Columnist Cathy Barrow joined The Washington Post Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. The following are edited excerpts. Recipes whose names are capitalized can be found in the Recipe Finder at washingtonpost.com/recipes.
Q: We picked up a big container of strawberries at the store yesterday, and I don’t think we’ll get through the whole thing before they go bad. Can I freeze strawberries? If so, how can I best use them later (I’m thinking likely in smoothies and ice cream, but that they’ll be mushier once defrosted)?
A: IQF is the way! Individual Quick Freezing is the best way to stash away summer’s glorious produce in the freezer. Place the washed and thoroughly dry berries on a baking sheet. Make sure they are separated so the cold air can flow around them. Freeze the berries, uncovered, for at least 3 hours. Once they are frozen all the way through, scoop them into a bag. They’ll be easy to scoop out for smoothies.
Q: What is the best potato for salad? I have Googled, and just come away confused, as there are so many conflicting answers. What do you recommend: russet, yukon gold, red?
A: It’s about what you’re after, what you prefer. If you want a potato that holds its shape (so the potato salad isn’t mushy), go with a waxy variety like a red. If you don’t mind that the potato breaks apart (and that’s part of the appeal), go with a starchy variety like a Russet. A Yukon gold is the happy medium – holds together but releases a little starch.
Q: In my last small batch of pickle relish, the first jar I filled “pinged” just as I lowered it into the water bath. Did that jar seal properly after processing? I’ve never had this happen before in all my years of canning. For clarification, I put each jar into the canner immediately as they’re filled, I don’t fill more than one at a time before putting them in the water bath. The water is just below boiling point when I add the jars.
A: I’m glad to hear from a fellow canner. Thanks for the reminder to get my pickle relish going.
Some jars will prematurely ping; it’s nothing to worry about. If you processed the jar for the time indicated in the recipe, and, once it cooled, removed the ring and checked the seal by lifting the jar by the flat lid, the jar is shelf stable.
Q: In the Potato and Roasted Cauliflower Salad, is there a way to get the feta dressing to the right consistency without a blender or a mini food processor? I have neither. Looks like the amount it too small to work in a regular food processor. The recipe sounds very interesting.
A: Do you have an immersion blender? If not, try breaking up the cheese with a fork, adding a little cream to loosen it (or, if it was brine-packed, use the brine.) Just a tablespoon or so. Finally, use a whisk to achieve a smooth, creamy texture.
A: Yes to Cathy’s take! The recipe you’re referring to uses olive oil, blended with the feta to make it creamy, so I’d do that. But breaking up the feta as much as possible and then using a whisk will get you close. (If you’re extra particular about lumps, you could even press it through a fine-mesh strainer.)
Q: I bought basil and Thai basil at a farmers market last week and stored them both the same way. The Thai basil all went bad in three days, but the regular basil is still fine. Do you think the Thai basil was picked sooner, or is Thai basil more fragile than regular basil? Or something else?
A: Basil, both Thai and the common sweet variety, are fragile plants. Both have short shelf lives after harvesting, and even shorter if you don’t treat them right. It likes a shallow pool of water and a cool room, around 60 to 68 degrees is perfect. You can keep it fresh and green for awhile that way. But put basil in the fridge and it will die fast. Thai basil is known for bruising easily right off the plant, so yes, it’s fragile. And I suspect, as you note, that the Thai basil was older than the sweet basil.
Several readers also suggest storing basil on the counter in a glass with some water and loosely draping a plastic bag over it.