Chat Transcript: The Food Team answers your questions and talks about Serbian-Croatian pancakes, chocolate pie, this week's recipes and more!

Jul 08, 2020

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Submit a question by clicking on the 'submit now' button at the top and bottom of the chat.

Want more recipes and tips from the food team? Sign up for Voraciously's Essential Cookbooks Newsletter, our collection of 10 cookbooks that belong in your collection.

Past Free Range on Food chats

What are you craving right now? Is it all about summer fruits and vegetables?

If so, we’ve got recipes for figs in everything from omelets to cookies. We’ve tucked fresh bell pepper and zucchini inside a savory clafoutis, topped tofu with a Veracruz-style salsa that includes bell peppers, tomato and white wine. From the grill, we’ve pulled stacked melts with chicken, eggplant, onions, a slather of marinara and, of course, a little cheese on top.

The Fourth of July may be over, but we are still in peak cook-out season, so if you’re looking for fresh takes on hot dogs and sausages cooked outdoors, we’ve got that, too.

As the temperatures skyrocket in many places this week, it suddenly seems like the perfect time to grab the blender and whir together a frozen cocktail. Becky Krystal found a varied selection to share from a peach shake to a pina colada to an icy Irish coffee.

If you’re drinking a lot of iced tea or cool homemade drinks to cool down, Becky also has tips for making sweet simple syrups infused with flavor.

M. Carrie Allan waxes poetic about this strange and unsettling summer, adding a handful of refreshing cocktail recipes to enjoy at home.

Not in the mood for cocktails with your al fresco dining? Dave McIntyre recommends an inexpensive zinfandel that will walk hand in hand with those grilled meats.

If you can’t indulge in a summer vacation, maybe you can pamper your taste buds in the kitchen.

Food writer Kara Elder made thin pancakes in the Serbian Croatian tradition and we slipped a generous dollop of honey-sweetened ricotta inside.

Becky tells us how to make our own dulce de leche and sandwich it between two delicate cookies to make the South American delight alfajores.

And, food writer Allison Robicelli isn’t shy about her chocolate cream pie recipe. She declares it the best.

We haven’t tasted every pie in the world, but we have tasted this one and we give a big old stamp of approval. Readers who’ve tried her recipe seem to agree.   

So, that’s what we’ve been cooking. Now, let’s talk about what’s cooking in your kitchen.

I need ideas for more interesting things to do with green and other low carb veggies. Trying not to add much sugar to anything. And I don't have a grill. Cooking for one, but I am totally OK with eating things several days in a row if it tastes good.

I'm not sure how low-carb you are trying to go generally, and you might need to make some adaptations, but here are a few options that hopefully will spark some creativity!

Spinach Salad With Blackened Chickpeas

Avocado, Cucumber and Fennel Soup

Zucchini, Pea and Spinach Salad

Creamy Zucchini Noodle Salad

Muffuletta Salad

Seared Zucchini and Wilted Chard Tacos

Hello - with Tom out today, hoping another member of the Food staff can pinch hit. I have a first date tomorrow (friend of a friend) and we've decided to let WaPo Food decide where we go - I'm in Petworth, she's in DuPont. Where should we go for a drink and app? Outdoor dining is our only requirement. Thanks!

What a time to be dating, eh? But a pandemic cannot stop romance. 


I would look at the "streetery" along 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan, where on the weekends they close the main drag to car traffic and open it up for socially distanced dining. There are many good options for food in AdMo, including Sakuramen, Zenebech Restaurant,  Donburi, BUL, Bukom Cafe, Roofer's Union and more. 

I'm trying to get the most out of my CSA and eat lots of fresh veggies this summer. Though I grew up thinking salads always had to be with lettuce, I recently discovered that not to be the case, to my delight. I had a great one the other day with grape tomatoes, corn, avocado, onion, bell pepper, cilantro, lime, and S&P. Absolutely loved it and hoping to put together some similar options. Any recommendations? Hoping to stay away from pasta and beans and really focus on veggies.

Sounds delicious. We have many salad recipes in our Recipe Finder, so you could prowl around in there a bit.

Sometimes just a terrific dressing can pull a salad together. Make the avocado dressing in this recipe and put it over your favorite chilled vegetables. It's amazing. Or make the shaved zucchini salad that accompanied this recipes.

In the meantime, here are a few we pulled out for you.

Corn, Radish, Tomato and Tortilla Chip Salad

Marinated Spring Vegetable Salad

If you're cooking outdoors, consider this Grilled Vegetable Salad.

Is it worthwhile pursuing resistant starch to lose weight ?

Hello, we sent your question to Ellie Krieger, who is a dietitian, cookbook author and writes the weekly Nourish column for us. She couldn't join us for the chat today, but she sent along this response:

"Resistant starch is only partially absorbed by our bodies so it provides fewer calories, gives less of a blood sugar rise than other starches and may provide "food" for good gut bacteria.

"Resistant starch can be found in beans, whole grains, potatoes and rice that has been cooked and then chilled, and under-ripe bananas and plantains, for example.

"It may be worth considering the relative resistant starch content when choosing your starch for a meal, but I suggest focusing on whole foods like those I mentioned. I do not recommend using a supplement since there is no proven benefit to using one, and since resistant starch is not absorbed as well, consuming too much at once can cause gas and bloating. "

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. THANKS to Free Range on Food for all the great ice cream talk and resources, I finally dug out my never-used KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment and there's been no looking back. David Lebovitz' amazing dark chocolate sorbet has been slightly edged out by WaPo's 2019 adaptation of Jeni's base for chocolate ice cream (thank you, Becky!) and the all-time fav on heavy repeat is Jeni's Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk ice cream. Bonus: the extra roasted strawberry puree is the perfect topping for the chocolate ice cream. And the person who has been looking for how to successfully include strawberries in the ice cream needs to just try that Jeni's recipe one time, problem solved deliciously and perfectly.

Thank you so much! I'm dying to get back into an ice cream-making groove after all the testing for last year's project. Just need to clear out some room in my freezer first!

S'Mores Ice Cream

ARTICLE: How to create the ice cream of your dreams

Agree with you on how splendid that strawberry buttermilk is!

I've been crafting myself some mocktails, using fresh strawberries that I froze for precisely this purpose. However, I've noticed that because there is no alcohol, it's trickier for my blender to blend the ice, berries, simple syrup and lemonade (I needed some more liquid) because EVERYTHING freezes and then won't really move. It is still delicious, but super thick. Is there something I can be doing for a different outcome?

Well, one game-changing technique I learned from Tess "Blender Girl" Masters years ago is to put the ice in LAST, on top of everything else in the blender, which helps draw things down for even mixing. The liquid goes in FIRST, and the base (here, your berries) goes in SECOND.

See more smoothie tips, including lots of ideas for ingredients and amounts, in this smoothie guide.

Oddly specific question for you or the readers today since Tom isn't chatting: I'm craving a Rachel sandwich -- the wonderful child of the Reuben that is a hot turkey with Russian dressing, cole slaw, and swiss on rye (YMMV on the type of bread). I could go out and buy all the ingredients and make it myself, but since I fully buy into the Carnegie Mellon study that found that -- no kidding -- sandwiches taste better when someone else makes them... What shop in DC proper makes the best one? Extra points for delivery since that beautiful sloppy mess is best eaten in private and I'm still not eager to go out and about, but I would love some suggestions. Or even just solidarity from people who love Rachel-the-Sandwich as much as I.

I can't say I've ever been on the prowl for a Rachel sandwich, so I can't speak to the "best" one out there. At present, in fact, I'm not even finding a single Rachel out there for pickup or delivery. [Insert sad emoji here.] The wonderful Carving Room usually has it on the menu, but the Rachel has been edited out of its smaller pandemic menu.


Regardless of what Carnegie Mellon recommends, I'd suggest that you make your own. Serious Eats offered up a delicious-sounding turkey Rachel as a post-Thanksgiving suggestion. But the author prefers 'kraut over coleslaw. You don't have to follow the same path, of course!

I can only vouch for their turkey club (which was excellent), but Mr. Henry's has a Rachel on their menu. They're still offering carry out! 

My go-to teriyaki is this recipe from Ellie Krieger's Teriyaki chicken thighs. If I omitted the garlic, is there a reason I couldn't make a double or triple batch to have on hand? Could I keep it in the fridge - if so, for how long - or would I need to freeze individual portions? Thanks.

Ellie Krieger couldn't join us today for the chat, but we shared your note with her. She's what she had to say: "I am so glad this is your go-to teriyaki sauce. The sauce will, realistically, keep for two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator and in the freezer for about 3 months."

A little late, but I want to thank Becky for the extended meditation on buttermilk substitutes in her June article and last week's chat. I'm with the State Department and buttermilk is one of those ingredients that I can't mail to myself and almost never find in grocery stores outside the US. I've long suspected the vinegar-milk trick was a scam, so I'm glad to have evidence backing me up! Onto the yogurt aisle for next week's biscuits.

Glad to have helped! Not sure where you are or if it's any more available, but kefir is another good option.

I throw a potato into the cart every time I go to the store because they're filling and last a long time. However, I just checked out my veg crisper and realized that I have accumulated over a pound of red and white potatoes and now they're just looking at me with their little eyes. And I live alone. Is there a good way to freeze potatoes other than mashed? Do you have any favorite potato-centric main dishes I could try with the one or two I don't freeze? (I baked one last night and served it with butter, yogurt, and shredded cheddar and it was so simple and comforting.)

Check out our How to Freeze food guide, which notes that the quality of raw potatoes will deteriorate when frozen. Even parboiled and cooked potatoes won't maintain the same texture.

We have lots of potato dishes in our Recipe Finder.
This is an easy one: Roasted Potato Wedges with Black Bean Chile.

One of the loveliest might be this Pommes Anna.

I want to try a recipe I found for oatmeal raisin cookies -- but I want to leave out the raisins. Do I need to make adjustments to the other ingredients?

Nope, just leave them out. Add something else if you want. 

I fully support this, btw, as a what-are-these-raisins-doing-in-my-oatmeal-cookies person from WAY back.

My 25+ year old Cuisinart food processor died recently, and I ordered a new version of the same 14-cup size. It’s not nearly as good as the old one. It’s difficult to get the work bowl on correctly, and when it’s not right the lid doesn’t snap into place and it can’t operate. It doesn’t mix as well at the old one, and is generally not as sturdy. Before I return it, I welcome feedback from others – have you had these issues with a new Cuisinart? Is there a better brand of large capacity food processor? Or do I just have a lemon that needs to be exchanged? Thank you for any advice.

Define new! Compared to your old one, mine is a new vintage, though maybe pushing a decade at this point. I've not had problems with mine. It is hard to say whether you got a bad one or it's just not living up to your old one. FWIW, America's Test Kitchen did in fact rate the Cuisinart 14-cup its winner in its most recent review. The runners-up included a Breville, but it's twice as much as the Cuisinart.

Anyone else have testimonials from a newer model?

I have an abscess and am about to experience my very first root canal. I don't know if it is going to hurt afterwards, but I'm assuming yes just in case. Any suggestions for something summery, but soft and easy to eat? I prefer lower carb, but I'm perfectly fine eating a small portion of something that usually goes over rice (for example) just without the carb and maybe with more vegetables to fill it out.

Funny you should ask. I recently had oral surgery myself and had this very same issue. I used it as an excuse to binge on mashed potatoes. Other ideas: Soft scrambled eggs or a pureed soup, such as a butternut squash soup.

The only mashed potatoes recipe you’ll ever need

When I got my wisdom teeth out I ended up eating a lot of kichidi and sorbet (raspberry, if you were wondering). We just so happen to have Padma Lakshmi's Kitchidi right here

You can't get any more summery than gazpacho! You might want to go easy on (or omit) the garnish, especially those croutons in Jose's, of course.

I was given about a half a pound of garlic scapes. What does one do with them?

Blitz them in a food processor with basil, nuts, cheese and olive oil to make pesto!

I received three little jars of caviar for by birthday (two black, one red/orange). What's the best way to eat it? Thanks!

I loooove blini or a similar thin pancake with caviar — try the palacinke (pictured below), maybe? Smear just a little butter or sour cream inside the warm palacinke, then top with caviar (whichever type), and maybe some fresh herbs like dill or tarragon. 

Or if you've got some bread, toast it, smear with butter, top with caviar + herbs. 

Another good vehicle for caviar? Eggs. These marinated ramen eggs that Kari wrote about would be lovely topped with a spoonful of fish eggs. 

Or slices of cucumber or radish topped with a smear of butter and a spoonful of caviar!

Is it possible to include tasty keto recipes in your food section? Jim 

I'm sorry. We don't usually write pieces aimed at specific diets and eating plans, so it is difficult to pull out specific keto-friendly dishes.

Ellie Krieger's Nourish column features lots of healthy options, but they are not necessarily keto-friendly.

Here are a couple you can try: Traditional brisket

Pork Chops With Cabbage and Mustard Cream Sauce. 

Well, of course. Doesn't everything taste better when someone else makes it? That way it's a glorious surprise, not something you invariably criticize yourself about ("I shouldn't have used quite so much mustard...").

Little Beast in Chevy Chase has it.

Looking for a good vegetarian stew/soup for summer and will freeze well. I have a gazpacho recipe but looking for something a tad bit more hardy. As much as I don't mind eating repeats during the week, freezing extra portions would be nice too. Thank you.

Take a look at this roundup I did on cold soups. Maybe something you'll like in there.

Cold Mango and Rum Soup

ARTICLE: When it’s hot out, you need to chill with a bowl of cold soup

A few more:

Chilled Zucchini Avocado Soup With Basil

RECIPE: Chilled Zucchini Avocado Soup With Basil

Double Corn Summer Chowder

RECIPE: Double Corn Summer Chowder

Chicken Corn Soup

RECIPE: Chicken Corn Soup

Been doing a lot of this in my house lately, too.

Creamy Spinach Soup With Goat Cheese

RECIPE: Creamy Spinach Soup With Goat Cheese

I just want to brag that I've had mine since about 1981 and it still works fine! I don't use it a lot and have never used anything other than the basic blade...what am I missing?

I got some delightful merguez sausage from the butcher that were fantastic on the grill. But they were missing a little something. Any recommended sauce?

I love merguez and now I want some. I'd try an herby yogurt sauce, a pesto or a harissa sauce. Here are a couple to try or that might inspire your own concoctions:

Basil-Cashew Pesto Sauce

Lemon, Garlic and Herb Yogurt

Yum! I'd veer towards something heavy on the parsley, like maybe this Parsley Pesto

Why? Why would you do that to a perfectly good cookie? (I will sometimes, rarely, make an exception for golden raisins in an oatmeal cookie, since at least you can't mistake a golden raisin for a chocolate chip, but still--whyyyy?)


I'm sure I'm not the only one struggling with this issue this week: any suggestions on using up leftover hot dog or hamburger buns? Yesterday I had a toasted, buttered hamburger bun with cinnamon sugar for breakfast and a hot dog bun filled with zucchini planks and caramelized onions for dinner. I know freezing is better than the fridge for longer-term storage, but my freezer is already jam-packed, so they won't all fit. And I don't need any more bread crumbs. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Funny you should ask this. A friend of mine just told me he made bread pudding with his leftover buns. Here are a few recipes. You might be able to adapt and use one of these.

6 sweet or savory bread pudding recipes for breakfast, dinner or dessert



Buns are a good substitute for bolillos (a type of Mexican roll) when making molletes (a Mexican open-faced sandwich with refried beans on top)! They're different in that they aren't as crusty, but with the time spent under a broiler they'll have that nice crisp-top-squishy-inside thing going for them.

Also love the hamburger-bun-as-vehicle-for-cinnamon toast move. :)

I have a vacuum sealed pouch of halibut in the freezer. The pouch has more than one dinner's worth (for my family) of halibut. Per mercury charts, halibut is a once a week fish. Can I thaw and re-freeze what I don't use? Saw a portion off without thawing, and keeping the remainder frozen? Something else?

Yes, if you thawed it in the refrigerator it's safe to refreeze. (But don't thaw it in cold water or in the microwave.) See more freezer wisdom in this piece.

Hi, I'm considering a recipe for a chocolate cake made in the Instant Pot. It calls for Plugra or another European style butter, which I don't have. I understand that the main issue is likely to be the additional water in American style butter. In this recipe, the butter is melted. Does it seem feasible to make regular American butter into clarified butter? Or ghee (retaining the milk solids)? Or should I just find another recipe until such time when grocery trips endanger neither store workers nor customers? For context, this "fudgy" cake flourless, basically comprising 10 TB butter, chocolate, 4 eggs, sugar, and cocoa. Reviews cautioned that unless cooked longer than specified, it was runny, and a few had that problem even with longer cooking. I wondered if others just substituted American butter and the extra water caused the problem. In an oversight I find odd, there is no mention of what one might do if current circumstances made it unlikely one would make an extra grocery trip just to buy one ingredient. Thanks again for sharing all your expertise.

No, you don't want to make clarified butter, because when you do that you're losing the milk solids and water. Honestly, in a situation like this cake, I think regular American butter is fine. The fat content minimums are not terribly different -- 80 percent here, 82 for European. European butter is more likely to make a difference in a situation where something is flaky, pie crust and puff pastry, for example. Chocolate cake? Not so much.

I doubt the butter was the problem with the cook time -- it may be more about the challenges of cooking cakes in a pressure cooker and/or personal taste. Or just the recipe itself.

I am dying for some delicious summer fruits and vegetables, but I'll be honest: Farmers markets are making me really nervous. What are your experiences? Have you felt safe and seen buyers and sellers following best practices? If, like my usual farmers market (Columbia Heights), they are limiting the number of people allowed in at one time, how long have you had to wait in line?

The market I go to is strict about masks and distancing, which I appreciate. I've only ever gone RIGHT when it opened so I can't speak to what it's like at more populous times. 

I have been to the DuPont Circle Market weekly since this all started and I find it very manageable and pleasant. I haven't stood in line because I make OpenTable reservations that allow customers to reserve a time when you can just go in to the market, no waiting in line. Friends who have waited in line report that it is quick-moving; even when the line is around the block they have never waited for more than 15 minutes. Some rules they enforce:  one-way walking so everyone goes the same direction through the market, masks, encouraging people to go shopping alone, and circles marked on the ground where people can stand in line at a particular vendor (spaced 6 feet apart). I find that it takes the same amount of time as my trips in the before times, but is far less chaotic. There is the occasional person who gets a little too close, but that is a tiny minority. Many take pre-orders too, so you can grab and go.

They are easy to freeze! Just chop into small pieces and put into a zipped freezer baggie. I did this a couple years ago and then threw a few (or several) pieces into every recipe that called for garlic.

Good thought!

People like them pickled, which I do in the form of kimchi--when you replace some or all of the scallions with scapes it is super good. I also use them as a scallion/garlic replacement in any dish that calls for them.


The hype is so much worse than the procedure! I was so anxious to have a root canal, and it was easy! I don't think I was in pain afterwards either. You'll just need to be careful not to dislodge the temporary filling. (But still have some ice cream. You deserve it!)

Any excuse to make/eat ice cream. From Becky:
How to create the ice cream of your dreams

And nuts. I like them both, but not in baked goods. Almost ever.

Since March, I had been buying pre-bagged produce at the grocery store, but over the past few weeks I've been buying loose items again. But then I realized that I had no easy way to open the plastic bags that I pull off the roll. My old method of licking my finger first before rubbing the top of the bag to get the top of the bag to separate no longer works with a mask. So now I struggle, literally. :) Is there an easy solution that I'm missing, short of carrying a small cup of water with me to dip my fingers in, which sounds and would most likely look weird? Thanks!

I've been using so many more of these produce bags now -- I used to rarely do it, just piling my stuff on the conveyor belt, out of a sense that I'd rather not waste the plastic. At my favorite store (Mom's), they use biodegradable bags for this, and I know what you mean -- they're not easy to open! I've found that grabbing the bag's edge between by thumb and two fingers and rubbing it seems to do the trick.

Raisins are an abomination and an affront to a good oatmeal cookie! Some acceptable substitutions I've found over the years: chocolate/peanut butter/vanilla chips. Unicorn chips make a colorful option. M&Ms or Reese's pieces or other similar candy. Dried cranberries/cherries/blueberries/other berries. Chopped dried apple or other fruit. Any combination of the above.

Extremely correct. 


Once I made oatmeal cookies with Raisinets because that's all I had in the house, and they got raves! I did warn everyone about the raisin content, of course. People begged for the recipe, but unfortunately it was the kind that could never be reproduced: one of those last minute "oh-I'm-out-of-brown-sugar-let's-see-how-rice-syrup-works, -not-sweet-enough-let's-add-a-bit-more; OK-a-bit-more; now-it's-too-soft-what-about-more-oats" kind of affairs.

Sheer culinary brilliance.

I bought on two separate occasions, containers of Feta and Bleu Cheese at Costco. Obvious to me now is I will never use these containers up in a reasonable amount of time (they are quite large) so I have questions. How long do you think they will last in the Fridge? What about dividing them up and freezing them. I have a vacuum sealer to repackage them in and lastly, any good recipes to start using them up?

Re: freezing — I know people have, um, opinions about this, but I personally freeze cheese all the time, including types like feta and blue. The texture may be different once defrosted, but that just means you'll maybe cook with it instead of eating it as the star ingredient or on a cheese plate or something. Or hey! Maybe the texture difference won't bother you! You won't know until you try. You could also freeze a tiny portion now, defrost it tomorrow, and see how you feel about it before going ahead and freezing all of it.

(Also know what else is great to freeze that people say never to freeze? Whole raw tomatoes that you'll then be able to easily peel as they defrost — no dip in boiling water necessary — which you can then make into tomato sauce or any other cooked tomato thing.)

So then for using that cheese that you maybe freeze and defrost, I've been very into greens mixed with feta, enclosed in dough and baked, like this recipe for Ossetian pies from cookbook author Olia Hercules. (It calls for nettles and sorrel but you can sub other greens; or if you happen to have her book Kaukasis, she has other filling ideas, including one using beet greens and feta.)

Good Morning, That zucchini and pepper clafouti looks delicious. Right now I have a large amount of broccoli from my CSA. Flavorwise it sounds like a good vegetable substitute, if I give it a quick steam and chop it up before using it. Any issues I'm not seeing with that substitution? Thanks!

Yes, I think that would be fine. I added the zucchini as a variation, myself. Her original recipe was all peppers. Here's the recipe, in case anyone else wants to try it.

Sweet Pepper, Zucchini and Cheddar Clafouti

You've had instant pot recipes, now they make an air fryer lid:  When will we get a review? :-).

We'll consider it!

. . . but I'm dying to know how people are dating! Do you keep 6-feet apart? Masks? Inquiring minds NEED to know?!

I hear you! Lisa Bonos, who reports on such things for The Post, says that masked walks are big for in-person dates.

Yeah check out Lisa's work! Friends of mine are doing masked dates, gift dropoffs, etc. Yearning is BACK baby. One friend got a box of nice pastries from an admirer. 

So I bought some hummus at our local Middle Eastern store last week and I think it might be starting to ferment? It tastes... fizzy. But not at all bad. Is this a hummus-specific chemical thing, or am I just eating food that's going south quickly? No mold or strange colors, just the texture change.

Um, sounds suspicious to me. Hummus is best consumed within a week, so depending on when you got it last week, you may just be getting past its shelf life.

Be careful of anything that can get stuck in there--I speak from experience. Strawberry ice cream, raspberry jam, rye bread? Only if they're seedless! And I thought I needed soft, but a little texture would be okay. Wrong! In a decision that seems inexplicable in hindsight, I was craving a macaroon so I bought one. That coconut got stuck and was brutally painful.

You'd be amazed what can be pureed in a blender! Almost everything. Including lettuce. And green beans. Also, for dessert or just to fill up, don't forget about Jello. And rice pudding. And applesauce. If you feel super-lazy, buy pureed baby food beforehand; that's what I used to do, and the flavors brought back memories.

I was making fresh pasta yesterday and, as always, because of my kitchen set-up I mixed the dough in a large bowl rather than on a table or counter like they often tell you to. I was curious whether there's an advantage to the table-top method other than feeling like you're cooking like your nonna in Tuscany. (I create a well for the eggs inside my large bowl and gradually incorporate flour into the eggs, if that approach is even necessary (vs. just adding flour gradually to the bowl).) And if not, what other cooking techniques do we maintain more for nostalgia than necessity?

This is a fun question to think about. (I'm with you on the table-top method -- every time I do it, I inevitably have to chase some errant egg stream running toward the edge of the table!) I'm reminded of Ellie Krieger's piece from March on her Passover brisket, and this anecdote:

A young newlywed was making a roast for the first time in her shiny, new kitchen. She didn’t need a recipe because all her life she had watched her mother do it. The first thing she did was slice about an inch off the end of the hunk of beef. When her husband asked why she did that she said, “I don’t know. It’s something my mother always did.” She called her mom to find out the reason, but her mom’s answer echoed her own. It was something her mother always did. The mom called the grandma: “Why do we cut the end off the roast before putting it in the pan?” Grandma answered matter-of-factly: “I just do that because my pan is too small to fit the whole thing.”

Dear WaPo food people, one change that would make your recipes even more user-friendly would be a check box indicating that the person commenting had actually made the recipe, as opposed to opining about that type of recipe, expressing interest in making it, etc. The comments of others who have already cooked from the recipe are very valuable to someone who considers making it. Those are the ones I search for when making a final decision about making it, or making my work plan. I benefit from comments such as "I used less sugar and it turned out fine", or "works poorly if kitchen if very hot", etc. But when I want a voice of experience, it's frustrating to have to scroll through many people objecting to the calorie count or ingredients, or saying how much they hoped to make it, or even reminiscing about something similar their family made. I'm fine with comments being all over the place. I'd just like to be able to click on "I cooked this" when looking for the kind of comment I'm seeking. Thanks, regardless, for all the good information you provide. Cheers, D.

This is a really thoughtful suggestion! I'll mention it to other folks. Of course, the only problem is you're relying on people to a) remember/make the effort to click that box if they've made it and b) be honest that they have.

I'm very intrigued by Padma Lakshmi's kitchidi recipe, and I have orange lentils on hand! But no black mustard seeds. I'm not sure what they are bringing to the recipe so not sure what would be the best substitute from my somewhat overflowing spice cabinet. Somehow I'm thinking ground mustard is not it. What would you recommend? Thanks.

They do add flavor and a wee bit of crunch, but if you don't have them, I would just omit entirely, don't replace. 

It would be a different flavor, but you could also use cumin seeds for the crunch. Dial back the ground cumin or eliminate entirely.

I bought dried California Slab Apricots at Trader Joe's about a year and half ago and used only a few. The package has a best-by date of 2/28/20. The apricots have darkened quite a bit. Are they still usable in, for example, a Linzer-style torte? Or do I toss them? (I can't participate live in the discussion this week, so I'll be reading the transcript after.)

I think they're fine as long as you haven't found any bugs or whatnot. I'm guessing the dark color may be because they're not sulphured, which helps preserve brighter colors. They may also be on the drier side at this point, so keep that in mind. Not sure if you'd want to rehydrate a bit to plump them back up.

During this pandemic, I've found myself making dishes from the '70s. I've restrained myself from making a classic, porcupines (meatballs with rice in them). When I googled, I was surprised to discover a number of sites with recipes for them. Have any of you gone back to your youth for long-forgotten dishes during this very strange time?

Well, I recently updated my grandmother's chicken with mushrooms recipe, which definitely dates from the 1960s or 1970s and I ate a lot growing up. It's been super popular!

Wine-Braised Chicken With Mushrooms

RECIPE: Wine-Braised Chicken With Mushrooms

The "I cooked this" option seems to work pretty well on Smitten Kitchen's blog, so I second the thought that this might be a useful feature here.


As a raisin LOVER, I am really digging this idea.

I started making the occasional smoothie when I got my Vitamix and had a similar problem with frozen strawberries. Then, eureka!, I read or heard somewhere that blenders and other appliances with blades that move like that (eg, the garbage disposal) have a harder time chopping up round things, especially larger ones, because the blades don't have anything to catch on. Now I chop my frozen strawberries before freezing (you can also chop them after they're frozen but BE CAREFUL) and quarter my citrus rinds before putting them in the disposal. Haven't had an issue since.

Thanks for the tip.

I was surprised to see a post (sorry I didn't save the link) asking for help identifying a flour sifter -- the kind that comes up if you search "flour sifter." The OP and discussants considered it something from days of yore, as old-fashioned as, say, a home meat grinder or a wash-board. So I'm wondering, has flour changed, or have recipes changed, so that sifting is no longer needed? Or is there a newer kind of flour sifter? I automatically sift the flour, baking soda/powder and salt, and wouldn't mind skipping that step if it's unnecessary.

Sifting is something that helps aerate the flour. In the olden days, it may also have been done to get rid of impurities in the flour that we don't have to really work about (bugs, rocks, who knows). Sifting flour can also make it easier to incorporate into batters, especially when you are working with something delicate, like a sponge cake. It can also be used to combine ingredients, such as flour and cocoa powder (which typically has lumps you need to get rid of). Sometimes I do that in a fine-mesh strainer.

But really, "sifting" or aerating can be accomplished by fluffing up the flour in your bag a bit and whisking it in a bowl, which is usually what you do with your dry ingredients anyway. 

The only tricky thing is that of course aerated flour will be lighter by volume than nonaerated. This is why weights are so important, too. Much clearer.  So if a recipe calls for, say, "1 cup sifted flour," you're going to have to do the fluffing first, as opposed to "1 cup flour, sifted." I'd say that's more likely to show up in an old recipe. These days, the "sifting" is usually spelled out in terms of whisking together or some other step.

Does that help?

You can order biodegradable grocery bags like they have at Mom's on-line. I bring them with me to the grocery store, so no touching the in-store dispensers or struggling to get them open at the store.

Bio Bags, yes! You could pre-open them, couldn't you?

Easy! Buy reusable bags and bring them every time you go! I saw a young woman put a single onion in a plastic bag -- months before the pandemic. That bag will be around for hundreds of years. Is that worth it for one onion? Buy. Reusable. Bags.

And be sure to wash them.

Do you think blackberries or raspberries could be substituted 1:1 for the strawberries in the strawberry buttermilk ice cream? It sounds wonderful but I cannot eat strawberries due to an unfortunate experience with them waaaaaay back in high school. I have tried and tried and can't get over it. However I love blackberries and raspberries and they are widely available where I live. So are blueberries but it seems to me they wouldn't work roasted

Yeah, that sounds awesome! I particularly love the idea of the blackberry. You may need to make some adjustments. Blackberries are tarter, so depending on taste, it might require a bit more sugar. And you'll probably want to strain the puree to make sure you get rid of any crunchy seed remains left behind.

I found out the hard way that all parchment paper is not created equal — mine literally burned up in the oven at 475, and I was lucky not to have a fire. A look at the box informed me that the paper is good only to 420. I have been trying to find something else with no luck; I’ve seen 450, but that’s not high enough for the Dutch oven bread. Can you point me to an online source of something suitable? I was looking on KAF but saw complaints about sticking, which didn’t sound good.

I've used the KAF parchment sheets for Dutch oven bread with no issues whatsoever.

I am really happy to see the recipe for making dulce de leche by boiling sweetened condensed milk in its can. I say this because, many years ago I had a co-worker and friend who would do something similar, but baked the unopened (and labelers cans). He would then put the cans on the shelf and, if he needed a quick dessert, would push out the "log" of dulce de leche, slice it and put the slices on pretty plates, and surround them them whipped cream that both hid the weird look of the slices (think canned cranberry), and tasted fabulous. I was never able to find a recipe for making it, but now I have one. And oh yes, will definitely try those cookies.

Haha, you're talking to the person who literally last night had a giant spoon of the dulce de leche I made when testing that process. I found the version I made in the Instant Pot a bit smoother but this was still really good.

Isn't that just arancini by another name? Arancini seem to be very popular now.

No, arancini are fried rice balls with stuffing -- usually cheese, but could be meat. These are meatballs with rice IN them. My Assyrian grandmother and aunts made a version of these; they're called koofteh in Persian cooking.

I feel far more comfortable at the Arlington farmers market than the grocery store--we're outside, mask wearing is enforced, line spacing is in effect, but if you are still worried, check your market's website--some have quick pick-up preorder options and there are some delivery services. Local pickle sellers Number 1 Sons are doing a fantastic job with their delivery operation--I have gotten flowers, mushrooms, yeast, and lots of fruit and veg from them to supplement market visits.

Yup, all good tips. Definitely the way to be in and out quickly is to pre-order -- my favorite produce vendor has been doing fruit boxes I've ordered. Then go at the very beginning or the very end for hopefully smaller crowds. Just grab your box and go.

I have gone every week since one of my local farmers markets opened on Mother’s Day. It is no more problematic than walking outside on local trails, paths, or sidewalks during good weather. Mine is directional, has a mandatory hand sanitizer stop on the way in, and plenty of space. They keep an eye on bunching inside rather than strictly by number. No eating on site, etc and reduced stalls, but it’s still a great place to shop. As an added ‘bonus’ many of the farmers are taking only exact change or using on-line touchless credit card purchasing and rules don’t allow for customers to actually touch the produce. Go figure since there is no such rule with the much less fresh or controlled environment inside the grocery store.

Yeah, I have felt very safe at my market too. Being outside, everyone with masks and not being close together for extended periods really helps.

I developed a craving for rum cake the other day, similar to the one at Kith/Kin, fragrant and drenched in syrup (yum). Anybody have a good recipe?

Sadly never had it and the pastry chef, Paola Velez, just announced she is moving to work with the team at Compass Rose and Maydan. I'm wondering if this recipe from our archives would help you satisfy your craving. It's a chocolate cake soaked in a rum syrup, which also includes lime but you could leave that out if you prefer.

RECIPE: Key West Rum Cake

I also stock up on potatoes. I turned several into a Spanish tortilla and have slices frozen for an easy breakfast...or midnight snack. Just be advised they require a lot of oil.

Great idea. This little number uses a pound. Sounds delicious: Spanish Eggs and Potatoes.

The restaurant 1789 was selling hamburger buns and hot dog buns (as well as cookies and pie) for takeout on the holiday, so it wasn't just a cinnamon toast bun, it was a reeeeeally good cinnamon toast bun. You can see why I don't want them to go to waste!

Aha! Ya know... I wonder if you could make cinnamon toast buns and then use those buns to make ice cream sandwiches. Would require a *little* room in your freezer to set the ice cream. But something about giant cinnamon toast ice cream sandwiches sounds very appealing right now.

I finally had enough "spare" cherries to make Cherry Bounce last week. I'm in the curing phase and set it in a spot that's normally sunny in the afternoon, but it's been a cloudy week and I don't think it's seen more than 2 full days of sun. (It looked gorgeous on those days!) Should I keep it out until I hit seven sunny days, or should I just move ahead to the store-in-a-dark-closet phase?

Cathy Barrow says:

The Cherry Bounce can go into a closet now. 

Unforgettable date with a fellow who came to my place and proceeded to pour flour onto my shellacked dining-room table, then add raw eggs and water to a hole he made in the mound of flour. I was afraid the shellac would make us sick but the pasta was tasty!

Just under the wire! If I'm vegetarian, should I sub something for the ham or just omit entirely?

Just omit. It will be delicious.

How can I freeze fresh basil without ice cube trays? Everything I’ve found online calls for them. I haven’t had any in a good 20 years thanks to icemakers and am not inclined to buy any since I don’t have any other use for them. (Not to mention I have a very full freezer and no space to accommodate something like that anyway.)

I would do something like this, which can go in a jar or zip-top bag.

Basil Paste

RECIPE: Basil Paste

I go to Burke every Sat morning. They count the number of people allowed in, everyone must be masked and only one patron at a time at a vendor, with tape lines for distancing while waiting. I was initially apprehensive but it’s been great. I preorder for several vendors but have had no issues with others. I won’t be going anywhere near a grocery store anytime soon. (Online ordering covers other needs.) I say go for it.

I made the apple slaw yesterday. It’s not bad but for me as a slaw it’s too sweet. As I already had cut the recipe in half, how much more can I cut the honey and apple cider vinegar without being short on the dressing? I did have a bit more than needed, so I have some room to play with. Also I used ground fennel since that’s what I have, don’t know if that matters.

Just take the honey down a little, but not the vinegar.

We substitute dried cherries!

Wet your fingers at the produce section where the veggies are sprayed a fine mist. Works for me.

A few years ago ATK recommended the Kitchen Aid food processor and I replaced my Cuisinart with it and passed the Cuisinart down to my daughter. Big mistake. The Kitchen Aid is a piece of crap. I lost all faith in ATK recommendations after that and I noticed on the following season that they had gone back to the Cuisinart.

Okay, thanks for sharing. I haven't had an ATK recommendation let me down yet, but they do sometimes change their ratings based on testing.

Tabasco advertised a hotpot recipe in the Times of London in the late 1990s. It became a sort of signature for me, but I no longer make it because we have a serious pepper allergy now. It has tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, Tabasco, 2 kinds of canned beans. It's vegan.


You have a recipe for a salad with pineapple in it that everybody at a family get together loved, but I can't find it in your recipe finder. Does that ring a bell or am I looking in the wrong source?

Any more details about what's in it? That would help with the search. Also possible it's old enough to not be in the Recipe Finder, which dates from about 2006 on. We're about out of time. Feel free to email me so I can help you track it down, if we ran it.

Thank you, as always, for joining our weekly chat.

We got some good tips (Raisinets in cookies) and we hope we were able to answer some of your pressing cooking questions. 

We'll be back next Wednesday afternoon. Hope you'll join us.

In This Chat
Ann Maloney
Ann Maloney is the Food team recipes editor.
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and author of "Cool Beans." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a staff reporter for Food and writes a weekly column on casual dining.
Mary Beth Albright
Mary Beth Albright is the Host and Editor of Food Video at The Washington Post.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer at the Post.
Olga Massov
Massov is a Food team assignment editor.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is a writer and recipe editor based in Washington, D.C. She recently wrote about Serbian-Croatian pancakes for the Post.
Recent Chats
  • Next: