Food chat: Mandoline safety and the expiration date for rice

A mandoline slices faster and easier than a knife - if you know how to use it. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post.

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

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Q: I have a mid-range mandoline, that I like. I do not like the safety holder. Could you recommend a cut glove?

A: The glove in that picture is a glove that Microplane sells for their products. However, I've found it to be superlative for protecting my hands during mandoline use. In fact, that's pretty much the only time I'll wear it.

- Olga Massov

Q: What is miso, what forms does in come in, and how do I use it in cooking? I see references to it, but when I look for it at the well-stocked international markets near me, all I see are packets of soup mixes near the wasabi and packages of fish flakes.

A: Miso is fermented soy paste, and it comes in various colors/strengths, from white/light to red/dark/strong. You'll find it in little tubs in the refrigerated section; look near the tofu. You don't have to worry about having too much around, cause it lasts forever, and you can use it for so many things. I love it in dressings, sauces and marinades, and to coat vegetables with for roasting/grilling.

- Joe Yonan

Q: Is there any difference between milanese and schnitzel beyond what country the recipe is from?

A: I don't know if I know the difference, to be honest, but I believe milanese skews to be chicken (breast, to be precise), while schnitzel tends to be either veal or pork... also the country of origin. However, many cultures have similar dishes named differently. In Japan, there's katsu.

- O.M.

A: Olga's response is solid, at least to my understanding of the two dishes. There may be small variations on each preparation: A cook in Italy may add garlic or Parmesan to the coating prior to frying, for example.

But it's also helpful to remember that many countries have something similar to these dishes. It's nothing fancy, right?Just pounding meat into thin cutlets, dredging them in flour and eggs and breadcrumbs, then frying. Bolivia, for instance, has the silpancho, which is similar.

- Tim Carman

Q: I started my batch of Slivovitz the same day I first found Italian prune plums at my farmer's market but its 90-day period in the dark won't be up until two days after Christmas. How much will the final product be affected if I take it out a week early to bottle and gift?

A: If you're just losing a week of that time, I think you'll probably be OK - it may lose a little plummyness, but those high-proof spirits like Everclear are going to pull out so much flavor pretty quickly. In fact, that's one thing I'd say - if you have less time, go for a higher proof spirit. Some Everclear is brutally strong (the last bottle I used for bitters was 190 proof - scary!) but you can find some 100+ proof vodkas that should work well. Boyd and Blair, I think, makes a high-proof one that's very good.

- Carrie Allan

Q: My husband decided to clean our pantry storage and wanted to start throwing out a lot of old items. I agreed with a lot, old spices for example, but we had a lively discussion over the pasta and rice. Is there any rule? The rice is the last of our paella rice close to two years old but kept doubled bagged in ziplock bags. The pasta is from a Costco buy, thin spaghetti in just the original cardboard box. Pleas help us avoid another heated discussion over starches.

A: If you don't see bugs or signs of mold, rice will last for years. Same with pasta, really.

- J.Y.

Q: I always liked the idea of a huge crowd to eat a variety of dishes. Unfortunately mostly it is my family of four plus four grandparents who not only skew conservative on foods for holidays, but have a slew of food allergies/health avoidances. How do I make it fun for me to cook and not a slog of making things I don't care about? I cook veg and mostly seasonally so often it just seems more of the same usual, even when it's unusual there for the grands.

A: I always like to think of it as a challenge, not a chore when catering to food allergies/health avoidances. There's a lot of fun to be had!

One thing I'll do is make sure everything they're going to want to eat is something I'm going to want to eat. If I have to make a blander version, I'll have a condiment or sauce on the side to jazz it up. For example, had a dinner party with two dairy-free folks, and whole roasted a cauliflower with one yogurt sauce and one tahini sauce so I could basically make two dishes in one. Delicious.

Also it helps to resign yourself to the fact that sometimes, people aren't gonna like what you cook, even if it does fit all their qualifications. C'est la vie.

Q: Any recommendations for a dessert I can bake and then mail to California for a Thanksgiving dinner? Preferably not fruit-based, though I think dried fruit is okay, and many nuts are out due to allergies (pecans and hazelnuts are okay, but not almonds or pistachios). Right now the leading candidate is cranberry-pecan biscotti.

A: I love the biscotti idea! They're sturdy enough for shipping, definitely.

- J.Y.

Q: I'm poaching a bunch of pears on Friday evening for a Sunday morning event. What's the best way to store the pears? In the poaching liquid or not in the poaching liquid?

A: In!

- J.Y.

Q: I saw an article recently that raved about making double stock: that is, making a batch of stock, then using that as the liquid for a second batch of stock. Have you done this? Is it worth it? I need to make more stock in preparation for Thanksgiving and am thinking about giving it a try.

A: I've made it while working on a cookbook for a chef - and while it does make superlative stock, I don't think it's worth the time for a home cook to embark on. You have lots of stuff to do for Thanksgiving - and managing your time wisely is a good thing. Personally, I will not be making double stock. However, if you ever want to give it a go, to see if it's worth it to you, go for it. I just wouldn't do it for the first time for turkey day.

- O.M.

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