Free Range on Food: Fried whiting, pastrami, "mindful makeovers" and more

Feb 13, 2013

Have a favorite dish that could use a healthful redo? Stephanie Witt Sedgwick joins us to talk about Mindful Makeover, a weekly recipe replacing her Nourish feature.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Good afternoon, pre V-Day Free Rangers! We're here to answer and hyperlink through lunchtime.  Our guests are David Hagedorn, who really took one for the team by eating all that pastrami for his in-depth comparison of what five local chefs have produced; and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, our resident recipe developer who's beginning a new phase in  Mindful Makeovers -- and you, dear readers, can send recommend dishes for her to lighten up. Of  course, Tim Carman's here to talk fried whiting, along with Becky Krystal and maybe  Jason "navy-strength" Wilson.  Editor Joe's out today. Better hop to it!


At the end of the hour, we'll award giveaway cookbooks for the sources of our 2 favorite q's/comments (as in, what are you cooking tomorrow night?) -- including one that's the source for today's Dinner in Minutes.




Excited about the new column-- and I really enjoy this chat every week. A childhood favorite dish of mine is beef stroganoff, which has been on my mind recently with the cold weather, but I no longer eat pasta or grains. Is there a way I can still enjoy the flavor and spirit of the dish? Thanks!

You sure can, with or without the meat. You don't need the noodles at all. I could easily make a meal of mushrooms stroganoff-style.

While I see the announcement of Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's new Mindful Makeover column and find a link to the recipe, I cannot find the column on the food page. And thank you Stephanie for your fantastic Nourish columns. I'm sure I'll enjoy Mindful Makeovers as well . . . Stephanie does terrific work. Thanks! Thank you!

We are going to look into how we might post recipes with the Mindful Makeover, Dinner in Minutes, etc. tags. Just keep in mind it won't be a column per se -- same format as Nourish, as in recipe-only. We also put in a new module at the top of the page titled "This Week's Recipes" that will take you to our recipe database and show you, yes, this week's dishes. You can also search for Mindful Makeover through the database.

Love the chats! I want to make the mahogany short ribs for Valentine's Day dinner but am drawing a blank with what to serve it with. I definitely am going to make mashed potatoes...any suggestions? Thanks so much!

I think a meat-and-potatoes meal calls for something green to balance out the heavier food.

So how about Broccoli Rabe Saute?

Broccoli Rabe Saute

Or White House Kale Salad.

White House Kale Salad

Trader Joe's sells a wonderful Belgian chocolate that is very reasonably priced for this sort of thing. It comes in a large bar/brick. You can buy an infrared thermometer on amazon for under $20 to make sure you get the tempering temperatures correct. SainSonic has a good one.

You're referring to Jane Touzalin's Chat Leftovers today? Thanks for the intel. 

Yes on that. I've bought those pounder bars there and have baked/melted/dipped with excellent results.

is it generally okay to sub pork tenderloin for pork loin in a recipe if I reduce the oven time? any tips?

You've seen the two cuts of meat up close and personal, right? Are you talking about roasting them whole? I'll stick to that general kind of advice. These days, I'll almost always pan-sear the tenderloins and finish them off in the oven.  That meat, to me, is more tender than the larger pork loin (think of the meat at the center of a thick-cut pork chop = loin). Both are lean; in addition to the time difference, you might want to tie the pork loin at intervals with kitchen twine -- especially if you stuff it, which both cuts of meat take kindly to. Keep a good digital thermometer at hand to monitor both tenderloin and pork loin in the oven.  Shoot for 140, figuring it will rise another 5 degrees to 145 in carryover cooking. You might want to keep the large pork loin tied to the bone as it cooks, for flavor.  It has an affinity for fruit, for sure.  Glazes/marinades are good on tenderloins. You'll want to remove the silver skin from the exterior of the tenderloin, which tends to make the meat curl in the oven and you don't want to chew through that stuff, anyway. Chatters, share more tips! 


Recipe recommendations, you say? This Italian shot at a pork loin is quite nice, as is this summery Spice-Rubbed Pork Loin With Corn Salad and Lemon-Lime Vinaigrette. If grilling's an option, I'd go with this recipe for the pork tenderloin (2nd one pictured below), brined and coffee-barbecue-sauced. Like this one with pesto slathered on top and a crunchy vegetable salad, too. 

I happened on this recipe for "Coca Cola Cake - Faith Hill's recipe for a Thanksgiving favorite" and wondered if the southerners on the chat might confirm or deny that Coca-Cola cake is a regional food. I'm wondering whether this would be a pleasant surprise for a friend's birthday. Does it taste like it has cola in it? Recipe link.

Boy, I think just reading that recipe has made my teeth hurt. I can't vouch for the provenance of it as a regional food other than to say Southern pals and their mothers have similar cakes in their repertoire.


I have made -- and much admire -- the coca-cola cake recipe from Washington cookbook author and FOF Lisa Yockelson. Hers has an incredible light and tender crumb; tastes like a mellow root beer met a mellower caramel and decided to infuse a very light cake batter.  Only has a  cup of the cola in the batter and less than that in the frosting.  Please try it and report back (And don't substitute Diet Coke). 

I have a bunch of too ripe bananas, but I don't want to make banana bread or smoothies or any of that. Any suggestions? Maybe something bananas can be a base for? Thanks! :)

The hands-down best way I've found to use extra bananas is in smoothies. I peel, wrap and freeze the ripe bananas. To make the smoothies, I break or cut a frozen banana into 1-inch chunks, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of frozen fruit (pineapple, strawberries and mango are the house favorite at my place), add 1 1/2 cups orange juice, a few tablespoons of honey, 1/2 cup vanilla frozen yogurt and water to just barely cover everything. Process in your blender until smooth. You have enough for two good-sized portions. This sounds like a lot of work, but it's not and the smoothies are delicious and it will cost you a fraction of what you'd pay at a smoothie shop.

Got a non-stick electric griddle as a gift. Love it for pancakes & fried eggs. Lost the instructions so wondering, how do I clean it? Is a damp paper towel wipe-down enough? Can't immerse it and never see short-order cooks do more than push grease away with a spatula. But maybe they're not good role-models?

What brand is it? Can you look up the instructions online? Different griddles work different ways (as in some have surfaces that totally detach for easy sink cleaning), so I'd be hesitant to make a sweeping recommendation.

We'd like to liven up French toast without adding something fattening like half-and-half. What should we try besides cinnamon or vanilla? We've thought of garam masala or mace or brandy, or using olive oil instead of butter to grease the griddle, but what do you think? We already experiment with different breads and different toppings but would like to get some sort of additional new taste in the batter -- the kind that makes people go, "Wow, I don't know what you put in this, but I love it!" We're usually only adults and don't like chocolate for breakfast. Thanks!

Save the olive oil for dinner,  but try this-a little Grand Marnier in your french toast soaking liquid. It's amazing how much flavor a tablespoon or two will bring.

I want to make peanut butter and jelly cookie heart Valentines, but need to keep the sugar levels pretty low. I have a great shortbread recipe that only uses 1/4 c sugar to 2 c flour and 3/4 c butter. Can I substitute peanut butter for 1/2 the butter? I assume I would spread a little fruit preserves between two layers of dough before baking, does that sound right? Thanks for your help. If I do it right, I think my kids will love these.

We consulted ace baker and FOF Nancy Baggett, who, of course, is so smart about this:

Your plan may work, but there are some problems with it. For example, even though peanut butter has a lot of fat, it doesn't bake up the same way as butter, so it won't really compensate for reducing the butter. Also, even though peanut butter has some sugar in it, adding it in is going to make the cookies seem less sweet. So, for tasty, tender cookies, you shouldn't try to reduce the sugar much.  (Sugar helps tenderize as well as sweeten.) 

Trying to add jam/preserves between layers of dough before baking is a bit tricky. Unless you very carefully and firmly press together the two cookie edges alI the way around, the preserves will likely leak out and cause burning. Brushing the interior edges with egg white as you work (a pastry chef trick) would help seal the layers together. Another easier option: baking the cookies individually and then forming sandwiches by adding the preserves between pairs of cookies afterward. 

Still another option: Skip the hearts completely and make thumbprint cookies by shaping the dough into balls, pressing a well into the centers of the balls, and putting some jam into the wells before baking. Don't overfill the wells though, or the preserves will bubble up over the sides and burn on the baking sheet.  Good luck!

It is regional. The ones that I have had its more of a chocolate type cake. Where I am from we have a tomato soup cake (it's a spice cake)... delicious. 

Yep, I've had that! Lisa's cake is made with cocoa powder so it's a bit chocolaty too. 

Hi! I currently have a couple of beef shanks defrosting in my fridge. They've been sitting in the freezer for a while and I thought I'd finally use them for a Valentine's day dinner. However, this does not seem like a terribly popular cut of meat - any recommendations for using them? I've seen some smaller blogs call for them in a boeuf bourgignon, but I wanted to hear from more reputable sources first!

Yeah, baby -- Jim Shahin's Smoked Beer-Braised Beef Shanks. (You can easily cut this recipe in half.) Just begs for a polenta partnership.


Pork loin is the longissimus dorsi muscle just as the loin is in beef. The tenderloin is the psoas major in both species. The psoas is significantly more tender and less flavorful than the l. dorsi. Recipes adapted to l. dorsi will be more intense flavors and may overwhelm the more subtle psoas. Reduce flavor intensity of recipes that call for a loin if you are going to substitute a tenderloin.

About last week's recipe: I want to swap the fresh sage for dried (the fresh herbs are pricey for the amount you get at my local store). How much of the dried herb do I use and do I still add it to the end?

Ah, I preferred the taste of fresh sage here, added at the end.  For dried, you're right to wonder about the timing. I'd stir in maybe 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons during cooking, maybe when you add the pumpkin. This sauce needs a sturdy noodle, keep in mind. 

Ways to get around the expense of fresh herbs: Ask your local store to stock those single-serving packets. Or grow your own sage! I can attest to its perennial hardiness outdoors in D.C. Even * I*  can't kill it. 

My daughter uses one of the flavored non-fat, non-dairy creamers instead of milk. Her fav right now is White Chocolate Mocha.

Please settle a fierce debate. Occasionally I will poach chicken breasts in water. My husband refuses to eat it in for say burrito filling because he thinks it's digusting to cook a piece of raw chicken in water. I think he's a germaphobe and that boiling the chicken would kill any bacteria. Is rinsing required before poaching?

Well, you win this round. First, here's what the USDA has to say about rinsing chicken: 

Washing raw poultry before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. This is called cross-contamination. Rinsing or soaking chicken does not destroy bacteria. Only cooking will destroy any bacteria that might be present on fresh chicken. 

Second, poaching is a perfectly acceptable way to cook chicken as long as you get the meat up to a temperature of 165 degrees. The only change I might suggest would be perhaps using broth instead of water or sauteeing some aromatics in the pot first to give the meat a little flavor boost!

As long as the internal temperature of the poaching chicken is in range of 130-165 degrees, your germophobic spouse needn't worry. Sounds like you'd have an instant-read thermometer around your house to check! FYI, rinsing won't kill bacteria.  The FDA thinks that splashing raw chicken in your sink environs can create cross-contamination --  just the conditions you're trying to avoid. 

How do you measure fresh ginger? Today's recipe calls for 1 1/2-inch piece ginger root. That's one-and-a-half inches long by how wide and how thick? Given that fresh  rhizomes are shaped as strangely as some voting districts, this is one of the mysteries of life for me, so your answer is really important!

With this recipe, no need to be so exact -- as long as you like the flavor. Figure on a piece that's as thick as a man's thumb. 

Roasted asparagus: sea salt, olive oil and a little bit of shaved parmessan Roasted Brussel sprouts: sea salt, olive

I bought a beef tenderloin, um, about a year ago; it went straight into the freezer and has been languishing there ever since (I know, I know!). Am I doomed to throw it out, or can I still (finally) do something with it?

A year's about the limit for beef, and because of that, we'd run you through the diagnostics: How's the color? Any freezer burn? If it was well wrapped and survives a thaw in the fridge, there's no need to toss it. 

Check out our handy freezer guide

Can I substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream in a recipe for mushroom soup? I plan to make it with vegetable broth and no turkey. Thanks.

You can but you're going to get a different taste and a slightly different look. Sour cream is less assertive and has more body. I'd try the yogurt in small bowl of the soup and see what happens. I'm hooked on sour cream, but you may prefer the yogurt.

My kid is about to turn 21 and has requested a whisky cake. Specifically, a vanilla cake with whisky in the cake (the whisky can be cooked, so the flavor is what remains--whisky is going in the frosting as well). Please help.

Perhaps an Irish Whiskey Cake?

Joe, I just wanted to say thank you for your dry-fresh mushroom equivalency last week. I made a lamb-shiitake ragu from the Food52 site with my 1.5 ounces of dried shiitakes and it was pretty darn tasty. There are a few portions in the freezer for next week.

We'll pass that along. Joe's out of the office today. 

Are there any companies in the DC/Arlington area that do winery tours of the VA wineries? I'm thinking something where we all get on a bus or in a limo at some pre-determined location and the driver takes us to 3-4 wineries over the course of a day...not looking for the kind of thing where we just drive ourselves and stop wherever we see the "grapes" signs, but something fairly well planned where we know the wines will be good!

They're definitely out there if you google "Virginia wine tours," but I'd be more interested in specific recommendations from chatters who have taken one. Suggestions, folks?

Also, if you every do decide to take yourself around, here's a cool wine country package our friends over in Weekend/Going Out Guide put together last year.

you guys just blew my mind. It makes sense but I have done it for so long now, I'm sure I can stop.

If you were to make this with soy crumbles instead of turkey (for the sake of vegetarian eaters), would you change anything else about the recipe? Or do you think the substitution would not be worth trying?

I think here, it could work just fine. The meat provides texture/bulk more than flavor. 

Thanks for your answer, though I'm not entirely sure I followed it completely (yeah, I was hoping for yes/no). FWIW, this is the recipe I was looking at. I think I'm gonna try it with the tenderloin and take the other commenter's suggestion to lighten up on the spice rub. Or maybe I'll play it safe and go to a tried-and-true tenderloin recipe...

