The Washington Post

Dec 22, 2010

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

O-K-L-A-H-O.....Greetings from the 46th state! Just kidding; I still have the Arena Stage performance ringing in my head from last night. Not to worry, you've reached the Food section's Free Range chat, where Tim Carman can tell you about winter food trucks, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin can talk you into standing outside in the cold to make his delicious smoked goose and Friend of Food/cookbook author Nancy Baggett will tempt you with her great candy recipes, which are quite doable before Christmas.  Spirits guru Jason Wilson may drop in; we've got 2 copies of  "The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook" to give away today to the chatter who most cleverly works in some lyrics to "Oklahoma!" Really. And for the most helpful info of the day.

Editor Joe's we go.

I'm a new reader, so please forgive me if this topic has been covered (I'm sure it has). My girlfriend and I recently have had several frustrating experiences with servers attempting (and failing) to memorize our order. Why is this accepted practice in the restaurant industry? Don't managers and servers realize that rather than impressing us, they're just stressing us out? More often than not, there's an error. Can you shed some light on this frustrating trend, and perhaps suggest a polite way we might ask future servers to put pen to paper? Thanks.

I feel your pain. If part of the reason for dining out is to enjoy that feeling of being taken care of, this practice does just the opposite -- it unnerves diners. I'm not sure why GMs allow this practice in their dining rooms. Maybe one is online and can answer? As for calling your server on the practice, I don't know if I have a great answer. But I usually make a specific mention that the server is not writing down our orders and that he/she must have a good memory.  It reinforces the idea that I'm paying attention to them, and I hope they are paying attention to our orders. I might also suggest that if you are constantly getting the wrong orders at a particular restaurant, you should bring up the issue with the manager.

When I visit friends this time of year, I usually take them some type of holiday treat - cookies, fudge, nuts, etc. But some have special diets, are trying to lose weight, or just generally eating healthy. And the last thing I'd want to do is to disrespect their efforts. Any ideas what I can take to those who don't eat butter, sugar, flour, salt, etc?

Assuming you want something  lacking sugar, roasted nuts, either lightly salted or unsalted would be a good choice. If fat and flour are the issues, the peppermint marshmallows in the food section today would work well--I give them to my gluten-free daughter-in-law.

I made the Cheerio bars and the Haut-Meal cookies. The Cheerio bars receipe changed after I downloaded it. My choices were 8x8 or 9x9 square pan. I crammed it all in a 9x9 but the bars were way too tall. You could barely get them in your mouth! Though initially I really liked these. But found a couple days later that the Cheerios were not as crunchy. In fact, kind of soggy. Haut-meal. Kinda dry. And my cookies did not spread at all. I cut the dough into even chunks to make the exact number the recipe said it would yield. But because they did not spread, I had these rather large bumps the first baking. The second time around I molded the dough into little patties to the size I wanted the cookie to be. I was expecting to be wowed by these. But I wasn't. I gave one to a friend who opined it was not a sweet cookie so if that's your taste (and it is mine!), it's probably not to your liking. Well, always good to try something new.

I  think it all fits better in 9-by-13-inch pan. Sorry about that!

I just made the apricot confections this morning and, wow, were they sweet. Even my kids (who mainline sugar) didn't like them. I had added lime zest and some lime juice to the mix because I was worried about it being too sweet, but even so it was just too much. I like the idea behind the recipe though and wondered if you had any modifications you could suggest for next time? Thanks!

Hmm. They should have been more tart than sweet. What kind of apricots did you use?

Hi Jim - I saw your video about smoking a turkey - it was great! I noticed you were using a Weber grill, not a fancy smoker that looks like a oil barrel. Is it possible to smoke on any grill? What are the most important things to know (indirect heat, wood chips, etc.)? Thanks!

     What we talk about when we talk about smoking (and by "we," I mean bbq nerds) is, generally speaking, offset contraptions. They allow you to use split logs and big chunks and control the temperature over a long period of time, which, in turn, translates to the bbqers mantra: low-and-slow. 

   That said, I do a lot of my Post recipes on the Weber because I recognize that most folks don't have offset smokers. I adjust the cooking time and type of wood (generally chips rather than chunks) accordingly. 

