Sara Moulton Answers Your Cooking Questions

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'd like to learn how to do in the kitchen, and she has responded.

Sara Moulton Answers Your Questions

Cheryl: These days I'm just cooking for myself. I want to eat healthy with lots of fresh vegetables, but they go bad faster than I can use them. Any tips for those of us who are single yet just can't stand the thought of frozen dinners?

Sara's Answer:

Cheryl,

I think what you should do is buy that bunch of broccoli and then cut up, blanch and freeze half or three quarters of it for another day. Do the same with any vegetables you buy. If they are cut up and then blanched (cooked briefly in boiling salted water) and then frozen they will hold up nicely in the freezer. They will be very tasty too as long as you don't overcook them. As a matter of fact, now that I am telling you this, I thing I might start doing the same thing – buying more vegetables than I need and freezing half.

Ruth Jones: I purchased 100 percent Mexican pure vanilla when in Mexico. Ingredients on bottle are vanilla beans extractives in water alcohol, sugar and corn syrup. Do I use the same amount as a recipe calls for? Is it stronger than the vanilla that I purchase at the supermarket in the U.S.?

Sara's Answer:

Ruth,

If you do indeed have genuine Mexican vanilla extract it will provide a smooth, creamy and mellow taste to your recipes. It is not the most assertive vanilla extract. However, there is a chance that what you purchased is not real vanilla extract but a synthetic vanilla. I did some research and it appears that a lot of the vanilla sold in Mexico is of the latter variety. Moreover, you have to be careful because sometimes the synthetic vanilla has an additive, called coumarin. Coumarin has a strong vanilla like aroma but unfortunately produces toxic effects on lab rats.

Why is this vanilla allowed to be sold? I got my answer from the Nielsen-Massy vanilla website (Nielsen –Massey is a highly regarded vanilla company) Here is what they say:

Q: Why do people say Mexican vanilla is bad or dangerous?

A: Mexico has no truth in labeling regulations or any organization like our FDA. Many times the vanilla will contain artificial flavors or enhancers, such as Coumarin, which is carcinogenic product that has been outlawed by the FDA for the last 30 to 40 years. If manufactured correctly, under the proper guidelines, it is considered to be a high-quality vanilla.

Rhonda Kittle: While watching one of your segments I realized you were using one of my favorite kitchen tools. It is a small whisk shaped a little like a spoon with a flat handle. I first got to know this tool while in school at Purdue for home economics. I can no longer find this whisk in the market place and wonder if you have a source? I would love to find this again. I am short and sometimes struggle with the size of things and appreciate your comments when you find a challenge related to size. Thank you for your time!

Sara's Answer:

Rhonda,

I think what you are referring to is a flat whisk. It is a very useful tool when you are making a roux thickened sauce and need to get into the corners of a straight-sided saucepan. You can find them in most kitchenware stores these days. And yes, it is rough being such a shrimp in the kitchen!!

Samantha Bradley: I am a college student that does not know how to cook at all. Yet, I want to learn how to cook. Do you have any tips for me?

Sara's Answer:

Samantha,

Depending on where your college is you might be able to sign up for some basic cooking classes at a cooking school nearby (just Google local cooking schools). And/or why don't you buy yourself a subscription to "Everyday Food" magazine? It is a small magazine with really simple good recipes. Just making those recipes will teach you how to cook.

Sue Hutchison: Please help! My husband will not eat anything with sour cream in it. He hates the tangy taste. I can't substitute with cottage cheese or yogurt because he won't eat these either. Needless to say, this situation eliminates a lot of recipes. I love casseroles, but so many of them have sour cream in them. Could I use cream cheese thinned out with milk? If the recipe called for 1 cup of sour cream, how much cream cheese and milk would I need?

Sara's Answer:

Sue,

It sounds like the problem is the tangy flavor not the texture of sour cream. In most recipes that call for it you might be able to get away with mascarpone, a fresh cheese from Italy that has a texture somewhere between cream cheese and sour cream but with no tanginess at all. Or, if the sour cream is used in a sauce just for its creaminess, you could try using heavy cream instead.

Hope that helps!

For more tips from Sara Moulton check out her website. Hope that helps!

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