Spirits past their prime? Here's when to toss them.


The Washington Post Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: I have too many to count bottles of whiskey and other spirits that are seriously well-aged. At what point do I pour them down the sink and toss the bottles in the recycling bin?

A: Your base spirits will keep virtually forever; your liqueurs may fade a bit over time (look for sugar crystallization and others signs of a turn, like a change in color), but generally if you're storing them right, liqueurs should keep a few years. Bailey's and other things that have cream in them, not so much. If you have opened vermouth and sherry and such, you should probably have thrown those out years ago. My best guideline for this is smell and then taste the stuff. I recently chucked a 10-year-old bottle of St. Germain because it had started to get a little funky - not that it had actually spoiled, but it had lost its freshness and become a little odd. If you try the liqueurs and they still taste okay, then they probably are. (But do not taste an old Irish cream liqueur. Your nose should warn you off it, but I'm warning you anyway.)

- M. Carrie Allan

Q: Does that apply to an unopened bottle as well? I have some of those little airline sized bottles that might be as old as I am - obviously I wasn't the one who originally acquired them.

A: Unopened will probably be OK, but again, test it out. More sugary liqueurs can sometimes degrade a bit in the bottle and anything with cream in it, I'd probably chuck out unsmelt! 

- M.C.A.

Q: My excuse is not the issue but I bought a pound of crabmeat, a plastic container from a local shop with 1/2 pound of cooked shrimp on my kitchen counter overnight for about 12 hours. They were supposed still in the plastic bag I bought them in. I keep my house about 65 degrees. The crabmeat and shrimp do not smell fishy. I was planning on using them in a seafood soup. Are they still good?

A: No way, I would not go there. Your house may be cool, but it's not refrigerator cool. Chalk this up to a lesson learned and save yourself the food poisoning.

- Becky Krystal

Q: I find that refrigerated onions keep longer, and are less likely to cause tears when slicing or chopping. Thus, I honestly don't see a downside. Tomatoes turn mealy when chilled, but what's supposed to be wrong with refrigerated onions?

A: Apparently the cold, humid conditions in the fridge cause the sugars to convert to starch, meaning they soften and go bad.

- B.K.

Q: I just booked a winter trip to Iceland and am taking food suggestions! I am aware of food being expensive there, so I'm looking for advice for great food experiences to look for. I love a good bakery, and (unfortunately) am a vegetarian.

A: Can't say enough good things about the bakery Braud & Co. in Reykjavik. It's not cheap but everything I tried there (super dense rye sour bread, a whole-wheat sour loaf, blueberry buns with licorice baked on top) was worth every penny.

- Kara Elder

Q: Someone gave me a $75 Amazon gift certificate. I thought I would buy a Swiss Diamond nonstick pan. Will an 8 inch pan be useful?

A: Score. I heart an 8-inch pan -- especially good for making crepes, a small strata, a frittata, sauteing a couple of chicken thighs and so much more. 

- Bonnie S. Benwick

Q: I'm planning to make a layer cake this week and am thinking of using raspberry curd as a filling, but I'm worried that it'll be too wet. 

A: Might be too wet. How would you feel about a seedless raspberry jam? I've done that. It's nice.

- B.K.

A: Sometimes pro bakers use various methods for helping staunch the excess moisture or weeping from a curd, such as: applying it to cake layer that has been brushed with simple syrup and is chilled; and chilling the curd-filled layers till ready for final frosting.

- B.S.B.

Q: I already have a knife sharpener for a straight blade but recently purchased a lovely serrated knife. Should I purchase another sharpener with both straight and serrated options?

A: Yes, you will need a separate sharpener for the serrated knife. It looks like an ice pick and comes in different sizes and coarseness.

- Tim Carman

Q: I have an odd craving some cooking something with my spicy mustard seeds, but all I can think of are heavy options like curries or stews. Any lighter options?

A: Pickle them! Always nice to have as a condiment for cheeses and salumi, and as a simpler topping for sandwiches etc. 

- B.S.B.


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