Free Range on Food: Things we love, Valentine's Day eats, DIY sweets and more

Brown Butter Sorghum Caramels.
Feb 10, 2016

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat!

Hope you enjoyed all our love-ly coverage this week, including our odes to "Things We Love" (Jim Webster on girly drinks, Emily Codik on beans, Becky on vintage CorningWare, Bonnie on food shopping, Tim on his home coffee bar, Kara Elder on a barbecue sauce, Fritz Hahn on Baltimore bars, Alex Baldinger on his immersion blender, Tom Sietsema on vintage martini glasses, and yours truly on oysters and mussels).

But that's far from all, even though that's a lot! We also gave you some fantastic ideas for Valentine's Day (or other) cooking: Dorie Greenspan on a beautiful, fun to make meringue w/cream, Ellie Krieger on double chocolate pancakes, Carrie Allan on chocolate cocktails that will blow away any chocolatini; and Cathy Barrow on DIY treats made with two of her favorite new ingredients.

Cathy "Mrs Wheel-" Barrow and Carrie "Spirits" Allan will join us today, along with the rest of us regulars. (Tim is on assignment.) 

And for you Dorie fans (and who isn't?), you can chat with her directly, right after Free Range, starting at 1. (Although you can ask early and often, even now!) 

Live Chat: Ask Dorie Greenspan

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR1593 . Remember: Record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

We'll also have a giveaway book for our favorite chatter today: It's Aviva Goldfarb's new one, "The Six O'Clock Scramble Meal Planner." 

Let's do this!

You folks have a great sense of humor and everyone privileged to read what you love should have a smile on their face. I love it when I wake up every Wednesday morning, retrieve The Post and go right to The Food Section as I know I will be able to find something that will brighten my day. Joe's prose on his love for beets several years ago is unforgettable. I made Dorie's Citrus Yogurt Cake recently which was very good, however, the bottom of the cake burned. I cut the burned part off and it still tasted good. I want to make it again but would like to know what I did wrong for this to happen as I followed the recipe closely.

Thanks so much for this! Brightened our day, too. 

On your Dorie experience, can I ask that you take this question right to her? She's chatting directly after us, from 1-2 p.m., and you can send her questions now

CHAT LIVE: Baking With Dorie Greenspan

 

EVERYDAY DORIE: How to make the simple cake that's a household standard in France

ESSAY: Beets: The love that leaves its mark

Happy Valentine's to all! I LOVED Becky Krystal's own Things We Love piece; her grandma sounded like a treasure. By the way, I also have a CorningWare, 10x10x2 casserole dish with a (gasp) slightly chipped glass lid, given to me from my mother via (what?!) my grandmother! Definitely relatable. Many a pasta dish, ratatouille, curry, pilaf, shepherd's pie, cornbread, salad and other memorable meals have graced said dish over the years. It's the bee's knees! Where can I get more of the Blue Cornflowered stoneware? If Becky's mom can donate some to me (and not to Becky), that's fine.

blue cornflower corningware

Ha, too funny. I think we'll probably be keeping ours all in the family. :) Although, if you can believe it, I did get a call this morning from a reader offering me her set! I told her she should check with her kids and grandkids, as so much of what makes these pieces valuable is their emotional connection.

I've seen lots of vintage CorningWare being advertised for sale online, such as on eBay, Etsy and Replacements Ltd. Thankfully there's so much of it out there, it's generally not priced out of reach. And definitely check flea markets, consignment stores, etc.

ARTICLE: The vintage casserole dish that keeps on cooking, just like Grandma did

ARTICLE: People really do love their classic CorningWare dishes

I just wanted to give all of the writers and designers props for today's beautiful Food section! Really enjoyed reading all the entries, especially Kara Elder's take on BBQ sauce.

On a couple of occasions lately, we've soaked dried beans (black, red) overnight, drained them and then boiled them for the time specified on the bag (1 1/2 to 2 hours) . . . but they were still pretty woody. Neither was even approaching the "sell by" date and had been stored dry and in their original packaging. What gives?

I've had the same experience on occasion, and while I don't know why it happens, if you keep cooking them, they will (eventually) soften.

By the way, if anything acidic is added to beans early in the cooking process, they can become tough. This includes vinegar, wine, tomatoes and tomato paste, additions best made after the outer skins of the beans have softened (about one hour of simmering).

