Freelance writer Rebekah Denn and cookbook author Cathy Barrow recently joined The Washington Post Food staff to answer questions about all things edible. The following are edited excerpts. Recipes whose names are capitalized can be found in the Recipe Finder at washingtonpost.com/recipes.
Q: I was a little slow to catch the whole grain train. Since switching to whole wheat (particularly bread), the more I read, I find marketing is the biggest challenge to choosing a low-carb whole wheat bread. I read that multi-grain doesn’t mean as much as whole wheat, and some whole wheat breads aren’t getting you the healthiest whole grain. Given my conundrum, I thought about baking whole wheat. When I looked for whole wheat flour, I got just as confused as when I looked for whole wheat bread. What should I look for in whole wheat flour (or brands) to get the benefits I’m looking for, without being tricked by marketing?
A: Labels can be confusing here, as with most products marketed as “healthful.” I usually find the Whole Grains Council’s materials are a useful reference – its guide to labels is online. For baking, it’s usually safe to substitute about half of the all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour, but if you want to go 100 percent whole-wheat, King Arthur Flour has some good guidelines on that. Rebekah Denn
Q: I put a teaspoon of citric acid into my whole canned tomatoes rather than the 1/2 teaspoon called for. Will this be a problem? Second, I’ve been having problems with siphoning of my quart jars (whole tomatoes and home-fermented sauerkraut). I’m thinking I’m not leaving them in the canner long enough after turning off the heat before removing - I’ve been doing 10 minutes. Should it be longer?
A: Too much citric acid will not harm your canned tomatoes (too little might), so no worrying.
Siphoning is another thing altogether. There are several causes, but most commonly air pockets are the culprit, bubbles in between the tomatoes, that burble up as the contents reach 220 degrees. The lid lifts and contents siphon. Use a chopstick or a flat plastic knife - metal might ding the glass jar - and stir and press down on the contents to reduce the possibility of siphoning. Do this while filling the jars, first when half full, then when all the way full. Whole tomatoes are always prone to siphoning. Be sure to clean the rim of the jar before placing the lid, and let quart jars, particularly, cool in the canner for about 10 minutes or so. Cathy Barrow
Q: My son is starting his senior year of high school and wants to pursue a career as a chef. He went to a technology high school last year for culinary arts, worked this summer in a country club kitchen, and will do an internship at the country club this upcoming school year along with finishing his required classes so he can graduate. My question – should he go to a culinary college or should he pursue his career by working his way up? We are in the Washington area, which is rich with amazing chefs and restaurants. The advice he’s received thus far reflects who he’s talking to – the teacher who went to CIA said college is essential while the chef he’s working for (who didn’t go to college) said it’s not needed. So, given his experience thus far, if it was your child/niece/nephew/young adult friend, what would you advise?
A: This is a particularly thorny issue in the hospitality industry.
Without question, a degree from a school like the Culinary Institute of America will ground a student in the fundamentals to prepare her for a career in the kitchen (or the front of the house). But it will also, quite likely, burden the student with a large amount of debt. This debt could potentially keep a chef locked in, say, a corporate cooking job that she loathes, just to pay off the loans. Or, worse, the chef will earn mid-grade wages as a sous in some kitchen and devote too much of her paycheck to the student loan. Or, even worse yet, the chef may decide she hates the industry and wants to move into a different profession altogether. Those student loans still have to be paid.
If the child were mine? I’d recommend that the budding chef go to work in professional kitchens, lots of them, starting from the lowliest position and working his way up. Build knowledge and experience over a few years then decide for himself if the industry is for him. With a few years in the business, the budding chef will see the options more clearly: He will decide whether cooking school would hone and elevate his skills to the level he wants. Or he could decide to use his experience to work in better, more refined restaurants and accumulate knowledge that way.
Bottom line: Get that wannabe chef into more and more kitchens and start building experience. Tim Carman
Q: I switched up my cherry tomato variety that I’m growing this year, and for the first time am getting a large crop. It’s more than my family can use but not enough to where I can make sauce, diced tomatoes, etc. and can them before they go bad. I’ve been freezing the surplus with hopes of having enough to can sauce, etc. in fall. Will this actually work? Do you have any other ideas of how to store and use them in the future?
A: If you’ve got a tray’s worth, I’m a huge fan of oven-drying cherry tomatoes and then freezing them for later use. They taste even better that way, if that’s even possible. Denn
Q: I picked up a pack of fresh figs this weekend. Any ideas for recipes.
A: You have so many options! How about Fig Baklava Tartlets, Grilled Figs Packet, Green Beans With Figs and Walnuts or Charred Fig and Spinach Salad With Lemon Tofu Feta? Kara Elder