The Washington Post

A recent online special guest was columnist Tamar Haspel. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Recipes whose names are capitalized can be found in our Recipe Finder at

Q. I have my grandmother’s ancient Bromwell’s sifter and a newish Bromwell. They’re both made of metal that rusts. I can’t really clean them. I just shake out the dust and wipe them down. Why are they made like that? Can I buy one that I can really clean?

A. I read somewhere, decades ago, that you shouldn’t clean your flour sifter, mostly because you could get little cemented bits of flour in the screen, but also because of rust. Because I can’t cite a source, or even swear that I actually did read that, take it for what it’s worth, but I have been doing nothing but brushing off my flour sifter, and maybe wiping it down, for going on three decades now. I have lived to tell the tale, and my flour sifter still works fine. I long ago switched to either a) whisking the flour, rather than sifting; or b) using a fine-mesh strainer instead of a sifter.

Q. I recently “inherited” five cans of sardines from my deceased father’s pantry. Can I substitute those for anchovy paste? Will the salt element be equivalent?

A. Cooks use canned sardines in recipes all the time, sometimes without draining the olive oil used to pack the fish in the tins. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them, though some tins have very high sodium levels. Depending on the recipe, you might need to adjust your salt amounts.

Q. We have two dozen pears and can’t eat them all right now. Suggestions for using them/freezing them? I wondered about roasting them, putting them in a cake or just freezing them, but I’m at a loss.

A. Make Roasted Mashed Pear-Apple Sauce, stat. It’s. So. Good. You may not want to buy apples for that piece of it, and you know what? Even though the combo is great, because your mission is using up all these pears, just go all-pear. It’ll still be great.

Q. Just got back from a trip to the Middle East and fell in love with za’atar but didn’t have the presence of mind to bring some back. Where can I get some legit za’atar around here? I’ve seen some recipes for making your own, but it looks like most are missing one ingredient or another that I noticed, mostly the types of seeds (poppy or sesame). Do I need to make a trip to the burbs?

A. You can find the spice blend za’atar (sometimes spelled zatar). You can order it online at Penzeys.