Free Range on Food: Passover, soda tax and more

Saute of Green Onions and Radish, an easy Passover side dish.
Mar 25, 2015

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

Greetings, all! Welcome to today's chat. We have a lot to get to today, so I'll keep the windup short. Our guests include Susan Barocas, who wrote today's local-foods-for-Passover story; plus TWO James Beard Award nominees: Carrie Allan, nominated for her Spirits writing, and Tamar Haspel, nominated for her Unearthed column. Not only will they of course welcome any and all congratulations (Congratulations!!!), they can of course answer questions about booze (such as Carrie's take on Death & Co., the bar and the book) and food policy (such as Tamar's piece on the pros/cons of a soda tax), respectively. (Although actually, I'm sure each also has pretty well-formed thoughts on the other topic, too!)

So ask away! To entice you, we'll have giveaway books: "The New Passover Menu" by Paula Shoyer, and "Paul Bocuse: Simply Delicious."

Before I forget, you PostPoints members, remember that you can get points -- DOUBLE points today, actually -- for joining today's chat. Here's the code you'll enter at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points (it expires at midnight):  FR2906. 

Let's do this!

since last Wednesday I've been making and eating it almost every day. To make it for a crowd, could I use 13 or 15 inch cast iron skillets? How many eggs? How will that affect the timing? If not, what is the largest size skillet you recommend? Thanks for your help

Glad you're liking this recipe! To scale it up, just use our handy-dandy scaling function in the Recipe Finder -- you didn't know about it, did you? You can double or triple the servings, and it'll adjust the amounts.

Do you have 13 and 15-inch cast-iron skillets? That's great! You could certainly use them, if they fit on your stovetop and/or in the oven. As for the timing, so much of the cooking happens on the stovetop, and my instructions for that part of the recipe tell you what to look for rather than how much time -- which is the best way to cook, anyhow. Just watch them closely once they go under the broiler!

RECIPE: Ricotta Frittata With Spring Vegetables

parsnips are virtually unobtainable now. only Sniders had a few for $3.99 a pound. 3 other markets had none yesterday. do you have a secret source? don't you think $3.99/lb is a "bit" high for a common root vegetable? let's be practical!

If you don't eat kitnyot like beans, you can leave them out of the cholent and the dish is still delicious. You could also add more root vegetables like turnips or even carrots, layering each ingredient. As for parsnips, you can find them at some farmers markets, more and more each week now, especially the spring-dug variety talked about in the story. 

RECIPE: Sumptuous Duck Cholent

RECIPE: Spring-Dug Parsnip and Celeriac Soup


Heads up, the headline for this story reads "Enough with the savory nuts in salads. Savory options are here." I hate to be *that* person, but I am an editor for a living and sometimes I just can't help myself. :) 

ayiee! fixing right. this. minute. 

just read the article and am very intrigued. Question - does the added coconut oil need to be melted or can you just drop a small chunk in the boiling water?


We put this to Roberto Ferdman, who wrote that rice piece and does great stuff for WonkBlog:

Either should work, though the coconut oil will (obviously) melt once added.

I recently started baking my own bread and am having a wonderful time. My family now turns its collective nose up at packaged bread. My only problem is I have one unopened bag of packaged bread and, to make things worse, I picked up white bread by mistake, rather than the wheat bread I normally buy. Do you have any suggestions for how to use it up? I make bread pudding with leftover bread but this seems too mushy for that. And it's too cold for summer pudding. Thanks for your help.

Toast slices, then cool. Make croutons or bread crumbs (plain or herbed). Or freeze and save for whenever you have to make a panade (that mashy starch/liquid mixture that keeps a meatball or meatloaf blend so moist. 

I love to roast vegetables, but sometimes the outsides get crisp and sometimes they don't, even when I think I am preparing them the same way. Cook's Illustrated suggests using some sugar for caramelization but I would rather not. I have tried putting the veggies into high heat for the browning and then lower for the cooking, but usually they end up getting overcooked (especially butternut squash and broccoli). All suggestions welcome.

Two thoughts: 1) Are you using a big enough pan that there's air around all the pieces? That helps them get crisp. If they are touching or overlapping, they steam rather than brown.

2) Try this trick next time: Heat up your pan (a big one, see thought #1 above) in the oven first, then put the vegetables on them. That should help, too!

Hi there! Posting early because I really need your help. I have been invited to a Passover meal by this girl I am very interested in. I am not Hebrew myself, but I did date a Jew shortly after college and I still remember that meal to this day. I am really excited about this but I have no idea what to bring as far as wine. Hopefully, Carrie or somebody can help. I get the sense they aren't totally strict Jews, so maybe I can just bring any wine - but just in case they follow the rules what should I bring? Or should I just take some sort of Hebrew pastry or side dish? Thanks!

The safest thing to do is to bring wine that's labeled Kosher for Passover. It will usually say "and year round" also on the label on the back. That's ok as long as the Passover okay is there. You can't bring everyday pastry because of the Passover food guidelines. In fact, some people also don't bring in any food prepared outside their home unless it's been done in a kitchen also made kosher for Passover, meaning scrubbed of all possible crumbs of bread, crackers, etc.  So bring wine and enjoy another memorable celebration!

Wine columnist Dave McIntyre's got you covered: 5 wines that are perfect for Passover

I've always made my own, but one of my virtual gurus, Diane Morgan says there are good lasagna noodles sold in pasta stores? ( do we have any in this area?) or oven ready, no boil lasagna available in supermarkets? (What section?) In your opinion, are they any good?

Love her. Sure, you can buy fresh lasagna sheets at Whole Foods and some other gourmet markets (around here, the local La Pasta brand is good). I've used Barilla no-boil sheets for Butternut Squash Lasagna and they work well. 

Make and bake the crust following your directions. Cool it and remove it from the tart pan. Make a second and a third crust using the same tart pan. I only have one with removable bottom. Bring heavy cream to boil. Dissolve shredded chocolate in it. Cool. Before it settles pour into baked tart shells. Refrigerate over night. Will it work?

Sure, it would work. But I'm not so sure it'd be that great without some adjustments. The crust isn't sweet at ALL, and I think you'd want a touch of sugar in there. And rather than just making a straight ganache, which I think would be kind of boring (sorry!), I'd be tempted to add an egg and bake it again for a warm chocolate tart.

One of my favorite simple desserts, as a matter of fact, does just that: It's Francois Payard's Warm Chocolate Tart from "Simply Sensational Desserts." 

I enjoyed your article and want to incorporate freshly grown vegetables and herbs into my seder meal. Are there good local markets that will have similar products in the Montgomery Co., MD area this weekend?

ARTICLE Passover is early, spring is late, and I want local foods at my seder. Help!

There sure are! Here are a few and there's more at the Post's farmers market map. Just click on the icon to see the dates.


Bethesda Central Farm Market

Bethesda Elementary School parking lot

7600 Arlington Road, Bethesda

Sundays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.


Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market

7155 Wisconsin Avenue (between Willow and Leland Streets), Bethesda

Inside: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays 7 a.m.-4 p.m.

Outside (weather permitting): Saturdays 7 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays 8 a.m.-5 p.m.


Silver Spring Fresh Farm Market

Ellsworth Drive between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue

Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (January through March)
Saturdays 9 am to 1 pm (April to December) 

According to Roberto Ferdman's article on reducing the calories in rice, if we add that small amount of lipids we will reduce the calories we absorb? He used coconut oil - I wondering if we can substitute olive oil or canola oil? This sounds too good to be true!

Roberto says:


The researchers believe that sunflower oil in particular is a good substitute, but they only experimented with coconut oil. Olive oil, however, because of how it’s architecture changes when heated, isn’t ideal. I don’t know about canola oil, but I assume it’s similar.

Thank you for your live discussion, as it’s something I look forward to every week. A couple of weeks ago, someone wrote in asking about thawing frozen fish whilst still in its packaging. I’d like to offer the following explanation as to why that isn’t a good idea: The fish has been individually flash frozen and then placed in a vacuum-packed bag. As it thaws, the water in the cell walls (and also, by default, the fish) expands and so if the fish is still in its tight vacuum packed bag, it may crush / burst the cell walls of the fish, thus causing it to be mushy.

It's a fun hour for us, too. Re the fish: Gotcha.

Appreciate your help - I want to make roasted chickpeas and found several good recipes online. Many comments note that you need to remove the skins from the chickpease before roasting. (Some comments say this is only necessary if using canned beans, and I plan to soak and cook my chickpeas.) Is this correct - do you need to remove the skins from either canned or cooked chickpeas prior to roasting? Seems like an awful lot of work for what is supposed to be an easy ND healthy snack. Thanks for your advice.

To peel or not to peel? I never peel. Maybe sacrilege, but I grew up eating chickpeas in just about every form you can imagine (Turkish grandparents), and we never peeled! I adore them roasted in all their unpeeled glory.

I made some chicken tenders to shred for salad. I made too much and am left with chicken that's just been seasoned with S&P (bleah). Any ideas besides the obvious chicken salad?

Assuming they aren't breaded, you could use them to bulk up enchilada or quesadilla fillings, or pop in a stir-fry at the end (just until heated through) or shred them and add to a quick tortilla soup, or chunk them up for a potpie or shepherd's pie. Hmm. Hungry now. 

cant find tahini. Is there a substitute for it? Thanks for your help

Absolutely, use smooth peanut butter. We actually say as much in the recipe! I've made it with both, and it's excellent either way.


RECIPE: Carrot Hummus


Doesn't take too much effort to make your own tahini. Here's how thekitchn folks do it.

Sorry - I submitted my question early and missed the live chat. The cheesemaking class was at The Kitchen Studio in Frederick. It was a ton of fun and we actually made ricotta at home the next night!


Hi there! I am a Jewish vegetarian and the most dreaded week of the year is upon me...Passover! While I've sorted out vegetarian matzah ball soup and peanut butter on matzah has always been a staple, what are some other creative ways to keep this week from becoming...stale? I don't rely hugely on traditional grains such as pasta or bread but do use wheat berries, buckwheat groats, etc. regularly!

This is one of the very reasons I wrote the story. No one says you have to eat a ton of matzoh just because it's Passover! I am also vegetarian (well, okay, pescatarian but for over 40 years!), so trust me...this is a great time to go for all the fresh veggies and fruits you can find. And quinoa is a terrific source of protein, one of my go-to's all year but especially at Passover when it's totally "legal." Try it mixed with julienned fresh kale and some roasted sweet potatoes or other roasted vegetables. Portabella mushrooms seasoned or marinated, then grilled and stacked with roasted peppers, some arugula and a slice of cheese if you eat it...yum! There are many recipes that would work in the WashPost's recipe collection and other online sites. 

This weekend I am hosting a buffet dinner for 20 people and am trying to determine how much food I need to prepare. (I struggle with this every time and usually make too much.) Given the number of people, it will be pretty casual. For the first course, I am making four appetizers including one dip with vegetables, a salad, chilled shrimp with sauce, and one app served on small pieces of bread. So, how much of each appetizer do you think I need? The main course is pretty hearty, and there will be two kinds of cake for dessert. Thank you.

Figure 3 or 4 appetizer portions per person, total (although if you are hosting shrimpaholics, you might want to go higher on the seafood). 

Any ideas on where to purchase fresh ground/prepared masa in DC or Baltimore area? It is the ground corn coating/breading inside mexican tamales. I know it is commonly available in the southwest US. I found it once in NYC. thanks so much.

Moctec in Landover: 301 386-9090.

I'm really intrigued by Roberto A. Ferdman's article today about cooking rice with lipids. It may be too soon for you all to have addressed this in any kind of detail, but at some point it would be great if you would investigate and share your recommendations with the chat. Specifically, "by adding a lipid (coconut oil in this case, because it's widely used in Sri Lanka) ahead of cooking the rice, and then cooling the rice immediately after it was done, they were able to drastically change its composition" and they do plan to test other kinds of oil and rice. But I infer that we could use any kind of oil or rice -- but would love to know which combinations you found perform best from a culinary standpoint, and any recommendations you have for handling the rice before/after cooking. Thanks!

You mean this for us rather than Roberto, I'm sure, but we put it to him anyway, and he says:


I don’t think I’m equipped to answer this! But they did find that reheating the rice after cooling it in the refrigerator (even by microwave) didn’t alter the results. So you can eat the rice hot! Which, I think, is pretty important to understand.

Perhaps I missed it in the article, but how much coconut oil would one add for say 1 cup of uncooked rice?

A scientist quoted in the piece says to add 3 percent of the weight of the rice you're going to cook. 


ARTICLE Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories

I'm with Susan. I don't peel chickpeas for roasting, and they turn out great. I sometimes peel chickpeas for hummus, since it makes the texture smoother. But it takes a surprisingly long time to peel a can of chickpeas.

That makes three of us. I think the skins actually ADD to the great texture of roasted chickpeas.

I have to try that! I love peanut butter and hummus, but haven't tried putting the two together. I did once use peanut butter for baba ghanoush when I thought I'd bought tahini but had forgotten to. That worked quite well too.

