Aug 04, 2010

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way.

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat. Did you feel the chill from today's Food section? We're trying to do our part to help you fight the heat, with fantastic recipes for popsicles, make-it-in-a-bag ice cream, and sauces galore.

I tested one of the rounds myself: using this nifty Zoku home pop maker I got at Williams-Sonoma and layering the pops with boozy filling a la Todd Thrasher. Yum.

Anyway, what do you want to know about today? We've got Smoke Signals writer Jim Shahin again in the house to help with any barbecue questions and Spirits guru Jason Wilson also on hand, so fire away on those topics or anything else.

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite posts, as per usual -- in the mix today is "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way," sourc eof today's DinMin recipe, and "The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto." So crank it up...

Ok - so the eggs make the spinach chickpea burgers a vegetarian, not a vegan, meal. What can we substitute for the eggs? I assume they are a binder so there must be something that we can use. We have a vegan in our family and when we get the whole Famn Damily together we like to eat the "same" thing. Beef Stew and a Vegan Stew, Shrimp veggie pasta and a vegan veggie pasta. Hamburgers and vegan burger that is not a prepackaged product would be great. I am a non vegan but the main cook. We have lots of non-meat options, that we use as sides, that everyone loves but I am on a mission to increase our entree menu options. Yes, it often mean cooking 2 entrees, but that is just fine with us. This recipe sounds fantastic! How can I make it work. A real Vegan burger!

Glad you like this recipe, and hope we can make it work.

Here's what says about egg subs for binding: For each egg, try 1/4 cup tofu puréed with 1 tablespoon flour, or add 2 to 3 tablespoons of any of the following: tomato paste, potato starch, arrowroot powder, whole wheat flour, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, or instant potato flakes.

Of those, the ones that call to me the most for this particular recipe are mashed sweet potatoes and tomato paste. I think you should try some of each.

Vegan chatters, any other ideas?

Do you think it would be ok to add a little variety using black beans?

These burgers already are fairly firm and tasty. But sure, substitute a quarter of the chickpeas, and report back!

I can't seem to find Italian plums, aka baking plums- the ones that kinda look like Roma tomatoes. Does anyone know of a source? Thanks!

Italian prune plums -- they're my faves. I've seen early varieties at the 14th/U farmers market on Saturdays, by Kuhn Orchards. She'll have them for awhile.

I was given a lot of peaches and they're ripe now. I don't know what to do with all of them. Not interested in making another pie or crisp - I'd really like some ideas for something I could do with them that could be frozen. I'm making some peach muffins tonight, but don't think that will make a dent. Any ideas?

Check out our blog post last year on all the things you can do with too many peaches. Lots of good ideas including a peach sorbet.

Hi! I wrote in about Cafe Asia's cabbage & carrot salad - which got me through my pregnancy...I think y'all were going to see if there was a recipe available...Any luck? I love that stuff!

Still working on it.  Several readers asked for it, so we're definitely interested.

I was at a restaurant recently and had farro. It was wonderful - yummy grains with roasted vegetables. I tried to make it at home - soaked the farro for eight hours and cooked like rice - but it was mushy. What is the best way to cook this grain?

My favorite way to cook farro is to boil it like pasta, and then drain. I know some say to soak it, but when boiling I haven't found that it's necessary. You just boil it for 30 to 45 minutes, until it's just tender, and then drain. It's great cold in salads, like this one with arugula and fennel from Obelisk.

I'm having a gathering on Saturday and making pulled pork sandwiches. I have never made cole slaw before and can't decide if I should try on Saturday or if I should just get store bought. I'm not the biggest cole slaw fan - only on sandwiches like this or reubens. Is it worth the effort to make it homemade? Any good recipes? Thanks.

We ran a whole bunch of slaw recipes (and a great article by David Hagedorn) about slaws a few weeks back. Check it out.

Greetings! Two weeks in a row I've tried to make buttermilk pancakes from scratch and failed miserably. Amongst other things, they were too thin - no fluff to them at all. I thought maybe it was the recipe I was trying, but others raved about it. So then last night I was making cookies and the resulting dough was way too dry. I reviewed my wet ingredients list, and realized that the recipe called for a large egg, and the eggs I bought at the farmers market were small. At the supermarket I always grabbed the large eggs, so I never thought about how much of a difference small vs large made. I added another egg to to the dough and it was perfect. This morning it hit me that the egg thing was what probably happened with the pancakes, since it was just a couple weeks ago I started buying my eggs from a farmer instead of the supermarket. Am I correct that it was the size of the egg that made the pancake lacking in fluff?

The egg indeed contributed to the flatness, as egg is a leavener. But traditional buttermilk pancakes get most of their lift from baking powder and/or soda, so I'm wondering if yours uses powder, and if it's past its effectiveness date, which is 6 to 12 months. To test it, sprinkle a teaspoon in 1/2 cup of hot water and see if it immediately bubbles. If not, you need to replace it.

Thanks for taking my question. I always turn to your chat first when I am stumped. I got a kids cookbook from my friends in France which is a really thoughtful gift except for the fact that all the measurements are in metric. I know that I can go through item by item to do the conversions myself, but I was hoping that there might be a website out there where I could plug in the measurements and it would spit out a recipe with English measurements. Do you know of any good conversion sites? My daughters and I are looking forward to making some good authentic crepes and other French goodies!

Is such a thing possible? I often make peach salsa with "leftover" peaches, and it freezes pretty well. Chop up peaches, red onions, cilantro, a little jalapeno, mix with some lime juice. V. tasty. Great with crab cakes.

I'll take 'em off yor hands! Ohh, just kidding. I made a fridge jam with mine to have a taste of summer all through the winter.

now I wish I had that problem so I could make all those yummy recipes!

Been lurking on this Chat, trying to learn new techniques, recipes. Now retired, in a rut mealwise, I subscribed to Bon Appetit for the same reason and made this recipe last night. Tomatoes in caramel sauce, flavored with vanilla, then topped with filo. I used tiny cherry tomatoes and just pierced them (rather than the peeled/seeded plum tomatoes) and added more vanilla to counter their tartness. Easy. Looked just like a cherry tart. Yummy!

Oooh, that comes dangerously close to some entries we got for Top Tomato 2010.  Speaking of, next week's the big tomato issue!

Hi one of my good friends is currently serving overseas in the UAE. I know he's really missing home so I wanted to send him a care package. I've asked if there were any food items he'd like me to send, but he says he'd like anything. Do you have any ideas of snacks I can make or buy that will travel well thousands of miles away and in desert heat? Oh, and he's on a health kick since he's been over there if that helps. Thank you!

All kinds of jerky (including vegetarian) and nuts are the most popular and best-traveling snacks to send.  I've been told packages may end  up holding in a hot warehouse for up to 1 month.  Granola bars are good, trail mix, hard candy. Nix meltable goods like chocolate.

I know you covered this a few chats ago but where is the best (and hopefully not the most expensive) place in the area to buy a bushel of steamed crabs right now? Is there a preferred vendor at the DC Seafood market? And if you can throw in the range that a bushel is going for right now, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks for taking my questions!

I usually go where the most customers are lined up. At the SW waterfront, bushel rates these days are $70 for mediums, $115 for large crabs.

What is a good sustainable, solid white fish other than tilapia? I would like something with a little bit more flavor.

I recommend barramundi, a thick white fish from Australia -- kind of like a sea bass -- that they farm sustainably in Massachusetts. For more options, download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Guide.

My husband just told me that he invited two couples from his work to dinner on Saturday night. One of them is his boss. Most of the things I would normally make involve lots of time for shopping and preparation, but I will only have Friday evening to do shopping and a couple of hours on Saturday to prepare things. I am looking for an easy and cool (in all senses of the word), but impressive, dinner menu -- any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! I am a fairly experienced cook, and I am not aware of any dietary restrictions my guests may have.

I always fall back on Italian food because that's what I cook best. So I think you should do the same. But, if it were me, I'd do a cold soup -- maybe cucumber, maybe a gazpacho -- then a tagliata, grilled steak served over a bed of arugula, with roasted rosemary potatoes and a good bottle of red wine. Dessert might be grilled peaches with sabayon or just a fancy peach melba with homemade or storebought ginger ice cream.

Chatters -- what would you make?

I have a wild passion flower plant growing in my backyard. I can only guess that a bird dropped off the seed as a gift. I first thought it was a weed, but after browsing gardening books, I matched the flower/leaves to a wild passion flower plant. I can see the passion fruit is starting to develop. Any ideas on what I can do with the fruit?

