Aug 11, 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, Nation, and welcome to Free Range, the chat with three things on its mind today: To, Ma, and Toes. It's our annual tomatopalooza issue, anchored by Jane Black's tale of DIY ketchup and Bonnie's take on our raft of fantastic prize-winning reader recipes, plus a visit with Gerard Pangaud for his dessert-tomato recipes.

Of course, we'll take on any cooking subject that you'd like, though, so hit us with your best qs and comments, and we'll try our best to answer. We'll have prizes for our favorite chatters of the day: oe will get "Eating Local" by Janet Fletcher, and the other a spiffy tomato-red Top Tomato 2010 T-shirt! (You can act like your recipe won!)

Let's do this thing.

Hi there, Free Rangers. I love eggplant but my husband doesn't because the normal sized eggplants tend to be bitter. So this week at the Farmer's Market (here in Minneapolis), we found mini-eggplants. The vendor stated that they're not as bitter and are sweet. But how would you prepare them, they're too tiny to make eggplant parmigiana, any other ideas or different way to prepare parmigiana using these tiny little eggplants? Thank you. Catch the chat every week.

I'll get things rolling here, since I'm sure my colleagues and Dean Gold will have much to add.

Little ones are great for making Eggplant Chips, and you could certainly use them for this quick and different Grilled Eggplant in Lemon-Coconut Cream

Slice them in half, score then in a cross hatch pattern and brush with olive oil. Put them on a cool grill or on a baking rack in an over and cook until tender.  you can flavor the olive oil with garlic and/or herbs.  Oregano & thyme are a theme for me this summer!

I really like the idea of farmers keeping the money for their product, not giving it away to middlemen. However, does it really cost $2-4 per pound for tomatoes? I couldn't attempt to cost it out, but I do have a hard time paying that much on a retiree's income vs what I can pay at a grocery store. AND, in the spring, well before tomatoes are even set out, they are selling produce as their own - they just buy from wholesalers at that point...and sell for the same prices as later on?! I do get a bit cynical about the whole idea. I live in the country where everyone has a garden, and prices are the same here.

I buy loads of overripes for about half price.  I then trim them a little, and cook them quartered in a pot.  Start them covered over high heat till they boil, then turn to a simmer for two or thre hours.  Add no flavorings.  Then you have the basis for sauces, soups etc. 


You can roast some carots, thyme, shallots, celery and puree them with the tomato sauce and cream for a great cold soup.  Also, cherry tomatoes which are incredible this year seem to be cheaper!

First, a word of encouragement to those of you who still work on the PRINT version of newspapers: The jump hed on today's ketchup story in the print edition, which includes the word "Mustered," was brilliant! Kudos to the copy editor, or whoever thought that up. As for the ketchup recipes, does Jane have a recommendation for using artificial sweetener instead of sugar and brown sugar, or is that big no-no?

Agreed! That headline was penned by MultiPlatformEditor (yes, that's what they're called here at TWP) Jane Touzalin.  She writes Chat Leftovers on All We Can Eat, too.  The Food section couldn't get along without her.

For the second part of your question, Jane's not with us today, taking a much-needed vacation day, so can't help you with the artificial sweetener. Do you need to do that for dietary reasons, I assume? If it's not crucial, I'd advise of course to use real sugar but just use less of the ketchup. Or you might play around with agave nectar, which has a lower glycemic index.

Yes, farmer's mkt tomato prices have gone through the roof. But my solution has been to grow my own. Fresh picked tomatoes from the garden are more flavorful, less expensive and self rewarding. I wish more readers could get into the local food process and grow their own. Adrian Higgins would be the best spokesperson for this.

I've been growing tomatoes a little, too -- and I say a little because I'm such a lazy gardener. But the two cherry tom plants went wild this year! Haven't bought a one.

What is the difference between turbinado and demerara sugar? How are they used differently?

Google them and you get info cribbed from "The Food Lover's Companion" (an essential paperback for every home kitchen). They are both raw -- meaning the residue from processed sugar cane -- and coarsely textured, but neither is the same as brown sugar. Demerara is so named because it is made in Demerara, Guyana. Turbinado is steam-cleaned (imagine that).

To me, the Demerara has a more molasses-y flavor. Chatters, do you think they taste the same?

My late MIL made her own, wonderful ketchup. A friend asked for the recipe and MIL was known (within the famiily) for altering recipes so they did not turn out as well for the requestor. She was mortified when the friend, who worked for the White House, had the White House calligrapher write it out and had it framed. She had given the recipe out with the spices at half strength. After her death, my husband found two versions of the recipe and made the ketchup and it was great.

That's classic. Send us that recipe!

I have a tiramisu recipe that calls for 12 oz of mascarpone cheese. I have a 8 oz tube and while I could buy a second one, I know the leftovers will sit forever in the fridge. So is there something else I could add to the mascarpone cheese to make up those extra 4 oz, like whipping cream or cream cheese?

Mascarpone comes in a tube? I'm afraid the whipping cream might weep, depending on how long it took to polish off your tiramisu.  It has a fairly decent shelf life; I'd suggest buying another and using the leftover ounces in brunch eggs, a strata, for cannoli filling, dolloped on cold summer soups, or this way:

Love the tomato recipes, question though. Is it ok to sub lactose free milk for the half n half if we cant have dairy? Onto my main question, I have an abundance of eggs to use up, almost 2 dozen. And if we cant have any dairy (lactose free only), any ideas to use it all up without using the oven in this super hot summer? Thanks so much for all that you do! You're all an inspiration!

Devilled eggs!  Get some Veganaise or other dairy free mayo.  Hard boil the eggs and cut in half.  Run the yolks thru a ricer and mix 1 cup mayo for every quart of eggs.  I use a curry like spice mix called Vaudovan and Za'atar with pepper, Sriracha, salt and black pepper.  ABout 1 scant tablespoon of the Vaudovan, a 1/4 tsp of the Za'atar, 1 tsp salt and a pinch of pepper.  Hot sauce to taste.  If no Za'atar use opegano or marjoram.  Fill the eggs and dot with cheeseless pesto.

For the first part of your question, sounds like you're asking about the Cream of Tomato Soup? You could give it a shot, but I think you might be disappointed, since the half/half adds such richness.

BTW, believe it or not, we actually have a recipe for Vadouvan. We ran a Jeremy Fox recipe from his Ubuntu days that uses it in this:

Cauliflower in Cast-Iron Pots.

First, why do you have these tomato recipes every year? Yes, there are some excellent ones, but the highest and best use of the fresh summer tomato is one of being paired with thick-cut real smoked bacon, good mayo and lettuce (no, arugula is not needed) on buttered white toast (Arnold Country White does very well). This is not boring. My wife and I had BLTs twice for dinner last week. Second, as to farmer's market tomatoes, it depends what you mean by every penny? $5 a pound is silly, $2.99 for wonderful heirlooms at the Women's Coop Market in Bethesda is not too much for the quality, and last week we got "seconds" there for $1/lb. (grower thought they just didn't have the taste of his others) that were great in Ina Garten's gazpacho (add a touch of hot sauce to her recipe and cut the salt in half and you've got a great summer supper with her parmesan crisps). Oh, and have a glass of icy real rose (Ch. Grande Cassagne from Costieres de Nimes for $7.99/bottle is stealing) with the gazpacho and you can keep most of the other recipes you featured at length today.

We do it because we and lots of other people like doing more with their tomatoes than what you suggest. Nothing against a perfect BLT -- love it -- but that shouldn't be the end all and be all of tomato recipes. And in fact, it's not. Even you like making, say, Ina Garten's gazpacho. And plenty of others here like making lots of other things with tomatoes, too.

How come you didn't print a picture of the tomato pie? I expected to see one in light of your effusive comments re: its appearance. Oh, and to answer your question - I think the farmers' markets tomatoes are too expensive (not way too expensive) but I apparently think they are worth it as I seem to spend a small fortune on them every week!

There's photo on page E8, and an even better one online.

So... Is the homemade better than HFCS-laden Heinz or not? I read your article twice and can't find the answer. The article just kind of leaves the question hanging.

For the canned, the story said this:

"This is a bazillion times more flavorful than Heinz," said one of a new round of tasters to whom I cleverly gave french fries instead of spoons. "It's more layered. With Heinz, you get the tang but not much else."

About the fresh, we said this:

But it still produced a smooth, sticks-where-you-pour-it, tangy-sweet ketchup that gave zip to burgers and french fries and made a mean Russian dressing.

But maybe the problem is that I just discovered that the online version of the story mistakenly cut off the last line, which we're now having fixed. It is this:

Heinz: The DIY bell tolls for you.

I think that about says it, don't you?


Right now, I think they're $1.59/lb at the weekend farmers' market I usually go to. That's about the same as the supermarket price. Would I prefer if they cost one-third that amount? Of course!

That's a great price -- what market do you go to?

Has this been a particularly bad year for tomatoes? The ones I've gotten from my neighborhood farmers market haven't had any more flavor or color than grocery store tomatoes. In fact, I'd say some have been worse. I'm driving to the North Carolina coast this weekend, going down relatively back roads. Will I have better luck en route? Will the selection at farm stands along the way be different than what's on offer here? I'm trying to decide whether I should count on getting Saturday night's supper while I drive, or if I should go ahead and play it safe and buy stuff here at the market on Thursday, though it will be less fresh come Saturday.

I am finding this is a better year for Pennsylovania tomatoes than Virginia with Maryland depending on Northern {better} vs Southern.  I am loving the Cherokee Purples I have had from Tuscarora coop's several growers.  Brandywines have been great as well.  Valencias are my favorite so far of the orange/yellows, and German Striped are superb. 

Hi. This one's purely out of curiosity. I was making olive tapenade over the weekend, and the recipe instructed to add all ingredients to the food processor. This included minced garlic cloves. My question -- is there a scientific reason why I'd have to mince the garlic before it's going to be processed anyway? Seems like unnecessary prep to me, and it wasn't the first time I've read a recipe that said to chop/mince/whatever before putting in the bowl. I can understand for large or hard-to-chop items. Being the obedient student I am, I did as the recipe commanded and minced my garlic.

No, no good reason, scientific or otherwise. We usually call for garlic that's going to go into the food processor to be roughly chopped, because it helps get the whole, well, process going, rather than those big cloves just bouncing around on the blades. But why mince when the processor is going to do that for you? Seems like less-than-ideal recipe instructions to me.

We like to snack on fresh raw vegetables (sweet peppers, cucumbers, etc.) in the summer. The ready-made veggie dips available in the supermarket are all pretty high in fat. I mix fat-free sour cream with hummus to make a lower-fat dip. It works best with the more strongly-flavored hummus (roasted red pepper, garlic) instead of the plain hummus.

You can also use non fat yogurt held overnight in a strainer over a bowl as your base.  The bonus there is that you get the whey, which is wonderful in soups or beans!  You have to have a good yogurt to start, no gelatins, gums, thickeners at all.

Of, of course, you can buy Greek-style yogurt, which is pre-strained.

I am starting to lose my mind with my insatiable chocolate craving and yet I refuse to turn on my oven to bake a chocolate cake in this heat. Please help. Have you any chocolate desserts that do not require baking?

Don't know if you mind turning on the stove - or firing up a grill. But I've been meaning to try a recipe for chocolate bread with sea salt. Here's a version on the stovetop, but you can use a grill too.

It's been a while....wait for it....Chocolate Grapes.

Or with quick stovetop time: Chocolate Bags.

When making sauce what type works best?

Cheap ones!  Seconds are all you need for sauce.  I am finding we get a better yield on heirlooms over field tomatoes when I do sauce making {and we have made 700 pounds of tomatoes into sauce so far this season... if you have a spare chest freezer cheap and you deliver, lets talk!} so heirloom vs field seems to even out in the price department.  We cook, stick blend, put thru a food mill and then freeze. 75# of heirlooms made about 32 quarts of incredible sauce.  125# of fields about the same. 

i just had some "golden tomatoes" in a soup and they tasted unripe, is that what they are, like green tomatoes?

Definitely not. There are many varieties of yellow/golden tomatoes, and they should be as ripe as any other good tomato. Sounds like maybe the restaurant sourced badly, or took some shortcuts here.

Domino now makes an excellent brown sugar with part Splenda. It isn't all artificial, but it's much better calorie-wise than regular brown sugar. And it substitutes well for regular brown sugar, but remember that it substitutes and half the quantity (1/2 cup of Splenda brown sugar for 1 cup regular brown sugar).

Mascarpone also goes great on toast in the morning with a little drizzle of honey on top.

Right you are.

They're worth it the same anything else you buy is worth it: you know they're grown locally, presumably under better conditions and you're supporting local farmers who produce them. If you think those things are worth paying for then the farmer's market tomato is a great value. Otherwise mosey on down to the Sack N Pack and save your dollars for other stuff.

Next thing you know you've spent your weekly food budget on a few things at the farmer's market. One amazing tomato is worth anything for that great weekend treat, but when you start trying to get a significant proportion of your fruit and vegetables from local organic sources, it is too much. I end up feeling guilty for spending so much of my income on a splurge.

Pate de fois gras is worth every penny, but sometimes people's budgets don't have the pennies. Wouldn't something about how often to use the more expensive farmers' market produce be a better phrasing?

I hate eggplant BUT love something called eggplant caviar. It's Russian/Ukrainian. You roast the eggplant, get rid of the skin, chop it up and mix it with some olive oil and green onion. Serve on crackers.

Here you go:



My feeling is that the farmers market tomatoes are way too expensive. That is not so much because of the actual price charged for them, but the sense I have that they are just not all that good. My experience over the last 10-15 years with the DuPont Circle and other local farmers markets is that the tomatoes do not live up to the expectation that myself and others have for them. They are better than the ones generally available in supermarkets - they certainly LOOK better than the supermarket versions - but the taste does not come close to reminding me of the tomatoes I ate in my teens and twenties. I wonder if anyone else feels the way I do. Thanks. T.D. Washington, DC

In addition to being expensive, mascarpone is very high in calories. I believe the chatter can add the difference in cream cheese and not miss it.

No too much difference: 100 cals per ounce for cream cheese, 120 for mascarpone.

Yay, the tomato edition! I have to admit, this is probably one of my top five favorite editions you guys do. Great job. I also loved the article on making ketchup. I've looked into it myself, but it just never seemed worth the effort. I wanted to ask Jane her opinion on whether it's worth it if you're not one of those people who have an abundance of tomatoes already. Yeah, I like the idea of making my own and adding my own take to it, but then again this seems like it would end up costing me a lot more to make than to just buy a bottle of stuff I already like. Can I doctor store-made ketchup to add my own take on it?

Depends on whether you like to cook, and would use those spices for other things. Making your own is not anti-bottled ketchup statement -- maybe you'll find you like the fresh taste as an alternative now and then. And sure, you can add chipotle or Worcestershire sauce or chili paste to ketchup you already have.

You should also check out her blog post and recipe for ketchup made from canned tomatoes. The recipe actually turns out slightly better than with the fresh, she found.

After almost 29 years (my birthday is Friday!) I have grown to like tomatoes. What was once a food forbidden anywhere near my plate (eew, tomato slime!) is now eaten in a variety of happy ways. So I am proud to announce that for the first time (drumroll please) I have actually looked forward to the tomato issue of the Food Section! Cream of Tomato Soup With Seafood? Don't mind if I do! Tomato Watermelon Salad? Make mine a double! Thanks for the great recipes!

Welcome to our world! Glad to have you join us. It's tasty here; you're gonna love it.


Do a chilled chocolate pudding pie. No baking. Do a graham cracker crust with melted butter to avoid even baking the crust.

Sure, but there's the Chocolate Grape.

Three words: Hot Fudge Sundae

Took my visiting 6-yr. old grandson with me to farmers market this weekend and here's a shout out to those vendors who take the time to show a child cornsilk, or the string in green beans, or the way herbs smell when you crush them with your fingers or how to hold a melon and smell if it's ripe. What started out as a trip to get something fresh for dinner ended up being so much more. The experience also reminded me to stop and smell the roses (melons, herbs, peaches, etc.) more than I have been doing lately.

do as the indians do, stuff 'em! chop up some garlic, onion, chile pepper, and cilantro and give it a whiz in the food processor. take the mush and fry it in a sauce pan until it is golden. add a spoon of garam masala (or any curry powder you like). add salt to taste. take the eggplants and cut them down the middle up to the stem (so they will stay together, but still be slit in the middle). stuff the filling into each eggplant. once all of the eggplants are stuffed, gently sautee them in a large saucepan with a bit of olive oil until the outsides of the eggplants are darkened, the entire eggplant is soft and silky, and the filling is warmed through (about 20 minutes). garnish with some chopped cilantro and serve with naan or hot white rice!

Take some cream havarti, a bagette and a tomato. Slice the tomato. Place a slice of havarti on a piece of bread (torn vs neatly sliced is preferred). Dip in tomato juices. Take a bit eof the bread and cheese and a bite of a tomato. Follow with a sip of wine. Repeat as necessary. Perfect summer dinner.

We received several such "recipes."

Hi. For the eggonomics poster, if they're making a cream of tomato soup and don't want to use dairy, add a few broken up slices of white bread to the soup. It mellows out the soup and makes it creamy to boot.

I've used almond milk for baking and love it.

FYI for the person who referenced "HFCS Heinz"--organic Heinz ketchup is made with sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

Honestly, my favorite way to eat those amazingly beautiful, expensive farmers market tomatoes is with a sprinkling of kosher salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and some basil.

I love fresh tomatoes, but have noticed an increase in a metallic aftertaste, even in farmers market ones. (A colleague of yours described it as similar to licking the refrigerator door!) This year I grew Roma tomatoes organically and banished Miracle Gro from my garden. Amazingly enough--the metallic taste is GONE! I'm thinking it's the salts/metals that are in the fertilizer. All I used was compost and organic fish meal (smelled bad, but no fishy taste in the tomatoes). I have canned 2 gallons of tomato sauce for the winter from my dinky raised garden bed. Hooray! Next up: canning a batch of my mom's grape tomatoes, that are taking over the world. They are great as a basis for chilis and soups.

Could you please post one of the tomato ice cream recipes? I've got WAY too many tomatoes in my garden and have been wanting to make tomato ice cream, but don't have a recipe. Otherwise, I am thinking of just taking my recipe for 4-Bs (the restaurant in Polson, MT with famous tomato soup) tomato soup and somehow turning it into an ice cream...

Send an email to and I'll send one of the ones we tested. It just didn't quite taste like tomatoes.

Isn't most food at our local farmers' markets too expensive? Doesn't it basically come down to supply and demand? If the rich people who live here are willing to pay the high prices the farmers would be idiots not to charge them. I read an interesting article recently that talked about a study done up in Lancaster County. The people who lived in Lancaster couldn't get good produce because the producers were hauling it all to Philly where they could get a lot more money for it. I figure it just goes along with summer. I want good peaches. So I have to buy them at the farmers' market. (Grocery store peaches are always hard as a rock and flavorless). I paid $9 for 5 peaches last weekend. Granted they were enormous peaches, but still that is almost $2 per peach. And one of them turned out to be rotten inside which was maddening.

At Dupont market you can pay anywhere from $4.00 a pound to $2.50 a pound for tomatoes.  I go to Heyser's and their peaches are about $.50 to $1.00 a peach depending on variety.  Yesterday they had Cal Ripken and Golden something or others and PF-23's if I remember correctly.  Just smelling them you could tell hat the Cal Ripkens were incredible, but they were easier to bruise.  The White Lady whites were also amazing and there was another variety that smelled of cardboard.  You need to use all your senses and don't buy what is not good!  Also, when you buy at a farmer's market, buy some stuff that is ready today and some that needs a day or two so you don't wind up tossing stuff.  If you can find it,there is a great book, "The Green Grocer" by Joe Carcione, who explains how to select and store produce.  It is ancient, so I may be wrong on the spelling, but picking out ripe fruit is a lost art. 

Count me in for homemade ketchup. I occasionally make a version from a cookbook that I got from the editors of "Chile Pepper Magazine" (is that still published?) that includes most of the ingredients you listed plus habanero. I modified some of the ingredients, but it's quite good. One of the best things is that it is good in places that you might not normally consider for ketchup. One of my faves is a tomato and cheese sandwich. Compared to the recipe recommendation, I keep my ketchup much longer than a month. I've considered canning, but haven't done that yet. I really don't make it often enough. I've never understood the "Heinz" as the ketchup ideal (I think that there was a review in "Cooks Illustrated" once that found the same result that you did). That to me is like saying "Budweiser" is the beer ideal, just because it has market dominance. Now, there's nothing wrong if you like Heinz (or Budweiser), but frankly, expecting everyone to have the same palate is absurd. In both cases, I just don't care for the product that much. Heinz is way too sweet (in restaurants I'll add prolific amounts of hot sauce or vinegar to modify the sweet/savory balance).

We have a bumper crop of sage this year. Any ideas on using it fresh? Typically, I use small amounts in herb blends for dishes during summer then dry the rest to use with poultry. But I'd love some new ideas on using fresh sage in summery dishes. Thanks.

In Tuscany they serve it deep fried in tempura batter.  Lots of work, though.  Also sage pesto is incredible but you cannot make it in a food processor.  Walnuts & garlic can be processed in the machine and then add oil in a slow stream till the pesto just starts to emulsify.  Add hand chopped sage in abundance.  No cheese is necessary.  It's great on fish or on cheese ravioli or with gnudi. 

They're worth it if the tomoatoes are from New Jersey. Maybe for some varieties of heirlooms too. But I wouldn't shell out the money unless I were using the tomatoes in a very pure preparation (e.g., raw on a salad).

I bought some fresh and canned Jersey toms last weekend when I was in  Philly, with testing and comparison in mind.

I have these ingredients leftover from my CSA bounty this week. What should I make for dinner tonight?

Boil the white beets and potatoes separately and then slice the taters into rounds.  Puree the beets with a little veggie stock or water to thin if necessary.  Float the potato slices in the beets for a simple borscht.  Add dill, allspice for flavor. 

Do you know if there are any Asian supermarkets in the District? I remember there used to be two in the Chinatown area. Any ethnic food supermarkets you recommend in the District?

I don't know of any Asian supermarkets in the District, nope. There is a tiny market that's pretty sweet, at 17th and U NW: Hana Japanese Market. Chatters, any others you like?

Hi there, I need a new (good) idea for using zucchini on my gas grill--any ideas? My last foray didn't turn out great...thanks!

Don't know what you've already done, but I love brushing lengths of zuchinni (about a quarter-inch thick) with olive oil and grilling for just a couple of minutes on each side over moderately high heat. Add some other grilled vegetables, such as eggplant and red bell peppers and onions, and you have a lovely summer antipasto. Oh, drizzle a dressing of minced garlic, some wine vinegar, and fresh oregano on the vegetables. Or try a zuchini salad - in a grill basket, grill thin lengths of zuchini until just barely wilted, then toss with olive oil, a big squeeze of lemon, basil, and pine nuts. And there's always succotash - cut zuchini lengthwise in half, grill over high heat, grill some corn and a thick slice of onion or two, put them together with chopped poblano peppers and cilantro with a light lime and olive oil dressing.

Is there a typical lifespan for non-stick pans? I've been using an All-Clad non-stick frying pan for about 6 years now, and while it still functions fine & isn't "peeling" or anything obvious, the non-stick part is looking a bit worn. (Especially in comparison to one I purchased last year.) Just wondering if there's a rule of thumb for when to replace. It's an expensive pan, so I'm in no rush, of course! Thanks!

When the pan is scratched so that it loses its non sticky-ness, its time for a new one.  Also if you heat it too hot and it smells bad while hot, I'd toss it.  Or if it discolors badly.  Who knows what chemicals you might be ingesting? 

Normally I love to cook - but when I went back to grad school last fall, all of that fell to the wayside and by spring semester I was subsisting on ramen noodles and french bread pizza. I think that a big part of the problem is that I am not a great meal planner/grocery shopper. What are some good basic pantry staples to have around for quick, easy vegetarian meals? Or what are some good make-ahead meals? PS - if you don't have room for a garden, Cherokee Purple tomatoes from the market are so worth it.

Dried and canned beans are usually a big part of a good veg pantry. I'd also make sure I had chipotle en adobo (small cans, preferably), a range of dried chili peppers, good canned tomatoes, several flavored vinegars (including champagne vinegar), toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, good olive oil, canned coconut milk, dried pastas, bulgur and wild rice. In cool dry storage, onions and shallots. In the fridge: grapeseed and walnut oils, prepared horseradish, several kinds of chili pastes and mustards, various jammy jams.

I'm sure I left something out, but perhaps I've already spent a paycheck of yours. Dozens of meal options await.

Eating summer: Pulling a a tomato off the vine and eating it. If you can't do that, I guess the farmer's market is the next best thing. Heaven knows the tomatoes at the grocery stores are fake.

No great argument to counter with here, Best, but I've purchased some heirloom toms at the grocery store recently -- allegedly grown local -- that were jest fine.

If I'm making pickled vegetables, can I use a water bath or does this require pressure canning? I'm pickling green tomatoes, green beans, assorted other vegetables, using a hot vinegar brine...which I assume provides enough acid that pressure canning isn't needed, but I wanted to check. Thank you!

Hot vinegar bath and standard boiling water processing is good with high acid veggies. Beware of low-acid tomatoes and then there are a long list of veggies that need pressure canning (artichokes are a favorite that comes to mind).  Consult your Ball Bluebook or a guide from your local agricultural extension.  Don't experiement.  If you are not sure, go with the pressure canner. 

Pickle recipes can usually be made with hot water bath. The vinegar makes up for the low acid in the veggies. Dean's right to definitely read up through sources like the Ball Blue Book and the like, but generally this is fine. Here's a recipe for Dilled Green Beans from a few years back that we liked quite a bit.

Jason wrote today that "Canadian whisky came to be known as rye." He's correct. At a recent visit in Toronto, a friend ordered a manhattan. The bartender pulled out a bottle of V.O. and was asked, "don't you have rye?", to which he replied, "this is rye." Discussion ensued until he pulled out the Old Mister Boston guide and was informed that rye was made from rye and canadian whisky was, well, Canadian whisky. How this confusion happened might make for a good story.

I don't know the story, but I'm sure Canadians' use of the term "rye" dates to a time when most Canadian whiskey was made with rye. Some Canadian whisky still does consist of 51 percent rye, like our American rye whiskey, but not much anymore. Even if there is rye in a Canadian whisky, the key difference is that it's distilled at significantly higher proof and then blended -- and, to that blend, 9.09% of just about anything can be added. That 9.09% makes a big difference.

Hi Free Rangers - maybe a little off topic but I recently upgraded many of my small appliances (blender, coffee pot, toaster etc) thanks to a very nice gift certificate. Now I'm wondering where the best place would be to donate the old ones that are anywhere from 2-10 years old. Are these things I should just take to a Good Will or are there other types of organizations (like soup kitchens?) that might put these to good use. Thanks!

Here's a handy list, with info on what various charities are looking for.

It is a bit expensive up here in Minnesota at the Farmer's markets. I'm supplementing my homegrown tomatoes. I have two Roma plants that produced enough, so far, for 6 quarts of tomatoes (canning) and my Big Boys didn't do as well got only 2 quarts. The grape tomatoes went nuts...pickled 6 pints and eating them too. A peck of tomatoes is going for $10-15. Green beans are pricey too...1/2 bushel for $15-20. Thanks for the eggplant recipes and the ketchup ones too. Canning this year...yay!

Hi Dean Robert from Iowa want's to know your GO TO tomato of choice?

Well opinions differ and everyone is entittles to their own opinion {no matter how wrong that opinion is as I keep telling my wife Kay!}.  But I am a Cherokee Purple freak, followed by German Striped for the big ones and sungolds for the cherries.  Black cherry tomatoes are also incredible. 

I've found that cutting garlic cloves in half or smashing them (to get the paper off) before tossing them into a food processor/chopper works better. It isn't as much work as mincing and still stops them from "bouncing" around the blades by giving them one flat side instead of all rounded sides. Also, if I saw a recipe like that, I would just put the garlic in first, whiz a few seconds to "mince" then toss the rest of the ingredients in and continue with the recipe.

Every tomato pie recipe I've seen has a ton (pound) of cheese! My French houseguest made a delish tomato pie with just tomatoes and stone ground mustard. I wish I'd gotten the recipe. All that cheese drowns out the special tomato flavor.

This one doesn't, which is why it earned second-place honors. The Manchego complements the acidity of the tomatoes and does not go gooey on you. Care to share your recipe with us for Top Tomato 2011?

I made a big batch of homemade ice cream this weekend and now I'm left with about 8 egg whites. I was thinking about making a frittata with some zucchini - should I cook the zucchini and then add the eggs?

I'd sautee the zucchs with herbs and chopped garlic till tender then add the eggs. 

Yep. And here are other ways to deal with the surplus: Freeze them individually in ice cube trays, then store in a freezer-safe plastic food storage bag for up to 1 month. Use them for egg-white omelets, meringues and pavlovas, angel food cake, macaroons, marshmallows, seven-minute frosting or baked Alaska; or add them to the milk in onion ring batter to make the coating crispier.

There are so many wonderful varieties of tomatoes that you will NEVER find in a supermarket because they are just too delicate or "ugly" or low-yield for mass productions. It's a price premium for a unique flavor/texture experience. Either that appeals to you or it doesn't. Personally, I have no use for most of the "supermarket" variety tomatoes, other than some of the "grape" tomatoes. For anything cooked you're better off with canned than out-of season or low quality fresh. For eating fresh, it's premium or else why bother.

Anyone have suggestions on reseasoning a cast iron skillet that got washed with dish soap?

Dry thoroughly. Oil lightly. Bake at moderate temperature, cool and wipe out the oil.

As someone who is on the flip side (grew up going with my mom out to the farmers stands out by our beach house), those experiences are responsible for my love of food, sustainable growing, and fresh ingredients. Those memories of going out to get fresh basil, corn, tomatoes, and summer fruit are held in highest regard. They've made me who I am today. I would encourage every person to expose their kids to these kinds of experiences.

I made and canned sauce last week and will make another canner load this week. I used tomatoes from my garden (I have 70 some plants of about 5 or 6 varieties), green & banana peppers from friends who sell at the local farmer's market (very reasonably priced), fresh herbs from the farmers markets or organic from the grocery for what they didn't have, and "Sugar in the Raw" because I was out of regular sugar. I think "Sugar in the Raw" is the way to go, which means I'll have to buy more.

Farmer's market seems to over price the heirloom varieties, but the "standard" are in line w supermarket $ and taste and last much better. My local FM is this afternoon, I'm looking forward to what's going to show up and at what price point; what w all the bizarre weather we've had. Since my own attempts at GIY have only served the local wildlife population ( while you're at it Bambi can you not leave at least ONE new hydrangea bloom at the front walk?!) I'm willing to pay a bit of a premium to the folks who are truly sweating it out to get us the variety and quality of stuff that Giant and Safeway just don't carry. To the eggplant person, just used some of those cute little ones up last night roasted w a local sweet onion and good olive oil. Spooned onto toast points...yum. the bit of left over was tossed into the pasta.

Sorry, Bonnie. The mascarpone cheese came in a TUB.

No worries. I was kinda hoping for some Cheez-Whiz-like mascarpone action.

Take the drive to Fairfax and you'll find 2. H Mart and Dong A. Both are excellent.

Yep, of course. The chatter was asking about in DC proper, though.

This chatter needs to search the archives for Gene Weingarten's comments about this. Weingarten contends that all tomatoes now have been cross-bred enough that they do not taste as good as several decades past. Many of us disagree with him, but he believes it strongly (as he does with many of his unusual beliefs).

Now that I've gotten hooked on real mountain apples from Shenandoah, I cannot eat a grocery store apple: they're mealy and tasteless. I wait and wait and wait til the fall when I buy as many real apples as I can taste. I'll drive to Orange County multiple weekends to get more. I eat them, but also make Apple Butter. Round this time of year I start craving my real slow cooker apple butter with real Virginia mountain apples. I'll pay anything for those! I spoon the apple butter over plain yogurt for breakfast.

Amen to that.

I like talking to the farmer's, and seeing where my food comes from. I like the variety of weird heirloom tomatoes better than the tomatoes at Teeter (although in their defense, my local Teeter has some local produce in the summer). Yes it's more expensive, but for me it's worth it. I know not everyone can afford to drop $10 on tomatoes, but I would rather shell out a little more for produce I enjoy more and cut back in other areas.

Considering the sweat, backache, months of preparation, and gallons of water I end up carrying to grow my own tomatoes I think the farmers deserve every penny. My advice- try a tomato from every vendor at your market. I found the best grower at my market, and know which to avoid.

I mix olive oil and garlic and cover the length cut slices with it. After grilling one (side non-skin side) I turn it and sprinkle with panko.

I bought a dozen of long, thin Italian eggplants at our farmers market over the weekend. They were only about a half inch thick, and curve around to nearly 9 or 10 inches long. The guy said they're a bit sweeter than regular eggplants. What I did was to cut them into 1/4 inch coins, sprinkle with salt and garlic powder and then roast them for about 20 minutes in the oven. Then I sauted onion, garlic and my fabulous farmers market tomatoes and added the roasted eggplant coins and a splash of pasta water. I served it over penne and had a very happy husband.

A friend brought me a bag of fresh figs and I would love to make a fig paste to serve with cheese. Does anyone have a recipe that is tried and true for this, and do you have any other suggestions for how to make best use of a few pounds of figs since I understand they do not keep long in the refrigerator. Thanks in advance for your help.

Chatters? This one looks good, but I haven't tried it.

In my mind they're worth every penny and, depending on the item, are not that much more than grocery stores. I like that the vendors are relatively local--would rather buy a conventional apple from West Virginia than an organic apple flown in from New Zealand. I don't each much meat, but the meat I do consume always comes from a farmer's market, after a bit of research into the farmer and his/her methods.

Hey Free Rangers, thanks for the chats! Last week there was a hilarious comment on making vegan jerky. I thought interested readers might like a recipe less likely to land them in prison. ;-) Take a block of firm tofu and slice it lengthwise into roughly 1/4-inch strips. Marinade the strips in your favorite seasonings (I like soy sauce, a little maple syrup, a little cayenne, garlic, and a dash of liquid smoke -- since there is no raw meat in it just dip a spoon in and taste until it's perfect) for a few hours or overnight. Lay the marinaded strips flat on a baking sheet and cook in a 200-degree oven for 4-6 hours, turning every hour. Or use a dehydrator. The tofu jerky will shrink and get very chewy. Doesn't have to be refrigerated and I've heard it lasts for months, though I always finish mine within a week. Om nom nom.

My grandmother would egg, bread, and fry eggplant slices. They go really well with a delicious salad or topping pasta. They'll also stand up better because you aren't loading sauce and cheese on top.

I've been doing htem on a hot flat griddle with no breading.  I slice, score and salt them overnight and then wash the excess salt off and press the slices between towels to get the moisture out.  I oil the griddle and brush the slices as needed.  Much less oil is absorbed this way than if breaded and fried. 

Another nice trick is to roll the slices in shredded grana or reggiano or pecorino cheese, then dip in egg and bread before frying.  This method is way rich, but oh, it's good!

For more less-oil-absorption eggplant strategies, see our Gastronomer's take on the subject from awhile back.

Is that a canning/pickling bible? As someone interested in trying pickling, help me out.

Yep. Look here.

Bonnie made some really terrific suggestions (although I get by with olive oil, sesame oil, and some canola oil). But TOFU--unless you have something strange against it, its a gift. Supermarkets are recognizing how popular its becoming and have made it pretty cheap to buy in bulk. It's a great way to add protein to any veggie meal--just make sure you leave it out and press it with a heavy object so its not so watery. It'll help flavors stick and give it a meatier texture. I'd also recommend keeping other ethnic spices such as cumin, curry powder, garam masala, thyme, and the like to keep veggies feeling different. Also, always keep salsa, grated cheese, tortillas (Mexican is the ultimate cheapo but healthy meal). Peanut butter is great also to make sauces with (in addition to good old fashioned Pb and J). And obviously always have tons of garlic on hand.

Thanks for rounding out the list, veggie student.

I'm glad I live in Ohio - 1/2 peck of peaches for $5 - best you've ever tasted.

This week's tomato theme is so cruel to those of us in the upper midwest. My maters are still green with no signs of turning red anytime soon.

Well, look at it this way: When you're digging in, we'll be reaching for canned goods.

Hi! I just got married and of all my new kitchen goodies I am most excited about my Le Creuset 5 1/2 quart pot. I love making soups and stews and there are many great recipes I can't wait to try in it. Problem? Its August and simmering and stewing is not going to be such a good idea since I don't have central AC. So what more summer-friendly recipe can I break in my new lovely pot with? Ideas please!

It's great for convincing your beloved to do chores around the house!  And that has the added benefit of giving you an upper body workout at the same time.  Just kidding Kay!

Do you two lovebirds need privacy?

So, for our movie group this week, my wife suggested that I make a taco bar...we plan to have whole wheat and corn tortillas, hard shells and salad (taco salads for those who are on low-carb diets) plus toppings...but it's been ages since I've made tacos. Any good recipes for meats? Preferable to have something that can be made ahead and reheated since we usually watch a movie or two in the afternoon then break and another one or two after.

Combine this tinga with just about any meat and you'll be happy.  Also, search our Recipe Finder  for slow-cooked pork recipes.

I've seen a lot of vegan recipes use it (CANNOT WAIT to try that jerky recipe!) but I've never liquid smoke in the stores. I need to get my hands on some!

Bottles of LS hang around on the condiments aisle, near the A1 Sauce. Tough neighborhood...

One of my friends always serves grilled zuccini with steak. He puts the grilled steak--seasoned simply with sea salt and fresly cracked pepper -- on top of the grilled zuccini so the steak juices soak into the squash. Heavenly! We do something similar with Kim O'Donnell's Viet Grilled Chicken (and zuccini).

I would love the recipe the poster wrote about. And, I highly recommend Raye's Mustard out of Eastport, ME for your stoneground mustard. The only remaining stone grinding mill in the US. They were just on Foodcrafters on the Cooking Channel this past week. Full disclosure: They are my son's Godparents -- my 6 year old won't eat "regular" mustard as he eats all the flavors from Raye's:)

Hold stem, nibble fig. The bag will be gone before you know it!

My family's favorite use of bumper crop tomatoes: Grilled Panzanella. Slice a baguette on the bias, brush with olive oil. Grill over a med-high flame to get nice char marks. Take them off the fire and rub each side with a whole garlic clove. Cut a few tomatoes (depending on your juiciness desire in the bottom of the bowl) into bite-sized pieces into a large bowl. Tear a bunch of basil (amount depending on taste) into the bowl with the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with good olive oil. Cube the bread and toss into the bowl. Best served room temperature. Or, my favorite, chilled for breakfast the next day when the flavors are really combined and the bread is soggy with all that flavor.

Sorry to be pedantic, but you are describing something more akin to Bruschetta than Panzanella.  In Tuscany, Panzanella is made with wet, crumbled bread and it's amazing!  You can also use couscous.  So I like your idea to serve it the next day.  I love panzanella with tomato, cukes, red onion and a bir of green pepper.  Use some good vinegar {balsamico or sherry wine} to bump up the acidity. 

The chatter's recipe seems like a bruschetanella to me. (Bruschetta means charred, right? But then it's going into a bread salad...)

Wow, I'm impressed by your sauce production. What's a great recipe? Where do you buy 75 lbs of heirlooms, in general?

Garner produce at the 14th & U market has them by pre order.  You can e-mail them.  But almost all the stands at the markets have seconds.  I go to the markets at closing time when the farmer would rather pocket half price than lug soft tomatoes back home where they will go bad.  Of course having a great crew in the kitchen who chops and food mills for me helps too!  I know they are calling me loco behind my back {if I am lucky}, but in February when we have our housemade tomato sauce for pasta and soups....


But there is no recipe.  Quarter the tomatoes, cut out any bad spots and put in a large stockpot.  COver it and put it over high heat till steam is coming out from under the cover.  Reduce heat, uncover and cook for 3 hours.  That's it!  We separate yellow/orange tomatoes from reds but its not necessary.  When the tomatoes have fallen apart, blend using a stick blender or a regular blender.  Then put thru a mouli food mill to get teh seeds and skins out.  Freeze!

When is the time to start thinking about pickling? I enjoy them, all types and want to try my hand at it. Should I be getting the fresh stuff now, or wait more towards the fall?

Again, it's best when it's cheap.  The low price means the harvest is at its peak and the flavors should be maximized.  Too bad that means now instead of the much cooler October!  Also, waiting for late-picked fruit and veggies means less acidity and more sugars.  Great for jam making. 

Just a note for all you canners out there: We'll have a fun canning package in mid-September, around the 15th.

This is my first time participating in Free Range and I'm hooked! Cannot wait till next time. I've got so many great ideas for tomatoes and other things (Chocolate grapes anyone?). Can't wait to get out of work and head into the kitchen!

C'mon back now ya hear?

I am a big fan of buying overripe tomatoes too. Do you can or freeze the sauce? Thanks, Lynn

Freeze, although I have not really had time to think out the energy costs of either method.  It takes a lot of heat to can the veggies, and a chest freezer full of tomato sauce doesn't pull a lot of electricity. 

This might be the poster's friend's recipe - I pulled this from David Leibovitz's food blog: One unbaked tart dough (see recipe, below) Dijon or whole-grain mustard 2-3 large ripe tomatoes 2 tablespoons olive oil salt and freshly ground pepper two generous tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, chives, chervil, or tarragon 8 ounces (250 g) fresh or slightly aged goat cheese, sliced into rounds Optional: 1 1/2 tablespoons flavorful honey Tart Dough 1 1/2 cups (210 g) flour 4 1/2 ounces (125 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 large egg 2-3 tablespoons cold water 1. Make the dough by mixing the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and use your hands, or a pastry blender, to break in the butter until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture. 2. Mix the egg with 2 tablespoons of the water. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg mixture, stirring the mixture until the dough holds together. If it's not coming together easily, add the additional tablespoon of ice water. 3. Gather the dough into a ball and roll the dough on a lightly floured surface, adding additional flour only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. 4. Once the dough is large enough so that it will cover the bottom of the pan and go up the sides, roll the dough around the rolling pin then unroll it over the tart pan. "Dock" the bottom of the pastry firmly with your fingertips a few times, pressing in to make indentations. If making a freestyle tart, simply transfer the dough to a prepared baking sheet (see headnote); no need to make indentations with your fingers. 5. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (218ºC). See note. 6. Spread an even layer of mustard over the bottom of the tart dough and let it sit a few minutes to dry out. 7. Slice the tomatoes and arrange them over the mustard in a single, even layer. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. 8. Sprinkle with some chopped fresh herbs, then arrange the slices of goat cheese on top. Add some more fresh herbs, then drizzle with some honey, if using. (If baking a free-form tart, gather the edges when you're done, to envelope the filling.) 9. Bake the tart for 30 minutes or so, until the dough is cooked, the tomatoes are tender, and the cheese on top is nicely browned. Depending on the heat of your oven, if the cheese doesn't brown as much as you'd like it, you might want to pass it under the broiler until it's just right.

Go David L. Go tomatoes.

Well, you've cooked us uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until we're very thick, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and to Dean Gold, Jim Shahin and Jason Wilson for helping us with the a's.

Now for the giveaway prizes. The pro-farmers market chatter who wrote this will get "Eating Local" by Janet Fletcher:

They're worth it the same anything else you buy is worth it: you know they're grown locally, presumably under better conditions and you're supporting local farmers who produce them. If you think those things are worth paying for then the farmer's market tomato is a great value. Otherwise mosey on down to the Sack N Pack and save your dollars for other stuff.

The chatter who called his/herself "Finally!" and wrote about finally growing to like tomatoes and for the first time looking forward to our annual tomato issue will get a "Top Tomato" T-shirt.

Send your mailing information (and T-shirt size, please) to

Thanks, all. Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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