Free Range on Food: Diet month, healthful eating and more.

Jan 04, 2017

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Happy New Year! Welcome to our first Free Range chat of 2017. 

We've got a fresh start on our minds because, well, you know why. Something about that turn to Jan. 1 gets us all in the mood for change, and for 5 of us, it's a change in our eating habits. We had Ellie Krieger weigh in (so to speak) with her thoughts on 5 diets we chose to try for 30 days, and we're going to post updates every week this month. Do any of our approaches resonate with you? What are you own goals for eating in 2017 -- healthwise or not?

Because we don't want January to be ALL about dieting, we also have Cathy Barrow's latest Bring It column, focusing on one of my favorite desserts: a trifle/tipsy cake. Read it and dream...

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters today: "Cooking That Counts: 1200- to 1500-Calorie Meal Plans to Lose Weight Deliciously" by the editors of Cooking Light, "The Whole30 Cookbook" by Melissa Hartwig, and "Eat Beautiful" by Wendy Rowe.

And for you PostPoints members, here is today's code: FR1433 . Remember, you'll record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

OK, let's do this!

I made a double batch of the Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts, but ended up with about a cup of extra filling. Aside from mixing up more dough and making more tarts, is there something else I could do with the filling?

Might be fun to coat a peeled, cored pear or apple and bake them, because that filling/topping comes out crisp. (In any other month, I'd be tempted to eat a spoonful per day, straight from the fridge. #5Diets #beinggood)


RECIPE Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts

Maybe snow this weekend, so I'm thinking butter chicken in the slow cooker. I'd like to add more vegetables to it though, and at least pretend it is as healthy as it is yummy. Any thoughts? Actually considering green beans.

I like your green beans idea. Potatoes would also be nice. Peas, too. I don't know whether the flavor would be too overpowering, but cauliflower would be a good seasonal addition.

Happy New Year! I made the Aunt Sophie's Yum Yum Coffee Cake over the weekend. When I was attempting to remove it from the tube, it not only cracked (which I expected) but literally split like a layer cake in areas totaling about half of the surface. The cake was cooled completely. Any idea what might have caused the split? Could I have been off in judging how much batter was half and so didn't have enough on the top layer over the filling? (It's tasty, for sure, although as much as I love brown sugar it's almost too much!)

If I'm reading this correctly, the top layer of cake didn't merge with the filling, so it slid off? If that's the case, one possible reason would be not using enough batter for the bottom layer. The filling needs cake to nestle into. There's no doubt that getting the cake out of the pan is one of life's great challenges, but cracking is acceptable, sliding surfaces not so much. Next time, put more in the bottom layer than you think you will need and I'll bet it will plate up just right.

And, yes, it is a sweet cake, but it pairs so beautifully with hot coffee, how can you resist?

RECIPE: Aunt Sophie's Yum Yum Coffee Cake

in my fridge. So I cut off the discolored bits, cut it up into florets and roasted them with some olive oil and salt. The florets are browned a little, but not crunchy. They taste fine, but do you have any recommendations for what to do with them? I guess I could just serve as is or on a salad, but some other ideas would be welcome. P.S. Happy New Year.

Tuck some in a sandwich or a wrap (with a spicy yogurt or tahini sauce -- thinking harissa paste here). Or you could puree into soup or add to an omelet filling or scrambled eggs.

Have you ever had to replace your Microplane cheese grater? Mine seems dull, and I'm not sure if they have a lifespan. Thank you!

I've misplaced a microplane or two over the years. But I can't recall ever using one to the point of dullness, even though, from what I'm reading in cooking/chef forums, they do become dull after heavy usage.


Microplanes are also next to impossible to sharpen.  You may need to just cough up the cash for another one.


Chatters, you have any ideas on this front?

Last night I roasted a pan of broccoli in preparation for tonight's dinner... and now I have no idea what to do with it to turn it into dinner.

Well, what else do you like to eat? A good fallback, IMHO, is the grain bowl approach: Cook some brown rice or another favorite grain (or use frozen brown rice!), and top the grain with your favorite protein, the roasted broccoli, maybe a quick sauce (puree some roasted red peppers, salt, smoked paprika, a touch of vinegar and oil), perhaps some nuts and avocado. Done.

But there are tons of other ideas for turning broccoli into something great. You could adapt many of the broccoli recipes in our Recipe Finder to use already roasted broccoli. But I have to particularly call out this fantastic sandwich I made recently that might be just the thing.

RECIPE: Roast Broccoli Hero Sandwiches

I bought some lovely looking (roughly avocado sized) artichokes. I have never cooked this vegetable whole before. I want to roast them if possible with some lemon and olive oil... how should I do this? Would steaming give it a better texture? I'm concerned about the tough outer leaves.

It's artichoke season now and for the next couple of months, so beautiful 'chokes will be everywhere. Now is the time to learn how to "turn an artichoke." Start with a very sharp knife and then follow this great tutorial

First, I think all of you in the 'photo look just fine the way you are. Yummy, even. Secondly, Ellie Krieger, please say more about why a very strict plan, the Whole30, "may be dangerous for those with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating." This info could be very important for me -- and for others, too. Thank you!

