The Washington Post Food section staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat…

Q: Years ago, I attempted to make mashed potatoes at home. I did not use Russet, but rather some kind of all-purpose potatoes – ordinary ones from the grocery store.

After boiling them, I attempted to mash them, with milk and butter. The more I beat them with a mixer, the more glue-like they became. I ended up not using them because the texture was like paste. No amount of butter or flavouring would have saved them. What might have gone wrong?

A: The mixer is definitely your problem

The more you work mashed potatoes, the gluier they become because more starch is released. Work them minimally. Try using a rubber spatula or spoon. I know lots of people love using ricers, too. As far as types, I think Russets and Yukon Gold are great.

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– Becky Krystal

Q: Do vanilla beans go bad?

I’ve never used a vanilla bean in baking before, just the liquid, but I’ve had two for several years, stored in a glass tube in the pantry. Do they go bad? I was making a recipe that called for cutting one open and scraping out the seeds, but when I did that, it was all mushy inside and didn’t smell particularly vanilla-y. I ended up using bottled vanilla instead.

A: On vanilla beans, I’ve never seen them go bad.

But if anything they get really hard and difficult to cut open/scrape. Soft inside seems good, but the lack of smell doesn’t. That said, when you get good ones, they are a beautiful thing.

– Joe Yonan

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Q: When a recipe says to cover ingredients with plastic wrap and microwave, how do you keep the plastic wrap from melting onto the food?

Is there some special kind of microwavable plastic wrap? Most recently, I wanted to cook (or maybe just heat?) some Trader Joe’s shu mai, which come frozen. The directions say to rinse the dumplings, cover them in plastic wrap, and microwave for 1 or 2 minutes. On a second batch, I used a paper plate instead of plastic wrap and it worked fine. Should I just substitute a paper plate from now on?

A: There are microwave-safe plastic wraps, but honestly you don’t need them!

Use a regular plate, a paper plate, a damp paper towel, etc, etc.

– K.S.

Q: I need to make a lot of meatballs for a party – can I make them ahead of time?

Because I have so much other stuff to do, I’d ideally like to be able to roll the meatballs the night before (maybe even do the browning the night before, or early in the morning?) and toss them in a Dutch oven or slow cooker all day so that I can focus on the rest of the stuff I need to do before the party.

A: I don’t see why you couldn’t form and even brown them the night before/morning of, sure.

Then heating them in a slow cooker – in a sauce, yes? – would be smart, too.

– J.Y.



Q: I have too much enchilada sauce.

Like, imagine an irresponsible amount of enchilada sauce, and now double that. What do I do?

A: Freeze it!

Make chilaquiles! Give it away! Make enchiladas! Then give those enchiladas away!

– K.S.


Author: ANA Newswire