Free Range on Food: Apple brandy, the best cookbooks of 2017, this week's recipes and more.

Dec 13, 2017

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

Greetings, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you're enjoying what we've brought you this week -- or perhaps I should say appreciating, because everything isn't exactly enjoyable to read about these days. (I'm thinking about Maura Judkis and Emily Heil's stellar work on the sexual harassment allegations against Mario Batali, for instance.) We also had lighter fare, such as Tom Sietsema's incredible tour through the world of chain restaurants; Bonnie's solid selection of the year's top cookbooks; Carrie's ode to American apple brandies; and more.

Tom is on vacation this week, and Bonnie's on jury duty, but the rest of us will do our best to handle your q's! 

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters: "Milk Street" by Christopher Kimball and "Grow Cook Nourish" by Darina Allen," both of them on Bonnie's top-cookbooks list.

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR2461 . Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

OK, let's go!

I want to try my hand at making coquito (puerto rican eggnog) and the recipe I've decided on has no eggs, but plenty of rum! I know the drink is sweet -- and potent -- so it will take awhile to get through the bottle. Any idea how long it's good in the fridge? (recipe is basically rum, evaporated milk, condensed milk, coconut cream and spices)

This sounds exactly like the recipe I use! I keep mine for about a week (but with all that sugar and alcohol, it might actually last longer. *not a food safety expert*)

Also know that leftover coquito makes really good baked French toast (use challah!) and bread pudding

So many savory recipes call for various types of onions. I dislike onions, and they dislike me...What can you suggest for both flavor and bulk? For example, in today's paper, I'd like to try Koshary, but sans-serif onion . Thanks

Sans serif onion! Funny! 

Do you have trouble with everything in the allium family? Onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, etc.? If not, leeks or shallots would be my first suggestion. Beyond that, there's nothing that really tastes like an onion, but you could certainly add some garlic for flavor and perhaps a bell pepper instead of the onion?

RECIPE: Koshary


I'd like to get my newly single mother, she's in her mid 60s, a cookbook for the holidays. The part that has me stumped - she had bariatric surgery several years ago and I'm a bit overwhelmed with the google results. Hoping you have a recommendation or pointers. Thanks

What are her dietary restrictions like after the surgery? Can you say more about what you want to get her, what types of recipes you think she'd like?

Does anything on Bonnie's list speak to you, perhaps?

Another idea: She might appreciate Oprah's latest book?

Hi there! My fiance and I both have the day off this Friday and want to have a nice meal out for lunch, and since Tom isn't here, I can't ask for his guidance. We're thinking about going to the Newseum or watching a movie at the AMC in Georgetown, so a restaurant near either of these places would be nice. Price wise, entrees below ~$25 would be best. And, cuisine wise, we're quite flexible. The fiance hates small plates restaurants, so that's the only real constraint. I'm thinking Filomena's in Georgetown since the food is great and the decorations make it feel festive/ celebratory for a random day off work. Any other suggestions? Thank you!

Your parameters make finding the right spot a bit tricky. No small plates, no entrees under $25. That immediately rules out a top contender, Fiola Mare, where you can't get a pasta for under $25. It also rules out another contender, Rasika West End, whose best plates are small and shareable. 


So...I'd go with a couple of options: La Chaumiere, a homey French restaurant that regularly gets overlooked these days, as well as the Sovereign, a Belgium-themed restaurant with a great beer list and some decent pots of mussels. 

I'll throw in another option: Chez Billy Sud. Love the food there, it's not small plates, and while some entrees run more than $25, there are several that hover right at that mark and one under.

My Cracker Barrel stories: At least thirteen years ago I ordered some kind of sandwich and I wasn't crazy about it. I can't remember why. The waitress noticed I wasn't eating it so she asked me and I told her my issue. She said I could return it and get something else. I normally never do that but she practically insisted so I let her take it. The new sandwich came to the table with a corner cut off to approximate how much I'd eaten from the original. I thought it was about the cheapest thing I'd ever seen. Story #2: I was staying in a hotel near Cracker Barrel and went to the restaurant and got carryout. When I got back to my room I found I hadn't gotten the bacon with my meal. I called and the manager actually brought the bacon to the hotel. Wow. He didn't have to do that.

I wonder if the kitchen was just being playful about your replacement sandwich? Perhaps a little sight gag to inspire a laugh? Personally, I would have been tickled by the gag. Think about it: What was Cracker Barrel going to do with that little corner of the sandwich? Serve it to someone else?


The second story is amazing. Service was one of the things Tom singled out in his review of CB.


ARTICLE: Ranking America's top 10 chain restaurants

I have a hankering to try my hand at making an onion soup recipe I found. However, I've never been a huge fan of onion soup and have no idea if I would ever want to make this recipe again. It doesn't really seem worth it, then, to spend the money to invest in a set of oven-proof bowls. Is there some substitute I could use? Would it be odd or detrimental (other than to the presentation) to just put all the soup into a casserole dish? Or maybe a dutch oven? I'm wiling to sacrifice the pretty presentation in the final serving bowl.

I wouldn't do it all in one dish or Dutch oven, because then you miss the beauty of each person digging through that cheesy/bready top to get to the soup. But what about coffee mugs? You might have something durable enough that could stand the heat of the oven -- I know I do.

BTW, if you want to taste a really great French onion soup, and you're in DC, head to Primrose: I love theirs. It happens to be vegetarian, which works for me (traditionally it's based on beef broth), and the depth of flavor is wonderful.

I signed up to bring a green salad to an office potluck because I always like to supply a healthy option, but often times salad gets passed up for the more indulgent options. Any ideas on how to spruce it up and make it more exciting and/or "holiday" themed (while staying healthy)? I bought a big thing of spring mix, and I also have a stock of craisins and nuts on hand, if that helps to spark any ideas. Thanks!

Use all that, and add roasted squash wedges, cooked wild rice and raw pear slices to it, and I think you've got a hit on your hands. Make a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon, garlic, a little honey, s&p, and you'll be golden.

I use ramekins that were a dollar apiece - they're a smidgen shallow but then I don't need extra things lying around. plus they're the right size for ice cream

Bit late, but how do I fry my latkes or doughnuts without being attacked by tiny speckles of hot oil? I usually end up pulling on elbow-length gloves and a sweatshirt whenever I fry anything.

You need one of these.

If Mario Batali leaves The Chew, I can think of a fabulous replacement, but want your opinions before I try to start a campaign -- DC's own Jose Andres! My only reluctance is that he already spends so much time away from DC. Positives: Fabulous chef and culinary innovator, ebullient presence, tireless humanitarian who is reconfiguring food delivery to the needy while still running multiple successful restaurants at several price-points. Also, like Batali, he is physically an imposing figure so the switch would seem visually less abrupt. And I think it'd be great to have a co-host who started as an immigrant and speaks English with a Spanish accent. Also, there are no reports of him mistreating women or of his company cheating employees (Batali and partners have been sued for short-changing workers). The negatives are all about possibly losing him to the bigger stage he undoubtedly deserves. And fear that he will work himself sick. I don't know if the show tapes a whole week in one day. Even if it does, I'd be sad if Jose Andres were gradually seduced into relocating to NYC (bright lights, big city, etc). And it'd be too sad if he ended up medically exhausted from doing too much. What do you think?

I love Jose, and agree he'd be great on the show, but ... he has so many other things on his plate, including, you know, feeding people in crisis, that I don't really see him going in this direction. But you never know!

Can you get pomegranate seeds? Those always scream "festive" to me.

Keep it down, pomegranate seeds! Trying to work over here -- stop screaming!

As you are discussing apple brandy, is the difference between Laird's Apple Jack and their Apple Brandy?

Yes, there is! Laird's Applejack is partly made of cheaper grain neutral spirits rather than being all apple brandy -- it's a blend. I think it's a solid option for cocktails, but if you want a drink that really shows you what apple-based spirits can be, the brandies are the way to go. 

Still sippin’ on Courvoisier? It’s time to try a brandy from closer to home.

The oven-proof bowls question got me thinking about the first time I tried onion soup: it was at an outdoor cafe in Boston with my parents, we were visiting for the week (I was maybe 12?). I had never tried onion soup before, so I ordered it, and, having no expectation of what it was except for some sort of onion-flavored liquid in a bowl, I was served what amounted to a greasy glob of cheese on top of some very unappetizing broth (or maybe it was good and I'm a hater, who knows), but the lasting memory is of me shoving the entire wad of chewy cheese into my mouth and forming it into a ball way too thick to shove down my throat. So, in typical kid-fashion, I 'subtly' pulled the fist-sized wad out of my mouth and stuck it under the table. For all I know, that wad may still be in Boston, rolling around Boston Commons. To this day, I cannot stand onion soup. (And I was usually such a well-behaved child...)

I'm sad for you! A good one is amazing. Funny story, tho.

To the person who just sent in a sexual harassment tip/comment, please email with more details. Thanks!

Are there American apple brandies besides Laird's that are worth buying? I've asked this in liquor stores and was always told that Laird's is king. Would you agree?

Laird's makes a nice apple brandy, no doubt. Would I say that they are "king"? I don't know about that -- I think they get the benefit of longevity and solid reputation because for a long time they were the only game in town. But there are some really nice apple brandies out there now. Not only Copper & Kings Floodwall and the new Chapman's from Republic Restoratives (which I really think is delicious), but Clear Creek, St. George's, and Catoctin Creek all make apple brandies I'd vouch for. I'm sure there are others as well.

I'm a sucker for cool kitchen gadgets and like to look around kitchen stores now and then to see what's new, although I generally restrain myself unless I see something that would work much better than what I have and would be useful in multiple ways. Well, I was watching a Mexican cooking video online last night, and the host was showing how to blend a sauce with a wire whisk. Then she said "Pero si no tienes uno, no te preocupes, puedes utilizar un tenedor" - If you don't have one (whisk), don't worry, you can use a fork. It kind of brought me up short and made me realize once again how fortunate I am that usually my only concern when contemplating a purchase is where I would put it. It's easy to take things and people for granted, and I just wanted to let you know I enjoy the Food section so much. Happy holidays to all, and thanks for your great work all year!

I can't begin to tell you how much money I've wasted over the years on gadgets that now gather dust in drawers -- or have since moved to a nearby thrift store. Why did I ever think I needed one of those silicone garlic tubes? 


I like your approach and have adopted a similar philosophy regarding the clutter of new gadgets and the storage space they require. But I also never buy new tools unless the one I'm currently using for the task (like my hand for smashing garlic and removing the papery skins!) doesn't work well or takes too much time.  

Can you make "good" apple brandy from apples you wouldn't want to eat? I know you aren't supposed to cook with wine you wouldn't want to drink, but is that rule not applicable for making spirits? Thanks for answering.

Yes, in fact a LOT of apple brandies are made with apples you wouldn't want to eat -- spitters, as some might call them (super bitter, sour, etc. or in some cases, just unattractive apples that might not sell). Distillation is a way to use some fruit to create something terrific out of what might be unusable otherwise. That said, there are a lot of different approaches to what apples to use. If you want to delve into this more deeply, you could eavesdrop on this conversation over at the American Distilling Institute.  

OK, Food-section folks, Tom S. isn't hosting his chat today, so I'm coming to you. I'm going to the Birchmere tonight, thanks to winning a PostPoints contest! My wife and I are planning to eat there. I haven't ordered anything from the Birchmere in six or seven years, and have no memory of what I ordered or whether I liked it. Do any of you have a recommended dish? I'm not expecting fine dining, but am hoping for something that's a cut above the usual bar food.

I would highly encourage you to skip the Birchmere option and eat instead at Royal Nepal, located just around the corner from the music venue. Order the Nepali-spiced lamb chops, served on a slab of Himalayan sea salt. The place is a gem.


The $20 Diner: Alexandria restaurant gives Nepali cuisine the royal treatment

Not a cooking question, but I hate to waste food but are about to go on vacation for several weeks. Any ideas on how to keep the following: Milk in an open carton? Potato chips in an open bag? Fresh herbs (Maybe freeze as ice cubes)?

My pal Kenji at Serious Eats likes this method: Chopping the herbs, putting them in ice cube trays, freezing them with a neutral oil and then removing the cubes and storing them in resealable bags. They'll last a couple weeks, maybe longer.


For chips, I would transfer them to a resealable bag, one that can keep the air out. Oxygen is your enemy.


As for milk, one source says you can freeze for six weeks without losing much in flavor. The texture, however, will suffer. 

Ironically, the person who doesn't like onions already had inspired me to ask this question. One of the foods I miss most after giving up meat is French onion soup. Since I won't be in the area to partake of the soup at the restaurant Joe recommended, do you have a vegetarian recipe that replicates the beefy flavor of the soup? If I want to make it vegan, which vegan cheese would you recommend?

I'd go with a mushroom-heavy broth, maybe with some miso in it to add even more depth. As for the cheese, for these purposes, I'd look for Chao. It tastes like a better version of good old American cheese.

Hello! Your article on apple brandies is right on time! My brother requested a bottle of Germain Robin herlioom apple brandy for Christmas. I couldn't tell from the article which brands/bottles of the ones mentioned in the article that they were recommending for an apple brandy fan like my brother.

Germain Robin is good stuff. Also try Catoctin Creek, St. George's, Osocalis, Clear Creek distillers along with the Copper & Kings and Chapman's mentioned in the article. And there are also some fantastic French Calvadoses (Calvadosi?) out there, if you're not specifically looking for something American? I don't know if you're local, but Batch 13 and Ace have a decent selection!

I made some over the weekend, and it tastes good, but the consistency wasn't as smooth as I'd like. Did I just not use the immersion blender long enough? There was also carrot in there that didn't get fully pureed.

If there were truly some chunks, yes, you should just blend more. If it's more than it's grainy, that could be something that the immersion blender can't quite handle, but if you have a fine-mesh sieve, you can always pour/press the soup through that and get it silky-smooth.

OP here. I'm not completely sure what her restrictions are, as the surgery and new diet have all occurred well after I left home. And we only see each other a few times a year now. I know she goes for things that are high protein and has to avoid certain vegetables and soups/fizzy drinks. But I do not know the more nuanced details. I will take a look at the list as well.

It's from last year, so I've had time to try it out: Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss. I'd say this is for serious bakers, but the instructions are clear and the results are outstanding.

I would bring your mom into this or tread carefully. I metaphorically went on my friend's bariatric journey a year ago. Apparently, if done right, it's supposed to be a whole lifestyle change, which she's done. Her diet and eating patterns are pretty rigid. She travels a lot for work and sometimes has a hard time sticking to what she knows she should have.

Our annual tamalada (party for making tamales) is coming up on Saturday. We have one friend who is vegan, so I'm in charge of ideas for some vegan tamales. I've got some vegetable stock for making the masa and was thinking about using the mushroom chestnut Wellington as inspiration for the filling. We made it for Thanksgiving as the vegetarian alternative and it was spectacular. Any thoughts on adjustments to the filling since the enclosure is now masa rather than puff pastry?

I think that would be delicious! Fun idea. The only change I might suggest is that I don't think you'd need those bread crumbs for binder, because as you know from making tamales, there's no place for that filling to go, when surrounded by that masa! Let me know how it turns out!

BTW, did you see this recipe I had last year for Mini Tamal Pies? You could certainly throw that filling into your lineup for the tamalada, too...

RECIPE: Roasted Portobello Mushroom, Pecan and Chestnut Wellington

RECIPE: Three Sisters Mini Tamal Pies

Last night I made a batch of candied orange peels to decorate an orange-chocolate fudge and rather than toss the leftover syrup I added more water and simmered it another 10 mins. I now have an overabundance of orange simple syrup that I'd like to do something with other than the usual coat a cake/bake with it. I've looked online for cocktail recipes, etc. but most things are cloyingly sweet and I'm more of a whiskey drinker. Any ideas? (non-cocktail ideas are welcome too!)

If you're a tea drinker, I'd say add a bit  to your afternoon sip. I might substitute the orange syrup for the agave syrup in this mango sorbet, too.


RECIPE: Mango Sorbet

Once again Montgomery Co. is at the bottom of the chains--Cracker Barrel closest to Montgomery is in Frederick, no Olive or Texas Roadhouse as far as I know but we have some on the bottom.


I adore onion soup but almost never order it because I have no idea how to eat it without making a mess. How on earth do you get a spoon through that cheese and toast without a knife or fingers and without sploshing the liquid over the edge?

You don't! That's the fun.

Throughout college, I worked both Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel, and CB is hands-down the best. Tom's instincts are right on - CB does actually make just about all of their food from scratch. The back of the house is just as large as the dining room and shop, with stations for biscuit and dumpling making, soup simmering, potato baking, and desserts. It's always my go-to when on a road trip!

Do you recommend that the mushrooms be cut thin and cooked for a long time, like the onions? Thanks, Joe!

Actually, your best bet would be to use mushrooms in multiple forms, like chef Rich Landau of Vedge does for his great Mushroom Broth. Dried, fresh and powdered. Here's a recipe for you:

Vedge Mushroom Stock

Sweet corn and scallions. When your masa is being blended add a can of sweet creamed corn and diced green onions. So yum! Got the idea from a vendor at Long Beach pier. Thanks for the tip!

Some Indians avoid onions and other vegetables whose roots one consumes. They use hing (asafoetida) as an onion/garlic substitute. Of course, hing is used throughout Indian cuisine. For replacing the bulk, I think the person can add what s/he wants- khoshary seems to be one of those dishes that is typically varied to suit one's preferences.

This is random, but the Cauliflower soup poster reminded me. I recently made Cauliflower soup. The original recipe called for coconut milk (canned), but I'm trying to go easy on the saturated fat in my diet. I had some Silk unsweetened Cashew milk in the fridge and decided to make the swap -- wow!! Could barely tell the difference and yet it was so much less calories and fat. I made the same swap in a butternut squash curry recipe later in the week, also to much success. I know coconut milk is creamy and delicious, but if anyone else is looking to cut out saturated fat, I found the cashew milk to be a great way to do it without much sacrifice.

The restaurant sexual harassments and assaults are positively shocking. Thank you for your in-depth reporting on them. Appropriately enough, last night I finally got around to watching the first episode of this season's Top Chef and mused about whether they had Batali or Besh on this season... Well how about that. It's got to be incredibly difficult to edit out a judge on a show like that, but I'm glad they did it. Sadly, he may not be the only one who needs to be on the cutting room floor at the rate this is going.

"Top Chef" decided to edit out Besh's appearance. You're right, it had to be hard. Did it seem seamless to you without his commentary? Or was it obvious that his missing opinions were factored into the final decisions?

Just hopping in to say thank you for reading our sexual assault coverage. Between Batali and our previous story about how this problem is pervasive even in kitchens without celebrity chefs, I am glad that the industry is beginning to reckon with this behavior. We are continuing to pursue leads about Batali and other chefs. If you or anyone you know has been sexually harassed in a prominent restaurant, please email 

I appreciate that you probably don't want to plug WaPo writers' books, but Joe's America the Great cookbook should be on the list (and I'm not just saying that because I want to win a cookbook this week)! I had the pleasure of looking through it at a bookstore this past weekend. I would have put it in my basket but BraveTart was already there, and I couldn't justify buying myself two new cookbooks two weeks before Christmas. I am hoping that Santa puts a copy in my stocking, however!

We keep things as unbiased as possible when it comes to WaPo staff books and the selection of our best-of lists. I'm sure Bonnie considered it, but there's stiff competition! Anyhow, I'm thrilled that you like it -- I do think it's a great gift, given that you can use it as a real cookbook or as a coffee-table book, or both! Thanks for the mention.

Can I still keep my vegetarian credentials if I dunked a gingerbread man in my lunchtime butternut squash soup?

I'll give you a pass, sure.

In Tom's absence, can anyone recommend a good place to get tamales in Silver Spring or Wheaton? I see a number of options, but would love actual recommendations.

I would direct you to La Casita, a Salvadorean restaurant in Silver Spring. I find it to be the most consistent. I mention its Salvadorean heritage because, as best as I understand it, each country in Latin America has its own approach to tamales. I don't know which one you prefer. But Salvadorean tamales tend to be creamier, and they come wrapped in plantain leaves, not corn husks like they do in many parts of Mexico.


La Casita, 8214 Piney Branch, Silver Spring, 301-588-6656.

Confession I might've been embarrassed to make before today's article: I like Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese. I've tried many brands and CB sharp is one of my two favorites for every-day. That I can buy it in the supermarket is a definite plus as there's no cheese shop, deli or CB restaurant nearby.

Like the poster from last week, I have not been able to find Grade B syrup in the stores recently. All I have seen is Grade A on the labels. I've looked in a couple of Trader Joe's, Giant and Whole Foods. Someone is hoarding the dark/grade B syrup!

Chatters, anyone know where to buy Grade B syrup?

The prettiest Christmas-y salad I've ever seen is a whole box of fresh clementines, peeled and sectioned, mixed with about a cup of pomegranite arils. I made it at home last year for our holiday party and, since it was going to be sitting in a bowl for a couple-hour buffet, added about a tablespoon of olive oil to the clementines and tossed it around before adding the arils -- it kept it from looking crispy as the clementines dried out.

I would add it to club soda/seltzer, for an orange-flavored Italian soda. Might also work well in sangria. And, since you like whiskey, seems like it's a good match for an Old Fashioned, which usually calls for sugar and an orange twist anyway. (I sometimes use a bit of Luxardo maraschino syrup in place of sugar and it's great!)

I have some homemade cranberry sauce leftover that I would like to re-purpose into a dessert for Christmas. I was thinking maybe a cranberry apple pie (though I'm afraid of making crust!), or maybe cranberry bars -- do you guys have any recipes you can think of?

Here's an idea for you, for a pie that doesn't require a regular crust. It's from Erin McDowell's "The Fearless Baker," and it uses sheets of phyllo dough instead. Super easy -- I was there when she made it! It calls for mixed nuts, giving it something of a pecan pie-meets-baklava feel, and I think you could add cranberry sauce to the top of it for a neat layered effect. (Or you could use the cranberry sauce instead of the nut mixture, of course.)

RECIPE: Any-Nut Tart

is from the restaurant? You really do learn something new everyday We ate there once and will never return but that's the only cheese we by for mac and cheese too funny

Wait -- Cracker Barrel cheese is the same company as the restaurant?!

Other paper but worth a read, too  I got Grade B at Old Town Whole Foods this week.

Yes, our competition to the north has produced some fine work on the sexual harassment front, too. 


And thanks for the syrup tip.

Allegations against famous chefs make headlines, but please don't forget that the system of tipping itself contributes to a power dynamic that feeds a culture of harassment against female servers from customers.

Absolutely! We mentioned that in our first story, which you can read here: 

Rape in the storage room. Groping at the bar. Why is the restaurant industry so terrible for women?

It also makes them less likely to complain when their supervisors are harassing them, because their supervisors might also be giving them good Saturday night shifts where they make the most in tips. 

Some quick stats: "Servers and bartenders worry about harassment not only from colleagues, but also from their customers. And because of a “customer is always right” mentality and the pressure of working for tips, they often feel compelled to accept it. The 'front of the house' is mostly made up of women: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, 56 percent of bartenders, 70 percent of servers and 80 percent of hosts are female." 


I am trying to spruce up my usual Chocolate Chip Cookies for my adult granddaughter and thought of making one batch the "usual" way and another batch with a new idea. Since she does not like nuts in them, am I asking for a huge mess if I add Peppermint Bark (which includes chocolate) to the second batch? Will it melt properly? Don't want to use peppermint candies alone.

I think that's a great idea!

There is no longer a Grade B maple syrup, the classifications were changed. Just buy the one that says "dark" on it--that is the old grade B. Sincerely, a huge Grade B fan

I'm planning on doing a chocolate cake for our potluck Christmas party at work Friday and I was wondering if you have a good and easy chocolate frosting recipe to share? I don't want it to be too rich and too sweet (I know, I know it's frosting) since some of my colleagues are trying to watch their weight... Thanks!

The frosting from this cake recipe was really good and easy. If you REALLY want to make it easy for colleagues to watch their intake, you could serve it on the side and let people dollop at will!

A couple years back, USDA changed the naming. Now there is one grade: A, with four classifications to show there is not a difference in quality but in color and flavor. Grade A: Golden color with delicate taste Grade A: Amber color and rich taste Grade A: Dark color and robust taste Grade A: Very dark and strong taste According to the Associated Press, the change was welcomed in the northeast, especially Vermont. The country’s largest maple syrup producer has already revised its unique labeling standards.

I'm pretty sure that's just a variety of Kraft cheese?

Today's article in particular has me remembering two Brazilian movies, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands based on the Jorge Amado novel, and Woman On Top. Both feature women chefs who are married to feckless, philandering husbands who fondle and seduce the female clients.

I read "Heat" and was kind of horrified at Batali's excesses. If he keeps drinking and eating that way, it will probably be a very ugly end for him. (diabetes, liver disease, heart etc).

It's not just "Heat." There are many accounts of Batali's excess, like these in the New Yorker and the Guardian. They hint at his lack of respect for women. 

I fry my chicken parmesan in a skillet to brown it before putting it in the oven to finish cooking inside. (I make mine quite a bit thicker than traditional, so it needs some time in the oven to finish.) But, inevitably most of the breading sticks to the skillet. I coat the pan with oil? Do I need more oil?


Is the Milk Street Cookbook similar to the ATK or the Cook's Illustrated ones? I'll love Cook's Illustrated and have several. I don't know if I want to shell out for one more that would have similar styles and recipes.

Only one way to find out! You can see for yourself. (Hint, hint.)

Earlier this year, I bought the cookbook A Meatloaf in Every Oven after reading a review in the NY Times (one of the authors is Frank Bruni of the NY Times). It's an entertaining read, and I've made a few of their recipes. Frito Pie meatloaf - yum!

Is it just me, or did the crack that the server made at IHOP to Tom seem odd - "If you eat all that food I'm going to give you a hug"? Not sure I'd want a stranger being that familiar with me.

I thought it sounded charming.

leeks and onions and shallots in recipes. I'm specifically looking about the intensity of the ingredient, not the flavors (which obviously differ). Recently I made ground turkey and ricotta meatballs. I had some leeks so I chopped up the white and pale green parts, sautéed it and threw those in. Normally, I guess I would have added a bunch of chopped, sautéed onion. Probably more than the volume of leeks I used. They came out great and the leek flavor is very prominent. But much more might have been too much. I just used what I had and hoped for the best. Is there a way to determine hoe much of which ingredient will work best?

Fortunately, someone has already done that work for us. If you don't have a copy, I highly recommend "The Food Substitutions Bible," which tells you how much of one ingredient can be used as a replacement for another.

Thanks for the review of chain restaurants; after a C- meal at Olive Garden, it's nice to get some ideas of better places. But with hundreds or thousands of locations for each chain, I'm sure both the food and service vary at least a little even with the same chain. Did you visit multiple locations for each chain?

Tom did visit multiple branches of most, but not all, the chains.

My foodie friends are vegetarian and and have vegetarian cookbooks. Do you think one of the others, like the Rasika cookbook, might be of interest, or are most of them too weighted to recipes with meat?

There's lots of good veg recipes in the "Rasika" cookbook! I think they'd be into it.

Dinner party for 8 this weekend!

Maybe something like this?


RECIPE: Goat Cheese Pita Toasts with Pomegranate, Pistachio and Mint

Well, you've divided us among individual plates, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Carrie and Maura for help with the a's.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about subbing different types of onions will get "Cook Grow Nourish." The one who asked whether "Milk Street" is different enough from Cook's Illustrated books will get -- surprise! -- "Milk Street."

Send your mailing info to, and she'll send you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
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