Free Range on Food: Amanda Saab and Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor; Mother's Day memories and more.

May 10, 2017

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

Greetings, and welcome to today's chat! I'm happy to be back from a five-week stint on grand jury duty (where I buffed up my urban lingo), eager to talk about food rather than, well, I'm not allowed to say what, but rest assured it was largely much less pleasant than thoughts about what to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between.

Hope you're enjoying our food coverage this week, including staffers' odes to their mothers' cooking; Rebekah Denn's look at a Muslim cook's attempt to promote understanding through dinner parties; Bonnie's collection of things-on-toast recipes; and more.

What's on your mind? Are you celebrating Mom this weekend? Let us know -- and shoot any questions our way.

Bonnie is out at an event this morning, but we'll have a VIP guest in Amanda Saab, the cook profiled in the aforementioned Have-dinner-with-your-Muslim-neighbor story. She can answer questions not only about that effort, but about Middle Eastern (and no doubt other) recipes and techniques.

We'll have a giveaway book for our favorite chatter today: "Turkish Delights" by John Gregory-Smith, source of this week's DinMin recipe.

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR5797 . Remember, you'll record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

OK, let's do this!

Any recommendations on snacks that can be homemade (ahead of time) to be used throughout the week? Looking to replace store bought snacks with something healthier (and tastier!) to satisfy hunger between meals at work!

What luck! I was going to ask this anyway but with Amanda Saab taking part in the chat, even better! I'd like to make my own hummus and baba ghanouj but am uncertain what brand of tahini to buy. Or can I make my own by mashing sesame seeds? Should tahini be stored in the refrigerator? I tried searching back chats (not so easy to do) and located one recommendation for Krinos brand and one for Al Arz. My supermarket only carries Joyva but someone told me it isn't meant for Middle Eastern cuisine. Also, it comes in 15-oz cans that end up drying out and even when it's first opened, it's so dense it can bend spoons. Thank you for your advice!

Hello! Great question. I use the Simple Truth Organic Tahini, found in Kroger/Fred Meyer stores. I store it upside down, at room temperature in my pantry. If the tahini you have is dense, you can pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to help soften (and hopefully save your spoons) :) 

You might also check out a Middle Eastern market -- here's a good list if you're in the DC area.

I really like Soom tahini, which you can find at Whole Foods. (So does champion chef Michael Solomonov, FWIW.)

Just FYI the Food & Drink section on my main site view still has last week's articles.

Can you clarify where you're looking -- send a link? Because none of what I consider the Food pages on the site have last week's articles. (You know we publish things online every day, yes?)


Hi guys!! I just got back last night from a 6-day trip to Key West for my best friend's wedding. It was great, but after nearly a week of waaaay too much indulgence (damn those pina coladas and key lime pie!), I'm in desperate need of a detox. I am so looking forward to cooking up some healthy meals for dinner for the next few nights... do you have any recommendations or go-to faves? I've got a lot of frozen protein on hand if you need a starting place: salmon filets, mahi mahi, bone-in pork chops, shrimp, chicken breasts, and sirloin steaks. Not opposed to vegetarian dishes though!

Hah, I feel the same way after eating and drinking my way through Texas for a week.

I made this Dinner in Minutes salad the other night and it hit the SPOT.

Salade Nicoise With Mango Dressing

RECIPE: Salade Nicoise With Mango Dressing

For that salmon, these are nice options:

Roasted Salmon With Artichoke Topping

RECIPE: Roasted Salmon With Artichoke Topping

Green Tea-Poached Salmon With Asian Slaw

RECIPE: Green Tea-Poached Salmon With Asian Slaw

For the shrimp: 

Shrimp With Spicy Cashew Sauce

RECIPE: Shrimp With Spicy Cashew Sauce

Shrimp and Snow Pea Salad With Sesame

RECIPE: Shrimp and Snow Pea Salad With Sesame

And a few meatless options that I really like, too:

Super Green Stir-Fry

RECIPE: Super Green Stir-Fry

Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Cakes

RECIPE: Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Cakes

Broccoli With Roasted Peppers, Feta, Olives and Herbs

RECIPE: Broccoli With Roasted Peppers, Feta, Olives and Herbs

When we had a huge harvest of (really hot) habaneros last summer, I chopped them and froze them in ice cube trays. Now I am trying to think about ways to use them before the next harvest begins. For instance, can I use frozen habaneros in this? (And how would I guesstimate 20 habaneros in the recipe compared to chopped habanero cubes?) Also, could I infuse an oil? Or do something else that would make this gift-able? Thanks.

I think a habanero jam would make a lovely gift and would be a great way to use those frozen habaneros! 

Tim Artz, the source of that wing recipe, says the volume of chopped habaneros would be about 1/2 cup. He freezes his whole (which I do, too -- so much easier than chopping beforehand, and the seeds pop out more easily, too). You DID de-seed them before chopping, right? If you didn't, I'd cut way back on them for this recipe.

Another thought: Infuse in vinegar, not oil. That makes a quick hot sauce. Or combine with fish sauce for a standard Vietnamese condiment.

I can't say I have any specific Mother's Day memories but I do have clear memories of Mom and food. We moved to Alaska in the 1960s and that's where my food memories begin. Mom began organic gardening and put raised beds in our backyard. She grew raspberries, cabbages, carrots etc. We had a poodle who would accompany her to the garden and then pull a carrot and chew on it while he watched her work. We would go to remote places and pick berries. I remember sitting with her in a clearing and picking berries. I was constantly imagining that I saw bears in the woods that ringed us. She made wine and rootbeer for us kids. I would watch her cap the bottles and then put them in a closet. In kid-time it seemed like months before that rootbeer was ready. So, thank you Mom for teaching me about food. Even if you weren't explicitly teaching, I was watching and learning.

What a great mom! Thanks for sharing the memories.


This will be my first Mother's Day without my mom. She cooked a lot for the family when we were young. She wasn't particularly obsessed with food or trying new and unusual things. But I have this one particular memory that I'll share (with all the problems associated with memory and its accuracy!): My mom decided to surprise the family with a home cooked Chinese meal one evening. My father, a classic meat-and-potatoes Midwesterner, disliked it so much he wouldn't finish it. End of discussion. My mom was livid. In a sort of tight-lipped Midwestern way. You could feel the chill around that dinner table.

Just wanted Ms Waddy to know her mother's oatmeal cookies are a big hit up and down the California coast. They became my family's favorite shortly after the recipe was published and my grandkids took the recipe with them to school. Corean's Oatmeal Cookies are now a favorite everywhere my family lives and/or studies, and probably further afield!

Yes! Those cookies are a favorite over here too, and everyone gets excited when Twila brings them to staff parties.

Corean's Oatmeal Cookies

RECIPE: Corean's Oatmeal Cookies

Hi Wonderful Food Gurus! My husband and I made the lemon-rosemary chicken & orzo skillet recipe for the first time last Friday for Shabbat dinner and it was so delicious the two of us ate almost the entire thing. Thank you for this recipe! We were thinking of possibly adding capers or olives to up the flavor a little bit but are stuck on what other herbs/spices to add to complement this. Got any ideas? Help please!

Lemon-Rosemary Chicken and Orzo Skillet

RECIPE: Lemon-Rosemary Chicken and Orzo Skillet

I think you're on the right track. I haven't tasted it, nor do I obviously know your tastes, so I'm not sure what would be safe to suggest. Maybe a bit of fresh oregano would not be out of place. I also keep thinking that some feta might be really nice. Or some herby, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes.

Aside from the Waterfront fish market, where would you go in DC to get the best selection of fresh fish? We're making cioppino this weekend!

If you have the bank, I would go to BlackSalt Fish Market in the Palisades, located in the front of BlackSalt, the restaurant. It has a terrific selection of seafood, though it leans toward the pricey side.


You might also check out the market at Ivy City Smokehouse, which is operated by the respected seafood distributor ProFish.


Finally, you might check out District Fishwife at Union Market. Its selection is not as diverse, but you might find what you're looking for.


Chatters, other suggestions?

A question for Carrie, and its more about ordering than making. I love classic cocktails made from scratch. And by that I mean then kind where some of them have been unfortunately turned into mass produced sugery-sweet messes. I like a daiquiri made with three simple ingredients, not a mix. Same with a margarita and others. My problem is, I go into what I think are fairly decent establishments and I want to order them, but I don't know how to politely ask if they make their cocktails from scratch. I thought it would have been easy, but there have been times I have done that, the bartender says yes, and then proceeds to mix my drink using a pre-fab mixer. Maybe s/he thought that since it didn't come out of a dispenser, that was considered scratch. Is there a polite way I can ask, not to insult them, just find out how they are going to make the drink before I order it?

Hey there! I think it's totally OK to ask how they make their daiquiri/margarita -- as long as you're kind about it, it shouldn't be a problem. Something as gentle as "Hey, I'm trying to decide on my drink order--how do you make your daiquiri?" And then have a back-up option if you don't like the answer. A good craft cocktail bar will be pleased you asked. Also, some places do a house-made sour mix which, provided ingredients are fresh, is often delicious. You can also often tell a lot about the quality of cocktails by eyeballing the spirits behind the bar -- if it's all SoCo, flavored vodka/whiskey, etc., I usually stick to beer. 

For those who want to search past Free Range chats to harvest pearls of wisdom (and isn't that all of us?), try this (substitute the term you want to search where "tahini" appears here). "free range" tahini This restricts the results to items that appeared on the WaPo pages in Free Range.

Hello, Rangers! I have Friday off and am having some of my family over for dinner for an early Mother's Day celebration that night. I've recently been binging on the Great British Bake Off and am feeling inspired to take on a baking project to make a statement dessert. Recently I've made a number of yummy layer cakes and rolls, the apfelstrudel from Classic German Baking, a lovely crème brulee, a browned butter crepe cake, and a pavlova. Can you suggest an exciting dessert challenge to tackle on Friday? The only caveat is that it will need to be made and served the same day (although I certainly can make in the morning and have hours for chilling if that's required). Let me know what you think! Thanks!

My mom made up a little binder of her favorite recipes to give to each of us kids. Many of the old favorites were in there (chicken curry salad, yay!). Then there was: "Betty's Vegetable Casserole." I'd never had it. I asked mom when she'd made it. "Oh, I haven't," she said, "But Betty made it for bridge once, and I liked it, so I put it in. That's why it says my favorite recipes on the spine."

Funny. She was a curator!

Any suggestions for using up a Costco-sized container of sesame seeds?

Tons of recipes in our database that call for sesame seeds, but these are particularly good in that they each use a good bit.

Sesame Oat Crackers

RECIPE: Sesame Oat Crackers

Sesame Crusted Feta With Honey-Roasted Carrots

RECIPE: Sesame Crusted Feta With Honey-Roasted Carrots

Sesame Rice Balls

RECIPE: Sesame Rice Balls

Sesame-Coated Chicken
RECIPE: Sesame-Coated Chicken

Sesame Thins

RECIPE: Sesame Thins

It's sooo easy to make! I always use this recipe. It seems to last a while in the fridge, so I usually have some on hand when I want to throw together some hummus, etc. I buy bags of sesame seeds in bulk from Amazon.

Thanks for this! I've been meaning to try making it at home, so now I must. I have a Vita-Mix, which I bet means I wouldn't even have to add oil to the toasted sesame seeds the way you do in a food processor!
Clearly, this is what the previous chatter who has the bulk of a Costco-sized container should do, too!

Hello. I'm making dinner this Sunday at my mom's house for a small party of five. Do you have a suggestion for a good spring roasted chicken thighs and breasts dish? I want something fairly simple but tasty that won't involve a lot of stove work at the end, nor a lot of prep, since I won't be able to get the groceries until that afternoon. Thanks for the help.

This recipe sounds great and would go great with some roasted asparagus and carrots! Good luck with your party :) 

RECIPE: Roasted Chicken Thighs With Preserved Lemons and Olives

How is it I still need to explain the difference to people? Please help me educate our great nation on this inexplicable confusion!

I didn't know this was a source of confusion. I think water chestnuts = Chinese food and watercress = tea sandwiches.

This jam recipe from Cathy Barrow was one of the biggest hits with my Christmas food gift recipients this year. It really makes your cheese plates stand out!

Nice! Cathy is a Friend of a Food and a monthly contributor, so we're always happy to send people to her recipes.

This week's recipe looks so good. And I am so pleased to see that is uses Aleppo pepper! I bought some because it looked good, had NO idea what to put it in, Then I found the cherry meatballs recipe and now this one. Thank you!

Meatballs in Sour Cherry Sauce (Kabab Karaz)

Glad you like the sound of it! 

Lemon and Apricot Cinnamon Chicken

RECIPE: Lemon and Apricot Cinnamon Chicken

We have quite a few recipes that call for Aleppo pepper, and of course you can use it anywhere you'd like some fruity spice.

I'd try this if you haven't yet. It's SO good.

Roasted Apple-Aleppo Yogurt Sauce

RECIPE: Roasted Apple-Aleppo Yogurt Sauce

I recently made a chicken piccata dish that I hadn't made in at least a year. I had forgotten how much I like it! I would like a side dish to match, please. Not just a salad or some simple vegetable thing - I want something that complements the flavor profile of the main dish and that is something fun to make.

I love a good chicken piccata, too. Bright and buttery! It's my kind of comfort food.


It's almost always paired, in my experience, with pasta, perhaps angel hair pasta coated with butter, herbs and parm. But in thinking about the flavors of chicken piccata, you might consider these sides:

Orzo Garden Pilaf With Lemon and Herbs


Lemon Pistachio Couscous


Lemon-Dill Shrimp Salad


Even perhaps something this pungent, which I would love with my piccata: Broccoli Rabe with Anchovy Dressing.

I hope Kara and the chatterer who asked a couple of weeks ago for Dallas recommendations will report back on where they went and what they liked or didn't like.

Dallas was great! We stayed on West Davis, nearish Bishop Arts, and found quite a few spots that I wish were closer to me now -- Taqueria El Si Hay (those tacos al pastor, though!) and Panaderia Vera's (haven't had fresh conchas in so long, sigh!) in particular. Bishop Arts Cider had a cute little setup and also tasty ciders that skewed dry (which was a good thing). Deep Ellum Brewing Co. was also cool and had a tasty sour blonde. That whole area had a lot going on in general: Hide was a nifty cocktail place that I think could've easily come off as pretentious but didn't -- also the drinks were v good. And then we also went to Pecan Lodge and made friends with kind folks sitting at the bar, so that always helps, :). Spiral Diner was closed the day we were really craving/feeling the need for vegetables, but we rented bikes and rode over to Cosmic Cafe on Oak Lawn. It was nice. Also relaxing. 

Because it was a Grandma, Mom, & me experience. I was home from college, Grandma was visiting from the midwest, and I asked her how to make her famous egg noodles. "Well, for every egg, you take a handful of flour and a handful of salt..." Wuh? Mom & I got pencil & paper and followed her around the kitchen. She held her hand differently for the "handfuls" -- about a half-cup for the flour and about half a teaspoon for the salt. So you not only had to have her recipe, you had to have her hands! (She used the bottom/larger half of the eggshell to measure the liquid -- one of cream for rich noodles or one of water for lighter noodles.)

Yes! You have to follow around with a measuring cup/spoon and try to catch things between her hands and the bowl/counter, don't you? Classic.

Hi, Joe, About a decade ago, I served on a DC Grand Jury, too, and I still remember thinking that the food we were given for lunch -- with all due gratitude for having been fed! -- would be great for a weight-loss program because it was so ... bleh ... I simply ate very little. Was that your experience, too?

Times have changed -- they didn't give us food! They gave us an hour for lunch, though, and I used that time to always walk to something near the Verizon Center or Penn Quarter, trying to shake it up from day to day but mostly ending up at Teaism (love that okonomiyaki), Cava Mezze, Chop't or a food truck. One day I indulged in a lunch at the bar at Graffiato, which hit the spot. Too risky to try Daikaya, with that line every day!

I just bought a plane ticket to visit my mom in PR this weekend. I want to bring with me fresh cherries and strawberries which she cant find in our hometown. Whats the best way to get the fruit safe and fresh all the way there? Im planning to stop by wholes food the day before the trip to get them (cant do it the same day). And I'll have checked luggage. Thanks!

I would store the fruit in tupperware. If there is a way to keep a small cooler in your checked bag with icepacks, that would likely keep it fresh during the journey! :) 

Are there any rules of thumb for converting a recipe for roasting in dutch oven to recipe for electric pressure cooker?

Now I really want to try Betty's vegetable casserole.

Me, too! Original chatter, are you reading this?

Black Salt for fresh fish? I wouldn't recommend it. A week ago my parents went there and the restaurant stunk to high heaven of a bad fish smell. Against their better instincts they ate there anyway... and, yep, got sick. I would stick to Whole Foods.

Did you complain to the manager when you smelled the fish? Or did you call afterward? I suspect they would have tried to make things right.

The honey habanero wing sauce can be pressure canned for gift giving. Hot sauce, if the pH is low enough to be shelf stable and good sanitation is used in bottling, makes a great gift. I keep 4-5 kinds of homemade sauce on hand all the time. Peppers, frozen or fresh, may be fermented like sauerkraut. I fermented a load of habaneros, dried the fermented pulp and then used it to make habanero salt.

When I cook recipes from S and Central America, they often call for dried peppers (whole). These dried peppers go by so many different names that it's hard to know if I found the right ones. What is a good source for dried peppers for S and Central American recipes - in metro DC area or online?

     Lots of folks, I suspect, can chime in here. But I'll get things started by giving two thumbs to a tiny place near my house, Mexican Fruits, in the Union Market complex in Northeast. I like it for tons of reasons (lots of cheap, fresh peppers and other produce), but among them is that it carries a great array of dried South and Central American peppers. 

What's the best food gift you or the chatter's have ever given? Mine was last Mother's Day - I gifted my mom a cookbook based on recipes from an area my mom likes to vacation in, made 3 of them (soup, entree, and dessert) and portioned it all into individual freezer servings for grab-and-go work lunches or quick dinners. I think she was most excited about all her new tupperware, tbh :)

I love to gift treats from my favorite bakery, Shatila Foods. As well as chocolates from Theo Chocolates! 

Since we've got a mom theme going on, I'll say the chocolate-covered marshmallows I make almost exclusively for her. She is obsessed and hordes them in the freezer like treasure!

Usually I just give my Mom a photo of me or one of my siblings; that's all she really wants! But this year, since she's now in a nursing home in Maine, I sent her two cakes from Red Truck Bakery, to arrive at my sister's on Friday and then to be taken to her on Sunday, when I'll call and wish I could be tasting them with her. She loves cake, so I'm hopeful...

I gave my mom the Washington Post Cookbook a few years ago. Signed by our very own Bonnie Benwick. My mom loved it. She was also intimidated by it.

I made Beef Noodle Soup this past weekend using this recipe and adding fennel seeds, a cinnamon stick, some dried peppers, and subbing an orange peel for the tangerine peel. I was mostly pleased with the result but while the broth has a fine complexity at the beginning of the spoonful, the ending falls a bit flat. I've only had the soup once (Northwest Chinese) and it seemed to pack more punch. How can I 'beef' up the middle-to-end notes without losing the complexity at the beginning? Salt?

That sounds like a great soup. But if you're comparing it to a bowl at Northwest Chinese Food in College Park (is that your reference point?), then I suspect what's missing is some aged Shaanxi vinegar, which has incredible depth. You can pick up a bottle online.


The $20 Diner: Northwest Chinese Food: A tasty misdirection in College Park

Thanks for the recommendations. Part of my concern was whether FROZEN habaneros will respond differently in an infusion, jam, etc. than fresh. It would seem that you are saying they will be fine. Thank you.

Yep, they should be fine.

I grew up on a vegetable farm (primarily potatoes) in the upper Midwest. My parents, both long gone, had grown up during the Depression, and we were almost self-sufficient, food-wise. In addition to the potatoes (served at least once a day), we had a large garden with cucumbers and dill (Mom made pickles in large crocks), tomatoes (fresh in the summer, bottled sauce in the winter), strawberries (fresh in the summer, frozen in the winter), asparagus, raspberries, and probably more. Each year we'd get 50 or 100 day-old chicks, which eventually provided a few eggs and most Sunday dinners. Our basement (glorified root-cellar below the kitchen with plenty of shelves and a large chest freezer) was full of canned and frozen items (that she prepared). Every few years they'd get a pig and make homemade pork sausage - Dad handled the smoking. She rendered the lard and that was used in the 2-basket french fryer in the kitchen (we had lots of potatoes). She also had a large (galvanized?) manual bread mixer and would bake bread a few times a week. As a cook, she had several go-to recipes. Nothing fancy, but almost always delicious and filling.

This is a great way to grow up. I'm jealous!

We visit Sonoma county yearly (family there) but we really prefer French-style wines. It was such a treat to read the article on French oak barrels for French-style cabernet. Ferrari-Carano used to make a French-style chardonnay and we would buy it by the case, but they quit making it, alas. Is there any possibility of finding the cabernet out here in the DC area?

Glad you liked Dave's piece. I've got an email into him about your availability question. Stay tuned!

WINE: What it takes to drive a cabernet from good to great

This just in from Dave:

Jordan's cabernet is primarily marketed to restaurants, but I'm certain stores such as MacArthur Beverages in DC or Arrowine in Arlington or Unwined in Alexandria would order it for you.

The first time I had a place where I could cook, I asked Mom for some basic recipes--until I was a senior in high school cooking, not baking, I did not do because Mom said Pop married her. She sent me many handwritten recipes, including what to buy, on yellow note paper of such things as soups, dumplings, roast, etc. Over the years the pages got stained so I made copies and put the recipes in plastic sleeves. When she passed away, I gave a copy of her recipes to Pop who had never cooked (his role in making coffee was to turn it on). He used the recipes for the next 25 years--his soup was really good and was always waiting for us when we drove home for the holidays.

I love that story. Thank you for sharing it.

I buy them by the bagful at any latino supermarcado, or international markets like Bestway. Not hard to find at all. Be adventurous and experience the amazing world of grocery stores beyond Giant, Safeway and Whole Foods!

Did you notice that there are two recipes today that combine apricot and chicken? The Turkish one -- lemon & apricot chicken -- uses dried apricots and the "candy chicken" mom recipe from Victoria St. Martin uses apricot preserves. Interesting! Next time I buy fresh apricots, if they're not as flavorful as hoped (which happens at some point pretty much every summer), I'll try stewing them with chicken. Thanks for the idea!

Tis the season for stone fruit! I love combining sweet stone fruit in savory dishes :) 

I've read that one lemon should yield about one tablespoon of zest. But I got barely a quarter teaspoon each from a recently-purchased bag of organic lemons. That was using a micro-plane. Do you think the expectation of 1T was overly optimistic, or did I maybe use the wrong tool, or are organic lemons especially thin-skinned? Or was it just that bag of lemons?

Maybe the organic lemons were small? But I agree, a tablespoon from one lemon was definitely optimistic. I think our general rule of thumb, and my personal experience, is about a TEASPOON per lemon.

Combining themes here - my father always worked evening shift (4-12), so lunch was the family meal, especially when I was in grammar school and only lived a block from the school. Because of the family situation, mom was very thrifty, so for dinner she'd serve leftover protein from a previous lunch, but less of it - on toast. Meatloaf, liver, this hamburger thing she did like a sloppy joe, except with cream sauce, chicken... you name it, I've had it on toast. Not a pick it up and eat it sandwich; that would be two pieces of bread. Open-faced leftover sandwich. Sometimes with a bit of gravy. It sounds a little questionable now that I've typed it out, but to me, meat on toast is a comfort food.

Your mom was a smart one!

Open a one-pound can of salmon and drain the liquid into a mixing bowl. Blend one egg into the liquid. Mash up enough saltine crackers into the bowl to make a thick paste. Flake the salmon and mix in. Shape into patties. Dip both sides of patties into half-&-half flour and cornmeal, seasoned to taste with salt & pepper. Shallow-fry in big old cast-iron frying pan. Drain on paper towels. Serve with tartar sauce and cole slaw.

Another classic!

My mom wasn't much of a cook and could almost be the punch line to the joke about what Jewish women make for dinner (answer: reservations). But the point is that she did it almost every night as I was growing up anyway because she felt it was her responsibility to give her family a home-cooked meal. I was a really picky eater and have only recently realized what a PIA it must've been to perform this chore every night only to get my whining. I now know I actually DO like pork chops and many vegetables as long as they're not overcooked to shoe leather or mush, respectively. In fact, I really enjoy cooking for myself now. But I appreciate the effort my mom made and all she put up with. She is a great baker, to be fair, and her butterscotch squares recipe is family treasure. Thanks, Mom!

Sweet, sweet, sweet.

Those are the greatest cookies ever. I've made them successfully with margarine (not as good as butter but the texture was perfect and my lactose-intolerant friend could eat them); with gluten-free flour (just as good as with wheat flour); with matzoh cake meal (iffy but basically okay). Try them now and you'll never worry about using up sesame seeds again.

Thanks for the endorsement!

I have to bring an appetizer to work for a potluck lunch next week. It needs to be something that can be made the night before. What are your favorite potluck recipes?

Because pot lucks are often filled with unhealthy dishes, I like to make a large salad, such as my stone fruit salad and my orzo summer salad. They can be made ahead of time and the dressing can be left on the side. 


I got the most amazing present for my birthday: my mom sent me four of my late grandma's recipe boxes that she'd unearthed from storage. A lot of the recipes are clippings from magazines and newspapers, but many are also handwritten by grandma on notecards. Mom is coming out for Mothers Day, and one of our activities is to go through all of them and have mom tell me about family dinners when she was a kid. I cannot WAIT!

Such a great idea. Turn the recorder on! Take photos! And ... make something from them, of course. With your mom, if possible!

My mother and I found a honey cake recipe hand-written by my great-grandmother, who emigrated from Poland when she was 16 and never had any formal schooling. We were confused by the ingredients list calling for a "paun" of honey, two "pauns" of flour, etc. until my mother mentioned that she used to love to watch her grandmother cook when she was young, because she just scooped up the ingredients with her hands. Then the recipe became obvious -- she meant "palm!"

I love that story! My grandmother still measures using her palm. I love baking with her and measuring everything out, so we can have accurate recipe measurements (since our palms are all different sizes). 

Can you freeze them? Inevitably, when I buy a big jar of these, they start to get moldy in about a week. I suspect freezing them will leave them mushy (not necessarily a problem if adding them to hummus or muhammarra), but what is your advice on this?

I've frozen roasted peppers and they've held up just fine. (Might depend on the pepper, though?) I'd remove them from the jar, blot them to remove some extra liquid before freezing, then pop them in a zip-top bag. If you're quite particular, you might first freeze them on a wax paper-lined plate or baking sheet before storing in a bag, so that they don't stick together once stored. And if you think they're too mushy, use 'em in dips, like you suggested! 

(Also leaving this here, in case it's helpful for anyone...)

Walnut and Red Pepper Spread

RECIPE: Walnut and Red Pepper Spread

I have very fond memories not only of my mother's many, many dishes, including magical sandwiches that I've never been able to recreate, but also of watching her at the beach, reading recipe books like they were novels, laughing at some parts and ah-hah'ing at others. Bless you, Mom! <<sigh>>

These are memories to treasure, aren't they?

Can I ask more about those magical sandwiches? What was in them? And what have you struggled with?

Thanks for the update, Kara. So sorry Spiral Diner was closed the day you tried to go there. Happened to me too on my last visit back home to Dallas. When I was growing up there in the 1960s and '70s I considered the area where you stayed to be a quaint, sleepy neighborhood and Deep Ellum was considered dangerous. I'm delighted that both have since become cool. Please let me know if you venture to San Antonio, my home since the 1980s.

As a matter of fact, I was also in San Antonio...but only for a day trip. Next time!

Am enjoying the Mom stories. My mom was always a pretty basic cook, one reason I started teaching myself how to cook around age 10. But, she also fostered an interest in other cultures and so that encouraged us to try all sorts of cuisines, early on. This year we'll do our usual celebration, take her out to one of her favorite restaurants, but, do a homemade dessert. Her favorite - the original Velvet Crumb Cake recipe from the old Bisquick boxes... back when it called for cornflakes in the topping, instead of today's coconut.

A nice strategy for Mom's Day!

It sounded wonderful so I bought a jar of "bacon jam" but ... not for me. At least not on toast/bread. Any thoughts on some way to use it up without featuring it as a prominent taste? Like, use it to flavor something else? I have the full jar, minus maybe 1/4 teaspoon.

Maybe you'd like it mellowed out a bit as a condiment for, say, a grilled cheese? Or combine with maple syrup for a sweet and savory waffle or pancake topping.

...and if they serve desserts in glasses with flavored vodka and call them "martinis," stick to beer.

Her Methodist church ladies' cookbook from the 1950s had several recipes calling for "mangoes" which seemed oddly exotic for the time and place. I have since found out that these were green bell peppers!

Wow! Who knew?

My grandparents lived in Deep East Texas and were self sufficient in most things--their grocery list was sugar,.salt, cornmeal and flour. They had a wall of shelves for home canned (in cans!) food. The garden was fenced off from the cows, but still dried up for lack of rain in the late summer. They had pastured cows and calves or yearlings. Fresh milk tasted awful to this city kid, but making butter from it was fun. Also clabber milk which my mother loved (I think this must be like yogurt?) Twice, we were sent home from our annual visit with a whole yearling, cut, packaged, and frozen--we used an old refrigerator and dry ice to get it home safely frozen. Fresh beef has a different flavor from aged beef in the store. Grandmother, and my mother, baked with the pour until it's enough method of measuring ingredients. I can't do that. Some of their dishes are only available as memories, not concrete food to eat and remember.

Thanks for sharing. The fresh beef sounds so familiar to this eastern Washington farm-raised kid; store-bought smells so different as it cooks, doesn't it?

HM. I coveted a Vitamix for a long time, but now that I have one, it's kind of eh. It does a great job liquefying soups and smoothies, but it's awful at blending dry ingredients into a paste. I can't even make pesto without a boatload of oil; I can't imagine it would be able to make tahini out of sesame seeds with no liquid. Am I doing it wrong? (ie, throwing stuff in there, starting it on low and slowly turning it up?) I'd love to know!

Do you roast the sesame seeds first? Maybe the release of the oils that occurs during roasting will help them blend easier. I would also add warm water and olive oil. 

I've had great experience using the Vita-mix for other nut butters. It chugs for a bit, but then starts flowing and we're good!

But, really, for pesto you don't want something that obliterates the ingredients, anyhow, IMHO. You want to leave it a little chunky, not smooth...

I hadn't thought about how unusual this was until I had a recent conversation with my brother but my midwestern Scandinavian mom really embraced the food traditions of many of our international neighbors from their time in married student housing at the University. In the 70s and 80s, we ate foods that few of suburban neighbors did (in the land of tater tot hotdish and cream-of-whatever casserole). My "birthday" food was always falafel sandwiches with hummus and tabouli (and ahem, ketchup), my brother's was chinese peasant food from Anhui province (a potato dish a friend taught my mom), and Korean jap chae showed up on our Thanksgiving table for many years (and at my wedding reception!). I also realized just how much breaking bread (and naan and pita and sharing rice) with friends from everywhere plays a background in my childhood. Embracing the food traditions of others (and sharing ours!) is such a powerful form of connection for me now... [Thanks mom]

Fantastic. I wish I had had such experiences when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, although I've certainly made up for lost time!

I agree -- when plain on toast it's not for me either. But, I have found that it works pretty well on a breakfast sandwich... try it with a fried egg and melted cheddar cheese on brioche/croissant/bagel/etc. Cheesetique actually serves one ("the all day breakfast sandwich" on their menu) that inspired me to try out my own.


I love savory jams, but I agree, they do NOT belong just on toast. Try them on a sandwich - I'd go for a sandwich made with leftover roasted chicken or pork - or with cheese. Also good for glazing things that you are roasting.

A couple of years ago my son, who is an excellent intuitive cook, asked if I remembered how I made his favorite dish when he was a teenager in the mid-70's. He was aghast that I'd taken a family size frozen beef tips in gravy entree and doctored it up to a) stretch for the five of us and b) to taste good. I still laugh when I remember the look on his face.


My lunch was the envy of kids at school because I had such items as city chicken (veal and pork fried on a stick), jello in a small thermos, etc. Because of security problems, my lunches wouldn't be acceptable today because she would include a knife to cut an apple, spread peanut butter, etc. along with a fork or spoon. All I had to do was buy milk and I was all set. I can count on both hand the number of times I ate at the school cafeteria. I still gag when I enter a restaurant and encounter a smell of frankfurters and sauerkrauth. Krauth is always served with pork in our family.

Ha! This is not a mom memory, but I remember an older colleague from rural Virginia who, when the eating-yogurt-with-fruit became a thing decades ago, snorted, "Ah don't cayah WHAT they call it, it's CLABBAH. And NO ONE is goin' to git me to eat CLABBAH."

I can hear it clear as day!

Since you're running strawberry recipes now, does that mean the California or Florida strawberries now available in my DC supermarket (my farmers market doesn't open until June) might be tasty? The last carton I bought looked wonderful but was almost tasteless.

I can't promise that any shipped-from-Florida-or-California strawberries will be tasty, no. IMO, the local berries are worth waiting for. There are plenty of farmers markets open now if you don't want to wait until June. 

but when I couldn't stomach cold cereal and milk for breakfast (I had a nervous stomach as a kid), Dad would let me have a bowl of hot leftover beef broth on whole-wheat toast.

Dads deserve praise, too, and not just on FD! Thanks.

Well, you've baked us until we have a few nicely browned spots, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and many thanks to Amanda, Carrie and Jim for helping with the a's!

Now for the cookbook winner: The chatter who wrote in about Aleppo pepper will get "Turkish Delights." Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book.

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Fritz Hahn
Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003.
Amanda Saab
Amanda Saab is a social worker and home cook. She founded Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor.
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