Dear Barbara: Can you freeze nuts, and for how long? I look forward to your column every week. — Betty
Dear Betty: Yes, you can freeze nuts of all kinds, including pistachios. I don’t freeze nuts when they’re still in their shells, but it is possible. I find them much handier to use if they are already shelled. Freezing nuts that contain a lot of oils, such as pine nuts, will keep them from going rancid.
When freezing nuts, it’s best to double-bag them in freezer bags, but other methods will work. I keep a small jar of pine nuts in my freezer, where they are handy.
Nuts that are frozen can be kept at least a year and many people keep them even longer. As long as they don’t smell or taste rancid, they will be fine.
You can also use nuts straight from the freezer without thawing them. This makes them even easier to use in certain recipes.
Dear Barbara: Does chicken Marsala have to have mushrooms in the sauce to make it authentic? — Joan from Illinois
Dear Joan: Traditionally, chicken Marsala is made with a mushroom Marsala and sherry sauce. However, you will find recipes for Chicken Marsala in books or on the Internet that add shallots and/or capers to the sauce. Two of my friends never use mushrooms because of allergies and health issues, and they feel it tastes just as good as it does when you add them. In order to call the dish “Chicken Marsala,” however, you only need to use the Marsala wine and the Sherry. Any other additions are possible, but unnecessary.
You may use whatever kind of mushrooms that you like best.
Dear Barbara: Is liquid smoke just a bunch of chemicals mixed to give food a smoky taste? — Aubrey from Lodi
Dear Aubrey: Many people assume that there must be some kind of synthetic chemical in the making of “liquid smoke” flavoring. However, according to the Colgin Company, which has been bottling liquid smoke since the 19th century, that’s not actually the case.
Liquid smoke is made by channeling smoke from smoldering wood chips through a condenser, which quickly cools the vapors, causing them to liquefy, just like the drops that form when you breathe on a piece of cold glass. The water-soluble flavor compounds in the smoke are trapped within this liquid, while the non-soluble carcinogenic tars and resins are removed by a series of filters, resulting in a clean, smoke-flavored liquid.
Liquid smoke is an all-natural product and is actually safer than the smoke from your charcoal grill. Some people add liquid smoke to marinades to give them a little flavor boost. You only need a very small amount if you’re going to add it to anything, so take caution and start with really small amounts.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.