Ask Ina

Ask Ina

Have a cooking or entertaining question?

From Anne Keim - New York

I am planning to make the skillet brownies for 8 people, and I want to know if you suggest doubling the batter or making it in two separate batches.

Ina's Answer:

Though I haven't tried making the Skillet Brownies for 8, I don't see any reason why you couldn't just double the batter.

From Molly - St. Louis, MO

What are your favorite hostess gifts?

Ina's Answer:

For a hostess gift, I prefer not to bring something that the host feels obliged to serve for dinner, but instead I bring something they can serve after dinner, like a box of Fran's Chocolate's caramels, or for breakfast the next day, like my favorite coffee and granola.

From Trey - Okmulgee, OK

What would be a good dish to make out of Cooking for Jeffrey on our anniversary as dessert?

Ina's Answer:

I would make Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel. It's easy because you can make the Panna Cotta the day before, and all you need to do is drizzle the warm caramel on top before serving.

From Andrea - Venice, Fl

Do you serve salad at the beginning of a meal or the end? As I understand it is a European/American difference?

Ina's Answer:

Both are perfectly fine. It's definitely a french custom to serve salad after the main course, but I prefer to serve it first.

From Julie Mangum - Georgia

What charcoal grill do you recommend?

Ina's Answer:

I use a 22.5" Weber grill.

From Cathy Henning - Petaluma, CA

When you have guests...How do you get the food to the table warm if not indeed hot...without cooking in front of them? You certainly must have the figured out.

Ina's Answer:

make a game plan for the dinner before I finalize the menu, and I tend to make one thing in the oven, one thing on top of the stove, and one thing at room temp that I can make in advance. I either make the main course earlier in the day and reheat it, or I have the dish assembled and it goes into the oven before guests arrive. I try not to do any cooking while the guests are there. It takes a lot of planning, but I am so much more relaxed when everyone arrives. I hope that helps! 

From Nancy Weed - Wilmington, DE

There are so many kinds of vinegar. Which ones do you suggest for a well stocked pantry?

Ina's Answer:

I think the basic vinegars to have on hand are white wine and/or champagne, red wine and balsamic. I also use raspberry, apple cider, and sherry vinegars occasionally. 

From Jackie Conn - Gig Harbor, WA

Your recipes often call for use of a food mill. I don't have one. Can I have success using a food processor or immersion blender?

Ina's Answer:

You can definitely use an immersion blender or the food processor, just be sure that you don't over process the vegetables- you don't want them to end up like baby food! 

From Claire - Ann Arbor, MI

I'm newly engaged and I'm dying to have my mother in law over for dinner. What's a great menu to impress an experienced cook that won't have me stuck in the kitchen when guests arrive?

Ina's Answer:

I would make Slow-Roasted Filet of Beef with Basil Parmesan Mayonnaise, Roasted Broccolini, and Couscous with Pine Nuts. If you only have one oven, you can roast the broccolini while the filet of beef rests. I'm sure your mother in law will be impressed!!

From Julie K Dorenkamp - Pittsburgh, PA

I'm in the market for a new pepper mill. What would you recommend that is functional and attractive to leave on your counter?

Ina's Answer:

I have used a Pepper Mate pepper mill for years, and I absolutely love it!

From Kimberly Pepper - Minnesota

I made your chocolate ganache cake for Easter. The recipe called for one 16-oz can of Hershey's syrup. I bought a 24-oz bottle and had my daughter measure 2 cups (16 fluid ounces) and add it to the mix. Only after it was too late did I realize the 24-oz bottle was empty meaning we had added too much syrup. Can you help explain why 2 cups of syrup is more than 16 ounces?

Ina's Answer:

Hershey's chocolate syrup is measured by weight, not volume, so a 16-ounce can of the syrup actually measures 1 1/3 liquid cups, not 2 cups.

From Allison Bredbenner - Arlington, VA

I love to use linen napkins on a regular basis but find they get easily stained during the course of routine use. Do you have any tips on a fabric that stains less, or a a way to keep my napkins looking clean all the time without spending an hour each week treating them?

Ina's Answer:

I use a spray stain remover, then wash the linens in warm soapy water in the washing machine. I let them air dry so they don't shrink, and then iron them. That always works for me; hope it works for you, too!

From Mary - Captiva, FL

I always set up buffet style for entertaining yet struggle as to the appropriate timing and manner to clear the dishes after dinner. I never want to break up the momentum of the conversation yet do not feel so proper about leaving empty finished dinner plates in front of my guests. Any tips would be appreciated as, it seems no matter what I do guests end up getting up.

Ina's Answer:

I usually set up a buffet rather than serving my guests. But when it's time to clear the dishes and serve the next course, I actually ask my friends to help, and that way, they feel like they're on the team! I think people don't feel comfortable being waited on by their friends and would prefer to help. I hope that makes enteratining less stressful for you! 

From Pauline Bedard - Montreal, Canada

I made your Gazpacho recipe and I would like to know how many days I can keep it in the fridge.

Ina's Answer:

In my experience Gazpacho should be perfectly fine in the refrigerator for 3 days, but eventually the tomatoes will break down.

From Sue Carroll - Bethesda, MD

How do you decide whether to use a stand mixer or a food processor when blending butter into flour?

Ina's Answer:

When you're blending butter into flour, a stand mixer does it more slowly, and you can control the speed better. If you're careful, you can certainly use a food processor instead, you just want to be sure that you don't over-blend the butter. 

From Blanca - Tucson, AZ

What set of knives do you recommend?

Ina's Answer:

I use Wusthof knives, specifically the Classic collection.

From Beth - St. Louis, MO

What is your favorite cookie recipe?

Ina's Answer:

The linzer cookies from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, because I love shortbread and raspberry together. A close second is the Ultimate Ginger Cookies from Barefoot Contessa At Home.

From Linda Porter - Idaho

My dining room table seats 8 snugly. With all the place settings and not lots of room down the middle, what is the best way to serve for a sit-down dinner?

Ina's Answer:

When I have a dinner party I almost always set up a buffet on the counter or sideboard. Everyone can just help themselves- it's easiest for both the host and the guest!

From Karen R. Rife - North Carolina

I love to entertain small and large groups. My question is: do you always have to offer an appetizer with the cocktail hour?

Ina's Answer:

I think it's nice to serve a little something so people don't get "toasted" during the cocktail hour. But it doesn't have to be anything complicated - I usually serve something simple like salted cashews, olives, or good potato chips.

From Thida Lwin - Irvine, CA

I am planning to make 4-hour lamb. What is your suggestion on the leg of lamb ...bone in vs boneless? Can I use boneless leg of lamb? Will the result be the same.

Ina's Answer:

I've never tried making this recipe with a boneless leg of lamb. I would think you can without any trouble, but the boneless leg will cook differently than a bone-in leg.

From Diane Harris - Michigan

When you say good white chocolate, what do you mean?

Ina's Answer:

I use bars of white chocolate, preferably Lindt or Callebaut.

From Janice Ashby - Lockport, NY

Can I substitute all blueberries in your Tri Berry Muffins recipe?

Ina's Answer:

Yes, but you'll have to change the name!

From Jennifer - Minneapolis, MN

Can I make your Lobster Mac & Cheese a day in advance and bake it right before dinner the next day?

Ina's Answer:

Yes! You can assemble everything, keep the mac & cheese in the refrigerator overnight, and bake just before serving.

From Heather Sargeant - Lyman, ME

I recently watched an episode about making your own Basil Mayonnaise and was wondering how long it will last in the fridge?

Ina's Answer:

It should last at least a week in the refrigerator!