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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes, & Cooking, #15

Updated on February 19, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

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

Writing this column is one of the "funnest" things I do every week. Really, it is. I enjoy hearing from all of you, and I like the challenge of finding answers for your kitchen conundrums.

Last week we were still in "holiday" mode and the questions were few. I'm happy to report that the amount of incoming mail picked up this week. So, let's get started.

How Can I Make My Pumpkin Pie More Exciting?

I've been making Bev pumpkin pies every week.She loves them. Any little trick I can do to give them a little more zest for a change of pace?

Source

I love pumpkin pie, the buttery flaky crust, the creamy custard filling, and those warm spices—it has almost everything going for it. (Add some whipped cream and it's perfect). But, what if you're getting bored with the same-old, same-old like our friend Billybuc? I gave Bill this suggestion (and I've not heard back from him so I'm going to take a leap of faith and assume that it worked splendidly).

By the way, this question inspired me to write another article. Check back on Wednesday for "Exploring Pumpkin Pie."

Ingredients

  • Your standard baked pumpkin pie recipe
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Instructions

  1. Bake your pie for 30 - 35 minutes, until edges are starting to set (meanwhile prepare the crumble as directed below).
  2. In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar (break up clumps with fingertips as needed) cinnamon and salt. Add cold butter and using a long pronged fork, cut butter into mixture until it resembles small crumbs. Stir in pecans.
  3. Remove pie from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle crumble evenly over top, cover crust edges with strips of foil to prevent excess browning and bake pie about 25 - 30 minutes longer or until filling is set (a toothpick should come out clean from center).
  4. Cool completely at room temperature, then chill in refrigerator 2 hours

Recipe for Chinese 5-Spice Powder

Last night I made a 'Chinese stirfry'. I don't have a 5 spice powder so I improvised using coriander seeds and fennel seeds which I heated and then ground down. I also threw some ground cinnamon into the pan. Crushed garlic and ginger were also added with some pork and veg.

I may have been too heavy handed with the cinnamon. Do you have a recipe or a suggestion for a combination of 'Chinese spices' that I could have premixed and ready to use?

Source

Mary, I'm a big advocate of making your own spice blends. That way you know it's fresh, you know exactly what went into it, and you can adjust the amounts of 'this and that' to suit your own personal tastes. You mentioned that the cinnamon was a little overpowering in your version. After you make and use this recipe, you can play around with other additions. I like a pinch of ground ginger in mine.

Makes roughly 1/4 cup

Ingredients

2 whole star anise
2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces

Instructions

In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the anise, peppercorns, cloves, and fennel until fragrant. Swirl the pan gently and toss the seeds occasionally to prevent burning. Allow to cool.

Add the seeds and cinnamon sticks to a spice grinder. Grind for twenty seconds until a fine powder is formed. If large pieces remain, grind for another 5 - 10 seconds. Keep in an airtight container.

Lexicon Of Cooking Terms

Source

Continuing with our alphabetical list of cooking terms:

Crisp - To restore the crunch to foods; vegetables such as celery and carrots can be crisped with an ice water bath, and foods such as stale crackers can be heated in a medium oven.

Cube - To cut food into smaller pieces, roughly the size of dice. This is somewhat ironic because dicing food produces smaller pieces.

Cut in - When a solid fat such as butter or shortening is mixed with a dry ingredients like flour until they form small particles. You can use a food processor fitted with a metal blade and just pulse it, or a pastry blender, or your own trusty fingers.

Dash – A small amount, approximately 1/16th of a teaspoon.

Defat (or degrease) - To remove fat from the surface of stews, soups, or stock. The best method is to cool in the refrigerator so that fat hardens and is easily removed. If strapped for time, or working with poultry (for which the fat never completely solidifies) I highly recommend a fat separator. (They are available at BedBathandBeyond and on Amazon).

Deglaze – After cooking (fry, sauté, or roast) foods in a pan there will be juices and little brown bits left in the bottom of the pan. Add liquid and stir and scrape over high heat to melt those bits and turn all of it into a savory liquid that can be added to your sauce, or turned into gravy.

Devil – To mix food with a spicy seasoning or sauce. Deviled eggs are an example.

Dice - To cut food into small cubes of uniform size and shape, about ¼-inch.

Dock – (This is a fun one). A baking technique in which regularly spaced holes are poked all over the surface of a dough to promote a crisp baked surface (crackers, pet treats, pie shells, all may be docked before baking).

Stock, Broth, Bouillon - What's The Difference?

I think I missed it. What is the difference between a bouillon, stock, and a broth? It is the main thing that our Vietnamese soup chefs/owners argue about. I even handled a lawsuit over stealing a broth/soup - the stuff is all the same but that soupy part can break a restaurant if it is second class. And a lot of that comes from regions of Vietnam.

