You've written to her with questions about what you'd like to learn how to do in the kitchen, and she has responded.
Sara Moulton Answers Your Questions
Debbie Lavoie: Can you suggest a substitute for Gruyere cheese? Any cheese similar in taste and texture? Gruyere is often used in recipes but at $10 or more per pound, it's definitely not economical. Thanks!
It won't taste as good, but you could use plain old generic swiss cheese. I hear you about the cost of Gruyere. Another way around it is to use mostly Swiss and just put a little Gruyere for flavor.
Leeann Driscoll: My husband loves pecan pie, but the middle is what he likes best. Is there a trick to making the middle thicker? Would I increase the cooking time and the ingredients too? If you know a way, I sure would like to know. Thanks!
I haven't tested this, but I can't see any reason why you could not up the filling. You would have to up the cooking time as well, and/or dispense with the pastry crust and just use a graham cracker crust on the bottom, which will not take up as much room as pie dough.
David Spengeman: When I cook New York Style cheesecake, it cracks, making for a less-attractive finsihed product. Any suggestions? Thanks.
I learned this answer from my friend Nick Malgieri, who has written many great baking books: Run a knife around the whole edge of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan right when it comes out of the oven, and then let it cool on a rack. There are eggs in a cheesecake, and they make it rise much like a souffle (although not as high) and then fall as the cheesecake cools. When the cheesecake falls, it shrinks. Since the cheesecake is essentially glued to the side of the pan, something has to give and that is the center of the cake - it cracks. But if you loosen the cheesecake around the edge it will shrink in on itself, and you will not get any cracks.
David Brophy: I tried to make some bread this past weekend, and it flopped. I think I didn't let it rise enough, but I'm not sure. It calls for it to rise twice. I did it according to the instructions, but it didn't come out right. It was kinda flat. Any suggestions? Later David
Any number of things could have gone wrong – the yeast could have been old. The water that you added might have been too hot and killed the yeast. The bread might have overrisen and collapsed on itself before you got it in the oven. You might not have let it rise enough. I would buy fresh yeast, reread the instructions and try to make it again.
KalMarie Rawald: I love hosting dinner parties for 20 or more people, especially over the holidays. Over the past few years, however, it seems that everyone comes up with self-imposed diet restrictions. Inevitably, someone will not eat beef, lamb or pork, but nobody seems happy with an all-vegetarian option, and chicken breasts are boring. Do you have any ideas for getting through the holidays without making three different main courses? Sara, please be my Dear Abby, and give me your wisdom!
I feel your pain. Dietary restrictions are a huge issue these days, and I am not unsympathetic to them, but it seems to me that you should not complain when offered a vegetarian meal.
I find that pasta, particularly lasagna, seems to satisfy everyone – maybe you could make two lasagnas with essentially the same ingredients but put meat in one. So make a big batch of cream sauce, make a big batch of tomato sauce. Add sauteed ground beef or turkey to half the tomato sauce, reserve the other half plain for the vegetarian version. Then either slice some eggplant, brush it with oil and roast it - or marinate some Portobellos with oil, garlic, herbs, lemon and roast them or saute up a ton of spinach with some garlic and let one of those vegetable items be a layer in the vegetarian lasagna.
Finally, layer the carnivorous lasagna with pasta, tomato meat sauce, cream sauce, cheese. Layer the vegetarian version with one of those vegetables you prepped from above, tomato sauce, cream sauce and cheese and then bake them.
Serve with a huge salad and lots of garlic bread (the bread will certainly lead to general happiness).