It's because beans can be several years old, and there's really no way to know unless you cultivate a reputable source. The older they are, the longer they can take to soften.

I loved the feature on Ramen last week and wondered if the team found anyone experimenting with rice noodles for those of us with celiacs that want to join the flavor party.

Good question! I just quickly perused the menus of all the places we featured and didn't immediately see any that mentioned gluten-free noodles. Doesn't mean they don't exist, though. Anyone have a tip?

ramen

ARTICLE: The ultimate guide to the best ramen in the D.C. area

I use my CorningWare Blue Cornflower bowls of various sizes every day along with my CorningWare green flower dishes. Fortunately, silicone lids now are available as the lids on many of my pieces, especially the little (Princess?) bowls have been broken and replacements are almost impossible to find.

Silicone lids, good idea! I heard from several other people like me, who have chipped glass lids -- or ones that are completely lost.

Very glad to see the Chat Leftovers column today, as I wasn't sure that feature was continuing -- because when I run a search for it, only a few turn up, from last year and earlier. As a way around that, it'd be nice if you'd include a link to it in the online Food section each week. Or at least tell us if a new one posts every Wednesday, so we can search with a date. The info is always interesting and usually helpful. Thanks for helping us fill up on Food!

Thanks! And we're telling you now: It posts every Wednesday! You can find it at washingtonpost.com/food every week.

Hi, I commented somewhat disparagingly about a vegetarian sauce recipe Joe posted, saying it had only cheese for protein. Joe correctly pointed out that that wasn't the case, and of course when I actually LOOKED at the recipe, it did contain ground almonds, which I thought was a very interesting and creative element of the sauce. So my apologies for my mistake and my uninformed comment. Question about this morning's article. I am a vegetarian (lacto/ ovo) who does not respond well to people who say they are "mostly" or "almost" vegetarian. To me, it would be more accurate to say "I don't eat meat very often" but of course that doesn't sound as good. Even more distressing are the people who eat fish and claim they are vegetarians. In any case, I am trying not to let it bother me, but in the meantime... I wondered about your statement that evidence indicates that oysters don't feel pain. Of course there are many different reasons to not eat animals (personally, I just don't like the idea of chewing and swallowing another living creature). I wanted to ask whether it would make a difference to you if the evidence indicated that oysters may well feel pain. Not trying to judge -- in fact I am working on not judging in general!! -- just curious.

Hi! No worries about last week -- it didn't faze me one bit!

As for my piece about eating oysters and mussels, if you haven't already, you should page through the comments and see some of my responses to some of the (mostly very polite and constructive) commenters. One of the reasons I use the label is that my exception list is so small and occasional it usually hardly seems worth clarifying, and I get kind of tired of being asked to go into a whole explanation when really I just want to flag to a waiter that I want to eat no meat, no seafood, etc. When I'm at an oyster bar or a mussel house, I explain more fully if need be (so I don't get the mussels with pancetta, for instance), and of course to friends I am honest about all the nuances.

I'll share my favorite email reaction. This came from a beloved former colleague, a longtime vegan who wrote:

Your column about oysters and mussels reminds me of a time about 20 years ago when I said to my son: “All these people who call themselves vegetarians but eat fish — I’d like to buy them all dictionaries.” And without skipping a beat, he shot back with: “They should all buy you dictionaries, so you can look up ‘pedantic.’ "

Anyhow, on the do-they-feel-pain question. Yes, it would make a difference to me, because a concern for animals is one part of my philosophy of vegetarianism. Did you read the Sentientist posts I referenced? Fascinating stuff.

THINGS WE LOVE: Why I eat oysters and mussels, even though I call myself vegetarian

This looks like a gluten free, dairy free option for a birthday cake. I'm willing to try it. It calls for a deep 9 inch round pan--how deep is deep? Wilton has 2 inch deep ones that they sell as a pair. Online, I find 3 inch deep ones. When I try this out, I'll put a sheet pan underneath for overflow, but I don't want a huge amount of wasted batter or the smell of burned batter in the house.

Deep typically means at least 2  inches in the recipe universe. You might like to have a 3-incher around if you like making cheesecakes. 

