The Washington Post

Free Range on Food: Nuts, punch, comfort food and more

Dec 18, 2013

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you enjoyed today's section, between Tim Carman's fascinating piece about Heinz Thomet's attempts to grow dryland rice (in Maryland, no less!); Phyllis Richman's ode to comfort food, a few decades after she used the term for what the OED and others say is the first time in print; Carrie "The Red" Allan's celebration of a one-two punch strategy for the holidays; and Susan H. Loomis's fantastic recipes for nuts to spice up your parties this season.

What's on your front burner today? On mine (literally, up until just a few minutes ago) were turnip/potato cakes, subject of my next Weeknight Vegetarian column, and the house is full of smoke from oil that got a TEENSY bit too hot because of my inability to master the new electric (yikes) stove. Can anybody out there relate? (For the record, I've got a new induction one on order, and I know I love those from experience, so all is not lost.)

Anyway, throw your questions our way and we'll do our best to answer. We'll have outside assists from Ms. Allan on anything boozy, hopefully from Jim Shahin on anything smoky, and the rest of us regulars on, well, everything and anything else.

We'll have cookbook prizes to get your creativity flowing, so make it good!

Posting early because The Google isn't helping me much. My brother in law sent us 2 - 3 lb lobsters today (Tuesday). That's a LOT of lobster (certainly more than I've had in my entire land-locked life!). We know we can use the shells for stock, but what about the water we steamed the lobsters in? It smells lobster-y and I stuck some in a big canning jar in the fridge just in case. Also, can you refer me to any recipes for stock, the leftover lobster (since neither of us knew that we needed to cook what was in the box ASAP and had eaten supper for before we came home!), and maybe a soup or bisque recipe? We're at a bit of a loss!

Today's recipe for Griswold Inn New England Lobster Potpie will take care of your need to use both cooked lobster and that lobster broth.

Griswold Inn New England Lobster Potpie

Another option: Lobster Bisque With Langoustines

Lobster Bisque With Langoustines

And here are some more lobster recipes.

How do you pick which recipes to try/review/print from the cookbooks you cover? Do you pick them, or does the publisher only allow you print certain recipes? Just curious.

What did you think of our list this year? I look for recipes that are either inventive/intriguing but always within the reach of home cooks, in general. If I've tagged more than 3 or 5 recipes with Post-It notes, I move to testing. I try to choose books that have clear instruction and useful tips. Since Editor Joe doing his Weeknight Vegetarian column in 2013, he provided more review power for our readers who are eating less/no meat.


No publisher's ever denied us reprinting rights to a recipe; sometimes they request that we not do so too far ahead of when the book's widely available.

Joe, this recipe is amazing! For us to make the same dish two times in five days and to love it even more the second time just doesn't happen. The closest we come to a "rotation" is a recipe that may surface every 4-6 months. We are pretty sure this one will become addictive. Thanks for sharing!

So glad you like it as much as I did. Sarah Copeland's book "Feast," the source of this one, is lovely, too -- you should check it out!

Here's the link to Black Pepper Tofu Pot for others who might want to try!


Hi guys -- I bought a chuck roast but don't love pot roast. I found a recipe for a southwestern brisket that you'd cook in the crock pot and then shred. Can I use the chuck roast in lieu of the brisket, do you think? Or is there some magical brisket property that can't be replaced. Thanks!

Chuck roast is a go-to cut for the slow cooker. Be sure to brown it first in an oiled pan on the stove top.


About the magical properties of brisket: We could do an entire separate hour, hosted by Tim the Whole Brisket Smoker Carman and Jim the Smoke Signals master Shahin. And Joan Nathan...

Can the hot water method of removing skins be used for hazelnuts? I bought a giant bag at Costco, which I've been storing in my freezer for several weeks. The roast and vigorously rub method has really not worked and I still have about 3 cups to use - in biscotti.

I've never tried it with hazelnuts. Chatters? When you roast/rub, are you allowing time for the hot-from-the-oven nuts to stem wrapped inside the towel? That makes a big difference. You can pop the stubborn ones back in the oven and repeat the process. When you're roasting, look to make sure that a goodly number of them have skins that already show signs of cracked skin.

Actually, I've done a boiling method for removing hazelnut skins. I picked it up from Cook's Illustrated a while back -- it involved adding baking soda to the water. The details are escaping me, though. Maybe follow up with an e-mail to me and I'll dig back through my old copies! It kind of makes a mess, stained my fingers, but paid off because I didn't want to toast the hazelnuts and then have them get too burned after being baking in some mandelbread for 30 minutes or something.

I am asking this in advance as I prepare my menus for the week of Christmas. I finally purchased a Kitchenaid mixer as well as the meat grinding attachment in pursuit of lean and fresh ground beef. What type of beef should I purchase at the grocery store to make Shepherd's Pie? (I will be using Ameraica's Test Kitchen recipe, which calls for 93% lean ground beef.)

Good for you for grinding your own meat. Next thing, you'll start making your own sausages.


Okay, let's start with terminology: Even though ATK calls the dish a shepherd's pie (I know, I looked up the recipe to make sure the magazine used the name!), it's technically a "cottage pie."  Shepherd's pie is made with ground lamb, and cottage pie with ground beef.


