Free Range on Food

May 01, 2013

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 Free Range!

Today we're celebrating spring and produce and the opening of the seasonal farmers markets! To that end, we have Emily Horton in the house, she who waxed poetic about the weekly farmers market emails that get her inspiration going. (If you want to explore the area markets, see our spiffy map!)

We also have Sarah Gordon and Sheila Fain of Gordy's Pickle Jar, one of the subjects of Tim's story today, joining us to take on a peck of pickled questions  -- well, and anything else they want to weigh in on, of course.

And, for one last time, we have departing Spirits columnist Jason Wilson, to offer his thoughts on six years of cocktails and to answer any remaining questions or comments you might have for him.

Becky is on vacation (jetting to England even as I type), but Bonnie and Tim and I will also be on hand as always.

We'll have prizes for our favorite chatters today -- We'll tell you what those are at the end of the hour.

Let's get started!

Any chance of a recipe or tutorial on making your own paneer? (As Joe said, not a weeknight endeavor, but certainly an exciting one for a Saturday!)

It's so easy -- and fun! Here's a good rundown of the process from our friends at Food52. And then you'll have plenty to make my Paneer and Pea Curry With Sweet Potato Hash!

How long will a bottle of wine stay good after it's been opened? My boyfriend and I have a hard time finishing a bottle over dinner, but we're worried it will spoil if we leave it for a day or two. (We don't have one of those pumps to get the air out, so we're reduced to either jamming the cork back in or screwing the top on if it's a screw top.)


Our own Dave McIntyre devoted an entire column on how to preserve your leftover bottles. You might find one of these tips useful. Personally, I think the inert gas method is best.

I have a dear friend who is 90 years old and loves to cook. However, since he is not computer-literate, he often asks me to search for recipes online for him. He has now asked me to help him find a recipe for oxtails, preferably something fairly simple and not too spicy. I don't eat oxtails so I have no idea how to even guide him and have been unable to find any recipes in the Washington Post Recipe Finder, my go-to search engine when it comes to food. Can you help direct me to a recipe or two that I could give him? Thanks so much ~ you are the greatest!

Well, he's a positive role model! Hope I can reach the stove when I am his age. BTW, how did you search for them in our database? We have two recipes: Braised Oxtail With Polenta and Beef Heart Confit, and Braised Oxtails With Kimchi Fried Rice and Greens (esp. love the latter).

I stumbled across this site (and the recipes) and the books. This is truly great--they taste good and the message is excellent for all types of folks. Joe, you might like the meatloaf! 

Yes, Engine 2 is cool -- My favorite thing about them might be their coinage (or at least proliferation) of the phrase "plant-strong" -- so much more fun than "plant-based," isn't it?

Years ago mom would make my dad sweet chow chow and hot chow chow. I would love to know how long it can last in that mason jar. Mom would make it in the summer and use it in the winter on beans and greens. I loved it but for the life of me I cannot seem to make it. So is there a brand that you could recomend.

Blackberry Farm Chow-Chow is fantastic!

I've never been a big pickle fan (as in pickled cucumbers), mostly because I find the taste too strong. The only way I like them is fried and dipped in ranch dressing. A friend of mine suggested making my own quick pickles, as I could control the ingredients and they probably wouldn't be so intense. Does this sound like worth a try? If so, what's the best recipe I should use? I should probably point out I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so something with a small amount of sugar (or none) would be preferred.


I'm sure that Sheila and Sarah will have some good advice, but allow me to add my two cents: It sounds as if you don't like the pucker power of vinegar. (That's my takeaway from your comment that you find the "taste too strong," given you substitute big fatty flavors for tart ones.)


If that's the case, you'll want to control the amount of vinegar you use in the quick pickle (without decreasing it so low that you create an environment in which bad bacteria grows). You might try this quick-pickle recipe from former Post blogger, Kim O'Donnel. It allows you to decrease the vinegar by a half-cup.

Absolutely give it a try! The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich is great resource for beginners.

We agree with Tim that you should use a recipe that cuts the vinegar by half. If you add savory elements such as garlic or ginger you will be able to balance out the acidity.

We're having a cookout on Sunday, if the weather cooperates, and one of the people coming is on a gluten-free diet. Do I need to make sure that the Worcestershire sauce (needed for one of the recipes) and the hot dogs are gluten-free? If so, what do I look for on the label?

Is the person celiac, as in gluten intolerant, or just avoiding gluten for other reasons? That is, will being exposed to gluten cause a reaction? Your best guidance here is the guest his/herself. Have a conversation about it. Because if the condition is severe, your guest may not be able to even eat something that's gluten-free but was on the same cutting board as something with gluten. Or, if it's just a dietary choice, that's not a problem at all. 

I bought too much half and half for a recipe and now I have almost a full quart to use up by Friday. Other than making really decadent iced coffees for the rest of the week and adding it to the mashed potatoes I'm making tonight, any other ideas?

We appreciate your bringing this problem to Free Range, when there are so many Google hits that can advise along this line! There are 28 grams of fat in a cup of half-and-half; you could pretty much sub h&h for anything you use milk for and figure that the end result will be that much richer. Or you could cut the h&h with the regular kind of milk you use and do all kinds of inner-head math to determine the final nutritional analysis.  I might find ways to use it up that are freezable, like a Bolognese-type ragu or a bechamel sauce or even a savory bread pudding


But if you're asking for some faves from our Recipe Finder, well, then I'd direct you to Apricot Semifreddo, which is pure poetry from FOF / cookbook author Domenica Marchetti or this Blueberry and White Chocolate Mousse.

I am trying to find the recipe for Green Gazpacho (or Smoothie) which was featured under the heding "More farmers market recipes:" in today's paper which I read early this morning. Nothing on your food page comes up for that. In fact, says 0 results. This is so frustrating. Dru

Did you go to That's our Recipe Finder, and that's where we pointed you, although the possibility that you didn't makes me think that those little labels we put on things don't get read!

Anyway, if you go to that Recipe Finder and type in "green gazpacho," this one is the fifth thing on the list of recipes that comes up! I'll save you the time now and link directly to it below, but just so you know how to do the rest, and in the future. We still worry that people don't really know about the Recipe Finder!

Green Gazpacho (or Smoothie)


In general, do you think it's better to bake a cake the day you're going to eat it, or the day before? Thanks for the chats!

Great question -- I think it depends on the cake. If it's unfrosted, or maybe just glazed, and could be eaten warm, then bake it the day you're going to eat it, and try to serve it warm. You know, like a pound cake or even a quick sweet bread like banana bread. But if it's a layered and frosted cake, yes, I like making and frosting it the day before, because the cake soaks up some of the moisture and flavor from the frosting.

I was out of town until late Monday night and am having friends stay this weekend starting tomorrow right after work, so that means tonight will be a tornado of laundry, cleaning and stocking the fridge. I can't even think about cooking tonight, so I was planning on picking something up on the way home. So far my options are WF hot bar, Tacos el Chilango or Greek Spot, but I've had all three in the past few weeks and want something different. Do you guys have any favorites? Or suggestions?

We just did a whole survey of supermarket hot bars in the area. The clear winner was Wegmans, if you have one near you. If not, you could try one of the many rotisserie chickens available at local grocery stores, a number of them quite good. Here's our survey of supermarket birds from last year. The benefit of supermarket chicken is that you can also turn it into tacos, chicken salads, wraps, etc.

Missed the chat, but saw the inquiry in the transcript about avocado for butter. There are numerous cake and cookie and pudding recipes with avocado. These Glazed Chocolate-Avocado Cupcakes are amazing.


In last week's Food Section, there is a recipe for Cumin-Cilantro Chicken Patties. The ingredient list says, "About 6 1/2 ounces boned, skinned roast chicken." I'm a novice cook, so sorry to be so mechanistic. Do you mean "roasted" chicken -- as in, I need 6 1/2 ounces of already cooked chicken? Or do you just mean, 6 1/2 ounces of any boneless, skinless, RAW chicken meat . . . which then gets cooked per the further instructions of the recipe?

It means already roasted, leftover chicken -- homemade or of the store-bought rotisserie type.

Huge thanks to the Free Rangers for my prize copy of the new Washington Post cookbook that I won here two weeks ago! It's lovely enough to be a coffee table book, yet the recipes sound inviting enough to be doable. Given my propensity to spatter the pages of cookbooks, I think I'll protect my copy by photocopying a recipe when I'm going to use it, so I can just work from a piece of paper instead of risking damage to the volume. As a vegetarian I'm pleased by the selection of meatless recipes, and some that look like they can be converted easily -- as well as the desserts (since they're all vegetarian, of course!). One of my favorite anecdotes accompanied a greens recipe in which Phyllis Richman observed (30 years ago) that one could obtain beet greens for free, since they were typically discarded -- and the book comments that that's not the case any more! The figurative cherry atop the whipped cream atop the sundae was that Becky even wrote a personalized autograph to me inside the front, so I'll truly treasure my copy. (BTW, I think I'll buy more copies as gifts for friends). THANK YOU AGAIN SO MUCH!!!

