Question: I'll admit to being a complete dunderhead when it comes to wine. So many recipes call for "red wine" or "white wine." Which red or white wine? Is it sweet, dry, or something in between?
Answer: If a recipe states simply red or white wine, it intends for dry wine to be used. Since the wine flavor is imparted to the food, it's important to select one with a flavor you enjoy. Burgundy is a good, standard choice when red wine is called for; chablis when white wine is indicated. Most sources agree that moderately priced wines may be used for cooking, but if wine is going to be served with the meal, use the same or a compatible one for cooking.
Q: Where in Orange County can I find dry navy beans? None of the supermarkets I've checked carry them.
A: We, too, had difficulty finding dry navy beans in Southern California. Jim Melban of the California Dry Bean Advisory Board and Ed Fash of the Beans of the West organization say small white beans are the best substitute. Although there are botanical differences, for all practical purposes, they are the same bean.
Navy beans are also called pea beans, according to Melban and Fash. There have been some experimental plantings in California, but climatic conditions are not optimum for this bean. The Michigan Bean Commission reports 75% to 80% of navy beans are grown in that state. Since the majority are used in canned baked beans, supplies of dried navy beans are small and apparently do not reach the West Coast.
Q: I would like to try several new recipes that call for frozen artichoke hearts. I have looked in the frozen food section of many grocery stores, but to no avail. What is your suggestion?
A: Packages of frozen artichoke hearts can be found at Gelson's Markets.
Q: My dad used to make homemade beer and root beer. I've tried every store imaginable to find a kit, but no luck. Does anybody make them?
A: We found several beer-making supply stores around the Southland that carry either kits or the supplies to make beer and root beer: Fun Fermentations, 640 E. Katella Ave., Orange; Shadetree Shop, 3712 Foothill Blvd., La Crescenta; The Home Brewery, 16490 Jurupa, Fontana; The Home Winemaking Shop, 22836 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; and Marabella Vineyard, 344 8th St., San Pedro. Check the telephone company Yellow Pages for additional shops.
Q: Is it still safe to use an unopened canned ham that I have had in my refrigerator for about two years? If it is safe to eat this meat, can any remainder be safely frozen for later use?
A: According to The Food Keeper, a pamphlet from Food Marketing Institute developed in cooperation with The Institute of Food Science at Cornell University, the optimum time for storing canned ham in the refrigerator is 6 months. Freezing cured meat is not recommended.
"Although the contents may be perfectly safe to eat, they may slowly start losing nutrients or flavor. These changes occur gradually," the pamphlet says.
Perhaps our best advice is the old adage: "When in doubt, throw it out." Or to put it another way, is it worth the risk?
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About . . ., Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.