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

Diane Hayes: I purchased dried lemon grass. The only recipes I see call for fresh. What proportion of the dried do I use compared to the fresh? I am assuming they will compare. Thanks in advance. I enjoy your recipes.

Sara's Answer:

Diane,

The general ratio for dried herbs is to add one third the amount of fresh. So, if you would have added 1 tablespoon fresh chopped lemongrass, you will substitute that with 1 teaspoon dried. But lemongrass loses a lot of flavor when dried, so you might have to up the amount slightly. It is always better to use fresh if you can find it.

Sorry to tell you this!

"GMA" Viewer: How do I make spicy spaghetti sauce? Could you suggest a recipe, or what spice do I need to use. Thank you.

Sara's Answer:

When you are making your sauce, add a pinch of hot red pepper flakes. Go light at first so that you don't overdo it. It is always easier to add more if necessary.

Judy: Why do so many cooks and chefs use towels instead of potholders to remove hot items from the oven. As a classroom teacher we teach our students that towels can catch fire more easily. What gives?

Sara's Answer:

Judy,

Cooks-chefs like to have their side towel handy at all times to grab the hot handle of a pan so they tuck one end of the towel into their apron and then the towel is always there. Professional chefs are generally more savvy about the dangers around a kitchen so yes, even though towels are flimsier and might catch fire more quickly than a pot holder, professionals tend to use them safely.

Joan: I love split pea soup but have a hard time getting the peas to soften. I soak them overnight and even after the soup has cooked a long time the peas are still hard. I have put it in a blender but I would really like to know if there is something I can add to soften them.

Sara's Answer:

Joan,

I have two thoughts: 1. How old are your split peas? and 2. Did you add any acid (tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice), when you were cooking them.

Sometimes dried legumes sit on the shelf for a long time before they get purchased or cooked and that might affect the cooking time and tenderness. The addition of an acid while you are cooking them will inhibit the cooking process and keep them from getting truly tender so if you are adding any acid that might be the problem.

Nancy: What determines the oven rack position when cooking ... roasting, baking? Is the cooking time, heat, crispiness, etc., affected by position of the rack?

Sara's Answer:

Nancy,

If you want to brown the bottom of an item in an oven (say a pie, you want to make sure that the pie dough cooks through), you put it on a bottom shelf of the oven. If you want to brown the top of a dish (say a gratin or something with crumbs on it) you put it in the top part of the oven and if you want it to cook evenly all over (like a roast chicken), you put it in the middle of the oven.

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