Just eat it. Passion fruit is so wonderful on its own, no need to dress it up. Wait until it's all crinkled on the outside, cut in half and scoop out the fruit inside.

We do have these passion fruit recipes you might look at. But since we didn't write/test them with fresh passion flower plant growing in our backyards, we called for juice, concentrate, etc. It's my favorite flavor in the world.

Where are you, btw? Let me guess -- California!

Thank you for the article on how to make ice cream in a bag. I was never into science but this sounds like the greatest science experiment ever and I will definitely try this at home. I subscribe to one food magazine that will have ice cream recipes and they require you to have an ice cream maker so this article was definitely the first one I read. Could this method work for trying to make ice creams that use an ice cream maker or should I stick to the three in the post? Thanks!

ice cream

I'll thank you on behalf of Andreas Viestad, our Gastronomer.  The method's familiar to lots of American youth who were in scouting organizations, as it's a fun outdoor dessert,  and I've demonstrated an easy version of it at local Les Dames d'Escoffier Green Tables events at farmers markets.

Andreas made his ice cream quite rich with egg yolks, but I've found that milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract will get you a decent-enough ice cream. If you experiment with batters meant for the ice cream maker, keep them fairly simple (i.e., solids-free) and be prepared to shake a little longer -- I wouldn't try doing more than 1 quart's worth in a bag, for example. That said, the sorbet recipes are easy to riff on, with different fruit juices and such.  Let us know what worked the best when you try 'em.

You can find a good egg conversion chart (such as this one) to help with using your small eggs in baked goods. I think Joe's spot on about the baking powder or soda, though. My recipe using a whopping 2 tablespoons of baking powder to just over a cup over flour.

Next week is the tomato issue? Oh no! I'll be on vacation and our paper will be on "vacation stop." : ( I was so looking forward to that.

Undo your stop! Or of course you can write to us at and we'll send you one. Naturally it will all be available on line, but if you want to see the gorgeous print package...

How about freezing a pie or crisp filling? I promise you'll be glad of it when it's January. Make your filling as usual, pour into an aluminum pie plate and freeze overnight. Then pop out of the plate and into a gallon ziplock, and store flat. It will keep for months, and you can bake it just as you would fresh - it just takes a bit longer to cook.

Yep. Great idea.

I do this with sour cherry filling, absolutely. But I'd go a step further and suggest that you assemble the entire pie and freeze it. It cooks much better from frozen anyway -- the crust has a chance to get crisp before the fruit soaks into it...

And you have to make this Perfect Peach Pie recipe. Lives up to its name, I swear.

what is the deal with husbands "telling" their wives that they need to cook for company with less than a weeks notice. Jeez. I would ask him what he is planning to cook.

Hear, hear. Some of us thought the same thing but let it go...

I'm having some friends over for dinner soon and already know the main course - ribs rubbed with our favorite spice rub and topped with authentic barbecue sauce from Kansas City. Our guests are bringing a vegetable side. What else can I serve to go with this meal? I love trying to keep things on theme, but somehow the idea of slopping up coleslaw like I was a chef at a barbecue restaurant doesn't seem appealing. Or maybe it does, but I need to be talked into it or given other ideas!

Corn? So easy and so good right now.

Can I freeze cream cheese, nonfat and whole milk, and heavy cream? I'm seeing conflicting info online. Thank you.

Yes, you can freeze all of those products -- I have -- but I wouldn't do it for more than a month, or maybe two or three months for the cream cheese. And expect that there will be an effect on texture and other properties. For example, the milk and cream will probably separate and will have to be shaken after thawing. They might be better as cooking ingredients than in your cereal. The cream might not whip as nicely (or at all). But all will be safe, assuming no more power failures. 

From Bonnie: According to our handy online guide, milk/buttermilk can be frozen for 3 months; grated cheese can be frozen for 4 months, but the texture of blocks of cheese become crumbly, so freezing them is not advised.  Freezing cream cheese also adversely affects its texture, but if you're blending it with something in a recipe, it might be okay.

Love the article on popsicles today! I admit, I will still buy a box of posicles from the grocery store now and again, even though I'm an "adult," however y'all have inspired me to try and make my own! In the meantime, I made a quinoa salad that called for cilantro and Teeter only had huge bunches of cilantro available, so after using the 1/4 cup called for in my recipe, I have a lot of cilantro left. A lot. I was thinking I could try and make a fresh salsa, but I still think I'll have extra. Any other ideas on how to use my cilantro up? Or conversely, any storage suggestions? Should I freeze? Dry? Thanks for all your help today...and every week.

How about a cilantro salsa! Check out this Columbian Aji Salsa.

I roasted a chicken this week for the first time. Turned out great, was much easier than I was dreading, and now I'm thinking about making stock. I've found various recipes, but the question is about the pot. Before cooking the chicken was 4lbs, no idea what it is now that the meat has been removed. I have another, similar sized bird to cook this weekend. How big of a pot do I need if I made stock out of one? Both? Is it strictly bones that go in, or should I keep some of the skin and fat on the back? And my apartment is super cold all year round, roasting and soup making don't make me swelter.

All you need are the bones and a few vegetables (quartered onion, carrot and celery) and a pot big enough to put them in so that there's water to cover. Put the bones and vegetables in the pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for about two hours. You will need to skim off fat and scum that rise to the top. Remove the bones and vegetables and taste. If the flavor is too weak, reduce it down on the stove. Then you're ready to use it or stick it in the freezer for later use.

Posting early: I tossed out all the open condiments in my refrigerator after the power outage, figuring everything in there was in a dark, dank environment for 48 hours. But I also have some open ones in my pantry: fish sauce, soy sauce, chili oil, etc. How long do these keep opened at room temperature? There are no storage instructions and no expiration dates on any of these Asian cooking condiments.

The oil is the only thing you have to worry about. Oil can go rancid. But you will certainly smell it if it is. The others are good for a long, long time.

Just wanted to say that it sounds like the first poster is doing a nice job of including the vegan in the family dinners. I've heard plenty of griping elsewhere by people who feel put out about having to accommodate vegetarian or vegan diners. Just wanted to give him/her a little pat on the back. We're not vegetarian/vegan either, but my partner and I are branching out to non-meat proteins. Everyday Food has a nice spicy black bean "cake" (that we use as burgers) made with shredded sweet potato, and I've been working on tofu/spinach enchiladas.

having made vegan crepes with chickpea flour (and no egg substitute), i wonder whether these burgers couldn't hold together on their own? or with just a little extra chickpea flour and water? adding tofu seems like it would just make things more crumbly. (and there are a lot of vegan bean burger recipes out there, probably some from the PPK - maybe you could see how they make it work...)

You could add basmati rice to thicken it up. The Post's Middle Eastern Chickpea Burger recipe uses that.

I did ask my husband what he proposed to serve for dinner. His answer was fried chicken from the grocery store. At that point, I thought it was better for me to take over the menu.

I have had good luck shipping this recipe to the middle east. No dairy, and just one egg. Plus you can mix and match nuts and fruit - I've done every variation imaginable. As an added bonus, they're good for him. Lots of protein.

I'm trying to find some source for salt rising (or salt risen) bread in Northern Virginia. It makes the *best* tomato sandwiches but I haven't found it at Trader Joe's and tracking through all the supermarkets seems a bit time-wastey. does anyone know of bakery or supermarket that carries it?

Pardon my ignorance but what is salt risen bread? Enlighten us? We will all either learn something and possibly someone out there knows the answer!

Ah, takes me back to my first job in a Fla. bakery. The taste of it is a little tangy but really not all that salty, and I bet it'd be great for tomato sandwiches. Different from sourdough. Salt-rising bread works like a sponge-starter: Instead of using active dry yeast, for example, a fermented mixture of salt, flour, water, sugar and cornmeal yields a bacteria from your own environment.

I've called a few commercial places and no one makes the loaf per se, but if you contact wholesaler  Lyon Bakery (202-482-2100), which now has a retail booth at Union Station, I bet they'd make it for you.

So, I overdid it at the farmers' market and came home with four different kinds of plums of different sizes and colors -- beautiful yellow, bluish-purple, and two shades of red. And I'm trying them raw, and I... just don't like them. Not enough flavor. Some are too tart, some too bland. Is there a way I can make good use of them in baking? I'm thinking maybe a cobbler, or Smitten Kitchen's Dimply Plum Cake? They hold onto their pits something fierce, too, so they'll have to be sliced.

Sure -- plums take very well to baking. I love a plum tarte tatin and often make this version by Suzanne Goin. We also have this one from local caterer Susan Gage that looks mighty promising.

But wait ... what about this Plum and Cinnamon Crumble from Curtis Stone? Wow!


Hi Free Rangers! The sadness of my summer is that I accidentally left my ice cream maker insert with a friend in a different city last summer and am too broke to buy a new one, so my life is currently void of homemade ice cream. So I'm so happy to see the popsicle recipes! Two questions, though. First, could I use peaches instead of apricots in the apricot-elderflower popsicle recipe? I have a bunch on hand and generally prefer them, but don't want to muck up a recipe if it isn't readily transferable. Second, approximately how much St. Germaine will be "to taste"? Am I thinking a dash, an ounce...? An anchoring point to start from would be much appreciated. Because I'm classy I will be making my popsicles in dixie cups featuring dogs in party hats. Thank you!

Dixie cups is an excellent option -- we should have included it in our brief roundup of molds and such.

The recipe tester used about 1/4 cup of the St-Germain liqueur, but it really is up to you.  I'd say start with 2 tablespoons and work your way forward. (I'll add that to the online recipe.) As for substituting peach:  Give it a try, but I think the tang of the apricots marry better with the elderflower.

Speaking of Williams-Sonoma, I got their latest catalogue yesterday and they are featuring a new indoor smoking tool called "The Smoking Gun". It's $99 - ouch. Firstly, I see this item hitting the clearance racks within a year, in which case I may give it a try. Secondly, I can't quite understand if it needs special expensive teeny tiny wood chips (think proprietary "refills"), or if it can use just about anything. The catalog did mention that you can fill the smoking chamber with tea. I love the idea of cold smoking my own cheeses, for example. Has anyone done a real world experiment to find out if this gadget is worth the asking price?

I haven't tried it, but I understand that Jean-Georges Vongerichten uses one. So, maybe there's something to it. It ain't exactly bbq, but I want to give it a go one of these days myself.

I now know what to do with the dozens (yes dozens) of eggs I have from my farm share. I can only eat so many in one week, but 8 egg yolks for 1 qt of ice cream sounds good to me. Then make angel food cake...

I've been vegan forever and nothing works better as a substitute that "Ener-G" egg replacer. It's basically potato starch. You can find it at Whole Foods and most other places in the Asian food section. And, good for you for not sneaking in an egg!

That's the craziest thing! I live in Arlington, VA and I have a plant growing passion fruit in my backyard. This tropical plant is loving the summer we're having in DC.

I saw a passion fruit tree in someone's front yard last summer in NW. I couldn't believe it. Maybe they're not all that uncommon. We sure have "tropical" weather here.

Hi Food Staff, I have a banana bread recipe that I really enjoy and have used it a few times to make muffins. I've noticed that when i bake the muffins, the tops of them are moist and appear a little sticky. The rest of the muffins are perfectly cooked through and are a great's just the tops that have that consistency. Could this possibly be because I store them in a sealed container? I ask because I'd like to make a banana bread loaf and travel with it this weekend, however I'm afraid to wrap it up if the top will be sticky. Do you know if anything else could cause this? The only other thing I could think of is the fact that I use about 3/4 of a cup of applesauce in the recipe too. Any ideas you have would be greatly appreciated. :) Thank you!

Are the muffins browned and slightly cracked on top? Maybe they need just a tad more oven time -- since the interior crumb is as moist as you say, maybe they could take it.

Also, are you cooling them completely before storing in the sealed container? Any condensation or moisture would settle on the tops.

You could sprinkle nuts or a streusel mixture on top before baking -- bet that would solve stickiness issues.

Preserve them as spiced peaches. They serve them year round at a little place near Fairfield, PA. They are great served solo or warmed up as an ice cream topper (especially in the winter).

I just made my first batch of pickled peaches.  I don't have the recipe to hand but it's basically a few cups of white vinegar, white sugar and grated ginger, smashed lemongrass and some whole spices including allspice and peppercorns. You put all the ingredients but the peaches in a pot, bring to a boil. Then pour the liquid over peeled peaches. Let sit in the fridge for a month. They could be served with sweet or savory dishes.

We ran this recipe for Peach Pickles a couple of years ago, from Brian McBride of Blue Duck.

The recipe for Tilapia Tacos with Watermelon Salsa you all shared a couple of years ago has been my go-to recipe for summer guests. I make the tacos with both tilapia & chicken. Super easy, just add a side of grilled corn and/or beans and you're set!

If I had to do something and had at least a couple of hours I would make up this chicken souvlaki with tzatziki sauce from Cooking Light. Brush pitas with olive oil and sprinkle on sea salt and oregano and grill lightly. A lovely semifriddo or sorbet would finish the evening well. And a husband who might not feel like menu planning might feel like doing some marinading, grilling, or even throwing together the sauce.

I make a simple cole slaw that seems to be very popular. I shred cabbage and carrots in a food processor, then just use Vidalia onion dressing (I prefer slightly drier, so I use very sparingly). Add S&P to taste, then I garnish with paprika. I have also substituted a home make italian dressing (olive oil, mustard blended to an emulsion, vinegar, and spices to taste) and it worked well too. Basically we are not too fond of mayonnaise in our house.

My girl scout troop had a blast making this but we also used cleaned, plastic coffee cans. It was fun to watch the girls roll the "cans" around, sometimes couldn't get them to stop to eat the ice cream. Remember to double seal the ice cream mixture and the kids don't get too rough with the coffee cans.

Good advice. Guarding against leakage is important.

I have a bottle of Domaine De Canton ginger liqueur which I have really been enjoying this summer. The problem is I need more ideas, perferably on the simpler side. So far I've mixed it with sparkling wine and concocted a drink containing, the liqueur, gin, lime, and bitters. Is there anything else I can make with the DDC?

Judging from the ubiquity of Domaine de Canton on cocktail menus, there seems to be a lot one can do with it. One favorite from last year: Gina Chersevani at PS 7's had a popular $5 recession-buster called The Cure on her menu: Miller High Life, lemon juice and Domaine de Canton.

For a little more upscale, I like Domaine de Canton with bourbon in sort of gingery Manhattan variation that I found on the blog Liquor Snob. It's called Shanghai's Last Gentelman:

2 oz. bourbon
1 1/4 oz. Domaine de Canton
1 tbsp. honey
2 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 slice of orange

Muddle orange, honey, and both bitters in a cocktail shaker. Add bourbon, ginger liquer, and ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass.

well, an attachment to my kitchenaid. the first recipe i made pretty much exploded out the top of the bowl because i used all heavy cream (after reading somewhere that this was the right way to do it) and the resulting mixture was WAY too rich and fluffy. i also put some fresh pineapple in it, which didn't seem to work well... it had too much of that tangy sting that leaves your tongue feeling numb. unfortunately the whole experience turned me off and i've only used it once since then (with mostly milk and not cream) for a plain vanilla bean flavor. if i wanted something more along the lines of gelato... would i be able to use my ice cream maker for it? what's the best ratio of eggs to milk to cream or whatever for the best consistency? is there something that can get me pretty close to gelato?

Wow. That could put someone off. I don't think switching to gelato is the answer, however. Gelato is gelato because it has a lot less air in it than American ice cream. And y0ur ice cream maker is designed to put that air in. You really need a gelato machine to get it right. So my advice: Take a deep breath. Get a good recipe -- we have some great ones in the database -- and try one more time. I bet you'll have more success.


Never heard of too much, but you could make Jose Andres's mojo verde. Great with a million things.

Every week I get a large bunch of red beets in my CSA share and after 9 weeks of this, I am a little tired of beets. I made a chocolate beet cake which I really enjoyed but I was wondering if there are other baked goods that call for pureed beets. Can the puree be frozen and if so, for how long?

Seal the puree in freezer-safe plastic food storage bags, making sure to get all the excess air out of the bag; lay it flat, stacked, and it can last for up to 1 year.

I have a hankering recently. I have some basic recipe options in mind, mostly dealing with pumpkin pie mix sitting on my shelf, but I wanted to ask if the cooking method: stovetop with butter: was the only method out there? Can you grill? Oven-bake? Something more summer-y?

You can certainly make French toast in the oven. You need more liquid and you bake it, more like a bread pudding than breakfast French toast we think of. But I'm confused. You want something summery but you're using pumpkin pie mix? You mean canned pumpkin? Lets get a few more details and find the right recipe.

I am so excited - my basil is ready for me to make a first batch of pesto. Someone told me I could use almonds instead of pine nuts. Is this true? If so, would I use the same amount?

Many different nuts can be used in pesto: pine are classic with a traditional basil pesto, but I've used walnuts, almonds, even pistachios in varying treatments. Sure, I think you could just swap out the almonds for pine nuts, ounce for ounce... Make sure to toast them first.

Purchased sandwich wraps from supermarkets are tasteless. Any suggestions for making interesting wraps or bakeries in the Virginia suburbs that make them? Should I consider alternatives such as serving flat breads with fillings such as chicken salad on the side? If so, what brands of flat breads are flavorful or how do I bake/grill them with olive oil and herbs?

Here's your answer. Make them at home. They're easy to do, compliments of Sam Fromartz and the class he took at King Arthur Flour: Basic Flatbread.

I recently got a smoker and am enjoying it and have had good success so far. I'm curious what you would have to do if you wanted to say, smoke some salmon or brisket and send it to someone as a gift. Would you need a vacuum sealer, or would you need to pack in dry ice, or is there some other method? I did get bbq shipped from the Salt Lick in TX once and was suprised that it came vacuum sealed instead of packed in ice (and it was delicious!). If vacuum sealing is the way to go any recommendations on models to consider?

I'm not the health inspector, but I can tell you what I've done. I vaccuum-pack food and send it one-day air. Okay, truth is, sometimes I don't even vaccuum-pack it. I sent my son in college a brisket and just wrapped it in foil. He lived. Smoking helps preserve the food, so it will be fine without dry ice for a day. Make sure you give the recipient a head's up that it is coming. Last thing you want is for the food to be sitting on the porch for a couple of days while they're gone on vacation.

As to peaches, use fresh ones, peach brandy, light rum, confectioner's sugar, lime juice and crushed ice to make peach daiquiris. Invite the neighbors. Everybody loves these! As to slaw to go with NC pulled pork, "The Thrill of the Grill" has a simple recipe for that that I have made for years with their pork recipe. As I recall, mayo, vinegar, celery seed (not salt), cabbage and carrot.

Oh wow. A good daiquiri with fresh peaches. Sounds fabulous.

That daiquiri does sound good. Where do you find real peach brandy? I only know of one producer in the U.S. called Peach Street Distillers in Colorado.

Two other fresh peachy cocktail ideas would be the Ginger Peach Julep and one of my personal favorites, the Molly Ringwald. Brandy and bourbon always pair well with fresh peaches.

We are picking about 5 large cucumbers a day from our garden and I'm running out of ideas! I would like to try to pickle some, but all recipes call for medium cucumbers--does it matter if I use large cucumbers? Does the size affect the taste, or it just a matter of finding the right jar? Thanks!

Unless you insist on a whole cucumber pickle, the easiest answer is to just cut the cucumbers into thick spears.  You probably wouldn't want a large cucumber pickle anyway. Too big to go with your burger.

Will you be publishing recipes approximating dishes served at Chelsea Clinton's wedding reception? In particular, what about the gluten-free cake, since she's reportedly gluten-intolerant?

We're not planning on it. Wedding cakes are specialty items and gluten-free wedding cakes even more so. (Plus, haven't we had enough of Chelsea's wedding already?)

We do have recipes for gluten-free cakes, though. Take a look.

I love ice cream and popsicles and all frozen desserts! I have a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and Tupperware Popsicle molds. Can I just mix up some ice cream or sorbet in the Cuisinart and then transfer to the popsicle molds to finish? Would certain recipes work better than others? When I first got the ice cream maker, I made Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream based on David Lebovitz's A Perfect Scoop. Had a little bit of bittersweet chocolate in the pantry, so I chopped that up and added it at the last moment. Wonderful!

That would work just fine. And sounds like a lot of fun.

What I wonder is whether churning the product first might make it too fluffy/aerated to easily get out of the molds. It's worth a shot, but it's certainly be quicker, and possibly more successful (although, honestly, this is somewhat speculation on my part), to just chill the base in the refrigerator for a day and then put in the molds, never getting the ice cream maker involved.

I always like to let my pancake batter sit out for about 10 minutes to let the baking powder/soda kick in. I've noticed a difference when I've rushed. Just a thought! P.S. Joe, your recommendation for Micucci's pizza in Portland, ME in the travel chat was spot on! It's my favorite pizza ever!!!

Yep, it's true -- pancake recipes benefit from sitting. The dry ingredients absorb into the wet, among other things. Glad you are a fellow Miccuci's fan!

i always make a cilantro pesto whenever i have leftover cilantro. substitute olive oil for something neutral like peanut or canola or vegetable. put garlic, cilantro, and oil in the food processor and instead of the traditional pine nuts in basil pesto, use roasted peanuts. give it all a whiz with a squeeze of lemon juice. this is AWESOME to baste grilled chicken with (like a satay) or to use as a dipper for pretty much anything!

That sounds great. I love the idea of using peanuts. I haven't done that.

hello! i really enjoy "garden burgers", meaning burgers made completely out of vegetables with not soy used as a binder. i currently eat the blueberry farms ones from costco. any idea how to make these at home? i now they incorporate sunflower seeds, all kinds of veggies, etc, but what is a good binder other than egg? will potato make them too heavy?

Did you see today's Dinner in Minutes?

I am not questioning the original poster's need to throw out the condiments, but his/her characterization of the food being in a "dark, dank" environment for 48 hours threw me off--isn't the fridge always dark on the inside, except for when you open it?

Some fridges have glass fronts. :)

So, I just made a batch of sauteed zucchini and eggplant with garlic, and I'm not loving it. I tried stirring in cilantro and hummus to give it a different flavor profile, but still, nothing doing. Throw it out? Puree it into a dip with... something? I hate to let the rest go to waste.

Hmmm. I hear you but if you've already added cilantro, hummus, adding more flavors probably isn't going to help. The only thing I can think of is to check the seasoning -- maybe a little salt? -- or to add some spice: chili flakes or some smoky aleppo pepper might do it.

Anything you can find that isn't a national brand will probably be appreciated - I've deployed to Iraq twice, and even on healthy kicks would have appreciated the local brand of potato chips; on another note, if you see anything new, they probably aren't going to get that at the post exchange. Dried fruit is also great. I don't know what's available to him in the UAE, but PXs don't usually provide a lot of variety.

Dried fruit, a great tip.  And thanks for your service to our country.

I've seen them at the Greenbelt Farmers Market. The vendor Thanksgiving Farms was selling them last week.

Another source for Italian plums. Thanks!

I am making Julia Child's recipe for beef stroganoff tonight (altho she doesn't call it that). Instead of a tenderloin (expensive) I bought a top sirloin. Will that be tender enough? If not, how best to tenderize it in under 2 hours?

No extra tenderizing necessary. Top sirloin's good for stroganoff.

What's the best way to grill chicken parts on a Weber charcoal grill without thoroughly charring them? Do you have a favorite rub or marinade?

Start a fire on one side of the grill. Grill chicken over medium-high heat for roughly two minutes per side, then move them to the "cool" side. As for marinades, try 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, dash of cayenne, teaspoon salt, and juice of one lemon. Let sit for at least four hours. If you want something more bbq-ey, here's a rub: 1 tbsn each of dried rosemary, thyme, sage, 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, a dash of cayenne. (Depends of course on how much chicken you have.) If you'd rather have a bbq sauce, a good commercial sauce: Stubb's - add it in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

What's vegetarian jerky? Recipe?

It's vegetarians who after a plane crash have been dried ... OK, I'll stop now.

I was too late to post this last week in response to the morning exerciser looking for breakfast ideas. It occurred to me this could also work for the UAE care package. Alton Brown's granola recipe is a classic that's won rave reviews all over the net. It is easily adaptable depending on what ingredients you like (I use walnuts instead of cashews, and add some sunflower and pumpkin seeds). It does contain a small about of oil, so I wonder if it would hold up if it did have to sit for a month in a hot warehouse. Anyway, it might work. And I know the Post has published similar granola bar recipes that might also work.

Well, you've run us briefly under warm water so we dislodge easily, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions today; hope you found the answers helpful, instructive or entertaining. And thanks to Jim Shahin and Jason Wilson for the guest appearances.

Now, for the giveaways: The chatter who had the exploding ice cream in his/her KitchenAid will get "The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto," natch. And the chatter who first asked about making the chickpea burgers vegan will get "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way." Just send your mailing information to us at, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking (freezing?), eating (slurping?) and reading.

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