Dec 29, 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. 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.

Welcome, food people, to your weekly chat. What's on your brain today? Did Kristen Hinman's ode to kombucha make you want to try your hand at this science experiment? I've got my SCOBYs all set to go. Did David Hagedorn's new take on casseroles get your stomach growling? Did I give you some new ideas for soups to cook for yourself when you're feeling crummy? We're ready to talk about all that, and more: New Year's plans, cocktails, nibbles, whatever. So let's do this thing.

Oh, before I start, we'll have some giveaway books to entice you. Three for our favorite posts: "Healing Spices" by Bharat B. Aggarwal, "Drinkology" by James Waller, and "The Good Neighbor Cookbook" by Sara Quessenberry and Suzanne Schlosberg.

Now go.

Kristin, thanks for identifying the simplicity of home-brewing this pricey drink. I think I'll take a crack at growing my own tea! As I read the article, lots of questions came to mind, but I'll boil my curiosity down to a these questions: 1) can you recommend the best glassware to use for brewing and bottling? On the bottles, would we be well served to retain a dozen or so store-bought bottles to reuse for the home brew? properly rinsed and dried, can they be used again and again? 2) I've had GT bottles emit a puck of goo in the drink. Is this the SCOBY and can I salvage a "starter SCOBY" via a store-bought drink, or do I need to get one via a reputable SCOBY dealer? Are some SCOBYs better than others? 3) You say that we can retain the SCOBY for reuse for the mother or the baby SCOBY preferable to use for the next batch, or are they equally healthy? How should we store the SCOBY(s) to limit the likelihood of mold growing? As the SCOBY's multiply, are we able to then make larger batches?

Fantastic questions, all. I'll take them in order.

1) Definitely never use anything but glassware for brewing. I purchased big basic vessels from Target that do the trick for me. You can also try The Container Store and similar shops. For bottling, we like to use big half-gallon Ball jars. We only serve ourselves 4 ounces per serving, so it makes sense for us to keep the brew in these bigger Ball jars and then just pour from there. They wash easily in the dishwasher and can be used for years.

2) I think you're talking about the little strands of culture that you sometimes find in storebought kombucha or homemade kombucha that has been sitting for a bit. I would not recommend trying to start a SCOBY from any of these strands. The food scientists I consulted say that starting your own culture is where food safety problems can occur. Play it safe and obtain a culture online through a seller or through someone who has been brewing kombucha successfully. You also ask if some SCOBYs are better than others. Yes, I think so. I've noticed this in my own batches, as I've changed the proportions of sugar to tea and the tea flavors. Some batches have made really smooth ivory-colored SCOBYs. Others have produced darker, gnarlier SCOBYs. Both end up working, but I think the whiter SCOBYs have produced more pungent batches. I think the experimentation is part of the fun. 

3) I always keep at least one mother in reserve in the fridge, so that I won't lose my source material, if you will. I frequently store my new "baby" in the fridge and then brew my next batch with the mother that started the previous batch. In the fridge, the growth of the culture slows -- but it does continue to grow. So I like to build up the babies a little in the fridge and then use them once they've gotten a bit thicker. I've found that the thicker SCOBYs produce nice results. If you get into a position of "overstock," you can compost SCOBYs or, of course, give away or sell. As far as storing in the fridge, I simply store in a Ball jar with some kombucha tea. You want the culture to be in the liquid -- that way it'll continue to grow, slowly, and mold won't form. Whatever vessel you choose, make sure it's glass.

I have a new cookbook with several stew recipes that look good. They all follow the same steps - sear the meat on the stovetop, saute the other ingredients, add liquids - then the stews go into a 450-degree oven for 1 hour 15 minutes. That temperature is making me a bit nervous. I think of stew as a "low and slow" item. Am I wrong to be nervous?

I think you're right. I share your nervousness. Can I ask what book it is?

I need to bring a dessert to a potluck on Friday. Because of various allergies, this dessert should not have any chocolate or nuts in it (I'm including peanuts in the "nuts" category, just in case). Would love something somewhat impressive but fairly easy and with ingredients I have on hand and in season. Would love to stay away from pie dough. Any thoughts?

