Free Range on Food: Chef's tools, summer cookbooks and more

May 30, 2012

This week we peek into kitchens of pros to see what whiz-bang tools they're using. We'll also point you to some of the best new cookbooks.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, everyone, and happy almost-June. Got questions or comments about today's top stories: gestation crates, chefs' kitchen tools or new cookbooks for summer reading? This is the place. David Hagedorn, author of the kitchen tools story, is here today, and we're honored to have chef Cedric Maupillier with us as well. You'll see him wielding oversize tweezers in our kitchen tools photo gallery. Let's get started!

Hello, Can you suggest a good brand and model for an instant read thermometer? Thank you

If you can manage the cost, try a Thermapen. I have one. Design's right, doesn't fail, seems quite accurate. It is hand-held, though.

Are the green shoots that are sometimes in the center of garlic cloves poisonous in any way? I was struggling to remove them yesterday and my boyfriend noticed and commented that he never does when he's mincing garlic and nothing bad has ever happened to us. Also, is there an easy method for removing them? I usually end up digging them out from my otherwise neat cuts and making a mess.

No, not poisonous, just bitter (although I haven't really had anything ruined by the stuff). The easiest thing to do is cut the clove in half from where it was attached to the head down to the pointed tip and scrape it out of the middle with your knife.

Howdy, Rangers, What's the best way to keep bread from getting stale or hard? My biggest problem is French bread or baguette and its many variants -- The long loaves with a crust that's usually crispy. It seems to get hard in just a few hours. Thanks!

This is just the kind of Free Range question that gets a lot of response. David Lebovitz likes to wrap his baguette in a clean dish towel; I tend to cut half, wrap and freeze if I expect to eat it through the week. We had limited success when we tested Artisan Bread Bags made especially for baguettes; when I cut from a baguette, i tend to leave the ends whole and cut farther up, so i can put the cut sides together and enclose the remaining bread in a bag (or towel). Okay, chatters...add on!

When I was in Italy recently, I fell in love with their really thick honey made from orange blossoms. Any idea if I might find it in a US store??

I dug up a few ideas for you. A. Litteri in the city sells it, although it's not in stock at the moment. Bella Italia in Bethesda said they typically carry it, but suggested you call ahead. The Italian Store in Arlington says they can special order it for you.

I made them over the weekend & while they tasted good, they didn't hold their shape at all. I have this problem when I made the Mediterranean chickpea burgers, salmon burgers, etc., whether in oven or on stovetop. perhaps I'm just burger-challenged (irony: my name is Patty). Any ideas?

Patty -- too funny. Let me ask about your ingredients for the burgers: What soy protein did you use? Was it  Gimme Lean?

Every time I make chocolate chip cookies, they end up flat flat flat. It's every single recipe I try (from the one on the back of the bag to the old family favorite). My husband thinks it's the airbake cookie sheets, but if that's true, then why doesn't every other cookie I bake also spread itself paper-thin? My ingredients are fresh and I don't have the problem with any other cookie. But I swear, every version of CCC fails. What could be wrong? Thanks!

Let's narrow things down:  Do you use recipes that start with a chilled dough? Softened or melted butter? Do you bake on the middle rack? Do you wait till the oven's fully preheated? Do you ever use parchment paper or a silicone liner?


I enjoyed your feature story on the tools restaurants are using to combine classic techniques and molecular gastronomy. As an adventurous home cook, I'm intriqued by this new "modernist" cuisine. Are there any books you would recommend for someone like me to learn more about it? Or even recipes that I could try without having to buy a liquid nitrogen canister?

I'd recommend two books: Molecular Gastronomy by Herve This and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking.  I can't recommend any quick recipe's now, but you can easily find online molecular gastonomy kits.  You will be able to make your virtual caviar with all sorts of yummy chemicals.

Hey guys, I'm the poster from last week asking for ideas for desserts to make on my birthday. I took your idea of making the Lemony Cheesecake. Sadly, it did not come out well. It was very thin (probably not even half an inch thick) and was very dense. Was that how it was supposed to be? If not, I'd like to try and isolate what I did. I did make one pretty big change - I thought I would test out this idea of baking the cheesecake at a low temperature for a long time, so I popped in my oven, set at 200 degrees, for eight hours overnight. I thought I remembered you guys writing about this, but I couldn't find the article so I did it from memory. If I had it wrong or if that works on only certain kinds of cheesecakes, mea culpa. I'll follow the recipe from now on. But if that wasn't the issue, the only other thing I can think of is that I beat the batter too long - but I really thought I didn't! I mean, when I was creaming the cream cheese with the sugar, I did beat it for a while to get it to be light and fluffy. But when I added the rest of the ingredients, I tried to make sure I beat it just enough to incorporate and that was it. Other than that, I followed the recipe as is (oh, I did substitute butter for the coconut oil as I never use coconut oil and didn't want to spend $6 on it, but that was for the crust - not sure how it could have affected the cheesecake itself.) So, was I just doomed from too many changes?

Yeah, I think changing the temperature and baking time so significantly (our 20 minutes at 350 vs. your eight hours at 200) would definitely doom you to failure! Do follow the recipe as it's written, because that's how we tested it.

I'm not exactly sure what would possess anyone in this time-crazed day and age to stretch a cooking time from 20 minutes to 8 hours, so as Becky pointed out, that was a non-starter. Also, there's no way that a pound of cream cheese fluffed with two eggs and sugar would translate to a half-inch of batter in a 9-inch pie pan lined with a crust. As far as denseness is concerned, I'm a fan of that—in a cheesecake, that is. 

Not chilled dough. Not softened nor melted butter. Yes, middle of the rack. Yes, fully preheated. No parchment paper nor liner. Does this help?

Sure, but that begets more questions. So in what form/temp  is the butter (or shortening)? I think parchment would help immensely; easy cleanup and almost eliminates the spreading. One more thing: ratio of fat to flour?

I couldn't find Gimme Lean. Believe it or not, I live in San Francisco yet my local Safeway has a pathetic fake meat section. Anyhow, I used what is essentially fake ground beef? I think it's Morningstar Farms, called a "recipe starter."

That might have been your problem. The recipe specifically suggests Gimme Lean because it has a very moist, sausage-y quality and it holds together well. When we first tested the BGR Veggie Burger recipe, we used a more crumbly product, and our burgers turned out like yours: They didn't hold together. Even so, we really liked the taste.

Hate to ruin hope ... but a good baguette *should* be hard as rocks after a day. That's why, in France, you can buy a demi-baguette. They are not meant to last. Buy small ones ... buy often.

This is so true. A good baguette, in my experience, starts to turn within 24 hours. That's why when I buy one, I plan to eat it that evening.

It's conflicting because if you add chemicals to dough for a preservative your bread will last longer, but an all natural product, which I stand for, will only last a few hours after being baked. It's just flour and water, that's bread.

Does this work as a stir-fry sauce too? Or please suggest an express, all-purpose garlic sauce for stir-fries, with a variable amount of chili peppers. Thanks so much!

I think the Oriental Express Sauce would be fine for stir-frying. It's really a great-tasting sauce. Try it and see!

Apologies if this is a silly question, but is there a way to find the featured recipes from a previous week on the site? I was out of town last week with little access to a computer and was unable to go through the recipes featured on the site last week and was wondering if there was a way to locate them by post date. Many of my favorite recipes come from WaPo and I hate the thought of missing out on any potential new keepers!

Forgive a dumb question but is the calorie count for homemade dishes essentially the sum of the calories of ingredients divided by the serving size?

In general, yes. When I do our nutritional analyses, I have to think about what gets done to the food. So, for example, when you deep-fry something, not all the oil is absorbed. Or if a sauce is strained, what gets discarded? Is something only steeped in liquid? Does all the dressing get used? Those types of things.

This sounds like a set-up to a bad joke, but how do you know when blue cheese goes bad? FWIW, I'm the type of person who trusts my nose and mouth more than expiration dates, if that helps sway your answer. Thanks!

It's a good question, actually, and can lead to some uncomfortable moments for those who eat blue cheese that's turned.


The general signs to look for when a blue cheese goes bad: a yellowing of the crumbly ivory-colored curds, a distinct ammonia aroma wafting off the cheese, a change in texture from crumbly to soft and squishy.


If you detect any of these, toss that cheese.

Could your baking soda be old and not working?

A good question!

Whenever we're done with our bbqing, I always throw a bunch of vegetables on the grill (hate to waste good heat) to slow roast, while we're cleaning up. I have thrown them over pasta, but need a new plan for dinner. I have roasted green pepper, tomato, and zucchini.

You could blend for a cold soup or puree for a sauce; maybe throw a few knobs of butter into the blender or processor if  the vegetables are still warm. You could stir the puree into a risotto or serve over polenta. I'd go light on the green bell pepper.

Good morning, all. Can you freeze homemade pimento cheese? I may way too much for a get-together this weekend, and I'd like to be able to freeze it, but I don't know what it's texture will be if it's frozen. What say you? Thanks for your words of wisdom.

I have that same issue from this past weekend. If I don't eat all of it myself today, I will turn it into mac and cheese. I have frozen it before (people shudder at the thought) and the texture changes a bit but isn't awful, especially if you reconstitute with some additional mayo.

Do you have any recipes for salad dressing that uses tons of garden herbs?

Sounds like you have the makings for a Basic Herb Mix,  which is so multipurpose and can go into any dressing recipe you like. There's also this great Save-the-Herbs Pesto and even an herb mix for chicken.  Have you ever made a salad  entirely of herbs, tho? If not, you're in for a treat.


Forgive my oversight! I forgot to announce the names of this week's book giveaways, which will go to the two most deserving chatters of the day. They are "La Tartine Gourmande" and "The Meat-Free Monday Cookbook." Both are on our summer reading list.

Are there cooking classes for a total kitchen noobie (guy)? Looking for 2/3 classes/week that last for a month or two depending on Level. Starting with basic Level 1 classes and maybe take Level 2, Level 3 and so on. Is culinary school the only option?

You can find all kinds of options in our cooking class list. Where do you live? You might want to check with your locality's adult ed department. Arlington County, for example, has some classes that sound right up your alley -- How to Boil Water, Cooking Fundamentals I, Cooking Fundamentals II, Men in the Kitchen: Beginner Cooking. Of course, anyone can take their classes -- it will just be more expensive for non-county residents. Looks like some of those are already full for this term, but you get the idea.

Bread is not just flour and water. Bread is a complex chemical reaction of needing the dough to alter the structure of the chemical gluten, of complex biochemical reactions if a leavened bread, of various flavors due to the chemicals is different salts, of the browning reaction of sugar molecules or the aromatic chemicals of herbs and spices.

More on the baguette controversy....

When I lived near a bakery, we'd wrap rolls in a paper bag, close the paper bag and put it inside a plastic bag, then hang the plastic bag where direct sunlight didn't hit it. We always ate the bread by sometime the next day, so I don't know if it would have stayed fresh longer.

Here's the most-recent failure: My butter (not marg nor shortening and salted) was cold from the fridge. Parchment paper--done!

Hmm. It's a fairly standard recipe that looks like it definitely calls for the butter to be softened. Otherwise, how are you able to work it into the sugar/then the dough properly? Also, I think you ought to use unsalted butter. This recipe calls for a teaspoon and that's a fair amount already. (Doesn't have an impact on your spreading probs, though.)  Chilling choc chip cookie dough's usually a good you remember the revelations from a famous recipe a few years back? An overnight or two in the fridge makes for a more flavorful dough.


Tell you what: Follow this tested recipe from our database: Chock-Full of Chocolate Chip Cookies. Report back! I think you'll have a hit on your hands.

A great place to look is Harvard's Science of Cooking class which made some headlines when it first started. Its run by a team of Harvard professors and chefs, including Ferran Adria, Harold McGee (who doesn't really fit in my categories, I know) and Jose Andres. The NYTimes has an old syllabus mirrored here. Another easy and cheap place to start is with a DIY waterbath. Just use a cooler, a water boiler, and a thermometer. It takes some finagling to get the temperature you want, but in a decent, covered cooler (I've used the orange 5G gatorade ones) the water will hold its temperature to within 3 or so degrees for several hours.

I have a rather random question but I really hope someone can answer it. My grandmother, of Russian heritage, passed many recipes down to me before she passed away. One that is well-loved was called, according to her, Cabbage Borscht. However, someone has told me that since it contains no beets, it cannot be called borscht because that word actually MEANS beets. Is that true and, if so, would this be called anything other than just cabbage soup?

Like your friend, I had assumed borscht was always made with beets. That it wouldn't, in fact couldn't, be borscht without the root vegetable. But according to this informative piece in the L.A. Times, there is a beet-less borscht known as "bialy barszcz," or Polish white borscht.  Could this be your grandmother's recipe?

