Free Range on Food

May 22, 2013

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

Greetings on a decent summery day here at Grilling/Smoking Central. In addition to the considerable collected brisket wisdom of Tim Carman and Jim Shahin, we've got chef Heather Christo in the house (beet pesto pasta, genius!) to take care of your upcoming entertaining/holiday/cooking concerns. Becky's here; Editor Joe's off today. 


I'll let you know upfront that Heather's signed a copy of her new cookbook, "Heather Christo's Generous Table" for us to give away to a lucky chatter, and we also will dispatch the thick-as-a-double-cut rib-eye "The Grilling Book" from the editor of Bon Appetit. More than enough incentive to keep you chained to your desks for the next hour, eh? We'll announce two winners at the end of the chat. And we're off...

Hi! I'm looking to get a bit healthier and lose a few pounds! I generally try to cook something on Sunday or Monday that I can take in my lunches all week. I'm not a big sandwich person, and I don't eat meat. I find that doing this often makes me eat a bit unhealthier of lunches - things like casseroles are very easy to do this with but seem cheesy and heavy, and its hard to use a lot of fresh greens and for them to stay good all week. Any ideas for some good things on the healthier side? This week I went with a quinoa salad with avocado, red onion, cucumber, cilantro, corn, etc. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

I love to make large batches of grain based salads that last all week. Things like couscous and quinoa based salads filled with fresh vegetables (like this tabbouleh salad) are great! I just leave it in the fridge or portion it out into smaller containers so it is pre portioned.

I also love the idea of preparing tons of fresh vegetables all at one time (celery, carrots, cauliflower or whatever else you like and putting those in ziploc bags. Then I will make a couple healthy dips like this and then I can snack on them whenever I want. I mean, the hardest part about eating healthy is the prep. If you take that out of it- I find it much more enjoyable.


Finally, If you like soup --  a big pot of minestrone or summer vegetable soup  or fresh pea soup that will last all week and are really healthy and full of vegetables.

I realize crockpot season has almost left us, or maybe already has, but I found it hard to bring it out this past winter after changing my diet. I try to follow the paleo diet the best I can, and also eat pescitarian (sp?) for other reasons. I'd love to start using the crockpot again but can't think of anything other than soups and beans. Do you or the chatters have any recommendations, or ideas?

I'm going to refer you to our recent story on preparing fish in the slower cooker. Then try your hand at the four recipes we ran with it.

low-Cooker Salmon With Shallot and Green Beans


I'll be hosting dinner for about eight friends soon. I'd like to make something that isn't too complicated and can maybe be (at least partially) made ahead of time. Can you suggest any lighter spring recipes that feed a crowd? Thanks very much.

You can roast or grill things in packets....lots of recipes in our online database.  Makes for easy cleanup and the most aromatic facial for each guest at the table. I'm also fond of this Jacques Pepin recipe for rice-paper-wrapped parcels of fish.  They are quite lovely (aren't they?), can be made in advance and presented either in a spring-y broth or alongside lovely spring/baby vegetables. 

You should try cooking fish in parchment paper. You can use 4 ounce salmon or halibut fillets and flavor it with lemon slices and shallot or garlic and a little bouquet of fresh herbs and thena  drizzle of olive oil or melted butter. You take each fillet and your seasoning and wrap it up in a circle of parchment paper (so that when it is folded over it is like a half moon wirth the fish inside). You pinch the edges closed and then you can pop it in the fridge until you are ready to make dinner. (I will often do this the morning of a dinner party) Then you will put the packets on a sheet pamn and bake them at 375 for 12 minutes and they will be PERFECTLY cooked. I like to also add a fresh salad and a grain salad made with quinoa or couscous.

Shouldn't all the recipes in your cookbook be in your database, so we can spill tomato sauce on the print-out instead of on the book? (If Roasted Potatoes with Asparagus, Cherry Tomatoes and Black Olives is in there, I couldn't find it.)

Using the universal mother theory involving cows and free milk, why would people buy the book if all the recipes were in the database? :)

I've been avoiding gluten for the past few weeks and haven't felt this good in a long time. Can you recommend some recipes for quinoa I have never had it a but am interested in giving it a go. Also any tips on making polenta? I have only had it out and never tried to make it myself. Thanks

I like this Quinoa Salad with fresh vegetables and a poached egg on top for extra protein.

I too miss my grad school days with the old bullet smoker. Those were some feasts. And nothing like cracking that first beer at dawn as you build the fire. 1. Like you, I'm now at an age where I appreciate some ease and luxury. I was thinking of getting a Big Green Egg. But will I really suffer silent derision from those who know? Or should I just accept it and live the convenient life proudly? (After all, I've been grilling with gas for 10 years.) 2. We all know the importance of letting grilled meat or poultry rest before serving. Do you have to let fish rest too? Or is it OK to just serve it up off the grill? (I'm talking a big thick fillet or whole fish, not individual portions.)

I know I just wrote an entire article essentially dissing the Big Green Egg, but I understand its convenience and ease of use. The thing frees you up to focus on other elements of the dinner. There's no shame in that. In a perfect world, if I just wanted to prepare a basic (non-Central Texas-style) barbecue, I would also have a Big Green Egg in my backyard to fire up. I have a good friend who swears by his. He can put a 10-pound brisket in his Egg and still attend his daughter's soccer game. That kind of flexibility is invaluable.


As for resting fish, that's a complicated question. You rest meats because the proteins contract, thereby squeezing out the juices that give the flesh its flavor. With resting, you're trying to relax those muscles and allow the juices to be reabsorbed. With fish fillets, I don't think you need to worry about resting; if you let the fillet rest, because it's so thin, the flesh is just going to go cold without improving its flavor. With cuts like a salmon steak, with are thicker and meatier, I think the fish benefits from a short, five-minute rest.

    Hey, you've been cooking with gas for, what was it, 10 years? You can suffer no more derision. 

     The BGE at least provides a good level of smoke, so there's that. The BGE is a step up. Get it and don't worry about it.

I have two packages of cheese curds leftover from a party and I am looking for recipe ideas. We used the cheese curds to make poutine and I don't want to fry them so any other ideas would be welcome. Could I use them to make mac and cheese? How would I use them for that or what other ideas do you have? Thanks!

I would think they would be delicious even with a really simple hot pasta. Just some spaghetti, red pepper flakes, cheese curds and fresh minced galic? I am sure that the curds would just sort of melt into the pasta. Easy weeknight meal.

Last week someone asked in response to my post, "How do you "quickly cool" a pot of stock plus bones that's faster than just putting it in the refrigerator?" I put ice and water in the sink to come at least halfway up the sides of the pot and stir the stock occasionally. It's much faster, and safer, than putting the pot into the fridge. If you put hot food in the refrigerator, especially since this was almost three quarts of bones/juice, not only does it take a long time to cool/chill, but you risk warming up the food that's already in the fridge.

Sounds like a plan; saves having to wash another big bowl/container.

My husband accidentally threw out the pestle that goes with our molcajete. Any ideas where we can get a replacement one or what we can use in its place? I have a real craving for guacamole now that the weather's warming up!

Looks like you're a mere Web search away from ordering one.... locally, La Cuisine in Alexandria carries a nice-sounding Italian one.  Best Kitchen Supply Co. in NE DC (like Candyland to me) doesn't have spare pestles, per se, but they have muddlers made of all materials (except stone) and several sizes. Perhaps that's a way to go? 

For the chatter last week looking for unsweetened soy yogurt: you might try Wildwood brand. Their plain soy yogurt has only 3 grams of sugar per cup. You can find this at MOMs in College Park. Also, I know you mentioned that you found Whole Soy too sweet, but I wanted to point out that Whole Soy has both Plain yogurt (10 grams of sugar per cup) and Unsweetened Plain (2 grams of sugar per cup). Maybe it's possible you tried plain and not unsweetned plain? signed, another soy yogurt lover : )

I don't have a mortar and pestle. My substitute is a Pyrex one-cup glass measuring cup and the rounded end of a wooden cocktail muddler (the kind that are about an inch thick and 6-7 inches long), which works really great. I would think the muddler would also work in a pinch with an actual stone mortar.

What's a good rule of thumb for marinating meat and seafood for grilling? As in, how long, in the fridge or out, shorter if it contains acid?

     If there is a good rule of thumb, I'm not familiar with it. Depends on the meat and the flavor you want. 

     But here's a rule I just made up. Seafood: short; Meat: long. Seafood will become mushy if it sits too long in a marinade. Generally, I marinade seafood for 20 minutes to an hour.

     As for meats, I typically count on at least four hours and oftentimes overnight. Kabobs, say - I typically use an olive oil and either lemon- or lime-based marinade and keep them in the fridge overnight. 

        I give the four-hour to overnight treatment to all manner of beef, pork, and lamb.

       Chicken will take an overnight marinade, too, but I tend to find that that's overkill. I'll brine it overnight, but marinade for between 4-8 hours.

With the warmer weather, I'm tired of braising my beef short ribs, but when I grill them, they turn out tough and without flavor. Help! What can I do with them to avoid this?

Short ribs are complicated to cook on the grill because they are a meat that, as you note, typically require a long braise to break down connective tissues and turn them to unctuous gelatin. The appropriately obsessive Michael Ruhlman has approached short ribs from three different perspectives, one of which is probably out of reach for most home cooks (the sous-vide method). But the other two approaches are solid.

Not much of a question but I'd love your thoughts. It's amazing how different veggie burgers rank depending on what reviews are read. Because I'm just a little bit obsessed with food reviews, sites like Serious Eats, Epicurious, even WebMD have done veggie burger taste tests. Each one has a different 'winner' with MorningStar Farms Grillers (Serious), Gardenburger Original Veggie Burger (Epicurious), and Amy's Chicago Veggie Burger (WebMD) all coming out on top . For a quick, getting home late from work type of meal I'll go to a veggie burger. I appreciate recognizing all the ingredients so I like Dr. Praeger's too but I guess it just comes down to personal preference, right? Any more thoughts on your taste test like how they were tested, with what accompaniments, how they were cooked? Huh...Guess there were a few questions in there after all!

For the taste test, we cooked them in a toaster oven or in a pan on an induction burner, per package directions. We ate them all warm, tasting them in batches of 3 or 4 at a time.  Subjectivity, sure. But it seemed like the judges -- omnivores and vegetarians among us -- were in agreement about most of the samples. 

