Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes, & Cooking, #35
I'm starting today with a few photos from the herb garden. Yarrow (I use it in sachets), catmint (not to be confused with catnip), chives (onion family) and rosemary. The deer and bunnies leave them alone, slugs avoid them, and they are all drought tolerant once established.
Win, win, win.
Well, let's get started with the mailbox. I had to don my "Ms. Science" hat a few times.
Question About Fermented Vegetables
What a great article! I haven't checked out the others in the series, but do you have anything on fermentation of vegetables? My specific question is whether the water used in fermentation should be thrown away after the process is complete. Thanks in advance!
Rinita, I'm so glad you stopped by and left a question. I must admit that fermenting vegetables (other than cabbage) is not something I have in my repertoire. (But I recently wrote an article about making sauerkraut at home).
There might be some readers who are not familiar with fermentation, so allow me to give a brief explanation. Fermentation is the process of storing vegetables in a water and salt (brine) solution. This environment promotes the development of lactobacillus, a bacteria that works to break down the natural sugars in vegetables into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative.
Over time the vegetables soften (as if being gently cooked) and take on a tangy, sour taste. This process works best with sturdy vegetables (like carrots), less so with fruits or more delicate vegetables.
The process is not difficult, but care must be taken to ensure that there is no contamination.
- Vegetables used must be fresh, free of blemish or rot.
- All equipment must be sterile.
- Care must be exercised in the measurement of ingredients.
- Once the fermentation process is complete, the food must be stored at the proper temperature.
I can't stress these warnings enough. I would be crushed if anyone reading this article became ill because of improper technique or handling of ingredients. Botulism is an extremely dangerous and often deadly foodborne pathogen.
This article from Food Safety News provides a wealth of information and numerous links.
Now, in answer to your question - I have not found any website that recommends a use for the brine (fermentation broth) that surrounds fermented vegetables. Of course, you want to keep your fermented veggies submerged, but once that jar of goodies has been consumed, I think it best to discard it and start over. But, I'm not the resident expert. If any of you have found a use for the brine left from fermented vegetables, please let me know.
And for those who are interested in this topic, here is a link from Saveur which provides a simple, straight-forward recipe for fermenting vegetables.
How to Make a "Greek Spice" Mix
I recently made an excellent recipe that called for “Greek spice.” I searched several grocery stores in my area and eventually found it. The label doesn’t really say what exact spices are in it. Do you know what spices are considered Greek, particularly in case I have to make my own Greek spice blend?
Flourish, I love Greek food—spanakopita, tzatziki. pastitsio and the list goes on and on. Salt and pepper, garlic and onions are certainly on the list of seasonings for Greek foods (and just about every other type of cooking I can think of), but there are other subtle flavorings that are beloved in Mediterranean cuisine.
McCormick lists onion, spearmint, oregano, garlic, and sea salt in the ingredients for their Greek spice blend. A good start, but I think we can do better. Here's my suggestion:
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried mint
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
- 1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic
Lexicon of Cooking Terms
Here is the final entry in our alphabetical listing of strange, odd, obscure (and sometimes just simply funny) cooking terms. I even found something for the letter "X".
XXX, XXXX, 10X - An indicator of the number of times confectioners' sugar has been ground. The higher the number of X's the finer the grind.
Xanthan gum - A popular food additive to thickener or stabilizer. It's created when sugar is fermented by a type of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. When sugar is fermented, it creates a broth or goo-like substance, which is made solid by adding alcohol. It is then dried and turned into a powder. When xanthan gum powder is added to a liquid, it quickly disperses and creates a viscous and stable solution. It is used frequently in gluten-free cooking since it can provide the elasticity and fluffiness that gluten gives traditional baked goods.
Yakitori - A Japanese term meaning "grilled."
Yolk - The yellow colored center of an egg.
Yuzu - A round, yellowish citrus fruit with fragrant, acidic juice, used chiefly as a flavoring.
Zahtar - Popular spice blend in Turkey and other areas, this blend is composed of sesame seeds, powdered sumac, and dried thyme.
Zest – The outermost covering of citrus fruits containing aromatic oils.
Zuppa – The Italian word for "soup".
Storing Hard Cooked Eggs
How long can hard boiled eggs be kept in the fridge?
Shirley, to answer this question, I went to the American Egg Board. They recommend:
- Store hard-cooked eggs in their shells in the refrigerator as soon as they are cooled.
- Use them within one week.
- Store them in the interior of your refrigerator, not in the door.
- Want to make sure that you use them in time? Write the date you cooked them on the shell with a felt-tip pen.
How To Clean Pans Dirtied with Cooking Spray "Gunk"
Can you tell us how to clean the spray oil off of pans, and what is the best way to clean a splatter guard?
Mary (and your sister Shirley), let me first address the problem with gunky baking pans. They're ugly. But it's not your fault. Now, to explain what happened and how to fix it, we need to delve into Chemistry 101.
- The brown residue you’ve noticed is baking spray overspray that has polymerized in the heat of the oven. Polymerization is the process by which many small molecules bond (in this case under heat) to create large, stable molecules.
- Most of us see the word polymer and think plastic, but it’s important to remember that while all plastics are polymers, not all polymers are plastic. There are two kinds of polymers, some can be heated and reshaped and others can’t. The polymer we create with cooking spray is thermoset, meaning once it’s there it is going to be a b-tch to remove. It’s a lot like how you can’t unsqueeze toothpaste from the tube.
With glass and stainless steel, I use Bar Keeper’s Friend and a little elbow grease to remove any polymerized oils. Wet the residue, sprinkle on the powder, give it a quick rub and then walk away for a few minutes. Give the oxalic acid a little time to work before using any of your own energy.
A lot of people recommend using oven cleaner on glass and ceramic to remove polymerized cooking spray, but I would rather use a little energy than create those fumes.
Do not try to remove cooked on baking spray from non-stick bakeware. The removal of the cooking spray residue will likely remove the nonstick coating. If you have used baking or cooking spray on your non-stick muffin tins, don’t worry too much, you’re just going to have ugly muffin tins. Here are a few more suggestions:
- Try not to spray cooking spray on surfaces that do not come in contact with food.
- Or, skip the cooking spray altogether, use parchment paper or silicone mats.
- Finally just remember that ugly doesn’t mean an item has lost its use.
Here is some REALLY good advice I found on the internet:
- The polymerized baking spray isn’t really going to hurt anything. The surface of your polymerized cooking spray isn’t going anywhere, but it isn’t as smooth as a metal or ceramic finish and food may be more likely to stick. Want to take a guess as to the fix?
- Quit trying to keep up with Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, and Paula Deen. Yes, they are all good cooks. Yes, they all have beautiful kitchens, but here’s the thing. That kitchen is a tv set, not reality. That gorgeous cookware is replaced as soon as it shows the slightest sign of wear. Companies send them cookware to feature. What you see is not receiving daily use by people with better things to do than perform upkeep on their tools. I don’t have a crew, do you?
- If you can, try to remove the residue before it cools. If you catch it before it has solidified, plain old soap and water should do the trick.
Now, as to cleaning that spatter screen? I have one, but I have given up using it. It's just one more thing to clean, and although it reduces the spatter on the cooktop, it doesn't eliminate it. As with cookware, my best advice is to clean it as soon as you can after use, and a trip through the dishwasher would probably be a good idea.
Is Organic Always the Better Choice?
I went to an awesome "Nutrition for Dummies" class. (remember those books?)
But this gal/teacher has at least 6 initials after her name. And she went off on "Organic". She just insisted that it limits our diets too much and costs too much and is really not that different.
In undertaking farming, we undertake a responsibility covering the whole life cycle. We can break it or keep it whole.— LORD NORTHBOURNE, Look to the Land
In 1940 Walter James, the 4th Baron Northbourne, published his first book, "Look to the Land" in which he espoused the concept of the farm as a living organism. It was he who coined the phrase "organic farming." So, what exactly is organic farming? It can include but is not limited to
- enhanced soil and water quality
- reduced pollution
- safe, healthy livestock habitats
- the enabling natural livestock behavior
- A self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established these guidelines:
- 100 percent organic. This description is used on certified organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat or other single-ingredient foods. It may also be used on multi-ingredient foods if all of the ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water. These may have a USDA seal.
- Organic. If a multi-ingredient food is labeled organic, at least 95 percent of the ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water. The nonorganic items must be from a USDA list of approved additional ingredients. These also may have a USDA seal.
- Made with organic. If a multi-ingredient product has at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients, it may have a "made with organic" ingredients label. For example, a breakfast cereal might be labeled "made with organic oats." The ingredient list must identify what ingredients are organic. These products may not carry a USDA seal.
- Organic ingredients. If less than 70 percent of a multi-ingredient product is certified organic, it may not be labeled as organic or carry a USDA seal. The ingredient list can indicate which ingredients are organic.
A healthy, humane environment for livestock, fewer chemicals in our foods, and a lesser impact on our land and water. . . all of these sound wonderful and noble.
But is it worth the extra cost?
Consumer Reports (CR) conducted an extensive investigation of the organic food industry in January 2006. At that time they recommended:
Buy these organic items as often as possible - apples, baby food, bell peppers, celery, cherries, dairy, eggs, imported grapes, meat, nectarines, peaches, pears, poultry, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.
Buy these items if money is no object - asparagus, avocados, bananas, bread, broccoli, cauliflower, cereals, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, oils, onions, papaya, pasta, pineapples, potato chips, and sweet peas.
CR revisited this topic in March 2015. If you believe that going organic is the right thing for you and your family, I suggest that you read the Consumer Reports article. It provides information on the benefits of organics, the evidence of increased antioxidants in organic produce, and cost comparison of commonly-purchased produce as well-known online and retail outlets.
That was a fun mailbox and one that had me scurrying to find the answers. Have a wonderful week my friends, and don't be shy. If you have a question I'm here to help. If you want to remain anonymous, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2018 Linda Lum