My brother-in-law's birthday is coming up and I need a good gift idea. The family just got a new grill so i was thinking cookbook. What's the latest and greatest grillin' book out there? I was thinking I'd go with a Bobby Flay one, but if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear 'em. Also, any new & interesting grilling accessories that you'd recommend? Thanks.

Unfortunately, Jim Shahin is not with us today, so I'll attempt to wear his hat today, since he's been my official barbecue guru for about five years now.


I don't know whether your brother-in-law is a beginner or an experienced griller, but either way, I think Steven Raichlen's "How to Grill" book is a good primer on barbecue. The thing about barbecue is that it can't be learned in a book. Not really. It has to be learned by hard, ugly experience. Tips will help you avoid some mistakes, but barbecue is a fickle enterprise. Just when you think you've mastered it, your grill/smoker tells you otherwise.


As for accessories, I think you need a few things: a sturdy pair of thongs, grill gloves, a good brush and, if you are not skilled at knowing meat temperatures by touch, a decent meat thermometer.

I got rid of my microwave oven about 20 years ago because I didn't like trying to cook with it and it took up too much room. Then I saw this video of how to shuck corn. Now that is compelling but maybe not enough to buy one. What other uses do you think make one really worthwhile?

Well, I use my microwave all the time. When I cheat for dinner, I can't imagine not having it around to heat up an emergency frozen entree from Trader Joe's. I use it to melt butter and chocolate, reheat leftovers and, yes, cook corn on the cob. That's just a start. I can't imagine life without it!

I'm with Becky. I love the microwave for defrosting, softening butter and cream cheese, melting chocolate. I made brown butter in it, per Christina Tosi's suggestion in the Momofuku Milk Cookbook, and it turned out perfect and not as messy as doing it on the stove. Plus reheating leftovers, steaming fish and vegetables in papillote, warming stocks for sauces.

Change your name to Pat and give your burgers a few extra pats and squeezes to compress them better....or add more binder such as bread crumbs from those instantly stale baguettes or even an egg.

How do you reheat it to keep as much of the texture as possible? Also, with regards to the thermometer suggestion, a friend spent much of memorial day swearing up and down that remote thermometers changed his life. He claimed to have found one for ~$20, but I forgot to ask the brand.

To me, the clock is ticking on a baguette from the moment it comes out of the oven. It's something meant to be bought and consumed daily. If there is leftover bread, I make croutons. Or I store in a plastic bag (horror!) knowing that the next day I will halve it lengthwise and toast it in the oven for breakfast or grill it for crostini. 

As to the remote thermometer, this is something I have always touted as a kitchen essential.It takes all the guesswork out of roasting/grilling meat.  Mine is a Taylor and I'm sure it cost less than $20. It works like a charm.

Can 3% homogenized milk in a carton be frozen?

Yes, it can. But it will alter the homogenized texture of your milk. The fat will separate, but you can shake the thawed milk and help redistribute the fat. It won't be the same, however, as your homogenized milk.

Does anyone have experience with an Oliso Frisper vacuum Sealer? I got a groupon-like deal to buy one for $45, and I'm trying to decide if that's a good deal for one. I love to buy meat in bulk when it's on sale, so I imagine I would use it. I just don't know if that's a good brand or a good deal. I thought they normally cost around $100. I know I would have to buy for more plastic when I use it all, but then I have to buy plastic wrap, foil and plastic bags to store the meat now. Thanks!

Chatters? Any help?

With these two trends having a steadfast hold on restaurants in the area as well as nationwide, how do you feel they should be properly used in a restaurant? Regarding the previous question how does this change the essentials a chef should have in their tool box, as well as know how to use in the modern restaurant kitchen?

To me, the molecular gastronomy thing is like a high-fashion concept dress on  a Paris runway. It's not actually meant to be worn by anyone and not practical in any sense, but it is new and provocative. Elements will eventually filter down to the mainstream and become part of the vernacular.

