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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #140

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


Something To Think About

A few weeks ago a dear Facebook friend posted a quotation on her timeline; I believe it's worth sharing:

“What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus… It has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dear rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

—Arundhati Roy, political activitist on human rights and environmental causes and author of “The God of Small Things” and “The Banyan Tree.”

How timely—"...dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred."

For months we have been focussed within, cowering in fear of an unseen enemy, the Covid19, but knowing that perhaps with vigilance and care we could avoid its impact on our lives. But then two weeks ago the ugly specter of racial bias and intolerance was manifest once again for all the world to see.

Has Covid19 taught us nothing? Perhaps Corona is not the virus of which we should be most fearful.

Let Us Begin

I sincerely appreciate every person who takes time from their busy lives to read this weekly column. I like to imagine us sitting around the kitchen table with a cup of coffee (or tea), asking questions and sharing stories.

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.

To get us started, my friend Eric Dierker sent me this:

Breakfast Cereal?

"Cereal? That is the question. What is a good recipe to make some homemade breakfast cereals? The "sugary" store ones are interesting. Sugar but a complete, fortified vitamin in each bowl. I was also thinking of the notion of what 'cereal' means."

bowl of cold breakfast cereal with milk

bowl of cold breakfast cereal with milk

Oy vey! I asked Eric if he wanted a granola recipe(s). His response was a rather impolite "no," something to the effect that granola is never a breakfast cereal.

OK, whatever. I love the guy so I'll humor him. First, let's do the food history lesson. I gleaned a significant amount of information from the website Food Timeline so let's begin there.

Hot cereals (porridge, oatmeal, gruel) have been around forever (or at least it seems that way), but cold cereal is a rather newish innovation (less than two centuries). Be forewarned, the next paragraph or so might turn you away from eating cold cereal ever again.

In the last half of the 19th century, there were health crusaders, people who promulgated the concept of eating particular foods prepared in particular ways to promote good health and a hale-and-hearty well being. (I think they were probably first-cousins of the snake oil salesmen of the same time period, but that's another discussion for another day). Anyhow, here are the players in the show:

  • Sylvester Graham was a Presbyterian minister who as a child had been plagued with illness. Let’s start out by saying that Graham had a difficult life. He was the youngest of 17—his father was 70 when Graham was born and his mother was mentally ill. As a result, throughout his childhood, he was bounced around from family to family, and one was the owner/operator of a tavern. Work in that place exposed Graham to the sadness of drunken behavior and turned him away from alcohol for his entire life.

    When he was a young adult there was a worldwide outbreak of cholera; the accepted medical practice was that avoiding vegetables and consuming abundant amounts of meat and wine would offer protection from the dread disease. That prescription did not sit well with Graham, so he studied and developed his own theology, concluding that eating meat and alcohol were gluttonous and that people should consume only plants, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Milling and baking at home were a significant part of his message; his first book “Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making” helped spread the message. He developed his own brand of flour, made from the entire wheat seed, not just the endosperm. Does his name sound familiar to you? Perhaps you’ve heard of graham crackers.
  • Dr. James Caleb Jackson was the creator and founder of ‘Our Home Hygienic Institute’ in New York. Like Graham, Jackson was a rather sickly child but took a decided turn for the better after receiving a “water cure” at a health spa. This remarkable event not only changed his health but also his avocation. Jackson devoted himself to hydropathy, became a trained physician in the “science.” At his institute in New York, he doled out a strict vegetarian diet with an emphasis on unprocessed grains. In 1863 he developed a breakfast cereal that he named granula. It was made of oats, cornmeal, and graham flour.
  • John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that Kellogg) was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. This is his story, as explained by Heather Arndt Anderson in her 2013 publication “Breakfast – A History”:

"In 1894, John Harvey and his brother Will Keith Kellogg accidentally invited the cereal that would make them famous when a pan of cooking wheat was forgotten on the stove. Trying to save money by not wasting product, they ran the paste of overcooked wheat through a set of steel rollers. They named the flakes cereal Granose Flakes, and marketing began in 1895. Shortly after receiving the patent, more than fifty tons of Granose cereal had been manufactured and sold, primarily through mail order."

