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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Cooking, & Recipes #76

Updated on March 17, 2019
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Spring Ahead and (Still) Behind

I'm late, and it has nothing to do with resetting my clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Here's the problem. My monthly subscriptions to Epicurious, Cooking Light, and Cook's Illustrated are starting to mount up. It's not a hoarding situation (yet), but admittedly I need to make a deal or no-deal decision on these. And then, there's the 6-month trial subscription to Milk Street (which expired over a year ago).

Today I finally got around to reading that #1 issue.

Milk Street is the offspring of Christopher Kimball. Mr. Kimball was the co-founder and editor for America's Test Kitchen, but they parted ways in 2015. Since then he has launched his own publication, named after the address of his new venture, which also includes a cooking school and media studios.

As the President and Founder of the Milk Street concept, Chris publishes an editor's note on the 1st page of each issue. In the charter issue, he spoke of his New England upbringing and the northern European-inspired meals of meat, bread, and root vegetables, devoid of spices, fragrant herbs, and adventure. That all changed ten years ago when he visited Hanoi. I'll let Chris take over and tell the story:

"Then I ate the food. Lemon grass with clams. Pho. A breakfast banh mi. Roadside stalls selling grilled foods like eggs in the shell and sweet potato. Mango and papaya. The salads. Hot, sweet, salty and bitter. Broth and noodles. Coffee with condensed milk and raw egg. The realization dawned slowly. There is no 'ethnic' cooking. It's just dinner or lunch served somewhere else in the world....

I was introduced to a local cooking teacher. She was patient and taught me to make a variety of dumplings in a kitchen that was little more than a table and two small propane burners. Slowly, I started to feel at home: the slicing, the shaping, the shared effort. I was the novice, and a cook halfway around the world was the expert.

I didn't return home to cook authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I did, however, return a better cook. Ethnic food is dead; it smacks of the sin of colonialism. This is a culinary—not cultural—exchange. There are enduring kitchen values that travel easily from Saigon to Kiev to Jerusalem to Quito to London to New York.... Cooking is not pedantic. It's elusive, magical and alive with the poetry of life. And food is the common language. All food is everyone's food."

That, my dear friends, is why I write about food on Hub Pages. So, let's begin today with a question from Mary (Blond Logic).

Tips for Winning Online Recipe Competitions

I have a question about winning cooking competitions. I don't recall if I asked you before but I know you have won some. My sister has entered, and although she is a good cook, she didn't win. These are the type where you submit a recipe using a product that is being advertised.

Do you have any tips to help get her in the running?


Mary, that's a great question. I can't promise that I have the "Golden Ticket" (thank you, Roald Dahl). However, here are a few things to keep in mind that have (apparently) worked for me.

Read the rules - It seems so simplistic, but sadly many (potentially) great recipes are immediately eliminated due to a technicality.

Showcase the product - Many recipe contests are sponsored by producers of specific products. Make their ingredient front and center.

Use easy-to-find ingredients - Don't rely on pre-packaged spice mixes or name-brand ingredients. If they can't be readily sourced, your recipe won't appeal to the masses.

Stimulate the senses with your words - Have you ever noticed how people ooh and aah over a platter of fajitas as it is whisked through the dining room. It's a masterpiece of sight, aroma, and sound (hear that sizzle). You can and should do that with your words also when you write the instructions.

We can beat egg yolks until they are pale yellow. Or, we can "whip the egg yolks until they change in color from the hue of dandelions to the soft yellow of the center of a lemon." Are you toasting whole spices? Let us know that they will pop in the pan and release their fragrance.

Use the KISS method - In other words "Keep it Simple Silly". Don't submit a recipe with a "cast of thousands" ingredient list and instructions that require a full day in the kitchen.

Write it right - There is a right and a wrong way to present a recipe. Don't forget to:

  • Always list the ingredients in the order that they are used in the recipe.
  • Be specific about the ingredients. If using "canned tomatoes" tell us if they are diced, petite diced, whole, crushed, or pureed. And what size is the can?
  • Use precise measurements. Don't say "four potatoes." Specify "2 cups of diced Yukon gold potato, not peeled."
  • Don't assume that the person reading your recipe is an experienced cook—"hot water bath" instead of bain marie, "cut into very thin strips" instead of chiffonade.

Present a pretty face - If submitting a photo of the "winning dish" is an option, get the best photo you possibly can! Lighting is important (shadows, under- or over-exposure). Background (for goodness sake, don't take a photo with dirty dishes or even an errant spoon in the background if it isn't an integral part of the composition).

Grab them with the title - It works in the world of publishing novels, and it works in the culinary field too. Which of these choices would you look at?

  • "Baked Potato Meals" -or- "15 Ways to Turn Your Baked Potato into an Amazing Complete Meal"
  • "Apricot Tart" -or- "Apricot Frangipane: Would a Tart By Any Other Name Taste as Sweet"
  • "Best Brownie Recipe" -or- "Best Brownies Ever—How to Make Brownies Your Way"
  • "How to Make a Buddha Bowl" -or - "Get Bowled Over: Meals in a Bowl Your Family Will Love"

What to Do With "Past-Their-Prime" Apples?

I have three delicious apples that are beyond their raw-eating prime (to my taste) but are nowhere near candidates for the compost bin. What can I do with them?


Golden Delicious applies one of my favorites and there are several things you can do with them if they are past their prime, but you can't bring yourself to toss them into the compost bin.

  • They can be turned into applesauce. For your three apples, I would peel, core, and dice. Place in a small saucepan with about 1/4 cup water (or apple juice). Bring to a simmer and cover. The apples should be falling apart tender in about 15 minutes. Add sugar (brown please) to taste, cinnamon, a teaspoon or 2 of lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Mash with a potato masher if you like chunky or toss in the food processor if you like smooth.
  • I really like sauteed apples. They are a great go-along with pork chops, potato latkes, or as a topping for pancakes or french toast. As above, pare, core, and dice. Place in a saute pan with a tablespoon (or 2) of butter. Simmer over medium-low heat, tossing a few times. It won't take more than a few minutes for the apples to begin to turn golden on the edges. Sprinkle in a tablespoon of brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg (if you're a fan), a teaspoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. They should be tender but still holding their shape.

Recipe for Vinegar Dumplings

Your soup recipe reminded me of a question I've been meaning to ask. When we used to visit my grandparents, my grandmother would make 'vinegar dumplings'. It was one of my grandfather's favorites. It was just dough that she dropped into boiling water that had cinnamon, vinegar, and sugar. To you happen to have a recipe or instructions? It was so long ago, I don't remember the quantities of the ingredients.


I must admit that I had never heard of vinegar dumplings. So my little brain took a trip down memory lane, stopping here and there to consider if and when I had ever heard of vinegar being used in a sweet treat. And then it hit me—vinegar pie. It's a custard-like pie that is sweet and, yes, a little sour. Just like a lemon pie. And the Ritz cracker pie which has fooled many people into thinking that they are eating an apple pie is layers of Ritz crackers, sugar, and vinegar.

It makes sense. These "desperation pies" were born of necessity (the mother of invention, right?). Tangy lemons and tart apples were not always available. So subtle sour substitutes were needed and every pantry had apple cider vinegar.

The dumpling recipe was actually pretty easy to find. TheSpruce is one of the resources I have come to rely on for out-of-the-ordinary recipes. I hope this is what you had in mind. Diana Rattray makes a dumpling dough with flour, baking powder and soda, milk, and oil. Then water, sugar, oil, vinegar, and cornstarch are simmered on the stove to create a syrup (very much like sweet and sour sauce). The dumplings are cooked in the sauce, a teaspoon at a time, until cooked through.


The inspiration for this soup came from a recipe by Marjorie Druker, author of "The New England Soup Factory Cookbook." In her recipe, the tomatoes are submerged in boiling water to loosen the skins. I prefer to coax as much flavor as possible out of each and every ingredient, and roasting the tomatoes caramelizes their sugars and concentrates their tomato-y flavor.


  • 3 pounds yellow tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onions
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 5 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cups V-8 juice (spicy tomato juice)
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup dry Sherry
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed 15x10x1-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place the tomatoes, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil; roast in oven about 30 minutes or until tomatoes are tender and skins are blistered. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove and discard tomato skins.
  3. Heat a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, onions, celery, carrots, peeled tomatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. Saute for 10 minutes. Add the stock and V-8 juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and add the basil, Sherry, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Puree the soup in the pot using a hand blender or working in batches with a regular blender until smooth.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

If you like this series, you'll love this! Consider it my gift to you.


I hope that we can continue share in this food journey together. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2019 Linda Lum


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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric you have made me happy, but boy now the pressure is on. So I'm your Google? Hahaha. I've not heard of "fire and ice" (at least as you describe it, but I think it was a Robert Frost poem. I digress. Yes, I will add this question to the mix. Believe it or not, I already have next Monday's Q&A just about written, but your answer will appear soon, in #78.

      On the subject of attitude--I've started watching a competition between two famous cake bakers. One runs a shop that always seems happy and upbeat. The other runs a shop where there is a lot of "drama." (Guess which one I prefer?). I don't know how many episodes there will be, but as of last night they are only 2 points apart. Who will win. Happy or Grumpy?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

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

      Wow this was great. I really liked the apple recipe.

      I am sure you know my fondness for all things Vietnamese. I could envision where he was and all of the food without exception. What a wonderful attitude toward cooking.

      I fired a cook/chef once who was all grumpy I told him what my mom told me. Cooking is fifty percent attitude.

      My mom made a fairly simple dish she called fire and ice. It could be a side of any meal. It was something like vinegar and oil and onion and tomatoes. Do you know of it and recipe. You know I no longer go on line to research I rely strictly on you.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary, a quick answer on fish scaling. Next time get a large trash bag (big enough to not only hold the fish but to plunge your arms into as well). You won't be able to get ALL of the scales that way, but a significant amount and the scales will be trapped in the bag instead of flying like confetti.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      6 months ago from Brazil

      Thanks for answering my questions this week. I will pass this to my sister and keep you informed if she wins.

      Regarding the vinegar dumplings, my grandmother's weren't that tasty looking. Hers were more of a gluey glob on the side of a plate but my Grandfather liked them. I will share this with the rest of the family as vinegar dumplings were prepared as a special treat when we visited.

      I have just finished gutting and cleaning a fish to make some fish cakes. Do you have any tips for scaling fish? I am donned in tiny scales at the moment.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Shauna. I have enjoyed entering cooking competitions but have not done so in quite some time. Hub Pages and life in general tend to interfere. But I hope my advice (you get what you pay for) helps some others.

      Have a great day my friend!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 months ago from Central Florida

      Thanks for answering my question regarding apples past their prime, Linda.

      I also love your advice to Mary concerning increasing your chances of a win when entering recipe contests. I'm sure many more cooks/bakers will take your advice and venture into the world of cooking competitions.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I do feel that it will be the "bestest" of weeks. With my daughter's help I will be tearing out a flowerbed today and replanting it with new "pretties" as she calls them. I just might post a photo or two when it's all done.

      Have a "bestest" week.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Pamela. Well, wouldn't you know, as soon as I get the notion that I need to get rid of the stacks of magazines, the weather improves. No more snow. In fact, the temps are forecast to hit 70 today, so to the garden I will go.

      Have a wonderful day my friend (and I agree with you about the Ritz crackers, but desperate times call for desperate measures as they say).

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, good morning. I'm always glad to know that my advice is acceptable, but what really makes me happy is knowing that your family enjoyed the soup. (If you can source vegan "meatballs" and use vegetable broth, you could have some too). I'm working on an article on vegetarian/vegan recipes for burgers so be watching for that.

      I hope you have a wonderful day! You have begun mine with a smile.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love the Milk Street introduction. What a beautiful description of cooking and the love of....thank you for sharing that excerpt.

      The sun is calling me. I must take care of customers so I can go play in nature.

      Have the bestest of weeks!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I have such good memories of one of my grandmothers cooking fantastic meals. I never heard of vinegar dumplings though I do remember the pie your mentioned. I don't think I woud eat that amount of Rotz crackers these days. This is an interesting article as usual. I hope you can get your recipe magazines in order. LOL Have a good week Linda.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 months ago from USA

      The description of how to enter a recipe contest (or write one on a website) is spot on. So many Pinterest recipes present recipes with ingredient lists so long .or the directions confusing, cryptic and out of order that it’s no wonder a reader’s results don’t end up as imagined. Yours are always easy to follow. Tried the Italian Wedding Soup for dinner last week and my family really enjoyed it.


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