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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #110

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

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Kindred Spirits

Last week while looking for a specific cookbook in my pantry, I found an old friend, a special collector's edition of "Bon Appetit" magazine. Dated May 2000, this issue is devoted entirely to "The Soul of Tuscany."

Every article, every recipe, and even the advertisements are Tuscan-focussed. It's been quite some time since I had scanned its pages, so I sat down to read and we became reacquainted.

Midway I found a special advertising insert "At Home with Nick Stellino." When it was written, Nick was still not well known but was an "up and comer" in the pantheon of television food chefs.

His first appearance in front of the camera was in 1994 in the PBS studio in Seattle, Washington. With its authentic trattoria setting, nostalgic family stories, and Nick's effervescent personality (and charming accent), the program was warmly received; viewers felt that they were not watching a TV show but were in the kitchen of a good friend.

Today, Nick has multiple television series to his credit, along with 12 published cookbooks. His cooking shows are seen on public television stations across the United States and are syndicated throughout Latin America, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East. But he hasn't forgotten where he began. In fact, he still tapes his shows in the PBS studio in Seattle.

Why am I telling you this? I've always appreciated his approachable, friendly style, I would eat absolutely anything he cooked, and we have something in common; we both hold the same philosophy about food and family. Here's a quote from Nick in the May 2000 issue of Bon Appetit:

"If I think of my own family's connection with food, I am flooded with memories, vivid images of smiling faces, familiar voices, and music. Most of all, though, it is smells and tastes that carry me back to the hours spent around my family's dinner table in our modest home in Palermo, Sicily.

"When Italians talk about food, they are talking about their souls. Our culinary traditions are the sacred thread that runs through the tapestry of or lives. Our sense of family and community is so intertwined with the rituals of shopping and preparing, of eating and drinking, that these activities virtually define our past, describe our present, and shape our future."

Well, let's get started with today's mailbox. If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

The first question today comes from Mary Wickison (Blond Logic).

How to Use Lemongrass

Ian has planted lemongrass. I make tea from it and he uses it in a stir-fry. It's such a lovely aroma, is there a way to get that into cookies or a pudding?

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Mary, before I answer your question, I'll give the rest of the readers a head's up to explain what we're talking about.

Lemongrass (also known as citronella grass) is a perennial grass that grows in the tropics. It sprouts in clusters and healthy plants can reach from 6 to 10 feet high. Each individual stalk will consist of a tough covering similar to a corn husk and a soft white inner core. It's that inner core that is used for cooking.

As the name implies, lemongrass has a subtle citrus flavor and aroma. When you purchase lemongrass look for stalks that are firm (not floppy). The lower end of the stalk should be pale yellow and the upper part of the stalk should be green. Don't buy if the outer leaves are dried and brown. Store loosely-wrapped in the refrigerator—it should keep for several weeks.

You asked for dessert recipes, and that search was lots of fun. (You've got me wishing that I had a pot of lemongrass on my patio but I'm over 3,000 miles north of the equator). Here are some links that you might enjoy:

Turkey for Two (or Three)

Next, Eric Dierker and I had this exchange:

"Sorry I have no time to write my question on our using just a bit of turkey for Thanksgiving. I have trouble keeping it moist."

"Eric, I hope you'll get back to me with your turkey concern because you are probably not alone with your problem. Do you have a problem with dry turkey? Or, is it that you want to cook a small amount (not a 20 pounder?) to use more as an accent rather than the centerpiece? Am I on the right track?"

"Yes the turkey deal with us is only 3 of us. A whole turkey just is too much. I really want just 3 breasts this year. Things like "frozen" or "fresh" and ways to keep it moist."

Brown sugar maple glazed turkey breast

Brown sugar maple glazed turkey breast

Eric, I am doing my happy dance right now. This is exactly the type of thing that I love to do—finding recipes and new cooking ideas for my besties. For just the three of you, one turkey breast might be enough (the breeders today are creating very bosomy turkeys). With that in mind, here are a few turkey breast recipes that are better than simply tossing the turkey in the oven and letting it cook.

