(THE WASHINGTON POST) - Columnist and cookbook author Cathy Barrow and writer Kristen Hartke recently joined The Washington Post Food staff to answer questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.
Q: I have beautiful celery in my garden. What is the best way to save it for Thanksgiving stuffing? Should I dice, then freeze, or freeze the whole stalks? If diced, how best to dry it before freezing?
A: Celery, because it's mostly water, doesn't like the freezer. Once the diced or whole stalks emerge from the freezer, the water is released and you're left with (very aromatic) limp bits of celery. If using the celery for soup or to scent stock, it will be useful, but if you hope for that crunch in your stuffing, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. - Cathy Barrow
Q: I bought what I thought was a pint of shishito peppers at the farmers market, but now I'm thinking they're either very hot shishitos or birds eyes. I've thrown a few into my meals throughout the week, but thought I'd see what folks in here would do with a big batch of very hot peppers.
A: Probably the first thing I would do is to freeze some of them, because, much as I love hot peppers, a big batch probably won't get used up that quickly. Just spread the whole peppers on a cookie sheet and they'll freeze solid, then you can pop them into a freezer-safe container and defrost and cook with them at will during the winter. You can also pickle them. - Kristen Hartke
Q: I made a pureed sauce last night for dinner and had lots of leftover, so I decided to freeze it. However, I'm not actually sure if it's a sauce that can be frozen and then thawed to its original glory. It's basically made of pureed jalapenos, mayonnaise, sour cream, a bit of lime juice, and olive oil. I'm concerned because of the sour cream (and maybe mayonnaise?) Should I be OK, or should I just go ahead and toss it out?
A: Neither mayonnaise nor sour cream are good candidates for the freezer. A sauce made with both would keep in the refrigerator for two or three days, surely, but if you have already frozen it, I'm afraid it will need to be tossed. - C.B.
Q: I'm new to lentils - after discovering and enjoying them from a restaurant, I purchased a bag (Whole Foods store brand red lentils) to add variety to my salads. The first time I cooked them, I followed the instructions on the bag precisely. They boiled over and turned to mush, so I threw them out. The second time I cooked them, I followed the instructions on a Washington Post recipe. While they didn't boil over this time, they too turned to mush. What am I doing wrong? Should I purchase a different type of lentil? Should I cook them in a much larger pan than the sauce pan I'm using? I want to be able to cook them but at this rate will never buy again.
A: Red lentils . . . turn to mush! A beautiful, wonderful mush. That's pretty much the idea with them. If you want lentils that don't, you should get brown, green or black ones. - Joe Yonan
Q: I want to make some sandwiches that I could take on a flight in a couple of days and I would like to avoid meat. Ideas? Should we consider a different savoury snack instead of sandwiches?
A: One of my go-to traveling sandwiches is just a bunch of mixed roasted veggies (oil, garlic, salt, pepper) - in the summer I use squash and eggplant - combined with goat cheese, herbs and whatever other condiments you like. It's simple and holds pretty well. - Becky Krystal
Q: I moved six years ago and there are several boxes of pasta that moved with me and remain unopened. Does pasta expire? Is it safe to eat? Will it still taste OK?
A: Dried pasta can keep for a long time - it has no water content, so I wouldn't be overly concerned about it myself. If it looks or smells funny - and, again, I can't imagine why - then pitch it, but, otherwise, I suspect that it's fine. - K.H.
Q: My uncle and his husband give out home canned stuff for holiday gifts. All sorts of things from apple sauce to pear butter to pickled stuff. What do I do with the jars after I eat the goodies? Should I be bringing it back to them? Recycling? I'm pretty sure you can't reuse the lids (right?) but what about the jars?
A: You can reuse both jars and lids, but you can't reuse the lids for actual canning. You can reuse them as just lids, though, of course - and you can reuse the jars as storage containers for all sorts of things, but they're especially good for salad dressings. And if you do can, you can reuse the jars for that - with new lids.
Having said that, if the guys do a lot of canning, they probably would appreciate having the jars back, for future projects. And yes, you can recycle them. - J.Y.
Q: My husband and I each replaced the usual quart of half-and-half in our fridge at the same time. It's from a local farm, so doesn't keep as well as the usual store-bought, which is one reason we like it. How can I use up that extra quart before it turns?
A: I love using it for French toast. - B.K.