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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes & Cooking, #4

Updated on January 11, 2020
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Another Monday, and another set of questions. I hope you are finding this series to be helpful and informative. I'm having a blast hearing from you and crafting the answers to your cooking dilemmas.

I'll begin today with a question from Flourish.

How To Make Tasty Tofu

Can you recommend a flavorful way to cook tofu so that it doesn't taste like bland mush? Something stirfry teriyaki or with a sauce of some kind would be divine.


Flourish, the first time I even LOOKED at a piece of tofu was when I bought a package to prepare for my daughter. She had recently become a vegetarian and I wanted to be a good, supportive mom and ensure that she was (still) eating a healthy, balanced diet.

That block of tofu; it looked ugly, smelled worse (to my uninitiated nose), and felt disgusting. Honestly, that initial prod with an index finger was almost my first and last time at touching the stuff.

But then I pulled on my big girl bloomers and got busy researching "what to do with tofu." I found that I wasn't alone in my apprehension about the jiggly white block sitting on my kitchen counter; there were almost 64 million hits on Google

I have a few suggestions to help you get started.

  • You've probably noticed different types of tofu in the market; there's silken, firm, extra firm, and so on. Save the silken for sauces, puddings, and "custards" that you want to have a smooth, creamy texture.
  • For stir fries, you should select firm tofu (I find that the extra-firm is just a bit too rubbery, but that's just a personal preference. You might like it).
  • Remove your block of firm tofu from its packaging and place on a double thickness of paper towels. Slice in half horizontally, and then into sticks, and then cut the sticks into cubes.
  • Place the cubes in a non-stick pan.( I have an electric skillet that works great for this.) Don't add any oil to the pan. Cook over medium-low heat. In a few minutes, the bottom of the cubes will turn golden. Carefully turn each cube over so that a new "uncooked" side is at the bottom of the pan. Continue to flip and saute until all six sides are golden. Cooking the tofu this way removes the excess water without needing to press it or add extra fat.

    Now you're ready to toss them into a stir-fry (at the last moment, after the veggies are crisp-tender), or marinate and use in a soup or salad.

You have inspired me to write a complete article on "Exploring Tofu," so expect to see that later this week. Thanks for a great question.

And billybuc has a question about cast iron.

Taking Care of Cast Iron Cookware

How do I seal the surface of a cast-iron pan so things don't stick so badly?


Bill, I'm going to take the easy (aka lazy) route today in answering your question. I wrote about the care and use of cast iron on my blog a while ago, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just provide a link here.

I hope that helps (and that the powers-that-be at HP allow me to do this).

Rose had an excellent question about the various types of flour.

Which Flour Should I Use?

Is there a real difference between all purpose flour, bread flour, and cake flour? Do I really need to follow the recipe when it calls for a particular type or can I cheat? What will happen if I just use all purpose (usually the cheapest)? Will it ruin my recipe? Recipes used to call for sifting. Why don't they do that anymore?


All-purpose flour, aptly named, or a misnomer? Well, it depends.

If I decide to bake a batch of biscuits to go along with our evening meal of stew, or make some chocolate chip cookies, or make simple pancakes or waffles for breakfast, I'll grab the canister of all-purpose flour. It's reliable and consistent. All-purpose flour is a blend of two different grains, hard wheat, and soft wheat.

But what if you want to make a delicate chiffon cake? Would all-purpose flour "work." Yes, it would, but if you had the chance to compare your AP flour cake to one made with "cake flour" you would notice a subtle difference. The cake made with cake flour would have a more delicate crumb and would seem a bit lighter.

And, what about baking a crusty loaf of artisanal bread? That's when you want to take advantage of "bread flour." What's the difference? Bread flour has a higher proportion of hard wheat flour; it's sturdier and develops tighter strands that support a crunchy crust but also provide those airy holes perfect for sopping up homemade spaghetti sauce, gooey cheese, or a slathering of Irish butter. (Gosh, I'm getting hungry).

So, what's the unifying thread? Each of these flours has a different amount of gluten.

Type of Flour
Amount of Gluten
Bread Flour
13-14 percent
All-Purpose Flour
12 percent
Cake Flour
7.5 to 9 percent

What is Gluten?

Despite what you might think, gluten is not a poisonous substance. It's a basic part of many of our foods; nutritionally it's a protein. When viewed under a microscope, gluten protein looks like a spider web; it is that “web” that traps carbon dioxide bubbles. The other important part of flour is starch. When heated, starch becomes firm and it supports the protein webs.

For a cake which is leavened (made to rise) with baking powder and/or baking soda, a lower amount of gluten is needed. The baking powder and soda won't be making huge bubbles and they will act quickly. But on the other hand, look at what is required to form bread dough. There's yeast alive in there, giving off carbon dioxide, creating air bubble which make the dough double in size, but it's a slow process. Normal proofing takes from 45 minutes to 2 hours. So you need more gluten with the lasting power to hold up those bubbles, maintain the structure of the dough, and give you a brilliant loaf (as opposed to a hockey puck).

So, bottom line is that yes, you can use all-purpose flour for your baking purposes. But keep in mind that there is a range of tenderness/crumb/sturdiness. Light, delicate cakes would be improved by following the recipe and using the prescribed amount of cake flour. And, on the opposite side of the spectrum, if you are striving for a hearty loaf of bread, you're already investing a good quantity of your time. Spend an extra dollar or so to purchase some bread flour. You won't regret that decision.

What About Sifting?

Now, as for sifting? Do we still need to do that? Here is a succinct bit of brilliance from

Sifting flour used to be necessary to separate out things like bugs or chaff (husk of corn or seeds). Commercial flour, however, is refined enough now that this process is generally unnecessary in ordinary, everyday baking. I fluff up my flour with a spoon before I measure it out, then just use a whisk to combine my dry ingredients for things like cookies, muffins, most cakes, quick breads, and pie doughs.

There are times, however, when certain recipes actually benefit from sifted flour. The flour in cakes with a very light, delicate texture like genoise, angel food, or sponge should be sifted to eliminate and prevent lumps that would weigh down the batter.

If your flour has been sitting around for awhile and seems very tightly packed, it might also be a good idea to sift it before using it so that you're not measuring out overly packed cups.

Leigh, a visitor to Hub Pages, had this question:

How to Cook Eggplant

What ideas do you have for cooking eggplant? My garden was way too productive this year when I tried growing this. I tried frying it and the consistency was very soft and mushy. Looking for ideas.


In my quick response to Leigh, I admitted that I am not the "Queen of Aubergine." Truthfully, I like eggplant cooked in just two ways, either thinly sliced and grilled (or broiled) to layer in lasagna or reduced to a ridiculous smushy pulp and turned into eggplant dip (Baba Ghanouj).

So, to answer your question, I went to the experts at and found how to select and prep eggplant, and how to cook them by roasting, grilling, frying, sauteing, or turning them into fries (instead of potatoes), stew, or even burgers. Their article also contains TONS of recipes. I hope this helps you find some creative ways to use up that bounty of eggplant next year.

The Inbox is Empty

I hope to hear from you again. When I research a topic, not only does it benefit you, but I learn something new as well. That's a win-win in my book.

Remember, you can leave questions in the comments section below, or send me an email at

© 2017 Linda Lum


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