Q: I’d sworn off lasagna (too labor-intensive), but you’ve piqued my interest again. I can usually only find baby spinach in my market. Is it suitable for the noodles, same quantity, or would frozen spinach be better? Also, to stack and store in the freezer, should the noodles be separated, by either plastic wrap or wax paper?

A: I also use baby spinach leaves, because they are tender. You need eight ounces of fresh leaves (they cook down to about half a cup). For storing the noodles in the freezer, I let them sit out first for an hour or two to dry slightly; that way they’re not tacky. After that, you don’t need to separate them. If you want to be on the safe side, you could layer pieces of wax paper between them.

Domenica Marchetti

Q: Any ideas for how to feed a big family lots of healthful vegetarian dinners without spending a lot of money? I would love some quick go-to recipes.

A: Beans are the key to cheap vegetarian cooking – there’s no cheaper source of plant protein around. Grains are a must, too. Make sure to cook a big pot of each every weekend, along with pans of seasonal vegetables that you roast. Combine those with fresh, raw vegetables, seeds and nuts, and you’ve got the makings of lots of quick weeknight recipes: soups, chopped salads, tacos, sauces for pasta dishes.

– J.Y.

Q: What on earth is the secret to thawing frozen phyllo sheets so that they don’t crumble apart when you unroll them? Or generally fall apart so that an intact single sheet feels like an impossibility?

A: I defrost them in the refrigerator, in their packaging, overnight.

 Bonnie S. Benwick

Q: I’m venturing to learn more about preparing Indian cuisine (already being quite accomplished at eating it). What would be the absolute crucial spices to start my collection with?

A: Ginger, cumin (ground, and the whole seeds, which when toasted make for a beautiful, fragrant raita). Turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves. A good garam masala, which is a mix of spices and can vary by brand and region. Depending on the recipe, you may need fenugreek (after years trying to nail makhani murgh, I found it was key for me). I’d also keep in mind that you’ll want fresh stuff frequently — I usually start an ad-libbed curry with a base of fresh ginger, garlic and onions.

M. Carrie Allan

Q: Is there anyway to avoid the white stuff that shows up on the top of a cooked salmon filet? We don’t like under-cooked salmon (prefer the opaque texture) but don’t like the white stuff. Is there a marinade or a different cooking method (we just bake ours) that minimizes the albumin?

A: Cooking at a low temperature, for longer, helps; it seems that high heat will force more of this protein up and onto the surface of your fish. (You can just scrape it off before serving.) And America’s Test Kitchen says a quick brine before cooking also reduces the albumin factor as well.


Q: How do I know if my oven is calibrated correctly?

A: Buy an inexpensive oven thermometer (usually encased in metal) and place it inside. Preheat to 350; once your oven indicates it’s at temperature, see what the thermometer says. If they differ, perhaps it’s time to either check the manual or call a repairman.


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