Ask Ina

Ask Ina

Have a cooking or entertaining question?

From Lynda - Little Rock, AR

I have one friend who is completely vegan. How do you handle this situation at a dinner party without having to cook two complete meals?

Ina's Answer:

I agree that you don't want to make two separate meals- both because it's too much work, but also because you don't want the guest who's vegan to feel "other." I might make a meat main course and lots of vegetable dishes, including one more substantial dish, like a grain or rice, and every can choose what they like for dinner!

From Rebecca - Amarillo, Texas

I love the big white serving bowls and platters that you use. What brand are they and where can they be purchased?

Ina's Answer:

I get a lot of my serving bowls and platters from Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel. They both have a huge range of white china. For example, my large serving bowls are Crate and Barrel brand, and my Pillivuyt and Apilco dishes are from Williams-Sonoma. I hope that helps!

From Nancy - Massachusetts

For your onion dip recipe you say to use "good mayonnaise." Does that mean homemade or a specific brand?

Ina's Answer:

By "good mayonnaise" I mean a good-quality store-bought brand, such as Hellman's or Duke's.

From Claire St.Louis - Michigan/Florida

What's your favorite type of pepper mill?

Ina's Answer:

I have used a PepperMate pepper mill for years and highly recommend it. They are available at

From Marilyn - England

Can you tell me how you transfer Anna's Tomato Tart from the sheet pan to the chopping board? I know it's probably simple but I'm afraid the base will break up.

Ina's Answer:

Holding the sheet pan with your left hand, pull the parchment paper and the tart onto the board in one stroke with your right hand. Then, transfer in squares to a dish or serve from the board with the parchment underneath. I hope that helps!

From Liz Kovats - Brielle, NJ

Do you have a foolproof way to melt butter for a recipe? I usually melt it in the microwave in a glass bowl, but sometimes it pops and causes a mess.

Ina's Answer:

I melt butter on the stove in a small saucepan over low heat. It only takes a few minutes - and no mess!

From Nicole Adams - Beaverton, Oregon

You have two slightly different recipes for spinach in puff pastry: Spinach Pie from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Spinach in Puff Pastry in Barefoot in Paris. Which of them do you prefer?

Ina's Answer:

I love them both, but the one that I've made the most is the Spinach Pie in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. It's easy and delicious!

From Lori Turpin - Dallas, TX

I love the La Rochere glasses I see you using and I'm thinking of getting some. Do you put them in the dishwasher and recommend them for everyday use?

Ina's Answer:

Yes! I use them for everyday use, and you can put them in the dishwasher. Just make sure they don't touch in the dishwasher so they don't break if they move around.

From Christine - Rio Rancho, NM

I love making your Pecan Shortbread but I don't always have the time to roll out the cookies the same day. How long will the dough last in the refrigerator wrapped tightly in plastic wrap?

Ina's Answer:

Unfortunately, if you chill the dough for too long and then try to bring it to a temperature where you can roll it out, the outside will be too soft and the center will be too hard. What you can do, though, is roll out the dough, cut out the cookies, and then refrigerate or freeze them until you have time to bake.

From Elizabeth - Connecticut

On your show, I always see that salt is kept in a ramekin or other small bowl. Is the salt left uncovered all the time or do you have a cover or saran wrap to go over it?

Ina's Answer:

I keep salt uncovered in a ramekin for easy access while I'm cooking- it doesn't dry out or get bugs the way sugar or flour can.

From Barbara Kerrane - Dallas, TX

Where can I buy the Goya 16 Bean Soup Mix for your “16 Bean” Pasta e Fagioli recipe in Cooking for Jeffrey?

Ina's Answer:

Goya's 16 Bean Soup Mix is available at most large supermarkets, but you can purchase it online at Amazon and several other retailers if you can't find it locally.

From Juliette - Bradley Beach, NJ

I noticed that when you make white chocolate chocolate cookies, the dark chocolate bark, and the white chocolate bark, you use 1 pound bricks of “good chocolate." What brand do you use and where can you find it?

Ina's Answer:

I prefer Lindt, Callebaut, or Valrhona chocolate. I buy them at specialty food and cooking stores, or online at

From Joan - Merrick, NY

Which kosher salt do you use in your recipes?

Ina's Answer:

I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which is available at most grocery stores.

From Nicole - Chicago

Are there specific times you use glass instead of metal mixing bowls?

Ina's Answer:

No, I use them completely interchangeably.

From Kathy McKeand - Greenville, IN

Mushrooms seem so dirty when you buy them. What is the best way to clean them?

Ina's Answer:

You don't want to wash mushrooms under running water, because they will absorb the water. Instead, take a clean damp sponge (without soap!) and brush them gently to remove the dirt.

From Laura Freeman - Riverside, CA

How do you keep your sheet trays clean? I am always embarrassed to have guests see mine because they get stained and dark.

Ina's Answer:

I use Brillo pads to clean my sheet pans thoroughly and then I wash them in the dishwasher. Lining the pan with parchment paper before baking or roasting is also an easy way to keep them spotless!

From Elsie - Saint. Augustine Florida

What would you have in your pantry to serve as a snack or a meal for spontaneous company?

Ina's Answer:

I always have pasta and jars of Rao's marinara sauce in the pantry for dinner in less than fifteen minutes!!

From Carolle - Avonmore, PA

I often see you use figs. I’m curious to know, how do you pick a good fig and when are they in season?

Ina's Answer:

Figs are usually in season in the fall. You want a fig that's very sweet and soft inside. They're generally underripe when you find them at the store, so I buy them and let them ripen on the counter. 

From Greg - Charlottesville, VA

I want to make your Outrageous Brownies for a family gathering, but there are nut allergies among the guests. If I leave out the walnuts should I still use the 1/4 cup of flour that was to be used to dredge them with?

Ina's Answer:

Yes! Toss the chocolate chips with the 1/4 cup flour as the recipe directs, simply omitting the walnuts.

From Ellie Hoehn - Marshfield, MA

Where can I find that great pepper mill with storage so you are able to "measure" the pepper just grated?

Ina's Answer:

I have used my PepperMate pepper grinder for years and highly recommend it. They are available at Cassandra's Kitchen.

From Allene - Jackson, MS

What is the name of the canned Italian tomatoes you recommend?

Ina's Answer:

I use and recommend San Marzano tomatoes. They're the best!

From Scott Werner - Oregon

We are always tempted by deep fried recipes! But, we are often put off by how to handle the oil after the cooking: how to preserve it, how to store it, how to know when it has been re-used too much, and how to dispose of it when it is time. Any help will be much appreciated!

Ina's Answer:

I don't reuse cooking oil, because I find it smells and tastes like what you just cooked in it. I let the oil cool, pour it back into the bottle it came in, and dispose of it. I hope that helps!

From Seth Martin - Lebanon, Pennsylvania

My family and I are spending Thanksgiving in Siesta Key Florida this year. We are wondering; should we cook the traditional turkey/mashed potato/stuffing meal, or do we take advantage of being next to the Gulf of Mexico and cook a fresh, local seafood Thanksgiving? What would you do?

Ina's Answer:

I would make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It's the one time of year when you get to cook classic Thanksgiving dishes, and in my experience, guests are always a little bit disappointed when they don't see their favorite dishes on the table!

From Melanie Farley - Ashland, KY

I love making deviled eggs for get togethers, but I was wondering if you have a fancier recipe for them? I would love to do something different other than your basic deviled egg next time.

Ina's Answer:

I do! My recipe for Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs is a delicious way to dress up traditional deviled eggs for a party.