Free Range on Food

Nov 02, 2011

Today's topics: Bangladeshi cuisine, foraging for wild ingredients, the mastery of Jacques Pepin and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. Hope you've got lots on your mind today, cause we're ready to help answer your questions, whether it's about Bangladeshi food and Tim Carman's new Immigrant's Table column, foraging for mushrooms and other wild edibles, the fabulousness of Jacques Pepin or, of course, the runup to T-day. Or anything else.

We have a special guest today: Cookbook author and hunter/angler/cook extraordinaire Hank Shaw, who will help answer your WILDest questions. And Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin appears to be in the house. Maybe we'll catch a glimpse of Jason "Boozehound" Wilson at some point, too.

We'll have cookbook prizes for our favorite chatters today -- the books' identity will remain a mystery, cause that's how I'm rolling today.

Let's do this.

Hi! I've got a tub of sour cream sitting in my fridge, left by visitng friends. I'm sure I've unknowingly had it mixed in food I've eaten before, but I steer clear of using it purposefully (whicih usually occurs in taco night situations). I don't want it to go to waste, can you recommend ways to use it up so that it enhances a dish without being an obvious garnish?

I love the tang that sour cream adds to baked goods. These Coca-Cola Biscuits I tested last year were supremely addictive. I'd also be tempted to put that sour cream in something like Buttery and Soft Chocolate Cake for a Crowd or Granny's Christmas Coffee Cake.

Granny's Christmas Coffee Cake

I have a recipe for ricotta gnocchi that calls for "60g flour (sifted)" - should I sift the flour then measure it, or measure first and then sift?

Whenever an instruction appears at the end of an ingredient line, the recipe writer intends for you to do it after you measure. If it had said "60g sifted flour," then you would do it first.

But the thing is -- since the amount is given by weight, it really doesn't matter. It would matter if it was a volume measure, such as 1 cup. You're going to have the same amount of flour, because 60g is 60g -- sifting aerates it but doesn't change its weight.

Growing up, we were not allowed to put saucepans and skillets (among other things) into the dishwasher. I think my mom thought they took up too much space. But now that I'm an adult with my own house, I wonder. I know lots of smart people doing it, yet I persist in handwashing these. I recently made muffins and mini-muffins and those tins are the worst things in the world to wash...almost driving me to the dishwasher. What do you think? Do you guys put dishes (of the non-plate/bowl/cup variety) in the dishwasher or do you hand wash them? And do tell how you get shortening out of your measuring cups.

Ah, but you have mentioned the key word: tins. Those muffin tins can be a pain to do by hand but depending on what they're made of, they can rust in that long cycle of dripping dry. Or they can warp. I think your mom wanted to prolong the life of her pans -- or perhaps make room for a large family's dishes and glasses.  Hand wash, hand wash. It doesn't take that long. Sometimes people in my house invoke the "soaking" rule and leave a stubborn pot or pan in the sink for, um, longer than I care to mention.  I'm sure chatters have many, many thoughts on this that might take up half the chat! Have at it. In the meantime, just-boiled, soapy water will dispatch a cup glazed with shortening residue.  Or distilled white vinegar; my mom was a big user of that.

I live in Arlington. My brother in law usually fries our turkey but he won't be around this year. Where can I find a fried turkey in the area? I know Georgia Brown has sold them in the past. If they still do, I'd like feedback. I just will never have a roasted turkey again!

Lucky for you I've been working on our Thanksgiving takeout list. Acadiana will be offering a deep-fried Cajun turkey.

I made ginger simple syrup using this recipe and the martinis were...less than a hit. We couldn't identify the issue-- too much ginger? too much vodka? I now have a lot of leftover ginger syrup and I would love suggestions on how to use it (if possible, not in a cocktail).

I use fresh ginger syrup in a tea pretty much all winter long. About 1/4 cup of it added to 3/4 cup boiling water will cure what ails you.

I have just read the list of authors participating in the National Press Club's open to public Book Fair. I saw some of my favorite cook book writers there including Lisa Yokelson, Roland Mesnier, Michael Ruhlman whose Charcutery book is my go to book every winter, but no Joe! It would have been fun to ask you a question or two at the fair and maybe buy a book as a gift. I've been using your book for a while now, and would be embarrassed to show it to you, it is unpresentable due to myriads of splatters that make it unsightly.

Darn! Indeed, I apparently missed the deadline to get on this roster. Sorry that I'll miss you at this, but I've been doing other ev4ents here and there, so you'll have other chances. I'm planning to be at the 14th/U and Bloomingdale farmers markets on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 20, in case that works for you.

Or I'm happy to sign and/or sell a book to you anytime --just let me know when you want to swing by the office, and we can do it. I'm glad to hear that you're getting good use of the book!

This just in: I'm now on the roster, so come find me and I'll sign your (stained) book!

I've seen wild chives in parks and on lawns in my area of NW DC. I'm always very tempted to pick some to eat, but I'm afraid I might get sick ... not from insecticide but from deer or other animal urine. Even if I rinse the chives or use a veggie spray on them. Is that silly?

HANK SHAW: Only thing you need to worry about is whether the area is treated with pesticides - I don't pick things in those areas. You lawn, if you don't spray, is your best bet for "lawn onions," which are typically allium canadense. If you are sure you are in a no-spray zone, just wash the onions and you'll be fine.

We had a halloween party and I had bought 2 platters of veggies to find out that our guests didn't eat them (they ate the heavy cheese platter and cheese dips etc). Well I have a lot of cherry tomoato's, carrots, cauliflower, brocoli and green pepper strips to last for months. Besides having them for dinner, using them as a side dish etc what GOOD soup would you recommend? (I don't have time to make my own stock so it would have to be storebought).... or is there any other recipes besides soup where these types of veggies would be perfect?

Perhaps I'm not ready to concede the season to soup yet, so I'm going to suggest a few other options: Marinated Cauliflower, Marinated Vegetables and Veggie Buffalo Spread (below).

veggie buffalo spread

Hi food gurus, I need help! I make a fantastic Christmas spice cookie, but the original recipe calls for a bottle (16 oz) of corn syrup, which I'd like to say away from. Last year I tried using agave syrup, but that didn't work too well, although maybe 16 oz of that is just too much some how. I know people who use either honey or molasses for this same recipe, but for me honey is too mild and molasses too strong. Could I try a combo of honey and molasses? Say 1/2 and 1/2, or 2/3 honey and 1/3 molasses? The dough needs to be made at least a week before baking (to let the spices all meld together and strengthen), which is why I'm already thinking about this. Thanks!

Honey might cause problems with moisture, I'd think. Do you ever see a product called Lyle's Golden Syrup? It's now in lots of larger grocery stores, on the baking aisle.  I'd try that first -- or you can send the recipe to and we'll onpass to some of our very accommodating baking experts. love LOVE ginger syrup! there are a slew of things you can do with it: As a glaze on cakes (lemon, ginger or chocolate cake come to mind) On pancakes, waffles, french toast Pour over ginger-friendly fresh fruits like peaches, mangoes, figs or pears Use in a poaching liquid for pears or apples Add to a compote for extra zing, or as part of the liquid to rehydrate dried fruits Add to jam or marmalade recipes in place of some of the sugar Pour over ice cream or yogurt A glaze for carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, beets In dipping sauces Combine with lemon and thyme and glaze a chicken before roasting Combine with carbonated water for ginger soda, or add a dollop to your morning orange juice As a toddy with hot water, lemon and brandy In cocktails and cordials ENJOY!

Redoing out kitchen and designer is recommending one of those small cabniets next to the stove to hold spices and oils for easy access while cooking. I have concerns about those items being stored close to a heat source, but she assumes the stove/oven will be insulated enough not to heat up the items stored next to it. Thoughts?

Get a new kitchen designer. They should be stored in cool, dark place.

Maybe search for baking recipes with ginger and molasses (like gingerbread) and sub in the syrup for the molasses?

Hey guys, thanks for the article on mushroom hunting! I'm a big mushroom fan and would love to be able to just get them myself. However, I think I'm now even more convinced that picking them in the wild is not for me. I'd be too afraid I'd misidentify one, even after researching it. I just don't think I could spend the time learning about mushrooms that it sounds like I would need to become well versed for hunting them. What do you think about trying to grow your own? I've looked into it a little bit and can't tell if this is something that could easily be done by your average Joe. Any suggestions?

HANK SHAW: You can totally do that, even in an apartment. Several companies sell home mushroom kits, often in bags with sawdust inoculated with the mushroom spores. If you have land, you can do the same thing outdoors with stumps or patches of wood chips.

Your varieties will be limited, however. I do know there are reliable mushroom kits for oyster mushrooms, shiitake, button mushrooms, and a few esoterics, like pioppino and stone mushrooms.

In the spring, I planted an herb garden. I was somewhat practical and bought basil, oregano and dill, which I have used frequently over the summer and into the fall. I also bought sage, because it was pretty and smelled nice, and frankly, I didn't have much faith in my green thumb. It grew though, and I haven't a clue what to do with it. I don't eat much meat, save for fish, and I have a TON of sage. I have given it to friends and family, who have happily accepted it for chicken dishes, but I'd like to make some use of it too. I would much appreciate any "sage" wisdom you could offer.

Here's some recipes that should help use it up:

Butternut Squash Soup With Sage. 1/2 cup down!

Grilled Turkey Cutlets With Sage-Lemon Pesto. 1/4 cup!

Cheesy Bacon and Sage Mashed Potatoes. Another 2 tablespoons down.

Cider Risotto With Roast Sweet Potatoes and Sage. 2 tablespoons.

Roasted Potatoes With Garlic and Sage. 12 leaves.

Hip, hip, HOORAY to Tim Carman and the rest of the Food section (and, the more food, the bigger the hips, at least in my case) -- not only for launching this column, but for naming it "The Immigrant's Table." It's nice to know that the Post will be pointing out some of the immeasurable good that immigrants have done for this country, and continue to do. I guess some might feel that this is better illustrated in fields such as science and literature. But on a chilly afternoon, a bowl of authentic tortilla soup or pho can seem like the best thing the world has to offer.

Thank you.  I wanted to write this column for a number of reasons, but mostly because I feel like there is a rich world of international cooking right within our reach and too much of the food writing community (myself included) merely chronicles the new and trendy and hip.

I opened a can of pumpkin (100% pure pumpkin) on Saturday and 1/2 of it is in the fridge with tin foil on top. Is it still okay to use? Or should I use a new can?

If your fridge is set at 40 degrees F or just below, you should be fine.  Next time, decant to a container with a lid or even a resealable plastic food storage bag -- keeps the pumpkin from picking up tinny or other off flavors.

Love the tea idea! About how long will the syrup keep in the fridge in a tupperware container?


I have not been around the last couple of weeks, sorry if I missed when you introduced her.

Becky's our fabulous editorial aide! All together now, welcome, Becky!

I've been searching for unique recipes for the over-abundance of squash and found an interesting one - Cranberry Bean Chili. I've never seen cranberry beans before. Are they readily available? Is there a good substitute for them? Thanks!

I saw fresh cranberry beans last week at the White House farmers markets, which is closed for the season, alas. But they might be hanging around others as well. You can probably substitute something like kidney or pinto beans. 

I have a wild/foraging cookbook, yet aside from sassafras (for tea) and blackberries I've never really tried foraging. For someone like me who's been sitting on the fence yet has real interest, what's the number one item I should start looking for outside and start using?


I always think it's best to start in your yard, if you have one. Focus on the plants that live closest to you, and you will be very likely to find lots of edibles. A typical East Coast yard will have:

  • lawn onions (allium canadense)
  • lamb's quarters
  • dandelion, chicory and wild lettuce
  • purlsane
  • pokeweed (eat only the young shoots in spring)

Once you recognize these plants, you will start to see them everywhere. It can be a mind-altering affair, actually. "I see edible weeds. They're everywhere... and they don't know they're weeds!"

I'd like to invest in a kitchen scale, do you have any recommendations? Bonus points if it won't take up a lot of space.

I have the Oxo Good Grips scale, and it's great. I use it all the time. It was also the highest-rated scale from the good folks at Cook's Illustrated.

Any recommendations for a good butcher within walking distance of Silver Spring or a metro station somewhere on the east side of the Red Line? Or downtown even?

Within that geographic area, there is nothing that I know of. Your best best is to head to the Whole Foods in downtown Silver Spring. It has a decent meat counter, with a nice selection of dry-aged beef.

Fried sage leaves! Yum.

Hi Food staff, I am looking for inspiration. I have some pinto beans soaking. How what do I make with them? I have bacon but no ham hock. I would prefer it to be on the lighter side. Thanks!

Here's an easy recipe for pinto beans. From there, use them in tacos and burritos, over rice, rinsed and cold in salads, refried and/or pureed to make a spread/dip...

I just saw one at Whole Foods this weekend.

i bought 1 pound of shark the other day at the fishmarket but have never cooked it before. any suggestions?

HANK SHAW: What kind of shark? Mako? Thresher? I typically use it like swordfish. It is very firm, meaty and lends itself well to grilling. Look for Italian, Greek and Turkish recipes for sword as inspiration.

I live in Arlington, VA, I planted a sage stalk 14 years ago. I have a huge bush now. It seems to be perennial and it is a gift that keeps giving. Let it grow, you will learn to love it.

Yep, that's true. Mine is a huge bush, too, after 3 years, although I have to rip it up soon.

My boyfriend and I are hosting our first Thanksgiving this year and we are trying to plan our menu. The only part I am worried about is the turkey. I have read a ton of, current and past, food mag Thanksgiving editions and have found a lot of conflicting theories as to the best cooking method and recipe. We are going to use a kosher turkey and saw some recipes actually say not to. I assume that is because it has already been salted in the kashering processes. All the recipes say use butter but we can't use dairy because of the kosher situation, can we use olive oil instead? Do you suggest cooking it breast side down or just covering the breast with foil. Di you believe in a really hot oven to start? Clearly, I need some help here...thanks in advance!

Good for you, first-timer! Gonna be a looong answer here, and this is all just IMHO.

It just so happens that in our first of two Thanksgiving editions this year (Nov. 16/Nov.20, set your iPhone calendars), we're featuring one menu that happens to be dairy-free.  Its star attraction is a turkey rubbed with olive oil and sumac, then roasted on the grill.

Try not to stress about making a turkey. It's just a big bird. A kosher turkey will have been subjected to kashering so, yep,  you want to choose a recipe that skips the brining step. Also, keep in mind that any pan juices might be fairly salty, so taste them before you start in on a gravy. There are many ways to go, but if you want to keep things simple, a 12-pound turkey is a good size to work with. (If you're having a ton of people, make two 12-pound turkeys.)  That size tends to go fast at the store, fyi. Remove the giblets packets from the neck area and any other parts from inside the bird's cavity.  Aromatics like a few ribs of celery, perhaps a half onion or some fresh tarragon or rosemary or parsley can be loosely packed in that cavity.  Use paper towels to dry the skin all over. Rub with olive oil. Season it with what you like (keeping in mind the salt thing.) I like to use skewers and/or kitchen twine to keep the wings and legs close to the body. Place the bird on a rack that fits inside your roasting pan -- if you don't have that, use a "raft" of carrots or other similiarly sized veg to keep the bird off the pan floor. As far as the upside down thing goes, I've done it in years when I didn't care so much about the final appearance ---turkeys I have inverted in order to let juices run into the white meat tend to look a little worse for wear when they're rightsided on a platter. Maybe that's just me.

  I do like a hot oven to start;  375 for 30 minutes to give the skin a browning headstart, then turn down the temp to 325 and roast for a few hours, then start checking the temperature by inserting a thermometer at thick part of the thigh, not near the bone. If the turkey's getting too brown, create a loose tent of foil and drape it on top.  Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes  before attempting to carve. It stays warm for a long time, so you can give yourself some lead time if you think you'll be anxious about timing issues with guests. Buy a fat separator cup (OXO) and strain the pan juices into it, discarding the fat; taste and proceed by bringing them to a boil in a saucepan, maybe adding a little Marsala. You can whisk together 1/4 cup of the juices with a few tablespoons of Wondra flour, then stir that into the pan to thicken the juices into a gravy.

Let us know how it turns out.

Do you have a favorite recipe that combines sweet potatoes and black beans? I recently stumbled across this combination and I'm quite intrigued and would love to give it a try.

I love the liquid in jars of pickled ginger. Pour a little over plain white rice -- yum!

Is pesticide more dangerous than insecticide? I assume everyone is rinsing their veggies or herbs before eating.

HANK SHAW: I think each can be equally nasty, depending on the agent used. It is one of the downsides to urban foraging - and foraging in and around farm fields.

I typically look for edges and forgotten places on public land (where foraging is permitted, incidentally)  as these tend to not be sprayed by anyone.

My sweetie has gotten into trying and enjoying different bourbons, to the extent that we've even swung through Kentucky and visited a couple of distilleries. His birthday is coming up, and I'd like a recommendation for a book on the subject. Something on what to taste for when trying boubons, a little history, and maybe some chemistry/biology of production as well. Any suggestions? Your bourbon article from a while back was a big help for gift ideas last year!

Gary Regan's The Book of Bourbon is a standard -- though it's a little dated, it still has good info. Regan also published the Bourbon Companion, which is also good. Another really nice gift might be a subscription to the Whisky Advocate (formerly Malt Advocate, now published by the same company as Wine Spectator).

not really a question but I wanted to second that remark. I used to watch his show with Julia Child and really learned a lot from his knife work. Plus, what a kick watching them disagree (good naturedly) about pepper usage!

Love him, truly. Did you send him your well-wishes for his emergency hip replacement surgery yet?

I think you guys were overly harsh in your response in the Chat Leftovers entry. It sounds like the woman WAS trying to free herself from the can. Trust me, I can appreciate not using a recipe that calls for cream of "insert here." But at the same time, I would like to know how to doctor a recipe to not have to use that cream of (word I'm probably not allowed to say here). And maybe it's not a one-size-fits-all replacement recipe, but how about some ideas? Would creating a nice roux do the trick? Using a mix of cream and other yummy liquids you put together yourself? I'm all for staying away from the cream ofs and recipes that contain them, but sometimes a recipe sounds pretty interesting if I could just not use that stupid canned soup. And besides, I think one of the best parts about cooking is taking a so-so recipe and playing with it to make it great. You're helping people push themselves in the kitchen and think on their feet. Thanks.

I don't think Jane Touzalin, our crack copy editor and Chat Leftovers expert, was trying to be harsh. I think she was being honest, with a dash of good humor thrown in for good measure. I also think she's right. Just take a minute and search around for a new recipe. It will result in a better-tasting dish.

I wondered if you had any ideas for getting young kids interested in foraging -- maybe a simple challenge about what to find and then what they could cook with the ingredients... keeping in mind that we would have to go to Rock Creek Park or maybe Great Falls, as we live in an apartment. Thanks!

HANK SHAW: Berries. Take them berry picking. Berries are sweet and are brightly colored. It's how I started when I was 5 years old. I still love wild blueberries more than anything else because of it.

Can't really help you as for locations, as I live in California, but it is far better to travel to find something the kids will remember forever (in a good way) than to take them to a nearby place and have them pick something they might not like to eat.

My $0.02.

I'm sorry Jacques couldn't come to DC. He seems so brilliant. I hope he heals quickly. I have his techniques DVD, but I never managed to shell out for the book. I love watching him with his daughter; he seems to take her ribbing well. He seems to have such great ideas, a feel for food, and makes such masterpieces look so simple. A very impressive fellow.

My thanks for the lovely article on local foraging! I grew up in Alaska, and despite the stereotype I managed to supplement my family's food with lovely salads, a multitude of spectacular berries (crowberries, watermelon berries, wild currants --mmmm), and mushrooms. Oh, the mushrooms! I had one particular spot where I could pick 20 pounds of birch boletes in minutes. And there was one spot which spawned enormous football- or soccerball-sized puffballs (if I could get to them before the squirrels gnawed on them). Suffice it to say, your article brought back many fond memories. I look forward to learning the edible flora of my new home here. Do you have any suggestions for resources for identification? Apart from your own cookbook, of course, which looks wonderful!

HANK SHAW: I am a big fan of Sam Thayer's two books, Nature's Garden and the Forager's Harvest. (full disclosure: Sam is a friend.) They are great field guides for this region.

I have a vacuume-wrapped package of Tasso (Cajun ham) in my refrigerator. I purchased it last spring, right before Mardi Gras, intending to freeze it until the next time I made jambalaya...but forgot, and it's still sitting in the 'fridge. So would it still be OK to eat / cook with? We're past the expiration date, but some things keep a lot longer than their label indicates. Advice appreciate...thank you.

How far past the expiration date are you? Tasso is one of those things that's cured so heavily it does last awhile, but I wouldn't push it.

Melt some butter until its brown in a large saute pan, toss the sage in with some cooked whole wheat pasta. Its super simple and really good. Add a little grated cheese if your heart desires....

Would you please recommend a type of bourbon (or other whiskey) to mix with fresh apple cider? Is there anything else that I should add? I don't like my cocktails too sweet. Thanks!

What you're talking about here is a variation on what's called a Stone Fence, bourbon and cider --two ounces of bourbon and a few ice cubes in a pint glass, then filled with the cider. The cider in this particular recipe is NOT non-alcoholic however. This is a great drink. For bourbon, I'd go with Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Eagle Rare, Evan Williams Single Barrel...any decent quality bourbon around $20-25 will do really.

This is a weird question, but I drained the pan after roasting a chicken and ended up with more fat than juice. Can I sub it for oil or butter for cooking anything? Thanks!

did you strain that gold into a fat separator cup? If so, I'd heat to liquefy it and strain again. Depending on the other flavors involved, you can use the fat to make matzoh balls and chopped chicken liver (heaven) and maybe even add to roasted vegetables but I wouldn't use it to cook seafood, for example. Stash in the freezer; your schmaltz will be happy there for months.

I have All Clad pots and pans. The older non stick ones came with warnings not to put in dishwasher. Current ones are dishwasher safe. All Clad hasnt changed their mteallurgy in last 15 years so I am not sure what the story is. also a good dishwasher has numerours settings. I am the type that just rinses off the larger pieces and puts it in the dishwasher. Maytag and Kitchenaid dishwashers ahve no problems getting the dried food off even after a few days.

I am my mother's daughter, and no matter what the tags or commercials say, elbow grease wins and the pots-in-dishwasher thing seems....lazy. Don't hate me.

Is it too early to be thinking of Christmas presents. I think the stores had the Holiday stuff up before the Halloween decorations were down. Anyway, I'd like to give food gifts this year, but I'm thinking "gifts in a jar" rather than pre-made stuff. We have to travel, and I don't want to bring anything too complicated to pack. Last year I did the red-wine rosemary pepper crackers, and they were a big hit. I've done the usual brownies, soups, and cookie mixes. Any other suggestions?

It's never too early! Here's a story from the other year by Friend of Food Nancy Baggett that has recipes for soup (if want to try a different idea) and bread kits.

If I get motivated, I'm thinking of putting together little packages of homemade marshmallows (which I like to make just because people go so absolutely crazy for them) and hot cocoa blocks.

I got this recipe from a Colombian friend. It's AMAZING! 3 lbs. skinless chicken thighs 1/2 cup cilantro leaves 2 -15.5 oz. cans black beans 3 lg. cloves of garlic, chopped 3 large sweet potatoes 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 large onion chopped 2 tsp. ground cumin 1 cup hot salsa (chip salsa) 1/2 tsp. ground allspice 1/2 cup chicken broth salt and black pepper to taste 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips (opt) Rinse and drain the black beans. Cut sweet potatoes into chunks. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a half of the cilantro, 1 of the garlic cloves, and half of the onion over the thighs. Brown the chicken in the frying pan about 4 minutes each side. Arrange the chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker. Place sweet potatoes, bell pepper and black beans on top of the chicken. Mix the chicken broth, the remainder of the cilantro leaves, salsa, cumin, allspice, garlic, and onion together in a bowl. Pour mixture into the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours. Serve over white rice.

So what do I do with that last can of cream of mushroom soup?

Donate it to a food pantry.

My husband is looking forward to chili this weekend. I am bored with traditional red chili. do you have a white chili (can have either chicken or turkey in it) that you recommend? Thanks!

Could I talk you into Green Chili Stew? I've made this recipe several times, and love love love. OK, it's pork, but still. If your hub likes chili he should be into it.


To Mr. Shaw: Have you ever found this in the wild? I can't find it out here either at the store or in the my area (Minnesota) (I can always have my sister look for it).

HANK SHAW: Absolutely! Love me some salsify! I've found it at Whole Foods here in California, but you might need to get it at a specialty store.

As for the wild variety, it is an invasive weed. Look for pretty purple or yellow star-shaped flowers on disturbed ground or fields. When the flowers fade, they turn into giant dandelion-like puffy seed balls. Unmistakeable.

Dig non-flowering salsify (flowering salsify will have a woody center in the root) with a deep digging tool - they are long, thin roots. You will find non-flowering salsify (which is a year younger than the flowering ones) alongside the flowers.

UPDATE: Looks like the local Wegman's will sell it in the cooler months, so look there...

loved your article on bangladeshi cuisine today...what a greate column idea! looking forward to more from the Immigrant's Table. in the article, the author mentioned the traditional Bengali types of fish to be "oily and meaty"...does that mean the fish are more "fishy" tasting? my husband doesn't eat fish, but will eat sri lankan fish curry if i make it with a mild white fish, but i'd love to try the traditional bengali fish curry as i have access to ruhi in my local indian market. thanks!

Thank you for the feedback!

Bangladeshi chefs apply a good amount of lime to the marinade to reduce the "fish" flavor of the dishes. Still, the finished dish has a strong flavor, which I personally love.  However, I don't equate "fish" flavor with "fishy," which suggests off, rancid flavors.

If you don't like full-flavored fish, though, I would definitely suggest milder white fish alternatives.

Bonnie, With the exception of The Other Half of the Egg, I not only have all of Pepin's books, I've used them over & over & over. Since the bookshelf space in my house does not grow as freely as grass on my lawn I was considering not buying the ESSENTIAL. I am glad I did buy it. This is the first (non-baking) cook book I have that gives REAL measurements. For example when he calls for a small onion, he clarifies it as 4 oz and one leek becomes 1.5 cup. No more reason to worry about what size one eggplant or three zucchinis should be. There are no pictures, but there is reliable information and tips that are irreplaceable. Unlike internet info, Pepin's tips are always 100% reliable. I also got Ferran Adria's collection of recipes for home cook - The Family Meal. I am a bit disappointed in it. 90% of the book is great pictures, I wish there was a bit more of a printed word. For example, (unless you are Shahin who could probably figure out how to cook sausage on Joe's forehead) different kinds of sausages require different kinds of treatment and sometimes are quite tricky to cook perfectly, especially without a grill. Pepin in his book gives explicit instructions on how he wants sausages cooked, but Adria p144 says: "Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the sausages and cook for 5 minutes, or until golden underneath." I wish he specified whether he wants high, medium or low heat. I also got Ruhlman's latest book : 20. I am waiting for your review, Bonnie. Please don't tell me I missed it. I've been enjoying your book reviews quite a bit. Keep them coming, please.

Well thanks! Your review's spot on, on all counts. The Adria book seemed like a good idea (photos w/companion directions) till you go looking for details. I guess it works for some kinds of cooks better than others. I did so appreciate the extra measuring info in Jacques Pepin's's one of the reasons why this one took him so much longer to do than he'd expected.  And, as you could tell, I lovedlovedloved the go-with DVD. Don't tell anybody, but I think Ruhlman's "Twenty" is on my list of best cookbooks this year...that story's scheduled to run Dec. 14.

When I was younger and lived further north, we used to go foraging for sassafras roots. I would LOVE to have sassafras tea again. Any suggestions on where to find it around here? (I live in DC)

HANK SHAW: Dunno about DC proper, but sassafras is a VERY common understory tree/bush along the Eastern Seaboard. Look in moist hardwood forests with dappled light. They will be under the bigger trees.

I can tell you it lives along the Rappahannock down by Fredericksburg - I gathered it there when I worked for the Free Lance-Star years ago.

OK, DC in general then...I've tried the Whole Foods in Silver Spring and can't get a Tri-Tip because they have to order a whole case and nobody out here knows what it is...

Wagshal's is a great butcher. There's also Let's Meat on the Avenue, and Organic Butcher of McLean.

I absolutely refuse to put pots, pans, (good) knives, etc. in the dishwasher. When you're spending that much money for good equipment, why risk scratches, warping, stripping. etc. I've had most of mine for almost 20 years, and I use the stuff EVERY day! So yes - hand wash.

The answer is just make a thick white sauce like this: Cook a roux of 3 Tbsp butter and 3Tbsp flour, then when the roux is ready, whisk in a cup of cold milk and cook until it has thickened. It will work just fine for any cream of XX recipe, even if the Washington Post food writers would prefer you to consign the recipe to the round file in the first place.

I love sweet tea but I never can seem to duplicate the stuff that I get back east (south). I steep my good ole' Luzianne tea bags and add sugar to the pitcher before adding the hot tea then dilute. Am I doing something wrong???? My daughters love it and drink it by the gallons when they are visiting and getting it at restaurants. My aunt will not share her recipe.

Two words: simple syrup. Boil equal parts sugar and water for a few minutes till the sugar's all dissolved.  Cool and keep in your fridge forever.  Stir it into your brewed tea till you get the right level of sweetness. I respect your aunt, generally, but she needs to get over that and share. With you, her dear family member! That's how good recipes live on.

Any recommendations for metro accessible butcher shops in the DC area? I'm in Arlington, and would love to find a place where I can get some more unusual cuts of meat, but it seems like most of the places that are frequently mentioned (Organic Butcher, etc.) require a car for easy access.

You might try one of the butchers at Eastern Market, which is near the Metro. They often have all sorts of unusual cuts of meat.

I made a roast chicken (using Kim O'Donnel's awesome method!) on Friday night and saved one of the breasts. I shredded it and put it in the refrigerator but have yet to use it. Is it ok to stick in something today?

How does it smell? I follow the 4-day rule for leftover chicken.

Thanks for your help! I will let you know how it goes.

Personally I would never use a recipe that calls for a canned soup and I don't use store bought stock either. Homemade stock requires very little from a home cook, and reward is exponential. However, whenever I puree my soup in Vita-Mix everyone is convinced that the soup has been made with cream.

I don't have a specific recipe, but I recently sauteed chunks of sweet potato, canned black beans, cooked polenta, and onions, then stuffed it into a red pepper and baked it, yum!!! My husband liked his with mozzarella cheese.

I took your advice and looked up recycling pots and pans on the farberware website, and they said to look into my local municipal recycling center. Not too helpful, eh? DC may recycle newspapers and cans, but I don't see them taking my pots and pans. In fact, I often see them putting my recycling in with the trash. Rather frustrating. I have been using my nonstick pots and pans for 14 years, but I don't want to buy new ones until I can get rid of the old ones.

Have you tried Freecycle? Maybe somebody would want to use them.

Thank you...I will go look for some, maybe our Whole Foods carries it. My great aunt would scallop the salisfy into a baked dish especially at the holidays. I loved it because I got the oyster flavor without the oyster itself. Thank you I remember identifying plants when I was a Girl's a lost art.

I moved to a new house this fall and foraged over 20 pounds of Jerusalem artichokes. I decided to share the bounty with new neighbors and old friends, but I did learn that the local co-op and health food store would have bought them from me at $4/lb. After having a morel-less season for the first time in over a decade at my prior residence, this was a pleasant surprise. The chokes are incredibly versatile, in that they can be eaten raw, al dente, cooked, mashed, roasted, pureeed, sliced, baked, fried, etc. I will be sorry to see the last of them get eaten.

HANK SHAW: Love jerusalem artichokes! One of North America's few tubers worth the effort to dig. You can plant some of the tubers in your yard and you will get more - but they can be pretty invasive, so beware of that.

My "rust-proof" non-stick cupcake pans rusted from soaking in the sink for a few days. Listen to Bonnie and wash them promptly! (I left them soaking because they weren't so non-stick and I was too lazy to pick at the bits of cake stuck to them.)

Do you think whatever pesticides or insecticides are used on lawns and parks are more toxic than what's used on non-organic veggies and other greens in the supermarket?

HANK SHAW: It can be. Your worst pesticides/insecticides will most likely be found near farm fields, where they can use some serious stuff -- but then again, if you look at the poisons sold at the local home stores, they are just as powerful. And remember that the produce in the market has been checked for pesticide residue already...

That recipe looks amazing and right up his alley! Thanks so much!


One of the simplest things to do is make a brown butter sage sauce for pasta (gnocchi and ravioli work well). You can google if you need a recipe, but it really just involves cooking butter until brown, adding sage, maybe some lemon juice, and tossing with pasta (and a bit of reserved pasta water). Top with parmesan!

Hello, Rangers! Over the weekend, I made pepperoni pizza monkey bread. It turned out alright, but for one thing: When I went to invert it out of the pan onto a serving plate, it fell apart along all the fault lines. It seems the individual dough balls didn't really cook together, so instead of one big piece of pull-apart bread, I had a bunch of little individual pepperoni balls. They still tasted OK, but I was kind of miffed not to have the fun of the monkey bread. Any thoughts on why this might have happened? I followed the recipe exactly, but for two things: I don't have a bundt pan, so I used an angel food cake pan; and the pizza dough I used (from Trader Joe's) was not plain, but garlic and herb flavored. Not sure if either of those would make a difference, though?

I'm going to take a stab at this and say that the bread didn't have enough to hold it together with just the 4 tbsp of butter. Regular monkey bread has that gooey sugar thing going on, right? I feel like this might need something a little more gluey. Maybe some more grated cheese, or cheese powder (a la this bread from King Arthur Flour)?

Found two interesting recipes, the first is related to the Colombian one with more detail - The second looks like a great vegetarian dish -

Nobody is ever convinced of anything when I use my KitchenAid blender.

Are there any vegetarian dishes in Bangladesh and Pakistani culture? Are they different from Indian dishes in the spices used or how it is prepared?

I was just emailing with a friend of mine, a Bengali, about the very subject of vegetarian cooking in Bangladesh. There's a rich history of it. What's fascinating to me about Bengali vegetarian cooking is the fact that chefs and home cooks have precise methods for cutting vegetables, a different method for different dishes. If you don't cut the vegetables correctly, I've been told, you will be scolded.

In other words, the Bangladeshis are every bit as particular about their prepping methods as the French.

Can't most of these be blanched now (before they go bad), then frozen for soup use in winter?


Please help! Made chicken soup over the weekend. Fresh chicken from Whole Foods, cooked with celery and onions, then added carrots, corn, and green beans and seasoned (?) to taste. I wasn't happy with the taste so.o.o we added about 1-1/2 cups of canned chicken broth. That was the last straw. It was awful. What fresh herbs should I have added, besides bay leaves? To make it easier still, could you just post your favorite chicken soup recipe? How can anyone ruin chidken soup.... geez.

Try this Clear-Steamed Chicken Soup With Ginger, which I make several times each winter.

Is great for dogs with intestinal distress! Helps resolve the issue and firms things up. also the color makes it easier to check results.

Yep, it is.

I have a built-in spice cabinet (not next to the stove) and I love it. It has a door, so the spices are protected from light. You might want to have one or more of the shelves built extra-tall for oversize spice jars.

Max's Kosher Butcher in Wheaton (Georgia and University Aves.) is really good and Metro-accessible. Know that because they're kosher, they don't do all cuts of all meats, but their quality is outstanding.

I saw in the blog that vermicelli noodle looking thing used in Bangladeshi pudding and it reminded me of dessert I had in Egypt many years ago. The best way I can describe it as a sort of creamy custard/frosting layer covered in a toasted shreded wheat like product. I remember buying a good sized portion of it in Cairo and eating it throughout the vacation (probably long after it was still good to eat) because I was obsessed with it. I've never heard of or seen anything like it since. Any ideas what it is?

I don't know, but I smell an Egyptian installment of The Immigrant's Table in the future.

BTW, if you haven't seen it, we did a short sidebar on a few common Bangladeshi items found in the markets. One is a wheat vermicelli known as semai.

hard to get the tins really dry? put them in a warm oven for few minutes. dries right up. no rust.

Really, I' m so sick of all the snark about canned soups. Although I usually make a homemade quick version to use in such recipes, sometimes those soups are quite good in a pinch, especially when all the "fresh and flavorful" produce turned to mush in my refrigerator because I didn't have the time to cook it. For what it's worth, here's my substitution: 1/2 cup mushrooms (any kind), chopped fine 1/4 cup onions or shallot, chopped fine 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 1 1/4 cups milk or cream (any type, but cream is richer) salt & pepper to taste Saute the mushrooms and onions in 1 tablespoon butter until the onions are translucent. Add the remaining butter and melt. When the butter's melted, add the flour and stir it around for a minute or two. I don't let it get browned. Then add the milk or cream, let it thicken up. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I use it in any recipe that calls for the cream of soup.

Hi Rangers... We're taking our first long distance trip with our 18 month old by train. Not sure the dining car will sell milk or be open when he would want it. Can we freeze milk and if so, do we need to use a certain kind of container and then transfer it to his cup?

You can freeze milk but the consistency may suffer a bit. Seems like a small squishy cold pack or two packed in a regular thermal lunch container would work for you.

Hello Food Gurus. I, too, am so happy to see your Immigrant's Table feature. Immigrants contribute immeasurably to the good of our communities, and it is wonderful to see a piece featuring the positive aspects of immigration! Great job!

Thank you. If you or anyone have ideas for future installments of the column, please e-mail at

Problem is that they all have the teflon scratched off from 14 years of use. Not sure anyone should use them.

Ah. I would contact the Fort Totten Transfer Station, which takes hazardous materials, and see what they think.

Unlike a lot of herbs, many of the recipes I come across that call for bay leaves don't specify fresh vs. dried. Is there a base assumption that they usually mean one or the other? If they want the fresh stuff, should I adjust cooking time or when I incorporate the leaf if I'm using dried?

One clue is that they ask you to remove the bay leaf before serving....nobody likes to crunch down on that dry thing. We call for fresh when it's required; if the recipe doesn't say, you could use either. That's what I do.

This past weekend, I had an amazing side dish at Foti's in Culpeper, which was caramelized crushed potatoes. They were little white potatoes that were unpeeled and smashed and they turned out so crispy and flavorful and a great accompaniment to the grilled chicken. Any ideas on how to replicate this dish for Thanksgiving as a change up to the usual mashed potatoes?

I make these all the time, after reading about them in that great "Seven Fires" cookbook a couple years back. Made em for last year's staff holiday party, and they were gone in a flash. So easy. Just boil the potatoes -- I've used new red ones, small sweet ones, small Yukons -- until tender, and then when still warm, use a spatula and your palm to flatten them somewhat. (Don't worry about going too thing -- a half inch or so is fine). Then put them on baking sheet, toss with lots of olive oil and sea salt, then roast them in a 500-degree oven until crisp, turning them if you want halfway through. You can also do it in a skillet on the stovetop if you're not doing too many.

There's a new MOMS market in Herdon, on Elden Street in the KMart Shopping Center. It comes with three (3) charging stations for electric cars.

Horizon Organic sells milk in small containers that I see sitting on the shelves of my local supermarket; in the organic/healthy foods subsection. Chill it for taste, but don't worry if it's warm until you break the seal (and then consume all of it).

... are always the chatters who start conversations with questions asking for tips. I know you have an incentive to reward those chatters because you want to increase the number of responses.... but it is a little hard to take the game seriously when the people providing those responses are never rewarded. Why not consider rewarding a hint-giver now and then? After all, those people are giving you their thoughts for free, so consider the karma here. Just an idea..... love the chat!

Seriously? The game? Aw, man, lighten up.

Make oven dried cherry tomatoes and store them in a jar covered with olive oil in the fridge. Yum! Make a pureed carrot soup with the carrots and stirfry the rest.

Just take the pans to Fort Totten on the first Saturday of the month (presuming you are a DC resident.) That's hazardous waste and e-cycling day.

Kudos, Tim, for taking on such a promising column! I'm especially excited about Ethiopian food these days and would love to read more about this cuisine especially since it has so much to offer us vegetarians. While I'm at it, can any of you recommend a good vegetarian Ethiopian cookbook? Thanks for the weekly Q&A, I am a faithful reader!

Thanks! I, too, am looking forward to learning more about Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking (you best not lump them together as one cuisine lest you get an earful from one of the native cooks).

Sadly, I am poor in cookbooks dedicated to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. But a quick Google search turned up this promising lead.

Hello everyone! I went fishing yesterday on the Bush River and caught the biggest catfish, a good 15 pounder. What can I do to mute the wild flavor a bit, as my family is used to farm raised catfish? Also, any good recipes for a catfish stew or something I can do with the heads besides fish stock? They're awfully meaty. Thanks.

HANK SHAW: I like looking to Vietnam for good catfish recipes. They have some fantastic dishes that will both mute any strong flavor of the fish (because it's cooked with other strong flavors like lemongrass, fish sauce, chile, etc) and use those big ole' heads -- just be sure to remove the head and pick off the meat before you serve. Much easier to eat, and a little less disturbing to look at... ;-)

Hi Rangers! I attempted to make a no-tahini baba ghanouj last week for a party. Everything was fine, but without the tahini the dip looked really, really unappetizing. (I thought it tasted awesome, but I was also the only person brave enough to eat any.) When I take the plunge and buy a giant tub of tahini, what else could I use it for? Also, outside of eggplant parm and any more questionable baba ghanouj experiments, what are some good ideas for using a lone eggplant? We're only two people, so while something like a ratatouille is great, we get sick of it very quickly. Thank you!!

Here are some more tahini ideas from our Recipe Finder. This summer I was totally hooked on this eggplant dish I got from the Gourmet cookbook. Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch slices, brush with oil and grill until slightly charred. They recommended topping it with an Asian peanut sauce, which was great, but you could probably put most about anything you like on top.

Vita-Mix blenders are expensive, the lowest price I've seen is at Costco. I am sorry I got mine so late in life, but it is excellent for cooking for one or two; You can cook soup or make ice cream or sherbet in this blender. And all you get to wash is your Vita-Mix container. Actually it washes itself, you just add water and soap. No pots, no pans, no nothing. The only thinkgmy college bound kid did not get to take to college was my vita-mix. It actually pays for itself.

My mother froze milk --- half gallon cartons filling two shelves of an upright freezer -- throughout our childhoods. Much easier than going to the market every day when you have 7 kids. And we all survived just fine. Just shake it a little after it thaws, if need be. All of us still freeze milk when we go on vacation or just have more than we'll use.

buy tetra-packs of milk like Parmalat or Horizon. no worries about keeping it cold, and they come in individual sizes.

I accidentally bought pork chops last night that had a SELL BY NOV. 1 date on them. Is it too late to freeze them? Does the pork know what day it is? The thought of eating wonky pork makes me nervous...

I'd say you can freeze them today. But first, sniff them to make sure they don't smell off. And then wrap them individually in plastic wrap beore putting them in freezer bags. That helps avoid freezer burn.

The website lets you search for places near you that will recycle all sorts of things from paint to old computers.

I'm trying to track down lenticchie di Castelluccio (Castellucio lentils) for a recipe from Jamie's Italy. I've stuck out at La Cuisine and The Italian Store. Any ideas on where I might be able to find them in the N. Virginia/DC area? Du Puy lentils can be substituted, but the Castellucios have some qualities that make them preferable for the dish. Thank you!

I struck out at A. Litteri in NE DC. La Cuisine (703-836-4435) tells me they've had a hard time getting Castellucio lentils in. Perhaps there's a distributor prob?

I also think I've seen them at Dean & Deluca in Georgetown. I'd say call over there, but chances are 50-50 that you'll get to speak to a live person. It's worth a trip if you havent been in a while. They've got more imported products than a few years ago.

I feel like people are mixing up their terms... an insecticide IS a pesticide. Pesticides are a general term for chemicals that kill pests, and the subcategories are under that - insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, etc. etc.

Try artists or orgs that help artists. My sister used to use an old nonstick pan for melting candle wax for projects.

Hi - I really appreciate you taking my question! This Thanksgiving, I am the visiting vegan that so many people write in about before the big meal, and I want to make it easy and low-stress on my boyfriend's family to host me. My problem is that to share the holiday with them I am flying to the west coast the day before, so that eliminates my usual trick of making a side for everyone that passes as a main dish for me. I was thinking of bringing 8-10 tiny dumpling squash in my carry-on and stuffing them with a grain blend, but taking over the oven for an hour on Thanksgiving seems rude and intrusive. What's a fast and ideally stove-top dish I can make that fits the bill and gets me out of my hostess' way? I've been a vegan for a long time, but this barrier has really stumped me.

The corn syrup question reminded me of my question about cane syrup - I have cane syrup purchased in NOLA as well as Lyles. The cane syrup from NOLA is darker. Can I still substitute, knowing that the flavor will be darker, or is there some other difference I don't know about?

Steen's, right? I'll ask NOLA baking expert David Guas. Check back next week, since we're running out of time?

So, while we are on the subject.. some of us wash all our dishes by hand... What do you recommend for scouring the corners of cookie sheets and rimmed pans that were alleged to have been nonstick and now have a filmy baking crud on them?

If you could see the corners of my pans, you'd know not to ask me. Have you tried Barkeepers Friend cleanser?

Tim, In addition to the foods or preparations that are unique to a specific culture or region, I'd love to read about dishes that are prepared in a similar manner across multiple cultures. My husband has a Czech and German background and we've often talked about foods that are slightly different in a German preparation than an Eastern European preparation but use similar base ingredients. We find this to be especially true of "winter" foods where preservation and availability were issues.

I like that idea. It reminds of how tamales are prepared differently in various Latin American countries. I think that idea has huge potential.

I asked questions and give answers when I can. I do it for fun, because it's interactive, and because my kids asleep. I do it more for the tips and feedback than for the chance to win a book. Mind you, winning a book was great fun too.

I'm not sure why your article kept making the distinction between "Bangladeshi cuisine" and Indian food. Bangladeshi food is almost identical to the food eaten in the state of West Bengal in India; in fact, I had a roommate from Calcutta and many of the dishes/ingredients you talked about in your article were ones I am familiar with through her. The partition of Bengal in 1947 created two separate countries, yes, but the cuisine remained essentially the same on both sides of the border (with some slight differences due to geography; but there are plenty of immigrants from the former East Bengal in West Bengal who brought their particular dishes over--these distinctions are pretty slight, though). While I understood the focus being on Bangladesh, I was disappointed not to see at least a mention that this cuisine isn't particular to just that country, but a larger region.

Yes, there are cultural and some culinary similarities between Bangladeshi and West Bengal/Indian food. It's a complicated subject that is somewhat difficult to boil down to one article. Thanks for your comments. Found the link on Amazon. Go figure.

Greetings Rangers, My 23 year old son just moved into his own apartment. In the year he'd been living at home, he learned to cook some basic dishes like chili, simple chicken masala, pasta bolognese etc. I am thinking of ordering him a beginning set of spices from Penzy's to encourage further cooking. What would you suggest as the basic 8 or so spices? The Penzy's premade sets have too many blends to be useful.

Diamond kosher salt

Whole black peppercorns

Dried Greek oregano

Ground cinnamon

Ground ginger

Ground cumin

Ground turmeric

Whole coriander seed

That's all the time we have today, so thanks for joining us. And thanks to Hank Shaw for helping us answer the foraging questions!

Now, for the book winners: It's the chatter who wrote in about putting pots and pans in the dishwasher, as well as the one who asked about making white chili for her husband. What books will you get? It'll be a surprise! Just send your mailing info to Becky at, and she'll get you something fun.

Until next time, happy cooking, 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: