This is a new biweekly column to help you stay in tune with the times -- the culinary times, we mean. Cooking (and eating) aren't quite the same as they used to be. We're here to help keep you up to date.
We'll talk about new foods and appliances that are being introduced. And edgy new recipes and hard-to-find ingredients. We'll talk about kitchen safety, too.
We'll also answer reader questions on subjects as new as a fresh-laid egg and as time-tested as, well, aged Bordeaux. Tell us what you're puzzled about and we'll try to come to your aid.
Send comments and questions to Janice Okun, Features Department, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. We'll address subjects of general interest in this space every other week. (Sorry, we can't acknowledge your notes or give personal answers.)
Here, for instance, is an example of something we're often asked. From a Buffalo reader:
Q: I have a bottle of half-used olive oil. It has been in my cupboard for three or four years. Can I still use it or should I throw it away? There is no "use-by" date on it.
A: Pu-leeeze throw it out. Right now. No food lasts forever, and any opened bottle of olive oil -- no matter how much you paid for it -- is going to become rancid within months, not to mention years.
Even if it doesn't make you actively sick, it will spoil the taste of whatever you use it in. (And good taste is the reason you bought the olive oil in the first place, right?)
The bottom line: Next time, buy a smaller bottle.
The whole matter of storage and how long to keep food around is always problematical. Here are a few guidelines.
Commercial canned goods: Keep at top quality for a year, says the canners' association. Try to store them away from heating vents or kitchen ranges. Refrigerate or freeze remaining contents after you open.
Home-canned foods: Will keep for a year. Check to be sure that the seal is secure before you use.
Butter and margarine: Keep well in the fridge for up to two weeks. In the freezer, they will keep for at least a year.
Ice cream: Use within a month.
Eggs: Store in fridge, large end up. Keep eggs in the original carton rather than those cute little dimpled shelves that are built in. Eggs keep for up to four weeks but slowly lose flavor.
Bread and baked goods: In the freezer, up to a year.
Flour: In air-tight container on pantry shelf up to a year. (Inspect before using.) In freezer, indefinitely.
Herbs and spices: In air-tight jars, no more than a year. They lose flavor.
Honey, jams, syrups: On pantry shelf, use within a year.
Ketchup, opened: Keeps for a month on pantry shelf. Refrigerate for longer storage.
Prepared mustard: Ditto.
Salad oils: In cupboard, up to three months. For longer storage, refrigerate. Oils may solidify if kept in fridge but will reliquefy at room temperature.
New food of the week
Keebler Grahams with Calcium, available in Cinnamon Crisp, Original, Chocolate, Low Fat Honey and Low Fat Cinnamon Crisp. Snackin' Grahams come in Cinnamon and Chocolate.
The product is being introduced in response to surveys that show many Americans, especially kids, don't get the calcium they need for strong bones and teeth. Graham crackers are a good choice for calcium fortification because most children enjoy them as snacks.
One serving (eight crackers) of the graham crackers with calcium contains 100 milligrams of calcium. When they're combined with a glass of milk, children get about 400 milligrams of calcium, which is 80 percent of the recommended intake for ages 1 to 3 and half of the recommended intake for children 4 to 8.
The crackers cost the same as the non-fortified product.
Gadget of the week
Why work? The Halfpint Cream Whipper makes up to two pints of whipped cream that will store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. It's supposed to be the same whatchamacallit they use in coffeehouses. Only smaller.
You fill the container with cream (and flavorings, if you wish), insert a charge cartridge, dispense and enjoy. The whipper can make flavored toppings like Amaretto Cream for topping iced coffee drinks and ready-made deserts.
It comes in white; suggested retail price is $34.95 plus shipping and handling. Call (800) 211-9608 for information.