Food writers recently joined the Washington Post Food staff to answer questions from readers.
Q: We love olives. They are used to flavor many meals. Yesterday when using the last of the olives, I looked at the leftover brine and thought I should not be tossing this. What can I do with leftover olive brine?
A: I’d use it in a vinaigrette (instead of or replacing part of the usual vinegar), or you could add it to a marinade for chicken thighs or pork chops. Or add to cocktails — thinking bloody Mary or something tomato-y would be nice!
Q: I’m planning to make three types of cupcakes, several dozen total, for a lunch on Saturday. How early can I make them without compromising the taste or texture? Can I start on Thursday, or should I just bake them on Friday, cover the cakes, and make the frosting the day of? I’m making cream cheese- and buttercream-based frostings. I’ve been told buttercream does not hold up as well as cream cheese or other frostings.
A: You can probably get away with making them as early as Thursday, although I’d wait until Friday. Buttercream will hold up great in the refrigerator, so you can actually assemble everything in advance if you can refrigerate them, covered, or you can also make the buttercream, refrigerate it and then let it come up to room temperature on Saturday morning, then frost the cupcakes.
Kristen Hartke, food writer
Q: If a recipe calls for watermelon juice does that mean watermelon puree? If not, how do you juice a watermelon? Am I missing something obvious?
A: I think there may be a few specialty stores that have watermelon juice, but juicing a watermelon is pretty easy, even without a juicer. I have a juicer, but I don’t use it often. With something like watermelon, what I usually do is put pieces of the fruit in a blender, blend it to a thick puree and then strain it. If you don’t mind a little texture, a mesh strainer will do fine - hold it over a large bowl, pour the blended watermelon in, and let the juice drain. Gently shake the strainer until you see the solids are drier. If you want an even purer, thinner juice, line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth, and then do the same process, but at the end, gather the cloth up around the blended fruit and gently squeeze out any remaining juice.
M. Carrie Allan
Q: I’m making a lamb roast and the recipe says to cut slits in the roast and poke in some rosemary and garlic slivers. I’m allergic to rosemary. What herb would you recommend instead? I’ve just left it out and have been happy with the result, but it might be nice to have some herb element.
A: Thyme, marjoram or oregano would work nicely with lamb, though they might not be quite as easy to manipulate as those firm rosemary leaves. The dried spice za’atar would be terrific, too.
Bonnie S. Benwick
Q: My marbled pound cake recipe calls for putting half the batter in a loaf pan, then adding chocolate to the remaining batter and putting it on top. Then, using a knife, cut down and sweep through to produce the swirl pattern. When I tried that, the baked loaf did not come out as a nice swirl. What is a better way to produce a two-toned swirl?
A: I make my marbled cakes differently: I spoon dollops of the vanilla and chocolate batters into the pan randomly. There are no layers — just an odd bunch of polka dots. If there's white batter, I spoon dark batter over it when filling the pan (I never have a solid layer of one color batter). I then use a chopstick or a table knife to swirl the two batters. The trick to a pretty marbled cake is restraint. It's so tempting to swirl and run your knife back and forth through the batter — resist! You want to mix things up, but you don't want to overdo it.
Dorie Greenspan, columnist