Free Range on Food: Carla Hall, making bagels at home and more

Apr 30, 2014

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

Hootie, y'all, and welcome to Free Range! What's on your mind?

In honor of Tim's profile of the fantastic Carla Hall, she'll be joining us for at least the first part of today's chat. So send your hoots her way!

But we have much more: David Hagedorn wrote a compelling piece about tackling the DIY bagel, and he'll be here to talk about that and anything else. And Tamar "Unearthed" Haspel will be here to talk about her take on processed foods, which she writes about this week, among other topics.

Then you've got us regulars: Carrie "Spirits" Allan, Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin and the rest of the WaPo crew. So hit us up!

Make your comments/questions good. To entice you to do your best, for our favorite we'll have a giveaway book, a copy of  "Carla's Comfort Foods" by you know who!

Let's do this.

I loved the article on Carla Hall! I have had the privelege of meeting Carla a couple of times and she was just so warm and sweet. And, a great hugger! :) In the article, in the items that her Granny prepared was "cooked-to-death green beans"... I am dying to know what all that entails! Any insight or which cookbook the recipe is in??

These are the beans that my grandmother cooked that are soft and not-so-green. I make them with chicken stock and potatoes. The recipe is in my latest cookbook CARLA'S COMFORT FOODS.

I was so happy to see Carla on the front page of the paper. I remember seeing her for the first time in Whole Foods, Silver Spring while shopping and I felt so honored to be able to say hello to someone I had hoped would win Top Chef. I then saw her again when Whole Foods did a Chopped Challenge and that was so much fun. However, my comment today is that there are no better bagels than the bagels in NYC (my home) and what about bialys? Where are the bialys? They are even better than bagels.

I've had delicious bagels in places other than New York, but then again my palate is not nearly as refined as that of any New Yorker. 

I agree with you about bialys. I see I need to get started on that piece.

On your list you missed the Bethesda market on Sundays in the Bethesda elementary school parking lot. The same organizers have one on Saturdays too, up in Rockville.

We did not, actually. The Bethesda Central Farm Market is on our map and list, as is the Saturday Pike Central Farm Market.

But thanks for the opportunity to promo this project. Here's the link to our interactive map, which itself has links to text lists.

Hats off to Becky for shepherding this reader service each year! #lottawork

Hi Free Rangers! Love the chats. In my efforts to eat healthier, I'm looking for suggestions for a substitute for a well known brand of turkey sausage crumbles. I find that if I mix them with a scrambled egg it keeps me satisifed until lunch. But with all the additives I'd like to make my own and freeze it in single serve containers. I'd like to use ground turkey breast, diced onions and peppers. What spices should I add? Any other veggies? It doesn't have to taste the same as the well known brand, I'd just like it to be flavorful but not super spicy - can't deal with super spicy in the morning. Thanks!

I'm so glad you asked!  I spent the better part of one grueling week trying to come up with the perfect Italian sausage spice mix, and I have to say that, in the end, it was a smashing success.  I use it for turkey, or for pork, or a mix.  And you can adjust the spice to suit your taste.  It's here:

Happy sausaging!

Joe, I loved the radish salad recipe and confess I have a weak spot for farm/farmers market-focused books. I'm excited to see actual green things at the FM and wonder what veggies you look forward to exploring this season before your garden starts producing?

Glad you like the recipe! Susie Middleton's book, "Fresh From the Farm," has lots of gems like this in it.

Of course, I'm a ramp lover -- I was just in Maine and foraged for a bunch with my sister and a friend, and enjoyed them flash-broiled over slow-scrambled eggs on English muffins. My sister had plans to pickle them, which I also love.

There's asparagus, naturally, and English peas, baby lettuces, and rhubarb, and green garlic, and all sorts of tender small greens. Oh, how could I forget radishes like the ones in this salad?

What's the best way to store ramps? I got excited seeing them at the Dupont Farmer's market on Sunday and bought a few bundles, wrapped the bulbs in damp paper towels, but by Monday the leaves were wilting and sad looking and by Tuesday, the leaves were just slimy. I know they're not intended for long term storage, but they must last longer than 2 days!

"The New Food Lover's Companion" suggests they will last up to one week tightly wrapped in a plastic bag.

I turned to the article about macarons with great anticipation, especially since the online subhead promises to "deconstruct" these beauties. Maybe I expected too much, but it wasn't very informative: they're trendy, they have a history, they can be purchased. What I was hoping for was some information about actually making them, since I'd like to tackle them but understand that they can be tricky. Can you point me toward some more informative sources? Thanks for this forum -- you make my Wednesdays.

Cookbook author Elinor Klivans built a little macaron package for us a few years ago. I'd never made them before and took a first stab with one of her recipes. They came out beautifully.Chocolate Mint Fudge Macarons

I've made vegetable stock for years from the proverbial bag of scraps from the freezer. I supplement from the crisper drawer or pantry as needed to have a nice full pot and it's always been tasty. To my horror, I tasted the most recent batch, and it was BITTER! The internet says I simmered it too long/shouldn't use onion skins/too much celery/etc. I don't use strong-tasting vegetables, caramelize first, nice fresh water, scraps don't accumulate for more than a few weeks in freezer. Thanks for any insights.

Strange! I make this all the time, too. I've never considered onion skins or celery to be sources of bitterness, but it is true that sometimes celery is more bitter than others (if it's hotter, gardeners say), and the leaves and peels can have a slightly bitter edge. Did you use any of those?


We are making a one day trek to NY to check out some of the spice stores and to have a vegetarian/vegan meal. Can you give us some suggestions on what to check out. Thanks

Don't miss the chance to dine at Kajitsu, which is one of the finest vegan/vegetarian restaurants I've ever experienced. Elegant, refined, delicious. Here's the Web site.

I agree with Tim. Also love it there. I wrote a piece a few years back about veg meals in NYC; also really liked Dirt Candy and Pure Food/Wine.

I have to say I love Carla and she really makes the Chew enjoyable when I get to watch it. The chicken with sour cream and paprika sauce sounds delicious - but I don't eat chicken. Do you think I could make it with tofu? Maybe cauliflower? I'm not a big tempeh fan but it sounds like this sauce could become a household favorite.

You could totally do this dish with tofu (extra firm). Press the tofu first, so the water is out and the seasonings aren't diluted. I would do tofu before tempeh. 

Hi, all. I'd like to find a hummus recipe that's tasty as well as consistently the right consistency. As much as a lot of my cooking is by the seat of my pants, I seem to need a recipe for hummus and other bean spreads because I can never get the texture right. The recipe for plain hummus in the database is very simple, but also from 2007. Anyone have any tips or brilliant additions tot the basic? Thanks!

Even though it's a few years old, it's a keeper! The Lebanese cook who showed me how to make it taught me a trick re: consistency. If you toss an ice cube or two into the food processor the whole mixture gets lightened and creamy. So simple, and I guess you could do it with other hummi. But give it a try, definitely. Also, don't stint on the lemon juice. To me, it's not optional. When I serve this hummus, I like to sprinkle za'atar, toasted pine nuts and sometimes cooked ground lamb on top, with a good drizzle of olive oil. 

You were definitely my favorite from right off the bat during your first season of top chef. I even got to attend one of your cooking demos back in 2014. I'm happy you are doing well but my boyfriend and I are bummed because we REALLY wanted you to cater our future wedding. Keep up the good work!

I'm sorry I'm out of the catering market (solely for your sake). LOL But I'm so happy to say that I'm a recovering caterer. I loved it, but it's a lot of work. I felt like a food mover. I'm glad you got to attend one of my cooking classes. I love teaching. Best wishes on your engagement. I'm sure you'll find the perfect catering partner. 

Hi, congrats on your new book. I ran across the recipe for hot and sour eggplant in a magazine awhile back and have been making it weekly. My kids love it! I like that your recipes are accessible and quick to put together on a work night. While I cook more complicated Asian dishes on the weekend, that eggplant is just the ticket some nights. I look forward to making the chicken dish soon. I also admire your positive, down to earth attitude. Keep it up!

Thanks so much. I love eggplant and that's a great dish for a weeknight meal. That's my focus in this cookbook. Recipes that are interesting, but also fast. 

Greetings, food section, and as always thank you for the chats. I have a problem making French toast. In the past, I tried using stale bread soaked overnight and then pan fried in butter. I also tried cubing the stale bread, mixing it with an egg and whole milk mixture, soaking overnight, and baking it in the over the next morning. Both of these approaches yielded an outer edge of French toast deliciousness, but the center remained soggy and generally unattractive. I attempted to cook it longer, but that just made the edges too crispy. I love making breakfast and make a lot of things well, but this is tricky for me. Strangely, this makes me want French toast more then usual. Thank you or any chatters who have some advice for me.

You don't need to soak French toast that long -- unless you're baking one of those overnight casseroles (Like Baked Fresh Toast With Strawberry Sauce or Cherry-Chocolate French Toast, both in our Recipe Finder database.) Figure on a thorough dunking just till the bread is spongy, then go straight into a hot pan, preferably nonstick pan with melted butter. 

Hello! I tried roasting some cantaloupe seeds after the chat, and am happy to report that it was mostly a success. I did half of the seeds with salt and the other half with cinnamon and sugar. My husband and I both preferred the cinnamon-sugar ones, which surprised me because I go for salty snacks over sweet any day. It took a solid 50 minutes to clean the goo off of the seeds...and that doesn't include the time I spent cutting, scooping, soaking, rinsing, and roasting. Also, some of the seeds kind of popped in the oven. It was neat to watch, but it startled me at first, because that doesn't happen when I roast pumpkin or acorn squash seeds. I ate the center (it was like a sunflower seed) of the ones that popped, which was tasty. When I ate the whole thing, I felt like the outer shell was tough to get through. Glad I tried and that I know it works, but I probably wouldn't try it again. I feel like the time I spent was disproportionate to the amount of snacking I got to do.

Interesting. Thanks so much for checking in. 

My dad bought me a bottle of mint lemongrass balsamic vinegar. His suggestions for use were on vanilla ice cream (a little goes a looooong way) or on a ham with mustard. What I can find online are suggestions for salad dressings for Thai-inspired salads or in a drink. Any other flavor profiles it would work well in? I'd love to use it in a marinade for chicken, but am stuck on pairing with other flavors.

There's a lot going on in this bottle! That might be why you have a tough time imagining what flavors it might go with; it contains several flavors already, which I'd say limits its use somewhat.

I'd be tempted to drizzle it on something like burrata, where the complexity of the vinegar can shine against the creamy blankness of the cheese. Same would go for silken tofu topped with crunchy thing, like this.

Or you could add sugar to it and boil it down until it gets nice and sticky, and then you'd be able to use more of it on things like ice cream, pancakes, yogurt, popcorn, nuts.

