Free Range on Food

Aug 13, 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 Free Range! Hope you are enjoying this week's Food coverage, from Bonnie's fun take on lobster to Emily Horton's love letter to field peas and Jessica Contrera's exploration of the latest food in movies. Plus more in between, of course!

What's on your mind? Send us your best q's, and we'll do our best to help with some good a's.

We have special guests to help us today: Emily, one of our regular contributors who's now based in Seattle; plus two reps of Samuels and Son Seafood in Philly: fishmonger Anthony D'Angelo and marine biologist Joe Lasprogata, who can handle any and all lobster q's -- or of course anything else seafood related.

Let's do this!

I made the blueberry jam from last week and it was delicious. However, I think I reduced it too much and only got three jars and it is thick! After the foam was gone, I did the frozen dish test and it seemed runny to me, so I continued to cook it, and then when I tested it again (probably after 5-10 minutes) it set up immediately and I then canned it. Even with over cooking it, it still took about 20 minutes, far less than the 35 listed in the recipe. I think it will just take practice, but do you have any tips to get the correct set-up? Thank you!

Canning Class pro Cathy Barrow says:

I'm sorry you've had this happen! Learning when jam is entirely set can be tricky. Even one minute too far and the jam will be too thick, and one minute too little results in a loose set. It's interesting that your jam cooked so much more quickly than my test batches, but is not that surprising as different fruits have differing water content. 

It sounds like you overcooked your jam a bit, especially considering the reduced yield (one less jar than expected). Once the foam is gone, it's ready, even if a test seems a little loose on the cold plate. Keep in mind, jam sets up further as it cools.

Those sure look like cowpeas. I grow cowpeas in my garden as part of a rotation. They do the best during the heat of the midsummer when everything other than tomatoes seem to take a break. They do take a while to shell, but even a dozen row feet will allow us to eat our fill now as well as blanche and freeze some for the winter. Cowpeas are so versatile as they taste good alone with just some salt and pepper and yet can be added anywhere beans or peas are added. I like making a fresh tomato salsa and adding blanched cowpeas. Use those itmes which are coming from the garden at the same time.

My sentiments exactly! My grandmother used to put up 60-70 quarts each summer (enough for the kids to take home, too). We only ever ate them straight, with the pot liquor, but I like to throw them in anything and everything. Will have to try them in salsa sometime, too; thanks for the tip.

Sorry to miss last week's chat. I hope I can fit in one last fermentation question. Does cooking fermented foods, ie. kimchi or sour kraut, kill their good bacteria and erase their positive health benefits?

Yes, if you're looking for the probiotic benefits of fermented foods, cooking them will kill off all the good bacteria.


Some fermentation resources for those who want to learn more:

Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz's Web site, a site dedicated to all things fermented


Cultures for Health, an online retailer with all sorts of articles and videos on fermented processes.

There are too many options for cream cheese frosting out there. I really need a true and tried recipe and dont know where to start! Im not a fan of frosting but was assigned to bring it to a party :s any recommendations are appreciated!

Good for you for not opting to buy that stuff in a can, which is sweet enough to disintegrate shark teeth. (JUST KIDDING; I HAVE NOT TRIED THIS, CHATTERS.) I have long used this recipe from ace baker Elinor Klivans. Double it if you want to make enough to frost the whole cake:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temp (do not use nonfat)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

You'll want to beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla extract in/with a mixer until it's well combined and lightened, then stop to scrape down the bowl. Add the sugar and beat on low, then medium-high speed for 1 minute until lightened and all incorporated. (I drape a damp paper towel or two over the bowl while the motor's on to keep from dusting the counter.) 

I submitted an early comment last week about incubating homemade yogurt inside a cooler by placing the Mason jars with the prepared yogurt in a cooler atop a heating pad inside a folded towel. Unfortunately, I was not present for the chat, and Tim asked if I had ever tested the temperature inside the cooler to see where it hovers. The answer is that I have not. It's always been a set it and forget it, leaving the yogurt to do its thing for about 8 hours, usually overnight. I did, however, forget to mention that I place another towel on top, tucking the edges between the cooler walls and the jars and to allow the finished yogurt to cool on the counter and refrigerate. (The batch usually consists of six 16-oz jars, so we're talking about a large picnic cooler and a couple of normal sized bath towels.) As far as being 'the Macgyver of yogurt makers' (which gave me a little chuckle), I can't take credit for the idea, as it was passed onto me by a friend years ago. I did a search the other day, and there are variations on this theme available on the internet. I scanned several and none used quite the same method as I described. Maybe I misunderstood my friend's instructions, but it's easy and works beautifully.

Thanks for the further clarification on your process.


I have a heating pad, a cooler and many towels. My next batch will attempt to recreate your process!

I'm making fattoush (Middle Eastern tomato-pita salad) for dinner tonight, and I've been unable to find two of the ingredients the recipe calls for: pomegranate molasses and ground sumac. For the pomegranate, I'm assuming I could just use some honey, but I'm not sure about the sumac. I'm going to check my Whole Foods again on the way home to see if they have it, but if they don't, could you recommend a substitute? Or whether you think it would be fine just to omit it? Thanks.

Whole Foods will certainly have pomegranate juice. You can buy that and reduce it to a syrup (will take a while, but so worth it). I am addicted to the taste of pom molasses and think you'd miss the flavor if you just added honey. It is tart and rich with just a bit of a sweet edge. 


Where do you live? If not near any Med store or a branch of Lebanese Taverna markets, I'm pretty sure the molasses is available the Mediterranean Way right in Dupont Circle. And ask your WFM manager to carry it! 

I ran across some fresh lima beans (in their pods) recently and was so excited that I bought a pound of them. The trouble is that I've never eaten them unless they were frozen and/or prepared by someone else. What do I do with them?!

Fresh lima beans are a treat! You can actually cook them the same way as fresh field peas... after they're shelled, cover with water and a pinch of salt, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. They cook in no time. Some folks like to add onion and a piece of ham; I usually use a little smoked salt and black pepper. 

Happy Lunch Time! It's corn on the cob time for my CSA Box-Yay! But as single person there is only so much corn I can eat in one sitting. When I'm on the ball I'll quickly blanch some of the cobs and prep for freezing, but some weeks I don't have the time to do the day my box comes in. My question, how do you keep fresh corn fresh and for how long? My mother taught us not to keep it in the fridge before or after cooking.......thanks so much!

That don't-refrigerate corn thing is a myth, I'm sorry to say. (Sorry, Mom!) Refrigeration slows down the process of corn's sugars turning to starch, so if you want to keep it sweet, quickly refrigerate it. Leave the husks on, intact, and put them in a perforated plastic bag so they don't get too moist. They'll keep well for a couple of days, but then they'll start to deteriorate.

You can do the microwave-husking/silking trick instead of blanching. Just dip the cobs in water and microwave them for a few minutes until they feel hot to the touch. Cut a little off the stem end, and they'll slide out clean, ever-so-slightly cooked. Then you can cut the kernels off for freezing.

Our own Becky Krstyal once did a blog post for All You Can Eat (remember that?) on how to microwave corn. A step-by-step guide.

Here's how I prepare them (no meat!): I cook minced onion in olive oil for awhile, add a bit of garlic, maybe some chopped carrot but not always, dump in the peas, add chicken stock (vegetable stock would be fine for the meat-impaired), a short branch of rosemary and a bay leaf from my yard, and pepper and simmer for about 20 minutes. If the peas are about cooked, I add some salt and then voila! Delicious - and using more broth permits you to make this into soup - also delicious!

Thanks for sharing! This sounds like a great preparation. I often do something similar, with the addition of a little tomato, and pasta after the peas are nearly cooked, for a version of pasta e fagioli. Love the one-pot meals. 

I have a recipe for buttermilk pancakes. I'd like to add pumpkin flavor by incorporating some pumpkin purée, but I'm unsure whether I can do this without changing the consistency of the batter. Can I just add it in? Do I need to substitute it for another ingredient? Thank you.

I would have guessed that adding the puree would affect the rise of the pancake, but some quick Googling seems to indicate otherwise. At least when using a commercial pancake mix. One key is to get those cakes onto the grill fast.


Anybody have real experience with this?

Depends on how much you want to add. A few tablespoons may do the trick and not have any effect other than to slightly thicken the batter, which you can then correct by adding another splosh of buttermilk. Or, you can weigh the amount of buttermilk called for, weigh the amount of puree you wish to add, remove that much buttermilk from the original amount, then stir the puree into the reduced amount of buttermilk. Follow?

