Question: Most canned goods and grain products do not have an expiration date on them. As a rule of thumb, how long can I keep such things as unopened boxes of cake flour, pancake mix, cake mix, canned icing, vegetables, tomato sauce, corn syrup, spices, etc.? Is there a book available with the answers?
Answer: The Food Marketing Institute publishes a pamphlet titled "The Food Keeper," which may help. It includes a chart with recommended storage location (refrigerator, pantry or freezer) and length of storage time for more than 100 food items. Also included are special handling instructions where applicable. For a copy, send 25 cents and a legal-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to Food Keeper, Food Marketing Institute, 1750 K St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006.
Q: I have a curry plant in my herb garden, but I don't know how to use it. I tried boiling the leaves and grinding them up, but the juice was so awfully bitter. Do you have anything to tell me about how one can use this plant?
A: We checked with Betty Taylor at Taylor's Herb Gardens Inc. in Vista, Calif. She confirmed that although the curry plant has a powerful scent similar to the spice blend, it's strictly an ornamental shrub and not recommended for cooking. However, the gray leaves may be included in spicy potpourri mixtures and the yellow flowers dried for winter decoration.
Q: An old recipe I would like to use calls for single-action baking powder. Since I can't find this any longer at supermarkets, can you tell me a substitute?
A: According to a September, 1979, You Asked About . . . column by Staff Writer Minnie Bernardino, a combination of two teaspoons cream of tartar and one teaspoon baking soda is equal to two teaspoons single action baking powder.
Q: I enjoyed the Feb. 11 You Asked About . . . column on basmati rice; however, I can't find it in my local markets. I am also looking for another Indian ingredient, garam masala, and for pine nuts. Can you give the name of a company that will furnish these items by mail order?
A: Since you specifically asked for a mail order source, we suggest you contact Gourmet Treasure Hunters, 10044 Adams Ave., Suite 305, Huntington Beach 92646.
Those who would rather purchase the rice and spice mixture directly can find them at the following stores in Los Angeles: Bezjian's Grocery, 4725 Santa Monica Blvd.; Islamic Food Mart, 690 S. Vermont Ave., or Al Hilal Market, 3025 S. Vermont Ave. Basmati rice may also be found in most health food stores. Pine nuts are available at specialty grocery stores.
Q: In a recent Times Culinary SOS column the recipe for City School Sweet Rolls called for plain cake crumbs. Can you explain? Are they something you buy, or something you save when you make a cake? I'd love to make these rolls but that one ingredient has me lost.
A: You may use any plain cake crumbs in the recipe--either from a cake you purchase or from one you make yourself. Leftovers from a pound cake or one of the new smaller-size microwave yellow cakes would work well. I suspect the schools find this an excellent way to use day-old cake.
Q: In the Feb. 4 Times story on Armenian cooking, one of the recipes calls for bulgur. What exactly is this item and where do you find it?
A: In "Middle Eastern Cooking" (HP Books: 1982), author Rose Dosti explains that bulgur is "parboiled and dried wheat processed into grains of varying sizes from fine grade to coarse grade." It is used like rice and is available in Middle Eastern or specialty groceries and in health food stores.
In response to the Feb. 25 You Asked About . . . column on where to purchase citron throughout the year, several readers reminded us that it also is available at Grand Central Public Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles.