Free Range on Food

Sep 03, 2014

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you're enjoying this week's food coverage: Tamar Haspel's excellent breakdown of the pros and cons of small and large farming operations; Laura Kumin's look at a century-old cannoli operation in Silver Spring; Cathy Barrow's can-them-while-you-CAN-can piece on the most important preserving you can do all summer (tomatoes); and ex-pat Kelly DiNardo's essay on reinvigorating her cooking now that she's moved to landlocked, produce-deprived Switzerland. Among many other things!

Tamar and Cathy are in the house to answer any of your wonky food policy (TH) or canning (CB) questions, but both of them can also handle plenty of other topics. And we have Carrie "Spirits" Allan ready for you booze-inclined types. And Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin will make an appearance to help take on any grilling/barbecue questions, too. Along with us regulars, of course. So here we go!

We'll have a little book prize for our favorite chatter today, so make it good...

My beau and I are participating in the dinner en blanc on Thursday. I'm wondering if you have any recipe suggestions that travel easily. For a main course I was thinking of a pasta dish (and have a recipe for that). I'm not sure about the starter or dessert. Thanks!

Hmm. Looks like the call is for "quality items." Are  you sharing? For starters, how about Fig Spread, Gorgonzola and Arugula Crostini? Easy to assemble. Or Parmigiano 'Gelato,' truly decadent -- maybe with thin slices of speck alongside. Or Spinach and Walnut Tarts.

For dessert: Blueberry-Gin Gelatins or Praline Tiramisu. (Both are assembled in individual servings.) Bring extras and you'll be the talk o' the table.


FYI, for those who don't know about DIB, essentially a fancy picnic potluck, here's a link.

Hi there....I would like to bring a dinner for a friend and her family as she is recovering from surgery. They family adheres to a gluten and lactose free diet. While I can easily think of casseroles with rice, corn tortillas, etc., I am struggling with the no-cheese restriction. I'm drawing a blank so any suggestions would be helpful.

How about a nice Vegetable Biryani or Kale and Chickpea Stew?

Kale and Chickpea Stew

A question for Cathy: I'm an entry-level canner (my wonderful in-laws just bought me all the supplies for my birthday this summer), and am interested in canning some applesauce this fall. My typical recipe for freezing has always been to just slice the apples and throw them into the crockpot for a few hours with some vanilla and cinnamon (skins on and everything), and then mash them gently. Do you have a similar, low/no-added sugar recipe that can be shelf-stable after hot water processing? Thanks!

Applesauce is a great food to can and you don't need to add any sugar at all. I chop about 10 pounds of apples, add about 1/4 cup of water and cook until tender, about 15 minutes at a strong simmer. For chunky sauce, mash with a potato masher. I like a smooth sauce so I include the cores, seeds and peel when cooking, to keep the sauce a pretty pink, and then put it through a food mill. Place in pint jars (1/2-inch headspace) and process for 15 minutes. 

I really enjoyed the article on cooking in Switzerland. I lived overseas for most of the last 15 years, and I really learned to cook Indian food when I lived in central Europe. There were no Indian restaurants around, so I took all the dried spices I could possibly need, shipped a case of coconut milk, and worked my way through Madhur Jaffrey's "Quick and Easy Indian Cooking." It was a great break from meat and potatoes and cabbage!


Article: The mother of invention? Boredom.

Glad you liked it! We'll make sure author Kelly knows.

Hi, guys. I'm visiting a friend who's recently had a baby. Any suggestions for make-ahead savory brunch dish I could bring to share that could also be frozen if there are leftovers? Other than quiche ;) Thanks!

Nice. Check out the trove of Make It, Freeze It, Take It recipes in our database; I recommend the Spicy Carrot, Tomato, Chorizo and Cilantro Soup. Brunch does not have to be all quichey.


Make It, Freeze It, Take It recipes

Spicy Carrot, Tomato, Chorizo and Cilantro Soup


This year I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of peaches available at the local Giant in McLean. I still have to put them in a bag for a day to fully ripen, but they've been juicy and tasty. Not as good as fresh off the tree, but better than I've found in stores in recent years.

Good to know!

My garden is bursting with green beans and I want to freeze them before they go I don't have time to blanch them, Can I roast a bunch in the oven and freeze them? They won't be as veritable as the blanched green beans but I still will hae some of summer's goodness this winter. Any other suggestions of what to do?

I always blanch and freeze green beans. I'm afraid that roasted goodness would turn mushy in the freezer. If you try it, please let us know how it works!

If you did roast and freeze, they could become the basis of salsa, soup, sauces....

Cathy--I'm puzzled about the new recommendations from the jar mfgs that lids should not be heated before being put onto jars before processing. I notice you have instructions to heat water and put lids in, in your recipe today. I am torn--am using lids bought last year, so following traditional directions, but not sure about how to deal with newly manufactured lids going forward. Your thoughts?

I know what you mean! The new rules just emerged last week and everyone is scrambling. I will admit I was still warming the lids this weekend. Old habits die hard. 

Basically, the new BPA free lids have had a higher incidence of seal failure. Ball has released new recommendations stating that the BPA free lids do not need to be heated before use.  So heat last year's lids and don't heat the new ones.

It's getting cooler, and work is a bit crazy (we're in an office with some renovations going on) and I was thinking it would be fun to make something over the weekend and bring in lunch for my esteemed co-workers. Typically, I'd do a pot of chili or barbeque, but we have a couple of vegetarians in our office and I don't want to leave them out. Any one-pot suggestions? I could supplement with chips or rolls, but something like curry would be a challenge because of the nuts/bananas/raisins. Bonus if you give me multiple suggestions that the office can vote on! Thanks for all you do.

We've decided to freeze some of our bumper crop of chard this year. We've found instructions on how to freeze it, but we're looking for suggestions on what to do with it once we thaw it. We usually saute our chard, but I imagine that won't work with previously frozen greens. Inspire us!

I freeze all sorts of greens, usually in 8 oz packets. Make sure to squeeze all the moisture out before freezing! Use the frozen, chopped greens in gratins, soups, frittata and such.

How should I prepare fresh corn to freeze? Do I just cut the kernels off the cob? Should I blanch the kernels? How do I make "stock" with the cobs?

Cut the kernels off the cob in one direction and you'll have kernel corn. Run the knife back in the other direction and you'll have creamed corn. I usually blanch the kernels for about a minute, then shock in cold water. For the creamed corn, I pack all the corn milk and kernels together. (By the way, you could put the corn in jars, but a pressure canner is required for shelf stability.)

To make a corn cob stock, cover the stripped cobs with cold water. Add half an onion and a big pinch of salt. Simmer (do not boil) for an hour. Strain. If freezing, cool the stock in an ice bath. Or use right away. The stock loses flavor and oomph quickly.

You can also microwave the corn in the husks and everything, and they husk/de-silk easily. I show you that tip and my favorite tip for cutting the kernels on a PostTV video, just out this week. (Also, I like to run the kernels across a grater for creamed corn...)

PostTV: Cutting and shucking corn

I'm interested in learning more about the Paprika app from Kelly Di Nardo's article. I took a look at the website. Can you upload recipes from anywhere on the internet? How about recipes saved as docs on your computer?

I just downloaded it to my iPhone and took it for a quick spin: Looks pretty useful. You can upload recipes into the system from anywhere on the Net, yes, and then can scale, create shopping list, email, add to calendars and meal plans, sort by various qualities. Doesn't look like you can upload recipes saved as computer docs, though.

The last couple years my mom give me a homemade-canned jar of these sweet pickles. Other than a tiny garnish on top of a deviled egg, I have no idea what to do with them. Please advise!

Not too exciting, but my favorite thing I did with the bread and butter pickles I made last year was to put them in grilled cheese. Other ideas?

Is there a 'best' way to cook it? I've seen a few overnight recipes that seem convenient.

I can't resist this one. I used to use only steel-cut oats, and I'd bring them to a boil and let them soak overnight.  But I have succumbed to the temptation of ordinary rolled oats.  1/2 cup oats, 1 cup water (with cinnamon and a pinch of salt, and a cut-up banana if you have one) into the microwave for 3 minutes.  Perfect every time.

A question for Mrs. Wheelbarrow: I can applesauce using pretty much your method, but I add a couple of cinnamon sticks. I remove them before I put the sauce into jars. Are the cinnamon sticks okay from the perspective of keeping the acidity at a safe level? My applesauce has fans who are very attached to that hint of cinnamon!

Absolutely safe to add cinnamon sticks! And yum!

I made a hot sauce the other night, using a recipe from Mrs Wheelbarrow (I think I saw it linked in a chat here). I followed the instructions, except substituting some serranos from the garden for jalapenos from the market. I got 1 cup less than the recipe described, which is OK - these things happen when canning. However, I'm not sure about the viscosity of the sauce. Anyone here have any experience with homemade hot sauces? For comparison purposes, it's thicker than Tabasco or Franks, but less thick than Inner Beauty. Anyhow, if it turns out that it's too thick when I open the canning jars I may just add some liquid (white vinegar?) until I like the thickness.

Cathy says:

Serrano hot sauce is one of life's simple pleasures!   Usually that particular hot sauce (and I'm assuming you used this recipe) is rather thick, almost thick like salsa. It's not a squeeze bottle hot sauce. Still, it's surprising you got a whole cup less -- perhaps it cooked longer than the three minutes? I think you can easily add some white or cider vinegar when it's opened if you find it's too thick. Shake it well before deciding.

Thank you for your suggestion and link to Corsican Stuffed Peppers. They were delish! I'm planning on using the tomato, eggplant, sausage, egg mix as a stuffing in a roast game hen. Any ideas on a vegetable side dish?

Seems like you could use something nice and crisp, perhaps raw, to go with that, no? A few thoughts:



RECIPE: Kale and Cucumber Salad With Avocado Tahini Dressing



RECIPE: White House Kale Salad


RECIPE: Moroccan-Style Carrot and Beet Salad

Hi Tamar, I enjoyed your farm piece today. What about farm ownership? I'd like to think locally owned farms, whether small or medium sized, are going to be more concerned with stewardship of the land and sustainability, even if they sell to Birdseye, than gigantic multi-nationals. How does this impact the equation?

There's an idea out there that big corporations own farms, but they don't, generally.  Farms are owned by individuals and families, and they contract with big companies to sell their products.  I talk to a lot of those big farmers, and they're all concerned with stewardship.  Many have hard choices because they also need to grow in such a way as to pay this year's bills.  That means change happens slowly, but it does seem to be happening.  

ARTICLE: Big vs. small farms: Which are better for the planet?

Live chats! PostTV! Paprika apps! Good old-fashioned home cooking is not so old-fashioned around here :)

Funny! Well, we've been doing the live chats for at least 10 years! Ahead of our time, I suppose. Now it seems hip, doesn't it?

I've canned, I've capresed, I've sauced pasta. Still, tomatoes await on the kitchen counter. I have never made a tomato soup that really thrilled me. Any thoughts on the best ever? I lean towards spicy, not sweet.

How bout this? Chili-fied, from Mr. Shahin.



RECIPE: Grilled and Chilled Tomato Soup

Enjoyed Tamar's article...I grew up on a small (65) acre farm in NE Ohio where my five siblings and I milked cows before and after school, took care of other farm animals, and in general worked pretty darn hard. While we hated it as kids, looking back, the lessons we learned and working hard and being responsible were invaluable for our role as adults. In today's society where so many kids seem to take so much of what they have for granted, the lesson of working hard is one that would be of help to lots of kids if they had to live and work on small farms -- and is a valuable benefit for families/kids of all those small farmers out there (all IMHO, of course!)

Now that only about 1-2% of Americans farm, very few kids have that kind of experience, and I gotta think it's a good experience to have. I didn't farm as a kid, but I do as an adult, and the hard work involved comes home to me every day. It's one of the reasons I bristle when people think any one class of farmers (usually the large, conventional, commodity kind) are bad guys. Farmers work hard.

Thanks for weighing in here!

Layer them on a tuna sandwich. Or on a cracker with a slice of sharp cheese.

Have a nice bunch in the fridge. Is this okay to use for salads, and if so, should it be blanched?

Of course it is! Millions of people can't be wrong. You don't have to cook it for a salad, but my favorite thing to do is to de-stem the leaves, then stack them, roll, and thinly slice them. Then you can "massage" them -- picking them up by the handful and squeezing, dropping, squeezing more, for a few minutes until they turn darker green and silky. Makes them more pleasant to eat. Some people do it with oil, vinegar/citrus and/or the dressing (or salt) on when they massage, but I don't.

And here's one of my favorite ways to use it:



RECIPE: Animalistic Kale Salad


I love to roast/broil my tomatoes when I make soup. Toss tomatoes, onions and garlic in some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper and then roast at high heat until the tomatoes start to char then blend everything up. Maybe it won't knock your socks off, but I love it.

This can be confusing. I just looked at two boxes of lids I bought this year. The front of the box looks the same. The backs of the boxes have different instructions. Oh, the newer (apparently) box has "Made in USA" on the top. AARGH!

Yes, the "Made in USA" label is a good tell. Here's a blog post that goes into pretty extensive detail about the change.

So I bought a giant pack of gluten-free black bean spaghetti. I'm at a loss now. . . . Any ideas?

When I deal with sub-optimal pasta (i.e. anything that isn't the white semolina kind, with it's wonderful texture and chew), I make sure to use it in a dish with strong flavors and nice chunky textures.  A tomato sauce with black olives, rosemary, and chickpeas, maybe.  Or a creamy sauce with greens and sausage.  That way, everyone will pay attention to the sauce -- misdirection is your friend!

I did a batch (~15 lbs) of crushed tomatoes this past weekend. I didn't have many quart jars, and never need that much in one sitting anyway, so I opted to use what I had on hand, 1.5 pint and 1 pint jars (both wide mouth). I processed as per quarts to be safe with the 1.5 pint jars. I followed the National Center for Food Preservation guidelines otherwise, but is something I'm curious about. Sometimes when I buy canned whole tomatoes they have a few basil leaves tucked inside. Is is OK to add a few whole leaves to each jar when canning? Does the flavor come through? It is considered safe (I suspect yes, but would like a better informed opinion). I plan on doing another batch this weekend... I need to get some more jars!

Cathy (who had to high-tail it to the Kojo Nnamdi show for a 1 p.m. appearance) says:

I've seen many canners who pop a basil leaf into their canned tomatoes, and while it seems perfectly safe, I recently discussed the use of fresh versus dried herbs with a culinary school instructor, and he said no. Fresh herbs have the potential to harbor bacteria, you see, and that could have an adverse effect on those pretty tomatoes.

By the way, you were spot on. Whenever processing mixed jar sizes, process for the longer time associated with the larger jar size.

What?! No recipe for that delicious-looking Khachapuri featured in Sunday’s Plate Lab?! This is the first dish featured in Plate Lab that I have wanted to make. Please stop teasing us and share the recipe! Otherwise, you are just giving free advertising to restaurants.

Really, that's what we're doing, free advertising? Nah, it's called trend coverage. Plate Lab features a recipe 3 times a month, and the other 1 or 2 times it's a restaurant trend: There have been macarons, shaved ice, khachapuri and more.

No real contribution, I'm here for a tomato (canning) party! My toddler's tomato allergy test just came back negative, so I can have tomatoes to my heart's content (and can them too). And she moderation, apparently. Woohoo!

I understand the impulse to "make the buses run on time" by eliminating some stops in DC. But the stops in front of supermarkets? Yesterday I shopped at the Safeway off Wisconsin at Ellicott and discovered I had to lug my groceries two extra blocks to catch the bus home because some planners deemed the bus-stop at Ellicott unnecessary. Wish I'd noticed before I bought a watermelon and a jug of detergent!

I'm sorry. I feel your pain. I'm a daily Metrobus rider too, and I often cannot understand the decisions made regarding routes and timetables. Sounds like you should contact them!

We participated in the LA version a couple of weeks ago - for appetizers we did a cheese board (all white cheeses!) with charcuterie, followed by ceviche served in stemmed sorbet cups. Elegant and transported easily.

Original poster here... I think the sauce is the consistency you mention, thanks! Not sure about the volume issue. I didn't cook it for longer than the recipe said, though my pot was very wide and extra evaporation may have been due to that. I've got to say, the sauce is very tasty.

Hi, everyone. My family recently started "rolling our own." I usually grill some tofu and we add mint or basil, avocado if on hand, carrots, cukes, scallions, or some combination, and we make a peanut sauce or light dip. My questions are, how the heck do restaurants roll them so fat, secure, and untorn, and anything else yummy you can think to put in there? We are loving this!

Rolling takes practice, but a couple of tips: Don't overfill them, and don't soak them for too long. The wrappers should feel completely soft before you fill them; better to soak them until they seem a little short of ready. They'll continue to soften, and be less likely to tear. Some people also double them up for safer rolling.

You know the basic technique, right? You put the filling toward the end closest to you, leaving an inch or two empty on that end and on the sides, and you lift the end closest to you over for the first roll, then fold over the left and right sides before rolling more. You will get the hang of keeping it tucked and tight as you go.

Also, if you're having trouble, you can always let them stick out on one side and keep things more informal looking, as in the photo for the tofu spring rolls below.

Two ideas for you:



RECIPE: Shrimp Watercress Summer Rolls



RECIPE: Tofu Spring Rolls


My mom blessed us with the same thing. Toss it with olive oil, garlic, red peppers, and cherry tomatoes. It is a perfect side dish to grilled chicken (just watch the fiber content-- it is a side dish, not a main dish, for a reason!)

So far, I have thought of Animal Crackers, Goldfish crackers, and Bug Juice (punch). Any other ideas?

Teddy Grahams or Annie's Honey Bunny Grahams? Gummy Bears? Gummy Worms?

Although you guys probably weren't involved in it, I enjoyed the story on the Dominican baseball players' food network. They seem to have a nice community. Thumbs up to your Sports section colleagues. Too bad that they don't do recipes over there. :)

I’m thinking of finally trying to grill (or smoke?) a whole suckling pig. I suppose I could just look this up on the internet thingy, but I wanted to get some advice on: - Age of the piggy I should be shooting for (i.e., how old is too old for a suckling pig?) - Related to the above, how much should they weigh? - How much pig per person should I count on? - Any breeds of the little fella's that are more desirable than others? - I suppose it’s a given the butcher will take the less desirable parts out (guts). Or should I keep these and throw them on too? - Seasonings? Wood preferences? Low and slow or hot and fast? I’d like a super crispy skin but really want some good kiss from the smoke. I know it’s a multilayered question and likely an article itself, but any quick thoughts are appreciated. Even if the answer is, “Just stick with ribs and butts and don't complicate your life or ours.”

I'm sure others will weigh in, so here's one of our multi-part answers: a few pointers from the scientific side of pig pit cooking, compliments of Robert L. Wolke's old FOOD 101 column.


Article: Going whole hog

What is this?

It's this.

I can recommend the Ball automatic water canner. We're getting older, and not having to deal with a large pot full of water made canning easier for us. Unfortunately for many, it only takes 4 pints or 6 half pints. That worked out fine for us since for jam, we don't use added pectin so it was easy to reduce the standard recipes (an old Blue Book) by 25%. A peck of San Marzanos yielded 4 or so pint jars of sauce. We froze any extra.

I bought a hatch chili because I remembered seeing them raved about here. How should I use it for my introductory taste?

How about this Green Chile Posole?

Green Chile Posole

What to do? Good bread + good butter = lunch. Eat a peach on the side.

I guess I have a different take on the subject. When in Switzerland, eat like the Swiss. My palate changed and I really enjoyed higher quality cheese, bread, and less pre-processed foods. I ate much less beef, though enjoyed the thin sliced air dried Grisons variety. I ate (and still make) Swiss specialties like Rosti, and enjoy fondue. A traditional Raclette meal takes time and equipment (and maybe a fan in the window), but is worth it a few times a year. The wine was abundant and wonderful.

I'd like to see Tamar write again about aquiculture, trends, sustainability, etc. I know she's tackled salmon farming last year in WaPo but I'm curious about other fish culture going on in the US. Many 'foodies' I know are reflexively anti-farming but oceans are overfished so we need creative solutions.

Funny you should mention that. On our way in from harvesting oysters this morning, my husband and I were talking about that very thing.  There's so much interesting stuff going on in aquaculture, and it is the only way we're going to be able to feed fish to a growing population.  It's on my short list.  Thanks for commenting -- it helps to know that at least one person is interested in the subject!

I have friends who own 10000 acres and 100000 acre farms and friends who own 70 acre farms. Farming is still a crap shoot. Doesnt matter if your a rancher raising stock or growing corn or beans. A penny one way or another in price can mean the difference between making a profit or losing money. The price of oil jumps which raises the course of fuel and fertilizer becasue of Putin and a hurricane come thorugh and causes massive crop damage down south. Or a unexpected cold snap in West. All effect he price. S tupid and not rational fuel and foreign policy plays a big part.

I can only add 'amen.'  So many disparate things affect what a farmer grows, how he (or she) grows them, and how much money he makes doing it.  A storm or a war can change everything, overnight.  In all the discussions about ag, t's easy to lose track of the idea that farmers have to make money.

Well, you've stored us in a cool, dark place, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Tamar and Cathy for helping us answer them!

Now, for our giveaway: The chatter who asked about what to do with lacinato kale in the fridge will get "Good Morning Paleo" by Jane Barthelemy. Send your mailing info to, and we'll get it to you!

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, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Carrie Allan. Guest: Canning Class columnist Cathy Barrow; Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel.
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