Free Range on Food: Superfoods, brewing coffee at home and more

Jan 15, 2014

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range!

Today, we've got caffeine on the brain (or should I say coursing through our bloodstream after Tim's great piece exploring his obsession with brewing methods); plus some superfoods, thanks to Bonnie's debut of a challenge to chefs to come up with recipes using those ingredients; plus GMOs and labeling, thanks to Tamar's thought-provoking Unearthed column about the issue; plus "ginskey," thanks to Carrie Allan's Spirits column today.

So let's cut to the chase, and get started! Fire away with any and all questions. We'll have experts on hand to help answer: In addition to us regulars, we'll have Tamar, Carrie, Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin, Judith Mandel (barista at Blue Bottle Coffee), and Nick Palermo of Old Angler's Inn (who was the first up in Bonnie's superfoods challenge).

We'll have a cookbook (or maybe two) to give away to the source of our favorite question or comment, so make them good!

I've recently started making my own pizzas, with homemade crust. It's all going well but I'd like to get a thinner crust. When I try to stretch or roll the crust so it's thinner , it just springs back! I'm using regular white flour and the recipe from Mark Bittman's cookbook. Should I switch flours? Try another recipe?

I make a thin crust pizza recipe from America's Test Kitchen that is fantastic. It uses bread flour, so that may be something to consider. That will give you a higher protein base for good structure without requiring as much kneading (the ATK recipe has you do this briefly in the food processor). Letting your dough come to room temperature will make it easier to stretch and roll. And how much are you kneading? It's possible that if you're overkneading, you might be developing too much gluten -- which means it will be harder for you to roll out the dough without it snapping back into place.

If the dough is springing back, it needs more resting time, yes!

I loved Tim's article about different coffee brewing methods. In reality, though, the only method that's compatible with our family's usual weekday shuffle is the good old drip coffeemaker. We do buy locally roasted, whole beans and grind immediately prior to brewing using a burr grinder, but there's no way I've got time to start measuring quantities, etc. So if I were to pick one method to experiment with on weekends when I (sometimes) have a bit more time, which do you think is best-suited? Seems like maybe one of the pourover methods.

A great solution to accommodate your entire family is the Chemex. It is a version of the pour-over, but since you've got a grinder and preferred beans, you would just need the Chemex, filters, and kettle. The 8 cup would likely be your best bet for a more leisurely weekend coffee- brewing experience. The filters are 3-ply and makes a super clean, delicious cup!  Plus, clean-up is super easy!

We know that people not only can't evaluate risk, they nearly always fear the wrong things and fail to fear harmful things. Labeling GMOs sends the false message that they are harmful, while we overeat, eat hi, simple carb foods, not to mention fat and sugar. From today's Post article it seems the good thing is many GMO foods now are things like sugars you should avoid on their merits.

Absolutely true about risk. But I'm convinced that labeling GMOs won't have much impact.  Most people simply don't care.

But, in making the calculation, your point is an important one.  If people were to be scared away from the processed foods that they should probably be eating less of anyway, it wouldn't be a terrible thing. 

I understand kale is a superfood,is it more nutritious raw or roasted?

Raw, according to the experts. 

That's true of most vegetables, although in general, I'd say that if cooking it the way that you find gives the most delicious results means you eat more vegetables, then that's not to be taken lightly.

Hi guys! Posting early since I won't be around during chat time tomorrow - what's the best/healthiest hard cheese? I love egg white omelets with sauteed mushrooms and red onions. I like to add (non-melted) cheese after the fact. My favorites are grueyer and sharp cheddar. From a health standpoint I need a more cholesterol friendly cheese that has the same delicious taste (or as close as possible) to my beloved sharp cheddar or grueyer. Any suggestions?

I feel your pain! I'm a cheese fan, but try to cook healthfully. I haven't had a lot of success with low-fat cheeses (there's a chalky consistency, all too often), but I have found that, if I use cheeses with strong flavors, I can use less.  So, Parmesan, Romano, and the other classic Italian hard cheeses, but also feta -- it tends to melt into dishes and flavor the whole thing.  For cheddar, just get the sharpest you can find.  Gruyere is harder because it's a milder, but if you can cut back the rest of the time, there are certainly worse vices than gruyere!

I inadvertently threw out the Food Section with the article and recipes. Can you give me a link (Yes, I read the actual newspaper and cut out recipes) Thanks

Of course! Here you go: Long live lentils!

Where can I purchase farm fresh butter in the Washington area, preferably within the beltway?

Blue Ridge Dairy sells great butter at area farmers markets, including these year-round markets: Arlington, Falls Church, Alexandria, Bethesda and Dupont.

First off: fun coffee article this morning! We have a french press and it's true about the grounds, but otherwise we love it. The piece made me want to try one of the single-cup drip things and become a pouring expert. I just like that idea. But maybe I'll save that for the experts. Anyway, my question: I'm trying to eat healthier and have incorporated lots of changes into my diet. One thing that is hard for me is whole wheat pasta (I'm fine with whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat flour, ancient grains, etc. etc. but I'd still like to have pasta sometimes!). I know I should switch but I just haven't found a good brand. Do you have recommendations? Is it really that important?

I pretty much stopped buying regular pasta, in favor of the whole wheat variety at Trader Joe's. Any other favorites, chatters?

I noticed Joe Yonan's comments about maintaining and cleaning cast iron pots and pans. Instead of scrubbing stuck on food, an old tried and true method for cleaning cast iron is to run water into the pan, then bring to a boil on the stove. The boiling will loosen most stuck/on foods. Use a metal spoon or spatula to work away any food that is still stuck. Dispose of the cruddy water, and clean your normal way. Some people only wipe them clean, others wash with soap and water. After washing, place the pan back on a burner; turn on the burner to dry the pan completely; after drying the pan, season if that is what you normally do. I usually don't. I do, however, place paper towels or paper plates between my cast iron pans. It must work okay because my cast iron pans belonged to my great grandmother and are well over 100 years old. One thing one absolutely MUST keep in mind is to never, ever, ever immerse a hot cast iron pan into cold water. Rinsing one in cold water is also a no no. Cast iron has been known to crack when subjected to those temperature extremes. Rebecca Beeman

Thanks! Yes, there are many, many tricks/ways to cleaning and maintaining cast iron. For the most part, I'm able to clean with just water and a quick swipe of the brush -- it's not scrubbing, by any means. Many times, water alone will do the trick. But yes, dry the pan thoroughly before storing it, indeed...

Thank you thank you thank you! Your recommendation to a fellow chatter spurred me to find this cleaner, and you are so is like magic! My old and new pots and pans are sparkling :)

Yep, BKF does work well!

Re: superfoods, I swear - I have seen a freaking explosion of stuff about chia seeds in the last few weeks. What do you guys think about them - worth the hype? Not? I'm willing to give them a shot if they can make my already tasty foods even better/healthier, but I trust your wise opinions!

It has taken a couple of years for them to catch on, I think. Their "ancient" status is kinda trendy. They're not the be-all health cure, but they do offer lots of fiber (which, apparently, we Americans don't get enough of) protein and omega-3 fats.  Their ability to thicken soups and sauces and pudding and as a meatball panade/filler  is worth looking into, as mentioned in my story today, and of course you could sprinkle them on things.  They are also gluten-free and used sometimes as an egg substitute and tossed into breading for baked chicken or fish. 

Loved the coffee column today. Was wondering if you have any experience making traditional Vietnamese coffee? We spent a couple weeks there last year and LOVED the coffee- wonderfully strong and usually mixed with sweetened condensed milk. We purchased filters (like this) at a local market and have tried making it at home, following various tips and videos on the internet, but just can't seem to get it right. The coffee always comes out too weak, presumably because the water is flowing through too fast. I've about given up- any thoughts?

Thank you.


Funny you should mention Vietnamese coffee. After the article appeared yesterday, I was trading notes with the terrific Post food contributor Lisa Yockelson, who also loves Vietnamese coffee. I've personally never made it, although I've enjoyed it many times.


Lisa says a fine grind is necessary, but not too fine a grind. She describes it as a medium-fine grind. Perhaps this is worthy of a follow-up blog post?

Curious what method you free rangers who imbide prefer? I have to say that after carefully reading the article, I didn't see anything that tempted me away from my French press. The Chemix is maybe a close second but I fear it would have a short life with my hard-on-glassware-but-dish-washing spouse.

I'm a Clever dripper devotee. I understand the limitations, but when you find what works for you, you stick with it -- for awhile, anyway. I have to say I'm a LITTLE tempted to buy a siphon for special occasions after seeing Tim's in action, though.

I'm die-hard French press fan. We have a large, stainless steel, double-walled one, with a silicone gasket.  Makes wonderful coffee and keeps it hot.  Embarrassingly, we travel with it (although I think Tim will give us extra points for that).

I sometimes travel with a French press, too -- I do have one I use for making coffee in bigger quantities, too. (The AeroPress has a lot of fans who travel with it, btw.)

Based on yesterday's Health Section article, can you suggest some menus or recipes to maximize the use of the mood-enhancing foods they mention?

Must have been addition to the Heath section article, Editor Joe was cooking up a calming stew and we recommended these small volumes that contain menus and recipes that looked pretty good to us. Check 'em out!

Hi, Tim, Thanks for today's article. I was just wondering this morning -- Is coffee made in a French press supposed to brew with the plunger inserted but not pressed so air doesn't get in, like with an AeroPress, or with the plunger out, so air circulates it's like with a Chemex? Also, I usually make 2 cups for my morning dose and am unsure if once the plunger is pressed for the first cup, the remaining coffee in the French press continues to steep? If not, does pulling the plunger back up help make richer coffee? Thanks so much! I'd also be interested to know how you rate the stove-top espresso maker like this one.

These are some great questions about the press. It is intended to brew with the plunger rested on top so air does not come out. 1) Pour your coffee in, followed by half as much water and wait about 1 minute. You will see a crust form. Just stir out the crust like a nice glass of wine and then pour the rest of your water on top. Place the plunger to rest for the remaining 3 minutes. Then at the end of the 4 minutes, gently plunge.

2) Yes, your coffee will continue to steep! A good solution is to decant your entire batch into a thermos of some-sort to keep it warm and then enjoy your second cup, knowing it brewed just as well as the first one.

Regarding the stove top coffee maker, it is an entirely different beast. If you know you love a syrupy bodied coffee, this may be a good, affordable, home device for you. But it is a form of percolation, where the water is cycling through the grounds over and over again. Optimal flavors may not reach their potential, but again, it's all in finding the best method for your personal taste preference.

My motto for customers has always been that it's relatively easy to make wonderful brewed coffee at home and a fun treat to come have wonderful espresso at your favorite cafe.


What is it about frothed milk that completely changes a cup of coffee/espresso from good to great?

Several factors but the most important being  the techqniue used to steam the milk that enances the natural sugars in the milk (temperature and texture) and the kind of milk sourced (whole and grass fed).

When I make pasta, I make my own sauce, and don't use a lot of prepared foods in general. I figure I am way ahead of the game by not using jarred sauce or the Parm that comes in the green shaker, but is there really a health difference between the whole wheat or organic dry pasta and the "regular" ones? Should I switch or is this not that big of deal?

There is a significant difference, nutritionally, between whole and processed wheat, but not between organic and conventional.  Regular pasta, organic or not, has virtually no nutritional value -- it's basically glucose, a simple sugar.  Whole wheat pasta has fiber, minerals, and antioxidants, among other things. The problem is finding a good brand.  Look for "whole durum wheat" or "whole semolina wheat" as the only ingredient.  I like Bionaturae and Trader Joe's.

I went into our nutritional database software to compare numbers, and typically you'll get at least a few more grams of fiber per 2-ounce serving in whole wheat pasta versus regular.

I've made the ATK pizza dough recipe, but I'd still like an even thinner crust- is it possible to do in a conventional (ie, not wood-fired) oven? Should I use a little more water in the dough?

You might try the no-knead dough and the broiler method, in which I use a baking steel).

Any reactions to this?

It's interesting stuff. My favorite tidbit is that Emeril first said "Bam!" as a way of waking up one of his cameramen, who would often fall asleep because he was moonlighting.

We are debating whether to have a dinner for lunar new year or for the opening night of the Olympics, but we know we're inviting over two of our close friends who are comfortable in the kitchen with us. For LNY, I have a good recipe for hot and sour soup, and my go-to Vietnamese-style spring rolls. Looking for some other ideas that would be tasty, fun, and complementary, but neither too fussy nor too wok-reliant (as we are presently not in the temperment for the former, and have not possession of the latter). Alternatively, suggestions welcome for foods from other nations/ethnicities that would complement the soup and rolls, but broaden this out to Olympic range. Always love the chat. Thanks so much for being here every week.

Can you wait a week? We have some very tasty dumplings coming up next week, although they do get fried -- not sure if that's too fussy for you. 

Other options:

Scallion Shiitake Pancakes

Scallion Shiitake Pancakes

Spicy Cashews (from 2 Birds, 1 Stone, the downstairs bar at hot new Vietnamese restaurt Doi Moi)

spicy cashews

The siphon pictured on today's front page looks like a fancy, expensive Bunsen-burner version of the classic Italian stovetop coffeepot. Water in the bottom, coffee grounds packed in the middle, apply heat below, it bubbles up into coffee in the carafe above. The pictures on the next page are missing the classic Italian pot. I got mine at a kitchen store clearance for $10. Works great every time. You can even take it camping. (Admittedly, it's hard to ensure the campfire coals are a precise 200 degrees, but it still comes out well.)

Yes, there were a number of other devices and gadgets we didn't test, whether because of time or costs or both.


We could have focused the whole article on the different pour-over techniques alone. We never touched upon the Kalita wave system, which is being strongly advocated by former Murky Coffee owner Nick Cho. Some baristas love the Kalita. It makes a very fine cup of coffee, to my mind.

Great article on the coffee makers. You mentioned, but didn't quite emphasize enough, how important it is to use freshly roasted and ground coffee. I always grind my own, but what are the best local sources for recently roasted beans? Thanks

Not to sound defensive, but how much more emphasis should we have given this? Freshly roasted beans got a whole paragraph in the story, complete with a quote from a local roaster about the only consistency you'll get from coffee is with stale beans.  It was then mentioned again in the sidebar.


But criticism aside, I agree with you 100 percent. Fresh roasted coffee is paramount. I buy most of my fresh roasted coffee at Qualia or Peregrine or Filter. Peregrine and Filter don't roast their own, but keep freshly ground bags available for sale. Qualia will pull every bag off the shelf if it doesn't sell within, say, 10 days. (I may have the exact day wrong, but it's around there.)

First time homeowner here, looking to purchase a grill. My fiance has some experience with propane, but is interested in branching out to a smoker or charcoal grill. The Weber kettle grill seems to be reliable and tradition, but that is just my gut feeling. Any tips for picking a grill? We do have the storage space to have more then one vessel, but would like to start on the right foot. We have one America's Test Kitchen grilling and barbecue book, it is okay, but any other suggestions are welcome. Thanks so much.

     You can't go wrong with a Weber kettle. It's durable (lasts at least 5 years, often 10 or more). It has lots of accessories - get the hinged grate to add charcoal during longer cooks. And it does pretty much everything you need a grill to do - sear steaks, grill vegetables, even smoke ribs. I like the Performer because it comes with an attached table (a great convenience), a storage shelf, and a pull-out charcoal bag holder; everything you need is right there for you. 

      You mentioned having additional space. In that case, also get a smoker. You can either get a Weber Smoky Mountain, a bullet-shaped vertical smoker, or a horizontal "Texas-style" smoker, which range in price from about $300 to well into the thousands. The price difference: quality of the materials and the draft. Although the cheap Brinkmanns and Char-Broils at chain hardware stores are roundly criticized by the 'cuearati, I have had them and found not only do they turn out great food but teach a novice how to truly understand fire. 

       There are a lot of good books on the market these days. A classic is Steve Raichlen's "Barbecue Bible" but check out the first few pages of a grilling book that interests; nearly all of them have good, clear instructions on grilling and smoking.


I only eat WW pasta now and I like it (I buy Ronzoni, Mueller, and Giant's Nature's Promise - Mueller is surprisingly good), but maybe the poster would do better to start with one of the blends, where it is 50% WW and 50% regular, and then work their way up. They'd start to get used to the flavor and it wouldn't be such an abrupt shift. Barilla does this (although I've stop buying for social issue reasons), and I'm pretty sure that one of the Giant store brands has a 50/50.

I think that's a great suggestion. It's true (but still sad) that one of the keys to whole wheat pasta is just getting used to it.  I find that I do, but then I have a bowl of the "real" stuff and I remember what I'm missing. WW pasta is not bad at all, but it's not the same.

Can anyone recommend a good french bakery in the Rockville/Bethesda/Wheaton Area?

IMHO, the croissants made with French butter at Saint Michel Bakery in Rockville are the best in D.C. They also sell (out) at the Women's Co-op in Bethesda on Saturday mornings.  They are sized a la mode Francaise, or not bigger than your head, in Kliban-speak. The exterior is shatteringly crisp and browned, while the interior pulls apart in a way that makes you appreciate the glories of baking with good butter.  This is not a paid endorsement. :)

My husband told me that his grandparents used to travel with a small bar suitcase that they'd open up at cocktail time in their hotel room and whip up gin and tonics. So, nothing embarrassing at all about the French press!

I think I'd have liked your husband's grandparents!  But please don't tell this to my husband, or he'll be shopping for a "small bar suitcase" before you can say French 75!

Both of the cons that you list for the french press can be solved by moving to a better french press than the Chambord. Newer presses use silicone gaskets rather than the coil to form a seal around the filter. This keeps the grounds in the bottom much better and is so much easier to clean than the coil ever was. In addition, the Espro combines the silicone gasket with a much improved filter to give some of the best french press coffee possible.

Yes, this is true. The Espro press filters the coffee twice, to help keep out seepage. I've seen these tools, but haven't played with them yet.

Have some that needs to be used. Also red and yellow peppers. Not really thinking stir fry. Any suggestions? (By the way, whatever it is that you have done to the website, means that I can't use the recipe finder at all. I can't even see where to click to start a search.)

Something very simple that I love is pasta with garlic and evoo. I cook the brocoli with the pasta in the last couple minutes of cooking. Lightly fry the garlic in evoo. You could also add the peppers to it. Finish with some parmesan and chili flakes.


Let me add, re the Recipe Finder: You don't see the magnifying glass at the top of the page with the wording next to it that says, "Search all ingredients by recipe or name"? If that's the case, please email us at with information about what browser you're using, and we can trouble-shoot. In general, we've been loving the new database, so this is a surprise to hear.

We use a variant of Kim O'Donnel's recipe, which I can now make virtually blindfolded. For us, three factors have been significant with in getting a thin, crispy dough in a conventional oven. (1) Any time the dough starts getting too springy, let it rest a few minutes. (2) Heat the oven to 500 with the pizza stone in the lower third of the oven. (3) Roll/shape the dough on a sheet of parchment (we don't have a peel), then spread the sauce and bake for a few minutes on a HOT pizza stone. Pull it out, add the rest of your toppings, then slide the dough back onto the stone without the parchment (it will slide right off if you've baked it a few mintues). Bake until it bubbles. Because the oven is so hot, the baking time is less than usual home recipes, but the result (we think) is far better.

Hi! I'm more of a cook than a baker. When I do bake, I usually follow the recipes pretty closely. This time, however, I decided to experiment and added olives, herbs and za'atar to Ruhlman's original bread recipe. It tasted great, but the dough did not rise nearly as much as when I made the original recipe. Thoughts? Should I have added more flour or added the olives and herbs after the dough rose? 

You may be on to something. It's possible your salty olives inhibited the process of autolysis, which you can read more about in this Serious Eats post. Maybe add them later next time.

I'm planning a Valentines party for about 40 (adults & kids) with a theme of soup, sangria, and s'mores. Thinking of Italian Wedding Soup and a Pumpkin curry -- what else would be good? How much should I have? And what should I serve with it?

Seems like a big, colorful, crunchy salad would be nice as a textural contrast, as chefs like to say.  I really love Nancy's Chopped Salad, as in Nancy Silverton of Mozza fame. You could omit the salami to make it guest-friendly for all. 

I got a big box of navel oranges from Costco that are way too tart for my taste. Short of returning them, what can I do with them?

Make marmalade! It's traditionally made with Seville (sour) oranges, so you'll be all set. And it's a fantastic thing to have around. We have a recipe for a great Meyer Lemon-Cara Cara Marmalade, a combination that works because the CC's are sweeter and the lemons are tarter, but I bet you could use the same proportions/instructions with your sour navels and have a good result.

A few coffee shops that I frequently here up in Philadelphia have started asking which bean I'd like, usually for a pour over coffee. I have no idea! Even with the short descriptions, I don't know which to pick. Usually I ask for their recommendation or I make a blind choice. Are there any tips for picking a good bean? Certain countries that have a better product than others?

This is all a matter of personal preference, just like sitting down at your favorite beer bar/ wine bar/ ice cream shop. Somewhere "safe" to start is Latin American coffees because they often offer non-polarizing flavors like chocolate, nuts, light acidity, and are often well balanced in sweetness. Also, if you have time, pick the barista's brain (we love it!) for suggestions about what is tasting great that day/ week. Coffee changes so often, that they may have some suggestions you wouldn't be able to gauge just from the menu.

And if you really have the time and interest, check out a local cupping (coffee tasting). They are usually free and a great way to explore your coffee preferences.

I roll mine out on a marble pastry board, and if it shrinks up, I just let it sit there and walk away from it for a while (5-10 minutes at most) and then roll it out again and it usually stays thin the second time around.

Yep, time usually helps, doesn't it? (Although I don't roll out my pizza dough -- I stretch it by hand. I think rolling pins can deflate those bubbles too much!)

Personally, I'm a fan of places like Chopt and Sweetgreen because they have a giant bowl to mix in all the dressing. I'd like to be able to do that at work, but doing something with a big bowl like that would be unwieldy and take up a lot of space in the small communal kitchen. Are there any "salad spinner" type things that help spread the dressing, versus cleaning the lettuce? I've found that shakers are terribly effective when dealing with mixed greens/kale, versus straight up romaine or iceberg.

You know the best way to coat a salad with dressing? Use what Julia Child would call "your impeccably clean hands." Honestly. It works so much better than any other technique, I've found. And your hands take up no storage space at all, of course, cause you've always got them on you!

my stove has a built in cast iron griddle. i haven't used it b/c I don't know how to clean it since i can't take it to the sink. Any advice?

