Post food writers answer questions:
Q. Due to limited space, I keep only all-purpose flour in the house. When bread flour is called for, I add 1 teaspoon of gluten per cup of flour. Is there a similar solution for making a cake flour substitute?
A. For every cup of all-purpose flour, remove two tablespoons and replace it with two tablespoons of cornstarch, sifting the two together.
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Q. I tried making panna cotta over the weekend and my gelatin separated (I think my heavy cream/half-and-half mixture overheated). Is there something in particular to look out for when making this dessert?
A. It is possible that you overheated the gelatin and dissipated its setting power. To avoid this, sprinkle the gelatin over cold water (three tablespoons cold water per packet of gelatin) and let it sit until it’s completely moistened. Microwave the mixture for 15 seconds until liquefied. Add the gelatin to warm — not hot or boiling — liquid, and off you go.
Q: I know how to make lard, and I use it occasionally. I have been getting just random trimming scraps from a local butcher who’s glad to give them away, but are some parts of the pig better for lard?
A: It depends on what you plan to use it for. For pastries and crusts, bakers typically prefer leaf lard, which has a milder flavor. It’s from the fat around the kidneys. It’ll be labeled as “leaf lard.” For more savory cooking, back fat is often used. It has a strong pork flavor.
Q: I love Asian cuisine but have to be very careful regarding sodium intake, and I can’t have MSG. Are there substitutes for fish sauce and other Asian sauces?
A: Nothing truly approximates the funk of fish sauce, but you might try playing around with black vinegar, which can sub for PART of the soy sauce in a recipe to reduce the sodium. And check out coconut aminos — they’re sweeter than fish sauce or soy sauce, but they add a little depth without as much sodium.
Q: Seriously, does anyone really eat Brazil nuts? I never see them sold by themselves in packages, the way cashews or almonds are, just as filler in a can of mixed nuts. So what do I do with leftovers?
A: They’re seeds, not nuts. They have a higher fat content than the other nuts in the mix. Because Brazil nuts contain so much selenium (a trace element we need only in small doses), medical experts recommend a limited daily intake to avoid side effects. What can you do with leftovers? Freeze them so they won’t go rancid, and eat them sparingly.