Free Range on Food: Pancakes, memoirs of a former White House chef and more

Feb 19, 2014

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

Good afternoon! I'm thinking that with all our star power today -- Tamar Haspel of Unearthed, former WH sous-chef John Moeller of Tim's story, pancake artiste Nevin Martell, Spirits whiz M. Carrie Allan -- I can just kick back for our high hour of chat power. But no! Ready to serve, full tilt. Food sectioneers are here too: Becky Krystal and Tim Carman. Editor Joe's on assignment. 


Two lucky chatters will win a copy of the cookbook that inspired today's Dinner in Minutes recipe, and we have a signed copy of  "The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers' Favorite Recipes" to hand over as well. Winners will be announced at the end of the chat. What'd you think of James Beard semifinalist list today? Let's dig in....

Thanks for the pancake article. My toddler loves them with blueberries and particularly liked some we had while out of town that were more eggy than fluffy (but not flat). Any ideas on how to re-create something like this? He doesn't like things that are overly bready so this was a nice middle ground between a high-rising buttermilk pancake and a crepe. I'm happy to experiment!

I have made a recipe from scratch where you separate the eggs a than whip the egg white to a meringue that fold that into the batter. It will make it fluffy.

This recipe doesn't get too bready. I like chef's idea. You could also cut back on the baking soda for less rise. 

How many cooks are in the kitchen? There must be a lot!

There are 5 full time chefs in the kitchen, 3 in the savory side and 2 in the sweet. We would use local chefs to help us with large events at the White House.

I need new pots and pans especially a new stock pot. What's the difference between a tall one and a wide one? and what should I look for? Any pots and pans people love?

The taller one is good for making stocks and simmering for a long time. The shorter one usally for braising meat in. That way you can remove the meat with out breaking it up as it would be in the taller pot.

If you ever have to make matzoh balls or dumplings, a wide pot will give you the surface area you need. For that reason, I keep a heavy-gauge aluminum one on hand that I got a restaurant supply store. 

I give up on Whole Foods and Safeway - neither ever has birds eye chilies in stock. Any suggestions for where I can pick up this ingredient in DC?

Ethnic food markets are a good place to look. Are there any Asian or Indian shops near you?

There were some very sad packages of stir fry vegetables in there. Is there a time frame for eating down various types of vegetables or meats? Or is there a good way to tell from the appearance? The old veggies had a lot of frost in the bag even though the bags were still sealed. Presumably that comes from water evaporating and then refreezing outside the food. Is that only possible if they have defrosted and refrozen - meaning my freezer isn't maintaining a sub-freezing temp even though I've had no power outage? Does it happen eventually even if they remain frozen? And if the ice is only from the freezer getting warmer for a while, are other things - like fish - now dangerous? Also, does anyone have any recommendations for older, frozen blackberries? I'm sure they will taste fine, but I bet they won't look very nice.

Ah, freezer burn!  The ice crystals on the outside of the food happen at freezing temperatures, and don't mean your freezer is malfunctioning.  They are not a food risk, but they can affect appearance, texture, and taste.  (For more on the chemistry, google 'freezer burn,' and you'll get a good explanation of how this happens.)

I can't stand wasting food, so my rule is to use assertive flavors in proportion to the amount of the freezer burn. Put those vegetables in a spicy stir-fry, and no one will know the difference.  Use the blackberries to make a compote or a shrub. And you're right -- they'll taste fine.

Proper packaging helps guard against freezer burn too. Try to freeze juicy small fruit like your blackberries individually on a baking sheet before you bag them. And when you bag them, press as much air as possible out of said bag. 

How do you choose wine to go with the menus?

After the menu has been approved we would work with someone in California to help pair wines with each course. They can be wines from any part of the US.


We weren't sure who this was directed to, so I got some more insight from wine columnist Dave McIntyre.

Not sure exactly what you mean by the question, but let's suppose a multi-course dinner with a progression of dishes (rather than everything on the table all at once). Your first thought will be to choose a wine that matches each course, or maybe one that could bridge two successive courses. The second consideration is weight - look to go from a lighter wine to heavier wines. Normally this will dictate whites first, then reds. Finally, the dessert wine generally should be sweeter than the dessert (possible exception would be a fruity style of sparkling wine, depending on the dessert).

Dear food folks: I have a canister of Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate. It's delicious, but I don't really drink a lot of hot chocolate. Any thoughts on recipes I can use this in? I really don't want let it go stale and waste it!

I would have to see it to be able to come up with a recipe to use it in. Heard of it but never used it.


Thoughts, chatters? It's tricky since unlike regular cocoa powder, those mixes have sugar and salt already mixed in. A shot in the dark -- perhaps you could mix it with milk or cream for the custard in a chocolate bread pudding? Taste it as you go -- before adding the eggs -- to gauge the sweetness.

Many Chinese food recipes call for Chinese rice wine for the sauce, and state that dry sherry is an acceptable substitute. What about sake? It's a rice wine, too. But I never see that as a suggestion.

I would use a not too expensive Sake before a sherry. But the sherry will work.

I would use a not too expensive Sake first but a Sherry can work.

Price, easy availability and shelf life are factors --- like using salmon roe for saltiness instead of  coarse sea salt? After 5 minutes of intensive research, I find that sake has been tagged as having "subtler flavor" and "lighter in taste."

Hi -- submitting early as I won't be able to join, and also because this seems like something you may not be able to answer off the top(s) of your head(s). I have two 100-gram jars for Confit Fromagier: Rhubarb-Gin-Chicory and Cherry with Piments d'Espelette. I have NO idea of what cheese varieties would complement either; nor whether to serve them any other way than next to the cheeses on a board. Can one of you, or a chatter, recommend?

Those sound excellent. For insight, I sent your question to Carolyn Stromberg, owner of Righteous Cheese in Union Market. Here's her advice: 

I'd recommend the  cherry w/ piments d'espelette with a sheep cheese for sure - something from the Pyrenees, whether the French or Spanish side, since that's likely where the jam originated. Definitely serve it alongside the cheese on a board so people can try the cheese solo, and then try the jam as an accompaniment.

Alternatively, if you were to make a grilled cheese with Abbaye de Belloc and the cherry preserve… that would be killer. But I think it would mute the flavors of both - why not just enjoy them straight up?


Rhubarb gin chicory is tougher - those three flavors together seem super punchy/assertive. Without having tasted it to know the how those balance of those flavors in relation to each other, I would suggest either a mellow blue cheese, like Bleu des Basques (sheep's milk blue that is super smooth) or a firm, flaky sheep's milk like Pecorino Ginepro - it is Italian, washed in juniper berries & balsamic vinegar. I think that balsamic/juniper (i.e. gin) combo might balance the savory flavors of the preserve nicely.


All of those cheeses are available of Righteous Cheese… :)

Posting early...this morning I made a flourless chocolate cake that called for beating eggs over hot water until they were warm to the touch, then taking them off the hot water and beating until they tripled in volume and soft peaks formed. This was described as taking 15 minutes, but in fact the eggs tripled almost immediately. I continued beating until the soft peaks formed, but that was only about 7 minutes so I kept beating until 10 minutes. This made me wonder about recipe instructions. I've made this cake several times and it comes out very well, but I'm wondering if I am missing something by not beating for the full 15 minutes...or if the textural cues are enough to go by. Thoughts on following a recipe to the letter? Thank you.

Would you like to divulge whose recipe it is?

Thanks for the pancake article, I love them. Do you have a recipe for oatmeal pancakes? They are my favorite, but I have not seen any good recipes. Also, the redesign of the recipe pages seems to have screwed up the printing of them. Whenever I try to print a recipe, pages 2 and 3 get the new header (i.e., sections, search, etc.) instead of lines of either ingredients or instructions.

We have a recipe for Whole-Wheat Toaster Pancakes in our database that call for quick-cooking oats. Maybe those are along the lines of what you're looking for?

Whole-Wheat Toaster Pancakes

I'm a little perplexed by your recipe-printing problems. I haven't come across that issue -- yet. What browser are you using? Feel free to respond here or e-mail us any more details so we can look into it.

I didn't try making any oatmeal pancakes this time around, though now I'm inspired to head back into the kitchen because of your query and the delicious sounding recipe that Becky just posted. Thanks for the idea.

My favorite pancakes are yeast pancakes with both wheat and buckwheat flour. Theyferment overnight and are ready to go int he morning. By mixing wheat flour with buckwehat flour, you avoid the "Little House on the Prairie" consistency the author did not like.

Thanks for the tip! I will definitely try this out. 

I loved the juxtaposition this morning of the story about the amazing-looking homemade pancakes with special syrups--including a maple/coffee one that sounds really good--with Tim's story about a White House chef who once got rebuked from Chelsea Clinton because she wanted maple-flavored corn syrup instead of the real stuff. When I was a kid, I didn't like real maple syrup either. I wanted the Log Cabin variety that came in the little metal house. Today, I love the real stuff and use it all the time and not just for breakfast. It's great mixed into salad dressing, meat or fish glazes and winter cocktails.

She was 12 years old when she arrived at the White House. Her taste changed over time but you are right most kids did not like the taste of real maple syrup.

I'm so glad that you came over from the dark side! Nothing beats the real thing.

My stepdaughter was in the same camp!  She was so embarrassed about it that she made a deliberate effort to reshape her tastes. 

I read the article and the comment section. I appreciate that the author is so willing to discuss her point of view with the commenters. It seems like increasing demand by subsidizing purchasers of produce would be better than subsidizing suppliers of produce. In this way demand will drive increased production, but only to meet the increased demand. As one commenter mentioned, subsidizing production of a highly perishable product may just make for a lot of compost.

Thanks for weighing in here -- I always appreciate thoughtful, constructive comments, and these issues interest me.

I share your concern about compost, and I think any changes we make to the farm bill have to keep that in mind.  But we live in a global economy, and we have the option of adjusting imports and exports to help match demand to supply.  Nobody thinks we should subsidize produce with the aim of storing it.

I think one of the lessons of the farm bill is that we wade into dangerous waters when we start to try and shape our food supply with subsidies, and I think it's just as dangerous to try and do it by subsidizing purchasers.  I'm looking to scale back subsidies overall, and aim what's left in the direction of healthfulness.  

Sometimes the WH brings in "big name" chefs for state dinners - I think Rick Bayless did one? Has that been common or a more recent occurrence? How do the regular WH chefs feel about giving over their space?

I did not have that many Big name chefs do any dinners when I was there. We did have Patrick Clark help with the Mandela dinner when he was across the Street at the Hay Adams Hotel. But we would do what ever the First Family wished  to do. But it is the time for us to have fun with the fan fare that comes with the planning of a big dinner like this.

Being snowed in with the kids and with the Monday holiday, I had lots of time for baking. One item I made since I had the time was puff pastry. I had never made it before. It was surprisingly simple and turned out incredible! We made a variety of different items from parmesan cheese sticks, to strawberry napoleons, to a caramelized cookie with the puff pastry. I would like to make puff pastry again. Do you have any suggested recipes I should use with future home made puff pastry.

That sounds amazing. I'm coming over to your house the next time we get a snow forecast! I'd use that puff pastry in a nice tarte tatin, including our recent Easy Make-Ahead Pear Tarte Tatin.

Easy Make-Ahead Pear Tarte Tatin

Or how about Joe's Baby Beet Tarte Tatin?

Baby Beet Tarte Tatin

It's nice to have a tall pan if you use an immersion blender - less mess to mop from your backsplash! Or maybe that's just me . . .

Excellent point. 

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Looks fine to me. Try refreshing or switching browsers.

What can you tell us about the food favorites/dislikes of the White House occupants with whom you served? Thanks.

They all liked to eat as healthfully as possible when they dined on their own. But one favorite that they all liked was Chicken Enchilada. I came up with a good recipe when I was there.

What's the best non-wheat flour to use for pancakes? I've tried brown rice flour--Disaster! Thanks!

Great question. I tried coconut flour, but it was too leaden for what I wanted for this recipe. That being said, it had a nice sweetness. Almond flour has worked well for me in the past. 

I'm heading to the dutch market in Laurel, MD this weekend for something to do with my sister while she's in town for her birthday. Have any of you been before? Anything I absolutely need to pick up?

Hmm. I recommend not eating on Friday! It's a world of fresh produce, Amish candies and preserves and spaetzles and pickled vegetables and many, many fried things. Speaking of pancakes....there's a little restaurant in the back that serves delicious ones. Hard to say what your sister might like best. The fresh meats are very good quality. 

I have not been to the one in Laurel.

Ok, did President Bush really ban broccoli?

He did not want broccoli served when he was at the table but Mrs. Bush enjoyed it and I severed it to her on her own.

You might want to a German pancake which you bake -- they are very eggy! I use the one from my Pilsbury cookbook, but I think this is a standard recipe.

Ooh, good point. I make a Dutch Baby from America's Test Kitchen that puffs up beautifully.

Hi - Any interesting uses for rye bread crumbs? What seasonings and ingredients would they work with best? I have over 3 lbs of them in the freezer (baking session gone bad). If I have a list of delicious things to do with them, I won't be so sad about the loaves that might-have-been. So far, I've used them in a Scandinavian-style breakfast bowl with yogurt and hazelnuts (surprisingly good!), and next up is a cabbage and rye panade from Deborah Madison. Thanks!

Let's hear from you, chatters. Right off the bat I'd say maybe toasted and buttered, as a crust for salmon or char? As a topping for veg or potato gratin?

What makes a pilaf a pilaf as opposed to a risotto or fried rice?

While both a risotto and pilaf include stock in the cooking process, the final results are far different. A risotto has a creamier, softer texture. A pilaf has a fluffier texture. A pilaf is more identifable as "rice," because you can still see the individual grains.


Fried rice is a completely different beast, using previously cooked rice and stir-frying it in oil.

PBS recently aired a Cooks Country (ATK) episode on testing stockpots. I think it was a year or two old, but you can probably still find it online at PBS. Essentially, they went with a +/- $40 pot that was somewhat wider than average, and had handles that stuck out far enough to make it managable to lift and move when full of water.

I know this has been discussed at length on the chat before, but I can't find the right transcript. Last week I made the long rise time, no-knead bread recipe. It turned out great, and I'm now ready for the next step in bread making. Any book recommendations for a novice?

If you like the no-knead route, the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" series is pretty fool-proof, I think. It was my intro into bread-baking. Jim Lahey's cookbook is another option.

For a bigger look at bread, consider books on the topic from Rose Levy Beranbaum or Nick Malgieri.

Loved the pancakes article -- could we have a special breakfast edition? Especially for weekday breakfasts that are quick or can be made ahead! My kids are in a cold cereal rut, and it's hard to get out of it. I would love a weekly planner of 5 breakfasts that could be made ahead (maybe with a shopping list too?). I could get organized on Sunday and get everyone off to a good start every day.

 I love this idea! And I'd love to write it. Thanks for coming up with my next pitch. :)

I'm starting to come up with recipes to make for my sister-in-law who is due to give birth in a few weeks. Could I make a batch of pancakes and freeze them? Would I lie them flat and room temp on a cookie sheet in the freezer then put them into bags? Do you think they could be warmed in a toaster like frozen bread?

Yes you can do that. Just get them in the freezer asap. They will hold up for a while in a Zip lock bag. Than as you said put them into a toaster over to heat them.

What chef said!

My favorite growing up and my daughter's favorite syrup now was King Syrup. It has a very thick consistency. However, I have grown out of that and now prefer some very thick maple syrup that is home made in Ohio and given to us in mason jars.

Sounds spectacular! How do I get on that Christmas list?

Why not ice cream (or a granita if you don't have an ice cream maker). You could easily mix in some fun stuff like chocolate chips and marshmallows...

Your first answer suggests cutting down on the baking soda, but the recipe in the print edition doesn't mention baking soda. And isn't an acid needed to make the baking powder do its job? Also, I have found that a combination of whole wheat and white (both all-purpose) works well. I also like adding in a surprise, like oat bran or cornmeal.

Powder, my bad. 

I love the idea of a surprise. 

I'm wondering what you guys think about slow cookers? I don't have one but was thinking about getting one. I don't eat a ton of meat but I hear you can use it to cook dried beans and tons of other vegetable heavy meals. Do you think they are a good/needed addition to kitchen? thanks.

It can either be a treasured, much-used appliance in your kitchen, or something you'll put in your next yard sale. It's up to you! Doesn't matter whether you're cooking for one or a ton -- especially if you are the kind of cook who likes to make things ahead and stash them.  And I'd be remiss if I failed to direct you to search "Slow Cooker" in our Recipe Finder

My husband used drinking chocolate to make an amazing, Mormon-friendly tiramisu! He soaked the ladyfingers in the chocolate instead of alcohol and coffee, and it was quite delicious.


A houseguest from Vermont brought me a metal jug of real maple syrup ... maybe 7 years ago. I decided to save it for a special occasion. It's been in the freezer ever since -- the door part, not the dark recesses. The outside corners have a bit of rust but I'm hoping the insides are still good. What do you think?

I would have to see it but if I used it I would first strain it than bring it to a boil for a few minutes before thinking of using it.

According to, your syrup should last indefinitely when refrigerated. If the container is rusting though, I would transfer the syrup to a hearty plastic container instead. 

My folks used to freeze gallon tins of Canadian maple syrup for years. Bit of rust on them never seemed to affect flavor (but that rust was not "eaten through"; no third eye growing in my forehead.

We grew indian corn in our garden last year and ground it. We use the colorful corn meal to make hoecakes for breakfast. The kids like the colorful specks in the hoecakes and they like that they helped to grow the corn.

This sounds like a really lovely tradition all the way around. I'll have to make sure to save some room in my garden for a few cornstalks when my son is a little older. Thanks for sharing.

To the poster who said Tom's chat was stuck on the first question--my computer was doing this, too, when I was using Internet Explorer. Works fine now that I'm using Firefox.

OK, thanks for the insight. Sometimes that means there's some kind of special character that messed up the coding on the page.

What is the most healthy pancake? Rita from Poland

Healthy is such a broad word. What are you looking to avoid?

I had quite the snow day last week, thanks to the inspiration from the weekly chat. I made the blue cheese torta (subbed ricotta), and it was SO divine. I even converted my SIL, who doesn't like blue cheese. I followed it with homemade pasta with kale pesto, shrimp, topped with ricotta, olive oil and cracked pepper. Then the piece de resistance: a homemade cream cheese/red velvet cake ice cream. No, you didn't mention ice cream last week, but you made me think about my favorite appliances, and I realized my ice cream maker deserved some more love. Thank you for your weekly inspiration!

We are Impressed!

Bonnie asked the source of the recipe--Rose Levy Barenbaum's Cake Bible. (Or Cake Torah, as we call it in my house.) Thanks.

Cake Torah! Love it (and it's a fine book, too).

I am a huge, huge fan of Alton Brown's "Very Basic Bread." It is a time-consuming but not difficult recipe.

The OP was looking for a book, but appreciate the recipe suggestion too!

Do you think it would still be usable 24 hrs later? Just wondering if I mix a x-lg batch on Saturday if I could still use it Sunday morning. Thanks.

Hmm. I've never tried that, since I always make all the batter and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers. I don't think the pancakes would be as fluffy, even if you refrigerated the mixture. Anyone else have thoughts on this?

Always interesting to see what they include from D.C. Following a banner year of new restaurants, I'm surprised that only Rose's Luxury made the cut for new restaurants (no Del Campo? Casa Luca? Table?). Also, Vidalia and Jaleo as the best restaurant choices seem a little surprising when there are other places I think, at least locally, hold more prestige at the moment. Love that Marjorie Meek-Bradley got a rising star nod. Also love that Paul Carmichael of Ma Peche in New York got a nod, since his food is amazing.

You're referring to the list of semi-finalists, which the Beard Foundation releases every year at this time. (You can read the full list here.) These are not the final nominees, but sort of the short-list contenders.


With that said, I'm surprised Del Campo or even Mike Isabella's Kapnos didn't make the new restaurant cut. They're both worthy. The best restaurant list, I feel, is a chance to honor the places that have been dining institutions, like Jaleo and Vidalia. It's sort of like when someone wins an Oscar for best actor for their body of work, not exactly the performance he was nominated for.

A friend from the south sent me a jar of Sorghum Syrup over the holidays. I never heard of it & am not sure what to do with it. Suggestions?

Yes. When I did my Fakesgiving story with them, the guys over at the Bitten Word served this amazing Sorghum-Sweetened Chocolate Pecan Pie from Martha Stewart Living. Hoo boy, was that mean. We also have a pecan pie in our database that uses sorghum.

I love glazing and roasting Brussels sprouts with sorghum (adding bits of bacon or duck proscuitto makes them even better), sweetening cocktails with it or even drizzling it on pancakes.

I'd like to get into slow cookers more, but they make me a little nervous. I don't like the idea of leaving a cooking appliance on all day while I'm at work. We just another kitchen fire in my apartment building, the second since I've lived there. Not that I think a slow cooker caused them, but it seems like a risk I wouldn't want to take. Instead, I'm using my pressure cooker more, which can make similar dishes speeding up the process instead of slowing it down.

The standard line is that slow cookers are equivalent to wattage of a light bulb, so I think the risk of a using a new model is low. Alternative: Slow-cook overnight while you're asleep? And plenty of newer models have an automatic shutoff. But thumbs up on the pressure cooker -- an underused kitchen hero. 

