Free Range on Food: Super Bowl eats, Chinese fish balls and more

The Bo Ssamwich.
Feb 03, 2016

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you're enjoying this week's food stuffs -- especially the Super Bowl Smackdown X! Alex Baldinger and Jim Webster stepped up this year, agreeing to go head-to-head with ... giant party subs! An entertaining venture -- with delicious results.

Becky wrote about why new restaurants never seem to open on time, Tamar took a break from food policy to learn how to make the perfect Chinese fish balls (!), Danielle Newman offered a charming tale of the waffles she makes for her big new family, and we had more, more, more.

For you PostPoints members, today's code is FR8099 . Remember, record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

We'll also have a giveaway book or two for our favorite chatters today. Will be revealed at the end of the hour!

Let's do this now...

Why do you call for pan-frying the tofu? I love tofu and my all-time favourite dish is Ma Po Tofu, but I've never pan-fried tofu for any recipe. Is it simply a textural thing, or does it actually change the flavour? Tx.

Yep, it helps with the texture, and adds flavor due to the browning. You're welcome to skip it if you'd like, but especially since this recipe is less saucy than other saag recipes, I wouldn't. Hope you enjoy it!

The Indian dish that might convince you to keep seagreens on hand

RECIPE: Saag Tofu With Kombu

Just got back from a trip to the Middle East and fell in love with Za'atar but didn't have the presence of mind to bring some back. Where can I get some legit za'atar around here? I've seen some recipes to make your own but it looks like most are missing one ingredient or another that I noticed, mostly the types of seeds (poppy or sesame). Also not sure where I can find sumac. Do I need to make a trip to the burbs?

You can find the spice blend za'atar (sometimes spelled zatar) at a number of places. You can order it online at Penzeys, of course, or you can get an imported package from Palestine at Fresh Med on Connecticut Ave. NW ($5.95) or an imported bag from Jordan at Yekta Supermarket in Rockville ($3.99).

 

ARTICLE: Ethnic Market Scout: Mediterranean around D.C.

So you all seem to really tout that Smokey Black Bean and Sweet Potato chili, so that's what I'm serving Sunday! What do you recommend with that? Would you serve over rice? On its own? Sour cream? I was going to have a salad and some nice crusty bread but was looking for a few more pointers on the chili. Thanks!

Great! It's a good one. I would serve it on its own -- with that salad and crusty bread, yes. Doesn't need another carb with those sweet potatoes in it.

Sour cream is ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA ON CHILI. Go for it!

RECIPE: Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

 

This may be the most transcultural article I've ever read, not just 'cause Tamar touts the benefits of mutli-culti eating and cooking, but 'cause she describes herself as a Jew, then mentions she owns an oyster farm -- oysters are not exactly kosher -- and then the recipe she got from the Chinese chef from Vietnam, calls for kosher salt! I love it!

I love it, too!  I'm increasingly convinced that food is the way to world peace.

ARTICLE: The secret to making perfect Chinese fish balls

Tim, "Odd Man Out" asked about uses for leftover anchovy paste. I recently "inherited" five cans of sardines from my deceased father's pantry. Can I substitute those for anchovy paste? Will the salt element be equivalent? Doll Lou

Hey Lou!

 

Cooks use canned sardines in recipes all the time, sometimes without draining the olive oil used to pack the fish in the tins. I wouldn't hesitate to use them, though some tins have very high sodium levels. Depending on the recipe, you might need to adjust your salt levels.

I was thrilled when I finally found vanilla paste at my local store. I wanted to have a more true taste of vanilla because with some recipes calling for a large amount of vanilla extract, I find it too artifical tasting and not pleasant. After I switched to vanilla paste, I was wondering how I would sub it for recipes calling for vanilla extract. Do I sub it for equal amounts and can it be replaced for any recipe or only baking recipes?

You can sub it for equal amounts, yes. And it's good for any recipe -- but especially great when you want to see those little flecks of vanilla, like in ice creams and custards and the like.

Okay, that Bo Ssamwich made me throw out my Super Bowl menu plans, and I'm going to make it for Sunday night. I've ordered the Korean chili paste and the Kewpie mayo on amazon, so it'll be here in time. I've checked the recipe, and I've seen it scaled back from 24 servings to 12, but I'm only cooking for 6 people. Can it be scaled down again and still be good, or is it more reliable to prep it in full-size and freeze the extra ingredients? Which parts can be frozen, by the way? Thanks so much! This sandwich is amazing!