Good. Yes, makes sense, doesn't it? Since tahini is really a nut (well, seed, but you know what I mean) butter. I do think it's important to use natural peanut butter (without those stabilizers/etc. that keep it from separating), and to use smooth, if you're wanting to come closest to tahini.

After all these years I still don't know the best way to assemble a sandwich. The key, basic ingredients: Bread Meat Cheese Lettuce Tomato Sauce-type dressing product In what order should the middle stuff be layered between the bread to maximize the flavor impact?

Oh, boy! Fun stuff!

I'd say it's about moisture, particularly up against that dry bread, so I usually put the dressing/condiment on the bread, and then follow with (building up) lettuce, tomato, meat (or in my case, veggie!), cheese, dressing, bread. The lettuce helps the dressing from making the rest of the sandwich soggy.

But here's another tip, one I got from the "wichcraft" book: Try toasting just ONE side of the bread, and put that side on the INSIDE of the sandwich. Such a game-changer. You bite into soft bread on the outside, but you get a little crunch from the toast on the inside. 

I'm not a huge bacon fan (I know, heresy), but once every few weeks I do want to make something with it. The problem is that I live alone, and nowadays it's very hard to find a package of plain bacon that is less than a pound. Can I portion it out (three strips or so) and freeze these portions?


I know that baking powder can lose its potency, but does cream of tartar also age badly? I would prefer to make my own bp than have to keep throwing out cans of unused no longer good stuff.

It has a shelf life of a few years, but I found these tips on the ol' Internet that seem to be a reasonable way of telling whether the cream of tartar is still good. 

They add to the great texture of hummus, too! I would never make hummus if I had to peel the chick-peas -- and my hummus has been famous among family & friends for nearly 40 years.

Get it on over here! I must taste this hummus for myself.

Is there any truth to the rumor that there is a pro-McLean High School bias in the Beard awards? Or is it mere coincidence that M. Carrie Allan and Joihn DeVore were both nominated this year.

Well, I'm not technically an MHS graduate, as we moved to Australia after my sophomore year. But I've known John since we were wee bairns (or at least wee tweens) and was very happy to see that the Mclean High bribe money reached the right people. 

I was thinking I'd give potato-leek soup a try, as I haven't made it for awhile. Last time I did, I thought it was rather bland. Any suggestions for giving it some zip?

Sometimes potato-leek soup is kind of like a gentle background on which to add fuller flavors. Depending on my mood and the season, I add fresh dill, chives, caraway seeds...I've also added a dash of curry powder at times.

I was so pleased to see both Carrie Allan and Tamar Haspel get James Beard nominations yesterday. I still think of them as fairly "new" additions to the Food team, but they've both managed to make a tremendous mark. I love that Carrie's interests in drinks often mirror my own and her clever stories often make me laugh. Tamar really moved me with her pig-raising series a couple years ago, and I've really appreciated her open-minded, data-driven approach to looking at multiple sides of issues with Unearthed. This is just further evidence of what us longtime Food readers know--you all continue to consistently turn out a quality product, one of the best food publications in the country. Good luck at the awards later this year!

Thanks so much. Glad people are noticing how great both of them are!

Thanks so much! I was humbled to be in Tamar's company.

The best farmers market is in Takoma Park, Sundays 10-2. It can be crowded, but you won't run into the problem my husband did at Bethesda this past weekend, where despite advertising an opening time of 9am, half the stands were not open or even set up by 9:30, bread vendor didn't have a cutting board, baker couldn't tell a customer what ingredients were in his quiche, etc., etc. Go where the experts are, and if they don't have parsnips or celeriac, they'll probably be able to recommend someone who will.

Thanks for the intel!

how do I blanch them? I always have plenty of dry-roasted and/or raw almonds around, but they aren't blanched. Hoping I can depend on the kindness of strangers for advice (sorry, couldn't help myself)

Hey, we're pals! Let's say you're doing 2 cups of nuts. This is what I've done before: Boil 3 cups of water in a pot, then turn off the heat. Add the almonds and let them sit for 1 minute (if the nuts are old or very cold from the freezer, maybe let them sit a bit longer), then strain right away. Transfer the almonds to a bowl filled with cold water; let sit for 1 minute, then drain. Repeat that cold water/draining step. Then comes the tedious part: Pinch off/discard the loosened skins of each nut. 

