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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #150

Updated on August 16, 2020
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

There's a New Cook in the Neighborhood

I live in the Pacific Northwest (of the United States), home of many celebrities—Dave Matthews, Bill Gates, Ryan Stiles, Kyle Maclachlan, Eddie Vedder, Conan O'Brien, Bill Holland (yes, billybuc!), and author/TV personality/travel expert Rick Steves.

When Rick was 14 years old, he and his family traveled to Europe. They toured piano factories (his father owned a piano store named "Steves Sounds of Music") and visited family members in Oslo, Norway. It was there that Rick came to a realization that would influence the rest of his life:

" This planet must be home to billions of equally lovable children of God."

At 18 years of age, he returned to Europe on his own, journaled his experiences, and then went on to study European history at the University of Washington. Upon graduation, Rick began to work as a tour guide and taught not-for-credit travel classes at the UW; those course outlines became the basis for his first book "Europe Through the Back Door." The rest, as they say, is history. His one-man tour company has expanded to 100 full-time staffers. He has authored more than 50 travel books, hosts a popular travel series on PBS, and writes a weekly syndicated column.

Why am I telling you this? Because of Covid-19, travel to Europe has come to a standstill. Rick's life no longer revolves around tour schedules. He's at home and is become acquainted, or reacquainted with his town.

"For the first time in my life, I’m cooking! I’ve owned my house for 10 years, I’ve never turned on the oven. I’ve never really barbecued before but now I love it. These are new things, these are like travel. But they’re right at home.”

And he confessed that until the COVID quarantine, he'd never sliced an onion.

I'm not feeling threatened (yet). I think my Carb Diva crown is still fitting quite firmly atop my little head. But who knows what could happen if Rick's stay-cation lasts much longer?

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 is from Denise McGill.

Does Garlic Protect Us From Mosquitoes?

"I have a question for you. I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that garlic consumption helps keep away mosquitos... like vampires I guess. I know for me that I have increased the garlic in my diet these past two years after becoming a vegan and I haven't been attacked by those blood-suckers at all. My husband, however, says it's an old wives' tale and that it makes no difference. He claimes he's using lots of garlic in his diet (though not as much as me because he doesn't like my vegan food) and he is plagued all summer. Do I have a leg to stand on with this garlic nonsense? Is it just an old wives' tale after all? I'm looking forward to hearing what you come up with."

Denise, garlic could be your new chemical weapon against mosquitoes. The stinking rose (or any member of the allium family for that matter) releases sulfur compounds when crushed or sliced. Sulfur—that's what gives those onion-family members their pungent taste, causes (some of us to shed) copious tears when we cut them, and, is it a coincidence that it's also a component of gunpowder?

Mosquitoes zero in on their prey by smell. Each of us has our own scent; think of it as an olfactory fingerprint. That's why mosquitoes plague some of us more than others. It's not your blood type (as some have postulated), it's not the heat that your body emits, it's your personal body odor. Perhaps your husband is just more "savory." Garlic could help, but the jury's still out on that topic.

One thing that scientists have discovered though is that mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid. Salty foods or foods high in potassium will increase the amount of lactic acid that you off-gas. That's a bummer, especially if you are vegan, vegetarian, or just simply love produce. I won't go as far as to recommend that you remove potassium-rich foods from your diet, but if you are trying to avoid that mosquito sting you might opt for lower potassium foods such as apples, berries and cucumbers instead of potatoes, spinach, and bananas.

Fresh picked blueberries
Fresh picked blueberries | Source

Are Frozen Berries More Nutritious Than Fresh?

Now I did hear that frozen berries actually keep the nutrients longest compared to fresh"?

Well, Eric, that's a really good question. I think we've been led to believe that fresh is always best, that picked from the field is better than what's in the grocery frozen food aisle. Aah, not so fast. If you eat those berries straight from the bush you're getting some amazing flavors an nutrients for sure. But did you know that:

  • The antioxidants in blueberries come from compounds called anthocyanins. That's what gives blueberries their purple color.
  • The highest amount of those antioxidants can be found in the skin of the berries.
  • The ice crystals that form when the berries are frozen break down the cell walls making the antioxidants easier to absorb/digest.

There are actually three categories of berries to consider:

  • Fresh, just picked from the bush moments ago.
  • Fresh, harvested days ago and each day between harvest and being consumed the nutritional value declines.
  • Flash-frozen within an hour of being picked from the bush to preserve the nutrients.

Now do you see how frozen might be better?


Food Pairing

And, another question from Eric:

"Now about "pairing". Not just wine. but everything from cookies to spaghetti. To a filet mignon, and of course seafood."

What a fun question. If you want to simply discuss which foods taste good together, I would suggest that you look at the work of James Briscione, former director of Culinary Research at the New York campus of the ICE (Institute of Culinary Education). In 2018 he authored the book The Flavor Matrix, wherein he analyzed the chemical makeup of 58 food items. He isolated their aromatic compounds and, with the help of IBM's Watson computer, developed a flavor matrix for each one.

But, I'm not a scientist. When I conceptualize a dish, I think about more than just flavor. Color, texture, and even temperature are also key components to consider when planning a meal. Take for example this meal plan:

Imagine (if you can)

  • a silky smooth soup of sweet butternut squash with just a touch of heat from chili powder and cumin.
  • creamy macaroni and cheese flavored with aged Gouda and sharp Cheddar cheeses.
  • a rich rice pudding fragrant with cinnamon and vanilla bean and studded with plump rum-soaked raisins.

Each one on its own sounds great but put them together—all of them are yellow/beige, warm, and lack any texture or crunch (baby food?).

When planning a meal you need to consider contrast—what I call the “four T’s”—taste, texture, temperature, and tone.

Taste: create a balance of flavors (sour, salt, bitter, sweet, umami)

Texture: vary the textures of the foods (creamy, silky, crunchy)

Temperature: hot/steamy and crisp/cool

Tone: Monochromatic might be a great look in black and white photography, but not on the dinner plate. Aim for a variety of colors—this is where fruits and vegetables can come to the rescue (and we usually don’t eat enough of them, do we?)

And More Info on Game Meat

Last week I wrote about game meat, specifically venison in answer to a question from Eric Dierker. That prompted Denise McGill (Paintdrips) to tell me that her mother had a way of marinating venison in a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and garlic that really cut that gamy taste (and she offered to get that recipe from her mom). Well, here it is:

Marinade for Venison

  • 1/4 cup olive oil (other oils bring out the gamy flavor and you don't want that)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder or minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Marinate the venison steak at least 2 hours or preferably overnight in the fridge.

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.

© 2020 Linda Lum


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