Free Range on Food

If you're nice and cool somewhere, we salute you. It's hot and busy here in the Free Range trenches, where we've got Tim "Ebelskiver" Carman to dish on the Danish delight; Smoke Signals Jim Shahin to walk you through this weekend's National Capital BBQ Battle and any other grilling situations. Christopher Boffoli, the photographer who styles and shoots tiny toy figures in food landscapes and has a show opening tomorrow in NYC is on hand as well. Jane Touzalin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson, who wrote today about forgotten spirits and gave us some mighty fine cocktail recipes, might pop in.


Chat prizes: The delightful "Savory Sweet Life," by Alice  Currah, source of today's Dinner in Minutes, and  "Charred & Scruffed," by Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky.  Two winners will be announced at the end of the hour. (We reward for pith, humor, helpful info.)

There are already lots of questions, so let's get to it!

Hoping Jason is there today but would appreciate any feedback! I am going to a kitchen-warming party for a friend and would like to take a bottle of a fun-flavored vodka. He likes to make the new trendy cocktails, tending towards sweet. Which flavor would provide the most possibilities? I was thinking of the whipped cream flavor, but maybe that's my bias. Thanks in advance!

Flavored vodka isn't really my thing, so I'm probably not the best person to ask advice on that. But if you think your friend will like whipped cream vodka, by all means get him whipped cream vodka! I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who makes what she calls a creamsicle from whipped cream vodka and orange juice. To each his own! For novelty sake, you might also try the Gummy (swedish fish) flavored vodka from Pinnacle, too.

Hi - I'm hosting our monthly event for 12 women this week. I would like to serve a fun, summery dessert. In previous hostings, I've served grasshopper pie and apple cake. What are some other good desserts that I can make? thanks!

I recommend two good candidates from Elinor Klivans.

The first is phenomenally easy: Raspberry Whipped Cream Icebox Cake,  which uses store-bought chocolate wafers. The second, Raspberry-Blueberry Whipped Cream Stacks, is a little more time-consuming because you start by baking shortbread -- but what's better than homemade shortbread?


Thank you so much for your FOOD SECURITY section. BRAVO to WaPo for organizing the expert discussion. Lots of ideas and information for uninitiated to learn and digest. Keep that kind of information coming. We are quite justifiably appalled by the price of the Iraq war, but obesity costs us more and this fact is rarely mentioned. Stay on the message. Keep talking/writing about tasty healthy food. Help us to give up pizzas five times a week and sodas every time we are thirsty. In case of a time crunch, a microwaved sweet potato is fast and so much better.

Thank you for the support. It is a vitally important issue, and I feel like it's only beginning to get mainstream attention.


One of the most important topics surrounding food security is the issue of waste. By some estimates we waste a third of the food produced in the world -- along with all the fossil fuels and water used to grow or raise it.  This has to change. Check out Jonathan Bloom's story on the subject for more information.

is currently my favorite summer soup. Do you have a good recipe?

We don't have a watermelon gazpacho in out recipe database, but we do have this delicious tomato gazpacho with a watermelon skewer. Give it a try.


For a more traditional watermelon gazpacho, try this one from Lucid Food, via Serious Eats.

Will any alligator be on the menu at the BBQ Battle?

My guess is no on the alligator. It's really just a stunt meat, for those who like to claim they've eaten something exotic. Most of the alligator meats I've sampled over the years have been tough and tasteless. Perhaps a long smoke is the ideal way to cook it, I don't know. No rattlesnake, either. 

My guess is you are a BBQ Pitmasters watcher and are having a little sport with last season's silly inclusion of some weird meats, such as the aforementioned. Not to worry. This season's show jettisoned the dumb stuff. And there has been no trickle down to bbq contests.


Hello cooking advisers, I am posting early due to work. On Sunday I made a great roast chicken recipe (off the back of the Morton kosher salt box actually). The chicken turned out really well, moist with a crispy skin, but when I deglazed the pan to make a pan sauce, the roasting pan was filled with charred, blackened bits of...something. Obviously the pan sauce was set severely off course. For full disclosure, I used split (bone in, skin on) chicken breasts, brined in a sugar/salt solution (3/4 cup of each in 2 quarts of water), roasted at 425F in a cast iron pan in a gas oven. I frequently roast chicken in the cast iron but have never had this issue before (although in the past I have started at 425 then turned down to 350 to finish). Any idea what may have caused this?

Hmm. Might have just been some of the brine (that had sugar, which can burn)? Is your pan in good shape? Are you thinking the bits were edible or inert? (Did you strain the sauce and use it?)

Awesome article on ebelskivers (and a good reminder that I need to check out Domku one of these days.) Question about your pan; you noted that you had an "inferior" Nordic Ware brand. Do you think that it's necessary to buy a good quality pan to make these? I waffle between buying the cheapest one on Amazon and buying something that will last. (P.S. For anyone that wants to try ebelskivers, Trader Joe's sells them in their frozen dessert section.) Thanks for the help!

Thank you!


For those who haven't read the story yet, you can do so here.


With regard to pans, I was being mostly tongue-in-cheek by describing the Nordic Ware pan as "inferior." Clearly, with practice, you can produce excellent ebelskiver with it. And you don't have to go online to buy one. You can get one at Target, if they're in stock.


I've heard about the Trader Joe's ebelskivers. Lars Beese, the chef at the Royal Danish Embassy, told me that "they're actually okay." Not a ringing endorsement, but not a slam either.

I had the brilliant idea that I would like to make nice, round oatmeal cookies with a dab of cooked dates as a filling, like Thumbprints, but I can't seem to locate a recipe for it. Can anyone there help me with a recipe? Many thanks! (It is cool & rainy today where I live, not hot.)

Like that! Not sure how round they'll be, but I recommend starting with this recipe, which to my mind is perfect: chewy and crisp, no raisins! It's from the mom of Twila Waddy, who does the layout of Food's inside pages (no small feat).


If you want more of a thumbprint/round profile, try making balls of the dough and refrigerating them till you're ready to bake. Dab the dates just before baking. Let us know how it turns out!

I'm flying to visit family this weekend and need to bring dessert with me. Do you have a favorite cookie/brownie/bar recipe that will survive the TSA and turbulence? Someone's celebrating a big birthday, so I'd love to be able to bring something special, decadent, or both. Thanks very much.

Jason, you must have a lot of bottles rattling around your cabinets. How do you store your liquors? I have accumulated a large quantity of bottles, many on your recommendations - Creme Yvete, Creme de Violete, an armada of rums, decent rye and bourbon, 2 or 3 cognacs and brandies, some eau de vies, etc. They are scattered in various stashes in my house, I want to house them in ONE PLACE, but am having trouble finding a decent home bar cabinet. Vintage bars are usually too small. Do you have a suggestion for a source? Cheers, Clark C, Falls Church, VA

I was lucky enough to move into a house that had two big built-in cabinets in a dining room where I keep most of my bottles. But there is spillover, and I keep the really rare and expensive stuff in a couple smaller cabinets in my basement. I've also got vermouths and stuff like Campari and Lillet Blanc in the fridge. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm scattered too! You definitely want a cabinet though to keep them out of the sunlight.

I'm disturbed by the amount of space in the Food Section that is being given to wine, beer, and cocktails. Alcohol has been ruinous for many families, and the subject can be painful. I'm not saying it should be eliminated, but lately it seems that the section should be called the Booze and Food Section. I read the section to find new ways to cook the same old, same old, or for new places to eat or shop, and I suspect that it's the same for the majority of your readers.

I appreciate your concerns. When we're an 8-page section (as opposed to a 6-pager like today), the two weekly articles that involve alcohol are in greater balance with the rest of what we offer. If we edited out potentially ruinous content, we might not have much of a section left.  In fact, beer and wine and spirits are popular with our readers, judging from the amount of questions we get on this chat and the feedback our columnists receive. I do not think that our coverage has impinged upon the amount of recipes we carry each week in print and online, or our reviews of restaurants and takeout places.

I'd also point out that food, when overindulged in, can be ruinous, too. Case in point: The obesity crisis that has affected so many segments in society, from health care to military service. But no one is calling for us to stop writing about food.

Are there mixology blogs that you go to on a daily basis?

Not daily, but I like and and (locally)

Hello Food Rangers! If I have frozen uncooked hamburger, take it out and cook it into, say, taco burger, can I then re-freeze the cooked meat without dire effects?

You can, according to the good old gummit, as the late great Molly Ivins used to call it. Says the USDA:


Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked hamburgers? How should they be reheated?
If ground beef is refrigerated promptly after cooking (within 2 hours; 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F), it can be safely refrigerated for about 3 or 4 days. If frozen, it should keep its quality for about 4 months.

When reheating fully cooked patties or casseroles containing ground beef, be sure the internal temperature reaches 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

I'm going to picnic-type event at a winery on Sat. With temps in the 90s can you recommend a main dish I can bring? It's a group of 30, many people bringing sides/snacks, so I'm looking for something more substantial yet still easy to prepare and withstand the heat (someone already called sandwiches). thanks

Maybe a nice orzo salad with olives or artichoke hearts.  The olive oil travels better than a mayo-based salad.

I bought a head of lettuce at the farmers market on Saturday. As I cut it Sunday evening, a milky colored liquid appeared . It was very bizarre. The lettuce tastes fine. Have you ever heard or seen this? I usually buy a bag of mixed salad greens or some other type of lettuce that I will shred by hand so haven't had the experience of oozing lettuce.

Yep, I think it might be called Lactuca sativa, and it's perfectly okay.  Buying whole lettuces = good!

Those pictures are so impressive and unique! I loved them. Do you do "regular" food photography as well? Do you have any good photography books for beginners you'd recommend?

Thanks for the kind words.  I'm delighted that you're enjoying the Big Appetites series.  You know, I do quite a lot of other kinds of photography.  Editorial news coverage in Seattle, travel images for international magazines, portraits, etc.  But other than this series I can't say I've done very much in the way of food photography.  There are already so many great food photographers out there, especially the people who shoot for food and lifestyle magazines.  It's actually a fairly technical style of photography.  It can be tricky to get the lighting right.  But I'm constantly astonished by the quality of food images I see in magazines and cookbooks.  I can't say I can think of any how-to books that I could recommend off-hand.  you might see if you can find food bloggers you like and ask them directly for tips.

I've only seen ebelskiver pans in catalogs. Would these work on an electric stove or on an induction burner?

Not sure about an induction burner, but my Nordic Ware worked fine on our electric stove.

Your last week's article on Fancy Food Show stated that it was closed to public but hoi poloi could get in as volunteers. I was among 500 plus washingtonians who volunteered for the FOOD BANK on Tuesday. Many exhibitors left their entire displays for the Food Bank and we packed them and feasted on left-over already open samples from 2-8pm.


I am wondering if any of you lucky people attended the show and would share some info. I could not believe how large the show was - over 4000 exhibitors? Who were the winners? We were let in before the show closed, but it was not enough time to see everything, let alone determine the trends. I was assigned to pack the Steiner Foods booth, I've never heard of this NY company that does not sell imported and domestic specialty foods to public. Many of their foods are available in grocery stores, but many are not and I would pay big bucks for some of them, for example Tonnino fillets in olive oil or water packed in glass jars.( I am sure it is expensive, but cheaper and healthier than the delivery pizza.) This tuna does not look like tuna we are used to. You can actually see neatly cut pieces of fish, none of that pressed stuff we get in cans. Why don't they sell this kind of tuna in the stores? Is that because of grocer's fear that unfamiliarity with the food will prevent it flying from the shelves?


As I was walking through the stands observing this amazing array of food I could not help wandering WHO is eating all this fantastic, seemingly healthy stuff? When can I have it?

Almost all of the Food section staff visited the Fancy Food Show at some point or another during its three-day run.  Here are a few of the stories/blog items we have published so far, including one from Carol Blymire, an FoF:

* What I ate during my Summer Fancy Food Show


* Too fancy for you: 100-year balsamico


* Gluten-free products at the Fancy Food Show


As for why you don't see these products more in stores, well, that's the whole point: These vendors are at the show to line up distributors and retail stores to sell their wares.

Given the isue of food waste, why did the Washington Post seem to take the position that "Beef Slime" was a negative thing? The process of saving 12 pounds or so of beef from every carcass is clearly a food waste issue.

I think you're referring to "pink slime," yes? I don't recall the Post taking any official stance on the “lean finely textured beef," though I do suspect some of us had some knee-jerk reactions based on the made-up name alone. 


In fact, the All We Can Eat blog, as far as I know, was the first to report Temple Grandin's stance on "pink slime," which is decidedly pro. Take a look here.

I don't know why, but I have an incredible fear of cooking scallops. I've always wanted to try and love a well cooked scallop. But man, when it's not well cooked, scallops are not good. The scallop recipe today says they are easy to cook, but do you have any tips on cooking them to help me get over the hurdle to just do it already?

Fear not.  The recipe is easy, honest. Use a nonstick skillet, just  a little bit of  oil/butter, make sure the scallops are dry (use paper towel, on both sides, season them before you put them in the pan, which should be over med-high heat. You want to sear that bottom side; you can see when golden brown edges form and the scallop looks like it's sitting a bit taller/firmer. It'll be just a minute or two. Then turn them over; cook just until the scallop looks a tad firmer but not so long that the edges start to develop cracks. Let them sit for a minute or two off the heat; the residual cooking helps. You can do it!

Which part of the stem do I use? I read somewhere to use up to the bud but not the bud itself. Is that right?

Basically, you want to eat the parts that are a lovely green, and curved. Do people eat those buds, chatters? I don't.

Thank you for the ebelskiver article! I got a pan from my MIL over the holidays and have yet to work up the courage to use it. How long do they keep? And - crazy question - can I also use the pan to make takoyaki?

It's not a crazy question. A similar one has been posed a number of times in forums across the Internet. The general thinking seems to be that you can use it for making takoyaki.

Since I started making my own chicken stock about a year ago, I have also started making more pan sauces. (Yum!) I'm particularly fond of those combining stock, white wine, herbs, and either lemon or cream. The thing is, I don't drink wine (although my husband does), so my wine choices are pretty hit or miss. For instance, the last sauce I made, with a reisling, was way too sweet. Can you give me some advice on which whites work best in sauces? Is, for instance, a chenin blanc better than a chardonnay? Are both better then a reisling? And while we're on the subject of wine and sauces, what's the best red for spaghetti sauce? i've always used burgundy -- is there something better out there? Thanks for your help!

Wine columnist Dave McIntyre says:


You want a dry, fruity, unoaked wine, as the main thing it will give the sauce is acidity. Try Pinot Grigio or an inexpensive Sauvignon blanc from Chile, such as Santa Rita 120. Cousins Macul Chardonnay (the basic one is unoaked) would also work. For your spaghetti sauce, try a nice Italian red such as a basic chianti or Montepulciano.

This hardly is up there with the financial problems of Greece and Spain, but your help with a bailout will be appreciated: When I make orecchiette (little ears) or shell pasta, as I did today, once they're no longer bouncing around in boiling water, groups of them tend to nestle -- or, like resting lovers, to "spoon." They form stacks 2, 3, 4 or 5 deep (or high) and cling to each other, I guess because of the starch. Which means that, unless I pull them apart one by one, the lovely little concavities of all but the top shell or "ear" don't get sauce -- which largely defeats the purpose of using orechiette and shells. Is there a way around this, or should I just switch to rotini? Thanks.

We asked our favorite pasta pal, Domenica Marchetti, and she said:


This happens to me, too, and probably to anyone who cooks orecchiette. It's like they become little suction cups in the water. My advice would be to stir the pasta in the water from time to time as it cooks -- not a vigorous stir, but a few gentle swirls with a wooden spoon from time to time to keep the orecchiette from congregating. When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander and immediately toss it with whatever sauce you made to go with it. Don't let the pasta sit for too long in the colander because this will increase its tendency to stick together. 


I thought the food security pull out was interesting too. The story about food waste got me thinking about an interesting issue, which is the intersection of food waste and obesity. One of the reasons some Americans overeat is because they were raised and guilted into doing so by parents who insist they finish all the food on their plates because of the "starving kids in country X." The one issue has nothing to do with the other (a familiy dinner is hardly the place to make a dent in a foreign country's food supply problem). I hope that parents these days are breaking from that ethos. Yes, wasting food is bad, but if it's on your plate it's too late to do anything else with it. Eating it to increase your waistline is a poor solution.

Well, there is this thing called leftovers, which can be eaten later or even donated to food banks.

Chris - I wanted to tell you how much i enjoy your work. I loved the scale and the sense of humor. It's nice to see approached in such a different way. Are you planning to work with a gallery in DC?

Thanks!  I don't have any shows planned for DC at the moment.  And the gallery in NYC that represents my work is close enough that I probably wouldn't need to have a separate gallery there offering the work.  But I would certainly be receptive to showing there at some point. 

Would adding a bit of oil to the boiling water as you cook them help keep the shells or orecchiette from nesting? Or is adding oil to pasta water a no-no?

Doesn't really work, we've found.

Yikes, that chicken salad dressing recipe is mostly sugar (1/3 cup) and honey (1/2 cup)!

Correct! But please note that the dressing contains no oil. With the runny yolk, it doesn't taste overly sweet. Try it!

Great article, my first reaction was to start looking for a cast iron pan, BUT, then it occurred to me, that perhaps, Denmark is not listed among "overweight" nations because they enjoy ebelskivers once a year, during the Christmas season. Good for their bodies, and great for their souls - they have their holiday tradition intact. Most of us here are eating everyday as if it were Christmas and then we are surprised by what our scales tell us. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the article very much. Please rerun it around Holidays.

I think that's a fine point. But just because you limit your intake of a certain food to a certain time of the year doesn't necessarily mean you will eat in the right proportions all year long. This is a day-to-day decision, made difficult by portion sizes (a Big Gulp, do we really need it?) and a wide range of junk foods readily accessible all year round.

My 2-year-old son loves the baby sweet corn he's had in take-out food. I've looked for it at local stores (Safeway and a Thai market), but I've only been able to find it in cans. Do you know where I could find it fresh or frozen, preferably in Silver Spring or nearby areas? Thanks!

And here I was, thinking that only chefs liked it. :)


I've seen it in a few local farmers markets, actually, but for the life of me I can't remember which. FreshFarm aat Dupont Circle? Just called Wegmans and they carry them (fresh, in microwavable pouches). You might be able to order it online from Melissa's Produce as well. If it's something you think your son will be eating for a while, ask your local grocery store manager to stock it!

I'm really worried I'm going to pick up my CSA this week and there will be more radishes... I've sauteed them, roasted them, made soup out of the greens, any other cooking ideas? I can handle a few raw radishes in salads and on toast, but I prefer the taste after they've been cooked. Thank you!

I totally agree-cooked radishes are great. Here's a recipe for glazed radishes that I came up with when I was a CSA member. If you're willing to go raw, I also loved this shrimp, white bean and radish salad.

I'm hosting a pre-wedding cookout tomorrow night and it's going to be VERY hot out. My fiance has some home brewed beer chilling, but I'd love to make a pitcher of something for the non-beer drinkers that's simple and refreshing. Also, we're good on the proteins (burgers & sausages), but I would love some simple and refreshing ideas for sides.

I have an idea we're hooked on: Cranberry Juice, Rose's Lime Juice and Seltzer plus lots of ice. So refreshing, and, if you're in the mood, a little vodka added makes it an adult cooler.

I read once that adding oil to pasta is a bad idea because, although it may help prevent sticking, it also prevents sauce from sticking once it's cooked.

Some friends are using the 4th of July as an excuse for a Pie competition. I planned on contributing apple pie with homemade caramel sauce, but I honestly can't decide. Do you have any recipes that will knock their socks off? Or any really good, caramel apple pie ones?

Does this amount to throwing the competition? For apple, tt's hard to do better than Tiffany MacIsaacs' double-crust apple pie.


But then there's Rose Levy Beranbaum's perfect peach pie. You might have to make more than one.

You need day boat or dry scallops. Not the processed scallops sold at Giant. And the quality varies based on the time of year. Currently day boats are kind of blah in taste. Dont forget to remove the foot. Also dont cook all the way through. Pull when medium-rare and they will continue cooking.

Thanks for adding that. You want to buy scallops that are not swimming/seated in any kind of watery solution....

Hi free rangers- I whipped up some pesto last weekend and I've noticed that the top layer is starting to discolor into an icky black/brown color. I assume this is similar to what happens to guacamole and it's still safe to eat? I was hoping to give some to a friend but would like to make sure it looks appetizing... any suggestions to prevent further browning would be appreciated. Thanks!

If  you pour a thin layer of olive oil on top, or place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface, it'll help prevent the browning.  Maybe  you can toss in some extra finely chopped parsley (or whatever green you used)  to correct the color?

Thank you, Carol Blymire -- I had no idea there was gluten in spices or in teas! How can we know? I'm putting together a food-basket for a tea-drinking friend who was recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance and would have made a lot of mistakes if not for your article. I'm also concerned that this friend buys a lot of "specialty" teas when traveling and may be ingesting gluten unknowingly. Any suggestions I can pass along? Thanks again!

We love Carol; so happy she scoped out the Fancy Food show and blogged for us on All We Can Eat. Overall she said the GF package labels were much more informative, and include information about the manufacturing environs, etc.  Contact the companies if you have specific concerns.

I bought the cooking by one cookbook by The Washington Post author and really enjoy reading it and I'm looking forward to trying the recipes out once I'm in my apartment. So thanks again!

Well, you must  be referring to Editor Joe Yonan's "Serve Yourself," which I'm happy to promote even though I receive no compensation.  You might like looking through the archive of his monthly "Cooking for One" columns.

A vegetarian friend and her BF are coming over for dinner soon. I want to make it a special dinner filled with seasonal ingredients. I was thinking pasta with a salad, which sounds simple but opens the door for a lot of experimentation. Any suggestions?

Here are some ideas for your dinner:


* Asparagus and White Bean Salad With Feta and Lemon Dressing


* Grilled Soccotash Pasta with Garlic Sauce


* Pasta With Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Sweet Peppers.


For other ideas, explore through our Recipe Finder and click on the "meatless" box.



I picked too many last weekend and they're quickly going down hill. Short of freezing, any thoughts? I've already done eating fresh, pie, sorbet, and muffins...

I love berry sauces. They're a great way to capture the taste of berries and save it for later. Take those berries and follow this recipe for tapioca and blueberry sauce. Just sub the fresh berries for the frozen. If you're using blackberries, straining is an option to remove teh seeds, but it's up to you. Serve over yogurt, pancakes, fresh fruit, waffles-you get the idea. The sauce freezes beautifully.

I forgot to ask the restaurant chat so please help -- I'm looking for a buffet brunch in NW DC or maybe downtown Bethesda for this weekend, and since we don't drink before sunset, I'd like to find one where we're not paying for booze we won't drink -- or at least not for "unlimited" refills as we're much more interested in unlimited food! Thanks!

The Going Out Gurus have a number of suggestions, some of which are in NW DC.  I would also give a nod to Blue Duck's brunch and, in Bethesda, the lunch/brunch menu at Mussel Bar, which I think is underrated.

Aebleskiver pans are a great investment if you do a lot of frying of small fritters or dumplings. You save oil and the frying goes much faster. This is an example. Also, an identical is used in India for paniyaram/appe, which are dumplings made from dosa batter.

Yes, yes! I was just having this conversation about the Indian fritters on Twitter. Thanks for chiming in.

Maybe Jim can answer how you can make smoked almonds at home. I love them and would like to try my hand at it.

    Easy. Use whole raw almonds and simply put them in a baking dish. Place them at the far end of a two-zone fire, away from the fire. Smoke with a light wood, such as apple, at around 225 turn a gorgeous light bronze color, about 10-20 minutes. 

      You can also jazz up the almonds before putting them on the grill, turning them in melted butter, a little sugar, a touch of cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. 

I recently had spaghetti with "smoked" meatballs and it sure was a different but good flavor - how was that accomplished - anyone.....maybe Shahin?

     Funny you should ask. I just made these the other night. To help the meatballs keep their shape, I first sauteed the meatballs in a cast-iron pan. Then, to cook them through, I placed them in a vegetable basket (ironic, huh?) and smoked them at around 275 (although, truth is, I didn't use a thermometer, I just guessed), for about 20 minutes. 

      I did not want a fruitty flavor, so I used the mild smoke of a handful of soaked oak chips. 

      Be forewarened: you may eat too many of them before adding them to your sauce. I did. 


I too grew up being told to finish my plate and to feel guilty for wasting food. However, eating food that your body does not need is also wasting it.

Very true.

My mom makes an amazing chocolate cake with liquid margarine as one of the ingredients. I'd like to try the recipe using butter instead of the liquid margarine, but I'm not sure how to go about doing that. Would I just substitute the butter 1:1, or would I need to make another adjustments? I've found that it's much tougher to experiment with baking than cooking and would appreciate any advice!

Checking with the experts, but I'd think that cooled, melted butter, especially clarified, would work 1:1.

Any thoughts on what to do with these leftovers in my fridge from father's day? I have 5 ears of corn on the cob that have already been boiled, a big bag of sliced red, yellow and orange peppers, and some fresh basil. I also have a lot of bbq chicken leftover. That does not have to go with the ingredients above, but it could. If not, could I pick it off the bones and freeze it for another use? What could I do with all of the chicken once I pick it off the bones? Thanks!

You have the makings of a lovely chicken salad. Slice off the corn, tear the basil, roast a few of the peppers until nicely charred, then seed and cut into strips; add some black beans or rice or couscous; mince some scallions and/or cilantro and a little mint; add mixed greens if desired; make a lime vinaigrette and toss. Or you could use most of those vegetables as a filling for enchiladas or burritos. Lucky you!

The cook in our house, who is learning fast, mistook one type of dried chili for another, and produced a dish that is nearly inedibly hot. What can we do to tone it down and salvage it?

Start over. I could suggest a lot of fixes, but you'd be throwing good money after bad.

Uh-oh, was I supposed to refrigerate my vermouth and Campari? They've been in a cool dark cabinet but not in the 'fridge ... and they've been there a long time ... re "I've also got vermouths and stuff like Campari and Lillet Blanc in the fridge. "

Yes you are. And they don't last forever....more like 2 to 3 weeks.

An Eastern Shore fisherman once told me that skate is sometimes cut up and sold as scallops.

Maybe a raw corn salad? The Post's database has some great options, I believe, but my basic recipe is: fresh corn, herb, acid (Asian: fish sauce, lime juice, mint, jalapeno, sugar to taste; American: chives, basil, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, raw tomatoes if you like them)

I have a lb of ground lamb in the freezer from the farmer's market, and I was going to to burgers, but I think I want something a little different - any suggestions?

I love lamb burgers. The lamb brings so much flavor naturally to the dish. Here's a recipe for a lamb, feta and mint burger that pairs the lamb with some of its best partners.

Maybe this is the Italian in me talking, and this suggestion is perhaps better suited for a cold season dish, but I sometimes like to use ground lamb in tomato sauce in the place of ground beef.  It adds some additional depth to the sauce.

I like stuffing tomatoes with a mixture of pine nuts, parsley, sauteed finely chopped onion and cooked ground lamb, with a little pomegranate syrup drizzled in, s&p. Bake with bread crumbs on top, olive oil.


For something really different, though, try this curried bulgur pilaf with ground lamb and beets.


I just want to say how much the Columbia Pike Farmers Market has added to my sense of community. I live alone in a large apartment building and work a ton, but every Sunday I make it a point to go to the market and talk to the farmers and giggle at the little kids running around and enjoy the musicians playing. I don't always spend a lot of money (back to living alone and working a ton!), but it makes me feel like I'm part of something. And for that I'm appreciative. I'm also appreciative of Oh Pickles! -- I think they lace their garlic half-sours with crack. So so good.

I think you've hit upon another benefit of farmers markets: They get us out of our wired and overworked lifes and allow us to reconnect to living, breathing people. I love the conversations I have at farmers markets too.

I've started making a blend of fresh fruit and yogurt for Popsicles for our toddler. I tend to make more than our 8 Popsicle mold can hold, so I would love to make to batches, the problem is, I don't know where to get sticks? Reusable ones with little holders would be even better.

Yes, Michaels craft stores carry the sticks, but you should call before you go. I called the Falls Church store, for example, and learned that they are out of the Popsicle sticks, save for the 1,000-count bags. I suspect you probably won't need that many.

You can buy the sticks in any craft shop that sells chocolate candy supplies. Reusable popsicle molds are all over the specialty cookware stores and the big home stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond. Godo luck!

Can't go wrong with a John Daly (alcoholic version of an Arnold Palmer) - lemonade, ice tea, and vodka. A snap to make so you can spend more time with your company and less time mixing drinks.

I use a bookshelf from Ikea - one of the 3-shelf ones that's about 3.5 ft tall. Works great - bottles on top, glassware on the bottom.

How do you predict how hot a given dried chile pepper will be?

Well, there are scoville unit charts to go by, but to be sure you'd need to taste a portion of it.  There are natural variations in heat levels from pepper to pepper.

Tim, Not everybody drinks sodas and eats junk food. We've never had either of those at home and when we took our kids to a restaurant they had a choice: soda with their meal or dessert afterwards. Guess what they chose? It was not as great for our wallets, especially when we were in expensive restaurants, but it was good for their bodies. Despite what ads on TV say, soda is not everyday drink, (wine with meals for adults in our home is). We also don't snack. If we feel hungry enough to eat an apple between meals, we know we are hungry and eat the apple.

You sound like a healthy family to me. You're probably on no one's watch list for obesity.

I'd recommend against the pasta/salad combo as it's way overdone (frequently the default vegetarian option is a pasta). Soups (or risotto) are a really nice first dish and can be followed with a baked dish (stacked, rolled, or otherwise packaged) that looks like an entree. Not sure if the friend is vegetarian or vegan, so dairy/eggs could be an issue in my suggestions, but look at crepes (herb crepes? stuffed with seasonal veg and cream/cheese), galettes (similar filling to crepes), frittatas, or individual casseroles in cups/ramekins.

Hey Jim, loved your article re BBQ Battle= sure has changed a lot. are you going???

      Lots of change, all right, to both bbq and the city. It's a shame the RNC and DNC don't compete anymore. And, man, I would love to see Bobby Seale with his cookbook, "Barbeque'n With Bobby," back again. 

       Anyway, yes, I will be there. After all, The Washington Post's Smoke Signals BBQ Sauce Recipe contest winners will receive their trophies there. 

I'm currently eating the Best Brussels Sprouts Ever - recipe posted in last week's chat. Holy Moly! Delicious!


Could we simply dispense with the idea that there's something childish about non-alcoholic drinks? ("a little vodka added makes it an adult cooler") Does the vodka enhance the taste, or just turn a perfectly fine punch into an intoxicant legally available to adults only?

I blame the Rat Pack. :)

SHahin, I know grilled scallops are great, but should you marinate them first? If so, in what?

     You don't have to marinate them first. But I generally do. Use a little olive oil and some citrus - lime, orange, lemon - and whatever seasonings you like - salt, a pinch of ancho powder, whatever. 

       The last time I grilled them, I bathed them in an habanero, grapefruit marinade for about 15 minutes. (If you keep them in a citrus bath too long, the citrus will begin to cook the fish.)


I'd go with summer fruits rather than apples. While there are summer apples, I'm not sure how well they stand up to cooking.

Sugar and vinegar can tame heat, as can dairy products.

I usually have cream or half and half in my fridge, and I was wondering: can I simply add some water to one or the other to sustitute for milk in baking? For instance, I have a recipe for a cofee cake that calls for a cup of milk. Could I substitute half a cup of water and half a cup of half and half? Or 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup cream?

I have never tried this, but I've thought about.  I recently was given a quiche recipe that called for light cream instead of the cream and milk combo I'd always used. I certainly think any recipe calling for half and half or light cream would probably work with watered down heavy cream. You'd have to experiment to see what works and what doesn't. If you decide to take up this challenge, get back to us with the results.:)

As I stared at the chunk white tuna, bored with the usual ingredients for tuna salad, I went for it. Buffalo Tuna Salad. Chopped carrots & celery and mixed with the tuna and a little S&P. Combined mayo, blue cheese dressing & franks hot sauce mixed it all together and piled on sourdough. Strangly awesome. Just wanted to share with the foodies.

We're honored.

I've got a ton of garlic scapes that need to be used in something. I've used them in soups before, but am looking for something less labor intensive. Any suggestions?

Scapes are terrific stir-fried Asian-style-they're almost addictive this way.

Real scallops usually still have the foot attached. Very difficult to fake. And currently day boats are very blah in flavor.

Filipino food seems to be on the up and up in food trends, and I'd like to try to make chicken adobo, which I've never eaten before. Unsurprisingly, I've found many variations on the internet, but I'm most curious on your opinions on the appropriate ratio of vinegar to soy sauce. I've seen some sources advocate for equal amounts, while others have nearly a 3:1 ratio of vinegar to soy sauce. Also, for "authenticity" plain white vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or does it not really make much of a difference? Thanks!

This is a subject that interests me but which I have zero expertise on. But as you continue to experiment, I would be interested in your own taste tests. Can you email me at

Have you heard of the device called The Smoking Gun? I came across it this morning--looks like a handheld tool for smoking foods. I'm interested in it, but a little nervous it might set off my apartment's smoke detector. Do you know anything about it?

     The Smoking Gun is both great and a little infuriating. It looks easy in the videos (doesn't everything?), but I've found it's a little tricky to use. 

      In any event, it can be useful. And the smoke is pretty light, so it should not set off your alarm. I haven't had my alarm go off, anyway.

I always have half-and-half, rarely milk, and have subbed diluted half-and-half for milk in many baking recipes without issue. Of course, I often haven't made the original version, so I couldn't tell you if it's exactly the same, but it hasn't resulted in anything inedible. Ratios are pretty easy to find on the internet.

Sour cream is great for toning down very hot chilis. The dairy helps tame the heat and the flavors usually go well together.

I'd like to buy a friend a cookbook for his birthday, but I have no idea if what he wants exists or where to find it. He was recently commenting on how he wished there was a cookbook that started with a sauce or sauces, such as a bechamel sauce, and at first the recipes would be simple, but gradually they would get more complicated. He likes all types of food, but is a novice in the kitchen other than a few basic items. Does a cookbook like this exist? Or any suggestions? has a decent list of "beginner's" cookbooks. I like their suggetion for America's Test Kitchen cookbook, which really helps a rookie understand the process of cooking.

For Jim Shahin - other than starting from scratch and soaking chick peas, can one use canned chick peas and then somehow smoke them before using either in hoomoos dip or other ways? Thanks

   Yes, you can use canned. 

    I use smoked garlic for smoky flavor. 

I just discovered that my boyfriend may be the only person ever who likes water chestnuts (I think they're completely worthless). However, after some mildly excessive ribbing about it, I feel a little bad and would like to cook us a dinner that features them. Any suggestions for a recipe that will satisfy my bf that can maybe get a hater to start to appreciate their value?

Get fresh ones. I love them. I make a killer shrimp toast with egg white, scallions and fresh finely diced water chestnuts. You can use the mix for shrimp toast or just saute as shrimp patties. Yum.

How is "ebelskivers" pronounced? Eh-bell-SKY-verse? Eh-bell-SKEE-verse?

AA-bell-skee-verse! Because its common recipe is based on apples, widely grown in Denmark.

Slam, bam, thank you, sirs and ma'ams. Busy hour; wish we could have gotten to all your questions. Jane Touzalin might pick a few for Chat Leftovers. Thanks to Christopher Boffoli, Jason Wilson, Jim Shahin and Stephanie Sedgwick (our fab Nourish columnist) for pitching in.


Chat winners:  The chatter who is afraid of cooking scallops gets "Savory Sweet Life"; the chatter who asked Jim about smoking almonds gets "Charred and Scruffed."  Send your mailing info to and we'll get those books out to you.


We've got picnic recipes and tips coming up next week, so you'll be set for July 4th and beyond. Till then, happy cooking!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carman, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson.
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