Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #135
Finding Your Muse
My dear Hub Pages friend Eric Dierker asked me a few days ago about my cooking Muse. My response to him is the second part of today's post. But now, I'd like to ask you, "Who is your Muse?"
What speaks to your creativity? Don't tell me that you aren't creative. All of us have something. Your Muse might not lead you to writing or singing, sculpting or painting, sewing or quilting. But there are so many ways that you can express the soul within.
- Song-writing (tune or lyric)
- Event Planning
- Web design
- Organization (yes, it's a gift!)
I'd love to hear from you on what your "thing" is and if you've been able to explore it more as we "shelter in place and stay safe."
Let's Do This
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 Mary (Blond Logic).
Spearmint vs. Peppermint
Ian asked an odd question that stumped me today, when I bought him some chewing gum. What is the difference between spearmint and peppermint?
Gertrude Stein wrote "A rose is a rose is a rose," but you can't say the same for mint. They are all different—kissing cousins for sure, but there are at least 600 varieties. Spearmint and peppermint are the ones you asked about. You can't tell just by looking, or even smelling, what type of mint you have. All of them have oval-shaped, toothed, somewhat fuzzy leaves. They all have square stems, and they all smell "minty." The difference, as Ian noted, is in how they taste.
What distinguishes spearmint from peppermint is mostly the amount of menthol. Spearmint contains about 1% menthol, and peppermint has 40 times that much. The high concentration of menthol signals temperature-sensing receptors in the brain to think that what you are eating is cool when it really isn't. Menthol degenerates when heated, so it isn't cooked. But spearmint also contains the terpene carvone, a complex compound that keeps its flavor even when heated. Peppermint does not contain carvone.
I hope that helps.
Finding Your Cooking Muse
Linda this is great. How interesting about the depression. Spooky about the similarities with today. Which reminds me—I hope you have all the flour you need. Which brings me to what was your mindset with the setback of no flour? I assume chefs have muses.
How do I keep that kitchen encouraging me, especially in the heat? Linda, I am serious. The writing world spends so much time on the muse concept. Maybe some for canvas or other mediums. But sometimes I just feel like I am not inspired to cook.
Eric, Sam Sifton (food editor for The New York Times) wrote of that very topic just last week.
"I’m kind of sick of cooking. Not every day, and not all of any day, but sometimes lately, yes, for a moment or two, cooking is a drag. There’s the tyranny of it, for one thing: three squares for four people, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow.
Maybe that’s true for you, too—this occasional malaise about performing a task that, ordinarily, you love so much? It’s understandable if that’s the case, with so many of us stuck at home for so long now, with some of us working unimaginably difficult shifts before coming home, with others not working at all but following the daily passage of the sun past the window, gray dawn to inky dusk. Dinner again? Really? So soon?
Here’s what to do. Cook anyway. Cook something new, even if you don’t have all the ingredients. Cook to surprise yourself and maybe you will be surprised."
Then Sam went on to describe how he selected a recipe by fellow writer/author Mark Bittman. He didn't have all of the requisite ingredients but knows enough about cooking that he set to work, substituting this for that, not just taking but actually enjoying the challenge. And he found his Muse once again.
In my kitchen, the biggest challenge each day is deciding what to cook. My younger daughter calls this "analysis paralysis." So, to overcome that dilemma, I make a menu plan for the entire week (often two weeks). Tada! The "what should I do" is eliminated.
Of course, the challenge of cooking during a heatwave is a special circumstance. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and for us, heatwave means anything above 80 degrees. But I've several suggestions:
Can You Help Me Make an "American" Meal?
This next request is from Rinita who lives in London. We wrote back and forth a few times, and I'll share that exchange with you.
"We're under lockdown, hence getting groceries has been difficult except for essential items. My sister is staying with us during the lockdown and her birthday is in a couple of weeks. She's been in the US for several years and loves American food. Do you have any favorite recipes I can surprise her with that require few and common ingredients but taste out of the world? I'll bake a cake, of course, so I'm looking for help mainly on the main course items. Thanks in advance."
Rinita, I'd be pleased to help you with your birthday surprise menu. I have a few questions about what foods you have available. Do you have ground beef (mince)? Sliced (or sliceable) cheese. Potatoes? Mayonnaise (salad dressing)? Hot dogs (wieners, frankfurters)? Let me know if you have any or all of those. If none are available, I'll give you another "shopping" list. I know we can do this.
"Thanks Linda. I don't have ground beef but I can get ground chicken. Sliced Cheese is available. No salad dressings except olive oil. Among bread, I can only get sliced bread and probably burger buns. I guess I customized the list a lot. Let me know if you want to give me a whole new list."
Rinita, I'll put together recipes for a cheeseburger and oven-baked french fries for you. How does that sound? The cheeseburger is totally an American invention. Fries baked in the oven instead of deep-fried are just as good and much healthier (we always make ours that way).
Oven-Baked French Fries
Ingredients and Equipment
- Parchment paper or silicone baking mat (not mandatory but certainly helpful)
- Shallow rimmed baking pan
- 4 large Russet potatoes also called Idaho or baker potatoes (these are the starchy fluffy potatoes, not waxy)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Olive oil
- Salt or seasoning salt
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees Celcius) and line your rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Wash your potatoes; paring them is optional. In fact, I like having the peel on.
- Cut the potatoes into slices and then sticks (planks). Your fries can be as thin as 1/2 inch or as thick as 1 inch (1.27 to 2.54 cm). The important thing is that they all be the same size.
- Soak the potato sticks in cold water for at least 30 minutes. This removes the starch and helps create a crisp fry.
- After soaking, dry your fries thoroughly. Use a salad spinner if you have one and then blot them with a clean kitchen towel.
- Place the potatoes in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt or seasoning salt. Toss to coat all pieces and then spread out in the prepared pan in a single layer.
- Bake for 20 minutes (25 minutes if you have cut them 1-inch thick).
- Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees (220 Celcius) and continue to bake for about 20 minutes more.
Ground Chicken Cheeseburger
Ingredients for the Burger
- 1 small onion, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 slice of bread, pulverized in the food processor to fine crumbs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 pound (28 grams) ground chicken (don't use lean 99% chicken; 80/20 or 85/15 is best)
Extras To Complete the Burger
- burger buns
- cheese (Cheddar is super)
- sliced fresh tomato
- dill pickles
- sliced raw onion (red, yellow, or sweet)
- ketchup and/or mayonnaise
- Saute onion in olive oil until softened. Place in a large mixing bowl
- Add remaining ingredients except the ground chicken to the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
- Add ground chicken to the mixture in the bowl and fold together gently (don't overwork the chicken).
- Form into patties—you should get 6.
- These perform best cooked on the stovetop in a large saute pan or electric skillet.
Rinita, I don't have a grill so I do not know if they will stick together for grilling. To give these a totally American taste, top with a slice of Cheddar cheese. Your family might enjoy some of the other toppings as well (see above).
Tomorrow I will be publishing an article on the American cheeseburger, so please check back for that.
Should You Wash Your Chicken?
"Someone asked a question on Facebook yesterday. They were from a foreign country, and they said it was common to wash chickens after buying them from the store, and they were surprised that Americans don't do this. Is it advisable to do so? I've never washed a chicken in my life, mainly because it's hard to find a bathtub that small LOL."
Bill, that's a really good question and it made me think of this horrible episode on "Real Housewives."
Dear God in Heaven, don't wash the chicken!
Have I gotten my point across?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an emphatic reminder on social media to home cooks about how to prevent food poisoning while cooking chicken. "Don't wash your raw chicken!" they tweeted. "Washing can spread germs from the chicken to other food or utensils in the kitchen. During washing, chicken juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops."
Remember, it's also important to thoroughly wash your hands after handling raw poultry and never use the same cutting board to prep other ingredients if raw chicken has touched it.
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: email@example.com.
And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.
© 2020 Linda Lum