Curate your dinner guests to cut down on special-request cooking

The Washington Post Food staff was recently joined by writer Adam Roberts to answer questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat. Q: I’ve given up entertaining for the most part because everyone seems to have some food problem. This one wouldn’t eat cherries without wiping […]

The Washington Post Food staff was recently joined by writer Adam Roberts to answer questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: I’ve given up entertaining for the most part because everyone seems to have some food problem. This one wouldn’t eat cherries without wiping each one off with a paper napkin. That one wouldn’t drink iced water with cubes made from well water even though that’s what they drink, etc., etc. If I asked a group of people what they don’t like/can’t eat, I would have nothing to serve.

A: I hear that! This is why I try to limit my dinner parties to one or two guests with special dietary needs; then I try to make something that everyone can eat, including them. So, when I cook for my friend Jonathan, who’s a vegetarian, I’ll make a vegetarian lasagna that everyone can enjoy. Or Mac and Cheese. What I won’t do is invite Jonathan and a gluten-free friend and someone with a peanut allergy. I always curate my dinner parties with this in mind.

– Adam Roberts


Q: My pot of tarragon is either boom or bust depending on the year. This is, so far, a boom. But running short of ideas for a proven way to use up a bunch of it.

A: Vinegar is a classic use for lots of tarragon. Just get yourself a bunch of bottles, stuff them with your tarragon and fill with vinegar. Great gift.

Also, you can treat your herbs like cut flowers, and just bring them inside and put them around, either as part of another arrangement, or on their own. I think having a vase full of fresh tarragon on the dining table or — really anywhere in the house you want to add a nice scent — would be wonderful.

– Joe Yonan

Q: I’d like to leave out some cold drinks and snacks for delivery drivers now that the summer heat is underway. Any ideas for what I could bake that would withstand the heat?

A: That’s so nice. I’m imagining a big pitcher of lemonade and maybe something that goes with that? Any cake should hold up okay, as long as there’s no frosting: what about something with fruit in it — like a rhubarb coffee cake or some kind of berry cake? Again, what a nice thing to do.

– A.R.

Q: I broke my wrist on Memorial Day, and I’m staring down two months of being unable to use my right hand. I cannot use a knife, squeeze a lemon, whisk a salad dressing, grate cheese, etc., or lift anything with two hands. And I only have one hand for dishwashing. Meanwhile, I’ve got to feed myself, and summer produce is starting to fully bloom. I welcome advice on how to continue preparing food with my current limitations.

A: Sorry you’re dealing with that. There are a couple different options that come to mind. Some grocery stores sell pre-chopped produce. While overall convenience is one factor, it also helps people with issues such as yours. You can also lean more heavily on any appliances you might have, such as a food processor or blender. They are great for chopping, grating and making salad dressings.

– Aaron Hutcherson

A: This sounds just awful. Hope you get to feeling better very soon. Love Aaron’s suggestions. You might experiment with condiments. They are a great way to add flavor quickly and easily.

– Ann Maloney

Q: I love banh mi except for the mayonnaise. Is there a replacement for the mayonnaise?

A: From what I understand, mayonnaise is pretty standard/traditional in a banh mi, but if you dislike it, you can just skip it and maybe add more sriracha or lime juice, or both?

– Olga Massov

A: Have you tried Kewpie mayonnaise, or tried it spiked with a hot sauce? That might offset the mayonnaise flavors enough for you. Otherwise, consider making a small batch of toum , a garlicky spread that has a similar texture. It’s not traditional, but would work well with the flavors of a banh mi.

– G. Daniela Galarza

Q: I found some recipes that say you can make Alfredo sauce with diluted creme fraiche, but they did not give directions on how much water to add to the creme.

A: Yes. It’s pretty simple to use to create a rich creamy sauce with it. I’ve done it when I’ve bought creme fraiche for one recipe, but did not use it all.

You can supplement the dairy you’d normally use by warming the cream and then whisking in the creme fraiche. Or, if you don’t want to use cream, you can use about 4 or 5 ounces of creme fraiche to maybe 2 to 3 ounces of warm chicken, vegetable stock or even pasta water. You can adjust to your preference. You might add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and then taste it and add salt/pepper if desired.

– A.M.

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