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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes & Cooking, #1

Updated on February 24, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Introduction

I have a dear friend at Hub Pages; you know her as FlourishAnyway, the lady who has a compilation of songs for every thought, emotion, and quirk of mankind. And I mention her because a few days ago I wrote an article on "How to Avoid These Common Cooking Mishaps." Flourish wrote this in the comments section:

"I’m so glad you’ve added these problem-solving issues to your library of articles. (I evidently missed part 1 so I will go back and look for it.). I’ve also often wondered if common cooking questions is a good area for you to consider, much like Bill’s mailbag. You are such a trusted and connected authority that people would feel open to asking the “dumb” or embarrassing cooking and food questions that they don’t know who else to ask."

I've carefully considered her kinds words, and decided I would do just that. I've "unpublished" the original article and am republishing it here. Since, unlike Bill (billybuc), at the moment I have an empty mailbag, I'll prime the pump with the original problems. Let's pretend they came from "anonymous," someone in search of answers but too embarrassed to reveal their true identify.

How to Cook Salmon

I cooked a piece of salmon, and some ugly white stuff seeped out. I scraped it off (hoping my guests wouldn't notice). What is it, and how can you prevent it?

Source

You have a beautiful piece of fresh salmon; you’ve carefully removed any lingering pin bones, seasoned with salt and pepper and a kiss of fresh dill, and the oil in the sauté pan is glistening. All systems are go, but as the fish begins to cook you notice a creamy white “ooze” seeping from the pink flesh of your filet. Why oh why?

I have two comments to offer: (1) it’s not your fault (it happens to everyone), but (2) there is a solution. Even the most expert of chefs encounter this problem. The good news is that it’s a perfectly harmless substance called albumin. No, not egg whites (that’s albumen). This albumin with an “I” is protein. As the muscle fibers of the fish cook, they tighten and squeeze out the albumin which then coagulates on the surface.

David Kramer, a professor of seafood science at the University of Alaska offers this figurative and literal “solution”:

Place your uncooked salmon in a basic brine solution (about 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water) before cooking. Ten minutes should do the trick.

How to Melt Chocolate

I tried to melt some chocolate to make frosting, and instead of turning into liquid it clumped up into a hard, ugly mass and I had to throw the whole batch away.

Source

Chocolate is at best temperamental; treat it harshly and instead of smooth luxuriousness, you’ll be rewarded with a pot full of grainy, lumpy burnt chocolate. Although the internet is populated with hints for successfully melting chocolate in the microwave, my experience has been that the power level of microwaves is too inconsistent. You can go from great to gross in a matter of moments. The best way to melt chocolate is low and slow following these steps:

  1. Place chocolate in the top of a double boiler or a metal boil set over a kettle of simmering (not boiling) water
  2. If the water is boiling, escaping steam could touch the chocolate; trust me, chocolate and water don’t mix.

If, despite your best efforts, you find that your chocolate has seized, there is one thing that might work to fix it. Try whisking in boiling water, one teaspoon at a time.

How to Make Creamy (Not Clumpy) Macaroni and Cheese

My family loves macaroni and cheese. I always by the stuff in the blue box, but thought I'd give them a treat and make mac and cheese from scratch. Instead of a creamy cheese sauce I ended up with solid cheese on the bottom of the pan and a slick of oil on top. Help!

I'm sorry to hear that your had problems with your macaroni and cheese. There are several things that could go wrong when making a cheese sauce. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Are you whisking skim (zero-fat) milk into the roux? If so, that could be the problem. Fat is a stabilizer; even 1 percent milk is more stable than non-fat.
  2. Keep the heat on low. Patience is a virtue (and also helps prevent curdled sauce).
  3. Sometimes the cheese you use can be too good. Mild or medium cheeses are less likely to be grainy. Save the sharp or extra-sharp cheddar for grating on the top of the casserole. American cheese is processed (which sounds bad) but is an excellent choice if you want to make a very creamy sauce.
  4. Don't add all of the cheese at once. This will drastically lower the temperature of the roux and is more likely to result in clumps of cheese.
  5. Don't use pre-shredded cheeses. They are convenient but often are coated with cornstarch to keep the shreds from sticking to each other. That added cornstarch is not a good thing for your creamy sauce.

How to Make Great Beef Stew

My beef stew always looks gray and tastes bland. I'm following the recipe to a T. What am I doing wrong?

Source

Anon, this problem is actually pretty easy to fix. This is an issue of too much togetherness. When beef cooks it releases moisture. Too many pieces of beef releasing their moisture at once results in the meat steaming or boiling in its own juices. Use two pans, or cook in batches.

Your chunks of beef (or pork, or chicken) will develop a nicely browned exterior and the bottom of the pan will (when you are done) have browned pieces sticking to it. Don't simply wash it away; this is what chefs call "fond", and it is worth its weight in GOLD.

Use a bit of water, broth, wine, or juice (depending on what you are using to finish your stew). You won't need much, just 2 or 3 tablespoons. Over medium heat add the liquid and stirring with a wooden spoon scrape up those browned bits. They will melt into the liquid which you can then add to your meat cubes. That melted fond is full of flavor and color.

How to Make Crisp (Not Greasy) Fried Foods

How do you prevent fried foods from being greasy?

Source

We loved fried food. At my State Fair, there is a booth dedicated to deep-fried EVERYTHING (even butter, believe it or not!). One would think that with so much attention and devotion to deep-fried foods, we would have this down to a science.

But we don't.

There are so many ways that deep-fried can fail, and unfortunately, we have all fallen prey to them at one time or another. Let me outline what those failures might be and how to correct them.

  1. One of the biggest culprits in deep-frying failures is oil that isn’t hot enough. For accurate deep frying, you should invest in a deep-fry thermometer. In a pinch you can use my grandma’s trick—if your oil is ready, a small hunk of bread tossed into the oil will sizzle immediately. If you put your food in and it doesn't immediately begin to sizzle and bubble, pull it out and wait.
  2. “But,” you say, “The oil was starting to smoke.” You were probably using the wrong type of oil. I am a big proponent of olive oil, but it should never be your oil of choice when deep-frying. It has a low smoke point, meaning that it will begin to burn at low temperatures. Peanut oil is the best oil for frying—Asian cooks use it in smoking hot stir-fries with no problem.
  3. What if you used peanut oil, at the proper temperature, and your food is still soggy? How much food did you put in the pot? Just because you can fit all of the fries in at one time doesn’t mean that you should. An over-crowded pot will cause the temperature of the oil to plunge. Cook in batches.

Well, that's it for now. I hope a few of you drop me a line. Ask anything. If I don't know the answer, I'll research and then we'll both learn together.

By the way, bonus points for anyone who knows what the phrase "prime the pump" refers to.

© 2017 Linda Lum

Comments

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna thanks for sticking with me to the beginning. This series has definitely taken some interesting twists and turns.

      Your method of testing oil works too, but I try to avoid oil spitters on my glass cooktop.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      7 months ago from Central Florida

      Linda, I worked backwards but finally made it to episode one of one of my favorite computer screen shows! LOL

      The way I test to see if oil is hot enough to add meat or whatever to it is by running my fingers under the faucet and flicking the water into the pan. If it spits and sizzles, it's ready!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      18 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, I will definitely work on that. My article for next week (#10) is already very lengthy, so I'll put this suggestion in the #11 installment. Thanks and glad to know that you and your loved ones survived. That sounds like it could have been really bad!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      Let's just say it included a Pyrex dish, a sauce and hot stove.

      We didn't get to eat the sauce, and the dish is no longer with us!

      Oh, and don't try heating a Pyrex dish by putting it directly on a hotplate!

      Some good tips about kitchen safety would be great!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      18 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Oh my goodness Lawrence, what did you do? It sounds impressive.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      I needed this six months ago when I blew our stove up!!

      It took out the controls for the oven as well, and we had to cook on the BBQ for three weeks!

      The amazing thing is my wife still lets me cook!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      20 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I must have hit a wrong button. So here goes my fat digits again.

      Mesquite. Pork or whatever hits my fancy.

      I am really looking for some advice that my mom would give me about making that sauce "caramelize?" That place where the sauce is crispy but the meat not burnt.

      Maybe that is as senseless as teats on boar.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      20 months ago from Brazil

      I think this is a brilliant idea. A cooking Q & A!

      I too have a question for you. I make my own tortillas as they aren't available where I live. I make flour tortillas but want to make corn ones as well. My Mexican cookbook says Masa Harina which is a cornmeal which has been treated. I have looked on the internet about using cornmeal in lieu of Masa Harina and everyone says they get mixed results. What are your thoughts?

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      20 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I love baked salmon. What's the tastiest way to season this fish? Does the skin have any nutritional value? I'm excited about this new series. Thanks.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, that's a really good question, but before I launch into a complete tutorial on barbecuing, it might help to know a few things such as what is your source of heat--gas or charcoal?

      What is your preferred meat on which to slap that great sauce? Are we talking chicken, beef, or pork?

      And, if you don't mind, could I put this in Episode #3? I'm already at the 1,500+ word count on the article for next Monday.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      20 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Alrighty then. Now I have been told I can mesquite fire cook shoe leather that you would enjoy eating. And I do like to make a fine barbecue sauce. Though I would rather taste the meat than the sauce.

      But how do I get that crispy type of texture on a more consistent basis. More sugar?

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish - Thank you so much. There are several approaches to gravy. I think I can cover them all. Stay tuned for next Monday (I'm happy to report that the mailbag is getting full).

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      20 months ago from USA

      Here is my question:

      When it comes to gravy, I often end up with something that resembles tasteless paste ... too thick, sticky, bland. Judging from all the packets and jars of gravy that grocers sell, I would bet I’m not alone. Help us gravy-challenged cooks!

      I’m also pinning, tweeting, and, G+ing your article. I hope others will too.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      20 months ago from USA

      Oh, Linda, yay! I am sure people will ask away. There are so many I want to ask. I’m so excited you’ve done this!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      20 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Oh Linda we had a beautiful huge home in the small town. But my parents insisted on about 5 months a year that us kids lived that life. Down in a hollow about 4 miles up from Sedona. I owe them so much.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Kristen. You have me puzzling; I'll try to find an answer for you next week.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Linda, I love your hubs and I love this idea of yours. The white ooze of fish happens to me too. I do have a quick question to ask you for next week's batch, anonymous or not. Why is it, when I cook any pasta dish in my crockpot, it's also burnt at the bottom of the food? Just wondering.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, a metaphor? Good grief, you're younger than me and both of us have actually used a pitcher pump. Sheesh! Thank you for your comment. I will add the information that you provided to next week's installment.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      20 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I already commented on the deleted one.

      But the priming the pump. It brought back fond memories as truly priming the pump was my job in the family because I woke up first.

      Actually a pump to get a siphon going. A pump with a handle like you see in westerns.

      I note now that that is not even included in most dictionaries. They only define it as metaphor.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ann, thank you for your comments and your thoughtful question. I think this is something many people struggle with. I'll have an answer for you next Monday.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I sincerely appreciate your questions. I'll put on my thinking cap, dust off the recipe file, and have some answers for you a week from today.

      Stay tuned.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      20 months ago from SW England

      What a useful hub and a great idea to do a series for those of us who are not so good at cooking or not as successful as others - i.e. me!

      I only enjoy cooking if it's for a special occasion or get-together. However, I've been able to melt chocolate so maybe I'm not that bad!

      What I'd like to know is about making breadcrumbs. I tried to make my own fishcakes and followed a recipe religiously. My breadcrumbs ended up as a solid mass that was impossible to use to coat anything, except as a lining for the dustbin. Where did I go wrong?

      Does 'prime the pump' mean that you get it ready so that it's full, and free of impurities, for its first proper use?

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      And a second question, if I may: as you know,we raise quail. We have tried eating some of them in the past but quite frankly, we have found them to be bland at best. What are we doing wrong? They always seem dry and tasteless with a pinch of game-taste to them. Help!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love it! If you can gather a following this series will be a success. I'm sure there are many out there who are braindead, like me, in the kitchen.

      Fine, I'll be the first to ask a question: I love the Washington State Fair (always known as the Puyallup Fair)....anyway, one of the reasons I love it is because of the scones. I've never tasted scones as good as those found at the Fair. Is it possible to make scones at home which can rival those at the fair and if so, how?

      Go ahead, make my day!

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