Free Range on Food

Aug 17, 2011

Today's topics: Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! How to pick, cook and store our favorite jewel of summer. With recipe ideas from our Top Tomato reader recipe contest winners. Special guest: Barry Estabrook, author of "Tomatoland."

Past Free Range on Food chats

Hey, hey, it's a tomato kind of day here at the Dept. of Food, which is not to say we won't take on other edibly appropriate questions you might have.  Editor Joe's gallivanting in France, but in addition to the considerable answer-man talents of  Tim Carman, who dug up all kinds of useful info in his Hanover tomato story (and just happens to be celebrating a birthday), bbqmeister Jim Shahin and the Spirited Jason Wilson, we have guests "Tomatoland" author Barry Estabrook and Shari Saslaw, winner of this year's Top Tomato contest (she's from N.C. but be sure to ask her about her D.C. connection).

Best chatter q/comment will win an autographed copy of Barry's fascinating book; the winner will be announced at the end of the chat.  There's already a queue as long as yesterday's scene at BBP, so let's get going.

I am from Richmond and I am hear to tell you a Hanover tomato actually does taste different and different meaning amazzzzing!  It has got to be in the soil - terroir, because as much money as I spend on seeds and special compost etc I have never been able to grow anything that taste as good as Hanover tomatoes.  

I have often thought, like the famed San Marzano Tomatoes of Italy that owe their taste to the volcanic ash, that some smart entrepreneur would actually come up with a bagged soil complete with that terroir quality to sell at your local garden store - beats Miracle Grow Garden Soil!  And if you are like me - there is no expense spared on my flowers or vegetables! : )

I'm planning on grilling out yet again (I grill probably 4 times a week in summer)... the one thing I struggle with is corn. Please help. I've looked at and tried so many reciepes - some say let them soak in water and put on grill husk and all. Other's say no husks, some say tin foil and butter no husks. What's your take on the best corn on the cob and what seasonings do you use? Thanks

    This is one of those surprisingly tough ones. I gave up on all the complicated stuff and, now, just go nekkid, which is to say, no husks. 

   The reason I grill without the husks is because I feel I have more control that way. But I have done it with foil and husks-on, too. 

     I pull off the husks, wash with water for a several seconds, and grill directly over a medium- to medium-hot fire without seasonings. I watch it very carefully, turning every couple of minutes to get a lovely brownish char. 

    I remove to a platter and slather with butter and salt or olive oil and lime and cayenne or brush with melted butter then add some lime, ancho powder, and chopped fresh cilantro (perhaps a roll in cotija cheese, too).

    The main thing is, put on it what you want. Be imaginative. (Some folks like mayo; not me. Just sayin'...)


I recently tried two of the recipes on Wash Post and was hoping to provide my feedback but when I went to the recipe I didn't see a spot to post a review. Is there a time limit on when reviews will be accepted? One recipe was from 2007. Thank you!

I believe a fix is still coming that will enable the reader comments once again in our Recipe Finder database. Gotta say, I kinda miss them. I'd get an email each Sunday morning with a list of what had been entered each week.  Always entertaining, that. Feel free to send comments any ol' time to

I bring my lunch to work at least three times a week. I have so many delicious tomatoes, except they are too delicate to survive my metro commute. Any tips on how to help my tomatoes survive the trip?

Often in farmers markets you'll find them selling assorted containers of cherry tomatoes. They taste great and are a lot more durable than their larger cousins.

I've been avoiding/boycotting Trader Joes for a couple of months based on their refusal to adopt the penny per pound increase in pay to workers and the help the CIW end abuse of the workers. Although I had tried to get the word out, I don't hear much lately on this and feel like I'm the only one. Any updates?

The Coalition of Immokalee workers is still pressing Trader Joes and other supermarket chains to adopt its Fair Food program (penny more a pound and a lot of crucial policies that will help end labor abuse in the tomato fields of Florida). Their site is: If you go there you'll find lots of things you can do tohelp--and it will be very obvious that you are by no means alone.


Traader Joes is not the only slacker here. Although all the big fast food chains and food service companies have signed on to Fair Food, with the exception of Whole Foods, not a single supermarket has.

Food gang, looking good today! Read the tomato recipes, Joe's bit on community gardening and the Tim's article on the Phonomenon truck. All great stuff. Thanks. Made a tomato and pepper tart last night for dinner with just food stuffs I had on hand. Felt good. Tasted good too.

:) We do it all for you.

Tomatoes and blueberries sounds a bit weird. If I'm not a big fan of sweet/savory dishes, should I avoid this one?


Shari says: Try everything once or more than once is my motto.  The idea of the dish was to enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes by roasting and combine that with the yummy effect roasting has on blueberries - I think the key to this dish is more about do you like Old Bay or not?  For me it just screams Maryland shore!

Oh where, oh where is it? It seems to have disappeared from the Food section online. Please, please bring it back. And while you're at it, you might want to correct the link at the bottom of the weekly Market Updates on All We Can Eat blog entry that takes one to the 2010 list!!!!

Oh dear. I see it took a brief holiday from our Food homepage but now it's back.  Did you know that each week we publish a list of what you can expect to find at many area farmers markets on our All We Can Eat blog? The link to our listing is always at the end of the report, like this.

Hi foodies! Our anniversary is coming up in Nov (I'm planning early) and I was thinking of doing a sushi-making class and maybe a tequila tasting b/c our first date was at Masa 14. I have a couple questions. One, do you know of good places to take a sushi class or is there a way we can do this at home w/o the aid of a class? Two, since we aren't huge tequila drinkers (unless they are in a margarita), are there 2-3 tequila's you'd recommend we try, assuming we do this at home? I don't want to buy a lot of tequila, dislike them and then have to drink margs for the rest of decade (even though that does sound like fun). or are there fun places, besides Masa 14, that we could do a tequila tasting or something along those lines? Thank you for your help!

Here is an answer to the second part first.  A great tequila site to order really unusual and high quality tequilas is HI-Time Wine Cellars.  We have all sorts of great tequilas- I know it is shallow but I tend to disregard the reviews and pick by the cool bottle shapes.  The ceramic skull is killer awesome! (Tequila Kah Blanco) also  Asom Broso has a cool bottle and I recommend these as well -Herencia Mexicana and Corrido.  All 100% Blue Agave -They have hard to find Brazilian cachaça too, and it all gets delivered to your door.

A good cookbook and practice is all I think you need to do sushi - the real issue is finding a Japanese grocery not just an asian store that sells sushi items.  Oseki is a very good brand of crabstick, and buying frozen shrimp that are split in the style you find at sushibars is easier than skewering them each to keep them straight.   Also frozen eel, which you would toast and serve with Unagi sauce is easy to do.  Stay away from raw salmon unless you are going to briefly brine it, or buy it where you know it is really sushi grade. 


What is so special about a Hatch Chile? Is it hot, mild, somewhere inbetween? Is it a particular variety special to that region of New Mexico, or is it more like the Hanover tomatoes, where variety doesn't matter as much as the region where it is grown?

    I got introduced to these gems a couple of decades ago while living in Austin, TX, where they were imported from New Mexico with joy and reverance - and, of course, great partying.

     The thing about them is that they are hot, but not overly so. And they have a beautiful sweetness underneath. And their texture is velvetty. 

      They are lovely for salsa verde and enchiladas and pork stew. They're great in scrambled eggs with cheese. I even make a potato salad with them. 

     Get more than you think you want and freeze them. They get a little mushy, but overall they keep great. (Oh,and char them before freezing, and freeze them whole.)

I'm extremely fond of this Dutch cheese, and wonder why there seems to be only one brand in existence, at least in the Washington area. Do you happen to know if additional brands exist? Mostly, I'm hoping maybe they're less expensive than what's sold locally, or have thinner rinds, which would make them less expensive by the pound. Thanks!

I tried calling Bowers Fancy Dairy Products at Eastern Market but the cheesemonger was too busy to chat. She did say she had many different kinds of Dutch cheeses.

Over at Cowgirl Creamery, the helpful Meg said that Americans just have a taste for sweet, caramelized goudas, which is why you see so many of those wheels stateside. The downtown store does carry a two-year-old gouda from L'Amuse, but also stocks a younger sheep's milk gouda (Lambdropper) and a goat's milk gouda (Midnight Moon). Check 'em out.

A wine column about American wine--that you can actually buy in stores near you, not specialty shops! Have you changed wine columnists?

Positive! Upbeat! That's how we choose to publish your comment.

How ripe should the tomatoes be for the savory jam recipe on today's blog? I'm guessing somewhere in the middle, not green but not super-ripe, since they cook so long anyway? Also, does it matter what kind? I'm thinking it might be a good use for the banged-up "seconds" I see on sale at the farmers market?

You guessed correctly for Jennifer Perillo's fab jam recipe. Ripe, but not squishy soft. I did, in fact, use tomatoes from a 25-lb., $15 box.

After last week's chat I put a few tomatoes in the freezer because I was headed out of town. Now - what can I do with them? Sauce only? And do I let them thaw? Where do I go from here?

Sky's the limit!  Just peel the loose skins off, which come off easily and use them as you would like in any recipe that calls for at least a bit of cooking - they will loose a little texture from the cell walls expanding during freezing - so throwing them on a salad probably won't work - unless you are using a warm dressing.

I love this chat because it often can inspire me to get in my kitchen and cook. But I have to admit that that last few hot weeks (I'm in Texas) have made me want to stay out of the kitchen mostly. So the kids have been eating Boboli pizzas and refrigerated tortellonis or we've been going out to eat. Any tips on staying motivated to cook during a long hot summer?

     I just returned late last night from a barbecue tour of central Texas, where I used to live, and my bbq travel companions discussed this very topic. There was some consensus that summer in Texas might be our least favorite season to cook, indoors or outdoors. 

