Free Range on Food: Think like a chef, Alain Ducasse's new book and more

Apr 18, 2012

Free Range on Food: Think like a chef, Alain Ducasse's new book and more.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Good afternoon, Free Rangers! Tim Carman, Jane Touzalin, Becky Krystal, Jim Shahin and David Hagedorn are here to answer your cooking/food queries today, and we have Jason Wilson on standby. We're ready to talk about The Process, David's terrific new column, Green Carts in Jane Black's Smarter Food, Tim's review of "Nature" by Alain Ducasse, recipes -- you name it!


Couple of cool cookbooks to give away to helpful chatters; we'll announce winners at the end of the hour. So let's get to it.

We are hosting a casual brunch for 15 (including kids). Do you have any suggestions/recipes for easy entrees? We usually do scrambled eggs or french toast but that seems too labor intensive for this many people. Thanks!

You can still stick with something eggy that will be easier for a big group -- I'd consider a frittata or strata (or two!).

These Brownie Scones look totally killer, and they can be made a few days in advance. The dough for these Buttermilk Scones With Fruit can be put together early also. You'd probably want to double both recipes. 

Make-Ahead Shenandoah Valley Biscuits are another good bread option, as is Pecan-Chocolate-Espresso Coffee Cake.

Throw some fruit salad into the mix, and you should have a pretty awesome brunch.

Pecan-Chocolate-Espresso Coffee Cake

I loved Tim Carman's book review. Two particularly great lines: "Alice Waters would have gushed like a broken fire hydrant in Queens, given the chance!" and..."which has earned him enough Michelin stars to form his own private galaxy." The Spring Tartines recipe sounds quite tasty. I appreciate Tim's comment about Ducasse's original recipe calling for too many radishes. In reading, I wondered if it also calls for too many tomatoes. Twenty cherry tomatoes cut in half is 40 halves--10 per slice, which seems like a lot if you are only making a row down the middle of a small slice of bread. In any event, I'm looking forward to trying this, especially this summer when my farmer's market has their amazing golden cherry tomatoes.

Thank you.

I have to admit that even though (semi)negative reviews can be fun to write, this one gave me little pleasure. I have a great deal of respect for Ducasse and the empire he has built, but I feel the "Nature" cookbook shows the downside of such an empire: Things get sloppy and rushed.

As for your tomato question, I had four halves leftover, so I left the original 20 cherry tomatoes called for in the recipe. I figured that it would be better to have a few extra halves, than not enough. Plus, I figured it would all depend on how large of bread slices you started with. My bread was a medium-sized, whole wheat boule. Some may use larger loaves.

I found the recent article about what is considered to be 'local' enough for sale at some local farmers markets to be very interesting. But I have to note that I was much more sympathetic to the coffee roasters, who were doing a lot of the processing work for coffee locally, rather than the olive oil people that were just bringing the oil from California. Maybe the markets should allow in foods that are not grown locally but are processed into edible/drinkable forms locally.

Interesting. The market closest to me is Bethesda Central Farm Market, and I really appreciate having some other vendors there, including All Things Olive. The oil they sell is fresh; I've been inspired by their grapefruit-flavored oil to run right over to the organic stand and buy great greens to build a smashing salad for dinner that night.

I live in West Philly, which is served by a number of what we call "fruit trucks." When I first moved here, i thought they were illegal since the produce is displayed from the back of a truck that is usually graffitied and has flat tires. However, they are a beloved part of the community and often sell out of produce by the day's end. The produce is significantly cheaper than the grocery store and serves a real community need. i just wanted to chime in that I think these trucks/stands provide a real community service and seem to be thriving in Philly.

Looking forward to seeing how they do in those District wards mentioned in Jane Black's article. BTW, we noticed that there's a Melissa's Produce stand set up at Yankee Stadium, selling fresh fruits and veg. Wonder how that goes over?

I'm planning a simple brunch menu for my toddler's birthday at a neighborhood playground. My goals for the menu are easy, one or two items with a little substance/protein, and anything that won't go bad/make people sick. Important note, I'm in Dallas, where we have already had several 80 degree days so I have to count on it being warm. I'd love to do a bagel bar with a few toppings, but can I really bring lox and cream cheese and set it out for two hours? I would love any suggestions for keeping things cold simply, or for things that don't need to be refrigerated. Many extra bonus points if you can help me riff off of a monkey theme, but I am NOT going to push my luck - banana chocolate chip muffins are probably enough. Thanks!!!

Brunch food is for attending adults or just the kids? As for the lox and cream cheese, it'd be fairly easy to put them in containers deeply seated in a larger bowl of ice.

I was so excited to see David Hagedorn's new column on cooking today. Yes! This is exactly where my cooking interest is right now. I would love to improve my skill at developing dishes using seasonal ingredients without having to rely on recipes. I feel like that's an important step in becoming a skilled cook: making that transition from cooking by following recipes to drawing on experience about ingredients and technique to create rather than replicate. I'm really looking forward to reading this regularly. How often will it run? Also, are there any books along these lines that you would recommend? I'm a big fan of the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks, which break down recipes in a way that help the reader understand why what they do works. Do you have any recommendations for other books that would help cultivate such an understanding?

We were hoping you'd feel that way!  The Process will run once a month -- at least for starters.  I'm going to recommend a book that you've probably not heard of, but it continues to be one I refer to for really solid info and tips:  "Cooking School Secrets for Real-World Cooks" by Linda Carucci.  She's a longtime cooking instructor; she's coming to town for the Fancy Food Show in June and I hope we can snag her for a Food section something or other.

Thank you for your kind comments.

Interestingly enough, like most chefs, I rarely use recipes and when I do, there is always something I change. Consequently, my cookbook collection dwindled over the years. I like leafing through them for inspiration and ideas to adapt or vaguely replicate, but other than that, I wind up not using them. 

Two books that are must-haves are Jacques Pepin's La Technique and La Methode. Even though they were published a zillion years ago, I still find them relevant. He breaks everything down beautifully and what is best about Pepin is his total lack of guile or airs.

I should probably buy Essential Pepin, despite what I just said about buying cookbooks. I record his PBS show and the other day he made shrimp panes, which took about 10 minutes to put together. He pureed shrimp pieces with an egg, a garlic clove, parsley, salt and pepper, shmeared it on both sides of line-ups of whole shrimp, dredged the patties in bread crumbs and sauteeed them in olive oil and butter. Slicing them in two, you could see the whole shrimp, just barely cooked through. Easy and stunning. Of course, I added fish sauce and switched out parsley with cilantro. With sriracha mayo, it would make a great sandwich.

I say, take the plunge and trust your instincts. Like travel books, cookbooks are meant to guide, not dictate, Take detours wherever possible.

Do you have any recommendations for a good coffee maker under $75. I had a cup of coffee made using a Chemex pot this weekend and I really enjoyed it. It was mellow and not acidic. Are siphon coffee makers similar in flavor? Is one better than the other? Is one faster than the other? I've not found a french press where the i don't get some coffee grounds escaping into my mug so would prefer to avoid those. Also, do you know of any espresso machines under $200 that make an espresso with a really nice, dense crema? It can be manual or automatic. Thank you.

You're pretty far ahead of the coffee curve.

I have not tried using a Chemex myself, though I have enjoyed cups prepared with a Chemex at Chinatown Coffee Co. I should say I enjoyed them once the staff learned how to use the contraption. My first cups there were thin and under-extracted until the team got its techniques down (and started using metal filters, as best I can tell).

I have no experience, either, with siphon coffee makers. From what baristas tell me these days, the Chemex is the device of choice for the perfect cup of coffee. It also has the benefit of making multiple cups of coffee unlike, say, a Hario V60 or a Clever, both of which I have lots of experience with (and prefer the Clever).

As for finding a good espresso machine under $200? "The short answer is no," says Joel Finkestein of Qualia Coffee in Petworth. The best home option, Finkelstein says, is probably the Rancilio Silvia machine, which retails for more than $600 on Amazon.

The problem is, notes Finkelstein, even if you buy a Silvia, you still need to buy a good burr grinder to make sure you have a dense crema. A good used one will run about $150.

Looks like you'll have to stick with the local coffee house for that good espresso.


"Destination America" sounds like an interesting new network. Sure glad the "judges" (no experience) are gone and new ones coming in - makes for a better opinion on BBQ!!!!! Hope we can get the new network.

I'm looking forward to seeing the interaction between these top pitmasters - Austin's Aaron Franklin, Virginia's Tuffy Stone, and Georgia/the nation's Myron Mixon. Thehy are three very good bbq guys, each with different experiences. Should be fun. 

Thank you so much for these wonderful chats. This is really dumb, but what is the best way to cook rolled oats in the microwave so that the oatmeal doesn't spill over? I usually have a bagel for breakfast and am trying to go with oatmeal instead, figure it's healthier. But I'm just not sure how to do it without creating a mess in the office microwave. The instant packets tend to be too sweet, so was hoping to go with the rolled oats and change up the toppings to keep it interesting. Thank you!

This will sound simple-minded (and it is) but here goes: I had the same problem, so I just switched to a larger bowl. Problem solved!

Grrr -- Yet another dead basil plant. I know this isn't a gardening chat but please, tell this apartment-dweller (no balcony) how to keep herbs alive after I buy them, already growing, at the store. I've had the same problem with thyme, rosemary and every other culinary plant I've tried to grow, but all my non-food plants lives for years -- I even have a 6 year-old poinsettia that's still going strong.

Gardening guru Adrian Higgins says: Most herbs need sunlight and want to be outdoors. If you have a sunny window, it might be worth trying to keep herbs going in pots that drain freely (empty the saucer underneath after watering) but don't expect them to be permanent plants. It is still a bit too early to plant basil outdoors, I'd wait another couple of weeks, and plant out on a cloudy day.

We are having a housewarming party this weekend, about 20 people. We'll be doing drinks and finger foods; so far on the list is homemade hummus with pita chips and celery/carrots, either gougeres or some sort of puff pastry/pinwheel thing, and two types of cookies. I need a third savory item. Any suggestions for easy but impressive? No deviled eggs, please. Thanks!

Don't have much experience in BBQ sauces, but am fascinated to the point of trying a couple of recipes - hope it can be done before the deadline!!!!

Entry deadline is May 2. You can get it in by then, and you should! There are some basics you can easily find online and in books, then put your own slant on it. If you barbecue, you should have a sauce or two that you can make. And what better way to try out your recipes than on Smoke Signals? Hope you enter.

You need to try Absolute BBQ in Manassas. Best ribs and pulled pork. No need for road trips to NC. Only reson to go Memphis now is for the a dose of the blues. Off the main drags and only open Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun.

Always like to hear of a recommended 'cue joint out there. 

I made the Passover Popover Rolls for a Seder I had attended and they were a big hit. Now, however, I am wondering what to do with the rest of the bottle of Safflower Oil I have; it seems too expensive to use for frying. Do you have any recommendations for anything special? Thanks so much!

I think I might make them even when it's not Passover. Tried a kind of bread pudding with some leftovers that may appear in next year's holiday recipes. Anyway, safflower oil's good for salad dressings, because it's neutrally flavored and doesn't congeal in the fridge as much as some other oils. It has a pretty high smoke point. I'd use it for frying and sauteeing too....damn the cost! You've bought it, and you're worth it.

I use safflower oil (or grapeseed sometimes) to make my own spreadable butter. Usually it's 8oz softened butter + 1/3 c oil + 1/3 c water in the food processor until it's well mixed. Sometimes I add spices (sweet and savory, just depends) and also a pinch of salt. I know it's much better quality than what I can buy in the tubs and it's cheaper.

Is the apartment dweller repotting into a larger pot? I've had great success with my herbs by putting them in BIG pots - gives them more dirt to grow into and also means you don't have to water as often, and then watering regularly.

I second that. The brisket ends are amazing!

With apologies to the bard, let me say : "How do I thank you, Let me count the ways..." Thank you for telling it like it is about the store bought stock. It is awfull. Trust me, I tried every variety available. Thank you for adding the concept of "revelations" to my life's outlook, until now in certain situations I used to say: BUT, IT IS SUPPOSED TO TASTE THIS WAY!. But most of all thank you for not glorifying the "quick and easy" concept of cooking, which I believe turns most people into non-cooks. I am not against efficiently prepared daily meals with a shortcut here and there, I do not make cassoulet, lasagna from scratch or pates on work days, but I also don't open cans (with the exception of tuna and stewed tomatoes) or serve my family with delivered pizza. Cooking your way (my way too, although I am totally not as accomplished as you are) is the best way to cook. You get tasty, nutritious meals every time you put food in your mouth. After a while it becomes a much cheaper way to eat too, and that without counting trips to the doctor.

I can think of many ways for you to thank me and they all involve pork products. Wait, did that come out the wrong way?

That chicken broth—it is cloudy, vapid, dreadful. The best use is as the water in the stock you make at home. 

Funny you should mention cassoulet. I have a theory about dishes like cassoulet, pizza, Peking duck. They take so much time to prepare and often just can't be reproduced at home well, so why bother? My oven doesn't get hot enough to make pizza correctly and anyway I can't make it better than 2Amys or Mia's or Comet or Pizzeria Paradiso, so why go to the trouble? It takes days to make Peking duck and mine is not going to be like what Mark's Duck House or The Source serve, so best  leave it to those guys. Cassoulet—3 days for beans and stew? I'll go to Mintwood Place, thank you very much. 

Exceptions: riffs that are easier version of dishes, like this recipe I devised for a cassoulet of duck, lentils and lamb, which still involves some work. Nathalie Dupree says it's worth it, though.


So, I bought a coconut to make homemade coconut rum, and ended up with some of the meat left over. Any ideas for how to use it up?

If you have a cup of coconut meat leftover, you could try the Chocolate Coconut Porter Cake, which also includes the beer that won our recent Beer Madness contest. I tried the cakes that Becky Krystal made, and they were delicious.

A friend said they smoked "pork bellies" and it turned out salty. Jim Shahin, what are they talking about and how could the smoking turn out less salty??? This friend said they "brined" first. Thanks.

People tend to brine everything these days. Me, I figure pork belly is meltingly tender enough without brining. So, then, you get to the flavor. For a less salty pork belly, use a less salty brine. No, I am not being a wiseacre, here. There are lots of different brines. Choose one with a flavor profile believe will provide what you want.

Or do what I do with pork belly: don't bother. 

Is there a farmers market operating today in DC? would love to swing by and pick up something spring-y for dinner!

Indeed there is. The Foggy Bottom FreshFarm Market is open today from 3-7 p.m.

And thank you for this opportunity for shameless self-promotion. We are going all out this year with our farmers market list, to be published in text and map(!) form online April 25. Stay tuned!

Most mornings I microwave instant oatmeal (not the packets which are too sweet but just from the cylinder carton) with water in my office microwave. I've found that if I put the bowl on a plate (for the just in case slips) but otherwise pause the cooking every 30 seconds or so and stir down the oatmeal, I'm able to keep the breakfast lava overflow in check. So really just a question of being vigilant!

there are some wonderful bakes french toast recipes out there, that way you can please both the savory and sweet brunchers.

If you have a source for hot water (or microwave water to boiling) I usually just add it to a bowl of oatmeal and let it sit for about 5 minutes and it's good to go

Do you happen to know when opening Thursday is?

The FreshFarm Market by the White House opens for business May 3. Take note of the new hours this season -- 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Hi. I made the pecan/chocolate/espresso coffee cake from last week's Food Section. It was so delicious that I made it twice! And that used up all of four teaspoons of espresso powder, leaving me with a lot left from the can I bought especially for the recipe. Any suggestions of what else to do with this . . . other than drink it or to make other coffee-flavored baked goods? Can it be used as a rub for meats, for example? Thanks for that and any other suggestions.

Most uses for espresso powder are in desserts/sweets, but you don't need to limit yourself just to coffee-flavored ones. The powder can be used in many types of chocolate desserts -- cakes, puddings, mousses, meringues -- where the goal is just to amp up the chocolate flavor a little. You can't really even detect the coffee note, but for some reason it does give the chocolate a boost. Beyond that, you can use it to flavor barbecue sauces and foods such as baked beans and chili. And yes, you can rub it onto meats. Now, I have a question for you. I've never seen espresso powder in cans; are you sure you got espresso powder (which is a type of instant coffee) and not actual ground espresso beans?

Glad to know about Sam's tasting this weekend - might be a good chance to try some "different" dishes - thanks for the info, Jim.!!!!

Cook a big batch over the stove in advance, re-heat with a little water during the week. That way there's no spillage and the work's already done.

This weekend I'd make to a tender pork roast--the kind that falls apart with your fork. I haven't done this much before. In the past, I used pork shoulder. Is this the only pork cut that will achieve that kind of result? Something less fatty and perhaps a little smaller would be nice. Ideally I could put it in the crock pot with some vegetables and herbs and having something nice to serve with truffled mac & cheese for dinner.

You know, I think pork shoulder gets tender because of the fat...but certainly you can roast, then drain and chill and discard all the fat that becomes congealed. What do you want to use the roast for? If it's stuff like tacos, you might like this Pressure Cooker Carnitas recipe. Porchetta's another fab way to go. But quite possibly it's hard to top Scott Drewno's Asian Roast Pork.

I know this comes up pretty often, but last week's breakfast talk inspired me to ask if any of the chatters have tips for getting yourself to bring lunch to the office more often. I generally just bring leftovers (not a big sandwich fan, haven't figured out how to effectively bring salads), but this means that if I don't cook or make something like seafood that doesn't reheat well, I end up buying lunch the next day.

Hoping we can all weigh in on this. Think in terms of a salad bar/bento box approach. Boil a few extra new potatoes and green beans, maybe a hard-cooked egg over the weekend. You can pack those things in small separate containers and build a Nicoise salad with olives and good canned tuna and a homemade dressing. Re salads: Pack items separately and keep a mixing bowl on hand. Dips are easy and filling: adulterated (yes! I said it!) hummus or a vegetable smish with some sea salt/olive oil crackers would be nice.  Make extra pasta at night; fold some cold pasta with pesto and vegetables for a cool salad; add already-cooked shrimp or some shredded rotiss chicken. Summer rolls are another good way to go; soak rice paper wraps and fill them with fresh crunchy vegetables. Make a quick dipping sauce with peanut butter and a little soy sauce.

Bonnie is way more creative than I am. Most days I can be found eating yogurt -- Greek yogurt with some homemade granola mixed it. Easy, light but also satisfying. If I have time on the weekend, I like to make a batch of bean burritos. They last fine the whole week in the fridge, and I just use a microwave-toaster oven combo to reheat.

Also, you must check out our awesome Lunch Bunch graphic from the other year.

Me, pretty Old School: sandwiches. I try to have something healthy, like baby-cut carrots, packaged in a Ziploc the night before. If I have chips, I package them too. So, the only thing I need to do is the sandwich, which, granted, is still a bit daunting in the bleary-eyed slow blur that is morning, but, well, that's what I do. That, and make something (casserole or, uhm...barbecue) on Sunday, and take versions of that through the week. If all else fails, I buy or go without. 

For me, salads are all about keeping the dressing in a separate container and making sure the rest of the ingredients are sealed tightly in another container and don't contain too much moisture, so that they won't liquify by lunch. Think: greens, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot slices, onions.  Don't forget the salt and pepper either. I hate salads with S&P!

Sometimes when I'm smoking ribs, I'll make an extra rack and save them for the week. Precooked ribs reheat beautifully. All you have to do is wrap them in foil and put in the fridge until lunch. Reheat them gently in either a microwave or toaster oven until hot to the touch. Bring extra sauce if you desire it.

Just came across a bag of brown lentils I bought in the fall to make lentil soup with... any ideas on transforming them into something a little more spring-like?

Fiance and I were too lazy to cook one night, so we left bone-in lamb in the refrigerator for an extra day with salt and pepper on top. We cooked it on the grill, and it was soooo salty. We both saw this coming, but would their be anyway to "fix" meat you think will be too salty? Thanks!

I suspect your lamb underwent what some call a dry brining, similar to what happens to a turkey in the so-called Judy Bird process. The salt extracts the meat's juices, then redistributes the juices back into the meat, plus salt.

The trick would be what you already know: Cook that lamb earlier!

For an espresso-maker, I'd recommend a $20-50 stove-top one that's made in Italy and Argentina and known as a moka pot or caffettiera -- It's metal, hourglass-shaped and twists apart, the water goes in the bottom, the coffee goes in a sort-of cup that fits inside the bottom, and the water is forced up through the grounds as it boils and steams, depositing luscious coffee in the top. Bialetti is the best-known maker. As to Chemex, does it really out-rank a French press these days? Is that for people who don't want their coffee strong and dense?

Thanks for the suggestion on the stove-top espresso maker. I'd have to see it work for myself.

The French press does not seem to be the favored process these days for coffee. Among the reasons: The grounds too often get mixed up in the coffee. Plus, clean up is messy, and there's a tendency to oversteep.

Do you have a recipe for a pizza dough that I could make in my bread machine please? Since it's my first time, I'd like a simple, white flour dough.

How about No-Knead Pizza Dough? Even simpler.

HI, this question is for David H. I, too, love the recipe creation process, but have a hard time admitting defeat. Do you ever totally fail, dump it all and start again? Or are you usually able to pull a tasty dish together somehow. What are some surefire fixes?

This is an excellent question. One thing I learned a sa chef is to know when to call it a day. I was the one who kept on top of things inthe walk-in, removing things daily that needed to be used up and turning them into employee meals, daily soups or specials. Every now and then, in an effort to save something, I would satrt adding things to it, never getting it right. Well, there comes a point where the law of diminishing returns sets in—you are using too many new things to save scant old things. That is throwing good money after bad.


And yes, sometimes you just have to dump it and start over. For my last Sourced column on heritage pork, I got it into my head to take shredded cabbage, onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, etc and put them all in a saute pan with raw, fresh ham steaks and hjsut let everything braise and meld into porky goodness. Well, the dish was awful. What I was hoping was that I could cut out some steps and make the dish really easy for a home cook to make—just out it all in a pot and  set it and forget it. Well, I got the forget it part right. What I then went through to make it correctly (browning onions, deglazing, adding more ingredients) went against my original intention which was to make a dish easy to assemble.


In the first effort, the vegetables were overcooked and the meat really lost its integrity. My poor partner gets the brunt of my errors. That was dinner that night. I know the dish is a clunker when I ask his opinion and he looks up the the ceiling and says in this high-pitched voice, "It's good! It's good!" That is Michael-speak for "stinkeroo." I dumped it.


Ultimately, I got a grip and realized that this terrific product did not need all that fuss anyway. It just called for a simple quick-cure and pan-frying. You generally stay on the right path when you remember to respect your ingredients.

Hi. I bought a 5-lb bag of organic lemons and another of oranges, and a few organic limes and a grapefruit, too. It seems a shame to toss the peels when they might come in handy later. Can I just bag 'em and freeze 'em after I cut them in half and ream out the juice and fruit (which is what I use them for), or is there some other way to dry them? Much obliged.

It'd probably be handier for you to zest the fruit first, then freeze the zest. That way, you can just reach into the freezer and take out what you need with additional prep. Squeeze out as much air as possible, and double-bag if you can. You might find that the frozen stuff isn't quite as potent; if so, simply adjust the amount you use.

I'd like to use leeks more in cooking but have grown tired of putting them in soup or eggs. Do you have anything fun that I could use them in that's a little more complicated but wouldn't hide the flavor?

Love leeks. How about:

Dill-Scented Chicken With Leeks and Potatoes

Grilled Keeks With Dijon Cream

Jiffy Papillotte of Salmon, Vegetables and Herbs

Leeks, Greek Style

Mussels With Leeks and White Wine

also, my fave way to use leeks is below --  something I wrote about in a Staff Favorites several years ago. We'll get it in the Recipe Finder database later today.

Chicken, Leek and Parsley Pie
6 servings

This recipe has made its mark among friends as a potluck staple. Using quick-cooking, skinless chicken tenderloins and making the pastry a day in advance nudge this recipe into a doable weeknight dish. Adapted from "The New Chicken Cookbook," edited by Linda Fraser (Smithmark, 1995):

For the pastry:

7/8 cup (14 tablespoons) slightly cold unsalted butter, diced

2 egg yolks

21/2 cups flour, plus additional for work surface

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon cold water

For the filling:

3 poached chicken breasts, bone-in, or 6 to 8 individually quick frozen boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins that have been poached

4 tablespoons butter

2 leeks (white and light green parts), thinly sliced

2 ounces grated cheddar cheese

1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard (may substitute Dijon-style)

1 teaspoon cornstarch

11/4 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Beaten egg, to glaze

For the pastry: In a food processor, blend together butter and egg yolks until creamy. Add the flour and salt and pulse until the mixture just comes together. With the motor running, add the water and process until the dough forms a ball. Flatten the dough. wrap in plastic, and chill for at least an hour and up to 1 day ahead. The dough patches together easily if you have any breaks.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger piece on a lightly floured surface so it will line the bottom and sides of an 81/2-inch-square glass baking dish. (I prefer to use glass so you can check the progress of the pastry sides and bottom during baking.) Prick the base with a fork and bake for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

For the filling: Debone the chicken breasts, discard the skin and pull apart the meat into large strips, doing the last step if you're using tenderloins. Set aside.

In a medium skillet over low heat, melt the butter and add the leeks, stirring occasionally, until softened. Stir in the cheddar and Parmesan cheeses and parsley just to combine. Remove from the heat.

Spread half of the leek mixture over the baked pastry. Cover with chicken, then top with the remaining leek mixture.

In a medium bowl, combine the mustard, cornstarch and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the filling.

Moisten the top of the cooked pastry's exposed edges with beaten egg. Roll out the remaining pastry and use to cover the pie. Brush top with beaten egg and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.





I have a question about food for children. My husband and I are parents only to fur kids who walk on four legs. But there are several occasions where we end up feeding friends or family's children and we are unsure what to do. The kids are usually under 10 and do not have any serious allergies. My husband and I adore food and entertaining and we generally like having these children in our home. We just don't have much experience in what kids like (if it is different than adults? What are the trends for "bad" food for kids?) We don't want to make things they won't eat and we especially do not want to make anybody go hungry. Help!

What a thoughtful host! These days, we tend to talk about avoiding all kinds of things for kids -- excessive sugar, fat, etc. So I wouldn't break out the deep-fryer or anything. But I doubt their parents are expecting you to serve crudites either.

Especially if these kids like food, I think a make-your-own set-up would keep them entertained and prompt them to try things they might not ordinarily eat. Think about a taco bar or fajita station, where you can mix in lean, flavorful proteins with a variety of vegetables and condiments. If the parents aren't averse to pizza as a once-in-a-while treat, that could be fun. Kebabs could work too.

I think some flexibility is key. They'll eat with pride what they've made.

Really excited for David's new column; I learned a ton from this first one alone. In addition to the things gained from the invaluable tool that is experience, I noticed that some of the tips he mentioned (e.g. cream not freezing well) seem to be more scientific and universal. Are there any resources, whether in print or online, that contain such information in one place and could aid in the learning process for us home chefs?

I'm so glad you are finding The Process useful. My colleagues should weigh in on this, but Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" is essential and Madeleine Kamman's revised edition of "The Making of a Cook" is fascinating, if not a wee bit pedantic. I  find Kamman to be a real treasure and a trove of information. (Full disclosure: I am mentioned in the book's Acknowledgements.)  

hello rangers! unlike most people, instead of a "sweet tooth", i was born with a "salt tooth". potato chips, pretzels, you name it, i can't get enough! i'm trying to be much healthier and love the idea of vegetable chips. my problem is that when i mandoline my veggies and then coat in a little olive or coconut oil, season, and bake, they come out delicious, but not crispy. is there a secret to getting crisp, chip-like vegetable chips in the oven (the other option is to use my dehydrater, but i am much too impatient for that!). for the record, i have tried kale, parsnip, beets, and sweet potato. all were amazingly tasty, but none were satisfyingly crunchy. thanks!

You may have seen this already, but the Apron Strings site has some simple ideas on making veggie chips. They seem sound to me.

I'm looking for ideas to use maple sugar that I received as a gift. I love maple, so I'm hoping for recipes that will really show the flavor. (I don't want to just use it instead of regular sugar in baked goods where the maple will get lost.)

We're getting past prime time for roasting winter squash, but a sprinkling of maple sugar over butternut, acorn, etc., is nice. For something sweeter, try this Brown Sugar-Ginger Cake. It calls for either maple sugar or brown sugar.

I've learned that oatmeal prepared on the stovetop (with a bit of milk of any type) tastes SO much better than anything you can make in the microwave. Make a big batch one morning, then refrigerate leftovers in a couple of individual tupperware containers and grab one of those as you head out the door -- heat that up in the work microwave, and you won't even have an overflow problem.

Sounds good, and you'll save time on weekdays. Maybe just me, but I don't like the taste of oatmeal reheated in Tupperware-style containers. Might be good to keep a "real" cereal bowl at work for reheating.

You mentioned her in a previous chat, but what do you think her best cookbook is for using a wok?

Thanks for the suggestion of the Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger from last week's chat. I wasn't the original poster, but I tried it last night and it was delicious! I'm having the leftovers for lunch right now. It also introduced me to the wonderful condiment that is mae ploy. I will need to find more uses for it.

Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger

You're welcome! I really do love that recipe. And I too have done it as leftovers.

A larger bowl helps, and using the instant/quick oats instead of the ful trad oats helps. Also, zap for about 20 seconds at a time. And consider starting with hot water if you have a hot water dispenser in the office.

I'm the original poster, thank you so much for all the suggestions and easy fixes. I don't feel so stupid asking that anymore. I really appreciate it and can't wait to try the different ideas.

I cook a bowl of rolled oats at half-power for 5 minutes. Usually but not always stays in the bowl.

I am having a terrible time of late coming up with dinner ideas for my vegetarian kids (who are not huge fans of vegetables - yeah, I know). I am sick of pasta, just sick of it. I have several kiddie cookbooks, but the stuff seems too adventurous for my mites (tempeh, quinoa). I made roasted cauliflower with store-bought pasta sauce and piccolini pasta last night and omlette the night before. Tonight I'm making a stew of bite sized, potatoes, carrots, and peas (with Indian spices). They usually like that over some boiled basmati rice. But I would love another idea to get me through the rest of the week.

Try looking through our meatless and kid-friendly main courses in our database. (OK, a good number are pasta-based!) Maybe you all would like Quick Refried-Bean Quesadillas With Corny Salsa Verde? Stir-fries could work too, such as the aforementioned Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger.

Yotam Ottolenghi's Spinach with Eggs - I doubled the leeks / skipped the scallions based on what I had but left everything else the same and it was fabulous. Great leek flavor, but also had some other interesting notes to it. I just finished it off for lunch and now I'm wishing I'd made more...

The Bailey House Apple French toast is a family favorite for holiday brunches. Make it the night before and then just pop it in the oven. Of course, somehow the night before always ends up being 11pm for us...

Ha! I am a sucker for baked French toast.

Hate brining. I take the fat and eat in moderation. Man if it doesnt have any flavor what is the point. No spices, smoke and marinades are a condiment. chicken, beef, pork and game should taste like what they are supposed to be. Not like chicken. I want to be able to tell if the lamb or beef was grass or corn finished. Lean lamb or beef makes that almost impossible. I prefer a bone in rib eye to a filet mignon because a filet even from the top prime grade has little marbling and fat. Repeat Fat is flavor. Fat is good and it wont kill you.

Is that you, Clifton?

I've had instant coffee granules served as a table-side "curry" ingredient to sprinkle on chicken, along with other small bowls of more traditional ingredients like mango. It doesn't sound good, but it was very good! Maybe the espresso powder would work too, in small amounts.

Sure, why not?

Sweetgreen used to sell a salad tote. It's bowl and lid, but inside the lid is a small cup for dressing. The dressing cup has a cover and a long stick. With the container tightly closed, you push the top of the lid, the stick pushes the dressing cup open, shake and eat. It's a geat way to bring salads and keep them dry until ready to eat.

Sounds like a good idea.

This reminds me of one of my pet peeves about those salad shops that mince your greens to pieces, then cover them with dressing. It's like soup instead of salad.  Yuck.

roast half a butternut squash (or sweet potato) along with some onions and garlic. throw that into the food processor or blender along with your leftover coconut meat. squirt in a bit of sriracha sauce or add your favorite curry powder and process everything until smooth. you can add some plain water or coconut water to the mix if it is too thick. top with roasted sunflower seeds....the BEST thai coconut soup :)

Sprinkle it on shortbread before baking. So good!

I am "bowled over" (a kitchen saying?) by Mr. Hagedorn's article about coming up with recipes. Please tell me, was that an unusual number of do-overs for coming up with each dish you liked? You've given me new respect for what goes into creating a recipe. But I'm also feeling doubtful about creating new recipes myself, as I can't imagine I'd ever be willing to start over so many times. Well, maybe, if I wait a few days between attempts ...

For as many do-overs as there are, there are probably just as many in which I get things right the first time out of the gate. But I can hardly fess up to that lest the powers-that-be think my job is too easy, right?


That being said, even if things come out well the first time, I always want to tweak them, to make them tighter, to make the flavors more instense and pronounced. Or to make it prettier. One inclination I have is to want to add things to simple dishes. The fresh chickpea salad in today's column is a case in point. It's dressed with thyme, olive oil, seasoned vinegar, salt and pepper, but I was telling myself that oregano would also be good in it and that it was so basic that people would think I was slacking. But my little voice said to leave it alone and to restrain myself from adding, as my grandmother always called it (referring to fashion accessories), "one geshnorkle too many." Again, repect for the ingredients is of utmost importance. Thoise peas and chives were stellar and just about speak for themselves.

What's a good idea for a birthday treat that I can bake to share at the playground for a bunch of 3 year olds? Everyone buys mini cupcakes so I thought maybe I could bake something siimple?

How about brownies? This may be the ultimate in simple brownie recipes: Better-For-You One-Bowl Brownies.

It's a name that busy parents can love.

My dad & his wife are visiting this weekend & they are the LEAST adventurous eaters in the world. (She doesn't even like Italian food, and he refuses to eat chicken and anything with melted cheese) I am not well-versed in cooking meat & my go-to is a marinated flank steak. But I've made that for them before & I wanted to try something different. Suggestions?

Is lamb safe territory? Jim just had this recipe for Grilled Butterflied Herbed Lamb that I've been dreaming about.

Grilled Butterflied Herbed Lamb

And Mahogany Short Ribs are a reader favorite.

What's the best cutting board material to buy for meat vs. vegetables? I chopped up raw chicken (for stir-fry) on my plastic board (thinking maybe the bacteria would breed like on a wood board) but I had a heck of a time getting the little white specks of chicken off the board. I even first washed in cold water, scrubbed, then in hot. Not sure what the best solution is to clean the meat off.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has thoughts on cutting boards and their clean-up.  The service says that "wooden and plastic cutting boards can be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels."

So, it's spring, my backyard is newly landscaped and ready for use. Now I want a smoker. There are only 2 of us living here, although we do have regular dinner parties. Should I look at green eggs? Big or little? Something else? Ease of use and quality of end product are both very important.

A Big Green Egg (get the large, you'll thank me later) is good for no-fuss, no-muss backyard barbeuce. 

I don't have a baking stone or one of those long wooden handles to put the pizza in the oven. Is there a simple way to get the pizza in and out? Can I just use a cookie sheet?

Yeah, some people do use an overturned cookie sheet. But I do love my pizza peel, which I think greatly reduces the chances of me burning myself!

I think you might be able to, if it's a non-rimmed and quite sturdy.  Don't forget the semolina for easy on/off access.

Hello, fooders! Thanks for taking my question! About 6 months ago, I bought a packet of sourdough starter yeast, and started a sourdough starter about 2 weeks ago. Last weekend, I tried a sourdough loaf. Got a reputable recipe, left the dough out for about 5 hours (yes, not the 12-15 the recipe recommended) and then put it in my large cast iron pot, with lid. The crust turned out great--great crunch, but it did not rise. It looked raw inside... So sad! I'm thinking that either I didn't let it rest/rise long enough, or that my starter is too immature. Any input? I think my starter is good, because it is bubbling and producing hooch. The internet has proved super intimidating on this question--baking is a science and there are some serious scientists out there! Thank you for your help!

If the recipe recommended 12 to 15 and you only did five, then my advice would be to follow the recipe and see what happens!

I've made cake in flat-bottomed ice cream cones - decorate them however you please and the kids seem to LOVE them!!!

So many varieties - leftover stew, rolled cabbage, pork chop, piece of steak or chicken, salad fixings with the dressing off until the last minute, even leftover omelets work well. Tuna or chicken salad made up in advance can last several days!!! Good eating.

Greens in one container, all the other toppings in another, dressing in a third container. If you want to add avocado, bring one to work whole and slice it up there.

Some people like pulp in their orange juice. Me, I'm fine with grounds in my coffee. Viva le French press!

To each his/her own!

I went on a citrus ring binge a while ago in preparing a Citrus and Champagne Gelee for a supper club. The recipe is from David Lebovitz's book, Ready for Dessert. He includes preparations for making the familiar candied rind, as well as for slightly candied thin strips of zest. The dessert, served in glass goblets was good in taste, sensational in appearance. You might also want to check out David Lebovitz's blog.

...because it is cheaper in five-box packs. Any ideas about what to do with the leftovers? We have a matzah brei moratorium for a couple of montths. Any other ideas?

Thanks for spending your lunch hour with us! David's got lots of material for his next column, I'll wager.

Chat winners: The person who was looking to use surplus citrus gets a copy of "Quick Cook: Low Fat" (no ulterior motive!) and the chatter who had the tasty leftover coconut meat suggestion gets "Quick Cook: Pasta." Send your mailing address info to and she'll get those books out to you.


Next week:  Look for our updated farmers market listings (139 of them; way to go, Becky!) and Editor Joe's Cooking for One returns. Until then, happy cooking!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carmanm, Food aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and The Process columnist David Hagedorn.
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