The Washington Post Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.
Q: I got a tonne of tiny sweet potatoes in my Hungry Harvest delivery this week. Think the size of a thumb. I normally roast sweet potatoes to eat all week, but I wouldn’t begin to know how to use these teeny tiny things.
A: I would love to do the whole smashed potato thing with these. Boil, smash and bake. – Becky Krystal
A: Seconding Becky’s “smash ‘em” suggestion. You can also toss them into a hash, where consistent chopping isn’t as necessary. – Matt Brooks
Q: I bought a pound of pistachios. Right out of the bag, they were great. But I put about half of them in a jar and when I opened it, the nuts were sort-of soggy, like they’d been sitting out in the humid tropics instead of in my kitchen.
I encountered this once before, maybe three years ago at Whole Foods, when they set out net bags containing pistachios and the nuts had the same problem, detectable even in the store. Those bags weren’t completely closed to air like my jar was. I’m in Washington DC and it’s not that humid in my apartment. Also, I don’t remember having this problem before in my home. Should I refrigerate nuts from now on?
A: The best place to store them is in your freezer. Keeps them from going rancid. – Joe Yonan
Q: No matter how long I leave the butter out, it doesn’t soften because “room temperature” in my house in fall and winter is around 64 degrees. Do you have recommendation for getting the butter to the right consistency? Is there a microwave trick I could try?
A: Yes! I follow the advice of folks like Erin J McDowell and Stella Parks, who advise short bursts in the microwave. I start with something like 10 seconds. Then rotate the stick 90 degrees onto the next side, maybe another seven seconds, check and then more turning and short bursts if needed. It may take a little experimenting because microwaves vary in strength, so start small and see how it goes. You can also adjust the power level to be safe (like 50 or 60 per cent). – BK
A: I also am a fan of using a rolling pin and getting out some of your frustrations by smacking that butter with the pin. That shock wave of energy that goes through it definitely warms it up a little. – JY
A: I’ve found that standing the stick of butter up on its end instead of laying it flat helps it microwave more evenly, too. – Daniela Galarza
Q: What is a good substitute for dried black currants? And what exactly are they? Just small raisins?
A: So, those little dried currants are very popular across the pond, but not as popular here. I have just used small raisins, which were suggested by cookbooks in which I first encountered dried currants. – Olga Massov
Q: I’m looking to upgrade from my mini food processor to a large one. Particularly to make pie crusts which I’m going to master eventually! Any recommendations on brands and size?
A: Cuisinart 14-cup all the way. Go big, or go home. It’s simple to use and a workhorse, and the top-rated model from America’s Test Kitchen. – BK
A: Agreed. Can I also say that you should keep the mini-food processor around, though? There are some things it’s really good for – mayo, for instance! Grinding smaller amounts of things that can get lost in that big one. – JY
Q: I have some cabbage in the fridge that needs to be used and probably needs to be cooked rather than consumed raw, because it is well past peak freshness. Is there a technique that will best disguise its advanced age? I presume everything is fine under the first layer or two, just not necessarily up to being eaten raw. Saute? Roast? I like it, but boiling it does nothing for me.
A: Roast away! I love that. Or if you have a grill … grill. Get some char on there, then cut it up and use it as a side dish. So good. – JY
Q: If for extenuating circumstances I have no choice but to keep some coffee beans hanging around for a couple of months, where is the best place for them? Freezer? Refrigerator? Cupboard?
A: The best place is an air-tight container stored in a cool, dark cabinet away from any heat source, like a stove. The container should also be opaque. A freezer and refrigerator can be okay, but there are some potential drawbacks: If not stored in an air-tight container in the fridge/freezer, the beans can start absorbing moisture and off-flavours, both of which can affect your morning joe. – Tim Carman