Free Range on Food: Top Tomato contest

Aug 20, 2014

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Of course, we've got tomatoes on our agenda -- and I've got plenty of them on my countertop, ripening away. (And in my garden, of course.)

We hope you're enjoying this year's crop of Top Tomato recipes -- Bonnie did a great job as always of sifting, testing and tasting to come up with the list of winners, including the top prize-getter, Karin Schultz! Karin joins us for the chat today to answer questions about her Rabbit Ragu With Slow-Roasted Tomatoes or anything else you might want to throw at her.

We also had Carrie's great take on the bloody mary, and I hope you enjoyed my PostTV video on tips for storing, seeding and peeling tomatoes. Oh, and for all of you who might want to see all our Top Tomato coverage since its inception many years ago, here it is, all in one place!

Bonnie is joining us from, as she put it, "sunny, breezy Nantucket." (I'm not jealous. No, siree. I'm not ready to return to Cape Cod after only a couple weeks back at work. No, siree.) And Cathy "Mrs. Wheel-" Barrow is in the room, too, to help answer questions about her great peach/tomato salsa and anything else canning-related (or ANYTHING, really).

Let's do this! As always, our favorite chatter or two will win a cookbook. So make your questions/comments good!

The peach tomato salsa looks great - can't wait to try it! A few questions: Can I sub jalapeno or habinero peppers for the serrano? Second, the extension service pubs on canning say to use bottled lemon/lime juice instead of fresh for safety reasons. Is it okay to use fresh here because of the long boiling time? Finally, I've not seen before that different sized jars shouldn't be used - would this recipe not be shelf-stable if I use 8 oz jars, which I already have? Thanks and keep up the great work!!

Yes, you're welcome to subsitute jalapeno or habanero (careful, only a pinch!) or even a sweet pepper if you don't like spicy.

The extension service recommended bottled lemon juice for a long time. Bottled lemon juice, with a reliable pH of 4.6, would properly acidify products for canning. Three years ago, a study by a California food scientist  was published. She tested lemons from various sources (also many varieties) to see if the pH varied substatially. As it turns out, Eureka (grocery store) lemons -- not Meyer -- consistently measured at 4.6 pH. Eureka indeed! The end of bottled lemon juice. If you want to use it, do, but you don't have to.

As a rule of thumb, it is perfectly safe use a jar size DOWN, from 12 to 8, for instance, but not to  use a larger size jar.

Hope this helps!



RECIPE: Peachy Tomato Salsa

Too bad it was over the ingredient limit. I wonder if smoked tofu, rather than fried, would have worked and eliminated the need for oil? Anyway, it is going on the menu soon. I'm glad you included it in the food section, if not the contest.

So glad you liked this recipe! We liked it, too. Yep, you could certainly include smoked tofu or store-bought marinated/baked tofu, but for these purposes I wanted to stick to the intentions/spirit of the original recipe. (And for the contest purposes, we don't make substitutions and major tweaks like that -- although you of course can, and should!)



RECIPE: Tomato and Tofu Salad

First, thanks for another wonderful issue full of inspiration! My questions while reading it: How do you smoke tomatoes? What meat could I substitute for rabbit? How do you make ginger juice?

I think you could probably use chicken or another bird instead of rabbit. I guess you could really use any meat - it's a ragu, but poultry would probably be the closest to rabbit. 

I have sour cherries sitting in vodka. I will separate the fruit and booze this weekend. What can I do with the boozy cherries?

Assuming they're pitted, you might consider jarring them with some spices (cinnamon, a small piece of star anise) and maraschino liqueur and saving them for your Manhattans.

Taste them before doing anything - they may have given their best to the vodka. Often the texture will suffer.

Hi Free Rangers! I hope you can help. A few years ago there was an article in the paper called something like 36 quick soups. One of them was a bean and bacon soup which I made a lot, as well as a few of the others. The bean and bacon soup called for white beans, bacon, olive oil, chicken broth, onion, and a few other things. I had bookmarked that site. Unfortunately my computer crashed and I lost all the bookmarks. I tried to find it but can't. If you can possibly work your magic and find it so I can bookmark it on my new computer I will be so happy. Thanks!

Here's the online article version, as well as a full-page PDF.

I bought a bunch of hatch peppers this week at Harris Teeter but don't know what to do with them. HELP!!

I like to roast hatch peppers - it brings out their unique sweet/hot flavor. They make a great addition to salsa - with either tomatillas or tomatoes. Once roasted, they can be frozen (if you bought a lot).

Made your absolutely wonderful chocolate zucchini cake, but it wasn't as pretty as the one you'd pictured. After greasing and flouring my fluted bundt pan, the cake came out with the flour residue on the surface that couldn't really be removed without doing damage to the cake. I thought dusting with powdered sugar would help, but it didn't really. Anything I should have done differently? Cocoa in the flour that I dusted on the pan? Using the baking spray that comes pre-floured? Just buying a non-stick bundt pan instead of using grandma's copper one? I never worry about this problem with frosted cakes.

Flour on the surface of an unfrosted cake, especially Bundt, is something that just happens, but usually a big enough shower of confectioner's sugar can do the trick! The thing is, though, you should wait until the cake is cool before you do this sprinkling, because otherwise the sugar dissolves and disappears. You can also dust with cocoa first and then with powdered sugar.



RECIPE: Chocolate Zucchini Cake

I like to "flour" the cake pan with cocoa powder when making chocolate cakes.

Tips for baking chocolate cakes: Use unsweetened cocoa powder to dust the pan instead of flour. Or  be sure to tap out any excess flour once you've done the pan prep.

Instructions say to click the heart on any recipe but when I'm viewing the recipe (tomato bacon jam), I do not see a heart. What am I missing? Thanks, great stuff in today's edition.

To save to your Recipe Box, go to the bottom of the recipe, and look for the little file-box icon, just to the left of the "Rate it" box with the stars. Click on that icon, and it will save to your Ziplist! (You can also access your Ziplist there, or another time you can just go to the top of the recipe and look for the Recipe Box icon at the top right.) Let us know how you like that function!

I followed last week's chat and then saw the recipe for the caramel covered cherry tomatoes which I made last night exactly as you recommended it. I was a little nervous to cook the sugar, but I did it exactly as the recipe directed. They were SUPERB! Do you know of any other items that can be coated in caramel like this?

Isn't that an awesome recipe? Osteria Morini's Alex Levin, aka Pastry Mensch, sent it over as a nonstarter Top Tomato entry. I think you could try it with cherries, certainly. Pieces of firm fruit like nectarine chunks or not-soft bananas or melon balls? Maybe experiment with things that are frozen, like little balls of Nutella?

RECIPE: Caramelle di Pomodoro

My husband bought an "off-brand" Sriracha, which has an ok flavor, but it's not my original favorite for direct application on top of food. Any ideas for what I can do with nearly a full bottle of the stuff? I'm thinking it could go into something like a BBQ sauce, where the flavor would be a nice addition, but not stand out too much. Maybe some type of soup/stew/chili? Other ideas?


You can do lots with it, like making your own mumbo sauce courtesy of the Hamilton. (Photo above.) Other uses:


* You can drizzle it on Joe's famous Grilled Kimcheese sandwich for a spicier bite.


* You can use it in this sauce for a tasty Reuben Benedict.


* You can use it for the Vietnamese "butter" in this pork banh mi.


* You can even use it in this melon and cucumber salad.


Here are 25 more thoughts from Bon Appetit, too.

What's the cheapest way to get larger quantities of tomatoes? Wait for sale on seconds at farmers market (~$15 for 25 lbs)? Or go straight to farm? (And if so -- where?)

Yes, yes and yes. 

Ask farmers at the market if they have seconds. Visit farm stands and see if they have seconds (I picked up a box this morning for even less than $15.) And finally, try the Pick Your Own farms for the best prices. Take a friend and pick a lot!

Why did the author feel the need to question the eating of rabbit? It really detracted from the article.

You'd be surprised how many people have told me the recipe looks great, but they don't really eat rabbit.

Perhaps it was  an overly defensive move on my part. We almost always get feedback of the unsavory variety whenever we feature rabbit in the section.

I'm interested in making an apple soup. Because I want it to be more on the savory side (it will probably have onion and potato too), I'm leaning towards good ol' Granny Smith apples, but wanted to see if you have thoughts on whether a different apple might be better.

You need to decide if you want the apple to be pureed smooth or if you would prefer chunky pieces of apple throughout the soup. That Granny Smith will hold its shape, while other apples will break down. Maybe a combination of the two would work? Here's a fun link to a chart of apple types. 

I have a maple block cutting board that has separated at the seam. Can you please recommend a durable, non-toxic adhesive to use to rejoin it?

Check out this tutorial on repairing a butcher block countertop -- some of the ideas would surely work (such as mixing sawdust with wood glue to repair deep cracks, or using wood putty).

Which is better to use when making salsa? Canned or fresh and what type?

Fresh for me. Always fresh. Salsa is all about freshness. Fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs, fresh onions, fresh jalapenos.


You don't need fancy heirloom tomatoes to make a good salsa (although I might be tempted to use Arkansas Travelers or Brandywines, since their sweetness would make a good contrast to the spicier elements). I would just use a good, garden-fresh beefsteak tomato.

Inspired by the Top Tomato recipes, I just picked up a 20-pound box of Romas from the farmers' market this morning. Last year, after roasting a large batch, I tried to store them in the fridge packed in olive didn't go so well. Any advice on how best to extend the life of tomatoes once roasted?

Once roasted, freeze those lovely tomatoes in serving sizes that work for your family meals. I like to have some tomatoes stored in two cup portions and others in four cup portions.

I'm assuming you included oil when you roasted the tomatoes which makes canning them in a water bath impossible. (You can use a pressure canner, FYI.) 

Ms. Schultz - what was your inspiration for making this recipe?

I used to make another rabbit recipe that my family enjoyed, but my husband complained that you have to work so hard to get so little meat and that the rabbit has so many tiny bones. So I came up with a way to prepare it that wouldn't require all the work.

Hi free rangers- I'm going on a 4-day backpacking trip with friends next week. We aren't totally roughing it- we are staying in cabins with kitchens and cooking items like pots and pans. We do have to carry our own food. Any suggestions for tasty meals that aren't heavy to carry? One person can't do lactose. Thanks!!

Corn tortillas will work for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bring/make salsa ingredients (tomato, cukes, onion or scallions, jalapeno pepper), farm-fresh eggs (surprisingly sturdy when indiv wrapped in paper towel then enclosed in reusable ziptop bags (or use powdered eggs). Dried fruit is good for snacking and can be rehdyrated with boiled water or juice to cook in a pan and top with granola. Nut butters can be thinned to work into a sauce for soba noodles (served hot or cold).

Hey Free Rangers, thanks for taking my question! I sense this chat is all about tomatoes but I'm hoping you'll have time for a different question. I'd like to cook my boyfriend a special birthday dinner with his favorite meat - steak. Only problem is, I've never cooked steak before. What are your favorite ways to cook steak? And any tips so I don't overcook/undercook? If the dish includes tomatoes, even better!

I like to rub a boneless rib-eye with veg oil on both sides, then season with kosher salt, cracked black pepper and sometimes a little herbes de provence. On both sides. Turn on the oven fan. Preheat the oven to 350. Heat a cast-iron skillet till it's almost smoking, then put the  steak in there. Don't touch it till you can hear the level of sizzle has reduced a bit and the underside looks crisped; some fat has rendered. Then turn it over and transfer the skillet to the oven so the steak finishes cooking in there. Use an instant-read thermometer to monitor internal temp; take it out (maybe after 7 mins, if the steak is around 1 inch thick?) at 135 degrees. Let it sit for 5 to 10 mins before cutting.


If you want to tomatoes to go with, try a side of the marinated tomatoes from today's Top Tomato Mock Chirashi Rice Salad. They are delicious.


      The other thing you can do is grill the steak.  I use hardwood lump charcoal and establish the grill for indirect cooking (coals on one side, none on the other). I brush a little olive oil on the meat and liberally season it with kosher salt and cracked pepper and cook the seasoned steak directly over very high heat for a couple of minutes on one side, then a couple of minutes on the other. I then move the steak to the cool side of the grill for about 3 minutes, flip, and cook another 3.  Comes out with a good char and a juicy medium-rare. 

      Let it rest for about 10 minutes before cutting into  it. As for the steak itself, I prefer a 1 1/2-inch thick rib-eye. 

     While we're talking steak, let me make a shameless plug for my column next month on caveman cooking - grilling steak directly on the coals (look, ma, no grate). It is, I must say, my current go-to method. 

I've had great luck with Pam for Baking. It's got the flour mixed right in, so there's no chance of flour sticking to your cake. Just be sure you've evenly coated the pan - I like to use a paper towel to even the coating.

Is there some place to buy garlic scapes year-round? Everything else is available year-round, from peaches to oysters, so why not my new favorite food? I'll order online if necessary. Thanks!

The scapes come when the garlic is at a very particular stage of growth, so making them widely available year-round would be a pretty complicated sourcing challenge. Why not just enjoy them when they're in season? Then move on to another seasonal food?

Ideas on what I can do with some habaneros from a neighbor? (other than wear gloves when I cut them?) We're not much for the preservation/canning, so maybe something that we can eat this weekend?

The problem with using up a batch of habaneros is that you typically don't need many for any one recipe. Some of the better recipes on our database for one or less, like these:


Spicy Apricot Peach Chutney


Chilled Avocado and Melon Soup With Spicy Crab-Corn Salad


One exception is this exceptional jerk chicken recipe, which calls for TWO!


Other ideas can be found here.

So, we've been advised not to put tomatoes in the 'fridge, because it does something to their flavor. But what about a cut tomato? If I use only half of it, is it ok to just wrap it in plastic wrap and leave it on the counter? (And yes, since not chilling my tomatoes, I have noticed a difference!) Thanks!

It's okay to leave it on the counter wrapped, sure (well, maybe on a plate on the counter). I admire your restraint at being able to keep cut tomatoes around...

Hi there - I was buying some hickory chips for my smoker (they didn't have splits or is DC, after all) and the cashier asked me if I knew what the secret was to getting the best flavor out of wood chips was. Playing the game I said no and it turns out I wouldn't have guessed this in a million years: soak them in soapy water. I don't believe it but she swore by it. And I'm not going to risk a meal on it either to find out. Anyone hear of this heresy?

       Never heard of it. Not even sure how someone thought of that, but I guess I'd try anything once. I might risk a meal so you don't have to. 

Karin, I think its great that you said your children eat the rabbit ragu. How did you get them to eat such a flavorful food? I find it hard to get my kids to eat anything but macaroni and cheese!

Well, I can't get mine to eat macaroni and cheese, so I think we're even. But I do try to put as many different kinds of foods in front of them and I make an effort to show them (before it's cooked) and tell them about what they're eating so that nothing sounds too weird to try.

I like a very different kind of salsa that is very rich and thick. We simmer our roma tomatoes for days until they are almost paste consistency. We then add the onions, garlic, peppers and herbs. I like that kind of intense and rich salsa much more than watery fresh salsa. But the key is that there are many ways to make salsa so people can find what works for them. There is no one best way.

Agreed, I've had some good sauces prepared in this fashion.

But at this time of the year, when tomatoes are at their peak, I go for fresh, chunky salsa.

Hey there. I've written in a couple times in the last few months about my first experience growing an herb garden on my condo balcony. It's been a wonderful experience, providing me with copious amounts of fresh basil and mint, plus just enough rosemary, parsley and sage that I've only bought herbs once this weekend (chives, because I wanted a lot and my chive plant just doesn't produce like I'd hoped). So...what happens when it starts to get cold? Is it possible to keep some of these plants or would I be better off letting them dwindle away and start fresh next spring? The main stems of the basil plant are getting pretty thick--and the leaves seem smaller lately. And the parsley looks like it's developed quite a root. It's funny how protective I've become of them. I check them almost everyday to assess watering, brown leaves, weird bugs, etc.

There is just nothing like a truly fresh herb! The basil is an annual plant, so once winter arrives (in fact, once the temperatures at night are below 55°F), it will stop producing. Abandon the basil and get a fresh plant next year. 

The parsley is a bi-annual and will produce for two years, even if it dies back to the ground. The rosemary and sage are perennials and will thrive for years (but may need a new pot.) Leave them outside if it's a protected area, or bring them in and place in a dark spot (back of a closet) until next spring.The plants will go dormant.

Just wanted to thank you all for the recipe database. We made the beer can chicken the other day. First time we have ever grilled a whole chicken, and it came out perfectly. Even got the skin crispy, which we just CANNOT seem to do in the oven.

A farm at the DOT farmers market has started to grow these things. They're amazing and wonderful. I would like to bread and butter pickle some of them. I'm assuming I should still cut a wee bit off the blossom end, but they're so small that I don't want to cut too much off. Is anyone familiar with pickling these guys? Or does anyone have any other recipe ideas?

I got a handful of them last year and made a sort of cornichons. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to snip off that blossom end or risk mushy pickles. Ew.

This summer I went to the Island of Corsica, when I got home my tomatoes were in full swing. I have been blanching, peeling and freezing them as they ripen. Do you have any ideas for Corsican recipes to make with my tomatoes to bring me back to this beautiful island during the upcoming winter? BTW my Oregon Spring Heirloom has produced at least 20 lbs on one plant! I give it the top tomato this year.

We do! A Top Tomato finalist from a couple years ago!



RECIPE: Stuffed Corsican Peppers

I understand that grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil but I was recently told that cooking with grapeseed oil at high temperatures (roasting) can cause this healthy oil to turn into saturated fat. Is this possible?

Check out what the Web site Olive Oil Source says about this idea:

"One common myth is that heating olive oil will make it saturated or trans-fatty.
This is not true. As far as making a saturated fat, according to Dr. A. Kiritsakis, a world renowned oil chemist in Athens, in his book Olive Oil from the Tree to the Table -Second edition 1998, all oils will oxidize and hydrogenate to a tiny degree if repeatedly heated to very high temperatures such as is done in commercial frying operations. Olive-pomace oils and virgin olive oils are both highly monounsaturated oils and therefore resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation. Studies have shown oxidation and hydrogenation occurs to a lesser degree in olive oil than in other oils. But in any case, the amount of hydrogenation is miniscule and no home cook would ever experience this problem.

The large refinery-like factories that take unsaturated vegetable oil and turn it into margarine or vegetable lard do so by bubbling hydrogen gas through 250 to 400ºF (121 to 204ºC) hot vegetable oil in the presence of a metal catalyst, usually nickel or platinum. The process can take several hours. You cannot make a saturated product like margarine at home by heating olive oil or any other vegetable oil in a pan. We don't know where this weird notion has come from."

Another vote of thanks for the recipe. It reminded me of my version of panzanella, in which I substitute baked tofu cubes for some of the bread. Heidi Swanson has a similar version in Super Natural Every Day, but I swear I was making it before I got her cookbook!

Yes, I can see that, it does have a slight panzanella thing going on -- not really as much tofu as you would use bread, but I get the similarities!

Not to mention ROFL this morning. Great column. So when did you say that Gene Weingarten is retiring? Seriously, I recently saw something about Bloody Marys written by a world-famous DC chef whose recipe called for Sacramento tomato juice, and my mind was seriously boggled. His calumny is trumped by your columny.

M. Carrie Allan makes me ROFL every day!


Sacramento tomato juice is no V8 juice. It's quality stuff.

I find it very interesting that the first place winner in the tomato contest uses rabbit. Last week there was an outcry on the web regarding Whole Foods selling rabbit meat. The picket line then showed up at the Whole Foods in Silver Spring last Sunday. While I am a vegetarian I stopped at the picket line and said to them if people did not ask for rabbit meat then stores would not sell it so you need to preach to people and not to the stores. Stores are in business to serve their client base.

Yes, there was even the requisite petition to get Whole Foods to stop selling rabbit.


This is one of those hot-button issues, whose outrage varies depending on the culture. Americans, where people keep rabbits as pets, tend to take a much harsher view of eating bunnies than, say, French natives, who grew up with the meat.

If indeed they are nearly "done," you could chop, put in a pan with other chopped or sliced fruit and butter, reduce, and put on top of panna cotta. Or ice cream.

How many different areas did the lemons come from that were tested? I can't imagine that my Eureka lemons in Los Angeles would *always* test the same pH as my friend's Eureka lemons she grows in a pot in Norther Alabama, or the lemons from Florida? But, I'm no scientist (far from it) so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about? ;-)

Good question. Here is a link to the original article. 

If I were to try to make this faster, do you have any suggestions? I love that I can use the slow cooker, but would it be ruined if I used all canned tomatoes? Do you have an alternate suggestion for the roasting of the tomatoes?

1) You could try boiling the rabbit - it would still take at least an hour, but it might work.

2) I haven't tried it with only canned tomatoes, but I started making it this winter, when it's hard to find very good tomatoes, so I think it's worth trying.

3) The first couple times I made the recipe, I just cut up the fresh tomatoes and cooked them on the stove with olive oil and garlic. I would add the fennel seed at that point. Then follow the rest of the recipe.

I totally understand you being defensive about Rabbit. I went for a tasting menu in Alexandria and the protein wasn't listed. Needless to say my dining companion who owned a pet rabbit was mortified (and the course was returned to the kitchen untouched). Thanks for featuring anyway...I appreciate the variety that your section provides!

Whew. And you're most welcome.

Please stop off at a camping store like REI and look for a rigid egg holder. They travel remarkably well, but if just use paper towels and plastic bags, you are going to have to always keep them in the top or cradle them in your spare socks and just keep track of them all the time. You can buy a plastic device that will cradle each egg like a regular carton does. And it doesn't cost that much.

I have never roasted tomatoes before. Is it is easy as it seems. We have canned almost 10 gallons of salsa and have more roma tomatoes in the garden. I was planning on blanching them, removing the skins and freezing. Can you roast them after you remove the skins?

Because roasting will reduce the water, leaving you with intensely flavored tomatoes, the skin helps hold everything together. You can roast them and freeze them (skin on).

Hi free rangers, some jalapenos that I picked from my garden over the weekend have started to turn red. Does this make them more spicy? Does it affect the taste at all? Should I move them from the counter to the refrigerator? Thanks!

This has happened to us a few times. It doesn't make them more spicy (in my experience), but they can make a great spicy-sweet sauce. Cook them, blend them and add agave nectar and white vinegar to your liking. Some years I add in a red pepper.

Jalapenos, like green bell peppers, turn red eventually -- it's called ripening, actually! I think they're a little sweeter and a touch hotter when red. Do a comparison and let us know what you find!

In addition to loving the recipes, wanted to say that I thought the photography this year was really cool. Love the oversized top-view shots.

We'll pass that along to the "visual" folks (art directors, photo and layout) Emmet Smith, Anne Farrar, Amy King, Chris Meaghan, Twila Waddy, Marvin Joseph and Deb Lindsey. Impressive team effort.

When I roast my chiles, I leave the blackened peel on and freeze on cookie sheets to keep them separate. When you thaw them, the peel is easily removed and all the good roasted flavor is still there. I found out a couple of years ago, when I ran out of time to peel them, that they taste much better if you freeze before peeling.

       I agree and, indeed, what I intend to be doing this weekend! 

This might be a question for Jim! I have a wealth of jalapenos and started thinking about making my own chipotle peppers. How feasible would might this be, between my dehydrator and smoker? Should I even try this? (On my apartment balcony, no doubt!)

I'm sure Jim will chime in, but I can also respond having just completed this process. I've been smoking the jalapenos for 20-40 minutes, then halving, removing the seeds and dehydrating 8 hours. I then put them in Adobo sauce. I haven't yet been happy with attempts to entirely dehydrate the smoked peppers.

      My way of making chipotle peppers, which are nothing more than smoked jalapeños, is pretty simple: I smoke 'em. 

       I cut off the stemmed ends so that the smoke penetrates the pepper and dries it out completely. Then I smoke them at low heat on the cool side of an indirect fire with the lid down. Here's the thing. To get them really dried, it can take awhile, like 12 or more hours. I add them when I am smoking something for a long time, like a brisket. I also will just smoke them for about an hour to give the pepper a great smoky flavor but keep its supple texture.  As for smoker/dehydrator feasibility, you have the perfect set up. Just smoke the jalapeño for at least 2 hours to get a good smoky flavor in it (go longer if you can), then put them i the dehydrator. The main thing is to always keep the temperature low, so that you don't actually cook them. You want them to slowly take smoke and dry out. You can reconstitute them with water or grind into a powder. 

Probably because rabbits are an animal that's sometimes a pet.

Those of us with beloved critters at home can sympathize with the notion that people find it hard to eat animals typically raised as pets. I'm not sure I could ever, EVER, eat dog meat.


Carnivore hypocrisy? Some animals are more special than others? Of course. It's also cultural.

I have a bunch of them and some red ghost peppers. I am happy to preserve and have done some fridge/salt versions But other ideas?

This happens. One plant and 30 habaneros later, we gardeners are wondering what to do with them! Ghost peppers: same thing.  I treat those incendiary peppers in one of two ways. First, consider making a hot sauce. Here's a link to my favorite recipe which uses some fruit to balance the fire. 

And the easiest way of all --- just pop those peppers into a zip top bag and put them in the freezer. They're easy to use straight from the freezer; ready to mince or slice in about five minutes.

I had a recipe for fresh tarragon that inspired me to grow my own, but now I can't find the recipe. The plant is flourishing, so please help me figure out how to use the tarragon. Thanks.

The first rabbit recipe we started making at home was a Panko and Mustard Crusted Rabbit that I got from It calls for a fair amount of tarragon.

We've got 100 recipes in our database that use tarragon. Explore!

For the past few years, my siblings and I have been meeting more or less monthly during local-produce season to can various things. We've been mildly unsatisfied with our tomato salsa -- no matter what recipe we try, it comes out VERY juicy. Obviously, for canning it needs to be cooked, which causes a lot of the juices to render, so the question is -- what can we do to make the final product thicker, while still keeping it as fresh-tasting as possilbe? Is it all down to simply draining off some of the liquid before it goes into the jars? That's some tasty stuff being discarded ...

Try removing the seeds/gel packs from the tomatoes: Core them, cut them into quarters, push the seeds/gel out, and then chop them. You can save the seeds/gel for sauces or gazpachos if you'd like.

I, Fulgencio, can verify it works. It will do amazing things to your foods and their tastes.

        A testimonial. 

I an trying to be more homesteading. In terms of a small space , raising rabbits for food seems very cost effective. I would love to see more recipes with rabbits and articles about people raising them for met.

I made a pasta with fried zucchini recipe last night (Ottolenghi by way of Smitten Kitchen) and was curious about a note that the zucchini didn't soak up much oil at oil. I'm used to the idea of frying being a not particularly healthy cooking method, so I myself measured the amount of oil after I was done and it was nearly identical to the amount poured in. I rarely fry food at home (to the point that food is completely submerged in oil), is there a property about zucchini that keeps it from absorbing a lot of oil? is that even what's happening or is the zucchini releasing water that balances it out?

The water content does help -- but in general, if the oil is hot enough, foods absorb much less of it in frying than people think!

I don't see what the big deal is. Certainly the restaurants that serve it, the markets that sell it, and the (very talented) Top Tomato winner aren't going around poaching kids pets from backyards. People keep chickens and pigs as pets too. They also taste really good and, like rabbits, are raised on farms for the purpose of eating the.. I hope Whole Foods doesn't stop selling rabbit, because now I'd really like to try making that awesome ragu.

I, too, wanted to cook some 1-inch ribeye steaks recently, and didn't want to ruin them, so I googled recipes. This is the one I used. It's fast and really simple. You could cook it in a cast iron pan on the stove if you don't have an outdoor grill.

Rabbit is my favorite meat. I also have a pet rabbit. I just don't see the issue of why we should not be eating rabbit.

I am newly located in New Mexico, and seeing the 40-50 lb boxes of chillies is making me think I need a food project and green chilli sauce seems appropriate. Any recipes, hints, thoughts?

The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers this recipe for Tomato Green Chile Salsa 

Sorry, I couldn't join live week, but I'm last week's questioner from the other Washington. To answer Emily's question about where I get fresh peas - I live in the Palouse region of Washington, which we refer to as the lentil capital of the world (our annual Lentil Festival is taking place this weekend). This is why I have easy access to fresh peas/beans that she may not have across the mountains. Come check out the east side!

Thanks! Will be sure to tell Emily!

Do you know anywhere to acquire rabbit locally that doesn't involve paying nearly $30 for a small rabbit?

Rabbit is often available at the Baltimore Farmers Market. I believe I paid less than $20.

Your favorite recipe?


This gazpacho by chef Gerard Pangaud is pretty much my ideal: Aside from tomatoes, cukes and bell peppers, it includes a little pineapple sweetness and pepper heat and then is garnished with complementary flavors such as watermelon and olive oil.

I must confess that I rarely, if ever, use a recipe for gazpacho. But that comes from growing tomatoes, I guess -- and jalapenos, Thai chili peppers, cukes and herbs, all things that go in in various quantities depending on my mood, my taste buds, my company.

Just the other day I made a batch with sungolds and yellow watermelon. Why? Because I had both on hand.

Another day I made a batch with striped Germans and some leftover poblano tapenade? Why? They were there. Of course, you have to taste and adjust as you go, but, well, that's the fun, for me.

They're more environmental too. Takes way less food to make a pound of rabbit than it does to make a pound of beef.

From my experience, mint will take as much room as you give it, and then some. And it definitely comes back year after year, so go ahead and transfer it to its own container and expect a repeat performance next spring!

Use plum type tomoatoes and the salsa will be less watery than beefsteak type. Simply cook longer to evaporate more water off and concentrate the flavor. Minimize how many wet ingredients you add to the tomatoes

Do you have any suggestions for cooking for a family as a working mom? I have heard the talk about getting the kids involved in cooking, but its really hard at 5:45 when everyone is hungry.

It'd be helpful to prep on Sundays -- cut and/or cook vegetables and proteins; freeze the ones that you won't use within a few days. Even pasta can be precooked. Assembly meals like quesadillas and packet cooking (in foil packets; recipes in our database from a junior cook!) go quickly and get the family involved.

I have no problem eating rabbit, neither do my kids. But I used to have a pet catfish and cannot eat catfish to save my life. I've tried a couple of times, but just can't swallow it. However, I can eat at the same table as others eating catfish.

I'm a big fan of making my own popcorn, but I've noticed recently that my popcorn has been coming out somewhat soggy when I make it on the stove top. I've seen some steps I could take to reduce this, but it seems a little more involved than I would like for a fast and easy snack. I was wondering if anyone had found a popcorn popper to do a decent job?

I haven't used a commercial popcorn popper in years.


Maybe chatters have some suggestions?

I thought you'd be interested to know that people in Europe can no longer Google this BBC article and discussion about hummus because someone requested its removal under a European law on "the right to be forgotten," according to the BBC ( The Beeb says only 12 of its news stories have been removed, but this one about where to get the best hummus was one of them! BTW, the discussion reveals that the Arabic word for chickpea is hummus.

     Hmmmm, that is interesting. Thanks for passing along. I don't know about the right of hummus stories to be forgotten, but I do know that it has always bugged me that hummus has become a catch-all phrase for seemingly every conceivable dip - black bean hummus springs to mind - when the actual dish is pretty clear, as you note, in its very title about what it is. Whew. I feel better now. 

Could someone take a look at the "This Week's Recipes" link? Last week the page wasn't updated and now the link just loops back to the Food Section main page.

Yep, it's fixed now. Thanks for pointing it out! (Last week it was fixed by Thursday, btw...)

They will toss you out of the state unless you learn how to spell it correctly: In New Mexico it's "chile."

I grew green shiso in a pot this year and it's gorgeous. What is the best thing to do with it? I originally grew it for a quick pickled radish recipe--which I have now lost and can't find on the internet. Thinking of pickling cukes with it instead (quick), but since my supply is limited thought I'd ask for suggestions.

We're almost out of time, but here are a few recipes that use shiso. I am in the same boat as you, because I have a BIG bush of it. Stay tuned, btw, for a really good recipe in Plate Lab for a cabbage/shiso slaw from Tom Power of Corduroy. Coming in a month or two. (Can you wait that long?)

Do people forget that eating rabbit used to be common, generations of kids grew up watching a cartoon character who's whole life was devoted to hunting wabbits? Or is that the reason it's not acceptable now - those generations grew up rooting for Bugs? Good thing he didn't go after cows... (and what's that say about Bambi then?)

I have never felt the need to soak wood chips in soapy water, but I would hazard a guess that (a) the intent is to reduce the surface tension of the water to improve absorption into the wood chips (this is how you water plants in soil-less mixes, so that the potting mix doesn't float away) and (b) as with plants, there is not much soap needed in the mixture -- a couple drops in a quart or two of water. I can't imagine that, when smoked, it would alter the flavor of food.

      I had been wondering the same thing about altering the flavor of the wood. If it doesn't, then, why do it? Not sure I'm getting this. Who knows, maybe a column one of these days.

Hope this is not too late -- you can use cocoa to avoid the look of flour on chocolate cakes.

I believe we answered as much, in fact! But thanks!

Well, you've broiled us just long enough to lightly brown our crumb topping but not long enough to cook or heat up our tomato, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great q's, and thanks to Karin, Cathy, Carrie, Jim, Tim and a vacationing Bonnie for helping with the a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who compared the Tomato/Tofu Salad to a panzanella will get "The Best of Rose Elliott: The Ultimate Vegetarian Collection." And the chatter dubbed Working Mom who asked about cooking for a family will get "100 Days of Real Food" by Lisa Leake. (Lots of ideas for systems in there!)

Send your mailing information to, and we'll get you your books!

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 staff writer Tim Carman, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Carrie Allan. Guests: Cathy Barrow, blogger and Canning Class columnist; Top Tomato winner Karin Schultz.
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