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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 02/23/2011

Chat Leftovers: That bottle of smoke

By Jane Touzalin
debaggio_opt[1].jpg Tom DeBaggio, in a 2003 photo. (Dayna Smith/Washington Post)

Greetings, all. Before I get down to the business of leftovers, I'd like to pay tribute to herb farmer Tom DeBaggio, who died at age 69 this week, 12 years after a devastating diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The small business he started in his Arlington yard in 1975 grew to become DeBaggio's Herb Farm & Nursery and now occupies much larger quarters in Chantilly. Along the way, Tom shared his passion for herbs and his knowledge about growing them with thousands of loyal customers. After his diagnosis, he allowed National Public Radio to chronicle the progression of his illness, and he became an activist and advocate for Alzheimer's research. His son, Francesco, took over running the nursery when Tom no longer could.

Many years ago, Tom sold me the first live herb plant I ever bought. Dried herbs were what you cooked with back then, and the pretty little cone-shaped rosemary plant was quite a novelty. He had come up with the clever idea of selling them as live miniature Christmas trees, and I bought a lot of them as presents for family members. (He shipped, too.) For a long time, he was the only reliable herb purveyer in the area. He leaves behind a wife and son, a wonderful business, books he wrote about herbs and life with Alzheimer's, and many, many customers who thought the world of him.

If you have memories of Tom you'd like to tell us about, you can make them part of today's Free Range chat, your weekly opportunity to join the Food staff and ask questions, share tips or just watch the action from a comfortable seat. Be there at noon, and you won't be disappointed.

While we wait, here's a leftover question from last week's chat:

I have a bottle of liquid smoke that has been biding its time in the back of my pantry. I've used it before for chilis, marinating sauces and similar things, but I was wondering if you have any other ideas. Maybe adding it to a hearty strata to add a smokiness to the bacon and eggs?

Hmmmm. Not so sure about the strata idea. When I'm eating bacon and eggs, I like that smoky rush of biting into the bacon, and I'm not sure I'd like to get a steady smoke hit with every bite. But if that wouldn't bother you, then I say go for it.

I like the idea of liquid smoke in chowders: clam chowder, oyster stew, corn chowder. I think it would also be good added to a pumpkin soup or other squash soup. Potato soup and onion soup seem like good candidates, too.

You might also try adding it to salads: shrimp salad. tuna salad, egg salad, chicken salad, maybe potato salad.

How about mashed potatoes or creamed corn? Cheese fondue? You mentioned chili, so I'm sure you've also figured that it can be good in baked beans. And of course it can work in hamburgers, sloppy Joes, meatballs.

The key to adding liquid smoke to any food is moderation. Start with very little, and add it drop by drop. Too little is way, way better than too much. Also, there are differences among brands. Some have just two ingredients: water and smoke. Others contain vinegar, sweeteners and other flavors. Always read the label. You might not want vinegar in your salmon spread.

And by salmon spread, I mean this one, which we featured in a 2007 story about tailgate parties.

Mary Wilson's Salmon Spread

This creamy spread can be put out right away for snacking while the rest of the tailgate meal unfolds. Mary Wilson of Alexandria likes to pack the spread in a container that has a chamber for ice on the bottom. She has made this for her family and fellow Redskins fans for many years.

Serve with Nabisco Wheat Thins or Ritz crackers.

Makes about 3 cups (10 to 12 servings)

8 ounces cream cheese, preferably Philadelphia brand, at room temperature
1 16-ounce can red sockeye salmon, drained, boned (dark skin removed), then mashed and chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 dashes liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley or dill (optional)

Combine the cream cheese, salmon, onion, liquid smoke, lemon juice and parsley or dill, if desired, in the bowl of a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer and beat until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and keep cold until ready to serve.

By Jane Touzalin  | February 23, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Next: What are you waiting for? Open that wine bottle!

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