Thanks very much for performing this taste-test! I plan to try your top-rated burgers. But also I have to say, I love Boca Burgers and am truly surprised that your tasters rated them so poorly - except that I agree the vegan version is something only a vegan could love. Fyi the "meatiest" tasting of the Boca Burgers is the flame-broiled, which I prefer to beef because it doesn't leave a vaguely slimey after-taste in my mouth the way beef does. Is it possible your tasters wanted the veggie burgers to taste the same as beef instead of expecting the grilled vegetable to taste like vegetables?

I'll speak for myself, anyway -- I wanted my veggie burgers to tasted like vegetables. I love vegetables! Sadly, a lot of these had weird fake protein or other off flavors. I don't eat hamburgers, so I wasn't trying to have these measure up to the real thing.

I would echo Bonnie's comment here. I think the last thing I'm looking for with a veggie burger is a meaty taste and texture. Yet it's clear that some of these manufacturers are trying specifically to mimick those flavors and textures.  But then again, I'm an omnivore. I eat meat, so I don't have this desire to try to replicate it in other ways. I might feel differently if I were a vegetarian or vegan.


I'd be curious from our vegetarian/vegan readers: Are you looking for a meaty flavor/texture out of your veggie burgers? Or is industry gone off the rails?

I don't have a Big Green Egg, but I'm happy with my Weber Smokey Mountain. Did a 16 pound pork shoulder last weekend. Cooked for ten hours and the meat was melt in your mouth tender. Nice and smokey too. I've found the WSM needs attention about every two to two and a half hours -- to either add more fuel (hardwood lump) and/or to top off the water pan. Is an offset smoker that much better than a WSM?

      Great question. The answer has to do with your phrase "that much." 

       I have a WSM, and I like it. But I prefer the temp and smoke control and the greater cooking space that an offset provides. I find that the offset allows my meats to have a better bark (exterior crispness) and better definition (succulent yet still firm, if desired) on an offset. To me, the differences are "that much" enough to use an offset. 

      But the WSM is great. If you are getting good results, stick with it. 

I feel so left out once grilling season starts! Last year we moved to an apartment complex without a grill deck, meaning our only options are my little counter-top Cuisanart (fine for chicken breasts and panini, but not much else) and hiking out to a picnic spot (not weeknight or raw-meat friendly). But I keep seeing all these lovely recipes for lamb shanks, whole chickens, asparagus spears, pork and pineapple...and it seems tragic to have to alter them for the hot oven. What's a renter to do?

Try one of the heavy grill pans for your stove top. It won't have that same smoky essence, but it can do a nice job caramelizing and leave great grill marks that will at least give you the effect of grilling. 

Grill them Korean-style. Marinate overnight and grill for 2-3 minutes a side (if sliced thin, LA-style ribs or sliced off the bone). Meat is juicy and tender.

How about a veggie or "alternative" sausage/hot dog contest? I'm always trying to find a good one but haven't had much luck. I found seafood sausages at whole foods and they didn't have much flavoring and overall just didn't taste good. Honestly I feel like I'm usually stuck just sticking cheese between a hamburger bun and making a grilled cheese most cookouts, unless it's at my house and I can make something a little fancier.

We are still recuperating! But thanks for your suggestion. Several years back I got my family involved in an ethnic sausage taste test....I think we're just getting over that. 

If the recipes aren't on-line, how did readers locate them to nominate them for cookbook inclusion? (Am I not the only one with old copies of the Food Section turning to powder on my bookshelves?)

Our database had a star rating system for a few years, until that was disabled. So in addition to the email, faxed and called-in recommendations from readers (we solicited reader input for a few months online and in print last year) , I mined some previously 5-star rated recipes from our database. 

Anybody have creative ideas for extra buttermilk? Bonus points for items that can be made and frozen!

Well, this Lemon Basil Buttermilk Ice Cream would definitely need to be frozen!

This blueberry-cornmeal cake's a winner. And while I would not freeze these fritters, I'd certainly eat them. Honestly, I might use it to marinate fried chicken. 

Do the gurus at the Food section have any tips on telling the temperature of a burger without cutting into it? I can do steaks, pork, chicken fairly handily, but I never grill burgers for a crowd because I'm afraid of giving someone a too-rare burger when they wanted med-well, and vice-versa. Help! (I'd love some new grilling ideas, too... ;-) )

I feel your pain! The touch method, in my experience, is not always reliable. When I think a burger is medium-rare by touch, it's actually closer to medium. I clearly need more practice on this.


You might try this: For a one-inch thick burger, cook the patty for three minutes on both sides for medium-rare and four minutes for medium. See if those numbers work for you with some practice runs. Then adjust your times as needed to compensate for your grill and fire.

You mean in addition to using a trusty instant-read thermometer? Purchase a good one (we like Thermapen) and you won't overcook anything again. 

I got all excited when I saw the headline online about the grilling cookbooks, but then all I saw was a really short story followed by links to the recipes. I thought you would talk about the books,too. I didn't even see titles. Was this somewhere else and I just didn't see it? I was really hoping for some recommendations on new cook books!

Well, I can certainly recommend the cookbooks we tested from: Barton Seaver's "Where There's Smoke, There's Fire"; "Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction"; Michael Chiarello's "Live Fire"; and Bon Appetit's "The Grilling Book."  Our Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin has a bunch of others he's poring over; look for further recommendations to come! 

Joe, how do you keep your eggplant from taking on a slimy quality when you treat it this way? I have a strong childhood memory of my grandmother schnitzel-fying an eggplant, serving it to me (without warning!), and the crushing, disgusted disappointment of taking a bite of slimy not-schnitzel. I have since then recovered my taste for eggplant, but I still occasionally suffer an attack of the slime.

I sampled Editor Joe's dish, so I can attest to its non-slimy quality. I think in this case the particular coating mix and the relatively short cooking time take care of that issue. 

If I buy a whole pineapple just for myself, what's the best way to cut it and store it so it lasts as long as possible? My guess is I should only peel the bit I'm about to eat and that I should cut "rings" (not from the side) but does it matter if I start at the top or the bottom? Thanks!

How long do you want it to last? When I buy a pineapple, I just peel, core and chop it all at once and store it in the fridge in a bowl with a snap-on lid for an entire work week. By the end, some of the pieces have browned or softened just a bit, but not enough that it's gone bad. Just a  little sweeter.

Do you have any suggestions on what to do with a bunch of garlic scapes that I bought this past Saturday? I've been snipping them into salads, on eggs, and into a stir-fry, but that won't use them up quickly enough. Thank you!

I love a flat bread pizza with olive oil, goat cheese and gralic scapes. I will also treat them like aspargaus and just quickly saute them in butter or olive oil and serve with a lemon wedge.

One thing I often do (and did for my lunch today!) is to use leftover rice from previous meals for fried rice! I especially like chopping up kale, green onions, and other veggies and mixing it in to almost a 1:1 ration with the rice, since it all gets bound together by the egg. My other go-to is to throw together salads in the morning, or to pack up leftovers. All of them are a great way to use what I've got hanging around for a reasonably healthful lunch.

Because the Washington Post cookbook is lovely enough to be a coffee-table volume!

Good one. :)

Thanks for the link to the Ruhlman article. I have a friend with a sous vide cooker, so this sounds like a great time for a lesson! Also, thanks to the chatter for the Korean-style suggestion.

Hi, I have a package each of rice-paper wrappers (the ones you soak in water for a few secs then use for spring rolls) and nori that have sat unrefrigerated for at least a year. Do they go bad? If I get replacements, should I refrigerate them?

As long as the package is sealed I can't see why not. I have certainly used those packages aftera  year and had no problems. (however there should be an expiration date?)

We don't refrigerate either of those. Keeping them dry and airtight seems to be optimal for longterm storage.

Heather, Are you doing a book signing in the DC area tonight?

Yes! Busboys and Poets in Arlington 6-8pm! Hope to see you there!

We have 2 vegetarians in our family. One became one during WWII and the other just recently. Neither one wants the fake meat (their term) burgers. They'd like a patty that sits on a bun and can be dressed like the carnivore's burgers so they don't look so obvious. Neither is a crusading vegetarian (of which there are many).

Inspired by the eggplant recipe, but with no experience frying, I have 2 questions: how do I know if I am "frying gently"? Is it the equivalent of simmering, will I see little bubbles around the eggplant? Also, I have seen recipes for fried chicken that say the oil must get to 350 using a candy thermometer. Not having one, what are the signs? A pinch of flour sizzles, wisps of smoke, little ripples? Thanks for the help.

I answer on behalf of Editor Joe: I'd say sound is a key. This is not furious sizzling. As the recipe says, the oil should be looks a little thinner and looser once (ripples, sure! smoke, nah)  it gets close to the right heat.  When you put in the eggplant, you'll want to see the oil bubbling at the edges and it should sound like frying that is not going too furiously. You want it hot enough to keep the oil from soaking into the eggplant.

I wanted to say thank you to M. Carrie Allan for her piece on drinking alone. I can be a broken record on this topic, but I feel it's worth reiterating in case it reaches someone who has not considered this: Women are not a goal, a prize, an achievement, or publicly curated. The next time you consider approaching a woman in a public space, try to remember that she is a human being leading an autonomous life, and approach with the full knowledge that 1) she may already be perfectly happy without whatever you think you can offer and 2) she is keenly aware that you, as a stranger, pose a risk.

M. Carrie Allan responds:


Thanks so much for the comment. I couldn't agree more, and think we need to build our awareness of this issue, but I also don't want a few bad apples out there to spoil the chances of people (of any gender) starting up great conversations in bars. I know this can be tricky territory for men as well as women, because perfectly nice guys can be taken for predators when they may be just being friendly ... And for the record, most of my drinking buddies these days are of the Dude persuasion, but they're all princes among men. And also I've checked their pockets for chloroform.

I liked that WaPo had mention of how cicadas taste, and I really am willing to try them - but I'm not willing to cook them myself. I know you're not the restaurant people, but any idea who in this area is serving them up this next month or so?

One thing I'm seeing for sure: the Dairy Godmother in Alexandria will be serving Cicada Crunch custard on May 31.

And I await a cookbook from a local author; am wondering where he got his mass of bugs for recipe testing?

I loved the article on Texas BBQ, its nice to see someone slowing down for once to make something so simple perfect. However, regional difference aside, I've noticed its extrememly difficult to find more west coast favored cuts of meat i.e. Tri-tip. Do you have any good sources or recipes?

      Wagshal's Market in the District carries tri-tip. I haven't looked elsewhere for it, but I would imagine any halfway decent butcher also carries it. 

       As for a recipe, I have been meaning to write a piece on tri-tip for some time, now. Until I do, try Bobby Flay's.

Pesto! Dorie Greenspan has a great recipe on her website.

I love this capellini with salmon and vodka dill sauce. I've made the sauce ahead of time and baked the salmon, then thrown it all together when needed. It's also great with asparagus tips and/or peas thrown in. 

My go-to weekday breakfast is peanut butter and toast, with something on top -- usually a combination between agave syrup, honey, vanilla sugar and pumpkin seeds. It all feels very fall and wintery, though. Any suggestions of good, substantial toppings more appropriate for the weather?

You can stick with the peanut butter or try almond butter and then pile on all of the beautiful summer fruit! or try a lovely slice opf cheese with fresh peaches, apricot, nectarine or plum.

I will be cooking dinner for 5 adults and am trying to come up with something everyone likes. One is a vegetarian who will also eat fish but no meats at all. I thought, "oooh, eggplant rolatini!" but then found out that 2 don't eat eggplant. My next thought, a nice fish dinner (maybe a crab-stuffed fillet of some sort) was met with 2 who don't eat fish. Other than cooking at least 2 or 3 entrees, which seems silly for only 5 people, do you have any ideas? Another caveat: I will be doing this cooking in someone else's kitchen as I will be in MD, and I live in FL. Thanks for any assistance you can offer!

Go with a big vegetarian pasta. (eggplant is just one of those foods that a lot of people don't like) but there are so many other wonderful versions, especially with all of the fresh produce in the summer.

You could try one with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil vinaigrette, maybe one with beets, fresh arugula and goat cheese, or even a take on an unusual pesto dish like this pea pesto.

Mollie Katzen published a chilaquiles casserole recipe in a women's magazine years ago that I've made often over the years.

Sautes are easy for this, as long as you cook the veggies right. You can make them with different veggies and meats each week, just prep all on Sunday and cook the night before you want to bring them. I'll also sometimes make cauliflower rice with a bunch of veggies and it stays good for a few lunches. Or cook things for more interesting salads, like smoke a salmon, cook some wild rice, or grill a tuna steak.

Having the same issues, I've been taking a medium size container and stuffing as much spinach as I can into it. Then, I add a little leftover meat from the night before, maybe a little cheese, raisins or craisins, sauted mushrooms or nuts if I have them. Prefering a hot lunch, I zap the contents at lunch time, and stir it up. She spinach wilts, the juices from the warmed up meat add flavor, the cheese gets melty and it ends up being quite tasty yet different daily because the meats change. Today it was spinach, a turkey meatball and tomato sauce. Really yummy!

Just wanted to share that I made your recent babyback ribs (the only ribs you need to know recipe) and they were fabulous. I was skeptical about boiling them, but it worked great. They weren't tough and the sauce was delicious. My husband really liked them too.

Excellent. We heard from several happy readers. 

As a long-time ovo-lacto vegetarian I've tried to like veggie burgers, but haven't found one that AS A PATTY satisfied my recollection of what a beef hamburger should taste like. However, I bake whatever brand I'm using in the toaster oven, then crumble them into a meatless Bolognese sauce, which makes the artificialness of them undetectable. As an added benefit, the sauce isn't nearly as greasy as it would be with actual meat.

Ah, one of the vegetarians in our group mentioned doing the same thing -- going the crumble route. But since it was grilling time, we thought we'd investigate alternatives that omnivore hosts tend to buy to accommodate all their backyard/grill guests. 

What makes this recipe 23g fat per serving? Is haddock really fattening? I don't think 2tbsp of oil for cooking would be responsible. Looks amazing, though. Thanks!

Yeah, we had some wrong numbers in there for the nutritional information of the soy sauce, which threw everything off. I'll update the numbers in the database, but with the correction, the fat is now down to 4 g.

whew! And you're in the running for a chat prize today. It's a big help for us to catch the occasional miscues. 

I am finally going to do Jim's prime rib on the grill this weekend. What to drink with it? The 2000 St. Emilion Grand Cru in the cellar needs to be consumed soon, but I was thinking maybe a rustic Corbieres. Or should I look to Argentina?

Dave says, "Yes! To all three. Any or all of them should work."

I am not an eggplant fan. The only time I eat it is in the summer when my mom makes eggplant parm with the vegetables from her garden. She pounds it with a meat tenderizer before battering and it's never slimy.

Didn't the Post Food Section have an article on why it isn't necessary to marinate meats for a long time. I think the author said it doesn't accomplish anything.

I think you're recalling an article by our former Gastronomer Andreas Viestad from a few years ago.

I didn't know that grilling season had an end. I guess that explains why I have trouble getting lump charcoal in January.

Indeed. Those bags of lump charcoal take up valuable real estate at your local hardware/grocery store!

I have grilled and grill all year. However, I have never made the leap to smoking. I have plenty of seasoned oak (for our heat in winter). What is the hardest aspect about moving to smoking that a life long griller has to over come?


       A smoker must be patient. Smoking takes a long time. And it's best to keep peeking to a minimum. (Anytime you open the smoker lid, you let heat escape.)

       Another aspect is learning your fire and your wood. I absolutely love oak. I think it produces a lovely, mild smoke. I also like meats that are deeply penetrated by smoke. That said, you can oversmoke foods, particularly delicate ones. So, learning when to use chips versus chunks versus split logs is something you'll need to do. 

      But experiementation is part of the fun. Go easy at first, then, if you didn't like the amount of smoke your food took on, add more next time. 

       Then, we get into various wood flavors. That comes later.

That sounds like the perfect dish -- delicious AND easy! What kind of herbs do you use for the little bouquet? Thyme, dill, rosemary or basil all spring to mind.

oh, and melted butter with garlic, lemon and rosemary would also be very delicious.

I'd love to smoke some sausages on the you have a good source for some Texas-style sausages in the area or from the net?

       You can get the classic Meyer's Elgin sausage in all its flavors (original, garlic, hot, jalapeno and cheese, etc.) at the barbecue joint's Web site.

As a vegetarian, I do NOT want my food to taste like meat. If I wanted to eat something that tastes like meat, I would eat meat. I generally don't order veggie burgers unless I already know they are more veggie than burger. I have had very good garbanzo burgers, kidney bean patties, and the like, but I don't want something that is actually trying to replicate a hamburger.


Melissa Clark has a good looking recipe for a white bean/garlic scape dip. Put scapes and lemon juice and s & p in a food processor, till finely chopped. then add white beans, and rough chop. With processor running add olive oil. Sounds delish. Similarly, you can also make a pesto with them.

It does indeed. She's topnotch, that Melissa Clark. 

You guys have me intrigued. I just bought a 22 inch kettle grill after getting great results with a converted smoke box grill for years. I been pretty decent regulating heat and turning out nicely smoked chicken, ribs and fish without burning them up. Now that I'm back to a big grill, my dreams of brisket, pork shoulders and such have been dashed a bit by your articles. Am I not going to be able to turn out well smoked and TENDER meats on this grill due to the proximity of heat? It wasn't much of a problem with that little barrel grill as long as I didn't add too many coals.

      You'll do fine. Yes, your meat will be closer to the fire. But if you get the Smokenator, you will be able to control the fire and the smoke pretty well.

        No need for buyer's remorse.

You have no idea how this makes me even happier than before to be a vegetarian!

Cheap crunchy protein, man. It's all the rage. 

After many, many years of apartment living, my husband and I finally have a house with a yard. Until gas grills go on sale, we've been grilling with a cheap-o charcoal grill and LOVE IT! I never knew that bbq chicken could taste so delicious! Anyways, I'm wondering what your favorite item to cook on a charcoal grill is and if you have any specific tips or suggestions. I've been thinking of fish, but I'm not sure what kind could stand the heat. Thank you!

    My favorites are brisket, ribs, sausage, and pork shoulder. But I am talking about smoking. I think you're talking about grilling.

      You can definitely cook fish over charcoal. Here is a story I wrote with seafood chef Barton Seaver's help about grilling fish:

I need a recipe for boozy popsicles. I bought a mold to bring to the beach this weekend for some fun experimenting, but haven't found a recipe that I love. I found an easy one that is basically 1.5 lb pureed fruit, 1 cup simple syrup and 1 cup of wine, but that means 1 cup of wine spread out between 10 popsicles. I know you have to watch how much booze you put it on they won't freeze properly, but I'd like something a little more boozy than that.

Loved these from Tiffany MacIsaac. And they work. If you want a strong liquor flavor, maybe  a granita's the way to go?

skin side down, up or both?

Grill them skinless; cut sides down first. SUCH a good idea.

NBC4 had a story about the new names for meat cuts. Please do a story on the beef and pork. The pork retail site seems to indicate that this is being done to help the producers sell more not to help the consumer; the names are silly--New York chop, porterhouse pork?

Yes, if you haven't seen it, the pork industry has decided to borrow terms from the beef industry to drive up sales. It's kind of ironic, isn' it? A couple of decadeds ago, pork wanted to align itself with chicken ("The Other White Meat") and now wants to be more like beef. Pork clearly has an identity crisis.

One - (way out of the ordinary) I'm planning to make the pig's head torchon from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook. It calls for half the head, but the vendor says it will be coming in one piece. Do you think my clever is up to the task of dividing it, or should I double the recipe and do it whole? Two - I wrote in about recycling pans last week; and I discovered that our local Y thrift store will take them for recycling. Don't know if all of them will but it's worth a try!

I'm not familiar with the Chang's recipe and whether or not you need the entire half-head or just the meat from it. I have some experience butchering the meat off a pig's head. This basic primer might help you.

I'm eating some roasted carrots, yams, new + blue potatoes on a spinach salad for lunch today. I'm a vegetarian (well, pescetarian) too, so I usually add either edamame, shrimp, or hard-boiled eggs for protein to keep me full. I'm actually down about 15 lbs since January and I think most of it has been from bringing myself a lunch that is veg-centric and light, but not so light I'm at the vending machine or snarfing everything in the kitchen when I get home. PS - missed last week's chat. The beet green & artichoke dip sounds amazing and I'm definitely trying it! I actually made beet green pesto, which was great.

I love using my crockpot in the summer! It doesn't heat up the kitchen the way my oven (and even my cookpot) does. Admittedly I move away from using it for heavy stews and roasts. But it's great for lighter chicken recipes and don't forget baked beans.

What is it that makes people want to get more involved in their food? Over the last year or so, I don't know what happened, but I've bought cheese-making supplies for my own mozzarella, I pickle everything in sight, and am downright dangerous with my meat grinder and sausage stuffer attachment. Is it the availability materials and ingredients? Is it the adventure of making the same thing you can buy in the store but better? Is this a trend or the future of things to come? Interested in the food gang's thoughts.

