Free Range on Food: New Year's cooking

Dec 28, 2011

Today's topics: New Year's cooking, hoppin' John, cooking for one and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! It's our last chat of the year, and for me, it's the last time I'll be hosting until I'm back from my book leave in January 2013. 

So let me take this moment to say how much fun it's been helping handle all your queries for the last -- wow -- five years, and how proud I am of the staff and contributors who help us with this every week. Bonnie will be ably steering the ship in 2012, and Tim will be writing many more great pieces, I have no doubt.

Speaking of that, did you enjoy his hoppin' John treatise today? Interesting, right? And I hope you got a kick out of my tale of eating down the fridge in preparation for my move. Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan from, author of "Good Food to Share," gave us some great recipes for NYE.

Anyway, tell us what's on your mind, and we'll do our darndnest, as always, to be helpful.

We'll have two giveaway books for our favorite chatters today, too: Sara Kate's aforementioned book, and I'll throw in another signed copy of my own "Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One." 

So let's do this!

So, I was so excited to make Hoppin John in the Crockpot this Christmas Eve. In hindsight, I got all sorts of things wrong--pinto beans instead of blackeye peas, low simmer on in slow cooker instead of a boil--but this is the second time I have tried a bean soup or stew and ended up with hard-as-rock beans instead. But I presoaked the beans (overnight) and it was in the crockpot for upwards of 6 hours! For New Year's, I am trying again, using the correct bean and using a stockpot instead of the slow cooker. Any other tips for success?

Well, a few things can go wrong with dried beans. For one thing, can I ask where you got your beans? Many of those sold in supermarket are YEARS old, believe it or not, and it can be very hard to predict how long it will take to get them tender, because the older they are, the more time it takes -- up to 3 or 4 hours.

Instead, buy from a source such as Rancho Gordo. The beans are much fresher and cook more quickly -- and hold their shape better when cooked. I've also had good results from beans imported from Israel (forget the name) that I bought at Whole Foods, as well as any dried beans I've bought at farmers markets.

The other problem can come from what you add to the beans. Avoid putting in salt, anything acidic, or sugar (such as molasses) until the beans are pretty tender, as doing otherwise can make it difficult to get them soft. (In his testing of a hoppin' John recipe, Tim found with black eyed peas that the salt didn't make a difference, though, so now that you've switched you might be OK.)

As for cooking method, doing it low and slow is definitely the way to go, even once you're on the stovetop. It's good to keep the beans at a very gentle bubble, with the lid on or a bit ajar if it helps keep the bubble from getting too vigorous.

Reminded by a mention in a recent chat, I finally tried the 2005 recipe for Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts (from Jane Mengenhauser via Bonnie). I was excited by how easy they were. Excitement turned to disappointment when I went to take them out of the pan and found that the top had turned into a meringue-like crust that crumbled and fell off the tart . The description mentions "the sweet crunch of topping" -- but all the crunch fell off mine! What did I do wrong? Did I overbeat the filling?

The meringue-like crust is correct! Here are some tips for  pan extraction:

* When you're filling the tarts, try to keep that filling inside the edges of the tart dough.  Using too much will create that slight mushroom-cloud effect of crust that covers the whole tart and creeps out the edges of the wells of the mini-muffin pan. Once that happens, it's much more difficult to get the tart out without cracking the crust on top.

* Run that round-edged knife around the tarts after a few minutes, but when they are still warm. They should spin a little, showing you they're not stuck at the top or bottom.

* Even if the crust has crumbled, you can still pile it on top of the tart. Tastes just the same = very, very good.

The Post recently had a food section devoted to cookies. How can I obtain a copy of that issue. -Gene

If you really want a hard copy, you can contact our back issue office at 202-334-7239. But all that content is online via this list or our online recipe database.

White Chocolate- and Peppermint-Studded Chocolate Mountains

I asked for a cookbook recommendation last week for a friend just starting to cook, but I missed the chat due to a meeting. To answer your follow-up question, my friend very much enjoys Italian food and is of South Indian heritage; his family back home mainly cooks those two types of foods. He's also trying to eat healthier, which is the impetus behind learning to cook for himself.

Thanks for coming back! Let's see: I really think he might be inspired by "Marcella Says," Marcella Hazan's book based on her cooking classes. It's great for somebody just learning to cook because she goes into such detail, and of course, the results are spectacular. I also really like Giuliano Hazan's "Thirty-Minute Pasta" for something much simpler. And Friend of Food Domenica Marchetti's books are definitely worth looking at: The latest is "The Glorious Pastas of Italy." He might start with the weeknight pastas but progress to the projects.

As for South Indian, I would consider Sanjeev Kapoor's "How to Cook Indian." Encyclopedic.

Enough about New Year's Eve and Day, what should I eat during the Rose Parade? I'll be going out to a bar to watch the actual Rose Bowl (On Wisconsin!), but what would be easy and fun to eat while watching the parade (love HGTV!) earlier in the day?

To be clear, we're talking about snacking at, oh, say 10 a.m.? Perhaps something cereal-based is in order:  Party Mix. If you happen to catch the reruns later in the day, try this Manchurian Dip, which has 26 cals and 1 gm of fat per serving. I make it for every sitting-around-in-sweatpants kind of NYE Day fest we have.

I didn't get any of the cookbooks on my Christmas list this year, but I did get a nice Amazon gift certificate so I'm looking to play Santa for myself. I only have a couple of cookbooks, none of the 1,000+ compendium variety, so I'm looking to add that. I admire Cook's Illustrated's approach: would you recommend picking up their "New Best Recipe" or the newly released "2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America's Most Trusted Cooking Magazine". I'm an okay cook looking to expand both my cooking repertoire and skills and wasn't sure which would be better suited. Thanks!

Tough choice, because you probably can't go wrong with either. I'd be willing to bet that there's some overlap between "New Best Recipe" and the recent release. I have a copy of the new book, though, and it really is quite wonderful. I often just sit down in front of my cookbook shelf and read it like a novel. Plus, Amazon has it on sale right now for $22. That's a steal!

Do you have any breakfast/brunch ideas that contain the obligatory "good luck" pork and cabbage that's traditional in some cultures? We usually do some sort of pork and sauerkraut dish, but we'll all be together for brunch this year and I'm drawing a blank. We're very flexible with the type of pork and preparation of the cabbage. Thanks!

How about one of my favorite winter dishes, choucroute garnie? It can be a time-suck to prepare, but the great Jacques Pepin has an easier recipe for you.

First, love this chat. Second, I do love y0ur food section but just want to register my regret that the focus in recent years has shifted away from cooking and more towards restaurants. I bet I speak for more readers thanjust me when I say that really I don't CARE about these chefs that you seem to believe are so fascinating. Take today for instance, why in the world would I want to know Victor Albisu's new year's resolutions?? Most of these chefs you write about, I will eat in their restaurants maybe twice a year -- but I will cook 250 days a year. Just please give this some thought for the new year!

Thanks for weighing in, but we feature so much about cooking it's hard for me to take your point to heart, I'm afraid. In today's section, all three of the features on the front are about cooking, with 2 to 5 recipes attached to each piece. I look up on my board at the last six sections displayed there, and I count only 2 non-cooking-oriented stories among the dozens represented.

Tom's Dish column, the source of the resolutions you refer to, has been around for a good 10 years, if not longer, and it has always, always focused on restaurants!

So I suppose this is for Bonnie to mull when she goes into the new year without me, but I actually think our mix is just right.

The kids and I made chocolate chip muffins this morning, but were hugely disappointed to pull off the wrapper to find the chocolate chips were all stuck to the bottom of the wrapper and the tops were just plain muffin. What went wrong?

Bummer. How thin was your batter? I've experienced this phenomenon with thin ones -- the chips just sink because there's nothing to hold them in place. You could also try switching to mini-chips. My mom did that with a chocolate chip loaf cake and it worked wonders. If you want to guarantee some on top, you could also sprinkle them into the muffin cups after you've distributed the batter.

Just wanted to say that Joe will be sorely missed. Good luck with your book(s), and hurry back!


My sixteen year old is having a New year party, There will be about 15 to 20 high schoolers at the house. She is having her friends making desserts. How about the main dishes? What should she prepare? Do you have any suggestions? Some of her friends are vegetarians and some do not eat beef or pork. She is willing to spend time (half a day) in the kitchen.

Do you have a grill? If you live around D.C., chances are it won't be so cold that they couldn't handle a grilled pizza party. It's easy to make the dough and toppings in advance; everyone can do their own thing (veg/omnivores) or she can designate some hearty souls to run outdoors. The pizzas take minutes. Here's a good recipe from Tony Rosenfeld, and topping suggestions.


Another idea: Make a few soups (vegetarian; we have a nice selection in our Recipe Finder) and create your own bar of add-ins.

I don't drink wine (mostly for health reasons) but I use it in cooking for things like risotto. If I open a bottle to make a risotto for just myself, I've got this 3/4 full bottle of wine that I probably won't drink anytime soon. While I know that wine is really only "good" for 3-4 days after opening it, how long can I safely keep it in the fridge or is there something else I should do with it?

First, the easiest way to extend the life of the wine in the fridge is to pour it into another container that it will completely fill, and close it up tight. The less air in the container, the less the wine will oxidize. The colder temp of the fridge helps there, too.

I love using up leftover wine -- wrote a column about it. My favorite thing is to make Mulled Wine Syrup. You combine the wine with spices and sugar and cook it down, and it lasts indefinitely in the fridge, perfect for pouring onto yogurt, ice cream, cakes. I've used it in blueberry jam, to make sauces. (The recipe calls for red wine, but you can use white instead, and mull with just sugar, vanilla bean and ginger.)

You can also make this Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir, or this Eggplant and Tomato Sauce Over Polenta.

Or you can just freeze the wine in ice cube trays, keep it in freezer bags, and pull out a cube at a time to throw into a pan that you've just cooked a piece of meat, or perhaps are sauteeing mushrooms, in, and use it to deglaze with a little butter and make a quick pan sauce.


Dear Joe: We will miss you something fierce. We love Bonnie, but we love you too. Please promise that you will come back after your book time.

Aw, shucks. Appreciate that. I'll still be writing my cooking-for-one column, as well as occasional feature stories, in 2012. And barring unforeseen circumstances, I'll be back!

I was gifted a leftover ham bone by my MIL the other day and am wondering what to do with it - something soup-y, obviously, but what combo of herbs etcs would be good. Any feedback would be most appreciate - I have some asparagus and most basics in the house

You could prepare Domenica Marchetti's Smoky Black Bean and Ham Bone Soup. It's full of all sorts of great spices and herbs.



Heh. Good question. A friend was moving back to Britain and gave me two jars of dried pinto beans that he'd never it's anyone's guess how old they were. The supermarket thing doesn't surprise me, though, and getting fresher beans is a good tip. Thanks a ton! Hoppy New Year. (Groan)

You're welcome!

So, many years ago, you ran a recipe for a dip made with black-eyed peas. I have lost the recipe. It was always very popular. (most memorable reaction: I was a 20-something at the time, and am white. An older black friend of mine tried the dip. She was dubious, but loved it and kept saying, "Damn, you white folks can (mess) up soul food. But you (messed) the peas up GOOD!" Anyhow, I can't find it in the recipe finder. Might you still have it?

You mean this Black-Eyed Pea Hummus! It's so good, indeed. 

I've been on a diet for the last 8 weeks (15 lbs!!) and have been using NYE as my light at the end of the tunnel. I'll be celebrating with family and am trying to come up with the tastiest gut-buster menu that can be prepared at a vacation house (blender- yes, smoker- no). Looking for something cheesy for an appetizer or dinner and then chocolatey for dessert (no nuts, due to allergy), if possible!

When you said cheesy, this recipe for Baked Pasta With Chicken and Pepper Jack came to mind. Maybe it's just because I'm a pepper jack fiend, but I do also like that it can be prepped in advance. 

Baked Pasta With Chicken and Pepper Jack

Chocolatey desserts... where to start? Options include Chocolate CheesecakeGeorgetown Cupcake's Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes, Texas Sheet Cake and Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie.

Chocolate Cheesecake


I received a small can of truffle oil and a small jar of truffle salt as Christmas presents. I've never had truffles and am looking for some tips on how to enjoy these nice presents.

I hope I don't offend you -- or the person who gifted you with truffle oil and salts -- but I'm really over the truffle oil trend. The musky, earthy, funky flavor of truffle oil is quick to overwhelm a dish. I still remember a local restaurant that added truffle oil to its sliders. Sliders!

Anyway, I digress. I think truffle oil works best in very very very (did I say "very"?) small doses on risotto and roasted vegetables. The hint of truffle can create a nice contrast with the veggies and/or creamy risotto.

I saw the recipe for the gingered pear and cranberry crumble and immediately recalled the similar version I had seen (and made) from smitten kitchen, and got curious: for recipe development, where do the ideas come from? I imagine it's impossible to not be influenced by the food world around you, but where do you get your own ideas for putting your own twist on it?

Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick says:

I was inspired by a pear and ginger pie from Good Enough to Eat in NYC. I made the pie for my husband for our first Thanksgiving many years ago. He's always loved the combo, so I wanted to make an easier (and lighter!) version!

This seems like just the right time to  say that a) I think it's in the nature of Steph's healthful dishes to riff on flavors and combinations she likes and b) starting in February, she'll be doing a monthly Nourish Makeover for us, based on recipes that readers send in. You can do so now! Send your recipe, and its origin plus your contact info, to, with NOURISH MAKEOVER in the subject field.  This is due to a suggestion from a very nice Food section reader. Ask and ye shall receive!


So much of the time, it's really based on what I tend to have in my pantry/freezer/fridge, and what's in season, as well as things I've tasted in restaurants or at other home cooks' homes. I remember when I was looking for celery recipes for a column on that topic, I had a fabulous shaved celery w/blue cheese dish on toast at Prune in NYC, and yet I wanted to add a protein to it. I had some canned sardines on hand, and I remembered Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton's great quote from her Beard award acceptance speech: "All you have to do is open a can of sardines and a box of Triscuits, call it a signature dish, and you get Best Chef New York City.”

So I added the sardines to my interpretation of her own celery dish, and loved it.

As a birthday present to my sister, I'd like to teach her how to cook some simple dishes to make after a long day of work. Joe, are there any recipes that you would recommend from your book that would be ideal for a beginner cook? Thank you, and have fun in Maine!

I'd start her out with something like the Fried Rice with Cauliflower and Kimchi, maybe the Mahi Mahi with Kiwi-Avocado Salsa over Coconut Rice. And others -- lots of simple things in the book, actually. There are project recipes, too, such as the Yucatan Slow-Roasted Pork, which leads to several other uses for the pork, that she can progress to.

Just a funny story for your New Year's chat: Last year my boyfriend and I hosted a party for New Year's and had two hot dishes that I put in one of those ceramic dual servers that are heated with candles underneath. I asked my bf to put the tea candles under the bowls right before people came because I was still running around. Later, people kept commenting about the "interesting" dips and how they had a flavor they couldn't quite put their finger on. Turns out, he used the vanilla scented candles instead of the unscented ones. The strong vanilla smell completely changed the dips. I've learned to light the candles myself now!

Oh, that's hilarious! At least it wasn't a more over-the-top scent. 

Do Microplane graters become dull? I've had mine for several years and it seems -- but I can't tell for sure -- that it has lost some sharpness. It doesn't have to do much heavy lifting, mostly just citrus zesting and the occasional nutmeg.

Interesting question. 

A quick search of the ol' InterWebz finds that you have company.  Unfortunately the Microplane company is taking a holiday break -- don't they realize this is high zesting season?? -- but I did find instructions for replacement blades and a rotary shaper on their woodworking tools.  Is a rasp a rasp? So here's one suggestion for sharpening from eGullet:

Get a 400 or 500 grit black carbide sanding belt DO NOT USE SANDPAPER! Like this. Get some crocus cloth.  And like this. Wear a blade-proof glove. Work over a pad of newspaper or somewhere that can be cleaned easily. Cut the sanding belt into pieces that you can hold easily. If you don’t have a glove, find something to stick on the back of the piece as a pad, even a piece of bubble wrap will work.

Lay the piece flat on the grater and gently drag it against the cutting edges, just as if you were grating something. If the grater is curved, shape it to the curve.

Don't bear down hard enough to have the teeth catch in the cloth. 
It will take 5 or 6 strokes to sharpen a moderately dull grater.

Rinse the grater.

Now spray a little water onto the crocus cloth. It will turn purple and get sort of gooey, like a paste. 
Repeat the process with this, it will get a bit messy. However this will remove all the tiny burrs that the carbide cloth has pulled up. 

Wash well with soapy water. Dry and test.

If you have a real steady hand and own a Dremel or similar electric rotary tool, you can use the soft carbide bits to individually sharpen each tooth but this is very time consuming. Since the price of the specialty microplanes has come down considerably, it is easier to just replace them.

I've looked thru what *were* my standard cookbooks that I got when I graduated college and went out on my own back when Jimmy Carter was President, and the only Black Eyed Peas recipe that anyone seems to think exists is something called "Hoppin' John", which is basically "make the peas, make rice, mix". First, any other recipes for Black Eyed Peas -- soup? something else? Second, I have "Joy of Cooking", "Settlement House", "Better Homes" and a 2-volume Doubleday cookbook, all from the 70's/'80's. I've learned a lot from them, but maybe it's time for some new standard books (& BTW I've ordered & am waiting for Joe's cooking for one <my situation> book). Thanks, Section 405

If you like Indian food, I would try something like this, a dish of curried black eyed peas.

As for books, I think the new Cook's Illustrated cookbook would be perfect. The recipes are thorough and meticulously tested. Plus, the range of dishes is impressive.

I made meatballs last weekend for the first time. After browsing a bunch of recipes, this is what I came up with: 1 lb. lean hamburger, 1 lb. sausage, 1 cup of Italian breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 2 eggs, and 1/2 cup of liquid (water, milk, or broth). I mixed the dry ingredients with the meat before the eggs and liquid; I think that was a mistake, it was VERY hard to mix. I baked them in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. The meatballs that were baked on a wire rack came out better (more evenly browned) than the ones baked on a slotted broiler pan, but they were all pretty good, and they freeze well for future meals. I'd welcome any suggestions for jazzing them up a little.

Meatballs are getting lots of love lately. I think it might be better to add the bread crumbs last (maybe plain panko instead of the flavored Italian ones? for more recipe latitude), but I've tested enough mb recipes that call for mixing all ingredients together at the same time.  Working your seasoning into the meat/sausage mixture first might help. As for the jazz, a little chopped chipotle en adobo could work; also any of these: crushed red pepper flakes, fennel seeds (my fave), parsley or finely chopped shallot, XO sauce, minced garlic, finely chopped marjoram (an underused herb, IMHO). Have fun and roll with it.

I don't know if this is science or fiction, but when I make anything chocolate chip besides cookies- I use the minichips and then I coat them in flour before adding. I don't know if that does anything, but I like to think the chemistry helps keep them in place somehow... either way it works.

Yes, there are definitely people who advocate for that. If the chatter is worried about the extra flour, though, the chips can just be mixed into the dry ingredients before the wet are added. That's usually what I do with cookies, scones, muffins, etc.

Oh, settle down, fella. It's called the Food section, not the Cooking section. See an article on a topic that doesn't interest you? Your options are a) not read it; or b) demand that such features stop appearing in the paper. Really, I think a) is better for everyone's blood pressure. Happy New Year.

drizzle it very lightly on popcorn in place of butter.

I do that with blueberries before adding them to muffins or my favorite coffee cake recipe. Seems to work well.

Not the black-eyed peas hummus. Seriously, it must have been more than 15 years ago (my friend is long dead, and I am well into my 40s, so maybe it was even 20 years ago.) It had black-eyed peas, bacon, sour cream, and I forget what else.

Joe and I have found competing recipes. Surely one of them must be what you're looking for!


(Makes about 3 cups) 

10-ounce package of frozen black-eyed peas, or 2/3 cup dried black-eyed peas soaked overnight 

8 bacon slices 

1/2 cup finely chopped onion 

2 cups sour cream 

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 

In a sauce pan, combine the black-eyed peas with 2 slices of the bacon and add water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat; turn the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. (Do not cook for less time, the peas must become very soft.) 

Meanwhile, fry the remaining 6 slices of bacon. Drain on paper towels, crumble and set aside. Strain the cooked peas and bacon, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the bacon.

Put the peas and 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid in a food processor and pure'e. Add more liquid, as needed, and process until the peas are pure'ed and smooth; the mixture should be thick, not runny.

Scrape the pure'e into a bowl and stir in the crumbled bacon, onion, sour cream, lemon and salt and pepper. Allow tastes to blend for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with additional crumbled bacon, if desired.

-- Ellen Ficklen 


(6 servings)

Like the chickpea, the black-eyed pea is actually a bean, the latter recognizable by a small black ring on one side, the former by its round shape, tan color, and pleasantly nutty flavor. Black-eyed peas are mixed with rice to make the classic southern dish, "hoppin' John."

This recipe comes from my former assistant, Marcia Walsh.


1/2 pound black-eyed peas

1 onion

1 carrot

1 stalk celery

1 clove garlic

1 bouquet garni of bay leaf, thyme and parsley


3 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

The juice of 1/2 lemon or lime

1 tablespoon chopped pickled jalapeno chilies

1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno juice 

1 teaspoon cumin seed, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin


3 ounces Smithfield or smoked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice

4 ounces smoked mozzarella or other smoked cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 scallions, stalks chopped, roots discarded

5 tablespoons chopped parsley

A few sprigs parsley for decoration

Pick through the peas, removing any pebbles or stems, and wash. Soak peas in cold water overnight. Cut vegetables in quarters. Place peas, vegetables, bouquet garni seasonings in a large pot with plenty of cold water to cover. Simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, or until tender, but do not overcook. Pour peas into a strainer, refresh under cold water, and drain. Discard vegetables and bouquet garni.

Combine ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl; whisk until smooth. Mix in peas, ham, cheese, scallions and parsley. Correct seasoning, adding salt, pepper or vinegar to taste. The salad should be highly seasoned. Spoon into a bowl and decorate with parsley. 

Steven Raichlen is a New England cookbook author and cooking teacher.

I grow cowpeas in my garden. In parantheses underneath it says black eyed peas. Does anyone know the story on these? Where did the name come from? I have several quarts of these cowpeas that I blanched and then froze. How should I alter the recipe provided in the paper for these frozen cowpeas?

The cowpea is a species all its own, and the black-eyed pea is a subspecies of the cowpea.

According to Texas A&M University:

The name "cowpea" is of American origin and was first used in print in 1798. When this crop was first grown in the United States, it was called "pease," "callicance," and later, "corn-field pease," because of the early custom of planting it between the rows of field corn. It has also been called "southern pea" and "southern field pea." These names distinguished the species from Pisum sativum, the English pea, or garden pea.

I've also heard that cows would eat the remains of the cowpea plants after the harvest, but that could be, to use John Martin Taylor's term, "fakelore."

Your duck recipe got me to wondering why duck is not used more often in soups and stews. I Googled around and found some recipes, but not nearly as many as there are for other kinds of poultry. Do you have a take on this? Does duck require more fuss and bother because of the fat? Any favorite recipes to share?

Today's Dinner in Minutes,  you mean the Hot Duck and Coconut Noodles? I might make it again tonight. I think perhaps duck's not used as much as chicken in soups and stews because confit duck legs are a tad pricey (D'Artagnan's is $8.99 per 5-ounce, bone-in) and the most widely available raw duck parts seem to be duck breasts, which taste mighty good at a barely med-rare.  Roasting a duck takes just a little more effort than a chicken. I hate defrosting things and so I try to get down to Eastern Market to get fresh duck -- am planning to make a duck and sausage gumbo for NYDay, in fact. As for recipes, this Crisp-Skinned Roast Duck is great, and if you want to try making your own confit, here's a way to go. For  a quick spin, I like this Magret of Duck Luke with raspberries and  Maderia. Let's make a pact: More duck (less Newt!) in 2012.

I bought a jar of tahini to make hummus but now have a big jar of it leftover and my house is hummused out. Is there anything else tahini can be used in?

Udon Noodles With Baby Bok Choy will kill off a good 1/2 cup. Also try these flapjacks, cookies or panini.

Udon Noodles With Baby Bok Choy

I got a rotisserie for my Weber charcoal grill for Christmas and love it. I've already cooked duck and chicken on it and am looking for more suggestions. What are some of your favorite rotisserie foods/recipes?

Leg of lamb and cornish hens are fabulous rotisserie foods. Since  you have a Weber, you might check out its website, which is filled with foods/recipes that work on its grills:

We're bring many different cultures to our NYE bash...pork filled tamales, steamed shrimp, mandoo (Korean version of a fried dumpling) hoppin john and fried chicken. Do you have any suggestions on jazzing up our NYE?

Two words: Thieves' Punch. Trust me on this.

Help! I'm looking for a recipe that I know you have but can't find it. It's for a cranberry sauce that is just cranberries, wine, sugar and citrus zest. I have leftover wine from Xmas eve, and leftover crans from the Tiny Tim tarts, and when my mom made this version of the sauce, I put the leftovers over seasoned lamb chops - HEAVEN! Thanks!!!

I believe you're talking about Red Wine Cranberry Sauce.

I enjoyed the article about The Kitchn, which is a new-to-me food website. What are your favorite online sources for recipes and cooking inspiration? Thanks, and have a tasty end to 2011!

Oh, my. So many! I'm sure I'm going to miss some here, but of course Epicurious, but also lots and lots of bloggers: 101 Cookbooks, Poor Man's Feast, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, 5-Second Rule -- oh, no, running out of time and can't remember!

WOO HOO - it is the first one! Thank you! (Wow, 1988.)

Awesome. Good job, Becky.

Spread it on some crackers with salmon. Delicious

Leave it out for a bit so it loosens up, then drizzle some in your oatmeal. Really.

First, best wishes to you, Joe, as you work on your book. I know you'll do a wonderful job. I wrote a novel several years ago; my best advice is to get regular exercise and above all, *leave the chips alone* as you write! Second, which cooking trends would the Free Range staff like to see sink without a trace in 2012?

Thanks! I'll have access to lots of exercise and fresh air because I'll be working the homestead in Maine. There are chickens to feed, seedlings to plant, maple trees to tap, and so much more.

As for what trends can go bye-bye? Hmm. How bout cake pops? Was never into that one.

Other food trends that can disappear: whoopie pies, smears of sauce on plates, spherefied pearls of flavored substances. Over it.

My hope is the same one every year: that people will stop being scared of their food, and stop thinking about it in terms of fats, carbs, sugars and think of it as nourishment. Then eat til you feel full and get away from the computer and go play outside.

I know this is late, but hope you'll see it. I'll miss reading your comments on the chat. Have a great sabatical & come home to us soon! :-)

Thanks so much.

As a cooking for one person, loved your recipes and wish you much luck, but Maine? Are you planning an all lobster cookbook (which I will be the first to buy). But I know the we are in good hands with the Free Range staff.

Too funny! I'm going there because my sister and brother-in-law live there, and one of my projects is on the art of homesteading, or growing almost all your own food, which is what they do. So it'll be an adventure!

I don't really care at all about the local chefs (except for Brian Voltaggio); I'm much more interested in the ones I've seen on television, especially Food Network & Cooking Channel. I admit I did go to The Trellis in Williamsburg because of Marcel (Death by Chocolate) Desaulniers, and I hope to visit a John Besh restaurant on our upcoming trip to New Orleans, but I have no idea who the local chefs are!

Well, I think you're missing out. Bryan's great -- and he's just one of many fantastic local chefs whom you would do well to know. (Or at least to know their work.) Frank Ruta of Palena and Johnny Monis of Komi and Little Serow are good examples of local chefs who shun the spotlight, will never have a television show because they're not interested in such, and whose work I would put up against ANYONE on the FN or CC. For what it's worth, either of them would blow John Besh out of the water, IMHO.

I think your comment -- assuming it is genuine -- demonstrates the power of television. Television can make a chef a celebrity but it can't make them a better cook. We have plenty of really talented cooks in the Washington area who are devoted to their culinary skills, not turning themselves into a household name.

Joe named Ruta and Monis, both huge talents. I would add Cathal Armstrong, Sudhir Seth (of Passage to India in Bethesda), Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola), Nick Stefanelli (Bibiana) and the reigning Chef of the Year, Jose Andres, who's as big as any chef in the country right now.

In other words, get off the couch and into a local restaurant. You might like what you taste.

Just wondering. Why don't you care about them? Do you eat at their restaurants? They source local products and are true artisans at their craft. Some of them, like Scott Drewno at The Source, teach classes from time to time so you can get that "performance" bit of the puzzle you think you're missing. Besides Drewno, who's kick-a**, I'd toss in these chefs' names:  Mike Isabella, Ris Lacoste, Brian McBride, Todd Gray, Tracy O'Grady, Jeff Tunks.

I find that my crockpot is the best way to cook beans. If I use Rancho Gordo beans, they usually don't need soaking, though out of habit, I'll put them in water in the crock for an hour or two before turning the heat on. Other beans I soak overnight, but I've even had good luck with Goya supermarket beans soaking for a couple of hours in the crock and then cooking up nicely. I usually start on high for a couple of hours and then go to low until they're done.

Another option is to buy the small single serve bottles, often sold in four-packs. Now, the wine is not great, but it's decent enough for recipes where it's not the star, like risotto.


Boa viagem e bom apetito!


Thank you so much for the tip!!! I made the roast for Christmas using the method described in the chat last week and it was amazing. As in divine. I seasoned it with some black lava salt that I got in Hawaii, sea salt, and cracked black pepper. When I put it in the oven I added some sprigs of thyme on top. I did make a mistake and forget to turn the oven off for about 10 of the 70 minutes but it still came out perfect and I will be making this again (when I can afford that cut of meat again!).

You're welcome!

Family friends will be coming for the New Year's Weekend. They will arrive on Saturday after a 6+ hour car ride, coming off of a week of family vacation. Not quite sure what time they will arrive, but I'd like to have a nice meal ready. Limitations are 3 young kids and a pesca-vegetarian. Any suggestions?

Pasta and salad...make one or two dishes ahead that include roasted vegetables, cook up fresh pasta for the kids -- sometimes butter's the only thing they like on it -- and you're good.

I've been eating more beans and usually prepare mine from dried beans, including buying some great ones from Rancho Gordo. Sometimes, though, I want to prepare something quickly and use canned beans. I rinse them thoroughly before using. Does that get rid of most of the salt? I want to make sure I don't eat too much sodium. Not good for my blood pressure! Thanks!

Indeed, according to the Bean Institute, "a 2009 study conducted at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, showed that draining beans removes, in average, 36% of the sodium in canned beans. Draining and rinsing removes, on average, 41% of the sodium." You can also source no-salt-added beans.

I was "gifted" two bottles of chocolate wine at a Christmas party this year. Both contain a red wine and chocolate syrup concoction, and one of the bottles also includes some sort of shelf-stable cream. I tried the one without cream, and could not bring myself to swallow it. Is there something I can do with these wines-cook them into a sauce perhaps-to use them? Or should I just dump them?

I would look into how you could cut them and turn them into a wine-based cocktail. Maybe with fruit purees, juices and/or flavored vodkas? I'd experiment, especially since I'm on vacation! (Well, sort of on vacation.)

Also: boxed wine! I know Franzia has given them a bad name, but wineries are boxing increasingly good-quality wines, and they stay good for almost ever. I get mine from D'Vine's in Columbia Heights.


I'm not the person who asked about it, but the recipe with the sour cream and bacon sounds AMAZING. Thank should look through the old recipes more often.

Wait--where are the new year's resolutions? I, for one, want to see them, but am sad that I'm missing that (and likely other articles) because you all don't include headlines or descriptors for every piece. Honestly, I'm not going to click on "Dish" or some other generic link just on the off-chance there's a new article., you've been promising to build a better site for years now; how's that coming?

You sound like an excellent candidate for the RSS feed. You can subscribe and see everything that we publish to the Web.

I found a Beef Stew slow cooker recipe that uses a tablespoon of Gravy Master or Kitchen Bouquet. What is the purpose of that ingredient and, actually, what is it?? The recipe uses lots of tomato (a can of condensed tomato soup and a tablespoon of tomato paste).

We're almost outta time. Gravy Master's best used for the rich color it adds to said stew, especially done in a slow cooker where you don't get that caramelized effect from searing the meat beforehand. It's a mixture of apple cider, spices, caramelized onion, I think.

Well, you've let us rest for at least 10 minutes and then served us whole, directly from the baking sheet, letting guests to help themselves to a portion of us, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and hope you got something helpful from our a's. 

Now for the giveaway books. The chatter who told me to stay away from the chips and asked about cooking trends we're tired of will get a copy of "Serve  Yourself." The chatter looking for NYE splurge will get "Good Food to Share." Just send your mailing info to Becky at, and she'll get them to you.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

On a personal note, thanks for the good wishes -- I'll see you in 2013, unless I come on for a guest appearance now and then, which might just happen.

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