Free Range on Food: Efficient food prep, GMOs and more

Nov 13, 2013

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 Free Range! Today's chat is focused on cooking efficiency because, well, it's always a good idea -- but also because we're nearing that Super Bowl of cooking holidays, when time is of the essence even more than usual.

To that end, Tim writes in today's section about putting ScratchDC (a make-it-yourself-from-their-prepped-kits service) through its paces, and comparing it to buying and chopping everything himself -- and to starting with as many pre-prepped supermarket items as possible. Fascinating results. Bonnie offers advice on how to cook smarter.

In other food news, Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin went to the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue contest -- both to judge, and to report. And Tamar "Unearthed" Haspel managed to unearth some actual common ground in the debate over GMOs.

Today, all those writers will be here to help us answer your q's, along with ScratchDC founder Ryan Hansan and cooking teacher Linda Carucci.

So get your questions to us pronto! In return, we'll have giveaway books for you: A signed copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook" and a signed copy of Linda's "Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks."

Let's do this!

First, a question: where did he find fresh injera? Second, I'm not sure this was such a good comparison. Whole Foods is incredibly expensive, and I believe the cost for the "convenience" meal would be much less if he shopped somewhere more reasonably priced, as would the home-cooked meal.

You make a valid point. But remember, I was trying to make an apples-to-apples comparison to the ScratchDC box, which includes organic and local ingredients. Shopping at a cut-rate market would have not served the purpose of the article: to compare these meals as fairly as possible.


With that said, Joe suggested yesterday that I try to cook the same Ethiopian meal as cheaply as possible. I plan to do that this weekend. I'll report back next week.


As for injera, I fortunately live near Silver Spring, which to my mind is the real Little Ethiopia these days. We have a lot of Ethiopian markets that sell fresh injera.

I was very surprised to see how close in price the Whole Foods shop list was compared to the "Scratch" cost. If that is accurate, I'd be buying all my foods from Scratch.. Would it be safe to say the shopping list bill might be a bit less if you shopped at Giant or Shoppers? My actual question is this: the ingredients for the berbere is daunting. Is the berebere powder mix, readily available at Ethiopian groceries, a fair substitute? I'm thinking that the turnover is great enough that the spices would be fairly fresh (although I do appreciate the appeal of fresh ground).

Thanks for your question!  Based on my limited knowledge there are actually premixed berbere spice mixes at WF (and possibly ethiopian shops across the city) but I can not vouch for their quality.  In terms of the pricing, I believe Mr. Carman was using percentages - aka buying a $3.00 jar of minced garlic and using only a 1/3, or $1.  However, to make the meal, you would still need to make that $3 investment!

I'm in charge of coming up with a seasonal cocktail for Thanksgiving and am stumped- any ideas? Due to transport and time constraints, something that is easy to assemble and doesn't require too many ingredients is preferable. Thanks!

Well, having apples on the brain, you might try one of those variations. An apple buck is a really nice one--appley and spicy from the ginger, and easy/low-maintenance to make. Another one I recently tried (it's a little more complicated but quite delish) is one called a Cider Delighter--if you can lay hands on Baked Apple Bitters quickly enough, it's really nice and I'm thinking about serving it myself. Both of these have the benefit of being somewhat lower alcohol than a cocktail that's all spirits, too--a good thing if you're already about to gorge on tryptophan! 

If you're less apple-inclined, you might try something that incorporates a bit of amaretto/nocello -- both sweet nut liqueurs -- with whiskey. Would be very autumnal, though you'll need to go easy on the liqueurs to avoid something overly sweet. Hope that helps!

Link is for the Food landing page, i.e., the page I'm on, not the list of recipes. Help?

Oops. Yeah, that was my bad. Sorry! It's fixed now. You can also see our most recent recipes further down the page under "Latest Recipes."

I have bad childhood memories of eggplant, but want to change my tune on the vegetable. I don't want to bread it but wouldn't mind incorporating a tomato sauce with maybe a grilled or sauteed eggplant. Or is roasting my best option?

I think eggplant Parmesan/Parmigiana is a good first step for eggplant skeptics.

Baby Eggplant Parmigiana

Baby Eggplant Parmigiana

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

And these Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce from Joe are crazy delicious.

Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

Grilling is also good. I like to cut mine into maybe 1/2-inch slices and grill until a little charred and very soft. Top with whatever sauce you want. I go for a Thai-style peanut sauce, all put over rice.

I bought a bag of chopped kale for a healthy meal, but I'm not sure how to turn it into a tasty meal. What sort of goodness can I add to make it something that family will eat?

How does Butternut Squash, Kale and Shiitake Casserole sound?

Butternut Squash, Kale and Shiitake Casserole

There's also Joe's recent Beet, Kale and Bulgur Soup.

Beet, Kale and Bulgur Soup

Couple of stock questions: When I make chicken stock (or any stock, really) should I break the bones before they go in the pot for a better result? I usually store up bones from roast chickens in the freezer until I have enough for a nice big pot of stock. Is there any reason I can't use bones from fried chicken? Thank you!

You know, I've never tried using bones from fried chicken to make stock, so I'll defer to the wisdom of Linda Carucci here. And I've never busted up the bones -- would you need to do that for space? But roasted bones from the freezer, absolutely. I'm with you.  

What a great idea to try to repurpose those fried chicken bones. It seems to me that as long as any fried bits have been completely removed, it'd be fine. In fact (please don't tell my chef instructors from cooking school), I add the bones, skin and juices in the bottom of the package of a Costco roasted chicken to my freezer bag of stock parts for making homemade chicken stock. Yum!

What is your take on Whole Foods? A branch just opened in my town and half the wide-range of stuff I've sampled ranged from lousy to inedible and half from OK to great. Why is there such inconsistency? Or is it just my weird taste buds?

I have mixed feelings about the Whole Foods where I shop. The produce often comes from far away, generating a carbon footprint that goes counter to the chain's green philosophy. Even in tomato season, I was not seeing much in the way of local tomatoes. Like you've I've also had issues with the quality of the produce, too.


But by and large, I like WF's fish and meat departments. They label their products clearly and have a decent selection. The people who work behind these counters have been helpful and knowledgeable. The cheese department is also good for those times when I can't make it to Cowgirl Creamery.


As for the prices? Well, we all know the chain's nickname.

I'm going to jump in on this one because I'm a big fan of Whole Foods' meat policy.  They vet their sources very carefully, and all their meat is certified as humanely raised -- some to a reasonable minimum standard, and some to very high standards, all clearly labeled.  Tim's right about the nickname, of course, but well-raised meat is one of the things I'm certainly willing to pay more for.

