Ask Ina

Ask Ina

Have a cooking or entertaining question?

From Jazmyn - Tampa, FL

I'm going to meet my boyfriend's parents for the first time at a dinner party for his dad's birthday. What do you think is appropriate to bring?

Ina's Answer:

I would bring them a beautiful glassine bag of Salted Caramel Nuts, or if you don't have time to cook, a box of Fran's salted caramels is also a lovely gift.

From Kate - New Jersey

Which of your recipes would you recommend as a sure-fire pick-me-up for when someone is feeling blue and needs some comfort food?

Ina's Answer:

I would make Turkey Meatloaf and Parmesan Smashed Potatoes, or even a simple Perfect Roast Chicken. There's even a dessert that means "pick me up" in Italian - tiramisu !

From Gavin Pierce - Fayetteville, NC

What are a couple of essential items to give as a gift to a friend who enjoys the kitchen?

Ina's Answer:

When I want to buy a gift for someone who's a cook, I very often choose a great knife because it's a luxury that lasts for a lifetime. Another great gift would be a collection of wooden spoons, plastic spatulas, and stainless steel mixing spoons.

From Mary M Broadfoot - Florida

On one of your food network shows, you mentioned that you buy your truffle butter online. Would you share where you purchase it?

Ina's Answer:

I use Urbani or D'Artagnan white truffle butter.

From Roger Wojcik - Buffalo, NY

When measuring ingredients like honey, yogurt, or even ice, should I use dry measures or wet measures if the recipe calls for more than 1/4 cup?

Ina's Answer:

For anything that's pourable and will be level on top once it settles (like honey, use a liquid measuring cup. For ingredients like ice or yogurt that do not "level out," you would want to use a dry measuring cup so you can level them off with the back of a knife.

From Helen Feenie - Los Angeles / London

I saw you make truffled mashed potatoes the other day and wondered what the difference in taste is between white and black...which is more "truffley?"

Ina's Answer:

Black truffles tend to come from the South of France, while white truffles tend to come from Italy. Black truffles have a much more subtle flavor, but I prefer the strong pungent flavor of white truffles. I actually only use truffle butter, which has actual truffles in it- because truffle oil can vary enormously in terms of truffle content.

From Jack Crossley - Amherst, Massachusetts

I am an incoming college student, and would love some tips. What are some staple ingredients that I should have on hand, and what are some recipes that would work well in a college setting?

Ina's Answer:

Assuming that you have an oven, there a million things you can make on a sheet pan with (12x18 with a 1-inch lip.) You can roast chicken breasts, Brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, really any vegetable! You can even make brownies for dessert. And, it never hurts to have a box of pasta and a jar of Rao's marinara sauce on hand for dinner in ten minutes!

From L. Gay Moss - Utah

I recently roasted chicken breasts with the skin on and my chicken was dry when finished. What did I do wrong?

Ina's Answer:

I have several suggestions. The first one is check your oven temperature with a thermometer to make sure it's the correct temperature. Second, the length of time you cook the breasts depends on how big they are, so you may have to adjust the time. Third, it's very important to wrap beef, chicken or pork with aluminin foil and let it rest for 15 minutes after cooking, to let the juice get back into the meat. I hope that helps!

From Francie Wenner - Kansas City

Love your recipes but occasionally find them too salty. I recently read that Morton's kosher salt is twice as salty as Diamond Crystal's. Which do you use?

Ina's Answer:

I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt exclusively in my recipes.

From Dana Koegel - Miltona, MN

How should vinegars and flavored olive oils be stored?

Ina's Answer:

You can store both of them in the pantry, but I store olive oil in the pantry and vinegars in the refrigerator to extend their life.

From Jane Freudenberg - Los Angeles, CA

I love your Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts. Have made it several times and always get compliments. They are the absolute best hot out of the oven. How do I keep them that "crisp" and not so sticky.

Ina's Answer:

If the nuts get sticky and soft, I would reheat them gently over low heat before serving.

