Free Range on Food

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, October 17, 2007; 1:00 PM

A chat with the Food section staff is a chance for you to ask questions, offer suggestions and share information with other cooks and food lovers. It is a forum for discussion of food trends, ingredients, menus, gadgets and anything else food-related.

Each chat, we will focus on topics from the day's Food section. You can also read the transcripts of past chats. Do you have a question about a particular recipe or a food-related anecdote to share? The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Read about the staff of the Food section.

The transcript follows.


Bonnie: Good afternoon to all, and thanks for tuning in. Editor Joe has escaped the daily grind (off to Japan for fun and cooking sessions), but Jane Black and Walter are on hand to answer your grass-fed beef and venison queries; Leigh, Jane Touzalin and I will chime in on other matters.

What'd you think of our first Tool Test, a new monthly feature in Food? We've already heard from readers with suggestions for what to try next.

Best poster honors today will get you "Roast Chicken and Other Stories," by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham -- or perhaps a slightly used Garlic Pro E-Zee-Dice? Let's roll.


Oak Hill, Va.: Hi. Some questions about venison. Just how much fat does a 4-ounce portion of venison have as compared to beef? The article says it's lower, but by how much? Also, how does venison compare, fat-wise, with buffalo? I've been using buffalo as a low-fat beef alternative--does it have a similar flavor to venison?

Walter: Considering the cuts available for comparison, and at four ounces, beef tenderloin has 20 grams of fat, venison 2 and buffalo has 1 gram. In taste, buffalo has a notable sweet flavor. Farm-raised venison has a rich, lean, meaty flavor.


Community Garden: I made a big batch of pesto with the basil from our little plot. But I have lots left. Can it be frozen? How else can pesto be used, other than with pasta?

Jane Black: Pesto freezes better without cheese but you can certainly freeze it with it. It usually lasts for six months. My advice is to freeze it in an ice cube tray, then store the cubes in a Ziploc bag so you have individual serving sizes.

As for other things to do with it:

--Use it instead of mayo on a turkey sandwich.
--Toss with boiled potatoes

--Stir a little into a vinaigrette or a vegetable soup


Washington, D.C.: Hello all! I really enjoyed today's articles on grass-fed beef and farm-raised deer. Do you know where I could purchase the deer produced by Gail Rose? Does she contract only with the national stores mentioned in the break-out box?


Walter: Deer farmer Gail Rose sells frozen venison at a shop on her Deauville Fallow Deer Farm in Basye, Va. (540-856-2130). She does not sell to stores.


Reston, Va.: Great section today. My question is about the apricot muffin recipe. It calls for pecans, but my husband is allergic to them. Could almonds be substituted?

Bonnie: Sure, try using toasted/slivered need something that will kinda blend in with the batter.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Rangers - I was lucky enough to be in the Southwest of France a few weeks ago and fell in love with the markets. Other than the market in Dupont, are there others on the weekends in DC/MD/VA? Thanks!

Jane Black: There's a small market on U Street at 14th on Saturdays and the Bloomingdale Farmers Market at 1st and R on Sundays. The market in Arlington on Saturdays is also large and fantastic. Here's a full list of markets that we ran on our site last year


McLean, Va.: I made Joe's 12 hour tomatoes last night, I'd love some ideas on using them. What about sauce?

Bonnie: Good for you! He tosses them with hot pasta,which makes a kind of instant sauce (at least that's what he wrote in the recipe headnote) -- in addition to using them on crostini, as part of an antipasto platter with olives and smoked fish. I'm sure they'd be great wrapped up in a parchment packet of fish or boneless chicken breast for the grill, too.


Washington, D.C.: I have been looking through a number of Thai cookbooks from the library, trying to get an idea of how to make a better pad thai. I noticed that several of them put pad thai under the "street food" section and catsup is used in place of tamarind. Is this accurate? Is ketchup used instead of tamarind in authentic pad thai? Is this because it is cheaper for street vendors?

Walter: Put down that ketchup bottle. Tom Sarobon, manager of Simply Home, a Thai-inspired restautant in the U Street corridor, says he has never heard of a tomato product in pad Thai. Go with a tamarind-based sauce.


Washington, D.C.: I've really gotten into baking, but I only know how to bake banana bread, brownies, and cookies; and I do eat what I bake. Could you give me some suggestions for more savory foods that I can bake, particularly for dinner (no meat please).

Leigh: I'm not sure it will give you the same satisfaction as baking brownies, or exactly what you mean, but a roasted vegetable casserole with a biscuit top can be a good cold weather dinner. You can vary the flavors to change things up; curry or herbs or garlic and tomato paste can each give different moods to essentially the same dish. Root vegetables and potatoes will stand up better to this treatment than leafy greens or delicates.


Rockville, Md.: I like the new gadget column, but personally, I just like using my knife to chop garlic. I have a small kitchen and I just don't have room for a bunch of stuff.

Bonnie: Gotcha. When you have a lot of it to chop, how do you keep it corralled?


Jane Touzalin: I have some old business to dispense with. Last week I posted a recipe for a lemon-tahini dressing from the '70s-'80s-era Golden Temple of Conscious Cookery restaurant that called for a cup of sesame oil. A chatter wondered whether that wasn't an awful lot of such a strong-tasting oil. Since then, I've gotten a clarification via e-mail. The oil called for in the recipe is NOT the toasted sesame oil familiar in Asian foods but cold-pressed sesame oil, a relatively mild, neutral oil. Big difference!


Washington, D.C.: Someone posted on Tom's column that Anthony Bourdain would be speaking at GWU. Do you have the details?

Leigh: Anthony Bourdain will be speaking as part of the Smithsonian Associates program at 7 p.m. at the Lisner auditorium on Nov. 7.


Lothian, Md.: "Garlic in the Chop Shop" -- I think you missed the greatest "chopper" for garlic. I have a Garlic Alligator purchased from Williams-Sonoma several years ago. It makes a perfect 1/8 inch dice of garlic and is wonderful for soups and sauces where I need to chop two or three bulbs (I LOVE garlic!). I bought one for my sister's birthday this year (it's now called a mini vegetable chopper and slices as well as dices and is easier to clean than the original) and she loves it as well. They are $18 and you can get them at the stores or online.

Bonnie: I wish we had, too, Lothian. Can you use it for more than 1 thing?


for the baker: There are lots of savory things to bake. Check out Anissa Helou's newish Savory Breads from the Mediterranean (not the exact title, but that's her name and it has Savory in the title). Really good stuff.

Bonnie: Good idea.


Cooking with Buffalo: While we're talking about red meats, what are your comments/tips/suggestions for cooking with buffalo?

What should I do differently than when cooking with beef or venison?


Walter: The most important thing to remember when cooking venison and buffalo is speed. These lean meats cook far quicker than beef. Don't dry them out.

Bonnie: That's why Venison Rack Chops is a good recipe to try -- chops are marinated in yogurt, which helps keep them moist.


Reston, Va.: Ha ha.. i like Wolfgang's comments on current food tv shows. i have a $10 off coupon for a push up bra from VS, maybe I'll try out for the next food network star!

I love your new tool column, as I am a horrible gadget-impulse buyer. this will help curb my buying habits.

Jane Black: Yes, I thought it was funny (and true) that Puck said that. He was a surprisingly down-to-earth guy.


Tysons Corner, Va.: Hi - love the chats. I made some delicious mashed potatoes last night with carmelized onions and gruyere cheese. Have quite a lot leftover. Do you have any creative ways to use leftover mashed potatoes?

Jane Black: Here's one idea: spread them on top of some ground, seasoned beef with carrots and celery and you've got shepherd's pie.


Lothian, Md.: RE: Pesto -- Also great in scrambled eggs (think green eggs & ham) and a cube or two in any tomato based pasta sauce. I just made my annual batch of pesto -- I have always made with cheese and frozen that way (in ice cube trays, then zip lock bags). The color may be different than fresh, but the taste is the same. I also use mine beyond 6 months -- it tastes fine, but is there a real time limit?

Jane Black: Yum. Great idea with the eggs. Yes, it probably lasts more than six months but that's what most books I've seen say for a limit for how long you should keep it.


Oh deer...: The venison my father would bring home from hunting always had to be marinated, he said, or it would taste too gamey. Is store-bought venison milder in flavor?

Walter: Dad was, more than likely, bringing home the common whitetail deer which tends to be gamy in flavor. The venison sold in most stores and restaurants is red deer which is far milder.


Fairfax, Va.: Loved Elinor Klivans' story about nuts. In our house, nut allergies mean the only nuts I can use in baking are almonds, cashews or peanuts. Does Elinor have a baking recipe that uses one of those varieties?

Bonnie: I'm sure she does. Send an e-mail to and we'll try to help you out.


Washington, D.C.: This is a weird question, but here goes:

I know you can make an approximation of sun-dried tomatoes by drying your tomatoes in the oven. Does the same process work for grapes/raisins? Or other dried fruit?


Bonnie: Oh man, wish Joe were here to answer this himself. He's been experimenting with oven-drying lots of things, mostly in the fruit and veg range so far. I know you can certainly use the oven, but it's perhaps not the most energy-efficient (12 to 14 hours in a 175-degree oven), and there's some tending/turning to do during that time. Still, it's preferable to outdoor drying trays and bugs and...


Rockville, Md.: Savory baker: During Rammadan, we make savory puff pastries. Basically stuff puff pastry triangles with curried beef and then bake.

Leigh: Great idea! Puff pastry is hugely versatile.


i hate chopping garlic: it's messy, it gets all over the cutting board, counter and floor, and makes my fingers smell for a long long time... i love the taste of freshly minced garlic, but i am willing to sacrifice it for jarred minced garlic just because it's so much less painful.

Bonnie: Some of the tools are designed with you in mind, but we found there was more close contact with the garlic than advertised. I guess it depends on how much you really love that fresh flavor. Tom Lachman, a News Service editor here, was just telling me about the garlic he's been growing. I'd like to give that a try next year.


Choosing Beef: Would you please talk about choosing beef? What are the primary choices to make, and how does one ensure getting quality meat?

I'm no longer in a major city, so am not looking for vendors so much as general guidance.

Jane Black: That's a really tough question. And I'm afraid the only answer I have is to try to buy it from someone you trust. It's not easy these days when there are so few butchers and most meat comes prepackaged in supermarkets. But I'd ask around and find out if there's a small shop selling organic or high-quality beef and get to know the folks who work there.


Austin, Tex.: I tried the lowfat soul baked mac and cheese (

last night, and I have to admit that I was disappointed. Maybe I did something wrong? It was sort of gritty/lumpy and not very creamy. Also, kind of bland. Maybe I didn't cook the flour enough before adding the milk? Maybe I am expecting too much from lowfat mac and cheese? I still look forward to trying the corn pudding recipe!

Bonnie: That's a shame. Hard for me to say what might have gone awry, but the tester's family was quite pleased with the results, and the sample she brought in was tasty enough even at room temperature. Send an e-mail to with your contact info and I'll try to investigate further. Keep in mind, it's tough to compare it with the real thing.


chopping garlic: When mincing garlic I toss a little salt over the cloves after peeling. It seems to help "anchor" the stuff to the board and helps with the process. Not sure why.

Leigh: The grit gives it a little extra traction.

Bonnie: Maybe the salt draws out some moisture, too.


Cast iron cooking: Hi there,

Just got a new Lodge 12" cast iron pan, but don't know what to cook in it! Went to Spago recently, and the chef came out & told me he had done our fish in cast iron, so I ran out & got one. But what else can I do in it, and do you have recipes? It is preseasoned, although it does say to wash with water, dry, then oil before 1st use.


Jane Touzalin: There are very few things you CAN'T cook in it. For my mom, for example, a cast-iron skillet was her pretty much her only frying pan. She fried eggs in it in the morning and made upside-down cake in it for the evening dessert. But there are some traditional/common uses for it: corn bread, for instance, and fried chicken, and searing fish and meats. It's great for foods that need to go straight from stovetop to oven or broiler. But if you want special recipes, go to the Lodge Web site, They have a sort of club you can sign up for that involves recipes e-mailed monthly. The Web site also has great tips on care of your new pan.


pesto use: What about on pizza? Use it instead of red sauce and add chicken with tomatoes. YUM.

Jane Black: Another very good idea!


ketchup vs. tamarind : I suspect "ketchup" was substituted because in many parts of the country you can't get stuff like tamarind paste. Lots of items you can easily get in NYC or DC you can't get when you are in the middle of the country or in a rural area - even in rural areas around here.

Walter: No matter where you live, ingredients such as tamarind paste are always available by mail. That's why we have Google.


Washington, D.C.: My dad took my son and I out for lunch today, as he was in town on business. We ordered a bunch of stuff and the only thing my 19 month old would eat was the vegetable lo mein. And he ate it with relish! Any mom knows that when you find something that a toddler will you eat, you better learn how to make it. Do you have a recipe for vegetable lo mein? It was such a pleasure to see him nibbling at the veggies. And yes, please let it be a recipe that is an Americanized Chinese version with the thick brown sauce over the noodles. He just loved it!

Bonnie: Sure, and this one's kid-friendly: Saucy Lo Mein


Falls Church, Va.: When German Gourmet opens the new store, will the old one shut down? It's such a great neighborhood place, I'd hate to lose it.

Walter: Not to worry. The new, larger German Gourmet is open, and with a big parking lot. The original location is going strong and will not close.


Washington, D.C.: Wow, I loved the cooking section today. I am definitely a gadget person and loved the article on the garlic gadgets. All we now need is the recipe for 40 clove garlic chicken. I've had it, never made it and it is delicious! At least I know I can use my Cuisinart for garlic chopping.

Bonnie: Be advised that in the larger Cuisinarts, the blade sits up off the floor of the bowl so that you may not get the same chopping results as we did with the Mini-Prep Processor.


Thanksgiving planning...: I found a recipe (I think in one of the Frugal Gourmet's books) for baking a custard inside a whole pumpkin, and want to try it as an interesting variation for Thanksgiving dinner. (Apparently you serve a scoop of custard with the surrounding pumpkin flesh to each person - so you kind of get custard-topped pumpkin pieces.) However, quite a lot of people discussing a similar recipe online have had problems getting the custard to set inside the pumpkin. Do you have any tips for dealing with that? Or should I just bake the custard and the pumpkin separately and pour one into the other (seems like cheating, really)?

Bonnie: I think the pumpkin needs to be hollowed out and baked separately (with foil on top), then bake the custard in it. Pumpkin baking and cooking's on the Food horizon in the next few weeks.


Burke, Va.: My son (20 months) loves squash and sweet potato, so I figure he'll love pumpkin too. I can and have cooked with the canned stuff, but I have little experience cooking with actual pumpkins - do I have to chunk and peel them first, or can I roast them as I do butternut squash and THEN scoop the flesh out of the shell, when it's easy?

And does anyone have a recipe for that lovely Afghan dish with pumpkin in yogurt sauce? Marvelous stuff- I really would like to make that at home.

Jane Black: I'll chime in on the first part: Yes, you can cook them just like you do butternut squash. Try the sugar pumpkins; they're naturally sweet, which is why they're often used for pies.


Reston, Va.: Hello, Free Rangers! I have some leftover stale French bread and thought I'd try making a savory bread pudding for the first time. I also have some fresh spinach - could I use that in there? What else do I add? Thanks for the advice and for these weekly chats, which are very informative!

Jane Touzalin: Just find a savory bread pudding recipe you like and improvise. The spinach is a good idea. Mushrooms and spinach are natural companions. Then in addition to the usual egg-and-milk bread-pudding base, how about adding some soft goat cheese. Also, sauteed red onion and a little sauteed garlic. Nutmeg always goes great with spinach. Some grated Parmesan on top. Go wild!


Mushroom substitution for fat in baked goods: On the website today, one of the major bakers (Kipling's Cakes) is reported to be experimenting with mushroom cells to replace fat in anything that uses fat for texture and flavor. This scares the heck out of me--I'm seriously, Epi pen carryingly, allergic to mushrooms. How do I find out if these changes take place? What do I look for on the label? It took forever for me to learn that Quorn is mushroom based (luckily, I hadn't tried it).

Jane Black: That's really interesting -- I've never heard about it. It's not clear to me what you'd have to look for on the label but, I imagine, if it does become popular, there will be some indication that there are mushrooms in there. (The same way that lots of things now tell you they have nuts whereas they didn't used to.) We can look into this though.

For other interested readers, here's the story


Lothian, Md.: Much as I love garlic and the smell of anything simmering with it, I HATE the smell on my hands so I always use surgical gloves when dealing with onions or garlic. I buy them at the warehouse club (packs of 200) and use them for anything messy or smelly in the kitchen then toss.

Bonnie: Yeah, that's an issue. We used one of those stainless steel "bars" and it worked for a while, but then the smell sort of returned to our hands. Not that we minded.


Bethesda, Md.: You're so right about the comparative danger of venison drying out. Try this with venison tenderloin steaks on the grill: marinate for 15 minutes per side in worcestershire sauce, then wrap in bacon. Grill for about the same time you would for comparably thick beef.

Walter: Everything is better with bacon. Thanks for added fat.


roasted vegetable casserole: Do you have a recipe for that roasted veggie casserole mentioned earlier? Does it need a crust?

Leigh: I don't have a specific recipe for that. I was concocting it in my head and it can be morphed to suit whatever veggies you have on hand. If you make a biscuit topping you don't need a crust and can make sure it doesn't get soggy.


Rockville, Md.: I would like to buy a reasonably priced soda siphon and was wondering if your drinks consultant has a preference between ISI and Liss which are the only brands I've found in my price range. thank you

Bonnie: Jason's got an Isi, which he bought at Target. It's working fine for him, he says -- but he doesn't use it that often, and hasn't done performance comparisons with the Liss models, which I see are also at Target (online).


Maryland: What in the heck is Quorn?

Jane Black: It's a protein made from processed mushrooms. (Actually, Quorn is a brand name.) It's popular in England where it's a standard add to vegetarian dishes. In other words, it's their answer to tofu.


Washington, D.C.: I would love a salad dressing that uses my bottle of tarragon vinegar. Any recipes or suggestions I can look up?

Jane Touzalin: Really, you don't need a special recipe for it; you can substitute tarragon vinegar for the regular vinegar in your standard vinaigrette recipe. Or make a remoulade sauce/dressing with it, or use it in coleslaw. Or marinate cucumber slices in it. That should take care of your bottle.


Deer farms?: I never really thought much about eating deer (guess it's because of watching Bambi when i was little), so i never thought about where deer meat came from -- i just assumed venison came from a deer living in the wild who was then hunted and turned into meat. But I recently came across this article about an undercover investigation inside a deer farm in NY and was horrified by the cruelty:

Just thought others might want to know about this. I had no idea deer farms even existed.

Walter: There are more than 7,800 deer farms in this country. But most are hunting preserves. Only 20 percent produce venison for sale. The article would indicate that the industry needs tighter regulations.


Richmond, Va.: I have been making a lot of soup lately (from that NE Soup Factory book - excellent!) and am looking for some good suggestions for side dishes to serve with it besides the ubiquitous salad. I always make some rolls or cornbread but it doesn't usually seem like enough for dinner.

I also have a Lodge skillet and I love it. It makes the best cornbread, crispy and cooks a lot faster than in the Pyrex because I preheat the skillet first to get that crunchy crust.

Jane Black: Maybe you need to beef up the salads? Toss apple, walnuts, goat's cheese into salad with a butternut squash soup; grilled chicken, pecans and blue cheese to go with a black bean soup. Basically, balance what's in the salad between protein, crunch and something a little sweet or salty and you'll have more of a "real" meal.


Silver Spring, Md.: Some of the KitchenAid food processors have an internal mini-bowl that will probably give similar results to the cuisinart mini-prep.

By the way, I had a mini-prep. It lasted about three weeks before dying a horrid grinding death...and we had NOT overloaded or misused it.

Bonnie: Heavens! Did the store or the company make good on a new one?


Washington, D.C.: So I recently saw instructions for curing your own olives, and I'm intrigued. Has anyone there ever tried this? Is there anywhere around here to get the uncured olives? I saw a mail order source, but I always prefer going and getting them myself. I was disappointed to see that they take 6 months to cure - there goes my Christmas idea.

Bonnie: You'd find them in Middle Eastern markets, but I think I just saw green ones in the produce section at Balducci's.


Leftover French Bread: You can also make the wonderful Papa Al Pomodoro, a soup that consists mainly of leftover bread, tomatoes, olive oil and some seasoning.

Lots of recipes on the Internet. And there are three separate books I know of about using up stale artisan bread. Cooking with Artisan Bread is the name of the best one.

Jane Black: Love that book.


re: lemon-tahini dressing: Jane,

If a cold pressed sesame seed oil is used, couldn't EVOO be a great substitute?

Jane Touzalin: Maybe not in this case; the recipe also called for a cup of olive oil, PLUS the cup of sesame or safflower oil.


Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the Kerala Jewish Fish recipe. I'm a fan of Andreas Viestad; enjoyed his PBS show on Scandinavian cooking.

I'm intrigued by these cebub peppercorns. Never heard of them before. Can you tell us more about them. Are they widely used in Indian cooking?

Bonnie: Indonesian, I think, but related to the black peppercorns that are native to India. Andreas is a cool guy who knows a lot about food. Cubeb is perhaps more pungent.


Upstate, NY: I made a variation on Joe's 12 hour tomatoes last weekend. I had a bunch of cherry tomatoes that had split on the vine due to a heavy rain. I picked them quickly after the rain but didn't have anything to use them in immediately, so I decided to try Joe's recipe. I did them in the toaster oven on a piece of foil, but since they were so small they only took about 4 hours. They're really delicious and were a good use of tomatoes that might have otherwise gone to waste.

Bonnie: Joe will read this from Tokyo in the next few days, and smile, and bow.


Bethesda, Md.: For Walter --

You're spot on that everything is better with bacon. That's perhaps the only good thing about the current weather: there are still local vine-grown tomatoes for BLTs!

Walter: Grab them while you can.


Re sides for soup: Two of my favorite combos:

Tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich (using the Lodge pan!) and mushroom soup with goat cheese toasts (use slices of a baguette).

Jane Touzalin: Great way to combine two topics! You're right about the grilled cheese sandwich -- a classic use of a cast-iron pan.

Jane Black: And I will tell you my favorite add to grilled cheese -- mango chutney. Adds a surprising sweetness that goes really well with cheese.


Bonnie: The oven timer's just gone off, so we'll be on our way. The Lothian chatter who mentioned the Garlic Alligator (and followed up!) wins the book. Remember to send your contact info to

Next week, there's dim sum expertise, Chef on Call and more...c'mon back!


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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