Stumped in the Kitchen? Sara Moulton Answers Your Baking and Cooking Questions

Sara Moulton Answers Your Cooking Questions

Celebrated author and TV chef Sara Moulton is food editor of "Good Morning America."

You've written to her with questions about your goals in the kitchen -- and she responded.

Sara Moulton Answers Your Questions

Laura Torres from Lake Elsinore, Calif.: Every time I make a lemon meringue pie it weeps. I cool it completely before I refrigerate it. What am I doing wrong ?

Sara's Answer: For the answer to this question I had to reach out to my mentor and friend Jean Anderson, who is a culinary walking encyclopedia as well as the author of dozens and dozens of books, the most recent being "A Love Affair With Southern Cooking," Harper Collins 2007. Here is what she advised: The main problem is that people OVERBEAT the egg whites. They should NOT be beaten to stand-up peaks but to soft peaks that lop over when the beater is withdrawn. I like to use confectioners' sugar for meringues because the starch it contains helps stabilize the whites. Sometimes I'll use a 50/50 mix of granulated (or superfine) and confectioners'. Either way, I sift the sugar in fairly gradually at moderate mixer speed lest I overbeat. Once all the sugar's in, I continue beating just until the meringue is soft and billowing and forms VERY SOFT PEAKS.

Another trick (something I learned at Cornell): The lemon filling should be good and hot when you "frost" with meringue -- the heat "cooks" and seals the bottom of the meringue, which minimizes the chance of "weeping." Also key: Make sure that the meringue touches the crust all round. This keeps it from shrinking (this, too, causes the meringue to weep because as it shrinks, liquid is squeezed out).

The pie should be room temp before it's refrigerated. If you follow these directions, your pie should NOT weep.

P.S. If you want a meringue that peaks stiffly, I'd suggest using powdered egg whites or, if you must, meringue powder (I hate its artificial vanilla flavor, but many people love it).

Laura, one last thought from me, Sara, make sure you add about 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to the egg whites when you beat them. That should help as well.

M. Wolske from Lafayette, La.: I was making a tomato cream sauce for a chicken recipe. It called for diced tomatoes, chives, parsley, seasonings, butter and pan drippings to be mixed and simmered until tomatoes were softened and liquid absorbed. Then you were to add 1 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup cream. The creams did not mix with the rest of the ingredients. My sauce came out looking like red curddled milk. What did I do wrong? Some ideas that I had were that (1) maybe there was too much liquid (not simmered long enough), (2) maybe the temperature of the sauce was wrong when I added the creams, (3) maybe I used the wrong kind of cream, (4) maybe I had too much fat (butter, pan drippings, etc)?? Those were my only possible thoughts on my failed attempt to make this a cream sauce. Have a clue what I did wrong??

Sara's Answer: I think there were two problems here -- acid (like the acid from tomatoes) can curdle dairy and the second problem is that sour cream does not have enough butterfat to be boiled without curdling. What I would do the next time you make this sauce is to introduce a little starch like flour into the mix. Maybe sprinkle some flour on the cooked tomatoes and cook it for a few minutes, I think a tablespoon might work. Stir that around for a few minutes and then whisk in the cream and sour cream.

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