Thanks for the compliment. You know, one of the unexpected threads of comments on Ellie's piece was that we didn't look like we needed to lose any weight. While I appreciate that, please realize that of course we were trying to look our best, and our photographer was after that, too. (I couldn't ask colleagues to try to look schlumpy, now, could I?)

Anyway, I put your second question to Ellie, and she says:

"Extreme food rules can literally "feed" a disordered eating pattern. Depending on how if manifests in the individual it can set a person up for a subsequent binge, and/or trigger issues of hyper-control around food that can lead to physically and emotionally dangerous deprivation."

ARTICLE: 5 diets, a single resolution to eat better in the new years. Which will work?

I live alone and cook for myself, and I make every effort never to waste food. I pride myself on not throwing out anything that can be salvaged. That's why avocados break my heart. I do my grocery shopping over the weekend, but if I pick up two avocados, the second one invariably gets overripe before I can eat it. Yes, one solution would be only to buy one avocado at a time, but that's less than ideal. Another factor is that my company serves catered lunch Mon-Thurs. (don't hate!), thus eliminating the most obvious time to use up an avocado. I feel so frivolous even writing this... Anyhow, I guess my question is whether you have any secrets for selecting avocados, prolonging or slowing down the ripening process, and making use of overripe avocados. Sorry, I'm in San Francisco and we have avocados all year 'round...

You don't mention how you're storing the ripe avocado. Once it's ripe, it should last a few days in the refrigerator. I've found that definitely buys me extra time.

Mash your overripe avocados with some lime or lemon juice, and freeze them for longer term storage. Even the California Avocado Board endorses.

I need two anchovy fillets for a recipe but do not want to waste the rest of an ingredient I do not use that often. Can I freeze the rest of the fillets for another time? Thanks!

Anchovies are usually packed in oil, so transfer the leftovers to a small jar or container, pour in the oil and cover and refrigerate. The anchovies will be usable for a couple of months. 

In the meantime, this is a great way to get to know anchovies. I like to saute and break them up in olive oil with minced garlic to make a saucy start to a tomato based pasta or pizza sauce. Toss chickpeas in the oil/garlic/anchovy mixture and stir into wheatberries or farro. Anchovies are the je ne sais quoi of a delicious dish.

Gotta love the name. Made it and have my audience begging for more - it probably wasn't picture perfect, but it disappeared so quickly that we didn't have time to make a photo. Encourage chatters to try this one.

My Grandmother would be so happy.

I baked the Georgia Fruitcake as gifts, in 6 mini-loaf pans instead of two full-size. We thought it was delicious. I commented on the recipe page and would like to rate it, but can't seem to make my rating count, in Firefox or IE11.

Hmm I think your comment did stick, after all. (Unless there are two people out there who baked them in 6 mini loaf pans, which is entirely possible!) So glad you like the cake. That one was my favorite of the bunch.

Georgia Fruitcake

RECIPE: Georgia Fruitcake


I have a couple of recipes that call for lard and Im having a hard time finding it. I once saw it in the refrigerated section of a H. teeter in Rockville but it was about to expire so I didnt get it, then I move to Reston and I havent seen it anywhere. Any clues? I dont want to use Crisco.

Near you: Red Apron Butcher carries it (leaf lard) in the Mosaic District. as does Fresh World Herndon (on Elden St). If there's a year-round farmers market close to you with a vendor that sells pork products, I'd bet they'd have it, too.

I'd like to make chicken soup, which I've never done before. From looking at various recipes it sounds like I can just put some cut-up onions, carrots, celery and raw chicken in a pot, cover it with water and let it simmer for four hours. This sounds easy enough for me. Here's my problem: I want to avoid having to cut or clean raw chicken. Can i just dump a package of thigh bones into the pot without doing anything to them first? What will that mean for the soup? Does it become extra greasy/fatty/cloudy if you don't clean the chicken first? Since I'm not going to clean it up beforehand, am I better off using boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead? Thanks guys - I read this chat every week :)

Since it's the bones and cartilage and connective tissue that build the flavor, don't use boneless, skinless anything for soup. You're better off buying wings, necks, backs and drumsticks for soup. You can just dump all that in the pot with some carrots, onions, celery (use the leaves!) and HERBS. Don't forget some whole peppercorns, thyme, parsley and a bay leaf.  

If touching chicken produces an ICK factor, how about some disposable latex gloves? I keep a box under the kitchen sink for any especially messy job. 

It's actually not recommended you wash raw chicken anyway. According to the USDA:

Washing raw poultry before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces.This is called cross-contamination. Rinsing or soaking chicken does not destroy bacteria. Only cooking will destroy any bacteria that might be present on fresh chicken.

I just came from Tom's chat. Much of it was about his January Weight Watchers diet. In the chat he made the claim: "I like the feeling of being a bit hungry." That is the complete opposite of me. I hate feeling a bit hungry. If I feel hungry that becomes all I think about. If I try to work, I get easily distracted and make more mistakes. Any thoughts on his? What are some reasonable snacks that help prevent this? How do I go from not being able to function well when hungry to actually liking the feeling of being hungry?

