(THE WASHINGTON POST) - Food writer Julia Turshen recently joined The Washington Post Food staff in answering questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.
Q: No matter how vibrant when I buy it or how I store it, cilantro goes bad within two to three days. What's the best way, short of growing it, to keep it green and tasty and neither wilted nor slimy?
A: Trim the cilantro stems, make sure the bunch is dry, and stick it (cut-stem-side down) in a jar with a few inches of water in it. Put a zip-top bag over the top of it, and put it in the refrigerator. - Joe Yonan
A: I've found that when the stems are particularly slender or delicate (home-grown is often that way), it's good to wrap the cilantro loosely in a slightly damp paper towel and stash in an unsealed zip-top bag. - Bonnie S. Benwick
Q: I need to bring a savoury dish to a youth group. It needs to be something that will taste good after four hours or so at room temperature. Ideally I would like something meat free.
A: What about a huge veggie sandwich? You could slice a whole focaccia in half horizontally and stuff with hummus, cucumbers, etc., and cut it into squares. It will sit well and taste good at room temperature and teenagers love sandwiches.
- Julia Turshen
Q: What is the best way to clean a cheese grater? They tear up my sponges and my finger tips.
A: Use a toothbrush! - J.Y.
A: Start with a kettle full of boiling water, poured on the surface. That loosens things up.
Q: For sausages and other ground meats in casings, is it okay or even best to remove the casing before pan-cooking? If not, what is the proper way to cook them? I grew up on Jones sausage, which didn't have any casing, so they leave me bewildered.
A: Sure, remove them if you want "loose meat" - that's easy to do with a sharp-knife, a shallow slit lengthwise, then peel. When I cook sausages whole that have casings, I typically poke a couple of holes to prevent splitting (and often cook the whole ones in a half inch of water to start, because that helps them cook thoroughly on the inside, and then after the water evaporates the sausages brown up in the pan). - B.S.B.
Q: I got a head of romanesco in my produce box this week, which is my first contact with this veggie. I would like to cook it (i.e., not eat raw), but I'd appreciate a suggestion or two on how to bring out any uniqueness in its flavour, not just toss it into my usual go-to cauliflower recipes.
A: I love romanesco for that fractal look, but I find it behaves and tastes so much like conventional cauliflower (perhaps a little nuttier in flavor) that I just cook it the same way, to great results. My favourite way is to either cut it into slabs or break it carefully into those gorgeous little trees, preheat the oven to 246 deg C with the pan in the oven, add the romanesco and carefully toss with oil and salt, and roast it until nicely browned, shaking the pan (if you're roasting little floret/trees) from time to time or flipping the pieces with a spatula (if you're working with slabs) midway through.
Serve with the Spanish sauce romesco, for some really fun wordplay.
Or you can, of course, roast it whole. For that, I like to cut out the core and stem underneath (but being careful to leave all the branches attached), rub with oil, salt and garlic, then cover with foil and roast at 176 deg C for a half hour, remove the foil and roast another half hour. (Or, if you want to go all out like I did for a charity dinner recently, heavily drizzle/coat the cauliflower with tahini and sprinkle very generously with za'atar after you take off the foil, for the second roasting.) Serve on a bed of hummus. - J.Y.
Q: Is it really true that you can make easy caramel just by microwaving sweetened condensed milk for 10 minutes or am I watching too many of those Tasty videos on Facebook?
A: You mean the chewy candy kind of caramel or a pourable dulce de leche? Haven't tried it but it looks it's doable - you need to microwave in increments and stir in between to get to the consistency and colour you want. I bet it gets H-O-T, so be careful out there, pal. - B.S.B.