The Washington Post

Free Range on Food: Canning, cheese caves and more

May 28, 2014

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you are enjoying this week's coverage: Tim's look at the man who's really running Noma in Copenhagen; Becky's exploration of the Wegmans cheese cave operation; Cathy "Mrs. Wheel-" Barrow's second Canning Class lesson on spring onions; and more.

Cathy can't join us for chatting today, but we regulars are in the house to take any and all questions, and hopefully give you some good tips. As always, we'll have a giveaway cookbook to stoke your creativity. Make the q's good -- try to stump us!

Let's get going.

Love the pickled onions, and would love to see in addition to the canning perhaps some quick pickles that follow the bounty that will be coming our way? Pretty please? Also, Deborah Madison was such a major contributor to the strategy I bring to my kitchen now. Putting such emphasis on condiments in VCFE really made me understand how to kick my food close to restaurant quality. And her taking the controversial position in an earlier cookbook that marinading tofu was not going to flavor it all the way through, and that instead you wanted to sear, not only saved me from feeling like an abject failure over my ineffectual experiments but also but me on the One True Path(tm) to tofu cookery, namely Tofu Xpress pressing, dry frying, brief dunk in marinade and a sear. You changed my life!!!

We'll pass that plea for quick pickles along to our Canning Class teacher! And glad you're a Madison fan; me, too!

In the chat leftovers, Jane writes "Many sources recommend unpasteurized eggs for pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems." Should this have said "pasteurized"? If not, why are unpasteurized eggs recommended?

Right you are. I've corrected Jane's piece. Thanks!

When measuring mashed bananas for banana bread should I be using the liquid measuring cup or dry? I'm a novice baker and would appreciate an answer. THANKS!

What a thoughtful question. Gold star for you! You could probably get away with either, but since mashed bananas are still kind of solid and lumpy, I'd lean toward a dry measuring cup in which you can easily level off the mashed bananas to get the most accurate amount.

Is green garlic available at the farmers markets in the DC area? I saw a recipe for a soup featuring it that I wanted to try, but forays into the Dupont and White House farmers markets over the last few weeks have left me empty handed. Did I miss the season, or has it not started yet? Or should I be looking for it under a different name? Thanks!

Keep looking. I bought some at the H Street Farmers Market on Saturday, so it should be showing up all around soon enough. Now's definitely the season. I do usually see it labeled green garlic, but sometimes farmers might be calling it young garlic or spring garlic. (It's basically the plant before it has developed a full bulb -- or before that bulb has formed the papery skins. My favorite stage, and you see many stages of it, is late, when the bulb/head has developed but you can slice through the whole head and eat the whole thing.)

Here's another recipe to tempt you to scout it out: Ricotta Frittata With Spring Vegetables.

I have a recipe from the 80's for a tarragon vinaigrette that calls for corn oil. Would canola or grapeseed oil be a suitable updated replacement?

Either one of those would work. You might also try olive oil, which tends to be my go-to fat for vinaigrettes.

Sorry for the radio silence, folks -- we were having technical problems. Hopefully we're back and fixed, but time will tell!

Hi. I know that Maya Angelou, the wonderful writer who died today, authored at least two cookbooks. Might you have at least one of her recipes to share with us, and perhaps the memory with which she accompanied it? Thanks so much.

Very sad about Maya, isn't it? She was one of a kind.

As for a recipe, yes, we do. The Post published this Q&A with her a few years ago about one of her cookbooks, and it includes a recipe for Pears in Port Wine. Check it out.

I'm always late for work on Wednesdays because I get lost in the food section. Even so, it seems to me like the photographs have gotten a lot bigger lately. Couldn't you make them a little smaller and add another recipe or article?

You must be thinking about the Daniel Giusti/Noma photo on the front today and the cover shot last week, that amazing illustration that featured the game hen with those wisps of color around it, for the "Why We Love Smoke" essay. And perhaps the giant egg several weeks ago for our egg-themed issue.

The thing is, we are always striving for a dynamic design, and sometimes the photo/illustration -- and the topic -- calls for a bolder, bigger presentation. But sometimes it doesn't, as was the case with the Pennsylvania Dutch cover a couple of weeks ago.

But we're still giving you the same number of articles and recipes from week to week -- it's not that we're holding out and leaving things out because of the photos. Usually, when the cover is taken up by just one story, it means that another one or two stories simply goes inside the section -- they're not left out completely. That was the case with Becky's Wegmans cheese cave piece this week, Tim's piece on robata grilling last week and Emily Horton's piece on hard-cooked eggs a few weeks ago, for instance.

It's a balance, of course: We want the section to look good and for there to be lots of content in it! (This week, for instance, you might notice that on the Recipes page on the back, there weren't any super-big photos, but lots of recipes. But I still think it looks good.)

Does that clarify?

What are they? What do they taste like? Are they sort of like lentils? This week's recipe (mung beans and rice with spicy tomatoes) looks good, and I've seen mung beans in a few recipes in a new cookbook of mine, but I've stayed away from them thus far because they're so unfamiliar to me.

Not to be mistaken for mung bean sprouts -- the long shoots of germinated mung beans, which add crunch to a bowl of pho -- mung beans come in a variety of colors, from green to black. They're somewhat sweet and easy to cook. They're native to the Subcontinent and are used in all sorts of dishes in Southeast Asia. Yes, they're kind of like lentils. Give 'em a try.

Hi! The risotto recipes a couple weeks ago reminded me how much I love it, but most of the recipes I see involve quite a bit of cheese and I'm trying to cook healthier meals these days. I know there are some risotto recipes out there that already use less cheese, but how would I go about adapting one of the ones that does use plenty of cheese? Do I need to substitute something else to get the consistency right, or can I just cut back on that ingredient?

You can skip it entirely; there are recipes out there that don't use cheese at all. I recently made a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe that first sauteed leeks till they were creamy and soft, then the rice and wine and stock went in, then it was finished off with bits of sauteed chestnuts. Really good. Take a look at this strawberry risotto, too, which calls for cream. 

I am attending a family reunion in another state. One of the highlights is a fish fry put on by one branch of the family on saturday night. They supply the venue and the fish & hushpuppies and the rest of the extended families provide the sides and desserts. If I mix up cookie dough on Sunday afternoon to bake Thursday evening do I need to freeze the preshaped dough or is refrigerated in an air tight container enough?

Refrigerated is fine.

When I broke my arm back in February, my parents sent me a care package with a bunch of dried fruit: figs, mangoes, cherries. I still have quite a bit of each left and sitting in my fridge. Any fun (and healthy is a plus) ways of cooking with them?

Well, you could chop them up and work them into lean chicken or turkey meatballs -- they'd provide sweetness and moisture.  You could make these granola wedges....

They're tailor-made for a "studded" couscous. And I happen to lovelovelove this hot, curried approach from Friend of Food Nathalie Dupree, a k a Goddess of Southern Cooking.


Hi Free Rangers! I want to make this Pecan-Berry Coffee Cake today but my family is allergic to pecans. I know there's an oatmeal kind of topping I could use but I can't remember it. Can you help please? Thanks!

Yeah, I think you could use the topping in this crumble recipe. Or this one.

Hi Rangers! I have been making roasted cauliflower all winter and wanted to mix things up, so made a great cauliflower salad from Michael Symon's Carnivore (go figure). The flavor was fantastic and was a great way to brighten up the vegetable until I get more reliable spring produce (upper Midwest). However, the cauliflower got cold extremely fast - so fast that I couldn't finish my serving with re-heating. Is this normal for cauliflower? The dressing I tossed it in was a room temperature vinaigrette with raw shallots and garlic.

I don't think it's cauliflower-specific, really, but anytime you roast something that's broken up into small pieces and then toss it with a room-temperature dressing, it's going to cool. (In fact, the recipe I'm seeing for this online CALLS for you to let the cauliflower cool before tossing with the dressing.) It sounds perfectly fine to me to eat this at room temperature, no? Why does it need to be hot?

Bumper crop at the farmer's market - could you share your top suggestions on what to do with them? (Already used some with pasta and a cream sauce)

My top three. Chatters, how about you?

1. Side dish: Blanch till bright green, shock in ice water, puree with lots of mint.

2. Dip/spread: Blanch till bright green, shock in ice water, puree with a generous handful of grated Parm and a tablespoon of roasted garlic.

3. Soup: Blanch till bright green, shock in cold water, puree with veg broth and fresh tarragon, push through a fine-mesh strainer, season with S&P, serve cold or warm with creme fraiche stirred in. 

I make a minty pea/yogurt soup that's super easy -- I take Bonnie's #3 step, but puree with just yogurt, mint, chives, a little ice and a little salt. I hold out some of the peas and mash them with feta and smea them on little toasts to eat with the soup. Pretty killer.

Any good dim sum recommendations in the DC area? Preferably metro accessible

Since you've asked for *good* dim sum, I'll steer you far away from the prefab stuff at Ping Pong.


I'm still fond of the weekend dim sum carts at Hollywood East in Wheaton (which is Metro accessible, with a short walk to the Westfield Mall). I also like Wong Gee, also in Wheaton, which caters more to the Chinese community than Hollywood East (which aims at a broader audience).


Many like the dim sum at Oriental East in Silver Spring, but I've always found it lacking compared to the Wheaton outlets. But I'll include it here, in case you might enjoy it more than I.


Finally, I wouldn't overlook Bob's Shanghai 66 in Rockville, which doesn't offer dim sum, per se, but "Taiwanese tapas." The items often look and taste much like dim sum.

What is your favorite food to have delivered? Is there any dish that you can't have delivered, that you wish you could?

Hm, I don't really have food delivered other than the occasional pizza. What would I like to have delivered? Bagels and pastries on weekend mornings.

I wanted to second the kudos on the pickle recipe, and also send in a request. One of my to-do's this summer is to find a great recipe for a spicy/sweet cucumber pickle that can be stored on the shelf (vs. short-term refrigeration). If you have any suggestions, I'd love to see them.

Count me as a fan, too. We'll pass along your request to MrsWheelbarrow (aka Cathy Barrow).

Where in DC, MD or VA I can get a good tasting sparkling wine at a good price (around $12-$15)? This is for the wedding toast of a small event (50 people). It will be bonus if I can get one of those large bottles. Any recommendations are welcome!

Last week, Dave suggested "a Spanish Cava like Segura Viudas or Jaume Serra Cristalino, or perhaps something like Domaine Ste Michelle in Washington State." He says large bottles in your price range will be hard to find.

Morning! I received a few bulbs (?) of kohlrabi from Green Grocer last week and they are still sitting in my fridge. I've never cooked with them before: should I go raw with a slaw or roast them? Thanks!

Love it raw -- as in this Fennel and Kohlrabi Salad -- but we have soup and pasta recipes too. Check 'em out! 


Dried fruits are wonderful in curry. I usually put raisins in my makeshift curries but have added or substituted dates, apricots, etc. too

What is the most preferable, simplest way to cook a hamburger, stove or oven?

Boo, no choice of a grill? Then I'd go with the stove, in a grill pan or cast-iron skillet. Try not to flip it till you get a good sear on the bottom. 

Enjoy this "bacon propaganda" poster.  I came across it while looking online for military propaganda posters! There's also this one for cheese, but even though it fits more easily into today's discussion, I don't like it as much.

Fun! I prefer the coffee one, though.

"Writing and cookery are just two different means of communication. Indeed, I feel cooking is a natural extension to my autobiography. In fiction, the story can be moulded to the author's needs but in autobiography you have to tell the truth. The reader has to believe what the writer is saying or else the book has failed. The same applies to cooking; if there is no integrity to the recipes, no one will trust them." - Maya Angelou, The Guardian

Sweet. Thanks!

I remember from past chats that the liquid beans are cooked in has been described as something to the effect of "pure gold" or "manna from heaven." But, what to do with it? I did use it in the red beans and cauliflower rice as directed by the recipe, but, for example, today I made chick-peas. I'm going to roast them, so I don't need any liquid for tonight's recipe. I can save it, but for what? Anytime broth is called for? Also, *all* kinds of beans?

Yes, it's a great sub for veggie broth -- thicker, usually, so particularly helpful when you want something with a little body or silkiness, like a pureed vegetable soup. And yes, all kinds of beans produce a lovely liquid.

I have scads of green onion tops -- more than could ever be used in salads -- ready to harvest, from long-ago-planted perennial Egyptian onions. Would they be OK chopped up along with regular cooking onions in French Onion Soup? What about as a topping for focaccia, along with olive oil?

Yes, yes, and here's another idea: scallion pesto!

I just used a bunch last night in pearl couscous with roasted asparagus and a little feta. Maybe a thing for one of those cooler days (like tomorrow), but I have Joe's Paneer and Pea Curry on my "To Cook" list!

Nice! Thanks.

Try World Market - they have a decent selection of sparking wines at different price points.

Caving has never sounded appealing to me...until now. I loved Becky's piece on the Wegman cave and truly had no idea they did such a thing. So, in that vein, talk to me about fun summer things to do with cheeses (w/o carbs). Grilled eggplant and cheese sandwiches?

Glad you like the piece. Cheese with no carbs? Well, you can just eat wedges of it, as is my habit. Or maybe Grilled Provolone With Blood Orange Reduction.

Grilled Provolone With Blood Orange Reduction

Maybe a nice hunk of halloumi on the grill?

Feta Salsa?

 feta salsa

And, hey, here's a summer cheese story we ran by Domenica Marchetti a few years ago.


Is there a good Italian bakery in DC that makes cassata cakes?

Struck out locally, sort of.  All signs point to Vaccaro's in Baltimore's Little Italy (410-685-4905) 

But you can contact chef Anthony via the Italian Store in Arlington (703-528-6266). He's Sicilian and could make you the real thing, he says. . . 

I'm not really into following recipes, so decided to concoct my own recipe for refrigerator pickled green beans. I basically used white wine vinegar simmered with a bit of sugar and salt and also added mustard seeds, red pepper flakes and fresh garlic. The beans came out SUPER vinegary. Should I use a mixture of vinegar and water next time or simply use a milder flavored vinegar? Thanks!

Most recipes I see for refrigerator green bean pickles indeed cut the vinegar with something like water (but I've also seen wine). See this recipe for guidance.

I have seen green garlic at bothe Columbia Heights and Dupont farm markets. Now if the scapes would only arrive!

The scapes will be next! And they should be more plentiful, as usual, because, unlike with the green garlic, they don't require taking up the whole plant. In fact, growers HAVE to remove them to get the plants to put their energy into bulb production, so they all do it.

Live and learn: Re today's article about Wegmans cheese -- I like goat cheese <because> of the tang! Now I'm wondering, Does that make me a cheese yokel? I also call it "goat's milk cheese" -- is "goat cheese" correct?


I'm with you. I love the tang. But I also loved this. The Wegmans 1916 is a good thing for people who don't ordinarily like goat cheese to try. It really is quite different. As to the terms, I think they're interchangeable!

Have any of you used one? Bought one on a whim at a sale and just wondering how they rate within the cooking community.

SO MANY questions about this, but here's the first two:

1. Why would you steam garlic?

2. Why do you need a special device to do so?

So, I stupidly separated egg whites into a yellow bowl, and the last yolk broke, which made fishing out the yolk bits a real challenge and a failure. So I started over, and now I have 3 extra yolks. can I freeze them? if so, any recommended method?

Yep, you can freeze them. Add a pinch of sugar or salt, depending on how you think you might use them. Be sure to label and date (maybe even weigh total amount first). 

use for French Vanilla ice cream!!! Yuuum!

I think it is time to get a skillet that can start out on the stove and be tranferred into the oven. I don't want to have to abandon a recipe when I see that step (as happened recently). So, what am I looking for? Cast iron? Something else (like the stuff with the enamel)? Is there a most useful size? Am I looking for angled sides or straight? The handle can't have any other material on it, right?

I'd go with cast iron, the size of which depends on the size of your oven. But my 10-inch cast iron pan fits perfectly into our tiny galley-kitchen oven, and handles a wide variety of foods.


There are, of course, other seasoned pans that would work: the seasoned enameled pans, for example, or the seasoned carbon steel. They're both more attractive than your basic seasoned cast iron. Unless you're a cowboy, who casts a skeptical eye on anything with more color than a dirty saddle bag.

I finally got around to making the Lemon Meringue Ice Cream this weekend, and it sure hit the spot when the temps climbed. I had nearly given up on making it because I had such a hard time finding superfine sugar, which Domino used to make in a little box. I think Giant and Safeway have had to devote shelf space to all the substitute sweeteners (stevia, etc). I finally found casting sugar at Whole Foods and Harris Teeter for a fairly steep price. Has superfine sugar rebranded itself into something snooty to command the high price? what is casting sugar intended for? I suppose I could try cleaning out my coffee grinder and grinding up regular sugar next time, eh?

I assume you mean caster sugar, right? I've always seen brands selling it under both names, but you're probably right in observing that those tiny bags of caster sugar at Teeter (India Tree?) command a pretty penny. You can definitely do a DIY superfine sugar. If you use a coffee grinder, make sure it is VERY clean. I usually use my food processor. Just don't overdo it, or you'll get more of a powder.

For the person asking about farmers' cheese, check out the Russian version and a recipe for sirniki from my childhood!

Made the Post recipe for couscous with preserved lemon and dried fruit this past weekend and loved it. That would be a great use for the left over dried fruit from the parents.

I use my 9-inch enameled cast iron Le Creuset daily (often more than once daily). I made a fritatta in it last night, for example. It is great b/c it's cast iron but since it is enameled, you can soak it in the sink. Amazon has decent prices, esp if you are not picky about color. I paid about $75 for mine. The size is good for 2-3 people, but they have 10-inch versions as well.

Had Pastel de Nata in Portugal recently: Try using frozen puff pastry instead of homemade for a faster batch. Also, only make as many as you can eat the same day (too many, LOL!), as the bottoms otherwise get soggy.

I'm bringing a freezer meal for a new mom but due to a convergence of food issues, it needs to be meat and dairy free. Any ideas would be appreciated!

How about Baked Marinated Tofu?

This Cauliflower Pesto Soup?

Labor Day Spaghetti? (there's a little humor there, if you think about it)

Creamy Vegetable and Cashew Nut Curry?

Got fennel yesterday from the CSA. family isn't a big fan. Good recipes?

This Fennel, Cherry Tomato and Crumble Gratin from London superchefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi might change their minds. Wow.

Fennel, Cherry Tomato and Crumble Gratin

Well, you've removed us from the water bath and drizzled us with sauce and topped us each with a small cloud of whipped cream, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and hope you got some use out of our answers. (And sorry for the technical issues!)

Now, for the giveaway book: Laurie David's "The Family Cook" will go to the chatter who provided us with that great Maya Angelou quote -- send your mailing info to, and she'll get it to you!

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading!


In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie S. Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin.
Recent Chats
  • Next: