The Washington Post

Free Range on Food: Christmas casseroles, the year's best cookbooks and more

Chef Ris Lacoste and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti join us to talk about casseroles for Christmas.
Dec 17, 2014

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 today's chat! Hope you've got lots of good questions for us today, because we're in helpful holiday mode. What's on your gift list -- a new cookbook, perhaps? Or something else? Ask us what you should get, or give us your own suggestions for your favorite presents, given and received.

What are you making for any and all holiday dinners and other events over the next couple of weeks? A casserole, perhaps? Domenica Marchetti and Ris Lacoste, sources of two of the four beauties Bonnie writes about this week, are here to answer your questions about that and anything else.

And Lisa Yockelson, our Treats baker, who gifted us all with her beautiful Holiday Almond Cake, can tackle any and all baking questions you might throw her way.

And then you've got us regulars! So let's do this.

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters today: "The Kitchn Cookbook" by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand; and "Christmas All Through the South" by Southern Living.

Let's go!

Hi there, hoping you or the chatters at large might be able to help with a gift suggestion. Something for my sister - a cook by necessity, but she isn't the most confident (though she's quite capable!). I was thinking a knife skills class, or is there another cooking class that people loved? Or something involving chocolate... I know there are a couple new places in DC, but I couldn't find any that did classes or tastings. Maybe just a Co Co Sala gift certificate? Something either to help escape the grind of cooking for picky eaters or just indulgent. Thanks!

If your sister is a fan of chocolate, it would be fun to assemble a variety of some of-the-moment bars--a way to enlarge her chocolate knowledge and palate. Vosges bars, for example, have some interesting combinations to consider and explore. Chronicle Books makes a fun "Chocolate Tasting Kit" as another option.

I thought about a fruit salad, what else I can do?

More specifically, cookies that can be frozen in logs, then sliced and baked later. I have a great many non-cooking friends who'd rather get the logs than more edibles at the holidays. I have a few recipes but need more inspiration, sweet or savory. Also, if the recipes says to freeze in a disk, is there any reason I can't do a log? These Praline Cookies, for instance. I like to wrap tightly in waxed paper and plastic wrap (sometimes I even mark the cut lines with a sharpie, then use decorative cellophane and ribbons to gussy up the logs.

Many butter-based cookie doughs, such as sables, can (and usually are) formed into logs and refrigerated. Depending on the recipe (of course), some butter-rich chocolate chip cookie doughs can be formed into a cylinder, too.

I got a few questions by email about this same thing, regarding those cookies. You absolutely can form them into a log for slicing! They're worth making however you do it.. And you end up with lots of fabulous almond praline left -- it's perfect for sprinkling on ice cream of yogurt, using in between cake layers with buttercream, etc. I even used some on the bottom of tarts that I then slathered with lemon curd.

 

 

RECIPE: Praline Cookies

Wonderful idea! Does Domenica have any suggestions for lowish-carb casseroles? In years' past, I've done chile relleno casserole and broccoli/cheese. Would like to do something new for the 24th.

Low carb? What about using vegetables in place of the crepes (or pasta)? There is a recipe for Eggplant, Pepper and Zucchini parmesan in my book The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. Thinly slice the veggies lengthwise and grill or broil them. Layer with mozzarella, sauce and parmesan cheese. Here's a variation that I posted on my blog.

Very tasty! Though the dough was a complete pain to work with. Very sticky. Want to try the brownie stuffed toll house cookies. Just not now. Thanks for the recipe!

Lemon Sables

Interesting! When I tested, I didn't find the dough all that finicky, especially after it chilled in logs. Glad you liked the taste, though!

And, yes, you'll want to try those Brownie-Stuffed Tollhouse Cookies.

Brownie-Stuffed Tollhouse Cookies

Methinks the captions for the photos were transposed for the four mouth-watering photographs of casseroles (on both the front AND back pages!) of today's print Food Section. As a visual learner, I'm now experiencing serious cognitive dissonance when reading the recipe that purportedly matches each photo!

Your sharp eye did indeed spy such a thing on the back page; on the front, I guess that would depend on whether you read the list in "clockwise" mode or not. Bottom line: You could figure out which was which, we hope? 

ARTICLE: The gift of a Christmas casserole

Thanks to Nancy Baggett's article earlier in the month, I've been making bunches of these for friends, family, and me! The rugelach recipe, in particular, was really good. I also want to recommend Sara Foster's Rosemary Cheese Crackers to anyone looking for a party treat. IMO, irresistible.

ARTICLE: Crossover cookies, a savory alternative

Glad you liked them! Some rugelach purists (Happy Hanukkah, y'all) were put off, but we thought Nancy's recipes were terrific. 

Hi there, I would like to make some cookies for friends but am limited to a toaster oven right now...so baking is out of the question. Do you have any suggestions for things I can make (doesn't have to be cookies, either, now that I think about it) that can work without an oven? Thanks!

We answered a no-bake cookie question last week. Check it out!

Fresh (not dried) pasta, store bought, not homemade. Do I need to boil it first before I assemble the lasagna. The internet advice is all over the place.

I would err on the side of caution, or tradition, and boil the noodles first. Just a quick blanch and then spread them out on a work surface covered with a clean tablecloth. It's an extra step but, in my opinion, worth it to get lasagne with a light and delicate texture.

I am hosting Christmas for the first time, though I'm usually the chef no matter the location. Every year I have made cinnamon rolls, but I cannot determine a good drink pairing! The year before I started the cinnamon roll tradition we had champagne with pink grapefruit juice that we all loved, so I'm thinking something light and fun. Any suggestions?

How about pomegranate juice w/sparkling soda?

I am a nursing mom who cannot have dairy or soy due to baby's food intolerance. I know there are plenty of vegan cookie recipes out there that use vegan margarine, but many of these contain soy, and I am also trying to avoid consuming the types of oils (i.e. canola, hydrogenated oils) in these products for health reasons. Can refined coconut oil be swapped out for butter in a typical cookie recipe?

Coconut oil that can be measure by scooping out of the jar or container (not pourable) could possibly be used if the quantity replacement is only a few tablespoons, and then not guaranteed to behave like butter.

I've always used both in my kitchen, but now I am in a. Very small apartment with almost no storage space. Do I really need to have both? Or, am I buying them because Ziploc company wants me to buy both? 

You're on to them. Freezer bags are made of thicker plastic and I think they cost a bit more. If you tend to freeze things (store them flat, stacked), just buy those. 

I'm the one who asked the question last week about why canned beans should be rinsed. Since I only use organic brands I thought they were all right but now you have convinced me to cook my own. I'm a fairly bright person and I know cooking dry beans isn't rocket science but I've had little success in getting them right. I follow the package directions explicitly, Or when using a slower cooker or the electric skillet (which my mom used to cook dry beans perfectly) those instructions. The beans either remain hard no matter how long they are cooked or cook so fast that they've already turned to mush when I check on them to see if more water is needed. Fresh beans always turn out perfectly but since they are not always in season I need to perfect dry ones. I prefer a slow cooker. Do you have any tips for perfectly cooking dry beans? Thanks!

I will try to help!  I have been cooking beans for a very long time and what I have learned is that every bean is different.  They also very in age and that will affect their cooking outcome.  Of course, we have no idea how old the beans are when we purchase them, so it is a bit of a crap shoot.  So don't feel bad.   Here are some recommendations:  1.  soak your beans over night in the refrigerator in 4x their volume in clear cold water; 2. drain and rinse the beans very well before cooking; 3.    render bacon, mirepoix, olive oil, garlic whatever you will be using to aromatize the beans, add the beans, and cover with your chosen liquid by 2 inches above the surface of the beans;  Bring to a boil on top of the stove and then place in a 325 degree oven for a nice even cooking.  Check occasionally if they need more liquid, but generally they won't unless you are cooking Boston baked beans, another process altogether.  Timing will vary from bean to bean; 4.  cook different beans separately and then blend once cooked as they all have different cooking times;  5.  all beans will have different textures.  I struggle with making the perfect canellini bean.  I often resort to canned because of it. Hope this helps.

Hi Rangers! Not so much a cookbook I've become obsessed with, but the site "Serious Eats" - I made a crispy roast potato recipe from them last night that was great, but I had to use olive oil as I didn't pre-plan enough to secure some duck fat. Do you know where (ideally in DC, metro-accessible) I can buy duck fat to make these properly? Like I said - obsessed.

We understand! Duck fat's available at Wagshal's Market (or via your favorite butcher); call first if you need a lot of it. Some grocery stores that carry D'Artagnan products may have it, too (little containers). 

Piggybacking on last week's question: On bakery cupcakes they sometimes use a super fine glitter. Is there a proper name for that product? Is it even sugar? How can I search for it?

There exists a product called edible glitter, if this is indeed what the bakery is using. Not having the cupcake directly on a plate, it would be difficult to determine if you're referring to edible glitter, or just simply a shimmery fine-granulated sanding sugar.

I asked a question earlier in the week about places to have a 7 fishes meal. I just checked my wife's flight information and her flight does not arrive until 7:37. Most of the restaurants featured in today's paper start their meals at 6 or before. Do you have suggestions for other restaurants?

RIS in the West End is offering a 7 Fishes Feast as our tasting menu option on Christmas Eve along with our a la carte menu and prix fixe Christmas Dinner.  We will be seating until 9:00 pm.  Please go to our web site:  risdc.com to look at the menu.  Hope you will join us!

Hi - thanks for taking my question! This chat is always so helpful and inspiring. We're celebrating Christmas early with my husband's side of the family this Saturday. He's asked me to make Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic and I'm having trouble coming up with suitable sides that make this simple (but yummy) main dish feel more 'festive.' Any suggestions? This is a family that's used to a big spread for meals and we're hosting them for the holiday for the first time - so the pressure's on! There will be six people. I have a relatively small kitchen with one oven, so something that can be prepared in advance is helpful but not necessary. (Preferably nothing with brussel sprouts. And, yes, bread for dipping will definitely be included.) Thanks!

Hi there, I love Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, and with a recipe like that the sky is the limit for sides. How about a side of roasted or fried peppers ~ red and yellow for color. Or a big colorful salad with bitter winter greens such as endive and radicchio. One of my favorite winter sides is this colorful and brightly flavored cauliflower salad from my book on Italian vegetables. Cheers and happy cooking.

Joe, this looks so good and I still have a couple of butternuts from my last CSA box so I'm excited to make it. But even as a fellow garlic lover, I was kind of surprised at how much garlic was in this recipe. 3 whole heads? What shows in the photo doesn't look like 3, but some is probably submerged. Also, do you think it would be good with a gluten-full pie crust if I wanted to save some time and not make the almond crust?

Glad you like the look of it! And that's exactly right on the amount of garlic -- it's poached and then caramelized, so it's mellow. But this is a dish that celebrates the "stinking rose," as I write in my column, so don't skimp! I used heads that had really fat cloves on them, so rather than 7-8 cloves per head, I got just 4-5 really big ones. 

On your other question, indeed, you could make this with whatever crust recipe you'd like! (That's one of the reasons we separated out the crust and filling sections in the recipe, in case people wanted to sub out another crust.) It's that good.

 

 

RECIPE: Caramelized Garlic and Butternut Squash Tart

I have about a cup of Sparkling wine left over from a dinner party three days ago. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can use it for?

Why don't you stir it into risotto? Saute some finely chopped onion in oil and butter, pour in your rice and let it get shiny, then raise the heat and pour in the sparkling wine. Let it bubble a bit, then start adding the broth and finishing as you would any risotto. At the end, add a knob of butter and freshly grated parmesan.

Wow, Bonnie - no question, just wow. I just said to husband last night (over brisket and potato latkes) that I might want to try some non-traditional latkes this year. Showed him the recipe and he was in! Really can't wait to make them - thanks for sharing. Might have to get the book they came from, as well. :)

What surprised me about these was how non-greasy and rather delicate these are. I'm a fan of Israeli food writer Janna Gur, so yes! I recommend the book (in fact, it's on our hon. mention list....)

RECIPE Herb and Meat Latkes

 

I just purchased an Oster immersion blender, specifically for making tomato soup. I have never used one before, and found it a little tricky. Do you have any tips for easy handling? I used it in a large pot, but found it still splashed a little. It also seems to have great suction when placed on the bottom of the pot!

Yes, I switched to an immersion blender a few years ago to prepare soups, and I haven't looked back. I love the ease of the tool -- and the easy clean-up.

 

But it does take practice: You want to keep the blender below the surface of the ingredients you're liquifying (to avoid splattering), but you don't want to get too close to the bottom of the pan because, as you note, the wand blander will try to attach itself. (I don't think it's a big deal when it does hit bottom; the blades still don't touch the surface of the pan.)

 

It takes a steady hand and you have to pay more attention than you do when dumping ingredients into a stand mixer or food processor. But I enjoy the, ahem, hands-on nature of a stick blender.

My mom mentioned that she used to love cooking with cast iron, but now she has an electric cooktop and so doesn't use it anymore. Could she use enameled cast iron on her flat electric cooktop? (Read: should I buy her one as a gift?)

I use my great collection of Le Creuset on my induction burners and they work great.  Not sure about an electric cook top but it is worth a try.

She absolutely can.

I treated myself to a top of the line Vitamix (after years and years of waiting) and now I'm a little intimidated by it. Any favorite recipes or uses (or resources for either recipes or uses) that you would recommend? :)

All I can say is LOVE your Vitamix.  Always start very slow and gradually turn up the speed.  It is powerful and intimidating even for us pros.  When you are done keep in the good habit of returning it to the lowest speed.  When pureeing hot foods, it is wise to fill only half way up and cover the lid with your hand over a folded towel.  Start on very slow and increase speed as the mixture begins to puree and the pressure is lessened.  Your soups will be magically silky, your carrot purees will be like none other!

Two words: Nut butters!

Hi, any thoughts on something that incorporates these two flavors?

Dingdingding. As a matter of fact, these were some of my favorite cookies last year. 

RECIPE Gingerbread Pear S'mores

And there are also these, which allow me to crib my fave fun cookie phrase (Fig Neutrons, America's Densest Cookie):

RECIPE: Asian Pear Gingerbread Newtons 

 

A gingery waffle batter with shredded pears would be quite wonderful.

A very important note about cooking dried beans! Do not add acid (like tomato based products) or salt until they have reached the desired softeness.

Right.

One thing that helps me is to tilt the pan a bit so you have a greater depth of ingredients to blend on one side - that should ensure your immersion blender stays below the level of the liquid. I love my immersion blender and use it weekly - it's also good for mixing batter.

So happy to see Mrs. Wheelbarrow's book on the list. My copy is waiting under the tree and I am eager to get my hands on it.

ARTICLE: The best cookbooks of 2014

It deserved a spot. Cathy did such a nice, thorough job. Speaking of hands, those are all hers, in the book's photos. 

 

Did you follow her Canning Class series in the Post this past spring through fall, btw? Here is the postscript, ICYMI, in which she gives ideas for using some of the beautiful things she helped everybody can. Links at the end to all sorts of delicious recipes.

 

RECIPE: Jam Tart With Almonds

Sadly, I need a new non-stick skillet. I dropped my beloved Circulon skillet and the handle shattered. I will try to epoxy the handle back together, but will also ask Santa for a new skillet. What brands do you recommend?

One in my collection of skillets is the Cuisinart Green Gourmet Hard Anodized Eco-Friendly Nonstick (8-inches) with a "ceramic-based nonstick interior"--it's lovely.

I am a fan of the Swiss Diamond nonstick line.

I always wondered if there was a way to use long slices of butternut squash in place of the noodles in a lasagna. Have you ever tried that?

I have never tried that, but I don't see why it couldn't work. I would maybe sauté or roast the slices first so that they are tender. Or you could use spaghetti squash and layer the strands with cheese, sauce, mushrooms, whatever you like. I might have to try this myself. 

I want to make something for Christmas breakfast that I can assemble the night before and bake in the morning. I'm open to just about anything, but it needs to be vegetarian. I've been toying with the idea of Monkey Bread, but I'm worried about the overnight rise (I don't want to use biscuits.) Thoughts?

A savory bread pudding, like a strata, would be delicious for Christmas morning.

Yes it would, Lisa! We've got some great strata/breakfast cassserole and baked French toast recipes in our database (www.washingtonpost.com/recipes). But even easier than those would be the upcoming Dutch Baby with a cinnamon apple compote -- a healthful recipe from Ellie Krieger. It's super quick and easy, and it tastes really good. We'll post it in plenty of time for you to take a look. 

RECIPES Baked French Toast With Rhubarb (can use frozen fruit)

Jalapeno-Cheese Grits Casserole

Baked French Toast With Strawberry Sauce

Italian-Style Stuffed French Toast

 

 

 

Not a question -- just a thank-you for the answer (reprinted in today's Post) about re-using parchment paper! And happy holidays to all!

You're welcome!

You could make a lovely trifle if you buy the poundcake, or a tiramisu with purchased ladyfingers.

Sure, yes!

Friend of mine was all excited about her Vitamix top of the line blender. She said it was superior to my 2 speed with pulse Waring Professional bar blender with its stainless steel carafe. So I bought my waring over to her place and it pureed soup as well as her Vitamix and did everything esle as well as her Vitamix. My Waring kicked butt when it came time to milk shakes though . The stainless steel jar can't be beat. Her Vitamix died last month after 2 years. My Waring is 10 years old. She is getting a Waring and buying Jimmy Choos with the difference in price.

Can your Waring make nut butters?

1. Soak beans overnight and discard the soaking water. 2. Don't add any salt. Wait until the beans are cooked and soft before you salt them. 3. If you live in a hard-water area, try using bottled water instead of tap water to cook the beans. 4. If you're using a slow-cooker, boil the water before adding it to the soaked beans.

After years without trying a new recipe and tired of so many failed attempts I would like to give it a chance and make a loaf of bread. I’m thinking this time I would like to do a bahn mi or a French loaf. The ones I’ve tried before were breads with a higher fat and sugar content that in which you are supposed to get a slightly golden crisp crust and a very soft center, think of Caribbean bread (not Hawaiian!). I can’t describe precisely my results but…well It was not the right flavor and texture. Which recipes would you recommend? One that has a video will be great! (I saw some of the Julia Child and were very informative.

I contacted friend and master home baker Sam Fromartz, who said he "wouldn't recommend a banh mi or French-style loaf" for a beginning baker.

 

Instead, he suggested you try Sullivan Street  Bakery owner Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread. The recipe (with video!) is available on the Times' site.

 

After you get the feel for that recipe, Sam suggested you pick up Lahey's book, "My Bread,'  which includes a recipe for long, Italian-style loaf based on the same no-knead bread.

I think Marcy Goldman's Favorite French Bread would also be a good beginner bread!

Favorite French Bread


Here's the accompanying article.

As always, I am very inspired to get into the kitchen after reading today's Food Section. But I was wondering how the crepe lasagna is enhanced by using crepes instead of pasta. There's more work involved since you have to make the crepes, and I think they would get very soft, wouldn't they?

Hi there, Domenica here. Good question. Crepes are actually a little easier to make than homemade lasagne noodles, which is one reason I do it this way. No assembling, kneading, stretching or cutting the pasta dough. Also, the crepes don't get mushy, although you might think so. They hold up well while still absorbing the sauce and the flavors in the lasagne. The result is that they are light, almost ethereal. In fact, I often use crepes when I make cannelloni as well. Give it a try. You won't be disappointed.

 

 

 

RECIPE: Crepe Lasagna With Mushrooms and Spinach

So... We go to my mom's on Christmas morning and she makes a breakfast. I would like to help and bring something. Any suggestions on something that travels well? Muffins maybe? I have a newborn and barely any time on my hands, so it would have to be something kind of quick and easy and without crazy ingredients that I would have to hunt down. Ha- quick, easy, simple, travels well...yet impressive? Easy request, right?

It sounds as if you are on the right track--thinking of muffins. Any quick bread would likely work for you and, if not muffins, a batch of breakfast scones (even a savory biscuit-styled bread).

I swear by these scones from King Arthur Flour. What you might consider doing is making the scones in advance -- the day before or several days before. It's great because the recipe calls for freezing the unbaked scones. Then you can bring over the frozen wedges to your mom's, pop them in the oven and have fresh, warm scones for everyone. Who wouldn't love that?

The tart sounds great, but I'd like to simplify it some, or it will never get made. First, is there a store-bought crust that will substitute well for the almond crust? Second, i presume I can go with pre-cut squash? How long should those bake for, please? Finally, if I am really lazy, how can I adjust the recipe to use chopped garlic from a jar? Yeah, yeah, it won't taste nearly as good. I get that! But I have learned that the perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good. :)

I was with you until I got to the chopped garlic part. At that point, really, I think you should just make something else that isn't designed to showcase whole garlic cloves in this way. You could use a store-bought crust for the pie, and you could certainly include roasted cubes of pre-cut squash (just cook them until they're tender -- depends on how large the pieces are, but 20 minutes would probably do it). But please don't use chopped garlic from a jar. That would result in something really so far from this recipe as to have rendered it useless. You could buy pre-peeled whole garlic cloves, though!

The crust is worth making, lazybones. It's delicious. 

Ris, thanks for the tip on cooking dried beans in the oven. Should they be covered?

no.

Happy holidays! I made salted caramel sauce the other day (recipe from last year's Food Network magazine) and my daughter and I are eating it plain, by the spoonful. I plan to make a bourbon salted caramel sauce as well for gift giving. What can I gift either of these sauces with? I was thinking perhaps pound cake, or apple cake. But those don't seem all that sexy.

How about a really nice spoon? :) Or a chocolate tea bread or Man-Catcher Brownies -- caramel sauce and chocolate make a good match. 

I vote for Bonnie's suggestion--a very nice spoon. Edible food gift + equipment of some sort = perfect combination.

I have a wooden pastry brush that I used for egg wash. How do I make sure it's clean? (No, we didn't have the manpower to pick out the little goopy bits.)

Initially, you should wash the pastry brush as soon as you are finished glazing the goods. After washing, I have sometimes soaked the bristles in a VERY WEAK solution of warm water and 1/2 teaspoon plain distilled vinegar. If you go this route, you must rinse the brush thoroughly (several times!) to rid it of any vinegar essence.

How did the meat latke go over? While not terribly photogenic, it sounds really tasty.

It spun my dreidel. 

We have a fudge recipe that we LOVE. It's basically the stuff you make with marshmallow fluff, and use orange extract instead of vanilla, and macadamia nuts instead of walnuts. The problem is when I use whole macadamia nuts, they're prone to just plop out, leaving orphaned nuts and sad nut gaps. So I thought, CHOP THEM! But I'm lazy, terribly lazy, so I'm wondering if I could give them a few pulses in the food processor, or if I should drag out my handy-dandy food chopper. I'm worried that the food processor will give me macadamia nut dust, and the food chopper will take forever. Any thoughts? And happy holidays, guys!

I would try both.  Macadamia nuts have a lot of oil so excessive food processing will quickly turn the nuts to paste vs dust.  However, if nut dust does enter your world, put the nuts in a medium holed collander and toss repeatedly.  The dust will fall out, the individual pieces of nut will be shiny and stunning, just like polished stones.

Hi, I am new to the DC Area and my boss at work suggested that I contact you with my dilemma. My wife is currently back in Connecticut finishing up her job and staying in our home until it sells. She is an Italian-American who loves to cook and does a fantastic job with several Italian dishes. The gustatory highlight of the year is the Seven Fishes Meal she prepares every Christmas Eve. This year she is flying into DC on Christmas Eve to join me and will be unable to prepare the meal. What restaurant would you recommend that evening for a comparable experience? We used to live in Philly as well, and can think of several South Philadelphia/Italian Market restaurants that would fit the bill, but what about around here? Thanks for your help.

Becky put together a dandy list of restaurants offering the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes. The prices span the spectrum.

 

If you have the bank, I'd go with Fiola. If you don't, I'd suggest the dinner at Dino's Grotto.

Hi, and thanks for the chat! My siblings and I get together at my house every year on December 26th; this allows everyone to spend Christmas with in-laws or quietly at home, and then celebrate all together the next day. Over time we've come to realize that Boxing Day doesn't need to involve lots of elaborate food, and in fact probably shouldn't. This year we're pulling together some favorite dishes from our childhood: ham biscuits and scalloped oysters will be the central attraction, preceded by cheese & crackers, nuts, olives & pickles, and followed by plum pudding and assorted cookies. I'd like to round it out with an interesting but not too involved salad, preferably cold and crisp. Right now I'm thinking about spinach and citrus fruits, but ... I don't know ... I'm not really feeling it. What would you serve in this circumstance?

I love a salad of bitter greens in winter, and it sounds like it would contrast nicely with the richness of the ham & biscuits and scalloped oysters. Here's one from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy:

Arugula, Fennel & Orange Salad

4 ounces (1 or 2 bunches) arugula

2 to 3 blood, navel, or Cara Cara oranges

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1 fennel bulb, cored, quartered and thinly sliced, plus a handful of fronds

Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the arugula on a platter. Slice the tops and bottoms off the oranges. Stand them up and slice around them to remove the peel as well as the membrane. Then slice them crosswise into thin wheels. Arrange the orange wheels on top of the arugula, then scatter the red onion and fennel slices on top. Mound any extra in the middle of the platter. Drizzle olive oil over the salad and sprinkle with the flaky salt and pepper.

 

Our family (12 total) is renting a house for Christmas and rotating the cooking. Breakfasts for the 24th and 26th both feature eggs, cheese, and bacon (quiche and omelets). I have Christmas morning breakfast, so I need an idea that doesn't involve those ingredients nor relies on picking up bagels or doughnuts. This crew eats big, but I'm vegetarian. Thanks for any ideas you can swing my way.

How about a bread pudding or baked French toast? Both can feed a crowd and be prepped in advance.

I can cook. However, I have never been able to really figure out how to prepare a flavorful and moist chicken. I am having a crowd over on Saturday and really want to make a chicken casserole that calls for shredded chicken meat. I want to have the chicken meat be the "star" of this dish. Do I really need to purchase an already roasted chicken to tear apart? I have poached and baked breasts in the past and they don't really have much taste. Please help!! Thank you.

You don't have to buy a roasted chicken. Things you can do to add flavor to poached chicken: Saute some aromatics (garlic, onion) in a little fat before adding the chicken and the liquid, or use chicken broth as the poaching liquid instead of water.

Society Fair in Alexandria has it.

Good to know, thanks! 

We are hosting a brunch on Sunday for about 20 people (also the winter solstice) and I'm lacking in inspiration. Any ideas for festive brunch food? I up for making almost anything as long as it can largely be prepped ahead of time.

A favorite brunch savory is a frittata--the eggy dish can include an interesting cheese (smoked mozzarella) and a roasted vegetable or two (potatoes and/or onions come to mind), paired with a leafy/crunchy salad, and several types of bread or coffee cake would combine to create a fine meal.

Happy holidays Food Section! There's a great recipe for fudge, but it calls for 3 cups of sugar. Is it possible to reduce the sugar without also reducing the other ingredients? Or is it a chemical thing, and changing the proportion of sugar would ruin the fudge. I like this particular recipe and so would prefer to tweak it rather than find another. Thanks!

Without seeing or preparing the recipe, it would seem that reducing the sugar would compromise the balance of ingredients, thus skewing the finished result.

Help, please! We're hosting Christmas dinner this year, and would like to prepare a single meal that accommodates everyone's dietary restrictions--so, it must be vegetarian, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Any advice on a festive (yet not too difficult) main dish?

For a main, how about Bryant Terry's vegan casserole? Meets the criteria.

Or you could do the little potpies I wrote about for Thanksgiving, and the whole cauliflower as a side!

 

 

RECIPE: Curried Scalloped Potatoes and Tempeh With Coconut Milk

 

RECIPE: Mushroom Stout Potpies With Sweet Potato Crusts

 

 

RECIPE: Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Chimichurri and Almonds

Will Ris Lacoste ever write a book? I used to clip her recipes from newspaper, then got them off Internet. She has enough stuff to publish a book today!

Ris will publish a book and is working video recipes as we speak!  Thanks for asking!!!!  I will work on getting more recipes out there.

Thanks for doing these chats, truly a highlight of my week! I was thinking that something that could be useful for those still gift-shopping would be lists of those items that qualify under the heading "I can't believe it took me so long to get one of these and how did I ever work without it?" Mine would be silicone baking mats, an immersion blender, and an electric kettle. Any other ideas?

Good thought! For me it would be a kitchen scale, All-Clad saucepans and a Le Creuset Dutch oven. I've had them all for a while now, but how I lived without them, I don't know.

A digital instant-read thermometer, made by Thermapen. Every cook and baker should own one.

A good work surface next to my grill.

A salt cellar and an olive oil carafe, both of which have taken up prime space on my stovetop and get MUCH use. Dish drying mats have been a lifesaver, too.

Oh, and rimmed baking sheets. I can't have too many of those. Once I realized that vegetables did much better when they have LOTS of room for air to circulate for roasting, I stocked up.

I love my spice grinders, one for hot spices and one for sweet spices - I have kitchenaid; anything Le Creuset, cooks evenly, cleans beautifully; yes, a digital scale, and yes, a vita prep blender!

 A sugar shaker, especially at this time of year. Some come with plastic lids, which is nice for storing.

At the risk of sounding like a complete pointy-headed dweeb, I'd recommend you invest in good coffee making equipment: a burr grinder, a vacuum-sealed storage container for beans (they don't belong in the freezer!), a water kettle, a pour-over device (either the one from Kalita or a Hario V60) and a kitchen scale to measure out the amount of beans and water needed.

 

Two things will then happen: Coffee will stop becoming just a push-button morning ritual to get caffeine into your system stat. And your coffee will taste better than you ever imagined.

 

Here are some coffee-brewing tips to get your started.

I am definitely taking a look at the casserole recipes, but I also wondered if you had any ideas for a Christmas Eve-worthy main dish that could be made in a slow cooker. I'm thinking something like a roast that I might be able to start earlier in the day and then by the time we got home from church, I could make a salad and another side and dinner would be ready to go.

I know you had some disapproving comments for telling us how to store fruit and veggies properly. Well, your tips work. I used the last of dill purchased for Thanksgiving yesterday. It was quite fresh, albeit, with shorter stems, as I kept cutting them every time I changed the water in the glass. Celery still going strong, and bananas are doing very well wrapped in Saranwrap in my fridge. You will get even more stars from me if you persuade Bonnie the Amazing to publish her annual Cookbook list at the beginning of November. Because I cook a lot everybody gives me cookbooks for Christmas, and they don't buy them in the last minute. PS: Butternut squash, halved and seeded is in the oven. Will make the tart on Friday. Can't wIt to taste it.

Glad you liked Candy's great piece on produce storage from awhile back!

I don't think we'll get to cookbooks that soon, I'm afraid, but I could perhaps persuade her to get to it a SMIDGE sooner!

i don't want to pour it down the drain for ecological and plumbing issues. How to dispose of it? Thanks for your help

Pour the oil into a big bowl and wad up a bunch of sheets of newspaper, and immerse them. They'll soak up the oil, and you can then put them in the trash.

So, I made the salted nutella thumbprint cookies. Before I baked them, I thought the dough felt a bit dry, but instead of adding more wet-anything to it, I decided to stick to the recipe. Shocker, the cookies turned out dry. Good flavor, but dry. Are the supposed to be dry? I was very disappointed. Should I have added more cream or butter? I followed the recipe exactly.

Hmm. Can you send your contact info to food@washpost.com? We'll be happy to go over the details with you. I think many of us have made these and haven't experienced the dry result you got. 

RECIPE Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints

 

I'd like to start saving my animal fats that are rendered after cooking meat - say from bacon or roasting a chicken. Are there some fats that shouldn't be saved? What's the best way to store them - in a glass container in the fridge? Storage life? And what are the best ways to use them?

I am not a fan of lamb fat but pork, bacon, beef, duck, chicken are all good.  Store in the fridge and can be frozen as well.  Not sure about glass as it breaks, but that is a restaurant girl talking.  Just keep covered, not to attract smells.  Use for base of soups, duck fat to confit anything - duck legs, whole shallots,  cooking potatoes awesome.  Substitute in some pastries.  All are rich so be careful.  Chicken fat for matzo balls, dumplings.  Beef fat for French fries. Try it all!

Good morning Free Rangers (and chatters)! My husband brought back some coffee from Saudi Arabia that is very finely ground with cardamon and other spices. I've almost run out, and I was wondering if there was some place in the area (preferably N. Virginia) that sells this style of coffee. Thank you for any suggestions!

Hmm. No idea. Let's crowdsource it: Chatters, any clues?

I hereby declare I will use whole garlic ... :) Really! But please give a recommendation on what kind of crust. I presume that many crusts in the store, perhaps most, are suitable for sweet baked deserts and not for this savory dish.

I have never used a store-bought pie crust in my life (really), but from looking at the ingredients, seems to me that they're all-purpose. Not seeing any sugar in Pillsbury.

All of us nuts are asking for help or suggestions but what are YOU making for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? What about New Years Eve and New Years Day? Luckily our menu is already planned - nothing but app's on both Eve's. Christmas day homemade Lasagna - I'm 100% Italian so I'm making my own sauce and homemade noodles.

Christmas day I will be manning the griddle for breakfast -- chocolate chip pancakes all the way. With hot chocolate for extra sugar. That night will probably be Chinese takeout. On New Year's Eve, I'm planning on making Joe's Sicilian Slab for my family. Oh, and my husband's family's wonderful chocolate peanut butter pie, which I missed at Thanksgiving!

Sicilian Slab

I'm heading with my family to see my mom and siblings and nephews and nieces and all that Hallmark jazz. In other words, I won;t be in charge of the kitchen. If I haven't been too naughty and maybe just nice enough enough, my mom will have made her unsurpassed stuffed grape leaves and incredible sour yogurt soup with lamb dumplings. (Actually, whether I've been naughty or nice, I know she'll have them both.) For Christmas day breakfast, I traditionally make huevos rancheros. I might this year, might not. This year, I'm going with the flow. I'm trying to give a family gift of - at least for a day - not being so much the kitchen control freak. 

Since I come from an Italian family, we always have fish and seafood on Christmas Eve (though we don't really count the number). Always on the menu: Fedelini (thin noodles) with tuna-tomato sauce; tomato-braised calamari; shrimp with garlic and parsley; cauliflower with olives; sweet & sour cabbage. And plates of cookies for dessert!

RIS is offering a 7Fishes Feast for Christmas Eve with oysters, salt cod croquettes, sardines, fried scallops, grilled octopus, linguine with clams, cioppino and toasted marshmallow ice cream!  Also serving a classic Christmas Dinner with oyster stew, duck with cherries and foie gras glazed anna potato and hazelnut orange souffle.  For New Year's Eve we have an all dressed up tasting menu with oysters, caviar, Champagne and lobster, squab and venison, chocolate, of course!  Will you join us???

 

Carrie and I will visit her parents' home on Christmas, where they usually prepare the meal. If they want it, I'll make my 15-Layer Potato Gratin for the meal. I may even bake some bread beforehand.

 

 

But I definitely plan to make my family's traditional gingerbread cookies this year. I've been hankering for them for days now.

As for New Year's Eve, there are plans to do a taco bar at a friend's house. I'm planning to make tortillas with fresh masa that I'll buy from Moctec in Landover.

I'm thinking of that crepe lasagna from Domenica, actually! I made a few things like that, where crepes played the part of pasta, at my cooking school so many years ago, and I remember a light bulb going off in my head. I said to my teacher (the owner, Roberta Dowling, who's Italian): "Oh, wait! Pasta, pastry!" She said, "Paste!" All related.

Try the Lebanese Taverna market in Arlington.

How long is too long to stash cookie dough in the fridge before baking? I made Joe's Cardamom Snickerdoodle dough two weeks ago and haven't been able to get to the baking....I know, I know. Have I crossed a food safety line or can I scoop and bake this weekend?

I think you will be fine.  But taste and smell hold all of the answers.  Test a sample.  If it tastes good, you are in!

Agreed: I think you're probably fine after two weeks.

 

 

RECIPE: Cardamom Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles

I was the person last week who asked about a good place to buy candied lemon and orange peel - I want to make the stollen recipe from last Wednesday's food section. The place in Maryland that you recommended looked great - until I looked more closely at their website; the smallest package I could order was several pounds! (not sure if they have a retail store, but I don't live anywhere in the area). Can you recommend someplace geared more to the home cook? The lemon peel I saw at my local supermarket looked (and tasted) more like sugar than lemon.

You may wish to call La Cuisine--The Cook's Resource in Alexandria, Virginia (703-836-4435) to learn if the store sells the peel in small quantities.

My new DIL can't eat maple syrup. I don't know if it's an allergy or just a strong dislike. My son, on the other hand, LOVES breakfast foods like waffles, French toast, etc to the point he wants those for dinner. Always has. So now…? We have always used real maple syrup (not the fake, grocery store- types ones, or syrups like "blueberry," or any artificial anything, etc.,) and I simply don't know of anything suitable to replace it for those foods. Any suggestions? BTW I made the whole roasted cauliflower with chimichurri sauce last night. Fantastic!

How about sorghum syrup? It's sold in maple-syrup-like bottles at Mom's.

If you can afford nothing beats All Clad. You should be able to get a great deal at various places right after Christmas.

I purchased a box of the refrigerated pie crust where there are two in the one box. It had a very strong vinegar smell! I don't think my guests noticed it, but I could even smell/taste a little of the vinegar after the pie was cooked. No one got sick that I know of, thank goodness. It didn't smell rancid just vinegar-y. What do you think accounts for this and should I have skipped using it?

A pie crust that smells like vinegar? I would have returned that sucker to the store and put the question to the  manager: Why does this beast smell like vinegar?

 

As to the cause, I don't have a clue.

I usually make beef Wellington as a special Christmas Eve dinner, but am looking for something else this year. Do you have a roast--could be pork or lamb--that you would recommend as something special? One goal is to serve meat that more cooked through than the medium-rare I usually do for the Wellingtons. Thanks.

I love roast pork loin on Christmas Day. I usually make a paste of some sort, like garlic, rosemary, fennel seeds, salt, pepper, lemon or orange zest, and rub that over the pork and let it marinate (even covered overnight in the fridge). Place the roast in a pan and add carrots, fennel and onion. Pour wine and broth over all and roast, basting from time to time, until the meat reaches 155 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let rest, then cut into 1/2-inch slices and arrange on a platter with the vegetables.

There are some great frozen pie crusts at Whole Foods--the whole grain and spelt ones are particularly good. I make quiche in them all the time.

I love making casseroles when I'm in a time crunch, but so many are filled with unhealthy ingredients. Do you have any favorite healthy casseroles, that are just as quick to make as the unhealthy ones?

I love making a casserole that is simply layered stuffed cabbage ingredients:  shredded cabbage; cooked ground beef, pork, turkey or chicken, sauteed with onions and garlic and tossed with raw rice; alternately layered and covered with seasoned tomato juice.  Bake away and top with crumbs and/or cheese if you would like.  Simple and quick and delicious.  Add kale and sweet potatoes - instead of meat or along with it.  All go beautifully with the rice and tomato and cabbage. I have also done it with salmon, but cooked the cabbage and rice first as the salmon takes little time to cook.   

I have been getting this error the last few days whenever I search thru the recipe finder. It just happened again on the ice box cake recipes. GRRR

Oh, I know. We are on our tech team about it. Just try refreshing and trying again. Not an ideal answer, but that's the truth. Sorry!

Thanks for all the help. Since I never bake (wife is terrific at that; I am developing a bit of competency in savory meals), I have no idea what sorts of crusts are in the store. I thought they were all like the sweet crusts for a cheesecake (my wife makes hers from scratch, she is not lazy!).

You're welcome. But, um, here's a wacky thought: Can't you make it together? She makes the crust, you make the filling?

It's little embarrassing to admit, since I cook a lot, but I've actually never made a ham, despite eating it at restaurants with some frequency. When people make ham at home, are you actually baking a raw ham or reheating an already cooked one? (or are both options)? I'm considering making a ham for Christmas, but I'm not sure the mechanics of what it would involve.

Fresh hams are more available than they used to be. (Ris, in fact, did a great recipe for us several years back that I'll link to below). I think you'll find that most recipes do start with a ham that's already cooked; and then you're adding flavor by glazing it in a slow oven, etc.

RECIPES Ris's Roast Fresh Ham With a Honey-Whole-Grain-Mustard Glaze

 Apricot Glaze Ham

Smoked Fresh Heritage Presentation Ham With Apple Jus

 

This Root Beer-Glazed Black Ham (starts with a cured, smoked ham) comes with a caveat: My cat hung around the kitchen, whining, for the last hour it was in the oven. (as in, that's how out-loud good it smelled)

 

My husband recently developed a strong dairy allergy (and no, the lactose pills don't work for him). Alas, our Christmas eve usually involves lots of family, cheese fondue and molten chocolate cake. Any suggestions for food alternatives?

See previous answer suggesting the potato/tempeh casserole, mushroom/stout potpies, whole roasted cauliflower!

Oh, and this for dessert!

 

 

 

RECIPE: Vegan Pumpkin Pie With Coconut Cream

In MoCo, and presumably other counties, you can take your oil to the recycling center.

Never tried but your Vitamix cant make a killer chocalate milk shake with non pasteurized and non homenginized freshly made chocolate ice cream, same type of milk with a little dark rum that is 15yo as well can it??? Not big on nut butters but I do make a killer all organic butter from real milk. 

I bet it can!

I loved these and they were a great new addition to our cookie exchange. As a previous chatter mentioned, the dough was a little sticky/tacky, but that helped once it was divided onto the wax paper and rolled into the log. IMO, the glaze was *not* optional - so yummy. The only issue I had was with baking time - I needed to pull them around 12 mins and even some of those came out too dark. Ah well, I got to keep the less than perfect ones for myself!

Yes, they do rock! The baking time recommended worked at least in my oven, but these things do vary.

I've got 10 peeled lemons (used the peels to make limoncello) and am kind of at a loss for what to do with them. I don't want to make lemonade, any suggestions for a savory dish that would use up a lot of lemons/lemon juice and doesn't require zest? Can I just stick whole lemons in the freezer and use as needed?

Perhaps you should juice the lemons and freeze in 2-tablespoon (or so) quantities for use at another time.

I am making brunch for 6 people next weekend. I want to do something not involving omlettes/frittatas/french toast. Any suggestions for something delicious that won't take forever to prepare? Was thinking something more interesting, like shakshuka or huevos rancheros or anything else? Thanks!

How about chilaquiles? Can do Verdes With Squash and White Beans, in casserole form! 

And these Eggs en Cocotte look charming, and are easy to assemble. Definitely not an omelet.

 

 

Poaching chicken breasts in dry white wine adds flavor. That's what I usually do.

Right on!

Son visiting for holidays has suddenly turned "no carb!" Need ideas for breakfast items. Thanks.

How about a smoked salmon frittata? Here's a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma website: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/smoked-salmon-frittata-with-goat-cheese-and-chives.html

can I come over for a cup? I promise not to laugh at your pointy head...

Haha!

Carrie used to laugh at my pointy head and all the coffee tools we have in the kitchen. Until I got her addicted to our home brew.

I make peanut butter in my 15-year-old Cuisinart, no problem. I have heard of the lovelyness of Vitamix, but I think I'm good to go with my Cuisinart and immersion blender.

Yes, I'm not telling anybody they have to invest in a Vitamix. But it can make nut butters without the need to add oil, like the Cuisinart does. And the texture is much better/smoother.

With the day after Christmas off we are taking a quick trip to New England. Traveling on the 25th and after a 8-12 hour drive(traffic is very unpredictable) will arrive where no stores or restaurants are open. So we need to bring Christmas dinner. What is simple, vegetarian, can travel on ice in a cooler, be heated in a motel microwave and still be a Christmas dinner. I was thinking a bean and squash stew. Joe's tart sounds interesting but I don't know if I could make the crust. I know it is heresy but can anything store bought be substituted ? I love to cook but I have very little time. Anything that could be made ahead this weekend would be great.

Tacos With Spicy, Smoky Lentils? Make the lentils and bring the other components?

Tacos With Spicy, Smoky Lentils

I vote for Domenica's eggplant meatballs

I've been thinking about buying one of those molecular gastronomy kits for the foodie/chef wannabe on my list. Do you think that's something that would appeal to a "real" cook, or it just the chemist in me that thinks this would be a fun gift? And if you think it has universal appeal, are there any particular brands/kits that you recommend? Thanks!

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of kits of any kind. I've been burned once too often by cheese-making kits, beer-making kits, etc.

 

I'd start with a copy of "Modernist Cuisine at Home." It has great descriptions, interesting analysis of equipment and decent recipes. It directs you on what equipment you'll need too.

How do you choose a head/bulb of garlic that is not one of the kind that has slivers instead of cloves? I seem to find the ones where you end up with more paper than garlic. Thank you!

X-ray vision? Harhar.

I get what you're saying, though. I sort of try to find heads that have obvious bulges that I can tell are big cloves.

A good divorce attorney

there is no maple syrup substitute being a staunch New England girl, and French Canadian at that, although my mother used to hydrate maple pills that my father received as rations in the navy.  delicious actually. on her crepes on sundays.

It's 4oz unsweetened chocolate, 3 cups sugar, 1 1/4 cups milk, 2tbsps corn syrup, then add 4tbsp butter and 1tsp vanilla after it's cooked. This recipe is more reliable than others I've tried, but it's a tad sweet. Thanks!

To be honest, I wouldn't toy with the amount of sugar. Fudge is, well, supposed to be sweet by its very nature. Perhaps you should think about stirring in chopped nuts to offset the density of the fudge--nuts sometimes relieve the sweetness quotient.

Trader Joe's. More pleasant list of ingredients than the usual brands.

Well, you've baked us for 25 to 30 minutes or until we are hot and bubbly, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great q's, and thanks to our fantastic guests for helping with the a's. 

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about making a lazy version of the garlic/squash tart will get "The Kitchn Cookbook." And the one who asked us what's on OUR menus this holiday season will get "Christmas All Through the South." Send your mailing information to Becky.Krystal@washpost.com, and she'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew. ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is the Food section's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff writer for the Going Out Guide and former Food section editorial aide.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Lisa Yockelson
Lisa Yockelson is the author of "Baking Style" and several other cookbooks. Her Treats column is an occasional feature in the Food section.
Domenica Marchetti
Domenica Marchetti is a food journalist and cookbook author.
Ris Lacoste
Ris Lacoste is the chef-owner of Ris in the West End.
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