Food authors and Washington Post food writers recently answered readers’ question.
Q: What would you make that features fresh broccoli that takes 10 minutes or less? I seem to have an abundance of it, and I’ve been steaming it, and eating it, and liking it . . . and now getting bored with it. I’ve got about zero time for cooking during the week, so if I do something different with it, it has to be fast and easy.
A: I’m going to take some liberties with your question. As soon as you are in the door, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Then, take off your coat and look through the mail. Next, carve the broccoli into pieces about the size of a large walnut. Scatter it on a baking sheet, splash olive oil here and there and use your hands to toss the broccoli to make sure it all has some oil on it. Sprinkle salt over it and put the pan in the oven. That should take you less than 10 minutes. Roast it for 20 to 25 minutes, until it’s browning on the edges. Grind black pepper over it, then grate some Parmesan cheese on it if you want. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon juice.
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Q: Any tips for getting turmeric stains off my (plastic) immersion blender? Not the biggest problem but would be nice to resolve.
A: Try soaking the blade end in lemon juice. (Unplugged, naturally.) That might bleach it out or at least remove any residual eau de turmeric.
Q: When you’re told to score meat in diamond shapes and push a marinade or rub into the slits, how close together should the slits be, and how deep? I tried to re-create a favorite childhood restaurant dish, London Broil, and it didn’t turn out well at all. Most of the recipes I found online said it needed to be marinated, and some said that it’s the marinade that makes it London Broil. Most of the marinade recipes were similar. I chose one and followed it exactly, scoring the meat on both sides as directed. The result was extremely disappointing as it tasted more of marinade than steak. I’m wondering if I should have marinated it at all, and if I cut too deep into the meat and put the slashes too close together. Can you give me some pointers?
A: Chef and butcher Nathan Anda says London Broil can vary depending on the butcher, but it’s typically a lean cut. That means it has no fat, and therefore has a beefy, but not rich and buttery, flavor profile. This is why you marinade the meat: to tenderize it and add some flavor.
Anda says he’s not a fan of scoring. Because a London Broil is typically about 1 1/2 inches thick, scoring can lead to over-marination. Anda scores a cut of meat only if it has a thick fat cap and he wants to render some of it.
Bottom line: Try the recipe again, but don’t score the meat.
Q: I have way more garlic than I know what to do with (and I use a lot of garlic). I was thinking of roasting it. What’s the best way to store it?
A: I run into this problem when I pull garlic from my garden in the fall. I usually roast a whole bunch of full heads at once (which means my whole neighborhood likely smells like garlic). Then, I squeeze the soft cloves into my blender with a hearty pour of olive oil. When I have a slightly fluid puree, I pour the roasted garlic mixture into silicone ice cube molds. Once solid, I pop the garlic cubes out and freeze them in a resealable plastic bag.
Laura Wright, blogger and cookbook author
Q: I would love to use dried beans in my cooking, but I find the hard water in our area makes it nearly impossible to achieve the right texture. Apart from using bottled water or adding baking soda, do you have any suggestions?
A: I don’t have hard water in my area, but I always cook my dried beans with a piece of kombu seaweed, which can be found in health-food stores. The amino acids in kombu help to soften beans (and make them more digestible). I usually add a four-inch piece to the pot and it disintegrates by the time the beans are done. And it doesn’t really impart any sort of flavor.
These questions were to Post baking columnist Dorie Greenspan:
Q. I love quiche, but there are only two of us here, so we can’t finish a quiche in a meal. What’s the best way to keep it without it getting all soggy? Thanks!
A: It’s really hard to keep a quiche for a while - custard + crust over time = soggy. However, if you keep the quiche in the refrigerator, it will hold for about two days, hopefully long enough for the two of you to enjoy it as a dinner, a lunch, a brunch and/or a great nibble with white wine.
Q: Do you use a gas or electric oven when baking? Have you tried both? And if you have, is there any difference to the finished products (baked goods or pastries)?
A: I have both gas and electric ovens - each has a convection option, but I don’t use it - and I haven’t found major differences between the two. However, electric ovens are sealed tighter than gas ovens and so I find that, depending on what I’m baking, moisture builds up. I’ll open the door of the electric oven during baking if I don’t want all that moisture. (I’ll also stand away from the oven when I do!)
Q: Do you ever get discouraged when you have a major baking fail? Or do you ever have them at all? I can’t seem to master macarons and occasionally I just mess stuff up. Is failing just part of the learning process?
A: Yes, failing is part of the learning process. In everything, probably.
And yes, I have fails and macarons were one of them. The first macarons I ever made, I made from a recipe from Pierre Hermé, Paris’s leading pastry chef. We were writing a book together and it was my job to make sure the recipe worked for ordinary mortals. I stopped counting how many times I made the recipe after my 11th try! I did finally get it.
Tell me if you think I’m wrong, but somehow baking fails never seem as bad as cooking fails because, unless you burn the stuff, everything you bake tastes pretty good even when it’s not right. Oh, except the whipped cream I made yesterday - I never should have put the jar of salt so close to the jar of sugar!
Q: For years I have thought when you are making cookies, you need to get your butter to room temperature so that it creams nicely with sugar. But lately I’ve seen some cookie recipes, including a good chocolate chip cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour, that do not call for using softened butter. Could I have been skipping this step all along? Can you skip it for some types of cookies but not others?
A: It’s more important to have soft butter for cakes than for cookies. With cakes, you want to be able to really get the sugar into the butter and to beat air into the mixture. You don’t want air in your cookies and so you can start with cooler, but not cold butter.
In general, I think people start baking with butter that’s too warm and too soft for anything. Room temperature butter is about texture as much as temperature. You don’t want the butter to be oily; press it and you should leave a thumprint - your thumb shouldn’t hit the counter.