Free Range on Food: Farmed Salmon, fall grilling and more

Sep 25, 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 Free Range! What's on your mind, in your skillet, gathering dust in the back of your pantry, showing up in your grocery bag this week? Let us know -- and ask us whatever you want.

Hope you enjoyed today's pieces by Tamar Haspel about farmed vs. wild salmon; interesting taste test, eh? Tamar will be here to help us handle fishy questions (and others), and Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin, who waxed poetic this week about fall, will be on hand to field the grilling queries. And we might even see Carrie "Spirits" Allan, who wrote about a new bourbon with an interesting story.

So ask, and ye shall receive. An answer, that is.

And maybe a cookbook! Our favorite two chatters today will receive one of the following: a signed copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook" or "Cook on a Shoestring" by Sophie Wright, source of today's DinMin recipe. So make your posts good!

Let's get started!

So I was looking through the list of lentil recipes on the Chat Leftovers. The Sicilian-style pasta and lentils looks great, but HOLY CRAP A GRAM OF SODIUM! Is it even remotely feasible to reduce the amount of salt in the pasta water and still have it taste good? My sweetie and I are in the 1500-mg-per-day age group, and both have high blood pressure ... Thanks!

You can eliminate a good bit of that sodium by using no-salt-added tomato puree. Here's the recipe for Pasta and Lentils, Sicilian Style, for the rest of the class.

Pasta and Lentils, Sicilian Style

I've received several "Carnival" squash in my CSA box lately, which is great, because I thought they were basically acorn squash. Some research indicates otherwise, but what do you all say: can I use them in lieu of acorn squash in recipes? (I am thinking of making Martha Stewart's Acorn Squash and Honey Pie, in particular.)

Yeah, I think you can use them in place of acorn squash. The flavor is slightly more like butternut squash, while acorn has a nuttier flavor -- but I think the difference is pretty slight.

You could, of course, grill them! But perhaps I'm stealing Mr. Shahin's thunder...


I was making a crockpot Cilantro Lime Chicken yesterday and was wondering if cilantro behaved the same as cilantro in liquid. Basically when I put thyme in a soup I can through the whole stem in and the thyme leaves will cook off and when it's done I can throw the stems out. Will cilantro behave the same way? Thanks!

The cilantro leaves won't disengage from their stems, I think. But  those stems are great for flavor. I think I might want to chop cilantro and add AFTER the slow cooker's done its thing. 

Hi, Washington Post Food Editors. More than 30 years ago, the Washington Post published a recipe for a Dundee cake that was out of this world. I believe it was published sometime between 1975 and 1981. There was an article accompanying the origin of this particular recipe. I cut it out, but over the years somehow lost it. I would very much like to find it. It's the best fruitcake-type cake I've ever made. I recall slivered almonds on top of the cake, and there may have been ground almonds in the cake itself along with candied cherries I believe. Seems to me the instructions called for lining the cake pan with brown paper. It is really a spectacular cake. I searched under your recipe finder section, and nothing came up. I may be off with the years of publication, but am almost positive it was published pre 1981. Thanks so much for any help you can give me in locating this recipe once again.

Here you go, from November 1981. 


Special to The Washington Post

The encyclopedia will tell you that Dundee is a Scottish city some 50 miles to the northeast of Edinburgh, renowned for its confectionery and marmalade. Dundee cake, then, should mean Scotland to anyone with a grain of sense, but to me it means Wales, because that is where I first tasted the glorious Stuff.

More specifically, Dundee cake means Ferndale, a small mining town in the Rhondda, where sheep walk the streets with pleasant unconcern. In the town lives the Edwards family (several Edwards families, that is, but only one for me), and in their cozy home, the fortunate guest can eat more than is good for him of Wales' pancakes (crepes to the rest of the world ) and Welsh cakes -- those melting little rounds or currant-studded pastry, cooked on the griddle instead of in the oven. And then there's the Dundee cake. Mrs. Edwards makes a bit of a speciality of it.

With Dundee cakes, she becomes a one woman assembly line, blanching almonds, cutting cherries, lining tins, until she has made enough for her family and friends for Christmas and beyond.

I don't pretend to supply all my friends and relations as she does, but every year, about this time, my husband and I start thingking back to the Christmas we spent with the Edwards family, and inevitably, we begin to dream of Dundee cake.


(Makes 1 8-inch cake) 1 cup granulated sugar, superfine preferred 8 ounces butter or margaine 4 eggs 8 ounces sultanas (golden raisins) 8 ounces currants 8 ounces candied cherries 2 ounces finely ground blanched almonds 2 ounces blanched almond halves, split along their seams 1 3/4 to 2 cups flour, sifted

Cream sugar and butter until pale, add eggs one at a time and beat in well. Combine sultanas with currants and set aside. Pour boiling water over the cherries, stir to rinse well, drain dry and halve. Shake ground almonds on top of the cherries and mix to coat. The almonds will keep the cherries from sinking in the batter as it cooks. Fold the cherries, then the raisins and currants into the creamed mixture. Sift the flour over the batter and fold in.

Grease an 8-inch round cake pan, then line it with a double thickness of waxed paper, coming 1 to 1 1/2 inches above the top. Surround the whole with aluminum foil. The built-up sides allow the batter to rise and protect the topping of almond halves from scorching during the long baking time. Pour the batter into the prepared tin, spreading evenly. Decorate the top with a symmetrical arrangement of the split almond halves, rounded side up, completely covering the batter. Mrs. Edwards and I begin at the edge, working inward in concentric circles, the broader base of the almond toward the outside, the sharp tip toward the center. Place the cake in a 400-degree oven, then turn the heat down to 300 degrees after 10 minutes. Continue to bake at 300 degrees for 3 hours. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove and cool completely on a rack. Wrap well and store in the refrigerator or freezer. This cake is best if "mellowed" for a few days before cut, and, like most fruitcakes, will keep for a considerable period of time. 


Now, as for being the best you've ever made: Did you catch my colleague Jane Touzalin's 2012 trip down fruitcake lane? There might be some contenders therein....


seems the best. very fatty...why?

I've never had Faroe Island Salmon, so I can't say specifically, but farmed salmon are fatty for a number of reasons -- a combination of fish genetics, fish feed, and fish excercise (kinda like humans). But salmon fat is high in the omega-3 fats that are very good for you, so I wouldn't worry about it. 

A couple of weeks ago you recommended the Lemon Berry Crunch Cake and the Holiday Crepe Cake to a poster looking for a great dessert. Having made both (the crepe cake this past Easter and the lemon berry cake this past weekend for a birthday party) I heartily recommend them! They both taste fantastic/got rave reviews, and neither is very difficult, though the crepe cake is more time consuming since you have to make 25-30 crepes.


The lemon-berry was actually pretty easy - I made it over a couple of days as recommended and had most of the ingredients (even acetate) already. I did have to wing it as I couldn't find a cake ring and didn't want to buy a quarter sheet pan (I just used 3 round cake pans and cut the edges off) so it wasn't a perfect circle but no one cared :-). My one problem was the white chocolate - once melted it never became "pourable" so instead of coating the milk crumb I had globs of milk crumb and white chocolate but this wasn't really a big deal once you coated it all with the berry powder. I used Ghiradelli white choc chips; might try block chocolate next time. I'm going to use that milk crumb for other things...maybe mix it with cocoa powder and use milk or dark chocolate instead of the fruit powder and white chocolate?


And FYI Trader Joe's sells freeze dried fruit in 1.2 ounce bags that gives you exactly 1 cup of fruit/5 TBSP powder called for in the recipe. I went for a mix of raspberry, strawberry and blueberry.


If you are looking for an impressive dessert you can't go wrong with either, though I'm giving a slight edge to the crepe cake: All those layers really knocked peoples' socks off.


One more thing: a previous poster asked about adding a review function to the recipes. I second this suggestion as I think this post would be really helpful to someone considering making these desserts. In any case, I LOVE the food section. Keep up the great work!


How great, SOC, that you've given us such clear and helpful feedback. (Just for the record, what kind of white choc did you use?) We're on the edge of a Recipe Finder upgrade that should allow for those comments/reviews once again. Thanks from all of us. 

Submitting early -What an excellent article with surprising to me results. Can you share the steamed recipe used in your test? Also, for the frozen winner, were they thawed first then cooked or cooked from frozen?

Glad you liked the piece!  The results were surprising to us, too -- but heartening, since farmed salmon is less expensive and just as healthful as the wild stuff.  

Scott Drewno lightly salted the fish, and then steamed it in a bamboo steamer.  The time on that will depend on the thickness of the fish (and how you like your salmon), but should be in the 5-10 minute range.

As for the frozen, we thawed it first -- you always should, or the outside will overcook before the center is even warm.

When cooking vegetable soups and stews, why do recipes often call for softening vegetables (mirepoix specifically) over low heat before adding liquid? It seems to me that the vegetables would soften during the ensuing cooking process. Is the reason just to ensure that the mirepoix is fully cooked at the same time as other not-so-hard vegetables? If so, why not just add the 'others' later in the cooking process? I do understand the difference between softening (non-browning) vs. sauteing and why you might want to saute vegetables before adding the liquid.

Great question. I tend to at least lightly brown vegetables for a soup and stew before adding the liquid, in order to build flavor. I think you're probably still building flavor a little better by slowly cooking them before adding the liquid -- or maybe it's just force of habit by recipe writers!

I forgot to ask last week -- What about dried beans and such (lentils, pasta, quinoa, etc) that are past their marked dates? Use 'em anyway?

Dried pasta:  Does yours have an actual "use by" date or is it a "best by"? Properly stored in a cool, dry place -- free from tiny creatures and light, and in its original packaging or secured further in a zip-top bag -- I bet you could push the 1-2 years that's recommended. Worst-case scenario is that you cook it and it's not quite the right color or texture. Then you'd pitch it. 


Keep those same storage factors in mind, and the dried lentils and quinoa can last almost indefinitely. "Best by" or "sell by" has to do with optimum quality and nutrients, as Jane Black's story mentioned.  Old dried beans sometimes take longer to cook and can be tougher. But they are edible. 


Speaking of lentils AND pasta, I might as well pass along my fave recipe that combines the two. Pasta and Lentils, Sicilian Style.  Damn the sodium. It's in the WaPoCookbook! 


What is the best way to reheat leftover steamers and mussels? They're still in their shells -- not a big deal for mussels, but will it be tough to remove the steamers from their "skin" when they're cold, if I use them in a dish rather than on their own?

As the resident shellfish farmer, I'll tackle this one.  Steamers slip out of their tough outer layer pretty easily, even when they're cold.  The problem is that, once you chill them and then add them to a dish, both steamers and mussels can turn a little hard.  Add them at the last minute, so they just warm up.

We recently purchased a Vitamix. After having it for two weeks I have to say it's one of the best appliances we've added to our kitchen. It wasn't cheap, but so far it's proven its worth.

Glad to hear it. What have been your favorite uses so far? Besides using it for regular blender uses, I've REALLY appreciated its way with nut butters. Soups, too, natch.

I find when I cook and feel like 'something' is missing, I can fix it by adding a little acid to the dish. I have come across some recipes recently that don't call for any acid at all. Some have been good and some felt lacking, should you aim to have acid in every dish? What are other sources of acid besides citrus and vinegar?

Love this question, cause it got me thinking!

I love having sour flavors in a dish; creates a backbone, IMO, and balance, and cuts through richness so you can keep on eating! But lots of things have acidity -- other fruits besides citrus, certainly, especially tomatoes but also berries. Wine. Olives.

And now that I really think about it: Dairy products, believe it or not -- and not just feta that's been brined. All forms of milk, really. And nuts -- you might not think of them, and it's not like you experience a VERY strong tang, but some of them are high in acid and I think that explains why they can feel cleansing in a dish. Pecans and walnuts, especially.

Your wonderful salmon article touched on an issue I've encountered when buying fish. It's been hammered into my brain that meat should come from non-industrial sources and luckily that issue is easily solved with the existence of the farmer's market. But I'd like to start eating more fish at home. How do I know if the fish I'm buying is sustainable? Given my location & transport options the only place I can go for that sort of thing is Whole Foods. Is the fish there fine to eat? Are there better types or origins to look out for? I have no idea how to buy fish!

Great question.  A lot of the time, you don't know the provenance of your fish, so your best bet is to shop at places that tell you.  Whole Foods is a great one.  They have a very detailed set of standards, and buy only from farms that have gone through a very rigorous audit to show that they meet those standards.  Alternatively, shop at a fish market where you can talk to the buyers about your concerns.  There are good and bad farms in all salmon-growing regions, so a country of origin by itself won't tell you much.  And enjoy your fish!

I am making this salad to take to book club tonight. I have my home made Caesar dressing DOWN. Good stuff. I would like your suggestion on how to cook the chicken. I have bought a pack of the tenders- nice and low fat and the perfect size to go in the salad. How best to cook them so that they taste good and look good too?? Thanks so much. PS- I usually bread the tenders and bake them for my kids, which is why I am at a loss.

Well, those tenders tend to be cut on the thin side, and I like more of a meaty bite of the bird in my chicken Caesar salad.


If it's possible for you to prepare the tenders for your kids as you usually do (for another time), I'd recommend a trip back to the store to pick up boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Get rid of the excess (visible) fat, and if they have tenders attached, reserve those for your kids too. I'd poach the breasts in a nice chicken broth until just cooked through; once cooled, cut crosswise or lengthwise into thick strips.  You could marinate and grill the breasts as an alternative option -- they'd have nice color and add flavor. 


In soup season I always poach a few extra chix breasts. Triangles of a crustless/Dijon-mayo-dressed soft-bread sandwich with thin slices of perfectly moist chicken (w/a sprinkling of black pepper) are just the accompaniment for a bowl o' potato-leek.  Who's with me?

Hi Jim - great column on Fall grilling! You mention smoking (or grilling?) acorn squash. What about that Fall staple, the pumpkin? Can you think of any way to use this strange fruit on the grill? I don't know about smoking it whole, but we'll have plenty of the innards left after carving. Maybe as a flavoring for something else? Of course, the answer might be no! Thanks!

When it comes to grilling or smoking, the answer is never no. It's always answered with another question: How?

You can grill pumpkin slices exactly the same way as the squash recipe in today's paper. You can also sprinkle the seed with salt and some olive oil, put on a tray and smoke over indirect heat for about 5 minutes. You can grill pumpkin halves or quarters, then smoke a little, and use in a soup (though I prefer butternut squash, actually).

And you can also make unconventional smores. Here is a recipe we ran.

The pilaf sounds really good, and I have some chorizo in the freezer that needed some inspiration. I'm trying to lower the carbs in my life, so if possible I'd like to remove either the rice or the chickpeas (yes, I realize those are the two main ingredients). Could I just do the chickpeas and chorizo? Or maybe sub some sturdy mushrooms for the chickpeas?

Chickpea, Chorizo and Brown Rice Pilaf

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, the source of that Nourish recipe, says you can increase the chickpeas by a cup and cut the rice.

In my youth, Orange Roughy was a wildly popular fish. What happened to it? Was it not great healthwise?

It's perfectly fine, healthwise.  But it got overfished and currently has an "avoid" rating from Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.  Let's hope for a comeback.

Thanks for doing the wild vs farmed salmon taste test. I recall you did a taste test on organic vs non organic eggs and found similar results in that the expected winner (organic) did not win. One reason for this is that people's perception of taste (and smell) is highly influcenced by preconceived concepts. if people want something to taste better, many times it will taste better to them. One example of this in meat science is people prefer meat cooked well done if they see the color. if they do not see the color because of red lighting, they actually prefer medium rare. Thus most meat taste testing is done with red lighting so degree of doneness does not alter the tasters' perception of taste.

So, you remember the egg story, eh?  That one seemed to irritate a lot of people!  But you're exactly right -- all kinds of things influence our perception of taste.  Even though all eggs taste the same -- and I'm absolutely positive, because I did the tasting -- I still enjoy the eggs from my chickens much more than other eggs because I know the chickens live well.  And one of the reasons tastings aren't definitive is that all those other things matter.

This is why we try to taste blind when possible! We are getting plenty of comments on the salmon taste test piece that are similar to those we got on the egg story, or on Beer Madness, or anytime we do one of these, to the effect of: You guys are idiots! I can taste the difference! What I always want to say to those people is, have someone else prepare the tasting, put two samples in front of you that you don't recognize, taste, and see what happens.

I'm thinking of a combo of lentils and chick peas, spicy, interesting enough to forget I don't have meat. Want to get back into making big pots on sunday to take to work all week.

How about this Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew?

Yeah, the Vitamix has been great for yogurt based smoothies with fruit. We used it to make gazpacho that was quick, easy and tasted great. Also used it to make potato soup that was very good. The potato soup involved some prep work, pre-cooking the potatoes, onions and bacon. But once that was done the soup was ready in about five minutes. The Vitamix even heats the soup -- pour from the blender and eat.

I love that last part - Stupid Blender Tricks!

Yeah, it even does the opposite: Combine frozen fruit and cream and sugar, and you get soft-serve "ice cream." I use quotes cause it's not the consistency of freshly churned, but it's not bad.

Can I freeze lentil dal, caramelized onions, and flourless chocolate cake this weekend for a weekday dinner party next week? On a related note, do you have a great lentil dal recipe or close alternative?

You should be fine freezing all those. Here are posts from the Kitchn on freezing dal and caramelized onions. And here's a recipe for Dal.


If you want more guidance on freezing, check out our freezer guide.

This Fall I would like to try my hand at making some homemade apple cider, preferably both alocholic and non. Is it worth the time and effort, or should I just head to a farmers market? For the alcoholic, does it make a difference what type of cider I start out with? And, do you have any good articles on how to do it?

I've personally never made cider, but I remember reading Dave McIntyre's excellent article last year on the subject, thinking "This sounds like a lot of trouble when I can just buy a good jug's worth at the farmers market." The problem is, as Dave points out, you need a variety of apples to make good cider. You might have to experiment a lot before discovering the right combination. Maybe you have the patience for that...

last weekend I was feeling the nice fall weather, so I decided to make a pork loin stuffed with apples and cranberries. Unfortunately I did not have any butcher's twine to tie the loin back up after I stuffed it. As a result, the loin opened up while cooking and became overdone. What should I have used instead of butcher's twine to hold the butterflied loin together? I do plan on finding some butcher's twine for the future.

Sorry about your pork loin!  You can use pretty much anything that can stand the heat, up to and including your shoelaces.  If you have upholstery thread, or fishing line, or just plain old string, you'll be fine.

Ok, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE salmon - I'm not a huge fan of the taste of wild salmon but the farm-raised stuff used to be delightful. Once all the reports started coming out I gave up the fish altogether. Clearly I'm THRILLED with today's article about it, but where can I get the one approved farm-raised salmon? My tummy has been rumbling ever since I saw that Tandoori Salmon with Cucumber recipe this morning!

Here's the info in the related sidebar:

VERLASSO farmed salmon from Chile is available in a variety of markets. To find one, check “Where to Buy” at Many of the vendors listed are distributors; call the one in your area to find retail outlets. 

Joe - no question, I am SO EXCITED you are coming to my town for cooking demo at Dough in Oct. I can't wait to meet you at this event and get your cookbook! You will love Asheville

Thanks! I've been to Asheville once and loved it, so looking forward to a return. Dough looks amazing!

I'm not the OP, but I use my approximately 15-year-old Vitamix for pie crust. I am inept at doing it the conventional way, and I had an old Vegetarian Times recipe that called for mixing whole wheat pastry flour, sesame seeds, and white vinegar, along with the ice water and butter, in a blender. Quick (a boon for those of us who are impatient) and it always tastes rich to me.

I'm a little suspicious about overmixing here -- I often use a food processor for pie crust, but pulse rather than puree so as not to get the butter pieces too small. You want the pieces bigger so the crust is flakier. But if it works for you and you've liked it, keep at it!

If I want to eat them warmed up but not in another dish, do I reheat in boiling water for a couple of minutes or less?

I'd steam them, just until warm. But don't expect them to be as good as the first go-round.

There's a fantastic Spanish fish market down the street from me, but I'm stumped as to how to make the most of it. Any thoughts?

Talk to them.  Ask them about the fish if it's unfamiliar to you.  To check on environmental issues, see what Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch has to say about the fish.  And then try something.  Is it good?  Is it fresh?  Then try something else!  And enjoy your fish.

I feel like we get a post every week about how amazing it is. I got it already!

We just answer what we get, but it is interesting how often people bring it up!

It's wonderful, of course, as is your intro. Two questions: one, even tho it is handy to have the recipes be simplified for the home cook, I'd really love to see these chefs write a more rigorous professional-level vegan cookbook, sort of an update of Ken Bergeron's Professional Vegetarian Cooking; can you use your ins? Please?? Second, did you every try out the cookbooks from their former restaurant Horizon? There are two, but they have some mixed reviews.

I'll pass along your point, sure! I'm writing about their book next week, as it happens. They visited on Monday and we spent a few hours cooking together. Was a blast. I didn't ever try the Horizons cookbooks, no.

For the person asking about cooking veggies on low before a soup or stew, I have always heard it called sweating, not softening. The goal is to drive out as much of the moisture in the veggies as possible. My understanding was that getting the water out concentrated the flavors of the veggies before you add in all of the liquid for the soup or stew.

Yes, you're right -- I was forgetting that terminology, but had a vague memory that you were still building flavor. Thanks much! Sweat the onions! And spank the basil!

i love adding tamarind paste or water to a dish for added depth and acidity. i prefer using the block tamarind, where you pinch off a bit, soak it in hot water, and then use the water. the paste is highly concentrated, so a little goes a long way. the punch of sour/sweet/salt really takes dishes to the next level!

Love tamarind -- thanks!

What about making it a shrimp caesar instead? Easy to cook, store and bring with you.

Last week's discussion about reducing food waste was really useful. One tip that has helped me reduce waste, courtesy of Tamar Adler's "Everlasting Meal" is to wash, steam, etc. fresh produce when I first get it home and then finish cooking (e.g., saute green beans in olive oil with almonds, throw spinach into an omelet) it throughout the week. But I have a small food waste problem that I haven't solved. I often make chocolate chip thumbprint cookies (an old Land O' Lakes recipe) that have a chocolate center made of melted chocolate chips, corn syrup, water, vanilla, and shortening. I always end up with some left over and have tried saving it but when I try to soften it again it gets all grainy. Is there any way to revive it? (I've tried making less but can never get the proportions quite right).

When chocolate comes into contact with water, it can often seize like this, and get grainy. Try stirring in a little neutral (or nut) oil as you soften it.

If I had leftover steamers, I wouldn't try to reheat them later. I'd shell them and freeze them for pasta sauce.

But ... wouldn't said sauce get reheated?

hi guys! i recently had the great fortune of dining at Uchiko in Austin this past weekend, and fell in love with their Sea Bass cooked in parchment paper. as the paper unfolded, we were enveloped in this amazing fragrance of lemongrass, cilantro, and other heady Thai aromas. how can i recreate this experience at home? how do i get the sauce to not leak all over the place in the little "packet"? what is the best fish to use for this? skin on or off? so many questions!!!!

That technique's pretty wonderful, and foolproof, for fish. You can literally pick almost any variety -- preferably not on the strongly flavored/oily end of the spectrum. Place it skin side down (skin's flabby but it helps to hold the fish flesh together, so I'd leave it on) on a large piece of parchment that you've cut to a roughly huge valentine shape.  For a 4- or 6-ounce fillet, you'd want to spoon a few tablespoons of a dry white wine or fish stock or cider over the fish, then pile on the aromatics/veg you like. (Discard an outer layer of that lemon grass and smash the remaining stem before chopping/slicing it.) 


Once you crimp the edges and fold them tightly around the fish, there should be no leakage. But bake in a casserole dish or on a rimmed baking sheet to be safe. The best part is that opening of the parcel at the table, or at least close to an appreciative nose. Can't beat it. 

I see in the Tandoori Salmon recipe that the chef normally uses Arctic Char. I don't know much about this fish, but if it's wildlife approved and offers a very similar taste to salmon can I just use it to replace salmon in all of my recipes? Are the health benefits less?

Char is lower in fat than a lot of salmon, and so you might have to adjust things like cooking times and expectations -- the dish won't be identical.  But it's a fine choice.  As for health benefits, less fat usually translates to fewer benefits when we're talking about fish, but I wouldn't let that be a deal-breaker.  Eat the fish you like, and feel you can buy responsibly.  It's all good.

What are your favorites?

Tops on my list would be fish sauce. I didn't discover its many pleasures until, I'd say, about eight years ago. Now I sneak the stuff into so many things I cook, to help improve the flavors of everything around it.


I even dab some fish sauce on my Texas barbecue spare ribs these days. Shsssh, don't tell Jim Shahin!

Does it count if you acquired the taste in, like, a hot second? That's how I was with fish sauce, too -- and kimchi. Things that were a little slower for me to pick up have been in the bitter family: radicchio, bitter liqueurs like Campari & family. But now I can't get enough.

Pomegranate molasses. Not a hard sell, per se, but I've found that brands vary quite a bit in tartness/sweetness levels. I drizzle it into/over all kinds of things now. 

So, when does a coincidence become a cabal? I have used it in barbecue sauce and other concoctions. 

Anchovies was acquired. Now that I like 'em, I'm mad for 'em. 

This, at least to me, is a little odd, but I didn't take to tomatillos at first. I'm all about 'em these days.

Yeah, definitely kimchi, but I've gotten into it thanks to Joe. Also eggs. Apparently I snarfed them when I was a toddler and then spent the next 20 or so years being totally repulsed by them. Now I love omelets and frittatas.

Maybe this is more of a personal memory issue, but I was wondering how you remember so much about what you like and don't like, in terms of specific ingredients, wines, tastes, cheeses, etc. Do you write them down? Have a memory trick? I find that sometimes I'm at the store thinking about a specific cheese or a wine someone brought to my house that I enjoyed but I just can't remember.

Who says we remember so much? I'm like you and often have a tough time -- especially with wine -- but for me the key is repetition. So if I like something, I try to experience it again soon, and then again soon. If I wait too long, even if I take a pic of it and/or write a little note to myself, it's gone. I throw away the scrap of paper or I delete the photo to make room for others.

I'd forget so much of what I ate and drank if I didn't write the information down or, as Joe notes, snap a photo of it with my smartphone. Some food and drink are so good, though, they stay in memory for a long time, without any difficult recall. Just say the name Palena, and my brain immediately summons up the mental aromas of thyme, star anise, salt, fennel -- some of the flavors that star in chef Frank Ruta's great roast chicken.

Massage the kale!

LOL. Yes!

Why are articles written with only input by one side of the issue and old outdated/inaccurate information continually passed along by cooking experts who are not experts on aquaculture, ecology, animal nutrition, animal disease etc. without speaking to and providing the point of view of those experts in the field?

Well, gosh, since you put it that way, I have to say I don't know.  I can't imagine which article you're referring to, since the kind of experts you refer to are exactly the kind quoted in the farmed salmon piece.

That also sounds like something you could experiment with and add to pancake/waffle batter for a breakfast treat. Or maybe even zucchini or banana muffins.

what do you do with them?

I might cook them with blanched green beans, garlic and lots of olive oil, slowly and for a long time. Finish with basil. 

Hi,I've been finding that I'm getting a lot of bitterness whenever I cook eggplant lately. I usually roast it (and I usually get them from the farmers market). Is there anything I can do to prevent this unwanted flavor?

Potentially stupid question back to you: Do you salt your eggplant before using them? There is a  compound in the plant, called solanine, that is bitter to the taste unless extracted. Salting your sliced (or even diced) eggplant before cooking helps remove the chemical. Just let it sit under a generous sprinking of salt for at least 30 minutes, then either wipe off the salt (and the beads of moisture that will appear) or rinse the eggplant under the tap. You'll be good to go.

And the larger the eggplant, the more bitter. So if you want to skip the salting, look for smaller ones.

I keep unwaxed dental floss on hand. Can't remember where I learned that, but it was at least 40 years ago.

I didn't think of that one! Probably because I do a lot of fishing and not much flossing.

This is a subject for a decidedly different chat, but as an aside, my flossing became much more regular after a dentist years ago told me, "You know, you only have to floss the ones you want to keep." That did it.

To add to issue of sauteing veggies before adding liquid because it enhances the flavor. The same is true of seasonings. The hot oil helps your spices and herbs release their flavor.

A place near my old office (also near Wapo) called Spice Express would often have a pumpkin curry available that was cubes of pumpkin without an overly heavy curry feel to it. I've tried to look at recipes to recreate it now that I no longer work in the area, but all of them have ingredients that I'm pretty sure were not in the one there like coconut. Any ideas? Or would it be possible to get the recipe from them?

Are you sure there wasn't coconut milk in there? It's pretty common. Also, use kabocha squash. I fell hard for a pumpkin curry at Thai Crossing, and when I asked what they used, it was kabocha. When I tried it that way, I loved it. Put a recipe for it in my new book, actually. With marinated/baked tofu, too, but you could leave that out.

The best substitution for butcher's twine is dental floss. It doesn't matter if you use waxed or unwaxed. It DOES matter that it is not mint flavored. Just tie the knot three times at each knot-node and you'll be good to go.

We got fennel again in our CSA box. No one really loves Fennel. Any good suggestions for it? Thanks.

Pass it over my way!  We love fennel at our house.  You can use it in similar ways to other aromatics, like the big three -- onions, celery, and carrots.  I like to dice it and saute it with the onions if I'm making a pasta sauce (particularly the creamy kind), or a stew (particularly the fishy kind).  It'll impart some sweetness without a pronounced fennelly taste.  Also, try shaving it fine (I use a cheese planer), and making an salad with a bright green like arugula or watercress, and dressing it with lemon vinaigrette and shaved Parmesan.

And let's not forget last week's Candied Fennel Stalk and Fennel Syrup for the leftover parts.

Candied Fennel Stalk and Fennel Syrup

I'm going to a garden party and was thinking about bringing a snacky appetizer that isn't utensil or napkin intensive. Something okay chilled or at room temp.

I am a sucker for Stuffed Dates. You could bring some crudites or crackers to go with Lightened-Up Pimento Cheese.

Lightened-Up Pimento Cheese

Or go for the full-fledged version.

Pimento Cheese

Hi there, would the OP of the vitamix pie crust recipe mind sharing it (now or in a future chat)? I have a vitamix too and would love to give this a try (or even if I didn't have one!) Thanks!

tastes too bright, because of all the acid in the tomatoes, how do I deepen it?

Two thoughts:

1. Fish sauce. A go-to.

2. A pinch of sugar.

Might be tasty with a roasted lamb!

Good one.

Roasted acorn squash seeds are my fav - a little oil, salt and either paprika or chipotle.

Garlic scape pesto. (see, these things come in waves.)

Don't forget Mahogany Short Ribs!

I am so glad you agreed with what I've thought for awhile. Not only does Costco salmon taste great -- I have never found bones in it -- unlike at some upscale grocery stores I could name. Thanks for doing the tasting test!

You're welcome! Glad you've had a good experience with Costco salmon.

Joe - sorry I didn't get to come and stop by and say hello. --- the person (or one of the people) who didn't get to bring you bowls and platters.

Too funny! Thanks for writing in!

Joe, I just got my first kabocha in this week's CSA. Thai curry seemed like the way to go, but I also saw a recipe for soy braised and one with chicken and rice. Can you share some hints about your recipe? Do you use curry paste and coconut milk?

Yep, that's what I did!

I'm always looking for a way to cook acorn squash that doesn't use sugar/syrup/butter. Everyone always calls the squash "sweet," but I've never found one that had a sweet flavor . Do I just not like acorn squash? Or is there something I'm missing about cooking them? (I have tried grilling)

Maybe you should try Squash and Artichoke Paella?

Or maybe you're putting too much pressure on the poor squash. Stop thinking about it as sweet!

I'm not much of a casserole maker, but I'm interested in trying to make one that's a cut above typical fare. The idea of a baked dish with lots of vegetables, a tasty sauce and good seasonings sounds really great. Using lots of canned products and high-sodium canned soup does not. Any thoughts on how to make a casserole with a good consistency but without "cream of X" soup? I'm thinking maybe bechamel or mornay sauce.

Yes! Making your own sauce's the way to go -- although you can build casseroles without them.  Take a quick spin through this short list from our Recipe Finder. Rice, pearled couscous, mushrooms, lots of very thin layers of slice potato, torn breads soaked in milk, moist vegetables like zucchini and sauteed onion are just some of the ways you can create a baked dish. 

I know you normally discuss spirits and cocktails, but are there any fall beers that you like this year? I find many to be hit or miss (too cloyingly sweet). I always enjoy a good Punkin, but I haven't seen any of it in weeks.

Dan Fromson will be answering that musical question next week, in his Beer column. Can you wait? 

On "Pie in the Sky", IWETA UK on Mondays), there was a story line about stressed chickens providing more eggs, but of lesser quality. The chef (Richard Griffiths) keeps hens and plays Elgar. His wife (Margaret Steed) is an accountant and tried playing techno house music to the hens. Result: Many more eggs, but hollandaise curdled and Yorkshire Puddings fell flat.

I'm going to have to look that up.  I'm a Richard Griffiths (RIP) fan from way back, and any show where he plays Elgar to hens is right up my alley.  Thanks for the heads-up!

But I don't have access to a grill. I know it won't be the same flavor, but can I make those indoors somehow?

I don't see why you couldn't grill the marshmallows over the stove fire. Just be careful they don't drip into the burners and make a gooey mess or, worse, flare up.

The rest of the recipe doesn't require a grill, so you should be good to go. 

Last night I roasted some brussels sprouts with just some garlic, olive oil, S&P and had some leftovers, so I decided to throw them on my usual kale/mixed greens salad for work today. I added a chopped apple, some walnuts and white cheddar. YUM! I might start buying them just to use them on my salad.

I like that idea, particularly if you get some char/caramelization on those Brussels sprouts. Each tiny leaf from the sprouts then adds a complexity and depth to the salad. I may have to develop my recipe for this.

I know it's usually published on Thursdays with the rest of the Going Out items, but I only ever see Tim over on this chat and I wanted to thank him for putting together such a wonderful, relevant column! I look forward to seeing what food adventures you've been on every week!

Thank you so much for the pat on the back. That feels good!


I'm grateful that Joe (and the Weekend editors, including Liz Seymour) gave me the chance to write the column. It's mostly a joy to do. But, truth to tell, I can always use more tips on good, out-of-the-way places to eat.


If you, or any Free Range readers, have any tips, please e-mail them to me at

Tim's tearing it up, $20 Dinerwise. I'm in awe of his telephonic  perspicacity. Not always so easy to follow up with owners of small ethnic places. 

Hey Rangers! How old is too old for a squash like this? I've had one since last ... fall, let's say. It looks fine from the outside with just a few little dark spots here and there, and hasn't really been exposed to any excessive heat or cold during the year or so I've had it. I suppose I could just cut it open, but would that even show me whether the squash has still retained its flavor, proper texture, etc? Thanks for any wisdom!

Well, winter squash IS meant for long-term storage, but this is longer than I've personally dealt with. And those little dark spots could indeed be signs of bacteria/mold. Pick up the squash -- does it feel light/hollow? That's a sign of spoilage, cause when fresher it should feel heavy/sturdy because of the moisture inside. Really, you should cut it open -- if all looks well, as in the flesh is bright and firm and the seeds/etc are all fresh-looking and normal, it's probably fine. But I kinda doubt it is. Do us a favor and report back, please?

For the poster that doesn't think squash is sweet, savory dishes are plentiful. Soups, either pureed or chunky, are nice. I also like to make winter squash risotto and squash gnocchi. All fairly easy to google recipes, though many would be in an Italian cookbook if you have one.

yes, but the texture would be ok. resteaming steamers give you gummy. PUt in a sauce, the texture isn't an issue.

Oh, you mean pureed in a sauce! Gotcha.

Yeah, that's probably it. Still, I'm not too fond of the flavor and tend to try and make a trade when picking up my share ;-) Other winter squashes I do like, just not the acorn.

Then move right along!

can you eat the lemon grass after the fish is made or do you have to throw it out like a bay leaf?

Depends on how finely you have minced/sliced it to begin with. Generally, I toss the spent lemon grass. 

Excuse me, but I think OP forgot to share the secret to the magical Caesar salad dressing. In detail, please.

We've got about 10 mins left, so let's have it! And while we are waiting, check out these two Post recipes

In the soup, or separately? (if in the soup, I love the one-pot, multitasking!)

I poach them separately, usually ahead of time. Although a warm crustless Dijon-mayo dressed soft bread chix sand is particularly delightful. 

I guess :-(

That's the kind of squash in this week's CSA. I'm hoping I can use like butternut or acorn squash? Or I have a pattypan and chickpea salad recipe - is it like pattypan?

Buttercup and butternut are all but interchangeable -- they're both winter squash, as is acorn.  Pattypan, though, is a summer squash.  I'd go with a winter squash recipe for my buttercup.

For the person with fennel from the CSA -- this is one of my all-time favorite soups from vegetarin times, a tomato/fennel soup. The fennel isn't overly fennel-y with all those other flavros. I often use beans in place of the vegetarin sausage, and that's great, too.

Not pureed, but still in a sauce the texture isn't as important. Same with jalepenos. If I freeze them, I cant use them for poppers, the texture/firmness is comprimosed. But throw them in a jambalaya and who cares if they aren't totally firm?

OK, I'll just have to take your word for it on this one.

Does this stuff contain caffeine? If so, is there a way to make it decaf?

Yes, kombucha prepared with caffeinated tea will, of course, have caffeine in the finished product. But some prepare the drink with decaf tea.


Here's Kristen Hinman's authoritative story on kombucha from 2010.

I often see recipes that call for a small quantity of something I do not normally keep on hand. Today's recipe using curry paste is one example. It seems unlikely I would use it all up unless I started cooking everything with it. Are there substitutes or ways to acquire small quantities? Same for fish sauce and rarely used spices.

I'd freeze leftover Indian curry in 1/4-cup packets. It's a good pantry item to have on hand -- add to marinades, salad and sandwich dressings,  with vegetables and pasta.  Think about using fish sauce more often, too -- it can be refrigerated for a long time and will get you in umami mode. A good thing. Buy spices in small amounts, from spice stores and from Whole Foods Markets like the one in Bethesda where you can get a tablespoon's worth. 

it is one of my faves... they have it at bradley food and beverage in bethesda. just leave me some!

Fennel is the worst, I really hope it's on the downswing from this heyday it seems to be experiencing. Interesting though that ever since someone mentioned in a bygone chat loving the anise flavor of basil, I've noticed it now but still love basil.

Dude. You are depressing me. Fennel Forever. We can love both of them, join hands and sing-sway. 

Jim, I love them too! what do you do use them for, other than salsa verde.

 I love them for a green chile and tomatillo enchilada sauce and also a pork chile. 

I like acorn squash with chipotle flavors. I usually make a chipotle sauce and stuff cubed roasted squash into enchiladas with a spicy red sauce.

Consider the cost to replace. Since squash is inexepnsive, I'd put it in the compost pile.

So I've never made meatballs before. I had them at a Super Bowl party with barbecue sauce and grape jelly, and I love them in spaghetti sauce. But how do I make them? All I know is that the meat can't be overmixed. And as a do I make meatballs if I have a (somewhat irrational) fear of touching meat. I have never (really...NEVER) touched raw meat with my hands, and I don't want to start now. Help? (or should I see a therapist, lol)

Well, you could start by checking out our good collection of meatball recipes. Or you could avoid the meat thing altogether and go for these FABULOUS Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce from Joe's Weeknight Vegetarian column.

Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

maybe you'd like it more if you bake it stuffed. I mix cottage cheese, diced apples, spices and bake.

Last week's chat re "supermodel"-beautiful produce reminded me of one of my peeves: why are supermarkets (Giant, Harris Teeter being big culprits) selling only steroid-mutant-size items these days? It's nearly impossible to buy jicama that isn't a whopping 2 lb or more. Most recently I wanted a sweet Vidalia-type onion -- ridiculously huge, especially for a single cook (can you relate, Joe??) My guess is the stores want to force shoppers to buy more than they need. I can slice off a bit at time for some items, but the item goes nasty or dries out. Why can't produce managers offer a variety of sizes -- the occasional omelet size small onion plus the jumbo size for chili and soups? Isn't there a point of diminishing returns -- shoppers won't buy and the grocer has to toss? I have taken to going to a mom-and-pop that sells smaller produce items, often for smaller prices.

We're out of time, but this is a constant irritation, isn't it? My biggest complaint: shallots! What happened to those nice little ones? Now they're like small -- or even MEDIUM -- onions!

I was having internet issues before, so my apologies if this posts twice. First, I wanted to thank you for the chickpea pilaf recipe. That sounds great! I passed it along to a coworker who needed to use up some extra chickpeas this week. Second, I have a big bag of fresh green beans in my fridge that I won't be able to touch until Sunday, and possibly not even then. Could I freeze them? When I do thaw or cook them I will likely saute them to put into work salads.

Yes, you can freeze green beans. Many suggest blanching the green beans before freezing, because there is apparently an enzyme that can break down the vegetable during its deep freeze. But this author debunks that theory. Check it out.

Nice article about Salmon ! Keep up the good work ! When you all get a chance, come and check out the Salmon Slider - a salmon burger in between two savory pancakes at Indique! - Cheers! Chef Vinod

Joe and I have had Vinod's sliders, and can attest to their deliciousness! 

Well, you've removed us from the heat because we're just cooked through, then you've whisked in 1 more tablespoon of butter, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Tamar and Jim for helping us handle the a's! Now for the giveaway books:

The chatter who asked about sources of acid in cooking will get "The Washington Post Cookbook." The chatter who asked about how to love acorn squash will get "Cook on a Shoestring." Send your mailing info to Becky at, and she'll send 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 deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal.
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