Free Range on Food

Jun 29, 2011

Today's topics: Talk about grilling and barbecuing for the Fourth of July with Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Rob Stewart will also join for discussions on cooking with air, Spanish wines and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to the chat. We're here to answer your questions about barbecue, cooking with leftover wine, your July Fourth plans, anything else that's on your mind.

We have special guest Rob Stewart, wine educator and subject of Bonnie's "Washington Cooks" piece today, in the house to help out, along with Smoke Signals pitmaster Jim Shahin, who wrote today's ode to the pork rib, and (I think) cocktailian Jason Wilson.

We'll have a giveaway book for our favorite chatter: "The Summer Shack Cookbook" by Jasper White.

Let's go!


Help! I used to get my go-to (cheap) summer rose at Trader Joes. It was called Le Ferme Julien but for some reason they stopped carrying it. Do you know where I can find it locally? Total Wine doesn't carry it. Help!

Trader Joe's often carries wines which are exclusively theirs,so you may have difficulty finding this particular wine elsewhere. Don't worry, there are plenty of delicious dry Roses which are perfect for drinking during the steamy days of Summer. Try La Vielle Ferme, Petite Cassagne, or Mittelbach, a superb Rose from Austria.

Made lovely garlic scape pesto last night (sans nuts, always!) Delicious delight. Raised a question, though. What is the operational/functional difference in the "pulse" or "process" use of a food processor? That is, what result will differ if I run the processor for 15 seconds versus running it at 15 one-second pulses with stops between each (hence, pulses...)? What is supposed to be the difference in the result? And when (what circumstance/ingredients, etc.) would it matter or when would it not?

The idea of calling for pulsing is to make sure you don't go too far and create something more pureed than the recipe writer intends you to make. You frequently see it with pie-crust recipes, where it's important not to overwork the dough.

In this case, the recipe actually numbered the pulses? Or that's your interpretation? If the former, that's kinda silly, IMHO. But my guess is that the recipe writer wanted you to still have some texture to the thing, and it's easier to know when to stop if you're pulsing. But in that case, I would've written something like, "Pulse the mixture for a second or two at a time until it is X." Make sense?

Hi. This may not be a question for you but since you know about food I was hoping you might have some idea about my reaction to sweet and sour pork. I love sweet and sour pork but recently when I eat it I get a weird headache. It feels like someone is crushing my head. This has happened too many times for it to be a coincidence and it only happens with that particular chinese food - not any other type. Is there some ingredient in sweet and sour pork that causes such a reaction? Perhaps MSG? Well, thank you for your help!

Sounds like a classic reaction to MSG, if you believe in the causal relationship between monosodium glutamate and headaches, which the research doesn't support. Are you getting the pork from the same place every time? Or does the reaction occur regardless of where you eat it? There are too many variables here, I think, to provide much help to your problem.

We're going to be griling - a lot - over the next week. What's your favorite way to mix up burgers so they don't get boring? I realize there are a lot of ways out there, just wondering what your favorites are! I'm thinking some avocado, different cheeses, maybe salsas?

   No rules, just your imagination and taste. There's bacon, of course. Grilled onions, raw onions. Different lettuces. As you say, avocado. Yes, salsa. Try harissa. Chipotle, minced into mayo. Cabbage with a chimichrri sauce. Jerk sauce and Monterey Jack cheese. 

    Stuff the burger with cheese. Try using blue cheese, whether on top or inside. 

    Create a burger bar of anything you like, and go wild. 

I love to make red sangria and am always making big batches - at least enough for 20 people to have several glasses each. I'm also on a budget - do you have any thoughts on what the most economical wines (that's code for "cheap!") are for sangria? I'm in Arlington and usually purchase at the grocery store or Total Wine. Thanks!

Almost any decent quality, low tannin, unoaked red wine will do for sangria. Whole foods Market in Clarendon carries a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon called Crucero which is both tasty and inexpensive. It would work very well in sangria.

I'm curious about how the Post selects the recipes it features in its weekly Food Section. There seems to be a huge disconnect between these recipes and the real world. For example, the Post has been touting the value of a healthy diet and has run articles explaining the new USDA good health guidelines. And, yet, you feature recipes that exceed the guidelines in the most negative/harmful way. For example, in looking at the nutritional analysis for the "Mop-Sauced Baby Back Ribs," I see that it contains 68 g. of fat (less than 65 g. is the recommended daily total); 25 g. of saturated fat (less than 20 g. is the recommended daily total); and 3250 mg. of sodium (less than 2400 mg. is the recommended daily total). And this is just for one item! By the time you add in the values for the potato salad, slaw, and strawberry shortcake, plus your other meals of the day, and it seems like you have a heart attack in the making. So, my question is: why do you feature such unhealthy recipes?

Thanks for the question. The reason we feature recipes like that is that we feature all kinds of recipes, and write all kinds of stories because we're a general interest publication, not Cooking Light. We're trying to appeal to lots of different readers all the time, so yes, we have a barbecue column every month because that style of cooking is ever more popular, but we also have a weekly Nourish column by Stephanie Sedgwick that features a healthy recipe, and Bonnie's Dinner in Minutes that focuses on something fast. And yes, we write about the new USDA guidelines -- and even give you four customized meal plans from nutritionists that meet them.

More importantly, we believe that it's about balance and moderation, and about what you eat during the course of the day and the week and the month and your whole life, not just one plate of ribs. Personally, I think it's healthier to indulge in something special from time to time and balance it out with healthier choices at other times.

I'm planning to make s'mores this weekend over a campfire and was wondering if you have any ideas beyond the traditional graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate combo. We love the traditional s'more, but also want to mix it up a bit.

Hey, you're camping outdoors.  Go wild. There won't be anyone around to mock you. I'd try those ingredients that pair well with chocolate, like strawberries, bananas and even peanut butter. You could also jump on the bacon bandwagon and make your s'mores more savory with a hit of cured pork belly.

When you get back, you could make these Chocolate-Dipped Minted Indoor Smores. They'll take you right back.

I've had a few Riojas and Tempranillos, which I've enjoyed, but what's your best recommendation for an inexpensive (no more than $15) Spanish wines?

Spanish wines have improved immensely over the past decade, and there is a plethora of good, inexpensive Spanish wine in the market. Try Borsao, Burgo Viejo, Finca Sobreno, and Tres Ojos. Some of these cost less than $10!

Any chance that any of you can offer a suggestion for a cookbook that has recipies for "indoor BBQ"? We don't have a grill or a smoker but love ribs and other BBQ. We have had some luck in the oven with spare ribs and vinegar based pulled pork but sometimes it's hit or miss. Brisket...forget it

    Oh, man, this time of year and you gotta barbecue indoors? My heart goes out to you, but I salute your spirit. 

    Try "The Indoor Grilling Cookbook" by Julie Stillman or Steven Raichlen's "Indoor Grilling." 

You should also look at Jim's column from February on how to get that barbecue taste indoors, with smoked salt, pimenton, chipotle, etc.

I for one am happy with a mix. I eat Nourish recipes and work out six days a week to balance out the ribs! What life is worth living without splurges sometimes?

Yep, I'm with you. (Obviously.)

I really liked the ribs article this morning, Jim Shahin. What do you think of boiling or par-boiling the ribs?

    Me, I'm agin' it. Removes much of the fat and thus the flavor and changes the character of the rib, makes it more rubbery. 

    Best thing for a good rib is smoke and a little fire. 

I cut down a bunch of basil this weekend and when I went to clean it today a lot of it had turned black. It appeared pretty random too - - half a leaf here, 1/3 of a bunch there. What's going on, is my fridge too cold? It was on the top shelf in a plastic grocery bag. Thanks!

Yeah, that could very well be it -- and there could've been some moisture in that bag. (Or if it's really cold up at the top there, the basil could've started to freeze in spots, which'll hasten the Black Death, definitely.)

I find it's best to rinse, VERY thoroughly dry and then treat basil like cut flowers: Trim off lower leaves so they aren't submerged in water, cut the stems fresh, and stand them in a glass or vase. If you have space at the front of your fridge to put it there, that's good, cause you'll see it and then hopefully be more likely to use it. If your home isn't too hot, you could put it on the countertop.

And if you need to use it up, here's my favorite way: Frozen Basil Paste.

I roasted some fennel last night and now I have a bunch of beautiful fronds I just feel awful throwing away. Is there anything I can do with them? I know you can cook them with fish--do they work with any other meats? Or, vegetables even?

I love cooking with fennel. I always use a bulb when making stock, and the fronds work well minced finely in a lemon-butter sauce for fish. You can also use the fronds when making a tomato sauce.

Enjoyed the story on the leftover wine (though I don't seem to have that problem; not picky enough, I suppose), but the sentence about the cutting board over the sink caught my eye. I, too have a small kitchen and try to keep the counters as clear as possible, but it's still a small kitchen. Is it a specific cutting board or just one big enough to cover the sink?

I use a number of cutting boards, mostly made of wood or bamboo. None are specifically designed to fit over the sink. In an 8x 6 foot kitchen, I grab space wherever I can!

I saw on the Smoke Signals blog that Myron Mixon might be opening in DC. Any idea when???

   He told me within two years, but said he wants to do it much sooner, within a year. Watching Hill Country Barbecue Market and Pork Barrel BBQ, with their many delays, I would bet on the longer timeframe. But, who knows?

   First things first: he has to find a property. 

Hi - is there a good way to freeze baked goods? Ideally I would like to make a buckle cake and some bar cookies in advance and freeze them, then transport them in a cooler for the 6+ hour drive to NC this weekend. Then have them ready to eat on Sunday or Monday. Is this all wishful thinking? I have never frozen baked goods so just wondering if it's doable! Thanks so much!

Not wishful thinking at all. After you bake the cake, make sure it is completely cooled and then place it into a re-sealable plastic bag and freeze. Same thing for the bar cookies: Let them cool completely. But don't cut them up into individual cookies. Wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic wrap and then again in foil. You'll want to give yourself plenty of time to let them both thaw at room temperature before cutting and serving.

I've seen squash blossoms at the farmers' market recently. What are some things to do with them? I've really only seen them battered and fried.

They're traditional in quesadillas in Mexico, so you should try that; they're fabulous.

You definitely don't have to batter and fry them. At the recent farm dinner at Arcadia, Tony Chittum served one course of squash blossoms stuffed with little sausages and coated in tomato sauce. They were fantastic.

I also recently used them to garnish a white gazpacho. Gorgeous, if I do say so, to have those with halved grapes and Marcona almonds in the bottom of a white bowl and then to pour that ivory-colored soup over.

Chatters, what else do you do with them?

I usually can't participate live, and have noticed several recent questions about re-heating foods like chicken in the microwave. I used to have this problem and found an easy fix...don't re-heat on full power. Most people I know only use the full power and defrost settings so you'll have to figure out how to adjust the power on your machine, but it's worth it. I usually reheat at 5 or 6 power. It takes a bit longer, but your food will retain it's more fresh-cooked, juicy state. This works for meat and poultry, pasta, and many dishes.

Good tip. As long as I've been using the contraption, it's still full of mystery. Power to the 10th? Countdown after REHEAT DINNER PLATE? Enigmatic.

Dear Free Rangers, we have been cooking up a lot of lean pork and chicken on the grill in recent weeks. It's very tasty, but by the time we serve it up again as leftovers a day or two later, it can be dry and even a bit bland. Can you recommend a good sauce I can make to serve with these second-day meats? I see lots of summer recipes for fruity salsas and whatnot but we are savory, garlicky people. Many thanks!

I'm always happy to have leftover grilled meats, especially smoked pork picnic, to use in a slow cooked, tomato based argue. Be sure to use plenty of onions and garlic, but don't overdo the herbs.

Hey, Jim, I read about DC's Barbecue Battle in your Tuesday morning blog. What I want to know is, Are there competitions around the country? Where can I find out about them? Are they family-friendly?

     The largest sanctioning body in the U.S. is called the Kansas City Barbeque Society, or KCBS. Its website is chockful with competitions around the country:

    KCBS includes events in this area, but not all events around here are KCBS sanctioned. You might also check the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association website at

    And keep reading the Tuesday morning Smoke Signals, as we post some that hold special interest.

Some S'more's tips! Reese's PB cups are delicious, but take a while to become melty. If possible, toss one on top of a graham craker and set it close to the fire to get a head start on the melting process while you're toasting your marshmallow. Also, Ghirardelli squares are perfectly sized for the chocolate portion of your s'mores. The caramel-filled and dark chocolate varieties are especially delicious, but I'm sure all of the other flavors would be just as good. Another favorite is to use Oreos instead of graham crackers... S'moreo's!!


Instead of "just" s'mores, the writer should try banana boats (Directions: Scoop out half the inside of a partially-peeled banana, add marshmallows and chocolate, wrap it up in foil, and bake it in the coals). Yum!

Oh, yes indeed. Must go to there now.

I made some garlic scape pesto earlier this week to use as a dipper, and it was just too garlicky, even for me. The problem was more that it tasted like raw garlic. Do you think I could roast the garlic scapes first before making them into a pesto? I'd hate to lose the beautiful color, but the raw flavor was just to much. Also - I froze some thinking I could use it as a marinade for salmon to grill this weekend. Do you think I should use it as a marinade overnight (it doesn't have acid), or as a rub right before I grill it? Thank you!

You should taste the scapes before you use them. Sure, fine advice NOW, I understand. I've  had some that were quite strong, others barely there. Not sure if it has to do with early vs. late crop or whether you're using all of the scape as opposed to the top or bottom.  But for pesto, you can blanch them first in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then they'll hold their color better.

Generally, fish doesn't need a long marinade, so I'd vote for 30 minutes or so before you grill at the most.

This may be out of style, but one of my favorite things to do with leftover wine is to add it to some broth for either a broth fondue for meats/veggies, or a cheese fondue.

Nothing out of style about this idea at all. I can't make a stock or sauce without some "cooking wine."

I got sour cherries for the first time and I'm wondering what your favorite recipes are for them???

This Cherry Lattice Pie from the incomparable Rose Levy Beranbaum:

And this Cherry Pit Ice Cream from the incomparable Jeni Britton Bauer.

i usually stuff mine with a mixture of grated paneer, red chili, roasted cumin, and lemon juice. then sautee in a loose "gravy" of onions, tomatoes and garam masala. delish!!!!


I love store bought cinnamon rolls because I have a fear of working with the dough, rolling it out and all. I recently saw barefoot contessa packages of "from scratch" cinnamon rolls and it make me think that maybe I could make my own cinammon rolls in a muffin pan and not worry about the rolling. Like put in some dough, then topping, then another layer of dough then more topping. Do you think that would work or is it a plum crazy idea?

I think it would work, especiall if the cinnamon was bound in some type of buttery, sugary, nutty goo. Then again, the rolling thing's not hard. Pat out the dough into a rectangle. Sprinkle on the cinnamon plus whatever. Start with the long side of the rectangle that's closest to you, and bend it to start rolling, like you were rolling up a rug. Keep going, then cut crosswise. You'll have spiral fabulousness -- put those into muffin tins or bake with their sides touching. You don't need that [insert commercial brand here] Dough Boy.

Jason, I'm with my husband on a business trip to Zurich for two weeks and reading the chapter Bitter is Bella in your book Boozehound inspired us to visit Torino this weekend. We've got a pretty good instinct about this kind of things but foolish me I forgot to make a few notes before leaving California... could you remind me of a few of the places you recommend for vermouth and amari? Thank you! (By the way, I committed "Cocchi Barolo Chinato" to memory so as to be sure to look for it but, oddly enough, a small supply of it showed up in San Francisco that very week! I considered holding off but gave in before even leaving the store so now while I wouldn't dream of turning it down I'm also looking forward to exploring the stuff I still won't see at home!)

So jealous that you're going to Torino! I'd suggest staying at the Hotel Santo Stefano. You'll be near Piazza Castello where you'll find Caffe Mulassano, which has its house vermouth and Campari-like bitter. Then a further stroll up the Piazza San Carlo, where you'll find the beautiful Caffe San Carlo and Caffe Torino. These are all older, historic, grand cafes, and they're for the afternoon or early evening. At night, wander the Quadrilatero Romano, where there are lots cool restaurants and bars. And then, if you're going out really late, go to Murazzi area by the river next to the Piazza Vittorio Veneto. You could also check out the original Eataly, though it's a little ways out of the center.

I like to use Tzakiki, which is garlicky and goes well with leftover grilled chicken. I also use a yougurt based and mix it with some lemon, capers and horseradish on leftover grilled pork.

Loved Tim's piece on not liking cake as a kid, and the birthday watermelon result. I love reading "what food means to me" type pieces, personal reflections. Since I don't get the paper version of the paper I don't know - do you feature pieces like this in the physical paper as well as on the website?

From time to time, yep, we do.

i absolutely LOVED the article on All We Can Eat about the kid who disliked birthday cake. The "cake" Bonnie and Joe made out of a watermelon sounds fantastic, and a great dessert for the July 4th Weekend! What did you put in the marscapone cream that you layered between the watermelon slices? How much did you use?

It is a delightful story. If you haven't read it, you can do so here.

Let me see if I can remember. We didn't measure, really, but remembering the size of the containers and the pace of my pouring, I'd guess it was something like:

3 cups mascarpone

2 cups cream fresh

1 cup whipped cream cheese

1/4 cup granulated sugar (just because we didn't have any confectioner's on hand)

1/4 cup Cherry Heering liqueur

And I beat like heck with a small spoon.

All measurements are approximate...

Instead of Hershey's chocolate use Ghirardelli squares filled with caramel, AMAZING.

Yes, that's another idea. There are all sorts of amazing chocolates on the market. You can experiment with the many kinds of gourmet chocolate bars on the market, many combined with spices and fruits and, yes, bacon! It always comes back to bacon.

My basil is growing little white floweers at the top. I've grown basil before and never had this happen. Can you give me some insight?

The basic instinct of all plants is to reproduce. That's what you basil plant is doing when it flowers. To keep it producing those tasty leaves longer, pinch off the flower buds when they appear. This process has the additional benefit of preventing the leaves from developing an undesirable smell as the plant matures.

I would love a few recipes for vegetable dips and chili con queso please to serve for our upcoming 4th party.

I lovelovelove this Manchurian Dip. Makes a party-size amount. For me, the equivalent of...dare I say it? Chocolate Grapes. While you're at it, make those too.

they have a delicious sparkling red called reggiano lambusco or something like that. serve it slightly chilled and its perfect for summer.

Haven't had this exact one, but I love dry lambrusco. Especially with charcuterie.

I assume the wild rice "salad" in today's food section should be served room temperature or chilled ?

Don't you hate having to assume with recipes? But in this case, the answer you seek is there. Recipe says the cooked rice is cooled before you toss the ingredients together; then it says "serve immediately," which to me sure sounds like room temperature, or "cover and refrigerate for no more than 8 hours...."

I chopped up fennel fronds over the weekend and added them to a cous-cous, lentil, tomato, and feta "salad." (In quotes because I ate it warm). Also added some tarragon and thyme.

i make my cinnamon rolls in a muffin tin just like bonnie suggested. and ina garten (the barefoot contessa) has an AMAZING pecan sweet roll recipe that uses puff pastry, and is made in a muffin tin. the best i've ever had!

Yep, so does Birch & Barley/Buzz pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac for these Pecan Toffee Sticky Buns. Which are amazing, natch.

Not to tout your competition, but the NYT food section (online) has recipes for edamame pate and lentil pate. The pictures look like it makes a thick spread for crackers, etc.

When a friend and I once spontaneously made S'mores out of a Mounds bar in my Easter basket, we realized the possibilities are endless. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups? Yes! Peppermint patties? Definitely. Anythin with caramel? Bring it!

Looking to BBQ on the 4th--I need some good vegetarian dishes (sides and entrees) to make. Ideas?

   A few very easy ideas: grilled sliced eggplant, onion, zucchini. They take well to the grill. Slice them about a quarter- to a half-inch thick, lightly baste with olive oil and set over a medium fire for about 3 or 4 minutes, then turn them over. You might want to slide a skewer through the onion so that it holds together. If you use a wooden skewer, soak it in water for 10 minutes or so before using. 

     Personally, I love the grilled antipasti. All of those mentioned, plus a grilled red bell pepper (char over high heat, then remove the skin), dressed with a mixof xvoo, some balsamic or wine vinegar, minced garlic, and minced fresh oregano. Mmmmmm....

     Of course, there's corn, too. Many ways to grill it. One way: pull off its casing, plunge it into water for a few minutes, then put on the the grill over a direct fire, turning every couple of minutes. You can butter or oil it beforehand or not. Makes no difference. Eat the corn as you like, with butter and salt, say, or trim the kernels and use some of your other grilled items to make a fabulous salad, perhaps adding some black beans. 

     You can also make a grilled potato salad. Use smallish new or waxy potatoes, slice them in half, boil them to the proper consistency. When done, pull them from the water. When cool enough to handle, add them flat-side down over a direct fire until they get nice grill marks, about 4 minutes or so. Then grill the other side. Make your potato salad the way you like. Something a little different is to use thinly sliced purple onion, a minced garlic clove or two, some xvoo, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, kosher salt, a grinding or two of black pepper, some red pepper flakes, and chopped mint.

    For more ideas, I was glancing last night at Fine Cooking Grilling magazine and thought some of their ideas looked pretty good; you can pick it up at the supermarket.

We've been gulping down the Moulin de Gassac Guilhem down here in Charlottesville. Fabulous little wine and can be found around $9/btl.

I was watching Master Chef the other night, and the chefs freaked out when a contestant said she added nutmeg to the pasta. Uh, huh? Were they freaking out because you should never add spices to pasta dough, or because it was nutmeg? Is it just a "purity" thing for chefs?

Pish-tosh. I didn't see the episode. Another reason not to take serious cues from reality/competitive cooking shows.

Any ideas for some fun side salads/dishes to go along with burgers and hot dogs? I'm ready to try something different than potato and macaroni salad. I'm already making a cold quinoa salad with cherries and chickpeas, but would love another idea for a second side. Also, kid-friendly would be great. Thanks!!

I have really been digging summer salads with pickled vegetables in them. Our recipe database has this delicious sounding dish for Pink Potato Salad with Capers and Radishes, in which the potatoes are quickly tossed in the pickling liquid for red beets. The acidity and brightness are perfect for summer and a nice contrast to the heavy, wood-smoked meats.

For the person seeking indoor barbecue, they should check out the balsamic-glazed spareribs recipe that ran in the NY Times a few months ago (you actually recommended it to me). I made it recently, and it was really good. I served it with potato salad and green beans sauteed with bacon. Yummy!

   The NY what? Never heard of it. Hope it's reputable. 

Hi Jason, Help a stressed bride-to-be out! I need to buy some cheap wine for my wedding. Any suggestions for $6 or less a bottle? Bonus if I can get it at Costco or Trader Joe's. Thanks!

Wow, $6 is a super-tough limit. You can probably find decent bottles of vinho verde from Portugal, which would be crisp and refreshing and pleasant enough, for around $6-7. And possibly like a rosé or white Rioja from Marques de Caceres for around $7 or a cheap Torrontes like Mendoza Station. I guess you can probably find some California Zinfandels like Cline or that Trader Joe's brand for under $8. I think Trader Joes also has a malbec, the name of which is escaping me,  that's not totally horrible for under $7. Under $6 reds are tough.

When I was a kid my mom (from Italy, north of Milan) used to make stuffed squash blossoms for lunch for us. The neighborhood kids thought it was weird to eat flowers, but I loved them. I don't have a recipe on me, but there were potatoes (mashed up), peas?, and bits of ham. Cheese? Probably an egg too. They were then pan fried with just a little oil. No batter or coating was added. Also, in Italy I've seen them used as a focaccia topping. Subtle but tasty.

That sounds fantastic.

I have a half bottle of marsala in the cupboard. Do you think it's happy there? How long can it usually last? What are other ideas for using it other than chicken marsala and tiramisu?

I'm certain that your half-full bottle of Marsala is miserable sitting in your cupboard! You can extend the shelf life of any wine by keeping it in the 'fridge, and by preventing oxidation. This can be accomplished best by keeping a clean half bottle on hand and filling it up with leftover wine. Stopper the bottle and refrigerate; you'll have wine which can keep for months!

I got some fruit from my CSA this week that looked amazing when I picked up, but which I found out was lacking in any flavor when I got home (lesson learned, try them first). Is there anything I can do with them now? They're too blah to eat on their own, and I don't even know if they'd have enough flavor to pump with sugar for a pie.

You'd be surprised what a little sugar might do. I'd toss them in a little, let them sit so the sugar pulls out the juices, then fold them into Greek-style yogurt, creme fraiche or even sour cream, along with some nuts, and then run it under the broiler with some more brown sugar sprinkled on top.

I just wash the basil and it in a very lightly damp paper towel (get it wet and squeeze out all the water) and then just placing it in a plastic grocery bag.

Yep, I do that sometimes, too, when in a rush. Works pretty well especially if you leave the bag open. I also use a plastic newspaper bag for this -- the shape is right -- but I poke a few holes in it first. And put it in the crisper.

We've been talking about doing seafood on the fourth as a change from the regular burgers, etc.. But other than a very bad experience with trying to grill fish, it stuck despite a lot of oiling of the grill, we have never grilled other types of seafood. Any recomendations for what to try and any cooking or preparation tips you could pass on would be helpfull.

I've found that a wire basket which can be flipped over on the grill will prevent fish from sticking to the grill. The basket will hold herbs, such as the fennel fronds we've been discussing, which will give the fish a nice flavor. Also, the fire should not be as hot as one you'd use for grilling meats.

  I concur, a basket is great. 

  Another hint - just use filets of dense fish, such as salmon, halibut, and swordfish. Generally, just oiling the fish is fine. But can't hurt to also lightly oil the grates. Cook directly over medium-high heat. 

    I'll be doing a story in July on grilling seafood. You might keep an eye out for it. 


The contestant used a overabundance of FRESH nutmeg, where it overpowered the dish.

I am having a bumper crop of gooseberries this year. Other than jam and sauce, any ideas? Thx

How 'bout a  crumble.


Posting early due to lunchtime conflict. We have a plethora of black raspberries. (several quarts) Any recipe ideas? Thanks!!

I'd cook, strain, freeze for sauce that can go savory or sweet; simple syrup for cocktails (woot, Jason), drizzled over ice cream, with grilled poultry. Love the taste of black raspberries with thin slices of duck breast, for example.

Doesn't pulsing also allow the stuff that may be flying around above the blades to fall down where the blades can get at it, thus giving a more even texture?

Sure. But if you're processing for a long time to get something pureed, this matters somewhat less. But yeah -- the idea is control over that texture.

Re Jim's response to the person looking for veg BBQ recipes -- all sound fine, but as a vegetarian, it is helpful to also have something with protein. If you're not grilling veggie burgers, then a chickpea salad with cilantro and tomatoes would work. If you're just looking for veg sides for meat-eaters, never mind :)

     Good suggestion, thanks!

Yay! Coffee in everything, including barbeque sauce! But -- what's a coffee lover to do if she needs to take pre-ground coffee along on a camping trip? I'm not worried about preparation (boil water, let cool a tad, pour into French press, wait 5 minutes, plunge) but would much appreciate your recommendations for brands and also for managing a week of storage with maximum taste and caffeine retention. For what it's worth, I like dark roast (often called French roast) but not bitter. And I don't think I want to experiment with roasting my own beans over a campfire and grinding them with a stone, but maybe you can convince me. Thanks for your guidance!

There are many good brands of coffee out there; I like Counter Culture, which is very easy to find locally, and Qualia, based in Petworth, among others. The key is to buy something that's got a roast date on it, preferably just a few days after roast, and to grind it fresh and then store it in a way that keeps it as airtight as possible. I'd probably advise zip-top bag, because you can press the extra air out each time you close it.

But you're going to get some flavor loss by pre-grinding no matter what.

The other idea is to get a hand grinder! What about this one, by Hario? They're a great company, but I haven't tested it.

I have 2 bottles of a Spanish wine called "Terrenal" which appears to be a Macabeo and Chardonnay blend. I have absolutely no idea what to do with this stuff. I'm not a big wine drinker, but I have used it in cooking. Is this a good use for it or should I give it as a gift to a friend that appreciates wine?

This wine sounds like a fine cooking wine, as long as it's not too old (more than four years old) or oxidized.

Homemade gooseberry wine?

Haloumi cheese!

I found this in a chocolate cookbook and I think their great. Lindt chocolate, standard toasted marshmallow, and Carr's Wheat Biscuits. They were called Encores in the book. You could substitute those frou frou marshmallows, and add fruit as suggested earlier...

A little lemon juice might help, along with the sugar.

I'm also one of the unlucky ones who need to grill indoors unless I travel somewhere. What do you think it the best way to do so with an electric range? I have a cast iron skillet with grooves, so I tend to use that, but it's such a pain to clean and make sure it's seasoned. Also, while it gives the great lines on burgers and grills asparagus beautifully, I wish I could get more of the grilled "flavor." Is there something I could do to the skillet, or another kitchen gadget I could try out?

Have you ever tried seasoning your steaks with smoked salt? I can't personally say I have, but I do own a jar of the stuff and it's unbelievably smoky. You might try that on your burgers or steaks or other meats you fry up in the cast-iron skillet.


A good way of cooking fennel fronds is start with lentils. Cook lentils in water until near tender, then add chopped fennel fronds and cook until tender. Drain the liquid (or cook it down) and, if desired, add some sauteed onions, mix in a bit of salt, pepper, lemon juice and a touch of olive oil - serve hot or cold. Hope you like it!!

Try slathering grilled corn with a spread made out of a little mayo, sour cream or a soft cheese, chili powder and oregano or really anything that suits your palate. I swear you'll never want to eat it plain again.

Roll it in queso fresco, sprinkle it with lime juice, and you have esquites!

Hey Jim, I had very good results when I tried brining spareribs for a while. Garlic, clove, chili and onion powder all imparted their flavors into the slabs after an overnight brine. Rinsed, dried and topped with a simple rub, they were juicy and very flavorful after a couple of hours on the grill. I've moved on to other preparations since (and your advice to keep a journal was a smack in the head to me) but those ribs were particularly memorable. What're your thoughts on brining spareribs?

    Brining ribs is a fine idea. There is so much fat in pork ribs that, properly smoked, a brine doesn't really add that much to the tenderness. Yet a brine can make them more moist and juicy. The only thing I'd be a little mindful of is that your brine does not overwhelm the flavor of the meat. So, I'd recommend keeping the brine fairly simple.

I'm looking for a potato salad to bring to a barbecue this weekend, but too many encounters with bland, overly mayonnaised versions have turned me off to that kind. Can you recommend a good recipe that uses very little or no mayo?

From our Sourced columnist, David Hagedorn:  German Potato Salad. No mayo. And something different, from Nourish columnist Stephanie Sedgwick: Kasha Potato Salad. Whole-grain bonus.

it can't possibly be 650 calories per serving, can it?

It's the amount of olive oil plus the cheese; divided by just 4 servings. We doublechecked the numbers. I think this could serve 6; as I mentioned, Rob and Lisa are generous types!

My brother-in-law loves steak. REALLY loves steak. So we want to send him (in NYC) some good beef for his birthday. Any recommendations for someplace to order from? Thanks!

   I've ordered from Allen Brothers before. Their dry-aged prime beef is amazing:

Cook then strain to make juice (can be stored in refrigerator for several weeks). Then use in homemade frozen yogurt (or ice cream) -- absolutely delish with local sweet ripe peach halves in season (August) for a Melba-inspired dessert!

We're on the same hand-staining track.

I remember as a kid, we would take marshmallows, cut them in half and spread peanut butter between the halves (like a mini-sandwich) and then heat it up before putting it between chocolate pieces and mashed together between graham cracker boards...heavenly. Both smooth and crunchy work.

Is there a good wine or liquor substitutes for sherry? I've heard bottles of sherry have a short shelf life (1 week?), and I don't use it very often. So I'm looking for something with a long shelf life or that can be used to drink with the meal. Mostly use when cooking Chinese or Spanish. Thanks.

Sherry can actually be very good for drinking with a meal. If you buy a good fino or manzanilla sherry from a good producer like Hidalgo or Lustau, that wine is really good with both Spanish and Chinese food, and it's also excellent with salty meats and cheeses. Sherry's also not that expensive, usually under $15.

Pea Salad? INGREDIENTS: Lots of fresh or frozen peas Celery Green onions (scallions) Mayonnaise Fresh or dry dill and parsley Salt and pepper to taste Diced cooked ham or turkey (optional) Fresh mint leaves (optional) DIRECTIONS: Shell fresh peas or open box(es) or bag of frozen peas; steam 3-5 minutes, drain. Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and celery, then mix in with steamed peas. Gently stir in just enough mayonnaise to make the salad creamy but not runny; gently add remaining ingredients. Refrigerate. Serve cold.

Thanks for this. Does pea salad not ring a bell with you Northerner types? Recently discovered there's a Mason-Dixon divide on this side dish. Check out the pea salad recipe we've got in next week's special issue. You're going to love it.

Hey there - minor quibble on your Lunch Room Chatter (one of my favorite activities is to read these during lunch - yay!). About the "Eat grasshoppers, not animals." item... grasshoppers are animals. Well, then again, I supposed it depends on whether you ask my old biology teacher or the FDA (or is it the USDA?) that defines animals as only certain types of animals, excluding fish, etc. Speaking of which, a fun conversation that I have on occasion is whether or not vegetarians can/should eat insects (I'm a vegetarian). Yes, they're animals. However if you're doing it for animal rights reasons you kill off plenty with agriculture anyway. And so on. :) OK, I'm in an odd mood. I haven't had lunch yet...

Passing this along for post-chat rumination....

I made baked beans from scratch yesterday for the first time. They have molassas, and some maple syrup along with tomato, mustard, onion, allspice and cayenne. - they came out too sweet for my husband's taste. Any suggestions on rescuing them other than starting over?

Personally, I'd stir more mustard into the beans and see where that gets you first. Go lightly and see how they taste. If it seems to be going in the right direction, continue. I wouldn't add more cayenne, though. A little goes a long way, and recovering from too much cayenne is almost impossible.

I find that washing the fresh basil and putting between sheets of paper towel before bagging them and then putting in the fridge helps to keep the blackness away. The paper towels help to pull the water away from the leaves which speeds up the blackening.

Another last minute suggestion for party dips: mushroom pate. It's always a big hit with my foodie friends. Saute a pound of sliced mushrooms, add a splash or two of red wine vinegar, thyme, and a few cloves of garlic. Blitz in the food processor with a cup of toasted walnuts. It's great on crackers or toasted rye bread.

After browning all sides thoroughly, stick in the oven at 375 degrees F on a wire rack over a 2" high oven-safe pan until your steak reaches the desired done-ness. It makes the texture so good that you can almost (but never quite) forget that it wasn't grilled. For other meats, try setting on the wire rack over pan or cookie sheet under the broiler. It mimicks the cooking style of a grill a bit better than a pan, in my opinion. You could even pre-heat your wire rack to try and get some lines.

I usually start with half the called for amount, and see how far that goes. I add nonfat, plain yogurt in small amounts after that to get the consistency I want.

I use Sangre de Toro wine for sangria, which sells for about $10 a bottle. I use the Betty Crocker recipe which uses just the wine and lime juice, orange juice, and sugar. It is delish!

I am looking for a baked bean recipe that uses 3 or 4 different kinds of beans -- a friend of a friend makes the most delicious baked beans like this but won't share her recipe. I know her recipe has navy beans and large limas. Can you help?

We have one right here in the recipe database. It's called, simply enough, Jim's BBQ Baked Beans, and it calls for three types of beans.

And they are awesome.

Jim, maybe I've missed it somewhere, but I see a lot of barbeque/smoking/grilling of beef and pork, but very little of lamb. I know lamb is a little different (as is veal) but do you have any suggestions for either smoking or barbequing lamb?? I assume just grilling wouldn't be difficult, unless you have some suggestions there, too. Thanks!!

    I would love to do an entire column on grilling and smoking lamb. I love it! For now, as we approach the end of the chat, let me just suggest a couple of quick things. 

    One, cut lamb into chunks, marinade it in olive oil, lemon, garlic, onion, herbs, and use for shish-kebob. 

    Two, bone a leg, rub it with lots of chopped fresh herbs (use a combination of rosemary, oregano, thyme, whatever you like), mixed with olive oil, garlic, and salt. Grill on each side over high heat for, oh, 7-10 minutes. Move over to the cool side and let smoke for about 20 minutes or so for med-rare. 

    Yeah, man!

Thanks for the answer. I wasn't following a specific recipe. I was just winging it. But my mind wandered b/c there is a "pulse" and "process" button on my FP. And I've seen recipes that say (e.g.) "about 6 one-second pulses" v. those that say "process for about 15 seconds until smooth" or whatever. So it was curiosity. And you've sated it. For now. Thanks.

So when you're selecting from your own cellar, what type of wine do you naturally gravitate towards (both white and red and dessert)?

I've found that most desserts are wine killers because they are too sweet. Sauternes and Champagne are usually ruined by dessert. For me, a ten or twenty year Tawny Porto can work well with dessert. Also Moscato d' Asti or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Often, a particularly fine sweet wine will be my dessert alone!

Please post recipes for your two favorite relatively simple (not too many ingredients) Gin and Bourbon drinks. Thank you

For me, The Gin Martini is hard to beat. I prefer the pre WW1 version which is 2/3 Plymouth Gin mixed with 1/3 Dolin dry Vermouth, along with a couple of dashes of Peychaud bitters.Stir in a shaker with ice and serve straight up with a Meyer lemon twist. Then repeat the process!

Negroni: equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Stir over ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Old Fashioned

This had me really stumped, but after much rumination, I'm guessing he meant ragu?

You are correct. Hal, my computer changed "Ragu" to "Argue"FOUR TIMES!

Well, you've removed our foil, basted us in beer and then left us alone for an hour, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and to Rob, Jim and Jason for helping us give the a's. Hope you got some good tips!

For those of you who want to continue the BBQ talk, head on over to our Facebook chat, going from 1 to 1:30. Here's how to do it.

And now for the cookbook winner: It's the chatter who asked about seafood grill. You'll get "The Summer Shack Cookbook." Send your mailing info to editorial aide Tim Smith (, and we'll get it to you.

Until next time, happy cooking, grilling, eating and reading.


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