THE WASHINGTON POST – Each Wednesday at noon, Aaron Hutcherson (AH) and Becky Krystal (BK) answer questions and provide practical cooking advice in a chat with readers. Aaron and Becky write and test recipes for Voraciously, The Post’s team dedicated to helping you cook with confidence. Here are edited excerpts from a recent chat.
Q: So I finally managed to grow beets – the pretty tie-dye swirly kind: chioggia. Guess what – they’re not sufficiently beety for me. They’re so pretty but don’t seem to have much flavour. And I learnt they don’t tinge things pink – a blessing and a curse. Any thoughts on what to make with them to help them serve their best selves?
A: Yay for growing beets! One day I hope to have a small garden. Roasting is my preferred method as it heightens the sweetness of the beets and is incredibly simple: rub them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, wrap individually with foil or seal in a roasting pan with a tight fitting lid, and roast in a moderate oven (400 degrees or so) until you can easily pierce the beets with a paring knife. – AH
A: If you want to preserve the pretty colour, try them raw! Thinly shaved in a salad with some other bold or interesting ingredients, they’ll be great. – BK
Q: I’ve come across several recipes for breading chicken that call for crushed cornflakes, but can’t find a brand that doesn’t taste “sweet” even when mixed with seasonings. Any tips?
A: Corn tends to be naturally sweet, so there’s going to be level of sweetness no matter what brand you use. If you want to use a different cereal, you could try puffed rice, such as Rice Krispies (though I can’t remember how sweet those are). Or you could just use breadcrumbs/panko instead of the crushed cereal. Another non-traditional idea would be to use crushed pretzels. – AH
Q: Is there a way to store spring mix lettuces in the refrigerator to avoid it deteriorating into a slimy science project?
A: The best way to store lettuce leaves is to layer them with cloth or paper towels to absorb excess moisture. – AH
Q: I tried to use up my personally home-frozen blueberries in a crisp. The recipe directed me to cook them with tapioca and a little bit of water until they were “slightly thickened”. They never thickened and the blueberries disintegrated into juice. I was so disappointed. How do I use frozen blueberries or strawberries so they keep their shape and don’t liquefy?
A: I tend to think this is not at all unusual, as berries do tend to go to mush when baked, and in a crisp, I tend to think of it as very scoopable and soft without a lot of shape to the fruit. So you may not have done anything wrong and I don’t know that there’s a way to fix it. I assume you baked them from frozen? I don’t know if that would actually make much of a difference, but just thinking. As far as thickening, maybe you needed a bit more tapioca or the crisp needed to get a bit hotter. – BK
Q: Do you have any tips for baking away, literally, away? We’ll be at an Airbnb in a small town for a month, and I don’t want to bring my whole kitchen with me, but it’d be nice to bake one or two things without buying five pounds of flour. I also don’t know what kind of tools will be available.
A: One tip is to contact the host to see what ingredients/equipment they stock. If there’s anything in particular that you absolutely need, then of course just bring it with you. In general, I think it’s mostly a matter of sticking to simpler baking recipes that don’t require a lot. For instance, my go-to is always a fruit crisp/crumble since you only need a handful of ingredients and no special equipment. Cookies are another good option because even without a mixer, you can just stir everything together with a wooden spoon. (Though it might be a good idea to bring your own leavener.) – AH
Q: I have been making cookies for years but don’t really know about spacing instructions, which sometimes leads to mash-ups on the cookie sheet. When the recipe says, say, two inches apart on the baking sheet is that from edge to edge or centre to centre?
A: Edge to edge is how I interpret that and intend it in recipes. If a recipe doesn’t specify, you can always bake a few test ones at first to check to see how much they spread. – BK