  • Brown sugar maple-glazed turkey breast - This is the photo shown above. Isn't it gorgeous? Maple syrup, brown sugar, and sriracha are mixed together for a sweet-spicy glaze. (As soon as I saw those ingredients, I thought of you).
  • Slow-cooker turkey breast - If you have a slow cooker (crockpot) you can roast a turkey breast without using your oven. That's a bonus for so many reasons. First, you're saving energy. You aren't heating up your kitchen (and I know you've been near triple-digits even now.) And, using that enclosed container instead of an open roasting pan will ensure that your turkey stays moist and juicy. Winner winner turkey dinner!
  • Hasselback turkey breast - Eric, I can almost see your face as you read this. You're scratching your head and saying out loud "what in the world is a hasselback?" Hasselback is a method of preparing and cooking food—cutting vertical slices in a long and slender food (just for fun think about the profile of a zucchini), stuffing something inside those slices, and then roasting/baking. Still puzzled? Well, I have devoted one entire article to the topic of hasselback and just for you, I will publish it tomorrow!

Nutrition for Eye Health

"Did I ever ask you about the eyes? I'm having trouble with mine. Anything to help with Glaucoma or the optic nerve? Next Hub, perhaps."

My dear Manatita, I know that you have been suffering from vision issues/eye surgeries for some time. I'm sorry to hear that this still is a problem for you. Here's what I know about nutrients that help eye health:

"Mom" used to tell us that we should eat carrots for our eyes. That's a nice thought, and carrots are certainly a healthy, low-calorie, nutritious food (full of the antioxidant beta-carotene), but they don't have what we need to support eye health. There are other antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in high amounts in your eyes, in fact, in higher amounts than all others. Vitamin A (especially retinol), C, E, and zinc are also important. So how can you include those nutrients in your diet?

My daughter's Kindergarten teacher told her students to "eat a rainbow" to be healthy, and there's a lot of wisdom in that statement. Here's a list of the foods that give a big boost of those things.

Green Foods for Eye HealthOrange and Yellow Foods for Eye HealthAnd Others for Eye Health

Brussels sprouts

Citrus fruits

Nuts and flaxseed

Broccoli

Egg yolks

Berries

Cucumbers

Sweet potatoes

Tomatoes

Green peas

Apricots

Cauliflower

Green beans

Pumpkin

Dark chocolate

Bell peppers

Corn

Whole grains

Olives

Papaya

Milk

Celery

Green tea

Avocados

How can you tell which foods are highest in the antioxidants you need for eye health? Check out their color; in general, the more intense the hue, the greater the amount of lutein. Harold McGee explains it this way in his book "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"

"Nowhere in living things is oxidative stress greater than in the photosynthesizing leaf of a green plant.... Leaves and other exposed plant parts are accordingly chock-full of antioxidant molecules tht keep high-energy reactions from damaging essential DNA and proteins. The dark leaves of open romaine lettuce contain nearly 10 times the eye-protecting lutein of the pale, tight heads of iceberg lettuce."

My kitty (look at those gorgeous eyes!)

My kitty (look at those gorgeous eyes!)

Are there foods to avoid? High amounts of caffeine can pose a problem, so take care with eating chocolate or drinking coffee and tea. Salt (sodium) can also be problematic; obviously we're talking about blood pressure here. Keeping hydrated is important, but big gulps of liquids are not the solution and could be harmful. Small sips throughout the day are best.

Updates from Last Week

I have the bestest friends/readers in all of Hub Pages. Your comments and feedback are incredibly helpful. For example:

Using Papaya

  • FlourishAnyway suggests drying that fruit and using it in homemade granola. Yum!
  • Rinita Sen mentioned that it can be used green as a vegetable. Also, it's excellent for digestion and reducing bloating. I'm going to devote an entire article to "Exploring Papaya." Stay tuned.

Perfect Swedish Meatballs

  • Brave Warrior (Shauna Bowling) adds dill weed to the meat and the sauce.

Exploring Waffles

  • MizBejabbers (Doris James) provided this neat idea: "I love waffles and last year I bought a mini waffle maker (4 in. waffles). I got a wild hair one day and added just a little more liquid to my recipe for a gluten-free chocolate mug cake. It made 3 perfect little chocolate waffles, kind of like cookies. I eat them by dipping them in pancake syrup. Delicious. Thought you might like the idea of turning mug cakes into waffles. Just be sure to use a recipe that calls for baking powder."

What Flavors Go Together?

"Here's one for you...complimentary flavors when baking? Cherry and chocolate are probably my favorites....can you give me five more which are personal favorites?"

Billybuc (Bill Holland), that's a great question. My first thought was "I don't like to combine flavors. I'm a purist. I don't even like to dunk my fries in ketchup." But, that's not true. Some things do naturally seem to go together, just like Simon and Garfunkel. Here are my favorites:

  1. Pears and ginger - I'm envisioning an open-face puff pastry tart with sliced pears and candied ginger. Why this match? Unlike their cousins the apple, pears are sweet but typically don't have the tart zing of apples. So their "pair" perfectly with ginger (sorry, I couldn't resist).
  2. Apples and cheddar cheese - Some people say this is sacrilege, but I love a slice of sharp cheddar (especially an Irish cheddar) on top of a warm wedge of cinnamon-apple pie. Or you could mix some of that sharp cheese right into the pastry. The tang of the apple and the creamy richness of the cheese just go hand-in-hand if you ask me (and you did).
  3. Chocolate and coffee - Both beans, both dark, and both have a bitter/umami flavor. Dark chocolate covered espresso beans are the bomb! And as you know, I use espresso coffee in place of water in my dark chocolate brownie recipe.
  4. Lemon and lavender - These flavors together scream Springtime for me. There's something about the bright flavor of citrus that makes me think of Spring, Easter, looking forward to lemonade in the Summer perhaps. And, have you ever tasted lavender? Obviously floral, green, herby, fresh—all of those tastes fill me with happy thoughts of growth and new beginnings. I put them together in shortbread cookies.
  5. Salted caramel - This one appears in just about everything—well, I haven't seen it in a soup (yet), but dessert (of course), main dishes (Asian cooking), and even candied pecans on a salad. Even though it seems to be overdone I still appreciate the contrast, the yin and yang of sweet and salty.

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.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

My admin assistant

My admin assistant

Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address: lindalum52@gmail.com.

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2019 Linda Lum

Comments

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 11, 2019:

Came back to read comments. This is the good life.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

MizB there's another trick to finding the proper avocado. I'll share it here for you and add it to next week's column in case some readers miss it.

Always look for a fruit that still has the stem end intact. My daughter and I refer to it as the bellybutton. Pop that off--if you see green underneath, the avocado is still in good shape (ripe or close to ripe). If, however, it's brown, put the avocado back and step away. It's old and will disappoint you when you open it up.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on November 11, 2019:

Yum, some lovely questions and some tasty answers. Glad I'm not a purist, but I got really tired of the chocolate raspberry phenomenon of a few years ago. Salted caramel and rough salt on dark chocolate, delicious until the doctor put me on a low sodium diet because of that stroke I had last month, darn it. Your gorgeous striped kitty looks just like my Cici. She's on a vet-ordered diet too. She says darn it!

Here buying a good avocado is the luck of the draw. One hint on ripening avocados. I place them inside a paper bag for a couple of days. Works for me. What didn't work was placing them on a window sill in the sunshine. Ugh!

manatita44 from london on November 11, 2019:

Her time came, I suppose. Sorry for your loss, but again, she's still alive on Hub Pages.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Mary, I don't have any personal experience in using a not-quite-ripe avocado, but I will have an answer for your next week. I'm VERY choosy when I buy my avocados because they are costly.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 11, 2019:

Oh Linda,

What a memory you have.

I forgot to ask my question. When I buy an avocado, sometimes I cut it too soon and it's too hard for me to eat with a spoon as I normally do.

Do you have any ways to use a semi-ripe avocado?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Manatita, she was such a beautiful kitty inside and out. Very loving and loyal. She died a little over 6 years ago; one moment she was with us, and the next she was gone, stricken by a heart attack. It was a horrible shock to all of us. At least she did not suffer.

manatita44 from london on November 11, 2019:

Kari reminded me.

I was going to mention the cat as well. I guess she's a part of you now, right? Haha.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Hi Kari - I will do some research on flaxseed and have an answer for you next Monday Stay tuned!

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 11, 2019:

I really enjoyed this! Your cat is beautiful, those green eyes really shine.

While reading the list of ingredients good for your eyes, I noticed flax seed. I love ground flax seed on salads, but I don't really know of any other way to use it. It is so good for you, I'd love to get more in my diet. Do you know of any good recipes?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Mary, so cow hump is OK but not fish sauce. Hmmm. Salted caramel shouldn't taste salty, but it does have a pop of flavor that should make you say "wow." It's like adding a pinch of salt to melon (and if you haven't tried that, you really should).

Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 11, 2019:

I love the selection of lemon grass recipes, although the first one, surprised me with FISH SAUCE! Gadzooks! There are some things even I won't add to cupcakes. I look forward to making these as soon as the lemon grass is big enough to harvest.

I'm sure salted caramel is a 'big thing' but I have only just tried some chocolate with that in it. I couldn't even taste it, so I am still clueless.

Thanks for the post about eye health, it's useful.

Have a great week.

manatita44 from london on November 11, 2019:

Thank you for your prayers, my Dear. Glory be!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Manatita, you are on the list of people I pray for each night. Stick to eating that rainbow.

manatita44 from london on November 11, 2019:

Lovely use of lemon grass and great advise on turkey. You combine well, too.

Thanks for all these foods that you suggests for me. Most I eat or have eaten, but the lutein and zeaxanthin are great for eyes, yes. They made a mistake in my care and my op is working too well, thus creating extra problems, so I may need another op. Let us pray. Much gratitude for your kindness.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 11, 2019:

Good idea Linda. Thanks!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Gosh Sha, I wish I could ship mine to you (I always toss them out--ugh). If you have a butcher you can talk to, perhaps you can make a deal with him/her to set aside the giblets for you since some turkeys are hacked apart and sold as pieces.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 11, 2019:

Linda, your kitty is beautiful! Already getting in the Christmas spirit, I see.

I have the same turkey dilemma as Eric. It's just me and my son in my household. He's not big on leftovers and we both prefer the breast. My problem is if I'm making Thanksgiving dinner, I must make my grandmother's giblet gravy. It's not easy finding a breast that includes the giblets. To me, gravy just isn't the same without them.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Pamela, Kyla was a very special kitty--smart, funny, opinionated (as only a cat can be), and she slept on the foot of my bed at night. Twice I've thought I felt her walking across the bed, but it was only a dream.

I'm sorry you are having mobility problems in the kitchen. A stool to sit on might help.

My younger daughter met Nick Stellino and she says he is as nice in person as he appears on TV.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

If I have a happy Bill, I'm happy too. Have a great day and stay warm.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Eric, I got two yahoos on the Dierker scale? Wow. Don't ever apologize about a lengthy comment. Sometimes the comments are the best part of an article, and your always contribute something of value.

Hasselback will be published later this afternoon so don't wander too far away.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Flourish, she wasn't so great in wrapping; opening the gifts and using the boxes was more to her liking. She's been gone six years and I still miss her.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Good morning John. Now you have some other ways to use that lemongrass. Perhaps I should try to grow some next year.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 11, 2019:

First, I think you own a beautiful cat. This article has a big variety of topics that you covered very well. I would love to sample those Tuscan dishes. I wish I was able to cook like I use to but I just can't stand for long periods of time. I still enjoy gathering all this new information. Have a very good week, Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 11, 2019:

Rinita I hope both of you find some relief from your vision problems.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 11, 2019:

Fantastic! I have some new flavor combinations to try. Thank you for tackling my question, even though you are a purist.:) Happy Monday to you my friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 11, 2019:

I have 2 yahoos today - 1st I actually got this article withing a reasonable time and 2nd is that it is fantastic.

I will reserve all judgment about Turkey until I understand Hassleback. Great stuff on the nutrition for eyes. No wonder why mine work so well - knock on wood ;-)

That is great about combinations. Got me to wonder about how I should pair my teas.

I am sure I will be back here - sorry for the length.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 11, 2019:

Having had optic neuritis I appreciate the table of foods good for the eyes. I love your kitty photo. Looks like you get a lot of assistance wrapping gifts!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 11, 2019:

Great article once again Linda. Cherry and chocolate....perfect!!! Oh and I have lemongrass growing in the garden. We use it mostly to make a tea with, but occasionally in cooking for a slight lemony flavour.

Rinita Sen on November 11, 2019:

It's great that you've included the bits and pieces by the readers. Not everyone may read all the comments, so this is extremely helpful.

Thumbs up on the piece about the eyes. I deal with inflammation in the eyes and having lots of veggies helps me. The more colorful the dinner plate, the better. Hope manatita regains the strength in his eyes soon.