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Ask Kirstin

Ask Kirstin
If you have a question about ingredients, recipes, or techniques, email Kirstin ( Here are the questions she has answered so far:

* What is the difference between pure and virgin olive oil?

* Often when I make soup this gray stuff floats on top. Is there a way to avoid it?

* Can you recommend mild tasting fish?

* I need new cutting boards. Which are better, plastic or wood?

* Do you have a few favorite cookbooks you could recommend?

* I can’t figure out when my meat is cooked to the right temperature. How do I know?

* What is better, thick or thin asparagus?

* Can I freeze a whole ginger root?

* Baking recipes often call for “room temperature” eggs and butter, is that really necessary?

* I prefer milk chocolate but so many recipes call for dark or semisweet chocolate. Can I replace it?

*My kids and I do a lot of impromptu cookie baking, but we never have unsalted butter in my fridge. Can we use salted instead?

*What is buttermilk? It sounds so fattening, is it? And if I don’t have it, is there a substitute?

*Help! I am out of brown sugar. Can I substitute with white sugar for my cookies?

*What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

*How many teaspoons of yeast are in a package?

*How do I rescue an over-salted dish?

*What is the difference between chili powder and chile powder?

*My eggs don’t have expiration dates on them, how do I know they are still tasty?

*I am about to move into my own place, with my own kitchen! What should I stock my completely empty cupboards with?

* Do I really have to let the chocolate chip cookie dough “rest”?

* Is a clove of garlic the whole bulb, or just one of the segments?

* What is the difference between tamari and soy sauce?

* There are two kinds of eggplant in my grocery store now, a big fat one and a long skinny one. How do I know which one to use?

* I am having trouble with my stir-frys. I can’t get the wok to stay hot.

* How long does chicken stock last in the fridge?

* How do I cook green vegetables like sugar snap peas and green beans so they keep their bright colors?

* I am making your “Wheat Berry Salad” for a party, but I am using farro instead of wheat berries. The package says to soak for 8 hours, is that really necessary?

* My family is trying to stay away from cream for cholesterol reasons, but I miss making creamy soups. Any suggestions?

* I want to use brown rice more, but what is the difference between long and short rice? And is there a fool-proof way of cooking it?

* What are your top 3 favorite meals that are quick and kid friendly?

* I have a vegan recipe that calls for beets in a chocolate cake. How do I make beets less “earthy” tasting when used for baked goods?

* Can you give me a few ways to use quinoa?

* I am terrified of blending hot soup after it once exploded out of the blender, how do I avoid this disaster.

* Does an avocado pit keep my guacamole green?

* There are too many mozzarellas out there! When do I use the shredded ones, when do I use the sliced ones from the deli, and how about the soft expensive ones in water?

* I love garlic, but is there a way I can mellow it out a bit?

* What is the difference between stock and broth?

* How do I zest a lemon and what is zest?

* What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?

* What is the difference between an onion and a shallot, can I exchange one for the other in a recipe?

* Cornmeal, cornflour, corn starch, grits and polenta…are they all the same?

* How do I prepare oysters?

* Any ideas for substituting cheese in recipes?

* Why does everyone use a slow cooker versus cooking in the oven?

* How do I know when fruit is ripe?

* How do you know if your mussels are fresh? How do you clean them?

* What’s a good rule of thumb for how many chicken pieces you need to make broth?

* How do I roast beets?

* I hate chopping onions. Can I use frozen chopped onions instead?

* Sometimes I will defrost something, then change my mind and not need it. Is it alright to refreeze it?

* What’s the best way to rescue a bland soup?

* How do I know which seafood is sustainable and also low in mercury?

* I want to make chocolate chip cookies and my brown sugar is hard as a rock. What do I do?

* I like sautéing chicken pieces at high heat in a wok, getting a nice crust, but then the garlic burns! How do I avoid burnt garlic while still adding it to my wok chicken?

* What is “Asian fish sauce”?  

* Recipes with mushrooms often call for “dry brushing them clean.” Why can’t I just wash them?

* When baking, can you double a recipe? Or do I need to make individual batches?

* How I should clean and store produce? Also, what is the best way to store herbs?

* I love scallops but they are always watery when I sear them. Is my heat too low?

* Sometimes when I cook dried beans or grains it seems to take forever, why is this?

* In your pasta recipes you often say cook the pasta in water as salty as the sea, what do you mean and why?

* In your Oven Grains Greens and Cheese Please recipe, you suggest Swiss chard and kale. Would it be O.K. if I used frozen spinach instead?

* When searing meat in a pan — what is the best way to keep it from sticking to the pan?

* Are brown eggs healthier than white ones?


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