Hello - I've recently been introduced to Blue Apron, a service similar to the one you reviewed. They deliver 3 meals for $60 (2 servings with leftovers), with all ingredients pre measured and detailed directions (with pictures!) included. I've never considered using services like this before, but the convenience and relative affordability has been really interesting! The meals are delicious and lovely, and I've used the recipes several times to make my own "from scratch" versions. For someone who does cook most everything from scratch, and rarely uses anything processed or premade, it's been fun to be introduced to new and different flavors and cuisines that I usually wouldn't take on myself - and I think that's probably the primary benefit of these services. I'm more likely to make something again that I've been successful with the first time, and they make that very easy.

Yes, Blue Apron is like the national version of ScratchDC. The former sends boxes all over the country. For now, ScratchDC is local, though I think Ryan has much bigger goals in mind.

Glad you like the meal kit idea!  We like to think of ourselves as the fresh, local, more convenient alternative to the big boys in New York!  We source as much locally as we can and then take care of all the chopping, measuring, mixing and marinating, rather than really just the shopping as the by-mail services do. We have no minimum orders, so if you only want a single meal one week and four the next week, its completely up to you.  Being local also allows us to prep and deliver same day, ensuring everything is as fresh as can be.

In the web article today you stated that the next installement would examine antibiotic resistence and livestock factories. Supposedly the author is trying to write unbiasede articles, but just use of that term is highly biased and prejudicial.

Like everyone, everywhere, I have biases -- since eliminating them is impossible, my goal is to understand and compensate (something I touched on in the first column).  That said, if you've got a better term than "factory livestock" for chickens and pigs raised in close confinement and fed sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics, I'm certainly listening. 

A cake baking question for you: I like the fine texture that cake flour provides, but many recipes call for regular flour. Are regular flour and cake flour interchangeable in cake recipes?

I <3 cake flour, too. The thing is, it's so much softer in protein than regular flour that you can't sub one for one -- at least not by volume. Cake flour weighs less. So if you weigh your flour, you can sub it, or if the recipe calls for AP, you can weigh the amount, then put it aside and weigh out that amount of cake flour. An estimate: For every cup of AP flour, you will probably want to add an extra 2 tablespoons of cake flour.

The caption under the photo says "Our recipe for Classic Macaroni and Cheese makes 10 generous servings at a cost of about $10 each. Beat that, frozen macs." -- hope that should be $0.10!

It should just be "$10." Not each. $10 for the whole batch, so $1 each. We'll fix.

This will be my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian. To Tofurkey or not to tofurkey, that is the question!

Well, you should read our turkey alternative taste test from the other year. (Thanks for making me relive the trauma.) I am pretty much vegetarian these days, and after tasting those, I can assure you I would much rather have a nice veg-centric dish instead. Or a bunch of sides, really.

Don't do it! I have a nice menu of vegetarian Thanksgiving dishes coming your way on 11/20, with no mock meat in sight.

After reading about the Ethiopian food, I tried to find a recipe for Injera, which I've heard is fairly easy to make. Most of the ones I found said to set the dough out for 3 days. Is there a yeast version that would be faster?

Here's an injera variation from King Arthur Flour that substitutes millet flour for the traditional teff flour. It calls for at least 24 hours of fermentation, which you  need. Without fermentation, it's really not injera.

I really enjoyed Carrie Allan's story today about apple-based spirits. Didn't realize a lot of it is made nearby. I have both Laird's applejack and their bonded apple brandy. I haven't given much thought about which one works better in certain cocktails. Any thoughts? They seem pretty similar to me.

Thank you -- glad you liked the story! This is a tricky question, and I would say the answer really depends on your sweet tooth and your price points. Applejack tends to be substantially cheaper than the apple brandies (both the Laird's versions and the Calvados. There's also a nice domestic apple brandy that Owen Thomson clued me into --Germain-Robin apple brandy, which I thought was lovely, but again, pricey). I find the apple brandies a little sweeter and applier than the applejack, and some of the brandies are just so good as solo sippers that I'd hesitate to "lose" them in a cocktail. But then, I'm not The Donald, and I'm sure some of the brandies would work great in mixed drinks.

Really liked the inside peek at the Jack. So, Jim, it was Jack Daniel's - did you get to taste any whiskey while you were down there?

     Uhm...yeeah! Attended a whiskey tasting of the various Jack Daniel's offerings. A little sip of heaven.

Have you thought of doing a comparison between different meal prep kit services? I've heard of Scratch DC, Blue Apron and Plated- wondering how they all compare.

Thanks for your question!  I obviously have somewhat of a biased oppinion seeing as though I am the owner of one of these companies, but I'd love to give you a quick run down of some of the differences in our services.

The biggest difference is that we're local.  We prep all of our meals the morning they are delivered, which allows us to actually chop, measure, mix and marinate ingredients as opposed to the by-mail services who simply send you the ingredients and you still have to do all the work.

Being local also allows us to offer same day ordering - so if you're in a pinch or dinner plans fall through, you can order for delivery that evening, rather than having to order at least three meals at least a week in advance as the other services require.

We also allow our customers to choose a 30 minute delivery window so your food is not sitting out on your doorstep for hours until you get home from work.

Since we deliver direct from our kitchen, and not sending them on a journey of planes and trucks, we are able to keep our packaging to a minimum (cornstarch based, biodegradable containers, post consumer paper boxes) and they are not packed with wasteful cold packs.

Hi Jim - great story on the Jack Daniels! I'm thinking of grilling or smoking some foods for Thanksgiving. What are you making for Thanksgiving? Do you have any recommended dishes?

     Lots of recommendations. One, the turkey. Here's my recipe for smoking one.      I love grilled Brussels sprouts - just cut them in half (or not), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill in a grill basket over medium high heat, turning a couple of times, for about 5 minutes.

      Another is scorched sweet potatoes. Simply throw the potatoes onto the first (yes, directly onto the coals). With long-handled tongs, turn every 10 minutes for about a half-hour. When soft, remove, and make into your favorite puree recipe. 

       As for me, I used to smoke my own turkey, and I might this year. But years ago, I discovered Greenberg Smoked Turkeys in Tyler, Texas. They are amazing! I have ordered one ever since:

Storing garlic in olive oil was suggested today however we've long been cautioned that doing so for more than a few days brings the threat of botulism. Please clarify! Many thanks!

Good point! As I understand it, the botulism problem comes into play when  garlic oil is stored at room temp. So I fill a jar with peeled garlic cloves and  keep them completley submerged in expeller-pressed canola oil and keep the whole business in the fridge. To remove a clove, I use an impeccably clean fork (never fingers) and never dip the same fork back into the jar.

You should also make sure your fridge goes below 38 degrees. Otherwise, freeze that garlic oil.

Are peeled garlic cloves sold in grocery stores acidified or treated with other chemicals? I am puzzled and alarmed by your recommendation to submerge garlic cloves in canola oil, seal tightly and refrigerate indefinitely. Isn't that a recipe for life threatening botulism? Everything I read on the subject, including FDA, says that garlic oil should be used immediately or refrigerated for no more than 3 days. Personally I have an aversion to store peeled garlic. When it's comes to garlic, there is nothing better than California grown ( not imported from China and sold in most grocery stores) fresh clove, smashed on the cutting board with a mallet or the back of a small but heavy frying pan. Garlic skins comes off easily, the bitter green growth exposed, if there is one.

As a private chef, I go through a lot of garlic. I would't say I keep it indefinitely; just a few weeks. And I repurpose the garlicky oil for garlic bread, cooked green veggies e.g. broccoli, spinach, etc. I always start with fresh oil when I make a new jar.

I like the Christopher Ranch brand of peeled organic garlic cloves. As you suggest, there have been problems with garlic from China, so I wouldn't use them. I don't beleive that Christopher Ranch treats their peeled cloves. Does anyone else know?

As for freezing garlic, Trader Joe's sells frozen cubes of minced garlic and I love it when I'm in a hurry. I have never frozen whole cloves myself.

Interesting idea for kohlrabi soup in Joe's column this week. The column also mentioned a friend had been seeing kohlrabi on restaurant menus all over town. Any interesting preparations in particular (and maybe something I could try to make at home)? Thanks!

Yes, my friend Jamie is the source of that tidbit. He reports that it's always raw, though: kohlrabi crudités at Central; kohlrabi sliced thin and used as almost a wonton wrapper at Mike Isabella's G; and served raw with sesame seeds and vinegar (maybe) at Kapnos next door.

When reading a recipe for a soup and seeing that onions need to be cooked for 10 minutes, I first chop the onions. Then start sauteing them. And only THEN start chopping the rest of the ingredients during the "downtime." Basically, it's not always helpful to have everything chopped at the very beginning. Also, I was making a vegetable soup/stew that required 4 hours at 325. But who has that much time? It turned out perfectly fine at 400 for 2 hours! Time saver.

I agree, prep all upfront does not necessarily work. In our weekly Dinner in Minutes recipes, for example, it's worked into the recipe to maximize time. Like the oven option. You're already cooking smarter. 

Another way to save time is to use a cast iron or Le Creuset Dutch oven. This cut 30 minutes off the braising time for short ribs when recipe testers tested this recipe for my cookbook. Now I use Le Creuset all the time. Maybe I should buy stock in the company.

I went recently to a Thai restaurant and had the beef massaman, excellent! So I got some massaman curry paste and tried it at home, pretty good! But now I have a nearly full container of the paste, and I don't want to eat meat that often. What sort of veggie massaman can I make? I think I can and should retain the potatoes and the peanuts of the beef massaman, and the coconut milk, but what else can I put in? Besides carrots, which seem appropriate also. This is my first foray into Thai cooking at home.

I love sweet potatoes or yams in Massaman curry. And Romano Beans.

So, chestnut season is upon us, and we're crazy about them at my house, especially oven-roasted. But we struggle to cut the requisite Xs into the shell. We end up hacking at them with a serrated knife, which eventually works, but is (a) boring, (b) slow, (c) kinda hard, and (d) dangerous. We're supposed to cut on the "flat" (i.e. grayish and rough) part, right? What's the trick???

Try just cutting a slit into the top pointy part of the chestnut. All you need is an escape hatch for the steam that builds up during roasting.

At an Iranian grocery store, I purchased a bag of split fava beans on impulse. It's been sitting in my cupboard because I haven't the foggiest what to do with it. Any recipes or ideas would be appreciated!

Your theme today reminded me of a question I've had for a while. All modern ovens have a convection bake feature, but no recipe for roasting, baking, oven braising etc. mentions convection -- they just say preheat to 350 (or whatever) and give approximate cooking times. My friends seem just as baffled as I am about if and when convection roasting/baking is a good thing (although a couple of them think it's good for chicken and turkey because they cook faster). Are there rules of thumb about using convection and how conventional recipes should be modified regarding cooking times? Thanks.

Any oven that offers a convection option comes with a manual that specifies baking conversion times and temperatures. A general rule used to be that the food would be done 25% faster or you could decrease the temp by 25 degrees -- or something like that.  Good to check with this handy, meat-friendly online conversion calculator

Good afternoon! I joined a CSA this fall for the first time and have been enjoying it so far, with the exception of the apples. The first couple weeks they were great, but since have been mushy/mealy. Having worked at a farm market in my younger years, I know that even the softer sauce/pie varieties shouldn't be this inedible fresh. I've taken to making applesauce with them each week but not sure what else to do with them. Any ideas? I'm also wondering if it's worth mentioning to the farm in question, although I don't want to offend.

Infusing into spirits or shaking them into a cocktail would be one option, assuming the flavor is still good? You would strain out the nasty mealy/mushiness.

Any ideas of what to do with lemon infused olive oil? I was thinking of drizzling roasted Brussels sprouts with it and topping with fresh lemon zest, but am open to other suggestions. Thanks!

Vinaigrettes, roast chicken, olive oil cakes, delicate fish crudos, seviches, risotto, over the goat cheese on a cheese board and in this Lemon- and Honey-Flavored Chicken recipe! Chatters, how about you? 

I grew pak choi for the first time this year and while I love the way it looks, I haven't found a great way to eat it yet. I've done a couple stir fries and they always end up rather bland until I dump in some spicy sauce which seems to defeat the purpose of trying to keep the dish as healthy as possible. Any suggestions?

We've got about two dozen bok choy recipes for you to peruse.

Admittedly, a lot of them do lean toward the Asian/stir-fry end of the spectrum.

Some slightly different takes:

Whole Poached Chicken With Lemon Grass and Bok Choy

Whole Poached Chicken With Lemon Grass and Bok Choy

Shiitake Tacos With Asian Pear Slaw

Shiitake Tacos With Asian Pear Slaw

One more idea, spicy-sauce-free: Bok Choy and Turnip Mash.

A few weeks ago I bought a giant tub (5 lbs) of peeled garlic. Since the point was to have the garlic quickly available for a long time, I turned to the ever-helpful internet for guidance on storage, which advised that I could freeze garlic with no problem. After reading Bonnie's cooking smart article, which mentions another way to store peeled garlic, I'm concerned. Do you think my frozen garlic will be ok?

Your frozen garlic will be okay! In a related q, Linda Carucci mentions the convenience packs of Trader Joe's minced garlic (in a cube tray). A true time-saver.

Posting early as I'm on the West Coast/Northern California. I'm hoping you and/or your knowledgeable readers can solve my dilemma. Whenever I make a cake from scratch (usually relying on recipes from Dorie Greenspan's Baking book), I end up with dense layers. I take care not to overbeat the ingredients, ensure that all liquids, eggs, butter, etc are at room temperature but yet the results always fail me. What am I doing wrong???? Thanks in advance-love reading the chat transcripts as I always learn something. Keep up the great work!

How about your leaveners? Are they fresh? Have you monitored your oven temperature? My mom had been making the same poppy seed cake for decades until recently, when it collapsed on top and stayed wet on the bottom. Her oven was not heating to the right temperature, a problem which she is still trying to have fixed! I made the cake for her just so she and my dad could finally have it.

I have some leftover shredded gruyere. Any ideas on ways to use it? Bonus points if it's something I can put together at work (so with a microwave or toaster oven). Thanks!

Does the toaster have a broil setting? I'd put that cheese on some sliced baguettes and float on top of a nice bowl of soup, preferably French onion.

Last year I made Egg nog based on Alton Brown's Nog of ages. That recipe required the nog to age in the fridge for I think 2 months or even more. What will happen if I only age it 1 month or so? I forgot to get it made, though am hoping to do so this weekend if you think it would turn out ok.

I'm not sure about that specific recipe, but the most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated has a recipe that is ready to go after three weeks: Stir together 12 eggs, 1 1/2 cups bourbon, 1/2 cup cognac and 1/3 cup dark rum. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar; refrigerate in airtight container. After three weeks, pour through sieve to remove egg solids. Add 6 cups whole milk and 1/2 cup cream.

They also add, "To age your favorite egg nog recipe, be sure to use 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor for every egg, and leave out the dairy until serving."

A stone fence. I start drinking them Oct 1 and keep going until Dec 24. (They can even be made with applejack, although I tend to use bourbon.)

Hi. I have to drastically cut back on my budget. I've always bough cage free eggs, free range chicken, wild salmon....and as much as I want to keep doing so, the price difference between these healthier/higher quality/more ethical items and their cheap counter parts is just too great for me. Other than going vegetarian and giving up these type of there anything I can do? Anyone know of a cheaper way to get a hold of these better items? I live in Stafford, which has horrible grocery options.

I share your priorities, and have faced the same question.  Where I live (on Cape Cod), I have the option to do things like keep chickens and raise pigs, but I know not everyone can.  Even so, there are some less expensive options.  If there are farms near you that product pork or beef, try some of the cheaper cuts.  You can do great things with pork  jowls!  Also, although canned salmon is a different animal (figurative) than fresh, it is wild-caught and versatile.  That said, many salmon farms are doing a better job, and some of it is a very good choice.  But it generally does come down with eating less meat, and getting better at dishes where a small amount goes farther.  Good luck!

I read this chat every week over my lunch and I just want to chime in about Whole Foods. It is not perfect. But it is really hard for any grocer to be all things to all people all the time. You would be hard pressed to find a grocer (farmers market, whatever) that garners no complaints. Somebody will want only local vegetables and somebody else will want a tomato regardless of the season. Whole Foods is, in my opinion, a great place to shop for meat, cheeses, and some produce. I can't get everything I want there for the price I want to pay. But I could say that about every grocer. Nothing is perfect, but Whole Foods is better then some other options (for me. Your mileage may vary).

I appreciate your defense of Whole Foods and your assessment of supermarkets in general. Reasoned and fair.


If I didn't like Whole Foods, I wouldn't shop there. I've learned how to navigate my way through the store that makes sense for me: In other words, I try to buy my produce at the local farmers markets and shop for the rest at Whole Foods.

The first suggested recipe is eggplant parmesan, which I have always understood to require breading. What gives?

Did you read the recipe? Not breaded. So that's what gives!

Penzey's just introduced a Berebere in the past few months. I can't vouch for its authenticity, but I can say it IS spicy hot.

Yes, I've seen that blend at Penzey's. But as I noted in today's story, freshly ground spices release aromas and flavors lost in those pre-ground versions. Oxygen isn't the ally of many fresh products once they're harvested.

What an interesting look behind the scenes at a barbeque contest by Jim Shahin. I always wondered what they were like. Does the general public attending get to eat the bbq?

Alas, no, you cannot eat the competitors' barbecue. Health laws and expense come into play. 

It's a bbq, bbq everywhere and not a bite to eat situation. 

But they do have vendors you can buy from. 

I thought Tim's investigation into the company that preps your ingredients for you to cook was interesting, particularly the cost. When I saw the prices for the meals for two, I thought they were kind of high. Yet they were comparable to the prices he paid to make the dish himself. Granted, he probably bought some ingredients in larger volume that wasn't used for the recipe. But that's often the rub of trying a dish or two from a different ethnic cuisine--you end up with a lot of leftover ingredients you wouldn't normally use.

I really tried to avoid having any leftover ingredients, but inevitably I had some: very small amounts of pre-ground spices, some pre-chopped garlic in a jar, a spare cuke or tomato.


Determining prices for the non-ScratchDC meals has generated some controversy. Given that spices and jarred items have relatively long shelf lives (and hence will likely be used in the future), both Joe and I thought it was best to determine a percentage of the ingredients used intead of including the full price.  But as Ryan rightly points out, you still have to shell out for the entire jar of chopped garlic in the first place.

You both are right on.  Our goal as a company is to eliminate that overbuying - to allow you to try ethnic/exotic dishes without having to shell out all that extra money for ingredients that might not necessarily be used again!  While the cost comparisons may be the same for quantities used, you are still walking out of the grocery store with a much higher bill and will be left with extra ingredients.

I just got my most recent edition of Checkbook magazine. In it, they compare prices for the same "basket" of foods at local stores, with Giant and Safeway being the mid-point of zero. IIRC, over a year, you would pay over $1000 more for the food at Whole Foods than at Giant/Safeway, but would save over $2000 a year if you shopped at WalMart. Target and Food Lion were also cheaper than the mid-point, and Wegman's, too, which surprised me.

Thanks for the tip. Here's a news report about the recent Checkbook survey.


Without having researched the survey to any degree, I'd use caution about the supermarket comparisons. Whole Foods prices are, as Tamar noted earlier, often a reflection of the chain's sourcing guidelines. In other words, Whole Foods may have a higher standard for the products it buys. Of course you would pay more for them.

I am the cook in my family, and I want to eat less meat, both for health reasons and to save money. However, when I serve a meatless meal (other than pizza or pasta), my husband and sons are usually not thrilled. Any suggestions for meals that will satisfy everyone in my family?

Stir-fries and home-style rice or noodle bowls are an easy way to offer options. You can wok up the meat and keep it separate, then cook the remaining vegetables. Reserve your portion then return the meat to the wok and reheat with theirs.  Assembly meals like tacos and burritos are easy to customize meatless/meaty. 

My husband has been looking for a new grill and there are so many on the market. Would there be any suggestions from Jim Shahin for a "novice" buyer? Are the grills the "experts" use really expensive?

   The grills used by top competitors tend to run into the thousands of dollars. 

    Personally, I don't think you can go wrong with you basic Weber kettle (I like the Performer, which comes with an attached table and a pullout charcoal bag holder). The bullet-shaped Weber Smoky Mountain is a good overall starter smoker. You hear a lot of griping from the "experts" about low-end barrel smokers (firebox on one end, chimney on the other) and, true, they won't last forever and they leak smoke pretty bad, but a) I've made sensational bbq on them, b) I've tasted sensational bbq made by others on them, and c) they teach you about fire. Brinkmann makes a pretty good starter version; available at chain hardware stores.

This would be a much more neutral and accurate term. EPA and many states use this base term to define all farms which feed animals for at least 45 days in a given year in a confined space. Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) have at least 1 animal. Depending on the species and number of animals, the farm may trigger the designation of CAFO, which only differes from AFO in terms of number of animals. In Maryland, between AFO and CAFO is Maryland animal feeding operation (MAFO).

I dunno. "Animal Feeding Operation" sounds a little Big Brother to me, and has the added problem of being understood by almost nobody.  People know what a factory farm is, so, in lieu of a better, generally understood term, I'm going to stick with it.  But I'll certainly be talking to people who run those AFOs, and ask them why and how they use antibiotics.

Get some chickpeas and make falafel!

I sent my boyfriend to the grocery store to pick up anchovies and he came back with a couple of tins of sardines. Any suggestions for interesting savory ways to use them up? Thanks!

For some unknown reason, I think sardines taste great with cottage cheese on a crisp whole wheat cracker such as Ak-Mak. I know the bones have lots of calcium and they are edible, but I prefer to remove them.

I peel a bunch of garlic, throw it in the food processor, and the keep it in the freezer (flatten in a freezer bag, then you can break it off in pieces). I usually have some fresh garlic on hand too, but love having a stash in the freezer ready to go. I do the same thing with fresh ginger.

Huge kohlrabi fan here. Merging two of today's threads, one of the best kohlrabi dishes I've had in recent memory came from the Blue Apron meal service -- kohlrabi cut into thick matchsticks, apple of the same size, toasted pistachios, and a delicious dressing made with tahini. Yum! When I was a kid we always just ate it raw, so it's fun to have options.

I saw that the author finds it efficient to stop what she is doing, wash a dish and then go back to cooking. In contrast I find it far more efficient to pile dishes up in the sink so that I can maintain concentration on cooking and then do the dishes once the item is cooking or after it is done. It seems highly inefficient to start and stop cooking numerous times to wash a dish immediately after it has been used.

If I may jump into this discussion, I have done it both ways, and I find cleaning as I go far more efficient. Chefs call it "cooking clean."


Experienced cooks, I think, always notice those free moments during dish preparation. Those moments are perfect for washing a few dishes and keeping your space clean. Besides, in a tiny kitchen like mine, if I don't keep the space clean, I'm soon overcrowded with dirty dishes and utensils, which leaves me scrambling to find various tools or ingredients. THAT is inefficient!

Hi, I bought 3 large bunches of kale for a big soup I was making (needed 10 cups of kale and had no idea how many cups were in a bunch). Anyways, 1 bunch apparently =s 10 cups, as now I have 2 bunches left AND a giant bowl of soup that will last me 3 days. How long do I have until the rest of my kale goes bad? Is there anything I can do to preserve it while I work on finishing off my delicious soup?

Remove any schmutz-y leaves, be sure the bunch is dry, wrap in a paper towel, and then place in a plastic bag and into the veg drawer of the fridge. Check every couple of days to see if any leaves are decaying and remove them before they affect any neighboring leaves.

"But as Ryan rightly points out, you still have to shell out for the entire jar of chopped garlic in the first place." Why would someone shell out for an entire jar of chopped garlic, when a head of garlic stores fine in the fridge for months? And with a garlic press prep time is down to about 2 seconds. You guys are really being biased toward their service. You also mention in the article of the reader no longer having to worry about oil going rancid. That's an insane worry.

I agree with you about the garlic storage -- not in the fridge, but in a cool, dark place like a pantry. It always mystifies me when people talk about buying pre-prepped garlic when it stores so beautifully in its natural casing.

I want to start by saying I am a true believer in the powers of freshly ground pepper - yes, it definitely packs more of a punch than the preground stuff. With that said, I have no idea how I am supposed to realistically measure out the amounts that so many recipes seem to ask for. A quarter to half a teaspoon might not seem like much until you have to turn the stupid pepper mill dozens and dozens of times. Then there's the whole aspect of gathering it. The only way I can figure out how to do so is to grind it into a separate bowl and measure out from there. THis just sounds like a huge hassle to me. Am I missing something? If not, I'm going to stick with the preground stuff when I'm told to use a specific amount and leave the freshly ground pepper for final touches.

Eyeball it!  The differences in peppers (yours may be fresh, mine stale; yours may be ground finely, mine coarsely) will make a bigger impact on the recipe than any mis-measuring (within reason).  So get one of those grinders with a long arm (torque is your friend) to make the chore easier.  Just once, grind pepper into a bowl and measure it so you get a feel for what a 1/4 teaspoon looks like, and take it from there.  You'll be fine.

Joe just mentioned that your fridge should be below 38 degrees. This is a debate my sister and I had recently. My new house has a relatively new (couple years) Maytag double door fridge with a temp readout. The manual says it is preset for the freezer to be at 4 degrees F and the fridge at 38. Sis says that's too warm, that the freezer should be at 0 and the fridge at 34. But... anything on the bottom 2 shelves of the fridge against the back wall gets semi-frozen. What's the real story?

That's right -- there are strains of botulinum that can still grow at 38 degrees and above. As for how to strike the balance in your particular fridge without things freezing, that's a question for Maytag, I think!

For grins, read this blog post I wrote awhile back about the 38-degree thing and my own 12-hour tomato recipe.

Hi guys! I need your advice - we have 8 adults for Thanksgiving and a 12-14lb turkey ordered. I'm thinking that it may be a good idea to cook a few extra turkey parts (maybe legs?) just so everyone can have what they want. How would you recommend timing that? Can the extra parts be roasted the day before and then warmed through, or would you just throw them on a sheet pan and roast at the same time as the whole turkey?

For the most dark meat (and ease of carving) I'd recommend thighs over legs. Just don't crowd them on the sheet pan. I'd lay a butter-soaked piece of cheesecloth over them so they stay moist and you don't have to baste. That's what I do with the whole bird, too.

Do you have a great recipe for banana muffins? Preferably one that uses buttermilk? I've got three black-spotted bananas and a toddler who would probably devour as many mini-muffins as I could put in front of him. Ideas?

Not muffins, but how about Banana Snack Cake? You could scale up to use more of your bananas.

Banana Snack Cake

I mean, it's sort of quick-bready, so you might be able to experiment with it in muffin form. If you're doing minis, check on whether they're done starting at about 10 to 15 minutes.

I really enjoyed Tim's piece on using alternatives to cooking from scratch. I love to cook from scratch, but weekdays can be challenging, so we recently tried our first Blue Apron shipment, which I see another chatter has already explained. What I like about Blue Apron vs the "kits" available from other providers is that you really are cooking from scratch. You chop, you mix, you sear, whatever needs doing (except measuring, and of course shopping.) So that's been fun. And it's nice to get only one stalk of celery when you only need one stalk of celery. On the other hand, using up excess food is kind of its own reward -- for lunch I'm having enchiladas I made from scratch in just a few minutes using leftover tortillas, frozen corn, a can of black beans, some chorizo, and a leek. There's a time and a place for both.

It sounds like Blue Apron has its ardent fans, too. To circle back on Ryan's point earlier, do you find that the Blue Apron ingredients are fresh when they arrive?

Apple bread! I've been converting my mushy CSA apples to quick bread I can eat for breakfast, or throw in the freezer for later in the winter!

Your Lemon-Ginger baby bok choy recipe is one of my all-time favorites! :)

Thanks for showing that you prefer sensationalism and muckraking over having a more neutral discussion. It seems that if given the choice between a neutral and accurate descriptor widely used by people in the industry and by those regulating the industry or a term which has the sole purpose of being disparaging and prejudicial you without hesitation use the biased and prejudicial term.

Well, you could at least wait for the actual column before you accuse me of muckraking!  Perhaps you'll read it, and weigh in then.

Whole Foods is great because they sell a wide variety of bulk items. If you steer clear of the processed foods, I do not think WF is more expensive, and where else can you get that selection of bulk grains, beans, etc.? "Real Food" coops are few and far between.

Fortunately, I live down the street from the Takoma Park Co-Op, which has an amazing bulk selection.


Glut in Mt. Rainer also has an impressive bulk section.

Someone gave me a gift of (commercially bottled) garlic-infused olive oil. There are no actual garlic pieces in it. There's nothing on the bottle that says that it needs to be refridgerated so I put it back in the cupboard after opening. Today's chat makes me worried that I made a mistake?!

It's crazy that they don't caution against this on the label. I would discard the open garlic  flavored oil that has sat at room temp. It's not worth the botulism risk.

DO not use the convection over for baking. Any type of cake/bread/cupcake/whatever - BAKE IT. Convecting is a bad idea. ---someone with experience.

The convection setting isn't advised for meringues, souffles, custards, and other such eggy baked goods, but I often use it when I'm roasting nuts, potatoes, veggies and anytime I have more than one rack full of items. It does move the air around. But be sure to decrease the baking time by 10%.

We always go to a relative's house for Thanksgiving. There are big desserts, but I'd like to make little desserts, but not cookies. Would gingerbread batter bake up ok as mini-muffins? Any other suggestions?

Do try it. But be sure to butter the tins really well first. I have a feeling the molasses could make them stick to the pan. So be sure to let them rest on a cooling rack in the muffin tin for just five minutes and then use an offset palate knife or table knife to remove them right away. Good luck!

As long as it's a soft-gingerbread recipe? Several years ago we ran a feature on downsized holiday desserts from chef Gale Gand -- pumpkin pots with pie crust leaves, mini chocolate pecan pies, baked ricotta custards. They're in our soon to be updated Recipe Finder. Also check out Maple Syrup Tarts while you're there. 

Your q gives me the opportunity to bring up, yet again, Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts! I make them every year. The best small Thanksgiving dessert ever. 

I don't eat a lot of meat, but when I do want something and I want it to be carefully raised, organic and high quality, I would rather buy it from one of the farmers markets (there are good meat folks at Del Ray and Alexandria) or a local butcher case (Society Fair, McLean Organic). If I am going to pay a lot for meat, I want to make the purchase as local as possible.

Have you ever tried the meat at Wagshal's? The market sells dry-age prime beef, and it's expensive as heck. But it's delicious.

The Baltimore Sun printed this, from "The Italian Vegetarian Cookbook," several years ago. I love it.

Eggplant Stufffed with Bread Crumbs, Olives, Lemon and Herbs

Serves 4

2 large eggplants (about 2 pounds)

salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 cup plain bread crumbs

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon grated zest and 3 Tablespoons juice from 1 large lemon

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or oregano leaves

20 large green olives, pitted and minced

2 teaspoons capers, drained, rinsed, and minced (I didn't rinse them)

2 to 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (or wait until you're at least halfway through the preparation unless you have several helpers; I ended up with a hot kitchen for half an hour before the eggplant was ready to go in).

Trim the green tops from the eggplants. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Use a small, sharp knife to make deep slashes across the flesh of each half, starting about half an inch from one side and ending about half an inch from the other side. Make the slashes deep but do not puncture the skin. Make another slash down the center from the stem end almost to the base. Sprinkle with salt & pepper & set aside.

Combine the bread crumbs, garlic, lemon zest & juice, parsley, thyme or oregano (I used thyme), olives, and capers in a small bowl. Add as much of the oil as needed to work the mixture into a wet paste with your hands (I had to add another tablespoon; my bread crumbs were very dry). Use your fingers to open the slashes in the eggplants and fill them with the stuffing. Pat the remaining stuffing over each eggplant half, to cover the cut surfaces completely.

Place the stuffed eggplants cut side up on a large baking sheet. Bake until eggplants are tender and the bread-crumb mixture is golden-brown, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or warm.


I've been asked to bring cornbread stuffing for Thanksgiving this year. I've made it before and know it's good. The question is, what's the best way to do that if I've got to drive a couple hours the day before? I think having it sit fully assembled but unbaked wouldn't be good. Thinking of prepping all the ingredients in advance (chopping veg, baking/dicing cornbread, etc.), then assembling and baking on-site. Thoughts? And speaking of prepped ingredients--I can't live without pre-chopped onions, despite the higher cost. I can't be in the same room (sometimes in the same house!) while someone's chopping onions, so having them chopped elsewhere saves me a lot of literal pain. But I try to limit my prepped-item purchases to stuff I can't actually do myself. Just my two cents.

When faced with a similar challenge, I simply baked the stuffing in a separate baking dish. It isn't safe to stuff a bird if you cannot roast it immediately.

Also, if you chill an onion for an hour or so before chopping it, it slows down (but doesn't eliminate) the reaction that causes both you and me to tear up. Furthermore, the more finely one minces an onion, the more cell membranes are broken and the more it's likely to cause tears.

It also works to rinse the onions and wet your cutting board -- the water draws the compounds from the onions before they get to your eyes. Just be careful of things slipping while you cut!

You could make roasted kale chips. I like mine with cajun seasoning. The kale roasts down to much less volume, and the chips are addictive so you will finish the kale quickly.

Why don't you cook up some chicken livers and have them with liver and a nice Chianti.

Thank you, Dr. Lecter.

I currently have an old Cuisinart food processor, I think it's probably 7 or 9 cups capacity. Fine for most of what I do, but every once in a while, I could use a larger one. Costco has a 13 cup Kitchen Aid processor on sale for $100, that I've been admiring. Any thoughts on whether it's worth replacing a perfectly good food processor for one that's larger?

I have a small food processor, too, because I have a small kitchen and need small equipment. But let me tell you: I have encountered more than a few recipes in which I wish I had a larger food processor!

Just goes to show how people can define affordable so differently. No way would I consider two servings for $20 "so affordable"! But if it works for you, no skin off my back.

In D.C., a meal that costs $10 a person, well, that strikes me a pretty affordable. Particularly if the ingredients are high-quality.

Jim, I live in a cold climate, so the Jack Daniels competition piqued my interest. Are there guidelines for barbecuing in cold temperatures? For example, is there a basic "extra minutes for 10 degrees colder temp" kind of rule?

    Heck, there's not even a warm climate rule, let alone a cold climate one. The variables are countless: dryness of your wood, quality of your smoker, amount of wind, and, yes, general temperature. You get to know your smoker, but barbecue is always something of a crapshoot.

     About the only way you can really know what's what is use a meat thermometer. But even as experienced a pro as Tuffy Stone chooses to use a thermometer as nothing more than a rough guide; he told me he uses it to see how easily it slides in and out of the meat more than using its temperature for as a guide for doneness, and he likes to feel the meat's texture. So, even a thermometer, helpful as it is, may not give you the precision you're looking for.

Soooo good! Thank you. It is a keeper. If I wanted to make it vegetarian (for Lent), can I skip the pancetta? Or substitute something? As it was, I cut back on the total salt by about 0.75 to 1 tsp. Thanks.

Might be best to go without it rather than compensate -- or perhaps try a bit of smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton). 

I am SO excited to eat the Washington Post Butternut Squash Lasagna currently waiting to be baked - the filling from your recipe is absolutely delicious by itself, I could eat it alone. I made two trays, one to bake and one to freeze - now THAT's convenience food! Thanks for the great recipes!

Such a great recipe. My go-to dish for potluck parties where I really, really like all the people. Don't skip that cream on top. 

I would appreciate any suggestions you have for non-stick skillet -- with a lid. My current skillet is about to come apart, the handle is becoming looser and looser. And does it use a phillips head or flat head screw driver so I can fix it myself? No it does not. Thanks for the help T-Fal. I bought it because so many recipes I use require a lid. My sister had given me one previously but it didn't have a lid. And prior to that I had a Capalon one that was so heavy and finally couldn't pass the non-stick test any more so I had to ditch that one. I just don't know where to go next. Thanks so much for your input!

Chatters? I have a 12-inch Calphalon nonstick with lid that I love, but it sounds like that's not what you want to hear!

Hi Rangers, I'm working on Thanksgiving, & all weekend, so not traveling with the others. Suggestions for a simple menu for one that will provide some leftovers? Pumpkin pie is the only definite item. Your corn pudding is wonderful. Hoping for leftovers that will reheat well in the microwave at work. Thanks!

How about Easy Roast Turkey Breast? Then stay tuned for my tamari roasted Brussels sprouts, sunchoke/celery root soup, and Moroccan carrot/beet salad, all of which work well for leftovers. (The main course in my veggie menu serves up to 16, so not so good for you, but you could scale it down!)

I just saw on line that you can 'bake' them in MICROWAVE! I haven't tried it yet, but the suggestion was make it how you make it (clean it, dry it, drizzle olive oil and salt - and I add garlic - and then put it on a dish) - and put in the microwave, for three minutes. if not crisp, keep putting back in 30 sec. increments. I'm so exciting because the kale is taking up my whole vegetable garden.

I always go there for meat for boeuf bourguignon. I once got into a tussle with a guy behind the counter who insisted I had to buy sirloin, while I insisted on chuck or rump. Finally, when I told him I intended to cook it for three hours, he relented.

In our quest to keep experimenting with new-to-us vegetables, we bought a black radish this week. About softball size, maybe a tad smaller. SHARP radish taste-- which we like, but which doesn't lend itself to eating large quantities at once. Ideas? Bonus points if it works with whatever I am trying to contrive for tonight's dinner with bacon that needs to be used up and maybe shrimp or chicken.

Perhaps what you have is a Black Spanish Radish? If so, here's a recipe for you.

Grated Radish Salad

Grated Radish Salad

Guess everyone fled over to your site because the chickpea meal I wanted to try is all sold out (sigh). I plan to give you a try though in the near future.

I think you might be reffering to our Eggplant & Chickpea Coconut Curry over Rice that we ran on Monday?  If so, we'll be running it again in a month or so.  Lot's of deliciousness on deck before then!

The pork chops we cooked last night were a touch overdone (I like my pork pretty pink) and now I need to reheat them tonight and I'm worried they'll get incredibly dry. What's the best way to do this?

Here's what I'd do: Put a half-inch or so of chicken stock in the bottom of a straight-sided saute pan. Place the chops in there. Let the chops come to room temp before reheating. If the flavor profile works, add some  apples wedges to the top of the chops. Cover the pan and place over low heat, shaking occasionally, until they're warmed through.

Another approach is to cut the meat off the bone into slices and warm them in just 1/4 inch of stock the same way. Ditto apples caveat.

Count me in as a fan! I don't have a huge kitchen or sink, so if I leave dishes to clean until after I'm all done, the mess really becomes a problem, both in how distracting it is and how much space it takes up. Washing out a pot right away takes me about a minute and helps keep me sane.

Right on!

I'm a clean-as-you-go cook, too -- but, since my mother isn't, I think I can say definitely that it's not genetic. It's Dishesmageddon when she's done!

I can highly recommend the lemon & honey chicken recipe to the chatter with the lemon-infused olive oil. I finally tried that recipe this past weekend and it was a hit! But I have to wonder about using kumatoes -- I don't think they were anything special, especially not at $1 each. In the future, I would try grape or cherry tomatoes (better color, if nothing else!) or skip them altogether. Did I just get some blah kumatoes?

The Kumato is an option when the green/Green Zebra toms are not available. You're right -- they do add far less acidity. I have found that grape/cherry tomatoes are too sweet for this dish

The Trader Joes cubes of garlic are handy but they do include soy bean oil I believe in that cube of garlic.

DIY, baby. 

Aren't people taking their likes and dislikes too seriously as they add more 'flavor' to traditional recipes overwhelming (obliterating?) the dish's subtleties and nuances?

The horrors! People taking THEIR OWN likes and dislikes too seriously! People wanting to make food that they like, and not food that they don't like! The horrors!

For last week's 'Third time's the charm?' Cannot cook dried beans in crockpot, even ones soaked overnight, with sugar or tomato products. Have to wait until they soften completely before adding them to the pot. You shouldn't even add salt until nearly the end of cooking time. I believe most crockpot recipe books/user manuals mention this now. Ask me how I know this...

Linda C.  says that acid impedes the softening of proteins...

To an extent, it does -- but only if there's a lot of acid. Sugar's not a problem, to my knowledge. Generations of cooks in New England have been making baked beans with brown sugar and maple syrup to good effect. (Some traditional recipes I've seen include ketchup, which gets stirred in after a few hours when the beans have had time to soften.)

I live in a small 1950s apartment with a galley kitchen with a window at one end and opening to living space at the other. Whenever I'm cooking meat, it seems as though the greasy residue just lives on forever. I will frequently set up a fan blowing into the kitchen (and out the window) because it gets so hot, but any other ideas to keep the grease from coating everything in my kitchen? I was searing off some pork last week, and then felt like I had to deep clean the whole apartment to eliminate the grease and odors. Would something like a spatter screen help? What I wouldn't give for a vented range hood!

Spatter screens do make a difference. I know this sounds kinda dumb, but you could fry things that spatter in a much deeper pan/pot, or sear for the briefest time then transfer to the oven. 

One of my guests for Thanksgiving is vegan. I've got a recipe for Spinach Spoonbread that looks good, but it contains buttermilk. Any ideas for a vegan substitute? Thanks -- you guys are the greatest.

Interwebs chatter suggests a similar strategy to what you would do if you had milk and needed buttermilk. Start with a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and add a non-dairy milk, such as soy, to equal a cup. Let is sit for a couple of minutes.

I recently took mushy apples (not from the CSA, we don't get fruits in ours) - and cooked them down over low heat. And also steamed some fennel and carrots til mushy (separately - those were from the CSA) - to make some sort of veggie mush. it was really good. I need to hide fennel in this house since no one is a large fennel fan.

Sounds like you just invented veggiesauce, the multi-ingredient version of applesauce.

To answer the question of freshness, yes, Blue Apron's ingredients are always fresh and stay that way for up to a week (which has been the longest it's taken us to make all 3 meals). Another thing I appreciate is that they tell you where your meat is coming from, if you order the meat entrees over the vegetarian option. I love the idea of a more local option, but for those of us who don't live in the DC area, I think Blue Apron is a nice once in awhile treat. I also reuse the cold packs they send to line my South Mountain Creamery cooler - making the best of the travel packaging!

Thanks for chiming in. I'll have to give Blue Apron a try and see how it compares to the hometown team.

Glad you've had good experiences with BA - the founders are great guys!  Completely love the transparency - we list the farms your food comes from on the back of the recipe cards too!

Please ignore the food industry lobbyist. You can't satisfy someone who is paid to not be satisfied.

Emotions are engaged on this, for both the professionals and the amateurs. Comes with the territory.  Thanks for the moral support!

Answering Tim's question -- yes, the Blue Apron ingredients have all been fresh and in good shape when they arrive, although once when we got drumsticks, some of the bones were broken, and I wasn't sure whether it was intentional or a shipping issue. It sounds like the two services have some different goals. One of the reasons we get Blue Apron is for my husband to practice his cooking skills, so for him, the more chopping etc. needs to be done, the better. I do applaud the local focus of ScratchDC.

Thanks for writing in. I'm curious, though: Why not just buy ingredients at the store to practice cooking?

In preparation for holiday baking, I made a large batch of crystalized ginger for the first time. Very easy and it tastes wonderful! However, it darkened considerably as it dried. That won't stop me from baking with it but how, in the future, can I prevent it from darkening?

That must be why they add sulfur to the ginger. I wonder if a crushed vitamin C tablet might help. Some chefs (not I)  add it to pesto to keep the basil green. I object to the acid flavor it contributes.

This is going to sound silly, but I get mine at Ikea. Then after a few months when the non-stick coating is wearing off, or my family has thrown knives into the skillet and scratched it, I recycle it and get a new one. They're light-weight and thin so the heat transfers well.

Here's one suggestion.

I enjoyed the feature in today's dead tree edition. I did a mental inventory and figured I had everything but the meat, white onions, and injera on hand to make the meal so I could probably produce a similar dish for less than $10, easily. If I were making it at home after work, I'd probably have used a pressure cooker for the peas and relied on frozen na'an, speeding things up considerably. I look forward to seeing what happens when you reproduce the meal using items usually stocked at home.

The pressure cooker is a good idea, although if you soak your split peas long enough and in enough water, they cook pretty fast.

Loved today's article and tips on cooking smarter. I have begun to collect scraps for soup stock, and it is wonderful and super easy. I have a question about whole peeled cloves of garlic, as I am a garlic lover and use it in EVERYTHING. Where does one buy these in bulk? How long will they keep stored in oil in the fridge? Will it maintain the taste of freshly peeled and chopped garlic? Thanks as always!

You can find them in the produce department, refrigerated section, in a zip-top bag. They retain their potency! 

Looks fab--but what could I sub for the rosemary? I'm allergic (yes, really). I usually use marjoram instead; think that would be good in this recipe?


Well, you've torn us into quarters and placed one quarter on each place and used us for scooping up the beef tibs and kik alicha, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Linda, Tamar, Jim and Ryan for helping us with the a's. Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who first asked about storing garlic in oil will get Linda's book "Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks." The chatter who titled his/her post "Efficient Food Prep Tips" and agreed that doing everything in advance isn't always faster will get "The Washington Post Cookbook."

Send your mailing address to Becky at, and we'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guests: Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel; culinary instructor Linda Carucci; ScratchDC founder Ryan Hansan.
Recent Chats
  • Next: