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Vegetable Questions

Many sun-dried tomatoes are not truly sun dried. See more pictures of vegetables.
©Ronald Sumners

Not sure how to prepare your sun-dried tomatoes, get the most out of your baked potatoes or give your vegetables that special Asian twist? Join us as we explore these and other answers to common vegetable questions.

Q. How should I prepare the sun-dried tomatoes for use in recipes?

A. These days, a truly sun-dried tomato can be hard to find. Most of the products available commercially are actually dried via massive industrial dehydrators. During the drying process, some manufacturers also treat their tomatoes with preservatives to protect the tomatoes' color and flavor before packaging.

Dried tomatoes are readily available cut to different sizes-halved, julienned, or chopped to "bits" and packaged in one of two styles: dry-packed in bags or oil-packed in jars.

Some varieties of oil-packed dried tomatoes are further seasoned with minced garlic, onions, or herbs.

You should store dry-packed tomatoes in airtight containers placed in a cool and dark location up to six months after opening.

Oil-packed tomatoes should be refrigerated after opening and used within a month of opening.

Since dry-packed dried tomatoes are chewy and leathery, they benefit from rehydrating prior to usage. Soak them in warm water to cover for 5 to 10 min. until they've absorbed enough liquid to plump up and soften.

Once rehydrated, slice or chop the tomatoes before adding them to the rest of your recipe.

Q. How do you bake potatoes?

A. A perfect baked potato starts with a russet: oblong white-skinned potatoes with a high starch content and large-grained flesh. These characteristics give russets their fluffy texture when baked. In contrast, smaller round potatoes, such as red or white potatoes used for soups and stews, have smaller-grained flesh, which helps the potato stay firm and hold its shape when cooked.

You can bake your potato by oiling the skins, bake the potatoes in foil, or bake them completely surrounded by rock salt. How you should bake potatoes depends on your taste.

After washing the skins well, you can bake potatoes without additional preparation. Some folks believe piercing the skin with a fork prevents bursting. Others prefer to use a baking nail, which you insert into the potato. The metal nail transfers heat into the potato's interior and helps it to bake faster.

Oiling the potatoes helps to give them a crisper skin. If you microwave them or wrap them in foil before baking, the potatoes will steam, not roast, and will have a softer skin as a result.

To get the same appearance as restaurant baked potatoes, cut open the potato, using a fork to pierce the skin in a line or cross, push the ends toward the middle to open the split.

Q. How do I pick and store vegetables?

A. Keep vegetables at their best by following these tips for buying and storing fresh vegetables.

  • Asparagus: Look for firm, straight spears with closed, compact tips. The stalks should be crisp, not wilted, woody or dry. To store, stand the cut ends in an inch of water or wrap the ends in a moist paper towel. Place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  • Broccoli: Look for tightly closed, compact, dark green to purplish-green florets on tender, firm stalks. Avoid those with yellow flowers, wilted leaves and tough stems. Store refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to four days.
  • Cauliflower: Look for a creamy-white head with tightly packed, crisp florets. Leaves should be bright green. Avoid heads with brown spots. Store refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to four days.

Q. How can I make Japanese-style vegetables at home?

A. Capturing those wonderful Asian flavors requires a trip no further than your local supermarket. The first thing to do is shop the specialty foods aisle for reduced-sodium soy sauce or teriyaki sauce.

You should also be able to find sesame oil or toasted sesame oil, as well as rice wine vinegar. Sesame oil -- especially dark or toasted sesame oil -- is strongly flavored; you only need a few drops per dish.

In the produce section, buy fresh gingerroot to mince into stir-fry dishes, as well as fresh garlic. Both seasonings also are available pre-minced in convenient glass jars.

With these basic seasonings, you'll be on your way to re-creating Japanese flavors.