It's pretty easy to clean if you scrub with a generous amount of coarse kosher salt and then wipe it all away with a damp paper towel. Or, heat the surface and place your favorite heat-conducting pan on top of it, so you can cook in that. Chatters, what do you do?

I think labeling is a good thing (but companies are starting to do it because people are asking - no need for yet another govt bureaucracy). I find that the idea of it sounds not so bad...and there are several types of modifying genetics, right? I mean - isn't a nectarine technically - genetically modified? someone took the best of some fruits and put them together... BUT I don't like the idea of buying a food that has pesticides INSIDE the food. It's bad enough when I buy food that aren't organic, knowing they have pesticides on them, that maybe I can wash off. but modifying DNA of an organism to put it inside rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I'm totally off base, but it just doesn't sound so good. I understand the good in GMO in helping people to eat when there was no food around. And certain things seem okay in creating better foods. but ...sometimes it just doesn't sound healthy.

The fact that all GMOs are different is a key point, both because it means that each has to be evaluated on its merits and because it means that the technology can be deployed for good or for evil.  Your point about pesticides is widely shared, I think.  People feel very iffy about the whole idea.  But here's where safety testing is your friend.  Some of the things that sound dangerous (pesticides incorporated into a food) are perfectly safe (because Bt is harmless to people, and dangerous only to insects), while something that sounds perfectly innocent can be dangerous (there was a conventionally bred potato that turned out to produce toxins).  I think the lesson here is that it's counterproductive to talk about "GMOs" in general, and makes more sense to dig down to particulars.  

I think that the OP may not only be struggling to adjust to the flavor, but to the texture. Probably heresy here, but maybe cooking it a little longer to soften the pasta to a more familiar texture will help? I didn't really latch onto brown rice until I had it cooked until it was more tender and less chewy. Now it seems strange to go back to white rice.

My husband and I always crack up at the Trader Joe's whole wheat pasta package, with the dire-sounding, all-caps warning, "DO NOT OVERCOOK." (Or something like that!)

I'm having a staycation this weekend with a movie night for friends on Saturday. I'll have some popcorn there, although honestly I'm not the biggest fan, even of the jazz-ed up ones. Are there any other good share-able snacks, that will still taste good an hour into the movie?

Nuts, glorious nuts. And spiced pumpkin seeds. Did you see our recent article w/recipes from Susan Herrmann Loomis?

How about getting in touch with your inner twee and taking a cue from the English and use a French press cosy/cozy? I'm sure etsy has something along those lines.

What Judith (not me) was after was a way to prevent the coffee from continuing to extract as it sits there in the press after you've poured a cup.

Is this a candidate for freezing/freezer jam instead of canning?


the new recipe finder didn't work for me either until i stopped trying to use my older internet exploder and tried google chrome. voila, a BIG difference!

Good to know! And LOL re "Exploder." A new one on me.

I have graduated from instant (Folger's Crystals), to drip (yay Mr. Coffee), to a percolator (that was horrible), to the French Press (which I LIKED), now given a Keurig...I love my Keurig. The cost can be a high..but we buy in bulk (Newman's Own EXTRA Bold) and if we have to we use the Personal Brewer. I loved the article...but really don't have the time, money or counter space for the cool looking YAMA 3-CUP TABLETOP SIPHON (VACUUM POT). How long does a cup of joe take to brew? That would be a good point on each of the items tested. Is this the new fad?

Other people I know love their Keurig too. My two issues with it are straightforward:

1. It doesn't get the water hot enough for a good extraction.


2. And the basket in the reusuable K-Cups are so small that it's hard for you to get a good water-to-coffee ratio.


The Yama brewing time varies, depending on if you put hot water into the bottom chamber first or not. (It also depends on your heat source; I started with a wick heat source with denatured alcohol, which took FOREVER to heat the water.)

If you start with cold water, it takes longer to heat and push the water into the upper chamber. I've made a siphon cup in as short as 6 to 10 minutes with hot water in the lower chamber and a butane burner. I've also spent 30 minutes on a siphon cup with cold water and that wick burner. I don't recommend the latter approach, particulary with a wife who really needs her caffeine fix.

Purchase fine ground ESPRESSO....that's the trick we found (Cafe Bustelo Espresso Coffee - its Mexican). Our coffee press screws down -- like this one. It might be your equipment and coffee.

Thanks for the tip.

Spaghetti squash. Not even joking. None of the sugar/carb issues, MUCH more nutritional value than any type of pasta to include whole what, and it takes on any sauce you want to put it on it.

That's a solution I'd like to like more than I actually like.  When you look at a plate of what looks like pasta, but turnes out to be squash, it's hard not to be disappointed.  But lots of people swear by this solution, so I'm glad you mentioned it.

What is the difference in kosher salt,sea salt and regular?

Mostly, shape, but also additives.  Kosher and sea salt are usually just straight sodium chloride (although read labels to make sure, if you care), but usually have larger (or flakier) crystals than the regular table salt, which has iodine (which humans need in small quantities) and additives to keep it from clumping.  Use the kind you like the size and shape of, and don't pay a lot for it -- it's just salt.

I love coffee but I *need* caffeine. Is one brewing method better than another for maximizing caffeine? Does the amount of caffeine increase the longer the coffee brews? Thanks for the facts!

The short and quick answer is no. These are all different methods and recipes to reach the same end product.

However, different brew methods yield different taste profiles and you can control the recipe- meaning the coffee to water ratio. That being said, if you were using x (smaller amount of coffee), and you increased it to y (larger amount of coffee), with the same amount of water, more coffee solubles will be extracted, so you may feel the affects of more caffeine.

If caffeine is the end goal, I would find an easily replicable brewing method that you can repeat a few times a day.

Anonymous - I have to admit my addiction to high-end kitchen tools and worth every penny for the happiness they deliver in terms of good food. Nespresso, blendtek blender, kitchen aid stand-mixer, breville pizza maker, & waffle iron make my heart a flutter. Just don't look at my 20 year old living room furniture.

Hey, we all have to make decisions on where to invest our money. Our furntiure doesn't look so hot either! (Of course, we have a shedding beagle, too.)

The counter-top pizza makers on the market now are game changer in terms of speed and results. Making me hungry just thinking about it.

I live in Loudoun and am on the hunt for fresh chorizo. I looked for it at Wegmans but couldn't find it. Any ideas in the Eastern Loudoun area?

You should be able to find fresh chorizo at a Safeway or Giant these days, in the meat dept.  Or try the International Market or USA Market in Leesburg. Heck, Lotte Plaza.

The superfood but don't over do it. . . . .

Ah, interesting. Everything in moderation, right?

Love you guys but I nearly spit out my lovingly French pressed coffee this AM reading the blurb about this pricey product. I seriously doubt it is just as good as homemade and $9.95???? My teens would easily consume 2 servings each so that packet would barely feed the 4 of us. I had already planned mac and cheese with mushrooms and ham for dinner - only the cheapskate within is stopping me from doing a taste comparison.

When I priced out what it costs to buy those kinds of mushrooms, plus the cheeses and milk, the packaged stuff came out ahead. Honest. I liked the flavor and the convenience.  I agree, however, that where teens are involved, regular "serving size" portions are out the window. 

I enjoyed Tim's article on brewing, but saw that my favorite method was omitted--the Costa Rican coffee sock. One puts the coffee grounds in a "sock", which then hangs above the cup or pot. Something I like about this method is you can adjust the strength of the coffee and brew one or a few cups at a time.

For readers who think the chatter is joking, the Costa Rican coffee sock is a legit method. You could argue that Joel Finkelstein is using a similar method with his hanging nylon filters over at Qualia Coffee.

I've never tried them together, but have done each separately. Za'atar will have no effect on rise unless it is one of the very very salty versions. For olives, I suggest cutting them in half or thirds, and adding them after the first rise. Coating them with flour can help a little too, as it seems to confine their salt. Worked for me. Or add a little vital wheat gluten, only as a last resort.

Thanks for your insight.

I mixed mine up with some regular (WW, okay) pasta, and my partner was so enthusiastic about it that he still brings it up all the time.

Interesting article about the labeling of GMOs. I've been reading labels much more carefully recently, and it is eye-opening how attentive to detail you need to be to know what they are really saying. Beyond that, though are all the things that needn't be included on the label, because they are added to an ingredient or are part of the manufacturing process: for example, the preservatives in the shortening used to grease a loaf pan, or those that stabilize the vitamins added to milk.

It's exactly that kind of observation that gets to the heart of why labeling issues are difficult and complicated.  It's very hard to figure out what to include and what to leave it out and, whatever you decide, someone will disagree.  As soon as someone believes that one of those stabilizers added to milk might be dangerous, we have a controversy on our hands.  But here's what I think it comes down to.  If the food you're eating has a long, impenetrable list of ingredients, you probably want to limit consumption based on that fact alone. We all (or almost all) eat junk now and then, but we know it's junk before we get to those stabilizers on the list.

Here's a good resource on how to make Vietnamese Coffee at home. (with pictures)

okay, I use a French press all the time but did not understand this explanation for a previous chatter: "Pour your coffee in, followed by half as much water and wait about 1 minute. You will see a crust form. Just stir out the crust like a nice glass of wine and then pour the rest of your water on top..." how are you pouring in coffee when you haven't made any yet? Do you mean the coffee grounds? in which case, what is "half as much water" as a bunch of grounds? I just pour water over grounds up to near the top, stir it around, then place plunger and wait 4 min. how does your approach differ?

I apoliogize. The coffee grounds is what I was referring to in the first step. Our approaches are very similar, but the 1/2 as much water refers to 1/2 as much as your total volume of water. It is simply a way to slowly introduce water to the coffee or allow for a bloom- this is when the crust forms. I was elaborating on the use of the plunger for the person with the original question.

If you have time, maybe give this approach a try! Often times allowing for a bloom yields great results. Thanks!

I'm looking for a portable snack for the car to stave off the "hangries" (hungry/angry) of two kids. When I pick them up at 5:30-5:45 they are starved and can't wait for supper to get on the table at 6:15-6:30. I'd like it to be nutritious enough that if they then have little appetite for supper they at least haven't substituted empty calories for the protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber that growing kids need. Suggestions?

How about these Energy Balls?

energy balls

What happened to the cuties this year? They started out their normal adorable selves and now all of a sudden they are GINORMOUS! First it was apples/onions/shallots now cuties. What's wrong with normal sized fruits/veggies. Cuties no longer work to give to my little kids :(

I have seen that, yes. They're not so cute anymore, are they?

One of the examples they're giving is of a lady who was eating 1-1.5 KILOGRAMS of bok choy every day. For months. A dark side, I'm sure, but one that requires a great deal of dedication to achieve...

Yes. Or obsession.

I enjoyed Tim's article on the various coffee gadgets. I recently got an Aeropress, but I haven't used it much. The first time, the results were so-so; the second, they were better. I noticed Tim said it "takes practice" to make good espresso with it. Could he elaborate on that? Any tips? Thanks.

Yes, the instructions that come with the Aeropress tell you to make espresso, which you then turn into an Americano. Its version of espresso, I believe, is decent but nowhere near what a barista like Judith can make for you.


I prefer to follow the inverted AeroPress method. You can learn about it here.

