Free Range on Food: The Cookie Issue

Dec 04, 2013

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

Greetings, everybody, and welcome to Free Range! Today we've got cookies on the brain, in the oven, in the fridge, pantry, freezer, desk drawer -- and, of course, on the agenda. As many of you probably do, too. It's one of our favorite issues of the year, with 25 recipes for those holiday beauties, including a spectacular stocking project by Julia Usher (with an assist from Roxanne Roberts). Stephanie Sedgwick weighed in on tricks and tips for making chocolate-chip cookies a standout.

We'll have Stephanie on hand to help answer questions today, along with one of our favorite bakers/cookbook authors, Friend of Food Nancy Baggett! So you're in good hands. Roxanne is chatting over at the Reliable Source chat at the moment, but she promised to weigh in if something comes up on the project or about decorating that she can help with. (She's a master.)

Anyway, let's get to it! Lots to talk about, so no more windup.

Oh, wait, one more thing: We'll have giveaway books for the sources of our favorite questions/comments, so make them good. The actual identity of the books will remain a secret until the end of the chat.

Let's do this.

Do you have any fool proof idiot proof cookie recipes? I've tried everything under the sun and they always turn out flat and crispy. I've gone as far as to buy all new cookie sheets, new ingredients, a thermometer to make sure the oven is the correct temp, measured everything but it doesn't matter. They always turn out flat. What's funnier is I can make a pie from scratch (crust included) and have that turn out perfect. I'm determined that this year I will win the cookie battle. Even pre-made cookies you buy at the store, cut and heat turn out flat.

How about M&M Bars? They're a one-bowl treat, and since they're bars in a fixed-size pan, no need to worry about flat cookies. I really like them. So do our readers -- they were consistently in our top recipes for awhile.

M&M Bars

I don't have an edible marker. Can I substitute a clean, unused Sharpie instead?

Don't you want to eat them? They're called Edible Letters for a reason! If you use a Sharpie, you (and others) can't. Other than that, I don't see why it wouldn't technically work if you just want to use them for decoration. But I think that spoils the fun! I immediately thought about making these and using them for a real Scrabble game, with a twist that involves eating somehow. Hmm... Any game enthusiasts have an idea of how that would work? (Maybe the first time someone hits each double or triple word square they have to eat the tile, thereby leaving it open for somebody else to play again?) Sorry to take your question into a question of my own, but there you go.

I need your cookie help! I am going to a book club party this weekend -- about 15 people, all finger foods. Last year almost everyone brought desserts and we're trying to keep it healthier this year -- so I am the ONLY ONE tasked with brining a sweet. The pressure is on to find the prefect holiday treat!! Since this will be the only dessert (I'd like it to be a cookie), what type should it be? Spicy? Chocolaty? Nutty? Classic cut-out?

I'd go for the classic cut-out if I could only do one. Everybody likes them, everybody sort of expects them, and they just sing "holidays."  However, you could do a lot with only one basic sugar cookie dough by in addition to the basic presentation taking symetrical shapes such as stars, snowflakes and rounds and sandwiching them around a filling.  A quick citrus buttercream, or maybe a mint one, or chocolate one or several--then you'd have a really nice set of choices.

If I could have only one cookie it would be (cue drumroll)...sour cream ginger cookies. Part-cake, part cookie, spicy, sweet and soft all at the same time, it's at the top of my list. I use an old Maida Heatter recipe, but there are many versions out there.

Hi, I am so excited about cookies recipes! There are so many that look great that I will have to try some of them after the holidays too. I am also looking forward to investigating the new recipe database. I recently made your Nutella thumbprint cookies and they were delicious. I thought they tasted even better the next day so they are perfect for making ahead. I want to make cookies to mail to a relative. Would you recommend any particular ones from today for their ability to stand up to being mailed? Or any other cookie recipes from the past? I need to be able to pack them and have them taste fresh for more than a day or two. I was thinking about making the honey pecan bars or the millionaire shortbread cookies. Thanks!

I learned this the hard way: Don't try to ship cookies with pointy parts!  No stars, reindeer with antlers, delicate snowflakes.  No gooey cookies either--they might get even softer and crumble or run.  And stay away from brittle/thin. Good bets: shortbreads, thickish ginger or chocolate chip cookies, biscotti (except very long, thin ones), sturdy drop cookies of any sort. Honey pecan bars would be great assuming the filling is firm and not sticky.


I wrote in about a month ago with a request for a good turkey brine. Jim directed me to his bourbon smoked turkey. We do not have a smoker (yet!) but followed the brine instructions, let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to dry out, and baked the following day. It was delicious and by far the best turkey I've made. Thanks so much for the recipe and all the work you do!

    Shucks, warn't nothin'.

    Thanks for the props.

One of my family members mentioned that they would really like a slow cooker cookbook for Christmas - they have hectic schedules and figured it would be a good way to actually get a home-cooked meal for dinner. They don't have any dietary restrictions/food dislikes, though would prefer something that doesn't rely on a lot of cream of something soups. Any suggestions for good slow cooker cookbooks? Thanks!

Slow Cooker Revolution from Cook's Illustrated has a wide range of recipes you might not expect.

After last week's jello discussion, I had to share our new Thanksgiving jello concoction (this is not a complete list of ingredients as I didn't make it): a red and white two layer mold with lemon flavor jello, red hots candy, crushed pineapple, cream cheese, and mayo. To my surprise, it was delicious! Red hots gave the red color and a nice hint of cinnamon.

That is rather unexpected!

To recap, Jane and I had a friendly Jell-O mold showdown, sharing our recipes for Cranberry Sauce Mold

Cranberry Sauce Mold

and Thanksgiving Jell-O.

Thanksgiving Jell-O

I'd like to make something other than the usual spiced almonds to bring to the family Xmas, but storage is a big consideration. Can you recommend a cookie or other treat that's not too hard to make and that will hold up for a three-day air and car trip?

A lot of our cookie recipes from this week have a make-ahead component. I think bars are good for traveling -- less likely to break. How about White Chocolate Honey Crisp Bars

White Chocolate Honey Crisp Bars 

or Salt Caramel Millionaire's Shortbread?

Salt Caramel Millionaire's Shortbread

Thank you for the bourbon-brined turkey recipe! I used it (oven roasted, not grilled), and my turkey came out moist and with a golden brown skin. I also made this corn pudding recipe that I heard about on the food network. It was a big hit, but holy cow, it has SO much butter, cheese, milk, and half-and-half, I won't be making it again till next year, unless I can find a lower-fat version.

So glad the turkey worked out. Thanks for sharing the corn pudding recipe. Somewhat regretably, I have never met a stick of butter or a pile of cheese I didn't like; I don't believe I can wait a year to try it. 

As for that corn pudding, did you see Stephanie's Sweet Onion and Corn Pudding? It was a makeover that uses less butter, less sugar (adding sweetness with the onion -- brilliant!), ricotta and low-fat milk instead of evaporated, etc. It's delicious.

My trusty shopping cart/trolley broke after 13(!) years of service and I need a new one. I saw the Rolser trollies and while I like the style, I'm concerned about weight limit of 44 pounds. I occasionally take the trolley to buy a case of wine, which could weigh more than that. What do you and the chatters recommend? I do not have a car, so this trolley would be my "wheels". Thank you.

I adore my Magna Cart. (Don't you love the name?) It's really more of a dolly, though, so it's better with boxes than bags cause there's no wire basket/etc. But it would be perfect for that case of wine! I've used it to haul as many as FIVE boxes of books, with a little bungee cords as an assist. And it folds up for easy storage.

I'm hosting a get together next weekend that's kind of like a cookie swap, but I'm hoping that everyone will instead sit, chat, and munch on cookies while we're together. I'd like to serve a potent holiday punch for folks to sip on while we're together...Given that we'll be eating cookies, I'm hoping for something not too saccharine sweet. I like champagne and bourbon. Any ideas? Bonus points if I can make one of those pretty ice rings with fruit frozen in it in a Bundt pan ;) Thanks for your help!


Well, shoot. My spouse, better known as Spirits columnist extraordinaire M. Carrie Allan, has been working up punch recipes for an upcoming Food issue. But her recipes and recommendations won't hit the section until after your party. She's not here today to offer suggestions, so I'll give it a try.


Here are a few from the database. I know at least one includes "honey" in the name or rum among the ingredients, but the recipes also include a healthy amount of lemon juice and some bitters to balance out the punch:

Honey Spiced Punch  (photo above)


Hans Punch Up


And for a real oddball choice, try this Pisco Punch, spiced up with ginger beer, lime and Angostura bitters.

You highlight the figgy bars as gluten free but the recipe calls for one cup of flour!

I see that the wrong label was inserted into the print edition of the recipe. Sorry about that! The recipe online is NOT tagged GF, tho. 

[Insert back story here] I have about 2 dozen roasted (and peeled) beets in the fridge. I've been eating them on salads, but need other suggestions to use them up (I assume they're only good for about a week). Thanks!

Every time I visit a craft store, I see a display of the candy melts and molds. Are they as easy to make as it might seem? I remember my mom doing chocolates when I was growing up, but now with the melts in a rainbow of colors, so much more is possible. I just don't know if I would have the time to do a multicolored candy treat. Is it easy to stay within the lines and not make the color blur? If a tray can only make 6-8 pieces at a time, will it take all day waiting for each batch to cool before having enough to share?

The candy melts are soooo easy to work with. When my kids were little we made molded treats for all the holidays. The melts don't have the depth of flavor of real chocoate, but our treats were very popular anyway. The candy sets quickly (a quick stint in the fridge will move the process along). And if I can keep in the lines anyone can. I'd avoid anything too dainty that would require advanced piping skills, but other than that, have fun and if the lines blur a little don't let it bother you.

Not cookie-related (and probably don't want to try with cookies) but I just love how relaxed and adventurous Joe is as a chef. "Sure, you can omit/substitute/try that." I love that attitude and that is what makes great food. It seems so many commenters are risk averse and won't try things and won't even buy an ingredient if they won't use it all, or have problems figuring out how to use 3 tbs of a remaining ingredient. I hope Joe's awesome attitude inspires everyone to just loosen up and try it out already.

Thanks! I have been mulling for some time a more focused essay on things that I think you don't have to really do in the kitchen that you've always been told you should do. (It's not really about omitting/subbing per se, but more about techniques taht I think are overrated/unnecessary.) So let me turn this back to the crowd: Can you think of things that you DON'T do in the kitchen that you've been told you're supposed to do?

Everyone has a favorite cookie - so what is all of your favorites?

My favorite of our recipes: Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints.

Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints

Re this year's batch, I'd say it's a tossup between Gingerbread Pear S'mores and the Kifli. 

Hi! My usual go-to for cookies at this time of year is a basic Spritz with a fruit-and-nut filling, but I'd like to try something a little different. Do you have a good, traditional recipe for Ricotta cookies? Thank ye!

Dingdingding! Here are last year's Ricotta Cheese Cookies.

Ricotta Cheese Cookies

Growing up, I used to look forward to this time of year when my mom and I would bake sugar cookies using my great grandmother's recipe, and then my brother and I would get to make and color the icing and decorate the cookies. However, we lost the recipe many, many (and another many) years ago (before we had a computer that we could have stored the recipe), and since then, I have been unable to find something that is quite what I want. Any suggestions for a really good sugar cookie recipe (for thin cookies, not thick ones) that I can try out this year? Also, Joe, thanks for the black pepper tofu recipe this week--really lookin forward to trying that out, and I think even my meat-loving husband will enjoy it! And your article convinced me I must get your cookbook stat, as I have clearly put it off long enough and want to know what I've been missing out on!

I love good sugar cookies and created a number for several of my cookie cookbooks. I also have a good all-purpose dough recipe on my website.  A couple tip I suggest:  When looking for a recipe that will produce nicely, tidily shaped cutouts, don't go with one that has more than about 1 teaspoon baking powder per 3 cups flour, as more BP will cause too much puffing. Also, choose a recipe than calls for rolling out the dough between sheets of baking parchment and then chilling the dough before cutting out the cookies--so much easier to handle, pluss the cookies don't get over-floured.


How bout these Inspiring Sugar Cookies?

And glad you like the Black Pepper Tofu Pot recipe. It's a keeper!

Can these be made without the cardamom?

Of course, but ... they're so good with the cardamom!

Stick them in a bowl with some vinegar, a bit of oil (fine, more if you want), some finely sliced onions, dill if you want, s&p. Eat your heart out. I may or may not have been caught standing over my kitchen sink shoveling this into my mouth.

What can I do with the {sometimes} substantial amount of shreds/residue left in the shredded wheat bag?? I do use the 'lightly frosted' kind, so it will be sweet. Put on oatmeal is about all I've come up with. I hate to just toss it all. Thx.

Seems fit for adding to making a crumble topping for pie or coffeecake or even that fab Fennel Gratin the Ottolenghi chefs made a few weeks back.  I bet you could work them into a cookie dough, too. Chatters, what do you do with them?

I love your section. I was looking at all of your awesome cookie recipes and can't wait to try them all. I'm doing some baking next week for a work meeting. I'd like to prepare the cookie dough this weekend and bake on Wed. night. Should i freeze the dough or place in fridge until wed. and will it compromise taste and flavor. Second, i want my cookies to be chewy but they never turn out that way. What am I doing wrong? Is it the mixing? Cooking too long? I've seen some recipes add a couple of tablespoons of corn syrup to promote chewiness, but i haven't tried it. Please help. Thanks.

I'd freeze the dough to guarantee it stays fresh tasting. Usually overbaking is the culprit when you lose chewiness. I recently ruined a batch of chocolate crackle cookies by leaving them in the oven just a minute or two too long. As your cookies get close to doneness stand by the oven. Pull them out the moment you think they are almost done. The carryover heat on the baking sheet will take care of that last minute of baking.

I'd like to make Martha Stewart's cranberry meringue mini pies, but half of my colleagues eat gluten free. Rather than figure out non gluten crust, I'd like to just not use one. Is there a better option than foil baking cups in a muffin tin? Would they need to be buttered, first? Should I adjust the baking time? Or do I need another dessert idea for this event? Thanks for your help.

The foil baking cups might work--the only real concern is: Is the filling stiff and firm enough to hold its shape and not crumble without the crust support? If it seems sturdy, then you will likely be fine. Yes, I'd  spray the cups with non-stick spray or brush with butter.  Yes, reduce the baking time--you can always bake longer if they need more time.

A HUGE hit at the Thanksgiving table this year! I don't know how long I had that post it note sitting around my desk but glad I found it. These had such an amazing taste. And really not sweet at all, which I don't like! Thanks again!

Glad to hear it! These are indeed gorgeous, aren't they? Thrilled that they worked so well.

I have to give a shout out to your butternut squash lasagna recipe. I made it last week and it totally won over my very dubious, "where's the meat" boyfriend. It even got designated as a keeper recipe. As a side dish, I made parsnip puree (I grew parsnips in my garden this year for the first time) and it also was delicious! I think parsnips are a really underused vegetable.

You are right, and right again. I applaud your good taste! I usually serve a salad of bitter greens with it. 

I hope y'all, as committed cooks, can answer a question about kitchens. Open shelving seems very popular right now, but I am wondering how practical it is in a working kitchen. I tried taking the door off my own cabinets to try it, and everything wound up with a coating of greasy dust within a couple of weeks. Am I simply a bad housekeeper, or is that a consequence of having open shelving?

It's the latter. I know cooks are divided on this, but I wouldn't have open shelving for things like dishes/etc. unless you use them ALL the time and are cleaning them anyway. But I have my Le Creuset pots out in an open tower, and that's fine -- depending on the pot I have to quickly rinse them before using most of the time, but it's worth it for the look. I think it would also depend on how good your venting is, and where in the kitchen in relation to the stove the shelves are.

I have a bunch of extra candied ginger. What can I do with it, besides eat it (which I've happily been doing)? Maybe add it in some gingerbread cookie dough?

Yes, a great idea.  I just bought a good-sized package of crystallized ginger, and plan to add to not only ginger cookies, but molasses cookies, bicotti with orange zest and dried cranberries (a fine combo), and chocolate cookies.  Almost any citrus cookie can be enhanced with ginger.  Just be sure to chop the ginger fairly fine--1/8-1/4-inch pieces.

Every year I make 15-22 different cookies over 2-3 day period. A few hints for getting it done in such a short time period:

  • Buy all the ingredients before you start - you will not have time to run to the store.
  • Chop all the nuts a day or two in advance, measure out what's need for each recipe, and store in separate labeled containers for easy use.
  • Have frozen dinners to eat because you won't feel like cooking and won't have time anyway.

My chocolate bourbon/rum ball recipe really uses up extras left over from cookie making. The amounts are very approximate - the recipe is very forgiving.

Bourbon/rum balls

When I make rolled cookies, I roll out any one portion of dough no more than 3 times to prevent the cookie from being tough. After the third time, I bake the cut scraps. If the dough is a vanilla, chocolate or coffee dough, the baked scraps can be saved for crumbs for these bourbon/rum balls. I also save bits of melted chocolate left from drizzling or those few extra chocolate chips, and the extra chopped walnuts. These are the very last cookies I make each year.

Baked vanilla, chocolate or coffee cookie scraps

Semi-sweet chocolate or cocoa powder or a combination

Chopped walnuts

Granulated sugar

Bourbon or rum

In a food processor, chop cookie scraps until they are fine crumbs. For each cup of crumbs, add about 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, and about 1 - 2 ounces of melted semi-sweet chocolate OR 1 tablespoon cocoa plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Pulse to mix.

Add about 1/4 to 1/3 cup bourbon or rum (use the lesser amount if melted chocolate was used), pulse, then let sit 10 minutes. Pulse again. At time point the mixture should be readily able to form balls that hold together. If not, add a little more bourbon/rum, pulse, let sit for 5 minutes, then pulse again.

Form into 1 inch diameter balls and roll in granulated sugar. Allow to sit out overnight to firm up, then store in tightly covered container. They are best if allowed to ripen a few days before eating.


My sister's family tries to eat gluten free, so I'd love a holiday cookie idea that I could bake for them... Any suggestions? (Yes, I could just search the internet, but I trust you all!) Thanks

If you want really good gluten-free baked goods my advice is check out the recipes of those who specialize in GF baking, not just regular baking.  A colleague of mine, Jeanne Sauvage, works absolute magic with gluten-free baked goods, so you might want to start with her site or book, GF Baking for the Holidays.

Spiced Apple Crumb Bars! I mean, look at these!

I see tons of advice not to add garlic to sauteeing onions until the last minute or it will burn and become bitter. Sorry, if I want that sweet, subtle flavor you can only get from long sauteed garlic, I'm adding it in early! That's how my Nonna taught me and that's how I do it.

Yes! That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

You shouldn't fry with olive oil b/c it has a low smoke point - that's boohickey! The smoking point of olive oil is still plenty high enough to fry/sautee most things. Done it for years and never had a problem. Now you might be wasting extra virgin if you use it for that or might not want that flavor, but you can user lighter less expensive non-virgin olive oils for the skillet.

Yes. Keep em coming!

Peel fruits/veggies when the skin is edible (think tomatoes, apples) when the recipe calls for it. I also never add salt when it's called for. I don't like salt (or salty foods) and my mom never cooked or baked with salt, so if I ever add it,the food tastes too salty to me.

Right on.

I have always hated brussels sprouts, but a few weeks ago while in Denver, I had some *amazing* brussels sprouts--they were fried and had an apple cider reduction with pistachios and julienned green apple. Seriously good stuff. Now, I want to try brussels sprouts again, but am looking for some good recipes, as I don't want to go off brussels sprouts again. Please help with suggestions!


I've been experimenting at home with a Brussels sprouts recipe that Rene Redzepi created for the Food section when he visited D.C. earlier this month. It's simple. It's complex. It's tasty. That recipe will be in the Food section on Dec. 18.


In the meantime, here are others to try.


Tamari-Roasted Brussels Sprouts (photo above)


Broken Spaghetti With Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Onions


Steamed Brussels Sprouts With Garlic and Pancetta


And lots more ideas here in the Recipe Finder.

Hi foodies! I got a little carried away with my turkey stock this weekend (more simmering means more love), and the cooled product is turkey jello. Should I do anything different with it, like thin it or clarify it? I know from reading this is close to an aspic, but I've never heard of anyone making one. Thoughts?

That gel is cook's gold.  It will liquefy once you heat it up. You used bones/a turkey carcass, right? The collagen in dem bones gets broken down as your stock simmers, and makes for a richer taste. Once you refrigerate it, any fat should solidify at the top. All you really need to do is discard that fat and you're good to go. (But you can dilute the rich stock with water, if you like.)

I am planning to make tapenade for a Christmas party. The recipe uses kalamata olives (plus capers and citrus to brighten the flavor). Do I have to use kalamata olives or could I use a mix? I was thinking some bright green ones (Castelvetrano, for example) would add a little color, but I don't want to ruin the taste. Thanks!

I <3 tapenade! I have one in my new book, a poblano tapenade that I'm pretty enamored of; adds poblanos, lime, ancho chili powder. (I've taken to calling it poblanenade for fun.) Anyway, yes, you can sub in some green olives, as long as they're good ones (like Castelvetrano indeed). I also like a tapenade that goes pretty heavy on the capers, FWIW.

i will be cooking a standing beef rib roast with the bones still in on the charcoal grill . . . the roast has been dry aged for several weeks . . . can i slow cook the roast at a lower temperature, or does it need to be cooked at approximately 325 degrees ?? . . . if it can be cooked at a lower temperature, approximately how many minutes per pound should i allow ?? . . . thanks . . . cheers, craig harris

    Here is a recipe of mine for Wood-Smoked Prime Rib from last Christmastime. It is for a boneless roast, but the basics are the same. Some recipes call for a higher temp, even on the grill (like, 375). I think 325 degrees is perfect. And the minutes per pound, 12-14, is the way to go. Having said all that, the last thing you want to do is ruin such a beautiful piece of meat, so I highly recommend using a thermometer; for medium-rare, the meat should register 130 degrees. 

Thanks to all the deals over the weekend, I finally bought a Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron pan. Non-stick while browning?! Magical! So far I've only used it to make a tempeh stir fry. What is a good vegan recipe that will really showcase its magical capabilities? I'm thinking a veganized version of the black pepper tofu.

I used to reliably get whole brisket from Magruder's in Vienna. Now that they're gone, what's a good source in Vienna/McLean/Falls Church?

I'd bet you could order one from Fresh Market. The butchers there are VERY accomodating. I know because I'm always making annoying special requests.:-)

But the much maligned fruit cake. My husband has asked for one (yes really) and seems to prefer it not be soaked in rum like some varieties. Can you point me at a recipe that won't damage my reputation as a baker?


Our fearless copy editor, Jane Touzalin, has already wandered into this dangerous territory -- and come out alive. Here's her report on how to re-imagine the holiday treat for the fruitcake averse, complete with seven recipes (like the Brandied Cherry Chocolate Cake pictured above).

Sift. I use a whisk in a bowl and that is it -- never had a problem with baked goods with this substitution. One thing that I always do is store flour and other whole grains in my freezer, except a few servings in sealed glass jars. My mother is Southern and taught me that, I've never been able to shake the habit even though I'm a Yankee.

Yep, I do this one too. Always just whisk. The point is to aerate and break up any lumps, and that does it!

Lemon, dill, and Havarti cookies? Holy cow. Do you think it would be okay for me to tell my boss I'm coming down with a cold so I can go home and make them now? Seriously, I love savory cookies and can't wait to bring these home for Christmas appetizers. Your cheese/pepper jelly/pecan thumbprints from a few years ago were incredible, but so time-consuming to make that they are a once-a-year or less treat. These could become part of my regular rotation!

Loved these. They're from Elinor Klivans, longtime Friend O' Food -- in her new book, "Slice & Bake Cookies." Her recipes always work. 

Pickle them! They last for a long time, and get better as they sit.

This year I'm making crackers to give as gifts. I've used and loved the WaPo flaxseed and cracked pepper recipe, and am wondering whether it could be tweaked to omit the butter and be made without fat - I have a recpient on my list who is fat phobic.

In general it is a bit tricky to switch fats or omit fat from a recipe, but trying is the only way to know for sure.  Fat not only helps crisp, but it carries flavor to the olfactory sensors, which help us "taste" by smelling the aromas.  It would be better to minimize the fat that completely remove it, or you could get a very flat taste--in any case, with little or no fat, plan to use a lot more of the taste elements such as salt, pepper, seeds.

Or you could try these Everona Market Crackers, barely any fat at all. Of course, they're designed to go with cheese, which, well...

The idea that I can be liberated from peeling apples for apple quick bread is blowing my mind. Thank you, anonymous reader, from the bottom of my heart.


How about another article of things that recipes don't tell you to do but amps up the results? For example: toasting nuts before using, especially if frozen; sweating vegetables...

Well, we give you those kinds of tips all the time. So I'm thinking of something from the other end of the spectrum.

2 questions, not necessarily related. First - we receive a box of navel oranges every year as a Christmas present. We don't love to eat them as is - any ideas what to do with a lot of oranges? Second - my husband is getting more into cocktails - is there a place you can learn to make cocktails (like a cooking school)? I thought that might be a good Christmas present. Thanks!

I say: Marmalade! Now, it's traditionally made with Seville oranges, which are more bitter than navels, of course, but we do have a recipe that I LOVE, for Meyer Lemon-Cara Cara Orange Marmalade, and I think the navels would sub in fine for the Cara Caras. You really owe it to yourself to get Meyer lemons for that piece of the recipe, but I wouldn't scoff if you used regular lemons or even limes for that. You might want to adjust the sweetness to compensate, but it's worth a try. Scale that baby up to use up your navels.

Another idea: Juice them, but save the peels, and cut them up into strips and candy them. Here's a recipe for candied lemon peels -- you'd follow the same procedure, really. It's so easy, and they keep for a loooong time, and you can use them to top desserts, stir them into yogurt, all sorts of things. Including putting them in cookies!

Now for the cocktail portion of your question, we're unfortunately not going to have the benefit of columnist Carrie Allan's presence today, because she's actually prepping some fun stuff for our photo studio right after the chat, but I'll see if I can get her attention and get you thoughts on the cocktail-lesson idea.

For many years, my stepfather sent us boxes of citrus as a holiday gift. The fruit in those gift boxes was much better than anything we could buy locally. It didn't take my husband long to discover that freshly squeezed orange juice makes the best mixer. He soon perfected a martini citrus-sized with a shot of the fresh orange juice. Enjoy!

Re: cocktail school, a couple of possibilities spring to mind. Locally, the Columbia Room -- the lovely mixology sanctuary hidden away inside the Passenger -- hosts classes pretty regularly, covering a range of topics. They have some nice ones coming up, and I suspect they'd make for a classy gift, especially if your husband hasn't been there yet. It's a neat space. There are some actual bartending schools, but a lot of them will focus on business issues and the practical side of actually running a professional bar -- probably not exactly right for a hobbyist mixologist? But the guys who do BarSmarts (professional training for bartenders, a troop that includes major cocktail figures like Dale DeGroff and David Wondrich) also do an online version of the training that's a mere $29 and covers a good range of topics. There's no in person component, but it may be a great start. And of course: books. There are some really good ones that would make for a good fundamental education -- Wondrich's Imbibe, Grimes' Straight Up or On the Rocks, Jason Wilson's Boozehound -- all good choices, but I can recommend more if you're interested!

Obviously, Carrie surprised us and joined in!

Husband recently found out he's allergic to turkey, so we're scrambling to find a main course for Christmas. I'm interested in trying goose, but don't know where one could get a goose around here. Anyone know?

     I'm sure there are several places that sell goose this time of year. I just called Wagshal's in the District and was told that they will carry goose over the holidays. You might also try Market Poultry in Eastern Market; I have gotten goose there in the past and tried to call them just now but got their VM.

Free Rangers, I had a puzzling thing happen over Thanksgiving: I cooked an extra turkey breast in my slow cooker, using your recipe online as a guide. Despite cooking more than half submerged in liquid, the turkey meat was incredibly dry, something which has not happened when I've cooked turkey breast in the oven. How is this possible?

You used a 6-quart cooker and a 6-7 lb. turkey breast, cooked it on LOW for the recommended time AND took its temperature? 

In the recipe instructions, you ought to add how to mix by hand. While I do have a food processor and use it when appropriate, I think new bakers need to know they can make recipes without one. Pastry by hand seems to be becoming a lost art.

That recipe was already pretty long, but I hear you.  I'm not sure it's lost altogether -- but in these days of speed and convenience, sometimes a plug-in appliance is helpful, don't  you think? 



Since I have a lot of butternut squash from my garden and I still have a lot of kale in my garden I decided to make this lasagna. Some of the reviews said it is a bit land. How can I spice it up? I am going to soak some sage leaves in the mild before making the sauce.

The simple solution would be to add about three or four minced cloves of garlic and maybe a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of julienned basil leaves. Just those two ingredients alone would perk up this basic recipe.

When my son was deployed, I made choc chip cookies as bar cookies thinking they'd hold up better. Son said he and his shipmates enjoyed the best cookie crumbs ever! How do you make a sturdy chocolate chip cookie?

Mary Lee Montfort, owner of Mary Lee's Desserts, has a good tip for would-be cookie shippers. She bakes the cookie dough in mini-muffin tins. It gives you a sturdier product with the same great taste. Sort of a cross between a muffin and cookie.

I have half of a pan of cornbread that is declining in freshness rapidly. Any thoughts on how to use it up (besides just eating it with lots of butter and honey)? Options besides stuffing especially appreciated. Thank you!

Here are a few suggestions from the Mother Nature Network. I like the idea of cornbread migas! I may steal that.

Refrigerate my butter. I live in an air conditioned home, and I've never had my butter separate or go rancid.

Got it! There's lots of debate on this everytime anybody mentions it -- the Europeans who have always done this versus the food-safety-conscious Americans. And then the Butter Bell people always weigh in!

So I am not sure you got my message earlier-what is your favorite vegan cookie?

I am not sure you saw Becky's great answer!

My current vegetarian cookbook collection consists of the Moosewood New Classics, Plenty (which I love but can be complicated for a weeknight dinner), and a couple other no-name books I received as gifts. I also collect a number of recipes from the WaPo, Vegetarian Times, etc. but would like another go-to veg cookbook. Any suggestions?

Well, cough-cough, there IS a little something written by a certain someone who's running a CERTAIN CHAT RIGHT NOW. Ahem. But beyond "Eat Your Vegetables," you should check out "River Cottage Veg" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, "Vegetable Literacy" by Deborah Madison and Mollie Katzen's "The Heart of the Plate," and "Isa Does It" by Isa Chandra Moscowitz. Oh, and "Feast" by Sarah Copeland. Those are all new books. For older ones, there's Deborah's classic "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian," Jack Bishop's "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen," Isa's "Veganomicon," and, hmm, I'm sure there are more I'm blanking on at the moment.

We have some friends coming over after Christmas. I have some home made egg nog aging the fridge. what would you suggest as a good cookie pairing with egg nog?

If you use nutmeg on/in your egg nog, a butter cookie, shortbread, or light spice cookie that contains some nutmeg would be pleasing. Or, if your egg nog is spiked, you could pick up whatever alcohol flavor (rum, bourbon, etc) and make cookies using it.  The popular little no-bake rum balls and bourbon balls come to mind, but cookies containing dried fruit soaked with bourbon, brandy, etc. also would be nice.

My son was in the Peace Corps in Africa for two years. My mother made chocolate chip cookie bars, rather than individual cookies. I double-bagged them in ziploc bags and mailed them in a flat-rate box from the Post Office. It took three weeks before he received them, but they were still very good when they arrived.

I was just about to give that same advice...we must be on the same cookie channel. Bar cookies are perfect for shipping.

Bonnie is onto something. This sounds like a really great addition to compost cookies.

Let's test it soon and find out. 

I made the tamari roasted sprouts for Thanksgiving and they were a big hit. I'll be making those again. I made ricotta cookies last year. They seem plain but they are addictive.

Great to hear on both counts!

Following directions from a baking blog I shipped a batch of cookies by wrapping them individually in cellophane bags, then in bubble wrap. They did arrive intact. but it's a lot of effort for an average cookie.

Those must be some fine cookies to deserve such special delivery!

I'd like to make a mousse cake, preferably something with chocolate cake on the bottom and coffee or chocolate mousse on top (maybe something in between, like caramel). Have you come across a recipe for something like this?

We have some recipes that fit several of your specs.

Death by Chocolate

Frozen Chocolate Mousse Cake (no need to worry about the Passover ingredients)

French Silk

French Silk

Mushkie's Mocha Mousse Pie

Mushkie's Mocha Mousse Pie

There's also a Chocolate-Glazed Hazelnut Mousse Cake in the Gourmet cookbook that is to die for. One of my all-time favorites. I can get you a copy of that if you want. The base is a chocolate wafer crust.

Make these; they are wonderful.

Where would we find this recipe? I couldn't find it in the list of 25 nor in the Recipe Finder.

I found the recipe in an article from the Seattle Times online. I'm not the only fan. It's originally from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookie which is a must-have classic if you love baking cookies.


The recipe doesn't say how much salt is needed.

Aack, sorry. Bug in the new recipe database. It's a pinch of salt!

Tried this after several successful years using the Post's apple herb brine. The bird was terrific, but I used the drippings for gravy, which turned out much too salty. Next year can I reduce the amount of salt in the brine and still be okay?

     Honestly, I don't know. But my gut says yes.

Another chatter who does not refrigerate the stick of butter in use. It never lasts for more than 4 days anyway, hasn't gone rancid yet!

For the person searching for g-f cookies, meringues are naturally gluten-free! Many peanut butter cookie recipes are also made without any type of flour.

scald milk. Never saw a difference from doing it, and I bake lots of bread.

I have a Versa Cart from Bed Bath and Beyond and it's fantastic. Heavy duty navy blue fabric including a velcro'd cover flap if it's raining, which is better than metal b/c it has a little give for odd shaped items. 4 wheels so you push it easily regardless of weight, and it has stroller-type wheels so people at first glance think you have a baby and hold doors for you, etc.


Last night, mulling over what to do with my final T-day leftover - cranberry chutney - I ended up making Cranberry Swirl Coffee Cake. If anyone else has cranberry sauce to spare but is in the mood for holiday baking, give it a try as it is delicious.

Michele Scicolone has three that are good and unusual: The Mediterranean Slow Cooker, The Italian Slow Cooker, and The French Slow Cooker. Lots of good stuff, recipes pretty reliable.

Yep, I think she does a nice job. 

A huge "Thank you!" to Jim for the recommendation of Greenberg's Smoked Turkeys. I ordered one on his recommendation for Thanksgiving this year and it was AMAZING. I've never usually liked Thanksgiving because I'm not a fan of turkey. That smoked turkey completely changed the way I think about that kind of poultry. My whole family enjoyed it and it was a great day. Many thanks!

My house is also hooked.  Ordered it for the second consecutive year -- really steps up/expands the leftovers routine. And sandwiches. Plus, I have to say they are on the ball when it comes to order notification. The bird arrives when it says it will. 

You could not PAY me to have open shelving. I lived with it in a city apartment and in a small house in England, and everything, but everything, got a coating of greasy dust that quadrupled the amount of cleaning I had to do. Not for a kitchen. never for a kitchen.

I like a mix of storage in the kitchen. I think it's fine for stacks of dishes, pots with lids and for having items at hand that you cook with daily. Kitchen cabinets with regular shelving are not ideal. More pantries, I say!

Try the dijon-braised brussels on Smitten Kitchen! They have converted the most ardent of brussels haters and were the only thing on my Thanksgiving table to be completely demolished (and I made two big bowls!)

I just read that cream of tartar can have the same effect as corn syrup in preventing the sugar in caramel and fudge sauces from crystallizing again. Is this true, and how does this work?

The two don't really work the same way chemically, and I would not just sub one for the other.  Cream of tartar is an acid made from grapes.  The acid tends to encourage sugar to invert, or change it's basic structure, in a way that makes it less likely to turn into crystals again.  But it can also cause toughness of the sauce. Corn syrup has molecules that simply put get in the way of the sugar molecules that are trying to link back together and form crystals.  So... both help prevent graining, but not in the same way.

One of my favorite uses for cooked beets is to slice them up and combine them with orange segments and shaved fennel. Add a dab of vinegar (I used sherry vinegar last time, but raspberry and red wine work well too) and/or garlic to taste. So delicious!

I'm a longtime reader and love the recipes, but wonder why so many of the mains and sides are on the sweet side--I always see sugar or fruit high in the list of ingredients or in the name. (I made the original black pepper tofu with the sweet Soy, but a pinch of sugar the second time I cooked it and it was fine--it's not like it was being used for carmelizing) I know it's easier to get people to eat new foods if you drape them in sweet sauces, but would it be possible to have a few fiery dishes without a sweet element? Veggies not cloaked in fruit glazes? Thanks---I know you need to appeal to a wide audience, but not all of your readers like sweet foods---some of us prefer our sweets at dessert only!

Huh. I don't think our mains and sides are usually on the sweet side at all, actually. From me, that Black Pepper Tofu Pot is the first thing that's used sugar in awhile -- and believe me, it doesn't taste as if it's "draped in sweet sauces" by any means.

You shouldn't leave butter out. Nonsense - I've always kept one stick in a butter dish in the cabinet for morning toast and never had an issue. What you really shouldn't do is try and butter toast with cold butter - that is just plain foolish.

That recipe is awesome by the way, so I'll back that up! Made it about 3 times now, except they were out of prime rib the first try so I used a prime tenderloin instead, and it was so outrageously good that's what I've been using instead - a 3 pounder about 1-1.5 hours in the smoker at 225-250 and has come out perfect every time. I don't eat meat that much, but when I do it's totally worth the investment.

    Can I get a witness? Guess so. Thanks! Glad you liked it. 

Take it from this enthusiastic cracker maker: no-fat crackers tend to be ...umm...more like hardtack and not too pleasant. Would your buddy be ok with olive oil? There are lots of flatbread recipes that use it instead of butter or shortening. You might find something Scandinavian that uses buttermilk instead of more obvious fats. Good luck

About a million years ago, I made these for my spouse for his December birthday and they were much appreciated. I have no idea what recipe I used, however. Do you have a tired and true truffle favorite you can point me to? As I recall, the ones he loved were rich (duh!), nut free, and rolled in unsweetened cocoa powder.

These are from none other than today's guest, Nancy, so you know they're going to be good.

Cocoa-Dusted Truffles

Cocoa-Dusted Truffles

I'm hoping to make the Pretzel Cowboy Cookies for an office party later this week. But there will be lots of people there and lots of food choices, so I'd rather make them smaller than the recipe specifies. Do you have a rule of thumb for how to adjust baking times in cases like this, or do you know of a handy chart you can point me to? I figure Stephanie will be a pro at this, with all of her variations on the chocolate chip cookie!

Pretzel Cowboy Cookies

Jenna Huntsberger of Whisked! says:

If you make the cookies half the size, I would bake for 7-8 minutes and then check them. They'll be done when the edges are golden and the centers are pale gold. If they're not done at 7-8 minutes, keep checking them in 3 minute intervals until they are done. Ovens vary so much that bake times will always vary from oven to oven - I am a big proponent of "keep checking every couple of minutes until they look done."

love the chat! I'm hosting a 25-30 person cocktail party this weekend, and have only a few hours to bake/cook beforehand. Other than hummus and other veggies+dips, what creative, light appetizers would you all recommend? The Trader Joe's frozen aisle was packed with delicious cheesy items, but I also want to make sure it's a balanced spread. Thank you!

My favorite easy app is prosciutto wrapped asparagus spears. Cook the asparagus until just tender, no more. Cool in an ice water bath. Drain and dry the spears off. Wrap each in a very thin slice (or half a slice is the asparagus spears are thin) of prosciutto and you're done.

I sent in a question before Thanksgiving because my ginger suspended in a glass of water hadn't sprouted roots. I was away for the holiday, came back, still nothing doing. It seems to keep the ginger fresh, so that's still something, but I cannot understand what else could be (not) happening. I am gingerly challenged?

From Jane Touzalin:

Let’s review: Your piece of ginger is about 2 inches long or longer? You have it suspended in a glass of water, with about two-thirds of it out of the water? It’s in a bright/sunny window? If you’ve answered yes to all of those questions, then you are doing everything right. It’s a good sign that the ginger still looks fresh. Sometimes the process takes several weeks.


When the roots start emerging, they are quite small and might not be apparent right away. I will say, this does seem to be taking longer than usual. But unless you need the windowsill space for something else, you might as well keep at it. Check in again next week!

My favorite type of tapanade is just going to the olive bar of your nearest grocery store, getting with fresh, and throwing it in the food processor until you have the desired consistency. Sometimes I'll add capers, sometimes roasted peppers, anchovies, artichokes...the sky's the limit!

Can I also suggest British chef Simon Hopkinson's The Vegetarian Option. All his books are wonderful, but that's the only pure veg one. Every cook should read Roast Chicken and Other Stories...I wish more people over here knew his recipes.

I couldn't agree more. Hopkinson is one of my all-time favorite cookbook authors.

My husband and I have an annual holiday cocktail party and this year we'd like to have (among many other foods) ham with homemade biscuits. I don't know anything about cooking ham. My husband remembers (fondly) having canned ham as a child. I know stores sell those foil wrapped spiral sliced hams at this time of year but is that our best option? Can you point me in the right direction? And let me add my thanks to all those expressed last week; your articles and this chat help me learn to make old favorites better and to make all kinds of new foods, too.


This recipe may be too piquant for some, but it sounds delicious to me. It would also pair well with biscuits. Just make sure to secure a fresh ham ahead of time from your butcher.


Roast Fresh Ham With Honey-Whole-Grain-Mustard Glaze

I get requests for my chocolate chip cookies all year long. I won't ever stray from the recipe, but I have found a few things that have improved my cookies -- most recently, baking with the convection setting on my oven. Not only can I do two trays and have them bake evenly without rotating the pans, but they seem to puff up better and not spread too thin. Is this true with most cookies?

Yes, convestion ovens are great for baking cookies. The heated air moves around the oven so you get more even baking and can sucessfully bake two sheets at a time without all the rotating of the pans.

In one word: BORSHT!!!

Recently I had a "Tomato Jam Jar" appetizer at Nordstrom's Bistro (!). It was like a bite of sunshine...ricotta cheese, pesto, and fresh tomato jam. The chef gave me the recipe for the jam, and I made it a couple of days ago. The bright tomato flavor was lacking. Obviously, tomatoes aren't in season, but they weren't for Nordies either. So now my question: What do you think about adding a tablespoon or two or tomato paste to the two pounds of diced Romas? Is there anything else I can do to punch up the tomato flavor?

Try tomato powder. It won't add to the sweetness or change the texture, but it will give you that extra pop of flavor. 

The book club that I'm part of is meeting next week to discuss a book set in Germany, so we will be having German-themed food. I'm bringing a dessert, and wanted to do something with apple. I was thinking strudel, but maybe kicking it up a notch, or even re-inventing it as a cheesecake or cinnamon roll. Do you have any suggestions? I also saw the recipe for apple cake bars this week, but don't want to buy the specialty flours. Can I just use all purpose as an exact sub (yes, yes, and make it less "healthy")?

Having lived in Germany for four year, I have an idea that would be less demanding that strudel--an extremely popular apple dessert called Apple Kuchen.  It's a bit like a pie, but baked in a springform and served in wedges. If features a pastry crust--I don't think you'd have to buy special flours.  It combines the apples with a custard-like filling, so is a little like a cheesecake, too.  This is making me want to go make one!

I'm thinking this weekend might be a good time to attempt to make a gingerbread house. Any good recipes, resources or tips?

From Roxanne Roberts, who tested and created two of those fantabulous Gingerbread Stocking designs in today's section:


The fun part of a gingerbread house is the decorating, so you can save yourself time and trouble by buying a kit with pre-made, undecorated pieces (typically carried at craft and food stores.) If you want to bake from scratch, use a recipe that doesn’t use a lot of fat – humidity can cause it to collapse. Assemble the pieces on a cardboard base and, ideally, let them dry overnight before you start decorating with the candy. Buy lots of different candies and go crazy – I love Necco wafers for roof tiles and sticks of gum for window shutters. And never use regular cake frosting to assemble – it’s just not strong enough. Buy powdered sugar and make royal icing, then and assemble all the parts with that – it will dry rock hard and hold all the candy in place. 

Hi all. I have peppermint extract in my cabinet, which I guess means I have to go shopping before I can make your Chocolate Peppermint Cookies. I see the note says not to use peppermint extract, but can you tell me why? What's the difference between the two? How do they act differently in baking? Thanks - can't wait to make the cookies!

Yes. Extracts can cause your chocolate to seize up. Don't substitute! They also have different intensitites of flavor.

How hard, calculation-wise, is it to turn a cookie recipe into bars? I have what sounds like a tasty oatmeal-cranberry recipe, but don't want to be scooping wads of dough for a long time.

It's not hard. You can turn any recipe similar to the basic chocolate chip cookie recipe into a bar cookie. Pat the dough into a shallow greased baking pan, a 15 by 10 jelly pan accomodates one batch of chocolate chip cookies perfectly. You'll have to bake longer than the individual cookies-about double the time.

Hello. My mom, sister-in-law, and I are looking for a cooking project for the holiday vacation. We'd like something we could all try to make together, something new for us, something we wouldn't make in normal life since it takes too much time and energy, and something that takes a bit of work, so that it fills an afternoon and so that we feel accomplished once we are finished. Do you have any ideas? I know that's pretty broad......

This week's cookie project?

While the scrabble tiles caught my immediate attention, the recipe I'll make first from today's Post will be the biscotti. I adore the crunch and the not overly-sweetened taste. Any other really great biscotti recipes I need to know about?

Risotto! They work really well in a basic recipe and the leftovers are great for lunch!

Plus, at this time of year, beet risotto is so, well, festive! Here's a recipe for it from Food & Wine.

I found a recipe years ago that used chopped candied ginger in a tart crust for a lime custard tart. I tried to include it in this post but failed.

I had a whole breast, leg and thigh left over. I also had quite a bit of stock (in jellied form.) I put it all in a plastic container, covering the meat with the stock, and put it in the freezer. What should I do with it when I take it out in a week or two?

That makes me wonder - what is the scalding supposed to do, anyway? I do it, but now that the other chatter mentioned it, I'm wondering what it's really doing for the recipe.

Scalding kills certain enzymes in milk. In puddings, these can  destroy the thicking power of starch--so the next day that pudding becomes a sauce.  Scald when the recipe says so :-)

For multi-step recipes (like saute vegetables and set aside, etc.) if it all ends up together anyway I keep it in and keep layering the foods and flavors. For dishes I have done many times, I have a good sense on when to put everything in. No way am I going to pull something out of the pan just to put it back in again.

For years my mom and I have sent my great aunt green candied cherries because she couldn't find them in her small Kansas town and loved to use them on her Christmas cookies. She was moved into a rest home last week and this is the first time she hasn't needed us to send her cherries. It hadn't really hit home until I saw your Cherry Macaroon Rosettes this morning. Stay safe and healthy, everyone, and enjoy the memories of holiday baking just as much as the treats!

Cherry Macaroon Rosettes

What's the difference? I was making brown butter last week for some cupcakes and through the process was thinking about the process for clarified butter, which I thought was just melting the butter then skimming off the fat. So is that the only difference?

We're almost out of time, but clarified butter has all the milk solids removed/extracted.  Browned butter doesn't always get skimmed, but it does call for cooking and monitoring closely to get enough color to create that nutty flavor. 

Well, you've rotated us from top to bottom and back to front and continued baking us until we're slightly puffed, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Stephanie, Carrie and Nancy for helping us answer them!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about foolproof cookie recipes will get Elinor Klivans' "Slice and Bake Cookies." The first one to ask about cookies to mail will get "Chocolate Chip Cookies" by Carey Jones and Robyn Lenzi.

Send your mailing info to, and we'll get them to you.

Until next time, happy cooking, baking, eating, and reading!

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, Nourish columnist and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guest: cookbook author and cookie expert Nancy Baggett.
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