Free Range on Food: Making lasagna at home, easy nibbles for New Year's Eve, two festive punch recipes and more.

Dec 27, 2017

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 this, our last chat of the year. Hope you're enjoying the holidays, if you celebrate them, and that our content has contributed to said enjoyment.

We had Domenica Marchetti's glorious ode to real lasagna, made the Italian way (and we can all tell you that the results speak for themselves -- they're just outstanding!); Carrie Allan's take on milk punch (which we think should knock eggnog out of the NYE running); Bonnie's rundown of five nibble recipes that take 15 minutes or less -- and look stunning for a party; my attempt to crack the code of cauliflower pizza crust; and more.

Domenica and Carrie will be with us to answer any and all q's, so you're in good hands. And then there's us good ole regulars (with the exception of Tim, who's off this week).

We'll have a cookbook to give away to our favorite chatters, as usual: "The Spice Companion" by Lior Lev Sercarz.

And for you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR3232 . Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

Let's go!

 

Joe's recipe indicates that it serves 4-6. Is the nutritional information provided calculated for 4 servings or 6 servings? Thank you.

It's based on 6. (Added that to the nutritional information, thanks!)

Cauliflower Pizzas With Chard and Olives

RECIPE: Cauliflower Pizzas With Chard and Olives

Joe, thank you for your cauliflower crust recipe. I, too, have had several textural failures with cauliflower crusts and gave up. My question is about the purpose of the almond meal in the crust - is it necessary? It adds a lot of fat (I know, I know) and I'd prefer to omit/substitute if possible.

If you've had problems with other recipes, then please don't change this one -- it works! OK, OK, now that I got that off my chest, if you must, I'd try something that's been on my list to try in a cauliflower crust: chickpea flour! That gives a nod to socca/farinata -- do you know those great dishes? The almond flour here does add structure, but I imagine the chickpea flour would do the same. 

On the fat, you saw that most of it is unsaturated, right?

Bought a pound of the crab (labeled as canned in Cambridge, MD) that had a "shelf life" of one year. Always thought it was best to use it right away. Does this seem right?

If "pasteurized" is on the label, that might be why -- although a quick scan of references seems to find 3 or 4 months in cold storage (33 degrees, or in the freezer) as the optimum time. Maybe your crab was packed by the JM Clayton seafood company, which is in Cambridge. If you contact them they might be able to give you the right info.

 

My ace colleague Tim Carman explained that process. . . .

ARTICLE Cracking the code on crab meat

I have some prosecco left from Christmas--and leftover wine is a generally foreign concept to me. It's gone flat, but is there something I can still do with it? Something like the super-reduced red wine recipe you printed a while ago? (Sorry, I can't find the link.) How would I use it? Thank you!

You could absolutely use the prosecco for the mulled wine syrup. I've done it with whites to great effect. And use it drizzled on ice cream, in yogurt, combined with soda for a little cooler -- lots of possibilities.

RECIPE: Mulled Red Wine Syrup

You could use the syrup in Joe's suggestion to flavor a cocktail or punch as well. 

Bonnie, do you think this recipe would work with fish or any other substitute for shrimp? I'm allergic, unfortunately.

I think you could use a white-fleshed, mild-tasting fish. It will break into chunks, which would be quite alright.

RECIPE Shrimp Skimpy Scampi

What on earth is the secret to thawing frozen phyllo sheets so that they don’t crumble apart when you unroll them? Or generally fall apart so that an intact single sheet feels like an impossibility?

I defrost them in the refrigerator, in their packaging, overnight. Chatters, how about you?

I'd sworn off lasagna, too labor intensive, but you've piqued my interest again. I can usually get only the wimpy "baby" spinach in my market. Is it suitable for the noodles, same quantity, or would frozen spinach be better? What quantity? Also, to stack & store in freezer, should noodles be separated, by either plastic wrap or wax paper?

I'm glad to hear you're thinking about tackling lasagna again. I also use baby spinach leaves, since they are tender. You need 8 ounces of fresh leaves (they cook down to about 1/2 cup). For storing the noodles in the freezer, I let them sit out first for an hour or two to dry slightly; that way they're not tacky. After that, you don't need to separate them but if you want to be on the safe side, you could layer pieces of wax paper between them.

