Columnists Tamar Haspel and Cathy Barrow recently joined The Washington Post Food staff to answer questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.
Q: Charm City Meadworks makes a basil lemon grass mead. I have been thinking of making a nonalcoholic version and then trying to make ice pops. I can find plenty of versions of the drink with a little sugar but all the ice pops call for a lot of sugar. Is sugar needed for ice pops or can I make an unsweetened kind?
A: I'm a little worried without any sweetener, you're basically going to end up with a flavored ice cube - hard and not all that flavorful. Can you try reducing the sugar, or trying something like honey? Or maybe add some other kind of ingredient that can serve as the backbone, such as yogurt or pureed fruit.
- Becky Krystal
Q: Was I taught wrong? I was told that rinsing/washing produce removed the pesticide. And that the pesticide was only on the outside, so if you pulled that top layer off a scallion or peeled a cucumber, your food was as pesticide-free as organic food. The big conundrum was apples, because we were told the most nutritious part was the peel and that, supposedly, was where the nasty pesticides were. I still assume there's no need to go organic with pineapples, bananas or avocados because the rinds are so thick and aren't eaten.
A: You weren't taught wrong. Washing removes some pesticides, but not all. When it comes to the peels, which, as you point out, are nutritious, I think the nutrition trumps the pesticide. Eat away.
- Tamar Haspel
Q: I have a long narrow scar on my thumb from my OXO zester. Is there a zesting technique that doesn't endanger one's skin, or should I just give up and buy one of those Kevlar mesh gloves?
A: No need to scrub-zest quickly; go slower and save your skin.
- Bonnie S. Benwick
Q: I got a recorded message from my supermarket (first time that's happened and I am glad it did) telling me not to eat frozen broccoli with a particular UPC because of a potential listeria risk. I have some with most of the same numbers except the last three. The store said it's safe but I can return it if I want. Because I seem to recall that the very recent Romaine lettuce recall started with just one batch but then expanded, I am worrying that maybe the same will happen with the broccoli. Is that silly?
A: My advice? Trust your instincts. Take it back.
- Tim Carman
Q: I want to replace an old kitchen table. I use it as a work table. What would be the best surface be for kneading dough? Would you go with stainless steel or the much prettier maple?
A: I have stainless counters and I love them. That said, for kneading dough and rolling out pie dough or cookies, there's nothing like stone.
- Cathy Barrow
Q: Is Elderflower the new hot flavor now in baking? It seems like the baking shows I watch (yes, the competitions, I know, I know) someone is using Elderflower. What does it taste like? I don't even remember seeing the liqueur in a liquor store, or any extract anywhere.
A: Floral flavors are extremely trendy right now, and not just in baking -- we're seeing elderflower soda, hibiscus popsicles, lavender ice cream, and so on. It has a perfumey honey flavor.
- Maura Judkis
Q: I've never had floral flavors, to my knowledge, so wonder if they taste, well, soapy or perfumey, and not in a good way.
A: In a lot of the packaged goods that feature these flavors, they're typically presented with another flavor - like raspberry hibiscus or lemon-lavender. Definitely helps cut the soapiness, which can be an obstacle for some!
Q: I buy wonton wrappers from a refrigerated section so I keep them in the fridge, but the rice paper is just sitting on a shelf with dried noodles in the Asian grocery. There is no indication of whether the rice paper should be refrigerated at some point or if it ever should be thrown away. I did toss some I'd had for several years just to be safe, but it looked fine and didn't smell. What do you suggest?
A: Rice paper lasts indefinitely. It's shelf-stable. No refrigeration required.
- Joe Yonan