The Washington Post

Free Range on Food

Jan 22, 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 today's chat! We've got dumplings on the brain today, thanks to Cathy Barrow's fun take on a Glover Park couple's annual Dumplingfest. But that's not all: We're thinking about soups (like Jane Black's elegant restaurant-worthy renditions), raw milk (thanks to Whitney Pipkin's profile of people who will seek it out despite the warnings), and more.

What do you want to chat about on this chilly snow day? (Well, for some people it's a snow day -- for us here at Food central it's work as usual. Although our work gets to include chatter with you about food, and even cooking some -- Tim and I are battling with sandwiches later today!)

We'll have VERY expert help answering your questions: Cathy "Mrs. Wheelbarrow" Barrow herself is in the room, so fire away. Oh, and we'll have a giveaway cookbook TBA for the source of our favorite question or comment today, so make them good. Let's get this going!

Hi Free Rangers, I'm a week early, but any thoughts for incorporating Seattle/the pacific northwest into a superbowl menu that doesn't include seafood? (allergies)


Seattleites like to argue over whether it's a "signature" dish or not, but teriyaki is one of the city's most popular foods, prominent enough that even John T. Edge wrote about it for the Times.


The other option is the Seattle dog, which is essentially a grilled hot dog (or Polish sausage) laid  into a cream-cheese slathered bun. I'm not making this up.


Of the two, I'd go with teriyaki. It's tasty and it'd be a good conversation starter at Super Bowl party. We have a few recipe ideas from the database:


* Teriyaki Steak, Snow Pea and Shiitake Salad (pictured above)


*Teriyaki Broccoli and Snap Peas


* Mahogany Short Ribs

Kind of a silly question, but here goes. Our family likes to do an appropriately themed meal on the day of the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics. We've had something of an easy go of it lately (Greece, Italy, China, Canada, London), but we're stumped for what to do for Russia. You should assume that we don't want to have borscht. Thanks!

My grandmother was Russian and made plenty of borscht, a beefy soup with gigante beans, potatoes, cabbage and beets. Not that magenta soup! She also made delicious kasha varnishkes - kasha with noodles. Here is a more modern version

Kasha Pilaf with Chicken, Onions and Mushrooms

Thanks for your recommendation for the St. Michel Bakery last week. I tried it right away and the croissants were just as described. My stomach, not my waistline, thanks you!

Excellent work. 

Lately I am unable to find oil-packed anchovies in jars. Do you know where I might look? Or, if I have to buy the cans, what is the best way to store the anchovies after the can has been opened?

Vace Italian Deli in Cleveland Park sells the small Agostino Recca jars for $5.45 each.  The deli is located at 3315 Connecticut Ave NW. Its phone is  202-363-1999.


I want to make guacamole for a Super Bowl party. When would the optimal time to buy avocados be? Too early and they'll get brown and mushy sitting on my kitchen counter, too late and the stores might run out, or only have rock hard underripe ones with no time left to ripen them.

I tested this over the holidays for the same reason. I bought rock hard avocados four days before and they were perfect the day of the party.

I bought a clamshell of really nice strawberries and a clamshell of really nice grape tomatoes on Saturday (b/t/w I made sure to look at the bottoms and both were fine and when I brought them home I stored them upside down to give the guys on the bottom's a break) . Both were in a non refrigerated display at the store. I had to throw both out today. By Sunday the berries were starting to mold and the tom's were soft. I then put them in the fridge and it got worse. What is the proper way to store fruit's and veggie's? Thanks!

Frustrating, isn't it! Let's see, by "really nice," you mean they both looked fresh, I assume. Are you in the mid-Atlantic, or elsewhere? Personally, I avoid buying fresh strawberries at this time of year, because the ones you can get in the supermarket are just so far from what you get when they're local and in season. You know, bred for transport, not for flavor or texture. White on the inside. Firm.

Anyway, to the substance of your question: Strawberries need to be refrigerated if you're not using them within a day. Tomatoes, including grape tomatoes, on the other hand, shouldn't; refrigeration compromises their texture and flavor.

So the strawberries should have gone in the fridge. I like to line the container with paper towels to absorb extra moisture, and make sure they're in something with holes so they can breathe.

The tomatoes are another story -- you typically should be able to keep them at room temperature in something that can breathe, but they won't keep more than several days, usually. When you bought them, were they nice and shiny with taut skin? I wonder if they were already on the old side...

I have a recipe that calls for browning 4.5 lbs of lamb shanks, then cooking them with onions and other ingredients in a slow cooker with 3 cups of liquid (broth, pomegranate juice and merlot) for 3 hours on high. Carrots are then added and cooked for another hour. If I wanted to use a 4.5 quart Le Creuset french oven instead, how long and at what temperature would I cook at? Any other adjustments I need to make? I haven't jumped on the slow cooker bandwagon yet so any tips to keep in mind when converting recipes would be greatly appreciated.

