Free Range on Food: The history of biscuits and gravy, links between processed food and obesity, this week's recipes and more!

Jul 24, 2019

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! 

Well, this is the end of an era, folks. If you hadn't already heard, Bonnie Benwick is retiring from The Post after almost 30 -- !!! -- years, and this is her last week. I know chatters in particular will want to wish her well and thank her for all the great advice and recipes and stories over the years. (How many questions do you think she's answered in this forum alone? Several thousand, I would guess!) Anyway, join us in congratulating Bonnie on her retirement and wishing her well in her next endeavors. I have a sneaking suspicion we won't be hearing the last of her. In fact, she'll be helping continue Dinner in Minutes for a little while longer!

We will also TRY to make time, of course, for your questions/comments about all the stories and recipes we've been publishing this week, online and in print. They include:

Tamar "Unearthed" Haspel's explanation of the most recent research around processed food and how it has contributed to our obesity problems.

Korsha Wilson's look at the struggle of black farmers to hold onto their land.

Cathy "Bring It" Barrow's stellar peach blueberry sheet cake -- an easy recipe with a gorgeous result. I took more than my fair share when it came through the Food Lab recently, and I miss it already. Trust me: Make it.

Aaron "The Hungry Hutch" Hutcherson's dive into the history of biscuits and gravy, with a classic recipe.

Becky's take on grilled fish tacos -- so summery, right? -- plus more summer in her buttery fruit crumble.

Bonnie's latest DinMin, a corn/vegetable bake. More summer!

My latest Weeknight Veg, on a crunchy salad that has the Michael Pollan imprimatur.

Tim's I-tried-it-so-you-don't-have-to look at the McGriddles, which he calls "an HOV lane to a sugar crash."

Maura's look at the latest legal wranglings over plant-based "meat" and whether it can use that label.

More recipes, more how-tos, more, more, more!

We will have a special guest today: Aaron Hutcherson himself, so throw any and all biscuits/gravy questions at him, of course, but also anything else -- he can handle it!

Tamar and Cathy will be joining us, too.

We'll have a giveaway book: Today, I think it's particularly appropriate that it be a copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook," which Bonnie edited -- and will sign for you!

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR8308 . Remember, you'll record and enter it at 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!

As I was cooking the other day, it struck me how many of our favorite family recipes are ones originally taken off product packaging (I know that's probably not a fashionable thing to admit, but, it's true). I still make cornbread from the recipe printed for years on the back of the Albers cornmeal box, Velvet Crumb Cake from the original Bisquick recipe (not their new fangled version that subbed coconut in for the cornflakes), onion dip from the Lipton soup box, green bean casserole from the Campbells soup label, etc. I also try many cookbook and original recipes, but, these company recipes will always have a place in our menus. What are some of your favorite brand recipes, if any?

You know, the Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe is popular for a reason. Also I love this one from my childhood.

That Cream Cheese Cool Whip Pie

RECIPE: That Cream Cheese Cool Whip Pie

Hi gang! Two unrelated questions. First, for Cathy: My 13x9 is Pyrex. Will that work for the cake and do I need to adjust the oven temp? And second, for Joe: I am unfortunately sans microwave for now. I’m quite content to use corn from a can, as the brand I keep on hand is nice and sweet. What’s a rough equivalent to four ears’ worth?

Thanks for the question. I think the cake will do just fine in a pyrex pan and I don't think you would have to adjust the temp at all. Remember that visual cues, rather than time, are always a better way to know when your cake is done so watch for the signs of doneness -- the cake pulls away from the edge, the corners get crispy, and a tester comes out clean. 

RECIPE: Buttermilk Sheet Cake With Peaches and Blueberries

I get about 3/4 cup of kernels per ear, depending on its size. For this you need 2 to 3 cups corn.

RECIPE: Corn, Tomato, Radish and Tortilla Chip Salad

In the biscuit recipe, it says to put them in the freezer for 15 minutes. I understand that this is to re-solidify the butter. If I freeze them before baking, how long should I let them thaw on the counter before putting them in the oven? Could I just put them in the fridge overnight instead?

If you want to make the dough one day and then bake them in the morning, then yes, you can simply refrigerate it overnight.

If my memory serves me correctly from past experience, I believe you could also keep them in the freezer for a couple of weeks and put them straight in the oven from the freezer. (It might take a little longer to bake.) If you let the dough thaw, then there's a chance the butter will melt and mess up the consistency that you're looking for.

RECIPE: Buttermilk Biscuits With Sausage Gravy

I thought Bonnie already retired per Becky's IG story but having just seen her byline, I'm hoping I am mistaken. Bonnie, you will be sorely missed! I love your no-nonsense approach to cooking and can usually identify your articles without even peeking at the byline (I often go right to the article and then scroll back up to see the author). You are like the older sister I never had, providing sound advice and gentle encouragement. Thank you for all your contributions to making us better cooks.

I don't have any sisters, so I'll take that :) And goshgollygee, I hope this doesn't get maudlin today.


But this forum might be the best and only way I have to thank readers like you, who have been my constant source of inspiration and motivation. I have cooked with you and for you, learned from you, been frustrated with and by you -- and gained the experience of a lifetime since I joined Food in 2004.


I'm leaving The Post but not the food world, so you might see my work elsewhere. Keep on scrolling!  

OK -- so I finally tried the Salmon Poke at a restaurant on vacation & then tried to figure out how to make this at home. When I go on-line, the recipes call for "sushi grade salmon". What does that mean? Can I use the salmon that I buy frozen at costco (individual packages) or is it something else? Thanks so much

In truth, "sushi grade" has no official, USDA-sanctioned definition. The term most often is meant to imply the fish is in very good condition and is okay to consume raw. 


When I see that a recipe calls for sushi grade, I try to obtain fresh/not frozen fish, or fish that is IQF (individually quick frozen, at least) -- never the previously frozen/defrosted stuff on display beds of ice. For me, it's about maintaining the fish's texture and flavor. 


And I like this tuna poke recipe very much! 

There was an excellent sale on limes, so I now have 7 of them, and should use them very soon. I’m hoping for some creative not-dessert ideas. There are just two people eating... so more than one idea? Thanks!!!

Here's a starter list. If you can't decide or can't use them in the next week or so, I'd zest then and then juice them; freeze separately:

Crunchy Salad With Curry Lime Vinaigrette

Lime and Fig Chicken (#DinnerInMinutes!)

Chili Lime Black Bean Tacos (from Voraciously's Plant Powered newsletter!)

Coconut-Lime Pancakes (another #DinnMins, suitable for brunch!)

Lemon-Lime Boost (a DIY sports drink)

Looking forward to making this tonight with the last of the sour cherries plus a few white peaches (& cardamom, which is my favorite) , but my fridge has yogurt and nutmilk (& lemon) already, so I won't be buying buttermilk just for one recipe. I've used both the above subs regularly before- & sometimes a mix of the two- would you recommend one over the other for this recipe?

I made it once with full fat yogurt (not Greek-style) and it was delicious, but a little denser than the one made with buttermilk. I've never baked with nut milk, so can't address that!

Thank you so much for that article about peach recipes. I've made the chicken breasts with peaches before but must have buried the recipe somewhere. I remember how much I liked it. I've picked out a couple other of the recipes that I need to try. Especially the bourbon shake.

What is your thought on how much salt to water ratio for cooking pasta or potatoes? If using fresh pasta versus that cardboard stuff is there a difference.

My approach to cooking pasta (and potatoes) has been to add enough salt so the water tastes like the sea. It depends on if you are using kosher salt, fine sea salt, or other kind of salt, so the amounts will vary.

Great and informative article on cheeses. Where can I purchase a good feta cheese in brine?


ARTICLE: Cheese, please! How to pick new ones to love (Hint: Sample a lot).

Thanks! Depends where you are. Trader Joe's at least used to sell it, maybe they still do. A good cheese shop/counter would be a safe bet, even a well-stocked grocery store, as well as a Mediterranean/Greek market.

My mom & auntie are visiting next month and they both enjoy this combination of wine and cake, I mean, they dump the cake in the wine ಠ_ಠ. I'm not a fan of the combination but would like to make a cake for them to enjoy; with wine of course. I'm thinking that perhaps a pound cake will survive the "immersion"... any ideas of cakes and which wines to pair with? Thanks!

First of all, I am a big fan of your mom and auntie. When I'm making brownies  that call for some water in the recipe, I'll sometimes replace it with red wine. Second of all, I think you're on track with a pound cake! If you're really trying to hone in the wine flavor (not the alcohol part), you could make a wine reduction and pour it over the top of the cake while it's still warm. If you were making a layer cake, you could use a wine reduction to dab on each layer as a soak. If you're talking about just finding good, dunkable cakes, I think sticking to pound cake is a good move, lighter cakes would would just be soggy and dissolve into mush. Maybe white, fruity wines (Chardonay maybe) with a lemon poundcake, a red wine with a marble one (Pinot? Merlot?). 

Kari's suggestion to make a wine reduction reminds me of a favorite way to use leftover wine. I know I've mentioned this many times before, but it bears repeating! This mulled wine syrup is such a keeper, and you can use red or white wine -- or rose, or orange, or a combination. I've used it on pound cake before; warmed thick slices of leftover pound cake in butter, dolloped with creme fraiche or yogurt or whipped cream, drizzled with the sryup.


To avoid contamination, I have one cutting board which I reserve for raw meat. My question -- at times, the only meat I'm cutting is frozen bacon. Is the combination of curing and freezing enough that I can be safe cutting this on my regular board? Or should I haul out the meat board for this one small job?

"Cured" does not mean your bacon's completely safe from bacteria, nor is freezing a guarantee. Because you are taking precautions, stick with your separate cutting board game.

Do you have a recipe for a vegan brunch entree? Everything I see has eggs, meat Butter, etc.?

Yes! We do! 

If you're looking for something sweet, these Carrot Waffles With Coconut Cream look delicious. 

For more savory things, you could go for Savory Indian-Style Oats (Oats Upma)


I was in Canada recently and they had Beyond "meat" absolutely everywhere. I tried a "sausage" egg and cheese breakfast sandwich with it and was heavily reminded of an old-school TVP-and-spices patty. I have no objections to shmeat becoming more popular, but I wish it were more impressive.

Petition to make the word "shmeat" a thing.

I second Kari on "schmeat." Also, if you want it to be more impressive, wait a minute. It's getting better all the time, and I find the Impossible Burger, once loaded with burger paraphernalia, to already be a persuasive burger experience. 

How to make biscuits when there's no room for rolling pins and breadboard? With no room in the micro-kitchen here for rolling out buttermilk biscuit dough on a breadboard or countertop, what are my alternatives to rolling pins, board, and flour on the countertop while still making delicious buttermilk biscuits including the ingredients of baking power, baking soda, buttermilk, and a mixture of combined almond and all purpose flour, etc.? Also, I don't like the thought of rolling out dough on a corner of the kitchen countertop given current food safety concerns, and even the smallest breadboard would be too large for the countertop. Also, that means rolling out anywhere except in the kitchen is off-limits in this apartment. Foodie note - I sure do miss my Southern mom's kitchen biscuits that brought all my friends to her kitchen from two blocks around when the biscuit aroma started drifting through the neighborhood before the days of air conditioning! (Including me as I RAN in from the huge field in back of the kitchen door, mouth watering for those biscuits.) My question - Any help or ideas on how to cook those good biscuits without rolling them out would be greatly appreciated. Charles.

If you don't want to roll them out, then you can always make drop biscuits. Here's a recipe.

if you live in the DMV, head to Mom's. I can't remember brand names, but I have seen at least two options.

Agreed -- I buy it there frequently! And also can't remember the brand.

I've also gotten stellar feta from Almaala Farms in Union Market. And then there's the great Yekta Market in Rockville: Such good feta -- and more!

at least two kinds of feta and they are in brine at the store, though they sell it wrapped in paper. If you brought your own container, I bet they would put some of the liquid in there for you. The texture is great.

See? I'm not the only one who thinks so!

Oh, one other thought: Mediterranean Way in Dupont Circle. Great feta there.

Which of the crab cake recipes in the Recipe Finder would you say is the best, most traditional, low- to no-filler version? If you were serving it as a first course, what kind of light salad would you pair it with? Any favorite blue crab vendors in the DC area? I thought I'd go to Whole Foods but can plan another stop if you wave me off... Thank you!

I think chef Matt Adler's crab cakes, which won a local competition a few years back, are ideal. And his accompanying garlic aioli is pretty darn good, too.

If you wanted to serve a fancy dessert for a price-is-no-object dinner party for eight, what would it be? I don't have a grill and would rather not have to spend many hours on it because I've got a lot of other foods to prep. But most importantly, I want to make it ahead of time and have it come together fairly quickly at service time so I don't neglect my guests. Lots of restrictions, I know! And I'm drawing a blank, which is why I'm coming to you for help!

It's had to beat chocolate mousse in dessert department when you want to wow with its luxuriousness, have it prepped in advance, and not take up all of your time. Becky did a great recipe a few months ago, that you should try. Want to add a distinct seasonal touch? Serve the mousse with some fresh berries or stone fruit, and I think your guests will feel extremely pampered. Besides, who doesn't love a good mousse?

I'm hosting a summer cocktail party - sort of a French theme, with tartines, quiche bites, and rose. Do you have any inspiration for finger-friendly desserts that aren't too time intensive given my other prep?

I love to serve tiny cookies in a situation like this. You can make them ahead of time, freeze and let them thaw a couple of hours before the party. Try ginger snaps or sables or fudgy chocolate cookies and make them the size of a half dollar. 

Alternatively, ice cream!

Or both.

I used a couple in last night's dinner! I took two salmon filets, brushed on a little olive oil and added some salt and pepper, and baked at 400 for about 17 minutes. When it was done, I squeezed the juice of about half a lime over the filets. Really simple, but delicious. For a side, I sauteed a chopped onion in butter, then added some riced cauliflower (about 2 cups). When the cauliflower began to soften, I added a cup of light coconut milk and the juice of one lime. When the "rice" had soaked up the coconut milk, I grated a little of the zest over it and then seasoned with S&P to taste. Himself and I really enjoyed the meal. Hope this helps!

I found that grating a stick of butter makes cutting the butter into the dry ingredients faster and easier....but the amount of time and effort it takes to grate a stick of butter is about the amount of time and effort saved. Is there an advantage to grating that will tip the cost-benefit ratio for me? I've been perfecting my biscuit skillz now that it's cobbler season.

I've tried the grating trick once and I agree that I don't think it's necessarily worth it. I have warm hands, so it starts to melt on me, but I've heard from others that you should freeze it first if grating is the method you choose.

I am curious about the process used by Post authors for determine the calorie counts and other nutrition information provided for recipes. For instance, do you send food out to a lab for testing? Do you add up the counts for individual ingredients and add them up? Just wondering. And congrats to Bonnie on her retirement.

Thank you kindly!


We (and by "we," I mean mostly aide Kari Sonde) use the NutriBase chefs edition, which accesses hundreds of thousands of data for raw, cooked and processed foods, plus over the years we have input plenty of our own items.


Some recipes are difficult for us to analyze, as we don't send out to a lab for testing how much marinade gets absorbed and we don't have a surefire way to measure all the oil that might go into a fried foodstuff. But for the ones we do, we (and by "we," I mean . . . ) rely on weighing and measuring ingredients when we can, and also upon a guide of standard food weights and measures called "The Book of Yields" by Francis T. Lynch.


We input number of servings and the ingredients (we do not include garnishes, because they can be imprecise) and the program breaks down the recipe into the basic info we include plus all kinds of vitamin info that we don't include.

I'm hosting a potluck gathering at my house in a couple weeks, for about 8 people. We have a vegetarian, someone who is gluten-free, and someone who is lactose intolerant. I'll only have an hour or two to prepare prior to the guests arriving, so it would be great if some (or all!) could be prepped 3 days before (I'll be traveling!). All I can think of are winter dishes - soups, chilis, etc. What would you suggest for a lighter summer-weather option?

I recently collected some quick, vegan dinner recipes here, and I think most of them would fit the time crunch and additional dietary restrictions. You can make Crispy Herbed (Baked!) Falafel that you can pair with rice and an herby tahini sauce, a cooling Avocado, Cucumber and Fennel Soup (with coconut yogurt instead of Greek yogurt), which will whip together in maybe 10 minutes, Black Bean Burgers which you can reheat later.

This Mediterranean Crunch Salad is quick and easy, and you can leave out the feta. 

And, you can make the components of these Chili Lime Black Bean Tacos ahead of time and have guests assemble themselves!

I've had good results by thinning the yogurt with milk or almond milk. Thin gradually, until it's about the consistency of buttermilk.

We had a disappointing batch of corn on the cob the other day -- the corn tasted starchy rather than sweet and corn-y (and I don't like my sweet corn that sweet), but I cut off the kernels of the untouched cobs anyway to save. Is there any ingredient I can add to your corn salad recipes to counter the so-so-ness of the kernels?

I'd say you might think about tossing it in a scorching hot pan to get it browned, which would add nuttiness, and then squeeze in some lime juice and if you want a teensy bit of sugar or honey! Oh, and ground chile would be good...

The old family-run groceries that have been there for a couple of generations (a Greek-American colleague tells of falling into one of those barrels of brine as a toddler).

Hi Free Range I live in a place where I can't find sushi fish to prepare myself, although there is a lot of sushi available in restaurants (Paris, in case you're wondering!). I really miss making the Korean fish bowl from Robin Ha's Cook Korean! So I REALLY enjoyed the vegan sushi bowl this week, as it gave me some of the flavors and textures I miss without the fish itself. Also the farro bowl was a knock-out. Very happy I signed up for the series! -Happily Eating More Plants

So glad to hear it! Sonja and Alex will be delighted to know, too...

ARTICLE: Get Voraciously’s Plant Powered newsletter and start cooking the way you want to

To the hostess considering this as dessert, just remember that vegetarians don't eat gelatin, in case that's a consideration, as it often is. Personally, I'd do something like Key Lime Tarts garnished with raspberries. Summery and easy to make ahead.

My trusty sheet pans are wonderful, but I'd really like to get them looking cleaner. Would a run through a dishwasher significantly remove the baked-on (polymerized?) soils? The cooking surface is clean but the corners are very dark with baked-on oil (I assume) and the bottoms are deeply browned. I don't have a dishwasher, but could use my sibling's dishwasher if that would help. Anyone know if this actually makes a difference?

If Barkeeper's Friend doesn't take it off, it ain't coming off.  Also, you probably already know this but I have to say it anyway since I was so proud of figuring it out (let's leave out the part that I was over 50 years old at the time). Almost anything you cook on a sheet pan can be cooked on a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan, which makes clean-up as easy as crumpling and tossing, and keeps your pans looking very nice indeed.

Oh no! I love Bonnie. I enjoy her writing style, her personality (from her chat and articles), just everything about her. I will miss her terribly. I have emailed her directly 2x over the past 20 years I have lived here and read the Post, and she responded promptly to my cooking questions. She's the best. I sincerely wish her a very happy retirement.

Then I might know who this is? Thanks for the love.

And thanks for the many hours of great chat, great recipes and great food comradery! May you find many hours of happiness in the next stage of life.

Hours of gratitude backatcha!

Does reserving one cutting board for raw meat effectively prevent cross-contamination if you wash it between every use? I mean, if there are some bacteria or other stuff left there, couldn't it just contaminate any future meat prepared on it?

I guess that depends on how they're cleaned and stored each time, as well as what the cutting board is made of and what kind of shape it's in (lots of little knicks and scorings, etc). 


At home, I use a separate cutting board for chicken, and that's about it. (I can reveal all today! Liberating.)

THANK you!! Just bare? I mean, a hot pan with no oil?

Yep! Cast iron, preferably! It'll get it charred in spots!

The ol' tofu scramble may work for you. If you're also serving a crowd with mixed dietary interests, you could do a make-your-own breakfast taco bar with eggs, tofu scramble, beans, grilled veggies, vegan and turkey sausage, roasted potatoes, and micheladas. Grilled veggies and potatoes could be made together in a sheet pan in the oven too.

Yep, I like a tofu scramble!

RECIPE: Tofu Scramble With Salsa Cruda

Word to the wise on salting the water, I was a little too enthusiastic about Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and added too much salt to the pasta water...and then the pesto was pretty salty with all of that lovely cheese. We ended up having to rinse the pesto off the pasta to get it edible, so learn from my mistakes! And don't burn yourself when testing the water! We have a bounty of corn from the CSA (like 12 ears for 2 people). Other than sneaking it into my neighbors' cars or making the salad set out above, do you have any ideas for using it up? Fritters? Elote? Finally, congratulations to Bonnie! Thank you for many years of delicious cooking and service to the Post community. Cheers!

With a bounty of corn, I recommend cutting the kernels off the cob and freezing it for the wintertime. You'll be so glad you did. Hold out some corn. You'll have a bunch of cobs --  make a corn cob stock (cover the cobs with cold water, add salt, boil for a couple of hours) and then make corn chowder with the stock, an onion, and a couple of potatoes, adding the fresh corn toward the end of cooking so it's not overcooked. Garnish with crumbled bacon and snipped chives. Then, please invite me over. I may have to make this tonight. 

Despite some brands representing themselves as healthy and/or organic. do all have the same effects on our bodies? I hope not.I eat about eight servings of fresh fruits and veggies a day, vegetarian but mostly vegan, and a few times a week supplement my meals with brands like Amy's, Vegetarian Plus and Engine 2. Am I only fooling myself in thinking these are healthy?

They're definitely not all the same. An Amy's bean burrito is most certainly better than, say, a Twinkie. Food processing can be used for good! It can make nutritious food convenient and easy. Keep doing what you're doing.

ARTICLE: How processed food makes us fat

which leads to waste? I've been trying to figure this out, and I've only stumbled on two things that help. 1) Just give up on certain items that you never get through before they go bad. For me, this is cucumbers. Unless I'm making quick marinated ones for a get together, I just don't eat them quickly enough. 2) Do an intensive evaluation of the fridge before shopping including "processing" things to see how much I have. Sometimes this means picking all the meat off a chicken carcass. Sometimes it means cutting all the celery into usable pieces so I can see how much I have and can eyeball whether it will last the week. I think this is helping, but I would love to know if there are other tricks. Cooking for one and I tend to lose my appetite a lot in the heat, so that makes things trickier.

The best, best way to stop overbuying is to keep an inventory of everything you have, make a shopping list and NOT SHOP WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY. Shopping at farmers markets for things that are super perishable -- like greens, for instance -- is helpful if you are able to.

I also kind of lose my appetite in the heat, so it also helps to really dive in and understand which things you make can and can't be frozen. I like your idea of "processing" things.

Disclaimer: I've never tried it and don't think I want to I realize you're on the other side of the country from me, but you left out southern part of Central California. Biscuits and gravy have been on the menu forever, brought here with the dust bowl migrants.

Yes! Biscuits and gravy can be found all over the country! I talked to one person about biscuits and gravy in California, but didn't find any confirmation about when exactly it first showed up there.

Sorry tried one at a friend's and was not that impressed. Didn't finish it and threw a burger made with local beef from Wilson's Farm Meats on the grill and cooked it to medium rare, with swiss chees, bacon, mustard, Simply Heinz(cause its made with cane sugar) grilled onions on a toasted English muffin. I like my burgers just medium rare and Sorry cant do that with a vegan burger since I like the juices and blood. But then I like my steaks Pittsburghed. Too each his own

Bonnie - What would the one dish be that you would want to have cooked for you at your Washington Post retirement bash?

Impossible! Not the ersatz burger meat, just impossible to say. Thing is, one dish will never be enough. There's always something to try, just around the corner.

wailing...don't leave us....waaaaahhh...but seriously, Bonnie, your advice and recipes will live on in the Post archives. Thank you for your contributions.

Thank you! Hmmm, just to make sure they live on, you might want to start a petition....#justkidding

Would accept your advice and guidance. "Retiring," is a complete misnomer.

I am completely comfortable with your demographic :)

The buttermilk peach cake sounds delicious, but as a single person I'd like to cut it in half. How do I do that with a recipe that calls for an odd number of eggs?

