Sep 08, 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 Free Range. Today, we're all about canning, plus some last-minute Rosh Hashanah ideas. We have Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars joining us to help answer your canning questions, and Washington Cooks subject Michael Twitty to weigh in on Jewish New Year ideas, if you're looking for something to whip up this very afternoon.

Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin will stop by to help with any BBQ queries, and Jane Black and I will hold down the fort from WaPo Food headquarters. Bonnie is on assignment.

We'll have giveaway books to get you in the spirits: "Put 'Em Up!" by Sherri Brooks Vinton; "Preserved" by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton; and "The Kosher Baker" by Paula Shoyer.

Let's do this!

Jane, LOVED the canning article. My friends and I recently put up our first cans--20 pints of crushed tomatoes. I still have that fear of killing my friends and family, but I'm also pretty excited about the canning process. Do you know how many (if any) cases of botulism last year were from "safe" foods like acidic fruits, pickles, or tomatoes (with lemon juice added)?

I didn't see any statistics on this for last year. The most recent report was the one that I cited in the article. But in that decade (1990 to 2000), there were cases from homecanned foods but they didn't specify what types. It's highly highly unlikely it would be from jam, pickles or anything with enough lemon juice to bring the pH up. Botulism can't live in an acidic environment.

I was so excited to read your canning article this morning! I've been teaching myself to can this summer and so far I've made strawberry jam (that never really jelled but is a wonderful strawberry syrup), really good blueberry jam and I made 12 jars of peach jam this weekend. We're actually not a big jam family and most of the jars have been given away to grateful and impressed friends. I really want to learn to pickle vegetables, but I thought I could learn the basics with something simple like jam. It worked! Do you know of any classes in the DC area on pickling - specifically fermented pickles like sauerkraut and corn? I'm also glad to know that I'm not alone in my terror of botulism. I found the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to be a great and reassuring resource. And a tip for beginners- the library has dozens of canning books. I checked out a few until I found the book with the best instructions and recipes.

So glad you enjoyed it. And glad that you are facing your fears. It's a shame I didn't get to you last week. This past weekend, some folks with fermenting fever held the second annual Takoma Park fermentation festival with lessons and tastings. (But as consolation, we'll be having an article all about fermenting for you coming up next week!)

As for pickling classes, I don't know of any at the moment. Mrs Wheelbarrow, a local food blogger, does teach canning lessons but they're all sold out for the season. Common Good Farm is doing a canning lesson this Saturday but, again, sold out. But again, as consolation, our list of cooking schools will be online September 15 so that would be a good place to check.

I'm inspired by Jane Black's article about canning fruits and veggies -- what a great way to eat from my garden year round! In fact, my neighbors and i have been collectively growing a garden this summer and we're all eating near-vegetarian diets as a result! That why i'm also excited to go to the DC VegFest this Sat in DC. Can you let your readers know about this event in case they too want to learn more about healthier and kinder food choices?

Of course! We included it in our calendar of upcoming events in today's section, and here's the web site for the event.

I'm in California - as far as I'm concerned you're the only Food Section in the country, and I love you all. Is it possible that in the future you'll print holiday suggestions in advance rather than on the day of so that we'll have the opportunity to use your wonderful ideas? Thanking you in advance!

Hi this is Michael from the article, I hear ya! The holidays have that rhythm to them of preparation--way in advance of the day itself.  The good thing about the side dish recipes in the article and online is they are quick to prepare--just as we did, LOL--roughly an hour before sitting down to eat!

We didn't give you much time on this one, did we? Our apologies! We did put up on our Web site last week ideas for recipes from our archives, anticipating this very problem...

i just tried canning for the first time this past weekend. i have always been terrified of the process, not quite sure always seemed like something "real cooks" did. well, i must say that my tomato canning went wonderfully and was alot easier than i expected! my question or issue, is that my husband, through the whole process, could not figure out why i would want to do this, and "why not just go out and buy a can of tomatoes for 99cents?". i explained that in the long run, this would be a major cost savings, on top of the fact that it gives a great sense of accomplishment to actualy go through the process. now that i have the confidence to do this, i want to do more of it. how can i avoid the comments from the peanut gallery?

When it comes to home canning, it's as much about the quality of the food as it is about the cost savings. Because while you could go and buy a can of tomatoes of $.99, you don't know where those tomatoes came from, how they were grown  or how long they've been in that can. When you do it yourself, you know so much more and can feel better about the end product.

hello!!! i jumped on the canning bandwagon this weekend, and "put up" 2 bushels of tomatoes and some ginger-peach-cardamom jam. my question is regarding my jam. it tasted amazing, and i followed the recipe exactly, but my jam never set properly. i thought it might set up after processing, but to my dismay, the jam was more like spoon fruit than jelly. the recipe called for a package of pectin, which i added, but am not sure what went wrong. now, i have 8 quarts of ginger-peach-cardamom "jam", and am not sure if i can still use it. i guess it would be great on meats or over vanilla ice cream? i don't know if they are in a condition to give as gifts, which was my original intention. any suggestions will be truly appreciated!!!

Getting jam to set can be hard. I often tell people that they should label their runny jams as preserves or syrup. As long as you tell people that it's supposed to be that way, they typically won't question it.

I know that doesn't answer your bigger question about set though. Ways you can improve set in the future is to make sure to cook the jam to 218-220 degrees and to not stop cooking until it passes the plate test.

If you want to see if this batch will ever set up as you'd like, put one jar in the fridge and wait 48 hours. The chilling period will give you a better idea of its set capacity. And, if you're really unhappy with it, you can always uncan it, re-cook it and recan it.

