Free Range on Food

May 08, 2013

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range!

We have an entertaining section for you this week -- and I mean that both ways. Entertaining as in, we hope you are entertained by it, and entertaining as in that's what we hope we help you do better after you read it.

We've got Cathy "Mrs. Wheel" Barrow in the house today with the delightful subjects of her piece in today's section, Suzanne Pollak and Lee Manigault of Charleston. And food stylist extraordinaire Lisa Cherkasky will be here to answer any and all questions about making food look good (and taste good, too, as she's no slouch in the kitchen).

Bonnie, Tim and I will be here as always to help answer any cooking and eating questions we can help with, and you never know, we'll probably be visited by Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin, too.

We'll have prize cookbooks for our favorite chatters: "Cooking With Herbs: 50 Simple Recipes for Fresh Flavor" by Lynn Alley and "The Appetizer Collection" from The Canadian Living Test Kitchen.

Let's do this thing!


Joe, just curious why you do the cooked veggies on top? I have never seen that before, I thought you just pour the eggs over the veggies in the pan. I'm sure it works either way, but wanted to know your take.

You can certainly just pour the eggs on, but I find that they're less likely to stick if the veggies go on top. (I don't want to use a nonstick skillet for this, especially since it's going under the broiler.) And I love how it looks this way.

My vegetarian partner is going out of town for a week, so I want to treat myself to some bacon. What's the best kind I can get my hands on at local stores? All I've ever done is to bake it, topped with brown sugar. I eat it straight off the pan.

Are you local? Or do you have access to the Internet? Then you can run out and buy (at Harvey's in Union Market, NE DC), or order, Benton's hickory-smoked country bacon from Tennessee. It's simply the best in the land. 

Glen's Garden Market in Dupont is doing some nice house-cured/smoked bacon, too.

Do you have any suggestions for a good comprehensive gluten free cookbook? I'm getting tired of bring my laptop into the kitchen for kindle books or online recipes. I can find tons of specialized books (eg, gluten free bread) but what I'm really looking for is something like a gluten-free Joy of Cooking, which contains enough categories to theoretically be my only cookbook. Thanks!

The original Gluten Free Girl, Shauna Ahern and her chef husband, Dan have just published Gluten Free Everyday.

Over the weekend I bought a pork loin. There was a recipe on the package. On the ingredient list it called for "1lb pork tenderloin cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces. In the package it looked like all one piece, basically a cylinder.


When I opened it, it was already cut into two pieces (two half cylinders). So I figured the meat was cut to match the ingredient list. I only used one half. Then you seasoned brushed melted butter on the pieces, sprinkled tarragon, thyme, black pepper, and cayenne pepper on it. Then "arrange tenderloin pieces on broiler pan. Broil 5-6 inches from heat for 2 minutes each side. Remove from broiler, brush top side with honey." When I first put it in, I thought 2 mins/side was a bit low, so I set the timer for 2 1/2 mins. After turning it, I set the timer for 3 mins. It still looked way too raw, so I turned it again and cooked another 3 mins and then checked the temp--it was still under 100 degrees!


So I moved the rack closer to the broiler (I thought it might catch on fire it was so close) and cooked each side for another 2 mins. Still not cooked through--only at about 120 degrees. So I cut it in half lengthwise and again in half across the middle--so I had 4 quarter cylinder pieces. Another minute and a half just barely under the flame and I had meat that was 145 degrees. So where did I go wrong? Did I misinterpret crosswise?


Should I have begun with multiple half cylinder slices, each 2 inches thick? In the end it was delicious, and I liked the quarter cylinder slices, but it was frustrating to keep taking it out to check, planning on dinner at 6 and having everything else ready but the pork. If I keep the cut the same the next time and have a half pound slab of tenderloin, how long should I cook it? What about if I have 4 quarter lb slabs?

Yep, you misinterpreted crosswise. The recipe wanted you to cut the tenderloin into boneless steaks, basically, 2 inches thick apiece, and to cut across the tenderloin. So if it were, I don't know, a foot long, you would've had six 2-inch-thick rounds, and then you would've laid them flat under the broiler. Having said that, another problem is that with broiler recipes I think it can be difficult to give accurate instructions because people's broilers are so variable. So you have to look, touch, evaluate.

I recently bought a lovely fig balsamic from a local store in Asheville, NC. Other than salad dressing, any ideas for different dinner uses?


Funny you should ask: Our own Jane Touzalin answered this very question last week.

A few other options to try: Drizzle some over your next homemade pizza instead of (or in addition to) olive oil; use it instead of balsamic vinegar in this recipe for glazed beets; or use it in this recipe for balsamic-glazed pork.

I needed a couple of roasted peppers and had an opened jar in the refrigerator (opened abut six weeks ago). Although the peppers were completely covered by the liquid in the jar and the expiration date was a good while off, the peppers were extremely soft and mushy, so much so that when I tried to diced them they just squished into a pulp. Any idea why this would have happened, or what I could do to prevent it? Would it be better to freeze the peppers I didn't use the first time I opened the jar? If freezing would not hurt them, I might even be tempted to roast my own, since of course they're much tastier.

When I have an excess of peppers I roast a big batch, peel, seed and pack them in ziplocs for the freezer. Really handy ingredient to have on hand and they keep very nicely frozen. Much sweeter than the jarred peppers, too.

We live in Connecticut near an area with masses of wild ramps growing on public lands near here. Is there any way to preserve these, so we could serve them later in the year? (Last year I tried freezing and they became a soggy mess.) And, how best should we take advantage of their abundance right now.

You could chop the ramps and cook them in some olive oil. Then freeze in batches to use in soups, quiches, etc.

Pickling's one way to go. 

Put them on a Ricotta Frittata!

They're great with eggs. I also like to do the super-slow scrambled egg thing, as shown in this Patrick O'Connell recipe, and top with ramps, asparagus, morels, anything super spring-y.

I have a small piece, not enough for a meal, and need ideas for using it, other than on top of a salad (still not enough for a meal). Can I mix it with something for a spread?

Yes! I take any leftover fish and mash with butter, olive oil or cream cheese to make a spread. Add fresh herbs, smoked pimento, chopped chilies - whatever compliments your fish.

Any ideas for mother's day breakfasts that a near four year old could help make? He's pretty good at measuring / mixing, but I'd prefer not to go with the standard pancakes or waffles for my wife's big day. My son doesn't have to do all of it or even most of it, but the more involved he could be the better. Extra points if it's on the healthier side.

We LIVE for extra points! This blueberry yogurt coffee cake comes together in one bowl. You'd help him pop it in the oven and that's it. He could also cut up fruit and make a light simple syrup sauce with mint, or carve a funny face into a partially peeled melon. (Oy, it's Host Mode again.)

Hello, Rangers! I'm going to a Mother's Day luncheon and have been tasked to bring a vegetarian-friendly side. I'm thinking something along the lines of a roasted (or grilled) vegetable salad, perhaps with a grain, perhaps not. Any suggestions, including what to do for a dressing, would be greatly appreciated!

I have a recipe that call for blanching almonds. I'm not sure how to do. Thanks!

Here's a clear tutorial. Basically, you're using boiling water to loosen the skins, which you then have to sort of pinch off.  Full disclosure: When I see a recipe that calls for blanching, I shop for the already blanched ones. 

I'm not sure how to find the competitors list, but are you including the ones from Standard? I know they aren't a bakery but those are by far the best ones I've had in the city!

If Standard were to start selling them all day out of a window or at the counter, we'd include them. Maybe one day we'll do restaurant doughnuts, but this time, our dozen weeks is focused on 24 bakeries, not restaurants. As for where to find the competitors' list, we're disclosing them one week at a time. At the end of each week's wrapup we're including the running totals so far, and it gives the list.  Here's where things stand as of now, with the average scores:

GBD: 6.0

Woodward Takeout Food: 5.4

Zeke’s DC Donutz: 5.1

Breads Unlimited: 5.0

Woodmoor Pastry Shop: 4.2

Heller’s Bakery: 4.1

Shilla Bakery: 3.9

Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe: 3.5

Family Bakery & Mrs. Doughnut and G Street Food (tie): 3.4

Shoppers Food & Pharmacy: 3.3

Krispy Kreme: 3.1

Dunkin’ Donuts: 2.2

Milan Bakery & Miss Donuts: 2.1

My friends and family are much more into the buffet style service. In fact, many of my friends and faily have designed the kitchens to have coutner space designed for buffet service. Given that background, how do you suggest moving dinner parties or lunch parties towards plated services? How do you accurately determine how much of each item to plate? Most of my families subscribe to the clean your plate club, no matter how little they like something.

Another really good benefit of plating food ahead is that you don't overeat! Also, it helps pace people who sometimes forget how much or how fast they are eating when at a gathering. I usually wait until everyone is done before asking if anyone would like more. Then I take their plate (sometimes clean it) and serve them more from the kitchen. It slows things down, which is nice. 

As far as portions, not too much. They can always have more.

We whiz them in the food processor with some olive oil and vacuum-seal (or just put into bags) for the freezer. Add some nutritional yeast if you want the parmesan note before you freeze, or add it to any kind of greens and/or parm when you thaw it for a fabulous pesto -- either as a toss for another dish or as a seasoning in a soup, spaghetti sauce, etc.

I love the Weeknight Vegetarian column and have noticed that all of the recipes I have seen are gluten free (which is a huge plus as a celiac married to a vegetarian!). I was just wondering if this was purposeful or just a coincidence. Either way, we absolutely love the recipes and encourage the trend to continue!

Hi -- Glad you're liking the WV recs! Interesting about the G-F thing -- probably about half of the recipes have qualified, now that I look back. But not all -- I've had two pastas, a pizza, and a mac/cheese that were gluten-full, although you could of course use G-F equivalents to make them not so much!

If Kate Parham's around -- Did I understand correctly that a member of the restaurant staff took a few good swigs of the wine your table had bought, as he showed you how to use the porron? " 'The trick is to tip the porron back quickly and with no inhibition. As soon as you get self-conscious, that's when you spill it all over yourself,"' he cautioned before pitching the porron back himself, extending his arm at full length to pour from several feet. Show off."

Yep -- but they asked for a tutorial!

can not access rosemary flat bread recipes. thanks.

Here you go


Lisa, what's the most elegant meal you've styled?

I just worked on the Founding Farmers cookbook and a lot of that food was very elegant because it was not fussy.

I found a few healthy recipes that uses mustard to create a crust on proteins (yogurt-mustard-herb crusted salmon, baked chicken with mustard and nuts, etc.) I'd like to try, but my husband HATES mustard. Is there an alternative to mustard? Would non- or low-fat yogurt make a good swap, or would baking break the yogurt?

Oh, a kindred spirit! My husband hates mustard, too. Every time I've tried to sneak in even a little bit, he finds out. Try substituting chutney - it has tart, spicy, fruity tones. My preference is mango, but peach is also great.

Busy cooks (and RV campers) should consider adding a spaetzle maker (less than $20) to their non electric kitchen gadget collection. . Spaetzle is a German egg noodle that takes a minute to mix while a pot of water is coming to a boil and makes silky, delicious pasta. This is looks like a box grater with a hopper that slides on top. The gooey dough is spooned into the attached hopper positioned over boiling water. The hopper is slid back and forth to dispense the dough. When the dumpling/noodles float up, scoop them out and eat. The dough is made with an egg per cup of flour, plus a spoonful or so of milk or water to make it almost flow. Try it with 1/2 all purpose flour and 1/2 oat flour. Spray the spaetzle maker with cooking spray before use and soak in cold water after to simplify clean up. Make spaetzle!

I love spaetzle! But RV campers? Wow -- that would be ambitious, no? Love the spirit.

Already my garden is producing. I have a lot of chinese cabbage, pak choi, and pea shoots. What can I make with this? I had thought of some kind of stir fry but with this damp weather I was wondering about a spring soup with noodles. Any thoughts for this delicious problem?

Garden greens need to be cooked up quickly, that's for sure. Those tender greens are perfect for donburi or other Japanese noodle soup or ramen. I also stir fry the greens in a lot of garlic and layer on toasts schmeared with goat cheese. Top with bacon.

I've been reading recently about dashi, which sounds very easy to make if you can find the bonito fish flakes. I'm not sure how to use it though. Do you have any recipe suggestions?


Yes, dashi can be easy to make, like this one from our archives. Once made, dashi is so versatile. You can use it in stocks, dressings and even to steam mussels (which are delicious when lounging in a dashi broth).

We have a number of recipes in our database, whether a simple one like the Udon Noodle Pot or a complex ones like the Okonomiyaki (or cabbage pancakes).

I am terrible (truly!) at plating and was distressed over the article about how it makes food seem to taste better! Let's call my presentation method "rustic", to be kind. How can someone without the skill or dexterity to make food look lovely reap the benefits of beautiful plating?

I'm sorry that the story distressed you. Plating food should be fun and you should not stress over it. Rustic is fine! Stick to the basics and keep it simple. Big, plain, clean plates. Not too much food on each. Take your time. Be mindful of color. If it needs a little brightness add something easy such as a little diced tomatoe, or chopped parsley, a lime wedge, something really simple. Get yourself organized ahead of time. None of those things take special skill or dexterity.

Are ramps the same as fiddlehead ferns?

Nope. Ramps are in the allium family (garlic, onions, leeks), and they look like teensy scallions but with wider leaves, and they have a garlicky stench to them, even funkier. Fiddleheads are the little curled tops of ferns that are harvested and eaten as vegetables. They're both in season in spring.

I used a gift card to buy The Smoking Gun from Williams-Sonoma. Yay kitchen gadgets! I can't wait to use it, but I don't know what to smoke first (besides EVERYTHING). My first thoughts were cocktails, mac 'n' cheese, and beef. If you had hickory, mesquite, applewood, and cherrywood chips, what would you smoke with which chips?

I usually do my smoking on a larger scale, in the backyard with a barrel smoker, but I would use the Smoking Gun to make my own smoked salt. It would be a lot cheaper than the stuff at Whole Foods and would likely be a lot less smoky, which would make it more versatile. I'd use the salt to finish soups, sprinkle on steamed vegetables and add to sauces for a touch of smokiness.

Those ribs look delicious! And they sound pretty easy to make. I've not cooked baby back ribs before and I was a little surprised to see the technique was boiling them. That doesn't make them tough? I might try making them in my pressure cooker.

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say:  The method does not make them tough; do it just till the meat starts to pull away from the bone. 

Give: Last night, I had a bag of baby carrots that needed to be eaten last night to avoid wasting it. The carrots and some fresh ginger went into a pot of boiling water until the carrots were soft. I drained it, put it in a blender with a bit of butter, half and half, and salt and pepper. Pureed and served it - fantastic and easy! Get: I purchased my first bunch of kale last night. I have no idea what to do with it, but I am hoping you can help me find something that my picky family will enjoy.


I have two words for you: kale chips. Specifically Elizabeth Petty's addictive kale chips. You'll soon need a junkie's supply of kale in your house.

Put me down the category of people that think the current obsession with plating has gone overboard. I think some people (and restaurants) spend more time worrying about how their food looks than how it tastes. And for dinner parties, the time spent obsessing over the plates detracts from the time that the cook can spend at the table having a nice conversation.

Yes, overhandled food is a turn off. Keep it fresh and simple.

Hi guys, I love the chat. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for vegetarian things to do with beet greens? Normally I use them in gumbo z'herbes (I live in Louisiana), but there aren't many other greens in my CSA box right now. And cooking them in broth with garlic feels sort of meh.

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: We would saute them in olive oil with some crushed red pepper flakes over medium-high heat. We WOULD use garlic, too, and a couple of tablespoons of water about midway through, to soften them up and steam them a bit.

So apparently we have an onion that has sprouted some tall stems (?)...I mean, looks like it could be a scallion; is this edible or simply an overripe onion that should be tossed immediately? Or should we turn it into some type of tablescape?

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: Tablescape's up to you, but we think it should go in the trash. Inside of the onion is probably rotten. 

You can certainly eat the sprout like a scallion, but it's true that once that happens the bulb itself starts to get dry and sour. But you can taste to see...

I think I've submitted this before after seeing someone suggest spaetzle makers (again!), but don't spend your money on a single-use gadget like that! In my grandmother's restaurant and when she taught me how to make it, we just put the batter on a plate and cut it into the boiling water with a butter knife. If you're fastidious, you can get the tiny ones, but there's no harm done if they're a little big!

I love making spaetzl and I don't bother with owning any special equipment. I just pour the batter into a ziplock baggie, cut a hole in one corner, and drizzle the batter into the boiling water. Cleanup just involves throwing the baggie away when it's empty.

I am going out of town this weekend but coming back Sunday for Mother's Day. The plan is to either cook at my MIL's place or at my place, and have it be a casual "linner", around 3 or 4pm. Is there anything I could make tomorrow night that would reheat well on Sunday (if frozen maybe?) or something easy and quick enough on Sunday that still seems special? My go to is a quiche, but I feel like I've done that for so many holidays it's getting old.

I can attest to the recipe for ribs in today's paper. The Deans have given us the Only Ribs You Need To Know. They're scrumptious and reheat perfectly.

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: A creamed chicken hash (look up "veloute" in Fannie Farmer) and add cooked chicken and sauteed mushrooms and shallots would work great. Serve over rice or noodles. Sauteed (skin-on- bone-in chicken thighs  with wine, garlic and thyme will stay moist when reheated; we think they are always better the next day anyway, flavorwise.

I think Correlle ware is among the most amazing dinnerware ever created. Supposedly you can run a car over a plate and it'll be fine. This could be the epitome of dinnerware technology. So why is it disdained (including by my wife)?

I once dropped a Correlle plate from about 5 feet to see what would happen and it smashed to smithereens. Those plates make a hollow sound when tapped with a utensil and that just doesn't feel right to me. Maybe I should try driving over one...

Boyfriend and I will be near King Street Metro/Old Town Alexandria this Saturday around lunchtime. Any suggestions for where to eat? I'm hoping for a relatively casual sit-down option. Also, I don't eat meat, so burgers and fries would not be my top choice. Thanks!

I would walk down to South Washington street and eat, shop and drink great wine at Society Fair. The place is the brainchild of chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, and it's a gourmand's playground. It's a good thing Society Fair isn't located near me, because I would personally help put the Armstrongs' kids through college.

I'm hosting an informal dinner party tonight, and the main dish is grilled salmon. What sides would you choose (can't require a lot of time)? Thanks.

Why not grill a side or two as well? Grilled asparagus, grilled crusty bread. Toss together a simple salad and that should do it. Or, pick up a cooked grain from the salad bar at Whole Foods - say quinoa, grill some vegetables, dice and add to the grain. Toss with a little olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, chopped herbs...

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: Greens are a natural, since they look so nice with the color of the fish. Saute them, they'd be done in 9 minutes. Little baby new potatoes in a high-heat saute pan in olive oil; they should be the size of popcorn. They get crisp and sort of pop around in the pan. They'd be great with salmon. 

Hi there. I'm attending a party where we're focusing all dishes on the strawberry. Since we're doing this at brunch time, I figure everyone will bring something sweet. Can you suggest something savory? If not, something totally awesome sweet will work. Thanks!

This bbq sauce is made with strawberries, strawb jelly, ginger, tomato paste and tequila. Sounds like it'd be great with juicy slices of pork loin. The recipe makes enough that you could even put a 1/4 cup or so in individual small canning jars to send home with guests. 

(Hmmm. . . I apologize for that final domestic suggestion. All our entertaining stories today must have me in Host Mode.)

I've been seeing recipes for pickled green strawberries popping up here and there at restaurants and on the internet.

hello rangers! i have recently given up meat (still do eggs) and dairy, and am hosting a cocktail party in a few weeks. i plan on serving drinks and appetizers, but am at a loss for fun and interesting bite sized veggie morsels. i'd like to stay away from the traditional cheese and crackers or fruit......i have always been a good cook and love a bit of "fanciness", but can't seem to think of veggie heavy apps that might fit the bill and be satisfying to non-vegetarians as well. any thoughts?

Spring roll wrappers or wontons are the perfect way to wrap up vegetables. They make everything fancy. Saute a mess of diced mushrooms with sake and sesame oil and ginger. Make bundles or spring rolls and shallow fry. Crispy foods are always welcome.

Puff pastry can serve the same purpose. Cut into 2" rounds, bake, and top with asparagus tips and a dab of creme fraiche.

If you can wait till next week, I'll have a Tofu Spring Roll recipe that I think would be perfect. Make em smaller, and you'd be in business!

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: For Mother's Day, when we were kids, we used to butter a slice of bread, use an inverted glass to cut out a circle. Put the slice in a hot pan with melted butter and crack and egg in the center of the hole. You can fry the round, too. Flip it over; it's called an egg in a hole. We thought it was pretty cute. 

I just wanted to thank you so much for the book you sent me a few chats back! "Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey" is a delightful journey so far. It's the perfect foodie lit -- an intimate narrative of the local people and places of barbecue, peppered with pictures and recipes. I love cooking outdoors, but am just learning to "tame the flame" and tend more to burgers than BBQ. Now that this book has whet my appetite - I'm going for it! Thanks again, love your chat!


I am bringing vegetarian entrees to a working event (working as in, people in and out at different times over +/- 1 hour, wearing work clothes, eating standing or at picnic tables). I was thinking of two stew-y soups: a hearty minestrone and an "African style" sweet potato with peanuts. I thought I might do a rosemary/olive oil bread to go with it. That said, I would welcome great suggestions! Number of people to be served is unclear, but I am targeting 20.

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: Little Southern drop biscuits would be nice; people love them. You can add an herb to them, like dill, or maybe some grated cheese -- that never hurt a biscuit. Or massaged kale (worked in your hands for a few minutes with olive oil), then spread them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes -- you dont want them to smoke. They'll get crisp and go great with the sweet potato soup. Be sure to make lots -- people will love them.   

A friend (who eats paleo) generously gave me a big tub of coconut oil as a thank you for letting him stay the weekend while he attended a wedding. I know there is a debate on both sides health-wise, but I was hoping you or the chatters would have cooking suggestions. I made a veggie stir fry with it on Sunday night and it was great, but I'm stumped at what else to use it for. Can it be used in the oven, if melted on veggies, to roast them? I'm also struggling to think of what can be made that mixes okay with the slight (but very present) coconut flavor.

Sweet potatoes! Toss cubes with coconut oil and roast.

Or roast whole SPs and mash in coconut oil, toasted unsweetened coconut flakes, walnuts, dates. Or use it in granola. Or on popcorn.

From our archives:

Cauliflower "Popcorn"

Thai Salmon Fishcakes

Mussels and Shrimp in Coconut-Lime Broth (the cover girl of our new cookbook!)




One of my favorite spring dishes is strawberry risotto. You just add the strawberries right after coating the rice and get a lovely rose color. Not sweet, but lively. Some shredded carrots work well in this dish too.

I've made the WaPo Beet Green & Brown Rice Gratin twice (with chard from my garden instead). It was grand!

I'm interested in making this, but also don't want another special piece of equipment. How about pushing the batter through the large wholes of a cheese shredder?

Hello! I really enjoyed Ms. Barrow's article and the "Deans" focus on parties. I had one question for them. How do you deal with guests that won't go home and the ones that won't commit. I have a friend who any time I invite her over says, "I should be able to make it" and never gives a yes or no answer (despite asking repeatedly) until the day of... how can I get her (and others) to commit one way or another? Any specific language you recommend? Also, what do you say to guests that over-stay their welcome? Thank you!

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: We've had this happen. Our bags were in the hallway because we had someplace to go the next day. We finally said, "We're terribly sorry, but we'll have to ask you to leave!"


Or, a nicer option: "You are so zesty and full of life! But we are tired and need to go to bed! Please come back another time!"


About the ones who can't commit: You're going to have to play hardball.  Say "I need to know my numbers, so if you can't commit I'm going to have to put you down as a 'no.' "  We probably wouldn't keep inviting them. It's beyond rude, to us. 

I was having a small-ish dinner party a few months ago, and a mere 45 minutes before arrival time, one of the guests texted me to say he couldn't make it. I texted back to say something like, "I'm so sorry to hear that. I hope everything is OK!" His response was that everything was fine, but that there "weren't enough hours in the day."

I took him off all lists. I wanted to say, "I would've had enough hours in my day -- if I hadn't spent it cooking for people who didn't care about canceling at the last minute!" No excuse. Infuriating.

Hi! I am hoping to plan an around the world dinner party in the next few weeks- probably for about 10-12 people. I was originally thinking I'd give guests free range to choose their country/dish but I then imagined that getting a little repetitive and ending up with way too much food! I'm now thinking to ask each guest to bring a salad/side dish or appetizer from a country that is randomly assigned to them! (probably by letting them choose a number 1-10 or along those lines)....I'm trying to identify the best countries to use! In your opinion what would countries would it be not too hard to come up with a dish for? So far I'm thinking Italy, Mexico, Greece, Germany.... Any ideas for creative dishes to match any of your country suggestions? Thanks!

How about Israeli? The award winning Jerusalem cookbook has some wonderful recipes.

I did a potluck like this once and thought of assigning certain dishes to people. Then I thought that they would all do what they wanted to do anyway and I would just be frustrated from trying to control the semi-chaos of a potluck. So I assigned a certain country and let folks cook whatever they wanted. HUGE success. And everyone was invested in the event and happy.

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: We'd add Morocco, Norway or Sweden. We think maybe you ought to let the people pick their own countries and not to be so...bossy. We do like the concept of all salads! 

Mrs. Wheelbarrow - I have tried pickling okra and green beans, but for some reason they all turn out just horrible. Squishy and smelly. No crunch, no lively zest. Any help you can lend? I really love pickled beans with my bloody mary.

Oh, horrors. Squishy and smelly. Those are not good qualities in a pickle. It's possible your beans and okra have overcooked in the brine. Cool the brine  a little bit before adding it to the jar. You can also try adding a cherry, fig, or oak leaf to each jar (well washed, of course.) The tannins in the leaf keep your pickles crisp.

I bow before the wisdom of Cathy Barrow on all matters pickle. I also have one other suggestion: Make sure your vegetables are fresh, fresh to begin with. Some picklers will not use produce if it's more than a day or two old.

Tim, you make a very important point. I like to make cucumber pickles the day they are picked.

For a person who works long hours--almost until midnight...what food/snack option can you suggest to have at that late hour. It is hard to find tasty, healthy food with less sugar. Need your help and advice. Thanks.

Grapes. Olives from the bar at Whole Foods. Hummus and carrot sticks. Edamame. Have I mentioned Elizabeth Petty's amazing kale chips yet today?

Other suggestions, chatters?

I like eggs at night. Good protein fix and so versatile.

Often I see a recommendation in the space that you "talk to the farmer" at the farmer's market. Have you ever been to one of the markets in Fairfax County? Lines to pay for produce are sometimes 10-12 deep. I would feel rude holding up everyone in line while I get my questions answered. In face, if someone were to take the time to chat up the person taking their money, I think a group clubbing of the individual would take place.

I think many of the farmers would agree with you. But you can ask the farmer for their email. And you can make a mid-week visit to many local farms. They welcome the visitors.

Hi, Lisa, I've read that food stylist is a really stressful career because greens wilt under the camera lights, baked goods don't turn out as expected, etc. I've also read that some of what we see in photos in styrofoam, especially ice cream! What's the real "skinny" on food styling? Also, just curious, are you originally from the Bronx?

Well, it's a stressful career for lots of reasons including temperamental food. The lights aren't hot but food is super perishable just at room temp and exposed to air. It isn't just baked goods that don't turn out as expected. Anyone who cooks knows how unpredictable food can be:) I use a lot of real food, but do spend time putting it together and also keeping it fresh with water. Keeping it fresh is tricky. Ice cream, when it is not real is pretty much like very heavy cake icing that can be scooped.

Nope, not from the Bronx. I'm from here! Thanks for asking.

I hope this answers some of your questions.

The cilantro in my garden is in its prime now. I've got plenty of Mexican-inspired recipes that use cilantro, but they generally call for tomatoes and other summer-garden ingredients that won't be ready for months. The recipe finder has almost too many results, and it's hard to tell which would make the most of garden-fresh cilantro. What are your favorites?

Cilantro is also used in many Indian recipes, like chana masala, and Thai foods like green curry.

I like to stuff my mini food processor with a bunch of cilantro and add honey, mustard, vinegar, oil and salt to make an easy, great salad dressing.

For that rib recipe, is there a way to cut back (or replace) the sugar?

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: Sorry, we've never done them any other way. They're so delicious. 

try Wagshal's German double-smoked bacon, if you like it smokey

The linked recipe for balsamic pork brought to mind my recurring kitchen tragedy--I have never once managed to cook a boneless pork chop without drying it out completely. How can I check for doneness while they're on the stove? Even my food thermometer fails me--I guess the inner temperate keeps rising even after the chops are off the heat?

The key could be pulling your pork off the stove before you reach the desired temperature. So if you're cooking to 145 degrees F, pull it off at 140 F. The temperature should rise about 5 degrees while you're resting the meat.

Back in my pork-chop-cooking days, my favorite technique was something I got from the good folks at Cook's Illustrated. This works especially for a thin (1/2-inch) pork chop: Start with a COLD PAN. Really.  Pour the oil into it, chop on top, and then turn the pan to medium heat. Cook just until VERY lightly browned on one side, just 2 or 3 minutes, turn it over, add a little liquid, turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook until the pork gets up to just 140. Just 3-4 minutes.

While preparing a roast for a dinner party last weekend, I burned my face when hot oil splashed up on it (second degree, but it's thankfully healing well). That got me wondering, what have been your worst kitchen accidents? Did it at all put you off from cooking for a while? I actually soldiered on and finished preparing the meal for the party instead of canceling and it went well, but I confess I've stuck to very simple meals and takeout in the days since.

I once cut my finger badly while chopping red cabbage during a dinner party with out-of-town friends. We had to call the EMTs, who, because of liability issues, would not say whether I needed stitches or not. I had to make the call: Stay and finish cooking for my friends or go to the hospital. I opted to suck it up and cook. The cut stopped bleeding after about 15 minutes. Takeaway lesson: Finish all your chopping BEFORE you start drinking wine. Second takeaway lesson: Make sure not to bleed on your dog.

I have detailed my worst! Read and weep.

I blew all the windows out of a house with an exploding butane tank. That put me off omelet making for a while.

Lisa wins. OK -- I do have some more. I seemed to have exploding-dish-in-the-oven problems for awhile there. Once it was a Saveur recipe for gin-soaked fish under the broiler! (Thanks, Chris Lydon!) The other was a coffee-soaked cake that yours truly thought would be better with Kahlua. Boom! The thing was, it was still pretty tasty, once we patched it together.

We love to entertain, but we have two kids under 4. How do we keep our (casual) dinner parties lively while also integrating the little ones into our meal? Should we only be entertaining people who are kid-friendly?

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: That's a really good question. You can choose to be kid-friendly or entertain after they go to bed. We like to hire a neighborhood teen to be on hand to help. And we say thumbs up to you! Entertaining with young kids. That's the way to keep things lively. It's Early Entertaining Education for your family. 

I've seen a lot of pictures of soup served in gourds such as pumpkins in recent years. Is this practical? How far can you carry it? Could you use small squashes for individual servings?

Yep, this works. The key, I think, is really to not roast that gourd. Or to roast it just slightly. You don't want the vessel to get so soft that it collapses.

My mother used to do barbecued ribs that way. Very tender, not chewy like the roasted kind. They did leave a distinctive smell in the kitchen, however, which I thought of while watching the 48 Hours piece on the chef who murdered his wife and supposedly boiled her up in a working restaurant kitchen over several days, moving a 50-gallon drum on and off the stove between every shift. (The reporter and I are down with the defense claim of "medication-induced hallucination" on that part of the story.)

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: Ahem! Our ribs don't boil for that long, so they don't cause lingering odors in the kitchen. 

I was walking past Heller's in Mt. Pleasant and remembered you scored one of its doughnuts pretty well, I think in the first week of your contest. So I went in and asked for "the doughnut the Washington Post liked." The guy gave me a glazed. It was yummy, even the next day, when I finally ate it! Was that the one you liked?

We liked the glazed twist, not the regular glazed raised doughnut. Here was the results from our Heller's tasting.

I have a huge head of cauliflower that i bought to make cauliflower rice when I thougth I was going to go paleo (but decided against it). what can I do with the cauliflower now, keeping in mind that i'm not the biggest fan of this vegetable! thanks and loved the story of the Deans :)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees (really). Core the cauliflower and cut it into 1/2-inch steaks. Toss with olive oil and lots of coarse salt. Roast in a great big pan (or two -- you want it in one layer) until it browns, getting caramelized on the edges and nice and soft inside.

We're buying out herb starts this weekend and while we always do rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil and chives I'm looking to add some more but I'm stumped when trying to think of what I would use them for in multiple dishes. Any suggestions for a new herb and recipies to use ( and tarragon is out, we don't like the flavor at least in the way we used it in the past with chicken)?

I love lovage and you pretty much have to grow it if you want to cook with it.

Ah, agreed on lovage! So good in potato salad.

I have two old (cheap) non-stick pans that steadfastly refuse to be non-stick anymore, as well as some old (cheap) warped bake-ware that looks almost like it rusted on a run through the dishwasher lately. They're not good enough shape that I'd want to donate them to goodwill or etc, but I don't like the though of throwing them away. Any ideas?

I threw out a bunch of similar pans recently. I hate to waste but I also hate to impose something useless on another person. Go for it, recycle them!

While not quite the joy of cooking big, 100 Best Gluten Free Recipes by Carol Fesnter is good. The Devil's Food Cake is the best G-free chocolate cake I've ever had. The gnocchi was a miss, but that might have been a chef error on my part. Oh, and the best part is that she has a flour blend that she uses that is probably the best I've used- much better than pre bought blends, and all with flours you can typically find in any grocery store (tapioca, potato starch, xantham gum...and I forget what else but everything I was able to find at Giant). It's a great basic, and then you can sub that flour in with regular recipes too.

Any suggestions, appetizers that are not too hard, can be made ahead of time and lactose free please! College grad!

THE DEANS (Suzanne and Lee) say: If it's the morning of, you can wrap prosciutto around slices of melon. You can scoop out cherry tomato halves and fill them with a soft salad like egg or crab. Sometimes we like to get a big tray and put little bowls on it. Fill the bowls with lots of different things: two kinds of olives, cut salamis, pistachios, pickled beets (slices), sliced red peppers. 

I am interested in making cheese in my house- just for fun/personal consumption. Where would be a good place to start? Any good "recipes" or kits?

Fresh is so easy to make -- and so delicious just on its own with some sea salt and olive oil. Try this recipe for fresh ricotta cheese. It's a good place to start.

A couple of the links in the Readers Favorite Recipes April article don't work. For instance, Flaky Cream Cheese Crust. I also can't find it in the recipe database! Help, it sounds great.

Sorry about that! We'll fix the story asap; in the meantime, here's the pie crust

Roasted chickpeas, with za'atar or plain Lawry's. Crazy delicious.

David Leite chronicled a mishap with the fire department and a pecan pie in last week's episode of Talking With My Mouth Full, for times when you need to feel better about your own disasters. I am delighted to see everyone's listed here--I have personally set a meatloaf on fire and cut half of my thumbpad off while chopping cabbage. Tim, I'm glad there are others who know how dangerous cabbage can be (but it won't stop me from eating it).

I don't recall ever seeing "plated" food until the 1980s. Maybe I'd never eaten anyplace elegant until the 1980s. When did plating become the norm in the U.S., if it is?

I believe it came on strong with Nouvelle Cuisine in the late seventies. But composed salads started long before that.

Brown sugar on bacon? Baked bacon? Should I try these things mentioned by the vegetarian's partner? Could they really be an improvement on stove-top bacon with nothing added?

It's pretty wicked. I bake it on a wire rack placed inside a rimmed baking sheet. Just a little sprinkle, with some cracked black pepper. 

We had several last-minute cancellations to OUR WEDDING. There were a couple who had legit things come up, but for the others it was apparent that it was just no longer "convenient." I was beyond annoyed, we had already submitted the final numbers to the caterer and finalized the seating. I feel like people are flakier these days, I don't know why!

People's sense of etiquette has gone to hell. Now, for just one example, it seems that a friend doesn't consider him- or herself late as long as s/he texts you by your appointed meeting time! So frustrating.

I was going to suggest the eggs in holes for Mother's Day. Use a heart cookie cutter to make the holes. Even a 2-year-old can cut the centers out of the bread and they love doing it.

Finally it's gotten warm enough that I am just about ready to shut off the oven for the season and relocate the cooking outdoors to the grill. What do I need to know to make it easy on myself for the transition? This is the first year I've had a gas grill and I'm looking forward to using it, but need easy recipes as I have little ones underfoot that I have to keep my attention on pretty much constantly.


I think these so-called First-Timer's Ribs (nothing like having your rookie status rubbed in your face, eh?) from Steve Raichlen would be perfect for you. You only have to check the ribs every 15 minutes.

I thought we were the only ones...I'm the vegetarian! Keep gluten free veggie meals coming.

I saw the recipe in the Post and didn't cut it out (yes, I get the dead tree version). Now I can't find it and the recipe finder doesn't return any hits--I tried cornbread pot pie and chicken pot pie. This looked like an interesting main course that could be made gluten free (use the Southern Corn Bread recipe that once was on the back of the package of white corn meal and is now available on line from that source).

A few weeks ago you recommended the Yogurt Kuku to me, which I made and thought was really good, but I wanted to alert you to a possible mistake. The recipe says to bake it at 250 F for 20-25 minutes. At that temperature and time, the dish was nowhere near done after 25 minutes or even 40 minutes. Eventually I turned it up to 325 and it was done soon after that. I found the original recipe, which has 350 F and that seems more logical to me.

We'll take a look at it, thanks. Sometimes it's the difference in ovens....

I'm so glad Bonnie's answer about good local bacon was Harvey's. I bought some a couple months ago and made the most amazing bean soup with it. That bacon is truly extraordinary. If Union Market was more convenient for me, I'd probably pig out on it every week.

And we live in a golden age, where this bacon can be delivered to our doorsteps. 

How about strawberry and goat cheese tarts with puff pastry? Balsamic reduction and caramelized onions would make it sing.

Bad snow flashbacks here in the Midwest where we are finally enjoying warm, dry-ish weather and crossing fingers for some spring greens on the plate soon.

Don't worry -- that's just the date that particular file was created. It lives there all the time. It's like a broken clock!

After GMU graduation around 4 pm on Saturday, May 18, a family group of 12 adults, all from out of town, wants to have a late lunch/early dinner. The graduation is on the GMU campus but most of the group is staying in Crystal City. Can you suggest a reasonably priced, easily accessed American, Italian or Mexican restaurant to accommodate the group?

This sounded like a q for Tom Sietsema, so we asked him and he says: "Vermillion is within walking distance of the Metro and remains one of my favorite go-to restaurants in Old Town no matter the time of day."


Well, you've roasted us until we're crisped on the edges and well browned, so you know what that means -- we're done, ready to be transferred to a platter and served up.

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to the Deans and Cathy Barrow for helping us answer them.

Now for the prize books:

The chatter who asked about small vegetarian app ideas will get "The Appetizer Collection." The one who asked about what to do with cilantro will get "Cooking With Herbs." Send your mailing info to Becky at, and we'll get you your books. (Be patient; she's on vacation until next week.)

Until next time, happy cooking, eating, reading and party-throwing (and -going).


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Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section.
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