Trader Joe's has discontinued confetti rice, a guilty pleasure made with lemon grass and sold frozen so all I needed to do was nuke. Would you please try to get the recipe from them? Or do you have an easy recipe so I can make something similar at home? I've never cooked with lemon grass. Many thanks.

I happen to have a lemon rice in my new cookbook Carla's Comfort Foods. Chitrana Peanut-Coconut rice, as well as Jeweled  Rice with Fruit and Nuts. Both of these would lend themselves to substituting lemongrass. You can buy it at most Asian markets and Whole Foods. WF sells it already cleaned. You only use the light green/white part. Just take the outer/woody sections off and chop finely. delish!

I've been enjoying Haspel's pieces more and more as she hits her WaPo stride. Thought provoking and interesting. Regarding the processed foods, when I shop at Whole Paycheck, I'm always struck by the sheer volume of "healthy" processed stuff. If what is missing from processed foods is more important than what is added, are we being snookered by these pricey, marginally better products?

Thanks for saying nice things!  I always appreciate that.

About those healthful processed foods, "snookered" is probably overstating the case.  While some of them are probably only marginally better, and some aren't better at all, some are probably considerably better.  Although the category as a whole is a problem, that doesn't mean either A) that you should never eat processed foods (don't leave me alone with a bag of Doritos) or B) that some choices within the category aren't better than others.  Take them case by case, and find the ones that seem closest to actual foods, and have an ingredient list that includes things like vegetables.  If you're eating a lot of processed foods, cut back.  If you're not eating a lot, don't worry so much.

My son and his girlfriend bought a bottle of port (not sure why) but then discovered it's way too sweet to drink. They tried adding some fruit to make sangria, but there's still a half of a bottle left over. Any suggestions for using it in cooking something?

Think tiny glasses/portions :)

Stewing fruit's a natural thing to do -- figs, especially. You could add it to simmering/caramelized onions and stir it into your fave soft cheese to make a spread with peppery crackers. Chatters?

I love a good bagel, especially one homemade, but the cream cheese can also make or break it in my mind. I'd like to try homemade. Do you have any recipes? The search wasn't working in my browser. I'd like to try to make a chive one or honey walnut one at home.

Did you see the recipes for Fire Smish, BLT Smish and Cauliflower Curry Smish that accompanied my bagel piece today? Or are you asking about making your won cream cheese from scratch?  That BLT smish is the bomb!

I've never made my own cream cheese, but here's a link. Sounds delish.

Bagels are on my "Things I Will Learn to Cook in 2014" list, but I have two warring fears: that I'll be terrible at it and never make bagels as good as my dreams, and that I'll be really good at it and make bagels better than I can buy, and never have the convenience of my treasured weekly Bagel Day! Thanks so much for a wonderful article today, along with some really interesting pointers on what a "bagel" should be!

Thanks for your kind words.  You know what? The bagels aren't so hard to make and it is an immensely gratifying project. When you think the dough is leaden and you screwed up, you're on the right track. And don't forget that a sense of accomplishment always favorably enhances your assessment of what you make yourself. I say give it a shot. By the way, what other things do you want to learn to cook in 2014? 

Hi Food Gurus! My husband and I love your recipe of tilapia, olives, tomatoes and roasted garlic and make it a lot. But while it is delicious -- and fast on a weeknight -- I cannot for the life of me flip a tilapia fillet without it falling apart. Am I just a failure at flipping, or is there some secret to it? I even have special fish spatula and still can't do it right. I made this recipe again last night and while it was as yummy as ever, it looked a mess. Any tips? Or what other fish could you recommend for this recipe? Thanks so much!

Couple of thoughts, others should weigh in. 1) Maybe you're waiting a bit too long to flip it? It shouldn't be so cooked through that it's already flaking apart. 2) Two flexible fish spatulas work better than one! 3) You could wrap the fish in a soaked round of rice paper -- ups the elegant factor a notch, doesn't add a lot of extra anything and it keeps the fish together nicely.


As for other fish, ever tried catfish? 

I've seen chives growing wild in Glover Archibald Park and nearby lawns. Are these safe to eat? I'm thinking deer and such might pee on them but maybe that also happens with anything grown outside a greenhouse.

Pee is a perennial foraging hazard!  Icky to think about, but not dangerous.  Although I've never been to Glover Archibald Park, I've foraged in plenty of dodgy neighborhoods and lived to tell the tale.  Wash well, and enjoy.

I have a casserole dish I used to make scalloped potatoes in for Easter (OMG they turned out amazing) however I can't get the food particles to come up now. It's one of those pampered chef ones = similar to a baking stone or a cast iron skillet. I can't use dish soap and soaking in hot water isn't doing it anymore. How can I get this clean?

I have three words for you that will change your life: Bar Keepers Friend. It's a scouring powder that works wonders on enamel and stainless steel.

I am trying to cut back on the booze for a bit, just to give my body a rest after a big start to wedding season. Over the weekends or during a nice spring evening (if we ever get them) I'd like to still make a nice drink to kick back and relax. However, I'd like to not load up on sugar, syrups, soda, etc. Other than flavored water, are there some good drinks to be had out there?

I have a little trick that I use for those days when I want something that seems like a drink, but doesn't pack calories or alcohol -- a little Campari or Dubonnet in a big glass of seltzer, with a lime.  It's flavorful (and colorful) enough to feel like a real drink, but you get to stay slim and sober.  

I have some leftover chunks of marinated grilled lamb that I would like to make into a lunch. What would you do?

My first thought reusing it in a soft pita drizzled with olive oil and za'tar, tzatziki with mint and lemon zest and arugula. I'd eat that!

Tim's profile was wonderful and reflected the way I feel about Carla - her positivity and love just make people happy, through TV, books, etc. You are wonderful and cooking with love (or mostly baking with love in my case) is my philosophy too!

Thank you so much. I loved Tim's piece so much that I think I'll frame it. LOL.  I read it a couple of times and cried each time thinking about my grandmother. I JUST found Granny's pictures. Whew! Crisis averted. 

As near as I can tell I have a flu-like virus (aches and pains plus temp well over 100) and a cold (stuffed head, sneezes and coughing) at the same time. Can't seem to taste anything either. Can I just skip eating entirely, or is there something easy I should try?

You know that old saying, "Feel a cold, starve a fever"? People misuse it to think it's either/or, which is wrong. It's really an if/then proposition. The original idea was, "If you feed a cold, you starve a fever." In other words, eating always helps! (Unless you're not able to keep anything down, of course.)

But that doesn't mean you feel like cooking. Can a friend bring you over some chicken soup? Whenever my BF is sick and I don't have time to make Nina Simonds' Clear-Steamed Chicken Soup, I buy chicken soup from Whole Foods, along with a bunch of scallions, fresh ginger and garlic, and chop a whole raft of those aromatics up, saute them in oil (sesame if you've got it), and maybe some crushed red pepper flakes, and spike the soup. He loves it. You might be able to swing that?

How can it have 0 grams of fiber if it contains nice fibrous cauliflower? Surely the amount isn't so low that it counts as 0 grams per TB...?

The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of cauliflower. We ran the nutritional analysis per tablespoon (24). Our nutritional software says 1 1/2 cups of cauliflower has 4 grams of fiber, so divide that by 24 and you don't have much of anything per serving.

Do you use nonstick frying pans/skillets? If not, how do you cook eggs? If yes, what brands have you found worthwhile? I have gone through several that seem to warp rather quickly and the teflon wears thin sooner than I'd like. I'd be happy to use only my stainless and cast iron, but for the egg issue.

I don't, preferring to use my well-seasoned carbon steel (or cast iron) pans, or even stainless steel. Depends on how I'm cooking them -- sometimes slow scramble over a double boiler (SS pan), omelet or frittata (carbon steel or cast iron, depending on the recipe quantity), Spanish-style fried in olive oil (cast iron).

Small amounts in cold fruit soup.


why do you soak it in hot water before cooking?

To pull the moisture out without all the salt. After drying it off really well (very well!) the eggplant browns nicely and has a great texture. You can also do it the old fashioned way and salt it too. 

I am moving to Brazil at the end of the year and have been acquainting myself with Brazilian foods so I will (hopefully) have an easier transition. I purchased a can of pumpkin puree with coconut because I thought the combination was intriguing, but I am at a loss for how to use it. I would love to get some suggestions for how to use it, and am open to pretty much any ideas other than pumpkin pie. Thank you!

Sounds like it would make a nice soup! Cold in the summer, hot in the winter. Could thin it out with coconut milk or coconut water, add a little ginger and spice? Or yogurt?

Free Rangers, I am recently engaged (hooray!) and just started thinking about our wedding registry. I am a fairly prolific cook with a very tightly edited collection of kitchen items that fits my tiny apartment kitchen. I'd like to build my collection as I will have a much larger kitchen after the wedding and could use some upgrades. I'm not interested in full sets of things, but am thinking about a Le Creuset dutch oven or two, some nice pots (Calphalon?), new knives (what kind?). I'm not big on single-use gadgets. If you were building a wedding registry now, what would your dream list include? Thanks!

I like your thinking so far.  First stop on the way to Wishville: a Vita Mix blender, a wok, 4 commercial grade half-sheet baking sheets, several good cutting boards, small wine fridge/cellar, a food processor, a stand mixer, an electric kettle, a grill pan, cast-iron skillets in 8- and 12-inch sizes, Lexan storage containers, a heavy roasting pan w/rack insert, a couple of Nordicware Bundt pans (shaped), a few copper pots (small and large/oval/shallow). I'd go for heavy-gauge stainless steel rather than Calphalon, but that's just me. 

I'll weigh in on the knife issue and say what I've said before -- try to get to a store (like La Cuisine in Alexandria or DC Sharp in Union Market if you're local) that will let you hold and try out the motions of several kinds of knives, before you decide which ones and brands you want. And start with a good chef's knife and a paring knife, not getting a set as you say.

When it comes to pans, you should check out carbon steel like these made by Lodge. I love them.

Also, quarter-sheet pans in addition to the halves BB mentioned. And for the food processor, you might check out this Cuisinart model that includes 2 bowls in one. (There's another one with 3!) This can be a boon if you want to use it for small things AND large.

I use my Henckel's 5-inch tomato slicer and 8-inch bread knife all the time. Also, a good meat cleaver and kitchen shears are good to have. And a remote thermometer

I was going to say thermometer, but was beaten to it!  Still, I'd go with the instant-read, only because I've had several remotes, and they've all crapped out after a brief introductory functional period.  And poultry shears -- they're not just for poultry, and work on anything heavy that needs to be cut.  And congratulations!

Go ahead and do it. There are a few good recipes out there. About your third try you'll get something fabulous. You can still go to the store for bagel day to get flavors nobody would make at home. Try it, you'll love it - and you'll make a host of new friends who also like bagels.

I'm totally with you!

I like to prepare Chicken Pot pie to bring to friends that are recovering from illness, etc. How do I best prepare it so that when they warm it up, the crust is crisp? I sometimes try partially baking it, so they can finish it up at home. Does this work?

Blind-bake the bottom crust; add the filling; top with an unbaked top crust and wrap it up for them with baking instructions. That's one way to go. 

I have no question, just the comment that I LOVE Carla Hall. I love her recipes, I love her enthusiasm,I love her family stories, I love her on The Chew... just all around LOVE her.

She loves you, too, I can assure you! (And sadly Carla had to just rush out to get to a "Chew" taping...)

Any kind of garlic soup is easy, will help with the stuffiness, and will get some fluids into you. I use a take off of Bittman's -- saute garlic in a hot pan, then remove it, add broth and heat thoroughly. Add spinach if you want it (He crisps bread in the oil and garlic first, then removes it, adds the broth, and tops the hot broth with croutons). Kim O'Donnel had a similar soup for cold/flu that involved ginger, Asian noodles, and some julienne veg, I think. Principle is the same. In any case, get lots of fluids, sleep, and be gentle ---give yourself time to heal.

I wasn't able to post last week when the original poster complained that your "brisketville" reply offended her. She went on to complain that she's vegetarian. Fine, but her original post was about your pre-Passover-Week Food Section's recipes "contained nothing for Ashkenazis." It didn't mention vegetarianism at all. I thought your "brisketville' response was spot on. that's all. Over & out.


the ones david tasted may be delicious but a true bagel is hand rolled, not made in a ball, with holes punched out -- and the idea of BLT smish is really wrong to us who are bagel purists -- butter or cream cheese (maybe with veggies) but bacon, no way!

Blah, blah, blah. I don't ever subscribe to this-is-the-only-way-to-make-something stances. The bagel I had was true even if it wasn't hand-rolled. The BLT Smish happens to be delicious. Bacon on a bagel, with or without cream cheese, is also delicious if the person eating it thinks it is. 

Hi! So with this lovely weather we've had over the last few months, I've become a bit bored with my go to miserable weather recipes (shakshuka, roast chickens, stews). Do you all have any out of the ordinary recipes you turn to when it's pouring outside?

I like anyone whose go-to list of recipes includes shakshuka!  I was in exactly your position a couple weeks back, and I broke out the lentils.  I made a big pot of soup, with bacon and carrots, using red wine and stock.  Top with crumbled goat cheese.  

This is fabulous, thanks! I did want to plug the West End Farmers Market. I live in Cameron Station and use it every Sunday. They have wonderful egg and cheese and meat vendors along with produce and crafts. It tends to get only us CS residents, and I want it to survive, so come visit! It is just out Duke Street from Old Town, plenty of parking, too. It is totally run and organized by Cameron Station residents who volunteer their time (I am not one, I am just a fan).

Glad you liked the map. And thanks for the market plug. Sounds like a fun market (although I think they all are!). I live not too far away in Arlington. Now I'm interested!

A trip to Montreal last year resulted in a new bagel fixation. Those were some good bagels. Wish there was a place here that made that style!

Ahhhhhh. St. Viateur. Yes. Fantastic. A little honey in the dough, from what I understand?

Wood oven, too. 

Yeah, and you get them warm right out of it. A little smaller, a little chewier, in my experience. And amazing.

my husband doesn't like tilapia and I don't like catfish. Are there fish that would work as substitutes (such as in the recipe the OP can't flip)?

Halibut and cod are firmer, easier to flip. 

I make a basic red sauce for multiple purposes. I refrigerate the sauce and it normally stays at the same consistency. I find in springtime that I will pull the sauce out of the fridge and it hardens and isn't as fluid as it was. Is there a set idea of how long to leave the sauce out before putting it in the fridge? Is there another reason why this happens?

What kind of tomatoes are you using? Different fresh ones, from different places, in different seasons?

For a friend's Easter celebration involving grilled lamb chops (divine!), I brought a Smitten Kitchen eggplant salad and made her recommended rosemary flatbread as accompaniment -- yummy. The crispy-flaky consistency of the flatbread reminded me of these [some name] Rosales tortas from Seville that I discovered recently at Giant, became addicted to--with their subtle smattering of anise seed--and which my Giant has since discontinued (or run out of -- maybe mine are not the only pair of guilty thighs out there). Question: what makes a torta a torta and a flatbread a flatbread? Are these interchangeable terms? The SK recipe and the tortas have olive oil in common -- does that have something to do with it?

Names aside (Mexico also has a sandwich called a torta,  served on bolillo bread), there are small differences in the ingredient lists for SK's rosemary flatbread and the Rosales torta.  Aside from flavoring agents, the main difference is yeast vs. baking soda. Smitten Kitchen's flatbread uses baking powder; Rosales uses yeast. The yeasted bread will have its own distinct flavor and aroma.

Penzeys has several different "sausage" spice mixes that are great -- even mixing them with tofu, beans, or veggies make them seem like the sausage you are trying to replace.

I use nonstick pans for eggs all the time and I don't have problems with warping or wear. Maybe it's the pan the chatter uses? I use Calphalon hard-anodized nonstick pans, usually the 10-inch size for scrambled eggs and the 8-inch size for an omelet. I recently replaced them, but they last a long time (many years). I also don't let them get too hot (never go above medium-high) especially if they're empty.

I recently picked up a bottle of falernum that I found at a small but rather well appointed liquor store on 14th Street. I'd heard of this before (from this chat actually), but I'd never seen it in a store, so I snatched it up. But honestly, I don't even really know what it is or what types of drinks to make with it. Any help?

