Dear Barbara: I'm having two other couples over for dinner. It may be a barbeque, or indoor dinner. I haven't decided yet. The problem is that one of the couples is vegetarian or vegan, I'm not sure which and I'm really not sure what the difference is. I don't know what to serve them. Can you give me some ideas?
- Laurel from Lodi
Dear Laurel: You've given yourself a lot of room for error by not knowing if they are vegetarian or vegan. Vegetarians don't eat meat, but most will eat dairy products like cheese, eggs, butter, etc. Some vegetarians don't eat meat, but will eat fish.
Vegans, however, don't eat meat, fish, dairy or any product that comes from animals (watch out for chicken stock).
It is not impolite for you to call and ask them what they allow in their diet.
Big supermarkets usually have a vegetarian/vegan section. If you're grilling, there are several burger types that are made from grains, and who doesn't like grilled vegetables or fruit kabobs? Bean casseroles can be delicious and high protein. Everyone does not have to eat the same thing. There is a whole lot more to choose from than tofu and sprouts. Just add meat for the carnivores. I'm sure your dinner will be delicious!
Dear Barbara: I made lasagna about a month ago and didn't have a chance to cook it, so I froze it. My question is, do I have to thaw the lasagna before I bake it, or can I just put it from the freezer to the oven? I see frozen lasagna in the store, and it says not to thaw, just bake.
- Karen from Lodi
Dear Karen: The frozen lasagnas that you see in the grocery stores have a head start and are made to be put directly in the oven.
Even though all the ingredients have been cooked in your lasagna, it is still frozen solid. If you cook it frozen, the edges will dry out and the center could still be frozen. Assuming you made your lasagna in a lasagna pan or a 13-9-2-inch baking dish, I would recommend thawing it (in the refrigerator, please!) for a couple of days before you bake it. Just a suggestion, but you may want to cover the top with foil to keep the moisture in. Then proceed with the directions in the recipe.
Dear Barbara: My family is loving the fact that sweet corn is in season and they never seem to get tired of it. I have recipes that call for cutting the kernels off the cob. When I do this, the kernels go flying and I'm usually the one who steps on them in my bare feet. What can I do to keep the kernels where they belong?
- Sarah from Lodi
Dear Sarah: I have always used a clean kitchen towel to keep the kernels from bouncing off the cutting board. Recently I have been noticing that the chefs on the Food Network take a small bowl, turn it upside down in a large bowl and stand the corn on end on top of the small bowl. By doing this, when you cut the kernels off of the cob, they fall into the large bowl and none go flying. I tried this and it works beautifully. I will not be going back to my old method. The nice thing is that the kernels are already in the large bowl, so I just add the rest of the ingredients and I don't have to dirty another dish.
Tip of the week! If you are cooking for vegan friends, be sure to read the ingredient labels on your condiments to be certain they contain no animal products (eggs, milk, etc.) listed.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.