As for creating your own lean ground beef, that's where it gets tricky. You can look for cuts such as "sirloin tip," "top round" or "bottom round," all of which are fairly lean. But double check with the butcher: Some butchers have different names for different cuts. Also make sure to order choice or select grades, not prime, which are fattier.


You might even try an experiment: Buy 93 percent lean ground beef from your grocer and then grind your own using a lean cut from your butcher. You can see how much fat each one renders when you brown the ground beef in a pan. You can measure the rendered fat in a glass measuring cup and see if your home grind is close to the lean grind from the grocer.

I asked about this a couple of weeks ago and just wanted to thank whoever posted the link to the Southern Living cupcake recipe. It wasn't what I was looking for but I made them anyway since I had the cake mix. They were very good! I frosted them with bakery buttercrean (that stuff that starts with a roux) and topped half with coconut and half with chocolate shavings. A big hit! Thanks.

Chatters helping chatters. I love it.

I read the chat way after it happened, but thought the linzer cookie seeker might like these. They are excellent.

Now that's the spirit o' the season. Love our chatters. Thank you!

I'm looking for a gift bottle of bourbon in the $50-75 range and available at VABC stores. Any suggestions please? Thanks and happy holidays!

Here are some good options that they should have (they carry them, but you may want to check with your local store to see what's in stock before rolling over): Blanton's Original Single Barrel, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, and the 1792 Ridgmont Reserve. The Jim Beam Black, 8 years old, will be cheaper but it's a really solid choice -- and all of these did well in the International Wine and Spirits Competition this year. Hudson Baby Bourbon did well, too. It's lovely, but on the pricy side at around $45 for a little 375 ml bottle.

Does that have more protein than other parts?

According to the National Chicken Council, breast meat does indeed have more protein than other cuts, by a few grams.


The same holds true for turkey breast  meat: It has slightly more protein vs. other cuts, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Your article on rice was interesting but almost unreadable due to the heavy handed bias against "big Ag." According to the article, rice had not been grown in the Chesapeake region in over 100 years. But somehow this was all Big Ag's fault even though Big Ag did not exist then. Save the commentary and opinion for the Op-Ed pages please.

Any potential Big Ag bias aside, I think you're conflating two different aspects of today's story on dry land rice.


The first part deals with how long it's been since someone grew rice in the Chesapeake, which has nothing to do with Big Ag at all. It's just a history of rice in the DMV.


The second part deals with a method of growing rice, called "system of rice intensification" or SRI, which allows farmers like Heinz Thomet to grow the plants without flooded fields. The SRI method has not been adopted much by farmers who favor practices promoted by big agricultural companies. This is the tension that I address in the second half of the article.


Give it another read and see. And despite your critique, I do appreciate you calling it "interesting." It's a tough subject to make interesting to general readers.

When you guys did a story on the gentlemen from The Bitten Word, they mentioned that the six layer chocolate caramel cake was one of their favorite desserts for the holidays. Based on this, I made it two Thanksgivings ago. It was a big hit, but as much as I loved the cake and caramel filling, I thought the icing was wayyyy too hard - as in physically, once it set, it seemed just a hair shy of rock hard. Now, I will admit I am not fond of super thick icings like fondant and much prefer lighter ones; no one else complained about the icing. But I still wasn't sure if I had made the icing correctly or, if I had, if you guys had suggestions for other icings that would still be suitable but perhaps would provide a lighter texture. Thanks!

I'd direct your comments to the Bitten Word guys, but they appear to be out of the country now! You might like this Soft and Luxurious Chocolate Frosting from our friend Lisa Yockelson. (Please note that the frosting makes 4 cups -- we're working on why that info isn't displaying at the moment.)

I'm making a lemonchello recipe that calls for the "skin" of 14 lemons. What in the world am I going to do with the remainder of the lemons? My husband hates lemony type chicken and I can't imagine anything other than making lemonaide.

Lemon curd! Sweet, delicious, many uses -- including as a hostess gift.

I've run out of room in my knife block to store all my knives. I've seen some ideas floating around on the internet about storing you knives in boxes filled with rice or some other items. I like the idea because then I'm not boxd in by having the right number of appropriately sized holes. But I'm also hesitant to believe any of these are actually good for knives. Any tips on the best ways to store knives? DO I just need to buy another block?

I love using a magnetic strip to hold knives. They're so easy to see and to grab the right one. Do you have any wall space to add that? I have used one for many years with absolutely no issues. (And whenever I'm cooking at the house of someone who uses a block I find myself constantly lifting each knife out before I find the one I want.)

I need to bring 6 dozen cookies (one type) to a cookie exchange on Friday and I don't have time to make anything too time consuming. Do you have any suggestions for something fairly quick but still festive? Would a bar cookie be ok or does that not seem special enough?

Bar cookies are a great way to yield quantity for your baking time. The Honey Maple Pecan Bars we recently ran seemed to be pretty popular!

I'm in the mood to do some baking - sweet potato pies, maybe some homemade rolls, etc.; however, I'm finding some recipes on Cooking Light that call for 2% milk. Great, right? They've adjusted the recipe so whole milk isn't needed - HOWever - I only keep lactose-free 2%. Can I use that or should I get the regular 2% milk?? Thanks! (can't believe I finally have a question to ask)

You can absolutely use lactose-free milk instead of regular in baking.

Can I make truffles using unsweetened baking chocolate? How could I sweetened it? Do you have any suggestions for using unsweetened chocolate (I have 8 ounces) that does not involved a working oven? Thanks!

I've never made truffles with unsweetened chocolate, but I suppose there are recipes out there. I've been going through the stuff like crazy making these Cocoa Blocks for my winter treat bags. (They also require some regular chocolate.) Very easy and only requires a stovetop.

Just wanted to thank you for your advice on how to use frozen pineapple in a pineapple upside down cake. Baking the cake using frozen pineapple worked just fine..

So glad to hear it!

What can I substitute for the shortening in this Kolache recipe? more butter? oil? thanks!

I've seen all-butter kolache recipes, but I think the shortening gives you a better chance at flaky pastry, and for the dough to hold its shape. (I'm guessing you wouldn't want to go with lard, but that's an old-recipe standard.) Any kolache pros out there -- please enlighten!

I have to disagree with the chat followup statement that no one will notice the anchovies in the green bean dish. Some will, just as some will notice the little bit of cilantro in a dish or tofu in frosting or pumpkin pie .

I know that I should only use a wine in cooking that I would want to drink. Could you please recommend a nice, white, dry wine that I will primarily use in cooking, (thinking of River Cottage Veg's mushroom risoniotto), that I can take a few swigs of, but since it's primarily for cooking it won't hurt my wallet too much.

Our wine guru, Dave McIntyre, says 

I would suggest an inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc such as Santa Rita 120 from Chile, or Lindemann's Chardonnay from Australia. Both should be in the $6-$8 range depending on sales. 

Ha, I'm making a limencello recipe too! I just froze my lemon juice in 1/4 c increments in little sandwich baggies. I figure I can use it later in other recipes that call for lemon juice.

Of course! The freezer to the rescue, yet again!

Our family generally does our big Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, and then we have fondue on Christmas day itself, broth and cheese and then chocolate. But this year we're gathering elsewhere and I'm not going to haul the fondue pots on the plane with us. So I'm trying to think of another tradition-worthy idea for Christmas day, something that's fun and doesn't take much prep time, like fondue. Any suggestions?

Pizza? I love the idea of a big ol' pizza party (and one day I will actually host one). You'll have inactive prep time while the dough is resting, but otherwise, it should be pretty quick, easy and fun.

So I've been trying to do my one-person part to stop requiring "perfect" pesticide fruits and veg. I do wonder about what spots and blemishes are imperfections, and what I should pare off, and what I should skip completly. Any guidelines?

You've got me singing Joni Mitchell over here. "Leave me the birds and the bees, pleeeeease!" You saw Daphne Miller's recent piece on this topic, right? Your guideline for what to get rid of is really a matter of taste. If it's mushy and brown (indicating that it's starting to rot) and doesn't smell or taste good, then you might want to get rid of it! Otherwise, wash it and/or scrub it, and eat, eat, eat.

Inspired by your article a few weeks ago on pubs in Leesburg, I was wondering whether you could offer a few suggestions for local (close in to DC) brewpubs that I could string together as a pub-crawl Christmas gift for my husband? Decent quality food would be a bonus. Thanks!

You're refering to Fritz Hahn's story last month, which proved that Leesburg is not all about antique shops!


These places might make for a meandering trip, but you could string together these DC brewpubs: Gordon Biersch, Capitol City, Right Proper Brewing and Bluejacket. I tell you what: I'd join you!

Our holiday party guests didn't eat as much cheese this year as last (not sure why not) and we have lots of leftovers. Can I freeze any of it? Several types running the gamut from hard to soft. The biggest chunk is a half of a wheel of brie that there's no way we'll eat on our own without preserving it.

You can freeze hard and most soft cheeses (except for ricotta, cottage cheese) for about 6 months. Wrap them well! You might want to first grate/shred the hard cheeses or at least break them into smaller chunks.

Is this something we could add to the "things I'm supposed to do and don't" list? Is scrubbing off skins for aesthetics, or does it help flavor/texture?

Not sure I'd put it on that list. You want to toast the hazelnuts to get that wonderful flavor, which then starts to crack the skins. I would not want all that peeling skin to be coming off in my food, for the sake of both texture and appearance. But don't fret too much if you don't get it all off. As Susan Herrmann Loomis said in her piece today, "Some skin left on a hazelnut will not adversely affect a dish."

We made the mini-size-chip version of your chocolate chip cookie variations (from this year's list), and I think I've converted a friend to the whole refrigerating-dough thing. They came out absolutely perfect, and I think it's safe to say that it's my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe from now on. So, thanks for that!


I would probably notice the anchovies in the green beans dish. And then get really excited. Because anchovies are an awesome, under-appreciated culinary device for conveying amazing amounts of flavor. Pass the beans my way!

I had heard of the magnetic strip, but I was convinced it was way too dangerous! Still not sure I trust the idea, but maybe I'll try it out.

The good ones have REALLY STRONG magnets. I've never had an issue. (I mean, use your common sense -- don't put it on a door that you slam all the time, for instance.)

Lemon chiffon pie, lemon meringue pie, lemon cake, lemon bread, lemon...

