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    Should I wash bagged lettuce? Is the food stockpiled since the start of COVID still edible?

    Aaron Hutcherson & Becky Krystal

    THE WASHINGTON POST – Aaron Hutcherson and Becky Krystal answer questions and provide practical cooking advice in a chat with readers at live.washingtonpost.com. 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 that chat.

    I wash packaged salads before dressing and eating them, even if they’re marked “ready to eat”, “pre-washed” or even “triple-washed”. Is that wasteful and unnecessary, or do all of you also re-wash packaged salad ingredients?

    I do this with single-ingredient clam-shell packages like arugula and with mixes in plastic bags, like Southwestern or Thai.

    Becky: I’ve talked to food safety experts about this, and they do not recommend washing items labelled as ready to eat or pre-washed, as you actually run the risk of cross-contamination, which is actually much more common in home kitchens than people realise.

    What is cross-contamination if all you’re doing is rinsing things in a colander under a faucet?

    Becky: The issue is there may be bacteria in your sink or equipment that has not been properly cleaned. In studies, they’ve found bacteria on these surfaces even if people think they’ve properly washed them. So some people think best not to risk.

    A kind neighbour stocked my pantry with varieties of flour, pastas, dried beans and lentils when shortages began early in COVID.

    Almost all remain unopened. I’m only now wanting to cook and bake again, or else donate. How do I determine what’s still edible?

    Becky: I really wouldn’t have any problems using those now, though I probably wouldn’t donate, out of consideration for others.

    Before you use them, check for any pantry pests that may have taken up residence.

    Beans, pasta and lentils present no issues for me in terms of freshness, but flour, especially whole grains, can go rancid or be especially attractive to bugs.

    So take a whiff, maybe sift some of it to look for any invaders. If all seems well, go for it.

    How can I get my sauteed mushrooms to turn out like they do in restaurants? By the time they get some colour on them, the feel like rubber in my mouth. Am I overcooking them? Help!

    Aaron: When sauteing mushrooms, wait to add salt until the end. If you add it at the beginning, the mushrooms will release moisture and steam before they get any colour.

    I want to make chicken stew… without tomatoes or mushrooms. I have carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, chicken, and homemade chicken stock.

    I also have herbs and spices. I’m stuck as to how to combine it all into an interesting stew that satisfies for dinner.

    Aaron: It depends on what you consider “interesting”. Perhaps you play around with the different spices?

    Do you have curry powder? That might be an easy way to give it a boost of flavour.

    Somewhere – maybe here – I learned that avocados can be frozen. I did that when I was leaving town, and there it sits in its freezer bag. Now what do I do with it?

    Aaron: You could use the avocados in smoothies, sauces and dressings, or baked into desserts.

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