You're not alone. We have programmed ourselves -- partly because of the idea promoted many years ago to eat several small meals throughout the day, to "graze," and partly because of the success of the snack-food industry -- to think that even the slightest hunger pang is a disaster and must be avoided at all costs.

It takes practice to get to the point where hunger doesn't become so distracting. But try drinking some water or tea, or going for a little walk, taking a break; often what we think of as hunger is really about thirst and/or boredom, I've found. Also, if you're trying to lose weight, some minor hunger pangs can simply be a reminder that your body is doing what you want it to do. Does that make sense?

How to keep cheese from seizing into a glop in cheese soup? I do not bring to a boil.

In general? Low heat, gradual additions and constant stirring into an already warm liquid substance (like a roux or heated milk). But that's not a problem with all cheeses, as in today's #DinnerInMinutes recipe! #SoupNation

Oy! What do I do with a big bunch of parsley that I mistook for cilantro? There's only one of me to feed, so throwing it in a sauce here and there isn't going to do the trick. I don't particularly like tabbouleh.

Make a parsley pesto, without the cheese, and freeze it in zip-top bag(s), flat. Then you can break off hunks of it and use it as a pasta sauce (or in a pasta sauce), with cheese added then.

I recently made baked salmon with coconut-tomato sauce because I was looking for a way to use up some leftover coconut milk. The recipe (NYT) was a simple one, calling for a sauce of coconut milk, tomato sauce, onions and garlic (the fish was baked in a covered pan with water, and there was jasmine rice, also made with coconut milk). It was ok but seemed rather flat in flavor, despite the glowing online comments. I am not one for spicy food but I immediately thought of somehow giving the dish, in particular the sauce, a Thai kick. Suggestions, please? Something besides just adding heat with cayenne? Doesn't have to be Thai; can be spicy but not too much. Just looking for, well, "something."

Red pepper flakes? Sriracha? Gochujang? A hit of fish sauce might also amp things up flavor-wise.

OK Foodies, which of your diet plans allows for alcohol in the first month? I've done Atkins and have appreciated its flexibility in allowing certain kinds of non/low-carb alcohol in the Induction phase, although Atkins has moderated that advice over the years as it's allowed for more personalized approaches to its Induction phase. They acknowledge that alcohol will slow weight-loss progress, but they don't rule it out for everyone. How about your individual plans? If Whole30, which is the most interesting plan to me, nixes alcohol, I'd probably have to nix that plan. But its low-carb similarities make Whole30 an easier alternative than some of the other plans, since I've gotten used to low-carb meal prep over the years. Maybe the Buddha diet allows alcohol? I mean, look at the size of that guy's belly!

No alcohol on Whole30. Weight Watchers allows it -- you just have to count it, of course. Bonnie's Souper "Cleanse" allows alcohol. And so does "Buddha's Diet" -- it just counts as calories, so you can't drink outside your eating window. (BTW, Buddha was actually skinny.)

Great reminder for some "I gotta try that recipe," when the diet police are not around. Very interesting group of recipes - definitely going to try the Nebraska Runz.... Also wanted to give yet-another shout out to the Morning Glory Baked Oatmeal. My family loves it, and friends do too. You know it's a keeper when you kind of get tired of making it.

You are most welcome! Lovelovelove Ellie's oatmeal. I hope to enjoy it again someday. #5Diets #notobsessing

ARTICLE WaPo Food's top 20 recipes of 2016 (Warning: Scrolling through will make you hungry.)

Be careful to limit your "quick" carbs in that last meal of the day. Not that you can't have any, but a high glycemic index/glycemic load meal will spike your blood sugar, create a significant insulin response and leave you hungry as heck for 12 hours. Once you get the hang of keeping that insulin spike at the end of the day limited, you might be able to put off breakfast (which will help in not having to finish dinner before 6) for a few hours because your body will be burning fat for fuel overnight. It is so tempting to think of our bodies as a simple furnace, but we are more complex than that what with all the chemicals going on. When I started to try to lose weight, all I did was go lower glycemic index and 13 pounds went right away. I had to go lower carb to lose more, but that is my genetics catching up with me. Good luck.

Thanks for the advice! I don't tend to eat simple carbs at dinner, but I do enjoy the occasional pasta meal, so I will keep an eye on this... 

Happy New Year, Rangers! Amid all the talk of healthy eating, I have a question about something that is definitely not healthy. I was recently in San Juan for the first time and tried mallorcas, both grilled and as breakfast sandwiches. I submitted a question to Tom to ask about any local places that might serve it, but I thought it would be worth asking you as well. Is this something an intermediate baker could tackle making? And if so, do you have any recommended recipes? Thanks for the response!

So far I am struggling to find any place that serves them. But if you're an intermediate baker, I think you could certainly tackle the yeast dough. We don't have a recipe. Here's one from the NYT.

A lot of recipes call for coconut products. I am wondering about their nutritional content. Isn't coconut high in saturated fat? If I am trying to minimize saturated fat in my diet, do I need to avoid these recipes?

92 percent saturated fat, to be precise. Here's Ellie Krieger's take on it.

I'm always interested in trying different (vegetarian) chili recipes but prefer more cumin than chili powder. Every recipe I've ever seen, meat or meatless, has this ratio reversed. I'm wondering if there are any others out there who like more cumin or if I'm missing something vital in the art of chili making by reversing the amount of these two ingredients??? One recipe I haven't yet tried calls for adding the cumin last, stating that it doesn't hold up well when heated for a long time. I always add all of the spices at once. Should I hold off on the cumin until the end?

You might want to dig into this primer on cumin from Serious Eats.


Like a lot of dry spices, cumin seeds benefit from a quick toasting in a dry skillet to release their aromas (you can also fry them briefly in a small amount of oil to infuse their flavor into the oil). Cumin can go into a dish whenever you want to add it. Indian chefs, for instance, will add the spice (and all others) at the beginning when making a curry. But the longer you cook cumin, the more its characteristics will change and become less complex. For  more pronounced cumin flavor, I would add toasted seeds near the end of your cook time.

Greetings, and question for Melissa. I did Whole 30 once, found it overall pretty enjoyable, except for one thing: meat. exhaustion! As someone who usually only eats meat 3/4 times a week, eating it with every meal was the hardest part of Whole 30. I felt grossed out by it towards the end of the month. Any tips for how to deal with this feeling, or recipes that don't have meat?

I put your question to Kendra Nichols, the WaPo staffer who's on Whole30 for our 5 Diets project, and she says:

Honestly, that's one of the things I worry about with eggs and sweet potatoes, less so with meats because there are so many out there (and so many ways to prepare them). I'm also okay with eating meat at every meal. But I will say there's a new recipe in the new Whole30 cookbook for Dukkah Encrusted Brussels Sprouts (I think that's the name, I don't actually have the book in front of me) that was pretty tasty, and filling because it has pistachios, too. Here are a couple other recipes I've saved on my Whole30 Pinterest boards but haven't tried yet:

Pistachio Kale Pesto With Zucchini Noodles

Sweet Potato Hash With Eggs

(Basically if you search for Whole30 recipes on Pinterest, or just on Google, you'll find a ton -- I even found a whole post about egg-free breakfasts.)

Due to a spouse who has watched me enjoy chicken feet at chinese restaurants, we now have a package of chicken feet in the fridge. Can I make soup out of them? Any other non-Asian ideas for what to do with them?

I'm not so experienced with chicken feet, but finding in our Recipe Finder a few ideas: chicken soup or chicken stock. Chatters, other ideas? 

RECIPE: Molly's Favorite Chicken Soup

Wedge Oak Farm Chicken Stock

RECIPE: Wedge Oak Farm Chicken Stock

They definitely get dull, but it's sometimes difficult to tell as you get used to the way they are working (or not working). I got a new one for Christmas and the difference between that and my old one was staggering. I'll keep the old one in case of emergencies but it's definitely going to the bottom of the gizmo drawer.

Thanks for the insight!



The recipe calls for Gochugan or "red pepper flakes," but what I've been able to find doesn't look like flakes at all - can you help?

Gochugan is a Korean chili. It comes in a paste form or in chili powder. I don't know which recipe for kimchee you are using, but I have used both the powder and the paste with good results.

I'm guessing the recipe calls for either the Gochugan, OR the red pepper flakes - which most people have in the spice cabinet. 

My go-to kimchi recipe uses Korean red chili flakes, which I get on the Interwebs.

You want to see schlumpy? I'll send you a picture.

Ha! I don't want to get into a schlump-off, clearly. That could be dangerous.

Thanks for much for the new recipes. Loved the pics of WaPo staffers. So I want to dive in and try some of the recipes, but have some questions: For the Black Rice, B-fast bowls - I've never worked w/black rice- if I find it in store, can I assume it is "glutinous" rice? For the Egg Roll Bowls, will regular (not baby bok choy) work? Re the Ckn Thighs - is chipolte mayo a Trader Joe's kind of item - don't think I've seen it in my regular go-to grocery stores, but then, haven't been looking for it. Also on same recipe - says to "break up/shred chicken" in sauce, then discard the skins. Wondering if ok to get rid of skins before shredding? Thanks and Happy New Year!


Answers, in order:

Glutinous rice is preferred for that recipe, but we tested it with forbidden black rice too and it turned out fine -- just a little looser consistency.


For the egg roll bowls, sure bok choy would work just fine. But you  dont need much of it, so the baby size works better here.


A few main mayo brands make a chipotle-flavored version (Kraft,  Hellman's) but you can make your own simply by stirring in a little sauce from a small can of chipotles en adobo (and you can freeze what's left after you open that can).


Re the skin on the braised chicken thighs: Get rid of the skin before or after you shred the meat, sure. (The skin doesn't really shred, as it's achieved a somewhat rubbery state in the end.)

If you buy two, buy one that is already starting to darken and the second one still bright green. They won't both ripen at the same time. Be sure to refrigerate when just beginning to soften. It's a challenge. I read this somewhere and it is so true about avocados: not ready yet, not ready yet, not ready yet, not ready yet, ready, too late!

So true.

My spouse is dealing with some health issues (that we hope will be cured in 2017!) and feels better on a diet without gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, and a few other things. I enjoy cooking and while I miss making some of my go to dishes, it's been a fun challenge to find new and delicious recipes. We both feel better and have lost weight, but I will confess I snuck out of the house this morning and had an apple croissant for breakfast :)

You gotta do what you gotta do.

Hi free rangers - love the chats! Good luck to all of you with your weight loss plans. My big resolution is to go back to trying one new healthful recipe per week. I did this a few years ago and got turned on to quinoa, kamut, and pulses which I now make regularly. Also, every year in January I cut out alcohol (Dryuary as it is sometimes dubbed). Since I tend to eat when I drink it helps with getting the weight loss started. And once you see the pounds starting to come off you are more conscious of what you eat since you know how hard it was to lose those first few, and it keeps you motivated to keep up the good eating habits. Friends might give you a hard time, particularly with football playoff parties, but I just tell them I'm saving up my beers for the Super Bowl in February! I am a lifetime WW member and also found that a combination WW/South Beach eating plan works very well. South Beach tells you that you can eat without keeping track but I found that following their weekly plans of what foods were allowed and tracking their WW points worked very well. Good luck - I'll be following your progress!

Thanks for this -- good for you!

Thanks, Becky! Red pepper flakes sounds similar to adding cayenne, just adds heat. I will try the Gochujang as I have never heard of it, plus I have a pseudo-Korean dish that also could use something. Can I get that in a WF or do I need a specialty store?

Seems like something you might be able to get at a well-stocked grocery store, but best to call ahead. Not sure where you are, but H Mart would be good. I'm also a huge fan of the market at Bangkok 54 in Arlington, which has so much interesting stuff packed into a relatively compact space. I'm sure you could find something neat to experiment with in there.

I love to cook at home but some dishes would just make me want to cry with the amount of prep involved. That changed entirely after a knife skills class I took at L'Academie de Cuisine. I don't know if they offer these any more, but I highly recommend it. I learned how to quickly and safely chop an onion, slice mango, and even cut up a whole chicken. It makes it so much easier to cook at home. I also saved a bunch of money by buying whole chicken, cutting it myself, and then stretching that out to lots of meals (including making chicken stock). It's not something I want to do every day, but at least I know I can do it now.

There's a reason that knife techniques are among the first things learned at cooking school!


I'm curious: Before you learned how to chop one, what process did you use for cutting up an onion?

My late father was hypoglycemic, and also watched his weight carefully. So he ate 6 small meals per day, yet maintained his ideal weight -- because he ate right. If he had to go out for more than an hour or so, he'd always take along a banana or other piece of fresh fruit for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. At home he might have a slice of cheese and a few crackers or nuts along with fruit. He also walked a minimum of 1 mile per day, no matter the weather (even if it meant driving to a shopping mall), and often walked farther.

Your father was proof that much of it is about paying attention, and planning.

You can *almost* never have too much chopped fresh parsley in French Potato Salad (layered sliced boiled potatoes in vinegar/oil dressing, with a little garlic, S&P). I also love to chop lots of it fine, stems and all, to mix into potato latke batter.


Becky, thanks for the link - the photo in the accompanying article is actually the restaurant where we ate them. Sooooooooo good!! The restaurant is old-school, too - marble everywhere, waiters in vests and bow ties. Quite charming! I'll give them a try and report back.

Sounds good! I've been doing a lot more yeast breads and things lately (made pitas for the first time this weekend!), so those are quite appealing to me, too.

One of the best things I ever did was not to follow a specific diet, but to focus on getting 5-7 servings of fruits/veggies per day and build my meals around that. This flipped the way I approached meals, and I ate more healthfully as a result. Nothing was off limits, so I could still make fried chicken with a side of veggies. But, I found that I couldn't eat that way at every meal and still get all the veggies in, and I started craving more variety. So I started having things like curries, veggie-heavy stir-fries with chicken, and beautiful roasted veggies (so simple to make).

You're speaking my language.

Actually, as often as not, Indian cooks add cumin to a dish in two ways: at the beginning, when the spices are fried in the same oil that they fry the onions/garlic/ginger in, and at the end, when they toast or fry cumin and other spices like asafoetida in a small pan and pour it over the finished dish. (Now I"m hungry for Indian food)

Yes, the best of both cumin worlds.

Anyone try this yet? If so, did you like it? I saw a segment on it on Dr. Oz this week but it's not in any store near me yet so I haven't been able to try it. I've been a vegetarian for nearly 15 years and still miss a thick, medium-rare hamburger.

I have, and wrote about it. We also had a video about it. I think it's definitely worth your trying. I don't eat it regularly because, well, I don't want to eat much processed food, but you might try it for those occasional cravings. 

ARTICLE: The shockingly beeflike veggie burger that's not aimed at vegetarians

Use in heartystews or other saucy things - even tomato sauce. You'll find it gives extra brightness. Use in a grain bowl! I personally love a 'herb' salad and will often chop up quite a wadge of parsley or cilantro to add to my salad.

Any suggestions for bridal shower bites than are impressive but also that can be prepared ahead of time?

