Barbara Kafka

This is your opportunity to ask Barbara Kafka questions about anything and everything concerning food, etiquette, restaurants, cooking, and even love if you are so inclined.

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Please send questions, comments and thoughts. I enjoy hearing reader feedback whether it's about my books, general food and cooking, or just something you wish to share with me or the world. Let me know if you would like a name credit should your submission be posted. For those who have my new book Vegetable Love, I look forward to hearing your feedback. Thanks, Barbara.

There have been many questions about results of the recipes in Microwave Gourmet  in the newer more powerful ovens that have come on the market since I wrote my book. By and large users of more powerful ovens have not had serious problems with the recipes. The biggest problem would be for small amounts of easily burned substances such as butter and chocolate or sugar-rich mixtures such as caramel. I suggest starting with 30 seconds and then adding time in small bursts.

Do let me know what results you get and I will keep them on file to help other users.

Dave C. from Wilmington, NC had the following information to share about cooking rice in the microwave:

I will be 89 this month and cook everything in the nuker. My recipe for a single serving of brown rice in my 1200W Panasonic is: ¼ cup rice, ½ cup water. 2 minutes at full power and 25 minutes at 20% power. This is 10 minutes longer than I use for long grain white rice. I use a covered 2qt. bowl as it foams a fair bit.Thanks for your books.

Q: A reader  asks: I made the Beef Short Rib Soup from Soup: A Way of Life. The beef didn't end up "falling off the bone..." I'm wondering what I did wrong. I brought it to a boil as instructed, and then down to a simmer. Did I simmer it too low? Thanks!

A: All stoves vary and your simmer may be lower than mine. Under cooked is better than over you can always add more time. By a low simmer I mean that there are still bubbles breaking even if small. I hope that dinner wasn't ruined and hope you have better luck next time. Best, Barbara
[The reader wrote back: The next day I just put it on the stove for several hours and it was perfect. I think I did have it too low (fear of overcooking). I want to also take the opportunity to say that the clam chowder recipe in your book is the best I've ever had. Thanks again! ]

A reader had the following information to share about making the brownie recipe from Microwave Gourmet:

My 1150 watt oven required some recipe adaptation. I used a 70% power level from butter/chocolate melting through to the final baking of the brownies. I kept the cooking time from the recipe. I am very pleased with the results. I have moist, fudge-like brownies, evenly baked and just delicious! It may be a useful hint that I use a good quality pizza cutter (very sharp-edged and non-serrated--mine is Farberware) to cut the brownies along the scoring I made while still hot. The brownies have a very nice look and come out of the dish quite neatly. Just thought I would share. I intend to try the 70% level on further recipes from various sections. It certainly seemed to work on the brownies.

Q: A reader from Bethesda asks: I have lost my favorite summer recipe: your green gazpacho, made with lemons and I believe zucchini and without tomatoes. Where can I find that recipe again?

A: The recipe you're seeking is Green Gazpacho with Citrus Fruit and Yellow Squash. It can be found on page 84 of Vegetable Love.

Q: I have a surplus of russet potatoes. What is the best way to freeze them? I can't seem to find any recipes or directions.

A: I would treat them like a green vegetable except that they will need to be cooked before use. Bring water to the boil. Peel and cut potatoes to the size you might reasonably use. Plunge into boiling water for five minutes. Drain and put into ice water. Dry and freeze in plastic bags in person amounts (two, four, etc.). Force the air out by putting filled but not sealed bags into the ice water and taking out while gently squeezing. Freeze. Cook from frozen state. I generally don't do this as I never have enough freezer space and I can store potatoes for a long time in a cold dark cellar space, say, along with the wine. Hope that this helps sometime.

Q: I am an American living in Poland and have almost all of your cookbooks (some are in storage in Texas). Anyway, I am wondering, can I use the fat that renders to the top after I make stock? Do I need to do something further to it? How can I store it and for how long?

