Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan joined the Post Food staff for a discussion of all things edible. Here are edited excerpts. Recipes whose names are capitalized can be found in our Recipe Finder at washingtonpost.com/recipes.
Q: I want to try my hand at making coquito (Puerto Rican eggnog) and the recipe I've decided on has no eggs, but plenty of rum. I know the drink is sweet - and potent - so it will take a while to get through the bottle. Any idea how long it's good in the refrigerator? The recipe is basically rum, evaporated milk, condensed milk, coconut cream and spices.
A: This sounds quite similar to the recipe I use. I keep mine for about a week (but with all that sugar and alcohol, it might actually last longer). Know that leftover coquito makes really good baked French toast (especially if you use challah) and bread pudding.
- Kara Elder
Q: I hate to waste food but we are about to go on vacation for several weeks. Any ideas on how to keep the following: Milk in an open carton? Potato chips in an open bag? Fresh herbs (maybe freeze as ice cubes)?
A: My pal Kenji at Serious Eats likes this method: Chopping the herbs, putting them in ice cube trays, freezing them with a neutral oil and then removing the cubes and storing them in resealable bags. They'll last a couple weeks, maybe longer.
For chips, I would transfer them to a resealable bag, one that can keep the air out. Oxygen is your enemy.
As for milk, one source says you can freeze for six weeks without losing much in flavor. The texture, however, will suffer.
- Tim Carman
Q: What is the difference between Laird's Applejack and their Apple Brandy?
A: Laird's Applejack is a blend of cheaper grain neutral spirits rather than being all apple brandy. I think it's a solid option for cocktails, but if you want a drink that really shows you what apple-based spirits can be, the brandies are the way to go.
- M. Carrie Allan
Q: Are there American apple brandies besides Laird's that are worth buying? I've asked this in liquor stores and was always told that Laird's is king. Would you agree?
A: Laird's makes a nice apple brandy, no doubt. I think they get the benefit of longevity and solid reputation because for a long time they were the only game in town. But there are some really nice apple brandies out there now. I can vouch for Copper & Kings Floodwall and the new Chapman's from Republic Restoratives, as well as the apple brandies from Clear Creek, St. George's and Catoctin Creek.
Q: So many savory recipes call for various types of onions. I dislike onions, and they dislike me. What can you suggest for both flavor and bulk?
A: Do you have trouble with everything in the allium family? Onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, etc.? If not, leeks or shallots would be my first suggestion. Beyond that, there's nothing that really tastes like an onion, but you could certainly add some garlic for flavor and perhaps a bell pepper instead of the onion.
- Joe Yonan
Q: I signed up to bring a green salad to an office potluck because I always like to supply something healthful, but typically the salad gets passed up for the more indulgent options. Any ideas on how to spruce it up and make it more exciting and/or "holiday" themed? I bought a big thing of spring lettuce mix, and I also have a stock of craisins and nuts on hand.
A: Use all that, and add roasted squash wedges, cooked wild rice and raw pear slices. Make a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon, garlic, a little honey, salt and pepper, and you'll be golden.
Q: Is there a rule of thumb for substituting leeks, onions and shallots in recipes? I'm specifically wondering about the intensity of the ingredient, not the flavors (which obviously differ). Recently I made ground turkey and ricotta meatballs - I had some leeks so I chopped up the white and pale green parts, sautéed them and threw those in. Normally, I guess I would have added a bunch of chopped, sautéed onion (probably more than the volume of leeks I used). They came out great and the leek flavor is very prominent, but more might have been too much. Is there a way to determine how much of which ingredient will work best?
A: Fortunately, someone has already done that work for us. If you don't have a copy, I highly recommend "The Food Substitutions Bible: More Than 6,500 Substitutions for Ingredients, Equipment and Techniques" by David Joachim, which tells you how much of one ingredient can be used as a replacement for another.
Q: Our annual tamalada (party for making tamales) is coming up on Saturday. We have one friend who is vegan, so I'm in charge of ideas for some vegan tamales. I've got some vegetable stock for making the masa and was thinking about using the Roasted Portobello Mushroom, Pecan and Chestnut Wellington as inspiration for the filling. We made it for Thanksgiving as the vegetarian alternative and it was spectacular. Any thoughts on adjustments to the filling since the enclosure is now masa rather than puff pastry?
A: I think that would be delicious! Fun idea. The only change I might suggest is that I don't think you'd need those bread crumbs for binder, because as you know from making tamales, there's no place for that filling to go, when surrounded by that masa. Let us know how it turns out.
You might also look at the recipe for Three Sisters Mini Tamal Pies - you could certainly throw that filling into your lineup for the tamalada, too.