Free Range on Food: Father's Day, aperitivi and more

Not My Father's Cinnamon Toast.
Jun 15, 2016

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 today's chat! Hope you're enjoying our coverage, including all the odes to fathers and their cooking, such as Tim's appreciation of his late dad's attention to cinnamon-toast detail, Matt Vita's remembrance of his father's way with lasagna and more, and Dudley Brooks's appreciation of his father's military-style meat procurement. We also had Carrie Allan's ode to day drinking (specifically, her advice that we all start getting a little more Italian in our strategies and go the aperitivi route).

We've got Carrie helping us with q's today, and Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin set to answer any grilling/barbecue questions, in addition to us regulars. So make your questions good!

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters today: "Make it Easy" by Stacie Billis, source of this week's DinMin recipe; and "The Southern Vegetable Book" by Rebecca Lang, source of this week's Weeknight Veg recipe.

For you PostPoints members, here's this week's code: FR5234 . Record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

AND, don't forget that this is one of those special weeks when right after this chat, Dorie Greenspan picks up with one of her own, to keep the conversation going (if perhaps a tad more baking focused!). Her twist on tiramisu is a stunner, so please go chat with her about it right when you're done here -- or ask early!

OK, let's get going.

Makes me think I'm not 100% crazy for constantly having food on the brain. Ever think about organizing an in-person event so all of us foodies can chat more in person or do you all try to keep your anonymity?

Thanks! We've done events occasionally, and I'm sure something will come up again...

I was looking at a recipe for eggplant parmesan and read, "choose male eggplants. They have fewer seeds and have a rounder, smoother bottom." Eggplants have genders?! Some other websites confirm, others deny or debate. So I turn to you for a definitive ruling. This is almost as mind-blowing as the thought that an eggplant could really eat Chicago! ;) Also, if the answer is "yes," is it only eggplants or also other veggies, fruits, legumes, and other things I thought were vegetarian/vegan-friendly but now I'm not so sure? ...

No, no, no. Let's destroy this myth, shall we? There is no such thing as a vegetable (or fruit in this case) with gender. The most reliable indicator of the number of seeds in an eggplant is variety and maturity. The more mature, larger eggplants have more seeds, and the younger, smaller ones have fewer. And some skinny varieties, like the Asian ones, have fewer.

But gender does have a role in the vegetable plants themselves. That's because plants produce flowers and require pollination in order to produce seeds/fruit. Some plants (like eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and more) have male and female structures in the same flower, making them self-pollinating. Some have male structures in some flowers and female in others, on the same plant (like those in the squash family), and rely on insects, the wind or gardeners themselves for pollination. And still others -- this is rare for vegetables -- have either/or. That is, one plant will have either male or female flowers. But this is limited in the vegetable garden to plants like asparagus and spinach, and for them pollination doesn't matter because we grow them for the foliage and not the fruit, unless we're trying to save the seeds. There are fruit plants that fall into this, too -- mulberry, date, persimmon -- so if you plant them you need at least two trees, one of each sex, in order to get fruit -- and you'll get fruit on just the female tree. 

But no matter what kind of plant it is, the fruit that it produces is gender-free. Perfect for our times, eh?

Can I make a mojito with dark rum? I'm not sure how else to cook with mint other than using it in tabbouleh. Would love some ideas.

Well, you CAN. It's not really a classic mojito that way and the flavor of dark rum is quite different, but it probably won't be repulsive. And there are plenty of other mint-receptive drinks, too--if you're on a mint-disposing mission, try the Missionary's Downfall or work up a highball with cucumber and mint muddled together with Hendricks gin, lemon/lime, soda, and maybe a little simple syrup. 

Becky, I missed the chat last week and after reading the archived chat, I saw you'd requested ideas on what to recipe-test in the future. Had a thought - how about pretzels? The process of making them is similar to bagels, so your experiences there would come in handy, they're not rocket science once you actually attempt them but most folks can be too nervous to try them, and they appeal to many people because they can be savory or sweet and have loads of topping options. :) If that's not appealing or too similar to bagels, how about English muffins, dumplings (like pierogis - hard to find legit ones - or a master dough that can be used for lots of international dumplings) or something sweet like kouign amanns. :) Baking is my hobby, so I'm there if you want a helper! ;) -mily

Thanks for putting so much thought into this! We'll see if we decide to take another one of these on down the line. I really like the idea of English muffins, since all most of us know is Thomas's.

My mother used a potato peeler to remove the rough outer skin, so I always have. On Saturday I was preparing carrots for roasting and when I couldn't readily find the potato peeler wondered what they would taste like unpeeled. Best tasting carrots I've ever had! Purchased from the same local farmer's market I always use so the more intense flavor must be because they were simply washed but not peeled. My mom is no longer here to ask so I'll ask you: Why peel carrots?

I stopped peeling carrots years ago and just scrub them well. Same with potatoes, beets -- really, I can't think of a root crop that I peel as a matter of course. You're right that the skin seems to carry a lot of flavor. I'm not sure why people got so into peeling -- some sense that things needed to be cleaned up, I assume, an aversion to dirt. When lots of scientists think we need to be eating tiny little bits of dirt for our immune systems anyhow! (Of course, this is also an argument for buying organic, right?)

Show us how this could work.

Is this Lou? Are you punking us again?

 

I'm sure we could pull it off. Would we have to use it straight? Or combine it with other ingredients to create a different sauce?

I'm looking for a good mixology book that can be both fun and informative. Any good ones out there? Preferably without font in size -2 so I can actually read it! Thanks! =)

Tons of good ones. There are some classics like the Savoy cocktail book and Jerry Thomas's "How to Mix Drinks," and David Wondrich's books are required reading. But if you're looking for something with good visuals, here's a short list:

 Dale DeGroff's The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail

 Paul Clarke's Cocktail Chronicles 

Jeffrey Morganthaler's Bar Book

Julie Reiner's The Craft Cocktail Party

I also like the books from Death & Co and PDT. I mix a lot out of the Death & Co. book, which is also visually gorgeous.

 

Rangers, I have some frozen egg yolks left over from a previous baking project. Can I use those to make ice cream, or would they be better used in another baked good? Thanks for the advice!

Absolutely, proceed with the ice cream.

I'm up to three significantly large kohlrabi from my CSA, sitting in my fridge waiting for me to do something with them. I've got a recipe for a vinegar-based kohlrabi slaw, but about a half-kohlrabi's worth of that is all I'm really interested in before I get bored. Any suggestions for cooking with it? I find it pretty uninteresting raw, so a cooked preparation (or three) would be ideal.

Hi Tom, do you have suggestions for a place near the Mall (general vicinity ok) for a group of people to gather for drinks on a weeknight, like 6 or 7pm? People would likely be coming and going, so ideally a place that has plenty of seating and doesn't get too packed. Thanks.

I'll put on the Tom fez/mustache/disguising sarong and make a couple suggestions, depending on where you are on the Mall: The Partisan, Johnny's Half Shell, Hamilton's, all decent options. If you're in the mood for a nice view, the POV bar at the W offers an excellent one (though it can get crowded).

I know I'm supposed to use a metal bowl to make whipped cream, but I don't own one. Do I really need to buy one (the need has never arisen before), or can I get away with using something else?

Not only do you not need a metal bowl, you can whip cream in a Mason jar. Shake it up! (I think the idea of a metal bowl came from the desire to pre-chill it, which makes the whipping go faster; the stainless-steel bowls chill quickly.)

I made this but had to substitute kale as my grocery store didn't have mustard greens. It turned out a bit mild, and I'd like to try again as written. When are mustard greens in season, or do I just need to check more stores? (Also, this is the rare tofu recipe where you should not press the tofu to dry it before cooking - we ended up with tofu that was close to croutons in consistency - luckily they still tasted good, and absorbed some of the curry by the second night we had it as leftovers.)

You can get so many things year-round these days, but mustard greens are at their peak in the late winter and early spring -- January through April.

Thanks for reinforcing that about the tofu -- you might notice that the recipe specifically calls for draining/patting the tofu but not pressing it. ;-)

RECIPE: Tofu Curry With Mustard Greens

 

What qualifies produce to be categorized as an heirloom?

An heirloom vegetable is one from a seed that has been handed down for generations and has therefore retained its specific individual traits -- and it's "open-pollinated," meaning the plants are pollinated by the wind or other natural forces and not cross-pollinated by people interested in developing new varieties.

First timer here -- several years ago, someone gave me a bottle of cherry vinegar. I have no idea what to do with it. Any ideas?

Make a shrub! Use in cocktails with gin, bourbon, basically anything that tastes good with cherries. (So that means all the things.) They're also delicious on their own or cut with soda/tonic.

After a delightful gonzo trip to Union Market, I returned home with a head of smoked garlic from the Smokery there. Now I just have to decide how to use it! I mixed some up with fried potatoes yesterday and the garlic is partially roasted but not as sweet or soft as fully roasted garlic. And of course it has a fabulous smoky taste. How would you use these precious cloves?

    I sometimes use smoked garlic in hummus, baba ghanoush, smoked salsas, and some salads (such as grilled corn with black beans, red bell pepper and lime). You're right, it isn't as soft or sweet as roasted garlic. So, I generally use it in dips and dishes where it adds a smoky/garlicky accent.

I've been testing lots of English Muffin recipes over the last 4 or 5 years. I can tell you: don't bother with any sourdough recipes, which go against the desired texture. But it's easy to outdo Thomas's

Where have you gotten recipes you've liked?

I seem to recall a Post article on how to cook Quinoa so it wasn't so bitter. Can you point me to it?

Yep, here it is! (And here's the upshot: Soak and rinse quinoa before cooking, and then cook it longer than you might think.)

ARTICLE: My quibbles with quinoa

My dad never cooked, but I remember him eating the left over raw steak (precut for old fashioned fondue in hot oil) right out of the Tupperware as a snack.

       Your dad just may be my hero.

What's the best way? To me it seems like leftover fish shouldn't be reheated but I know that's BS.

How was it cooked to begin with? 

Is it possible to substitute the 3/4 cup low fat milk with plain Greek yogurt? The essays about Fathers are very entertaining. Thanks for sharing.

Sure. It might be a little thicker than you want, so I might try 1/2 cup Greek yogurt and a little water.

RECIPE: Blueberry Banana Smoothie With Chia

Actually people maintaining heirloom seeds often hand pollinate and only collect seeds from protected, specifically pollinated flowers to prevent the introduction of foreign pollen. Thereby producing the exact same variety. There is actually quite a trick to preventing rogue pollination. Heirlooms only stayed pure because they were the only variety grown in a given area. If you plant three different heirlooms in your garden they will cross pollinate and will not result in the replication of the variety of the plant the seeds came from.

True. If you plant them close together, particularly -- and, of course, if you're saving the seeds to use again. 

How do you keep those tiny grains from going down the drain, though? I have a real problem keeping the quinoa I've rinsed in any container when I drain it.

You have to use a fine-mesh sieve, yes.

Never heard of smoking ravioli. How did it turn out, Jim and would you make it again?

     I've smoked both, tabouli and ravioli. The tabouli, I tried for the first time three days ago. I smoked the bulgur wheat and grilled/smoked the lemons. I was concerned that it would overwhelm the freshness of the classic parsley and mint salad. Just the opposite. Two people couldn't even taste the smoke even though they knew I had smoked it. A third person, my son, visiting from New Orleans, tried it last night and said, "Did you smoke the tabouli?" His mom asked if I told him and put him up to it and I asked her the same thing. Neither of us had. So, the smoke, however faint, was in there, at least for somebody. I'm going to try it again, this time with a wee bit more smoke.

      As for ravioli, you can smoke the ravioli themselves, before boiling, and/or you can make smoked marina sauce. Keep it light. Adds a great woodsy flavor.

The farmer's market had boxes of these, each one not much bigger than a quarter in diameter. It was an impulse purchase, so what should I do with them?

They are delicious when peeled and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. You can also cook them in a saute pan with maybe 1/2 of water over medium-low heat, covered; once they are fork-tender, crank up the heat to get rid of any leftover water in the pan, and add a little butter (salt, pepper, maybe piment d'Espelette) just to glaze them. They make a beautiful side dish. Chatters, what do you like to do with them?

I typically grill a nice steak as a treat for my husband who is a wonderful hard-working dad, since we don't have red meat in the house often. How can I change this up a bit to make new and perhaps more interesting? And any thoughts for interesting sides that can also appease the vegetarian in the family (me)? Thanks!

Here are some steak variations you (or, more specifically, your husband) may like:

Chilies-Stuffed Steak

Spicy Mustard Steak in Pastry Shells

Pan-Seared Garlic Rib-Eye Steak

 

Herb-Marinated Rib-Eye Cap Steaks

 

As vegetarian sides, I'd suggest the following ideas:

 

Roasted Cauliflower With Almonds and Golden Raisins

 

Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Chimichurri and Almonds

 

Spinach and Mushroom Torte

Mushroom and Spinach Macaroni and Cheese

 

Good luck! Your husband is a lucky man!

Hey guys - last week a chatter asked about making chocolate marshmallows. I just attended a chocolate class at The Chocolate Academy in Chicago (amazing!) and we actually worked on choc marshmallows. Here's what to do: Melt some chocolate while boiling the sugar for the marshmallows. When the marshmallows are being beaten in the mixer, let them mix until somewhat cooled but not close to being set. Stop mixer, add small portion (maybe a fifth) of the marshmallow mixture to the melted chocolate. Continue beating the remaining marshmallow mixture while you fold the removed marshmallow mixture into the chocolate (it will deflate significantly, but this is normal). Slowly add the choc mixture into the mixer (it will also deflate quite a bit). Continue mixing until it's cooled closer to room temp, but before it's too set to remove it. Toss with a coating of cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and potato starch (better mouthfeel than cornstarch) when set. Sometimes I put mini chips on top instead of just a plain coating. Hope this helps, but I'm happy to exchange info with the chatter if more help is needed. On a similar note - can you guys help me, please? I'm trying desperately to figure out how to order bulk chocolate (i.e., good quality callets like Cacao Barry Fleur de Cao callets) in order to put these new skills to use! It seems impossible to order bulk chocolate like this as a regular consumer (vs. a business). I'm asking Whole Foods for help, but it doesn't look good. Please help if you can! :) Thanks!

Thanks for the tip, and as for a tip for you --

You can buy large blocks and bags of chocolate from Valrhona, which I know is a favorite of our friend and Rammy pastry chef of the year Alex Levin of Osteria Morini. King Arthur Flour is another option. Frankly, I've also always liked the bulk chocolate bars at Trader Joe's (Pound Plus, I think they're called.)

Hope that helps!

Thanks for the definition, Joe. I've been buying heirloom tomatoes grown at Mission San Juan in San Antonio, TX, and they are phenomenal!

Just back from London and missing all of the glorious Middle Eastern food. So much more than the tabouleh, hummus, and babaganoush we have here. Are there any good grocers or delis that offer a good selection of these kinds of healthful and delicious offerings?

Check out the report from our occasional Ethnic Market Scout.

ARTICLES Mediterranean around D.C.; how to shop at a Middle Eastern market

Jim Shahin, have you ever smoked Halloumi cheese? How long and how did it turn out?

    Yes. Super easy. You can actually grill it for about 3 minutes per side directly over the fire. Or you can smoke it, also on the grill, or on a soaked cedar plank for about 7 minutes (depending, of course, how much smoke is occurring). By the way, I have a barbecue book round-up coming up later this month and one of the recipes is for grill-smoked Camembert by Steven Raichlen from his new book, "Project Smoke." It's fantastic! (And, yes, super easy.)

How could you tell? And I want vegetarian options too....

Lou, how's that soy-marinated secreto Ibérico bellotta cooked for three hours at 1,000 degrees coming along?

Can't y'all just text-message each other like everybody else? ;-)

Nice story, Tim. And I get why he used margarine: it spreads easier when it's cold. But you forgot to specify the type of cinnamon (Ceylon? Cassia? Saigon?) and the vanilla (Mexican? Madigascar?). Or did Dad stick with McCormick's?

Thank you!

 

My Dad didn't include vanilla on his toast. That was a touch I nicked from the Pioneer Woman.  She recommended Mexican vanilla, but I think in this type of compound butter, with so much cinnamon and sugar, any vanilla extract will do.  As I say, there are limits to perfectionism.

 

As for cinnamon, I had Vietnamese cinnamon at home, which has a hint of spice in it. But I think the toast will taste great no matter what kind you use.

RECIPE: Not My Father's Cinnamon Toast

My housemate keeps a bowl in the freezer just in case he might need to whip up some cream. You never know.

Your housemate must have been a Boy or Girl Scout. Be prepared!

I bet there are a ton of things you could make with A-1... I take that as a challenge & I'll let you know if anything interesting comes of it.

Combining households and we pretty much have double of everything. I know dried spices don't last long. Should I give them away? Put them in the freezer?

I say donate -- as long as your collection's no more than 6 months old (salt and pepper, indefinite). Are you in DC? Try Miriam's Kitchen, Martha's Table, DC Central Kitchen, N Street Mission, Capital Area Food Bank; call first to see whether they require minimum amounts. Other options: Freecycle, neighborhood swaps?

King Arthur Flour website, Elizabeth David's book on English breads (though she denigrates what she calls the crumpet) and a few online. I will add the specific sources to the comment after I get home to check my cookbook pile.

Cool, thanks. This helps. I've been meaning to try the recipe in Mary Berry's Baking Bible, which a fellow Great British Baking Show fan (ahem, my husband) bought me.

Speaking of, who else can't wait until the show comes back to PBS July 1?!?!?!

While the kids love lasagna and enchiladas, hubby finds them a bit soggy and overly cheesy. I like the make ahead and reheat qualities of them. I need a few ideas for flavorful, vegetarian and non-soggy options please to make everyone happy.

I don't know who else to complain to, so I thought I'd choose you guys. Congratulations! I just wanted to moan about a Starbucks announcement I received promoting some new afternoon drinks. Granitas, they're called, and guess what? Each of the four or five options has loads of carbs and calories, thanks to added syrups and sugars. There appears to be no sugar-free options. Why do places do this? I think I know: market research probably tells them very few people order the non-sweet versions of these drinks, if there is such a thing. But this goes to other coffee places, like McDonalds, which rolled out iced coffee in sweetened versions only a couple of years ago. Sure, I don't frequent McDonalds for its coffee, but the chain would like me to do so. And maybe I'd stop in more often if I could get a drink where sweetener was an option rather than a requirement. I frankly expect more from Starbucks, but I guess it's just following the market on these new drinks.

Starbucks has been in the sugar-drink game for quite some time now. These days, whenever I try to get just a simple iced coffee, it's not enough to just say "black." I have to say "nothing else in it -- no sugar, no dairy, no room for anything, just coffee." Half the time, I swear, the "barista" follows that up with, "Sweetened or unsweetened?" Infuriating.

Recently I went to a fairly-well-know-independent-establishment-that-sells-prime-meats-and-great-fish and bought some big hunkin' gulf shirmp. This is the second time (shame on me...) that I've come home with them and they smell "off." I like the purveyor and I could have easily gone back to exchange with no questions asked, but I was in a bind and couldn't and thus shrimp wasn't served. As this is the second time (out of many other successful ones), would it be rude of me to say, "Can I take a whiff of those first?" Or is there a better approach?

The smell test is critical with fish. Any high-quality fishmonger will happily let you smell the flesh, which should be clean and briny, not off. You should even ask the fishmonger to press the flesh of the fish, which should bounce back into place.

I've been working through Liquid Intelligence:The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold and it's ... interesting, if you want your drinks with a side of serious gadgets (must everything involve liquid nitrogen and centrifuges?) But it's introduced some things I never realized you could do with alcohol and flavors...

I could not agree more. It deserved its Beard award; it's fascinating and loaded with interesting technique stuff. I didn't include it on my list earlier because it sounded like the reader was looking for something a little more basic. Liquid Intelligence is kind of the 301-level cocktail class! :)

I bought a large container of orange juice just before starting on a diet that doesn't allow me to drink it. If I pour the juice into ice-cube trays and freeze it, how long should it last and how do I avoid it picking up freezer burn? Is there another way to preserve it for several months?

Just freeze it in those ice cube trays until solid, then transfer them to zip-top bags. They're great to add to drinks, of course, especially anything with fruit in it. That's the best way to preserve it.

Organic does not mean free of food borne pathogens. E. Coli is organic, as is salmonella, etc... Organic may not have pesticides, but there are plenty of organic pathogens that can kill you.

Yep, nobody said anything about not washing! I scrub those carrots.

My dad made nachos by laying out individual tortilla chips (the round, flat kind) on a baking sheet, topping each chip with a small slice of cheese, and then adding a single jalapeno slice to each. (Then baking..) I think I will do that tonight in his memory.

      You should!

       Your dad's nacho reminds me of the incomparable (and simple) nacho from the now-defunct legendary concert hall called the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin. Although the cheese may have been grated (not sure), those nachos were what you are describing (as I recall, you could also order them with a smear of refried beans beneath the cheese) and they were far better than that huge abomination of glop that everybody sells as nachos these days.

        Dunno if your dad was ever at the Armadillo (or lived in Texas), but he knew how to do nachos right. Making them that way will do him proud.

They're like mini-tostadas! When Bonnie and I had a nacho smackdown awhile back, my entry were these full-sized tostadas, but if you're looking for something different (the next time you do this), you could use the same recipe with little round chips instead. (And if you're like me, you'd make tofu chorizo for them.)

RECIPE: Tostadas With Chorizo, Tangy Guacamole and Fresh Cheese

I am a bread-machine baker and my wife is a from-scratch traditionalist. She has some interesting bread recipes that I wonder if I could convert to my bread machine if only through the dough cycle. Then, I would bake the bread in the "normal" way. Any thoughts or advice appreciated. Tom

Hey, we had a story about this exact strategy. Check it out.

ARTICLE: Knead help with dough?

A great place to start is the English Muffin recipe by the Dahlia Bakery in Seattle. I don't know if it is online, but it is in their cookbook. Their recipes are excellent bakery quality, and none have disappointed me so far!

Ah, yes! I have that cookbook. I'll check it out.

I took your advice and cleaned the left-over gunk off my cast-iron pan with coarse Kosher salt. It worked great, thanks. But it also left some visible marks. So I wonder, how is this particular abrasive a better option than usual kitchen cleaners from non-scratch pads to steel wool?

Visible marks? Cast iron is so rugged, I don't see how this matters? But the idea behind the advice is that a gentler abrasive won't rub off the layer of seasoning. If that's what you mean, then maybe you need to re-season that pan. Pour in a thin layer of oil, rub it all over the pan, and put it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour or so, then take it out and let it cool.

I notice that young people (maybe older, too?) seem to want to throw everything into the blender and make a meal. Greens, fruit, seeds, etc. Does the finished product have the same nutritional value (fiber, etc.) as would eating the ingredients closer to their natural state?

That's a good question -- and one that has created great debate. Some say the blending of ingredients oxidizes them and therefore destroys as much as 90 percent of their nutritional value.

 

Others, such as this writer, throw lots of cold water on that theory. You can read about it here.

Whatever route you go with the cocktail books, one of my greatest discoveries was indexing them on Eat Your Books - so much easier to find cocktails with ingredients you want to use that way! Especially for PDT, which has great recipes, but seriously, who thought alphabetical was the right choice for how to organize a cocktail book?

Have a head of cauliflower in refrig and want new way of cooking. If smoking it, would I leave it whole and do I parboil it first. Thanks

     You can do anything you like with it, actually. I've smoked an entire head, but it can be very tricky. Sometimes it gets over-smoked. Other times, the insides won't get completely tender. I recommend parboiling the head, then smoking.

        You can also break into florets and halve or quarter those and smoke them for a few minutes, then toss with whatever appeals to you - anchovy, capers, olives, and parsley with the smoked cauliflower pieces makes for a great salad.

      Oh, make sure that, whether head or pieces, you brush the cauliflower lightly with olive oil before putting it on the grill. (Dry the parboiled cauliflower before oiling.)

Hello, all: My husband and I are moving to eastern Europe to teach for a couple of years. We both love to cook, fairly broadly. We can take a limited assortment of things to our new home, and will have a much smaller kitchen than we are used to having. We are excited about shopping frequently, on our way home from work, and trying the foods (both ingredients and recipes) of our new home. So. What do we bring? Obviously, our best cookware. What else? What are the essentials to take when we plan to drastically downsize our cooking space but not our cooking habits?

Definitely take a set of the measuring cups (liquid and dry) you've been using, for US recipes you'll continue to make. I'd recommend a good set of short, locking tongs with coated ends; a potato ricer, a fish spatula. Your oven might be narrower than what you have here, so skip the baking sheets. Also set of diff vegetable peelers, a cast-iron skillet and a kitchen scale.

There are two basic methods: use a stiff dough that you can cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter, then let rise and bake on the griddle, or a wet dough that has to be coaxed into muffin rings directly on the griddle. I have gotten better results with the former.

Look at all you English muffin bakers. I have some catching up to do!

I second Carrie's suggestion to get Death & Co. I've had that book over a year--during which time I've bought plenty of other cocktail books--and it's still the one I go to the most. Like most cocktail books, the beginning covers ingredients and technique, before hitting the recipes, which has a short section of classics and then mostly D&C originals. Every one I've made has been good. The Morgenthaler book is very good too, although it focuses on technique. So it's great if you want to make drinks really well but not so much if you want a lot of recipes (although the few he includes are very good).

Bingo! Plus there are all sort of insights into what it's like to actually run a bar, to conceive drinks through a team/workshopping approach, a bunch of places where you can totally geek out -- but the whole thing, to my mind, remains accessible enough for the generalist. Great stuff and probably my favorite of the "bar-branded" cocktail books out there. Glad to hear it's being well-used by others!

ARTICLE: The NYC cocktail bar that reminds us how hard drink-making actually is

My freezer was so full a few month back that I removed some packaged meals and frozen patties from their boxes and froze the less-bulky components. Unfortunately, the marker I used to i.d. the contents and cooking instructions -- and expiration dates -- got smeared beyond readability. Some of these are one-dish containers where the usual instruction is to pierce the plastic, microwave for X minutes, stir and cook for another X minutes. But I don't know how many minutes are in X. Some others are things that cook separately then get mixed together. I recognize one as pad Thai or something similar, with noodles in one bag and vegetables in another. And then there are what I think are salmon patties. Your suggestions on how to proceed are welcome. At worst, I wasted a lot of money (and freezer space) but I can serve as a lesson to others ...

Oy. Kinda tough to advise given the variety you're suggesting, but I'd say if microwaving is involved, you just do so in increments till the food is done to your liking. And next time, try labeling with Sharpie on blue painter's tape (the stuff from the hardware store). It's a chef's habit I've picked up -- no smudges. 

This may be more of a Tom question, but I know if you know, you'll tell me! Any recommendations for a good place in DC/MD to get a churro? Thanks!

Haven't had them anywhere myself (now I'm craving, though), but I see them on the menu at Co Co Sala, where I've never had a dessert disappoint. Also at Boqueria and El Centro and probably tons of other places.

Anyone have a favorite spot?

FYI: rinsing your produce won't kill or wash away pathogens like e.coli or salmonella. cooking will kill those pathogens. however, the risk of picking up something like that from farmer's market produce is, in my opinion, low. if you are concerned about this sort of thing, please talk to the farmers about their food safety practices. food borne illnesses from fresh produce have most often occur at larger farms/processing facilities, not small producers selling direct to consumers.

My Dad didn't cook, but on occasion he would mix the ingredients for meatloaf together, by hand. It always tasted better than when Mom or us kids were allowed to do it.

Interesting. I wonder if you could've told the difference if you didn't know who had mixed? Our minds have a powerful influence. I remember when I was a kid how on road trips, I would get car sick when my brother drove, but not when my father did. I don't think their driving was much if at all different -- my father taught my brother all his careful methods, and my brother took to it like a champ -- but what was different were my own anxieties.

Don't forget your knives if you have good ones.

I know that the discussion about food shortcuts was last week? week before that one? but I was told last night that Trader Joes will no longer carry its house brand crushed garlic. I do most of my own chopping (and sometimes pay for it with finger injuries from mild to severe), but I liked this short cut. Can anyone recommend a substitute that does not involve lots of skilled chopping/mincing (I don't have those skills) or buying a specialized tool that I would only use for this item. I've seen minced in jars in other markets. That isn't what I want. I liked using the paste. Bonus points if it isn't expensive. The TJ's stuff was $2 for a jar (9 ounces).

 Depending on how much garlic you go through, you could always toss a couple of heads' worth of peeled cloves into a mini processor or bullet-type blender and puree with just a little bit of water. It'll keep in a tightly sealed container for a few weeks in the refrigerator, or you can freeze in teaspoon increments. Or you can briefly blanch the peeled garlic in boiling water, just till the cloves are soft enough for you to mash to the consistency you like. 

 

Another option: Make a batch of the garlic paste called toum -- it keeps for up to 1 month and is so, so, very good.

 

Do you think it would be appropriate to ask for a refund at a farmer's market the following week? I recently bought a box of English peas that turned out to be about 1/4 pods with nice, large peas, 1/4 with small peas, and 1/2 with either tiny nibs or completely empty pods, and two boxes of strawberries that had beautiful produce on top, but moldy berries at the bottom. All of these were from different vendors. Also, while it would not have worked for the peas, would it be polite to take my purchase to the salespersons and dump it from the box into a bag in front of them to make sure the bottom layer isn't spoiled? Thanks!

Farmers markets are in serious competition these days. If you can return something to Whole Foods, you should be able to return it to a farmers market. I would politely point out the poor quality of the produce and, perhaps instead of asking for a refund, ask for an exchange for something fresher.

 

Also, you don't have to buy the full container at a farmers market. You can ask the vendor to dump it into a bag, where you can immediately inspect the product. If it doesn't pass your inspection, you can ask for a different carton.

 

My dad only cooked breakfast on the weekends. Mom did the rest of the cooking. His pancakes got rave reviews from us and then from the grandchildren. I found out recently that it was a thorn in my mom's side because it was her recipe. She mixed the batter for him and then he did the cooking and got all the credit. Sorry mom.

This says so much about so much more than pancakes, doesn't it?

Good day to you all. So, give me some ideas on what I can make with my new mini Kitchenaid mixer. I am so excited but is all I can make bread and desserts? I want some other ideas for meals. Love Wednesdays for the Post food section. . . .best day of the week.

Good question, as breads and desserts seem to be a lot of what I make with mine!

But even though you asked about something other than breads, I'm going to be so presumptuous as to suggest you at least try our recent bagel recipe.

Best-of Bagels

ARTICLE: Here's the amazingly simple path to incredible homemade bagels

As to other stuff... You could always buy some attachments and start playing around with pasta. Or sausages.

My go-to for anything bread related is Peter Reinhart. He's the master. His English muffin recipe is delicious. :) See The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Thanks!

And here's a vote for the loose-batter-with-rings approach. Once you master it you get better holes. Hard part is getting your surface evenly hot. If you master that, you can go on to naan. And now I have to buy the Mary Berry book...Ok, throw me in the briar patch.

You won't regret it. It's a lovely book. I've always been obsessed with Battenberg Cake (or at least since my first trip to London), and Mary Berry gave me the recipe to make my own! So good and so pretty.

Sounds like I need to get some muffin rings!

What is the best way to grill vegetables for something like fajitas?

If you're talking about the classic peppers and onions, I like to grill them right on the grate, in big pieces (char the whole pepper, then peel, seed, stem and slice). The onion cut into halves and char the half, or grill thick slices with the core intact, then slice afterward.

Or, of course, if you prefer to grill them in slices, use a grill basket.

For all of the attention that the Post gives to Food, in the paper, on line, and in these chats. Tim, your remembrance of your Dad was touching today. Thank you on behalf of all of us who miss our Dads -- particularly this week -- and mine was a restaurant owner and talented cook. Now for a completely unrelated question: Nashville Hot Chicken. Been reading about it, but never had it. Where is the best place in the area to find it? (Or tell me how to make the best version at home.)

Thank you! I miss my dad, too. Would have been nice to grow old with him.

 

To your question: Nashville Hot Chicken is a hot commodity in DC these days. Zagat compiled a list of places that now sell it. I can't vouch for them, however. DC's own Carla Hall is also scouting locations for her Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen, which deals in hot chicken. I have high hopes for that project since Carla grew up in the heart of hot chicken country.

why not just substitute bulgar with already smoked Freekeh (smoked green wheat). I always make an extra batch of freekeh to add to my salads throughout the week.

    Truthfully? Hadn't thought of it. I like super-fine bulgur wheat for both its texture and its color. But I may give freekeh a try next time. Thanks for the idea.

Some allergic people find that unpeeled carrots make them react. Not so if they are peeled. This happens with regular commercial carrots, don't know about organic.

My SIL gave me a bag of mint leaves and I would love some ideas of using it before it browns.

A cilantro-mint chutney would be  gift that keeps on giving. You could also use the mint to infuse a simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar to water, boil briefly till sugar dissolves then cook at reduced heat for 5 minutes) that could be used in fruit salads and lemonades and iced tea. Or you could blanch the leaves quickly in hot water, drain and finely chop; freeze in teaspoon increments. 

 

Also real nice: This Gemelli With Mint Parsley Pistachio Pesto

For something different, how 'bout: Minty Pea Pops?

YES PLEASE always give feedback (politely) to the farmer at the market. they need to know. when i was working at farmers markets, our policy was refund/exchange for bad produce, no questions asked. we know we aren't perfect and neither is our produce. most farmers are happy to accommodate you at market, as long as you are respectful and not rude about it!!

Excellent feedback yourself!

Try to find out if any herbs or spices or blends you love are not available there, and see if you're allowed to take along some spice bottles with whatever they are. You also might not be able to find all the nuts and seeds and imported things like tree fungus (for some Chinese dishes) that are available in the US. Finally, the local chocolate or peanut butter might taste nothing like what you consider a taste of home, but maybe it'll taste even better.

...makes nice a nice vinaigrette (I assume they knew that) and a good thing to macerate fresh berries in in place of balsamic.

Well, you've whisked us to form an emulsified vinaigrette, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Carrie and Jim for helping with the a's.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about peeling carrots will get "The Southern Vegetable Book" by Rebecca Lang. The one who asked about pre-chopped garlic will get "Make It Easy" by Stacie Billis. Send you mailing information to Kara.Elder@washpost.com, and she'll get you your books.

But before we close, DON'T FORGET that you can keep chatting by going on over to Dorie Greenspan's chat right now! Here's that link.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
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