Joe - I met you in Asheville at your book signing and love your cookbook! I am making your poblano tapenade for a party this weekend and it calls for pitted olives, but I want to try oil-cured olives instead of green. How the heck do I pit them? I end up with a smashed mess and all the "meat" stuck to the pit. what am I doing wrong, please help! thanks, Tamra

Hey, Tamra! Glad you want to make the tapenade. This is interesting, though, because I find that of all the olives, the oil-cured ones are the EASIEST to pit, because their flesh is so pliable. You can usually just squeeze them and the pit pops out. Have you tried that? The other thing is, you can of course find these already pitted. Let me know how you like the tapenade this way -- curious to see how it turns out!

I was considering this very cake for Christmas, so this review + chocolate frosting recipe shows that it is kismet. Thank you for confirming my Christmas dessert for me!


I want to get my parents a healthy cookbook for Christmas but am stumped. Both parents have expressed a desire to get a little healthier, but cook maybe once a month at most, so I need something easy. They don't consider vegeterianism a way to sustain yourself (yes, this comes up every.single.time. I'm home), so unfortunately you're book is out Joe. I'm also hoping to get one that doesn't scream "LOSE WEIGHT", more just "make some good choices."

How bout Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Every Day" or "Super Natural Cooking"?

There's a Marcella Hazan recipe for a mushroom pasta sauce (using regular old button mushrooms) that gets its depth and joy from just a bit of anchovy paste. Not separately detectable, but makes the dish glorious. Left it out once and the family was ...unenthusiastic. They didn't know what was different, however.

use the juice to pour over some sliced or quartered lemons for preserved lemons. My least favorite part of making preserved lemons is having to discard half of the lemons that I've juiced to cover the other half. (Although I did wise up and zest the ones that would be used solely for juice before beginning to quarter-salt-squish-cover the others).

If it wasnt for big ag there would be a lot more folks going hungry tonight in this country by a long shot. A gallon of milk would cost $12 and MCd's would have a "Five Buck Menu". Now is Big Ag perfect no not by a long shot but lets drop the political propaganda from the far left greens , PETA and HSUS. If you dont raise your beef or lamb humanely you wont survive as a business person. Stressing your livestock means less weight when you sell them which means less profit.

I think we've taken a wrong turn here.

I see the Extension service with their research and outreach as the issue, not Big Ag. In general, the land grant universities do the research and outreach. The farmers adopt the practices and the ag supply companies provide the tools to help with the new practices. Big Ag is rarely the driver of practices.

No doubt you know more about how farmers adopt practices than I do. I don't claim any insider knowledge on how farmers decide what methods to adopt. But I will say this: The SRI Center has nowhere near the money to market and promote its practices as the major agricultural companies. I wonder how much marketing plays into adoption of practices.

We also bought a large bag of hazelnuts from Costco. Didn't care for them, but the squirrels in my back yard loved them!


Hi! My partner and I are responsible for bringing the dessert to a holiday party this weekend (for 12-16) so I thought some cannolis would fit the bill. Well, my partner had an idea to try to pack them with fudge instead of the traditional ricotta filling. I was game for that! They actually turned out delicious, although a bit messy. I think half of one would be ok but a whole one was just too much! So, now I am trying to decide if I should go with just regular cannolis or if I should try to whip up some sort of chocolate cream to kind of fill the middle ground. I also am considering doing regular filling and dying some red and some green, or just using some red and green sprinkles instead. Oh those sweet little tubes offer up so many delectable possibilities to my open mind! What would you suggest? Or should I just go with my original fudge idea and try to make a less heavy fudge? Thanks and happy holidays!

If you're in chocolate mode, how about whipping together your favorite dark chocolate, melted, along with confectioners' sugar into mascarpone cheese? I'm all for experimenting but I really like that not-too sweet, slightly tangy bite of filling that a trad cannoli provides. The coloring idea is fun. Or you could dip the ends of the cannoli shells into white chocolate and then sprinkle with red and green.

I am going to try Jim Shahin's Wood-Smoked Prime Rib for our Christmas Eve Dinner. I have never tried anything like this before. Are the herbs in the recipe fresh or dried? The recipe says that string is necessary but then doesn't say what to do with it. Finally is a ribeye roast the same thing as a boneless prime rib? Thanks and have a Merry Christmas.

Wood-Smoked Prime Rib

Thanks for the questions. Sometimes things fall through the cracks. We'll fix the recipe. In the meantime, the herbs should be fresh and the twine should be tied about every one and a half to two inches, as shown. 

As for the cut, this gets complicated. The short answer is, yes, they are the same. A bone-in prime rib is cut from the rib. The boneless version is just the ribs removed. A rib eye is also cut from the rib. A rib eye, though, is cut diffeently, to be more of a steak. But, the two are the same when they are the roast/boneless rib eye versions. That said, check with your butcher, as people use different names for similar cuts. 

I have a magnetic strip that is actually two thin strips (one top and one bottom) which hold even my larger knives, rasp grater and shears. The strip is over my stove and I've never had an issue. Great space-saver.

Although with me it was not realizing there was a hole in the bottom of a foil pan someone brought over for a holiday party last year. While it was warming in the oven, grease fell through and slowly smoked out our party. Good times!

