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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, and Cooking, #84

Updated on May 12, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

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

I'm Changing it Up Today

In place of my usual format, I'm going to begin today's offering not with an introduction but with comments/questions from Eric on my article "Taco Mania: A Marathon of Taco-Inspired Recipes."

"I was writing you elsewhere and remembered this. My son and I love tacos. Saturday for sure I am thinking a pasta mix with somewhat spicy ground beef. We will go crispy shell. Please don't be upset I will buy them made. Linda I am thinking of a Chorizo twist. Maybe give your take on your next wonderful questions and answers. Just a thought but I love that cayenne easy taste."

I replied that I'm not 100% clear on what you are asking. Can you pair taco-flavors with pasta? Absolutely! Can you fill your taco shell with chorizo? Goodness yes, that sounds amazing.

THIS is what I love about cooking. Eric has sailed through Cooking 101, 201, and is now working at the graduate level. He is gaining confidence in the kitchen and using his imagination. He's wondering how "this flavor" will pair with "that texture." He's daring to combine ethnic tastes and step out of his comfort zone to try new ideas. I'm the proud instructor listening to my student give the Valedictorian address.

As I've said in past introductions, welcome to my kitchen. Let's talk about cooking. Are you a novice cook? Come here to ask questions on the basics. Are you a pro? Maybe you have hints to share with us. In the middle? That's where most of us are, and I would love to back-and-forth with you. Let's have fun.

So here's a question I received from Mary in Brazil.

Problems with Heating Milk

I've got a quick question. In the mornings I heat milk to have in my coffee. I there something I can do to prevent the scum. It looks horrible on my coffee. I hate the thought of using a sieve, as even before the breakfast dishes hit the sink I have two saucepans (one for the milk and one for the coffee), a coffee filter basket and a funnel. (I decant our coffee to a thermos).

Source

Mary, to find the answer to this question I went to the book "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" by Harold McGee. Mr. McGee is an authority on the chemistry of foods and he explains the process better than I ever could:

"When milk is a prominent ingredient in soups, sauces, etc. (or heated on the stovetop in a saucepan) it most often calls attention to itself when its proteins coagulate. The skin that forms on the surface of scalded milk is a complex of casein, calcium, whey proteins, and trapped fat globules, and results from evaporation of water at the surface.

Skin formation can be minimized by covering the pan or whipping up some foam, both of which minimize evaporation. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the pan . . . temperature transmitted from the burner causes a similar concentration of proteins which stick to the metal and eventually scorch. Wetting the pan with water before adding the milk will reduce protein adhesion to the metal."

So, there is the answer to your question, and as a bonus, the answer to the one that you didn't even ask—how to lessen or alleviate the scum on the bottom of the saucepan. I can't recall the last time that I heated milk on the stovetop so haven't tested out Mr. McGee's solution. I hope you will report back to us on whether or not this works. Thanks for a great question.

In a Pickle Over Cucumbers

Love you and what do you think, my boy wants to grow cucumbers. Of course, they are an ingredient essential to Vietnamese Bánh mì but he also wants to make pickles. Is this a fool's errand?

Source

Eric, the cucumber has such a fascinating (to me) and romantic history. Its beginnings were in the foothills of the Himalayas, perhaps 4,000 years ago. It was there that this tender gourd was lovingly tended and cultivated by the peoples of present-day India, to be assimilated into their spicy cuisine. From there it spread to Ancient Greece, Rome, and China. The Romans imbued it with almost magical medicinal powers, using it to treat scorpion stings, improve eyesight, and even increase fertility. They were introduced to the New World on Columbus' second voyage to Hispaniola.

Growing Them is Easy

First, you need to know that there are two forms of plants, bush and vining. The bush plants are compact so work well for small-plot gardening. Vining plants climb up fences and trellises and are less prone to disease or infestation because they are up off of the ground.

They can be started indoors for transplant into the garden when all danger of frost is passed, but the roots can be finicky. They would prefer to not be disturbed (much like you don’t want to leave your cozy bed when the alarm clock sounds).

Growing Requirements

  • Light: Full Sun (at least 8 hours)
  • Depth and Spacing: Sow seeds 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart in mounded hills that are 3 feet apart. Plan on 4 to 5 seeds in each hill. When plants emerge thin to the 3 strongest plants
  • Soil: Well-drained, rich in organic matter
  • Water Requirements: at least 1 inch of water or rain every week. It is better to soak the soil rather than light frequent watering.
  • Soil pH: Neutral
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 11, best results in zones 4 to 11.

If you aren't sure where your climate zone is, here's a really cool (as a cucumber) interactive link from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Just type in your zip code and it will tell your climate zone number.

Varieties

There are thousands of varieties of cucumbers, but all of these can be divided into four distinct groups.

  1. Middle Eastern and Asian are small and thin.
  2. American pickling cukes are small and have a thin skin (so that the brine will penetrate more easily).
  3. American slicing are short and thick and have been bred to endure lengthy transport. They have large seeds and a strong flavor.
  4. European (mostly grown in controlled environments in greenhouses) are long and slender, with thin flesh and small indistinct seeds, mild flavor, and no bitterness.

Eric, the "traditional" method of making pickles is making a brine, filling sterilized jars with the brine and cucumbers, and processing it all in a hot-water bath. Perhaps one of these days I'll prepare an article on how to make pickles that way.

For the sake of time (and because I know Gabe wants those pickles ASAP), here is a video that shows you how to make an easy-peasy pickle. It isn't shelf stable (they have to be kept in the refrigerator) but I have a feeling you won't have a problem with using them up quickly.


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.

Last week I shared with you the many ways that you can re-use coffee grounds. Most of those hints were for the garden. That’s where we will go again to find uses for eggshells. Here are some ideas:

Egg Shells

  • Crushed eggshells have sharp edges, and so soft-bodied pests like slugs and snails don’t like to glide across them. Use the shells to encircle your tender plants like hostas, marigolds, salad greens, beans, radishes, and basil.
  • If you grow tomatoes, you no doubt have encountered problems with a blight called blossom-end rot. Some horticulturists think this is caused by a calcium deficiency. Place crushed shells in the bottom of the planting hole before you transplant your tomato seedlings.
  • Speaking of seedlings, half shells are a great place to start seeds. And there’s no need to remove the sprouts from their little chicken-built pot. You can bury the whole thing.
  • Add them to the compost pile.

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.

See Ya Next Week!

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.

© 2019 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      There are several reasons that you could be having problems. The eggs must be fresh and at room temperature and the bowl and beaters must be absolutely grease free. Meringue can be fussy. If you add the sugar too soon, the protein molecules in the eggwhites will not have had time to unfold properly, you won’t get the well-aerated foam structure. There can also be a problem if you add the sugar too quickly during whisking. This prevents the protein in the eggwhites from bonding strongly and establishing a stable structure, resulting in a softer meringue mixture that will have little body and won’t hold its shape. Go to the website Delishably.com and enter “Perfect Lemon Meringue Pie” in the search (click on the little symbol in the upper-right hand corner that looks like a magnifying glass). The first hit that pops up will be my article which describes how to make a fail-safe meringue. I hope this helps. By the way, I don’t try to make meringue when the humidity is high; I don’t know if that truly interferes or is an old wives tale.

    • profile image

      Janie 

      4 weeks ago

      Is there a secret to making good meringue? Mine is rather lazy and doesn't want to "peak."

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Brian, thank you so much. I appreciate your support.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      5 weeks ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      I'm sharing this hub with my cooking loving relations.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      5 weeks ago from london

      Ha ha. You're brave, Linda.

      Yes, I see this all the time in community nursing. Actually, it is good as a defence mechanism, as when the memory begins to play up, or there's a flight of ideas, then it helps us to know where everything is. So in that sense it's cool.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Manatita, I doubt he would listen to me, not even me. He's very set in his ways.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      5 weeks ago from london

      Ask Bill to try the chipati, roti or nan with dal makhana.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      5 weeks ago from london

      Yes. Sermons are meant to be sweet and short conveying the spirit of love

      The Beatitudes are a brilliant example.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Manatita, I needed your comment. I am taking my 92+ neighbor to church now - the minister goes on for more than 45 minutes. I seem to think the Beatitudes took about 15. Your messages like Chinmoy are now and to the point. In my years I never did preach over fifteen. I think my sermons take under 10 to read.

      Love needs to be hard and fast.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      5 weeks ago from london

      You are probably hearing the inner melodies of my Heart … my string quartet to the psalms of David... the Beatitudes of Christ. Cool, eh? Lol.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Manatita, we have been having beautiful weather--warm and sunny but not too hot. Today we have been blessed with rain showers. Nothing heavy, just a gentle kiss for all of the flowers and trees. My windows are open and the birds are singing.

      Have a wonderful day.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      5 weeks ago from london

      Another exquisite work and some insightful questions from Eric. So you are middle-of-the road, eh? Who's better? Jamie? or perhaps that guy from El Bullo in Spain. I think you are doing pretty good. Mind you, all that chemistry which you didn't care to venture to explain is far above my head too. Stay chilled. Great weather here in London.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Dear Dora, that is exactly why I am here. Although I can't actually stand beside you as you cook, I hope that my words provide you a mental image and an air of confidence that "you can do this!" If you have a question about how to do, I can probably help. Ask, and it shall be given.

      Thank you so much for stopping by. My door is always open.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Wow! Cooking lessons available on HP. My take away from this session is what I learned about heating milk. Very helpful! Thanks.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, that is amazing, fantastic, over-the-moon. I'm so pleased for you!!! Thank you for sharing this wonderful news.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Linda you have opened up another avenue of loving for us. And with all your great I dipped below 200 lbs today. Wow! Twenty years. We need a lot more time to love.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary I look forward to hearing back from you. As for the egg shells, I think I need to add a post script to my "Don't Throw That Away". Thanks to you and Flourish for that info. (I don't own a dog and never have so I did not have that notion on my radar).

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric no one can accuse you of being non-eloquent. Your words are precious to me. Thank you for your kindness and love.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      6 weeks ago from Brazil

      Thanks for the answer to my milk scum problem. I will report back.

      During my time in Brazil, I have seen pickles for sale only twice.

      My growing attempts have been less than successful, although I will never rule out trying again. I do miss good pickles.

      My friend gives ground egg shells to her dogs.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      God sends angels my way. I have not got a clue how that works. But I can spot an angel 1.3 million miles away. Don't know what air you have flowing up there. But the love flows all the way down our Mexico border way.

      Maybe as a master Chef of love you can answer this one. Believe me I have no clue where it came out weeding my garden and thinking of you.

      Bountiful. Maybe Cornucopia? Where does that come from? Our foods here are so plentiful. Tonight is my wife's night to cook. I can hardly wait. I will go for a hike as in the kitchen she "does not work well with others" hihihi. Fair enough as I am fully Gringo.

      This dang love that floats into our food is amazing thanks to you.

      Scuse me for waxing non-eloquently.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Lori. I hope you can find the time to read a few more of these, if not for the cooking, at least for the fun questions and comments. My other articles (non Q&A) usually contain food lore and history. Maybe that would be of interest?

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      6 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

      I need to read these more often. I live alone and don't cook with a lot of variety but love to experiment once in a while and this has some information and experience I can benefit from. I didn't realize our Eric was into cooking. Thanks for all the work you put into this series.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 weeks ago from Central Florida

      You got that right, Linda. I had one cucumber that was so huge it was hard to tell it was a cucumber!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna, I agree with you. The only hard part about growing cucumbers (like zucchini) is the one that hides from view (you swear you looked under every leaf) until it's absolutely enormous!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Cucumbers are easy to grow. They pretty much take care of themselves here in Central Florida. I had the trailing type a couple of years ago. The blossoms are beautiful and I was always tickled when I found a cuke hiding underneath the foliage.

      I think Eric and his son will get a kick out of growing their own cucumbers and seeing the fruits of their labor come to life!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill that sounds like fun but the grams and litres befuddle me. Enjoy the week my friend.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Pamela I also miss growing a garden. We had one when our girls were very little and they were fascinated with the process. But 26 (almost 27) years ago we moved to an area where deer roam freely and a garden is no longer possible (but having deer in your yard is pretty cool).

      As you can tell I was puzzled by what Eric was saying/asking. I hope he will chime in today and set me straight.

      Have a great week my friend.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, I think billybuc mentioned once that he pulverizes quail eggs in the blender (shell and all) to make scrambled eggs for the family. If you want I can check on feeding those shells to animals. Even if you don't need the information other people might benefit. Thanks for the hint.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      We are currently streaming the Great British Baking Show...what a fun show. They make baking fun, just as you do.

      Have a stupendous week, my friend.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      I always look forward to reading your Monday question answering hub Linda. And this was no exception. When I was able to have a vegetable garden I grew cucumbers, and they were easy as compared to some vegetables. I really miss being able to work outside on a gardent.

      I like the taco flavor also and never considered a mix with a pasta. I am wishing you a great week my friend.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      6 weeks ago from USA

      I’ve read that you can pulverize egg shells into a fine powder and add to dog food as a cal I supplement but since I don’t have a dog I’ve obviously never tried that.

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