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
Shelly James: I DO NOT like onions! What can I substitute when a receipe call for onions? Usually, I just add more of another ingredient or leave them out totally. Any suggestions?
I think your instinct is correct – just leave them out. However if it is a recipe that is relying on onions for their sweetness (like perhaps a tomato sauce where the natural sugar of the onion balances the the acidity of the tomatoes) you might want to use carrots in place of onions.
Bobbi Shelton: How much oil do you use to fry chicken cutlets? Also, how can I keep them from getting too soaked with the oil? And how long should I cook them to be sure they are fully cooked?
I usually just film the bottom of the skillet with oil, maybe 2 tablespoons. If your cutlets are breaded you will need more oil than if they are not breaded because the breading will absorb oil. Regardless of the coating, the right temperature will help to keep the chicken from getting greasy. Heat your pan until it is very hot (right before it starts to smoke – you can tell by putting a tiny crumb in and if the oil bubbles around it right away, it is hot enough) and then add the chicken in one layer and let it brown on the first side before touching or turning it. If you crowd the pan, put too much chicken in, you will cool down the pan and the chicken will absorb more oil. Turn the chicken over and add a little more oil and let it finish on the second side. You will know it is done when you press it with your finger (or a spatula) and it is firm to the touch.
Alice Schnelle: Sara, my daughter would like to make sweet potato fries, but the potatoes are so hard, trying to cut them in strips from their raw state is impossible. Should she microwave or bake a bit first to make cutting them easier?
The trouble with partially microwaving or baking the potatoes first is that part of each potato will be soft(er) than the remaining part. Potatoes don't cook evenly all over. They start to cook on the outside and then the heat penetrates all the way to the center until the potato is finally done.
I would recommend very carefully slicing a thin slice off of one side of the potato so that you can lay it flat on the counter. Then it is much easier to cut the potato into 1/4-1/3 inch thick slices, which can then be cut into sticks. The problem with a potato is that not only is it hard but also round. It is difficult to chase a round object around the counter and cut it. It is dangerous.
Why do my mashed potatoes sometimes get slick instead of fluffy?
I think it must be because you are not always using the same kind of potato. A russet potato, aka a baking potato, the most famous of which is the Idaho, is very high in starch, and when you cook it, it becomes fluffy and absorbs liquids easily. Russets make fluffy moist mashed potatoes. A boiling potato, one of those potatoes with a thin skin, does not break down as much and will not absorb the milk and cream the same way. A boiling potato is a good choice for potato salad, or any recipe when you want the potato to hold its shape.