Free Range on Food

Dec 11, 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 this week's chat! What's on your agenda today?

Hope you enjoyed Jim Webster's tale of the Christmas bread that threatened to braid itself -- and everything else in sight; Tim's account of cooking with the masterful Rene Redzepi of Noma; and Bonnie's list of her favorite 2013 cookbooks.

We have a VIP guest to help us out today: Cathy "Mrs. Wheelbarrow" Barrow! She's a pro at all manner of cooking -- but if you need some prompting, if I were you, I'd ask her about homemade food gifts, cause she has, well, a very special touch with those.

We'll have giveaway books to tempt you, offered to THREE of our favorite chatters: "The Washington Post Cookbook," curated (and signed!) by Bonnie, "Eat Your Vegetables" written (and signed!) by little ol' me; and one more to be announced at the end of the chat.

Let's make it a good one!

The marshmallow bits were relatively easy to find. But I had a really hard time finding dried pears. I finally found pear halves at MOM. I tried a test chop last night and it seems like that will be a time intensive bit. Did you chop yours in a food processor? I was wondering if they are too sticky to manage in a food processor.

You know, the pears have been harder to find for me just in the past couple of weeks -- not sure why. (Those are one of the 3 cookies we're doing in our rescheduled cookie class this Saturday at Hill Center DC.) I think the recipe mentioned that softening them in warm water would work fine....if not, you heard it here first. I chopped mine by hand. You want little bits. 


I had a hard time recently finding dried APPLES! Not even as exotic as pears! The guy at Whole Foods looked at me like I was crazy to ask. No Giant, no Harris Teeter, no Mom. Of course, Trader Joe's came through. (Their dried fruit is amazing.)

Can I use my food processor to cream butter and sugar for sugar cookies?

The food processor doesn't add air to the mixture, which is what will make more ethereal cookies and cakes. In a pinch, sure, but I wouldn't make it a habit. Instead, do what our ancestors did and beat the cream and sugar with a wooden spoon until the color lightens considerably. Yes, it will take awhile and use some elbow grease. Have two cookies.

Why can we no longer print recipes? (or am I just not looking in the right place? I signed up for the "Recipe Box" thinking we'd be able to print there, but to see the entire recipe, you're directed back to the Food section.

You don't have to file a recipe to the recipe box to print. From the recipe, just look for that line of icons at the upper right: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Email, Print, and Comment. (The print one is a little printer!) Super easy.

Are you using Firefox 25.0.1 by any chance? We've heard of some issues with the font used for those icons not loading properly for a few folks. Here's the advice from our tech team: Clear your cache (Preferences --> Advanced --> Network --> Cached Web Content --> Clear Now) and restart your browser to see if that does the trick.

I really enjoyed Tim Carman's story about hanging out with Rene Redzepi when he was in town recently. What a great opportunity! Reading about the dishes he came up with after visiting the Penn Quarter market was so interesting. No sauteing! Although some of his technique is beyond my kitchen's capabilities, I think I could actually do the charred onions in cheese sauce and would like to try it. I'll have to substitute a smoked cheese for the feta, since I can't do the home cheese smoking. What is tomme cheese? Is that easy to find? If I can't find it, is there something more common that would also work?

Thank you! I really enjoyed hanging out with Rene Redzepi, who has such gravitas.


Tomme is a generic name for a number of French Alpine cheeses. You want to get the semi-soft or even firm  kind, not the brie-style Tomme. The semi-soft/firm kind is called Tomme de Savoie, which I found at Whole Foods. I'm told you can substitute Muenster for it in a pinch.

Hi Free Rangers! I was the poster from a few weeks ago who removed all the sell by dates that I could, prior to a picky visitor coming. People asked for a follow-up after Thanksgiving. It all went fine, until the visitor suffered a knife cut to the finger and I was busted for some out of date medicine cabinet contents!

Wait, so the guest was going through your medicine cabinet?!?!

Hi Foodies, I want to get my hubby some DYI supplies for mojitos at home (plan to plant mint in the garden in the spring!). Besides glasses and a muddler, what rum would be best? It is rum, right?? Any other suggestions? Thanks!

Hey there! For traditional mojitos, the main thing is that you want a light rum rather than a dark. Taste is so subjective, but I'd say some good options would be Cruzan Light, Flor de Cana, Bacardi Silver, any of the light, Cuban or Cuban-style rums. If you want to splurge a little, you could throw in an aged silver rum as well, but those are good options for authentic mojitos. Cheers!

I want to make the Oaxaca chocolate cookie from your 2012 list. It says to use the stand mixer with paddle attachment. Would a basic hand mixer not be able to handle the job?

Good choice, those beauties! The dough is a little stiff, if I'm recalling correctly; you can certainly use a hand mixer. 

Hubby and I are really into sparkling wines right now, prosecco, brut, etc. I pick up a bottle when it's on sale at WF Would love a bit more guidance though and suggestions to try. I've been picking up bottles in the $9-$11 range.

Dave McIntyre says, "Look for Segura Viudas Reserva Cava, which should be about $10."

If you want to go slightly higher in price, Dave had boxes with recommendations for sparkling wines this week and last week.

I'll second the Segura Viudas Reserva. It's been one of my go-to's for big parties. (For my last BIG birthday, I served this to most people but also bought a select number of bottles of a MUCH more expensive Champagne.)

According to this recent article, spicy and oily foods desensitize taste buds to flavors which are delicate and subtle.

I was expecting a piece about scientific research showing the effect of spicy and oily foods on the taste buds, but that's not what this is. It's an interesting piece about the UN's decision to honor the Japanese traditional cuisine, washoku, as part of the world's heritage -- and it includes a quote from a university president who says that because so many Japanese youths eat spicy and oily food they "can't even taste" anymore the subtetly of some of the more traditional foods.

Just to be clear, I don't think that means that we shouldn't eat spicy or oil foods at all for fear of losing our taste buds' sensitivity. I think this is more about a cultural phenomenon in Japan, the changing and modernization of its foodways, and the (justified) fears of those who appreciate it that the younger generation isn't going to experience it.

I, for instance, love spicy food -- but I also love the beautiful purity of tradition, subtly flavored Japanese food.

Food team, please help a gal out. I am looking for a great food gift - about $100 - that is unique and tasty. It can be mail order or, since I'll see the recipient, hand-delivered. Prefer to stay savory but if there's a terrific sweet, I'm game. Not to be too broad but every time I get on the internet, I get swamped with ideas and have yet to narrow down even food categories (last year was sausages with a kitschy t-shirt from Boccalone (very very well received). Any thoughts greatly appreciated!

Have you seen our gift guide that Bonnie curated? I really like the baskets being put together by FreshFarm Markets. More info here.

I have a nice recipe for roasted red pepper & tomato soup. While it's certainly not bad, it doesn't have the silky smooth texture of traditional tomato soup, and the taste actually reminds me more of a bloody mary. Do you think the problem is not using any dairy? p.s., I'm the same person attempting to grow roots on my piece of ginger. It still doesn't look like anything's happening, but it's not rotting either so I'm just gonna keep it around for kicks.

Did you use a food mill to puree the soup? The silky texture is harder to achieve if you were blending in a blender or food processor. Also, did you remove the seeds and peel from the tomatoes? And the peppers? If all else fails, push the soup through a fine strainer -- that should make the texture smooth out.

Not to serve to a select few at the same party, I hope.

Of course not! We used the cava as a mixer for champagne cocktails, while the Billecart Salmon was poured straight. Once we went through the latter, it was cava for everything. Fun!

I was glad to see your list of best cookbooks but was surprised that River Cottage Veg wasn't on it given the many comments about it the last few months. Can you explain why it didn't make the list? I am looking for a veg/vegan cookbook for someone who is an experienced cook and has a lot of basic cookbooks. thanks,

Mostly a matter of overall numbers, especially in the veg department. Editor Joe's done such a great job of highlighting and scouring this year's veg books -- perhaps he thinks it ought to have been included! You've read his piece about the book, right? We were all gaga for the Fearnley-Whittingstall's Carrot Hummus and Baby Beet Tarte Tatin

I give Ms. B free rein when it comes to curating the cookbook list -- after all, she looks at EVERYTHING, while I just dip in and out. But yes, I think you could consider RCV to be on our auxiliary, chat-only list! I love it. It's worth it for the "hummi" alone.

I really enjoyed the rundown of cookbooks and books on wine. What I didn't see was a list of the year's best cocktail books, and I'm really curious what you'd recommend. Thanks!

I would say it depends who you're shopping for! There are a couple of fun ones for the truly geeky this year: Craft Cocktails at Home, by Kevin Liu, and Tony Conigliaro's The Cocktail Lab both have some interesting, (I hate to use this word but will anyway) "molecular" approaches to mixology and really get into the science of some of it. If you want something new and old school, check out Warren Bobrow's "Apothecary Cocktails." There's a gorgeous "coffee table" type book called "Craft Cocktails" which is just lovely to look at along with having some good (if sometimes tricky-to-source, ingredients-wise) drinks. Kayleigh Kulp's "Booze for Babes" is a fun, "girly" intro to spirits -- I have slightly mixed feelings about singling women drinkers out this way, but if you're buying for a friend who is nervous about drinking anything that's not a Cosmo, I think it's a friendly, non-threatening way of widening their perspectives (I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a gift for women who've been serious about cocktails for a while). Tony Abou-Ganim did a book on vodka, I believe, and that's kind of interesting given that some bartenders tend to turn their noses up about that particular spirit (I haven't read this one, but I've heard decent things). But I think my honest favorite this year was Amy Stewart's "The Drunken Botanist" -- such a fun book, loaded with science, history and some good recipes, too. Are there more I've missed? Tell me--always looking for good new reads!

Thank you for last week's cookie guide! I'm confused about salt when baking sweets. Is there any difference in the type of salt to use (Morton's table salt, kosher, sea salt, fine sea salt) and are quantities interchangeable?

You are welcome! Depends in part on how the salt is used. If it's a finishing salt, as in, on top of the cookie, some recipe authors like to call for sea salt -- which they favor for its specific flavor.  Some of those sea salt crystals stay in place/don't melt into the dough like table salt.  Fine sea salt just dissolves easier. In testing, we tend to use kosher salt as our default recipe ingredient because it by volume overall it has a tad less sodium, and we don't really need the additive/iodine in table salt. 

I loved Jim Webster's story of bread-making. My first loaf of bread was a more traditional loaf of wheat bread. I'd never used yeast before, so, of course I got the water too hot and pretty much killed it. I didn't realize that and continued with the recipe. It didn't rise much. After I baked it, I accidentally dropped it on the floor. The neighbors complained. Luckily, I got better at bread and it's fun to make.

Too funny! Thanks for sharing.

I'd think that sharp kitchen scissors would work.


Even with no stand mixer, I would rather use a hand mixer than beating with a wooden spoon.

If you're averse to machines you can use one of those newfangled egg beaters made of thin wires like whisks. Work great.

Last night I wanted to make some ratatouille, but I thought it just needed some zing, so instead of eggplant I used hamburger meat. That made it perfect.


For the last few years I have given a 1pt of homemade ice-cream with a dozen frozen variety of cookie-dough balls. The thought is that it is a gift that can be enjoyed at their convenience. Who doesn't love warm cookies and ice-cream? I have young kids so I either need to involve them or do it after they go do bed. Any ideas?

Sounds like a great gift already, but if you want to gild the lily, why not add some homemade fudge or caramel sauce?


Ha. I bet she cut herself deliberately so as to have an excuse to pick on you about something, anything.

This is starting to get into Carolyn Hax's holiday hootenany territory.

I'm getting to be on the old side and would dearly love to have my totally non-cooking husband to learn how to cook at least one meal a week. Can you recommend a cook book for him? Retirement means having to cook a lot more just when ones back says "Stand less!"

Maybe you could try to entice him with foods from his favorite cuisine? For instance,  Italian home cooking is covered in the new Pronto, from Canal House Cooks, which has many easy recipes without too many fancy ingredients.

I think the most things here for sense of taste are the artificial or extremely concentrated flavors in processed foods. For example, I usually make salad dressing, but once I bought some Newman's lime dressing. The flavor was more intense than sucking on a lime. I'm not saying they damage taste buds, but that they do change expectations....

Yep, I would agree with that.

Thanks for taking my question. I'd like to make these cookies from a previous Christmas cookie issue. The recipe calls for rice flour. Does it work if I use brown rice flour would it need to be white rice flour?


The brown rice flour is grittier, so for these tender shortbread the white rice flour's the way to go. 

My husband has done some great meals on the offset smoker on our grill, so I bought the Weber Smokey Mountain for his birthday. Do you have suggestions for a cookbook or 2 (something that focuses on technique as well as recipes) and other must have tools/accessories? Thanks.

I like Diana Henry's Salt, Sugar, Smoke. 

     My recommendations include  "Smoke" by Tim Byres, a Dallas restaurateur who has done some interesting things with barbecue; "America's Best BBQ Homestyle" by Kansas City barbecue experts Ardie Davis and Paul Kirk; and "The Grilling Book" by Bon Appetit editor Adam Rapoport. All of those are 2013 books. 

     One of my all-time favorites is "Cooking with Fire and Smoke" by Phillip Stephen Schulz. 

     I also like DC chef Barton Seaver's "Where There's Smoke," a wonderful seafood and produce grilling/bbq book (published 2013). 

I submitted this cookie question last week but didn't get an answer - I'm hoping someone can help this week! I'd love to make a traditional linzer cookie for the holidays (like my german born-and-bred grandmother used to make). Do you have any tried and true recipes to share? I've found a few online but I thought I'd check with you guys (I want an expert's advice!) before I choose a recipe. Any tips are welcome as well as I've never made them before. Thanks in advance!

These Blackberry Thumbprints are very similar to Linzer cookies. Just use whatever jam you like.

Blackberry Thumbprints

You could also look at King Arthur Flour's recipe. I've yet to be steered wrong by those folks.

I am working on my year long goal to cook more and cook more healthily (its never too late, right?) What are some kitchen staples you reach for to make vegetables and other simple foods more delicious? spices, condiments, anything with a long shelf life.

A few thoughts: Sriracha, za'atar, crushed red pepper flakes and good olive oil.

Becky and I were obviously separated at birth. Ditto to all that. And I'll throw in a little kimchi, natch. OK, toasted sesame oil, too -- and smoked paprika.

How far can you tweak a recipe until its name no longer makes sense? Your recipe for vegetarian bean stew sounds good. I just don't understand the need to call it Chili.

Well, this was Giada's name for it, but I have to say, you sound like me back in my more purist days about chili. ("It's chile CON CARNE," I would say. "Your little thing is nice, but it's a bean stew.") I'm nicer now.

Do you have any suggestions of what one does with capers? I bought a jar on a whim, but am at a loss of what to do with them. (Also, I live overseas and my access to specialty ingredients is limited.) Thanks!

This mussel recipe with Ravigote sauce tells you everything you need to know about capers. They add a salty bit of pickled zing to any sauce, but in a ravigote, they shout hello! Try this sauce on shaved celeriac, leftover chicken, poached salmon... this list goes on.

Also: Tapenade!

It seemed like 2013 was the year for celebrity cookbooks or celebrity chef cookbooks, and I didn't find many I really liked. I did like "The French Market Cookbook" from the author of the Chocolate & Zucchini blog.

Celebrity chefs will always get their share of the market, but as Bonnie noted in her round-up, there were many good volumes by non-celebrity cooks. Personally, I enjoyed cooking from Ed Lee's cookbook, "Smoke & Pickles."

What other books did you like?

I liked Clothilde's "French Market Cookbook," too. Loved that Green Bean, Red Rice and Almond Salad.


This past weekend I roasted the seeds and pumpkin flesh of a decorative pumpkin after my wife's insistence that I not waste it. I tasted the roasted pumpking flesh. It was soft but very bitter. Is that typical. is there any way to save this or should i just compost it?

What size was the pumpkin? The so-called sugar or pie pumpkins are the ones that yield best / edible flesh.

I would love to cook a Prime Roast. I only want three bones because it is just me and hubby not to big. Every where a go they ae so very big for the both of us. Any suggestions. This will be my first time cooking one


Call Wagshal's and have the butcher cut you the size you'd like, probably 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. It'll run you $26.99 a pound. Then follow the advice of Serious Eats' Kenji Lopez-Alt, who wrote the Bible on cooking perfect prime rib.


If you're feeling really adventurous, you can try Jim Shahin's Wood-Smoked Prime Rib, a smokin' version (I mean that on at least two levels) of the dish.

Whole nutmegs and a grater. peppercorns and grinder parmesan cheese and a grater (though refrigerated and not in pantry)

You refrigerate your grater? ;-)

I should hope so, since the Con Carne is the specific part that refers to meat. I don't see why chili shouldn't be a bean stew.

What I mean is, I would tell people that the full, original name of chili is "chili con carne." Such a jerk I was.

You've probably heard this by now, but be careful when planting mint. It is very invasive! Plant in a container or in a small area where it can't travel far.

Word. You can mow a patch down with a mower, and it'll come right back. I've seen whole fields of the stuff.

A friend brought me some of her family's traditional Thanksgiving stuffing this year, which was made with capers. I was dubious up until my first bite. Which is to say, throw it in your stuffing!

Love that idea. I use capers lots of places where I want some little punches of sharpness, so stuffing/dressing makes perfect sense, so it can offset the richness of other dishes.

I love Cajun seasoning and use it on roasted vegetables, for sweet potato fries, on salmon, in scrambled eggs . . . I have a bottle I ordered from Louisiana, but you can also make up your own mix (lots of recipes on the googler) or buy one from Penzeys.

I'm the host of an annual cookie party. We try to do a variety every year - what are a few types (flavors) of cookie we should bake to cover the important categories? Thanks!

Bars are always a hit.  I'd include fruit-filled, some made without butter (meringues or macaroons/macarons), a savory, a cookie made with ground nuts, something satisfyingly chocolate, a slice-and-bake and a no-bake. If anybody's gluten-free, you might want to ask one person to bake in a no-gluten environment and keep those cookies separate. 

I got my niece a crockpot for Christmas and want to get her a cookbook to go with it. She's a year into her first job post college and learning to cook for herself. Any suggestions before I go to the bookstore and get overwhelmed with choices? I like a few recipes from the several I have - but no one book stands out (and yes, I'll give her those recipes as well:) Thanks

Bonnie included America's Test Kitchen "Slow Cooker Revolution: Volume 2" in her annual cookbook roundup. That would be a good one. Bonnie also liked "The Mediterranean Slow Cooker."

Are these possible? Does anyone (chatters?) have a tested and reliable recipe? I really want to try your peppermint chocolate coated idea and wondered if I could start with a vegan base....

Apparently they can be made without gelatin. One enterprising soul has created an open-source vegan marshmallow recipe, because he found so many on the web fraudulent. Take a look.

I am mildly obsessed with fancy decorated sugar cookies these days, but I'm not especially good at them. Would you happen to know of places that do classes/workshops in the DC Metro area? I know I'll never get to be as talented as Julia Usher, but I sure would like to try some of the techniques that she and others use. Thanks!

Have a look at our cooking class list. I wasn't able to find any cookie-decorating classes this instant, but they may be out there. Anyone know off-hand?

We have some friends coming to our house for 5 days after Christmas. All together there will be 4 adults (1 of whom is pregnant) and 5 kids between 1 and 6 years of age. Any suggestions on a menu. I am having trouble thinking of something for some reason. Last year I made Beef wellington which tasted great to the adults, but was not a hit with the kids.

When we entertained a houseful of people recently, I turned to the Ottolenghi cookbook 'Jerusalem.' I cooked several dishes over three days -- most hold for a day or two in the refrigerator, so you won't be cooking all day and night. There were vegetarians, meat eaters, children, picky eaters and everyone found something they loved. The chicken with clementines was a terrific main dish. 

I love beets in all forms but I'm living with a SO that hates them in any form. I've tried all methods of disguising them and hiding them but he inevitably notices. He's gracious in that he still eats it but he would prefer never to again. Any ideas on some ways to mask or subdue the garden "dirt" flavor that he hates so much and maybe convince him beets are ok?

I feel your pain. I have the same problem in my home. I've tried masking golden beets (called them "Big, round carrots") but I got caught. Now he doesn't trust me. 

I've resigned myself to being the only person who cares about a beet. I roast a few beets every couple of weeks and keep them in the refrigerator and add them to my salad only. 

WOW! What an exotic little assortment this year. Made the Melomakarone Honey Spice, The blueberry chocolate ginger, exchanging the egg for a substitute, for my vegan surgeon. I just happened to have the mahleb so the Maamoul date cookies are in this year's choices. AND, the Rosemary Dark Chocolate Baklava for my sweetheart of a husband who has washed the pots and pans endlessly over the past week. Also have Triple Ginger cookies (Silver Palate), potato chip cookies, Nicky's Healthy cookies (also for vegan surgeon) and several more. I only have peanut butter popcorn, a new spice cookie to try, and spiced nuts from Emeril for my charge nurse. By the way, Joe, I got your cookbook for the surgeon. Unless I decide to keep happens. Probably won't be home for the chat tomorrow, so, happy holidays to all of you at my favorite site!


I put capers in my potato salad, on pizza, and one of the best fish dishes I ws ever served at a restaurant was a plain trout served with a sauce of capers and pine nuts browned in butter with a little white wine. YUM.

I am using Firefox. This is the third time this week I've had a problem. Think I'll finally switch to Chrome! Thanks!!

You're welcome! Thanks for persisting. :)

I'm making a chocolate cake for a dinner party (Hershey's cocoa recipe on the box with a couple of tweaks). I normally make chocolate icing, but I'l like to do vanilla this time. What type of icing should I make? Butter cream, cream cheese?

I think buttercream will pair well with a chocolate cake. You could try Baked's Vanilla Buttercream. My go-to is this Fluffy White Buttercream Frosting.

I'm sorry, no, they aren't. These are just sugar cookies with jam on them. True Linzer is that dark spicy dough.

All right. Then who has one they like?

In certain recipes, mostly for baking, it seem like they call for you to beat the eggs and sugar for a long time, like 8 minutes. I just mix until it's well combined, but usually only a third of the time mentioned. Would my baked goods be better if I creamed the butter and sugar longer?

Yes! Creaming the sugar and butter lightens the mixture, adding air and fully emulsifying the two ingredients. Cream until the mixture turns a pale yellow. 

I made these for a party this weekend and they were a huge hit! My husband, who is NOT a sweets eater, couldn't get enough!! So thanks. :) (I subbed earth balance for the butter and it worked great.)

Chocolate Shortbread With Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt

Excellent. Glad everyone liked them.

Santa is going to bring momma a candy thermometer this year. Momma needs to know which one is best to ask Santa for -- the one that hangs on the pot, the gun-thingie, or ???

The Taylor thermometer is my favorite. It's long, shaped like a ruler, and sits flat on the bottom of the pot. The ones that hang from the side of the pan and do not touch the bottom tend to have wonky readings. One hint - do not scrub the Taylor thermometer or all the degree markings will disappear. That's why Santa's going to bring me a new candy thermometer this year.

He doesn't have to eat beets just because you do. Cook them for yourself and something else for him, or let him make his own side dish. Bonus: you get to eat all the beets.

Posting early because I really need your help! Hi! After being holed up in this terrible cold weather lately, I just have to make something nice and hot tonight to warm the cockles. I have quite a bit of kale already massaged and also a couple of cloves of garlic I really need to use. Would these ingredients be a good starter for anything you can think of? Other things around the house are some carrots and cucumbers of course, as well as some canned beans (white, red, and black if it makes a difference. Thanks for saving me tonight! I really don't want to order another veggie pizza. Ciao.

Try a white bean and kale soup! If you happen to have some sausage, that's a nice addition.

I know La Cuisine in Alexandria has them. They fill up FAST! Get on their mailing list now for next year.

Ooh, good tip.

I'm trying my hand at making soups, and while I hope to eventually make my own, for now I'm sticking to using store-bought broth or stock as the base. I have looked it up in the past and can never remember the difference between stock and broth, but more practically - if I buy a box or four of one, and it turns out the recipe calls for the other, will it matter? Is there something I should do (like water one down) to make it right? Thank you very much!

A true chicken/veal/beef stock is made with bones, I have found. Or at least bones with meat on them.  Technically a veg broth can be called a stock. Store-bought broths often have "natural flavors" -- and if someone knows all that loaded phrase entails, I tip my hat. But since you are buying, I think you can go with a package labeled either way. And because I can't help myself, I'll toss in this crouton: Making  your own is not hard to do, and will result in better soup! Check out the mushroom stock, scrappy vegetable broth and various meaty broths in our Recipe Finder!

Because of your enthusiasm, I bought the book and haven't been disappointed. It has a good basic flatbread recipe that's now my standby. I'm in the country and the only wraps or tortillas we can get have junk in them to keep them soft but yucky.

While walking through Gallery Place area over the weekend I got inspiration to make a vegetarian tapas meal for my young family for New Year's Eve. I am writing to you to get help with the implementation. As I looked over the menu of Oyamel, La Tasca, Jaleo, Sushi Go Round, Zatinya, I only saw a few vegetarian options on each, but I thought perhaps with your help I could design a menu of 6-8 tapas to serve the 4 of us.

I got mine from my uncle and his husband over Thanksgivukah. Lots of interesting stuff from corn relish to carrot marmalade to apple butter. I even managed to get it all home in one piece thanks to lots of newpaper, packing tape and plastic grocery bags. And my jars may have been the most interesting to happen to the Burlington, VT TSA employees on the Saturday after T-day (I had an inspection notice in my bag and two of the cocoons had been cut open). But here is the question, what the heck am I supposed to do with pickled garlic? I'm very, very, very glad it didn't break open when I brought it back, but what do I do with it now? Tried to search on the new recipe finder, but I can't see where I can enter an ingredient that specific anymore. It looks like you can only see all recipes for vegetables, etc.

Pickled garlic is a fun garnish for a cocktail  -- think Bloody Mary or Martini. It's fitting for a cheese or charcuterie board, too.

a lot easier to eliminate that shrew from your life. LIfe is TOO SHORT to spend one second removing sell by dates to enable a nosy judgemental control freak. huh! Let her suffer the grief, not you.

As someone who hates mayo, I make my (canned) tuna with olive oil and capers! A healthier, more delicious, mediteranean twist.

In the classic King of the Hill episode, Return to La Grunta, Bobby Hill receives a jar of capers in a gift-basket. To his delight, he finds that capers pair well with everything he tries...that is, everything but fruit pies. Peggy Hill: Bobby, honey, what happened to mixing capers with one of your fruit pies? Bobby Hill: That was a big disappointment. I'd rather not talk about it.

You know, Joe, I think all of us were jerks when younger. It's part of growing up. Or maybe "maturing" is a better word.


Yeah, but removing the sell-by dates is a LOT more fun.

I used to love it when Texans would come to New Mexico and order a "bowl of red!" No meat, no beans, just red Hatch chile peppers, water, and a little garlic, cumin and oregano. Bummer - now I'm hungry and 2,000 miles east of a decent meal.

Did you see the article this past week about the unexplained decline in diet soda sales? I never really cared for diet soda, but I love seltzers and fizzy mineral waters, flavored and unflavored. I was in Sweden recently and got a bottle of gingerbread flavored seltzer that was so good. When are those people who make the funky vodka flavors going to delve into a variety of soda waters? Not that I'd want gummy bear flavored seltzer necessarily (!), but our options in the US seem to be limited to fruit and vanilla only.

I see that Wal-Mart carries a number of flavored seltzers. Maybe you can find them at the new stores in the District?

Jim Webster's story of his first Christmas bread made me laugh out loud to the point of snorting, which is a little embarrassing when you're in a public place... but anyway, I loved how he spun the tale! And I'm glad it had a happy ending. What sorts of similar mishaps have you (or the chatters) had in the kitchen? I wish I had a good one to contribute, but the best I have is a spaghetti squash that I microwaved to soften without piercing first that then voided its guts all over the inside of said microwave after a hearty explosion. I do have a friend who was chatting with me online while cooking hard-boiled eggs on the stove, forgot about them, and was suddenly silent for a very long time after typing "hold on, I hear weird popping noises coming from the kitchen" - I was then treated to the visual of her describing eggs launching themselves out of the pot and streaking across the kitchen to land and explode on her floor!

This didn't happen within the strict four-wall dimensions of my kitchen, but I'd say my top mishap was the whole chicken that caught fire on the grill. Oops.

The most recent was my triple batch of Herbed Gougeres, straight from the WaPo cookbook. I was doing them for a local demo. Left out all the egg yolks, so I baked up some mighty aromatic rocks. Little craggy yellow rocks. They're in my freezer...I thought I might use them as crumbs in something.  (I am supposed to know how to follow recipes, right?)

Fires, explosions -- which is worse? Hmm. Well, I'll go with fire. So there was the time when I was baking a cake that called for a cup of coffee in the batter, so I thought, if a cup of coffee would be good, a cup of Kahlua would be better! And it was, until I put it in the oven, closed the door, and a few minutes later heard a POW! Indeed, all that booze had caught fire. The thing is, it didn't look bad when I opened the oven, and in fact it turned out fine, believe it or not.

I marinated short ribs in a sweet soy and honey mixture, placed them on the grill, attended to my guests' beverages, and when returning to the grill, found they had not just caught on fire, but incinerated, leaving only charred bones. 

Carrie and I still refer to a semi-famous incident when we were first dating. I decided to show off and whip something up, using leftovers in the fridge, including a ham that had, shall we say, started to turn. I incorporated the ham into a blended mixture, hoping to turn it into a herbed spread or something of the sort. Suffice to say that many years later, we refer to all kitchen mistakes by the name of that terrible dish, which I can't repeat for fear of the kind of editor censorship that actually just happened, as Joe took it out of my answer and replaced with the words you're reading right now.

The first Thanksgiving with my then-girlfriend/now wife is memorable for the entirety of its mishaps, from a completely burned turkey to a dried-out dressing, all inedible. The only thing that came out okay was the boiled shrimp appetizer. But that was only the most memorable. My kitchen and backyard (where the grill is) are the scenes for innumerable crimes. 

I often find that while the stuffing tastes great, the vegetable that has been stuffed is either bland, soggy, or just difficult to cut into and thus usually left on the plate. I also find the grain can either be too crunchy or too mushy. Which grains do you recommend for vegetable stuffing and which vegetables have you had the best feedback about (not from) when stuffed?

We're getting short on time, but check out the link I gave a previous chatter for Stuffed Squash Rings. This is a great solution to the problem of mushy squash and under- or overcooked filling.

The pumpkin was dark orange on the outside and about the size of a volleyball.

Ah, the color doesn't matter so much. But the size does. The sugar/pie pumpkins are a couple of pounds -- about the size you can wrap both your hands around, in claw mode. Does that make sense?

Free Rangers, I'm the person who wrote in last week complaining that a turkey breast I made my slow cooker, allegedly according to your directions, came out very dry, despite being submerged in liquid. I went back and checked: I had made the mistake of googling "slow cooker turkey breast" which brought up several recipes, including yours. While I mostly used the proportions of your recipe, it was another recipe that said you could cook it for 4 hours on high or 7-8 on low. I used the high, but your recipe clearly said only low. I have now learned my lesson and will only use your data base in the future!

Such integrity! Thanks for writing in and clarifying.

How do you manage spices/herbs, etc when you love trying all types of cuisines? I have so many and when I try to thin the herd, I find it almost impossible. They're overtaking my cupboards! I'm guessing, since Joe, Bonnie, et al are testing all these recipes, you might have some helpful tips for me?

The spices are taking over! I keep many of my spices in a big plastic bin in the pantry and only keep the ones I use regularly in the cabinet. 

Ditto, taking over. I am in the process of unpacking boxes in a new house (yay!), and can't BELIEVE HOW MANY SPICES I HAVE. I need an intervention. I've got two drawers and a huge pantry shelf occupied already, and guess what? I spied another, unopened box this morning! Thankfully, I also have a fully finished basement that I'm planning to fill with Metro shelving, and I'm going to do what Cathy does: put the lesser-used spices (and grains, and flours, and beans, and cups, and plates, and and and ...), and save the kitchen space for the most commonly used stuff. Wish me luck.

I loved the braided loaf disaster story! I didn't learn to cook until after college and had many mishaps along the way. There was my attempt at making gravy, at a Thanksgiving potluck I was hosting right after college. I didn't understand how to get the fat for the roux out of the juices and wound up using this slimy fat residue that had cooked out of the turkey. I had to force one of the guests to make the gravy! Or the gray wasteland that was supposed to a squash soup that my girlfriend and I tried to make. Ten years later my now-wife and I still shudder in horror at "squash surprise"!


I use Maida Heatter's recipe from her Brand-New Book of Great Cookies. It's the basic Toll House recipe with two changes: Instead of baking powder, she mixes one teaspoon of baking soda with one teaspoon of warm water and adds it to the batter after the first addition of flour. The second: Use more chocolate chips! She uses 16 oz. instead of 12 oz, the amount in a bag. It does make a difference. They're crisp but not flat. People inhale them. I wonder if chips were originally sold in a one pound bag.

I can practically smell these now. Yum.

Wouldn't these be the "traditional" ones, made from the marshmallow plant? I have been curious about this lately, but I know that's a rare ingredient, and I wonder if anyone's tried this...?

Yes, marshmallows were originally made with the roots of the pink-flowering marshmallow plant, but they were eventually replaced by a cheaper replacement: gelatin. Here's some backstory as well as a recipe that provides a source on where you can buy the right ingredients.

My 11" expensive non-stick pan died. The manufacturer has a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects. Since the handle was loose and couldn't be tightened, they honored the warranty and sent my a replacement. Now I want to be extra careful with it, but I'm having trouble finding good plastic tools. They either too thick at the ends or less flexible than their metal equivalents. Can you suggest a good brand for plastic tools?

How do you feel about silicone? I have an array of tools (I like my KitchenAid slotted turner), but most of the time I grab one of my two(!) iSi Basics Silicone Spatulas. I use them for pretty much everything.

Other favorites?

I think Sur La Table has cookie-decorating classes.

A good option too.

Your candy thermometer should never actually touch the bottom of the pot, as the pot is hotter than whatever you're cooking. Readings won't be accurate.

Correct for all pot thermometer/temperature taking. 

Last weekend I made Stephanie's chocolate chip cookies) and they were! Thanks for that. Any rules of thumb for incorporating nuts or dried fruit into a standard cookie recipe -- specifically proportions so you achieve the perfect mix of dough and add-in? Thanks!

Happy to hear it. Her "5 Ways to Better Chocolate Chip Cookies" video was delightful. I often go with 1 cup of either, for a single batch. Or in the case of nuts, a heaping-heaping cup. 

Our 91 year old father passed away this week ( its ok). my sister and I are devoted followers of WaPo food and thought you might give us an idea. We are having a private burial and then a memorial on the same day. We will serve a meal after the memorial to everyone , but need to figure out a light lunch for the 8 immediate family in between the two. No ham, pork or shellfish.

Sorry for your loss. How about a simple chicken salad? Make it in advance, buy some good rolls and you'll be set.

The dough is dark because it contains ground hazlenuts (or sometimes almonds,) not because of spices. Here's a recipe by Wolfgang Puck, who is Austrian. (Linz is a city in Austria.) 

Worth a shot, thanks.

...put dough into the refrigerator for a slow rise at my request. She didn't realize that dough rises in the cold, albeit slowly. I opened the door in the morning to a fridge full of escaped dough.

She wanted to impress me while dating by fixing me a nice brunch when we were in college. Her sausage gravy was so thick, no biscuits were needed. It stood up on the plate and almost had to be cut with a knife.

I have reason to send thank you gifts to four colleagues of mine who have done a very generous favor for me, and I'd like to skip the traditional box-o-chocolates or soap route. What would be a really special homemade gift for these wonderful folks? As an added bonus, one of them has many, many severe food allergies, including gluten. So, while the gift for this person does not need to be the same as the others, I've been stumped for weeks on an appropriate gift.

Are you a canner? I always appreciate a nice jar or two of homemade jam. And here's a story from a few years back by our good friend Nancy Baggett -- ideas on kits for soups and bread. Maybe those would work.

I am a big fan of homemade jam, pickles and other home preserved goods. (obviously!) But if you are concerned about food allergies, try homemade booze? Limoncello is a great gift, as is h0memade kahlua. Alternately, try making some caramels? They are always appreciated, especially by the gluten intolerant.

Should seriously consider adding a hand mixer to their kitchen. They handle pretty much everything a stand mixer would (except bread) and are easy to store. Plus, they're MUCH less expensive.

I have recently acquired a taste for beets, but have yet to cook with them at home. What is the best way to simply prepare beets? Roasted before I use them in dishes, or peel and chop raw?

I'll admit that I hate peeling and chopping raw beets. I roast them and hold them in the refrigerator, then add to whatever I'm making. To roast beets, wash them, remove the greens, but leave a bit of the stem. (This keeps the red from bleeding.) Lightly coat in oil and tightly wrap the beets in foil. Roast at 400F for about 25-40 min. - until a knife meets no resistance.  Remove the beets from the foil and the peel will come right off. Store for up to a week in the refrigerator.

It's funny...Editor Joe called for raw beets in one of his Thanksgiving side dishes and we must have received a  half-dozen inquiries about eating them uncooked. So try it! If you want to skip the temporary crime-scene effect, buy  golden beets instead.  

Cooking Light has an easy recipe for a Jamaican chicken stew that has some capers in it. How do the little capers different from the big caper berries (I"m channeling Bridget Jones here)?

Capers are the unopened bud of the plant. They're sundried, then pickled, which makes them so salty and puckerish. Caperberries are the fruit of the same plant. More explanation can be found here.

I had meant to ask this after Thanksgiving (where my niece's boyfriend made THE BEST pisco sours) but today's cocktail lineup reminded me. What's the thinking on whether the alcohol in a mixed drink will knock out salmonella? If rum works as an emergency antiseptic ...

I'm playing the part of Carrie, who is having computer problems. She says:

With eggs, you mainly want to be careful about hygiene: wash the shells before you crack them, don't use eggs with cracks already in them, etc. The risk is low but present--most cocktails won't kill salmonella, but most eggs won't give it to you! Whenever I make a drink with a raw egg, I recognize I'm incurring a small risk. To me it's worth it (just like eating raw chocolate chip cookie dough is worth it!), but I might feel differently if I had particular sensitivities or any immunocompromised issues.

I am making preserved lemons (is that better said, I am preserving lemons?) as a gift for lemon-loving friends. Would love to pair it with some other items/ideas, but they can't include olives or garlic. Stumped a bit. Ideas?

Why not add some special spice mixtures that pair well with preserved lemons? Za'atar and Ras al Hanout are two mixtures I use in many middle eastern recipes.

From the FDA: "The termnatural flavor ornatural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in 182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter." All clear now?

So maybe I'm not as hungry now  as I was before I read that. 

Fun? scrubbing dates off cans? I'd rather be dancing, reading hiking, swimming, shopping, gardening, cooking, watching a movie.

When I was about eight, I determined to bake my mother a Mothers Day cake. From scratch. I misread the amounts on the leavening, using tablespoons where I should have used teaspoons. The batter rose in the over -- and rose -- and overflowed the pans and went EVERYWHERE. My father was very patient about going back to square one ...

I recently discovered that my friend loves margaritas but at $12 a pop I would like to make them from scratch. Could you please tell me how and also tell me how to make a variety of fruity ones. Do I need fresh fruit, used frozen, or just store bought juice?


The lovely M. Carrie Allan writes :


With margaritas (and all cocktails, really) always try to use fresh juice when possible, and with limes, it's virtually always possible.


Here's a classic recipe for the drink.

Well, you've glazed our tops with beaten egg, then generously sprinkled us with salt and pepper before baking until nicely browned, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Carrie and Cathy and Jim for helping with the a's!

Now for the giveaway books:

The chatter who asked about a vegetarian tapas meal will get my own "Eat Your Vegetables." The one who asked about our best/worst kitchen mishaps will get "The Washington Post Cookbook." And the one who asked about capers will get Suzanne Goin's "AOC Cookbook."

Send your mailing information 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. Guest: blogger Cathy Barrow.
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