Source

Broth, stock, bouillon, consume, and now (the ever-popular) bone broth—what's the difference, or are they all the same? OK Eric, here's the skinny:

  • A stock is made using bones and meat. Bones enhance the flavor and (as they cook) slowly release gelatin. Do you ever save the turkey carcass from the Thanksgiving Day feast to make soup the next day? If you do, you have probably noticed that when chilled the liquid becomes jiggly, like Jello.

    So why would we want that? It isn't critical to a soup, but if you use that stock in making a sauce, or moistening a meatloaf (for example) that gelatin will make the sauce richer, thicker, give it a better "mouth feel" and your meatloaf will be more cohesive but tender.
  • Broth is made using only meat.
  • Bone broth is stock with a fancy name.
  • If you are purchasing broth or stock rather than making your own, be sure to read the labels carefully. Since broth (meat only) naturally has less flavor, it's often beefed up (no pun intended) with additives like MSG.
  • What about bouillon? It's dehydrated stock, but mostly MSG and salt. Not a good nutritional choice, especially if you are trying to watch your sodium intake.


Can Foods Be Thawed, Refrozen, And Used Again?

I have always been taught that once you freeze food and defrost it you cannot freeze it again. Is this still a rule of thumb? The fish part made me think of it, since it is frozen, then sold to you "fresh" can it be refrozen?

Source

What a great question. According to the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

  • Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing. Note that the key is "safe" thawing. If the food was left out in a warm kitchen and/or smells a bit "off", please throw it away.
  • After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods.

There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule. Here are a few from the Carb Diva book of knowledge:

  • Don't refreeze thawed seafood. The flesh is delicate and although thawed, refrozen and thawed again is technically safe, it will deteriorate in quality.
  • Don't refreeze melted ice cream.
  • Juice concentrates shouldn't be thawed and then refrozen. You wouldn't believe how quickly fermentation can begin.
  • Pot pies, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes are great as leftovers, but fully cooked pasta and potatoes don't hold up well after being frozen and then thawed (they get mushy, flabby, and just plain gross).

Which Is Better, New Technology Kitchen Tools, Or The Old Standards?

I have a Faberware knife set and my favorite pan is called Red Copper pan.

I get stuff like wooden chopping blocks and dutch ovens but this new technology -- not so much.


Here Are Photos Of The Pans And Knives In Eric's Kitchen

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source

Eric, Faberware is a well-known name in kitchen tools and so one would assume that they provide top-quality. You told me in a separate email that you have the Faberware Never-Needs-Sharpening 18-piece knife block set. My daughter received this very same set as a gift so I have personal experience with them.

Evaluation Of The Faberware 18-Piece Set

Pro's
Con's
Easy to Clean
Rust if not washed by hand and dried immediately
Extremely Sharp
All blades are serrated (not optimum for routine kitchen tasks)
Attractive
See the paragraph below (yes, I went on a rant)

Why I Don't Like Construction Of The Faberware Knife Set

There are only a few features of a knife that determine its quality. The most important part of any knife is the blade. Although ceramic blades are now the "in thing" and have an amazing sharpness, they are also fragile and can break easily. I prefer forged stainless steel. Serrated edges are not only unnecessary (except for slicing bread), I think they are dangerous.

The next consideration is the shape, material, and structure of the handle.

  • The shape of the handle should be comfortable in your hand. Pick up the knife, hold it, and imagine using it in your kitchen. Is it comfortable? I'm petite (5 feet tall) and so large tools feel very unwieldy for me.
  • The material of the handle is also very important. Plastic handles will splinter and shatter easily. Look for a polycarbonate; it's dishwasher safe and sturdy.
  • Another common feature of the best quality knives is that the tail of the blade called the tang (see illustration below). It should be solidly riveted into the handle. The length of the steel should be visible from the tip of the blade to the butt of the handle. If the handle solidly encases the blade, walk away.

Source

I have not used the copper pans, nor do I know anyone who owns them, so I had to rely on my Google machine for research. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just provide the link here. I hope this helps.

Well, this was a fun week. I learned a lot (I always do). Thanks for making me a better cook. See you next week and don't forget to send me your questions here in the comments or you can email me (go to my profile page).

© 2018 Linda Lum

Comments

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      15 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, thank you for adding this valuable information. to my article.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      I also noticed afterwards that the main knife I use is the Japanese Steel one that is one piece 'forged' steel (even the handle is all part of the one piece)

      Having forged steel makes the knife much stronger than molded steel because it's been beaten into that shape, they're also a lot more expensive, but you get a return on the investment in that the knife lasts much longer.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      15 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, excellent point about the quality of the steel. And, now that you mention it, my Dad used to do just as you describe to check the sharpness of the blade before carving our Thanksgiving turkey. (And he was from Great Britain for what it's worth).

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      Great stuff here, I really enjoyed what you said about the Pumpkin pie, being English, we don't really get Pumpkins in the UK, and here in NZ it's used more as a Vegetable, my Wife roasts them when er have a roast dinner.

      One bit I'd add about the knife is the better quality the steel, the better the knife will be. I just looked at the two main knives we use in our Kitchen (both are the 'Baccarat' brand, one is German Steel, and the other is Japanese steel), but the trick is knowing if they're sharp. Here's a test I use, and it works.

      Get a piece of normal office paper, hold the paper upright and rest the knife on the edge, blade facing down, then gently draw the knife across the paper, if the knife cuts the paper, then she's sharp, if not, then it'll tear the meat when you try to use it, so sharpen the knife until it does.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, I feel that I am somewhat akin to the Wicked Witch of the West. I'm not "melting", but I certainly am shrinking. Perhaps I will not die. I'll simply wink out.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      17 months ago from USA

      I learned so much about knife sets! Mine is my second set but doesn’t measure up, and I’m going to inspect it against your description of what to look for. The only knife I really like in the set is the large bread knife.

      P.S. You are a petite diva aren’t you? My mom always gets called “tiny” at 5’2”.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Manatita, despite my 'nom de plume' I do not "do" sugar very often. (But I talk a good talk, don't I?).

      I think that even starches convert to sugar as we digest them so if you want some specific recommendations or advice from me you know how to reach me. Much love sent your way.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      17 months ago from london

      Very nice input after the holidays. I love pumpkin pies. Im minimising my sugar though. Painful for me at times. Some great questions and answers. Hari om!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Love you Carb Lord!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Kari thank you. As for washing knives. My sister puts absolutely EVERYTHING in her dishwasher. Even if it means that it is filled top to bottom after one meal. I wash dishes after every meal. I always do pots and pan AND knives by hand. The only things that go into the DW are silverware, plates, bowls, and glassware. So, for me knives don't have to be dishwasher safe. Actually I don't think it's a good idea to wash good knives in the dishwasher. BUT, you have to be careful about washing them by hand as well. Maybe I should talk about that next week.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Oh goodness Eric, between this and the comments you have left on billybuc's page you have me in stitches today. I will add your query to next week's "sermon" and will help you find your inner Julia.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      17 months ago from Ohio

      A wonderful read, and thanks for answering my question. I guess I will no longer worry if I need to refreeze meat. I understand about seafood. Just the thought makes me think yuck, hard fish. I'm with you about the knives. The always sharp are always serrated it seems. I have a dislike of serrated except for bread, as you say. Now I'm wondering why I should care if the handle is dishwasher safe. Do you ever wash your knives in the dishwasher?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      So So Cool!

      I just pulled out my non-serrated knives and a little tray for them next to my Faberware. I am good to go.

      I just love the part about making our own multi-spice. They are OK like Lawry's but I can improve. I am going to look for white pepper, sea salt and grind a very dash of Cayenne. Note I incorporated my new understanding of dash.

      Alright this is a funky question but fair. I am having trouble getting in the Zen Zone of Cooking. I try to clear my mind for it. It is like a slippery muse. Sometimes my writing is flat. But far more often I am not experiencing my Julia Child's Joy of Cooking. Help me out here.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, right back at you. I always learn something from your mailbag as well. Thanks much my friend.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Louise, I'm glad you like the recipe. There will be a follow-up article totally devoted to pumpkin pie on Wednesday. If you follow me you should receive a notification. Or if you bookmark this article I will link to it under the discussion for pumpkin.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary, I'm happy to help and you are helping me as well. I can always depend on you to provide a really good question (how's that for putting on some pressure?).

      I do not know why our table settings are arranged as they are. The steak knife has a real use but the rest just seem superfluous. Maybe (now here's a theory) having a large display of silver was a show of wealth, and since you had servants doing the dishes it didn't matter how much time it took to maintain. (I guess I've just revealed the shocking truth that I do not have staff).

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for answering my question. I,too,learned some new things this week. A fun read, and informational, and that is a Monday morning bonus worth celebrating.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      17 months ago from Norfolk, England

      I've recently got myself a new set of knives. The last lot I'd had for years. I love the pumpkin pie recipe. I'll be trying that.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      17 months ago from Brazil

      I learn so much from your articles. Interesting information about the words 'devil' and 'dock'.

      Thanks for the 5 spice recipe, it will come in useful.

      Regarding kitchen knives, our selection could use a revamp.

      Along that same theme, I have another question for you.

      When eating formally, is there any reason for the different forks and knives. I know when to use which ones but is there a reason why, for example, a salad fork is shorter? Is this just a ploy to sell more cutlery by the manufacturers?

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