Chef Sara Moulton Answers Your Cooking Questions

Got a cooking question, Sara Moulton has the answer.

May 01, 2013 — -- 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

Karen Dodd: I make desserts for restaurants but I am not at the restaurant when it's time to plate them. Is there any way to prepare individual souffles ahead of time and just pop them in an oven for 20 minutes or so. Every recipe I find, you have to fold the beaten whites into the base and bake and serve right away.

Sara's Answer:

Karen,

We used to make a recipe in my dining room at Gourmet which could be made ahead, popped in the fridge, and baked an hour or so later. It had been contributed to the magazine by Sally Darr, the chef/owner of a spectacular restaurant called La Tulipe in Greenwich Village in New York City in the '80s. It was an apricot souffle that had a base of dried apricots, flavored with lemon and sugar (not the traditional roux-thickened milk base), and lightened with egg whites. I don't know why it held up in the fridge all that time, maybe because the base is so dense but, anyway, my guess would be that any dried fruit souffle made in this manner would behave the same way. Sally would not have wanted it to stay in the fridge much longer than an hour before baking but I know that it can last for up to three hours in the fridge. Here is the recipe.

Steven Gero: Sara: My daughter-in-law brought me a bottle of plum wine from Japan. Would you happen to have an idea how or what I can cook with it.

Sara's Answer:

Steven,

I reached out to one of my favorite Japanese cookbook authors, Hiroko Shimbo, (her newest book, which I highly recommend, "Hiroko's American Kitchen," was published last year by Harvard Common Press) to get the answer to your questions.

"Plum wine is made of ume (Japanese green plum - it is not an actual plum but it is called a Japanese plum), which is pickled in distilled alcohol along with rock sugar. It has balanced sweetness and acidity. It is served at the beginning of a meal or before a meal as an aperitif in a small quantity. It is not used in savory preparations, but used in dessert preparations such as in mousse, jelly and ice cream (although mousse and ice cream are not traditional sweets in Japan) People who want to make plum wine can find a recipe in my book, The Japanese Kitchen."

Jeanne Mason: I do not drink coffee. I don't even like the smell of it. What can I substitute in a recipe (most often in a chocolate recipe) when it calls for coffee? Sometimes the coffee should be liquid; other recipes ask for instant powder. Thanks.

Sara's Answer:

Jeanne,

The coffee is mostly there for flavoring, especially if the recipe calls for instant powder. Just leave it out. If it appears that the coffee is also there to provide liquid, just add a little water in its place.

Ellen Bass: How do I keep hollandaise sauce warm for two hours. I am considering making eggs benedict for a fundraiser. I miss watching you on TV.

Sara's Answer:

Ellen,

I think keeping a hollandaise warm for two hours might be a tad risky from a health point of view. However, one hour would be OK. I recommend putting it in a thermos. If you are making it for the masses you could keep it warm in a bowl kept over warm water (you would have to keep replenishing the warm water).

Glenn Robitaille: When I cook an apple pie and stack the apples high with crust on top after cooking, the apples fall but the crust does not.

Sara's Answer:

Glenn, "Cooks Illustrated," one of my favorite food magazines and websites, tackled this problem many years ago and came up with a good solution -- precooking the apples so that they are essentially pre-shrunk before they ever go in the oven: "Precooking the apples allowed us to cram twice as many apples in our deep-dish apple pie recipe than in our standard pie. Why didn't they fall apart when precooked and then cooked again inside the pie? When the apples are gently heated, their pectin is converted to a heat-stable form that keeps them from becoming mushy when cooked further in the oven."

For a deep dish apple pie take:

2 1/2 pounds tart apples (firm), about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

2 1/2 pounds sweet apples (firm), about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Mix 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, zest, and cinnamon in large bowl; add apples and toss to combine. Transfer apples to Dutch oven (do not wash bowl) and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are tender when poked with fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. (Apples and juices should gently simmer during cooking.) Transfer apples and juices to rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Then bake those apples in your deep dish pie. For more details, you can go to the "Cooks Illustrated" website. There is a fee to join.

D. Smith: Have enjoyed your shows many times! My question has bothered me for awhile now and would like answer. If I make any recipe with milk that is close to expired date does that change in the new product (pudding or baked goods). Or is it only if the new product is cooked and does that make the difference. Thanks.

Sara's Answer:

This was an interesting question to research. There is actually no federal law requiring expiration dates (except on infant formula), although some states require them. So depending on where you live, you might see expiration information or you might not. And even so, there are several possible expiration labels that might be displayed. 1. A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.

2. A "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

3. A "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

In all of the cases above, if you want to use the product after the date, it does not mean that the product will make you ill. It just means that the product is not at its peak quality. The best indication of acceptable freshness is smell and appearance. If the milk smells funny or looks funny (or curdles in your tea of coffee when you add it), toss it. Regarding how long it will last in a recipe, cooked or uncooked, I would also go by the sniff and look test.

Sara Moulton is the "Good Morning America" food editor and host of the PBS show "Sara's Weeknight Meals." For more great recipes from Sara, check out her website or follow her on Twitter: @saramoulton