    So, I think, yes, you can smoke using rigs other than offset smokers. And a Weber, once set up for indirect heat, works just fine. 

We are looking forward to a quiet day of relaxing together... so I am planning to prepare a brisket (looking at a recipe for a horseradish crust, but open to options). What do you recommend for a starch and a vegetable? Willing to do pre-prep in order to have something that can take care of itself (e.g., can bake a long time with the braising brisket, or can be reheated effectively). But if last-minute is called for, we can do that. Thanks for all your great advice, and merriest of merry Christmases to you.

I have some experience with smoked briskets, which of course is not the same as the oven braised version. I might do a nice red cabbage side, one that doesn't have too much added sugar. Try this one from Tyler Florence, which includes both chicken broth and vinegar and should provide a nice complement to the meat. As for a startch, I'd probably go with a side of red potatoes, something like this with garlic and Parm.

I love the Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Lava Cake recipe (, however, I tried recently to adapt it to white chocolate and it did NOT come out well. I'm thinking since white chocolate has more sugar I should have lessened the other sugar in the recipe. Any ideas? Thanks guys and Merry Christmas!

Yes, white ch0colate would be sweeter, but it is quite different in other ways too--more cocoa butter, but no chocolate solids or starch that help the chocolate set up. I doubt that the recipe can successfully be converted--even if it worked technically, it would probably be far too bland.

Today's pan seared shrimp recipe sounds wonderful, but you didn't give much detail about the accompaning salad. Can you provide a few more details about making the salad for someone who is a little less skilled in the kitchen? thanks

The salad was just something I threw together, and believe me, takes no skill. Buy one or two ripe mangos, peel them and cut slices or chunks. Mince half a small jalapeno or to taste. Chop some scallions, squeeze the juice of a lime, drizzle with olive oil, maybe sprinkle some chipotle powder or smoked Spanish paprika on top. Toss and serve. It goes great with the shrimp, to be sure.

I have a good variety of rums at home and would like to do some rum truffles or some candies that I can incorporate rum. Any suggestions? {Looking for a tested recipe!}

If you have a truffle recipe you like, I think you could simply sub 3 or 4 tablespoons rum for some of the cream called for. I've also seen recipes calling for chopped dried fruits that were soaked in rum ahead of time.

I just got a Dutch Oven as an early Christmas present. I want to make something fabulous in it for my immediate family's pre-christmas gethering on Thursday. Can anyone recommend a good recipe. Something not too complicated, but tasty. Prefer something not too horribly unhealthy given the food we're likely to eat the next couple days. Thanks!

Dutch ovens are quite versatile--use them for a big pot of soup or stew (oven or stove-top), a fruit cobbler, say apple-cranberry (oven), or, if the pot isn't too big, a loaf of crusty, no-knead bread (oven).

I absolutely loved today's Food Section! I had already planned on roasting a goose for Christmas dinner, but am now sorely tempted to smoke it instead. If only outdoor temperatures weren't so inhospitable.... In either case, my question concerns brining: ought I to brine the goose before cooking, and if so, for how long?

    Brining poultry is never a bad idea. You can, in fact, use any number of favorite brines for goose. Me, I would recommend (modestly) my smoked turkey brine from November, but I would replace the apple juice with orange juice. It's more Christmasy and the goose takes well to citrus. 

   As for the time, you will find a lot of different advice on this. Me, I go with roughly an hour a pound, usually a little more. A 10 pound goose? A 12-hour brining. 

I loved the holiday candy feature and may be using those recipes for an upcoming holiday open house (I've been itching to make homemade marshmallows anyways). For a take-home treat my spouse would like us to be able to give our guests gummy candies. Is that possible for the home baker? If so, do you have a resource we can use to get started?

If you mean the gummy bear type of candy, I've not seen a recipe for it. You could make real fruit jell candies, which are also called pate de fruit candies. They are usually cut into little squares. But actually I think that the peppermint marshmallows--especially if dipped--would be something most people would like even better--they always win raves. (They are fine for gluten-free folks, too.)

Not a single lyric so far. I'm just sayin'.

I had a cookie measurement for 2/3 teaspoon. All of the gadgets I have I do not have a 2/3 tespoon measure. How could I have found 2/3 teaspoon if I did not have one. Help

If you're sure that measurement's not a typo, I guess you could measure 1 teaspoon, empty it onto a cutting board then divide it equally into 3 parts. Use two of them. (That would be the amateur baker's way to go.)

Where did you get the bag of gulf shrimp referred to in today's recipe? I'd like to keep that on hand, but all I've found are the imported, farm-raised shrimp in bags.

At the Giant, in the frozen seafood section.

Hello, I thought about making the baked apple, smoked turkey, and cheddar strata for brunch, but we are having turkey for our Christmas dinner. Do you think that is too much turkey for one day? Also, the only smoked turkey I saw at Safeway were wings. Do you suggest I use these wings or some other part? Many thanks.

This is turkey season. You should be able to find a small vacuum-packed hunk of smoked turkey breast in the meat department, near where the ham is, I think. That's where my Safeway keeps it.  Or substitute with ham, if you like that. You may need to reduce the salt in the recipe, if so.

Just a note... in the description of this chat (under About the Host), the link to the AWCE blog goes to a really old entry... Jason at the New Orleans cocktail festival, and it shows the most recent post as being about popsicles for comfort food "in this weather." Funny, but probably not what you intended.

Yucks for the season! It's fixed now, thanks.

It was such a classic post that we felt you needed to see it again.

I have been given some whole nutmeg. Not sure how to use it. Do I use the whole nut or just use a micro grater to shave off the outer part?

Whole nutmeg is so much better to use, because it retains flavor longer than when  you buy the already grated kind.  Keep the whole nuts in a tightly sealed container at room temperature. Use a rasp or Microplane zester to grate a small part of one nut at a time. You can put the partial nuts back in the container.

but do you have any ideas for a uniquely-DC appetizer for a Winter Classic viewing party? I'd like to bring DC-brewed beer and another flavor, and wanted to get your expert thoughts. Thanks!

That's a tough one. In my previous job, I conducted a survey to name D.C.'s signature dish. Ben's half-smoke won. But ordering a mess of half-smokes from Ben's may not be your solution. You could, instead, order a mess of half-smokes from Red Apron and make your own chili. D.C. beer, D.C. half-smokes, and chili. That sounds like a party I'd attend!

Perfect timing on the chocolate articles for me! I made some Cantucci (a Tuscan type of biscotto) last night and was planning on dipping in some chocolate tonight, but don't have much experience at it. I only want to dip half so that there's a non-chocolate half to grab. I've done this once before and followed a recipe for something similar that I found in the "Joy of Cooking". It worked but I may have gotten a bit lucky. I will try to follow the suggestions in the chocolate dipped marshmallows in today's online paper (that and the "Tips" article aren't in the paper copy though the main article referenced it so I knew to look for it). I have some orange extract at home that I'd purchased for another recipe and wanted to add it to the chocolate to give a hint of orange flavor to the chocolate. Any suggestions on how to do that? I notice that there's a concern about the chocolate seizing up when water or extracts are added to melted chocolate in the "Tips" article. I was going to add a few drops at a time and taste until I got the flavor I wanted, but with the new info this now seems like it might be trouble. Thank you!

I believe the chocolate dipping instructions given for the marshmallows can be used for the biscotti, as the necessary tempering steps are built in. Chill the biscotti as directed for the marshmallows.

First, you should check out the chocolate tips, as you suggested--chocolate can be tricky and this will be helpful. For example, you need to know that you should NOT add orange extract to the melted chocolate--it can cause the chocolate to seize up and become unworkable.  If you want an orange flavor, finely grate some fresh orange zest (orange part of skin, only) into the chocolate instead, stirring well. Be aware that the flavor will intensify as the chocolate stands. Your biscotti will be yummy, I'm sure.

Free Rangers, Thanks for the Christmas goose story! My boyfriend is a hunter and he and I enjoy preparing his catch together. He recently stopped hunting goose because we have yet to find a tasty preparation for wild goose, which is much leaner than the kind you get from the store. Do you have any suggestions for how we might prepare wild goose? Is it possible to modify other goose preparations, or do we need to approach wild birds in an entirely different way? Thanks for helping me solve this cooking conundrum! Happy holidays!

    A wild goose, as you say, is leaner than the ones you buy in the store. However, even they are pretty fatty. 

    You can roast or smoke a wild goose the same way you would a store-bought goose. Both ways allow the fat to melt into the bird and make the meat moist. 

    The only thing I might advise is that you check a wild goose earlier in the cooking process for doneness. You want it to be 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast. 

I hope you'll be able to answer my question about food trucks and letting customers know where they are. I know most use facebook or twitter but those sites are blocked at work so I can't get updates that way. Do you know if they also send emails out to those on a listserv? I want to try one of the food trucks (esp the lobster truck) but feel I am at a disadvantage b/c I can't access those sites. I hope you can help!

America is nothing if not a land full of entrepreneurial minds. A number of web sites have taken up the cause of collecting and mapping the various tweets issued from food trucks. Among the better ones is Food Truck Fiesta. Check out this map and the collected tweets. It should give you a sense where your favorite food trucks are.  But also keep in mind that the Red Hook lobster truck is out of commission until Jan. 4 for a holiday vacation.

The corn is as high as an elephants eye and it looks like it's climbing right up to the sky, and oh what a beautiful morning it would be if we would found a foodie surprise under the tree. Any last minute foodie gift ideas?

Now you're talkin'! I'm going to post a few things on Thursday on the AWCE blog, but yesterday I went to Yas Mediterranean Bakery in Vienna and found a fabulous pomegranate vinaigrette, and saffron rock candy swizzle sticks. A food lover would be happy to receive either.

Nobody has submitted any lyrics yet? It's a Scandal! It's an Outrage!

People have come through. My faith in Rogers and Hammerstein is restored. People will say I'm in love.

This question is for Jason (or anyone else who has a good idea). My friend is getting married in a few weeks and will have a lunch reception at a hotel. She would like to serve champagne and one cocktail. She would like to use a coconut vodka in the cocktail. Any ideas? She would prefer to keep it fairly simple with not too many ingredients. It will be hot, as we live on a tropical island, but the reception will be inside an air conditioned space. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Wow. Coconut vodka? Not coconut rum? Hmmm. That is a stumper. I have one recipe for a coconut rum -- for which you could subsitute coconut vodka -- called a Siam Sunray, which is amazing, though a little complex. But it may give you a jumping off point. In the summer, I really like rum and coconut water (not the milk), usually about 1.5 ounces of a darker rum and 2 ounces of coconut water. You could garnish it with a coconut slice and it'll be tropical-island wedding-day pretty.

Can anyone provide direction for a good (or at least acceptable) sweet treat for the holidays that meet the extremely restricted diet that I have to follow for medical reasons? I cannot have processed sugars, processed flour, butter. I can have oats, whole wheat flour, natural sugars (fruit, honey, maple syrup, molasses) and healthy oils like olive. Is this an impossible request?

I would look around for a crisp or crumble recipe that's made with a topping of oats-honey-whole wheat flour and canola or corn oil--nuts, too, if you can eat them. The fruit could be whatever you like and also sweetened with honey--stir some of the crumb mixture in to thicken the fruit a bit.

I plan on buying some eggs tonight to make some cookies for a friend. Since the cookies will only use one egg, I plan on buying a half-dozen of eggs. I am, however, leaving for the holidays tomorrow. Will the eggs stay good until I can use them next week? Normally I'd just make a few dozen cookies to use up the eggs but I just don't have the time tonight. I also have dinner plans so I can't use the eggs for dinner. Thanks for your help!

Yes, if kept refrigerated, eggs still in their shell will keep for up to 10 days--not a problem!

What timing! My mother has been taking about peppermint marshmallows and now I can make some for her. But I don't have the whisk beater attachement for my Kitchen Aid - can I use the standard beater or would it be better to use a hand mixer? Thank you!

I assume that your whisk beater is either lost or broken--which is too bad. I'd try the recipe with the paddle beater and see how it goes. If the mixture isn't nice and fluffy after about 6 minutes, then switch to the hand mixer to beat in more air. Good luck!

I am baking a lemon cheesecake with lemon curd topping for Saturday's dinner. When do you think I should bake the cheesecake? Is Thursday too early for that? Thanks!

Cheesecake keeps very well in the refrigerator for up to 4 or 5 days--so Thursday would be just fine. Lemon curd is always a good keeper, so it poses no problems either.

As the year winds down, just a big thank you to the food section staff, and especially those of you who take the time to answer our questions. This year you gave me killer recipes, including one from Jason for a cocktail (the white lady) that put my friends right under the table! Happy holidays!

Aha, I love the White Lady. If you want to try something along similar lines, maybe serve them the Corpse Reviver #2, too? Thanks!

What happened to Joe live-tweeting Top Chef? We miss you, buddy! Signed, @TalkingTV

You are missing your RDA of snark? Editor Joe's home in Texas this week, so he may not tweet again. Last week, he watched the show late so that's why he didn't do it then. But hey, there's still the pithy Carol Blymire who provides post-show commentary on AWCE. And tomorrow I'll be on a live video chat with Mike Isabella.  He knows how to crack wise. 

I was a waitress for 10 years. Some restaurants required us to write down orders while others did not. Mistakes happen when you write down orders as well. Sometimes I would hear what the customer said but someplace between my ears, my brain, and the pen, the wrong abbreviation would come out. Or I would be in such a hurry that I wouldn't be able to read by own writing! It seems like the higher end restaurants I worked at wanted us to memorize the order. Maybe it looked more professional? They also wanted us to have our hands free and our apron pockets empty so our uniforms looked tidy. Memorizing orders wasn't a problem IF we were very familiar with the menu AND we were adequately staffed for the shift. However, many restaurants are very busy this time of year and have a lot of recent hires. They also may have new menus for the holidays. However, I agree with the original poster, that it is frustrating to have servers not get things correct, when a simple piece of paper and pen would fix the problem.

Thanks for your response! I can appreciate your problem. Sometimes I can't read my own reporting notes.

I firmly believe that the farmer and the cowman should be friends, and in that spirit, I'd like some advice for preparing beef like a cowman. When should I use a dry rub vs a wet rub?

    Yikes. Pretty broad question. To me, the answer is less about some rules for cooking than about your own hankerings. 

    For example, many folks might recommend marinating skirt steak. But if you cook it slowly, a dry rub is fine. 

    Me, I never marinate or wet-rub a good steak. I feel it overwhelms its beefy flavor. But that's just me. 

    The times I tend to use a wet rub or marinade are when I will be cooking/smoking for a long period of time. A pork shoulder, say, over 8-12 hours. But I also like a marinade or wet rub with chicken. 


Yes, but that Judd Fry. Oy.

I wish I could say that everything was "up-to-date in Kansas City" w/ respect to my kitchen, but I can't. The oven is circa 1965 and everything else is early 1990s. I'm thinking about a total renovation, if I can afford it, but am just starting to look into it....if this were your kitchen, what thing(s) would you splurge on and where would you economize? What are your must-haves? And what trends would you avoid as they'll seem extremely dated in 5 years? thanks!


To me, this is a whole hour's worth of discussion. Recently, our Local Living section pals and kitcheneer Domenica Marchetti have tackled the subject in parts.  I think warming drawers are unnecessary, and wish that toe-kick pedals for operating the faucet (like an operating room) were standard. Also, can't wait to get my hands on an oven with French doors (open in the middle). Chatters, should we save this for another time or indulge this Sooner State fan?

Ace Food/Travel editorial assistant Becky Krystal says this link works to follow food trucks if you don't do  Twitter:

I'm trying to find a good and simple recipe for roasted mushrooms. I bought two bags of fresh mushrooms (king trumpet mushrooms?) and would love to roast them to try something different to the usual stir-fry. Also, I would like to get some guidance on how to dehydrate and store mushrooms. Thanks!

This isn't an oven roasted recipe, but it looks tasty to me, even with the asparagus available this time of year. You could even try this mushroom risotto, which sounds great this time of year. As for drying and storing 'shrooms, try this source and see if it works for you.

I want to make the halvah cookies published a couple weeks back. The recipe calls for "roasted" sesame oil - is that different that the plain sesame oil (it says "pure sesame oil" on the bottle) i typically use for chinese cooking? thanks!

Roasted or toasted sesame oil is darker and has more of roasty-toasty flavor. It's not a deal breaker if you'd rather use plain sesame oil. Love these cookies.


Now that the weather is cooler, I want tartiflette! Where can I buy Reblochon cheese around here?

$19.99 per pound at Cheesetique in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, and they say they have lots of it.

Hello - Is there an easy and tasty way to do cranberries instead of just opening the can and throwing it in a dish? Do you have a favorite recipe?

Perhaps, this isn't what you mean, but much fresher-tasting homemade cranberry sauce can be made just by combining washed, picked over fresh berries with a couple tablespoons of oj or water and sugar to taste and simmering a few minutes.

If you're looking for a different way to use canned cranberry sauce, you might hunt up a cranberry crisp recipe that calls for canned sauce as part of the fruit filling.

Happy Holidays! I'd love to make the sticky buns from today's food section but we have a small family. Can I just halve the ingredients for the dough? I also have a small fridge for my small family, how cold is too cold for the first and second rising of the dough? Leftover sauce is no problem, I imagine we can put it to good use...

You should be able to halve the recipe without any problems. Dough can be kept pretty cold, but this slows down the yeast a lot, so it will also slow down the rising process after the dough warms up again.

Hey Jim, just enjoyed your article in the Post today about smoking a Christmas goose! It left me with one question: do you have any recommendations for a dressing to accompany the goose? Thanks a lot, and have a very merry (and hopefully goose-filled) Christmas!

    My favorite dressing with the goose, which I made the other night for a Christmas dinner party, is Paul Prudhomme's Smoked Ham and Cornbread Stuffing. 

   I just did a quick spin on the Internet and couldn't find the exact match. But I did find Prudhomme's Bienville dressing, which is similar:

I actually thought they were better a couple days later when they had softened up. I almost broke a tooth on them at first! That was because the chocolate topping didn't set and I left it in the fridge longer hoping it would. By the time I pulled the plug and took them out of the fridge, the bar part was like a rock. After a day or so they were better. Next time I'd use less of the chocolate sauce so it would actually set.

Most recipes -- with the possible exception of Jacques Pepin's -- can be improved upon or tweaked to your liking. That's one of the things we like about cooking.

Hi! Since these are the days when the wind comes sweepin' down the plain and it's so cold outside, I just bought a Grass Fed Beef Pot Roast. I am worried about how to prepare it so it won't get tough or dry - [based on my previous experience with grass-fed beef.] Do you have a recipe idea that will have my guests singing Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-Lyrics from OKLAHOMA!

I'm really feeling the love. Verklempt.

This Slow-Roasted Beef recipe is foolproof, and when I say that, I mean it.

Jim, how would smoking cornish hens turn out - are they too small or would they be juicy enough to smoke? Any ideas/suggestions?

    Oh, man, yes, you can definitely smoke cornish hens. Me, I butterfly them, grill both sides over direct heat for a few minutes, then move over to the "cold" (indirect) side of the grill to smoke. 

    Just before taking off, I bring the hen back over to the direct side to crisp up the skin. They come out smoky and very juicy. 

I think I remember an article, maybe from last year, about The Palm Restaurant and how the waiters there memorize the orders, and deplore the "new young guys" who have to write everything down. (I think the reporter who wrote it worked a shift). IIRC, the waiter said he made mistakes at first but then learned how to do it. So I guess in the original poster's case you go back to that restaurant in 10 years, if it's still there and the server has made waiting tables a career, he or she may have it down by then...if the tips are REALLY good (so it would have to be an expensive restaurant, probably, I've heard of $200 per night in tips for servers at some well-known places).

I'm still not sure the benefit of memorizing orders vs. writing them down, unless GMs don't like the looks of pen and paper on their dining room floors. I think the memorization trick is fine, I guess, but I have to think it gets really difficult when there are four or more at a table.  Thanks for chiming in!

Just wanted to say thanks for the link a few weeks ago to several make-ahead punches that can be served to a crowd. I made the Holiday Sangria from your recipe archives and it was a huge hit, so easy to make in advance, and did not feel too "summer" in any way. Definitely making that one again!

Thanks! Great to hear! I too always find the Tuscan Sangria to be a crowd pleaser.

I dont bake much, but isnt there usually a 1/3 teaspoon on the ring? Just measure out 2 of those!

I've seen 1/4 and 1/8 and 1/2, not 1/3.

We belong to the ham, and the ham we belong to is bland.... Any ideas for leftover ham? My soups are never very flavorful, manbe because I don't make my own stock.

Good one! Is it a ham you baked fresh or was it already one of those salted cooked things?

I'll report back re the Pot Roast! Thanks for the recipe suggestion.

My kitchen has been getting a real workout lately, which is great. For Christmas Eve, I'll be making a special dinner at home. I'm toying with the idea of making maple-bacon ice cream for dessert. I want to serve it over something, but I'm not sure what. Something with pears or apples maybe, like some kind of brown betty or bread pudding? Any ideas?

Roasted Mashed Apple-Pear Sauce. And we'll be over.

Why not make it a theme and serve some half smokes since the Capitals are going to get smoked by the Pens?

2/3 of a teaspoon is the same as 16/24 of a teaspoon. 5/8 of a teaspoon is 15/24 of a teaspoon, so if you have a 1/8 teaspoon measure, that will get you mostly there.

The recipe today looked good, but I'm hoping you can help me modify it, or point me to another one. I don't use gelatin. Do you have a version that uses agar? Or recommendations on converting it? Thanks!

No, I'm afraid you can't use agar--this will not work at all.  I have seen a vegetarian marshmallow recipe calling for Xanthan gum on-line and in fact have come up with one that works myself, though the marshmallows are slightly soft. Either do an on-line search, or perhap you can follow up with me.

I am drooling, but as a vegetarian cannot eat them. Do you have a receipt using eggwhite in lieu of the gelatin?

It is possible to use Xanthan gum and create vegetarian marshmallows; egg whites aren't a good idea as they are  not sufficiently cooked. Try doing an on-line search for a recipe that calls for Xanthan gum.

I'm a girl who just can't say no to anything chocolate covered. The marshmallows, however, are intimidating. Could a beginner really make them? Any tips?

The plain marshmallows are actually not very hard to make, though the chocolate dipping is slightly challenging. Just don't make substitutions or alter the procedure. A sturdy stand mixer with a whisk-shaped beater is a big help, but a strong portable model will work.

I'm in a terrible fix, I always say "come on, let's go!" when it comes to making (and eating) desserts. How can I make desserts healthier, without using tofu? (I don't like the texture).

Use skim milk, Sweet'n'Low, and Country Crock in your cookies, how's that sound?  

Or just make good desserts and, after the first three cookies or slice of pie, RUN.


A good friend gave me TWO jars of piment d'esplette as a Christmas gift. I would love to use it on Christmas since this friend will be at my flat. Can you recommend a great amuse bouche or appetizer for me? Ciao.

I'm going to assume that your friend gave you the dried and powdered form, which can be used in a wide variety of manners. I've seen it sprinkled on sushi as a finishing seasoning, which gives the fish a nice bite. ((Your could even slightly sear the tuna.) You can also use it as a finishing seasoning on steamed asparagus. Or you could try this delicious-sounding calamari-potatoes recipe from Food & Wine.  But also don't fret too much about those jars. They should last a couple of years.

Jim, now that we have the cornish hen recipe, what goes well with it? I like rice, my husband prefers potatoes - what about a good, easy vegetable?

    Put whatever side with them you like. No rules. 

    Okay, okay. I can't resist. I love potatoes, especially fried, with cornish hens. But wild rice would also be great. This time of year, a squash dish (perhaps pureed with a little brown sugar and cayenne) would be good. 

    I guess we're back to whatever you want. 

It has been a great little pleasure to read your blog every Wednesday and I want to thank you for that. Two things; you can buy great half smokes from the butcher at Eastern Market. To Jim Shahin, I found a great little barrel grill at Lowe's this spring, small enough to place on a tailgate and big enough to grill four rolled up baby back ribs. You've got me thinking of smoking a turkey breast for Christmas. Any advice on how long it takes? I haven't tried one yet.

A turkey breast takes only about an hour, depending on how low and slow you go. 

Well, that flew by faster than Ado Annie's resolve to stay away from the Ali Hakim. Thanks for playing along, and to our guests Nancy B., Jim S., and Jason W.

Chatters who win books the "ham is bland" lyricist and the chatter who told us about that bad link so we could fix it. True holiday spirit!

Send your mailing info to so we can send the books; put CHAT WINNER in the subject field. Next week, I'm gone but Editor Joe's back. Happy Christmas!

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