Try this recipe for Bananas Foster Charlotte. Ladyfingers soaked with rum, vanilla mousse with bananas, meringue topping. You don't have to light it on fire, but it would really make it a smash hit if you do.

Hi Jim Shahin. Are you going to do something on cold smoking? I would like to make my own smoked salmon but it scares me to do it. Should I just not bother and buy the stuff at the store? tia.

    Actually, I hadn't thought about doing a cold-smoking piece. But I love the idea, especially since it is better to cold-smoke in cold weather than in hot because the temperatures outside make it easier to keep the temperature inside the smoking chamber low. 

    Fish, cheese, bacon, and nuts all take well to cold smoking. Basically, you smoke at a very low temperature (around 100 degrees, though it varies) for a very long time (4-8 hours, commonly, depending on what you are smoking). 

     Ideally, you would have a traditional smoker, which is to say, something with a separate firebox. 

     I'll see about doing a story on this in upcoming months and go into more detail. Till then, give it a try. Or, yeah, buy. 

Perfect One-Dish Dinners by Pam Anderson. I checked it out of the library.

Oh, Pam's recipes are really good. I'm not nervous anymore. I'm sure she's accounting for the time and temp with the cut of meat and other ingredients, so I say go forth with no fear and try something. Let us know how it goes.

Thanks. There is a pork stew with sweet potatoes and prunes that looks interesting and good for this weekend. I'll report back next week.


I never know if I should boil country ribs before grilling. Any ideas?

Yeah. I have an idea: don't. 

Boiling ribs diminishes their flavor and can make the texture rubbery.

You want deep-flavored ribs? Smoke 'em. And do not boil them first (or, at all). 

Hi. I was so glad to see the kombucha article. I have been thinking about making my own ever since I tasted some. If I do not want to brew and leave the SCOBY in a jar, doesn't it need to be fed?

Glad you enjoyed it. I say go for it! Now to your question: I haven't discovered through my own experimenting or many, many conversations with home brewers that the SCOBY needs to be fed. On the contrary, I actually heard from people who say they've left SCOBYs for years untouched and still found them to be productive. I would be sure to just leave the SCOBY in at least a cup or more of fermented kombucha. The SCOBY will continue to grow in the cold fridge, but it'll do so very slowly. Over time you'll see it thicken.

I would like to get my flour and sugar out of the ziplock bags and into something a little more permanent, but I'm not sure what storage options would keep these staples fresher: canisters with a plastic seal in the lid or plastic containers such as OXO Pop or Lock & Lock. What do you all use? Thanks!

I use  square Tupperware canisters large enough to hold large bags of sugar and flour and keep them in  an under-the -counter cabinet on a roll-out shelf nearthe floor. They are labeled on the lids. Very easy to get to. If I want, I can take the bowl and scoop right to the canisters,  or lift them out easily to take to my workspace, which is steps away. I love that I can push the shelf back in with my foot.

I use round ones from the Container Store that I like a lot, but I've been eyeing those OXO Pops. I'm an OXO whore.

Having made dashi often, shouldn't the seaweed of choice in Joe Yonan's Ginger-Carrot soup recipe be kombu and not wakame?

Kombu is the traditional one, but it's not nearly as easy to find as wakame, so I tested it that way and it worked great.

Hi, David, Comment/question about your bechamel instructions today. You suggested gradually adding the liquid to the roux, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. I've done this, but it involves a lot of whisking and sometimes there are a few lumps anyway. Have you ever tried adding cold liquid all at once, and then whisking? It needs a lot less whisking that way... good for someone with weak hands or arthritis for sure... or else someone who is just lazy. And there are never any lumps. Anyway, the recipes sounded great! Nothing like a good salmon noo-noo. Yum.

You know, you bring up a good point. Somehwere along the way, a lot of people got it into their heads that you are supposed to add warm liquids to roux, which is totally incorrect. That's where lumps come from. You are right, though. You can really add all the cold liquid and then whisk, but I still like to add some first and smooth it out, then add the rest and whisk. it just seems to dissipate the flour better, or maybe it just makes me feel better doing it that way.

I like to use glass jars with those wire snaps around the edges. Anything with a good seal.

My partner is a real foodie and I bought him an induction cooktop for Christmas. We tried it last night and I really think it is just an overly expensive hot plate. Are induction cooktops going to be the wave of the future or just a fad?

I vote for wave of the future, especially as the price point keeps coming down. You didn't find that it heats up WAY faster than any other way: regular electric, gas, certainly a hot plate? I also like that so much more of the energy goes directly into heating the pan/food rather than heating the air.

I have practically all my dry goods in various sizes of them, and they're AWESOME. No more clumpy white sugar, solidified brown sugar, spoiled nuts, etc. They don't come cheap, but I highly recommend them.

I'm always a fan of a really good pie--everyone likes a good pie. Use a crumb topping. It's easy, beautiful, and always a really big hit. Do something interesting and in-season like caramelized pear.

Does using glass or nonreactive pots also apply to the water boiling and tea making?

Great question. Since the SCOBY doesn't come into contact with the pot in which you're making the sweet tea, you can use a metal pot. For the actual two-week-ish fermenting of the kombucha, and the storing of the SCOBY in the fridge after you've brewed, you want to use glass. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this feature on casseroles--minus the processed cheeses and condensed soups! I have been SEARCHING for just these exact kinds of recipes; I'm expecting our second baby in March, and it's time to stock the freezer with "homemade TV dinners." I like to bake them first, then portion them out for individual servings, then wrap and freeze--it just makes it easier reheat for two adults and one toddler. Of course, one or two will get made and frozen whole, for times when we invite friends over and want to give them something good to eat that doesn't involve a takeout menu. Thanks again--EXACTLY what I've been looking for!

Thanks for your kind words. I'm with you on the idea of freezing baked-off casseroles.  I had the lamb shepherd's pie in the freezer from the photo shoot and could not have been happier last night to remember that it was in the freezer. We had been out of town for 5 days, there was no food in the house and I had a lot of work to do. I heaved a sigh of relief when I opened the freezer.

It's also great to freeze in portions. When I have to go out to dinner, it's easy for my partner to pop the smaller portions in the oven or microwave. And they make quick lunches for me while I work at home.

Thanks for the reply re: feeding a SCOBY. Guess it isn't like sourdough... I tasted kombucha for the first time when a woman was talking about raw food for dogs. She adds kombucha to her product, which is sold commercially. One day there may be more research on what the benefits are - probiotics, trace minerals.

Interesting! More research would be a great thing. It's expensive to do human clinical trials, but folks I spoke with said trials on kombucha are not out of the realm of possibility.

what does mutton taste like

Extra-gamey lamb.

Does anyone have any information on what health benefits kombucha has? I was curious and tried it once. I was surprised that about a third of the bottle fizzed up and overflowed once I opened it. How normal is that?

I've had the same problem with kombucha that I've purchased at groceries. It's annoying to lose half the drink after shelling out so much for it. The thing is that the carbonation builds up as the drink sits untouched. So if a bottle's been on a grocery shelf for a good long while, and was already pretty carbonated when the cap was sealed, you could be wearing it. You may see less of this as the commercial kombucha makers continue to tweak their beverages to cut down on the fermentation after bottling. But the nice thing about making kombucha at home is that you don't really have this problem if you are brewing and drinking regularly. The only time you need to be really careful is when you let the bottled kombucha sit on the counter to carbonate for a few days. As soon as the cap on the jar is taut, refrigerate!

So I read you guys every week and love your suggestions, however, it dawned on me recently that I don't really know your tastes. So if you HAD to eat at a mainstream chain restaurant where would you eat? Would you be Macaroni Grill or Olive Garden, Longhorn or Outback, Chick-Fil-A or Wendy's or dare I say it McDonald's/Burger King? I know some of these may be cringe worthy but I have to say Chick-Fil-A is a family favorite for us! Thanks guys and Happy New Year!!!!

I'm a Chick-Fil-A man myself. Love those sammies. And every time I go I remember how my dad, king of the malaprops, used to call it "Chick-a-Fil" when we were kids. I would say, "Dad, don't you get it? Fill-A, like fillet!" He didn't get it. Then again, he liked to take us to ice cream shops and ask for three large Dairy Queens, meaning cones -- which didn't go over so well when we weren't at an actual DQ.

Anyway, that's a tangent. Back to your question, that's really the only one of your list that I'm anxious to get to. My only complaint: Not open on Sundays, which seems to be when I'm always driving past one.

Me, I am a sucker for Five Guys. I admit to a McDonald's craving now and then, too. I kind of like Chipotle, but am always just a bit more disappointed than I want to be - although, expecting disappointment, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised. Yeah, gets a little philosophical in those chain restaurants sometimes. 

I'm with Jim. Five Guys all the way. Never been tempted by Chick Fil-A. And since I've moved to D.C., I've been loving sweet green. I think they're opening in Philly soon. 

Well, Five Guys all the way, if that counts in this category. I also LOVE a salad from Chipotle. I respect that they have found a way to source ingredients with integrity and incorporate them into a business model that works. I get the greens, chicken, hot salsa, crema, guacamole and cheese on it. It's one of my favorite salads.

Joe -- I'm glad you have come up with a name for my addiction -- "Oxo whore" -- I absolutely love everything Oxo -- they have the greatest silicone spatulas -- good to 650 degrees, measuring cups, tongs, reamers, etc., etc. and most importantly the greatest salad spinner (continues to win with Cooks Illustrated).

Yep, my devotion to them is well-documented.

I had planned to make shirley temples for the boys for New Year's eve, but my mom thinks that a girlie named drink stinks. So what else can I make my 4 year old to sip while we are toasting?

You can always rename the Shirley Temple something like The Hulk or The Pirate! I have two boys who like their mocktails, which I wrote about here a while ago. One that they really like is the Dark Invader.

Another question, if you'll permit me. Hosting dinner for London-based colleagues on a Saturday evening in a couple of weeks. I was thinking short ribs and checked the Recipe Finder. Do I want to go Mahogany Short Ribs or the Asian-Style Short Ribs? And, what else would you suggest to round out the menu? Thanks!

I love those Mahogany Short Ribs. They're great with polenta or with pureed potatoes, but I think they'd also be lovely with one of my favorite holiday dishes that's of course great for non-holidays, too: Sweet Potato Grits Spoonbread. And cooked greens, or a nice fresh green salad.

Joe, welcome back! Hope to see you back for Top Chef watching next week. :-)

Thanks! I'll be back, indeed: live Tweeting and then dissecting on our video chat w/Ms. B.

For the bbq guru (two questions). I'm making a rib roast for new year's day. There seems to be some online debate about the need to sear a roast prior to grilling it. I don't think it's necessary - i just put it on the grill, indirect, until the temp gets to 125. But I see some folks searing it first over high heat and then indirect grilling it and swearing their religion to it. What's your take? Also, what wood would you rec for a rib roast to give some flav? I usually use none (just use charcoal) but i have hickory, apple, and mesqite chunks and chips. Maybe pear too but i'm not sure if the pear tree is a real pear tree. It's called a pear tree but never have any pears come off it and it's not my tree either but I got wood from it. Make sense? I also was thinking about wrapping my grill in a fire proof blanket to keep it warm for better heat retention when i'm cooking. That should be OK right? Have you done this? I think I saw a competition where they did it. Doesn't seem safe though for a Weber kettle. Mabye an offset?

Two questions? I think I counted about 40.

First, searing. I am a sear man. I've read the articles about how it is unnecessary, how it doesn't really make a difference, how it may even damage the final product, yada yada. But, searing was good enough for my ancestors, it's good enough for me. Plus, I love that charr-y, carmelized exterior. 

Second, fuel. Absolutely fine to go only with charcoal. But I would use a combination of mesquite chips (which burns fast, for searing) and, to smoke, some apple chunks (mild flavor, burns nice). Don't know what to tell you about the whole pear tree thing. 

Third, fire-proof blanket. I have never used one and have no opinion on it except to say that I never felt the need for one. Any Rangers out there used one?

Okay, so maybe not 40 questions. Hope I answered the ones you asked. 

Happy New Year! Please tell, where is the recipe for the White Bean soup by Carole Robert mentioned on the first page of the Washington Post. Thanks

Thanks, and you, too! That wasn't a key to a recipe, it was a key to Tom Sietsema's First Bite column on Annie's Bistro Francais, in which he talked about loving her soup.

I'm French and my family would probably disown me if they knew that I'm planning on serving Trader Joe's cheese fondue for an appetizer at a New Year's party I'm hosting. I usually make my own using Emmenthaler and Gruyere (which are not cheap) but for one, I've spent enough money on the darn party and for 20 people, I'd have to get a lot of cheese so.....has anyone tried that fondue and can give some feedback? I'm not talking about the beer cheese fondue but the other one, it comes in a box and was located in the cheese section of Trader Joe's. Happy New Year!

I haven't tried, but have been tempted. Any chatters with firsthand knowledge?

Are there locations or stores in the DC area that sell the SCOBY, or does one have to go online to get it? How can you be sure you're getting the right product?

I haven't found any D.C. store that sells SCOBYs. If you look at the recipe we provided, there are a couple sources of online sellers. Or you could check Craigslist, which is what I did. If you do get the SCOBY from someone who's been home brewing, I would just ask them some questions about their brewing - what's worked and what hasn't, have they ever had mold, etc. The SCOBY will look kind of like a pancake. If it doesn't have any mold on it, you should be fine. You can also feel free to contact me offline - I'm sure I can hook you up with some of my spares. 

If you want to do the latter, send us a note to, and we'll forward it to Kristen.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to eat more vegetables, and I want to get started early. I'm looking into buying a mandoline for slicing vegetables. I want to be able to do julienne cut as well as thin slices. I'm looking for a smart way to shop for a mandoline, but don't really have any experience with them.

I tested a range of mandolines several years ago, and really like two brands: the Oxo Good Grips and the cheaper, more compact Super Benriner, from Japan. The former, I'd say, is good if you're going to do lots and lots of slicing -- it has legs so it can stand, and its blades have more variation and ability to do different sizes of slices and julienne cuts. But the Benriner is a really good less expensive option if you're doing smaller quantities and don't need as much variety in the cuts.

I am going to have a Bloody Mary bar for a hair of the dog/Winter Classic viewing party on Jan 1. Besides the obvious, what ingredients should I include? And where does one find fresh horseradish?

Here was my magnus opus on the Bloody Mary. My personal favorite is the Veggie Red Snapper, for which you'll need -- besides tomato juice and vodka -- celery bitters, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. I'm not big on the horseradish, but maybe other readers have recipes they make using that.

My sister lives in Basel and the TJs fondue is exactly what they sell in Switzerland for the Swiss. Plus, it saves you from buying kirsch.

Great -- thanks!

I just bought a new OXO 2 cup plastic liquid measuring cup to replace my old one which had cracked. The new one felt much thicker than the old so I weighed it and it is grams heavier. Definitely an improvement. Maybe this one won't crack. BTW, I couldn't find a Free-Range link on the website's home page.

Gotcha -- thanks! On your latter point, though, I checked the home page earlier and it was all working! But we'll check again.

Kristen, Thanks for the answers to my three (so far) kombucha questions. I have been overthinking the process - like for three months or so! One obstacle: where to get a SCOBY - and I have been on the internet and saw your suggestions in the recipe, so I know they are out there. I just don't know what I will be getting or how it was produced. Overthinking again? (This is my first Post chat.)

I hear you completely. As my essay indicates I was a bit of a head-case when (before) I started. The SCOBY has a mind of its own. According to the microbiologists, as long as you don't see mold on a SCOBY, you should be OK. (I haven't seen mold once. Many folks I talked to who've been brewing for years have never seen mold.) I would ask a lot of questions of the person you buy or get the SCOBY from. Also feel free to contact me offline and maybe I can hook you up with some of my spares.

Hey Jim, love your column. Planning on doing black eyed peas for New Years. It it possible to smoke them???

     You can smoke black-eyed peas by simply cooking them over indirect heat on your kettle grill or offset smoker. I'd recommend using oak chips or chunks for a deep but mild smoky flavor. 

     For around $100, you can buy something called a Smoking Gun and smoke your black-eyed peas (and other items) that way. It is good for those who don't have backyards, as it is intended for indoor use. But make sure you open a window for a few minutes - the smoke tends to stay in the house otherwise. 

Glassware for the scary tea: Homebrew shops have good stuff for this kind of thing.

Excellent idea.

Question for Jason - I'm currently reading, and much enjoying, your book, and you have a section on the pleasures of genever, prompting a two part question (if I can push my luck!) First, is genever available at any DC area liquor stores, maybe Ace? Second, what cocktails can I use this in? Like, could I just substitute it for gin in a martini, or is that a horrible idea? I can certainly dive into some trial and error, but can you point me in the right direction? Thanks, and happy new year!

I know that Ace Beverage definitely has genever, and probably some of the other bigger stores by now. Bols is the most widely available. Genever is best used in cocktails that would normally call for whiskey. So using it in something like and Old Fashioned is nice -- and if you add a dash of Cointreau or absinthe or maraschino that mix it's even nicer (there's a variation of this on p 66 of my book btw) . Another one is to make a John Collins, a Tom Collins that subs in genever. A John Collins, for me, is the best expression of that drink.

Hey you guys! I absolutely adore the chat. You all are the biggest help. Maybe you can help me with this one - I'm having a few friends over on NY Day for late brunch to watch football (and hopefully a big Caps win). I was going to have mimosas and b. marys, and some sort of breakfast casserole - but what to make? And probably some finger food to munch in front of the tv, but I'm having a hard time thinking of "brunchy" finger food. Help?

Try this great brunch casserole. It's a cinch to make the night before, in fact, it is best that you do. You can get some other brunch pointers for a piece I wrote here several years ago, This Brunch Needs a Makeover. For finger foods, I like to make smishes, usually out of store bought things, like cream cheese, smaoked salmon, chopped ham, veggies, etc. and serve them with bagel chips or fresh bagels or biscuits. Some kind of fruit on skewers is always a good idea, as are some grilled or roassted veggies, assorted olives, cheeses, and charcuterie with assorted breads and crackers.

Hi Jason - My wife bought me a bottle of Lillet for Christmas (along with re-stocking my Bourbon and Campari supplies). Any suggestions for cocktails involving the Lillet? Bourbon is number one in our house, followed by Tequila, and then Gin. Thanks!

I love Lillet Blanc, and there are a lot of cocktails you can make with it. With gin, try the Corpse Reviver #2 or the Unusual Negroni. With anejo tequila, I like the Nouveau Carre. With bourbon, I don't really have much. But with cognac there is the Hoopla and with pisco, there's the Viceroy (below). Finally, I replacing dry vermouth with Lillet in a martini. Good luck!

My sister and I got Shirley Temples - my brother got a Davy Crockett. Kids now probably wouldn't know what that means but then again, what kid knows who Shirley Temple is anymore?

You're right. Just tell kids that Shirley Temple is the name of an action figure. Or for the older ones, tell them it's the name of a death metal band...

You made a very interesting point. I've been using WaPo recipes for a while and discovered that some "Rangers" have my tastebuds and some definitely don't. I have repeatedly made recipes "tested" by a certain Ranger that look great on paper, but don't deliver and I've also made recipes "tested" by another Ranger that were not as appealing to me when I read the ingredients list, but became keepers, because they come out so gooooood. This particular ranger introduced me to a lot of new ingredients I would have not normally use, but now can't live without.

Taste is definitely subjective, but keep in mind that in the testing we're also trying to make sure that the recipe operates as directed: that the timing, amounts, descriptions work. But you're of course right that some people's "good" isn't others'. Glad you've been with us long enough to know how things work for you.

Jim, I'm of Lebanese descent and, of course, we love our "kibbee" - we've had it raw, fried, baked and boiled - how about smoking the "kibbee kebabs"???

As it happens, I, too, am of Lebanese descent and I have smoked kibbee (ground lamb, seasonings, and bulger wheat). The first time I did it was at my son's high school graduation party and my traditionalist mother had what she calls a kinipchin (sp?) fit. 

But I gotta tell ya, it turned out so good that I did it again with extended family and they loved it. Depending on the level of smoke you want, you can either use a heavier wood, like oak, or something lighter, like apple. 


Happy Holidays all. Great article Joe, I'm always on the lookout for restorative soups. I got a simple broth from a local morning news show feat. green onion tops, fresh ginger, sliced jalapeno and ginseng. Pour hot water over and let steep for a few minutes. Fantastic for the early signs of a cold. How do you store fresh ginger and how long can it last? I can never use it up fast enough and have to toss it out.

Nice -- that sounds right up my alley. I store fresh ginger in the crisper, not wrapped, and it lasts me a couple of weeks. But then again, I go through a lot.

Howdy ... Exchanging the Black & Decker food processor for a beefier unit? Should we get a KitchenAid ... leaning toward the KFP750 12 cup with flat panel controls for easier cleaning? Or ???? Thanks.

I'd be tempted to get this Cuisinart because of its multiple, nested work bowls. It's so great to be able to have something smaller or bigger when one or the other is required.

I would like to infuse my own rum with perhaps some citrics or berries. How I can do this?

Two infused rums that I've made at home are falernum (infused with lime peels, cloves, and almonds) and Todd Thrasher's spiced rum -- much better than old Captain Morgan. Check those links to see how it's done. Haven't done anything with berries yet.

Thanks for the article - the YES! by my house has a big sign that says, "RAW KOMBUCHA is back!" I've been afraid to ask what it is!

See what you've been missing!

The commercial stuff started reappearing in August and September. My advice is to start small. Drink no more than 4 ounces from that 16-ounce bottle when trying it for the first time.

I used to have a kitchenaid. I now have that exact cuisinart. I love the cuisinart much more. Just note that it has a large footprint and can be a real pain to clean.

Good to know. Thanks!

On the website, a reader compares the different models of Cuisinart food processors in the 14-cup bowls size. It's very informative...and discouraged me from the version with nested bowls. Check it out.

Any advise on easy to do cocktails with anise liquor besides on the rocks or with rum?

Anise liquors can be difficult to mix with. Not sure exactly what you have? Sambuca? Ouzo? Etc? If it's Pernod, you can sub that for absinthe in just about any recipe. In fact, why not try subbing what anise liqueur you have in something like the Phoebe Snow or the Fourth Degree?

I have read instructions that include straining the brew. Did you find this was necessary?

I've had a lot of laughs in my kitchen over this one. My husband loves the tea but is pretty freaked out by the little strands of culture that can form in the big bottle once it's refrigerated. So, when he pours it for himself, he often strains with a tea strainer.

Good idea. I just hopped on, typed "kombucha scoby" and got a bunch of hits. Looks like only one or two sellers who have a lot of supplies.

Doesn't anyone else think it's the most vile thing on the planet like I do? It's like drinking vinegar! Am I the only one?

You're definitely not the only one! We served some recently to a pair of friends. The husband threw his back. The wife took a few sips but was clearly struggling.

The thing is that if you tasted a homebrewed batch, it could have been left to brew for too long.

Cook's Illustrated recently did a review and found that the KitchenAid 12-Cup Food Processor KFP750 was the best. Although the Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor was also recommended.

Jim, we have purchased smoked ham hocks, but can you smoke them at home and, if so, how would you do it??? Guess it would also apply to a fresh ham???? Thanks.

   Yes, you can smoke ham hocks at home. You can either "double-smoke" already smoked ham hocks to get a deeper flavor. Or you can buy unsmoked ham hocks and smoke them yourself. 

    To tenderize them, some folks use a brine for roughly six hours or longer. But you don't have to. What you want to do is season them with your favorite rub (though nothing too spicy, as these will be used to flavor something else - greens, say). Then, over an indirect fire, around 225 degrees, smoke using whatever wood you like (hickory is nice here) for about five hours or until they reach an internal temp of about 155 degrees. 

     The difference between your own smoked ham hocks and store-bought ones is incredible.

    As for ham, that gets a little complicated and we're running out of time. I'll get into that another time. 

My younger brother is turning 21 in a few days and I wanted to get him a beginner mixologist set, aka basics for making your own drinks. I was thinking a shaker, a tumbler, and a few glasses. Any other suggestions? Where's a good place to buy these? I'd also like to keep the budget down but don't to go too cheapo.

