Free Range on Food: Passover, Beer Madness and more

Mar 20, 2013

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 Free Range on this, the FIRST DAY OF SPRING! Woo-hoo!

We're raising a glass to the new season, and of course it's a glass of beer. Locally brewed beer, that is. Have you voted in our Beer Madness bracket yet? We had fun tasting our way through 32 brews, and are rolling out the results starting next week.

Bonnie and Vered Guttman also gave you tips for doing Passover right. And David Hagedorn sings the praises of okonomiyaki (say that five times fast!), a Japanese thing of beauty.

Vered joins us to help answer questions today, while David is on other business. But we can handle your queries on those subjects and anything else food-related that's on your mind.

As usual, we'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters. They will go unnamed until the end of the chat so we can keep some suspense.

Fire away your questions!

Safeway had a great price on ground lamb this weekend, so I picked up a few pounds. I wanted to make a lamb burger with blue cheese (like O'Connell's, if I can!) Other ideas??

I want to thank you for the recipes for oven fried chicken that you provided last week. However, Virginia Ali's Catch-a-Man Fried Chicken, says "Add the chicken pieces, turning to coat evenly. Cover loosely and let them sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours." Should I REALLY let meat sit out for 2 hours?

Yep, two hours is your safe zone!

I'm having people over during Passover late next week, but since it's not actually a seder we're going to be missing a lot of the traditional dishes. So, among other things, no charoset. But I'd love to make a green salad that plays off of charoset somehow. Apples and nuts -- I can probably figure those out. But ideas on how to work in wine/grape juice? In the salad dressing, maybe? Some other way? Thanks!

Sounds like a great idea. Why not combine the traditional charoset ingredietns with the bitter herbs of the maror? Make a salad of Romaine lettuce, endive and arugula. You can add any fresh herbs you like. Top those with slices of apples and slices of dates (from the Sephardi charoset), and mix it all with a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic and salt.


I picked up a frozen turkey after Thanksgiving and have been waiting for an opportunity to cook it. It turns out that I'll have a bit of a crowd on Easter, and thought maybe I could cook for Easter. Is that too weird? What sides would you serve?

Of course not! There's no rule that you have to serve the bird whole, so think about butterflying it. Might try to lemon-it-up, too, with either fresh or preserved. An apricot jam-white wine glaze with bits of fresh tarragon might be nice in the last 40 minutes of oven time. Sides: Gotta have asparagus, right? And maybe something eggy like a strata or vegetable-based pudding. A simple butter lettuce salad looks so springy to me as well. 

I am writing this on Firefox. I usually use Explorer. The Travel chat on Monday was blank (as in nothing came through and nothing is available as archive). Today's food chat shows an empty screen on Explorer. This is on two separate computers. I was able to receive Dear Prudence on Monday without difficulty and Ask Tom appears to be working for today, but the food chat is not.

Oh, yikes. I can't get Monday's Travel chat to show up in Explorer either, although Food is. I have forwarded to our tech team for them to investigate. Thanks for letting us know!

I noticed tiny brown bugs that look like flat ants in my flour if it's been in the cupboard for too long, regardless if the bag has been opened previously or not. How do they get in there and what can I do to stop them from infesting my flour? Fortunately the bugs haven't gotten into other pantry foods.

Ah, yes, pantry infestation. You need to keep the flour in a truly sealed container, like this one. Or you can store it in the freezer.

I browsed the fried chicken recipe mentioned in last week's chat, and was positively shocked at the calorie count. 1170 calories for 1/4 chicken?! When the calories are calculated, is it assumed that all the shortening and buttermilk are consumed? 1/4 chicken at KFC is only around 500 calories (and the pieces may be smaller) but still, there is no apparent reason for the huge difference.

You're right. That analysis is suspect. The recipe was from several years ago, so the original report we ran has been lost to previous employees and software. But I took another rough crack at it based on some notes left in the recipe. At worst case, the calorie count is around 875, but a more likely answer is that it's around 570 (depending which chicken values you use in the system). We'll think about rerunning and updating the numbers.

I'm looking for a recipe for gefilte fish that can be baked. Is there one out there that's easy and foolproof?

You know, I've never baked it myself.  But I like the texture of the baked gf I've had. The stuff sold in loaf form tends to be milder and sweeter-tasting. This recipe looks pretty good, although there's no carp (which could be a good thing since you're baking it). #aromaville

I'm planning to try making asparagus pesto tonight and serve it with pasta. Any suggestions for other vegetables that you think would be good to include?

Why don't you hold out some of the asparagus, broil it until a little charred, and cut it up and toss it with the pasta? Some asparagus-squared action. You can stay springy with other things, too -- peas would be a natural. Maybe some scallions?

I would just like to say that any local Beer Madness bracket that doesn't feature Port City Porter is suspect. It's easily one of the top local brews around. Otherwise...great idea!

We included Port City Optimal Wit. The trick was not just to pick great beers, but to match them up against another great beer of a similar style, so that the initial matchups would be fair and not so random...

I've been invited to Passover Seder at the house of Orthodox friends. As a non-practicing Jew, I have no idea what to take as a hostess gift. My friends do not drink. Do you have a suggestion for a hostess gift for Passover?

Flowers? But really, the Kosher Mart and other Kosher stores are filled with nice chocolates, nicely wrapped to give as a gift for Passover. 

Help! I can do matzah balls, but i need help with a traditional chicken soup in which to put them - I'm willing to make or to buy - family is expecting restaurant quality, but I always end up with a thin soup. Thank you!

Try David Hagedorn's recipe for Chicken Veloute With Matzoh Quenelles, which promises "a rich, beautiful clarified broth."

Chicken Veloute With Matzoh Quenelles

I eagerly awaited the Passover edition, then was delighted to find the okonomiyaki article. It's my new food obsession! I'd been interested in it for years from watching anime (Japanese cartoons) and finally tried it in Kyoto this summer. Delish! I saw the chef there cover it with a dome while cooking; I use a pot lid and find it helps cook it through a little before flipping. My favorite filling is shrimp. LOVE the sauce, which is available at Lotte (and probably any Asian market). I got a squeeze bottle of mayo there, too. Thanks for the article! I'd love to see more Japanese recipes.

Yep, I dabbled in okonomiyaki when I was in Kyoto, too -- good stuff, right? I haven't had a chance to try out David's recipe, but it's on the list!

Hi. I have a kitchen "knife drawer" and know this is not the way to keep knives sharp, but lack enough wall space for knife magnets. A counter-top block won't hold cleavers, the half-moon chopper, etc. What do you suggest? I'm toying with filling a box with wooden skewers to imitate this $125 appliance. Thanks very much.

Good thinking! You need to audition for the remake of "MacGyer," should it ever come to pass!


You could also buy a chef's knife bag, although that may be too fussy for you, and it doesn't provide the ease of access that a wood block or a magnet does.

i am going to sub tri-tip for brisket and i'd like to know if there is a difference in the cooking time.. i plan to make it in the slow cooker.

You go! I think it'd be more like an eight-hour tour in the slow cooker as opposed to 3 or 4 in the oven. 

Joe, I recently discovered za'atar and can't wait to try your Roasted Vegetable and Farro Salad. But I'm wondering why you didn't season the vegetables with some of the za'atar before roasting them.

Glad you are a za'atar fan! I have been for so many years. Global spice blends are really one of my favorite ways to add interest to meals -- dukkah, za'atar, chaat masala, Chinese five-spice, panch phoron. Anyway, about the salad, you certainly can sprinkle some za'atar on those vegetables; I do that sometimes, of course. In this treatment, I liked having the za'atar be just in that one spot, the vinaigrette, and sometimes it can burn a little bit when you're roasting for very long. But that's no big deal, and can usually be minimized by making sure the vegetables AND za'atar get coated in a little of that oil. So feel free to go to town! 


Dear Food Section Staff: I am hosting a passover seder that includes a few vegetarians. I am all set with everything but an entree for them: serving shortribs with rice (adopting the Sephardic rules) for the others... Have a tiny kitchen and not a lot of time, so something simple would be great! I wanted to make spaghetti squash but am having a hard time finding one...THANK YOU!

If you're adopting the Sephardi law, as you did with the rice, then preparing something for your vegetarian guests will be easy. You can use Kitniyot, legumes, so a simple French  lentil salad with scallions and cilantro can work. Or stuffed vegetables with rice (like cabbage or peppers. There are many recipes online)

I'm eager to try both Joe's and Stephanie's salads! But I run into the perennial dliemma: what to substitute for the nuts (allergies in the family). Maybe a crunchy vegetable (celery? jicama? sunchokes?), but that lacks the richness of nuts. Croutons? Sunflower seeds? I'm not enchanted with any of these options. Suggestions, anyone?

How about pumpkin seeds, aka pepitas? I think they'd go well in either my Roasted Vegetable and Farro Salad or Steph's Carrot, Raisin and Toasted Pecan Salad. My salad, though, does still have some crunch from leaving those carrots with a little texture rather than roasting them tender, so I think you could leave out the nuts altogether with no sub and still like it.

My mom had this happen a couple of years ago and it was a HUGE problem. The little bit of research I've done suggests that the bugs (weevils) are in the flour when you buy it (though, I take that with a grain of salt) (link: She cleaned the entire pantry and has EVERYTHING except canned goods in airtight bags or containers (even after the infestation). The bugs will eventually go away. Good luck! I know it's not fun.


Kind poster, please share your recipe for this!

Roasted cherry tomatoes!

I keep my knives in a drawer, but have the blades covered in a hard plastic sleeve. I think I bought mine at Strosniders, but I'm sure you can find them at Target or Bed Bath and Beyond.

Just a thank you for the Okonomiyaki article! Some Japanese friends taught me to make it years ago, but I never really felt like I got the hang of it. You've inspired me to try again!

I am to bring a side dish to Easter Brunch, and thinking roasted root veggies (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc). What the best way to make it ahead and then reheat when I get there without the veggies being overdone or soggy.

My inclinationwould be to do a potato gratin dish, nice and creamy, something like this. You could then par-bake it and finish it in the oven wherever you're head. You could also fully cook it and then just reheat at your brunch destination. You just need to make sure not to overheat it and burn the top.

Do you think I can cook farro in my rice cooker? Should I use the brown rice setting? Or is the regular rice setting better since the farro is pearled?

Hmm, that's an interesting question -- I'd be tempted to try the brown rice setting first and see how that goes...

What would you sub for panko in a meatloaf recipe? Matzo meal? I can't imagine that crushed farfel would be anything other than repulsive

I would try crushing my own matzoh to sub for the panko. This way you can at least get a similar texture to the larger grains, if not the exact taste.

Do you have a recipe for making really lemony lemon pasta, or could you get the recipe whole foods uses in its salad bar? I must be doing something wrong as mine never tastes lemony no matter when I add lemon zest or how much. Thank you!

Have you tried adding preserved lemon to the mix? Guaranteed to punch up the pucker power. You could also find fresh pasta made with lemon...I think local company La Pasta makes it, with black pepper. 

Re cheese on your okonomiyaki and whether a purist would turn up his nose: depends on where the purist is from. On a recent trip I discovered to my surprise that the Tokyo version, called monjayaki, includes cheese. My friends wouldn't let me leave it out, even - it wouldn't be authentic!

Since you keep your knives in a drawer, they make knife "blocks" that fit into drawers. I have one that holds 8 steak knives, two chef's, 3 paring, a bread knife, a couple of others, plus my dad's old butcher knife (that's actually concave because it's the only knife he used for more than 50 years). I think I got it from Chef's Catalog or Sur la Table.

That's a good idea. Of course, I don't have a drawer deep enough for a block that would hold my new cleaver!

is it worth it to try to make my own?

Depends how many people at your Seder like to eat it! Poached. Fish. Balls. The traditional way of making it takes some shopping/gathering; it might already be late to order the fish you need. One year I made it using salmon, so my family would give it a try.  Did not increase the number of takers. Chatters, how about you?

I never even tried tasting it...

I'm going to be in DC soon for business. Any recommendations for restaurants or bars close to the Convention Center? Food service late is a plus.

Corduroy is one option very close to the convention center. You're also pretty close to Chinatown, where you'll find more good options, including Jaleo, Hill Country, 701, the Source, Rasika and Graffiato.

Hi Joe and Vered! I'm racking my brain to try to figure out what to make during Passover next week. I'm vegetarian and my husband is Jewish. After eliminating meat along with all of the Passover-forbidden foods (all grains, soy, and legumes), I'm not sure what's left besides eggs and vegetables. Help!

Well, there's nothing wrong with a frittata, right? I'm no expert in Passover cooking, but you could certainly add more vegetables to Vered's Matzoh Lasagna, couldn't you? Kim O'Donnel in her new "Meat Lover's Meatless Celebrations" has a recipe for such that includes arugula.

I recently moved all my dry goods into glass containers and so far it has been a cleaner way to cook and bake. The only issue is that my brown sugar is totally hard, I have to chip away at it to get any out. Is there a way to keep my brown sugar soft? Last night I was making blondies and it was so frustrating that I ended up measuring out granulated sugar and adding a touch of molasses. They were tasty, but this is not really a long term solution. Any advice?!

Consensus seems to be toss in a few fresh apple slices or a bread slices or bread for a day or so, then remove them. Long-term, I'd say it'd be a good idea to first pack the sugar in a zip-top plastic bag and press out as much air as possible, then store in the glass jar. 

Is it possible to find a pumpkin this time of year? Want to bake one (can won't work). Thanks!

Only in a can, I'm afraid. Only in a can.

Could you give me some ideas for using quinoa.

At your service: 18 ideas for quinoa.

Thanks for another fine column by Dave McIntyre today. As I read of petit menseng and tannat, I was thinking of the Virginia wines my wife and I had bought during a wine tour a year ago. We'd been skeptical, but we found the wines enjoyable. Still, I confess that I need the imprimatur of experts to reassure me that I'm not fooling myself and being a "homer" for my state's own wines. I feel better now! Maybe after another two decades of drinking wine I'll be able to embrace the courage of my convictions!

Dave will be thrilled to hear that he helped!

Dave says:

Don't wait that long! Trust your palate. You don't need experts to tell you that the wine you like is worth buying. I view my job as trying to cull through the vast numbers of wines out there and point out some you might otherwise miss. 

great article on okonomiyaki, a delicious dish.and good to know that some restaurants in DC might someday be serving it. But I am not so sure that rice is a necessary side dish. When I ate at a okonomiyaki shop in Osaka, rice was not served and I don't recall seeing anyone, seated around the big griddle, eating it either. But maybe I have more to learn about Japanese food.

I didn't see people eating rice with it in Kyoto, either, but that was at a street-food stand, so it makes sense. But if Kaz Okochi says people usually eat rice with it, I believe him!

This one's for Ms. Guttman. My cousin is hosting seder thisyear, and wants to liven things up with a charoset competition. Pointers for a killer recipe?

That's fun! My favorites are always the Iraqi inspired ones, like this date molasses and walnut one

Or this one, of chopped dates, red wine and walnut . 

Check my blog at tomorrow, I'm going to have a recipe for a Syrian charoset of raisins only, that are cooked for hours. Very interesting. 

Just a shout out that, if I was a guest, I would adore this option. Especially if served with a spring-inspired stuffing (french bread, leeks, carrots, garlic, maybe some ramps should you be so lucky). We've all had traditional turkey dinners, but one with a shift in seasons could be really delicious. I'm almost jealous I already ordered my ham!

Hello, Free Rangers! Where can I get up-to-date information if I suspect a cookbook recipe has an error or typo? Do the publishers or maybe the authors' websites keep track of things like this? For reference, I was baking a (delicious) CakeLove coffee pound cake last week. The ingredient list called for only whole eggs. But, the procedure called for adding the whole eggs to the mixer first and then adding "yolks." Other recipes in the same section all use the same method, so I wondered if the steps in the procedure had been 'copied and pasted' from a recipe that did need additional yolks.

Sigh. Sad to hear this, always! The publisher and/or author are the keepers of any errata, so they're your source here.

Yes - stuff a squash, you can prep in advance and it'll be delish.

Does anyone have a recipe for a seafood casserole that does not include shellfish? I am preparing Easter dinner for my family who, for religious reasons, do not eat shellfish; however they love fish. I usually prepare rockfish or salmon, but I wanted to try something different for this holiday. I guess my question is if I find a recipe that I like, what fish can I substitute for the usual shrimp, crab, or oysters. Thanks

Does it have to be a casserole? I can think of lots of stews and even a fish chutney that you could serve over rice. Wait, here's a Jalapeno-Baked Fish With Tomatoes and Potatoes!



I seem to remember being told that you can guess how "good" a vegetable is for you by the color - green is awsome, dark orange is also good, red is pretty darn good as well. What about "white" vegetabes? Not just a potato. What about cauliflower? What about summer squashes which are yellow or green for the first 1/16th of an inch and then pretty white? Eggplant? Mushrooms? Onions? I don't have to give up my cauliflower for kale, do I?.

The color idea was making the rounds a decade or so ago, and at least part of the idea was that the colors of vegetables give good clues to the nutrients: red/purple = antioxidants, orange = carotene, etc. The point was to encourage people to eat a VARIETY of colors (even white) to get a variety of nutrients. Another scale you might look at is the ANDI scale, which is a relative rating of nutrient density. Kale is at the top, at 1000 points. But cauliflower is no slouch!

i plan to substitute tri-tip for brisket for our Passover dinner. I am going to cook it in the slow cooker using Suzanne Goin's recipe. How long do i cook it? is it the same time as brisket?

I've never prepared tri-tip in a slow cooker before, but the cut is well-marbled, much like brisket. My hunch is that it will be hard to overcook if you put it in a stock pot with broth (or water) and let that thing simmer on low. I've seen online recipes that say you can let it go for eight hours.


Rangers, any other ideas?

Definitely would also suggest checking out The Passenger.

Of course!

I recently had some people online critique me for calling a recipe "ranch dressing" when it included greek yogurt and jalapenos. To them, these two additions were too great of a change to the original spirit of ranch dressing, so I shouldn't call the recipe ranch dressing. For me, 1) the recipe still calls for a decent amount buttermilk and mayo; it just replaces some of them (probably about half of each) with the yogurt. So it still has the ingredients that make ranch dressing; I see the jalapeno as just giving a traditional ranch dressing an interesting kick and 2) Who cares? I mean, I can see getting upset if someone called a gin and tonic a Bloody Mary - there's absolutely no connection. And I do think that if you really start changing a recipe to the point it no longer resembles itself, then you're no longer making that recipe. But if you're just adding two ingredients to a recipe, why is this such a big deal? Is there a rule about how far you can mess with a traditional recipe before it is no longer that recipe?

I choose door #2: Who cares? But to get more specific, I think if a dish keeps the essence of the original, the name can still fit. But it's true that said "essence" is very open to debate -- and therefore critiques. To some people, for example, merely pounding something thin makes it a "carpaccio," but to others, that's blasphemy. In my next book, I call something a kale Nicoise salad because it reminds me of a Nicoise in spirit (it has hard-cooked egg and -- gasp! -- mango in it), but in the headnote I acknowledge that there's no tuna, no green beans, no potato ... so maybe the "Nicoise" is all in my head! In other words, there are no rules.

Possibly my favorite seed is acorn squash seed - roasted with a little salt and paprika. It's out of this world.

Yum. Thanks!

Hi Guys, I was wondering if you knew of a place in DC where you could sit and sample a variety of small cups of tea. I sat at a tea bar in Seattle and they poured cup after cup of tea with different tea leaves each time. It was great fun to taste everything so I knew what I wanted to buy.

I'm not sure you can do quite the same thing there, but definitely look into trying the varieties at Teaism.

I can attest the the lemony deliciousness of Ina Garten's Lemon Pasta with Roasted Shrimp. It is amazingly good (although probably not terribly healthy for the heart if eaten too often). 

Just found almost a pound of boneless short ribs in the freezer. Ack! what do I do with them? I've never cooked short ribs before.

Short ribs are very forgiving. You can cook them for a long time, and they'll just become more tender, and never dry (as long as they're covered with liquid throughout the process, of course).

My favorite recipes is to salt and pepper the short ribs, brown them in a little olive oil, then add to the same pan a chopped onion and any root vegetable you want (carrots, celeriac, parsnip), and equal amounts of red wine and chicken broth, enough to cover the meat. Bring to boil, lower the heat to lowest, cover the pot and cook for abut 2.5 hours. At this point you can just serve them, but if you're not lazy then take out the short ribs and keep in a warm oven, and cook the liquid in the pot until it thickens, then pour over the short ribs and serve.

Is that 18 quinoa recipes right? I clicked several times and got page cannot be displayed. I'm actually curious about something related. I made and loved your recent multi-grain risotto recipe. What would quinoa be like in a risotto?

Strange -- it works for me! Go to and type "quinoa" in the search field, and you'll get the same page (hopefully).

Glad you liked the Five-Grain Risotto recipe -- I think quinoa could work well in this, with the other grains. Maybe instead of the bulgur? But on its own, I wouldn't love it in a risotto.

Do a Google/Bing/Whatever search for "[name of cookbook] errata". You'll often find a list. And check the publisher site. THEN if you can't find it, submit to the publisher via their contact page.

Hi, I made a lamb stew a while back that called for a boneless lamb shoulder, but could only find bone-in lamb. I chopped off as much meat as could, but was left with a pile of bones with a fair amount of meat on them that i couldn't cut into sizable chunks. They're currently sitting in my freezer waiting to be used, any ideas what to do with them? Thanks!

The obvious answer is make stock, but that just raises the question of what you might use it for. This forum has some answers.

About your recipe (4-1-2001) -- Why soak the matzoh in only milk, instead of first adding the eggs, salt and sugar to the milk? I don't remember making the batter in steps as a child or using warm milk. About the matzoh itself, is it okay to soak and later fry whole sheets of matzoh, like you would for French toast, instead of breaking them into pieces? And have you ever tried matzoh meal instead? Thank you, toda.

The first step is just to soften the matzoh.  I was raised on the hot-water/drain it/then add the egg  method but I don't think the matzoh's first encounter with liquid has to be a warm one. Also have never tried keeping the matzoh sheets together, but I guess if you soaked it very briefly it would work just fine. Maybe layer them with something that helps create a stack (jam? whipped cream cheese, then soak/coat in the egg mixture?

Have I ever tried matzoh meal instead of what? 

Marcella Hazan's recipe for A Single Fish cooked Fish Soup Style is just the ticket. Makes my kosher-keeping family very very happy.

Thanks much!

Not sure what weather is like in your neck of the woods, but we've done turkey on the charcoal grill for Easter. Spatchcock the bird and use lemon, marjoram and olive oil. Of course, one year we had a hailstorm and had to move the bird inside to the oven broiler, but it still was great.

For the chatter bringing a gift to the Orthodox family--If your host family is serving meat, you should avoid bringing anything with milk or dairy in it. So if you want to bring chocolates, stick to the bittersweet kind and look for the U-P symbol, which means it is pareve (no dairy), and make sure it says Kosher for Passover.

I am getting somewhat addicted to oven roasted broccoli, but one of my condo neighbors commented somewhat archly on the there any suggestion regarding a way to mask that distinctive, but not unpleasant to me odor?

Really? I'd try to find a can of Get-Over-It Spray!

For crunch in salads, sometimes I use frico, which is a parmesan cracker you can make quickly by forming a circles of grated parmesan on a nonstick baking sheet (I use a Silpat) and baking in an oven for 5-6 minutes until the cheese melts and browns a bit. Really good in Caesar salad in particular.

So, so good. Thanks much.

Happy cherry blossom festival! If we rinse them, are the blossoms edible? Are they kosher?? (I don't see why they'd be tref...) And do you have any recipes to share?

Yes, cherry blossoms are edible. As for kosher, again, I'm no expert, but woudn't they be? Recipes? Hmm. Steep them in a simple syrup for a cocktail? Ken Oringer at Uni in Boston pickles them and uses them for garnish. Of course you could crystallize them for cake decorating, although they're pretty delicate.

I don't know if Ching Ching Cha would do this - but they take their tea very seriously.

You can buy flour bag sized bins from Container store. Otherwise you can pour your flour onto newspaper and leave it in the sun for the bugs to crawl out of and then sift the flour back into a container.

Who the heck decided kale should be popular right now? I hate kale. I have never seen as many recipes/dishes involving kale than in the last couple of months. I'm under the impression that in the design world, some group gets together and decides what the colors of the season will be. Not that I'm a conspiracy-theory-loving person, but is there something similar for food?

I hear you! I had a "Ceasar salad" made from kale the other day. It was fine, though with the rubbery texture of all kale. I like the flavor of kale; the texture sometimes turns me off, especially if my brain has been trained to think of a salad a certain way!


To address your question: I don't know of any culinary cabal, though I think that food trends are created like so many others: Because we're all a little suspectable to the coolest new thing.

Tim obviously hasn't been massaging his kale.

Just got a mess of these--what's something quick and yummy I could try?

-- although not for the well-known reason. I have struggled for years with one of the most basic of cooking tasks: frying onions. High temp, low temp -- lots of oil, only a little -- sliced thin, thick, or vertically -- stirring often or seldom -- barely transparent or fully caramelized -- they just don't cook evenly! I always seem to end up with some of the onions burned and some still opaque white. Variety doesn't matter, either ... and I get similar results with shallots ... Can you help?

Could it be your cookware? You may not be getting an even heat across the bottom of your pan. Can you experiment with another pan? A friend's perhaps?

Could also be your burner. And make sure your slices are pretty uniform in size. That's really where I struggle.

If my recipe calls for 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour, do I measure out 2 1/4 cups first and then sift it, or sift a bowl of flour and then measure 2 1/4 cups of the just-been-sifted flour?

The latter -- although it is an old recipe? Sometimes that piece of recipe direction just meant that you ought to get all the lumps out, which you could accomplish with a quick whisk. 

The dressing the commenter mentioned sounds good. However, many people prefer "ranch" because they know it is as a safe and familiar dressing. To add jalepenos without telling them it is in there is not particularly fair or nice to people who do not like spicy foods.

Fair point, but I don't think that's the situation the OP was in. (S/he was getting excoriated ONLINE for just the naming of the thing, not -- at least as far as I know -- from any unsuspecting dinner guests.)

I'm planning to make a pavlova for a Passover dessert. I decided to try a practice one, and I ended up with a pancake instead of a beautiful meringue. What did I do wrong?

Old eggs or fresh? (Fresh are better.)  Did you let it cool thoroughly in the oven? 

Also, you might have overbeaten the egg whites, causing them to then collapse.

If I add chocolate chips and nuts to sugar cookies, is it still a sugar cookie?

The chat is getting all existential today!

I hope no one from the California Central Coast reads this! But, seriously, I doubt tri-tip has enough flavor/fat to survive a slow cooker. It really needs to be no more than medium rare. IMO of course.

The tri-tip itself is well-marbled. See this. The problem may be at the butcher shop or grocery store, where they trim off most of the fat. The home  slow cooker would want some of that fat still in place, I suspect.

Trying to eat "cleaner" I picked up the March/April copy of Simply Gluten-Free magazine. When I told my mom about the spaghetti squash-leek-artichoke heart kugel featered (free of dairy, soy, gluten, sugar but does have eggs), she suggested it for maybe 2nd night seder or later in the week. The organic white sweet potatoes will make a great traditional kugel & leftovers for 1st night seder!

I think there's a cherry blossom food tour ... .

I would be surprised if there any actual blossoms used, but it'd be great if there were. Most of the dishes I see this time of year are "cherry-inspired" or "cherry-blossom-inspired." These trees don't bear fruit.

I use a pet food container - it's food grade plastic and it's on wheels!

Is there a way to replicate the moistness of the rotisserie chicken found at the grocery store? Even the skin is so thin and crispy.

This recipe will do the trick. But I have to ask, what grocery store are you finding rotisserie chicken with crisp skin? I've never seen it, not with that container that causes the chicken to steam enough to get the skin soggy, that is...

I have never tried it, but the discussion is causing flashbacks to a high school trip to Baltimore Harbor during passover, when a couple of my friends dumped the fish in the water. "Swim, be free!"

Giving my dad three kinds of gin, a bottle of vermouth, and a bottle of garlic stuffed olives for his birthday. I have one slot left in his gift bag to fill. A friend suggested something snackish, but I dunno... is there a nut that goes good with martinis?

All nuts go well with martinis. (This sounds like the beginning, or perhaps the punch line, of a really bad joke, doesn't it?) Spicy pecans, marcona almonds seasoned with smoked paprika, candied walnuts. What's not to love? Oh, another thought: a fancy popcorn!

Last week you commented about resting meat versus its temperature. How long should it rest? I typically leave flank steak to rest for 10 minutes but there still is a puddle of juices on the cutting board. Is there a way to keep more of the moisture in? Is there a "proper" way to rest?

Ten mins should do it, for flank steak. Loosely tent it with foil. If you made no cuts in it, the puddle should be minimal. 

re "leave it in the sun for the bugs to crawl out of" ... I'd think more bugs would crawl into it! Rangers, what say you?

Yeah, that does strike me as a little risky!

I don't know about that. Probably going to be a few dead ones in there. I think I'd just discard it. Flour's pretty inexpensive.

I need to make a dessert, and I'd like to get the flavor of apple pie but have something people can eat with their fingers. Oh, and I don't do pie dough. So I'm thinking of using wonton wrappers - put an apple slice with some spices in each and bake them. Do you think that would work? Have you ever tried it? Cook the apples ahead of time, or leave them raw and let them cook inside the wrapper? Egg wash on top? Any ideas/suggestions are welcome.

When you say "don't do pie dough," do you mean that you don't make it, or don't eat it? Lots of stuff you could do with puff pastry, including making that type of parcel. Egg wrappers or empanada dough made for baking do work well; egg wash for the wrappers not necessary. 

I eat a fair amount of brown (black, red, wild) rice, so I'm thinking of investing in a good rice cooker. What other grains can I cook in a rice cooker? Quinoa? Couscous? Buckwheat? I'd like to have the rice cooker multitask, if possible. Thanks.

Try also farro and frikkeh. And coarse bulgar is also a great option, especially when cooked with lentils (it's available in Middle Eastern markets)

Does anyone have a light, non-cream cheese frosting recipe for coconut cake please?

This coconut cake recipe has a classic Southern meringue frosting, lighter than cream cheese for sure. (But sweet!)

Is this a new cut? I never heard of it or saw it on a butcher's chart. Is it beef?

The steak comes from a lean, boomerang-shaped sirloin cut. It's more prevalent on the West Coast; used to see it here quite often but not as much lately. Here's a handy guide we ran a while back. Save and print; grilling season's nigh!

This is something I often mention to folks who are just learning to cook from recipes - pay attention to the order of instructions. "2 1/4 cups flour, sifted" is not the same as "2 1/4 cups sifted flour". The volume changes enough to affect many recipes depending on sifting before of after measuring. Though frankly, I'm not always convinced that the author realized the distinction either. In any case, this is one reason why I much rather weigh flour.

Don't make your own. I spent one day making the broth, another day making the balls. It still tasted like cat food.

There you go. 

Quinoa works, as does oatmeal. And depending on the cooker, polenta (but DON'T use milk!). Learned that the hard way.

We have a potluck at our church with a group of young families once a month and normally I cook something right before we walk out the door. The problem this weekend is that our house has just been put on the market and except for running into the house to grab something, we really have to "stay away" as much as possible. Can you suggest something that I can easily make ahead of time that isn't a pasta salad or something like that. Pretty easy to please group of people eating it.


It sounds to me like you need to leave no cooking smells behind, right? (Unless they are chocolate chip cookies and bread aromas.)


Perhaps this is time to trot out the reliable deviled eggs? Here's a simple recipe from one of my favorite restaurants, Obelisk. (You can skip the anchovies, if you want!)

Sorry, Tim, I think we'll just agree to disagree. Yes, tri-tip is well-marbled, and I do get mine with the fat still on it. I never thought I'd be one to insist there's only one way to cook something, but in the case of tri-tip I guess I am. Of course, I live in the land of tri-tip on every corner and every parking lot on the weekends.

Don't get me wrong. I only cook tri-tip on the grill, too. But this is the question at hand, dear Ranger.

What's the best way to defrost (not cook) frozen broccoli in the microwave?

I think the best way to defrost frozen broccoli is in the refrigerator, not the microwave. Just transfer it in the morning and it should be good to go when you get home. Or at least just give it an hour or so until you can separate the florets. Then you can pan-fry it or roast it. If you must use the microwave, the trick I think is to just do it a few seconds at a time, checking for when it's defrosted but not cooked to mush.

I wouldn't put a raw slice of apple in a wonton wrapper. They won't cook at the right time. I'd cook a pie filling and use that - but I still would recommend you stick with easy, delicious puff pastry. Wonton wrappers get hard and crunchy when baked.

While I have hosted Passover Seders for many, and attended private and communal Seders, my spouse and I have no plans for this year. Our home is not condusive to a crowd for dining, and Sixth & I is sold out. We don't want to go somewhere like Dino, where they just give the meal and a Haggadah, but an actual full seder. It seems like A LOT of work to go through the whole meal for just 2 people. Any Ideas?

You want to stay in? I'd suggest placing an order with a grocery or market that's offering Passover prepared foods. I've seen some good items on those menus. That would give you the option of making one or two things, if you like. 

Bringing the Easter veggie... needs to please 8 people, ranging in age from 3 to 80, including one gluten-free attendee... suggestions? The main dish will be pork loin with a cherry glaze...

Quickly because we're closing out -- have a look at our gluten-free, Easter side dishes!

What's the best/healthiest way to cook fish for fish tacos? How would I season it?


Try these fish tacos. Fairly "healthy."

Twenty people (eight are children under the age of 10) coming over for Passover, and I'm planning on a brisket, a chicken marsala, and the Post's zucchini quajado. What are some pro tips on figuring out how much chicken and brisket I should prepare?

The problem with the Seders usually is that we are all left with too much leftovers. After eating the gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, and the hard boiled egg in salt water, there's no much room left. So I would do about 6-8 lb. of the brisket, and a small cut of the chicken per person.

Well, you've used two spatulas to carefully turn us over, keeping us in one piece, then you've cooked us through on the other side, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great q's, and thanks to Vered for helping us answer them!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked for Pssover salad ideas will get "The New Jewish Table" by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray. The anime-loving, Kyoto-visiting chatter who said okonomiyaki is a new food obsession will get "Japanese Farm Food" by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. Send your mailing information to Becky at, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: Vered Guttman, owner of Cardamom and Mint Catering in Washington.
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