Initial thoughts, without knowing the specifics: 1) add it to pancake or french toast batter. Do a test pancake to make sure you got your proportions right. 2) Make it into a liquid (if it's powder), add a thickening agent and pour over ice cream or above mentioned pancakes. 3) add to a regular cake batter and top with marshmallows so it's like hot chocolate. 4) make wendy's-style frostys or a chocolate milk shake (spiked, naturally)....the list can go on.

All good thoughts!

I only take milk in my coffee, so I've started freezing it because a small container is too little and a big one is too much. But one thing I don't know is, once it defrosts, how long is it good for? If I freeze it five days before the expiration date, will it still be good five days (or so) after defrosting? Would the same go for meat? Thanks!

There, of course, is a ton of information online about freezing milk. For those who have never done it before, it's good to remember  you need to put the milk in a container that allows the liquid to expand. You also need to defrost the milk in the fridge, slowly, so it stays in the "safe zone" and won't become contaminated. Once thawed, you should shake the milk to re-incorporate it.


After thawing, I'd say you have to follow your nose. Literally. Just smell it to tell when the milk is off. It's the only sure-fire way I know to determine when it's time to pitch milk.

In theory, the expiration date would still be good. 

I think it would be ok to refrigerate a yeast batter. For a leavened batter, you could always add the baking soda and baking powder again the next day.

Good point!

Maybe best to mix the dry ingredients and then add the wet just before you'll whip up those pancakes.

I recently upgraded my kitchen appliances, and was pretty much forced to get a smooth-top oven unless I went with the most basic model. I don't think I like it. It always looks smeared, no matter how many times I wipe it down (yes, I'm also using the recommended cleaner). I can't use it as extra counterspace or set hot dishes from the oven on top like I could with the old coil-top stove. The burners are all a little too big or a little too small, and pots slide around when I stir them. Do you have any tips or tricks to make me love this stove or at least get the most out of it? (I'm loving the convection oven, just not the cooktop!)

Hm, maybe we have a different kind of oven, or maybe I'm disregarding manufacturer instructions, but I'm always putting hot dishes on top of my ceramic oven. Never had a problem. I'm with you on the cleaning thing, though. No matter how much I scrub, there's always something left. But I've resigned myself to it! I guess I do tend to hang on to pots or pans with one hand while stirring, although I think I did that on the coils on my old oven too.

So, um, I guess that wasn't all that useful. Better words of wisdsom, anyone?

I own neither a stand mixer nor a food processor and will not be getting either in the near future. (I do own a Kitchen Aid hand mixer.) Most recipes now automatically assume I have both. Is there a rule of thumb for adjusting a recipe to my Luddite dough-hookless kitchen or do I have to figure it out somehow on a case by case basis?

Case by case it is! And I suppose the power of your stirring arm and kneading hands cannot be overstated.

When I get frozen fish in one of those vacuum-sealed packages from the store, it always specifies removing it from the package before defrosting. I've never done this and seem to be okay, but I can't help but wonder what impact the packaging has on the defrosting process. Can you shed any light?

I do not think that it has much of an impact to the fish. What you do not want to do is to use warm water and rush the process. this can change the texure of the fish. Let it slowly thaw in the fridge is best.

It has been refreshing in recent years to see more and more people who are not farmers take an interest in the Farm Bill, as it impacts the way all Americans eat. This has had an impact on "specialty crops" in the bill (first in 2008 with a grant program and now opening up crop insurance), but consumers must continue to be vigilante, especially those interested in organic produce, which is subsidized through the bill, but did not get a lot of attention this time around. Also, the article mentions SNAP (food stamps). Just to clarify, SNAP recipients have always been able to purchase produce with their benefits, but the 2014 Farm Bill will expand programs in place in some states to double their dollars if used at farmers markets.

Since eaters and farmers are inextricably linked, I think the farm bill is important to all of us -- I agree that it's good to see people caring about it.  And thanks for the SNAP clarification.  With only so many words to work with, I can't always get everything in!


Did the First ladies, or Presidents for that matter, ever do any cooking of their own?

I remember once that Mrs. Clinton wanted to make an omelet for Chelsea when she was not feeling well, but they are very busy and they appreciate it to have a chef cook for them for each meal period.

We use that all of the time on cornbread. do you have sorghum syrup or sorghum molasses? The syrup tends to be a little sweeter and less of a complex flavor. We use the molasses to bake with.

I like the sound of that.

I'd like to try cooking more French dishes, since most of my cooking seems to lean Italian. I'm a little apprehensive though about the long cooking times many dishes seem to require. Any suggestions for French dishes that are practical enough timewise to make during the work-week? Thanks.

How about a dish that sort of bridges the gap between French and Italian cooking, like this South of France Tomato Soup with Young Chevre. It works even with good canned tomatoes during the off-season.

Hi - I have a cheesecake recipe I love, but I want to add a fruit gelee to the top, or mix the fruit into the cake itself. Is it safe to do that or should I use an entirely different recipe that already provides for the fruit component?

I don't see why you can't use your favorite cheesecake recipe and put the fruit on top. I wouldn't mix it into the cheesecake -- I could see that baking not going so well.

What were the favorite foods of the Presidents you served?

When the Presidents ate on their own they all liked comfort food. I made a Chicken Pot Pie that they all enjoyed along with crab cakes are always a favorite.

Aw, shucks -- thanks so much! Appreciate it. Are there particular areas/cuisines/vegetables/styles that you'd like to see more of, or are you up for anything? Sorry I wasn't able to log on during the Wednesday chat, but belatedly... We truly love and eat almost everything and if it is spicy, even better. Two of your recent recipes that we have enjoyed more than once are the black pepper tofu and the enfrijoladas with egg, avocado and onion. Perfectly seasoned, and by not only cooking extra black beans and then taking them through the next step of the recipe and doubling the spices prior to freezing, there is a quick meal waiting in the freezer with just the addition of the tortillas, etc. Love being inspired by new things.

This is regarding last week's question about scaling & preparing a whole fish at home. In an episode of Julia & Jacques cooking together Jacques Pepin demonstrated scaling a large fish rather neatly by first putting it into a clear plastic bag within which he wielded the knife thereby confining all scales to the bag.

I haven't made them in the past, but I have made GF cakes, and the flours (almond, coconut) worked well in combination and when they were mixed with whisked egg whites to create a sponge - I'd think that approach would probably work okay for pancakes, too.

There is a wonderful recipe in the New Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook. I can submit during the week if the requester is interested

If you want to, sure! It's not built yet, but you can submit the recipe for next week's chat or e-mail us and maybe we'll hear from the orginal poster.

My kid has requested a 'Rainbow Salad,' so I plan to make a rainbow of options on the counter and let everyone pick what they wants for their bowl. What other ideas do you have? Roy G Biv is too 'blue' and more ideas welcome. Red - tomato, strawberries, radishes, beets, bell pepper Pink - tomatoes White - mushrooms, pasta/rice, chicken, ranch dressing Yellow - bell pepper Orange - carrots Green - lettuce, cukes Blue - blueberries Black - black beans

Other ideas include roasted sweet potatoes (orange), roasted or raw cauliflower (white), steamed edamame (green), roasted blue potatoes and fennel.

Another thing a friend of mine does, and I do on occasion: there are small juice box size things of milk available in stores now, so I get those and just open one when I need it. And if I don't use it all I don't feel like I've wasted that much.

That sounds like a fine idea.

I'm curious whether foods such as bread and mayonnaise were always made from scratch or what brands you stocked. If foods were store-bought, what items were chosen as the highest quality, and what - besides Chelsea's syrup - based on First Family brand preference? I'd especially like to know what the White House chef considers the best flour, butter and Cheddar cheese!

I would not make fresh mayo for a sandwich but an aioli yes for a dish. I did make my own pizza dough and I always like the King Arthur unbleached bread flour for this.

Love the new recipes. :) My husband and my families both had a Saturday morning pancake ritual. My family's were of the thin homemade Swedish buttermilk variety (sort of like small tart crepes), my husband's family's were Bisquick (which I think is great---for camping trips). He has now enlisted our 7 month old in a new tradition, pancakes from scratch on Saturday mornings - she supervises - trying a new recipe every few weeks. She had her first taste (plain, no syrup yet) this past week. Too bad she forgot to swallow. [We'll be adding this to the stack of possibilities!]

Sounds like you have a fun tradition going on there. Please let us know what your little chef thinks of them! 

I make a batch of gluten free (just bis quick) egg free pancakes for my son using flax for eggs frequently. First day very fluffy next day definitely flatter but it doesn't affect the taste or texture. I have not tried adding a bit of baking soda or powder on the 2 nd day to see if that helps them rise. I wish there was a way to get egg free pancakes in a restaurant. Oh how I want someone else to cook a breakfast we can both eat.

I would think that someone in town can do gluten-free pancakes for brunch. Firefly maybe?

I found some dried Birds Eye Chilis at the Whole Foods in Silver Spring.

I assume the chatter was looking for fresh, but this is good to know.

Ok, weeks ago someone wrote in asking what they could do with their leftover broccoli. They wanted a solution that isn't stir fry. I hope they've eaten the broccoli since then, but for anyone else with the same dilemma, pizza is my answer. I make my own crust (I love this recipe and tomato sauce (just a can of tomatoes with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, sugar, and lots of oregano boiled down on the stove and then pulsed in the food processor) and then julienne a red and orange pepper, slice up half a yellow onion, and chop the broccoli into smallish florets. I then roll the broccoli around in some olive oil and sea salt and add all the vegetables to the pizza with some sliced mozzarella and parmesan. Bake at the highest you can get your oven for approximately 10 minutes. My husband and I cannot get enough of it!

I've got one of those and I do use it for hot pans, but sometimes put potholders/trivets down to insulate - particularly if it seems like the pan would be really hot or heavy. After I scrub with the mild abrasive, I use windex to get the smears off. That seems to work.

Yes and yes.

Unless you have a specific occasion in mind, don't do this! Seriously, far too often the saved thing goes to waste. Use it. Every day above ground is a special occasion in some way!

I like the carpe diemness of that. 

Love my All-Clad 12qt tall stock pot with a mesh insert. It was a close-out at Chef's Catalog for $99 a few months ago. I pile in the chicken carcasses and veggies and simmer, then lift out the insert and it does most of the straining for me, leaving a reasonably clear stock. It seems to be discontinued, but the upgrade being sold at most stores appears to have a second, shorter basket for steaming as well as the deep insert (which also can be used for pasta).

I had one for several years and Cerama Bryte always took care of the stains. The key in my experience was cleaning up as soon as it cooled down.

I've had good results with Weiman Glass Cook Top.

I discovered King Syrup in one of Nigella's cookbooks -- it has a richer taste I can't quite describe. We tried some Hickory Syrup that was sold at our local farmer's market last year thinking it was something new and exciting -- , but after reading the label it was just a dark corn syrup with Hickory extract added!

My bread making is pretty sporadic. How long will it keep in airtight containers before going "off"?

Best to freeze it. 

Dug out the fondue pot I received as a wedding gift 40+ years ago and made a delicious cheese fondue for dinner guests. It was a huge hit; partly because it was such a "social" way to serve and eat. Now I'm looking for some more interesting things to try other than chocolate dipped fruit. Any suggestions for appetizer or main course selections in the fondue pot?

We're running out of time for me to give you a more detailed answer, but you could use your fondue pot to host a shabu shabu party. Make the broth and place it in the pot. Provide the raw ingredients for your guests to dip into the hot broth to cook. Here's  one recipe, but you'll want to read up more on shabu shabu.

Children tend to like what they are used to. Kids who are accustomed to real maple syrup, strong cheese, etc, will prefer them to the fake/processed stuff. It just is a bit more expensive, because that means there's no serving "kid food".

That anecdote about Chelsea Clinton liking imitation syrup was illuminating. It was a reminder that children's tastes are formed early. Not that our tastes can't change over time. They can and do. But those first formulative habits can be hard to break for many. Which makes me think Michelle Obama is right to focus on young kids with her anti-obesity campaign. It helps influence a generation's eating habits.

True, my kids always liked goat cheese and smoked salmon since they were young but each is different. You have to expose children to different foods that  are not what they are normally accustomed to.  But each are different. Chelsea taste changes a lot since she arrived at the White House at 12 years old and left a nice young lady at 20. A lot happens during those years.

Well, you've drizzled our tall stacks with care, so you know what that means....we're done! Thanks to chef Moeller, Tamar "Farm Bill" Haspel, Nevin "Baking Powder" Martell, the rest of the crew -- and you, dear chatters, as always.


Today's cookbook winners: The chatter who asked about cheese pairings will get a copy of The Post cookbook; the chatter who asked about freezer burn wins the "Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight" cookbook. Send your mailing address to and she'll get them right out to you. Until next week, happy cooking and thawing!  

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 and Spirits columnist Carrie Allan. Guests: food writer Nevin Martell; Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel; former White House chef John Moeller.
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