Free Range on Food: Bubble tea, whole-diet CSAs and more

Sep 11, 2013

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!

What's on your agenda? Ours is to cook, cook, cook and then eat, eat, eat. Oh, and to talk, talk, talk about cooking and food and restaurants and, well, you get the idea.

Were you inspired by this week's section to get all fearless in the kitchen and try your hand at, say, bubble tea? Tim did just that, of course, so you don't have to -- unless you want to! Or did Caitlin Dewey's piece on the unassuming Dallas-area cook whose lasagna recipe has been seen by, well, 12 meeeeelyon people make you want to join them? Or did Emily Horton's take on the whole-diet community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs make you want to sign right up?

We're here to talk about that, and so much more. We've got Emily in the room to help add her cooking-from-the-farmers expertise, and Carrie "Spirits" Allan along for the ride to talk about all manners of booze. Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin can't join us today, but we regulars are of course also at the ready.

And we'll have two giveaway books today: "The Washington Post Cookbook" (SIGNED by Ms. Benwick herself) and "Put an Egg on It" by Lara Ferroni, source of my Weeknight Veg recipe this week.

Let's get started!

I loved your article on bubble tea at home! It brought back memories of college when I actually did this in my dorm room after my favorite bubble tea place closed. At first my roommates thought it was a bit odd but they were hooked by the end of the semester! I may have to get back on that train. :)

Thank you! Out of curiosity: Where did you go to school and how were you able to secure the fresh tapioca pearls?

Years ago I tried to make my own bubble tea - I think there was an article in these very pages :) I, too, struggled with the hard white dried pearls and never got them to go completely translucent. I even soaked them in the fridge for days before cooking (after a rinse to shed some goo). No dice. I'm almost willing to try again with the right product now! It bugs me, tho, that the white pearls are so stubborn. Someone _must_ know the trick. After all, so many places sell them! The process can only be some combination of soaking, boiling, and simmering. How can something so straightforward be so very hard?

Yeah, I tried soaking those dry white pearls, too. That's even worse. They disintegrate. The only pearls that work are the fresh, caramel-colored ones. I think you'll be very happy giving the right pearls a try. It's SOOO much easier.

I was watching a cooking program featuring different restaurants in Italy. One of the dishes included egg as an one of the ingredients and called for the recipe to be cooked in a pot of boiling water. The host made the comment to not forget to include the egg shell's in the boiling water but never explained why.... I've never heard of this; got any ideas? Thanks!

Hmm, me neither: What else was in that water? What was the recipe being boiled?

I saw some black eyed peas in pods at the market the other day and got a couple handfuls on a whim. I've only seen them before already shelled or cooked, so I'm honestly not quite sure what to do with them. Should I boil and peel? Roast them in their pods? Do you think they require overnight soaking? Thank you!

Fresh shell beans like this are a prize. I just bought some blackeyed peas and lima beans from Garner Produce at 14th and U on Saturday -- but they were shelled, which is such a godsend. You should shell them now, and then my favorite use for the fresh beans -- which, no, don't require soaking -- is to make a succotash with corn and tomatoes. Or you can just saute a little onion and garlic in butter or olive oil, add some smoke paprika, and toss in the peas and a little water and cover. They'll get tender in, oh, probably 15 minutes, depending on the size.

On the other hand, I happen to love shelling beans, or field peas, such as black-eyed peas. Garner, which Joe mentioned, and some other farmers in the area, also sometimes have pink-eyed peas, also called purple-hull peas. They're a little sweeter than black-eyed peas and really marvelous. All the Southern field peas, regardless of what I'm going to do with them later, I cook really simply to start--just covered with water, with a pinch of salt and a bay leaf (my grandmother would use a ham hock, too) and simmered until they're tender, usually 20 minutes or so. Adding a couple of okra pods to the pot adds really great flavor, too.

I'm hosting a group of 12 for an informal dessert party. Do you have any great suggestions for a delicious, showy (but not too hard!) dessert that will feed that many? Thanks!!

How about Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie?

Upside-Down Three-Chocolate Brownie Pie

I'm not sure what your threshold for hard is, but you might also consider Holiday Crepe Cake (not so bad if you make the crepes in advance)

Holiday Crepe Cake

and Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake.

Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake

Can you please bring back reader comments/ratings for WaPo recipes. Though I know your recipes are vetted by you, quite often reader comments can help tweak issues that we may encounter (too much salt, cooking time for gas stove too long, etc.) or offer other useful info. I use other recipe sites much more often unless a recipe has been discussed in your chat (another form of "comment") because I find constructive reader comments generally useful in deciding among the millions out there. Thanks for considering.

Soon, we promise! The exact launch date depends on how testing goes, but a recipe database overhaul is coming. Stay tuned.

Is the cumin beef bun highlighted in the other week's review on the regular menu or do you have to have to get it off the Chinese menu?

It might be, but I never really investigated the Chinese-American menu. I knew I wasn't going to focus on it. So to be safe, I would just ask for both menus. I think you'll find many things beyond cumin-beef burger to enjoy on the Shaanxi and Sichuan menu.

I inherited a spaghetti squash from a friend's CSA. It's foreign to me and I don't know what to do with it. Please give me really clear instructions for dummies on how to cut, prep and cook it.

Is that a CSA as in COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE program? I joke because it seems from reaction to Emily's story today, many people missed the definition, so we're trying to remember to always put it out there lest we be accused of less-than-reader-friendliness.

Anyway, spaghetti squash is so called because the strands inside look like the pasta once the thing is cooked. I like to roast them, like I do most winter squashes. Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast on a well-oiled rimmed baking sheet cut side down until it's tender. Then use a fork to pull out the strands. You can then toss them with butter, s&p, or make a casserole by adding tomato, maybe feta, olives, and baking. And many other things. Or you can toss it with spaghetti for spaghetti with spaghetti!

I like to make chocolate mousse, Caesar salad and other foods using raw eggs, but want to avoid the health risks...especially when serving guests. Pasteurized eggs are recommended as a safe alternative but I can't seem to find them in the grocery stores. (I've occasionally seen a boxed version, but I can't separate that to whip the whites--I want whole eggs in the shell.) Any idea where in DC I can buy pasteurized eggs in the shell? Thank you.

Safest Choice eggs is the brand you should look for; according to the co's Web site store locator, many Safeway stores and some Harris Teeter stores carry them in the DC area.  I just called an HT store in Arlington and they've been out of the pasteurized eggs for a week, but they do expect to get them in again.   The Safeway store on N. Harrison Street in Arl does have them! So check the list and find the store closest to you. 

What is it, made in a witches cauldron? Kidding Kidding. Seriously, I saw an ad for this at a yogurt place near me and I don't get exactly what it is?

I swear I felt like I was stirring the witches' cauldron last week! Bubble tea has morphed into so many different drinks (and even into a dessert-like creation) that it's hard to explain it succinctly anymore. Its original incarnation was simply strongly steeped tea, sweetened condensed milk, ice and those chewy little tapioca pearls at the bottom of the drink. A drink-you-can-eat, as they say.

As a low-carb guy, I eat a lot of eggs. Good thing, then, that I love eggs. So I was excited to read about "Put an Egg on It" in today's Food section. Question: Do these recipes always feature fried eggs, or are there other egg treatments that work with the dishes included? The photo features a fried egg, and when I'm at restaurants that include an egg with a dish, it's always listed as fried. I like fried eggs, but I also like poached and scrambled. Whatever way, I always take my eggs with the yolk. I'm not an egg-white kind of guy, but I realize others are.

Poached, scrambled, fried, hard-cooked -- they're all in here!

Hi Crew, Wanted to bring a dessert to the office (homemade or store bought) for Friday the 13th. Since it's a little early for Halloween themed items, what would you suggest? Thanks!

A fruit cake? That's always scary! (Unless you read Jane Touzalin's story, which offers seven ways to improve that holiday freak cake.)

You could make Shing Ren Tofu, a Chinese dessert with tofu and almond extract. It's supposed to bring good luck, which we all need on Friday the 13th. Here's one recipe.


I have seen a lot of recipes and some call for finishing the frittata in the oven and others for finishing under the broiler. Do you have a favorite? does the filling dictate the technique? If you finish in the oven, what temp and time do you use?

I think it probably depends on the thickness of the frittata. I make mine on the thinner side, so the broiler is good for that. And it helps to brown the top, of course.

Today's piece on the whole-diet CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) got me thinking about the "standard" veggie-only CSAs. Some of them can run around $30/week, which is more than what I spend at the grocery store in a week for veggies. For those who have done it, would you do it again? Was it worth it, cost-wise?

I haven't actually subscribed to a CSA myself, mostly because I enjoy shopping at farmers markets so much. But based on the prices I've noted (both for veg-only and whole-diet), I would spend substantially less if I did. Everyone I spoke with for this story also noted that they are spending less now on groceries overall than they did before joining the programs, and these were people who were primarily shopping at the grocery store before, not from farmers markets. I think the key is using what your CSA offers and making the most of it, and not trying to supplement too much because there are other things you might like to have (but don't necessarily need), like out-of-season produce. But then I think the increase in quality from CSA produce over what you'd get at most supermarkets is worth something, too.

I have attempted making mozzarella three times. First time i had the wrong kind of rennet. The second and third tries made something but not what i expected. The second i used whole milk and thought that was the culprit as i could knead it but it was a white, thickish clump and not a ball at all. Third time i used 2 percent. Again a very soft, thick, gooey clump. I am wondering if its my expectations thst are off. I am looking for the soft, somewhat stringy ball of fresh mozz that you buy in the store. What is homemade mozz suppose to be like?

I've only made fresh mozzarella once, but sounds to me like maybe you didn't stretch and knead it enough. What resources/instructions are you using? Here's a pretty good tutorial from Ricki Carroll at New England Cheesemaking Supply.

I made a crepe cake once using Jacques Torres' recipe. It was the best cake I've ever tasted. Fussy to do, yes. But oh so good - the egginess combined with pastry cream.... Oh yea!

Yep, our regular contributor David Hagedorn weighed in with this Holiday Crepe Cake of his own. Fantastic.

do you drain it after roasting? I roast it, also, but sometimes I find it gets watery, which ruins any sauce I put on it.

Yes, thanks for the reminder: It can indeed be watery. Drain, sometimes even squeeze it.

I had to laugh at today's article about looking for recipe ideas online instead of in cookbooks, and a possible move away from the latter in favor of the former. A few years ago when I was a struggling cook and wanted to make a dinner that would really impress my then-new boyfriend (who is a better cook than I am, though the gap is shrinking!). So, I decided to make an old family favorite: baked ziti. Except I wanted to do something a little more fancy than my family's traditional recipe, so I did what anyone without a cookbook at the ready would have done: I got on Google and started searching. I found one that looked a little intimidating, but the picture looked amazing, and I really wanted to knock the boy's socks off. It was one of the most multi-step, complicated, potentially disastrous culinary undertakings I've ever attempted (and it involved a lot of sweat and near-tears and cursing), but happily, it turned out amazingly, and I've since then learned much better how to streamline the prep and be more efficient with my ingredients. A couple of years later his mom asked me for the recipe, and I gave it to her, and she read it all the way to the bottom, where there was a tiny-print note that I'd completely missed: "Slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated". If I'd known that at the time, there's no way I'd have ever attempted the dish - I was far too intimidated to even think of making something from them! Now, however, their cookbook is one of my kitchen staples, and I laugh at the fact that it was an online recipe that made me brave enough to try something far, far outside my comfort zone. So, maybe that's one thing they have going for them: people who may be intimidated by cookbooks might find some confidence online. So long as they read the recipes ALL the way to the end. ;-)

Interesting! I never quite thought of it that way. This is definitely one of the upsides to the compartmentalization of recipes. I guess it's sort of like singles vs. albums, right? You might not want to sign on for Daft Punk in its entirety, or even know or care about them, but you hear a snippet of "Get Lucky," and download it, and before you know it...

You do know that "true Smith Island cake" is just Dobos torte? Not that there's anything "just" about true Dobos torte.

Similar concept but not identical. My brief research on the Interwebs seems to indicate that Dobos Torte traditionally has a crunchy caramel glaze, which does sound pretty amazing.

Can cheese be frozen if done in the packaging it was bought in?

Generally, professionals frown upon freezing cheeses, particularly if the cheeses are fresh and still have considerable moisture content. Here's a good take on the subject from the Kitchn.

Do you think it's okay to offer almond milk or soy ice cream at a Kosher meal where meat is served? Or do they violate the spirit of keeping Kosher even if they're not real dairy?

I think it would be fine, but if you were super-paranoid you could always as your guests in advance whether they would be offended (I would hope not!). I mean, this is why so many dishes for Kosher meals were developed with margarine -- as a substitute for butter.

Just bought a bunch and was planning on treating like shishito peppers -- blistering in a pan and serving with salt. But most recipes call for roasting, peeling, and using like any other roasted pepper. Is my idea a bad one?

Well, the biggest difference between Hatch and shishito peppers is that the latter, like Padrons, aren't really hot -- well, 1 in 10 or so is hot, but the rest are mild. The Hatch, meanwhile, are certainly nowhere near a jalapeno or serrano, but they pack a punch. But you know what? Give it a shot! You can always puree them into Roasted Pepper Sauce and use it sparingly if they're too spicy to eat whole like that.

Some time ago, my father craved southern field peas and couldn't get them. We set up a pick your own farm--purple hulls, crowders, lady peas, Texas creams...along with speckled butter beans, okra, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan squash. When the deer found out this banquet was being planted, they cleared the fields and closed the business. Now, I buy frozen black eyes.

Meh. It's just a standard American lasagne. I do make one with similar ingredients for the Gringos who love that kind, but that cheese filling would benefit from some parsley and seasoning, and I'd put more seasoning in the sauce (and not cook it for so long). Friends who know I'm first generation American from a Sicilian family are amazed that I never had "lasagne" until I was in my 20's. And, that I don't like it with all that cheese and stuff in it.

This book title is too funny. My fiance and I joke that he wants EVERYTHING with an egg on it. Last night I made lamb meatballs to put on a salad with some roasted veggies and he still put a fried egg on it.

Yep, the title sounds like a "Portlandia" sketch, doesn't it?

How do you get a perfectly fried egg? The chef at our favorite restaurant can do it - yolk cooked but runny, white not even browned on the bottom - but I can't. Help!

To not brown the egg white at all, you keep the heat to medium-low, and cover to help the white cook fully on top -- just stop before you film over the top of the yolk, too! You can also add a little water -- or more than a little, to make what are called blindfolded eggs, sort of a cross between fried and poached.

But, I have to say, I also really like fried eggs when the whites are crispy and even puffed from high heat. Have you ever fried them in a LOT of oil? That's fun to do, too. Lots of ways.

As a chicken owner, I am very lucky not to have to worry about eating my eggs either raw or very runny. As a suggestion, I would look for true free range, organic eggs and you really won't have to worry about disease. On the other hand, you can coddle an egg yourself and still have the runny goodness.

Every year we buy part of a cow to eat throughout the year. Well, we always have more ground beef than we normally eat. I'm getting tired of burgers, meatballs and meatloaf. Any other suggestions? I gotta eat this ground beef before we get our next cow in early October.

I'm counting to 18, hopefully chatters will add on.


1. In a filling for empanada/savory handpies/calzone or stromboli/enchiladas/burritos

2. Marinate with a little hoisin sauce or toasted sesame oil, then use in a stir-fry with mushrooms and snow peas

3. In stuffed grape leaves or cabbage or hollowed out sweet onions.

4. Shepherd's pie

5. Chili (sure you've thought of this, but try this very fine version)

6. A take on dirty rice (Louisiana style)

7. Season and cook the beef, then wrap phyllo around it and bake. 

8. The Best Mapo Tofu


9. Asian Sloppy Joes


10. Beef and Black Bean Picadillo


11. Dinner in a Pumpkin (it's almost time for that, right?)

12. Leek and Beef Latkes  With Beet Salad

13. Mina de Carne (it's not just for Passover)


14. Nutty Beefy Noodles


15. Richard Folkers's Chili Stickers

16. Spicy Ground Beef With Green Beans

17. Tortilla Pie

18. Vermicelli, Meat and Tomato Soup


I don't need a whole diet CSA but I would love to get my hands on fresh local flour. Does Moutoux sell just that?

Moutoux doesn't sell anything at retail, But! Next Step Produce, which sells at the Dupont farmers market, finally has their grain mill up and running, and they're selling several different kinds of what flour, buckwheat, and rye flour. Really great stuff.

If you haven't tried Eggs in Purgatory, do it now. Simmer tomato/pasta sauce until heated through, toss in some crushed red pepper flakes, then poach an egg in the sauce until done. I eat it with toast for breakfast sometimes!

I believe you are talking about shakshuka!

I went just down the street to GW. I ordered the pearls online, which had to be rehydrated in some boiling water first. I also ordered some red bean paste and green tea powder for the drinks, although sometimes I just added it to some cold raspberry lipton tea. Needless to say my tastebuds have grown a little since then.

I wish you were my rooomate in college!

It can be really difficult to cut spaghetti squash so be careful. Sometimes I will just jab it all around with a fork and stick in the oven to back. I know it will take longer, but I will still have all ten fingers.

Yep, you can definitely roast it whole if you don't want to mess with the cutting!

Hi Free Rangers - First things first: I love this chat, and your section is the reason I subscribed to WaPo online without complaint. You've inspired countless meals through my time as a young grad, career woman and cohabitant, and helped to teach me to cook. Thank you so much for your work. (Joe, I attended your 6th and I event not long ago and was too shy to say hello, but you were great!). I'm struggling with a new food challenge, and would be glad to get your advice. I've started a new job where I am with clients from 10-4, with only about 10 minutes to scarf down lunch in my office. Do you have suggestions for vegetarian dishes that I can make over the weekend and eat at room temperature? I don't have access to a fridge/kitchen, and it can't be too aromatic. So far, I've done a lot of roasted vegys with grains or short pasta dishes (spaghetti's splatter risk is too high!), but resort to granola bars more often than I'd like... Liquids are difficult with my current tupperware, but I'm willing to invest. Thanks so much for your advice!

I think grain salads and the like are the way to go, so you're on the right track! You can roast pans of vegetables and cook up pots of brown rice on the weekends and then chop up the cooked vegetables and toss with the rice, maybe some fresh greens, some beans, a vinaigrette. Try this Asian Bean and Barley Salad for starters.

This may not seem showy on the outside, but I guarnatee a proper Tres Leches Cake will impress, and feed the crowd. You could also make homemade shortcakes and different types of fruit sauces to use up the last of the summer fruit, and people can make their own. Don't forget homemade whipped cream!

All good ideas.

Fresh field peas of different types are fantastic in baked beans. They don't take as long to cook as dried but can be substituted in a favorite "from scratch" baked beans recipe. Moosewood (the first cookbook) has a good spaghetti squash recipe, easily googled with Moosewood and "spaghetti squash" or "spaghetti squash casserole."


I've always done basted eggs. Not too high heat and enough fat in the pan so you can spoon the hot fat over the whites. Used to be you could order your eggs basted in any diner/restaurant and they'd be perfectly done--cooked white, runny yolk, no crispy or brown edges-- but no one seems to know that technique anymore.

We were just talking about pan-basting the other day -- thanks for the reminder!

Seems like shakshuka has peppers, onion, cumin, etc. in it. What I make is just eggs, sauce, and crushed red pepper flakes. And parm on top! Can't forget the cheese. But let's not get too bogged down in specifics. Eggs, tomato sauce,'s all yummbly in my tummbly.

Yes! Purgatory. That's a good one.

I think that flipping a frittata vs broiling it is just a personal preference. My mom (born, raised, and living in Italy again after living here for 30 years) prefers to firm up the top by cooking over light heat with a lid on it. I'm a flipper unless the oven is already on and then i used the broiler. I think that traditionally it was a method to use up leftover and therefore the oven wouldn't have been lit, so it was usually flipped.

the link at the end of this article to "Where you can find whole diet CSAs" just leads back to the front page of the article.

Oh, dear -- Thanks for pointing it out. We'll fix.

The whole diet CSA sounds great! I am trying to get more towards that, as the CSA that I do has some larger share options, as well as optional eggs and even meat sometimes. It's a good feeling to go to the store for just some wine, I mean, necessities.

Or you could join a wine CSA!

Ha! Wine=necessity, in my humble opinion.

How can I make Pakistani style chickpeas, like the kind you get at Ravi Kabob or Kabob Palace? I normally think chickpeas taste like cardboard but those peas MY GOD. Bonus if it includes a recipe for that green mint yogurt (?) sauce that they serve with kabobs which I know are intended for the meat but I don't care.

Those are amazing chickpeas at Ravi Kabob, aren't they? I think you're looking for something like this recipe.

LOVE the article on CSAs! I've always wanted to join one, but been nervous/worried about the cost and what to do with some of the produce when you get unfamiliar things (or items we don't like). We're getting ready to move into a new (to us) house with a beautiful, larger kitchen, and I am excited to say the article has sealed the deal for me. Once we close next month, I am joining a local CSA, and I look forward to these chats to help me find out what to do with any unfamiliar ingredients I may come across! Thanks for the inspiration!!

Glad you found such inspiration in the story! The whole-diet CSA route is definitely a lifestyle change, but, as I learned, also incredibly rewarding and eye-opening. The principal irony is that despite the up-front limitations of getting what the farm produces and cooking primarily with that, people in these programs say they've become so much more adventurous in the kitchen. It sort of forces you into creativity, but with some boundaries, which I think is less intimidating, in a way.

Please shop around! There are SO many options in the city, and they do not all run you $30/week. I must have researched a dozen of them when I started doing it, and that was four years ago. There are some that have smaller shares if that's what you need, or you could also try to find a friend to go in on it with you. There are also some that deliver, or some that you pick up, some that you choose what you want and some where you get a box.

Yes, shop around, especially using our -- shameless self-promotion alert -- interactive CSA map, which we will be updating again in the winter when programs start signing folks up.

Funny--we had leftover spinach and feta latkes we got at the Whole Foods prepared foods counter and I sauteed some grape tomatoes we got at the farmer's market and put those in two bowls, reheated the latkes, put one on each of the tomatoes, and then put a fried egg on top of the tomatoes and latkes. Excellent!

Love it. Kind of Benedicty in its layering, isn't it?

You can prick it with a fork and then microwave it for about ten minutes for easier cuttiing. Just, um, be sure to not forget to prick the holes in it. If you do forget, there's no guarantee the squash will explode cleanly in half for you (I think I just got lucky).

I really love reading anything and everything about cooking, including new foods, new techniques, etc., and I also love trying new recipes when I can. The key is 'when I can.' I know for you guys this is your job now, but before, how did you find the time to actually experient and get better? I don't even have kids and I feel like I just don't have time. I'd really like to start advancing my skills, instead of doing the same things and occasionally trying something new food-wise.

Motivation helps. I used to find something I'd want to try in every issue of Gourmet mag. Or take a cooking class in a cuisine that's new to will send you to an ethnic store you don't usually go to where inspirational treasures/spices/ingredients await. I also like to find something different anytime I have to bring a dish to a party -- although I know it's contra-indicated, it carries a slight frisson of derring-do. For me it's an immediate way to get feedback on a dish. Not too many folks mind being food taster/testers. 


Time-management-wise, it doesn't take that much longer to experiment, really. Even if you try something for the first time that comes out less than perfect, chances are good that it's still edible, yes?

I don't eat sour cream, yogurt, or cream cheese; but these ingredients are frequently listed in everything from appetizers, to main courses and desserts. What do they do for the dish? Do they change the taste or texture favorably? What would happen if I just left them out? What can be substituted for them?

It's hard to address your question in a way that could be helpful to you without looking at individual recipes. Those ingredients are likely doing different things in different recipes: adding creaminess or acidity or moisture or a combination of the above. If there's one recipe in particular you'd like to adapt, please forward it along!

Invest in a good Thermos and fill it with soups, stews, short pasta dishes, chilis ... endless possibilities. Bonus: no spill worries.

I agree that it's an Italian-American lasagna. Might be good, though I was raised in Italy in north and it doesn't appeal to me. I'm used to a bechamel based lasagna with no meat and a lot less cheese. Porcini mushrooms are a common filling in this region (Lombardy or Piedmont).

Especially since Dobos torte has dark chocolate frosting. Smith Island cake's frosting is a bit blah, to me.

My elderly mother, who grew up in the Depression and has horded food ever since, buys packages of Sargento sliced cheese and freezes them. She also freezes packaged bologna and salami. They seem to defrost just fine. Personally, I buy my sliced meat and cheese at the deli every week.

I'm sure your mother could teach us all a lot about not wasting food!

What is the purpose of the top salted whipped cream layer, wouldn't this deflate in the oven?

It adds a layer of moisture to the lasagna that keeps the top from drying out, and a richness. Sometimes when I've made it, a bit of the whipped cream survives enough to be visible. But no matter. It tastes divine. I lovelovelove this recipe, and have made it a dozen times. 

Stuffed peppers!

I have company visiting this weekend so I thought I would try Smitten Kitchen's mushroom bourguignon. Turns out it will be a good dish with minor modifications since one of the guests is vegan. With the chilly temps predicted for Saturday, I was thinking of a butternut squash dip for an appetizer, but I've never made one. What should I mix in with the baked squash? I can't do yogurt. Tahini?

Indeed, tahini. Check out this Carrot Hummus recipe from "River Cottage Veg." Either make that as written, or just sub the squash for the carrots -- I think it would work just great with the butternut, too.


This is in response to the question a reader raised about the cost of CSAs. I'm a site host for one, and a full share runs a little over $30 a week, for all-organic fresh vegetables. If you are used to buying organic, either at a farmer's market or a conventional grocery store, $30 a week is a considerable savings. Plus you get a wide assortment of vegetables that will broaden your cooking/eating. And the quantity is a lot. I preserve a lot of the vegetables we receive, either by canning or freezing, which represents more money saved down the road when I use what I've put up. I hope you'll consider joining one; it's a great food adventure!

These are all really great points. Thanks for chiming in!


Afternoon, Rangers. I made some quinoa and spinach patties last night, and they were delicious. But the center stayed raw, almost. Because it's just my husband and me, I'm ok with the whole raw egg thing. But I would like to serve these to a group, and I don't feel comfortable leaving the middle so uncooked. Any thoughts on how I can make the center cook without burning the outside? I had my gas range between the 2 and 4 settings, so it was pretty low. Thinner patties, maybe? Here's the recipe.

I would experiment a little, if you have time. You might try crisping the patties first in a saute pan with a tiny amount of oil, then placing them in a low-heat oven for 10 on each side. Don't forget to flip them over!

Hi Rangers, Do you ever run into the problem that you see a recipe that you like and are interested in trying, but do not necessarily know what the texture of the finished product is supposed to be? For instance I saw a recipe for a chocolate babka that I am going to try, but, having never had babka, will be unsure of whether it resembles the desired result. That said, if it's tasty, I'll be happy!

I like your attitude. I think a lot of times I'll go into a recipe unsure of what the final product should be like, but I'm with you -- if it tastes good, no worries. As for your babka journey, I've had babka a ton of times and I'm even struggling to describe it! It's a little reminiscent of coffee cake, but in spiraled layers. The consistency of the layers is kind of bready, on the drier end of things. Shouldn't be gummy.

Babka's a bread, so that same consistency's what you're after. The recipe should have indicated that the loaf will sound hollow when thumped on the bottom or perhaps a tester inserted comes out clean.  Sometimes I've seen an internal temperature given -- 190 degrees. 

Haven't read the article yet, but a poached egg on top of salad makes a delicious replacement for salad dressing. And a poached egg mixed into a clear-broth based soup is wonderful -- the yolk makes the broth slightly creamy.

I attend a potluck at my church one Sunday a month. Most of the food is meat heavy, even the salads (southern black church ladies can cook, but it IS a defined style). So I try to contribute one vegetarian dish that can be either a side or a main every month. I also try to make it something that can be served at room temp, because the ovens are pretty over-committed that morning. I've done a lot of grain/veg salads and a lot of rice salads. I'm getting bored of those. Any ideas to expand the repertoire? Thanks!

How about a dip? There's that Carrot Hummus Joe mentioned earlier.

Or this Walnut and Red Pepper Spread.

Walnut and Red Pepper Spread

You know who lets you comment online? Hey, you should ask that Bezos guy . . .

I don't know that Web site! Hmm, perhaps I should study up....

I was a cash-strapped college student who decided to treat myself and spend my spring break visiting my brother at his college. Unfortunately, our spring breaks did not coincide, and he had to be in classes most of the week I was there. I passed the time by wandering around downtown Pittsburgh, sampling the amazing variety of bubble teas. Poppy seed? Wheat grass jelly? Adzuki bean paste? Rosewater? Each was more astonishing than the next. One cup a day would serve me in place of lunch. I still crave the gummy, softly yielding squeak of the tapioca pearls between my teeth.

You're my kind of eater!

Just wanted to share something I do a lot. Cook a pound of good pasta (I use organic, whole grain) to al dente. Toss in a big bowl with a lot of olive oil and salt, pepper, some spice blend you like. When it cools a bit, put a serving in freezer bags and toss in the freezer. They thaw very quickly and are such an easy dinner base. Also, I usually cook (roast, grill, braise) a ton of fresh veggies Sunday (whatever we get at farmer's market) and then use those with the pasta, eggs, even just good bread and cheese for a few dinners during the week. Finally, an amazing thing with what you can find int he farmer's market right now: get some string beans of some sort, some tomatoes, an onion, some garlic, some eggplant. Cook it all in a lot of olive oil at the lowest possible heat with a lid on it for three hours (make sure it does not dry out, but it should not). Eat warm or room temp with za'taar on top and some pita (or that leftover pasta).

Thanks! The slow-cooked veg sounds particularly appealing. I've never frozen pasta, but I should try it! I would think you'd want to go even UNDER al dente to keep it from getting too soft when you thaw/reheat, but it's worth a try. Thanks...

I've tried the spaghetti squash marinara and it was horrid -- squash is just too sweet and the Italian seasonings clash with it, to my taste. Can't someone come up with a recipe that you could eat like spaghetti but that doesn't pretend that the squash is an actual wheat product?

I just like it as a side dish, honestly. Or baked in a casserole, as I said.

I was looking for something comforting to cook this weekend, and all those lasagna recipes sound great. The hardest part will be deciding which one to cook!

Butternut Squash Lasagna! See earlier answer.

what's wrong with Carrot Dip? Also, just because a dip is made from a bean doesn't make it hummus.

No, we cannot stop. "River Cottage Veg" talks about their ever-expanding family of "hummi," which made me laugh. I think it's about having the tahini in there that makes it hummus-esque. But here's the fun thing: You can call it whatever you want! Just make and eat it, trust me.

Do you have any suggestions on where I could buy sodium citrate? I want to try out the mac and cheese recipe in Modernist Cooking, but I couldn't find sodium citrate in my local Giant (not surprising!). I've found a couple of sources online, but wanted to see if there were suggestions for local in-store sources. Thanks!

Yes, sourcing ingredients (or the right equipment) can be difficult when cooking out of that book, as I discovered last year. I don't know of any local source for sodium citrate, but I'm checking with a source or two.

What do you think of the Food and Drug Administration finding that there are higher arsenic levels in brown rice than white? The FDA says the arsenic levels "are too low to cause immediate health damage." But I eat rice pretty much every day and wonder if I should switch back to white, even though it's not as nutrient-rich. If you missed the report, it's here -

Have you thought about swapping some of your brown rice for quinoa, millet, barley, farro, or other whole grains? Wider variety of nutrients, less aresenic...

To make good use of some lovely garden carrots, farmer's market celery and onions -- and to save time for weeknight meals -- I'd like to prep and freeze mire poix. I think I should saute it at least half way before dividing and freezing. Correct? My guess is that freezing celery and onion uncooked will create mush upon thawing. Other recommendations? Or is this just a bad idea from the start? Thanks.

I'm in favor of all the prep-ahead you can muster!

You can freeze your mirepoix vegetables  raw or cooked; I'd prefer the latter. If you want to freeze raw, spread the ingredients on a baking sheet first and freeze them till hard, then transfer to a zip-top bag.  The frozen mirepoix could go straight into a soup or oiled skillet; make sure you cook it long enough to extract excess moisture. 

I joined a CSA for the first time this year, and I'm not sure I will do it again next year. Probably not. I am single, and it turned out to be more veggies than I can eat in a week or have room for in my fridge and freezer. Some parts I loved - trying swiss chard, eating lots of kale, fresh herbs and sweet corn - but it has been a bit overwhelming.

That's all understandable. You might be able to find half-shares, though, or a program where you can put together your own shares. To echo a couple of other posters, shop around a little more, if you haven't already, if the abundance is the only thing putting you off.

Oh my, the possibilities are endless! Use it in recipes that call for just "ground meat" as in Indian, Ethiopian, Afghan, etc. cooking.

You betcha.

I just used them as my base layer on a homemade pizza (a la Amy's), and it has made me want to eat them with every meal. Any suggestions for other scrumptious uses of this divine condiment/topping/filling?

I'm with you -- well, all the way up until that better-than-dessert thing. I use caramelized onions as a pizza base, too -- such as in this butternut squash pizza that's abot to come into season again. In my new book, I use them as a base for vegetable tarts on puff pastry, starting with an oyster mushroom and corn tart and expanding out to other seasonal combinations.

Other ideas:

Beet, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese Sandwiches.

Cauliflower, Potatoes and Caramelized Onions.

Portobellos Stuffed With Caramelized Onions and Manchego.




I adore it. I had troubel cutting it though so here is a tip: microwave it for about 3 minutes. Then it is SO much easier to cut! After that, I do the standard roasting w/ salt and pepper and depending on how I'm eating it, garlic. I also roast the seeds. Then, the "noodles" can be a blank canvas for anythign you want. Making a cheese sauce (and peas) and eating it like mac and cheese is my favorite way. Tossing it with spinach, garlic, and feta is also a favorite for me. I'm thinking about trying it with sriacha soon.

The absolute best I ever ate was from a little rosticherria (sp?) in Caravaggio. Bechamel and artichokes--heaven!!

"I don't eat sour cream, yogurt, or cream cheese..." Aside from needing to know what kind of recipes the person is trying to change, it would be usefull to know WHY they don't eat those items. If you don't eat dairy, the answer for substitution is different than if you just think the texture is icky. (My husband used to object to sour cream, but was fine with it as an ingredient, as he didn't have to SEE it. Now he snarfs it. No, I don't know why he changed his mind.)

Thanks for the memory. My late father-in-law used to joke, whenever there were leftovers (which there weren't, often, as my MIL calculated servings pretty strictly), that "we'll have it for breakfast with an egg on it." Even about desserts. It's one of the sayings that makes me smile when I hear it.

I agree with the previous poster, this just seems like a basic lasagna recipe, pretty standard. I actually have been making (vegetarian) lasagne using a mixture of silken tofu and goat cheese in place of ricotta, and it actually tastes much better. The tofu makes it very creamy, and the goat cheese adds a tang that ricotta does not have.

I was really tempted when Monteaux Orchards was getting started and I got their decription of their service (I have also read the Dirty Life). Unfortunately I have a kidney transplant and so am immune suppressed and the raw milk did not seem to me to be the way to go, so I punted the whole thing. Reading about it again, I am not quite sure why that was such a deal breaker.

It's true, there is a lot more to the program than the raw milk... now, what I would really like to see is a vegetarian whole-diet CSA, with lots of fresh and dried beans in lieu of meat. I had no luck finding any.

What's the best dish you can recommend for a brunch at this time of year -- taking advantage of the farmer's markets (midwest) if possible. Informal brunch, some egg-eaters, no outright vegetarians but several with a definite bent to more veg than meat/poultry/even eggs. And not huge carb-atarians.

Strata -- look at a few recipes like this one and if you cook at all you can devise your own version that takes advantage of what's in abundance where you live.  Much of the time it's a dish that needs assembly and an overnight in the fridge, so all you have to do is get it to room temp then pop it in the oven in the a.m. It'd be nice to maybe offer some  grapefuit sections or other citrus fruit sprinkled with brown sugar and powdered ginger then broiled till the sugar's caramelized. Serve with yogurt or creme fraiche. 

I'm in a quandary whenever I consider joining a CSA: the produce always sounds amazing and the price is good, but I'm an avid vegetable gardener and I like to plant what my family will eat! It seems that I can't do both unless I want my pantry to explode at the seams, or perhaps I need to just adopt my neighbors on either side? Also, are there any CSAs that specialize in ethnic foods? For example, a Thai-centric CSA would have lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, fresh ginger, Thai chili peppers, cilantro, Thai eggplant, etc. I would LOVE to be able to have access to those fresh ingredients without having to hunt around at 5 different stores in the area.

I have be honest: if I were an avid vegetable gardener, I'm not sure I would join a CSA, unless you eat meat and wanted to subscribe to a meat share.

Your question about the ethnic produce CSAs is a good one... I have read about some that sound similar but don't know specifics... anyone else?

Did you see your shoutout from Tom this morning?

I just did, thank you. Tom is a terrific colleague and one of the best critics in the country. The man has eaten all over the world.

So glad you posted your recipe 'cause it reminds me to ask -- Do you have a recipe for meatless Mapo Tofu, or should I just skip the meat? Thanks!

Joe's new cookbook, "Eat Your Vegetables," has an excellent recipe for Szechuan-Style Tofu and Shiitake Stir-Fry. Not just saying that -- I made it the other week!

I've also made the Serious Eats recipe for the Best Vegan Mapo Tofu. Really, really good, but calls for more obscure ingredients and more complicated prep than Joe's recipe.

Heidi Swanson has a recipe for quinoa patties in her cookbook Supernatural Foods Every Day. It might also be on her website, 101cookbooks. You might check that out for the cooking process.

Here is Heidi's recipe on how to prepare and cook quinoa patties. The recipe has instructions on how to cook them in the oven or skillet. Note: Heidi's recipe includes kale, not spinach; the original poster had spinach in her's, and spinach has a high water content.

And I adapted Heidi's idea by adding barley! (Cause, you know, I want a bigger, more toothsome grain than quinoa.)

Use in a wonderful vegetarian main, or excellent side dish: Mujaddara--lentils, rice and caramelized onions. Great recipe for it on Food52.

I bought some for my Mom (and transported them to Rochester NY, as apparently Weg's does not carry pasteurized eggs?) at the Adams Morgan Harris Teeter. She was disappointed. She wanted them to go into a pie where they are whipped with butter and sugar to make a frosting-like layer. They would NOT whip properly. So she read up on the eggs and discovered that they will never work for that kind of recipe. Now she will never have one of her favorite recipes again because she is convinced there is no way to have safe raw eggs.

But they can and do whip! Just not quite as well, and it takes longer to get them to peak stage. Have done so myself in much recipe testing. You need to add cream of tartar.

Well, you've baked us for 25 minutes, then removed the foil on top and baked another 25 minutes so our top layer of cheese is nicely browned on top, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and hope you get some good use out of our a's! Thanks to Emily Horton for her expert assistance today.

And now for the giveaway books: "The Washington Post Cookbook" goes to the chatter who wrote about online recipes versus cookbooks. And "Put an Egg on It" goes to the chatter who asked about how to fry the perfect egg. Send your info to Becky at, and we'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading. (I'll see you in a couple of weeks, as I'll be off on book tour next week, when Bonnie will be ably holding down the fort!)

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guest: food writer Emily Horton.
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