The Washington Post

Free Range on Food: Beer Madness, learning to like coffee and more

Mar 21, 2012

Free Range on Food: Beer Madness, learning to like coffee and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings! We're feeling full of beans -- coffee beans, of course. Guest-chatting with us is Rachel Tepper, who wrote today about her attempts to warm up to java, and chef Dennis Marron of Poste Moderne Brasserie, who served as her mentor and guide -- and provided some dynamite coffee-related recipes. Also on hand: Sourced columnist David Hagedorn, ready to talk about anything heritage-hog-related -- and anything else, of course -- plus Spirits columnist Jason Wilson, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and the usual gang of Food staffers: Bonnie Benwick, Tim Carman and Becky Krystal.

We have two books to award to two lucky chatters: "The Whole Hog," by Carol Wilson and Christopher Trotter, and "Livwise: Easy Recipes for a Happy, Healthy Life," by Olivia Newton-John.

So without further ado, let's get this party started!

The author of the coffee piece should just say no to peer pressure. I have never had a drop of coffee in my life. And I don't drink alcohol either. I suppose most people would think that's weird. But frankly I cound't care less. If you don't like coffee you shouldn't feel like you are required to drink it.

It wasn't exactly peer pressure that drove me to try coffee, it was more that I wondered what I was missing out on. And I'm glad that I know now, at least a bit more than I did before.

Loved the recipes that include coffee today. The cocktail sounds great too. For the steak, which calls for espresso, would it be a great sin to use the instant kind? I don't have an espresso maker, so that would be my only at-home option. Second, do you recommend the milder roasted coffees for these recipes or would any coffee do? I generally buy Peet's Major Dickason, which is pretty dark, although sometimes I splurge for more exotic choices.

For the espresso, I would go to your local coffee shop and buy a shot or two as needed (if possible). I would avoid instant. You might be better off just using a really strong brewed coffee if you can't get it from a local shop. As for the roast, generally medium roast works best for the recipes.

I have 10 adults coming over for dinner on Saturday. We usually do some sort of roasted or grilled meat with this group, but I want to do something different. I'm thinking of an Indian inspired buffet - yellow daal, chicken tikka masala, your zucchini and red lentils (a big favorite of mine), some relishes, and maybe a goat biryani. Do you have any great biryani recipes, tips for cooking goat or other dish suggestions? I'd love suggestions for a mango lassi recipe as well. The last time I made it didn't turn out so well.

That sounds awesome. Where's our invitation?

It's not goat, but here's our recipe for Vegetable Biryani. And here's a very simple recipe for Mango Lassi. It's definitely worth it to go to an Indian market to get the Ratna mango pulp -- so delicious. I could drink the stuff straight up.

I cooked a recipe Sunday that called for 8 shallots. I did it, but I wasn't clear on exactly what "a" shallot is. When I peel a shallot, there are frequently 2 or 3 parts to it; are these what I should count or the original whole? Also,how large is your typical shallot? I see them with diameters anywhere from an inch to a good 2 inches, and sometimes larger or smaller. Since cookbooks are usually silent on the size, I'd like some idea on what you consider average, so I can adjust up or down as needed. Thanks!

We Free Rangers are big on the shallot (properly pronounced shal-LOT) -- especially when flash-fried and crunchy, kinda like small sweet versions of the onions atop green bean casseroles at Thanksgiving.  It's in the onion family but more pungent than your typical yellow onion.  (Eight of them in a single recipe would pack a lot of flavor.)  Some varieties  grow like a garlic head, which is why there are multiple "lobes," as Editor Joe likes to refer to them. The size of an average shallot's hard to pin down; the ones you find in Asian markets (majority are grown in SE Asia, according to FOF Aliza Green) are small -- say no broader than 1  1/2 inches -- while Jersey shallots (from the Isle of Jersey) are longish and can be up to 3 inches or so. For recipes, figure on using those single "lobes."  And when you're buying them, choose the ones with no green sprouts.

If you ever want to try them raw, mince them for an raw oyster mignonette. Or try this very sophisticated way to go, from Andreas Viestad: Salmon Roe With Raw Quail Egg.

Jim Shahin, your mom's methods sound intense! Do you follow her example in buying and preparing your lamb? (her shopping is intimidating)

     Intense? You don't know the half of it. 

     I wish, though, that I could say I followed her example. I'd end up with more good meat at less cost. 

     I will say, though, that, while I haven't "grilled," so to speak, the butcher quite as often over the lamb, I have done so on pork ribs. I always, always, always smell them before I buy, even at places like Whole Foods. I learned, not just from mom, but from hard experience (I too often have had to take ribs back to the store) that the scrutiny is worth it. 

Greetings - can you point me to a link for your past "Dinner in Minutes" recipes? Thanks!

All you have to do is search for "dinner in minutes" (no quotation marks) in our Recipe Finder. Here's what you get.

Hello all and thanks in advance for the help. I'd really like to bake something for my mom for her birthday, which is coming up in a few weeks. She loves chocolate, but doesn't eat fruit. I'd appreciate a recipe that doesn't require a stand mixer (I have a hand mixer and a food processor if that helps) and something I can transport.

Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie, from David.

You're welcome.

Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie

The Smoke Signals blogpost on Obama and barbecue triggers the question: Are there barbecue issues that both liberals and conservatives can agree upon? A core set of principles?

     Even barbecue people don't share a core set of principles. There are arguments about regional differences, about meats, about sauces, about cooking methods. You name it, barbecue folk argue about it. 

     My guess is that Republicans and Democrats bond more over barbecue - they find a method or region they like, they don't care the affiliation - than they do over policy. 

      But a core set of principles? Yeah. Cook it good.

I have several rums from a recent vacation. I thought it might be fun to infuse some with coffee. I don't have beans but I do have a nice new bag of ground coffee. Can I use ground coffee?

Hi there. I wouldn't use ground coffee. It might be gritty and difficult to strain. It's also going to alter the color and make it a bit cloudy. If you can get whole beans, that would be best.

What savory treat can I take to our office dessert party? I'm sick of all the cookies. Needs to be easy to make the night before.

Maybe some kind of nut mix? Try Cumin-Cayenne Cashews, Pine Nuts and Pistachios or Smoky Almonds.

Smoky Almonds

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Or the Lady of Shallot?

I'm hosting a birthday party for my 1-year-old this weekend and I was thinking that macaroni and cheese cupcakes/muffins would be a great snack for the kids and adults. Do you think I could use the Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe from a few weeks ago and just bake it in a mini muffin pan? If so, how long should I bake them, and could I assemble them ahead? If not, can you point me to a recipe that would work?

Mac and cheese cupcakes are a great idea, but you'll need to cut down the amount of milk in the recipe, possibly even by half, or your cupcakes might be too runny to hold together. Having a nice crumbly topping for "frosting" would be great.

Last weekend, I fired up my charcoal grill for this first time this year. I have a bad habit of not using enough charcoal, and possibly not using enough lighter fluid. It took 45 minutes for the charcoal to turn completely white and ready to cook. Does that sound normal? Do I need more than one layer of charcoal across the grate? I'm only cooking two batches of burgers & chicken, so I don't need the charcoal to stay hot for hours.

Hi there - I do a lot of grilling outside at home so wanted to chime in. You should try to not ever use lighter fluid. You should use a hard wood charcoal and buy yourself a charcoal chimney and use some cardboard and newspaper to get it going. Hope this helps.

     Smoke Signals will chime in, too, to say, only, Agreed.

Next week can you do one called Coffee Madness and learning to like beer?

Not such a bad idea. Beer is another one of those grow-into-it things; I myself didn't take to it until I was well into my 20s. There's still a lot I don't like -- and don't know -- about beer.

Tried this with Tom last week, but I don't think he got to it. Husband and I are driving to Raleigh NC today and I'm wondering if anyone has any good recommendations for good eats and drinks. We're headed to The Pit for bbq on Friday, but we have the rest of the weekend open. No budget, just want neat cocktails and good food. Thanks for your help!

    I can't speak to other types of restuarants, but, if you are up for trying more than one barbecue meal, Raleigh, while not a great barbecue, is a pretty good barbecue town. There are several places - Clyde Cooper's, Ole' Time, among others - that you might try as a comparison. If you do, let me/us know what you thought. 

Wow another article by an overpaid food writer who can afford the difference in price between supermarket pork, chicken and beef and the 'good stuff". The WP isnt the only one who does this soe does the NYT and F&W. Problem is your average reader who is part of a family of four cant. When the difference in price is a minimum of four times the price of the supermarket stuff on sale they can't afford it. So you have these urban dwelling foodie writers espousing how its healthier and better for the environment etc but the average family can't afford it. And please the next foodie or food writer who claims organic or the better stuff is more humanely raised is going to get a trip with me out to Fauquier County to work stock(supermarket quality) and learn any good stockman practices good management who else he/she loses money because stress means less weight. Nothing worse then ignorant foodie or food writer who believes the PETA/HSUS propaganda. Now I dont work the stockyards but the rancher cant afford the loss if he/she treats his stock inhumanely. I am sure a hotshot applied to a strategic place may change a food writers' mind. Come out with me bring your foo foo mall shopping dog and i show you how stock is treated and worked by a real working dog. BTW Wegman's sells Heritage Pork.

I'm very sorry  that you seem to think that I, the author of the piece to which you refer, am overpaid. I can assure you that this is no more accurate than your account of what I said in the piece.

OK, this might be a weird one. I made beef stew in the slow cooker over the weekend, and on an impulse (add veggies / empty freezer), I threw in several handfuls of frozen sliced bell peppers. When the stew was done, the peppers had shrunk down almost to nothingness. I'm wondering (a) why this happened, and (b) whether the shrinkage meant all the veggie goodness I was trying to add to the stew was lost?

Nothing's amiss! Bell peppers have a high water content. When they're frozen, the moisture within turns to ice crystals that break down the veg's cell walls -- another reason they'd reduce down so much during the long march of a slow cooker session. For optimal veggie goodness, you'd be wanting to eat those bell pepper raw.

For last week's chatter who had the leftovers: I find it hard to keep extra mascarpone cheese around, at least when I have dates on which to spread dabs of it. Optionally one might add an almond or drizzle with honey or some such decadence--I never needed to.

Mmm. Love mascarpone in dates. Good thought.

Given that Lebanese and Mexican work great together (see, e.g., tacos al pastor, Salma Hayek), Lebanese and Texan is a natural combination.

    Yeah, I think the climates are similar and, although the ingredients are different, the foods can be fairly effortlessly mated with one another.

     I've made lamb enchiladas in a feta sauce and all sorts of stuff. Lots of fun to play around with.

I've been only able to tune in sporadically, so I might have missed an announcement, but I haven't seen him lately on the chats.

You did miss a couple of announcements! Joe is on leave for a year, working on a project. He'll be back!

Hi. I splurged on a bottle of Nebbiolo, and now I'm trying to figure out what to eat with it. My boyfriend suggested that lamb might be nice. What do you think? Any specific recipe suggestions? I only have an electric stove (no grill), so the recipe from today's Food section isn't possible. Thanks!


I've sent your question to our wine guru, Dave McIntyre, but I thought I'd offer my four cents'  worth (hey inflation prices!) here, since I love Nebbiolo, the grape  that comprises one of my favorite wines, Barolo.

Barolo is a big wine, best to drink after 10 years of age. As such it tends to pair best with meat dishes, like lamb. Barolo is from the Piedmonte area of Italy, which also loves big flavors, like the anchovy-based bagna cauda sauce used for dipping. I'd suggest doing a little research on Piedmonte cuisine and seeing if any those those recipes strike you.

You could also try the always delicious osso bucco (pictured above), which should pair well with the wine.


Here's Dave McIntyre's thoughts: "Lamb indeed would be an excellent choice - any hearty meat dish such as a roast or stew really should work well. You don't mention where the Nebbiolo is from - but in any case I would suggest opening the bottle a few hours before dinner, and even decanting it if it's young, to allow the flavors to develop."

hi food peeps, i'm attending a 20s themed murder mystery dinner party this weekend, and i'm slated to bring the dessert. any creative ideas that would go along with the theme?

I'm hoping you can help me diagnose what went wrong with some cookies I attempted to make this weekend. The flavor was great, but they didn't really hold together. I ended up with a solid sheet of really thin "cookie" that had all run together and refused to be pried off the cookie sheet in one piece. Here is the recipe. I did make a couple substitutions (butter instead of shortening and pineapple juice instead of orange). I also didn't quite follow the directions, but did my usual cookie routine of creaming the butter and sugar first and adding the dry ingredients at the end all together. I'd love to make a cookie with these tastes, can this recipe be saved? Or is there another one I should try instead?

Not trying to be snarky, but why don't you try making the recipe as it was written, following the directions, before you write it off? You might find that it works perfectly. For example, the recipe calls for the fat to be cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender, not creaming the fat and sugar. That would make a big difference. The thinness of the cookies most probably was caused -- at least to some degree -- by your substitution of butter for shortening. Lower melting point, flatter cookies.

This phenomenon of not following a recipe and then wondering why things went wrong is a sore point with me, as you might know if you read my (by now, very old) blogpost called "Cooks Who Make Me Crazy." You, my friend, are a good example!! That's not to say a recipe can't be changed; I do it all the time. But if it fails, I don't wonder why. 

My local grocery store has kosher turkeys on sale for Passover. I know the kosher part relates to the butchering and preparing, but does anyone know whether it could also relate to the way the animal was raised?

I believe they're actually raised under rabbinical supervision as well. Google "eco-kashrut" and you'll get a glimpse into that world.

Lemons and limes each have a distinctive flavor - wonder about mixing them together for a marinade- probably taste like 7-Up???? Is it worth a try or would it be a waste of money????

   Me, I prefer them separate. I like their distinctive flavors. But that may just be me. 

As someone who has tried cups and cups of coffee and still hates it, I really enjoyed reading about the journey of trying to find one that isn't too bad. Not sure I'm convinced to go out and try it myself (I can't stand coffee-flavored desserts!) but it was still interesting to read about how mild-roasted beans might not be so bad. However, this reminded me of a question I've been meaning to ask: I know that even if I do find a kind of coffee I like, I will never become a regular drinker for the simple fact that hot liquids make my stomach hurt. I can have about half a cup of hot cocoa before it starts aching and then next thing you know, i can't stop belching! This is basically true for any hot liquid, and means things like hot brothy soups are a no-no for me. Have you guys ever heard of this before? Is there a way to get around it (other than intaking hot liquids by dunking chunks of bread in them and then eating the bread)? It kind of sucks.

Never heard of it, myself. Chatters?

I really enjoy the annual beer madness contest. I've followed it from the first year and the refinements have been positive. This year the claim was made that all 32 beers are readily available locally. I personally haven't found that to be true, even at large beer retailer - Total Wine. Is there a retailer in the DC metro area that carries all 32 brews? If so, where? By the way, that Exit 4 is a righteous brew!

Neighborhood Restaurant Group beer director Greg Engert made sure that every one of the 32 was on a local distributor's list.  In fact, there was a scare just after we photographed them all  but before we judged that one of them wouldnt be available. Not sure if there's one retailer who carries them all -- if they were SMART retailers, they would -- but I do know that you can taste the round of 8 today quite conveniently at ChurchKey in Logan Circle, starting at 4 pm.

Yes, Exit 4's hanging in there! Last year's winner, right?

I see lamb shanks in the stores - have you ever either grilled or smoked them? Shahin seems to have a good handle on lamb, but haven't seen anything on shanks - too tough????

   We think more of braising a shank, but a nice, low smoke can yield a wonderfully tender result. Season a mediium shank with herbs or a spice rub, and smoke over indirect heat with the the grill lid closed for about three hours, or until soft. 

I love making roasted butternut squash soup, but sometimes I find it almost TOO sweet. I usually add white wine as an acid, also season with sage/thyme along with s&p. Any other ideas for making it more savory? Thanks!

Maybe something like garlic or onion? Have a look at some of the butternut squash soup recipes from our database.

I am making this for my husband for our anniversary in a few weeks, and I had a question about scaling it down and how I could do it. We don't need that much for two of us, and I like the idea of making two mini-pies. I can't find a mini Oreo crust (or knock off), so I'm left with a few options. Use a mini graham cracker crust, make a few mini Oreo crusts, or use some of the ganache as a layer of frosting to then add crushed Oreo cookies on top of the flipped brownie layer. Suggestions as to what direction I should go?

I think if you break up the store-bought Oreo crust, you could probably mash it into smaller pie pans. If it is too dry, try adding a bit of melted butter. They freeze beautifully. But I do like your idea of flipping the brownie layer ond topping with ganache and chopped Oreos. Make sure to line the pie pan so the pie flips out easily.

Are there any places where one can really get the lamb they want and have it prepared the way you want it? The "big stores" butchers don't seem to want to take the time and I don't live near Detroit!!! Thanks

You could try Let's Meat on the Avenue in Del Ray, Alexandria. If he doesn't carry what you want, he will usually order it for you. If you're looking for really good lamb, Border Springs Lamb is the best. You could try to order direct from them. If you'd like to see Craig from Border Springs in action, he'll be at our Earth Day Oysterstock event cooking on April 22nd.

Also, and I don't say this because of the whole theme-of-the-story thing, but one of the best in the area is a place with the unfortunate name of Lebanese Butcher. It's in Falls Church, and it carries fabulous meat and will cut to order.

To add to Jim's response, those of you who remember that the Lebanese Butcher was closed by fire will be happy to know that it has reopened just around the corner from its previous location.

I don't know if you all have covered this question elsewhere, but the early (and getting earlier by the day) bloom of cherry blossoms this spring had me wondering if everything is going to be early this year --- by which I really mean produce. Will the seasons for our favorite fruits and veggies be any different than what we're used to?

I had this very conversation recently at the farmers market. One farmer told me he plants his crops earlier than ever these days, including tomatoes and corn, which in turn start hitting markets earlier.  Start looking for those juicy summer tomatoes in July, I guess.

I have a jar of wonderful maple syrup that I got from tapping the sugar maple in my yard. It won't keep long so I would like to use that maple syrup to make maple buns for Easter. Can you recommend a good recipe that I can use? Thanks!

Actually, it will keep for quite a long time in your freezer and won't freeze solid.

Sorry, we don't have any recipe for maple buns in our database. But stay tuned for maple recipes in upcoming weeks, as this year's harvest comes in!

Sigh, must we go through this every time a WaPo food writer offers something that doesn't replicate the average American home-cooked meal. I'm not in the position to afford $100 pigs but that doesn't mean I don't like reading about new experiences, approaches, food...etc. Keep up the good, and diverse, work!

My dates tend to object when I try to spread moscarpone on them to eat. Oh, meant dates, the FRUIT.

Yuk yuk yuk.

For the poster who experiences discomfort with hot beverages, yes hot liquids definitely exacerbate GI issues like GERD and heartburn. Also, keep in mind that heartburn doesn't always present itself like you think it might so even if you think you don't suffer from heartburn, you might! I'm not a doctor but suffer from the same affliction myself.

Thanks for the input. It's amazing, the things our readers know.

Bonnie's not-Olivia's ginger chickeh recipe today sounds really delicious. My question is about grating ginger--any recommendations for how to do that? I have a microplane, and I've tried using that for ginger, but find that it doesn't work well. It seems to juice the ginger more than grate it, leaving behind tough threads. Last time I needed grated ginger, I just chopped it really fine, but it probably still wasn't as fine as a grated product.

I don't know if this is treasonous or not, but I keep my ginger in the freezer. Makes  it way easy to peel and grate on the Microplane.

Becky's on to something there.  Or you could try the large holes of a box grater. I use a small ceramic (Japanese-style) ginger grater, which yields a decent consistency for this dish. But you know what? It gets cooked down/soft enough in the stuffing, so even if you just mince the stuff it should be fine.

Newsroom tasters all seemed to like this Chicken With Ginger and Orange Stuffing; let us know what you think!


What about making it a little spicy? Perhaps with some chipotle chili powder, which would also add some nice smoke. That wouldn't make it less sweet, but it would add some flavor balance in a different direction.

Good idea.

Have we witnessed the return of Clifton, VA to the Washington Post chats!?!

We have our suspicions about this, yes. Think of it this way: It's a privilege to live in a country where we can chat freely, right? Or consider it dinner theater-level entertainment, at lunchtime.

My meatloafs consistently fall apart. I guess it's not really a problem but I always want to turn them into meatloaf sandwiches and instead I end up with chunks of ground meat in a pile. What's the key to meatloaf loafiness?

It's hard to say without looking at the recipe you're using, but generally speaking, your loaf is probably too wet. Look for the liquid ingredients in your recipe (ketchup, for example) and see if you can cut it down 0r add it later in the baking process.

Phew! No offense to the rest of you (you're great!), but I sort of have a crush on Joe.

Thanks to funky distribution rules that are state by state (or district, which has pretty much no rules), it is probably hard for a single store to carry all the beers.

Prob true.

I bought a small, red, cabbage, and would love a recipe to make the cabbage salad I've eaten in Israel (atop of falafel).

Israeli-born Washington caterer Vered Guttman says:

Shred the cabbage and mix with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Put a weight on it for about an hour. Add 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons lemon salt (citric acid, available in kosher markets) and 1/4 cup corn or canola oil. 

Mix well and adjust seasoning to taste. 

This is off topic, but Tom isn't on today so I am throwing it to you all. What is the story on the chef being arrested for assault and DWI at his restaurant yesterday?Allegedly he had a problem with a contractor and pointed a shotgun at the guy.

I think you're referring to Jacques Haeringer's arrest on Monday for DWI and brandishing a firearm at a contractor who apparently didn't show up for work. MyFoxDC has the story.

Hard to know much based on this story. I'm sure more details will come out in the coming days.

I guess I just don't understand someone feeling like they need to like coffee. I've tried it several times over the years, don't care for it, and now enjoy that I'm not spending $$ like some folks buying coffee at specialty shops. I do think it smells great, though. Viva la difference!

I myself have never grown into coffee. I still start the day with a selection from my dozens of varieties of tea. One of my younger cousins (a senior in high school) however has started to attempt to develop a taste for coffee. The first time he took a cup at a family dinner he wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Upon sipping it, his face puckered up with an expression one had to see to believe. Asked how it tasted, he replied, "Like bean dust."

I'm fairly certain I made the same face after I tried the cortado.

I've been buying loin lamb chops from New Zealand from a "big box store" and they've been pretty good - I'm now going to try one of Shahin's marinade recipes before cooking them - sounds like a winner to me!!

    Glad they sound good enough to try. Hope they're also good enough to eat. 

I think part of affording higher quality, responsibly sourced meat is eating less of it. So there's that.

Good point!

I couldn't participate live last week, and noted the discussion about whether lentils could be part of a Passover Seder. Several people wrote that they are not kosher for Ashkenazi Jews, but are for Sephardic. To be clear, lentils and beans are always kosher, but they are NOT always 'kosher for Passover'. During Passover Ashkenazi Jews do not eat them (nor rice), but Sephardic Jews do. An important but subtle to ask your host for guidance before bringing a lentil dish.

Thanks for checking in and clarifying matters further.

have any of your tried Absolute Barbeque in Manassas. I have tried all all the Q palces in the area from Walddorf to Baltimore and from Winchester to OC and Absolute in the best from here to Raleigh and from here to Memphis

    Yikes! I don't know how I've missed it, but I will definitely put it on the list to check out. Thanks for the tip. 

Easy to grow & keep all winter if you have a cool dry place to put them. :-) They don't take up much garden space either-- bet you could even do them in a planter box... yum.

Proper storage, I think, would be the biggest issue in keeping shallots (relatively) fresh and sprout-free during the long winter. Here are some tips from the Ontario Ministry of Agricutlure on shallot storage:

Shallots store well at temperatures of 0–2°C and 60%–70% relative humidity. Because of their small size, shallots tend to pack closely; so they should not be placed into deep piles. Store shallots in slatted crates or trays that allow good air movement in and around the bulbs. This is important to remove excessive moisture and to minimize storage diseases.

Low relative humidity and low temperatures are important to keep shallots sound and dormant and free from sprouting and root growth. At humidities much above 70% and at warmer temperatures of 5–8°C more of the shallots will sprout, develop roots, and decay. With good air flow and humidity control, shallots should store for 8–10 months.

For the chatter who finds butternut squash soup too sweet: I do as well, and I always add some curry powder (the yellow, Indian kind, not Thai). It adds heat and decreases the sweetness to more of a savory flavor. I definitely recommend it!

Another good suggestion.

I'm the opposite of Rachel Tepper - I'm a coffee addict. I recently traveled to Africa for 2 weeks, and I brought a single-serving French press coffee mug with me, plus a 1/2 lb of ground coffee.

That's dedication! Some African countries are known for their coffee beans, though -- like Ethiopia. In my article, I tried an Ethiopian variety from Intelligentsia Coffee. Maybe next time you travel, pick up some grounds there!

I love to bake but I don't love my cakes/breads really sweet. Generally, I always like to reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup (no matter the recipe). How much can I reduce sugar before it starts to affect the product and HOW does it affect the product? Any insight you can give me would really be great.

Ace baker -- and 2012 James Beard cookbook award nominee -- Lisa Yockelson says:

The result from reducing the amount of sugar would vary from recipe to recipe, making it difficult to provide a general assessment. Sugar, either in form of a "dry" ingredient, such as granulated, or a "wet" ingredient, like honey acts to develop texture, creates color in the baked/crust surface, tenderizes a dough or batter (in creamed or cut-in mixtures), develops flavors, adds the necessary sweetness quotient and contributes to rise (in yeast-raised batters and doughs). Reducing the amount of sugar in quick-bread batters (such as for pancakes or waffles)  would not damage the end result as much as it would  in a creamed cake batter or sweet, yeast-raised pastry. Again, it depends on the structure and balance of each particular recipe  and, as such, it  would be far better to bake a treat that has an inherently low ratio of sugar in its original development.

This is for Jason if he's around today. I just bought my first bottle of sloe gin (Plymouth) and I suppose I should start with a sloe gin fizz. I've decided to skip the egg white, but after that, the recipes I've reviewed leave me with two choices. First is whether to use powdered sugar or simple syrup. The second is whether to use 2 shots of sloe gin or 1 shot of sloe and 1 shot of regular gin. Any thoughts on those choices? I'm inclined toward the simple syrup, but as for the other option, I'm not sure. Thanks!

I love sloe gin, and I did a column with an egg-free Sloe Gin Fizz a few years ago, linked here. But I also love sloe gin in lots of cocktails, such as the Cloudy Sky (with ginger ale and lime juice) and the Philly Sling (with apple jack). You can find a bunch of sloe gin recipes here.

The previous poster was obviously ticked off, but it certainly seems like even people who can't afford free range meat all the time might want to buy it once in a while, say for a special occasion, if it truly does taste better. Also, did you see that the NYT is having a contest to come up with the best ethical argument in favor of eating meat? I'm interested to see what people come up with, particularly since I am a vegetarian.

Yes, I saw that the The Ethicist is asking readers to submit a 600-word essay to explain why eating meat is ethical. The submissions will be judged by Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Andrew Light.

You can read about it here.

Personally, my first reaction on the contest was mixed. It's an important issue, and I love that the Times is asking people to justify their meat eating. What I don't love is that they're reducing an important issue to a contest.

I like to add ground cumin and garam masala.

I love that combination too!

It's one thing to insult WaPo writers but there's no need to disparage innocent doggies!


Hey foodies! My partner and I are avid collectors of vintage party guides - and we were just able to procure a pristine copy of the Southern Living 1974 Spring party edition! We are serving a brunch for some close friends this weekend and one of the ideas that caught our eye is a recipe called Red Donkey Punch - containing champagne, simple syrup, orange juice, cranberry juice cocktail, and mint. It sounds absolutely divine, and we are thinking it will work served individually in flutes instead of out of a bowl - do you agree? The other question is if we could substitute some prosecco we have left over from a previous brunch. I fear that might just make the whole thing too sweet - should we go splurge for some champagne (probably extra dry) before the weekend? Thanks!

Tht sounds pretty good. I don't know the recipe, but I'd probably mix up everything but the sparkling wine in a pitcher, and then add the bubbly later as you serve the drinks. Prosecco would be fine, though you're right. I would probably go with a cava in this case.

Loved the coffee piece. I too am not really a coffee drinker. It's got to taste like coffee ice cream (light and sweet) or have mocha/carmel/etc... added. however strangely, I really like Turkish coffee, go figure.

Interestingly enough, I preferred the milk-free, unsweet versions of coffee to the overly sugared ones. Maybe it was because I was trying to taste the coffee; I already know I like milk and sugar!

Try iced coffee, that was my gateway into coffee.

It's 80 degrees in Vermont. Sugaring is done for the year. Time for the recipes.

Sorry, you'll have to wait until our April 4 edition. Meanwhile, go to our Recipe Finder database to find recipes we've run in the past.

Rachel, I'm not a coffee lover, either. I used to drink heavily-sugared espresso drinks (think caramel macchiato) until I gained too much weight. Now, I just drink tea, and I'm totally fine with it. I don't pay $3-5 every day for my "fix," and in social situations, I just get an iced chai. I do, however, add coffee or espresso to my chocolate baked goods. It's a good trick that really brings out the flavor of the chocolate.

The sweet drinks with a dash of coffee never seem to do it for me. I tend to prefer the more balanced drinks. Haven't yet tried iced chai yet, though. I love the trick with the espresso!

The question about infusing coffee into spirits reminded me that I wanted to ask you about a different infusion: peanuts. Any thoughts on how to infuse whiskey with peanut flavor?

That sounds awesome. Not sure how, but I'm going to try it out today! Thanks for the idea. Feel free to give me a call or stop in at Poste if you want to hear about (or try) the results.

I want to do a candied orange peel recipe, but it calls for using a whole star anise. I'm tempted to leave it out because I'm not a fan of overwhelming licorice flavor. How anise-y do you think one simmered star anise is going to be?

Depends on how much the recipe yields, of course. If you want to experiment, I know that Penzeys sells star anise in broken pieces, so you could try less then the full amount and see how the flavor works for you. Personally, I think the orange and star anise flavors should be killer together.

Best butcher in DC area for lamb, beef and poultry is Wilson's in catlett. they only take cash. they beat Wagshal's , Organic, Lebanese etc. And most of their selection is local. No snotty attitude and you can go across the street for the best ice cream in area at Danny Boy's

Thanks for the tip. How do their prices compare?

I visited a Mennonite turkey farm in Central PA that operated as a turkey raiser for Empire Foods. They received the birds as chicks and raised them to a pre-adolescent stage, and then they were shipped to another Mennonite farm (or two?) to be raised the rest of the way. The barns are fairly roomy when the wee ones arrive, but they are wing to wing by the time it's moving out day. Presumably this is why it's done in stages. I found it fascinating that one strict religious group (with no dietary restrictions) was raising food for another strict religious group.

Wonder whether the supervising rabbis stopped by?

Love that idea! I worked at bars for many years and watched people drink all kinds of beer and I still cannot find one that truely suits me. I've tried everything from Guinness (tastes like an ashtray) to Bud Light and the only ones I can drink a whole pint are Yeungling Lager, Sam Adams Blackberry Whit (sp?) and some wheat beers (preferably with an orange).

I hear you.  What about hard ciders?

I bought a head of cauliflower. Then I realized, I've never cooked one. No idea what to do. I am feeling very intimidated. I don't have the most complete pantry in the world, but a reasonable assortment of spices inlcuding some of the salt free blends from Penzeys. Any ideas?

Roast it! Brush with a little olive oil, season with salt, roast at 450 degrees. It becomes beautifully caramelized and sweet. I like to roast the head whole, but you can also cut it into cross-section slices and roast that way.

Here are two recipes we've run that might help: Roasted Cauliflower With Brown Butter and Roasted Cauliflower With Shallots.

Me too. If I wanted to read about the cooking I grew up with, I'd read the back of the box, lol!

Ha. Although I've found a few keepers on the back of some boxes. :)

Like medical research breakthroughs, industrial design, space exploration, etc.... Incentives may be tawdry, but they also work.

I'm 71 and still don't drink coffee. However, I will drink things like a white chocolate or mint chocolate mocha at Starbucks (half a shot of coffee, please). I love mocha mousse, mocha milkshakes, and coffee ice cream. We had some friends who brewed chicory coffee and served it au lait, and I liked that too--with lots of sugar! But I'll never sit down and drink a cup of coffee. Loved the article, however!

Thanks! I'll say this, whether you're 25 or 71, sometimes believing you don't like something becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Tastes change every couple of years, and you mind be surprised if you sit down with a cup.

We're looking to round out our liquor cabinet a bit, so I'd like to add a bottle of rye and a good tequila. Mostly for cocktails, not so much for straight drinking. What do you recommend in the $30-50 range? BTW, I really enjoyed reading Boozehound. We must have been in Boston around the same time, because the scorpion bowls in Chinatown definitely sounded familiar!

Thanks. Haha, so you remember the good old "Combat Zone"? For tequila, you can do pretty well in that range. If you want something cocktails and sipping, go for a blanco like 7 Leguas ($35) or El Tesoro ($40+). For rye, you could even go lower. Rittenhouse Rye is a cocktail standard that you can usually find for $20 or less. A little more expensive is the excellent Bulleitt Rye or Russell's Reserve 6 yr old -- you can't go wrong with either of those two.

I don't celebrate Easter, but we're having people over Easter Sunday for a nice springy meal and I'm wondering what to serve that gives a nod to the holiday. Ham is out because we had that last time these people came over. I realize one traditional option is lamb, but I find it very weird to celebrate rebirth and renewal by eating something newly born.

Think eggs -- a lovely and appropriate ingredient to start with. A quiche, a strata, eggs en cocotte, a souffle, a kuku! (yes, I'm on a kuku kick.)

Wait, really? You can freeze maple syrup? Does "it won't freeze solid" mean it stays liquid (like vodka in a freezer), or does it get slushy? (Matters when considering how big of a container to freeze it in, I think ... )

It absolutely stays liquid in the freezer. I brought home a lot of it from a New England trip a few years ago and that's where I'm keeping it. It tastes just as good now as it did when I bought it.

However, I love coffee. At my house there has never been a coffee maker (until I bought one and its stored in the basement until I come in for a visit -- every three years or so). There's no local coffee shops, McD's is the only coffee beside sit down places to get it. I think I caught the coffee bug from my 4' 8" tall great grandma..she would sneak it to the great grandkids when the parents weren't around. Of course she loaded it with sugar and creamer and then would tell us drinking it would stunt our growth. I was taller than her by the age of 12 and I am 5' 8" tall, apparently coffee drinking stunting growth is a myth.. LOL. Loved the article

Thanks! I also grew up as a tea-drinker, out of desperation, really. I needed something to drink when everyone else was enjoying their java! Interestingly, I now like coffee like I used to like -- and continue to like -- tea: black, no cream, and no sugar.

I need to bring a main dish to a vegetarian Passover potluck. Anyone have tried-and-true suggestions?

A carrot pudding's always a hit at my house. Try this one.

I seem to have a pantry full of great finds in the condiment world I have stumbled across -- wineries, farmer's markets, food shows, fairs, etc.. Some of these items that are not massed produced don't seem to have (or need to have) expiration dates on them. Is there any 'rule of thumb" to keep in mind when deciding to use or keep jars of honey, vinegars, bbq sauce, salad dressing (one Merlot Salad Dressing from a winery for instance)? Can you go by look or smell?

I too have a pantry full of condiments. If unopened, they should keep for a while (years even). If opened, depending on what it is I would definitely adhere to the expiration dates. The honeys, and most salad dressings will last for a while. BBQ sauce may be questionable due to the high sugar content. Vinegars should keep almost indefinitely as long as the temperature isn't too high. Best to store those in a cool, dry area. You may start to see some sediment or yeast buildup in your vinegars. At that point I would toss them. Hope this helps.

Always get a chuckle from the Virginia commenter who disputes every reference to factory farming with the anecdotal references to working livestock in the Virginia countryside! Those low-stressed cows may end up in the supermarket, but plenty of other supermarket beef come from horrible environments.

Nothing you or I could say would change that person's mind about anything, so I don't much see the point in engaging.

I dry sauted mushrooms (no fat in pan - just mushrooms) in a stainless steel pan, but liquid still seems to develop and then steam them. Is this supposed to happen?

Depending on the type of mushrooms, it may. Your standard button mushroom will have a high water content which is why it creates a steaming effect. Try using a cast iron pan instead of stainless steel. Make sure the pan is heated to the smoking point. I would start them in a dry pan, and then add a little bit of oil or butter after they've started to brown.

I have a recipe that calls for mango powder. Do you have any idea where I can purchase that in or around the DC, MD area?

You can find this at Indian grocery stores under the name of amchur/amchoor powder. Patel Brothers has a few Maryland locations, including in Rockville and Hyattsville.

I am trying for my second go at pasta this weekend. The first time I made it it turned out fine, but the pasta wasn't as "pillowy" as I thought it would be. I've been looking at recipes this week and they're all so different. Do you have a tried and true one that can be used for angel hair and for ravioli?

Aliza Green has a brand new pasta book called "Making Artisan Pasta" that's perfect for a beginner. I know there were several great riffs on ravioli. Check it out.

I hate coffee in all its forms, including the smell. I can even taste the little amounts added to chocolate and dislike it there as well. And I don't find it necessary to investigate why I don't like it, I just don't drink it.

I'm the same way, or at least I was. I can always detect even the tiniest trace of coffee. But, I found that embracing the flavor, rather than trying to mask it in chocolate and sugar and whipped cream, helped me appreciate it. Thank being said, I don't think I'll be drinking coffee regularly anytime soon.

Curry is a natural addition to savor up a squash soup

i am hosting dinner club this month, and the theme is RETRO -- foods from the 60's and 70's. as the host, i need to prepare the main course for 12 guests. any ideas on what a suitable themed dish might be? i was thinking Beef Wellington, but not sure if that will be too hard to do for a large group. can i prepare it beforehand? thanks!

You could do individual mini-beef wellingtons, which are fun and you could prep in advance. (You could even cheat and buy some already prepared from Williams-Sonoma.) 

But you might take a different, and more enjoyable, approach and serve up fondue, which is a '60s and '70s classic. The cheese dip can be used with so many different foods.  Here's a recipe from our database for Cheese and Best Brown Ale Fondue.

I have been craving a good homemade pot pie but am single so a whole 9" pie is too much. Any suggestions for scaling it down to a smaller pie pan. Is there such a thing as a 7" pie pan. Maybe I'd buy a couple pans, cook up 2, and freeze 1. Would it freeze well?

My mom always made a batch of potpies and froze most of them. Worked fine for her.

I enjoyed Shahin's blog on the President's BBQ trip - hopefully, everyone enjoyed the food - maybe next time he'll try a different spot and let us know what he thinks. So many kinds of BBQ and so little our stomachs can hold.

Jim had to run, but if you haven't read Mr. Smoke Signal's All We Can Eat report on the president's visit to Texas Ribs and BBQ, please do so. It's the best story I've read on the visit.

I love Chinese take-out, but all the cookbooks and internet sites give me the real deal, which don't taste as good as the thick, sweet, Chinese restaurant stuff. How can I make chinese-take out at home, taste like the real take-out.

Don't know if these fit your criteria, but we've had several recipes that are like takeout, but better. Some to try:

Cashew Chicken

General Tsao's Chicken

Beef and Broccoli With Rice Noodles

Saucy Lo Mein

Germaine's Thai Basil Chicken

I didn't like coffee until I added sugar/cream to it; I thought all coffee was bitter my father took his place. I've tried lots of coffees from different parts of the world. Current favorite is French Roast, M.E. Swing. About meat: for health and safety reasons, I feed my cat a raw diet (meat/poultry/lamb/rabbit). Cheap is fine, on sale is better, 30% off [pull date] is best. Thankfully my cat can't tell the difference; I'm sure humans could.

I'm going to a Latin Fiesta themed party and I need a recipe that's easy enough for me. I hate to cook, but I want to make, rather than buy, something. Something with fewer, more accessible ingredients, please!

Sounds like a question for Weingarten... :)

When I make it, while the squash is roasting, I slice an onion and a potato and steam them until soft with a bunch of cayenne. Once everything is done, I put it all in the food processor (including the steaming liquid and extra veggie broth as needed) and process until smooth. The onion and potato cut through the sweetness a bit.

Drizzle a little chili oil before serving with a dollop of creme fraiche (sp?).

That's it for the week, folks. Today's book winners: The chatter who asked about shallots gets "Livwise" by Olivia Newton-John, and the chatter who flew to David Hagedorn's defense by saying s/he likes reading about new approaches to food gets "The Whole Hog." To claim your prize, send an e-mail to and Becky Krystal will send it your way. Next week: Passover recipes! Thanks, all!!

In This Chat
Jane Touzalin
Jane is interim recipe editor/deputy Food editor; joining us today are interim editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Food aide Becky Krystal and Sourced columnist David Hagedorn. Guests: Rachel Tepper, assistant editor for the Huffington Post DC; Dennis Marron, chef at Poste Moderne Brasserie.
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