Free Range on Food: Easy french entertaining, sheet pan suppers, trends that deserve a comeback, this week's recipes and more.

May 15, 2019

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

Greetings, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you're scarfing down what we've been serving up lately, including:

Sandra Gutierrez's lively piece about once-trendy foods that she thinks deserve another shot: crepes, chicken Marbella and seven-layer dip. (She reinvented the latter two -- you must try the results.) Are there any things you would revive?

Ann Mah's look at the apero dinatoire, the dinner-party trend that's become popular in France, formerly the land of the super-formal, long dinner. With recipes!

Amy Ettinger's lovely feature about a stranger who volunteered to play family-recipe source for people who lost everything in the Camp Fire in California.

Priya Krishna on potatoes, potatoes, potatoes -- and their place in Indian cuisine.

Becky Krystal on cleaning your grill, and on a fabulous tea bread recipe from Mary Berry.

Polina Chesnakova on treating rhubarb like a vegetable, not a fruit, and keeping it savory.

Bonnie Benwick's latest DinMin: a salmon BLT!

My latest Weeknight Veg: roasted eggplant that makes use of pickled raisins (the only way I really like them) and garlicky breadcrumbs.


We'll have special guests Sandra Gutierrez and Ann Mah in the room today, so they can handle questions about their respective stories, of course, but also many other things, since they're both accomplished cooks and cookbook authors!

And now for today's Post Points code: It's FR1812 (so, obviously, we need an overture today!). Remember, you'll record and enter it at 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: SIGNED copies of Sandra's "Latin American Street Food" and of Ann's "Instantly French." So you should ask questions on those subjects, too, OBVIOUSLY HINT-HINT.

OK, let's do this!

Green shelling peas in the garden ready to be picked. What should I make that will show them off?

My favorite thing to make with fresh peas (short of eating them right off the vine!) is to simply boil them for 90 seconds and then stir them into bubbly ghee (clarified butter) with fresh chopped chives from my garden. Kiss them with a whisper of salt. Simple is best.

Ann Mah:

There's always pea guacamole ;) 

We put up this roundup a couple weeks ago with some great recipes to showcase fresh spring peas! Try this super pretty, pea-powered Pea, Ricotta and Mint Gazpacho

Do you think the quality of cooking shows has sharply declined? I feel that both Cooks Country and Americas Test Kitchen have been sup par since their re shuffle and firing of Chris Kimball and I think Kimball's Milk Street is nothing more then an excuse for him to fly around the world on the company dime and act famous. The Pioneer Woman has been mailing it in for years and Ina seems content with cooking the same ten things over and over (if I never see another segment on Mussel's it will be to soon). I know every cooking show host can't be Jacques Pepin or Julia Child but there must be better hosts and concepts then we have now.

It's a mixed bag but there are still cooking shows worth watching. Try Pati Jinich's show on PBS. Public television still offers the best learning experiences, when it comes to cooking shows. 

What I'd like to see, is more representation on television. We're a nation of immigrants with well-traveled palates. The younger generations are not afraid of flavor--let's offer them myriad options for shows that truly teach culinary foodways from all over the world! Mexican food is great--but how about the other 20 exciting Latin American cuisines? How about Thai or Laotian food? What about the food of the Middle East? And we need more technique and basics--that's why Samin Nosrat's show on Netflix broke records. Smart viewers deserve smart shows. 

I went online to buy my first batch of Rancho Gordo beans, and at least a quarter of their products are sold out. Is this normal, or is there trouble in bean heaven?

No trouble that I know of -- just really strong sales, I'd say! I visited Steve Sando at RG just a couple weeks ago, and all was well. His sales have been steadily increasing, but got a fresh bump after that New Yorker piece about him last spring. He's got a spiffy new bean-bagging machine that's speeding things up nicely. Also, keep in mind that he specializes in heirloom beans, which are often grown in smaller quantities. 

Hi. Can you talk to me about the realities of having a bread box in a humid place? I find I need to keep breads in the fridge to prevent mold, but it certainly doesn't help the texture of the bread (although I prefer that over mold). Would a bread box really help? How long could I expect it to extend the life of my bread? Thanks!

I am an avid bread baker (I bake almost daily) but am not a fan of bread boxes. Honestly, the best way I know to keep bread fresh (after a day) is to portion it and then freeze it for up to 2 months. If it's a loaf, slices can go directly to a toaster oven and turn out just as fresh as if they were baked right then. For rolls and boules, I let them thaw, uncovered, for an hour at room temperature. Mold is the enemy of bread--bread boxes don't discourage the growth of mold, especially where humidity thrives. Hope this helps!

Adding to Sandra's answer, another thing that helps in baking bread is slow fermentation, which builds up adequate ph levels. Mold hates acidic environments, so bread that enjoys a super slow sour-dough like fermentation is much slower to get mold than its normally fermented/baked cousins.

Rangers, I received a bottle of really good Italian red wine vinegar from a friend who purchased it at an Italian winery. After opening it on Saturday, I stuck it in the refrigerator, but I'm not sure whether that was the right call or not. Does it need to be refrigerated? Now that it has been, does it need to stay in there or can I store it in the cabinet? On a related note, any suggestions for how to best highlight its deliciously thick goodness, other than drinking it straight from the bottle?

You don't need to refrigerate vinegar, and the fact that you have so far doesn't mean it has to stay there. Move it to the pantry!

You should read Martha Holmberg's recent piece on using vinegar beyond vinaigrettes. Lots of ideas -- including this great chicken recipe.

Chicken Saute With Tomatoes, Pancetta and a Kiss of Vinegar

is this possible?

Yes! Just press any air out so you don't get ice crystals. I'd only freeze it for up to 2 months. 

I bring green salad with protein for lunch at work a lot, and am on the hunt for interesting new ingredients that don't add too much fat, sugar or carbs - and are quick to prep the night before. I've tried avocado, roasted pepper, sprouts, and sardines. Any more ideas for me?

Have you tried adding seeds to your mix? Pumpkin, sunflower, chia? Also unsweetened coconut adds meaty flavor and pairs deliciously with dried fruit too. All add interesting layers of flavor and texture to salads. 

What about some feta or creamy chevre?

Something I really like to do is make crispy mushrooms and add them to rice bowls, salads, etc. If you let them cool out on the counter, they can retain that crispness and they add that texture and some umami punch to whatever you're eating.

for breakfast. I usually cook them Sunday night and peel for the week. I received an instant pot as a gift and started using that to do the eggs. It is faster and the eggs peel much more easily than they did with regular steaming. However, I have noticed that there is more of an odor of hydrogen sulfide in the containers I use to store them for the week. It isn't building up over days. It is there Monday morning even if I only finished them 8 hours ago the previous evening. It doesn't impact the taste. The smell dissipates. But it is noticeably more smelly after high pressure steaming than it was with regular pressure steaming after a few hours in a closed container. Is there any reason for this? I am really curious.

I wonder if it's simply that you're cooking them more than you used to when you steamed? And perhaps are ... overcooking them? Are the yolks still creamy, or are they chalky with perhaps a green ring around them? If the latter, it could be because the sulphur smell increases when the yolks are cooked past 180 degrees, as explained in this piece. It could be worth playing with the timing of your pressure cooking to make see if cutting it back results in less smell.  

I've been trying to make my own creme fraiche with whipping cream and buttermilk, but have had limited success (first time worked, but after more than the specified 24 hours; times 2 and 3 never really thickened up--using 2 Tbsp cultured buttermilk to pint of heavy cream). I think it's because the whipping cream is ultrapasteurized. Even the organic heavy cream available is ultrapasteurized. Does anyone in this area sell plain old pasteurized cream? would using sour cream instead of buttermilk as the mix-in be more successful?

I make mine with sour cream and whipping cream and have good results. I also make my own butter and use the leftover buttermilk to make creme fraiche (try doing that--it's super easy!). I start with the freshest farmed milk possible and place it in a food processor; then I let it whirl until butter forms. The leftover whey is buttermilk, ready for the using. Jacques Pepin has an amazing recipe for this online.

I feel like this has been discussed before, but what is a good brand or recipe to use as a vegetarian alternative to fish sauce? To be used in Thai food.

I really like this one from Cook's Illustrated, made with dried shiitakes and soy sauce. Very easy and tastes great.

How would you go about substituting, say, almond meal/flour for chopped walnuts or pecans in a muffin or quick-bread recipe? I love the flavor but the texture can get to me.

I would just leave the nuts out, then. Adding them in flour/meal form will affect the texture, and is something you would do to substitute for some of the other flour(s), not for the chopped nuts, which really should be seen as add-ins. Are there other nuts/seeds you like, such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, or anything else? If so, put those in -- or, how about chocolate chips or cocoa nibs? Or dried fruit? But no, I wouldn't sub nut flour for nuts.

My husband, due to health (heart) reasons, is now on an ultra-low fat diet - as in, no fat, no dairy, no meat. This is throwing me for a loop...any suggestions of ways to cook and/or recipes? Thanks!

You're entering the most exciting cooking time for this kind of diet--fresh food is what our bodies crave now. Ceviches are fabulous--no fat added whatsoever and you can make them with seafood and fish, but also with beans and vegetables. 

Change your view on salads! Make composed dishes with a green as your backdrop and mound grains, legumes, crunchy vegetables (try raw fennel, jicama, sweet peppers, radishes, and beets!), seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower; nuts; lean protein such as shrimp, eggs, or turkey. Then make exciting vinaigrettes by combining different vinegars with oils--so many to choose from.

It's all about changing your mindset. We have tons of wonderful new ingredients to play with in our markets and grocery stores today. Embrace the adventure!

Darling spouse and I are fighting salt and high blood pressure. Have you come across any user friendly cookbooks on either the DASH or MIND diets? And when I say "user friendly," I mean, has recipes that exhausted people can tackle at the end of the day rather than opting for take out.

I'm not well versed on the diets you mention, but there are amazing cookbooks in the market today that allow you to eat fresh, vibrant food. You can cut sodium easily when you start with great ingredients. For instance, Yotam Ottolenghi's new book, SIMPLE, is one such example, where the recipes are built of such beautiful ingredients and combine flavor without being fussy or contrived. Hope this helps.

Ann Mah:

I was intrigued by Priya Krishna's recipe for red chile potatoes.

She says her mom fasts once a week, and for her fasting means not eating salt. This recipe is one she prepares for her fasting days – simple boiled potatoes with olive oil and red chile. You could try it without the chaat masala, which has added salt.


I love lentils - I had red lentil soup for breakfast this morning. Grate a carrot or two and some onion, saute them together in olive oil, add a little salt and a lot of Aleppo pepper, add a cup of red lentils and stir together, add 5 or so cups of broth or water (I used chicken broth), simmer until lentils are exploded and soft, mix in Greek yogurt if you want to thicken when you serve. Freezes beautifully and starts the day right.

This sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing.

I'm in the food doldrums and am sick to death of making my lunch every evening for work the next day. If I made the Thai red curry with tofu and lentils on a Sunday afternoon, would it last through the week, or would it turn into mush? Any other seasonal ideas to wake up my tastebuds but not demand too much effort on weeknights?

I find lentils good for a couple of days after I cook them but then they lose their charm. 

For easy, vibrant lunch ideas, turn to layered salads (keep vinaigrettes separate to add in last minute). You can make individual layered salads with different components on Sunday and eat them throughout the week. Think spinach, arugula, radicchio, and parsley for greens. Chop crunchy vegetables that don't "weep" or get soggy such as raw beets, carrots, shaved brussels sprouts, peppers, and radishes. Layer aromatics such as onions or shallots (a favorite of mine!), and then top with shredded rotisserie chicken or cheese. Play around with your favorite ingredients. YOu can take separate containers with dried fruits and nuts or seeds to add crunch and sweetness too. So many possibilities!

Yes that'll totally work. For more lunch ideas, try to follow a general format of grain + hardy veg + protein of some kind + dressing/herbs/nuts/accouterments. The hardy veg is crucial--you want stuff that won't wilt or get gross waiting for you in the fridge. Packing dressings on the side is definitely a good move, unless it's a dish that can hold up.

Curries and stew type dishes are super easy to make in advance, keep well even when stored with rice and reheat really well.

I love adding garbanzo beans (= chick peas = ceci) and sliced beets atop my green salads. Both come canned, which is convenient.


Let's get to the vital news of the week: What's your take on the Aperol spritz debate? I am delighted that someone finally said it!

Becky said it back!

ARTICLE: Suddenly, everybody has an opinion about the Aperol Spritz

Seriously, my main issue with that NYT piece was that just because people make it badly doesn't make it a bad drink. It's not at the top of my list, but it's far from the bottom, too. And since when is dilution a problem unique to the Aperol Spritz?

Sandra's story brought back fond memories of the Boston restaurant The Magic Pan (maybe it was a chain?) It was the first place I ever tasted ratatouille. They also had a fabulous green salad with mandarin oranges and almond slivers - the vinaigrette was perfection.

I still dream of that salad... I imagine we can recreate it easily. Let's bring that back too! 


Ever heard of this? I had not until last weekend. We ate at a Mexican restaurant and when we finished, the waitress said they were giving free dessert to everybody for Mother's Day. She brought this dessert which was in a plastic beer cup. It was chopped apple, banana and strawberries with a milky sauce and a scoop of pink ice cream. I asked if it had a name and she said no but volunteered that it had evap milk in it. I googled it and it does have a name and it's my new favorite dessert. I also just like saying the name Bionico.

Oh, yeah, the Bionico. You can make it with any fruit in season and then bathe it in condensed milk. Some people top it with fresh turrón (Swiss Meringue), but that's gilding the lily. I used to make them with bananas, strawberries, mango, and cubes of "magdalena" (pound cake). It's like a Mexican trifle! 

The apéro dînatoire sounds a lot like the cocktail parties I throw for friends...and by that, I mean *exactly* like the cocktail parties I throw. I am not trying to sound smart-alcky when I genuinely ask: what's the difference?! Did the French just recently discover the cocktail party?

Ann Mah:

The main difference is that a cocktail party is something you attend on the way to dinner. An apéro dînatoire IS dinner. Do you serve a full meal at your cocktail parties, with four courses including cheese and dessert? (Maybe you do!)

ARTICLE: The newest recipe for a French dinner party: Less cooking and more relaxing

Trying to get more plant-based, but carrot hot dogs - for real? I really want to try them, won't experiment on the family, but any tips, suggestions? If they aren't good, please let me know - lots of recipes out there, but not seeing carrot hot dogs for July 4.

Of course, there's only one really good recipe for carrot dogs, IMHO -- and that's the one I tested and we published last year. The carrots get a touch of smoke from being charred/peeled (kinda like roasted red peppers), and then a little toasted sesame oil adds a touch more. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

RECIPE: Charred Carrot Dogs

That's one of the reasons I enjoyed Marcus Samuelsson's "No Passport Required," which highlighted immigrant cuisines in the US. (Well, he's also mighty charismatic as well).

Yes! Great show. Now we need educative shows that actually teach how to cook recipes again. So many viewers want to learn to make food at home. I hope we move back from the competition shows and into teaching shows again. 

I'd like to bring that to a family gathering, but one person is allergic to tree nuts. Is there an alternative thickener?

I haven't tried it, but maybe a 1/2 cup of white beans? The texture will be different, but still delicious.

I'm going to make this this weekend -- it sounds great! Any substitutes for the sherry? I generally don't keep it on hand and hate to buy a whole bottle. Also, any thoughts on whether this can be frozen? Thank you for another great issue!

Ann Mah:

You can use dry white wine. But may I put in a plug for dry oloroso sherry? It's delicious before dinner.

RECIPE: Mushroom Pate

I love making tacos for weekday meals, although I often tend to make about the same thing: chicken and onion sautéed with chipotle in adobo served with fire-roasted corn, crumbed cheese and avocado (or if I'm up to it, guacamole). Any suggestions for alternatives that would still be pretty quick (i.e. not a 3-hr carnitas--although do love that for weekends)?

You've got to try Joe's Crunchy Peanut Tacos! Super simple and texturally awesome.


Make a filling with potato, chorizo, and poblano pepper strips---it's a classic. Remove the chorizo for vegetarian option.

No need to remove for a vegetarian version when you've got ... TOFU CHORIZO!


I saw Jacques Pépin do this with his granddaughter on one of his shows by having her shake it in a Mason Jar, but seem to recall him warning viewers that it took a long time. Is there another whey, er way, that doesn't involved special equipment -- food processor or blender, perhaps?


It was a chain. There were several in the DC-Baltimore metro area, and there is still one in Columbia, Md.

Yes, it was a chain back in the 70's and 80's. I remember them in Houston, Dallas, and even in Guatemala City! 

Would it be okay to add more cream cheese and make it more of a mushroom cheese dip? Asking for a friend.

Ann Mah:

Of course! Your friend may also want to try boursin cheese.

I just wanted to support your recommendation to freeze bread. We don't eat a ton of it but my kids occasionally want toast or a sandwich for lunch so I keep a loaf in the freezer. I've done this for years with all different varieties of bread and never noticed any texture or taste difference when it was thawed. I can even make a PB&J for the kids' school lunches with frozen slices and they'll be thawed and ready to eat by lunchtime.

Our rhubarb is starting to flower. Is it still good?

Yep. But there are other reasons you might want to try to keep this from happening -- particularly because it cuts down on the productivity of the plant (in terms of producing the edible stems, that is.) Read more on this here.

Portabello mushrooms and zucchini

Sure! For zucchini tacos, I love lightly charring them in a hot, dry skillet rather than cooking any other way, ever since I tested this recipe:

Seared Zucchini and Wilted Chard Tacos

I have been buying and cooking with Grey Poupon, but this spring, it's hotter than I remember. I've bought other dijon mustards and they aren't so hot. What happened?

I have not noticed this. Chatters, have you?

Lidia Bastianich's show seems to be upholding its standards.

Simply blanched peas tossed with mint and butter is divine. (You could also puree, but I love the texture too much to do that too often.)

For Ann Mah: What are your best bets for French food in DC area: restaurants but also specialty groceries, bakeries?

Ann Mah:

I really like Le Diplomate. Aside from the French chains like Eric Kayser (decent baguettes) and Paul (decent croissants), I like the cannelés at Bread Furst. I've also heard good things about Seylou.

The baked goods (including bread) at Seylou are amazing.

My husband has been craving chicken pot pie. I was thinking of doing it in a casserole form and using bisquick biscuit topping. Could I prep it the night before? Or do you have a super easy way to prep the top before sticking it in the oven?

Make the filling the night before. Transfer it to the casserole dish before baking and top it with a sheet of thawed puff pastry cut to fit the top of your casserole dish--easy and flaky! You can thaw the puff pastry in the refrigerator overnight too. 

Curious if you all (since you talk to lots of people about food) think plant-based diets are becoming more mainstream, or that attitudes towards vegans are changing? I feel like I see a positive trend towards eating more plant-based foods for the earth's sake and was happy to see Beyond Meats' IPO go so well. But, I may be biased and seeing a trend where one doesn't exist. Do you think people's attitudes are actually changing? Have you seen more acceptance (and less disdain) for vegan eating?

I've actually done quite a lot of fact-checking on this subject! There is no quantitative indicator that this is true, as previous surveys on the matter have had faulty/incomplete testing standards and current ones don't have standardized questions or any matching former surveys to determine a significant trend. That being said, there's definite anecdotal evidence across the board of folks turning to plant-based diets and chefs shifting gears towards vegetables, either stripping meat entirely or focusing on vegetables as a main food source. The Post's own reporter, Lavanya Ramanathan, wrote an article about how the term "plant based" has actually softened some of the attitude towards vegetarian and vegan diets. I helped collect and analyze some of the reasons why people cut out or cut back on meat in this podcast episode at Mother Jones where I used to work. In short: There is no numerical evidence for a trend but there is qualitative evidence to determine that there is one. As a side note, there's also a small and aggressive counter movement, which you can find more info about here and here

In the back of my cool, dark pantry, I found an opened gallon of apple cider vinegar. It says "best by October, 2018". Technically, it is seven months past its prime. I had intended to use a quarter-cup to make the WaPo's pickled raisins recipe. Can I go ahead and do that, or should I use it for Spring cleaning? I could just buy a new small bottle for the raisins, and use the old bottle for non-food uses.

Nah, apple cider vinegar lasts indefinitely. You should be fine.

I completely agree with Joe! Vinegar lasts for a long, long time!


Some Rancho Gordo bean varieties sell out fast, but don't forget that beans are seasonal produce. Yes, they're dried and have a long shelf life, but one does have to wait for a new harvest sometimes. Rancho Gordo has spoiled me for cheap supermarket beans, which I buy only when making something where the bean isn't the focus of the dish. (I think "focus" might be the wrong word--in some dishes, the bean's flavor isn't predominate.)

I was wondering if any (or all) of you have a "go-to" restaurant in D.C. when you don't want to spend a ton but still want to eat good food?

I'm mad for Elle.

Right now mine's Oyamel

Sorry for the digression, but this reminded me of when George Clooney was a guest star on Friends and said, "God bless the chickpea." Context is missing here, of course, but his delivery was great, and that line has always stuck in my head.

I will now try to use this line in a George Clooney voice and will go try to find a clip that I can use for so much social media when my bean book comes out.

Would it be possible to tag the photos in articles with the name of the recipe in addition to the photography and food styling credits? It would be nice to be able to scan an article for the specific link to the recipe that goes with these amazing photos!

If there are multiple recipes in a post, we try to make sure we indicate which is in the photo, but I'll keep an eye out for this. Thanks!

Years ago I bought bread from Baltic Bakery in Chicago, spread with butter, and put sardines on it. My favorite meal when I was pretending to live in a Victorian garret. Seylou is the only place that makes bread that reminds me of that bread. it's divine

Oh my, the ratatouille and the orange salad were my favorites too! I hadn't thought of that in literally decades. Thank you!

I loved your book "Mastering the Art of French Eating" and I'm looking forward to trying your recipes in today's Post, especially the cake sale (that looks like a PTA fund-raiser but I can't do diacritical marks on my keyboard). One question: do the French serve non-alcoholic drinks at their apero as well as wine, like Perrier or Orangina? And how do tea and coffee fit into this cocktail party?

Ann Mah:

Thanks for reading! Yes, non-alcoholic apéros are definitely drunk in France! For some reason, they love Schweppes. Tomato juice is also popular. There's also a whole range of drinks with flavored syrups, like the "Vittel menthe" – bottled water mixed with mint syrup. I wrote about them here.

Do you mean just slowing down the regular rising in the fridge, for both stages, or do you mean special recipes for slow fermentation? Also, FWIW, here in humid central Va I find that most regular bread will keep for 5-6 days at room temp before mold forms, which is usually long enough to eat it all.

I mean both. Letting the dough rise slowly in the fridge, but also working with a starter (not yeast). 5 to 6 days is actually pretty great!

Sounds a lot like French tapas to me. Not that there's a single thing wrong with that, of course :-)

Ann Mah:

Aren't tapas eaten before dinner? The apéro dînatoire IS dinner.

I'm vegetarian, so was wondering if I could successfully substitute another ingredient for the ham. Would chopped canned or frozen artichoke hearts work, or would they be too soggy?

I'm someone who will cook a big thing on Sunday and then eat it for lunch all week, and I do a lot of soups or casseroles that I think taste better over time. One of my favorites - which also feature lentils - is the Pasta and Lentils, Sicilian Style recipe Joe shared a few years ago. So so good - and really don't be afraid to dump the sofrito into the pot of water. It felt so wrong, but really tastes so right!

One thing that helped my mom was switching her search terms to "#toddlerlunch" or "blw" (baby lead weaning). Instagram and Pinterest have a ton of super easy recipes that are tasty and flavorful, but have almost no salt (because babies can't have salt).

Speaking of America's Test Kitchen, I tried to make a recipe from its Vegetarian Cookbook and couldn't find a key ingredient. That's not ATK's fault, but I thought my frustration might be worth highlighting in case others had advice on it. Specifically, ATK recommended canned tomatillos for an enchilada recipe. They said fresh tomatillos can be too watery when used in the dish. So I searched. And I searched. Turns out Goya used to offer canned tomatillos, but those are apparently discontinued. I couldn't find canned tomatillos anywhere locally. (They appear to be available on Amazon under a couple of brands, but I needed them the day I was cooking.) I gave up and bought some fresh tomatillos at a Latin market. The recipe was tasty, but now I'm wondering what I might have missed. Have you ever tried canned tomatillos, and if so, where did you buy them?

La Costeña brand can be found in Latin stores and it's good. I don't see how fresh tomatillos are more watery than canned tomatillos, frankly. Tomatillos are high in pectin and you can always reduce the liquid by cooking it down (if the recipe calls for them cooked). I'd have to see the recipe but I always use fresh tomatillos, never canned. I will say that if you buy tomatillos properly, you shouldn't have water-logged issues. The best tomatillos are the smallest ones. I learned this while shopping for ingredients with Diana Kennedy many years ago. She taught me that the smallest tomatillos are the most flavorful. The larger the tomatillo, the more seeds in them, and the more bitter they are. The larger they are, the wetter they are. So, buy the smallest, firmest possible tomatillos that you can and you should be okay. Hope this helps!

I like broccoli slaw as a way to add some crunch without adding carbs, fat, sugar, etc. I'm also a huge fan of pickled onions--just a couple pieces goes a long way for me. And pickled beet eggs, with a couple of the beets. Yum. Oh, and if I have any leftover wheatberries or other grains, I'll chuck a couple tablespoons' worth into the salad. (Yes, they're carbs, but they're high in fiber and give a nice bite. Plus, just a small amount isn't enough to turn the salad into a grain bowl.)

Thanks for the creative ideas about salad and heart-healthy eating!

Aw, thanks!

Thanks for the article on getting the old grill ready for the new season. The bane of my grilling existence has been running out of propane mid-grilling. I've bought products over the years that claimed to let you know how much was left in the tank, but they all seemed to be more gimmick than functional. Do you have any recommendations (other than have a spare on hand at all times, which I don't have the space for) on products that monitor the propane level in the tank?

Maybe chatters have ideas?

I've read about people weighing their propane tanks to tell how much fuel is left -- and this article mentions another interesting way.

It was in one of the early seasons. He and Noah Wyle were doctors (Friends/ER crossover synergy) and double-dated Monica and Rachel. Except Rachel was pretending to Monica for health insurance, and Monica was pretending to be Rachel. That led to hijinks, of course, but Monica made hummus, which is where the chickpea line came in.

I remember the episode! I had forgotten the chickpea line, though, which is surprising -- I guess I must've seen that before my interest in chickpeas was what it is now!

I also wondered about using old vinegar but mostly because I worry that the plastic jugs or bottles may have leached into it over time. Is that silly?

Hmm. That's a good question! I'm honestly not sure.

Neat! We do that with lemon-lime seltzer water and concentrates like cranberry and tart cherry. Very refreshing.

Wow, was I uninformed -- I just learned that Nestle is headquartered in Rosslyn, Va and that it owns competing brands of pizza and ice cream -- "Nestle’s pizza division products include DiGiorno, California Pizza Kitchen, Tombstone and Jack’s. Its ice cream division includes Häagen-Dazs, Skinny Cow, Edy’s, Dreyer’s, Drumstick and Outshine." They're also laying off thousands of people. My question is, why does a company compete with itself by offering multiple brands of the same product, if they're offered in the same stores, like the pizzas and ice creams named above? 

Lots of the big companies do this. I don't think of it as competing with themselves so much as making sure they appeal to as many different audiences as possible.

The Cooking Channel used to have the kinds of shows you mention. Diverse chefs and cuisines, interesting stories. Now it's basically B-list celebrities who like to cook and see themselves on TV. I'm sure Tiffani Thiessen is a lovely person, but why should I care what she makes for a dinner party? What kind of credentials or relevant experiences does she have that make her a better cook than the average person?

Beats me! I'd say, folks, write to your producers and tell them what you want to see. Unfortunately, ratings are king and a super famous model gets more ratings than a great food writer. It's the time we live in. Support your Public television stations and let them know what kinds of shows you want to see. 

It started with grilled corn, an exquisite street food I first encountered in Latin American beach towns. Then came grilled spring onions dipped in salt and limon juice pretty much anywhere in Mexico. Next came charring poblano peppers on a cast iron griddle at home. Now I find myself charring bell peppers, carrots, scallions and even cabbage all the time. Bless the Food section for telling me I'm not the only one who loves the burnt bits in the bottom of the pan or the crusty bottom layer of a paella. Is there anything besides cake that doesn't taste better charred? Is it okay to eat charred food all the time?

Charring vegetables develops caramelization through the Maillard reaction, which is why they taste better. Charring garlic in its peel, for instance, is akin to roasting it in the oven, which makes it sweeter. There are studies that show that eating burnt, charred food can increase stomach cancer, but those concentrate more on the cooking of meat and foods with high saturated fat. I'm not a doctor but I'd say that in moderation, charring vegetables should be okay. I'm not one to ask about that but I eat them charred all the time too. 

Here's a good article we had on the subject a year or so ago.

I didn't used to like them, but have recently been won over. This weekend I brought a Couscous Chickpea Salad with Fresh Herbs to a potluck and it was a big hit! The leftovers made for a great luch the next two days.

I always think of olorosos as the sweetest sherries.

Ann Mah:

Really! As sweet as PX? Oloroso is naturally dry, but has a full body and high alcohol content that can seem sweet – good notes here.

Lately Ive noticed that whenever I go out to authentic Mexican restaurants, the best place that I order usually has a nut component-- plates such as a green chorizo with almonds or a walnut mole. I've never really tried to implement nuts into my (admittedly non-ambitious and inauthentic) Mexican home cooking but was wondering if you all had any go to Mexican recipes with nuts!

Most mole recipes will have a mix of fruit (tomatoes or others), nuts, and or seeds. That's what makes them a mole. But not all moles have nuts. Check out Diana Kennedy's cookbook on Oaxaca for lots of recipes of different moles. If you don't want to use nuts, check out Pepián recipes in Guatemalan cookbooks (moles made with seeds). 

This will definitely date me but I well remember Maison Des Crepes on Wisconsin Ave in Georgetown when I was a college student. ( I bet Tom sietsema would too since we were contemporaries at GU) which had a delicious savory crepe with sorrel, bacon, and Swiss cheese. I've tried to reproduce it though the years but had yet to succeed.

I've heard pouring a cup of boiling water over the outside of the tank, then feeling the place where the temperature changes from hot to cool gives a good indication of the level of propane...

Yep, that's in the article I linked to!

We have a lot of food trucks by my office and one offered "vegan tacos." I bought some and the filling was just mashed chickpeas with some taco seasoning. So disappointing.

So sorry! If I had a food truck, I would make chickpea tacos that would knock your socks off, I can promise you. 

I found that the frozen pie crust was not to be found, I out my coconut cream pie into a dutch baby, basically Yorkshire pudding, it not only help up well but tasted great! I'm thinking a parfait would be perfect in a dutch baby.


For more on Dutch babies, read Bonnie Benwick's piece.

I'd like to try to make vegan yoghurt (using coconut milk). Reading various recipes online, I see that the coconut milk needs to sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours. That got me interested in the process so I have also read recipes for making regular dairy yoghurt. Why is it ok (as in safe) to leave yoghurt at room temperature or thereabouts for multiple days while we are told to refrigerate anything that can spoil within two hours of being out of refrigeration? I imagine the biology is complicated but if you could give a brief explanation to help me with these food safety considerations (and any tips on making good vegan yoghurt!) that would be a big help.

I am no fermentation expert (just an enthusiast), but I think it has to do with letting things ferment at an ambient temperature for fermentation to start, and then to slow down the process by refrigerating. You do this with yogurt, bread starter (or bread), sauerkraut or kimchi, kombucha, and many other fermented foods. If you leave milk out at room temperature, it'll sour and ferment, which might make it not super tasty to drink/use afterwards, which is why it's recommended you refrigerated. Let me know if that makes sense. And I highly recommend Sandor Katz' fermentation book if you want to dip your toes into the science behind it.

It sounds like one dessert and perhaps a couple "main" course options are ok, but how many different nibbles should I serve for the appetizer portion? Thanks - love the idea of this!

Ann Mah:

I usually serve a couple of dips, a lot of crudités, and some chips, nuts, and if I'm feeling flush, saucisson sec. And I usually offer only one "main" dish. You have lucky guests!

I bought some roasted and salted chickpeas online and found them to be disappointing. They were crumbly and dry, like eating chickpea flour. It this what they are supposed to taste like, or did I just get a bad batch?

Some of the ones I've tasted (and made!) have indeed been roasted/dried TOO long. Keep trying.

I've noticed that Rachael Ray, on her rebooted show, keeps saying you have to refrigerate vinegar once you open it. I'd never heard that before. I learned from experience that sherry vinegar doesn't hold up well at room temperature, but that's the only type I refrigerate.

Sandra, Please link to a recipe. I can't imagine ceviche without seafood but would love to give it a try.

Check out this article and find my recipe at the bottom for my Speckled Bean Ceviche featured in my book Beans and Field Peas. Substitute your favorite bean! 


Totino's pizza? If not, you should. Just, well, because.

From Maura: "It's still on our list!"

When we have cocktail hour with friends for dinner, as we sometimes do, it is not followed by dinner (too much food!). It simply IS dinner. Now we know we can call ourselves French when we do it ;-)

Ann Mah:

Tout à fait!

Hi - I have a very small kitchen now, and need to get rid of some stuff. Would you keep an Instant Pot or a slow cooker, if you had to choose only one?


How can I use these chickpeas? I hate to throw them away. Could I add them to the red lentil chili that I make?

I'd crush them up and use them to coat things you want to pan-fry, or maybe toss them in a salad for crunch!

Joe, I wish we were neighbors. I'd help you do quality control on your dishes.

I cook Indian dals as our main dish a couple of times a week, but they usually include tomatoes and my spouse now can't tolerate tomatoes. Can you suggest a couple of dal dishes that don't include tomatoes? Thanks!

Ann Mah:

I love the cookbook Masala by Mallika Basu. She has three recipes for dal, none with tomatoes. There's temple-style lentil and vegetable stew, red lentils with sizzling spices, and coconut dal.

Well, you've smashed us into fine crystals, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and many thanks to Ann and Sandra for help with the a's!

Now for the giveaway books:

The chatter who asked about making more creative tacos will get Sandra's "Latin American Street Food," and the one who asked about whether to keep an Instant Pot or slow cooker will get Ann's "Instantly French," for inspiration of course!

Send your mailing info to, and she'll make sure you get your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
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 a weekly column on casual dining.
Olga Massov
Massov is a Washington-area food writer and editor.
Kari Sonde
Kari Sonde is the Food Editorial Aide.
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Sandra Gutierrez
Sandra Gutierrez is a national expert on the subject of Latin American cuisines, their history, and evolution, and on Southern Regional cuisine. A journalist, culinary instructor, lecturer, and food historian, her work has appeared in national and international publications, including The Washington Post. Her books include: The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes that Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America & The American South and Latin American Street Food: The Best Flavors of Markets, Beaches, and Roadside Stands from Mexico to Argentina.
Ann Mah
Ann Mah is a journalist and novelist based in Washington, D.C. and Paris. She is the author of "Instantly French."
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is the lead writer for Voraciously.
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