Free Range on Food

Nov 30, 2011

Today's topics: Locally made chocolate; cooking and baking for the holidays; congee, the Chinese staple; and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! Hope you all had good T-gives meals and are enjoying the calm before the next wave of holiday-cooking storms.

What's on your mind today? We're here to answer whatever questions you may have, whether it's about pierogi, congee, chocolate or anything else on your front or back burner,in your pantry or fridge -- or just lurking as a twinkle in your cook's eye.

As always, we'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters. The books' identity will remain a mystery until the end of the chat, so as not to lead y'all in one direction or another.

Let's do this!

Loved reading the article on pierogi. I never heard of pierogi until I moved to Northwest Indiana, home to Pierogi Fest. I must say, I've really grown to like them but am always astonished that people want nothing more than sour cream to go with them! In my mind, they're the perfect food for dipping into all different kinds of sauces and condiments. I think they'd be great appetizers to serve at a Christmas party with various dips, but would this be sacrilegious? Will the ghosts of hundreds of Polish grandmothers visit me at night, telling me I'm doomed if I serve them with anything but sour cream?

I agree that they'd be great with such -- but sounds like you have more pressing concerns than ghosts. That is, your Indiana neighbors! Perhaps you have to prove your point by trying it.

You were so right! Back on November 9, I asked about using a disposable pop-up thermometer to know when the turkey is ready, and Bonnie strongly recommended against it. We decided to test it anyway, while also using an instant-read meat thermometer, as Bonnie suggested, and paying attention to the minutes-per-pound instructions. The disposable pop-up thermometer popped about 90 minutes before the turkey was cooked! The instant-read thermometer allowed us to know when it was ready to eat. So, Bonnie, you gave us something else to be thankful for, namely, for not relying on the pop-up thermometer, which would have left us with raw turkey on the table. Thanks, Bonnie!

You're welcome!

Good morning Free Rangers- I have some pulled pork in my freezer that has only been there a few weeks, but I'm worried about drying it out when I reheat it. The meat is already seasoned but there is no sauce, so I'm worried about adding a liquid with any additional flavors to it. Thanks for your help!

     Start with accepting that fresh is better than frozen. But frozen ain't bad. I commonly have barbecue (pulled pork, brisket, or ribs, sometimes all three) in my freezer. You know, just for emergencies.

       I reheat gently, but not overly so. That is, I allow to thaw completely, wrap in foil, and set at 325 for about 30-40 minutes for, say, an eight-pound smoked pork shoulder. The meat stays juicy. The downside is the lack of good bark. But you can take the foil off for the last, say, 10 or so minutes. It won't be quite the same as just off the smoker, but it'll be good. 

    As for the sauce, that's your call. I generally add a n eastern North Carolina-style vinegar and pepper sauce after chopping or pulling the pork. Others like to add a thicker Kansas City-style red sauce or a western North Carolina tomatey vinegar sauce. And some folks like to go nekkid. It's really just what you prefer.

Hi! I'm planning on having a holiday cookie party in the next couple of weeks and thought it would be nice to pair the cookies with drinks. At this point, I know for sure that I'm making ginger cookies and iced sugar cookies (I've got simple tastes), can you recommend wines and/or cocktails that will go well with them? Thanks!

I don't know why, but ginger and sugar cookies make me think of rum, in particular a hot rum drink like Hot Buttered Rum or perhaps the Gingered Rum Toddy. Both of those feel like cookie drinks. If you don't want something warm, I still would go with rum, maybe in the Black Daiquiri, with its tamarind and garam masala syrups.

Dave McIntyre adds:

For wines, I'd suggest Moscato d'Asti - sweet, slightly fizzy, and low alcohol. The sweetness will match dessert (the wine should be sweeter than the food), and the tropical fruit flavors should go well with ginger. Another suggestion would be a Pedro Ximenez Sherry, which shares some of these characteristics (except the low alcohol).


I'm searching for cake yeast (fresh, refrigerated) for a traditional Christmas recipe. Giant has stopped carrying and it's not at Safeway either. Per my Giant manager, the store switched to Red Star yeast, but can't get their fresh product. ( I don't want to risk this recipe with dry yeast--expensive ingredients and a worry that it won't taste like grandma's.)

Try Balducci's. The Alexandria location said they had it.

Hiya, I'm already planning my New Year Cleanse Diet (this holiday season is already a doozy). The plan I picked out includes a smoothie recipe every morning for breakfast, but I don't have a traditional blender. Is this something I can make with my immersion blender? The recipes seem to call for 2-4 ice cubes, so it's not like I'm making frozen margaritas, but I worry about the blades. It's a new Cuisinart model. Thanks!

Recipe-wise, sure you could use a a stick blender. But some models can handle ice crushing, others can't.  Kitchen Aid, no; yours, maybe.  Did it come with a beaker? Then it can. If not, you should contact Cuisnart customer care. They can tell you but they need the exact model number. (I'll be interested because I have one, too, in red.)

If you're worried about it damaging the blades, you could get your ice most of the way there by placing it in a Ziploc bag and bashing away till the ice is mostly crushed, then add to your smoothie fixings and whirr away.