A variety of finger foods, perhaps? These range from meatless to meat-full, too, to accommodate a variety of diets.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

RECIPE: Stuffed Grape Leaves

Lamb and Phyllo Cigars

RECIPE: Lamb and Phyllo Cigars

Fried Eggplant Rolls With Walnut-Garlic Filling (Badrijani Nigvzit)

RECIPE: Fried Eggplant Rolls With Walnut-Garlic Filling (Badrijani Nigvzit)

Holiday Vegetable Platter With Herbed Avocado Dip

RECIPE: Holiday Vegetable Platter With Herbed Avocado Dip

Smoked Salmon Vols-au-Vents

RECIPE: Smoked Salmon Vols-au-Vents

Prosciutto, Goat Cheese and Green Bean Roll-Ups

RECIPE: Prosciutto, Goat Cheese and Green Bean Roll-Ups

Also not sure when this bridal shower is, but just in case you're planning very far in advance and it's during tomato season, this gazpacho cake is amazing and would be so great at a shower. Serve it with crackers, flatbread or even next to a crudite platter.

Gazpacho Cake

RECIPE: Gazpacho Cake

I'm looking for some where to buy unsweetened dried cherries in Eastern Loudoun county. Any ideas?

Have you tried the health food stores in Leesburg? For Goodness Sake carries two brands, one that's just dried bing cherries and one that uses a little apple juice.

Happy New Year! In my own efforts to eat healthier, I'm working on incorporating tofu in my diet. The problem is I have no idea what to do with it! Is there a trick to preparing it? Are there specific techniques I should be doing to avoid getting the same texture every single time? Where can a tofu-neophyte start?

My favorite way is to press the extra liquid out (unless I'm using Twin Oaks or another brand that isn't packed in water), marinate it, then dust it in cornstarch and bake it. Here's a good starter recipe -- note that since I wrote this, I have added the dusting-in-cornstarch step. You also don't have to freeze it unless you want to try getting that extra-chewy result.

RECIPE: Baked Marinated Tofu


Get a rescue dog, or spoil your neighbors' rescue dogs. Seriously, they've probably already had a crazy life and what's wrong with spoiling them a bit? Not advocating for obese dogs; you can work some leftovers into a vet-approved dry food and see some wagging tails.

Yes, but please be mindful there are many foods that are considered dangerous to dogs, especially the smaller breeds.


Read this first before feeding your sweet pooch table scraps.

ANCHOVIES! Anchovy paste! or maybe lemon grass.

make a potato/leek soup and add the parsley toward the end.

I'm not a fan of anchovies, but I do appreciate the subtle flavor they add to a dish, so I keep one of those tubes of anchovy paste in my fridge. I'm sure they go bad eventually, but they last a lot longer than an open tin, and I haven't had one go off yet.

I've seen lard at Giant supermarkets, near the scrapple and other low-demand meat products. Any market with a Hispanic clientele will have it (it's called "Manteca de cerdo"). A potential downside is that the market lards include preservatives.

Right you are. And it's sometimes in the Latin/frozen section.

A big change for me has been to pack my own lunches, and include only items I can easily eat by hand while I work. I bring deli meat roll ups, fresh veggies (usually carrots, chopped cucumber, chopped peppers or cherry tomatoes), olives, strawberries... I eat very slowly this way. If I get a sandwich or bring a microwave meal I tend to scarf it down quickly and get back to work.


I accidentally grabbed cumin instead of ground ginger when making a green smoothie. I wouldn't recommend adding cumin at any point with a smoothie. Tasted like a liquid burrito!

Similar experience with coffee -- added cumin instead of cinnamon (back when I thought alphabetizing my spices would make it easier to keep track of what I was doing. Didn't account for blurry-eyed mornings.)

I guess I should have said that the spice can go into "cumin-appropriate-dishes" whenever you want to add it.



Make gremolata and dab it on any meat you happen to be serving. It zings up any plain meat.

We had these amazing crackerish things while visiting Spain. Do you know of a recipe for them?

Oh, those are fantastic, aren't they? You know, not to discourage you from making them, but ... they've gotten pretty easy to come by in the States. The company Ines Rosales exports them here, and I see them in a lot of Whole Foods Markets (in the cheese section, sometimes) and other places.

We don't have a recipe, but this one on Leite's Culinaria looks pretty great, doesn't it?

I always chopped onions, but did it in a dangerous way. I believe I'd peel it, then put it on its side and slice it, then try to chop up the slices. The other way--which you also see people on TV doing--was to cut both ends off (since you want to discard the root), peel it, and then attempt to chop what remains. Neither of these is ideal, as a round onion can roll around and an onion with neither top nor root starts to separate itself. At knife skills, we learned to halve the onion by slicing vertically, so that each half of the onion remains connected by the root end. Then, lay the onion on its flat side and slice or chop from there. Seems really obvious to me now, but it astounded me at the time.

I agree. I don't want to feel hungry constantly, but I do believe we should feel hungry when we are going to eat. I used to stuff myself to the point of never, ever feeling hunger. It really doesn't make sense to do that.

Most stores carry lard but not always in the refrigerated case. Because it is used in Hispanic cooking, some stores consider it more "foreign" or "international." Apparently many staff in grocery stores are unaware that lard has been used for years in southern cuisine and that German Americans used lard as well. I wish grocers would stop attempts to flag items as international when products have been in this country for more than a century.

