Food News

The Cooking Question You’re Too Afraid to Ask

May  8, 2018

We all have that one thing in the kitchen that trips us up, a cooking conundrum whose answer we're not quite sure of. Should I toss out this cheese rind? Can I sub baking powder for my baking soda? How the heck do I boil a successful bowl of rice?

We get it. The kitchen can be a daunting place. There’s lots of know-how and insider knowledge and tips and tricks to learn, yet mastery isn’t always the hardest part. Sometimes just asking a question, reaching out for help, can feel close to impossible.

This weekend, cookbook author Chrissy Teigen seemed to be in that camp (stars, they’re just like us!), when she voiced hesitation on Twitter about asking the masses a question. She launched a Twitter poll that read: “I have a question I am ashamed to ask. Also I’ll get so many different answers I don’t even know if it’s worth it. DO I ASK.”

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The responses were overwhelmingly positive and urged her to go ahead and let that question loose. She followed up with her query and, obviously, it was food related. She wanted to know how to prepare the fresh lasagna sheets she’d acquired from Eataly. Essentially, to boil or not to boil? See for yourself:

Answers poured in, and because we humans are varied and unreliable, so too were the responses. Some people advised boiling the sheets then transferring them to cold water. Others suggested skipping boiling altogether and layering the uncooked sheets directly into the lasagna. The sauce, some said, will cook the sheets in the pan. It seemed consensus was far from attainable. Until, that is, Eataly weighed in.

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Top Comment:
“But I've always wondered if it's ok for the bottom of the thermometer to rest on the bottom of the pan. When I've tried to clip it so as to not rest on the pan bottom, it's a little wobbly and unstable. Either way, does that cause a misreading of the candy temperature? ”
— SophieL

The Italian grocers threw their hat in the ring and shut down the conversation with their recommendation: to boil fresh pasta dough for just a minute, then toss it into an ice-cold bath.

Teigen sided with their advice. It makes sense: Boiling cooks the dough just the slightest bit, and the ice bath keeps the pasta from going too far, stopping it from becoming soft and gummy.

The whole saga prompted a train of thought. How do we learn in the kitchen if we’re too afraid to ask? So much of what I don’t know, I’m embarrassed by. Luckily, I work in a place where people are willing—eager, even—to chat cooking techniques, explain foreign terms, debate food pairings. But not everyone can say the same.

Like I said, the kitchen with its bells and whistles and ingredients and tools ad infinitum can seem impossible to master. And it is! But that’s fine. Besides, knowing everything already would be boooooring. It’s the constant discovery, the potential for success (or mishap) that keeps me coming back. Where, then, is one supposed to ask questions?

Well, our hotline, for starters, is a pretty great resource. Toss in a question, no matter how strange (trust me, it won’t be the strangest), and see what kind of answers you get. Or, as they used to say, phone a friend. I’m constantly calling my dad, uncle, friend, cousin, person I met on that trip like two years ago, to follow up on a recipe. What was in that sauce? How long was I supposed to cook that? Can I just cut the fenugreek? It’s embarrassing, for sure, but I’d rather risk a few minutes of looking like a dolt than eating something funny tasting. And if that’s not motivation enough, then I don’t know what is.

What’s a cooking question you’re too embarrassed to ask? Share it in the comments. You might even get a response!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Susan
  • Whitney
  • Mer
  • Sara
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Susan June 8, 2018
why is my baked macaroni and cheese greasy? I take it out of the oven and there's grease or oil from I think the cheese;
Whitney June 8, 2018
It might be because the macaroni and cheese is cooked too long that causes it to separate! I think if it’s not creamy, but dry, the fat also separates. I make a roux, heat only until the cheese melts, mix it with the macaroni and bake until bubbly.
Whitney May 13, 2018
Boil, just until they begin to soften... before al dente! Unless of course you like chewing the sole of your shoe
... grin!
Mer May 13, 2018
Fresh nutmeg , do you crack the nut open?
Bill S. May 13, 2018
No. Just grate it on a microplane.
Becky May 13, 2018
I don't, I just grate it from the whole nut. Interesting to see if you get a different answer from others.
kittyfood May 14, 2018
Nutmeg, when harvested from the tree, has an outer covering that hardens, and is almost always removed before we buy what we think of as "whole" nutmeg. That shell is removed and ground for use as mace, which is a different but similar spice. So what we think of as whole nutmeg can be grated as suggested above.
Sara May 9, 2018
I never know for sure: Is it okay to fill a hot, blind-baked pie shell? Or, should I wait for it to cool?
Eric K. May 8, 2018
Well put, V: "How do we learn in the kitchen if we’re too afraid to ask?"
SophieL May 8, 2018
When I use a candy thermometer, I clip it in the pan. But I've always wondered if it's ok for the bottom of the thermometer to rest on the bottom of the pan. When I've tried to clip it so as to not rest on the pan bottom, it's a little wobbly and unstable. Either way, does that cause a misreading of the candy temperature?
Julie May 9, 2018
I've never clipped my candy thermometer to my pans because they have a lip that prevents me from doing so. I just let mine lean in the pan, and my candies, sugar syrups, and caramels have been just fine. :) ...However, my particular thermometer does have a sort of frame to it, so that the thermometer part doesn't have direct contact with the bottom of the pan. I imagine that if yours has a similar frame, you should be able to do the same.
Zemmie May 10, 2018
Most recipes that mention it at all will tell you not to let the tip of the thermometer touch the bottom. This is because the metal of the pan can be much hotter than the liquid in it and, of course, it's the liquid you want to measure.

Now here's my stupid question: do you freeze the lasagne before you bake it or after. (And if it's after, do you let it thaw in the fridge/on the counter/in the microwave.)
mela May 13, 2018
Zemmie, I freeze meatless lasagne after baking, cooling, and cutting into individual serving size pieces. As many pieces as are wanted for dinner thaw on the counter or in the microwave and then are finished off with a brief stay under the broiler.
Freezing first may work too; have never tried it.
Abby May 14, 2018
I always make two lasagnas at once, serve one that night, and freeze the other. That way I get double the meals with only a bit more effort. With that method, I find it works best to partially-bake the second lasagna. I put it below the first one, so it cooks slower, and when the top one is done, the bottom one is almost done but has not yet started to brown on top. I find it easier to finish it in the oven when I get around to using it than with a fully cooked one, because it's much less likely to get too brown and turn the cheese topping tough and chewy.