Snow.

Hi (submitting early because of a meeting...)! I would love to find a lower-fat way of making alfredo sauce. I love the creamy taste of it (especially with chicken or with shrimp) but I am really trying to eat healther now. Do you have good recipe you can share? Thanks!

I have to say I'm generally pretty skeptical of low-fat versions of dishes that are basically fat bombs. You can make it but it's not going to taste like you want it to. That said, the very smart folks at Cooking Light have attempted it, using 1 percent milk, neufchatel cheese and parmesan, and they have probably done it as well as it can be done.

Thinking about good meals to make for 3 family members who are staying with me for a weekend - one is my grandma so nothing too spicy. Can you suggest a few company-worthy recipes that would be made a few days before? Thanks!

I kinda love this one:

Chicken, Leek and Parsley Pie

6 servings

This recipe has made its mark among friends as a potluck staple. Using quick-cooking, skinless chicken tenderloins and making the pastry a day in advance nudge this recipe into a doable weeknight dish. Adapted from "The New Chicken Cookbook," edited by Linda Fraser (Smithmark, 1995):

For the pastry:

7/8 cup (14 tablespoons) slightly cold unsalted butter, diced

2 egg yolks

21/2 cups flour, plus additional for work surface

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon cold water

For the filling:

3 poached chicken breasts, bone-in, or 6 to 8 individually quick frozen boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins that have been poached

4 tablespoons butter

2 leeks (white and light green parts), thinly sliced

2 ounces grated cheddar cheese

1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard (may substitute Dijon-style)

1 teaspoon cornstarch

11/4 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Beaten egg, to glaze

For the pastry: In a food processor, blend together butter and egg yolks until creamy. Add the flour and salt and pulse until the mixture just comes together. With the motor running, add the water and process until the dough forms a ball. Flatten the dough. wrap in plastic, and chill for at least an hour and up to 1 day ahead. The dough patches together easily if you have any breaks.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger piece on a lightly floured surface so it will line the bottom and sides of an 81/2-inch-square glass baking dish. (I prefer to use glass so you can check the progress of the pastry sides and bottom during baking.) Prick the base with a fork and bake for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

For the filling: Debone the chicken breasts, discard the skin and pull apart the meat into large strips, doing the last step if you're using tenderloins. Set aside.

In a medium skillet over low heat, melt the butter and add the leeks, stirring occasionally, until softened. Stir in the cheddar and Parmesan cheeses and parsley just to combine. Remove from the heat.

Spread half of the leek mixture over the baked pastry. Cover with chicken, then top with the remaining leek mixture.

In a medium bowl, combine the mustard, cornstarch and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the filling.

Moisten the top of the cooked pastry's exposed edges with beaten egg. Roll out the remaining pastry and use to cover the pie. Brush top with beaten egg and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

Joe said, "The browning could be done the night before, and the chopping is quick." Could I really brown the night before? I thought of doing this one time, but then was nervous that heating and then refrigerating would just make my beef a breeding ground for nastiness. Am I wrong? I would love to be wrong!

The refrigerator saves you from the nastiness!

Just wanted to say how much I'm going to miss Leigh. - one enthusiastic baker

You can get smoked white fish at Calvert-Woodley. And I'm almost certain you can get organic lemons at the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op (call before you go). Also, congratulations, Jason! I've been a regular reader of yours for a long time, and I enjoy trying your cocktails (the Alaska was very interesting with the chartreuse). I first started experimenting when my wife (God bless her!) gave me a copy of Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits--I've been tracking down obscure ingredients and making my own stuff since.

make the whole-grain (amaranth, I think) molasses muffins on the washington post site! They are wonderful, though I might use 1 or 2 T less molasses than the recipe. I made frozen yogurt with the remaining prune-orange mixture from the recipe and was a very happy girl...

Thanks. Here's the link to those fabulous muffins. I can attest they are amazing.

With the growth of the wine industry in Israel, I've found more and more good kosher wines. However, I'm always on the lookout for others. Anyone have suggestions?

Dave McIntyre says:

Check out my kosher wine column from last March. Remember that not all Israeli wines will be kosher.
There are some terrific wines produced in the Judean Hills area west of Jerusalem, as well as up north in Galilee and the Golan Heights. One store where I've seen a good selection of kosher wines is The Bottle Shop in North Potomac.

Tough one there - it's a dominant flavor and one lots of people don't like. I'd go for vinegar or lemon juice, preferably the former. They are strong and can cancel out the CS evil. And more pepper, too.