From Sharen Buyher - Oakland City, IN

I am always curious about the placement of shelves in my oven. I usually use a middle shelf by default. Do you have guidelines for baking certain dishes on top, middle, or bottom oven shelves?

Ina's Answer:

I generally bake or roast everything exactly in the middle of the oven, unless I'm using two sheet pans, in which case I'll space them evenly. However, If I'm doing a large roast, I want the roast in the middle, not the pan in the middle, so I'll adjust the rack accordingly.

From Elizabeth Schmitt - San Diego, CA

I volunteer in a kindergarten and teach cooking as part of my work with the students. I want to have them make "Rori's Potato Chips" from Barefoot Contessa Parties! No oven temperature is listed. Help!

Ina's Answer:

Rori's Potato Chips bake at 325 degrees. Unfortunately, the baking temperature was omitted in the first edition.

From Teresa Christiansen - Lakewood Ranch, Fl

I was wondering what food mill you would recommend?

Ina's Answer:

I use a Mouli food mill and would highly recommend it.

From Helen Bilodeau-Kielbasa - Charlottesville, VA

My question is regarding instant coffee granules versus instant espresso granules in various recipes. Are these distinctly different and should I buy two different products?

Ina's Answer:

They are two different products. Instant espresso powder has a stronger coffee flavor than the instant coffee granules. I decide which ingredient to use depending on the amount of coffee flavor I would like in a particular recipe.

From Beverly - Sarasota, FL

I'm making the Tres Leches Cake and it seems like too much milk mixture. Do I use it all? I'm afraid it won't be all absorbed. Help!

Ina's Answer:

It's astonishing to me every time I make this cake, but yes, all the milk mixture does get absorbed eventually. Don't worry if it seems like too much at first.

From Nancy - Doylestown, PA

I'd like to make scones and freeze them to take on a family vacation to a mountain cabin. Do I freeze before or after baking?

Ina's Answer:

I would roll out the dough, cut out the scones out, and freeze them before baking. Then, defrost and bake when you get there!

From -

I love your show and love cooking and cookbooks, however, I don't have any of your books! Which of your books would you recommend getting first? I want them all, but where should I start?

Ina's Answer:

I always recommend starting with the first book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. There are really simple recipes like Perfect Roast Chicken and Outrageous Brownies that everyone wants to know how to make. Hope you love it!

From Karen Evans - TX

On one of your shows you had a plastic wrap dispenser that you pulled the wrap out and tapped the lid down and it cut the wrap no fuss or balling up in a mess. Where did you find that?

Ina's Answer:

I have used a Stretch-Tite 7500 plastic wrap dispenser for years and absolutely love it. You can find them at Cassandra's Kitchen.

From Maria - New Jersey

Ina, I think I've found my Jeffrey. How do I know he's the one? Also, what do you recommend I cook for him?

Ina's Answer:

A roast chicken! If he's a real Jeffrey, it'll be his favorite!

From Marianne - Milwaukee, WI

Having friends over for a casual pizza dinner. Would you serve starters with this?

Ina's Answer:

I would serve a big Italian salad with lots greens, radicchio and Parmesan alongside the pizza.

From Claudia - Bangor, ME

Once opened, how long can capers be kept around and must they be in the liquid?

Ina's Answer:

I keep the capers in the liquid to keep them moist, and they last for months in the refrigerator.

From Isabella - Brookline, MA

Where do you get the fig leaves that you use to decorate cheese platters? Do you have any alternate suggestions to dress up a platter?

Ina's Answer:

I actually have a fig tree in my garden so I'm able to use those leaves, but a florist can get you other flat leaves, such as galax or lemon leaves.

From Allison - Naperville, IL

I am wondering when I should salt my pasta water. Is it when it starts to boil, before, or when I add the pasta?

Ina's Answer:

I always salt my pasta water when I begin heating it on the stove. You could add it when the water starts to boil, just make sure to add it before the pasta!