Free Range on Food cooking Q&A: Ideas for a pared-down Thanksgiving

Oct 07, 2020

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your cooking questions. This week's chat is over, but you can submit questions for next week's chat here.
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Past Free Range on Food chats

If you’ve already started planning — or stressing about — Thanksgiving 2020 you are not alone. As one faithful reader asked us: What are others planning (please tell me someone else is thinking ahead as my husband is rolling his eyes at the early time)!  

This reader came to the right place. We’re working on delicious recipes for savory dishes and pies in the weeks leading up to our big holiday print section on Nov. 18. In the meantime, as you are planning now and want to explore ideas for dishes, let our Recipe Finder be your friend.

Thinking of hosting a smaller gathering, like the reader mentioned above? Pop in the term “roasted turkey breast,” for example, and you’ll find many options from Extremely Slow-Roasted Turkey Breast to Stove-Top Roasted Turkey Breast. Interested in specific vegetable sides? Search for “roasted butternut squash” or and see what pops up.

Feel free to ask questions or request specific information in today’s chat as well. We’ll do our best to answer here or jump on the topic in the future.

Becky’s piece on the role sugar plays in baking struck a chord with readers as well. She wrote: “I’d encourage you to study any recipe you’re thinking about changing and consider what purposes the sugar may be serving.” Her piece will help you do just that. As she noted, we get lots of questions about why we add honey and sugar to recipes. She explains that it is not just about sweetness. Sugar does so much more.

Speaking of sweet — and creamy and delicious — Daniela Galarza shared her tres leches cake recipe with us, but she went beyond that to tell us all about the traditions — and  many variations — for this indulgent dish.

Do you have kids at home? Plan to pick up the Oct. 14 issue of The Washington Post for a full section of stories on cooking with kids. Some of those are popping up online now, including a game involving Muffin Tin Deep Dish Pizza. Food writer Pati Jinich shared her Double-Stacked Shrimp Taco recipe and a tale about cooking with her sons and Joe Yonan made a Barbecue Sweet Potato Tortizzas for the vegetable-loving little ones. Keep watching for more kid-friendly pieces to pop up on the site. We can delve deeper into this topic next week.

Please note: We will give away a free, 30-day subscription to The Washington Post to the person who sends in our favorite comment of the week! (Already a subscriber? You can give the free month to a friend.)

Let’s dig in and talk about food.


Any word on what's happening with Libby canned pumpkin? At least here (Upper Midwest), it is scarcer than hen's teeth. There are "off" brands available in abunance but not a single Libby can on a shelf anywhere. We are restricting our in-person shopping but can't find it in the few places we have been nor online. In fact, our usual online grocery (for pickup) doesn't even list the Libby brand as an option anymore. (I am submitting this question Tuesday. Perhaps by the time of your chat the top team will already have addressed it, in which case, kudos for helping the curious among us :)

I have not looked for it yet myself. I did see a story on about it that said it just a bit too early in the season for it to be well-stocked.  We'll keep an eye on this. 

My tradition is to grill hotdogs in October and then retire my Weber grill for the winter. I freeze the hotdogs and we eat them on Thanksgiving Eve. It's an immediate bite of summer.

Oh Thanksgiving Eve traditions! I don't have one of those. I'm usuallly just cooking, cooking, cooking. Anyone else have any fun ones (other than going out with friends, which might be tough this year.)

Our Thanksgiving Eve tradition is just eating an enormous meal the day before to prepare for Thankgiving prep work. It's frequently sushi, and may or may not include cannoli. 

Many thanks for Becky Krystal's excellent and enlightening article about the use of sugar in recipes. I found it easy to understand and well grounded in food science. Did anyone else read the article about Ireland's Supreme Court ruling that Subway's bread has too much sugar in it to remain untaxed as a "staple food"? It seems that by Irish law, the sugar in bread must be below 2% of the weight of the flour included in the dough. So a recipe using 100 grams of flour can only have 2 grams of sugar. Subway bread has 10%, which classifies it as a "confection" and therefore taxable. I would be interested in Becky researching the different kinds of fats used in baking. I do not like cakes made with oil, they are too heavy and gummy for me. I prefer butter cakes. However, simply swapping butter for oil is often not a successful substitution. Please look into this before the holiday baking season is upon us. Keep up the great work!

Thanks! Love the idea of a fat-based post on butter (cold vs soft vs melted) vs oil. Will add to the list, along with salt.

So fascinating about the Subway bread. What they were taking into consideration is baker's percentages -- which is, yes, how ingredients compare to the weight of the flour. Here's a post on that topic from King Arthur Baking. If you look at that post, most of the bread examples have the salt percentage at 2 percent. I don't know enough about how Ireland made the decision or who in bread baking deems that 2 percent is the cutoff. If it is. 

Our family has been buying and eating more ground turkey and we've been struggling to find good recipies that aren't less-good versions of ground beef recipies (turkey meatloaf, turkey tacos, etc). Any general suggestions on how to cook ground turkey? Suggestions for ground turkey recipies?

Yes! Check out this roundup of ground turkey recipes: 

6 recipes that will change your mind about ground turkey

I'm in NoVa and last week my local grocery store (giant) had an entire end cap display of the big cans of Libby - I'm sure bc it suckered me into buying two even though I won't need it for over a month lol

Take-out pizza, of course!

Love it!

I really enjoyed Becky's exploration of the roles that sugar plays in baking and why changing quantities is a delicate balancing act. I've wondered the same thing about salt. I've seen recipes for muffins and quick breads that indicate 1 tsp. salt (optional). I thought salt played a critical role in developing flavors and 1 tsp of salt is a lot of salt -- so am puzzled how it can be optional. Do you have guidance on when to use the called for amount of salt and when it is possible to cut back without reducing flavor (I would cut back for health reasons)?

Interesting! I have also had a salt-in-baking post at the back of my mind, I'll have to tackle that. To be honest, I have rarely seen salt as an optional ingredient in baking recipes. I think your instincts are on point. Here's a nice point from Samin Nosrat in "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat":

We're taught to think of salt and sugar existing in contrast to, rather than in concert with, one another: food is either sweet or savory. But remember that the primary effect salt has on food is to enhance flavor, and even sweets benefit from this boost.

She notes that if you were to divide a batch of cookie dough in half, with one part using salt and the other part not, you'd find better notes of caramel, nuts and butter in the cookies with salt.

From a more chemistry standpoint, salt in doughs and batters helps tighten and reinforce the gluten network. In bread baking, it slows down the yeast to give doughs time to develop flavor and gluten without overproofing.

I’m excited to make today’s portobellos with chickpeas and tahini — and it reminds me of a fancy dish I made at Thanksgiving five or six years ago but I can’t find it in the recipe files! I remember it had mushrooms and it was baked in a puff pastry crust. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Thanks for the informative article on sugar adding more than sweetness. For those interested in more on the science of cooking, may I recommend the Harvard lecture series on Science and Cooking? A recent lecture (available on YouTube) features Chef Joanne Chang on the science of sugars in cooking. The series of lectures are Free and run through Nov. I've really been enjoying the lectures. And thanks the entire Free Range on Food staff. I learn so much from these weekly chats.

Thank you! I didn't know about those lectures, and Joanne Chang would be a great person to learn from. She did write a nice cookbook about cooking with less sugar.

Hi. In the lentil soup recipe published this week do you cut the stems off spinach before you chop it. We don't eat much spinach. Thanks.

Are referring to this one included in Kari's round-up of fall soups:  Greek Lentil and Spinach Soup With Lemon?
If so, it calls for baby spinach. The stems usally are quite tender.
Most of the time, I pull the stems only if they are coarse and thick. Also, I might do it if I am eating the spinach raw in a salad. Hope that is helpful.

I recently moved into a new house with lovely hardwood floors - but man are they hard on my feet, especially when I'm cooking (I suffer from very high arches). I've been making do with my regular Birkenstocks, but do you have any suggestions for shoes that are good to wear just around the house while cooking? So they won't be going outside, and I hope to not spend a ton on them. And yes, I'm aware of mats, but I'd rather not use them for various reasons (one being they're kinda ugly).

I would look for slippers with arch support! Places like LL Bean and Vionic should have good options. I wear Dansko clogs in our Food Lab which I find super comfy, but they are kind of platform-y with not much ankle support and I'm not sure you'd like them for the home.

I have really high arches and have lived in my Ugg Tasman slippers--inside and out of the house--for 7 months now with total comfort. Also consider getting a comfort mat for your hardwood floors. I have one and it saves me!

When my back starts to hurt, I lace up my walking shoes. It's the only thing that works for me. I definitely need to look into a comfort mat.

I know we just got through the Jewish High Holidays and we have to make it through the election, but my mind is turning to Thanksgiving. 1) is anywhere taking into consideration the smaller feasts this year and allowing folks to order half a turkey? 2) the other 3 in my family eat turkey, but to make it fun for me I thought I might incorporate chocolate by making a mole ANY guidance to point me in the right directions is appreciated (even if it’s to steer clear) 3) taking an idea from the Passover Seder and the idea of folks going around the table saying what they’re thankful for, I thought I might make this smaller meal significant by taking about the food we eat in relation to our family traditions, the cultural and geographic origins of it, etc. But it’s not a Seder to last for hours, so any fellow chatters want to weigh in on how many eye-rolls from my teens and how well this might work with grandparents on Zoom? What are others planning (please tell me someone else is thinking ahead as my husband is rolling his eyes at the early time!

We are hearing from many readers, like you, who are wondering how to make holiday special in light of the pandemic.

For certain, many are planning smaller dinners.  Never tried your mole idea, but I did find this recipe in our archive: Turkey With Oaxacan Mole that might provide a jumping off point for you. 

Love the idea of going around the table and saying what you are thankful for.  Even though this  year it is likely to be just the two of us for Thanksgiving, it is worth taking a moment to be grateful.

Rather than the big bird, I'm thinking a roasted whole chicken as a stand-in. (Then, tahini chicken salad and chicken stock soup with the leftovers.) Not terribly creative, but it is comfort food and that's what I crave for the holidays.

This year, it's two for Thanksgiving -- me and my 12-year-old son. We decided to throw tradition out the window for the first time (life is going crazy on us, so we're going crazy on life). We're making only our favorite foods, but really tricked out versions of them. So far we've decided on chicken pot pie, pheasant, and Kobe-style beef. 

It's going to be a small Thanksgiving over here too, with me, my mother and step-father sharing a small feast. We might do a roast chicken instead of a whole turkey, but I heard that several stores will be selling turkey breasts, legs and thighs and smaller heritage birds, which may come in handy if you're looking to downsize.

I highly recommend this Pati Jinich recipe for mole poblano -- it goes great with poultry!

Something I plan on doing this holiday season is go through old family photos to search for memories and stories to retell, as a way to remember the friends and family we don't get to see this year, and a reminder to reach out to them and let them know I'm thinking of them, and can't wait until we can all see each other again.

Half a turkey is an interesting thought. I suspect this is something a butcher could do for you -- they can do a lot if you just ask them. Here's a thought. Could you find another family to split the turkey with, if that's the way you want to go? That way you can get the whole thing knowing you won't be on the hook for it.

We do have one recipe for mole turkey (although it does call for a whole bird).

Turkey With Oaxacan Mole

RECIPE: Turkey With Oaxacan Mole

My son is only 3, so I do have limited experience with the eye-r0lling (though we are hard-core in threenager phase). I guess there's a fine line to walk between being too instructive versus just trying to talk about the year and how everyone's doing and what there is to be thankful for.

I don't see us wanting to do anything on Zoom during the meal. It just makes it too chaotic, as my seder experience also showed. Personally, I'd just focus on the people at the table with you, then set aside time at other points in the day to check in with family online.

We're thinking up alternate menus for a tiny Thanksgiving for two! So far I'm thinking Cornish hen since it'll only be me eating meat. 

We love the savory Indian food that we had in India, and in our home town with a large international population. But when we travel to other parts of the US and England, the food is sweet. Is this a difference among the various regions in India? And is there a way we could ask the restaurants to prepare the food in a certian style that is savory?

Indian cuisine varies WIDELY by region so it's possible that the North Indian dishes common to most Indian restaurants across the US and England read "sweeter" to you than the food where you went. It also could just be the fact that a lot of Indian restaurants have to cater to the tastes of the country they're in. 

The portabello chickpea dish mentioned in the question about vegetarian wellington seems to go to a bad link. I'm headed to the recipe finder to look since it sounds good, but fyi

Sorry about that. I'll go fix it. In the meantime, here you go: A stuffed portobello only food writer Nigel Slater could design.

Please update us on the precautions to take with groceries in order to minimize risk of COVID infection. Have any or all of you eased up on some of the safeguards you implemented early in the pandemic? Actions like leaving everything in the garage for two days, removing or washing all packaging and containers (boxes of cereal or crackers, tins of soup or coconut milk, bags of frozen food, glass and plastic bottles and jars, milk and juice cartons) -- as well as washing all food with soapy water before putting it away. I know some people now believe that's unnecessary, and it is a pain. Please tell us what the experts advise.

Personally, I still wipe down anything in a box or can, but also please DO NOT wash any food with soap! Becky wrote a guide here for how to wash your produce and Ann wrote a guide here on how to grocery shop safely with plenty of expert advice. 

Be covered in flour and stay up way too late doing "last minute" prep that you swore this year would be different why is this pie not done yet I want to sleeeeep (but this year idk what it'll be since I'm Thanksgiving-ing solo)

:-) That would be my usual scenario, but with it being so much smaller, I'm thinking things might be a little bit easier. Anyone else?

We'd buy the biggest frozen turkey our roasting pan would accommodate (22-24 lbs.), cook the bird, the dressing (separately) and make a massive amount of gravy. All the leftovers would get parceled into meal-sized portions that we'd tightly wrap, then freeze, which we'd then feast on for a month until we'd repeat the procedure again, creating another month's worth of good leftovers. Carcass went into turkey stock for soup, of course.

So organized! Love it.

Way cheaper place to pick up crispy fried onions, but also one of the biggest impulse purchase places around. I couldn't resist a bag of rosehips. 200 grams. It says they are roasted and they look whole to me, though I'm not sure exactly what a rosehip is supposed to look like. So, what do I do with them? I know they are a terrific source of vitamin C and show up on the ingredient list of some herbal teas so presumably you could just toss a few in hot water and then drink it. But there must be something more interesting to do than that...

You can drink it in tea, some folks make jellies/jams/chutneys from it, or syrups for drinks. You can also make a facial oil! 

I am looking for a bread or dinner roll recipe using fresh cranberries. Do you have any suggestions? It's for a group of 13 people. Either yeast or sourdough is good and in a pinch quick is ok.

Cranberries would be nice in cornbread, if that's a possibility for you.

Buttermilk Corn Bread

RECIPE: Buttermilk Corn Bread

I am totally intrigued by how cranberries would be in the dinner roll recipe I ran last year, which people went bonkers for.

Pillowy Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

RECIPE: Pillowy Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

Would also be fairly easy to incorporate them into a standard no-knead Dutch oven bread.

No-Knead Whole-Wheat Bread

RECIPE: No-Knead Whole-Wheat Bread

So, most likely we will be staying in a place with a small fridge and a microwave for two nights. We plan to do sandwiches but would like to have a hot meal at the end of the day. We could bring something frozen and reheat in the microwave, what would you suggest preparing ahead of time that will taste "nice" by reheating in a microwave? I'm thinking that we could also bring with us a small rice cooker so at least we can have fresh rice. Suggestions are welcome!

I love the small rice cooker idea! Maybe bring some basmati or jasmine rice, which will scent the whole place as it cooks. As for what to bring, my first thought was a stew, like this chickpea number, which you could keep in the refrigerator and microwave until it's piping hot and then serve over freshly steamed rice. Here are more stew ideas, from the Recipe Finder.

can any of the WaPo's experts replicate Libby's canned pumpkin? I've heard that it's actually a mix of winter squashes.

Nestle says Libby's is 100% Dickinson pumpkin. 

The family did the "What are you thankful for?" thing one year. It was annoying.

I would love it if you would explore alternatives to alcohol in recipes. I asked about this once before and someone suggested non-alcoholic wine or beer, but I think even this can be triggering for someone who is working to stay sober. I am not a cook (!!!!) but here are some things I have tried: in desserts, looking for a non-sweet something to add in- e.g. espresso in chocolate desserts, citrus peel in others, and using vanilla sugar instead of regular sugar to intensify flavor. In savory dishes, I have tried citrus zest marinated in something- mixture of grape juice and vinegar, or some sort of fluid (mixture of grape juice and vinegar) in which I have steeped some chili flakes (obviously this would be disgusting to drink but it sort of worked to add some heat to a braise) and, on occasion, fancy (i.e. not very sweet) tonic. I would love to hear what someone who knows what they re doing (i.e. a cook or chef) would suggest. Separately, a lot of us will be celebrating holidays away from our families and friends this year. Any suggestions for things that we can mail (I've already tried biscotti - that worked ok), sweet or savory, so that we can all have some shared eating experiences would be wonderful.

That is a good topic for us to explore. It is tough to answer because there are so many variations in recipes/uses. (Becky did a great piece on substitutions for so many ingredients, but not this specifically.)

It will vary a great deal with the role the spirits play in the recipe.

You can try extracts, such as rum. You can try to use grape juice (red or white) or apple juice for wine. Maybe ginger ale or a sparkling cider for champagne. Also, you could add liquid to a berry to stone fruit jam to get concentrated flavor and add that.

In some cases, you can omit it -- sub in an extract -- and the recipe will be fine.

If the wine/beer is part of the liquid needed for the recipe, then you likely need to find a substitute with that same amount of liquid. For example, if a beef stew calls for 1/2 cup stock and 1/2 cup of wine. Just use all stock. 

On your last question, Becky wrote this last year. You might find it helpful: 6 cookie recipes made for holiday gifting and shipping.

Cooked large pork butt and have enjoyed sandwiches (more than once), a chipotle chili, and wondering if there is something interesting I can do to finish it off?

That's funny. We had a similar question last week. It's chilling down outside, so I bet folks are firing up those ovens. Here are a few ideas:
Do you want a little project? Consider Beginner's Baked Bao With Pulled Pork

Try tossing it with other ingredients you like: Pulled Pork With Corn and Chipotle.

I love it atop nachos. Or, how about tacos? Smoky Pulled Pork Tacos With Grilled Orange Salsa

I have several large, heavy aluminum pots (at least 1/8" wall thickness) which I use to make chili, stews, stock, etc. I was just reading that acidic foods like tomatoes should not be cooked in aluminum pots. I don't make tomato sauce or soup in these pots, but I do add a can of tomatoes to the chili. Is this a big problem?

Aluminum reacts with acidic foods and makes them taste off. I'e done this before, and the taste was 100% noticeable--so if you've haven't noticed a problem with tomatoes and your aluminum pots, perhaps the pots are lined with a different metal or surface?

My husband came home with two pumpkin cans a couple of weeks ago. One was a store brand, and the other was a double-can Libby's. Since it's just the two of us, no one can travel, I made him take them both back. I said IF I make a pie for us, it's Libby's single can. Period. He was worried there wouldn't be any if we waited, and my feeling was that I don't NEED any pies in my house anyway.

Ellie Krieger's Creamy Cauliflower Soup recipe is a winner, and I am not a soup lover! I did not have fresh cauliflower, so I thawed two 16 ounce bags of florets. I then trimmed off most of the stems, and cooked the floret heads. (An average head of cauliflower is about 24 ounces.) I used Better than Bouillon Mushroom base for the stock, and pureed everything in my food processer. Finally, having no hazelnuts, I used croutons for the crunch. This soup reheats well, too. The next time I make it, I will add a little smoky-ness. What would you suggest?

Sounds delicious. For smoky-ness, consider smoked spices: smoked paprika, smoked salt. Or maybe smoked peppers, like chipolte. The vegan bouillon is a great idea.

...but Thanksgiving morning is pancakes at the diner. Started when I was two and came downstairs demanding pancakes while my mom was in the middle of stuffing a turkey. My father wisely packed me into the car and got me out of her way.

Smart parents.

It wasn’t a tradition at the time (and never became one) but one year my sister baked an amazing pumpkin cream pie with a kind of pecan crust that probably shared some genes with pralines. It was cooling on the counter Wednesday evening when my brother and his wife arrived. Sister-in-law convinced my Mom we should eat the pie that night. Oh boy was it good. Fortunately, regular pumpkin, apple, and mince had also been baked, so there was Thanksgiving desert. And, after a big dinner we probably didn’t really need a dessert so rich.

That's what I call seizing the moment. You probably enjoyed it even more because it felt like you were rule-breaking just a bit. Thanks for sharing. (And, if there were ever at time to eat dessert first....)

Someone gave me a BIG 7.6 pound spaghetti squash. What do I do with it? Bake it whole? Cut it in half? Then what? I'm flummoxed! I want to treat it as a squash.

Yum! Cut in half, bake! You can stuff them like in this recipe for Spaghetti Squash Stuffed With Escarole, White Beans and Turkey Sausage

Or you can take a fork to it and shred! It turns into sort of noodles. In this recipe for Cincinnati Chili over Spaghetti Squash, you can even microwave it. 

My husband's pandemic project has been sourdough. We had tried to make sourdough pizza dough but it was a flop (I actually wrote in about our struggles a few weeks ago). I finally tried Olga's sourdough pizza dough and it was a hit! The dough was so easy to work with and it tasted great. Thank you for an easy and delicious way to put our sourdough starter to use. By the way, one of the purchases we've made the most use of in the past few months is an outdoor pizza oven. Apparently we're not the only ones and home pizza ovens are having a boom of sorts. Might be a good idea for an upcoming article!

So glad you enjoyed Olga's recipe. An outdoor pizza oven sounds like a wonderful treat.

If anyone missed Olga's recipe, here it is: Here’s a sourdough pizza dough that waits on you — and not vice versa

It's my new go-to pizza dough!

Maybe? The problem is, my family's position is that "it's just not Thanksgiving" without certain foods (turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, corn spoon bread, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie, etc. etc.) so I'm guessing we'll be making almost as many dishes, just a small amount of each dish, which doesn't save all that much time, if any.

No, that will not save you any time, but I get how people feel about traditional foods on certain days. It's tough.

I was looking for whole wheat flour for bread baking in my local grocery store the other day [none to be found except super expensive pastry flour] and noticed that the only available store brand unbleached all-purpose flour was pre sifted. Why are they offering pre sifted AP flour and what effect, if any, would it have when used for baking bread? Could it be used just like regular AP flour? I enjoy the chats, informative articles, and delicious recipes especially during these times. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with such good cheer.

Thank you! All-purpose flour these days is pretty much always pre-sifted (as opposed to the older days, when you might get clumps or other things in the flour, and sifting was part of the recipe steps). So use in the amounts/way the recipe calls for.

When using the oven, does it matter if you use parchment paper or aluminum foil as a liner? When is it better to cook directly on a sheet pan or oven rack or in a casserole dish (even though clean-up from those last ones requires scrubbing)? Many thanks.

Great question! Overall, following carefully written recipes will help you begin to see when it's best to use what method. If you're roasting a chicken, for example, it's not necessary to line the baking dish, and that might make it even messier to clean up.

Same for casserole dishes, which are great for casseroles, or dense, wet foods that might stick a little -- think the melty cheese in a lasagna -- but where lining a pan would make it impossible to remove a slice of the baked food. Don't worry too much about scrubbing -- soaking those pans with a bit of dish soap helps any cooked-on food slide right off.

But when baking cookies, lining the pan can help keep them from sticking. Though you can use foil and parchment interchangeably in a pinch, I tend to use parchment for lining cake pans and cookie sheets, as foil is more likely to stick to baked goods.

I always cook bacon on a foil-lined sheet tray in the oven, though, because aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat, and helps the bacon cook evenly. 

As Charlie Brown would say, “Augh!” I’ve just spent multiple cycles on the recipe finder looking for Joe’s recipe for roasted tomatoes and coming up blank. Can you tell me what the secret search terms are? Thanks — need to get a jump on putting up some lovely paste tomatoes.

Hey, is this the recipe you are seeking: 12-Hour Tomatoes? This was a tough one to find using common search terms. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Might need to think about a new name for this one.

My kid brought a bunch of small tomatillos home from farm camp yesterday. We have jalapeños in our garden (they’re really hot this year; has anyone else noticed that?). I’ve never made tomatillo salsa before, but it seems like a natural in this situation. Do I roast the veggies first? Any other tips?

Here are two tomatillo salsas, one with cooking involved and one without, to take a peek at:

This Cooked Green Salsa (Salsa Verde Cocida) from our Essential Cookbooks newsletter is one of my favorites.

And this Raw Salsa Verde With Cucumber and Mint is cooling and refreshing with a slight hit of heat. 

Hi - I made your "take out" hot and sour soup, following the recipe exactly with the exception of the addition of bamboo shoots (store was out). I even bought Chinese black vinegar for this purpose. The soup was VERY vinegary. I ate it, though with difficulty. Husband couldn't eat it at all. I wondered if perhaps the recipe had copied wrong - should it have been 5 tsp of black vinegar instead of 5 Tbsp? But when I heated up the leftovers the next day, the vinegar taste was nearly gone and the soup had almost no taste. Any sense of what might have happened?

It's definitely correct! Different people for sure have different sensitivities to the sour in hot and sour, and we really liked the mouth-pucker that amount gives you. Certainly, in the future, you can dial it back to taste.

Stews and soups tend to mellow a bit when they hang out in the fridge. Also, the vinegar in the recipe is just added at the end, so I suspect when you heated it, you cooked off a lot of the flavorful volatile compounds that give it taste and aroma. At that point, you could stir some more back in after warming it up.

Takeout-Style Hot-and-Sour Soup

RECIPE: Takeout-Style Hot-and-Sour Soup

I love eating the gristle/sinew in a long cooked cut of meat like the stuff around rib bones, outside a strip steak, and between the cap and eye of a ribeye steak. The problem with steaks is that I can’t think of a way to thoroughly cook the grisle yet leave the meat medium rare. I tried to sous vide it, but didn’t have success. Any thoughts? Maybe longer sous vide time?

My only suggestion is to cook your meat in a super-hot skillet or surface, so can sear the outside without over-cooking the inside. 

I like to use tongs to lift the meat and turn it on its side to sear the fattier edges on the hot, hot surface.

Hope that helps.

I don't have a set of baking beads but found myself needing to blind bake a pastry case this weekend. I used a pound of dried pinto beans that I had around- baked at 400 for about 20 minutes. Is it possible to still use those beans as beans or are they just baking weights now?

I would just use them as pie weights from here on out. They're probably too dry to eat. I had a bag I used for years over and over again, until it got purged in my basement mold remediation purge. :-/

Other options for the future: Olga likes pennies, and you can follow the lead of Stella Parks at Serious Eats who blind bakes with granulated sugar. Then you get toasted sugar, which is great for baking.

Here in Albany NY I found Libby's and also the Hannaford store brand. But I actually prefer the One-Pie brand and they didn't have any of that. I hope canned pumpkin doesn't completely disappear because it keeps my dog from being constipated!

When I was in college and couldn't go home for Thanksgiving, my Mom would freeze leftovers from Thanksgiving and serve them one night when I was home for Christmas.

I'm the person who always travels to family for T-day so this year it's just going to be me. Turkey is fine but I'm not a super fan so I'm just going to make all the family sides. Corn casserole for 1?

Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen ran a piece this summer on their cooks' favorite kitchen shoes. Dansko, Birkenstock, and Sanita were among those the cooks ranked highly. (There were several others; those are brands that remain in my memory of the article, for other reasons.) The consensus seemed to be that they are durable and provide significant relief to the back and legs if you are cooking for long periods of time, and are therefore worth the cost over time. I believe the full article is behind the ATK paywall, so you will need to determine how you want to get to it if you'd like more details.

One word: Crocs. I was once a hater, but am now a convert. No wonder they are a favorite among chefs, nurses, and other professionals who spend a lot of time on their feet.

Your Mango Tomatillo Salsa is fantastic and a kid would probably love it.

It's pretty, too.

Crocs, ugly but comfortable for standing.

Last fall I got garlic (a lot) and cherry tomatoes (a lot) from a friend right before the first frost. I oven roasted batches of each and packed them in small jars with olive oil in my fridge. I used both for buschetta for holiday parties back then (that now are no longer happening). I just found a jar of each and have taste tested both, didn't get sick and actually found the flavors to still be great. Do you have any suggestions for ways to use oven roasted garlic and oven roasted tomatoes besides toppings for appetizers?

Look with the term "roasted garlic" in our Recipe Finder. Some of those recipes might work. How about a vinaigrette: Honeyed Carrot Salad With Squash and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette?
Here's a great soup and other ideas in this article: Why you should roast a head of garlic virtually every time you turn on the oven

For the roasted tomatoes, maybe try a riff on this idea: This bowlful of yogurt with roasted cherry tomatoes tastes like a luscious indulgence Try them with sandwiches, or on toasts with avocado and humms?

I love my LLBean clogs. Easy to put on, a softer sole (so not as loud on the hardwood), and the arch is in just the right place. Plus, mine are lined and nice and warm.

Rose Levey Berenbaum uses rice, then makes pilaf with the toasted rice.

Love the toasted sugar, toasted rice tips. Thanks.

Honestly, my fleece-lined Crocs are the best thing I've found to wear when on my feet at home. I also have high arches and need support.

Where can I find a good quality aged balsamic locally without breaking the bank? I'm talking about one with a syrupy consistency and suitable for drizzling over cheese or fruit.

Balsamic vinegar gets syrupy as it ages, which is why generally syrupy balsamic costs more--you're paying for the company to make the vinegar AND to age the vinegar. If you want syrupy balsamic without the higher price tag, you can simmer regular, unaged balsamic for about 30 minutes  uncovered on low heat, util it becomes syrupy.

And how are Crocs for width? I need a very wide toe box.

We ended up with a GIANT butternut squash from a farm box. He eats it, but it's huge. I hate it. Can I roast it and save it to replace pumpkin in all the pumpkin recipes, or is it too squashy for that?

You can roast it and save it to replace pumpkin in all the pumpkin recipes! Roast it until it's soft, sprinkled with a bit of salt to draw out any excess moisture, and then puree it well.

Check out Orthofeet. I only have their slippers but they're incredible. The person who turned me onto them wears only their shoes.

Seems like the "tenderness" is less of an issue because there isn't any risk of gluten forming. Just for reference I am talking about the almond cookies that Brother Andrew made during the DC Interfaith Unity "Walk" a few weeks ago. Recipe is here:

Well, partially. Tenderness is also a function of a few other things happening that don't involve just gluten -- moisture (sugar helps baked goods retain it) and the bonding of proteins in something like eggs (sugar helps it happen at a higher temperature).

I could make pumpkin pie out of butternut squash, then, right?

Looks like a butternut, but I'm not sure if it tastes the same, or has the texture you want. If you give it a go, let us know how it turns out. 

Agree with Kari. It should work. If you spice it the same way, it likely will be delicious, but it won't be exactly the same.

Something that continually flummoxes me is choosing the right “large” bowl for raising yeast dough. I have two 4 qt Pyrex bowls. One is my mom’s 1950s standard mixing bowl (If you know the primary colors set, the yellow one). The other is more like a gargantuan glass salad bowl — a wide, more flared shape. I used the latter to make a loaf the other day and I’m wondering whether it would have risen even better had I used the regular mixing bowl. While I’ve never had trouble eyeballing things like which container for whatever amount of, say, leftovers, bread dough really confounds me. Can you offer some guidance?

Those bowls both sound great. The shape of the bowl matters less than its overall volume, but it sounds like the amount of dough you're making isn't overtaking the bowl, or overflowing out of it once risen. One reason I like using taller bowls verses squatter ones is that it's easier to tell, by eyeballing or using a piece of tape to mark the side of the bowl, how much the dough has risen. Hope this helps!

I had to laugh on reading that the Irish Supreme Court ruled that Subway's sandwich holders are not "bread" by Ireland's standard because it contains five times the allowable amount and so therefore is a pastry (and subject to higher taxes). I've been complaining about too-sweet bread for years now.

I bought a variety of red apples at a farm stand (6-8 pounds in total) and the several kinds I've tried are really mealy and unsuitable as snacks. Assuming the unbitten ones also are mealy - maybe because of the rains, but whatever - is there an easy apple crisp or apple brown betty recipe you recommend? Best is one that can be eaten over the course of several days. Or is applesauce the best option? Not big on stewed fruit ... I appreciate it!

Apple crisp is a great option! We have lots of crisp recipes in our archives, but this is a good straightforward option. (Omit the cranberries if you don't have them.) Here's a good, extra crunchy option, too: Granola Apple Crisp

Rather than trying to cut up a raw pumpkin, I put the whole thing on a pan and roast it at 350 till it's soft. Then it's easy to scoop out the seeds and gunk and then the stuff you want.

I got these from the farmer's market... apparently they are like a cross between spinach and bok choy. Any tips on dishes to cook them in or ways to season? I was thinking of making them as a side for the Walnut Tacos.

You can treat them as you would spinach or bok choy! Sautee, wilt into soups, etc.

Found them mentioned in this article: These Asian veggies might be better for our volatile growing season than European staples:

"Tatsoi grows as rosettes with spoon-shaped leaves on upright stalks. When small, the leaves can be used in salad mixes. Larger plants can be stir-fried."


I just wanted to thank Olga for the great information and recipe on pot roast she posted on sept 9. I made it and it was great. So much better than the tough versions I have made in the past.

Olga isn't on the chat today, but I'll share your note with her. If anyone wants that recipe, here you go: A little wine and time make this pot roast tender and flavorful.

I roasted a 3 lb. chicken last night. What would be the best way to freeze half of it? There is gravy. My cake solution for solos: Cupcakes and Muffins! They freeze well without frosting. I reheat them in a toaster oven.

Regarding your 3 lb. chicken: I would pull half the meat off the bones, break it into pieces -- which could be tossed into soup -- and freeze the bones separately, to use for stock.

Love the cupcake and muffin idea! 

Lucky you for finding this. I've only come across it once and it was good.

What did you do with it? Tell us about it, please.

Due to high blood pressure, it became necessary several years ago to reduce our salt intake. (Have discussed the topic before on this chat, with Tim Carman). After researching the sodium content of many commercially prepared foods, we decided that besides consuming less prepared food (DUH!), and to bake our own bread using about half the salt the recipe calls for (as well as some that call for none). Good news is that, combined with other measures, our blood pressure readings dropped into the healthy range (so no more meds needed!). But I worry that we're still missing out on some flavor. Is it worth upping the salt to what an original recipe calls for?

I mean, it depends! If you're happy with what you're making, then I don't think there's a huge impetus to change. That being said, a side-by-side comparison, or just trying at some point with the full amount, could be interesting so you can decide if you are in fact noticing a difference.

You make another great point I've said at other times. Home-cooked food is not necessarily the problem when it comes to salt, or sugar for that matter. The real issue is that both of those things show up in processed foods in amounts higher than if we were to make them at home, and also in types of foods people might not even realize.

After pureeing it, strain it through a coffee filter to get rid of the excess moisture. Then it will be more like what you get from a can.

I clicked on the link Becky included about King Arthur's bread ingredient percentages, and I learned the word "poolish"!

You made me look it up. Now, I know a new word, too. 

Yup, there are a bunch of different words for preferments in bread baking, where you mix a portion of the flour and water first or build a levain using sourdough starter.

Leftover pulled pork mixed with shredded cheese and salsa makes an excellent filling for chilis rellenos or enchiladas. Also a great topping for baked potatoes, no need for salsa there. Just heat it up and put it on baked potatoes. Add cheese, BBQ sauce, salsa, sour cream, whatever you want.

It's been so long, I can't remember how I cooked it, but probably sautéed.

I bought the last of the fresh string beans at a farmers market and let them sit for a day unrefrigerated. They still feel pretty crisp but they have brown blotches. Do you think they are okay to eat?

I would! As long as they aren't really mushy, moldy or smelling weird. Just roast them at a nice high temp or sear in a skillet and you'll never know.

Turkey Roulade take a Turkey breast and cut it off the bones, lay it out flat skin side down place plastic wrap over it and pound it out to a uniform thickness. Salt and pepper and poultry seasoning then stuff with the dressing of choice. Roll it up, bind it with kitchen string and bake. Delicious and I think a lot of fun to do. For desert make a "Gimme both pie" which is a layer of Pumpkin pie on the bottom and a layer of Pecan pie over the pumpkin.

Sounds delicious. Here's another recipe that y'all might like:  Turkey Breast Stuffed With Pears, Fennel and Hazelnuts.

What is "cajeta" referenced by Patti Jinich in the Tres Leches recipe? Lately I have noticed a number of unfamiliar ingredients mentioned in WaPo Food. I am a fairly knowledgeable cook with a well stocked pantry and in "normal" times often shopped at my local international grocer, but I am often at a loss when an article references something new. I'm sure others would appreciate a brief explanation.

Cajeta is goat's milk caramel. So good! And thanks for reminding us to not assume everyone knows every ingredient. It's hard to know for sure what has worked its way into the lexicon/common knowledge and what hasn't, but we'll be sure to think about it.

Cake for one? Cupcakes! They freeze very well unfrosted. I reheat them at 350F in a toaster oven. Freezing chicken leftovers - with or without gravy?

Without gravy! Reheat gravy separately.

Hi, am I missing something or is there no way to search the Voraciously recipes, other than the WaPo search function which is not helpful? Thanks

You can find recipes in our Recipe Finder. Bookmark this link:  Hope that helps.

Several years ago we hosted a girls basketball team from Australia that were touring high schools in our area. As the team moved around, host families would have several girls for overnight stays. We hosted three young ladies toward the end of their tour. They were sooo tired of our overly sweet American food. They told us "Even your bread is sweet!"

I remember coming back from a study abroad and being shocked by how sugary regular grocery store bread was! 

My kitchen floor is concrete, 50s vinyl, and stick-on vinyl tiles, and it feels like it! When I can remodel, I’ll do cork or Forbo. Comfort mats have come a long way — though I wish Chilewich would make one! Their woven mats catch too much crumbs for kitchen use. When I started teleworking full time, I bought some Dansko clogs for only indoor (standing desk) work use since I don’t wear shoes that have been outside in my home, so don’t cheap out — get something truly well made for your feet. They deserve it!

We have preemptive leftovers! Extra apples go into a crisp or just get baked in a dish, potatoes that don't fit into the proposed serving dish get eaten, same with salads if we appear to have too many!

Love this, too. If you have the bandwidth to keep cooking, it's a great idea. Becky shared some tasty apple recipes here: 8 sweet and savory apple recipes that will have you feeling fall.

Previous chatter asked about salt in muffins and quick breads, which don't use yeast. Some years ago, I had a bread machine, and we had a family member who was on a NO salt diet. I omitted the salt from the bread recipe, and the loaf in the bread machine rose too much and then collapsed. So I learned that salt is important in yeast bread recipes.

Yup, I just also wanted to mention bread, too, since it's baking! But gluten formation is still important in non-yeast baked goods. And, yes, you definitely learned from experience! Sounds like it overproofed since nothing slowed down the yeast.

One of the nicest Thanksgiving dinners I had was one with just 3 of us. Instead of turkey we went with Cornish game hens, one for each. Dressing was seasoned bread cubes and mandarin oranges. Beginning around noon, we spent the day in the kitchen. Starting with making pie. Mimosas were involved. I have repeated this several times since when I didn’t make it home to family and it always works well.

These would make a pretty centerpiece as well: Cornish Hens a l’Orange.

Thanks for chatting with us today. We talked about Thanksgiving a lot and imagine that we'll continue to do through the big holiday.

Sounds like most folks are planning for scaled-down versions of the holiday meal. We're keeping that in mind as we plan our recipes and coverage.

As you know, we pick a favorite comment each week and offer that person a free 30-day subscription to The Washington Post.

This week, the prize goes to "Upcoming holidays Thanksgiving," who I mentioned in the intro to our weekly chat. Please send your email to She will tell you how to retrieve your prize. (If you already subscribe, the 30-day subscription can be given away to friends or family.)

Have a peaceful afternoon. See you next week.

In This Chat
Ann Maloney
Ann Maloney is the Food team recipes editor.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a staff reporter for Food and writes a weekly column on casual dining.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer at the Post.
Kari Sonde
Kari Sonde is the Food editorial aide.
Mary Beth Albright
Mary Beth Albright is the Host and Editor of Food Video at The Washington Post.
Daniela Galarza
Daniela is a Food staff writer.
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