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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/29/2010

Chat Leftovers: Your turn

By Jane Touzalin

Greetings, all, and welcome to the final Chat Leftovers of 2010. Should auld acquaintance be forgot -- well, that just wouldn't do. So make sure your list of New Year's resolutions includes weekly visits here, followed at noon by the Free Range chat.

All that, of course, after you've consumed hearty helpings of the Wednesday Food section. Today, for instance, David Hagedorn gives us terrific updated casseroles, and the Cooking for One column features comforting soups that can easily be made by a cook who's feeling under the weather. Heard of kombucha? We tell you all about this tea-based drink, why it's popular and how you can make it.

Normally at this point I'd answer a leftover question from the previous week's chat. But the fact is, not all leftovers are questions; some of them are tips or stories or recipes from you, the chatters. So I decided to close out the year with a sampling of those. Here we go:

Whenever I need a good appetizer that travels, I make nut-stuffed dates. I just put an almond or a cashew in a date, and when I arrive, sprinkle on some coarse sea salt, plate and pass! Easy-peasy, and tasty, too.

For the chatter who complained about making bland bread, try some of these: 1. Use a tastier olive oil, maybe even a flavored one. 2. Add your favorite herb, or a few, Not just rosemary but other savory herbs. 3. Try a touch of whole-wheat or semolina flour, maybe 1/4 cup, substituting 1 for 1 with the other flour. 4. And add at least 1 teaspoon of salt. If the bread doesn’t rise enough in consequence, add a bit of yeast.

When you buy a crate of tangerines, make candied tangerine peels.

A little more sophisticated than the regular potato salad: French potato salad, made by layering thin slices of boiled potato (slightly underdone, so they don’t disintegrate) in a shallow serving dish -- I use a pasta platter -- then dressing each layer with 3:1 oil:vinegar, a little chopped fresh garlic, handfuls of chopped fresh flat Italian parsley, salt and pepper to taste. DO NOT TOSS, however!

I read somewhere that if you add a tablespoon of lemon juice to your cookie dough, it will help the cookies stay softer.

I have Mario Batali’s grill cookbook, and he recommends using a piastra (a thin piece of granite) for grilling scallops. We tried using a slab of granite (1 inch thick) left over from a counter. It cracked, but the scallops were fabulous. His trick was to make tiny crisscross slices on one side of the scallop, which helped them brown beautifully.

Someone asked: How to tell when bread is done? Temperature and hollowness are guidelines only, though above 220 your bread is most likely burned on the bottom. There’s no substitute for experience, unfortunately. I check the temperature reading against the appearance of the loaf, but for new recipes I just hope for the best based on temperature.

By far the best and most-loved-by-other-people fudge recipe I have ever made has been from the back of the Marshmallow Fluff jar.

I learned something interesting recently. I thought my new oven was not heating propertly and called the repairman. He explained that on almost all new ovens, the beepers, lights, etc., that indicate that the oven is fully preheated come on way too early because the internal thermometer is measuring the temp at the back, rather than the center, of the oven. He said that to heat an oven to the temp you want, you really need to preheat it for at least half an hour.

To keep my pizza from sticking to the peel, I often use a trick I learned watching a guy in a pizza joint on the Wildwood, N.J., boardwalk: Just before sliding the pizza off the peel, lift an edge a bit and blow under the crust! The crust will ripple up away from the surface of the peel. I don’t know if this would help with a really wet dough, but it’s worth a try.

Basil fills in nicely instead of lettuce for lots of sandwiches (chicken, roast beef, even tuna salad or egg salad).

This is a friendly reminder to everyone to take a look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Recommendations before going shopping for seafood. It’s the best way to find fish without contaminants and fish that aren’t being farmed in a way that is unhealthy.

I discovered wheat berries when I bought a salad that had wheat berries, orzo pasta, corn, black beans, red bell pepper and green onions. I found dried wheat berries at Giant Food, and I’m creating my own salads. I’ve been mixing them with chickpeas and chopped olives, plus corn, peas or lima beans (but no pasta). Now I’m experimenting with sauces: Teriyaki sauce was good, Italian dressing was great. It’s a great change from the rice and veggies that I was packing for lunch every day. The wheat berries take at least an hour to cook, but you can make a big batch and freeze some of it. They are chewy with a nutty flavor.

To help get rid of odds and ends in your pantry, Allrecipes.com has a fantastic ingredient search. You might not be able to use all of your ingredients in one recipe, but you can specify, say, five ingredients, and the search will pull up all recipes that use those ingredients. I use it all the time.

I stir a tablespoon of homemade apple butter into my oatmeal. YUM.

I cook red bell peppers on an electric George Foreman grill and they're great, like fire-roasted. Just slice and lay on the grill, no oil needed.

Friends bought us an ebelskiver pan that makes puffy round pancakes. The batter has more of a cake texture but makes a very nice pancake that you can fill with pretty much anything you like. My kids now drive me crazy to make these every weekend. So after the 50th time of "make them, please," I made a batch, but in one out of every six I put pickles, leftover salmon, etc. So it was an ebleskiver minefield! Great fun!

By Jane Touzalin  | December 29, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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