Dear Barbara: Holidays are just around the corner, and I have been thinking of new and different things I could make. I found a great recipe for a cranberry type sauce. I have tried to make cranberry sauce in the past, but no matter how simple the recipe, mine just has this bitter taste. Adding more sugar does not fix it. Did I miss something? — Evelyn from Acampo

Dear Evelyn: I had the same problem when I first started making my own cranberry sauce. I found out that you should cook them just until they pop. Further cooking will make them bitter, and once that happens, you need to start again. I don’t think people would buy the canned cranberry sauce as often if they knew how easy it is to make, and you can add wonderful things to it, like orange zest, etc. It can also be made days ahead, which is a big time saver.

When you are cooking cranberries, add 1 teaspoon of butter for each pound of cranberries you are cooking. This will eliminate them from boiling over or having excess foam. They will also need less sugar!

Dear Barbara: My neighbor came over yesterday, just as I was starting to cook some potatoes to make mashed potatoes.

I always bring the salted water to a rolling boil before I add the potatoes so they will start to cook faster. She said that was wrong. She feels you should start them in cold water. We decided to ask you, and we will accept your answer as the correct one. Who’s right? — Sarah from Lodi

Dear Sarah: Actually, your neighbor is correct. Let me explain why. If you start your potatoes in cold water, the potatoes and the water come up to temperature at the same time. This gives you even cooking. If you start them in boiling, or even hot water, the outside of the potatoes start cooking right away, but the inside is still cold. By the time the inside is tender, the outside is so overcooked that it becomes very mushy and starts to disintegrate. This causes mushy, wet, mashed potatoes.

Try the cold water method, have your neighbor over for dinner, and have a good laugh over your differences!

Dear Barbara: I cook a lot with chipotles in adobo sauce. How long can you keep them after they are opened? I’m never quite sure whether I should throw them out or use them. Unless they are moldy, I can’t tell if they are still good. — Danny from Galt

Dear Danny: I find they will last about a month if stored properly in the refrigerator. Remove the unused portion from the metal can and put them in a glass container with a tight fitting lid.

You don’t want to put them in plastic storage containers because, as I am sure you know, they stain anything that they touch!

Personally, I separate the peppers on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet with two teaspoons in each little pile and freeze them uncovered, overnight.

The next day, I take each one and wrap it in plastic wrap and toss them in a zip lock bag and put them in the freezer. I can then take out just what I need for the dish. It works great, and they thaw very quickly.

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 Please include your first name and city.

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