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

Helen DeButy: Is there any time when a recipe calls for margarine that butter cannot be substituted?

Sara's Answer:


I reached out to my friend, cookbook author Jean Anderson (whose most recent book is "Falling Off the Bone," John Wiley and Sons, 2010) for help with this answer, and here is what she said:

In my experience, the only time you get into trouble using butter and margarine interchangeably is in baking -- cakes, cookies, pie crusts, and other pastries. The reason for this is that margarine has greater shortening power than butter, which contains milk solids. It's a lesson I learned early on, as a little girl, in fact, when I did the reverse of what you ask. I substituted margarine for butter in chocolate chip cookies and they ran all over the baking sheet -- what I pulled from the oven was one giant rectangular cookie instead of a dozen proper-size ones. So, if you were to substitute butter for margarine in cakes, cookies, pie crusts, or other pastries, your cakes would be a bit less tender and your cookies and pastries less crisp and/or flaky.

Otherwise, Helen, you should have no problem substituting butter for margarine. I've done so in soups, sauces, casseroles, sauteed foods, crumb toppings, puddings, and pie fillings sans disaster. One caveat: Just make sure the butter you use is old-timey stick butter and that you're substituting it for old-timey stick margarine. The new soft butters and margarines or "faux butters" can be tricky.

Ida Valenzuela: Occasionally a recipe will state to stir or mix with a wooden spoon. When does it make a difference to use a wooden spoon instead of a stainless steel one--or does it make a difference?

Sara's Answer:


I think the recommendation to use a wooden spoon is more nostalgic than practical. A stainless steel spoon does not react with food and does not have any other issues. A wooden spoon can pick up off flavors and cannot be soaked in water for cleaning purposes or put in the dish washer. However, a wooden spoon has soft edges unlike a stainless steel spoon which makes it suitable for use in a non-stick pan. I use them both and every time I reach for the wooden spoon I think of my grandmother Ruth Moulton which makes me happy.

Sue Holman: So many recipes these days call for Greek yogurt. I am highly sensitive to mold, so have had to give up all cultured foods. What can I substitute for the yogurt? Thanks

Sara's Answer:


Usually Greek yogurt is added to a recipe for its creamy texture and tangy flavor. You could try substituting mascarpone cheese (a fresh Italian cheese with a texture somewhat like Greek yogurt) and a squeeze of lemon.

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