Free Range on Food: The baking issue, plus Leanne Brown on cooking on a budget

Alex Levin's Guanaja Brownies.
Oct 21, 2015

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Let's get started, without any windup! (It's that kind of day.)

Part of my effort to save money is incorporating vegetarian food into my weekly meals. One of my favorites is a lentil curry with coconut milk. Again, to be thrifty, I had a question regarding the half a can of coconut milk I always have left over. Any ideas as to snacks/meals that use so little milk? I hate throwing food away!

I have the same problem quite often and have a few go-tos. I love making peanut sauce with coconut milk. I have a great recipe for that in my book Good and Cheap, which you can download for free from the link above. 

You can also use coconut milk like cream in a lot of situations so if you have a sweet tooth, try making a caramel sauce using coconut milk instead of cream. It's delicious!

Q&A: Want to get food on the table for little money? Make time to cook.

I've been watching the Great British Bake off, and now REALLY want good baked goods. Where would you go in DC/Montgomery County for a good croissant? Does anyone even make a Swedish Princess Cake? And should a no-talent baker even attempt to make croissants at home?

Yes, that show is enough to make anyone want to get into the kitchen and bake. We all love it here.

ARTICLE: ‘The Great British Baking Show’ on PBS: Food Network, take note.

The croissants from Erica Skolnik at Maketto (Frenchie's) are very good. Panorama Bakery at Union Market also does well by pastry, as does Fresh Baguette in Bethesda. I bet if there's one in the pastry basket at Osteria Morini, it would have to be good. ;)

Other favorites, anyone?

When the last season of GBBO aired on PBS, I think we looked around for a Swedish princess cake to no avail. Supposedly Ikea sells at least small ones in some places.

Croissants are definitely not the easiest thing to bake. I'd say I'm an above-average home baker and I still have yet to perfect croissant dough. It's not easy, but it's a fun challenge. If you want to give it a try, why not? Just go into it with reasonable expectations.

where I found a set of Great British Bake Off tea towels at TJ Maxx. On sale. I consider this to be a triumph of souvenir acquisition. Didn't see the adjustable baking pan though. Also, too much sugar temptation at Ottolenghi. Dangerous place.

Word. (We covet that adjustable pan.) Then you might be interested in this: Ottolenghi told Editor Joe and me that he's working on a baking book next! He's been testing cakes.

I am a little stumped on how to use red pepper flakes. First, is that what is meant by "peperoncino" in Italian recipes (e.g., Lidia Bastianich). ( Second, how does one use them? Just sprinkling them in a dish seems to risk that someone is either going to bite right into a hot spot, or get no heat at all. I've been chopping these with a chef's knife (and trying to keep them from flying all over the kitchen when I do) but I keep seeing recipes (and TV cooks) just tossing them in the food straight on. Am I being unnecessarily dense about this?

You can use fresh peperoncino or dried chili flakes or any fresh chile to add heat! You just have to be aware of the differing heat levels of various chiles of course. If you're new to using chiles in your food it's probably a good idea to start with chile flakes. If you're making a sauce with it try adding just a pinch of chile flakes when you cook the garlic or onions. Then if it's not spicy enough for you, add a little more later on. Build it in layers like you would salt. 

No real question here, just wanted to say that I loved the profile on Alex Levin and the accompanying tips for serious home bakers. I like to think of myself as a serious home baker, and have compiled a "baking bucket list." It's been great fun crossing off things from that list. In the past few weeks, I've done focaccia, macarons, and ciabatta. I think next I'll do eclairs or cream puffs--something with a pate a choux. Also, I think a trip to Osteria Morini is in order, if only for dessert!

First of all, let me say thank you for such a nice shout out! It sounds like you are a serious baker who happens to work in your home kitchen. I love love love your bucket list! It's hardcore! I would like to invite you if you can to come and stage at Osteria Morini one day and we can work together on any project that you would like. And of course, if you do come in for dinner, please make sure to find me so I can say hello!

And I suggest you take the chef up on his offer! It's frontline, fantastic experience.

ARTICLE: What makes a pastry chef indispensable?

Are you guys going to weigh in on the "article" (kind of more like a blog post) by Claire Doody that essentially just made fun of people who go to farmer's markets? I read it hoping to find some commentary on the food or society. There was none.

My take: Claire's essay was less a rant on farmers market and more a sly satire on basic human insecurity. You know? Many of us make unflattering comparisons to others even though we know next to nothing about them. We're basically making unflattering comparisons to the ideal personas that we project on them. I mean, I shop at farmers markets, and I don't like yoga. I haven't read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s new book. I don't own property.


I do judge Claire, however, for her affection for Starbucks. :)


ARTICLE: Why I hate farmers markets.

Is there an easy rule for adjusting a recipe so you can use a whole-wheat or other non-white flour in lieu of some, or all, of the regular flour that's called for? For example, if the recipe says 2 cups of flour, can you substitute 1/4 or 1/3 cup with whole wheat without having to add extra leavening or baking for more time?

Yes. Very easy adjustment. Whole wheat bread is usually about 30% whole wheat flour and 70% white bread flour. So just take away 30% of the flour in your recipe and add back the equivalent amount of whole wheat flour.

My favorite brand is King Arthur for all flour- particularly bread.

i thought everyone here would be as amused by this as I was: I found the books cider recipe in the recipe finder this weekend. It called for a gallon reduced to 2 1/2 cups. I had about a half gallon, so I aimed for 1 1/4 cups. But it's hard to judge and didn't seem to be thickening. When I poured it into a jar, there was just a cup. Later, I swirled the jar to see if it thickened when it cooled. It didn't move. I was able to turn the jar sideways without it coming out. I made cider jelly! (It's very strong, but I think I'll be able to use it. )

If you want to get it back up to the texture you meant to achieve, you can warm up the solidified apple jelly in a pot or microwave. When it is liquified, measure out what you have. Then, you can "reconstitute" it by adding the difference between what you have and what you were shooting for with water. It will be exactly 1 1/4 cups that way. But if it's delicious the way it is, then you've just discovered a new recipe!

