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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes, & Cooking, #50

Updated on February 19, 2019
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Guess What?

Here's a sobering thought for all of you. Do you realize that Christmas is less than 100 days away? Perhaps that doesn't bother you. If like some people I know, you wait until the 24th of December to do your shopping, you are probably not in the least concerned.

But, me? I'm in a panic. There are so many things to do—knitting, sewing, baking, candy-making, decorating. I'd better finish up this article so that I can get back to my fretting!

How to Make Soft Bread

I have a question regarding soft bread. I make my bread using my bread machine. I tend to only use the dough program, and then bake it as rolls. I use all purpose flour and they taste good but are quite dense. I would like to make bread that is lighter. Is it the ingredients or do I need more kneading?


Mary, there are so many variables that come into play; without being in your kitchen I'm not sure how to advise you. Allow me to ask a few questions:

  • Do you measure your flour (by the way, all-purpose should be fine) by the cup (volume) or do you weigh it on a food scale? Because you live in a tropical climate, it is possible that your flour is absorbing moisture from the air which is, in turn, throwing off the balance of flour and liquid.
  • When allowing the dough to proof (rise), do you go by the time specified in the recipe, or by how the dough looks? Here's an easy test. Gently poke the dough with your finger. If the dough springs back (the hole fills in immediately) it's not ready yet. If the indentation remains, the dough has risen enough. However, if it remains in the "ready-to-go" state for too long, some of the oomph of the yeast will start to fade, making for a more dense loaf.
  • Most dough recipes contain just the basics—flour, yeast, salt, and water. The addition of an egg and/or a pat of butter will add fat which can help make the bread more tender.

Here's a simple recipe by Nigel Slater that might help:


  • 5-6 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3Tbsp butter
  • 2 packets of yeast (dry)
  • 1 1/2 cups water


  1. Heat the milk and add sugar, salt, and butter. Make sure the butter melts. Allow this mix to cool.
  2. Heat up the water to about lukewarm and add the yeast. Add a cup of flour and start stirring/mixing.
  3. Add a second cup of flour and the butter mix you made in step 1. Stir again for about 9-10 minutes.
  4. Add another cup of flour (3rd cup) and stir.
  5. Add the next cup of flour and stir/knead for around 5-6 minutes. Add the 5th cup of flour and knead again. Keep kneading till it’s soft and doesn’t break but behaves more like clay. Add a bit more flour if required.
  6. Pour some flour on your kitchen slab and start to knead the dough.
  7. Oil a big bowl for the dough to go into. Cover with a towel and let it rise for around 35-40 minutes. Longer if it hasn’t risen.
  8. Punch it down in the bowl, take it out and knead it a little bit. Split it into two equal loaves.
  9. Take two baking trays, oil them and put the dough in. The recipe asks for oil to be sprayed on top of the dough but I brushed some butter over them.
  10. Cover them and let the dough rise for around an hour.
  11. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (425 degrees F) and bake till golden brown.

Your Best Chili Recipe

My tastes do change with the seasons. Chili is my first desire as I say goodbye to summer . .. so please, Oh Wise One, share with us all your favorite chili recipe.


Bill, chili is one of those foods that everyone has an opinion about—each one is different, and everybody's right. Some people want LOTS of meat (in fact there are those who say that beans should never fall into the pot). Some want it red, others white, some prefer mild seasoning and others swear it has to be 5-alarm or not at all.

We are a complicated species.

Not knowing your preferences I'll give you two different recipes from the Carb Diva files. The first contains some beans but contains a LOT of meat. It won 1st place at our church chili cookoff a few years ago. The second one is vegetarian, but most people can't tell that it does not contain animal protein. (There's a secret ingredient lurking in there that fools just about everyone).

Carb Diva's Prize-Winning Chili


  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • * 1 - 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • * 1/4 to 1/2 cup chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large can (27 ounces) dark red kidney beans


  1. Crumble meats into a large lidded pot. Cook over medium heat until no pink remains. Remove from pan and drain well.
  2. Add oil to the same pan and saute onion until soft—do not allow to brown. Return meat to pan.
  3. Add tomatoes and spices. Simmer, covered, 2 hours. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
  4. Stir in beans and cook one hour more. Watch carefully; it tends to scorch because it is very thick. Add a bit of water if needed.

* Amount you use depends on how hot you want the chili to be.

Carb Diva's Meatless (But Fabulous) Chili


  • 1/2 cup dry pinto beans
  • 1/2 cup dry kidney beans
  • 1 cup dry black beans
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, or more if you like it hot
  • 1 tsp. dried coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano flakes
  • 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, (remove the seeds if you want less heat)
  • 1 lb. crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Carefully sort through the beans. Rinse well and place in a large stockpot. Add 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour.
  2. Drain the beans and return to the pot. Add water to cover the beans by an inch or so; bring to a boil. Simmer until the beans are very tender, 1 to 2 hours. Drain the beans, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water. Place the drained beans back in the pot and set aside.
  3. Place the tomatoes, spices, and jalapenos in a blender container--blend until smooth. Set aside.
  4. In a large saute pan cook the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat until they give off their water, the water evaporates, and they begin to brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  5. Next, add the remaining oil to the pan and simmer the carrots, onion, and celery over medium heat until the vegetables are soft--about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the garlic and bay leaves and saute one minute more. Add the tomato/spice mixture, the sauteed mushrooms, and the sauteed vegetables to the stockpot of beans. Stir in 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water.
  7. Simmer over low heat until heated through and the flavors are blended--about 15 minutes. Add more of the reserved cooking water if needed to prevent burning. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.

New Ways of Cooking Liver - Part 2

Last week Mary chided me for not following through on a "promise" (?) to find some imaginative ways to cook liver. Rinita Sen read that section and has been kind enough to provide a recipe of her own. I'm not certain that I can be prodded into consuming liver, but I can close my eyes and almost smell the wonderful aromas coming from her kitchen with all of those savory spices that she uses.


Great info again, thanks! Liver is a regular on our dinner table because of its high nutrient density. If Mary or anyone else reading this is up for Indian spices, here's my pan recipe - shallow fry cubes of potatoes with salt, until it is less than half cooked. Keep them aside. Fry chopped onions, garlic and ginger, add pastes of onion, garlic, and ginger. Add ground coriander and cumin, salt, a pinch of ground turmeric, and black pepper powder or green chili pepper. Fry the spices well, and then add the chopped liver and the semi fried potatoes. Fry the mixture for a couple more minutes, and then add the required amount of water. Cover and cook until the liver is done. Note that a generous dose of spices and frying of all ingredients is recommended for masking the smell of liver. Also, we make this with goat liver, but I believe it should work with livers of other animals, too.

Thank you for providing a great platform to share through your hub series.

Rinita, thank you for sharing your recipe with us. I love that we can all "talk" together. That's what makes food so much fun. Not everyone drives a car or gardens or listens to music, but all of us eat.

Cooking: Electric vs. Gas vs. Convection Ovens

I have a question for you: I know that cook times must be modified when cooking in higher altitudes, but does the same hold true for electric versus gas? I made croutons last weekend based on the recipe you gave me. I found I needed to cook them 10 minutes longer in order to get that crispy, crunchy texture. I have a Whirlpool Accu-Bake electric oven/stove.

I look forward to your response, my friend!

Not my oven
Not my oven | Source

Audrey, I have a gas cooktop, but my oven has an electric fan. I'll bet that the fan is what louses up the timing. Obviously, I can't test gas vs. electric vs. convection, but I've done some research to find out if and how these three types of cooking vary in time and temperature.

Type of Oven
You won’t have to convert cooking times in old recipes.
Require a bit more ‘hands on’. Cookie sheets need to be rotated and opening/closing the door can allow some heat to escape. Heat cycles upward and downward to maintain temperature.
If you already have gas to your house, a gas oven might be less expensive than electric. Of course, the hookups for either should be installed by a professional. Faster pre-heat time.
Cooking with gas produces water vapor which can prevent best results for baking breads or other foods that need a dry environment. Gas models are usually more expensive than their electric counterparts.
Will cook more evenly and 20 to 30 percent faster than a standard baking oven
Standard recipes will require some adjustment, about a 25-degree reduction in temperature or a shorter cooking time. You might need to purchase new cookware (low-sided pans, and containers that allow at least 2 inches from the sides of the pan to the oven walls.

Recipe Snafu?

Additionally, I made a foil pouch dinner I pulled off your one pot meals post. It was Dijon chicken and potatoes. I found I needed to actually double the cook time. However, I'm thinking the author of the recipe neglected to mention that the potatoes should be par-boiled first.


After much super-sleuthing, I discovered that the recipe in question was not recommended by me. Shauna discovered it on a website I had recommended. (So perhaps it's guilt by association). Here's the link to the problematic recipe, "Sheet Pan Honey Mustard Chicken Dinner".

Shauna's solution of parboiling the potatoes would certainly solve the problem, but would also obviate the one-pot cooking moniker. Most recipes for roasting potatoes at 425 degrees suggest a minimum of 35 minutes. But, cooking the chicken for that length of time might result in dry, rubbery meat.

Is there a compromise? I think these tips might help:

  • cut the potatoes into smaller pieces, no more than 1 inch in size.
  • arrange the potatoes near the edge of the pan.

I haven't tried this recipe (yet) but will put it into the rotation for sure. I'll be sure to report back to all of you.

Ripening Fruit

My question is about fruit for the fruit salad. How do I buy it to make sure it is all ripe at the same time to be used in a fruit salad? I tend to shop once a week.


Mary that's a great question and one that I think a lot of people struggle with. Here's the problem. There are two categories of fruits.

  • "Nonclimacteric" fruits ripen gradually on the parent tree/vine. They do not store their sugars as starch and so, once picked, do not ripen any further.
  • "Climacteric" fruits can be (and often are) harvested while they are still green. Ethylene triggers the ripening action. These fruits store their sugars as starch which converts to sweetness during the post-harvest ripening process.

So, what does this mean? There are some fruits that you can purchase unripe, they will ripen in your home, and if you enclose them in a paper (not plastic) bag, you can hasten the ripening process. And then there are other fruits that, if not as ripe as you would want when you purchase them, will not improve after you take them home. Here's chart to help you:

Non-climacteric (will not continue to ripen after being picked)
Climacteric (will ripen after being picked)
refrigerate to extend shelf life
if hard can be ripened by storing in a paper bag. Use within 1 or 2 days
ripen in a bag. The kitchen "hacks" of speed-ripening in the freezer or an oven don't work
shelf life of 3 days or less
have better taste if not chilled but can last up to 7 weeks in the refrigerator
will keep chilled 4-6 days
can be encouraged to ripen by storing in paper bag with other fruits. Once ripe use immediately or chill
look for fruit that is lighter in color at the base and smells sweet
will keep up to 2 weeks if left uncut.

In this segment I have highlighted the kitchen tools that are (in the words of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins) "a few of my favorite things."

Today is the final chapter of the series.

This last one is something very personal. It's not something that you can purchase on Amazon, or at your local department store (but it might be available on Ebay). The last kitchen gadget/tool/piece of equipment I want to talk about is a set of Pyrex bowls from my mom's kitchen.

I really don't know their age, but they were present on the pantry shelf when I was just a young thing. (I'd rather not reveal my actual age, but let's just say that I was alive during the Eisenhower administration). OK, so there are 4 bowls.

  • The largest is yellow and is ample enough to handle just about any mixing challenge.
  • Next in size is the green bowl. I pull that one out when making a pie crust or cookie dough.
  • Then, there's the red bowl. It probably doesn't get as much respect as it is due. Not big enough for crust, but too big for the smaller tasks of whipping up a sauce. Poor red bowl.
  • Then there's the blue bowl. This is the master for whipping together sauces, crumbles for desserts, or one-person tuna or chicken salads.


So that prompts me to ask, is there something, a tool you remember from your childhood that your mom (or grandma) used in the kitchen that you wish you had today? Or, perhaps you were lucky enough to have it passed down to you? I'd love to hear your stories.

And in case you are wondering, next week I'll be looking at "Alphabet Soup". One soup for each letter of the alphabet, one per week. Following that, I have suggestions from two Hubs friends which I will be working on during the winter.

Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy hearing from all of you. Remember, you can leave questions in the comments section below, or email me at

© 2018 Linda Lum


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