Anna Gass, author of "Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories From The Tables of Immigrant Women," recently joined The Washington Post Food section staff in answering questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.
Q: Is there a baking time rule for using glass baking dishes vs. metal ones? I find that things seem to get done more quickly with glass. Should I lower the temperature or shorten the bake time?
A: You are right about glass. It can bake things faster and hotter, so definitely try knocking back the temperature 25 degrees or so.
- Becky Krystal
Q: I've recently acquired a microplane zester and rasp for citrus and nutmeg, respectively. What other uses they might have?
A: I use mine to grate frozen ginger, and you can also use it to grate garlic so it's nice and pulpy. It will also give you really lovely fluffy piles of chocolate or Parm for garnishes.
A: Hard cheeses, like Parm and Pecorino. You also get nice fluffy piles, and they melt on contact with anything warm. So perfect for pasta.
- Joe Yonan
Q: I want to make infused olive oils for grilling vegetables. How to proceed? Should I use EVOO or is plain good enough? And which fresh herbs do you suggest?
A: Infused olive oils couldn't be simpler! Take about two cups of olive oil (high quality) and a few springs of your favorite herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, skies the limit). Then, heat until the olive oil just starts to bubble, maybe 2 to 3 minutes. Strain the herbs and place it into a olive oil glass container. Done! Also, I love to do this with garlic and red chili flakes. Just simmer the 2 cups of oil with the garlic and flakes for 30 minutes then strain. It's a hot oil I put on pizza and chicken.
- Anna Gass
Q: I bought strawberries that turned out not to be sweet. I guess they were picked too soon. If I take them out in the sun for a while, will they get sweeter? Or what do you suggest? I'd rather not really cook them. Sprinkling with Stevia is also an option.
A: Hate to break it to you, but strawberries don't keep ripening after they're picked, so that flavor isn't going to change. This is one reason why I never buy strawberries at the farmers market without sampling. If they don't let me taste (a very rare thing), I move on. Now, they will taste a little sweeter if they're at room temp than if they're cold. Otherwise, you'll want to add something to them if you want them sweeter, yes.
Q: I've found that the key to some of the best immigrant recipes is finding non-traditional ingredients that the author grew up with and took for grated versus subbing out an American alternative (although if that's all you have, then go for it). I'm lucky to live in Washington and have access to good ethnic grocery stores, and many ingredients have migrated to mainstream stores, but even then, they still don't have everything. Do you have any tips on finding "harder to find" ethnic ingredients? Sorry to make the question vague, but given the vast number of immigrants cultures to choose from, the question applies to all sorts of different things.
A: I came across this so much during my time in these amazing immigrant kitchens. When many of these women immigrated, they were unable to find the key ingredient needed. For example, Nikki from Haiti needed sour oranges for her Cashew Chicken. At the time, there weren't as many Caribbean markets to go to as there are now so she played with orange and limes to strike the right balance. Now, with Whole Foods, Amazon and so many ethnic ingredients in the local grocery store, there isn't such a need to substitute. I was able to get almost every ingredient needed at my local grocer. However, I found www.snukfood.com to carry loads of international ingredients to cook with and I love trying new items from them. I also love looking for the local ethnic delis when I travel to new places. They always have imported items. Happy cooking!
Q: I recently learned that I must watch my sodium intake. I visited the websites of restaurants and casual places and am shocked at the amount of sodium in dishes. Why can't the restaurant industry make a concerted effort to cut down on sodium? Why must there be so much sodium in bread?
A: Yes, it's a problem - and with so many processed foods, too. Honestly, if you're trying to watch your sodium intake, the best thing you can do is cook as much of your own food from scratch as possible.
Q: I was given some farmers market duck eggs by a friend who wouldn't take "no thank you" for an answer (she snuck them in my fridge before leaving). Can they be frozen (either in shell or out) for the next time I have an overnight guest who might want them for breakfast, or is giving them away while they are still fresh the way to go?
A: You can freeze them. Crack them out of the shells, whisk to blend, and freeze - tightly sealed and labeled (with the date and the number of eggs, a great tip from the American Egg Board).