Thanks! I had a lot of fun making it and I'm hoping other people have fun with it as well. You can absolutely scale down everything in that recipe. If you're only cooking for six, I would assume you'd be using something smaller than a 3-foot sub? For that kind of a crowd you're probably safe buying one nice, hearty Italian loaf -- try to find one that isn't TOO crusty so that you can open it wide like a hoagie -- and hollowing out excess bread as necessary. For the pork, you could probably get away with a 4-5-pound shoulder, which should yield about 2-2.5 pounds of meat, enough to fill the bread and have some pork left over for whatever you want to do with it. You can easily freeze any leftover pork; the ginger-scallion paste will keep in the fridge for a few days before it gets a little too funky; the Kewpiejang is best made a la minute, though a few days in the fridge would be fine; and the oysters you'll surely want to make at the very last minute before serving and consume without freezing. Please tweet me a photo of your final creation; I'm @baldinger! 

 

[Make this recipe: Bo Ssamwich]

Bo Ssamwich

I got very good vanilla paste from Beanilla, and it says on the jar to use half as much as you would vanilla extract.

Well, then do that! Nielsen Massey and others have said equal parts work, but definitely go with the manufacturer or your particular paste; I'm surprised they would differ so much between them, but there you go.

A favorite song from childhood -- "One Fish Ball" ... written in 1855! See it here, read the back-story here, and I’ll be glad to sing it for you sometime ;) or you can find the "One Meat Ball" version online.

That is such a totally great digression. Thanks so much -- and if we're ever in the same place at the same time, I am definitely taking you up on your offer to sing it.

We always get together with another couple to celebrate both the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. Since they're only two days apart this year, we were thinking of combining the food festivities on Sunday... help? How do you think we could mix together your regular Super Bowl snacks - (homemade) pizzas, subs, dips - but also incorporate Cajun specialties like creole or gumbo, king cake, po' boys, or a shrimp boil? Cajun shrimp pizza is our only idea so far, and I'm personally not so sure of that. Thanks!!

 

Why not take a cue from this year's Super Bowl Smackdown between Alex Baldinger and Jim Webster, who created amazing party subs? You could order the three-foot rolls from one of these vendors (they need 48 hours notice, so call now!) and make an oyster po' boy party sub. Bonnie even has a great recipe from Hank's Oyster Bar (which you'll need to re-engineer to fit the monstrous sandwich, of course).

 

PLATE LAB: The oyster po' boy that's a little uptown

Do you think your chili recipe would work well cooked in a crockpot?

Yeah, sure. Just make sure to saute the onion and garlic first before dumping everything else in and setting the cooker. I don't think it particularly needs a slow cooker, since it comes together relatively quickly, actually, but you could do it. Typically, the biggest difference is that dishes can be somewhat watery because there's so little evaporation. If that is the case, just cook it further with the lid off, or on the stovetop, to condense it a bit. And please report back on the results?

Maybe this is a dumb question but it's one I've been considering lately. I have my grandmother's ancient Bromwell's sifter and a new-ish Bromwell. They're both made of metal that rusts. I can't really clean it. I just shake out the dust and wipe it down. Why are they made like that? Can I buy one which I can really clean?

I read somewhere, decades ago, that you shouldn't clean your flour sifter -- mostly because you could get little cemented bits of flour in the screen, but also because of rust. Because I can't cite a source, or even swear that I actually did read that, take it for what it's worth, but I have been doing nothing but brushing off my flour sifter, and maybe wiping it down, for going on three decades now.  I have lived to tell the tale, and my flour sifter still works fine.

I long ago switched to either a) whisking the flour, rather than sifting; or b) using a fine mesh strainer instead of a sifter.

That picture broke the chat. Firefox on a PC, and suddenly everything is REALLY wide.

Fixed! It was that giant party sub, of course! 

I did not know that this was a "classic pairing" -- I discovered it on my own – and I haven’t tried the chili yet, but allow me to tell my fellow sweet-potato dislikers: black beans make sweet potatoes tolerable! Good, even! But I am going to cut them into WAY smaller pieces than shown in the pic when I make the chili.

Thanks! And absolutely, make this puppy your own. Go to town.

WF has it--several brands, in fact! I use it on everything. Roasted veggies are really good with a dose.

Agreed.

Loved the fresh take on the subs, especially the condiments that get slathered on. Do you have suggestions for reducing the proportions/measurements of ingredients for the ginger scallion sauce? I would like to use it for multiple things, but your recipe seems to make a boatload of it. Thanks!

The ginger-scallion sauce is incredibly easy to make. It's a David Chang/Lucky Peach recipe and it's widely available. You can find a more manageable quantity here. I grabbed it out of the Momofuku cookbook, but it's also in the new "Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes."

I have noticed that produce departments no longer carry "cherry" tomatoes, only "grape" tomatoes. What's the difference?

It's probably just a seasonal/distribution variation, because I've certainly seen a lot of cherry tomatoes in the warmer months. It's just a different variety, shaped more like -- well, you know.

Love zatar, too. What's in it and can I make the spice blend myself?

There are as many versions of a'atar as there are cooks in the Middle East, but I make a version (which I put in my last book) that consists of 1/4 cup sumac -- cause I like a sumac-heavy version of za'atar; 2 tablespoons dried thyme, 1 tablespoon each toasted sesame seeds and ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon sea salt.

That was a fun and fascinating article to read. I personally dislike the texture of fish balls but learning about the process, and reading of your funny experience with the expert, was a treat. Please do follow up with a gefilte fish adventure with your friend the expert!

So glad you enjoyed the story.  I certainly enjoyed writing it (way funner than the farm bill ...).

I'm planning to make Ellie Krieger's recipe tonight for dinner. It looks easy and very satisfying. I'm wondering about the first step where the tomatillos, onion and garlic and boiled. It seems like dumping out most of that boiling water is pouring out some good flavor that should be retained in the recipe. What if I instead boiled the vegetables in the chicken broth and then retained it during the step where the puree is cooked down? Just a thought. Otherwise, this sounds really quite good.

Easy and satisfying, check. I see what you're saying; I think I'd rather have the unadulterated broth as a base for the soup, rather than rely on my tomatillo rinsing skills. But if you give it a try and like the results, let us know! We'll add that as a variation for the recipe.

 

RECIPE Chicken Posole Verde

 

My urban farm-to-market store is selling Brussels sprouts on the stalk, which I had never seen and had to be told that's how they grow. There were so many that I'm splitting them with a friend, whose only cooked them from frozen from a package. When I cut them off the stalk do I include the stem or remove that too? Typically, I roast Brussels sprouts in a hot oven with olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. How much, if any, of the outer leaves do I remove? While I at least have the advangtage over my friend of having cooked fresh Brussels sprouts this is all new to me.

Aren't they gorgeous on the stalk? There are lots of ways to cook them, but the most fun might be to leave them on the stalk and roast the whole thing! It's so striking to serve it that way, on a big platter -- and for a party you can include a little knife and let people cut off their own sprouts and dip them in a sauce (you know I'm a romesco fanatic, and it is fantastic for these purposes). The stalk itself is a lot woodier and stringier than the sprouts, but it's edible: You'd just have to cook it a lot longer to get it where you want it.

As for removing the outer leaves, you only need to remove any that are discolored, which is at most a single layer. When you cut them off the stalk, there's only a very short "stem" to speak of, and when they're stored on the stalk, this stem is much more tender than when they're stored after being cut, IMO, so this is a matter of taste, but I don't worry about cutting them too close. I like it, too, when part of the sprout is a little more tender and part a little firmer, for textural variation, you know?

I am roasting a big pan of root vegetables. Can I freeze half?

Yes! 

I'm in the middle of an exclusion diet to see if it can help resolve some stomach problems I've been having. But, with the Super Bowl coming up, I'm looking for something that I can make for the game. I'm happy to use potato chips or veggies instead of pita chips, but what recommendations do you have for dips? I am thinking a hummus or maybe something made with homemade mayonnaise...

Well, the Whipped Hummus that we ran from Maureen Abood awhile back is a game-changer, so that's one. You also might try one of these:

Georgian Spinach Dip With Walnuts and Cilantro

Roasted Eggplant Dip

Almond Dip

I am the proud new owner of a Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Suggestions for an inaugural recipe?

RECIPE Braised Potatoes With Bay Leaves and Garlic . . . 

. . . or anything in Molly Stevens's "All About Braising." Work your way through that cookbook, and you won't be sorry!  And definitely search your way through our Recipe Finder braises!

NatureSweet brand Cherubs and Glorys are varieties of cherry tomatoes and most grocery stores have them.

It's the classic we're-in-college cocktail, if you dare call it that, but are there any ones that are more suited for grown-up tastes?

Funny, I've been wanting to write something about this. I've had a few of these and a lot of them just seem to be disasters, at least when done in the old-school "depth charge" kind of way where you actually drop in the shot. so far my experience has been it often ruins both good beer and good whiskey. So IF you actually do combine the two, look for ingredients that complement each other somehow -- a spicy rye in a malty brew, the corn-on-corn action of bourbon and American lager, a whiskey and beer that have some geographical commonality. I like genever in a good pilsner, too.

And the other way, a basic shot and a beer sequentially -- how can you really go wrong? Have the whiskey you want and a beer that you like and be happy.

Back in the '50s, people still sifted flour because at least in the past it hadn't been as smooth as it is now. Nowadays, I either whisk it or if I'm mixing ingredients in a food processor, I zap it a few times to fluff it up. Re washing a flour sifter, to avoid rusting, dry it in an oven that's been heated to the lowest possible setting then turned off.

This may be the most fun cookbook I've purchased in years. Everything is actually pretty easy and delicious. Seems like they went through a lot of work to identify recipes than can actually be simplified without sacrificing flavor. Highly recommended!

It's a nice counterpoint to the Momofuku cookbook itself, which can be more than a bit challenging. Joe featured another LP 101 recipe for kimchi pancakes in a recent column. 

[When life gives you kimchi, make pancakes]

We have two dozen pears and can't eat them all right now. Suggestions for using them/freezing them? I wondered about roasting them, putting them in a cake, or just freezing them, but I'm at a loss.

Yes. Make this recipe, stat. It's. So. Good. You may not want to buy apples for that piece of it, and you know what? Even though the combo is great, since your mission is using up all these pears, just go all-pear. It'll still be great.

Roasted Mashed Pear-Apple Sauce

For the BBQ guy. Any discernible difference between the two? Or are they the same?

Rob Sonderman, the former pitmaster at DCity Smokehouse, says this is a somewhat difficult question to answer because "oak" is just a general term for a lot of different hard woods.

 

But generally speaking, oak means "white oak," which burns fairly hot and clean. Rob says white oak and post oak (the wood of choice in Central Texas barbecue) are "pretty similar, but he thinks white oak is milder than post oak.

 

"Post oak has a distinct flavor," Rob says.

 

These are nuances, of course. Generally, all oak species are "relatively mild," Rob says.

Can ancho chili powder be used in place of "regular" chili powder or is it much spicier? Any suggested vegetarian uses for ancho chili powder?

I stopped used "regular" chili powder long ago, preferring exactly what you suggest: ancho chili powder. It's much purer, without other things in there. It might be a little spicier, but not all that much. The uses are endless -- see above for the Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato chili. That'd be just one! Roasted vegetables, other stews, refried beans, salsas, etc. I use it liberally in a poblano tapenade, with poblanos, olives, lime juice, ancho powder, salt.

Hi all-- New-ish cook here. Still not so sure about which foods freeze and which become disasters. Can you freeze Greek Yogurt and eggs? What about Romaine lettuce? Willing to put in effort, just don't want to waste food!

We like your attitude. You can freeze Greek yogurt, but it will separate a bit. Defrost it in the refrigerator, then give it a good stir while you do a kitchen god dance, and all should be well.

 

When you freeze eggs, it's best to separate whites and yolks. Don't freeze them whole/in the shell. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt to the yolks (or a teaspoon or so of sugar, if you know you'll be using them for sweet vs. savory applications). Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

 

Romaine lettuce leaves can be frozen, but because they are mostly water (and that content will, with time, turn to ice crystals and destroy any crunch), you'd be using those frozen leaves for soups and smoothies, instead. 

 

Do  you have printing access? This Big Chill freezer guide's a handy pdf we produced a few years back.

I love the sandwiches but give me some ideas please for a vegetarian/vegan sub.

Absolutely -- use the filling that I used when I made this sandwich-in-a-puffed-pizza-crust recipe for the Smackdown a few years ago. Roast cauliflower, romesco, arugula, Pecorino.

RECIPE: Panino di Pizza

I've been thinking about one of these for a while, and I'm not sure what to get in terms of a brand. The Big Green Egg is the most popular but there are others brands out there. Anyone know anything about the quality of these others?

I don't have experience on ceramic grills/smokers. I'm an off-set smoker guy. But everyone I know loves their Big Green Eggs. It's a cult!

panch phoron: Fenugreek seed, Nigella seed, Cumin seed, celery seed, Fennel seed in equal amounts. I use whole and then grind for each use.

Yes, it's great. But I take issue with "alt," meaning alternative. It's an ADDITION! Use both, for different things.

in the chat leftovers. I'll use up the regular ground flaxseed that I have and try the golden stuff when I buy it again. Yes, the recipe is for the quick muffin in a mug. It works very well. I'm trying to get my dad to try the recipe to see if my enthusiasm is justified, or if I am just liking anything that looks a bit like a muffin after over a year of eating low carb. Was going to follow up with a question about what might be going wrong with the recipe this week, except I figured it out myself. Now that my landlord has replaced the failing microwave (which couldn't boil 8 ounces of water in a pyrex cup after 5 minutes on high), it works very well.

If #ChatLeftovers answer person @JaneTouzalin were here she'd say you're quite welcome! Re the muffin in a mug, for a while there, it seemed like we were getting lots of small paperback cookbooks to review that were full of similar microwave techniques.  Next time you see Editor Joe and want to make him smile, just say, "Cook It In A Cup!"

You also sift because that way you know you're getting the same amount every time. (This is also why weighing ingredients for baking is better than going by volume, but that's a separate soapbox.) I'm in the fine mesh strainer camp myself (as I'm not trying to sift or strain into a little measuring cup because see above re: weighing - there I go again).

Thanks to the chatters who recommended books last week -- I am loving 'Gulp', and I just picked up 'Seeds' from the library!

remind me again -- best way to pick and store onions. The last few times I've bought 'em (at WF, no less), they've turned black and soggy.

For picking, make sure they feel firm and without any black spots of mold anywhere. For storing, here's this from Candy Sagon's viral produce-storage piece we ran awhile back:

Find some (clean) pantyhose. Add onions to each leg, tying knots between each one. Hang at room temperature. If that doesn’t appeal to you, onions can be stored like garlic at room temperature on a countertop. Just keep them away from potatoes. And don’t put them in the refrigerator: The humidity and cold temperature will cause onions to turn mushy. Storing them away from light also helps keep them from becoming bitter.

ARTICLE: Ten fruits and vegetables you're storing wrong

I love all the parts of the one except the pork.

I'll second Joe's recommendation from above to use cauliflower. I'd also be willing to bet that some flash-fried cauliflower tossed in kewpiejang would be pretty excellent! 

Best to use them the same day you buy them because they'll continue to mature, and maybe dry out, if you leave them on the stalk. I'll only buy them on the stalk at a farm stall or farmer's market where I know the grower.

Those waffles look great. I am wondering how crisp they are and how they hold up. The author was talking about cooking for 7, that seems like an awful lot of time to be standing in front of the waffle iron. I want to eat too! I am thinking they might be good for a cheese fondu, if they hold their texture. Can you point me to a good fondu recipe?

RECIPE: Cauliflower and Cheese Waffles

I think dipping them in fondue sounds like a really fun idea. Here's what Danielle says:

They hold up well when we reheat them. Once you've put tomato sauce on them they get mushy quickly. I think they'd be great with fondue. You can make them ahead of time and reheat them in a toaster oven or the regular oven. (not the microwave!)

Also, I agree that making so many waffles can take awhile. It takes 6-7 minutes per waffle in our waffle iron. I usually am getting other things done in the kitchen while the waffles are cooking. It's definitely not something to make in bulk when you're in a rush.

One last thing: I keep the already cooked waffles warm while I'm making them in the awesome warming drawer we have!

And here's a fondue recipe for you!

 

Cheese and Brown Ale Fondue

I love sardines, so I don't let any go to waste. I use the oil with some lemon juice to make a vinaigrette style dressing for an accompanying salad at the same meal. Alternatively, I'll use it on a small serving of pasta - usually at the same meal.

I'm really craving some sardines right about now.

Is there a particular ethnic cuisine you find most difficult to replicate at home? For me, it's Indian. No matter how much time and effort I put into it, it just never tastes even remotely close to the way it does in a restaurant.

It's a tough one! You know, many times it's a matter of getting all the right ingredients and treating them the right way. So, for Indian, if you find whole versions of the spices, grind them before using, and make sure to "bloom" them in oil (or ghee!) to release their flavors before adding other ingredients, that can go a long way.

Check out this great piece Lavanya Ramanathan wrote about learning to cook the food of her people. Great recipes, too!

 

I find that, the farther it is from my Westernish comfort zone, the harder the time I have. The key, I think, is good instruction, either in person (fish balls!) or via a detailed, accurate recipe -- which you then have to follow, and override your instincts to take shortcuts or make substitutions.

Generally speaking, I'd say they're all hard to replicate at home, unless you have the same amount of experience that the chef does at your favorite restaurant.

 

That said, I find traditional regional Chinese food difficult to prepare at home. It requires the right ingredients, a deep understanding of the flavors layered into dishes and an ability to work a blazing-hot wok with speed and precision.

Toast and use as a breading ( in combo with panko) for chicken and fish is one idea. Any others? Double bonus question - is there a way to make a stir fry that works with both miso paste and shredded coconut?

Love these: Coconut Lime Pancakes

 

And this Indian chicken dish (#PlateLab, from the Post Magazine) is terrific: Dum ka Murgh

 

Re the miso-shredded coconut stir-fry: I bet these Blackened Green Beans With Garlic, Sesame and Ginger would be just great with toasted, shredded coconut tossed in.

Pear Vanilla Jam from Food in Jars" http://foodinjars.com/2011/02/pear-vanilla-jam/ Yum.

Joe, I appreciate the suggestion of roasted cauliflower, but I think it has the same problem as a lot of "vegetarianized" dishes -- no protein. I admit I am baffled by the recent "cauliflower steak" trend, which seems to me not a meal at all. It may be because I grew up eating Indian vegetarian food, which is much more balanced and includes enough protein for anyone.

Hold up: There's protein in that romesco sauce, don't forget.

... look like a jester's stick from Medieval times. The jester would have bells instead of sprouts.

I accidentally left red pepper sauce on the kitchen counter all night (was on pasta for dins last night). It was made yesterday, has red peppers, veg broth, onion, garlic and seasonings. I threw it in the freezer at 6am. I'm thinking it's ok, especially if I let it boil for a while. Your thoughts ... ?

I'm with you, and I prob wouldn't go to the trouble of boiling it.

If it doesn't taste like the restaurants, you are probably doing something right. Most (not all) Indian restaurant food is Punjabi food or Americanized versions of dishes that are different when made by home cooks. I would recommend Madhur Jaffrey's recent Vegetarian India for authentic recipes, and don't compare the results to restaurant food!

Getting a variety of vegetables in your diet will ensure that you get enough protein. Most Americans get far too much and it's stored as fat.

Yes, but it's cheese! That's always the default vegetarian protein -- hence the plethora of tomato/ mozzarella sandwiches all over the place.

No, it's not cheese.  There is no cheese in romesco sauce. If you think all I do is put cheese in my vegetarian dishes, you need to pay a little closer attention! No offense, but still.

Oops... clicking on picture does not take you to the guide. In the meantime, can you freeze buttermilk? Need 1 cup from a half gallon which I bought to make biscuits. What to do with the rest?

Click on the link instead. Yep, you can freeze buttermilk -- best to do it in increments that make sense for you (tablespoons in trays, or 1-cup's worth in zip-top bags (freeze flat). I'm gonna sound like a broken record, but: Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

Last week, I asked if butter with an "off" quality could be saved, and you suggested I try melting it. Here's the thing: The butter I had used with mediocre results before writing to you had been cold when I cut it into a biscuit mix. This time, I tried letting an entire, wrapped bar sit on the counter until it was soft -- and when it was, it was obvious that the whole thing was rancid. So I didn't try melting it. I did, however, repeat the thaw with all the other bars of butter in my freezer and refrigerator and found #all# were bad, even those with expiration dates still in the future. Other frozen food is fine and so is the food in the 'fridge and the butter in plastic tubs, so I don't know what the problem could be. ("Next on Maury: When good butter goes bad!") But, on the up side, I now have room in my freezer for unspoilt things, and even better, you gave me a book, so I think I come out ahead.

Wow. Thanks for the update!

Well, you've cooked us in batches of 4 or 5 for about 5 minutes per batch, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to all for the a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about tofu in the saag dish will get "Superfood Seagreens" by Barton Seaver. The one who asked about what can freeze and what can't will get "Betty Crocker The Big Book of Pasta." Send your mailing info to Kara.Elder@washpost.com, and she'll get you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, who farms oysters on Cape Cod and writes about food and science, is author of the monthly Unearthed column, winner of a James Beard Award.
Alex Baldinger
Alex Baldinger is editor of the Going Out Guide blog, which covers food, drink, arts, music, events and other curiosities in the D.C. area. He is forever in search of a great sandwich.
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