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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #161

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


Hope is a Choice

“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.

Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Two Towers."

Let's Begin

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.


Is There a Substitute for Shortening in Baking?

"I was recently looking in my old Betty Crocker cookbook. So many of the recipes (especially cakes and cookies) use shortening. What can I do to avoid that, and still make the recipe work?"

Mary, it can be complicated and in the next paragraph, I'll explain why. First, the best substitution available today is coconut oil because it's naturally solid at room temperature (assuming that your room is 76 degrees F. or lower). You can substitute coconut oil for of shortening at a 1:1 ratio. If you don’t want a noticeable coconut flavor or aroma, buy refined (versus unrefined) coconut oil.

In most recipes, you can also use butter in place of shortening. But (and here's the problem), shortening is 100 percent fat. Butter is about 85 percent fat and 15 percent water. That won't matter if you're baking a cake or bread, but in cookies and piecrust you will see a noticeable difference in texture (cookies made with butter may spread more) and pies will not be as flaky.

Making Sauces and Gravies Gluten-Free

A few weeks ago I published an article on the perfect Croque Monsieur. It prompted MizBejabbers to write:

"It sounds pretty good, Linda, but I'll never get the chance to try the Croque Monsieur. The Croque Madam sounds even more delicious to me. Although the croques could be made on GF bread, the bechamel sauce contains flour. I have never found a good substitute for wheat flour in gravy, so I assume the same for bechamel sauce. I guess this is an opportunity to ask a foodie question: Do you know of a substitute for wheat flour in gravy, white sauce and other sauces of this type? I've tried cornstarch, but it just doesn't add a good flavor. Thanks!"

Gluten-free bechamel sauce

Gluten-free bechamel sauce

Some gluten-free flours gum up when they're used in a roux and cornstarch just doesn't have the same luxurious mouth-feel. But, don't despair; there's King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour. It's a special blend of rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and whole grain brown rice flour. It works just like regular flour in a roux—a 1:1 ratio of flour to butter. Cook it until it's slightly browned, then add to your stock and pan drippings and whisk away.

In a pinch you can simply use rice flour, but the addition of tapioca and potato starches (in just the right balance) helps the rice flour perform more like real wheat flour.

Cooking Terms

In the past few weeks, I've been providing an alphabetical listing of cooking terms—not all, just the action verbs, the things we do in the kitchen. (Did anyone notice that I forgot to include this topic last week?). Here's a new list for you today:

Pinch: the trifling amount you can hold between your thumb and forefinger.

Plump: To soak dried fruits in liquid until they swell.

Puree: To mash foods until perfectly smooth by hand, by rubbing through a sieve or food mill, or by whirling in a blender or food processor.

Pulse: An action used with food processors and blenders. If a recipe tells you to pulse, turn the start button on and off rapidly several times or until the ingredients are appropriately processed.

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Pulverize: To reduce to powder or dust by pounding, crushing, or grinding.

Puree: To finely blend and mash food to a smooth, lump-free consistency. You can puree foods in a blender, food processor, or food mill.

Reduce: To boil a liquid until a portion of it has evaporated. Reducing intensifies the flavor and results in a thicker liquid.

Resting: Removing meat or poultry from heat before reaching ideal internal temperatures to allow the redistribution of juices in the meat. Typical resting time is 20 to 30 minutes, loosely covered with aluminum foil. This helps keep the meat retain its juices, evens out temperature and doneness, and makes it easier to carve.

Roast: A dry-heat cooking method. To cook uncovered in hot air. Meat usually is roasted in an oven or over coals, ceramic briquettes, gas flame, or electric coils. The term also applies to foods such as corn or potatoes cooked in hot ashes, under coals, or on heated stones or metal. No liquid (such as water or wine) comes into contact with the food.

Pickles Are Too Vinegary

Mary said "Recently I bought some pickles. Unfortunately, they taste of nothing but vinegar. Is it too late to add some seasoning in with the vinegar? Would it seep into the pickles? If so, what would you suggest?"

Dill pickles

Dill pickles

Mary, it might be tempting to simply dump the pickle brine and replace it with water. Please don't do that. It's the acid in the brine that keeps those pickles from spoiling. For a quick fix, you could remove as many pickles as you need at one time, rinse them off, soak them in clean water overnight (refrigerated), and then serve.

However, if you want to "correct" the whole jar full at one time, the only safe way to temper the tartness is to balance it by adding some sweetness. You can make a simple syrup of sugar and water (heat it on the stove or in the microwave to dissolve the sugar). How much you add is up to you and if you want to turn those pickles kinda on the sweet side or if you merely want to make them less puckery.

Portobello burger

Portobello burger

Meat-Free Burger Idea

Gabe and I were talking about veggie burgers last night but I will look into the index as I am sure you have covered it.

Good morning Eric. No, believe it or not, I have not addressed the topic of veggie burgers yet. I've been toying with an article for some time. You're giving me the nudge I need to get going on this. In the meantime, I think it's hard to beat a well-prepared portobello mushroom as a substitute for a meat patty. Here's a link to how my friends at Serious Eats to do it.

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.

I'll Be So Glad When the Election is Over!

I'll Be So Glad When the Election is Over!

Come Back Next Week

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


Ann Carr from SW England on November 10, 2020:

I would be perfectly happy to be a distant (or not so) relative to you, Linda! What fun that would be! Half my family come from Yorkshire (paternal) and the other from Sussex (maternal). So I'm a north/south girl and proud of it. My sister lives in Yorkshire (York) and I in Somerset, so we're still a north/south pair!


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

Hello Denise. Your part of the country has been in my prayers. Yes, finally it is time to abandon the main dish salads and pull out the recipes for soup and stew and other warm-y things.

Thank you for sticking with me, for being a friend and continued comment contributor.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on November 08, 2020:

This is always so informative. I love these foodie questions and answers. I've had a pretty good time lately transitioning from cold dishes to hot ones because of the sudden drop in temperatures around here in California. Maybe the Creek fire will have a chance to be put out now. It's been going on for 7 weeks now. If I need any answers, I know where to go!



manatita44 from london on November 03, 2020:

Yes. You have my love and best wishes. So much strife!! We are dealing with humans and we are so diverse!

Not a good time to 'tease' you, which is negative at the best of times. I take liberties with loved ones, but Guruji didn't like that, especially to women. But yes, while trying to avoid the obvious, I cannot say that this isn't a very colourful year --one full of mists and shadows.

I will continue to pray, of course. My friends are asking me to pray for loved ones and family in America, but when all is said and done, I also remind humans, that ultimately God calls the shots, believe it or not. We still have to pray though ... do our part. Suyo affectisimo.

P.S I'm not really a cook. I just mix things and have very few utensils. I'm more of a hermit. So forgive me for not asking much. I was just noting, that the energy of your last Hub felt different, but yes, your explanations make sense.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Hello Ann. I'm so happy to hear from you. I'd like to think that somehow in a wildly sprawling family tree you and I are related. I have family in Manchester and my Daddy was 1st generation American born in 1906 in Tacoma, Washington.

Rice flour can be a reasonable substitute, at least if you are making a thickened sauce.

As for the lockdown--I wish we had been directed to do more. If we had received that message, from the top, then I think more people would have been on board with the concept and we would not be in such dire straits. As it stands, the wearing of masks and social distancing is no longer a decision for the common good. It has become a political volley ball and it hurts my heart. More than 225,000 people have died in my country!

OK, enough of that. I love the writing of Tolkien and I adore you. Stay safe my friend (perhaps a 20th cousin LOL).

Ann Carr from SW England on November 02, 2020:

I was interested in your gluten-free flour suggestions, not for me but for my daughters and one granddaughter. It makes my life easier when cooking for them too, though I won't be doing much of that for a while as we go into another lockdown on Thursday! Lots of time to practice though!

I loved your opening para. So comforting and from one of my favourite stories.

Hope you're keeping safe and well.


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Thank you Mary. If not being else at least after the polls close we won't have to hear the advertisements

Mary Wickison from USA on November 02, 2020:

Hi Linda,

Thanks for answering my questions. I never considered using coconut oil. I heed your warning about using butter in lieu of shortening in cookies.

Interesting information about the gluten free sauces and gravy. I don't have a problem with gluten but it's good to know there are options.

Your introduction was timely and wise. A good choice.

Hang in there, I hope we all get the results we're seeking.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Manatita, thank you for your concern. Perhaps the pending election is getting me down. I am very concerned for our future. As for the lack of spice? Well, I can only work with the questions that are given to me. Toss me a good one and let's see if I hit it out of the park next week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Pamela, I typically don't go for sweets--I've a savory kind of gall, but I'm just about ready to bake a coconut cake AND have the whole darned thing all to myself.

manatita44 from london on November 02, 2020:

Ah, Linda. Election blues? You know I'm an honest friend. I don't know what it is but it feels like something is missing here this week. Salt? Not enough input from folks like me? Spices? Love?

Hope all goes well this week. Stay safe and blessed. - Lantern

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 02, 2020:

The Tolkien quote from ‘The Two Towers’ was an interesting way to start today's article. That is a rather thought-provoking quote.

I like your suggestions for gluten free flours. So many people have that problem anymore. I think coconut flour would taste good in a cake or some type of coconut pudding.

I didn't know that the brine in the pickles is the only thing keeping them from spoiling. This was a very good article with a lot of good information. Thanks for providing so much excellent information. Have a great week, Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Eric, up here there are services that allow one to subscribe to a delivery of ugly produce. "Misfits Market" and "Perfectly Imperfect" are two of them. I love the concept (but buy my own at the local produce stand). Just like people, looks aren't everything. What matters is what's inside.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 02, 2020:

Sorry Linda, my 99 cents only sells two quite large for, well 99 cents. Down here fresh vegetables mean the waxy kind that are too ripe in the store. The real ones are the ones not sexy enough. Roadside stands are cool. As far as "produce" goes. This could be heaven.

The worker harvesters are allowed to take ugly harvest and eat it or sell it. I think you know that an ugly lemon tastes the same as a model one.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Eric, I can't remember the last time I had a portabello mushroom. They are ridiculously expensive here. Enjoy a bite for me; I'll savor it vicariously.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Shauna, I should have mentioned that Bob's Red Mill also has a gluten-free all-purpose flour (and how could I forget them? They're headquartered in my corner of the world).

59 degrees will probably be our high temperature today. It's cloudy and drizzle is in the forecast.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 02, 2020:

Linda, this week's intro is very thought-provoking. Something to ponder, especially in today's environment.

Leave it to King Arthur to provide a flour for gluten intolerant folks! His brand is the only flour I buy. He's got a whole array of options.

Enjoy your week, Sis. It was actually chilly here this morning. Fifty-nine degrees. Don't laugh. That's chilly to us Floridians, especially when you step out the door at 6:15 a.m. in your pj's. I wasn't expecting it!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 02, 2020:

I never knew that was called "resting", an must and a good term.

Off I go to get some Portobello. That sounds real good.

Maybe Gabe and I should give pickling a go. Rather inconsequential if we screw it up ;-)

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Bill, that's exactly what I'll be doing. Today is a good day for research. Have a great week my friend. I'm sure you have many projects to work on as well.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

Flourish, I'm not really a "cake" gal (I prefer pie), but with coconut cake I'll make an exception. Trouble is I'd have to eat it all by myself, and that would be dangerous. When you're only 5 ft tall, there's no place to hide the extra pounds.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 02, 2020:

John, I can't explain what gave me the inspiration to look at Tolkien for the intro, but when I found that one I knew my search was over. Take care and have a good week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 02, 2020:

Another wonderful collection of professional suggestions and aids. Well done, my friend. Now, the rains are coming, which strikes me as perfect weather to work on that book of yours. Come on now, time to do it! No excuses!

Happy Monday, Linda!

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 02, 2020:

You’ve made me hungry for a coconut cake with that discussion of coconut oil as a substitute and that photo. What I wouldn’t do for a piece of coconut cake right now!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on November 01, 2020:

Linda, that Tolkien quote from ‘The Two Towers’ was just perfect for today’s situation. Thank you for the info as well, especially what shortening is and the best substitute, and making sauces and gravies gluten free. Take care.

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