Today's topics: Sushi, Chinese New Year, "The French Slow Cooker" and indoor smoking

Jan 25, 2012

Today's topics: Sushi, Chinese New Year, "The French Slow Cooker" and indoor smoking.

Past Free Range on Food chats

What did Sushi A say to Sushi B? 

Waaa Saa, B! (Get it?) Ba-dum-bum.


So the joke's corny and stale. We've got fresh insights about the sushi you're eating, thanks to Tim Carman and Free Range guest, chef Kaz Okochi of Kaz Okochi Bistro and Masa 14. "French Slow Cooker" author Michele Scicolone's on hand to field q's about new things to make in your Crock-Pot; Spirits columnist Jason Wilson might drop in, too, to join our regular gang. Unfortunately, Smoke Signals' Jim Shahin won't be here to talk you through the finer points of indoor smoking, but recipe editor/Chat Leftovers answer-person Jane Touzalin is willing to give it a go. You should know by now that we'll address just about any food-related topics.


We're giving away a copy of Michele's new cookbook, a copy of  "The Vegan Slow Cooker" AND Nina Simond's "Simple Asian Meals."  How can you lose? We'll announce 3 winners at the end of the chat.


I happen to be making gravalax that should be ready tomorrow. Is there some way I can make the skin crispy, and use it in salmon-skin sushi?

Easiest way to make the skin crispy is to deep fry it.

I adore sushi, but I so much prefer the fancy rolls, decoratively assembled than the plain sushi and rice. Does that mean I am not a true sushi enthusiast? Baked crab over a california roll is equisite, but nothing beats eel with its sauce.

I think it says you prefer maki rolls, the Americanized form of sushi. There's nothing wrong with this, as Kaz or any real food lover would tell you. Many of the maki rolls are delicious and inventive. They're just not what Japanese consider real nigiri sushi, whose aim is simply to please the palate with seasoned rice and fresh fish.

That is a type of the sushi developed in the U.S., and there is nothing wrong with liking those types of sushi.  But my point in the article today in The Post was that is also important to offer  good authentic as well.  Which, unfortunately, is starting to be neglected.

I was inspired by last week's recipes so I'm making the Curried Chicken Salad (probably served with pitas), the Pomelo Salad, and the Blood Orange Tart for a small group lunch this weekend. I feel like I need something else to round this meal out -- what would you suggest as either an appetizer or side dish? Thanks!

If you want to continue on your citrus kick, have a look at Carrots With Onion-Orange Marmalade, which I included in my winter citrus bonus coverage blog post last week. It can be largely made ahead too.

Carrots With Onion-Orange Marmalade

Do dry goods such as beans, sugar, quinoa, barley, etc. ever go bad or get to a point where you shouldn't use them anymore?

In general, the light/temp/humidity of where you store them will affect their shelf life. Let's say you have the right conditions for each; beans will be usable, but you'll notice that the older they get, the more finicky they will be to cook to tenderness. Quinoa's not a true grain, so dry storage is fine for quite a long time. Whole-grain barley (as opposed to pearled)  can go rancid -- specifically the germ within --  so it's best to store it in an airtight container in the freezer if you're interested in long-term. Under optimal conditions (airtight, no moisture) sugar can last for years. But even if it clumps up, there are ways of reversing that (microwave + slice of bread +10-15 secs).  

I made a soy ginger glaze for a dish and it was so delicious I've been dipping pretty much everything I can think of in it. The recipe made a quite bit however, so I have a lot leftover, how long do you think it'll keep in the fridge for?

The soy ginger glaze preserves pretty well and should keep for up to a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

Michele, I read that you leave off your crust to make the quiche lighter and healthier, but I'm wondering how do you keep it together? I would think to just add extra eggs, but then I would think that that would only make it feel heavier.

Think of a crustless quiche as similar to a frittata or other omelet, though it is lighter because it has milk added and no crust.

I took a French cooking class and everything was fixated around meat. It was a bit disappointing for me, coming from a vegetarian home, because I found there was not much I could duplicate at home. I also found that aside from the mire poix, the only vegetables were used as a puree or garnish. What do French vegetarians live off of?

French vegetarians eat very well!   In "The French Slow Cooker" you'll find recipes for Spelt Pilaf with Mushrooms, Moroccan Vegetable Couscous, Polenta with Sheeps Milk Cheese and Creme Fraiche, plenty of soups and bean dishes, omelets and lots of other recipes that are meatless or can be adapted to vegetarian cooking.

Great article. I have an old covered roasting pan, deep with a high lid. (Probably 8-10" between the bottom of the pan and the top of the lid.) Could I adapt that for an indoor smoker? Thank you.

Jim Shahin says it'd be perfect.

We have had an annual neighborhood progressive dinner for about 10 years. This year, we are responsible for the main course. House #1 is serving cocktails/apps. House #2 is soup/salad. We're house #3, so I need something that can "watch itself" while we're at house 1 and 2. I would be most grateful for any suggestions!

I can think of many things, but Domenica Marchetti's Overnight-Marinated Swordfish Stew popped into my head right away. Come back at me if you're in the mood for something different. (Got a slow-cooker?)

Thanks for the article on sushi. I was shocked that some places don't even bother to make their own rice. Explains some of the stuff I've had at sushi happy hours. Disappointment with either the quality or the cost of sushi out has led me to start making my own. Sushi rice isn't that difficult to make. Koshihikara is terrific and makes quite good risotto too. Most ingredients are readily available at any of the big Asian supermarkets in the area. I get fairly high quality fish shipped to me every so often. One can even find o-toro occasionally!

I'm glad you enjoyed the article and that you are making sushi  at home.  I get a lot of questions how to make sushi at home and your statement is encouraging.  Even for me, making sushi at home is not an easy thing to do especially finding sushi grade seafood.  Hope you keep improving your sushi skills.  Let me know if you need any help.

A few years ago I got a notice in the mail saying I had a package delivery to be picked up at an (insanely sketchy) FedEx location. My boyfriend and I went, waiting for about an hour and a half, then finally were handed over a large and ridiculously heavy package. Very confused, we opened it to discover an Emeril cast iron smoker my mom had sent me. And it's awesome. Super heavy-duty, NOTHING escapes from it until you open the lid (which incidentally can also be used as a grill pan). The thing weighs a ton and I can never figure out where to store it, so I probably use it a little less than I would otherwise, but it does make delicious food. While I would prefer a way to smoke outside, my apartment-dwelling-self is pretty satisfied for the time being. Just wanted to throw that out into the indoor smoking universe. Oh, and I love my ribs super tender and tumbling off the bone, so I'm excited for some new instructions!

Great article, Tim. One thing that I wish was addressed, however, is the issue of sustainability with sushi. So many sushi places, the gross places mentioned with bad sushi, don't use quality fish. Further, many sushi restaurants in general, don't consider the environmental effects of using fish. I love sushi but I confess that I have a harder time eating it because I think about the terrible fishing practices that gets the fish onto my plate. I'm always impressed with places that do exciting things with vegetarian rolls--making the vegetables as delicate and flavorful as the fish itself.

I'm a big vegetable eater as well however, when I have a craving for fish, vegetables just do not replace the seafood taste.  I do care a lot about the seafood sustainability and have attended many seminars regarding this issue.  Unfortunately, it almost impossible to run a sushi business based only on using sustainable seafood.

Thanks for the kind words.

In my experience in talking with chefs, sushi or otherwise, they do care about the sustainability of fish stocks. It's in their best interest, after all. Are there chefs and owners who don't care and will buy bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass until the populations ultimately crash? Of course.

But public pressure has gone a long way, I think, in creating a higher consciousness about sustainable fishing, both among chefs and diners.

The wildcard here, I believe, will be China and its massive appetite for fish. How will this affect stocks?

Good morning. I am taking my family to the Chinese New Year celebration this coming Sunday. I would like it special since my grandson has never been. Where would you recommend to go for lunch? We all like Dim Sum, but not sure which restaurant has a good variety. Also, where is a good place to park? The little parking alley charges $20, and that is a little pricey. Thank you,

Well, my recommendation will send you to the 'burbs, where the parking's free and plentiful.  Maybe you can go downtown for the parade and then move on. There's Hollywood East Cafe in Wheaton, where vegetable dim sum dishes are especially good. Tim Carman likes it too, as well as Mark's Duck House in Falls Church.

I am the questioner from last week who asked about where to get sushi-grade fish in the DC area and I have to say THANK YOU to both the Washington Post guys and chef Kaz! I went to H Mart in Falls Church and the tuna was wonderful! I also really enjoyed the article about sushi. Is there anyway to make sure that the sushi place I'm going to is serving the best fish and doing it correctly?

I'm glad I could help and that you enjoyed their tuna.  If you're in downtown Washington you know where to go.  Otherwise, ask Tom Sietsema.

I think the only way to know is to go and try the sushi house. I recently had the nigiri at Kushi Izakaya & Sushi in Mount Vernon Square and was impressed with the quality. The sushi rice was beautifully seasoned and so lightly packed that it looked to be suspended in air. The fish tasted...well, like good fish.

I was really excited to see the slow cooker recipes in today's paper. What keeps me from using mine more for weeknights is so many good looking recipes require 30-45 minutes of prep. My mornings (like most people I'm sure) are pretty chaotic and adding that to the mix is not realistic. Are there ways/recipes that I could prepare the evening before, put in the fridge and then pop in the Crock-Pot before I leave for work? Thanks

You can do your prep work the night before.  Store the prepared food in a sealed bowl or other container in the refrigerator. Don't put the food in the crock in the refrigerator because the crock which is heavy, will become chilled and this will add to the cooking time required to bring the food up to cooking temperature. 

Is there a way to search for the Cooking for One recipes? I made the Brussels sprouts and frozen corn soup last week -- which was fantastic -- and noticed there's a little icon that indicates it's a cooking for one recipe, but it doesn't seem like a searchable field. It would be great if it were. Same goes for recipes that you can make ahead -- would love to find things I can freeze.

Yep. The easiest way is to type "Cooking for One" into the search field in our Recipe Finder database (but don't use quotes), as I've done here; add "Yonan" (again, no quotes) to the search  if you want to pull up Joe's specific recipes. We try to put the name of columns and features in a searchable field for just this reason; you can search for Smoke Signals, Washington Cooks and Immigrant's Table recipes, to name a few.

It will warm Joe's heart that you liked his soup -- which is a good thing, considering the weather in Maine.

The French Slow Cooker looks interesting, but do you have a recommendation for an introductory book? Or even better, one available on the iPad?

My previous book The Italian Slow Cooker, and The French Slow Cooker both have plenty of easy recipes that are perfect for novice cooks.  And both are available as e-books. 

How do you "hang the duck over a pan... for at least 6 ... and up to 12 hours"? Can the average cabinet handle on the average kitchen cabinet door sustain this? Maybe I should use a bottom cabinet door, just in case.

I would also like to know - Please let me know if this can be done?  :-D

Ah, I'm guessing you too read my blog post with that recipe for Peking Duck. I understand your concerns -- a falling duck could indeed be a messy business. Go with the bottom cabinet door if that feels safer. Scour the rest of your house for some good spots too. I have a tiled stall shower that would be perfect for this kind of thing. Any mess, wash it away! A really solid towel rack or even coat rack might work as well. If you get creative, though, just make sure you take proper precautions for minimizing any potential spills or leaks. Unless you have a dog willing to clean up. :)

Peking Duck

I don't eat shellfish. What other fish do you think could sub in for the shrimp? The soup sounds really delicious.

Skip the shrimp and go all cod, says Stephanie.

It may be a boring question, but someone has to ask it. Is there a perfect sushi rice recipe? What is the ratio to rice to vinegar? Why does it have to be cooled down before adding the rice wine? Is the fanning necessary?

The sushi rice recipe varies in each restaurant.  Although I understand a number of sushi restaurants these days are using pre-mixed sushi vinegar.  It is not simple enough to explain how to make sushi rice in this forum.  I recommend taking a KAZ Sushi Bistro sushi making class  to learn how to make perfect rice.   Call the restaurant for the  class schedules if you are interested.

Fascinating article. Makes me wonder about all those "sushi chefs" on display at certain markets ... If Chef Okochi will indulge some horrendously barbarian questions, I would love to know -- What is the secret to keeping the nori from coming unstuck if one makes maki? (My attempts at sushi-making taste delicious to my inexpert palate but presentation and consumption are a mess regardless of what I do -- Wet the nori with vinegar or water, roll it in a bamboo mat, etc.) Would Chef Okochi consider making brown rice sushi? Jasmine rice sushi? Does Chef Okochi prefer a certain brand of rice vinegar, or does he make his own? What does he think of the "seasoned" rice vinegar supermarkets carry with the sugar already mixed in? My thanks to Chef Okochi for answering my ignorant questions and to you for presenting them to him.

Wow, lots of questions.   I would not serve brown rice or jasmine rice sushi at KAZ Sushi Bistro.  I do serve brown rice sushi at other venues where people like to eat American style sushi.  The key to keeping nori from sticking together is to always keep them completely dry until you apply the sushi rice on it.  At KAZ Sushi Bistro we have a very special rice vinegar which is a house blend of aged  red vinegar and regular vinegar but it is not on the market.  If you want to purchase a rice vinegar, I would recommend using a Japanese brand rice vinegar.  And also, seasoned rice vinegar is very good for home use if you do not want to make from scratch.

I tried making the Pork, Bean and Butternut Squash Chowder from last week and even though I followed the directions perfectly - it came out so bland and tasteless. What happened? And is there anything I can do to save it - I have so many leftovers! Thanks.

Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick says:

The spice comes from the chili powder, to add more: saute diced onions (about 1/2 cup) in 2 tablespoons of oil. Add chili powder as desired (a smoky chili powder will give you even more flavor). Saute 3 minutes. Stir into the soup. Should take care of it. 


I like "not your mother's slow cooker book" because it has wholesome ingredients, not the canned stuff of yesteryear.

From Beth Hensperger; me too.

My widowed father is starting to cook for himself. We gave him a slow cooker for Christmas and he's been using it. He loves French cuisine; would "The French Slow Cooker" be useful for a novice? I would love to get him this cookbook. (Incidentally, my father and my family are all going to France this summer and we're really looking forward to all the good food!)

There are plenty of recipes for novice cooks in "The French Slow Cooker"!  He might enjoy the Chicken in the Pot recipe for example.  Eat some one night with noodles, have it the next day in a salad.  Bargemen's Beef Stew requires no browning or advance preparation and has only 8 ingredients.

Even if the recipe makes a big batch, one of the great things about slow cooked food is that it reheats well.   

You're smellin' a little fishy today.

My office is having its annual chili cook-off in a couple of weeks, and I'm looking to defend my crown. I won last year with a chuck roast & chorizo chipotle chili, and though I'm tempted to go with beef again, I'm thinking that a chicken recipe might be better. Do any of you have a favorite chicken chili recipe to share?

Here's an interesting recipe from chef Barbara Black. It uses a skinless roast chicken, which cuts down on the fat. You may not win any contests with this one, though, given that (in my mind at least), the fattier the chili, the bigger the tastes (and bigger the rewards?).

You could add chicken thighs to the recipe to add more flavor and fat. But the bigger question here is: Why move away from beef chili in the first place? Chicken chili seems like some California, diet-fad version in the first place.

Where did Michele get her inspiration for her recipes, were they mostly Parisian or regional?

I've done a lot of travelling in France and I've done a lot of French cooking -- and eating!  So when I was working on this book, I thought about which dishes would lend themselves to slow cooking.  Braises, soups, stew, even desserts that would do well in the low gentle heat and steamy atmosphere in the slow cooker. 

Let's roll.

Good one.

I want to make some chili in the crockpot this week, but I'm wondering about my slow cooker. I will probably be gone from 7:30am-6:30pm. Unfortunately I only have low and high settings, and no timer. Do you think that would be too long? Also, I like to add the Boca crumbles to the chili. Do you think they'll get "yucky"?

Good question!  Contrary to what I have often seen written, you definitely can overcook food in a slow cooker and I think 11 hours for chili would be too much.  Can you cook the chili at another time, say while you are sleeping or start it when you get home from work?  It will taste even better reheated the next day. 

As for crumbles, I've never tried them. 


Isn't the American over-reliance on soy sauce and wasabi more a matter of a lack of fresh fish more than slipping standards?

I'm sure Kaz has an opinion on this one, too, but my take is that the Americans just didn't grow up with the quieter, refined charms of nigiri sushi. We grew up with big fatty, salty, powerful flavors. We like that stuff.

Now pass me that 12-ounce burger slathered in caramelized onions, mayo, American cheese and avocado slices!

I disagree.   I think in part  it comes from Americans eating dumplings because with dumplings you need to dunk in soy sauce.  The dumpling coating does not absorb the soy sauce versus sushi rice which really soaks up the soy sauce.  Bottom line is, Americans love the flavor of soy sauce.

I have about half of one of those huge bottles of beer left in the fridge. It's a craft beer and I wasn't anticipating just how strong it would be last night. I covered the top with saran wrap and then tin foil, hoping to preserve it somehow. The question is - can I use it today? Would a flat beer make beer-based foods taste worse?

I'm not sure what style of beer you have there, but I've actually been surprised how long beer in a 750 ml bottle lasts in the fridge before totally going kaput. When I do tastings of 12-20 beers, I put some of the ones I like best in the fridge, totally open -- no saran wrap, cork, etc. Recently, some saisons I was tasting actually weren't too bad to drink even 2 days later. So, yeah, if it seems like it still has some carbonation left, go for it.

Is it possible to just use a pot with a tight lid on a low setting instead of buying something new?

Think of a slow cooker as an electrified braising pot or Dutch oven.  It serves the same purpose but because it cooks so slowly and the lid is tightly sealed, nothing evaporates.  If you adapt slow cooker recipes to the stove top or oven, you will probably need to add more liquid to the recipe and adjust the cooking time. 

Can the dough for cinnamon buns be prepped then frozen for later baking as individual/small batch buns? I am thinking of making the dough through the first rise, spreading the cinnnnnnnamon goodness inside, rolling them up then freezing. Thaw slowly, let rise, bake as needed. I know this works for dinner rolls, pizza dough and the like. Any reason it would NOT work for cinn buns? Thanks.

Works for cinnamon buns, although Lisa Yockelson says the texture and rise can be compromised.

is this the stove top "smoker'" one has seen for sale this past year? Or does it refer to something else?

It looks like:

I've seen them in large and small sizes at kitchen stores.

I've ended up with a pound of whole bean coffee and a pound of ground coffee, both of them light-roast. I much prefer dark-roast. Is it possible to re-roast the coffee in my oven or toaster oven or microwave, so it's more to my liking?

Joel Finkelstein, the master roaster at Qualia Coffee on Georgia Avenue NW, says it is possible to re-roast a light-roasted bean to get that "burnt, dark-roast, caramelized flavor." But Finkelstein adds that a second roasting will be "pretty much destructive to the coffee." By which he means the natural flavors of the coffee will be lost in the re-roasting.

A slow-cooker for French cuisine, what would Julia say? With respect to the prune custard cake, could the recipe be reduced successfully if one only has a medium-size slow-cooker that couldn't accommodate a casserole/soufle dish? What about cooking this in individual ramekins?

I developed all of the recipes in The French Slow Cooker using large cookers ranging from 5-1/2 to 7 quarts, so I am not sure how this recipe would work out in a smaller cooker.  If you are thinking of getting a new cooker, I recommend a big one.  They are more practical even if you are cooking for one or two.  Leftovers are great! 

What cut of pork would you use if you wanted to make 1# "fatty ground pork" at home?Thought is to freeze it slightly, run it through the food processor. Planning to make Darina/Rachel Allen's homemade sausage for bangers and mash, to celebrate St. Brigid Day Feb. 1st (mid point b/w winter (ick) and spring (yea!). Thank you!

Think I'd use an untrimmed boneless pork butt (shoulder). Chatters?

In Falls Church there is a store called Great Wall, a Chinese grocery store, that sells excellent ground fat pork.

Your article on fruits from last week killed me - where on earth do you get pomelo around here?? I lived on it in Asia and have not seen it here once. Got one sad pomelo in CA, but never on the East Coast. What is your source?? Would love to find it again!

We found them at Whole Foods in the District and in Bethesda. They were also in Lotte over the weekend. (If you find some that look green -- and their not Thai pomelos -- keep them at room temp near sunlight for a week or more, and the fruit should ripen (skin turns yellow). How did you like to prepare them?

If you're more of a Trader Joe's type, I saw them at the Clarendon location last weekend. I've even seen them in my local Safeway.

Whole Foods had a sale on salmon last week and I was thinking about buying a bunch and freezing it, and the fishmonger was also encouraging people to buy a lot and freeze some, but the salmon was previously frozen. I decided not to buy very much, but would it have tasted okay if I had, given it would have been frozen and thawed twice?

Lately, the freezing technique for fish has much improved over the years and some seafood freezes better than others.  Salmon, because of its high fat content, is a better fish to freeze compared to some other fish, like tuna or some white meat fish that contain a lot of water.  Although you can refreeze the salmon I personally do not recommend doing this.

Have any of you ever made pickled ginger yourself? Do-able at home????

Yes it is do-able.  Although it is a lot of work peeling and slicing.   First you need to find young ginger usually found at an Asian market in the Spring.  The skin of young ginger is very thin almost like a new potato.  If the skin seems thick and tough it is not suitable to make pickled ginger.  Peel the skin with a spoon, then slice almost paper thin.  Pour boiling water over the sliced ginger, strain and then sprinkle with salt and let stand for about an hour.  Rinse ginger under water and then squeeze out moisture.  Mix sugar and vinegar in a bowl, about 1 to 1 ratio.    Then place squeezed ginger into vinegar mixure and refrigerate for a few days.  You can adjust flavor if needed by adding  either more sugar and/or vinegar.

Speaking of young ginger, did you catch Tim Carman's story and blogpost about the stuff that's grown near here?

I need an excellent recipe for a chocolate chip muffin. I say excellent, because when there are only chocolate chips, the muffin really stands out and I need an awesome muffin so that the chocolate is not its only redeaming feature. Btw, can you recommend a cookbook for good to go muffin recipes?

Well, call me a cab. We have NO choco chip muffin recipes in the database right now. I have thrown 1 1?2 cups of chips into this very nice Pumpkin Muffin recipe and can recommend that. (And while I was searching, I came upon a fun recipe I'd forgotten about: Tortilla Chip Muffins With Honey Butter. You must try!)

A little spelunking in our deep archives yielded this recipe from Lisa Yockleson:


(Makes 9 jumbo muffins)

The batter for these light, cake-like muffins is deepened with cocoa powder, and dotted here and there with lots of chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. For a final fillip, the muffins are capped with the same lush caramel mixture that tops the cookie above, but with walnuts replacing the pecans.

If these muffins are too big (or too caloric) for you, they can be made in regular-sized muffin tins or mini-muffin tins.

Butter and flour for pans
2 3/4 cups unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened
4 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Caramel-Walnut Topping (see below)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter and flour 9 jumbo muffin cups measuring 4 inches in diameter by 1 3/4 inches deep (scant 1-cup capacity).

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Toss the chocolate chips and walnuts with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the sifted mixture; set aside.

Beat the butter and shortening in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Add both the sugars; beat for 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla extract. On low speed, add the sifted mixture in three additions with the milk in two additions, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture. Mix just until the particles of flour are absorbed. Stir in the floured chocolate chips and walnuts.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each a little more than three-quarters full.

Bake the muffins in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they have risen and set and a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin withdraws clean (traces of melted chocolate on the pick are fine).

Cool the muffins in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then carefully remove them to another cooling rack. (These muffins are fragile when hot and freshly baked.)

Carefully spoon and spread the warm caramel mixture on the top of each muffin, letting it flow down the sides a little. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts on the caramel before it sets.


CARAMEL-PECAN OR WALNUT TOPPING (Makes enough topping for a whole 11-inch cookie or 9 jumbo muffins) 

Deliciously simple, this quick topping can cover brownies, large and small muffins, individual cookies, cakes and pies. To use with big-batch baking recipes, know that the recipe doubles or triples easily.

22 vanilla-flavored caramels (about 6.4 ounces), unwrapped

3 tablespoons prepared coffee

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Heat the caramels, coffee and vanilla in a small saucepan over moderate heat until the caramels melt; this will take about 8 to 9 minutes. In the beginning, it will seem as if the candies will never break down, but they will. When the caramels begin to melt, stir the mixture until it is completely smooth. Simmer the mixture for 2 minutes, or until thickened. Quickly spread, spoon or drizzle the topping over the thoroughly baked and cooled sweet and, while the caramel is still warm, sprinkle over the chopped nuts.

I love Thai, Chinese, Korean, Indian, and pan-Asian cuisine. My husband prefers new American, Mexican, and pizza. How can I introduce Asian flavors and meals into our food rotation in a way that's friendly to my husband's palate? Are there good introductory dishes?

Take him to Masa14, which is a Latin-Asian restaurant to see what dishes appeal to him.

I think Kaz is correct in suggesting Masa 14, even if he is co-owner! It's a casual place that melds Mexican and Asian flavors.

You might also try Ping Pong Dim Sum in Chinatown. Its take on dim sum is very approachable. Plus, it has a fully stocked bar in case your husband just needs to drown his sorrows.

Love your restaurants. What other ethnic cuisines do you like? Do you eat spicy food? What are some of your favorite ethnic restaurants?

I normally do not eat spicy food.  Pho is always one of my regular favorite foods because of my love of noodles.  I dined at Indique in Cleveland Park recently and had a wonderful meal.

I'd love to use my slow cooker more, but most of the recipes call for 8-10 hours on low at the longest, and it's usually well over 10 hours between me leaving for work and getting home. I suspect this is a common issue for home cooks in the area. I know I could buy a programmable cooker with a "hold warm" option but that seems so expensive. Are there good compendiums of 10+ hour recipes?

Have you thought about starting the cooking at night and turning it off when you get up?  You can store the cooked food in the refrigerator then reheat whenever you are ready.

Another way to go is to cook on weekends or whenever you are at home and then enjoy the food later in the week.  Or store it in the freezer for easy meals any time. 

For the person wondering what a French vegetarian might eat, I highly recommend the book The Vegetarian Bistro: 250 Authentic French Regional Recipes by Marlena Spieler.

The Aviation at The Passenger is my current favorite cocktail. How can I make a great tasting one at home and where can I buy Creme de Violette in DC? Also, any other great gin cocktails for winter?

The Aviation is one of my favorites, too. It's funny, there are two recipes: one without creme de violette, which was used before it came back on the market in 2007. The one you love, however, is the Aviation recipe with creme de violette (or Creme Yvette). I prefer the Rothman & Winter creme de violette and you can find it at Ace Beverage. As for other winter gin cocktails, I love the Acacia (with kirsch and Benedictine) and the Alaska (shown below, with Chartreuse and orange bitters). Both are heartier, liqueur-influenced martini variations.

I try to make sustainable choices when making sushi, but I don't know much about tobiko. I love the little flavor crystals, as I call them, and know that they come from flying fish, but how sustainable is the fishery?

I do not know about Tobiko but a similar product called Masago is very sustainable and I believe the majoirty comes from Iceland.

Becky -- Any tips for tying up the chicken so it doesn't slip out of the string? Do you suggest cooking twine, dental floss, duct tape --?

Well, it's definitely interesting that we didn't specify in the recipe, isn't it? Perhaps we should fix that. Anyway, the recipe from Joan Shih is also in her cookbook, and she suggests:

Bend a piece of heavy wire to make a hook at each end. Insert one of the hooks through the tail end of the duck securely. Use a chopstick to spread the wings of the duck apart and secure the other end of the wire so that the duck is suspended over the platter to catch the drippings.

This is for Jason: Hi! Had an etiquette question for you: if a bartender gives you a straw, do you have to use it? Is it ever bad form to drink directly from the glass (i.e., when there's an elaborate garnish, lots of ice, etc) Thanks!

A bartender should really only be giving you a straw for drinks that are full of crushed ice, like swizzles and juleps and pina coladas, or maybe a tiki drink. You'd probably want to use the straw in those cases so you don't spill the drink on yourself. Other than that, you don't ever have to use a straw. I especially hate it when I order a whiskey neat or on the rocks and I get a little cocktail straw, for instance. Also, I call foul on an elaborate garnish that would prevent you from sipping from the glass anyway! 

Everything I cook in my slow cooker tastes almost identical. Whether I am making vegetables, chicken, beef, pork, etc., it always tastes like the exact same - kinda bland - dish. Also, when one dish has both meat and vegetables I really can't even tell when I take a bite whether I got meat or vegetable. With meats I brown first, and I have even tried sauteing the vegetables first to develop the flavor - nothing seems to work. Help - what am I doing wrong?

While the texture of slow cooked food can be similar, I can't imagine how the flavors of foods could be the same if you are using a variety of ingredients.  So if you cook chicken with garlic in one dish, does it really taste like pork ribs in tomato sauce with onion the next time?  Try varying your ingredients and go outside the usual.  Perhaps you need to try some new recipes?  And remember, as Julia Child used to say, your food will only be as good as the ingredients you put into the pot.  So if you use packaged seasonings or canned soup, that is what it will taste like. 

So the BBC had a story today about a study showing people should fry their foods in healthful oils like olive or sunflower. But I've always understood that olive oil turns bad at that high heat and isn't safe to eat. I do try and use olive oil when I can, but I've never used it when frying (which I don't do that often, really) because I thought it wasn't safe. Not to mention you need so much of it, and it's not exactly cheap. What say you guys?

I've watched Israeli and Italian and Mediterranean cooks all fry in olive oil, with no ill effects. The smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil is well above where we usually deep-fry (350 degrees).

So glad to have this recipe for my all-time favorite soup! I've tried intermittently for 20 years to make it, and never got it right. Can't believe it's been in the recipe index since 2009... Black vinegar! Who knew? Do you happen to know if restaurants usually use chicken broth or beef broth? The recipe lists them as either-or. Also, I'm guessing the bamboo shoots & tofu are for texture and to make it filling, rather than for taste. If that's correct, I could just skip them, no? Much obliged.

I would lean toward chicken broth. I just checked out the recipe for hot and sour soup from "The Art of Chinese Cookery" by the late Joan Shih, a local cooking instructor who knew her stuff -- she recommended chicken broth as well. Sure, bamboo shoots and tofu can be left out if you like. I will say that I've made hot and sour soup without the bamboo shoots because I was too lazy to slice them into matchsticks, but I decided they add enough to it that I'll include them in the future.

As the recipe notes, keep in mind that our version doesn't have cornstarch for thickness. Give it a shot, and if you find you're missing it, I highly recommend the America's Test Kitchen recipe as well.

Chinese Hot and Sour Soup

I actually disagree with your recipe for Hot and Sour soup where you say to omit the cornstarch slurry. I've made Hot and Sour soup with and without the slurry (regardless of the season), and the slurry is really key to a great consistency of Hot and Sour soup.

I had a feeling this might come up when I added that recipe to my Chinese New Year blog post. But I totally see where you're coming from.

We frequent a small establishment that serves Hong-Kongese and Cantonese food. Most of the time when they serve their scrumptious soups they put in the table a unique spicy oily sauce (not sriracha) that looks like annatto or chilly oil. It has pieces of don't know which pepper or herb but it is always great with the soup. I've been to Asian markets looking for it but there are so many that I don't know which one may be and I ask in the establishment and they provided the Chinese name which I didn't wrote and of course I later forgot! DO you have any idea what that sauce may be?

Any chance you're talking about XO sauce? Other ideas, chatters?

And kudos to chef Kaz for his insights and candor. I moved from L.A. (sushi heaven) to Providence, R.I., where we are most fortunate to have excellent nigiri and sashimi.

Thank you. And I must thank Kaz, too: He was struggling with his own future as he views American dining habits, and he was good enough (maybe even courageous enough) to share them with us.

I want the nori to stick together once I roll it up with rice and fish inside, but it always unrolls at least part way. This is the problem I hope you will help me solve, Chef. Many thanks.

If you leave the roll for a while the nori will absorb the moisture from the rice so it will naturally stick.  If  it doesn't work - add a tiny bit of water to the seaweed and it will set up.  You can also seal with a touch of wasabi.

Hi guys! Question, when I make mashed potatoes, I'd love to pre-cut the potatoes and leave them soaking in the water for a few hours before I need to make them. I always feel like they won't cook the same though as if some of the starch gets displaced or something. Is that true or can I just let them soak. Thanks!

Go with your  feelings. Some of the starch and nutrients (potassium, vitamins) does draw into the soaking water. Is that the effect you're after? Consensus seems to be you could soak them for as long as two hours ahead, though.

Cannola. It's inexpensive and healthy. You can even buy a bottle of half canola, half olive which gives you flavor, but doesn't smoke.

I made a recipe for a double chocolate espresso pound cake (which was adapted from a recipe by Rose Levy Berebaum). The cake tasted really good, but was less moist than I would have liked. I used slightly more butter than the recipe called for and used only cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed because 4 grocery stores did not have it. Next time I will go to Penzeys). Do you have any suggestions to make the batter more moist. I liked the overall density of it, but felt it could have been more moist. Here is the recipe: 2 Tbspn Dutch-processed cocoa powder 1 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp black cocoa powder (or substitute with Dutch-processed cocoa) 1 tspn instant coffee powder or espresso powder 1/4 cup boiling water 1 1/2 tspn vanilla extract 3 large eggs 1 1/4 cups (125 gr) AP flour 3/4 cup + 2 Tbspn (175 gr) granulated sugar 3/4 tspn baking powder 1/4 tspn salt 13 Tbspn (184 gr) unsalted butter, softened 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Ace baker/cookbook author Lisa Yockelson says:

It is unclear in the recipe provided whether it is Ms. Beranbaum's recipe or your adaptation of it. As well, both the specific baking pan and baking time were not specified. It would be helpful if the author's orginal recipe was provided in addition to your adapted version. When a recipe is changed in any way (with an exchange/substitution of ingredients, for example) and restructured, the result may be skewed; it is important to bake a recipe with the ingredients intended, otherwise it's impossible to know what the author had in mind regarding taste and texture. 

It would also be helpful to understand what you mean by "less moist"-- that is, your definition of "moist." Pound cake, in general, is usually close-textured and only moderately moist, as its fine-grained nature needs to support the perfect balance of liquid to flour. With that in mind, perhaps you are looking for a different type of chocolate cake -- such as a flourless (or almost-flourless) chocolate cake which usually has a higher proportion of fat (in the form of butter, melted chocolate, egg yolks, and so on), or a traditional American fudge cake. Just by looking at the recipe, it seems that the amount of butter referenced against the amount of flour/cocoa powder would result in a nicely textured pound cake, but, once again, it is unclear whether this is represents the ingredient amounts specified by you or Ms.Beranbaum.

As well, another question would be whether the cake was over-baked (and thus drier than it should be). As a baking author myself, I always like to answer questions about my own recipes and, to that end, direct you to Ms. Beranbaum's site, for further guidance.

My understanding is that any whole grain has more oil than "white" grains, so I keep brown rice, whole-wheat flour, bulgur, etc in freezer for long-term, fridge for shorter. Agree?


I love sushi and probably have it roughly once a week. I used to live in Washington and your restaurant was one of my and my fiances favorite splurges. I enjoy nigiri but I usually only get the samplers. It's always been a little overwhelming to decide. For a dinner, if your having a small soup or salad to start, how many pieces should one order? Any recommendations of ones to try for a pretty adventurous eater?

There is not set amount to order.  The good thing about sushi you can keep adding to your order until you get full.  Depends on the season but right now I would recommend smoked monkfish liver is excellent!  You can always reserve Chef Kaz's tasting table and I will personally make you an adventurous meal.

So I looked up the brussels sprout and corn soup you just linked to, which does look delicious. The directions are nice and clear, too, especially the last line: "Sprinkle with cheese, if using, and eat." Do you really think anyone would just let it sit there because the recipe didn't say to eat it?

Ha. It's Joe's way of ending a recipe; we usually say "serve hot" or "serve right away" which, if you think about it, sounds kinda dumb if you're Cooking for One.

Do you know if the Obamas like Sushi?

I don't know but if someone can bring them in I am sure I can convert them!

I found the article very interesting. Many years ago, I was told that Japanese cuisine was the same the world over, unlike Chinese, which adapted to the regional culture. Is that no longer true?

When I came to DC in 1988 all of Japanese restaurants were offering pretty much the same menu.  I don't know if this is what you mean't but since then Japanese cuisine has developed and spread in various culinary directions.

I have my mom's crock pot (likely a wedding gift from the mid 80s) and I want to start using it more. Are there certain recipes to start with that I can't mess up? Soups, stews, etc?

Crock pots have changed a lot since the 80's.  For one thing, they are now set to cook at hotter temperatures than they once were for safety.  You might want to take a look at the new models that have great features such as a programmable timer.  If you stick with your old model, you may need to adjust the recipe cooking time. 

There are two recipes you might enjoy in the Washington Post's review of "The French Slow Cooker."

First, I really loved Tim's article on sushi today. Really interesting stuff. I've been a sushi fan since I was a young teen in the early '80s and even took a sushi class back around '85. I enjoy some maki, but tend to think of them as more bang for buck, while nigiri is more for savoring. Someone asked about sustainable sushi. While obviously not local, the best sushi I've ever had was an omakase at Mashiko in Seattle. Here's the chef's thoughts on what he does:  (yes, I realize the restaurant's URL isn't that family-friendly).

Thank you for the good words and the link with the NSFW name!

Thanks for the Masa 14 suggestion, but what about if we both prefer cooking to eating out (we need to save the eating out budget so that we can go awesome places for special occasions, which means Masa 14 will have to wait until a special occasion). I'm looking for dishes to make at home.

How about this Asian Barbecue Chicken?

Or Asian Tacos?

Or even this Miso-Marinated Sirloin?

i've heard miso soup really good for you. can i make it at home in a slow cooker? any recipes? can Pho be slow cooked too? love them both during winter.

You can make miso soup at home easily and quickly - no need to use a slow cooker.  First you need to make the broth with dried bonito flake, strain and then add in vegetables as you like.  Then add miso.

Try one with cocoa powder and beer in the recipe. Also, about 20 years ago the Post published a fabulous article with an Italian-influenced chile recipe. I can't find it online, but maybe a Postie can discover it. My clipping is dogeared.

Is this the recipe you're talking about? Let us know, and we can add it to our database!


(8 servings) 

This chili borrows a few Italian flavors. Go ahead and make it even if fresh fennel is unavailable; it still tastes good.

2 tablespoons peanut oil 

1 cup chopped onion 

1 cup chopped fennel bulb 

1 fresh red chili pepper, seeded and minced (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) 

1 pound hot Italian sausages, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces 

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 1-inch chunks 

1 3/4 cups chicken stock 

1 cup crushed tomatoes in puree 

1/4 cup tomato paste 

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 

1 tablespoon dried oregano 

1 tablespoon ground cumin 

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels 

4 ripe plum tomatoes, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped 

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves 

Sour cream, for garnish 

Heat the oil in a dutch oven. Add the onion, fennel and chili, and cook, stirring, over medium heat, 5 minutes. Then add the sausages, and cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring, 10 minutes.

Tilt the pan, and spoon off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Stir in the stock, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, oregano and cumin into the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Stir in the corn, chopped tomatoes and basil. Cook 5 minutes. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream.

From "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1989)

Go Becky, recipe detective!

This came up last night while watching the food network last night and you just mentioned pork butt here. Why is it called pork butt if it's really pork shoulder?

The Web site asked the National Pork Board that very question, and here is the response. Consider it your history class for the day.

Plug your crockpot into an ordinary light timer -- the kind you use to turn the lights off and on when you're on vacation.

I like that.

did you find it really makes meat better to sear it before putting in the slow cooker? It's so much of an extra step when trying to use an easy method.

I go back and forth with this one.  Bottom line, if you don't have time, don't bother!   I have tried browning and not browning meats and poultry before slow cooking them.  I no longer bother to brown poultry in advance because I don't find it makes any difference.  The chicken looks and tastes the same after cooking.  The skin is not very appealing, so I just push it aside when the cooking is done.

For meats, I brown them not so much for flavor, but because it enhances the color and helps to eliminate fat from the tough cuts I like to use in the cooker.  But eliminating this step doesn't make all that big a difference in flavor. 

I''m so psyched, I just got an incredible pressure cooker (great deal-off craigslist :-) and already it's made THE best brown rice I've ever made! Unfortunately, it didn't come with much in the way of recipes, and I'm not entirely sure how to make dishes when different ingredients (e.g., vegies and meat) would be done at different times. Any suggestions on things to make with it, and/or how to use current recipes I have in it? Thanks!

We've gotten a few pressure cooker q's today. I beg all those chatters to come back next week and we'll tackle. It could be a whole hour's worth of info.

I had a basic, no frills slow cooker (I forget the brand, sadly) a few years ago that burned everything I put in it, even on the low/slow setting! I finally got rid of it, and now I miss it. Is a slow-cooker one of those things you should ante up the cash for? Or did I just get a dud and lower cost ones are really OK.

There are so many on the market now it is hard to be specific about one make or model!  I've had expensive ones and cheap-o's, too, and I find my favorites are the mid price ones.  Not too many bells and whistles, yet reliable.

Of course, you can find a lemon in any price range. 

Yes, that's the one. I've made it forever and people love, lurve, love it. Thanks, recipe detective!

Would the poster please share the recipe?

Indoor smoking is listed as a topic of discussion, and I would like to get your opinion. It is now forbidden in most restaurants, yet some states allow indoor smoking in bar settings. To me, this is ashame as many of these are restaurants that do a good bar business, and it can ruin the taste of a meal if smoke hits you while you are eating. Do you have an opinion on what the rules on indoor smoking should be?

Uh, sorry for the confusion! We were referring to cooking with smoke inside, for our Smoke Signals column. 

I have a new slow cooker that allows me to cook/brown/sear on the stove before putting it in the slow-cooker housing. I must say, I love it and I'm using my slow-cooker frequently, but I'm boring the family. I'm looking for gourmet-ish recipes (no canned soup) to broaden the range of meals I can put in front of my family. Websites or other book suggestions are welcome, please!! Do all meats come out with that "slow-cooked" meat texture?

There are two recipes in the review for my book The French Slow Cooker in today's edition of the Washington Post.

You can also check out my website at  No canned soups!

My 7-yr-old asked that very question this week when I was looking at the grocery ads! (not without a few giggles)

last night at the grocery store i saw lamb chops on sale (they look more like little lamb steaks than chops) i never cooked lamb before. i was thinking of coating them with herbs (rosemary thyme etc) and serving with garlic mashed potatoes. how long should they cook? any marinade suggestions?

Have a look at this Spicy Lamb Chops recipe from today's section... I think they'd go well with mashed potatoes! Balance out the kick from the spice.

Spicy Lamb Chops

I'm working on my wedding registry and want to put a few cookbooks on it. I was thinking about staples like Joy of Cooking. Anything else I should add. Is there a JoC equivalent for baking? I mostly get recipes online these days, but I miss browsing through books for ideas and basic techniques.

For baking, you'd be happy to get anything by our friend Lisa Yockelson. Her newest book, "Baking Style," is beautiful. You could also go for something like "Baking Illustrated" from America's Test Kitchen or "The Original King Arthur Flour Cookbook."

I recommend Shirley O. Corriher's "CookWise" and "Bakewise." Two great, explain-it-all books I love to consult when I have a question or just read before bedtime!

I haven't seen the list of recipes, but so many rustic french dishes lend themselves to the slow cooker: cassoulet, french onion soup, lentils. Can't wait to see the book! If only there was an easier way to do creme brulee!

Ah, but there is.  "The French Slow Cooker" has recipes for both vanilla and ginger creme brulee.

Probably a dumb questions, but what is the difference between sushi grade fish and regular fish?

Main difference is freshness but also only a certain type of fish is suitable for sushi. 

Basically you don't eat fresh water fish raw and some type of the fish, like shad, is too boney and some other types of  fish just don't taste good raw.  Again freshness is the main difference.

Can I make risotto is a slow cooker and if so how? Cooking a dinner party for my father's 90th for 10. and its been requested Live in Boston and am flying in the night before. Kitchen is small so any extra space on the stove freed up by using slow cooker would help.

Risotto for 10 is tricky and not everyone likes the slow cooker version.  I'd suggest you try it before the big dinner party.  I have several variations in my book "The Italian Slow Cooker".


Wow, what a great story about Peter Chang. Let us hope that this means better access to delicious Chinese food. Thank you! (I don't like eggplant much. I had that dried fried eggplant on a trip to Charlottesville. SO GOOD!)

Dave McIntyre did such an nice job. Wine pairings, famous chef mini-profile, Beard house preview, Chinese NewYear recipes --all rolled into one!

Do you have any advice on a ramen recipe or how to spruce up and improve ramen?

Ramen is one of my most favorite type of food in my entire life.  And I am very picky about it.  Unfortunately it is impossible to give you quick advice without knowing exactly what you are doing.  It is a very complex subject.

Kaz isn't kidding about the complexity of good ramen. David Chang's reciope in the Momofuku cookbook goes on for like a zillion pages. I may be exaggerating a little.

I had to do this with my fiance (now husband) and now he asks for Asian flavor food all the time. Basically, I started out with meats & things pizza/burger guy can identify -- meat on stick (satay), spring rolls (who doesn't love something fried), lots of appetizers (less commitment) and a safe chicken/beef/shrimp main dish. Meanwhile I order to my hearts delight and let him try mine more adventurous dishes. It is worth the effort!!!!!

Good suggestion.

Thanks for the chats...I love them. I recently bought some chipotle powder. I love chipotle chiles in adobo, but have never used the powder. Can it substitute for the canned chiles in adobo? How else might I use it? Thank you.

Chipotle powder is useful when you want to add a kick to soups, stews, rubs, stuff like that. I sometimes mix a little with mayo when I make sandwiches, and I've been known to add a pinch or two to cornbread.

I added a bit extra chili powder and three cloves of garlic and it was fabulous.

Don't use them as an insult. As in "Of course, you can find a lemon in any price range." I love lemons! They are a complement (compliment), not an insult.

This has been some kind of fun today. I'm thinking we could have Michele and chef Kaz for another hour -- such popular topics and great answers. Thanks to both, and to Jason and all our great chatters.

Winners: The Hanging Duck chatter gets "Simple Asian Meals"; The Crock-Pot Beginner wins Michele's "French Slow Cooker"; the Slow-Cooker Prep chatter nabs "The Vegan Slow Cooker" (or, if that's not your thing, we can send a copy of Michele's new book your way).

Remember to send your mailing address to Becky at so she can send out the chat prizes. Until next week, happy cooking!

Can I make polenta in the slow cooker? I get a little cra-cra for creamy polenta mush.

Yes!  One of my favorite things to make in the slow cooker.

You will find the recipe in both the Italian Slow Cooker and the French Slow Cooker. 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are staff writer Tim Carman, interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, Food aide Becky Krystal, and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guests: Michele Scicolone, author of "The French Slow Cooker," and chef Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro.
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