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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #120

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


Lettuce in the Time of E Coli

A few months ago I wrote an article about food safety. Although I wrote about expiration dates, product recalls, and proper food storage, the main focus of the article was the continuing problem of the contamination of romaine lettuce in the Salinas Valley of California.

Since that writing, I've been watching for updates on the problem. Lisa Rab is an investigative journalist whose work has appeared in outlets such as The Washington Post Magazine and Politico Magazine. In December 2019 she wrote a scathing report on feedlots, explaining that government inspectors do not visit cattle ranches or feedlots, the documented source of E Coli contamination in the romaine lettuce fields. But there's a flip-side to the story. Cattle are not the sole source of contamination. Although little is being done to control E Coli from feedlots, the bacteria can also be carried by wild animals, flies, and birds. And ranchers/feedlot managers claim that it is the responsibility of the lettuce growers to test and sanitize their irrigation water.

It's a fascinating dilemma and one that probably will not be resolved any time soon. If you want to read Lisa Rab's article, the link is here.

But Now, Let's Do Something Fun

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.

Corn Meal vs. Masa

I recently shared a recipe for cornmeal biscuits. I always use yellow cornmeal, but a few friends commented that white is the way to go. That prompted this comment from Kari Poulsen:

"Linda, I don't think I have ever seen white cornmeal. But pondering this makes me wonder what masa is made from. I think it is made of corn, but it doesn't taste like corn meal. I think the "5 Alarm Chili" package uses it to thicken the chili."

Kari, there's a good reason that cornmeal and masa do not taste alike. Here's the difference:

  • Cornmeal or corn flour is dry milled, ground directly from the stored grain state. Grits are the most coarse, with particles 0.6 to 1.2 millimeters across. Cornmeal is finer, with particles down to 0.2 millimeters. Corn flour is the finest, smaller than 0.2 millimeters.
  • Masa is wet-milled. The corn is first cooked in an alkaline solution and then allowed to soak for 8 to 16 hours. This softens the hull and cell walls. The soaking solution is then washed away and the kernels are stone-ground to produce masa. The resulting dough is flash-dried to create the dry flour masa harina.

Cooking With Rice Bran Oil

Several weeks ago I wrote an article on "Perfect Chinese Fried Rice." John Hansen (Jodah) was kind enough to leave this comment:

"Linda. I love a good fried rice and your recipe sounds perfect. I agree peanut oil is good to cook it in (and we do live in an area called the Peanut Capital of Australia) but we sometimes use rice bran oil as well."

I hadn't heard of rice bran oil, and so John shared this link.

Cooking Without a Wok

"Linda, I love fried rice but no longer have a wok. I used to store it on top of a pantry in the laundry/cat room. Axel, by boy kitty, would somehow get up on top (I think by way of the water heater). One day he pushed the wok off and the wooden handle broke off once it landed. So into the garbage can it went.

Since I don't have a wok, what other type of pan or skillet could I use to make fried rice?"

Shauna that's an easy one. I have not owned a wok for 30 years or more. Long ago when I was newly married, I had a Teflon-coated wok (I think it might have been a wedding gift). I used it often, but it didn't take long for it to begin to show its age. Those little black flecks in our stir-fry were not black pepper, so it was dispatched to the landfill and I didn't buy a replacement.

Career and kids soon became my primary focus, and gourmet cooking was pushed aside. The job is (happily) in the rearview mirror, the kids are grown and, as you know, a great many of my waking hours are now concentrated on food. Sure, it would be nice to have a wok, but I no longer feel that I need one. A few years ago I gave myself the gift of a set of Calphalon cookware, and it's one of the best investments I've ever made when it comes to kitchen equipment. Those things are (seemingly) indestructible and multi-purpose is their middle name. Instead of a wok, I use this pan.

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.

Scroll to Continue

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.


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:

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

© 2020 Linda Lum


Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 24, 2020:


Yes, I did and I really appreciate the info. I made some dry while waiting and really liked it but as the frozen is a probably more nutritious method, I will be doing that too. Thanks so much for your research.



Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 24, 2020:

Denise, did you see my response a few weeks ago about veg. bouillon?