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So there you have it, the cold breakfast cereal that many of us start the day with was created by men who owned and operated sanatoriums (what we would today call convalescent centers or health spas).

Well, how about some recipes.

Homemade Cornflakes

The first recipe I found was for homemade cornflakes. They sound easy enough—place a thin layer of fine cornmeal in a skillet, spray on just enough water to dampen and cook until dried out. Use a metal spatula to scrape the flakes from the bottom of the pan. Those who left comments report that they are tasty but disintegrate quickly in milk.

Vanilla-Almond Cereal Puffs

These vanilla-almond cereal puffs sound much more promising. With the aid of a food processor, you create a "cookie dough" which is then shaped into pea-sized balls and baked in the oven. One commenter suggested simply rolling out the dough and then cutting into small cubes with a pizza cutter. If you don't mind square-shaped cereal (it wouldn't bother me) I think that's a simpler way to go.

Homemade Cinnamon-Toast Crunch

My daughter wants to make this homemade cinnamon-toast crunch; CTC is her absolute favorite cereal, and if you make it yourself you can control (with mom's supervision) the amount of sugar.

Nutty Bran Flakes

How here's a recipe that holds real promise. Nutty bran flakes are rolled paper-thin on a sheet of parchment paper. Instead of cutting into small pieces, the entire one-large-flake-of-dough is baked in the oven until beginning to dry and turn golden. Allow to cool, break into bite-sized pieces, and bake once again in a low oven to completely crisp.


Would you believe homemade Cheerios (oaty-ohs)? Honestly, it sounds like more work than I'd care to invest, but if you're handy with a piping bag, you could probably knock out of a batch of these oven-baked oh's in no time.

Wheat Flake Cereal

This final recipe actually looks kinda fun. Instead of creating a dough, the wet and dry ingredients are mixed into a wheat flakes batter that is poured out in a thin layer of a sheet of parchment paper (did I mention that for every one of these you should probably have a roll of baking parchment paper handy?). That thin slurry is baked in the oven till crisp, then cooled and broken into bite-sized pieces.

How to Cook With Bamboo Shoots

"Then there's bamboo shoots. I've never eaten them. I have bamboo growing on my property. It's a very aggressive grower. Not only are they tall, but they seed themselves all over the place. I often have to pull new shoots from the middle of my front yard. They certainly don't subject themselves to boundaries, that's for sure! Anyway, how do you eat them? Side dish? Part of a main?"

Shauna, I'm surprised that you've never had bamboo shoots; I really hope that you'll give them a try. They do not have a pronounced flavor (they're actually quite mild) so they readily accept whatever flavor(s) they are cooked with.


  • How To Cook Bamboo: Our first recipe is a basic "how-to" which explains how to select, store, prepare, and cook fresh bamboo shoots.
  • Soy-Braised Bamboo Shoots: Kee was born and raised in Southern China. Her recipe for soy-braised bamboo shoots is a quick stir fry that can be served as a vegetarian meal or, if you wish, pork or chicken can be added.
  • Spicy Bamboo Shoot Salad: This salad is as boldly-flavored as it is colorful. Lime juice adds brightness, fish sauce (just a touch) brings a big umami pop, garlic and birds eye peppers deliver the heat. Fresh cilantro and mint add contrasting flavors of citrus and coolness.
  • Thai Curry Fettuccini: Watch the video and then take the recipe with you to the grocery store so that you can make this Thai curry for your family. This is a very adaptable meal—Ginny uses fettuccine pasta, but you could substitute soba, udon, gluten-free, or even rice or cauliflower rice. This is a vegetarian meal, but you could certainly add cooked diced chicken for the meat-lovers.

Help Me Fix My Mashed Potatoes!

"I have a question for you regarding potatoes. Is there any reason why people don't grate potatoes instead of cubing them for mashed potatoes? They would cook faster. My last lot of mashed potatoes were rather lumpy, and I put this down to my impatience in waiting for them to cook."

Fluffy mashed potatoes

Fluffy mashed potatoes

Some people like rustic lumpy potatoes, and then there are normal people like Mary and me. We want our taters soft and fluffy. No matter which style you prefer, there's one thing on which we certainly can agree—there is one kind of potato, and one only that is truly suitable, whether you desire rustic, simple-mashed, or whipped to a frenzy. You simply must use a starchy potato, a russet also known as a Burbank, Idaho, or baker potato. Waxy potatoes (the white- or red-skinned potatoes) simply will not work. And what about Yukon golds? I love Yukon gold potatoes, but they fall into the "somewhere in between" category. Not waxy, but not starchy. They will produce a rustic mashed potato, but if silky smooth is what you crave, I am afraid that Yukons will disappoint. If they are your only choice, by all means, use them, but if you can find russets you should purchase those instead.

this is what a russet potato looks like

this is what a russet potato looks like

OK, so now to Mary's question about technique—would grating instead of cubing or dicing the potatoes make them cook faster and hasten the process? I knew that cooking grated potatoes would not work, but didn't understand the science behind it, so I went to my friend Kenji for an explanation.

Kenji acknowledges that starch is the obvious culprit—it makes those potatoes gluey. So why not simply rinse off the starch and cook slivers of potato. Kenji is the mad professor of Serious Eats, and so (of course) he had to set up an experiment. He made three batches of potatoes:

  • The first batch was cut into uniform large chunks,
  • the second batch was composed of 1-inch dice, and
  • the third batch was potato shaved on the large holes of a box grater.

All three batches were rinsed under cold water before cooking, this was to remove the excess starch on the surface. As you might expect, he saved the rinse water from each batch; the grated potatoes released the most starch. Did that solve the gluey-potato problem? I’ll let Kenji explain what happened:

"Another weird phenomena occurs when you try and cook grated and rinsed potatoes: they simply don't soften. I boiled those grated potatoes for a full 45 minutes to no avail. Even after forcing them through a ricer, pebbly, hard bits remained. What the heck was going on?

It's got to do with that pesky pectin. Turns out that when exposed to calcium ions, pectin cross-links, forming stronger bonds that are resistant even to prolonged cooking. As it happens, potato cells are full of calcium ions just waiting to burst out. By grating the taters, I ended up releasing so much calcium that the pectin gets strengthened to a point where it never softens."

So what's the secret? Here's what I do:

Size DOES Matter

  • When you peel and dice your potatoes, strive to make all of the pieces the same size. If you have a United Nations of potato pieces, it should be apparent that the smaller chunks will be tender long before the larger ones.

Start Cold and Then Warm Things Up

  • Fill your cooking vessel with cold water. Add the potatoes—the water should be an inch or more above the potatoes. If there is not enough room, use a larger pot.
  • Bring the water up to a simmer—be patient.

Know When to Hold Them, Know When to Fold Them

  • "When are the potatoes done?" you might ask. Use the tip of a sharp knife and gently stab a chunk of potato. If the knife slips in easily, the potatoes are done. Again, patience, but don't overcook—when potato chunks start to fall apart, you are at risk of having potato soup, not potato mash.

Always Use the Proper Tool for the Job

  • Yes, I know you're hungry, but don't look at your Kitchen Aid mixer, don't grab the immersion (stick) blender, and don't even think of getting out the food processor. Potatoes are starch, and starch does not take well to being pummeled. There are two acceptable tools for mashing potatoes—the potato masher (clever name) and the potato ricer. Each has a unique (different) purpose and will provide different results. Which one you use depends on what type of mash you desire. Mashers can potentially leave a few lumps and ricers deliver a creamy mash.

Don't Go from Hot to Cold

  • Those potatoes are hot and steamy. Why would you douse their flame of love with a stick of chilled butter and milk straight from the coldest part of the refrigerator? Talk about a cold shower! Use room-temperature butter, and warm the milk—it doesn't have to be boiling, but for goodness sake at least take the chill off with a quick zap in the microwave oven.

You're Not Making Soup

  • Yes, I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but please use a bit of patience and restraint when adding liquid (milk or cream) to your mashed potatoes. Proceed slowly, dribbling in a bit at a time while you gently stir. If you dump in a large glug of milk and then find that you have added too much, guess what you now have? Mashed potato soup. There's no turning back. The only way to correct that mess is to add more cooked potatoes, and I doubt you have any of those idly waiting around. Take it slow and easy.

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.


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


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 16, 2020:


Has to be a good quality butter though, and grate a tiny amount of 18 month aged Cheddar!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 16, 2020:

Oh Lawrence, everything is better with butter. You'll get no argument from me.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 16, 2020:


Enjoyed this hub, mashed spuds are a favourite of mine, but one added ingredient for our table must be there.

When the spuds are mashed, before putting the milk in melt about 50grams of butter for the taste!


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 12, 2020:

Denise, thank you for commenting on my introduction. Many have read it, but you are the only one to respond--perhaps because it really hits home with you.

How can anyone live on this planet and not understand that the evil that hurts one affects us all? Maybe I should ask one of our philosophers here (Manatita or Eric) to write on that topic. The butterfly wing effect

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 12, 2020:

Shauna, I love hominy and that would be a great topic. Always looking for inspiration. Thanks

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 12, 2020:

Linda, I'm watching "Great Food Truck Race" and hominy came up as an ingredient. I love hominy, but don't know what to do with it other than add butter and sugar.

Would you consider dedicating an "Exploring...." article to hominy? I think the history would be fascinating and I'd love to see how many recipes you can come up with using this amazing Southern (or is it?) ingredient.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on June 12, 2020:

"Perhaps Corona is not the virus of which we should be most fearful." My daughter said that racism is much like the virus in that people can believe it doesn't exist if it hasn't touched their lives. Very interesting about the bamboo shoots. I wish I lived in an area where they are growing. I love them in stir-fries and salads. Great info on cereals too. I have to bookmark this one for future recipes. I'm intrigued by the cinnamon toast cereal.



Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 10, 2020:

Hi Mary. I'm always happy to hear from you. One way to tell the difference of a "Russet/Idaho/baker" potato and the others is the skin.

What I refer to as a russet potato has a rough skin. All of the others have a smooth skin. I've added a photo of one of my russet potatoes to this article. Maybe that will help.

Mary Wickison from USA on June 10, 2020:

This is bursting with useful info. The selection of prepacked cold cereals here isn't great. I'd have to drive 70 km to get Cherrios! I will be giving some of those recipes a whirl.

Regarding the mashed spuds. It is amazing mine have ever turned out. I'm sure our potatoes aren't starchy ones. They are very tasty but look more like, what they would call 'new potatoes' in the UK.

Great ideas for the bamboo shoots too.

Have a great week.

manatita44 from london on June 09, 2020:

Oh, a beauty, eh?

Yes, she is well known.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 09, 2020:

Manatita, yes, the flower with the sweet kitty is indeed lavender. (Suzanna) Arundhati Roy (female) did win the Man Booker Prize for literature in 1997.

manatita44 from london on June 09, 2020:

Was that flower lavender?

I lived on marsh potatoes in the late seventies and eighties. Great stuff! Interesting story about the Kellogg brothers.

Arundhati Roy is supposed to be famous. Didn't he win a Booker Prize or something? His style reminds me of a Bard I know in West Ealing, London, UK.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 08, 2020:

Linda I almost always have granola on hikes. It is a great health and energy nutritional value. I bet it is you who keep Mr. Diva so young.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 08, 2020:

Eric, let me know how it goes with making the cereal. My daughter wants to do the cinnamon toast crunch.

Cream of wheat is OK (actually reminds me of the better part of my childhood), but I think I could REALLY get on board with cream of potato soup for breakfast. I love potatoes.

I like the taste of granola but I get tired of chewing. My husband has it almost every morning but doesn't treat it like cereal (with milk). He puts vanilla yogurt with it. Horribly noisy (hahaha) but it keeps my healthy. He's 73 and most people think he's 10 years younger.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 08, 2020:

Linda I have already read this 3 times and it was necessary. I am making some cereal in just a bit. I talked about how I did not even know that my wife cooks with bamboo several times a week so I learned a lot there.

It was good to read about mashed potatoes. It actually gave me more insight into my pancakes and hash browns also. I like my potatoes mashed and clumpy with skins left on.

People eat cream of wheat for breakfast, I make a mean cream of potato with leftovers.

That was so cool tying in Graham and Kellog into the history - thank you.

I still suggest granola is not a breakfast cereal.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 08, 2020:

Shauna, I love you like a sis, Sis. I can never argue with you, so let's just agree to disagree. BTW, I don't think I've ever actually met a plate of mashed potatoes that I didn't like. (You're probably thinking now about instant mashed, but I don't think that you can even CALL those potatoes).

I sure hope Eric shows up pretty soon. Most of this article was all about him, wasn't it?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 08, 2020:

Linda, thanks for the info on bamboo shoots. I'm still not sure whether or not I'll try them.

I have to disagree with you regarding mashed potatoes. I never use russets (to me they're just too grainy) and I never peel my potatoes. I use red potatoes, skin on. After they've cooked, I drain the water, then add salt, pepper, unsalted butter and milk. I whip them with my hand-held mixer until smooth and creamy. In fact, I made them last night and they were delicious! Just saying, my friend.....

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 08, 2020:

Linda, I must agree that those 3 men are some of my favorite people. I'm glad you thought to include them!

Ann Carr from SW England on June 08, 2020:

Sorry, Linda, to make it complicated for you! Maybe it's a British thing, I've no idea.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 08, 2020:

Flourish, I can't disagree with your dad. I'm sure that evaporated milk will give them a richer flavor without the high fat content of cream. How sweet that you still have your dad around. I lost my dad almost 39 years ago.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 08, 2020:

Ann, I've learned something (from you). In the States pancakes, hotcakes, griddle cakes and flapjacks are all the same thing. I'll have to do a little research on your version of flapjacks" and will (fingers crossed) have an answer next week. This will be fun.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 08, 2020:

Oh! Does flapjacks mean pancakes to you? I thought a pancake was a cooked batter for sweet or savoury fillings. To me, flapjack is rolled oats in golden syrup, butter and sugar, flattened into a dish, put in the oven and eaten as an accompaniment to coffee or tea, instead of a biscuit. I was wondering if you had an even more yummy slant on that.

Funny how food names vary like that, isn't it?

He actually does more cooking than me and is generally better at it! Yes, I certainly am lucky.


FlourishAnyway from USA on June 08, 2020:

My father swears that the secret of good mashed potatoes is using evaporated rather than regular milk. It's creamier and has much of the water content removed.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 08, 2020:

Good morning Ann. I could really go for some mashed potatoes right now. You're lucky to have a set of helping hands in the kitchen.

I've written an article on waffles but don't think I ever addressed pancakes. I'd be glad to share some recipes with you, so please come by next Monday. (Tomorrow too if you're in the neighborhood. I'll have another article ready).

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 08, 2020:

Bill, there is indeed a difference, and that's a good question. Almost worthy of an entire article. I'll be glad to tackle that one for you next week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 08, 2020:

Pamela, the coffee is always ready. As for sitting around with the ladies, you'd have to put up with billybuc too and probably Eric Dierker and Jodah (although the commute for the last two would be prohibitive).

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a good week.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 08, 2020:

Another useful, informative and entertaining cooking session, Linda.

My partner makes the best mashed potato I've ever tasted - chopped up small, allowed to boil for quite a while, then mashed with a little butter using a potato masher until it's a lump-free cream. He's much stronger than me so it takes him half as long as it would if I did it and it's still better anyway!

Interesting regarding the cereals. I love muesli, or just plain porridge oats, with fruit and natural yoghurt. I never add milk as I don't like it.

I've cooked more in this lockdown than ever before - it was flapjacks the other day which were quite good. Do you have any easy superb flapjack recipes? I bet you do!


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 08, 2020:

Why make cereal when Cheerios is still produced? Just askin'!

So I'm at the store yesterday, and I have my choice between 80% fat free ground beef and 90% fat free...about a buck a pound difference in price. But is there a difference in taste and if so, why is there?

Just askin'

Have a great week. It's going to be a wet one!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 08, 2020:

Linda, I really like the idea of sitting around the table, drinking coffee with you and some other ladies and telling stories. It would be fun.

I have no desire to make my own cereal when there are so many types on the shelves. I did enjoy read, however, ing about the mashed potatoes and you directions are about the way I make them. I am happy to say that as it means I am doing them right. I actually don't mind a few small lumps but I do strive to eliminate them. Great article as usual, Linda.

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