Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #140
Something To Think About
A few weeks ago a dear Facebook friend posted a quotation on her timeline; I believe it's worth sharing:
“What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus… It has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dear rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
—Arundhati Roy, political activitist on human rights and environmental causes and author of “The God of Small Things” and “The Banyan Tree.”
How timely—"...dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred."
For months we have been focussed within, cowering in fear of an unseen enemy, the Covid19, but knowing that perhaps with vigilance and care we could avoid its impact on our lives. But then two weeks ago the ugly specter of racial bias and intolerance was manifest once again for all the world to see.
Has Covid19 taught us nothing? Perhaps Corona is not the virus of which we should be most fearful.
Let Us Begin
I sincerely appreciate every person who takes time from their busy lives to read this weekly column. I like to imagine us sitting around the kitchen table with a cup of coffee (or tea), asking questions and sharing stories.
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.
To get us started, my friend Eric Dierker sent me this:
"Cereal? That is the question. What is a good recipe to make some homemade breakfast cereals? The "sugary" store ones are interesting. Sugar but a complete, fortified vitamin in each bowl. I was also thinking of the notion of what 'cereal' means."
Oy vey! I asked Eric if he wanted a granola recipe(s). His response was a rather impolite "no," something to the effect that granola is never a breakfast cereal.
OK, whatever. I love the guy so I'll humor him. First, let's do the food history lesson. I gleaned a significant amount of information from the website Food Timeline so let's begin there.
Hot cereals (porridge, oatmeal, gruel) have been around forever (or at least it seems that way), but cold cereal is a rather newish innovation (less than two centuries). Be forewarned, the next paragraph or so might turn you away from eating cold cereal ever again.
In the last half of the 19th century, there were health crusaders, people who promulgated the concept of eating particular foods prepared in particular ways to promote good health and a hale-and-hearty well being. (I think they were probably first-cousins of the snake oil salesmen of the same time period, but that's another discussion for another day). Anyhow, here are the players in the show:
- Sylvester Graham was a Presbyterian minister who as a child had been plagued with illness. Let’s start out by saying that Graham had a difficult life. He was the youngest of 17—his father was 70 when Graham was born and his mother was mentally ill. As a result, throughout his childhood, he was bounced around from family to family, and one was the owner/operator of a tavern. Work in that place exposed Graham to the sadness of drunken behavior and turned him away from alcohol for his entire life.
When he was a young adult there was a worldwide outbreak of cholera; the accepted medical practice was that avoiding vegetables and consuming abundant amounts of meat and wine would offer protection from the dread disease. That prescription did not sit well with Graham, so he studied and developed his own theology, concluding that eating meat and alcohol were gluttonous and that people should consume only plants, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Milling and baking at home were a significant part of his message; his first book “Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making” helped spread the message. He developed his own brand of flour, made from the entire wheat seed, not just the endosperm. Does his name sound familiar to you? Perhaps you’ve heard of graham crackers.
- Dr. James Caleb Jackson was the creator and founder of ‘Our Home Hygienic Institute’ in New York. Like Graham, Jackson was a rather sickly child but took a decided turn for the better after receiving a “water cure” at a health spa. This remarkable event not only changed his health but also his avocation. Jackson devoted himself to hydropathy, became a trained physician in the “science.” At his institute in New York, he doled out a strict vegetarian diet with an emphasis on unprocessed grains. In 1863 he developed a breakfast cereal that he named granula. It was made of oats, cornmeal, and graham flour.
- John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that Kellogg) was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. This is his story, as explained by Heather Arndt Anderson in her 2013 publication “Breakfast – A History”:
"In 1894, John Harvey and his brother Will Keith Kellogg accidentally invited the cereal that would make them famous when a pan of cooking wheat was forgotten on the stove. Trying to save money by not wasting product, they ran the paste of overcooked wheat through a set of steel rollers. They named the flakes cereal Granose Flakes, and marketing began in 1895. Shortly after receiving the patent, more than fifty tons of Granose cereal had been manufactured and sold, primarily through mail order."
So there you have it, the cold breakfast cereal that many of us start the day with was created by men who owned and operated sanatoriums (what we would today call convalescent centers or health spas).
Well, how about some recipes.
The first recipe I found was for homemade cornflakes. They sound easy enough—place a thin layer of fine cornmeal in a skillet, spray on just enough water to dampen and cook until dried out. Use a metal spatula to scrape the flakes from the bottom of the pan. Those who left comments report that they are tasty but disintegrate quickly in milk.
Vanilla-Almond Cereal Puffs
These vanilla-almond cereal puffs sound much more promising. With the aid of a food processor, you create a "cookie dough" which is then shaped into pea-sized balls and baked in the oven. One commenter suggested simply rolling out the dough and then cutting into small cubes with a pizza cutter. If you don't mind square-shaped cereal (it wouldn't bother me) I think that's a simpler way to go.
Homemade Cinnamon-Toast Crunch
My daughter wants to make this homemade cinnamon-toast crunch; CTC is her absolute favorite cereal, and if you make it yourself you can control (with mom's supervision) the amount of sugar.
Nutty Bran Flakes
How here's a recipe that holds real promise. Nutty bran flakes are rolled paper-thin on a sheet of parchment paper. Instead of cutting into small pieces, the entire one-large-flake-of-dough is baked in the oven until beginning to dry and turn golden. Allow to cool, break into bite-sized pieces, and bake once again in a low oven to completely crisp.
Would you believe homemade Cheerios (oaty-ohs)? Honestly, it sounds like more work than I'd care to invest, but if you're handy with a piping bag, you could probably knock out of a batch of these oven-baked oh's in no time.
Wheat Flake Cereal
This final recipe actually looks kinda fun. Instead of creating a dough, the wet and dry ingredients are mixed into a wheat flakes batter that is poured out in a thin layer of a sheet of parchment paper (did I mention that for every one of these you should probably have a roll of baking parchment paper handy?). That thin slurry is baked in the oven till crisp, then cooled and broken into bite-sized pieces.
How to Cook With Bamboo Shoots
"Then there's bamboo shoots. I've never eaten them. I have bamboo growing on my property. It's a very aggressive grower. Not only are they tall, but they seed themselves all over the place. I often have to pull new shoots from the middle of my front yard. They certainly don't subject themselves to boundaries, that's for sure! Anyway, how do you eat them? Side dish? Part of a main?"
Shauna, I'm surprised that you've never had bamboo shoots; I really hope that you'll give them a try. They do not have a pronounced flavor (they're actually quite mild) so they readily accept whatever flavor(s) they are cooked with.
- How To Cook Bamboo: Our first recipe is a basic "how-to" which explains how to select, store, prepare, and cook fresh bamboo shoots.
- Soy-Braised Bamboo Shoots: Kee was born and raised in Southern China. Her recipe for soy-braised bamboo shoots is a quick stir fry that can be served as a vegetarian meal or, if you wish, pork or chicken can be added.
- Spicy Bamboo Shoot Salad: This salad is as boldly-flavored as it is colorful. Lime juice adds brightness, fish sauce (just a touch) brings a big umami pop, garlic and birds eye peppers deliver the heat. Fresh cilantro and mint add contrasting flavors of citrus and coolness.
- Thai Curry Fettuccini: Watch the video and then take the recipe with you to the grocery store so that you can make this Thai curry for your family. This is a very adaptable meal—Ginny uses fettuccine pasta, but you could substitute soba, udon, gluten-free, or even rice or cauliflower rice. This is a vegetarian meal, but you could certainly add cooked diced chicken for the meat-lovers.
Help Me Fix My Mashed Potatoes!
"I have a question for you regarding potatoes. Is there any reason why people don't grate potatoes instead of cubing them for mashed potatoes? They would cook faster. My last lot of mashed potatoes were rather lumpy, and I put this down to my impatience in waiting for them to cook."
Some people like rustic lumpy potatoes, and then there are normal people like Mary and me. We want our taters soft and fluffy. No matter which style you prefer, there's one thing on which we certainly can agree—there is one kind of potato, and one only that is truly suitable, whether you desire rustic, simple-mashed, or whipped to a frenzy. You simply must use a starchy potato, a russet also known as a Burbank, Idaho, or baker potato. Waxy potatoes (the white- or red-skinned potatoes) simply will not work. And what about Yukon golds? I love Yukon gold potatoes, but they fall into the "somewhere in between" category. Not waxy, but not starchy. They will produce a rustic mashed potato, but if silky smooth is what you crave, I am afraid that Yukons will disappoint. If they are your only choice, by all means, use them, but if you can find russets you should purchase those instead.
OK, so now to Mary's question about technique—would grating instead of cubing or dicing the potatoes make them cook faster and hasten the process? I knew that cooking grated potatoes would not work, but didn't understand the science behind it, so I went to my friend Kenji for an explanation.
Kenji acknowledges that starch is the obvious culprit—it makes those potatoes gluey. So why not simply rinse off the starch and cook slivers of potato. Kenji is the mad professor of Serious Eats, and so (of course) he had to set up an experiment. He made three batches of potatoes:
- The first batch was cut into uniform large chunks,
- the second batch was composed of 1-inch dice, and
- the third batch was potato shaved on the large holes of a box grater.
All three batches were rinsed under cold water before cooking, this was to remove the excess starch on the surface. As you might expect, he saved the rinse water from each batch; the grated potatoes released the most starch. Did that solve the gluey-potato problem? I’ll let Kenji explain what happened:
"Another weird phenomena occurs when you try and cook grated and rinsed potatoes: they simply don't soften. I boiled those grated potatoes for a full 45 minutes to no avail. Even after forcing them through a ricer, pebbly, hard bits remained. What the heck was going on?
It's got to do with that pesky pectin. Turns out that when exposed to calcium ions, pectin cross-links, forming stronger bonds that are resistant even to prolonged cooking. As it happens, potato cells are full of calcium ions just waiting to burst out. By grating the taters, I ended up releasing so much calcium that the pectin gets strengthened to a point where it never softens."
So what's the secret? Here's what I do:
Size DOES Matter
- When you peel and dice your potatoes, strive to make all of the pieces the same size. If you have a United Nations of potato pieces, it should be apparent that the smaller chunks will be tender long before the larger ones.
Start Cold and Then Warm Things Up
- Fill your cooking vessel with cold water. Add the potatoes—the water should be an inch or more above the potatoes. If there is not enough room, use a larger pot.
- Bring the water up to a simmer—be patient.
Know When to Hold Them, Know When to Fold Them
- "When are the potatoes done?" you might ask. Use the tip of a sharp knife and gently stab a chunk of potato. If the knife slips in easily, the potatoes are done. Again, patience, but don't overcook—when potato chunks start to fall apart, you are at risk of having potato soup, not potato mash.
Always Use the Proper Tool for the Job
- Yes, I know you're hungry, but don't look at your Kitchen Aid mixer, don't grab the immersion (stick) blender, and don't even think of getting out the food processor. Potatoes are starch, and starch does not take well to being pummeled. There are two acceptable tools for mashing potatoes—the potato masher (clever name) and the potato ricer. Each has a unique (different) purpose and will provide different results. Which one you use depends on what type of mash you desire. Mashers can potentially leave a few lumps and ricers deliver a creamy mash.
Don't Go from Hot to Cold
- Those potatoes are hot and steamy. Why would you douse their flame of love with a stick of chilled butter and milk straight from the coldest part of the refrigerator? Talk about a cold shower! Use room-temperature butter, and warm the milk—it doesn't have to be boiling, but for goodness sake at least take the chill off with a quick zap in the microwave oven.
You're Not Making Soup
- Yes, I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but please use a bit of patience and restraint when adding liquid (milk or cream) to your mashed potatoes. Proceed slowly, dribbling in a bit at a time while you gently stir. If you dump in a large glug of milk and then find that you have added too much, guess what you now have? Mashed potato soup. There's no turning back. The only way to correct that mess is to add more cooked potatoes, and I doubt you have any of those idly waiting around. Take it slow and easy.
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