You've written to her with questions about what you'd like to learn in the kitchen, and she has responded.
Sara Moulton Answers Your Questions
Paul Hebert: I first loved watching you on the food channel at night. My question is how do you cook a chuck roast to be tender? Every time I cook mine it comes out tough and chewy.
I assume you are braising it? Braising -- slow, covered cooking -- is the best way to cook a large tough cut of meat. There are a few things to watch when braising -- make sure that the liquid never gets above a bare simmer and also, make sure that you cook the meat long enough so that it becomes fork-tender. With a 4 pound chuck roast, we are talking about 4 hours at least. If the liquid is bubbling too fast or if you don't cook the meat long enough you will end up with a tough chewy texture.
Arlene Padden: Hi Sara: I love to cook and do so daily. I have a question about sauteing/frying meat. When to use flour only as opposed to using the traditional flour, egg, breadcrumbs method and why?
First, what kind of meat do you need to coat at all with some kind of protective coating? You wouldn't want to coat a beautiful ribeye or tenderloin steak or any other tender, naturally juicy cut of meat. It doesn't need the protection to keep it from drying out and that coating will distract from its delicious pure flavor.
The kinds of meat you want to coat are the ones that are very lean and can benefit from a coating that keeps them from drying out over high heat. I almost always dip chicken, pork and veal cutlets in flour right before sautéing. When I have more time I might do the whole "standard breading procedure" which is the second option you mention above: first flour, then beaten egg (with a little water), then breadcrumbs. The standard breading procedure is an even greater insulator than plain old flour (as long as you don't overcook the cutlets) but it produces a much heavier end result, requiring more oil and adding more starch.
So, actually, you can use the two coating methods interchangeably depending on how much time you have and how substantial you want the end result to be.
Betty Biddle: I have a problem with soggy chicken. It happens when I fry the chicken. I put the chicken on a rack to cool the underside gets very soggy. Any ideas? Thanks a lot, Betty Biddle
Without knowing all the details of how you fry your chicken, I am not exactly sure what is going wrong. However, my guess would be that the temperature of the oil is too low. It needs to be maintained at 350F or higher. Maybe when you added all the chicken to the pan the temperature dropped?
I think the best way to fry chicken is to finish it in the oven. Click on the link below from Cook's Illustrated to see the method.
Jeannette Stafford: Hi Sara, I love to make lemon and chocolate meringue pies. Though I follow directions exactly, my meringue always cries. What am I doing wrong?
This answer comes from one of my good buddies and mentors, Jean Anderson, author of a million cookbooks (no kidding it must be in the 30s), most recently "Falling off the Bone" (Wiley, 2010). When I hosted "Cooking Live," my live call-in show on the Food Network from 1996 to 2002, Jean was my "red phone," my answer person. We would often call her in the middle of my show if I was stumped. She is a walking culinary encyclopedia.
Here is Jean's answer about how to make the perfect meringue for lemon meringue pie. She suggested that over beating is usually the culprit: "The meringue should be beaten only until it peaks very softly, or better yet, falls in billowing mounds. Many recipes call for beating to stiff peaks and at that stage the meringue breaks down when heated, oozes liquid, and shrinks."
Jean also suggests using confectioners' sugar in the meringue instead of granulated sugar. The little bit of cornstarch in the confectioners' sugar helps stabilize the meringue. She suggests that with lemon meringue pie, it is also important to spread the meringue on the lemon filling while the filling is hot so it cooks and seals the bottom of the meringue and to spread the meringue until it touches the pie crust at the edge sealing in the heat.
Mary Willis: When baking a cake, can you substitute shortening for butter, should the amount stay the same?
It is fine to substitute one for the other and in the same amounts.
Charlene Derringer: The new baking powders don't seem to work as well as the old ones. Is there a way that I can compensate for this without adding baking soda to everything as well. My light and fluffy dumplings aren't as fluffy anymore.
I have not experienced that myself. And the solution would not be to add baking soda. Baking soda reacts to an acid in a recipe so if your dumplings don't have acid in them, the baking soda won't help.
I am wondering -- how old is your baking powder, meaning how long has it been in the cupboard? You can test its effectiveness by sprinkling a little into a little bit of water. If it bubbles up it is still kicking. Has it been well sealed in your cupboard? If moisture gets in there, that could change its performance.
A few other thoughts -- if you add too much baking powder it will puff up quickly and then deflate. If you mixed the batter too far ahead, it will also lose its oomph.
Deanna Sciole: We like our chowder really thick, but we are having a hard time getting it thick enough without that heavy flour taste. We are also trying to cut calories and fat at the same time. Can you help?
Why don't you try taking a little bit of the finished soup out of the pot, pureeing it in a blender and adding it back to the pot? I thicken most of my soups this way.