The Washington Post

Dec 15, 2010

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. As Christmas and New Year's approach, be sure to check out The Post's Holiday Guide and Recipe Central, where you can find an easy-to-browse collection of seasonal dishes.

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Do you have holiday cocktail parties on the brain? Identify with Tim Carman's rant about the NYT's recent piece on Capitol Hill restaurants? Let us help. We'll do our best to steer you in the right direction, or at least let you vent.

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters. Let's go!


I just wanted to second your recommendation to make the Baked Apple, Smoked Turkey and Cheddar Strata for Christmas day. I have made this several times and the apple distinguishes the strata from others and makes it much more interesting (and a little sweet). I cannot get smoked turkey where I live (small island) so I used chicken sausage and it worked very well.

Excellent. It's a keeper.

Hi - I'm looking for suggestions for a punch/mixed drink to serve new years eve - something I can make up before hand and have in a pitcher. I'm willing to put work into it, but I don't really want to hunt down odd or expensive ingredients, and we're saving the champagne for a midnight toast. Any ideas? Thanks!

This Boston Club Punch that Jason wrote about in a punch column recently would be a good bet. It does  include sparkling wine, but I don't think your guests will complain! Or how bout Pisco Punch? Yum.

I love making homemade cocktail sauce, but it seems no matter what I do, after a while in the refrigerator, it's not very smooth, almost chunky. Is there something I can put in the cocktail sauce to help it stay smooth in the fridge? Store it some other way?

Do you make it with fresh or bottled horseradish? The jarred stuff is wetter and has a tendency to clump. You can always hit it with a stick blender just before serving.

InOctober 2, 2002 WP Food section devoted several pages to Root Vegetables. Are there any plans to issue an updated version? Are there any local growers? How about doing Vegetables special for each season, high lighting their growers in our region Thanks Reston VA

Thanks for the idea! There are plenty of local growers of root veggies: potatoes (sweet and white), turnips, rutabagas, radishes, etc. You can find em at the farmers markets that are open in the winter, such as Dupont, Takoma Park, Courthouse, Falls Church, and more. We're planning a winter-market story in a few weeks.

Hey guys, I wanted to give you a heads up that one of the books you suggested as the best of 2010 might not be so great after all. I decided to get The Perfect Finish after seeing it on your list and seeing that it was written by the executive pastry chef at the White House and the NYT's Melissa Clark. Alas, it fell well short of the mark that I consider even a decent cook book should meet. The ideas of the recipes were certainly amazing looking. The problem is I won't know how half of them taste because the recipes had huge mistakes! One recipe for feathery jam-filled cakes left out two ingredients in the ingredients list (that or added them in during the instruction step. Either way, I have no idea how much milk or how many eggs to add). Another recipe said you needed 8 T butter (2 sticks). What?!?! I'm a novice baker, but even I know 8 T is one stick. Then another recipe for a chiffon cake called for you to separate the eggs, but then in the instructions just said to add the eggs to the mix - it didn't say which egg part (I later learned it was supposed to be the whites)! I thought maybe it was just me, so I went to check out the reviews on Amazon - turns out others found even more mistakes. I have to admit, I'm incredibly sad about these mistakes, because I REALLY wanted to make these recipes - they seem so yummy! But I thought it was only fair to let you and the readers know before they went out and bought it. Oh, and would it be really rude of me to email Melissa Clark asking for clarifications on the recipes? Like I said, I REALLY want to make them! But at the same time, I have a lot of questions and I don't really want to throw it in her face. I blame this more on poor editing - as a writer, I know how easy it is type something accidentally.

You bring  up a lot of good issues. I do not, as a rule, recommend cookbooks I know have more than a few mistakes.  (NYT did a big piece on WH pastry chef Bill Y0sses when the book came out in the spring.) It's always disheartening to everyone involved when problems get through. Sounds like you are a savvy and sympathetic recipe reader and can figure things out. That said, I included the book in this year's list because of my respect for Yosses and his craft (I like Melissa Clark's work, too) and because the few recipes I tested from the book were okay. And as far as editing....these days, the burden of catching such mistakes falls to the writers during final proofing stages, I think.

I'm a big fan of pot roast or anything that has been slow cooked for a few hours and is tender and falling off the bone. The only problem is that after a few hours of cooking my roast is normally NOT tender. I sear it first, put all the veggies in and add the broth etc, then cook it in the oven at around 300 (or whatever recipe calls for) but 2 out of 3 times it's still not tender. Is there such a thing as getting tough AFTER it's gotten tender by cooking it too long or am I just not cooking it long enough? Thanks!

You're not going long enough. There are some good tricks to a good braise that may or may not be included in your favorite recipe that you might try. First, make sure the liquid comes at least halfway up the side of the meat. Second, even if your pot has a lid (I'm assuming it does, and that hopefully it's a Dutch oven), tear off a big piece of foil and completely cover the whole thing -- and I mean laying in the foil so that it goes from edge of pot, down side of pot, directly touching liquid, directly touching the meat all over, and up the other side. And seal it well on the edges. Do it with a second piece of foil, going in the opposite direction. Then put the lid on. That keeps the steam that rises from the meat and liquid inside the meat, so the braising happens more efficiently, rather than the liquid evaporating and falling back on the meat.

This is a question about mixing one's own spice blends. I have a favorite prepared garam masala. It's the first one I ever bought. It carries the Sutton Place Gourmet label. It's no longer available, meaning that particular blend is no longer sold. I still have some, and I have tried several times to duplicate it but I've never gotten it quite right. Is there (please?!) some quasi-scientific way to go about determining the exact proportions of each ingredient? Or should I continue to guard my remaining stash as though it were a fine perfume (it is!) or some smuggled comfort food from a war-torn home country I may never see again?

I feel your pain. You might try taking a little of your stash to Spice and Tea Exchange either in Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria, where they blend spices daily.  Maybe they can help you figure out proportions. I have about 4 different garam masalas at home now, and none of them smell or taste the same.

Happy holidays, all! My question is about making soup. I have some raw chicken and turkey bones in the freezer. Would there be a problem with using both kinds of bones to make a broth for "poultry" soup?

No problem at all! If you had duck bones, you could make turducken soup. ;-)

I love the idea of soup shooters -- But why powdered cheddar cheese instead of the real stuff? And about this powdered cheese: What is it and what isn't it? Does it have other uses, besides probably sprinkling on hot popcorn? I assume it's not as good as whole cheddar cheese ... Or do tell, can it be even better, in the way that powdered milk is better than regular milk if you use double the *correct* amount of powder when reconstituting, then use that as the basis for a milk shake?

Sometimes you just stumble on things and file them away in your mind for future use. I was at the Spice and Tea Exchange in Alexandria and came across the cheddar cheese powder.  They said it was just dried cheese, but that color doesn't really exist in nature, right? What I liked about it in the soup was that it imparted a lot of concentrated flavor, whereas using real cheddar could have added a goopier texture.  Plus, I liked the color, what can I say? And it was great on popcorn.

Thanks Joe. I will visit Dupont Market this Sunday

You're welcome!

I'm planning on bringing a Tres Leches cake (recipe courtesy of Pioneer Woman) to a holiday dinner with friends. Could I add some spices to the dry ingredient to give it a kick? Or maybe something to the frosting? I was thinking some pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, cinnamon...Or maybe even whiskey?

I might do a little liqueur in the frosting such as Grand Marnier or a coffee-flavored one, but you have to keep in mind that the cake, which soaks up liquid, may pick up too strong a flavor -- especially if it's made in advance.

I have a really odd problem, I have two 8 year old Calphalon non-stick pans that are retaining food odors and flavors. I am a very clean person so I *know* that the pans are well washed. I've tried boiling water & vinegar to see if it helps, but it does not. Are my pans doomed or is there a solution?

Have you put them in the dishwasher? I think it's not recommended, and maybe that has adversely affected the coating.

My husband and I are talking about giving each other cooking classes for Christmas. Any recommendations for a fun, basic, on-the-weekend kind of class? We're in Bethesda, if that helps. Thanks!

Both L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda and CulinAerie in mid-town D.C. have recreational cooking classes on the weekend. You can find the L'Academie schedule here, and the CulinAerie one here. Both schools have good instructors who are well trained in their areas of expertise. (Full disclosure: I have taught classes in food writing at CulinAerie.)

The problem might be that the Teflon has worn down. Teflon can also retain flavors sometimes since it's porous. I might look into getting a new pan.

SO much easier and fail-safe in the slow cooker!

The Spinach Balls recipe looks great-a nice change of pace from holiday apps. One question-I've got mustard greens, arugula, and Swiss chard in abundance (and no boxes of spinach in the freezer). Could I substitute one of those for the spinach? Thanks!

You have good taste! Of all the things David laid out for that Real Entertaining photo shoot, those Cheesy Spinach Balls were the ones I kept sneaking.


By all means use other greens, but I would blanch them in boiling water, then drain them, squeeze the water out of them and chop them. If If using mustard greens, you may want to cook them a little longer before chopping, because they are not as delicate as the other greens.

When using a preserved lemon in a Tagine do you use the whole lemon, just the pulp, or just the rind? Thank you and Happy Holidays.

Usually, all parts (well, maybe not the seeds) can be chopped up. Be sure to rinse the rind well before using. Happy Holidays to you, too.

I made a batch on Monday and they looked completely different looking than the photos. My cookies were very pale, even though they baked for 12 minutes, and were slightly puffy. I noticed someone posted a comment that the directions say sugars, but the ingredients list only regular sugar. Is brown sugar missing?

Got several q's about this. No ingredients are missing. "Sugars" should have been "sugar" and was fixed online that day. To be honest -- and this is real behind-the-curtain stuff -- we shot those photos many months ago and I didn't remember how the cookies were supposed to look. The important thing is, everybody seems to like them. Did you?

I used the no boil lasagna for the first time yesterday to make a white lasagna with bechamel (yum)! But the noodles were not smothered in the sauce and as a result, the ends of the noodles came out very dry. Is this because you have to use more sauce with no boil noodles? So much for convenience!

I've just been experimenting with these no-boil noodles for an upcoming piece. (In fact, I have some in the oven right now.)

I have to say, these noodles are 1 of the greatest culinary inventions of all times. It is true that the sauce you use has to be ample and thin enough to soak into and thereby reconstitute the pasta. It helps to make the dish the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight. (I happen to like the dried, crunchy edges they can get.)

You should also cover the lasagne for much of its cooking time.

Another solution: you can soak the noodles in warm water for a couple of minutes until they are pliant (this is what I do to make canneloni--easy breezy to just roll these up instead of filling dry shells)

What is the immense fixation on this? Is it that much better than regular salt, and does it have the Iodine content?

Sea salt comes in flavors and colors and textures, so chefs and home cooks have more to experiment with. It is less processed than table salt -- a positive for many folks these days. It can contain some iodine, but not as much as table salt.

Hello Fantastic Wapo Food Writers! Your butterscotch macadamia bars look delish, however I am not the biggest dried cherry fan. I could obviously leave them out, however was wondering if you had any suggestions for a good sub. Would anything chocolatey or peanut-buttery work in this recipe? Thanks and happy baking!

Well, the obvious answer to a lot of people would be raisins, but I don't happen to like raisins all that much. How bout figs? I think they'd go nicely with the other flavors in these bars.

My boyfriend of four years just gave me the best (early) Christmas gift ever - a shiny new 4 quart KitchenAid! I've been dreaming of this day that I can beat egg whites into medium peaks without killing my arm, and make cake batter and rolls with ease. So the question is: After the holidays have passed and I've made and eaten every kind of sweet possible, is there anything healthy or light I can use the mixer for? Healthy muffins I assume, but any other suggestions?

I use my Kitchen-Aid for healthy reasons all the time. I lift it up and down taking it out of the cabinet to get to my hand mixer, which I use 95% of the time.

We (heart) David.

Since you brought up egg whites, how bout David's Pavlova with Passion Fruit Sauce? It's dessert, but it's low-fat. Not exactly berry season right now, but winter citrus would be nice, too. The other idea: healthful quick breads.

Hello Foodies: Is there such as thing as a brownie pie? I blame it on the Christmas carols that began playing on Thanksgiving Day, but I swear to you I have had visions of brownie pie dancing in my head, with a lattice top and everything. Totally over the top, but I would love to wow the family at Christmas with something like this. Any ideas?

Well, we have this Brownie Ice Cream Pie. Are you thinking you'd want a separate crust? Seems like you could make a brownie pie by baking your best brownie recipe in a pie plate, but maybe I'm under-thinking. I WOULD recommend this, a tip from my pal Sheilah Kaufman's take on brownies:  Spread half the brownie batter in the pan. Place pieces of Hershey's Symphony chocolate bars (the ones with the toffee; maybe Heath bars would work as well?) then top with the remaining brownie batter, spreading it evenly on top. The chocolate in between doesn't exactly  melt so you get an extra layer of crunch. Easy.

We got a free copy of Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" as part of an All-Clad promotion recently, and even though it's fairly old, I just have to say - what a great book! Not only are many of the recipes wonderfully simple, it's nicely written and keep finding myself getting sucked into reading it just out of general interest.

Absolutely. Love it, love her.

I thought the article was funny. Pair that with The Hill is Home blog's headline of "New York Also Thinks DC Looks Fat In Those Pants," and you've got a winner! Also, what's with the trend of bacon in desserts? It was featured in your Christmas cookies, among others. It just seems like an idea I have a hard time wrapping my brain around. Any reason to convince me otherwise?

Thank you! I get the sense that our friends up north haven't been as amused.

As for bacon, I understand your reluctance to embrace its movement into the dessert realm. Bacon is already the rock star in so many other contexts. (Although its time atop the charts may be coming to an end, judging by some of the backlash.) Personally, I think small amounts of bacon in cookies (or ice cream) can enliven a dessert and emphasize its other, sweeter elements, much like adding salt does.

I've found that when I do a lot of frying in my kitchen, the air becomes so thick with oil that it starts to hurt my eyes (and is generally gross feeling). Is there a way to avoid this, or should I just get some safety goggles?

Wow! I have never experienced this, nor really heard of it outside a restaurant setting. Other chatters have this problem? Is it beyond something that a good fine-mesh splatter guard would help with? I love mine.

I use my mixer for lots of healthy things, especially making my own bread! It's a pretty simple process since the dough hook does most of the kneading for you, it's way cheaper than buying bread, and you can add all sorts of herbs and other flavors to it!

I think David's response was a bit snarky. We were told a few chats ago that no question is too novice or dumb. And now a very excited chatter just had her KitchenAid dreams shot down. Why answer that at all if you aren't going to be helpful? Wow.

Imagine that you are cream in the bowl of a stand mixer, and ... lighten up a little, please. David was just making a joke, and I followed up with a helpful answer. So no dreams were shot down, in fact.

Are you running your exhaust fan? That's what it's for!

If the chatter is like me, there isn't one!

just make the bechamel a little thinner. I got general guidelines from the Post recipe for Mushroom Lasagna.

I know that there's a difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour, but when can I substitute one for the other? I was looking at a recipe for homemade flour tortillas in "The Joy of Cooking" and it recommended bread flour, but other recipes I've seen have called for all-purpose.

Bread flour has a high protein content than AP flour, which means that its higher gluten content helps give breads their structure. I'm not sure why the "Joy of Cooking" thinks you need bread flour for tortillas. I think you can easily substitute AP flour for the bread flour without much discernible difference.

Yeah, I don't have an exhaust fan. Or, if I do have one, it's really not working well.

I figured! Get that splatter guard; it might make a difference. Mine is very fine-mesh.

No, I have never put them in the dishwasher. I only hand wash my pans. I just don't understand why they smell. I had to dump some spaghetti sauce the other day because it tasted like old food. It was too much for me. What I did--- as a last resort, knowing that I would probably have to toss them--- was to wash them with ammonia to see if any old oil residue would come out. It did not help, was still smelly and I'll probably have to toss them out. I guess that after 8 years, it's time to get some new pots.

Baking soda/water paste is my last-ditch method, so if that doesn't work on the smell, then yes, I seem to remember it is a giving time of year. If you want to reward yourself, maybe wait for those after-Christmas sales.

I have a "pork roast" that looks like the bottom of a loin area. The sale by date is for yesterday. I had planned on putting it in the crock pot last night, but just completely forgot. Do you think I can still do this tonight? My plan was to throw it in there with some apple/onion/thyme flavors or NC bbq based flavors.

Impossible to answer. I've had pork that I returned to the store the same day I bought it. Even though the sell-by date was two or three days away, the pork reeked. On the other hand, I have used pork that was a day or two past its date and it was fine. 

This one is a judgment call. I'd give it the sniff test. If it smells just a little off, well, that's on the edge of the plate, could be called either way. If it doesn't smell bad, you're probably good to go. If it sends up an unholy stench, it's foul - outta here. 

It has a more intense flavor, so you need less to get the same sensation. Good for our blood pressure to keep the amounts low.

I was experimenting with peppermint cookies over the weekend; I added both peppermint extract and crushed candy canes for the peppermint flavor. while the cookies taste great, the candy canes melt in the baking process and make the cookies look pitted where the larger chunks of candy cane melted. the candy canes also get slightly gummy somewhere along the way during the baking/cooling process. Is there any way to avoid either of these effects? Thanks!

Maybe crush the candies into smaller bits? I made the Peppermint Meringue Kisses with both peppermint candy balls and the canes, and the ball candies worked better. Go figure.

Cooks Illustrated recommends Amco 13-inch Splatter Screen as the best screen. If you get one that isn't really very good, they just make a mess--drip off the sides, etc.

Yeah, that might be what I've got.

Would that splatter guard fit over the top of a pot? That's the only vessel I have around to do "deep frying" in.

Not sure how big a pot you mean, but this one's sizeable, yes.

I am searching for a good vegetarian breakfast casserole or strata I can serve on Christmas morning. The recipes I have found so far have left me pretty uninspired. Any suggestions? Something I can make ahead of time would be great.

There are many eggs-in-hell (tomato sauce, red peppers, etc.) kinds of recipes around, as well as frittatas....but what about chilaquiles, with red and green sauces?

Hello. I would like to give a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine and mulling spices as a holiday gift. Should the red and white have different spices? Do you have any suggestions of stores that would carry mulling mixes? Or can I make it on my own? Also do you have suggestions on what wines to buy? I would prefer to spend less than $15 on each bottle. Thank you.

I don't know very much about pre-packaged mulling spices, but you can make your own with clove, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, and chopped citrus peel. Here's one mulling spice recipe I found in the Post's archives. I don't think there's a big difference between what you'd use for red, white, or cider.

Hi Jason, I am throwing together a last minute Ugly Christmas Sweater party on Saturday night ,as some friends will be in town this weekend. I plan on serving wine and beer and need a spectacular signature drink for the party. I have minimal liquor so will be starting from scratch. No eggnog please, as we are all in a wedding together in July and are are watching our weight!!!!! Please save me! Happy Holidays!

Ok, so a low-cal holiday drink for an Ugly Sweater party. That's a stumper. Why not stick to something with sparkling wine? The Purple Fizz Royale and the Ostend Fizz Royale would both match the Ugly Sweaters in color, and not be too fattening. Or perhaps the Brasserie Lebbe, which mixes champagne, pear eau de vie, lemon juice and Licor 43. Buy enough sparkling wine for rounds 2 (and 3, etc.)

grind your own meat with the grinder attachment to control the fat content in what you're eating

Aha. Yes. Smart. There's also the pasta attachment, so you could experiment with whole-grain  pastas, and the ice cream attachment so you could make sorbets.

I'm not sure what kind of recipe the chatter is using for the peppermint cookies, but maybe instead of adding the crushed candies to the dough wait until the cookies come out of the oven, brush with egg white then sprinkle on the crushed candies. You'll get the flavor of the peppermint and it's pretty, too.

The truffle puffs sound delicious, and I'd like to try to make them. Is truffle butter and truffled cheese hard to find? If so, is there a workaround using truffle oil, which I already have?

I found the truffle butter at Whole Foods and Cork Market on 14th St. carries it, too. I got the sottocenare with truffles at Whole Foods, too.

You could use half butter, half truffle oil and give it a shot. Don't see any reason why that wouldn't work.

The coating on a non-stick pan is usually only good to a fairly low temperature. If you routinely heat your pans on a high burner (ex: for searing steak) so that vegetable oils are smoking, you're probably also burning the coating. Also be wary of using a non-stick pan in the oven. All of those things could be contributing to your issue, and are why I'm choosing aluminum next time!

I really like bell peppers, mostly red/orange/yellow, but I don't know what to do with them. I'm not really comfortable with fire roasting them. I'd like to make a stew of some sort, but I haven't really found any good recipes for them.

So, apparently "prepared sugar cookie mix" means something different to you than it does to me. I bought the sugar cookie dough that comes in the logs in the dairy section. Clearly this was wrong -- it took WAY longer to cook and it never set properly, but the flavor wasn't bad. So what is "prepared sugar cookie mix"? Thanks.

Didn't see this one coming, sorry. Tester figured out what it meant and we never stopped to consider the wording might be confusing. We have excised "prepared" from the recipe online. We meant dry cookie mix -- which does NOT have to be prepared or baked into cookies before using.

I use my KitchenAid regularly to make rustic breads. Measure everything and have dough ready in under 15 minutes, then it's just waiting for rising. Your bread will be healthier than the stuff you buy at the store because you can put all the healthy ingredients in it you want.

I make cocktails all the time, but never warm ones. I'm having friends over for a small holiday party this weekend. Any suggestions for something warm? I'd probably serve them in mugs (I don't have the fancy glasses).

Lucky for you, I just wrote on hot toddies last week! Both the Gingered Rum Toddy and the Apple Toddy are wonderful. You might also go with a Hot Buttered Rum, too. And don't worry, they're meant to be served in mugs! One tip: Always rinse the mug with hot water before making these drinks to warm the mug.

You can make anything you want with your kitchenaid mixer and a few carefully chosen attachments that you might get for Valentine's day, Birthday, anniversary, etc. You can make world's greatest pasta, sausages, bread of all kinds, you can grind your own meat for is the limit. Kudos to your boyfriend,

I recently made lasagna for the first time ever. My coworker thought all lasagna noodles these days are no cook, so I didn't think to look at the package until I was at the point of making them and looked at the recipe on the box to compare with the one I got off the internet. Alas, my noodles were NOT no cook noodles. But I proceeded as if they were, and refrigerated overnight as directed in my internet recipe. I kept the foil on while cooking--it worked well and I will be making again this weekend. I like the idea of soaking for few minutes for pliability, though.

Sutton Place, Balducci's, and HayDay market all united under the Balducci's brand a few years back. If you've already tried the Balducci's spices and found that they're not the same, you might want to inquire at Hay Day. I believe there are still a few left in the NE.

You're aces, chatter.

I think if Yonan and the gang were really snarky, they would have made fun of me and my head with a lattice top. (Just saw my terrible grammar AFTER you posted my brownie pie question.)

I try to fix things when I can and have time -- and that's not very snarky, is it? Well, I can't claim to not have the snark in me waiting to creep out from time to time, but I try to save it for the deserving.

Penzey's has a decent one. That much having been said, there's nothing like doing it yourself. The only problem we have is that the next few pots of coffee pick up a hint of spice to them.

Designated spice grinder to the rescue.

Hi there! Okay, this is not exactly holiday food but I am jonesing for some chicken tikka masala. While we usually go out for this my bf and I are trying to watch our budget. Anyone have a not-overly-complicated recipe (that can also be adjusted so it's not killer spicey) that would be good for a newbie? Also, how does one cook basmati rice (I figured I'll go all out)? I've never cooked Indian food before so I am a major newbie to this. Thanks!!

I don't know if you're jonesing for chicken tikka masala specifically, but if you don't mind a butter chicken recipe instead, I know a good one. (There are differences between the two preparations, and some Indian chefs will sneer in the general direction of chicken tikka.) Regardless, Julie Sahni has a good, not overly hot butter chicken recipe. It's listed in its entirity on this page (scroll down and you'll find it). Remember, you don't need a tandoor. You can prepare you "tandoori" chicken in the oven too. You can find Julie's recipe here.

I have some culinary lavender begging to be used. Any ideas (holiday-themed or not), especially in the cocktail category?

Lavender is difficult in cocktails -- you don't want the drink to smell like fancy soap! I think it probably works best as a garnish for a gin martini, or perhaps as garnish to one of these martini variations listed here.

Thank you for the cookie issue last week--what a delight to read. I am looking forward to trying out a few. I did try the fruitcake nuggets this past weekend and they were great. My supermarket was low on candied fruit, so I subbed chopped dates for half of the candied fruit and it seemed to work really well.

Good for you. I bet I'd like them even better that way. If you try the White Chocolate, Cherry and Pistachio Chunkies, remember that the right amount of butter is 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks). Ah, what was I just saying about mistakes? HATEHATEHATE them. oy.

All Clad non sticks are good up to 450 degrees. Remember Calhaplon is not really a coating but a process. I replaced all my Calhalon with All Clad. Much better quality and last longer. if you food taste like old food sorry you have to ditch the pan! There is no saving it!

Another country heard from.

Any advice on how to make a beef wellington more approachable and kid friendly? My husband is taking time off before Christmas, loves to cook, and wants to go back to making this yummy dish, but we now have two little ones and want something a little more accessible.

Since the two main filling ingredients in Beef Wellington  (mushroom duxelles and foie gras or pate de foie gras)  are things children put in the "Yuck" category, I'd say just leave them out and just bake a tenderloin in puff pastry or phyllo. 

Or maybe you could get some mac n'cheese in there or wrap a quarter pounder in puff pastry? Talk about a happy meal...



Here is a whole list of possible uses.

I make this chicken tikka masala regularly. It takes just over an hour. As a bonus that recipe includes a quick "make your own garam masala" in the leading comments. For basmati rice pilaf, heat some spices (I like 1 cinnamon stick halved, 2 whole green cardamon, and 2whole cloves which you can all find at Wegmans) in oil until they pop. Add 1 1/2 cups basmati rice and stir in the oil to coat for a minute. Add 2 1/4 c. water, cover tightly and cook for 17 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. This recipe is originally from America's Test Kitchen to go with the chicken tikka masala - they are great compliments for each other. Add some naan and a vegetable curry to round out your meal.

Instead of pate or foie gras, for my Beef Wellington, I saute chopped mushrooms and shalots and mix with gorgonzola crumbles and use that instead.

I highly recommend Video Jug for Makhni Murgh (butter chicken). The demonstration video was very useful. Following up on the spice blender (that was me), I'm hoping to replace our little Krups with a burr grinder for coffee. On the plus side, whenever I grind spices, it forces me to clean it thoroughly!


A two part question here: Have a drinks and dessert party next week where, each guest is to bring a desert to share, along with a complementary alcholoic drink. I've got Brandy, Amaretto, Rock & Rye whiskey & 2 bottles of brut champagne at home (I'd rather not have to buy something from the store) - any suggestions on mixes and matches for this? Ingredients for the dessert really isn't a problem. I'm more concerned with having a fabulous drink. :) thanks!

Not sure what kind of brandy you have, but if it's of decent quality, like a cognac, you could make a French 75, with the brandy, champagne, and some lemons and sugar. Just replace the gin with brandy in this recipe.

Also, put it in your tea. Black tea, touch of cream/milk, the lavendar and I like honey with mine. If you aren't sure about it, go to Starbucks, ask for the "London Fog".

I love the snark, the same way I love lemon sugar cookies -- The tartness and sweetness combined make me smile. And there's sweetness a-plenty in this chat. Thank you, Rangers!

Sweet and sour -- that's us!

Hi, Thanks for taking my question. Am hosting a potluck and people are not really getting back to me with what they're bringing, but I'm trying to fill holes anyway. Here's what I know will be on the menu: ribs, chili, brussels sprouts (w bacon), cookies and cobbler. I figure I'll make some biscuits or bread, but I need a good (and easy!) vegetarian main to counteract all of this meat! Any suggestions?

There's a restaurant in Austin, Texas, called Threadgill's that  makes a terrific vegetarian side dish that goes great with downhome food like chili and ribs. They call it San Antonio Squash.


There are some recent reports claiming that the scent most arousing for men is ... pumpkin pie plus lavender.  As a single female, I'd like to know: Male rangers: Do you agree? All rangers: Do you think it's safe to try using pumpkin pie spice as my new dusting powder, at least when I go to holiday parties?

I may be the wrong Male Ranger to ask, but I would find this arousing only if you were actually carrying a pumpkin pie. ;-)

I love me a pumpkin pie, but what I can't understand is why they haven't developed a bbq perfume. A spritz of eau de barbecue seems to me the ultimate male come-hither. 

Pumpkin pie and lavender as arousal agents? Maybe if I wore a fedora and drove a jalopy with a rumble seat.

EEE-eewww. That makes patchouli oil sound enticing.  Pumpkin pie spice and lavender...isn't that the recipe for Eau de Grandma? Was that report published in AARP Magazine?

Now that David mentions patchouli oil, that once was sort of an aphrodisiac for me...but pumpkin pie and lavender? Yeah, probably that too. I once had a girlfriend who ironed her sheets with lavender...okay, tmi...

Hi Food Chat People. This came up at Thanksgiving and I am still thinking about it. I made a (super yummy) apple pie, crust and all. Because I was doing a fruit pie, I parbaked the crust. I did a lattice top, but was stymied on how to make it beautiful, given that the bottom has already baked and wasn't in the mood to be pinched. How is this supposed to be done? Thanks!

You could parbake the lattice separately, then top the pie and let the pie bake just long enough to allow for  a little classic bubbling up of apple filling goodness. Also, an egg wash with a sprinkling of sugar would hasten the browning process for the lattice -- I guess what I'm reading between the lines is that you're working with less oven time, right?

I bought two bags of green beans a few days ago and need some ideas on how to use them up. Have done stir fry and also steamed with miso sauce. I am at a loss for another interesting idea or two!

From my grandmother's pantry: Green Beans and Lamb, or Beef, Stew. Sear, then slow cook a pound or so of beef or lamb chunks in a pot with a little vegetable oil. As they soften, add about a half of a diced onion, and two minced garlic cloves. After about ten minutes, add a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, and some water. Add the beans. Serve over rice. Good winter dish. 

Hello, I have a favorite pound cake recipe that I'd like to make in mini-loaf pans to give away as holiday gifts. What do I need to do to adjust baking time for these small loaf pans. Anything else I need to do to adjust the recipe?

Depends on how deep they are, as opposed to the depth of your normal pound cake pan (a loaf?).  They'll bake faster if they are shallower, as well as smaller. In general -- very general -- for your kind of cake, keep same temperature but start checking at 15 minutes before the regular baking time is up.

I've never really understood the point of a bay leaf. Does it really add flavor? And if you leave it in something for a really long time, does it ruin food?

Maybe you've been using those shriveled specimens in an old botlle of McCormick's that's been in your spice cabinet for 20 years. (I have some of those--don't laugh.) It could be just a matter of taste, but I love the taste that bay leaves impart, especially fresh ones.  I can use 10 of them as part of the aromatic mix for a roast, especially in the winter. Leaving the leaf in for a long time doesn't ruin the food; once the flavor is leached out, it's just taking up space. It's not the gift that keeps on giving.

Well, you have baked us for 10 minutes (or 15 to 20 minutes, if frozen -- which we most certainly are), until we are lightly browned, so you know what that means. We're done.

Thanks for the great q's today, and to David and Jason for jumping in to help us. Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who wrote in about pumpkin pie spice and lavender will definitely get one of the prizes. And the chatter who asked about uses for the Kitchen Aid she got as a present will get the other. Book identities are a mystery, but all will be revealed. Just send us a note to to claim them.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading. And happy holidays!

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