Free Range on Food: Braising vegetables, chocolate and more

Cookbook author Molly Stevens is here to talk braising with us.
Feb 11, 2015

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're planning to hit us with some good questions today, because we've got some top experts joining us for the answers.

First, there's Molly Stevens, eminent cookbook author and source of this week's glorious call for treating vegetables to a cooking method some people think needs to be reserved for meat: braising. Second, there's Marisol Slater, owner of one of our favorite chocolate shops, Cocova in Adams Morgan, who helped Becky with her piece on bean-to-bar chocolate makers (and a taste of their best bars).

We'll also have us regulars, including Carrie "Spirits" Allan, who concocted a beautiful Valentine's Day cocktail using a little rose and some beautiful pomegranate seeds frozen in ice cubes. 

Are you planning to cook this Valentine's Day, since it falls on a Saturday? Bonnie came up with three menus to help inspire you, but we can all help you figure out how to approach a night of romance in the kitchen.

As for our other big contributor this week -- Dorie Greenspan, whose new Everyday Dorie column debuted -- we're letting you interact with her directly tomorrow. She chats from 1-2 p.m. for Just Ask Dorie!

Let's get to this.

Oh, before I forget, for your PostPoints members, here's this week's code: FR5878 .

I am strangely in the mood to bake, despite not really having any free time this weekend to grocery shop for ingredients and then do the actual baking. Do you have any ideas of things to bake that don't take up too much hands-on time and that can probably be made mostly with ingredients the average kitchen is likely to have on hand (I have flour, milk, butter, chocolate...). Thanks!

I mixed up a batch of banana oatmeal cookie dough Monday morning but put it in the fridge since I wouldn't be baking until that evening (plus I heard it is good to let the dough sit so the flour absorbs the moisture). As I was cleaning up, I realized I had forgotten to add the egg to the dough. Since the dough was pretty stiff, I didn't feel like struggling with it to incorporate the egg. I baked a couple of cookies to find out how they would turn out. They weren't bad. The centers were a bit soft but the edges crisped up. I'm glad I didn't chuck the whole batch of cookie dough.

Been there! Letting the oatmeal soften in the dough helped, I bet. [Dorie Greenspan, avert your eyes for this next bit] I've microwaved the dough in 10-second, low-grade intervals so I can work in the egg. My experience has been that a few days out, the eggless cookies turn to rocks.

I have been somewhat reluctant to update my 1970s/80s-era gas range in spite of the flukey oven because I can turn the gas on the burners waaaay down. The last modern gas stove I used, the highest setting was next to turning it off, and the "low" was the equivalent of "medium" on my stove and so I kept burning things. Are there modern stoves that can go very low? I just assumed "high" was next to "off" for safety reasons in newer stoves to prevent the flame from going out. I haven't blown up my house yet, though!

The last time I went stove shopping (an onerous chore in my book), I noticed that many 4-burner stoves offered at least one (sometimes 2) "simmer" burners that were designed to be turned "waaaay" down, as you say. Some sport a two-ring set up where the simmer burner is the smaller inner burner. I agree that it's a must-have! I am also a big fan of what's known as a flame-tamer or heat-diffuser - a flat circle that you put between the burner and the pot. The best one I have is a solid round of enamel coated cast iron. Super handy. 

With sustainable as the buzz word, how are chocolate makers keeping in line with that? Chocolate tempering is very tricky, what is your secret recipe that you would like to leave a home maker?

The meaning of sustainable chocolate has evolved in recent years. At the beginning it was all about fair trade certified beans and/or organic certifications. At this point many small makers are seeking out direct relationships with farmers which involve much a close relationship and prices well above fair trade prices.

As far as tempering - it is definitely a tricky process. For home cooks & bakers, have a good double boiler set up and a high quality thermometer.  There aren't too many tricks to it other than having an organized space, a closely watched thermometer, and plenty of patience on hand. Also - make sure to keep water & moisture away from any part of your process! I've used this short, sweet process by David Lebovitz before for tempering.

I'm 44 years old and I still hate vegetables. I really do. I only eat them because I know I have to. And I've tried everything: I've got cook books, sites, forums, recipes galore on how to cook whatever in so many interesting ways. And I've tried them. Now, I'll eat vegetables smothered in butter, fried till kingdom come (or delicately flash fried, salads drenched in blue cheese dressing (bacon optional, but adored). But my overall problem is I just don't care for them and it seems so many people do. I've got matured and refined tastes - I appreciate good meals and cooking. I don't sit around eating junk or processed food. But when it comes to greens, yellows, orange, reds, and whatever other colors the come from the earth, I just avoid it. Do I need professional help?


Oh, heck, I can't just leave it at that, as much as I want to. Frankly, I'm having a hard time accepting this as a real question, because I've never met anyone like you, with matured/refined tastes, etc., liking whole foods, who doesn't like ANY vegetables, and who lumps them all in together, as if they were one and the same. But maybe you're serious, and this is real, then I'd have to ask you: Aren't there some vegetables that you've liked even a SMIDGE more than others? 

That's where you should start your process of discovery. Just go for recipes using those, that appeal to you -- even if, yes, they're smothered in butter, fried, etc. -- and try to branch out from there. 

Maybe you need some restaurant inspiration? Get thee to Rasika, where vegetables take on wonderful flavors.

Every Valentine's Day, I make my husband breakfast for dinner. So far, it's been pretty basic, but tasty. Buttermilk waffles, French toast, blueberry pancakes, omelettes... I want to stick with the breakfast for dinner idea, but I want to do something a little more fancy. Thoughts?

Any tried and trusted method/s to create the color blue for frosting in a birthday cake? This will be for a part of the decoration that will be simulating water. I’ve heard about red cabbage and baking soda, but I’m concerned about the flavor. Are there any other alternatives? It needs to be natural (not my request!!).

