Food Q&A: Do pots and pans have expiration dates?

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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: Do you expect to have to replace things such as pots and pans or knives and forks? Every five, 10 or 20 years? Do more expensive ones last longer?

A: Results certainly vary, but I can say that I am still using Le Creuset pans that were purchased in 1978. I have carbon steel knives found in France in the ’80s. My cast-iron pans are decades old, most of them salvaged from junk shops and reconditioned. Well made, often expensive (but not always), kitchen equipment will last for a lifetime or more. As for knives and forks, I use a flatware set that was my family’s when I was growing up. It’s well made and sturdy and feels great — and familiar — in my hand. —  Cathy Barrow

Q: I would like to try to “grill” a head of romaine at home … except I don’t have a grill. Or even a cast-iron pan. Any suggestions for a work-around?

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A: Well, first things first: You really should get a cast-iron pan. So versatile, so durable! And affordable, too.

But any pan that you can get smokin’ hot can work to sear romaine and approximate what happens on a grill (minus the actual smoke, of course). Another possibility to always remember: Your broiler. Especially if you’ve got an open-flame one. — Joe Yonan

Q: I bought some corn at the supermarket, and it was very, very good. So I started thinking about cooking it. My dad always said, “Bring the water to a boil, drop in the ears and set the timer for five minutes.” So that’s what I do. My sister-in-law puts the ears in cold water, brings it to a boil and then cooks the life out of it. I have to politely decline to eat it. Do you have a special technique for corn?

A: Microwave that corn, still in the husk. Place the corn in the microwave and cook on high for 4 minutes for two ears, 8 minutes for four. Hold on to the hot corn with a kitchen towel, grasping it at the top of the ear, and with a sharp chef’s knife, cut off the bottom 1/4-inch, right through the cob. Then grab hold of the silk and husk at the top and tug the ear out. The ear will emerge perfectly cooked and without any silk. — C.B.

Q: We bought a large tub of coleslaw yesterday and accidentally left it on the table overnight after setting it out for dinner. So, it was unrefrigerated for about 16 hours. Would the dressing make us sick if we ate it? Can we make it safe to eat? The ingredients include mayonnaise made with egg yolks.

A: Toss it. The general rule is that a prepared food shouldn’t spend more than four hours in the “danger zone” —  between 40 and 140 degrees. — J.Y.

Q: I’ve been enjoying wines from the Southern Hemisphere lately. My go-to bottles have been from the Cape Town, South Africa, area and Marlborough, New Zealand. Could you recommend something outside of the sauvignon blancs I’ve been drinking? I prefer white wines, as I am sensitive to the tannins usually present in reds. And about tannin: Is it the result of a wine being “oaked”?

A: Tannin comes from the grape skins, stems and seeds. One reason we don’t usually perceive tannin in white wines is that they are typically destemmed before pressing, and then taken off the skins very quickly. If you try an “orange” or “amber” wine (often from the country of Georgia), these are white wines made with prolonged skin contact. You will feel the tannins. Tannins also do come from oak barrels, especially new ones. If your first impression of a Chardonnay or a big red wine is one of getting gobsmacked by a 2-by-4, that’s probably from oak tannin.

As for other whites to try: Look for Rieslings from New Zealand and Australia. Argentina is making some of the world’s best chardonnay right now, but is also known for torrontes, a lighter, flowery white wine. From South Africa, look for chenin blanc, sometimes called steen. Ken Forrester makes a nice one called P’tit Chenin, and you cannot go wrong with wines from A.A. Badenhorst, especially the Secateurs Chenin, which retails at about $20. — Dave McIntyre

Q: Are red onions different from yellow onions, besides the color? I wondered about this while reading the recipe for Spanish Potato Salad With Chickpeas. Are red onions the same as Bermuda onions?

A: Red onions are milder in flavor, yellow onions are sweeter. Bermuda onions aren’t red. They’re a sweet onion, flat-topped, and can be either white or yellow. You can also soak onions in a little water for a half hour or so to take out some of the bite. Or pickle them, which is amazing. — J.Y.

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