I used **really** ripe bananas -- like, starting to liquify -- to make banana bread. The results seemed less banana-y than usual. The recipe calls for three ripe bananas, not X cups of mashed bananas. Would your guess be that my bananas weren't big enough, or were over-ripe, or both those things?

I'll defer to the pros on guessing, but I can say that when I was testing banana bread recipes a while back, I came across a method that guarantees banana flavor, and you dont have to wait for the fruit flies to start circling those ripening bananas on the counter: Cut them into chunks, then caramelize them in a saute pan, with a little butter or olive oil. How smart is that?

I like Costco's croissants. You have to heat them up in the oven to re-crisp, but they're surprisingly good. I tried a laminated dough once, puff pastry if I recall. I'm tempted to try again because I'd like to try a kringler, but it's practically a full day of work.

Thanks for your confession.

And yes, laminated dough does take a lot of time!

Hello, Rangers. Thanks for the chats. I've still got my herb garden going strong. I also bought broccoli crowns this weekend. I can't for the life of me figure out what herbs would go with broccoli. I usually just steam it and maybe sprinkle some parm on top. If it's any help, the broccoli is to be a side with shrimp and grits.

Try a little fresh oregano along with the parm. It will go nicely with your cajun theme of shrimp and grits (oregano is in cajun seasoning) and it doesn't get lost in the broccoli's strong flavor. Basil is nice too!

Since I know a few of you have some strong opinions on chili: my office is having a chili competition soon, and I have a reputation for being a strong cook. This has lead to some of my competitors singling me out for trash talk in the stairwells. As you can imagine, the pressure to produce a stellar pot of chili is on. Any hidden tricks I should use to really knock some socks off?

I think beer's a great flavor enhancer. I think Kenji Lopez-Alt's method of soaking, then pureeing a mix of dried chilies is nifty (in the link below) . . . lots of times the various ground spices can make a chili taste gritty, and he's eliminated that.

ARTICLE Which chili are you?

My two cents: Toast and grind fresh spices for the chili. If you're using cumin seeds. Toast and grind them yourself. You'll taste a world of difference.


Also: Buy beef that can stand up to long braises, like brisket or short ribs. And brown the meat before you cut it into chunks or grind it into burger meat for the pot. The browning will add a depth of flavor.

Would love a Pecan Pie recipe that avoids corn syrup.

I try to minimize using corn syrup too! Actually, the recipe for the sicilian pistachio and pine nut tart has a custard that uses honey and would work just perfectly with pecans. I've made it here at Osteria Morini for our staff's "family" meal and will be also making pies (including that one) for Thanksgiving in case anyone wants one.

RECIPE Pine Nut and Sicilian Pistachio Tart

Here are two to consider. The first uses sorghum syrup, the second (from Rose Levy Beranbaum) Lyle's Golden Syrup.

RECIPE: Sorghum Pecan Pie

Perfect Pecan Pie

RECIPE: Perfect Pecan Pie

The pastry chef profile was so great. But my "friend" want to know is this chef single? Saw very good looking, read about the talent, clearly family guy, and Jewish. Is he available?

Oh man - this is great!

Single, gay and available. But you have to like eating the pastries and desserts that I bring home at the end of the  day...

PTI, but before I forget, a few pieces of business:

1. PostPoints members, here's your code for this week: FR7918 . Record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

2. GIVEAWAY BOOKS! This week's will be Leanne's amazing "Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day"; and, in honor of our baking theme today, "Real Sweet: More than 80 Crave-Worthy Treats Made With Natural Sugars" by Shauna Sever. These will go to our two favorite chatters, so make your queries/comments good!

3. Don't forget that baking expert Dorie Greenspan will follow us today! Go here to ask her a question early -- and go right to her chat after we're done!

OK, back to our programming.

Every time I get a hankering for slaw I buy a full head of (usually red) cabbage, but as a solo cook, I can never work my way through the whole thing. Adding it to salad hardly makes a dent, and a girl can only have so much vinegary coleslaw! Any tasty suggestions for using up large cabbage quantities?

I hear you on this problem! There's a cabbage salad recipe in the 2nd edition of Good and Cheap (not the free version, sadly) that addresses this problem. I got the idea from a reader who lives alone and wanted a salad that wouldn't end up wilting (she doesn't like lettuce for this reason). You salt the shredded cabbage and put a heavy pot on top of it to expel the excess liquid. This gets rid of some of the bitterness and helps preserve it. Then season with rice wine vinegar, a little oil, and throw in toasted peanuts and anything else you like (apples, shredded carrot, dried cranberries). It can last for a week in the fridge this way! 

If you want to get more aggressive you could always try your hand at making sauerkraut.

And can I put a vote in for Leanne's great Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls? Very flexible recipe -- I loved it! Uses 1 small or half a large head.

RECIPE: Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

Good morning, I wanted to send this out to your team about a new type of flour I came across at the grocery store. They had a new type of flour I’ve never seen before: red grapeseed & white grapeseed flours. They are some kind of a blend of flours. I wanted to find out more about this flour. I just know from doing an internet query is that the flour tastes ‘fruity’, is very nutritional but will affect the color of the final result. Is this a new trend in using different sources for ‘healthier’ flours? I didn’t understand the instructions on how to use this flour and I wasn’t able to find recipes that were tested using this flour. It says when you blend this flour with regular flour, you get a lot of the grape seed flavor. But it is already a blended flour; why do I need to substitute only a small amount of it with the rest of the recipe? Couldn’t I just replace the entire amount of flour with this flour since it is already blended? Is grapeseed flour a good substitution or can it be used as regular flour?

New alternatives to wheat flours are constantly popping up, and I love experimenting with them. Usually, an even substitution will work on recipes where gluten development is not a priority. However, the only way to know is to test out a few recipes and see if you are happy with the results. I am going to run to Whole Foods myself later today and find this flour so I can see how it works!

I'm a relatively competent home baker and I've been dying to try kouign amman since seeing them on the Great British Bake Off/Baking Show last season. Is it something I can jump into the deep end with or should I work my way up to treats like that?

That would definitely be a deep end! But like I told the other chatter, you'll never know if you don't try. You're braver than I am, though! Here's the recipe from that episode. And another to try from David Lebovitz.

