Dear Barbara: Since bacon has been cured, is it OK to eat it soft, or do you have to cook it until it is crisp?
— Mike from Lodi
Dear Mike: Bacon has usually been brined and smoked, making it cured. It is just fine to cook it soft and chewy, if that is the way you like it.
I wouldn’t recommend eating it raw. It may make you sick, but it wouldn’t kill you.
Dear Barbara: I want to have an oyster bar for my New Year’s Eve party. I know you can eat oysters raw, or as they say, “on the half shell;” — but what about mussels or clams? Can they be eaten raw? — Lily from Acampo
Dear Lily: In order to eat mollusks raw, they must be extremely fresh and have come from uncontaminated waters. Mussels, clams, oysters and scallops can contain bacteria that remains living, even if they are refrigerated. People with poor immune systems could become very ill, and since you really don’t know all of the health issues of your guests, I would not recommend eating mollusks raw or even partially cooked. If you cook them, definitely discard any that do not open.
Dear Barbara: Can you add dried mushrooms directly into a dish or do you have to soak them first? — Claire
Dear Claire: If you are using the whole mushroom in a dish, I suggest you soak them in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes, covered, then remove the stems and chop them to the desired size.
If you don’t feel like doing that, you can put them in a spice grinder and grind them to a powder. Be sure and sift them so you don’t have any larger pieces.
This has multiple uses. The powder can be used in most any dish, or mixed with other seasonings to make a coating for meats or fish.
Dear Barbara: I like heated plates when serving dinner. I’ve always heard that you shouldn’t put plates in the oven at more than 350 degrees. Many of the dishes I cook or roast are at a higher temperature than that. If I heat them before my dish goes in the oven, they get cold again. Any suggestions? — Abby from Lodi
Dear Abby: I have a few suggestions that may help.
They actually sell insulated warmers specifically for heating plates. You can also take your dish out when it is done, cover with foil, turn the heat down and put your plates in the oven.
In my household there are only two of us, so when I am ready to serve, I place a damp paper towel over each plate and put them, one at a time, in the microwave for 30 seconds each. The water conducts the heat to the plate. Remove the plates and wipe the moisture off and you have warm plates! Please realize this works only if you have one or two plates to heat.
If you have ground something very pungent or something with oils, such as dried chilies, in your spice grinder, you can remove the residue by putting a few tablespoons of raw white rice in the grinder. Grind it to a powder and it will absorb the oils and odors and leave your grinder “dry cleaned.”
Send questions to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org.