Our Holiday Gift to You: Ask a Chef Online for Free & 46 Cooking Questions Answered
At Cozymeal, we've been answering your cooking questions and sharing cooking tips in articles, cooking classes, and beyond since 2014. Now there's a whole new way for you to ask your cooking questions: Introducing our free Ask a Chef hotline!
Whether you're on the hunt for recipe-substitution advice or need ideas for a last-minute side dish for Thanksgiving, having a professional chef on call during the holidays will definitely help things run a little more smoothly in the kitchen.
Plus, we’ve answered 46 of the most common cooking questions and baking questions for you. Happy holidays!
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- Ask a Chef Online
- Cooking Questions for Beginners
- Common Questions to Ask a Chef
- Baking Questions
- Thanksgiving Cooking Questions
- Holiday Cooking Questions
The free Ask a Chef hotline will be open Monday-Friday from 9am to 6pm PST starting the week before Thanksgiving and again for two weeks before Christmas. The hotline will direct you to a professional chef by either a phone call or text and the chef will then answer any cooking questions you have.
What cooking questions can we help answer to ensure your holidays run smoothly this year? Give us a call! Details below.
- The free Ask a Chef hotline will run between Monday, November 16th and Friday, November 20th and between Monday, December 7th and Friday, December 18th.
- The hotline phone number is (800) 443-2903.
- You may either call the hotline or text your question.
- The hotline is open from 9am PST to 6pm PST.
1. Does adding salt to water make it boil faster?
No, but it will add extra flavor to whatever you are boiling.
2. Is it safe to cook chicken in a slow cooker?
Yes. The low- and high-heat settings on slow cookers reach a hot enough temperature to kill potential bacteria.
3. What’s the best way to defrost meat quickly?
Place your frozen meat into a resealable plastic bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. Submerge the bag in a large bowl filled with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold. Smaller cuts (around a pound) can thaw in less than an hour.
4. How do I know if a cheese has gone bad?
A simple taste usually does the trick to determine if cheese has spoiled. If there is a sour or notable unpleasantness, it’s probably past its prime.
5. Which part of the scallion (green onion) should you use?
Both the green and white parts of a scallion can be used, but each taste better when used in a different way. The white part has a sharp onion flavor that's best cooked, while the green stalks have a milder flavor that can be enjoyed raw or used as a garnish.
6. Is there a way to chop onions without crying?
Before you cut the onion, place it in the freezer for 30 minutes before chopping. Doing so prevents the onion from releasing its tear-inducing chemicals.
7. Which side of the foil are you supposed to cook on?
Technically, you're supposed to cook on the shiny side. However, it makes little difference in practice.
8. What’s the best method for cooking a burger indoors at home without a grill?
Cook your burgers on a cast-iron griddle. You should flip the burger once and only once. If it gets smoky (and it probably will), open a window to air out the kitchen.
9. What does marinating do to meat?
Marinades are used to add different flavors to meat. Marinades usually contain some kind of acid, which reacts with the meat and breaks down some of the protein to make it more tender.
10. Is it wrong to put food in an oven before the oven is preheated?
The results can be subpar when you add food too early, so wait until the oven is heated to the correct temperature before placing food inside.
11. Can I cook rice without a rice cooker?
Yes. Combine 1 1/2 cups water and 1 cup rice in saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and reduce heat to low. Cook rice, undisturbed (do NOT open the lid!) for 18 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.
12. How do I stop pasta from sticking together?
The simple fix is to use a larger pot. Pasta needs plenty of room to move while it boils. Other than that, rapidly boiling water will also help. Boiling water removes starch from the pasta, while a lukewarm pot can result in the starch concentrating, thus causing the pasta to stick.
13. Which herbs and spices are okay to buy dry?
We recommend sticking with dried for spices and fresh for herbs. Dried oregano, however, translates well from its fresh state.
14. If a recipe calls for wine, is it best to use a dry wine?
Use the same type of wine you would pair with the meal if you were drinking it.
15. How do I keep hard-boiled eggs from turning green around the yolk?
Place eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat and let them sit there for 10 minutes only. The yolk turns green when it's been overcooked.
16. How do you preserve nutrients when cooking veggies?
The best method to preserve and enhance the nutrients in vegetables is to steam them.
17. Can I substitute baking soda for baking powder?
You can, as long as there is enough acid in the ingredients to create a reaction. Keep in mind that baking soda has four times the power of baking powder, so 1/4 teaspoon soda is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
18. Can I substitute baking powder for baking soda?
It’s not recommended. Baking powder is made of baking soda combined with other ingredients, so it's difficult to find the correct formula to convert it into pure soda.
19. What’s the best way to cook steak at home?
To cook the perfect steak at home is actually a lot easier than you might think. All you need is a quality steak and this simple step-by-step method to ensure a perfectly pan seared steak.
20. What’s the best oil to cook with?
With a smoke point of 440-450°F, sunflower oil is the pantry hero for all things sear- and sauté-related. We love cooking with avocado or olive oil.
21. What can I substitute for heavy cream?
It depends on what you're making. If you're making something savory, you could use Greek yogurt to add similar richness. If you wanted to make whipped cream, you probably want to substitute coconut cream or milk.
22. Can I use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour?
In the case of baked good where you want a light and tender texture, like cake, the answer is no. In the case of muffins and quick breads, you can usually substitute up to 25% of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat.
23. Can I bake this recipe in a different pan?
The answer is usually yes, but with some adjusting. The volume capacity of any pan depends on its shape and height of its sides. Use this handy guide to determine if you will need to scale the recipe up or down and by what percentage.
24. Can I substitute coconut oil for butter?
Generally speaking, no. Any recipe that starts with creaming butter and sugar together relies on the special properties of butter that allow it to be whipped. The action of working air into butter during creaming contributes to a light, fluffy texture for baked goods.
25. Do I really need parchment paper?
Parchment paper is an essential baking tool because it creates a nonstick surface. If you want cakes to release cleanly, brownies to lift out of the pan, and cookies to slide off the sheet, parchment paper is a must.
26. Can I cut this recipe in half?
Yes. Cut all the quantities of ingredients in half and proceed with the recipe as written. Sometimes you need to halve an ingredient that’s hard to split, like eggs. In that case, just beat a whole egg and eyeball half into the recipe.
27. Can I make this recipe ahead?
Most cakes, bars, pies, tarts, and cookies can be made ahead by at least a day. Let cool completely, cover with plastic or store airtight, and store at room temperature.
28. Do I really need to use salt in baking?
Yes. Salt not only adds flavor to baked goods and helps prevent staleness, but is also important for gluten structure and even browning. When it comes to yeasted baked goods, salt is especially important as it helps slow the rise, leading to an even, stable texture.
29. What can I substitute for buttermilk?
If you've got whole milk and lemon juice or white vinegar on hand, you can make a workable buttermilk substitute. Pour a spoonful of white vinegar or lemon juice into a liquid measuring cup. Add milk until you reach the desired volume. Mix and let sit 10 minutes or until curds form.
30. Can I make bread without yeast?
Yes. You can make sourdough starter with nothing more than flour and water, or try soda bread, flatbread, quick bread or olive bread.
31. Why is my melted chocolate grainy and clumping?
Graininess means that a small amount of water has found its way into the chocolate and caused it to seize. However, seized chocolate can be corrected. It might seem counterintuitive, but adding another liquid, such as hot cream or melted butter, should smooth things out.
32. How long should I knead my dough?
About 10 minutes. When your dough starts to smooth out and bounce back, perform the “windowpane test.” Tear off a small piece of dough and stretch it from all four corners. It should be able to stretch into a thin, see-through “windowpane” without tearing.
33. What size turkey should I order?
If you're feeding up to 12 people, a 12-14 lb turkey is plenty. This size will fit in a standard large roasting pan. If you're feeding more than 12 people, roast more than one bird.
34. How will I know when the turkey’s done?
Use a thermometer. After resting, a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh should read 165°F.
35. How long does the turkey need to rest?
Let your turkey rest for at least an hour, which conveniently frees your oven for reheating your potatoes and sides.
36. How can I remedy an overcooked turkey?
Put gravy on it. A lot of gravy.
37. Do I just pour in the pan drippings, fat and all, to make turkey gravy?
While some fat is needed to create a roux, too much makes a broken, greasy mess. Pour pan drippings into a large measuring cup and skim the fat off the top using a spoon. Reserve 1/4 cup and toss the rest.
38. Why doesn't my stuffing have crispy edges?
If you aren't getting a crip bottom or edges in your stuffing, your baking dish might be too deep. Experts recommend using a 3 qt 13x9” Pyrex baking dish. The more surface area you have, the more crisp edges you'll get.
39. Why is my stuffing dry?
If you’ve added plenty of liquid, the problem is most likely that you’re not adding enough fat. Without plenty of fat (e.g. butter), the stuffing will lose too much moisture in the oven as you’re waiting for the top, edges, and bottom to crisp.
40. What are good ideas for winter salads that are more than just lettuce and tomatoes?
Grain salads (farro, wheatberries, quinoa), peppery/hearty greens (arugula, watercress, kale), citrus and onion salads, and roasted vegetable salads are all great ideas.
41. What kind of potato should I be buying?
The creaminess of Yukon Gold is best for mashed potatoes. If fluffy mashed potatoes are a priority, add some Russets to the mix. For simple roasted potatoes, use fingerlings or baby Yukon — they crisp up well while the inside stays creamy.
42. Why are my mashed potatoes gluey?
If you over-mash, you'll release the potatoes' gummy starches. Instead, work them as little as possible. Use a ricer on hot potatoes, then fold in dairy until just combined.
43. Why do some people put vodka in their pie crust?
The idea is that alcohol can’t form gluten, which can make pie dough tougher. Using vodka can help keep the pie crust flakier and more tender.
44. What are good ideas for homemade edible holiday gifts?
Our favorite gourmet holiday gift: homemade infused olive oil.
45. How do I keep cookies from spreading too thin?
Softening butter in the microwave is a surefire way to flatten cookies into pancakes. Instead, let the butter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
46. How long can I safely leave food out for guests?
Hot foods, including meats and casseroles, should be kept above 135°F. If they drop below this temperature for more than two hours, dangerous bacteria could grow on it, many of which could cause food poisoning. After two hours, this food should be immediately refrigerated or tossed.
There's nothing like the holidays to make you question everything you thought you knew about cooking. But just because the holidays usher in some of the most celebrated meals of the year doesn't mean they also have to be the most nerve-racking. Now, you can turn to a source you know you can rely on to get your cooking questions answered.
Get the answers to some of your most burning Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking questions and any other cooking questions that come up throughout the holiday season with the Ask a Chef hotline!