The aforementioned Panorama Bakery does a nice rendition, as does Bluebird Bakery if you can snag one at the Dolcezza and Peregrine Espresso locations they're baking for at the moment (storefront to come).

kouign amann

ARTICLE: Meet the kouign-amann, the caramelized French pastry we’re loving right now

Tim, I really enjoyed your article on Copenhagen. Which restaurant/cafe would you return to? Thanks!


ARTICLE In Copenhagen, dining out on both new Nordic cuisine and traditional Danish cooking

Thank you!


It's been over a year now since I was in Copenhagen, so I'm sure things have changed at every one of the restaurants I visited.


But if you have the budget, I wouldn't miss Noma. The ingredients, the plating, the imagination, they're singular in every way. It's worth the expense. Plus, the cooks bring out every course themselves, which allows you to ask as many questions as you'd like, knowing the "server" will actually have answers.


After that, don't miss Torvehallerne market. It can be insanely crowded, but it has good, affordable food and wide variety of it. It also is home to the Coffee Collective, which is the Mecca for coffee geeks.


If you like offal, or just inventive cooking with ingredients typically headed to the trash, check our Bror.


One place I didn't manage to visit (because it was closed!) is Restaurant Schonnemann, widely considered the best place to order a traditional Danish lunch. 


Remember: It's really expensive to dine in Copenhagen. I had planned to eat at many more places,  but I quickly ran through my budget. That why I loved Torvehallerne market.

Flour sifting doubts: I'm still using the sifter I got from my mother, who got it from her mother. Has a better sifter come along in the last, say, 50 years? If sifting isn't mentioned in a bread or cake recipe, does that mean not to do it? When sifting is recommended, do you measure the flour before or after sifting? Of course, using a scale instead would be better, but what if the recipes don't list weight?

When in doubt, sift.

Personally, I don't sift flours that are going into bread recipes, cookies that use the creaming method, or biscuits -- basically anything where the flour is a major player and percentage of the dough. For those recipes, you can mix the flour, leaveners and salts together in a bowl and gently whisk to incorporate.

For cakes where there is just a little flour, or where the directions ask you to alternate adding dry ingredients with wet, definitely sift.

As far as sift before or after, that's a great question! Definitely sift everything after. If you compress your sifted ingredients back into a measuring cup, it may undo the sifting altogether.

As you know, the weight of sifted flour is different than packed flour. In my kitchen, we weigh everything out to the gram to ensure the ingredients are always weighed out consistently.

This sounds amazing. Can this dish be prepared up to the cooking point ahead of time and then cooked in a crock pot? I usually do chicken thighs for 7 hours on low and they turn out good. Or would slow cooking yogurt this long cause it to separate? I could see making this on a Sunday afternoon and then throwing in my crock pot on a Tuesday for a mid-week treat.

RECIPE Dum ka Murgh (Chicken)

I think this would be perfect for the slow-cooker -- but first, I'll check with the chef about whether the yogurt mixture might break. Send me an email ( and I'll get back to you soon as I can.

That boiled cider looks great for the slow cooker. After I finish using it for apple sauce and apple jam.

Thank you for providing me a link last week to contact the author of "Artisan Vegan Cheese"! She responded to my question about 20 minutes later and said to use ordinary grocery-store dried grains to make rejuvelac. She specifically suggested using quinoa. I had some in the pantry, so I gave it a try. A week later I have fermented a culture of something that smells like sweaty socks. Tomorrow I'll use it to start the process of making cashew cheese. I appreciate your help!

Thanks for the update -- glad you're getting expert help! 

Then it should have gone in the Style section and not wasted space in Food. It's as annoying as the essays by the woman with the mother with eating issues. I'd love to see those disappear from the Food section.

Cool your jets. The farmers market essay wasn't in the Food section, if you mean the Wednesday print section, and I think you do. It was online, as part of the Solo-ish vertical.

I live in Cleveland Park and love Asian markets, but the only ones I can find are in Gaithersburg or Arlington, which aren't exactly close for easy shopping. Are there any in DC that I'm missing? What I really want is the plethora of veggies (greens in particular) that they have. WF's, Giant, and Safeway just don't cut it for the variety.

I think HMart in Wheaton's probably the closest/quickest one to you. Chatters?

My aunt just had surgery - I'd love to send her something sweet to have when she gets home. Do you have suggestions for something that would hold up through mailing (and any suggestions on how to pack them to make sure they last)? No dietary restrictions/"soft food" restrictions, as far as I know.

Comfort food is the way to go. Perhaps some brownies and chocolate chip cookies? Both would make me smile if I received them in a Fed Ex package. If you decide to send either, I would suggest wrapping them very well and using bubble wrap to create a cushioned seal around your goodies so that they don't slide around too much in the box. They will ship very well if they are wrapped well and secure -- particularly cookies.

Joe, the sweet potato cakes are going to be perfect for Thanksgiving, but...can I somehow make them ahead and reheat? I am concerned that if I make them an hour ahead and keep warm in a 200 oven, they will dry out. Can I make them the day before and reheat in the oven? Also, I need to double the recipe, and based on how it looks, that seems as if it would work fine. Thank you!

RECIPE Sweet Potato and Pistachio Cakes

Yep, you sure can -- I even say in the recipe that you can cook them and refrigerate them for up to a week before proceeding with the recipe. I'd let them come to room temp before you coat and fry. (Oh, and in case it wasn't clear -- don't coat them until you're ready to fry them; those nuts won't be as crisp is they're sitting on the little cakes for days.)

Alice Medrich’s article in today’s Food Section makes the claim that “If you measure with a scale, you will use the same amount of flour the author or chef used”. For that to be true, wouldn’t the moisture level of the flour used by the home cook have to have been the same as the moisture level of the flour used by the author/chef? Flour contains moisture, and during storage, the moisture content of flour can change. Since water is heavier per unit volume than flour, a small change in the moisture content of flour can have a significant effect on the weight of the flour. How significant? Most older baking books I’ve used warn about the potential problems of the varying moisture levels of flours. How would weighing solve this problem?

Yes, I always expect this comment about moisture!  there will always be differences in flour, but using a scale will at least get us all in the same ballpark.

