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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #86

Updated on May 26, 2019
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Pardon the Interruption

I'm posting this article early because (1) tomorrow is a holiday and (2) tomorrow is my husband's birthday.

What Happened?

Two weeks ago the crickets were chirping. There were two brief questions for the Mailbox, and one of those was from Mary with the instructions that I could "use it in a lean week."

I was beginning to think that this column had lost its luster, every possible problem had been addressed and it was time to say adieu. Then the questions started to pour in again. Great questions (and I already have some in the hopper for next week).

Thanks to all of you, so let's get started.

How to Easily Chop Hazelnuts

A friend brought me some shelled hazelnuts. I was trying to chop them and those round nuts kept rolling about creating havoc. I resorted to trying to pound them with my mallet but they still went shooting out every which way. Have you got a fool proof method for chopping them for this old fool?

shelled hazelnuts (filberts) waiting to be chopped
shelled hazelnuts (filberts) waiting to be chopped

Mary, your description of the hazelnuts battle in your kitchen made me chuckle. I wish that I could "enjoy" the chore of chopping a sackful of hazelnuts. We have over 2 dozen trees on our property but never get even one nut. The squirrels and jays snatch every last one while they are still green.

America's Test Kitchen suggests using an apple cutter which has almost-knife-sharp cutting edges and will contain the nuts within that round perimeter.

My first reaction is that you were pretty close to a solution with that mallet, but as you reported, those silly little orbs become missiles. What if you contained them in a zip-lock plastic bag?

If any of our readers have an idea, Mary and I would love to hear them. You can leave your suggestions in the comments below.

How to Soften Brown Sugar

From Anonymous - What's the best way to soften brown sugar that has hardened?

My mom always used a slice of bread. Place it on top of the sugar and seal tightly. A few apple slices or large marshmallows will work too. Something that is moist.

If you are in the habit of keeping your sugar in the cardboard box it comes in, you might consider switching to a plastic container. I have a canister that holds two pounds of brown sugar. It seals well and I no longer have brown sugar "rocks." Thanks for the question.

Each week we learn about a food item that you probably toss into the trash bin without a thought or a care—until today that is. Let's find out which discards can be re-used and re-purposed.

Leftover Coffee

Some days are not like the others. Although we brew the same quantity of coffee each and every day, my husband and I find that, on occasion, life interferes with leisure and there is leftover coffee. The cost is miniscule and could easily be dumped down the drain, but why let all of that deep rich flavor go to waste?

  • When you read through recipes for chocolate cakes, brownies, or cookies you might notice the inclusion of an unlikely ingredient—coffee. Believe it or not, a touch of coffee will not impart a mocha flavor to your baked goods. (You would need to add a LOT of coffee for that to happen.) So, why add coffee at all? As coffee beans are influenced by soil and climate, chocolate also picks up nuanced flavors from variances in altitude, terrain, and weather. Good-quality chocolate contains hints of fruit and spice—coffee contains those same flavors. So the addition of a bit of coffee enhances and deepens the perceived chocolate experience. The next time you bake a chocolate cake or a pan of brownies, consider using a little cold brewed coffee in place of some of the water in your recipe.
  • Coffee is acidic and so it’s the perfect addition to barbecue sauce. If you want to alter the flavor of a too-sweet sauce, to give it a richer, smoky flavor, stir in a tablespoon or two of strong coffee.
  • A splash of coffee will deepen the flavor (and color) of beef gravy.
  • Coffee in your chili con carne, beef stew, goulash, or pot of soup? Coffee is one of the umami flavors, and enhances the beefy, tomato-y richness of chili, the earthy flavors in stew and goulash, and can balance the flavors in a soup that seems to be lacking a certain “something.”

Easy Chocolate Cake for One (or Two)

I had a recipe for a chocolate cake in a mug. This I made in the microwave in all of 3 minutes. However, my husband confiscated my fuse out of my plug (UK plug) so the microwave isn't working. I never really trusted it anyway, so I wasn't that miffed.

However, I still want a cake without much planning or mess. Do you have a stove top quick recipe that would be similar? If I make muffins, it takes me too long to get through them and boredom sets in. I'm thinking maybe one or two servings only.


Shelly, the author/owner/creator of the blog "Cookies & Cups" was having, in the words of Judith Viorst, a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." And when that happens, there is only one remedy—we need a chocolate cake, STAT.

And so, that's what she did. She created a rich, dense, fudgy batter and quickly baked a cake on her stovetop in a skillet! Yes, yes she did. And you can do that too. One layer, just enough to share (twice) with your husband (if you deem him worth), or invite me over and we could probably dispatch it in an evening.

Here's the recipe.

Beet Salad Recipes

Eric Dierker and I had a "back and forth" a few days ago:

E - Linda I have too many beets in my garden. The greens have the same nutrition as the roots. Great in salads and Gabe and I like them. I can use the beets in a smoothie thing fine. I am trying to do with them like I like to make potato chips (I say patato and Gabe says potaatoe :-) I just made them but so much garlic - it was just a garlic snack but the texture was better. What do you say except YUK!

L - Making "chips" with root vegetables is the in thing. It's nutritionally smart and hey, if you have them growing in your garden, why not? If you were talking about carrots or sweet potatoes or yams what you are doing would be right up my alley (even the garlic). However, beets are the one veggie that I simply canNOT stand. Not even a little. But, I love you and need to put my bias aside. Are you asking for recipes?

E - Yes I would like a smart lemon tasting salad-like recipe.

In response, I found four beet-citrus salads, and I'll share the links with you here.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

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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