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Ask Chef Nancy |

Ask Chef Nancy

Q | I would like to have a “clean” cake when I ice it.  Often, I put on the icing and crumbs seem to get all over.

Jan Willis, Edison

Frosting a cake is no easy feat. However, with a bit of practice, you can become a pro. The trick is to keep plenty of frosting on your spatula during the application. If you run low on icing, there’s a risk you will pick up crumbs that will stick to the blade. So, make sure the tip of your spatula always has more frosting on it than you need. Also, holding the spatula on the metal part rather than the wooden handle will give you more control.

Q | Other than maple syrup, what are the best homemade toppings I can make for waffles or pancakes?

— Stan

My favorite is a hot fruit compote. I love sliced apples, pears, any berry and maybe a peeled and segmented orange. While I’m working on my pancakes,

I melt a bit of butter in another saute pan and add the fruit, some sugar (or honey) and cinnamon. Then, while occasionally stirring, I wait for it to break down into a gooey, fruity sauce. Serve on the side with the pancakes.

Q | When cooking a steak, what is the best method for making sure I get a nice browned crust?  I’ve been using a cast-iron skillet/grill pan and sometimes it comes out fine and sometimes it comes out gray.

— Bethany

I love cast-iron skillets and cast-iron grill pans. They hold up well to high heat and clean perfectly (as long as you maintain consistent “seasoning,” which I’ll explain in a moment).

To get a really good crust, blot the meat dry with a clean paper towel and resist the urge to use salt. Leave seasoning to the end, when the meat has a crust. If salted too early, it will draw out moisture, which will turn meat gray and hinder crusting.

Next, make sure the pan is almost white-hot. Simply put it on the burner and up the heat. Do not add oil or anything else. Wait for your pan to begin smoking a tiny bit and then add your meat. These two steps will ensure a great crust. 

Now, a word on seasoning your pan: Cast-iron skillets do best with a baked-on sheen of oil. When you purchase a skillet, coat it with a small amount of oil and bake it for about 20 minutes in a 300-degree oven. Turn off the oven and allow it to cool overnight. The next morning, wipe the surface and you’re ready to cook. For clean up, wipe it out again. If it needs to be rewashed, repeat  the oven trick and you’re good to go.

If you have a question for Nancy Schneider, email


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