Free Range on Food: The Top Tomato issue

Spaghetti With Fresh Tomatoes and Cucumbers.
Aug 19, 2015

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

Top of the tomato to you all! Happy to share this year's winners and finalists, glad you've decided to join the Free Range chat today. Have you taken Kara Elder's fun tomato quiz? (I did no better than 7/10.) Top Tomato first-place winner Shannon Li couldn't join us, but second-place winner Tim Artz is on hand, and he knows/grows tomatoes. Also here: Jocelyn Ruggiero, who wrote the lovely remembrance of her aunt's tomato-y blue crab sauce; maybe Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin (congrats to him on being included in the upcoming Best Food Writing of 2015 anthology!); definitely Carrie Allan, our Spirits columnist, and almost the full complement of Food regulars; Editor Joe's still away.


For you Post Points members, the code is FR7271; enter it by midnight tonight at the PP site under Claim My Points to get credit for it.


Chatters who chime in with a particularly helpful comment or question might pick up a cookbook; we'll announce that at the end of the hour. Let's do this . . . .

I couldn't bring myself to turn on the stove yesterday so I tried microwaving a poblano pepper. It took five minutes (one minute at a time) but it worked, although the skin wasn't as easy to peel as when it's charred. Then I cut it in strips and ate with tomato and string cheese in a tortilla. Any advice about maybe cutting the poblano first to reduce microwave time? Has anyone else tried this or other ways of cooking poblanos?

To me, there is no substitute for fire roasting.  If it's too hot for the stove, try an outdoor grill.

I made the salsa negra that went with this and I have to say it was amazing! I used it on top of shredded beef enchiladas last night and my Mexican food loving husband said it was better than his salsa roja. We will be using it on the eggplant tonight. Thanks for an easy and fabulous recipe!

That was from Editor Joe's Weeknight Vegetarian collection. We'll let him know! 

Thanks for the article/interview with Jacques Pepin in today's paper! He is indeed the most logical choice for the first Julia Child Award. It will be fun to watch his new series, as well, even if it is his last. I still remember the article you published when he came to DC and you (Joe Yonan, I think) went shopping with him to prepare a meal. That was a lot of fun to read. The sweet and sour squash recipe included in today's article also looks very good. I have made Pepin's butternut squash saute many times. It's a very tasty dish and, with fall approaching, I'll make the acorn squash one, too. Thanks!

Jacques Pepin is a treasure. When I first got into cooking seriously (and took a certificate course at L'Academie de Cuisine), one of the first books I bought was Pepin's "Complete Techniques," his step-by-step manual of cooking techniques. It's invaluable. I'd also recommend his delightful autobiography, "The Apprentice." The book is a throwback to another era, to classic French kitchens, where Jacques endured countless hazings.


Becky conducted a terrific Q&A with Jacques, and seven years earlier, Joe witnessed first-hand the brilliance of Jacques, as the chef cooked and plated five dishes in less than an hour.


ARTICLE: Jacques Pépin named first recipient of the Julia Child Award


ARTICLE: For Pépin, Impromptu Comes Easy

And thanks for your thanks! I had such a fun time interviewing Mr. Pepin. What a gracious, charming guy.

ARTICLE: Jacques Pépin named first recipient of the Julia Child Award

I know Joe also had a blast with him for that other story you mention.

ARTICLE: For Pépin, Impromptu Comes Easy

And here's that recipe:

Sweet and Sour Glazed Squash

RECIPE: Sweet and Sour Glazed Squash

By the way, we just got our copies of Jacques's newest book, "Jacques Pepin Heart and Soul in the Kitchen." Looks pretty good!

Simply gorgeous Top Tomato 2015 special issue today! Thank you for including vegetarian tomato recipes - Tamatar Piaz; Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes & Cucumbers; Tomato Shortcakes; Tomato Popcorn; and Mike's Garlic Mint Tomatoes, all 5 of which look very yummy and have been added to my List-of-Recipes-To-Try-Next (except for the T-Popcorn since I do not have a dehydrator).


Bonnie - do you think that I could substitute a hearty whole-grain (like red winter wheat or hulled/hulless barley) for the ground beef in your "Central Stuffed Tomatoes" recipe?

Thanks! I'm grateful for our wonderful testers, who did a terrific job (as usual) with everything. As for the Dinner in Minutes recipe, I'm not sure those grains would cook in the same amount of time as the couscous. But if you're not worried about the clock, or have some already cooked, go for it.

RECIPE Central Stuffed Tomatoes



P.S. You can try the popcorn! Buy dried tomatoes and grind them, or buy the tomato powder. 

Do any of you have a deli-style meat slicer at home? Are they worth the amount of counter space they take up? I'm tempted to buy one as some are advertised for under $20 (!) and I'd like to slice several meats and maybe more see-through-thin just before serving. But the machines look so big. And I feel like I'd be living the Seinfeld episode where Kramer gets a meat slicer. I don't want to be Kramer :)

I have a cheap one, not $20, but maybe $100.  It works ok, but I find myself using a good knife much more often.  Home use slicers are poorly designed and hard to clean.

A posted on Dorie's chat asked about strawberry cupcakes for an 8 year old. She didn't have a strawberry-on-strawberry recipe to recommend, but I do and I hope that it isn't too late for the chatter and that s/he reads this chat too! This recipe is my go to. Light, fluffy strawberry cake with fluffy strawberry cream cheese swiss meringue frosting. Note that you don't end up using all of the puree (save it for smoothies or something). I also usually use a little more puree in the frosting and if it gets too thin, just put it in the fridge for a bit. Oh, and a small drop or 2 of red food coloring in cake batter enhances the color to a very soft pale pink. That icing is heaven. 

Thanks, let's hope the chatter tunes in to us, too!

Do you know if it's legal to order spirits online for shipment to my home in DC? I found something I can't get at the local liquor store, and I've been trying to figure out if this is allowed, as I know the laws can vary by state. I've heard you can't do this in Maryland, for example. I wasn't having much luck on the DC Government website trying to find an answer and thought you might know. Thanks.

Rumors abound! I had heard this about MD as well but have now had many bottles of booze shipped to me, so either the rumors are wrong or liquor purveyors are playing it fast and loose. Re: the District, I just made a quick call to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Admin and talked to an attorney there. He confirmed that District residents can have booze (beer, wine or liquor) shipped to DC -- limits are no more than a case a month. So have at it!

I once tried to buy Everclear from the VA ABC stores (for culinary purposes only!!), and the ABC office recommended for me to buy it on line!

I have a surplus of red, green, yellow, and orange peppers. Was thinking to slice them up with onions and flash freeze on a baking sheet, then bag up into freezer bags. But I am concerned about the texture when adding them to stir fries later on? Is it best to cook them first, then freeze, or freeze raw?

You'll want to be looking for the next #EverydayDorie column, then! Flash freezing spread on a baking sheet's the way to go, but first, get rid of stems, ribs and seeds. No need to cook them; they'll defrost with a decent texture. Once they're individually frozen you can stash in freezer bags (or vacuum-sealed ones, even better; as DIY Cathy Barrow reminded us recently re freeze-preserving, Air is the Enemy.

I would freeze the peppers without the onions.  Good onions are available year round, and they do not freeze as well as peppers.  Peppers will lose some texture in the freezer, but still are pretty good.

I hate to be negative because I love the Food section and these chats, but I have to say I was disappointed with the winners of the contest this year. The tomato egg drop soup sounded familiar, so I googled it, and got tons of hits. The addition of bacon was the only thing that distinguished it from the other recipes. And the pasta recipe was also unoriginal - minus the cukes it is a standard recipe seen every summer. The tamal and the galette struck me as much more deserving of the top prize than the other two. So I guess my question is, how do you decide on the winner? Does adding one ingredient to an otherwise established recipe make a dish creative enough to be considered?

Well, there aren't too many original recipes, we realize. We also searched and found other tomato egg drop soup recipes; this one has a nice balance and is just different enough, and easy enough for anyone to make, that it warranted top prize. Tim Artz's tamal is phenomenal, but it involves many steps and we opt for as much user-friendly accessibility as possible -- that, in the end, was what edged out his dish. The galette was a good team effort -- again, cobbled/inspired by other recipes, as admitted by the contestant. Not quite as deserving as the tamal or egg drop soup, but right up there in terms of good flavor and ease of preparation. And as for adding one ingredient -- it depends on the ingredient, the finesse with which it was added, and what else is in the competition. 


Did you happen to enter this year?

Can you suggest a good recipe for spaghetti sauce made from fresh Roma tomatoes? I've never done it from scratch before, and I am (happily) up to my ears in tomatoes. P.S. I asked a question last week about blackening peppers. I successfully blackened some chili peppers over my gas stove's burner, turned them with tongs, then wrapped them in wet paper towels, and they peeled easily. Thanks!


When I have an abundance of fresh tomato  like that I simply use a great quality olive oil and saute lots of garlic- then slowly cook the diced tomatoes on low heat for an hour, adding a handful of freshly cut basil, plus salt and pepper. If you like your sauce thicker, scoop out the seeds with a spoon first. I don't mind mine a little soupy an so I often leave them in. Another option sprinkle is to cut them in half, sprinkle with some olive oil & salt then and roast in the oven at 400 for a couple of hours- you can then put the roasted tomatoes into a skillet and cook over low heat with garlic, olive oil and basil- makes for a very flavorful sauce!

I love to do a recipe with fresh Romas where you blanch and peel them, gut them and cut in strips.  Just sweat a bit of garlic in olive oil then add the tomato strips and a little basil, salt and pepper, and simmer.  Filletto de Pomodoro sauce.

Tomatoes are so easy to dry in a low heat oven and taste so much better than store bought dried tomatoes I would never even think to buy them again.

I agree.  I dry them until they are crisp, and store in the fridge. Then when I want to use them, I heat a small pan of water on the stove and toss them in to rehydrate.  They can also be rehydrated with some homemade demiglace or olive oil to get some very complex flavors.  I do have a large dehydrator I got from Sausage Maker on line.  I also dry really good small wild cherry tomatoes and them powder them to use in lieu of or in addition to tomato paste.

My favorite use for garden tomatoes is to dice them up with an avocado and fresh basil (also from the garden) and then mix in a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil with a sprinkle of salt. It makes a tasty snack or appetizer. Sometimes, I'll add some leftover grilled chicken and make it a meal!

I like that, too.  I just did a ceviche recipe on my blog using similar ingredients along with shrimp and octopus. 

I had a preparation similar to this in Portland. It's sort of a new classic dish, but I must admit that in summer, I want something that doesn't distract from the flavors of fresh, garden-ripe tomatoes. Balsamic vinegar, to me, is a blowhard always talking over other ingredients. I like something closer to chef Andreas Viestad's heirloom tomato salad recipe.

A friend had a huge crop of basil and shared with me to the tune of a half bushel. I love basil, but that quantity represents a late night foray into processing that I hadn't planned on during the week. I ran to the grocery store after our meeting to purchase nuts, oil and garlic; then spent an hour or so pinching leaves off the stems. I left a large quantity in a bucket of water on the counter and made 3 batches of pesto. The next evening I froze the pesto in small portions and pinched off the remaining leaves and put them in a sealed container with a wet paper towel. The top layers turned black. Are they still usable? Could I have made a better choice to store them until I could deal with them?

Store fresh stalks of basil in a jar or vase filled with water.  They will stay fresh for a week or more.

I used to freeze pesto in ice cube trays until I discovered it can be frozen in large blocks.  The large block can be cut even straight from a deep freeze.

Read that TSA doesn't allow passengers to bring a deli-style home meat slicer onto a plane as a carry-on. So now we know...

Went to Benihana last night, where chefs cook (Japanese style foods) right in front of you. My question to you (considering that they used butter to cook, not oil, - which my husband had later issues with, being lactose intolerant) is if I try to do something similar in cooking wok style at home, what is the best kind of oil to use that is good with high temps? I have been cooking on stove-top with mainly olive oil, but understand that may not be optimal for quick frying on high heat, so any suggestions for healthy cooking would be appreciated!

Part A: You can believe it's not butter: The stuff used at Benihana is a zero-trans-fat, “European style whipped butter blend margarine” made with skim milk and oil.


Part B: If you're frying in a depth of oil, peanut's a good choice. Wok guru Grace Young also recommends rice bran oil, followed by corn and safflower oils.


Part C: Light olive oil can take fairly high heat -- 465 degrees F.

I love grapeseed oil for high temp cookng.

Jocelyn, I enjoyed your article regarding the tomato sauce with blue crab...very similar to my westcoast family use with Dungeness crab. This year I've grown more smaller tomatoes and am enjoying my Currant tomatoes especially. Ovens be damned in this heat, I'm experimenting with a schiacciata with them and black grapes for a wine get-together this coming weekend.

Dungeness? That sounds delicious! Was your family from Southern Italy also? Your schiacciata sounds delicious- when I first read your question I thought you were referring to Schiacciata alluvia- a sweet Tuscan-style focaccia, made with black grapes and generous amounts of fennel, salt and olive oil. Carissa’s Breads on the East End of Long Island makes a great one!

the link to your ceviche recipe doesn't work. can you try again? I want that recipe!

Any past finalists incorporate tomatoes into a sweet treat, not granita, maybe something baked? Extra points for something I can do with lots of green cherry tomatoes ...

I'm totally on board with oven-avoidance but I do turn on a gas burner and balance the pepper on top, turning frequently with a pair of tongs. End result is a nicely charred pepper.

I put a cake rack over my gas burner to avoid the balancing act.

Roast them! Roast them! (Last week, though, I dropped my abundance of grape tomatoes into a pan and cooked them with olive oil until they burst, added some sausage, and then added lots of basil at the end. Good gravy, it was so good...)

Now you're talking. 

I saw your recipe for the butterscotch pudding in the magazine and decided to make it this weekend. With all of that butter, sugar and heavy cream it has to be good. However, I do not have any arrowroot powder. How far off will it be to use corn starch?

You won't be disappointed! The rum really adds a little something -- and don't skip the immersion blender step, because it makes the pudding extra-creamy and smooth. The thing about arrowroot is, it imparts no taste (unlike cornstarch), and therefore's better for recipe such as this. I don't think it's expensive, and you can use it in place of cornstarch sometimes. Might be worth the investment for this glorious dessert. 

RECIPE Ris's Butterscotch Pudding

I confess that I have a love/hate thing with blue crabs - love the taste but not the picking. I'm trying to envision a way of eating Jocelyn's wonderful-sounding sauce without ending up wearing a Jackson Pollock shirt.

H! The blue crabs are sooo messy. When I was little it was only the old timers who took the time to do it-it's a lot of work for a small bit of meat, But it sure is tasty.  I only started doing this an adult. You'll enjoy the sauce just as much if you don;t eat the crabs- and if you do go for it- don't wear white- use a bib and get ready to be messy!

I use avocado oil.

Hi Free Rangers - if I need 2lbs of chicken for a dish, does it matter when I weigh it? I think you need to weigh chicken/any other thing in it's defrosted state whereas my husband says it will weigh the same whether it's frozen or not. Is this true? Thanks!

That's a tricky one to answer. Here's why:


Technically, the meat should weigh the same whether frozen or defrosted. The weight of a molecule shouldn't increase or decrease when changed from one state to another.


BUT! But if you allow the frozen water molecules to drain as you're defrosting the chicken, the bird will weight less when fully defrosted. That's why you should wrap your chicken before freezing and let it thaw while still wrapped.

With my abundance of tomatoes I want to try a tomato jam. I have never canned before but have found some nice recipes. I have a glass topped stove and it seems not only might the wight be a problem but more importantly maintaining the temperature could be a problem. I have thought of an induction counter top hotplate which says can be used for canning but the pans should not be more than 2 inches wider than the heat surface. I think most water bath canner would be too big. Do you know of any smaller sized ones? At one time you reviewed an electric water bath canner. Should that be the way to go? I hate to invest money in something I have never tried but I am willing since I want to do more canning from my garden. Finally I have made freezer jams. Can any jam be just frozen as a freezer jam? I hope you can answer these questions for a newbie. I should have paid more attention when my mother was canning. BTW Jocelyn that was in East Haven.

Since you probably will do your jam in smaller 1/2 pint jars, you can use a smaller pot.  Just use some sort of rack on the bottom to hold the jars off of the bottom of the pot.

Hey thanks for the East Haven shout-out! I, too, wish I had gotten canning lessons from the old-timers! Tomato jam sounds incredible! 

Our parents took us abroad once a year when we were toddlers. My brothers and I were such picky eaters that they had to carry cans of Spaghetti-Os and single-serving boxes of US breakfast cereals on our trips. It pains me now, as it must have pained my parents then. At the same time, I remember the sensation of contentment, of rightness, I'd get when the thick sauce and soft Spaghetti-O pasta filled my mouth, and how impressed I was each morning that someone had designed the perfect cereal container, one that allowed me to pour milk right into the box... For years now, I've been a sophisticated eater who thoroughly enjoys the subtle or bold flavors of every cuisine placed in front of me and, when eating in, I prepare meals from scratch. I hadn't even realized that Spaghetti-Os are still around. But, for a reason I only now recognize, I've always kept a few cans of its near-relative, canned ravioli, in the cabinet as an "emergency" supply food, and I've never had a can reach its expiration date. It's like Mom's home cooking to me, the ultimate comfort food.

Thanks for sharing the memories! You may want to stock up on the O's this week while anniversary cans are priced at $1 (and less, I've heard, at discount stores.) Those breakfast cereal boxes loomed large for me...we'd take off in the car for family visits to relatives in Canada before the sun came up and once it did, my mother would break out those boxes and icy cold milk from the cooler.

ARTICLE SpaghettiOs confession: I fed them to my kids, and we're all okay

While I'd rather chat about tomatoes, I'm in planning-for-fall mode. I've made a lot of your freeze-it/take-in recipes (usually we eat half/freeze half), but could use some more ideas. I've eyed a bunch of the "dump everything in a ziplock" type recipes, but they're hard to sort through (and probably not as tasty as anything in the WaPo). Any thoughts and whether they're least safe? ALSO: do you think your pork-ricotta meatballs could be made with ground chicken or turkey? We LOVE them and I think they'd make good lunches, but meals for my child's preschool need to be pork free.

I like to make soup and freeze a few quarts.  That is great in a school lunch thermos.

My friend is on vacation this week, so I get her farm share. There are two orange sized vegetables with skin that looks like a yellow squash. Do you know what they could be?

Is it a lemon cucumber? 

Jocelyn, those have really come on strong in DC area farmers markets the past couple of years. 

Simply purchase dried tomatoes to make the tomato powder for Tomato Popcorn! Brilliant, why didn't I think of this easy solution...Thank YOU.

The contestant who submitted the recipe came up with those solutions....:)

I was gifted with a ristra of large, dried, dark red peppers. I've used some chopped as a garnish, and I've put some into stews and the like. I love very hot and spicy dishes, but I'm not sure I am properly coaxing the best qualities out of these pepppers. How best should I prepare them for use? Soaking? Pan roasting? As-is?

Pull off the stems and shake out most of the seeds.  Toast them in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Press them down on the pan with a metal spatula.  10-15 second per side, and they should smell toasty and be very pliable.  Put the toasted chiles in a bowl of warm water until they are soft.  Puree the chiles and then press through a strainer to eliminate skin and seeds.  This puree can then be used for all sorts of things.  I like to mix a bit with cumin and oregano, add vinegar and salt and pepper and brush on a steak.

Use the paste to make chili:

I recently made ice cream for the first time using this recipe. It came out great but it says 6-8 servings and there's no way. I had to double it to get enough for five people. Maybe we're just pigs. Anyway, I started wondering if I had used the original amount would it have frozen properly? Should I use a smaller can or ice cream maker to make small amounts or will it work in the bigger freezer? 

Hm, hard to answer this not knowing what the total yield was. How much ice cream did you end up making, do you know? And in what machine -- seems like doubling it would require something huge. Most recipes are kind of pegged to yielding a quart of ice cream, which is the standard size if you're like me and own one of those Cuisinart machines. That may explain the number of servings -- I know we typically say a serving is 1/2 cup (ha, as if), so that would explain the suggested 8 portions.

One of my pet peeves is recipes calling for fresh ingredients that aren't naturally in-season at the same time, because the only way to make them with fresh produce is if it's been shipped in from far away, which kinda defeats the purpose of being a locavore. Thanks, I feel a bit better now.

I agree!  Use fresh foods in season!

Just when you think you know all about using these delicious fruits, its Top Tomato time. I will be making the soup and the Central tomato meatloaf recipes in the very near future.


Do you have any recipes where you can use store bought ramen packets and transform them into something more healthy with less sodium with the addition of more gourmet flavors and vegetables?

Try this one from Haidar Karoum:

Better Than Instant Ramen

RECIPE: Better Than Instant Ramen

Or this Top Tomato recipe!

Top Tomato Ramen

RECIPE: Top Tomato Ramen

Also, perhaps not quite the same, but you've got to check out J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's opus on making your own instant ramen. On my goals list.

The Food Lab: Make Your Own Just-Add-Hot-Water Instant Noodles

Why do the tomato recipes always have to be "different enough"? I can't possibly think how an egg drop soup showcases the beautiful summer flavor of fresh tomatoes. Looking at the current and past winning tomato recipes didn't at all inspire me to make them.

A little bit different, yes. Readers have certainly taught us over the years that not everyone is pleased with the results, all the time; sorry you weren't inspired. With ANY of the past recipes, though? Tough to imagine. 

What is the preferred type of tomato to preserve/can? San Marzano or the like? IS there a preferred type or any type is good enough to can? Thank you!

Any plum type will work, and there are many varieties.  The ones typically available in markets are mass grown: Roma and San Marzano.  I grow these as well, but I also like a variety called Saucey.  I look for varieties that are flavorful, disease resistant, and productive.  I do have 60 tomato plants in my garden, so maybe they all don't have to be loaded with fruit!

Husband makes and cans homemade tomato juice (we have a Victoria strainer). Just before closing each jar he adds a fresh basil leaf, which makes the flavor of the juice more interesting.

I do the same thing with my fresh pack whole canned tomatoes.  It brightens up the jar, and the basil of summer is so much better than winter's supermarket basil.

Unfortunately breading it is not an option (the kid in question doesn't like breaded food) but I really want him to try them because we are getting so many through our CSA. Roasted some last night to include in pesto pasta and that was a bust.

How about these "meatballs"? They are pretty stellar.

Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

RECIPE: Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

I'm the one who asked about the corn stock last week. I tried some of it in polenta and it was pretty much the most amazing thing.

RECIPE Corn Broth

I bet it would be good to make tamal masa, too.  I am going to try that.  Thanks!

Is it possible to overcook meat in a slow cooker? I recently bought a good slow cooker, 6 qt size, and have tried a couple of recipes - a Kitchn recipe for slow cooker beef brisket and another for carnitas (using pork butt). For both recipes, I used the cut of meat identified in the recipe, but a smaller size (couldn't find larger), and cooked for the longer end of the suggested time (usually around 8 hours, for my convenience). For one recipe I adjusted the amount of liquid to be proportional to the size of the meat, in the other I used the original amount of liquid. In the end, both cuts of meat were fall apart/fall off the bone, but were still chewy/a bit tough, rather than melt in your mouth. I was under the impression that slow cooker recipes were set and forget, but these initial attempts are making me wonder if I'm overcooking the meat?

It may be that the cuts you used were not fatty enough. Was your smaller hunk of brisket trimmed of fat? Ditto for pork butt?


The general theory about slow-cooking is that you want cheaper cuts, like brisket or shin beef, with plenty of fat and collagen. The fat and collagen will break down and keep your meat moist and rich and flavorful.

Did the recipe call for searing the meat before it goes in?

Have been enjoying watching "A Chef's Life" on our PBS Create Channel lately, about a chef who returns to her native Eastern Carolina with her family to run one restaurant, then open another there. I now have much more appreciation of what hard work cooking in a restaurant, let alone procuring fresh local ingredients, really is (although nothing will ever make me like butter beans!).


ARTICLE Vivian Howard's 'A Chef's Life,' her attempt to show the real North Carolina

I'm a fan of the show. She's real; I like the pace of it and how it's shot. 

Bonnie, the Black Bean Salad with Mango Sauce was excellent!

Another Dinner In Minutes dish, from our No Cook Issue. Glad you liked it! 

Lose the balsamic vinegar, go instead with a hefty squeeze of Lemon juice, salt and pepper. Learned this combo when picking avocados on a kibbutz in Israel decades ago, and it still is the best use for fresh tomatoes I've ever found.

Good point.  I have been going with lime juice these days because the price of lemons is ridiculous.  I get the big juicy very ripe limes that are mostly yellow. 

Got 6/10-knew solanaceae was nightshade so got that one. Next time I make pizza with friends I'll ask "white or nightshade?":)

Any recommendations on a main-course that can be prepared the night before, and served cool or room-temp? I don't have access to an oven to heat it up. Thanks! I was thinking pulled pork, but I didn't think that would be good room temp.

I am on a ceviche kick these days, and it is great for a tailgate with some homemade corn chips. 

A smoked turkey breast would work instead of pulled pork. Turkey is excellent cold. Especially with some hot sauce on the side!

I like composed salads, like a Nicoise, with blanched green beans, cooked potatoes, good, olive-oli-packed canned tuna, olives, red onion, and a nice aioli for dipping. Serve with crusty bread. 

I think I got this from a "beginners" cook book years ago, but I love this salad. Sliced tomato, sliced avocado, a little red onion, chunks of blue cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil with just a touch of red wine vinegar, fresh cracked pepper. I could eat it every day.

Sounds like a few of the contest recipes we received, and it sounds good! Thanks for sharing.

Maryland changed the law so you can now have alcohol shipped. I'm not sure if there is a limit on the amount but I also don't know how they could enforce it.

The companies you can buy from on line know the laws of each state.

When I fly, I often find myself without time to buy any food in an airport and then on flights that don't have any for sale, or at best I'm getting ripped off for mediocre food. I'd like suggestions for food to make or buy ahead and bring along: TSA-friendly, not messy or smelly, keeps for a long time, reasonably healthy, and could make a meal of it.

For long flights, I usually bring a sandwich, some fruit, and some homemade trail mix.

Have you considered inviting DC resident, Donna Klein, who writes vegetarian cookbooks, on the chat?

Donna, if you're listening/reading, consider yourself invited.

Tim says: "Store fresh stalks of basil in a jar or vase filled with water. They will stay fresh for a week or more." No - they will wilt, UNLESS you put a plastic bag over them (loosely, don't tie) to create a little greenhouse effect. Trust me on this -- my CSA has delivered a large bunch four weeks in a row! I've also pinched off the leaves, dried in a low oven, crumbled and stored in a clean jar.

I am hoping to be able to keep some Italian (prune) plums from the fall, when they are available, to the holidays to be able to make my German grandmother's recipe for zwetschgekuchen, a sort of plum tart. They go into the crust cut in quarters, and I'm thinking of cutting them and freezing them that way. I plan to experiment while they're available, but do you have any suggestions?

I have canned them.  Blanch the plums and then shock them in ice water to remove the skins.  Make a simple syrup.  Pack the plums into pint jars and cover with hot syrup.  You may put a small piece of cinnamon or a clove in the jar.  Seal and process in boiling water bath.  These are great on their own, in a winter fruit salad, or in a pierogi.

patty pan squash?

Chayote, maybe, with a dimpled kind of bottom?

My slicing tomato plants have been slow, but wow! do I have a lot of cherry tomatoes. Recipe suggestions, please?

We get Mozzarella di Bufala from Costco and make Caprese with cherry tomatoes.  Just cut the cheese in smaller bites about the size of the tomatoes.

The gardeners who tend plots in my area are all loving Juliets this year. Have you grown them? If so, what is your favorite treatment. If not, what is your favorite plum variety?

I have grown Juliet.  They are like a grape tomato.  My favorite treatment for them is to put in a bowl and eat them with my hands! A similar tomato is called Health Kick.

We have a backyard pizza oven, so I grow a lot of San Marzano and Super Marzano tomatoes to can.  I also grow Saucey, Roma, and a few others.  Usually too many plants!

For the person wanting to make tomato jam - I can on my glass-top stove all the time. I use a large-ish pasta pot and put a rack on the bottom, and it holds pints and half pints. The most important thing in canning is cleanliness and to follow all steps. Make sure you are using a recipe approved for canning, as today's tomatoes are not always as acidic as they were in the past.

Tim, go to H Mart. Lemons are much more reasonable there. And I saw 10 limes for $1 last week.

I love that there are so many types of tomatoes available now: roma, cherry, grape, sun gold, heirloom (lots of sub-varieties there), etc. What then do you call the sort of standard red round slightly squat 2-3 inch tomato? Does it have a name?

I buy my seed from  They classify the tomato types by size.  2-3 inch is "Medium Fruited" I believe.

Could you make a simple ratatouille that's really heavy on the tomatoes, then serve it over spaghetti? Or sneak some chopped eggplant into a basic chili recipe?

Yes.  I cube up eggplant and salt it a bit, then rinse the cubes and mix them into Ma Po Tofu.  The recipe for Ma Po Tofu in the Washington Post Cookbook is excellent!!!

It's the trendy new (probably old) thing in flavoring, but I don't want to commit to a quantity and find out it's disgusting (to me). And if I do commit and find it disgusting, what is an alternative in recipes that call for it?

Sriracha is a chili-garlic condiment, found on tables at pho parlors throughout the Washington area. Over the years, Sriracha has become so fashionable that there has been a predictable backlash, like a kitchen towel I spotted recently in Seattle. It read: Hipster Ketchup.


Some say you can substitute standard-issue hot sauce for Sriracha, but I don't think the flavors are the same, nor the texture. The closest thing is probably something like a Chinese chili-garlic sauce. Probably.

I put six cups of liquid base in the can and it was approx half full. I don't know what size the maker is. It's a Rival, for whatever that's worth.

Wow! Yes, that sounds like a big one. Bigger than what most people have, I think. The original amount probably would have frozen just find, though probably faster.

Where do you find racks? Yes I am using a canning recipe for tom jam with yellow pear tom

I use a steamer basket.

fill a 8-10 sauté pan with one layer cherry tomatoes, add 1-2 T chopped fresh rosemary, one small white onion grated or chopped in food processor, 4-5 cloves garlic chopped, top off with good olive oil about 1/4 tomato deep and some sea salt. Simmer until tomatoes pop. I call it tomato compote, and is fabulous on pasta, Salmon, steaks. Spice it up by using half jalapeno or habanero oil. Stores forever in the fridge.