Read last week's chat about the chicken on the stove grill with interest as I am thinking of buying a stove top grill. Would Jacques Pepin's trick perhaps help? I saw him on an episode at Julia's house, where he used a 2-burner stove top grill. I think he was making thick-cut pork chops. He got nice grill marks on both sides, and then he inverted a stainless steel mixing bowl over the chop, making what I guess was an impromptu mini oven. Would this be a viable alternative to David's suggestion of oven finishing? I thought of doing this myself, although I probably would use my 2nd Kitchenaid mixer bowl because it has a handle on it.

Sure, that's absolutely worth a try. I use makeshift covers on my stovetop grill pan all the time -- sometimes just a couple pieces of foil do the trick quite nicely. Or if you have a big enough lid, like from a stockpot, that fits on top, that can work. Mine is oblong, so the foil works well.

Hi Rangers! Your canning article could not have come at a better time, as I have signed up for the canning class at Common Good City Farm this Saturday. In your readings about canning, did you come across a good recipe for pickled okra? Thanks!

I'm not a huge fan of okra (I know, I know) so I can't say I looked that hard. But there is a recipe in "Canning for a New Generation" that looks good. And so far, the recipes in the book seem very reliable. Here it is.

Hot Pickled Okra

Makes about 5 pint jars

1 tablespoon dill seeds

2 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

4 cups cider vinegar (5 percent acidity)

2 pounds okra, stems trimmed

5 dried hot red chilies

5 cloves of garlic

Was the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, and put the lfat lids in a heat proof bowl.

In a small cup, combine the dill seeds and red pepper flakes.

In a nonreactive pot, combine the viengar, 4 cups of water, and the salt. Bring just to a boil.

Ladle the boiling water from the cannign pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.

Working quickly, pack the okra into the jars, and divide the chilies, garlic, and spices among the jars. Ladle the hot vinegar mixture into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Use a chopstick to remove air bubbles around the inside of each jar.Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flad lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so it's finger tight.

Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jar by at least an inch. Bring to a boil and boil for 15 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn't sealed and the jar should be refrigerated. Label the sealed jars and store.

Seeing Wolf Blitzer at the Palm isn't worth e-mailing you guys about, is it?

Given that he lives and works in the DC area ... nah, it probably isn't. But we're happy for you!

Hi Foodies! After a long weekend in Ohio, I was sent back with about a bushel of onions and potatos, fresh from a garden. It's just me at home, so it will take me a while to use them up. I'm wondering about the best way to keep them for as long as possible before they go bad. I live in a small apartment so no cool, dark basement to keep them in. Thanks!!

The great thing about being a food historian is that you get to access the solutions to food preservation from the past--in this case a bin with sand should keep the potatoes--and in a cool dark closet...if you are keeping them for any length of time.  It was called banking down South!

The corn I've been getting from my farmers' market is unbelievably good this year. Apart from the usual 7-minute boil, is there anything else I could do with it that would be fun and interesting? The corn is very sweet--even if you let it sit in the fridge for a few days.

Tried grilling? Pull the silk out, leave a layer of outside leaves on. Immerse in water for a couple of minutes. Place over a medium fire. Turn when necessary, about every two minutes or so. For something different, dress with olive oil and a little lime and salt. If you like spicy, add a sprinkle of cayenne.

I'm not sure this is what the poster for sauerkraut was looking for, and I personally don't have any experience with it, the website got rave reviews from a friend in Portland, Or. As she put it, "Has the fermentation craze caught on in DC? If not, it's coming your way."

Marisa here. I'm a huge fan of Wild Fermentation, both the book and the website. It's a great resource if someone is looking for information on how to make fermented pickles.

Linda Ziedrich's book The Joy of Pickling is also another good resource for fermentation.

Our piece on fermentation, set for next week, uses Sandor Katz (aka Sandorkraut) as one of the primary sources for info on this fascinating subset of preservation. His web site and book are great.

Please advise, as only you at the WaPo food staff can. What are your thoughts on pressure cookers? I have a slow cooker which turn everything to mush (tasty mush) since we are usually gone from the house too long to ever cook for less than around 10 hours. I have been considering an electric pressure cooker, wondering if it could be set up to start just before we get home. However, we don't eat red meat and online chats elsewhere seem to stress its usefulness in making beefy things . I also LOVE that you are back to the noon slot. Happy healthy new year to all of you who celebrate

I love my pressure cooker. I use both it and the slow cooker, but I know what you mean about the timing of the latter. When I used slow cookers for a cooking-for-one column recently, my problem wasn't that they took too long, as I thought it would be; it was, as you say, that most of the recipes didn't take long enough. Having said that, many of the newer slow cookers have a function that switches the food to "keep warm" after a certain length of time, so you can extend the timing that way. The pressure cooker is good for two of my favorite (non-meaty) things: dried beans and whole grains.

I received a box of tomatillos from my CSA yesterday. Other than salsa, what are other ways to use them?

You can also can tomatillos whole, which makes them far more flexible when it comes time to use them. When they're canned whole, you can use them in soups and stews, or make salsa fresh.

Love the canning article! Thanks for making me feel trendy as a 30-something jam maker, not a big nerd. Suggestion: My grandma (a former chemist and prolific jam canner) taught me to sterilize my jars by putting the clean jars in a metal 9x13 pan and sticking it in the oven while I work on whatever you're working on (usually jam). When the jam is ready to pour into the jars, everything is at a consistent hot temperature. Plus, it makes spill clean-up easy. I typically use the inversion method for jam, so having the jars super-hot at the start makes it much safer, though use water bath for everything else (including 9 jars of amazing peach salsa a couple of weeks ago) Since I started using Grandma's method, I've never had a seal failure happen. P.S. I noticed that none of your jam recipes use added pectin. Any reason why?

As a 30-something canner myself, I assure you that you're not a nerd!

Heating the jars in the oven is another good technique for getting them hot. I prefer using my canning pot only because I figure I'm already heating it up to process the jars at the other end and so why not make that energy work double-duty.

I do have to say that the inversion method is not recommended for sealing by the USDA. While it does produce a sealed jar, it doesn't always allow all the oxygen to escape, defeating the purpose of the air-tight seal.

Why cook corn? I love a raw corn salad or salsa. It stays so sweet and so crispy.

Home canned tomatoes, in glass jars, wouldn't have the nasty BPA that store-bought toms in metal cans have.

Buy a cast iron pan since they work the best. No non stick. La Creuset makes a great one if you can afford but also check Lodge. Yes you need to season. Mine does steaks, scallops, shrimp ,lobster etc.

We had major water damage over our vacation and are living with only a microwave and powder room sink, with a toddler and two parents to feed. Ordinarily we try hard to avoid processed food and rarely use the microwave to cook food. Can anyone recommend a really good book or other source of microwave recipes?

In my mind, the best book on the subject, by far, is Barbara Kafka's "Microwave Gourmet."

Have any of you cooked yet from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook? We have a weekend without our toddler and a friend and I plan to spend it in the kitchen. I received the Momofuku book for my birthday. I actually met Chang once and asked what should be the first recipe I try. He said the spicy sausage and rice cakes -- but that was actually one of the few dishes I've eaten of his (I haven't tried many) that I didn't like. Recipes that span two days are okay. Suggestions?

I'm kind of obsessed with that cookbook. I haven't made much, just a few things I make over and over again. The kimchi (cut the garlic in half but otherwise PERFECT), the marinated hangar steak and the cereal milk panna cotta. Next up for me: the XO sauce. (I am also obsessed with XO sauce but haven't found a good commercial one.)

I agree, that spicy sausage and rice cakes wasn't one of my favorites. (We tested it for a story we ran about Chang when the book came out.)

Long story short: the hangar steak. It's incredible and a good addition to your regular cooking/entertaining repretoire.

Thank you Ms. Black. I helped my mom can food growing up but I dropped it as I started my own family. This summer I decided to stop paying the high prices of the less than stellar quality of food from the grocery stores. So this year via my garden and the farmers market, I have gotten back into canning. Got out my years ago purchase pressure cooker canner and have gone to the proverbial town. So far, have canned green beans, tomatoes, kosher dill and Polish dill pickles, bread and butter spears, pickled beets and pickled grape tomatoes. Thank you for the lovely article and you're right its not so difficult to can. My Ball Blue Book guide to preserving and Better Homes and Garden You Can Can books are my guides. Tonight spiced peaches and peach jam. Ketchup and more tomatoes tomorrow. Summer in a jar....great in the dead of a Minnesota (or wherever) winter. Although, I chose to freeze the sweet corn.

You are definitely hard core if you have a pressure canner. I'm not there yet. But I know Marisa, our canning teacher and guest on today's food chat, has one and loves it. She makes stock that is shelf stable. Now that's awesome.

It's true, I do love my pressure canner. I mostly use it for stocks and lower acid tomato products, but it's a terrific tool to have if you're a serious canner.

It's on my list for next summer. I'm ready. (Maybe this summer, actually...)

In an attempt to get me to buy him the newest Xbox for Christmas, my husband is trying to entice me by telling me he'll buy me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I have to admit, it's working. I've wanted one for awhile now but didn't think I'd get it any time soon because it is rather pricey. Because of that, I've never really researched them before and was surprised to find just how many there are. Which leads to my question: Which, if any, would be good to get? I like to bake desserts and can see myself using it for other things, too, like mashed potatoes. I don't make bread right now, although I have been reading up on it and would like to start. Even then, though, I probably wouldn't make bread more than a couple times a month. My guess is I would use the mixer, on average, about once or twice a week. I saw a basic Kitchen Aid mixer on Amazon (4 qt, called the classic) that was less than $200, which means I could still get some attachments (grind my own meat? Awesome!) But at the same time, I've heard some rumblings that the mixer just isn't what it used to be. So, with all that, is getting the basic stand mixer worth it? Does it sound like I would need something with a bit more umph? Or should I just look to another model? Thanks for any input!

Well, Cook's Illustrated found that one of their favorite stand mixers, the Kitchen Aid Professional (6-quart) is still worth recommending, a true workhorse, as they said when they updated their tests in 2009. They listed the price at $399 then. But they liked a Cuisinart 5.5 quart even better, and it was $299 at the time.

I have to say, I would really steer you away from a 4-quart model. I've used that and have since bought a 5.5-quart, and the difference is substantial. You'll be able to do a whole lot more with a bigger machine. Besides, you want one where the bowl lifts up and down, not where you have to tilt the big assembly back as is the case with the smaller one.

When I went to Herb Day at the Botanical Gardens last year one of the chefs made Lebanese Style Za'atar Pizettes that were delicious and easy to make. I saw in Lebanese Taverna one of the ingredients Za'aTar sold in a jar and didn't stop to buy it. Now when I stopped in on Saturday they were completely out and awaiting a shipment from Lebanon. Do you know of any place in DC, Capitol Hill area that sells this or the Silver Spring area of Maryland? I, too, cannot wait to go to the DC VegFest this weekend.

Shemali's at 3301 New Mexico Avenue NW in the District and the Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria and the Lebanese Butcher in Annandale  and Thomas Market in Wheaton will have it. 

I've been canning for a few years now, starting with pickles and salsas and finally moving onto jams this year. My only issue is that my pickles always seem to get mushy, no matter what I do. Aside from using pickling lime, which I started to use this year with excellent results, is there any other advice?

When making pickles, it's always best to start with the very freshest vegetables around. That does help with crispness. Another good step to include is a 4-8 hours in a salt water brine. It helps draw out the water from the veg, which can product a crisper pickle. You can also put a grape or cherry leaf into the jar with the pickles, the tannins in those leaves help maintain crispness.

Unfortunately, a shelf stable pickle is never going to be quite as crisp as a quick pickle.

Just wanted to tell you guys that it was time to renew my subscription and I thought that I would drop the weekly paper and just get the Sunday but then I remembered how much I look forward to that Wednesday food section and signed up for the full 7 days again thanks to all of you.

Thanks so much! We are passing this on immediately to the powers that be for "credit." :)

I seem to remember that adding quince to any recipe will help the pectin content immensely. Yes?

Quince is very high in pectin, so it will help with set. If they're too precious, underripe apples will also work.

I had to re-cook my sour cherry jam this year, as it didn't set at all - totally liquid. After re-cooking, I'm a little worried that it is now too solid to get out of the jars!

You can always heat it up slightly to get it out of the jars. Or, you can rename it sour cherry paste and serve it alongside a cheese course like you would do quince paste.

Wow, thanks for the canning article. We've been canning for a number of years, and have (my mother's) water canner set-up and have purchased a pressure canner (tomatoes!) This year we've done crushed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, fruit relish, tomatillo sauce, sour cherry jam, preserved cherries (from the Todd Thraser recipe you ran)... I'd like to do some red taco sauce (to go with the tomatillo), but haven't found a good recipe. It's fun, and you have summer tastes in the winter. Now, I just need to figure out what to make from my last few jars of blueberries in cointreau from last year.

So glad you enjoyed it. And good for you with the canned tomatoes. I really think the pressure canner is key to doing that well.

I have the loot from my party plus pickled sour cherries, strawberry vanilla jam and peach-lime jam. Taco sauces are a great idea. Report back if you find a winner.

Anyone else got an awesome pantry to share?

Love the canning and Rosh Hashanah articles this week! Speaking of canning, can we have a link to the Carole Greenwood 'Chef on Call' canning article?

We can-can just about every year!

Hi food rangers, This happens to me quite often. I find a recipe for fish that I want to try and it calls for something specific like hallibut or catfish but then my local grocery store doesn't have that particular fish or the ones they have don't look that appetizing and then I'm stuck. I don't really know enough about fish to know which other type I can buy instead and often I scrap the whole recipe. I asked the guy behind the counter once but he was pretty unhelpful. Is there a good place I can find a fish cheat sheet to know what fish can go in similar recipes?

The main thing you want to know is what type of fish is it? Is it delicate and flaky? Or meaty? Then you can just sub in one fish for another. I found this cheat sheet at the top of a Google search and it should be a big help.

Note that the attachments often get mixed reviews due to people burning out their motor with them. I haven't had this problem with the pasta roller or the wheat grinder, but I have an Artisan (between the Classic and the Professional) and use the attachments right. I'd be concerned that the Classic could get overworked pretty easily.

This is more of a general comment but isn't it interesting how much more crappy appliances have got lately. I pulled out my old blender and it's amazing. The motor is so strong. So different than what you buy today. I used to think prices came down because of efficiency and globalization but in fact, they're just making junkier products.

Agree? Disagree?

Oooh, how do you can stock? That would free up SO much space in my very small freezer!

You need to have a pressure canner in order can stock. It's worth the investment though, because it really does free up a ton of freezer space (if you're the kind who freezes homemade stock). Essentially, you put hot stock into hot jars and process at 10 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes. The pressure canner raises the temperature of the stock up above 235 degrees, killing anything that could grow in the jars. It's amazing.

I'm looking for a way to add some protein to my morning oatmeal. I'd like to avoid adding whole nuts if possible. Any suggestions? (Didn't someone mention peanut butter oatmeal a while ago?) Thanks!

Dave Lieberman gave us this Creamy Breakfast Oats and Quinoa recipe that bumps up the protein.

And we also have this Peanut Butter-Banana Oatmeal from a few years back that would do the trick, I'm sure. Try both and let us know. (And don't forget to rate the recipe on the site -- we love seeing comments/ratings...)



Bought the canner years ago, in winter, on clearance, $55 dollars, Mirror one 16 quarts. Use it once, just broke it out this year. There are so many low acid recipes that I want to use that require it. It is a very wise investment. The kitchen also doesn't seem to get as hot as a water bath canner. Thanks again!!

I'm going to let Marisa weigh in here but I'm sure you know that you need to have it calibrated. I think they do that at the county extension agent's office. It's important to make sure that you get the right pressure -- for safety and so you don't blow the whole thing up!


If you have a dial gauge canner, you do need to get it calibrated approximately once a year. Some kitchen supply stores offer that service, as do county extension offices. When you calibrate it, you find out whether your gauge is accurate. That's important because when a recipe calls for you to process at 10 pounds of pressure, you really need to be processing at 10 pounds. My canner has to be taken to 11 pounds on the gauge to equal 10 pounds in real life.

Mr Wilson, Are you sure you did all you research on this article. Didn't you miss a major player in tequila who is a multi millionaire and has been associated with tequila for almost 35 years. Ever listened to a little song called Margaritaville. Better know then Sammy Haggar and Vince Neal You forgot James Delaney Buffett who has done more for tequila than anyone else. Margaritaville Tequila ever heard of it? How could you write this article and not mention Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville tequila? Bias I think so1

Wow, accustations of bias from a guy who seems to know Jimmy Buffett's middle name! Because I have Parrotheads in my extended family (including a cousin who showed up at my brother's wedding in a Jimmy Buffett t-shirt, long story) I have indeed tasted Margaritaville tequila. And I must report that is awful. Both silver and gold are mixtos -- meaning they aren't made with 100% agave, but rather 51% or so of agave and the rest from additives. For this reason, it was left out of my column. Sammy Hagar -- whether you're a fan of "I Can't Drive 55" or not -- makes a real tequila, of significantly higher quality than old Jimmy.

What about homemade apple butter (from real Virginia mountain apples)--does that require pressure canning or the more simple wash method? I wait all year for fresh fall apples and need to learn to can it so I can have it all year.

Apples are high acid fruits, so apple butter can be processed safely in a boiling water canner. It's typically processed in pints and half pints in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (as it's a thicker product, you want to process it for slightly longer than you would jams or jellies).

A few years ago I made chicken tacos that had a really good tomatillo sauce. I can't find the recipe, but I think it involved sauteeing some garlic and cooking the tomatillos in a little chicken stock until the whole thing made a nice sauce. Some queso fresco goes well with it too.

This Cooked Salsa Verde sounds similar. I've made it, and loved it.

Hi Food People, I have too many cherry tomatoes this summer! I put them on or next to everything I eat, and I still have too many. Can they be canned without being peeled? I am afraid that peeling a zillion cherry tomatoes would be too much work. Maybe I'm better off just distributing fresh cherry tomatoes to my office mates?

You certainly can can cherry tomatoes with their peels, but you have to puncture the skin prior to processing. If you don't, they will split (sometimes, they split even when you puncture them).

I find that cherry tomatoes are better suited to dehydrating or slow oven roasting. For the slow oven roasting, just slice them in half, lay them out on a foil or parchment-lined cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and salt and roast at 200 degrees for 4-5 hours.

I bought my Kitchen Aid professional 6-qt when Sam's had them on sale for $250 (yes, $250!) a couple of years ago. Having used a friend's basic 4-qt, I can say that the professional 6-qt is well worth the extra money if you plan to use it with some frequency. The crank to raise/lower the bowl is much better than the tilt top for stopping/stirring/adding/adjusting--the tilt top on the basic model sometimes loses food/batter and causes messes. After I got it, I found that one of the things that I use the most is the meat grinder attachment. I now buy a lot of my own meats for grinding for meatballs, meatloaf, burgers. I can trim the meat myself and I can put just the amount of fat that I want into a mix instead of trusting to the butcher who has no idea what I'm cooking. Love the professional Kitchen Aid.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Help! I am looking for the perfect yellow cake recipe for my daughter's birthday. (I have a killer chocolate cake recipe, but I want to try something new this year.) I need to make it ahead & freeze it, if that makes a difference. Thanks!

Well, this is a white cake, but it's a great recipe. I think it would work well! And absolutely, let cool completely, wrap in plastic tightly, and freeze away.


Any advice on canning plum tomatoes, skin on, skin off? What about just washing them and throwing them in the freezer, something my aunt used to do? And a tip for non-BPA lids and rings, I am trying the non-BPA plastic lids and rubber rings from Tattler this year. Only problem so far is that you don't get that satisfying 'pop' of the lids after you take them out of the water bath :)

I typically peel plum tomatoes prior to canning, because that's how I like them to be when I use them later in the year. However, if you don't mind dealing with the skins later, you can just puncture the skin and can them skins on. Same thing with freezing. It's all about how you want it to be prepared for use later in the year.

I haven't tried the Tattler lids yet, but I recently got some and have plans to give them a try in the next couple of days. I will miss the pinging jar lids, though.

Thanks for the article! We invested in a pressure canner last year, and I did tomato sauce and peach jam this year. We'll also be canning apple pie filling for friends for holiday presents this year-- our farmers market sells a half bushel of apples for $12.

Getting the food at a good price makes all the difference. I love the idea of apple pie filling. Fun.

I bought the KitchenAid Professional 600 not because I am a fantastic cook/baker. It was pretty and cool and LESS than the Artisan! It's been a few years, but I managed to buy one with a BedBathBeyond 20% off coupon plus KitchenAid's rebate. I think the promo usually runs in December/January (perfect for Christmas!). All told, I paid about $180 for my beauty.

I have about 15 limes leftover from a party. Any ideas? These are regular limes, not key limes. Thanks!

I'd juice those babies and then freeze the juice in ice cube trays. You can use it anywhere you need fresh lime hit, but my favorite thing to do with such cubes is to put them in cold drinks -- so you add lime flavor rather than just water as the cube melts.

I know that my mother still has a circa 1960 Oster blender (The stainless steal "beehive base" with glass pitcher) that probably still works better than many that have been bought and discarded in the meantime. I also have my father's Westinghouse floor fan that he used in college in the 1950's and it is stronger and lasts longer than many box fans that have been bought and trashed over the years. We recently had a heat problem in our computer server room at work and I brought this in to help circulate air. It was on for about 10 days straight until the company bought one to replace it and it was fine and frankly worked better than the new replacement bought for $100. Appliances built pre-1975 were built to last. Appliances built post-1980 were built to be used and replaced. They were built to be cheaper and be replaced after a few years. The number of people who go for higher priced quality are far outnumbered by those who want lower priced convenience and the manufacturers cater to that when they build.

I'm still holding onto my very old Robot-Coupe-made Cuisnart. at age 25 it's better and stronger than the new larger one someone very nicely gave me. You can still get the good appliances, but you have to look for and pay higher prices for them. Waring makes a few-speed all metal blender, for example.

Having survived a 4 month kitchen remodel, I had to learn to love my micrwave Here is an easy, one dish chicken dish that remains on the menu rotation. Lightly bread boneless skinless chicken breasts. This keeps them moist. Arrange in a circular glass pie plate, cover with another plate. Microwave on high 6 minutes. Then cover with a layer of salsa or picante sauce. We prefer mild for the kids. Cook uncovered 2-3 minutes, then add a layer of mozerella cheese, cook again until the cheese melts. I serve with corn or a salad. Easy, quick and will clean up in the powder room! This is a variation of Chicken Parm but is lighter. Good luck with the renovation, add a hot plate to your gear if you can.

I used this one from food and wine for a great, different-tasting stew made with largely pantry-staples.

I have to say, my grandmother would be very annoyed by a mandelbrot recipe that didn't contain any mandlin in it! But she never told me what to call those almondless cookies that she insisted were misnamed.

Who has a cool dark closet, though? And basements aren't usually that dry, right? Or does the sand help keep the veggies dry? I'm despairing of finding a place to store my onions, shallots, garlic, and fresh gingerroot so that they don't shrivel up within a few days.

Depends onthe humidity in your apartment.  I mean--this is the catch 22 about modern living--the outside and inside temp aren't consistent.  You might consider cheating a bit and chopping up your onions you will use in sauces and other things and freezing them for later use, and using the time old basket, net cloth system for your alliums and ginger...

Those sound really good -- if I can keep myself from eating them when they're still warm, can they be stored for a while? In the fridge or freezer?

Yep. You can cover them with olive oil and store in the refrigerator -- but only if your fridge is under 38 degrees. I wrote a blog post about this very issue, focused on my 12-Hour Tomatoes. Or, yes, you can freeze them.

Corn makes great liquor. Go on line build yourself a still and get some mason jars. They aren't just for canning. Nothing finer than locally made grown and made untaxed VA corn liquor!

Now there's an idea! Just be sure to stay one step ahead of the law. Or you can try some of the legal white whiskeys I wrote about a few months back.

Made a great black bean stew this last weekend for a week's worth of eats but the mushrooms didn't come out right. They never do. I want them slightly crispy and well-browned before I put them into the stew but no matter how I cook them (oil, butter, nothing, etc), they never turn out. Is there a trick?

I don't understand the problem so it's hard to diagnose. What's wrong with them? They won't stay crispy if you put them in a stew...

I bought mine at Penzey's Spices, but they are located where Washington, DC wants to go. Rodmans might sell it too. Would Hill's Kitchen have some?

Penzey's is an obvious destination (and fun if you make a day of it.) And I checked. They don't have it at Hill's Kitchen. I called Rodman's and they put me on hold for a few minutes and then disconnected me. Sigh.

Is a regular or electric pressure cooker able to used to can?

Unfortunately, you can't use a standard pressure cooker as a canner. Pressure canners must either have a dial gauge or a numbered weights, so that you know the pressure at which you're cooking.

The only reason I don't have a Pro600 is that it can be catch-and-go whether it will fit under standard cabinets, if you want to keep it out. For my kitchen, the clearance was in doubt.

I wish I had a good question to post so i could be entered in the running for one of the cookbooks but really it comes down to this: I would like to learn how to can. I'm a cooker, baker and would love to be a canner. I read the canning article from a few months ago, was very excited to try it but then read about the steps and got scared. Then I read today's article and it feels like something I could do. I mean, my mom does it and I feel i could be good at it and it would be so great to give out jams and chutney as presents. So if I can plead to be considered as this is something I'd like to be good at and if I can master it I will make sure to send the Food staffers examples of my efforts (if that's allowed. Wouldn't want anyone to think I tried to send poisoned food). --Pleadingly, canner wannabe

Don't be scared of canning. Start off slow, with either a batch of pickles or an easy jam recipe. You cannot kill someone with either of those. Go for it!

Isn't the difference between a yellow and a white cake is that the former uses whole eggs, and the latter only eggwhites? Your chatter could sub whole eggs in the linked recipe and voila!

Actually, that's a good question. I think you're right, but I wouldn't stake my reputation on it. This white cake recipe has mostly egg whites but 1 yolk.

Cook's Illustrated yellow cake recipe is amazing. You can find it in their Best Recipe Cook book. I've made it a lot and shared it with friends who think it's brilliant. With a nice, thick chocolate frosting, it's perfect.

I've never tried it but I'm going to second this recommendation anyway. CI is great for classics like yellow cake. Perfect idea.

I too have been enjoying the great corn season. While all of the "eat it now" recipie suggestions are great, I'd suggest cooking the ears for about 5-7 minutes, then "scraping" the ears with the tines of a fork (it bursts open the corn kernels) and then going back with the back of the fork to get all of the inside of the kernel out. You can then freeze it in a ziplock bag, and stack the frozen bags in the freezer. Come winter, pull it out, thaw, and reheat with butter and milk. It tastes like corn on the cob in a spoon. In my family, we add baby lima beans and call it succotash. It takes alot of effort and can get messy, but boy is it worth it. p.s. I did try canning it one year, but it wasn't the same, I think the canning process just produced too much heat.

I also picked up some excellent corn from the market - cut the kernels off 8 ears, then made corn stock with cobs, black peppercorns 7 bay leaf. Sauteed half the sheared corn with butter, red curry paste & hot pepper garlic jelly, while 3 cubed potatoes cooked in the corn stock. Once potatoes were tender * broth cooked down a bit, put the potato/stock along with sauteed corn in the blender, then poured into a pot. Added in the remaining sheared corn, a tad more curry with a splash of cream. it was delicious! Making corn stock really made a difference in flavor. I have not tried canning, but did manage to freeze half my soup in flat-lying ziplock bags.

I throw the husks and silks into the stock pot, too, for my Corn Broth.

I attempted to make grape jelly without pectin...not so successful. I even added apples to the grapes when I cooked them. I was attempting to go pectin-free, but failed (good thing I had a second batch that I used pectin with). Do you prefer to use pectin? What are the advantages to not using any?

I frequently use pectin in my jams and jellies. I think of it as set insurance. Sure, you can achieve a set without it, but it's a whole lot harder. With pectin, you know your chances are far greater of making a successful product.

The advantages of not using pectin is that it's one less thing you have to buy. And some people feel like it's akin to adding chemicals to their jam. But actually, commercial pectin is just an extract from citrus fruit, so it's pretty darn natural.

Someone posted a tomato pie recipe with mustard a few weeks ago and it has become my go-to! Delicious, forgiving of my 'variations' and a real crowd pleaser. I make it with my standard pie crust recipe that I blind baking before adding the mustard. The amazing peaches and tomatoes of the summer have been such an inspiration that making pie crust has become routine-- thanks for the inspiration WP Food Gang! (PS, dead easy pie crust: half C water, half C neutral cooking oil, whisked together and added to 2C flour and a pinch of salt-- combine, make into balls, roll out...)

On Bonnie's behalf, -- she's out of the office on assignment, I say thanks. She works really hard to find these great recipes.

Hey, just wanted to say thanks for all the tips. I hadn't even looked at the Cuisinart, but will give both it and the Pro600 a look over. Thanks again!

I haven't looked at the Cuisinart so I don't know what kind of attachments you could add on to it. I have to say that I LOVE my 6 qt Kitchenaid - baking is so easy! FWIW, I have the grinder attachment - very happy with it - and am about to get the pasta roller. A couple of suggestions if you are planning to do a lot of baking - consider getting a spare bowl and possibly a spare whisk to avoid problems of making a batter and then having to clean everything up before you can make any meringue. Also, if you plan to make doughs that have to be kneaded, try to get a newer model that uses a screw-shaped dough hook, rather than the old C-hook. I've found that dough tends to cling to the C-hook and "climb" up it, and you have to stop the mixer to scrape the hook down fairly often.

Try slicing them fresh to add to scrambled eggs (well-cooked, of course!).

Every year around this time I start dreaming of canning, especially the simple tomato sauce I make and freeze every fall, but would rather not have clutter up my too-small freezer! What always seems to stop me is my confusion about just what kitchen equipment I should buy to get started. Any suggestions on where to begin?

Well, it becomes a tricky issue, if you want to can your tomato sauce. You see, tomatoes are in the grey zone as far a acidity goes. And most tomato sauces include more low acid foods such as onions, garlic, herbs and oil. You can only process tested tomato sauces (see recipes in the Ball Blue Book or So Easy to Preserve) in a boiling water canner. So if you want to can YOUR sauce, you should probably get a pressure canner.

I've found that the way around that is to can whole peeled tomatoes and then use them to make sauce all year round.

is it possible to safely can butterscotch sauce? or does need a pressure cooker? i was thinking about making some and giving it away for christmas gifts. i live far from family, so freezing it wouldn't work. thanks!

Sadly, you can't home can butterscotch sauce. Because it includes a milk product, there's no way to safely do it. Same applies for chocolate and fudge sauces.

One of my favorite recent finds was this Epicurious recipe for Chicken Chile Verde. A few tips: definitely use chicken thighs...tried it once with breasts and was nowhere near as good. I substitute poblano peppers for the green peppers...and we like it better. The quality of the chili powder makes a HUGE difference. We use either Dixon medium or Hatch hot chili pepper from NM which is vastly superior to the stuff you get in the grocery store. If you don't love the way it smells when you crack the seal on the jar, don't put it in this chili. Chicken doesn't cover up a bad chili powder as much as other meats will. Save the cheaper chili powder for your beef and pork.


I was the lucky recipient of the BBQ book last week. On Sunday, I tried to make the beef ribs. I smoked them for 4 hours, and when I turned the heat up to 400 degrees during the last hour while mopping sauce...the ribs caught fire and turned to charcoal. Oops. I get that the griller should watch the grill closely, but the top was down. How does one "watch" this? I had no idea dinner was ruined until I opened the top to baste the ribs one last time.

BBQing hazard, not knowing what's happening inside a closed smoker. I don't know what book you used or how high you had your heat. Generally, though, I would advise the following: start a fire on one side of your grill or smoker, keep temp around 250, salt and pepper the beef ribs, place bone-side down on far side of your grill or smoker (far from the fire), close lid. Keep heat around 250 for 4-6 hours. They should come out tender and flavorful. 

I keep hearing "only use approved recipes" when it comes to salsa canning. They all require vinegar, lemon or lime. I'm a purist. I don't add any of that stuff to mine. But they all say to water bath it also. I ask and ask and ask and nobody seems to tell my why I cannot make my salsa without any of those ingredients and just pressure can it according to the lowest acidic item -- like the peppers. I can run to the store and make it year round. But I want to make it when chiles are at their peak around here in NM. BTW...Herdez is a brand that does not add citric acid, lemon, lime or vinegar to theirs.

This answer might just get me shot by the USDA, but I think you could pressure can a salsa if you wanted to make it without any acid. You'd just follow pressure canning instruction for crushed tomatoes.

The question really becomes, do you want to eat the product on the other end. Because if what you're going for is a fresh, uncooked salsa, that's still not what you're going to get after pressure canning.


"It's highly highly unlikely [botulism] would be from jam, pickles or anything with enough lemon juice to bring the pH up." Um, I thought acidic additions like lemon juice (or vinegar) bring the pH DOWN.

Right you are. pH down.

Lime meringue pie is at least as good as lemon meringue.

Since pectin is from fruit anyways (and not a chemical) I find it's nice to lower the sugar needed in recipes- great for diabetics!

I'm in Seattle by way of Arkansas and can't find, for the life of me, any true grits sold in the city, even in ethnic stores. Is there a website you recommend for bulk sales, such as grits or spices?

Well, for grits, I always send people to my friend Hoppin' John Taylor's website. Great stuff. For spices, I do like Penzey's, but after too many (is that possible?) trips to Montreal, I'm newly addicted to Epices de Cru. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.

I'm sure I got the recipe from the Post but forgive me if I'm wrong. I tried the breadless crabcakes last night (using my own recipe -- no scallions, jalapenos, parsley or cilantro -- that's a Baltimore crabcake) -- they were wonderful -- used expensive lump crab and even though they weren't as dry as they probably should have been, they cooked up without falling apart. Don't think I'll ever have to use bread/filler again. Thanks.

Regardless, well done. Glad they turned out.

Penzey's isn't really authentic (they use thyme rather than hyssop). The Kosher Mart on boiling brook parkway has two different brands, both good. One is called Pereg and the other isn't. Both work fine.

Thanks for the tip.

I recall reading in Loretta Lynn's memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," that when she lived in Washington State as a young wife and mother (had 4 kids by age 18), she won prizes at the county (or was it state?) fair for her canned meats and vegetables. That would've been in the mid-1950s, before she began her singing career in earnest.

Who knew?

On the motor burnout - not sure if it's only the smaller size motor in the Artisan. I inherited an OLD Kitchenaid mixer from my grandma - one with a glass bowl. When I had it shipped to DC, it was packed horizontally, and a ton of flour fell out of the motor. Not sure if the flour got sucked into the cooling vents or what, but it was everywhere. I took the mixer apart, cleaned off the flour, and it seems to be fine now. I think the flour in the motor could be a source of major problems, so maybe that's another reason for the burnout.

I buy a lot of the stuff to make Za'atar flatbread. You can get good authentic brands at The Kosher Mart, and every once in a while at Safeway - brand is Pereg or Peleg or something similar. Penzeys' is inauthentic and tastes wrong to me.

for the person with tomatillos from the CSA, i make a curry with green tomatoes that works equally as well with tomatillos! ingredients: 1.5 lbs tomatillos chopped 1 medium onion 2 green chilies (serrano is best) 2 tbsp raw cashews 1/4 cup plain yoghurt 1.5 teaspoons garam masala or curry powder 1 tsp white poppy seeds salt and pepper to taste fry the onion and chili over medium heat until golden brown in oil. when the mixture cools a bit, throw in a food processor with the cashews and poppy seeds and process until smooth. cook the tomatillos for 2 mins and add the processed mixture. cook for 15 minutes, or until tomatillos are soft. turn off the heat and add yoghurt. enjoy with rice or roti/naan.

Just for the record...apples have pectin. By adding apples, you weren't "pectin free".

Well, I think the chatter meant that s/he was attempting to go without adding EXTRA pectin. Many fruits have pectin in them, apples more than many others, indeed.

I love reading the bits and pieces of food history that made it on to this blog. Can you recommend a book? Thanks!

Gosh, tough question. Food books have become such an industry, you usually find specific history books now rather than general ones. Books on ketchup or fish or salt, etc. One always handy book to have around with lots of interesting information is the FOod Lover's Companion that tels you what things are and how to use them. I also really like my Oxford Companion to Food.

what's a good course for fun pickling recipes? It seems we didn't have the best cucumber year, so I'm trying to think of other things to pickle. For the person looking for sauerkraut classes, I understand the Weston A Price Foundation chapters teach that along with other fermented food recipes. There's an active chapter in annapolis/anne arundel county for sure?

I know that Mrs. Wheelbarrow teaches a variety of canning classes in the DC area. I think she does some pickle classes.

My beloved late in-laws used to give me quarts of soup stock (tomatoes, okra, and carrots) and frozen soup bones (from their own beef) for Christmas every year - it was like getting gold!! I asked for a pressure canner for my birthday, so now I make my own soup stock, adding lots of onions and different spices. Nothing says Fall to me more than opening my pantry and seeing all the tomatoes and sauce, soup stock and jams I've made. I would like to make some home-made apple pie filling, but the amount of sugar seems really excessive. Any suggestions?

Unfortunately, it's hard to reduce sugar in canning recipes, because it helps with both preservation and consistency. New York is great for spices and herbs and nuts. They do mail order. They have three regional variations on za'atar, and a whole lot of other stuff. Maybe even grits.

Yup. Great idea. And for grits, try to get Anson Mills. They are available on several gourmet food sites.

Yep, Kalustyan's is always one of my stops when I go to NYC. I get my hibiscus flowers in bulk there, among other things!

I've been jamming all summer and I think I've finally got the hang of it, so I'm expanding now into the world of fermentation. Here's a it possible to take fruit like black cherries, steep them in a thin tea infused sugar syrup for several months in the fridge and get something that's not poisonous? Reason I'm asking is that I just found a jar of that in the back of my fridge from June, when I used it as an ice cream mixin. There's no mold or murkiness anywhere in the mix and it definitely has taken on a winey smell that's not entirely unpleasant. I hate to throw things away, but I will if there's nothing that can be done, so what do you think? Should I toss it or can it be saved?

It's probably not poisonous. I imagine it started to ferment. Give it a good whiff and use your best judgment!

Well, you've processed us in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes, then used tongs to transfer us to a heatproof surface to cool, so you know what that means -- we're done! (And ready to store in a cool, dry place for just one week, until next chat day...)

Thanks to special guests Marisa and Michael for helping us tackle these questions, and to Jason as usual for his cocktailian wit.

Now for the book giveaways: The chatter who titled her post "yes, i CAN!" and has jumped on the canning bandwagon will get "Put 'Em Up!" The chatter who asked about pickled okra ans is going to a canning class this Saturday will get "Preserved." And the one who asked why we didn't give our holiday recipes earlier will get a head start on next year with "The Kosher Baker." Just send your mailing info to us at, and we'll get the books out to you.

Until next week, happy canning, eating and reading.

In This Chat
Free Rangers
The Washington Post Food section is your source for cooking and food stories and hundreds of recipes.

All We Can Eat Blog
Food Q&A archive
Recent Chats
  • Next: