Free Range on Food

Oct 26, 2011

Today's topics: Bringing oysters from water to plate, smoking pumpkins, making your own wine and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Is something in the air today? We're still having some problems with the chat -- you might see some answers that look larger than others, things are moving slower than usual, Free Range isn't listed on the homepage -- but we're going to rise to the challenge and answer as many questions as we can. In addition to Tim Carman, Food aide Becky Krystal and Chat Leftovers guru Jane Touzalin, we've got Smoke Signals/pumpkin meister Jim Shahin, Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick and the ever-Spirited Jason Wilson on standby and will ferry their answers across the Internet pond. So what's on your mind today: oysters, a la Sourced? DIY winemaking? Gulp -- Thanksgiving? 

We've got 2 magical cookbooks to give away to 2 lucky, patient chatters. Winners will be announced at the end of the chat; Editor Joe's out today.

And away we go.  


An inordinate amount of condensation seems to accumulate inside plastic containers/lids and bags in my refrigerator -- like, inside a bag of carrots that haven't even been peeled or cut up. Does this mean I have the temp set too cold?

If your temperature really were set too cold, you'd be seeing ice, not condensation, inside your plastic. Condensation is going to build up whenever you have food in an airtight environment, especially if it started out hot or warm and then was chilled.

I keep an inexpensive thermometer in my fridge so I can make sure it's at the preferred temp, which is roughly between 35 and 39 degrees. You might want to try that. And if you have doubts about whether your fridge is working right, call the manufacturer's customer service folks and ask. You paid them a lot for the fridge; might as well get your money's worth out of them!

My sister in law is expecting next month. I'd like to prepare some dishes that can be frozen and cooked when they are ready to eat it. Are there foods that can't be frozen? Can pasta be frozen? What about chicken kiev? Thanks a bunch!!

Have a look at our Make It, Freeze It, Take It recipes. For more advice, you should consult this stellar freezer guide graphic we had the other year.

Lemon Chicken and Rice Casserole

Years ago I attempted to make fresh pumpkin and it turned out horribly. Well up until last weeks' chat I had no idea why. Then you glorious foodies made it ALL better. I had used a jack-o-lantern pumpkin instead of a cooking pumpkin. I had NO idea there was an alternative type. Either way, last night I roasted my first PIE pumpkin and it turned out beautifully! I also was able to use my new food processor to puree after and it was BLISS. Thanks guys!

Glad to hear it! It does seem counterintuitive, doesn't it? That you can't use a Jack 'o' Lantern pumpkin for a roasted pumpkin.

I read the Smoke Signals piece on the Martin Luther King barbecue booth, and wondered if the Smithsonian has ever tried to find it for the American History museum. Jim, what do you know?

Jim says:  I don't know whether the Smithsonian has interest in finding the Aleck's Barbecue Heaven booth where King spent many hours with leaders of the civil rights movement. I think it would be great if they did. But I only raised it in my blogpost as a thought. To have something so humble in the Smithsonian would be, I think, a kind of "living" reminder of the man himself.

Is there anywhere in the D.C. area where I can buy leaf lard year round? I've heard rumors that it pops at a certain farmers markets from time to time, but I'm hoping to find a place where I can buy it any day of the week in any season. Thanks!

Hmm...I have some in my freezer. Do I hear an opening bid?

Groff's Content, a vendor at the year-round  FreshFarm Market in Silver Spring, has leaf lard. You can also order it from, which sets up at other FreshFarm markets in the Washington area -- but they need some lead time.

If anyone has a solution, it's you, Kemo Sabes -- the Free Rangers. I'd like to offer both the traditional tooth-rotting candy and some healthier alternatives to Trick-or-Treaters this year. The problem is, while it's easy to find small, individually-wrapped candies (and they're inexpensive), it's not so easy to think of small, individually-wrapped healthy foods, unless I offer, say, single-serving yogurt containers -- and I think that might get me toilet-papered by displeased kiddies. I appreciate that parents want to be sure the goodies haven't been tampered with, and that means each item has to be factory-sealed. So, it's not an option to bake something or offer apples, oranges, mini-boxes of raisins or the like. What do you suggest?

A few ideas, and I'm sure others have more: Mini-bags of pretzels or animal crackers; fruit roll-ups or fruit leather; sugar-free gum (or other sugar-free candies); dark chocolate mini-bars/nuggets instead of less-healthful milk chocolate; gummy candies. Go to a store such as Whole Foods or MOMs Organic Market and look around; there should be plenty there to get you started.

