Free Range on Food: Caring for your cast iron, picky eaters, vitamins, breakfast sausage, this week's recipes and more!

Jan 29, 2020

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

Even if you’re not a football fan, you know that the big game is on Sunday. If you’re having a crowd over or want to bring a dish to a game-day party, we’ve got you covered with Becky Krystal’s take on popular Hot Buffalo Chicken Dip. She predicts it will disappear soon after it hits the table.

Becky also found a half dozen chili recipes in our Recipe Finder that would make great dishes for Sunday or any chilly day. Kari Sonde gathered other Super Bowl party recipes to round out your game-day menu.

And, to go with those corn chips, Emily Heil, did the heavy lifting to determine which are the best jarred salsas on the grocery shelves.

I love chicken thighs. You love chicken thighs. This super simple recipe with a honey-citrus sauce turns a good thing into a perfect, one-pan weeknight dinner.

Speaking of things everyone loves, Joe Yonan’s Weeknight Vegetarian column takes mac and cheese to the next level. He adds lots of green veggies to give it a nutritional boost. The crunchy almond topping seals the deal.

Becky offers sound advice for seasoning and caring for your cast iron. 

Our intrepid colleagues have stayed true to their food resolutions for January 2020. This week, they share the ups and downs of striving to make healthful breakfasts, lunches and dinners, eat more plants and enjoy meals with friends.  

Cathy Barrow taught us how to make a delicious breakfast sausage patty out of turkey. It’s got a dollop of crème fraiche, which adds flavorful fat to the mixture. Cathy adds the patty to a breakfast sandwich of scrambled eggs and cheese on an English muffin. We devoured them.

Do you have a picky little eater? JJ Goode, who writes cookbooks with chefs, reveals what it is like to love food, and to slowly realize that his kids would probably prefer a “peanut-butter-and-jelly parent.”

Talk about simple: Ellie Krieger’s pineapple drizzled with a spiced honey is a perfect way to brighten a wintry meal.

Have you been wondering just how effective those dietary supplements are? Tamar Haspel posed the question: “Which dietary supplements actually have well-established benefits?” The answer: It's a short list.


Could you please link to a recipe for soft white bread, sort of like Wonder bread? Does it contain baking powder as well as yeast?

Don't you dare be ashamed! Maybe this Pullman loaf from Serious Eats will hit the mark. No baking powder here. 

Oh JJ, your kids are only 5 and 2 and developing a diverse palate is very much a long game. First of all, their immature taste buds are way more sensitive and things that are acceptable later (I'm looking at you, brussel sprouts) may not be to a 7 year old. Second, continue to lead by example and employ some reverse psychology at times. Reserve some really esoteric treat for the adults only and let junior know it is just for grownups (e.g. smoked oysters). Don't hold back on spices and heat but do rachet it back as needed. You know how they say kids need to taste something X times before they'll eat it? True. After seeing you eat lengua tacos or spicy eggplant curry many times, they'll eventually bite. One day you'll be rewarded by your high schooler telling you that their friend's families meals are just so boring, they really prefer your food. "Mom, can you believe they actually eat frozen chicken nuggets and boxed mac and cheese for dinner" or "wow, those tacos are totally bland, not like yours." Mine are 18 and 22; they both eat widely and one of them even cooks - we started young with mild chicken curry, pho (with extra noodles and no green bits), eggplant parmesan, etc. Keep fighting the good fight even when it seems pointless.

I love this advice. My kids have already changed so much and they'll keep changing, but for some reason, each night I act as if they'll always be exactly as they are at this moment. 

But they do baffle me: why on earth would a kid, like my 5 year old, sensitive taste buds and all, tolerate broccoli but not even try sweet potato. Come on, kid, it tastes like candy! 

Have you used the fabric strips you put around the pan to keep the edges from cooking quickly and causing the middle to rise more? I was looking for a recipe last week, and saw they recommended using these. Thanks

I've used them before and they're pretty great. And now that you mention them, I realized I've not see them in my kitchen for quite some time, and wonder if they got lost in the many moves of 2018. You can definitely give them a go - they're not a costly investment and I recall finding them quite handy.

That being said, I don't think they're essential unless you really want them. I bake a lot and never invested in them. If I have a slightly domed top of a cake, I either a) don't care or b) trim the top and eat it. :)

Hi Joe- Excited to see that your new book is on pre-order! It reminded me of a question I've been pondering for awhile. It's nominally about the Rancho Gordo beans you & the other chat hosts rave about but really more general - almost philosophical. I've yet to try them (mainly bc I have yet to notice them in a store at the same time I am low on beans) but wonder if it's worth it, because it seems like the best case scenario is they're comparable to what I already buy. Otherwise, if I (like you all) find them notably better & realize what I've been "missing out on", i now have to decide between spending $$ to switch to the good stuff, or be less satisfied with the taste/quality of a product which I eat regularly & currently have no complaints about. I may be rambling bc I'm still on cup1 of coffee, but I guess my question boils down to "if you're happy with your status quo on an ingredient, is it really better to know what you've been missing out on?".

I love Rancho Gordo beans. LOVE. And I know they are much more expensive than supermarket varieties, but honestly, beans are so cheap generally and that includes RG, at $6 a pound, because that pound of beans will get you 8 to 12 servings!

Having said that, I buy beans from all sorts of sources, including Rancho Gordo, so it's not as if they spoiled me for ALL OTHER BEANS. I like Camellia, a company based in Louisiana, especially for red kidney beans and field peas; and Timeless Foods, based in the Midwest, for lentils. There's Zursun out of Idaho, which sells some nice beans, and more. In the supermarket, I also like to buy Goya dried beans: I think they're pretty high quality and don't ever seem too old, I'm assuming because of a high turnover.

So you don't have to do anything if you're happy with what you're buying now, but ... aren't you curious? You can get some beans from Rancho Gordo that you just simply cannot get anywhere else, and they are truly stellar. But there's room for lots of variety, even when it comes to the source, in your pantry.

PS Thank you for the preorder!!

I'm going on a cooking strike this weekend. My husband is away so it's literally me and the dog. I plan on NO cooking, NO reheating leftover's and literally ordering out for dinner (Ok I'll have breakfast)..... If you had 4 days to yourself on a boycot strike from cooking what would you order and eat? Are you guys pizza'ers/chinese'ers/pasta'ers/popcorn'ers/wine'ers? I'm insanely excited about this. Not only to eat what I want but to starfish in bed and not share!!!

I love this energy. If I had 4 days to myself...honestly I'd take the opportunity to make something elaborate and eat it all by myself. BUT: I'd order pho, ramen, sushi or mexican food, eat a lot of cheese plates, walk down to the market and eat something, drink fancy beer and not-fancy beer, eat the frozen christmas cookies in my freezer, walk to a new neighborhood and eat there.  Are there any shows you're planning on watching?? Please tell your dog I said hi.

Good for you! This is a mom's dream -- hotel bed and room service lol. In no particular order or combination, I'd probably be doing Thai food, lots of mugs of tea, maybe some good pizza and chocolate chip cookies....

Chiming in here, too! A mom's dream, indeed! I would take myself out to dinner by myself every night - somewhere lovely and somewhere with a good wine list. If ordering in is the ONLY way to go, Thai, decent sushi, Indian. But, really, I'd be out on the town taking it all in, or making popcorn and pairing it with a glass of wine (which I may have done two weeks ago).

My two boys love baked beans and seasoned black beans, both from cans. While I love the fiber and protein this provides, the salt content is a bit frightening. Do you have any recipes that would mimic the results of both types of canned beans where I can control the salt and can make batches to freeze? My attempt at a crock pot baked bean recipe from ATK was rebuffed, unfortunately.

My new book does have recipes for New England-style baked beans and for incredibly good black beans, IMHO! Becky has been playing around with a simpler baked bean recipe lately -- I bet she can share the source!

Yah, I played around with this British beans recipe from Serious Eats, which I loved and adapted for the Instant Pot. 

You may also like this recipe.

Maple Baked Beans

RECIPE: Maple Baked Beans

I have an ancient don't know where I got it cast iron skillet. Baked on crud is on the outside. My option is hammer and chisel to get it off. I truly am ready to toss it. I only use it for cornbread which turns out great. Using on a glass top electric stove the crud starts smoking. So I only use it in the oven. Help please!

I wouldn't go hammer and chisel, but you can completely strip off everything that's there and start from scratch. I had one reader email me (echoing other things I've heard) that they have had great success burying the skillet in their fireplace or campfire to let all the crud burn off. You could also use the self cleaning cycle of your oven. Cook's Illustrated offers a method using oven cleaner.

I did the oven-cleaning method mentioned above. It worked beautifully on a very old skillet. Then, you have to re-season the pan, of course.

Thinking about combining Becky's recipes for pretzels and buffalo chicken dip. Anything tips for stuffing the pretzels or reasons I shouldn't do this for super bowl? Might make one giant one if its easier?

Whoa, this sounds like a match made in heaven. I have not played around at all with stuffing the pretzels. I guess you could kinda take the stuffed bagel approach and form little balls that you stuff the unbaked dip into. I only wonder how this would fly with the baking soda bath. It's pretty quick, though, so maybe ok?

Do you mean one giant stuffed pretzel ball? I have no idea, though I am a bit skeptical it would work!

I'd say the safest thing would be to make both as written and let people dip. But I love your idea and commitment to my recipes! Thank you!

Soft Pretzels

RECIPE: Soft Pretzels

Hot Buffalo Chicken Dip

RECIPE: Hot Buffalo Chicken Dip

Do you have a favorite for the super bowl? Any other spicy dip ideas? Thank you.

Why, yes, I published this one!

Hot Buffalo Chicken Dip

RECIPE: Hot Buffalo Chicken Dip

I have a hot dips roundup coming out on Voraciously on Saturday, so stay tuned.

But here's a preview of one spicy option.

Warm Chipotle Black Bean Dip

RECIPE: Warm Chipotle Black Bean Dip

Thank you for the chili recipes, they're perfect for a Superbowl party dish. My friend who grew up in Texas introduced me to her recipe (very similar to your Meats and Foods chili): no beans! and must be served with shredded cheese and Fritos corn chips.

If you really want to impress some Texans, go all the way and make Frito pie -- serve the chili spooned into mini bags of Fritos, with the cheese on top.

I would approach it this way: what do you love that is fiddly and faffy and that won't be reduced in the time it takes to deliver? Becky said pho - and that ticks all those boxes. I really like my food fresh and hot, so I'd probably dine out at cheap and cheerful holes in the wall.

Converting to Rancho Gordo for me was like seeing in black & white and suddenly experiencing color. I only buy canned for emergencies.

Ha! I know what you mean -- that first taste is definitely eye-opening. But there's lots of ground between canned and non-RG dried!

Hi Free Rangers! I bought a box of Trader Joe's Beer Bread, and then remembered I don't drink beer and know nothing about it. So, two questions: (1) what kind of beer should I use if I did use beer, and (2) what other "carbonated beverage" would suit for a non-beer option? Many thanks!

If you don't drink beer, maybe go for a lager for a less obviously beerish flavor. Trader Joe's actually has plenty of affordable beers to use! Not sure what else you could use really, I'm assuming the bread wants you to add the wheaty flavors of a beer in there...

When you say non-beer, do you mean non-alcoholic, or just ... non-beer? Cause I would be tempted to try hard cider here!

I can attest to the oven-cleaning method - worked great on one pass to help bring back a badly gunked-up skillet.

can we talk about saffron? i recently made a batch of harira - a hearty moroccan soup full of beans, lentils, tomato, garlic and very strong spices: turmeric, ginger, cayenne, cumin and cinnamon. the recipe also calls for 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads. when i went to my local organic market to buy saffron i recoiled when i saw the price of the jar - $14.99! i would have to use the entire package in this recipe and i just couldn't do it. i thought about all those strong flavors and recoiled. i couldn't imagine how the saffron would come through. i totally understand saffron risotto or a dish that features saffron as the main flavoring but in harira? please will you help me understand the role saffron plays in a recipe like that? or in any recipe with other strong flavors. btw, the soup i made was delicious...and perfect for my new year's resolution to eat more plant-based meals (that bean book can't come fast enough, joe!).

Saffron can indeed be so spendy! I completely understand your hesitation about that much $ for something whose flavor might get lost. I would've done the same thing. I mean, it'll add a little sweet floral note, but I agree, with all those other spices who would taste it? Maybe a super taster, but that's not me!

I saved an amazing cast iron dutch oven from the 'give away' place in my condo building. It was rusty and had crud. Brillo to the rescue - I think I read that online. Then I was able to season it properly, which I did several times. It looks amazing - I have before and after photos that'll knock your socks off.

Thanks - - Somehow I've lived 67 years w/o them, but just wondered what I'd been missing. On-line reviews are mixed, just as were yours.

Some months ago, there was an inquiry about where to find and how to make a wedge of this delicious stuff. I wanted to alert the people searching for it that it's appeared at the Riverdale park, MD Whole foods. It may be at other Whole Foods as well.

Wow, cool, thanks for this!

Poster who asked about chocolate cakes last week here. Thank you to ALL for all the recipes! After four attempts (which was a LOT of chocolate, eggs, and butter, I must say), the winner is the Triple Chocolate Bypass . I tried a Dorie Greenspan one, I tried a Maida Heatter one, I tried the David Leibovitz one, but they weren't gooey enough. That Triple Chocolate Bypass cake is super easy and satisfied the itch. SO RICH AND GOOEY. I'm done now, and hopefully my co-workers can stop wondering why I'm bringing in a different chocolate cake every day...(and nope, not pregnant!)

Becky's article on caring for iron skillets says that using soap won't remove the seasoning or otherwise ruin the skillet. Wha??!? I guess I'm one of the ones who's been laboring under this bit of misinformation, but I surely don't understand why this is. I've both rescued badly mucked-up skillets and seasoned others from scratch (unseasoned at purchase- just the raw metal), and they are among my favorite and best kitchen tools. But I've never never never put soap on any of them! Why doesn't soap harm a seasoned skillet?

I'm sure Becky will answer this, but fwiw, i think if you've a well seasoned cast iron, soap or no soap won't really make a difference. This is far more important for cast iron pans with little to no seasoning as it takes time to build that patina.

I'm hosting people next week for a Super Bowl party, and I'd like to fry some food. One of my guests has celiac's disease, so she absolutely cannot have gluten. I've already got some 1-to-1 substitute gluten free flour - would there be any problem in using this for frying? I figure I don't need to develop the gluten, so it seems like it should be fine and that there won't be much of a difference, right?

I've never tried the gf flour mixes for deep-frying, but what about using rice flour instead? Wouldn't that work for  your friend? 

I made your no fry eggplant parmesan the other night and not only was it easy, it was delicious! I also made the buckeye bars and they were equally delicious. On the article about hand mixer vs stand mixer, I use my hand mixer alot. I feel like I have more control over how things are coming together in the bowl. I still like my white chocolate buttercream icing better when I mix it by hand.

hand mixer

ARTICLE: Don’t underestimate your hand mixer. Here’s how to put it to work for you.

Thank you for the endorsements! If you liked the Buckeye Bars, do also try the nut-free variation made with Biscoff cookie butter. Wicked!

And yes, you really can do a lot with a hand mixer. Especially depending on amounts and ingredients, they can be more efficient than a stand mixer.

No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan

RECIPE: No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan

Buckeye Bars

RECIPE: Buckeye Bars

what is "to starfish"?

When you have a whole bed to yourself and can fully spread all your limbs out like that magnificent sea creature does. 

Why.......? That's seems so wasteful and hard to eat! Why not a bowl?

Fritos come in bags no?

It's just a fun Texas tradition -- a way of serving them to go. You can of course do a bowl!

THANK YOU! Now to figure out where Riverdale Park is and leave NOW!

Made these last week as I had a half of can of Tahini from trying the home made Hummus (sorry Joe, for me it's a no go. To much mess.) The Tahini Blondies are sensational however. I used bar chocolate that I hand cut and we think that recipe makes the best chocolate chip cookies we ever had. Definitely a Keeper.

I am so thrilled to hear that! I need to make those again soon.

Chocolate Chunk Tahini Blondies

RECIPE: Chocolate Chunk Tahini Blondies

I'd like to provide homemade cinnamon rolls this week to my kid's class, but I've never made them on a weekday. On weekends, I prepare the rolls up until before the second rise (formed into rolls and put in pans) and just refrigerate them overnight. However, it really does take 1.5 - 2 hours for them to warm up and complete the second rise. I'm not getting up at 4:30 am to do this tomorrow morning! So I googled parbaking - but all instructions say to freeze the parbaked rolls. Obviously, that would also necessitate a very early wakeup for me to pull them out and thaw them. Can you just refrigerate the parbaked rolls? And if not why not? (and if I can't, guess the kids will just have to deal with not-quite-fresh-out-of-the-oven rolls). Thanks!!

If you freeze them, could you let them thaw the night before in the fridge? That would be my best suggestion. Not sure refrigerating the parbaked rolls would be great for the texture.

If you have any vegetarian guests, you might want to make *some* meatless pretzels. Please?

Joe, I'm the person who fan-girl-ed at you in the Mom's parking garage. In my excitement seeing you IRL I forgot to mention how excited I am for your bean book to come out. Thanks for entertaining me!

Hi, hi! How fun to run into a frequent chatter IRL, indeed. Thanks for saying hi! And glad you're excited about beans -- we'll be excerpting the book with a few recipes soon!

I treated myself to a KitchenAid Stand Mixer this Christmas. I've made cookies and some other desserts but I'm trying to cut back on my sugar intake so I need some savory ideas. Any beginner bread or other savory ideas? I made the easy no knead foccacia this weekend and it came out great! Now I'm ready for something a little harder.

Fast Focaccia

RECIPE: Fast Focaccia

Well, I'm just going to direct you to another one of my recipes then, which is a very good next step. And it's one of my most-popular, most-made recipes EVER.


Pillowy Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

RECIPE: Pillowy Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

What's your take on this supposed-to-be-healthy idea of putting coconut oil in coffee? Seems some people also add oils with names like MCT and brain octane oil and Bulletproof (the last may be a brand name). I am not completely turned off by the coconut oil idea as I use almond-coconut milk in my coffee and like the taste but I don't think of coffee the way I think of bread or hard-boiled eggs, which taste better with something additional, or, say, Twinkies, which would benefit from a nutrition boost.

I'm not going to yuck anyone's yum, and if adding those things to their coffee makes them happy, more power. I, however, am super picky about my coffee (less so since having a kid due to being pressed for time) and don't want those things in my morning java (or afternoon). I want to truly enjoy my coffee, and not make a nutritional powerhouse of it. :)

The devotees talk about how it creates this hyper-focus. I'm not into it.

I'm embarking on the keto train at my doctor's recommendation. I've always been a carbaholic (I'm Italian) but I'm starting to struggle. I have the dinners just about down, but what do I do about lunches. Please do not suggest leftovers because I won't eat it. I have a weird thing in that I hate leftovers. Literally, the only leftovers I'll ever eat are spaghetti and chili. I can't do anything with nuts due to an allergy. During lunches I find I crave the sandwiches, chips, soda but I need to learn to give that up.

I had a brief flirtation with keto -- "keto-tarian," actually a veg version of it -- right when I turned in my bean book, cause, well, I needed a bean break! Tons of eggs, avocados, sour cream, butter. Honestly, I couldn't manage to eat enough of the fat, which is amazing cause I love fat. Anyhow, how about egg salad with low-carb vegetables?

I’m looking forward to seeing your tips on cast iron cookware. After three decades of family cooking I mistakenly gave my cast iron frying pan to one of my nieces about ten years ago (long story- they were all newly setting up households, my mother was getting rid of things, I thought it was her pan, not mine!). Now I’m looking for a new one and would appreciate recommendations. The one I gave away was so well-seasoned and silky smooth. The ones I’ve looked at seem so rough inside that I’m concerned it will never measure up to the old one. Thoughts?

I know people swear by their old, smoother skillets. I also know that my newer pebbly Lodge skillets cook beautifully. In "Skillet Love," which I referenced in my piece, Anne Byrn noted that her Lodges were the best at most consistently, cleanly releasing food. And you'll eventually get back to that well-seasoned surface the more you use your new one.

I hope your niece appreciates your skillet!

Is it safe to use cast iron on an electric range? Can it damage the stovetop?

You mean the glass cook tops? Yes. I do it all the time here and at home. Obviously, you don't want to drop those big boys on the surface, or else you risk cracking it. Also don't drag, which can cause scratching. Otherwise, cook away.

I love RG beans but that said, I only get them once a year or so due to shipping costs. unless I can combine an order with friends. Worth it to try them but don't feel bad if stick with what is working. Do buy good quality beans with a high turnover rate, however. Markets with a big southeast asian clientele have good legume turnover so what you're getting will be fresh.

Yep, and Latin American markets are good, too. 

On RG, shipping is free to the lower 48 once you hit $50, which is about 8 pounds of beans.

A bit messy, but that's tahini for you, and nothing the dishwasher won't fix. But... delicious! So much better than store-bought. Even cold from the fridge on a piece of breakfast toast.

I've been asked to make a low-carb birthday cake and am looking up recipes. I don't have time to do a ton of testing, unfortunately, so I was hoping you or the chatters might have some suggestions for reliable recipes or recipe sources. Thank you!

Does it have to be like a classic birthday cake type cake? Because if not:

Lemon Quinoa Cake 

Coconut Cashew Cake 

I "inherited" a bread machine and was curious to test it out. What a waste of time and ingredients. Seems to easy to bake a decent loaf and I'm no pro at all.

I haven't heard about one of these in years! I do remember back in the day hearing from people who used them just to do the kneading, and then transferred the dough to another vessel for baking. But with no-knead bread so easy to make...

I made this the other nice and WOW! That's some delicious chicken salad! I used brioche hamburger buns instead of challah slices but otherwise followed the recipe. It helped that I had some delicious, moist home-roasted chicken to use in it, too. And you get to eat the remaining 3/4 of the mango for dessert, which was a bonus. And yes, I did enter a rating and put a comment on the recipe on your website.

Is this Be Nice to Becky Day? I'm here for it. :) So glad you guys are enjoying the recipes! I do love that chicken salad. And totally endorse the brioche bun. Thank you!

Double Mango Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

RECIPE: Double Mango Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

My husband brought his mother's old cast iron pans to our relationship. I cook and he does the dishes. Unfortunately, he has scrubbed the coating from the skillet I always use. I try to discreetly go behind his back and re-season the pan but it isn't the same and it makes me sad. Every time I use it, he scrubs off the coating. Relationships ...

Tell his mom.

A donor at my synagogue has contributed a large amount of money earmarked for a really good stand mixer. I don't think we need a 20-quart Hobart. Are there semipro mixers in the 7-9 quart range that are recommended? Should I just ask for a 7-qt top of the line one and get extra bowls and blades to cut down on washing? We would mostly be making bread, not pastry or cookies.

KitchenAid's Pro-Line 7-quart. I like the idea of just getting extra bowls and blades. Or if you have a large amount of $, why not get more than one mixer?

I need to make and freeze a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Can I just put them in a plastic bag or is there a better way?

Sure, but it can help to wrap in plastic as an additional layer of protection against freezer burn. Another less-plasticy option is an airtight container, between layers of parchment or wax paper.

The person who picked up a giveaway CI and seasoned it back to health. I have multiple (too many?) cast iron skillets, all acquired at thrift stores and flea markets. I bought a new 6" lodge about 5 years ago to test out the "new ones are crap" theory. Not true at all but as you stated, you need to USE it and with time, the bumps smooth out and it takes on non-stick properties.

I am curious why iron did not make your shortlist. You mentioned individual vitamins and minerals only in passing if there is some deficiency, like magnesium, but I think iron bears mention on the list: like B12 for osteoporosis, iron is (was?) prescribed and recommended widely for anemia, whether for young women, especially athletes, or, as in my case, for the first month or two after I gave birth. Conversely, I believe supplemental iron is still discouraged for post -menopausal women.

Yes! Supplements can be used when there are bona fide deficiencies, which is why they're still useful in the developing world. We don't have too many of those here, but anemia is one of them.

UNEARTHED: Most dietary supplements don't do anything. So why do we spend $35 billion a year on them?

Yup- they're great for that.

Is it feasible to freeze the dough in long rolls, then wait to bake the cookies when you need them?

Sure, or even freeze the portioned mounds.

I love to freeze the portioned mounds, especially around the holidays, when I know I'll make lots of cookies. I freeze them on a platter. Then, I can put the frozen mounds of cookie dough in a resealable container.

I'll admit that I never buy chicken thighs because all of the connective tissue ooks me out. I know it tastes better, but when I cook a breast, I'm mostly likely not going to bite into something like that. Can I be saved?

Boneless, skinless thighs are a good way to start. If you're not too squeamish to handle them, you could use a paring knife or scissors to trim away any fat before cooking them. Then, cook them in a flavorful sauce. Good luck.

I've been trying to eliminate some food waste by...well, buying less. I have less stuff in the fridge just waiting to be cooked or eaten. And, naturally less chance that anything goes bad. But it is kind of driving me crazy. I like the look of a somewhat full fridge. Might be left over from years ago when I was out of work for a good long time and while I was never flat broke, I was very careful with my food budget at that time. I can try to fill up with cheap things that last a while when they are on sale. Broccoli takes up a lot of space and lasts for a while, but once I roast it for eating, the volume goes way down. I eat a lot of lettuce that doesn't last but does take up space. Cauliflower also lasts for a bit. I'd like to just get over the impulse to want to fill up the empty space, but that doesn't work all the time. Any reactions? Suggestions? Names of therapists?

The obvious answer: Get a smaller fridge!

Paging Carolyn Hax! Try addressing the idea of what a full fridge means to you. That can help you reframe that sparse fridge = good fridge. 

It sounds like the crud is just on the outside, not inside where the food goes. I rescued a $1 yard sale skillet years ago - it obviously had been in a grease fire and was thick with crud. Took it out in my driveway, laid it on newspaper and did multiple rounds of Easy-Off oven cleaner. Once most of the crud was gone brillo pads did the rest. Seasoned it and it's wonderful! Hint: haunt antique stores for the old Griswold and Lodge pans. My daughter found one and the vendor said that will make such a nice hanging decoration. She looked at the vendor and said she was going to use it for cooking.

At my doctor's suggestion, I'm giving Whole Food Plant Based eating a 3 month try. Do you know if there are any decent parmesan cheese options out there I could use in this recipe? Other option would be to top with garlic rye bread crumbs I guess.

Yep, I like Violife brand "parm." But breadcrumbs are always good, too, yes!

I have several bags of beans at bottom of my pantry that are years old. Should I just toss them? Several different brands, a couple of “special” kinds. Too bad.

No, don't toss them, cook them! It's true that if beans are particularly old they'll take longer to cook, but they'll get there. You can add a pinch of baking soda to the cooking water to speed things along. This is also where soaking can help -- I don't do it anymore for beans that I know are relatively fresh (like RG), but for ones I know are older, or ones I'm not sure about, it can help them hydrate more evenly. Also: Use salt in the soaking water, as a brine, and use kombu (along with a little more salt) when you cook them. I swear. More bean techniques coming soon!

I recently started thinking about Snackwells devils food cookies and how much I used to like them. I'd like to try making them at home but the thin marshmallow layer has me stumped. If I put a very thin marshmallow meringue on the cookie do you think it would set up? I'd appreciate any advise as I'm not good at thinking outside the box.

Would you be satisfied with an old-fashioned whoopie pie recipe? If not maybe one of our readers can help.

I'm working my way through Erin McDowell's "The Fearless Baker" (yes, I read cookbooks recreationally), and she has a cool cupcake recipe that mounds a marshmallowy seven-minute frosting atop the cake (and then coats the frosting in chocolate). I feel like this might work for you. Email me and I can send you the recipe to riff on.

My family had one while I was growing up. The appeal was that it's basically the slow-cooker of breadmaking: dump in your ingredients, turn it on, and a few hours later you have a loaf of bread all ready to eat. That said, yeah, the bread quality wasn't great (and my siblings and I would fight over who had to eat the slices from the heel of the loaf, which had a weird hole from the mixing paddle). It's not that hard to make good-tasting bread without a ton of hands-on time, but in food there will always be a market for tools that give you homemade food with minimal effort.

I  like that explanation: "the slow-cooker of breadmaking."

I absolutely LOVE this Bobby Flay recipe for the Rancho Gordo gigante beans. I first tasted this in a now defunct Greek restaurant in Berkeley. Low and slow is the key and they taste amazing both hot and at room temp. 

Gigante beans are stupendous. They became one of my favorites in the making of my book.

I store my flours in the refrigerator. Take up lots of space.


Will it work to substitute rye flour for white in pretzel recipes or what adjustments would be needed? I used to be able to buy rye pretzels at supermarkets but haven't seen them for at least a year so I'm ready to try making my own. Or if any chatters have seen them for sale in DC, please say where. Thanks.

Ooh, you might be able to get away with replacing some. The problem is rye behaves differently -- it's more like whole-wheat flour than all-purpose. Here's a bit from King Arthur:

Rye bread made with 100% rye flour will be dense and heavy; think some of those all-rye breads you find at artisan bakeries, the ones sliced off an enormous loaf and sold by the pound. If you're looking for a lighter, softer sandwich bread, bread or AP flours are your best friend. And the higher percentage of rye flour in your recipe, the more you should lean towards higher-protein bread flour.

I would encourage you to read that post and maybe some other information. But alas I didn't test the recipe that way and I'm not that experienced with rye, so I'm a little reluctant to delve into specific advice.

If Tamar Haspel thinks the federal government's claims substantiation requirements for health claims for food supplements sets a "low bar," she doesn't know enough about science to be writing on this topic. Without getting into too much legalese, the government's standard essentially requires that a consensus of mainstream scientists agree with the claim. (If anything, the feds can be criticized for being too conservative when it comes to substantiation for health claims.)

That's only true of health claims (like the one on calcium for osteoporosis, which I mentioned). The vast majority of supplement claims, though, are structure/function claims -- those are the ones with the low bar. The lowness of the bar is detailed on the FDA's website here.

I'm a singleton and don't entertain a lot. Eight pounds of beans seems like a ton for one. Worry that they'd go bad. Don't you have an "in" at RG? Maybe they could do a shipment and as a test sell at a Farmer's Market in the DMV? I'm pretty sure it would work. Anybody else have ideas?

Beans don't go bad! They last for months, even years, at room temp. And because RG beans are so comparatively fresh, they can hang around even longer than most. For a pound of beans, you could certainly eat half of it in a week and freeze the other half. So that's two weeks per pound, or 16 weeks worth of beans!

Or you could split with a friend, of course. I'm sure lots of folks would love to take you up on it. Or spend a little on shipping and get 3 or 4 pounds, whatever you like!

store seltzer, juice, soda, gatorade

I got a few things from my grandma's kitchen when she died and a cast iron skillet was one of them. It must be as old as I am, probably older. (And I have high school classmates who are grandparents.) I've also been to the Lodge "outlet" in Pigeon Forge TN - new cast iron really isn't all that expensive and it lasts, as we know, FOREVER.

Just fry up Sunday's bacon in the pan, drain the grease off and store it for seasoning, then wipe the pan with a paper towel and put it away. After about a month, it will be reseasoned and your husband won't have a chance to touch it.

I have a years-old jar of uncooked chick peas that was forgotten in the rear of a cupboard. Do you have a use-by suggestion or should I just soak them for a few days and see what happens?

The latter -- although soak them at room temp just overnight, 8-12 hours. Any longer than that, put them in the fridge.

If you have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, here's where you will want to pull it out.

What size stand mixer would you recommend for someone who lives by herself, but whose family really enjoys it when she bakes birthday cakes? I'm thinking I don't need a 7-quart mixer -- would a 4.5 quart do? Making Becky's pull-apart rolls with my hand mixer over the holidays convinced me I should consider a stand mixer. Thanks!

Definitely don't need a 7 quart! Ours in the Food Lab (and what I have at home) is a 6 quart, and it's great. But there are those "mini" KitchenAid models at 3.5 quarts, and America's Test Kitchen found that they did almost everything as well as the full-size counterparts.

If you don't want to cook them, then repurpose them as reusable pie weights. That's what Martha Stewart uses.

Yep, they're good for that!

Do you have any favorite savory recipes using cinnamon? I have a baked rice recipe that is great with chicken, another rice, cinnamon and chicken, recipe, and I know Cincinnati chili uses it, what are some others?

How about this chicken and chickpea stew, which uses cinnamon as well as other fragrant spices?

I've been known to cook a whole bag in my pressure cooker, then drain and freeze them for later use in soups and chili. It saves a lot of time.

Absolutely -- they freeze so beautifully. I'd suggest one change in your habit: Don't drain them after cooking! They store so well in that liquid, which keeps them hydrated and flavorful.

That was me exactly! I've always eaten lots of green veggies that my peers would turn down, but not the yams. In my case, it was a whole combo of stuff with the sweet potatoes -- texture unlike a "real" potato and unlike much of anything else, really, the sweetness that wasn't dessert-y, the color! Ack! Turn it into crispy fries, or make it into a savory custard and top with a pretzel based crumble, and you may make a believer out of that kid sooner rather than 30 years later, as was my case.

Ah, maybe that's it--it's so sweet that you want it to be dessert, then there it is with yogurt sauce. In fries-form is the only way I've snuck it past my kiddos. My favorite way is twice-baked with yogurt-y stuff a la this Bon Appetit recipe found here.


From an FDA guidance document: "The FTC standard of competent and reliable scientific evidence has been defined in FTC case law as 'tests, analyses, research, studies, or other evidence based on the expertise of professionals in the relevant area, that has been conducted and evaluated in an objective manner by persons qualified to do so, using procedures generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results.' Although there is no pre-established formula as to how many or what type of studies are needed to substantiate a claim, we, like the FTC, will consider what the accepted norms are in the relevant research fields and consult experts from various disciplines." in other words, the standard is essentially that your substantiation must satisfy the relevant scientific community – hardly a low bar. (This is so fundamental that I'm puzzled that someone writing for the Post could be so uninformed.)

If it were a high bar, I assume the dietary supplements industry could have pointed me to an independent scientist who took those claims seriously. But they couldn't. Not one. If ever there were evidence for a low bar, I think that's it. 

I was in the same place the OP was - - beans are fine. Not my favorite, but I'll eat them, especially as I make the trudge toward eating more plant-based food. Why bother with the fancy stuff when I'm so lukewarm about beans in general? Well, one day on a lark I just decided to buy some to, frankly,disprove the hubbub, but oh man. Life changing. After I made the black beans - - just in water, nothing else - - I actually started popping them in my mouth as a snack while I was cooking other things in the kitchen. That's how good they are. It's almost like they're a different food entirely. If you have a few extra bucks to spend, they are completely worth it. As for me, it's now been easier to integrate more beans into my diet because I actually look forward to eating them now. Yum! Give them a try!

It's true, really.

It may be just me, because there are only two of us, and I never thought I’d say this, but I’m finding myself stopping at another grocery store on the way home from Wegmans. Lately it seems brand names are being replaced more and more by store brand, and an awful lot of products are only available in family size. Not quite Costco, but limited. Anyone else noticed this?

I don't shop there regularly enough to have noticed this. Chatters?

I keep seeing warnings on cast iron pans that they shouldn't be used on flat-top ranges. Any idea why?

As I mentioned, concerns about cracking and scratching. But I do it anyway -- carefully of course -- and it's fine.

Most people with true celiac allergies can’t have food fried in the same oil as wheat so just make sure you have a separate oil pan for them! Same goes for utensils. Kudos for accommodating them!

First, only white food (plain pasta, vanilla ice cream and mashed potatoes .. . only from a box). Don't shoot me - I really tried. We moved onto chicken nuggets - one would only eat Wendy's, one McD's. My relatives were outraged until they did some toddler sitting. I tried, tried, tried. Happy to report today that - they (24 & 22) are advising us on ingredients, recipes to try. And cooking. Girlfriends, boyfriends, peer pressure - whatever, it's hilarious now.

I'm sure JJ will want to chime in, but more than a few of us here on the Food team (me included!) grew up picky and look at us now. With my kid, I know I'm in it for the long game, but boy is the present challenging! And you know my mom is always reminding me of how I was as a kid. :)

Yes, exactly! I used to be that very outraged relative/friend. Then I had kids. Some people credit themselves for their kids' successes. Some people blame themselves for their kids' failures. I'm prone to the latter, but I'm learning that you just try your best and cross your fingers.

I pride myself in being in tune with culinary trends and on knowing my way around a kitchen. And NOW I learn that the kind of dried beans matters? I can't believe it never occurred to me. Looks like RG beans are available at Whole Foods? Or should I mail order 'em from CA? And can someone recommend a favorite heirloom bean and a fabulous recipe in which to use it?

I don't consistently see them at Whole Foods, but that's good to know -- which market? Grab them anywhere you can find them.

I'm just noticing that RG has a store locator, tied to zip code. So check that out here.

I'll have more on beans within a few days, and tons of ideas, too. But honestly you should just buy what appeals to you. I'm a huge fan of the Rio Zape, maybe because those are the first RG bean I tried, but the Marcella white beans are incredible, and the Royal Corona, scarlet runner, midnight black, and, OK, perhaps the most beautiful bean in the world, the Christmas Lima!

Before you spring for the Professional size KithenAid (or any other mixer), make sure it will work in your kitchen. Unless you have an island where you will use it, the Professional may be too tall to fit between your counter and the bottom of your cabinet, requiring you to use it sideways.

Good tip. Always check the dimensions before I buy countertop appliances.

The gigabyte bean dish at Zaytinya’s is sensational! So much so, that we asked the chef to come out to compliment him personally… and he did greet us, with lively talk about the recipe.


I worked with them to get a recipe for the beautiful piyaz, and we ran it in the dear departed Plate Lab column. Check it out.

RECIPE: Greek Giant Bean Stew With Lemon Honey Sauce

I'm going to make your Pernil Asado for my husband's birthday Saturday. I made it before and it was a winner but I can't remember how I served it. Do I just shred it and serve it with tortillas, chopped onions, etc? What's a good side dish to go with it?

Definitely! It would also be great with this.

Cuban Beans and Rice (Moros y Cristianos)

RECIPE: Cuban Beans and Rice (Moros y Cristianos)

Recipes always call for this, and I'm always stumped. Can you please point me to a few reliable brands or an article that informs me on how to know what is good quality, when ok quality can be used?

I'm a huge fan of California Olive Ranch olive oils. They're not the cheapest, but are reliably good and not astronomically expensive.

This article on olive oil options might be helpful: Olive oil options can be dizzying. Which is best for you?

Newly minted stepmother here. Love the kid, now I have to get her to stop eating mac and cheese and ramen all the time. That chicken thigh recipe looks amazing. Could I use Cara Caras? It's what I have right now and I know I have the rest of the ingredients.

Sure. I've made it with grapefruit juice instead of lemon. You can always taste and adjust the honey for more sweetness.

I think a newly minted stepmom gets to continue making her mac and cheese for a while before throwing down the gauntlet. Or maybe you can make a new version of mac and cheese--maybe with sharp cheddar and cavatappi. I've had luck pushing the envelop in these seemingly tiny ways. That said, I've also learned never to assume that what worked for my weirdos will work for someone else's. 

Old beans poster here. That's just what I was thinking of doing! Or for drainage in flower pots.

Sure! But I think you'd be missing out to not try cooking at least some of them!

Check out the recipe at King Arthur for classic white bread. You will benefit from precise instructions as well as an explanation of why the instructions are as they are.

They are so good at teaching.

Rancho Gordo has great gift boxes if you find yourself needing such a thing. Or want to reward yourself!

Thanks for the recommendation. Two mixers won't work in the space we have available. I'll also ask for a good scale...despite the fact that the last two scales that were donated walked away.

In their defense, they have some of the best store brand products around. Worth giving them a try.

I love Ranch Gordo products but find their logo -- a woman in a kerchief licking her lips -- off-putting to say the least. The word "lascivious" comes to mind. I mean, I know eye of the beholder and all that, but I will say that I gave various RG beans to friends and family as holiday presents last year and got comments back about it from folks. RG if you're listening -- time to rebrand?

J.J., when mine were young but able to reason effectively, I liked to give them buffet options - like a burrito bowl where they got to choose a topping (but had to pick 2 from veg pile 2 from protein pile, 1 from dairy pile, etc.). This both exposed them to a variety of flavors and gave them a sense of agency. While initially there was some whining about the injustice of my system, they got on board pretty quickly and didn't even balk when the rules started shifting. Same concept can work with grain bowls, omelets, falafel sandwiches, etc.

I love the distinction: young but able to reason. Mine aren't quite there yet! Giving them a choice, within limits, is really smart. I also think it's what magicians do to fool us into thinking they're actually magical. 

To make sausage, you need to add fat to the turkey. You could add schmaltz. Rendered chicken or turkey or duck fat, in the same quantity, would serve the same purpose. Without the added fat, the sausage won’t hold together. 

How about stepping out of your comfort zone and having leftovers, and think about it as a positive step to following doctor's orders, instead of digging in on the "I hate leftovers" mentality.

One way to enjoy leftover is to make something new from them. For example, if you have broiled chicken for dinner, make chicken salad for lunch....

Obvs this won't work for anyone, but I like Costso's own brand. It got good marks to in the 'is it real olive oil' test.

A question for Tim - great article on pizza. We're inspired to do some homemade pizzas for SB Sunday and I'd love to take a crack at recreating my favorite from 2Amys - the Calabrese. I think I'm good on all the ingredients, except I feel like there's a seasoning on it that I'm not too sure what it is. Thoughts?

Thank you!

I don't think there were secret ingredients that chef/owner Peter Pastan refused to reveal. His pizza simply leans on the Italian tradition of a few good, quality ingredients, well-prepared. He does finish his pizza with salt, and he's constantly reminding his team to sprinkle it evenly across the surface.

These kind of pizzas seem like they should be simple to recreate, but they're usually not. The fermentation times, the air temperature, the handling of the dough, the ingredients. They all come together into something as exquisite as the Calabrese.


REVIEW: The 10 best pizzas in the D.C. area.

I do this with some green vegetables: Cook enough at one time for two meals, then marinate the remaining half to refrigerate overnight in vinegar:oil 1:3 plus a tiny bit of chopped garlic, and S&P to taste. Must use non-corrosive container for storage, however.

I may be submitting too late but thought Tamar's article was interesting and wondered if the experts she talked to had any thoughts/concerns about pre and probiotics. Seems like there has been a recent explosion of products related to "gut health." A relative of mine is selling prodicts from a particular line and has made some pretty dubious claims about what these supplements can do.

My favorite piece on probiotics was in JAMA last January - take a look: Are Probiotics Money Down the Toilet? Or Worse?

You get picky eaters, of course but what is it with Americans only feeding their children kids foods - that's teaching them to be picky. It's like that first poster mentioned - food doesn't have to be bland for kids. Indian kids have food with spices in it - not hot, but not bland. I don't know if this made a difference but have you actually eaten baby food - so, so uninteresting. I had whatever my parents were having, zizzed up in the blender. Obviously they adapted their diet a bit - but it was very little extra work. I always loved all sorts of food - my father said, when the pediatrician asked what I'd had for lunch that day: gorgonzola. I think I was six at the time. I do think not having boring baby food helped as I was already getting interesting flavors.

Easier said than done. I think JJ and I can both attest that you can try to feed your kids interesting, not bland stuff and they can choose not to eat it. My son when he first starting eating, ate practically everything -- curry, enchiladas, etc. We didn't change what we made, he changed what he was willing to eat. Every kid is different, but just because a kid won't eat the more interesting stuff doesn't mean the parents are to blame. Believe me, we beat ourselves up enough about it.

I like the idea of feeding them super flavorful stuff when they're too young to really put up a fight. I should've done more of that, but I got into a pureed plain peas, pureed plain beans zone. I wish I knew why even adventurous babies/toddlers take such hard turns toward plain pasta.

Speaking as an actual Indian person though, my parents fed my sister and I the exact same stuff. I ate everything and she refused to eat anything but buttered white rice and steamed broccoli. 

Thank you for  joining us for a lively chat this week.  We loved all of your questions and the advice you shared with others. We'll be back next Wednesday at noon, so make a brown-bag lunch and join us.

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables," "Serve Yourself" and the upcoming "Cool Beans." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Carrie Allan
Carrie is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Emily Heil
Emily is a staff food writer at The Post.
Becky Krystal
Becky is the lead writer for Voraciously.
JJ Goode
JJ helps chefs write cookbooks. He has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, and Saveur magazine.
Ann Maloney
Ann Maloney is the Food section recipes editor.
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow is the author of "Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet and Savory Slab Pies" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2018).
Tim Carman
Tim is a staff reporter for Food and writes a weekly column on casual dining for Weekend.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, a freelance writer based in Cape Cod, writes The Post's Unearthed column. She's the author of four books, including Dreaded Broccoli (Scribner, 1999), and writes about harvesting food first-hand at
Olga Massov
Olga is a food editor at The Post.
Kari Sonde
Kari is the food editorial aide.
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