I have my own theory on this. It's not original, but I think cooking puts us back in touch with the natural world. With produce and fire and water. We spend so much time these days in front of a computer that we almost pine for a real experience with nature. Cooking allows us to do that -- within the artificial confines of our kitchen, of course. Maybe with an iPad recipe on the counter, too!

I personally like having access to the wider range of recipes online, plus these chats, artlces, etc, but still love have a hard cover book to pull out on a Sunday when I'm figuring out dinner, or to bookmark so I always remember a certain recipe.

I collect and read ccokbooks like they were art books or favorite novels. They usually are not just recipes, bnut a collection of stories and beautiful photographs. Nothing beats the real thing for me.

YAY and hooray for people like you. 

Now that the movers have finally released our grill from storage (woohoo), we can get into a summer cycle of stuff on the grill. For some reason, I've been thinking about kabobs of all types (and not just meat). Do you have some easy suggestions for fancy-looking, but quick kabob options? I was thinking about doing shrimp ones and ??? for a Memorial Day bbq.

I like to intersperse the protein with fruit for a summery kind of kebab. Like shrimp and pineapple or apricots might go really nicely. Pork is great with plums and nectarines and chunks of salmon and peach are great complements.

How much do you actually have? I keep some in the fridge for long periods of time to use in pancakes, cake, quick breads, etc.

Depending on the flavors that you want to do, you could do any of the following:

-classic parsley, thyme, lemon and garlic

-cilntro, lime juice and some fresh thinly sliced jalapeno and red onion

-a drizzle of soy and sesame oil with fresh cilantro


You can also do things like add fresh corn and cherry tomatoes to the packet, or some stalks of fresh asparagus for the fish to sit on while it cooks.


I'm not quite a vegetarian but I only eat meat a few times a year, and even then it's typically fish or chicken. If I crave meat, a fake meat burger like Boca Vegan usually hits the spot. I should admit that I hated them the first time I tried them, but they grew on me (or maybe they're just a convenient, low calorie vehicle for grainy mustard). But on a daily basis I prefer those that taste like vegetables (Morningstar Spicy Black Bean are a favorite; I'll have to look for the mushroom!). I never tried the others on your list so thanks for the recommendations. By the way, your taste-test missed the best veggie burger out there: Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burgers! I rarely buy these because they are potato-based, and I want protein in a veggie burger instead of more carbohydrates, of which I already eat too much. Also, I'd probably eat all four in one sitting. They are that good.

Yes! My husband has been teasing me now whenever we go to the grocery store about putting veggie burgers in our cart. He did the same thing at Trader Joe's this weekend with those Masala Burgers -- I had totally forgotten about them and I almost actually bought a box. I love them too. I like putting some of TJ's addictive mango chutney on them.

I want my veggie burger to taste like a beef burger. I don't eat red meat at all, for health, environmental, and ethical reasons (in that order). I didn't give it up because I didn't like the taste. Now, mock steak - no thank you. The burgers work as mock meat because the texture of beef burgers is already ground. If you want the texture of beef, why grind it up?

My neighborhood, Glover Park, is facing the loss of its local home-made ice-cream and frozen yogurt shop, Max's Best Ice Cream, after 20 years (the building's new owners decided not to renew his lease). Before Max, another home-made ice-cream shop called Bob's was in the same place on Wisconsin Ave so even the oldest-timers are reminiscing about the exotic flavors we've eaten over the years. I'm wondering if you might write an article about Max and in the process, get some of his recipes to share with us?

We're certainly in the market for recipes. We'll ask him! 

Sad about Max's. My kids are in the very first framed collage of pictures on the wall. Love his cinnamon ice cream. I've been told that Rockland's already has plans to expand into that space, but that also that maybe Max's could move across the street....didn't Bob's move to Bethesda? 

Argh! How dare you describe and show me a beautiful beautiful eggplant steak when I'm eating my blah carry out sandwich. You need a warning!

I speak for all of us. We are not intentionally evil. 

Give me a burger that tastes like beans and vegetables and isn't super dry, and I'll be happy. - From a vegetarian.

I have been coveting an ice cream maker for a while now and am considering buying one for myself this summer--except that I'm overwhelmed by the kinds of machines out there and what their costs/benefits are! What do the Rangers use and what can they recommend, barring $1k super-machines?

I have the cuisinart version ($40) and have been using it happily for years! If this is just for home use (like a a batch a week or something) I would totally recommend it.

I'm in SF, so posting early. A friend gave us a package of Chinese pickled garlic. I have no idea what to do with it, and have been frustrated with internet searches which instead tell me how to pickle things. Any suggestions? Tx!

Typically I have just seen it served as a condiment or like a little snack on its own- If you want to use it in a dish, try a stir-fry that you are looking to amp up with that spicy pungent flavor.

I will be making a pork dish in the oven 5 hours at 250 degrees, how long will I have to cook the potatoes for so both are done at the same time? thanks for your help

Try parboiling the potatoes and then put them in the oven on a sheet pan with olive oil and let them finish cooking during the last 30 minutes or so.

I kinda just make them myself. just about any of them that I have eaten taste 'processed' and they pretty much are. just take whatever is in the fridge (veggie wise - carrots/broccoli/spinach/onion, whatever) and put it in the food processor along with any nuts or beans you want. Add to some rice or quinoa. Add some eggs. Add some bread crumbs (I do matzo meal). Mix. Set in fridge for an hour or so. Then broil on each side about 7 minutes. YUMMY. much better than anything you buy in the freezer.

I like Boca burgers and veggie burgers that taste like meat. I am a vegetarian because I don't like the idea of an animal dying so I can have dinner. So, I like the taste of meat, I just don't like the idea of eating it. Therefore, I want my veggie burger to be like a "real" burger.

There was a recipe for roasted chicken that is brined in buttermilk and seasoning, I think from Nigella Lawson. Pretty good, and uses up a lot of buttermilk.

I make a big batch of buttermilk pancake mix and keep it in the fridge for the week, or you can bake buttermilk blueberry muffins and freeze them. Then I talk them out and warm them up for breakfast as needed.

Ha! I think they'd be a little chewy.

When I first read this, I thought: Pounding eggplant (or anything else, for that matter) with a meat tenderizer IS battering. Then I "got" it!

I was a little thrown by Becky's comment that she wants her veggie burgers to taste like veggies, simply because there are so many better things to do with veggies than make a patty out of them! I'm mostly-vegetarian and I want my veggie burger to be a stand in for a real burger...and I want it to be something I can't really make at home. If I've got fresh veg around, I'd much rather use them as vegetables, not process them into a stand-in for something else.

It's a little bit of apples and oranges, no? I wasn't suggesting you process your fresh vegetables into a veggie patty. But for the purposes of this taste test -- that is, if you're going to buy something pre-made -- I wasn't keen on anything pretending to taste like meat. If something tastes like vegetables, at least you know, or hope, that it's real.

Boyfriend put a bunch of fresh garlic and rosemary in olive oil last weekend. Botulism, right? Can I let it go?

When I make flavored oils, I keep them in the refrigerator and am sure to toss them after about 10 days (but I am a freak about food safety) If it has not been refrigerated than I would say yes, please toss it.

Bonnie, I have a booklet of cicada recipes that I downloaded. Happy to send it or the link (if I find that) to you.

Sure, what the heck.

So I've been barbecuing (read: smoking, not simply cooking meat on the grill) for around a decade now... I'm far from being an expert, but think I do a pretty good job on most of what comes out. But all of this time I've been using a cheap vertical charcoal smoker, and thinking one of these father's days my wife might get me one of those COS (thanks for the terminology) I always see at Home Depot. Now I find out, they're not that great? Granted you don't seem to have purchased the new smoker yet, but what direction do you think you're going to go? What direction would you recommend to someone who would definitely like to trade up soon? Will there be a series in the paper about your search, and how you plan to attack it?

        Great minds think alike: I had thought about a series. But travel is involved and travel is money and money is short. My quest is probably going to be more personal than professional.

       As for the COS, I've used them for years and had great food come out of them. I think it is a good way to get into smoking without spending a lot of money. 

       As for my direction, I'm likely to get a high-end offset. I'm looking at one later today, in fact. 


In addition to naming pork cuts so they correspond to the same cuts in beef, the beef group came up with new names based upon some industry funded research into how to make some of teh less utlilized, but tender cuts of beef into steaks rather than grinding them into hamburger.

As a vegetarian, I do turn to veggie burgers, but processed soy foods don't always agree with me. I actually prefer the Boca vegan burger because of it's firmer interior. However, I'd much prefer a grilled and/or barbecued portobello cap as my "burger." I like the texture and the flavor better.

I would like to pickle beets. I checked my departed mother's recipe file and sure enough there is a pickled beet recipe. The problem? It just lists the ingredients, but not what to do with them. Can you give me an idea of the process? Thanks.

Here is a tutorial from Portland Farmers Market, which I like because it is more about the process and less about the recipe (which you already have).

Hey there. I have tried smoking sausages in the past with mixed results but you have inspired me to try again. What are the best kind? I usually love smoking the big long thick sausages, but is it better to use individual links? I do know to avoid the kind that have cheese - I smoked one of those one time and you are guaranteed to have liquid gushing out at the most inopportune time. Thanks!

     I, too, like the thick, long links. Smoke low and slow, indirect, for about an hour. 

I got the bug for refrigerator pickles. I looked online and found a huge variety in recipes, particularly the vinegar, water, salt ratios. On water and vinegar, I saw everything from 1:2, 1:1 and 2:1. Any good recipe advice on a nice, crunchy, crisp refrigerator dill pickle?

Sheila Fain and Sarah Gordon, the savvy women behind Gordy's Pickle Jar, suggest using seven parts water with seven parts white vinegar (equal parts water and vinegar, in other words), then using one part salt. That should give you a good crisp refrigerator dill.

How time flies when you're fielding veggie burger commentary! Thanks to Jim and Heather for joining us today, and to you, dear readers, who make our Wednesdays more thrilling. 


Prizes: The chatter who found the hitch in our nutritional analysis for rice-paper-wrapped haddock does, indeed, get a signed copy of Heather's new cookbook. And the chatter who first posed a Big Green Egg question to Tim and Jim earns "The Grilling Book." Send your email info to and she'll fire those out to you. Until next week, happy holiday cooking and eating! 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is deputy editor of the Food section; joining us today are staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Guest: Heather Christo, author of "Heather Christo's Generous Table: Easy & Elegant Recipes Through the Seasons," source of this week's Dinner in 30 Minutes.
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