Free Range on Food

Jun 25, 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've got lots of great q's for us today -- and that you enjoyed this week's stories. We had Jane Black on Paul Greenberg's new book (and his call for Americans to eat more US seafood, including dealing with whole fish); Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin's column praising a few special regional American side dishes for July 4; and Cathy "Mrs. Wheel-" Barrow's latest Canning Class, this one extolling the glories of rhubarb as a chutney ingredient.

Got questions for any of them, or for us, your regulars? Just let us know! And we'll have giveaway books for our favorite two chatters today, so make the queries interesting.

Let's do this!

I was gifted a mango and thought it would be fun to make a bbq sauce. Maybe with bourbon in it too? Is that too much? Anyway, do you have a recipe or method I could use. Also, can I freeze it to use later? If not, how long will it last in the fridge? Thanks

Yeah, baby, that's my kind of fun. I'll leave the bourbon up to you, but puree enough flesh of your peeled mango to yield 3/4 cup, and add it to the following:

1/4 cup diced onion, 2 tablespoons chopped garlic and 1/2 seeded/chopped jalapeno pepper, all sauteed until softened in a saucepan with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; plus 2 tablespoons of your favorite bbq or spice rub, 3/4 cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons molasses, 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon hot sauce (like Tabasco).  Cook the mixture over medium-low heat for about 12 minutes, and that's it. 

You can freeze slices of the mango on a baking sheet till they're firm, then stash in the ol' freezer-safe zip-top bags for up to 6 months.  Otherwise, you can refrigerate a ripe (only) mango for up to 1 week; slices, 2 or 3 days. 


I bought some lovely ginger root at the farmers' market last week, and I am afraid it will go bad before I can use it all. Any tips or techniques for preserving it? Thanks, SZ

If it's just old enough to have formed a brown skin, I just stash it in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator (NOT the crisper drawer). It lasts a few weeks. If it's very fresh/young, sometimes I loosely wrap it in a damp paper towel, then stash in the same kind of bag. For looonger term (and quicker meal prep), I might peel and grate it, then wrap tablespoons of it in plastic  wrap and -- you guessed it -- stash those in a freezer-safe zip-top bag. They're good for maybe 6  months that way. 

I've also frozen it whole -- you can grate or shave pieces of it off straight from the freezer.

I want to buy a bottle of limoncello as a gift. What would you recommend and where in DC/Arlington/Alexandria can I buy it?

I'd get the local one from Don Ciccio & Figli. It's both delicious and local (and the Concerto they make is a real standout as well, in case you decided to go for something more unusual). Should be available at a lot of stores, but I'd start with a call to Ace, Batch 13, or Schneider's.

I'm on the hook for making about 10 batches of cookies over the next couple of weeks. I'm trying to streamline my production (since, well, it's 15 + dozen and I mainly can bake after the kiddo goes to bed). Can you recommend a good resource for the weights of various flours/sugars, etc.? I find weighing much faster, but it only works if the weights are right. And I don't want to have to remake cookies. P.S. And on a side note: this is probably heresy, especially since I once lived in NC, but I strongly prefer eastern-style cole slaw and western-style BBQ. And I serve both together (and will again this weekend).

It's so much easier to cook by weight, isn't it? And you'll have fewer dishes to do.

I keep a copy of this chart taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinets. 

I feel like a dunce asking this, but whenever people are talking about simplifying meals, they suggest roasting a bunch of vegetables ahead of time. Which is great! But...what then? Roast them until they're done and then bring them to room temperature to toss into food? And, uhh, what food? I'm a roasting novice, in that I have basically never done it. All of my vegetable cooking is either sauteeing or steaming. So, let's say I roast a ton of vegetables on Sunday. What do I do with them on Tuesday night?

I'm one of these roast-vegetables-ahead-of-time advocates! There's lots of things you can do with them, but the ones that tend to make it most frequently into my rotation are:

-- Fried rice. With leftover rice (frozen and thawed, if that helps), you just quickly stir-fry the aromatics (garlic/onion/ginger) in a little oil, and add the rice and the chopped roasted vegetables. Since everything's cooked, it comes together in a flash. Season with soy sauce, tamari, rice vinegar, Sriracha, fish sauce, etc.

-- Pasta. Put the pasta on to boil, and then saute a bunch of onions and some garlic in oil until soft, then add chopped roasted vegetables. When the pasta's done, scoop it right out and into the pan of vegetables, adding a little pasta cooking water to make it saucy, and add Parm or Pecorino and basil. If you want it more tomato-y, you can add a can of tomatoes in their juice with the roasted vegetables, and you probably won't need the pasta cooking water.

-- Chopped salads. Chopped lettuce or other greens (like thinly sliced and massaged kale), chopped roasted vegetables, something for crunch like nuts, beans or another protein, big shavings of cheese, maybe some dried (or fresh) fruit, a quickly made vinaigrette (or simply oil and vinegar or lemon/lime juice).

-- Soup. Cold or hot. If cold, just puree the roasted vegetables with vegetable or chicken stock or water, a little yogurt or cream if you'd like, plus a little squeeze or lemon or lime plus some fresh herbs to brighten. Push through a strainer if you want it super silky. If hot, heat the vegetables in a saucepan with the aforementioned stock or water, puree with an immersion blender. (In either case, you can hold out some of the veggies and chop finely and return them to the otherwise-pureed soup for texture.) Or you can make a chunky ribollita-type soup by heating the vegetables in canned tomatoes in their juices plus more stock if desired, and some beans. Or you can add small pasta shapes to this.

-- Frittata. Heat the vegetables in a cast-iron skillet, then scrape them out. Whisk together eggs and a little salt. Oil in the skillet, eggs in, heat on the stovetop until it starts to set, lifting it around the edges to let the eggs run back underneath. When it's set but still wet on top, scatter the vegetables on top, along with some cheese, and put under the broiler until puffed and set and lightly browned. Scatter herbs on top.

-- Hummus. I can't stop! Puree the vegetables with tahini, garlic and lemon juice and maybe a little ice for a lovely dip.

-- Risotto! OK, this is getting ridiculous, but you get the point.

My sister can't eat gluten, but loves strawberry shortcake and she will be visiting us this weekend. Do you have a recipe for gluten-free shortcakes? I can always buy the gluten-free Bisquick, but would rather make them homemade with real buttermilk. Thanks!

Try this recipe from our friends over at Serious Eats.

Hi, I asked a similar question to the Going Out Gurus, but I'd like to focus it to the food section. Are there any wine stores or classes in the DC area that focus on California wines where I could learn more about them? Thanks!

Dave McIntyre says:

Most major stores (Calvert Woodley, MacArthur, Schneider's of Capitol Hill in the District, for example) will have strong California representation on their shelves. Also, Cordial in Union Market is a good place to find the so called New California wines, of unusual grape varieties in a number of styles. The best wine education program around is the Capital Wine School run by Jay Youmans, the DC area's only Master of Wine. They don't have any California-centric classes currently listed, but keep an eye out.

I am an avid baker but lack experience in one key area - muffins. Now I find myself having volunteered to make 24 muffins and am overwhelmed by all of the recipes out there. In your opinion, what's key to a good muffin - a moist crumb? Sugary topping? Chock full of ingredients? Or all of the above? I am thinking of making 12 blueberry and 12 of another kind; and to keep up my baking reputation I need to make sure they are delicious!

IMHO, freshness is key. Warm muffins: Better. So I'd bake them as close to serving time as you can. Blueberry is classic, as are corn and carrot and bran muffins, but I might suggest going a different way for your other batch: Pear Ginger, Tortilla Chip with Honey Butter,  Agave Lavender and the very interesting New Orleans Black Muffins -- a conversation starter, guaranteed. Go forth and fill those wells 2/3 full. 

That looks awesome and easy! Thanks. I was actually asking if I can freeze the BBQ sauce or how long it would last in the fridge. thanks!

Ah. The sauce would be good for 3 to 5 days, covered. 

Hello Free Rangers. We're planning a picnic for Twilight Polo this weekend, and I have a sudden craving for black olive tapenade. The recipes I've found either have anchovies in them, or they appear to have no zing to them. Any ideas on how to give tapenade some bite without adding the little fish? Thanks.

I bet you'd be happy leaving out the 2  little fish in Jim Shahin's Smoky Tapenade -- it has so much flavor from fresh herbs and smoked olive oil. 

I have a recipe for Poblano Tapenade in my new book that's pretty killer: You char/steam/peel poblanos and pulse them with green olives, capers, lime juice, a little ground ancho chili, olive oil, and salt. I included an optional anchovy, but I make it for events all the time and leave out the anchovy for all my vegetarian comrades, and it's great.

ATK researched how to store ginger, and I think they found that just tossing it in the crisper drawer, unwrapped, was just fine. (I keep it in the grocery plastic bag, opened, without twisty ties, and it seems to work.)

Yes, but I believe the OP was talking about young/fresh ginger, which is another thing entirely. If you haven't used it, you should -- it's so much juicier and less fibrous.

Hi Bonnie, recently someone mentioned to me to substitute flax seed in place of eggs. How does it work? How do I use it?

TheKitchn's got a nice explainer. 

Jim, Loved your article about regional sides for the Fourth. I would like to take deviled eggs to our celebration. Are there region fillings for that? If so, what are they and if not, what's your favorite recipe for deviled egg filling? Thanks


    I've found that deviled eggs is more an appetizer at barbecues than a side dish. From what I've observed, while they are available at restaurants, they are really more of a backyard thing. 

     I've been playing around a lot with different approaches - Hatch chili with cilantro and capers with minced red onion and olive oil, among others. My favorite, though, is my mom's, which is the classic mayo-based deviled egg. 

Drained kimchi, cream cheese and a little Sriracha!

Peaches and pineapples are fabulous grilled. Any other fruits? Are they even more amazing if some sugar or other sweetener is sprinkled on them, as is sometimes done with pineapple? Also, how ripe should the fruit be and how do you decide when it's grilled long enough?

Don't stop with peaches and pineapples. Try bananas, plums, mango, apricot, and pluots too. Use barely ripe fruit. Cut in half, skewer, or grill broad slices.

Brush fruit lightly with olive oil, grill briefly, just to warm it and get a grill mark, then sprinkle with sugar or honey (lightly) and top with mascarpone or creme fraiche.

Try going savory and adding grilled fruit to a green salad. It's delicious with a little salty cheese and chopped nuts, too.

We're having people over for the fourth and have been asked to do another "red, white and blue" dinner. It was easy the first time or two - rare steak, potato salad and blueberry pie, but I want to do something different. Also, the blueberries aren't really that great yet. Any suggestions from you or other chatters?

How ' bout this raspberry whipped cream icebox cake, served on a very blue platter? 


Or make the potato salad from blue potatoes!

I've discovered this as well -- not about ginger, but about other veggies doing better in their plastic bag in the non-crisper part of the fridge. Why is this? And what should I store in the big crisper drawers if the veggies do better outside it? I'm so confused.

I call the crisper drawers the "rotters," not the crispers, because the former is what seems to happen to it. Some fridges are better than others at this, but generally, IMO the problem is the old out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. So why keep the things that go off the quickest out of sight, while the things that last the longest (condiments, etc.) go in the most visible place (the door)?

I've been tweaking a corn salsa recipe. It pretty much consists of a bag of 12-oz frozen corn (Trader Joe's roasted corn is amazing) and then variable amounts of jalapenos, poblano pepper, green onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. I felt it needed some smoke to balance it, so I added a table of chipotle chili powder. It helped, but I still think it's too sweet. For what it's worth, no one but me is complaining (the bowl gets scraped clean) but what else could I add? I thought maybe dice up a chipotle chili with some adobo sauce? Give the hot peppers a quick char before dicing them up? It's almost the perfect recipe....

Sounds good! I think charring peppers is always a good idea -- do the charring, steaming, peeling thing, right? But generally, the additions you mention are about  heat, but that doesn't necessarily counteract the sweetness. I'd say you need more lime juice, or maybe some white vinegar.

I might add more acid, maybe rice wine or cider vinegar for a little punch to offset the sweet.

I just made your Lentil Quinoa Bolognese Sauce for the first time -- am eating it now for lunch, and it's delicious. I used Swiss chard instead of kale (I don't like kale, no matter how hard I try -- even though I probably wouldn't notice it in this recipe), which seems to have worked just fine. My meat-eating significant other also loved it! But really, just wanted to thank you for all of your work. I've been using more and more of your recipes over the past 2-ish years (including apps, entrees, and desserts), and they've all come out really well. I don't know how you do that, but keep doing it!

 Thanks! So glad you like this one (and have been happy with others, too)! For those chatters who don't remember, it was part of a big ode to new-wave lentil recipes I wrote back in January. Props to the original source: Kathy Hester's "The Great Vegan Bean Book."


Lentil Quinoa Bolognese Sauce in Gaithersburg does regular tastings and classes on a variety of types/regions.

Smoked salmon or lox (get a package of pieces). Save some of the fish to put a tiny piece on top to let people know what's in them.

I know you did a big article on coffee but I cannot seem to find it. Have you used an aeropress before? thoughts on it? Seems quick and easy..


Yes, my coffee experiments are never-ending. I just bought a Kalita Wave pour-over dripper, which I have mixed feelings about (mostly because I bought the smaller dripper, which has problems). 


Nonetheless, I have played with the Aeropress, both at home and on the road. I wrote about it back in January in my original coffee story. I like the device. I think it's handy for traveling, when you want to make a good cup of coffee with little hassle. But I would not rely on it to make espresso, as some do. I think it makes an inferior espresso, at least compared to the kind you can get from specialty coffee shops in the area.

Jim Shahni: Thanks for the "return to basics" Fourth of July column. Baked beans are a staple, and the Texas pintos sound great. Is there a regional bean consensus, and for that matter, a consensus on what constitutes "baked beans?"

     The closest I've seen to a regional bean consensus is the sweet baked beans. It is found across regions, although it is not common in Texas, where soupy, creamy pinto beans reign supreme. 

     As for what constitutes baked beans, generally they're slow cooked from either a can of the commercial stuff (doctored up with such ingredients as brown sugar, molasses, maybe some chopped onion and green pepper, perhaps a squirt of ketchup and another of mustard) or, using some of the same ingredients and perhaps some pork or bacon, from Navy beans. 

Jim, I don't live in Texas, but I've tried the pinto beans when I've been there. I don't remember, should they be thick or "soupy? /

    They should not be thick. They border, then, on becoming refried (which is itself a great side dish). They should definitely be a little soupy. 

Hey Smoke Signals. Great piece about old=fashioned side dishes. Everything these days seems to have to be "reinvented". Thanks for simple foods.

     Gotta say, I'm a practitioner of the reinvented classic. But every now and then I long for the tried-and-true. Glad you liked the piece. 

I enjoyed the article on Riesling and look forward to the second part. German Gourmet in Falls Church has an entire wall of Riesling (OK, maybe not a whole wall, but it seemed like it) and I had no idea what I was looking for. But I pass it along as a good source for German Rieslings.

This is in general, not a response to the poster tasked with muffin making. At pot lucks, mini muffins tend to disappear. Corn muffins with blueberries seem to be a hit.

It seemed like a smart move to buy a whole, 3- or 4-pound pineapple for a few dollars instead of buying pineapple chunks for a dollar more for only one pound. But that was before I dulled blades and my summery mood trying to get the edible fruit out of its rind. Between the tough core and the woody "knots" that protrude from the rind into the fruit, it looked like more than half the edible part didn't make it into my fruit salad. Is that what I should expect? Would the ratio improve if I used a pineapple peeler gadget? (I'd need one at the low price point, around $10-15. I see online they sell for as much as $450!) Or is it okay to serve guests peel-on slices to eat like watermelon? Of course, I could go back to buying chunks or slices in plastic tubs at the market. The price seems pretty reasonable now.

Yeah, I'm not sure buying the whole pineapple saves you all that much money, but it's fun to do if you want to have the pineapple skin, which you can use to make this Jamaican drink I saw on Martha Stewart awhile back: Just pour a quart or so of boiling water over the skin in a heatproof pitcher, along with 1/2 cup sugar and a little chopped ginger.  Let it steep for a day or so, then strain it out and refrigerate. Lovely stuff.

Anyway, back to your other question: I don't know that it's worth buying a gadget unless you are using it ALL the time, right? You could just study up on the best ways to cut a pineapple. I've used this technique from Simply Recipes that has you cut the eyes out on the diagonal. It results in a little extra waste, but this could go into that pineappleade pitcher too!

I'll just throw in one cuisine you didn't hit -- tacos, quesadillas, etc are great with roasted veg!

Oh, man, how could I forget those? That's right in my wheelhouse, too! Of course, yes, yes, yes. I do taht all the time.

The muffin method is the key to all muffins. Mix wet ingredients and dry ingredients apart. When you combine the wet and the dry, DO NOT OVERMIX. Clumps are fine

It's not quite tapenade, but the smitten kitchen mediterranean salsa is delicious and plenty zippy!!

I was able to get my hands on a large bunch of Thai birds eye chilis and now I'm at a bit of a loss for creative things to do with them. Any suggesting for using up more than a few of the tiny peppers at a time?

I love those little chili peppers. I had three plants in my garden last year and I got a LOT of peppers. I throw them whole into a zip bag in the freezer and pull them out one at a time as I need them for curry or chutney (They are great in the rhubarb mango chutney!)

You can also make hot sauce from them, but know that it will be very very hot. Here's a straightforward recipe for homemade hot sauce. You can use frozen chiles.

I have prepared wasabi (in tube) for our sushi nights but was wondering if I can use it for other dishes other than dips?

It's a surprisingly versatile ingredient, despite its pungency. I've used wasabi (typically the powder) in creamy mashed potatoes and vinaigrettes. You can also mix it into mayo and slather it on sandwiches. Oh, and don't forget about Bloody Marys. Add a bit into your brunch cocktail for a real bite.


Other ideas?

My garden has produced an abundance of kale (3kinds) Any suggestions for using it?

Mine is getting there, too! I gave several suggestions for this question last week, so am linking you right to that exchange.

How best to avoid cilantro turning brown or getting slimey if it's around for several days? The answer definitely includes taking it out of the plastic bag but beyond that, I'm not sure. Wish I could grow it in abundance or shop daily but a weekly market trip is all I can manage. Picking through the leaves looking for good ones mid-week is like looking for 4-leaf clovers in a field.

I keep cilantro in the refrigerator, standing upright in a glass with a little bit of water in the bottom. Use a scissors to make a fresh cut across the stems before placing in the glass and cut again every day or two to keep the cilantro fresh for four or five days. More than that is asking for a miracle.

Unlike red potatoes which are just red on the skin, blue potatoes are blue all the way through. We also made home made backed chips with our blue potatoes flavored with Old Bay. that would fit in well for a local red, white and blue fourth.

Yep -- as I said, love the blues!

Riesling seems to be one of the wines that NYS does well (along with gvertatrim... thing I can't spell.) Apparently the climate is right and there are many Germans in the wine business there.

Finally found a source for huacatay paste. It is available at the Global Food store on Beauregard in Alexandria.

Unless you're utterly attached to particular recipes, go check out the recipes on Nearly all of them let you go by weight or volume, and they have lots and lots and lots of cookie recipes that work. The ginger chocolate cookies are the best thing ever, to take just one example.

I had sliced some watermellon wedges with rind still on. I threw several of them on the grill while cooking some burgers. I grilled them a few minutes on each side of a direct heat. They got grill makrks and tasted great!

I know cooking with alcohol doesn't cook off all acohol, but does a long braise cook off alcohol completely? I'm pregnant and because of my food aversions, the only thing I want to eat from a restaurant I'm going to soon is barolo braised short ribs. I don't want to take any chances with this pregnancy.

According to some online sources, about 95 percent of the alcohol is burned off during a 2.5 hour cooking period. I'm going to assume that, since some chefs brag about their 72-hour short ribs, you're probably down to very little alcohol in that dish.

I took a chance on a new recipe for my lunches this week: tabbouleh salad. I like it! The recipe called for mint and parsley. I was out of mint, so I made the salad with parsley only. I'm not sure what I'm missing. I had thought the mint might be included to cut some other flavor in the recipe, but the salad tastes fine without it. What, exactly, is the purpose of mint? I think of it more as a garnish rather than as a flavoring agent. I like the way it smells, of course, but cooked into food, I'm not sure what its intended impact is supposed to be. I suppose my underlying question is, How vital is mint to most recipes? Can I always leave it out if I don't have any fresh mint on hand?

     I just made a ton of tabbouleh over the weekend for a nephew's graduation party. We pulled fresh mint from the backyard. I have made tabbouleh umpteen times over the years and would not make it without mint. 

      Mint's fresh, vaguely sharp, clean flavor adds a refreshing note to the tabbouleh that expands on what the parsley alone can provide. It's also a nice counterpoint to the scallions. Just chopping the mint this weekend filled the kitchen with a beautiful scent, very spring-like. I'm glad you liked the tabbouleh without the mint. Try it with the mint. I think you'll find that yo like it even more. Oh, and in a pinch you can use dried mint.

      As far as replacing mint in recipes, to me, it depends on the recipe. I would not automatically either leave it out or substitute, say, basil or whatever. Sometimes it's fine. Other times, mint's particular flavor is just the right thing.

The Memphis Barbecue Spaghetti sounds really good. Although I know it's meant as a side, I bet if made with less sugar it could be a good main pasta dish. Sort of like a BBQ version of pork sugo. I might crumble some queso fresco on top.


     Sounds like a winner to me! 

To build on the muffin question--I recently made a scone recipe from a well-known cookbook and it was awful. Can you point me in the direction of one you like?

Trust me. You cannot possibly beat these Cherry Pistachio Scones from Mark Furstenberg.


I got some candy cane beets at the farmer's market over the weekend and I'm not sure what to do them. If I cook them, will they lose their pretty stripes? Are they best raw? I have a whole bunch, which I assume is more than one dish, I'll take the suggestions you can come up with!

The stripes have held up for me when I roast the beets, but not when boiled. Beyond salads, they'd be fun to fry as chips or use in this deconstructed borscht

A caveat: I'm not sure this will work too well in cakes. Flaxseed works well in quickbreads and cookies, and other recipes in which eggs are used as a binder. But cakes typically also need eggs for leavening ("rise") and flaxseed won't provide that function.

A wise caveat. 

We put it into the cocktail sauce served with shrimp (cocktail or fried) instead of horseradish 'cause all the commercial, and sometimes even the raw, horseradish seem to have been tamed these days, even bottles claiming to be devilishly hot.

Are there any recipes that use a lot of graham crackers?

The base recipe of many a cheesecake and icebox pie relies on crushed grahams; these Gingerbread Pear S'mores are a favorite of mine and call for 2 cups of the stuff. You can use them to create a topping for fruit cobblers, too. 

I'm with Jim, I love it!

Don't forget the baby beet tart from the River Cottage cookbook you featured. Yum.

Oh, yes. That is a fantastic one!

Baby Beet Tarte Tatin

I feel obliged to put in a plug for Fuchia Dunlop's salted hunanese chiles. Simple (chiles and salt), lasts forever, adds zip to everything from grilled cheese to savory oatmeal.

Very excited to find organic, local flour at DuPont this weekend from Next Step Produce. Any ideas on how to best use the heritage hard red winter wheat variety? Also, sorry to see Stephanie end her time with Nourish column - I have many of her recipes clipped in my file. Thanks!

I bought some locally milled flour recently. Like the variety you purchased, it was a hard winter wheat. It made sensational pizza and flatbread, naan and seeded crackers. The pie crust was okay, not great. The cake I made was not so good, heavy and dull.

Any suggestions for an orzo pasta salad that doesn't have tomatoes or seafood (which applies to all in your db)? I have a pesto standby but am feeling a little tired of it. i guess it doesn't have to be orzo, but I do like that pasta...

I like that pasta, too. You could incorporate some or all of the following: purslane or tender watercress or baby spinach leaves; dried cranberries or apricots; toasted nuts; roasted/grilled corn or peppers; chopped olives or capers; toasted bread crumbs; a crumbly cheese. Whip up a simple lemon juice/olive oil vinaigrette, toss, and as they say in some circles, Enjoy! 

I keep reading that the secret to good espresso is how you pack it into the container. Any hints on how to do this?

I was just having this conversation with the brothers over at the Wydown on 14th Street. I have to admit that I focus mostly on home brewing, not pulling espressos. From what the McCrackens tell me, you need an expensive, high-quality machine to pull good espresso. You need the right water temperature and the water pressure. Baristas are beginning to think packing the grounds matters less than the other factors mentioned above.


Then again, I understand espresso making rather imperfectly. Any baristas care to chime in?

It's difficult to find baristas who can do this. They need to be well-tampered.


If you plant some in your garden, you'll never be at a loss for mint in the summer. Of course, you'll never get rid of it (from your garden) either.

I read recently that sunchokes are a spring crop but I recall purchasing them late summer/early fall at farmers markets here in the DMV? Any forecasts? I really like those things.

Sunchokes are the tuberous root of the helianthus plant (a relative of the sunflower). Plants are started successively from early spring until mid summer.The longer the roots grow, the larger the tuber. Sometimes they are overwintered (which may be what you have seen early) but the season is considered to start in late summer and run through fall and into winter. 

My 2 cats are nonfoodies—Scout doesn’t even like treats, except to chase them. They’re content with their cat food and usually don’t mooch. The exception is avocado; they both seem obsessed. If I’m eating avocado in my usual fashion, which is to halve them, and then scoop the meat out of the shell with a spoon, paws will come up and try to swat the half out of my hand or a snout will poke in to sneak a bite. A previous cat was worse and would sometimes trot off with an avocado half, which I’d have to pull away from him. Any free rangers out there with cats who love avocados? the vet is puzzled, as am i.

Hmm, cats are smarter than I thought. :)

My mom doesn't eat fish, so we never ate it growing up. I am one of those people who is not really sure how to deal with a whole fish or how to cook it without overcooking. I really wish your story had a video with it! When you used the fillets, did you remove the backbone and the skin, or leave it on to keep the whole thing together? If I do want it filleted, what do I say to the fishmonger?

Paul Greenberg says:

Filleting a fish means the removing of the boneless fillet from the backbone and rib cage.  That's the kind of cut I used for the Vietnamese and Chinese recipe in the article. If that's the cut you want simply tell your monger that you want your fish filleted and the skin removed. 

If you would like to grill or pan sear your fish  keeping the skin on is a good idea as it keeps the fish together and the skin is edible (provided it is scales). So in this case ask the monger for fillets with skin on but scaled. If he/she is a monger worth his/her salt he/she will get the picture.

If you want to try to fillet a fish yourself it's worth watching a video or two. Also Rick Moonen's fine book "Fish Without a Doubt" has great how-tos.

For true muffins, yes. What most people think of as muffins now, though, are cupcakes without frosting.

I loved the feature on using more fish and I count myself in the phobic camp. My main issues are: 1) not sure what fish to buy when I'm standing in the fish section and 2) not confident in what to ask for from the fish monger (filets, steaks, whole gutted, etc. I had no idea the skeleton was a rack! I shop at a bush Asian market and going up and ordering something is akin to striking up a conversation in a foreign tongue about a topic I barely understand. How can I learn this language?

Paul Greenberg says:

1) Buy American fish if possible. We have good fisheries management in this country and we should support our local fisher folk. Aside from that look for fish with clear eyes and bright red gills if buying whole, pearly and slightly translucent if buying fillets. And oddly good fish shouldn't smell fishy. One more tip--if you are buying wild salmon outside of  summer months chances are it's been frozen and defrosted. out of season I only buy wild salmon frozen and vacuum packed -- it's better preserved than if defrosted and lying on ice.

2) Fillet means just that -- boneless or mostly boneless.

"Cleaned" often means head and guts removed. But better to ask for "headed, gutted and scaled" if you don't want the head or "gutted and scaled head on" if you do.

Steaks can be either boneless vertical slices from the loin of a large fish (eg swordfish or tuna) or cross sections of the bodies of entire fish bones and all. Salmon are often steaked like this (as appears on the cover of my book).

Don't forget the cooked black beans, garbanzo beans, or lentils (your choice). Legumes are good for protein complementarity with wheat, too!

Beans, yes! (Is that six-syllable one a real word?) 

Can you recommend good quality baking pans and a meat thermometer to buy? For baking pans - what size is best to own? Thank you and I love this chat!

Re the thermometer: I'm a Thermapen fan, but they're running around $100. Built to last, chefs' choice. For baking pans, I like a mix of some glass and ceramic ones (9 x 13, a workhorse; 8 x 8 or 9 x9) and metal ones that are not too dark (rectangular, 9-inch round, a 7 1/2-inch and a 9-inch loaf pan; a Bundt pan and/or 10-inch tube pan with removable bottom). Look for Chicago Metallic brand, Nordicware, Emile Henry (on sale!)

Use the blue potatoes (and white ones!) for Ina Garten's lobster potato salad! You might also look at doing a combination of American food traditions for the 4th--Southwestern food, Northeastern food, and all the melting pot foods you can imagine! This is America, after all!

Might turn out closer to beige, burnt siena and purple. But good intentions will be evident!  U-S-A! U-S-A! (Practicing for tomorrow's World Cup match.)

I think the link is incorrect, it's linked me to a borscht recipe, but I was able to find it, thank you. Could I make a bunch of crusts in bulk, bake and then freeze them in disposable aluminum pie pans?

Thanks for powering through. Yep, great idea. Either wrap individually or stack between waxed paper. 

My cat also loves avocado; but he only eats it (or any people food) if you hold it. If it's on the ground he just plays with the food. To be fair, he's only a picky-eater when it comes to cat food, not people food.

I love this one from Giada De Laurentiis: Arugula, feta, dried cherries, mint, and pine nuts.

Dried cherries and mint = nice. 

My birthday was this week, I just finished a year-long project, I got word that I'm getting a promotion at work, and I have a couple days of downtime this weekend. What is the most outrageously fun thing I could cook to celebrate?

Cooking = baking? Then it must be Lemon Berry Crunch Cake.


Icebox cake, with a layer of Chantilly whipped cream (sugar, pure vanilla extract added) between each cracker!

Why do certain higher end butchers in grocery stores cut chops so thick that I can't see how to cook them properly? This happened with pork, and I had it cut in half, but the resulting chops were too uneven to cook as planned. I ended up with stir fry, which was nice, but not what I'd planned. I did complain to the manager.

I put the question to chef and butcher Raynold Mendizabal from Urban Butcher in Silver Spring. He says the butcher cut pork chops thick because "if you cut them thin they will overcook immediately."

His suggestion for chops grilling: Don't brine the chop, but just cook it one temperature below what you desire. So if you want a "medium" chop, grill it to rare or medium rare and then let the chop rest for five minutes or so. The juices will then spread through the chop. It will likely prevent overcooking, too.

That article on how to peel a pineapple was very helpful. Thanks much for the link!

One thing we noticed about Jane Black's article about eating more U.S. fish was that the first referenced fish had been flown up from the Gulf of Mexico. As Jane is now located in NY and presumably that is where the interviewee lives and works-- there is so much good-eating fish caught off Long Island, or nearer by in Rhode Island, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Or here in the Mid-Atlantic. As long as concern about the environment is part of the meta-message of the article, shouldn't we be eating fish that is as local as possible?

Paul Greenberg says:

We definitely should try to eat as local as possible with seafood provided the ecosystem we are eating from can withstand the amount we are eating. I chose the Gulf Wild red snapper because I wanted to highlight what they've done with traceability on that fish. Check them out here.

I also wanted to make the point that a fish once red listed needn't stay red listed. Management can be fixed.

That said,  If I were going to use a local fish at this time of year using those same 3 recipes I might try a black sea bass.

And if I were to leave the world of finfish i might  tuck into some mussels from a local producer like the Thimble Island Oyster company. Unfortunately more than 90% of the mussels we consume are imported.

Well, you've fried us in batches (to avoid overcrowding) until we are evenly cooked and golden brown, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great q's, and thanks to Carrie, Cathy, Jim and Paul for helping us answer them!

Now, for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about cutting pineapple efficiently will get "Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes" by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck. The one who confessed to being a fish phobic will get a copy of Paul Greenberg's "American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood." Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your books (next week, when she returns from vacation).

Until next time, 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.
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