I think the best bet for bar supplies is usually a restaurant/bar supply store. You'll get reasonably priced stuff that's the same thing pros use. I would suggest a Boston shaker (one side tin, one side mixing glass), a strainer, a long barspoon, and -- importantly -- a jigger to measure. And probably some cocktail (martini) classes and either rocks or highball glasses?

Thanks for the interesting piece, David. I grew up on casseroles--mainly from Sunset magazine--thanks to my working mom. I don't make them often but am now inspired to do so more often. One of my childhood favs was Tamale Pie. Do you happen to have a favorite recipe for that?

I don't, but maybe you're onto something for Casseroles, Part 2!

Coke and Grenadine (basically a cherry coke) was called a Roy Rogers. Is that boyish enough? Still yummy.

If they don't know who Shirley Temple was, they probably don't know Roy Rogers, either. (Wasn't he the guy who made hamburgers?)

Say, Jim, people are sending in all kinds of questions about wines, liquors, drinks and such. With barbeques of various types, do you have any suggestions of types of alcoholic drinks - wide range question, I know, but I'm sure you'll have a darned good answer!!!

I'd steer toward cocktails with bourbon or rum when it comes to barbecue.

I am going to be cooking a small dinner for just me and my boyfriend this year. i'll be at his place, so will have decidedly less in terms of pans, tools, etc. I am leaning toward the Julia Child quick saute of beef for two (subbing artichokes for the pear onions), but was wondering if you had any other idea for something that is fancy, good for just two, and doesn't require every advanced kitchen gadget out there?

You could try these Jiffy Papillotes of Salmon. You can prep them at your place and then just pop them in the oven on a cookie sheet or even a sheet on aluminum foil. Or here is a pomano en papillote recipe that is the same kind of packet-cooking dish. (Easy clean-up!)

For beef, you could just buy and extra thick bone-in rib-eye steak, sear it and finish it in the oven, then let it rest, take it off the bone and cut it into neat vertical slices. Use the pan drippings and a composed butter (say, garlic and herbs, or shallot and red wine) to make a quick, easy sauce. I'd serve that with scalloped potatoes (potato gratin) and Brussels sprouts (I do them in a Ziploc bag in the microwave) or a nice frisee salad.

Not much gadgetry here!

We have an annual post-holiday party, which will be next weekend (always a hit because people's schedules are more open in January!). It's usually pretty crowded, so only a small number of people can actually sit. On top of that, I don't have warming dishes. All that adds up to a menu of finger food that can be eaten at room temperature. Am I missing other options? I like to enjoy the party, so I don't want to continually refresh food by warming in the oven, and it seems too hard to serve things that require a fork when people can't sit or hold their drink. So I usually do crostini, another dip, cheese platter, some homemade cookies, spiced nuts. Any other ideas?

Here's a good layered dip recipe you can use. Also, deviled eggy crab spead (below), smoked salmon smish, and vegetable smish. Other than this type of thing, I'd do an array of grilled veggies and then something major, like a roast tenderloin sliced thin or a smoked turkey or a paoched side of salmon---these things can get piled onto piece of bread or biscuits and make an impressive display. Aslo, buy some little pastries from an outsdie source. Here are some tips on party-throwing.

I'm getting married soon and I'm working on completing my registry. What essential cooking equipment or cookbooks should I have on there?

I always advise people to buy 100 all-purpose white luncheon plates and 100 all-purpose (like Anchor Hocking), 12-ounce goblets. You will have them forever and then you are set for large parties for the rest of your life. Ban the plastic cups and plates!

Well, you've capped us and left us in a cupboard for 2 to 3 days, checking our seal, and now the seal is taut, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Kristen, David, Jason and Jim for helping us answer them. (Deputy ed Bonnie will be back in the room next week.)

Now for the book giveaways: The chatter who gave me the recipe for the simple broth will get "Healing Spices." The one who asked David about freezing casseroles will get "The Good Neighbor Cookbook." And the one who asked about Shirley Temples for boys will get "Drinkology." Send your mailing info to, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy drinking, eating and reading. And Happy New Year!

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