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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes & Cooking, #6

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


Before We Begin...

I need to share with you a poem I found on the internet a few weeks ago. We who provide recipes online always welcome comments, critiques, and helpful feedback. But then, there are those who go completely off the rails. They misuse, substitute, or totally omit ingredients. And THEN they complain that the recipe failed.

I didn't have potatoes,
so I substituted rice.
Didn't have paprika,
so I used another spice.

I didn't have tomato sauce,
so I used tomato paste.
A whole can not a half can -
I don't believe in waste.

My friend gave me the recipe -
she said you couldn't beat it.
There must be something wrong with you,
I couldn't even eat it.

Now that I have that off my chest, let's get started with the email inbox. First, a question from Bill Holland (aka billybuc) and BlondLogic.

How to Tenderize a Cheap Cut of Meat

What's the best way to tenderize a cheap steak? I remember my mother pounding those suckers with a rubber mallet. I'm not about to stoop that far down the culinary ladder. :)

The meat here (in Brazil) although flavorful seems to be cut at random angles. The last time we had pork chops, mine was tender and my husband's tough. I don't like using meat tenderizer too often but wonder if you've got a suggestion to tenderize tough meat. Here, the beef, pork and even chicken can be quite tough.

Sorry, I couldn't resist

Sorry, I couldn't resist

There are so many different things you can do depending on how you are cooking the beef and how much time you have. Let's take a look.

  • Did your mother really use a rubber mallet? I have a "meat tenderizer" which looks like a cross between a small hammer and a torture device. My mom relied on the edge of a plate. Place the cut of meat between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with the meat mallet. You want to cover every inch but (1) don't smack is so hard that the meat tears and (2) keep in mind that you are merely trying to break down the connective tissue, not flatten the poor thing like a pancake.
  • If you have the time, the best way to tenderize a cheap cut of meat is to cook it low and slow. (Forget about the hammer.) High heat will make the protein fibers contract (think of tight rubber bands). On the other hand, low heat will allow the collagen to melt, and you'll have buttery soft meat. If you have a slow cooker (crockpot), set it on low, plop in the meat, dump in a can of cream of mushroom soup (no extra liquid), and let it do its thing for 6-8 hours. You can do the same thing in your oven set at 250 degrees. Put your meat and cream soup in an oven-safe vessel (I LOVE my cast iron dutch oven for this). Make sure the lid is tight and cook for about 4 hours. Chicken should be falling-off-the-bone tender in 2 hours.
  • If you are grilling, the most important thing to keep in mind is how you slice that steak. Cut across the grain.
  • Use a marinade. Acids (citrus juice, vinegar, pineapple, papaya, guava, coffee, tea, cola, or even yogurt) will break down the meat fibers. Two cautions: (1) always marinate in the refrigerator (never on the counter), and (2) don't marinate beef for more than 24 hours. For chicken the marinate time is 2 hours maximum.
  • "WONDER HOW TO Food Hacks" has a different approach. Marinate by covering the entire surface of the steak with salt. Let sit for 1 for each inch of thickness. Use coarse grain (not table) salt. I haven't tried this, but their before-and-after photos look promising.

Best Steak Marinade in Existence

This recipe for beef marinade has been given a rating of 4.5 (out of 5) stars on Allrecipes, with over 3,000 reviews.

And, there is another question from Eric:

Can You Explain the Paleo Diet?

No. Next question. ...I'm kidding. My instinct is that it is a theory that we will be eating a more healthy diet if we "eat like a caveman." No, I don't mean go out and slay a mastodon; I think it's a move away from processed and/or refined foods, such as sugar, flour, cheeses, etc.

OK, so I just did a Google search and here's the definition I found:

a diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food

So, I was correct. What does that really mean in terms of what you should and should not eat? Here's a table to help you out Eric.

What You CAN EatWhat You Must NOT Eat

Grass-fed meat

Legumes (including peanuts)



Fresh vegetables





Processed foods, candy, and junk foods


Cereal grains

Olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, or coconut oil


I see a problem.

There is a large (and growing) segment of our population which is excluded from the diet. This will NOT work for anyone who is vegetarian or vegan. Beans (including peanuts and thus peanut butter), soy protein, and dairy are not allowed in the Paleo diet. The emphasis on protein is meat and fish.

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The list of "allowable" foods is impressive (if you consider bear, kangaroo, and rattlesnake as viable options). Good thing they didn't take away bacon, but potatoes, cheese, and alcohol are off of the list. (Goodbye tailgate party.)

Eric, I'm not sure I could go rigid Paleo, but I can see the benefit in lessening if not omitting processed foods, take-out food, sugar, white flour, white rice, and potatoes. Everything in moderation.

The Original Red Velvet Cake

My mother used to have an amazing Red Velvet Cake recipe but it was lost. My family has tried just about every Red Velvet Cake recipe out there and none of them are "it." The one that came close was a kind we regularly purchased from a home-based professional baker 20 years ago. Sadly, she refused to give us her recipe when we moved out of the area. Can you offer any help?


This is my sister's red velvet cake recipe, circa probably early 1960's:

Ingredients for Cake

  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 bottles (1 ounce each) red food coloring
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Directions for Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift together flour and salt and set aside.
  3. Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time; set aside.
  4. Combine food coloring and cocoa powder. Mix until smooth. Add this to the shortening mixture; blend well.
  5. Combine buttermilk and vanilla. Add to shortening/cocoa mixture alternately with sifted dry ingredients. Mix until smooth.
  6. Combine and blend well the vinegar and soda. Fold into batter.
  7. Spoon into two greased and floured 9-inch cake pans.
  8. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes and then remove from pans and cool thoroughly on wire racks. Frost with Red Velvet Frosting.

Ingredients for Frosting

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions for Frosting

  1. Combine milk and flour in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until thick; cool thoroughly in the refrigerator.
  2. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add cold flour mixture and beat well. Stir in vanilla.

When you first add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar it will look curdled. You will think to yourself "oh no, I've ruined it!" But be patient. It takes a LOT of beating but ultimately it will transform and be beautifully creamy. It will look like whipped cream.

And That's 10-10 For Now


Keep sending those questions. I love hearing from all of you. (Bonus points to anyone who understands the heading of this paragraph).

© 2017 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 26, 2017:

Lawrence, yes citrus or anything that is acidy will do the trick in tenderizing meat, especially beef. Like you, I would have a difficult time giving up cheese. Milk is great on cereal but I no longer care to simply drink a glassful. Ice cream was a childhood favorite but now, not so much. But cheese is another story. I haven't met one that I don't like.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 26, 2017:


The 'meat tenderizing' methods here made me think of the method we use.

We nearly always use citrus fruit and herbs, the best way is make up your 'Marinate' then pour into a ziplock bag. Place the meat inside, close up, swish around so the meat gets covered by the marinade and put on a plate in the fridge.

You can keep the meat upto a couple of days like this, but usually overnight is long enough for the citrus to work its magic.

It works for us, but then again, with our own humungous lemon tree, we have a constant supply of citrus!

We eat a lot of 'Paleo' stuff (wife and child are 'gluten free' for medical reasons) but I won't give up my cheese!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 16, 2017:

Eric, I always blame it on the cat (and we actually have one of those).

I'll work on something that would add kale to the breakfast if you'd like, and will also search my EXTENSIVE files for a good chile rellenno breakfast casserole. (Gosh, that sounds a lot better than the 12-grain piece of toast I just ate.)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 16, 2017:

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you Linda - I have 100 excuses including that the dog we do not have ate my paper.

But I have paid attention as per your request for more info. I think it is a big game to him. On the other hand I can see that he just does not like the big old in one piece yolk. He likes it when mom adds full eggs to rice and when I make souffles. And in my award winning - my award, Tuna salad.

To the next -- yes yes. I cannot find my mom's recipe for chile relleno breakfast casserole.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 13, 2017:

Eric, does your son simply not like the appearance or sensory feel of the cooked egg yolk? How does he do with scrambled eggs (the yellow color is a dead giveaway that there's yolk hiding in there)?

Are you looking for a breakfast casserole with yummy nutritious kale? Would a scramble be OK, or do we need to omit the yolks?

Give me a little more feedback and I'll be on this!

(BTW, how did those hash browns turn out?)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 13, 2017:

So outstanding! You are the Diva.

Yesterday I cooked my bad ass Sunday breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, Bacon and hash browns. My son really does not care for the yolk so I do poached and give him the whites. Of course milk and OJ are in the mix.

But it just hit me that if I could do him right by some greens it would be almost healthy for his day. Tossed garden with some Kale and spinach just seems a little wacky.

I bet you have a recipe for this.

Please do tell.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 13, 2017:

Thank you Manatita. I always try to interject just a bit of humor. It's just the way I roll (as the kids say). I'm not big on sweets, but I do love a good cheese, but all in moderation.

manatita44 from london on November 13, 2017:

Nice poem and I see your witty side. Great advice on the 'do nots': sugar, dairy, etc. Can be lethal. Great writing!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 13, 2017:

Mary, you've asked a great question about food coloring and food additives. Will answer next week.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 13, 2017:

Thanks for answering our question about the meat, I guess great minds think alike.

For boneless steaks, our store has a tenderizer but I'm not comfortable using it, there are some hygiene issues. My mom used to pound the meat.

I didn't realize some of those acids could be used as a tenderizer, coffee shocked me. I also didn't know about the time restrictions.

I have never eaten a red velvet cake, isn't there a concern over the E numbers in the red dye? Does the color give any flavor, or can we make the cake without it and just have a......velvet cake?

After your opening poem, I even hate to ask. LOL

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 13, 2017:

Kari, I just finished breakfast and now you already have me thinking about dinner. A chuck roast with potatoes and gravy would be wonderful {{sigh}}. But, it's not gonna happen today (or this week, unfortunately).

Yes, low and slow is the way to go if you have the time (and since I'm now HAPPILY retired, I have the time). Thanks for writing. Hope you have a great day.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 13, 2017:

LOL, I loved the poem, it is so true. I have found that slow roasting a inexpensive cut of meat will also work. I used to broil cuts like chuck steak and top round (london broil), but now I slow roast at 250 degrees F. For a 2'' cut I will slow roast for 2-3 hours for a medium rare steak. The results are fabulous!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 13, 2017:

Bill, I am so relieved. I will keep my fingers crossed about the week ahead. The weatherman on our local station made it sound like your chickens will be airborne this week. Goodness!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 13, 2017:

Flourish, it's been MANY years since I made that cake, but I can guarantee that it's a good one. As for changing recipes, I always believe that if you have the skill you should go with your instincts. You know best what your family likes (or will tolerate). Have a great day.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 13, 2017:

Dennis, good to hear from you. Yes, I like to use humor whenever possible. Not too much mind you. It's a fine line and I hope I don't overstep. Have a wonderful day.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 13, 2017:

Thanks for answering my question. I'll put the hammer away for now.

Have a superb Monday and work week, my friend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 13, 2017:

Thank you! I’ll be trying this red velvet cake, no substitutions! I loved that poem, especially as someone who immediately makes adjustments to recipes without trying the original first. Exactly for the reasons the poem cites. Ha!

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on November 12, 2017:

Nicely done, entertaining, and no foolin' directions.

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on November 12, 2017:

Good humor mixed with no foolin', Nicely done.

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