Let’s Get Cooking! Cooking Tips from Chef Bill Briwa

A Live Chat with Chef Instructor Bill Briwa

On September 15, 2015, Professor Bill Briwa sat down for a live Q&A session with his fans from across the globe. The chat is over, but the transcript is posted below for you to enjoy.

BRIWA: Welcome! Chef Bill Briwa here. I am looking forward to the opportunity to talk with folks who have taken my classes. I teach full time at The Culinary Institute, and when I do, I am at the stove at my students’ elbows monitoring their progress and answering questions. Here is an opportunity for us to interact and if you have questions of me…fire away and I’ll do my best.

WILLIAMJ: In combining seasoning and proteins there are combinations that are more accepted than others. Is there a list or index of combinations that are more preferred or accepted than other combinations?

BRIWA: Every culture around the world has embraced the spices that have stood the test of time. What I would like to do is offer up to you a list of those spice rubs to be included in the chat transcript once the chat is posted.  They are delicious spice rubs from all around the Mediterranean, North Africa, Italy, and Spain.  Even in the United States we have a spice rub associated with BBQ.  They are not just for good flavor but they serve a purpose beyond that. For example, pepper is for anti-botulism and salt has antimicrobial properties.  It’s because of this that we have learned to like the way food tastes with salt and pepper.

PAM: What’s your opinion of Dutch ovens? Are they useful? Should they be of cast iron? Or is a slow cooker just as useful?

BILL: I am very fond of Dutch ovens for the even controlled way they bring heat to food. I received a Dutch oven as a wedding gift and I anticpate handing it off to my daughter. It is not however a slow cooker that can operate without your being in the kitchen.. Just so we are clear, I like being in the kitchen.

DAVID LOFQVIST: Me and my girlfriend are Vegan students. What are your best tips to eat cheap, healthy and tasty? Maybe some good vegan food that can be frozen?

BRIWA: In my freezer right now I have extra beans, grains and legumes — all cooked and all ready to go.. I would supplement them with seasonal produce and a favorite sauce or salsa for a tasty nutritional and quick meal.

GENE: What is the best technique to infuse spice flavor into food? (As oppose to surface flavoring). Thank you!

BRIWA: Getting the flavor of spices into food is best acheived by seasoning early — the night before for instance. I also like to mix the spices with olive oil as many of the flavorants are oil soluable.

Master the Art of Cooking With The Culinary Institute of America

DAVE: When you add oil to a pan, it’s always into a hot pan. Why not an unheated pan and then both are brought to temperature?

BRIWA: Oil is a perishable product, the pan not so much. I try to get the pan hot first to generate the thermal energy to keep the oil from burning. When the oil begins to smoke, it’s indicative of the oil starting to break down and you can add food to the pan or take it off the heat.  The addition of food will cool down the pan.

KIERA: How do YOU make hummus? I’ve used a lot of recipes with mixed results, but so far every recipe of yours that I have tried has been a great success.

BRIWA: When I make hummus I recognize that sometimes adding herbs to it can make the herbs taste old after a day or two. Same thing with garlic. I will puree the chickpeas and sometimes I put tahini with the chickpea puree as well. When I’m ready to eat it, I make a flavored oil with parsley and garlic and olive oil and add some lemon.

JOCELYN: What Fall ingredients do you always have on hand to make a fast, family-friendly dinner?

BRIWA: Couple of things I look forward early in the spring are greens like arugula. They tend to get hot in the summer. When the weather cools in the fall they get delicious.  A particular favorite dinner we like making a lot involves buying a frozen pizza with a thin crust. Once out of oven, I make an arugula salad dressing with oil and vinegar to go with the pizza.

SUSAN: I would like tips on how best to learn about food pairings and menu planning to ensure nutritional balance.

BRIWA: Taking advantage of my courses is a great place to start and keep your eyes open on a 24 lecture course on vegetable cookery coming out tentatively next year.  (It’s out!  Link to Briwa’s new course here: The Everyday Gourmet: Cooking with Vegetables.)

JENNIFER: Do you make cheese? If so, would you please please please do a Great Course class on cheese making?

BRIWA: The cheeses I make are very simple cheeses.  As an example, I like to make my own ricotta cheese. The discipline of cheese-making has a lot of details to it. If you’re interested in learning to make cheese, I would suggest New England Cheese-making supply that offers instructional videos.

PAM: In the videos on Essential Secrets of Spices in Cooking, so many of the spices are ones I would not normally use on a regular basis. What is the shelf life of many of these spices?

BRIWA: Spices should keep well for 6mo to year. Buying whole spices and grinding them in a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle will allow them to last much longer. If you have esoteric spices you want to keep, buy them whole, and for ones you use more regularly buy them pre-ground.

Behind the scenes filming The Everyday Gourmet: The Joy of Mediterranean Cooking

: Please talk about using types of pans other than the ones you use. I have anodized pans that say not to heat them above medium, but many of your recipes use high heat.

BRIWA: I use anodized aluminum pans at home, and I like them very much. High heat can damage the anodized surface on the pan, which is simply cosmetic. For me as a cook, pot and pans are tools, not jewelry, so I don’t worry about it too much.

DAVID LOFQVIST: How can people make sure to eat more ethically? (thinking about animal cruelty, endangered fish and global warming)

BRIWA: Sustainability is a hot button issue for chefs and consumers. Getting closer to the source of your food is tremendously important. If you know the person raising the animals then you have a greater likelihood of knowing how they raise their animals.  It’s important to realize there are a lot of people in this world to feed. Sometimes the smartest way to feed them is to take advantage of big farming. As an example growing tomatoes in a locale where they grow well and ship them by train can be optimal.  It’s a bit elitist to think everyone can or will buy locally with their farmers market. Here at the C.I.A. we do a big conference called Menus of Change. Every year we write a 60 page report on how to eat ethically and sustainable on http://www.menusofchange.org

JOCELYN: I cook for small children and want to ensure they experience all types of foods. What are good meal ideas for kids that will prepare them to enjoy food?

BRIWA: The secret for me is to get children in the kitchen cooking early. They are more inclined to eat food that they’ve actually made than they are to eat food that someone else has made for them and admonishes them to eat.

JOCELYN: Who inspired you to cook? How did their influence shape your tastes?

BRIWA: My mother was a very good cook and her influence is inspirational, but additionally I grew up in Europe eating European food which inspired me as well. I came to the United States just about the time fast food was becoming popular. And it was apparent that what was passing as food in the United States looked very differently than what was food in Europe. It was that realization that got me interested in cooking.

TRISHAV: When I’m working with raw meat, do I need to worry about cross-contaminating my salt crock? Say I’m seasoning both sides of a piece of raw meat, should I take care not to double dip in with dirty fingers, or is it safe to assume that dangerous microbes can’t live in salt?

BRIWA: Smartest thing to do is use a small amount of salt from your crock for seasoning. What you will discover is that almost nothing can live on pure salt. Ultimately, it’s a cosmetic thing. The appearance of dirty salt is not very appealing even if it’s safe.

DON MARCH: How important is a good cast iron skillet in your kitchen. I have one, but only use it for browning meats and making French Toast.

BRIWA: The thing to recognize in pots and pans is that their job is to contain the food and to transfer heat effectively from the heat source. Different metals can conduct heat better. Copper and steel are great conductors of heat, and the opposite of that is providing great insulation, so great conductors are not great insulators. Cast iron is a great insulator because it doesn’t transfer heat quickly, but once it heats up it will hold that temperature for a long time. For example when you’re browning meats the kiss of death for your meats is when your pan gets cold and the meat is simmering in it’s own juices. Using a cast iron pan as a heat sink is great for these situations.

MARY A: Is a fat, a fat? For instance, could I use duck fat and pork fat interchangeably?

BRIWA: Every fat has its own flavor and so first and foremost, I would choose fat for the flavor it brings to a dish. Every fat has its own smoke point, which is a point where fat begins to break down. For example, butter has a low smoke point and peanut oil has a high smoke point and is great for frying. Duck fat and pork fat I like very much. Duck fat has a delicious flavor I like with potatoes. Pork fat might be the best thing to start out a southwestern hominy stew. In short, let flavor be your guide.

SUSAN: Other than chopping, what are the three most important cooking skills to master?

BRIWA: Some basic techniques fall under the following categories: Dry heat with fat; Dry heat without fat; Moist heat cooking: poaching, simmering, boiling. Understanding what quality looks like in ingredients and being realistic about your expectations from them. Finally understanding the subtleties of seasoning.

CHERYL: I am confused about all the different flavored olive oils, and they are expensive to buy. Do you have any favorites?

BRIWA: First thing I would say is medicine is expensive to buy, and in some ways you can think of olive oil almost like medicine, it’s good nutrition. What you should decide is what style of oil you like. For example, in Tuscany, they are known for having very aggressive, full-flavored olive oil, but in France they are known for having buttery, soft olive oils.

GENE: Was cooking your first career choice? Which would you recommend come first, experience or formal training?

BRIWA: Cooking was my first career choice until my brother said, “you don’t want to wash dishes your entire life.” So I studied theater at a liberal arts school for two years, but when I got my legs underneath me and grew a spine, I went to culinary school. I say formal training to begin with and get right into the French restaurants.

JEZ: What are some of the common cooking and food myths you have encountered?

BRIWA: Let’s start with olive oil: this notion that it’s too expensive and too precious. This is the wrong impulse! Olive oil can shine through nutrient dense food by making them taste delicious, and it’s very healthy, so it should be use liberally.  The other might be that cooking is easy.  I would say cooking is fun, and there is plenty to engage you across an entire lifetime of cooking. There is a quote by Rachmaninoff “music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”

SYDNEY: What are some classic food and wine pairings you could recommend? What about difficult dishes like ones with asparagus or egg?

BRIWA: There’s a list of ingredients that I call the 7 deadly sins of wine and food pairing. Every one of them is a problem, and here are some examples: Asparagus, Artichokes, Salads, Vinegar, and Chocolate.  Eggs are especially difficult to pair (because of the sulfur in the yolks). Eating a poached egg with wine can be trouble, but there’s plenty of pairings for a quiche.  Think of asparagus and how it is served.  Is it raw? That’ll be a problem, but most people serve it with some kind of sauce. It may be that the sauce is every bit as important as the asparagus itself. The sauce guides you towards a good wine pairing.  Here are some classic food and wine pairings: Sancerre or sauvignon blanc with goat cheese with any number of preparations is delicious. I also recommend Bordeaux reds with simply roasted meat.

BRIWA: Good evening Chef Briwa. I have heard of the sous-vide style of cooking. I am curious as to what your opinion is of this method and if it is easily adaptable to a home kitchen. Thank you!

BRIWA: Cooking is about the process of controlling heat as it’s transferred to food. Sous-vide gives you the opportunity to control heat to a 1/10 of a degree. As far as the amount of control is concerned I think there is plenty to recommend. There are safety concerns regarding sous-vide cooking, so chefs and consumers alike will have to train themselves to practice it safely.  I can give an example surround sous-vide that may be helpful. If you decide 128° degrees is perfect for your lamb chop, then it’s hard to imagine you’d put that into a pan that is at 400° F.  What sous-vide is advocating is that you put the lamb chop into a plastic bag—submerged in water at 125° F, so it’s cooked perfectly to temperature. Ultimately, you will open the bag and brown it in a pan for the last three degrees so you get a lamb chop that is cooked perfectly from the inside all the way through the outside.

MICHELE A.: Do you have any recommendations for preparing culinary treats for special dietary restrictions? For example, I am working with a nutritionist and chef to create delicious meals that contain no grains, no sugar, no legumes, and no dairy — utilizing whole foods, grass fed meats, free range eggs, and organic produce whenever possible. #Whole30

BRIWA: The techniques of cooking don’t change just because the ingredients change. So you can be a great cook with wheat or without. You may have to choose different dishes to prepare, so I would reach out to the community with similar health concerns and learn from their culinary experiences. Cooking with a limited diet can be challenging and exciting. Think of what you can cook by using ingredients that align with your dietary restrictions.

FRODO: I am having trouble finding dried mint. Is spearmint the right mint for dolmades?  Any ideas what spice company has mint?

BRIWA: Spearmint is a serviceable substitute, but not what they are probably after—English mint is what I use. Penzeys is the name that comes to mind as a great herb supplier for mint. Alternatively, go to the super market and buy some fresh mint; strip it from its stems and leave it in an oven (turned off) for 48 hours for dried mint.

JEZ: What’s your favorite way to poach an egg? I always get uncooked white or overcooked yolk.

BRIWA: Use a shallow pan of water that is deep enough that the egg is submerged (about 2 inches) then add a small amount of white vinegar to the water (for every quart or water add a tablespoon). This will help coagulate the whites. Have the water at a bare simmer (about 160-180 degrees). And often what I will do, I will put the pan off center so it is hotter on one side and there are bubbles on one side.  I crack the egg into a coffee cup then use the cup to add the egg very slowly to the bubble part of the pan. I then bring the whites up and over the yoke. Once the egg has begun to soak, I add it to the cooler side of the pot.  You can learn about how well it’s done by using a slotted spoon by lifting up the egg and inspecting the yolk. Typically they take about 3 minutes. When the egg is finally done, take it out and set it on the absorbent towel to collect the extra water and you’re ready to go!

PADDY: My wife is very sensitive to black pepper. Are there any good substitutes?

BRIWA: My guess is her sensitivity will extend to white, and green pepper which originate from the same plant. You may want to try cayenne, paprika, or a precursor to modern day pepper that was used in ancient Europe called “grains of paradise.” You can find it in some spice catalogs, and maybe Penzeys has it. It’s worth a try.  There are a number of great peppers out there. It may take some searching and trying online. There is one named long pepper you may want to try as well as some others.

KASEY MOCTEZUMA: Hello Chef. What is the quickest/most flavorful way to make shredded pork? Would you recommend a pressure cooker? Thank you.

BRIWA: If quick is important, use a pressure cooker; but it puts a block between the chef and the food, so you really have to rely on the experience. I don’t use them often, but I know they’re very effective.



SUSAN: What are the key things to consider when wanting to either reduce or increase the size of a recipe?

BRIWA: In situations like this, there is a formula I can share as a recipe conversion factor.  Take the desired yield and divide it by the original yield which allows you to scale up your recipe yield. I suggest using a timid hand with seasoning. Even though you’re doubling the recipe, you don’t always need twice the amount of spices. It’s easier to add more seasoning than to take it out. Finally, you may discover that with larger recipes, your pots or pan may be too small and you might have to prepare it in batches.

JEZ: Once when I baked chunks of sweet potato, roses in oil. It became so sweet with a slightly chewy glaze, yum. I haven’t been able to do it again. Can you suggest what I need to do?

BRIWA: There are a lot of different kinds of sweet potatoes. Make sure you’re using the same varieties. There are Japanese sweet potatoes, yams or “orange” sweet potatoes. You may have used the dark orange ones, which are very sweet. So that may have given you a lot of sugar in the prior batch.

MIKE FINAZZO: My 9 yr old is getting interested in cooking. She is wondering if she should start with the Italian cookbooks or the German? Do you recommend a certain entry food style to cooking?

BRIWA: Probably the easiest is to begin with what she’s most familiar with. Germanic background? All for Germanic cooking. Italian blood coursing through her veins? Then Italian would be a good start. Once you have your mastery for one style then it’s time to expand. Your daughter has a lot of time ahead of her to really grow in cooking. Start with something she loves and expand from there!

HELMER: What are some of the spices no cook should be without?

BRIWA: My top spices are; Salt and pepper, Bay leaf, Paprika, Coriander

MIKE GRUNDEN: What does it mean when a sauce “breaks” and is there a way to save it?

BRIWA: Sauces that break are typically emulsified sauces or combinations of materials that don’t normally mix like oil and water. Mayo is an emulsion between liquid and oil, but through the magic of emulsification they mix.  If they are put together wrong, the sauce will break into an oily mess with the oil separating from the liquid.  Butter of course is an emulsification of butterfat, water and milk.

JOHN: What is your favorite dish to make when you a have a free Sunday afternoon?

BRIWA: In the event that I have a Sunday free, being able to cook and eat outdoors is a great treat. Gathering your family around and cooking a barbecue is outstanding. You can gain more information on outdoor grilling in my course.

JEZ: Hi. How do I make Yorkshire pudding rise?

BRIWA: When moisture in batter turns to steam and rises. When you understand that you should intuitively understand it must be baked in a pre-heated pan in a very hot oven. When it bakes you get a huge rush of steam that causes the egg custard to grow.

The Great Courses production crew with Chef Briwa and Chef Clark

RAY BAXTER: I use a sharpening steel to keep my knives sharp but my wife says I need to take them to someone who can professionally sharpen them. Should I have them sharpened if I can find someone who does that or is just using a steel as good?

BRIWA: Using the steel is not just as good. Steel doesn’t sharpen knives but instead re-aligns the edge of the knife. If the edge is already dull, realigning the dull edge will still keep the knife dull. I would have them professional sharpened and use your steel to keep them in good order over time.

J B: Do you think that services like Blue Apron are helping to create cooks? I’ve never been a cook, but I took your video course and that spurred me to try Blue Apron.

BRIWA: Anything that leads people into the kitchen is ultimately a good thing—to include Blue Apron.

RAJ: What is the #1 mistake most people make when they start to learn how to cook?

BRIWA: I think there is a tendency for people learning to cook to go through the motions. Just mimicking someone’s actions in the kitchen will not produce a great meal. What’s missing is understanding. Understanding the reasons why you’re doing something is the key to making your meal delicious.

SUSAN: What is the best way to keep herbs fresh?

BRIWA: I wrap them in a damp paper towel, and they should stay fresh for about a week. After that consider drying them rather than throwing them out. Put them in the microwave on low until desicated and then store air tight.

SUSAN: Suggestions for sources to spark creativity when needing to use left overs but want a different meal. Thank you.

BRIWA: Take care not to season your first dish in its entirety if you know there will be left overs — or planned overs as I like to think of them. The more specific your seasoning the more likely that your second dish will taste like the first. Finally the internet with its various search functions can quickly lead you to a compelling use for your planned overs.

SUSAN: When is salt enough for flavor but not too much for those who must restrict it in their diets? Also, tips on food pairings for nutritious meals with good balance.

BRIWA: Easiest way to reduce salt is to reduce portion size and avoid processed foods. Under separate cover I will share a doc of 25 strategies for reducing salt. Also, tips on food pairings for nutritious meals with good balance. Begin with seasonal produce and plant based protein and incorporate meat as a condiment. Check out our menus of change website — menusofchange.org for more good ideas.

MARY: What is your favorite item to cook?

BRIWA: Eggs; pure versatility!

MARY A: Do you have any suggestions for fool-proof vegetable fermenting? We love pickles and sauerkraut in our house!

BRIWA: We love pickles and sauerkraut in our house! Sandor Katz is the fermented vegetable guru.  I can’t recommend his books highly enough. Start with something simple like sauerkraut and move to more complex items like kimchi when you become more comfortable.

JENN: I am striving to make delicious meals (your courses have helped me to that end,) using the freshest ingredients,on a budget, while creating little or no waste. Any recommendations for menu planning?

BRIWA: Seasonal and regional produce is often cheaper. Plan your meals by the week not the day to realize efficiencies. Take advantage of the freezer and planned overs. Embrace whole grains and legumes for low cost protein alternatives. Look at my course on making meals in less time for some good tips. It will be on sale sooner rather than later.

Chef Briwa's BBQ Dry Rub
Chef Briwa’s BBQ Dry Rub

TOM: You commented on cast iron pans and you use mostly stainless steel pans in your courses……thoughts on carbon steel pans….advantages and disadvantages?

BRIWA: If your food is too salty ease back. If you are curing food often the salt is rinsed off once it has done its job. I don’t think that salt will crisp food so add it for flavor sake and to your taste. Carbon steel pans often exhibit hot spots if the steel is too thin, and they will rust if you don’t care for them well. I have a carbon steel wok and crepe pans in my own battery and like them both very much.

KAREN VAN DIVER: How much of a temperature variance would you recommend for an oven that cooks very quickly when cooking or baking?

BRIWA: I am not sure about your question, but I can recommend an oven thermometer to help you trust or adjust for the thermometer in your oven. Cheap and well worth the expense. If your oven is a convection oven, I would typically turn the temperature down 25-50 degrees to compensate for the efficiency of heat transfer that the fan offers.

KAREN VAN DIVER: Chef Briwa, do you have a preference of a brand of cookware?

BRIWA: At home I use All Clad.

DAVE: I always see that when cooking pasta, salt is added to the water. Am I seasoning the pasta or what am I doing?

BRIWA: Getting the salt into the water that is absorbed into the pasta is much more satisfying than adding a measured amount of salt to already cooked pasta. Same is true with rice.

JOHN: Do you have a plan on doing a course for college students on how to cook healthy food on a moderate budget with barebone utensils?

BRIWA: Not in the works currently — small demographic with plenty on their minds beyond cooking great food.

RAY BAXTER: I have taken your courses, How to Master Outdoor Cooking & Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking. I am looking at your course on healthy eating as my wife & I are both diabetics. Will that course be geared towards proper nutrition that can be followed by diabetics?

BRIWA: This course is not specific to diabetes unfortunately. I do think that your best ally is learning to cook your own food so you know what goes into it.

JULIA: I’d love to see a cooking course with a Paleo bent to it. I know you have the Healthy Meals course, but from the description that’s more of a Mediterranean style menu, and there are many foods I can’t eat (grains, legumes) when following a Paleo lifestyle for my autoimmune disease.

BRIWA: We are planning to film a vegetable cooking course next summer. Stay tuned. Finally cooking is cooking whether you prepare grains and legumes, or fruits and vegetables.

DOUGLAS BERNARD: I got seduced into a new local fall ritual of importing Hatch Chiles from New Mexico. Our market brought in a supply and roasted them. In my freezer….now what?

BRIWA: Chile Verde is calling! This morning I had a breakfast wrap with eggs and green chilies in a tortilla with cheese. Yum!

DOUGLAS BERNARD: I grew up in the era where the “Teflon Pan” was considered a method of poisoning oneself in the name of expedience. Do you consider the skills needed to manage stainless steel superior than non-stick?

image of On the set of The Everyday Gourmet: How to Master Outdoor Cooking
On the set of The Everyday Gourmet: How to Master Outdoor Cooking

: I don’t use non stick pans for high heat cooking but for fish and eggs they can’t be beat and are safer today especially at low heat. If they begin to break down, it is time to discard but cared for they will last for years. You can cook in SS if you are sure to preheat the pan and then the oil that follows. Finally don’t try and move your food too soon until it has seared and released from the pan.

CHEFROBERT: Ways of cooking a very large zucchini?

BRIWA: Cut them open and cut the seeds out and discard, then handle the remainder like it were a large zucchini — grated in baked goods, stewed into a ratatouille with peppers, eggplant and olives. Keep in mind it may take a little extra time to cook because of its advanced age.

BILL: I normally cook with either a ceramic coated or teflon coated pan. Is that bad?

BRIWA: I would be careful using too high a heat especially with teflon.

PATTIE KELLEY FULLER: I am trying my hand at making my own sauerkraut. I found a recipe for kimchi, as well. It is just about ready to use. How best is kimchi served and with what types of food? Thank you!

BRIWA: Korean food with lots of rice, or anywhere you can imagine a spicy sauerkraut would be just the ticket — How about on a bulgogi hot dog?

BEN: I recently moved to a downtown condo and really miss being able to have a charcoal grill. What is the best way to imitate grilling using an oven or stove?

BRIWA: They make cast iron pans with a raised grid to leave behind grill marks, but we both know the true flavor of grilled food is cooking outside and getting some fresh air.

CRAIG: Chef we recently bought a tagine and have read that it needs to be seasoned, any comments or tips on cooking with tagines?

BRIWA: A tagine is a clay pot with a conical lid that provides even controlled heat to the food cooking inside. Some folks believe that the steep slope of the lid allows a crisp top to form while condensing moisture runs down the steep sides of the lid and joins the juices below. I usually soak the tagine in water before cooking with it and take care not to put it over a heat source without food inside. Finally taking a tagine from the oven and putting it on a cold counter can make the pottery crack.

Cooking Tips From Chef Briwa's course, The Everyday Gourmet: How to Master Outdoor Cooking
From Chef Briwa’s course, The Everyday Gourmet: How to Master Outdoor Cooking

RAJ: For your vegetarian readers out there in chat land, what do you recommend as a good substitute for chicken in your recipes?

BRIWA: I don’t try and find poor substitutes for one ingredient to replace another. So while I might make a vegetarian tofu dish with a tumeric lemongrass marinade, I don’t think of it as chicken substitute. There are plenty of ersatz meat products which I don’t ever use.

ROBERT GOODMAN: What is your favorite chef’s knife?

BRIWA: I currently use a Japanese brand, MAC. Try them, I think you might like them too.

LEIGH SCHROM: It seems that commercial food producers have found a way to sneak sugar into almost every product they sell. I am trying to restrict my sugar intake. How can I get around tomato paste and some of those other essentials we need in our kitchens and still reduce our sugar intake?

BRIWA: Read the labels closely and search out those products with a clean label. Weaning yourself of commercial processed foods could also help.

BRUCE: Hi Bill. What is a Cornish Game Hen? Love your disks!

BRIWA: Special poultry bred to have large breast compared to the size of the legs. Just about right size for a single portion. If you like dark meat then this might not be the bird for you.

PHIL: When making stock, is there a rule for water to bones ratio? Some books say just cover the bones while others give specific volumes per pound of bones.

BRIWA: 6 quarts per 10 pounds of bones yields a gallon of stock with the understanding that unless the bones are covered there will be no flavor extraction — you have to play it by ear. If you are making a chicken stock and the chicken carcasses could be chopped to take up less volume that would be preferable to adding extra water which will make your finished stock weaker than it would be otherwise.

GAILLOUISE: I learned so much from the recipe for Thai coconut curry soup on how to taste when cooking, but I have a problem determining how to spice mixtures when the product is still raw. Do you have any suggestions or is this just a question of experience?

BRIWA: I would season once you begin cooking. Certainly experience will guide you.

THE GREAT COURSES: Chef Briwa recommended this for those looking to cut salt in their cooking. It’s from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/

A popular chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Bill Briwa has worked in the hospitality business as a professional chef and culinary instructor for experts and laypeople around the world for more than 30 years. His lecture series The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking is available to stream Wondrium.