Free Range on Food: Favorite soup and sandwich combos, Community-Supported Agriculture, Super Bowl food and more.

Feb 01, 2012

Today's topics: Favorite soup and sandwich combos, Community-Supported Agriculture, Super Bowl food and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Welcome to the day before Groundhog Day, which this year is a holiday without a point, as we enjoy temperatures in the 50s and 60s. The groundhog might as well predict whether we'll HAVE a winter! The weather has thrown most of us home cooks  a curve ball as we try to prepare typical winter dishes. But, really, who wants a hearty stew when you're walking around in short-sleeves outside?

Fortunately the soups and sandwiches (well, at least the ones not involving squash) in David Hagedorn's story today can be enjoyed almost any time of the year. And Jane Black's piece on forward-thinking CSAs gives us hope as we look to sign up for one come spring. (Speaking of which, check out Becky Krystal's exhaustive list of CSAs just itching for your business.) Then there's the sixth annual Super Bowl Recipe Smackdown, in which Bonnie and I (a poor substitute, if I may say so, for editor-on-leave Joe Yonan) duke it out over who has prepared the best salsa for a party.

Spirits columnist Jason Wilson will be on hand to talk creating your own cocktails, and Jim Shahin will join us to answer all your questions on smoked meats. Yep, there's much to talk about, other than the weather. So let's get started.

I'm planning a make-your-own taco party on Sunday. This seems like the time to use a bag of mild dried red chiles from New Mexico I received as a gift. I found a recipe for a red chile sauce in another cookbook but am not sure what to do with the sauce. Could I braise some chicken thighs in the sauce? I also have a Rick Bayless cookbook (won here!) that has some tasty fillings like pork tinga that I am thinking of making. Help!

You could serve the sauce on the side; a condiment for drizzling on top of guac or chips or into queso. Tinga's a great idea. Here's one I worked into a previous public works project of a Smackdown.

I'm in love with lemon curd. But now I want to branch out and have a few questions. One, how can I make an orange curd that is tart? I would be using it as a filling in a cupcake or layer cake but I don't want it to be super sweet. Is that possible? Second, I'm guessing making grapefruit curd would turn out just like lemon but taste like grapefruit right? I'm envisioning a lovely vanilla cake with grapefruit curd between layers.

Curds? No whey! 

Anywhey, add plenty of zest to the orange curd and that will bump up the tartess. And grapefruit zest will add flavor to that curd, too. The grapefruit juice on its own does not impart a strong, distinctively grapefruit flavor. To make your cake pop, chop candied grapefruit peel and place it between the layers and in your frosting, then decorte the top of the cake with it. The recipe and method in the link comes from my good friend Amanda McClements of 

I recently went to Shoppers Food Warehouse and tried to find my usual corn tortillas that I get from the refrigerated section but they were out. Instead I picked up a package of corn tortillas that were about a quarter inch thick. I thought they might be interesting to work with but now I can't figure out what to do with them. They are too inflexible and thick to work for tacos. Do you know what they are traditionally used for? I might cut them into triangles and bake them into chips for dipping, but I'd rather find something more substantial.

A quarter-inch? Yowza.  You could shallow-fry them for use as tostada bases -- speaking of, I've got a Dinner in Minutes recipe next week that could use just such tortillas! -- but you could also go with a nice tortilla soup, either blended or softened in broth. Or chilaquiles, which makes a mighty fine breakfast/brunch, as does tacos de huevos.

I know exactly which tortillas you speak of! I've bought a stack myself.  They're usually made fresh locally. I think theyr'e quite tasty, even if their size makes them difficult for tacos. I used mine for migas, which uses day-old tortillas to begin with. Here's a recipe from Homesick Texan.

I've been making ice cream (next will be the Baklava Ice Cream!) and as a consequence have more than half a dozen egg whites. I'm interested in doing a savory dish rather than a sweet one unless there is a dessert that I definitively need to try (other than flourless cake and key lime pie).

OK, you've prompted me to get my act together for a blog post on this subject. Have a look at Branzino Me Alati (Salt-Crusted Mediterranean Sea Bass) and Grandmother's Macaroni and Cheese.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Aaaah!

Yeah, it was really a rough assignment.

All Clad now says on their care instructions they are dishwasher safe. They have been saying that for the past few years. My first All Clad pan a saute pan which is almost 20yo the instructions said it wasnt dishwasher safe. I purchased a current model saute pan for my bro and they are now dishwasher safe. Problem with All Clad is they are now making pans in the PRC. I got burned on one of these new pans. Great pan but I would not have purchased if i knew it wasnt made in PA. Neither All Clad or William Sonoma disclosed this info in their advert. I will no longer purchase anything from either company.

Word. We're a no-pots/pans in the dishwasher crowd here -- doesn't matter whether the label says it's "safe" or not.

Love the dueling salsas today! I've been having trouble with cilantro lately, I mean adding aplenty yet ending up with dishes that lack its flavor. At first I thought I'd had a "weak" batch - it seemed a little under aromatic when I rolled a leaf between two fingers when I was troubleshooting. So I started doing the rub test before I bought another batch, felt confident, then the same wan results. I'm not cooking the aromatic oils out; I'm adding the minced herb to raw dishes or dishes that have finished cooking. It's worked for me before, and not it's not. Any thoughts?

Where are you buying your cilantro, and what kind of dishes are you putting it in? Usually the sniff test at the store should provide all the aromatic confirmation you need.

Am i crazy, or do the tomatoes from a can taste better than the "fresh" tomatoes from the produce section? When i cook meals that include tomatoes, i swear they taste better with canned. i've tried fresh plum, vine-ripened, hot house etc....

At this time of year, it's not unusual to find that canned tomatoes taste better than the fresh ones. Most hothouse tomatoes, or those coming from warmer climates, will not have much flavor (though they often look fabulous).

I have quite a bit of white miso paste left over after making a dish for a Chinese New Year-themed dinner party, and I'm looking for ways to use it up. I searched through the Recipe Finder, but none of the ones listed really appealed to me (I mainly didn't want to buy other ingredients I'd also have to use up somehow). Is there a general way that's recommended for using up miso here and there (akin to how Parmesan rinds can be tossed into soups)? Can it be used in place of red miso? Thanks!

White miso is considerably milder than red miso, so it's not likely a good substitute. But here are some good ideas from TLC Cooking on how to use miso. You might even have some of these ingredients already in your pantry.

Hello. Thank you for reading my question. One of my favorite foods is black cod. I was fortunate to eat a lot of it in Japan this winter. All of the black cod I saw there had been imported from the US. Do you know where in northern VA I can find it? I've asked the fish counter at Wegmans, Whole Foods, Hmart, etc and no one carries it. Thank you.

U.S. black cod, sometimes called sable fish,  usually comes in from Alaska, and unfortunately you'll have to wait till maybe the end of March and into spring for the freshest stuff. In N.Va., you might be able to order it from Wegmans, especially if the store's having an Alaskan fish promotion, says my Wegmans seafood dept. pal  Jerry. Now, Gary at America Seafood in Arlington says he can order the fish frozen but you have to buy it in 5-pound increments (at $17.95 per lb.)  You also can order it in March at BlackSalt in the Palisades neighborhood.

BTW, I still dream about the black cod I've had at Rasika.

What are your favorite grilled cheese sandwich fixins? Any unusual cheeses that work particularly well? I'm fond of pear and brie myself

My new favorite combo is jalapeno raspberry jam from Emily G's, cilantro, caramelized onions and whatever cheese I have on hand -- I've used both mozzarella and gouda.

I despise mayo, to a point that words just cannot describe. I realize a lot of people like it, and I generally specify no mayo on burgers and other things where it can be reasonably expected. But when did it start showing up on grilled cheese?! I've seen this more and more lately, and today's story confirmed it. How common is this? Do I have to start asking each time I order such a simple, gooey sandwich?

Apparently there's a precedent in the recipe universe online; I suspect the egg in it helps bind the cheese on the inside and offers an alternative to buttering the outside of the bread.  As for ordering, be alert! Speak up!

It's a good idea to ask. You know, it's easy to add cream, butter and other fatty things to foods and make them delicious, but it's also a little bit of a cop out. If you combine excellent cheeses, is the mayo really necessary, especially when the bread is slathered with butter?  Probably not. Pimento cheese gets a pass because that's an integral part of the dish. 

I received a starter for Amish friendship bread but I'll be out of town all weekend but I'm supposed to bake it on Saturday (Day 10). Is there any way I can stick it in the fridge and make it next week? I haven't done the Day 6 step of adding flour, sugar and milk yet, when should I do that? Thank you! Hoping to not ruin the bread or the friendship :)

I checked in with master baker Mark Furstenburg, who had this to say:

"A starter is not harmed by refrigeration.  I refrigerate mine when I am not around to feed it.  I would not myself ever add sugar or milk to a starter.  Sugar makes it ferment faster and milk in a mature sour will give bread a slightly unpleasant taste. Starters are generally fed with flour and water, nothing else.  If sugar and milk are necessary to the bread recipe they can be added when the dough is made."

and a grilled cheese and pepperoni made with Wonder Bread, Kraft Singles and Hormel Pepperoni. I invented this sandwich when I was 7yo back in 1966.

That sounds delightful in a nostalgic kind of way, but an update without the proceesed ingredients may be in order. Some good country bread, a nice local cheddar and some Spanish chorizo would make a tasty sandwich.

I tried posting yesterday but I don't think it worked so here goes again. I'm trying to find a place that I can plug ingredients in and it will figure out the calories involved. I've recently started using and for some of my recipes (Best Buns Vanilla Cupcakes/anything Pioneer Woman) there is no calorie information. I'd love to be able to figure out what the calories were in these and other meals so I have a more accurate idea of portion size/caloric intake. Any suggestions? Thanks :)

Our good ol' gummit (rest in peace, Molly Ivins!) has developed a decent calorie counter over at the USDA. You can find it here.

I love my new induction top stove! It's fast and powerful and great to cook on. I've been using it for six months, but haven't used one feature. It came with a convection oven and I have no idea where to start with it. What's it best for? Roasting meats? Baking? I really don't know when to use it, but would love to learn if there's anything that it's great for. Thanks!

Chatters, let's hear from you on this one.  Convection's good for baking, and generally faster for everything. By all means, consult your manufacturer's manual, which should have a chart of suggested roasted/baking times.

I love being a part of a CSA but I definitely wish the system was more flexible--it's great that some farms are making the effort. I think that not only are CSAs a great way to support local agriculture, but it forces me to eat lots of veggies and to eat varieties I might not buy in the supermarket. I also love that I'm eating healthy and minimizing my carbon footprint. I've been doing the One Straw Farm CSA for two years now and have been very happy. Unfortunately, I'm moving away from Maryland and have to start looking for a new CSA in my new city! here I come!

Speaking of soup and sandwich combos--that's what I brought for lunch today. Not sure if the go together as well as some of the ones suggested in the article today, but I'm having mushroom barley soup, and pan fried seitan (I'm a vegetarian) on whole wheat w/ fresh organic kale and some chipotle mayo. Yummmy!

That sounds like a perfect combination for a summery winter day.

I'm moving from DC to NY in a couple of weeks and I'm trying to use up some of the ingredients in my pantry since I'm not taking them with me. I've got some bread flour and a lot of white sugar around, so is there something I can make with that?

We don't have too many recipes that call for both, but have a look at Slow-Rise, No-Knead Light Wheat (or White) Bread and High Holiday Challah. Also check out Chocolate Bread and Chocolate Cherry Baguette.

Chocolate Bread

I made all of the recipes from last week, and the carrots with orange-onion marmalade suggested, and they were GREAT. My guests and I especially loved the curried chicken salad and the carrots - I'm thinking of other ways to use the marmalade because it was fantastic. I even candied the leftover orange rinds from the tart (first time trying that) so nothing went to waste. I made the smoothie to sip on while cooking; my only quibble, and it's small - the coconut gave the drink a weird texture. Anyway, thanks for inspiring me to try some new citrus. And for last week's poster - I found pomelos at the Giant in downtown Bethesda.

Well, you are my favorite chatter so far today! Too bad I'm not hosting (and choosing prize winners)...Thanks for the pomelo intel.

I just want to send out some appreciation for lamenting how hard it is to find Tex-Mex here. I'm from Dallas and my version of Mexican food involves lots of ground beef and a whole lot of "cheese"! Your Ninfa's homage looks wonderful. Any chance you can take on Pappasito's hot blended salsa next?

I wrote about my unfulfilled jones for cheesy Tex-Mex when I was at City Paper. Back then, the closest approximation I found was at Cantina Mexicana in Crystal City. But since then I've discovered that the Alamo in Hyattsville has turned into a hardcore Tex-Mex spot.

What's "PRC?" And I agree with you about hand-washing pots and pans. I want them to last. I don't own any as expensive as All Clad, but if I was paying THAT much for cookware, I would certainly want to take extra special care of it.

People's Republic of China.

Jason - I know Vermouth needs to be refrigerated (and preferrably suctioned) once open. I've read that Campari should be refrigerated as well. How about Cynar? How long do each of these last once opened? Do you know of any website that provides a rundown on the best methods for various spirits once open?

I always refrigerate Campari, Cynar, Punt e Mes, Lillet Blanc, all vermouth, all sherry, ruby port, and pretty much anything that's wine-based or low in alcohol -- as well as St-Germain liqueur. Campari and Cynar et al do last pretty long, at least a few months, but they begin to get a musty-ish taste and you know it's starting to go. As for websites, I'm not sure. I know the Sherry Council has some guidelines for its sherries, but don't really know any others.

Hi Rangers, I'm perplexed by a problem I'm having hard-boiling eggs. I have one of those egg cooking gadgets, that I use. It does a fine job hard-boiling them, except that almost all of them end up with cracked shells when they're done. I usually cook them almost straight from the fridge. Should I be letting them get to room temperature before I start cooking them? Thanks!!

They don't need to be at room temperature. Try poking a tiny pinhole in the wide part of the shell. I poke the shells, put the eggs in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a rolling boil, remove from heat, then cover and let the eggs sit for 20 minutes. That works well for me. Crack the shells all over--they usually peel right off.

When recipes call for x number of scallions, are they referring to the bulbs carrying any number of shoots, or the shoots themselves?

"X" means the count of whole scallions -- usually 5 to 7 in a grocery-store bunch. In Post recipes, we often call for using the white and light-green parts, which means we cut off the root end, then start cutting all the way up to where the green gets dark and a little tough.

I attended a Bar-Mitzvah over the weekend and was served Teriyaki Glazed Salmon on a bed of braised spinach, topped w/carmelized onions. I can't tell you how good it was. Do you think you could help me replicate it at home please? 1) What temp do I bake salmon? 2) What is braising? 3) Is the rule with caramelizing low and slow and do I need to add liquid and/or salt/sugar?

You could try this recipe. It's chilled because it was developed to be picnic food, but you can serve it warm, right out of the oven.  We have a ton of good salmon recipes; here's a quick link to peruse.


I have to send out a hearty thank you to the food section for posting this recipe a few weeks back. I've made it about six times since you posted it (instant brownie points with the girlfriend every time - it's her favorite dish maybe ever) and distributed it to coworkers and friends who have all come back with rave reviews. Never have I forwarded a recipe to a friend who has said, "Hey, that was great!" That 5 have done so shows how amazing this simple, easy, dish is.

So glad you liked it! That was a great recipe from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Shepherd’s Pie

It's been grocery store cilantro, organic when available, but I too thought the sniff test should be weeding out duds. We're talking use in guac, finely minced for taco topping, and sprinkled on (hence warmed slightly) black bean soups. Flavor seems more like parsley, even tho I carefully did the rub-n-sniff to check for that ineffable cilantro perfume.

Maybe your cilantro gene's out of sorts? Might be good to bring in an independent taster...I'm available. :)

My daughter insists that there's no reason to refrigerate butter and bristles at cold butter when it's time for spreading . . . .my husband says it will go rancid on the counter. Who is right?

Depends, and I'm sorry to sound like a politician. If you keep it in a covered butter dish or butter bell at a cool room temperature and use it within a week or so, it's fine on the counter.

Rancid = heat, exposure to air, ingredients that could impart off-flavors. I'm going to give the edge to your daughter.

Did you guys do a Good To Go column this week? I can't find it on the Food webpage. [Insert ongoing grumbling about this god-awful website.]

Yes, we had one this week. Rina Rapuano wrote about the Go Fish food truck.

By the way, we're working on a regular spot on the Food home page for Good to Go.

This particular GTG was published early, as in last Friday, to give folks an extra few days to read up and plan. We may do this on a regular basis. But we certainly don't mean to hide it from you!

Are you using the leaves only? Maybe add more of the stems to your dishes (chopped finely, of course). Cilantro stems are much more palatable than other herb stems and the flavors might be more concentrated....?

You might be on to something here. I took an Indian food class over at Culinaerie a while back, and the instructor made sure we added the cilantro stems to our dishes. He said that's where all the good flavor is.

Are they thick enough to cut a slit in, like a pita? If so, stuff them with pork and/or cheese and I think you'll have a pupusa.

Give that fan a contract. Sigh. Missing baseball.

I believe, in fact, that many of the tortillas at Shoppers come from Salvadorans, who probably make their tortillas thicker because of the fact that they use them for pupusas.

You can create recipes in MyFitnessPal and save them, you don't need to employ a second calorie counting application.

Thanks for the suggestion. Here's the Web site for those curious to poke around.

Was wondering if got delivery from South Mountain Creamery and if the prices were worthwhile.

I love SMC.  The delivery's worthwhile if you're a busy household that goes through dairy products and appreciates icy cold milk in a bottle. I think their stuff lasts longer than milk  I used to buy at the store. And they offer a range of prepared meals and meats and artisanal items from other places.

Sweet apple (like fugi) + sharp cheddar on whole grain bread. Love it with tomato dill soup (a chicken broth-based chunky tomato soup my mom makes). I want to go home for lunch today!


I do love a good grilled cheese and tomato soup but my problem with some tomato soups is that its a fine line between a good tasting soup and a soup that tastes like tomato sauce. Do you have favorite tomato soup recipes that are not too sauce like?

I like Fabio Trabocchi's pappa al pomodoro, which appears in the Post's online recipes today. Bread thickens the soup; it's full-flavored and not saucelike. If you want some extra richness, add a touch of cream or some mascarpone on top.

I bought a bottle of Absolut Apple Ginger vodka. I've been drinking it with diet tonic water but I am sick of it. How else can I enjoy it? The simpler the better. I knew I should have stuck with just plain vodka or any flavor other than apple!

I would be sick of drinking that, too! But not just because of the diet tonic water. Because of that apple ginger vodka. Vodka (of any kind) and tonic (of any kind) is a bad match to begin with. Try club soda? Or maybe graduate to gin?

What's the best way to incorporate this into recipes? How to determine which recipes can best handle adding it? My holiday breads this year didn't rise properly, didn't taste as they should (they were entirely blah), etc. I'd like to increase the food value of the breads and other things I bake, but I want good products, too. NB: the holiday breads recipe already call for more yeast than most, and are heavy on eggs, butter and milk. All things that in my experience usually enhance the rising, texture, and flavor of my breads. Feels like there's a big gap in my education, here. Can you offer direction in figuring when and how to add/replace "regular" white flours with the white whole wheat? Many thanks.

I like to stick to the recommendation from the good folks at King Arthur Flour, which is starting with replacing 1/3 of the regular flour with white whole wheat. I find it makes my baked goods a little drier, so you might need to play around with your liquids to compensate. If you have questions about specific recipes, you could try calling the King Arthur baking hotline at 802-649-3717 or sending a note to

Question for Jason- Any issues with drinking moonshine made by someone who knows what they are doing? I did some quick web research and it seems like it's as safe as any other food/beverage DIY effort. Most issues were from the Prohibition era when a lot of alcohol producers weren't concerned about the safety of their product. Thanks!

"[S]omeone who knows what they are doing"? As in..."Don't worry, dude, I know what I'm doing?" Or, as in, this is a someone with some people who can give testimonials? If it's the latter, and you're reasonably certain you know the quality, it's surely fine. But as Max Watman explains in his excellent book "Chasing the White Dog," there are plenty of sketchy sources of moonshine. And there are also plenty of moonshine artisans. So caveat emptor

i am a die hard chicken wings i think i have a problem :) i love super crispy, extra spicy wings that aren't drowning in sauce. very few places can get them right, and i usually order them "double fried" so they are extra crispy. if i wanted to attempt making them at can i achieve that extreme crispiness? i've heard alton brown's method of steaming, chilling, and then baking is good, but that seems like alot of work. and frying seems messy.....any suggestions? WINGS!!!! (sorry......i told you i was obsessed!)

The number of exclamation points tells me all I need to know!!!! I think good wings do involve several steps, don't you???

Options:  Hands-Down Best Chicken Wings, from the exec chef of Hill Country. These Ceiba Honey Chicken Wings are fantastic; crispy and sticky. And La Brea Tar Pit Chicken Wings, well, they're worth all that punctuation. They are the crispiest.

I thought todays big topic was on pressure cookers; ideas and uses (other than beans).

Not today, but we certainly can get that going for another chat. Think I mentioned last week in this space that we could do an hour's worth due to the amount of interest.

The myPlate feature at Livestrong allows you to build a recipe out of ingredients, assign a number of servings, and it will calculate the calories for you, as well as save it for your future tracking. For free.

Thanks for the tip. Here's the link to the site.

I make my husband a tomato and cheese sandwhich everyday for his office breakfast. I vary the spread (mayo, hummus), and I vary the cheese. Today I used cucumber instead of tomato. But honestly, I'm sick of this sandwhich, and I don't even eat it.

I'm impressed that you make your husband's office breakfast every day. What do you do for lunch? 

i use my fitness pal and it's really very easy to calculate calories in a recipe. you just go to the "recipe" tab and create a recipe. then enter in all of the ingredients / quantities and the # of servings you want your recipe to make. it will give you the calories per serving. it's really much better than using the face value of the calories that are provided with a recipe, as you can alter ingredients and make your recipes more cal-friendly if need be.

Or you could just drop a few grand on the system we use here to do our nutritional analyses.

throw an un-used match stick in the water. something in the match head keeps the eggs from leaking if the shells break.

A match? That's a new one on me. If you use the basic method of starting them in cold water, bringing them just to a boil then letting them sit , covered, for 15 minutes, you won't have broken shells.

It's my turn to plan our Valentine's date, and on my turn we pretty much always have a nicer meal at home. The catch is that this year I'll be 38 weeks pregnant. I'm already finding that too much time in the kitchen isn't that comfortable. Are there high-impact main and side dishes I can plan that are of the "set it and forget it" type of meal - a long-cooking braise in the oven or something along those lines? I'd like to continue my tradition of doing something nice, but I don't want to be grumpy and uncomfortable when it's time to sit down and eat!

Do you have a slow cooker? That's definitely a "set it and forget it" kind of thing. Here are a bunch of recipes.

I loved Jason's column about inventing new cocktails. I've been doing a lot of that lately and trying to get better at it. One good source of inspiration has been trying to design cocktails to represent characters from my favorite TV shows (red-headed characters are very useful for getting ginger in a drink!). My question is, when inventing a new cocktail, particularly if you intend to publish it, how do you know what you've created is something that is truly original and thus you can claim credit for it? It seems like there are only so many combinations of popular flavors that undoubtedly someone else have probably tried it before and maybe even published it too. Is there a good rule of thumb? And if you start with a popular drink and give it a new twist, to what extent is this just copying, vs. creating?

Copying vs. creating. Hmmm. Isn't that one of the great big questions for any contemporary creator of anything. It's always possible that two bartenders thought to replace whiskey with apple brandy in their Old-Fashioned, but only one got theirs published in the newspaper. In most cases, recipes are not protected by copyright laws. But it's always considered in bad form to plagiarize someone's work without attribution. One clearinghouse sort of site where you can find thousands of drinks is here -- and you can always also check the WaPo's recipe archive!

How do I get meatballs to stay in a pretty ball shape? Mine always flatten out and look like sliders.

A little more info here, please. What are you putting in your mix and how are you cooking them?

A couple of the recipes in Recipe Finder use egg white as the binder for spiced nuts. The Smoky Almonds are particularly delish. (And healthy!)

Excellent taste. Here's the link to Smoky Almonds, created by yours truly.

I have put all clad in the dishwasher. And polish occasionally with barkerpers friend How in the world could a dishwasher harm it? My pots still look out of the box new.

Glad that's working for you. But it doesn't change my mind.

Could the lack of taste (cilantro) or quality of fresh versus canned (tomatoes) have to do with the fact that neither is in season right now and that they are travelling far from other places. Are these problems the posters are facing more recently or has this been happening throughout the year?

Yes, thanks for this reminder. Cilantro tends to grow best in spring and fall, according to gardeners.

It makes roasted veggies all golden and pretty without burning. Don't forget to reduce the temperature by 25 degrees and start checking the food a few minutes earlier than the stated cooking time. Potatoes come out looking like deep-fried home fries in about 20 minutes. YUM! I don't use it for cookies since they bake too fast when I have two sheets going.

Keep in mind that some ovens, such as mine, are equipped with a feature that automatically reduces the oven temperature for the convection feature. So if I punch in 350 degrees for, say, a cookie recipe, it sets it to 325. Best to read the manual.

Excuse the interruption from a gringa who is still learning the art, but pupusas aren't made from tortillas. Pupusas are made by forming a ball of masa, pressing it into your hand into a cup shape, adding your filling, forming back to a ball, and flattening out by hand. But the surmising that thicker tortillas are a Salvadoran thing is right on. As you were. :)

Not the same thing, right. But treating a thick tortilla like a pupusa, why not?

Yes, I wasn't trying to imply that a thick tortilla could be used as a pupusa. There is an art to creating pupusas. I've watched many a maker prepare mine.

Tacos, chili or something similar for the Super Bowl party at our house this weekend. Should we stick with sangria or can Jason offer another idea for a cocktail?

Here are a few tequila ideas for you: I love both the Paloma and simpler E-Z Paloma. And here's a tequila punch you might try instead, the Santa Maria.

This is not a gourmet question, but more of a weekday survival tactical question. I'm trying to come up with some new ideas for weekday dinners. Has anyone ever made tuna noodle casserole with success?

Here's a lasagne version of tuna noodle casserole I created for the Post, using unbaked noodles.

Ahhh the time of year I seriously consider joining a CSA, do a ton of research and then realize that I probably wouldn't find them as beneficial as just going to the farmer's market every week. Thanks for your great coverage of them! Maybe one day...

I bought blood oranges for the first time to make the tart from your recipe last week. 2 of the 4 were very bitter, is that how a blood orange is supposed to taste? Also, the recipe called for the tart cream to be pushed through a fine sieve. I only had a mesh strainer. What are good options for fine mesh sieves?

They should not have been bitter.

A mesh strainer can work if you push/scrape stuff through with a flexible spatula; even better, and I just used this last night, if you have a splatter screen (used for frying chicken), make sure it's clean. Push whatever mixture you have through using a plastic scraper -- this technique is akin to a professional kitchen  tamis (sounds like "tammy") and makes the work go faster because you've got a greater surface area and the mesh is fine.

You answered my questions about a cake ball maker I received for Christmas. I just wanted to let you know how much my 2 year old daughter and 3 of her friends enjoyed decorating and eating the cake balls. they were the perfect size for little hands to hold the stick, dump non pareils on the icing, and then make a mess while eating. I used a red velvet recipe that the kids (and adults) loved.

Thanks for checking in! I can see how kids would have a blast with that little appliance. For those who missed it, this chatter is referring to my Chat Leftovers answer about a cake pop maker that was a Christmas gift. Every week on our All We Can Eat blog I answer a question that was left over from a chat, so don't miss it -- next week's question could be yours!

I use You can enter ingredients and then calculate calories and nutrition based on serving size.

Thanks for the suggestion.

After cooking the blood orange tarts plus some other recipes, i had several egg whites. I kept it simple by making an omelet. But, I used leftover ingredeints - feta cheese, onions, peppers and fresh thyme. This was first time I used thyme in an omelet and it was incredibly good.

Nice. Fresh herbs are so great in eggs. In fact, you might want to try this Fresh Herb Kuku sometime (even if you don't have the barberries at hand). It's one of my favorite recipes of the past few years.

Try Korean wings when you have the chance! extra extra crispy

I think one of the big advantages to a CSA is its inflexibility. Getting that bag of veggies every week forces me to find a use for them -- a great challenge. I try foods I might not have otherwise tried, or I find uses for things that I don't really enjoy. For example, I've never liked tomatoes (I know, I know). But I get bags and bags of them in the summer. This has prompted me to start making my own tomato sauce, which I actually enjoy using throughout the year. PS - I didn't see my CSA on the list (Waterpenny Farm in VA). Maybe I didn't look hard enough?

That list is a beast, and we can't pretend it's all-inclusive. But I'll contact them to see if they're interested in being included.

It's not my genes; I've read that research, and I previously tasted it fine. Furthermore, I prepared and served this with other fellow cilantro lovers, and they both 1) agreed it had strong cilantro scent and 2) agreed the flavor was mysteriously missing from the final products. I appreciate that you've generously given me lots of "space" in your chat over this, but can I perhaps finally get some advice? Is it possibly a technique issue on my part?

The chatter who suggested using more stems is onto something.

Thanks to you, chatter :) I'll try a heavier concentration of stems to leaves.

D'oh! Wish I'd offered that.

At my best friend's wedding, one of the appetizers was little grilled cheese sandwiches served with a shot glass of tomato soup. Yum!

That's my kind of wedding.

Well, a matchstick head is comprised of phosphorus, which goes go towards hardening bone and the like, so I guess a weak phosphoric solution could strengthen the eggshell? But that's a new one for me too...

I think I want to keep my egg water chemical-free.

Eve if you are making orange or grapefruit curd, you might use part lemon juice to get a more tart quality. And I second the suggestion of zest, grated finely with a rasp.

I leave for a trip tomorrow and return in the early evening on Super Bowl Sunday. Is there anything I can make tonight, or something I can make on Sunday that has ingredients that won't spoil in the meantime? I won't have time to go to the grocery store on the way home on Sunday so I'd have to buy the ingredients tonight either way.

Some of these dips are make-ahead.

Ever since Thanksgiving, I've discovered that I love Brussels sprouts. I want to make a pasta with them next week--I'm thinking of roasting them and tossing with sauteed mushrooms and shallots. Haven't decided on a good sauce yet to pull it together. Maybe white wine? Any ideas?

I don't know that you need much of a sauce, other than some cooked down white wine, olive oil and a bit of the pasta water. I'd add chopped scallions, plenty of salt and pepper, maybe some pepperoncini and finssh with Parmesan cheese. Bacon lardons would also go nicely in this dish.

That anti-mayo poster reminded me of something I read recently, which suggested using mayo on the outside of the bread instead of butter (I myself am not at all anti-mayo). Have you tried that? Does it work well?

The main ingredient in mayo is oil, so it does work in toasting the bread. But given the choice, I'd opt for the pureness of butter for toasting my bread for a grilled cheese sandwich.

I'm a newbie to the food processor. My ridiculously naive and simple question is, how come I can't puree vegetables into a smooth soup? Why does it come out kind of chunky?

It takes a little practice; you just need a decent ratio of liquid to solids to make a good puree in a food processor. Work in batches; you can always run the stuff through twice to get the consistency you're looking for.   And you want to remember not to fill the darn work bowl too full, or you'll have those small, sad rivers of soup running down the motor base. :(

Jason, I have some rum, vodka, cointeau, orange and cranberry juice at home. What would be a good mixture for a sweet cocktail?

With the rum and Cointreau you could do a El Presidente or a Knickerbocker (though in both cases you'd have a few minor purchases to make).

Is it true that if you leave the avocado pit in homemade guac, it won't turn brown?

My dear mom used to swear by it, but what really works is blocking exposure to the air. So place plastic wrap directly on the surface, making sure there are no air bubbles or openings at the edges.

Thank you and Mama Ninfa for calling this "green sauce" rather than "guacamole." The recipe reminded me of my first time at a Tex-Mex restaurant, back when restaurants tended to "Americanize" recipes. I was on my way home from a summer in Mexico, where I'd gone gaga for guacamole. So, that's what I ordered, but what I got instead was a bowl of avocado mashed with sour cream in fairly equal proportions. The server insisted that customers preferred it that way. I insisted it wasn't guacamole. To this day, I still ask the servers at Tex-Mex restaurants how their guacamole is made.

I'm not sure where customers preferred it that way, but I sure don't!

I have a Silpat and several Le Creuet silicone spatulas that I just love. Problem is, after 2 to 3 years of use, they feel greasy and have a film on them. Is there a way to degrease them, or is this the nature of silicone?

According to the Silpat site, the greasy feel is "normal."

husband and son's lunches are leftovers from dinner. Usually veggies and rice, beans/lentils and rice, or pasta with roasted zucchini or cauliflower.

All excellent choices that keep your family from having to negotitate the minefield of processed foods out there.

I really am into green beans lately but I need a few ideas to change up my repertoire. I have made green beans with potatoes and Indian spices, and I have sauted green beans with onion, garlic and sometimes mushrooms. Oh and of course green beans with tomatoes. How can I turn green beans into a full meal?

I have two separate questions. Thanks in advance for tackling both! 1. I want to make chili for the big game, but don't want to use ground meat or poultry. What kind of beef should I buy to have chunks of meat in my chili? Got a good recipe? 2. I have a package of country-style pork ribs (boneless). Usually we just throw these on the grill or grill pan with some salt and pepper but I'm getting bored of that. Is there a good way to use them in a stew or crockpot?

Ack, we're minutes from closing. A good boneless chuck roast cut into cubes with some fat trimmed away will be fine as long as you cook low/slow/long enough to get them meltingly tender. I see plenty of slow-cooker rib recipes on the ol' Web, but I guess I never get tired of smoky, chewy ribs on the grill. Seek and ye shall find!

Yup, it's recent. I feel rather foolish for not considering the seasonal part, but the rubbed scent was so strong I didn't think of it. Thank you!

Well, we've just experienced another super-fast hour of super questions, many focused on soups, as we head into Super Bowl Sunday.

For all your good questions, we have cookbooks to give away. For the chatter who makes sandwiches everyday for her husband, we have a copy of "Soups + Sides" by Catherine Walthers. And for the chatter who can't find good Tex-Mex food in D.C., we have a copy of "Truly Mexican" by Roberto Santibanez.

Please contact Becky Krystal at, to get your cookbooks.

Thanks to Jason, David H., and all the Free Range regulars this week. Enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday, everyone!

In This Chat
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is the Food section staff writer. Joining him are interim Food editor Bonnie Benwick, recipe editor Jane Touzalin, Food/Travel aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: Food writer David Hagedorn.
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