I like to have homemade chicken soup all the time. What I do is like you suggested use the backs, the necks and the wings also the left over carcass from roast chicken. Make my broth using the spices named veggies and make a big pot of broth. And freeze containers of the broth. Eat the veggies the day I make the broth . Then when I want soup I can add what ever I want in the soup, whether it is more veggies, tortellinis, rice or even dumplings.

For the chatter who doesn't want to touch raw chicken... Why not get a rotisserie chicken, eat or cut most of the meat off, and then make a soup with the carcass and whatever meat is remaining on the bones? Shreds of meat will fall off naturally while it cooks with the veggies.

If you can make it through a couple of days by acknowledging the hunger pangs while they're there but not eating to make them go away, then you'll find over time that, like most annoyances, it's something you eventually get used to. I liken it to getting back in shape if I haven't exercised for awhile.

Great advice. Thanks!

Rinse off some of the external salt. Then shred or otherwise make into small bits, or chop with garlic into a paste. THEN add some of the resulting paste to the aromatics that you sweat or saute at the start of a tomato or bean soup recipe. Big flavor boost that most people can't identify.

...Is it really just a losing venture to eat off-season asparagus from the grocery store? I'm beginning to think asparagus only tastes good if it's super fresh and super local. I like to cook it with a light touch (till just done but still tender) but I'm beginning to think another step is necessary, maybe peeling off the outer layer around the ends.

Yes, you are on the way to realizing that asparagus is one of those foods that's so much better when it's fresh and local that it's more rewarding to wait until they're in season and then get your fill until they're gone, then move on to other things until the next year. But until you get there, sure, peeling the stems can help make them more tender.

Dry it: tie the washed/dried bunch by the stems, place in a large clean paper bag (e.g., from the grocery store), tie the top shut tight with a heavy string, and hang upside down in a dark place until dried.

I'm making a shabbat dinner with chicken, I have a lot of white rice. Is there any recipe you can recommend (no-dariy) to spice up this bland rice into something delicious. How about a suated veggie dish? I think the oven will full. I'm thinking in addition to the traditional (challah, wine) having chicken and hot fruit (apple sauce with canned peaches, pears, pinapple, mandarine oranges, and red hots).

I love to make this Super Green Stir Fry with leftover rice, or any grain. I haven't thought about Hot Fruit in years. Thanks for the memories!

Go pilaf! So many flavor options for  your white rice. Cook it in a good broth instead of water, you know? From a quick survey of our Recipe Finder: With chickpeas and lemon; with spinach and mushrooms; with raisins, pine nuts and almonds; or, along those lines, how about a vegetable biryani?

Which are better -- electric or not? Multi-slot or only one or two? This is for a gift for a friend who has no idea how much simpler meal prep would be with sharp knives!

This is the sharpener I gave to a friend for the same reason.

It took me decades, but now I have a super simple go-to method for cooking tofu to serve with Asian meals. Slice firm tofu and let it dry out a bit (weigh it down beforehand for extra drying). Put some toasted sesame oil and a couple tablespoons soy sauce in a frying pan. Fry the tofu until browned to your liking on both sides. This is great over rice or with noodles.

How about a box of frozen artichoke hearts? Yummm, say I!

Love the diet challenge you Food folks are doing and look forward to seeing how everyone's experience goes. My husband and I are on South Beach -- we did Phase 2 during the holidays and now the more restrictive Phase 1 is underway. No bread/pasta/rice, no fruit, and I'm already getting a little sick of yogurt, beans and pork tenderloin. Any recipes to suggest for getting through these two weeks? We just made your Kale and Chickpea Stew last night.

Wouldn't these Egg Roll Bowls qualify?

I didn't think my two-year-old microplane was dull either, but I was having a heck of a time grating some lemongrass this weekend and tried doing it along the lesser-used edges of the microplane and--wow, yeah, time for a new one. Obviously, it will last longer if you stick to citrus zest over ginger and lemongrass, but it's like knives: you don't necessarily realize how dull they've gotten until you use a sharp one. (Of course, I've been using my dull knives for so long, I'm scared to death of buying a sharp one, but that's another story...)

I think lemongrass stalks would dull a VitaMix. I usually use a knife (a sharp one!) to mince lemongrass.


But your point stands: You often don't notice when a tool goes dull until you purchase a new one or use a freshly sharpened one.

Loved the six healthy recipes and added all of them to my "to cook" list. Do you have other suggestions on how to use the glutinous rice aside from the breakfast bowls? One of my New Year's resolutions is to avoid having random containers of food at the back of my pantry that I bought for one recipe and never used again ...

It makes a great risotto. 

Black Rice Risotto

RECIPE: Black Rice Risotto

Or use it to make this Filipino dessert. We got the recipe from Bad Saint:

Bilo Bilo

RECIPE: Bilo Bilo


I picked up a bag of whole wheat pastry flour and would like to better understand it's uses and how it's different than AP

A pastry flour differs from AP flour in that it's typically finer-textured and has a high starch content. Whole-wheat pastry flour contains the wheat germ, so it has more fiber, and some fat; make sure you store your WWPF in the refrigerator or freezer for best/long shelf life (because of that wheat germ, it can go bad faster). Ellie Krieger generally uses WWPF in her #Nourish baked goods, including most recently her very nice Gingerbread Chocolate Chunk Biscotti.

Here's a good explanation from the experts at King Arthur Flour:

This "soft," silky flour is 100% whole wheat, but is milled from soft (lower protein) rather than hard wheat berries. Baked goods made with this flour will be tender rather than chewy, and soft rather than crusty. Use whole wheat pastry flour (a.k.a. graham flour) in cookies, pie crust, pastry, and quick breads rather than yeast breads.

For a comparison, KAF's whole-wheat pastry flour has a 9 percent protein content, whereas its all-purpose has 11.7 percent and its traditional whole wheat 14 percent.

Here are a few more Ellie recipes:

Double Chocolate Pancakes With Raspberry Sauce

RECIPE: Double Chocolate Pancakes With Raspberry Sauce

Pumpkin Cranberry Waffles

RECIPE: Pumpkin Cranberry Waffles

Whole-Grain Apple Crumb Muffins

RECIPE: Whole-Grain Apple Crumb Muffins

A tip I learned years ago has stood me in good stead: Drink some water when you think you feel hungry. Thirst often manifests itself as hunger, and a glass of water can make me realize that I wasn't hungry at all.


I have such a fear of hunger pangs. totally causes me anxiety. The second that I feel one, I reach for food. I just hate that. I like the idea of drinking water and checking back in 20 minutes. that's what richard simmons used to say.

Such a simple recipe, great for the cold months and leftovers cold are good too!

I just had a conversation with my husband about how I rarely buy avocados because I feel I'll waste them. He loves them and claims he could easily polish off one a day, but failing that, I'm wondering if any of you have tried freezing them. I read once that you could mash them and freeze them (which obviously would limit their use but at least they wouldn't go to waste).

I've done just that -- mash and freeze (I add a layer of plastic wrap to the top of the avocado, to try to help stop browning/keep out freezer taste.)

The thawed avocado makes good guacamole, at least. Or you could use it to make a salad dressing, as seen here:

Jicama, Apple and Chayote Salad With Pepita-Avocado Dressing

RECIPE: Jicama, Apple and Chayote Salad With Pepita-Avocado Dressing

Kale and Cucumber Salad With Avocado-Tahini Dressing

RECIPE: Kale and Cucumber Salad With Avocado-Tahini Dressing

Or in this!

Avocado-Ginger Raita

RECIPE: Avocado-Ginger Raita

Thanks for the great article! Would love to try yours Joe (Buddha's) but long office hours/longer commute won't make that feasible; the Whole30 would simply kill me and I know I'd cheat day 2; I'm more like Adam - but ultimately want to keep the weight off permanently. Haven't tried Weight Watchers yet, could be next step. My problem is l love to cook, I cook for one person, have second helpings and eat all the leftovers. Counting my calories would be a good place to start, but I don't want to lose the flavor. Any suggestions on a few go-to meals I can prepare on weekends and still feel like I'm enjoying my meals?

Would it be much too obvious for me to recommend . . . something liquid, in a bowl? #SoupNation


Thai Sweet Potato Soup


Fast Blender Tomato Soup


Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

Another super great firm brand is Trader Joe's High Protein Organic Tofu - super firm. It comes shrink wrapped without water, not in those water tubs. You do want it really firm - it's much easier to handle. When frying, put it in incredibly hot oil. Joe: how do you store tofu that doesn't come in water once opened ? Do you put it in a sealed container or water or ... ?

Good to know! I rarely have leftover tofu from a package -- just cook it all is the best bet, IMO. Stores better when cooked. But in the rare instance, I'd just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and put it in a zip-top bag. And cook it soon.

After pressing, I will often cut it into planks, cornstarch and hit with some cooking spray and broil until firm, turning once. Try putting different kinds of rubs on it - jerk, tomato paste with italian herbs, bbq rub and then bbq sauce at the end, etc. You can also do oven-friend with panko crumbs. Good luck!

I saw the piece on hot chocolate and I'm looking for a fairly intense, dark hot chocolate. Anything in DC area or do I keep making at home?

Try Pitango. Co Co. Sala also has a dark hot chocolate.

ARTICLE: These offbeat hot chocolates will help get you through winter

Wash it, dry it, chop it, freeze it. Works great when you are making sauces and stews.

I bought and received quite a lot of blue cheese over Thanksgiving/Christmas period. How long does this usually last in the fridge and can I freeze it for later.

It might lose some flavor in deep freeze storage but it'll last for a few months that way. In the fridge, several weeks. Wrapping is key; dont be stingy with the plastic wrap, and then put that inside a freezer zip-top bag with as much air pressed out as yaddayadda....

Well, you've cooked us just until we've wilted, so you know what that means: We're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Cathy for helping with the a's.

Now for the giveaway book: The chatter who asked about how to cope with hunger will get "Cooking That Counts." The one who asked about handling meat exhaustion on Whole30 will get "The Whole30 Cookbook," of course." And the one who asked about working with black rice will get "Eat Beautiful." Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your books. 

Until next time, happy cooking, eating -- healthfully or not -- and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow's first cookbook is "Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving" (W.W. Norton). She blogs at
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
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