Could use some ingredient wisdom. I am going to be making tamales for Thanksgiving, (my family indulges me every other year in serving whatever I want!)and I want to step up the ingredients. How should I go about sourcing the best-tasting lard I can? And, secondarily, should I consider straying from my usual Bob's Red Mill masa?

Funny you should ask. I was just making some phone calls about lard. For high-quality, visit the vendors at our area farmers markets. North Mountain Pastures, which is at the Takoma Park and Silver Spring markets, sells a combination of back fat and leaf lard. And Truck Patch Farms, which is at the Mount Pleasant, 14th & U and Bloomingdale markets, carries leaf lard as well.

Bob's Red Mill is known for having good stuff, but does anyone have another favorite masa?

Hi! Thanks for taking my question--do you have any suggestions for an entree that would pair well with pumpkin beer, specifically Dogfishhead?

Let's go straight to the source. Dogfish recommends pairing their pumpkin beer with "turkey, roasted duck, lamb, stuffing, dessert dumplings."

Hey guys, I tried going to the source but haven't heard back yet, so I thought I'd try you. I recently made Alton Brown's version of gumbo, where you bake the roux, and loved it! It's the first time I had ever gotten my roux to that dark of a color without burning it. However, I'm cooking for just two people, and the recipe serves 6. I was wondering if I could freeze part of it for later. Do you think gumbo would take well to freezing? Should I set the freezing portion aside before adding the meat? Also, since I'm already taking about three hours to make the soup, how hard do you think it would be to just double the recipe? My only concern with that is I don't know if I would need to increase the baking temperature or time for the roux (the recipe calls for 4 T each oil and flour to be baked at 350 F for 1 and a 1/2 hours. The rest of the recipe is pretty normal for a gumbo recipe using file powder instead of okra). Thanks for the help guys!

Gumbo recipes aren't hard to double -- you just need a BIG pot. For the purposes of roasting the roux, I'd go by how it looks rather than automatically doubling the time it takes to make a single batch. And totally finished gumbos freeze well. I usually do mine in 2-portion servings, with a large scoop of cooked rice on the bottom. Heat and eat, baby!

Hi, two questions on my mind today. Starting to think about Thanksgiving and wondered if the wine guy had any suggestions for a reasonably priced (under $15) wine to serve. We will have three serious wine drinkers and 9 guests who will probably drink one glass, if that. Also, we are part of a group having a 60's dinner party; dessert is my course. I have decided to make Julia Child's chocolate mousse, but figured I might need some type of cookie/bar that was popular in the 60s to serve with it. Looking for "easy". Any suggestions? Thanks so much for your inspiring chat each week!

How well can you handle delayed gratification? Wine guy Dave McIntyre responds: I will have a Recession Buster Thanksgiving pick in next week's column: an offbeat pinot gris from an unexpected region that should surprise, confound and ultimately delight your guests. And later in the month I'll have some more turkey-day suggestions at a variety of price ranges. So stay tuned!

As for your second question: With that mousse, you want something thin and crisp. I nominate almond tuiles or maybe some kind of lace cookie. You can leave them flat or, since it's a party,bend them into nice shapes. I wouldn't call them '60s, but I'd call them timeless.

I didn't see Jane's caution until after, but bottles have seals, numbers, etc like other premium EVOOs we've bought, so I think it is legit.

Does it have a "use by" date, or date when it was bottled? I just bought a bottle of Fall 2011 bottle of extra-virgin (16 ounces, $20) from Dean and Deluca -- yes pricey but I never mind paying for good olive oil.

You can find lard in the Hispanic foods section (not the one where they have Old El Paso brands, real brands food like Nestle's Abuelita Chocolate, corn husks, Sazon, etc.) or find a Hispanic supermercado. (I live in Minnesota and can find lard)

Hi free rangers, I love that winter squash is in season but I'm stuck on the same boring default of cutting it in half and roasting with some butter and brown sugar. Any other ways to cook it that don't require a lot of prep?

How about a microwave-oven combo, as in Joe's Pasta With Miso Squash recipe from last week.

Pasta With Miso Squash

I know most people are not thinking about thanksgiving, except you guys. Can you point me to the list that was published last year on where to order Turkeys. I could not find it and I complete forgot which farm I order mine from, all I can remember is that it was delicious. Thanks!

Here's last year's list. I'm just about done with this year's, so be on the lookout for that next week.

For the person w/ the Alton Brown gumbo recipe. I saw a Cook's Illustrated TV show where they made roux by toasting the flour for a few minutes, then adding the oil and cooking for maybe 10 minutes to acheive a peanut butter shade. This technique could shave more than an hour from the roux making part of the recipe.

Afternoon Rangers! I was hoping you could help me for a dinner idea for tomorrow night. I have a good friend coming over and want to make something we'll both love but that doesn't require me to be cooking for hours on end and is on the healthier side of the scale. I know she's a huge mushroom fan (neither of us are vegetarian though) so I was thinking of stuffed portobellos but the recipe search came up a bit short. That said, I would happily go another route instead. Any ideas? Thanks!

You could try Mushroom MeltsPortobellos Stuffed With Caramelized Onions and Manchego or the make-ahead Pressed Veggie Sandwich. With portobellos, I tend to go simple. Marinate in some balsamic, put on the grill or in the grill pan and serve it on a nice roll or ciabatta with some roasted red peppers, greens and maybe a smear of cheese.

We are very fortunate to be retired on another NN tidal river/creek. I've had great luck with oysters from the Tidewater Oyster Growers Association (TOGA) fairs growing in floats tied to our dock. We're especially fortunate that the VA Dept of Environmental Quality tests yearly because of all the commercial oystering on the river so we know they are safe. I don't much like oysters (I know!) but grow because of the water quality improvement but any oyster eaters who have ours just rave about how sweet they are. Go TOGA!

What's a twist on the traditional pumpkin pie recipe that i can use this year for something new and different?

Any suggestions for a quick dessert that can travel. I need a dessert for a weekday dinner party that I need to bring. Chocolate is always good as their will both kids and adults involved, a total of about 10. No time to bake a cake!

Quick... chocolate ... kid-friendly. Survey says:

Quick No-Bake S'mores Bars or Chocolate Rice Crispies

chocolate rice crispies

I made some center cut, bone-in roasted pork chops with apple chutney the other night for dinner. While delicious, I did find the chops to be a bit on the dry side. The recipe did NOT ask you to sear the chops before roasting and had you cook on low for 4 - 4.5 hours. I cooked them for 4. Any ideas on why they turned out dry? They were about 1.25" thick. Thanks!

Stephanie Sedgwick writes:

I have more than a few ideas. First, skip the slow cooker. Center-cut pork chops are way too lean to be cooked for a long time, even at low heat. They'd be better served by searing and then cooking in a simmering liquid for about 10 minutes (5 on each side). Or, brine them and then throw on the grill. If you want to stick with the slow cooker, another option would be to try the country cut chops, which come from the ends of the loin and are
fattier. You might have more success with this cut. Costco cuts large slices which are particularly good for the cooking method you've described.

I was hoping when i first started reading you would have one. You didnt publish one. Do you have one?

We have several, in fact. I highlighted one version in my Key Ingredient blog post yesterday. Two others: Hoppin' John's Oyster Stew and Urbanna Oyster Stew With Surry Ham.

oyster stew

I'm curious, do we become more sensitive to onions as we get older or have I just encountered a particularly strong batch of onions recently? I have never had issues with onions but now they are making my nose sting and eyes gush.

I've not heard or read anything about an increasing sensitivity to onions as you age (which means nothing, of course; I haven't read a lot of things!). It could be that some onions just have more of the compounds, amino acid sulfoxides, that cause eye irritation.

Regardless of the reason for your sudden weepiness around these white bulbs, I suggest you adopt one of these ten tricks from Epicurious. You might suffer far less over chopped onions.

I've never had Maytag Cheese but would like to try. (A) Where can I find it locally and (B) how is it used - as an app. or in a recipe or both?. Have a good recipe for it?

Maytag is an excellent American blue cheese, made with cow's milk, and it's often available at Whole Foods. It's not cheap, though. The P Street Whole Foods, for example, sells it for $17.99 a pound. You can usually pick up a smaller wedge for about$6.

Because of its pungency, blue cheese needs a forceful partner on the plate to stand up to its strong flavor. Blue cheese is great when crumbled and sprinkled on salads, particularly if the salad also includes fruit and nuts, like pears and walnuts. Try this Apple, Pear and Walnut Salad.

You can also sprinkle it on grilled meats, like steaks and hamburgers. You can even mix it into the ground beef like with this delicious-sounding recipe for Blue Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Sliders.

Blue cheese can also be included in a pasta filling or as part of a dessert, like crumbled over poached pears with honey. Or even used in Blue Cheese Walnut Cookies. (See photo above.)

Here's a whole mess more of recipes that incorporate blue cheese.

my in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving. They eat vegan at home but are not strict when going out or visiting as it's for health and medical reasons not ethical. They do want turkey as the main but I'm tring to be considerate for the side dishes. I really want to make a mushroom bisque but am nervous about flavor. Any ideas for great sides. I don't often make heavy meals but when i do make mashed potatoes I am a butter and milk girl. Thanks

We had a bunch of vegan Thanksgiving recipes last year. 

The Michelin Guide for San Francisco came out this week. It's rankings differ greatly from both Zagat and the San Francisco Chronicle. Do you think this is due to Europeans having a different view than Americans of how a restaurant should function and be evaluated?

There are likely many reasons for this split of opinion, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it boils down to the fact that Michelin ratings are based on individual critics, not the public. These critics tend to focus on the very technical aspects of cooking and points of service, reserving their highest ratings for those places that hit the mark on all fronts. The public for Zagat ratings are self-selected (meaning they vote when they decide to, not when someone calls them randomly for a survey) and tend overrate their experiences at restaurants. Zagat has been suffering from ratings creep for years.

I use to like your weekly columns, but for the past several weeks they have seemed to focus on the exotic rather than the kinds of things every day folks eat.. Is there a reason?

You mean like those exotic pumpkins and oysters?

Food is personal, and your exotic may be someone else's everyday bite. Now granted, last week's feature spread on baby ginger was a departure. It's an ingredient that you won't find at your local Safeway. But it's good to remember that a generation ago, people thought risottos and stir-fries were exotic.

In other words, food trends change, and we here at the Food section try to keep you informed about things you eat today -- and things you might eat tomorrow.

I just tried to sign up as a volunteer for the Metro Cooking Show in DC in November and while looking over the schedule I see that Joe will be honored as a James Beard Award winner, Newspaper Food Section - volunteer or not I will be attending and congrats to Joe

We'll pass that along to Joe. He's hit the big time, appearing with all those celebrities.

I've seen it at the Latino markets.

When a recipe calls for carrots, can I use those peeled baby carrots that are usually used for snacking? My boyfriend just bought a giant bag of them and I'd love to cook with some of them, unless they're fundamentally different from regular sized carrots

I'd say it sort of depends on the recipe. Baby carrots are, by and large, cultivated to be sweeter and more tender than their larger cousins. If your recipe can stand such characteristics, I'd say use them. If not, you're going to need ot make a grocery store run!

Bonnie, What brand of olive oil has managed to get a fall 2011 to our shores already? Would love to know!

Tiburtini (looks like Tibvrtini on the label).

I am going to visit Michigan in a week and am very excited that my favorite apple cider donut shop will still be open! I've always raved about these donuts to my friends/bf and want to bring some back. Do you think I could buy them in MI, freeze them, then let them thaw while I travel home? Is there a way I can stop them from drying out?

It apparently depends on what kind of doughnuts you are looking to freeze. According to this document from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, raised doughnuts freeze better than cake doughnuts. Assuming your doughnuts are raised and glazed, the problem for you will not be drying out, but losing the glaze as the treats start to thaw. The document offers suggestions for both freezing and thawing.

I've always been intrigued by sweet potato/black bean burrito recipes but have yet to try one. It seems a lot of them either have a load of cheese or rice, and I really don't want either. Do you think I can omit the cheese/rice and still have a tasty filling?

Certainly, although it seems like blasphemy since I'm the Pepper Jack Queen. I did something similar for me and my husband the other day, actually. I roasted two sweet potatoes (combo microwave and oven) and then mashed them. In my skillet, I cooked some onion and garlic and once those softened up nicely, added the potatoes -- I'd add the cooked or canned black beans here if you want those in there too (or you can mash them a bit along with the potatoes). Now's where you can have some fun with your spice cabinet. I decided to do some ground cinnamon, cumin and chipotle powder, but do whatever suits your taste. Throw that slop in a tortilla, add some cilantro, toast it up in your cast iron skillet or broiler, and there you go. And if you feel compelled to throw in a liiiiiittle cheese, I would fully endorse that!

Everything I need to know about the McRib I learned from the Simpsons episode where Krusty Burger starts selling the Ribwich...

