Q: What is a hothouse cucumber? Do I need to peel or seed it?
A: A hothouse -- which is also sometimes referred to as a European, English or "burpless" cucumber-- is from the cucumber fruit family, but is much longer and milder than the basic cucumber we're accustomed to seeing in the supermarket. The hothouse cucumber has a much more delicate skin and is virtually seedless. Peeling is not necessary since the green coating is so thin.
Q: My mother advised me to cook pork, chicken and fish well. Now I see rare pork and raw fish offered in restaurants. Is it OK to eat these foods or should I avoid them?
A: It's safest to avoid them. The National Pork Council advises pork be cooked to medium-well to well, an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Well-done is between 150-165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chicken and poultry should always be cooked thoroughly but not to the point of dryness -- again, 160 degrees.
As someone who likes to experiment with food, I personally will try fish cooked medium-rare or slightly gelatinous inside to retain the optimal fresh flavors, but I do so at my own risk. I only do so when i'm cooking the fish myself and am familiar with the source of the seafood, or if I'm at a restaurant and I know its standards are very high. This is usually the case when grilling is the cooking method and the fish is of the highest quality.
Q: A friend of mind says that a traditional chocolate cake is really a yellow cake with chocolate icing. I maintain that a chocolate cake must be chocolate all the way through. Who is right?
A: According to Betty Crocker authority Julie Hooker, the traditional chocolate cake was a basic scratch cake made with cocoa and iced with chocolate or white mountain frosting.
Send your questions to: What's Cooking, c/o Food & Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, 21278. Although personal replies are not possible, questions of general interest will be answered in this column.