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Ask Kirstin: Fruit Ripeness; Mussel Freshness


How do I know when fruit is ripe? — O. Turtle

Follow your nose my friend! Fruit really wants to be picked when it is ripe and in season, so wait until the time of year when it is calling out “Pick me!” by sending its scent drifting across the aisle or the garden path. If you wait until then, it will reward you by being simply perfect.


How do you know if your mussels are fresh? And how do you clean them? — Linda C.

First of all, make sure your relationship with the fishmonger is fresh. You don’t want to buy some ol’ mussel that has been hanging out chatting with the trout for days. When you get home immediately unwrap them and store in a dry bowl in the refrigerator, so they can breathe. Look at each mussel. Is the shell closed? If not, rap it on a counter. It should immediately “clam up” — if it doesn’t, it is sadly no longer with us and must be tossed. Discard any with cracked shells as well.

Wild mussels will need to be scrubbed with a stiff brush to remove any barnacles, sand or grit and their “beard”, the thin strings hanging off the side, must be removed. Do this with a forceful tug pulling it away. Rinse them well but do not let them sit in water, as freshwater will kill them. Farmed mussels will have already been prepared for cooking and you can just give them a quick rinse. Once cooked, a mussel should have opened, throw out any mussels that have not.


What’s a good rule of thumb for how many chicken pieces you need to make broth? Can you just use some parts without using a whole chicken? — Desiree D.

Actually to make a nice broth it is better to use the cheaper bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings. Figure on using 2 parts chicken to 3 parts water. For example, use 2 pounds chicken to 3 pints (pounds) water. And then if you throw in an extra pound of chopped up vegetables it will be a perfect beginning to a good soup.


I’ve never bought or eaten beets, but your purple hummus looks so good. Help! What do I buy? How do I roast it as the recipe says to? — Blum J.

Oh, you are in for a treat. Slow roasted beets are so simple to make, are very tasty, and last for a few days in the fridge, so make a few extra.

First get some medium sized beets, cut off the tops. The tops are great to use in any dish you would use greens for, for example “Grains, Greens and Cheese Please” (page 108 of The Family Dinner) or “Caramelized Sweet Potatoes, Quinoa and Greens” (page 116). Wash the beets well, rub a little oil on the skin, wrap them in tin foil and roast at 375 degrees until tender and easily pierced (about 40-60 minutes).

Immediately throw the beets into cold water (this creates steam between the beet and its skin) and with your hands slip the skin right off. Use the beets for our beautiful beet humus, or slice and stack with goat cheese, a drizzle of Balsamic, some good olive oil and toasted walnuts, or make an all red salad with diced beets, red oak salad leaves, red endive, pomegranate seeds and grapes. Toss with a Balsamic dressing.


I hate chopping onions. Can I use frozen chopped onions instead? And if a recipe says to use one medium onion, about how much in chopped frozen onion is that? — Jenn. S

Perhaps you live in a place where everything is frozen, and you have no choice to use these, wet, sad bag onions, instead of sweet crunchy fresh ones… then one medium chopped onion = 1 cup frozen. By the way…Do you know about the goggle trick? If you wear swimming goggles while chopping onions you won’t shed a tear. And if it is the onion smell you fear, remove it from your hands by rubbing them with lemon juice.


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