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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #94

Updated on July 21, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Heartwarming!

Last Sunday I watched “60 Minutes”, an American news magazine and television program that each week presents three long-format stories with in-depth reporting. They told the story of Chef Massimo Bottura, an Italian restaurateur who owns and operates a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena. His culinary creations are not mere food on a plate; he combines contemporary art and avant-garde cuisine in unheard-of methods. He doesn’t just break the rules, he smashes them into subatomic particles. His clientele are the rich and famous, the waitlist is months long, the dinners are 12-course masterpieces, and the price tag begins at $1,000 per couple.

Why am I telling you this? There is another side to Maestro Bottura. He could simply wallow in his abundant wealth but instead, he and his wife began a non-profit in 2016 to feed the hungry and disadvantaged. His plan is not soup kitchens; he obtains donations of foods that are slightly damaged (for example broken pasta) or are near their expiration date. With these, he creates gourmet three-course meals which are served at long communal tables. The meals are free and the diners relax in a homelike atmosphere. The concept has spread, and Food for the Soul now operates in Bottura's hometown of Milan, and in Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, Modena, Bologna, and Naples.

Isn't that a great story? It makes me happy and I just had to share the happy with you.

Let's Get Started

Let's open 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.

Share Your Knowledge of Some of the Lesser-Known Herbs

On my favorite baking show, they are using some herbs I have, quite frankly, never heard of. How about you giving us a short list of rarely-heard-of herbs which are quite handy in the kitchen? How about it, friend, something other than rosemary, sage, and thyme?

Click thumbnail to view full-size
AngelicaBorageFenugreekFeverfewLovageRampsHerb bennet (geum herbanum)Sweet woodruff
Angelica
Angelica | Source
Borage
Borage | Source
Fenugreek
Fenugreek | Source
Feverfew
Feverfew | Source
Lovage
Lovage | Source
Ramps
Ramps | Source
Herb bennet (geum herbanum)
Herb bennet (geum herbanum) | Source
Sweet woodruff
Sweet woodruff | Source

Bill, your question had me doing a happy dance. I love this topic and as I begin to write I'm not certain how long this will be. For the curious, the program of which Bill speaks is the Great British Baking Show. If you live in the U.S. you will find it on your local PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

Here's a list of the herbs and foraged plants (you might call them weeds) that could have made a guest appearance on the show.

  • Angelica - This herb is named for the legend that an angel appeared to a monk in plague-ridden Europe and led him to this plant to use as the cure. Angelica is in the carrot/parsnip family and they all bear the same white lacy flowers. The roots and seeds are used to flavor gin and benedictine. It is also commonly used in Chinese medicine.
  • Borage - This plant originally native to the Middle East has lovely blue flowers that can be used to decorate a salad. The leaves can also be eaten and have a taste reminiscent of cucumber. Borage is an annual but self-sows freely. It attracts honeybees (which is a good thing).
  • Fenugreek - Take one look at the bright yellow flowers of fenugreek and you will recognize it as a member of the pea/legume family. That means that if you have a peanut allergy, you should avoid fenugreek. India is a major producer and the yellow seeds of the plant are frequently used in Indian cuisine. Fresh leaves are also used in curries and sprouted seeds are a common microgreen for salads. Fenugreek is used as a flavoring agent in imitation maple syrup.
  • Feverfew - This perennial daisy lookalike originated in Eurasia but has spread around the world to the rest of Europe, North America, and Chile. Feverfew is a common herbal remedy for headaches; steep a few fresh or dried leaves in water for 5 minutes.
  • Lovage - Like angelica, this too is a member of the carrot/parsnip family. Lovage is a tall herb (5 to 8 feet in height), looking somewhat like parsley on steroids. It's native to Europe and is used in salads, to season soups and broth, or as a vegetable (the root). The seeds can be used like fennel.
  • Ramps - Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are one of the many rewards of springtime foraging. The flavor is a cross between an onion and garlic, with garlic definitely taking the lead. Unfortunately, they have become quite popular and will disappear if not harvested with care. Don't brutally pluck them from the ground. Use a slender knife, push the dirt away from the bulb so that you can see what you're doing, and slice, leaving 1/3 of the bulb (with roots attached) in the ground so that the plant will regrow. These only grow in North America, so the English cooks/bakers would not have used them, but they're worth mentioning.
  • Sweet woodruff - This perennial herb is a world traveler, growing with wild abandon in most of Europe, across Iran, Turkey, and Siberia, in China and Japan, and much of the United States and Canada. It is indeed sweet; the dried leaves smell of vanilla, honey, and new-mown hay. Sweet woodruff avoids the sun and grows best under trees and in the woods with dappled sunlight. Woodruff was used medicinally in the Middle Ages for stomach ailments. In Germany, fresh sprigs are steeped in Rhine wine to make the wine punch maibowle. The fragrance of sweet woodruff is strongest when it is dried (it lasts for ages) and makes a wonderful potpourri.

Bill, while we're at it, there are a few other terms on the Great British Baking show that might have caused you to pause and scratch your noggin:

Treacle - Kinda sounds like something you'd use to patch your roof, doesn't it? Buy a bottle of dark molasses and you'll have a reasonable substitute.

Moscovado sugar - Sometimes called Barbados sugar, this is unrefined sugar, similar to dark brown sugar, which can be a stand-in, but will never quite replace moscovado which is sticky and moist (like wet sand) and has complex flavors of toffee, fruit, and a slight bittersweet aftertaste.

Stem ginger - I had to look this one up. It's chunks of ginger that have been candied in a simple syrup. I don't recall seeing this in the grocery store, but here's a link for making your own.

Caster sugar - Is also called baking sugar or superfine sugar. It's not powdered sugar. You can make your own by putting granulated sugar in a food processor; a couple of minutes should do it (no more or you'll wind up with powdered sugar and have to start over). One word of advice—place a towel over the processor so that the dust doesn't escape.

Rose essence - This is a flavoring much like rosewater, but much more concentrated. If you have access to an Indian or Middle Eastern market you might be able to find it there. Of course, it's also available on Amazon. (By the way, this is not the same as essential oil).


The next question is from Mary (Blond Logic).

Does Baking Soda Really Tenderize Meats?

My husband read an article that says baking soda, helps to tenderize chicken and that it's used often in Chinese restaurants to do this. Do you know if that's true and if it is, why it works?

Mary, this most certainly does work, but before I explain the how I'll discuss the what and why. There are actually two separate processes that can be used to tenderize meat. One is brining. I explained that process in my article "Perfect Pork Chops" (it's received more reviews than any other article I've written to date). The salt in a brine solution causes the proteins to unwind and form loose strings. But, the process takes several hours (a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 24) and the salt can affect the taste of the final dish.

Baking soda actually changes the chemistry of the meat. It raises the pH on the meat’s surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond. The good news is that a baking soda soak takes much less time—15 minutes rather than several hours or overnight.

So now you're probably wondering why anyone would choose to brine rather than use baking soda? Baking soda does have its limitations. It only tenderizes the meat that it touches. Unlike brine, it doesn't penetrate below the surface. Therefore, baking soda works best with meats that are thinly sliced; a Chinese stir-fry is a good example.

For each pound of meat, you will need about 2 teaspoons of baking soda. Rub it on the surface or dissolve it in a small amount of water (just enough to submerge the meat). Wait 15 minutes and then rinse the meat and pat dry. Some people complain about a slight aftertaste from the soda. You can counteract that with the addition of a little acid. A squeeze of lemon juice or a dash of rice wine vinegar will do the trick.

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.

Tea bags

I'm not a tea drinker, so had to rely on friends and the internet for these tips.

  • After you brew your tea, transfer tea bags to a clean surface and let dry completely. Add the dry tea bags to smelly shoes and let sit overnight or about 8 to 12 hours.
  • By the way, that tip works in refrigerators too.
  • De-gunk a greasy, stuck-on mess on the bottom of a pan. Place a ta bag in the pan, fill with hot water, and let sit overnight. The tannins in the tea will loosen the mess and make the pan easier to scrub.
  • Place a couple of tea bags in your bath as you run the water. The tannins will leave your skin feeling soft and hydrated.
  • Apply a cool, damp tea bag to bug bites.
  • Add to the compost pile.
  • Place cool, damp tea bags on your eyes to relieve puffiness and under-eye circles.

By the way, this will be my final installment of "Don't Throw That Away." Next week I'll have a brand new topic for you.

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: lindalum52@gmail.com.

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

Comments

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, at least your story had a sweet ending (sorry, I couldn't resist) unlike the great molasses flood of Boston of 1919 which killed 21 and injured 150.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      One of my hometown's nicknames (it has several) is 'Treacle town' so your description of it was amusing for me, and pretty accurate.

      Treacle is basically Molasses (3 parts) and unrefined or raw sugar (1 part) and VERY SWEET hence my home town loving it.

      The story is one time a merchant was transporting the stuff up a hill in town and a barrel rolled off his cart and the lid burst off.

      By the time he stopped the cart and got off the townsfolk had scooped up the entire barrel!!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Denise, I've not used them either and I have no valid excuse. In fact, I'm going to give myself a good scolding and plant a few of them in my garden. Herbs tend to be one of the few plants that the deer shun, so I might have some success. Thanks for your kind words.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      7 months ago from Fresno CA

      That's a pretty interesting recipe for stem ginger. I've heard of a lot of those herbs but rarely use them because I wasn't sure of the benefits or taste. Helpful information. Thanks.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      8 months ago from Central Florida

      Linda, I hadn't heard of any of those herbs with the exception of ramps. They've been showing up quite frequently in the mystery baskets of "Chopped".

      I love the tea bag tips, especially the smelly shoes tip. I don't wear socks or stockings with my shoes. This means they can take on a sweaty-feet smell. I'll have to try the tea bag trick.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lori, that's what I loved about the story. (BTW, I didn't think his frill dishes looked all that great. About 2 bites per plate). I'd rather have the dish made with discards. Bill and Linda Gates are another example of super wealthy people doing amazing things to help others.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      8 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Loved the opening story. Not all wealthy people are greedy and high falootin'.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      MizBejabbers, I'll dig a little deeper into that angelica plant. I suspect that the one that plagues you and your kitty and the herb might be one and the same.

      That's good information on the use of tea bags to acidify soil. Thanks for the tip and for your kind words.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      8 months ago from Beautiful South

      Linda, I noticed that several of the herbs you named are used in natural medicines. Angelica looks like the annoying plants that grow in the woods surrounding my home. These are of the wild carrot family, and the white flowers mature into a horrible tiny burr that we call "stick tites". I've picked many a stick tite from my jeans, socks and even the cats' fur. I wonder if angelica is the same plant or just its cousin. Tea bags can be used also in potted plants that need acidic soil. Great information from you. I always enjoy your articles.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary, so glad to see you here. And I can always count on you to provide the most amazing questions that require a little bit of research. I love my job! I'll try to have an answer for you next Monday.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      8 months ago from Brazil

      Thanks for answering my question. I didn't realize why or how it worked.

      This past week my sister said she wanted to smoke cheese in her Weber bbq. Can you give her some tips? I think she has delayed this because it was too hot where she lives.

      Have a great week.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I have not used rosewater in my baking, but I do experiment with lavender (since I have some growing in my garden and I know for certain that it is pesticide free). A little bit will go a long way (too much and it tastes like you're eating perfume).

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Pamela. I don't think I've ever seen those herbs in the grocery stores. You would have to grow them in your garden. If you're lucky they might be available at a Farmers Market. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I had fun writing it. Thank you for always taking the time to stop by.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, I can relate. That was me about 10 years ago. Trust me, this too shall pass. I hope the teabags work for you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for answering my question, and I love that story at the beginning. Now that is a man I can respect easily!

      \

      Lots of baking with rose and lavender on that show, although the judges say those two flavors can be overpowering....not really a question, just an observation. :)

      Have a brilliant week!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 months ago from Sunny Florida

      You certainly covered multiple topics today. I have never heard using tea bags in the way you described. The more unusual herbs were very interesting as well. I have never used any of them before.

      I usually watch 60 Minutes also, and I loved that this couple was giving good food to the hungry. Excellent article today Linda. Have a good week.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      8 months ago from USA

      I loved both the unusual spices and the teabag uses! I’m struggling with dark circles under my eyes because my sleep is terribly broken. Anything that will help us welcomed. My teenager being home from college this summer contributes mightily.

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