Ready for what may possibly be the lamest question? I've got a cup of heavy cream left over from making ginger ice cream (it's amazing, btw. In the past, I've used leftover cream to make caramel and whipped cream and to add to soups/sauces. I'm looking for something else. If you had a cup of cream left, what would you do with it?

Guzzle it in a fit of shame at midnight in front of an open refrigerator door.

OR, you could cut the following recipe in half (and if you were me, you'd leave out that lardo, of course!):

Spring Gnocchi With Rosemary Cream and Peas

Or kill 1/4 cup with these grits:

Whipping Cream Grits

Or kill 1/2 cup with this lentil dish:

Braised Lentils With Mushrooms and Kale

Please don't say "I'm vegetarian -- well, actually, pescetarian." If you eat fish, you are not a vegetarian and shouldn't claim to be.

I understand. I've gone back to eating fish occasionally and's my vegetarian mind-set. 

My potato leek soup has other vegetables in it. Mushrooms (sautéed in butter with the leeks), leftover asparagus or broccoli. Chicken and ham can go in there too. I once made a shrimp variation using stock made from the shrimp shells. Think cream of whatever soup and work from there. If it is still bland, try a splash of worchestershire sauce or some Cajun seasoning.

Exactly! Good ideas.

the "kindness of strangers" line was a Blanche Dubois/Streetcar Named Desire joke. Went over like a lead balloon...

Of course, we got the reference! A famous one.

Tweaked from Craig Claiborne's New York Times International Cookbook: 1 can of chickpeas, drained & rinsed (I used to use the Progresso 20-oz can, but now can only find one-pound or 15-oz cans so I adjusted proportions) 1/2 cup tahini (Krinos brand is my favorite) 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/2 tsp. salt LOTS of fresh garlic. I use four LARGE cloves at a minimum. Adjust to taste, obviously, but a four-month-old Greek-American baby licked this off my hand and cried for more at a family picnic - and it was full strength. Whiz in the food processor. It's thick and rough-textured, but you can add water if you want it thinner.

Have you ever tried the trick of adding an ice cube? Bonnie turned me onto that a few years back. It would fix that rough texture in a jiffy! (Well, if you want to -- I like how fluffy the ice cube makes it.)

Can you point me to a good recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce? All the jars of sauce in the supermarket are really high in sodium, and I'm trying to avoid that.

Here you go, easy: Basic Spaghetti Sauce.

I'm thinking about buying a sous vide contraption and combining that with my smoker. [Well, not attaching it, but more of a technique thing.] The idea being you get great tenderness with the sous vide and then some nice smoke flavors imparted. This said, I'm worried that this could just really over do the meat: it'll become mush when all is said and done...which could wind up being about three to four days of cooking for a big slice of beef rib and a co$tly endeavor gone wrong and everyone muttering told-you-so under their breath. Any recs on how (or if) one should proceed on this path?

No less an authority on cooking and science than Nathan Myhrvold believes sous vide barbecue is the only way to go. The author of "Modernist Cuisine" says you should smoke the meat first, then sous vide it. He explains it here in very technical terms.


Personally, I don't see this technique taking root at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue contest.

I just got a rice cooker/steamer with a timer, and am hoping to use it to eat more vegetables when I get home from work (and rarely feel like cooking). I'd like to combine them with beans, etc. (Am vegetarian). What interesting combinations might I not automatically think of?

Have you ever steamed eggplant? I haven't used a rice cooker/steamer for this, but I had a recipe in my last book for steamed eggplant with miso-tomato sauce that I think would work. You cut thin eggplant into thick rounds, and steam for 20-30 minutes until it's very soft but still holds its shape. It ends up with this beautiful custardy texture. I then make a quick sauce of sauteed ginger in sesame oil, miso, vinegar, and tomato sauce, and serve it over udon noodles.

But you could also use the glaze that goes with this recipe to good effect with steamed eggplant:

Sweet and Sour Eggplant

While I'm thinking of it, have you checked out the late/great Roger Ebert's rice cooker book? Seems up your alley.

What am I missing? Last week's paper had the results of the first round of the competition and now today I see we're down to the final 4??? Did you forget and skip a week?

Nope, we just ran the bracket at a faster pace than the weekly print section this year. Rounds have been happening every few days on line!

I bought a few extra bags of potatoes when they were on sale at the store. I've made home fries and mashed potatoes, but am struggling to think of other ways to use them beyond the usual uses - mashed, potato salad, and breakfast. Can you offer any additional suggestion or personal favorites? They are white and gold potatoes, not russet, if that matters.

Cook them skin-on and whole, until just tender, then you can cool and cut into cubes you can refrigerate/freeze. They can go into soup, potpie (hey, does this sound like that chicken tender answer earlier??), quesadillas, on top of pizza, in pasta dishes and hashes, in omelets, in Indian curries.

I agree that condiments go on bread, but the next ingredient should go well with that condiment. For example, if the condiment is mayo, put tomato or lettuce next. If it's mustard, put meat. So like bottom to top - bread, mayo, lettuce, cheese, meat, mustard, bread.

To each his own, definitely! It's YOUR sandwich, so play around.

I'm looking for suggestions as to how to jazz up a basic fish chowder. Last time I added corn (corn chowder, fish chowder, made sense to me) and it was fine, but the broth seems to need a bit of kick. I used a good bit of pepper and a splash of fish sauce (different cuisine, I know, but, again, it made sense to me) but it still seems flat. I tend to under-salt and will boost that a bit next time also. But is there some sort of spice or other ingredient I can pop in there, please?

Have you ever tried starting with some onions sweated for sweetness or sauteed shallots? Might add some depth of flavor you're looking for. Also, dill and fish chowder = a natural.

My secret ingredient -- or rather, my mom's which I've appropriated for myself -- is basil. Lots of basil. And then we'd float shredded cheese on top. good with crusty bread.

Although one may be distressed by continuing obesity epidemic issues, I do not believe that this can be legislated away. Making foods, cigarettes, alcohol etc. more expensive doesn't change the underlying personal or social issues that may be causing their (over)consumption. Many humans continually fight with weight, addiction or other problems. Taxes won't change that. More helpful might be various retail outlets de-emphasizing placement of high calorie, high fat 'foods', and making more healthful foods more available.

Tamar is traveling, but answered by email:


I agree.  Which is why I don't think of a soda tax as a terribly useful way to modify behavior (although it might surprise us and reduce consumption significantly).  Instead, I think of it as a way to raise much-needed cash to help fight the obesity epidemic, and perhaps even fund some of efforts to fight obesity that *will* be effective.

Sorry the govt should never use taxes to infleunce behavior and that goes for alcohol and cigarettes too. Its not the govts job to make us conform to whatever body fat % and healthy lifestyle they deem appropriate. Only tax on alcohol and cigs should be a sales tax. I dont smoke and its not the govts or my palce to tell you not to. I lost both parents to health issues from smoking. Sin taxes dont workNext thing you know the govt will tell m I can't stoe more than 10,000 rounds of ammo in my house and garage and what type of weapons safe to buy. Stupid lawyers. Shakespeare was right! So the lleftists at the WP are all right with President ted Cruz taxing you when you have sex in anything else but the missionary position and if you ahve it with a member of the same sex to control your behavior!

Tamar writes:


Lots of people agree with you, and I certainly don't think we're going to solve such a fundamental issue here at the chat.  The way I see it, the government needs the cash, and it has to come from somewhere.  Obesity costs society money in all kinds of ways, and figuring out who's going to pay for it is a tricky business.

Making your own is really easy and it's such a versatile thing. Plus, if you have the time, you can do a longer simmer to build flavor or, if you don't, using canned tomatoes means it doesn't need to cook long. I made a fantastic pasta sauce last night with crushed tomatoes, garlic, chicken sausage and herbs in like 20-25 minutes total. The pasta water couldn't boil and cook the noodles as fast.

I've been wondering - why is it such a cardinal rule to not cook new dishes for a dinner party?? How on earth would anyone discover new favorites for a crowd? Or does this assume that the majority of cooks and party hosts are older families regularly testing out recipes that feed 6-8 on themselves first? I have yet to have a dinner party go so bad that the ordering of pizza was required, but I'd like to think that even in that case, it would be a fun story. (Thanks for letting me gripe!)

I generally agree with you, assuming of course your party guests are easygoing types who will roll with mistakes.


When I'm cooking for VIPs or for family I haven't seen in awhile, I prefer to prepare something in my wheelhouse. I want them to be full and happy, not hungry and disappointed while I use them as gastronomic guinea pigs.

Wait - explain this to me, please. How does an ice cube change the texture of hummus? What exactly does it do? Is it the water or the cold? Do you whiz the ice through the food processor? Do you scale the amt of ice based on recipe size? Sorry for the barrage, but I've never heard of this and I'm fascinated.

A Lebanese cook taught me this trick. It aerates/lightens the mixture just a bit; yep, add to the food processor. One or two's all you need per batch. 

I also make homemade sauce to reduce sodium--i'd recommend adding about a half of one of those small cans of tomato paste after simmering the onions and before adding tomatoes-gives it a nice silkiness. also, freeze leftovers into one cup portions and use for homemade pizzas!

I have used cooked chicken pieces in omlettes or fritatas.

How about topping a lovely bowl of hot, homemade pho?

WF has whole wheat no boil store brand! I dubiously tried them and was stunned that they are delicious.

Once again, our chatters have the deets. Will check those out. 

I needed buttermilk to make cornbread. Any suggestions on how to use the rest of it?

You could always make Ranch dressing. Who doesn't love a little Ranch on their salad?

Can I substitute almond meal with almond butter? if so what should be the ratio? I am talking about recipes where almond meal is used in a batter or so. Thanks.

Nope, I wouldn't attempt this. The two ingredients are too different to think about subbing one for the other. You'd be better off subbing other kinds of meal -- cornmeal, or you could grind your own almonds. But not almond butter, no.

I don't want to. Thick and rough-textured means one dip with a raw veggie will pick up a lot more in one sweep!

I figured you didn't want to, but figured some people might!

I make the spaghetti sauce with fresh tomatoes, garlic, herbs and some finely chopped mushrooms too. Tastes delicious.

Thanks! I don't know what it means to sweat an onion - something to look up at home tonight - but I do have onions in the chowder (and carrots, potatoes, fish, a bit of garlic but maybe not enough to notice, splash of 1/2 1/2). The dill sounds great! I didn't know it was typical.

Sweating onions is basically sauteing onions until they're translucent and have released some of their juices.


What sweating is not: caramelizing. You don't want to brown those onions!

No the OP - but I've always wondered, aside from appearance is it necessary to blanch almonds? Seems like as much work as peeling chick peas, and I have never understood the purpose. Thanks!

You might not want the added texture or color of the skins, depending on the recipe. Listen to a podcast while you're kitchen-tasking, and I've found the jobs are not so difficult to get through. 

It just told me that code is invalid.

Just tested, and it worked for me. Send an email to

Please don't make me say it, when I am vegetarian 99% of the time but will eat fresh caught seafood only when I am looking at the water it came from.

You would HATE the tongue-in-cheek term I've heard: "veg-aquarium."

Encourged by Susan Barocas identifying as a pescatarian, I'm asking about offering poached salmon for the seder meal. I was wondering about poaching it in pomegranate juice (it's impossible to find Kosher for Passover pomegranate syrup, otherwise we'd be broiling the fish with the syrup. Thoughts?

Hmmmm...interesting idea. Not sure about the kosher for Passover pomegranate juice. However, I have served poached salmon for seder. I like to lay down slices of lemon and onion in the bottom of the pan, add the salmon on top seasoned with s&p, cover it totally with stalks of fresh dill and then add half water-half dry white wine as my poaching liquid. When I serve it, I take off all the cooked dill and sprinkle with fresh chopped instead.

Forgive me if this is a duplicate (Shockwave crashed just as I was submitting). I add watercress to the soup (inexpensive at Asian markets)—but after the potatoes and leeks have cooked and have turned off the heat (and if electric stove-taken off the burner). Push the watercress down into the soup to wilt, then blend as usual. I love the peppery kick the watercress adds.

For my salads, I like to candy pecans with butter and a touch of brown sugar, but I'm fairly heavy with the salt, ground chipotle, and pimenton

Thanks for the follow-up response.

Well, you've ladled us into individual bowls and garnished with dill and a drizzle of heavy cream, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great q's today, and thanks to Susan, Carrie and Tamar for helping with the a's.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about markets in Montgomery County that will have good seder ingredients will get "The New Passover Menu" by Paula Shoyer. The one who asked why dinner party hosts don't try new dishes will get "Paul Bocuse: Simply Delicious." Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew. ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is the Food section's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, a freelance writer based in Cape Cod and our Unearthed columnist, has been writing about food and health for the better part of two decades. She's the author of four books, including Dreaded Broccoli (Scribner, 1999), and currently writes about harvesting food first-hand at
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Susan Barocas
Susan Barocas, cofounder of the Jewish Food Experience, is a filmmaker, writer and cooking teacher.
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