Use a scale! Whisk the eggs together, weigh, and take out half (make yourself a little scrambled egg and a half). Also, the cake will freeze perfectly. In pieces sized just right for one.

You could do what my Sicilian grandmother and aunts did for pasta. Roll them out on a clean, flour dusted dishtowel on the table.


Hi -- I'm headed to the beach for a weekend on August 2, and there will likely be a big group of friends and family gathered together (maybe 20?). I'd like to offer to prepare dinner for everyone on Saturday night and I'm trying to come up with ideas for a main that won't have me toiling away in the tiny kitchen for hours. Thinking maybe cold sesame noodles -- any other ideas?

We've switched to a super-powerful detergent (Cascade 16X pods) because even with weekly cleaning, our dishwasher doesn't clean that well despite being not that old. This also means I hand-wash wineglasses etc more now. But we've found that our small aluminum sheet pans are darkening now, and I don't want to end up with pans that scorch what's baked on them. But hand-washing sheet pans doesn't appeal to me. Any suggestions?

Sorry, you gotta scrub.

A recipe for sausage and tomato strata on a can of Carnation evaporated milk. I have used it for 20 years or so.

Think I speak for a lot of chatters, - thank you for all of your wise and candid guidance, delicious recipes, wonderful writing and great sense of humor. You will be missed. Hope you celebrate.

Celebrations began last week! I appreciate your kind words more than I can say. 

I think last year (maybe) one of you WaPo food experts (not being sarcastic) suggested using a Dorie G method that she used for blueberry pie, to avoid tomato sogginess. Any recollection? Of course I can't find it.

Scatter dry unseasoned bread crumbs along the base of your pie crust and that will help. But baking the pie on a heated surface will do more to combat soggy bottom than anything. This will not work with anything but a metal pie pan. Do not try it with glass or ceramic. 

Heat the oven with an inverted baking sheet on the center rack. It must be inverted or the heat rises up the sides of the pan, too, and does not work as well. Place the metal pie pan directly on the hot baking sheet.

Is there a central location to access them all? I've been going back through my email to find them and seems like no search capability. Can't Mr. B (who owns WaPo) get his tech experts on this problem? Would love to be able to search the chats too. Surely he could monetize it on some way.

You should be able to search your email, no? Mine has a search function.

Loved the fish taco recipe...any suggestions on where to get "the best, freshest corn tortillas" that it calls for? Bonus points for places in Arlington.

Do you have a favorite taqueria near you that makes fresh tortillas? You can see if they'll sell some to you to take home.

Good suggestion. I'm a huge fan of Chaia, although they're in the city. Also pretty much anything you get at a Salvadoran/Mexican market is going to be better than the standard grocery store fare.

Citrus-Marinated Fish Tacos

RECIPE: These fish tacos channel the best beach vacation vibes

Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria usually has really good feta in brine.

I'm from West Virginia, and I grew up eating biscuits and gravy always with a side of fried apples. So good - the apples cut through the creamy gravy and biscuits somehow.

I've never had biscuits and gravy with fried apples before, but I did grow up eating biscuits (no gravy) with warmed, cinnamon-spiced applesauce. Maybe I'll have to give your way a try one day.

Milagro brand is our favorite.

I discovered at our local health-food store, Evert-Fresh Green bags, and they are miraculous at keeping heads of lettuce, bunches of celery, etc. fresh for days and weeks after buying. They're washable and re-usable, too, so they could hardly be more eco-friendly (even if they are made of some kind of synthetic material).

So wanted to love it, but found it tasteless, and I don't eat meat much. My dogs did enjoy the other patty. (Tim, please don't scold me - very old, very good rescue dogs and gosh darn it, I'm spoiling them for the short time left.)

Kind of sad story - family friend has very early onset dementia (think due to multiple football concussions). Trying to help his family with remote caregiving. They will be in town soon, and I'd love to send them home with a bunch of frozen food (in servings he can reheat himself, preferably in microwave, since the oven is a bit dangerous. All suggestions welcome. I'll pack a cooler for the roughly 5-6 hour trip home. Please. This guy and his family are special people.

I am so sorry about your family friend; very very sad, indeed. And how kind of you to want to help. Food is one of the best ways we can show one another we care. They're lucky to know you. How about soups and stews that are super freezable and reheat in a snap? I am thinking this cauliflower soup seems comforting and nourishing. Or this lentil soup. This turmeric chickpea stew sounds delicious as well. I am sure your friend's family are so deeply grateful for your caring.

In addition to the WaPo Choc Zucc cake, I found some Choc Zucc Bread recipes on line. If anyone is overrun with zucc, suggest trying them and adding a bag of good choc chips to the batter. Not a fan of chocolate, family avoids zucc, and they loved it. Didn't believe zucc was included. Made in mini loaf pans for freezing. Now I have to figure out how to deal with tomato glut.

Mom's has both refrigerated and frozen options. Best corn tortillas I have found outside a restaurant making them in-house!

The article on the solar cookers reminded me of a column the Post used to run, Food 101 by Robert Wolke. It was about the science behind cooking (he was a retired Pitt professor). He had one about frying an egg, pavement wouldn't work because as it cooked it would block the heat recharging the concrete. The hood on his daughter's dark blue car on the other hand would continue transferring heat from other parts of the hood still exposed. He even compiled the columns into a book I think it was - What Einstein Told His Cook - the cover was something cooking over a Bunsen burner. I loved that column and gave the book to my Mom.

I want to bring food to my friends who have just had a new baby. I am thinking something that reheats well and is big enough for leftovers. The restrictions are: · Vegetarian (fish is ok), no nuts (this includes peanut oil), no soy or sesame, no stone fruits (eg peaches, nectarines, apricots), and no strawberries. Any suggestions?

You're so sweet to bring food (which is the BEST gift to new parents btw, and I speak from experience). Lucky them. As for a meal to bring, IMHO nothing beats baked pasta and it's a dish that also freezes beautifully for a rainy day. This one looks delicious!

Yes, if that's my biggest problem . . . but I have to open each newsletter to find out what I think I remembered. Any tips would be appreciated.

We are putting all the recipes into our Recipes Finder, and they're tagged Plant Powered Newsletter, so you can look there!

Here's a link to them all so far.

My 11-month-old is now almost entirely on table food, and I'm scrambling to find healthy meals for her that a) freeze easily, b) are soft - she only has four teeth! - and can be broken up into small pieces, and c) can easily be sent to daycare. Do you have any specific suggestions? She's not allowed to have honey yet, but anything else is fair game. Easy is better, especially since I don't eat meat, fish, or cheese and so am learning how to cook with these things for her as I go!

Before my kid turned into a picky toddler (sigh), he ate a lot of what we were eating. Frittatas, enchiladas, mac and cheese, noodle stir-fries. Of those, I'd say mac and cheese and enchiladas stand the best chance of freezing. He also loved this potato chickpea curry.

Easy Chickpea Curry

RECIPE: Anyone can make Indian food at home, and this chickpea curry is how to start

Steamed veggies are also good to get her into.

As far as sending to school, I did a lot of fruit and yogurt and when he was little, those teething crackers. Also freeze-dried yogurt drops.

I bought one of these ar Bed Bath&Beyond. Dexas® 12-Inch x 17-Inch Kitchen Work Board in Natural/Green It fits any where in the kitchen - over the sink, easily moved to the counter. I liked it so much I have given it to others with a small kitchen - all have appreciated it very much.

A big batch of vegetarian chili or vegetable soup frozen in individual serving containers would be good. I like taking 4 or 5 small containers of sweet potato and black bean chili. Maybe not too spicy on the soup.

I love the suggestion to use a clean floured dish towel. I would never have thought of it. Thank you!!!. I see I came to the right place today to ask the question. Charles.

Bonnie, Congrats on your retirement! This is probably almost impossible, but do you have a few absolutely favorite recipes from your time at WaPo? What about a few "unfavorite" recipes or kitchen disasters (to make the rest of us feel better)?

Thanks much! Re faves. these have managed to stay in my own kitchen repertoire over the years:

Slow-Roasted Beef

Pale Green Salad With Lime Vinaigrette

Ginger Shrimp With Carrot Couscous

Chicken, Leek and Parsley Pie

Abigail's Top-Secret Brisket of Beef

Braised Tuna  Pastilla

Ann Marotto's Fresh Tomato Pie

and too many cookies and cakes to mention!


Re disasters, also too many, including cakes that overflowed their sides; oven fires; oil spills all over the floor; mixing in buggy flour and grains; losing good food to freezer burn; and that time I almost severed a tendon in my hand by landing on a shard of broken pottery. You learn something every time, though. Right?

We will miss you. Thanks for everything.

I will miss  you, too!

ratatouille (on the advice of Slate, if I am remembering correctly). I think the result is pretty good, but it takes FOREVER and I am turning on the oven in the summer. Any alternative ways to make sure the veggies lose a bit of water without cooking for so long they are all mush?

If you're also an outdoor griller, a little advance planning helps a lot. When we (and by 'we' I mean my husband Kevin, who is the griller in our household) light up the grill, we try to make sure we have a host of vegetables on hand to roast over the leftover coals. When the chicken (or whatever) comes off, the eggplant (or whatever) goes on, and roasts while we eat. Then we have a fridge full of roasted veg for nights when when we don't grill.

If not, somebody go get her one, PLEASE!

Oh, the drinking of refreshing beverages takes place AFTER work, and it has begun as well. 

I have been the "first night dinner" person for many beach vacations. I roast a large eye of the round and slice it up while at home. I also make a good gravy with the pan drippings. The meat and gravy go into a large zip lock(s). I pick up fresh french bread loaves before hitting the road. I keep a sharp eye for a road side stand on the way to the beach and hit it up for fresh tomato and corn on the cob. Dinner is roast beef subs with tomato and corn on the cob.

I am trying to eat more fresh produce (especially since my air conditioning is broken!) without letting things rot. I buy one cucumber and one bell pepper at a time. I chop a couple of onions, saute them, and put some in the freezer. I bought a bunch of Fresh Paper when Wegman's was discontinuing them and selling them for $1 per package. They do help keep a head of lettuce fresher longer.

"Plant powered", "chef driven", "Menu inspired"....what's your least favorite (or most meaningless) buzzword? They kind of all put my teeth on edge. What are they even meant to convey???

I hate "Asian-inspired." Which part of Asia? India? China? Mongolia? There are 48 countries in Asia with very, very distinct cuisines. It is an incredibly lazy term.

We like "plant-powered," because we ... named our latest newsletter that! It's meant to convey that the dishes are mostly vegetables, and that they're good for you!

But I HATE "house-made," at a restaurant. 

Also, in the same vein as Kari's, "African" is kinda dumb, given how big the continent is! Just represents how little we in the West understand that part of the world and its cuisine(s).


"natural flavoring"

A guy in an Icelandic saga once saved himself from an arson attack by fleeing in a cloak soaked in whey or yogurt. He was called The Sour ever after. The Saga of Gisli Sursson (son of The Sour) is about his son.

Our bonnie Bonnie, You are a peach! Soy vey! Yeast gods! I will go bananas if you leave! Surely you're not done -- you're underdone. Hearing you might leaf is ugli - like a steak through my heart, it might kale me. You're ribbing us, yes? Lettuce reason together. You're the apple of my eye. You're the inCarnation of flour power! Then again, you've bean with us a long time and hopefully you're getting some dough from the (or com.Post). I could go on milking this ... beeting a dead horseradish, you might say ... but I'll let you go, as long as you promise not to do anything too radish. Thank you for everything!

That's not you, Hagedorn, is it?

I am casseroled over by your pun-ishing tribute. Not leafing, just moo-ving on. :)

I will miss Bonnie tremendously! Agree with another poster, I love her take on food/cooking and she always responded to questions for help. Bonnie even published a recipe I referred her to, so I felt "famous" for a bit.

insert heart emoji here

Is cane sugar any better for you than corn syrup?

No. Cane sugar is sucrose, which is half glucose and half fructose. High-fructose corn syrup, despite the "high-fructose" in its name, is about the same. 

Meal planning and prepping--and sticking to it--makes a big difference for me. If I prep my salad the night before, I don't really have an excuse to skip my homemade lunch in favor of going out. I also try to be realistic. I KNOW I'm not going to want to cook a whole meal from scratch every night. So I shop for 3-4 meals at a time and keep some basics (eggs; frozen dinners) on hand for the crazy nights. If by some miracle I actually get through everything I planned to make, then I'll figure out something else. Hasn't happened yet, though. :-)

The fruit was delicious but the pit split open by itself and the inside was covered by what looked like mold -- a fuzzy gray/white substance. The vendor said it was because of the rains and not to worry. I didn't get sick but I wonder if that was just luck. Should I check the inside of the pits for the rest of the summer, before eating?

This is not a big deal -- Just fine to eat around it!

Late to the chat today and haven't read through everything - apologies if this has already been covered. I love the look of the fruit crumble, but I'm in a nut-free house. Is the topping do-able by omitting the nuts, or is there a substitution you'd recommend? Thanks!

Just omit, indeed! Or if you can have seeds, try pumpkin seeds!

Just a reader-fan who is pine-nutting for you already.

Well, you've arranged us on a platter, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Aaron, Cathy and Tamar for the a's.

And thank YOU, chatters, for all the kind wishes for Bonnie. We will miss her unique wit and recipe savvy, for sure!

That brings me to our cookbook winner: The chatter who asked Bonnie about her favorite Post recipes over the years will get, of course, "The Washington Post Cookbook," where she collected reader favorites. She'll sign it, too! Send your mailing info to, and she'll make the arrangements.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables," "Serve Yourself" and the upcoming "Cool Beans." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Maura Judkis
Maura is a staff food writer at The Post.
Aaron Hutcherson
Aaron Hutcherson is a writer, editor, and recipe developer based in New York City. He's a fan of comfort food, whiskey, and intersectionality. You can follow his personal cooking and eating adventures @thehungryhutch.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor of the Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Becky Krystal
Becky is the lead writer for Voraciously.
Tim Carman
Tim is a staff reporter for Food and writes a weekly column on casual dining for Weekend.
Olga Massov
Olga is a food editor at The Post.
Carrie Allan
Carrie is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Kari Sonde
Kari is the food editorial aide.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, a freelance writer based in Cape Cod, writes The Post's Unearthed column. She's the author of four books, including Dreaded Broccoli (Scribner, 1999), and writes about harvesting food first-hand at
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow is the author of "Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet and Savory Slab Pies" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2018).
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