Free Range on Food

Apr 13, 2016

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! We've got some very special guests today, so hope you'll step up to the plate with your typically excellent questions for them!

First is Amelia Saltsman, who wrote this week's feature on matzoh kugels for Passover. And we also have the incomparable Sara Moulton, whom Bonnie profiled in a delightful piece.

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters today: a copy of Sara's new book, "Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101," and a signed copy of Pati Jinich's new book, "Mexican Today."

And for you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR1806 . Record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

Let's do this!

Good morning all and Sara, I so enjoyed you on FoodNetwork and I now follow you on PBS. Your recipes are family friendly, delicious, and easy to replicate. Can you say what happened that you left FoodNetwork, and also, what is happening with their trend of more competition programs and fewer cooking/instruction shows. They have very few chefs/cooks anymore who actually are teaching cooking skills.

Well, I think the Food Network reflects what is going on on TV in general, which is all about reality shows. People seem to love them (not me).. They give me anxiety attacks - like watching my kids in their first kindergarten play. However, I believe if you watch any food show, even the competitions, you will learn something. Me, I like public TV,where you learn something (but ain't that convenient, I am on it).

ARTICLE: Sara Moulton, still cooking and teaching -- with a smile

Oy! I have five POUNDS of matzoh! So today's kugel recipe and links are just what I need -- besides your favorite recipe for matzo brei ... Also, please opine on brands. Do you prefer Yehuda, from Israel, or Manischewitz, from the USA? Those were the two available at the store. I picked the Yehuda because the packaging claims it won a taste test in San Francisco -- but that might have been 50 years ago... Or do you like another brand better? Or ever make your own? One other thing, you spell matzoh with an "h" while others, including Manischewitz, write it without an "h" and some even end it with an "a." Do you consider your spelling to be the correct one? Thanks for your answers!

Thank you! I had a great time coming up with these new recipes and can't wait to hear which ones you try. I have strong opinions about matzo brei: frittata/pancake-style, not scrambled; always a ratio of 1 egg to 1 matzo; and not greasy. I created a fantastic savory version for The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen--topped with smoked salmon and horseradish cream!

I do prefer the Israeli brands; I think they're crisper, flakier, and tastier. I like Aviv and Yehuda.

As for spelling Hebrew words in English, they all work. Using "a" or "ah" indicates a more Israeli/Sephardic pronunciation, while the "o" spellings come more from the Yiddish/Ashkenazic pronunciation. Like Shabbos and Shabbat.

Hi Rangers- I noticed that you had an article that included sorghum as a key ingredient. Where can one find this treat in DC? I would bring it back from family trips to KY, but TSA has other ideas.

I know for sure it's sold at Stomping Ground in Alexandria, a biscuit house that's one of my favorite, charming little eateries around. I feel like I've seen it at Whole Foods, too. Anyone else have a sighting?

Do you mean the blurb on Vitick's Switchel? I know that Jill Vitick gets her sorghum from the Culpeper and Harrisonburg area. I'm checking on more specifics, but shoot me an email at food@washpost.com so that I can get back to you.

ARTICLE: Shopping Cart: Vitick’s Switchel

I just bought some at the Mom's market in Ivy City.

I'm sorry. I just can't imagine that any of them taste good. Matzo is awful. Matzo meal is terrible too. My preferred Passover strategy is to just avoid food that needs to have a kosher for Passover version as a component. Don't use Passover noodles; just put whatever you have over mushrooms or roasted squash instead. Don't make a casserole; just let the components be loose and saucy without anything to form a crust. I'd rather have things a bit messy than add a food that doesn't taste good to food that does taste good. I don't eat the pretend cookies, cakes, brownies or other stuff either. Fruit or sorbet or a few squares of chocolate work for dessert. My great uncle loved custard for Passover, though that's only OK if you don't mind eating dairy after meat or the rest of the meal I meat-free. I've eaten too many greasy hockey pucks that were supposed to be "rolls" in my life. No more.

I know Amelia will want to answer this, too, but before you rag on these recipes, "imagining" what they taste like, try to be a little more opened-minded. I sampled them, and they were indeed delicious.

Also, these, ahem "rolls" are really good and quite airy. I've made them a bunch of times.

Passover Popover Rolls

RECIPE: Passover Popover Rolls

Your comment is exactly one of the reasons I chose to write about matzo kugels. They've gotten a bad rap and deserve a new look. I happen to love matzo and treat it as its own thing, not a substitute. Because I do agree that faux food isn't fun. Homemade with fresh ingredients is the way to go.

ARTICLE: How to turn Passover's 'bread of affliction' into comfort food

I tried making french onion for the 3rd time and this time was another fail. I've used different recipes and the results are always the same - too watery and it tastes like it's missing something. Do you have a fail proof french onion soup recipe? I even went out and bought the pricey demi glaze but it didn't make a difference. This is the one I used which had gotten excellent reviews: 14 ounces yellow Spanish onions 1 tablespoon melted butter ½ teaspoon fresh minced garlic 3 ½ cups water 2 tablespoons beef base ½ cup veal demi glaze (see note) 2 tablespoons dry sherry 2 tablespoons Burgundy wine 1 bay leaf ¼ teaspoon fresh thyme ¼ teaspoon pepper ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Large homemade croutons Shredded Gruyere cheese (optional) Place sliced onions, butter and garlic in pot over medium-low heat and sauté till onions are lightly caramelized (light golden brown), 25 to 30 minutes. When caramelized, add all other ingredients but croutons and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Spoon into serving bowls and top with croutons. Top with cheese and broil until cheese melted and browning.

My hunch is one of two things, or both:

 

1. You may not be caramelizing your onions long enough, so that they are sweet and browned. In my experience, it can take 45 or more minutes.

 

2. And probably more to the point, you may not be reducing the liquid enough. Ignore the time references and cook the liquid down until it has the sweetness and consistency you want.

So many recipes call for ground nuts. We are told to purchase nuts, brown them, then grind them. I purchase them already ground. My question is, when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup or a Cup of nuts before it's ground, how much does a 1/2 C. or whole Cup come to when it's pre-ground? Thank you so much, I've been watching you for years and I love your show! You are a wonderfully kind person, and have a beautiful smile! ~Esther

Esther, 

Thank you. (Esther was my mother in law's name.) You know I don't know the answer to that question. I know with herbs that if you start with 1/4 cup whole leaves and chop them, you end up with about 2 tablespoons. I have never done that with nuts. My guess is that you have to start with a little more than 1/2 cup whole nuts to end up with 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Esther, may I ask why you buy them pre-ground? Are you trying to save on prep? The reason I ask is this: Nuts (like coffee, like spices) keep their flavor much better/longer if you buy them whole and grind them just before using. And think about storing them in the freezer, too!

Hello Rangers, and Guest Rangerette, Sara! This is for Sara: I moved recently and haven’t managed to get my TV hooked up yet—having withdrawal at the moment re PBS cooking shows and Eastenders. I love your Weeknight Meals series and just polished off a batch of your creamy cauliflower soup with chorizo and greens—love it. So, while visiting Charleston this fall, a friend and I had memorable duck at Husk, and we’re inspired to try cooking duck in my new place this weekend. I’m thinking sautéeing vs roasting might be the best way to start—have never tried cooking duck. I see a few recipes on your Weeknight Meals website—maybe Bistro duck breasts would be the easiest? any other tips for getting that crispy skin?

I just love duck. We eat sauteed duck breasts once a week. The secret to crispy skin is to score the skin in a crisscross pattern, season it and then place it skin side down in a cold pan. Turn the heat to medium low to medium and let it cook, until the skin looks quite crispy (about 12 or so minutes, depending on your stove). DO NOT pour off all the fat that accumulates in the pan because that fat will help to pull out more fat from the skin. When the skin looks crispy, pour off most off the fat except a few tablespoons (reserving it to saute vegetables in - potatoes are especially good cooked in fat), turn the duck breasts over and cook them for about 3 minutes on the second side for medium rare meat. Let them rest for 8 - 10 minutes before slicing. 

It takes no longer to cook duck breasts than to cook steak, so you should add it to your weekly line up. 

 

I live Mexican food, but rely heavily on beans when I cook it, which tends to get a little old after a while. Are there other easy vegetarian ways to get some protein into a Mexican meal?

Beans never get old to me! But I hear you. Do you eat eggs and cheese? Those are obvious ways, of course -- but so are nuts/seeds (I'm a huge fan of pepitas, pumpkin seeds), and even grains. And of course there are tofu and tempeh, which aren't traditional in Mexican cooking but can be easily employed. Can I make a plug, yet again, for my favorite Mexican tofu treatment -- tofu chorizo? I wrote about it in terms of tacos, but it can go in tons of dishes.

RECIPE: Tacos With Tofu Chorizo and Potatoes

ARTICLE: Here's proof that vegetarian Mexican food isn't an oxymoron.

Pati adds this:

 

Well say Helloooooooo to the avocado!!!! It has the highest protein content when compared to any other fruit and you can make so many dishes heavily based on it. In the salad chapter of my new book most salads have it as the main ingredient! What about avocado soup or avocado mousse? Another example from the many are garbanzo beans!! Or fava beans!

I broiled a bunch of skin-on chicken thighs seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder yesterday with onions and some guajillo chilis. I saved the fat. Is it schmaltz?

In a way, yes. "Technical" term here is drippings, but if it's delicious, which it sounds like it is with all your flavorings, by all means use it to roast potatoes! Traditional schmaltz is fat and skin rendered together with onions to produce both cooking fat and cracklings.

I've got about one pound of corned beef in the freezer left over from St. Patrick's Day. I don't have a grill or smoker. Is there anything I can use it for, aside from hash and, um, corned beef? (I love both, but I'm kind of curious.)

One thing I'd do is prepare this Reuben Benedict, which substitutes corned beef for the traditional Canadian bacon.

 

RECIPE: Reuben Benedict.

 

 

I'd also give this oddball dish a try: a corned beef salad. Bonnie says it's delicious.

 

RECIPE: Radicchio, Corned Beef and Nectarine Salad

How about a corned beef  "knish"? More like a patty or croquette that you pan-fry....

I saw the online article about this. There was no recipe. Could you provide a link to the recipe for how to make this.

The article was for our Shopping Cart feature, where we write about food products that we like. So, no recipe there! You'll see at the bottom of the blurb where to purchase the drink. (Or some searching on the internet brings up several recipes if you'd like to try to make it at home).

ARTICLE: Shopping Cart: Vitick’s Switchel

Mid stream and clicking (using various links) brings up an empty page with this URL: https://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-tom-041316.html?hpid=hp_no-name_no-name%3Ahomepage%2Fchat-schedule Sorry to hijack your most excellent chat.

Yes -- we see that, too! We're calling in the experts to (hopefully) fix.

Just want to say that I've made Amelia's Scallion Matzah Brei With Smoked Salmon And Horseradish Cream From The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen and absolutely loved it! For a different spin, I like adding roasted peppers, olives and fresh herbs to mine. It makes such a great breakfast for the week. I've also done it with dried fruit for a sweet treat.

So glad you like it! Yes, the possibilities are endless! You've just given me some great ideas for matzah brei at the Saltsman house this year. Do you include smoked salmon when you use roasted peppers, etc? I'm thinking tuna and potatoes would be good additions or toppings here. Savory brei makes a great quick supper! 