Hi! I have been trying to make Challah bread, it comes out tasting delicious and looking beautiful when it goes in the oven, but when its all baked the braid seems to have cracked. What can I do to keep it looking as good as it tastes?

Sometimes those cracks are due to under-kneading and stretching. The dough should be shiny and soft before you separate it into three parts for the braid. Gently knead and stretch, working to eliminate as many of those "stretch marks" as possible. And you're using an egg wash, yes?

For those of you concerned about having kid-friendly food for guests at your holiday dinners, relax. They'll eat what they'll eat. But if you take it easy on yourself, you'll most likely unwittingly provide some food for picky eaters -- basic carrot sticks and corn or peas (microwaved from frozen and dumped in a pretty dish) are more likely to be eaten than unfamiliar things. Also, little kids tend to get overwhelmed by the huge selection. If you put only 4 things on a pre-schoolers plate, they are more likely to get eaten than 8 even well-loved foods crowded together.

I enjoyed your post about nuts for the holidays. Guess you could say I'm a nut...nut. My question is about raw nuts. Are they easy to find? All I ever see is roasted nuts. Does Whole Foods have raw nuts? I'd be interested in getting raw peanuts for example and roasting myself, but I don't think I've ever seen raw peanuts at the store.

Yep, I see raw nuts at Whole Foods and at health/natural foods stores. (Trader Joe's, meanwhile, seems to mostly carry roasted nuts, right?) Not sure about peanuts per se, but worth checking.

So stop beating a dead horse and stop bringing it up. Then they will listen to other healthy ideas more readily.

I'm chuckling at the analogy you picked for this particular subject!

My food processor creams lots of cakes and cookies; just make sure to not let it go so long the heat from the blade melts the butter. I also love to use it to shred frozen home rendered lard for pie dough to make Yooper Pasties with venison, rutabaga, onion, butter and potato. Try shredding frozen shortening of choice to ease cutting the fat into the flour when making pie crusts. Dump the shredded fat onto the measured amount of salted flour, toss with your hands, then slowly add water until it clumps. If the fat isn't frozen to start with, it will not shred and you will be mad at me for the big, greasy blob in your food processor!

I'd like to serve smoked salmon as part of the menu for Christmas dinner. Do you know of anyplace in the area (Bethesda or thereabouts preferred) where I can buy some? Thanks!

You want the good stuff, right? I think A&H Gourmet Seafood on Bethesda Ave. does a nice job with its house-cured gravlax. Also, I've never been disappointed with the smoked salmon from Vernon Klingenfelter's van at the Bethesda Central Farm Market on Sundays. (The line is worth the wait.)

Lots of Italian recipes begin by sauteing onion and/or garlic and then melting an anchovy or three into it.

I sympathize Joe. I once started a fire in my mother's kitchen. I made bacon, (thought I) turned off the burner, but left the pan on the burner. Turns out that off and high are really close to each other on the knob. This was a long time ago, and I haven't eaten meat in 15+ years, but I still vividly remember that. Luckily, my mother is more level headed than I, and she quickly doused the flames in salt.

Yay for Mom! The other thing, though, is that of course this is one of my frustrations with electric stoves. It takes awhile for that burner to cool off, so if you've got something even remotely sensitive, you have to move it.

If by "cracks" you mean little strips at the bottom of the braids between "humps" that stay lighter than the rest of the crust, it is normal. You can spray some bread finish spray on those areas, or paint them with more egg wash halfway through baking. If you mean actual separations, Bonnie is right. knead more and rise longer.

Help! Looking for a bottle of the elusive Pappy Van Winkle for a special person. Any ideas where I can find it ... DMV all fine. Thank you and merry Christmas!

Eesh, this is so tricky. If you can't find it through Ace, Schneider's, or Pearson's, you might try calling the wholesaler, which their site says is Republic National Distributing, locally (202-388-8400) and see what they know? Otherwise, I'm afraid I'll have to send you to this helpful but likely disappointing Bon Appetit piece :) Or to actual bars, per our own Fritz Hahn.

Any chatters got any leads on Pappy Van? Ones that don't involve tracking down and whupping the crook who stole all those bottles earlier this fall?

Ack! as someone who hails from that town in Sicily that claims to have invented the cannolo, I must cringe! But, what Bonnie said.

Duh common sense. I have three knifes a Chef's knife 8", a long thin carving knife 10" and serrated knife 8". They were all custom made hand foraged. They arent stored in boxes with rice. I keep them in draw but most times you find them on my counter tops.

I always use a Picpoul-de-Pinet that Kysela imports (producer is Cave de Pomarols0, which is readily available locally, including in grocery stores. It is cheap (about $6-7), easy to open (screwcap!), and tastes good in both the dish and your mouth (so says this long-time wine collector).

I celebrated early yesterday by making a bunch of your cookies from the past few years of the Post's holiday cookie issue, and I thought you might get a laugh out of this: 1) I now know that wax paper catches on fire if it touches the heating coil at the bottom of an electric stove; 2) maybe don't use wax paper over baking sheets from now on...!; 3) make sure you read recipe directions CAREFULLY: i prepared and refrigerated the shorbread base for your Salt Caramel Millionaire Bars, made the caramel, and poured it right on top of the cold shortbread, and set it aside so the caramel could set. Two hours later I said to myself, okay, time to make the chocolate for the topping... Wait: these don't seem to be taking as long as I thought they would. Did I forget a step? *scans recipe furiously* And then I realized: oh my God, I forgot to BAKE THE SHORTBREAD IN THE FIRST PLACE. We ended up baking it for about 20 minutes anyway as a last-ditch effort to save the pan of goodness (the caramel came out really well!), but alas, it was more or less like eating undercooked shortbread with fantastic caramel on top. Oh well, there's always next year!

You may have just invented a new recipe. Thanks for sharing!

We moved to a 1950s rancher a few years ago and it has two magnetic strips for knives in a very handy place: one on each side of the cabinets that adjoin the over-the-sink kitchen windows. If that is clear. So when you're standing at the counter by the sink, or standing at the sink doing dishes, you can just reach up a bit and grab a knife, or put one away.


Seconding Blantons for a good choice of bourbon. I feel like there are a few others I've had that are first rate in that price range, but I can't remember what they were for my life. A fine Woodford would be a nice choice, too.

I need to make breakfast for vegan friends, and I was thinking about a savory bread pudding. I know about vegan cheese -- are there similar substitutes for eggs and milk? Thank you!

Sure, you could use egg replacer and (unsweetened) almond or soy milk.

Joe, once you get your induction stove, will you let us know how the transition to it goes?

Yes, I will! I used one last year at my sister and BIL's in Maine, and loved it. So responsive!

I was surprised to read last week's statement that you call for kosher salt in your recipes because we don't "need" iodized table salt. The NIH certainly has a different opinion. It says people who don't use table salt are more likely to have trouble getting enough iodine in their diets. also, if kosher salt has less sodium, as i believe you said last week, then won't people just add more of it to get the correct taste?

I tried looking for the NIH opinion that you mention, but couldn't immediately find it. But the NIH does have a lot of information on the terrible effects of iodine deficiency. It also lists the many foods, other than salt, from which you can get your daily dose of iodine. 


Salt is a complicated subject, and not just for its added iodine content. Some need to limit their salt intact for blood pressure issues. I'd check with your doctor first about your salt options and intake, not the Food section.

I have the same problem when I make lemon curd. It takes more lemon zest than it does lemon juice from the inside. If a person has too much inside lemon, won't making lemon curd exacerbate the problem?

Actually, no. My favorite recipes for lemon curd use way more juice than zest. Check out this one for a Lemon Curd Tart, for instance.

I forage a lot but I've never found a knife.


I am the person who submitted the picpoul suggestion and your system didn't like the accent mark over the "e" - but the producer is Cave de Pomerols, not Pomarolso. Too funny!

Too funny, indeed. Thanks for fixing!

Just wanted to say that the teaspoon and tablespoon cookie scoops I got for Hannukah are the best things-I-wouldn't-buy-for-myself ever. Uniform cookies! Cleaner fingers! Nice clicky noises when you use them. If you are hesitating, just buy some. Really.

What makes you think the OP is bringing it up? Anti-veg people look at and judge everything the vegetarian puts in his or her mouth, and comment on it.

This chat is testy today!

I grew up with electric stoves. The trick is to turn off the power before the food is quite done, then let the remaining heat finish it. It's like pulling a roast out when it is still 5 or 10 degrees short; it will cook the rest of the way while resting.

Right. I don't have that kind of time. Or patience!

I made an easy oven baked pulled chicken (basically, saute onion and garlic with some spices, add boneless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts, add BBQ sauce, stick it in a 325 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours, and then just shred it). It turned out great and I'm wondering how else to riff on this recipe. What other sauces would work here, are there Mediterranean or Italian or Asian etc, types of BBQ sauce? Added bonus if the sauce is low sugar!

We get into what we mean by BBQ and sauce. By BBQ, we can expand the definition to all sorts of different sauces that work with smoked (or, in this case, oven-baked) meat. By sauce, we get into marinades and cooking and finishing sauces. From your description, you seem like the DIY type. I'd suggest, then, that you experiment. For Mediterranean and Asian flavors, you can marinade beforehand or sauce during or after in, say, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and an herb or two such as oregano and thyme for Mediterraean, while for Asian, you can use soy sauce and fish sauce and ginger and scallions as components for a marinade/sauce. No sugar needed. 

If, though, you want a commercial sauce, the aisles these days are filled with all manner of specialized sauces. Or you can go to and type "barbecue sauce" into the search box; they carry lots of different types. 

On the topic of punch, I have made the "Holiday Red Sangria Punch" from the Washington Post archives many times over (and not just at the holidays) and it's always a big hit. Very easy to make, and (this might not be classy, but I'm being honest) I make it with $6 bottles of merlot from Trader Joe's.

Awesome. That's one of the nice things about punch, I think -- you can splurge on the good stuff, but you don't always have to to produce something really tasty. Here's that recipe for interested chatters.

I would really like to make restaurant tasting American-Chinese food at home. I don't want a healthy version, but rather a version that everyone will eat after I've done all the chopping and preparing. I've got the stir fry part down, but I can't seem to get the sauces to taste as thick, gloopy, salty, sweet, and fattening as they do in the restaurant. Call me crazy, but I figure that for the same cost of one meal, I can feed the whole family if I do it myself, plus I know what's going into it, can guarantee it's fresh. It's the holidays, so I want the full monty of American-Chinese restaurant flavors.

Check out this recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken. That sauce is excellent.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Then there's the sauce in reader favorite Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger.

Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger

And the sauce in this eggplant recipe from Tyler Florence is along the lines of what you're looking for too. I can vouch for it.

And this is why I was disapointed your article took the turn it did towards bashing Big Ag. What otherwise something very interesting and newsworthy gets bogged down with the editorial content.

I think you misunderstand how the journalistic process works:  Proponents of SRI rice are the ones who questions the influence of Big Ag on the lack of SRI adoption. They question the influence of these large companies, which stand to lose millions and millions of dollars if rice farmers decide to adopt SRI methods rather than buy proprietary seeds and chemicals.


I report. I don't editorialize.

Any main dishes you can think of for the use of lemons? I'm not the origional poster but I hate lemon curd and I don't eat sweets.

Agree. How about you refrain from posting ill-spelled, ill-punctuated, and ungrammatical posts, since they are almost always biased rants?

It does keep things interesting, though.

This recipe from serious eats walks through the process of taking the skin off hazelnuts. 

Great, thanks.

I made a mistake and bought several of what turned out to be a very disappointingly bland sweet potato soup. I'm thinking I could best use it as a base and make it more flavorful. Ideas?

I had a couple of recipes for sweet potato soup base in my last cookbook -- thick purees that I then told you how to thin out and finish with freshly cooked ingredients on the fly. You could take some ideas from those: Add orange juice and zest, make some smoky pecans by quickly frying them in oil sprinkled with smoked paprika, and then stir that into the soup with a little swirl of yogurt or creme fraiche and orange zest. Or saute chorizo (vegan if you like), kale and chickpeas, and stir that into the sweet potato soup. With more smoked paprika or ancho powder or cumin, or all of them! And I'd think fresh lime juice and cilantro would be helpful here, too.

that life handed you lemons? please make homemade lemonade and spike it for christmas!

Ina Garten's lemon yogurt cake.... the most delicious and lemony dessert ever!

If you want stuff to stop cooking, just take it off the burner!

I believe I said as much! That's not nearly as convenient as being able to leave it there and turn off the heat, you must admit.

Hi Food chatters, I almost forgot to submit my question. I'm hosting Christmas dinner next week and was going to make a Buche Noel, but am realizing it might be too much in addition to all the cooking and baking I'll already be doing. I want to have a nice dessert to finish off the meal, in addition to the Christmas cookies. Any recommendations on a dessert that is (or looks) fancy for Christmas but isn't complicated? And if a buche noel is perfectly doable, let me know. I'm afraid of going crazy with it so if it's easier than it looks, great! Thank you!

I love me some Heidi Swanson, but it does not really sound like those parents are good candidates for it (unusual ingredients, etc.). Maybe something like Superfood Kitchen or the Longevity Kitchen (two I was just reading about this morning and thinking about giving my parents!). There is no substitute for perusing the recipes to see if they include things you think your parents would enjoy!

You know your parents better than I do, so yes, look through things and see what appeals to you.

I use Trader Joe's non-vintage prosecco ($6.99/bottle in VA) when I need a white wine for cooking (risotto, deglazing, etc). And then we get to drink it!! Great weekday go-to wine.

What about grown up grilled cheeses and soup? Everyone could pick their own sandwich fillings and you could do all sorts of soups.

If you have kids, I recommend using a wooden knife holder that fits in a drawer. That way, it is out of reach but you can also tell the knives apart, which as Joe mentioned, isn't the case with a knife block.

I was given a bottle of limoncello and a bottle of a nut liquor and I'm not sure how to use either of these.

Limoncello is usually served cold and straight after dinner. It's delicious, but very sweet, so if you want some other uses you might try it in a more diluted form. How about 2 oz vodka, 1 oz. limoncello, and a dash of citrus bitters? Or drop an oz. in a flute and top it with sparkling wine. Or top with seltzer. All of these nice, less-cloying uses for the limoncello.

As for the nut liquor, which one? Nocello? Frangelico? These, again, can be drunk straight in small servings, but one way I like to use some of these is as a vermouth replacement in a Manhattan variation. If you have a smokier whiskey on hand (I really like Corsair's Triple Smoke), try adding some of the liqueur to the whiskey. Or mix it with applejack.

I'm thinking about buying some for the annual gingerbread cookie-baking marathon. Are there any downsides to them, or times/circumstances where they can't be used? (Thanks, and Happy Holidays to all of you - I so enjoy the Wednesday chats!)

I've had mine for more than a year now. Love them. Can't believe I went so long without them. Only a few restrictions -- don't put them in an oven hotter than 480 degrees. And whatever you do, don't cut on them!

I seem to be missing a link to what is undoubtedly a fantastic Joe piece on electric v. induction v. gas. I'd love to read it (we just moved to a house with a glass-top electric stove, and at least once a week I am tempted to the edge of swearing aloud). Please tell me what I missed. Thanks.

I've written nothing as of yet! You're seeing reaction to my comment in the intro about trying to get used to a new electric stove until the even NEWER induction one arrives, within weeks. But I'll write one soon enough.

All of the sweets recipes sound fine but they all need the zest of at least a lemon - aside from buying yet another lemon I won't have any of the zest left since that'll all be used for the lemonchello. Any main meal recipes?

See my earlier answer! Lemon- and Honey-Flavored Chicken!

Try it. Then thank me.

my middle-schooler and I always look forward to wednesdays b/c we read the paper together in the (verrrry early) mornings over breakfast as he gets ready for school. The rice story was a great way to talk about regionalism, the USDA, China, paddies, bogs, farming, (and of course rice!) as we ate breakfast. Incidentally, he was eating leftover takeout rice for breakfast, so we also discussed where that rice could have come from. Anyway, it was a lovely conversation and I always love your section. So, thank you! In other news...I have a head of cauliflower in the fridge to eat for dinner. What should I do with it? Roasting seems like the best bet. But is there a sauce or something interesting you'd recommend to make it into more of a meal?


Thank you! I love the idea of discussing rice over the breakfast table. Sounds like a stimulating way to start the day.


As for cauliflower recipes, I'd try this one: Roasted Cauliflower With Citrus-Tahini Sauce. (Pictured above.)

soften some garlic in a dot of oil the microwave (unless you have roasted garlic on hand), add a bit of ground cumin, and blend into a few TBSP of peanut butter thinned with the soup, some stock, or water -- then stir that mix into the bland soup.

With gas stovetops, you don't even need to do that. Turn off the burner and that's all. I'm surprised a serious cook like Joe chooses not to cook with gas.

That's right.

I have always used gas, but just moved to a new townhouse that has electric only, and after using induction last year, I decided to buy the place for all the other reasons and not make the electricity a deal-breaker as I have before. That's why in the negotiation, I got them to replace the regular electric stove with an induction one, which is on the way.

I have to say, if you haven't used induction, you should give it a try. So much more powerful than most gas -- and way more responsive. Lots of "serious" cooks -- you know, like in famous restaurants and stuff -- use it.

Ina Garten's lemon+pepper+oven-roasted shrimp over pasta. Not exactly low fat or cholesterol conscious, but outstanding, easy and celebratory.

Sounds like a great idea - can I come?

One of our customers brought in some Christmas cookies she baked and I fell in love with 1 that was really thin, It was chocolate with colored specks and tasted almost like a gingersnap but it was crunchy. I could taste a HINT of peppermint (clearly no peppermint candy). Any ideas what this could be?

Let's crowd-source this. Anyone?

I found the rice article interesting. Growing up in the CA river delta area and seeing rice cultivation there, I didn't know about the dryland method. But the real question I had was how does the stuff taste? I guess I will need to go buy one of those pricey bags and see for myself. Regarding knife blocks, on the SF Chronicle's website yesterday, I stumbled across pictures of Tyler Florence's Mill Valley house which in on the market. In the kitchen, a massive knife block, at least 4 feet long and 12 inches deep. I can only dream...

Thank you. Personally, I think Heinz's short-grain brown rice is delicious. Expensive, yes, but delicious.


I think this is the photo that you speak of! Impressive.

In your recipe for Legare Street Punch, you state "Dan Searing recommends a natural-method wine over a Charmat-method wine such as prosecco." Is prosecco a natural-method wine or a Charmat-method wine? If the latter, then what type of sparkling would be a natural-method wine? Thanks!

This was one of the trickier issues I encountered in this recipe, in that not all sparkling wines are labeled by method. Searing said that the natural method sparkling wines tend to be a little drier and "yeastier" than the charmats, and that they tend to go well with the sweetness of the Sauternes and cognac. But while Prosecco is almost always a charmat-method wine, I think that's not completely universal? My personal take is that this punch will work with either method, and you're not going to have a disaster on your hands if you use a charmat-method wine, but check with your wine rep if you're not sure about the one you're buying. 

If you also have potatoes, I highly recommend aloo gobi. I love it and, equally important, my teens do too. Manjula's kitchen has a good recipe and video for your viewing pleasure.

Don't like sweets? How about avgolemono soup?

I also really like Silpat. The only downside I've seen is that they're difficult to get completely clean. They always seem to have a little film of grease on them. But that's probably OK for cooking. It's not enough to impart any off flavors.

Hey guys, I've got a 5.3 lb semi bonelss leg of lamb I want to make for a small Christmas dinner. I know what rub I want to use, but how long should I cook it and at what temperature?

Here are some suggestions from American Lamb. The site suggests cooking at 325 degrees with varying times, depending on what temperature you want. Good luck!

We are going to try to cook a goose for Christmas. I think I have decided on this recipe: The instructions say to cook to medium-rare. Is this something that you would advise. I have never heard of poultry not being fully cooked. Is there another recipe that you think could be better? Thanks for your help.

I have either roasted or smoked a goose nearly every Christmas for the past 15 years. I cook it to the USDA recommended 165 degrees.

We're out of time! Thanks for the questions today, and thanks to Carrie and Jim for helping us answer them.

Now for the book giveaways: The person who first asked about skinning hazelnuts will get "The Washington Post Cook." The one who asked about a substitute for fondue will get a surprise book! Send your mailing info to Becky at, and we'll get you your books!

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

Scheduling note: We'll be chatting next Tuesday, Dec. 24, instead of Wednesday because of Christmas. So bring us your last-minute holiday questions!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal.
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