Free Range on Food: Grilled fruit, the drawbacks of salad and more

Grilled Strawberry Shortcake With Smoked Whipped Cream.
Aug 26, 2015

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

Hi, all, and welcome to today's chat! I'm back from vacation, and now Bonnie's out. (Very August of us, don't you think?)

Anyhow, hope you're enjoying reading our stuff over the past week -- particularly Tom Sietsema's gorgeous ode to the quirky glories of nowhere-else-like-it NOLA, part of his best-food-cities series. Plus Lee Powell's wonderful video tribute to the Sazerac -- I can't get enough of seeing Kate Hepburn slinging one back in "State of the Union" and Alan Richman taking one in the face on "Treme," among other fun clips. Have you let your good times roll there lately? Time to get back if not, obviously.

Tamar Haspel had a provocative piece for her Unearthed column this month, on the problem with salads. And Jim Shahin told you how to make the best use of fruit/desserts on the grill. And more!

We're here to help answer any questions you may have about food/cooking, so make them known. To tempt you, we have two giveaway books today, both inspired by the New Orleans package: a SIGNED copy of David Guas's "Grill Nation" and Peggy Wang's "Dessert and Booze Hacks."

And for you PostPoints members, your code that will get you points for participating today is FR1371 . Record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

Let's get to the questions!

Salad "adds nothing but crunch" to our diets?!?! You might as well say, "It adds nothing but flavor!" I love crunch, I need crunch, I crave crunch! It is my favorite mouth-feel. I also love being able to eat a big bowl full of something without worrying about calories. To chew without fear of damaging my temporary crown. To elevate leftovers by tossing them in -- the last bit of a rotisserie chicken, a little bit of cheese, the broken walnuts at the bottom of the bag, some leftover rice can all go into a big bowl of lettuce (and maybe celery and radish and cucumber) where you can enjoy the contrasting textures without overdoing the fat and calories and stretch a tiny bit of meat so it feeds several people. Add fresh herbs instead of dressings. And BTW, radishes do have flavor! Plenty of flavor! And so does eggplant, once it's cooked. Celery? As in mirepoix? And it's good for you! See Cucumbers -- Try making tzatziki without them. Or sushi. Tamar writes, "A head of iceberg lettuce has the same water content as a bottle of Evian ... and is only marginally more nutritious." It's probably also cheaper than a bottle of Evian, domestically produced ("eat locally" = save the planet) and it doesn't come in a possibly toxic container that ends up in landfill. "Save the planet, skip the salad"? I bet most of those wasted lettuce leaves weren't meant to be eaten, they were used as a bed for something -- maybe scoops of egg, chicken or tuna salad (all made with celery) or a 'burger. Shall we abandon parsley because it's used as garnish with raw onion and usually left on the platter? Come, lettuce reason together! Let me make you a nice salad, Tamar, and you'll see how good it is.

A wonderful defense, my friend! I'll break bread over a nice bowl of salad with you any time.

I like salad, too, for many of the reasons you do.  Especially that part about a big bowl of something with almost no calories.  Salad isn't *necessarily* a loser, but its most frequent incarnations are.  I don't think anyone should stop eating it (I certainly don't plan to), but perhaps think about more nutritious, less resource-hungry versions.  We could all take a leaf (get it?) out of your book!

Just from a single plant I have an excessive amount of excessively spicy jalapenos! I'm looking for suggestions on how to preserve them or even ideas of how to use dried ones. Admittedly my husband is not a big fan of really spicy things and won't even touch these, so it's just me and the jalapenos...

Our canning expert, Cathy "Mrs. Wheel-" Barrow, says this:

Jalapeno production has been amazing this summer! Jalapenos will make a terrific Hot Pepper Jelly. If the chiles' Scoville heat index is too hot for straight pepper jelly, try my recipe for Habanero Gold Jelly[]. It mellows the heat with the addition of dried apricots; simply substitute jalapenos for habaneros. You can dry them and smoke them (watch for my October DIY column), pickle them and — my personal favorite — candy them. That Candied Chile recipe is in my book.

I'll add that when I had a HUGE crop in my garden last year, I made a beautiful honey-pickled jalapeno recipe from "The Joy of Pickling." Still eating those -- and giving them away!

A very interesting and informative article by Tamar Hespel. I was reading "Vegetable Harvest" by Patricia Wells last night and came across this bit of folklore: "Salad is an aphrodisiac, so always grow a variety of lettuces and greens in your garden to assure fertility." So there's that to consider!

I've heard a whole lot of reasons to eat salad over the last couple of days, but that is hands-down the best! Thank you.

So am I missing something with this love of scallions? Lately I feel like every where I turn recipes are replacing basic onions with scallions. I don't get it, they aren't that great to me.

I am unaware of this takeover plan! They're really different animals -- ahem -- that perform different functions. But I don't think there is any shortage of recipes that use "regular" onions.

Here's how to make your counterpoint view known: Make this, and take comfort in the fact that there are zero scallions in it.

Golden Lentils With Soft, Sweet Onions

RECIPE: Golden Lentils With Soft, Sweet Onions.

Will the chatter who posted a question about the Weber Smoky Mountain RE post it if you are still with us? My apologies, but I accidentally deleted it! (First time for everything!)

Doesn't it change everything if you substitute spinach for iceberg lettuce in a salad?

Sure, at least a little.  But to get a sense of how little spinach you're eating when you eat a salad, cook it.  Chances are, it's a bite or two.  Yes, spinach has more nutrition than iceberg, but when the quantity is so small, it makes little difference.  The main nutritional and caloric elements are those other things.  But if you pay attention to those things, your spinach salad can certainly be a great choice.

Been having a horrible time finding the link on the new design homepage.

Glad you found us! Honestly, the best thing to do is to bookmark , where you'll see the full lineup of chats every day and it's easy to find us on Wednesdays.

On the Food landing page, it's under Highlights just a few stories down from the top.

Wow. It's incredible that Elissa Altman is so insensitive that she would use the phrase "pope's nose" for chicken butt.

Elissa says:

It was not my intention whatsoever to include in this article anything offensive to anyone; I have many devout Catholic family members and I've never known this phrase to be offensive. That said, if it offended even one of my readers -- and apparently it has -- I offer my profuse apologies. 

ARTICLE: The one thing my aging mother will devour: Roast chicken.

Our church is having a coffee cake bake-off this weekend. We have cooking/baking contests fairly often, and I never win. Which recipe will be a sure prize winner? I know one of the ones in your archives will be?

Are you going to give us credit? And a share of the prize? ;-)

For the BBQ King: I have a barrel smoker (not a good one, but not a bad one - a $200 piece from Lowes) and I can't maintain the smoker temperature at all. I put logs (or charcoal and big chunks) in the fire box on the side, and my temperature always spikes up to 1,000,000 degrees, then when I try to calm it down, I either kill the fire or I can only get it to 400 degrees. When I'm lucky I can get a 200 hold for about 1.5 hours. And then the process starts all over again. It's annoying and I think I've ruined some good BBQ because of that. The thing does leak a lot of smoke (I think they all do) but I'm trying to keep things real at the expense of my sanity half the time. And I don't have $1500 to spend on a really good one. TIA!

        Let's get the bad news out of the way first. If the smoker you have is $200 from Lowe's, it's a bad smoker. For a real offset smoker, that's pretty much bottom of the line. Now, I'm going to make you feel better. I had one for years and, yes, it can be a struggle, but there is nothing better to learn how to manage fire.

       First, always have a good supply of wood chunks and splits (logs split into about 4" base wedges and about 12"-14" long). Start your fire with regular charcoal to get a good bed. After they're ashen, place about 6 fist-sized chunks or 3-4 splits on the first, let them catch fire and burn for about 5 minutes. Then, close the firebox door and, of course, the cooking chamber door. Wait about 10 or so minutes until you have a nice smolder in the fire box. From then on, feed the fire with fresh wood (about 3 chunks and 2 splits, but you have to use your judgement) to keep a steady fire, about every 45 minutes or so throughout the cooking process. When you feel you're getting the hang of it, you'll be able to feed the fire about every 2 hours. But, at first, baby it. Start with ribs, which take about 5 hours, then work your way up to pork shoulder and brisket, which will take 8 to 12 or even 18 hours. The key is to keep a steady fire of between 225-275 degrees for most barbecue meats. The temperature gauge isn't much help, as it doesn't measure the heat accurately where the meat cooks, but as a rough guide, it is better than nothing. Hope that helps.


What do you suggest if salads are so empty in the nutrition? Don't like kale or tomatoes. But I always try to use dark lettuce or spinach, grilled chicken, no croutons, a little cheese...dressing is homemade vinaigrette (more vinegar than oil). Thought we were supposed to eat vegetables per USDA food guidelines?

The vegetable aisle is filled with possibilities! Green beans, broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, collard greens, peas ... and on and on.  That said, if you like your salad, there's no reason to abandon it.  It's not a big source of nutrition, but it's something you like, and that matters too.  

My vote right now goes to Freddy's in Fairfax. Their dogs and burgers are good too.

Good to know. I'm a huge fan of Goodies (food truck and in National Harbor) and the Dairy Godmother in Del Ray.

In my defense...opening from my bookmark; the highlight section wasn't there nor was the live chat. Using your link it was there now...thanks Joe!

Hmm. Your bookmark is set to That link hasn't moved!

During his restaurant chat last hour, Tom Sietsema gave a shoutout re his recent New Orleans piece to "ace editor Joe Yonan." What is an editor's function in such work? I assume that Sietsema submits excellent copy, but what did Joe do to turn out the final product?

How nice of Tom!

An editor's job is multifaceted. Tom is an excellent reporter and writer, as you note -- I have a great team! -- but everybody needs an editor. I help with everything from time management to structuring a narrative, fact-checking, streamlining and tightening copy. And that's just with the writers -- for the section overall, and for food coverage in other feature sections, I'm evaluating ideas, assigning stories, working with the photo and design departments on visual presentation, working with the digital team on social media strategies and headlines, and so much more.

I sent this to the restaurant chat too, as I am not sure quite where it fits. I recently moved back to the East Coast and there was one thing I've really missed in my time away. So what's the best place to go apple picking near DC this fall that also has great apple cider donuts?

Chatters? If you're up for a little bit of a day trip, head out to Winchester. When I lived out there, one of my favorite places was Marker-Miller Orchards. Gorgeous scenery, great fruit and off-the-hook doughnuts. I was just visiting a few weeks ago and bought a dozen to take home -- they've still got it!

Its only been called that for longer than OP has been alive. It's not insensitive.

-- A former altar boy

Tamar your recent columns seem to imply that organic food is not better than conventional, that continents like Africa needn't worry about GMOS, and that salads are bad (whereas I think you meant that salads with bad ingredients are bad, like any dish with bad ingredients). Are those really the points you were trying to make? Or did the headlines oversell what you were trying to say? Or what?

Headlines necessarily lack nuance. For the record, organic produce isn't better for your health than conventional. Africa should welcome GMOs, but be judicious in the deployment of some of them. Salads are suboptimal nutrition delivery systems. There's always more in the piece than there is in the headline.

I recently smoked a beef tongue pastrami (from Feeding the Fire). It is good but a bit too salty. I brined for 7 days. 1 cp salt/ 1 tsp curing salt/gal water +spices. How could I make it a bit less salty? Less time in the brine, less salt in the brine, soak and rinse after brine? I'm getting a Waygu beef tongue this winter and want to try again.

     Feeding the Fire is a terrific book, but I am not familiar with that specific recipe and I am not at home to check it. So, I'm not sure what author (and Fette Sau owner) Joe Carroll writes, but I would suggest that you rinse very well after brining. After rinsing, dry the meat before putting it on the smoker. That should do it.

For those of us lucky enough to have a bit of garden space, raising mixed salad greens (e.g., leaf lettuces, spinach) organically takes relatively little room and causes little ecological damage -- as opposed to the harm-to-the-environment scenario that Tamar Haspel outlined in her article (especially re the mass farming and far transporting of iceberg lettuce). But with a cold frame, the growing season here can be extended during the early and late cooler months, while a few varieties like Buttercrunch and Red Sails manage to soldier on for a while during the summer heat before ultimately bolting. And the darker the salad greens (including red leaf lettuces), the more nutritious they are, not to mention more interesting to eat!

Absolutely. When you grow greens yourself, the calculus changes.  I'm in favor!  And if we didn't have such a robust rabbit population here, I'd be doing a lot more of that myself.

I made a batch of pickles two weeks ago and the jars didn't seal properly, so I had to toss them. (I could remove the lids with my fingers, so the seals weren't tight.) I made a batch this past weekend and while the lids seem to be sealed, I'm now paranoid! If the lids sealed (no popping sound) and I can't lift them off with my fingers, they're safe, right? Thanks!

Right! I know where you're coming from -- it took me a good while to get over my fear of canning. And as long as you followed a legit recipe, you should be good. Pickles are obviously pretty acidic, so the chances of you poisoning anyone with botulism are really low, too. :)

Cathy Barrow says:

Sorry to hear you’ve experienced seal failure. There are a couple of common reasons that seals fail: remnants of food or brine, spices or sugar or salt, on the rim of the jar (so make sure to carefully clean the rim before placing the lid) or inaccurate headspace - the space from the top of the jar to the food — too little headspace may cause siphoning in which the contents of the jar burble up under the lid, making the seal ineffective. Check headspace and remove air bubbles and then check the headspace again before processing.

Once processed, test completely cooled jars by removing the rings and lifting the jars by the lid. If the lid stays in place, the seals are good and the food may be kept in a cool, dark place for up to a year.  Storing the jars without the rings will also help. If there is any issue with the seal, the lid will lift in the pantry, so retest all seals when retrieving the jars from storage. 

In the future, those that didn’t seal could have been stored in the refrigerator and you can still enjoy the contents if eaten within a month. No need to toss your hard work!

I've been making a lot of quiches recently and I'm hoping that you can help me with a not-infrequent problem. I make the shortcut pastry, let it chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, roll it out to put in the pie dish. I blind bake by putting parchment over the pie crust, filling with weights (coins), then baking for ~20 minutes, removing the weights and parchment paper and baking until golden. The problem is that about half the time, the crust seems to shrink - the crust had gone all the way up the walls of the pie dish, but when I take it out to take off the weights, it only makes it halfway up the wall of the pie dish. Why? and what can I do to minimize this (sometimes it shrinks so much that the eggy goodness can't be entirely contained in the crust and it oozes behind the crust)? Thanks.

You're really on the right track. But I'd recommend also chilling the crust once you've put it in the pie dish, before you blind bake. I think about 30 minutes in the freezer would do it. That should cut back on the shrinking. Good luck!

Another thing: Make sure that after you roll out the crust, you're not stretching it to put it in the pie dish. Make sure you give yourself enough room, rolling it out a couple inches bigger in diameter than the pie dish. Then, I like to fold it in quarters, wedge-style, and then put the point right in the center of the pie plate and unfold. Just lay the crust gently, and don't pull it to get it to fit.

I'm planning my 40th birthday, which takes place this Winter. I'm thinking my 5 closest girlfriends, an indoor pool and some great food. Not sure how to go about all of that. How do others' celebrate their big birthdays other than just to a restaurant?

I like throwing my own party, which seems counter-intuitive, right? Shouldn't the birthday girl or boy just chill on the big day and let others fete them?


Well, sure. That's one way to do it.


But I like pulling together a party, like this Texas barbecue feast, as a way to thank all those who have been an essential part of my life for so many years.  Besides, they'll bring gifts anyway, so you still get plenty of attention and goodies.

Carter's Mountain Apple Orchard near Charlottesville is always great! Good doughnuts and you can work off those doughnuts by picking your own apples.

Lots of recipes call for grilling/broiling/baking something until it gets "a good char" -- all sorts of grilled meat recipes, but also corn and eggplant and tomatoes. I baked some whole tomatoes according to a recipe the other day, and although the top surfaces turned black in spots, there was no exceptional taste change. Maybe I should have cooked them longer still, I don't know. How do you judge just how far a recipe or ingredient can be pushed? When does "a good char" become "just flat-out burned"?

Good question.


But before we delve into it, did you catch the story yesterday about whether charring meats on the grill can lead to cancer? It's worth a read.


ARTICLE: Are you risking cancer when you put that meat on the grill?


Now, when it comes to char and blackening, not all foods are the same. Food, such as tomatoes, undergo a caramelization of their sugars. On the other hand, roasted meats, bread crusts coffee beans undergo what's known as a "Maillard reaction," which affects carbohydrate molecules. Both have different flavors. Your tomatoes, for instance, might have become sweeter or assumed bitter flavors or even sour flavors.


But as to when char goes too far? Mostly you'll taste it. It will be acrid and overly bitter, not pleasantly bitter. When that moment arrives, however, is personal to each taster.


Have any of you tried the faux mayo discussed in the article? Does it have olive oil in it? I'm a Hellman's girl but I'd be interested to try. I'll try almost anything once.

I love Just Mayo, even though I'm not vegan, even though I sometimes make my own, and even though I've been loving Hellman's since I was a kid. I find it smooth and clean-tasting, and think it rivals Hellman's, believe it or not.

Here's the ingredients: Non-GMO Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, White Vinegar, 2% or less of the following: Organic Sugar, Salt, Pea Protein, Spices, Modified Food Starch, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Fruit and Vegetable juice (color), Calcium Disodium EDTA (to preserve freshness).

ARTICLE: Can this company do better than the egg?

ARTICLE: FDA says Just Mayo shouldn't be called mayo

Honestly, I'd rather eat real, cooked vegetables than limp, wilted lettuce of any variety, any day. So I enjoyed the anti-salad article.

Well, that's one!  Most people I've heard from are most definitely pro-salad. So I wish you joy of your cooked vegetables.

I had an entry that made it to the finals. I could not make last week's chat, but I wanted to say that creating a recipe for mass usage is harder than I thought. Things I took for granted were questioned, techniques clarified, ingredients double checked. I just wanted to say thanks for taking this contest seriously. I don't know if people understand what a huge undertaking it is for the Wapo food crew. Of course I'm just happy to have made the list and my prize cookbook is already in use.

And thanks for submitting! Yes, as Bonnie can attest to, a lot goes into editing recipes for the general public. And not just those we get from readers -- sometimes the stuff we get from chefs (you know, professionals!) is just as tricky.

ARTICLE: Treat your summer tomatoes to the very best reader recipes we tasted in 2015

Hi, just wanted to let Joe know I've been riffing on the spicy noodles & tofu recipe in Eat Your Vegetables. The first try was breathtakingly too spicy (a tablespoon of chili oil!), but I've cut back, tried adding other things, and every version has been good. Love the idea of starting with dried ramen and turning it into something better. Thanks!

Glad to hear it!

My mother doesn't eat anymore either, not during the day anyway. She gets up and eats during the night. Is it possible that Elissa Altman's mother is doing that as well?

Elissa says:


My mother has certainly been a middle of the night nosher in the past---I used to find donut crumbs on the kitchen floor in the morning when I was a teenager ---so it is possible. That said, her fridge is largely empty unless I fill it. So the opportunity for her to do that is limited.

I guess I normally eat more than that in a salad. Not sure how valid this website is but it looks like if you eat a cup or two it's pretty nutritious, eh? Also, I get your point about the amount of energy it takes to grow and transport lettuce (especially considering so much is grown in drought-stricken CA), but there are solutions to that- purchase locally or better yet, grow greens yourself! The article gives a “why bother with salad” impression rather than proposing solutions to the criticisms. That’s what bothered me the most about it.

If you grow greens yourself, it's certainly an entirely different calculation.  If you buy them locally, it's a somewhat different calculation.  And, of course, if you assemble healthful, veg-rich versions, that's a far cry from the restaurant salads I mentioned in the piece.  Not all salads are bad choices, a point that I think was pretty clear in the piece.  But, given that we are, as a population, woeful under-eaters of vegetables, I think it's reasonable to switch salads out, at least part of the time.

Is it possible to line the lid with asbestos or something like that to keep the smoke in better?

        There are all sorts of ways to help reduce smoke leakage when using what, in the 'cue biz, they call a COS (cheap offset smoker). Way too many possible modifications to go into here. Go to and you'll see scads. But the thing is, countless guys for countless years have smoked foods and dealt with leakage. The main thing is to just get to know your smoker and your fire. Do that, and don't worry about all the contraptions and you will soon become the master of fire.

Tamar, what resources do you use to assess the nutrition of greens and other veggies? I’d like to know better about what vitamins/minerals I’m getting from a cup of this or that so I can make better choices.

I do love a question I can answer definitively!  I use the USDA nutrition database:

It has just about everything you eat, and you can adjust quantities.  I use it all the time.  

A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to California with a nice gift for me: an assortment of dried chilies. He knows I like to cook, but I don't cook with dried chilies much, so this will be a fun challenge to find good ways to use them. Any suggestions? He gave me ancho, pasilla, guajillo and Anaheim chilies. Thanks.

In the interest of time, I suggest you take a look at Kenji Lopez-Alt's comprehensive, step-by-step story on how to buy, prepare and cook with dried chilis. It's one-source information that you can trust, and you can ignore the buying advice!

Has anyone seen figs at any local (VA or DC) farmers' markets? Or at any pick your own farms in the VA-WVA area? I have infrequently seen them in past years at Courthouse, but they were $$$. I know I can get California figs at Whole Foods, but there is really no comparison to fresh locals ones, and I would like a quantity large enough to make jam.

My market mavens tell me that some Eastern Shore farmers have ripe figs, but for many others, it's still a little early. Keep an eye out and report back!

I recently overbrined a chicken I was brining - was gonna take it out in 45 minutes and remembered it about 3 hours later. I knew it was gonna be overly salty and sure enough it was. Brine was 1/2 kosher salt, lots of smashed garlic, and 2 quarts of water. Is there some way to reverse brine should I accidentally do this again?

I don't have an answer to this, but I'm nominating it as genius question of the week.  Reverse brine!  What a concept.

Well, people soak corned beef to reduce the salt, so seems like you could soak the chicken in plain water, perhaps changing the water a few times, and that might help.

Finely shredded Brussels sprouts are a fine base for autumnal salads. I like mine with apples cheddar hazelnuts and some sort of onion. They hold up well even after overnight in fridge

Can I come over?

Do you have any good recipes for EGGPLANT?

First of all, I want to commend you on the high number of questions answered in Free Range on Food. I participate and/or read most of the Post's chats and some seem to get to very few questions before time is up. I'm trying to go all whole foods (I'm referring to the practice such as the Engine 2 Diet and not the store here) and oils are not allowed. I love olive oil to saute veggies and on salads and adding Magic Vegan Bacon Grease when cooking fresh beans so this will be hard. Suggested substitutes include a limited use of vegetable cooking sprays or sauteing veggies in little water or vegetable broth. Do you have any other alternatives? I already use herbs and spices to enhance flavor and have tried a variety of vinagerettes on salads but they still seem to beg for the olive oil too. What can I sub for the Magic Vegan Bacon Grease in beans?

Thanks for the love!

OK, so I'm not an expert in Engine 2, nor am I going to study up on its nuances right now (sorry!), but for the beans, go for smoked paprika and chipotle as smoky additions.

For the salad dressings, check this out. 

Cashew Mint Dressing

RECIPE: Cashew Mint Dressing


My favorite is to pickle them a la bread-and-butter pickles. I don't can them, just refrigerate, but I'm sure they can be canned--just find a comparable pickled pepper recipe in the Univ of GA or Ball Preserving websites.

The past two winters really hammered the fig trees in my neighborhood. So good luck finding figs! My tree died back to the roots x2

Thank god that article was in the Post. Now I know to only cook meat in the most bland ways possible and I will live forever. Of course according vegans if I become vegan I will live for two or three forevers. And according to the global warming predictions that will be long enough to see much of DC flooded and the end of civilization as we know it. So maybe I will char my meat after all.

As I wrote on Twitter yesterday, if I could select my own form of death, it would be Death by Char!


When I started making salads years ago, I'd use iceberg lettuce as a base and top it with corn, black beans, and garbanzo beans. Pour some vinaigrette on top and I was all set! The lettuce provided crunch and also did a great job of holding onto the dressing. I still do the same thing, only now I mostly use romaine lettuce and sometimes iceberg. It's very tasty!

Corn, black beans, and garbanzos certainly turn lettuce into something substantial and nutritious. Have at it!

A co-worker gave me a ton of Italian plums and I'm wanting to make some kind of dessert with them (tart, cake, etc;). Can you share a favorite recipe? Thank you! Carol M.

It's an oldie, but we have one in our database.

RECIPE: Edith Eis's Plum Cake

I didn't like mayo when I was still a meat eater, so I my response may not have the credibility as those who do but I love Veganaise. It comes both regular and low-fat and has flavored versions such as with chipolte, horseradish and a tarter sauce. I also like Just Mayo and it also comes flavored. Love the garlic version!

I think Duke's beats them all! Have you tried it yet?

I saw some at the Alexandria Old Town Farmers Market this past Saturday.

Great! Thanks!

Just think about a Virginia dry cured ham. After they are dried and preserved with salt and nitrates, they must be soaked for days before being cooked. Soaking to remove salt has a long history.


Can I use whatever color lentils I happen to have on hand to make a recipe? For instance, this recipe calls for RED LENTILS??

Different lentils behave very differently, so it's important to know before you start subbing them in and out. That recipe, which I tested (and LOVE), needs red lentils because they turn into a lovely mash. Others, like green French lentils and black beluga lentils, hold their shape so are better for salads (!) and other recipes that need that. Here's a primer for you:

ARTICLE: Lentil varieties and how to cook with them

Mom's in Bowie had figs when I shopped on Sunday.

The OP was looking for locally grown figs, though? I bet those weren't.

a favorite: the cardamom really makes it!

My son begged for a strawberry rhubarb pie. I have never made one before. The recipe I selected for tapioca and flour in with the fruit. I used 'pearl' tapioca. The pie ended up very runny and pearls were still visible. Did I use the wrong thing? What should I look for instead? My son was so excited, he cut into the pie within an hour of me taking it from the oven. Would that make a difference?

Sure. Waiting longer to cut a pie definitely helps the filling set up more. And your suspicions about the tapioca are probably right. Pearl won't dissolve well enough to thicken. Did the recipe specify what to use? Next time try quick-cooking tapioca, though there's also tapioca flour out there.

So, my lunch: a huge pile of mixed "super greens" (got them at WF, mix contains baby kale, baby chard, baby spinach, baby romaine, arugula, etc), local blueberries, local strawberries, local grape tomatoes, walnuts, local bleu cheese, sunflower seeds, balsamic vinaigrette. Tell me how this is a waste?

It sounds like a delicious lunch.  I did note that salad can be a perfectly reasonable choice, and it seems like yours is.

While I agree with the eloquent first poster, I also think there's a difference between salad you make and salad you order. We ate at the phenomenal Alden and Harlow in Cambridge MA and sat so we could watch kitchen and food prep. I was amazed by how many more orders of their kale salad went out than any other dish 2 kales for any one other item. I bet people thought it was good for them and lower calories than other options. Having seen it made, and having had it, it is delicious but a vehicle for about a cup of very rich dressing.

I (heart) Alden and Harlow. cacao nibs ftw

The Old Town WF had them last weekend.

Sorry! OP wanted LOCAL figs. S/he knows they can be found at WF but was asking about markets.

Hi Free Rangers! For his third birthday, my son has asked for "a chocolate cake with strawberries." Sounds pretty tasty to me! Wondering if you want to point me in a good direction - I was thinking maybe a layer cake with some sort of strawberry filling in between? Thanks in advance!

We're getting short on time, but this immediately made me think back to my college days in Austin, where Texas French Bread sold the most amazing yellow layer cake with strawberries and pastry cream between the layers. The whole thing was coated in a fabulous chocolate ganache. I've never made it, but that could be a way to go. Of course, for your son, you could make the layers chocolate instead of yellow.

Planted a fig tree in the garden this spring. It lost all the figs on the tree but soon settled in and started growing leaves. It produced two beautiful figs that I was waiting to pick. I went out to get them and they were gone. The squirrels said the were yummy.

Yes, you can over-cook cuts of meat that are meant for slow cooking. I frequently braise and slow-cook all types of shanks (beef, pork, lamb, veal) in the winter, and it is easy to over cook! Plan on 8 hours on low, then check them - cook longer if needed . I have recently been braising these cuts for 2 - 2 1/2 hours at 325. This gives me more control. If you cook the meat too long it is dry and tastes like card board. A good example of this is whole chickens. If you braise for 45 minutes to 1 hour (in water, etc), it will be tender and flavorful. However, to make the most flavorful broth, a whole chicken should be cooked (in water, etc.) for 3 - 4 hours. By that time the meat is unusable - dry and unpleasant. The broth will be very good, though.

Yes, you're right, you can braise meats until they are tough and chewy. But again, I repeat what I said last week: Long slow braises are best for cheap cuts of meat with lots of fat and collagen, which keep the meat rich and moist. Chicken doesn't fall into that category.

Why would someone want or need to eat an oil-free diet? While I'm not advocating excessive consumption of fats, aren't *some* actually necessary for good health?

I didn't even go there, but if the OP is still around, feel free to defend the Engine 2 diet! (PS: I had your same thoughts.)

Just curious. As you all love food, what's the one (or few) you can't stand? Herbs and flavors count.

Jicama. Can't abide jicama.

I'm not big on licorice. Love fennel, but don't love the fake interpretations of that flavor. Also not a big raisin fan, nor quinoa.

Joe, I'll trade my jicama for your licorice.


Don't know that I can't stand it, but I keep trying tripe and, no matter the form, I just haven't quite gotten to the liking-it stage.

For me, it's truffle oil, which fortunately is not as ubiquitous as it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nothing will ruin good french fries faster than oil fused with fake truffle flavor! This is a terrific recipe.

I didn't get to joint the chat last week in time to respond to your questions about the beef brisket and pork butt that I (over?) cooked in my slow cooker. For both cuts, the fat cap was definitely all there and I didn't trim it. The recipe for the beef brisket called for searing (which I did), the pork recipe didn't. In the end, I repurposed the leftovers for some really good meals, including the beef broth that made a really delicious quick and easy french onion soup base, so it was all worth it. I guess I'll have to try a third time - any suggestions would be welcome!

Interesting. It's hard to know where the brisket went wrong. But different parts of the brisket have more fat than others. The point (the thin side of the brisket) has less fat than the deckle. Do you know which side you used?


I'd ask your butcher to give you a good fatty deckle piece of brisket for your next slow-cook project.

Hello rangers! Do ahh if you have a good, easy spaghetti recipe? My daughter has decided she must have it and if love a new recipe. Thx!

Of course I'll give credit where credit is due -- you already get credit for quite a few of my hits! And thanks to the poster with the cocoa nib recipe...I might make both!

Can you "bake" a pie on the grill? Or just stick to cobblers and dutch ovens on the grill?

   Yes, you can bake a pie on the grill, but it ain't easy. If we're talking a basic Weber kettle, you have to be very careful to keep your coals (and to the extent you use them, wood chips) smoldering at medium. You'd put the pie on the cool side of an indirect fire, then add about a cup of coals to the fire halfway through. Other mechanisms (offset smokers, Big Green Eggs, vertical smokers) each require their own variant of the same basic idea. The Big Green Egg is easiest because it is so well insulated and it keeps its temp extremely well.

Hi! I'm trying to figure out what food to pair with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon now that I've given up red meat. I'm open to vegetarian, fish, other kinds of meat, either entree or appetizer... other than the red meat itself, pretty much my only constraint is that I don't have access to a grill. Always love the chats, and thank you!

Dave McIntyre says there are lots of options!


A hearty portobello mushroom dish. Even a risotto or pilaf made with a rich vegetable stock would be nice. Chicken or pork would be fine. Also aged cheddar cheese. 

I suggest the chatter read up on the importance of oil in the human diet. A regimen without it can lead to all sorts of terrible health problems.

I'm the chatter who asked about it but it's probably too late now. Engine 2 promotes whole foods only and oils aren't whole foods.

My doctor tells me, as does the internets, that cooking leafy green vegetables destroys the calcium (except kale). That spinach salad has way more of a vitamin kick than that cooked mush pile every day. I think back in the day, tap water was not very tasty and iceberg lettuce as a way to push liquids at the end of the day. Also, water for crops was cheap and plentiful most of the time ( and less of us). Can you provide any history of when the pre dinner salad came into fashion?

Can't help you with the history, although it's an interesting question.

As for calcium, perhaps you're thinking of vitamin C, which does get destroyed in cooking.  Calcium generally hangs in there.

I'll defend it. I started the plant based, oil free diet to lower my cholesterol and blood sugar. I didn't want to take medication the doctor was pushing on me. It worked. My numbers all came down. I have since fallen off the wagon but that was my reason and it did work.

I always grind my tapioca for pie in a coffee grinder until it's a powder. While I use instant, that may have worked with pearl tapioca.

I was never a big fan of it either but there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Cathal Armstrong at Restaurant Eve has done a Country Fried Tripe with Succotash that is insanely delicious.

What is the proper way to measure ingredients of varying sizes or shapes-for instance, strawberries, carrots, brussle sprouts, etc? If I have a recipe that calls for 1 cup of strawberries, I could put one giant strawberry in a measuring cup and have very little room left over for others, even though there might be plenty of "air space." If I chopped them finely, I could fit in a lot more. What's the best approach?

The recipe writer should be clearer as to the size of the strawberry (whole, sliced in half, pureed, etc.) But I'd say: Don't sweat it. Just measure it out as best you can. A few strawberries, plus or minus, will likely not ruin your recipe.

Well, you've strained us into the chilled tumbler, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Tamar, Jim, Cathy, Dave and Elissa for helping with the a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about grilling a pie will get "Dessert and Booze Hacks." The one who asked about maintaining a smoker's temp will get "Grill Nation" by David Guas. Just send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your books (next week, as she's on vacation this week).

Thanks, all, and until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
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.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, who farms oysters on Cape Cod and writes about food and science, is author of the monthly Unearthed column, winner of a James Beard Award.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
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