I don't have an rule of thumb for conversion, but for lamb and other shanks that are braised, I usually assume 325°F oven for about three hours, total. Add the carrots an hour before.

Your article in today's paper intrigued me - I didn't know you could freeze cooked beans! Can you provide specifics? Should they be completely or partially cooked? Frozen in a single layer or in a plastic container? Can they be mashed beforehand or is it better to do that when they've thawed? And will freezing/thawing change their texture at all?

Beans freeze beautifully. Fully cook them, and freeze them in zip-top plastic bags in their cooking liquid, and freeze the bag flat so it's quick to thaw. Just transfer to your fridge in the morning to have them thawed that night, or leave them out long enough to get them out of the bag, and then defrost gently in the microwave or on the stovetop.

No, no change in texture, really. You can mash beforehand, I suppose, but I think it's better to freeze them whole so you have options of using them for other things.

When I make spaghetti for dinner I like to use fresh ingredients but always lacks some taste. Typically I use various peppers, onions, ground beef, sausage, diced tomatoes, tomatoe paste and sauce. Along with other Italian seasonings, s&p and a little sugar. And I let it cook slowly for a couple of hours. Is there something missing here?

Two quick thoughts:


Do you let your onions caramelize first, so that you help sweeten the tomato sauce as it cooks?


You might also try adding a cup of red wine to the sauce, like a chianti.

Hi guys! I'm hosting a Winter Olympics party in a couple of weeks and am struggling to come up with some Russian-themed appetizers for the guests. We'll have a blini bar with some domestic caviar and smoked salmon, but I'm at a loss for other ideas. There are no dietary restrictions, but I'm not keen on making / serving borcht (nightmares of beet-stained everything). All thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

You could certainly go the black bread route, with sour cream and dill and maybe a shaving of raw beets.  Dumplings (hey!) similar to pierogis, spelled something like pirozhki, would be authentic. In fact, a savory strudel or stuffed pastry would be right on point -- you could buy a good brand of puff pastry and do your own thing with a beefy/mushroomy filling. That reminds me of beef Stroganov, of course. Or what about chicken Kiev? All quite manageable. Must have Russian tea cookies! And check out Mrs. Stepanoff's Sauteed Cabbage, in our Recipe Finder

I love cooking fish, but I'm just not confident about it. Sometimes the salmon skin sticks to the grill pan, or I don't know how long to cook a filet. Or the breading is very dry. How do I become better at this? I have skills in the kitchen, for example I make really great beans and soups, but I really want to improve in this area, and later eat it too! Thanks!

I feel your pain. I used to leave that wrinkled piece of salmon skin on the grill pan every time. So frustrating. I devised this method and it works every time: Place the salmon, skin side down, on a cold grill pan. Slowly raise the temperature over about 20 minutes to high. Then cook for another 10 minutes. Do not flip the fish, just let it cook from the bottom. It will release easily when it is cooked through. I marinate my fish is equal amounts of soy, orange juice and honey for about an hour.

I'm not a vegetarian, but I usually cook sans meat at home for health reasons, as well as the fact that veg supplies just keep longer than meat. But I'm stuck. As I age my body has become--how do I say this?--less... welcoming to beans, which have been the mainstay of my lunches. I like to cook something on Sunday nights that I can portion out and eat for the next 3-4 days (I don't mind the repetition as long as it's good!), so I love lentil salads, lentil soups, green salads with garbanzo beans. But now that those are out, I find I'm pretty much left with pasta. I've tried doing other grain salads, but they just don't hold up as well as beans over several days... which means I end up buying lunch and chucking the sad wild rice pilaf. Can you help me get my mojo back?

We eat a lot of beans, too, and your experience is not unique. Ahem. I have had a lot of luck using kombu seaweed. Just throw a piece into a batch of beans while they cook, then discard it. The urp-i-ness goes away. I don't know why, exactly, but it works. Kombu can be found at Mom's and I've found it at HMart, but not consistently.

I've been playing around with this, too, after my sister showed me the trick in Maine. It does seem to help! I mean, there's also the technique of changing the water after you soak the beans (and you really should get in the habit of cooking them from dried rather than canned) and before you simmer them to beautiful creamy tenderness.

Some experts say the only thing that REALLY works is to eat more beans, so you get used to them, but sounds like that wouldn't work with you because you already eat a lot!

Two other things to try: the Mexican herb epazote, which has traditionally been thought to help de-gas beans; and ... Beano! The supplement. I haven't used it, but it has plenty of fans.

Once your mojo's back, of course, you must make my Enfrijoladas With Avocado, Egg and Onion.

Thanks to the storm, I'm able to join the chat today - I usually read it the next week and want to respond to the question about avocados in today's print edition. I eat avows 4-5 times per week and have been very successful buying several hard ones at a time, leaving them out for a day or so, checking for a little yield to my touch. Once they reach that point, I put them in the vegetable bin and use them as I want. They will get softer and are always perfect for salads and sandwiches. They last like this up to a week or so - I've been doing this successfully for several years - hope this helps. (And, for what it's worth, over this time period I've found the consistently best avocados are sold at Giant ..and usually for less than other stores.


Hey Free Range! What's your favorite use for leftover pinot noir? I'd consider making Smitten Kitchen's Red Wine Chocolate Cake (, but it looks like I'm out of cocoa powder. I do have a lot of dark chocolate around - is there a way to substitute that? Savory ideas appreciated too! I'm vegetarian and have a lot of greens, lentils, grains, brussels sprouts and gold and sweet potatoes around. (And thank you for the enfrijalodas and soup recipes this week - they look wonderful).

My absolute favorite thing to do with any leftover wine (even -- gasp! -- a mixture of them from different bottles) is to make Mulled Red Wine Syrup. Seriously life-changing. You'll love it, and it keeps forever.

No, I wouldn't sub solid dark chocolate for cocoa powder in a recipe, because the chocolate is very different -- it has the fat in it, and the cocoa powder doesn't. So either get some cocoa powder or look for something else. (But if you make the syrup, you'll be satisfied, trust me.)

As for savory possibilities, you might try these fantastic Roasted Turnips With Mushrooms and Wine. Loved em.

I'm not crazy about the taste of seaweed; is it noticeable?


I have an avocado, Havarti with dill, and wheat bread. Now, that's going to make a pretty good sandwich, but what secret ingredient(s) can I add to make it a GREAT sandwich?

Sriracha mayo?


I haven't tried these veggies, do the other night I roasted Brussel sprouts. They were okay, but I'm not sure I would cook them again. I am unsure about kale and collard greens, which an email from Whole Foods calls the new kale. Can you suggest a simple recipe for either vegetable that might get me to like them?

I was in New York last week and had a fantastic Brussels sprout dish at Barbuto. It was a raw shaved sprout salad studded with toasted hazelnuts and liberally coated with a very lemony Pecorino Romano dressing. Sensational.  I understand the chef (Jonathon Waxman) does the same with very thinly sliced raw kale.

Jalapenos have become tiny green peppers--no heat--and this weekend I was disappointed to go through 3 serranos before I found one with any heat, and it was as weak as a jalapeno. My posole lacked the punch I was looking for. Any idea what's going on with the sissifying of chili peppers? any way to pick one with heat? maybe I should start buying a Serrano and a habanero just for good measure.

Chilies' heat is dependent on the weather, so wherever those chiles are growing isn't very hot. I often find this to be the problem in the winter, sadly.

And you can't really tell without tasting, sadly. I get in the habit of buying way more peppers than I think I'll need, and tasting as I cook. (Also: scraping out seeds and ribs but saving them and adding them back into the dish, to taste.)

Try roasting your tomatoes, especially if they're fresh. Add some salt (a little), olive oil, and maybe scatter a few garlic cloves amongst them, and roast. They'll develop a deeper flavor that plays nicely with everything else. If you use other veggies, you can chop those up with the tomatoes and roast them alongside, but--like Tim suggested--I usually caramelize my onions and add to the sauce that way.

Yes, oven roasting really concentrates flavor!


I'm getting really hungry for some homemade pasta sauce.

I have a gas oven and most times when I cook anything I have to turn the pan around to get it to cook evenly and when I'm using more than one rack... the bottom one always cooks faster (unless I'm using the broiler). I have recently used the convection feature when making cookies and the cookies were much better than without the convection, so I'm wondering if I can use this for other things... like roasted veggies, kale chips, or frozen fries... would that work?

Of course! Everything benefits from better heat distribution in an oven, which convection helps accomplish.

Hello Rangers- this weekend, I tried to make mayo for the first time. I followed Jennifer Perillo's recipe from Homemade with Love (great cookbook by the way!) I tried the regular one, not the low-fat. I got the egg and oil to emulsify, but it didn't thicken up... It remained completely thin, despite the fact that I was following the directions exactly. I tried to "fix it" by moving it to the blender and adding an extra egg and some additional oil (which didn't do a dang thing.) Any advice on how I can succeed in the future? Thank you!!

I've never done the immersion blender approach. I still do what I learned at L'Academie de Cuisine: whisk that oil into the single egg yolk very, very slowly, in a thin stream (or even drops!), whisking as fast as you can to create the emulsion. Adding too much oil, too fast, will break the emulsion.


To hold your bowl in place in order to whisk vigorously, I roll up a kitchen towel and make a circle with it. I place the bowl in the middle of the towel circle to stablize it.

I like to use my mini-food processor. The blade sits very low in the bowl, and it makes a great mayo.

I was very, very surprised to see whole, raw eggs on a list of food that can go in the freezer -- unless I misunderstood this chart Do you have any experience with freezing and then cooking eggs, sunny-side or in batters, etc?

Crazy!  I just tried to call that Nebraska extension office and got no answer. (If and when I do hear back, I'll report in the next Free Range chat.) I've never tried to freeze them in the shell. The Egg Board has recommendations that call for either separating whites/yolks for freezing or beating whole eggs then freezing those. 

I went on a lemon-buying spree and have used all but two of them in my many adventures. Aside from lemon bars (I'm not a fan--the traditional crust for them is really offputting), what would be some great ways to use them?

We should be asking YOU for details about those many adventures -- what did you do with all but 2 of them?

We have lots of options in our database, but one that jumps out because it uses just 1 or 2 is this Pomelo, Escarole and Candied Bacon Salad.

The next time you go on a buying spree, though, you should try one of our recipes that uses more than a couple:

Meyer Lemon Barley Risotto

Meyer Lemon Cara Cara Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Confit (sorry, no pic!)

Your soup article is well-timed. I just bought a Vitamix over the holidays, mainly with the intention of making silky-smooth vegetarian soups. My first couple of tries have not gone that well -- the texture is right, but the thickness is off. Any suggestions for "winging it" with veggies/ broth/ etc?

When you say it's off, do you mean it's too thick or not thick enough? A fine-mesh sieve or tamis (I use my fried chicken pan splatter screen) goes a long way toward achieving that silky-smooth result. 


If it's too thick, of course, you can just thin it out with some of whatever liquid you used, until you're good. If it's too thin, it's more complicated to fix, because you need to add some more of the solid ingredients, which might need to be cooked...

Salmon and anything with alderwood smoked salt!

Yes, but the chatter specifically requested no seafood. Allergies.

Do you have suggestions on what to do with the pulp by-product of juicing? Mostly vegetables, but a small amount of apple and lemon or lime pulp too. Would prefer gluten-free and pescetarian ideas. Thanks!

Do you have a dehydrator? How about a leather made from the pulp?

Hi! Whenever I make salmon (which is not all that often), there's usually some sauce or condiment that's supposed to be placed on top of the fish for baking - however, I find that this flavor rarely permeates the fish. Is there a technique for infusing salmon (and other fish) with their various flavor accompaniments (usually something lemony for salmon), or am I asking the impossible?

Marinades have only so much oomph with fish. I say, put the flavor on top of the cooked fish. Here are two recipes.

There's nothing like a compound butter - like this lemon ginger combination

Or a chimicurri sauce like this halibut cilantro one

I've been hearing more and more people recommend using salted butter for baking and cooking. I thought it was best to use unsalted butter and add salt if needed. What are your thoughts?

Where have you been hearing this? I need to get out more. . . . Using unsalted butter allows greater control of judicious sodium application. Chefs may use a salted butter to finish a sauce. Also, salted butter tends to store a bit better because of salt's preserving properties. But fewer of us are out on the prairie, churning and putting our butter in cold cellar storage. 

The Giant we shop at (off River Road in Bethesda) had this last time I looked. The Tenleytown Whole Foods used to, although I haven't seen them there lately.

Thanks for the tip!

Vace is great. I think Litteri has them too. Litteri also has the tubes of anchovy paste - I find that a lot easier to deal with and to store. Maybe that would work for the chatter?

Yes, Litteri's in the warehouse district off Florida Avenue has Bellino brand anchovies in a jar. About 4 ounces for $3.99, the helpful person on the phone told me.

Make the WaPo Limoncello! It's on the web site and also in the cookbook. It's absolutely perfect. Make it now and it will be good to go for summer sipping.

Yes -- thanks! The recipe calls for regular, not Meyer, lemons, but I'm sure it'd be fab with those, which would give a nice floral perfume.

The questioner didn't include garlic in their list of ingredients. I typically start with sauteeing chopped onion, celery or fennel, and carrot in olive oil with some salt, then adding fresh garlic after the initial group of vegetables have softened slightly. A sprinkle of crushed red pepper and oregano before the tomato and wine go in. Also very important--a couple of bay leaves and a tied together bundle of fresh thyme and parsley. Brown the meats separately and drain off the fat before adding. Simmer together for at least an hour. That's how I do it anyway, and I haven't had any complaints recently.

Yes, good catch. Garlic is essential in pasta sauce.

I buy my avocados in Mt Pleasant, at the little Latino grocery store. The ladies at the counter will ask for, "For today?" when you ask for avocados. They are GREAT at giving you avocados that will be perfectly ripe for whatever day you want to use them. Also, I hate avocados that have been in the fridge, as I think they get stringy. These folks store their avocados properly.

Love this. Now that's service!

Make/buy pelmeni! (Dumplings meant to be eaten with sour cream) I can, and do, put those away by the bagful. Shashlik is another option - Russia's version of meat on a stick/kebabs. Stroganoff, perhaps?


Were the eggs cold? Immerse eggs in warm tap water for 10 minutes before using. Start with 1/2 cup of oil, egg, mustard and salt and blend thoroughly. Stream in another 1/4 cup of oil. It should thicken up a lot. Add 2 T of vinegar or lemon juice and then drip in as much oil as will emulsify in. I always make mayo in the blender and rarely have it break. If it does, I save the broken mayo in a measuring cup, clean out the blender, crack another room temp egg into the blender jar, and then with the motor running, slowly stream in the broken mayo.

Thanks much for the tutorial! I can vouch for that saving-mayo technique, yes!

What soup(s) would you suggest to make with a pound of ground beef? (I know chili would be a way to go, but I'm looking for actual soup) Thank you!

For a soup, I would be tempted to make little meatballs, rather than use the ground beef. Maybe a spicy Korean style meatball using gochuchang chili paste? Add a clear broth, some noodles, scallion and cabbage.

Korean sesame oil and Korean hot red chili powder? Can't I just use the Asian sesame oil and one of the various red chili powders I already have in the cupboard? Please suggest some recipe modification so I can use what I have, unless you believe it'll seriously undermine the result. Thanks in advance.

Unfortunately,  no. Gochujang is a Korean condiment that can not be easily replicated. It's made with red chilis, fermented soybeans, glutinous rice and other ingredients. The fermented pungency is essential.

Just made Bonnie's Chocolate Spice bread to send to a friend as a new year gift (read: did not finish Christmas cookies in time...). I am eager to hear the reviews (the batter was spatula-licking good), but have a question in the meantime. The loaf cracked/split in several places along the top. Another quick bread recipe I have (an orange-peel bread, also a wet, heavy dough) calls for baking half the time at 350, then cutting a slit into the top of the bread and finishing it at 300. Do you think this would avoid the uneven cracking/splitting in the top of the chocolate bread loaf? Or do you think I did something wrong in baking the choc loaf? Thanks.

Sure, you could create your own split, but that cracking is what this bread does.  Go with it! Smelled great in the oven, didn't it?

I love coming up with my own recipes, and it is always an adventure (usually a good one). The misfires can be...memorable, though. Do you have any notable recipe experiments that seemed like a good idea but ended up being less than?

Too many to count. The most recent one concerns my first attempt to make dried sausages. Something went seriously wrong. The saucisson sec sausages were plump and gorgeous when I hung them. They were shriveled little jerky strips when I took them down two weeks later. My mentors in my budding charcuterie experiments say either I had too many air pockets in the casings or that we have a serious pathogen problem in the basement. It could be a bit of both.

Always amazed at how some liquids I've saved from cooking/braising will boil down quite nicely into a glistening, concentrated gastrique-like flourish, while other liquids just boil down to . . . a blackened pot.  And I have yet to come up with a brown rice pudding that works. Chatters? 

Oh, sure -- just the other night I was pan-frying and glazing some tempeh, and since I have good luck using just tamari for this purpose, I thought it would be fun to try with this double-dark mushroom soy sauce I bought at H Mart awhile back. Well, between getting used to my new induction stove and forgetting just how concentrated this soy sauce is, I ended up with blackened tempeh that tasted like a burnt salt block.

will the kombu be effective if you're just heating up canned beans, or reheating a bean soup you got at the deli?

Hmm. I doubt it. Cathy? What do you think?

No, the kombu is used when cooking dried beans. It clears the foam that gathers on the top. (That foam is full of the gas-creating enzymes.)

Hi, hope you can take my question! I was recently introduced to Japanese furikake seasoning to put on rice. I'm still trying to decide if I like it or not, but I'm wondering if you experts have any other creative ideas for using furikake besides on rice or to make asian chex mix (which sounds pretty good, don't get me wrong). Maybe a fish entree?

On noodles. On salads. On roasted sweet potatoes. On popcorn. Chatters, any other ideas?

Thanks very much!! Among my adventures was some Meyer lemon marmalade (next time, I want to experiment with some of my dried lavender for lemon-lavender marmalade that hopefully won't taste like soap!), and the Lemon Upside Down cake from Food and Wine. And lemon-yogurt cake is a winner every time. So, after all of that, I'm excited for some savory recipes!

Great -- thanks!

Collard greens, kale, kress, etc have been staples of the diets of poorer, rural people during the winter months. I always get a kick out of these staples being discovered as new.

I know, right? There is nothing new in the world of food, really. OK, maybe cronuts, but you get my point.

Hi! I am attempting to make gumbo and the receipe I have calls for File Powder? Where would I find this? I have tried Safeway and Wegman's but they don't have it. Is there anything to use as a substitute?

Penzeys sells file powder in three different sizes: a 4-0unce bag for $7.99, a 1.7 ounce jar for $5.69 and a small .7-ounce container for $3.45.


Thereare Penzeys locations in Falls Church and Rockville.

Can one make these not deep fried? How? In boiling broth? Side question--do you have a time for steaming dumplings (5 mins?) Thanks

The dumplings were delicious in the soup. They were cooked right in the boiling broth for about five minutes. I don't have a time for steaming, but expect it would be more than five minutes - closer to 10?

I really enjoyed the Dumplingfest story featured today - what a fun and unique tradition and something that all of us should attempt to replicate with our friends and family (just maybe not on as large of scale!)

Cathy did a great job with it, didn't she?

Is aioli basically homemade mayo plus garlic or garlic juice?

Basically, yep.

Make salted (preserved) lemons--great in many Middle-Eastern/Moroccan dishes, and I like to add to Salade Nicoise, and just plain tuna salad.

The person asking about excess lemons reminded me that I have a huge bowlful of limes at home. For lemons, no-brainer. I'd do this. But what about my limes?

Zest and freeze the zest on pieces of parchment paper. I usually stack the pages with 1/2 teaspoon of zest on each. Juice the limes and freeze the juice for an emergency margarita. Alternatively, make a lime curd!

I was talking with someone recently who suggested the idea of making pasta with cinnamon and having a sauce with apples--basically an apple pie turned into a pasta dish. I thought it sounded so interesting. Have you ever heard of cinnamon pasta or a dish like this?

I haven't, but of course the Internet has.

I thought someone might counter my avocado tip - I'm very particularly and my method works well - NO stringy avocados, perfect always: creamy, smooth, lovely. Not all of us live near a wonderful Latin grocery, so hope folks will give my tip a try - as I say, it's worked as described for several years very nicely.

Oh, I didn't realize that by "vegetable bin" you meant the fridge! Yes, it slows down the ripening, absolutely. So you get them where you want them, then refrigerate.

My sisters in law got us a lovely new gas grill for the holidays. I've grilled chicken a few times, lots of veggies, and steak. So, what next? I'm an experienced cook but feel very green when it comes to the grill. I'd love some ideas for fairly quick, week-night grilled meals.

This is one of my favorite recipes for the grill

Thai Skirt Steak salad with asparagus

I am in search of a recipe that I thought was on the WaPo Food section site but am having no luck. It is for a blood orange liqueur. Have the oranges, now just need the recipe. Many thanks for any help!

Here is a link to my recipe for citrus liqueurs. Blood orange liqueur is so pretty and absolutely delicious with gin.

Your article on soups this week prompted me to ask this question: I have tried to make chicken noodle soup several times and each time the flavor has fallen flat. No amount of salt and pepper or addition of various other seasonings seems to be able to rescue it from a flavorless broth. I'm going to give the Dilled Chicken Soup Stew I saw in your recipe finder a try; in the meantime, do you think that the brand of chicken stock purchased makes a difference? Should I season more at the beginning of the recipe than I usually think is necessary?

Well, I never had a chicken noodle soup starting with a store-bought broth that tasted as good as when you make the broth yourself. THAT's where the flavor is.  (You figured I might say that, right -- always cheerleading for the DIYness of cooking?)


If you want to start with that convenience, it's best to doctor it:  Toss in some parts from a rotisserie chicken (no skin), or roast some chicken or turkey bones in the oven at 375 for, say, 45 minutes or so, then toss them into the broth, with a few whole black peppercorns, maybe a piece of celery, an onion half, a carrot, a bay leaf, a few stems of parsley. Barely boil, then let that simmer for 30 minutes or so. Taste and make sure the salt level is right after you strain it.  Whatever flavor's there will go right into the noodles, so that's an important step. Last bit: a splash of lemon juice as you serve each portion. 


I like Kitchen Basics brand stocks the best. 

Actually, read my original post again: they are just yielding to the touch - they do continue getting riper in the fridge, surprisingly ...but just right - honestly, it works well - it was all sort of an accident ...again, done this for several years

We understand!

I'm no stranger to making things myself that many people purchase, but things like mayo and tomato-based pasta sauces have never been on my list. Perhaps because I only recently have been able to adapt to eating tomato sauces (I find raw tomatoes vile and used to hate them in cooked form as well). However, they also seemed to fall into the category of yogurt: sure, you CAN make it yourself, but it's not worth the cost or effort. Am I wrong? Is homemade tomato sauce that much better than one I buy in a jar, and how does the price compare?

I haven't tasted a jar of good commercial sauce side by side with a homemade pasta sauce. But my initial reaction is: Of course the homemade would taste better. The ingredients are fresher and there are no preservatives. Plus, you can control all the flavors and aromatics of your sauce.

LOVED the article, my husband was stationed in South Korea and I visited during his 15 month tour. Mandu is served by vendors with little carts on street corners near the shopping districts. It was soooooo good. It was hard to replicate at home. Thanks for the recipes.

Fresh herbs, if you aren't using them, will make a huge difference. Fresh rosemary and oregano stand up really well to sauces with sausages in them.

My favorite new way to use leftover red wine, inspired by Ideas in Food, is to turn it into vinegar, which is so much better than anything you can buy in the store and very versatile in the vegetarian kitchen. Mix your leftover wine with a live vinegar (after a lot of experimentation, I found Bragg's apple cider vinegar, which you can pick up at Whole Foods, works best) helps the mother develop more quickly. Cover with cheese cloth and put the lid loosely over to allow oxygen. Store it in a cool, dark place and don't touch it. After a few weeks, add more wine to feed it. You can skim some off the top to use right away and filter and bottle the rest to age. Another idea is to stick it in the freezer and pull it out to use later in a sauce.

King crab legs. Just call them Kamchatka instead of Alaskan.

Can generic Asian sesame oil be substituted for Korean sesame oil?

Yes, although the Korean was a little stronger in flavor.

Whole foods has been carrying them oil packed in plastic - head and shoulders above the jarred ones, IMHO. I have been making Caesar salad every night.......

Grilled pineapple: mix some fresh squeezed citrus juice (orange, lime, lemon, other) with some honey and a pinch of salt. Soak the freshly sliced pineapple for about an hour. Grill 3 or 4 minutes per side. Before you flip, reapply remaining marinade.


When you have dinner parties, do you do centerpieces, or just let the food do the talking? I'm getting overwhelmed with all the elaborate table settings that I see online. I hate when the table is super crowded, but I'll like it to look at least a little festive...

Delving into Home section territory here, but do not waste one more minute of stress on centerpieces. Depending on how big your table is, you can do lovely things with small clear votives and low-to-the-table tea lights. Even a package of confetti-type glitter. I've seen combinations of fresh Brussels sprouts leaves and white asparagus alone that would cause Martha  Stewart types to take notice -- I'm talking about those elements stuck either into the small votives or even juice glasses.  Even if you just used flowers from the grocery store, using a bunch of them in a single color creates a statement. 

Does microwaving meat or vegetables reduce their nutritional value? What is the most nutritional way to cook them? I use to microwave everything because I did not have a stove. Now I put a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on the stove and add the veggies or meat. But that oil adds calories. Of course, everything tastes better. What do you recommend?

Numerous studies have shown that the microwave doesn't hurt food's nutritional value per se. All cooking robs food is some vitamins, but the worst method seems to be boiling, because the nutrients end up in the water (unless you consume that broth). The microwave may even have an advantage because it cooks foods for a shorter period, which helps avoid more nutrient loss. Overall, though, here's what I think: Particularly with vegetables, cook them the way that makes them most delicious to you, because that way you'll eat more of them!

I do exactly what this person does -- let them ripen on the counter, then put them in the fridge when they are where I want them. I also keep cut avocados in the fridge. My husband hates them, so I have to eat them myself and I cannot eat a whole avocado at one sitting. I have never noticed any stringiness.

Made homemade stock yesterday that tastes wonderful, and was nice and clear due to diligent skimming, but after it has been refrigerated, I didn't get that "jelly-like" consistency. Can I take this stock and cook it again with chopped chicken wings or do I have to start over?

That jelly quality comes from the collagen in the bones. Did you start from raw chicken or cooked? If using bones from cooked chicken (which I do all the time), you may not get the gel. If the flavor is good, don't worry about it.

How many of the Food section authors routinely drink raw milk? cook with it?

I don't here, but I routinely did when I was on leave in Maine in 2012, because there was a nearby source that I trusted. I loved it -- but I can also understand the concerns.

Is there any good reason why homemade turkey stock shouldn't be substituted for chick broth in most recipes? (I have a several quarts of turkey stock frozen away that I would hate to see go to waste)

I use them interchangably, unless reducing for a silky pan sauce, in which case I find the turkey stock is too thin to offer much flavor.

I used the unexpected day at home yesterday to make a big batch of chicken stock. I set it out on the porch to cool, forgot about it, and brought it in today. After removing the fat from the top and pouring the middle portion to be reheated, I was left scraping out the remainder that had frozen to the bowl. I started scraping out the frozen portion and it struck me that it looked similar to shaved ice. I wonder if one could make a savory shaved ice or granita from frozen stock. Any thoughts?

We've had some savory granita entries in our Top Tomato contest over the years, and there's a Shiner Bock granita that is THE thing to serve at a hot as LL barbecue in the summer. But I'm thinking that chicken stock granita might only work if you were piling a bit of it into, say, a steaming bowl of something that needed chicken flavor dilution. 

I just started trying to use juice as soup last week so I was excited to see today's article! In my case, I craved soup to warm my insides and Vitamin C to ward off colds. I had orange juice, carrot juice and mango juice on hand and figured there might be a way to transform them into soup, as opposed to hot juice. But I'd not come up with a satisfactory recipe. Thanks, Jane Black!

We will pass that along! I had leftover carrot juice from testing so I looked for other ways to use it and came up with a Dinner in Minutes pasta dish that's quite good. Look for it next week! 

There's a good Russian, well, Soviet actually, cookbook called "Please to the Table." It's got a nice big section of snack foods to serve with vodka (called zakusky, I think? That is, the snacks are called zakusky. Not the vodka.) Anyhow, this book would easily solve the Russian food question.

microwaving increases the temperature of the water molecules in the good which then gives off heat to the non water parts of the food. Microwaving, and cooking in general, can increase the bio availability of some foods. Carontenoids in particular are more readily absorbed from cooked foods as opposed to raw foods.

Yes, it's true -- I saw that study about carotenoids, too!

I made a batch of preserved lemons using one of the recipes featured food section maybe a year or so ago (it was not the Quick Preserved Lemon recipe, but rather the one that required 2-3 weeks). The jar has been sitting in my fridge for about a year. Should I be worried about using them now? Thanks!

They're preserved. They'll last for a long time, but the texture will begin to get mushy. Time for some Moroccan cooking!

Thanks for the beany tips! Do you also have any ideas for non-bean lunches on weeks that I don't have time to cook beans from scratch?

Some weeks are fried rice weeks. Start with about three cups of cooked rice and vegetables, add carrots, bok choy, green beans every day, maybe tofu,  some kimchi, an egg.

I got a 2-pack of Fennel at Trader Joe's, made a great apple-fennel slaw, and was wondering what to do with the spare bulb. For punching up pasta sauce, was that fresh fennel or fennel seed? any other ideas for using the bulb? (sadly, it was trimmed, so I didn't get many of the ferny fronds--want to try that candied fennel stem recipe some time)

I like an avocado, grapefruit and shaved fennel salad.

Do you have a favorite recipe for this Chinese restaurant soup? I'd love to make it at home.

How 'bout this one?

Think this Cambodian one's my fave, tho.


When mine get to that point, I like to finely chop/mash and put them into the skillet with other aromatics to make rice pilaf. Adds a nice note.

So I have one of those little tubs of rice left over from a chinese food order (why DO they give you rice when you order moo shu?). Aside from fried rice, any thoughts on a good and tasty way to use it up?

Make your own arancini-type rice balls; you can fill the middle of them with anything you like.  Or create a rice bowl, with various ingredients you have on hand (leftover meat, tofu, veg) top with Sriracha or a sweet-sour sauce. 

If I don't have tomatoes to spare for making sauce, I've used crushed tomatoes in their stead. Sure, if you don't care, jarred sauce is just fine. But I find them too sweet (they add sugar!) and I end up 'doctoring' them to my tastes anyway. It's much nicer to start with a blank slate.


Don't forget coffee. Some sort of dessert perhaps? I also think out here in Seattle there's (even more so than other places) a huge amount of local, fresh, organic eating. Maybe that's a sign to lay off of the traditional Super Bowl snacks.

Good idea. How about this one, a Coffee Panna Cotta?

Well, you've fried us for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown, monitoring the oil temperature closely and adjusting the heat to make sure we fry at that constant temperature, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Cathy Barrow for her help with the a's!

Now for the giveaway book. The chatter who asked about how to add oomph to pasta sauce will get a copy of "The Al Tiramisu Restaurant Cookbook: An Elevated Approach to Authentic Italian Cuisine," by Luigi Diotaiuti. Just send your mailing info to, and we'll get it your way.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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 and special guest Cathy Barrow, who blogs at
Recent Chats
  • Next: