Free Range on Food: Cooking with onions, fresh olive oil and more.

Feb 15, 2017

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat. Hope you're enjoying this week's food stories, including Tim's take on a joint project to raise prized Iberico pigs in the US; Emily Horton's ode to winter cooking with onions; Nancy Harmon Jenkins' lovely tale of pressing her own olive oil in Tuscany (and tips on how to find/buy the best here); Maura's look at restaurant receipts as the new place for political expression; and more.

We have special guests today: The aforementioned Ms. Jenkins, who has written extensively on olive oil and Mediterranean cooking generally; and Ms. Horton, who pens occasional seasonal-cooking paeans right here in WaPoFood. So now's the time to dig deep and ask the big culinary questions that have always nagged at you.

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR2275 . Remember, you'll record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

We'll also have giveaway books for our favorite chatters today: "The Yoga Kitchen" by Kimberly Parsons, source of this week's Weeknight Veg recipe; "The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook" from America's Test Kitchen; and -- best of all -- a copy of Nancy's own "Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil." (We might even be able to get it signed...)

Let's do this!

The olive oil article... I love and hate you for this. I went to Italy for the first time nearly two years ago and had the best three weeks of my life. My husband and I felt like we were home, despite neither of us having Italian ancestry. This article made me homesick for a place I've never lived. I miss the olive trees--the way they looked and smelled, the way they, you know, produce my favorite food. Sigh. Great article, really. Olive-d it.

Thank you so much! I too get homesick for Italy, especially right now when my Maine kitchen windows look out on about 3 feet of snow. Why not put a trip to Italy during olive harvest (October till early December) at the top of your bucket list?

ARTICLE: Freshly pressed olive oil is magical. I know because I make it every year.

I've also been waiting since December for my new blade. The kicker was the email I received with a cookbook "exclusively for those customers affected by the recall" that they sent to show their appreciation for my patience. It turns out that the cookbook is actually exclusively for those who own all of their other small appliances, as the directions are written using specific settings on or their products. In addition, I've started getting advertising emails from them, and I can't wait to see who they sell my email address to--such an unwanted "bonus" when all I want is my replacement blade!

Sorry it's taken you awhile. I was also rather taken aback when I started getting marketing emails from Cuisinart after signing up for my replacement blade. Really rubbed me the wrong way.

I bought a big, beautiful fennel bulb with the intention of having salads with it for dinner this week, but illness and laziness took hold and I haven't touched the thing. And I'm leaving town for a week on Saturday. I assume it wouldn't freeze well raw. Is there anything I can make with it that would freeze well? Or maybe--how long are they good? Any chance it would still be edible when I return?

Why not make a fennel soup? Chop it up and add to some good chicken stock along with, for example, chopped onion, garlic, celery, parsley, and a few other odds and ends. Cook till done (yes!) and then freeze the soup for when you get back from out-of-town.

A firm fennel bulb (no fronds or stems) should last a week to 10 days in the refrigerator. You could cut it into wedges and blanch it quickly in boiling water, drain, cool and freeze; that way, it'd last for about a year.

The next time you buy a fennel bulb (or two), and have time to cook and eat it, you've gotta try this salad.

RECIPE: Roasted Fennel and Lemon Salad With Turmeric Walnuts

and picked up some "odds and ends" bags from the cheese department at Zabars. Now, some of it is quite identifiable as muenster or cheddar. But some of it is a heck of a lot less obvious. I'm perfectly happy just nibbling on it and guessing about what I have, but I'm not averse to using some of it to cook. Is there a recipe that might be a good match for "whatever bits of cheese you have around"? Some of it has a rind, but not that much. And some of it is a crumbly, mild white cheese that is made in about a 3 inch round - I have half of a half inch round of this one. It isn't feta. Not salty enough. Thanks!

I love my daughter (Chef Sara Jenkins)'s recipe for pasta with four (at least) cheeses. It's in her book Olives & Oranges (Houghton Mifflin) but I think it's easy enough to figure out without a recipe. Just grate up all those cheeses that you have, toss them together and toss them on very hot pasta, just drained, with salt, plenty of black pepper, and a dressing of olive oil.

Hi guys, I just wanted to thank you for the menu suggestions in last week's chat that resulted in a great dinner last night. I made Domenica Marchetti's Overnight-Marinated Swordfish Stew which turned out so delicious and moist, and served it with a salad with pear, blue cheese and pecans. Both were big hits with my sweetie and me.

Music to our ears! Domenica's cooked up something even more spectacular for our Mar 1 edition. Be sure to look out for it! 

So tomorrow is our wedding anniversary and I'll be preparing a special-occasion meal. We're having wild mushroom risotto served with olive-oil-poached shrimp and something along the lines of broccoli rabe. I'll pour prosecco for the meal -- since I'll need some of that for the risotto. The first pour might get jazzed up with some St Germain or a splash of gin or chartreuse to make it more apertif-y. Dessert is hopefully chocolate pots de creme with the fallback being a flour-less chocolate cake. What adult bev to serve alongside? Tawny port? Splurge on a Sauternes? I also considered a raspberry lambic. Are any of these going to work? Something else to look into ??

I think port and chocolate are beautiful together. Other possibilities -- espresso with a nip of coffee liqueur? A dark hot chocolate with a bit of green Chartreuse? And with that prosecco at the beginning, maybe look at a splash of Aperol. Seems like a spritz would be a good intro for that risotto!

Which fruits and vegetables are at their peak during this end-of-winter but not-yet-spring season?

Oranges!!! Especially specialty oranges like blood oranges and bitter/sour/Seville oranges, so great for marmalade. Four little jars of bitter orange marmalade sitting on my pantry shelf right now and four more to come today when I get off line.

I second that!
Cathy Barrow gave readers tons of ideas for taking advantage of winter citrus in this piece from about a year ago. Check out the recipes included.

ARTICLE: How to squeeze, spiral and zest every bit of specialty-citrus season

I need a sturdy baking sheet and apparently most of the commercial ones are made of aluminum because of the good heat transfer of this element. But, are there any other alternatives to aluminum? I don’t want to be exposed to leaching of that material and I wonder if covering with parchment will be enough (if I don’t get any other choice)…

Leaching from a baking sheet's a new one on me; I guess if the surface came in direct contact with a lot of acidic foods or was heavily scratched, that'd be possible. A layer of parchment or Silpat should do the trick. 


Here's something on the level of oven heat and the leaching aspect, from TheHealthyHomeEconomist.

Thank you sooo much for respects to Mary Tyler moore last week. She was iconic, and it reminded me of a time when there wasn't so much stigma about cooking veal. I've been strictly vegetarian for 12 years, but I remember learning to make veal scallopine picatta or veal marsala from the TV when I was a kid in the 90s.

You're welcome. To those who missed it, here's a link to that exchange on last week's chat.

Loved the article! I have some relatives in Greece that owns what I called a small olive tree farm. Every year they also make their own olive oil and I always get my bottle when they return to the US. So one question: What will be the best way to carry in your luggage this precious liquid? I’ve been there twice and I’m always scared that the bottles will explode due to the airplane pressure or any other event. Also, what is the ideal way to store fresh olive oil? (Dark place? tin cans? Glass only) Thanks!

Greek olive oil is some of the best, but we don't see a lot of it in our markets, so you're lucky to have access to this. When I bring olive oil back in my luggage, I pack it in either glass bottle or tins, wrap the tins completely in bubble wrap to protect from any leaks, and it's fine. I haven't had any problems with pressure in the baggage hold. Touch wood!

Saw last week ur advice for washing mushrooms that included washing, shocking in cold water, and drying for 24 hours in the fridge. Watching Jacques Pepin on TV for years he always washed mushrooms but, he says ,do it just before using them. He doesn't dry them nor does he shock or store them. His way seems so much easier. He claims that if you do not use them right after washing the water will make them soggy. FWIW he was saying this years ago when, it seemed, every other chef was no to washing them.

The method came from watching chefs do it; admittedly, they're dealing with greater quantities so that works for their purposes. Jacques washes and uses them right away: That's good enough for the lot of us. 

Where can I buy this olive oil from? Can it be ordered? Sounds like wonderful oil.

I'm sorry to tell you that, with a harvest of just 50 liters, we barely have enough to go around in the family. We're not in the business and probably never will be since everyone in the family has other things to do. But come to Tuscany or Umbria during the harvest season and you will find plenty of places to buy freshly made top-quality extra virgin. And if you check out the list of recommended sources that is next to the article, you'll find some good places to get fine olive oil here in this country.

ARTICLE: Where -- and how -- to buy top-quality extra-virgin olive oil

see above

It's just a suggested list of topics based on coverage we've had recently. Hopefully that became clear as soon as you read my opener!

Sorry to hijack your chat, but I joined Tom's too late to ask: Is there a link to all of Tom's postcards from other cities? He gave one in his chat, but the most recent postcard is from 2014. Thanks! (Looking for Galway, Ireland, tips on the off-chance one of you knows of anything...)

Tom stopped doing his Postcards from Tom in 2014, so ... there you go!

You guys are saints for dealing with people like that...


Hi there. We're making burgers for dinner and I'd like to add some mushrooms. Something tells me I should actually cook them somehow before layering them on. But how? Just sauteed in a little butter? Thanks!

I'd slice them then saute over medium-high heat in a little oil or butter (with a pinch of salt) until their liquid cooks off, about 5 or so minutes. You could sprinkle on some smoked paprika or something similar to add a little extra oomph.

Hi guys - I want to make your chocolate rice crispies but I hate marshmallows and the way they make things "gooey". Is there a substitute or even a dry crispie recipe that still includes chocolate? I'm looking for healthy snacks, but I CRAVE chocolate on an hourly basis!! :) Thanks!

So ... Have  you had rice crispies, and do you like them? They get their special texture from those marshmallows, so if you don't like that, I'd probably think about looking for something else -- although Bonnie suggests that you could try just corn syrup to stick them together, the way you would popcorn balls.

RECIPE: Chocolate Rice Crispies

Other ideas? Well, for relatively healthy, there's always ... chocolate grapes!

RECIPE: Chocolate Grapes

I need a new food processor (full size) - what you recommend? Thanks!

I'm very happy with my now 10-year-old Magimix. If I understand correctly, it's sort of a British answer to Cuisinart but available and usable in this country. What I like: in addition to all the other functions, it is superb at julienning vegetables which I consider the most tedious process in the kitchen.

Thank you Emily for not only praising onions, which I love, but also for giving a shout out to the late Richard Olney who is greatly underappreciated. He influenced all the pioneers of California Cuisine and was a great author.

I agree! His writing and recipes do not get enough attention. Glad to hear from a fellow admirer.

ARTICLE: Year-round, we take onions for granted. Winter is the time for them to shine.

How much money should one spend on extra virgin olive oil for every day cooking? Are inexpensive extra virgin olive oils that are not well known any good?

That's such a good question and such a difficult one to answer. For everyday cooking, I tend to buy in large quantities, 3-liter cans for instance. There are some good, reasonably priced Greek oils in this category but if you want to be certain of what you're buying, you can't go wrong with some of the California extra-virgins that are available in quantity containers at reasonable prices. Two that are special favorites of mine are California Olive Ranch, which is widely available, and Séka Hills--which you might have to order directly on line.

What do you think of American olive oil? I believe there is company in Georgia that is producing American grown olives.

Seems like Georgia's a friendly place to farm! I've sampled that olive oil a few times since I first wrote about it, and I think it's what chef Sean Brock uses....I found the fresh stuff on a par with what I've had in Israel and Italy. 


ARTICLE Georgia farmers banking on olive groves

The best American olive oil is produced in California, stands to reason because they've been at it for a very long time. But it was not always in the past very good. Nowadays, with the help of the Olive Center at UCDavis, California is producing some very good oil. See my answer to an earlier question. Other non-Med sources of good oil are Chile and New Zealand, but they are often very hard to find.

Lightly pickled fennel makes a great condiment for sandwiches. i've had that at a restaurant on a roast beef sandwich. Any simple instructions for doing that?


Spiced Pickled Fennel

RECIPE: Spiced Pickled Fennel

Or a lightly pickled salad (would be good on sandwiches -- thinking roast beef -- too):

Orange-Pickled Fennel Salad

RECIPE: Orange-Pickled Fennel Salad

I have recently notice my olive oil gives a little gas burp when I open it. Its got a cork. For my olive oil, or any other, what is the gas that burps and does it mean my oil is going off?

Wow! That's an amazing question. I have not experienced that but I think it is probably a little flush of inert nitrogen that is blipped into the top of the bottle before it is sealed. It's an extra protection of the oil's fresh flavors and aromas. It is completely harmless--it's the same gas that goes into a bag of potato chips to keep them fresh and to keep the bag from crushing. It's used at the olive mill to top up the big containers of oil and more and more bottlers do it as well. (At least, I THINK that's what's making your olive oil burp!)

I know I could treat cornish game hen like roast chicken with just some salt, pepper, and maybe a little olive oil, but BORING! Any tips on spicing it up?

Check out Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin's Dandy Little Hens; lots of flavor and not boring.

Try this Moroccan Marinade, too. You could marinate while the birds are in the freezer, even.

I recently started eating fish again, after being out of the seafood market for several years. Admittedly, I have lost much technique in the realm of cooking fish. I currently buy frozen fillets, out of convenience--but always wild-caught!-- and I am in need of some tips. Is it best to bake a frozen fillet, pan-sear it or broil? What's the best way to marinate frozen fish?

I'm not going to answer this to your satisfaction as I NEVER use frozen fish. And I think you would be astonished at the amount of farmed fish that you may be consuming--a good deal more than half the seafood in American markets is farmed. That said, I would suggest, if you have to use frozen fish, thaw it very slowly, in the refrigerator, and roast it in a very hot oven for a very short time, dressed only with olive oil, a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper. I don't think marinating is called for as the process of freezing and thawing has already broken down the flesh so marinating would tend to make it very mushy.

Another reason why I'd want to be eating at Nancy's house!


 It's best to take the plastic off those vacuum-packed fillets and defrost them on a paper-towel-lined plate in the refrigerator (overnight works fine). This will help ensure crisped skin for a skin-on fillet, fyi.


If the fillet's going to be coated or covered, like in Ellie Krieger's recent artichoke-topped salmon recipe, you can roast from a frozen state. To marinate a defrosted fillet, you'd only need to season with S&P or sprinkle on a few herbs and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil no more than 30 minutes before cooking. 

Last week there was a question on what to make with lentils. There also has been talk about simple recipes. I would like to share a recipe that I got from the "New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook" which I have been making from my student poverty hippie days in the early 70s. The recipe is for 'Sweet and Sour Lentils' It calls for cooking a cup of lentils in two cups of broth along with a bay leaf. It then says to add chopped garlic, 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg and ground cloves. Then add 3 tablespoons of oil, apple cider vinegar, apple cider and either honey molasses or brown sugar and cook until lentils are tender. Over the years I grab cooked or canned lentils and add a 1/4 cup (just easier to measure) of the 4 ingredients. I usually use apple juice rather than cider since it is just easier to find. I have varied the juice, sweeteners and vinegar. I use different spices. It is simple to just heat up the ingredients and have a quick simple meal. I serve it with brown rice and some greens (garlicky greens in the winter salad in the summer) Quick, simple, inexpensive and very tasty.

Love the sound of this! Thanks much.

I recently made mushroom veggie burgers. Essentially cook down mushrooms with onion and garlic. Mix with bread crumbs, oats, and egg. Add spices. They were amazing. Of course, mushrooms are my second fav veg behind asparagus.

They're up there for me, too, and I put them in my own veggie burgers, with chickpeas.

ESSAY: The fun guy in me can't imagine a world without mushrooms.

RECIPE: Mushroom-Chickpea Burgers

I'm going to try making this for the first time. Any tips/favorite recipes?

You could vegan-ize this one by using cooked lentils (brown or green) instead of ground meat, then top with vegan sour cream or shredded cheese:

Cincinnati Chili Over Spaghetti Squash

RECIPE: Cincinnati Chili Over Spaghetti Squash

Hi! I loved the article about olive oil. I just made Dorie Greenspan's olive oil and wine cookies for the first time and in the course of that recipe discovered that olive oils have flavor profiles in the same way wine does. Is there a tried and true method for determining which types are better for certain dishes or is it simply down to palate? (I have to confess that until then I assumed the only differential was virgin, extra virgin etc) Thanks!

Well, you're on the way to becoming a complete oliophile. The first step is that amazing discovery that, yes, they do have very different profiles. Not as complex and subtle as wine perhaps but nonetheless distinctive. But you are on your own in figuring out how to use them. Most connoisseurs would say that a mild, flowery oil is better with fish, a big, robust, rather bitter oil better with red meat. But apart from that it's a matter of personal taste. I like my Tuscan oil with just about ANYthing, including on a baked potato or with my eggs in the morning, but I am a total oliophile.

I really would love to see some of the out-takes--the questions you DON'T post--from these chats. I imagine that the best/worst would come from you guys, Tom, and Cillizza. Maybe Gene too.

You have no idea. We have one particular troll who likes to try to get semi-hidden little nasty references into otherwise-normal-seeming questions. Always throws a little homophobic shade in, too, just for good measure! Fun times.

I got a jar of honey mixed with nuts and fruit at Christmas. I'd like to use it in something baked. I was thinking of mixing it with some cream, and using it to fill cinnamon roll dough, in lieu of the usual cinnamon sugar. Thoughts, suggestions?

I like the cinnamon roll idea, but not sure cream is the thing to mix it with. I'd go with softened butter you can mix with the honey and spread over the dough. (I think usually those fillings are butter and sugar, yeah?) I bet it would also be good on top of a wheel of baked brie encased in puff pastry. Heck, I bet warmed up, that honey would be great drizzled over pancakes or waffles. Or maybe one of these breads.

RECIPE: Rustico Honey Whole-Wheat Bread

Glazed Alsatian Honey Spice Bread Mix

RECIPE: Glazed Alsatian Honey Spice Bread Mix

Make fromage fort.

Got it.

....I can think of nothing finer than Fromage Fort


My husband recently hit the trifecta - diagnosed with high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. We know we need to radically change our diets to get him back to health. Do you have any cookbook recomendations? His GP suggested a more Mediterrean diet but didn't offer much past that. Thanks!

You give me a chance for some unabashed self-promotion. My book, The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, I think will set you on the right path. It was published in 2011 but the information is still very much up-to-date. In fact, all the newest research on the Med diet just confirms what I wrote back then. And fortunately for you and your husband, you are on the way to a delicious life style, a friendly path through the kitchen, and an abundant table. 

I received a once in a lifetime bonus at work. After dutifully putting money in savings, I am contemplating a splurge of buying a once in a lifetime higher end range ($5-8K, which I suppose might not be high end for everyone). How would one go about researching these higher end models? if its a once in a lifetime purchase, I would like it to last quite a while, which I heard is not always the case with the high end brands. My cooking priorities are dual fuel, double oven (if possible), control of the cooktop heat l (so I don't have 15000 BTUs burning everything I try to cook). Thanks!

You need to be looking at Consumer Reports. The company's reviews are the best, especially when it comes to major appliances, IMHO. There's good stuff on their site about pro-level ranges, which brands have better repair records than others, and about how you might want to look at a wall oven/cooktop combo instead of a range.

I'm re-doing, but not changing the footprint of, my tiny galley kitchen. As cooks, have you cooked in small galley kitchens and do you have any recommendations to maximize space and efficiency or things to watch out for? One caveat, there will be no, or very limited, open shelving. I've had it before and things get dusty/dirty on open shelving and it ends up being more work.

Be sure to install cabinets that give you storage all the way to the ceiling, instead of that typical foot or so of wasted space above. You might want to check out Ikea type storage with big wide pullout drawers a la Cathy Barrow's recent pantry escapades. (She has helpful tips for maximizing space, starting with a self-assessment of how  you really work in the kitchen.)


I think using glass fronts on some eye-level cabinets help give  a galley kitchen a more open feel. I also like those models of sinks that are deep and wide and rectangular, that come with a built-in ledge for a sliding cutting board and/or drain board. Also, check out lower cabinet options that include a pullout flat work space -- when you have more than one person cooking, it can be very helpful to have a "collapsible" countertop.

I'm hearing conflicting opinions on whether sautéing with EVOO is actually a waste of the extra money paid for it, as it breaks down with high heat. Others say, go ahead and use it. What is the real deal with cooking with EVOO? THanks!

It is perfectly safe to fry or saute with extra-virgin, despite all the myths to the contrary. In fact, it might be the safest oil for frying. However, a fine extra-virgin can be very expensive. I don't use an estate-bottled oil for frying any more than I use a Ch. Mouton-Rothschild to make boeuf bourguignon. There are, fortunately, plenty of lower priced California extra-virgins that make sense for this. And for deep frying, they can be used a second time if you strain them thoroughly after the first use.

I like to make a mushroom topping for burgers by sauteeing mushrooms in butter or olive oil (without salt) till caramelized. Add salt later enhances the searing process of the musrooms, and there's less risk for oversalted mushrooms at the end since they shrink so much! Into the browned mushrooms, I'll add a minced garlic clove, a spring of thyme if I have it, and salt to taste. After the garlic is fragrant, I'll deglaze with red wine and allow it to evaporate off. I can't believe I'm saying this....but if I had to choose between this and cheese on my burger, I think I'd go with the mushrooms! =)

Any great suggestions for something with blue cheese? Not looking for the typical with buffalo sauce.

I like to think of myself as a decent cook so I feel a bit stupid asking this question. Do you have to remove the casing on sausage? I'm talking about good old fashioned Italian sausage from the grocery store. I've cooked it with it still on, and it was fine for the most part. Removing it is a bit of a chore. Is there a rule about this? The directions on the package never seem to mention it. Same question applies to dried sausage and other similar products. I'd love some guidance from the WP food gurus. Thanks!

Fresh sausage that you cook--no, don't remove the casing. With salami and other types of preserved sausage, the casing is often quite tough, presumably the result of the drying process. If I offer sliced salami with a glass of wine, I don't remove the casing but I expect my guests to do so. It's kind of hard to get down.

You might want to remove the casings when recipes call for a crumbled (fresh) sausage -- in that case, it's not hard to do. I just score the casing lengthwise and it slips right off, generally in 1 piece. For dried sausage, nah.

It's a good question. Personally, I've bitten into sausages whose casings were like rubber balls, and I've bitten into some whose casings were tight and snappy, just as they should be.


I asked Nathan Anda, the owner and chef behind Red Apron Butcher, why there is variation among casings and when you should remove them.


"Natural casings are edible. There's no reason to take them off unless a recipe calls for it," Anda says. You should consider removing the casing, for example, with crumbly sausages, like chorizo, he says.


Natural casings, such as hog casings, will tighten up nicely when cooked. So you might ask your retailer whether the casings are natural or not.


After that, how you cook a sausage affects its edibility. Don't put them on high heat. The fat will start to render out, affecting the tightness and snap of the casing. Anda prefers to par boil his sausages first for about 30 to 45 seconds in simmering water (about 200 degrees), before drying them on papers towels on the counter. He'll then put them on the grill to finish.


Boiling sausages only can affect the casing snap. You need the dry heat of the grill to tighten the skin; boiling the links won't give you that.


As for dried sausages, if the retailer sells it with the casing on, it's edible. But some people may be squeamish about it anyway. If you're one of those, just remove it.


I've heard of organizations that place people on olive farms in Italy to work the season, but am not sure how to find them. Have you heard of this, and if so, can you suggest how to find them? Being in with the process from the beginning would be such an experience!

I'm sorry not to be helpful. I know there are plenty of farms that can use extra help during the harvest but I don't know of any organization that places people. Unfortunately, the Italian government frowns deeply on this activity so it has to be kept under the table. One farm that might suit your needs is Spannocchia in the province of Siena. Or do a Google search of Tuscan (or Umbrian) farm stays and look for one that specializes in olive oil.

Consumer's Report doesnt test the high end. I have had good look with Kitchenaid's top of the line range. However, with computer's and chips evading ranges, dishwashers, fridges etc its usually the the electronics that go. I just replaced my previous commercial grade Kitchenaid range after the electronics started hissing and smoking. I went with Kitchenaid again. I highly recommend Sterling Appliance for sales and service. Best sales and service and highly rated by Washington Consumer's Checkbook. Best prices too.

Thanks for this -- but on Consumer Reports, their "pro-level" ranges are in the price range that the OP mentioned...

they tell you about the equipment you need as well as the ingredients. I grew up in a house where mom hated to cook, so she sure as heck didn't spend much time or money on equipment. But I have no idea if Mediterranean cooking needs any specific equipment (presumably Chinese cooking does if you want authentic results). Is there an equipment section in the ATK book? When I cook what I presume is Mediterranean-ish, I certainly don't have anything in particular that I use for the prep and cooking. Just my normal, thinly equipped, kitchen.

You would probably be astonished at the miserable contents of most Mediterranean kitchens--battered old aluminum pots and blackened fry pans etcetera. As for special equipment, much depends on where you are in the Med. In Spain, for instance, you would want a paella pan, in North Africa perhaps a couscoussiere, in the Middle East as in Provence, certain types of terracotta. But I think your normal, thinly equipped kitchen might be just fine since most of the cooking is not at all elaborate. One tool I find vital, however, and it's not easy to find, is a good heavy terracotta or stone mortar with a wooden pestle. You can cook Med stye without it but it helps with so many things.

My farmer's market has fresh artichokes in and while I love to eat them I've had bad luck in cooking them. Always too tough, although I follow the directions exactly. Any tips on perfectly cooking artichokes?

Are you cooking them (relatively) whole, as in steamed, so you dip the big leaves in something and then scrape off the flesh with your teeth? Or are you talking about the hearts? Or baby artichokes, in which case you can cook more of the stem, too? 
If you mean the hearts or the babies, the key is in the trimming.  You need to trim off all those dark outer leaves, continuing to trim until you get to the soft yellow leaves. With baby artichokes, you can then trim the stems and maybe quarter or halve them -- or even leave them whole, depending on how big they are. With bigger artichokes, you want to trim all the way down to the heart, removing that fuzzy "choke," too.

I thought frozen fish, if wild caught was preferable to "fresh" fish that we buy in the typical grocery store. Also, I think Tamar Haspel wrote awhile back about how some farm-raised fish are not all that evil. Can someone please clarify?

Tamar will be addressing that fresh v frozen topic in her column next week, I believe.


ARTICLES Why farmed salmon is becoming a viable alternative to wild-caught; Tilapia has a terrible reputation. Does it deserve it?

Is it the freshness of the oil, more than the varietal of olive, that makes for great-tasting olive oil?

Yes, basically that's correct. And many oils, Tuscan for instance, are blends of different cultivars. These are what growers call "field blends," simply because they pick what's growing and press it all together. In Tuscany, the typical oil is made from frantoio, leccino, pendolino and moraiolo olives in varying quantities.

I picked one up last week on a whim, because I was surprised to see them at our store. I've read on and off about uses for parmesan rind, but as I never had one I didn't hold on to the information. So, what is your #1 suggestion for a parmesan rind newbie, to make me a parmesan rind convert?

The #1 idea is to put them into soups and stews and broths, where they lend great flavor. The #2 idea, which I'm doing for my WV recipe next week, is to put them into risotto from the outset! (I'm writing about an oven risotto, and the recipe uses Pecorino rind -- and it works well!)

I've been shopping at Oligo2go and have been very happy with the quality of their oil. And they do carry 3 liter tins. Happy to see they were mentioned in the article.


We tend to use a basic olive oil for everyday cooking but when we try different national recipes we try and buy the olive oil from that country - so Spanish for paella, Italian for spaghetti with olive oil and garlic and on. Do you think that the regional oils really make a big difference in the recipes or is it just the quality of the oil?

I don't agree in general. It's a lot of fun to experiment with oils from different regions--Spanish oil can be very fine, as can some of the oils from North Africa. But I'm not sure it truly affects the flavor of a paella if you make it with Greek or Sicilian oil instead of Spanish. If you want to test it side by side, I'd be happy to be your guinea pig.

I'm in the mood for some tabbouleh, but this being February, there aren't good tomatoes for it. I was thinking of using roasted cauliflower instead. Do you think that's a wise choice? I'm also using freekeh instead of bulgur for the base grain.

Sure, that sounds fun! Just use LOTS of parsley, please -- that's what a tabbouleh is really supposed to feature.

I have some VERY thick pork rib chops that I am going to stuff. Can I cook them in the crock pot? I have an older crock pot, so sometimes newer crock pot recipes don't work for me - seems the newer ones run hotter, so times are all messed up.

Hm, I'd go with an oven-cooked pork chop. Here are a few you could try: 

Stuffed Pork Chops

RECIPE: Stuffed Pork Chops

RECIPE: Stuffed Pork Chops With Spinach and Ricotta Cheese and Braised Fennel Sauce

As I'm reading today, I'm savoring my leftover mushroom popover pie, which I got from the last chat. So delicious! Thank you!

My roast potatoes never come out quite right. I quarter them, toss in olive oil and a bit of salt, cook at 400 degrees in an unlined baking pan...and yet some are burnt and others are soft. What could I do better? Is it my oven's fault?

Some tips:

* Depending on the type of potato, you might want to par-cook them before you roast them in the oven.

* Make sure your pieces are all about the same size.

* Be sure to toss the potatoes halfway through the oven time, so different sides come in contact with the heated surface of the pan. And turn that pan from front to back in the oven too, for even cooking.


Your oven might indeed have hotspots, which can account for uneven heating. Do you notice it when you bake? Maybe it's time for a repairman house call. 

Hi, I'm with Olio2go ( we were included in the sources). If that gassy burp happens once, it could be the nitrogen or argon, but the "burping" would only happen once on the first opening. If it is happening after the first opening, I would think the olive might be heading toward rancid.

Thanks for chiming in!

Thanks for the suggestions. Or rather suggestion. Great minds thinking alike and all.

The sausage question reminds me of my sausage question - when cooking breakfast sausage links (frozen, raw, from the farm market) is there a way to get that nice texture that I remember from childhood, like the brown and serve links? Crispy, without the meat getting overdone and bouncy?

You can start them in a pan with a few tablespoons of water, covered, and cook until tender and the water has evaporated. Then uncover and crank up the heat to achieve the crisp exterior.

i always raise and harvest my own freezer beef. I always end up using the steaks and ground beef first and am left with lots of minute steak and roast. I sometimes grind the minute steaks for ground beef and make jerky with the roast. any other ideas to do with these cuts?

I don't understand. Is there a reason why you don't roast the roast?

Do you have any good popcorn recipes? I'm looking for something good to munch on while watching the administration meltdown. I pop my corn on the stove top and like to add stuff like garlic salt, or hot sauce. Any other ideas?

Thank Joe for this great recipe.

Herbed Popcorn

RECIPE: Herbed Popcorn

Try a really fine extra-virgin olive oil instead of melted butter. You will be amazed!

Hi, I go through quite large amounts in my cooking, and the large bottle of Whole Foods store brand is perfectly fine. When you are using a cup to sautee a pile of onions as the base of a stew, it is great, and my food gets compliments, so... Side note, I got this for 5 different people on my Xmas list last year, after buying two for myself (olive oil and canola oil). I cannot praise this gadget enough, and all the recipients concur.

What gadget? I think you forgot the link!

Got it that time. Nice!

Yup - the marketing is really annoying. Don't pretend you're trying to make it up to me - ether give us something or don't. We're not stupid.

It really is nervy.

Our family would get our olive oil straight from my father's olive farm in Palestine, yes Palestine! Dad and Mom would pick and harvest every October and mail the goods via freight mail. It would last us a year including handing out to relatives and friends until the next harvest.

How splendid! Do you still get it? Palestinian oil is very fine and little known here. I wrote a story several years ago for Saveur about a cooperative in Jenin, called Canaan Fair Trade, that exports oil to this country. It is such an ancient activity in those hills--quite thrilling to be there during the harvest.

Thanks to Tim for the article on Iberico pigs - learned a lot, but just made me wanting some of that great ham.

My pleasure.


Those hams in Georgia and Texas won't be ready for a couple/three years, which seems like forever when you're jonesing for Iberico ham.


Fortunately, Fermin USA sells Iberico hams online. Check them out here.

ARTICLE: Can U.S. farms produce pork from a prized Spanish breed? When pigs fly.

I finally received my coated ceramic tagine, after the first use it looked like new. I washed lightly and dried by hand. The next time I used it it oozed through the coating. It did not smell and washed off later. Question, is the coating porous? Will the tagine begin to take on the flavors cooked in it? Emile Henry brand

Gosh, have you contacted the manufacturer or read its Use and Care guidelines? Here's a Chowhound thread on the porous aspects.

I accidentally purchased cooked rather than raw frozen shrimp. Do you have any suggestions for frozen cooked shrimp?

Serve with a homemade sauce of some sort, either to dip the shrimp into or wrapped up in a flatbread (with shredded lettuce or sliced radishes, for example). Thinking something spicy or creamy, such as:

Spicy, Sweet and Sour Pineapple-Jalapeño Relish

RECIPE: Spicy, Sweet and Sour Pineapple-Jalapeño Relish

RECIPE: Ajvar (Spicy Grilled Pepper and Eggplant Spread)

RECIPE: Lemon Aioli

Off topic, but just read the article on Mrs. Wheelbarrow's kitchen move. Thank you for making me feel better about my kitchen.

I'm not sure what that means, but you're welcome!

I grew white, yellow, and red onions last year. Had a bountiful harvest and put them in my cold room for storage. Cold room got warm, I didn't realize it, the onions started to grow. I want to be better prepared for next year. Can I slice them and freeze them?

One educational source suggests washing, peeling and chopping raw, mature onions into 1/2-inch pieces before freezing them in a bag. Says they'll last three to six months that way.


Here are the full instructions.

I confess I haven't had much occasion for preserving a harvest of onions, but good question! I'm thinking that freezing them will disrupt their structure a bit and change the way they brown, so while I think they would be fine for use in stock and soup, I wouldn't rely on them for sauteeing or eating raw.

You can make onion butter with them! Thinly slice, pack into a Dutch oven, and bake at the lowest oven temperature possible for, well, it can take a day! They get really dark and amazing.

That looks like a great recipe, but I won't have time to do that (rehearsals that run late make cooking dinner a time crunch.) Is there a reason NOT to do the chops in the crock pot?

They'll dry out. They don't take to long cooking like that...

Well, you've sprinkled us with sesame seeds, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Nancy and Emily for help with the a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about making vegan Cincinnati chili will get "The Yoga Kitchen." The one who asked about the best equipment for Mediterranean cooking will get "The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook" from America's Test Kitchen. And the one who told Nancy "olive-d" her story -- the first-time traveler to Italy -- will get "Virgin Territory." Just send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!


In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Emily Horton
Emily Horton is a freelance writer based in Seattle.
Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Nancy Harmon Jenkins is the author of many books about Mediterranean cooking, including “Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil.”
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