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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes, & Cooking, #44

Updated on February 19, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

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

Well, I did it. A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was struggling with an article. What would normally take two or three days at most to write I had been wrestling with for 3+ weeks. I challenged my readers to let me know when they thought they had "detected" that pithy bit of prose from me.

Guess what? No one noticed. Nope, not one peep.

Maybe I'm losing my edge.

Oh well, that enough about me. Let's talk about food and recipes and fun gadgets cuz that's why you're here.

My Favorite Things

Source

Rockin' my inner Julie Andrews, each week I tell you about "A Few of My Favorite Things." This is where I share with you the name of one product, gadget, or piece of equipment that I absolutely cannot function without. I promise that it won't be expensive or difficult to source.

This week it's my instant read thermometer. Honestly, if you want to check the doneness of your burgers on the grill, the casserole in the oven, or even the loaf of bread you just baked in the oven, you need an instant-read thermometer.

Source

I have a Marshcone Precise Cooking Thermometer (ASIN B01D1VSL32 on Amazon). There are thermometers that are cheaper or more expensive, simpler or flashier. But this little guy has been a workhorse for me. (When I remove it from my kitchen drawer it even lets me know how hot (or cold) the room is.

Is There a Formula For Making a Great Casserole?

I do have another question about casseroles. This week I made one from a leftover pork chop, cauliflower, and a slice of bacon. After adding an onion, herbs, rice and a creamy white sauce, it was a hit.

Are there guidelines to a successful casserole using leftovers? Goodness knows I have had my fair share of disasters. Sometimes things meld together and other times, it is too wet, too dry or just lacking pizazz.

Leftover Brussels sprouts casserole is probably not a family favorite
Leftover Brussels sprouts casserole is probably not a family favorite | Source

Mary, I can't promise a perfect casserole every time (as my husband, the scientist would explain "there are too many variables") but I can provide some basic guidelines and then a list of suggested ingredients.

First, a few pointers:

Size Matters - Cut your ingredients in similar-sized pieces

Get Rid of the Water - Remove excess moisture from vegetables.

  • This means that spinach must be cooked and then squeezed dry to within an inch of its life. Frozen spinach should be treated as though it has already been cooked. Thaw it and then squeeze. Remember, spinach is the "amazing disappearing vegetable". It's 91 percent water (more on that below).
  • Mushrooms are next in line as far as water content. Don't add them raw. Slice, dice, or chop and then saute until they are dry. (Mushrooms will give off a LOT of water when cooking and that could potentially sog out your casserole.)
  • Onions also contain a lot of water (especially the sweet onions such as Vidalia and Walla Walla). A little bit of raw onion is OK in your casserole, but if you want onions to play a bigger role, please consider sauteing them. You don't have to go as deep and dark as you would for French onion soup, but cooking until golden will create a luxuriously creamy almost sweet layer of flavor in your casserole.

Under-do - Don't cook your pasta until it is al dente. Remember that it will continue to cook in the casserole, so pull it when it's still about 2 minutes from being "done".

A Goldilocks-Approved Baking Dish - If you dish is too shallow, your casserole will lose too much moisture; it will be dry and maybe even burnt on the edges. If too deep, by the time the interior is hot the edges will be crispy beyond redemption.

It's All About Proportion - Everything in moderation, right? Too much sauce and you have casserole soup. Not enough and you are chewing cardboard. Here is a good rule of thumb (where did that expression come from?):

  • 4 cups starch
  • 2 cups protein
  • 2 cups vegetables
  • 3 cups sauce

Now, let's look at a table of suggestions:

 
 
 
 
Starch (choose 1one
Protein (choose one)
Vegetables, raw (or canned, drained) (choose two or more)
Sauce
cooked pasta
cooked ground beef, chicken, or turkey
bell pepper, chopped
1 can cream of "anything" soup plus water, broth, or milk
tater tots, thawed
cooked sausage
celery
gravy
cooked noodles
cooked crumbled bacon
green chilies
spaghetti (red) sauce
cooked white or brown rice
canned salmon or tuna, drained
corn
alfredo sauce
stale bread cubes
cooked crab meat
peas
broth thickened with cornstarch or flour
cooked quinoa
raw shrimp
zucchini
 
cooked barley
chopped cooked ham
 
 
 
shredded or diced leftover chicken, beef, or pork
Vegetables, parboiled (partially cooked)
 
 
1 14.5 ounce can beans, drained and rinsed
asparagus
 
 
 
broccoli
 
 
 
carrots
 
 
 
cauliflower
 
 
 
green beans
 
 
 
mushroom, onions, or spinach--see notes above under "Get Rid of the Water"
 

Bake It - Cover your casserole with foil and bake in a preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until bubbly. The internal temperature should be 165°F.

Top It - Remove the foil, add a fun topping (optional) and bake a few more minutes or slip under the broiler (watch closely so that is doesn't burn) until crispy brown. Suggested topics are:

  • crushed potato chips
  • crushed crackers
  • crushed tortilla chips
  • butter-sauteed bread crumbs
  • grated cheese
  • slivered almonds
  • chopped walnuts
  • French fried onions
  • chow mein noodles


How Much Water IS In That Veggie?

Source

This is my own question, and I'm going to answer it too. In the topic of building a tasty casserole, I mentioned that spinach and mushrooms contain quite a bit of water. Just in case you were wondering, here is a list of the "soggiest" veggies:

  • cucumbers - 96 percent
  • celery - 95 percent
  • lettuce - 95 percent
  • peppers - 94 percent
  • tomatoes - 94 percent
  • summer squash - 94 percent
  • asparagus - 93 percent
  • mushrooms - 92 percent
  • spinach - 91 percent
  • broccoli - 89 percent

Mason Jar Meals

On Pinterest, I see a lot of those Mason jars with oats and fruit in them. I think people put them in the fridge overnight. Why is this so popular? Is it to soften up the oats or a 'trendy' time saver for the breakfast rush?

Source

Mary, my younger daughter started making these "breakfasts in a jar" a few months ago. I'll be honest, the concept just didn't appeal to me. I know that oatmeal is a super food, and a great way to start the day, but the thought of cold oatmeal was a turn-off. But, don't let my fussiness keep you from trying this.

The photo above is from the blog CleanFoodCrush, and she provides seven food/flavor combinations.

But, back to your question. Why are these popular? I asked my daughter and she rattled off a long list:

  • they are inexpensive (once you invest in the jars)
  • lots of fiber
  • non-animal protein (she is vegetarian)
  • good source of iron (she is also anemic)
  • all the other nutrients in oats and the fruits
  • most of all, we eat with our eyes and they're pretty!

Have you noticed that Mason jars aren't just for breakfast anymore? Now using them for lunch is also a "thing". That one actually sounds good to me (but since I work at home I'm still not on board). The theory is that the dressing goes in the bottom of the jar. Next, the veggies, then the protein, and finally the lettuce is suspended on top (above the dressing) so that it stays crisp.

However, eating out of the jar seems a bit unwieldy to me. I think if I was taking my lunch to work, I'd want to have a plate too. Do you think this "trend" is hub-worthy, or are there already too many Google hits on the topic?

Can One Produce UHT Coconut Milk at Home?

Hi Linda, diverse mailbag this week for sure. I got an easier question for you (hopefully). I drink coconut milk daily, and the one I that I buy is UHT treated. Apparently it is a process to kill bacteria. Now if I want to make coconut milk at home, there is no way to do a UHT, or maybe there is, I don't know. In that case is it not advisable to make it at home? If you happen to know anything, that would be great. Thanks! Rinita

Source

Rinita, before I answer your question I’ll explain UHT because some readers might not be familiar with the term.

UHT (ultra-high temperature) is a processing method that heats liquid food (usually milk) to sterilize it. This is not the same as pasteurization. Pasteurization employs mild heat (<100 °C). The process is named for Louis Pasteur, a French chemist who in 1864 found that heating young wine for a short period would kill microbes that, over time (aging) could cause wine to sour.

UHT goes further than pasteurization, heating liquid to 135°C (275°F) for 1 to 2 seconds. In Germany, France, and Spain more than 50 percent of milk sold is UHT. The advantage of UHT is that it greatly extends shelf life and UHT products can be transported and stored without refrigeration.

Can it be done at home? Unfortunately, no it cannot. There are two types of processing, both of which are complex and require expensive equipment. Injection-based processing forces high-pressure steam into a chamber which holds the liquid. Infusion-based processing pumps the liquid through a nozzle into a high-pressure steam chamber.

If you are making your own coconut milk, you probably aren’t concerned with long-term storage. Here is a video that shows how to make coconut milk from young coconuts, mature coconuts, and pre-grated (packaged) coconut.

What About Those Bubbles?

What is your take on baking soda or baking powder. I am a bit confused. And what is up with that carbon dioxide?

jar of sourdough starter
jar of sourdough starter | Source

Eric, do you remember your grade-school science fair project with the exploding volcano? You know the one I mean—you make a mountain (complete with crater) of papier mache or playdough. Spoon in some baking soda and then pour in the vinegar. An instant explosion of “lava”! You created a chemical reaction when you did that; you made carbon dioxide. And, it’s that carbon dioxide, that gas, that creates the bubbles and craters in your baked goods. Without that “lift” your biscuits and cakes and cookies would be leaden hockey pucks.

So, why do we have two kinds of leavenings (baking powder and baking soda)? They aren’t interchangeable, so let’s look at the similarities, the differences, and how each is used.

Baking soda is the non-scientific name for sodium bicarbonate. When it is combined with liquid AND acid* it immediately jumps into action and creates bubbles. Immediately is the operative word. Since baking soda is fast-acting, you have a short amount of time to move that dough from the mixing bowl to the baking sheet. Baking soda also helps with browning (what would our golden, flaky biscuits be without it?)

*(when we’re baking that acid could be citrus, vinegar, coffee, molasses, yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk)

Baking powder is made of baking soda AND a powdered form of acid (usually cream of tartar). So when you use baking powder as a leavening agent (1) you don’t need to add acid and (2) you have more time to fiddle with the dough/batter because that second agent doesn’t react until it becomes wet AND hot. So baking powder gives an immediate lift to your batter, but there’s another, sustained “push” when that batter goes into the oven. This is what you need for lighter cakes, fluffy muffins, or delicate cookies.

You also asked about carbon dioxide. In the food industry, it is most commonly used to put the bubble in carbonated beverages. Carbon dioxide is also used in concert with nitrogen to help preserve packaged food. The two replace some of the oxygen--remember, bacteria are living organisms and need oxygen to survive and thrive.

I hope that satisfies your curiosity. If not, you know where to find me.

Hey, we've been doing this for 44 weeks. I want all of you to know how much I appreciate your questions and comments. If not for you this series would have ended a long time ago.

I'm not ready to quit, and I hope you will continue to join me on this journey. Remember you can leave your questions below in the comments, or send me an email at lindalum52@gmail.com.

See you next Monday!

© 2018 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Most mandazi recipes I have read use yeast as the leavening. I'm not sure that baking powder or soda would be the culprit--I would be suspicious of old (perhaps rancid) cooking oil.

      Oh Manatita, I wrote a VERY long article on the banana industry. It was painful.

      The brussels sprouts casserole, as you guessed, was a joke. Have a wonderful day.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      10 months ago from london

      Hi Linda.

      I got tummy upset a couple times on the Mandazi in Kenya. Seemed they added baking soda or powder or both plus some other things.

      Mandazi looks like brown dumplings, probably fried and is slightly sweet. A sort of snack with tea.

      I use or rather buy this vegan porrige, plus fruits every morning. £4.00 or about $6.00. Doing it yourself would save a lot of money.

      POD, one of our chain shops, blend and sell it, rather like a smoothie. They add goji berries and chia seeds plus fruits and soy perhaps.

      What is this 'pithy'bit of prose of which you speak?

      This brussel spout casserole, is not for me. Lol. Have a great day.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I don't think that the gas from baking soda makes us gassy but if you want to blame it on biscuits your secret is safe with me.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Oh, Mary, I've been in a bit of a funk, and you actually made me laugh. I can see you crouched in front of the freezer, hoping you won't be caught nibbling at the raw cookie dough.

      There IS more risk than simply raw eggs, so I will talk about that next week. I'll also do a paragraph or so on granola and, if I'm feeling perky, even find a recipe or two.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

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

      Great stuff in this stuffed recipe for a good life. I think I will go for my cheerios in the jar. I can handle that much sugar & sodium in regular.

      Well I can remember the volcano like it was last week -- oops it was. party why I asked. I wonder if the gas may lend itself to more gas, if you know what I mean.

      That nitrous is basically really good for us.

      I needed that on casseroles.

      That water thing is cool. I now have it with my trail mix on hot hikes - separate bag though.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      10 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for answering my questions about the casseroles and 'breakfast in a jar' trend. I love your table about what to add to a casserole, thanks.

      Regarding the oats, I normally eat them raw with a bit of fruit and milk but never bothered with the jar, just a bowl.

      While we're on the subject of oats, what are your thoughts on granola? Is this easy to make? I think my husband could enjoy this as an impromptu dessert.

      When I make cookies, I normally divide the dough and put some in the freezer for future use. Well, when 3 pm rolls around I get peckish and tend to eat some of this dough. Is it only the threat of salmonella from the eggs that I am in danger of getting or is there a problem with eating raw flour? Am I dicing with death for the sake of a sugar high?

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna, boy am I glad that you saw that. (Hmmm, maybe it just FELT like 44 years) although I honestly had fun with this one (no roasted rodents this time). I fixed it.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      10 months ago from Central Florida

      Interesting questions this week, Linda. The information you provided in response should be clipped and stuck to the side of the fridge for quick reference.

      Forty four years, huh? You mean forty four weeks?

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, you are indeed a gentleman (it's not polite to ask a lady her age). I will answer your question next week. It's a good one (and my parents were affected by the Depression. Dad was born in 1906 and Mom in 1908 to they were young adults).

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Rinita I am always happy to hear from you and to help in any way that I can.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish. No (hahaha) but thank you for the compliment. I will try some of those salad jars for my older daughter since she has to take a lunch several times each week.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      10 months ago from Olympia, WA

      We were supposed to let you know? Shoot, I noticed, I just didn't announce it to the world. :) Sigh!

      Here's a historical question for you: the Great Depression deeply affected our parents....well, mine at least, you aren't that old :)...how do you think it affected the foods they ate, and have those lessons affected cuisine in the United States?

      How's that for a doozy?

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 

      10 months ago

      Thank you, Linda. Your answer helps so much! Appreciate you taking the time. This mailbag was overall great!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      10 months ago from USA

      Was the magic article the zucchini one? That intro was incredible. I like the idea of those jars but have never tried them.

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