Sorry Joe, but I don't think people would appreciate me throwing lettuce around the kitchen with my hands! Right now I'm just using two forks to gently rotate the salad, but it still seems to get small bits of kale or nuts everywhere.

Really, you have to just educate them. We don't touch our food enough. If you think that in a restaurant the chef isn't tossing those greens with his/her bare hands, btw, you're mistaken. Sometimes the best utensil is at the end of your arm. Use it!

I have always wondered how restaurants handle the whole issue of the ripeness of avocados, since in my experience it can be tricky to catch them when they are at just the right stage. Do they rely on the produce vendors to bring them at the right time, do they buy in bulk and rely on refrigeration to keep them from going too far, or ... what?

I think chef Nick had to tend to a lunch rush, so I'll take a shot at the answer. Depending on the size of the restaurant, it might get deliveries from vendors or it might shop where you and I do. Generally the avocados are not refrigerated....they'll get a mix of firm and ripe, depending on how long the supply's supposed to last and what applications they're using them for. It was great, for example, to be able to use those almost-rock hard avocados for roasting. :)


Poster writes s/he has good recipes for hot and sour soup and for Vietnamese spring rolls, but doesn't share. Please do, I love both those dishes! Thank you.

Okay, what? This sounds very much like Luddite scare tactics to me, to put people off on account of not understanding the big bad technology. I have objections to the business practices of companies "protecting" their patents as they deal with farmers, but I have a very, very hard time accepting the suggestion that mad scientists are trying to deploy some superflu into the population or [insert Stephen King plot here]. I know GMOs inspire a lot of polarized reactions, but I would really like a frank discussion with the emotional discourse checked at the door.

That's certainly the first time I've been accused of employing Luddite scare tactics!  By deployed for "good or evil" I meant that what matters is how GMOs are used, not the fact that they're GMOs.  But I guess I should be more careful with the poetic license.

I think, if you read my columns, you'll find that we're on the same page on emotional discourse.

Za'atar is fabulous on flatbread. make pita dough, roll it or stretch it after rise. Dimple the loaves, then paint on oil mixed with LOTS of za'atar. Bake on a stone like pizza. People loooooove it. For olives just top a focaccia with them. IN that case, push them deep into the fully risen dough so they don't pop off after baking.

I think the Cuties became Halos. Couldn't find Cuties this year but Halos galore! And the Halos were small.

I'm a farmers market fiend and buy much of my produce there in season. This time of year, of course, pickings are slim and I'm weary of apples, greens, and increasingly sad turnips. I don't have a Whole Foods budget, however. What do you Rangers do to keep up with your veggies and fruits this time of year? Inspire me!

Maybe it's my peasant ancestry talking, but I'm a big fan of cabbage.  It's cheap, it keeps, and it goes everywhere.  Beyond that, though, I spend a lot of winter shopping trips in the frozen vegetable aisle.  Frozen peas, corn, and collards are my favorites, but artichokes, Brussels sprouts, and spinach are also good.  Take them home, and pretend it's summer.  Before you know it, it will be.

When I make it it is always so thin! I wonder how to make a thicker crust...because whatever I'm using doesn't seem conducive to making it thicker... I also envy the pizza places because it seems that my crust is always a little mushy in the middle, not crunchy. Is that due to me not really having a pizza oven? I would need that 800 degree oven for 'real' pizza crust?

I feel pretty good about the pizza results I get in my plain old oven with a pizza stone. Make sure you let your oven preheat sufficiently. Like, a lot, and not just until the oven beeps. Maybe even an hour. You can also experiment with the placement of your racks. You may get a crispier crust closer to the bottom.

If you like a thick crust, I'd recommend you look into Joe's Sicilian Slab. It is marvelous.

sicilian slab

Judith Mandel wrote, "Just stir out the crust like a nice glass of wine ..." Might you elaborate? I haven't stirred wine. Thanks!

Swirl the press to break up the crust. That's the picture I'm trying to paint. Swirl as you would a glass of wine. You can also stir (preferably with a wooden spatula) the crust instead. Just some motion to break up the crust. Does that make sense?

Another option for the poster who asked about locally roasted coffee is Mayorga. After they closed up the Takoma shop I discovered that you can order online (you can also go to their warehouse in Rockville but I'm lazy)- they roast-to-order and shipping is free over $20. I probably buy too much at one time though- is there a general rule of thumb for a length of time after roasting in which you should use up the beans?

The roasters I've spoken to typically suggest you wait 48 hours after roasting to use the beans.


With that said, I've also brewed beans that were just 12 hours or so off the roast. I just ground them first and let them sit for about 5 to 10 minutes, during which they release some carbon dioxide. It made for a fine cup of coffee.

I roast my own beans at home, and it's true that they're not at their peak right afterward, so it's good to wait a day or so, yes. As for how long thereafter you have, I'd say after 10 days or so the beans really start to go downhill.

How do I make it so it is not so strong in my cooking

Roast it first, unpeeled. Mellows it out. Other than that, remember that the finer you cut it, the stronger it's going to be, so you could get in the habit of slicing or roughly chopping rather than mincing or pressing, if you aren't already.

i agree with you on the BIG difference bread flour makes compared to regular AP flour with pizza dough. My question is, does yeast make a difference? There only seem to be 1 or 2 regular yeast types at the grocery store. Typically I buy the jar b/c I use so much of it. Thanks.

By types do you mean brand, or, well, type? I stock both active dry and rapid rise/instant. I think the ATK recipes I use all call for instant, which I ordered from King Arthur and keep in the freezer. Works beautifully.

One reason I love my husband is that he insists we only brew Quartermaine at home. Even though we live in VA, we go to Bethesda once a month to get coffee at their store and chat with Calvin, who is the best barista in MD.

Yes, I forgot about Quartermaine in Bethesda. I need to pick up some of their beans and see how they do across the brewing spectrum. Thanks for the reminder.

Tim's article (and I've been following his tweets on the subject) was a fun read. Every time I think about doing my own brewing at home, I remember that the house I bought 12 years ago is within a block and a half of TCB, Peregrine, and the Wydown, and decide there just isn't any point to putting in the effort. I'm always amused by the people who insist that because the coffee the like isn't fancy it means that no one can actually appreciate high end stuff.

I've had some lively arguments with my Facebook friends (I know, I know, Facebook is so uncool nowadays) about why people invest so much time in preparing a good meal, but won't do the same with coffee. I think it's a bridge too far for some. They just want their morning caffeein jolt without a lot of effort. I get that.


But I've found that investing time and money in the morning ritual makes the whole experience more valuable. It slows time down a little, gives you a moment to think about the process and actually enjoy the cup. It enrichens life in a way.

just a shout out that while reading this I am enjoying the pasta e fagioli recipe that ran in the past two weeks or so. It turned out well and has been enough for several meals.

Glad you liked it! Here's the link for the rest of the class. 

Pasta e Fagioli

OP....the new models have a temperature setting on the preset auto turn on. My "My Personal K-Cup) is fine...but it's the coffee that I use and the grind. Columbia or bold / dark roast and a finer grind which helps with the water flow through the coffee.

It's all personal. I respect that.


My approach is not everyone's...and vice versa.

Allergies. One word answers that question.

Allergens are one of the things we're very good at testing for. We've had GMOs in our food supply for 20 years, and there's been no known instance of an allergen sneaking in.

Please, please do you know a fool-proof, flavorful recipe for great stock/broth?

It's not the recipe -- it's the time, and ratio of water to chicken.  All you need is those 2 things, chicken and water, and you can make great stock.  Use leftovers from a cooked chicken, or things like chicken necks or wings (inexpensive parts, with lots of bones), and put just enough water to cover them.  Bring it to a boil, turn it to a simmer, and cook it, covered, for several hours.  (Or use a pressure cooker, which is a great shortcut.)  Be patient, and don't be greedy -- I find that the leftover from one chicken make less than a quart of really good stock.  And the test is in the refrigeration: does it gel?  If yes, you've got stock.

I have six words for you: Clear-Steamed Chicken Soup With Ginger. Trust me.

I almost never have buttermilk on hand when I need it. So I do the lemon & milk trick. But recently in the grocery store, I saw powdered buttermilk. Worth the purchase to have in my pantry?

I guess it depends how often you'll need it. I've used it with decent results. It lasts a long time, but I think you're supposed to keep it in the refrigerator. Or at least I do.

Is the Hario V60 that much better than my old Melita cone filter? Does the material make a difference?

It's not necessarily better, but how you use them. Ceramic retains more heat than plastic (am I correct to assume the Melita is plastic?), so yes, materials matter!

But, the V60 for instance, is very tricky since it has just one large hole. It can lead to the coffee brewing too fast, without very careful brewing execution.

If your Melita is working well, stick with it, or upgrade to a similar dripper like the Bonmac or Beehouse. Or, invest in a scale and kettle that may increase your precision.

Thanks for the recommendations! I've seen advertisements for cuppings but they're always during the week in the afternoon. I know it's a busy time, but I wish they'd be at nights and weekends! Much easier for us 9-5 folk.

Judith could answer this better than I. But cuppings are complicated affairs. You really need to know how to drink the cupped coffee in order to understand all the bean's naunces. I had a coffee specialist laugh about people who don't know what they're doing at cuppings.

I'm a fan of the Costco at Pentagon City. They've got a big roaster there that gets fired up occasionally. Sometimes I'm lucky and get a really fresh batch.

I didn't know that. Thanks for the tip!

I have no idea if this is authentic or not, but I lucked into it by accident. If you brew some Café du Monde very strong, and then add sweetened condensed milk, it's a very good (and somewhat addictive) approximation of Vietnamese coffee in a restaurant. I don't know if this is because of Vietnam's French colonial history, and whether the French in general put chicory in their coffee like they do in New Orleans. But whatever, it seems to work.

Vietnamese restaurants often serve Cafe du Monde, too. I think it's the French colonial thing.

Reminds me that when we visited Vietnam the guidebooks mentioned something called "weasel coffee" which is popular in Vietnam. Apparently the coffee beans are ingested by and then extruded from weasels, then the beans are roasted and used.

Is this the same as civet coffee? That market can be such a scam.

Hi, Free Rangers. My younger daughter has discovered that soup is pretty good after all, but she hasn't graduated to soups where all of the ingredients are obvious (think minestrone). She loves things like homemade cream of broccoli, blended smooth with some chopped pieces added back in. I love them, too, but am interested in adding some variety. Any thoughts? We are vegetarians, by the way. Thanks as always for your ideas!

Running out of time, but maybe this soup graphic will inspire you?

I was surprised to see Tim list filters as a disadvantage to certain coffee methods. I thought pretty much everything except espresso and vacuum and percolators requires a filter. For me, the diff is whether it can use a standard filter that comes in generic brands, or requires a branded filter. By that criterion, Chemex does, Clever Coffee Dripper does not.

It wasn't just "filters." It was "specific filters." As in you need either cone-shaped filters or flat-bottom filters. One size does not fit all cone drippers.

We're out of time -- thanks, everyone!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about whole-wheat pasta will get "Eat Yourself Happy/Thin/Calm." Send your mailing info to, and we'll get them to you.

Until next week, happy cooking, eating, reading -- and brewing!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin, Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guests: Nick Palermo, executive chef of the Old Angler's Inn in Potomac; Judith Mandel, a former barista with Peregrine Espresso.
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