What haven't we learned from one episode of "The Simpsons" or another?

I have a fantasy about this. If we all stop talking and tweeting about McRib, maybe it will go away.

Ok, Free Rangers. A very generous friend recently gifted me his old crock-pot. While I'm thrilled to receive a culinary fixture from my childhood, I realize that the only recipe I know that requires a crock-pot is my mother's meat spaghetti sauce. Other ideas for how to use this tool? On a related note, I'm a little leery of leaving things cooking unsupervised. But that's the point right? You just turn it on in the morning and leave it for an evening meal?

Wow, the list is endless. In addition to making the usual main dishes, slow-cookers can be used for desserts, making stock, cooking oatmeal, and I could go on and on. But really what you need is a good cookbook -- and I don't mean the kind that might have come with the pot. Try a modern cookbook like one by Beth Hensperger and you'll see how versatile your pot can be. As to safety, if slow-cookers weren't safe, squillions of them wouldn't be sold. Just follow the directions, use common sense and you should be just fine.

Interestingly enough I had no problem getting to this site today unlike other days because the link was posted on Facebook and I just clicked on it.

Yeah, our chat system has been ailing of late so that's why you've probably had problems finding the link on the Post's home page. But I will make sure I continue to post the link on our Facebook page!

An eggplant recipe calls for Thai pepper-coriander paste. Is this something I can make by mixing some sort of hot sauce with cilantro? Or, any idea where it can be purchased?

Here's a recipe from the Asia Society. It looks very simple to make.

Don't WaPo's higher-ups and the tech department understand how important this chat is? First, the chat isn't even listed as part of the weekly chat lineup (!). Then, I had to call up an old chat and replace the date with this one in order to submit the night before -- And really, I'd wanted to submit even earlier 'cause I think my question may require some research. (I'm submitting it separately.) Next-to-last, it took days for last week's chat to become available online (and I needed to double-check something before making a recipe that was discussed there). And, last, if you do get attention paid to all of this, please put this in the mix: It'd be really, really great to be able to search the chat archives the way we can search recipes -- Input a key word and all the chats with that word come up. As it is now, we have to go chat-by-chat to find what we want, if we don't happen to remember what date it was discussed. I know you Rangers would like for all of this to happen. Do you think this nudging by readers helps? Do we need a "critical mass" of appeals or complaints? ("critical mass" -- sounds like lumpy pizza dough or something...).

We hear ya. The last week or so have not been the best time for our chat system due to various problems. I'll inquire about a search function, because you're right that it was really helpful on the old site. For now, you can try doing a Google site search that incorporates "Free Range on Food" and whatever you're looking for.

Thanks for your determination to get here! We really do appreciate and will try to get everything smoothed out.

A popular Indian dessert Badam Barfi (Almond diamonds) is served during Diwali. It is easy to make. One basically needs a cup of whole almonds (soaked and skinned), I cup of sugar, 2 Tbspns of ghee or butter, 1/3 cup of whole milk, a pinch of cardomom. Make a fine paste of the almonds by adding milk. Add sugar and whip up the mixture. Heat ghee add the almond paste, lower the heat to medium and stir the almond paste constantly till the mixture thickens and becomes like a dough. Pour this out on to a greased pan. Smoothen the surface --it should flatten out to make it 1 inch thick. Let it cool for about 20 minutes. Cut one inch squares or diamond shapes. Separate the squares. These can be stored in an airtight container and can be stored in the refrigerated for a month or so. Each square wrapped in a candy wrapper or foil can be served as treats during Halloween. I am sure WPost staff know about this but since it is Diwali I thought of mentioning it once again.

Thanks! I threw together a little Diwali blog post this morning with a few more ideas.

Since Shahin smoked pumpkin successfully - wonder if the same would be true with various winter squashes????

From Jim:

Yes, but you have to be aware of the density and water content of the squash. Some take better to smoking than others. For example, a butternut squash takes well to the grill. A spaghetti squash, not as well.

My advice is to halve whatever squash you use, grill it for a couple of minutes, then move it to the indirect side of the grill and smoke, lightly (some chips, not chunks) at medium-high heat for awhile. It's impossible to specify a time because squashes come in so many different sizes. I'd say you could let pretty much any squash go for at least a half-hour, slide a fork into it to test doneness, then test about every 10-15 minutes after that. You want it soft, but not mushy. Good luck!

Over time, I've learned to wrap my veggies/herbs in paper towels to help absorb moisture before bagging, and kinda slide the paper towel with the towel facing up in the bag of carrots too. Also I fold the paper towels to fit and place on top of the veggies in containers then snap the lid on. Works like a charm. :)

I can't find sesame paste anymore at the grocery in DC Chinatown. It really does make much better sesame noodles than using peanut butter alone. Anyone have a source? Thanks in advance.

Tahini can be found at most grocery stores these days. I bought some at the P Street Whole Foods recently. They had a few different brands.

Could I use white miso instead of red? I have a tub in the fridge that I need to use up!

Red is a stronger flavored miso, since it's fermented with barley and other grains. The white miso tends to be lighter and sweeter; it's not intended for the heartier recipes that call for red miso. Here's a short primer on miso from The Kitchn.

I have a pint of cherry tomatoes that I'm just not eating in a salad in this weather. What else can I do with them?

Olive-Oil-Poached Cherry Tomato Sauce, from Mike Isabella. Though you'll need some more than what you have. Or just throw them over some pasta uncooked.

I love smoked anything, and kudos to Jim for pushing the envelope a bit. It sounds amazing, and pumpkin is so versatile that it could be used in other dishes as well (ravioli?). Can I also nominate "flavor profile of a forest fire" as the best-yet description of something that is overly smoked? I have a very high tolerance for smoke flavor intensity, but this description is the first one I've ever read that was off-putting even to me.

Your chat the other week inspired me to make chicken stock from scratch for the first time, thanks! For my next chicken adventure I'd like to try roasting a whole bird. I'm sure that in hindsight this will be a pretty easy process, but any recipes/tips for a first timer?

Yes: Basic Roast Chicken. But you can also put a whole of halved lemon in the cavity, in addition to some fresh herbs, for some more flavor.

I always buy the cheap stuff in the international section of the grocery. Can't remember the name, but the package is yellow and green. Has never let me down.

Amazing how you don't think of your own food as exotic. Some members of my family will only eat "American" foods. They came to visit, and my tacos were too exotic for them. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had made curry!

David Hagedorn here. I was really impressed by how much the authorities are on top of the situation. Bruce told me they test the water there on a regular basis, which is good for everybody. He also attests to the special balance of the merquoi in Nomini Creek that protects it from the elements and the bad things that can float down river, especially from the water treatment plant.

From David Hagedorn, re: blue cheese. The Bay Blue form local cheese maker Holly Foster at Chapel's Country Creamery in Easton, MD is an excellent blue cheese that rivals, if not surpasses, Maytag. It's a farmstead cheese, meaning it's made from her own (Jersey) cows on the farm where the cows are raised.

I'm spending thanksgiving with my boyfriend's family. His parents have gone gluten-free and have also cut carbs and sugar from their diet. 2 of his 4 siblings follow this diet as well (de facto, since they still live at home). Is it rude if I bring a pie or the mac & cheese I traditionally made for my own family's dinner to be enjoyed by those of us without dietary restrictions? I don't want to offend, but last year I missed that element among the spread of various meats

Hm. There's definitely a bit of a Carolyn Hax element to this, but I say just ask! Tell them you want to share your family recipes for those not on the restricted diets, but only if they're comfortable with it.

As someone about to become a new parent for the second time, I like frozen soups. Ones that are hearty with protein, like meat or beans, make a great meal for lunch OR dinner - flexibility is nice - and they are quick to reheat on the stovetop, unlike casseroles, etc. Also, I just want to note that while it's so nice to think of the new parents in your lives and bring them food, consider who they are and if they like to cook or not before making the effort - if they enjoy cooking, they may be eager to get back into the kitchen! When I had my first, I could not wait to whip up something homemade after a couple days of hospital food! Cooking relaxes me and is my hobby, so it brought me pleasure and comfort at the time. Offering to watch the baby while THEY cook might be more enjoyable for them ;)

Very thoughtful advice. Thanks!

Some grocery stores have, in the same section as the bagged candy, bags of mini granola bars, etc. Also, I saw mini bags of Haribo gummy bears at World Market the other day--still sugary, but gummies are usually fat-free.

Thanks for the suggestions.

I find that white onions make me weep, but yellow do not. Maybe the poster wants to try yellow? Both in supermarket, around same price.

That's interesting. Some folks say that yellow onions make them weep more because the bulbs are apparently higher in sulfur. But we'll pass this along... has a section of just crock pot recipes. I would stick with the ones that have lots of ratings. I figure if a few hundred people managed to not burn their house down, I should be able to manage the same thing

is excellent on grilled lamb burgers. Get good rolls, brush with garlic/thyme/olive oil mixture, and toast alongside.

I recently won the America's Test Kitchen slow cooker cookbook (don't know the exact title) in a WP chat. I know the food section reviewed it not too long ago. So far every recipe I've tried has come out great. They have recipes for everything from soups to braised meats for taco filling to caramelized onions in the crock pot. They even have desserts! I must say, their recipe for Chili-Mac was the definition of comfort food! I would make it even more, but my waist-line has kindly begged me not to.

Is it possible for the farmers market listings to be organized in a more friendly format? By day and by location would be immensely helpful. Even lines separating the listings would make it a bit easier. Just a suggestions, thanks!

I'm totally with you on this. We still had some kinks to work out in our new web publishing system this year, but I'm hoping to improve the list for next year. Maybe even revive the map we used to have.

The other issue about Michelin in the U.S. is that their people are suspect. Back when they did ratings for Los Angeles, we were all left scratching our heads at their choices - they gave multiple stars to restaurants that just weren't very good, period. I don't think they have the same level of talent here in the U.S., and seem to be swayed by publicists and the like, rather than actual dining experiences.

Yes, individual critics do have their biases and varying levels of knowledge. But Michelin critics work to protect their anonymity. I don't know how many publicists know who the Michelin critics are.

I'm the one who asked about how to make pumpkin puree at home last week. After all of the debate about cut side up vs cut side down, I was really curious, so I cut the pumpkin in half and roasted one cut side up and the other cut side down. I can report that in my (admittedly non-scientific) test, the cut side down one cooked much faster than the cut side up one, but didn't get much browning / caramelization. The cut-side up one went into a curried pumpkin soup, and some of the cut side down one went into pumpkin muffins - both delicious!

Hey, thanks for the report!

My fiance and I are having a halloween party this weekend. We recently moved in together and combined our belongings, including our alcohol. We now have too much (I know, tough problem, huh?) and would like to make a drink or two that is Halloween themed using Grey Goose vodka, Bacardi rum or Bombay gin. I found some on the recipe finder, such as Satan's WHiskers and Maiden's Prayer but also do not want to have to buy a ton of extra bottles of alcohol when we're trying to clear out space. Do you have any recommendations for an easy drink? Thank you!

Jason says:

Easy and holiday-themed? The easiest drink you could make with Bombay gin is to go buy some dry vermouth and make martinis, and call it a scary name? But if you want to get rid of booze, punch is probably your best bet. Try this Gin Punch  or this Spiced Rum Punch.

I have bakewise cookbook but i'm finding lots of recipe require a baking stone. What can I use in its stead, or what happens if i just put the baking pan in the oven per usual?

Some, such as Joe, use a cast iron skillet.

I'll admit it, I'm one of those baby-boomers who doesn't like gin. And, yes, it is the juniper berries. I don't like juniper berries in food, either. Having said that, I'm willing to give gins other than the standard London Dry types a try. Instead of buying a bunch of bottles that I might not like, is there anywhere that gives tasting of different kinds of gins, the way one can try different kinds of wines or beers? A flight of gins, so to speak?

From Jason Wilson:

Well, admiting is the first step in the process. I would steer you immediately toward Plymouth if you just can't do the London Dry. Or perhaps Bluecoat, which has a more citrus than juniper profile. But as for trying
before buying, I think any of the good cocktail joints in town has a wide selection of gins you could try in different cocktails -- Jack Rose, the Passenger, PS7s, Tabard Inn, Estadio and many many others. They don't do flights of gins, per se -- you don't usually take gins straight -- but the bartenders there can surely guide through a tasting of what they have.

Well, that wasn't so smooth. Hope things are resolved, O lords of the techno spirits, so we can deal with the backlog of questions we couldn't get to/publish today.

Thanks for hanging in there, chatters. And now for today's winners: The chatter who asked about the turkey ordering list will receive a copy of Andrew Carmellini's "Amercan Flavor" (already a hit and on our shortlist of best 2011 cookbooks), and the chatter who asked about slow cooker pork chops gets "50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker." Send your mailing address to or so we can send the books to you.  

Till next week, Happy Halloweening, and happy cooking and eating!

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