Try playing with frozen juice concentrates. That's one tip our friend Nancy Baggett gave us a few years ago.

ARTICLE: Decorated sugar cookies, done naturally

She also addressed the topic on her blog. Here's the link. There are botanical dyes out there you can explore.

I'd like to make the braised lamb from My Irish Table (Cathal Armstrong and your own David Hagedorn) for dinner with friends who gave us the book. The recipe in the book calls for making the meat and using some of it for sandwiches, then reserving the rest "for another use." I am looking for some guidance on that "other use," as I'd prefer not to serve sandwiches. I presume that the braised lamb can be used in any way I like. Should I just reheat gently in jus, and serve with mashed potatoes, or perhaps the "mock risotto" of potatoes? Suggestions and guidance welcome.

We sent your question to David. He says:

You could use it in any dish for which you'd use leftover meat bits. You could make a quick curry or a biryani/fried rice/risotto or in pot pies, for example. Soup is an obvious choice or pasta, say as part of a cannelloni filling or tossed with a ragu or tomato sauce with tagliatelle. Lamb gyros, breakfast hash with poached eggs, spring roll filling, thrown into a rarebit and served over toast, folded up in phyllo triangles with feta cheese. I love the idea of gently reheating in jus and serving over mashed potatoes.

Leftover braised lamb - or any leftover braised meat - can indeed be used in just about any way. You are on the right track with your idea of reheating gently in any leftover braising liquid (I like to degrease the liquid before reheating). Lamb and potatoes are always a winning combination. Braised lamb is also a wonderful base for a pasta sauce, think parpardelle with olives and  canned tomatoes. It can turn into a pasta filling, too, for ravioli. I've worked it into a shepherd's pie along with pre-cooked root vegetables. 

When making various forms of ganache. What's the best ratio to use when you're making tea infused truffles? What would compliment th favor best?

For classic dark truffles, I would use 2 tea bags or the equivalent in loose tea for 1/2 cup of heavy cream & 8oz of chocolate. Heat cream with tea bags until just simmering then add to chocolate and continue on with the ganache recipe as you normally wood. Earl Grey and orange are great combinations. We have a Rose Tea dark chocolate truffle right now that is very popular.

What can I serve for dinner at a casual get-together of 6, one being gluten-free? It's the kind of occasion where we usually pig out a little. Has to be easy. Chili has already been done.

I was cooking dried chickpeas over the weekend. When they first came to a boil, they produced a lot of white airy foam (they’d already been soaked and drained, if that makes a difference). I didn’t know what it was or whether I was supposed to skim it off. I did, but should I have?

This happens sometimes, but it's nothing to worry about. I usually skim it off, just to keep the water more clear, but I don't make myself crazy trying to get every last bit off. Just give it one or two skims, and let them go. The fine folks over at American Test Kitchen wrote about this a while ago and explained it as a form of "stabilized proteins". Whatever it is, it won't hurt you - or your beans.

Have you all read - New German Cooking: Recipes for Classics Revisited by Chef Jeremy Nolan and his pastry chef wife Jessica? Was wondering if you think it is worth purchasing? I enjoy German food - thanks Mom but I am not good at replicating her recipes.

Are you perhaps, a personally interested party? :)

Look for my review of the book next week. Been cooking out of it for a while and came away impressed! 

What are some of your favorite spices or flavors that enhance raw or slightly cooked vegetables without overpowering?

Well, it depends on the vegetable, but one of my favorite things to do is to roast root vegetables like carrots with deep spices such as cumin and cinnamon (and salt, natch), and then squeeze a little lemon or orange plus give a little drizzle of honey when they come out. The combination of low, high, sweet and tart is pretty killer, always. I think a little curry can be great on something like broccoli or cauliflower, and I love to use Middle Eastern spices and/or blends such as sumac and za'atar on eggplant. That's just a little taste -- I love using all manner of spice on all manner of vegetables.

Also: Don't forget about fresh herbs! 

What is Molly's most interesting braised meal? One that is fool-proof, has interesting/unique/unexpected ingredients and always pleases the palate?

Wow. That's a tough call. So many braises are foolproof - or at least pretty darn close. Currently, I've been enjoying braising pork shoulder with a mixture of dried fruits (think apricots and prunes) with fresh winter citrus. For an "unexpected" flavor I might through in a little cardamom or allspice . Maybe a little dark rum to deglaze. Something bright and warm for a cold winter night. For beef short ribs, perhaps combine the flavors of shiitake, ginger, soy and finish with a lot of fresh chopped scallions.

Yum, chocolate and love! Sometimes, tho, what warms me most is ... something warm on a cold morning, and I don't like chocolate in the morning. How strange is that?

Morning is one of my favorite times for chocolate! Hot cocoa, chocolate chip pancakes, pain au chocolat...

Chocolate dessert items are often too heavy for me in the morning as well. Try picking up some great 70% or higher dark chocolate  to have with your morning coffee or tea. It will add a little pep to your morning with theobromine & caffeine without adding too much sugar early one. Many chocolate connoisseurs do a bulk of serious tasting in the morning when their palate is fresh.

Thank you for the terrific recipe for Cremini and Beef Bourguignon. It was fabulous made with venison. I had to add more bacon fat from my jar to compensate for venison's lean compared to beef chuck and added herbs de Provence in addition to the thyme called for. I served it on home made spaetzle with nutmeg and white pepper. My guest put her fork down after the first bite and looked at me deeply and groaned with pleasure.

Oh yeah, venison. And spaetzle! Well done.

RECIPE | Cremini and Beef Bourguignon

This is what I want to make with my husband for our valentine's day dinner: Hot wings (he has a great recipe), mac and cheese (I have a whole cookbook devoted to it! Maybe I will go the gouda mac...), and some kind of green, like maybe oven roasted asparagus or brussel sprouts. What are your thoughts? I know it isn't conventional.