Yes! Good call. Falernum is fun stuff. It's usually pretty sweet, so taste yours before you start mixing, but it'll be great for tons of tiki drinks and other cocktails where you want a little spice -- primary flavors in it tend to be gingery, allspice, cloves, lime. Some are clove-ier than others. Here's one great use for it, but if you check out any collection of tiki recipes, you'll find a ton more. And it's generally great with citrus juice.

I've built my kitchen slowly over time and a few things I've wished I discovered earlier include a Thermapen (LOVE that thing), tongs (silicone coated and uncoated), heavy duty rubber spatulas, cheapo wooden spoons, spider, and loads of cotton dish cloths.

The bagel article reminded me of a question I have had for years. It mentions that the baker uses a poolish. I have made foccacia using a poolish. But, I know there are many different names for a dough starter. Is there an actual difference between a poolish, biga, sponge, etc.? Or, are they all just different names for basically the same pre-fermented dough starter?

This is an excellent question. This article at answers it beautifully. All of these pre-ferments differ depending on the amount of water they have (that is, the ration of water to flour) and the duration of time they ferment.

Internet problems, so I don't know if this has been answered yet. When I've made bagels, the crust turns out to thick and hard. What am I doing wrong?

It sounds to me like too much air is getting to them. Are you not covering them during proofing?

When are you going to be on Dancing with the Stars? I saw you on the Chew dancing away in the Newsies on Broadway. I think you would be great!

Carla had to leave us, so she could tape "The Chew." But I'll ask her this question later. It's a good one. As I observed when she prepared the Hungarian chicken, she's a cook who's very much "in her body," aware of every movement. She's a former model and graceful in the kitchen. I suspect she'd kill on the show.

Serve it with blue cheese! Also, poach pears in it. Serve them with a little creme fraice (no, I can't spell), or vanilla ice cream. Also, mix stilton, cream cheese, port, cracked pepper, and a bit of honey. Make little tiny sandwiches of that mix between pecans, or spread it thinly on melba toast made from fruit-nut bread.

Great ideas, all. You can also poach dried figs in it for the amazing Pine Nut Shortbread With Goat Cheese Spread and Balsamic Glaze.

Pine Nut Shortbread With Goat Cheese Spread and Balsamic Glaze

so I am gathering that we're all supposed to be eating sprouts more often (healthy, etc.) and I just started noticing "sprouted tofu" at both Trader Joe's and Safeway in the last few weeks. This is a thing? Is it considerably 'better' than normal tofu?? Also, I got what I thought were sprouts to put in my lunch salads this week, but when I got them home, they weren't sprouts but rather just microgreens--ie young kale. Is that the same thing as a sprout? still extra-healthy?? I'm trying to eat well, it's just confusing. :) (incidentally, delightful piece on Carla Hall this morning. I think I won't buy her book b/c I am trying to only cook healthy things at home and it doesn't seem to really have that angle. Trying to convince myself that I can have both comfort foods and it possible? stay tuned I guess). Anyway...Sprouts. Discuss.

Here's a piece from a few years back that explains the appeal of sprouts.

They are THE BEST - so slick - but I'm lucky, I have my father's old ones. Those babies are *at least* fifty years old. I think of him as I use them constantly - I make an over medium egg or scrambled eggs in one of them for breakfast just about every day.

Yep, I love mine too. Want more. The Lodge ones are preseasoned! Restaurant chefs have been using these for a long time.

Bonnie covered a lot of what I'd say, Also: an immersion blender, often the come with a mini food processor. I use both of those all the time. I also like my countertop convection oven - it's reliable and I use it several times a week instead of the large cooker oven.

On those macarons. ;)

Can we stop with the hashtags? #overit

#sadtrombone #chatterdowner #nofun #worseproblems #byebyebonnie #earlyphotoshoot

A little bit is delicious in carrot soup!

Specifically Stilton. And crack open some walnuts to eat alongside. That is, if it's GOOD port. The cheap stuff, just use in cooking.

My favorite way to make french toast takes a little longer but is SO delicious. It's based off a Bobby Flay recipe. Go ahead and soak it overnight, then in the morning take it out, sprinkle some cinnamon/sugar mixture on both sides, pan fry in butter, then transfer in a pan to a preheated oven. Wait until they're nice and puffy and you have yourself some crispy and delicious french toast.

Etouffee - nothing like those deep, hot flavors to cheer you up along with your palette. I love this mix, but cut the salt in half! and then I do this recipe without the stock and mix up with chicken sausage etc (veggie for me).

Don't be afraid! I made my first bagels about a year ago, and they came out a lot better than I had expected. Mine aren't as "authentic," or whatever, as today's article, so they won't stand up to a New Yorker. One of these years, I plan to buy some malt syrup and do it "right."

Malt syrup is easy to find, actually. You'll love the difference it makes.

Mujadara! ...for a shakshuka lover, from a shakshuka lover! (Lentils, rice, caramelized onions, a little feta if that suits you... my carnivorous partner swears it'd be his last meal!)

It had a whole different meaning in my house growing up. Basically everything was put in the oven, on the stove or on the grill "at some point" and it was "done" when everyone had arrived. Which, in Jamaican time, meant we were eating tough fish and cold plantains...

Long-cooked green beans are a specialty of Southern cooking and have many admirers (including me).

I have several friends who participate in these on the west coast but haven't found one in the DMV. I love that my vegetable CSA 'forces' me to get creative with seasonal produce and would like to be similarly forced in the seafood department. Anyone heard of such a thing here?

Not that I know of. We have a few meat ones in our area, though. Maybe someone will hear your plea!

We were among the first major media to report on this trend, back in 2009 when fishermen in Maine started up what I think was the first CSF. Cool idea, isn't it? I've seen more since, but haven't heard of one in DC -- yet, anyway!

I'm moving back to the US after years abroad (yay!) but have been told I can't ship any food back to the US - including my huge spice cabinet (boo). If you had to start your entire kitchen over again, can you think of 10 essential/fun/delicious spices to get you started?

My list would include these recurring favorites:

Kosher salt

Tellicherry peppercorns (whole)

Cardamom (whole)

Ground cumin

Ground allspice

Ground chili pepper

Ground nutmeg

Ground cinnamon

Chinese five spice

Star anise (whole)

Sweet Hungarian paprika

Plus various herbs, including bay leaves.

I made a big list at the beginning of the year of things I had never made before and wanted to make this year. Some were easy and some were much harder! The list includes things like no-knead bread, granola, and from-scratch tomato soup (all scratched off, thanks to all those snow days!), and things like homemade puff pastry, skillet toffee, a family recipe for German potato dumplings that is hard to crack, canning my own jams, and, of course, bagels! Another question on bagels, which would make it much easier to justify abandoning my favorite bagel joint: Can I freeze and reheat homemade bagels without harming them much?

That no-knead bread is a life-changer, isn't it?  I freeze bagels, bring them to room temp and toast them and they are just fine. Or you can just toast a little bit and it reheats tem. Are they as good as fresh? Not really. But still fine, especially when slathered with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon and red onions.

Not just the South. I grew up in the midwest and green beans were always limp and served with a lump of bacon fat stirred into them. Also, every Greek restaurant I've eaten green beans at has them cooked to death.

True! Love them.

Any brilliant inspirations to share from this list of possible ingredients? The weather is killing my creativity! I have purple asparagus, but the stalks are tough, so really, I have purple asparagus tips. I have ramps. I have pork chops, or chicken thighs. I have eggs. I have a well-stocked kitchen for pantry basics.

Gently cook the asparagus tips and ramps in butter, and then make slow-scrambled eggs in a double boiler, as in Patrick O'Connell's recipe here. Serve with bread, and the chicken or pork chops made however you'd like.

I know people (even some New Yorkers) who swear that Montreal bagels ae the best. What makes them different?

I don't know everything about Montreal bagels, but my understanding is that they are smaller and sweeter than NYC-style bagels. They tend to be sweeter, but I've had some that were savory too.


Chatters, other thoughts on Montreal bagels?

There's an echo in here! ;-)

It could be that your heat isn't high enough so you're not getting a quick sear, which would help hold it together while you flip.

There are recipes around that make a credible close version. Search for "Tortas de aceite" and you'll find a few. "Torta" just means "cookie" or "crispish flat thing" in spanish. Lots of kinds of tortas. You want Tortas de Aceite. You won't regret trying it

Right, tortas are typically flat, unleavened bread, but as I noted in the previous post, the "torta" umbrella also includes Mexican sandwiches. I just didn't want to confuse the issue any more.

Here's what I did with my left over grilled boneless leg of lamb and it was yummy: Slice thin (easy to do if the meat was cooked on the rare side and chilled), and mix with 1/2 cup each prepared tricolor (regular) couscous and Israeli couscous, plus ~1/4 cup each diced red onion, diced kalamata or green olives, diced sun-dried tomato, crumbled feta, finely chopped or shredded carrots (and frankly, anything else that sounds good to you, including a small about of Greek-style dressing). Assemble the mixture in a wrap (regular tortilla, or the spinach ones are nice too). Heat briefly in microwave and you'll be eatin' mighty good!

Except that I would keep the cumin and allspice whole, and invest in a good spice grinder (mine is a cast-iron coffee grinder). I would put cardamom before chili pepper, but that's me.

I want to make a bunch of freezable casseroles, as I will be needing to have pop-in-the-oven easy meals late this summer. Anyways, it seems like all the casserole recipes I find involve a lot of cheese and cream-of soups. Where I can go for easy and healthy casserole recipes that I can make ahead of time and freeze? A little cheese is fine, but I don't need a whole dish of just meat, pasta, and a pound of cheese!

You'll find some good ideas in this piece I wrote several years on becoming a casserole convert. I grew up with that gloppy casseroles you're referring to and developed a pronounced case of creamophobia.  The Shepherd's Pie with Eggplant in this piece is especially tasty.

For Carrie, I have a bottle of Pimm's No. 1. Do you have any suggestions for how to use it besides Pimm's Cups? I am not crazy about the cucumber or mint in a lot of Pimm's Cups although I had one somewhere that didn't have those things. Problem is I don't know what it did have! Also, how should hard liquor be stored? Can it go bad the way wine can? Thanks!

I'm a big fan of a drink called the Porch Swing, but that doesn't meet your cucumber-less requirements (not sure if you hate cucumber generally, or just in combination with the mint?) But I love that one, though I do reduce the sugar a bit. And then how about this for a bunch of options? 

Re: the question about liquor/shelf life: Most base spirits (vodka, gin, whiskey, etc.) are fine stored closed and at room temperature and will keep for years, though they may lose a touch of "oomph" over time. Liqueurs and such are generally long-lived as well, but will also lose a certain brightness over time -- taste and assess, but generally we're talking a year or two. Exceptions: Cream-based liqueurs have a shorter life, but should still last months. (You WILL know if your Irish cream has gone off -- trust me. My visceral memory of opening a bottle that had turned still makes my skin crawl at the smell-memory.) Biggest storage faux pas with cocktail ingredients usually happens to poor vermouth, which does go bad (though not as quickly as standard wine) and should be kept refrigerated.

Kalustyan's. Period.

They are easy. Find a copy of Flatbreads and Flavors and a copy of Savory Baking from the Meditteranean and a book of scandinavian bread and you'll have enough different flatbreads to keep you going for ages. Yum. Nothing like your own non-carboardy pita, or your own olive oil flatbreads.

Is that for people who can't spell schmear?

Schmerely another word for the same idea.

Middle-Eastern dish, too! I cook green beans for a billion hours with tomato, onion, a bucket of olive oil and finish with z'ataar.

Thanks for the lovely memory of my dear great aunts. They lived together in a house their father built in Upper Marlboro. There was an extra stove on the enclosed back porch, where a pot of green beans cooked all day (or so it seemed to me). There were those in my family who turned up their noses at this, but it always seemed to me to be part and parcel of the loveliness of a visit there (along with the watermelon, sliced tomatoes, and fresh crab). Sigh. Love that memory. Thank you.

Hi all. I have a few questions on the chicken. What substitution would you recommend for the peppers? I've never used them so I don't know if I'd like them. Also, the cooking times add up to about 50 minutes for the chicken. Is that right? Thanks!

I'll take a stab at this, since Carla had to leave (and since I tested her delicious chicken at home). Carla added the serrano peppers as a way to compensate for not using hot paprika. I think you could skip them altogether if you want, or just use jalapenos instead.


The cooking time will depend on how long it takes you to brown the kitchen on your stovetop, but it took me about 50 minutes, yes.

Any comments on the bagels of Bakes by Yael, a Cleveland Park resident? I've not yet tried them and would like to know how they stack up against the others. I see her mentioned lots on the CP listserv for her bagels and other baked goods and have the impression she does everything the correct, "old-fashioned" way.

For the person who was looking for ways to use up her lemongrass: Fast and delish soup, especially for a day like today, is Gingered Chicken and Coconut Soup

That does sound good right about now.

Put in the toaster oven at 150 to slowly heat them up. They're almost like fresh..

I know you weren't asking for a veg option, but what about using broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, etc.? They are all high fiber and sure to keep you full.

I can't comment on the authenticity, but Bethesda Bagels has some pretty good bialys.

1. wood-burning oven ? 2. DGS Deli in Dupont serves them

Mix it with British style lemonade - that is, carbonated lemonade. It's TASTY!

also works for broccoli!

I guess my issues with processed foods, aside from the missing nutrients, is that as far as the additives go, I've had a hard time with the "generally recognized as safe". Can this mean that (1) there is a risk, but it is very small? (2) That there is no risk over a timeline of N years? (3) That there is a risk to only certain people (like with dairy, gluten, or other issues)? (4) Or no identified risk at all over a period of N years with a specific consumption pattern. (1) and (2) would concern me greatly if the identified timeline is 10 years and I think I might live another 80 years. It's like the lotto, if I play long enough I eventually have to win. In that case, of course, the odds are so against me that I am unlikely to win in my lifetime. Similarly, I would like to know the known percentages for additives (and traditional processing, if that's available). (3) can be a serious issue if you're unaware of your disposition or unfamiliar with the additives.

There's always a risk.  And the two ways an ingredient can be declared GRAS is if it's been consumed for a long time (decades, sometimes) with no known ill effects, or it's been very well studied, or both.  As for people with special sensitivities, GRAS doesn't cover those.  Milk and wheat are safe ingredients, and there are other labeling requirements that cover those with allergies or sensitivities.  In general, I don't think GRAS ingredients pose a significant safety risk.  

Of course, your definition of healthy may differ but I got her book from the library and found the recipes to be very reliant on "whole" ingredients, not processed stuff, as well as veg-heavy. Healthy in my view.

Go ahead and do it. There are a few good recipes out there. About your third try you'll get something fabulous. You can still go to the store for bagel day to get flavors nobody would make at home. Try it, you'll love it - and you'll make a host of new friends who also like bagels.

How long will it hold in the fridge?

Three to four days, according to my BFF, "The New Food Lover's Companion."

Hi Rangers! I became obsessed with watermelon while I was pregnant and I seem to have passed along that obsession to my son. Long story short, we go through a lot of watermelon. However, I have such bad luck picking watermelons! I either end up with something not even close to ripe or positively mealy, and I have no way of knowing until I cut in. Can you give me some tips on picking a better watermelon at the store?

Back to "The New Food Lover's Companion"! Melons should be symmetrical without any flat sides. Give it a slap -- "if it resounds with a hollow thump, it's a good indicator that the melon is ripe." Rind should be dull, not shiny and just barely yield to pressure. Stay away from ones with soft spots, gashes or other blemishes.

I want to know more about the NYC tour of spice shops.

Gotcha. Don't miss Zabar's, which is kind of old school but a fabulous place to visit. Here's the Web site.

Well, you've nestled us in the skillet and turned us over in the sauce, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and many thanks to Carla, Tamar, David and Carrie for helping us answer them!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who first asked about "cooked-to-death green beans" will get a SIGNED copy of Carla's new book. And the chatter who is sick at home and asked about what to cook/eat will get "The New Southern Table." Send your mailing info to, and she'll get them to you!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!


In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie S. Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Guests: cookbook author and TV host Carla Hall; Food section contributor David Hagedorn; Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel.
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