     As a barbecue guy, I would recommend quick-grills - fish (especially if you don't do it often; nice change of pace) and different sorts of burgers (cheese and jalapenos inside the meat; avocado slices on top). And, when you grill, say, a steak, make enough to save to top a salad. That way, you have something light and fun for the next day that's tasty, too. 

    Finally, as I recall, this is watermelon season down there. Watermelon margaritas, watermelon and tomato salad, watermelon salsa. Hoo, boy! 

    Whether you grill, smoke, or just use them raw, use fresh veggies and fruits for light meals. (Grilled peaches are fabulous. But so are ungrilled peaches.) In other words, go where the season takes you.

Or maybe some of these no-cook recipes will inspire you. Certainly won't make you sweat!

Would like to try the tomato contest recipes, but where do I find garlic black bean sauce and plum jelly? Any particular brands that were used?

Both are available at larger Giant stores and Safeway stores (black bean sauce is in the Asian food aisle), and  no specific brand is necessary.

Tomatoland is a fantastic read. I feel connected to it on many different levels. I'm a neonatal intensive care nurse and have always suspected the teratogenic effects of commercial pesticides and fertilizers. I've seen it here in NC, in Florida and in south Texas. Thank you, Mr Estabrook, for bringing the story of Carlitos and his family to the public!

Thank you! The frightening thing is that I fear that we are just seeing the tip of a really ugly iceberg vis-a-vis the harm that these pesticides are doing Florida Tomato workers.

It's interesting to note that the mother of Carlitos (who was born without arms and legs) sued the tomato company that sprayed her repeatedly while she was pregnant and won. She can now stay at home to take care of him and his just given birth to a baby girl--totally healthy now that the mother isn't in the fields.

First off, just want to tell the poster how incredibly sweet (and fun!) that idea sounds. Congrats on the upcoming anniversary. I know you had asked about doing a tasting at home but I just want to rec the experts at El Centro DF's tequileria downstairs. As a non-tequila drinking I was there for dinner with friends a few weeks ago and the somelier (or whatever you call someone who does that for tequila) was amazing and guided us through a number of great options. Maybe worth dropping by there solo one night to get ideas of what you do and don't like and where to buy bottles. Best of luck....

I would buy the brand that Michael Imperioli advertises--but only if he came with it! I just love him!!!

Now that I'm in the South-ish (I'm originally from NY so Maryland feels like the South), I'd like to make my own fried green tomatoes. I've never made them before so I think it'd be best to start off with the classic and then try some variations. How do I pick my tomatoes? Any special techniques I should be aware of? Recipes?

You don't want to pick the green tomatoes when they're rock hard, but after they've ripened a bit. But not too much!

As for a recipe, try this one, which includes a rich topping as a counterpoint to the tart tomatoes.

Any hope of salvaging polenta that was stuck into the freezer due to a miscommunication? This is our first try with polenta, so I'd like to find a way to use it despite the oops. Thanks.

That might depend on how you wish to use it.  You'll have a firm block on your hands, no matter what, which means you can slice and saute or grill the polenta (coated with a little olive oil). But maybe you could reconstitute the thoroughly defrosted polenta with broth or other liquid in saucepan over low heat. I haven't tried it, and the texture might not return to the original creaminess, but why not give it a try? Chatters, have you taken a shot at that?

Since we're tomato themed, I wanted to share my favorite bit of tomato trivia. In 1893, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the tomato is considered to be a vegetable from a legal/commerce standpoint because it's not traditionally eaten for dessert. The case is Nix v. Hedden. New Jersey later had to cite this decision when it wanted to make the tomato the state vegetable.

I usually put a handful of sungolds in a sandwich bag, along with strips of red pepper and/or celery to munch on during the day. But a larger tomato could easily be put into a lock'n'load or some other "tupperware" type dish and survive the commute - just don't forget your tomato knife!

I sent this in last week, but it's worth repeating: put the corn directly on the grill. Don't peel it, don't soak it, don't wrap it in foil. Turn every 5 minutes as the husk blackens, for a total of 20 minutes. Then peel and eat. It's delicious without slathering anything on it. After I did it this way, I'll never boil corn again.

I've tried a number of different methods of grilling corn. I've wrapped them in foil with an ice cube, which produces  sweet and moist corn (with no char and little smokiness). I've removed the entire husk and put them directly on the grill, which oversmokes the corn and turns the kernels an unappetizing shade of brown. 

But last week, I peeled the corn cobs down to the innermost layer of husks and smoked them on the top tier of my smoker for about 45 minutes. (It's a very low temperature, around 225 degrees.) They turned out smoky and sweet.  Some people ate them without butter or salt.

Hey Jim! I've finally got some time to devote to a grilled brisket this weekend. It's been a sporadic summer for me grill wise and I ain't got my rhythmn where it needs to be. I'm cooking for friends so I don't have the luxury of trial and error. Do you have a fool proof recipe for this normally bbq-ing fool? Thanks.

     In a word, no. I don't have a foolproof recipe. Smoking and grilling is unpredictable, owing to everything from the weather to the types of wood you use.

       And I just talked the other day to a guy named Aaron Franklin, who is regarded as one of the best pitmen in Texas and he was regaling me with stories of ruined briskets in his first attempts.

      Discouraged yet? Don't be. Here is a method that comes as close to foolproof as you can get:

      Season the brisket with a dry rub (in Texas, they prefer just salt and coarse-ground pepper, so nothing interferes with the magnicent smoke and beefy flavor; I'd suggest you do the same - the simpler the better, esp at first).

Start an indirect fire. When it's hot, add hard wood chunks (not chips; they won't penetrate the meat deeply enough). Oak imparts a nice, mild flavor. Apple is nice, too but less robust. Hickory's fine, but can be a little strong; you might wanna mix with others. 

     Let the chunks catch for awhile and burn down some, probably about 10 or so minutes. Put the brisket, fat side up, on the far side of the grill, away from the fire. Close the lid. Leave alone. (Every time you open that lid you are disturbing your fire and impeding the smoking process.)

     Add chunks as needed, roughly about 6 every two hours or so. Keep your fire low, between 225-250 degrees F. 

      After four hours, wrap the brisket in foil. Continue to cook until the final hour, remove the foil, put back on the grate (and, of course, close the lid, as you should do throughout the process). 

      Smoke for about an hour and a half per pound. Some will argue that that's a little long, but, starting out, you won't more time on the smoker, not less. Brisket not only can take it, it loves it. 

      Let the brisket rest for about 10 minutes off the grill. Cut against the grain in fairly thick slices (this ain't pastrami). Serve with sauce on the side. 

      The back half will have a lot of fat. That's where the flavor is. Just slice the fat off when serving. 

      Oh, you might wanna start real, real early to make sure you get this done by the time your guests arrive. Brisket is a commitment. 

     Good luck.

I'm out of chicken stock, so I'm going to roast two chickens this weekend so I can start building my supply back up. The questions is, what do I do with all that meat? I'm going to do chicken salads for lunch, and roast chicken for dinner - but I'd love to throw it in a freezable recipe for future dinners.

You can, in fact, freeze the cooked chicken for a few months. Best to do so in portions that make sense (8 ounces/2 cups, etc) and label well. 

Sorry i couldnt care less how they are treated. They chose these jobs at the prevailing wages and conditions. it is not forced or slave labor. If they dont like the conditions they can quit. I refuse to pay more for my food because some left wing ninny do gooders want these folks driving BMWs and living Mcmansions.

If you check Florida judicial records, you'll find out that it is slave labor far too often. There have been seven cases successfullybrought to justice in the last decade or so, freeing more than 1,200 people. These folks were bought and sold like animals, kept shackled in chains at night, locked in the back of produce trucks, beaten for not working hard enough, shot for trying to escape, and paid nothing.

Thanks so much for this info, I had no idea there was such a campaign! Is the idea to just not buy tomatoes at Trader Joe's, or not to shop there at all? (I was about to go there but can re-route myself if it'll help farm workers.)

That is your decision. But I believe the CIW has a letter you can download and give the store manager telling him/her your feelings about their tomato policies.

I know it's all about tomatoes today, but since yesterday was the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death (or "alleged death," if you prefer), I couldn't resist sharing with you what purportedly is The King's own favorite fried chicken recipe. It also might help explain his death! If you could figure out how to cut the recipe down to size for non-royalty in need of only two or three servings, that'd be nice, too. Here it is (You also can see it online here:

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Elvis Loved *Google-sized portions; read all the way through to get the total amounts needed*

1/2 c thyme

1/4 c oregano

1/4 c basil

1/2 c onion powder

1/2 c garlic powder

1/2 c dry mustard

1/2 c paprika

1/4 c chili powder

1/2 c celery seed

2 Tbsp salt

1/2 c coriander

1/2 c cumin

1/3 c kosher salt

1/4 c cayenne pepper

1/2 c ground black pepper

1/4 c ground white pepper

3 gals. buttermilk

3 cases organic free range chicken (roughly 30 chickens, divided into 1.5- to 2-lb. sections)


Mix these amounts of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then whisk in the buttermilk until it's thoroughly mixed. Pour the batter over the chickens and marinate for up to five days - keep refrigerated, of course.

For frying

Now mix another 4x the above dry ingredients, and add: 2 lbs. cornstarch 8 qts. all-purpose organic whole wheat flour Dredge the marinated chicken pieces in the dry herbs/flour/cornstarch mixture mix. Fry the dredged chicken in a large skillet with hot peanut oil @ 375 degrees. Once chicken has reached a golden brown color, finish cooking it in the oven.

We'll share this out of mutual respect -- at least for the Graceland scene in "Spinal Tap."

Put it in a piece of Tupperware! That's how I get all my fresh fruit and veggies into work without bruising. You can pad any extra space with some cheese. My co-workers laugh at me, but I have the last laugh at lunchtime. :)

A couple of years ago the Post published a great recipe for low temperature roasted tomatoes. I remember roasted cumin as one of the seasonings. Can't find my clipping, any help?

Hope this is the one you remember; it's called 12-Hour Tomatoes. From Editor Joe!


I went to make the cherry ketchup, from last week, and then decided that I didn't want to pit 1.5 pounds of cherries by hand, if I didn't have to. Any idea if the cherry pitter tools work well?

Editor Joe bought a 4-cherry pitter (maybe via Amazon?) and reported success. For a mere 1.5 pounds, though, you can knock off the pitting by hand before a single episode of "Breaking Bad" is over. I like using food-safe disposable gloves....

supposedly this is the season for "cheap" lobster (well, it's all relative). Has anyone seen live lobsters for sale at competitive pricing?

According to M.J. Gimbar at BlackSalt Fish Market, the lobster prices this season have not dropped at all. He sells Maine or Canadian hard-shell lobsters for $16.99 a pound and says he's seen about a dollar variation from that price.

A friend gave me homemade crabapple and blackberry syrups as a thank-you gifts. Any food or even better drink recipes to help me use them up? Not a big fan of pancakes.

I'd add the blackberry syrup to seltzer water or prosecco; maybe use the crabapple syrup in a pie or refrigerator preserves.  I'd also stir the crabapple into mashed sweet potatoes. Chatters, how 'bout you?

Do most tomatoes come from Immokalee? Are Immokalee tomatoes the only ones we're asked to boycot -- I guess at stores other than WF?

Depending on the time of year, those hard, bland supermarket tomatoes can come from many places. The same large corporations that grow them during the winter in the Immokalee area in SW Florida, move north to the Carolinas, Virginia, and New Jersey during the summer and the workers follow the ripening crop.

Is picking them fresh off the vine and eating them in the yard. We'll braggingly called that "eating them like apples."

I wrap delicate fruits like peaches in bubble wrap when I bring them to work. It protects them from edges and light bumps. If your commute is especially turbulent, you could put the bubble-wrapped tomato in a rigid plastic container.

I saw the line yesterday and just kept walking. If I had asked to be seated, I could I have skipped the line and had lunch inside?

Our online producer Cara Kelly says nope. Everybody has to wait in line to order. Although staff will bring your food to the table.

There nine grades of prime beef do any local steak houses or restaurants serve the top grade. Can it be purchased anywhere locally? No I refuse to pay premium prices for frozen beeef. It makes a difference. No Wagyu or whatever restaurants are calling this imposter is not the same thing. Unless its from Japan it aint the same. Tried it you can taste and feel the difference in your mouth.

I'm sure that when you contact Don at The Organic Butcher in McLean or Pam at Wagshal's in the District, they can inform you about which grades are available for purchase.

Looking for a warm/hot dish to round out a tapas-style dinner with close friends on Friday. Already planned are gazpacho and a cold Vietnamese-style spring roll with shrimp and veg. Think we need one or two other dishes, preferably one warm/hot just so it seems like dinner (is that weird?). Preferably stuff that can be done ahead so the four of us can enjoy an evening together on the patio without one of us... ahem... standing over the stove half the night. Dessert is b'day cake (especially if I can find a good recipe for a small-scale cake. Might be my excuse to buy one of the new books you've recommended. Tapas-y ideas or resources much welcomed. Thanks!

There are so many to choose from but these are easy and found in every tapas bar in Spain - they cook well and look great in small earthen terra cotta bowls

Gambas ajillo

  • 1 lb shrimp, 25 count to a pound - 1/4 lb a piece in 4 bowls
  • 8 large cloves of garlic split into quarters
  • 1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 oz of cognac (you may substitute dry sherry instead)
  • 1/4 cup virgin olive oil
  • 3 tsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lemon for juice
  • a pinch of saffron mix in the cognac
  • 1 Baguette sliced and toasted

Simply divide ingredients into bowls and bake at 400' for 5-7 minutes - or until shrimp is done - do not move while cooking any little 'crustiness' that forms will be extra yummy!

Also this is a dish inspired by Amada in Philadelphia PIQUIllOS REllENOS

Mixture to stuff piquillo peppers (can buy in a can or jar - small to medium red peppers that have a peak on one end) with 1/2 lb of fresh crab meat (pasturized if you must) 1 rib diced small celery, 1 scallion diced small, 1 beaten egg,  1 tablespoon of panko bread crumbs and a drop of molasses - bake in olive oil till crab mixture sets - say 10 minutes at 350'  this dish works great with a squid ink sauce - the black sauce and red peppers look great together but the dish works great on it's own as well.

This year, I planted "Big Boy" and a cherry version. The cherry tomato haul has been about 5 per week this month, and I am just NOW beginning to get a Big Boy (which is the size of a baseball.) Will these recipes work on tomatoes stolen, err... TRADED for a bottle of wine... from my neighbor's garden? PS - Can you recommend a wine for all these tomato dishes? Under $25, please.

Here's some advice stolen from Dave McIntyre, our wine columnist:

The thing to remember with tomatoes is the acidity - I like to match the acidity in the tomatoes with a similarly acidic wine. So think crisp whites such as an unoaked sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, one of the Santorini wines from Greece that I recommended a few weeks ago, or a dry rosé. The latter would match summer's best wine with summer's best food.

 Then again, last weekend I made gazpacho popsicles and served them to guests alongside an 11-year-old Premier Cru white Burgundy. But that's my blog post for next week!

I have a ton of black krims and would love to try a tomato tart (tort?), but all the recipes I find call for cheese, and I'm vegan. Any ideas? Mmmm, these tomatoes are the best!

You could use this recipe, but you will need to find vegan substitutes for the butter and puff pastry, but I'm assuming that may be easier for you.

We either shred or chop it and then use it shredded in enchiladas, chicken tinga, and the like and chopped in chicken salad and chicken pot pie.

...are FABULOUS together. One of my favorite salads this summer has been arugula with fresh blueberries, yellow grape tomatoes, goat cheese, and a white wine vinaigrette. Delish.

I'd love to grow my own heirloom tomatoes in a pot on my deck, but am not sure how to get started. Is there an online option for buying seeds (I don't live in the DC metro area)? Is there a good source for comparison between varieties - what grows well in different conditions, flavor profiles, etc.? I am lucky that my local grocery store stocks great local tomatoes in the summer, but the staff are not at all helpful about the varieties, etc.

Tomatoes love to grow in containers. I'm lucky enough to have a huge garden, but still plant a half-dozen containers because the tomatoes in them tend to ripen earlier and the fruits look beautiful on the deck. You can go as elaborate or as simple as you like. Companies like Garderners Suppply sell all manner of containers ($$$$) but you can pick up a cheap plastic planter of bucket at any gardern center or hardward store, fill it with commercial potting mix, and plant away. There are many online seed sources. I find that Johnny's Selected Seeds has a good selection of heirlooms. As for varieties, I always suggest that folks go to a local farmers market and buy several varieties of heirlooms (not all taste good in every region). Find a few you like, and plant those next spring.

I've had success packing them in tupperware containers, either whole and padded with napkins (for cleaning up after!) or sliced and stacked with some basil leaves. My garden has produced a bumper crop of super-sweet orange cherry tomatoes this year, which have paired beautifully with everything from jicama and black beans to yellow watermelon and mozzarella. The Roma and Big Boy plants are finally over blossom-end rot, so here's to tomato season!

And hallelujah.

Just defrost it as much as possible, place it in a small pot over low heat. Use a wooden spoon if you have it and a potato masher, preferably the kind with small holes. Add a little water at first, mash it to eliminate lumps. Then add some dairy, milk, half and half or cream. Once it gets back to the consistency you want, finish with olive oil or butter if you desire. Hope that helps.

I was disappointed you wasted a space for a finalist with a cold tomato sauce that just about everybody has made. Seriously, that was a recipe that won? I thought this was for creative or innovative or otherwise special recipes, but chopping up fresh toms with olive oil, garlic, basil, and olives is something I have had about a million times from all sorts of chefs and done myself just as many. I just don't see that she did anything different from anyone else.

Well, here's what I have to say about that. Try Shari's recipe, and get back to us. Everybody loved it, wanted to keep eating it. It is not really like what you're describing. And there's no garlic.


My dad grew tomatoes when I was young; he hasn't been able to in 20 years or so because the backyard trees grew too tall and he doesn't have a sunny spot left. Now that I have my own house, with a very sunny backyard, I planted my own tomatoes. One really warm day, I was tending to them and caught a whiff of the sun-warmed vines, and immediately was transported back in time. I'd forgotten that incredible fragrance! Now, half the time I go out there is just to smell the plants.

Same with my dad. One of my fondest boyhood memories is transplanting tomato seedlines into the garden with him. He's been dead more than 20 years, but that smell of tomato leaves never fails to make those memories come alive. I think I'd grow tomatoes for that reason alone.

Hoping Jason can help! Have a few friends over this weekend and I'm looking to make some sort of punch or sangria ahead of time. Any suggestions? Looking for something that is refreshing and good, but simple to make (only a few ingredients, nothing too obscure). Thanks!


I lived in Spain and love all things Sangria but the most memorable one I ever had was down at St. Armands Circle in Sarasota at Florida's oldest restaurant, The Columbia.  It is a Spanish Cava Sangria with a splash of Spanish Brandy.  The recipe is online - unfortunately my computer is running slooow but you can look it up!  I highly recommend

I've been enjoying this Light Guard Punch during the summer. You can find the ingredients in most liquor stores. This Tuscan Sangria is also really nice, though the ingredients are little more "obscure," though not really. You can find Punt w Mes and Tuaca in most stores.

With the sweet bell peppers available now, I found a great recipe for stuffed peppers -- with an orzo/spinach/tomato/cheese filling. Would stuffed peppers like this be something you could make a bunch of and freeze? If so, freeze them before you bake or after? Thanks!

I'm sure you can freeze the peppers stuffed, but I wouldn't.  (Mostly because I don't like them that much, but more to the point of not wanting to end up with peppers of a lesser texture.) Freeze the filling, then prep the peppers just before you steam/bake them.

Loved the article! I've started seeing fall and pumpkin beers creep onto shelves, any suggestions on liquors that would be a good match?

Great question! I wonder how some apple brandy, like Laird's or even a Calvados, might go with a pumpkin beer. Looks like another experiment.

Do you have any great drink recipes that use St. Germain? I always see it in bars, and whenever I'm out and get a drink with St. Germain I love it. I want to get some for my home bar. Is it something I should use as a substitute for something else. I tried searching for St. Germain on your drink recipe database but didn't get any results.

I think St-Germain is really good with a little sparkling wine like prosecco or cava. I also make something called an Elderfashioned, which is 2 oz. bourbon and a 1/2 oz. of St-Germain and a dash of orange bitters.

Jim, have you tried this food truck? I bought the two meat platter a couple of weeks ago - the pulled pork and the chicken - and was amazed at how good it was. Could only eat half (comes with excellent sour slaw and nontraditional beans) and when I pulled the container out of the fridge a couple of days later I was surprised and pleased to see next to no congealed fat sitting on top of the (deliciously) sauced pulled meat. Your views of the BBQ food trucks?

     I have tried every bbq food trucks I know about. That includes the BBQ Bus. I like particular items at specific trucks. 

     I'd rather not comment on an individual truck because I would prefer to do something more in-depth that puts their various approaches to bbq in context. 

      So, I guess I'm going to weenie out on this one. But I would love to hear from you and others about trucks you've eaten at and what you think. You can email me at

Anyone - why do my cherry tomatoes grow like gangbusters but I can't grow a regular-size or heirloom tomato to save my life? I'm in coastal New England, if that matters.

Pattie Bland, the horticulture expert in Hanover County who helped me with this week's story on Hanover tomatoes is perplexed by your problem. "It's a tomato," she says. "It should have the same kind of nutrient requirements and everything."

She suggests looking at the basics: Don't over-fertilize, which will cause your plant to spend too much energy  producing greenery, not fruit. If the weather has been too hot, over 90 degrees without a resulting drop of temperature at night, it could cause your tomato blossoms to drop off.

And thank you for the birthday greetings!

Oh my gosh I have just learned of the most delicious snack EVER with grape tomatoes. Cut in half, place cut side up on a cookie sheet, put on salt and pepper, and roast at 250 for 1-2 hours. They get all tart and dehydrated and YUMMY. Yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy.

Send me over those roasted cherry tomato poppers, please! It's my birthday!

The average US family of 4 can not afford to eat green, local, organic, and support Pro Union causes. Bonleless organic humanely raised chicken breast cost 4 times what the smae package does at Giant etc. Same with a gallon of milk, a lb of tomatoes and gree peppers. These are nice ideals but only work for couples and singles who make 6 figures like you at the WP. Why not do an article and buy food green local etc and the same from a Super Wal mart and see the difference is 4 times plus. You all need to live in the real world and drive a 10yo Doddge minivan and not cute little Minis or Vespas

It might be worthwhile to check out produce prices at a nearby farmers market. I've come across several studies recently (Seattle University, University of Iowa Leopold Center, Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont) comparing prices between supermarkets and super markets. In many cases, the farmers markets were cheaper.

1. The tomato jam recipe-- will it still set up if done in a double or triple quantity? 2. Jason, recommendations for wines or cocktails to match up with fresh (raw)tomato dishes, many of which contain balsamic and/or citrus? Thanks guys LOVE the chats!

Tomatoes are notoriously difficult to pair with drinks, but I think a nice Negroni, either the traditional with gin, or a Negroni Sbagliato with prosecco.

Shari, I love the sound of your winning submisstion (having a passion of fish sauce and chilis helps I'm sure) - but every time I buy jicama I'm stumped by trying to clean it - and usually don't (and don't eat it). So what's the best way to tackle that chore?

I peel them with a vegetable peeler and cut off the tops and bottoms.  My problem is keeping them from getting mushy before I use them.  I cut them up and put them in lemon water in a container in the fridge but I am not sure this is the best way.  I know others peel them and wrapped them in plastic wrap.  They are a very good addition to any salad and way under used.

I used to buy a killer tomato chutney in jars at dean & deluca and sutton place gourmet (ok, balducci's) but haven't been able to find it for years. It was quite thick and showed an obvious Indian influence. Have any ideas for finding or making something similar?

I love tomato chutney - I give it away as gifts because it is so versatile hold on let me look in my cabinet to see if I can give you the brand.  I get mine at an Indian market down the street.

I have a french press at home and need a coffee grinder for the first time. Any suggestions? Electric or hand? Does it matter if I get a cheapo one from Target?

Coffee grinders do make a difference. The cheapo blade grinders tend to produce an uneven grind, which can affect the coffee's flavor. The blades can also heat your beans during the grinding process, which produces a burnt flavor.

They're more expensive, but buy a conical burr grinder. You'll be happier with your house-brewed coffee.

That's the one. Thanks a million. For the cherry pitter hunter, I bought the 4 at a time model at Sur La Table last week (on the clearance rack). It works on the alligator principle (has Jaws instead of a trigger like the one at a time models). Made by Progressive. It works like a wonder. Now I need a gadget to crack the cherry pits to make the cherry pit ice cream more feasible. (Also a Post recipe) It took more than an hour with a mortal and pestle to break the cup and a half of pits.

Add a splash of the syrup to a pilsner style beer for a lovely summer drink.

Wagshals in Spring Valley has sushi grade salmon and tuna - we've been getting it there for years and have never had an issue. It's wonderful to make sushi at home!!

You gave their side a comment how about one from ours? As a left winger let me say what a despicable human being that right winger is. Get informed. Read once in a while. one day you may have to pay the real price of food and not your oversubsidized big corp anti food.

yeah, cuz law school is just so cliche these days, and the season in the Hamptons is drawing to a close. Guess I'll go toil in the farms for a laugh.

regular supermarket puff pastry is often vegan- pepperidge farms I believe?

I find the price of food at least double, what the Government stats indicate year to date. Anybody else concerned, not that we can do anything about it.

What about in tupperware/clamshell container lined with bubble wrap. Not so environmentally-friendly, but 'mater friendly!

Here is a nice source, and some history, too.

I will boycott any store that adds a penny per pound! Seriously. Thank you Trader Joe's!

No, not a comment on my fellow metro riders... Anyway, I have found that sticking soft fruit or veggies in an oven mitt helps protect them from bruising - my perfectly ripe peach can attest to this!

Good answer, Barry. But also don't forget that even those that did "choose" to take these jobs were often doing so as a matter of last resort. It's easy for us to think you can pick and choose where you work, but that's not the case for everyone; sometimes you do what you have to do to put food on the table and get your kids an education. I have all kinds of respect for our immigrant community who work harder than anyone I've ever known and often survive conditions that simply shouldn't exist in this country in the 21st century - all for the hope of a better future for their kids. How we treat our workers - how we treat the "lowest rung" of our society - speaks volumes about us as a nation. So, in other words, you should care.

My daughter (7) learned how to make candy "sushi" at summer camp. Next week we're going all-out to create a sushi/nigiri dessert platter for a friend's BBQ: Fruit rollups for the nori, rice krispies + marshmallows for the rice, and for roe, my daughter said, "Strawberry Nerds!" Can't wait to do this with her!

Way to go! I love it!!!

For my 2 cents, DC tomatoes taste like trees because everyone tosses cheap leaf mulch into their gardens.

Because I have a ten month-old who loves to eat, and luckily eats pretty much anything, I have been keeping myself from having to make two meals by just serving him what we eat. But that means I have had to cook with less or no salt. Often I just put salt on the table and let my salt-loving husband add it later. But it got me wondering - is there truly a difference in cooking if we add salt it post-cooking instead of while cooking? Does the salt "cook" with the foods?

Yes, in my experience, it makes a significant difference. If you don't salt as you go, the food will typically taste bland, and if you just add salt at the end, it will essentially taste of salt, since the crystals are right there on top to come into contact with your tongue.

Well,  you've peeled, squeezed and seeded us, so we're done. The hour flew by, especially thanks to the work of guests Barry Estabrook and Top Tomato 2011 winner Shari Saslaw.

Today's chat winner is Urban Farmer from NC, who was urbane as well.  You'll receive an autographed copy of Barry's book (give the one you've got to someone else!) if you send us your mailing address to

Wish we'd had more time to answer all your questions. Go forth and eat tomatoes! See you next week.

I'd love to make Paella (inspired by a long-ago article in the WP about Jose Andres) to feed a crowd this fall...can you recommend a recipe, source for the rice, whether or not I'm crazy to think of using our fire-pit (old BBQ Galore model so probably 24 inches at its widest point) and how much time to allow? Also, would restaurant supply have a big enough paella pan or other source you'd suggest (Williams-Sonoma used to carry one that was maybe 12 inches, much too small for the crowd of at least 20 I'm thinking)? Thanks!

This is partially nostalgia and respect but Jeane Kirkpatrick's paella is good - I add seafood to it, like blue crab or crazy large langoustino (prawn's).  I bought a so huge we keep it in the tool shed paella pan from our local restuarant supply house and for us firepit works great and makes for a big show!

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