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 24, 2020:

Good education about the cornmeal and masa. I didn't know that.



Kari Poulsen from Ohio on January 23, 2020:

I'm looking forward to it!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 22, 2020:

You are so very welcome Kari. Come back next week--there are some interesting questions.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on January 22, 2020:

Linda, Thank you so much for the information on masa. I once thought it was just a type of corn flour and tried to thicken chili using corn meal. It didn't work too well. Now I see why the masa tastes so different. Thanks again!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 21, 2020:

Hi Memroiagroup, thank you. I'm glad that you liked this article. I hope you will stop by next Monday for the next chapter.

memroiagroup on January 21, 2020:

Your explanation was also interesting. I always learn something new when I read your articles.Thank you for sharing the article.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 20, 2020:

Thank you Audrey. It will continue as long as I get good questions from friends like you. Take care.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on January 20, 2020:

So glad you mentioned the difference between cornmeal and masa. I thought they were the same thing. You've given us another good read, Linda and I sure enjoy this series!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 20, 2020:

Eric I'm so happy to have you back. If you want some advice on cooking oils and temperatures I'll have something for you next Monday.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 20, 2020:

Mary I am absolutely at a loss on this one. I will continue to research but as of now I don't have an answer for you

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 20, 2020:

From Lettuce to Masa to rice oil you nailed another great one. Thank you and thanks for a great start to my week!

I am cooking up a question about oils and their temperature concepts. Never met an oil I did not like. Initially I am going to try rice oil and ACV for my Vinegar and Oil Italian Salad dressing.

Mary Wickison from USA on January 20, 2020:

We used our wok weekly before my husband became ill. We need to get 'Wokkin' again, I think.

I was wondering if you could shed some light on an incident we had a couple of days ago. Ian was cooking chilies (hot ones) in some oil and then added some vinegar. He was using a cast iron skillet. Oh my goodness, we were coughing and gagging, and sneezing.

He didn't want to open the back door because he didn't want the gas flame to blow out. The cooker is next to the door.

Was this the chilies or a combination of them with the vinegar? We now have a sauce that is possibly too hot to consume. Did he make the equivalent of pepper spray or can we still eat the sauce (in small amounts)?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 20, 2020:

Shauna, yet another way in which you and I are so much alike.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 20, 2020:

Linda, years ago my mother gave me a set of Calphalon cookware which includes several skillets and a soup pot. They and my cast-iron skillets are pretty much all I use when cooking.

It's nice to know I don't have to buy another wok (also a gift from my mom). For as often as I used it, it wouldn't be a good investment on my part.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 20, 2020:

Ahh, Bill, what a nice way to begin the week. This will be a week filled with love for sure. I'm seeing my best friend today for lunch, and at the end of the week my daughter will be having a birthday. My love to you as well.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 20, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. I learn each week at well. Thank you for your kind words.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 20, 2020:

Manatita, woks and the large saute pans (Calphalon) that I like are so versatile. I like that I can take mine from the cooktop and place it in the oven, using it as a baking dish. If you are looking for a new pan for your kitchen I think that's the way to go. Take care that the handle (and knob on the lid) can take the heat. I'm glad that you stopped by for a visit.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 20, 2020:

Let's do it again for sure, my friend, good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise. Love this series and love you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 20, 2020:

Rice bran oil is new to me. Your explaination of the corn meal was also interesting. I always learn something new when I read your articles.

Have a great week Linda.

manatita44 from london on January 20, 2020:

I have an old wok which doesn't look to good and a new one that I have not used. Folks speak highly of them. perhaps they are stronger now, don't know. I like your non-stick calphalon.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 19, 2020:

John, it was news to me, and so I'm sure it will be of value to many people. Thanks for letting us know.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 19, 2020:

Well, Flourish, I had the photo all ready and forgot to publish it. Thanks for waking me up.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 19, 2020:

I learned something from this. Wondering if the cats are sleeping? Is that why they didn’t show this week?

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Hi Linda, thanks for sharing the link to the article about rice bran oil. Hopefully, people find it useful.

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