A: You can use it for searing the same kind of meat; but it is not pure fat so watch that it doesn't burn. To store, I would freeze. Glad you like my books. Best wishes, Barbara

Q: A reader offers the following: If anyone harvests wild mushrooms, that person should have milk thistle on hand. See this article: You can find a lot more links by searching on "milk thistle" and "mushrooms." And you might wish to caution people to use a high degree of careI just worry about poisonous mushrooms (and milk thistle can help there). I have heard stories about people who diedfirst hand stories from people who knew the one who died.

A:  Although I would hope that milk thistle would be a cure and even though I pick wild mushrooms and people have been doing so for thousands of years, I cannot suggest that anybody who has not been trained, done spore prints, used a microscope and been carefully shown what to avoid pick wild mushrooms. Books have been written about the fact that there are mushroom-phobicunderstandableand mushroom craving cultures. Most cases of poisoning occur when experts try to distinguish between marginal or unknown to them varieties. Few varieties, such as the all white, beautiful, Amanita phalloides, are actually deadly. Some can make you very sick or are hallucenogenicsome are both. A few varieties of mushrooms are edible but will make people who are sensitive ill when wine is drunk when eating them. Even when knowledgeable about wild mushrooms, it is best to stick to those that can be clearly identified. There are many good books with excellent pictures, an Italian one with beautiful accurate watercolor illustrations which even has cooking tips and one from England with excellent photographs by Phillips.
I remain, however, with a very serious caution and I do not intend to rely on milk weed even if it may be efficacious. Leave the weed to the Monarch butterflies that thrive on it. I want to thank the reader who sent in this suggestion and pointing out once again the dangers involved. Domesticated (farmed) versions of mushrooms are not poisonous.

Q: A reader from Maryland asks: I recently tried to make the custard for a custard-based peach ice cream on the stove top. It was not a success because (I think) it cooked too fast (the egg yolks separated from the custard and became tiny pieces of grit). This happened even though I watched it like a hawk and stirred continually. My question is: can you make custard in the microwave? I have had great results from using your Microwave Gourmet cookbook but cannot find a recipe for custard. Have you tried making custard in the microwave?

A:  I don't make it in the microwave, as it needs constant stirring. Try a lower heat; stir constantly and when it thickens, remove from stove and continue stirring until it cools. Also, I have had great good luck with peach sorbet. Pit and cut up peaches. Add one-to-one simple syrup to taste and lemon juice to taste. Freeze in sorbet or ice cream machine. The peaches can be prepared ahead and frozen and then pureed in a food processor—still frozen—until absolutely smooth. Proceed as previous. Good luck, Barbara

Q: Victoria from NYC says: My question for Mrs. Kafka is I recall reading an article once where she discussed the height of her kitchen counters, which were low since she is short. I am 5' 2" and cannot find anywhere what the recommended height for a chopping surface would be for me.

A:  My lowest counter is thirty inches so that I can have a big window to look out of at the Vermont mountains (hills?).Thirty-two should be about correct for you. Standard is thirty-seven. It does make a big difference. It also means that the oven is elsewhere and you are not cooking over the heat., Barbara

Q: A reader from New Orleans writes: I recently had to get rid of Roasting because of water damage/mold and doing so broke my heart. I will replace it as soon as possible. I don't recall a roasting recipe for beef tongue. I recently bought some tongue and followed the recipes I found on the internet, which called for 3 hours of boiling. The meat tastes good, but resembles the pot roasts I used to make before I discovered your bookcertainly not the delicate and beautiful slabs I remember from the delicatessens I enjoyed from ten years of living in NYC.  Can you suggest a "Kafka Roast" for beef tongue?