ARTICLE: Real lasagna is a culinary marvel worth every minute of your time

RECIPE: Fresh Spinach Pasta for Lasagna

Aside from the scant selection sometimes available at Whole Foods, is there a reliable source for these in the D.C. area? I know they can be ordered online but fear they won't arrive in time for New Year's Eve when I need them.

How bout checking with your favorite nursery/plant store? And I see them at farmers markets sometimes -- contact the flower people or even salad greens vendors who sell at Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market (Wollam Gardens, maybe?)

Like Bonnie, I defrost in the refrigerator, in their packaging, overnight. Then I let them rest on the counter (again, in their packaging) for an hour before using. I don't open them until the absolute moment I'm ready to start working with them, and then work as fast as reasonable.

I have some frozen tuna steaks from Trader Joe's. I was thinking of making them with some kind of tomato sauce to mask the fact that they are not fresh tuna. Any suggestions?

One suggestion: you could make tuna ragu for pasta ~ we have it every Christmas Eve. It's one of my all time favorite pasta sauces. I usually make it with good-quality canned tuna in olive oil, but you could use fresh (even better, I would guess). Cut the tuna into chunks and put it in a pot with 1 or 2 bottles of tomato puree (depending on how big those steaks are), a couple of smashed garlic cloves, chopped parsley, good extra-virgin olive oil, some hot pepper flakes, chopped capers and few smashed anchovy fillets (optional but I'd never leave them out). Let it all simmer until the tuna is cooked and flaky and the sauce has thickened. Salt to taste.

Greetings from snowy NH. Really a question for the technical people involved in these chats which are greatly enjoyed. (So, I first offer thanks for the work you do.) At best about 1/3 of the food pictures show up. The rest are blank white space. Viewing on an iPad. Is this a problem on my end or are others seeing that same? Any guidance would be appreciated.

It might be an iPad issue...could you send screen shots to food@washpost.com and we'll pass them along to the tech people?

Cooked a Ham last Sat and I need to freeze some leftovers. I'm going to make a Scalloped potato and ham dish. Should I bake it off and then freeze it or freeze before cooking. Quite a bit of half and half and cream and I might add some swiss cheese.

I would bake, cool, wrap well (including wax paper or parchment directly on the surface) and freeze. Unwrap, cover w foil and bake straight from the freezer (allowing extra oven time; uncover for last 15-20 mins to crisp up the surface).

I made the Scalloped Potatoes and Mushrooms, using the recipe’s scale to drop it to four servings. I made the recipe precisely, (I weigh the ingredients) and came out with what was - at the least - eight servings of a side dish! I’ve frozen individual servings, but with the mushrooms, do you think that they’ll taste okay after weeks of freezing? Thanks!

Yes, I think they'd be fine frozen in this.

As for the serving size, I think of this as more than a side dish, in the conventional sense, I guess! I suggest serving it with a salad and a protein, but it's still a substantial portion. Anyway, always better to have more than enough than not enough, eh?

Other than the size, did you like it?

RECIPE: Scalloped Potatoes and Mushrooms

As part of the New Year, I'm venturing to learn more about preparing Indian cuisine (already being quite accomplished at eating it). What would be the absolute crucial spices to start my collection with?

Ginger, cumin (ground, and the whole seeds, which when toasted make for a beautiful, fragrant raita). Turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves. A good garam masala, which is a mix of spices and can vary by brand and region. Depending on the recipe, you may need fenugreek (after years trying to nail makhani murgh, I found it was key for me). I'd also keep in mind that you'll want fresh stuff frequently -- I usually start an ad-libbed curry with a base of fresh ginger, garlic and onions. 

I decided to make a NYTimes spinach lasagna recipe for Christmas. It was time-consuming but came out quite well. However, instead of making the pasta, as the recipe called for, I attempted to approximate the amount and bought fresh spinach pasta sheets. I was way off. As soon as I lifted the bag, I realized these were much bigger than the prepackaged sheets in the supermarket (where I couldn't find spinach sheets). It took only 2 1/2 sheets to make the lasagna. The other half sheet I cooked anyway, and that got turned into pasta handkerchiefs with pesto last night. I'm planning to make ravioli with some of the other sheets. But there are 7 sheets left to use! That's a lot of ravioli. Any other ideas? Should I try freezing some of it?

You could try freezing it; I often freeze my uncooked lasagna sheets. Or, depending on how flexible they are, you could cut them into tagliatelle (fettuccine) and dress them with a simple tomato sauce or meat ragu. Or butter and parmigiano cheese if you really want to keep it simple.

Of the two soaking methods (overnight and "quick," in boiling water for an hour), is one better?

I've only soaked overnight or not at all (and used a pressure cooker to cook the unsoaked beans). Chatters, any thoughts?

Soaking overnight is preferable, but the whole soak-or-not question is highly debatable. I think it improves beans' digestibility, and it certainly makes the cooking time more dependable (especially if you don't know how old the beans are), but the tradeoff is that you do lose some of the magical flavor from that cooking water when you soak (and change the water).

My latest experiments have been in adding salt to the soaking water, which helps soften the skins. But a strip of kombu appears to do the same thing!

I am on a laptop. No pics whatsoever - just white space

Hmm what browser are you using?

Carrie, Does this image have something to do with a visit to elBulli?

Ha, yes, I went back and forth between throwing the Spaniards of El Bulli and the Danes of Noma under the bus :) EB seemed more appropriate to the laboratory notion, though there are some intensely serious brooding young fellows behind the scenes at Noma. (I never made it to El Bulli, sadly -- did you?)

Any ideas for how to feed a big family lots of veggie healthy dinners without spending zillions of dollars? I would love some quick go-to recipes. Thanks!

Beans are the key to cheap vegetarian cooking, IMHO. There's no cheaper source of plant protein around. Beans and grains. So make sure to cook a big pot of each every weekend, along with pans of seasonal vegetables that you roast. Combine those with fresh, raw vegetables, seeds and nuts, and  you've got the makings of lots of quick weeknight recipes: Soups, chopped salads, tacos, sauces for pasta dishes. 

That's for off-the-cuff dishes with no recipes. For a few more specific ideas, here you go:

White Bean, Chickpea and Tomato Stew

Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

Rigatoni With Garbanzo Bean Sauce

Just wanted to say thanks to all of you for the wonderful Food Section and Chats all year long. And a special thanks to Domenica Marchetti - I spent two days making lasagna for Christmas Dinner and it was well worth it (as always)! Such a difference!

Thank you ~ so happy to hear it was worth it. Cheers and Happy New Year!

Unfortunately, for me, at least, the recipe isn’t a keeper. It’s been years since I’ve had scalloped potatoes and I suppose I missed that rich, creamy and cheesy classic.

Got it -- totally understand! It's definitely less rich, but I like that crispy cheese on top... Hey, they can't ALL be keepers, can they? ((crickets))

Are these available anywhere locally? I think I've only seen the bottled juice, and it's awfully pricey.

I haven't seen it around, even in Hmart. But if you are a committed yuzu fan and own a plot of land, you could buy your own tree, from these folks. Chatters, have you seen fresh yuzu for sale in DC?

Last week's question about melting butter reminded me that in my house growing up we had a small metal pitcher-shaped pan that we put on the stovetop to melt butter. We used it Sunday evenings to make popcorn to watch the Sunday night movie on tv (having had Sunday dinner hours earlier).

Yes, of course! You mean something like this, eh?

I have been making the same bread recipe for a long time. Recently, I have noticed that it is not browning on top. I have tried to switch yeast thinking maybe it was too old. No difference. Same oven, same ingredients -- the taste is fine. What am I doing wrong?

Let's start with the basics...is your oven calibrated correctly?

The first lasagna my mom and I ever tasted was what she made me for my 18th birthday in the fall of 1973. This was a particularly landmark birthday then because a short time earlier Texas, where we lived, had given 18-year-olds legal rights such as voting and consuming alcohol, the latter of which would be repealed less than 10 years later. To celebrate this special occasion, she wanted to prepare a dinner to remember. A male friend of hers, who took up cooking after a physical disability forced him into early retirement, gave her his recipe for lasagna. I don't have it accessible, but recall it was made with a superior grade of ground beef and a cheese unheard of to us: ricotta. She made a separate grocery list just for its ingredients and jotted down the cost of each and added them up when she got home. That's because it was the most expensive single dish she had ever made and wanted to keep a record of it, along with the recipe. It was $7.27, a lot of money for a single mom on a limited budget back then. In today's dollars that amounts to $41.30 (I just calculated it). She made $60 a week before taxes. Prior to her passing nearly 25 years later we looked at that grocery list in retrospect and this time were amazed by how much $7.27 could buy back then. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to relive and share this memory! I am inspired to find the recipe and make it for what would have been my mom's 87th birthday in 2018, but subbing Beyond Meat's The Beyond Burger for the ground beef, and recording the cost for each ingredient.

This story warms my heart. Thank you for sharing it. What a generous mom. You're right that lasagna is an indulgence any way you look at it ~ whether it's the time it takes to make it, the calories in each serving (I don't dare ask) or the cost to buy the ingredients. For all of these reasons, I only make lasagna on special occasions. I hope you find your mom's recipe!

A bit of an essay question to end the year ... When you eat a favorite food, one you haven't had in a really long time, and it leaves you disappointed, does it also make you sad? What do you tell yourself? I ask because I bought a box of what were my favorite fancy crackers in college. I hadn't seen them for years. The box was the same, I think the ingredient list was the same, and the crackers looked the same. But they tasted insipid. Not stale. Not much of anything. Instead of a Proustian madeleine moment, I had a meh moment, a blah moment, followed by a sense of loss when I was not transported back to vivid memories of my college years by a long-lost taste. I tried again the next day and the outcome was the same. Please tell me how similar occurrences in your own lives have been good things. Maybe point me at some fabulous cracker recipes. Out with the old, in with the new! And thanks for this past year of guidance.

Your story reminds me of something similar that happened to me. I had a wonderful memory of eating my first shoofly pie at a diner in Lancaster, PA. I was about 10 or 11. We even bought a couple of pies to take home, and they were delicious. Years (and years) later I took my kids to the same diner and the entire meal was dismal, including the pie. Such a disappointment. In such cases, I always think of the advice of an Italian friend of mine: "Sempre avanti, mai in dietro!" which translates to "Always move forwards, never backwards!" As for some fabulous cracker recipes, here are my holiday favorites, published here in the Post a couple of years ago.

Torrino-Style Breadsticks

Black Pepper and Fennel Taralli

Little Damsels

Joe, I'm really glad to see your experimentation and resulting article regarding cauliflower crust. Have you seen cauliflower flour anywhere? What I did was roast the cauliflower (for flavor), then dehydrate it, and then grind it up so it's a powder. It's really interesting and I'm thinking I can't the first to try to make cauliflower flour. I mean...the name alone... ;)

I haven't seen it, so go for it. And as for the name, yes, it's tempting, isn't it? You saw that the company that makes the frozen crusts is Cali'flour, right?

In the UK these are called milk pans (although probably a wee bit larger).

Based on good reviews I purchased Loving Hut vegan restaurant's versions of ham and chicken from the online Vegan Essentials. To my taste buds, both are bland and don't come close to resembling the meat analogues I've tried from other brands. Plus, Loving Hut's versions are more expensive. I could tolerate the ham after soaking it with a good grade of barbecue sauce. I oven-roasted one of the chicken pieces last night in olive oil, garlic, Italian seasonings and fresh mozzarella. It was edible, but I'd like to try another route with the remaining pieces. Any suggestions? I'm considering something with lots of spice such as Kung Pao or King Ranch chicken.

I'd blast it with heat, yes -- that's a good idea. Love the kung pao route! Or maybe Buffalo? Soak it in Louisiana hot sauce (or a mixture of Tabasco, vinegar and water)... And don't forget the ranch dressing and celery sticks on the side.

On one of Jacques Pepin's cooking shows he was cooking beans. He talked about soaking them overnight or doing the quick soak boiling letting set for an hour technique and then he shrugged his shoulders and said "or you can just use them straight out of the bag, it really doesn't make much difference.". If Jacques says you don't need to pre soak that's good enough for me.

You don't! It may just take longer, but plenty of cooks do this. Totally fine.

I enjoyed the lasagna article today. I agree that it's worth making from scratch, and made a lasagna for this past Christmas meal. I've always considered the classic to be a vegetarian version, common in Lombardy, that includes bechamel and porcini mushrooms (sometimes in a ragu, sometimes not in a white lasagna). It does take time and some planning, but it's not that hard and enjoying the finished dish is very satisfying. Domenica is probably familiar with it, but an interesting dish to try if you like polenta, is to make polenta pasticciata. It's similar to the lasagna I mention above, but with polenta, used either soft or cooled/sliced, layered with mushroom ragu and bechamel. It's not as good looking for a formal dinner since it's so messy, but it's very good.

Thank you! I am familiar with that version; it's wonderful. I guess you could say there are any number of classic versions, depending on where in Italy you are from. Like all of Italian cooking, lasagna regional. And thank you for mentioning the polenta pasticciata ~ one of my favorite things to make in January and February when it's really cold out. In Abruzzo, we also make timballo di crespelle, which is essentially lasagna made with crepes instead of pasta. Here's my recipe for that, published in the Post a few years ago. 

Crepe Lasagna With Mushrooms and Spinach

Am I the only one who had the marshmallows melt into the cookies? On the 3rd cookie sheet, I waited to add the marshmallows until after the first 8 minutes, but they still sank--at least they didn't melt! How did you get the marshmallows to just toast?

I'm sorry you had trouble! The cookie dough needs to be well chilled; we used regular old Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows that held up like you see in the photo. Some ovens run hotter than others; not all marshmallows are made the same way. If the ones  you used are organic, they might melt faster because of their ingredients.

 

We made multiple batches of these in a recent cookie class at Hill Center DC, and some  marshmallows -- from the same bag! -- were meltier than others. So that could have something to do, also, with placement  in the oven (middle or upper rack worked better than lower rack). Even with melty marshmallows, the cookies tasted good, right?

I've made these, too, and didn't have the melting-into-the-cookies problem. I used a brand I got from Mom's that turns out was vegan, and it held up.

Hey guys! Love the chats... I was just thinking about how it's almost 2018, so that means it's been about a year since you guys all tried those different diets! Any plans for a one year update?

No, we're all fat and cranky about it. Seriously, Ellie Krieger did say she would check in with us after a year, so I'm reminding her about that!

ARTICLE: 5 Diets, the takeaways

Ok - Safari - there's an error for all photos, Firefox leaves out some of the photos and you can see others fine - eg the cauliflower crust photo is just not there. Chrome - all is well! I'm on a mac laptop.

Ding ding ding! Good to know, will alert the appropriate people. Thanks!

Domenica, I have your cookbook and the first recipe I attempted was your lasagna (I can't recall the name, but it's the one with meat sauce, not meatballs, bechamel, and fresh pasta). It took me two weekends because I had to find really good stock bones, make stock and then demiglace the first weekend and the rest the second weekend. It took forever. I served it to my family and now it is the lasagna of legends. It's the recipe that made my notoriously picky sister (I know you're reading this chat, Amanda) love lasagna. It was phenomenal and well worth the effort. Thank you for a stunning recipe.

I'm thinking you made the Bolognese lasagna ~ using homemade beef broth as well. That IS impressive. Even I cheat sometimes and use canned broth when I don't have homemade beef broth in my freezer (or I use homemade turkey broth from Thanksgiving). I'm thrilled that it was a hit and worth the effort.

I'm looking forward to a blissful new year's eve at home alone. I have movie munchies all planned out but can't think of a dessert. Can you suggest anything decadent that would serve one, with no or few leftovers? (I'm set until summer with leftover Christmas sweets.)

For starters, these Mascarpone Apricots are small-scale decadent, and quite easy to put together (make and eat as many as you feel like having!) Or you could make Cathy Barrlow's dark chocolate peppermint sauce (yield is a mere 1 cup), warm it up and use it for dipping in all sorts of decadent desserty foodstuffs.

 

 

Is there anyway to avoid the white stuff that shows up on the top of a cooked salmon filet? We don't like under-cooked salmon (prefer the opaque texture) but don't like the white stuff. Is there a marinade or a different cooking method (we just bake ours) that minimizes the albumin?

Cooking at a low temperature, for longer, helps; it seems that high heat will force more of this protein up and onto the surface of your fish.  (You can just scrape it off before serving.) And ATK says a quick brine before cooking also reduces the albumin factor as well.

I took your recommendation from last week to use Pacific broth for my beef gravy for Christmas dinner. Used the low-sodium version. Sorry, but it was the most tasteless; I might as well have used water. Maybe the full salt or stock would have been better. I do not recommend Pacific brand.

I bought a beef standing rib roast yesterday. I just found out I may have to go out of town for several days. Can I freeze the roast and then cook it later? Or will there be a loss of flavor or texture? I don't buy these very often so I want to enjoy it at its best flavor and texture. Thanks!

Yep. Food safety experts say you can freeze in its orig packaging for up to 2 months, and after that you should double wrap in foil and plastic wrap (don't forget to label w/ the date). But for a gorgeous and expensive hunk o meat like that I'd go ahead and do the double wrapping. There should not be a loss of either flavor or texture, if you wrap it well, defrost in the refrigerator and use it within 6-12 months.

 

And if you want a deep read on how to prepare it, check out Kenji  Lopez-Alt's treatise here.

Can I just skip the seafood and use the sauce on the zucchini noodles?

No, you cannot.

Tom Sietsema suggested you may be able to help: A relative gave me a Christmas gift of recreational cooking classes at L'Academie de Cuisine, which recently announced its closure. Has the school announced how they will handle refund requests for gift certificates, or is there a consumer affairs office handling these requests?

I do not believe they have announced anything. Tim Carman is on the L'Academie beat, though, so why don't you email him at tim.carman@washpost.com, and when he's back on Friday he can look into it.

I have a habit of thinking that I'm perpetually out of Mexican oregano and powdered ginger. As a result, I tend to have more of these on hand than I should. So, how long can I keep these around? Do spices last longer than herbs, or vice versa? Also, Penzey's (love them!) tends to throw in free gifts of spice blends that sound enticing, but I never know what to do with them, so they languish in my spice cabinet. Do spice blends have a different expiration than single spices? Thanks!

Whole spices (and herbs) last longer than ground ones. There's a general rule of thumb that ground spices last a year (if stored well -- in a sealed container away from heat and light), but the best way to know is to smell and taste. They won't go "bad," they'll just lose some of their potency, which makes them less worth using. As for blends, if they're ground, they don't last as long as whole spices.

Oh, and what to do with spice blends? Every time I roast vegetables or make a stew, I experiment with all my little jars of spice blends, trying to kill as many of them as possible. It's fun!

I was gifted a pressure canner at Christmas. I've started looking around for recipes in canning cookbooks I own, the NCFHP, and reliable websites. What I'm finding is that there are a lot less recipes for pressure canning than water bath canning, and that I understand what to tinker with safely a lot less. I can't figure out why canned beans in water take so much more than canned beans in a water/molasses sauce (cooking time? acidity?). And there are "vegetable soup" recipes (at NCFHP for example) that are completely non-specific about the ingredients but some recipes for vegetables or legumes take more or less time. Do you have any good references or sources for pressure canning information and/or recipes? I'm vegetarian so not inclined to can meat or stock. Oddly, vegetable broth recipes are oddly hard to find - I'm assuming the above soup recipe can function as a stand-in as far as processing time.

A pressure canner is required to process low-acid foods, such as most vegetables if they haven't been pickled or brined to increase acidity; beans and legumes; plus meat and fish, such as home-canned tuna. I also use my pressure canner for tomato sauce, as acidity of tomatoes can be unreliable. You can find instructions and recipes in my book "Preserving Italy." There's also a lot of good information and recipes in Cathy Barrow's book "Mrs Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry."

How do I know if it is calibrated correctly? I have a gas oven & always use 25 degrees more on each recipe.

