The Washington Post Food staff recently fielded questions about all things edible with help from Dan Souza, the editor in chief of Cooks Illustrated Magazine; Kristen Hartke, food writer and recipe developer; and Shauna C. Henley, Ph.D., from University of Maryland's Department of Food and Nutrition. Here are edited excerpts from the chat:
Question: I'll be traveling about an hour to a gathering, and I've promised to make two casseroles. Can I cook them a day or two in advance, refrigerate them until we leave, carry them to the location, and reheat them in the hosts' oven? Is that food safe? Is there another alternative I should consider?
Answer: You can do exactly that. I would recommend that you keep the two cooked casseroles on ice in a cooler during your travels. Then, when you get to your location, you will want to reheat the casserole until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, which is the safe minimum temperature for leftovers. – Shauna Henley
Q: This is a post-holiday meal question: I'm anticipating leftovers and I'm sure the fridge will be way too full. Is there anything that doesn't need refrigeration for a day or two? I can leave pie out on the counter, right? And rolls? I might put the mashed sweet potatoes (but not the mashed regular potatoes) and leftover creamed corn right into the freezer.
A: A key thing like you stated is not overcrowding your fridge, because you want cold air to circulate around the items to keep it cool. For starters, make sure you have an appliance thermometer, even if you have a fridge that tells you the temperature. You want your fridge to be 40 degrees or lower. You may want to set the temperature a bit lower in anticipation of the extra food items.
Now, let's look at what to keep in and out of refrigeration: Pies that aren't custard-based are safe to keep out of refrigeration (e.g. apple pie). Similarly, any rolls (no filling) will be safe on the counter. Mashed potatoes, other cooked or sliced vegetables, fruit and dips you will want to refrigerate within three to four days. – S.H.
Q: After many decades, I finally splurged on a KitchenAid stand mixer. I've already made a yummy bagel recipe – one of my inspirations for buying it! – and I want to keep expanding my repertoire. What recipes for savory or sweet baked goods really shine or are only doable with the stand mixer?
A: Any sweet and enriched doughs, like brioche, challah, Danish pastry dough, doughs for sticky buns and cinnamon rolls, and babka, will be much easier to make in a stand mixer. – G. Daniela Galarza
Q: I bought three pre-stuffed (with a bread stuffing) chicken breasts. I took them right home and refrigerated them. I cooked them in a 300-degree oven until the meat reached 165 degrees. However, now I am kind of leery about eating them. Although I followed good food safety protocols, I wonder about eating something that has been pre-stuffed for who knows how long? How can I tell if it is safe to eat?
A: You've done everything right, from keeping them fridge temp before cooking to going all the way to 165 degrees. At that temperature, any bacteria that we worry about are killed in a fraction of a second. There is always inherent risk in eating anything, but you have followed good food safety protocols. I would be comfortable eating them. Hope that helps. – Dan Souza
Q: I'm making my family's traditional pie with a gluten-free crust for the first time today. I've got a trustworthy recipe for the crust, but the filling also calls for 2 tablespoons of flour along with the apples, sugar, butter, salt and spices. I guess it helps thicken the juices a bit? I'm wondering what flour to use – an all-purpose substitute, rice, chickpea? I've got a good gluten-free pantry at the ready.
A: Sounds like you're well-equipped! For a fruit pie, I would use 2 or 3 tablespoons of cornstarch or tapioca starch in place of the all-purpose flour for thickening. – G.D.G.
Q: I've been asked to make dinner rolls for an upcoming dinner, and to make them with no dairy to accommodate some attendees who keep kosher (well, kosher-ish, since my kitchen sure ain't kosher-approved). I'm thinking I could just replace the milk and butter in my regular rolls with plant-based milk (almond, probably?) and something like Earth Balance. But I worry that there are pitfalls that I might not anticipate that would make the rolls fail.
A: I make vegan dinner rolls every year – they are a huge favorite in my family to the point that I often bake them and send them overnight to my oldest niece, who is a little bit obsessed with them! The ones that I make include pumpkin, which adds a nice flavor and tenderness to the final result and can replace any eggs that might be called for in some recipes; you also can simply substitute plant-based milk and butters 1:1 in any recipe. I personally do like the flavor of almond milk in baking, as it's slightly sweet, and Miyoko's unsalted European style butter is my top choice, but Earth Balance will absolutely do the trick! – Kristen Hartke