Ask Ina

Ask Ina

Have a cooking or entertaining question?

From Katie - San Jose

In your book Make It Ahead, you call for 750 ml of vodka in the Cranberry Martinis recipe- which serves 6. Is that correct? It seems like a lot.

Ina's Answer:

Yes that's correct. They're martinis! (But I wouldn't let a friend drive after drinking one!)

From Wes and Kent Quesenberry-Poteete - Peachtree Corners, GA

Do you have a recipe for a Caesar Salad dressing that doesn't include any anchovies?

Ina's Answer:

My recipe for Caesar Dressing in Barefoot Contessa Parties does have anchovies, but you can omit them and the dressing will still be delicious!

From Nancy Costick - Pacific Palisades CA.

Where can I buy the glass canisters that you have on your counters?

Ina's Answer:

I bought them at Crate & Barrel. Hopefully they still carry them!

From Kathy - Florida

What's your favorite jarred marinara sauce?

Ina's Answer:

That's easy! Rao's Marinara Sauce.

From Gramcrackergran - Santa Rosa, CA

I would like to cook just half a filet of beef instead of the whole thing as there are only two of us in our household. Do I proceed as the recipe says, at 500 degrees F, and cook it for the same amount of time as a whole filet?

Ina's Answer:

Half a filet of beef will cook at exactly the same temperature and for the exact same amount of time as a whole filet of beef.

From Debbie D. - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

What brand of chocolate chips do you use?

Ina's Answer:

I use Nestle's or Hershey's chocolate morsels and chunks.

From Frank R. - Portsmouth, New Hampshire

How far in advance can I make your deviled eggs?

Ina's Answer:

For deviled eggs, I think you could make them a day in advance, cover them tightly with plastic wrap, then serve them at room temperature.

From Pam J. - Sarasota, Florida

Is there anything Jeffrey won't eat?

Ina's Answer:

Happily, there is nothing I've cooked that Jeffrey won't eat, but then, I try to make things I know he will like!

From Tony P. - New York City

I always get nervous when making chicken that it's going to be undercooked. How do you know when it's done?

Ina's Answer:

The best way to know if the chicken is done is to cut between the leg and the thigh. If the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear, it's done. However, it's really important to let meat rest after it comes out of the oven. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and allow the chicken to rest for 15 minutes. The reason you don't want to overcook a chicken is because it will keep cooking under the foil and the juices will get back into the meat.

From Molly C. - Washington, DC

What are your go-to brunch recipes that you can make ahead of time?

Ina's Answer:

For brunch, I like to make a Potato Basil Frittata ( the recipe is in Barefoot Contessa Family Style), platters of smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, and in the summer, a fresh tomato salad. For dessert, I serve a big platter of fresh fruit. The frittata goes into the oven about an hour before you serve it, so everything is ready before he guests arrive.

From Simon B. - Brooklyn, New York

Is there a kitchen tool you think is overrated?

Ina's Answer:

I never use a garlic press; I always have a knife handy and it does the same thing perfectly well. The fewer fancy gadgets you have, the more organized your kitchen will be.

From Diane W. - Pasadena, California

Where did you get the shallow bowls you use for soup?

Ina's Answer:

The shallow bowls that I often use for soup are from Christiane Perrochon. I bought them at a store called Bloom in Sag Harbor, NY.

From David L. - Evanston, IL

I'm going to Paris in December for the first time and would love some restaurant recommendations.

Ina's Answer:

Our favorite place in Paris is also one of the simplest - Cafe de Flore in the 6th Arrondissement. We order an omelet, a green salad, and a glass of Champagne and watch the Paris world go by. Heaven!

From Kathy M. - Elba, New York

How long does soup last in the freezer?

Ina's Answer:

Most soups and chicken stock will last in the freezer for 4 to 6 months.

From Julia G. - Ann Arbor, Michigan

Do you have any ideas for desserts that travel well ?

Ina's Answer:

Desserts that travel well depend on how far and by what means you're traveling. Most bars like brownies, well-packed, will travel well. If you're driving for a few hours, any dessert in a baking dish, like a fruit crisp or pie, should travel well. I take a slightly damp kitchen towel and place it under the dish to keep it from sliding around the trunk of the car. Puddings like Rum Raisin Rice Pudding (Family Style) can be packed in quart containers and carried in a cooler bag.

From Janet H. - Cape Elizabeth, Maine

What sides would you serve with your Penne with Five Cheeses recipe?

Ina's Answer:

With the Penne with Five Cheeses, I would probably not serve a side dish. Instead, I would make a first course like a tomato salad or melon & prosciutto. In the winter, I might make some kind of winter arugula salad - but nothing with cheese, since the main course is so cheesy!

From Greg B. - New York City

How do you know how much wine to buy for a dinner party?

Ina's Answer:

When I was younger and my friends drank more, I would buy one bottle of wine per person. Now I usually have 2 bottles of wine for 6 people. It depends on your guests!

From Paul W. - Miami, FL

What do you mean by "good" olive oil?

Ina's Answer:

By "good" olive oil I mean buy the best oil that your budget allows. It certainly doesn't need to be the most expensive! I use Olio Santo olive oil from California because it's flavorful, fruity and not heavy.

From Mary T. - Lincoln, NE

Which of your books would you recommend for beginner cooks?

Ina's Answer:

I always recommend that beginner cooks start with The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, which is filled with the easy recipes that I used to make at my specialty food store in East Hampton, New York.

From Susan R. - Bethesda, MD

How far in advance can I make your Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes?

Ina's Answer:

Most cakes refrigerate very well, but not the icing or ganache. You can make the cupcakes, wrap them tightly, and refrigerate them for a few days. The day you want to serve them, bring the cupcakes to room temperature, dip them in ganache, allow them to dry, and serve.

From Barbara E. - Simsbury, CT

What is your favorite menu for a quick weeknight dinner?

Ina's Answer:

My favorite quick weeknight dinner is roast chicken with vegetables roasted in the pan, or recently, my Skillet Lemon Chicken in my book Cooking for Jeffrey.

From Margaret M. - Columbus, OH

How do you keep your pans so clean and shiny?

Ina's Answer:

I use good-quality All-Clad and LeCreuset cookware. I never put a dirty pot or pan into the dishwasher; the heat bakes it on permanently. Instead, if a pot has food caked on, I fill it with the hottest tap water and dish soap and allow it to soak in the sink overnight. In the morning, the pots come out clean with either a sponge or a quick steel scrubber. My cookware is expensive but I take good care of it and so far, many of the pans have lasted for almost 40 years!

From Jen T. - East Hampton, NY

Once I pick fresh herbs from my garden, how can I store them to make sure they last as long as possible in my refrigerator?

Ina's Answer:

To make herbs last a few days in refrigerator, I wash them, dry them well in a salad spinner, and place them in a plastic storage bag with a slightly damp paper towel.

From Doug H - Cedarville, MI

How do you get the inspiration for all your great recipes?

Ina's Answer:

I find inspiration everywhere - cookbooks, magazines, restaurants, friends, and remembered flavors. For each book, I start with a list of 75 to 100 ideas, then over the next two years, I add recipe ideas and delete the ideas that don't work. I'm always looking for recipes that are things you really want to eat, with ingredients you can find in a grocery store, and that you feel you can make.