Free Range on Food: A history of English food; yellow perch; smoked beer and more.

Feb 22, 2012

Today's topics: A history of English food; yellow perch; smoked beer and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

What a lovely "winter's" day in Washington...I'd excuse you from not hopping on the chat, but I happen to know there's WiFi at outdoor cafes. 

Thank goodness I've had perch already, because David Hagedorn's Sourced article is going to cause a run on it. Jim Shahin's' on hand to discuss smoked beer and all manner of bbq. Tim C. has to dash off early to talk sushi on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," but Jane Touzalin and Becky Krystal are in for the whole hour. Maybe Jason Wilson, too.

Full disclosure: I was chuffed to be able to have Clarissa Dickson Wright (of "Two Fat Ladies")  in the section on English food, but she wasn't available to join Free Range today; we'll do our best with your related q's. Any "Downton Abbey" reference was a shameless ploy for more Twitter twaffic.

Books to give away to two smart chatters: "Beyond the Red Sauce," by local chef Matt Finarelli (and source of today's Dinner in Minutes recipe), and "The Brisket Book" by Stephanie Pierson. Winners will be announced at the end of the session. Here we go!

I was wondering if there was a vegetarian alternative to comfy dishes like cottage pie and shepard's pie.

Here's a recipe for Sweet Potato and Chickpea Shepherd’s Pie that people have really enjoyed. You could also try David's recipe for Shepherd's Pie With Eggplant.

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Shepherd’s Pie

Sometimes I think the English invaded all those other countries in search of sunshine and something tasty to eat.

Understandable, isn't it? :)

I was intrigued by the smoked beer article. Could you provide more information about specific beers to try and where to get them? I bet it would be great in chili.

   The most commonly available is Schlenkerla brand. It has a lager, wheat, bock, and double-bock. I have found Schlenkeria at the Whole Foods on P St NW and at Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits on Connecticut NW. 

    For a broad range, try heading to ChurchKey restuarant, which carries several smoked beers. 

    I agree, I think smoked beer would be great in chili.

I'm curious which way you all fall out on this question. When making chicken stock, I was told by a cooking teacher to only use raw bones; using roasted bones from an already cooked chicken wouldn't provide any flavor. Do you disagree? I noticed that the recipe from the "all we can eat" blog calls for roasting bones and then making stock. Help I'm confused-is it ok to use bones from rotisserie chicken-?

Roasted bones = flavor. All there is to it. And that flavor can be enhanced further if you rub tomato paste on the bones, as in Cathy Barrow's (aka lovely overnight slow-cooker stock.

Loved the chick pea Shepherd Pie recipe, but was wondering about the sweet potato topping that is essentially baked twice, once in their skins, and once on top of the casserole. Are many of the nutrients lost in baking them twice... or even baking in the oven for the 40 minutes or so?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, the source of that recipe, says, "That's question for a food chemist, but I do know that by baking, instead of boiling, the sweets you retain more of the nutrients."

2 questions, actually. (1) do you have to use Wondra flour to dredge the perch? (hate to buy it just for that--wouldn't otherwise) (2) can perch be pan-seared and/or oven roasted rather than deep fried, and if so, can you provide a process (as opposed to a recipe)?

You can use all purpose flour, but Wondra is good to have on hand, So much lighter than regular flour and it incorporates so easily into sauces, soups, etc.

Pan-searing and oven-roasting are fine methods. Heat some mild oil (like peanut oil) to smoking and sear the seasoned fish on both sides for about two minutes. Or oven roast, drizzled with some oil and seasoned well for 15-20 minutes at 350. The flesh should be firm and white all they way through to the bone when pierced with the tip of a paring knife.

Is Tom Sietsema cancelled? He's not traveling that I know of.

Tom is under the weather today. Let's hope he has access to some good chicken soup.

Hi Jim - It's an unseasonably beautiful day today in Indiana, so I've got to take the grill out! We have some beautiful colored peppers I'd like to roast, but I've only done it on the stovetop or in the oven - what's the best way on the grill? Any recipe ideas? Also, we have a couple of big eggplant, so I was thinking of roasting that, too, for baba ganouj. How would I do that? Thanks!

   Man, ain't it great to grill in the wintertime?

    For the peppers, keep them whole and char them on all four sides over medium-high direct heat. It will take about 3 minutes or so, per side. When cool enough to handle peel the char off the peppers. One of my favorite ways to eat them is as part of an antipasti - sliced peppers in evoo with a spritz of wine vinegar, a little minced garlic, some chopped fresh oregano or basil, a sprinkle of salt and a dash of black pepper, and just a little crushed red pepper. With some crusty bread, some cheese, maybe a few slices of a good salami, mmmmmm!

