A chance to reconnect with a mentor

This week finds me looking forward to the 50th class reunion this weekend for Southeast High School. I'm not an alum, but the reunion is providing me an opportunity to get reacquainted with dear friends who are.

The wife of my former employer graduated from Southeast, you see, and they will be traveling from North Carolina for the event. It will be the first chance I've had to see them in 25 years.

John McCartney hired me, fresh out of college, to be the director of a new cooking school, a division of his supermarket chain. Working under his leadership taught me many skills and provided a bounty of culinary opportunities that have shaped my career.

Some people might not get too excited about seeing a former boss, but this guy was an innovative entrepreneur and a great mentor. I can't wait to swap stories about the past 25 years. Who would have imagined our paths would cross again in Wichita, Kansas?

This week, I have received several questions from readers, including a couple about last week's recipe for fresh apple-walnut cake.

Your cake recipe last week called for walnuts. Do I use English walnuts or black walnuts?

When a recipe calls for walnuts, you would normally use English walnuts, the most prevalent variety. They are lighter in color, have a more subtle flavor and work well in this recipe.

Your recipe for the apple cake said to bake it in a tube pan. What is a tube pan?

A tube pan is a baking pan with a tube in the middle, also known as an angel food cake pan as it is generally used for angel food cakes. But other cakes, such as my apple walnut cake and pound cakes, may be baked in it as well.

I have been noticing for some time now that several restaurants are serving pork that is still quite pink. Is it safe to eat medium-rare pork?

In years past, pork was traditionally cooked for a lengthy period of time to avoid the food-borne illness trichinosis. We now know that trichinosis is rare, and if present would be destroyed at 137 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA recommends that pork be cooked to 160 degrees, which can still result in slightly pink meat. However, some restaurant chefs cook pork to medium-rare or around 145 degrees; the meat is safe to eat because trichinosis is destroyed at 137 degrees.

I keep running across recipes that call for red pepper flakes. I have looked in supermarkets and do not find anything called red pepper flakes. What should I use? Can I substitute cayenne pepper?

Red pepper flakes, crushed red pepper flakes or crushed red pepper are all the same thing. McCormick, a major supplier of spices to grocery stores, calls its product crushed red pepper.

Red pepper flakes are pieces of dried, hot, red peppers that often include the seeds. Crushed red pepper is often used to add a spicy note to pizzas and other foods. Cayenne pepper is ground very fine and is not a good substitute.