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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #111

Updated on November 17, 2019
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Why Are We Here?

This past week I started to write an article about a common food item, a food that is so good everyone wants to claim ownership, bragging rights, the ability to crow "I did it first, and mine is the best."

So, I got to thinking. What makes food such a hot-button topic? Here's what I wrote as an introduction to that article:

"It is said that no two people are alike. Billions of souls have inhabited our planet, each one possessing their own unique beliefs and viewpoints, loves and desires. Despite our differences, there are two activities shared by all of us which are central, actually vital to our being—our first response when delivered from the womb is to breathe, the next is to eat. Yet eating is far more than simple sustenance. Food is how we relate to others.

We care about food, our food, the food of our childhood and culture and ethnicity. Food is a part of us, it tells a big part of the story of who we are."

And that's why I write this weekly column. Food is the one thing on which we can agree . . . and disagree. (Insert smile emoji here).

So, let's get started with today's mailbox. If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

The first question today is from Denise McGill (Paintdrips).

Are Winter Squashes Interchangeable?

I was given several squashes. I know what to do with the spaghetti squash. My question is can I interchange most squash in recipes? Such as if the recipe calls for butternut squash, can I substitute acorn squash or vice versa? I figured you can realizing that there are differences in flavor but I also figured that it is subtle enough not to matter. Am I wrong?

Also, I typically substitute recipes calling for pumpkin puree with sweet potato puree or even pureed carrots. What do you think about that? For muffins or bread (as in pumpkin bread) there doesn't seem to be much of a flavor difference.


Denise, that's an excellent question. The quick answer is that for the most part squashes are interchangeable (with, as you said, a subtle difference in flavor and texture) when you are cooking.

Here's my top 10 list of favorites:

  1. Kabocha: They are nutty-tasting and slightly sweet, firmer and drier than some others. For that reason, they are great for recipes when you want a squash that will hold its shape (I'm thinking curry or a stir-fry). It's probably best to not use this one for baking cakes, pies, or cookies (for the same reason).
  2. Butternut: This is my absolute favorite squash and probably the most popular. Shaped like a bowling pin, the butternut is easy to peel and has fewer seeds than other varieties so there is less waste. It is quite sweet, and solid, not fibrous.
  3. Red Kabocha: Very sweet.
  4. Sugar pumpkin: A classic pumpkin flavor. This is the pumpkin cooking/baking (not carving) pumpkin
  5. Sweet dumpling: Tastes like a sweet potato.
  6. Blue Hubbard: A much smaller version of the typical hubbard squash.
  7. Delicata: As the name implies, these are delicate, soft, and creamy like sweet potato, but with a more earthy flavor. The skin is tender and edible.
  8. Red Kuri: Smooth, chestnut-like flavor.
  9. Buttercup: The cooked flesh is dense, a bit dry, and very mild.
  10. Acorn: This one is named for its shape. It's small enough to feed just two people (or one large appetite). Choose the green ones; those that are golden will be more fibrous and tough.

Sweet potatoes can be used in place of squash in baking, but carrots might pose a problem because they have a lower moisture content.

Be careful when cutting open squash. We don't want you to lose any fingers! I find that microwaving a squash for 1 to 2 minutes before you attempt to cut it open really helps. You might also consider removing a thin slice from one side to make the squash flat and less likely to roll around.

P.S. There's More to the Story

After I wrote this part of the article, a post from Fine Cooking popped up in my daily news feed. Here's a recipe for a sweet-potato-tastes-like-pumpkin pie recipe.

How to Use Flax Seed

"While reading the list of ingredients good for your eyes, I noticed flax seed. I love ground flaxseed on salads, but I don't really know of any other way to use it. It is so good for you, I'd love to get more in my diet. Do you know of any good recipes?"

Kari, flaxseed is a real hero in the list of superfoods. It's packed with nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans. That sounds like boring, health-nut stuff but who can argue with adding something to your diet that will help you sleep better, keep you feeling full longer, and keep your digestive system working in top-notch form?

There's only one problem—you can't just dump a spoonful of flaxseed into/onto your food. It has to be ground up (otherwise it just slips through your system without being utilized at all). So, grind them yourself (with a spice grinder), buy flax meal, or use flax oil.

How to use it?

  • Stir ground flaxseed into smoothies, yogurt, or cereal.
  • Add it to your casseroles. (You can hide it in meatballs, meatloaf, stew, or chili and no one will be the wiser).
  • Add to breading for chicken.
  • Stir into spaghetti sauce.
  • Replace up to one-half of the flour in a baking recipe with flax meal.
  • Or, make an egg substitute (for baking). See the video below.

How to Use a Not-Quite-Ripe Avocado

I forgot to ask my question. When I buy an avocado, sometimes I cut it too soon and it's too hard for me to eat with a spoon as I normally do.

Do you have any ways to use a semi-ripe avocado?


Mary, it's just sad, isn't it? You have your heart set on guacamole or some avocado toast, and that little alligator pear breaks your heart. What can you do?

  • Slice the avocado and then saute the slices to make avocado fries.
  • Soak slices in leftover pickle juice.
  • Add avocado to your stirfry.
  • Crack an egg into the half you haven't eaten; bake in the oven at 425 degrees F. until the egg is done to your liking.

On this same topic, Doris James (MizBejabbers) offered this comment:

"Here buying a good avocado is the luck of the draw. One hint on ripening avocados. I place them inside a paper bag for a couple of days. Works for me. What didn't work was placing them on a window sill in the sunshine. Ugh!"

MizB, there's a slick trick to finding a good avocado. Yes, of course, you want to apply gentle pressure to see if they have a little "give." But in addition to that, always look for a fruit that still has the stem end intact. My daughter and I refer to it as the bellybutton. Pop that off—if you see green underneath, the avocado is still in good shape (ripe or close to ripe). If, however, it's brown, put the avocado back and step away. It's old and will surely disappoint you when you open it up.

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.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.


Let's do this again next week. 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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