The Washington Post

Food writer Kristen Hartke recently joined the Post Food staff for a discussion of all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: I have a half a bag of leftover cranberries. Any thoughts on savory uses for them?

A: Pickle ’em! Then add them to salads. Or dice them up to make a pickled cranberry relish, to be used as a condiment with roast beef or chicken or pork, or a spread with cheese and crackers.

— Kara Elder

Q: I’d like to try a make-ahead breakfast dish that is cheesy, eggy and bready. My husband is a vegetarian, but I love sausage or bacon in my breakfast casseroles. A recipe that could be divided and baked separately would be ideal.

A: You really can’t go wrong with a strata, which you can put together the night before so that the custard really soaks into the bread to create a souffle-like texture when baked. Although you could certainly make two stratas, I also think that using some smoky ingredients, like an applewood smoked cheddar, sundried tomatoes and a little smoked paprika, can give you the best of both worlds and then you don’t have to make two dishes! There are also a lot of good commercial “meaty” vegetarian sausage substitutes out there that you might consider.

— Kristen Hartke

Q: I try my best to offer something for most diets, but it gets a little difficult with the gluten-free, vegetarian and lactose-intolerant person. Any suggestions?

A: One of my favorite things to make for those with dietary restrictions is paella. I made a mushroom-based one for a party the other day.

— Joe Yonan

Q: I received a bread mixer this year from a well-meaning friend, a mixer with bread hooks. Now I will never have to knead again. I’m a bit sad; there is something comforting about the rocking back and forth and feeling the dough get smoother and smoother. Can I cop out and use the mixer to blend the dough and still turn it out and knead it? My friend lives in house and I think got me this because I complained that I’m too short to get the leverage and often stand on my toes.

A: I know plenty of bread makers who always finish the bread by hand, even if they start it in a stand mixer, so do what makes you feel good! (Plenty of people do this with a bread machine, even!)

— J.Y.

Q: I noticed that a recipe calls for removing the gills of portobello mushrooms before roasting. I have not done that in the past and was wondering what the rationale was.

A: It depends on the recipe. The gills can discolor a dish. I don’t do it all the time, but sometimes I do.

— J.Y.

Q: I am due with our first baby early this month and want to get a jump on stocking our freezer so we will be well fed in the first few weeks. Any suggestions on what’s best to make?

A: Congratulations! I’d suggest that making some big batches of soup and freezing them into individual servings will be a real lifesaver — that’s what I did before my daughter was born, also a wintertime baby — and the soup really hit the spot with very little effort.

Beyond that, I will say that friends and neighbors really pitched in to provide us with plenty of casseroles, and we were so busy being enthralled with the new member of our family, that we didn’t really care what we ate.

— K.H.

Q: I seem to be coming down with flu symptoms including upset stomach. So I want to get some cartons of broths that only need to be heated. Please recommend your favorite premade broths that are easily available — I don’t want to wait for stuff to be shipped. Vegetarian or not is fine, but if it’s chicken broth, please one that doesn’t taste gamey like the last one I bought. As I get better, I’ll add frozen veggies already in the freezer and maybe noodles.

A: Pacific Foods is a good, reliable brand and also have lower sodium versions. Stock up and feel better soon!

— K.H.

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