I was hoping you all could help with a good problem I have. For a wedding gift, my creative and thoughtful aunt gave my travel-loving husband and I a selection of Penzey's spice blends from areas around the world. The gift included blends from Singapore, Bangkok, Turkey, France, Poland, India, and Trinidad. I've gotten a couple ideas from the website, but I wanted to see if you had any general thoughts or ideas on how to best use these spice blends in meat and/or vegetable dishes.

If I were you, I'd use the blends as an excuse to start delving into global cuisine. You could pick up some cookbooks featuring those nations. I'd start with:

"Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia" by James Oseland

"A Tiger in the Kitchen" by Cheryl Tan. Not a cookbook per se, but a great read of a memoir with some Singaporean recipes.

"My Vietnam: Stories and Recipes" by Luke Nguyen (I can personally vouch for the gorgeousness and utility of this one, published overseas as "Song of Sapa")

"The Turkish Cookbook: Regional Recipes and Stories" by Nur Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman (Bonnie can vouch for this one)

"Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan (duh).

"How to Cook Indian" by Sanjeev Kapoor.

"Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago" by Ramin Ganeshram.

OK, but maybe you're not ready to commit to all that, you say? Fine. We can start with some recipes from the Post, can't we? The caveat here is I don't know what's in each of these blends -- but you can taste and see what you think as you go. Could be fun! We're pretty light on recipes from Singapore and Trinidad, but:

Bangkok: Try it in the marinade for Grilled Thai Chicken with Lemongrass.

Turkey: Try it instead of (or in addition to) the Aleppo pepper in Green Lentil Soup with Noodles and Mint.

France: Use instead of some or all the herbes de Provence in this Chicken Stew Provencal.

Poland: Sprinkle some into this Haluski, or stir some into the sour cream to serve with Family-Style Pierogi.

India: Use it in place of some or all the ground garam masala in this Indian Butter Chicken.


In today's story, you mention that the Spagnvola company employs Fair Trade practices. What about the other company?

Zoe's buys chocolate from Albert Uster Inports, who buys fair trade chocolate.

Just got a gift from my nephew. He made his own garlic infused olive oil and bottled it with various herbs in lovely bottles. I have heard about some problems with garlic being stored this way. any advice?Thanks love the chat

Is the garlic still in there? Do you know whether he used raw or roasted garlic?

I made butter last night using a quart of whipping cream someone brought on Thanksgiving that we didn't use. The butter is delicious. Can I use the stuff I poured off, which I guess is buttermilk, for things like biscuits, pancakes, etc.? There's about 1.5 cups. It is thin, and not the viscous stuff like you get when you buy cultured buttermilk. It's not tart. Thanks in advance. FWIW, I live in Nebraska and follow this chat weekly.

You can certainly use it, but it's not going to behave like buttermilk because, as you noticed, it's not cultured. You would have had to start with cultured cream to get that. (It's not a bad idea, as cultured butter itself is delicious.) It'll behave more like milk. I might be tempted to use it in a smoothie.

Noticed a new name on today's beer column. Is this a permanent change? I enjoyed the piece, regardless.

Daniel Fromson has joined our lineup, as we noted when he began. He's writing about beer once a month, alternating with Greg Kitsock. So an addition, not a substitution!

I loved the article about the two local chocolate shops! I hadn't heard about Zoe's, but am now dying to try them out. I have enjoyed the truffles from Spagnvola (I do wish the name were easier to spell and pronounce - did I get it right here), particularly the mocha truffle. I also enjoyed their almond cookie (not too sweet - great with coffee or tea), and the mixed berry gelato!

Spagnvola (pronounced span-VO-la) is really on the right track. Their hearts are definitely in it; they just need some experience under their belts. I appreciate the history behind the name, but they don't do themselves any favors by having a name that is hard to pronounce.

The 54%, what they call milk chocolate, is really sublime. 

I wrote in a few weeks ago about hosting my first Thanksgiving and cooking my first kosher turkey. I wanted to follow up with a big thank you for your help! The whole meal, including the turkey, were a huge success. I ended up rubbing sage, rosemary, thyme and olive oil on the bird and stuffing it with celery, herbs, onion and lemon. My boyfriend's mother wanted us to cook the bird ( 13 pounds) for 5 hours but I followed your instructions and the charts I found and we ended up with a juicy and browned bird in 3 1/2 hours. Thanks again!!!

So nice of you to report back! Our chatters are the best.

Is there a replacement for tomatoes? I've become unable to eat them (eggplants, too). I don't mind so much about leaving them out of salads and sandwiches. But I madly love Mexican food, especially tortilla soup and "pico de gallo" and both have tomato as a major ingredient. Tomato is prominent in lots of other Mexican dishes, too. And, switching to Italian, do I have to give up pizza? As you can imagine, I will be really elated if you can point me to some other food that I can use instead of tomato, or some way to make those recipes tomato-free. Thanks very, very much.

Oh, bummer! I think it's going to be tough to find a perfect substitute. But you can try experimenting with red pepper or other fruits such as mango or papaya. Does your allergy extend to tomatillos? If not, go crazy with some salsa verde (try Smoked Turkey Enchiladas With Mole Verde), which I tend to like even better than red salsa.

No need to give up on pizza. I love a good white version. Preferably with lots of garlic. You could probably go the red pepper route here as well (have a look at this pasta recipe and see if the sauce appeals), maybe using roasted peppers to approximate the sweetness of a marinara.

Hi Rangers, My dad has asked my husband that we get him a nice bottle of bourbon as his gift this year, since he doesn't really need or want anything. If we have a budget of about $50, what would you recommend? Many thanks and happy holidays! Love the chats!

$50 is a great big budget for bourbon, and you'll get something very nice with that. I would recommend the Four Roses Single Barrel, Elijah Craig 18 year old, or the Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 year old. Or if he likes the really high-proof, barrel-strength stuff, maybe George T. Stagg.

Best served with a generous topping of caramelized onions in brown butter.


A friend of mine recently went vegan. She's not too skilled in the kitchen. I'd like to get her a vegan cookbook for Christmas. Do you have any suggestions for a book that features simple recipes? Thanks!

Try "Easy Vegan." We featured its Creamy Vegetable and Cashew Nut Curry recipe last year. I have a copy of the book and have made several other great dishes from it too.

Creamy Vegetable and Cashew Nut Curry

I've never done this before, but this year my gift to far-away family will be a batch of homemade cookies. What's the best way to ship them? Does it matter what type of cookie it is (I'm thinking oatmeal gingersnaps and chocolate crinkles)? How far in advance can I make them before shipping them - ie if I plan to mail them on a Monday, can I make them on Saturday or would it be better to make them on Sunday? If it helps, they're not going far - only from Virginia to Maryland or North Carolina. Thanks!

Your choices sound fine for shipping. We offered cookie packing tips several years back; we ought to haul them out for our cookie issue NEXT WEEK, so thanks for reminding us. Generally, things that can melt or crumble easily should not be included, but you can outsmart the Cookie Monster by doing what some manufacturers do: stack 4 or 5 cookies in paper baking cups, place those inside airtight tins with maybe a cardboard layer between if the tin is deep enough to hold several layers. If you tend toward the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, you can bundle short stacks in wax paper then wrap each of those in bubble wrap and/or place between foam dividers. I'm going looking for those packing tips as soon as the chat's for when to bake, a day or two won't make too much difference. I think cookies with a high butter content (shortbreads, for example) tend to show a little wear and tear after 5 days but it all depends.

Did you catch that most important reference, people? Cookie issue NEXT WEEK! Yippee!

My boyfriend has long told me about grain pie, something his grandmother used to make for Xmas and Easter. I really want to make it for him but am having difficulty finding a tried-and-true recipe (I don't want it to be finicky and then turn out bad!). Thanks!

Send me an e-mail ( and I'll get you a copy of the recipe from Carol Field's revised edition of "The Italian Baker." Bonnie's a fan.

Friends, feel free to share your recipe if you have a favorite.

When I open my freezer, a strong smell of freezer burn wafts out. Every item I've sniffed also smells. Does this sound like there's something wrong with the freezer?

What does freezer burn smell like? You're smelling something else, not freezer burn -- which is the drying out and oxidation that happens to things, particularly meats, when not stored properly in the freezer. So can you describe the smell? 

A lot of chocolate chip cookie recipes that I've come across lately have specifically said "chocolate morsels" instead of "chocolate chips" because chips are supposedly resistant to melting. Is this true, and if so, should I switch to something else? What would be a "chocolate morsel" anyway, a cut up chocolate bar?

Chip are morsels as far as I know. They  have a lot of sugar in them, so are not necessarily the same as you'd get with a chocolate bar.

I have 4 naked eggs yolks in the fridge. what could I do with them, besides make noodles?

Jane Touzalin did a blog post on this exact topic last year. It is brilliantly arranged by how many yolks you have.

Potatoes should be stored in a cool dark place, right? I keep mine in the storage space underneath my kitchen island, and it seems I've barely closed the cabinet door before the potatoes start sprouting. Is there any way I can prevent this? I keep them in the plastic produce bags from the grocery store, is that part of the problem? Or should I just keep them in the fridge?

The bags are indeed part of the problem. They keep in too much of the moisture, which is the enemy when storing potatoes. They don't need to be refrigerated and store best at 45 to 50 degrees, indeed in a dark place. If you have a cool basement, that's best -- put them in paper or burlap bags with the top open to allow for ventilation. And make sure that if they're wet at all when you buy them, you let them dry on the counter before storing them. If you don't have a cool basement, they'll sprout sooner, but you can delay that by keeping them dark and dry. I have mine in my pantry in mesh bins.

He grew up in downtown in Little Ukrainian is a mixed of Ukraine, Polish, Mexican and Puerto Rican cultures; his family is from Kentucky. So we make our own pierogi, tamales, stuffed cabbage rolls and all that great southern cooking at our house. I will be taking some of those pierogi ideas home. Thank you for the article.

You're welcome! Will pass along to writer Elizabeth McNamara, who died a nice job with the piece.

I just wanted to say thanks for two items in your T-day chat. I was the poster to asked about doing a salt crust on a pre-basted bird and took Tim's advice to avoid a sodium bomb. I used a recipe from Barefoot Contessa for the herb roasted turkey breast and it turned out super moist and flavorful. Also, a big thanks for the detailed turkey stock and gravy instructions from David. I followed that same method and can't wait to try out the ragu with my saved turkey neck meat and stock! Thanks!

Glad to hear. Thanks for reporting back!

I was shocked to find that whole foods didn't carry it - I just assume they have everything. Know of any local (DC metro area) shops that do, or will I have to go online for this?

Maybe it was just that particular location? Last year we did say in a recipe that Whole Foods had it, but if you can't get it there you can try Penzeys and La Cuisine in Alexandria (703-836-4435).

I got a small rice cooker and am thrilled at what else I can cook in it! I'm eating delish lentils and brown rice I made in it at the touch of a button! I'm usualy the no unitaskers sort, but this is proving to be a great small multilpurpose no worry device.

Good to hear!

When I had my wisdom teeth out, I remember people recommending congee as a non-sweet, liquid-ish food to eat. Some cautioned that the bits of rice could get stuck in the holes, so I avoided it but I confess that I've always wanted to try making it. Do you have any suggestions for making it more interesting, like for a full meal, and keeping it vegetarian? Thanks.

If the congee's done right, the rice should be to the point where individual bits wouldn't go astray. Tim's on assignment and may join us later on, but I can vouch for congee's curative powers. When I was sick years back,  a colleague's Chinese mom made me jook with shredded chicken. Really saw me through some evil times.  You could do the vegetarian thing by topping with your own favorite mix of roasted or sauteed vegetables; I might even puree them and stir them in, just to keep that comfort food thing going.

As I was listening to my Chinese aunt tell me last night that she recently made a batch of congee, I saw Tim's article on The Post website! I will definitely be sending today's Food section to her to read! I think I will make some this weekend with the stock I made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass.


One bottle of grain alcohol and some Tasty Cake pies. Life is good. Who needs a recipe

Enough grain alcohol, and I suppose even Tasty Cake lives up to its name. But this could get dangerous...

Our popped up 30 minutes after the digital thermometer said it was to say USE a digital thermometer.

Amen. Kinda funny to trust your cooking judgment to the precise moment when a small bit of metal melts inside a plastic device.

Love that the recipe is classified as "Healthy", or maybe not everyone uses the amount of butter and sour cream that I do :)

I know, right? I ran that analysis and scrutinized it to make sure nothing was awry, but them's the numbers. I think it has to do with the serving size to some extent -- obviously, if you eat more than 1/20th of the yield, the "healthy" part might change!

You might want to tell the OP where she/he can get these bourbons? Do ABC stores carry them?

I'm not sure if the other person is in Virginia, but it seems you are. Here's the official price list for the ABC stores. It seems that the Four Roses and the Eljiah Craig is available. As for the Stagg and the Van Winkle, I know I've seen them both at Total Wine. But any premium liquor store is going to have at least one or two of those selections.

I live in Minnesota, but Zoe's is from Waynesboro, my hometown. Her family also ran the town's local candy shop (and one in Frederick, MD) called the Candy Kitchen.

Yes, that's true. Candy Kitchen is on Main Steeet as well. George wanted to go in a different direction, so he and his children opened Zoe's. 

Any cookbooks that would make a great gift for my brother and soon to be sister-in-law? They are pretty good if young (i.e. inexperienced) cooks and bakers and are often up for a challenging recipe. And are you doing or did I miss the holiday cookie special for this year?

Bonnie is weighing in on cookbooks soon! Can you wait until 12/14? Will be a good one. And yes, we always do cookies -- but NEVER before December. So they're coming next week. Get ready -- a good collection.

Totally go for it. Just blend your ingredients with the blender then pour over ice. I was on a huge smoothie kick this summer and did it all with an immersion blender and it worked perfectly. Annnnnnnd now I want a smoothie.

Pour over ice? I want my smoothies to have the ice blended in, otherwise ... it's not a smoothie, is it?

I've always had them with mustard...maybe it's an East Coast thing?

Sounds good! Nice spicy mustard would be good.

Tried the recipe you suggested last week to make a crust for the pie. Flavor was great, but the honey must have been what turned the outer parts of the crust into mortar. Willing to try again, substituting butter for the honey. For anyone else looking to do something similar, note: no honey as main binding ingredient for crust if you're baking for a while.

I can't find this reference. We covered a lot of ground last week, but don't see this recipe. But honey and butter do not substitute for one another in a pie crust.

Over the weekend, I had a really delicious cocktail from Ripple that included ceylon tea-infused rye whiskey. Is that hard to make at home?

That's interesting, and it is pretty easy to do at home -- though I'm not totally certain how they're doing it. I've infused vermouth before with Earl Grey tea and basically steeped 1 tea bag in a cup of vermouth for 15-30 minutes. I'm not sure how long to do the infusion with rye , but it's likely longer. It's worth experimenting in small batches to find out?

My mom has sent me a box of assorted chocolates..they are to die for...I hide them from my family. Please check it out...Waynesboro location is where my mom got my boxes.

Thier candy canes are also amazing. They make them all by hand and the hook they hang them on has been in the family for generations. When I was there, they were making Christmas trees from chocolate-covered candied almonds. Whole Foods will be carrying them.

Egg yolk cookies! Lemon curd! Tart crust! Check out Marie Simmons' "The Good Egg" for more. Well-written cookbook with nice clear instructions -- love it!

Looking to spike some apple cider for a holiday party, what liquors would be good to add?

First, I would recommend starting with real cider (the alcoholic beverage) and enjoying that with pleasure -- you can see my cider columns here and here. Then, you could make a Stone Fence, by adding bourbon or applejack.

Pouring it over ice is totally worth not having to buy a separate blender :) Plus crushing the ice in the blender is so loud, especially in the morning. Maybe I'm weird. But I say go for it :)

You're not weird, but it's not a smoothie unless it's ... smooth!

can you provide a simple, easy conbread recipe with peppers, corn and cheese? many thanks, annie

I'll do you one better: This Corn Torte w/poblano rojas from Pati Jinich looks pretty fab.

I made turkey stock &, from that, turkey noodle soup. It's great. But the stock becomes gelatinous when cool. It's fine once nuked, but I wish it looked equally appealing beforehand. Should I just embrace this as a side effect of homemade stock?

This is not just a side effect, it's a wonderful thing about stock. Shows that it's nice and concentrated and that you've pulled out all that good stuff from the bones.

I made a big batch of cherry bounce (bourbon, cherries and sugar) last summer when sour cherries were in season. I have let the mixture sit for the last few months with the intention of using it for an annual holiday party, which is coming up in a few weeks. This is my first time making it and now I'm looking for some good uses. I would love some cocktail ideas, other than a Manhattan. Also, is there a way I could incorporate it into baked goods? thanks!

I might be tempted to make some variation of a julep with this, but I think some Manhattan variation is the best call. But you don't have to stick to the old bourbon-sweet vermouth- bitters. Experiment by replacing the sweet vermouth with Punt e Mes or different Italian amari, bittersweet spirits like Averna or Nonino or Cynar.

I loved the article on pierogis. My family is Polish and Christmas Eve is not Christmas Eve without pierogis. However, you forgot one of the best parts of Christmas Even pierogis. Lekvar! Lekvar are prune filled pierogis and they are only eaten on Christmas Eve. What makes them so special is that when you make the pieorgis you make extra dough and use it make little balls that you sautee in honey and butter after you boil it. (the Lekvar in general are much sweeter than traditional cabbage, potato, or cheese). Yum!

Yep -- those are great. But we didn't forget anything, you realize; the piece was a specific memory of one writer's grandfather's pierogi, so she couldn't exactly insert lekvar where they didn't exist, could she?

So Barbara Kingsolver convinced me to try my hand at making mozzarella. Is it possible to buy rennet in stores, or do I need to order it online? Thanks!

I think you can find Junket tablets at Giant stores and maybe Whole Foods, and some area organic markets (such as YES!, MOM's) sell vegetarian rennet.

It's not the easiest (i.e., "Dinner in 10 Minutes!" or "Perfect Meal with 3 Ingredients"), but Veganomicon is a great book. I have several cookbooks, but that's the one I turn to first. Even if I am too lazy to make a complicated recipe, it inspires me to find ways to cheat--buying baked tofu instead of making my own, for example.

Sorry, not good at describing smells. I've smelled it before on foods ranging from Boca burgers to ice-cream to salmon that were frozen and formed ice particles. The smell, and an off-taste, remain after cooking, and is the same in all foods. I thought it was freezer burn I was smelling and tasting, but maybe not.

Ms. Benwick is our freezer queen, but if you have an off taste and smell, something is indeed wrong. Freezer burn can be prevented by tightly wrapping things in plastic wrap before you then put them in freezer bags. But if you're smelling something weird, I wonder if your freezer isn't getting low enough. Have you tried a freezer thermometer to check it?

Wow, Smoke Signals, I saw a picture of the new Pork Barrel restaurant on your Twitter. Doesn't look like any barbecue joint I've ever seen. What do you think?

Yeah, soapstone bar imported from Brazil, custom-made faux-limestone posts, pendant lighting, midnight-blue ceiling, shiny stained-concrete floor. Not your grandfather's barbecue joint. Actually, not a joint at all. 

     There is something very interesting to me about the Pork Barrel architecture (which was designed by a prominent DC restaurant designer, which, itself, is kind of amazing when you think of barbecue). 

       Barbecue has undergone an seismic shift since the days of it being an all-wood-fueled predominately Southern phenomenon. Nowadays, what with wood-enhanced ovens of the type that Pork Barrel and many, many other new barbecue restaurants use, barbecue can, and does, happen anywhere, and those ovens are one reason why we have seen such a barbecue explosion, especially in the North. 

      But most new barbecue restaurants traffic in nostalgia. Rusted farm implements on the wall, that sort of thing. Pork Barrel, on the other, an extension, in part, of the meeting of a veteran restaurateur and New School barbecue guys (aggressively entrpreneurial, very savvy with social media) with Old School sentiment (they got started out of a longing for the Kansas City barbecue of their youth and they compete at contests, which requires them to go completely charcoal/wood, no gas).

      I am going on far too long here. But the point is, I think that the restaurant represents something entirely new for barbecue. It looks much more to the future than to the past. There are a few other places around the country also doing new stuff, whether with the food or in the restaurant's look, or both. Taken together, they stimulate an interesting conversation about identity, authenticity, and expectation, subjects that attend barbecue more than other foods. 

Becky, thanks for the suggested substitutions. It'd be great if you'd elaborate and also tell me how to use red pepper or mango in place of tomato in Mexican food, if there's time. (I hate papaya, so that's out.) I'm hoping for a way to keep eating my absolutely-favorite tomato-heavy dishes, minus the tomato. Thanks again.

Well, in something like pico de gallo, I would just chop up the same amount of mango/pepper/etc. that the original recipe called for. As to tomato-heavy dishes like that soup, I'm not sure what to tell you, honestly. It's hard to swap out something that is the entire basis for a dish.

Anyone with tomato allergies have suggestions?

My potatoes turn green **very** quickly. For instance, I brought some last Tuesday and they are already looking greenish. I store them either on the kitchen counter or in the laundry room (I have shelves in there). Neither place gets much sunlight with the laundry room being darker and cooler. I have fluourescent lights in the kitchen and no light in the laundry room (it's been broken for a long while). How could I store them so this doesn't happen so quickly?

Are you making sure they're nice and dry? Leave them in the laundry room, but put them in paper sacks with the tops open so they can get air -- that should help. 

Just curious if any of you happen to know why 350 degrees is so often the temperature at which we bake and cook food? Yes, I know there are other temperatures, but that does seem to be the default --- even my digital oven makes me go up or down from 350 when I turn it on. Just wondering if there is a food science answer. Thanks very much!

The reason your digital oven starts at 350, I bet, is because it's midway between 200 and 500. I don't think 350 is necessarily the default for cooking things at all. I love to work at much lower and much higher temps, too -- 500 to roast cauliflower, 200 to oven-dry tomatoes overnight. 350 is a good braising temperature.

Perhaps not as exotic as other reader's Q&As. Any websites, cookbooks for making healthy, non-microwavable lunches for very young school age children? I can't see myself making artful bento box lunches at 5 in the morning! Help me out of my rut, of course nothing with NUTs (Banned at most schools)

I would like to bring a beverage for a party, I would prefer a nontraditional drink but I'm willing to explore traditional beverages with a twist like Caribbean eggnog (coconut milk & rum + the usual) but I brought that last year. What I can bring to add a wow factor? I know that they will have homemade Mead and Wine, and possibly Apple cider.

Homemade mead! Is this a Beowulf-themed party? Well, since mead is honey wine, let's stick with a honey theme for your drink. Here are two punches that call for honey syrup, both of which have been a hit every time I bring them to a party. One is the Hans Punch Up (with pear brandy as the main spirit), created by Adam Bernbach of Estadio and Proof. The other is Honey Spiced Punch (with rum, cachaça, and falernum)

I'm officially a homemade chicken stock convert. I bought a whole chicken at the grocery store this weekend, roasted it for dinner Monday, had enough meat left over for another meal I'm planning to make later this week and got probably about 4 quarts of stock from the carcass using a recipe from Jonathan Waxman's newest book. I love the fact that I can make the stock so cheaply because I'm basically using leftovers. This has now got me on a kick trying to figure out how far I can stretch things. I've read that you shouldn't use food scraps in your stock, like carrot peels. But what about the ends of onions I always have left over from dicing them? Can I throw them in a freezer bag and chill them until I'm ready for another batch of stock? And what about all the carrots and celery I have left over from when I buy a batch for stock - can I freeze them for later stocks? I know freezing veggies doesn't keep them in an ideal state, but it doesn't matter if they're going to be used in a soup, right? Can I do the same with herbs? Thanks guys - love all of your advice!

You may end up wishing for a room-size freezer, but yes, saving and freezing's the way to go. I use onion/other veg  bits to make vegetable stock, although I don't go so far as carrot peels. If you're going to save the herbs, maybe dry them or place them in a cheesecloth baggie before adding to the stock. When you say you have carrots/celery left over, hope you mean raw.  Re freezing:  Right. Okay for soupmaking.

"Freezer thermometer" will be my next internet search. Thanks, Joe!

You're welcome. Let us know how it goes.

What is the best non-chocolate dessert you can think of? I've got two friends that are allergic to chocolate and I'm casting about for ideas.

These lemon pudding souffles are easy to make and always a smasheroo.

I second that.

Hey, Jim, saw your blog yesterday about the "new" Pork Barrel BBQ restaurant and can't figure out why there was no advance advertisement - maybe they really don't want customers??? Were you able to try anything there yet? If so, what would you suggest? Thanks

    I asked why they only put a sign on the door rather than put out a tweeet or slap it on their Facebook. The answer was something like, We just wanted the passersbys to know. 

     There was something very Mayberry RFD about it. I don't know if they were concerned about being overrun by customers on their first night and so purposefully didn't pout out the word in a big way at first or if they used it as a calculated strategy, expecting the media would pick up on it and let it spread "organically," thus adding to their mystique. (Though the "media," actually, didn't; a press release sent days later is what most of the blogosphere went from.) 

     Whatever the case, they did ultimately send out a press release and the 'cueosphere went crazy. 

     So, in answer to the question about wanting customers, they definitely want them. They plan to build more restaurants in the area in the next couple of years. 

     As for trying their food, Monday was their first night open to the public. I wasn't able to make it there that night and won't for a little while (I'm actually out of town right now). 

    If you go, I'd love to know what you think! 

I'd like to make a pot of beef barley soup this weekend. Can you please recommend a cut of beef that would be good? I can't remember what I used last time but the meat was rather tough. Thanks!

You need something like chuck, which is perfect for stewing. Check out this recipe, which also includes mushrooms.

Hi, We hold our team's holiday party (about 16 people) at our manager's house. She prepares the main course and we are asked to bring dessert, appetizer or a side. The menu is scallops wrapped in bacon, stuffed shells, sausage and peppers. The party will be held about 20 minutes from my house. Any ideas? I am open to just about anything. My husband and I are good cooks.

I think the desserts from David in today's section would be knockouts.

Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie

Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie

Zoe’s Aegean Pistachio Chocolate Tart

Zoe’s Aegean Pistachio Chocolate Tart

Thread-weaving alert! I put raw egg yolks in a pan of water, then boil till the yolks are to the hard-boiled consistency. Then I use them in the Norwegian Butter Cookie recipe from the "Fannie Farmer" cookbook (chatter can double the recipe for 4 yolks).

INGREDIENTS: 2 hard-boiled egg yolks, cooled

½ cup (=1 stick) butter, softened

¼ cup sugar

1 cup flour

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

DIRECTIONS: Cream butter and sugar; add vanilla. With a fork, crumble yolks thoroughly, then beat in well with spoon or electric mixer. Beat in flour. Following directions for cookie-press, pack dough into tube, squeeze out cookies onto UNgreased baking sheet.

Bake @ 375°F for 10 minutes, or till lightly golden color. Remove sheet from oven IMMEDIATELY, then with spatula gently lift off each cookie onto wire cooling racks (otherwise they will continue to darken on the hot baking sheets).

Experiment with various cookie- press disks (for different shapes) and thicknesses till you find what you like best. These aren't as sweet as most cookies. They store well in a covered container. In fact, the flavor of the butter in them actually seems to improve after a day!

I make smoothies all the time and I don't add ice. I use frozen fruit and the V8 juice that is fruit based (peach/mango is my favorite). I don't miss the ice at all!!

The frozen fruit plays the part of ice beautifully. I like to do it this way, too -- frozen banana, particularly. But you missed my point -- I'm just saying it can't be poured OVER ice to count as a smoothie. Using frozen fruit is even better cause it doesn't dilute the drink.

I've had a passion for food since childhood, but have only been cooking regularly for a couple of years now, and I feel like I've hit a wall in my abilities. I'm good at following recipes, but if I step outside what's written, I'm lost. I want to move beyond and have confidence in having a feel for modifying a recipe or even in throwing together things more complicated than pasta without one. I'm sure a foundational cooking class would help, but I don't have the money for that right now. Any advice on how to get to the next step in my cooking skills?

Think about flavors and ingredients you like. If you have a recipe that features them, think about ways to incorporate even more of that flavor, or perhaps ways to use that ingredient in a separate recipe  you like.  And have a little faith in your abilities. I have so much respect for cooks and chefs who come up with seemingly new combinations -- we can't and don't all need to be the geniuses who do this. Still, there's plenty of room for small tweaks, and I've found that from small tweaks, sometimes a better recipe results. 

An example:  I used the bechamel sauce (infused with rosemary) from a favorite butternut squash lasagna to make a Thanksgiving mac n cheese (left out the cheddar), to which I added roasted kabocha squash and crisped bits of prosciutto.

There are so many variations on everyday popcorn, sweet, caramel, whatever - is there a way to get a "smoked" flavor for popcorn? Seems that might be tasty.

   Gotta say, I never tried smoking popcorn. Two ideas: 1, use smoked salt; 2, heat on the smoker over a wood fire. 

     Anybody out there have other ideas?

Smoked paprika (pimenton), natch. I do this all the time. Toss the popcorn in a little olive oil, sprinkle on pimenton and salt. Smoked salt is fab, too.

I make wine cheese straws for entertaining and they seem to go well - wondered about changing flavors - perhaps using a smoked cheese or jalepeno pepper cheese - any thoughts on how they might turn out??? Don't want to waste a lot of good stuff.

    I can't see how this could be bad. 

My family does Christmas old school and we mostly get each other gifts off the lists we send out. I want to fill out my tiny kitchen a bit (I pretty much have an immersion blender and a hand mixer) but I'm not sure what to ask for. What would you consider an essential frustration-saving appliance or tool for someone who cooks more than bakes?

Do you have a chef's knife that you love? That'd be the top of any list, unless you're covered. Or another good paring knife -- that's always handy to have. After that, I'd suggest maybe a Japanese mandoline for superior thin-slicing. Maybe a 14-inch carbon steel wok if you think you might enjoy getting into stir-frying. 

We're going to have our gift guide up online by early next week. Look out for it -- it may give you other ideas.

I make many batches of the wonderful Sesame Thins recipe from your 2008 or 2009 cookie issue, so I have many yolks. One solution: Chocolate bread. This is the best sweet bread I know of. Lower in calories than cake and more satisfying. 3 cups AP or bread flour 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup cocoa powder 1 1/8 cup water (or a tablespoon or two more, depending on the humidity and the flour) 1 egg yolk 1 TB butter 1 tsp salt 2 tsp yeast - instant for the bread machine, active for by hand 3/4 cup chocolate chips. Dump all in the bread machine on the dough cycle. Pull out and form into a loaf and let rise for an hour. Bake for 30 minutes or so at 375 degrees. People LOVE this stuff. Can be made by hand or in a mixer too: mix the liquids first, add the yeast, let it foam. Add the flour, sugar, cocoa power all together and mix. Add the chips last. Knead for about 8 minutes. Let rise in bulk until doubled, remove and shape into a loaf, let rise again, then back for about half an hour at 375 degrees.

A co-worker's mother sends us goodies often. She packages cookies, about 6 at a time, in narrow plastic bags and surrounds them with popped corn. They always arrive intact and we have the bonus popcorn to nibble on.

Is there a subsitute for cocoa nibs? I have a recipe that calls for cocoa nibs but are they worth spending the money on?

Depends what you're going to use them in, but I don't think they're so expensive any more. Some stores (WFM?) carry them in bulk.

Hi, enjoyed the congee article. I was just wondering what the texture difference is between congee and cream of rice. I loved cream of rice as a kid but haven't made it in years.

Thank you! It's been a long time since I've had cream of rice, but congee has a smooth, slightly glutinous mouthfeel. Did I just use the term "mouthfeel"?

YES, thousands of Eastern European grandmothers will haunt you. There's just no need for anything with a pieroghi other than onions browned in butter and a dose of sour cream. Signed, a cranky Slovak whose university insisted on serving cheese pieroghies with marinara sauce, peppers, and barely cooked onions.

Bonnie suggested I use this for the crust: And call me crazy, but the guts of this Gingerbread-Hazelnut Rum Balls recipe might make a good crust as well.

Ah, well then, is that what you went with? Did you bake it for a long time?

Trader Joes has cocoa nibs; they're usually near (or in) the checkout line.

Flanken. Short ribs cut long ways. Cook them in water and skim the top till there is no more scum. Cook for a while till the meat is tender and the broth is tasty. Add your veggies (onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms and thyme and then barley. cook another 45 mins. Take out the flanken (the meat should have fallen off the bone by now) cut away the fat and add the meat back in to the pot. So good!

Penzey's does indeed carry Aleppo pepper. I bought some a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks for the report!

For lack of a better term, and I hope I'm not too late for this to get answered this chat, but I'm looking for hot chocolate cubes that are on a stir stick. In Belgium you stir that in your warm milk to make hot chocolate. I've found online sites to order them but was hoping to go somewhere local, preferably metro accessible and/or in DC. Can you help?

Try Co Co Sala. They have multiple varieties.

It's my birthday you have any ideas for a quick easy chicken dinner dish? Thanks, nothing too spicy.

A clucking H.B. to you! How about Carrot Juice Chicken? Or Chicken With Lime Butter.

I'm having folks over after our city's Christmas tree lighting. I'd like to make some yummy hot chocolate but am at a loss for what kind of snack to serve with it. Cookies or cake sounds too yucky sweet but something salty doesn't seem right either, does it? It needs to be something I can make ahead of time so I'm spending time with my guests while they're at my home.

How about fruit? Chocolate goes well with so many different fruits. It's not very sexy, but it's good for you!

Maybe you could make a tomato marinara - sautee onions, celery, mushrooms, lots of carrots unitl very soft and blend with stock (beef might give it a more substantial feel). Then you might just need a splash of something acidic (maybe red wine or a splash of red wine vinagar)? Seems like it could work if you work up the flavors you need - slightly sweet, a little acidic, slightly tart & a little beefy.

Well, we've reached the desired consistency, so you know what that means -- we're done! Thanks for the great q's today, and to Jason and Jim for helping us handle them.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about freezer burn will get "Ruhlman's Twenty," autographed by Mr. Ruhlman himself. And the one who asked about whether Polish grandmothers will come a-haunting will get "Cooks Illustrated, 2001-2010."

Send your mailing information to Becky at, and she'll get you the books.

Until next week, happy cooking, reading and eating.

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