Free Range on Food: Staffers Solve Your Cooking Conundrums

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, August 12, 2009; 1:00 PM

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. They were online Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 1 p.m. ET.

Archive of past discussions

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Tomatoes: This may be heresy, but when I'm cooking tomatoes in a recipe, I think some of the canned ones taste just as good as the fresh ones I cook, especially some of the Italian brands. I mean, if you're not going to eat them fresh, why not buy canned?

Mary Jo Sweeney: In wintertime when I can't abide the pink hard things that pass for tomatoes, I use good quality canned tomatoes. When I lived in Italy, they put plenty of their summer crop up for use out of season, only used fresh tomatoes in season.

Ellynne Davis: you could always use your own home-canned tomatoes. they've absolutely the best 'canned' tomatoes, ever.

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, and welcome to Free Range today, everyone. Hope you're got tomatoes on the brain, because we've stacked our chat with tomato experts today: particularly, the top two finishers in our annual Top Tomato reader recipe contest: Ellynne Brice Davis, whose Tomato Stack Salad won our hearts this year; and Mary Jo Sweeney, whose Tricolor Tomato Salad With Lime Sour Cream and Pesto was nipping at Ellynne's heels. Both are standing at the ready to help us handle any of your tomato (and other) questions.

For our favorite posts, we have "The Too Many Tomatoes Cookbook" by Brian Yarvin (who wrote about a tomato festival /fight in Pennsylvania for the Travel section recently), as well as "The Bubbly Bar" by Maria Hunt.

Let's do this thing...

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Chicago: As an avowed tomato lover, I adore today's section! Thank you so much for all the recipes and hard work to filter through them. I definitely want to try some of these asap!

I also appreciate the article on how heirloom tomatoes are not always the best - I think people get so caught up on being green and organic and all that other stuff, they don't always take into account other factors. If a tomato is grown right, even on a large corporate farm, it can still be amazing. And vice versa. It can be organic, but if it wasn't grown right, well, no thanks.

Which brings me to my actual question: Gene Weingarten has said several times tomatoes just aren't as good as they used to be in his youth. They've become so mass produced and filled with chemicals that we can never go back to what they used to be. Do you guys think that's true? Have I missed out on a real tomato by not being born 50 years ago?

Jane Black: I haven't seen those articles but I would imagine that he meant the ones you buy at the store, which probably at one point were locally grown and picked ripe. I am not old enough -- yet -- to say for certain that you didn't miss out but based on the heirlooms I've eaten, I'd say you definitely didn't.

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Bethesda, Md.: Spot on, JB, on the heirloom tomatoes. Pure snobbery. For the last few weeks, we've had local Big Boys from the Bethesda Women's Market with the inestimable smoked bacon from that same establishment, lettuce and mayo on white toast and the tomatoes have been marvelous. They have had some green and cracks on the top but, who cares, you cut that off anyway.

Frankly, we wonder why waste tomatoes on other recipes. How can you improve on a fresh BLT (OK, you can add a little egg salad, but that's it)?

Jane Black: Thank you! And I'm with you. A BLT is hard to beat. Maybe one improvement would be to use Joe's candied bacon. He may have special tricks to make it so good. But for those who are interested, here's one from Epicuriou. Easy and outrageously good.

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Washington, D.C.: Jane, Just a comment on heirloom tomatoes. I found a favorite vendor at my local farmer's market and complimented his amazing ones. He said, "The problem with heirlooms is that they tend to split, so most farmers pick them before they ripen to avoid splitting. I would rather lose 50 percent of my crop to splitting but have the best tomatoes." So, I thought your piece on heirlooms was particularly interesting.

Mary Jo Sweeney: Ditto on some experiences with heirlooms. I think you have to find a tomato vendor at a local food market you trust and build a relationship with. Too much shade at my house to grow certain varieties successfully, so I head to markets in AA county.

Jane Black: Interesting that you say people want to avoid splitting. I think heirloom addicts would expect it. After all, isn't the lumpy imperfection part of the whole experience?

What I would add is that I think a lot of farmers at the market are almost afraid to sell hybrids. It's not just the price they can get, though that's part of it. But shoppers are so keen on heirloms, they're sheepish about selling good hybrids.

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Arlington, Va.: I can't wait to try the winning tomato recipes, but have one point of clarification to ask. The Stacked Tomato Salad recipe -- we should use mozzarella cheese (like what goes on pizza), not fresh mozzarella, right? Thanks!

Ellynne Davis: correct, yes

Joe Yonan: You can assume that if want you to use fresh mozzarella in a recipe, we'll definitely say fresh. Big difference!

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Probably a silly question, but alas, if I don't ask, I'll never know:

What the heck is a terrine? The recipe looks interesting, but I'm not sure what the final result actually is. Is it a dip? A jam? Pudding? Am I supposed to eat it on its own?

washingtonpost.com: Terrine of Tomatoes With Tarragon Recipe Details (Washington Post, Aug. 12)

Jane Black: Well, technically, we're using the term terrine loosely here. According to the Food Lovers Companion, a terrine is a pork pate that is cooked in a fat-lined mold. Served in the dish, it's a terrine. Served out, it's a pate.

That's the technical term. Generally, however, the word is used for meat or vegetable dishes are blended and cooked or chilled in a recatangular terrine mold.

Make sense?

Joe Yonan: Although of course we also say that it can be refrigerated in martini glasses. So much for classical terminology, right? In this case, it's like a soft gelatin dish that you would eat as an appetizer.

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Summer Drink Recipes: My toddler and I made lemonade recently (the Real Lemon back-of-bottle recipe) and had a lot of fun doing it. And in this weather it was finished quickly. So I've started on a non-alcoholic drink kick. Sun tea didn't work out, but I would love to try some simple (and maybe not quite as sugary) recipes that we can make together. Can you point me in the right direction?

Thanks!

Mary Jo Sweeney: Try a splash of OJ or other juice mixed in with Sprite Zero. I liked the carbonation, and the only sugar is what's in the juice. I did that on a recent airplane trip at the flight attendant's suggestion.

Jason Wilson: I like to make non-alcoholic drinks with my kids, too. And I wrote about it a few months back. We've been on a blackberry-picking kick, and so we've been muddling them into a drink I wrote about called the Dark Invader. (Btw, I often cheat and just use a little vanilla extract).

Jason Wilson: Btw, here is the link to Timo Janse's mocktail book for kids: "Shake It!" . It's in Dutch, but you can use a web translator to figure out the terms and also to convert from metric to ounces.

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Just wondering...: How long does it take you to send out the "prizes" from your chats? I won a while ago (months) but haven't seen anything yet. Thanks!

Leigh Lambert: Can you resend your address to food@washpost.com. If you remember the promised book that would help. Otherwise, we can always send you something else of interest.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a large bottle of really really good half and half that's going to expire in a day or two - any suggestions for a recipe that uses a large amount of half and half?

Joe Yonan: Here's the thing to remember: Half and half is just that, half cream and half milk. So if you can't find recipes that call for half and half, look for ones that call for both cream and milk in (something like) equal parts. What does that remind you of? Ice cream, of course! Try this fantastic David Lebovitz recipe for Caramelized White Chocolate Ice Cream. (Instead of 1 cup heavy cream, 2 cups whole milk, use 2 cups half/half plus 1 cup whole milk.) Or Guinness Ice Cream. (Instead of 1 cup cream and 1 cup milk, use -- you guessed it! -- 2 cups half/half.) Or maybe a really seasonal idea: Blueberry-Basil Ice Cream (which will kill a pint of half/half and a pint of cream).

Mary Jo Sweeney: Many bread pudding recipes call for half and half, as well as those breakfast strata/savory bread pudding recipes with eggs, cheese, chiles, etc., made in large Pyrex baking dishes. Plenty of those basic recipes floating around.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi there, I'm making dinner for a group of people tomorrow (more than a dozen) and am a bit stressed out. So far I've got main dishes figured out (crockpot bbq pork and a heavy pasta salad) but can't even begin to think about sides or veggies. Any ideas?

I need sides that will be easy, feeding a big group and possible to make ahead would be helpful. Maybe an unusual kind of cole slaw or something?

Mary Jo Sweeney: We routinely feed 10-12 Naval Academy midshipmen after home football games, so slow cooker bbq pork is a go-to. To minimize prep and to get dinner on the table quickly, we go with baskets of grissini (Italian breadsticks)or lavosh crackers instead of a hot bread. Add in a platter of crudities and ranch-bacon dip (not our thing, but the mids love it). The fresh crunch of the raw veg is a nice contrast to the richness of pork and what you might have in the pasta salad.

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Port Republic, Md.: For Ellynne,

My father always insisted on sprinkling his freshly sliced summer tomatoes with sugar, as we kids looked sceptically on. How did you hit upon the idea of all that sugar in your dressing?

I am going out right now to the farm stand get the ingredients for your fabulous recipe! You are amazing! Congratulations!

Ellynne Davis: thanks for your 'sweet' comments. the dressing is a take-off on a recipe i got when i lived in West Va. yearrrrrrs ago. it had equal parts oil, vinegar, and sugar, and i've used that as a base for other home-made dressings ever since. i usually add a mix of several other spices plus lemon juice but because this contest limited the amount of ingredients to only 10, i created this short-cut version.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm new to cooking but am finding that I actually rather enjoy it. My question to you is if you had to pick one cookbook to have in your kitchen what would it be?

Joe Yonan: You sound so surprised! So glad you're enjoying it. This is a tough question, and I really would love to know more about your favorite kinds of foods and cooking, what you think you'd like to learn about. There are certainly good general cookbooks, such as "How to Cook Everything" and "Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh" and "The Martha Stewart Cookbook" and "The Gourmet Cookbook," but I think when you're starting out you also need true inspiration from a culinary personality. Are there particular types of dishes you are drawn to?

Mary Jo Sweeney: I still have my Betty Crocker's Kids Cookbook, circa I won't say, and still use the pancake proportions from it. Bon Appetit mag has been inspirational for me over the years, lots of recipes catering to busy people cooking at home. Joy of Cooking -- if I can't find it anywhere else, I consult my dogeared and splattered copy.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Good afternoon,

I was so glad to see the article on heirloom tomatoes. I did not like tomatoes but recently have started to try and eat them. I have been doing well with the beefsteak tomatoes in my salad.

I decided to try the heirlooms a couple weeks ago; and I thought they were mealy and in no way tasty. I was upset because I hated to throw away a tomato and a half so I cooked them down slowly into a sauce and incorporated them into a shrimp and rice dish with lots of seasoning and it was delicious. For that reason alone I might buy them again but for salad. ... no dice.

Jane Black: Thanks for that story. Again, it's not that heirlooms are bad. There are some good ones; some bad ones. You just have to find good ones from a good grower or the backyard.

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Ellynne Davis: re; number 46 asking about ordinary mozzarella that you would put on a pizza vs. fresh mozzarella, i'm sure the fresh mozzarella would be delicious, as well

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Fresh vs. ?: Sorry if this is a dumb question. What is the difference between fresh mozzarella and "what goes on a pizza"?

Joe Yonan: Fresh mozzarella is soft, moist, milky, buttery, while supermarket "pizza" mozzarella is a processed product that's much firmer with less flavor. Now, this doesn't take into account, of course, that some great pizzerias use fresh mozzarella...

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Bread starter: A year ago I took a baking class and we put together a starter with yeast, a little flour, eggs and milk and let it sit for 20 minutes. Then we add more flour and other stuff turned it out and kneaded it about three times and stuck it in the pan to rise before putting it in the oven. It seemed so easy in class. Do you have a recipe for an easy bread that I could try again at home?

Jane Black: Nancy Baggett did a great story for us on no-knead breads. Here is her recipe for an easy wheat bread.

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Sterling, Va.: Loving the Bakewise cookbook you suggested a few chats ago. I didn't realize so much went into making a delicious cake. Do you know if there's a way to contact the author with any questions?

Joe Yonan: There is a contact option on author Shirley Corriher's web site.

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Vegan Help: My brother is having an open house to celebrate his new home. He expects about 40 people including kids and wants to serve vegan food. He realizes many of his guests are not vegan so he wants them to leave feeling full and not disappointed in his choices.

He is considering a pasta bar with various sauces, grilled veggies, and satueed mushrooms, as well as a big green salad. The downside is that he does not own heating plates, etc. and wants to keep costs down. Do you have any good thoughts on cold/room temp. food options for him?

Mary Jo Sweeney: For a cold dish, use tricolor rotini pasta in a vinaigrette (no dairy) dressing, with plenty of colorful vegetables cut in various shapes. Make shredded cheese available on the side for non-dairy eaters.

Ellynne Davis: you could try the tomato stack salad recipe with small tomatoes instead of large. it's great because it can be made up ahead of time and then chilled. be sure not to use tomatoes too too small, tho, because then it would be too hard to slice them and have them sit upright. ... a couple of toothpicks could help keep them sitting straight, if they're needed...

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Maryland: So you're baking a fun little something, and you crack open a jumbo egg and find... two yolks. Do you consider that one egg or two? Will it affect the chemistry greatly either way?

Joe Yonan: A twin! It's funny that you mention this, because a friend was just telling of her first experience with a twin the other day. It most certainly will affect the chemistry, so it really depends on what you're doing. Do the yolks seem normal sized, or are they smaller? I'd be tempted, depending on what I was cooking, to pull out the extra yolk and use it for something else. That would particularly be the case with baking, where the chemistry matters more. If I were frying it up for myself, I'd consider it a bonus!

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Annandale, Va.: We love the Mixed Berry Custard Pie (from your Thanksgiving 2008 contest) and make it frequently. But I can never get the flour mixed in (instructions say "combine until smooth"). The pie tastes fine, but we're left with small floury blobs visible on the surface when it's baked. Any suggestions? What's the function of the flour, and would it be okay to just leave it out?

Leigh Lambert: You do need the flour in this recipe, though only a small amount, to bind the filling. Have you tried sifting the flour to separate any clumps? Right off, that's the only thing that occurs to me.

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Springfield, Va.: The combined retail price of the wines recommended in today's Food section is north of $250. Have the financial challenges facing the Post and other papers limited the number and selection of wines you are able to sample and review?

washingtonpost.com: Oregon Pinot Noir: Land Outweighs Hand (Post, Aug. 12)

Joe Yonan: No, Dave McIntyre is able to review 6-8 wines a week. The problem with Oregon pinot noir, as he wrote in his column today, is that so many of them are on the somewhat pricier side. But did you see his blog entry today in which he mentions another four that are under $25?

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NoVa reader: Loved the section -- and agree that the term "heirloom" is no guarantee of good taste if the tomato was picked at the wrong time, or been sitting around too long, or has been refrigerated, etc. I recently paid $4 a pound for the last heirloom I bought and it was mealy; the less expensive, commercially grown on-the-vine tomatoes I bought, however, were delicious.

washingtonpost.com: Snob Appeal (Post, Aug. 12)

Jane Black: I know. That's how I feel. It's not that heirlooms aren't good. They can be ethereal. But they aren't always. And I find it sad that a farm-grown or backyard tomato grown from a hybrid seed gets short shrift when it can be terrific.

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Snobs!: I think the battle over heirlooms is pretty much like any other snobby food battle, be it meats or cheeses or wines or toilet paper or whatever... people can be snobs about anything.

That being said, I prefer a local seasonal tomato waaay over anything at the grocery store, heirloom or not.

Jane Black: Yes, people can be: Champagne, caviar, truffles. What I thought was interesting about heirloom tomatoes is the way most people are only like that about tomatoes. You rarely hear people demanding heirloom radishes or cucumbers, though they certainly exist. (I have seen heirloom beans and beets on menus, though. Next big thing?)

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Love those 'matoes!: Wonderful section today. Question about the tomato-basil tart made with store-bought pie crust. Could I use puff pastry instead? I also have a really easy pie crust recipe I make with a food processor that uses all butter -- would that work?

washingtonpost.com: Top Tomato 2009: Stacked In Our Favor

Joe Yonan: Sure thing -- the crust would be more delicate, but delicious I'm sure.

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Washington, D.C.: Have to disagree on the heirloom tomato comments. In my experience heirloom tomatoes are the most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted - probably because they remind me of my childhood and my father's garden. Because of that, and correct me if I'm wrong, I always grew up thinking that heirloom tomatoes were strains of plants that haven't been cross bred to create hybrids with shorter growing seasons, pest resitant properties or other such features. I would agree that the best tomato is one that has been raised properly and naturally - but give me an heirloom tomator and, let's say a roma, both of which have been raised properly/naturally and picked at its prime - I'm going with the heirloom for its depth and interest of flavor.

And as long as I'm on my tomato box ... I think the absolute perfect preparation of a good summer tomato is to slice it up and eat. Maybe a sprinkle of a sea salt or olive oil ... but to me a perfectly ripe tomato is best by itself.

Jane Black: Another tomato opinion. Maybe the best heirloom is better than the best hybrid? Maybe. But then the green zebras that are so popular -- I think because they look pretty -- aren't my favorite. Super high acid. I might rather have an Early Girl over that but a Black Prince over an Early Girl.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have to agree about canned tomatoes. Unless tomatoes come from your garden or a farm stand, I don't think tomatoes you get in the grocery store tend to be any better in summer than any other season, regardless of whether they are "on the vine", hothouse, organic, etc. etc. More times than not I find a can of Cento tomatoes has better flavor for cooking than fresh ones from the supermarket.

Jane Black: I ofte buy the San Marzano canned ones. But boy are they pricey. Think they're that much better than Cento? I wonder if they taste better or I just think they do because they are San Marzanos. Thoughts?

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Arlington, Va.: So. Too much wine last night. Major hangover. Spirits guru suggestions for cures? Water and Advil and lying here feeling sorry for myself not helping.

Jason Wilson: My sympathy goes out to you. I guess you called in sick to work today as well? Kudos! First of all, do not feel sorry for yourself. Your family and friends still love you. Embrace your hangover. Remember: One who truly believes he or she has a hangover...has no hangover. After that, drink a lot more water, make yourself a nice big cheese and bacon omelet, and mix up either a Veggie Red Snapper or a Vampiro, put on some old John Hughes movies (I'd suggest Sixteen Candles), and settle in on the couch. Later, go for a long walk. Have a nice afternoon!

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Soon to expire half & half: Use it to make the clafouti from last week. We had is over the weekend with plums, raspberries and a handful of dried cherries. It was so easy and sinfully delicious. We ate it warm and then cold the next day. Yum

Joe Yonan: Great. So glad you liked this clafouti recipe. I do, too.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: Quick question you guys -- we're having a birthday dinner on Sunday and I need help with the menu. We're having hummus and pita as the appetizer and tuna on the grill is the main course. Any ideas on a side to go with the tuna? Thanks!

Mary Jo Sweeney: In summer, I'm a big fan of roasted vegetables on the grill that have been marinated a bit in a balsamic vinaigrette.

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Basil storage: What is the best way to store basil short term for use that week and long term in the freezer? I had wrapped it in a wet paper towel in the fridge, but it started to turn brown the next day.

Joe Yonan: I do the paper towel thing -- not really wet, just a little damp -- and then put the whole thing in a plastic newspaper sleeve (yet another use for them!). But I also sometimes just treat the basil as cut flowers, cutting the stems and putting them in a glass of water (try to avoid letting the leaves touch the water) and then in the fridge. That works pretty well, and the fact that you can see the herb every time you open the fridge helps you use it up. As for freezing, check out this blog post with instructions: I've followed something along these lines to good success.

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Burke, Va.: No question; just wanted to share a cooking adventure. The hot weather caused my herb garden to go viral, so I came up with a recipe last night to use some of it. I grilled and shredded two chicken breasts, sauteed a bunch of crushed garlic and green onions in olive oil and a bit of butter, then tossed all of this with penne and about a quarter cup each of chopped basil, flat leaf parsley, and chives. I topped it on the plate with some halved cherry tomatoes (also from the garden). Wow, was it good!

Joe Yonan: Sounds great -- thanks!

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Columbia, Md.: After the review of the Bubbly Bar why would anyone want it? :P Trying to get rid of it?

washingtonpost.com: Spirits: The Trouble With Bubbles (Washington Post, Aug. 11)

Jason Wilson: Wait! The Bubbly Bar's got some interesting recipes and ideas in it. The point I was making is that the standard sparkling wine cocktails leave something to be desired. Both the Aperol Flip and French 75 recipes come from the book.

Joe Yonan: You didn't read enough of Jason's column, starting with: "From there, though, Hunt moves on to more inventive ideas...."

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Washington, D.C.: I really don't care about heirloom v. non-heirloom at the farmer's market - that's why I usually get my tomatoes from the places that have samples you can taste, because that's what matters.

Jane Black: Well said.

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Fresh Mozzarella: Is also always sold packed in water. So if you're buying it at the grocery store, you'll easily see the difference.

Also, it's the kind they put on the Tomato Balsamic Mozzarella sandwiches at Cosi.

Ellynne Davis: thanks for clarifying

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi! I have a LOT (20 oz or so) of unsweetened chocolate that I'd like to use up. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

Mary Jo Sweeney: Don't have any handy, but I bet you could find some recipes for hot fudge sauce that you could make in batches.

Leigh Lambert: The one I think of first is on the back of the Baker's box for brownies. Of course, it uses a good bit because it is a product driven recipe. Since you already have the chocolate, just bring a pen and paper to the store and jot the recipe down.

Here's one from our database for Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle that sounds good.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I just want to brag a bit here. I made my first batch of pesto for the year over the weekend and it came out great. I also made some fresh brushetta topping with home grown tomatoes, marinated garlic and red peppers, red onion and my own basil. I make mini pizzas with a thin layer of the pesto, topped with the brushetta and a layer of mozzarella cheese. Heavenly. And all fresh except for the store bought pizza dough. I love this time of year.

Jane Black: Good for you! What kind of pizza dough do you buy? In a pinch, I get the (99 cent) Trader Joe's brand. Not bad ...

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Arlington, Va.: I have a wonderful tomato, mozzarella, basil tart that I'm planning on making for dinner. I'd like to serve a non-salad vegetable with it but I'm stumped. Any suggestions? Thank you.

Mary Jo Sweeney: Marinate some Vidalia onions and colorful peppers in a balsamic vinaigrette and grill them. Tart sounds great.

Mary Jo Sweeney: In wintertime, I've also roasted them single-layer in a shallow pan in the oven.

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Honolulu, Hawaii: I live in Hawaii and I buy my kimchee from a Korean woman who makes her own. I put it on a hot roll slathered with mayonaise. Ono!

Jane Black: Delicious.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Food staff,

First, you do a great job. I have especially enjoyed your work this summer, since I got a grill.

One question for you though, since you linked to Pollen's piece in the New York Times. While I understand his point, it seemed as if he had real problems with people choosing the easy way out. Who among us doesn't heat up a frozen pizza from time to time? And I'm a girl who likes to cook.

What do you guys think? Good idea or too preachy?

Joe Yonan: I thought he made some interesting points, but overall, I thought the piece seemed old -- something that could've (should've?) been written 5 years ago or more. Now, I have to say, I think more and more people are interested in cooking. I think he was being extreme to make the case -- and I agree with him that more people should cook, and that cooking is the answer to many of these issues -- but I don't think it's as bad as the "death" that he describes.

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Washington, D.C.: So many recipes call for onions. I really do not like onions (raw or cooked) - the texture and the smell I cannot get over. Are there any suggestions on what I can substitute an onion for?

Leigh Lambert: How do you feel about sweet peppers? They have a similar texture to onions and can add some oomph.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hello,

I want to get away from bottled salad dressing and the high sodium content. I recently bought a bottle of Lucini balsamic vinegar (dark cherry) and I would like to know how to make a vinaigrette to put on salad.

Joe Yonan: Here's David Hagedorn's great primer on making vinaigrettes, with links to seven recipes.

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Springfield Va.: Hello all, I have just put the bird net over the fig tree because it's loaded this year. Other than jam, do you guys have some ideas on dishes to make with the figs..

Thanks!

Jane Black: My first suggestion would be to pack up a big box and bring them over to the Post. Oh ... was that not what you had in mind?

Figs: Loads to do with them. For easy apps, serve them grilled with mozzarella and a drizzle of good, syrupy balsamic vinegar or wrap them with prosciutto. For a main, make a pan sauce to go on pork loin. To be really decadent, pair it with blue cheese polenta.

I could go on but maybe someone else has ideas to share?

Joe Yonan: I would make Ms. Muriel's Fig Tart. Yum.

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Upstate, N.Y.: Have you put Mary Jo Sweeney on the Washington Post Food Section staff yet? If not, you should. Her responses are great.

Bonnie Benwick: You can tell she's an accomplished good cook, can't you?

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Alexandria, Va.: Cento is a brand while San Marzano is a variety of tomato, so Cento sells San Marzano tomatoes as well as non-San Marzanos.

Jane Black: Very good point. The ones I'm thinking of are the big white cans with San Marzano in big letters. I'll have to look at my canned tomatoes more carefully.

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Washington, D.C.: The best tomatoes were always the ones my mom grew in the yard. Alas, one of our cocker spaniels discovered that they were better than tennis balls when still green, so she picked them and rolled them down the driveway. Mom gave up after that. No need to fight with a dog when she could get tomatoes at the farmers' market.

Jane Black: Funny.

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Washington D.C.: Can you freeze mushrooms? I have some white mushrooms that I probably won't get to until next week. I don't think that they'll last that long and I'd hate to throw them away. Thoughts?

Leigh Lambert: Have you had them sitting in the fridge for a while? They should hold for about 4 to 5 days once you've gotten them home. From what I've read you can freeze cooked (not raw)mushrooms (any cooking method would work). If you don't know how you want to use them, I would suggest a simple saute in olive oil and then freeze them in ziplocks with all the air "burped" out.

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Non-salad Veg.: For the chatter looking to accompany their tomato basil mozzarella tart -- green beans would be perfect.

Joe Yonan: Yes -- and seasonal, too.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey! Don't be snobs about supermarket tomatoes, either. I bought some locally-grown (Maryland) 'maters at Wegman's that were better than some I've gotten at the farmer's market. You know, the kind that smell divine when you slice them ...

Bonnie Benwick: When the local tomatoes get into grocery stores at this time of year, everybody wins. I think it's kinda funny how sometimes they're segregated into a bin or display outside. (Or maybe that's supposed to be an allure?) Local cooties.

Bonnie Benwick: Alluring. Supposed to be alluring. yeesh.

Mary Jo Sweeney: Public admission: I buy the Sam's Club Campari's in winter when I crave fresh tomato.

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Julia Say What?: Hi, Rangers --

So I went to see "Julie & Julia" over the weekend and was thoroughly charmed (at least by the Julia part). In fact, it even inspired me to try my hand at a recipe or two from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I chose supremes de volaille aux champignons. But I think I must have done something very wrong.

The recipe says the boneless, skinless chicken breasts are supposed to cook in six (!!) minutes in a 400 degree oven. At eight minutes, my breasts were still pink on the outside. It took another 20 for me to feel confident enough to serve them. Were ovens just much hotter in Julia's day or did I screw up something?

Bonnie Benwick: Nah. I think back when the book was published, BSCBs weren't as humongous as they are today. You can stay true to Julia's recipe perhaps by pounding the breasts to an even thickness or even trimming them down right from the start.

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Ellynne and Mary Jo: Where did you get the tomatoes on which you based your recipe?

Mary Jo Sweeney: Either from my garden or favorite local tomato stands. Occasionally Whole Foods. Something ripe, firm, smells like tomato, tastes like tomato, maybe a bit sweet...

Ellynne Davis: i discovered Zimmerman's fruit/veggie stand in loveville just 3 miles north of leonardtown here in St. mary's county when i first moved here 23 yrs. ago. it's been my favorite Amish market stand ever since. they supplied me with the gorgeous tomatoes as seen in the front-page photo of today's W. post food section for the tomato-stack salad recipe

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Silver Spring, Md.: Some people cook, some people don't cook. Some people scold others about not cooking, some people don't.

Get over it. Be glad we have the choice to cook or not cook. Be glad we can cook without feeling disloyal as feminists. Be glad we can not cook as a way to support the service economy.

It's a big tent.

Joe Yonan: Amen.

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Columbia, Md.: No, I read the entire review, but the general idea is that while champagne cocktails can be good, drinking plain champagne is better, right? Most of the column is negative, and while there are a few cocktails that were good, Jason ended the column with an unimpressed (maybe just my impression) "Maybe." I don't know, it didn't come across as that great a book judging from the review. I've never had a champagne cocktail, so it's not like that's coloring my experience or anything.

Jason Wilson: Well, I guess you have a point. But be careful! You may end up the winning the book!

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Roasted scallions!: The youngster selling wonderfully fragrant scallions at the local farmers market suggested putting them on the grill until just blackening. OMG.

If you haven't tried this, do! Sweet and smokey and fabulous.

This has been a public service announcement. :)

Bonnie Benwick: Ooh.

Joe Yonan: I've done this. I second the idea.

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Bonnie Benwick: Hey everyone. FYI, I made Ellynne's recipe with fresh mozzarella this morning, just to taste the difference. It doesn't shred quite the same, of course, but I liked it. The filling's not quite as crunchy but very nice, really.

Ellynne Davis: fresh mozzarella is great; it just would take more time to prepare, that's all. thanks for making it, bonnie; hope you enjoyed it

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Re: Cookbooks for the newbie: I would agree with finding a good cookbook with the types of things you like, such as a Chinese cookbook or Thai or Southern or whatever. I think it's a little less daunting then. I have to say, if I have a cookbook I can get two stand-by recipes out of, I'm a happy camper. Now, maybe I have six cookbooks instead of one, but that's twelve recipes I can do virtually by heart.

I also highly recommend magazines for the same reasons. Some months are hits, some are misses, but they are in a pretty digestable format. I personally like Cooking Light a lot.

Bonnie Benwick: Fine Cooking is very hands-on, show-the-techniques-involved, too.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Nancy Baggett has a whole book of no-knead bread recipes. There's also Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which is sort of no-knead. And an old book called No Need to Knead by Suzanne Finnemore (not sure of the last name) has some good ideas, but is not as reliable as either Baggett or Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Joe Yonan: Yep, you've briefed us well on all the NNB's out there.

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Boulder, Colo.: Love the tomato recipes and can't wait to try them. Reminds me of one summer in my 20's when I did a beach house in Dewey. Every weekend on the drive between D.C. and Dewey, I'd stop at the local farm stands for tomatoes, corn, etc. It got to the point that I was eating so many tomatoes (at least two a day) my mouth was raw from the acid. I couldn't help myself, though, they were delicious.

I wish you had the same contest for peaches. It's Western Slope Peach season here and as much as I love them, I am running out of ideas. Already done: jam, salsa, cobbler, roasted balsamic peaches and chicken. Next up, ice cream. Any other ideas? Savory ones appreciated!

Jane Black: I had this problem once (what a glorious problem it was). But I remember at the time I was surprised that I couldn't find more to make with them. These aren't savory but we also made peach upside down cake and a lot of peach melba.

Ellynne Davis: And just where is the Western Slope? ... what state are you in

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Sweet onions: I have a couple of pounds of small sweet onions (the grower called them "candy onions") and would like to make a seasonal side dish, possibly with other vegetables. Any ideas? Thanks!

Mary Jo Sweeney: Slice them finely into a bowl of ripe chopped tomatoes, add some fresh basil and a nice simple vinaigrette.

Peel, drizzle with olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, some herbs, wrap in heavy-duty foil, roast in 325 degree oven until slightly soft to touch. Or grill them in the foil.

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Non-alcoholic drinks: My husband loves OJ in the morning, but I don't. However, I have found that if I mix the OJ with club soda, it's very refreshing. Less sweet, I guess, than the OJ and Sprite concoction mentioned.

Also, whole-fruit lemonade or limeade (or mixed) are wonderful. Thinkly slice one lemon or two limes, removing seeds. Throw them into your food processor and blend as much as you can. Then, add sugar (not too much, since you'll add to taste in a bit) and blend until the fruit is finely ground. Now, taste for sweetness and add sugar, pulsing, as necessary. Just make sure that the sugar has dissolved. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer. You have a sort of lemonade or limeade concentrate. Dilute it to taste with either water or club soda, to make it bubbly.

Of course, if you want to throw some gin or vodka in yours, it wouldn't hurt.

Jason Wilson: "Of course, if you want to throw some gin or vodka in yours, it wouldn't hurt." Now there's a breakfast of champions!

I agree with the club soda - I like it that way, too. But I think the earlier reader was looking for a recipe to make with and for her toddler. I think a lot of parents' probably don't like giving their kids sodas? My kids actually don't like sodas because of the bubbles. Now, they may be the weirdest kids in the world, but I'm not complaining.

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Washington, D.C.: Someone gave me a 6-oz jar of turmeric (!) and I'm hoping you can give me ideas of how to use it, besides sprinkling it on eggs and using it in curries. Thanks!

Mary Jo Sweeney: Make your own mustard!

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More Weingarten on tomatoes: Actually, Gene's comments were mostly in his formerly weekly chat "Tuesdays with Moron". He posited that due to the hybridization, chemicals, cross-pollination, etc, that today's tomatoes (even fresh grown locally) are not as robust and flavorful as those from 30 or more years ago. He thinks that although you can get great tomatoes now, the seasonal best are just not as good as they were 30 or more years ago.

I personally think that it is a waste to cook those amazingly good fresh tomatoes. If you have them, find some way to use them raw. If you are going to cook, canned tomatoes are excellent since they are typically the best and are picked at peak and canned immediately so better than many fresh tomatoes, so you might as well use canned when cooking with tomatoes.

Bonnie Benwick: I'm not so sure about all that generalization, things were better long ago claptrap. Even if it is (or especially?) from Gene.

And one reason to cook the good fresh ones is for the nutrition: Cooked tomatoes have a much higher lycopene content than raw. Best advice is to enjoy them every which way you can, while they're here.

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Blight City: You guys are torturing us Northeasterners -- all our local heirlooms are victims of the late blight. My garden was wiped out, plus my CSA. Not much at farmer's markets, either.

Jane Black: It is sad. You all got hammered up there. Sorry!

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Re: Summer Drink recipes: I too am always looking for refreshing non-alcoholic drinks in the summer and i have become addicted to Celestial Seasonings berry teas, made iced. I love the blueberry andblack cherry, and simply steep 3-4 tea bags in hot water directly from the tap (it gets plenty hot enough) in a 1/3 filled gallon jug, then add cold water after about 5 minutes of steeping and sugar or splenda to taste. The berry flavoring in the tea is great!

Joe Yonan: I'm addicted to hibiscus tea in the summer. If you find a source for dried hibiscus flowers, such as this one, it's much cheaper than those CS teabags, which can add up.

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Sprite Zero: Um, doesn't that have aspertame??? Wouldn't give it to a kid, that's for sure!

Mary Jo Sweeney: sorry... that was on the fly while on the plane. Better idea to ask for club soda. I actually like using sparking mineral water and make fresh and very tart lemonade with that.

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Follow-up to Q&A last week: Last week I inquired re: my search for a recipe for warm soft lemony sugar cookies, and was told to look up Flour Girl online. I did, but found a bakery. Could you please direct me to a recipe instead? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Welcome back, sugar cookie chatter! Flour Girl (aka Leigh Lambert) is working on it. She found a recipe she likes. It will be posted on our blog, All We Can Eat, in the next week or two.

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Pine Plains: My mother-in-law made a simple pie similar to the mixed berry pie but with blueberries. She would put flour and sugar in a plastic bag or bowl, add the blueberries and toss them together. She then dumped the berries coated with sugar and flour into the crust and simply poured milk over them and baked it. Strange, but it always worked with no clumps. It probably wouldn't work for delicate or frozen berries, but it made a great blueberry pie.

Leigh Lambert: But it just might given that the fruit in the recipe could be frozen... good tip. Thanks.

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Suggestion: In your recipes, wherever possible, could you please put a weight or volume for various items? For instance, how big is a "medium" zucchini? Or a "small" onion? Or a "bunch" of cilantro? Or a chicken breast? Perhaps a table linked to your recipe search page would be helpful. It's so hard to know how big these items should be. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: When the weight is relevant, we do give provide that info. Mostly, though, when a recipe calls for 2 medium zukes or 1 small onion, chopped, we also give the yield in cups.

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Suggestion for excess peaches: Peach Milkshakes!!! OMG!!!!

Joe Yonan: OMG IMHO this is LOL good!

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New label for heirloom tomatoes: I propose, "tomatoes that taste both better and more interesting than those tomatoes over there."

Snobbery? Hardly.

Jane Black: The acronym doesn't quite work -- TTTBBAMITTTOT -- but I hear you.

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Tomatoes for kids: I love tomatoes, but my kids hate them, absolutely refuse to touch them, unless strangely enough they are in soup. I'm looking forward to try some of these receipes and see if I can convert them.

Bonnie Benwick: We were just discussing this on the radio (Kojo Nnamdi Show, noon to 1; 88.5 FM). Callers thought it was the texture of the "guts" -- seeds and such. We agreed that starting with gateway tomatoes such as Sungold or toybox or good, sweet cherry tomatoes is one way to go. Or take the guts out of those and fill them with cream cheese or mascarpone...

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California, Md.: To Ellynne,

Have you ever used a coldcut or crab in this sandwich? What do you think would taste best if you wanted to add meat or seafood?

Ellynne Davis: funny that you should ask me this; i've been thinking how easy it would be to simply add a bit of crab or tuna or bacon to the mozzarella-basil-pecan stuffing mix. if you added any kind of meat or crab or tuna, etc. you could have yourself a self-contained entire meal-in-a-tomato

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Random musings from Laurel, Md.: My father taught me to love fresh tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt on them. Yum!

For the person with half-and-half, mashed potatoes are wonderful with butter and half-and-half and go with many meals. I've also made homemade mashed cauliflower (for those of us trying to find low-carb alternatives) with half-and-half. That and butter help to cover the fact that it's cauliflower and not potatoes.

A great, fast side to go with BBQ is a quick coleslaw. Buy bagged cole slaw (cabbage and carrots), then add Vidalia Onion dressing, salt and pepper to taste. Easy to make and much better than mayonaise heavy dressings. You can also do this with bagged broccoli slaw for an alternative. Cast iron skillet corn bread is pretty quick and easy to make and good with BBQ. Corn on the cob shucked and either boiled or grilled is quick. Steamed asparagus (put in a container with 1/4 cup water in microwave for 2-3 minutes, drain and run over with cool water to stop cooking) with a mustard vinagrette (EVOO, mustard, wine vinegar, chopped herbs, blended or shaken in a jar) is fast, easy and popular. Just a few thoughts off the top of my head.

Jane Black: Thank you Laurel, Md.

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Bet hesda Mom: Loved all the tomato recipes!! Can't wait to try some, as this is one of the few foods everyone in the family can agree that they like.

I have a question about cooking fresh tomatoes--how important is it to seed them and/or skin them? For example when I dice them to put in chili (please don't yell at me, Joe, if this is not Texas-approved), I don't mind seeds or some skin, but many recipes call for them to be seeded before cooking.

Joe Yonan: Now, since when do I yell? I prefer to sit in silent judgment of you, that's all. ;-) I have to say, I rarely skin my tomatoes, because I love having the extra bits of texture. As for seeding, I do it only if I want the result to be on the drier side, but again, that's very rare. What do other tomato cooks do?

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Washington, D.C.: My digital scale is dying and I consider it an essential but pricey tool for my kitchen. Any suggestions for a scale that won't break the bank?

Leigh Lambert: I love my Escali all-purpose kitchen scale. It's nothing fancy, but will do grams and ounces and tare (reset with weight already on it). And perhaps most importantly it comes in an array of fun colors. I have the green one and use it often.

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Favorite tomato recipe & hangover: I love the roasted tomato soup on 101 cookbooks website - so good & easy to make. The roasted really brings out the flavors.

Hangover cure - this may sound strange, but there is a powder nutrient called Dr. Greens, which has a bunch of vitamins etc. I bought it on a whim, but man. Nothing has made my day better when the previous night went on a little too long than that green powder shaken with some water. Seriously, it will clear your head & give you energy. I drink it every day now.

Favorite cookbook ... I still like Julia Child's The Way to Cook.

Bonnie Benwick: You might like the Roasted Tomato Soup recipe in today's section...it uses Rioja and poblano. Nice touches.

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Takoma Park, Md.: For the person with a big jar of turmeric - dye something mustard yellow on purpose.

Leigh Lambert: Now that's thinking outside the pantry!

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Arlington, Va.: Question about growing tomatoes: I have two tomato plants in my backyard, and they are huge -- but hardly any tomatoes! Is this because of the crazy amount of rain early in the season? Was I supposed to prune them back? I have gotten one tomato from it, and it was delicious!

Also, I have to gripe about Farmers Markets in general. I thought they were supposed to not only be super fresh and local, but also cost efficient? I feel myself leaving the farmers markets and going to Whole Foods, where I can get a better price.

Bonnie Benwick: Whole Foods! Have you checked under the tables of tomatoes at farmers markets? That's where you can find real deals on seconds or No. 2 tomatoes. A producer who sells at the Brookland market on Saturdays in DC told me his seconds go for 69 to 79 cents per pound. I defy you to find a better deal than that.

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Re: Gene Weingarten: Nope, he considers all tomatoes subpar to those of his youth. He talks about it every now and then on his chat. He, as usual, has a very firm opinion on this.

Me? I like the tomatoes I eat. I have no problem biting into one and eating it just as it is. But evidently I have poor taste buds and don't recognize poor quality (according to him.)

Jane Black: Well, maybe we take advantage of his superior palate over at the food section.

Bonnie Benwick: That is such an indefensible position for him to take! And per usual.

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Favorite summer dinner: Fresh, warm tomato sliced and served with havarti and bagette (throw in some wine if you are so inclined). Man, dipping the bread in the tomato juice is pure heaven.

Bonnie Benwick: Yay.

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Peels forever!: I don't peel anything with an edible skin in any recipe. Not tomatoes, apples, potatoes for tomato sauce, apple pie or apple butter, mashed potatoes, fries...

Joe Yonan: I'm with you, I have to say.

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Washington, D.C.: I love honey mustard, and I love pasta, but I can't wrap my head around this recipe. What does it taste like?

washingtonpost.com: Pasta and Tomato With Honey Mustard Sauce Recipe Details (Washington Post, Aug. 12)

Bonnie Benwick: I pinky swear. A little sweet. Very good.

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Domain de Canton: I just bought a bottle of Domain de Canton (a ginger liquor) because I love all things ginger flavored. Now that I have it, I'm not sure of what to mix it with. I like well balanced cocktails, nothing too sweet and most types of liquor. Any great cocktail recipe advice?

Jason Wilson: Well, let's stick with a sparkling wine cocktail theme. Gina Chersevani at PS7 created a cocktail during the time of the Obama inauguration called a Yes We Canton. It's a mix of champagne, pineapple juice, and Domaine de Canton.

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Western Slope Peaches: Are here in Colorado! It's our little state secret - we have the best peaches you'll ever eat! The Western Slope is the side of the state bordering Utah where they have many orchards and now vineyards. The wine they make here is so-so, I stick with the peaches.

Joe Yonan: Nice.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you have immersed us in a large bowl or sink filled with a few inches of hot water, then placed a plate over us then inverted so we unmold onto the place, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great questions today, and thanks to Ellynne and Mary Jo and Jason for helping us answer them. Happy tomato love! Now for the giveaway winners: The Silver Spring and NoVa chatters who wrote about mealy heirlooms will each get "The Too Many Tomatoes Cookbook." The Arlington hangover sufferer will get a bit of the hair o' the dog with "The Bubbly Bar." Cheers!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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