Best food movie for kids and grownups alike. Makes vegetables look fabulous and sent my two young boys on a quest for the perfect recipe (I kid you not) of this fabulous all-vegetable dish.

Yep, it's such a good one! That movie dish was Confit Byaldi, made by Thomas Keller himself. We had a fun take on this (and an easier version) around the time of the movie: Check it out.

Recipe: Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille

What's one of the easiest and best recipes you have for an appetizer that will impress guests with some of the cherry tomatoes I have in my garden? Looking for something I might find from a restaurant.

You could hollow them out w/a melon baller and fill them with a decadent lobster (ding! duck comes down) salad, or a rich mixture of smashed potato/triple cream cheese or Brie/with a dollop of creme fraiche and spot of caviar on top. OR you could wait a few days and check out the Staff Favorites recipe in next week's Top Tomato issue, wherein Osteria Morini chef Alex Levin shares a simple but really stunning way to prepare them. On toothpicks. OR you could make Mike Isabella's terrific Olive Oil-Poached Cherry Tomato Sauce and use it on crostini (or anything). 

I make yogurt in my toaster oven. For whatever reason, the dial actually goes all the way back to about 100 degrees, so I set it for 110 (which I marked with a small piece of tape) and let it go. It runs about 5 minutes per hour so it's not a big energy waster. On another topic, I love the roasted beet and white bean dip/spread that was in the Home section a few weeks ago--so easy and flavorful! I added a bit of rosemary to the base recipe to kick it up a notch. I'm looking for other similar recipes to more easily avoid the dreaded lunchmeat--what are your go-to easy vegetarian sandwich spreads?

That may be the first time I've heard of a toaster oven used to make yogurt. The ingenuity of home cooks never ceases to surprise me.


As for spreads, I've been fond of Serbian ajvar since since I learned about it years ago. It works with meat or fish, lending either a spicy edge.


Some other spreads to consider:


Artichoke Spread


Ricotta, Spiced Apricot and Almond Spread


 Rhubarb Mango Chutney

So I know you talked about this in regard to bean liquid as well, but I forget what you response was. What am I supposed to do with pea broth/bean liquid? Do I use it like chicken stock to rice or something? Some other creative use that I have no idea about? I have some dried garbanzos soaking right now, and will have some of this magical broth/liquid later and want to make sure I use it effectively. Thanks!

I know this is a subject dear to Joe's heart, as well, but since you asked about peas... If I'm not serving the peas in their cooking liquid, I do often use it for some other purpose. One is for a dish I love to make in a spin on pasta e fagioli, using the cooking liquid in combination with some pasta cooking liquid to make a soupy pasta dish. If you're lucky enough to have some crowder peas, they produce a really rich, dark, broth, which makes an excellent (and vegan!) gravy added to a peanut oil-based roux. And, like bean-cooking liquid, you can always use the pea cooking liquid for soups, or for a pilaf, like hoppin' john, or my favorite, limpin' susan (with peas, tomatoes and okra). 

Where I can get vanilla bean paste besides online? I wonder if places like world market or Marshalls carry them...

Marshall's can be a bit hit-and-miss. Are you local? Any good kitchen store should have it -- Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Hill's Kitchen and La Cuisine, to name a few. Expect to pay about $10 for a 4-ounce jar. 

My husband loves avocados, so I try to use them a lot. I only do one big shopping trip a week, and my problem is that every time I look at the avocados in my local Giant they are either hard as rocks or the so-soft-its-mushy leftovers. I've gotten around this partly by just planning my avocado meals for later in the week so they have time to ripen, but it's frustrating having to constantly adjust the plan based on exactly when the avocado is a good ripeness. I guess this is more of a rant than a question, but any suggestions for how to deal with this would be appreciated!

It seems like you have a firm, ahem, grasp on how to select avocados. The only thing I might add is that if you buy a semi-ripe avocado and don't plan to use it for a day or two, you can always place it in the refrigerator, where it will ripen more slowly.


Generally speaking, unripe avocados (firm to the touch, still green and not purplish-green) will ripen in four to five days on the counter.

Joe, thanks for the recipe and the shoutout to Angela Liddon and her "Oh She Glows" website and cookbook. I also stayed away from the website due to the name - sounds a little hokey, doesn't it? After my sister-in-law recommended it, I started cooking off the website. The recipes are simple and great. I'm not a vegan, but have begun to eat vegan about half the time, and feel great - I've lost twenty pounds and have a lot more energy. Glad you like her too!

You're welcome -- and good for you!

The last few Wednesdays have been busier than usual and I've missed the Food Chat here! I'll be missing it again this week, but I wanted to thank all of the Rangers for the great content, even if I am reading it belatedly!

Appreciate it!

I used to think spaghetti squash was gross and lifeless until I tried one from the farmers market instead of the grocery store. Now I look forward to the season every year. Does cooked spaghetti squash freeze well or does it just get totally mushy?

Hmm. I haven't done this, but I see reports out there in Googlelandia that it can indeed turn spaghetti squash mushy. Any chatters have direct experience they can share?

Before I select dates to postpone my print section for vacation, when will the Top Tomato recipes run?

Next week: Aug 20. It's the most wonderful time of the year. Some unexpected ways to use tomatoes! I'm always impressed by what our readers come up with. 

I work with people from all over the world and something that really ticks me off is when they say fast food hamburgers are American food. I usually launch into a diatribe about the US being too big to have one national dish, and that there are many regional specialties instead. I then finish by sending them to a BBQ joint to seal the deal. What do you think of when a visitor to this country wants to learn about 'typical' American food?

Kind of stinks to be on the losing end of a stereotype, doesn't it?


But I've heard similar statements from foreign visitors. The truth is, Americans do eat a lot of hamburgers. One industry source claims that 50 percent of the beef we buy is ground. And we did invent the hamburger sandwich, not to mention the fast-food concept, though we didn't invent the idea of grinding beef and mixing it with aromatics.


And yet to say "America food" can be reduced to just the fast-food burger is like saying Chinese food can be reduced to just rice: America is full of all sorts of defining foods, often built from elements borrowed from other cultures: Southern fried chicken, Louisiana gumbo, the regional barbecue (from Carolina to Texas), shrimp and grits,  wild Alaskan salmon, clam chowder,  Chicago-style pizza, and let's not forget Maryland crab cakes. This list goes on and on.


Chatters, what defines American food for you?

    I gotta say that I like the bbq-joint-deal-sealer. Not only is it deeply American as a food, it's equally American in its regional variations and maybe especially American in the arguments that surround it. 

Lobster, Lobster, Lobster. . . .I bought two lobster tails and have them in the freezer. What is the easiest/healthiest way to cook them. I am not interested in a butter dipping sauce. I would like to be able to shred the meat and maybe use it in a dish of some sort.

You can take them out of our freezer the night before and thaw them naturally in the refrigerator overnight. Then you should boil your tails depending on weight. The ratio is 1:2. For every oz of meat, boil for 2 minutes.  When you've cooked the lobster, chill them in a ice water bath, extract the meat, and add it into your desired dish. It works great in a salad or ceviche style. 

Wish to try the chocolate zucchini cake! I do not own a Bundt pan. Will any other kind do? Thanks.

A tube pan with a removable insert will work. This is a very moist, dense cake that needs the depth and workable/lift-out option. 

Head to a Hispanic market - I go to Mt Pleasant. They have the best avocados, all at various stages of ripeness.

What are your best tips on vegetarian sloppy Joes? Does the mixture need any special handling to avoid texture issues (e.g., drying out, toughening, etc.) Need to make a fairly mild batch for a family gathering --nothing too spicy or too esoteric for this crew. Thanks.

I have a recipe I call Sloppy Vegan Joe in "Eat Your Vegetables" that uses 1/2 cup chorizo-spiced seitan or other vegan meat. It's the only recipe in the book that uses a meat "analogue," and I make it occasionally with one of the few of those that I like, made by Field Roast or Upton's Naturals. Anyway, you basically saute onion/garlic, and add the "chorizo" and red pepper flakes, plus cherry tomatoes, chopped yellow squash, and cook pretty briefly until the squash is just tender. It's juicy and sloppy, as it should be, and I like to eat it on a soft bun or in a pita, with pickle slices.

I have some experience with adding purees to pancakes. I added persimmon puree and that worked well but unfortunately I can't say how much. Maybe 1/2 cup. Just decrease the amount of buttermilk and it works fine.

Posting early due to work. I love roasted chickpeas, but I already eat a lot of chickpeas. Are there any other beans that taste good roasted?

While I prefer chickpeas for roasting because of their roundness and starchiness, I've also roasted black-eyed peas and enjoyed them. Haven't tried others yet.

Quality of coolers varies immensely from Igloos and Colemans that may have ice last for maybe ten hours on a 95 degree DC day to Yeti and Grizzly where ice lasts for four days.

The prices range accordingly, too.

An Igloo MaxCold cooler will sell for $66 to $168, depending on the size.


While a Yeti Tundra, for example, ranges from $300 to $1,400.


Maybe, after years, you'll make up the price difference between the two coolers by purchasing fewer bags of ice.

pancakes and bacon in the morning, a cheesesteak for lunch and fried chicken potato salad and mac and cheese with strawberry shortcake for dessert washed down with ice tea. Lunch beverage either Dr Pepper or Mountain Dew.

NICE use of NO period in Dr! This is someone who knows soda. I'm a Pepper, too, btw.

I'm loving finding fresh tart cherries in stores right now, but other than canned, do you know where I can find them at other times of the year?

You can find frozen sour/tart cherries often at Mediterranean markets -- and maybe at Trader Joe's? Depending on the recipe, sometimes rehydrating dried sour cherries is an option.

I also do this but only one quart at a time in a small cooler. At the medium setting of my heating pad, the temp was about 115 degrees when checked at the 8 hour (completion) point. However, I there was a large amount of whey and the yogurt was grainy. I learned from last week's chat that @ that temp. I was probably heating it too long. So last week I kept the heating pad on for only 5 hours and let the yogurt cool down in the cooler. When cool, I refrigerated it. Whey was much less and the texture was smooth. thanks for the advice.

Glad to hear it worked for you.


I'll report back on my own heating pad test soon.

Should warrant the death penalty for however is serving them.

Wowsa! Should people who say "however" when they mean "whoever" get life without parole, then? ;-)

We need to fight for the good ole days when sodas contained healthy substances like in their original recipes. I want real Coca Cola and real Dr Pepper. If states can legalize pot we can legalize real Coca Cola and Dr Pepper.

They don't need to be frozen in order to preserve them. Each fall we harvest them and store in our unheated attached garage, and they last for months.

These Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes are kind of awesome. Sometimes I make these, and sometimes I make my mom's meaty ones.

Looks good -- thanks for sharing!

Russian and Polish markets carry frozen sour cherries too.

Years ago, my dad was the produce manager in a grocery store. He taught me to hold up bags of potatoes and onions and sniff them before buying to make sure none of the contents is rotten. I still do it to this day ... even though I've received a few puzzled looks in the store. Do any of you have shopping habits that make others look at you with wonder?

Well, I have certainly raised eyebrows doing something that my sister Teri inspired me to do: This more frequently happens at a farmers market than a supermarket, but when I want to buy tomatoes to make fresh tomato sandwiches, Southern style (crustless soft white bread, mayo, and smoked salt -- the last one my twist on the traditional seasoned salt), I've been known to take my large biscuit cutter with me and hold it up to the tomatoes as I pick through the bin, so I get ones that are just the right size.

I often ask the guys in white coats (some of whom might not really be butchers) to custom-cut meat that might already be in their display case. This works better once you've established a rapport....I pick blocks of butter that are always in the back (colder, perhaps newer?) of the queue, which means I'm rearranging product in a way that one or two of my fellow customers have mistaken me for store help.

Of course, I always pick up and sniff fruits, which causes the germophobes to squirm.


I also religiously check roast dates on all coffee bags. Many roasters still don't put roast dates on bags, which drives me crazy. I simply won't buy them without a roast date. I figure they are stale already. Most stores, including high-end ones like Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca, sell bags of coffee months after their roast dates. They would never do this with bread.

Wow is right. We eat them all the time and put lentils in ours. They're good. And, we're not even vegans. We just like them without meat. Mercy.

Well, obviously, you don't deserve to live, but just in case you MANAGE SOMEHOW to escape the previous homicidal chatter's wrath, I hope you enjoy all your meals, whether they include meat or not. Thanks for sharing!

Tis the season for zucchini "gifts," and we received our first a couple days ago--of a size larger than my upper arm. Thoughts? Any way to freeze and store? Would it work in a smoothie (we don't do banana smoothies)? I have saved your cake recipe, and will use some of it for that.

The larger ones are good for shredded casseroles and latkes-like fritters and pasta fillings. No need to blanch it; just shred, label how much is in the bag, seal w/as much air pressed out as possible, double-bag and freeze for up to 1 year. When you're ready to use the stuff, defrost in a colander placed in the sink so excess moisture can drain away. 

I have a very delicious watermelon (yellow) that I would like to turn into a cold soup. Do you have any suggested recipes? A lot of the recipes I have seen included chopped tomatoes, which I do not like.

Just blend it up with a little salt and maybe a piece of a Thai chili pepper. A little mint. If the taste needs a boost, consider a little vinegar. Done.

Contains Prune juice BTW.

That's an old rumor, but company says no, and it's not on the ingredient label.

I spread veggie burger in a shallow layer, bake it in the toaster oven at 350F for ca. 20 minutes, then crumble it into the Sloppy Joe Sauce.

What is a bullet? Chick? Cull lobster? Select? Which has the best flavor?

Bullet = Missing both claws, aka pistol lobster.

Chick = 1-pounder

Cull = missing 1 claw

Select = a premium one, say a 2-pounder. 

As for best flavor, they taste the same! 

Reduced balsamic vinegar is a reasonable stand-in. I know, I know. It's not the same thing. But my cabinets will rebel if I try to fit one more condiment in there.

I too ended up with 3 jars. I think this happened 'cause we've had so much rain, the berries had a lot of water in them. Does that make sense?

Back to Cathy Barrow:

Yes! That makes perfect sense. In her wonderful cookbook of preserves, Mes Confitures, Christine Ferber warns never to make jam from berries picked after a rain.

This is probably frowned upon... but I freeze fresh corn on the cob without blanching it. Then to use, I wrap it in a paper towel and microwave for about 2 minutes. Then cut off the cob. Taste delicious and works perfectly. I guess its the lazy way to save those delicious ears.

And I cut off the kernels and freeze them without blanching. You and I, soon to be hauled away by the Corn Police. 

Can anyone suggest a fool proof way to purge out clams? I try to soak them in salted ice water but it does not seem to do the trick.

Have you tried the cornmeal trick? Check this out.

Be sure to peel them first, because the skin can be tough. And remove the seed cavity, for the same reason.

Prune juice was on the ingredients label.

I demand proof.

Oh, how I love poached salmon when I get it in a restaurant or pre-cooked at the deli counter in WF but it never comes out that way at home, regardless if I use a bamboo steamer or rest it in the pan. Please, please, what's the secret recipe?

The number one mistake when preparing seafood is over cooking. One needs to keep in mind that fish continues to cook after it's removed from the heat. More so than other proteins due to the high water content. Remember not to cook your fish past a med rare temp.

Also, Atlantic salmon from European farms have a higher fat content which will give you a creamier flavor profile.

Oh, good, I thought I was the only one. I smell potatoes to make sure they don't smell like mildew, and I've learned over the year that if the peach doesn't smell like a peach, it will be tasteless. And tomatoes also need to have a certain smell too, athough I can't describe it; not like a tomato, exactly, but more like a tomato plant.

Frozen from the Gulf Of Mexico or fresh from the Carolinas??? Firnds and I have had this debate when Wegman's has fresh Carolina shrimp. Clifton/Centreville really needs a good fish monger and quality butcher shop.

Fresh shrimp are great when available. Frozen shrimp, especially Gulf of Mexico Shrimp are also great regardless. 

When my family cooked lobsters, I think we always steamed them, rather than actually boiling them. 3 or so inches of water in a real lobster pot (the giant black ones with the speckles) was more than enough for 15 to 20 minutes of wet heat and took a lot less time to boil than half a pot of water. Is there a reason to boil (submerged in the water) vs. steam?

I have a pot like that too, with a bottom reservoir for the water and the big pot on top with perforations in the bottm. But lots of people don't, so that's why boiling's usually the recommendation. Seems like maybe the boiling water could cook the meat more evenly, but I'm just guessing. 

Hi Rangers! How are my favorite food mensches today? I'm a good cook, but I tend to be stumped for grab-and-go breakfasts. (And I do mean "grab and go"--like, open the fridge door, take out the Tupperware container, and put it in my purse.) When I have time on the weekends, I'll make granola, granola bars, steel-cut oats, or something like that, but lately, the weekends seem to be getting shorter and shorter and I end up picking up something on the way to work--bad for my wallet and waistline. Any ideas? Can I mix oatmeal straight out of the box into yogurt, or does it need to be toasted first? Can I do that the night before? Thank you for your help!

I used to live with a few folks who would mix oatmeal with yogurt, straight out of the package, so yes, it can be done. I personally like my oats a little more tender, so I'm not a fan of that treatment. If you soak them overnight in yogurt, they'll achieve a kind of sticky, gluey, quality, which I also find unappealing. What I prefer is based on the traditional method of making muesli, my favorite breakfast of all time, which is to soak them in apple cider, or, out of season, water and a little lemon juice (about 1/3 cup liquid to 1/2 cup rolled oats), plus a pinch of salt. In the morning, they'll be tender and much easier to digest. You can also use orange juice, or even kombucha. Then add your yogurt, berries, nuts, what have you. You can also make a batch of toasted muesli the night before (for the next few days) by combining oats and nuts and seeds with just a little oil and sweetener, like maple or honey (2 T. each per 3 cups of oats) and toasting for 15-20 minutes. That can be thrown in a tupperware container with a cup of yogurt, and is pretty close to grab-and-go.

Honey is too sweet to sub for Pomegranate Molasses. Yekta Market on Rockville pike has it. Also sumac. And the Kosher Mart on Boiling Brook Parkway. Both ingredients add citrus tang, so at a pinch use some lemon juice or zest. Pomegranate juice plus some kind of syrup might do sort of. Please don't give up on fattoush until you've tried it with those's wonderful.

It was a treat to see the article today about all the wineries founded by Johnnies (our term for ourselves). Great books lead to great wine. And vice versa. And hey, we study chemistry. Yeah it's reading Dalton and other classics, but it is still chemistry!

Glad you liked! can substitute it for regular molasses in baked goods where a little tanginess works. People can never guess where the special edge comes from.

That's all fine, but what OP actually requested was a source or substitute for the sumac, which I don't think anyone has yet addressed.

Lemon zest or juice.

New Englander here--you don't need the special steaming pot to steam instead of boil. I put 2" of water in my big lobster pot and steam them in that in about the same amount of time. Boiling water-logs the lobsters, loses a lot of flavor in the water, and makes for a messier plate. Try steaming!

I have an abundance of peppers from my CSA--jalapeño and cayenne. Any ideas for some other (preferably awesome) ways to use them? I've been making salsa and putting jalapeños in my black bean burgers. Still need to use up some jalapeños and haven't even touched the beautiful cayenne peppers yet. Thanks!

How about smoking the jalapenos or dehydrating/drying some of the cayenne? There's always the hot sauce route. Create your own batch (riff off of recipes like this one). And report back!

I got my sumac from Pensey's. It would be in the spice aisle is a grocery store carries it. It has a tart, lemony flavor. It bumps up the flavor of the lemon that I'm assuming the recipe already calls for.

I've noticed a recent proliferation of commercial dips that call themselves things like "white bean hummus" or "red pepper hummus" and don't use chickpeas but do use tahini. Do you think "hummus" is the proper designation?


I live in the other Washington (state), and our peas and lentils are peaking right now. I'm curious about Emily's comment about freezing fresh peas for later use - I've always just gone for dried if I wanted to store them. What would I need to do to freeze the fresh peas? Cook then freeze, freeze precooked...?

First of all, where are you getting fresh peas and lentils, because I just moved to Washington state, and cannot find them anywhere! Had my dear mom ship me field peas from S.C. just to test recipes for this article.

To your question... field peas do freeze beautifully. You're basically partially cooking them before freezing them. The process I use (my grandmother's technique) is to blanch in boiling water for a few minutes, then shock in ice water, then drain, then pack in airtight freezer bags. This is a great tutorial, if you'd like more detail:

How do you suggest a chef store soft shell crabs? Should I kill/dress immediately when I receive them or try to keep the ones I'm not using that night alive? Sleepless in Yountville

Of course the longer you can keep them alive will give you confidence in quality. Cleaned crabs are fine too prepared for 48 hrs. after cleaning when kept in proper refrigeration. Any longer they should be individually wrapped with plastic wrap and frozen. 

When ready to use, thaw in a little dish of butter milk. You won't know the difference from fresh dressed.

This was a favorite summer food when Sutton Place Gourmet was down the block. Any chance you can get their recipe? Thank you in advance!

I'm checking with a representative with Balducci's, which is what the old Sutton Place Gourmet stores morphed into. Details as they arrive.

Chop an onion and let it cook slowly in unsalted butter until beginning to brown. Sort the limas by size - or at least two sizes. Put the larger ones in the pot, add chicken stock or water or veg. stock and start simmering slowly, uncovered. After about 5-8 minutes, add the smaller ones (you'll have to judge timing based on size of beans - goal is to get all tender at same time and when corn just coooked). Scrape a couple of ears of corn (again, amount depends - goal is to have a ratio of beans to corn of about 1:1) into pot. Just cook through and add salt and pepper. I cook this for dinner parties in the summer and I've had more than one guest get an expression on his/her face that revealed the thought, "oh, no, she expects me to eat limas?" - and I've never had a guest eat less than two servings!

Chop, then freeze in pint freezer bags. You'll be so-o-o-o glad to have them out of season for cooking.

Make sure you get canned pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling. The pie filling has spices etc. Also canned pumpkin can help your dog when it has intestinal problems and stiffen things up. I always have at least five cans in my pantry and I don't make pumpkin pie.

With so many news stories about fish fraud, how can I protect myself from being a consumer victim? ie. bait and switch (no pun intended) and to know what fish come from good practices

First and foremost, you need to establish a relationship with a reputable fish monger. Here you can simply ask about species, quality, location, sustainability, etc.  If this is a tough thing for you to do in your area, try to purchase fish whole and have them filleted for you. This accomplishes most of the information you are looking for. If the fish is whole it is easier to identify if it is of  quality. Always ask questions.

Thanks for the great suggestions. I appreciate the help and look forward to trying the lentil version (because I am not sure the rather unadventurous vegetarians will be open to seitan. But I'll give that one a try later for myself). I can always count on the Rangers for good advice. As for killing me for serving vegan sloppy Joes, do I get to be resurrected when I place them next to the meat-based sloppy Joes, and let people make their own decisions about what to eat? 'Cause I'm crazy democratic that way.

Yes, you do. This should be fun, going back and forth between life and death. Let me know how it looks over there!

What is your favorite way to cook a pork chop? Grill, oven, Looking for the juiciest and most tender outcome. Any good recipe tips and accompaniment?

Nathalie Dupree's tutorial for us a few years back is all you need to know. 

was just wondering why when i cook my lobster there can be some dark spots on the shell. Does this mean they need to be cooked longer or is there something wrong with them?

Lobsters, just as many marine organisms, will metabolize the minerals and elements of it's environment. So, if the animal is living in an area with a high natural iron content, it will be assimilated in the lobsters, and may show  as a darker shell color.  

Be sure to wear rubber gloves, and whatever you do, don't touch your mouth or eyes while working! And scrub those gloves good after you're done.

I attended an international meeting in Nairobi, Kenya where the main hotel set up separate breakfast buffet stations intended to make the various national delegations feel at home. The US buffet included Coca-Cola ... for breakfast! This was several decades ago and the memory still makes me chuckle.

I know people -- or did at least in college -- who drank colas for breakfast instead of coffee. Caffeine without the bitterness, I guess.

Not the end-all-be-all but it's got links to prove it... From SNOPES: The rumor about prune juice being part of the beverage's formula is addressed in a brochure put out by Dr Pepper the company. "There are 23 flavors and other ingredients (none of which are prunes) that produce the inimitable taste of Dr Pepper." And that's it. The Dr Pepper web site FAQ also tersely notes that "Dr Pepper is a unique blend of natural and artificial flavors; it does not contain prune juice." The company may have inadvertently encouraged the spread of the prune rumor by cloaking its product's formula in secrecy. The Dr Pepper recipe is allegedly divided into two parts, each of which is locked up in a different Dallas bank so that no single person can ever be in possession of the whole formula. (Coca-Cola is rumored to follow a similar policy.)

Well, you've simmered us with okra pods until tender, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to our special guests for helping us answer them!

Now, for the giveaway books: The chatter who wrote in about "Oh She Glows" will get ... "The Oh She Glows Cookbook." Shocker! 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 editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie S. Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Carrie Allan. Guests: freelance writer Emily Horton; fismonger Anthony D'Angelo and marine biologist Joe Lasprogata, both of Samuels and Son Seafood in Philadelphia
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