Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #151
Is It an Art or a Science?
Last week a good friend made this observation:
"Food is like medicine—it is really just an experiment."
Eric, there is more than a bit of truth in that. Yes, for sure there is science in cooking and baking. I'm a food nerd and one of my favorite reads is this one by Harold McGee. It's on my desk along with the Webster's Dictionary, Roget's Thesaurus, my Bible, and a stack of scratch paper (yes, I'm old school).
Your Kitchen is a Science Lab
Each ingredient in a dish has a specific purpose; flour and sugar, fat and salt, liquids and yeasts and starches—they all combine and interact with each other. Flour thickens and binds, it creates structure. Sugar not only sweeteners; it captures and holds onto water, making baked goods moist. Eggs are not just little fat-bombs; they add protein which creates stability, emulsifies, and tenderizes.
And the list goes on and on. I could probably write a book on this, but 101 others have already done that. It's a fascinating topic, and if you'd like I could write about one ingredient each week (eggs, for example) and keep writing from now until the end of time. Let me know.
But, It's Also An Art Gallery
There is an art to arranging food beautifully on a plate. Don't think that's important? We eat first with our eyes. (Remember how ghastly school lunchroom foods looked in the 1960s?) Take a look at the plate below.
If that isn't art, I don't know what is.
Plating is artfully arranging food on a dish so that it is visually pleasing. But, you don't have to be an artist. Just keep these few simple rules in mind:
- Be odd—I don't mean "quirky." Our brains prefer odd numbers on the plate; it's that simple. Three tacos. Five meatballs. Seven carrots. Don't ask why. (Really, I don't know, but I know that it works).
- Start with a blank canvass. A white or unpatterned plate will be more appealing than the plastic plates covered with a bright daisy pattern. Save those for picnics or every day. Obviously the plate above tosses that out the window, but it's the exception to the rule, and you can see how and why.
- Add height. A cold, crisp cobb salad on a plate tastes wonderful. A cold, crisp cobb salad vertically stacked on a small plate is visually stunning—and that "wow" factor makes it taste even better!
Mom was wrong. You have my permission to play with your food!
Let's Get Started With Today's Questions
Well, that was merely just an introduction. Let's look at the questions that came into the mailbox today. 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.
Sulfite in Wine
Two weeks ago I published an article on red wine—it's history, how it is made, wine terminology, and (of course) how to cook and bake with it. That prompted this from Pamela:
"I like Merlot and Zinfandel probably the best, but I was told not to drink wine due to the sulfites. I have lung disease and wine seems to cause more congestion. I think the food you showed looks so good. Maybe the sulfites would not be an issue in a cooked dish."
Pamela, I understand your concern. I have a friend who is severely allergic to sulfites—so much so that she cannot have even the thimble-sized sacramental wine at church. Unfortunately, sulfites (sulfur dioxide to be precise) are a natural part of the fermentation process. To add insult to injury, many wine producers also introduce SO2 as a preservative.
What can you do? Well, first if you do not need to totally eliminate sulfites from your diet, choose red wines instead of whites. Second, it's important to note that cooking with wine does not concentrate the sulfites—just the opposite. They evaporate along with the alcohol. So, stick with reds and use them in cooking. Just a splash in the spaghetti sauce or with the roast beef might be just what your dish needs.
I Need Some New Recipes for Salmon
"We don't eat much meat at all. Fish, yes, especially salmon and mackerel. Fresh fish is wonderful, but I find fishing boring.
By all means, let's have some suggestions regarding salmon. I usually just simmer it in liquid and eat it plain, maybe with a little tartar sauce, or with butter on. I also do it in foil pockets, with oil and lemon to moisten it plus a little pepper. I have a sauce recipe to go with salmon but don't use it often. I keep wanting to buy a whole salmon and wonder what is the best way to cook that - maybe you could include that angle too? Thanks."
Ann Carr, I love this part of my "job." Helping others find recipes is my favorite thing. I'm giving you ideas on cooking salmon filets/steaks and also how to deal with a whole salmon (and how to use up those leftovers).
- Grilled salmon: Anne, I don't know if you have a grill, so am providing only one recipe for cooking salmon by that method. I love this one because it isn't cumbersome; there's no lengthy list of ingredients. Just a simple dusting of dried herbs, salt, and pepper allows the flavor of the salmon to shine through as it should. It's meant to be the star of the show.
- Hazelnut-crusted salmon: Individual portions of salmon filet are covered with a low-fat sauce, flavored with orange, and then topped with chopped hazelnuts and baked in the oven. If you don't like hazelnuts almonds, walnuts, or pecans can be substituted.
- Soy-glazed salmon: Here's another oven-baked salmon, glazed with a sweet and savory blend of soy sauce, brown sugar, and toasted sesame oil. I like to break the salmon into large chunks after it's cooked and then serve in a rice or quinoa bowl with edamame, avocado, shredded cabbage, grated carrots, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
- Easy-Baked Lemon Dijon Salmon: Lemon and Dijon create a big pop of flavor with minimal effort. Just 5 minutes of prep and 15 minutes in the oven for this salmon dish that looks good enough for company.
- Whole oven-roasted salmon: A whole salmon is oven-roasted with spring vegetables and wrapped in foil for easy cleanup and to ensure that the salmon stays moist.
- Whole grilled salmon with lemon and shallots: This whole salmon is stuffed with lemon slices and fresh herbs to keep the meat moist. It cooks directly on the grill, imparting succulent smoky flavor from the coals.
- Gordon Ramsay salmon baked with caramelized onion: This is (of course), over-the-top, but Gordon's video is like having him right there in the kitchen with you. You can't fail. (And the pink grapefruit Hollandaise is to die for).
- Crispy salmon patties: Flaked cooked salmon is mixed with finely diced fresh veggies; Dijon and Old Bay Seasoning (see note below) add pops of spicy, briny flavor, and an egg and mashed potato bind it all together. Panko breadcrumbs cook up to a crispy crunch in this pan-fried (not deep-fried) meal.
- Crustless salmon quiche: Perfect for brunch or a light summertime dinner, this salmon quiche turns mere leftovers into a scrumptious meal.
- Salmon pasta with spinach: This family favorite is a one-pot meal that can be ready in just 30 minutes. Use whatever type of medium-size pasta you have on hand. You can make it even more colorful by tossing in a handful of diced red bell pepper.
How To Make Pumpkin Pie Look More Exciting
And, one more question from Mary Wickison:
"I agree about wanting something colorful on a plate. I have prepared meals that were all one color. As I recall one was a chicken and rice dish in a cream sauce. Although tasty, it sure was lacking in the visual category. Perhaps some chopped red pepper, or even sprinkled with chopped parsley would have helped.
I think pumpkin pie falls into the same category. It's rather bland looking. Any suggestions to make it POP on the plate? I've got the taste right, just not the wow factor for looks."
Mary, one picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than try to explain, I've found a few photos that I hope will help you and others achieve that "wow" factor on pumpkin pie. Click on the "source" below each photo to hop over to the recipes.
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
I'll be here next week, and I hope you'll join us. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.
© 2020 Linda Lum