Ask Sara: TV Chef Answers Your Questions

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

You've written to her with questions about what you want to do in the kitchen -- and she responded.

Sara Moulton Answers Your Questions

Jean: Hi Sara. I'm reading and hearing a lot about durian. Is it, technically, a fruit, or a vegetable, and is it only eaten directly from the hull, or is there a special preparation for the "custardy" inside? (Also, and perhaps most importantly, how does one prepare it and eliminate the horrible smell from a home kitchen?) Thanks for your help.

Sara's Answer: Jean

Durian, a tropical fruit grown in Malasysia and Indonesia does indeed have a very strong aroma when ripe - a cross between mango, pineapple, alcohol and sulfur. In fact, its aroma is so strong it's not allowed on airplanes or hotels in Southeast Asia. I don't think there is any trick for removing its aroma. You could try boiling some mulling spices in a pot, which is what I do to remove a fishy odor after I cook salmon.

To get to the flesh, cut the fruit open, scoop out the flesh, and remove and discard the seeds. Then you can puree the fruit and proceed with your recipe. It is used raw in ice creams and desserts and to make candy. Durian has two short growing seasons and is not easy to find in this country. But I have seen it occasionally in our local Chinatown.

Marianne: I made a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake for Easter. It was delicious, but not very pretty. While it was in the oven it puffed up and looked beautiful. After it cooled it sank, the sides stayed high, and there were cracks all over the top. What did I do wrong? Did I beat the batter to long, incorporating too much air?

Sara's Answer: Marianne

There are several things you could do next time to end up with a prettier cheesecake. Don't overbeat it, don't overcook it (the center should be a tad jiggly), bake it in the middle of the oven and when you first take it out of the oven, run a thin knife around the outer edge to completely separate the cake from the pan at the sides. A cheesecake, like a soufflé is going to rise up and then crash down (not quite as dramatically as a soufflé) because of the air that was beaten into the eggs when making the recipe. A cheesecake is going to shrink naturally and by loosening the sides you help it to shrink inwards which will prevent cracks in the top.

Patty: Sometimes when I'm using boneless chicken breasts or ground turkey that had been frozen, it is thawed but as I start cooking, there may be a few spots where the meat is not completely defrosted. How does this harm the end result? (I marinade my chicken breasts in big ziplocks and freeze them, when ground turkey is on sale, I buy a few pounds and freeze that too.)

Sara's Answer: Patty

If just a tiny bit of the turkey/chicken is not defrosted I don't see that as a problem, just make sure you cook the meat through. But here is a suggestion about a good way to defrost meat. After you have pulled it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to defrost for a few days (which is the proper way to defrost meat), put it in a well sealed bag in a large bowl of cold water for 30 minutes to an hour. This will help to safely speed up the defrosting process, just in case there are those few spots that have not completely defrosted.

Lora: sara can cream of tartar be substituted for baking powder in baking recipes? i only use it for cookies (snickerdoodles) and meringues. Thanks.

Sara's Answer: Lora

Cream of tartar is not a Lone Ranger leavener. You cannot use it all by itself. It is actually an acid, also known at tartaric acid, which is the by-product of the wine making process. Cream of tartar is combined with baking soda and a few other ingredients to make baking powder.

Alex: In baking bread; when increasing or decreasing a recipe, should the yeast be increased or decreased along with all of the ingredients?

Sara's Answer: Alex

I reached out to my friends at King Arthur Flour and here is what they said:

When increasing a recipe, if the flour amount is 8 cups or less, leave the yeast amount as written. If the flour amount is 8 cups or more, then double the yeast.

When decreasing a recipe, decrease the yeast and salt accordingly.

Janice: I recently purchased a bone-in ribeye steak. I browned the steak on my stovetop in a grill pan and finished it in the oven. When I cooked the steak to the desired doneness by the bone (medium rare), the rest of the steak was overdone. The steak was thicker by the bone, but I did not see how I could butterfly it. Is there something different I could have done to get the entire steak cooked evenly, or should I just avoid buying steaks that are not uniform in width?

Sara's Answer: Janice

Buying a steak that has an even thickness is always a good idea (and really it's all they should be selling at the supermarket) but if, like me, you have family members who prefer their meat cooked to a different doneness, this can work to your advantage. You can keep the rare stuff for yourself (that would be me) and give the more medium stuff to your daughter (in my case, Ruthie).

You could also cut off the thinner part of the steak, cook the two pieces separately and remove the thinner part earlier from the pan. If you aren't already in the habit of touching your meat to test for doneness you should start doing it now. The more a steak cooks, the firmer it gets.

To get more cooking and baking tips and recipes, check out Sara Moulton's website.