Free Range on Food

Dec 31, 2013

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! We're chatting a day early today, because of the holiday tomorrow. What's on your mind?

We just put tomorrow's stories online: There's Steph's great collection of fish recipes to get you to eat more seafood; Domenica Marchetti's fun portrait of the Italian winter feast called La Panarda; and Tom's take on Michel Richard's new NYC place.

Domenica, Stephanie, Carrie "Spirits" Allan and Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin will all help answer questions today, so fire away!

I have an old baking sheet that no matter what I do, seems to perpetually have a oily sheen that comes up from the corners into any water on the pan. I've tried scrubbing, I put soap directly on it, use hot hot water, nothing. I just got a new sheet pan, and would like to a) keep it pretty, and therefor b) salvage the old pan for some uses. Any hints on how to get it clean?

Try Barkeepers Friend. It's available in most supermarkets with the specialty cleaners. It's a very fine abrasive and it works wonders without damage.

I second that recommendation! Love BKF.

The Q&A for Dec. 24 ends in the middle. I've sent two requests to Tech Support to fix but I guess they're all on vacation.

Looks fine to me! I guess they weren't all on vacation after all, and fixed!

Is there a special trick to keep my fettuccine from sticking together as it comes out of the pasta maker (I have a standard Atlas)? I've tried sprinkling it with semolina and putting semolina under it to land on as it comes out, but I still end up with a mountain of dough with some noodle ends sticking out by the time I separate them from the machine and try to make nests. My dough isn't particularly sticky going in.

This is a good question, as I'm sure this happens to a lot of people. First, make sure your sheet of pasta is "dry" enough. It should feel slightly leathery and not moist at all. If it is still moist, let it sit briefly before running it through the fettuccine cutters. But don't let it dry out too much or you'll have trouble feeding it into the cutters. Sometimes I heap a pile of semolina onto the kitchen counter, and I fluff the fettuccine noodles in the semolina as soon as they are cut. I used to be careful with the amount of semolina I sprinkled on my homemade pasta ntil I saw a wonderful restaurant cook in Italy at work in her kitchen. She uses it with abandoned and taught me not to be so afraid. If you fluff the noodles in the pile of semolina you won't be able to neatly roll them into a "nest" but you can just set the mound of noodles on a semolina-dusted baking sheet. The semolina coating your noodles will fall away during cooking.

Thanks so much for offering a chat today! For a nice New Year's Eve dinner, my fiance picked up a filet of beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied. I have been reading up on the slow roasted method (Ina Garten's recipe calls for a 275 degree oven for 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours). As this was an expensive cut of meat, I am very nervous about cooking it properly. Any tips or alternate recipes for this dish? Happy New Year to you all!

You're welcome and Happy New Year! I've never made Ina's slow-roasted beef but in my experience her recipes work so I wouldn't be too worried. I have a recipe for oven-roasted beef tenderloin in my book Big Night In. Here's the method I use: Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Rub a little olive oil over the beef and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers 120 degrees F. This will give you a medium-rare roast with a juicy rosy center. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. I usually serve this roast on a bed of arugula and have several sauces on hand to accompany it (salsa verde and a blue cheese sauce). Cheers!

Our Slow-Roasted Beef recipe goes even slooooooowwwwwwwwer: up to 2 1/2 hours PER POUND!

Thank you for inspiring me to become a better cook and eater! I appreciate all of the Washington Post's chats. It's the reason why I subscribe. Happy 2014!

Aw, shucks -- So glad to hear! Thanks for participating -- we pick up good tips from our chatters, too. So it's a two-way street!

Hi - I'm hosting a brunch this weekend. I will be having bagels, donuts, fruit, a baked egg dish, and ham. I am hoping you can suggest an additional side dish, as well as a dessert - nothing too exotic, since my slightly picky children will be there. Thanks!

Sounds like some fruit might fit in. Would the kids be willing to eat a tropical fruit salad? Mix cubed pineapple, papaya, mango, oranges with a lime infused simple syrup. Bring 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar and some lengths of lime peel to a boil. Cook until all the sugar dissolves. Cool. Mix with the fruit as needed to boost the sweetness a little.

I have been trying to get in touch with my Slovak roots and have come across sauerkraut mushroom soup. It is usually served on Christmas eve so I have time to experiment. However there seems to be so many recipes I am lost. Do you or any readers have a good recipe? I want the Christmas eve recipe so that it has no meat. Thanks for any help

I see what you mean -- lots out there! Chatters, any suggestions?

For the person saying that the last week's chat ends in the middle -- yes i saw that too when I use Internet Explorer. I switched to another browser and it is fine in Firefox.


any good ones?

Two words: Pressure Cooker.

I buy pre-brined briskets and cook for 1 hour at the second ring (high).

I am searing a beef tenderloin in my Dutch oven before roasting, however it is too long. Should I cut in half, or do you have a better suggestion.

You could certainly cut it in half to sear it, and then finish in the oven. If you're slicing it and arranging it on a platter then it won't matter that it's been cut. If you know anyone who has a longer (oval) Dutch oven, you could borrow it for searing. Another option is to roast at high heat without searing before.

I'm out of ideas for an easy veggie appetizer or small main dish for a potluck-help and thanks!

How about this Carrot Hummus? Love. That would be the appetizer.

For a main dish, Black Pepper Tofu Pot!

Stephanie, I appreciate your attempt today to get more of us to eat fish! But my reason for seldom cooking it isn't among the ones you listed -- it's the smell. When I cook fish my house doesn't smell very good for awhile. Is there any way to solve the problem, or have you found that some kinds of seafood are less -- um, fragrant -- than others?

I feel your pain. My husband once famously de-fished our apartment by walking around with a pan of burnt garlic, an old Romanian trick, or so he claimed.

Generally, the lower fat fish are less smelly. I find cooking at lower heat tends to create less of an odor. In our climate, grilling is usually an option. Opening up the windows, if the weather cooperates, helps as well.

I can't remember where I picked this up, but it's always a hit - supreme navel/cara cara oranges or grapefruit or both, cut the segments in half, and mix with a little marmalade (include any juice that came out during the cutting process - that will help thin the marmalade). Serve over plain or vanilla yogurt (I prefer Greek yogurt for this, so it doesn't get too thin from juices) in small glasses or dishes. You can mix up the fruit part well in advance - even the day before. You need about a half of an orange per person, plus about 1/2 cup of yogurt.

Yum. I've done something similar, but with a little champagne or Moscato d'Asti thrown in. Nice.

I used to cream butter and sugar with a hand mixer, but after borrowing a friend's KitchenAid, i can't go back! But I have little use for a stand mixer besides my Christmas buttercreme candies. Can I cream butter and sugar in a food processor, because I could find multiple uses for a food processor (which also wouldn't be as much as a KitchenAid stand mixer).

You can but it's not the same. Also, it's a pain to clean. Maybe a better answer is to find more reasons to bake year round.:-)

(Submitting SUPER early because I'll be freezing my butt off in Wisconsin during the chat.) Hey Rangers! I made the mahogany ribs recipe yesterday - fantastic, but it reminded me why I don't often make ribs: that meat can be so fatty! We have plenty of fat and three large bones left over, along with a good amount of the pan sauce. (The sauce never really got syrupy after taking the meat out and increasing the heat, but tasted wonderful nonetheless.) I'm not really a traditionalist when it comes to making totally pure stocks/broths, and am wondering if I can turn all of that fat, sauce, and the bones into a stock of some sort, which I could then reduce further into a lazy demi glace. Any thoughts? Also, the recipe went over wonderfully - are there any other, possibly leaner, cuts of meat you'd recommend using those similar flavors/method with? Thank you - happy new year!!

The thing is, with any braised-meat dish, and this is no exception, it's a good habit to get into to strain the cooking liquid and chill it, then the fat congeals on top and you can scrape it off and discard. That's a better bet than using a less fatty cut of meat, which wouldn't take as well to the long cooking method.

The key to reducing the sauce would be to transfer it to as wide a pan as you have, which would speed things up.

I am doing a cheese board for new years eve. I have a nice variety of cheeses including a devils gulch that I snagged before cowgirl creamery closes:( I am also serving figs and macerated fruit and some nice crackers. I will also have some nuts and olives. I really don't want to cook a whole entree. What else should I serve so that my guests don't get too hungry?

How about some dips? You could do that Carrot Hummus I mentioned earlier, Roasted Eggplant Dip, Walnut and Red Pepper Spread, and more...

Domenica, loved your story today about the panarda feast. and the recipes look great. However it was a little disappoing to read that the best dish served was one that you did not give us the recipe for? What's up with that? is it just too time-consuming of a dish for the average cook? i will say it sounded a little complex.

I'm glad you enjoyed the Panarda story. It was quite a feast. There were so many great dishes it was impossible to choose which recipes to share. In the end I felt that the timballo might be a little too complicated (and take up a lot of newsprint space). It involves making crepes, making tiny meatballs, making meat sauce ~ each of those is a separate recipe ~ and then layering all of those ingredients and baking the timballo. If you are an ambitious cook (I hope you are) I do have a recipe for a pasta timballo, as well as a crepe lasagne, in my book The Glorious Pasta of Italy. I may also hit Chef Joe Cicala up for his crepe timballo recipe, so stay tuned...

The collection of fish recipes sounds great! I just wish I liked seafood. I've eaten several kinds of fish, shellfish, etc., and I just can't get myself to like it. Maybe one day my tastebuds will change. Hopefully. I mean, I used to hate asparagus, and now I love it, so...? Maybe.

I won't take it personally. I used to hate Brussels sprouts and now I can't get enough of them.

I don't bake, but use my Kitchenaid quite a bit (not as much as my food processor, which is a gift from God). It does pizza dough and mashed potatoes better than a food processor. However, if I had to get one, I would stick with my food processor. We use it at least three times a week!

Yes, if you have to limit yourself to one, I'd go with the food processor, too. But hey, how about one this year, one next year?

Does anyone have a go-to curry chicken salad recipe? There are so many variations on curry chicken salad that I'm feeling a little overwhelmed from google searches. For the person struggling with fish smells, when I cook fish, I boil a pot of water with cloves, orange and lemon rind in - it does a good job of neutralizing that odor.

I've heard this one by Scott Drewno is pretty killer. (I haven't tasted it myself, because, well, you know...)

And thanks for the fish tip!

I tried an excellent method for beef tenderloin based on a mistake I made with pork ribs. First I made a paste of pureed garlic and parsley, seasoned the loin with salt and coarse cracked black pepper then wrapped and sealed the loin in aluminum foil, leaving some room on top. I baked it at 275 degrees, 45 mins. per pound and checking it after the first 45 minutes every 15 mins. After about 1 hour 20 mins. I felt it was close. I turned the temp up to 450 and place it under the broiler, watching it closely so the garlic/parsley paste didn't burn. It came out beautifully, a smidge between medium rare and medium, slightly crusty from the broiler. I just kept a close eye on it.

We'll call you the Beef Whisperer. Thanks.

I am doing the math, which I admit I'm bad at, and it seems like 40 courses in 9 hours comes to about 13 minutes per course. How does that work -- seems like after being served the individual dishes you'd have to wolf them down to make room for the next? And how large are the portions?

Good question! Some of the "courses" were served simultaneously. For example, the aperitivo courses-carciofo alla giudea, pallotte cacio e uova, olive all'ascolana and suppli' al telefono-were served together on one plate. The portions were judicious, sort of like tasting menu portions, though a bit more generous. I wasn't able to finish everything, but I made sure that I tasted everything. The meal did not feel rushed at all. 

I'm sure you've probably answered this question in the past, but I just got my first cast iron skillet. It's is "pre-seasoned" but I lightly oiled it and baked it in a 400 degree oven for an hour two times. It's feeling good, but there are a couple sticky spots, maybe from over oiling? Any tips to fix this and how to maintain the pan in the future?

When you say sticky, do you mean to the touch, or do you mean food is sticking to it when you use it? I'm going to assume you mean the former, in which case it's really not a problem and I think it'll take care of itself once you start using it. Even preseasoned pans get better and better with use.

How to maintain it? The most important thing, of course, is to NOT scrub away that seasoning with soap and a scrubber. I use a brush and a little water to clean mine. Oh, and dry it immediately after washing. If it gets stuff really badly stuck on it, you can scrub with a paper towel and kosher salt. (I know people who never even let water touch their cast iron, but I think that's overkill. Mine is gorgeous and so beautifully seasoned, and I rinse it all the time.)

I'm thinking of folding it into a banana bread batter. Will that work without making any other adjustments?

I think the bread's going to get pretty heavy-you're adding moisture to an already moist batter. Might be better used as a filling for corn muffins. Fill baking cups 1/3 of the way with corn muffin batter. Put a spoonful of the cranberry relish in the center, cover with additional batter. Bake as directed. New specialty is born.

To the best Food section in the country! I love you guys.

Wow! That made my day. Thanks so much!

Get the mixer! It's wonderful and you'll have a more uses for it than you imagine. You won't ever want to go back.

With very few exceptions, I've always had trouble making bread in my mixer. The dough just doesn't come together into a ball like it's supposed to. I can't tell if I'm not letting it go long enough, or if it's over mixing and breaking the gluten. (because it will half form up, then thin/spread back out) I have noticed that even though my mixer directed me not to go higher than 2 with the dough hook, many recipes call for medium speed. After 5 years of service from the mixer I'm willing to break the rules if my bread won't require additional work after the mixer. Any help?

I have a Kitchenaid Heavy Duty mixer and I make bread on the medium speed. (I add flour on low, then rev it up as the flour is incorpoarted.) I can only speak for the mixer I have. The motor is yours may be different.

As for it not coming together in a ball -- or, well, coming together and then spreading back out -- it seems to me that you probably are needing to add a little more flour. I don't think you can really break the gluten that way -- bread just gets stronger and stronger.

Before my wonderful fiance bought me a KitchenAid mixer, I purchased a Sunbeam stand mixer from Amazon for about $30. Obviously not as fabulous as a KitchenAid, but it still does the trick (pretty amazing quality for the price, actually), is smaller in size and can be easily stored for once a year use!

Good to know!

Grapefruit and honey, a match made in heaven. I'm forever thankful for Jacques Pepin's demonstrating how to peel and segment grapefruit.

Jacques is. Quite simply. The. Best.

I'm tempted to use the recipe you provided last week for the rib roast for tonight's dinner (50 minutes cooking + 70 minute oven-off rest), but I was also planning on cooking twice-baked potatoes. I suppose I can do the first bake of the potatoes this morning, then re-heat them after the roast has it's 70 minute rest in the oven, but I worry that the roast might be too cool by the time the oven re-heats up and the potatoes cook. Am I unnecessarily worried? Or should I try to employ my crappy toaster oven to reheat the potatoes, or should I use a different roasting method for the rib roast, or something else that I'm not thinking of?

I wouldn't worry about the roast getting too cool. After it rests in the oven, wrap it in foil.

Is it my imagination or after five years of faithful service is my microplane grater getting duller and duller? Has anyone else noticed this happening? Is the remedy just to get a new one or is there a way to get it sharper again?

This just happened to me. I had my microplane for many years ~ I want to say at least 15 if that is possible! A few weeks ago I was making something in a commerical kitchen and used their microplane to zest an orange. I couldn't believe how much sharper it was than my old one. I went out and bought a new one. I figured my original had done its duty. I have not heard that there is a way to sharpen a microplane. It may be time for a new one.

Well, you've used a large spatula to carefully transfer us to a paper-towel-lined platter to drain, so you know what that means -- we're done!

It was a teensy bit slower than usual given the holiday, but still -- thanks for the great q's, and hope we helped with some good a's. And now for our giveaway book! A signed copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook" will go to ... the chatter who started off the stand-mixer talk by asking about the best way to cream sugar and butter. Send your mailing info to Becky at, and we'll get you your copy!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading. And ... Happy New Year! See you in '14.

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