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Food prep is a breeze when friends pitch in

When friends want to help you cook, I say let them. It is amazing how much can be accomplished, but the best part is enjoying time together.

Recently, I had a special event planned that included a dinner for a large group. Imagine my surprise and joy when friends announced they were coming the evening before to help me prepare food. Suddenly my to-do list looked much more manageable as I began to delegate jobs to my friends.

These gals came prepared. Not only did they have their aprons and let's-get-started attitude, but they brought food and drinks as well. And the cooking party began.

In a couple of hours, the work was done. Ann prepped the asparagus. Kim and Vesta mixed and formed beautiful crab cakes and made the remoulade sauce. The greens were washed, the tables set, and soon the tasks were all completed. But the evening was far from over. What began as an evening designated for cooking evolved into a night of chatting, laughing, sharing food and drink.

Our first question today has to do with preparing fresh asparagus.

What is the purpose of peeling asparagus? Is it necessary?

It is sufficient to snap the asparagus stalk and let it break naturally; discard the fibrous bottom part, which would be tough. However, for special dinners, I use a vegetable peeler to remove the peeling on the bottom half of the asparagus stalk. It looks more appealing, is very tender and cooks more evenly.

I often make desserts but have trouble serving them. Things like meringue pies, cheesecakes and cakes with sticky icing are impossible to cut into neat, pretty slices. Any tips?

The best thing I have found is to use a thin, sharp knife and dip it into a tall glass filled with very hot water and wipe it dry. The hot knife will go through cleanly and neatly. Repeat the dipping process before each slice.

Sometimes I freeze small amounts of leftovers but have been noticing white patches that I think are freezer burn. Is that harmful and do I need to pitch the food?

Technically, freezer burn is not harmful but the food will not taste as good. Freezer burn is caused when food is not wrapped properly and air has come in contact with the surface of the food. Always wrap food as tightly as possible and squeeze air out of freezer bags before sealing to alleviate the problem.

I have baking soda in my pantry for quite a long time. Does it expire? How can I tell if it is still good?

Over time, baking soda will lose its ability to leaven food. To test, stir one teaspoon of baking powder into a cup of boiling water. If it fizzes, it is still good. If there is no action, discard it as it has lost its leavening power.

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