Free Range on Food: Simple fermentation, a better cup of tea, an ode to an apron, this week's recipes and more!

Jan 15, 2020

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


A recent column by Becky Krystal had us all thinking about our cooking talismans? Maybe it’s a wooden spoon your aunt used or a cast iron skillet well-seasoned from years of use? For Becky, it’s a well-worn apron she picked up years ago at Walmart. It’s nothing fancy, but, when she ties it on, she’s a more fearless, confident cook. 

Speaking of fearless, our chat guest this week is Katherine Harmon Courage, the author of “Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome,” (Avery/Penguin Random House). She shared tips and recipes for easily fermenting beets, cabbage and lemons, complete with a science lesson to alleviate any safety concerns.  We're also talking about how...

As always, we want to hear about what you’ve been cooking, especially if you’ve tried any of the recipes, we’ve shared this week – or maybe that you pulled from the thousands in our Recipe Finder.

This week, we’ll give away a copy of Harmon Courage’s “Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome” to one of you. Make us think with your comments/questions, and maybe you'll win it.

Let’s chat.


Becky's article inspired me to up my game. Any equipment recommendations? Something that could go right from the stove top and easily allow me to brew looseleaf tea in the same kettle would be great, although I don't mind pouring the hot water into a separate pot if that's best. Bonus points if it's easy to clean.

I actually don't have anything quite like this. Usually I just boil water in a regular pot, decant it into a Pyrex measuring cup and then into my little brewer. *shrug* Nothing fancy but it works. There are lots of infusers out there. This is basically the one I have. Simple and works great. You could also just brew in the pot by dropping a stainless steel tea ball or infuser into the water.

At work, I have the little blue teapot you see in the picture with the story. It's beautiful and functional. The brand is Zero Japan, and you can find it here. It has a removable strainer basket -- fill with tea, pour the water over and voila.

I enjoyed reading the Week 1 installment and look forward to the updates. I would also love to have the recipe for the Slow Cooker Chicken Mole mentioned by Matt Brooks. I checked the Recipe Finder and didn’t find it there. Would Matt mind posting it? Thanks!

Thanks for keeping us honest! So far, so good for all five of us. The recipe I've been using for several years is a mashup of two -- and I pretty much combine them to include all listed ingredients. 

Slow Cooker Chicken Mole (from allrecipes) and Slow-Cooker (Turkey) Mole Tacos (from Food Network). If you like a little heat, add another chipotle pepper or two, and be sure to shred the chicken and add it back to the mole just before it's done. Then you can make tacos, roll it into burritos with your favorite toppings, or just serve it with a little rice. There are more complex and traditional mole recipes worth trying (see Tim's favorite cookbook of the year), but with only a little chopping required, this has become a reliable batch cooking option for me.

Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi and their shrimp dumplings! We love them both as a quick side to protein or with a large salad.

Several times since Thanksgiving, I have bought large (10 - 12 ounce each ) Bartlett pears that were strangely under-ripe. Each time, when I halved the pear, only the outermost half inch or less was ripe. There was a "shadow pear" inside - that is, an unripe pear-shaped block of hard pear within the pretty-ripe outside part. It is as if the pear had been exposed to a ripening gas that only penetrated the outer part of the pear. I have thrown at least four of them away. I bought them at different times, so it is unlikely that they came from the same shipment. Other than buying smaller pears, is there anything that I can do about this?

Wow, that is odd. Anyone else with insight or experience? Pears actually ripen from the inside out, which is why you're supposed to check for ripeness at the stem, the idea being that by the time the outside feels right, the inside is too far gone. But you seem to be having the opposite problem. I'm stumped!

If it helps, here's my pear primer. 


ARTICLE: Pears are the unheralded stars of the fall fruit bounty. Here’s how to choose and use them.

So many recipes use whole pomegranate seeds. What about the pip in the center of each piece? I have never bought one because the fibrous seeds are an issue. I do not eat seeded grapes, nor watermelon. I even seed cucumbers. Knowing this, is a fresh pomegranate a fruit for me, or should I stick with juice?

If you're not one for seeds, this whole fruit may not be for you. Unless you want to suck off the fruit part and spit out the seeds, cowboy style, which would be kinda tedious. You might want to stick to the juice, BUT I always like to try things that I know I don't like just to see if I might change my mind (*cough eggplant cough*).  

I've been looking at non-soybean miso recipes and they involve buying brown rice koji and using already-fermented miso. It seems odd to have to buy two starters for the same fermentation. Koji as I found out is just the Japanese name for Aspergillus oryzae. This says a yeast (Saccharomyces rouxii) can also be used to make miso. Do you know if it's necessary to buy unpasteurized miso at all to make miso? And I'm not keen to make it quite yet, although wintertime is supposedly ideal to begin a batch.

This is one of the fascinating things about miso! Different koji starters have been adapted to best ferment the ingredients in each type--soy, barley, rice, etc. Even the different traditional miso makers in Japan have their own historic strains of Aspergillus oryzae that make just their miso. If you can, I would find a starter that is specific to the ingredient(s) you are planning to use for your miso.

If you are ever planning to make home ferments from a store-bought version (such as with yogurt), always be sure to buy one with live and active cultures. 

Winter is a great time to make ferments--the cooler temperatures keep the process going at a slow and steady pace. 

Some friends and I decided to celebrate Chinese New Year with a dinner this month. Any recipes or suggested cookbooks that might help plan our meal? Thanks for the chats!

STAY TUNED for a Lunar New Year roundup online next week!

Please tell us again, what non-stick pans are good or to be avoided. Greenpan, Scanpan, some other name brand, or the one on late-night TV where you can melt butterscotch candies on it and they slide right out? I don't want to spend big bucks but don't want to waste money either.

We have not reviewed particular brands of nonstick pans in our kitchen, but now you've got us talking about it. We did find this piece from Cook's Illustrated that might help: Testing 8-inch Nonstick Skillets.
In the meantime, you might find this interesting: Cast-iron vs. nonstick skillets: How to choose the right pan

I love a simple vinaigrette like it is served in traditional Italian restaurants - for those who remember it TRAGARA's in Bethesda comes to mind. Nothing I make comes close, having tried lemon juice instead of vinegar as well as different mustards and shallots. What am I missing? Thanks.

I don't know, having never tasted it. But I did do a how-to on vinaigrettes, so maybe that will inspire you?


ARTICLE: How to leave those bottled dressings behind and make your own vinaigrette

Hello! At the urging of a friend, I bought a box of instant mashed potatoes. I was pleasantly surprised, but they didn't pass muster with our sons (the chief mashed-potato eaters in our household). I'm going back to old-school mashed potatoes -- any thoughts on what I can do with the flakes? Thank you!

Here's one idea: When I was a little girl, we made fish cakes using boxed mashed potatoes.  It was a way for my mother to stretch food a bit for our large family. We made the potatoes as directed, chopped up leftover fish (cod, salmon). You mix that, add an egg as binder and season. Then, form the mixture into a cake and fry them in a little oil. They were pretty tasty.

Hi Free Rangers, I'd like to make a white-wine based sangria to bring to a board game get-together next weekend. I'm in Northern California and we have a lot of fruits at the farmers markets right now that I think could be really nice in a lighter-bodied drink: pomegranates, cara cara oranges, blood oranges, winter strawberries, meyer lemons.... It's an afternoon party so I'd like to keep the alcohol level fairly low. Thing is, I've never made sangria so I'm not sure how to judge the recipes I'm finding. Hope you can help! I don't necessarily need a formal recipe --just some ideas about what wine to pick as a base and what to mix it with would be a great start. Experimenting with wine is fun :) Thanks so much!

Well, I'm going to give you a recipe! This is a lovely one, and you can definitely feel free to adapt with your choice of fruit. 

White Sangria With Peaches and Raspberries

RECIPE: White Sangria With Peaches and Raspberries

For the poster looking for an all-in-one, I'd suggest this is a time when maybe all-in-one is not ideal. I am an avid tea drinker and what I love and find easiest/most useful is an electric kettle. Pour into either single-serve cup and strainer, or teapot if I'm making more. You can do a fancy one with different temp settings if you do a variety of teas, or a basic one if you do mostly black tea.

I hear you! This is why I've never felt the need to go beyond my stove top and a pot. Although an electric teakettle is great -- we have some we use here, and the convenience is undeniable.

I have been on the hunt for a traditional german cookbook however everything I'm finding is from a lot of US cooks who do some german, some italian, some american cuisine (think Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, Bobby Flay etc). Ideally something that is strictly german recipes. I know a lot of recipes are on the internet however for something like this I want an actual hardcover. I've checked the usual suspects like amazon, and barns/noble but do you have any specific recommendations or authors to look for?

Our former recipe editor Bonnie reviewed "New German Cooking" by Jeremy Nolen and liked it, though it's not very traditional. 

I went ahead and checked our Food Lab library for any German cookbooks we have and found "The New German Cookbook" by Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz, which boasts "more than 230 contemporary and traditional recipes," as well as "The Cuisines of Germany: Regional Specialties and Traditional Home Cooking," by Horst Scharfenberg which appears to also be a good educational tool for learning terms, etc. For baking, I found "Classic German Baking" by Luisa Weiss, with traditional bakes. 

I haven't cooked from these, nor have the folks I asked, so I can't speak to their quality, but they might be what you're looking for.

Phaidon's The German Cookbook is supposed to be quite good - and looked pretty comprehensive. Luisa Weiss' Classic German Baking is an excellent and meticulously researched and tested tome, which I highly recommend, seconding Kari's recommendation.

Sorry if this question is a bit odd but I like to think of myself as a popcorn connoisseur. As a diabetic, I eat it almost every day and I love to make it on the stove using olive oil and garlic salt. As part of a kitchen renovation, we made the decision to move from gas to an induction stove-top. I generally LOVE the induction cook-top but haven't figured out to make popcorn that doesn't burn immediately or leave gazillions of kernels un-popped. Any advice?

From the lab: inductions run hotter, so popping your popcorn on a lower heat is the recommended course of action. 

Can't believe I never thought of garlic salt on my popcorn! Going to give that a try. 

I'm not a vegan or lactose intolerant, but I just made cashew milk in my Vitamix, and I love it! I used it in a smoothie and in a sauce for a grain bowl. Do you have other creative suggestions for how to use it? Also, cashew milk vs. cream - just a difference in how much water you use, right? If I have cashew milk but want cream, can I reduce it to make it thicker? Thanks!

Use it wherever you would use milk in savory recipes -- in a roux, in a curry or casserole. You might prefer a cashew cream for curries. Just use less water to make the cream. 

Saturday's weather is supposed to be seriously icky--snow, freezing rain--so it's the perfect time to hunker down in the kitchen. I think I'll back that Dutch oven bread with my brand new Dutch oven. So what should I do on the stove? Do you have suggestions for recipes that just taste better the longer they simmer away? My mom's meat sauce (which I'm also going to make) simmers for four to six hours, and wow, the difference between that and a quick sauce is night and day. I just never have time to make it!

You've got to check out Becky's how-to on braising!  And once you've done that, check out her roundup of braise-able recipes. We loved these Five-Spice Braised Short Ribs

Any good chicken crockpot recipes? Preferably shredded, and preferably flavorful but not spicy as it's mostly for my toddler...

How about this nice one from Virginia Willis? Just adjust spice to taste.

Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Chicken

RECIPE: Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Chicken

I've decided for the New Year to overcome my aversion to cooking fish. I'm an experienced cook and baker but have always stayed away from fish--until now! I bought some frozen uncooked salmon filets and know from reading past chats to defrost them overnight in the refrigerator after removing the original packaging. But then what? I'd like a simple but tasty preparation. Baking seems most straightforward but am open to other options too. Thanks so much for helping me with this (long overdue) challenge.

Hello, I love to cook fish. I grew up in South Louisiana where fresh seafood was plentiful. I will include fish recipes in the Dinner in Minute column from time to time. In the meantime, check our Recipe Finder. Search for the kind of fish you want to make.
For example, you'll find salmon recipes, including these two:

Broiled Salmon with Citrus-Mint Relish

 Salmon with Sriracha and Lime

I look forward to your new Dinner in Minutes column, always a must-read! You ask readers to share easy-to-make recipes with you. How about reinstating the Post's recipe exchange from long, long ago so readers' can share recipes in print as well as online in chats? In fact, it may have been presciently named Anne's Readers' Exchange, if I recall correctly.

I'll have to dig into the archives and find that recipe exchange. Thanks for the thought. I love to exchange recipes with readers. I learn so much from them.

Just wanted to thank Joe for his boundless vegetarian ideas.

Second that! Looking forward to getting my hands on his next cookbook, Cool Beans when it's out next month. 

Dang, now I'm in trouble with the boss. Kidding. Thanks for the heads up. I agree. His recipes are so creative and delicious.

I bought a jar of fancy tuna and in the middle of opening a few jars for a big tuna salad, i noticed this one opened so easily, and the tape seal wasn't on on one side. I shouldn't use it, right? i might have just partially opened that one myself, but i figure it isn't worth messing with...

Definitely not worth it!

Would you consider doing a chat themed around amazing past recipes that people love and use again and again? I would be super interested in things I've missed. For me, it's the Sicilian Style Pasta and Lentils from 2009 (so easy, cheap, and delicious!), and the Peach and Brown Sugar Muffins from 2016.

Not a bad idea for something here or elsewhere! Of course, we also publish multiple recipe roundups a week on Voraciously, which are kind of greatest-hit compilations. Readers, what are some of your favorites? Maybe we can put together a post on what you love!

Had homemade onion focaccia a few days ago, didn't want the exact same thing again last night. So spread spaghetti sauce on top, sprinkled with grated mozzarella, heated in the toaster-oven, and voilà! (Almost-)instant homemade pizza. Yummy!

Nice! When we were left with a ton of slightly stale extras of my just-published Soft Pretzels, Kari and I made pretzel strata!!! So good.

Soft Pretzels

RECIPE: Soft Pretzels

Me too, but I'm lucky enough to have a gas stove with a Super Boil burner and a RevereWare kettle. The electric kettles I've seen in use are incredibly speedy, though, and I'd definitely invest in one.

Yes, they are typically faster! But if I'm just doing 2 cups on the stove top in a saucepan, it's pretty speedy.

Is fermented food safe for small kids? I LOVE pickled beets (have never made my own because pickling intimidates me) and I would think I'd like to try fermented beets. I have small children and want to know if I go through the effort of trying to ferment beets, if it would be safe for them to eat. Not sure if they'd WANT to eat them, but the littlest liked the spiced pickled beets with goat cheese and honey drizzle, so I'm optimistic.

FWIW, maybe it's because I grew up in Russia where people ferment anything and everything, but I ate fermented foods early on. Pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha and so on. If properly fermented in a clean environment, fermented foods are actually really good for everyone, full of healthy and gut-friendly bacteria.

As long as the ferments reach a pH of 4.6 or below, they'll be totally safe. If you're wary (and, as a recovering germaphobe, I GET that), you can order cheap paper pH test strips online to double check. My one-year old has sampled lots of my home ferments--and sometimes even actually eats them. 

I love the idea of getting kids started on fermented food flavors and textures early. And fermentation is also a super-fun activity to involve them in making. It's a kitchen counter science project they get to eat! 

Let me also warn folks that in Portugal, some passion fruit (maracujá) desserts contain the seeds. As someone who's "not one for seeds," I always ask first, if it's not on display in, say, a bakery case.

Add some to bread dough!

how do i watch this

Hi, you're here! *waves*

I air-pop corn in an old-fashioned long-handled basket over a gas flame, but wonder if even with an induction stove the same key applies to prevent burning: Keep shaking that popper every couple of seconds!

When I have a serious cooking job, I always wear my red polka dot apron I made in 8th grade Home-Ec class. The matching pot holder is long gone but the apron is still going strong after 35 years. I've even scaled down the pattern and sewed miniature versions for my children, nieces, and nephews so they can be inspired in the kitchen too.

You've joined a great and talented team, IMHO. Look forward to seeing more of your recipes.

Don't I know it. Thanks!

The piece of equipment that’s helped me the most for brewing looseleaf tea is an electric kettle (we have Bonavita model BV382510V). This kettle can heat water to a specific temperature, like 180F for brewing green tea. This feature has allowed my household to explore a lot more types of green and oolong teas, and really opened up the world of tea to us. Another tea tip: if reheating a cup of cooled tea in the microwave, try heating it at 50% power for a longer time rather than at full power; the high heat can turn tea bitter.

All good advice, thank you!

I had to laugh when you mentioned a wooden spoon. I have a wooden spoon that I use every time I make tomato sauce, stew, soup, etc. I have had it for more than 37 years. It has a little burn strip across the top where someone got a little ambitious with the saucepan. My husband has tried to buy replacements several times but nothing works quite the same. When the kids were in middle school, I was making dinner and realized we were late to someone's soccer practice. I turned off the sauce and we ran out to the car. My older daughter said, "Mom, why do you have that spoon in your hand"? I answered, "What spoon"? Apparently it has become an extension of my arm.

Love this.

There are a lot of electric kettles that comes with tea infusers. That might satisfy what the LW is looking for. I don't have a specific recommendation but a quick Google search will turn up a lot of options.

Cool, thanks!

One favorite recipe I find myself making over and over this chilly winter is FN's chicken and dumplings. I keep increasing the vegetables and decreasing the chicken. The dumplings are made with cold butter and buttermilk and they are incredibly fulfilling and herby.

Thanks. I'll check it out.

What should I use for the "seasoning mix" in your recipe?

Hi, I like Tony Chachere's and Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning blends. Both of these come in low-salt options, which is great. Many, many kinds are available. Anyone else have favorite Cajun/Creole seasoning blends?

Also - a plug for buying anything but Lipton. Literally anything. You can often get Tetley or Yorkshire Gold for a similar price point and they're much better. A bit pricier is something like Twinings but the taste & quality are much better. If you want to splurge buying from the region where it's made is always fun. I like UK/Ireland blends of black tea more than green teas & oolong so I buy from tea makers based there occasionally. (And then hoard my supply)

I tried fermentation and was sort of successful with sauerkraut. The recipe called for pickling spices. After fermenting for about 4 weeks, the cabbage was good, but I did not like the rock-hard peppercorns in the sauerkraut. Is that normal to have whole peppercorns in sauerkraut? I tried pickles and the cucumbers turned into a mush. Is there a particular species of cucumber I should use? Also, do you have a recipe for fermenting salsa? Is that even a thing?

For a "slop" type of ferment such as sauerkraut, I personally prefer to use only spices I would eat whole (such as caraway seeds or dill)--or make it "plain" with only salt. Peppercorns work better for more whole-veg ferments, such as pickles, that you pick out of the brine. 

Speaking of pickles, I've wound up with squishy pickles before, too. In my case, they were in too warm of a room (it was summertime), and they fermented too quickly. I think temperature (cooler temps=slower ferment) and salt quantity (more salt=slower ferment) mater more than the variety of cucumber. 

I haven't tried fermenting salsa before! Now you have me curious. Off-hand, I would suggest for starters making salsa from one or two fermented ingredients (such as fermented green tomatoes). 

Thanks for the timely article! I have playing around with fermentation as one of my goals for 2020. We currently have honey fermented garlic sitting on our counter working its magic, and I have plans to try lemons, sauerkraut, and kombucha. So exciting!

Funny you should ask. I just got out my yellowed, clipped out copy of Jan Birnbaum's Catahoula's Smoky Short Ribs With New Orleans Red Gravy that you ran back in the late '90s, while making my shopping list this morning. Planning on making them this Saturday.

That sounds delicious. Enjoy!

Me again...I must confess that I can't handle hot peppers, although I love black pepper. I was wondering how to replicate a creole seasoning but without the hot stuff.

Hey, You can make your own to get it the way you like it. This recipe comes from Mr. B's restaurant in New Orleans.  It makes 4 cups, which is a lot. I haven't tried cutting it down yet.

Mr. B's Creole seasoning

1-1/2 cups paprika

3/4 cup ground black pepper

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup granulated garlic

1/3 cup dried thyme

1/3 cup dried oregano

1/3 cup dried basil

1/4 cup granulated onion

1/4 cup cayenne pepper


Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Store in an airtight container.

A butcher shop near where we used to live made a wonderful chicken soup with a bit of dill and little chicken balls. Any thoughts on how to make any tasty chicken balls that don't seem to have a filler? The shop was run by Russians.

Hmmm. My grandmother would make this kind of soup - and the little meatballs were called "frikadelki"... I think that she did use a bit of egg as a binder, plus herbs and things. Were the chicken balls on the smaller side?

Wasn't there something recently about leaving the vacuum-sealed packaging on while defrosting? Something about botulism risk? Follow the defrosting directions on the packaging.

Modern advice is to take the packaging OFF to avoid botulism. 

More in depth info from Bonnie in 2018.

Does anyone experience a string of epic failures, even with tried and true recipes? So frustrating, that I want to never cook again. And I love to cook and bake. Please tell me I'm not alone.

100%. There are some cookbooks with which I had some of the worst luck - and I know by now that it has less to do with me and  more with how thoroughly a recipe has been tested, but it does deflate one's confidence AND it wastes lovely ingredients, which is a pet peeve of mine. What, specifically, not worked for you? Is it a particular author? Or a particular type of dish? 

Yep. I get so disheartened, because I hate wasting food so much! It especially sucks when it's something that I have memorized in my brain and seared into my muscle memory that somehow goes wrong. It happens to us all--best thing to do is just keep on trucking, but throw in a couple simpler things to make yourself feel a little better about it. That's what I do. 

If you're not ready for all meatless meals, the poster who wrote, "I keep increasing the vegetables and decreasing the chicken." is on the right track.

Oh the images that conjures.

Absolutely. I met my husband when he was working at The Daily Comet in Thibodaux and I was working at The Courier in Houma.

Frikadeller! A Scandinavian meatball. I love the way foods travel around regions.

I have a glass mixing bowl that was a wedding present to my parents more than 63 years ago. It's faded from it's original blue, to a cream color, but, still gets used often. I still have a few of their Revere ware pots and pans, that are only in the last year starting to give up the ghost.

Yes, the chicken balls were small, perfect for spooning up with the soup.

I’m going to second a previous poster who recommended Taylor’s of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold. I admit I use the bags but it really is so much better than other brands. It isn’t harsh at all.

Your limoncello recipe, 2005. I make it for holiday gifts. A number of years ago, the local Container Store in DC told me that they sell more large Mason jars & smaller bottles for decanting than any other store in the country, because it was a recommended source in the article.

Another excellent topping: Curry powder.

This thought came to me recently while making beef tacos. Can I save the fat that I drain from the browned beef like I do bacon grease and use it to make a roux for beef gravy? Would it give the gravy a beefier taste? Some roasts just don't have enough fat drippings to make as much roux as I'd like.

I too save bacon fat, but I have never done this. I don't think it would add great flavor, but let's throw this out there to everyone. Anyone do this?

Curious if you can shed some light on to why 3 of the 4 grocery stores I visited this week were completely out of lentils (both packaged and bulk). Is there a shortage or is this a key component of trendy new year's diet?

New year, new lentil shortages. No idea. 

I started fermenting a couple of years ago but every year I have to move and every year I end up living in a smaller place. Now I'm in a 1 bed room apartment without balcony and of course I dont have a proper place to put ferments. I usually do Kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. How can I get organize in a small kitchen to go back to fermenting? I Im always concerned about cross contamination as well.

One of the great things about ferments is that they aren't picky! I've kept fermenting sauerkraut and kombucha in a cabinet before. Other people I know have kept them in a corner in their living room. The key is usually just to find the coolest (temp-wise) spot in your living space. 

And don't worry about cross-contamination on ferments. Each has its own micro-environment, and if a new microbe can live there, great. Otherwise, it won't make it. And as long as the ferments are acidic enough (pH 4.6 or below), all is safe to eat or drink. 

My mother had a Cutco knife she probably bought around 1960. It was a great knife for a very long time. But, eventually, it turned into a serrated knife. Mom refused to get rid of it and continued to use it. Somehow, it mysteriously "disappeared" when we moved her 3 years ago.

I also have my mother's Cutco. Sorry you lost it in a move. That's a drag.

I wrote in last week about leftover taleggio and one of you suggested a Washington Post recipe for mushroom taleggio risotto. Oh. My. Goodness. It was fantastic. Just enjoyed a bowl of leftovers. Definitely a keeper, for special occasions! Thanks!

Recently, when mum moved into a care home one of the few things I took were her 1930s mixing bowls - there's three of them (not a set though). Food was important growing up and they've been in service all my life. I also have my father's three cast iron pans that I use daily. He had them before he got married and that was 1965 ... ! I also have from the family home what must be a 1970s spatula / fish slice. (The Seventies shade of orange paint on handle dates it). It works so much better than the modern ones and is so well constructed - I swoon over the rivets. I use that every morning to make my over easy egg ... in my father's cast iron pan, natch.

A wooden butter paddle, carved by my great-grandfather when the old one broke and they weren't going to town for a while. Grandma and Mom have both made butter with it, and I'm hoping to elbow my other siblings out of the way for it eventually. Also: Grandma's canning funnel, a wide-mouthed one for pouring thick stuff into jars.

If you use a tea ball, try and make sure it's large - water being able to circulate around the leaves helps the brew. An electric kettle is amazing - and very helpful for when you need a pan of boiling water for cooking. It takes much less time. I do believe no home should be without one.

The Art of German Cooking by Betty Wason (1967) is the favorite of my many German cookbooks. Used copies are available through Amazon.

Meant recipes that I've used in the past, with great results. Quick example, a rugelach recipe that I've used many times. Finally had to go online. Recipe I found made a perfect dough. Hope I can find it again.

Not just you. I had macarons down pat. But for some reason over the holidays, I flubbed 3 recipes of them for various events. The first, I (stupidly) tried to make just after it rained. The second the eggs ended up too thick. Try #3, I overcompensated for the thick eggs on try #2. The 4th try, I didn't even need to make them for anything, but I was NOT going to end the season with the macarons defeating me. And they worked :)

Just ... swooning. These are utterly amazing.

Not low cal - garlic butter.

Any suggested recipes?

Yes, kimchi is one of the ultimate fermented foods. 

Here's a recipe for classic Napa cabbage kimchi

OK, I'll try again. But it's never ever (ever) worked for me. No bubbles, no sourness, no nothing. I thought it was because I keep my house fairly cool (65 - 68 degrees F in the winter)but the article says it should be fine at that temperature.

Yes, it might have something to do with the temperature of the room being on the cool side. Although you're right that it should still work--eventually. You could also look at the proportion of salt you've added. A high salt concentration can slow fermentation as well. And give it some time. At least a few weeks to get underway if you're fermenting, say, cabbage.

If you want to try a quicker veg fermentation, give beets a try--their high sugar content gives the microbes lots to eat so they can get the process underway. 

Like many others, I'm over all the heavy and unhealthy food eaten during the past few holiday months. I'm also exhausted by the time I get home on weeknights after work, and susceptible to grabbing whatever's quickest, usually processed and again, not healthy. Help me think outside the box, and come up with some quick nutritious meals, extra points if they just have a few ingredients and require little prep or cooking. I'm thinking along the lines of avocado toast, or fruit and cheese, but, there has to be more that I'm just not thinking of. Oh, and vegetarian.

I made these, and they are soooooo good. I tried to find the Mary Berry cookbook this referenced, but could only find a UK edition with a hefty shipping charge. Is the US edition not yet published?

Hm! Maybe some confusion over editions? The one I have came out last year: here it is.

So glad you liked the recipe!!

Proper British Shortbread

RECIPE: Proper British Shortbread

I have a 'magic' potato fork from my grandmother that I use for mashed potatoes. It's just a regular dinner fork but it's extra heavy so it seems to mix the spuds well. I guess we can count my cast iron skillets (3rd generation!) as talismans too.

Magic. Love it.

We didn't loose it, we threw it away because we were worried she would cut herself badly (happened before.) The only thing more dangerous than a sharp knife is a dull one.

I found a beautiful, large old mixing (?) bowl with flowers at a thrift store. Taped on the bottom was (guessing) the previous owner's name - Eunice Sholl. I love using it, wondering about Eunice, what pot luck dishes she may have toted in it. One of my most prized kitchen possessions. And whatever tape Eunice used - they don't make it any more - it's survived many, many washings. It does bring me luck.

I recently got "German Christmas Cookbook" by Laura Sommers on Amazon. It has a lot of Christmas cookie recipes, but, also a lot of dishes that aren't holiday specific. Not a huge book, but, enough recipes to make it worthwhile.

I'm going to make this again tonight. Is there any reason not to use beef broth? I can't remember what I used last time, and I'll have to buy some broth.

Nah, go for it!

Fast French Onion Soup

RECIPE: Fast French Onion Soup

Glad you liked it -- I have heard from some readers about inconsistent time, given how much liquid the onions can potentially release. If they start bubbling in tons of liquid, hold off on adding water, or add very little of it.

I bought a bottle of kefir to make your (very tasty) kefir ranch dressing and have two questions. First, what do I do with the rest of it? A stroll around the internet only returns smoothies. Second -- tangentially related -- your recipe says it's good for five days in the fridge. But the bottle of kefir says it's good until mid-February. Why the difference? This is really a broader question related to my trying to reduce my food waste, but why would the prepared dressing turn faster than the kefir? Is it the chives? If I didn't use the chives would the dressing stay good longer? I know you guys get a lot of questions like these, even though you're not the USDA, but I appreciate any insight you have!

I actually like plain kefir as a topping to lots of different dishes. I put it on oatmeal (with berries, cherries and chia seeds) in the morning. And I often mix it into pesto pasta dishes before serving to give them a little extra creaminess and a slight sour dimension. 

My great grandmother's rolling pin. One handle keeps coming out and I have a newer fancier one, but hers is always the one I reach for first.

Makes me think of my mom's rolling pin! She misplaced it for a minute and it really threw her for a loop.

In the Italian culture (and maybe others) lentils are prepared to celebrate the new year -- their coin like shape represents prosperity and good fortune.

A jar of salsa over boneless chicken breast. cook on low four or five hours. We used to add corn and beans. Got the recipe from Weight Watchers before you could have a lot of corn and beans.

Hello - Ms. Krystal’s roundup of tea-making tips contains the following: “Good tea doesn’t necessarily need a ton of milk (dairy or non-) and sugar, although I love a creamy, sweetened chai.” I know that American chain and other coffee shops serve an abomination they call chai, but chai is just the Hindi/Urdu word for tea. That’s it. If you don’t believe me, ask Padma Lakshmi because this is a pet peeve of hers. Thanks.

Unless I'm missing something, it's acceptable to say chai when you mean masala chai, the spiced black tea. Which is what I was talking about.

I don't know if this counts as a fermentation question or not, but I need sourdough starter help! We've got our starter, and we're keeping it in the fridge. Now I can't figure out exactly how to go from starter to recipe--- do I just leave it out for a few hours then follow the recipe instructions, do I feed it and leave it out for a few hours before adding it to the recipe, or are there times I can add it cold?? I've found a lot of great instructions for making a starter, and a ton of recipes, but none that tell me what to do with a starter that's been in the fridge. Help!!

Basically, you take your starter and feed a little of it before you want to be -- a few hours... THEN you add that mix to your bread dough and let it rise -- if you do that rise in the fridge overnight -- you get a lot more flavor. I'm currently playing around with these things myself - happy to help troubleshoot over email if that helps.

Lots of roll recipes use dried potato flakes. Try: Also, potato flakes are good soup thickeners

a few standbys: quesadillas with beans and seasonal veg pasta with veg hummus plus pita, crudite, olives

I make this spice mix - but use only 1/3 of the salt.


A bit late but question for Joe- I recall you being a fan of Twin Oaks tofu. Is it no longer operational? I haven't seen the tofu at the usual places it was carried in some time now. Quite bummed as it was my favorite- I'm not the biggest fan of the water-laden kind in the plastic tubs. What are you using instead?

Joe's busy cooking. He said to tell you that he sometimes buys Hodo, which is available at Whole Foods and Mom's, a Maryland-based chain.

I love Harney & Sons for all their different varieties, and how they throw in some free samples. PG Tips is a great all around one I can get at my grocery store, though it is more of a British tea I suppose. There is still something about iced tea made with Tetley, just like my mother and grandmother made though.

I adore Harney & Sons -- just a fan, not a paid rep. Lol. Their service -- free shipping, samples, really good packaging. And the teas are fantastic.

my mom has bought me 2 left handed wooden spoons over the years, and i love them! glad they make tools for lefties, as well :-)

My grandfather had a cast iron skillet that he may or may not have acquired sneakily from my great grandmother. My brother "borrowed" it for Thanksgiving. It moved to Vermont and it took a solid year before my grandfather realized that the tradition of sneakily acquiring the cast iron skillet had been continued by a new generation. He had to buy himself a new one and the old one is now very happily living in my brother's apartment.

I keep my starter in the fridge and if it’s been in there a while it can take at least a week of feeding before it comes back to life and is ready to use.

I'm giving this eating style a try for health reasons and so far, so good. I've been going back and making Joe's recipes and others that can easily go vegan. I'm already a bean fanatic but looking forward to the new book. Thanks, all of you, for continuing to crank out vegan-friendly ideas.

That made me laugh: My cousin sold Cutco knives in college, and did the spiel for my whole family. My dad bought the big set and we divided the pieces amongst the family. They sent at least three of us to the emergency room over the course of the next three months (it really wan't funny at the time, though; my grandmother actually needed surgery. I "just" cut off the tip of my finger so I only needed a couple of stitches) .

Oh  my!

I would be careful with this - you don't want the water to hit the leaves until it's at the right temperature.

Worth considering, yes.

When I'm sick enough to lose my appetite (not hard when you can't taste anything), pretty much all I can handle is "something" with tomato sauce on it since tomato sauce can usually push through the taste buds a bit. Way back when, the only thing I could handle to just get a few calories in was pop tarts. Only strawberry and only unfrosted. Generic brands were fine as long as they were strawberry and unfrosted. No idea why I could handle that, but I could. And you didn't have to stand up long to toast it.

When I'm sick I'm an absolute baby--and I get cranky like one. I tend to annoy myself to the point of making something delicious because otherwise I'll just sit around and mope. Which is worse. But definitely have had days where I would just dip buttered tea in toast until I was full! Or eat copious amounts of raspberry sorbet (wisdom tooth surgery/tonsillectomy). 

But since the subcontinental culture uses milk-laden spiced tea very widely, there shouldn't be a problem using "chai" to describe it. I mean, by your logic, "latte" should only refer to milk!

OK, thanks, was pretty sure I didn't do anything wrong...

And don't even think about using those spoon-shaped "infusers" that people pack their tea into. It won't hold enough tea for even one cup and packing it means the water won't circulate.


I have to be gluten and dairy free and I miss the biscuits I made before this--simple 8 oz SR flour, 5 oz milk, 2 oz butter recipe. I've been trying it with 1-1 GF flour, and they are leaden. I know I have to add baking powder, but they don't taste anything like the ones I remember. What do I do next?

Email me -- I have Jeffrey Larsen's relatively new gluten-free baking book that looks extremely promising. I can send you a rec.

I love making thin ground-almond cookies that I cut out with my groundhog cookie cutters. After baking and cooling, I coat them with a thin layer of melted bittersweet chocolate. I mail-ordered my cookie cutters back in the pre-internet era, but they're still available online.

Cute! Now I just want to watch one of my favorite movies.

When I was baking for the holidays, I was distressed to see that the coating on my cookie sheets was flaking off (distressed because a not insignificant amount had come off and I'd never noticed it before!). I went ahead and baked them on a couple of other sheets that I really don't like, but it's clear: I need to chuck the old ones and get some new. Do you have a brand you recommend? I don't use them very often--once a month or less--and I like the ones with a lip. Thanks!

I don't use any with coating. I swear by the Nordic Ware Baker's Half Sheet. They're aluminum. Inexpensive and durable, bake beautifully.

What are some interesting burger toppings for someone who can't eat any kind of cheese anymore and thinks all burgers are sad now without cheese? I'm trying to come up with a list. Anything to add? Caramelized onions Bacon or bacon jam And kind of pickled veggies (like red onion!) Mushrooms Sauerkraut Kimchi Sunnyside egg Bbq sauce Guac salsa

I'm biased, but I love fermented veggies on burgers. All of the ones you mentioned are great. I also like fermented jalapeños. 

And from the non-fermented side, a large grilled mushroom might help return some of the richness missing without cheese. 

A couple of summers ago (time flies) you published an article on shrubs, for refreshing non-alcoholic drinks based on apple cider vinegar. For this New Year's eve I made a ginger shrub, and had some left over, which I used as a marinade on pork cutlets. Delicious! A little too sweet for the savory meat, but still acceptable. I can see it used on fish and shrimp, as well. Next time I will make the syrup with less sugar so the leftovers will still be very gingery and vinegary, and will add sugar to the drinks if necessary. Thanks, those recipes are keepers.

Recently discovered TWG tea on a trip to Asia. It's like a candy store for tea lovers! Not sure if they're in the US, but they do have a store in Vancouver, BC. A must-try if you're into tea.

I'd call it less mild than Yorkshire Gold, but I'm an Assam addict -- T of H's Scottish Breakfast is my mainstay.

When is crawfish season and where and when to best buy here in the DMV? Is it ever frozen? Can you direct us to a crawfish primer? It's not exactly like shrimp, right?

I am on this. I've had so many people ask me. Crawfish season is in spring, wrapping up in mid-May, depending on rainfall and the weather. I plan to ship my in from Louisiana, but I'll dig around and fine out if we can get them from a source in D.C.You an buy frozen crawfish for sure. If you make the etouffee with crawfish, you must add stock. Have more questions, shoot me an email.

I think you mean buttered toast in tea but the flu makes one stupid. ;-)

Kari said oops. And, yes, you are correct, of course.

If you have a robust starter, you can add it cold but I don't recommend it, especially if your starter is young because it will slow your rise. I always do room temp starter that is very puffy and bubbly - fed at least 6 (or more) hours before.

Here are some more handy sourdough starter tips

I loved Dave McIntyre's article on sherry in today's paper. I've been drinking the stuff - to strange looks from my hard-liquor-consuming friends - for years, having settled in recent years strictly on Pedro Ximenez. So here's my embarrassing question: Having consumed dessert sherry almost exclusively for years now, I'm not sure what the proper serving size is for a glass of sherry in another style! Is it the same as a glass of wine - 5 oz. or thereabouts? If the style matters, I'm thinking it's long past time for me to revisit manzanilla; I had some long ago, and it was relatively flat on my palate. But I don't think I gave it much of a chance. I never tried different manzanillas. If you have a particular recommendation, I'm all ears. But I'm also cheap, so I usually go for "value" wines rather than higher-priced options. Thanks!

Hey there! I'm a poor substitute for Dave on this, but sherry is usually served in smaller pours because, as a fortified wine, it tends to be higher ABV than most regular vino. I think usually in 3 ounce pours (though that's not to say the little bitty glasses that it's typically served in are the best option for appreciating the wine). I'm usually mixing with sherry when I play with it, but really liked La Gitana when I tried it. You might dabble with some finos, too.

I look to Frasier and Niles Crane (from the old NBC sitcom) for serving suggestions (they drank sherry like it was going out of style). But clearly I'm no expert! 

JUST got this response from Dave: 

"Keep in mind that sherry is fortified, so it is higher in alcohol than regular table wine. This could be as high as 18-20 percent for your Pedro Ximenez, though with Fino and Manzanilla it's about 15 percent. So pour a little less than you would a table wine and sip it judiciously. But do use a regular wine glass -- you don't need smaller traditional "sherry" glasses.

A delicious Manzanilla that I will have in next week's recommendations is called La Guita. It's about $11-12 for a half bottle, which means you can try it without spending or wasting much."

I second the recommendation for Harney & Sons. Their London Fog blend is wonderful. I'm also so glad that PG Tips is so readily available at grocery stores here, now. I used to stuff boxes of it into my suitcase coming back from trips to the UK.

One of my favorites! Literally drank a mug of that this morning.

Our favorite comment today came from the person who said "I always wear my red polka dot apron I made in 8th grade Home-Ec class," when she has a "serious" cooking job. Please reach out to Kari Sonde to get your copy of Harmon Courage’s “Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome": Thanks again for joining us this afternoon.

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables," "Serve Yourself" and the upcoming "Cool Beans." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Carrie Allan
Carrie is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Emily Heil
Emily is a staff food writer at The Post.
Becky Krystal
Becky is the lead writer for Voraciously.
Ann Maloney
Ann Maloney is the Food section recipes editor.
Katherine Harmon Courage
Katherine Harmon Courage is an award-winning freelance journalist, editor, and author. She is the author of "Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome." Her work has also been featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing.
Tim Carman
Tim is a staff reporter for Food and writes a weekly column on casual dining for Weekend.
Olga Massov
Olga is a food editor at The Post.
Kari Sonde
Kari is the food editorial aide.
Matt Brooks
Matt Brooks is an assignment editor for Food and the editor of Voraciously at The Washington Post.
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