Ask Ina

Ask Ina

Have a cooking or entertaining question?

From Mark - Muskegon, MI

You often use fig leafs on your cheeseboards. I've checked with local shops, but I'm not able to find any type of leave that hasn't been treated. Is there a place to order the leafs online? Thanks Ina!

Ina's Answer:

Fig leaves can be hard to find, but I sometimes find them at my local florist. Florists also tend to carry Lemon or Galax leaves which are good substitutes!

From Janet Kahoe - Maryland

Loved your Frozen Key Lime Pie recipe, but my crust stuck badly in the glass pie pan. What am I doing wrong?

Ina's Answer:

That's happened to me, too. I've found it's important not to press too hard when you’re packing the crust. I also let the pie defrost for 15-20 minutes before serving, and that seems to do the trick!

From Lizzy - Boston, MA

I’ve made your meatballs before and they are amazing, but I am still a beginner and I’m always feeling a little confused about the breadcrumbs! Do you recommend any specific brand of “seasoned dried breadcrumbs” And for the fresh breadcrumbs, do I just chop up some bread and call them breadcrumbs?

Ina's Answer:

For the seasoned dried breadcrumbs, I like brand '"4c" which is available in most grocery stores. For fresh breadcrumbs, I start with a loaf of crusty white or sourdough bread, remove the crust, and chop the bread in a food processor until it's the size of large breadcrumbs. I hope that helps!!

From Robin Ferrell - Tulsa, OK

I’m watching your show where you made the Roasted Vegetable Frittata. I’m wondering if I can cook it in a cast iron skillet, and would it have the same results?

Ina's Answer:

I don't see any reason why you wouldn't be able to make the Roasted Vegetable Frittata in cast-iron skillet, however, I would hesitate to recommend doing so without having tried it myself.

From Dawn - Colorado Springs, CO

I notice that you almost always use chicken breasts with the skin on. What is your reasoning? Does it keep the meat juicier? I tend to not eat the skin. Will the chicken taste as delicious without it?

Ina's Answer:

For the most part, I always cook chicken with the skin on. I find it makes the meat much more tender and moist. Even if you're going to remove the skin after cooking, I would recommend you roast the chicken skin-on and then remove the skin.

From Susan Templeton - Canyon Lake, CA

I made your Perfect Roast Chicken. The chicken was a bit dry and all of the vegetables were completely charred! What did I do wrong???

Ina's Answer:

First, I would use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven temperature is accurate. (You can buy them at any hardware store!) Second, you don’t want to roast the chicken in a pan that's too big. The pan should be just big enough to hold the chicken and vegetables snugly, or it’s true, the vegetables will burn. I hope that helps!

From Becky - Grand Rapids, MI

I want to make your Morning Glory Muffins. In your recipe you say to use a box grater to shred the carrots and apple. I don't have a box grater anymore- may I use my electric shredder instead?

Ina's Answer:

I use a box grater because it makes the carrots a lot less wet than grating them in the food processor does. If you use a food processor or other electric appliance instead, I would lay the carrots out on a towel dry them afterwards so you don't end up adding extra moisture to the batter.

From Jackie Wise - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A few months ago you were featured in Parade Magazine. The very last thing you mentioned in the article was your favorite comfort food...oatmeal with butter & maple syrup. I would love to know how you make it!

Ina's Answer:

I make my oatmeal in my microwave - it's so easy! I put 1/3 cup quick-cooking oats (I like McCann's) in a bowl, add 1 cup of water, then microwave it on high for 4 minutes. I add a pinch of salt, a splash of milk, a little bit of butter, and a drizzle of maple syrup, and stir it all in. My favorite breakfast!

From Barbara Kemppainen - Michigan

What size cast iron skillets do you use for your individual brownie skillet dessert? Thank you.

Ina's Answer:

The skillets I use measure 5 inches across on the top, 3½ inches across the bottom, and 1 inch deep. 

From Rochelle - New York, NY

We would love to know what sheet pans you use, and how often you replace them. They are always so sparkling and clean, and food never sticks to them. Ours have gotten really dirty and stained, even though we always use aluminum foil, which we see that you never use.

Ina's Answer:

I use aluminum sheet pans that you can buy at any cookware store. If any food is baked on after I use them, I put them in the sink with the hottest tap water and soap and let them soak overnight. The next morning they should come out perfectly clean, using a Brillo pad if necessary.

From Marilyn - Venice, FL

I love to serve your Roasted Shrimp Cocktail for a dinner party. Can this be made ahead or should it be served warm?

Ina's Answer:

I normally serve Roasted Shrimp Cocktail at room temperature; they don't have to be warm. Of course you can make them in advance, but I find refrigerating the shrimp changes their flavor and texture. I would prep everything in advance, and roast the shrimp up to an hour before you plan to serve them.

From Nancy - Akron, Ohio

Ina, I know you consider yourself a person who prefers to measure ingredients. Is there a reason you don't weigh ingredients, especially sensitive ones like flour?

Ina's Answer:

Weighing ingredients is the most precise way to measure, but because I know many people do not have kitchen scales, I always use measuring cups to make sure the recipe works without a kitchen scale.

From Carol Haggas - Davidson, North Carolina

Your Cauliflower Toasts recipe calls for “country-style“ bread ...What exactly is that?

Ina's Answer:

Any freshly baked crusty round bread, sometimes called a 'boule', will work.

From Barbara Walter - Greenbrae, CA

Ina, I made your Crispy Mustard Chicken & Frisee recipe. Flavor hit all the marks however the skin on the chicken looked and tasted rubbery and uncooked. The meat was the perfect doneness, just not the skin. What did I do wrong?

Ina's Answer:

While I can't be one hundred percent sure why this is happening, I have a feeling it may have to do with the chicken breasts you're using.  They seem to be getting bigger and bigger and more watery. I like Bell & Evans brand, but whatever brand you use, look for breasts that aren't too huge.

From Kristina - Chicago, IL

I watch your show on TV and wanted to make your Chocolate Chevron Cake, however, I am unable to find the can of Hershey's chocolate syrup anywhere. Can I use the squeeze bottle of Hershey's syrup instead?

Ina's Answer:

Unfortunately, Hershey's has discontinued the 16-ounce can of chocolate syrup. You can certainly use the squeeze bottle. Because syrup is measured by weight -not volume-16 ounces of chocolate syrup measures as 1 1/3 cups.

From Karin Mayhew - Washington State

Many years ago I could print a recipe index encompassing all your recipes in all your cookbooks. Is that still available?

Ina's Answer:

Yes it is! Click here to see the index on our website - you can now search for recipes, too.

From Heath Lynn Silberfeld - Gainesville, Florida

My question is about your Linzer Cookies recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I followed your recipe, but the dough never held together. Any ideas?

Ina's Answer:

If shortbread dough doesn't come together, adding a few drops of water usually does the trick. I hope that helps!

From Diane Briggs - Houston, TX

You mention how to make vanilla extract and have shared your recipe with us, so why do you use commercially made vanilla extract on your show?

Ina's Answer:

While I do make my own vanilla extract, I don't assume that people at home have homemade vanilla on hand, so I use store-bought vanilla in my recipes. I always try to use ingredients that people can find at the grocery store.

From Dick Walton - Phoenix, AZ

On a recent episode you explained how to cook perfect shrimp. I can't find the technique on your web site?

Ina's Answer:

I love roasting shrimp! The technique can be found in my recipe for Roasted Shrimp Cocktail. I hope you enjoy it!

From Brittny Metildi - Folsom, CA

Hi Ina! I am starting my collection in the kitchen and wanted to see what are some of your favorite brands for pots and pans, knives, and other kitchen equipment. Thank you!

Ina's Answer:

I've actually listed all my favorite kitchen equipment, tools, and products on my website to answer that exact question!! Click here to see all my favorites!

From Judy Hayden - St. Louis, MO

I want to make the Chocolate Chevron Cake. I'm not clear on one issue - how do I get the cake from the rack after I have completely iced it. I'm nervous about getting it to my serving plate in one piece.

Ina's Answer:

Good question! I use a large, flat spatula to transfer the cake to a serving plate. Here is a link to a spatula similar to the one I use. I use it to toss roasted vegetables, remove cookies to a cooling rack, and for so many other things, too!

From Laura Delaporta - Clinton, CT

I will making your Chocolate Cassis Cake and was wondering how far in advance I can make it before my party.

Ina's Answer:

You can bake the cake up to a few days in advance, wrap it well and refrigerate it, and then add the ganache just before serving. You don’t want to refrigerate the cake once it’s been glazed.

From Melanie - Hampton Cove, Alabama

I am taking my sister to Paris for her 40th birthday. Is there a restaurant you can suggest that is both delicious and unpretentious?

Ina's Answer:

One quintessentially Parisian restaurant is called a classic French bistro called Le Paul Bert. The owners have two restaurants on the same street- the one I love is at 18 Rue Paul Bert.

From Anna Burgett - Florida

How long can shortbread cookie dough remain refrigerated? Can the dough be frozen?

Ina's Answer:

Wrapped well, shortbread cookie dough can be refrigerated for up to a week, and frozen for up to 6 months.