Buy an inexpensive oven thermometer (usually encased in metal) and place it inside. Preheat to 350; once your oven indicates it's at temperature, see what the thermometer says. If they differ, perhaps it's time to either check the manual or call a repairman.

For Christmas Eve, I made Dominica's lasagna with meat sauce. It was quite a project, but oh so good. I confess to using a noodle recipe from Lydia that I've used before, but I followed the guidelines here for the sauce. It was for just the two of us so I have many servings now in the freezer. How should I defrost them? Microwave or oven?

Leftover lasagna in the freezer is such a gift, isn't it? To defrost, I recommend the oven. First, remove the lasagna from the freezer and let it defrost on your counter (or overnight in the fridge). Then pop it in the oven and bake until bubbly and heated throughout.

I've kept homemade tomato soup warming on the stove for the last week. It's the perfect temperature when I come in from the cold and don't want to wait even a microwave minute for something to warm my insides. Am I risking stomach problems? It's between the "warm" and "1" settings on an electric stove. It's just canned tomatoes, onion, garlic and chili, pureed together. The idea came to me because of old tales about soups always kept warming and each visitor adding some ingredients so the pot never emptied. I've added some water to mine when it gets thick.

If the soup is kept at over 140 degrees, then it's fine, food-safety-wise. You might want to drop in a thermometer to check that.

I called the Bethesda telephone number- it is disconnected.

Add Internet Explorer 11 where no pictures are visible, but for the Black Pepper and Fennel Taralli. Entire chat not visible at all on Microsoft Edge.

An Indian co-worker gifted me a pan-Indian cookbook and a "Shanti's Spice Box" -- game changer! It has 30 spices used in Indian cuisines -- very small amounts in little ziploc bags. Another co-worker says she's got a box with little round metal tins and she buys spices frequently in small amounts -- that's how they do it back home. The "Shanti's Spice Box" can be purchased on Amazon, of course. The accompanying cookbook was "Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India", which is **fine**, but I hit the spice box more often than I open the book :)

Yes, that box is called a tiffin. Great!

When you make poached eggs with beautiful, runny yolks, do not try to transfer them from the pan, across the stove and to the plate with a flat, metal spatula.

Right! Bring the plate to the pan! 

I have a rental property down in FL (down here now actually) so I keep them until I head south and leave them in the rental. Many times they are duplicates of whatever I have at my main home, so nice to have a stash down here.

Your article on milk punch has inspired me to do a 50's style dinner party for a few friends on new year's eve. Any suggestions for a vintage main dish to serve with the punch? I think some lime jello will do for dessert

Hmm, that clarified version actually goes back way further ... maybe you should be looking to do stuffed grouse and mincemeat instead! I admit, I don't turn to the 1950s for much food inspiration -- I usually think of it (maybe unfairly) as an era of culinary evilness. But maybe you could come up with a way to make some of these classics actually taste good? :)

This isn't really answering your question, I know, but you reminded of a retro (although perhaps more '60s?) appetizer we've got that's mighty tasty:

Fages Salmon Mousse

RECIPE: Fages Salmon Mousse

Fondue! Egg foo yong! This piece might inspire you...

Mine did not work...was it because I let the butter go too long and it kind of separated? I ended up with sticky haystacks of almond and honey, which is not bad but not what the photos showed or what i think of as Florentines

Gosh, I never had a separating problem with the butter mixture.  Even after you added the honey and bit of cream? It sounds like you might not have cooked it quite long enough.

 

RECIPE Bettyanne's Florentines

Every time the online version of the paper shows side by side photos (probably inside a table) Safari does not display the photos. Not just your stuff, but everywhere in the paper.

I work close to the Bethesda building of L'Academie de Cuisine. Will they have a "sidewalk sale" of their equipment? I'd love to buy some of their used cooking tools.

I imagine they will -- perhaps not on the sidewalk itself, but at auction. I have no direct info about this, just know that that's what restaurants often do when they go out of business. 

Hi all, can you recommend a way to get the top crusty without a torch? (Sorry if I misspelled the dessert, typing quickly at work!) Happy Holidays!

Under the broiler, with a careful/constant eye on it.

I'm with the other chatter on "baby" spinach. Sure, it's easier to prep, but it has about as much flavor as green paper. Please, growers and grocers, bring back adult spinach!

Let your spinach grow up!

How can I freeze and defrost quiche so that I don't have to throw away a whole chunk of it since I'm just one person? It has spinach, tomatoes and cheese but nothing else.

How about cutting the cooled quiche into single-portion wedges, then wrapping them individually to freeze? This allows you to defrost only as much as you want to eat.

I was just about to type the same answer as Domenica! Another thought for next time: Make them in mini muffin tins, so they're pre-portioned!

I made too much tapenade for Christmas. Can I freeze it?

Yes.

Thanks, all! I was sorting beans when I asked and am now about to start cooking them sans soaking (but I have washed them especially well). So in this scenario I will never drain them, right, so that I can use veg broth instead of water?

Right!

Due to bad weather we didn't travel to the relatives' for Christmas. I used the opportunity to make Maida Heatter's Chocolate Mousse Torte from her Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. I no longer serve this to company 'cause there are raw eggs in the final product (part of the mousse is baked to make a "crust", but the filling isn't). I've never had problems with raw eggs from a local producer, but I wouldn't want to take the chance with others. If pasteurized eggs were available, would eating them raw be safe? Do pasteurized eggs beat up well?

They can work for these purposes. My local Harris Teeter store is carrying Davidson's brand pasteurized eggs; you can DIY pasteurize, too, if Santa brought you a sous vide machine.

I've been looking for a good seafood Newburg in the metro DC area and haven't had much success... Any suggestions on where this is a menu item that I can get at any time?

I did a quick search on Yelp, and am seeing a few mentions -- although it's always worth calling in advance so you're not disappointed: McCormick & Schmick's downtown, The Wharf and Gadsby's Tavern, both in Alexandria. Chatters, any other ideas? 

I defrost phyllo same way, overnight in refrigerator and then bring to room temperature in original packaging before using. I have noticed that having a fresh package makes a difference on how pliable the sheets of dough are.

I sometimes reheat lasagna in the oven (as Domenica suggested), sometimes in the microwave. Every time, though, it comes out dry. Lots of different recipes, all of which were moist when I made them. What causes this? Do you just add extra tomato sauce when you reheat?

I sometimes have this problem, too, depending on how 'saucy' the lasagna is. I usually cover the baking dish with foil and reheat at a moderate temp (325 to 350F). If necessary, I  moisten it with a splash or two of broth at the bottom of the baking dish.

I took the advice from a few chats back and flavored pasta water with Parmesan rinds and a chunk of parm that had become too hard to grate. It was a wonderful flavor-booster. But it took repeated scrubbings and soakings over several days to get cheese residue, a.k.a. gunk, out of my pot, both sides and bottom. Is there some way to prevent this in the future?

I don't know about preventing, but for getting it off, do you have one of those pot scrapers? I find it much more useful, generally, than a scrubber. It's a little piece of plastic (or a set of them) that's curved on one edge but square on others, so you can get into the edges of various-shaped pots.

Joe - the spice box with the little cups is called a masala "dabba," which is a pan-Indian word for box. A tiffin is technically a meal that's a snack. And a tiffin box is the stainless-steel container set.

Thank you, thank you for correcting me!

Your's and Tom's chat's are the highlight of my Wednesdays. I live in a foodie dessert in eastern Washington state (we do make great wine here though and grow a lot of spuds). Thank You all.

Thanks for joining us!

Oh, the memories! What a wonderful, delicious dish! Time to take the copper mold off the wall and use it -- Thanks for putting the idea in my head, and Happy New Year!

Well, you've heated us through until we have nicely browned tops, so you know what that means -- we're done!

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

Now for the giveaway book: The chatter who asked about oregano, ground ginger and spice blends will get "The Spice Companion." Send your mailing info to Kara.Elder@washpost.com, and she'll get you your book.

Until next time, happy cooking, happy reading, happy reading and ... happy new year! See you in 2018!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Domenica Marchetti
Domenica Marchetti is a food writer and cookbook author. She blogs at domenicacooks.com.
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