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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #151

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


Is It an Art or a Science?

Last week a good friend made this observation:

"Food is like medicine—it is really just an experiment."

Eric, there is more than a bit of truth in that. Yes, for sure there is science in cooking and baking. I'm a food nerd and one of my favorite reads is this one by Harold McGee. It's on my desk along with the Webster's Dictionary, Roget's Thesaurus, my Bible, and a stack of scratch paper (yes, I'm old school).

Your Kitchen is a Science Lab

Each ingredient in a dish has a specific purpose; flour and sugar, fat and salt, liquids and yeasts and starches—they all combine and interact with each other. Flour thickens and binds, it creates structure. Sugar not only sweeteners; it captures and holds onto water, making baked goods moist. Eggs are not just little fat-bombs; they add protein which creates stability, emulsifies, and tenderizes.

And the list goes on and on. I could probably write a book on this, but 101 others have already done that. It's a fascinating topic, and if you'd like I could write about one ingredient each week (eggs, for example) and keep writing from now until the end of time. Let me know.

There is an art to arranging food beautifully on a plate. Don't think that's important? We eat first with our eyes. (Remember how ghastly school lunchroom foods looked in the 1960s?) Take a look at the plate below.

Two beautiful crisp cookies...and so much more

Two beautiful crisp cookies...and so much more

If that isn't art, I don't know what is.

Plating is artfully arranging food on a dish so that it is visually pleasing. But, you don't have to be an artist. Just keep these few simple rules in mind:

  1. Be odd—I don't mean "quirky." Our brains prefer odd numbers on the plate; it's that simple. Three tacos. Five meatballs. Seven carrots. Don't ask why. (Really, I don't know, but I know that it works).
  2. Start with a blank canvass. A white or unpatterned plate will be more appealing than the plastic plates covered with a bright daisy pattern. Save those for picnics or every day. Obviously the plate above tosses that out the window, but it's the exception to the rule, and you can see how and why.
  3. Add height. A cold, crisp cobb salad on a plate tastes wonderful. A cold, crisp cobb salad vertically stacked on a small plate is visually stunning—and that "wow" factor makes it taste even better!

Mom was wrong. You have my permission to play with your food!

Let's Get Started With Today's Questions

Well, that was merely just an introduction. Let's look at the questions that came into the mailbox today. 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.

Sulfite in Wine

Two weeks ago I published an article on red wine—it's history, how it is made, wine terminology, and (of course) how to cook and bake with it. That prompted this from Pamela:

"I like Merlot and Zinfandel probably the best, but I was told not to drink wine due to the sulfites. I have lung disease and wine seems to cause more congestion. I think the food you showed looks so good. Maybe the sulfites would not be an issue in a cooked dish."

Pamela, I understand your concern. I have a friend who is severely allergic to sulfites—so much so that she cannot have even the thimble-sized sacramental wine at church. Unfortunately, sulfites (sulfur dioxide to be precise) are a natural part of the fermentation process. To add insult to injury, many wine producers also introduce SO2 as a preservative.

What can you do? Well, first if you do not need to totally eliminate sulfites from your diet, choose red wines instead of whites. Second, it's important to note that cooking with wine does not concentrate the sulfites—just the opposite. They evaporate along with the alcohol. So, stick with reds and use them in cooking. Just a splash in the spaghetti sauce or with the roast beef might be just what your dish needs.

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I Need Some New Recipes for Salmon

"We don't eat much meat at all. Fish, yes, especially salmon and mackerel. Fresh fish is wonderful, but I find fishing boring.

By all means, let's have some suggestions regarding salmon. I usually just simmer it in liquid and eat it plain, maybe with a little tartar sauce, or with butter on. I also do it in foil pockets, with oil and lemon to moisten it plus a little pepper. I have a sauce recipe to go with salmon but don't use it often. I keep wanting to buy a whole salmon and wonder what is the best way to cook that - maybe you could include that angle too? Thanks."

Ann Carr, I love this part of my "job." Helping others find recipes is my favorite thing. I'm giving you ideas on cooking salmon filets/steaks and also how to deal with a whole salmon (and how to use up those leftovers).

Salmon Filets/Steaks

  • Grilled salmon: Anne, I don't know if you have a grill, so am providing only one recipe for cooking salmon by that method. I love this one because it isn't cumbersome; there's no lengthy list of ingredients. Just a simple dusting of dried herbs, salt, and pepper allows the flavor of the salmon to shine through as it should. It's meant to be the star of the show.
  • Hazelnut-crusted salmon: Individual portions of salmon filet are covered with a low-fat sauce, flavored with orange, and then topped with chopped hazelnuts and baked in the oven. If you don't like hazelnuts almonds, walnuts, or pecans can be substituted.
  • Soy-glazed salmon: Here's another oven-baked salmon, glazed with a sweet and savory blend of soy sauce, brown sugar, and toasted sesame oil. I like to break the salmon into large chunks after it's cooked and then serve in a rice or quinoa bowl with edamame, avocado, shredded cabbage, grated carrots, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
  • Easy-Baked Lemon Dijon Salmon: Lemon and Dijon create a big pop of flavor with minimal effort. Just 5 minutes of prep and 15 minutes in the oven for this salmon dish that looks good enough for company.

Whole Salmon

  • Whole oven-roasted salmon: A whole salmon is oven-roasted with spring vegetables and wrapped in foil for easy cleanup and to ensure that the salmon stays moist.
  • Whole grilled salmon with lemon and shallots: This whole salmon is stuffed with lemon slices and fresh herbs to keep the meat moist. It cooks directly on the grill, imparting succulent smoky flavor from the coals.
  • Gordon Ramsay salmon baked with caramelized onion: This is (of course), over-the-top, but Gordon's video is like having him right there in the kitchen with you. You can't fail. (And the pink grapefruit Hollandaise is to die for).

Salmon Leftovers

  • Crispy salmon patties: Flaked cooked salmon is mixed with finely diced fresh veggies; Dijon and Old Bay Seasoning (see note below) add pops of spicy, briny flavor, and an egg and mashed potato bind it all together. Panko breadcrumbs cook up to a crispy crunch in this pan-fried (not deep-fried) meal.
  • Crustless salmon quiche: Perfect for brunch or a light summertime dinner, this salmon quiche turns mere leftovers into a scrumptious meal.
  • Salmon pasta with spinach: This family favorite is a one-pot meal that can be ready in just 30 minutes. Use whatever type of medium-size pasta you have on hand. You can make it even more colorful by tossing in a handful of diced red bell pepper.

How To Make Pumpkin Pie Look More Exciting

And, one more question from Mary Wickison:

"I agree about wanting something colorful on a plate. I have prepared meals that were all one color. As I recall one was a chicken and rice dish in a cream sauce. Although tasty, it sure was lacking in the visual category. Perhaps some chopped red pepper, or even sprinkled with chopped parsley would have helped.

I think pumpkin pie falls into the same category. It's rather bland looking. Any suggestions to make it POP on the plate? I've got the taste right, just not the wow factor for looks."

Mary, one picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than try to explain, I've found a few photos that I hope will help you and others achieve that "wow" factor on pumpkin pie. Click on the "source" below each photo to hop over to the recipes.


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

I'll be here next week, and I hope you'll join us. 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


Ann Carr from SW England on October 05, 2020:

Good. We only venture further afield if necessary but we are becoming more comfortable with the outside routine. Trying to be as normal as possible!


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 04, 2020:

Ann, you are so very welcome. This is the part of my "job" that I love—helping others to enjoy the experience of cooking and creating in the kitchen as much as I do.

Yes, we are very well. We have sheltered in place since early March. We are in our 70's and have an adult daughter living with us who is disabled and has health issues. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Ann Carr from SW England on October 04, 2020:

Having finally had time to read this properly, I'm delighted that you've given me so many alternatives, for both salmon steaks and whole salmon. I shall try all of them. So a thousand thanks to. What's more, they're all easy! Perfect!

You know, you might be the only person to actually make a cook out of me!

Hope you and yours are keeping safe and well.


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

Hello my dear MizB. I've a similar photo of my kitty in front of the fireplace. When I first took his picture he was all curled up snug as a bug in his bed; when next I looked it appeared that he had actually melted. Good grief!

I wouldn't call you a hillbilly. I love catfish and I'm about at Yankee as you can get. Canned salmon works just fine and dandy for the salmon patties, quiche, or pasta. Ah, the memories of Mom's cooking. My mom did not have more than a dozen recipes in her quiver, but what she did cook was wonderful. I can still taste her beef stew and the chicken pieces that she baked in the oven; they were topped with mounds of onions that would caramelize and were just so yummy. I've never been able to replicate those tastes (or maybe over the years my memories have enhanced them to an unapproachable state.)

What a sorry state of affairs that home ec is no longer taught (you're right). It seems we need it more than ever. And, if people who rely on the food bank and/or EBT knew how to cook rice and beans (dry goods) rather than rely on canned/prepared foods, consider how much further their dollars could go.

I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin pie. Actually, don't tell anyone, but I'm not big on sweets period. However, put enough whipped cream on top and I'm there.

Thank you always for your kind words. As you might notice, the comments I have left to others have been rather brief You inspire me.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 24, 2020:

Linda, put that poor cat on ice. LOL Fresh salmon is an acquired taste for us hillbillies, and I'm just now acquiring it. When I was a kid, my mother made the best salmon croquettes out of canned salmon, which was all we could get so far from the ocean (good fresh river catfish was a different story.) Anyway she used saltine crackers both as a filler and coating. Mine just can't equal hers.

I think food is both a science and an art. My home economics teacher (I've heard they don't teach it anymore) taught us to never serve a monochromatic meal. It was a no-no to serve a plate with baked chicken, rice and mashed potatoes, but sometimes as a single mom, that was all we had in the pantry.

Larry, the chef at our house, got really enthused about some TV chef who taught the "science" of cooking. He could hardly wait to make this guy's chili. Well, it was a lab experiment because it was hardly recognizable as chili. We didn't eat it, and I don't thing the dog did either.

I love pumpkin pie and I don't care how it looks, but a little whipped cream and some sprinkles would take care of that. I like mine with whipped cream on top (the fake kind in the can). Very interesting recipes today.

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