Ask Ina

Ask Ina

Have a cooking or entertaining question?

From Judy - Toronto, Ontario

My husband and I treated ourselves to some Vacheron Mont D'Or and plan to make your recipe in Cooking for Jeffrey. My question is, I would like to avoid using the alcohol. What would you recommend as a good substitution?

Ina's Answer:

I haven't tried substituting anything for the wine, but because the recipe calls for such a small amount, I would think you could substitute apple cider - or even water!

From Joel Kreiss - Venice, FL

We just bought your Cooking For Jeffrey book and made the Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken- We loved it, however there was a distinct bitterness to the dish due to the rind of the lemon. Is there a way around this?

Ina's Answer:

As the lemon slices cook, they break down and caramelize, but it's important that they be sliced very thin- no more than 1/4" slices- or they may remain bitter.

From Linda - San Francisco, CA

In your Spicy Hermit Bars recipe, the glaze calls for confectioners sugar and rum. Any non-alcoholic suggestions to replace the rum?

Ina's Answer:

Yes! You can substitute water or freshly squeezed lemon juice.

From Thida Lwin - Irvine, CA

Planning to make roast chicken with bread and arugula salad for 6 people. I am using 2 whole chickens. Can I use a Cuisinart roasting pan instead of an iron skillet? A 10 or 12 inch skillet won't have enough room for 2 chickens.

Ina's Answer:

I haven't tried roasting two chickens in a roasting pan, but I have doubled the recipe many times using two separate cast iron skillets- it works beautifully!

From Nancy Ciampa - Long Island, NY

I love your shortbread cookie recipe and love giving them as gifts. However, I find the dough hard to work with, it's not a smooth dough and find it hard to keep together and roll out smoothly to make cookies. Any advice?

Ina's Answer:

Different butters have different water content, and some can be drier than others. If the shortbread dough feels dry, I add a teaspoon or two of water until it's easier to work with.

From Mindy - Port St Lucie, FL

I would like to deliver baked goods to my neighbors and friends for the holidays. What is something super easy to make, that I can make a lot of, and that also keeps with the holiday spirit? Thank you!

Ina's Answer:

I like to bakes small loaf cakes to bring to people for the holidays.  I have a dozen loaf pans and I make a mixture of lemon cakes, pound cakes, carrot cakes, and chocolate cakes.  If you allow them to cool completely on the counter, wrap them well, and refrigerate them, they will last for several days in the fridge until you can bring them as gifts.  Happy holidays!

From Barbara Weaver - Los Angeles, CA

We absolutely love the Lemon Ginger Molasses Cake. However, both times I've made it so far, the center has fallen after removing it from the oven. I followed the recipe exactly, and even have oven thermometers (middle and front of oven) to monitor the exact temperature. The toothpick "just" came out clean after the full 35 minutes of baking, and I heeded the warning not to overbake it. Do you have any other suggestions?

Ina's Answer:

So sorry you had a problem with the Ginger Molasses Cake!  It does fall just a bit in the middle when it cools but you might try 2 things - bake it just a bit longer, and/or add another tablespoon of flour to the batter.  I hope one of those helps!

From Lynn - Boone, NC

Four times a year I travel to my Mom's (95 yrs!) to fill her freezer with home-cooked meals. What mains or sides of yours freeze well?

Ina's Answer:

The dishes that freeze well are usually the ones that have sauces to keep the food from getting dry.  I recommend any type of soups, stews, pot pies, or baked pastas.  Anything that you assemble, such as Chicken Pot Pie, is best frozen before baking.  Your Mom can defrost it overnight in the fridge and bake the pot pie before dinner.

From Cathy Gilchrist - Asheville, NC

Do you use mostly white dishes and white Le Creuset? I love various colors but have a hard time mixing colors when entertaining. Am I being silly?

Ina's Answer:

I use mostly white dishes and serving platters because they generally make the food look the best.  There are a few exceptions:  salads and green vegetables can look beautiful on grey platters and I love to serve dessert on colorful old-fashioned plates that I collect at flea markets and antique china stores.

From Kathy Rohwer - Damascus, MD

You often reference using "good" vinegars. What is your criteria for a "good" vinegar?

Ina's Answer:

I always say to use the highest- quality vinegars and olive oils in your price range. It doesn't have to be the most expensive bottle on the shelf to be "good," and you can always ask for recommendations from someone at your local grocery store or specialty food store.

From Elsa van Huyssteen - South Africa

I would like to make your recipe, salted caramel nuts, but do not know what this ingredient is - 1 teaspoon fleur de sel.

Ina's Answer:

Fleur de sel is a French sea salt, with a larger grain than kosher salt. Here is some more information on the different salts I use- I hope you find it helpful!

From Melissa - Pittsburgh, PA

What is your suggestion for an artist or genre to start an upbeat playlist for a cocktail party?

Ina's Answer:

I like to play Costes La Suite (Hotel Costes Vol.2) - it's an eclectic mix of genres but the songs are all fun and upbeat...perfect for cocktail party!

From Linda Nichols - Waterville, NY

Can I have some of your favorite snack ideas to serve at a movie night party?

Ina's Answer:

I would serve Baked FontinaRoasted Shrimp Cocktail, Chipotle Parmesan Popcorn (Cooking for Jeffrey), or Rosemary Cashews (Barefoot in Paris).

From Caroline Eastwood - Montreal, Canada

Hi Ina, I love your lemon chicken and risotto recipes. Can you recommend white wines to use when making them?

Ina's Answer:

I would recommend Pinot Grigio- it's versatile and easy to find!

From Laura Quinn - Derry, Ireland

What would you recommend baking for homemade Christmas gifts?

Ina's Answer:

I love to make Salted Caramel Nuts, White Chocolate Bark (Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?) and Rum Raisin Truffles (Barefoot Contessa Foolproof)!

From David Coop - Bristol, RI

I'm a big fan of your raspberry cheesecake recipe. It always tastes great but it tends to crack down the middle. Any suggestions on how to avoid this?

Ina's Answer:

Cheesecakes can crack if they are the slightest bit overcooked. I've had this problem, too, but thankfully the top of the cheesecake is covered with raspberries so no one will know!

From Trish - River Edge, NJ

I'm looking to purchase a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Do you recommend one in particular?

Ina's Answer:

The stand mixer I use is KitchenAids's Artisan Model: No. KSM150PSWH, in white. The bowl is a 4.5 quart size.

From Carol - Harleysville, PA

There are so many types of salt - table salt, sea salt, kosher salt. Does it make a difference which salt is used when cooking or baking?

Ina's Answer:

The kind of salt you use definitely makes a difference. I never use table salt because it has a metallic taste and tastes extremely salty. All of my recipes are based on Diamond Crystal kosher salt (even using a different brand of kosher salt makes a difference!) Sea salt is less salty than kosher, and fleur de sel is even milder- I often use it for finishing rather than cooking.

From Karen Anderson - Boston, MA

How do you recommend storing flour and sugar? I'm not going to have canisters on the counter - so the container doesn't have to look pretty.

Ina's Answer:

I would store flour and sugar in large, airtight plastic containers at room temperature.

From Linsley - NJ

Can I make the soppressata and cheese in puff pastry and hold it in the refrigerator for six hours?

Ina's Answer:

Yes, you can assemble the pastry ahead of time, but don't bake it until you're ready to serve it.

From Ryan King - Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Hi Ina, I LOVE your recipe for chicken stock. However, even though I follow your recipe to a T, my chicken stock never fully congeals and turns gelatinous the way yours does. Am I doing something wrong?

Ina's Answer:

The gelatin in the bones should only congeal the chicken when it's refrigerated. At room temperature, or when heated, the stock will return to a liquid.

From Debra Conwell - NY and PA

What is the best knife sharpener to buy?

Ina's Answer:

I use a Chef's Choice electric knife sharpener.

From Susan Mack - Armonk, NY

Can the Fresh Corn Pancakes be made and frozen?

Ina's Answer:

No, I would not recommend freezing the Fresh Corn Pancakes. These are best served right away.

From Amy - La Jolla, CA

What is your favorite brand for pots and pans?

Ina's Answer:

I use All Clad pots and pans. They are expensive but if you take care of them, they will last a lifetime.