Casseroles, slow cooker recipes, jambalaya, shepherd's pie are all good take in dinners. Make your take in lunch and dinner before going to bed the night before. Put the lunch in the fridge, the dinner in the freezer. In the morning, put them in your insulated lunch bag and take to work. The dinner will act like your blue ice and keep your lunch cool until lunchtime. Then it will slowly thaw over the day. By dinner time, it should be thawed and still cool and will be fine to toss into the microwave. As for jambalaya, although I like fresh jambalaya for big meals, for a Sunday night dinner that is going to be lunch for the week, sometimes I brown my sausages (some sort of Chorizo), then my other meats (usually chicken and shrimp) in the chorizo grease. Then I make a box of Zatarain's, mix in an extra cup of Uncle Ben's whole grain brown rice (I use that for this recipe because the cooking time is about the same as the Zatarain's). 10 minutes before the rice is done, I toss the meats back in. A lot less effort (only about 50 minutes start to end including prep.

Soups are really easy to do and make in large batches and I would actually reccomend doing a simple chicken breast with a spice rub (doesn't have to be spicy) and put it on the grill (it's still not too late in the season). With weekend guests, its a lot of food in a short time so its best to try and stick to simple but delicious meals.

Hey there Rangers, My brother gave me some home-grown habaneros (which he boasts are the hotest peppers in the world and that I'll never be able to handle them) and I don't know what to do with them. I need to find some good receipe or other thing to do with them so I can report back to him (and bonus points if I can say I didn't need a gallon of water to eat it...I'm sure he's just itching to say "I told you so"). I really have no idea how to cook with habaneros (or even jalapenos, at that!) Thanks!!

Sauce! Try this one, from Oakton cook extraordinaire Tim Artz.

I recently saw beef bacon at the Amish Farmers Market in Laurel. Might be a suitable substitute for pork bacon.

I have found a lot of great inexpensive wines from Australia (Lindeman's, Jacob's Creek, Penfold's to name a few) and some great wines from the Pacific Northwest. I find that Washington Hills and Chateau St Michelle are regular stand-bys.

Super Stop and Shop in Brighton MA has siracha.....

Marcella Hazan has a recipe for pasta sauce that includes butter, parmesan, ricotta, and spinach. Leave out the spinach and you're pretty close to the alfredo experience for somewhat fewer calories. Bias toward ricotta more than she did, and you're even lower in fat. It still tastes good. I'd leave in the spinach.

Do pierce any potatoes you're baking, about midway through the process, when they're soft-enough that the fork can go in reasonably easily. I've had a couple potatoes explode -- picture hashed browns splattered all over the inside of your oven! A real mess to clean up.

i bought it because i remembered i like but now i can't remember what recipe i used it in. any good suggestions?

Here's one.

Hi there, I'm looking for an easier way to keep track of all the recipes and ideas I get via the computer. I don't recall any articles that have been done recently on this topic. Any thoughts as to different programs or systems that work? Any chance for an upcoming article? Thanks!

I wrote an article a while back about collecting your recipes into book form but that's a different animal. Yes, seems worth exploring. I use Epicurious's site a lot but I don't import recipes from other sites there.  I'm guessing there are a zillion iPhone apps for this kind of thing; I have a Blackberry. Chatters: Thoughts?

I'd like to know where Jason lives. Texas? Utah? Amazing that in this day and age there are still "dry" towns in the US.

You would be surprised how many dry towns (and counties) there are in America -- in blue and red states, both on the coasts and in the south and middle. We are still feeling the effects of Prohibition eight decades after its repeal.

Hello foodies, I am looking, looking, looking for aleppo pepper. It was mentioned that Whole Foods carries it but when I asked at the WF in Silver Spring they had not heard of it and said after checking they could not get it. Penzeys is a trek for me but is that my only option and also for Za'atar?

Za'atar can be found at Mediterranean Bakery on South Pickett in Alexandria and at Shemali's on New Mexico Ave in the District. The Mediterranean Bakery might also carry the aleppo pepper; can't say for sure, but I think so. 

La Cuisine in Alexandria carries Aleppo Pepper/packaged by Vanns Spices of Balto.

Hello! I'm planning a dinner party (around a Murder Mystery party) with a French theme. However, I'm a vegetarian so some of the more meat centric mains are definitely out. What would you suggest as a menu? Thanks!

Gooey Onion Soup made with mushroom stock instead of beef, celery root remoolade, a main course of spinach crepes with Sauce Bechamel, a green salad, and tarte tatin.

We celebrate pumpkin day in our house, so I'm happy to hear that it'll be back. We did pumpkin soup last year; can you think of any main dishes with pumpkin as a major ingredient? Thanks!

This is pumpkin comfort food.


Dinner in a Pumpkin
6 servings

Much of this meal can be made a day in advance: Complete the first baking of the pumpkin and the beef-and-rice mixture, then cover and refrigerate. The baked pumpkin can accompany the beef and rice as a side dish. From Washington Post Book World contributing editor Evelyn Small.

1 small to medium pumpkin (the size of a regular soccer ball)

1 to 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

1 cup finely chopped button mushrooms (may include stems)

11/2 to 2 pounds lean ground beef


Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar

1 10 3/4-ounce can low-fat cream of mushroom soup (may substitute cream of chicken soup), such as Campbell's

1 8-ounce can water chestnut slices, drained and diced

11/2 cups cooked wild rice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a sturdy rimmed baking sheet.

Cut off the top of the pumpkin (as you would if you were carving a jack-o'-lantern), to be used later as a lid, and set aside. Discard the pumpkin pulp and seeds, making a clean, hollow space inside. Place the pumpkin on the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Add the meat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for several minutes, stirring to break up any clumps of beef, until no pink remains. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar and soup, stirring to combine. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the water chestnuts and cooked rice. Transfer the mixture to the pumpkin; cover the top with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes or until the mixture inside has heated through and the pumpkin flesh is tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer to a serving platter; decorate the outside of the pumpkin with a jack-o'-lantern face and serve warm.

I often prepare all the ingredients for the crock pot the night before - brown meat, chop vegetables, measure out sauces etc. and refrigerate overnight. Then in the morning it really is a matter of just dump it in and let it cook. The fact that everything is cold to begin with probably buys you an extra hour of cooking time. I have had few total failures with the crock pot and I honestly think they were due to bad recipes to begin with.

Straight from your own pages!


The relatively new is where I collect all recipes that I get via e-mail or from a blog/magazine/newspaper. Functional, clean interface (and shopping list integration that us non-smartphone users can't hoo)

Cool -- thanks!

and every week I write a variation of this message: Penzey's zaatar is not authentic. Authentic Zaatar can be had at lots of middle eastern markets. Also the Kosher Mart on Boiling Brook Parkway in Rockville and Harris Teeter in Rockville Pike and also the one off 270. Penzey's Aleppo pepper is fine.

Well, you've cooked us in a 185-degree (85C) water bath for 50 minutes, then reduced it to 140 degrees (60C), then cooked another 8 minutes, so you know what that means -- we're cooked, under pressure.

Thanks for the great q's today. Hope we gave you a few a's to think about. Now for the book winners: The first chatter who asked about knife skills will get, of course, "Complete Book of Knife Skills." Shocker, right? And Jason's total new BBFF will, like, OMG, get "Boozehound." Send your mailing info to, and we'll get you the books!

Until next time, happy shaking, stirring, cooking, eating and reading.

One addition to the discussion about pings and canning. A very smart reader pointed out that I didn't give as full an answer as required. Here's some very good -- and complete -- canning advice from Sylvie Rowand of Laughing Duck Gardens and Cookery in Washington, Va.

The fact that the jars have "pinged" do not mean that they have sealed properly. If you take a cold unsealed Mason jar with lid & ring that you use to store stuff in your fridge, and leave it on the counter for a few minute, it will ping as the air inside the jar warms up and pushes the lid out. The poster needs to let the jar cools thoroughly after canning (12 to 24 hours) in a draft free place, then test the seal by 1. pressing on them with her finger to ensure there is no movement and that it is neither bulging in nor out AND 2. Removing the rings and grabbing the lid gently by its edge: if the lid stays on, the jar's sealed.

Jars will ping just because the air temperature inside changes and pushes the lid out or pulls it in (depending whether the air is warming off or cooling off). If the jar is overfilled, it will ping but bits of food will have inserted themselves between the lid and the jar this preventing a sound sealing. One wants to find out NOW (when the jar maybe consumed right way) and not 3 month later. It is dangerous to rely only on pinging as proof that the jars have sealed.

Additionally there is NO NEED to leave the ring on when storing the jars on the shelves. There are actually several good reason not to do it (the most prominent being that's it's easier to monitor that the jars remain sealed. Plus it's encouraging corrosion to leave the rings on. Not good.

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