When I go to Yekta up in Rockville, and even Moby Dick in Bethesda, I'm blown away by the tenderness and succulent flavor of their chicken kebobs. And I just can't seem to replicate it at home no matter what I'm doing: they're bland and not as juicy. I'm guessing they're brining but I also think not. Any advice?

I wouldn't be surprised if they were marinating them in yogurt as well as salt along with garlic and herbs. Yogurt is a tenderizer and we all know what salt does.

Is passion fruit syrup something I can easily find at the grocery store?

Probably not -- it's kind of a specialty item. There may be a couple of places that would have it, but why take chances? I would go online for it. BG Reynolds makes a good one.

What are your thoughts on how one can eat healthy at restaurants?

I generally order 2 appetizers instead of an appetizer and an entree. I try to pick a vegetable-y kind of app and then a protein app - like a beet salad followed by grilled octopus. 

I second that strategy. I'll also say that in general, trying to slow down and appreciate dishes and flavors rather than shoveling in in a frenzy is a good strategy/mindset. I tend to use my food snobbery to my benefit: I don't indulge in the bread basket unless it's amazing bread, I don't eat fries unless they're fantastic, best-in-class fries, same with dessert. 

I do think the small-plates trend can work to your advantage here, although it can also make it that much harder to keep track and get you in trouble.

You can also, of course, try to compensate for your restaurant eating at your other meals. I do that frequently. On days I'm eating out, I eat pretty clean/spare at home and work. And don't forget exercise!

Is there a trick for dealing with fresh thyme? I can easily deal with recipes that say lay some springs of thyme on top and pick them off once the cooking is done. But other recipes ask for, say, a teaspoon of fresh thyme. Getting those tiny little leaves off the stems is an irritating and lengthy task. Trying to strip them off with sort of a squeeze/slide down or up the stem usually results in broken stems.

I find that supermarket thyme stems aren't as woody as those from the garden or farmers' market. Hence the difficulty in stripping stems. Don't store thyme in the refrigerator. Leave it out and loose on the counter to dry out a bit--then strip by pulling down, not up.

Alternatively, you could toast it first and rub the sprig between your hands to release the leaves.

Have you seen fresh thyme at your farmers' market yet this spring?

I searched for Passover in your recipe database and got a trove of results. Thank you.

Most of all, I am just blown away that you are 25-35 years older than I thought from looking at you! That has got to make you the best advertisement for home cooking that there's ever been or could be! Second, the salmon baked in a bag looks wonderful, but I have one question: Is the oil more delicious than butter would be? I ask because I had some salmon baked in aluminum foil "bags" with citrus, herbs and butter, and it was so meltingly wonderful that I need to be assured that oil works, too. Although if the oil is a magic ingredient of your youthful looks, just tell me that and I'll swear off butter ...

You know that is the one truly annoying thing about these newspaper reporters, they also start by outing your age!!! I should just start saying that I am 50 something...

Oh well, moving on, regarding that fish, go ahead and use butter if you prefer, butter would be wonderful. I normally cook with olive oil because I like its taste and yes, because it is so good for you. 

but you know what, and you should add this to your (fridge) pantry - so is duck fat! It has some of the same properties of olive oil and is probably a part of the reason people in the southwest of France where they eat, duck and foie gras and drink copious amounts of red wine, live so long. 

 

As a Texas boy raised to never ask a woman her age, learning to do so was one of the hardest things, honestly, about going into journalism. Early on, I came up with a really great way of convincing a source to give her age: I said, "Would you rather I write your age, or write that you refused to give your age?" That usually worked -- not always, but most of the time...

Describe your recipe for the original det burger from the Del Rio where you originally cooked in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thanks for your explanations for basic cooking skills--so many people still don't know how to cook.

Here's the recipe 

The original called for canned mushrooms, freeze dried green peppers, canned olives and those cheese singles. I freshened it up a bit.

 

Hello! Given the weather this morning, this question may be too early, but... do you have any favorite sangria recipes (preferably for red wine)?

I have a pink sangria (sorry, with dry rose, not red, but it is darn good) coming up on episode 520 of "Sara's Weeknight Meals," which features peaches, cherries and oranges. It is addictive. 

Here's another one for you: 

Tuscan Sangria

RECIPE: Tuscan Sangria

And not sangria, but I can't resist a drink described as "a grown-up, summery Manhattan-sangria."

The Red Rover Cocktail

RECIPE: The Red Rover Cocktail

I like this one. I like it in spite of my weird sangria biases about apple in the drink -- I lean more toward citrus and strawberries when I make a batch, especially during warmer seasons. Granny Smith apple in sangria just seems wrong to me. I also think you can play around with some interesting wines for this -- look at sherry, for example. A sherry cobbler is almost a kind of sangria, and it's just beautiful for warmer days. And if budget were no issue, I would love to see about adding some Barolo Chinato to a classic sangria -- the spices in that would add a lot of depth.

Hi free rangers and chatters! A dear friend recently had a baby I wanted to make a few things for her. I was hoping to get ideas for food that people had made/received that went over well with new parents, and also tips for how to package food so they can be easily reheated. Thanks for the help!

One-dish meals packed in disposable aluminum pans they don't have to return! And include instructions for reheating--oven temperature and approximate amount of time it will take to reheat, so that harried new parents will know when to turn the oven on.

 

I buy it at a country market off route 29 near Madison VA.

A good bet, but perhaps a bit far for the chatter, if we're talking right around D.C.

It's just plain, but so is pasta with nothing, or potatoes with nothing. Personally, I look forward to Passover because it gives me an opportunity to make matzoh brei (sp?), which, in my house, we love (and it tastes yummy).

I agree! And as with pasta, quality and cooking technique matter. Marion Cunningham aka Fannie Farmer always used to say--good is good. Good cooks make good food, however humble the starting ingredient.

It seems to me that in most of the Mexican restaurants I frequent, almost every dish has chicken in it. They do have ground beef items but the menu is heavy on the chicken. Is that just because it's cheap or do Mexicans really eat that much chicken? I would love to have a vegetarian Mexican restaurant in our city. How awesome would that be?

Pati Jinich says:

 

Yes!!! The Mexican diet in reality is not that heavily based on meat. If you see that in restaurants mostly it is because they think that is what customers want and demand. Most taquerias and restaurants in Mexico have an ample offer of non-meat-based dishes. You'd be surprised! I think it's a matter of customers demanding more options and making their voices heard.

I loved watching your show on Food Network and think I may have to run out and get your cookbook ASAP. Question - my son is 16 and has taken an interest in cooking, particularly baking/making desserts. Would you have suggestions for helping him decide if this is a career he wants to pursue? Thanks!

I don't know where you live but your son might want to see if he can find a summer internship at a local bakery just to get his feet wet. If that is not an option, there are some wonderful classes online (I am sure, being a young person and naturally techno savvy, he would be able to find one easily) and then he should just bake and bake and bake. 

I order mine from Amazon, as I've not been able to find it in D.C. During a recent chat, someone suggested that Rodman's had it, but when I was there, I couldn't find any. I do have a jar now! Gotta put it to use. I was impressed by all the interesting ways The Dabney uses sorghum on their menu.

When in doubt, order online.

Amelia, I've done the roasted pepper/ olive combination without salmon but don't see why it wouldn't work. Love the idea of adding potatoes: carb dream.

Like a cross between a Salade Nicoise and a Tortilla Espagnola.

That sounds FANTASTIC! Is the recipe on line anywhere? Seems like the farmers have finally caught up with cauliflower demand so the price is coming down a bit.

Late spring is a lovely time for cauliflower on the east coast; should be plentiful and very "creamy" right about now.

Good afternoon! I'm working on cooking fish more frequently and it's going great. However, I realize I'm not very adept/tidy/good at eating whole fish (at home or in a restaurant). Any tips? Recently I baked a small red snapper whole. How should I approach eating it without constantly picking bones out of my mouth? I mean, that's fine behavior at home alone but not out in public...

It will make your life much easier if you bone it out first. The best way to do that is to locate the backbone which runs down the back of the fish and, using a soup spoon, turned upside down, use the edge of the spoon to loosen and saw off and remove the top fillet. Then you can just lift off the center bone and the bottom fillet will be good to go.

In today's Food Section, the "Just Ask Dorie" excerpt says chefs in professional kitchens sometimes run a little water between the parchment and the hot baking pan so that the steam helps release macarons. I'd like to try this, but can't envision how to do this effectively and safely. Dorie's not chatting today, so I'm asking y'all. Uh, exactly how would one apply * * * just enough * * * water without getting the parchment and macarons soggy and without getting scalded by the steam, while still creating steam under * * * all * * * of the macarons on the pan? Any video tutorials on youtube? Thank you!

I've done this trick before. Works best if you have a little spray bottle handy. Just mist a bit of water underneath the paper while you hold up the corner. Replace the paper and gently shake the pan back and forth the distribute the water/steam. You can also do a corner on the other side, too.

Someone said a few weeks ago that once my BBQ (in this case a brisket) hits 190 in the interior, it's done. But doesn't it need to stay at 190 for a while?

     Ah, the ever-vexing internal-temp-of-the-brisket question. First, there is a lot of debate over the "right" temperature. Some of the best pitmasters don't use temp at all, but rather "feel." That said, the range for internal temperature is from 190 to as high as 205. The Austin pitman extraordinaire Aaron Franklin pushes his briskets toward the higher end. The main thing is looking for the "jiggle" of the point (the thicker end). If it, well, jiggles a little, you've likely nailed it, regardless of the temp. 

As for holding it at 190 (or whatever), you really only need to do that if you are uncertain that the brisket has achieved the texture you prefer. But 190 is a perfectly acceptable temp to hit. At that point, the important thing is to let it rest. If you do so uncovered for about a half-hour, you're good to go. The pros often rest their briskets in warmers for 2 and 3 hours. You can achieve the same result by wrapping the brisket in butcher paper, after it has rested uncovered for a half-hour, and swaddling it in towels and putting it in a cooler. (No ice, of course.) By resting it unwrapped, you will preserve its bark (exterior crunch). By wrapping and putting it in a cooler, you will increase the juiciness and tenderness.

I just can't do it. I've tried. Do you have any suggestions for other easy (savory is a plus) breakfast options? This week I've been doing a combo of English muffin with hummus, cheese and a few slices of tomato. Thanks!

I'm more of a leftovers-on-toast kind of gal myself, but why not try one of these?

Fire Smish

RECIPE: Fire Smish.

Be sure to check out the related recipes for more spreads -- they could take the place of hummus in your combo, or be spread on bagels or toast with a fried or poached egg on top.

Zucchini Cheese Muffins

RECIPE: Zucchini Cheese Muffins

Maggie Austin’s Brunch Cups

RECIPE: Maggie Austin’s Brunch Cups

The muffins and brunch cups can be made ahead, so all you need to do in the morning is warm them briefly in the microwave (warm muffins > room temp muffins, IMO).

I guess you've never had crisp matzo spread with good unsalted butter? I'm not Jewish, but a former co-worker would bring in all her leftover matzo after the holidays and we'd all stuff ourselves all day.

And sprinkle with fleur de sel for a truly elevated matzah experience!

I asked this question last week, but I think it got skipped because Carrie was out. But I see she's in this week, so I'll try again. I really enjoyed the article on water and its use with spirits and cocktails. I've noticed how sometimes old ice can give a cocktail a slightly "off" taste. I also have a good friend who always recommends adding a little water when drinking spirits just by themselves. Is there a standard amount of water to add? Like a certain amount per ounce? Also, is bourbon and branch just bourbon with a little water added or is it something different? Thanks.

Hey, sorry to have missed last week! So glad you enjoyed the story. On the issue of how much water: Generally I start with just a few drops and see what that does, and then add more if I want to -- but rarely more than a half teaspoon or so if I'm just trying to open up the spirit and taste it for what it is. You'll find that different dilutions bring out different flavors as your palate reacts to the reduced "burn" of the spirit. If you want to go deeper on this, one of the best resources I can refer you to (though it's not brand-neutral!) is this ongoing series done by a brand ambassador for Bowmore scotch; here's the main one that explores the varied effect of different amounts of water. Camper English at Academics.com has also done a lot of diving into the water question. 

ARTICLE: Are you homemade cocktails lacking? Maybe the problem is coming out of your tap.

where do you find good ripe avocados here on the East Coast? Visiting California has spoiled me for fresh avocados.

Well, they don't need to be ripe when you buy them, you just need to let them ripen on your counter. If you want to speed up the process, put them under a bunch of bananas, or in a bag with a banana. Bananas give off ethylene gas which speeds up ripening. I have found good avocados in many stores, the trouble is, and I am sure it is because of the drought in CA, they are pricey. 

By the way, if you avocado is becoming soft too soon (you want to save it for a few days), just pop it in the fridge. The cold won't hurt it.

Pati says:

 

Oooooh you just have to make good friends with produce manager at your local nearest store! I've found that every grocery store has them, if you don't see the great ones displayed, ask for the ones in the back. If they give you green knew they will ripen beautifully in your home.

And I will add: You can hasten that ripening process by putting them in a paper bag and leaving them at room temp. Put a banana or apple in there if you want to speed it up even more. I'll also add: Get to stores that carry lots of Latin ingredients, like Pan Am in Columbia Heights. They usually have lots of ripe or nearly ripe avocados.

Something I discovered by accident that works well for easier thyme leaf removal is to stick the sprigs in the freezer. They tend to just fall off! And I get the rest would be easier to remove while the sprigs are frozen too. They'll defrost in seconds too, since they are so small.

I'm going to try that idea, thanks. Although the toasting or drying method will enhance flavors

I can understand that, but I have a tart tooth where others have a sweet tooth, so I love the idea. Too many sweet cocktails around these days.

For sure! I have no issue with lemons or other tart things in sangria -- it's just something about the tart apple factor that often seems to belong in a different drink? I LOVE apples in other cocktails, and even in slices so they soak up the booze and syrups and you can eat them at the end. (And of course, this is all subjective  ... I'm sure that the American Apple Board will be emailing me angrily later to object to my sangria-apple defamation.)

I have watched you for years, on both PBS and Food Network, which is a shadow of its former self – I know you probably don’t want to say it, but I will. Anyway, your new cookbook – would it be appropriate for a person whose cooking skills are limited to ripping open the top of a box of mac and cheese but who really would like to learn how to cook? What I love so much about your shows is how comfortable, natural, and “human” you are in the kitchen. I’d give that cookbook to a niece who would really like to expand her skills.

My new book was written for any level of home cook. A good place for the beginner to start would be with the "Quick and Quicker Chapter." However they should read the first chapter first which lays out all the important components of being a good cook. 

video and I still don't get it. First of all a lot of onions are shaped so that one horizontal slice won't be enough and more than one starts to get hard to work with. And you say to not cut all the way to the end. I get why. It keeps things more stable when doing the other cuts, right? But then you still have to chop the part that didn't get the parallel to the surface and the first vertical cuts, right? That could be a quarter of the onion. Can you expand on the video? Oh, and would someone please tell me how to get a small dice on mushrooms without it taking a billion years? Please. I love them, but it takes forever.

You're referring to Joe's recent Food Hacks video, This Is How You Chop an Onion. It's spot-on. It's the way I was trained to chop an onion at L'Academie de Cuisine.

 

But to your point: Yes, some onions are easier to slice this way than others; I typically, for example, will make three horizontal cuts for big onions, depending on how big of dice I want. But all onions, regardless of size, should lend themselves to the technique. It takes a little practice to nail down. Just as important, it takes a sharp knife. How's the edge on your chef's knife?

 

FOOD HACKS: This Is How You Chop an Onion

 

As to mushrooms, here' s a good video on the technique.

The video is a starting point -- you should absolutely find a method that works for you and for the onion that you're cutting. Indeed, with really big ones, you may very well want to do more than one horizontal/equatorial cut -- particularly if you want smaller pieces.

As for the piece of the onion that's left on the end, it shouldn't be nearly a quarter of the onion -- if that's the case, you're not cutting close enough to the end when you make the first horizontal and vertical cuts. But one thing I sometimes do if there's more left than I like is just turn that last piece to face down on the counter (with the end facing up), and then you can often get a couple more slices out -- and can chop them, too, if need be.

I noticed that virtually all jarred spaghetti sauce contains some amount of sugar. Some recipes do and some don't. Is this a matter of taste or does the sugar serve another purpose?

Unfortunately, I think the main reason sugar is in there is because Americans are addicted to it and manufacturers know that if the amp up the sugar, people will like their product. Sometimes a little sugar is added to a tomato sauce to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. I prefer to add sauteed onions which are naturally sweet. 

I got some oat flour and found a nice recipe that used oat flour, rolled oats, and King Arthur bread flour (it was their site), but also included 'bread dough improver'. I've not been able to find out what the ingredients are in the improver, just that it 'improves' the dough.. Very helpful. I did make the bread and other than it rising out of the bread pan and slopping over when it baked (very happy yeast I guess), I liked the taste result without the improver. It does kind of fall apart when sliced, but a very odd shape doesn't help. Do you think the improver would help it hold together assuming it doesn't rise out of the pan again?

Since I'm not totally sure what's in there, I think you ought to just contact KAF. They're very helpful. Their customer service number is  800-827-6836, and they also have a Baker's Hotline: 855-371-2253.

Hi Sara, What a treat it must have been to work with Julia Child. What current cooking trends, equipment, or "new" foods do you think she would have embraced were she alive today?

Julia was pretty traditional. Her favorite cuisines were French, Italian, Chinese (that last one from her days in the OSS) and "New American" meaning farm to table kind of cooking. I don't think she would have liked all the new techno cooking. She would be thrilled with the availability of so many fruits and vegetables at the farmer's markets (remember she was the one who told us to go into our supermarket and demand leeks and shallots). She would have loved all our new young chefs and winemakers.

What's your favorite junk food? Can either be for snacking, or for when it's late at night after a few drinks and you just want something delicious but you don't feel like cooking (I love frozen tater tots with hot sauce!!).

I don't really think this is junk food, but it is certainly not a proper meal -- I just love cheese and crackers. I mean real cheese, the runnier the better. 

I would never buy them but don't get me next to cheetos, wow they are addictive

In the dessert department - I have in the freezer right now a huge bag of peanut m and m's. I eat five after lunch and five after dinner. I do worry a little bit about the blue food coloring...

I could eat chips and salsa until corn grew out my ears.

 

I also love doughnuts, the yeasted kind with big airy interiors. Oreo cookies continue to tempt me, especially when I'm sick and tell myself that, "Yes, I'm not feeling well. I deserve a big blue bag of Oreos and a glass of milk."

Chips and dip. Chips and Longhorn Bar-B-Que Sauce. Fresh corn chips with salt sprinkled on top. Or if I'm feeling particularly lazy, just chips.

Sour cream and onion potato chips. Lord, help me.

CHOCOLATE. I'm a sucker for these little squares that a lot of chocolate companies make -- I prefer them because at least the portion is constrained to an ounce or so, so I'm not as tempted to just plow through a bar. But sometimes I just go through one after another.

I've been tasked with bringing some, and the various flourless ground nutbased thingies are appealing. Can I sub pareve margarine 1 for 1 in these things, knowing that it won't be quite the same?

Have you considered making a dessert that doesn't require a substitution? Pavlova, meringues, macaroons are all great options that are naturally pareve. I, too, don't like using "faux foods" and developed a number of fresh new easy desserts for "SJK" for just that reason. I wish I could share those with you right now!

Nope. Sorry, everyone. You aren't going to convince me. It is born stale and I don't care what you put on it. The only palatable stuff I have ever had is from Breadline and it isn't kosher for the holiday. So it isn't really matzo, just in the style of. I don't like water crackers either.

Thank goodness there are so many other things for you to eat. You do you! Eat and let eat. Have fun with whatever you like best -- and let the matzoh fans enjoy what they like to enjoy.

Hi! Growing up in Moscow, my mom had a pressure cooker she used all the time. I finally got one for myself: it's electric. Any recommendations for things to make? It's 6 quart, and I'm a household of one. It's not as intuitive to me as "regular" cooking. Thanks!

I think you should use it for cooking batches of dried beans as well as stews and soups, and don't worry about the fact that you are cooking for one. Those items freeze beautifully. Just portion them out in appropriate freezer safe containers and you will be prepared for many dinners to come.

I am a huge advocate of the Sesame Thins cookie recipe published in 2007 or so in the holiday cookie roundup. They work okay with margarine, so I was wondering if I could sub matzoh cake meal for the 3 tb of flour in them and get something edible.

Seems like it would work! Let us know if you give it a try.

I'm older than Sara and we live in a rural area, so I have to cook every meal. Has anyone found a way, short of going on strike, to convince a non-cooking partner to learn to cook?

Cooking dinner every night can really become a drag, I hear you. 

Why don't you tell your partner that you want them to cook once a week? You will show them one simple entree (a steak, roast chicken , a simple pasta dish) and then they can supplement with frozen vegetables and a salad.

 

My husband doesn't like typical breakfast items like oatmeal (my go to). He prefers dinner items which leaves me scrambling to feed him on the weekends. Occasionally I will make vegetarian enchiladas for breakfast. Can you suggest any non-traditional recipes for breakfast? He loves Mexican food and vegetarian, healthy things.

Here's a fun egg dish

You could put sauteed vegetables under the eggs and leave out the cheese (although why would anyone do that?)

I'm one of those people who don't like cilantro so when invited to someones home for dinner, I'll often give the host indication that I don't prefer the herb. Usually it's never a problem because you can often leave it out. I see my distaste for it the same way a vegetarian would say they're vegetarian: don't give it to me. But wait there's more. I also don't like dill. A little is fine but a little more than a little goes a very long way. So we're invited to someones house and I do the no cilantro thing, and dinner was salmon just caked in dill. In reality it was dill with a little salmon. So, should I tell prospective inviters that I don't like cilantro and dill? Seems a bit bitchy to do that.

Hmm. Interesting question! I'm curious to get other folks' take on this, but I would say that there's a difference between a dietary restriction and a dislike for the taste of something. For instance, I really don't like raisins, but I would never tell a host ahead of time about that. I just deal with it however best I can. I think if they ask, though, if there are things you like and don't like, you can feel free to mention cilantro and dill. 

Could you not scrape that dill off the salmon? Or was there so much that you were sunk?

Some people are actually hard-wired about cilantro--tastes and smells metallic or like someone forgot to use deodorant (how's that for demure explanation?). That's a tough one to get around if a dish has been infused with the herb. How do you handle guests' food preferences when you entertain?

    I agree with Joe that you just deal with it. That said, I think any good host should ask his guests if they have dietary restrictions AND foods they simply don't like. To me, it isn't only about restrictions, but about serving what my guests want (or, more accurately, not serving what they don't want). If a host knows you don't like dill, then he can prepare yours without it. No big deal. And so it is with a lot of foods. By asking what the guests don't like, the host is doing himself, and his dinner party, a favor. That way, he avoids the whole "Ohh, I am so sorry" thing or, maybe worse, learning later that you ate so little of the meticulously prepared dish because there was something in it you didn't like. 

I didn't have any whole wheat left, so I used white flour and 1/2 cup flax seed meal. I'm glad I used muffin liners as even the paper didn't want to come off. It made 28 muffins! Both the 16 tin and a 12 tin. WOW good thing they were just as good the next day, and the day after that...

They are incredibly moist. For the rest of  you, the chatter's referring to New Orleans Black Muffins.

What is the secret to getting pita bread to pop up and form a pocket? I've been able to make pita bread that is tasty, but it always turns out like a flatbread without a pocket.

I've not made pita before but just read about it. What are you cooking it on? Seems to me the key to that puff would be putting the dough on something really hot so it immediately starts to expand. Like a baking stone. We don't have a recipe, but That Other Paper does.

Ordered the cat fish and more from the Anderson Food Co you linked for me. Ordered on Wednesday after chat, fish on my door Friday morning! Fresh and tasty. Need to order a bit to get the free shipping, though. I made some red catfish curry, Thai style. Crispy fish, spicy sauce with slivered lime leaf and fried Thai red Basil leaf (like kale chips). Delightful.

Thanks for checking back in! One more reason why we love our Free Range chatters.

There was a woman who sold fruit shrubs and goat meat at the market in Silver Spring, MD and I loved them. However, she is not coming to market this year and I am so missing her shrubs. Have any ideas where I can get some fruit shrubs in the DC/MD area?

I'm pretty sure that I've seen shrubs at Salt & Sundry in Union Market (Liber & Co's, I believe?) and also Batch 13 on 14th St. Ace Beverage in DC and Old Line Wine in Beltsville, MD carry the Element line. You can also make your own -- I found that it was easy and delicious. Michael Dietsch's book can take the guesswork out of it until you get comfortable experimenting.

I agree that they're easy to make. I was so inspired by Carrie's piece on the subject that I made batch after batch last summer and early fall. Looking forward to local fruit season again!

Two 1 swear by: 1) Sharp knives. You'll get a lot less onion juice/oils in the air that way and it's so much easier to slice with a sharp knife. 2) A wet/damp paper towel. For some reason, I've found that covering the chopped onion in a damp paper towel as/after you slice it also reduced the amount of oils floating around in the air that can get in your eyes. I also rinse my knife off as I slice if I feel like there's a lot of oil in the air.

Interesting! I have another video coming up on how to avoid crying, and sharp knives are def a big part of the strategy. But the paper towel idea is intriguing -- it seems like it wouldn't be so easy to keep moving it on and off while you're chopping, eh?

Sometimes I don't get in from work until about 6:30/7pm. Are there any recipes that can be recommended that are quick and won't have my family eating dinner at 10 oclock at night?

Here are four 5-ingredient recipes that we featured on my pbs show - just click on the recipes button and you will find them

5 ingredient recipes

Risotto! And get one of Lorna Sass' cookbooks. She has great pressure cooker recipes.

I just ate hardboiled eggs and olives for breakfast. That all would go well with lebneh and bread (though I ate goldfish crackers).

I have some sorghum syrup, too. What is everyone's favorite thing do it with it? It seems to have a bit of an iron-y flavor, almost.

Try this drink, for one. 

I just made an old Edna Lewis recipe for gingerbread (from her iconic "Taste of Country Cooking") that calls for sorghum -- and it was the best gingerbread I've ever had. Lighter, more complex-tasting.

Chef Ed Lee is a serious proselytizer for sorghum syrup and its many uses. Check out his cookbook, "Smoke and Pickles" for some good ideas.

 

Lee also wrote a blog post a few years back about a sorghum farmer. In the post, Lee urges you to add sorghum "anywhere you need sweetness," whether barbecue sauce, braising liquid, glazes, soups, marinades, etc.

Are there any beef recipes anyone can recommend that might be palatable to a 4 year old? She is super picky and I always try to try different meats, but she really insists on chicken. Her father and I are both reaaaaaaaally tired of having chicken!

These sweet, melty short ribs are a WaPo classic. Maybe that'll do it.

Mahogany Short Ribs

RECIPE: Mahogany Short Ribs

Check out these other beef-containing recipes we've labeled as kid-friendly in our database.

I come from a family of wing lovers. I want to try making wings at home, but how do I know when a chicken wing is fully cooked? Excuse my inexperience, but I am trying to learn! :)

When fried in 350-degree oil, wings that are lightly golden brown should take about 8 minutes to cook. If you want to be really sure, the internal temperature (taken away from the bone) will be about 200 degrees. If you're baking/cooking them further in sauce, you might aim for just shy of that 8-min mark. 

I usually don't get to that part until about 1/2 way through the chopping and it mostly just sits at the side so that I can quickly cover the onion with the damp towel when I'm done. If the knife is sharp it doesn't take that long to chop an onion.

Oh, I see.

I cant tell if I overcooked them or under cooked them. Nicely marinated, then slow BB for about 35 minutes. Shoe leather comes to mind. Argh. There was a debate, hot fast show to the grill or slow and low? Did I do it wrong, or just not long enough?

Not long enough. The muscle fibers in short ribs seize up  when they first hit the heat and then require long cooking to become tender. And usually some liquid; that's why braising works so well for these cuts of meat. If you started with grass-fed, free-range beef, it will take even longer to reach tenderness. But the wait will be well worth it.

Yes, I agree, they needed to be cooked much longer and in liquid. 

However, and this is an interesting trend I have been seeing in butcher shops - some boneless short ribs are being marketed as an alternative steak, meaning that you cook it quickly like a steak. I have done that with success and sliced it thin and it is tasty. But I far prefer the low and slow method to coax out all that flavor.

Here is a nice recipe

Got this Pita recipe from "Organic Gardening" magazine ca. 40 years ago: INGREDIENTS : 1 package dry yeast / 1¼ cups lukewarm water / 3-4 cups bread flour (or AP flour + 3-4 teaspoons of wheat gluten). DIRECTIONS: Mix yeast and water; add 2 cups of flour and beat well. Add more flour, ½ cup at a time, till dough forms ball. Knead 10 minutes. Shape ten 2" balls, roll out each into a ¼"-thick circle that's 5" in diameter. Set pitas on UN-greased baking sheet. Let rise till double (ca. 45 minutes), then turn over! Bake 5 minutes @ 500°F.-- a very hot oven--and watch the pitas puff! COMMENT: The trick to creating pockets is turning the dough just before baking after it's risen.

Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for the suggestions. Regarding toasting, isn't that taking away at least part of the rationale for using fresh herbs? I can always use dried thyme. Same with letting it air dry. I will try keeping them out of the refrigerator, but as someone who mostly cooks for himself, that may lead to a lot of waste of what, in my view, is an expensive (but worth it!) addition to a recipe, in comparison to its dried alternative.

Not at all. You are correct:  fresh will have a different flavor--more delicate, grassier--than dried, but fresh-dried is a whole other thing from the stuff in a jar. Not wasteful: just keep using as they dry. You'll experience the whole range of thyme.

It is rude to tell a host about your personal preferences in response to a dinner invitation. If you have a health/ religious/ ethical reason for not eating something, that's one thing. But you are not going to a restaurant, you are going to someone's home. I think it's better to just decline the invitation rather than tell your host what you do and don't like.

Steel Cut Oats are wonderful - especially if your cooker has a slow cook setting Soup stock in 30-45 minutes (check recipe for your device)

California girl here. You don't ever want to buy "ripe" avocados at a supermarket ! They've been bounced around, squeezed, dropped, and who knows what else. Plan ahead and buy them green, and let them ripen naturally.

When a recipe calls for melted butter or margarine, can I use the same amount in oil instead? Why is necessary to melt these congealed items?

Most cases, sure. Are you talking about baked goods? If so, I'd assume that the solids are dispersed better when they are first melted.

on plain cornbread. that is best. Other uses includes in cookies in place of molasses. Sorghum works well with spiced cookies.

If you aren't super by the rules, and can have corn starch, I highly recommend my take on Pati Jinich's meringue cake! I made mine into individual portions and drizzled the cakes with balsamic vinegar reduction and added a bit of basil. People went WILD for it.

Appreciate it -- always looking for good holiday desserts. I bet potato starch might do as a substitute, though. Right, Amelia?

Yes, Bonnie, potato starch is the perfect substitution here. I also use potato starch instead of matzah meal or flour when I want gluten-free latkes or egg drop noodles

Thanks for linking to the Avocado Toast recipe a few weeks ago - has made its way into heavy rotation in my house for a quick supper after getting home from work late. Big fan of the 2 ingredient, 5 min prep - any more of those, send my way!

Summer's produce can't come soon enough, so I can make this!

RECIPE: Summer on Toast

Sara, do you see Aunt Fanny more? Those were my favorite shows.

Wasn't she the best!!! For other people who don't know who we are talking about, Aunt Fanny was the adopted aunt of Martin Scorsese. My producer on Cooking Live, Georgia Downard, had worked on Martin's cookbook and met and fell in love with Fanny. Fanny came up to my chin and was quite wide. She was an amazing Italian home cook with lots of opinions about how to do things (her way of course) and she was fun to have on the show because she was so refreshingly honest. You never knew what she would say next. We had her on maybe a dozen times, including the very last show.

anyway, alas, she died about 5 years ago. sad.

Thanks!

Back in about 1970, the Post published a cookie recipe that I treasured for years, but I've lost it. It was called "Pumpkin-Raisin Crisps" which was odd ecause it was a soft cookie. Is there a snowball's chance in you-know-where that I could get it?

I did a quick Nexis search and came up empty-handed. Sorry!

Well, you've knocked the citrus slices off us and transferred us to serving plates, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today -- and a special thanks to Sara, Amelia, Carrie and Jim for helping us with the a's.

And now for the cookbook giveaways: The chatter who asked about "quick dinners for the working mom" will get Sara's "Home Cooking 101." And the one who asked about finding good avocados will get Pati Jinich's "Mexican Today." Just send your mailing info to Kara.Elder@washpost.com, 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 and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Sara Moulton
Sara Moulton is a chef-instructor and author of “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better," (Oxmoor House, 2016).
Amelia Saltsman
Amelia Saltsman wrote this week's article on matzoh kugels.
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