Chef Sara Moulton Answers Your Cooking Questions

PHOTO: Sara Moulton explains why most recipes recommend using unsalted butter.Getty Images
Sara Moulton explains why most recipes recommend using unsalted butter.

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 in the kitchen, and she has responded.

Sara Moulton Answers Your Questions

Holly Spangler: Holly Spangler - I like to have a pasta bar at my holiday party, and I warm the sauces in a divided chafing dish but I've tried to keep the pasta warm in several ways and it always ends up overcooking and getting mushy. How can I keep pasta for a crowd warm for several hours?

Sara's Answer:


I hate to tell you the bad news. You will never be able to hold pasta in sauce for any period of time without it becoming completely soggy. That is just the nature of pasta, it keeps absorbing and absorbing and absorbing all the liquid around it. That is why I am not a fan of pasta salad. It is always soggy. Lasagne holds up a little longer because the filling and sauce are not so liquid. Why don't you offer a lasagne bar?

Anne Brady: When you are asked to measure flour and it states sifted, do you sift the flour first and then measure or do you measure out the flour first and then sift?

Sara's Answer:


If it says sifted flour that means you sift it first. If is says, flour, sifted you sift it afterward. This is true for all directions. If says 1 cup chopped grapes, that means the grapes were chopped before you measure them. If it says 1 cup grapes, chopped, that means you measured them and then chopped them.

Fran Dodd: Why didn't my cognac ignite? I used one cup of Hennessy for my Beef Bourgnion.

Sara's Answer:


Flaming a spirit is a tricky (and slightly dangerous biz). The cognac must be well heated before you put a match to it. I usually heat it in a skillet and then tip the skillet slightly to catch fire from the flame underneath it. A cup is a large amount to flame. Maybe next time use a half cup. Heat that amount in a skillet and carefully ignite it by tipping it over the burner while you stand well back. If you added cold cognac to a large pot of beef bourginon it might have seeped down the sides and gotten absorbed before you could ignite it.

Clara Martin: What can I substitute for Panko crumbs. Never heard of these. Thank you

Sara's Answer:


You could use dried breadcrumbs. Panko are nothing but (Japanese) huge dried breadcrumbs. Chefs and cooks love them because they provide such a crispy coating. You really might be able to find them in your local supermarket. Many more supermarkets are carrying them these days.

Annie Fontanez: Hi Sara, Why do recipes call for unsalted butter, then call for salt later in the recipe?

Sara's Answer:


Salt is added to butter not only to give butter a salted taste but also to preserve the butter. Salted butter will last longer than unsalted. And the salt can help to mask an off taste when the butter has gone rancid. That is one of the main reasons unsalted is recommended - so you can taste it and make sure it is fresh (easier to tell without the salt) and so you can control the amount of total salt in the recipe.