Sounds fun. I think if that's what you want to make, make it! As long as you two enjoy the meal and cooking it. Just don't forget dessert. :)

Sorry this is not a question about preparing food, but we are a small group of Central Virginia seniors, with two of us being vegetarians. Are there any decent upscale restaurants within walking distance of the museum? Tom S. is on vacation and we are desperate for suggestions.

You're right near a few places that have lots of good options for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Just a few blocks away are Bibiana (beautiful pastas); Zaytinya (Greek small plates); and the new Mango Tree (Thai).

No, I'm sure it's a real question, because I am very similar. I like some vegetables, but not very many. All squashes are right out. Cooked greens are inedible. Cabbage is inedible - you get the idea. Yet I WANT to like vegetables, and keep trying. There's just something about so many of them that's unpleasant. Some day, I will find a way to enjoy more vegetables.

Well, at least you named SOME specific vegetables! I'm curious if you've had these in various ways? Lightly sauteed greens with spicy red pepper flakes, cabbage in a Montreal-style slaw, squash cooked in a Thai curry. Know what I mean? Or maybe you've had overcooked greens and cabbage, etc.

King Arthur Flour website has a nifty "bake with what's in your pantry" link.

But you didn't share the link!

So here it is.

I'd love to try your braised cabbage,but I'm really sick of balsamic vinegar in everything, plus I dislike its intense sweetness. But I am eager to try a cabbage recipe that promises not to, er, perfume the kitchen and this recipe looks great.

RECIPE | Braised Green Cabbage With Balsamic

I sympathize with your balsamic overload. I was there for a few years when it seemed to be EVERYWHERE. After nearly banning it from my kitchen for a while, I have been gradually re-introducing myself to it and remembering that it can be lovely when used sparingly. BUT you can certainly make this cabbage without balsamic. I might add a splash of sherry or cider vinegar in its place, or take things in another direction and try a few shakes of soy or tamari. 


I had a fantastic brunch this past weekend at Fiola Mare, and the highlight for me was probably the olive oil "muffin" in the bread basket. Is there any chance the restaurant would give me the recipe? I was going to post to Tom as well this week, but he's out. I'm hoping a request from WaPo might hold more clout. :)

We put your inquiry to the restaurant, and they were a bit confused. Here's what is in the basket:

Mini Baguette

Green Olive Panino

Oregano-Parmigiano Foccaccia

Cacio cheese Brioche


Apple Coffee Cake

Any of those ring a bell?

The baked salmon and kale recipe looks great - except I don't eat fish. If I wanted to sub in chicken thighs, would you recommend searing them before I baked them with the kale and sauce?

Definitely, on the searing (assuming boneless, skinless). I'd trim as much fat as possible from them first....

RECIPE | Baked Salmon and Kale in Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Sauce

Well, it goes back to the veggies themselves. I'll eat them but I wind up taking everything good about them out of the equation. Asparagus? Sure: wrapped in prosciutto or drenched with hollandaise. Spinach? Big fan of saag paneer...and any creamed spinach for that matter. Kale? Not going near that out of principle (I live near the Tenleytown Whole Foods). Eggplant...parmesean is fantastic! I've tried and tried to just do them plain and more healtful and i. just. don't. get. it. I'll seek help. I got other things needing discussion too, such as my conflicted addiction to foie gras.

I think you're being too hard on yourself, really. You're not taking anything good out, you're just adding what you want/need to make things taste good. I understand you want to eat more healthfully, but just because that spinach is creamed doesn't mean you don't still get the nutrition from the spinach.

I've got a cookbook suggestion for you: It's Amy Chaplin's "At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen." There are really beautiful recipes there that are certainly healthful, but they're not spartan. Tons of flavor. You might look at that. Another suggestion: The books (and blog) of Heidi Swanson, "Super Natural Cooking" and "Super Natural Every Day."

New Post Food columnist Dorie Greenspan has a killer recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Topped Brownies that my kids love and have renamed Brookies.

Ah, yes -- in "Baking From My Home to Yours." Good one.

To proof or not to proof?

 Not sure I'm grasping what you're getting at. More details, please.

If it's active dry yeast, I always proof. Want to make sure it's not too old and is going to work well before I get too far in the recipe. If it's instant yeast (which I love), I don't proof.

So my house mate and I, both unattached, will end up spending yet another V-day cooking and eating together, probably drinking a bit as well. Any ideas for a plutonic couple meal to leave us satisfied enough to smother our smoldering attraction that we refuse to act on because, you know, it will screw up our good thing? Is there such a thing a sexy plutonic food? Lobster seems too needy, steak is just too much, chicken's where we're at but... ;~)

Flounder? (Seems to capture the state you're in.)

I love the idea of plutonic, btw. It's the kind of love that is so out of this world it belongs on Pluto! Or maybe it's the love you have for your dog? ;-)

Where can i find veal cutlets? No not scaloppine but traditional veal cutlets for veal parm. Would prefer VA and if possible veal kept in small cages and fed milk since this is the best tasting and most tender. Free range veal is tough and lacks taste in comparison

Wegmans carries, but I'm not sure they are milk-fed. So ask your butcher (where are you?)

I only really like a few veggies, but I know that I need to eat more than my favorites. I've been successful when combining them with a whole grain that I like (brown rice, couscous, quinoa) and a little bit of butter or olive oil. Plain seems to work better than fancy.

Yep, you have figured out the secret to ALL cooking: Do what appeals to you! Also: If you're concerned about nutrition, don't be stingy with fat; not only does it make things taste better, but a lot of vitamins/minerals are better absorbed when fat accompanies them.

