Free Range on Food: Vegetarian cooking, fruitcake for Christmas and more.

Oct 12, 2016

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! 

Hope you've enjoyed your week of Food reading -- including Phaedra Hise's look at a Virginia pig farm whose products are endearing them to chefs throughout the regions; something MUCH less meatier (ahem) from Will Hawkes, about one of my favorite cookbook authors, Anna Jones in the UK (whose gorgeous latest book "A Modern Way to Cook" is just out in the US); Kristen Hartke's piece on fruitcakes, with the simple message of start them now; my interview with Lucky Peach's Peter Meehan about "Power Vegetables"; and more.

I'm so excited that Anna Jones herself is joining us this hour -- she's such a pro, and her recipes are just beautiful. Kristen will be with us to talk fruitcake and more, and we'll have Carrie "Spirits" Allan and Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin on hand for cocktail and barbecue questions, as always. And then there are us regulars! (Bonnie is out today for Yom Kippur.)

As always, we will have giveaway books for our favorite chatters: They include a SIGNED copy of Anna's "A Modern Way to Cook"; plus "Power Vegetables" by the Lucky Peach folks and "Mad Hungry Family" by Lucinda Scala Quinn.  

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR1643 . Remember, you'll record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

OK, let's go!

Hi! I have a pickling question that I hope someone can please answer. I made a batch of spicy pickles using a Ball recipe on Saturday and had so much brine left over (didn't buy enough pickling cukes!) that I put it in the refrigerator. On Sunday, I brought the brine back up to a boil and let it simmer for the 15 minutes recommended in the original recipe, then poured it over carrots and put them into a water bath canner. My question is, was this a safe thing to do? The brine (vinegar, horseradish, garlic, sugar) was refrigerated overnight and brought back up to a boil, and I used the same water bath method as I used in the original recipe, making sure all the lids were sealed. I've never tried something like this before and was looking for reassurance that this second batch is safe to eat. Thanks for any advice you can give!

Pickling expert Cathy Barrow says: 

The short answer to the chatter's question is yes, that was a safe thing to do. Here's why. The brine was refrigerated for a brief period, not weeks (which would pickle the garlic.) Good move to bring the brine back to a boil. Once it boiled, it was ready to use, but the 15 minutes of boiling didn't hurt. And identical water bath processing was used. High five for spot on preserving practices!

I'm throwing a dinner party and would like to have a semi-pre-made cocktail ready to pour when guests arrive (no problem adding soda water or champagne to a base as they're served). But mingling may go on for a while before the meal is served, so I'd like to have something fairly low-octane--and it's a crowd with fairly high-octane tastes. Any suggestions? I'd prefer something not too sweet and not with any tough-to-find ingredients that will just collect dust in my liquor cabinet. Thanks!

You'd be in good shape with various champagne cocktails -- could do a number of these! Another possibility and something that might be more autumnal would be to go with a sparkling hard cider to which folks could add fruit garnishes and some spiced bitters and/or whiskey or applejack. Or a make your own gin & tonic bar with a couple of different gins and tonics, and plenty of nice herbal and citrus garnishes! I've done that before and people really enjoy it.

We're having a potluck brunch for Halloween at work, and most of the good ideas have already been taken. There aren't any drink ideas floating around, though. I was wondering if there's a way to liven up a juice-based drink, maybe with some fresh fruit? It's work, so no alcohol, alas.

Is there a way for you to serve/transport warm drinks? Fall screams mulled cider for me. Heck, if it's a chilly morning, hot chocolate would be great, too.

Here's another seasonal idea:

Pumpkin and Ginger Agua Fresca

RECIPE: Pumpkin and Ginger Agua Fresca

Also, do you have to soak the daal? Or can you just use a pressure cooker with no soaking?

Here's one.



I've never soaked the split peas/lentils for dal. Or used a pressure cooker. Just boiling in a pot.

Ditto. And I know it's not traditionally dal, but you've gotta try the following Mollie Katzen recipe. Amazing. As it happens, I have another dal-ish (dal-ly? Hello!) recipe next week.

RECIPE: Golden Lentils With Soft Sweet Onions

So was the late summer weather an asset to local winemakers or not?

Our wine columnist Dave McIntyre says: 

Yes indeed it was! Dry weather at harvest is always good. Some wineries near Charlottesville had to pick just before the weather broke and rain returned, but in Northern Virginia the grapes were not as far along, so winemakers were able to wait a bit. Several winemakers I spoke to said the quality of the harvest was quite good.

Overall, this was not an easy year. The Charlottesville area was hit hard by two nights of killer frost in May, just as early budding varieties were in bloom. This all but wiped out many white wine varieties before they even had a chance. Nebbiolo, an early red variety, was also hit hard. In Northern Virginia and Maryland, vineyards were not affected. 

And remember how rainy May was? That affected "fruit set," the stage when the blooms turn to tiny clusters. That means yields were lower than normal.

So we can expect a good vintage locally, but not as much wine as in 2014 or 2015. This will be especially true of whites from central Virginia. 

Hey, Jim. Fresh pie pumpkins are in and I was wondering how to smoke a pie pumpkin. Once it's smoked, can I use it for pie or just for a vegetable? Thanks.

        Easy. Slice it in half length-wise. You can scoop out the cavity or not, either way. (Smoked pumpkin seeds are delicious, but you can smoke them in the cavity or out.) Set the pumpkin halves on the cool side of an indirect fire (fire on one side, no fire on the other). Add a cup of hardwood chips, such as cherry or pecan. Smoke with the lid on at about 250 degrees F for between an hour and two hours, depending on how hot your fire is and how large your pumpkin is. When you can slide a knife easily through its flesh, it's ready. Scoop it out and use for anything you like. For a twist (as if smoking the pumpkin weren't already enough), add just a little chipotle to the pie. Trust me. 

My kids eat TON of hummus, but I've never tried to make my own until now. Bought a tin of tahini in preparation and as I was stirring it up I was surprised to see that it tasted super bitter! I was expecting a more toasty, nutty sesame flavor! Did I get a bad batch or is this normal? It was Joyva brand, purchased from the organics aisle of Giant.

I am a huge tahini fan. I love its slight bitter tone, but if it's super bitter that's not right. There is a chance that the sesame seeds they used to make it may have been old, as it should be a subtle rounded bitterness not a sharp bitterness. For people less used to the flavour I sometimes mix it with a little squeeze of honey to mellow it. As for hummus I only use a little, about 1 tablespoon to each can of chickpeas (roughly one cup). Also adding a little lemon can counter the bitterness. I think tahini is a taste that grows on you, so don't give up. Hope it works out. 

I agree with Anna -- I know some people say ANY bitterness in tahini is an awful thing, but I like the little edge it can have. (Post contributor Vered Guttman and I have argued about this!) Check out, btw, the answers Vered and I gave in a previous chat when tahini brands came up.

Do you have a recommended recipe for a vegan fruitcake? I haven't tried to make one myself yet, but the ones I've eaten I've found to be too dense, too sticky, or have too strong of an alcohol flavor. It would be fun to start a new holiday tradition of making my own fruitcake! Thanks for your help.

I love fruitcake and it's a firm holiday favourite in our house. With a vegan brother and sister, I've tried a few and have had the most success with this recipe. I use chia eggs (1 tablespoon of chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water and left to sit until jelly like) in place of the egg replacer as personally I'm not keen on those. I switch up the fruits a lot. I go for a mix of sultanas, dates, apricots and a load of mixed peel as well as a good couple more zested lemons. The boiling makes it super moist. Hope it works out. 


You can definitely make an eggless version of fruitcake — I'd use aquafaba (the cooking liquid from chick peas or other beans) myself, which makes a great egg replacer for cakes. I use about 3 TB of aquafaba for each egg called for in the recipe; it should be about the consistency of egg whites, but if it seems a little thin, just reduce it on the stove slightly until it thickens. You can learn more about aquafaba here: 

ARTICLE: Yes, you can use the liquid from a can of beans to make dessert.

Any suggestions? Bulk quantities needed - we have lots of people over.

Yes! Depending on how safe your crowd is, doing this spooky punch is a ton of fun. But if you're likely to have a bunch of really soused people, I'd be careful -- just make sure you put someone sober in charge of it. You can use the same technique with any big punch, too. 

If you don't want that kind of risk, you could always do a big bowl of Dark & Stormy punch -- the name seems on theme, even if the visual wouldn't be. And apples are always great for this time of year -- could use a cider as a base in something like this recipe

I'm a little behind, but I loved the story a couple of weeks ago about healthier after-school snacks, and my six year old loved the rice balls with cheese inside. I was wondering if I could do an Italian variation, using fresh mozzarella instead of cheddar and Italian spices instead of the Mexican rice flavors in the recipe -- any advice about quantities and which spices would work? Thank you!

Yes, a thousand times, yes! You can absolutely substitute the cheeses (it would be lovely with Gruyere, also), and I'd suggest using some dried oregano and basil with the mozzarella, along with some freshly ground pepper. 

Mexican Rice Balls

RECIPE: Mexican Rice Balls

I don't care for Joyva specifically because of its bitterness. My go-to tahini is Krinos brand, which I usually find with the pickles and olives (Krinos also has grape leaves for stuffing, etc.).

I just received a really astonishing amount of Parmesan cheese as a gift (think one of those wheels you see in cheese shops) and I can't possibly sprinkle all of it over pasta. I'm already thinking about risottos and parmesan-herb cookies, but can you please recommend other dishes (or types of dishes) that would help me use it up? Thanks!

Wow lucky you. Parmesan is one of my favourite ingredients. A vegetarian one as I am a veggie. It pretty versatile too. I use a little to grate over a lemon-dressed green salad, which completely lifts the salad to a new dimensions and is a great way to get kids to eat salad as it adds a subtle sweetness. It's a great addition to biscuits too, you can even make little parmesan thins by grating little pile onto parchment and baking at  for a few minutes at 350 until they have formed little biscuits - seriously addictive. Don't throw away the rinds either; they are perfect additions to slow cooked soups and stews and add a great depth of flavour. Hope that helps.

I baked a Tres Leches cake what came out great but would like to reduce the amount of sugar in future. The 1 cup of sugar gets whisked/creamed in with 3 eggs - can i just cut the amount of sugar by half? would you change the quality of the cake. Most of the other sugar comes from the evaporate and condensed milk that already have tons of sugar.

I'm not sure I would go as dramatic as half the first time. Maybe closer to a third. Still, the fact that you are creaming it with eggs, rather than just stirring into the dry ingredients, gives me a little pause. With that process you're adding air and therefore eventual structure to the cake. I worry cutting the sugar may have an impact on the texture or rise of the cake.

I've made hummus a lot and I make sure the date on the container is current. I also ALWAYS add a bit of lemon and garlic - makes a big difference. Please try it again or get another brand of tahini - enjoy!!!

I'm in the pro camp but man, it's hard to find a good one. It's no wonder people hate them. I ordered one from the Panamanian website so am hopeful.

Yadira Stamp makes a fantastic fruitcake, so you should really enjoy it -- let us know!

So I made chile in my new Lodge enameled cast iron dutch oven and I have to say in comparing it to my similar size La Crueset that the Lodge has a slightly thicker and heavier bottom and did a better job of browning. Overall its just slightly better than the La Crueset when price isn't factored in. And at 5 yes 5 times the price the Lodge wins hands down. Oh and the knob on the lid is way better. With the $260 I save I can buy another piece or two of All Clad.

Thanks for following up.

I made Tartine's panforte last year. In-laws loved it; my family not so much. I am thinking of reducing the coriander this year to see if that makes a difference--just waiting for the quince to start coming in. Even with candying my own fruit, I found panforte a much easier dessert to tackle versus fruit cake (no dousing, etc.). Do you have any panforte recipes to recommend?

We have one in our Recipe Finder.

Chewy Panforte

RECIPE: Chewy Panforte

"Or a make your own gin & tonic bar with a couple of different gins and tonics, and plenty of nice herbal and citrus garnishes! I've done that before and people really enjoy it." For a high octane crowd you're suggesting essentially an open bar? AWESOME!

Yeah, I'm suggesting that gin and tonics allow adults to serve themselves relatively low-octane drinks, and to allow those who want to have more than one to do so at will! It's a good option that serves as its own entertainment, too.

I'm looking at the Squash, Roasted Tomato and Popped Black Bean Salad, and it calls for the seeds of two cardamom pods, freshly ground. I'd like to make this salad, but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to pull out my perfectly adequate jar of the pre-ground stuff. How much do you suppose two cardamom pods hold?

It's actually pretty hard to buy ground cardamom in the UK, where I wrote the recipes ,but if you have ground then definitely use that -- I would go for about half a teaspoon. Hope it works out and thanks for cooking the recipe. 

RECIPE: Squash, Roasted Tomato and Popped Black Bean Salad

I am posting early in case I don't make the chat. I bought Anna Jones book, A Modern Way to Eat: 200+ Satisfying Vegetarian Recipes (That Will Make You Feel Amazing) . I was browsing in the book store in Bethesda looking at various books to spend a gift card I had been given. Nothing appealed to me until I saw this book - love the simplistic cover and the icing on the cake is that my mom's maiden name is Anna Jones. I am really enjoying this book with a thought of my mom every time I get it out.

Hi there. I am so please that you like the book and that I share a name with your Mum. I am so glad you think of your Mum when you get it out how precious. Eating really is a family affair, however and wherever. Thanks for that lovely story.... 

Tom Sietsema's September review of his #1 restaurant pick, All-Purpose, praises the cherry tomatoes on crostini that carry, he writes, "Garlic scapes, sesame seeds and shaved Parmesan" plus whipped lardo. A look at the menu lists the same ingredients in October. Please, pretty please, find out where they get the garlic scapes, which won't be available at local farmers' markets until the middle of next year!

I reached out to Mike Friedman, chef and owner of All-Purpose. He was walking on air at the news of being Tom's No. 1 pick.


"I'm so humbled. and I'm literally blown away," he said.


As for the crostini in question, Friedman bought the garlic scapes from Earth N Eats farm in Waynesboro, Penn., during their peak season in early summer. Friedman then pickled the scapes in a caper liquid to preserve them.


The timing of your question is perfect: Friedman says today's lunch will be your last opportunity to eat the crostini with cherry tomatoes, pickled garlic scapes and the rest. Friedman can not longer get good cherry tomatoes.


He might run the crostini as a special on tonight's dinner menu, "if we have any left."


REVIEW: Tom Sietsema's top 10: All-Purpose is No. 1

I have a small bottle of argan oil (culinary grade) that my sister brought me from Morocco. I cannot figure out how to use it! Any thoughts? Thanks!

I've seen it used in vinaigrettes (with two parts oil to one part vinegar). There's also a Moroccan dish called amlou, a dip made with argan oil, almonds and honey. Paula Wolfert has a recipe in her book "The Food of Morocco." (Or here are a few sites that have it too: Not Without Salt; Cooked.)

About how long can instant yeast be kept in the freezer?

At least a year, if not more. I think the batch I just polished off had been in my freezer for probably around 2 years, possibly longer. Always worked fine. But use an airtight container.

I always add a LOT of lemon and garlic. My recipe calls for 2 cups of chick-peas and 3/4 cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Seriously, try it.

I use these glass containers and love them! The silicone wrap makes it so much easier to remove the containers from the microwave and it has little tabs to keep the lid in place. 

Cool, thanks for following up on this thread from last week.

Jim Shahin, a friend just gave me two huge butternut squashes and, other than baking them, is there a way to smoke them and freeze them for future use. I think smoking them might give them a good flavor - right or wrong????

       Uhm...right! (But, then, you're asking the bbq guy.) Funny, I just wood-smoked a butternut squash last night. Mashed it with some cream, butter, cayenne, and maple syrup for a side dish. Be careful to not over-smoke. The smoke will overwhelm the lovely, nutty squash flavor. 

Seems like every time I read about such cakes in 19th-century novels, they call for citron, which I understand is one of those "only eat the peel" fruits. A friend in the UK sent me some candied citron peel, as they still use it there, but is it commercially available anywhere in the U.S.? How do you find it compares with orange & lemon peel?

Candied citron is quite easy to find online and is usually included in those fruitcake dried fruit mixes; I actually like citron myself, it's got a strong, bitter citrus flavor not unlike grapefruit, which is why you'll often find that some recipes suggest grapefruit as a substitute.

I am on a mission to figure out what why of dal recipe Indian restaurants usually serve. I realize that's a broad question, but at places like Rasika, I think I have died and gone to heaven with their dal. Its dark, rich, creamy and oh so fabulous. I understand its a specific type of dal, I just can't figure out which one. Any help? And recommendations for a recipe?

Yes! I believe you're referring to dal makhani, which is like dal on steroids. Or lots and lots of butter. I haven't tried making the dish, which is a shame, so I don't have a recipe to recommend. Anyone have one you like? Maybe if we're lucky, it will be in the pending Rasika cookbook...

I tried my hand at mincemeat pie and the end product was really dry - I overcooked it. If I add a little more brandy and a bit of water to the remaining mixture in the freezer, would that help? Do you have another suggestion please?

I would definitely try loosening it up just as you suggested, that should work out just fine.

After some experimentation with pork spare ribs in our smoker, we have leftover trimmings from about 3-4 ribs hanging out in our freezer. Any ideas for using them up? I'd particularly love some recipes for meals that I can freeze now to pull out after our second baby arrives next month.

      I add leftover spare rib trimmings to all sorts of beans, from pintos to cannellini. They also go great in greens. For a variant of the classic prosciutto and melon appetizer, mate a bite-sized piece of rib meat with some cantaloupe.       

What are your favorite brunch items (both savory and sweet)? (Yes, I asked Tom, too!) Thanks for all you do!

Bagels, of course!


ARTICLE: Here's the amazingly simple path to incredible homemade bagels

Also, I tend to have a morning sweet tooth, so I'm also partial to waffles and pancakes. And British-style scones with strawberry jam. And chocolate-almond croissants.

This sheet pan Root Vegetable and Apple Hash is a great brunch dish, just bake the eggs right on the pan! 

      Sweet: croissants.

      Savory: breakfast tacos. 

Having grown up in a family where vegetables were nearly always steamed or boiled, I thought I hated vegetables. But with restaurants focusing more on using the best cooking techniques and flavors with various seasonal vegetables, I'm finding that I really love them! Roasted cauliflower, butternut squash soup, eggplant terrine - yum! Could everyone please tell me what vegetable dish (either one you cooked or not) made you think about a particular vegetable in a new way or that was just simply delicious? Thanks!

I am a vegetarian cook, so I have got a whole list I could reel off, one of my favourites was when I realized that you could grill fava beans right in their pods, no faffing around podding them, and the pods are delicious too. They are out of season now, but one for next year. There is also a squash recipe with popped black beans, which was a totally new texture for me and a bit of a revelation. I've popped it below (excuse the very bad unintentional pun):

RECIPE: Squash, Roasted Tomato and Popped Black Bean Salad


Here's one that made me think about beets in a new way: The idea of roasting them at high heat without peeling was revelatory. I loved it, skin and all!

RECIPE: Whole Roasted Beets With Mole Sauce

I may be the only one who didn't realize this. Is there any health benefit to using 93% ground turkey (and 7% fat) versus 93% ground beef? Or does it just come down to the fat/lean meat percentages? So 90% ground beef would be better for you than 85% ground turkey? At the same fat/meat ratio, are they about the same? (and by health, thinking mostly fat and cholesterol content)

Using our nutrition calculating program (NutriBase 11 Chef Edition), I can sort of answer your question. (The program only has matching lean percentages for both meats at 85% lean.)

4 ounces of raw, 85% lean ground turkey has 14 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat and 88 mg of cholesterol. 

4 ounces of raw, 85% lean ground beef has 17 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat and 77 mg of cholesterol. 

In general, red meat has more saturated fat and cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association

Eek! that photo of the eyeballs in the punch really creeped me out!!! Reminds me of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom eyeball soup!

Excellent. Glad it worked as intended. Muahahahaha.

I've been making fruitcakes for about 30 years. Over that time I've replaced half of the candied fruitcake mix with dried apples, dates, and apricots., replaced whiskey with dark rum, and a few other tweaks. Alas, I can no longer find dried apples in the store so I've started drying my own. My biggest problem is whether to go by weight of the dried apples, or volume. Yields on drying vary, and so it has been difficult to compare home dried apples by weight with store bought, which seem much moister, thus heavier. But there are so many other fruits and ingredients in this recipe that I don't think it really matters much. But the flavor of home dried Granny Smiths is soooo much better than Sunmaid, I will never go back to store bought. And they lighten up the batter. A recipe developed with package sizes available 30 years ago is difficult to replicate now since package sizes have gotten smaller. Who ever decided a 1-lb box of raisins should be only 12-15 oz? Infuriating! Also, for a good 20 years of fruitcake baking I had only a hand held mixer. What a game changer when I finally got my Kitchen Aid! My recipe makes about 4 pounds, and I bake it in varying size pans depending number of fruitcake lovers/haters in the recipient's family.

It sounds like you've come up with some great combinations of flavors! I would definitely advise anyone that weighing the fruit is a smart idea, although most American home bakers don't think that way. On average, most of these 8" cakes weigh in at about 2.5 pounds each, and most of that is fruit!

I've used the same recipe for years on Banana bread and the last 3 times I've made it have been a complete fail. I'm talking the middle was completely raw. The oven holds the right temp and all ingredients were new with the exception of the baking soda. 1/4 cup softened sugar 1 cup white sugar 1 egg 3 ripe bananas 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking soda Simple recipe - I've used the stand mixer every time and creamed the butter and sugar together than added in the egg and banana's. Finally mixed in flour and baking soda and baked for 1 hr 350 deg. I added chocolate chips (and 3.5 bananas) but that wouldn't affect the "rawness" right? What did I do wrong and is there another banana bread recipe that's great?

I am a huge banana bread fan, and I must have made about 20 different versions. It's usually quite a wet mixture, and the aim is to have a very moist cake. The ratios you have been using don't sound too far off, but perhaps you need another egg. Here are links to two of my favourite banana breads, one of them a little healthier than the other. Also the banana bread in the Violet Bakery cookbook takes some beating. Hope it works out better next time.

RECIPE: Ode to Wales Banana Bread

RECIPE: Seeded Banana Bread With Lemon-Sesame Drizzle


It's that time of year when we will soon be overflowing with green tomatoes. While we love fried green tomatoes and a good tomato relish we can only eat so much of either one. We can try the leave bags by neighbors door routine (again) but it would be nice to do something else this year. Any other recipe ideas for our bumper crop?

Here's a few ideas for you! One of the recipes includes an oh-so-versatile green tomato salsa. Or I'd be happy to take a few off your hands. :)

Cajun-Spiced Swordfish With Green Tomato Salsa

ARTICLE: We love tomatoes at their peak. But what about the green ones?

I bought some farro from the grocery store in bulk this week, but unfortunately it wasn't labeled as to whether it is whole, semi-pearled or pearled farro. I understand the cooking time is significantly different between these three. Is there a way to tell just by looking which I might have? Or should I just plan to cook it for 30-40 (whole farro cooking time) and then check it at 15-20 minutes and if it's done early keep it warm somehow?

Most farro that you see in the bulk section is likely a pearled farro, but, either way, plan on cooking it for the usual 30 minute time and then check it. It's really nice to toast the grains first, as with this recipe: 

Savoy Cabbage and Farro Gratin With Fontina

Sometimes cafes or middle eastern places offer crispy pita chips. They seem to be wedges of pita bread coated with herbs and olive oil and then baked til semi crispy or crispy. Do you guys have a recipe for this? I don't mind doing them from scratch or with store bought pita.

These are so super easy. I make them all the time for gatherings. Just use good store-brought pita and cut into dippable pieces, toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and a little smoked paprika or even ground cumin (citrus like lemon or lime zest is nice too) and then bake them flat on a baking tray at 350 for about 10 minutes.

All the Indian groceries I've been to in the U.S. carry packets of de-podded whole cardamom seeds. It's a lifesaver; you can grind them yourself (because of course you have a spice grinder) or just measure them out.

I wish there was one of these close to me. What a time saver.

Also, I'll make (another) plea for people to try to use whole spices when they can because they last longer -- and taste fresher, of course. 

The roasted squash with pumpkin seed mole looks awesome. Here's the thing, though-- my husband has been diagnosed with low blood iron and it seems like that's given him a very low tolerance for hot/spicy foods. We're working on getting his iron up (I'll gladly accept tips on doing that), but in the meantime-- how hot are guajillo chili peppers? Is there a milder alternative that will still bring flavor?

Guajillo peppers are considered mild to medium (rating 2500-5000 on the Scoville scale), so you may want to try one to see if it's too spicy for him. As to iron-rich ingredients, try kidney beans, which are an amazing source of iron.

I didn't like beets when I was younger than 7, I think because of the bright-red color of the accompanying liquid as much as anything, plus they came from a can and tasted tinny. But once I discovered borscht -- meaning, beets with sour cream -- my opinion totally changed. By college, I was buying bottles of borscht and reveling in the textures. Then I started eating fresh beets and WOW. Now I'm not eating dairy so no more sour cream. But roast beets sound so good I'm craving them right now! I hated Brussels sprouts until I tasted roasted ones. So since I already love beets, making them taste even better will be amazingly wonderful! Thanks!


A combination of Urad Dal, which is a dark-skinned lentil with a white interior, and Rajma, which is a kidney bean, is used. You can find whole, split, skinless and otherwise -- of Urad Dal, that is -- at any Indian grocery. There are a ton of dal makhani recipes on line, including "restaurant style" ;-)


So, the old Johnny Carson quip that there's only one fruitcake that keeps getting re-gifted all around the country isn't true?

You know, that was such a classic joke that it's impossible to have any fruitcake discussion without it coming up, isn't it? I used it myself just yesterday, in an editor's meeting. 

The Arlington Whole Foods often has them in season--it is super easy to candy the peel yourself, if you were interested!

Becky, I've been searching for British-style scone recipes and restaurants that make them for some time. Could you please recommend a go-to recipe for them (if you have it) and any places around town where you've had and liked them? Thank you!

I do have one from Cook's Illustrated that's pretty spot on. Here it is. Another I really like is one I begged from the Dean Street Townhouse in London. If you want to see that one too, shoot me an email. I had some I really liked when I went to afternoon tea at the Jefferson a while back, but alas, they've since discontinued it. 

I saw a show on TV recently where an Italian chef made pasta carbonara inside of a cheese wheel! Before dumping the pasta in, he scraped up a bunch of the cheese. The heat from the cooked pasta made for a nice coating of the cheese and, after he transferred the pasta to a plate, he scraped up whatever bits were left from inside the wheel and added that to the plate. That's what you can do! And invite me over, please!

Tim, Tom Sietsema said that you just got back from Italy. How was your trip and do you have any suggestions for restaurants in Rome? I'm headed there in a couple of weeks. Thanks!

Yes, Carrie and I just returned on Monday night. It was a fabulous trip. I'd highly recommend getting out of Rome for a few days, if you can. Visit Naples for true Neapolitan pizza (Da Michele and Di Matteo were my faves.). Naples is only an hour train ride away.


As for Rome, don't miss Bonci Pizzarium, a neighborhood pizzeria with a mouthwatering selection of pies and soupli. My favorite casual place was Osteria Da Fortunata (make sure to get a reservation), which also owns the fish restaurant across the street. You can order from both menus, if you side on the fish side of the street!


For a more refined experience, check out Caffe Propaganda, which is located near the Coliseum. The chef there trades in modern Italian. I had fried anchovies served over a panzanella salad and sauced with "provolone juice." It was amazing.


If you're looking for cured meats, check out L'Antica Salumeria near the Pantheon. And for gelato, my favorite was Gelateria San Crispino, which has several locations.


When it comes to coffee, I say bring your own beans, grinder and portable Aeropress. The coffee culture in Rome is still way behind the third-wave shops in the States.

vegetables cooked in a way that is fairly easy and tastes good? Because I can get behind that. I'm afraid that the title "Power Vegetables" without that explanation was going to leave me highly skeptical - especially with the picture of the electricity toy on the outside. That being said, I distinctly remember my mom going crazy at a brunch (she hates regular breakfast food) when someone served her borscht with some red wine vinegar in it. Seemed to make all the difference.

As Peter Meehan told me, "like the Supreme Court judge once said about the definition of pornography, you know a power vegetable when you see one." The idea is that they're powerfully flavored without too too much effort, yes.

I'd have to say that the Roasted Squash With Pumpkin Seed Mole definitely qualifies.

ARTICLE: Proof that vegetables are cool: They're getting the Lucky Peach treatment

I made Roasted Fall Vegetables and wondering if you can share a creative way to use the leftovers. Thanks!! 

How about in a tart or galette with some goat cheese? Over pasta? In a frittata?

That dish looks amazing but what to use instead of cherry tomatoes now that the season's ended? Roasted carrots?

Here in the UK we still have the end of the tomato season but when it's over, I sometime used the tinned cherry tomatoes if you can get hold of them. They work well in a dish that is roasted and go sticky and delicious when roasted. Hope it works out. 

Where would one find fresh yeast in the Silver Spring/DC area? We've tried the Takoma co-op with no luck and no luck in Whole Foods either.

I recently heard that you can get it at Restaurant Depot, so if you know someone who has a membership there, that could be an option.

I got a dehydrator and now it's running all the time dehydrating lots of vegetables for some healthy snacking. So far I've dehydrated bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini/squash with great results. Does anyone have any other thoughts on vegetables that might work well dehydrated, please? Thank you!

Hello. I love beetroot and carrots, raw sweet potato and squash works well too. Kale is obviously a favourite. Also a lot of fruits work really well. Banana was a very pleasant suprise; it's fun to experiment. 

Where can I buy dehydrated onion flakes and dehydrated garlic flakes to make everything bagels?

I bought them at my regular old Safeway. McCormick brand, I think. Located with the rest of the dry spices.

Hello, Would you have recommendations on how to prepare and budget groceries for the entire week? I work and go to school so it's been difficult trying to prepare meals for the week and figure out realistically what to make that will last the week for all my meals. Thanks!

Take a look at the recipes we highlighted in the article about college students and cooking in September — there are nearly a dozen recipes that are easy to make, many are designed to make ahead, or can be cooked up quickly in less than 30 minutes. Not only that, all the groceries for all the recipes came in at just over $100, and they'd feed you for more than a week!

ARTICLE: Why college students should ditch the dining plan and learn to cook


...but I'm not!! What are your favorite pumpkin recipes (sweet and savory welcome), please? I would also accept squash recipes. :)

Hello, my current favourite is this one. Hope you enjoy. 

Squash, Roasted Tomato and Popped Black Bean Salad

RECIPE: Squash, Roasted Tomato and Popped Black Bean Salad

I'm eating a lot of roasted delicata squash. It's good on flatbreads with a spread of whatever sauce I have in the fridge, or in sandwiches with hummus or another bean spread, or, you know, just eaten as a side dish. Mix up the spices and you don't get bored!

There's also this:

Parmesan-Crusted Delicata Squash

RECIPE: Parmesan-Crusted Delicata Squash

Thanks for the reminder to get working on my Christmake Cake! Growing up in England, my grandmother's boozy, marzipan covered fruitcake was highly anticipated by the whole family every year. I remember watching her unwrap the cake, poke holes in it with long skewers, and pour in the alcohol for a good two months ahead of time. I now have her recipe and am planning to attempt a conversion of my husband and in-laws to the delights of a good fruitcake!

So excited to hear that -- it was such fun to make Richard Burr's Christmas Cake, and it really makes such a festive centerpiece! 

RECIPE: Christmas Cake

My father said that his grandmother baked her fruitcake in January and basted it with rum for an entire year. He never said if it was any good so I don't know if a year was really necessary. Have you heard of anybody storing a cake for a year like that? I guess nobody died from it, that I know of.

I have heard of that, actually — the cake itself should probably be perfectly safe because all that alcohol would certainly kill any bacteria. Some people find that it makes the cake overly booze-flavored, but others like it that way! 

Yes -- a couple years ago, we had this about Trinidadian Black Cake, which soaks for ... well, you'll have to read the fun piece!

ARTICLE: The Christmas specialty from Trinidad that involves fruit, booze and time

My mother would complain when my father took small slices off her expensive Parmesan. 'Don't use that good cheese for eating' she'd say. 'How else should I use the best cheese?' he'd riposte. It was an ongoing cycle. Can't say I saw the problem - he didn't eat the last bits or take great wadges ... . I just think mum felt it faintly unseemly.

Could you give a quick explanation of what smoke point means & what low vs. high smoke point means in application? I've read about it, but it's still not clear to me as a concept, nor do I understand how I should factor this when choosing an oil.

Pretty much everything you want to know is in this Serious Eats post.

My oldest brother-in-law once decided he wanted a cheese sandwich and, seeing a whole mini-brie in his mother's fridge, put the whole thing between two slices of bread...

Hi! Thanks for taking my question. I'm looking for simple but delicious ideas for cooking lamb shoulder chops. I usually would sear them in olive oil with salt and pepper. I'm sure you could come up with something more creative! {I don't have a grill.}

Cola! As in soda. Really.

Lamb Chops With Scallions in a Cola Glaze

RECIPE: Lamb Chops With Scallions in a Cola Glaze

Or if you have a slow-cooker, you could make this stew:

Slow-Cooker Lamb Stew Agrodolce

RECIPE: Slow-Cooker Lamb Stew Agrodolce

Adults in the house like to eat interesting variety of food. Child in the house prefers to eat more like a stereotypical child (except for her love affair with goat cheese and tofu). I'm struggling with how to reconcile these preferences and not have to make 2 different meals.

I think it depends what you mean by "an interesting variety" — I found that our daughter was pretty open to most foods, although I had to pay attention to what made certain foods more palatable to her (for instance, she liked spicy flavors, so preferred a dollop of salsa on her mac-and-cheese or horseradish mixed into mashed potatoes). I never made two meals and reminded myself that she'd get enough nutrients over the course of the day even if she didn't eat every morsel on her plate. Also, it helps to take kids grocery shopping with you and let them pick out new things to try -- then they have a vested interest in trying those things out!

I'd like to make ice cream for a birthday this weekend. I was going to use a vanilla ice cream base and mix in heathbar chunks before churning it. What is a good about to mix in? 1 cup? 2?

Depends how much you're making. Most recipes I use yield about a quart, and in that case I feel like a cup of candy would be good. Not sure you'd want half as much candy as ice cream. I'd say start with less and add more if it's looking puny. You may also want to let the ice cream churn first and then add the candy just as it's almost done. That way you won't interfere with the freezing.

Kara, when you say you're eating the squash on flatbread, how do you mean specifically? Are you mashing it with some spices and spreading it?

I roast it for about 30 minutes with whatever spices I'm feeling (usually something Mediterranean/Middle Eastern), then spread some sauce (tomato, eggplant, whatever) on a piece of flatbread, top with the roasted squash and whatever else I have (roasted cherry tomatoes, leftover cooked beans, etc.) and broil until it's all warmed through. Cheese is a good addition too!

I've recently developed a love to cooking with squash (helps that I live really close to an orchard with fresh squash) and and I have a few questions. FIrst, the last time I made spaghetti squash (which was several years ago), the spaghetti part got all soggy and while it was still good, tasted more like mush than the stringy, deliciousness that I've had in restuarants. I drizzled olive oil and some spices on the squash and baked it in the oven with the open side down. Is it possible that I just overcooked the squash? Any advice or recipes on how to make spaghetti sqaush? Also any good recipes on squash in general? I have a recipe for good butternut squash soup and acorn squash stuffed with sausage and apple, but I want more!!!

It could be that it was just overcooked, so don't give up. Try this recipe: It's a real winner, and cooks everything all on one pan, which I love! 

Hello WaPo, This Thanksgiving I will be arriving a day ahead of time in Wisconsin, and will begin prep just 24 hours ahead of time. Which is not a problem, but for one item. I am looking for a soup for a first course, I am hoping for a clear soup. The meal is heavy enough, I'd rather avoid cream based soups. Normally I'd make a consomme, but don't think there will be time. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

In my family, we actually do a light chilled fruit soup before heavy holiday meals — they are easy and can be whipped up in a blender in a matter of moments, and make a great palate cleanser. Mine is usually strawberries and champagne with a splash of honey and basil, but you could try a variation of this recipe:

RECIPE: Cold Soup of Strawberries and Tomato

Well, you've brushed us with brandy or rum once a week for several weeks, so you know what that means -- we're soaked/done!

Thanks for the great q's, and many thanks to Anna Jones and Kristen Hartke (and regulars Carrie and Jim) for their help with the a's. 

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about cooking methods that made us rethink our vegetables will get a SIGNED copy of Anna Jones' "A Modern Way to Cook." The one who weighed in about Lodge vs. Le Creuset will get "Mad Hungry Family." And the one who asked about making a vegan fruitcake will get "Power Vegetables." Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Kristen Hartke
Kristen Hartke is a Washington-based food writer and editor. She wrote this week's piece on holiday fruitcakes.
Anna Jones
Anna Jones is the author of “A Modern Way to Cook: 150+ Vegetarian Recipes for Quick, Flavor-Packed Meals.”
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