A:  I think that your problem may in part be due to using fresh tongue. The tongue that you rememberprobably fairly redwould have been smokedanother day, another recipe. Don't roast tongue. It is very fibrous and requires liquid and slow cooking. For a fresh tonguewhich I just tested for youput the tongue in a large pot and cover with a quart of apple cidernot sweet juiceand a quart of water. If no children are eating, beer makes a good alternate liquid. Add a large yellow onion cut in half and the root end trimmed. Add a whole head of unpeeled garlic. Add 3 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole cloves and 2 teaspoons of peppercorns. Cover with a lid and bringfairly slowlyto a boil. This may take a half hour. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook covered for about two and a half hours. Turn tongue over and cook for another half hour. It should now be relatively easy to peel the coarse outer covering off of the tongue. Pare away the fibrous matter at the base. I would suggest that you turn on a fan when cooking this as the smell is pungent. If you still want instructions for smoked tongue just be in touch. Good luck, Barbara

Q: A reader from Paris, France asks: In your invaluable Microwave Gourmet, which has accompanied me in retirement to Europe, you recommend a round glass cooking dish with inch dimensions of 11 x 8.5 x 2 and a rectangular one of 14 x 11 x 2. For years I have sought both, but in vain. Could one possibly know the manufacturer of either? Not a question, merely a comment: French cooks to whom I have given copies of your book are always amazed and delighted to learn that their ovens can be used for more than merely defrosting and heating things from Picard Surgelés, and I am sure they would all thank you if they could.

A:  Thank you for the kind words. Corning Pyrex is the manufacturer; but in Europe, you may find it easier to get a quiche pan and a lasagne pan. Good cooking to you and your friends.

Q: A reader from Arlington, VA asks: I just bought a 1987 version of Microwave Gourmet. Of course, we now know that PVC plastic is cancerous, so I was wondering what to use to seal dishes for cooking.

A:  PVC plastic is only poisonous when it touches the foodespecially if the food is high in fat. The way I use the plastictightly sealedthe steam causes it to swell into an air-filled balloon keeping it off of the food. The moment the food has finished cooking, stick a sharp knife point into the plastic to release the steam and keep the plastic from being sucked down onto the food. If you are still uncomfortable, use a container with a good solid lid. Do not reheat in store containers. Using a lid should add no more than thirty seconds to a minute to the cooking time. I suggest that you find out the wattage of your oven. Newer ovens tend to be at higher wattages. The book used 700 watts as a maximum. On the web site and in the blog, I keep adding timings for higher power ovens that can be used as models for other recipes. Good luck. If you have any questions feel free to be in touch. Best,  Barbara

P.S., In answer to a follow up question as to whether PVC outgasses into the food, according to good research groups,  the plasticizers need to be in contact to migrate and they prefer fat as a medium.

Q: Several readers have asked me about getting roasting pans that are not too deep. 

A:  Go on line at: or call 888-cookware and look for what are called lasagna pans. Both Cuisinart and All Clad make them.

Q: Cindy Decker, a food writer for a newspaper, sent me a lovely email saying that my Steamed Chocolate Pudding in Microwave Gourmet is her favorite dessert. Since she now has a 1,000-watt microwave oven, she wondered how long she should cook the pudding.

A:   I suggested that she try four minutes instead of the original five. She tried it and said: "Four minutes was perfect. I used a 5-cup bowl and that was a good thing, as the batter swelled a lot. The wonderful chocolate smell throughout the house was exactly as I remembered it. I love the silky texture of this dessertit's unique." If others have an even more powerful oven, they might take off another thirty seconds going down to three and a half minutes. It is wonderful when a reader is enthusiastic and as wonderful when they do my testing for me. Thank you Cindy.

Q: A reader is planning to make Uncle Abe's Cake, a recipe of mine that ran in O Magazine (see link in News section) and wonders if it can be made ahead. If so, does the whipped cream portion need to be done just a few hours before serving? What about leftovers? Does the whipped cream go flat?

A:   Yes, the cake can be made ahead, a day or two, it will just be a little sexier. Good luck. Tell me how you like it. Barbara.

Q: The same reader as below says that mistakenly, a hug jar of peeled garlic had been bought.

A:   I suggest making that classic, Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, to take care of much of the problem. (The reader decided on the puree alternative).

Q:A reader asks what is the best way to preserve fresh garlic cloves?

A:  Fresh garlic should not be preserved unless you wish to slowly cook it in fat until all the water has been driven out. Garlic can also be pickled; but I don't like it. It is important to be careful with garlic as preserved garlic has in some instances been poisonous. What I really recommend is to keep the garlic in whole heads in all of its paper and put it in a light-proof brown paper bag and store it in a dark, cool, not too humid place. If you grow garlic, the next time that you dig it up, leave the dirt on. This is advised by Chester Aaron who I think is the greatest garlic authority. You can find him online. Good luck and welcome to the society of the stinking rose. Best, Barbara

Q:A reader asks what it means when in my roasting book I say to "clip" the chicken wings. He also wonders whether stuffing the bird cavity with cilantro is a good idea.

A:  To clip the wings means to cut off the wing tips at the joint (cut at the first joint from the pointy tip). I use a strong kitchen scissors, but a heavy knife will work as well. The wings can be used to add to stock. As for the cilantro, herbs mostly don't flavor a bird from the inside but when you deglaze the pan, a handful of chopped cilantro would be a delicious addition. Try putting a halved lemon or lime that you have squeezed over the bird before cooking into the cavity. Happy roasting. Barbara

Q: A reader says he's come to LOVE my roasting book, and is curious as to my thoughts about brining poultry (turkey in particular). He's a big fan of brining meats that tend toward drying out but perhaps it's unnecessary when roasting at high heat for short times?

A:  Thank you for your kind words. Brining is essentially just like the koshering of meat, removing blood and substituting water. I do not find it is needed or desireable with my high-heat method as the subcutaneous fat dissolves and bastes the bird and then passes out into the pan from which it can then be eliminated. I hope that your experience will confirm my findings. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Best, Barbara

Q: Here's a small fact I recently learned and wanted to share.

A:  Avian flu is killed in cooked birds at the same temperature, 165°F,  that the U.S. Agriculture Department gives for all birds. The big thing is to keep the hands and work surfaces impeccable.

Q: Is there a good alternative to pasta for those who can't eat wheat?

A:  Having a wheat gluten-intolerant friend, I have been searching for a good wheat, oat and barley free alternative. The best by far that I have come up with is made by "Schär" in many types and sizes. This returns pasta and vegetables to the realm of a good quick meal. I find that Rao's pasta sauceold fashionedis really excellent with just a splash of good olive oil. Schär has a web site

Q: What's a good way to cook sorrel?

A:  Try  the recipe in Vegetable Love for Creamed Spinach and Sorrel (page 428). It can also be thinned with stock or stock and cream to make an excellent soup.

Q:  It has been brought to my attention that the Fiddlehead and Chanterelle Risotto (page 431) from Vegetable Love as put on the NPR web site for Morning Edition following my happy interview with Linda Wertheimer inadvertantly omitted instructions for adding the ferns.

A:  After the cup of stock has been added after the peas and it has absorbed, the fiddleheads are stirred in along with the remaining cup of stock and the chanterelle mixture. Proceed as in recipe. Go to the News section of this site and click on the NPR link to find this and other recipes from my new book.

Q:  Greg Camus from Cambridge shares the following comment and tip: I've enjoyed your Roasting book for some years now—roast chicken has never tasted better. Right now I'm making pork with the apple compote. If no one has mentioned it to you, it works just great with pork tenderloin: all it needs is a quick browning and then 20 minutes in the oven with the apples.  Perfection. Thanks for all the recipes. I'll look for your vegetable book.

A:  Greg, thanks for the praise and the tip. Barbara

Q:  A reader from Pittsburgh says he recently purchased Roasting and it now occupies an easy-to-reach spot on his cookbook shelf (I'm honored). After hearing me speak on NPR the risotto recipe from Vegetable Love is now on his to-do list. However, the fiddlehead ingredient may be hard to find.Is there an alternative?

A:  The Fiddlehead and Chanterelle Risotto on page 431 of Vegetable Love is a dish redolent of spring. If by chance fiddlehead ferns can not be found substitute asparagus tips. Learn more about fiddlehead ferns in the Vegetable Tip section. Those who are interested in hearing my NPR interview can visit the News section and click on the link.

Q:  Two astute readers have pointed out that in the wonderful story that Joan Brunskill of the AP wrote about my book, along with the recipe for Hubbard Squash Soup, were actually photographs of butternut squash.

A:  The misunderstanding is my fault as I put the the butternuts in the picture as they had just come out of the garden and I was proud of them. Ms. Brunskill is not to blame. The soup was indeed made with Hubbard squash; but it would work well with butternuts, kabocha and chioggia or any other meaty winter squash. My apologies for any confusion. Barbara

Q:  A reader who uses my Soup book all the time is looking for a for lemon soup and asks if I know of one. She is also interested in adding lemon to other soup recipes but has not found a good way yet. 

A:  There is an Avgolemono Soup...a Greek lemon soup on page 126. I also love lemon and use it frequently. I almost always add it at the end as heat tends to kill the nice fresh acidity.This last addition is
particularly necessary when a soup is to be reheated or frozen and defrosted. It is a good idea to use slightly less salt as the two flavors tend to intensify each other. As with other seasonings, add a little at a time until you like the taste. Good luck and let me know how it goes. Also, don't use lemon in soups with wine; they don't like each other. Best Barbara

Q:  A reader who made the Parsnip Flan recipe in Vegetable Love asked if the portion size was correct.

A:  The recipe makes eight tasting-size flans using 2 oz. (not 4 oz.) ramekins. These are the small ramekins 2-1/2" in diameter. An appropriate size for a multi-course meal or a buffet. For a true side dish, divide custard among six 2 oz. ramekins and increase baking time to 1 hour. A trick to unmolding the flan: cool slightly, loosen sides with a knife, then with one hand invert the ramekin over the palm of your other hand with a slight whack. Quickly transfer flan from palm to serving dish. Of if you prefer, serve directly in the ramekins. The flan's sweet creaminess is the perfect complement to simple savory roast meat. 

Q:  Moyra from Toronto loves Microwave Gourmet. She is  leaving to visit the Carribbean for the winter and would like to make the coconut milk recipe. The recipe says to put the coconut in a plastic sealable bag. She asks if I would recommend a brand that's microwave safe. 

A:  Since the coconut is protected by its shell any plastic will do but do not use one that seals with a twist--the metal can burn--instead use one with a self seal. To prevent explosion, just use a larger bag than you think you need and poke out the eyes as suggested. Have fun! Barbara

Q:  This seems to have been the year of  the Standing Rib Roast extravaganza. I have had numerous questions. I can only say that I say what I mean. Those who have never cooked one but would like to try should refer to my Standing Rib Roast recipe in Roasting, A Simple Art .

A:  Yes, the fiddling with the heat is necessary and yes, it works. I reiterate, if you are paying for the short ribs, have them cut off and then separated and cut into two-inch lengths. Follow recipe in book.
As for the rib bones, if they are being used after the roast has been cooked, cut the main part of the meat away from the bones; cut the bones apart; make a thick grainy  paste made with mustard and cream and dry and unseasoned bread crumbs (hot pepper would be optional)--amount
will vary with number of bones--coat bones on all side with paste and place in center of 500º F oven. Allow to cook until the surface becomes bubbly. Eat as hot as bearable. A watercress salad would be nice.

Q:  The October issue of O Magazine features my recipe for Uncle Abe’s Favorite Chocolate Cake. The directions call the the oven temperature to be turned down during baking. A reader asks if the cake should be taken out of the oven at this time.

A:  No, the cake should remain in the oven when the temperature is turned down.

Q:  Linda S. asks for a sauce. She loves spring rolls and the like but doesn’t like either the anemic soy sauce with scallions or the sweet marmalade type sauce she gets in restaurants. She wants a sauce thick enough to stick.

A:  I countered by saying that I had great sympathy with her desire for more flavor but that I though a sauce as thick as the one she wants would not be a good match with the crisp dough. I think it would weigh it down. I suggest that there are several dipping sauces in my book, Party Food, that would give lots of flavor. Two that I recommend are Semi-Thai Sauce on page 212 and Japanese Dipping Sauce on page 246 would do the trick. Substituting a medium molasses for the sugar would give the sauces more body.    

Q:  Sally from New Orleans—who should know—made the Oyster Rockefeller Soup. She loved the flavor but found that the cooking time toughened the oysters.

A:  When I tested it, it worked for me. As I wrote her, she should do what works for her. Perhaps her oysters were smaller or she simmers at a higher heat than I. Recommendation: cook the oysters less long than the liquid. Taste. If more cooking is required, continue.  

Q:  Alice wrote to say that she fondly remembered a recipe of mine for A roast duck that is poached before roasting. She had read it in Food For Friends—an early book of mine—that she has in storage.
A:  That wonderful duck recipe is in a more recent book, Roasting, A Simple Art. Just click the picture of the book on the home page and order.

Q:  Lisa Brown wants to know the sizes of a full, half and quarter-size sheet pan.  

A:  Good question; but the answer isn’t simple. A domestic quality sheet pans is 13”X18”
and there are no smaller sizes. Professional sheet pans are 18”x26”. Halves and quarters are fractions of that. Lisa, enjoy the baking.

Q:  Craig Phillips who lives in Vancouver says he enjoyed Soup, A Way of Life and wanted to buy
Roasting, A Simple Art. He was told it was out of print.

A:  Craig, that’s not true. Just go to the web home page and click on the book cover to order. Enjoy, Barbara  

Q:  Dear Ms Kafka, We have a great deal of fun with microwave cooking using your book. At the moment, we have a friend staying with us who wants the book, but not to carry it home; she lives in the Netherlands and we wonder if the book is available there (in English OR Dutch), or is it available in the UK, where she will be going next. PS. I have been drying herbs successfully, except for sage, which caught fire even at a 30% power setting. Any clues? Sincerely, Inge Tysoe

A:  Dear Ms Tysoe,  
Thank you for the kind words. There is sadly no Dutch edition of the book.There is an English edition which can be bought at most major bookstores. It may be simpler for your friend to go on line with by clicking the picture of the cover of the book that is wanted and ordering it directly. I will reply about sage later. Sincerely Barbara Kafka  

Q:  I was the very, very happy recipient of your book Roasting, A Simple Art. I love the concept of your book and couldn't wait to try it. I read your instructions thoroughly and  then went out to buy your suggested roasting pan sizes. This is where I've run into a big  problem: I can't find ANY store that sells roasting pans in your suggested sizes. They're  ALL too deep. Please, Barbara, tell me where I can buy all three sizes you recommend.  Even if it is a store near you, I'll phone in an order to them, and use my credit card, and have  them send the pans to me. I don't want to try your recipes in pans that  are the wrong sizes. I hope you can help me. Sincerely, Kathy
A:  Dear Kathy. I’m delighted that you wish to use Roasting and that you are being so precise. A small variation in pan size will not be critical. For instance, if you have a pan that is 2 ½ -inches deep, it will be fine. Farberware pans fit the descriptions as do All Clad pans which are excellent. You might want to look in professional stores for Vollrath pans. The small pan is inexpensive and made by Rushco.
You may have to look around for it a bit. Rushco I is in Chicago at 1151 West 40th St. The zip is 60609. Broadway Pan Handler in Manhattan has a very good pan selection. Their web site is They also supply excellent Tramontin pans in stainless and standard Wearever pans in aluminum. Good Luck, Barbara