Q: Dear Chef, are there any low-fat alternatives to cheese and sour cream? I have tried many of those reduced fat brands and, frankly, they taste horrible.

Chef: I bet you have never tried this before. Place one pint of plain yogurt in a small colander lined with cheesecloth. Set the colander over a bowl and place this in a refrigerator for 24 hours leaving the whey to drip away. The result is a yogurt “cheese” with the consistency of sour cream and a mild flavor. It can be seasoned to your liking by adding herbs, peppercorns, citrus zest or spices to make a low-fat, low-calorie spread, dip or condiment.

Q: Dear Chef, I love butternut squash soup, but most contain butter and cream. Do you know of a recipe with less fat content?

Chef: Of course I do. Here are your ingredients for 10 portions. Two tablespoons of olive oil — 2 ? teaspoons of fresh ginger, minced — 1 ? ounces of onion, medium diced — 1 ? ounces of leeks, medium diced — one clove of garlic, minced — three pints of low sodium chicken broth (or homemade) — 2 ? pounds of butternut squash (that has been roasted in a 350 degree F oven until soft) seeded and peeled — one tablespoon of honey — two ounces of sweetened condensed milk — salt and pepper to taste. Method: 1.

Heat the olive oil in a four-quart saucepot on medium flame and add leeks, onion, ginger and garlic. Cook until ingredients are soft. Method: 2. Add the roasted squash flesh and broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Method: 3. Puree all ingredients. If using a blender to puree hot contents, take out the air cap on the blender top and cover the hole with a clean kitchen towel before blending.

Always pulse hot contents before blending thoroughly because if no air inside the blender is allowed to escape, the contents will pressurize and overflow out of the top of the blender. Method: 4. Pour soup back into saucepot and add honey, milk and season with salt and pepper. It’s the best!

Q: Dear Chef, I don’t have any nonstick pans and sometimes when I saute a piece of chicken or fish it sticks. What am I doing wrong?

Chef: There are two things you might need to do to prevent further sticking. First, make sure your pan is hot enough. Food sticks to cold or warm pans. Also, use oil with a high smoking point, such as canola.

If you saute with extra virgin olive oil or butter (both of which have low smoking points), your fat will burn before your pan is ready. Second, don’t overcrowd your pan. If you completely cover the surface of your pan with food, the temperature of your pan will rapidly decrease and you’ll have to read the first part of this paragraph again.

Q: Dear Chef, how can I know if the eggs in my refrigerator are fresh?

Chef: Eggs have an air pocket between the actual egg and its shell. As an egg, over time, loses carbon dioxide and moisture, this air pocket gets bigger as the mass of the egg shrinks. Therefore, if you place a fresh egg in a pot of cold water, the egg should sink to the bottom. An old egg will swim to the surface and float.