We were in New Hampshire over the holidays visiting relatives. My vegetarian husband was unwrapping a cook book. My BIL said this is a great book, the author lived on a farm in Maine and writes for the Washington Post. I said Joe Yonan he's my goto guy for all questions on cooking. I am a meat eater but love "Eat Your Vegetables". BTW looking around and seeing sweet potatoes and dried black eyed peas from my garden, I can't wait to try this weeks recipe. Maybe our Valentine meal. What is more romantic then sharing a meal of foods that together we tilled, planted., weeded and harvested? Just needs some bread, a nice salad and a great dessert.

Nice! Thanks for the note. Appreciate it! Have a great V-Day!

I think this person was forced to eat veggies at an age when they tasted disgusting to her/him. I despised asparagus for years 'cause when I was a kid, it came out of a can and was more of a slimy, stringy vileness than I can describe without gagging. Somehow, I ended up tasting them well-prepared or raw years later and got over my childhood trauma. But I can see that some people would carry that with them forever. And I tremble at the thought of canned asparagus to this day.

I agree: Lots of vegetable hatred stems from bad cooking when we were kids. I had a cabbage issue for a long while, related to that same overcooking, but as an adult I love them. Same with beets. Canned? Ew. Roasted? Yum.

I bought a jar of espresso powder so that I could make your chocolate pecan coffee cake. The cake is amazing and has become a new family favorite. I was thinking about bread pudding and how to integrate espresso, with or without chocolate. Are there other flavors beside chocolate that blend well with espresso? Any suggestions on how much to add to bread pudding in a 9 inch square pan?


RECIPE | Pecan-Chocolate-Espresso Coffee Cake

Funny, most of what I can think of is chocolate. I think it definitely goes well with milky, vanilla flavors. Maybe even something nutty, like hazelnut or almond. I'd start small on the bread pudding while you experiment -- that coffee cake uses 2 teaspoons, which seems like a good starting point.

What's the best way to keep a chocolate bar fresh once I've opened the package? (I have a hard time limiting my purchases when I buy the good stuff.) Does it depend on the kind of chocolate?

We recommend keeping bars sealed in good quality zip loc bags with the air squeezed out. It is important to guard the chocolate from too much heat and/or moisture. The fridge is too cold for chocolate bars and come sometimes impart weird fridge smells into your chocolate if not sealed properly or form condensation on the chocolate when you remove the bars. The ideal temperature range is between 60-65F but generally room temperature will work just fine. Store bars away from direct sunlight. If possible, seal bars separately. You don't want your mint bar to affect the flavor of your plain dark chocolate bar. The best buy date on chocolate bars is somewhat arbitrary - you will lose flavor over time but not much else.

All my Indian cookbooks mention the foam, and say to skim it, but it's really just to keep the foam from boiling up and overflowing or clogging your pressure cooker. So it's no big deal but I always skim.

Bonnie, If you need someone with German tastebuds, I have a lovely German young lady who is up to the task. She loves to cook and bake in her own right, but I'm sure she would do a great job judging the authenticity factor!

Well, she needs to latch onto our chat next week, where she could win a copy of the cookbook! 

I really enjoyed your vegetable braising article, as well as the Valentine's Day options. I'm looking for a recipe that would basically combine those two ideas: some kind of meat and vegetable braised dish would be perfect for me to make for me and my husband this Saturday. Any suggestions for something I could serve with a good cabernet and maybe a light side salad?


ARTICLE | Cure for the midwinter vegetable blues: Braise 'em

A favorite from my braising book that would be perfect with a cabernet is the recipe for top blade steaks smothered in mushrooms and onions.

Or in pita. Pretend it's a souvlaki sandwich and break out the tzatziki.

Good call.

It's fine to add "non-healthy" things to your vegetables! It's all about balance. I am a vegetarian and I certainly do not eat only vegetables -- in fact, I just finished a lunch of sauteed carrots, snap peas, and brussel sprouts, mixed with farro and tofu, with a vinaigrette dressing. I second Joe's recommendation of Heidi Swanson's recipes. She has a great one today for quinoa kale bites that look fantastic (I really want to just leave work right now and go home and make them). If you have a philosophical objection to kale, you can substitute another green, or finely chopped broccoli.

If you like sweet tastes, try snow peas raw. Crunch and a subtle sweet taste that you might actually like. Ditto red and yellow bell peppers. Not green.

I have a fridge full of venison! What cut of venison did you substitute? Sounds divine and like a perfect Valentine's dinner for my venison loving hubby!!!

Like the original poster, I have tried them many ways. And still...

Try them many more! Really, they're a must, if you want to be a fully realized person. Not to overstate that or anything.

I've been on a root vegetable kick of late and so enjoyed the braising article immensely. Two questions. I've been enjoying sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes) and salsify recently. Will these swap in well to other recipes? Would a slow cooker braise (start before going to work, enjoy after work) be suitable for vegetables? Many thanks!

It's the right time of year to be on a root vegetable kick! And yes, salsify and sunchokes are both good candidates for braising. Swap away. As for the slow-cooker, here's the answer I posted on the comments section of my article earlier. Hope it helps: I don't have a lot of direct experience braising vegetables in a crock pot, so my answer will be more theoretical than empirical; but braising and slow-cooking are very close cousins, so my answer is "YES, why not?". The approach I would take would be to leave the vegetables in pretty large chunks (golf-ball size, for instance), to use a minimum of liquid, and to guard against cooking too long. If possible, consider caramelizing some onion - or a mix of alliums and other aromatics - in a skillet pan first and adding them to the pot to deepen the flavor.

just wondering...

It uses a vinegary dressing rather than mayo, and you salt the cabbage first to get the extra water out, so it doesn't leak all over the place. I love it.

RECIPE: Vinegary Montreal Slaw

Cooked my South Carolina aged ham as suggested (half cover with water, cook until 185, then baked with glaze) but it was so salty I could not eat it at all. I ended up boiling the heck out of it, with a mid boil water change and it was still too salty and the outside turned into cardboard.. What is the proper way to treat an uncooked aged ham?

Did your ham come with any directions? Aged hams often call for an hours-long pre-soak -- with changes of water -- to reduce the saltiness. Then you could do a slow-roast with liquid in the pan, covered, and uncover to glaze for the last bit in the oven. 

Since you told us a few weeks back what temp our refrigerators should be, food in my fridge lasts much, much longer! I'm old enough to have known better than to set it once and leave it forever, but I hadn't doled with the dial in ... years! So, thank you for being so helpful and xoxoxo

You're welcome! Backatcha!

If you like Saag Paneer, you're halfway there! Saag really means "greens" (palak is spinach). I like making a variation with about half a pound of spinach, half a pound of kale, and a bunch of cilantro. I've found I can cut the ghee/butter down somewhat (I clarify butter and mix it 50/50 with vegetable oil; coconut oil works well too). Try making some homemade paneer with low fat milk. It's pretty simple. Bring half a gallon up to a near boil and add a 1/4 cup of vinegar. Strain and go ahead and leave it a little loose. Try lightly frying the paneer and then topping a couple of slices with saag.

Thank you! Great tip(s)!

Madhur Jaffrey suggests adding baking soda to the soaking water to prevent this. Have not tried it b/c I never remember.

Consider pickled vegetables, either in vinegar or a salt brine. The vegetables are transformed and generally have a very different taste than raw or cooked vegetables. Don't just think of cucumber pickles either, but consider sauerkraut (or curtido and other similar cabbage dishes), dilly beans, pickled beets, etc.

Good idea. Yes, curtido and kraut are fabulous. As are all fermented foods. Check out some of my favorite purveyors: No. 1 Sons and, more recently, Sweet Farm.

I think I already know the answer (there isn't one), but if I don't want to open a bottle of wine to get a half cup for a recipe, what can I use instead? I'm trying not to drink during the week, now that Dry January is over.

Kinda depends on the recipe, of course: broth, sherry, sparkling cider, soaking liquid from sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms....maybe this umami paste, reconstituted. For cooking, I've been buying half-bottles of decent wine in a sale bin at Calvert-Woodley. A little for the pot, a little for the cook....

I have to join the crowd. I dislike veggies too. I admit, I was brought up with them frozen and then boiled in a bag, so I thought all veggies were soft, mushy and tasteless. I eventually learned to steam, roast or grill them, and actually get some flavor. But still not a fan. Sadly, pureeing is the best for me. I use soups to get more veggies. As liquified as possible, with lots of spices. But yes, not everyone likes veggies, even those of us who cook. Thanks to the person who wrote in, good to know others are out there!

Do whatever works for you, absolutely.

Thanks, and particularly so for David's kind response, as I presume he is most familiar with the recipe. FWIW, I don't intend to use "leftovers," and I presume that does not matter. My plan is to braise the lamb and just use it in a different way than the sandwiches originally intended by the recipe. Just seems like a braise would be great for what will be a very cold weekend here, and has the advantage of being a make-ahead so I am not tied to a store. Thanks again!

Right on, doesn't have to be leftovers!

How about a Dutch Baby -- choux paste with sliced apples, sugar, cinnamon/nutmeg?

I have a large knob of celeriac, a vegetable I've never eaten before. Will this braise well? If so, how should it be prepared for a braise and what other vegs would braise well with it? I love vegetables braised with meat but never thought of doing them alone! Thanks for the ideas.

You can certainly braise celery root, but take care not to let it cook too long or it may fall apart. Despite its gnarly appearance, the flesh is relatively delicate. I also find it's flavor to be rather delicate, so I don't like to overpower it with too many strong flavors. I sometimes combine it with potatoes - and they cook at about the same rate, so that's a plus. Stalk celery adds a nice counterpoint, too, and remains a little crunchy even after braising. Thyme and parsley, too. 


How do you give back to the DC community?

I think all of the DC chocolate makers are very excited to be part of the local economy and food scene here and bean to bar & craft chocolate makers around the country like Askinosie have found unique ways to contribute to their communities. At Cocova we are in the beginning stages of putting together local artist shows in our gallery space. One of our partners is heavily involved in Washington Youth Rugby and we look forward to getting more involved in the program this year. We also have a commitment to hiring from the community whenever possible as we grow.

Concept C intends to hire veterans once they're up and running. Co-founder Colin Hartman is one himself.

I must have missed that chat. What temperature should the refrigerator (and freezer) be?

CHAT LEFTOVERS | The ideal temp

Here’s the short answer: The ideal refrigerator temperature, measured in the middle of the middle shelf, is between 35 and 38 degrees. Your fridge needs to be warm enough so your food doesn’t freeze (32 degrees) but not so warm that it crosses into the bacterial danger zone (above 40 degrees). So a number somewhere around the middle of those two bookends makes sense.

Have you considered "hiding" veggies, if you are determined to get more vegetables in your diet but don't like them? I recommend putting peas in sauces. Peas in your spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, etc. Spinach also "hides" well in soup and many other things, because it cooks down so much. mash in some parsnips with your potatoes when you do mashed potatoes.

Actually the museum's café is pretty good. There is always a vegetarian option.You can go to the NMWA website and under visit there is a link to the café with a link to the menu. The café is not really upscale but nice for lunch. The cafe is not open on the weekends.

Here is a tip for these two folks - Veggie Dude - Roasting them with Olive Oil - esp Broccolli - best way I have had them. Low Stove Burner - try an Induction Range, all over Europe - getting popular here

Sadly the directions did not call for a presoak. I should have thought of that, I always presoak my corned beef. Thanks for the tip

I don't hate all vegetables -- corn and potatoes are vegetables. Onions and garlic are useful ingredients Tomatoes are good if they are fresh homegrown ones or in sauces. Green beans can be good as long as they aren't crisp or mixed with cream of mushroom soup. I've learned to like asparagus well enough if it is fresh -- canned and frozen need not apply. But if a fairy godmother whacked me on the head with her wand and said that I no longer have to eat vegetables for health reasons, the entire brassica family would be represented only by coleslaw on sandwiches, and limp green stuff of any sort would banned. Kale and anything related to turnips are already banned. Leafy salads would be restricted to being a side dish with a steak instead of a main dish with a little sliced steak.

For Christmas I made my dad some hazelnut vodka, using toasted, chopped hazelnuts. After we filtered out the nuts, we saved them in the fridge. It seems like there should be a good use for vodka-soaked hazelnuts. Is it safe, and any ideas?

Hmm. Have you tasted them? Seems like they might have given up much if not all of their flavor to the vodka. And even though you refrigerated them, a couple months is a long time to keep them. 

I make fluffy almost whole wheat bread by adding three things: time, liquid and vital gluten, found in many baking sections of health food stores. I add a tablespoon or two of the dry vital gluten and the same of water to a recipe of 4 cups of whole wheat flour. The King Arthur Flour people recommend using a spoonful of orange juice to smooth the flavor of whole wheat bread and I do that too. Finally, the bran in whole wheat flour needs time to absorb liquids, so I give it about 20 minutes of resting time after combining the ingredients before kneading. BTW, white whole wheat flour is an albino strain of hard wheat and contains just as much bran as its more common relative; it just lacks the brown color. You must bake with it as a whole wheat flour-ore liquid, more time.

Faced with a large, hard rutabaga for the first time, I recommend gathering a potato peeler, a large heavy knife, a stable cutting board and a hammer. Peel the sunny rutabaga. Set it on your cutting board. Place the knife at the equator. Strike the knife near the handle where the blade is thickest. This will split the solid vegetable without risk to your hands and will safely create two flat surfaces for further cutting. Whacking your rutabaga may become your favorite form of kitchen theater!

I loved the Valentines + wines article, especially since my husband and I will probably have a date night in [because if we're going to go to the expense of a babysitter, we don't want to fight giant crowds for a nice evening]. One of the things we RARELY do, even on a date night, is open a bottle of anything with bubbles because we can't comfortably finish the bottle in an evening. Can you make some recommendations for how to help us savor one of the lovely bottles in our wine fridge--and maybe save some for later?

Well, there's the half-bottle idea that Bonnie mentioned earlier. And for the leftovers, you can always whip up a sabayon with that champagne -- or you can make this mulled wine syrup, one of my favorites! Works with white wine or champagne, too -- just use more delicate spices (vanilla instead of star anise, etc.)

Paneer can be substituted with firm tofu cubes. I have tried it and it is not bad at all.

I decided to try Wegmman's organic frozen peas since the price wasn't sky high. Maybe its psychological but I found the organic peas to have more flavor. Shame Wegman's doesn't have frozen organic lima beans.

I have never had a rutabaga, which stuns me, because it's such a fun word. But I'm continuing my "try a new vegetable every month" thing. Any thoughts on a way to prepare this that will make me want to incorporate rutabagas into my regular rotation?


On mine (a Maytag), you just turn the knob the reverse from the high, med, low settings. On mine, I just turn the knob clockwise once the ignition lights and can go as low as I want.

I'm a brand new uncle and trying to help prepare some meals. While the baby is getting used to breastfeeding, my sister is trying to avoid dairy, alliums, and cruciferous vegetables. Chicken noodle soup is great and has been done, but I'm really struggling for freezer-friendly casseroles that could fit this menu, and would love any recipe or substitution ideas you can share.

Soups are a great way to go - they freeze well and are nourishing and comforting. How about beef and barley soup with mushrooms? Or a hearty vegetable and rice soup? Maybe split pea with bits of ham? Add a loaf of whole grain bread and you've got a dinner. And bravo for being a thoughtful uncle. 

The veggie hater made me think of zucchini bread for my kids' school lunches. To drain or not to drain the zucchini?? Anyone have a favorite recipe?

Definitely drain! Cook's Illustrated had a good zucchini bread that I made this summer. Here's a blog that shares the recipe.

If you aren't already, hang out at farmers markets (esp. when spring has sprung). See what is fresh and local, taste samples, talk to the farmer/seller about what they like to do with the item. Maybe grow a veggie or two if you have space. Nothing like a connection to get you sucked in.

What type of wine would you recommend I keep on hand for when a recipe calls for white or red wine?

Be glad for others to weigh in, but generally wines that are the dry/non-fruity end of the spectrum. Cab, sauvignon blanc. Do you freeze in ice cubes, btw, or just keep bottles filled and chilled? (re the latter, I mean consolidate dregs of reds and whites in separate bottles to use for cooking)

For Valentine's Day I'm going to make lobster spaghetti from the Joe Beef cookbook. Wife and I ate there in October and split this dish among many other amazing things that night. What's a good place in DC or Northern Va (preferably the Old Town area since I'll be there on Saturday) to pick up live lobster?

I like picking them up from Salt River Lobster folks at farmers markets in Kensington, but that's not convenient for you. Try BlackSalt in DC. Have you bought live lobsters at H-Mart? Good prices....American Seafood on Lee Hwy in Arlington might be handy for you. 

Do you find it easier to control how much chocolate you eat, meaning less than a whole bar or box or half of what you just made, if it's high-quality stuff? Or do you eat way too much because it's just so good? Or do you have more will-power than I do?

People ask us at the store all the time how we resist eating chocolate. We don't resist - at all. We all eat a lot of chocolate on a daily basis. It is part of the job, after all. However, most of what we are eating is dark chocolate and it is hard to go way over board on a 70% and above chocolate. The higher the percentage of chocolate the less sugar there is and that helps a lot. Eating more sugar just makes you crave more sugar. As far as truffles and caramels, the high quality stuff is made with fresh ingredients and no preservatives and tend be much richer and more flavorful than your run of the mill grocery store truffle. I don't think I have that much more will power than anyone else when it comes to chocolate - considering I made it my career!

My pantry always has those four-packs of little bottles of white and red wine. I don't drink white wine so the "some for the pot, some for the cook" doesn't work for me.

Yeah, I like a leetle better quality than those guys. 

Every time I braise by sweet potatoes they stick to the pan. When I pull them out the nice brown part gets stuck. That's the best part! I've tried oil, butter, ceramic, cast iron, help?

Sweet potatoes are tricky because, well, they are sweet, and those sugars want to stick. Plus I find that they like to fall apart when I try to braise them, so I stick to roasting. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper so the delicious brown parts stay part of the sweet potato and not stuck to the pan. Coat the peeled chunks of sweet potato with a favorite oil and/or melted butter. Season as you like and roast in a hot oven until tender, brown and delicious. 

I meant I hadn't fooled with the dial in years, not that "I hadn't doled with the dial" whatever that would mean! I wonder if cookbooks or your online recipes ever end up with auto-correct errors like that?

I lavo nope Eyedia wut u mien :)

I love beets, but am tired of eating them plain or roasted. any other suggestions?

I love them, too. I've written about many ways to cook them, so you're in luck. Here are a few ideas. And stay tuned for my Weeknight Veg column next week for another one, made a completely different way!

Whole Roasted Beet With Mole Sauce

Beet, Kale and Bulgur Soup

Grilled Baby Beets With Mustard Sauce

Morrocan-Style Carrot and Beet Salad


Looking for a veg to complement simply-prepared shellfish (scallops). The braised carrots and fennel looks delicious but maybe too hearty? Too early for asparagus. Maybe just plain braised fennel? Anyone have other suggestions?

Steamed little red potatoes with fresh herbs. A classic. And yes, braised fennel makes an excellent side for any shellfish. Maybe add a pinch of saffron, too. 

I bought some delicious onion rolls at a bakery last weekend and froze them, hoping for inspiration. Unfortunately it hasn't hit. I'd like to do a semi-hearty and delicious sandwich on them, but it would need to be veg, so no ham/swiss combo. Any ideas?

Couple of ideas. Portobello burger -- grill or broil a big 'shroom, add a bunch of toppings. Pickled veggies, goat cheese, whatever you have.

I'm also thinking of something along the lines of Taylor Gourmet's Spring Garden Street sandwich, which has breaded zucchini, goat cheese and marinara.

Or riff on this recipe from Joe.

Panino di Pizza With Cauliflower and Romesco

RECIPE: Panino di Pizza With Cauliflower and Romesco

Or use these "meatballs."

Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

RECIPE: Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

I didn't know you could freeze wine - never thought of it, to be honest! that's a great solution!

My spouse came home from Costco with a massive green papaya. What can I make with it? I'd rather not wait until it ripens completely.

Hmm. It must have been the brioche. I thought it tasted more olive oil-y instead of egg-y, but either way it was delicious! Any chance they can give you the recipe?

Don't know yet since we didn't know what recipe you were referring to! Send us an e-mail to and we'll follow up.

A suggestion for you: I've been dreaming about making this one for a while:

Cabernet is my favorite wine for drinking, but I try to stay away from it for cooking because the tannins can add bitter notes that might not be welcome, especially if you're concentrating with it. When making spaghetti sauce, for example, I use syrah or pinot noir instead. I find these are nice for making beef stews too. For whites, I tend to go with sauvignon blanc if my recipe has a lot of vegetables, since that wine often has a greener/earthy quality to it. It's good for fondue too. I might use chardonnay in a creamy sauce--something garlicky for pasta. I wish recipes specified this, as it does make a difference sometimes.

I submitted this a couple of days ago 'cause I feared I'd forget. Now I fear my Q is lost in the queue! So I'm submitting again. I've got leftover dessert wine -- zinfandel port -- from Thanksgiving. I'd like to use it to make chicken marsala, though it's obviously not marsala. Is this a terrible idea? And, if so, do you have other cooking ideas or should I just chug it?

Hmm. I wouldn't sub it one for one, since it's so much sweeter than marsala, but you could maybe use half port and half dry red wine?

I need to give a shout out to my mom in heaven. She was a fabulous cook. I read this chat weekly and realize how lucky I am to have grown up in a house where food was lovingly and enthusiastically prepared for me, Dad and 4 siblings. Growing up in New Orleans where everyone lives to eat (not eats to live) was also a fabulous experience.

OK, I have to ask: what is about kale and Whole Foods that make the poster not want "to go there"?

Not sure. OP?

As a child of a Southern cook I had plenty exposure to all kinds of vegetables and varied preparations. Best approach for the veggie hater may just be to simply aquire (or re-aquire) an appreciation by roasting some root vegetables, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and some favorite herbs/spices. I love doing this, will go thru a 2 lb. bag of carrots within a week easily. Turnips, rutabegas, parsnips, shallots, garlic cloves, celery roots, etc., all are satisfying accompaniments to a meal or can stand alone as a dish on their own. Definitely worth trying.

My SO is a supertaster. Can't abide most green growing things; even sugar snap peas have a bitter top note (which I, personally, can't detect, but I can see more colors, so I guess we're even).

You know, I was wondering if the supertaster thing might be a contributing factor with some of these folks.

Sorry my Wegmans in Fairfax doesn't carry cutlets. They do have scaloppine though. I am in Fairfax. As I said in my post I prefer politically incorrect veal.

Do they carry veal top round? You could carve your own cutlets from that. 

We are lucky enough to have purchased a half lamb from a local source. In addition to the usual (chops, ground, legs) there is a liver and a single rack of ribs. Assume the liver can be cooked as beef liver? Any ideas for the ribs? Neighbors who have bought from this rancher say every way they've tried to cook the ribs turns out "nasty."

Lucky you. I find that the liver is pretty small, so I usually fry it up with some onions and mustard and serve it as a garnish or first course. For the riblets, I cook them slowly and use bold seasonings, such as this recipe for Vietnamese-Style Lamb Riblets with Sweet Soy Dipping Sauce that I contributed to Fine Cooking a few years ago. I have tried to make these cookies twice now, and they were a failure both times. Has anyone tested this recipe? The first time the batter was way too thin to press through a pastry bag, yet the almond crumbs seemed to be too large to go through a #3 pastry tip - which is pretty small - good for writing. So I found the largest tip I had, but still the batter would no go through, so I made a bigger hole in the pastry bag and piped them without a tip. OK, but they spread like crazy. Baking time was actually closer to 20 minutes, not the 30-45 minutes in the recipe. The cookies I baked for the longer time turned into rocks. So I made them again this weekend being sure to pulverize the almonds, almond flour mixture into fine powder. Made the meringue with nice soft peaks. So far so good. But adding the hot sugar mixture to the meringue just killed it and I could never beat it into peaks of any kind after that. This batch ended up even runnier than the 1st. Also, just how much water is to be added to the sugar to "achieve the consistency of wet sand." That is not a very helpful description without an expected range. 2 tablespoons? 4? 6? Seriously - baking requires some precision and this recipe is lacking. And while I'm on a rant, the recipe instructions are not terribly concise. It needs to be rewritten to make the steps more logical. I was really disappointed to have wasted yet another batch of pretty expensive ingredients. The 2nd batch ended up in the trash. Perhaps someone can take another look at this recipe?

I did. Sorry you're having issues. Send an email to and we'll put you in touch with chef Alex Levin directly, for best troubleshooting. 

Could the OP use espresso powder in making tiramisú?

In your experience, how much attention would a grocery store pay to a shopper's request to carry a certain brand? I love the new Giant in Cleveland Park--it's large, well-stocked, clean and the staff are very nice, but they don't carry the brand of bread we like (which we used to buy at other Giant stores). Would they start carrying it if I asked or do they base all that on market research as opposed to direct customer communication.

I doubt one customer's request would necessarily make a difference, but multiples might. There's is exactly ONE way to find out.

I was so glad to read in the Post that carbs are not the enemy. Bread lady at Silver Spring market here I come. . . .

Hi, my husband does not like dark chocolate much, so I was wondering if you think I could use a less dark % for this sorbet recipe

Score one for us. :)

Yeah, I don't see why not. Maybe something closer to 60 percent so you still get a little of that bittersweet thing going on?

Does making Sauerbraten count as braising?

You betcha it does! That's one of the things I love most about teaching braising classes - there are so many classic favorites that are braises. 

I've always used plain old Baker's chocolate for my brownies but then they downsized the box (but not the price) so now I'm in the market for something new. I have plenty of fancy El Rey chocolate in the freezer but it seems extragavant to use in brownies. Is there something more else that you could recommend?

My personal go-to for baking chocolate is E.Guittard chocolate. It is pricier than many grocery store brands but the chocolate is great quality for baking and melting on an every day basis. They are an American company out of San Francisco which a big range of chocolate options from white chocolate all the way to unsweetened (100% cocoa). You don't need to use super fancy chocolate in baking, but you do want to have good quality chococlate flavor, pure cocoa butter content (versus other added fats like palm or vegetable oil), and limited additional ingredients.

I dunno, I bet that chocolate would make some great, albeit extravagant, brownies. Maybe try it once as a splurge. As far as I'm concerned, the chocolate is already a sunk cost since you bought it, so might as well give it a shot!

I still have a whole bag of cranberries in the fridge from Thanksgiving. Please help me to use the whole bag this weekend.

Ways to go:

1. Cook down the whole bag into this sauce, with golden raisins. Freezable/giftable.

2. Make a pie. or individual crostatas.

3. and 4. Make this fresh relish and these terrific, I'm-always-going-to-recommend-them tiny tarts.


I'm wondering if baked beans (such as Alton Brown's excellent recipe from Good Eats) is considered a braise, a stew, or some other thing altogether. You start a long slow cooking time with a fair amount of water because the beans absorb water, but due to that and evaporation you end up cooking the beans in a much smaller amount of water. At the end it's a quarter or a third of the amount of the beans. Beyond that the recipe seems to fall in line with your other braising requirements.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a legendary cookbook author and cooking teacher from the 60's and 70's, Michael Field, who said in response to trying to sort out some culinary definition, "The linguistics of cookery are fascinating  but at the same time so often confusing that I have sometimes wondered how a cook facing a stove for the first time coped with the language." 

But to answer your question, I would consider baked beans more a thing unto itself, but yes, very closely related to braising and stewing. Slow cooking deserves its very own category.

Well, you've cooked us, stirring once about halfway through, until we are tender and have taken on an orange hue, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and many thanks to Molly and Marisol for helping us answer them!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who confessed to not liking vegetables of any kind will get "Soul Food Love" by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams,  source of this week's Weeknight Veg recipe -- and hopefully more inspiration for things that include vegetables in delicious preparations here and there (and meat, too). The chatter who asked about ganache recipes/ingredients will get "Chocopologie" by Fritz Knipschildt. 

Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew. ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is the Food section's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Food's editorial aide.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Molly Stevens
Molly Stevens is a Vermont cookbook author and cooking teacher. She is the author of "All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking" and blogs at
Marisol Slater
Marisol Slater is the owner of Cocova chocolate shop in Dupont Circle.
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