I think that sig was from Bonnie Benwick! Glad you're liking the book. Bonnie did a beautiful job pulling it all together.

Love the pickles story. Love pickles. I'm growing cukes specifically for pickling this year and and wondering about the best treatment for those big lunker cucumbers--not the gargantuan ones you just let go to seed, but the ones that hide behind a leaf for a couple days before you discover them and by then they're kind of an awkward size. Spears or discs--which do you think would impart the most flavor? Or is there another shape I'm not thinking of....

Akward curvey shaped cucumbers can best be used as pickle chips. If they seem to0 big or possibly seedy, think about turning these into relish!

Can anyone tell me where to find spring rhubarb? I used to buy it at farmers markets in Boston all the time but don't see it in one has it at the Dupont Circle Market even. Thank you for any suggestions.

Rhubarb hasn't quite come into full swing around here yet, so  you should yet be able to find it at farmers markets around town. New Morning Farm usually carries it, and they're back at Dupont this Sunday. Good luck!

Not a question but I just wanted to say thanks to Joe. His easy mac from scratch means my toddler will never think easy has to mean processed and packaged.

Ah, you mean the wacky thing I did for NPR! It was fun -- so glad you like it!

Unless the serious cooks object, I say, Stir it into rice and call it rice pudding! Raisins and cinnamon optional.

This may be a silly question, but I have heavy whipping cream and skim milk. If I combine equal parts of the two, do I get half-and-half?

Close -- True half/half is half cream and half whole milk.

Anything to help chase away another winter like weather we are getting here...I am getting tired of it (fill in the blanks). Anything suggestions to cheer up the winter blues? I swear the calendar says May 1st.

Well, it's supposed to get into the 70s today, but I get your point!


Why don't you split the difference and do something sort of wintery/sort of summery: like braised lamb tacos!

How to make a sponge cake? A real good one, not the sponge cake in Supermarket.

How 'bout this Savoy Sponge, from Pierre Herme, no less! 

Many, many thanks for this article - loved it and can't wait to try the recipes, especially the eggplant, cauliflower and greens, oh, and the peaches, and the fennel and.... Any experieince with using a sugar sub like stevia or splenda pickling?

Sorry, we have not had experience with a sugar sub such as stevia or splenda.

Any suggestions for what to do with arugula besides salads (our garden is overflowing)? Maybe pastas or pizzas? I don't think it would be good pickled. Thanks!

I love putting fresh arugula on pizza right after it comes out of the oven. That crisp bite offsets the cheesy richness of the pizza nicely, I think. But the best way to handle a whole lot of tender greens like arugula is to cook it, because the volume reduces so significantly. I like arugula in pesto instead of basil. You could also blanch it, squeeze it dry, and freeze it in plastic freezer bags and use later...

Is there a food -- any food! -- that I can eat ceaselessly without gaining any weight? I've heard it said that celery takes more calories to digest than the calories it imparts. I'm hoping you'll say that's true and that you can list several such calorie-neutral foods so I don't get so bored I binge on potato chips after a few days. Solids preferred but I'll take what I can get, if I can get it in big bowls without getting fatter! Thanks so much!

Hmm. Seems like this not the right forum. Why are vast quantities necessary? Is exercise involved at all, or metabolism issues? Right now I can think of one substance, I guess: shirataki noodles. Toss in some steamed baby bok choy; vary your seasonings/flavorings/sauces. Good luck! 

I find this idea, well, a little disturbing. Not to be too intrusive, but have you thought about talking to a therapist about this? I'm serious -- I suspect the possibility of an unhealthy relationship to food/weight on your part.

That Kim O'Donnell recipe looks right up my alley - I'm not interested in messing with canning, and the ingredients seem pretty good. I have to admit, I usually loved vinegar and the pop it brings to my mouth, but maybe it's the mix of vinegar and cukes that for some reason I just don't like? I'll try it and report back.

Good luck! I hope the recipe changes your mind on pickles.

To add to what Joe said, if it's a rather "sturdy" fruit or nut cake , I'd bake it at least a day ahead. Those types seem to improve greatly after 24 hours or so.

OP here. Sorry I misread the signature on the autograph, but it was hard to read!

When my roommate gave it a try last year, she described akin to getting slimed, Nickelodeon style. I tried it and nothing could have overcome the texture problems of her slimy frosting. I confess that I have been very skeptical of swapping avocado for anything since then!

Very sad to read that today's is the last Spirits column from Jason Wilson, whose work I've enjoyed reading. I'll also miss his very helpful suggestions from this forum. On that note, I'm hoping to get one last good one. I have a couple friends who are getting married this summer and asked me to develop a cocktail for the wedding--something easy that could be premixed and dispensed for about 100 people. I'm thinking some kind of punch, possibly old-school (I've been reading Imbibe), but that wouldn't involve a lot of prep besides mixing. Any suggestions?

I'm sad to leave, too, but we all must evolve. As for an old-timey summer wedding punch, I love this Gin Punch, which is very simple, though it's for people who normally are cocktail people. Even more old-timey is the Light Guard Punch, with sherry, cognac, Sauternes and pineapple, which is a light and nice in the hot weather. Good luck!

Any suggestion on sources for fresh rhubarb in Washington this week. Need it for a cake to be baked Saturday afternoon, if possible. Thanks!

I saw it at the Whole Foods on P Street. From California, I think -- or other far-flung parts. Locally, it's not quite coming up yet, from the look of things at farmers markets -- but it should be soon.

I'm beginning to resent Safeway and Giant asking me to make donations to charities of their choice. I don't need to feel uncharitable just because I choose not to support the organizations they are promoting. I complained to one checker and she said, "but its's my job." No it's your job to sell me groceries.

No, it's her job to do what her manager (and the company) tells her to do.

I saw some at my safeway in Bethesda

I love pickled everything! If I just stick, say, sliced cuke and carrot matchsticks and maybe sliced jalapeno peppers and pearl onions in a jar of left-over pickle juice, and stick that in the refrigerator (or not), will those veggies pickle? Or is the liquid in the jar not the same as brine, or has its pickling power been used up? Thanks!

To re-use your leftover brine, the safest technique is to bring the brine to a boil and let cool for 5 minutes off of the stove. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables and let cool to room temperature before refrigerating to avoid spoilage. 

Hi there, I had a power outage for about 26 hours last week. Is my unopened shrink-wrapped bacon in the frig still good to eat? How about the eggs?

Both are fine. Here's a handy guide we try to run at convenient times. 

I still have one blue hubbard left from last fall. I want to cook it this weekend. Any suggestions? I don't want to be as elaborate as the Thanksgiving recipe. I would like it to be vegetarian and easy since I am in the planting stage of this years garden.

This may sound weird, but I am a huge fan of bread soups, and those Hubbard squashes make a really beautiful one with rye bread. Peel, cut into 1-inch cubes, simmer in water or veg stock to cover by an inch or two for about 20 minutes or until they're tender, then smash them with a spoon against the side of a pot to break them up and thicken the broth. Add days-old rye bread, torn into 1-inch cubes or so, and simmer until they've totally softened and started to break down, about 10 minutes. Let the soup rest for about 20 minutes to really thicken, then add some really nice olive oil, black pepper and lots of parsley. It is scrumptuous.

Or you could just cut into cubes and roast with some leeks and green garlic, which might be simpler.

Hi there, can you tell me what the difference is between salsa and picante sauce, please? I have a recipe that calls for the latter, but I have the former and was hoping I could sub it...thanks!

Basically, a blender. We're talking textured/chopped vs. pureed, with perhaps a touch of Certain Product Marketing tossed in. 

I'm so sorry to see Jason Wilson go! Is there somewhere we can follow him if we have future cocktail and spirits questions?

I'm leaving the Post, but I'll still be around. You can always follow me on Twitter at @boozecolumnist, check out the website I edit called, or you can follow my new wine column on

Their website has this recipe (and maybe more).

What's the best way to save/preserve asparagus for future eating? My bed is kicking into high gear and I'm about to have more than I can eat. I'd love to be able to enjoy it for the next few months. Is that possible? (canning, freezing, etc)

Can 'em! We think. Oh and we wouldn't mind some of your garden overflow :)

Pickled asaparagus are great! Kind of like dilly beans.

My son made a cookie recipe for the first time. It called for one-half cup brown sugar *and* on-half cup white sugar. Since he only had brown sugar in his house, he asked me if I thought he could just substitute a full cup of that. I told him since he hadn't made this recipe before, and he is taking the cookies to a presentation, he would be better off following it and, next time, he can make adjustments. Out of curiosity, how would that substitution have probably affected the outcome?

Mazel tov (sons + baking = a good thing) and way to go, Responsible Older Person. It could be an easy substitution (just make sure the brown sugar is packed in the cup), but brown sugar and white/granulated sugar probably perform a graceful duet in that recipe. If it's something like a choco chip cookie, the brown sugar brings extra moisture to the dough and provides a caramel/molasses color and flavor in the baking. The white stuff affects texture and crumb, adding lightness and air -- especially if the sugar(s) are beaten in the butter at the start of the process. 

I must get my hand on some garlic scapes this year. I completely missed them last year. Where should I go? I can't seem to find them at U St or Dupont farmers market, or the White House one.

You'll see them at markets once the garlic is at that point, but it's not yet! I'm just seeing green garlic now, which is immature garlic before it's developed bulbs and papery skin. (I actually like it even better than the scapes.) The scapes come when the garlic is closer to mature. So keep an eye out! (And the next time you're at the farmers market, look for a farmer with green garlic and ask them when they expect the scapes to come in...) 

You might check with Next Step Produce at the Dupont market... the green garlic there is already pretty mature, with scapes shooting out the centers of the stalks, so scapes alone should be coming in the next week or so. Personally, I love how staggered all the different farmers' plantings are, so you end up with access to really young green garlic, more mature stalks with formed bulbs, and the scapes all at once.

Just a quick note, not all deserts are vegetarian. Many may have gelatin in them.

I ordered the cookbook from Amazon last night and they told me it was unavailable and will ship it to me as soon as possible. Any word from your end on when that might be? My local Barnes and Noble was also sold out. Many congratulations for your success!

[Insert sad face here] 

It will be back in stock within a day, we've been told. The publisher told us a tale of distribution and warehouses and I believe him, really I do. But it's still bad timing! I'm SURE you'll get it very, very soon. Barnes and Noble restocking in a big way, in advance of Mother's Day -- as is -- drumroll -- all the Washington area Costco stores! If all else fails (you can order via and you need to get your hands on it ASAP, come by The Post. I will personally make it happen. 

I just want to mention how much I've enjoyed Jason Wilson's columns. I switched from wine to mixed drinks when my alcohol consumption had to go down to no more than one drink a week. (An opened bottle of rum keeps a lot longer than an opened bottle of wine.) While I have never purchased a bottle of liquor made with flowers picked by little old men on bicycles, it has been a lot of fun to read about it.

Thank you so much. I will definitely miss interacting with readers like this, and hearing people's personal booze stories.

What should a cocktail dilettante keep on hand? Once the weather turns warm, I feel like making something ice cold with rye or gin, but can't seem to use up a bottle of vermouth before it goes off...

I'm still here! And I will always be as close as Twitter. So let's think rye and gin plus vermouth: For rye and vermouth, How about the Old Pal (along with Campari) or perhaps the Algonquin (with pineapple juice). As for gin and vermouth, how about a Fiddy-Fiddy or the Ideal Cocktail (with a little maraschino and sweet vermout).

We're having some friends over for bar-b-que and bratwursts, and I'd like to serve a fun spring cocktail before we eat. I'm torn between white sangria or a rum punch, or something else entirely! I'd rather not use orange juice. Can you suggest some delicious concoctions?

How about a briney infused whiskey sour!

I know that I have submitted several questions on cooking with spirits or making ice cream with spirits and received helpful answers from Mr. Wilson. Thank you.

No, thank you. I'm glad to have been of service.

I know that to your smoking pro, my methods are poor, as I have an electric smoker that makes it super easy (and I'm sure not nearly as delicious as the purer methods). However, LOVE it, and in my tiny Shaw backyard, it's a great solution. I've recently talked the manly half out of perpetual pork shoulders and briskets, and we have been having fun with whole chicken legs (goodness gracious I've never had chicken so wonderful), wings, and most recently, arctic char (unbelievably wonderful and juicy). So, what other things can we experiment with? What other seafoods are good, other than salmon? Would scallops be worth it? Vegetables? It's definitely the right season for us to forge ahead. Thanks!

If Jim were here, I'm sure he'd say that almost everything tastes better with a whiff of wood smoke, even cheese, which I've smoked. (Just don't over-smoke it or it turns bitter.)


Among Jim's smoking/grilling adventures:

* Asparagus

* Fresh fruit

* Grilled fish


You can check out the complete Smoke Signals archive here.


The photo of Savoy Sponge looks to me like pound cake or what we used to call "kuchen." Which makes me realize I have no idea what the differences are. Might you offer a primer? Thanks in advance!

A true sponge cake (sometimes called genoise) has a light texture -- wish the picture showed that more obviously. The leavening comes from beaten eggs/sugar; no shortening or butter is used.

Jason, I love sidecars! But when I order one, I never know what I'm going to get. What should I really want in it when asked -- other than fresh lemon juice (and if they can't do that I get a glass of wine instead)!

Sidecars are always a tricky business. I did blog post a few years back about different sidecar variations, just to show how many directions you could go in. As for the classic sidecar, I always recommend a ratio of two parts cognac to one part each of lemon juice and Cointreau But the cognac has to be a good one -- at least VSOP or better -- or it can be disappointing

I was just looking at a slideshow of photos on of a fancy-schmancy new-ish restaurant near my workplace here in SF. It occurred to me that none of the people in the kitchen photo were wearing hairnets. Do you think this was just for the photo shoot or do professional kitchens not require hair covering anymore?

I haven't seen a hairnet in a professional kitchen in I don't know how long.

I'd say that your two choices do not fit his/her parameters for fairly simple: "We have two recipes: Braised Oxtail With Polenta and Beef Heart Confit, and Braised Oxtails With Kimchi Fried Rice and Greens"

Each recipe contains a basic method for preparing the oxtails and neither of those is too spicy. The other parts of the recipe can be left aside, right? 

so, what is the strangest (yet yummiest) food that you have encountered that has been pickled? i know different cultures have different pickling practices, but are there any you (or the readers) have run across that sounded strange, but were actually quite tasty? i'm on a mission to pickle something "out of the norm" this summer.

Honestly, I was a little surprised by pickled eggplant the first time I heard of it. It's boiled in vinegar and then packed in oil, and it is the most wonderful, versatile stuff. I like it in kale salad, myself.

I had some at a buffet once that were out-of-this-world. The special ingredient? Cracked coriander seeds!

We love coriander and use it in several of our products!

If you have to add a ton of suger to make it palatable, I don't want it.

Ah, I love it. You don't have to add that much sugar. I love that you can add just enough to get something fabulously sweet-tart. 

Jason, we cannot decide which is greater: that we will miss you Spirits column, or that we will look forward to your book on wine. We will toast both, and you, this Saturday when we enjoy a mint julep. (Nope, we're not in Kentucky, and don't kid yourself that I'll wear any hat (although there might be some horsefeathers flying when our crowd gets to chatting.) Thank you for years of fine wit and good counsel. (And sheesh, Joe has been there since 2006? Who just ripped the pages out of my life calendar?)

Time flies, doesn't it? Or, my favorite related expression, which is really about the horrors of aging: Ain't time a wrecker!

Well, at least Joe got to take a year off, ha! Yes, time does fly, and I really appreciate that you've followed the column all along. I'm looking forward to mint juleps this weekend as well!

I was really excited to take a look at the farmer's market map, but alas--it's not working. I've tried Firefox and Internet Explorer. Is it just my work computer?

Hmm. Works for me in both Chrome and Safari. (Downloading Firefox to check that.) Are your browsers up to date?

The comment on baking a quick bread reminded me I have a ton -- well, a few pounds anyway -- of bananas in the freezer. Got any suggestions besides banana bread or banana daiquiris?


Feeding the chimps at the National Zoo?




Well, summer will be here eventually, which is the perfect time for banana splits. You could invite me over for a banana split party!


Or you could try one of these banana recipes from our database.

I came across a great recipe quite a number of years ago that originated in Australia's Marie Claire magazine. It's spaghetti with lime, capers, marinated feta and arugula (rocket) . Very flavorful. I accidentally once made it with dandelion greens when I picked up the wrong bunch of greens at the store, and that was also good. A food blogger has it online here.

Thanks for sharing! 

My local park plans to pull up and discard so-called invasive plants including English ivy, bush honeysuckle and garlic mustard this month. Garlic mustard sounds like it might be edible. What do you think?

It is! Although according to this account it apparently also contains a little cyanide (like cassava root), so you're supposed to cook it or serve it with something acidic.

I've enjoyed reading your columns a great deal over the years. Good luck in your next gig...

Thank you!

I love the videos and recipes from Manjula... definitely not high production, and sometime unintentionally funny, but the advice and recipes can't be beat!

Hey Foofies! So sad to see Jason go. What a treasure and we will miss him. My boyfriend gave me a bottle of creme de violette for our anniversary, and I am hoping to surprise him with a special drink when we see each other Friday night. What would you recommend? He is a bit of a coy boy, so something fancy would be nice. Ciao!

Foofies? What are we, Pomeranians? ;-)

First of all, thank you for calling me a "treasure" -- I've always imagined myself as someone who might called a "treasure." Thank you!  As for ideas for your boy, you're in luck, since the only cocktails I have for creme de violette are pretty fancy: How about a Violet Fizz or a Blue Moon or an Aviation?

the brine is likely not the same. There are chemicals in foods that will neutralize acids. Each time the brine gets uses the pH of the brine will increase. A brine may or may not be safe to be reused.

You can indeed use brine if you're only using it to make quick refrigerated pickles. Once a brine has been used to can something, you cannot use it again as you cannot determine proper acidity levels

I have a very nice piece of fresh rockfish filet, about a pound with skin on one side. What is the best way to cook this to let the rockfish shine?


I don't know if this is the "best" way to cook it, but Bonnie recently offered up a beautiful Rockfish With Tapenade Sauce from the cookbook, "In the Kitchen With the Pike Place Fish Guys."

As a wine fan who, in his mid-30s, wanted to investigate the world of spirits, I've always opened the Food section for the wine column and Jason Wilson's column on spirits. Six years later, the world of spirits remains mysterious to me, although I've enjoyed Wilson's column over the years and have even read the book he published on the subject. Now he's writing a book on wine. I'm glad the Spirits column will continue without Wilson, as I need another wine book like I need a hole in the head. But honestly, I'll probably read his wine book, too. "We all must evolve," Wilson concludes his final column with today. And I'm trying. Really, I'm trying.

I'm not sure effort can really influence evolution, can it? Must call up Darwin for an answer. Anyway, it's always good to strive.

Hahahahahaha. All you can do is try. If it's any consolation, spirits are still a mystery to me, too. I promise the wine book will be better than a hole in your head. Maybe.

What kind of cocktail do you think Darwin drank?

It didn't even register until the commenter referred to it as rocket, but it's often used on sandwiches in Britain!

I just read about putting pieces of sheetcake cut with a circular cookie-cutter in clear plastic drinking glasses, alternating the cake parfait-style with frosting, then decorated on top, so there's less mess (especially when transporting) than with a cupcake because the topping doesn't quite reach the top of the glass, so they can be covered with plastic wrap or a tray. Clever idea, no? (Obviously one must eat them with a fork or spoon, rather than with fingers).

Clever, but maybe a little fussy, too...

You are my total spirit animal (get it? ha ha). Seriously, you will be missed. I can't tell you how many of your recipes I've made over the years. I continue my plea that the WA Post charge a fee to keep these great columnists. Best of luck!

Haha, awesome. Do you have a likeness of me on a totem? Thanks. I will miss it, as well. Very much.

Much thanks to the chatter a few weeks ago that pointed out the maple glazed carrot recipe. Fantastic, and oh so easy. Any other suggestions for easy recipes that elevate humble vegetables?

I could go on all day, but here are four:

Best Brussel Sprouts Ever (also in TWP Cookbook!)

Butter-Braised Radishes


Grilled Eggplant in Lemon-Coconut Cream


Zucchini Picadillo


Bananas Foster? Or recipes that contain homage to Bananas Foster?

Wilted, makes an awesome omelet. Spicy!

Thank you for the copy of Homemade With Love! The Homemade Manicotti with her homemade ricotta and fresh crepes was tender, delicate, balanced, and pretty in the baking dish. It bore no resemblance to any other manicotti I have ever had the pleasure of sinking my fangs into. I use washed (and reused) least expensive cotton muslin for cheesecloth required for the ricotta. This would also work well drained for paneer. And I agree with Ms. Perillo that the crepe pans (the blue steel ones) at Sur La Table are both affordable and versatile. There is no better surface for frying a couple of eggs.

But "foofies" is kind of charming in its own way!

Trust me, it's more charming than foodies. 

Here are some garlic mustard recipes from the U of I extension And yes, it is invasive -- not just "so called" invasive. Tip: if you use Google, type (no spaces) before you search for a plant name -- you'll get university sites, usually extension services, that share research-based info, not whatever Tom's Back of the Shed Squirrel Kitchen dreams up as fertilizers, weed controls, plant growing guides, edible food guides, etc.

Does your cookbook come as an ebook?

Yes! I saw a version on the iPad yesterday with embedded links. Looks nice. Here's a link to a free pdf download.

Just wanted to say a thank you to Jason Wilson before he departs. Over the past few years his advice helped me develop cocktail and wine parings for a special birthday dinner for my then-boyfriend/now-husband, provided ideas for the signature cocktails we served at our wedding, and helped us smartly stock our own bar in our new home. Thanks for playing such a great, boozy role in our relationship!

Of course! I always knew you two were perfect together! Perhaps you'll name a child after me? Yeah, no. Maybe just a cocktail. Thank you!

Can you recommend a cookbook for a college student who will be moving off campus and cooking for himself for the first time? He's going to want recipes that are easy, quick, and cheap. He does have some basic cooking skills and will be cooking for himself and roommates.

I guess it depends on the student's level of engagement with food. If modest, I'd suggest Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." If more curious on techniques and cooking equipment, I'd suggest "The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook."

good luck Jason in whatever is next!

Thank you. Luck will be necessary...

If I was still living in DC, I would take you up on your offer to swing by the Post! I was equal parts disappointed that it didn't ship and thrilled for your success. Looking forward to trying out many new recipes.

Let us know when you get it -- send an email to 

What do professional picklers do to reduce eggplant bitterness? (I'd think that the salking method, like used before cooking, would ruin pickled eggplant). Or do you only use baby eggplant fruits?

I've never had to salt eggplant to get rid of bitterness for pickles... Just make sure your eggplant is really fresh and you should be fine.

I'm having a friend stay with me this week and planning on making a Zucchini and Rice Gratin (it's originally a Smitten Kitchen recipe). The whole thing's a bit labor intensive, and I was wondering if I could roast the sliced zukes tonight. The whole thing goes in the oven for 20 minutes - do you think it will be a problem to have them cold from the fridge, or will I need to figure out some way to warm them up without making them super soggy? (Or will cooking them today make them super soggy regardless?)

Gave the recipe a quick glance (pretty!) and I think roasting them in advance would be fine. It's not like they are going to be super crispy in this dish, anyway. Maybe prepping them in advance will help alleviate the sticking to the pan problem that I see mentioned -- - or you can line the pan with foil or parchment paper. 

I want to try using honey to bake cookies. If I was starting with a recipe that called for white and brown sugar, any idea how to effectively substitute honey? I would think you could consider it akin to the molasses in brown sugar, but not entirely sure.

Honey's a different animal in baking...we're running out of time but perhaps my colleague Jane Touzalin can tackle this question in her Chat Leftovers post next week. 

Any idea what to do with them? I bought them marinated in a vinegar solution (?) Add to salad? Any other ideas for salad additions? Need some inspirations to eat more interesting salads.

They'd probably be nice in a farro salad with a minced onion-red wine vinaigrette and lots of parsley, served over arugula. Or if you get to the farmers market, even better and use spring onion and add some garlic scapes, too.

I love the CSA email I get too! I have been going to the Norman's Farmers Market CSA for three years now and absolutely love it. You get a lot of choices, and great add-ons like eggs or meat if you want. The people running it are incredibly nice and post such great recipes in the emails. Plus, I feel like I get the "inside scoop" on why the tomatoes are so big this year, or the broccoli is lagging, etc. I swear I don't work for them, I'm just a walking billboard!

Nice to hear I'm not the only one! Those newsletters definitely help connecting with the farmers, too, especially if they're the ones doing the writing. Twin Springs Farm also writes a great one.

Caveat: I haven't made ant of these recipes, but everything else I've found on this site has been great.

Got a little jar of caviar in a gift basket over the holidays and stuck it in the fridge, later the freezer. How long does an unopened jar last?

According to this source, caviar should never be frozen. It ruins the texture of the roe. Your jar may already be fairly compromised.

Well, you've soaked us in brine until we're pickled, so you know what that means, we're out of time!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Emily, Sheila, Sarah and Jason for helping us answer them. 

Now for the giveaway book. I can't resist: The chatter who referred to us as Foofies will get "The Newlywed Cookbook," source of Bonnie's DinMin today. (Maybe it will be a hint for her and her BF to move things along!)

Send your mailing information to, and we'll get you your book.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

In This Chat
Jason Wilson
Jason Wilson writes the Spirits column, dishing on the world of cocktails.
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Guests: Washington freelance writer Emily Horton, who has written about farmers market newsletters: Sheila Fain and Sarah Gordon of Gordy's Pickle Jar.
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