Dear Barbara: I was making a dish last weekend that called for shredded coconut. I knew I had some, but I haven’t used it for awhile. It was dry and a bit stale. Is there someway I could have refreshed the coconut instead of tossing it out? My husband really hates it when he sees me throwing out food! — Max from Lodi
Dear Max: If it is really old, I would throw it away, but if it is just a bit dry and stale, it is savable. You can soak it in a little milk, which I find to be a bit messy, and then drain it and lightly pat it dry, or you can put the shredded coconut in a sieve and hold it over a pan of boiling water so that it gets the steam. Don’t put it in the water, just hold it over the top and mix up your coconut a bit until moistened to your liking.
Dear Barbara: My daughter and I were putting the groceries away and she accidentally left a package of frozen corn kernels on the counter. When I realized it, they had been there for at least and hour, maybe a little more, and were totally thawed, but still cool. I put them back in the freezer, but now I am having second thoughts about whether that was a safe thing to do. Should I not have done that? — Macy from Lodi
Dear Macy: If that was fish of some kind and it was room temperature, I would not advise it, but since it was corn, I will offer the opinion of Dr. Walter A. Maclinn, a research specialist in food technology at Rutgers University. Dr. Maclinn says you can expect foods to be somewhat softer than normal when they are thawed the second time, but otherwise everything is all right. If it had been there longer, or the food was older, it would not be advisable, but I feel that what you did was just fine (and so does Dr. Maclinn)!
Dear Barbara: I was wondering if size matters when buying a whole chicken. It seems like there’s a lot of fat on 4-to 5-pound chickens. Is there an optimal size where you still get nice size pieces, but not all the fat, or does the amount of fat just vary from chicken to chicken? — Paula from Lodi
Dear Paula: How much fat that is on a chicken depends on the food they eat. Organic chickens have less fat because they are fed a vegetarian diet.
Remember, “fat is flavor.” The bigger birds, over 5 to 7 pounds, are usually laying hens that are past their prime and are best in stews that have been simmered for a long time. They tend to be tougher and stringier and are fattier than smaller birds.
Fryers are less than 8 months old and are about 2 to 3 pounds.
Roasters are chickens that weigh 3 to 5 pounds. To me this is most likely the optimal size. If you find pockets of fat, you may want to trim the extra fat off with kitchen shears.
The smaller the chicken, the less fat, but the meat will be less moist.
For moist chicken, you may want to cook the chicken with the skin on and then remove the skin before serving. This would render the fat but keep the meat moist.
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.