Free Range on Food: Processed foods, veggie burgers, reverse-searing, this week's recipes and more!

Sep 11, 2019

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

Happy Wednesday, friends! Or as I like to think of it, Official Food Day. As usual, we had a lot in print and online this week, including:

- Tamar's search for better "processed" food

- Dave's piece on visiting wine country

- The announcement of our new baking newsletter with Joy "The Baker" Wilson!

- My maple syrup primer and reverse sear primer

- My just-published biscotti post

- Bonnie's cod recipe

We'll discuss all that and more for the next hour. Our favorite question or comment will be in the running for a TBD prize. Now here we go!

Can't wait to try this recipe! Much as I love tomatoes, I get tired of their being in so many Italian or hot dishes, and this recipe seems like a good guide to leaving them out while balancing the flavor. But I would like a recipe to state how much a medium carrot weighs or how much diced carrot goes into the dish. Thanks!

Hi there, I think you're referring to a Nourish recipe Ellie posted last week. A medium carrot weighs about about 2 or so ounces, but it doesn't really matter. It's a soupy, stewy bowl of deliciousness and would be very hard to mess up! In fact, my colleague Becky wrote about not worrying so much about medium vs large vegetable in certain dishes.

I have tons of Dill, Mint, Thyme, and Basil. Too much to know what to do with. Any recipes you all recommend for at least one of those?

For tender herbs like dill, mint and basil, you've got to use them by the handful! This guide here has tons of advice on that. 

For the thyme, you can dry it, freeze it or make it into a syrup. It's really nice in this Lemon Thyme Cello cocktail.

No question, just a statement: I made the skillet braised potatoes and chickpeas last night and we loved it. Two thumbs up from us. It took me a little longer to make because I popped the skins from the chickpeas but otherwise it's fairly fast. You guys are awesome.

Glad to hear you liked it! People were definitely into that one-pan roundup.


ARTICLE: These delicious one-pan dinners let you focus on eating instead of doing dishes

For the processed food recommendations. I've wanted to keep jarred Indian sauces around but didn't know which brand was tastiest or healthiest. Patak goes on the shopping list.

Glad you liked it! Report back on what you think of the Patak.

D'oh! Y ou're right! It was Ellie, not Joe, and it's called Lemony Chickpea Stew. In today's print edition.

Thank you for this recipe! This was my favorite sandwich in DC years ago and when the store closed, I never found it again. Really enjoyed making this and just eating it as a salad since I’ve given up sandwich bread.

I am not sure what store you are referring to, but glad you liked my concoction that spun off a Scott Drewno archive recipe!

Double Mango Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

RECIPE: Double Mango Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

I'm reveling in the What Do You Keep in Your Freezer, especially since I just put a huge number of cellophane/plastic spice bags into my freezer after dealing with a bug infestation, but Pati's recommendation for homemade chocolate salami had me dashing to her recipe there!! Can you point me to one?


ARTICLE: What should you keep in your freezer? Rachael Ray, Christopher Kimball and more experts weigh in

Sure! Pati has a recipe on her site, and below find one from our archive.

RECIPE: Chocolate Salami

Where oh where is editor Joe? You all are outstanding, just wondering when he's coming back.

I'm back! Just had to get a recipe going in the Food Lab right before the chat started, so joining now!

I e been a big fan of the reverse dear, especially as it allows me to take care of kids and such and then have my dinner. The only problem I run into is that I do not get as good a crust as with a fresh steak. The outside does change during that time in the oven.

Oh, yeah, I know the kid and dinner juggle/struggle. This is why I just mostly rely on leftovers during the work week!

I needed to toast a half-cup of walnut pieces for a salad last night, and the bits of skin & tiny nut crumbs burned before the bigger pieces were properly toasted. Should I have just left the burner on a lower flame for longer? Or do I try to sift out the tiny bits?

I prefer to toast nuts in the oven around 325 degrees. It allows for  more control, more even toasting, and fewer chances of burning them. Give it a try!

I enjoyed Kari Sonde's article on 10 carrot recipes. (I will avoid making any carrot/carat/karat jokes, although Kari is a gem and her recipes are usually gold.) Anyway, some of them brought back to mind something I used to make. Simmer sliced carrots in a little water and butter. When they are done and the water mostly evaporated, add a small amount of brown sugar and ginger. With the butter, they combine to a light coating to the carrots and dressed a plain side dish up very nicely with just a little extra work. I haven't done this in many years and will have to try it. One question: the roasted vegetable trio recipe calls for 12 ounces of cauliflower. Did you make it with frozen florets or fresh ones? Thanks!

Well good morning to ME! This is so kind, thank you :). Am going to bookmark your recipe for later. 

For the Roasted Vegetable Trio, that's fresh florets. If you wanted to use frozen, you can, but you might want to defrost a little bit first, and you might not get the crispiness from using fresh. 

Carrots, get your 10 savory, earthy, sweet carrot recipes here!

This recipe is a favorite---but the never harden. is it because of the humidity? am i not cooking it long enough on the stove top?

Both of those sound like possibilities, for sure. These don't harden to the consistency of store-bought, which is a good thing in my book. I believe when I tested, I made a few batches, and some were softer than others based on how long I cooked it.

Sesame Candies

RECIPE: Sesame Candies

Pine nuts give me a nasty, metallic taste in my mouth (unless I can find ones from the Mediterranean, but that's almost impossible nowadays). I generally substitute walnuts or sunflower seeds, depending on the dish, but do you have any suggestions for better substitutes? You posted a recipe a week or two ago that looked good but called for pine nuts but I wasn't sure if either of my usual alternatives would work. Thanks!

I love walnuts as a substitute, and they would work great in the tomato/basil pasta, if that's the one you're thinking of!

I was drawn to this when I saw it in the print edition but I was shocked at the nutritional information, especially the calories and sodium. Looking at the ingredient list I'm trying to figure out why those numbers are so high. The challah? The chutney?

Yeah, it's the challah. Our nutrition system may have been generous on the weight/size of the slices, but thin slices of challah or another bread would definitely bring things down. Challah is just pretty rich in general.

Any progress on the tech people figuring out what's going with chat images in Safari?

Not yet, sorry!

I never run the oven in the summer. Would using a toaster-oven suffice?

Yes, so long as you can control the temperature, it should work the same!

I have always wanted to make biscotti & would love to try this recipe. I'm a bit confused about the almonds, though. The note mentions whole-skinned nuts & roasting them (which seems to suggest skins left on), but then the ingredient list says "blanched." I thought blanched means quickly boiled & skins removed. Thanks for your guidance.

Blanched are almonds that have been skinned. Just different terms! You do want to toast the skinned (as in skins removed) nuts -- they get a lovely color and flavor. Sorry for the confusion. Lemme take a look back and see if I should tweak anything.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked about a veg version of Mbawa Ya Tomati saying I was leaning towards tempeh. I got back the brilliant suggestion of beans. I made it with red bean - scrummy. I also added some sweet potato.

Oh yay! So glad you made and liked this recipe - and sweet potatoes addition sounds delicious!

Husband's birthday is this weekend- since I am a vegetarian and and for general health reasons, not much red meat is eaten in our house. But once or twice a year I like to make him a nice steak dinner. The reverse sear idea is intriguing, and I may try it out (instead of the normal grilling). I am now struggling with some sides that I can eat as well that would complement.

If you want the opposite of the reverse sear, do look at the recipe I did -- sear and then slow-roast. As someone who rarely cooks steak at home, I nailed it no problem.

Seared, Slow-Roasted Steak

RECIPE: For beautifully cooked steak, take it low and slow in the oven

I would go classic on sides. Mashed potatoes, maybe some roasted broccolini, a nice starter soup.

The Travel folks say Joe may know (any other suggestions also greatly appreciated!): You have time for one early evening meal while in Paris as a tourist (i.e., not dressed in high fashion). The kicker is you have to make a 9 PM train at Gare Nord. Late lunch, early dinner would be fine… Any thoughts greatly appreciated.

I very much love Clamato, which is a wine bistro led by the same team as Septime (a few doors down), or La Buvette (not to be confused with also lovely Buvette), which is a tiny wine bar with a modest but delicious food selection, or Breizh Cafe for a Breton gallettes and crepes. All fine choices - all are super casual about dress code, and for the first 2, you don't need a reservation - just show up early enough!

I second the Breizh Cafe suggestion. So good! And I told Travel's Andrea Sachs when she asked me this question that Cafe Michel is a beloved bistro just steps from Gare Nord.

So happy to see this included on the list of nutrition-friendly processed foods. Sure I could roast a chicken myself, but that takes time and honestly because I can't do rotisserie, it's not as good. I love buying these and then using the meat in other meals that I do cook myself. Plus, I always save the carcass to make homemade chicken stock later. This is such an easy win for home cooking!

So true. I used it for the chicken salad sandwich above, and it was just as tasty (or more?) as it would have been with a home-cooked bird.

I have a good Thermapen thermometer. When I tested it by putting tip in boiling water, it was slightly off. Is this unusual? Do I mentally just note when I use it to adjust? Thanks!

Hm, it should be just about right. How off? Maybe you're not getting it in *exactly* at the perfect boiling moment? I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggles to tell boiling based on visuals, which is why I do pull out the thermometer. Thermapen has instructions on checking and calibrating your thermometer here.

Just checking: Are you at high elevation, perchance?

Looks great and can't wait to try it. (Thanks to Chatter who mentioned it). I prefer thighs to wings - would you alter the sauce in any way - meaning make more since thighs are larger-ish? Or use a smaller amount of thighs?

Pretty sure you can use the same amount of sauce for the recipe; and the amount of time should also work out - the thighs should be well cooked by then. Enjoy - it's delicious!!


I'm the OP from last week and thanks for taking my question - which you correctly sussed out! Sometimes I've read recipe comments on Voraciously blog posts & than later looked up the same recipe on Recipe Finder, and was confused when the comments didn't match. Now I get it.

Good! Yeah, it's not a perfect system.... *shrug*

At the risk of starting a religious war: is there actually a difference between maple syrups (of the same grade, natch) from different places? Everyone brags about their own state (or province's) maple syrup, but I can't tell.

Good question! I bet it depends on the palate of the person who's tasting, the source, etc. But definitely plenty of people say there is terroir to maple syrup, just like wine.

I'm a huge fan of this method already. Recently, my bro and I did Tomahawk pork chops with this method and it was just as lovely as the steaks that I've done in the past.

You mentioned sodium a lot in this (really helpful!) article, but sugar is also a killer. High-fructose corn syrup is the third ingredient in Ragu tomato sauce. Now, I throw a pinch of sugar into mine when it's too acidy, but this is ridiculous. There's more sugar in this stuff than there is dried onions, garlic, cheese, and olive oil. (The fourth ingredient? Salt.) It's really insidious, and since I've noticed it, I've actually lost the taste for a lot of processed foods. Breads are so sweet now that I pay double for the artisan loaves.

Certainly, sugar is a problem, but not in quite the same way that salt is. If you're eating a reasonable diet, the amount of sugar in pasta sauce isn't going to make much difference -- but you're right that it can add up if you eat a lot of processed foods. I'm with you on bread being too sweet!

How do you prevent the top crust of an apple pie from doming up and leaving a large space between the top crust and the apples?

I would precook the apples first as they shrink when they cook down. You could also try some Granny Smith apples in the pie filling along with a few other types of apples to get different tastes and textures. 

If the OP is in DC, you can find the Mediterranean ones at A. Litteri near Union Market. They're a bit pricey, but you often only need a few ounces, and I like the creaminess.

The target market for these products is non-vegetarians/carnivores, not vegetarians. I don't know one vegetarian/vegan in my social circle, and there are many, who is looking for something "meat-like" - they made the decision to go meat-free and do not want something like this. So, I commend the effort to reduce meat consumption on a health/environmental basis (I do eat meat), but it being higher-priced than beef does not do much to persuade people to try it - particularly those who half-heartedly embrace the idea. Why pay more for a veggie burger than a regular Whopper, if it's the taste of beef you want anyway? And, it's a processed food.

That's right, on the target market. But I know plenty of vegetarians/vegans who want one of these burgers -- it really depends on how long they've been eating this way, and their motivation. As for persuading people to try them, I think the market is speaking for itself!

Having said that, I really appreciated Alicia Kennedy's point of view on this, too. I may not have such a visceral reaction against the "tech burgers," but I also really love a "real" veggie burger and would hate to see them disappear.

As the Impossible and Beyond burgers take off, will real veggie burgers go extinct?

I cant get out of my mind how long aluminum foil takes to decompose (more than 100 years), not to mention that apparently Aluminum leaches into your food when the foil is under very high temperatures, so, Im looking for ways to stop using it: is my best solution parchment or silicone? I havent done much research on how biodegradable is parchment paper which I use here and there; on the other hand, I've never used any silicon material. Your advice is welcome!

Check out this article from our friend Kristen Hartke!


ARTICLE: How to break your plastic, foil and paper addiction in the kitchen

I used to love Gardenburgers. I wasn't a vegetarian but I just liked them for what they were. Well now I can't find them anywhere. I also can't get the Don Lee veggie burgers at Costco anymore. Maybe eventually the pendulum will swing back from all this pretend meat business.

Interesting! Maybe it's time to make your own! These Mushroom Chickpea Burgers are the way to go, IMHO.

Hello! We’re expecting a baby in a few weeks, and I’m starting to stick the freezer. Soups are an obvious option. But I’d like to add some grab and go snacks and breakfast options (assuming both time and free hands will be limited). Do you have any suggestions? We prefer healthy and largely veggie. Thanks!

These Morning Glory Muffins, from our Nourish columnist Ellie Krieger, are delicious and very freezable. 

I also compiled some fast breakfast options here, with more options that are not necessarily freezable but will be quick and easy. Some shelf stable and freezable snacks over here.  

Why are the muffins I buy at Walmart more difficult to split then when I buy them from Wegman's?? Is there a recommended way to split Thomas English Muffins that I am missing??? Issue between the two stores is no longer a problem since I am boyotting both stores because of their policies on open carry!

Wow. No idea! I can say that my sister, who makes the most amazing English muffins herself, has a little plastic splitter that's just right for keeping those nooks/crannies. Google it around and see what you think!

Make your own and split however you like!

English Muffins

RECIPE: Whole-Wheat English Muffins

I want to try your better-than-takeout fried rice, but I'm trying NOT to do takeout, so I never have cooked rice around the place! Your recipe mentioned that you could freeze rice. Would I need to under-cook it a little to keep it from getting mushy when I pull it out, or does it hold up pretty well?

Will do! I cook Indian food A LOT but with yard work beckoning sometimes I just don't have the time or energy. And I cook whole chickens so I have lots of leftovers to go into those sauces.

You split english muffins with forks ... .

I noticed it was among the list of last weeks topics too, but don't recall it being discussed. I'm always open to a veggie burger recipe and recommendations on prepared ones. Thanks!

Check out the recipe for Mushroom Chickpea Burgers I posted earlier! 

As for ones in restaurants, if you're in DC, check out this piece. I vouch for Shouk's!

Just logged in (late, so I assume I’m jumping on the bandwagon here) to thank you all for Alicia Kennedy’s veggie burger article.

So glad you like it! She'll be thrilled to hear.

Be careful! I once toasted nuts in a toaster-oven, forgot about them (not for very long; maybe five extra minutes) and they burst into flame. The toaster oven was destroyed (fortunately the kitchen was not!).

They can indeed run hot! So watch carefully. Don't leave the general vicinity! But that's true for ones in the oven, too -- can burn easily, but the oven is usually not destroyed. ;-)

Could the basic sauce - be frozen? Add the pine nuts before freezing or add them later after thawing? Thank you - sounds like a great recipe. Looking for different tomato sauces for freezing,

I think the pine nut sauce would freeze fine, sure. (Just make the whole thing.) But I wouldn't make this with frozen tomato sauce -- the beauty of it, in addition to that cheesy quality from the pine nut sauce, is in the simply marinated but still raw tomato chunks, and the fresh basil. Make it when they are at their peak, and you'll be happy. And when they're not, think about making it next summer! (Or, of course, make one of Amy Chaplin's other variations from her new book, "Whole Food Cooking Everyday.")

RECIPE: Summer Tomato and Basil Pasta With Pine Nut Sauce 

If you want one for freezing, check out this tomato sauce I posted a few weeks ago.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

RECIPE: This fresh tomato sauce is rich, flavorful and yours in under an hour

I haven't done a side-by-side comparison of the recipes, but I have to give a shout-out to Kim O'Donnel's version from way back when, which I've made many times. 

Yes, we love Kim! Thanks for this.

Not to be a meanie (she said, preparing a harsh reply), but the solution is to buy any other brand of English muffins than Thomas's, which taste like cardboard to me and the "nooks & crannies" when toasted leave hard spikes that hurt the roof of my mouth. Any house brand in a supermarket is better than Thomas's.

I cook a lot of rice and freeze it. To get it nice and fluffy when I use it, I either steaming the frozen rice or microwave it with a wet paper towel covering it. Works great.

I'm laughing because in the UK, Patak's is as ubiquitous as Ragu

One of the many reasons I love England.

A leading US environmental NGO (EWG see and elsewhere) put out a renewed warning about teflon (does that need to be capitalized?) and non-stick pans in general and PFAs and I really need to hear your thoughts and recommendations, including brands, because I love non-stick. The warning seems to be mostly about heating the pans too high.

I haven't read that yet, but in general I'm a bit weary -- along with plenty of other scientists and researchers -- of the EWG's non-peer-reviewed reports and methodology. If you use nonstick pans properly, not above medium-high, with food/fat in them, the general consensus is you're fine.

I got to yesterday's farmers' market in time to score a box of "seconds" peaches. After using them for an Any Fruit Cobbler (love that recipe!), I hope to freeze what's left. What's the best low-or-no-sugar method?

The best low-or-no-sugar recipe, IMHO, is to halve and pit them (hope you have freestone!), but don't bother peeling, and roast them  at anywhere from 200 to 450 degrees. (The higher temp will give you more liquid, and the lower will keep them more whole, and concentrated.) If it's higher temp, do them cut side down and you should be able to slip off the peels really easily within 15 minutes or so. If it's the lower temp, do them cut side up, and you won't have to peel them at all! Then stuff them into your freezer containers of choice. Roasting at any temp concentrates the natural sugars!

Maura -- Your video alone turned the family on for Popeye's chicken sandwiches and we still. Can't. Find. One. I have to be satisfied with Burger King tacos (which are almost identical to Jack in the Box tacos, which are not on the East coast). Grr.

So glad you enjoyed my video! I believe Popeye's is still sold out of the sandwich nationwide -- once it's back in stock, I'm certain we'll all know about it right away, because it will go viral again. Glad you can fulfill your fast food craving elsewhere in the meantime! 

Question - not questioning you . Rotisserie can be a godsend at times, and I've probably used it more than I care to admit. I recently heard from a friend who works with a personal trainer (who advocates stringent plant-based diet) that trainer said that grocery chicken - of any kind- is the worst meat to eat because the chickens are pumped full of sodium to make them plump. Have you heard that? I was surprised - always thought chicken was better than beef or pork..Would love to hear your opinion, not start a debate.

It's right there on the ingredient list. Many rotisserie chickens (and some raw chickens) are what they call "enhanced" with an injection that includes salt and can include flavorings.  Your rotisserie chicken will list salt as an ingredient if it uses it. It's hard to know how much, though, because the labeling requirements for rotisserie chickens are different from raw. That means that, yes, the meat has salt in it, and if you're trying to avoid sodium, adjust your consumption accordingly. 

Just back from a visit to Dad, who's game to swap in more veggies to the meat-and-potatoes traditional. A vegan friend made nice "tastes like" dishes, but they were complex. Any recommendations for getting him started on veggies not trying to pass? A book or handful of techniques/recipes while this newbie navigates cooking-for-one? I get SO much out of your section and chat, and apply it to whatever the farm share delivers. . . but can see why it's intimidating!

Well, my last book, "Eat Your Vegetables," has all recipes designed for one, and there's not a mock meat in there -- well, OK, there's ONE dish that uses seitan. You might check it out! And follow my recipes here, of course -- because there are lots of good ones, and I try to make them weeknight-friendly. If you haven't made the tomato/basil pasta I mentioned earlier, you should! I bet he would love it.

The recipe for the tomato and fresh basil pasta reads a lot like the one I've been making since I read "Heartburn" except that it's not cooked; the tomatoes are chopped, marinated in olive oil & garlic & basil chiffonade, then the pasta dumped in when hot.

I accidentally left a vacuum-sealed piece of salmon and a bag of pre-cooked sliced chicken out of the refrigerator yesterday for somewhere between one and five hours. I figure one hour isn't a big deal because it's sometimes out that long to get home from the market or on apicnic. But 5 hours might be a bit much. Do you think I can eat them if they smell okay and don't feel slimey? .

That seems like a long time. I wouldn't risk it.

I love almonds but hate almond extract (and other almond-flavored things. Take your marzipan and get out!) Could I double the amount of vanilla extract instead of using almond extract?

Sure, although the almond extract really makes them for me! If you ever feel like trying a good extract, I love the Sonoma Syrup brand.

Pretty soon OP is liable to run out of stores to patronize.

The farmer's market had a mushroom vendor that made me think I was up in Kennett Square. We had a heavenly omelet with the big chunk of oyster mushrooms, and I also got dried porcini, which seems to add a meaty taste to soups, and dried chanterelles. What should I do with the chanterelles? Anything specific?

When I was growing up in Russia, chanterelles were easiest, cheapest mushrooms to get, and we would sautee them with mushrooms and serve them with pasta and sour cream! I would even do creme fraiche in the States. Delicious!

You can wash and reuse. I do, learned about it years back in Nicaragua where it was really expensive if you found it at all.

To the OP who doesn't know any. I've been a veg for nearly 20 years, and gave up meat because I love animals and the planet. However, I still love the taste and am grateful for good faux meats!

I suggest a fork to pry them open, if you will. Slicing with a knife doesn't result in as many nooks and crannies.

just checked it out - exactly what he's looking for, thank you!

One of the greatest experiences I've had, and I have it often, is biting into a freshly-picked carrot. Raw, earthy, a-MAZ-ing.

Saute chanterelles with mushrooms? puzzled

Oops, I meant ONIONS!! So sorry! Doing too many things at once!

How about roasting - simple, lovely flavor and can experiment with herbs and different veg. Leftovers are tasty too ... . If he makes something saucy, just add a veg he thinks would go with it a few minutes before serving. He can boil or steam most veg then toss in butter or oil with seasoning - maybe even something exotic like harissa or sumac or a bit of vinegar / other acid.

That will do it today, guys! The winner of the chat prize today is the poster who asked about their apple pie. Please send Kari your info and we'll get you your book.

See you next week!

In This Chat
Maura Judkis
Maura is a staff food writer at The Post.
Becky Krystal
Becky is the lead writer for Voraciously.
Tim Carman
Tim is a staff reporter for Food and writes a weekly column on casual dining for Weekend.
Olga Massov
Olga is a food editor at The Post.
Carrie Allan
Carrie is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Kari Sonde
Kari is the food editorial aide.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, a freelance writer based in Cape Cod, writes The Post's Unearthed column. She's the author of four books, including Dreaded Broccoli (Scribner, 1999), and writes about harvesting food first-hand at
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