Free Range on Food: How chefs learn, women in culinary history and more

May 09, 2012

This week we're talking about how chefs learn, women in culinary history and more.
Past Free Range on Food chats

If you want to talk food, you've come to the right place. Cathy Barrow, aka Mrs Wheelbarrow, has lots more to share with you than she could fit in her fine piece today on how chefs learn whole-animal butchery in this country.  Did Jason Wilson's hotel mini-bar story give you something to think/drink about? We're also interested in whom you would have liked to see in our brief odes to mothers of culinary invention. Tim Carman's over at "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," but Jane Touzalin, Becky Krystal and Jason are on hand to field your questions.


The two chat winners who offer the best 2-sentence odes of their own will win either a copy of "The Naptime Chef" by Kelsey Banfield (source of today's Dinner in Minutes) or "The Mom 100 Cookbook" by Katie Workman. Check back at the end of the hour to see if you were the lucky ones. 


Today's article mentioned the lack of animal butchery and charcuterie at CIA. That does not reflect ALL schools. L'Academie de Cuisine's professional culinary program in Gaithersburg covers includes many hours of hands on practice with forcemeats, terrines, and game meats.

Thank you for your comment. I spoke to some students from L'Academie, and I understood there is some work with poultry and fish, as well as demonstrations on whole lamb or  pigs. Forcemeats and terrines are included in garde manger, which is, indeed, taught at most schools.

I have recently discovered that I love a muscat frizzante (Foris, to be exact) for easy evening drinking. Any similar recommendations I might enjoy? Thank you!!!

Dave McIntyre recommends  moscato -- especially Moscato d'Asti from Italy. The light, low-alcohol, fruity and fizzy sweet wine is all the rage. Check out his column on it (with recommendations), written last fall.

I can't think of anyone else to add to your list. If you'd asked me the question, I'm sure I'd have nominated Marion Cunningham. She is far and away my favorite.

I loved your column today on the women who have impacted the culinary arts.  Fascinating people who took the role of a woman cooking dinner for her family and raised it to a serious profession to be contended with!


If I had to add to this list, I think I would add Madhur Jaffrey. Even to Indians, like me, who grew up at the elbow or their mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen, Indian food is always a bit daunting with it's numerous spices and ingredients. Reading a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook not only breaks everything into manageable pieces, but also comes combined with gorgeous stories about her life and the food that she ate. I sometimes just read the books before I go to bed, not even in the kitchen!

I made your Sweet Onion Slaw last weekend and it is DELICIOUS. I only used 1/3 of a cup of sugar though - I can't imagine how sticky-sweet it would be if someone used the entire 3/4 of a cup - and added a thinly sliced green pepper. My husband and I ate the whole batch in two days!

Might depend on the inherent sweetness of the onions. Glad you adapted the recipe to make it right for your taste!

I'm trying to find a home solution to cleaning my fruit (apples/grapes). Do you think using diluted vinegar sprayed onto it and left for a minute and then rinsed thoroughly would work? I just can't bring myself to spend $5 on the store version of fruit cleaner. Thanks!

I use the Cook's Illustrated recommendation of a 3:1 mixture of water and vinegar. Spray and then rinse. They claim this kills 99 percent of bacteria.

A food scientist at Virginia Tech says that you can also use vinegar and then hydrogen peroxide to clean your produce. Details here.

Hi guys! Any chance you have or are planning to do simple "how-to" videos? I would love to see how you guys do some basic kitchen tasks like peeling/chopping garlic or cooking risotto (time elapsed of course), or stir frying or making a cake, kneading bread - any of those would be great for a novice baker.

We've considered it over the years. Who -- and I ask with great trepidation -- would you most like to see in front of the camera? :) Have you found any others online you like the look of?

When I read the Free Range comments a few weeks ago about ways to crack an egg to avoid breaking the yolk, I couldn't quite understand what all the fuss was about. I broke several when I was first learning to cook and bake, say, from the time I was 8 to about 10 or 11. Since then -- let's call it three decades for the sake of kindness and round numbers -- I can't recall having broken a yolk unintentionally more than once every two years at most. Can you guess what happened? Yep! As soon as I read the Free Range chat and harrumphed, the curse was on me. I've broken yolks in the past two weeks. So, I herewith repent most humbly and ask you to repeal the hex. Pretty please?

Scene: Extension of hands over computer's monitor.

Me: Be gone, egg curse!

You: Free to move about the kitchen.

Laurie Colwin. Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. In the nineties when I had my first baby reading Colwin was like having a fun, slightly snarky friend and fellow mom who was teaching her young daughter to be a connoisseur. I was heartbroken when I read that she died and left that young daughter. Her books are about real day-to-day cooking and home life and not so much about following a recipe although she does have some recipes.

What a voice she had. Nice.

Hi, I read with some interest the Slate article recently on whether most published time estimates for caramelized onions (including WaPo's...) are realistic. I'm sure you have some thoughts about that, but the article has inspired me to try French Onion Soup from scratch. So, last night I made beef broth for the first time and tomorrow will be the big onion caramelization and soup making. What kind of cheese would you recommend? I picked up some Swiss for it, but I'm seeing lots of recommendations for Gruyere. Is it worth the extra money to use a nice Gruyere?

Okay, grr! Saw that the Charlotte Observer picked up that story today. For the record, WaPoFood does NOT suggest any onions can be caramelized in less than 35-40 minutes. The author is confusing terms such as "golden brown" with "caramelized." We don't use them interchangeably, and when we caramelize onions, they are a deep brown and meltingly soft. 


Calmer now. Re the cheese: Yes, it's worth the money. A nice Gruyere or Emmanthaler will provide a complementary, unmistakable nuttiness. Look for a French or Swiss-made cheese, if you can, or a Swiss-style version made by Roth Kase USA in Wisconsin.

Hubby just retired from 36 years as a butcher for a major local grocer. He started just as "swinging" carcasses were phased out in favor of large primal cuts. He had a two year apprenticeship to learn his trade. The work involves much more than opening boxes of prepared cuts but the trends are in that direction. Grocers seek to reduce labor costs by buying "portioned" meat...this is cut in a central warehouse, packaged and shipped to stores as customer-ready packages. No skilled trade person is needed (lower wages than professional butchers) to open the box and put it in the case. The role of a butcher at a local store is being phased out. We avoid what are called "puffy packs" and burger from chubs...who knows when it was cut, was it sitting in a truck with broken refrigeration? There are few younger folks that want to learn the trade so as the veterans retire/leave the skill will leave with them. Sad story.

It's a very sad story. Kari Underly, the butcher I interviewed for the story, said her father was never the same after the grocery he worked for migrated to boxed beef. But, actually, you and your husband should take heart. There are more and more young chefs who want to learn butchery, and that can only lead to more butchers.

I successfully made my first cheesecake over the weekend. While it tasted delicious, the crust kind of stuck to the bottom of the pan. I greased the spring form pan before putting in the crust. The crust was made out of vanilla wafers and egg whites (Cooking Light version). I think mix might have been a little too wet going in, but I did pre-bake it. I'm not sure what happened. I also baked the cheesecake in a water bath having the pan wrapped in aluminum foil to protect it. Any suggestions for my next attempt? Thanks!

Baking pro and FOF (Friend of Food) Lisa Yockelson says:

As usually requested, it is essential to at least view the entire recipe before offering an answer to the query--especially in this case, seeing the crust and filling ingredients, along with the procedure! I wonder what kind of pan preparation was employed--butter or nonstick cooking spray? Lining the bottom of the pan with a circle of cooking parchment paper before pressing in the crust might have helped here. While prebaking the crust is effective to develop its overall stability, wrapping the pan in aluminum foil does encourage condensation during baking, and may have contributed to the crust sticking as the cheesecake cooled. As well, if the crust is a very thin layer to begin with (or especially moist), it may have melded with the cheesecake filling, making the resulting layer stick to the bottom of the pan. Once again, without seeing the recipe, my basic recommendation would be to line the bottom of the pan with cooking parchment paper as the first line of defense against your sticking problem.

I woke up this morning with a hankering for risotto but with spring flavors. So I really lucked out when saw the dinner in minutes recipe! I'd like to include some more vegetables than just asparagus, although I don't want to overdo it. I was thinking peas and carrots, maybe ramps if I can find them. What else would you include?

Fresh spring peas are a good fit, of course; also try young spring leeks or onions (instead of the yellow onion), fresh herbs or arugula. Maybe morels, if you've recently come into an inheritance or have befriended a local forager?


Speaking of risotto, today's print edition Brown Butter Asparagus Risotto called for cooked arborio rice but of course it should have said "uncooked."  The recipe's fixed online. We've heard from several eagle-eyed readers and appreciate it.

While we appreciate your coverage of roses (too often overlooked by the uninitiated who believe them to be the ghastly white zinfandel), we do have a nit to pick with retailers who believe they are only warm-weather wines (a notion somewhat reinforced by your article's premise). We drink these delightful wines all year long. And while you talked of other regions, your article is quite Franco-centric. We have found the 100% cab-based Santa Digna from Chile to be among our favorites (which also include Kacher's Ch. Grande Cassagne, so we have nothing against French roses). Have you tried the Digna? At its price (round $8/bottle by the case, it's a steal)? A rose by any other name would taste as good (but not sweet, please)!

Dave says:


Yes, I recommended the delicious Santa Digna rose last year, though I haven't tasted this year's release. And there certainly is no law against enjoying rose year round; however, its seasonal allure is undeniable. I have tried some of the refreshing, lighter roses in winter and found them to taste rather thin and insipid. Heartier roses, like your favorite cab-based example, or Champagne and other sparkling wines, might hold up better. Don't worry about the retailers - they follow the market. And don't insist that the market should follow you. Just stock up on rose now -- or even later in the summer when they might be discounted more - and enjoy the 2011s as they mature throughout the winter.

Ok a few questions about the recipe:) 1) We don't like almonds in our house so I assume it's just fine to leave them out right? 2) Egg whites: what does whipping them to peaks do actually? It's a step I find tedious (I don't know why, I just do) and I usually try to avoid doing it at all. So can we skip that step and just add in the whole egg where it calls for the egg yolk or will it ruin the integrity of the cake? Thanks!!

Frankly, I think you should find another cake recipe! The almond coating for the pan could probably be replaced by ground hazelnuts or maybe even bread crumbs, but the cake contains almond extract as a major flavor; would you want to omit that, too? It would be a shame. In any recipe that calls for beating egg whites to peaks and then folding into the rest of the ingredients, you can pretty much know that it is a vital step; skip it, and the recipe will fail. The point of all that beating is to create air bubbles that will lighten the cake and help create a beautiful crumb/texture. If you were to add whole eggs, the cake would fall flat, and it'd be like eating leather.

In your nutrition information it doesn't say how many servings this cake offers. It tells me that there are 430/serving, but I'd like to know what size piece that gets me.

What a fine cake this is.  It went fast, post photo shoot.


The recipe specifies the number of servings, actually. Are you looking at it online? That information is just below the recipe summary. In this case, it's 12 to 16 servings, and I'd estimate the size of a 1/16th slice would be about 1 1/4 inches wide, about half the size of the chunk you see that's pulled out in this photo.

Question to Cathy Barrow and anyone else - Here's what I'm wondering -- Are we supposed to cut almost all the way through but not quite, so the blade of the knife doesn't hit the cutting board? Or is there some soft-surface cutting board I can buy that holds the food steady but gives a little under the knife? My knives need sharpening just a few months after I had them professionally honed and I don't know if that's what's to be expected or if I'm doing something wrong. I'm mostly cutting veggies and fruits (lots of chopping onions and slicing garlic) but the occasional steak and chicken, too. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

Hi, and thanks for your question. Your knife should certainly slice through to the cutting board. Most professionals sharpen their knives on a steel several times each day, in fact, several times an HOUR! Honing gives you an edge, but sharpening maintains the edge. The folks at Sur La Table are always willing to teach a person how to use a steel.

I'd nominate Alice Waters for the impact she's had on the importance of locally sourced products, organically / humanely raised and her efforts to improve food and increase knowledge of how it's raised with schools and schoolchildren.

So far, all the chatter noms are spot-on.  Feel free to add your words as comments to the story online as well!

Is it safe to freeze meat in the original grocery packaging? I've always thought I should repackage it in plastic freezer bags, but my husband just pops meat packages into the freezer as is. It makes me nervous ... then I realized that sometimes I find partially frozen chicken in the grocery meat case, so obviously the grocers freeze meat in that packaging. I just want to be safe. Help!

It might be okay for a few days, as long as your freezer's free of odors and is efficient. The store packaging is built to breathe a little, and that's not a feature you want for long-term freezer storage. Plus, that packaging tends to trap air, which often turns into pockets of ice crystals.  Why take the chance on diminishing the quality of what you've paid for?


Your grocer might just crank up his meat case to freezing or almost-freezing; maybe that's why the chicken is like it is.


I would wrap the meat in plastic wrap and then in foil, label and freeze for up to 4 months (ground) or 1 year (cuts, chops, steaks).


Speaking of, have you ever checked out our Big Chill: A freezer guide?

There's a restaurant at the shore that makes a pork shank dish that I really love. I saw pork shanks recently at Whole Foods, and I'm thinking about cooking them myself, which I've never done. What is the best way to prepare them? The shank dish at the restaurant has very tender meat (on the bone, but just barely) in a spicy-sweet barbecue sauce.

Pork shanks are best braised, just as you might cook a lamb shank. Brown them well in a deep Dutch oven, remove from the pan, add onions and any other aromatics, cooked until soft, then add back the shanks, and a sauce or stock. Cook slowly, covered, for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Is the chat leftovers post on the All We Can eat blog incomplete? I can't seem to find a way to continue reading the post, and it ends right after the question on stuffing peppers (a skill I too would learn to have!) Thanks, and as always to fellow chatters, the blog is amazing and I hope you all are reading it!

Yikes, the answer somehow became invisible -- computer ace Becky Krystal figured out the problem and was able to fix it. Thanks, Becky!

Deborah Madison is a woman who brought vegetarian eating to the masses, instructing us how to prepare the elusive tofu, and teaching us to embrace the beauty of vegetables. As we learned to improve our bodies, our society, and environment by eating less meat, Madison showed us the benefits of supporting our local farmers and that vegetarianism can be synonymous with fine dining.

Where can I gain experience in Meat cutting in DC area? I am currently a culinary arts student, PGCC

Jason (Story) will be holding some meat cutting classes at Three Little Pigs. There are Charcuterie classes at L'Academie de Cuisine. And Stratford University's program offers workshops on whole animal butchery and charcuterie.

Who can make carnivores turn their hats in? Vegetable temptress Mollie Katzen.

Not the original poster, but I do sharpen my knives frequently (not hourly, but probably every couple of weeks). I use a hand-held knife sharpener - the kind where you run your knife through a slot a few times (it has one slot for regular knives and another for serrated). It works to keep my knives fairly sharp, but is it bad for the knife? Do I need to learn to use a steel to better preserve my knives?

Knife manufacturers will tell you a steel is better for your knife. It's not hard to learn, and it looks very impressive!

The answer on knife sharpening was backwards. Use of a stone creates an edge. Use of a steel will straighten an edge but will not create one.

Thank you!


Can't remember the source of this, but have been using this for several years in a spray bottle. The grapefruit seed extract is available from Whole Foods and probably other organic / health food stores. An University of GA study recently found it to be "a highly effective non-toxic disinfectant" but do exercise caution when using--wash hands thoroughly because undiluted it can be irritating to the skin and especially to eyes. Vegetables and fruit wash 1 cup water 1 Tblsp. baking soda 1 cup white vinegar 20 drops grapefruit seed extract Mix and pour into spray bottle to use on fruits and vegetables.

Thanks for the suggestion.

I found Jason's article on the James Hotel cute. Completely and totally useless as I have never spent a single minute pondering the quality the mini-bar in my room, but enjoyable as a reading experience. And sometimes isn't that all you can ask for?

Cute and totally useless is what I strive to be, ha! No, no, thank you so much for the kind words.

Hi, thank you so much for the map and lists of farmers markets, I will try to cover as much as I can this summer since I love fresh foods and local artisans that make great things with fresh foods. What are your personal favorite markets? Which ones are totally worth the trip you think? Thanks!

Thanks for the props, which allows me to again give a shout-out to cartographer extraordinaire Gene Thorp, a.ka. the brains behind that whiz-bang interactive map.

I, too, need to get out to a lot more markets this season. I am a frequent customer at the Columbia Pike Farmers Market. It's not far from where I live, and I like that it's not too huge but still has a great variety.

What say the rest of you?

Bethesda Central Farm Market is my go-to. Even if it weren't the closest one to where I live, I'd make a special trip. Nice range of vendors, and the knife sharpening ladies are there each month. Love Vernon Klingenfelter's fish, even though there's a line. Often there's a vendor I wouldn't expect, such as the guy who sells refurbished copper pots (a girl can dream amid the turnips) and the outfit that makes beautiful cutting boards.  Mitch Berliner and Ann Brody Cove are responsive and eager to customers. (Not paid for that ringing endorsement!)

I like the modest size and folksy ambiance of the Falls Church market, though I am not a fan of the high prices. For such a small group, there's a ton of diversity in the product offerings. Something for everyone, really. But parking can be a challenge.

Can I search previous chats? Hate to ask these questions, b/c I'm sure you've covered them many times before: 1) Are baking powders all the same, and do you have a favorite brand? 2) Do you have any experience with the soda stream? Thinking about buying one.

I can answer your baking powder question! Once I read Edna Lewis' Taste of Country Cooking, I never bought baking powder again. It's an easy combination of baking soda (2 Tablespoons ) and cream of tartar ( 1/4 cup.)

Right now, there isn't really a great chat-specific search, I'm sorry to say. Best thing to do, when it works anyway, is a Google site search -- so "baking powder" "free range on food"

Jason, is it true that the formula for tonic water is different abroad than here? I had a delicious G&T using Schweppes there, and it tasted much better than the same drink here (with the same brands). If so, why?

As for why Schweppes tastes different abroad than at home, I'm not sure. But there is definitely no single formula for tonic water. Just as gins have different botanicals used in production, so do tonic waters. If you're interested in better tonics, then look for some artisan producers like Fever Tree or Q Tonic or Fentiman's that are widely available in small bottles in the U.S. Try a G&T with, say, G'Vine Nouaisson gin, Fever Tree Tonic, and a slice of grapefruit and you will be in heaven.

Many if not most land grant universities have courses devoted to butchering livestock and poultry. Some universities have meat science majors or minors and other incorporate the subject into Animal Sciences. Taking a few such courses there can teach the practical aspect of butchery along with food safety and the science behind various practices. There are also advanced courses for processed products.

There were many more land grant universities at the beginning of the 20th century than there are now. The University of Washington and Iowa State University still have some meat programs.

My husband recently went to Istanbul and returned with a lot of saffron threads from the markets. Any suggestions on ways to incorporate these into dishes? I tried searching for recipes online but it seems that the only thing that turns up are variations on saffron rice.

My favorite use for saffron, beyond rice, is in Chicken (or Salmon) Tikka Masala. It adds a lovely almost floral undertone to the Indian spices. Remember to bloom the threads in warm water before using.

Diana Kennedy showed us the magic of Mexican cooking, start to finish. Thanks to her for many fabulous dishes -- and also Pati Jinich! (The rhyme scheme is a bit off, but I hope the sentiment scans!)

Hey, Rangers! I bought a bag of mini cinnamon chips - any suggestions on what to do with them?

I've used them in scones, and have cut them into a chocolate chip cookie recipe....have to say I'm not exactly a fan.  Chatters, how about you?

What dessert or plate would you create having these limited ingredients in limited quantities? Whole-grain bread (2 slices) or 2 oz of non-instant oatmeal?


One of these fruits: 1 apple or banana or 7 oz of fresh berries?


6 oz of 2% milk or sugar free yogurt Rhubarb 1 egg (plus extra egg white) 2 tsp olive oil Various spices and seasonings except sugar (only stevia).


Besides smoothie and French toasts, I was wondering if I can do some sort of pancake with the oats or perhaps an oatmeal type of cookie?

I think there's a bread pudding hiding in there. Maybe add some liqueur?

Is this an attempt to bring a little "Chopped" essence to Free Range?

To your lists I would add Carol Field, who made the secrets of Italian food yield (but not Marcella Hazan).

Just wanted to second Bonnie's recommendation of the Bethesda Central market. It is walkable for me, but even if not, it is really a great collection of vendors. And unlike some farmers markets, it is quite affordable.

Some time ago I had thoroughly enjoyed a spinach salad with strawberries and walnuts. I swear the best part of that salad had been the dressing but I haven't a clue what's in it. Do you have a recipe for a similar salad?

I had a very similar salad last night at The Grocery (I'm visiting Charleston.) The dressing was fabulous, called a goat cheese fondue by our server, it was just soft goat cheese beaten with vinegar and herbs (I tasted chervil and tarragon.)

Here's a simple recipe for Strawberry Spinach Salad that we ran last week. It's from Jeanine Williams, a D.C. Public Schools senor who won a $104,000 scholarship to culinary school.

Her recipe calls for balsamic vinegar. Another suggestion would be to use raspberry vinegar, which would punch up the berry flavor in a nice way.

Too bad there isn't more of a link between the chefs and higher education. My (ex)boyfriend is an expert in this area and taught in Food Science (meat science) for years (although he too just retired). His courses were always extremely popular, and a number of his students came from Hotel and Restaurant Admin. Seems to me this is an area where some type of working together/across the boundaries of the two industries (restaurant admin, higher ed) might be helpful-for there are experts out there.

There are experts, but they're retiring, and who will teach the young chefs once they're gone? As the public begins to demand more locally sourced foods, more transparency in meat packaging, and fewer commercially raised animals, I think the schools will have to respond. There is a huge need for this education.

Mollie Katzen, Moosewood marvel, never ate a fowl or steer; Chopping veggies, dicing tofu, the first to keep our arteries clear.

That's a second nod for Mollie.  I know she's feeling the love.

i have a weird situation......i had accidentally left a plastic spoon in the jar of organic coconut oil that i was using, and the next time i went to use the oil, the spoon had somehow dissolved! is there something in coconut oil that could have caused that? i didn't want to eat the oil anymore, so i have now been using it as a moisturizer, but is there some science behind why this would happen? also, i'm a little worried about eating something that can dissolve plastic.....although coconut oil has been praised for its health benefits, am i missing something here?

I've contacted the Hain Celestial group that makes Spectrum coconut oil and have asked a few gluten-free bakers. We're stumped. Chatters, has this happened to you?

I was all excited when they came out and they did not live up to my expectations either. I bought them from King Arthur when they first appeared. I ended up using most of them on a sour cream coffee cake recipe as a kinda topping. I baked the cake in a 9X13 and mixed chips in with the streusal that goes on top before baking. It was ok.

That was a great article about the mothers of culinary invention! I always love hearing about history of anything food-related, and about the pioneers themselves.

Sorry, but someone needed to use better editorial judgment on Jason Wilson's column today. For the subset of the population that pays close attention to their alcoholic beverages . . . for the subset of those who can afford a boutique hotel in NYC . . . for the subset of those who are sad and lonely enough to use their hotel mini-bar . . . for the subset of those who want to mix their own fancy cocktails . . . I think I have identified that subset, and its name is Jason Wilson.

Wait, so I AM totally useless...but not at all cute. Jumped the shark? What a fun phrase! Kind of like when Fonzie in Happy Days...oooh! Anyway,  I'm sorry you didn't like the column, though it seems you read down far enough, like more than half, to get the "boutique hotel" part. I didn't realize every single article needed to be something that you, dear reader, could walk out your front door and try, like, immediately! I didn't realize you expected that kind of service! But honestly, not all trend reporting is exactly that kind of literal "service" is it? I'm guessing that the kind of on-demand mixology we now see at a "boutique hotel" in NYC will soon enough filter into other segments of our life, perhaps more affordable segments that serious, economically minded people like you do pay more attention to.

I had a flying disaster over the weekend when I made a coconut cake for my 3 year old's birthday. Aside from the 7-minute frosting being too sweet, when we cut into it, the top layer of the cake swooshed off the plate, like lava. Of course, it had to be in front of the in-laws! Also, the coconut cake itself did not rise very well. I used an electric beater to whisk the egg whites, but I couldn't tell when it was "stiff but not dry." I wasn't sure if I had over beaten or under beaten. They were shiny and had peaks. I would like to attempt to make a coconut cake again some time. Maybe I just need a new recipe and some tips. I had used Grace Parisi's (Food & Wine).

Ah, sometimes it happens. If the frosting "swooshed off," it sounds like maybe it wasn't stiff enough. But you might like one of these recipes from our database:

Coconut Cake With Lemon Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

Jane Radford's Italian Coconut Cream Cake

Miss Essie Brazil's Three-Layer Coconut Cake

Miss Essie Brazil's Three-Layer Coconut Cake

MFK Fisher. Her food writing remains unparalleled. Lines like "The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam" are such vivid recollections and so descriptive that they transport you. And she was not a food snob, she just loved good food, whether it was at frou-frou restaurants, at people's homes, or even as simple as scrambled eggs. Her essay on eating alone (A is for Dining Alone) is a masterpiece. (And yes, I know this is more than two sentences.)

Wow, thanks for that memory. I had completely forgotten my time spent next to my mom's pot of bubbling strawberry preserves, waiting for her to skim of the foam so I could eat it. I could never wait for it to cool off properly, but slightly fried lips and tongue were a small price to pay for that treat. Love, love reading MFK Fisher.

First, my ode: The Post's very own KOD was almost single-handedly responsible for getting me jazzed about cooking -- through her weekly chats & a cooking course I was lucky enough to take, she provided amazing lessons in the skills & techniques that form the backbone for home cooking. Even better, her relaxed attitude toward cooking gave me the confidence to "wing it" and turned this devoted recipe reader into a more improvisational cook. Now for my question: What are some new rhubarb recipes I need to try this season? Preferably sweet. (I've already got strawberry rhubarb compote on the list...)

I made both rhubarb lavendar and a rhubarb rosemary jams last year. They're exquisite next to cheese.

Joan Nathan taught me to cook like my Jewish mother as well as like Jewish mothers all over the US (and France) , but without any of the guilt or mishegas.

Bonus points for correct use of the term. She certainly knows her stuff.

For years I have had difficulty using a steel to sharpen my knife because the sounds sets my teeth on edge. However, I have discovered if I do it while walking around in the backyard or in the kitchen with the music on loudly, it makes it a bit more bearable.

Isn't that what iPod earbuds were invented for?

Having a tough time finding a link, but I was just reading something in National Geographic about this phenomenon. Those kinds of sounds can make us crazy because of the way our ear tubes are shaped -- they're designed to help amplify sounds such as the human voice, but they'll also amplify others we don't want amplified. Such as sharpening knives, nails on a chalkboard, etc. Thus ends the science lesson.

I believe beef cuts are different in South America. Does that have something to do with the unique and fabulous taste of Argentine beef?

Nearly every country has specific cuts and specific ways to butcher. When I was in France last year, I watched the butchers toss away all the ribs of the pig. The French, for the most part, don't barbecue, don't eat with their hands, and therefore, feed the ribs to the dogs!

This may be a silly question, but can you get pimentos by themselves? I want to make a pimento mac and cheese, another other things, but only recall seeing pimentos inside olives themselves.

Yep, should be on the grocery store shelf next to jars of roasted peppers and peppadews.

I also love this Farmer's Market for the exact same reasons given by Becky.

Our anniversary is next week, and we'd like to stay in and cook rather than going out. It's on a weeknight, though, so do you have any suggestions for a special occasion meal that isn't too labor intensive? Steak would work, of course, but any other ideas?

In the headnote to our recipe for Lamb Chops With Mint Pesto, we say that lamb is "a natural for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner." Sounds like a natural for an anniversary dinner, too. If you go to our Recipe Finder database and type the word "Valentine's" in the search field (or do an advanced search and select Valentine's Day in the pull-down menu for holidays), you'll find several special-occasion dessert recipes, many of them involving chocolate. Some are make-ahead, which seems perfect for a weeknight meal. Congratulations on the anniversary!

I enjoyed the article and agree about those (in general) who work in the meat depts. at grocery stores. I grew up on a farm and when we needed beef or pork, we had one taken to the butcher's. We got back ALL of the animal back, neatly wrapped. Which is why I have such a hard time buying meat in grocery stores--you can't find all the cuts we used to have, plus, I agree, few seem to *really* know much beyond what is there in the package. But, isn't this a reflection on the way our total food system has (dis)evolved in this country--i.e. further and further away from the farm?

It's challenging to find all the parts of the animal! Talk to the farmers at the farmers market - they will (usually) be happy to get you those hard-to-find cuts. And don't forget Wagshal's Market, where Pam the Butcher will get you the cuts you want.

Virginia Tech, Penn State, and Ohio State are just some of the closer universities which offer meat science courses. UMD CP does not however.

Thank you!

Check the King Arthur website for a great cinnamon whole wheat mini-biscotti recipe. Easy and has some whole grain virtue

How do you get rid of the garlic smell on your hands or in the air after you chop up a garlic clove or somebody in the office microwaves a dish with a garlicky sauce? I hate smelling it on my hands days after I make a dish with garlic; and I WASH with lemon scented soap (just putting that out there).

Stainless steel surfaces will rid your hands of garlic smell. Just rub your hands on the sides of your sink! (Or you can buy one of those stainless steel egg shaped things that removes garlic smell from your hands.)

Is the person who asked about dissolving spoons Veep Selina Meyer (a.k.a. Julia Louis-Dreyfus)?

Don't be so hard on yourself. Sometimes it's the egg's fault. I had a dozen eggs last week with thin shells, but really tough membranes. I'd guess I broke the yolk on at least half of them. FTR, I'm a bang it on a flat surface kinda gal.

Is it possible that someone else in your house found the spoon in the coconut oil and removed it?

Spoon theory No. 1. I like it.

The spoon may have been biodegradable plastic made from plant material

Spoon theory No. 2.

Re: Cathy's statement that there were "many more" land grant universities at the beginning of the 1900's than there are now -- really? Each state was given (generally) one land grant university (by Jefferson) -- typically they have been the largest higher ed institution in the state (think Univ. of Florida, Ohio State Univ, Va Tech, etc.). Not sure *any* of these land grants have been decimated--although it is certainly true that certain programs, meat science among them, may have been. (Sorry, I'm in higher ed, had to respond).

I didn't mean they had been decimated, just that some have become private, like Cornell. But thanks for further elucidating! Just as the Cooperative Extension offices are suffering from budget cuts, many of the ag programs at these schools have been significantly cut.

Julia of course for leading the way in the 1960s. And Lidia Bastianich my favorite nona of Italian cooking.

I LOVE my soda stream. I spend less at the grocery store and I have cut my recycling by half. Plus, it's fun to demonstrate with guests.

As a mom of 2 young children, my attention immediately zoomed onto the Naptime Chef cookbook title. I clicked over to the risotto recipe, imagining it would give details for advanced prep or some non-traditional cooking method beyond the usual trick of leaving some broth out until later. But it appears to be a pretty standard risotto recipe. I'm a bit baffled how this fits with the book's title. I was hoping for "do this, this and this ahead of time at any point earlier in the day. then do these few little things at the last minute and dinner is served!" Is it really just a cutesy title for a family-friendly cookbook that has nothing to do with advanced prep? I was so intrigued by the title initially, but sorta skeptical now.

It doesn't strike me as a cutesy book. Banfield provides information about  prep time/cook time and doesn't fall into that trap of ditsy recipe titles. There are plenty of tips in the book as well.

The number of actual land grant universities hasn't changed; however, not as many are affiliated with the Dept. of Agriculture or Cooperative Extension.

Yes, that's a much better way to phrase it! Thank you!


Do you know of a cost-per-liter analysis of those fizz-it-at-home gadgets that cost $70-100 plus $15-20 for each cartridge? I drink seltzer all the time (instead of plain water) and want to know if I'd be saving money by buying one of those or if it's just convenient and snazzy. Thanks!

I'm couldn't say if it works out cost-per-liter. What are you comparing too? Basic, supermarket brand seltzer? If so, I'm really not sure. I have an iSi soda siphon, but I mainly use this in making my own tonics or specialty sodas to use in cocktails. It's been a great buy for me, but I haven't done a cost analysis.

Hi, Rangers, I don't expect you to know these answers without making some calls, but here goes anyway: News reports Tuesday renewed speculation that curcumin, a compound in turmeric, may either fight cancer or make some cancer drugs work more effectively. I happen to love turmeric on eggs, but I'm wondering, is the powdered stuff I shake out of a spice jar comparable to whatever the doctors use, especially if I keep a jar for over a year? Would I have to ingest humongous quantities of the stuff to get a health benefit? And if the beneficial part comes from a fresher form of turmeric than what I buy pre-ground, where can I get it and how do I prepare it at home -- still to sprinkle on eggs, unless you have other recipes. Many thanks!

Unfortunately our sources havent been able to get back to us quite yet. Please forward this via e-mail to so we can get back to you with an answer.

You've taught us how to cook and store food and bake so the bottom won't stick. This ode goes out to a Free Range guru -- our bonnie Bonnie Benwick!

Oh dear, is this a delightful ploy to win a cookbook today?

Sara Moulton, chef, cookbook author, food her!

I agree. Consistently good recipes, great on TV, a favorite with the crowds (as we saw at last weekend's Natl. Harbor Food and Wine Festival).

I also have a Soda Stream and love it. If you drink a lot of seltzer, like I do, it's a miracle. My boyfriend likes a few of the flavored syrups (although I really want to try making my own) and so he can have his soda and I can drink my seltzer.

I'm with this poster. I make dinner between 2-2:30pm, wake up my little one, pick up the big one, take everyone to the playground, come home and immediately nuke&serve dinner.

Another one who should come back is the much-missed Jane Black.

And a new mom to boot! Her next Smarter Food column for Food runs next week, btw.

Actually, Cornell's Ag College is still in the "state"/land grant side of the university--while other colleges (law, etc.) are in the "private" side. A little known fact except for those who really know Cornell! (and, this is where my former bf retired from, so I know they at least *had* the courses, but not sure what they did with them -- if they could find anyone still knowledgeable to continue offering the courses -- so I do agree with you on that part, more experts are needed!)

I see a follow up article on Land Grant Universities..... (Bonnie? Bonnie?)

About land grant schools and meat science... Cornell Univ. isn't entirely private, it's a mix of private and public college. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is still public. It no longer has a full meat science program (it still has a food sci major) but does still offer a Meat Science course. It was a great experience, we butchered hogs, lambs and cattle and made hams and other items. Still the only course I've taken that required buying a knife along with the textbook!

That's great news. I will certainly pass this along. There is so much interest.

Nigella Lawson and Rose Levy Beranbaum. Call me a meanie if you like.

original poster the theories so far. for theorist #1 -- the handle of the spoon was still in tact, just the "spoony" part was dissolved, so i know no one removed it. for theorist #2 -- not sure if it was a biodegradable spoon or was one of those kiwi spoons that has a knife on one end and a spoon on the other.

I thought you deserved it, that's all! (Not that I'd sneer at a cookbook.) This chat is soooo helpful plus I've loved when you've acknowledged imperfections like that if you make enough for two, you're likely to eat enough for two. A big MWAH (kiss) to you! AND to everyone else in the Food/Free Range section, including the readers who take the time to write out their own recipes and offer other great suggestions!

:) We are air-kissing you right back.

Hi! I hope I'm not too late! Is it possible to use a combination of butter and say, olive oil for the onions? I want to try to reduce the amount of fats I cook with as I am trying to eat healther and shed a few pounds. I hope it will work as the risotto recipe sounds wonderful! Thanks!


I am such a sucker for the hot sauce at Roti, but they refuse to bottle and sell it. Has anyone had it? Suggestions for replicating it? It's pepper-based, but I SWEAR there is tamarind in it too.

Chatters, any thoughts? I did some hunting online -- I guess it can be called zhuk, shug, s'hug or any other number of variations. I have no idea if these recipes are any good but here's one option and another.

I just got off the phone with KosherMart in Rockville -- they said they carry the peppery condiment. If you have another preferred Middle Eastern/kosher store, check with them as well.

At the other extreme, one of the things that kept me from ever seriously considering applying to culinary schools is that I'm a decades-long vegetarian. Thus I'd never want to have to study any foods containing animals, and would find dealing with their carcasses especially repugnant. In fact, do reputable, rigorous cooking schools that have vegetarian courses of study even exist? What about short-term classes?

L'Academie offers several vegetarian cooking classes throughout the year. As to culinary schools? I'm not sure the classic curriculum has been modified in that way.

Not to beat this to death, but Cornell's Ag college also has courses where students run a maple syrup operation, learn the ropes of apiaries, take care of orchards, etc.... Shameless promotion for my alma mater! :)

I was recently recommended a bottle of Rubus Low Yield wine and was surprised by how much I liked it and how much my bf raved about it. I think it's 98% shiraz and 2% viognie (sp?). I would love to find something similar. Are there other white wine/red wine combos out there that are good?

Dave McIntyre says:


The syrah (shiraz is the Australian name) + viognier combination is actually classic French, from Cote Rotie in the northern Rhone Valley. The viognier is said to give the wine a "lift," by elevating its floral aspects and moderating its tannin. The idea of adding a small amount of viognier to syrah or shiraz is copied elsewhere - eg California or South Africa as well as Australia - though it may not always be noted on the label. 


Other than that, blending white with red is unusual, except for sparkling wines. Champagne is probably the most famous example - most are blends of pinot noir, pinot meunier (both red grapes) and chardonnay. Exceptions would be a "blanc de blancs" (all chardonnay) or "blanc de noirs" (all red grapes). California sparklers often follow this model as well.

My husband loves it when I put cinnamon chips into banana bread.

I have had a soda stream for over a year and a half and I absolutely love it! Makes having seltzer so much easier, I drink 2L a day. Can't say enough good things about it.

So impressed with your nominations for other mothers of  culinary invention today. Cookbooks go to ... the chatters who spoke up for MFK Fisher and Deborah Madison. Send your mailing info to and she'll get those books right out to you.


Thanks to Cathy and Jason for enlivening the hour (who knew we'd get a tutorial on land grant universities in the bargain?!) and to you, dear readers, for whom we do it all.  Until next week, happy cooking and eating!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, Food aide Becky Krystal and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: blogger Cathy Barrow.
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