Oh dear. I'm here to clarify any odd bits.  Let's get it right! 

I adore quiche -- especially for how well it reheats and can easily be dinner or breakfast. But a lighter version would be welcome, especially since I will be in a wedding dress in 8 months. Any suggestions?

The best way is to load up on the vegetables. You have to be careful and adjust for the extra moisture the vegetables bring-a litte cornstarch goes a long way to eliminate this problem. I'll work on a recipe for March that will lay out a formula. Look for it under the "Mindful Makeovers" tag.


If you and any of our readers are looking to lighten up dishes, please send your questions and/or recipe in need of a makeover directly to and I'll do my best to answer, redo, and makeover.


Good morning. What is the purpose of cream in a bolognese sauce? Does it just add richness, or does it help to thicken, or something else? Is there an alternative? I hate buying a container of cream to only use a little bit and then throw it out. I would also, rather leave out those calories if I can. thanks

Hmm. I think whole milk's the usual way to go, not cream.  It's not even a great amount of milk, at that. So that solves your problem, right? According to this Italian chefs' site, the introduction of dairy may originally have helped tenderize the meat in the sauce; added at the end of cooking, it lends a bit of sweetness. And you'll notice there's not a lot of tomato in a true Bolognese recipe; the milk might have been used because it was a more prevalent ingredient.


Here's a nice explanation of the sauce from the Giuliano Hazan blog. I see plenty of recipes that call themselves Bolognese and skip the dairy -- one at Epicurious uses the liquid from soaking dried mushrooms. Another from a blog uses full-fat coconut milk. 


Recipe recommendation, you say? We liked this version from the Canal House kitchen goddesses.

Where does your husband think chicken broth comes from? I poach chicken breasts in water to use the meat in a variety of Asian dishes, then I use or freeze the resulting stock. I learned to do this from a Chinese cookbook in the 1980s and have never, ever had a health or digestion problem from it. Are you sure hubby isn't riffing on the old quip attributed to WC Fields about why he doesn't drink water?

Here is a suggestion for pork loin that I never see anywhere - maybe it's old fashioned? Mix roughly equal amounts of coarse pepper, kosher salt, rosemary, and minced garlic. Add enough oil to make it spreadable, and rub the loin (the loin cut into portions) and let marinate. Overnight is best. Grill to a light pink inside. So moist and tasty. Baking is good too. I use 350.

I would like to buy a bottle of Port as a Valentine's Day gift, but don't know where to begin. I'm not looking to spend $300 on a vintage bottle, but $50-100 would be fine. Any suggestions? My husband will thank you!

You can actually find some of the more recent vintages for around $80-100. Port producers only declare vintages in certain years. I'd look for 2007 from Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca or Graham's. I've also seen a 2000 Quinta do Noval in stores for around $90-100. If you don't want to go vintage, you pick up an excellent 20-30 year old tawny port (which is wine from an undeclared vintage that spends at least 6 years in the barrel). I see a 20 yr old Taylor Fladgate for around $50 and Graham's 30 yr old tawny for around $80-90.

Beef shanks are one of my favorite stewing cuts! I like how the collagen melts and gives the cut such a rich texture, but I also don't find it quite as fatty as chuck....which means less trimming. I cut it into chunks and make traditional beef stew (you know, peas, carrots, pearl onions) it would work wonderfully in bourgignon.....and the latest dish that I tried and loved was Andrea Nguyen's Bo Kho (stewed beef with tomatoes, lemongrass and star anise).

Oooh. Nice. 

Hi gang, I'm trying to be better about planning meals through the week, so I don't get home late and scramble for ingredients and end up cooking the same old standbys. I've never really done this, though, and I'm struggling with the mechanics of it. It's me and a vegetarian live-in boyfriend, so we eat a lot of beans and grains for main courses. How do people do this? Do we just sit down on a Sunday afternoon and plot the week? I feel like at 30 I'm just learning how to feed myself.

Yes, planning is key. That's pretty much what my husband and I do. Sometimes we bellyache over having to think ahead for the week, especially when we just want to blob out on the couch over the weekend, but it pays off. Sit down, plan out the menu and do your shopping. Maybe even do some cooking! We've gotten in the habit of doing that and it makes weeknights so much better. Our preferred make-aheads include soup, bean burritos and dal.

The OP didn't want to make a smoothie with overripe bananas... any other ideas we could all benefit from? Thanks.

I know the chatter requested non-banana bread recipes, but really, this is like a dessert. Soooo good!

Thanks for sharing -- I bet someone (me?) will want to make it.

While smoothies are a great idea, the OP said she didn't want to make them. I normally peel mine, slice them, put them in tupperware, and freeze them. Then when I want a smoothie or banana bread, they are there. I have also found they worked great in baked banana oatmeal, banana pudding, and mixed with greek yogurt and topped with nuts.

It's too late for this year, but could Stephanie try her hand at a makeover of coeur a la creme? I'm making Molly Wizenberg's (which I couldn't find online), but this one from Ina Garten looks pretty similar.

I sure could, but not in the chat time frame, even I can't work that fast! I'll get to work on it though and look for a lightened up version in the next couple of months. My first instinct is going with an old fashioned but tried technique, gelatin. With gelatin doing the thickening, you could skip the cream cheese altogther. For now, how about going for strawberries and whipped cream this Valentine's Day and give me time to work on a strawberry version that's designed to encourage love and not a heart attack.

We say: Leave it be, and just eat a little bit of the good stuff. 

skip the crust!

Love the article on whiting. However, a know it all friend of mine said you HAVE to fry whiting. I am sure you can bake it, yes?

You can, of course, bake it. It won't taste the same as whiting that's been bathed in oil, but I'd encourage you to give it a try. I actually like the flavor of whiting: Despite what some people say, I think it has a fairly strong fish flavor. Pleasantly so. I'd think with the right seasonings, you could make an excellent baked whiting. 

I feel that in these chats often you all don't read the questions carefully. I know it's fast paced, but please! The Banana reader specifically said " I don't want to make banana bread or smoothies..." but then all you responded was about a smoothie. I have made chickpea curry with banana in it-- delicious. No recipe on hand, but you might find it on google.

We try to answer fast as we can...and I think Becky caught that and followed up. But if it makes you feel better, this incident will be ticketed and added to her Official Personnel Manager File with an Asterisk! (Or not. I vote not.)

You can also use the flavored Soy or Almond Milks. I use Vanilla Soy & cinnamon in mine, works great.

Help! I purchased a supposedly non-stick pan from All-Clad with a metal handle (the entire piece is oven safe). I bought it for fish or chicken - start on stove, then finish in oven. But my fish are completely sticking. Bacon too! Is there anything I can do? After ruining tilapia, I am thisclose to throwing it out and buying something else.

Contact All-Clad immediately. They guarantee these products and should offer you a replacement pan and they may also some insight on why you're having this problem.

bananas foster!

I bought a baguette for tomorrow's dinner, and I'm worried leaving it out will make it get dry and hard. Should I store it in the fridge over night?

Step away from the refrigerator! Although you could wrap the bread in foil and freeze it overnight, then reheat in a 300-degree oven. But since it's only a day or two, per Marcy Goldman's directions from last week, I'd wrap it in a clean dish towel and leave it on the counter. That will help preserve a crisp crust. If that's not an issue, you can cut the bread to fit inside the largest resealable zip-top bag  you have, pressing out all the air.  

Hey all! I made the winter vegetable and barley soup after cooking down our leftover ham hock and it was so good! The salt kick from the ham and the sweetness of the vegetables was really good! I added some brussel sprouts and rutabaga too. My question is I could not find barley but was reading the description on farro and it said it was similar. Is it okay to substitute farro for barley? And is there any prep work for the barley and farro? Thanks so much! You all are a treasure trove of info! Happy Valentine's!! And I miss the blog!!!

Sure, go ahead and use the farro. I love its distinctive taste. I'd try to find pearled farro; it's around in local stores and it cooks in about the same time as the barley. Whatever you find, just follow the instructions on the package for cooking time. If it's for hours, you may want to partially cook the farro before adding to the soup.


And yes, ham broth is a terrific base for winter winter vegetable soups.:)

[Posting early, in case I forget]: We got a bottle of cranberry spirits as a gift. Any ideas for a good cocktail?

Hmmm. I don't know any recipes off hand, but maybe you could do a Cosmo variation, replacing cranberry juice? Here's the original Cosmo. Perhaps try equal parts Cointreau and cranberry liqueur, so 1.5 oz. citrus vodka, 1/2 ounce each of the liqueurs, and lime juice? That's my best guess...

Thought you'd like this... Hope I copied it correctly

Hi! I've been using half whole wheat/half regular flour in baking recently (muffins, brownies) to be slightly healthier. Is this something I can do in chocolate chip cookies? Or will it alter the taste too much? Thanks so much!

It could work, although I've played around with more of a 1/3 substitution in baked goods. You might want to check out this 100 percent white whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour. Seems to be getting raves reviews from the commenters there, and I would trust KAF with my [baking] life.

Dear Valentines, If the Post sells its building, you're welcome to use my (apartment) kitchen to test all the recipes if I get to share the meals you prepare. Let me know!

Not IF. When! 

What a nice offer. We test in home kitchens, though, and are always looking for committed volunteer testers.  If you're really interested, send your deets to It does involve bringing samples to our bldg downtown -- the one with the FOR SALE sign not yet out front. 

Ha. If only we had our own fancy test kitchen. Most of our own are definitely on the petite size!

i really like using cinnamon swirl bread but I am a big fan of cinnamon. have they tried stuffing it with cream cheese and berries?

Ah, yes, the B&B treatment. I love it. :-)

Your suggestion also reminds me of the completely ridiculous breakfast I had at Ann Sather in Chicago -- mascarpone-filled cinnamon rolls turned into French toast and topped with granola and fresh seasonal berries. That was a few years ago. I may still be recovering.

I can't stop washing chicken before cooking it. (I might be descended from raccoons.) What about if I simply take it out in the yard and wash it with the garden hose?

No need to put on the overalls. Simply wash the sink with a bleach solution when you're done with the chicken. I keep a bottle made up and LABELED so there is no confusion.  As long as you clean up you're fine, the problem is most people don't clean the sink properly.

for the "This Week's Recipes" link near the top of the food section page!

You're welcome!

Once open how do you store Sriracha and tahini?

I refrigerate both -- but that's partly because I have a big fridge, and a pantry that heats up a lot in the summer. Tahini's okay at a cool room temp, although the longer you keep it the more it may separate (oil) and need to be stirred/emulsified before you use it.  Before I use my chilled tahini, I let it sit at room temp so it loosens up. Not a big deal. Maybe if I used it more often, I'd keep it in a cupboard.


I think I'm prolonging the quality of the hot sauce by refrigerating it. Lots of people, and restaurants, don't do so. 

What is the best type of cheese for French Onion Soup?

My choice is Swiss Gruyere-hands down favorite, but I also have had sucess with French Comte, a swiss-style cheese from across the border.

is a Fritatta.

I'm excited about Mindful Makeover, as it sounds like a great way to explore some classic recipes in a new way. I've seen comments about how that and Dinner in Minutes are hard to find online (some posted by me). A possible suggestion: when those recipes are linked to on the front page, include that in the title. So for today, for example, under "Latest recipes" it could say "Dinner in Minutes: Poached Shrimp in Ginger Broth" or "Poached Shrimp in Ginger Broth (Dinner in Minutes)." I know you all are thinking about this and hope you come up with a good solution. Thanks.

Yes, that was our initial thought, but apparently that list is automatically generated from the recipe names in the database, and we're not sure we'd want those labels to officially be part of the titles. We'll ponder the options!

I have found that if you use a spray oil like Pam, the non-stick pans stop working. Bought a new one recently and now there are directions to not use such a product on non-stick pans.

One way to plan meals is simply to keep doing what you're currently doing, but just tape a piece of paper inside a cabinet or something. Try to write down what you end up eating for dinner. After a couple of weeks, you have a list of the meals you typically eat. All the 'thinking' is done and you can use this to plan out at least four to five meals for the upcoming week before you go grocery shopping. If you get tired of these meals in the Spring, do the same thing. It gets easier with practice.

thanks! Ina's recipe for weeknight bolognese (sorry I didn't mention that originally) calls for cream, but I'm happy I can either leave it out or swap milk for it. I am making it tomorrow night for V-day, along with her celery salad, and garlic bread. This menu has become a valentines tradition for me and my bf.

Nice. Maybe she used cream because it's supposed to be a quicker recipe, and the fuller fat dairy would thicken faster. 

I second the previous p[oster's question about ginger. And let me add herbs to that uncertainty. When a recipe calls for "a bunch" or "half a bunch" of, say, thyme I am always dismayed. Different stores have divfferent size bunches, and farmer's markets have different sizes also, so I never am confident I am doing the right thing. A more precise measurement would be welcome in such cases.

Think of it this way: We're doing a little triage for you. If an exact amount is required, in tablespoons or packed cups, say, we'll include that info in the recipe. No stress. 

Since the instructions for almost every nonstick pan I've seen tells you not to use nonstick spray, why do so many recipes start with "in a nonstick pan, spray..." I've never used Pam-type sprays in my nonstick skillet and it has remained super nonstick for several years now.

Many recipes call for red onions - presumably because they are milder. But I have never once (ever! really!) had a red onion that was not unpleasantly bitter. Right now I have a bowlful of pico de gallo that is going to be fed to the garbage disposal because the onion killed it. Is there something I'm missing about selection, or should I just give up and chop a shallot or a vidalia instead?

Personally, I love red onions and their piquant, aromatic qualities. But I understand an onion's bitterness is not for everyone. The great food scientist Harold McGee has this suggestion: "Chopped alliums to be eaten raw -- as a garnish or in an uncooked sauce -- are best rinsed to remove all the sulfur compounds from the damaged surfaces, since these tend to become harsher with time and exposure to the air."

Give that a try next time perhaps when a recipe calls for red onion.

Would it be good to use broth flavored with shrimp shells, rather than chicken broth?

Absolutely, if you have the time. Toss in the ginger with them. 

My husband and I got one pastrami sandwich to split at Stachowski's. We were still eating the meat four days later. It is seriously enormous and the meat is cut very thick, so if you're not into thick-cut meat, it's not for you. But it was delicious. And it's on pumpernickel, which my husband was not a fan of and he was converted by the sandwich.

I personally would prefer if they would slice the meat thinner. I think if you asked them to, they would do that for you. And I actually prefer the pumpernickel to rye bread. 


Jamie Stachowski says there is only a two-hour window of opportunity while the pastrami is being held in the steamer for serving where the meat is at its best. And depending on which part of the brisket the meat for your sanwich is cut from, you can have a wide variance in the texture. Slicing the meat thinner would alleviate the potential of selling a portion that is on the wrong side of al dente, in my opinion.


It really is a ritual for me to make pastrami hash for next-day breakfast using the leftovers from that sandwich. 


By the way, the other sandwiches at Stachowski's Market are worth investigating. The smoked turkey one is a favorite of mine, but I have them make it with pumpernickel. The French Dip is killer, too. 

Hi. I'd like to make some hand apple pies for my family's dessert for tomorrow. Catch is that I work all day and arrive at dinner time, which is shortly before my little ones' bedtime. However, I don't work today. Should I prep everything today and then put in the fridge and bake tomorrow, or do I make and bake them today and then just reheat tomorrow night? Thanks!

I say bravo! Prep and freeze, even on parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Ready to go.  

Tomorrow night I'll be making waffles with a whipped coconut milk and crushed pineapple topping. Last year, we were busy, so I just made some pancakes. I figured I can start a "breakfast for dinner" tradition on Valentine's Day. You can have wine with breakfast, as long as it's breakfast for dinner, right?

We are a fan of breakfast for dinner here at Food section HQ. Check out Bonnie's recent Book Report on "Breakfast for Dinner."

Good idea. I found the manual online and it says to wash with soapy water after every use, just don't get water in the plug part. Guess I've got some catch-up cleaning to do. How come short-order cooks never wash their griddles? Or do they wash them once the customers have gone away?

Glad you found it. Any restaurant-type insiders want to fill us in on griddle care?

When there are too many very ripe bananas, simply cut them long and fry them in butter in a skillet until caramelized on both sides. They are transformational! Have those with pancakes on a Saturday morning.

Authorities do recommend rinsing off eggs.

Appreciate the full-circle poultry approach, but we don't have time to get into the egg-washing thing again this week! 

Not for a weeknight when quick cooking times point to the tenderloin, but for weekends when you have the time--recently roasted a pork loin (bone-in) on low heat (around 175-200) and its tenderness and juiciness was wonderful. as Cook's Illustrated found a few years ago, lower temperatures are much friendlier to the lower fat, , leaner pork that producers are raising now; cooking or roasting at traditional higher temperatures will yield tougher, drier result.

I'm not the original poster, but saw from an earlier Q&A that you're interested in dedicated testers, and that samples have to be able to be delivered to your current digs. My office is close to your current digs (right near National Geo) and would be interested in being a tester, but how long will you be in your current space? I wouldn't be able to be a tester once you move... ;-(

No telling. My, you are close by! For now, send your info to 

I love it! I put it in soup. I put it on popcorn! I refrigerate it, although I usually finish it quick enough I probably don't need to worry about i!

I have a slab of homemade caramel in the freezer that I need some recipes for. Prefer dessert cookies/bars... Any ideas?

I think your homemade caramel would work perfectly as a substitute for the store-bought candies in these Almond-Joy Thumbprints.

Almond-Joy Thumbprints

I made a batch of vegetarian baked beans for an event that was canceled. How long should I expect them to keep in the fridge? It's navy/pea beans, onion, dry mustard, molasses, brown sugar and s&p.

According to this source, baked beans tend to keep longer than other cooked items because the dish has little moisture, which is the breeding ground for bacteria. It seems you can store it covered in the fridge for a week or longer.

I'm sure I'll be "cooking" in a cheap restaurant tomorrow because I'll be traveling with my hubby and all the nice restaurants will be stuffed, but for tonight, you've inspired me to look into sandwiches again. Our house is on the market, so I've been afraid to cook recently (can't mess up the kitchen or make anything smelly!), plus pregnancy has turned me into a super picky eater. However, there's a whole world of yummy ingredients out there, right? Any additional sandwich ideas that are pregnancy "safe" (e.g. no lunchmeat, or unpasteurized soft cheeses)? Bonus points for an easy way to force myself to eat more veggies (which has NEVER been a problem before).

Have a look at our meatless sandwiches in our database (although one or two might have cheeses you can't use). The Chickpea Sandwich would be great for lots of folic acid!

Chickpea Sandwich

Is it me? Everyone and the industry says Soy and Almond Milk taste just like regular milk, but I have found most of them are flavored with vanilla or such and all of them have a slight chemical aftertaste. I don't believe with the added flavoring that any of these are good substitutes for milk.

You are Not Alone.  

this wont lighten things up, but years ago in CA, I had fried french toast that were dipped in melted ice cream as a part of their batter. AWESOME!

I did not like French Toast until I ate some based on Alton Brown's recipe. 3 eggs, 1 cup of half and half, 2 tablespoons of honey, salt thoroughly soak stale bread and then cook.

A (sadly) no longer, very casual, restaurant near me that had been in operation since the early 1940s made the best pastrami and egg sandwich on earth. We think it was because they'd never actually washed that griddle.

Is there any way to get a recipe for CityZen's Brussels Sprouts Pierogi? I was lucky enough to have it last year and I haven't stopped thinking about it since then. I would love to try and make it at home. I would be sad if I never get to eat it again...can you guys pull some strings???? thank you!

We'll give it a shot. Did you ask when you were there? Send us your email. (

I'm proud to say that my teen-aged vegetarian son has offered to make artichoke ravioli for dinner tomorrow! He and my husband made it last year (at my request), and now my son's decided maybe it should be a tradition.

I make a base of sauteed finely chopped onions, carrots, and garlic, along with chopped Italian sausage (I like the Joe's at Whole Foods) and some chopped bacon and asparagus. I split it in half and make a meat sauce with half, adding ground beef, parsley and oregano, tomatoes, wine, and tomato paste. I make red lentil soup with the other half adding chicken or turkey stock (and smoked turkey parts make awesome smoky stock) red lentils, spinach, a bay leaf and some other herbs as desired. The bacon, Italian sausage, and asparagus make a huge flavor difference. Then I have lots of meals for the week.

Try Edensoy Organic Original Unsweetened. It is delicious (plus, wonderful company). Their plain, sweetened is good, too.

A little place from my hometown made Texas Chili Dogs (mustard, chili and onions) ..the secret to their non bitter onions..was to chop them and cure them overnight with a little white sugar.

I'm sure that would do the trick too. Does it tamp down the flavor of the red onion too much?

Somewhere, I learned to soak my chopped onion in ice water for a bit. It really improves the flavor of raw onion.

That seems like a variation on McGee's advice. Thank you.

...what I like to do to re-heat it back to a passable state is run it quickly under a faucet, then reheat in a 350'F oven (just straight on a rack in the middle of the oven.) It seems like magic, but only the stalest loaves I have resist this treatment! I usually keep bread wrapped in a clean towel on the counter and use this technique after a few days.

Are these difficult to make at home? 2-4 per macaroon is cost prohibitive. My daughter is getting married and is eschewing the typical cake.

They're not too bad, no! I'd never made macarons before and did quite well with the recipes we ran the other year. Here's the accompanying story, and below are the recipes.

Chocolate Mint Fudge Macarons

Chocolate Mint Fudge Macarons

Espresso Macarons With Fudge Filling

Espresso Macarons With Fudge Filling

Pistachio Macarons With Lemon Filling

Pistachio Macarons With Lemon Filling

Strawberry Macarons

Strawberry Macarons

Cleaning a griddle in a restaurant is a greasy, messy process. It helps to cool the surface a bit so you don't burn yourself. YES, it is done once the customers have gone away.

I found it does not. I don't like the bite or the bitterness that I find in red onion. This method works well with regular yellow onions too.

What else can be made with it? There's only so much hummus I can eat...

Here are some tahini recipes. There are some nice noodle dishes in that list.


Thanks for the chat leftovers piece that suggested chocolate truffles as an alternative to molded chocolates! I'm getting married this spring and appreciated the inspiration. Our wedding is at a vineyard, so can you recommend any recipes for chocolate truffles flavored with wine to keep with the vineyard theme?

Yes, Jane did a fabulous job with this week's Chat Leftovers. She may have even made tempering chocolate sound fun and easy.


As for chocolate truffles flavored with wine, check out Wine Country Chocolates. The company may have what you need.


Well, you've dusted us with seasoned cornmeal and dropped us into shimmering hot oil, so you know what that means...we're fried! Thanks to Stephanie, David and Jason for joining us, as well as you, dear readers, who keep us humble. 


Today's cookbook winners:  The first French Toast chatter gets a copy of "The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food From Around the World," and the initial pork loin/tenderloin chatter gets "Fine Cooking's Chocolate: 150 Delicious and Decadent Recipes." Send your mailing info to so we can get those books right out to you. Until next week, happy cooking and eating! 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is deputy editor of the Food section; joining us today are staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson, Food contributor David Hagedorn and Mindful Makeover columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
Recent Chats
  • Next: