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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes, and Cooking, #64

Updated on February 20, 2019
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

No long introduction today. It's Christmas Eve and all of us are busy. But I have made a promise that I will be here each and every Monday to share with you the questions I received, and give you my answers. I don't break promises.

And so, the first question today comes from Mary.

The Connection Between Dairy Products and Sweet (or Nightmarish) Dreams

I have a question that is less about cooking and more about chemistry perhaps. Why is it said that drinking warm milk before bed helps you sleep, but eating cheese gives you nightmares?


Mary, like you, for years I've heard that a glass of warm milk just before bedtime will make us sleepy. Is there any truth to this, or is it another old wives' tale? While it's true that milk contains tryptophan (an amino acid that helps create serotonin and melatonin) the amounts are insignificant. So why does warm milk put some of us in the mood for slumber? May I say that "it's in your head?"

If you have pleasant childhood memories of Mom giving you a warm glass of milk and a bedtime story before you drifted off to sleep, your mind will associate warm milk with that cozy, comfortable feeling. So, it's science but it's not physiology, it's psychology.

OK, that story was a bit of a snore (pun intended). The question about cheese and nightmares was a lot more entertaining. Is there any truth to the claim that eating cheese before bedtime induces bad dreams, or is it merely the invention of Charles Dickens? (Remember that his Ebenezer Scrooge blamed a "crumb of cheese" on his ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve.)

In 2005 the British Cheese Board conducted a sleep study using 200 volunteers (100 men and 100 women). Over a one-week period, the test subjects were given a 20-gram piece of cheese 30 minutes before bedtime. Six different types of cheese were used. During the 7-day trial, 72 percent of participants reported that they slept well and 67 percent were able to recall their dreams but no one reported nightmares. But here's an entertaining fact from the study:

85 percent of females who ate Stilton had some of the most bizarre dreams of the whole study – although none were described as bad experiences. Highlights included talking soft toys, lifts that move sideways, a vegetarian crocodile upset because it could not eat children, dinner party guests being traded for camels, soldiers fighting with each other with kittens instead of guns and a party in a lunatic asylum.

If you want more information on the study, check out this link.

How to Cook Dry Beans

My mom always soaked her beans overnight. Lately, I've heard that you really don't need to do that. And what about draining them? Mom always tossed out the soaking water, saying that it would make the beans more "gassy."


Yes, my mom always pre-soaked the beans for our soups. She said it softened the dried skins so that they would cook faster. And, as in your house, she too pitched out the soaking water and replaced it with fresh.

There is also controversy (perhaps too strong a word) over when the beans should be salted. Some cooks say that adding salt to the cooking water "toughens" the beans.

And then, there are those who say the lid should be left on to speed up cooking time, or it should be left off to reduce the liquid and enhance flavors. So many considerations!

Well, to obtain the ultimate answer, I went to the ultimate source for the best methods in kitchen-cooking, Epicurious. Here are the variables that they took into consideration:

  • pre-soak beans overnight
  • bring beans to a boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and let sit one hour before cooking
  • cook without pre-soaking or the 1-hour heat/soak
  • drain away soaking water
  • use soaking water for cooking
  • salt before cooking
  • salt after cooking
  • cook with the lid on
  • cook with the lid off

I'm no mathematician, but I'm pretty sure that there are dozens of combinations of these factors. But don't worry. Epicurious did all of the heavy lifting for us, and here's what they came up with:


For the Epi Kitchen, the results were clear. Quick-soaking the beans, salting them at the beginning of cooking, and cooking in a pot without a lid, resulted in beans with great texture and a flavorful broth.

  • Place 1 lb. dried beans in a large, heavy pot.
  • Cover with water about 2” above the top of beans. Cover pot, bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Let rest 1 hour.
  • Stir in 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  • Uncover, reduce heat, and simmer until beans are tender and creamy, checking after 1 hour and adding more water as necessary to keep beans submerged, 1–1 1/2 hours total.


This recipe has been in my repertoire for decades. I don't recall the source; I think it might have been originally published in Sunset Magazine or Better Homes and Gardens (years ago those were my go-to sources for cooking inspiration).

Ingredients for soup

  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs (not Panko)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • ½ cup diced carrots
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 ounces of mini penne pasta or other small pasta

Instructions for soup

  1. Prepare spinach pesto and set aside.
  2. Saute mushrooms in 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large stockpot until they give off their juices and begin to brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Combine egg, milk, bread crumbs, and salt. Add ground meat and mix well. Shape into 2 dozen 1 ½ inch meatballs.
  4. Saute meatballs in olive oil in a large stockpot until browned.
  5. Add broth, carrots, celery, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
  6. Add pasta; cover and cook 10 minutes or until the pasta is done and the vegetables are tender.
  7. Stir in pesto and mushrooms and simmer until all is heated through.

Ingredients for Pesto

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • ½ cup grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Instructions for Pesto

  1. Squeeze spinach well to remove as much excess moisture as possible.
  2. Place in the bowl of a food processor along with remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

If you like this series, you'll love this! Consider it my gift to you.

It's Not Too Late


If you have not already posted your letter to Santa he might not pay you a visit, but it's not too late to write to me. If you have cooking questions, I have cooking answers. Leave your queries in the comments section below, or you can email me at

From my house to yours, I wish all of you a very Merry, Blessed Christmas. See you next Monday.

© 2018 Linda Lum


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