Food Chat: Questions about bread cookbooks, steel cut oatmeal

Each week, we field questions about all things food at Here are edited excerpts from that chat. Recipes whose names are capitalized can be found in our Recipe Finder at

Q: Would vegetable shortening work as a vegan replacement for butter in your Brown Sugar Shortbread recipe? If not, what vegan substitute would you recommend?

A: It would work, but given that there’s so much butter in these, and shortbread in general has a buttery flavor, I’d instead use a vegan butter such as Earth Balance or, even better, Miyoko’s Cultured Butter. It’s salted, so I’d leave out the salt in the recipe if you use the latter.

- Joe Yonan

Q: I have half a bag of whole cranberries left over. Any suggestions?

A: We have a number of good recipes for cranberries in the Washington Post recipe database. Among them: Figgy Cranberry Sauce (good for leftovers and any turkey sandwich); Cranberry-Almond Crisp; Cranberry-Ginger Punch.

- Tim Carman

Q: I have a large box of instant mashed potato flakes that I bought for a roll recipe, but now I am wondering whether there are any other ways to use them up (aside from the obvious).

A: You could use them to make Crunchy Parsnip-Carrot Latkes. Also thinking you could add a tablespoon to any bread recipe.

- Kara Elder

A: They’re a great thickener, for soups!

- Joe Yonan

Q: I grew up in Pennsylvania where hunting was popular, but I always refused to try venison. Now that I’m a more adventurous eater I’d like to try it. Do you have any ideas of how to cook it?

A: Here are a few from the archives to try: Venison Tenderloin With Blackberry Brandy Beurre Blanc; Hunter’s Stew (Bigos); Kefta Kebabs. I’ve also had ground venison in chili, so you might try that as well.

- Kara Elder

Q: My brother has recently expressed an interest in learning to bake bread. Do you have any suggestions for a good basic bread cookbook? And my uncle loves candy, and makes a pretty good peanut brittle - any thoughts on good candy cookbooks?

A: I’m a fan of the “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” series for beginners. Other authors to consider: Peter Reinhart, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Jim Lahey and Jeffrey Hamelman. America’s Test Kitchen also had a bread book a few years ago that I really like.

Stella Parks’s “Brave Tart” book has a bunch of good candy recipes in it, along with many other fabulous sweets.

- Becky Krystal

Q: Is the steel-cut oatmeal I bought from a bulk bin last winter still good? The weather seems to call for it.

A: Steel-cut oats, like other grains, can go rancid, but you’ll know with a smell. If it smells fine, go for it.

- Joe Yonan

Q: Self-professed recipe non-follower here. I successfully made potato/zucchini pancakes this weekend that my kids actually ate and loved. This week’s latke recipe, as well as others I’ve found online, lists baking powder as an ingredient. What does the baking powder do? I didn’t use it this weekend and it was a success so I’m trying to decide whether I should add baking powder or just leave it alone.

A: It makes them a little lighter and less dense, giving the mix a little lift. But there’s no reason to mess with success, unless you feel like experimenting!

- Joe Yonan

Q: I’ve been invited to a potluck party with the theme “tofu that is not boring.” The host is probably partially joking and did say that it’s fine to cook/bring something else, but I’m happy to attempt a tofu dish. The problem is I only cook with tofu a few times a year so I have no idea what’s “boring” or not. Any suggestions for something interesting that’s also pretty easy to make and can ideally be accomplished with stuff I can get at a regular grocery store?

A: Some ideas: Korean Soft Tofu Stew; Gingery Tofu Sliders; Tofu Chorizo; Charred Fig and Spinach Salad With Lemon Tofu Feta; and Tofu Curry With Mustard Greens.

- Joe Yonan

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