Free Range on Food: Herbs, Amtrak food and more

Jun 12, 2013

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

Greetings, and welcome to Free Range! What's on your mind, your front and back burner, your cookbook shelf, in your pantry/fridge/freezer that we can help you get clarity on today?

Hope you enjoyed today's section, from Becky's fun piece about Runcible Spoon to Lori Aratani's take on Amtrak's attempts to improve their food to Bonnie's curation of bountiful-herb advice. We can talk about that and anything else you'd like. (Well, ALMOST anything.)

To encourage your wit and whimsy, I'll hold out the offer of prizes today: First of all, we'll have a SIGNED copy of the new Washington Post Cookbook. (If you already have one, isn't two better? Or a gift, maybe?) And second of all, we'll have two tickets to see Elissa Altman (interviewed by yours truly) at Sixth and I next Wednesday -- along with a copy of her book, "Poor Man's Feast."

So hit us with your best shot(s)!

I just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed this taste testing of the doughnuts. I'd love to see this feature continue after you wrap up next week. My suggestion is that you next tackle the controversial subject of best hamburger.

Thanks! It's been fun to do! We did do hamburgers a few years ago, all in one fell swoop. I'm sure you'll see us tackle other things, but it's a big time commitment, so don't think we can swing it week in and week out. But glad you've liked!

I give Becky Krystal a tremendous amount of credit for writing as fairly as possible about this newfangled food zine. But seriously?! No tested recipes, all photography re-appropriated from other sources, and if I understand correctly, workshop attendees pay to write "articles" that reflect their inner food spirit animal. No thanks. This may be a magazine about eating, but it's not about cooking. Thank you, Food Section writers and editors, for creating print and online media that has actual utility in the kitchen. Sincerely, a 20-something vegetarian who is trying to learn how to cook better, and not just so I can post photos of things on twitter.

Thanks for the kudos, but I think there's a bit of an apples and oranges things going on here. The Runcible Spoon isn't trying to take the place of publications with "actual utility in the kitchen." Certainly there's room in this world for all kinds of reading, and the kind of whimsy and satire the zine is going for is a refreshing change of pace, I think. Have you read it? It's made us laugh (a little in self-recognition, too).

Also, for the record, that workshop was free other than a very small monetary donation used to cover the supplies.

So, I really love to cook. It's my hobby, and it makes me happy. When I have friends over, even if just for a casual cook-out, I like to make things from scratch and a step-above the ordinary. Homemade hamburger buns, ice cream, mayo, I grind my own meat for burgers, etc. Some of this goes unnoticed, but most of it is obvious or comes up in conversation. My problem is that while my friends are very appreciative and ooh and aah over how good everything is, they also make self-deprecating remarks about the kind of food they serve when they have me over. I really truly am not judgmental about others' abilities or interest in cooking when I am a guest, I always eat heartily of whatever is offered and pay compliments. But I do wonder if underneath their joking is an element of truth - am I genuinely causing discomfort by being a little too Martha Stewart? Should I tone it down and just buy some supermarket buns, or is there something I can say to make it clear that I do these things for my own reasons and not to set a precedent that I expect them to live up to?

Suddenly, I feel like Carolyn Hax!


The devil, I think, is in the details. I have a hard time imagining that just preparing delicious homemade food would make your friends and guests uncomfortable. Who doesn't prefer a homemade brioche bun to, say, Safeway brand buns? Or fresh hand-ground beef to the graying chunk sitting in the glass case at the supermarket?


I supposed some might feel uncomfortable by such a display of foodism. But I wonder if it's not in the way you talk about it when the subject does come up at a party? Do you dwell on your homemade accomplishments and talk about them in exacting detail? That, I suspect, would make guests uncomfortable, particularly if they don't share you passion for food.

We had an appetizer at a wedding this weekend that my spouse desperately wants to recreate. It was a miniature waffle with some sort of cream topped with a bit of fried chicken and then raspberry chipotle glaze. I can do the mini waffle, chicken and glaze, but I'm a bit baffled about the cream. I suspect it's necessary to keep the whole thing from being dry. It may have been a not-very-sweet whipped cream, but if anyone has any suggestions that would be great. Also, if anyone has more flavor combo ideas- I was thinking of using pecan waffle, chicken and maple syrup, but that's not very creative. Maybe an orange sauce like for orange chicken?

Where was the cream? Drizzled on the waffle, under the chicken? Sounds like creme fraiche would do the trick, no?

As for flavor combos, hmm... I'm gonna throw that to the crowd!

Great article on rose, although every time I buy or drink some I can't help but remember the line in New Girl where Nick asks "What is this? Bath water?" and Schmidt says "No, it's rose. Burn notice, France!" Anyway, I digress. Thank you for the list of roses to try! Do you have any locals ones that you like to have chilling in your fridge during summer?

Dave says, "For local rosé I look for Knob Hall or Slack Vineyards in Maryland. In Virginia, Ingleside makes a nice Sangiovese rosé. Boxwood, Linden and Barboursville also make nice rosés."

Perfectly timed feature in today's wine column as I was just looking for a nice, food-friendly summer rose. I see Dave mention that you can find some tasty ones from Virginia. Wondering if he has any that merit a mention?

Yes, he does! See previous answer.

Hi- I am cooking a pesto pizza tonight in an electric oven and want to use fresh mozzarella and tomatoes on it. I have found a few different recipes but wanted to see your opinion- what kind of tomatoes should I get to put on it? (one recipe even suggested roasting the tomatoes separately first which appealed to me). If I am trying to get a fairly thin crust, how long should I cook it and on what temperature? Any other toppings you would recommend adding?

What crust recipe are you using? That's an important decision. But to get it really thin, you should stretch it as thin as you possibly can (leaving that beautiful edge called a cornichione, of course, unstretched). And you should consider broiling the pizza, on a cast-iron skillet/griddle, preheated stone, or the fab new Baking Steel. That's what I do, to great effect.

As for the tomatoes, I'd highly recommend these 12-Hour Tomatoes to put on pizza. It's helpful when making pizza, especially a thin one, to not overwhelm the crust with wet toppings, and these are a little drier. Make sure you're doing just a schmear of pesto, and be careful about that fresh mozzarella -- it's so wet it can cause a soupy result. I'd suggest going to a regular mozz instead.

Anyone know if they are available yet? If so, where? I'd like to do my annual preservation of them! Thanks in advance!

I've been told by Westmoreland Berry Farm (VA) that they are 10-14 days away. 

Start your canners!

Okay guys - going to take my first stab at a Chicken Curry. I'm nowhere near advanced enough to try to home-make from scratch the spice/sauce, so for someone taking the shortcut of using a curry powder, do you have any suggested stellar recipes to go for?

My lemon basil is going nuts in the garden right now, and I need help! While I can eat Italian basil by the pound, I find that the lemon basil can overwhelm me with its astringent-ness. Do you have any recipes that I could try to maybe mellow out the flavor? Bonus points if it can be used in a cocktail of some sort. Googling has led me to plenty of things using lemon AND basil, but not this specific herb. Please help!

I used lemon basil to great effect last year in a peach jam recipe. Just steeped a bunch in the peach/sugar mixture after bringing to a boil and taking off the heat. So that makes me think you might make a simple syrup with lemon basil steeped in it, and then use that to flavor a drink with peaches. Maybe a take on a bellini?

Hail and hopefully not farewell, dear Rangers! I'm hoping you can offer reassurances about how the new 20 clicks a month limit on non-subscribers apply to this chat. I'm afraid I've used up 25 % of my monthly allotment just to send you this query (from WP home page, click to Food section or live chats, click on Free Range, click on "Submit Your Question" to open the writing space, and click on Submit Question/Comment to send it in -- That's four clicks). And lest we forget, looking up recipes linked to in articles uses up clicks, too! It was bad enough finding out there's no such thing as a free lunch. I hate it that now there's no such thing as a free free range chat, either. I love you guys, but $120/year is a chunk of money. Or, more appropriately, a lot of dough. Crying in my French-roast coffee, sign me, One of your many fans.

We've been reassured that each chat will count as just one article toward the 20-article limit. But here's the thing: We put in a lot of work on these chats, and yes, we think they're worth paying for. (Honestly, it's at least six staff hours -- 1.5 hours times 4 people -- and most weeks it's significantly more than that.)'s really really good, better than a pizza stone, and cheaper than the Pizza Steel. And you can use it on the stovetop for grilling other things.

Thanks for the thought!

Hey there! So I crush on the marinated/pickled veggie salads served as toppings at places like Maoz vegetarian. I'd really like recipes for a few of those to have in my fridge during this long hot summer. Really brightens up a salad, pasta, shoe, etc. Any you can point me to? I know these must be from a middle eastern tradition, and I really like the variety, so extra points for some authentic sources that will list lots.


I couldn't agree with you more. I love a salad with pickled vegetables. To my mind. those pickled veggies tart up a salad in ways that allow you to cut down on the amount of dressing you use.


Here are a few suggestions from the recipe database:


Egyptian Pickled Beets (pictured above)


Kicked-Up Pickled Tomatoes


Lemon-Rosemary Pickled Green Beans


Pickled Grapes

I made a pound cake in my non-stick bundt cake pan on Monday. I oiled it very well, and the cake still stuck. I was able to get it out with great difficulty, but despite two days of soaking the cake is still sticking to the pan. Clearly the pan is done for, but why / how does this happen? I can't line a bundt cake with parchment as I would with a layer cake. What is the answer? What kind of pan to get next? FYI, I've had the problem with this pan before but this was the worst. Greasing or greasing plus still sticks. Lastly, I will happily pay the reasonable price the Washington Post will charge for online access. You provide good journalism, which is worth the price. Thank you.



I've had success with a version of the method endorsed in several Bundt-related Web sources: soak dish towel in just-boiled or very hot water. Wring it out just enough not to run all over your counter. Place the Bundt pan/cake inside it on the towel and cover with another towel or plastic wrap. The steam should help release the cake.  In the future, have you tried the oil-plus-flour baking sprays? Maybe there's life in the ol' pan yet. 


And thanks for your vote of support re the paywall. 

I picked up a jar of red pepper jam from a church fundraiser, but now I don't know what to do with it! It's made from sweet red peppers and it's a sweet jam, rather than a savory or spicy kind. Any ideas what I can do with it?!

How bout smear it on crostini and top with shaved pecorino and drizzles of olive oil? Or mix it with soft goat cheese before rolling in toasted walnuts for a quick cheese ball app? Or shake it in a jar with a little mustard, olive oil and red wine vinegar for a dressing?

Can you get hold of fresh plum tomatoes (e.g., Roma) yet? Slice 'em in rounds ca. 1/4" thick.

The best way to use a large amount of cilantro/mint is to make the popular green Indian chutney. You just need a blender, lots of cilantro and mint, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, salt and chili powder. Goes well with pretty much anything.

Excellent idea. Here are a few recipes:

Cilantro-Mint Chutney

Mint Chutney

Mint Chutney (not a mistake -- we have two in the database)

Cilantro Chutney

Cilantro Chutney

Sounds more like food-porn to me.

Um, not really?

My five-year old fell in love with the biggest ginger root in the store and I brought it home. I used 4 ounces of it for a fresh ginger cake and barely made a dent. Any suggestions for preparations that use lots of fresh ginger, particularly in a way young children might enjoy yet aren't too winter/Christmas-ish, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Well, this Agave Tomato Jam (what child doesn't like jam!?) uses a 1 to 1 1/2 inch piece of ginger. Seems like a fun project for kids to make and eat. You can even cut down or eliminate the red pepper flake if you think the kids wouldn't like the spice.

I love the Post cookbook - full of recipes that I already use and some I'm glad to be reminded of. But why did you eliminate the nutritional analysis? It's one of the best things about the recipes published in the Post.

Thanks for your kind words. I agree that it's an added-value feature; I'd like to take this time to tip my hat to colleague Becky Krystal, who's primarily responsible for crunching those numbers using a program that we lease. Due to time and budget constraints for the book's production, we just weren't able to run analyses on all the recipes. Some, involving marinades and such, we can't do accurately enough to report useful findings. 

I got baby kale in my CSA last week and this week and am mourning for all the years I missed out on the vegetable. It is crazy good! So far I've only used it raw as a base for salads, such as roasted mushrooms and asparagus with seared tuna, or asian-style green beans and toasted sesame seeds, but what else can I do with it? I usually cook down regular kale a bit since the flavor is so strong, but baby kale has a great flavor and I don't want to lose it during cooking.

I love kale, and the babies are the best, it's true. Since you really love it, try a salad that focuses attention on it and it alone! So, thinly slice it and toss it with a pungent garlicky dressing -- I like to make a lemon-chile vinaigrette with lemon juice and chile oil. When I was in Maine, a farmer told me her favorite thing to put in a kale salad was mango, and as strange as it sounded, you know what? It rocks. I do that with a hard-cooked egg and love it.

I second Joe's idea to slice it thinly and pair it with a garlicky dressing. If you want to sample an expert preparation, check out the kale Caesar at Bryan Voltaggio's Range in Friendship Heights.  The kitchen chiffonades the greens into thin strips, which I think is a great technique for muting the texture (yes, even after massaging the kale, Joe!) while allowing the flavor to  shine.

Do you pre-heat the cast iron skillet as you would a pizza stone? For how long and what temperature?

You heat it on the stovetop over, say, med-high heat until smoking hot (10 minutes), then flip it over, put on the pizza, and slide under the broiler.

I am like you and what I have found that it is best if I don't mention it at all (but my husband does). If people make deprecating remarks, I just say "I love to cook, it is what I do for fun" and switch the subject. People may feel guilt, but they are more likely to think you are strange for making homemade buns when you can get perfectly good ones at Whole Foods.

Thanks for the advice. Seems sound to me.

I finally found them at the farmer's market and made a pesto. It had about 10 scapes, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, pepper (maybe) and cashews (the only nuts I had around). I found the result very bitter. It is something I did? Should I cut the scapes with parsley or basil next time? Thanks!

I believe it is the scapes. Did you include any flowering ends/bulbs? They are especially bitter. You could try chervil, parsley or quickly blanched Genovese basil. 

I am trying to make a beef dish and the meat becomes drier than I would like. The details of the recipe, I suspect, are not particularly relevant as I think I need to learn a general skill, but I am making a beef bourguignon. So I sear the meat, set aside, lower heat, do onions, add wine, add other vegetables and spices, return meat, and cook on low for 2+ hours, adding more liquid as needed, no lid. For my most recent attempt I upgraded from a $6/lb beef to a $8 or $9/lb beef, not much difference. I do not have a dutch oven, but I do have a crock pot. I've been using a deep saute pan, for convenience, because I do much of my cooking in it, and because I can't get the crock pot to an initial high temperature for the sear - don't want to wash an extra item! :) I guess I am looking for general advice or perhaps a book. I make other dishes with beef or chicken and would like those to come out more tender also.

What cut of meat are you using? For something like this -- a classic braise -- you need to use one of the cuts with lots of marbling and connective tissue, which breaks down and becomes all silky and gelatinous when slowly cooked. So you need something like chuck roast, trimmed of outer fat and cubed. And please, cover that pot! In culinary school, we were taught to cover the pot first with foil -- actually lining it tightly along the inside of the pan so it directly touches the surface of the food -- and then put the lid on that. The best thing to make it in is a Dutch oven, not a saute pan -- do you have one?

Also, how low is your heat? That's key -- the best BB I've made has been in the oven. Check out this recipe by Ina Garten.

It's just a bunch of fun! It's not a serious solemn mag! It's not some blogger trying to score a book contract! Go look at it. It's a real pleasure.


Was there is typo in here, or is "shoe" a dish with which I'm unfamiliar? QUICK PICKLES AND COLD MARINATED "SALADS" "Really brightens up a salad, pasta, shoe, etc. "

I believe the the OP was being humorous. You know that saying, that something that's so good you could eat it on a shoe?

Foodie Overachiever could be me! The difference is that, though my friends will say self-deprecating things about the kind of food they cook themselves, there are also those who will take it further and make joking remarks at my expense about my "foodie-isms". It is sad when something that brings me (and you, Foodie OA!) so much joy is a point of discomfort or social awkwardness, but I saw we keep on with our homemade sausage, lovingly crafted bread, and homemade fancy birthday cakes!

I agree that our friends' discomfort should not hinder us from cooking what we love. I also think there is a way to not rub people's  noses in our obsessions with food. I mean, let's face it: 99.9 percent of the eaters out there do not make their own sausage or buns.

My best friend is moving to Charlotte this summer. I want to get her a gift to help her learn about the food and drink in her new hometown. Any suggestions of restaurants, bars, or Charlotte food stuffs?

You and your friend should read deputy Travel editor Zofia Smardz's article on Charlotte from last year. In there you'll find a details box with a bunch of recommended restaurants, as well as attractions.

Since you're doing this tonight, I would swing by whole foods olive bar and grab some sun dried tomatoes and olives, or if you're feeling fiesty, some capers. I never make a pizza without stopping there first!

I grabbed butter at Safeway last night to make cupcakes with but didn't look close enough and grabbed unsalted sweet cream butter. Does that taste a lot sweeter? Should I just decrease my amount of sugar a little bit? I always get the unsalted butter from WF, which is actually reasonably priced, so I've never picked this up before.

Here's a bit of insight from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board:

Salt acts as a preservative and adds flavor to butter. Lightly salted butter is sometimes called "sweet cream butter," and is best used as a table butter and for general cooking needs. Unsalted butter, too, is "sweet butter," but is used mainly for baking. Although unsalted and salted butter may be specifically recommended for cooking or baking particular items, they can generally be substituted for one another.

The "Food Lover's Companion" goes even further to say unsalted butter is "sometimes erroneously referred to as 'sweet' butter -- a misnomer because any butter made with sweet instead of sour cream is sweet butter. Therefore, expect packages labeled 'sweet cream butter' to contain salted butter."

Whew. That was probably way more info than you wanted. But as long as your package says "unsalted" and you confirm that there is no salt in the ingredients, then you should be fine to use what you just bought in your cupcakes.

and with the sweet basil I'm going to make a big batch of pesto for freezing, but I was wondering if anyone had a suggestion for the thai basil - I'm thinking a pesto with thai basil, cashews, garlic, ginger and maybe a chili?

Try it, and let us know! I've never done it, but I suspect you might want to cut that Thai basil with something a little milder, like parsley.

The other thing you can do is make herb salt -- I might write about this more at some point, but you combine 1/2 cup kosher salt with 2 cups fresh herb leaves, puree to a paste in the food processor, spread out on a pan and dry in a VERY low oven (or a dehydrator if you have one) for a day and then crumble up and store in airtight jars. The basil I did this way was amazing, and I think Thai would work nicely, too.

Must say I agree with the person on Runcible Spoon. Sounds like a bunch of twenty-somethings who were told that every vapid idea that popped into their heads should be repeated to the rest of the world. Humorous, really? Fake recipes calling for a pet rabbit or a piece of Princess Diana's hair sounds like something from a jr high school newspaper. I know -- I worked on one once.

You're being a little harsh, yes?


Some of my favorite humor is juvenile and crude and unfit for cultured society.  There are reasons that Jack Black and Will Ferrell are beloved.

We're on a very tight budget this summer, but would still like to have friends over for dinner. Most of our events would include a family or two with kids. Any suggestions for fare that is fun, tasty, maybe even healthy and doesn't cost a bunch?

Pizza or flatbread on the grill doesn't have to cost a lot. People can customize their own pies; check out this how-to feature we ran a few years back.  Any of those friends tend their own garden? Fresh vegetables can go a long way toward filling in kebabs (between chunks of marinated chicken or pork that you wisely purchased on sale). I bet you could make your own sauces/rubs from what you've got in the pantry.  Grilling various ingredients to fill tacos or put on top of grilled tostadas is a budget-stretcher, too. Make cilantro/corn/black bean salad to go with....

I am bringing these cupcakes to a Ladies Night Out for work. For a couple reasons, I made the cupcakes last night and froze them, and was planning on making the frosting tonight. The cupcakes wouldn't be frosted until tomorrow evening. The frosting is buttercream based, so will I end up just making fudge if I put it in a tub overnight? If you think this won't work, do you have another lemon frosting you like?

I think the frosting will be fine overnight. In fact, I've done this many times with buttercream. What you'll want to do is take out the buttercream a little while in advance, maybe break it up a bit with a spoon or something and let it come to a shade under room temperature. Then rewhip a bit, and you'll be good to go.

Yeah, I know the entire Internet is supposed to be free, except the Wall Street Journal and Cooks Illustrated. Can't stay that way, unless you want the whole Internet to turn into the Huffington Post and cat videos. So just start reading those dead trees or spend the pittance they want for the paywall. Signed, an old person who likes to read P.S. You kids get offa my lawn and leave my sour cherry tree alone!

Ding-ding-ding. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Nuthin - my wife calls her truly excellent green garlic sauce "cardboard fixer sauce" because you could eat it on a piece of cardboard and be happy.


You can do it on the stove top, or you can heat it in the oven like a pizza stone.

Works well if you slice it and press it between kitchen or paper towels while you're prepping everything else. I think we got this idea from Alton Brown's grilled pizza episode. It's worth the much better then regular mozz.

Yep, I can see that, getting the water out, but I also like a lot of regular mozz!

A few ideas - my kids love ginger fried rice (many recipes out there on the web); make crystalized ginger for baking projects or gifts; slice up chunks and steep with fresh mint, then serve warm or cold as a healthy and tasty beverage.

I was doing a TON of summer smoothies with fruit + yogurt + my immersion blender for the hot weather. However, my body has recently decided to reject dairy and I'm feeling stuck for some options with enough protein to sustain me through lunch. I tried some coconut "yogurt" (but it apparently DOESN'T have protein + it's gross) and I'm leery of adding too much soy to my diet (as it can be a migraine trigger for me). Any ideas? Or just I just keep having a spoonful of pb after my smoothie?

How bout almond milk and/or almond butter? (Or other non-dairy milks and nut butters?)

Avid reader of Hax here. Through channeling my inner Hax I would say two things: 1) when they are at your place and say something like "these are great, I could never do that., etc" you can say "this is how I relieve stress/is my newfound passion/found a way to kill an afternoon". 2) when you are at their place and they say something about their food say "You know how much I just love food, and being with you guys, so I appreciate whatever you're willing to put out for me."

I like your first response. The second one sounds somewhat patronizing to me, like you're criticizing the food by not saying anything about it and focusing on the company instead. Personally, whenever I eat as a guest at someone's house, I ALWAYS find something to compliment, because there usually is always something to compliment on the plate. Home cooks have become very skilled in my experience.

What about, "Thanks so much for cooking/serving this. It's delicious!"

Quick question... is the talk on Tuesday or Wednesday? Joe says Wednesday but Ticketfly is telling me Tuesday...

Never believe Joe when it comes to a calendar. Believe Sixth and I! It's Tuesday. I swear, I'll be there!

Um, what?

You read that right! Strip leaves from stems, thinly slice, and pick it up by the handfuls and squeeze. Within a few minutes, the kale turns darker green and silky.

For the poster interested in quick pickles, here is another recipe to consider: I've made it several times and love the cool, crispy flavors - so welcome when it is hot out. Also a great way to preserve your CSC bounty! I'm going to try the green bean recipe you linked next.

Sounds great. Thanks for passing it along.

I loved the piece today about using up the delicious but sometimes too vast quantities of fresh herbs available this time of year. The advice on caring for chives was particularly helpful, as too often I've had them get nasty soggy or dried out after a few days. Of all the herbs on the list, I'm familiar with all but chervil. Where can I get that? I've checked my farmers market but they never seem to have it. Neither does Whole Foods.

You're welcome! In a just and peaceful universe, we would all get to know chervil a bit better. I suggest you grow your own! You can find small pots at just about any garden store. And I bet if you asked the vendors at your farmers market to grow chervil, they would. They just need to know there are customers for it. WFM sometimes carries it, but not in fresh bunches (like cilantro or parsley) -- perhaps because it's a little more delicate. MOM's Organic Markets often carries it (grown locally, from Jacobs Farm in MD). Elijah, the produce guy at the Rockville MOM's, says if you call a day in advance he'll be sure to have it for you. 

Would you kindly provide a link that describes what this is about. This is the first time I've heard about at. As a print subscriber, I hope I'm not going to have to pay extra to read articles online. Thanks.

No, as a print subscriber you'll get unlimited online access. Here's a page with some explanation. Presumably you already have an online account to be looking at this page. You'll need to link that up with your print subscription, if you haven't done that already. Look for the link in the upper left-hand corner of most pages on our site where it says "Hello [your user name]." Or it will say "Register" if you're not logged in. Once you click on that you should be able to see whether your print subscription has been added. If not, you'll be able to.

Don't forget laying out a salad bar. And/or maybe an ice cream sundae bar.

Especially if lettuces are in their friends' gardens too! 

Since we are on the topic of homemade pizzas, I thought I'd get your opinion of your favorites! Anything unique or special you like to make? or unique techniques for typical topics? One of my favorites in the acorn squash one from smittenkitchen...perfect combinations of squash, blue cheese, and maple syrup flavors!

Nice! That reminds me of one of my favorite combos from the fall: caramelized onion base with butternut squash, blue cheese, walnut, and then sprinkling of arugula and drizzle of squash-seed oil after it comes out of the oven. I  have a lot of combos I love -- one of my other new faves is something I had at Range: a white bean/tomato puree on the bottom, with black olives and big shavings of Pecorino. Wow.

Spring rolls or summer rolls. Also -of course- curry. I'd like to know where you got the plant or seeds you started with, if you're in DC.

I do make my own, but just for the two of us, never a crowd. My favorite recipe is Michel Richard's from his "Happy in the Kitchen". They freeze well. Had some last night.

I put almond milk (unsweetened plain) in my smoothies, cereal, mac n cheese, just about anything. You can't taste the difference, just don't put it in coffee

Right. Separates, doesn't it? I know we'll now get people saying to use Silk non-dairy creamer in coffee, of course!

What wrong with the internet turning into cat videos? Between the videos, this chat, Tom's chat and Carolyn's, I'm all set.

Whatever thrills you!

I have been a bread baker for years, but I have always when really intimidated by the idea of starting my own sourdough, but I would really, really like to. My friend sent me a recipe for pita bread that she promises will recreate the yummy pita I had many years ago as a aid worker in the West Bank, but I need a sourdough starter to make it. Can you recommend a good book or online tutorial for starting and maintaining a sourdough starter.

My friend and master home breadmaker Sam Fromartz suggests following Debra Wink's pineapple sourdough starter for beginners. It's at the bottom of this baking forum at the Fresh Loaf. (BTW: Sam says you don't need to use the pineapple.)

After you've read Zofia's article on Charlotte, and done other checking online, perhaps you could select a restaurant or gourmet food or wine shop for which you could get her a gift certificate?

Nice thought. Anyone out there have a place to recommend?

Thank you for the hot towel suggestion...I'll try it. And I did get the cake out, but a good bit of cake remained stuck to the pan, which is why I have been soaking the pan in water since Monday night, so I can wash it clean. No luck yet.

Got it. :) Were you able to use glaze to an, um, adhesive advantage?

It's not so much that I sense discomfort while they're at my house enjoying my food (and no, I don't dwell on it or brag or anything), but I worry that when I'm at their houses and they are serving pre-made burger patties on supermarket buns, that they're going to feel bad, or like they need to apologize to me. I think this because they make joking comments suggesting as much! Maybe they truly are just joking, and truly do think I'm a weirdo for making homemade burger buns, but... what if they're not? Thanks, and yes, this might've been more appropriate for Hax!

I suspect they are worried that serving you supermarket fare won't make you happy. But you can definitely reassure them, like a good friend would.

A super simple way to pickle vegetables is Mexican-style verduras en escabeche. The basic technique is to chop the following into thin, bite-sized pieces: onion, celery (and/or fennel), carrot, cauliflower, jalapeno chiles. Add a handful of whole, peeled garlic cloves. Measure the volume of chopped vegetables. Make an equivalent volume mixture of half water and half cider vinegar, a splash of olive oil is optional (I often make it without). Heat the liquid to a boil with salt to taste, and some Mexican oregano. When it comes to the boil, turn off the heat and add the vegetables. Let them sit until cool, then pack in a jar with the liquid, cover and refrigerate. They'll be ready to eat, crispy and spicy, in a day or so.


Both Julia Child and MFK Fisher had to deal with this - people freezing up when serving either of them at a dinner party. Their recommendation? Praise the food, praise the cook's effort, say nothing else.


Only use the tender parts of the scape, and cut off the flower. This has been my go-to scape recipe for years now and it's never done me wrong!  Also, FWIW, I think the $10/month online subscription for is fair. I used to get the print edition on weekends but found I just couldn't get through it on a timely basis and cancelled it. But I surf articles (and recipes) on the Post website multiple times a week and frankly feel a bit like a freeloader! If it allows you all to keep doing what you do I am all for it.


Sorry, should've added that you always stick a complement in there too, and make sure it's something they put effort in to.

The poster who made pesto reminded me that I have a big bunch of scapes from my CSA box waiting to be used. I have grilled them and they're tasty but not exactly "wow." What do you recommend it do with this batch?

After grilling, make pesto -- I think grilling would add a lot of nice smoky notes to the pesto...

I never knew my kale was depressed all these years and needed massaging. Poor kale!

It's uptight and needs to relax! Like so many of us.

Make ginger syrup -- it's just sliced ginger, sugar, and water. Then you can mix it with selzer water to taste. I like just a tablespoon or two of syrup, but the OP's son might prefer more. I believe there are some Tiki drinks that call for ginger syrup as well.

Yep. I do this. And you can serve it as a hot tea, too -- 1/4 cup for every 3/4 cup of hot water.

Not the OP, but I got a Thai basil plant at the Takoma Park farmers market (can't recall the vendor name but they specialize in herbs). I was warned however that they don't like really wet conditions and with all this rain I'm a bit nervous!

I think this sounds like a really fun idea. The food world could use a little whimsy these days--parts of it have gotten WAY too serious. The description and pictures remind me a bit of Lucky Spoon, but a more "homegrown" version. Can you buy it in stores or just online?

Yes. Locally, it's available at Meeps, Qualia Coffee and Seasonal Pantry.

After a weekend trip to upstate New York, I'm the proud owner of a beautiful 2 inch thick prime rib eye steak. I don't own a grill, nor do I cook beef often, and I want to display the meat in the best way possible and not ruin it. What would be your preferred way of preparing such a steak?

I'd season the meat simply. Heat a good ol' cast-iron skillet till it's scorching hot, then sear the rib-eye for 5 mins without moving it around. Maybe cut a sweet onion in half and put the cut sides down on the skillet near the steak. Transfer the skillet to a 375-degree oven and cook till the interior temp of the steak is 135 degrees or so. Rest the meat on a cutting board. Slice a few rings off the charred onions and place them on the steak for serving.


P.S. For a sauce, I might deglaze the pan with wine or lemon juice and chopped fresh herbs and toss in some butter plus any juices from the rested meat. Taste and season. 

I bought a big bunch at the Dupont Market last Sunday from The Farm at Sunnyside's stand. I used some last night to top some chilled pea soup, and slow roasted salmon. I love the slight hint of anise.

There you go, chervil seeker! Thanks for the intel. 

I use almond milk in coffee. It doesn't separate unless it's starting to "turn," usually more than a week after I open the carton, and then it's already separated when it comes out of the carton.

I think your idea of separating and mine might be different. I guess I don't mean that it separates into little curds, but it doesn't incorporate with the hot coffee the way that milkfat does.

I got it at Merrifield Nursery (the one near Fairfax County Parkway) and my aunt also picked some up for me at the Falls Church Farmer's Market

I love the lemon basil with peach idea. Do you have any other ideas? I recently got a jar of Christine Ferber cherry with rose petals jam that was beyond amazing. This is from someone who is not a big fan of the strong floral flavor of rose, so now I'm looking at other combinations where the fruit softens the flower/herb and the flower/herb punctuates the flavor of the jam. I'm growing pineapple sage, but that has such a delicate flavor that I don't think it will work with fruit jams.

Strawberry and basil.

Blueberry and sage.

Apricot and thyme.

Becky quotes the "Food Lover's Companion" assertion that "any butter made with sweet instead of sour cream is sweet butter." I never thought of it before but can butter also be made from sour cream? And if it can, what's a good way to use it?

Yes you can. It's called cultured butter.

** Try PB2 dehydrated peanut butter (45 calories for 5 or 6 grams of protein) which you can find at Giant [but sadly not Whole Foods or Wegman's].

** Try whey protein powder, which you can get in vanilla or chocolate flavor at places that sell nutrition supplements, grocery, or pharmacy.

**Try pasteurized egg whites to add some protein

A green peppercorn cream sauce with cognac is very good when made from a deglazed pan in which a ribeye has been cooked.

i too had somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction to the runcible spoon article; but hey, the writers and producers of "southpark" and "the simpsons" have been putting out irreverent, socially significant, horrifyingly hilarious plonk for +/- 20 years . . . further proof that there is no accounting for taste. what really caught my attention in the article was gharib's referral to the local food scene as "kind of stuffy." if we're going to accept that diagnosis, and the runcible spoon as its "antidote" why would she go on record saying she doesn't care that people think she doesn't know anything about the dc food scene (an good example of which would be the stuffy comment)? what you have to know about good clowns and court jesters is they are usually the smartest, most well informed person in the room. if you're going to be runcible, it's okay to look funny, but have to be a serious and effective multitasker.

You make a fair point, and perhaps Malaka was being a bit too cheeky when she said that. Because she actually does know a lot about the area food scene, as I can attest to after spending a few hours with her.

I love asparagus, and tend to grill or roast it as a side with dinner. Sometimes I'll cook half a bunch one day and the other half the next, but it's so much easier to do it all at once. I've use the cooked leftovers before in dips or to top salads, but they lose their crunch so easily. Is there any way to keep them crunchy and fresh overnight?

Try wrapping the cooked/crisp-tender ones in dry paper toweling, then place inside a plastic bag that's not completely sealed. 

Not the OP, but one of the vendors at the Columbia Pike Farmers Market had it there (and like 20 other kinds of basil) last week.

I never found Almond Milk to separate. I've used in lasagna and au gratin potatoes without an issue

I'm talking about coffee.

You know what usually runs up dinner party costs the most? Alcohol. Can you make your meal either "dry" or else limit the alcohol choices to, say, beer or a modest wine, and try as politely as possible to control the amounts?

Four letters! BYOB!

I'm looking for cooking classes in NoVa, but so far I've only found single classes at restaurants. Do you know of any that are a series of classes? Thanks!

L'Academie de Cuisine offers multi-part classes, and Culinaerie has classes designed to be part of a series. Arlington County (and perhaps other counties too) has many series classes through its adult education programs.

You may find additional inspiration in our cooking class list.

I had the warm shrimp salad a few weeks ago at Le Diplomate, complete with fresh avocado and lemon beurre (sp?) blanc sauce. Holy cannoli was that amazing! I know it's pretty much just butter, but do you have any recipes you like? Could I just whisk in a little lemon juice? Also, any way to lighten it up?

Here's a good tuturial on making beurre blanc sauce, which you could complement with a little lemon juice to taste.

Eating Well has a beurre blanc sauce the uses cornstarch instead of butter for thickening, but....yeck.

What can I grow when I only get the sun when it comes up for about 3 hours and then the rest of the day is indirect and shade. I want so badly to be able to grow some herbs and/or vegetables on my terrace.

That's not much sun! Herbs really love a lot of direct sun. That said, check out this idea: The author suggests that you set up reflectors to intensify the sun when you've got it! Interesting idea.

I wrote in a few weeks ago after a disastrous attempt at making Whole-Wheat French Country Bread, from the story on sponge breads. I tried it again last week and it turned out great. I used pans this time because the dough spread out too much when I attempted to make the pan-free loaves the recipe suggested. The bread had a really great flavor and was a hit of the dinner party I was hosting (although the Two Berry Mango Pie I made for dessert got the biggest raves). I'm still far from being an accomplished bread maker, but I'm on my way! Thanks for your help.

Whole-Wheat French Country Bread

Thanks for giving it another try and letting us know!

Hi! I bought nigella seeds for your feta turkey burgers and now don't know what to do with the rest. Any ideas for best way to use these up?

Think of them like a kind of onion-y black pepper. They are right at home atop breads -- especially flatbreads with caramelized onion and some kind of fresh cheese. You can add them to pickled vegetables and chutney-type sauces.  They would perk up a Mediterranean chickpea melange or even ratatouille. 

Hi rangers! Not sure if you guys have the answer, but I figure I've got the best shot via this forum. Since the GOG "best donut" competition caught my attention, I'm reminded of growing up in Milwaukee and chowing down on the most delicious cheese danish, with cheese in an enclosed pastry, the top of which was covered with a streusel/icing mixture. Honest to god, I'm drooling just thinking about it. That one was from Meurer Bakery, which closed down most of their locations years ago. Any idea if there's anything resembling that delicious pastry in the DC area? Metro accessibility would be ideal, but clearly I'd be willing to get a Zipcar to get my grubby hands on this danish. Thank you!

Once we get past the doughnut daze, I'd be happy to research this. Love a good cheese danish. 

Divide and conquer! We frequently do dinner parties with two other couples and one couple does the dinner, one does dessert, one does alcohol and we rotate who does what...

I just picked up my CSA lamb share and lamb breast was one of the cuts I ended up with - it basically looks like a slab of fat with a little bit of muscle running through it. Any ideas what to do with it?

Stuff and roll, baby! 

Does anyone make Bearnaise Sauce any more? Or is that too 1960s?

You still find it at French bistros, where the 60s are never out of style.

Well, you've combined us in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shaken until well emulsified, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today. Hope you enjoyed the a's.

It was an easy choice, coming up with our winners! The chatter who first asked about the etiquette of over-achieving will get the tickets to Elissa Altman of "Poor Man's Feast" next Tuesday at Sixth and I. And the chatter who said "Just subscribe to the paper already" (to which I responded "Ding-ding-ding") will get, natch, "The Washington Post Cookbook." Signed! Send your mailing information to Becky at, and we'll get you your stuff!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

BTW: Lori Aratani had some technical problems in trying to answer the Amtrak questions, so she is going to take some of them to the Dr. Gridlock blog. Check it out!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal.
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