Free Range on Food: Summer cheese, why you should be drinking sherry this weekend and more

Goat Cheese Spread, Three Ways.
Jul 01, 2015

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

Welcome to today's chat! Hope you enjoyed the latest in Tom Sietsema's exploration of America's best food cities (this month: PDX!), and our other coverage this week, including Kristen Hartke's ode to the glories of summer cheese (along with some fantastic recipes that use it or complement it); Tim's look at the new food demo stage that the Smithsonian has built for programming; and more, more, more.

We have Kristen joining us today to help with any cheesy questions (or anything else -- she's no slouch in the kitchen, or behind the bar), along with our regulars. So tell us what's on your mind, and we'll respond with the best tips and suggestions -- and recipes, of course -- that we can muster!

And, naturally, we'll have giveaway books: the 10th anniversary edition (with new stuff!) of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's "Vegan With A Vengeance," source of my Weeknight Veg recipe and column this week about the versatility of cashew cream; and "Tex-Mex From Scratch," source of today's DinMin recipe for Coconut Lime Pancakes.

Oh, and before we start, here is the PostPoints code for you members who want credit for joining us today: It's FR4190 . Remember, you'll enter this into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by TODAY at 11:59 p.m. to get credit for participating.

Enough windup; let's go!

Last week a chatter said it was helpful for wait staff to let a diner know that was an option. That would be true if restaurants kept it a secret until ordering. In all cases, it's clearly and prominently stated on the menu beside the meatless item that shrimp, chicken or beef can be added for an additional charge. Someone who once was a waiter told me that staff is encouraged to always ask, believing that the power of suggestion will increase the chances of the diner upgrading to the more expensive option. Any time the waiter doesn't do that I tell him or her upfront that I appreciate their not trying to pressure me to order something I didn't ask for, which will result in a larger tip.

Yes, agreed. I understand why servers try to up-sell me at the table. But I really appreciate those who don't.

Hi, Chatters! Where do you recommend buying spices? I'm overwhelmed with the choice. Bulk at Wegmans or Whole Foods, packaged bulk at an Amish market, Penzey's, an ethnic grocery store, McCormick at grocery store? I am starting to save the large jars from spices I need to replace so I have somewhere to actually store bulk purchases. Which stores do you think have the fastest turnover and therefore the freshest spices? Which stores do you think have the best prices? Thanks!

One of my favorite places to get spices is at Souk on Capitol Hill -- they have a great variety of spices from all over the world, many of which they purchase directly on buying trips, and you can buy just an ounce at a time. It's a great way to try out some specialty items that you might not normally try -- I love the flaked lemon salt, for instance -- or when you only need a small amount of something for a specific recipe.

I LOVE Bazaar Spices in Union Market. And I like to mail order from this great place I found in Maine when I was up there: Gryffon Ridge. Of course, Penzeys and Kalustyan's are old standbys, too.

A friend recently made a snarky comment because I refuse to buy cheese that's already shredded. I buy cheese blocks and wedges and do my own shredding as needed. To me, the cheese is fresher and for some reason, it just tastes better. What are your thoughts?

You are right all around. Next time your friend gives you snark just nod and smile a knowing smile. Or tell them this: Often shredded cheese is treated with some kind of starch to keep the pieces separate -- and this can definitely affect the flavor as well as how well the cheese melts. Grate away!

I am considering buying a portable induction cooktop/burner and not sure what I should look for. Do the Food Chatters have any recommendations? Thanks.

Test one that's plugged in at the store; some press-button controls can be tougher to manipulate than others. Ideally, you'll have instant heat and a sufficient range of temperatures. Make sure your pans are compatible, too.

And the easiest way to make sure your pans will work is to see if a little magnet sticks strongly to the bottom!

Hi All - I bought my first block of tofu (firm) and don't know what to do with it. I've only had tofu once or twice in my life and I'm trying to eat a little more vegetarian through the week (meaning, one meal per day instead of two, or three) I figure I start adding this "thing" in. Any suggestions for a first-time recipe for success that will make me go, "Great! That rocked!" rather than the other extreme of, "So, that's what grilled snot tastes like?" All flavors/styles work for me (minus cilantro) and I'm pretty adept in the kitchen and the grill too. Thanks in advance!

Tofu is great to cook with, so you are going to enjoy it when you get started, especially if you like being in the kitchen anyway. The first thing about working with firm tofu is that you want to drain off the liquid and pat it dry with some paper towels, pressing down on the block to get out some of the excess water. I love to make a quick marinade out of 1/2 cup tamari, a crushed garlic clove, the juice of one lemon, a few drops of toasted sesame seed oil, and 1/3 cup of olive oil; slice the tofu lengthwise into 1-inch slices and pour the marinade over them, then let them soak for about an hour (or even all day in the refrigerator while you are at work). You can them pop them on the grill, under the broiler, or sear them in a hot frying pan, a few minutes per side.

As you get used to working with the tofu, you can try out this great recipe from Chef Todd Gray at Equinox, which combines both firm and soft tofu to make a delicious eggless scramble.


RECIPE: Artichoke, Dried Tomato and Green Onion Frittata

Here are a few of my favorite tofu recipes to get you started:

Baked and Marinated Tofu

Black Pepper Tofu Pot

Gingery Tofu Sliders

Smoked Tofu Salad

I recently got a hand-cranked ice cream maker and plan to put it to use this weekend. What are your favorite recipes for a good vanilla that isn't TOO high in fat but still makes good use of cream (I bought a quart at the farmers market this week)? Also, are there any non-vanilla that are must tries, in your opinion(s)? Happy Fourth to you!

I find that you ought not think TOO much about the fat if you're making ice cream. :)

I know I sound like a broken record, but I love just about every ice cream recipe I've made from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. Here's a link to the vanilla recipe. I'm guessing you'd just use your crank maker instead of the electric, but I'm not 100 percent sure -- anyone?

Also, see our ice cream project from the other year.

GRAPHIC: Ice Cream: Here's the scoop

We have some great ice cream recipes in our database.

Fresh Mint Ice Cream With Chocolate Flakes

RECIPE: Fresh Mint Ice Cream With Chocolate Flakes

Honey Sunflower Ice Cream

RECIPE: Honey Sunflower Ice Cream

Baklava Ice Cream

RECIPE: Baklava Ice Cream

Poppy Seed Ice Cream

RECIPE: Poppy Seed Ice Cream

for the BBQ guru: i'm pretty bored with my ribs (pork) these days. my usual is to just smoke them with a basic rub (Stub's, or just salt and pepper and paprika). hickory and charocal only. they always come out pretty good or better but are there any other things i can play with? i don't care much for sauces or sweetness in general.

       So, I am going to suggest something heretical: lose your distaste for sauce. I say that as a guy who, like yourself, doesn't much care for sauce.

      But there is sauce and there is sauce. For example, the wet Jamaican spice rub is a sauce, of sorts, and it goes great on ribs! Here's a recipe to try from Steven Raichlen. Also, the chocolate-based multi-spice mole is also a type of sauce, and, brushed onto ribs, it is fantastic. A recipe from Rick Bayless.   In other words, play around with different ideas of dry and wet, of sauce and unsauced. For your dry rub, try an Italian version, with a light coating of olive oil and then a rub of dried herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme) and, toward the end, a basting of lemon juice.

      If you need additional ideas, check out "America Best Ribs" by Ardia A. Davis and Paul Kirk.

       Hope that gets you started!

What products are substitutes for transfats , i.e. shortening and margarine?

That's a tough question. Best I can tell, all vegetable shortenings contain small amounts of transfat. When Cisco says it has "0g trans fat per serving," the company is not saying the product has no transfats; it's saying the product has decreased the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil enough to make that claim. You might also like to know that a company may replace partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with fully hydrogenated vegetable oils. Saturated fats, in other words.


So the best alternative for me? Go back to butter.


Or wait three years to see what the food industry does to replace transfats. The FDA gave manufacturers three years to replace all transfats in the American food system.

Virgin coconut oil, cold enough to be solid, is a great sub for margarine.

I cook for just two, so we often have leftovers whenever I make pasta. I notice that by the next day, my pasta sauce will have dried out, leaving it more a pasty coating than an actual sauce (I'm assuming my pasta ended up absorbing the extra moisture). I was wondering if it would be a good idea to save some of my pasta water to use to rehydrate my sauce the next day. Thoughts?

Interesting question. For generations, Italians cooks have used some pasta water to thicken their sauces, which sounds counterintuitive until you remember how much starch gets released into the pasta water during a boil.


So, would the same pasta water also help thin out and reconstitute a drier, pastier sauce? Frankly, I don't know, and maybe chatters have experience with this. But my guess is you'd have to dilute the pasta water with some tap water  (depending on your original ratio of pasta to water, of course).



Sure, it would work! The thing about pasta water at home is that it's not ALL that starchy, unlike the stuff that results from restaurants that make pasta after pasta in the same water. It would absolutely help.

After reading Joe's column on cashew cream, I wanted to remind folks of a great kale chip recipe that's based on this ingredient. I first read about it in your Food section, and it's become a staple. If you have a surplus of kale (and if you're in a CSA, I'll bet you do) this is a wonderful way to use up a batch and preserve it for a week or more.

Elizabeth Petty's Kale Chips

RECIPE: Elizabeth Petty's Kale Chips

That is a classic, thanks!

I once made a recipe for a potato salad that was probably my favorite ever. Sadly, I lost it. All I remember about it is that it used rendered fat from the bacon and some vinegar as the dressing and there were perhaps green onions mixed in along with the bacon and potatoes. I feel I can pull all that together, but it seems a little lacking, at least in other ingredients to go along with the potatoes/bacon/green onions. Any other suggestions for what else I could add that would complement those ingredients? I don't need a ton of stuff. Maybe just one or two more items?

Potato salad is the kind of thing that you can dress up with all kinds of other things, from crumbled hard-boiled eggs to chopped celery, but you can also get amazing depth of flavor from it just by cooking the potatoes in vegetable or chicken broth, a common trick by cooks from the South -- where they do make pretty great potato salad.

Check out Bonnie's recent piece on how to make the best potato salads. Great recipes!

We make sauce from local San Marzano tomatoes. Do any of you have an opinion on the usefulness of the tool that skins and seeds them?

Do you mean a hand-cranked food mill? If you have large quantities of tomatoes to process, it's a precious piece of equipment. (And a multitasker, as A. Brown likes to say.)

Side note on grating it yourself. Toss in a bit of nutritional yeast to help keep the shreds from sticking together, especially if you are setting the grated cheese aside for a time. (Parmesan also works if you don't want to use nutritional yeast.) I do this when I grate cheese for our homemade pizzas or for tacos. I've also seen it on a couple TV cooking shows (e.g., Lidia Bastianich) so I feel all validated and cozy about doing it. <side grin>

Interesting! I'd be interested to try that some time.

The title was a turn off at first, but the more I read the recipe I was intriqued and thought I'd like to try it! I was wondering if anyone could clarify how much lime juice is used in the recipe, vs. 1 1/2 limes? (I prefer to see amounts listed in recipes) I was also surprised to read the recipe calls for zest as well as juice of the lime, as it wasn't mentioned in the ingredients. How much zest? And also, since I only buy large eggs, is there an ounce equivalent to how much an extra large egg would be? (I don't see myself buying a whole dozen for just the one recipe.) Thanks!

RECIPE Coconut Lime Pancakes

Sorry I didn't include the yield of juice in the directions -- figure at least 1 tablespoon, but this is a flexible recipe and you could add as much juice and zest as you like. And to clarify, Dinner in Minutes recipes are written differently from the others in Food; so that all prep is included in the time and order it takes to produce the dish. Use 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white; I'll make a note in the recipe for that as well.


Hope you try these! Kristen happened to be at the same photo shoot and she took some home. Quite substantial, and different.



I don't mind saying that I'm slightly obsessed with those coconut lime pancakes now! They have an amazing texture almost like a macaroon -- I've even tried some desiccated coconut in my regular biscuit recipe now and it was a hit with my family.

I'm intrigued, and will try the recipe. But I automatically go to the dark side... any thoughts on how it might work in a ganache? I'm thinking nuts + chocolate is never a bad thing.

I've seen recipes for this on the Interwebs, so yes, I think it should work, if you get the proportions right.

Or you could use coconut milk, as in this great recipe from Vedge co-owner Kate Jacoby, which eats like a pudding when warm but firms up to ganache status when cold. (And in case the beets put you off, know that I've made it with just chocolate and coconut milk, and it works like a charm!)

RECIPE: Chocolate Beet Pots de Creme

I've got an oregano plant that's growing like gangbusters, and I'm at a loss for how to use it. Couple that with my generally being in the doldrums and not inspired by cooking. Do you have any ideas? Maybe starting with a few simpler things to help ease me back into the cooking groove?

Got a boxed lunch today from a product presentation. Turkey, muenster, cornbread with cranberry mayo on cinnamon raisin bread. Surprisingly nice to have Thanksgiving dinner for lunch in July.

Word. The most popular sandwich all summer long at Provisions in Nantucket is turkey, cranberry sauce, cold stuffing on thick slabs of artisan bread.

Any harm to make a pitcher of Hemingway daiquiris in advance of a party, like, a half a gallon of it hours before hand? I guess it's a question for cocktails in general too. Like, say making a lot of Manhattan in bulk. Do I risk the alcohol content decreasing because it's had time to interact with other things in there (thus binding it up) or off flavors being created?

If you really want to geek out on it, there's a whole line of research in mixology that argues lime juice is actually better after it's been sitting out for a bit. I'm inclined to say that you'll be OK across the board if you're just talking an hour or two; in fact, sometimes batching in advance will allow more time for the flavors to meld. Keep the final product refrigerated until about five minutes before you serve it, add the necessary ice at that point so it will chill and dilute just a bit before serving.

I just dug up a bumper crop of shallots. However, I haven't been able to store them very well, as there isn't anyplace in the house that is the right combination of cool and dry, so they need to be used before winter. When can I substitute them for onions? Can you caramelize shallots?

You can use them instead of onions and you can caramelize them. Many French chefs, in fact, swear by shallots. A few things to keep in mind if using shallots:


1. They're a bit sweeter and less pungent than white onions. They also have a more garlic-like flavor. So depending on the dish you're making, you may need adjust the amount of shallots to hit the flavors you want.


2. Larger shallots have a bigger flavor. Adjust accordingly.


3. One enterprising home cook discovered you can extend the shelf life of shallots (and onions and garlic) by storing them in ventilated paper bags (made with a hole punch). The alliums were relatively firm and fresh even after three months in the bag, which was stored in a cool, dark place.

They are great for frizzle-frying and adding to rice salads. Cut into thin slices, fry in a thin slick of oil. Drain, cool and keep in an airtight container for up to several weeks.

Hello, For the Fourth of July party, I am making ice cream sandwiches with homemade chocolate chip cookies, and store bought vanilla ice cream (I have had bad luck with ice cream makers recently so am without one). I plan to use miniature chocolate chips, and to let the cookies cool and the ice cream soften before putting them together. But I've never done this before, so are there any other things to consider regarding putting them together and storing them in the freezer?

You'll want to give the assembled sandwiches at least an hour in the freezer to firm back up. Don't know how far in advance you're making them, but if you're storing for awhile, you may want to wrap them individually to ward off any freezer flavors.

You and the chatters are always the best source of intel. A family member has to make drastic dietary changes and is used to very good food. I am looking for a cookbook or website that features good tasting food that is low fat, low cholesterol, and low acid (I know the least about low acid.) Suggestions much appreciated - thanks for your help!

Hmm, the low-acid add-on might be something you'd have to be  on the lookout for, recipe to recipe. Check out the bibliography of British writer Anthony Worrall Thompson; I find his special-needs diet books have interesting things in them.

Hi Rangers, I made the peanut butter brownie pie with pretzel crust last night, and while the filling was good, the crust was....meh. It wasn't really a crust, just sort of a pile of buttered, toasty pretzel bits under the filling. Delicious, but not quite what I was expecting. Should I have added more butter to bind it? (It seemed quite dry while mixing.) Is there another trick I'm missing? Thanks for your help!

How crushed were they? Was there a little sugar involved along w/the butter? They shouldn't be pulverized to a powder, but reduced enough to hold together when you press a small amount in your palm (pre-oven time). Another thing that might work, plus add an extra layer of chocolaty goodness, is to melt some bittersweet choco and spread a thin layer over the baked crust, then let it firm up before proceeding with the recipe.

RECIPE: Peanut Butter Brownie Pie With Pretzel Crust

I'd like to cook with tofu, but it seems like almost all of the recipes I find are based on Asian flavors which I'm not really a fan of (I really hate soy sauce). Know of any sources I might check out that offer a broader base of recipes and flavors?

You can really do anything with tofu -- it's great with barbecue or buffalo sauce, for instance, but one of my favorite dishes is tofu that is cubed and tossed with steamed broccoli and linguine with a lot of crushed garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese.

There is a link to a pan-fried tofu recipe/method on that is great. Instead of pressing, it calls for the tofu to be soaked in hot, salted water and then fried in a generous amount of oil. I have no idea how the salted water bath works, but it's the best method I've used for pan-fried cubes at home.

I keep meaning to mention how much we LOVE the pepperpot tofu - a staple in my house. It's easier to cook tofu on non-stick of course. I have cast iron and find that a medium heat, when it gets hot, it just right - if it's on a high light the tofu sticks. If you put in the tofu when it sizzles it still crisps up nicely. I love Trader Joe's organic super high protien tofu - it comes in a packet without water and is really firm and crisps brilliantly.

We've been using the grill a TON lately in order to avoid heating up the house with the oven. Can you suggest some non-meaty entrees? We did grill pizza for the first time this weekend, and found it delicious! I would also love some suggestions for good ice-pops (bonus points if they aren't red or chocolate, since we have to share with a toddler and I don't want to do THAT much laundry). My mom used to make us orange-banana ones, but we can't quite figure out how she made them popscicle-y, not icey (and she doesn't remember).

Grilled halloumi cheese is delicious -- all crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside! 

Grilled Zucchini and Halloumi Salad

RECIPE: Grilled Zucchini and Halloumi Salad

     Grill some veggies, such as eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes, and add them to pasta for a beautiful and light summer dinner. You can also grill the vegetables that go into gazpacho for a terrific version of the classic summer soup. I made a dinner not long ago of a grilled Caesar salad, slicing the romaine lengthwise in half, brushing it lightly with olive oil, then grilling it for about 3 minutes on both sides, and tossing with my favorite Caesar dressing (with anchovies, of course).

       Joe does lots of grilled vegetarian dishes. Check out his recipes in the Recipe Finder. In addition, a couple of worthwhile books: "The Gardener and the Grill" by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, and "The New Vegetarian Grill" by Andrea Chesman.


Have you searched  all the several hundred NO COOK options in our Recipe Finder? Our annual issue full of such recipes is due in early August.

Since Jim tossed the ball my way, I'll suggest that you try grilling baby beets; grilling cabbage; and grilling plantains, for starters.

And for ice pops, did you see those incredible-looking Fresh Peachsicles from Cathy Barrow recently? How delicious (and easy) is that?

...what does cashew cream taste like? Cashews? I love cashews, but I'm always skeptical of vegan alternatives to dairy because it seems like they're often trying to replicate the flavor of whatever they're substituting for. But the reason I don't really eat dairy is because I don't like the flavor -- so I don't want something that's going to taste the same (see: nutritional yeast and cheese). It seems like this is more about achieving the right texture, not flavor. Is that right?

Cashew cream does have a cashew-y flavor to it, which is very nice, but the texture is the best part, in my mind. It's really rich and creamy and, honestly, I could eat it with a spoon all by itself, maybe sweetened with a little honey.

Agreed. The cashew-ness is pretty subtle. It's great.

Must it be stored in the freezer/fridge, or can I store it at room temperature in a sealed bottle? After adding the simple syrup, I have been storing it at room temperature, decanting some into smaller mason jars that are then kept in the freezer. Because I’m the only one enjoying it, it has lasted a long time. Last night I noticed a discoloration floating on the surface and I am concerned. Still, I swirled the bottle and decanted a portion from that bottle into the smaller mason jar. But I am concerned whether I can drink it. Is it appropriate to store limoncello at room temperature for a long period of time? Thanks in advance for your insight.

Not having seen the discoloration, I hesitate to say this unequivocally. If you're talking a layer of black mold, I wouldn't risk it. If you're talking a slight browning of the liqueur, I suspect that's just part of the making-limoncello-at-home-reality. Assuming that you didn't drop something icky into the bottle when you made the stuff and that it's limoncello of the standard ABV of around 30 percent, you should be OK!

Hi free rangers- I have ground turkey and swiss chard in my fridge that need to get cooked up, any dinner suggestions? (I obviously would not fare well on the show "Chopped"...)

I like the idea of turning it into an Italian soup, similar to this recipe.

In your recipe for Cherries and Fudge Ice Cream Cake, it calls for Kirsch. Having never heard of it, I googled. it. Since I NEED to make that cake for my birthday, I would like to buy a good quality kirsch. Can you recommend a couple of brands?

If you're just going to be using it for desserts, you probably don't need to splurge on a pricey kirschwasser. But if you want to serve a nip of it along with your dessert, I'd go for something like Clear Creek if you can find it. Or Massenez, another good one.

Try googling "German potato salad" or "hot German potato salad" and see if that helps you get close to what you remember.

This recipe from David Hagedorn is pretty close, and pretty darn good. You could add some bacon and the rendered fat (maybe cut back on the oil if you do that) to it.

German Potato Salad

RECIPE: German Potato Salad

Not a food mill. We use one of those. I was thinking of something more like these:

Not to be too blunt about this, but that looks like a waste of money and counter space. To make a traditional, no-cook Neapolitan tomato sauce with canned San Marzanos, all you need is a food processor. See this simple recipe.

If you have/use a food mill, why would you want an electric one?

I also think it's important to experiment with different types/brands of tofu and find out what you like. I'm a huge fan of Twin Oaks tofu as it has a more "solid" texture, plus it's made somewhat locally. Their herb version is great for sauteeing/baking to throw in with pasta. When I want something more delicate, I like a particular Trader Joe's type (I think it's Trader Joe San Organic). Whereas I can't tell you the last time I bought a tub of Nasoya.....

Absolutely. I'm a fan of Twin Oaks. I even went to the community and spent an overnight so I could talk to them and write about them! Really nice folks, great product.

ARTICLE: Tofu, the building blocks of Twin Oaks

Coconut oil is 92 percent saturated fat, while butter is 63 percent. Go with Tim on this one.

Butter is great, of course, but for people who don't eat dairy, coconut oil is fantastic. And for anyone, it has its own charms -- try it on roasted sweet potatoes, and you'll see what I mean. Besides, there has been plenty written about its health benefits, and some nutritionists say it's better than other saturated fats.

We had a power outage last Friday which lasted for 36 hours. We didn't open the refrigerator the entire time and Saturday afternoon my husband hooked up a generator and cooled the fridge down for a few hours. We gave away our eggs to somebody who fully understood the situation but I'm wondering if that was necessary. Egg-pocalypse is ongoing and I hated to give away expensive food. Thoughts?

Assuming your eggs were commercially produced, and as long as your somebody plans to cook those eggs at relatively high temperatures, I think all would be safe. (If they were farmers market-fresh eggs and not exposed to that industrial washing, I'm even more sure they'd be fine.)

Dry it! You will be thankful mid-winter. If you don't have a dehydrator, just use the lowest possible temp in the oven. Or iff you have a gas oven where the pilot light is always on (which was the case in my old apartment) that will work like a charm.

Good call.

I'm in the same boat, and I'll suggest three things:

1. Herb butter. Blend fresh oregano in the food processor with room temperature butter, add salt to taste, roll into log(s), wrap with plastic wrap, and freeze.

2. Herb salt. Blend a couple cups of fresh oregano leaves with 1/4 cup of coarse salt to make a paste, and THEN dry. Crumble it up and store in jars.

3. This one is really helpful, I swear. From my sister in Maine who has SO MANY HERBS: Don't be afraid to just treat them like cut flowers, and cut them ALL THE TIME and put them in vases in your house. You'll love the smell. I did this last year with a bumper crop of lemon basil and lemon verbena, and this year it's oregano and rosemary.

That Rick Bayless mole sauce you suggested for ribs sounds really good, but I was confused at part of the instructions. After broiling the tomatillos, he says to "Scrape into a large bowl." Does he mean scrape the insides of the tomatillos from their skins?

Yep, that's what he means.


A couple of years ago, I started lightly mopping my spare ribs during the smoking process (about two or three times during the five hours). For the mop, I mixed together some olive oil, apple cider vinegar, a barrel-aged fish sauce and a small amount of mustard as an emulsifier. No one ever detects the fish sauce, but it really makes the flavors pop.

If reflux is the problem, there is a book called Dropping Acid that includes extensive menu plans.

THAT's what that book's about? :)

I have friends who have decided to gluten free to the extreme! They do not have celiac's or any other diagnosed gluten allergy/intolerance. I'm trying to be respectful but their dietary limitations have now extended to oats, corn, quinoa - basically all grains (they're even picky about rice!). They say all grains contain some amount of gluten. Is that true? I LOVE quinoa and would love to have some ammunition to persuade them to incorporate quinoa into their gluten-free lifestyle. Do you know of any literature, studies, etc. that talk about quinoa in a gluten-free diet? It's obviously their choice, but I cook for them frequently and am trying to find some common ground. I've tried all kinds of different veggies but unfortunately they are also very picky about vegetables. It's basically boiled down to, I supply the meat and everyone's responsible for their own sides. That's no fun! Sides are the best part! It's amazing what a HUGE role food plays in our social dynamic, and when you can't all enjoy the same meal it's kind of a bummer.

This makes my head hurt. I'm afraid your friends are subscribing to a bit of quack science. Because oats, rice, quinoa and corn are by nature gluten-free. I'm not sure how much of an argument you want to get into with your friends (and picky about veggies, aack!), but I'd point them to the article in this week's Health section about the potential problems with a gluten-free diet.

ARTICLE: For many, gluten isn’t the villain it gets cracked up to be

Honestly if it's this frustrating, maybe you need to do non-food activities with these folks. Movie time!

As a lemon meringe pie fan I love your idea of using lemon curd in s'mores with melted marshmallow but wonder whether the graham cracker flavor might not make it all a little, perhaps, too earthy? If not, I am definitely trying this.

I think Chat Leftovers pro Jane Touzalin would put lemon curd on a shoe, if that were necessary. But to consider your point, lemon icebox pies often have graham cracker crusts, so the pairing seems like it'd be perfect.

I made this over the weekend to add some variety to my standby for cooking eggplant; it was delicious! However, in my haste, I added the soy sauce to the salsa negra at the start, instead of after it cooked and cooled. How would this have impacted the recipe?

It might have turned out a little thicker and perhaps sharper-tasting then intended, but if you loved it, there's your answer!!

RECIPE: Spicy Chipotle Eggplant With Black Beans

I love the idea of trying out cashew cream in my kitchen, since I'm allergic to legumes, but not nuts. I'm baffled by the fact that the fat content of your recipe is lowered using the cashew cream, though, since cashews are also high in calories. Is it the fact that they are essentially watered down that accounts for the fewer calories?

It's the fact that compared to the same amount of cream, yes, 1/2 cup of cashews have fewer calories and saturated fat.

RECIPE: Creamy Red Chard Linguine

I'm slowly but surely trying to transition from a vegetarian to a more vegan diet, so I loved the piece on cashew cream!! Another sub that is surprisingly wonderful is seasoned crumbled tofu in the place of ricotta cheese. My question is whether you've ever found an adequate vegan substitute for a white cheddar mac & cheese recipe? It's one of my favorites and tough to consider going without!

It's tough to replicate certain things like mac-n-cheese into a vegan version, so my advice is to follow Chef Todd Gray's lead and go for thinking about textures and aromas, rather than exact replicas. For instance, a beautiful cashew cream baked with pasta and topped with crispy panko could give you the mouthfeel that you're looking for in a vegan mac-n-cheese. 


If you want for lunch, why not keep some of the pasta separate from the sauce? If you want it another night, make less the first time and just make more pasta. This would be my preferred method - nuked pasta is a bit floppy and not so nice.

I always save some pasta water to use for reheating the pasta leftovers. If the recipe calls for pulling out a specified amount for the sauce, I pull out extra.

Sorry if this is a repeat, my computer went all wonky. Two of my co-workers have purchased pellet grills and swear by them. I like the idea of a steady temperature and easy start, but we are long-time Weber grill fans and like the criss-cross patterns of the grill on our steaks and veg. Any thoughts?

       The convenience and steady temperature of pellet grills are definitely what make them so popular. The downside is that pellets just don't provide the deep, penetrating smoke that actual wood chunks (or even chips, for that matter) do. As for criss-cross grill-mark patterns, there is a product called GrillGrates, which have raised "rails" that you place atop your grates and they create higher heat and provide for terrific grill marks. You can get them for pellet grills and kettles alike. So, really, it's up to you how you want to cook outdoors.

Hi, gang! I have a number of shisito peppers coming along on my plants. I've never grown them before, but they're small, cute , and really prolific. Is there anything especially tasty I should do with them? Thanks!

I like to keep it simple and cook them the way I've had them served in tapas restaurants. Blister them in some olive oil in a cast-iron skillet. Let them char all over, sprinkle with sea salt, maybe a little lemon juice too. 

We did a nice roasted pepper goat cheese spread in this week's issue -- you could definitely use the shisito peppers there!

We'll be camping on the forth and I just found a lovely bone-in pork butt on sale. Any recipe ideas as for how to cook it when we are camping? This is not backpack camping so we'll have a cooler but no weber and no oven, just a fireplace.

        With campfire cooking, you're generally into open pit cooking (as opposed to closed, or lid-down, cooking). Pork butts take a long time to cook. So, I'd suggest one of two approaches. One, season the meat and then wrap it tightly in two layers of tinfoil and place directly on the coals. Cook for at least an hour per pound, turning over halfway through. Two, place on the grates above the coals and tent foil or metal over the butt and cook for an hour and a half per pound.

Well, you've sprinkled us with chives, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks for Kristen, Jim and Carrie for helping us answer them.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about making a ganache with cashew cream will get "Vegan With A Vengeance." The one who proclaimed being "bored with ribs" will get "Tex-Mex From Scratch."

Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew. ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is the Food section's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff writer and former Food section editorial aide.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Kristen Hartke
Kristen Hartke is a Washington-based food writer and editor. She wrote this week's story about summer cheese.
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