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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes & Cooking, #11

Updated on February 3, 2019
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

One week from today we will be celebrating Christmas. If you do the traditional festive feast with baked ham, roast goose, or prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, that's awesome. However, I've never wanted to spend all Christmas Day in the kitchen (been there, done that just a month ago for Thanksgiving Day). In the Carb Diva house, we open our gifts while enjoying a leisurely brunch. My two articles on that topic are here and here.

Despite the fact that next Monday will be a holiday, I promise that I will be posting Installment #12 here for you next week. (Idle hands are the Devil's workshop).

Now for this week's questions, first a topic which will be a weekly feature (until we run out of alphabet).

Lexicon of Cooking Terms


Last week Eric asked if I could provide a lexicon (he suggested five-per-week) of the not-so-common cooking terms. I started last week with Letter A. Here's another batch for your entertainment.

Bain Marie – A hot-water bath used to gently cook foods, commonly used when baking cheesecake or custard. (It can also be used to keep foods warm.) To make a bain marie use a roasting pan large enough to hold the dish(es) being baked. Place you baking dish (or ramekins) in the roasting pan.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil and then pour the water into the roasting pan. Be careful to not get any water in the baking dishes (full of cheesecake or custard or other yummy things). The water should come about halfway up the sides of the dish being baked. I find it easiest to do this last step with the roasting pan already in the oven. By pulling out the oven rack and filling the pan with water right there, you avoid the danger of splashing hot water into the custards (or on yourself) when transferring the dish to the oven.

Bard - The practice of wrapping lean cuts of meat to be roasted with thin slices of fat (usually bacon or salt pork).

Baste - To spoon, brush, or squirt a liquid (meat drippings, stock, barbecue sauce, melted butter, etc.) on food while it cooks to prevent drying out and to add flavor.

Beat - To mix rapidly in order to make a mixture smooth and light by incorporating as much air as possible.

Bias cut or bias slice – To slice food crosswise at a 45-degree angle. Why? Because it exposes more surface area (to make it cook better and faster), and it looks pretty.

Are Instant Pots Worth It?

What is your opinion on the Instant Pot that is all the new rage? Is this about as useful as past fads like the George Foreman grill, panini makers, and rotisserie chicken roasters or is it worth the $100 or so?


Flourish, I do not own an instant pot. Honestly, I've never even seen one in person, but I know that my niece owns one so I sent your question to her via Facebook. Eileen replied that she uses hers several times a week, and a number of her FB friends commented that they love theirs as well.

I learned that there is even a Facebook page for the Instant Pot "community." Some people report that there is a bit of a learning curve, but I think that some of the problems encountered stem from a lack of cooking experience in general rather than an indictment of the Instant Pot specifically.

I hope that helps.

The Perfect Pumpkin Bisque

I had the greatest pumpkin bisque at Mt. Rainier Lodge. They only make it over the holidays but it is to die for.


Unfortunately, I haven't been to the Mount Rainier lodge for several years (and didn't have their pumpkin bisque when I did visit), so I don't know what flavors Bill was tasting in that soup. Here are five recipes; I hope one of them is close to that Mount Rainier lodge treat.


Kitchen Safety

"Linda, I needed this six months ago when I blew our stove up!! It took out the controls for the oven as well, and we had to cook on the BBQ for three weeks!"

Oh my goodness Lawrence, what did you do? It sounds impressive.

Let's just say it included a Pyrex dish, a sauce, and hot stove. We didn't get to eat the sauce, and the dish is no longer with us! Oh, and don't try heating a Pyrex dish by putting it directly on a hotplate! Some good tips for kitchen safety would be great!


Glass Cookware

I'm glad that no one in Lawrence's house was injured by that mishap. The short answer is that glass cookware should never be subjected to direct heat. Yes, I know that in Chemistry 101 you held a glass test tube over a flame, but that's a different type of glass.

Here's a short list of no no's when using glass cookware:

  • Don't place a hot glass dish on a cold surface (countertop, refrigerator, freezer).
  • Don't place a hot glass dish on a wet surface.
  • Don't pour cold liquid or cold food into a hot glass dish (are you starting to see the trend here?)
  • Don't subject glass cookware to direct heat (stovetop, barbecue grill, broiler).

And here are a few more things to consider in "kitchen safety."

Cutting Boards

Cutting boards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Before making that purchase, consider that wooden boards need to be seasoned with oil. They don't hold up well after being washed in the dishwasher, and they can become a breeding ground for bacteria. I avoid them.

Whatever type of board you select, keep these simple rules in mind:

  • Don't use the same board for multiple purposes, especially when preparing raw meats. I have one board for preparing vegetables and fruits, one board for meat, poultry, and seafood, and one board for pastries and bread.

  • Keep your board clean--hot soapy water after each use. (Even better--clean it in the dishwasher).


My number 1 rule is to invest in a good set of knives. You don't need a dozen. One chef's knife, one paring knife, and one serrated knife are a good start. Why worry about quality? Less expensive knives are made from a much lighter gauge of steel which means that they will not keep a sharp edge for very long. The blades of cheaper knives are also often very thin, making them brittle and more likely to break or for the edge to chip. Handles made from wood or plastic perish very quickly and are usually not dishwasher-safe. Also, the blades are not always set into the handle very securely. All of this makes cheap knives more likely to be blunt which forces you to use more force when cutting with them which in turn makes them more likely to break or for the blade to come loose from the handle.

Now, for how to safely use those knives:

  • It's important to keep your knives sharp. Dull knives are a safety hazard and can be very dangerous.
  • The blunter a knife's edge is, the more pressure it takes to cut something. The more pressure your hand and the knife apply to a piece of food, the more likely you are to slip and cut your finger instead.
  • Sharpened knives also reduce the time it takes to prepare your meals since your cuts will be faster and more accurate.

Chocolate 101

This past week I made a chocolate cake and the recipe called for 2oz of unsweetened chocolate. (It's an old Betty Crocker recipe book). Well, I used some chocolate that is more of a cake topping type you know for shavings and decoration. It works okay for chocolate chip cookies but there wasn't a lot of chocolate flavor to the cake. Thank goodness I smothered it in a buttercream frosting!

Anyway, selecting the correct chocolate has become a minefield and you almost need a degree in chocolatology to select the right one. Can you shed some light on what is what in the chocolate arena for us bakers? Also, I often have chocolate powder, could I have substituted that? Mine is somewhere between Nesquick and Hersheys.


Mary, let's start with the first part of your question (this is the easy one). You said that your cake didn't have the dark chocolate flavor you were hoping for. The secret to bringing out that WOW flavor is coffee. Yes, coffee.

Don't worry. It won't give 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?

Experiencing chocolate is actually very similar to tasting wine. As wine grapes 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 coffee enhances and deepens the perceived chocolate experience. Use cold brewed coffee in place of some of the liquid in your original cake recipe.

And, here's an explanation of the various types of chocolate.

The Chocolate Family Tree

Cacao (Cocoa) Beans--This is where chocolate begins. Cacao beans are the fruit of the cacao tree, a tree which grows in a very limited climate zone--only 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.

Cacao Nibs--These are the "meat" of the beans. The beans are cleaned and then roasted at carefully controlled temperature to bring out their full flavor and aroma. The outer shells are then removed and the nibs are ready for the next step.

Chocolate Liquor--This is what makes all real chocolate products. The nibs are ground by a process that creates enough heat to liquefy the cocoa butter, thus creating the liquor.

Cocoa Butter--This is the vegetable fat that is extracted when the chocolate liquor is pressed under high pressure. This butter has a unique melting quality that gives chocolate its wonderful texture.

Cocoa Powder--There are two types of cocoa powder. American Process is the what remains after cocoa butter is extracted from the liquor. There are no additives or preservatives--it is 100 percent pure and has the lowest fat content of any chocolate product. Dutch Process cocoa is made from chocolate liquor that has been treated with an alkali agent. This makes a darker powder with a more intense cocoa flavor.

Bitter Chocolate--This is commonly called unsweetened, baking, or cooking chocolate. It is pure chocolate liquor, cooled and molded.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate--A combination of chocolate liquor with added cocoa butter and sugar. Technically it must contain 35 percent chocolate liquor. Available in bars and chips.

Sweet (Dark) Chocolate--Combines the same ingredients as semi-sweet chocolate but in different proportions. It has a higher sugar content and at least 15 percent chocolate liquor.

Milk Chocolate--Again, like semi-sweet chocolate but also contains milk or cream and at least 10 percent chocolate liquor.

And A Bit More Chocolate Knowledge

  • Chocolate chips are not a "melting" chocolate. They are specifically formulated to hold their shape. (One exception to this rule is if you are using them to make Fantasy Fudge. The sugar-milk mixture is a cauldron hotter than Hades and so they collapse into submission).
  • If you want a "melting" chocolate for dipping or making a candy coating, look for chocolate "melts". In Australia, they are called buttons.
  • If you do not have baking (unsweetened) chocolate and need a reliable substitute try this: 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon oil equals 1 ounce of unsweetened solid chocolate.

Don't risk ending up on Santa's naughty list. Send me a question (ho ho ho).

© 2017 Linda Lum


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