Free Range on Food: Beer Madness, using a mortar and pestle, Spike Gjerde and more

Mar 14, 2012

Free Range on Food: Beer Madness, using a mortar and pestle, Spike Gjerde and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Welcome to the positive, curative, Food hour of power. I feel sure we've met your daily recommended guest needs, as we have David Hagedorn, who wrote the nice profile of chef-restaurateur Spike "Fish Pepper" Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen (also on hand); and Emily Horton, mortar and pestle fan. With Beer Madness officially at Round 1, we've got columnist Greg Kitsock to offer color commentary on the tourney thus far; as always, direct your queries toward staffers Jane Touzalin, Becky Krystal and Jason "Girly drinks" Wilson (who may have to cut out early) and me. Tim Carman's on assignment.


We have two books to give away: "Irish Traditional Cooking," by Darina Allen (it's all about timing) and "Fish: Recipes From the Sea" from Phaidon. We'll announce winners at the end of the chat. Are you ready? We are.


What type of mortar and pestle would you recommend for someone new to this form of "culinary therapy" and who is rather a generalist in the kitchen?

From what I learned researching this piece, granite is the best for all-around use, so that's what I'd suggest—you can use it to grind salt (although I really enjoy having a teeny one reserved specifically for that purpose since I grind salt so often), crush garlic, spices, herbs, make chile paste, pesto, whatever. I borrowed my roommate's, in fact, to test a few recipes out and was totally sold on buying one. That said, I've been using marble ones for years and have loved those, too, but certain things like nuts and herbs definitely require a little more elbow grease since the surface is so smooth.

Making a stir-fry with zucchini, red peppers, and Chinese cabbage. Which order do the veggies go in or does it not matter? Do you have a good sauce to make? I particularly like hoisin, but I also have fish sauce and Chinese rice wine.

If you were to do them in a certain order, I'd go red peppers, zucchini and Cabbage, based on how quickly they cook.

We had a sauce questions come up a few months ago. Here's what I said at the time:

One of my favorite stir-fry sauces is from our recipe for Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger. It's so good it probably doesn't need variations. But this Vegetable Stir-Fry has a sauce that might work well with some subtitutions, if you want to experiment with the oils, vinegars and sweeteners. (More stir-fry recipes here.)

I'd recommend you get your hands on a copy of "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge," by Grace Young. (Here's Joe's column that featured her.)

I have two friends coming over tonight. In the interests of mid-week healthy eating, we're having hummus, grape leaves, Greek salad and some chicken breasts that I've been marinading in harissa, garlic and lemon juice for two days, which I'll grill. With this gorgeous weather, I think today calls for the snacks and a cocktail in the backyard. But most of the quintessential summery cocktails I think of go more with Latin or Asian foods, not Greek. Do you have any great ideas? I do have a bottle of Ouzo, but so many people don't like it, I get scared to rely on it. Thanks!

I used to be scared of ouzo, too, but once I learned to add water before I drink it, I realized how excellent it actually is with food. Here's my ouzo column from a while back, so you can check it out. Come on! Give ouzo a chance!

I have a packaged, precooked corned beef in my freezer that was purchased at Trader Joe's. Any ideas on what to do with it? I'm thinking sandwiches . . . .

Why not. Or, you could shred some corned beef, toss with sauerkraut and strips of Swiss cheese, wrap in an eggroll wrapper and fry till crisp.  Dip into some thousand-island kinda dressing. Bar food at home. You won't regret it.

I received a well-known brand of chef's knife for Christmas and am afraid to use it for anything other than vegetables! I was told to never put it in the dishwasher, but to wash it simply in soap and water and dry immediately. Does that mean that I can't use it to cut chicken parts or pork or other meats? I don't feel that simple soap and water does the trick of decontaminating the knife.

Well, I have a confession to make. I put my knives in the dishwasher. That probably comes from years of working in professional kitchens where others picked up my knives regularly and abused them in various ways, like trying to open cans with them and breaking off the tips. So a dishwasher seems fairly benign to me.

That being said, of course I don't wash it that way between uses. When I've been cutting chicken, I clean the blade with Dawn and hot water, then spray it with Fantastic and wash it again. 

And, of course, I start out by using an excellent quality, pasture-raised meat and poultry purchased from a reputable farmer, not factory-raised products.

Hi, I've got two things today: 1. Happy Pi Day! We'll be celebrating with the Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie from your archives. Yum. 2. I have a question about another of your recipes. I'm having a party for my son's 1st birthday, with a lunch of pulled pork sandwiches. I thought it would be fun if the sides featured some of his favorite foods. To that end, I'm having a fruit salad and then wanted to make something with peas. I was looking at making New Potato and Pea Salad. Is this something I can makes the evening before or make the parts the evening before and assemble right before the party? If not, could you suggest a pea recipe that is make-ahead and does not contain mayonnaise? Thank you!

Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie

By all means, work ahead on the potato salad, says Stephanie Witt Sedgwick. Do all the cooking the day before. On the day of the party, dress the salad, letting it rest at least 30 minutes before serving, if possible.

New Potato and Pea Salad

Since you guys are my source for all food advice, i thought I'd ask this one...I was intrigued by a recipe for vegetable curry from a blog which called for coconut milk. Sadly the recipe wasn't that great (any thoughts on good curry sauce recipes?) and now I'm left with a half can of coconut milk. What can I do with this? Freeze it? Use it in place of milk in pancakes? I'm at a loss!

We have a number of curry recipes in our database, but as a start, you can look at Parsee Red Chicken CurryMango Chicken Curry and Pan-Fried Scallops With Curry Sauce.

I've used smaller amounts of coconut milk to replace the cream and/or milk in scones. Add a little shredded coconut and some chocolate chips. Like a Mounds Bar for breakfast...

Someone gave me a molcajete - basically a Mexican mortar and pestle. The one I received hadn't been seasoned and I followed the directions to season it. My question is how smooth I should expect the bowl to get. It's still very rough even though I followed the directions and spent hours grinding rice and rock salt in it. Also, what is it best for? I know you see guacamole in it in restaurants. But there is always avocado left in the pores and it is kind of messy to serve from when I have also used it for making the guacamole. (Although guests seem to think it's really fun to eat from it.) But is it good for grinding other things too? Thanks for your help!

I've had the same problems with my molcajete, which is why, I confess, I never use it. Rick Bayless says (in his "Essential Flavors of the Mexican Kitchen") that good-quality molcajetes (the ones you want to actually use), made from the densest lava rock, are really hard to find in the U.S. The others he calls "tourist" models, and describes them as being "so rough and porous that you'll forever be grinding grit into your food." Good quality molcajetes are apparently a lot like granite mortars and pestles, and you should be able to use them for anything from grinding spices and chiles to making salsa and guacamole in them.

So sadly I don't have a great suggestion for your own molcajete since it sounds like you've taken the right steps to season it properly. I have relegated mine to a shelf where it serves as decoration.

I found a recipe for chocolate stout brownies that looks good and easy but it calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt? Is that the original cooks preference or specific to the success of the recipe?

First: Yum. Second, not sure I'm following what your real question is -- do you want to know if kosher salt can be subbed out? Whose recipe is it?

Given the previous interest, have you'all decided to do an article on this? (hint hint)!

Workin' on it!

First, thanks to last week's chatter who recommended roasting a head of cabbage after shredding and tossing with a little olive oil. I did this with a head of Napa cabbage, and served it with a little cole slaw dressing. It was delicious! Now, a chicken question: I marinated some boneless chicken breasts in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and spices, then baked it in a casserole dish. It was also delicious, but there was an inch of liquid in the pan, which I saved. It's not really chicken stock, I guess it's chicken juices? Can I use this to cook rice?

It's chicken broth, actually, and by all means use it for rice, provided it's not too vinegary for your tastes. Probably not, though, since you'd probably have to supplement those juices with extra liquid. It's always worthwhile to make a little bit of stock  if you have some bones (like the back and wing tips from a whole chicken, if that's what you're using) that you can use for a quick sauce or for rice. Makes all the difference.

I want to make some type of easy pie tonight once I get home after work. What would you recommend, that wouldn't keep me waiting til midnight to eat it? I'm thinking about making pizza for dinner as well.

This recipe for Wild Blueberry Pie looks pretty fast.

Wild Blueberry Pie

I heart that pie.

This is for Spike. Can you talk about Fish Peppers? I saw some put up on the pantry shelves at WK, and last summer I'd read that Mick the Pirate was working with One Straw to bring them back to the region. Can you please describe the peppers, how to use/cook them, where non-restaurant folks can find them, and when/how you'll be using them at Woodberry? Thanks.

We first became aware of fish peppers and their role in Chesapeake regional cooking from the writers William Woys Weaver and Michael Twitty. Seeds are available from Landreth. We encouraged local growers, including One Straw, Five Seeds, and others, to grow them and boy did they...we processed over 3000 lb last summer. In the restaurant we use them fresh in season as you would a serrano or habanero, as well as pickled, dried, and ground into chile powder. The vast majority, however, will be made into our fish pepper hot sauce, Snake Oil, that we will be bottling later this spring...

The pepper itself is small and tapered, and ripens to a bright red. We saw most of them in late summer, and I expect that if we have a good season you will start to see them in  more farmer's markets. They have a bright flavor and intense heat, and we use them just about anywhere you can imagine. One of our favorites is a pepperpot stew with local Marvesta shrimp. And of course we love fish pepper on locally grown oysters!

Hi Rangers! I have an extra package of cream cheese (was planning to use it in a cake, but didn't). Would love recommendations for use-ups (bonus if they're for savory dishes)!

Always liked this Confetti Vegetable Smish -- happens to be by David Hagedorn! You could always do a nice kugel.

Hi, foodies! Too bad we weren't all invited to the soiree with Capt. Poldark -- who knew? I'm wanting to know where in the DMV I can get a really masterful piece of corned beef for Saturday dinner -- wearing 'o' the tgreen, ya know!

It was a very last-minute soiree, from what I understand.   Sure was fun to meet actor Robin Ellis in person -- and his lovely wife, Meredith. Back in the day, my husband were inspired to knock around Cornwall and soak up Winston Graham territory.

As for corned beef, Going Out Guru Justin Rude says you can find a nice bit o' corned beef at chef Cathal Armstrong's establishments (The Majestic, Virtue Feed and Grain, Restaurant Eve) and also at the gastropub Againn.


Any ideas for an appealing St . Patrick's day dinner menu? I'm thinking Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage are going to be a little bit heavy given the weather forecast, ditto for colcannon, although I love it!

Do you need food from the old country, or could you manage with lovely foods that are naturally green? If it's the latter, we'll have a list of Staff Favorites recipes on our All We Can Eat blog tomorrow.

Tell Mr. Gjerde that I have a black walnut tree in my yard in Springfield, VA. It doesn't bear every year, as he knows, but I won't let my husband cut down the tree and only wish someone could use the walnuts.

We picked a bunch in the fall and husked them...I have to admit the yield for the time spent was a little disheartening. But we'll see.... All the same, I hope you don't cut down that tree!

Last night I made the scrambled egg with ricotta recipe (the one with creamed corn) you recommended on a recent chat. It was fine (and easy to make--great for a weeknight dinner) but a bit bland. Any suggestions as to how to spice it up? thanks!

Hmm...pickled fish peppers from chef Spike's Woodberry Kitchen? How about scallions and fresh peppers, or  spices you like: cayenne, smoked Spanish pimenton (paprika) or some adobo from canned chipotles?

Thanks for the always informative chats. I have been invited to a Passover Seder to which everyone is to bring something. The host is providing "brisket, potato kugel, veggie kugel and matzoh ball soup" and one other person is bringing dessert. I am fairly new to this and have no idea what to bring - there will be about 25 adults there (and maybe a half dozen young children). I am on a tight budget due to unexpected & prolonged unemployment; any help would be gladly appreciated!

I think a veggie-based side would be a nice contribution. Some ideas that won't break the bank:

Carrots and Almonds

Curried Sweet Potatoes With Apples

Glazed Zucchini With Ginger (Kalavasa)


See the complete collection of our Passover recipes here.

Also, stay tuned for our March 28 section, which will have a few more recipes, including surprisingly easy popovers using matzoh meal.

I'd like to make soda bread and/or beer bread for St. Patrick's day this weekend (probably not traditional, I know, but it's tasty). Regarding the soda bread: the recipes I've seen call for buttermilk; since I don't use buttermilk, can I sub in plain yogurt? About the beer bread: what would be a good type of beer to use? I know absolutely nothing about beer, so any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

To replace buttermilk in your soda bread, substitute a 50-50 mixture of yogurt and milk.

After the bread spends time baking in a hot oven, its  beer flavor will be reduced to a fairly faint tang, so I don't think it much matters what kind of beer you use. However, other chatters may have other ideas about that, and if so, I hope they'll chime in!

It's also well worth checking if Wagshal's has corned beef. Pam makes great corned beef.

Ding ding ding!

This salted caramel pie recipe is really easy, although it might not be the kind of pie the previous poster had in mind:  Personally, I cannot WAIT until rhubarb is in the stores again! I'm craving some good old-fashioned rhubarb pie (forget the strawberries. Those ingrates).

I've already seen some of it around -- wonder how? Ever tried a rhubarb cake, btw?

I've been cooking my own dried beans for a while now, and every time I do, the beans give off a strange smell. When I cook kidney beans, especially, my kitchen is filled with a rather unpleasant odor. Is this normal and is there anything I can do to prevent it?

Let's start from the ground up. Wondering whether you soak them and for how long...

Heard a lot about the goodness of the beans and decided to jump in, but know no much about beans. Found John Besh's red beans recipe that looked good to me. Made it with regular Goya red beans ($1.29 lbs) and Salvadoran red beans ($2.50 lbs) at an ethnic store. Soaked overnight and cooked separately, served Sunday for dinner to 15 people. Most adults and all of the teenagers preferred the familiar creamy texture of Goya beans, two adults plus moi preferred the complexity of the Salvadoran beans. What is so special about them that they cost twice as much? Is there a special way to prep and cook them? Because Besh's recipe calls for smoked ham hocks, lots of green pepper, onions and celery and requires two inches of water over the beans while they are cooked on low and slow I have lots of very tasteful "stock" left over. I combined it from both pans and refrigerated hoping that you would respond to my question, Bonnie, please! The liquid tastes good enough to make soup with, but am I asking for trouble consuming that liquid? I also thought I could use it for cooking rice, but should I? You know what I mean.

Yes!!!Yes!!!Yes!!! You can use the bean broth -- soups and stews are a given. Heck, give the rice a try. Report back.

Hey foodies! Just his past weekend my girlfriend and I had an argument while using a mortar and pestle. We decided to grind our own herbs and spices by hand recently. Anyway, I have always been taught to grasp the pestle lightly closer to the fingertips. My girlfriend was going all-out with the pestle and in my opinion destroying the spices. Is there a good rule-of-thumb for how much force and pressure to use? Thanks and ciao!

First off, I think you can't possibly do more damage to spices in a mortar and pestle than you would in an electric grinder... so I wouldn't worry so much about that. That said, grinding spices in the mortar is usually more effective than pounding them, and it takes a lot less effort. My own rule of thumb as far as force/pressure goes is to use as little as necessary, letting the weight of the pestle do as much work as possible, which usually rules out all-out pounding; better, I've found, is a grinding/pounding combination, which seems to break down the ingredients more effectively. 


More important though, I think, no matter the ingredients, is to find a technique that works for you and that you're comfortable with (a tip I lifted from a favorite Indian cookbook). That might be vigorous pounding, where you're putting more of your weight into the pestle and the ingredients (as one of my Thai cookbooks suggests), or just pounding lightly, with a simultaneous turn of the pestle, to sort of grind the ingredients at the same time, as Madhur Jaffrey described to me. I prefer the latter, but as long as you're getting good results and your method feels comfortable, it's probably not worth arguing about.

I use coconut milk to replace all or part of the water when cooking rice for tropical or Thai food.

Oh, I like that.

Do you have a mix of the milk and cream from the can, or is it just the watery milk? Either way, I'd say it'd be fantastic in pancakes. I've used coconut milk to make muffins, and of course it's fabulous as part of a smoothie (add some frozen mango, or some fresh strawberries and orange zest). For the sad curry, I've found that you really have to have a good curry spice base to start with. I've discovered the vacuum-bag-sealed spice pastes available at local Asian grocery stores have the best flavor, and they do need to be seared in hot oil first in order to release the flavor before you mix in the coconut milk. Good luck!

Great, now I have yet another reason to drool until rhubarb shows up. :-) It even uses whole wheat flour, which I love! Thanks for the recipe!

I always use herbes de Provence in my eggs and finish with a squirt of Sriracha on the side before serving.

How multicultural!

I have some exceedingly fresh Wahoo that my brother caught recently. I cooked it very simply in olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper a day ago, and now have two or so pieces left over. It's absolutely fabulous, and I don't want to waste it. Any creative suggestions for repurposing already cooked Wahoo? It's not fishy at all, and really is fantastic, and I don't want it to go to waste.

Fish tacos!

For the chatter wanting a quick pie, since it's a hot (for March) day, how about an ice cream pie? We're having a "pi pie" day celebration at work, for which I made a cinnamon ice cream pie with a corn flake / coconut crust. I baked the crust to set it a bit, but it's not a requirement. Oh, and the cinnamon ice cream is just vanilla ice cream that I let get really soft before stirring in a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Trying again: what do recipe writers mean when they say to let something marinate or chill "overnight"? If it's dinner the next day, that will be 20 hours or more! Is it shorthand for "about eight hours", in which case I could start it in the morning for cooking that night? Is there some rule of thumb for determining which proteins will be adversely affected by a prolonged marinating (e.g. I know that fish will turn mushy pretty fast) and which can be left for a while? Or is it a question of the acidity of the marinade? Or am I making too much of this?

I'd say "overnight" means up to 8 hours, but that it's no big deal if it is a longer than that. I often write, say, "marinate for several hours, or overnight." For protein, size matters where marination is concerned. So fish, maybe up to 30 minutes; chicken breasts up to 2 hours, depending on size and thickness (thin or butterflied boneless breasts may need only 20 or 30 minutes); beef and lamb, 4-6 hours; a whole chicken, 6 hours...or overnight! Better to under marinate than over, so simply take the items out of the marinade and refrigerate them until you're ready for them. 

It is a question of acidity. The acids break down connective tissue and denature proteins. You can see when fish and chicken flesh, even red meat for that matter, start to whiten. That's not a good thing. That means mushy and mushy isn't good, except when Zooey Deschanel is involved.

The easiest way to husk black walnuts is to strew them in your driveway. Line up the tires strategically and crush them. (Bonus points awarded to teenagers who can accurately husk the most number in both forward and reverse.) Wear gloves so they don't stain your fingers when peeling the split husks from the shells.

From my (arguably) limited experience, it seems to be a very comfortable, homey style of cooking. Not a lot of fancy ingredients, just what's in season and what you've got that stores well in the wintertime. I do wish I could find a good recipe for boxty, though! My part-Irish husband has quite a taste for it, but I'm pretty sure it's not meant to be total mush after being cooked.... is it?

Darina Allen has a few boxty-related recipes. I'll give you one, but first this verse she provides:

Boxty on the griddle

Boxty on the pan

If you don't eat boxty

You'll never get your man.

Pan Boxty

4 servings

6 medium potatoes

Handful flour



1 tbsp fresh herbs (optional)

Scrub the potatoes well, but don't peel. Line a bowl with a cloth. Grate the potatoes into it, then squeeze out the liquid into the bowl and let it sit for about 20 minutes until the starch settles. Set the potatoes aside.

Drain off the water and leave the starch in the bottom of the bowl. Add the grated potato, a handful of flour and some salt.

Melt a nice bit of butter on a heavy iron pan and pour in the potato mixture. It should be 3/4-1 inch thick. Cook on medium heat. Let it brown nicely on one side before turning over and then on the other side, about 30 minutes in all depending on the heat. It's much better to cook it too slowly rather than too fast. It should be crisp and golden on the outside. Cut the boxty into four wedges and serve.

Hi, I bought a pound of pink salmon (frozen, on sale) and wonder if I should do anything different in preparing it, than I would with salmon not labeled as "pink?" Usually I'd either steam or poach most of it, and save some to turn into Gravalax. Thanks for your suggestions!

Altho I grew up seeing "pink salmon" on cans and thought it was just an adjective, I believe it's a specific variety of the fish. Not sure it'd be great for gravlax -- best to start with the freshest you can get, for that.

I realize this may have been a better question for last week, but recently an unfortunate incident caused the ceramic liner in my crock pot to crack- and have not had any luck so far trying to find a place / internet site to replace it. Any suggestions? Or am I doomed to replace the whole thing? Thanks!

Have you tried eBay? I can see several slow-cooker inserts for sale there. Craigslist might be another source.

I hesitate even to mention this, because it might be a terrible idea. But -- you can buy a product called a slow-cooker liner that's basically a plastic bag meant to be filled with food and placed into the  slow-cooker so you don't have to clean out the insert after cooking.  It's *possible* that this might solve your problem, assuming the liner is just cracked a little and not actually broken. First, you should call your cooker's manufacturer to ask if it's a good idea. But it seems like it could work -- you could still use the slow-cooker, and the food won't leak out. There are concerns about cooking food in plastics that may contain BPA, but I haven't been able to find any warnings/concerns that these liners are problematic in that regard.

My husband is from Ireland and nothing in his mind can quite compare to his mother's beef stew. I asked her and one of her key ingredients is a package of Oxtail soup mix. I've looked around and cannot find it stateside anywhere. Any ideas? He does like my chocolate Guinness Cake that came from Kim O'Donnel a while back!

Amazon carries Knorr brand. If you're local, try the British goods store in Arlington: Classic  Cigars & British Goodies

Any recommendations for a smoky cocktail? Maybe something with single malt scotch?

Jason has left the building, but I'll throw one idea out there. It doesn't have scotch, but you could look at today's recipe for Her Lips Were Devil Red, which calls for adobo-infused agave nectar. Plus, it's just an awesome name.

Her Lips Were Devil Red

Thanks for the help. But Zooey Deschanel? Nuh-uh.

I'm supposed to take a kosher dish to a seder. If I make, say, a lentil dish, is there such a thing as kosher lentils? Or does it only come into play when animal products are used? Lots of thanks.

Hate to answer w/another question, but is it a Sephardic or Ashkenazi Seder? Legumes are not welcome at both.

I concur with the poster who suggested using coconut milk when cooking rice. After a trip to the Caribbean (where I drank water out of a coconut that had just come out of the tree!!) and feeling nostalgic about the wonderful food, I cooked some rice with coconut milk, some red beans, and thyme. It brought back the island a little bit :)

I'm so doing this the next time I make a Thai dish.

It'll be a great help to get some sort of definitive answers to these doubts -- It seems to me that fish -- and meat -- keeps cooking even after I take it off the stove, or out of the oven. But I don't know when's the right moment to remove it from the source of heat -- When a quarter-inch of the inside flesh still looks raw, or less or more or --??? Also, I'm guessing it's wrong to keep flaking the fish as it cooks to look at the inside. Certainly it's not looking all that attractive if I end up serving it with a series of knife-and-fork "wounds" where I peeked inside. Many thanks.

You are right on with the observation that meat and fish continue to cook after being removed from the heat source. The internal temperature of a thick steak or chop could rise by as much as ten degrees after it comes out of the pan, so you should generally stop cooking with that much of a buffer. The good news is that meat benefits from a period of rest before being served or carved, often estimated at about half the time it took to cook it. Fish, especially whole fish cooked on the bone, are similar, and it helps to know just when to stop cooking (without tearing it up). To that end, I recommend an instant-read thermometer to help make the call. In the case of fish, look for a reading of between 125 to 145 F, depending on you like it.

If one only had counter space for one mortar & pestle, what type would be the most useful for a general cook? And how should these be cleaned--using soap & water, just water, etc.? My father has an old brass mortar & pestle that is the one object my grandmother brought from "the old country" when she immigrated to the US over 100 years ago. The pestle appears to be cracked --is there any way to repair this?

My vote is for granite, if you have room for only one. It's super versatile and not too pricey. I've come across different prescriptions for cleaning it, though. I've always used a mild soap and something like a loofah to clean my marble mortar and pestle, as well as the granite one I've been using lately, and never had problems with soap permeating the rock and affecting flavor—these are pretty non-porous, dense rocks, so that shouldn't be a problem—but if you happened to be concerned about such things, you could keep water out of the picture and instead grind kosher salt or dry rice into the mortar with the pestle and wipe it out with a cloth.

Your brass mortar and pestle sounds lovely, but I'm not sure I'd be tempted to use one... Paula Wolfert claims they take something like 30 minutes to clean, which sort of takes the joy out of it for me.

I hope this isn't considered an offensive question, but I'm not sure I know the difference between English and Irish food, particularly that found in the pubs. I absolutely RiRa in Bethesda and there chicken pot pie, shepard's pie, cottage pie, and beef & Guiness stew are just fantastic. While I've never been to Ireland, I have been to England and the pub food seems similar, although I find that more internal organs are used in English pies (which I don't get either).

If you're talking pub food, it gets harder to distinguish between them, I think. 

I read somewhere that free pie is available today to celebrate "pi day" but can't recall where, or even if it's pizza pie or dessert pies. Do you know?

Well, here are some suggestions from GOG pal Justin Rude:


Okay, it's not free, but for a $5 suggested donation you can get all you can eat pie at St. Stephen's church in Mount Pleasant. At at District of Pi they are offering $3.14 pizzas and $3.14 beers. At the Maryland Science Center they are having pie eating contests and a pizza tossing race.

Great to know that David Hagedorn uses Fantastic to really kill any chicken leftovers. I've been wondering something kinda similar about sponges -- If I use one to clean a knife that cut meat or chicken, should I nuke it right away to kill anything that it picked up from the knife, before using it to wash anything else? And what is the right way to nuke it -- wet, dry, soapy, not, and how long? Really, it's amazing I'm still walking around, with all the things I'm probably doing wrong in terms of kitchen cleanliness!

Well, I may get a lot of flak for this, but here goes. 


Our bodies are designed to deal with bacteria. I think people are just going nuts about the disinfecting, boiling, wearing of surgical masks while cooking. It's not surprising considering how many fearmongering stories the media love to tell exposing that everything we touch is teeming with fecal matter and germs. Well, of course everything has germs.

 When I handle chicken, I wear gloves. I use a separate cutting board. I clean the knife as I said I do. Do I boil the sponge after I've cleaned my knife with it? No. It never occurred to me. I put the sponge in the dishwahser whenever I run it and change them out pretty often. Or I soak them in hot water and baking soda. I'm still here. I've been cooking forever. Like I said, reduce the chance of getting sick from food by buying for reputable farmers, not factories.

In other words, I have no idea how to go about nuking a sponge.


what is it and do I really need it? does it really make that much of a difference in stir-fries or can I skip it?

You need it if you want to get even close to the flavors of Thai and Vietnamese cooking. There really is no substitute (yet!...we are working on one made from Chesapeake oysters)

I bought a tub of mascarpone to make a recipe that called for 2 tablespoons. I'd never bought it before and now I'm not sure what to do with the rest (I spread some on celery for a snack, which was good, but I still have half a container).

You can use it as a topping for cakes and fruit. When used in that way, it can be mixed with vanilla or honey to sweeten it, and maybe a little cream to thin it out a little. 

By now you might have used up much of your tub, but our recipe for Blackberries in Mascarpone Cream will be just as delicious when it's scaled down to serve just two -- or one.

We may stick around an extra 10 minutes or so today...everybody must have been out enjoying the weather. Now we have a batch o' questions.

I've tried making colcannon several times and I always find that everything sticks to the bottom of the pan and nothing interesting happens in the middle. It may taste good, but the presentation is terrible. Do you have a week night recipe for colcannon?

Here's one way back from our deep archives (1991).


(6 servings) 

1/2 pound kale or cabbage 

2 strips bacon (optional) 

1 pound all-purpose potatoes 

2 small leeks or 4 scallions 

3/4 cup milk or light (table) cream 

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature, cut in small pieces 

Salt and freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste 

Cook kale or cabbage and bacon in water until very tender and bacon is cooked. Drain and put into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pure'e, scraping down a few times as needed. Set aside and keep warm.

Peel and cut the potatoes into large chunks. Place in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer over medium heat until tender.

Meanwhile, finely chop the leeks or scallions, using both the green and white parts. Place them in a small saucepan over a low simmer with just enough of the milk or cream to cover. Cook until soft.

When potatoes are tender, drain and place them back in the saucepan. Mash or beat potatoes adding any of the remaining milk or cream as you do so. Beat in cooked leeks and milk and butter, then kale or cabbage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn into a heated serving dish and serve immediately.

Note: To be completely authentic, don't add butter directly to mashed potatoes. Instead, melt butter and just before serving make a depression in center of potatoes and pour it in.

Per serving: 268 calories, 5 gm protein, 25 gm carbohydrates, 18 gm fat, 10 gm saturated fat, 47 mg cholesterol, 224 mg sodium.

Adapted from "Theodora FitzGibbon's Irish Kitchen Map" (Johnson & Bacon, 1978)

Why aren't lentils kosher for both groups?

Lentils falls into a category of foods not eaten for Ashkenazi Jews (of Eastern European descent).

Better check with the host. If you don't keep a kosher kitchen, it's close to impossible to make a kosher dish. Max's had great takeout.

I've always drunk my beer (and wine) out of pint glasses, but I noticed some Europeans used stemmed chalices. What's the difference? For my 2 cents ,Lagunitas Maximus IPA should have beaten Flying Fish’s Exit 4 last year.

Pint glasses are favored by bars for their durability and stackability. Chalice glasses are favored by many brewers, especially Belgians, as being more conducive to enhancing the aroma and flavor of a beer. And they look classier.

Maximus IPA has its fans! The brewery is putting in a new, larger brewhouse that will allow them to make even more of it, and go national eventually.

How do you recommend cleaning? Just wipe with a paper towel and let the flavors accumulate? Or if you've crushed something like garlic, that goes bad, do you use soap and water? I'm thinking specifically of a Mexican molcajete made of volcanic rock so very rough-surfaced. Maybe granite would be easier to care for?

I think one of the reasons I like the granite and marble mortars so much is that they are so low-maintenance as far as cleaning goes (so yes, might be easier to care for than your molcajete)... mild soap and water don't seem to damage them, which I appreciate, because if you're going to use yours for everything, accumulating flavors is not a plus. Ground caraway, for instance, showing up in pesto, doesn't sound appealing to me. Since your molcajete is more porous, I wouldn't use soap... really hot water and a brush should do the trick, though.

the response seemed to claim that conventional meats were less safe than organic or natural or pasture raised. that is simply bias masquerading as facts. Here is the most recent scientific article showing that conventional is just as safe if not safer than organic.  Here is how I washed knives in a meat lab at a university where the knives were used for gutting as well. Soak is hot water for 5 minutes or so. Scrub with a dish soap. spray with a dilute bleach solution. rinse well. That will get your knives cleaner than a dishwasher where they can be jumbled in a the silver ware basket.

We appreciate you sticking around.

Lots more lamb, which is raised there. Maybe pick into the prize book and enlighten us!

Just wanted to share that I have a beautiful solid brass (oh, so heavy) mortar & pestle that has been handed down to my from my great-grandmother (one of the few things she was able to bring with her when she and her family came to the US from Russia in the early 1900s). I use it to crush nuts when making the strudle recipe that was also handed down to me, but is it safe to use for other items? Thanks for your input.

That sounds beautiful, and yes! You can use it for other things... herbs, spices, etc.

I have been invited to a St Patrick's Day potluck brunch. The host always makes a savory breakfast casserole. I would like to bring something that is St. Paddy's day themed, can ideally be made the night before and will be good served at room temperature. Not really interested in irish soda bread (although I am open to it if I can find a unique-ish recipe). I have a couple ideas for dessert (although I know stout cupcakes are already taken) but think I'd prefer a main/side dish instead. I am at a bit of a loss - any suggestions?

We have a make-ahead kale salad from Darina Allen going up on the blog tomorrow!

I am looking to eat more meatless dinners, but do not like spicy food or beans (other than green and soy beans), which seem to be a mainstay of most vegetarian cooking. Plus I'm not much of a cook, so easy recipes desired. Any cookbooks and/or recipes to recommend?

I'm thinking Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian might be a good bet... and my boyfriend, who's vegan, swears by Vegan Planet... there are some really stand-out recipes in that one. I can vouch for all of Deborah Madison's books, too.

AMAZING. My family loved it. The topping was a nice touch. I want to share a new skill I learned for cubing the squash. I pierced the skin and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes, per instructions on the label. It was very easy to peel after that, and to cube. I sauteed the cubes on the stove rather than heat up the oven. Worked like a charm. Thanks again for the recipe!

So glad you liked it!!! There's more than one way to skin a butternut squash, as you've discovered. Whatever works for you!! That recipe was adapted from a recipe for butternut squash lasagna, which is also amazing -- but much more work than the mac!

I don't know re Sephardic or Ashkenazi Seder but guess I won't make lentils! So, what IS kosher besides kugel and such that others are preparing?

See my answer to the Passover cook from earlier in the chat!

All this talk about Irish food makes me want brown bread. It also reminds me of the "Maryland Chicken" I had at a fish and chips place in Donegal. I don't eat fish, but the spouse does. He wanted fish and chips, so I got "Maryland Chicken." I figured it would just be fried chicken. It was a battered and fried breast, served with mozzarella cheese, pineapple, and a maraschino cherry!

I'm guesing that most people who ask others to bring something for passover don't keep a kosher house, simply keep passover (not eating chometz), therefore cooking at home shouldn't be a problem as long as there's no wheat products and if the dinner is meat only the dish has no dairy in it.

Just made up a fantastic dessert last night and wanted to share. I had made apple sauce from having too many bags of apples. I took a small bowl of warm apple sauce and added a scoop of pineapple/coconut ice cream (vanilla would work too). Tasted like apple pie. So good!

Thanks for sharing!

Is there a way to give colcannon a flavor boost if I omit the bacon, to keep it vegetarian?

Try smoked salt, Kitchen Bouquet or even a touch of smoked Spanish paprika.

They introduce you as Spike "Fish Pepper" Gjerde. I like both nicknames. I understand the "Fish Pepper" part, but how'd you get the nickname Spike and what's your real name? I don't mean anything personal by the question; I'm just curious. Thanks!

Chef had to run, but he says it was bestowed on him in high school -- more of a "punk music" thing. Good question, as we forgot to ask!

So, there are traditional black & tan pousse cafes, and when I was in Maine they did a version using blueberry ale that they called a black & blue. I want to try it with a rauchbier (Schlenkerla most likely), but what would I call it? Soot and Smoke?

Blue Smoke, maybe?

Blackened berry?

I was just in a fine foods store and picked up a pound of lentils labeled "French lentils." They are smaller and darker in color (blue-green) than the ones I usually see at the grocery. Any good ideas for what to do with them?

Yes! The white bean salad with crushed fennel vinaigrette is fantastic with French green lentils (they're also called lentils de puy)... and even better to make ahead because the flavors really develop nicely with a little extra time. These hold their shape better than other varieties, so they're great in salads, but I love them in pasta, too, especially mixed with leafy greens like kale.

Took a while to get going, but I think we reached critical mass! Thanks to chef Spike, Emily Horton, David Hagedorn and to all of you for spending time at the keyboard or iPad or teeny tiny screen.


The fish cookbook goes to the chatter who asked about pink salmon, and the Irish cookbook goes to the chatter who asked about the differences between Irish and English food (with pub references). Send your mailing info to Becky Krystal at and she'll get them right out to you.

Next week, we've got Round 2 of Beer Madness, Passover recipes and something that will make coffee lovers pretty darn happy. 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 and Sourced columnist David Hagedorn. Guests: Chef-owner Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen, Washington food writer Emily Horton.
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