Free Range on Food

Jun 22, 2011

Today's topics: Talk about "Top Chef" alum Mike Isabella and his impending restaurant, nutritious meals that meet the MyPlate guidelines, the arrival of local blueberries, and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, Rangers, and welcome to today's chat, we'll be getting into whatever strikes your fancy. (Well, not whatever. But you get my drift.) On our minds today are:

-- Jersey boy Mike Isabella and Tim Carman's fascinating profile of the "Top Chef" alum as he prepares to open Graffiato.

The arrival of local blueberries, and the stunning recipes our "Sourced" columnist David Hagedorn developed for them. Blueberry fritters with honey cream (below), anyone?

The meal plans Bonnie solicited from nutrition experts Robyn Webb, Katharine Tallmadge, Teri Cochrane and Tracye Lynn McQuirter, to follow the new MyPlate guidelines. Because I recognize myself in one of those theoretical eaters (and no, it's not the 24-year-old woman), I'm thinking Zesty Carrot Salad, here I come.

But you may have other things on your mind, and we want to hear about those, too. So let's get this going.

And to tempt you, we'll have these giveaway books for our favorite chatters: "Sweet & Skinny: 100 recipes for enjoyig life's sweeter side without tipping the scales" by Marisa Churchill, and "Green Market Baking Book: 100 delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet and Savory Treats" by Laura C. Martin.

Let's do this!

Finally got around to taking that Goat Curry y'all wrote about a while back. Crazy delicious. My only problem was that the goat meat was a little tough. Stewed it for about 1.5 hrs. Should I have gone longer? Shorter? Browned it less? I know the headnote mentioned making sure the meat was from one goat, but only one goat man near where I live so no other options there.

You mean this bit of deliciousness, yes? Where did you get  your goat from? Best I can do is reiterate: It's key to find out when your guy receives fresh goat each week. Shoot for getting meat on that day. Better yet, ask where the goat comes from. And if you can tell the goat's tough after the allotted cooking time, I'd let it go longer, sure.

Hey, I didn't see your chat listed with the other ones on the front page of the Post. I'm assuming there's one today, because I did find the link in the food section. Just wanted to give you a heads up.

Thanks -- indeed there was a snafu that kept the chat from being built by our Web folks until about 11:15, and it takes awhile for it to get updated on the home page, unfortunately. So we're trying to promote it in other ways to make up for that!

I was intrigued with your suggestions for using smoked salt (several chats back), but have been unable to find it. Penzey's had only a smoked salt with other ingredients in it.. Where do you find it? Thanks!

I've bought Maldon smoked sea salt at Whole Foods, but it's also available at many sources online, including La Cuisine in Alexandria, which I bet also carries it in the brick/mortar store.

I order mine online at

Jason, et al, I just started making rickeys this year and they are my new favorite summer sip! I've found my favorite version to be Old Tom gin, lime juice, and soda -- no sugar or simple syrup. The Old Tom has just enough sweetness to do the trick. I've also found that oude genever makes a great rickey.

Yes, I enjoy those versions, too! I think you need a little simple syrup with the genever, though. For those who don't know what a rickey is, here is a column I did a few years ago. Also -- July is usually Rickey Month, put on by the DC Bartenders Guild. Haven't seen details for this year yet, but keep an eye out.

Thinking about making a 4 animal chili (pork, goat, turkey and beef). Would I need to cook the meat at different times? Or does ground-up meat basically cook the same regardless of the animal?

No apologies needed. We're all holding hands and being tolerant cooks. You don't necessarily have to grind that meat for chili, do ya? But if you do, it should all take the same amount of time to brown. If you go for chunks, they will command different cooking times.

Can I ask a question: Why include turkey? Not that much flavor. Just feel like you need to get to the magic number 4?

Help! My schedule recently tightened up... a lot. We like to eat plenty of vegetables and normally I cook every night. But for a few months, not so much cooking is going to happen. Any favorite vegetable dishes from grocery store delis? Your go-to vegetable recipe, 10 minutes from fridge to plate? Unfortunately, "cook double and freeze" is not an option. The freezer is full to capacity with breast milk. Delicious for our three-month-old, not so delicious for us.

Hmm. I like the couscous-y, tabbouleh-type combos on the WFM salad bar. I'm also a sucker for a cold green bean salad, which has some hang time in your fridge and can easily be augmented.

Ten minutes: How about Corn, Black  Bean and Onion Quesadillas? Or if you eat eggs, you could saute any vegetable combination then throw some beaten eggs and fresh herbs on top. And of course any stir-fry that starts with prepped veg from the salad bar means you can beat the clock, too.

Chatters, help out this need-for-speed chatter....

What amazingness can we expect from Mike Isabella's new restaurant?

I had a chance to taste a number of dishes while Chef Isabella and his team were perfecting their recipes. While they still were figuring out their Wood Stone oven -- determining its hot spots and the proper temperature for the perfectly baked pie -- I was impressed with the flavor of the crust.

Incidentally, speaking of Graffiato and its pizzas, I have some breaking news on that front: Isabella has hired Edan MacQuaid to work at his restaurant.  MacQuaid, formerly the piemaker at Pizzeria Orso in Falls Church, is executing Isabella's recipe for pizzas, not making his own Neapolitan-style pies; he is also training the Graffiato staff on baking those pies. Far as I know MacQuaid is also working over at Local 16 as reported earlier by Tom Sietsema.

As for other dishes, I would not miss Isabella's sweet corn agnolotti. The pasta is melt-in-your-mouth supple, and the corn provides an uncommon sweetness.

Wow - two questions about eating goats already! I still don't know how anybody could eat Bambi.

We interrupt this chat to bring you a quick biology lesson!

I can't swear to it, but I'm fairly certain I've seen it at Williams Sonoma.

Yep, pretty much! Might include buffalo as well to up it to 5. Though I've had success with a half-turkey, half-pork chili before.

Hi, I am trying to incorporate vegetables into more of my meals. But I wanted your advice whether it is more cost effective to buy non-organic fresh vegetables and fruit from supermarket (Harris Teeter or Safeway) as opposed to buying in-season local foods from the farmer's market. I live in Dupont so have access to Safeway and Harris Teeter but also have the huge farmer's market near me. Am I missing out on savings by not venturing to the farmer's market for select items? Thanks. Oh, and I will eat anything.

The cost question is a $64,000 one. Produce at the Dupont market is certainly going to cost more than at Harris Teeter or Safeway, particularly the non-organic stuff. But one could argue that it's worth it to support local, sustainable agriculture -- and then of course there's the fact that you're avoiding pesticides if you shop from a farmer who doesn't use them. Did you see the Environmental Working Group's annual list/report about such? They test AFTER WASHING.

I think the best way for you to know how this is going to work is to go to the market and poke around and see what appeals to you and start eating and cooking it. And even though you live near there -- as do I -- keep in mind that Dupont, as beautiful as it is, isn't the only farmers market around. I also really love the 14th/U Market on Saturdays, and find things are cheaper there (and it's more manageable because of a smaller crowd).

Thanks for publishing a recipe using farro, my favorite grain. But it's expensive. I've found that spelt and Kamut are both reasonably close substitutes. Some people say that farro is spelt anyway, while others vehemently disagree. The taste is very very close, however.

Appreciate adding your two cents. Farro's a little pricey, but a bag will last a while.

Jason, Is it necessary to refrigerate Campari/Aperol to prolong its freshness? I know it helps with the longevity of vermouth, so do the same principals apply?

There are competing schools of thought on this, and certainly most bars in the U.S. don't. But it Italy, it is refrigerated. In fact, it sits in chilling in the rail at the bar. I say, do as the Italians do: refrigerate it. They're both very low-proof spirits. I find that over time, left out at room temperature, Campari especially begins to get a funky flavor.

My fav summer soup is yogurt and cucumber ground in a blender. Peel cucumber, chop it into chunks, add maybe a half cup of yogurt, cumin and salt. Can add any other sort of veggies into it to mix it up. Grated Carrots, beets, radishes...etc Fast enough?

Pretty fast! As it happens, I'm writing my next CF1 column on smoothies -- particularly ones with veggies -- and, thanks to a brilliant suggestion by Ms. Benwick, the fine line between smoothies and cold soups. (Hint: The difference is garnish!)

The Broccoli, Ginger and Cashew Stir-Fry looks great! Could I substitute sunflower seeds for the cashews? Should they be toasted first?

Absolutely, and a thumb's up on the toasting.


I love this topic! Blueberry season is one of my favorite times of the year, and I am very fortunate to have a small U-Pick farm in my area. The prices quoted in the article shocked me, though; $3.50 per PINT for the non-organic? Wow. The local farm charges $3 per quart if you pick your own. I've tried to make blueberry jam in the past and have had no success in setting the jam. I used pectin and added lemon juice; still no dice. Any fool-proof recipes?

Well, I think the operative term in your question is "pick-your-own." If you're willing to shlep to a farm and pick berries for hours in the summer heat, then you get to pay $3/quart. If you want someone to do the picking for you and cart the berries to a farmers market, you pay more.

It costs a lot to raise fruits and vegetables in a caring way and still make a living wage. I don't find $3.50/pint to be unreasonable.

As to the jam not setting, I don't know why you're having problems. Blueberries already have pectin in them, so the jam ususally sets up well. This recipe form the pick-your-own web site (I thought you could relate) seems very comprehensive. Good luck!

I agree on the jam: Blueberries have a lot of pectin and are traditionally considered one of the easiest jams to set. In fact, when I make this blueberry-lemon jam, one of my faves, I have to be careful because it often sets up TOO much after canning. Which isn't the worst thing, cause it's pretty easy to thin out or just deal with.

Today's quesdillas look yummy, but I hate cilantro. Is there something I could replace it with? I'm not trying to replicate the flavor, just something that could also pair well with the spinach.

We scarfed them up. Parsley's much overlooked, and that would work well. Or arugula, or even watercress. Something with a little oomph.

HI Jason. I'm the chatter from way back who had to write a poem about a cocktail. I did send it to you, but never heard back so don't know if you never got it or hated it so much you gagged. Would love to know what you thought (btw, I've got a pretty thick skin for criticism). I had a blast writing it, and read it at an event where it was well received (someone compared me to Billy Collins, which is just about the best compliment I've ever gotten). Now I will have to start drinking cocktails...

 I enjoyed the poem -- I'm sorry to have been so delayed in my response! It is veru Billy Collins-ish. In fact, I'm thinking I'd like to publish it right here in the comments, and see what our readers think? If that's cool, just respond yes!

Nothing faster that super quick sautee of spinach w/ a little garlic and or shallot. Maybe some lemon juice on top. Also, corn salad is good...better made the day before even. Corn (I use del monte summer crisp if not fresh), oil, red wine vinegar, salt/pepper, basil, and red onion. It's a great side to BBQ, or a pork tenderloin. Good for summer eating.

Love corn. Go corn.

I am going to stay with a male friend next week, and want to take a little thank you gift. He's a good cook, but mainly basic manly foods for example, he does a great roast chicken. i'd like to get him some kind of manly cookbook, so he can expand his repertoire, but I'm stumped as he doesn't have a grill so a grilling cookbook is not an option. Anyone have any suggestions on cookbooks for men and what you have found useful or any other gadget or food related thank you gift. Thanks

The manly cookbook genre is littered with ridiculous volumes, like "The Real Man's Cookbook," which tend to view men as bumbling dolts in the kitchen, unlike your friend who sounds like he has skills.

My philosophy is to treat your friend like any other "good cook" and get him a good cookbook. I really like Michael Schwartz's "Michael's Genuine Food" cookbook. It boasts creative, simple and, dare I say, muscular recipes. I think your friend will like it.

I'd also look at "Frankies Sputino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual." Very guy-friendly, and cool recipes.

As for gadgets, does he have a good knife sharpening system? Nothing manlier than teaching yourself how to sharpen by hand on a stone.

If your friend is at all an adventurous cook, you might consider the excellent "Momofuku Cookbook." I gave it as a Christmas present last year to a friend's son, in his mid-20s, and he spent the entire weekend sitting on the couch reading it, totally absorbed. The recipes are wonderful, and the narrative voice is...David Chang, love him or not. Other suggestions: Anthony Bourdain's "Les Halles Cookbook," which -- despite Bourdain's theatrical reputation -- is full of straightforward, extremely guy-friendly food. Boyfriend can write, and, as with Chang's book, this is one that is a pleasure just to read, as well as to cook from. From the perhaps overly celebrated to the pretty darn obscure, I'd also suggest "Damn Good Food," by Minneapolis chef (and longtime outspoken bad boy) Mitch Omer. The recipes (truly delicious peanut butter, bison sausage that will change your life) are like nobody else's, and the narrative -- like Chang's, and to some extent like Bourdain's -- is almost ludicrously compelling.

How did you become food writers and editors? Do you all have journalism degrees? Did you always know this is what you would do? Do you think a passion for food (provided you can write) is enough to pursue a career?

I've worked in newspapers since I was 15, got a journalism degree, and turned toward food about 13 years ago now when I realized I wasn't happy in news anymore and thought about what made me happy. Of course, food! So I went to culinary school with the idea that I'd marry my two passions: journalism and food.

But there are many routes. Of all the things I've done, I think the journalism degree was probably the least important, in a way. Working at my city nespaper while I was in high school, college newspaper, other publications as soon as they would take me, that was better.

I'll let others weigh in, too, cause we all have taken different paths. But I think in addition to the passion and writing ability, you need to commit to journalism -- research skills, investigative curiosity, etc.

I have never actually taken a journalism class in my life (which may or may not be evident). I learned all the journalism on the job at newspapers. But really, I am a failed novelist, which of course leads straight to eating and drinking, which in my case led me to this place.

I majored in English in college, which meant I worked in restaurants after graduating. Meanwhile, I did time as a music writer, a politics writer, a travel writer and (believe it or not) a humor writer. Throughout it all, I ate. And wrote about eating, mainly about eating barbecue, which, being originally from the North and moving to Texas in the mid-70s, I took to like a religious convert. 

Writing and reading about food is, to me, maybe the best way to have fun while pretending to do work. 

I have a journalism degree, which is worth the paper it's printed on. I learned more in the trenches of journalism than I ever did in J school. But, then again, the degree gets you in the door at newspapers, which didn't used to be the case. It used to be a more blue-collar job.

Regardless, the beauty of journalism is that you can redefine your career over time. When I was in Houston, serving as multiple Beard winner Robb Walsh's editor, I found myself thinking about food and wine far more than I should have. I later moved to Washington, took a six-month course at L'Academie de Cuisine and found my niche in food journalism. I don't ever plan to let go of it.

I belong to the Society of English Majors, with a minor in Mother Who Cooked in Mass Quantities and Got Me Going Early. Long ago, in a galaxy that no longer exists, I worked with food ed Jane Mengenhauser at the suburban Journal newspapers, and figured it would be a great gig. Spent many years both reporting and doing desk work, learning what helps make a good story. Always, always was a cookbook hound. Took me too long to muscle my way into the Food section here at TWP, but as my recent Beard-award-winning colleague Tim says, I don't plan to let go of it, either.

I had a long career as a chef and restaurateur, but always wrote privately. Once I decided to leave the restaurant business, I submitted a piece to the Post and they took a chance on me. Coming from the restaurant side of things, I had an insider's perspective that few others had. No journalism degree. 


By the way, pursuing a career in writing is not easy. As I often say, I left the worst way to make a living for the second-worst way to make a living.

Interesting story on the meal plans that relate to the new guidelines. For what it's worth, I love the plate - tells a much better story than the pyramid. But I think I may have missed most of the Post story - I didn't see any "plans" on the website, just links to four recipes. There was no next page button. Am I missing something that was only in the print version?

When you look at the story online, tucked on the left starting at the third paragraph there is an image with the words VIEW FULL GRAPHIC. Wish we'd had time to make it fabulously interactive, but there you go.

There's a bit more to it than garnish, though. The cold soup recipes that are part of my Hungarian heritage rely on cooking the fruit lightly in a simple syrup (often made with white wine), then thickening with corn starch dissolved in sour cream before pureeing and thoroughly chilling. Certainly not as fast as a smoothie, but the depth of flavor and the texture achieved is absolutely out of this world! I love me a good smoothie, but it's a completely different experience than drinking a cup of peach soup or sour cherry soup or melon soup straight out of the fridge.

Oh, of course -- I know what you mean. I should've made clear that this is for our no-cook issue. So everything is raw. So I'm exploring why it is that I find a smoothie satisfying at breakfast but not so much at lunch or dinner, even if it's packed with veggies, etc. And I think it's the delivery vehicle -- glass/straw rather than bowl -- plus the lack of garnishes.

What's up with the site? Can't get the chat to update, can't submit. Tom's chat worked earlier. On Firefox 4.0.1 on XP

Yep, it froze for all of us, but we're now back... Sorry about that! We'll go extra to handle some more questions since we lost some time there...

Haven't seen a new post since last one at 12:26. Tried refreshing, re-upping to site. What gives?

We're back! Had technical probs.

Can you clarify -- if I buy, say, non-organic apples (now on the top of the "dirty dozen" pesticide list from Environmental Working Group), and I peel them or at least scrub the peel before eating them, am I eliminating the pesticide? Does cooking make a difference? Or are they "bad apples" through-and-through, from a health POV?

Here's what the EWG says. They don't address cooking, but I can't imagine that would make a difference.

The data used to create the Shopper’s Guide are from produce tested as it is typically eaten. This means washed and, when applicable, peeled. For example, bananas are peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches are washed. Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis, washing a fruit or vegetable would not change its rank in the EWG's Shopper’s Guide. Remember, if you don’t wash conventional produce, the risk of ingesting pesticides is even greater than reflected by USDA test data.

EWG has not evaluated various produce washes for efficacy or potentially toxicity. However, since some plants absorbed pesticides systemically,  a produce wash would have limited effect. The safest choice is to use the Shopper’s Guide to avoid conventional versions of those fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues.

Ohhhh! That's so... not obvious! (just for for future articles' sake!) Thanks for the help (though I am not OP).

Hi Jason: yes, please feel free to publish on the chat and to use my full name. I'm so glad you liked it--that has made my day (month, really)! I can't even type properly I'm so excited!

Ok! So it's a very literary day at Free Range. Here, for everyone's reading pleasure, is a poem by Amanda Richards:

Ode to the Cocktail
For Marie

It’s Friday night. You’ve had a
hard week filled with too many
meetings and cold cups of coffee.
At your regular bar, you sit at the
far end where the dim light hides
those fine lines forming around
your eyes and mouth.

Instead of your usual beer,
you order a cocktail with a name
reminiscent of a mysterious character
in a classic movie whose allegiance
is never quite clear, even after the final
credits have rolled across the screen.

The drink arrives in a glass that
makes you think of geometry.
There is an olive but definitely no
frilly umbrella or tropical fruit.
The first sip spreads across
your tongue, slips down

your throat with remarkable ease
and you are lost in its thrall.
You have sought this balance,
this symmetry forever, and wonder
how this one glass can contain
all the sweet, bitter, savory
flavors of your entire life.

How To Cook Everything is a good gift for every cook, in my opinion. Sounds like it'd be perfect for your friend.

I will admit, I tried making the pepperoni sauce at home, and while tasty, I'd love to try what it is supposed to be like! I love cooking Italian food! Though my roots are Eastern European Jewish, I lived a year in Italy and have passed that love onto my family with visits there. And my cooking. Onto my question - how close to authentic Italian pizza is Graffiato's?

Chef Isabella is not doing a Neapolitan-style pizza, which is the pie of choice in Washington these days. Instead, he prefers a crispy, raz0r-thin crust with a charred (often known as "leopard-spotting" in the 'za business) cornicione or outer edge. If I had to describe it, I'd call Isabella's pizza more Roman style or New York-style.

I've been trying to find a recipe for making those ground beef sandwiches - but replacing the beef with a black bean mixture. Im not sure what to call it, it isn't a patty or burger, but rather the loose granuales. I've searched, the internet, but haven't found anything that works yet. Help...

Vegetarians and vegans, a little help? I see all kinds of commercial textured veg protein products but not a specific kind made from black beans. Here's an easy recipe made with kidney beans.

Anything by Mark Bittman is a cookbook EVERYONE should have. I bristle at the manly nonsense.

Three of my friends just had babies and I'd like to bring each of them a meal. Any thoughts on what would be good? (One's vegetarian.) I'm thinking things you can eat with one hand would be ideal.

Lately, I'm into kits, as in prepping ingredients and wrapping or storing in separate containers. This would allow them to customize one-handedly. You could do quesadillas (obviously, I've got a mini-theme going today), or stir-fry components, or make a batch of wild rice or wheat berries and send them along with chopped scallions, roasted pumpkin seeds, tofu or chicken chunks,  diced bits of dried fruit. Cold soups are nice this time of year; package in individual-serving size containers, and wrap crunchy garnishes separately. Or even prep and build some panini, wrap tightly in plastic wrap with clear labels. They could heat/melt with one hand.

I'd be in heaven. Pastries, chocolate and the like are my downfall, as I otherwise eat fairly healthy meals!

So nice to see a recipe using Bragg Liquid Aminos instead of soy sauce - but you don't need to be vegan to choose to use it! I'm an omnivore but use Braggs instead of soy sauce except on rare occasions when the dense flavor of tamari makes a huge difference. Braggs not only has lower sodium content than either regular or low-sodium soy sauce -- ample reason to prefer it -- but it also provides things I've been led to believe are good for you, namely amino acids.

Thanks for the good words.

Good afternoon! A doctor has advised a member of our household to start eliminating things from his diet to track down a possible irritant-- first thing on the list is refined sugar. Luckily, we're in lovely fruit season (strawberries from our CSA were like mouth fireworks but in a good way), so it's easy, but what about the rest of the year? We're not crazy about artificial sweeteners, but how far can honey take us? (And is agave and maple syrup refined sugar?)

I'd ask your doctor to be sure what he means, but no, maple and agave are not considered refined sugar. Agave, particularly, is thought of as better for you than white sugar because it has a lower glycemic index. I like it a lot.

Read Jim Shahin's blog about Safeway BBQ battle. How do these BBQ contests work? Would a novice enjoy try entering?

      There are countless bbq contests across the country. DC's BBQ Battle is one of the biggest. 

     Different bbq teams compete in different categories (ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, whatever). There is a point system. The one with the most points from judges wins a category. The one with the most points overall becomes Grand Champion of the whole shebang. 

    A novice would enjoy entering if that person loves barbecuing and socializing. The events are very social. But they can also be stressful, as teams must have foods prepared at specific times and in specific ways. 

    If you're around, check out the Battle. It's quite the extravaganza. Or go to one near your home, if you leave in VA or MD or somewhere. You'll have a better sense of what to expect after going to one. 

I want to use fresh corn in a corn and black bean salad. Um, do I cook the corn first, then cut it off the cobb? Or can I just cut it off the cob and use without cooking?

You can eat raw corn, but the best thing to do is cut it off the cob and blanch it for a minute or two, that is cooking it in boiling water and then plunge it in ice water to stop the cooking process.

I do like the myplate graphic if only to show just how many fruits and veggies we should be eating! I counted calories for a short while to try and get a handle on what I was eating... man! The only way to actually be satiated with a healthy number of calories is to eat lots of veggies and fruit! I don't count them anymore, now that I have a good handle on how much I should be eating, but I'd suggest it for anyone who's looking to eat healthier. There are even all sorts of apps for it now.

That goat curry recipe looks delicious, but I'd have a hard time getting to a market that sells goat. What other meat could I use and still achieve a tasty result? Beef, pork, chicken??

If you can find it, I'd suggest lamb instead of goat. It will give you that good, slightly gamey flavor you want. Beef, chicken and pork will not give you the same flavor.

We're taking a family day trip on Sunday and I'm going to pack a picnic lunch. So far the plan is grilled buffalo hanger steak (I have a small one hanging in the freezer), the farro and grilled veggie salad which looked amazing and... I'm completely stuck on anything else. I'm thinking about grilled corn, and then something sweet for a snack later. We've been eating our weight in blueberries from the farmer's market already so I'm not all that keen on berries and I want to avoid jucy fruit because I don't want to end up with a stick toddler for half the day, but anything else would be welcome.

What about dips? Toast some pita chips of  your own. Or the wonderful world of salsas....


Roasted Eggplant and Tomato

Swiss Chard and Fava Bean

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus


Hello! I recently had a delicious piece of S'more's Tart in Portland, Oregon. It was a basic graham cracker crust with a ganache filling and italian marshmallow piped on top and toasted with a torch. Would you happen to have a recipe for something similar? I'd like to recreate, but am not sure what I'm doing!!

We don't have a S'mores Tart (which sounds amazing) in our recipe database, but we do have Nancy Baggett's delicious Banana-Peanut Butter S'mores Pie, which you might like.

How do you feel about the recent attention to BBQ? --TLC's BBQ Pitmasters series, CBS hour long BBQ Showdown a few weeks ago, and several BBQ restaurants opening in the area - Hill Country, Pork Barrel BBQ. Do foodies and Top Chef enthusiasts appreciate the influx of BBQ? The National Capital Barbecue Battle is in DC this weekend, so will there be more BBQ-foodies checking out the grills & pits this year compared to the past?

     To me, the recent attention to bbq is both great and not-so. The great part is that it is fun and a lot of people enjoy it and a regional cuisine is stampeding into the national recognition it always deserved. 

     The not-so-great is that, along the way, the authenticity upon which bbq relies is being roughed up by commercialism. The accessories are endless. The cooking methods are changing from wood-fueled to wood-enhanced. The venerable era of the pitman is disappearing. 

     I can't speak to what foodies and Top Chef enthusiasts think. My guess is that they love the influx of bbq. So many of them are adding bbq elements to menus and dining experiences. 

    As for the the number of bbq-foodies checking out grills and pits at the Battle compared to the past, dunno. The Battle always draws a huge crowd. I have every reason to expect it will again this year. 


I'm throwing a party featuring a gin and tonic bar. It will have small-batch gins (Isle of Islay's The Botanist, Junipero, Bluecoat, Rogue Spruce) and tonics (Fentimans, Q, FeverTree) with varying garnishes ... but I am stumped for accompanying hors d'oeuvres! This is a prelude to dinner, which is a Gourmet Picnic theme, so I don't want anything that's going to fill people up too much. Any suggestions are appreciated!

Gougeres (below) are always a good idea.

As is pimento cheese -- you know, the pate of the South.

Of course there are spiced nuts, which go really well with cocktails.

For something luxe, truffled popcorn.

This is the first time I have managed to post a question/comment here, so I shouldn't open with a complaint, but....I'm gonna. The assumption that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is the "healthy" option for everyone has been pretty well discredited by this point. Study after study indicates that the consumption of dietary cholesterol, for example, has little correlation to the level of cholesterol in one's arteries, that saturated fat is very likely not at all the dietary demon it has been claimed to be, and that the real -- or at least a very significant problem -- with the American diet lies in its excesses of sugar and starches. I was so excited when I saw that an article today would be dealing with several different ways of eating healthier, and bummed out when, once again, "healthier" translated into a mountain of carbohydrates, often without any attempt to mitigate their effect on blood-sugar levels. If nothing else, this model is way out of date, reflecting notions about nutrition that seemed ironclad 10 years ago, but that have been pretty conclusively challenged and torn down. I would love to see a response to that article that offered advice to the same group of people, but based instead on a reduced-carbohydrate model.

Thanks for your comments and welcome to the discussion.  Seems like this challenge could be taken up by any of our nutrition experts. If they have significant things to say to you, perhaps I'll post a blog on our All We Can Eat later this week. 

AVOID gas producing foods and highly spiced foods, if the mommies are nursing (sorry) those foods will bother the babies. (I didn't listen to conventional wisdom and paid dearly for it, cranky, colicky baby at 2AM).

Hi, I love you guys and have gotten tons of recipes from your article, chats, and recipe finder. Speaking of the recipe finder - is it just my middle-aged eyes, or is the page designed in a way that does not maximize the space available? On my screen, at least, the recipe takes up only the middle third of the screen, and the font is teeny tiny. Yes, I know I can increase the font size, but I wondered if it would be possible to tweak the design so the recipes are a bit easier on the eyes. Thanks.

We'll pass that along!

I'm hosting a baby shower brunch in July. Any thoughts for dishes? I'm clean out of brunch ideas, although I was thinking of doing a couple of quiches (your basic quiche with the caramelized onions--I think it's a WaPo recipe). The brunch is at 10am, so anything I can make the day before would be great...thanks much.

This is my go-to recipe for brunch: a chicken sausage and three-cheese casserole. You make it the day before and it's always a smash hit. (Feel free to substitute fillings, like mushrooms, veggies, crabmeat, etc.)

is what the poster is looking for

Hi--I recently made the Asian Sloppy Joes from your recipe index and we loved them! I wanted to leave a comment, but couldn't find a way to do that. Has the commenting/reviewing option been removed from the recipes? Love the chat!

I  liked those too. There's some online maintenance going on behind the curtain here that caused the function to be rendered temporarily inoperable. So pls check back from time to time? We've heard from several other readers who are keen to add their comments as well. In the meantime, feel free to send xxx's and ooo's to  Letters to the Editor. Perhaps they'll publish a few.

Hi, I made some gazpacho a few days ago that pretty much consisted of tomatoes (2 lbs, peeled and de-seeded), two Kirby cucumbers (did not deseed those -- next time), a red pepper, two cloves of garlic, four pieces of stale, good white bread, salt and pepper, and one cub of drained tomato juice (from the seed mixture) and one cup of water. Oh, and olive oil and white wine vinegar. It's good, but could be better. Suggestions? I feel like it needs to be a bit deeper, something to hold it together, if that makes any sense.

I'd use sherry vinegar instead -- a little deeper -- and throw in a little smoked pimenton. Maybe a glug or two of fish sauce. If that doesn't do it, a pinch of sugar might.

i always run into this problem when throwing a bbq party....timing! i love to make kababs of different types of meat/shrimp/veg, but want them to be hot for my guests. any tips on how to grill before guests arrive so that i can be a good host, but also for the food to stay juicy and warm? whenever i've tried grilling beforehand, the meat gets cold and tough. thanks!

    I have a lousy answer for you: don't cook beforehand. 

    Look, you can keep the meat on the far end of a dying indirect fire to keep warm. You can keep warm in the oven. You can put it in a chafing dish. But nothing works quite like just plain ol' serving it off the grill. 

     I'd suggest having everything else ready - your drinks, sides, whatever. Have the kabobs already skewered. And involve the party goers in the process. Let them take their own skewer off, if you want. People love to gather around the grill as if it is a piano in one of those old 1940s movies. And kabobs take so little time that it can be less an obstacle than a fun part of the event. 

I'm with Jim on this one. Prep everything ahead of time and then make the grilling process part of the show. Here is the definitive article written on the subject for all of eternity. Guess who wrote it?

I loved reading how each of you got to the Food section. Thanks so much for revealing that about yourselves.

Well, you have dropped us into the oil, fried us until we turn golden brown, used tongs to turn us over halfway through cooking, and used a slotted spoon to transfer us to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and to Jason, David and Jim for helping us handle them. Sorry for the technical difficulties, which is why we went into overtime to try to get some more questions and answers in.

Now for our giveaway books: The chatter who asked about the cost-effectiveness of shopping at the farmers market versus grocery store will get "Green Market Baking Book" as an inspiration. The one who asked about avoiding refined sugar will get "Sweet & Skinny." Just send your mailing information to editorial aide Tim Smith at, and he will get the books out to you.

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


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