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

Updated on February 4, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring 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.

Source

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?

Source

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?

Source

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 www.thekitchn.com:

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.

Source

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 OneGreenPlanet.org. 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 lindalum52@gmail.com.

© 2017 Linda Lum

Comments

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      19 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ann, I'm glad the information on flour was helpful. I get so many questions about baking.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      19 months ago from SW England

      Great advice regarding flour. My younger daughter is allergic to gluten so I have had to explore the alternatives and become much more aware of all sorts of flour! I've found rice flour very difficult to find here for some reason. Anyway, the difference for cakes etc is brilliant information; thank you.

      Ann

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      19 months ago from london

      Yes, I did notice it and I have been vegetarian for 35 years!! I eat Tofu, but you know, there is an increasing school of thought that don't favour it so much. Morse, Grundy too, I believe and lots of others.

      Of course each one favours his own way, and our biology are all different. Thank you for thinking of me. I'm not too bad right now. Love.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      19 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Manatita - Yes, Bill has his Mailbag and I have an online Inbox. Installment #5 will be there on Monday (or late Sunday evening).

      When I wrote the paragraphs on tofu I thought of you and hoped you would see them. Several days ago I published an entire article on tofu--I hope you will find something there that is useful.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      19 months ago from london

      My Sweetheart,

      You continue to write so brilliantly, beautifully ....

      I see that you are doing a kind of 'bill' series. Awesome! I will return to my Monday Inspirations too.

      Diet is always a problem for me. With my chronic fatigue, I'm now on lots of fruits, berries, melons and botanicals (Courtesy of Dr Morse, USA.

      Good to see you. You are always in my Heart.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary - I'll be happy to address both of these.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      20 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Linda,

      When I came to Brazil I brought my breadmaker with me. It is still going strong even after 10 years. In my region, I can't get bread flour without a lot of hassle so I just use a name brand white flour and the bread comes out great. My instruction manual said, under no circumstance should you use 'plain flour' that's the UK equivalent of all purpose. However, I know that country to country flour is different.

      Do you have any suggestions what type of sauce I could serve with pork chops? If I have potatoes or rice, my husband prefers to have a sauce or gravy over it.

      Thanks Linda.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

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

      Alright smarty pants. You asked for it!

      I have a frying pan made by TE-FAL it is a thermo spot. You really do not need to add oil or butter. Are they safe or are they yuk like Teflon?

      I love to make hash browns. Grate the potatoes and then do some rinsing and then set overnight. Then rinse some more and griddle. I must be forgetting something as they are not coming out crispy. Maybe tons of butter?

      I have been needing a "fix" of Gazpacho. Do you have a good recipe? Mom made it so well, but none of siblings grabbed the recipe.

      I must admit I did not ask questions because I am afraid to look dumb about cooking. Next I will be asking questions about Alkalizing and this Paleo deal.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish - My younger daughter made the decision to become vegetarian in the year 2000. After a year of that, she wanted to go total vegan. It "worked" until she moved away from home and discovered (much to her horror) just how difficult it is, or was at that time, to shop for groceries and shun all animal products. We're talking looking at the ingredients in a loaf of bread to insure that it doesn't contain honey, does the vegetarian "meat" product I'm buying in the freezer section contain egg whites, etc.

      I think it's a bit easier now because of product labeling--manufacturers are much more sensitive now. I KNOW I could not do it (unless I absolutely HAD to because of health issues), but I'm glad it worked for you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      20 months ago from USA

      I like Eric's title for you: Carb Diva, "Queen of Cuisine." Looking forward to that tofu article. Today's my last day of the Vegan for a Month Challenge, however I'll be making some more permanent changes because it's worked out so well for me. Maybe not total vegan, not sure.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thanks Flourish - I'm putting the finishing touches on an article entirely on tofu, so stay tuned.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      20 months ago from USA

      What an excellent edition! I will have to try the tofu tips. And I never really understood what gluten technically was until now so this was great!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, do you mean to say that you have no more questions? Say it isn't so. This could be the shortest-running series in the history of HP.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

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

      Fantastic. You are the Queen of Cuisine. My culinary desires have found a real Diva.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      20 months ago from Ohio

      Funny, my daughter and I were just talking about sifting today. I was wondering why recipes no longer call for sifting on a regular basis. Now I know. Thanks. :)

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Wow Bill, that's awesome. I hope they will be helpful for some people. I'm sure having fun writing them (but the writing part does keep me out of the kitchen LOL).

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Peach - To be honest, the pic of the eggplants is from Pixabay. I didn't grow those; in fact, I cannot really grow anything other than a few herbs because I live in deer country. Actually, the deer live in my backyard, in a mi casa es su casa sorta arrangement.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I've started a file just for your articles. I don't do that for just anyone. :)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

      Your eggplants are so round and looks juicy, how come there aren't any brownish skin?

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