Carrie, this article was exactly what I needed for my upcoming pre-Valentine's Day cocktail party - I will definitely be trying the Cocoa Smoke. But, I was really interested in your suggestion to try rye, Scotch, Fernet and chocolate liqueur together - is there an actual cocktail that combines these ingredients? Suggestions on measurements? Bonus points if there is a cocktail out there that combines Chartreuse (I have green and yellow) and chocolate. Thanks!

Hey, sorry for leaving out measurements! I got carried away with experiments and was afraid of providing too many recipes. But yes -- I'm going by memory here, but my memory says that 2 ounces of rye, 1/2 ounce of creme de cacao, and a 1/4 ounce each of fernet and a smoky Scotch produced really nice results (I used Ardbeg for the scotch.) Try those proportions and then adjust for taste to be more chocolatey, smokey, bitter as you like! And I haven't played enough with the chocolate/chartreuse combo yet, though I do like a slug of the green stuff in a good dark hot chocolate. Try Jamie Boudreau's recipe for a start. And then the ever-reliable Paul Clarke has some musings and recipes too.  

Becky Krystal's piece on her grandmother's Corning casserole dish provided a pleasant flashback to my mom's vintage kitchen (my parents married in 1957, and most of my mom's kitchenware seemed like wedding gifts; like the set of Corning Cinderella bowls in the pink gooseberry pattern). When she died, I kept three items: a wooden-handled icepick from the local ice house in Flint, Michigan, a jar opener, and the Kromex spun aluminum salt and pepper shakers that sat on her stove. I didn't intend to keep the Kromex, but changed my mind when they didn't sell at the estate sale. I brought them home, gently cleaned off decades of greasy patina, used the icepick to unstop the plugged holes in the black Bakelite lids, filled them, and set them by my own stove. Recently it occurred to me to run the end of a cake of soap along the outside of the rim to make them easier to open. It's so much nicer to refill them now that the lids don't shriek like fingernails down a blackboard as they're twisted off! The spun aluminum looks like brushed stainless, so they fit nicely in a contemporary kitchen--and provide a memory both of my mom and of her bright kitchen in the house I grew up in when my hometown of Flint was a thriving, vibrant community.

Thanks for sharing your memories!

Hi, I usually make a fondue for friends around Valentine's Day. What liqueur should I add to it to make it interesting? Thanks!

Green Chartreuse is a classic friend to chocolate. I would say the orange and nut liqueurs would be reliable options as well. (The main issue here, I think, would be making sure your fondue doesn't seize, but it sounds like you've got your method down already.)

My spouse will be working late and I'm recovering from an ear infection so have very limited knife skills if I want to keep my fingers intact. Any suggestions for something simple but special and luxurious I can make? Going out to dinner is not an option as my spouse has an early shift the following day - grrrrrrrr to his supervisors...

Your amorous; are you both omnivorous? Suggestions to follow forthwith!

How limited? Do you have a 1 quart saucepan? Can you chop a shallot and peel and cube a potato? Saute the onion in butter until soft. Add the potatoes and cover with water until tender (10 minutes or so) Add half a pint (12) of already shucked oysters with their liquid, bring to a strong simmer and cook for about 4 minutes, until the oysters are cooked through but not tough. Glug in a bit of booze - sherry or cognac are nice - and some heavy cream and simmer another minute before serving with a nice loaf of bread and good butter. Amorous eating with limited cooking skills. Happy Valentine's Day.

I was making a chicken and butternut squash recipe I had made before. This time, however, I used (thawed) frozen squash instead of fresh. The squash went mushy and I ended up with something closer to mashed potatoes than to the distinct chunks of squash I had expected - not completely mashed but certainly falling apart. Any thoughts on what I may have done wrong? The squash was already less then firm when thawed, or at least some pieces were. I had bought it only a week or two ago.

I think thawed frozen veggies tend to be mushier than fresh. That's often because ice crystals will break cell walls and out comes that water that might otherwise stay inside.

Also, some of the frozen squash is cooked -- are you sure yours wasn't?

morning. I dug out my 40 year old Craig Claiborne cheesecake recipe to make for a party. Everyone loved it! Only problem I had a very difficult time slicing it without half the slice sticking to the knife. Don't remember having this problem before. I did add all the eggs at once? I did mix it maybe more than necessary to remove some cream cheese lumps? It said to bake for 1.5 - 2 hours - how to tell when done? Want to make this again but would like to be able to slice for better presentation. Thank in advance.

Is it the one from 1963? If so, I see that it doesn't call for using a bain-marie, or hot-water bath, to bake the cheesecake. So maybe your cake got a little overbaked. I find the water bath helps keep cheesecake moist and less likely to crack on top (although that's just an aesthetic thing). You can usually tell when a cheesecake's done by giving the pan a jiggle....the center of the cake should be JUST set. 

 

For slicing, have a container of very hot water that you can dip your whole knife into, before each cut. Wipe off the knife, make the cut, wipe off the knife. Repeat! That should help. 

...as I pick up the Post Food section and prepare to participate in this chat. But I'm sure the mortification is good for my soul. Thank you for the item on drinking in Baltimore; I live south of the city and it's great to have its charms acknowledged.

Thanks for letting us know! Will onpass to Fritz, who will be delighted.

THINGS WE LOVE: I go out in DC for my job. But for fun, I drink in Baltimore.

The chili was very tasty, but I made some changes before and during cooking it that made me wonder about some of the directions. One tablespoon of oil was not enough to coat all of the onions and sweet potatoes, and I had to use around three to four tablespoons to keep them being too dry in the pot. Why are the onions cooked for eight minutes before adding the sweet potatoes? Over medium heat, my onions threatened to start browining, so I put the sweet potatoes in early. Similar recipes call for cooking the onions and sweet potatoes together from the beginning. Is there a reason not to do this? I understand the wide variation in pans and stovetops have a huge impact, but 16 minutes over medium heat seems like a long time for onions to stay translucent. Also, how do you cook finely chopped garlic for 8 minutes without browning/burning? I put the garlic in a minute before adding the spices, and it seemed like any longer would have been a problem, even stirring constantly. Finally, the cubed sweet potato was not cooked after 30 minutes. I scooped them out and cut them down before cooking for around 20 minutes longer. It seems like 1/2 inch cubes are probably a better size for the given directions. Again, I really liked the taste, and often have success with Joe's recipes, but think the directions for this one might need a little tweaking.

Glad you liked the results -- and glad you were able to tweak it to your heart's content.

Cooking times can vary so much, especially when you're talking about things like onions, which take shorter or longer depending on how fresh they are, how big the pot is, and more. But in a large pot (I used a Le Creuset Dutch oven for this), rather than a wide, shallow skillet, this was not too much time for the onions or the garlic when I tested the recipe. This is why we give alternate cues -- like "or until translucent" -- so that you're not depending solely on the clock, which really is folly. (I sometimes remember to change the order of those two cues, so the time is secondary, showing that my priority is for you to follow the visual/other cue, not the clock.)

As for the amount of oil, I wonder if you had particularly dry onions? Anyway, I'm not sure it would have been a problem to let them be on the dry side before the liquid ingredients went in. Also, keep in mind that the recipe doesn't say anything about the onions staying translucent; browning them some is fine.

You can certainly put the sweet potatoes in at the beginning. I didn't change that from the original recipe because it didn't occur to me that I needed to. One reason you cook onions in advance of anything else is to concentrate their flavor, but it's true that having the sweet potatoes in there probably wouldn't have affected that.

The sweet potatoes were done for me in that allotted time -- and several commenters haven't mentioned that they had other experiences, but it could have been that your sweets were maybe older/denser? Or, if you used a shallow, wide skillet, I could see their taking longer if they weren't submerged in the liquid.

Ultimately, the important thing is that you made it work!

RECIPE: Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

That's a good thing. Even Tom Sietsema recommends staying home and cooking for V Day rather than risking a rushed and bad experience in a restaurant.

I agree -- and I feel the same way about New Year's Eve. So much better to stay home.

Thanks for the responses! I did think to read the label and the frozen squash was uncooked.

You're welcome!

Ideas for a good Valentine's Day cocktail that can be made with standard bar "pantry" items?

Hmm. I'm not quite sure what "standard bar pantry items" include. Assuming they DON'T include a good creme de cacao (if they do, you could try doing one of the chocolate drinks I wrote about this week). As a Campari/Aperol fan, though, the color and flavor of those crimson bitters are a great thing to have around for Valentine's Day. They bring the red! You could go for a classic Negroni or any of the Negroni cousins (the Old Pal, the Boulevardier, which will be darker but still reddish in tone). You could also swing sweeter into something with Aperol, orange, gin and soda. And I would look to some good garnishes for visual contrast, fragrance and, well, fanciness? I also like pomegranate seeds as a garnish -- if you put them into a fizzy drink, they "dance" as the carbonation forms and dissipates. It's a nice visual.

There's a proper term for that: Pescatarian.

I've never heard that term! ;-)

I knew people would pounce on the label, and even wrote that. But honestly, to me, pescetarian indicates someone who eats seafood regularly, which I don't. That's why I said at the end of my piece that perhaps I'm ovo/lacto/ostro-vegetarian, or maybe just "mostly vegetarian -- with a very short exception list."

Why does the link only show older recipes? Is this column over?

Oy you're hurting my soul. Dinner in Minutes forever! What link are you looking at? ANY TIME you want to see all the Dinner in Minutes recipes, just search on those 3 words in our Recipe Finder. You'll get this, which will be in alphabetical order.

 

Here's this week's, from FOF Aviva Goldfarb's new cookbook.

RECIPE Cod and Corn Chowder Pie

Yes, the problem is that the link either in the strip at the top of the Food landing page, or the tag in the Recipe Finder leads you to a list that's not in reverse chronological order but to one that starts off alphabetical (on the first page) but then goes random. I'll mention it to our developers and see if we can get that changed.

Thanks for your help. I use kosher salt. I like to use a salt shaker both at the table and to use for sprinkling certain items (formed cookies for baking, oiled slices of eggplant for browning,) but the size of the kosher salt grains are too large for my salt shaker. If anyone knows of a shaker with slightly larger holes, I would be most grateful. Thus far I've only found a shaker designed for red pepper flakes, and it is plastic, unattractive, with holes that would probably be too large. Thank you!

For larger grains of salt, I like those tiny little bowls with tiny little spoons. Gives your guests a finger-pinch option, too. 

I had a delicious butternut squash sandwich at Citizen in Richmond. It tasted of curry. Do you think I can replicate it with sweet potatoes? And is there a way I can find out what style of bread they used?

I think your best bet is to just call them! Their number: 804-780-9038. Not sure we can be of much help since we haven't eaten it, although sweet potatoes and butternut squash can often be swapped for one another. I did see their menu on Facebook, which says the bread is a pressed bolilo roll (think I saw these at a local Latin market the other day...). 

My nephew just moved to a teensy one-room "apartment" that fits his budget but has no kitchen access, just a mini-fridge and microwave and a shared bathroom down the hall. He is a vegetarian and loves to cook. I'd like to give him some sort of helpful gift. What do you recommend?

How about a slow-cooker, and a few cookbooks to go with it?

Would canola oil substitute nicely for the olive oil? I love olive oil but I really only keep the hearty stuff around.

I believe Dorie's answer to this is yes, but you should just ask her yourself. She's doing her own chat right after us at 1 p.m. Here's the link.

Dorie Greenspan’s Mediterranean Yogurt Cake

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan’s Mediterranean Yogurt Cake

I try to eat vegetables, but there are a lot of them I don't like, especially winter vegetables. Some I have given up on, such as squash and sweet potatoes. I have tried lots of preparations, and just don't like them. Others I continue to work on. I have found that I can eat kale, chard, etc., in soups. Victory! This week, green beans are coming in my CSA. Uh-oh. I hate green beans, although I can eat them if I must (unlike sweet potatoes and squash). So, what's a good recipe for someone who isn't into green beans but would like to be?

Help me understand what you haven't liked about them -- that might help me offer a prescriptive. If it's the crisp-tender texture, may I recommend the old Southern way of long-braising them? 

May I also ask: Where do you live that has a CSA featuring green beans in February? Does the CSA work with local-to-you farms?

Any recommendations for a Rubio fan who needs to drown his sorrows? I guess this question is for Carrie.

Something that combines Cuban rum (if you can find it) with Florida citrus and spice? I think we're talking some sort of daiquiri, surely. One so good you just want to drink it over and over and over until Chris Christie points it out to the press. 

I've never been much of a cook and so for the past decade I've only had a small nonstick frypan (eggs) and one 2 qt. saucepan (pasta), which was all I needed. Now I'm cooking again and it's a little dicey trying make things work with my two pans. What do suggest to supplement my cookware? Sizes, types, brands, etc. My little stainless steel saucepan cost $9.00 at Marshall's and it's been great so I'm looking for usefulness and quality over name-brand cache. Do I just need to buy a set? And feel free to suggest other must-have utensils and gadgets (as I quickly learned that a fork really doesn't substitute for tongs). Thanks!

I think  I can speak for all of us in Food, in saying we're anti-"sets" when it comes to pots n pans. You've already got 2 components. I'd recommend a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, which if you treat it right can outlast any other pan in your lineup; a 6-quart enamel-over-cast-iron Dutch oven, for braising and stovetop soups and stews; and a wok or high-sided saute pan. If someone were to buy you a culinary birthday gift, maybe slip them the idea of a grill pan, which is kinda nice to have. Check Marshall's, eBay, sales at kitchen stores. You'll get there.

 

Utensilwise: Locking tongs, yes (short and long sizes); a kitchen scale; a meat thermometer; a paring knife and 8-inch chef's knife; a Microplane zester (or rasp from the hardware store); a citrus juicer; a spatula designed for nonstick pans. My colleagues will add more! 

Bonnie covers a lot of ground here, but I'd add that you could consider a large stockpot if you're the stock-making type (and you should be, IMHO). As for gadgets/utensils, I'd add an oven thermometer if you do much baking; a couple good whisks (maybe a flat one for whisking shallow sauces and a larger one for cream/eggs/etc.); a meat pounder if you want to easily make thin cutlets; a good box grater so you can also do coarser grating of cheese/vegetables.

A good baking sheet with sides. Or two. And parchment paper.

Oh, I second that -- I have many rimmed baking sheets, and I love them. Half-sheet pans, they're called in the biz. And I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the sheets of parchment paper rather than the rolls. The sheets exactly fit that half-sheet-pan size, so they're such a time saver.

Kitchen scale, food processor, large (12-inch) nonstick skillet.

ARTICLE: This simple device will take your baked goods to the next level

Not exactly Valentine's day related, but I cannot caramelize onions. I have read recipes and articles, watched videos, and mine never get to that glorious golden color. Never, ever. I have a gas stove with pretty high BTUs, so I put a flame diffuser under the pan. I keep the temp low. I use a saute pan large enough to hold everything in a nice single layer. I aim for nice and slow, I know they often take 30-40 minutes. I follow recipes exactly, and by the end, I just have dried out cooked onions. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

You're not a failure! Caramelized onions take much longer than 30-40 minutes, in my experience.

The one thing that's stopping me with your description is "a saute pan large enough to hold everything in a nice single layer." I don't think you want that. When I do it, in my cast-iron skillet, I've got a big pile of thinly sliced onions, and I start off on medium to medium-high heat, tossing them with tongs to give them a good head start on wilting, and then I salt them and turn them way down and stir every so often.

Here's a recipe from our former columnist Andreas Viestad that describes his method, which is a little different, involving salting, draining and covering. You might try it!

RECIPE: Caramelized Onions

 

For vegetarians who occasionally eat fish. Have you tried products by Gardein and Sophie's Kitchen? I honestly can't tell the difference.

Due to significant home renovations in progress (not the kitchen though), I am in search of an uncomplicated-but still-nice meal to make for Valentine's weekend. Husband and daughter eat meat, but I do not. The meat part I think I can figure out, but would love some ideas of compliments for the non-meat eater that don't feel like a bunch of sides and still add to a nice meal.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese might be nice.

Or ratatouille -- in a tart or a salad or crepes! -- which is not complicated but takes chopping. 

I'm not criticizing the OP's food choices, but last I checked, plants were also considered living organisms.

OK, OK, now I'm reminded of the "fruitarian" in "Notting Hill": "We only eat things that have fallen from the tree or bush and that are in fact dead already."

I've made the sweet potato-black bean chili THREE TIMES now and I don't understand why the previous poster had such difficulty. One tablespoon of oil was plenty for the onions. The garlic cooking time was fine; it did not burn, and I believe the instructions say to stir it frequently, which would be key. I will agree that the cubed sweet potatoes don't get softened enough in the prescribed cooking time, so last time I made it, I started them a few minutes earlier. Other than that, no problem. I wouldn't want people to think it's a difficult recipe. It's my new favorite! My Super Bowl party guests loved it, too, and never noticed it was vegan. (Maybe because I served it with sour cream on the side.)

Thanks!

A great excuse to go searching antique shops for salt-cellars so that each guest can have their own.

Just so.

When we got married back in 1979 we received the Green Spring Blossom dinner set. Later we updated and boxed up the old set. The old green set traveled with child #2 to Big State University and is still in use at her house. She swears she doesn't like it but has yet to replace it. Maybe grandkid will take it back to college!

Yes, let the cycle continue! Love it.

I've heard vegetarians say that they don't eat anything with a face, or anything with eyes. Oysters and mussels don't have either one, so Joe is in the clear there. Scallops, however, have lots of pretty bright blue eyes, so they will have to stay off the menu. :-)

Phew. So glad I'm "in the clear." I was worried about that! (Not.) ;-)

I can sympathize with the chatter in that there were vegetables I ate only because they were healthy - not because I liked them. That changed when I started buying vegetables exclusively from local farmer's markets, which only sell produce in season. That made all the difference to me. When you purchase produce in a grocery store you never know what's in season since everything is available there year round.

Agreed, generally. 

The salmon burgers are gone, but 1/2 cup of homemade tartar sauce remains. Mayo, lemon, capers, cornichons, salt, pepper, dijon. What do I do with it?

My favorite thing to do with dips: Thin them out and turn them into a salad dressing. In this case, with all the mayo in there, I'd thin out with vinegar and a little water to taste. Would make a great dressing for romaine hearts, don't you think? Or keep it a little thicker and use to make egg salad.

I knew someone would pounce on the "living creature" and point out that plants are also living! Seriously, to Joe -- thank you for the thoughtful response. Your regular column has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the Food section, and I look forward to it every week. I think everyone has to make their own judgment calls about what they are comfortable eating. An analogy I like -- which makes my daughter roll her eyes at me! -- is that eating is like sex: it is too fundamental to life to feel bad about doing it. And if you do feel bad about it, you need to figure out why and fix it. And every person needs to figure it out for themselves.

Absolutely. Live and let eat!

...I'm a vegetarian who's occasionally pescatarian?

Nothing! But there's also nothing wrong with saying I'm a vegetarian who occasionally eats oysters and mussels! Actually, I'd say there's very little wrong with describing your diet however you see fit.

I'm glad to know that it takes you longer than 30-40 minutes. Some recipes even claim 20. I finally managed to make a big batch without losing my patience and turning up the heat, but it took well over an hour.

Some people like the onions to be just lightly golden (40 mins) and some folks go for deep dark brown (1 hour +). Some caramelizing tips: Add a little water at the start, and a good pinch of sugar and salt. I tend to add a glug of balsamic or sherry vinegar near the end. 

I think the hardest thing about cooking is coming up with ideas for dinner. My husband says he really doesn't mind repeat dinners but I feel guilty so will only repeat something every other week. I have no idea what I'm going to cook tonight. You guys must have boundless imaginations. I'm jealous.

We also have a steady stream of cookbooks coming into our office to give us ideas!

Pick up a small induction cooktop. It'll go on the counter and not generate heat. Great little tool.

Good thought!

Appliance for the person with no kitchen: a hot plate/camping stove, and a toaster oven.

Help! I used to jazz up my tuna salad with homemade mayo, lemon juice, apples, and red onions. I now can't eat onions and the tuna salad is just so bland. Any ideas on what else I can try in it?

How about roasted garlic? roasted red peppers? Spices like piment d'Espelette or smoked Spanish paprika? Chopped fennel? Roasted pumpkin seeds? Kimchi or gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)?

This cocktail sounds awesome! I want to try it. I need to get my hands on some good creme de cacao--I have a not very interesting brand of it in my liquor cabinet. What brand of mezcal do you prefer for this? Also, do you think some agave and habanero shrub would work as well as the chili liqueur?

I used Vida because it's my go-to for cocktails -- really good and not too expensive. The Tempus Fugit creme de cacao is fab. I think the agave habanero shrub could be an interesting change and might result in a really good drink, but it would likely be a pretty different one due to the sour notes from the shrub? As is, the recipe is smoky, chocolatey, spicy, but no real sour component. But why not try it out?

Those bitter little cabbages! I've tried roasting them with balsamic vinegar, cheese sauce, etc. and just CANNOT choke them down. The CSA just came and guess what a key ingredient is? Yes....any suggestions? All would be appreciated!

I love my cream-colored stoneware plates and bowls with the blue and pink stripes around the top.

Nice!

It's the taste. They are very green tasting. I know, that doesn't help. I don't like celery for the same reason. I'm in Petworth, and it's not exactly a CSA. It's "From the Farmer" and they mostly work with local farms with some farther away smaller farms. So we periodically get some more southern stuff in the winter.

You should try the braising thing! I have this recipe that calls for braising flat beans with tomato and potato, and it would work well with regular green beans, too. When you cook beans for a longer time, they lose that grassy/green flavor.

(How far south are these smaller farms, though? Mexico?)

I like your rubio cocktail suggestion, can I suggest an article where you recommend a drink for each candidate so that supporters can celebrate/drown their sorrows accordingly?

That is a hilarious (and dangerous) idea. Hmmm ...

I see a lot of recipes that call for thinly sliced garlic that are then sauteed with items like onions for 5 - 10 minutes. When I try to execute these recipes, the thin garlic invariable burns or sticks. Any thoughts on how to improve this situation? Thicker slices of garlic? Add the garlic for the final few minutes (worried I will get less garlic flavor)?

Hmm. The heat should not be higher than medium and there needs to be enough oil in the pan to coat the garlic slices; once the garlic's where you want it to be, shove it away from the center of the pan. Stir frequently, as recipe writers like to say, while the garlic's cooking. 

This recipe reminds me of the braised green beans one gets at Greek restaurants. Top with some feta cheese and you'll hardly know the beans are there!

I agree - I tend to buy local/season, with a few exceptions (lemons, avacados...) and that helps a lot, but still...

The southern farms appear to be Carolina and once in a while Florida.

Interesting!

Pickle them! I have a couple of kids who won't touch a fresh, frozen or canned green bean, but they'll devour a whole pint of pickled dilled beans. Just google Dilly beans and you'll find tons of recipes.

If you want to make your own ramen at home, Whole Foods (and presumably other stores) carries rice ramen noodles. The brand is Lotus Foods.

Also a microwave that also does convection -- much more like a conventional stove or toaster-oven.

Since he does have a microwave oven (and you might get him a slow cooker or induction cook-top), perhaps he'd also appreciate an immersion blender. Although my widowed father had a complete kitchen, he found this tool invaluable when cooking for one person.

The best caramelized onions I've ever made were cooked in the slow cooker. Then you don't have to hang around stirring them for an hour. Also, I use stick margarine instead of oil, it gives them a sweeter flavor.

I think capers really sex up a tuna salad.

because, as you say, otherwise it gets scorched. You actually get more garlic flavor with less cooking, if you want the sharp bite rather than the mild sweeter cooked.

Are you an omnivore? Consider sautéeing boneless skinless chicken breasts (dredge in flour) in clarified butter, then when they're done add white wine, S&P to taste and fresh lemon juice (OK, I lied: you DO have to slice a lemon in half before squeezing it). You could serve it with a rice dish, and heat up frozen artichoke hearts or asparagus for the veg.

Why does anyone find it necessary to describe themselves as a vegan or vegetarian or omnivore or anything else? I remember being shocked when I saw a "vegetarian" recipe with eggs in it. Just eat what you want and don't feel like you need to announce to the world your preferences. Nobody cares.

It's not "announcing" when you're asked because whoever is doing the asking wants to accommodate you. People do care, now more than ever, actually.

"I maintain a mostly vegetarian diet." or "I eat mostly vegetarian." This would be not for Joe, who really is a vegetarian with rare exceptions, but for people like me, who eat what their hosts serve them but otherwise don't eat meat. (Except before giving blood -- for the iron, you know.)

Well, you've poured us over ice, then topped us with tonic water, so you know what that means -- we're done!

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

Now, for the giveaway book: The chatter who has difficulty coming up with dinner ideas and said we must have big imaginations will get Aviva Goldfarb's "The Six O'Clock Scramble Meal Planner." Send your mailing info to Kara.Elder@washpost.com, and she'll get you the book!

Now, don't forget to head RIGHT NOW to Dorie Greenspan's chat to keep talking. She's a champ and can help you with anything in the kitchen.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow's first cookbook is "Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving" (W.W. Norton). She blogs at www.mrswheelbarrow.com.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
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