Turning everything into powders, foams and extracts and providing instructions on how to eat food to diners started off as twee and self-indulgent, a form of cooking more about the person making the food than the person eating it. But now look what has happened in the hands of people who really care about the diner. They want them to have an intersting experience and have discovered that sous-vide cooking, for example, does marvelous things to vegetables. Or that you can inject a hint of smoke into a dish just before you serve it or make ice cream in seconds using liquid nitrogen. This is progress. Are these items essential? Not necessarily. I do just fine at home without a truffle slicer, but I do love my mandoline and microplane. Cedric should weigh in here. 

I'll add my two cents here: I think molecular gastronomy is more like the avant garde in the art movement. It's absolutley necessary for food to evolve and grow. It's not for everyone, but it's not supposed to be. It's for people who think of food as more than nourishment and nutrients. This is as valid as any way to think of food.


Besides, molecular gastronomy is just taking food chemistry to another level.  It often breaks down ingredients in unique ways and then reassembles  them in different forms. I'm not always a fan of what's produced, but I respect those who explore this field.

I'm addicted to browsing through cookbooks and finding new recipes, so here's a big thank you for recommending 10 more for me! Actually, I just really loved this food issue - some weeks I'm just not interested in any of the articles (that's not a complaint; I know we all have different tastes!) This week, though, you guys really knocked it out of the park, for me at least. Loved it!

Made our day. :)

I've been resisting the temptation to mention this since other cookies seem to work all right, but does the poster live at a high altitude? Since I live at over a mile elevation, that is always the first thing that comes to my mind.

Another valid question!

Should I chill the dough? The recipe doesn't say to, but since I've having such problems...

Sure. Okay -- we all are jonesing for cookies now.

Maybe not enough chips and nuts in them? Maida Heatter added more to the standard Toll House recipe. When I made it, the cookies weren't flat.

Are there ever enough? The recipe we've given this chatter ought to solve that problem, but I'm sure Maida's works like a charm as well.

I can hardly think of a quote that better embodies what's wrong with the food INDUSTRY!!!

I understand the sentiment. Nothing beats good caviar. But this is what the food industry does: It exerpiments to create processed foods. The only way to stop it is to not buy it.

We went to Sticky Rice on H st. and got the tater tot appetizer with a fantastic Japanese-mayo sauce. Would love to dunk steamed veggies in it. Any idea how to make it?

The Sticky Rice tater tot dipping sauce has been a closely guarded secret -- or a clever marketing ploy (or both). Whatever the case, the Washington City Paper tried to recreate the sauce -- and they thought they came close to the real thing.

If I want to stretch a baguette past one day, I will seal the remainder in a ziplock bag (which is the opposite of how a crusty bread should be treated) and it keeps it soft. Reheating spritzed with water in the microwave briefly will help too, but, again, yields a bread of a different texture than you started with. Once the softening goes away, it's pretty stale. After a day or two, I will turn to crostini or bruschetta with leftover baguettes, though my go-to is making croutons. Once the bread is turned into croutons and sealed in a ziplock, that keeps quite a while. Of course, I make salads probably five nights a week, so always have a use for them. Additionally, croutons or just toasted baguette rounds are good to top soup.

Good ideas for leftovers.

Okay, I can boil water, but it takes forever and I'm trying to figure out why. For example, if I use a 6 quart pot, fill it with cold water, and cover, it takes at least 20 minutes for the water to boil. I have Calphalon hard anodized pot with a glass lid and am using the 12,000 BTU burner. Is this normal? Is there a better pot? Thanks.

Twenty minutes isn't really forever -- just when you've got hungry mouths to feed. :) Generally, the heavier the pot, the longer it will take for the water to boil. If you're boiling water for pasta and have a filter on your tap or an electric kettle, start with heated water to cut down on energy/time.

Definitely soften your butter and chill the dough before starting or at least keep it in the fridge between batches. If you are using hard butter, there may be solid bits that are melting as you bake, throwing off all the ratios. I learned to make cc cookies by hand, creaming the butter with a wooden spoon. If it's not soft enough weird things can happen.

When I have leftover baguette I don't freeze but re-purpose the next few days: use it for bread salad (panzaealla), or throw statle cubes in a pot with tomatoes and basil for bread soup, and make croutons or bread crumbs.

From the looks of things, our chatters have a lot of stale bread on hand.

Is the Vitamix mixer worth the money? How does it compare to Montel Williams' mixer? Thank you.

None of us here own a Montel model, but I own a VitaMix and think it's awesome. Which one do chefs have in their professional kitchens? Shop around and find a good deal on eBay.

I only shop once a week, and would like to have fresh strawberries to eat over the course of 4 or more days. Is that asking too much? Currently, when I buy a pint of organic strawberries, it starts getting moldy and mushy the next day. And that's in the refrigerator. Non-organic seem to last a little longer but I'm guessing that's 'cause of the chemicals, which can't be good for me (can they?). I read that bananas keep longer if broken off of the stem instead of being stored as a connected bunch. Is that true? And if it is, is there some sort of comparable tactic to make strawberries last longer, like removing them from the plastic or cardboard container and putting them in individual dishes? Not that I can imagine doing that, but I'd like to know ...

We've been using FreshPaper since Jane Black's Smarter Food story ran a few weeks ago. It definitely extends the life of the berries. As for bananas, we've never heard that separating them makes them last longer. Also, transfer them to a container or bowl so they have a little more air around each berry/they're not touching each other so much.

I'm hoping to be able to switch out my terrible cooker. It's electric - am looking in the $400-$500 range. Any recommendations/tips gratefully received. I cook and bake a huge amount.

Here's the Handy Guide on on ranges by our Local Living colleague Jura Koncius.

Who wants to rave about their oven? I have no complaints about my GE Profile stove (it's a double oven, which I love), but I think that's probably out of your price range. (And mine, really, but it was an awesome bonus when we bought our house the other year.) 

I'd be interested to learn what kitchen tools or gadgets chef Cedric Maupillier also uses at home and if, like you Rangers, he has discarded others as unnecessary. Thanks!

Imagine a smaller version of a professional kitchen, a lot smaller, and keep all of the fancy tools in a cupboard. Amidst the late night snacks, you'll find the George Foreman grill, a magic bullet, a crock pot - basically everything that allowed me to create fast food. Don't forget that I spend 6 or 7 days a week lately at the restaurant so tools that cut down on prep and cooking time and indispesible for my beauty sleep. 

No real remedy; they are doomed to a short life as fresh bread. BUT the good news is that there are lots of great uses for stale bread - there are TWO cookbooks on that very topic. Go thou and reuse. And buy smaller loaves.

I find this whole discussion rather amusing, because a baguette has a snowball's chance in you-know-where of lasting 24 hours in my house.

Kits are available online for beginners. Here is one source: I would also recommend either viewing El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (on Netflix instant view now), and perhaps some of Ferran Adria's books (though not Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli). Molecular gastronomy, like other niche cooking techniques, seems far more interesting to me as a culinary spectator sport.

Not to get too promotional here, but you might look back on this interview I did with Ferran Adria last year. He clearly has mixed feelings about his work, but I suspect that's because he's a sensitive guy who takes criticism seriously.

A quick thanks for the grilled cabbage udon slaw! Not only was it delicious, but the cabbage itself was so good that I had to cut back the recipe to save some for later. I used a head each of green and purple cabbage, but didn't use the savoy cabbage I saw in the grocery store. How does it compare to normal green cabbage?

You're welcome, on behalf of Joe Yonan, who came up with that Smoky Cabbage and Udon Slaw recipe.  (You used a head each? No wonder the yield was so generous!) Savoy cabbage would probably work just fine -- with frilly charring on the ends of the leaves, even. I must try that. Certainly just loved the grilled cabbage aspect....

I've been interested in this book since Joe Yonan wrote about it maybe two months ago, and finally decided to buy it. I noticed its available as a kindle edition, but I was nervous I might lose glossy photographs or similar things. I remember he didn't quite describe it as a cookbook, so I wasn't sure... thoughts?

We're having a tough time summoning our memory to remember what it looked like on the inside. Anyone want to help us out? 

You could also download the first chapter of the Kindle edition and see if you like how it looks.

I like to use up lots of herbs by grabbing a handful (parsley, tarragon, mint, basil, oregano, sage, thyme, etc.), then use shears to cut into your salad. Then dress with a simple oil/vinegar mixture. For the roasted veg person, try grilled cheese or panini with the veggies inside. Or a chopped into a salad with rice and white beans or garbanzos.


After three years of saying we're going to do ribs on the grill... we finally tried it this weekend. Pork spare ribs, 1.7 lbs, rubbed the night before, then indirect grilled. We wrapped them in foil after 2 hours, but they had already started to char. Some of them were completely toast by the time we took them off at 3 hours, although the center of the rack was pretty tender. We're going to try again, and I'd love whatever advice you can give. We have a 24 inch Weber, so I think the first thing we should do is change the indirect grilling set up - put coals only on one side, with a side entirely free, rather than using a center "zone" with a drip pan -- I think the grill is too small to really do indirect grilling with a central zone. Yes? Also, perhaps take some of the rub off before grillign so it doesn't promote burning. We based the timing and set up on Raichlen, although his instructions were for 6 lbs of spareribs, so presumably a much larger grill. Any other thoughts? We're fans of experimentation, so we're not too disappointed in the first go, but definitely want to improve. Thanks.

Funny you should mention this. I've been smoking ribs for years now and have started to encounter this problem of blackened ribs. They look burnt, but they're not. They typically taste great.

I used to think it was from oversmoking -- that the blackening was the result of those great wafts of indirect apple/cherry wood smoke from my off-set barrel smoker. But my last batch of ribs were wrapped in foil for most of their 4.5 hour cooking time -- and they still turned out black as night. I'm beginning to think it's the foil wrap itself. There's something about sealing in the heat and moisture that turns my simple salt-and-pepper seasoning dark.


This is just a theory, but I'm going to test it and see if I'm correct.

I know a squirt of fresh lemon juice will brigthen up a chicken-based soup, fresh or canned. What about beef-based soups, especially canned? They are great for lunches and are helping me manage my intake to lose weight -- but the beef-based soups are a little meh in flavor. Thanks.

You could add miso to any soup base to add another layer of flavor.  Just be careful with the sodium content.

Finding creative ways of adding smoky flavors to dishes seems to be a particular interest in modernist cooking. Living as I do in an apartment, I lack a barbecue or sufficient venting to acheive authentic smoky flavors in my cooking. Nonetheless, I've had success with ingredients like smoked paprika, liquid smoke flavoring, chipotle chili powder, and mezcal. Any other methods you would suggest?

It's pretty easy to smoke things using a bit of hay in a pot on the stovetop, or even soaked wood chips in a stovetop smoker.

Hello again, I just made Rick Bayliss's raw tomatillo salsa: tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, salt, and a jalapeno pepper. It's much more acidic than usual, probably due to the tomatillos themselves. Any way I can fix it?

If I recall my prior endeavors, I've put in a bit of sugar to taste into my tomatillo salsa to cut into that acidity.

By cooking down a lot of  vidalia onions from the farmer's market you can balance your over-acidic salsa with the natural sweetness of the onion, but make sure the onion is almost caremelized.

How does one do that? Is it just trial and error until you figure it out? I have friends and family who can cook that way, and it looks pretty impressive. Any hopefully I wouldn't need to mangle my steaks to see if they're cooked properly.

Poke the soft skin between the thumb and forefinger of an unclenched hand. This is how very rare/raw meat feels. Now make a fist, but don't clench it. Poke the same area. This is what medium rare meat feels like. Now clench lightly—this is medium. Now clench very tight. If your steak feels like this, throw it out.

So I was sick of spending $4 on a small bag of about-to-turn mixed greens/spinach and I noticed a bag of broccoli slaw on sale for $1.50 and decided to give it a try. I added bottled peanut sauce, cilantro and peanuts - such a delight! And for what its worth, I am not a mega broccoli fan or a tradional coleslaw fan.

Sounds delicious. Where did you buy this broccoli slaw?

Does it make sense to use filtered water for drinking but tap water for cooking? If it matters, I live in DC. Thanks!!

Depends on your feelings about our water quality, I guess. If the tap water's boiled, I don't see the diff.

While I enjoy your weekly wine reviews I wonder why you focus your writing for what must be a small group of readers who can afford $40 and $50 bottles of Chardonay (today's "bargain" suggestion was a mere $22 per bottle). Why not refuse the free samples provided by the distributors and take the Post's credit card to your local Giant, Safeway or Trader Joes (places where the vast majority of your readers shop and buy wines), and review what's actually being sold in great quantity to the public? Perhaps you could even educate the masses that for a couple of dollars more they can do MUCH better than 2-buck-chuck and the latest $5 swill from Australia with a cute label? Please break out of your mold and review mass market, easy to find wines - is once every other month too much to ask?

Wine columnist Dave McIntyre responds:

How about once a month? If you paid attention and read my column every week you would know that on the first Wednesday of each month I recommend six "Bargain Wines" that are usually around $15 and under - often under $10 - and outperform for the price. I only recently dropped the moniker "Recession Busters" for these, but I've kept the monthly focus on extreme values, and quite frankly I keep that focus in the rest of my columns too. (I didn't call the $22 Chardonnay a "bargain", by the way - that's your word - though I could easily have put the "Great Value" label on it. Value and Bargain are not interchangeable.)
I write for several audiences - including people who pay attention to their wines and appreciate the nuances that terroir and a winemaker's technique add to them; including people who can afford to pay $40 or more once in awhile; and including those who prefer to pay $10 or less but are willing to search for small-production, family-produced wines from France, Spain or elsewhere and selected by specialty importers to provide extreme value so that these readers don't have to go to Safeway all the time for the same old industrially-produced wines.
Sorry about that run-on sentence, but your mean-spirited comment only shows that you do NOT read my columns regularly. Even if you're not inclined to search out the wines I listed today, I hope you enjoyed the column and maybe will think about these issues as you drink your favorite wines. And please keep reading - next week is the first Wednesday of June and I bet you'll find some wines for $10 and less worth trying.

I picked a bunch of strawberries last week and, per a tip in Cook's Illustrated, washed them in a 3:1 dilution of water to plain vinegar, but didn't hull them. Stored in layers with paper towel in between. Looking a little less ... robust than they did last week, but definitely not rotting.

Hello Free Rangers - Do you guys know where one can rent a La Caja China oven for doing a pig roast...or a DC-area catering company that does cuban pig roast. We have cuban guests coming up from Miami so it needs to be legit! Thanks

This should give you a range of options.

Strawberries are highly susceptible to mold. Organic farming prohibits the use of ionizing radiation to inhibit or prevent mold growth. Conventional strawberries are irradiated to extend shelf life and prevent people from wasting precious food resources if they spoil.

For bread salad (panzanella)

The chatter is welcome to share their panzanella recipe, but here are some of ours:

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

Roasted Caprese Panzanella Salad

Roasted Caprese Panzanella Salad

What do you consider to be the most indispensable cookbook and equipment that all cooks at home should have? If you fancy a food website, which is it? Thanks.

Books: anything by Jacques Pépin and The Joy of Cooking. Essential equipment: a brain, a palate, a set of hands, a remote thermometer, a good chef's knife and a good quality sauté pan.

A friend of mine runs it under the spigot and pops it into a preheated oven. It works.

I have a bottle of Balsamic Vinegar in the fridge for a few months, it now has bits of solids in the bottom of the bottle when I shake it around. Is it still ok to use or toss it? Thanks!

Studies have shown that vinegars have a virtually unlimited shelf life; the acids in vinegar are essentially self-preserving. The sediment and discoloring are normal for aging vinegars.

....please parboil or at least steam those broccoli stems so that those of us with delicate tummies can enjoy the slaw.

Hi, I bought a fab traditional British food cookbook and I've loved all the recipes I've made from it. I want to try to make their roly-poly and pudding recipes, but they all call for suet. Can I use the same suet that I would use for birdfeeders? I know there's a butcher near me that sells suet for that purpose. Or could I sub lard? I know there are different grades of lard, don't know what would be good in a dessert. Thanks!

Suet is beef fat (raw) or sometimes mutton fat that you ought to be able to get from  a good meat department or, preferably, your local butcher. Even if it's used for bird feeder cakes, I'd stick with a supply I mentioned rather than the pet aisle.  The lard you find might be rendered fat, so it wouldn't work the same.

That wraps it up for this week, chatters. Thanks to chef Maupillier and to David Hagedorn for participating. The winner of  "La Tartine Gourmet" is the baker with the chocolate chip cookie problems, and the winner of  "The Meat Free Monday Cookbook" is the one who set off the chain reaction on baguettes. Remember to send your mailing address info to Becky at so we can get those books out to you. Thanks for chatting and have a great week, everyone.

In This Chat
Jane Touzalin
Jane is interim recipe editor/deputy Food editor; joining us today are interim editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Food aide Becky Krystal and The Process columnist David Hagedorn. Guest: Cedric Maupillier, chef at Mintwood Place.
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