Free Range on Food: Diet soda, grilling and barbecue, expanding your cheese palate, summery salads, this week's recipes and more!

Jun 26, 2019

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

Welcome to today's chat!

I hope you've been enjoying what we've been cooking up for you recently, including:

We'll have VIP guests today: Tamar and Cathy, of course, plus Matthew Register, author of "Southern Smoke," source of two of the recipes in Bonnie's collection (including our cover dish of grilled pork tenderloins).

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR4587 . 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.

And we'll have giveaway books today -- including a SIGNED copy of Matthew's "Southern Smoke," plus more books on barbecue/grilling and ... s'mores!

OK, let's do this.


Tim Carman’s essay about Raw and relatable. I’ve been struggling with depression since my early teens and almost never talk about it for fear of seeming weak. Yet I never judge other people for sharing that they have/had depression. Thanks to Tim for being willing to bare some of your soul, and thanks to the Post for publishing the essay. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to know how people have been responding after the essay came out. (I tend not to read the online comments because every time I do I’m appalled at the hatred and anger spewed.)

Thank you. I hope you feel at least a little more willing to share your feelings with others, particularly a therapist. It's really important to get these thoughts and feelings into the light and see that they don't have the power we think they do.


I've received so many emails, Facebook messages, Twitter private messages, texts and notes. Some are so personal, vulnerable and painful that I just start crying. Some said they were compelled to write to a journalist for the first time in their lives. I see hope in their reaching out and sharing a part of themselves. But I also find it overwhelming. I'm so behind on acknowledging the notes. Each one deserves a personal response, I think, particularly the ones who shared their personal lives.


ESSAY: On the anniversary of Anthony Bourdain's birth, it's time we talk about depression 

Any word on how soon (or whether) there will be plant-based steaks and roasts that are comparable in quality to the burger products recently on the market?

Don't expect them any time soon. A steak is WAY harder to duplicated than a burger. My prediction: the people who are working on cell-based meat, growing actual animal cells into steaks in a vat, will get there first. And my other prediction that it will be at least a decade before there's a cost-competitive version. But hey that's just me. Some people expect it sooner. Meantime, enjoy the Impossibles and Beyonds, which are pretty good!

ARTICLE: Beyond Meat’s latest plant-based burger is meatier, juicier and a big step closer to beef

COLUMN: One thing might keep the Impossible Burger from saving the planet: Steak

I left mistakenly left a carton of eggs on the counter top overnight. Can I still use the eggs or should I toss? Additionally where can I purchase grape leaves for stuffing in small portions in the Washington, DC metro area?

Re eggs: Where'd you get em?

The official answer is toss them if you bought them from a refrigerated case, because they stayed above the recommended 40 degrees storage temp for more than 2 hours. 

Fresh/non commercial eggs, which I am lucky enough to buy from a nice lady at The Post who owns chickens, are very much  okay at room temp, because they haven't been washed and sanitized (a natural cuticle protects against bacteria, etc.).


Re grape leaves: I've seen jars and cans of just the leaves at most Mediterranean markets -- most recently at the Lebanese Taverna market on Lee Hwy/Arlington. 

Thank you thank you for running an article about more than the "evils" of diet soda. Something I'd really really like to know is if cans or bottles are a better choice in terms of health. Maybe one is safer if you can't avoid sunlight and the other under other conditions? The cans have some sort of chemical lining that I've seen criticized and the bottles - do they leach chemicals into the soda? I usually buy bottles because you can re-close them. But the soda tastes different as little as a day later.

I don't think we have enough information to tell, and if there is a risk I suspect it's pretty small. I make mine in my SodaStream, but only so I can re-use the bottles. I like to think that if we worry about the big risks - being sedentary, letting your weight creep up, texting and driving - we're doing just about the best we can.

COLUMN: The case for diet soda: It gets a bad rap, but the research tells a different story

Thanks so much for Becky Krystal's column on stepping out of your cheese comfort zone. Your suggestions are most welcome. I'm going to Paris in October and will absolutely get the cheese plate for dessert. I am adventurous cheese lover, but draw the line at Limburger. What three cheeses would you (or other posters) suggest for a memorable dessert course?


ARTICLE: Cheese, please! How to pick new ones to love (Hint: Sample a lot).

Thanks for your thanks! Loved writing that piece and being able to try some new cheeses. And how about that photo from Stacy Zarin Goldberg with the styling magic of Lisa Cherkasky? I would totally live there.

Honestly, I think any cheese you like would make a suitable dessert cheese board. Here's a nice piece from the Kitchn written by someone who used to work at Murray's, with 3 different board ideas.

But if I were to throw something together based on how I'm feeling this very moment, I have to roll with the Brebirousse you see in that photo (new favorite obsession), maybe an English Stilton and -- gosh this is hard -- something American, like a fresh goat cheese or Cowgirl Creamery's Fromage Blanc.

Hi. The Wednesday Food section is my favorite section of the Post. We get the paper delivered, and it is the first section I read every Wednesday. It has gotten to the point where if I say to my kids that I have a new recipe from the paper, they are eager to try it... so thanks for the years of good food. However it also seems that a lot of your recipes recently have included increasing amounts of sugar. Several of your cookie recipes have more sugar than flour for example. That seems like a lot of sugar. I tried making one of the skillet cookies with my daughter and it was just too sweet for us. Even in main dishes, today's tenderloin recipe seems to include a lot of brown sugar. Why this trend? Or am I only just starting to notice it? Thanks.

Re the coca-cola tenderloin: It's a marinade, so we can't tell you for sure but I am thinking that not so much brown sugar goes into the meat. It certainly does not TASTE sweet, at all. 


As for more sugar overall, perhaps that's because Voraciously runs one-bowl baking recipes that tend to skew sweet? (I agree that skillet cookies run sweet.) I do notice sugar content, in general, because I check the nutritional analyses for all the recipes. 

Thank you for this article. It's good to know that scientific EVIDENCE of harm is lacking. It has seemed to me that some people expect to lose weight just because they drink diet colas while eating a hot fudge sundae. Judging those who choose to drink either sugared or diet sodas isn't helpful, or anyone else's business. Do what you do, but know the consequences.

A good point. Yes, you can go ahead and drink diet soda. But no, if you eat the sundae instead it's not going to help with weight loss. No matter what, common sense matters. 

I bought some frozen ahi tuna steaks that turned out to taste really fishy. Any ideas what to do with the last one to mask the flavor?

I consider myself something of an expert on sub-optimal fish, since we catch most of our own and occasionally I find one of them, long-frozen, under the endless containers of chicken stock. If it's a thick steak, cut it in half so it's 2 thin steaks. Use a cajun-style blackening spice (liberally) and pan fry it over reasonably high heat until it blackens. Serve it with a heap of sauteed onions and tarter sauce on a roll. Best sandwich ever.

I have a recipe that calls for marinated artichoke hearts, so I picked up a couple cans of artichoke hearts. Unfortunately, I found out that not all canned hearts are marinated. Can you tell me how to marinate the canned hearts? Thanks.

Here's a recipe for home canned marinated artichoke hearts. Usually, they cure for a month, but using already canned artichokes, if you let them marinate overnight, that should be sufficient. Taste and try and let us know how it goes.

I'd love to know what a pitmaster and chef like Matthew Register is going to be cooking this July 4th? It might give me a little inspiration!

Summer is peak season for fresh vegetables, so I will be doing tomato & cucumber salad, grilled corn, and probably something like local, smoked shrimp since we will be spending the holiday with family on the coast.

On a DIY video, a tip was that Diet Coke is the best way to clean paint brushes. Who knew? No judging, and I'm not creative enough to have made this up.

Hadn't heard that one! Thanks.

Ok, this isn't a food question. BUT, do you find the Giant food store commercials creepy? The ones where the guy's voice is monitoring people eating, intruding on their meals? OMG - i have to mute the TV and look away...

You know, until you mentioned it, I had never seen the spots. I just Googled them and found this holiday one, which is. . . well, sort of stalker-y. The look on one woman's face when the announcer breaks the fourth wall says it all: It says, "How did YOU get in our house?!"

I'm in a different time zone and often miss live chats, but I wanted to mention how nice it was to read an article about diet soda (or any food!) that was not sensationalizing its upsides/downsides. I personally have a disorder that makes gaining weight very easy. Part of my treatment has been similar to diabetes treatment, including cutting out sugar, and drinking diet soda has allowed me to make mild changes to my diet and not feel like I'm missing out on something, sometimes you just want a cool soda. Even going to happy hour is easier....I just get a diet soda and I can sip along with my friends and thier boozy drinks. I don't mean to sound overly enthusiastic but when I think about it, diet soda is probably the main thing that has allowed me to normalize my new diet and therefore stick with it. Maybe someday I'll wean myself off diet soda too, but for now I'm just grateful its an option.

Thanks for writing! I have only garden-variety weight-control issues, and I, too, find it useful. Congratulations on normalizing your new diet - that's a really hard thing to do. Be well.

Any summery salads or grill dishes that would taste great with preserved lemons? I have a jar and love the idea of them but need some help with how to cook with them.

Here are two great salads from our archives! You can also "borrow" the dressings for these and toss into a salad from your own personal archives. 

Zucchini, Spinach and Pea Salad

Shaved Asparagus Salad With Pistachios + Preserved Lemon Dressing 

I love to cook but am not as fluent on a grill or smoker (though i'm wiling to learn!). Would Matthew Register's new Southern Smoke cookbook appeal to me?

Absolutely!  I actually started as a backyard grilling guy and taught myself how to grill and smoke.  In the book, I talk you through the exact steps I took on my barbecue journey and can help the most novice of grillers.  It is also filled with many recipes that don't require the grill!

Hi, I know this is somewhat ironic given this week's article about expanding my cheese palate, but given that the article says to know what you don't like, here goes ... Any substitutes for the blue cheese in last week's ziti with broccoli recipe? I actually don't mind blue cheese in recipes, but I'm afraid the youn'uns might balk, and I don't want to press my luck since I'll be getting them to eat lots of broccoli!

Blue cheese offers a nice tang, so the best substitute would be something that did the same: feta, or goat cheese, or even a sharp cheddar for something different.

RECIPE: Ziti With Broccoli and Toasted Pine Nuts

Some friends of mine have been extraordinarily helpful and supportive of me in a recent tough time, and I'd like to throw a fancy dinner party to thank them. I'm planning around ten guests, and I'm happy to drop a decent amount of cash on this. Any suggestions on a menu or guidance on how to plan the menu? I'm a pretty good cook, but there's only one of me, so dishes that can be prepped early are preferred, and a la minute is the enemy. Thank you!

I love to cook for large groups and there are a lot of recipes in the recipe finder that are geared toward a big crowd. I find that it's best to start the planning with the one showstopper item I want to make -- is that dessert? Or maybe you're a real grillmaster and want to make a big Florentine style steak or a whole fish? Perhaps you have a garden and want to show off your tomatoes in a big panzanella. So start there, and build the menu based on what will shine. Desserts can almost always be made a day in advance, or assembled at the last minute from elements made ahead. Grain salads or lentil salad with crumbled cheese and other elements can be made in advance and tossed together at the last minute.  How about passed appetizers and a special cocktail to kick off the evening? Here's one of my go-to, crowd pleasing, every-eating-style satisfying recipes. Don't skip the meatballs.  

I'd love to tackle barbecue this July 4th! What's the easiest thing for a first timer to do on a charcoal grill? Pulled pork? Ribs? chicken?

Personally, I think ribs are the easiest to do for a rookie. They don't require the time commitment of a pork shoulder or a whole brisket, and they don't require spatchcocking a chicken to produce an even cook.


You might try the recipe below from our archives.


RECIPE: Mop-Sauced Baby Back Ribs

Chicken or ribs because of the time involved.  You don't want to spend your entire day over hot coals.  Also, chicken and ribs are more forgiving.  As long as you hit those perfect temperatures you're looking for, it should be a breeze.  

This recipe looks great, but the diners in my house don't eat blue cheese (or goat or feta, for that matter). Any suggestions for a good substitute?

Comte and Gruyere are delicious melty cheeses that are more nutty in flavor than funky. 

Thank you so much for the child-friendly recipes! As a working mom with a 4-year old and a one-year old, and a husband that travels a lot - these are great ideas that do not take a lot of time and will keep my kiddos entertained too. Thank you!!

You're welcome! I was also totally coming at this from my own personal perspective of having a 2-year-old and desperately waiting for the day he shows a little more interesting in hanging out with me in the kitchen.

Good luck to you, fellow working mom!!

Over the Top Banana Pops

ARTICLE: 5 easy recipes that kids will enjoy making and eating

I was thinking of a neighbor I had in the mid seventies. He was well into his 90s then, and talked about selling Royal baking powder in the mid-west. He even saw Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. My question is do you have any preference in baking powders or do they all work as well?

I'm so particular about baking powder that I make my own. Two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda will make fresh, active baking powder with no metallic aftertaste. I credit the great chef Edna Lewis for teaching me that in her book The Taste of Country Cooking (an excellent read.)

Hello - Our grill is not accessible at the moment - and I'm wondering if you did not have an outside grill accessible would you recommend using a grill pan or baking/broiling whatever (chicken, veggies, ribs, etc.) in the oven?

Any and all of the above alternatives! Check out these posts I did recently on both the broiler and grill pan.


ARTICLE: How to use the broiler to fire up your home cooking

grill pan

ARTICLE: How to use a grill pan

As a decades long vegetarian, I hope that the success of the Impossible/Beyond Burgers doesn't discourage folks from making really good vegetarian food that doesn't include mock meats. Don't get me wrong -- I love the environmental/humane aspect of their success. I am actively rooting them on. But I tried one and couldn't finish it. I don't eat meat because I don't want to eat meat. It was too close to what I remember actual meat tasting like and it freaked me out. Give me a good veggie burger with beets or black beans any day.

I don't think it's a zero-sum game here!

I feel this. 

Big surprise for me -- I bought some Limburger cheese and it was not stinky, much less super-stinky like a skunk, the way childhood cartoons led me to expect. Or maybe it was reduced price (the reason I bought it) because it was lacking in stink?

Hard to say! But cheese is kind of like a living thing, and it can taste different depending on the time of the year it was made and where it is in the aging cycle. And I suspect the childhood cartoons are prone to exaggerating. ;)

I'm hosting a lovely group of friends for a dinner party and one friend currently can't eat garlic. If they were vegan or gluten free I'd have no issue, but every single one of my dinner recipes has copious amounts of garlic! I gravitate toward curries and other international foods when I host. Onions (and, I assume, shallots) are okay. Rice, bread, or noodles should be easy, but I still need a main dish and a few veggie sides. Any ideas for full-flavored, garlic-free recipes, or good garlic substitutes? I've found several Jain recipes for garlic-free Indian dishes but I worry that they will be too bland.

Totally smart to pull up Jain recipes! I don't think they should be bland. Keeping with Indian food, I'd like to point you to these potato recipes that recent guest Priya Krishna shared with us -- none have garlic and we can guarantee they're packed with flavor. You can make these sides OR main dishes!

Dosa Potatoes with Lime and Ketchup

Red Pepper, Potato and Peanut Sabzi

Red Chile Potatoes

I finally found a tofu recipe with the flavor and texture I like, Crispy Baked Tofu. The step I was always missing, when trying to stir-fry tofu, was pressing the water out. On Saturday, I pressed the tofu for almost two hours while I was doing other stuff, changing the paper towels three times. In the future, I'll do the pressing the night before. It was so tasty, the tofu never made it to dinner. The two of us ate every piece within an hour.

Pressing is key! One shortcut when you're in a hurry is to wrap the tofu in clean dish towels or paper towels, microwave for a minute, and repeat a couple more times.

S'morte is good, but in recognition of the upcoming 4th of July, I prefer A More Perfect Union: brown, white and black together not only coexisting peacefully side-by-side but elevating each other and creating a harmonic convergence. In any case, S'morte, A More Perfect Union or some other name, bliss on a fork!

What advice would you give to an aspiring BBQ master? What equipment is worth investing and what are your favorite cookbooks to use as guidelines?

First, learn that great barbecue takes time.  It should be enjoyable.  Understand that if you're planning on a 3 hr cook, allow yourself 4-5 hrs for the whole process.

Two of the most important things you should buy are quite simple: first, buy a great digital read thermometer. This will help you get quick, accurate readings so you're not losing temperature when opening your grill. The second thing to have on hand is a notebook to write down notes as you're learning.  Always make sure you take down notes from every cook such as temperatures, times, weather conditions, etc.

Favorite cookbooks/ cookbooks I would recommend to grillers? Obviously, my own (Southern Smoke), Franklin Barbecue, and anything by Myron Mixon or Chris Lilly.

We picked a ton of blueberries this weekend and want to use them up before they go bad. Muffins would be an obvious choice, but I'd prefer not to turn on the oven in the heat. Any there ideas? (Other than eating them as is, which we have been doing.)

I recently just wrote a roundup (here) full of awesome blueberry recipes. You HAVE to make this Blueberry Cornmeal Cake! We finished it in like 20 minutes.


I was so focused on reading the chat, I didn't notice my timer went off and just ran to turn off the daal (dry, but not burnt, thank goodness!) Thanks for keeping us all entertained.

I agree with Tamar's article today. I credit the combination of lots of salad (basically volumetric amounts) and coke zero for my weight loss (and that I have kept about 60 of the pounds off for two years (yoyoing on the next 20-30 pounds that I'd like to lose when I stop being quite as rigid).

Congratulations in a very big way. That's a consequential achievement. I haven't written about it, but I think the volumetric idea - large portions of low-calorie-density foods -- is one of the best diet ideas going. Glad to hear it helped you, along with the diet soda. Keep doing what you're doing!

Suggestions for easy appetizers for 4th of July BBQ?

I love going super fresh with BBQ sides, especially this time of year when so many great vegetables are in season.  My top one for summer is a tomato and watermelon salad.  

Wow, I opened the Food section this morning and wanted to make the cilantro tofu AND HAVE ALL THE INGREDIENTS TO HAND. Yay! However, we're out to dinner tonight and I have fish that needs to be cooked tomorrow. I'm grilling tomorrow (said fish), can I also grill the tofu, but hold it over for another meal? Or hold over the cooked fish (it said cook or freeze by the 28th)? How well does that work, in general, if I wanted to do a lot of grilling on one day but use parts of it later?

Gotta love that! The tofu will be fine. If you are grilling the fish, I'd cook it just before serving. 

RECIPE Grilled Tofu With Ginger-Cilantro Sauce


I would like to begin smoking. Are there any indoor electric smokers that are good enough to use for the home cook? Thanks

Personally, I haven't had any experience with indoor electric smokers.  There are forums such as the Smoke Sheet that can probably get you pointed in the right direction.

See? This is why I write into you guys. I love fish sandwiches and that never would have occurred to me. Thanks!

Coincidentally, yesterday I watched a show called "Travels with Darley" about the French Riviera. (Your colleague in the Travel section, Andrea Sachs, wrote about the filming of this episode last year.) In the episode, she stops at a restaurant in Nice and has a salade niçoise. She mentions to the chef that she usually sees green beans and potatoes on such a salad. The chef good-naturedly, but firmly, says that they do not do that. I thought it was a funny coincidence that it appeared around the same time as your recipe. Your recipe sounds lovely and I must make it. I don't care for olives, so I might add a few more capers. And I think I'll use both yellow and green beans. That would provide a nice additional splash of color. On a more serious note, I raised a toast to Anthony Bourdain yesterday and will try to follow Jason Rezaian's advice in the headline of his article: It's Bourdain Day. Get out and live.

Yes, I find it fascinating how a dish gets codified at one certain point in its development. I mean, from my research the VERY first salads nicoise were just tomatoes and anchovies!

I am also a longtime vegetarian, and I know others who share the earlier poster's issue with meat substitutes. I grew up in a vegetarian (Indian) household, and I don't have any problem with people eating meat substitutes. My main objection to them is that they are generally processed foods, which I limit. I probably eat them 3-4x/ year. Personally, I like the Impossible Burger and the beyond Meat burger, both of which I have had at burger places. It is uncannily like a real meat burger, though, especially if you haven't had real meat in decades, so I can see someone who has sworn off meat being put off by that. Personally, it doesn't bother me, although I love a good black bean veggie burger as well, and that's what I would eat/ make at home on a regular basis. But anything that helps people avoid meat is a step in the right direction.

The other side of that coin is that I DO eat meat, and I like it, and when I get a hankering for a burger, I'd love to have something meat-free out there that can scratch the itch. I actually got a Beyond Burger recently with cheese and bacon and it was pretty darn good and absolutely sated my craving. Yes, I realize that bacon is not vegetarian, but bacon cheeseburgers are among my favorite foods, and cutting out the beef is still a step in the right direction, right? And since Beyond Burgers have the ball rolling, maybe some day I'll even try to make some of those smoked mushrooms to replace the bacon...

I saw Beyond Meat for sale and it cost more than double the priciest ground beef. That was disappointing and surprising. I didn't buy it but if the price drops, I will.

Any thoughts on how tempeh or seitan would hold up to grilling? the idea of a grilled seitan gyro with all the fixins sounds sublime right now

They both hold up fine in grilling! 

We got "French Grill" by Susan Herrmann Loomis, this year. It's got some quite nice recipes.

We like Susan!

I'm also rooting these companies on for the sake of animals, but the burgers don't seem particularly nutritious. If coconut oil is being added to create fatty flavor, that seems to negate the heart health benefits of not eating meat. I think I read that one burger has 20 g of fat, which seems excessive.

I don't believe these companies are marketing the burgers as health food, really.

Freeze the surplus raw in good, heavy plastic zipper bags. While they'll turn a bit mushy, you'll be SO glad to have them in the off-season for baking , add to oatmeal, etc., etc.

Cheese lover here again - I know that you can buy smoked cheeses, like gouda and cheddar, but can I, a home cook, smoke my own cheese? I'm thinking some kind of rub or marinade.

Yes, you can! Here's one way to go -- Smoked Planked Camembert, three words that sound very nice together.


The key is using a cold smoke technique. Set your smoker on a very low smoke such as 120. Put your cheese in a pan around a ice bath to insure it want melt.

My partner's dad threw some halloumi in the smoker on a whim last Christmas and it was AMAZING. Highly, highly recommend. Would make a great appetizer!

Good afternoon! I recently had a yearly physical and I disclosed to the doctor that I've cut back diet pop (primarily Diet Coke) from 4-5 a day to 1-2. She congratulated me, but wants me to quit ALL diet stuff; she explained that it harms the liver. Seriously, I LOVE the taste of Diet Coke first can in the morning! Quitting will be difficult, as I don't drink coffee/tea. So, I was really happy to read your article, but also conflicted. If a doctor is telling to quit, shouldn't she know best?

I sure wish doctors did know best! Unfortunately, nutrition isn't a big part of the curriculum for med school, and doctors tend to be like the rest of us in assessing risk - which is to say, human. The "diet soda is bad" trope has gotten traction in the public health community, so naturally that's where health care providers go if they don't have hours and hours to spend and a column to write on the subject! The liver data comes from mice, and seems to rest on a study that found pro-inflammatory gene expression in the livers of mice who had an artificial sweetener. I don't have a lot of confidence in research like that since you can *always* find a difference in mice fed two different things. Me, I'd keep drinking the Diet Coke. 

My son and his fiance will be visiting from France soon and I want them to feel at home. That means stinky runny cheese. The imported French cheese are aged longer and not runny anymore. Can you suggest an American made cheese to offer them that will impress?

This would definitely be a fun thing to explore with your local cheesemonger, if you have one! Older ripened cheeses are definitely going to be runnier -- sometimes when I buy at the farmers market I just ask for the oldest round they have!

As to runny, this Harbison from Jasper Hill looks just like what you're after (I'm pretty sure I've had it and loved it). My sources also recommend Nettle Meadow's Kunik and Vermont Creamery's Cremont.

Tim exactly expressed what depression feels like, the shame (?) and how we try to hide depression. It was like Tim invaded my brain (in a good way) and captured my thoughts and feelings. Amazing. So, so helpful to learn that at least one other people sometimes feel as I do.

It feels good to know you're not alone, right? Since the chat started 30 minutes ago, I received an email from a former service member who poured out his soul, after losing everything in his life, except his life. But he's dealing with his depression now. He found comfort in my words, which is wonderful, but I'm more grateful that he feels comfortable just talking about it. 

I have not tasted either but my own food preferences tend towards whole foods versus processed (e.g. vegetables, grains, pulses, etc.). The ingredient lists for both of the popular meat replacements don't attract me; if it is made in a factory, I'll pass. Tell me why I'm wrong. From the wild wild web, the Impossible Burger contains: Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

I'm the first to pin the blame for obesity on highly processed foods, but that doesn't mean they're *all* bad. It's not necessarily processing that makes things bad, it's how processing affects what we eat (like by making us overeat, or eat unhealthfully). But if processing enables us to eat stuff that's about as healthful as beef, but without the carbon footprint, I've gotta think that's a good thing.

We love all of summer's vegetables! What are some of the best ones to grill or smoke this summer? Any clever ideas that aren't so obvious? I'd love to bring that smoky element into my side dishes...

Becky wrote a great roundup of grilled veggie recipes here! We really, really loved the Charred Carrot Dogs

A friend has asked for a baking lesson this weekend and her choice is a white cake with strawberries and whipped cream. I've been scouring the internet for a white cake recipe---but so many include almond extract (see king arthur flour recipe) and i have a sensitivity. Can i replace the almond with additional vanilla extract? is a white cake just cake without the egg yolks? THANKS!

Absolutely, substitute vanilla for almond extract. It will make that perfectly white cake slightly taupe! Almond extract, I would imagine, is used because it has no color whatsoever. 

Admin note: The recipe finder has a search glitch. I was in the mood for fish the other night and had no preference at all on what kind, so I searched "fish" and "main course" to spark some ideas. The first return is Thai steak, and there are two more beef, one chicken, and three vegetarian recipes in the top ten. So I think the function is for some reason ranking fish sauce over fish. There's also another glitch I don't get: When I went back and searched "fish," "main course," and "American," seven of the top ten returns were Asian or Asian-inspired. So anyway, FYI. I love the Post's recipes and recipe finder, so I just wanted to pass it along! But as long as I'm here... if you were in the mood for an American, quasi-healthy fish dinner, what would you cook?

We love homemade fish sticks around here. I use a three part dredge with seasoned flour then beaten eggs then dried potato flakes! I shallow fry them in a cast iron pan and they're ready in under 10 minutes. It's a recipe from Jacques Pepin that appeared in a food magazine at least 25 years ago. They're fantastic, quick to make and delicious with a good tartar sauce. What could be more American?

Morning, all! Asking early - I have some work colleagues coming over this weekend for cocktails, small group, but the first time they're all visiting. I wanted to do a Mexican finger-food spread, think guac, chips, fancy margaritas (I'm inspired by all those foods artfully displayed on boards on Pinterest...), but I'm struggling to come up with recipes that can be (mostly) prepared the night before. Trying to keep it vegetarian, but could be open for meatier suggestions. Any thoughts? Thank you in advance!!

Add some delicious beans to that plan. Rancho Gordo is my choice for dried beans that cook up into the most glorious, creamy bowl of deliciousness. Serve pinto or black beans topped with a pinch of cojita cheese and a sliver of jalapeno on a tortilla round.  Consider making taquitos filled with oozy cheese and pickled onions. Simmer the beans ahead (remember they will need to soak overnight); make the pickled onions a day ahead; and, roll the taquitos and store in a tightly closed container, then fry them at the last minute. 


Great ideas, Cathy. And here's a taquito recipe!

RECIPE: Black Bean Taquitos

I always buy the 'organic high protein' tofu at Trader Joe's - it's in shrink wrapping, not a tub. It has an amazing texture and fries up really crisply straight from the packet. I swear by it.

Yep, Twin Oaks is the same.

I put the tofu on a rimmed cookie sheet and put a rolled-up towel underneath one end of the sheet so that it's slightly angled. Then I put a weight on top, and after 20-30 minutes, the water has all drained to the other end of the cookie sheet--no mussy towels to clean or paper towels to throw away!

The recipe on p. E5 of today's Food section for Coca-Cola Smoked Beef Tenderloin specifies "12 ounces plain Coca-Cola (do not use Diet Coke or Coke Zero)." Why no Diet Coke or Coke Zero? I dislike the taste of the former, but Coke Zero tastes much better. For calorie/carb counters, Coke Zero would seem like a good substitute. Is there some reaction with the diet elements that affects the beef tenderloin taste?

We didn't test it with Coke Zero, so I can't say whether that would be a decent substitute. I can say that the few times we have tested other recipes using diet sodas, the flavor is never quite right. And again, because the Coke is used in the marinade, not sure calories or carbs counts are much affected here. 

Maybe Tamar "Diet Coke" Haspel can offer some insight?

I had a great sauce for fish at a restaurant recently and just got the recipe. One of the ingredients is lobster base. Do you know where I can find it locally? I see I can buy it online, but I'd prefer to buy it locally. Or can you recommend a substitute? I have a bunch of shrimp shells in the freezer. Can you tell me how to get them to the point where it would constitute a base, rather than a stock?

I wasn't aware of this product till I Googled "lobster base," but the Better than Bouillon brand makes it, and the website is listing a few stores in the DC area that carry it. (i'd call first to check availability.)


I should think a lobster base and stock would be the same thing, although the ingredient list for the BTB lobster base says it includes cooked lobster. Perhaps check with your favorite fish market to see whether you could obtain shells, or perhaps a restaurant like Luke's Lobster? 

Submitting early because I missed last week's discussion about the "correct" way to cook broccoli and couldn't stand the thought of not letting people know about this recipe! Don't just cook your broccoli, cook it FOREVER.  Two hours to make what's basically broccoli confit. First you blanch it, then you cook it in a bath of anchovy-garlic oil until it's just...smoosh. I don't know what other people do it with it, but I eat a large amount mixed with pasta and a bunch of freshly-grated Parm on top. Of course, I grew up on broccoli-rice casserole (frozen broccoli, Minute Rice, Cheez-Whiz, cream of chicken soup), so...

Satiety is extremely important - and under considered.

Thank you Cathy for nice article on ham salad. I am lucky as everyone in the family likes the traditional recipe with mayo. I have to share that I have enjoyed it since the days in my youth when my Dad would get out the hand grinder and attach it to the kitchen table to grind the ham (I now use my KitchenAid attachment). I have always found the best ham salad is just adding a bit of the ingredients at a time until you get the right taste. Of course, lots of sampling means I get to enjoy it before it gets quickly eaten up by family.

You're welcome! I wasn't familiar with it until I did some research for the article and then made it a few times. I loved the texture when using a meat grinder -  fluffier! I'm all for the mayo version, too, but it's good to have options for the mayo haters out there.

RECIPE: No-Mayo Ham Salad

Go to a Fromagerie and to farmer's markets and ask what the Patron recommends. This will be a great way to expand your horizons. Buy lots of cheese and baguettes! You can get a demi baguette (or at least you used to) so it's fresh every day. There is seriously nothing the French like more than a chat about food. On a similar note, I was so happy that Montreal really has a French flavor. I'd describe it to my American friends as - this is a city where I had had serious conversation with a sales assistant about *which* unsalted butter to get 'mois je prefere ... mais il ya quelquin qui dit ... .'

My husband and I (at least before the kiddo lol) made a habit of doing the cheese and bread thing whenever we traveled. Quebec City, London, Seattle, Cape Cod -- so many good meals! Hoping to swing it with a trip to Murray's this weekend.

At the office I drank 2-3 cups of decaf with Splenda or Equal very day, ice tea with equal in summer, and the occasional diet soda. I started experiencing increasing symptoms that resembled lactose intolerance or IBS. I was on the verge of getting it checked out when a blizzard had me working at home for a week and I was out of artificial sweeteners. My symptoms disappeared during that week and resumed when I went back to the work coffee routine. Since then I have eliminated artificial sweeteners from my diet with great results but find that they are sneaking into more and more products where one would not suspect them. Two coated pain reliever tablets caused two days of issues. A major recurrence of symptoms was resolved when i found out that the Tums that help with my GERD were sweetened with aspartame. I started reading labels . I think there are a lot of products that want to be sugar free that have changed formulations to include sucralose or aspartame. I would like to see more prominent labelling like I see for nuts, eggs or milk.

You're absolutely right that they're sneaking into more and more products. Luckily, they're required to be listed as ingredients, so if they don't agree with you, you should be able to avoid them. Good luck!

I think you should decide up front how much time you want to spend in the kitchen as opposed to with your guests. This makes a big difference to your menu. If you're looking for a veg showstopper I always pull out Joe's portobello and chestnut wellie. You can make the stuffing in advance so it's very low maintenance on the day. Don't underestimate a good roast chicken and two veg (as they say in the UK). Both those leave plenty of time with guests.

Would it be okay to use Diet Coke?

See just-posted answer! I do not endorse this use of Diet Coke.

I have a friend with FODMAPS that doesn't eat garlic. However, they said they were just fine if I used garlic-infused oil in my cooking. So I made some for that meal and it was all fine around. It was saag paneer that needed the garlic. And because of the group, it was a mostly vegan (1 person picked out the paneer), grain-free meal too. You will find things to make and it will be tasty and no one will care because they are there to enjoy company.

On a trip to the pediatrician when I was about five, he asked what I'd had for lunch. My father started laughing ... well, there was some gorgonzola ... .

You were way ahead of the curve, I'm sure!

Unfortunately, I no longer can eat spicy food and am also on a low-salt diet. Many recipes for tofu, vegetables and fish call for hot spices. Please advise what can be used instead to add favor. By the way, Tim's article regarding depression and suicide is moving and those of us who have similar issues are deeply grateful to him. Thank you.

I'm a HUGE fan of Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton). There's dulce (sweet) and spicy (picante) versions, so you should stick with the former (although I don't find the picante all that picante). Anyway, it gives such a nice smoky flavor without the heat.

I had a baklava flavored glazed doughnut in Arlington a while back and don't know the source. No amount of googling has determined the bakery--any ideas?

Not having a ton of luck searching either, but it looks like at some point District Doughnut might have had one. It's not on the menu now, but maybe that was it? Although they are fairly new to their Arlington location.

Delice de Pommard? It's made for Alain Hess, a fabulous cheesemonger in Beaune, France - but I've bought it here (Arrowine, Broad Branch Market and - yes - the Safeway in Georgetown after I talked it up with the person in charge). It's fabulous - I haven't seen it lately but I bet if you start asking for it, you'll get it. I prefer the version coated in mustard seeds (you don't really taste them) but there's also a truffle version. Trust me - you'll love it.

Oooh, no! Sounds like a great rec. Will have to check my Safeway, and I'm overdue for a trip to Arrowine. Thanks!

Where can you find it? It's ubiquitous in the UK and I don't really see it here.

It should be at Whole Foods! Giant, Safeway and Trader Joe's only sometimes stock it.

Hello, This question is for Dave McIntyre. A few weeks ago I went to District Winery and tried Pétillant Naturel (Pét-Nat) wine for the first time. It was delicious! Are there any bottles of Pét-Nat that you recommend and do you know where to find them? Thank you!

Dave hasn't gotten back to me about this question, so I looked up what he's said about it before, and there are some bottle recs (including DC-area store listings for the first)  here and here. If he gets back to me before chat's end, I'll add his response.

And Dave adds this:


To be honest, I haven't fully jumped on the pet-nat wagon, though I have written about it a few times. Other local wineries doing this include Old Westminster in Maryland, as well as Early Mountain and Chrysalis in Virginia. If you want some retail, try stores that specialize in "natural" wines.  

Haven't tried RG beans yet, but I'm SO close.

Hey, Steve Sando, hear that? WHERE IS MY COMMISSION?

I realize the companies aren't marketing them as health food, but if someone is a committed carnivore, what's the point of them eating an Impossible burger? If it's not healthier, what's the selling point? I know the company has expressly stated that vegetarians are not their target audience, so I'm a bit uncertain of their motive. I've tried a Beyond Burger and thought it was just okay. I'm a fan of the vegan Boca burger if I'm going to have the occasional burger. Low calorie, low fat, etc. I'm trying to reign in my use of processed meat substitutes, but I can't say I've been super successful!

I believe the selling point that they make is that they're better for the planet.

Years ago, the Post published the recipe for fromage fort - the cheese made from other cheese scraps. I can't find it in the recipe finder. Someone's pining for it in the comments on the cheese article. Can you help? Thanks!

From the 2002 file. Sounds good! We will add it to our online database soon:

Simple Fromage Fort 

About 8 servings 

Strong cheese can be served with crackers or on bread, but the best way is to spread it on lightly toasted crusty bread and then broil until the cheese spread puffs and browns. Eat immediately.

1/2 pound funky bits of cheese, trimmed of mold and impossibly hard bits or rinds and cut into little pieces.

2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped 

1/2 cup dry white wine 

1 pinch chopped herbs (start with something delicate, such as lemon thyme) 

In a food processor, chop the cheese, garlic and herbs. Then blend in just enough of the wine to make a thick but spreadable paste. If there is leftover wine, dispose of it as you see best. Transfer cheese to a crock or glass container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cheese spread and cover with a lid. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

I liked the article last week about noise in restaurants. Another aspect that hasn't been covered is what it does to the workers. It hurts my ears for an hour, but the employees are effected by it shift after shift. I can't imagine what kind of hearing damage that does.

I have enjoyed the Plant Powered newsletters so far. Although I am a confident and fairly accomplished cook and these are (as they are intended to be) very simple recipes, I like having another lens and some ideas I can use as starting points. May I suggest an addition that could benefit your readers, especially those starting out cooking? Please offer guidance on whether any or all of a recipe can be made ahead and frozen. For instance, could a couple double the ingredients for the burritos and just reheat for a second meal? Or make a larger batch for a crowd? (I plan to use the burrito recipe as a starting point for a freezer meal for a couple who are expecting their second child soon.)

We'll pass that along!

Toss the water tofu is packaged in? Or does it have nutritional value or flavor?

I don't think there's anything WRONG with it, at least when it's fresh, but it's perishable. I always toss it, but you could give a taste and see what you think.

Just keep it longer? Americans like their cheeses young (and their fruit too - Europeans eat peaches etc when they're riper).

Absolutely. It's hard to resist, but I do sometimes let those farmers market cheese go even longer before digging into them.

I DO NOT WANT A VEGGIE BURGER THAT TASTES LIKE BEEF. There. I said it. If i wanted the taste of meat, I'd eat it. I do buy commercial burgers, but if they all go this way, i will learn to make mynown.

I hear this fairly often, of course. And I'll say again that products like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger are really not aimed at vegans or vegetarians. There will still be plenty of veggie burgers aimed at people who don't want them to look/taste like meat, trust me.

The diet soda of champions!

Move towards a more 'French' style where added flavor is from herbs? I know they use salt but you could make some wonderful things. I think show cooked would be great to infuse flavor - bean based for example like a good cassoulet (but without the salty meat parts). Explore herbs!

I like broccoli in my stir fry, but sometimes it is so strong tasting and smelling, I nearly have to toss the meal. Olive oil, broccoli, mushrooms. Is it me, something I'm doi g wrong, or is some broccoli just really strong? Thanks

The bane of my Food Lab existence! The sulfurous smell of cooked brassicas is hard for me to handle. You can reduce it for broccoli a bit by quickly blanching the vegetable in boiling salted water, but then you would lose some crunch that you'd be expecting in a stir-fry. 


For some reason, I find that broccoli stalks, peeled, are not as aromatic. So maybe skip the florets?


Mushrooms are another matter. I don't equate the way they smell with brassicas at all. Do they smell the same to you? You  might just have a very sensitive olfactory system going on there.....

I saw an article in Saveur recently that recommended storing cheese at room temperature for months on end submerged in olive oil, with herbs if so desired. They said it was a Spanish staple and made the cheese unbelievably sublime. Is it just me or is that actually a recipe for botulism?

Yeah, I wouldn't do that. Oil with herbs in it should be stored in the fridge. If botulism spores are on the herbs, that's an incubator. 

Don't drink it, pretty much never have. I can't stand the taste/aftertaste of diet sweetners. I generally drink water or flavored seltzer. Once in a blue moon I will treat myself to a Coke. And then pretty much regret it.

Yesterday in another chat, viewers were told that the app problem was fixed and subscribers would be able to read the chats in the app. That is incorrect. I am getting blocked on my iPhone when I try to read this chat in real time. I am logged in to the WPost app, but get the message that "Live Chats are now exclusively for readers with a Washington Post account."... with the option to then sign up for an account or sign in. But I am already signed in, in the app, where I am trying to pull up the chat. Yes, I just updated the app. Oops - I just rebooted my phone, and now I just get a blank page. :(

We'll pass along!

My husband thinks I can be alarmist about things like artificial sweeteners (so loved hearing your sober analysis). But seriously - it's one can of diet soda a day FFS. This is why people stop being honest with their docs. Keep a perspective.

I recently tried some port wine during my trip to Napa Valley and discovered I liked it a lot, especially with some blueberry chocolate candies they had. I didn't buy that particular port as it was on the pricey side, but I'd love to find something more affordable (say $25 or less?) I'd prefer something not too syrupy sweet but that still has sweetness to it. Any suggestions?

Here are several ideas in your budget ballpark from Dave McIntyre.

And Dave adds these thoughts: 

I love Port! I don't know exactly what you mean by "syrupy," but a good true Port (from the Douro Valley in Portugal) should be sweet and unctuous but with energy, rather than syrup. Look for a good ruby (though it won't say Ruby on the label). Graham's Six Grapes, or Warre's Warrior Ports are delicious. Anything by Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca, Dow's, Symington, Cockburn's (pronounced COburn's). Late Bottled Vintage Ports are also good and get some of the character of a pricey vintage Port. Tawny's are different, more nutty in flavor, good especially for custardy desserts.

Can the chatter squeeze fresh lemon juice onto some foods for seasoning? This was my father's go-to (thanks to a next-door neighbor with a lemon tree).

Seems every food and beverage is not good for one's health. No meat, salt, oil, dairy, eggs, etc. What is left? Guess beans, especially Rancho Gordo.

Wait, haven't you heard?! The lectin-free diet says no beans! (Boo.)

ARTICLE: Going ‘lectin-free’ is the latest pseudoscience diet fad

This Beer-Can Chicken has become our go-to grilled chicken recipe.

From David Hagedorn, no wonder! There are so many good grilled chix recipes out there . . . I served today's Grilled Chicken Thighs With Pickled White Barbecue Sauce at a party Sunday and thumbs were up.


is the red popcorn! Pops up white and crisp and is totally delicious. I have a silicone microwave popcorn popper and I put a teeny amount of grapeseed oil in the bottom with some "popcorn" salt (i.e., finely ground salt, unflavored) and then dump in the corn and 4.5 minutes later, voila! The best popcorn you've had, microwave or otherwise.

Yes, it can work. Keep in mind that your stomach isn't metal, so it likely doesn't have the same effect...

I know this question should have been submitted a few weeks ago -- there was a great cake recipe in the Post a few weeks ago. A bakery closed and someone figured out through trial & error how to make it taste like the bakery. But I never made it because I couldn't figure out the pan size. As I recall it said "sheet pan" but what size is that?

A sheet pan usually means a baking sheet (half sheet, in restaurant-speak) that measures somewhere around 18- by 26-inches with a 1 inch rim. 

That would be my Chocolate Mousse Cake! I used a 17 x 12" pan (1" high), but you can use an 18 x 13" one and that'll work just fine. Miss that bakery so much <3

I have a Crock-Pot Express. I noticed that a glass cover can be purchased for the Instant Pot for using in slow cooker mode. Do you know if that cover can be used on the Crock-Pot Express?

Your best bet is to probably see if you can find lid dimensions online or call the manufacturers and compare specs.

Your recipe for hot dog and hamburger buns is the best!

So glad you like it! I made slider buns for a lunch recently and people were bowled over. It's a sure way to win the cookout.

Different people will have different reasons for going veg. If meat turns you off, then it makes sense not to eat realistic fake meats. But, a lot of new vegetarians need something familiar to make the transition easier, have family member who will only eat things that are as close to meat as possible, or just plain miss using the kinds of recipes they are used to. The important thing is that people eat as healthy as works for them. If you don't like them, don't use them, but, don't criticize those whose lives are made easier by them.

I found his opinions against vegetarianism insulting. As a recovering alcoholic, I also thought his views about alcohol consumption were harmful, too. While his suicide was a tragedy, some of his professional contributions were not wholly admirable.

by just reading the Wash Post in a browser window. I deleted the app long ago. Hate not being able to see the front page and choose which articles I want to read. As in REALLY, REALLY hate it. But I read the chats and sometimes participated in Ireland last year.

Well, you've arranged us on a platter as you work, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and many thanks to chef Matthew, Tamar and Cathy for helping with the a's.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about easy July 4 appetizers will get Matthew Register's "Southern Smoke." The one who weighed in about the name S'MORTE will get "S'mores" by Dan Whelan. And the one who asked about smoking cheese will get "Food and Fire" by Marcs Bawdon. Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking/grilling, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables," "Serve Yourself" and the upcoming "Cool Beans." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Maura Judkis
Maura Judkis writes about food and culture for The Post.
Matthew Register
Chef Matthew Register is author of “Southern Smoke: Barbecue, Traditions, and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today” and owner with his wife, Jessica, of Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland, N.C.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor of the Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Becky Krystal
Becky is a staff food writer at The Post.
Tim Carman
Tim is a staff reporter for Food and writes a weekly column on casual dining for Weekend.
Olga Massov
Olga is a food editor at The Post.
Carrie Allan
Carrie is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Kari Sonde
Kari is the food editorial aide.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, a freelance writer based in Cape Cod, writes The Post's Unearthed column. She's the author of four books, including Dreaded Broccoli (Scribner, 1999), and writes about harvesting food first-hand at
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow is the author of "Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet and Savory Slab Pies" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2018).
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