Any idea where I can buy sweetbreads? Couldn't find them at Whole Foods or Latino markets. Thanks

Have you tried Red Apron?  I had them special order me some caul fat last year.

Stachowski's Market in Georgetown can order sweetbreads for you. In fact, they can have them in store within 24 hours after you place the order. They could not quote me a price over the phone, however. They said they'd have to check the wholesale price first.


Stachowski's phone: 202-506-3125.


I was always taught to add a tiny bit of milk to your beaten eggs for omelettes. Well, I recently watched 2 Jacques Pepin tutorials: one for a classic omelette and one for a country style one, and neither of them used milk. So, trust Jacques, right? Also, his classic omelette looked so wonderfully fluffy, but much wetter than I ever see eggs at restaurants. I like it when the eggs are more wet too! Is there a reason (safety?) that restaurants seem to cook their omelettes so much more? I often avoid them at restaurants because they tend to be overcooked.

Have you seen this Plate Lab recipe that Editor Joe got from the kitchen at Le Diplomate?

Sunday Brunch Omelet

Thank you! That is very so very kind of you to share your favorite. We made another recipe this weekend (which did the job but wasn't amazing), so I'll have to try these soon--the birthday boy won't mind two batches!

Great! Enjoy.

What to do with giant pork belly?

Bacon is the answer, but if you want to use it in other ways, it can be cubed and used as the protein in a stir fry. 

Thank You Tim!!! My basil was wilting after overnight on the counter. I thought it was our hot Minnesota summer. Now I know how to make that work! It sure did make my kitchen smell good, though.

Put some pesto on a grilled Walleye fillet for me!

This reminds me of a splurge lunch we had at a "destination" restaurant in one of the towns in Cinque Terre. We hike in the morning, we ravenous, and then discovered the restaurant was cash only and we didn't have enough Euros on us to go all out. We shared the crab pasta and some wine, and it was delicious, but the white tablecloths and napkins looked like we'd murdered someone. I grew up picking crabs, so I was in charge of the messy work and shared the "fruits" of my labor. While it was delicious, it was embarrassing to make such a mess, even if there was no other way to eat the darn meal! My advice if you make that kind of recipe -- make sure your eaters know what they're in for.

Tim's advice is good when making pflaumenkuchen (the other name!)--I made it a few years back after finding and preserving five pound packages of prune plums at Costco. As I recall, the plums were a little softer than they would be fresh, but it was quite delicious in December!

I made a delicious mead with some of those plums.  (Honey wine)

In my recipe the fresh plums go on the crust, quartered but skin on, before baking. I don't think the canning idea would come out at all the same.

A great, fresh, easy tomato sauce is Simmer Sauce.  It works well with or without the herbs - I usually wind up freezing, rather than canning.

That omelette is exactly what I am looking for! It looks just like the one in Jacques youtube video!

Try to use similar sizes in each batch, but romas go with every size. Slice in half, cut side down on jelly roll pan, throw in some chopped rosemary, 1-2 unpeeled quartered onion, handful of unpeeled garlic cloves, a jalapeno cut in half, salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast overnight at 215 degrees, wake up, smell the wonderfulness, go downstairs, pull out of oven, should be wrinkled, not dry, pluck skins off everything, poor into food processor, and pulse. Fabulous.

Look up Sophia Loren's eggplant parmesan recipe. It is delightful! Very cheesy and tomatoey!

Lucky You with the horde of cherry tomatoes! I have a recipe made with pureed cashews and ricotta into which you stir cherry tomatoes. I have tried it with cut up tomatoes - just waiting for my garden to produce enough cherries to use!

I enjoy all of your guests but Tim has really jumped in and provided good ideas.

Yep, we're impressed. 

Well you've roasted us to a deep, caramelized color, so you know what that means...we're done! Thanks to Jocelyn, Tim Artz (and congrats again!) and Carrie for joining us, and to you, dear readers, for giving us lots to chew on  and so many lovely tomato recipes again this year.


The chatter who asked about the weight of frozen meat gets "The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook"; the chatter who commented on Jacques Pepin gets "The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook."


Send your mailing info to, and she'll get those right out to you. Till next week -- which will include the next installment of Tom Sietsema's Best Food Cities -- happy cooking and eating! 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Jocelyn Ruggiero
Joceyln Ruggiero is a Connecticut food writer who blogs at She wrote this week's story about her family's blue crab sauce.
Tim Artz
Home cook Tim Artz took second-place honors in this year's Top Tomato contest. He earned third place in 2014.
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