       The eggplant for baba ghanoush - you've hit upon one of my very favorites. To me, it is the smokiness that makes the dish. Add wood chips or chunks to a charcol fire. Grill the eggplant over medium-high direct fire for a few minutes until charred all around, then move the cool side of the grill and close the lid. Allow to smoke-roast for about 10 minutes, maybe 15, until the eggplant is soft. When cool enough to handle, remove the char - but not all of it. I like a few tiny flecks in my baba ghanouj. Then, make it as you normally would. 

       Wish I was eating at your house tonight!


Is there a way to make a risotto super creamy but without adding the butter or other dairy (no cheese) towards the end? I've made pumpkin risotto before that came out really well with no dairy, but I'd really like to make one with mushrooms.

If you're using the right rice (arborio, carnaroli), you can stir in more broth after the rice is done and the risotto will be pretty creamy all by itself. Chatters, any secrets you'd like to share?

I made some microwavable rice for lunch and the instructions said to leave it in the microwave for one minute after cooking. Does it really matter if it sits in the oven, or is it the same if it rests on a plate on the counter? It's not like there's residual heat inside the microwave -- or is there, like with a regular oven? I wanted to heat something else in the microwave to eat with the rice, which is why I ask. (I know, it's only 60 seconds more, but I was quite peckish.)

I don't think it would matter at all. I suspect it has to do with the heat of the rice container.

Maybe it has to do with letting the interior steam help separate/finish cooking the rice.

Thank you, David, for the perch piece! It really took me back to childhood. Perch were the main catch for my brother, my Dad and me on Lake Champlain. Mom refused to touch them, so Dad cleaned them and fried them. Just the fillets--we didn't know roe were yummy back then. Other than Dino, can you post a list of restaurants and markets where the perch are available?

So glad you enjoyed the piece. I really have to reiterate that Steve Vilnit, of Maryland's Dept. of Natural Resources, is doing an outstanding job of getting the word out about the Bay's bounty. They will be starting a True Blue program that will clearly indicate which restaurants serve Maryland blue crabmeat. There's a lot of Indonesian/Venezuelan crabmeat being used out there, unbeknownst to diners.


Anyway, the perch's scales are so hard to remove, Tony Conrad told me, that the watermen call the fish "Old Ironsides."

The quota in the Upper Bay was achieved yesterday, but there are still yellow perch available in the Patuxent and Chester Rivers. Here's a link to who has been serving it and selling it, but you should call first to see if they are featuring it. 

Can you please post this recipe referred to in the article? I need a new way to cook salmon.

Well, that would be an old way, wouldn't it? Send an e-mail to and we'll send you the recipe, such as it is, from Clarissa's book. Meanwhile, this is a fantastic salmon w/citrus recipe that I make for Passover.


i'm throwing my daughter a birthday party this weekend, and she would like to have chocolate covered fruit. do any of you (or the chatters) have an easy method to doing this at home? what kind of chocolate is best to use....and do i need to mix it with anything? i'd ideally love to do these the night before...will they hold up in the fridge? any help would be GREATLY appreciated!!!!

I think you could try riffing on this recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Peppermint Marshmallows. Just keep the proportions for the chocolate and oil and follow the general idea of the instructions. Chilling the fruit before you dip will help the coating solidify. It absolutely will hold up overnight.

Bought a bag of them after eating them in a delicious Mediterranean salad. How else can I use them, either as a main course or side dish? No soups, please. Thanks!

We have a number of options in our recipe database. I've done the search for you and here are the results.

In particular, you might try this recipe for Indian-Style Zucchini and Red Lentils. As it says in the headnote: "This is not much to look at, but what it lacks in eye appeal it makes up for in substance and flavor."

I've heard that there are many nutrients in the skin of a white potato, but what about sweet potatoes and yams? If well scrubbed, are they worth eating?

Sweet potatoes/yams are pretty terrific even without the skin: vitamins A and C. Zero cholesterol. Mineralwise: a decent amount of potassium. Eating the skin itself will add fiber (about 4 grams per medium potato) to the party.

How does jello work with custard, fruit, cake, and cream? I just don't get how the jello is supposed to encompass everything.

Hmm. Not encompass it. Let's make sure we're on the same page. Jelly/jam/gelatin is used in some English trifles across the herring pond. If you've seen trifle recipes that call for Jell-O, perhaps it's being used instead of the jelly/jam/whatever. Trifles often have a fruit component...

First time here. I saw the topic and thought I'd get an eddication [sic] in a subject I've been researching: What was Mrs. Patmore cooking up in the kitchen at Downton Abbey? Can't find any text here yet. Answers I've found elsewhere are Rabbit Terrine and Berry Pudding.

Is there a particular scene you're talking about? Obviously, she's cooking a lot! Off the top of my head, I remember Crepe Suzette (sorry, none for you, Ethel!), brisket, various soups...

Hello, I am trying to work meatless meals into our family's dinners and am hoping you can provide some good sources. I am not a great chef, just a busy mom who needs reasonably quick and easy-to-make healthy meals. Are there one or two cookbooks you'd recommend or websites you really like? I don't mind some ethnic recipes but want some variety too. Learning what to do with tofu would be great, and bonus points for slow cooker meals! Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Try "The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour" from our former Post friend Kim O'Donnel. And here's a recipe from that book for Tempeh Hoagie-letta that we ran.

Tempeh Hoagie-letta

the recipes for yellow perch sound amazing! being from the midwest, i grew up eating alot of lake perch, but it was always battered and fried. my question is if perch is a good fish to serve to my non-fishy fish eating husband? so many times, i will think that a fish is not fishy, and he in turn will find it so. i think i have a very high "fishiness threshold" :) i'm trying to get him to eat more fish, but have only been successful with an occasional fish curry made with cod, or maybe a tilapia fillet. do you think perch might be his "gateway fish" ?? :)

Yellow perch is an excellent gateway fish. When I was developing the recipes, the house smelled on many things: ginger, oil, bacon, thyme—but the one thing it did not small like was fish. I didn't even have to go around the house lighting scented candles afterwards, definitely a post-salmon ritual. 

The skin is even delicious, with no oily, fishy taste to it. You must make sure all the scales are gone and run your fingers over the fillets to make sure all the bones are out of them. They lend themselves beautifully to tempura-battering for a fish and chips dish becasue the fillets are already finger-like. Such a fresh and delicate flavor.  Hurry!

A few weeks ago someone asked about the new concentrated stock in stores - I used the Knorr brand chicken this weekend and it worked wonderfully! It really helped bring more flavor to my dish and was easy to use.

Thanks for the report. What did you use in for?

Do you know what the nutritional value of cornstarch v. all purpose flour would be? I can't seem to find any articles on it. I am just curious if it's better to use one versus the other for thickening broths, make crusts on tofu, etc.

OK, here are the numbers from the nutritional analysis software we use:

Cornstarch (per 1/4 cup)

Calories: 122

Fat: 0 g

Cholesterol: 0 g

Sodium: 3 mg

Carbs: 29 g

Fiber: 0 g

Sugar: 0 g

Protein: 0 g

Flour (per 1/4 cup)

Calories: 114

Fat: 0 g

Cholesterol: 0g

Sodium: 1 mg

Carbs: 24 g

Fiber: 1 g

Sugar: 0 g

Protein: 3 g

I freeze the carcasses from roasted chickens (usually rotisserie chickens from the market), until I have 3 or 4, enough to make a large pot of stock. I put the bones in a roasting pan and brown them up a little more. I think this give the stock a nice color and a richer flavor.

I love them! I still watch the old shows on Saturday nights (yes, yes, I'm home with little ones). Please let Clarissa know she's got a huge fan... I always wondered where she went after Jennifer died.

Me too. I'll pass along your good wishes. At 64 and in so-so health, she lives outside Edinburgh, Scotland, and is working on a book about various regions of England that are her will have food in it but not recipes, I think. She wrote a topnotch autobiography called "Spilling the Beans" a few years back. She's one of those people who have lived several lives, full of ups and downs.

I've been reading about different methods home cooks use to make pizza and the search for a perfect char on the crust seems to be driving people to some extreme measures, like making the pizza on the back of a large stainless steel skillet. Would it work to just broil the dough in a hot oven until it browns a bit, flip it over, add the toppings, and broil again to melt the cheese?

Have a look at these broiled pizza recipes from the on-leave Joe Yonan. The other option is to invest in a pizza stone. You then let it heat up for an hour. I get a pretty good crust with that.

Hi Food section staffers! Do you know of a simple recipe for a beer/cheese (or only cheese) macaroni, something that doesn't use a roux? My mac and cheese never comes out as cheesy, gooey and yellow as I want when I use a roux base.

We do have one, but I'm surprised you don't like making mac and cheese with a roux. I find that a roux makes the sauce smoother and prevents the cheese from separating, which it's apt to do under high heat or reheating. In fact, be sure to check out Food next week, when we'll have a mac-and-cheese extravaganza with a slew of delicious roux-based recipes. But since you asked: Here's our recipe for Baked Macaroni With Cheese, no roux involved.

I recently made some enchiladas that were stuffed with sour cream and some other stuff. When we cut into them the sour cream had become somewhat curdled or chunky instead of smooth and creamy. It tasted fine and we ate it but how do I make sure my sour cream enchiladas stay creamy in the future? The only thing inside the enchiladas was black beans, sweet potatoes and the sour cream which was mixed with ground chipotle chiles.

I suspect this may have something to do with the heat of your other ingredients. Higher temperatures will cause your sour cream to curdle. It's best to apply the sour cream right at the end, perhaps when the other ingredients have cooled some.

A history of British food? I always thought British food was basically take food and boil it. I presume British culinary history is more than that. What is it that gave the British the reputation for overemphasing simply boiling food?

Well, today you can gain insight into its greater assets! I believe it's been easy to stereotype  English cookery -- especially the home-cooked stuff that was never meant to impress.  I don't recall great sections on boiling in Clarissa's book.

I never understood why people didn't like fish. Since we are so close to the Bay and Atlantic eating regional fish like perch, spots, porgies, hardheads, and rockfish truly spoiled me. All of these fish are mildly flavored and are not "fishy " tasting whatsoever. I could not see why tilapia was so great or red snapper when I could eat local fresh fish.

I'm with you. I think that tilapia is a scourge. Absolutely no reason to use it when we have so much wonderful local fish available.

I know, Fat Tuesday was yesterday, but I don't keep a strict Lenten schedule anyhow and didn't remember in time to start the yeast dough. So, I now have two batches of dough rising on my fireplace mantel, and it's time to consider the fillings. I have seen recipes with a pecan-raisin-cinnamon mixture, but that really reminds me of a Swedish Coffee Roll. Do you have a suggestion for another type of filling? I have half a block of cream cheese, and I have some almond paste... would either/both of those prove successful?


Last year for a story I wrote about king cakes, I tested this recipe from author Krystina Castella's cookbook, "A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions From Cultures Near and Far." Its cream cheese filling helps overcome a common problem I have with king cakes: their dry, cardboardy, bready "cake."  Give it a shot and see what you think.

Spirits guru Jason Wilson's in the house!

Maybe Jim can answer - would it be good to use a home-smoked turkey leg for soups or beans? Could one use it if it was frozen first? The store-bought seems a little salty to me.

    I use smoked turkey in my leftover Thanksgiving soup. I also use it in beans - fabulous! Like ham hocks, but,well, not. Don't know anything about the store-bought ones. But the home-smoked turkey legs are good for flavoring. They can be a little strong, especially in soup, so be a little judicious. 

I wish I could get yellow perch out here in landlocked midwest, is there a decent substitute for yellow perch (oh, points for not breaking the bank...feeding a family of 6 all over the age of 16).

Bass, crappie, trout  and sunfish come to mind.

Thanks for the answer, Jim! I was told, when roasting the eggplant in an oven, to poke some holes in it or it would "explode." Is that necessary on the grill? Plus, that might be kind of cool to see . . .

I smoke eggplant without poking and never had one explode. Rather, they wither. 

I know I've seen blancmange, rabbit, a fish dish or two, roasted chickens/pheasants, asparagus spears, a flaming Christmas pudding, a raspberry or strawberry custard-type dish, and I'm sure I could spot more if I watched longer.

All good ones! I wonder if I could just sit here and watch the entire second season and call it work. :)

I am thrilled that there were not one, but two articles about beer in the food section today, cooking with smoked beer and the article on the Cabinet brewery. I cannot wait to try the sour beers from Cabinet. I know they take a long time to produce, so I will have to wait. Any hints at when either these or the more typical beers will be released, and in what format? Schlenkerla (and other smoked beers, like Special, also from Bamberg, and the Alaskan smoked porter) are among my favorite beers. They're the sort of thing that you have to have a full glass of, as the first sip is so shocking. There's an old quote that I heard on the Michael Jackson Beer Hunter show about Bamberg, wish I could remember it... it says something about needing to drink 3 glasses to appreciate it - disliking the first glass, tolerating the second, and loving the third.

    Raising a toast to your knowledge of smoked beers. Thanks for writing in. 

You realize we're oh-so close to Beer Madness season, right? The tournament of 32 begins March 7 in Food.

I cooked almost all of the food for a friend's baby shower this past Sunday. Everything seemed to go well except I just found out that two people who went to the party (and ate my food) both were really sick today with the stomach flu. :( I feel horrible thinking my food might have caused it and have been going over what might be the culprit. One of the sick people ate only three things (two cookies and some chocolate bacon popcorn) I made, so that helps narrow it down. One batch of cookies had nothing but sugar, corn syrup, peanut butter, corn flakes and chocolate in it, so doubt it was that (unless it might have been the peanut butter?) and the only possibility in the popcorn was the bacon, but I cooked it on medium for at least 10 minutes, if not longer. It was pretty crispy when I was done because I had to break it up into small pieces. The leaves my espresso cookies, which did have two eggs in them. However, I cooked them for 10 minutes at 350, which is what the recipe calls for, and they looked fully cooked. The eggs also came from a carton I had used for about a week and half and were some of the last eggs in it, and I hadn't had any problem with them until now. Do you think it could have been the eggs and they weren't baked long enough? I should add that I myself have had some digestive problems since last night (no where near as bad, but let's just say I've had to go to the bathroom a bit more frequently than normal). Could it be that I had a bug at the time, didn't know it and passed it on through the cookies? I had to touch all of them to roll them in sugar. I'm pretty sure I washed my hands before I did that, but I'm not 100 percent certain. I did try to be careful about washing my hands the entire time but I wasn't at the point of washing them after every single meal I made. I didn't eat the cookies myself, though, because they had coffee in them and I hate coffee. Ack! I feel so awful!!!! My only comfort is that so far none of the other 15 people have reported any problems, although I won't feel safe until by the end of today.

Oh, dear. Yes, you very easily could have transmitted something via the food you were handling. According to the CDC, in the case of norovirus, at least, "People with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least 3 days and perhaps for as long as 2 weeks after recovery, making control of this disease even more difficult."

But who knows, maybe they both picked something up somewhere else. This is why foodborne illnesses are so hard to track down!

Just as tricky to figure out if the eggs were the culprit, I guess. Eggs typically have a pretty long shelf life, and cookies cooked for 10 minutes don't scream "poison" to me either.

I have a great recipe for these pancakes that makes them light and fluffy. My only complaint is that i have tried using lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon essence individually and all together but can't get the lemon taste without a sour salty taste. I have had these in restaurants and they are lemony but not sour salty - how can i achieve this at home?

Only thing I can think of is that perhaps you've got some pith in with your zest. I highly recommend the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes recipe that's in our database.

I got some bay scallops ona great deal last night and am planning on making a pesto pasta dish, but I have never cooked with bay scallops and do not usually cook pasta with pesto sauce. Any hints? Also, I was planning on keeping it simple by just adding mushroom, on the other had that seems TOO simply, any ideas of something else to add that would still accentuate the scallops?

One hint: Go easy when cooking the scallops. They don't require much cooking, and in no time you can turn them into tough little nubbins. Also go easy on the pesto so you don't overwhelm the seafood's delicate taste. Nothing wrong with just adding mushrooms. You could also add toasted pine nuts or chopped toasted walnuts.

Read Jim's blog yesterday about various President's and their bbq's. Are there any recipes from any one of the bbq's? Something had to be awfully good for Washington to "stay all night"!!!!

    I am not aware of a George Washington barbecue recipe, though I would love to unearth one!

    I can tell you that LBJ's pitmaster, Walter Jetton, has a cookbook called "Walter Jetton's LBJ Barbecue Cook Book" that includes brisket, ribs, and sauce. You can check that out for a little presidential bbq cuisine. 

Made my boyfriend the Anthony Bourdain beef burguigon recipe that was mentioned a few weeks ago. I added in some beef/veal demi glace which I picked up at dean and deluca and it turned out absolutely amazing! What did I do before you guys?!

Funny you mention that. I was the one who recommended the demiglace addition, which is hidden deep in Bourdain's recipe.

The last time I made this dish, in January, I was at a mountain retreat. And guess what? I forgot the demiglace! But I just reduced and reduced and reduced the dish, adding seasoning along the way, and managed to produce a fairly decent version without the demiglace.

I've discovered a fondness for spinach, but I find that in sauteing it with a bit of garlic, a dark, bitter, water remains in the pan, which can taint the spinach if not removed immediately. Is there a better, cleaner way to cook spinach so that it tastes truly deliscious?

The key to sauteed spinach is to use very high heat, which should evaporate the bitter liquid that drives you crazy. It doesn't take long to saute the leaves with this method. Just a minute or so.

Hi there, after a successful 3-wk detox program, I am motivated to eat in a more health-conscious manner. I'm interested in utilizing more recipes that are vegan, and wonder if you have any suggestions for cookbooks that will be helpful as I cook for my 5yo, husband, and myself. Thanks!

I recommend "Easy Vegan," which we featured a while back with a recipe for Creamy Vegetable and Cashew Nut Curry. I think some of the recipes are kid-friendly too.

Creamy Vegetable and Cashew Nut Curry

I noticed that in so many 1920's English movies, families are often talking about good English cooking, plain and simple, but how a nice Indian curry is a treat. So I was wondering how English 'Indian curries' are different than how we know Indian cooking today.

In her book, Clarissa describes early English curries as not incorporating fresh ingredients, and that the curry powder used to be added to liquid without cooking it first in oil or at least heating it to help release its flavors. Lemon juice was used instead of tamarind. Curry powder was mixed at the druggists. Things improved/were made more authentic by the late 19th century.

NPR had a piece on this a few days ago and several other major media outlets also have done bits on it. (go figure).

Makes excellent nachos!

I bought grits when I meant to buy polenta (medium grind). They aren't the same, are they?

They're first cousins essentially. Grits are usually coarser than polenta, which could be a problem for you, depending on what you need them for.

I like to roll pieces of the roasted pepper around a chunk of feta... of course the evoo and spices are also encouraged. Grilling in the winter is magnificent... I used to live in Montana and took great pride in grilling when the weather was at its worst. Knowing that I was making the neighborhood smell like steak during a blizzard, and everyone else was huddled inside gave me great joy.

   Thanks for the rolled-feta idea - and the Montana blizzard anecdote. Love it!

If you are in the DC area, there is definitely a norovirus going around lately.

to the chatter who wanted a creamier, non dairy risotto........try adding a bit of coconut milk at the end. i've done that and while imparting a delicate flavor, it also adds loads of creaminess!

I made the Georgian Kidney Bean Stew featured in a blog post a while back and loved it! Especially the combination of walnuts and kidney beans. Any other suggestions for these two hearty ingredients?

We loved it here as well. Do you mean recipes that use those two ingreds together?

So I now live more than 1,000 miles from my beloved native state and miss being able to drive in any direction and find some good brisket within 15 minutes. Up here, I have access to a gas grill only. Can we produce a decent smoke-infused brisket with a gas gril and an oven? Thanks!


I'm probably way to early to ask this question but I wante to get a jump start this year. I bought my first house last year and the yard was sort of neglected from the previous owners. They did however leave 2 HUGE "flower beds" that would be great for growing veggies/fruits. I'm a newbie when it comes to this sort of stuff. What do you suggest as the best things to plant for a very novice beginner. Also when should they get planted? I was planning on doing tomato's but other than that I have no idea what else to do.

I started out with bush beans and bell peppers, both very simple, and they don't attract a lot of pests. Another good choice for a newbie is summer squash. If it has enough room, the plant spreads out and produces squash over a long period. But it does tend to fall prey to borers. You don't plant until after the final frost; buy seedlings from a farmers market vendor or garden center, and they'll give you the best advice tailored to the plants you buy. I'm sure other chatters have their own favorites to recommend.

Don't forget the "Basket to Town" mention--that Rosamund wanted a saddle of lamb and vegetables sent on the train (and that Carson would telegraph ahead so Rosamund's butler could meet the train). This was a common Edwardian custom--the country estate fed the town house (London) by sending big baskets of food on the trains, and they'd send the delicacies (small vegetables, hothouse fruit) for the upstairs, and slightly bigger vegetables for downstairs.

Yes! Such a great detail to remember.

I usually put a splash or two of vinegar (balsamic is my fave) or white wine in my sauteed spinach, I guess that eliminates/masks the bitter liquid. Just a little splash though, otherwise it becomes really soggy really quick.

"I never understood why people didn't like fish." Because everyone has a different palate. Between the smell (yes, I know, to YOU good fish doesn't smell fishy. To me it does!) and the texture (again, I know, to YOU they all have different textures. Not to me.), and the taste (it all tastes strongly fishy to me), I find it inedible. Then again, I am baffled as to why I am often the only one eating the chicken liver. What's wrong with you people?

I guess one man's FISH is another man's LIVER, huh?

My cousin worked on the Gulf fishing boats when I was a child. My uncle would get just landed fish--so mullet tasted wonderful. The comparison was with fresh landed red snapper--my all time favorite. We learned that freshness was a critical component to taste.

Bass and crappie are abundant in our lake house in Alabama. To be honest, watching my father gut and scale them in the kitchen sink kind of turned my stomach when I was a kid, but I got over it as an adult. There is just nothing like being out on the water, taking home the day's catch and cooking it up. The fresher it is, the less you need to do to it, which is why I'm always suspicious of fillets covered with rubs when I see them in grocer's cases.

Somewhere in the far reaches of memory I recall something about making tuna salad with avocado. On a meatless Ash Wednesday when I have limited capacity to chew (related to dental work, not Ash Wednesday), I am curious abou this. Trying to find non-boring, healthy foods for limited chewing. If it matters, I have a half avocado and a can of solid albacore at hand.. Thanks..

No reason why you can't make diced avocado part of a tuna salad; or just use your usual tuna salad recipe and serve it inside the avocado half.

Jason, I admit to being smitten with the whiskey-swilling ambience of that great BBC show "Monarch of the Glen". Hector and his single malts have me hooked! What is a good primer for the neophyte? Whiskeys, scotches, bourbons, I'm all a dither...

All a dither! I like it! Here are a few links on bourbon, Irish whiskey, scotch, and even Japanese whisky. But as for a good book, I'd say the World Atlas of Whisky, by Dave Broom, is a good comprehensive guide.

Hi Rangers, I've seen people asking about cooking for one resources (no offense to your wonderful option, Joe!) and weekly meal plans to use up ingredients. One unlikely source I found was in "Eat this, Not that". It's recipes are scaled for one, but can be scaled up. The recipes also re-use parts of prior recipes and/or pre-prepped ingredients for meals later in the week. I haven't made all of them, but I do love their shrimp fajita recipe - simple and yummy!! Just tryin' to help all the harried cooks out there with some variety...!

And so we'll pass that along in the positive spirit with which it was intended.

Is GREAT for long-cooked greens in a crockpot. Chop the turkey leg up, brown some onions if you have time, dump it all in a crockpot with some water and some cider vinegar and a touch of sugar and some red pepper flakes. Leave it alone for at least three hours (more is better)...bliss.

I hardly ever cook meat, mostly because I was an impoverished student living alone for so long, and meat portions in the store are always much bigger than I need. I've decided to expand my repertoire beyond roasted tiny chicken or beef-with-broccoli stir fry. What's a good place to start? And is it reasonable to split and freeze portions of meat before cooking, or is it better to cook it all at once and freeze the leftovers?

How about pork tenderloin? Freeze half (raw), then cook with the other if you're worried about leftovers. It's a versatile meat you can pan-fry or roast, and you'll find tons of recipes. From our Cooking for One archives, here's a recipe called A Small Roast Pork Tenderloin.

I love Wondra, but do not like to buy bleached flour. Are there more natural alternatives with similar properties?

I think rice flour could work.

The perch recipe made me wonder, do you know of any good cookbooks for pescatarians, or is it too much of a niche market?

Eric Ripert, chef-owner of  New York's Le Bernardin, considered one of the finest restaurants in the country, is the number one fish maven in my book...and in his book, Le Bernardin Cookbook: Four-Star Simplicity. 

I lived in England for several years and my favorite things were always the regional treats served with tea. Americans always go for the scones, which are nice but there are lots of other delicious small baked treats. I still make many of them, Welsh teacakes, Eccles cakes, etc. - nearly every region has a speciality and I never met one I didn't like.

Those all end in "cakes." Sounds good to me.

I've had -great- success using this recipe, especially when I add a bit of paprika in for flavor and color. The evaporated milk-and-egg-and-cheese mixture makes a wonderfully gooey result, and it's very fast. I've used different kinds of cheeses, too, with good success.

Contact your state/local cooperative extension office. They will have Master Gardener volunteers who can give you great advice, free or in very inexpensive flyers. Also, they'll recommend a soil test. Easy to do and WELL worth it. The test results will tell you what amendments your soil needs and does not need to grow vegetables well (not the same as "flowers"). And you'll save money by not adding stuff the soil does not need. Start with a good foundation and grow great vegetables -- An MGV

Good idea.

Saying that the English eat badly seems to be a reflexive joke these days. I suggest people visit there and actually eat before doing so...i had a great experience there this summer eating fairly traditional dishes like steak and mushroom pie, Dover sole, etc. Best dry cider ever and the English cask ales are wonderful. Lots of local/seasonal produce, meats, dairy, etc. that seems to be a genuine way of life rather than a Food Trend like it is in the US. I am still a bit confused about "Puddings" because over there "pudding" can refer to anything from a glass of wine to a blood sausage to a cake...But I would happily return any time to continue trying to figure out what "pudding" really means...My current theory is that it simply refers to "something delicious that I wish to eat!" :)

I enjoyed this article. Apple pie is another food thought of as traditionally American 'as American as apple pie,' but originated in England around Chaucer's time. I've spent a lot of time in the UK over the past 30 years and can honestly say that while their restaurants have improved a lot in recent years, their home cooking has always been fantastic. They have outstanding ingredients and know how to work with them. Thanks for the article.

Love that about apple pies.

I make it all the time because my kids actually eat "cheesy rice" as they call it (and I can hid vegetables in and they STILL eat it) and I use very little fat. A little olive oil to saute my onion (I always use onion!) and garlic and broth. Towards the end I add 3 tablespoons of grated parmesean (or cheese of you choice) and it comes out yummy..well my kids think so and so do I!

Yes ma'am, more recipes. Bonus points for soups

Yikes, outta time. Please come back next week and we'll try to have something for you.

I have a question about a hamentaschen recipe that I've been making for a few years. It tastes great, but no matter what I do, the dough still spreads out. I'm hoping you can help me with this presentation problem. The ingredients are: 1 cup margarine; 1 1/2 cups sugar; 2 eggs; 4 cups flour; 4 tsp baking powder; 2 Tbsp water; 2 tsp vanilla. Cream the margarine and sugar; add eggs; mix flour and baking powder and add a little to the margarine mix; add water and vanilla; add remaining flour mixture. Roll out and cut into circles. Put some filling in the middle and shape into triangles. I make my own filling with: 1/2 cup OJ; 1/4 cup water; 1/4 cup lemon juice; 14 oz dried fruit; and 1/3 cup sugar. The filling is pretty thick, so I don't think that affects the dough in any way. Bake at 375 for 15-25 minutes (I usually go 20 minutes on a cookie sheet with parchment paper). I have tried putting the shaped hamentaschen in the fridge for half an hour before baking; preheating the oven for 30 minutes; and baking at 425 (preheating for 30 minutes). No matter what, the dough spreads and it never looks that nice. Any suggestions? Thank you guys so much in advance!

If you use the same recipe over and over and it keeps spreading, maybe you just need to try another recipe? Here's one we like, and Bonnie Benwick says it did not spread: Poppy Seed Hamantaschen. If you prefer your own filling, try subbing that for the poppy seed filling.


Made the Paloma last night - delicious!

I'm giving up bread for Lent this year. Any suggestions for good bread substitutes beyond lettuce wraps and mushrooms as buns? Thanks!

Matzoh? Corn tortillas? Grilled polenta?

Jason - I'm having a book club where the characters in the book drink a lot of scotch and soda, as well as Pink Gin. Any recommendations on a bottle of scotch that you wouldn't feel was ruined by the application of soda water? The Pink Gin recipe at the Plymouth distillery website should otherwise do the trick.

Any good blended scotch would fine for a scotch and soda, maybe a Johnny Walker Black or Dewar's 12 yr old. Have fun!

Probably too late to ask Jason about a good use for vanilla-burnt sugar syrup. Are you still there Jason?

Hmmm. Why not try to use it in place of simple syrup in cocktails that use rum, bourbon, or other aged spirits?

Nice pace, good hour. Thanks to all of you who participated or lurked (yes, Jill, that includes you!) and to David and Jim and Jason for joining us today.

Book winners: The chatter who offered the coconut milk tip for creamy risotto wins "Beyond the Red Sauce," and the chatter who offered the tip about sauteing spinach gets "The Brisket Book." Send your mailing address to so Becky can get those prizes out to you.

Next week: A mac-n-cheese-o-matic, built for you. Until then, happy cooking and eating!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carman, Food aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Sourced columnist David Hagedorn.
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