How to choose the perfect avocado and other food questions answered

If you want an avocado to ripen more quickly, put it in a paper bag and keep it in a warm spot in your kitchen.
If you want an avocado to ripen more quickly, put it in a paper bag and keep it in a warm spot in your kitchen.ST FILE PHOTO

WASHINGTON (THE WASHINGTON POST) - Food writer Kristen Hartke recently joined The Washington Post Food staff to answer questions about all things edible.

The following are edited excerpts.

Q: I have given up on buying avocados, because lately it seems like they are rock hard and then totally spoiled. The window in which they are edible seems to be about 20 minutes - and that probably happens in the middle of the night. Am I doing something wrong? I don't remember them having such a short viable time in years past. Regardless, they're way too expensive to buy in the hopes that I'll notice that split second when they're ripe but not rotten yet.

A: When I interviewed Pati Jinich and Lara Ferroni about how to choose avocados to avoid this problem, they both talked about choosing avocados with skin that is glossy and mostly black with a hint of green - this is an avocado that will be ripe within three days. (If you want it to ripen more quickly, put it in a paper bag and keep it in a warm spot in your kitchen.) Once it is ripe - press your thumb at the base and the flesh should be lightly tender - you can store it in the fridge for up to six days, and it should keep - thereby extending your 20-minute window
- Kristen Hartke

Q: I recently picked up a block of Sriracha cheddar cheese and found it to be a bit too Sriracha-y for straight snacking. Other than substituting for regular cheddar in pastas or sandwiches, do you have any suggestions for ways to use this?

A: That cheese might provide some nice zing to omelets or frittata. Or how about in a cheesy dip for veggies? Maybe with enchiladas, quesadillas or fajitas made with corn tortillas.
- Becky Krystal

Q: I'm going to a potluck barbecue and have been asked to bring a snack or appetiser. I'm looking for something that I can make Saturday morning that will hold at room temperature. Thoughts?

A: Manchurian Dip would be right at home, because it tastes like barbecue sauce. It makes a crowd-pleasing amount, and you wouldn't have to tell anyone that it clocks in at just 15 calories and no fat per serving. There's nothing in it that couldn't withstand the weather. Or try Walnut and Red Pepper Spread.
- Bonnie S. Benwick

Q: I moved to Belize and am dying to find good vegan burgers. What is a simple way to make them at home in a place that is lacking ingredients and kitchen equipment?

A:Here's where the Internet can help you. My Vegan Burger recipe has fairly standard ingredients, but I'm guessing wheat gluten doesn't leap off the shelves in Belize. But they sell it - and the black rice, if you want that - online. I buy a lot of ingredients on Amazon and on food sites. (Amazon's founder and chief executive, Jeffrey Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.) It's easier than trying to track that stuff down. I think all vegan burgers are improved by the addition of some brown or black rice. It gives a better "chew," and the rice on the exterior browns up in a way that's reminiscent of a charcoal-grilled burger.
- Ann Hodgman