Ask the Chef

Dear CBA,
I’m currently “wintering” at the South Pole, Antarctica. We don’t get many fresh vegetables here and haven’t seen the sun for several months now. Most of our food comes from cans or is frozen. Do you have any suggestions on how to get proper nutrition here?

Wasting Away in Antarctica, Help!

Dear WAAH,
Thanks for the reminder that while we frolic in our shorts and flip-flops, it’s hardly harvest season in some parts of the world. You can’t get much colder and darker than winter at the South Pole and, well, I’m glad I’m not there.

I think the most important nutritional recommendation I can offer is plenty of hot chocolate, but you’ve probably already figured that one out. A more useful tip would be to sprout seeds and eat them. Wheat, alfalfa, sunflowers, mustard, quinoa, beans, and peas are just a few of the many seeds that are alive and ready to sprout, even at the bottom of the world. Each type of sprout has its own unique taste and appearance, but all contain the vitamins and enzymes of living food that are sorely missing from your diet.

I’d also like to point out that one of your own is a cook at Amundsen-Scott Station in South Pole, Antarctica. His website and blog,, is entertaining and worth checking out. Maybe you should ask him for some pointers. But don’t be too surprised if you get a response echoing the typical Antarctic method of coping: copious amounts of beer.

Also, a chick from the Falkland Islands who I met on the ferry to Alaska last summer says penguin eggs are pretty good …

G-g-g-g-g-good la-la-la-luck.

Dear CBA,
My baby and I beat the heat by sucking frozen cherries off each other’s sweaty skin. Problem is, many of these cherries have been in the freezer since last summer and some of them have an unpleasant gamey flavor, making them not something I want to slurp from a navel. What causes freezer burn, why is it so nasty, and how can I prevent it from spoiling our summertime fun?

Pit Sucker

Dear P.S.,
That, for future reference, is what we call too much information, or TMI. Nonetheless, thanks for the question about freezer burn, and the opportunity it provided me to crack open my new loaner book: On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. This tome is quite the compendium of information, down to the molecular level, on why food behaves the way it does, from emulsification to fermentation, flatulence to freezer burn.

Freezer burn, according to McGee, results from sublimation (the sub-freezing equivalent of evaporation) of ice crystals from the surface of the frozen product. It occurs because the cherries (or elk, or zucchini bread) hold more water than the surrounding dry air, and following the laws of diffusion, that water makes a beeline for the driest nearby place — like the side of your freezer. The result, while kind of ugly and carrying a rather disgusting flavor, is not a health hazard.

One way to prevent freezer burn is to seal your freezables in tightly fitted plastic, leaving that frozen water no escape from your food. Another way is to freeze your stuff in a solid block of ice, thereby creating a more humid external environment for your food, which won’t dry out.

This week, let’s play Jeopardy-style Q&A! We’ll start with the answer — it’s in a letter from my brother — and then you figure out the question!

Dear CBA,
Miles `my nephew` has a bumper crop of tomatillos again this year, and he went online to find something to do with them. He came up with the recipe that we have now verified, twice (once with my help, once on his own). Not only can he cook it, he eats it, despite it containing not one but two distinct types of certifiably green vegetables, one spicy. Moreover, I not only eat it but have great difficulty not consuming every available drop. It is the first dish I have encountered that demonstrates beyond doubt that tomatillos are fit for human consumption — your chili-verde recipe of last year relegated them to a subordinate role in relation to the pork, leaving the question open. The preparation is surprising in several different ways, from cooking tomatillos whole on the griddle to doing the same with unpeeled garlic. So it is fun and kid-friendly.

— Cheers, Stan

Chef’s note: Here’s that salsa recipe, in CBA shorthand:

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Stem, seed, and split two chili peppers and, using a spatula, flatten them one at a time on the surface of the griddle. After a few seconds you’ll see a small puff of smoke come from the chili; remove the chili from the griddle. Put three cloves unpeeled garlic and six tomatillos on the griddle. Turning occasionally, let the tomatillos blacken in spots. The garlic will soften and get brown spots on the skins. Once the tomatillos are softened, remove them and the garlic from the griddle. Peel the garlic and place in a food processor with the tomatillos, chilis, 3 tablespoons water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Puree thoroughly. Let sit 30 minutes, adjust seasoning and serve.

And the question was: What to do with a surfeit of tomatillos? Are they even fit for human consumption?

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