Hi everyone! I'm looking for a new dessert to make. I've got strong chocolate, lemon, carrot, and vanilla cakes, but I'd love a good spice cake that goes well with cream cheese or vanilla icing! Any suggestions? Thanks :)

No one who loves Starbucks has any business criticizing anyone else's pretensions.

You know, there are some that I don't care for. At my age, articles on parenting make me roll my eyes. But, guess what, I don't read them and then I don't become annoyed! Well, sometimes I read them just to be thankful I had my kids when life was so much simpler than it is today.

I recently found myself in this conundrum, while staying at home alone for a week (decreasing my motivation to cook a lot for myself). I ended up just cutting up a strip of bacon, frying it, sauteing the cabbage in with salt and freshly ground pepper, and eating it for dinner. It's not fancy, but it's also so easy, so quick, and so satisfying!

try BreadFurst. have yet to spot a princess cake, though.

Yes, of course. Good stuff over there.

I apologize that the wording of my original question must not have been clear. I understand that hot red pepper flakes add heat/spice to a dish. I meant to pose a functional question, not a taste question. That is, when I ask HOW to use them, I mean HOW -- sprinkling whole dried flakes (and the seeds that are in the mix) seems to add bursts of heat/spice only where the flake is, resulting in a hot bite for the eater (and not thrilling texture on the seeds). Are they meant to be added this way? Soaked first? Chopped, as I have been doing? Thanks.

If you add them to the pot and give them a little time to infuse it, you'll get the sense of an overall heat -- even if you manage to consume a mouthful that doesn't contain a flake. Does that help? If you want a fresh burst of heat, add a sprinkle right at the end.

To: Alex Levin Would you be willing to give out your recipe for Riso dessert. It looks wonderful.

I would be happy to share the recipe. We've had a number of different flavors and variations at Osteria Morini here in Navy Yard. The current one is cinnamon, butterscotch, almond crunch and zabaione -- reminds many of "Cinnamon Toast Crunch" -- also have some versions with vanilla, peanut butter, chocolate, passion fruit, so shoot me a note offline at and I will send you the recipe and explain how to make variations.

Submitting early in case work runs long... I regularly make Stromboli, but I can't get the inner rings to bake completely through in the 20 minutes at 425 I feel it should take. I've dotted holes all over the rolled out dough and as I'm rolling it, I've poked holes there as well. Any ideas? Just bake it longer? Thanks!

Have you had your oven calibrated recently? If not, check the temperature of your oven to see if it is really at 425F. Perhaps, it's a little lower than the dial is telling you. Ovens are so tricky. If you don't have an oven thermometer, try baking it as high as 450F.

As the Post is in Washington, any tips on making good pot-related items? Would like to find a good recipe for pot butter that's easy and effective and a brownie recipe that just doesn't call for stems and seeds.

There have been some cookbooks -- the latest is "Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking With Cannabis," whose title I imagine might just send Julia Child rolling over in that grave. Anyway, the other thing is, you MIGHT stay tuned for our cookie issue, where there MIGHT be something you MIGHT be interested in. Did I sufficiently say MIGHT?

I bought an electric mini-muffin and -cupcake maker at a fund-raiser that's great because little things bake so much faster and portion control is much easier for those of us who can't eat just part of a muffin or cupcake. Also, when the weather's warm, the whole kitchen doesn't get hot like it does with the oven. The problem is, you're supposed to pre-heat it, and the cups where the batter goes aren't removable, so the first one that's filled bakes for one or two minutes longer than the last one filled. I'm thinking maybe that's why the previous owner donated it! I'm starting to experiment with filling it before I plug it in so at least everything bakes the same amount of time, but there must be a reason every recipe I've ever seen calls for pre-heating the oven. Is it possible to get good results without pre-heating?

I"m probably the worst person to answer this question. I use my oven and a muffin tin, and turn on the fan or open the door on hot days!  So much easier for me not to have too many appliances. It sounds like the one that you bought may have been poorly designed!  Maybe that is why it was donated?  I feel your pain though!

How do you know what size egg to purchase for baking needs?

Most recipes that are written for home baking assume large eggs are being used. On average, every large egg weighs 50 grams - 20 for the egg yolk and 30 for egg white. If you use a recipe that goes by weight, than any egg will do because the measurements are by weight. But the marginal difference between large and extra large for a small batch should not impact the final product too much...

A good recipe should tell you what size eggs to use.  I call for large eggs. They weigh 50 grams or thereabouts. 

With Alice Medrich's recent writings on "Flavor Flours", I am interested if she has any thoughts about/experience using sprouted grains in baking ? Does she think that this is just a fad or might it be a real breakthrough ?

I do't have experience with this, but I think it is very interesting and not a fad.  Exploring the various ways to use ingredients is always interesting to me, but I never seem to get around to trying everything.  Especially when I'm focussed on a new book, which was very much the case while I was wokring on Flavor Flours! 

I am annoyed by comments in Free Range from people who are annoyed that the world does not conform to their particular tastes. Would you please stop publishing any Free Range comments that do not suit my exact world view, dietary preferences, and opinions on grammar? Thanks ever so much.

I like you.

I chop it up and saute it with some olive oil, an apple, a few fennel seeds, and some cooked sausages (spicy or sweet, doesn't matter.) Makes a quick and easy dinner! You can serve it with rice if you want.

That would be *incredible* -- I'd love to take you up on the offer! Rangers, could you pass my email address onto Chef so we could get in touch? 

Done! (And email address redacted just in case you didn't want the whole Interwebs to have it!)

I always saute the leftover cabbage (shredded or cut into chunks) on medium, with butter, garlic, and salt. Then as it's just about tender enough for me, I stir in some fresh chopped basil. It's delicious!

I have used maple syrup for years in my pecan pies--it does not taste maple-y, gets lots of compliments and is just not as teeth shatteringly sweet. You can also taste the pecans.

Nice idea. Sorghum would also be a reasonable swap, I think.

To Alex L: Can you expand on the beautiful description in Bonnie Benwick's wonderful profile of your being inspired by your grandmother and how she worked with you in the kitchen to instill your love of cooking and baking? It seems a wonderful way to build a relationship with kids/grandkids and the best way to get them to start working in the kitchen.

My grandmother picked me up from school every Friday, and we would work on the Sabbath meal together in her kitchen. She taught me how to braid challah, bake cakes, and design cookies not to mention the briskets, chicken dishes and interesting side dishes that she would find from Gourmet Magazine. During this time, we worked closely together but also had time to talk about what was going on in school, how she was doing and we became the closest you can be. When she started to get older, I continued to go to visit my grandparents in elementary school and high school every Friday and would make Shabbat dinner for them before going home to my parents' apartment where I would usually make dinner a second time for all of us. When you come from a family where love and care are always present, it shows through all activities -- mine happened to be especially strong while baking and cooking with my grandmother. She is always on my mind when I am at baking, and all of us in my family miss her very much.

Poor Claire needs to go further out in NOVA to the farmer's markets in Burke or Manassas where the rents only care about how their spawn did at the soccer game, do they have to bring oranges to next soccer game and what the heck is the difference between an oil change and an oil service on their X5.

There would be a whole different level of insecurity to deal with there!

Hi Tim, How did you like meeting Ruth Reichl? Have you ever tried her actual recipes? Is she nice?

I've been reading Ruth for years and years now, and as I told her in person, she's the main reason I wanted to enter food writing. Her prose combines observation, meticulous sensory description, personal history, culture, everything in short that makes for good writing, period.


It was funny, but I had created my own impression of Ruth from reading her. I figured she was a private person trapped in a very public role. This is not the case at all. She clearly loves interacting with people. She did not turn down one request for a selfie. She signed everything in sight, and she talked to everyone who approached her.


As she reminded me on the podium at Busboys & Poets, where I interviewed her for a book tour event, she wrote the following line in "Tender at the Bone": "Privacy is overrated."


I've been thinking about that line repeatedly in the days since. I think it's true and it's not true. But I love that Ruth reminded me about it.


My respect for Ruth only grew larger after spending a little time with her. She's a rare breed: She seemingly knows everything but does not treat others who know less as inferiors.


REVIEW by Bonnie: "Tweets, recipes and more from Ruth Reichl, Cat Cora and Kate Christensen"


You can always freeze coconut milk! If you're cooking with it, I've never had a problem using the frozen stuff. In fact, I freeze a lot (a lot!) of stuff.

I don't see them at the grocery, but at the Asian markets. They make little 6 oz coconut milks either in a can or a little box like a juice box. I find them perfect for meals for two.

My only issue with the article about the stereotype of buyers in a farmers market is that those pretentious folks actually leave the farmers market and infest other areas of the region. Let's face it, lots and lots of people in this affluent area ARE pretentious and seem to have perfect lives (most of them really don't). And if a stranger gives you grief about your Starbucks soy chai latte, you can always accidentally-on-purpose spill some on their Gucci shoes.

Hi Alex, Do you have a recipe you love for challah? I'm still trying to find the perfect recipe.

Yes! In fact, it's the challah recipe that my grandmother used to make - though she never measured anything out at all. If you would like, send me a note and I will email it to you. My email is

I had stopped baking for a few years (!) and recently started again, and bought King Arthur all-purpose flour for the first time, after reading so much praise for it. The first thing I made, a favorite old recipe, seemed a lot heavier than I remembered. So I'm wondering, was my memory off, or do I need to do something differently when using KA flour, like maybe sift it twice instead of once? Thanks!

King Arthur flour is my favorite flour. It uses the best quality wheat, and has the best quality glutenin and gliadin - the two amino acids that mix with water to form gluten. If you found your product to be a little dense, I need a bit more information to help you. It could be a lot of different things. Feel free to email me at and we can set up a time to chat on the phone.

The KA flour is lovely, but it is higher in protein than most of the big commercial brands of AP. It often produces a heavier product.  This is especially true if you were accustomed to using  bleached all purpose in the  past.  You might try using 5 or 10 percent less flour and see if that helps. 

My family loves corn bread. Two of us have developed gluten sensitivity and would really love to have a recipe that allows us not to add any wheat flour!

Bob's Red Mill has amazing non-wheat flours that you substitute for this kind of recipe. If you were making bread, then I would have a totally different answer. But here, since no gluten development is needed in cornbread, you can use your favorite recipe + the substitution and see if you even notice a difference. I bet it will be delicious!

Traditional -- like, REALLY traditional -- Southern recipes for corn bread don't use any flour, just cornmeal. Check out Sean Brock's recipe for Cracklin' Corn Bread. If you're vegetarian, feel free to make it with vegetable oil instead of the bacon fat, and leaving out the cracklings, of course. (Or use coconut bacon!)

RECIPE: Cracklin' Corn Bread

When I worked on the revision of the Joy of Cooking in 1997 we had two cornbread recipes.  One was called Nothern style and it was made with a combination of allpurpose flour and corn meal.  But the so called "Southern" Style cornbread was made entirely with corn meal.  I came to love it and still love it.  Look it up or trying googling cornbread or southern cornbread for recipes.  It's particularly nice made in a cast iron skillet.  Even if not, it's easy and delicious.  

Is not about farmers markets. It is about a 28year old who has not found her place in life yet. Many of us have been there...

I grew up hating cabbage because the only way we had it was as corned beef and cabbage. To this day I'm wary of both. But here's an easy way to fix some very tasty braised cabbage: thinly slice an onion and cook it with olive oil until it begins to soften. Add shredded cabbage (about a cup full), continue cooking until the cabbage softens. Now add a handful of jasmine rice and pour in a can of chicken stock. Simmer gently until the rice is cooked. If you've got it, add some smoked Spanish paprika. This is delicious the first day and better the second.

I recently discovered (after making on a whim) that homemade pizza dough is both easy and so much better than anything store bought. Are there other bread-type items that one might typically buy, but are in reality easy and better made from scratch?

I'm sure many others in this chat will have recommendations. But for me, making other homemade flatbreads like roti and naan, pita and tortillas are super satisfying. Many you don't even have to wait for the yeast! I suspect you might have tried it, but another life changer is Jim Lahey's amazing no-knead bread process! So simple and you end up with an amazing crust and lovely, airy crumb structure.

If you are really into pizza at home and want to get into other flatbreads, consider getting a pizza stone for your oven. It makes homemade pita so simple. Just slap it on the stone and watch it puff up!

Certain breads are better from a great bakery - like a baguette from Bread Furst or the cranberry nut bread from Le Diplomate, but croissant dough, brioche - make it from scratch - if you're scared to do it, come and work with me in my kitchen for a day. Those two are so much better from scratch...

Get the judges drunk! A few tequila shots works. I prefer a nice lager to use in my chile like Yuengling along with 2-3 tequila shots. Rinse your beans and use beef with a good amount of fat for flavor. If using ground meat consider a custom grind of about 60% ground chuck 80%, 25% ground pork, 15% ground veal, and 5% ground lamb. All very coarsely ground. Use a variety of chiles and dont go to hot

Sounds like a solid approach, down to liquoring up the judges.

First-Joe's recipe for sweet potato cakes got me inspired to think of a sweet potato appetizer for a halloween gathering next week. I was thinking of making a ball, and covering perhaps with nuts as in the recipe, but frying won't work and I'm not sure if the sauce will as well. Do you have a different recipe that might do, or could this one be modified to be a bite sized appetizer for a pot luck gathering? Second-totally agree about the fear of baking. I think my fear stems from following directions and not having the expected results (which is a direct result, I feel, of not having weights listed in recipes!) Thx for any ideas or help you can provide for the appetizer!

RECIPE Sweet Potato and Pistachio Cakes

I don't see why you couldn't do these as little bite-sized spheres, sure! The frying would certainly work -- I might add enough oil to come up, oh, 1/2 inch in the pan, though, to better get the spheres browned all over. You could serve them speared with toothpicks, and the sauce as a dipping sauce in a bowl.  Great idea!

I loved this - especially the part about rhubarb as I love rhubarb, particularly in crumble form!

I'm not really a big fan of squash, but the local farm stand had butternuts that looked just too good to resist. Any suggestions on what to do with it?

Winter squash lends itself so well to creamy soups. You don't need to add dairy to have a beautifully smooth and creamy soup. I have a recipe for curried butternut squash soup in Good and Cheap

I find chopping up hard squashes to be a bit of a pain so I often simply cut it in half, scoop out the seeds (but save them for roasting just like pumpkin seeds!) and roast the halves whole with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. You can add chilies, garlic, lemon zest or dry spices if you like. Then scoop out the roasted squash from the skins and you can add it to soup, chop it up and add to salads or grain dishes (although it's a bit messier than if you cube it before cooking) or puree into a lovely side dish.

Are they real croissants, though, or just browned yeast rolls? I can't tell you how many times I've been deceived by the latter masquerading as croissants.

*sad trombone*

For the person with leftover coconut milk - I have bought powdered coconut milk at Thai and Indian grocery stores. Cheaper than the cans, works fine, and you only make as much as you need.

Check out La Caprice DC at 14th and Oak for very good croissants. Also baguettes.

I too love chickpea flour and rushed to make the farinata. I made it with asparagus, because it's one of the few vegetables my husband will eat (and I'm a vegetarian ...!). He said he really liked it, but it would have been better without the asparagus. He's been very derogatory about chickpeas so I didn't mention that ... .

Glad he liked it! You can certainly make it without ANYTHING in there, and then just pile on a salad (which he can pick off, of course).

RECIPE: Butternut Squash Farinata

Hi, are you going to have any articles coming up about what to make for Thanksgiving? Especially, how to put together a menu and how many dishes to make. I always end up with three types of potatoes and five pies for 10 people. I'm starting to make my list, and I'd love to hear some new ideas.

Our major Thanksgiving coverage will start Nov. 18! I've been mulling something along the lines of how-to-know-how-much-to-make, though, so this is good reinforcement!

make cabbage palascinta/crepes . This is a Hungarian dish. You saute the cabbage until it's dead, really dead - no zombie possibility. Then you add it to your batter and make the crepes. Serve with sour cream and apple sauce - absolutely delish.

Alice is so right. Scales make baking and cooking so much easier and they don't take lots of space. I bought my first kitchen scales in Paris in early 70s and since then have never been without. I would not dream of baking bread without them. Eventually I got into habit automatically weighing everything. Unfortunately many of the classic US printed pastry cookbooks do not give weights, some of the newer ones give weight in ounces only, even though grams are more precise, better for baking. Another thing my scales did for me, they turned me off the Farmers Markets. Their scales seem to be not accurate more often than not and rarely in my favor.

Annoying issue but if you convert the recipe from fluid measurements to grams or ounces once, just take notes on the recipe and the next time you will speed through measuring everything out.

There are some websites that can help you make some on the fly conversions, but it's best to just convert it by hand once and then you have the recipe designed for your scale.

Dorie Greenspan and Alice Medrich, together on one page, answering questions in the same chat! What a great early holiday present! Thank you WaPo. I have all of Dories books,( including the coauthored ones,) and many of Alice's books, and considering the scribbled notes and and grease spots l've used them often and a lot. Never had a failure. Now a question to both: what do you consider your most serious contribution to the culinary world, it could be a book, an article, a recipe, a technique, a cooking class, etc. ? In other words what are you most proud of?

Actually, just to clarify Dorie's going to be hosting her own separate chat immediately following this one. Here's the link, so maybe pop in there to ask her, too?

It's funny (to me at least) that people still seem to be surprised that Costco products are high quality. A retailer that big has the market power to buy from the best suppliers and still keep the costs to consumers low. It's a winning combination, at least in my experience. I don't apologize for buying at Costco.

Hi Rangers, I feel like I'm going a little crazy, but nearly every poblano pepper I've bought/used this year has been much spicier than in years past - could it be a regional growing thing? (I'm in DC - curious to hear if others have experienced the same thing.) Any idea where I can find a source for reliably non-spicy poblanos, preferably in upper NW DC? Thank you!

This may be an issue of cross-pollination on the farm. Different pepper varieties are notorious for cross-pollinating if they're planted close together. See this story. Perhaps the farmer that's growing your poblanos has planted them next to habaneros? (It wouldn't affect the peppers for this season, but it would affect the seeds harvested for future seasons.)


I don't know of an easy way to guarantee that your poblanos will have the heat your desire.  Other than growing your own!



Hi Free Rangers! I'm having a dinner party for good friends, six of us total. Last time we gathered I made the amazing mahogany short ribs, much to the delicious delight of my guests. Any suggestions along the same lines--easy, comforting, yummy--for what to make this time? Thank you for all you do!

Don't ask me how I know.

Hi, thanks for all you guys do - the food section is my favorite thing about the Washington Post! I have a couple of question about the torte recipe you posted this week. First, would it be doable to make these as cupcakes rather than a cake? I'd like to make it for a party, where a grab-and-go approach will be easier than an entire cake that needs to be cut and served. Also, can I substitute almond meal for the 5 ounces of whole almonds? If so, how would that alter the recipe? Thanks!

RECIPE Chocolate Almond Tweed Torte

The Tweed Torte is probably not quite right for cupcakes. The torte rises and sinks, so the cupcakes wont be tall or shapely. And I'm afraid that the results will be too fragile. 

Almond meal is fine instead of the almonds, just use the same weight of meal as the weight of almonds called for.  But frankly, since you have to grind up the chocolate in the processor anyway, why not start with whole almonds?  It's cheaper and whole almonds are always going to be fresher than almond meal or almond flour.   

Looking for help here. When I grill fish or anything that requires a well oiled grill, i suffer from the constant flame ups that add that gross taste to fish, steak, or chicken. Fish in particular. If i don't use enough oil, the fish sticks. Use what I need to keep the fish from sticking, I get oil fires. I can't find my happy medium.

Try brushing the fish lightly with oil after lightly spraying/oiling the grill. Then right before you flip the fish over to cook the other side, do the same thing (oil the fish slightly) and make sure to place the other side  of the fish on a clean part of grill that was just lightly oiled.

Ok, I had NO idea 25% of my yeast was dead before I even started. My bigger concern though, if I move to the SAF Instant Yeast how do I modify my recipes? I make a lot of calzones, cinnamon rolls, runzas and I want to make sure I don't ruin anything by switching. Is there a method to convert or is the instant the same as active dry basically? Thanks!

There is technically a small conversion - but truthfully - just substitute it 1 for 1. You will be amazed! Also, if you can't find rapid rise or instant yeast, you can always use fresh yeast. The method for using it is different. It must be dissolved in water or liquids of the recipe first, and you also need to multiply the instant dry yeast by 3 by weight to get the fresh yeast amount needed. Also, you need to reduce the water in the recipe by the difference between the fresh yeast and the dry yeast by weight. Sounds complicated. But that's another way to get rid of the active dry yeast.

Looks delicious...but I do not understand how slicing an apple 1/16th inch thick with a knife removes the apple core. Does not the core need to be cut/removed from each slice manually?

I'm going to move this over to Dorie's chat, coming up next, so stay tuned!

I have to put in a plug for this Gourmet/Smitten Kitchen recipe. It's SO GOOD! (Note that I've always had to bake it 40-45 mins, not 35-40 as Deb says.)

Thanks for sharing!

What budget staples would you recommend buying, besides beans?

Eggs, rice and dried grains, lentils, canned tomatoes, onions and potatoes last forever. Frozen peas can be great value. It's not exactly "budget" but plain yogurt has so many culinary uses and in larger tubs rather than single servings can be great value. Peanut butter is great value and can be used to make savory sauces or in baking as well as for sandwiches. And if you're a baker, flour, baking soda and cocoa powder can go a very long way!

I, on the other hand, am always surprised that people think Costco food products are high quality. I have yet to have food from there that is better than the average supermarket. Obviously, tastes vary greatly!

I do that a lot too when there is extra cabbage- I usually poach an egg to add on top to make a complete dinner.

Shred fine, then mix with cooked soba noodles, warm spicy peanut sauce & whatever other vegetables seem right (maybe shredded carrots & some sprouts.) Cabbage will wilt just a bit; this works with about two or three parts cabbage to one part noodles--& somehow the final salad seems to have more noodles than cabbage.

You'd probably have to catch a bus from the station, but it's not that far from the end of the Red Line.

This isn't really a question. It's more of a rant. I love to bake but it seems as if nobody in my circle of coworkers and family really bakes anymore. Whenever we have a potluck type meal it almost always features plastic containers of grocery store cookies or brownies made from a box mix. I just don't get it and I'm getting frustrated with people's ready acceptance of the lowest common denominator. That is all. Thank you for listening.

Hope you feel better now. :)

I lost a few favorite shows when WETA dropped Create in favor of WETA-UK (even though that led me to discover Doc Martin and the new Dr Who). I was delighted to learn that America's Test Kitchen is now on Netflix. I just finished watching their roasting of a spatchcocked turkey. Now only if Pati Jinich's show pops up.

Yes, that is dangerous! I plan to binge sometime soon.

I too miss Create but love being able to stumble upon "Downtown Abbey" or GBBO on the UK channel.

I have a new deep freeze and now have lots of room for storage. I am thinking of storing my grains/flours. What is the best storage container, do I remove the product from the original bag first? What about cocoa, I have some that has been around about a year. Should I freeze that?

Sounds like you have more storage space than I do at Osteria Morini! I am jealous. Like at work, I try to purchase ingredients only as I need them - limiting what needs to be held in stock or frozen. However, you can freeze most items in a container that is then wrapped in plastic wrap to minimize air contact. I've never tried to freeze cocoa before. It really holds up very well and for long periods outside of the freezer. If you are worried that your ingredients are not fresh, be careful because that will impact the quality of your cooking and baking.

In recipes that do not state the weight of apples needed, and instead say 3 cups, how do you really know how much 3 cups of sliced apples are? It depends on the size of your measuring vessel, size and thickness of slices, etc. Any suggestions?

I hope we will all move towards putting all of these weights in our recipes, but until then here is what to do. Slice the apples as described in the recipe, measure the 3 level cups, then jot down the weight for next time. 

Saw the suet pudding episode on GBBO - is this lard with a Brit name? Or is it something else unobtainable here?

Suet is the solid white fat around the kidneys and loins in animals such as cows and sheep. Similar to lard but not the same. Not sure if anyone sells it in these parts!

For the person looking for the Swedish princess cakes - there is a Swiss bakery in NoVA with two locations - one on Ravensworth in the Annandale area, the other on Old Keene Mill in the Burke area. My neighbor is Austrian and says their stuff is as close to European as she can find around here. I don't know if they have the cakes, but it would be worth a call, I'd think...

Good to know, thanks for the lead.

How about, I become a gay man (instead of a hetero woman) so I can get to "(eat) the pastries and desserts that I bring home at the end of the day..."

This is getting a little awkward!

One of the cooking magazines - I forget which - had an article about biscuits by Ruth Reichl this month. I had such high hopes, but they came out flat, as does almost every biscuit I touch these days. (with the exception of Bittman's yogurt bisuits) I was so sad, because I love her, and I wanted them to work.

I talked to Ruth about her approach to recipe writing, which, to put it charitably, is loose. (I should say that I love her prose in writing recipes; they're funny and idiosyncratic.) But they are open-ended; they're not air-tight and designed to be slavishly followed. She leaves things open for home cooks to improvise. This has its pros and cons.

I wish a small container -- jar, bag, box, can, carton -- of whatever cost the same per ounce as the larger container. I hate paying more per ounce but also hate throwing out uneaten food! Let's start a campaign or something ...

It's frustrating isn't it? If only economics would encourage practical behavior. Only buying the amount you need! How revolutionary.  Buuuut the silver lining is that sometimes having too much of something and having to use it up has stretched my creative muscles and resulted in some great discoveries. :)

Not a question, but thank you so much for a lively and interesting chat! As a result, I've bookmarked a ton of WP recipes and am thinking of making farinata.

I only bake a cake once a year or so. No matter how much I pull that lever I can never get out all the flour. I wrap it tight but invariable when I pull it out it has moth larva or remains. So I toss it and get another. Do you wash a sifter with soap and water each time? How do you keep it from being a paste mess? I can't even get to all those nooks and crannies. sorry years of frustration coming out

All tools have a shelf life. I replace my sifters once a year too because they usually break from overuse. But, if you are having an issue with cleaning the sifter, I would suggest cleaning it really well, then placing it in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. That should deep clean it. If you want to sanitize beyond that, you can dunk it into a bowl of cold water that has a bit of bleach in it. Make sure -- very important -- that the sifter is totally dry before you put it away. I usually place mine in the oven to make sure it's totally water free before putting it away. Hope that helps.

I have not yet read Leanne Brown's "Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day" but I'll thank her now for the challenge. Some life changes in my recent past have me looking very carefully at my budget: I've had two years practice living on $11 a day for food. "Food" includes anything bought at the grocery store (lots of non-food necessities; also the dog's food) and also any prepared foods bought during travelling. I do my own cooking, love to cook, have a library of at least 500 cookbooks on which to draw, and love the Post's Food Section. So you think I can get it down to $4 a day? I'll give it a try. Now if Carolyn Hax could chime in and tell me how to suppress the (bad words omitted here) feelings I get when I read about meals which cost $200-300 per person in certain restaurants...and if she won't do that, maybe Michelle Singletary can teach me how to afford one of those meals once in a lifetime.

Certainly if you don't need to eat on $4 a day I wouldn't really encourage it! It's not a challenge, but a reality for millions of Americans. But with $11 a day I hope you can get some ideas from the book and maybe save some more money :)

Unless things have changed in the past year, it is incredibly difficult to get a reservation to Noma. I was not successful, so I went to Amass based upon the Washington Post article. I did not enjoy the food at Amass. If you are interested in the idea of foraged food, go, but I've had far more memorable and satisfying meals for a fraction of the price. I would recommend going to Mikkeller for beer and signing up for a food tour of the city.

Well, I'm sorry to hear that. The chef at Amass, Matt Orlando, grows many of his own ingredients in planters in the back of the restaurant.


But I as noted before, ALL restaurants in Copenhagen are expensive. Even "mid-priced" restaurants will run you a couple hundred dollars.

My husband has a seriously sweet teeth - like "need dessert after every meal" sweet. I tend to buy some Chips Ahoy-esque cookies (because I don't find them tempting), but would rather make some good (tasty, but with better "real" ingredients) stuff for the cookie jar. Can you make some recommendations for stuff that's tasty, but has at least a little bit of healthy goodness (and doesn't need refrigeration)? I do do fruit crisps, but that requires making one more thing some nights.

Make and scoop his favorite cookies. The scooped cookies can be frozen and then you can pull out a few every few days, bake them and have fresh cookies whenever you need. It makes a lot more sense to me do that as opposed to baking 30 or 40 cookies and then having too many left over. Also, I come from an apple eating family -- I love a great Honeycrisp apple for dessert at home from time to time -- it's sweet and delicious.

Alice: this is my go to celebratory dessert, and in flipping back and forth between your cookbooks (I have three), see that you characterize it as pretty creatively flexible. I have visions of bourbon and pecans, rather than brandy and almonds, and wondered if you have any recommendations of flavoring and add-in combinations that have worked spectacularly well for you?

Bourbon and pecans for sure!  Any other combo of nuts and booze that you like together will be good in the Queen of Sheba as well.  I'm used walnuts (toasted or untoasted) hazelnuts etc. You can omit the alchohol completely.  You can add orange zest if you like.  You can decrease flour and increase nuts.  You can check out my latest book, Flavor Flours and try the version with Teff Flour!  It's fitting since Sheba was the Ethiopian Queen and Teff is the Ethiopian flour.  Have fun with this recipe.

Well, you've transferred us to wire racks to cool completely, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks, all, for the great q's -- and to our guests for the a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who first asked about using up cabbage will get "Good and Cheap." The one who asked about substituting whole grain flour for white will get "Real Sweet." Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

AND don't forget, if you want to keep talking about baking (or other cooking), head on over right now to Dorie Greenspan's chat!


In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Leanne Brown
Leanne Brown is the author of "Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day."
Alice Medrich
Baking expert Alice Medrich is the author most recently of "Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake With Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole and Ancient Grains, Nuts and Non-Wheat Flours."
Alex Levin
Alex Levin is the executive pastry chef at Osteria Morini.
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