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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes & Cooking, #3

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


And The Questions Continue to Roll In

This is week #3 of my Q&A series on food, recipes, and cooking. I'm having such a good time answering your questions and hope you are enjoying it as well. In case you missed it, a link to that first article is here and the second one is here. Please note that this isn't a tutorial; each week I will be responding to questions from readers like you, so please feel free to jump in at any time.

Here's a question from Mary (who lives in Brazil):

Making Corn Tortillas

I make my own tortillas as they aren't available where I live. I make flour tortillas but want to make corn ones as well. My Mexican cookbook says Masa Harina which is a cornmeal which has been treated. I have looked on the internet about using cornmeal in lieu of Masa Harina and everyone says they get mixed results. What are your thoughts?


Mary, although corn meal and corn masa are from the same plant, they are not interchangeable, and it's all because of chemistry.

Ground corn (cornmeal) is made of the entire corn kernel. But masa is just the center of the kernel. Mesoamericans discovered 3,500 years ago that when you boil and then soak raw corn kernels together with ashes (potassium carbonate) the outer hulls loosen to the point that they can be slipped off. What’s left—the endosperm, the germ of the kernels—becomes quite soft and pliable, easily ground into a dough that’s perfect for making tortillas.

To achieve the taste and texture of a true corn tortilla, you need masa, not corn meal. However, you can get pretty close by using a combination of cornmeal AND all-purpose flour. The gluten in the flour acts as a glue to bind the cornmeal and make it stick together.

This recipe from should help.

Eric has a question about how to grill meats and get those crispy almost-burnt bits on the edges without turning your meal into shoe leather.

How to Caramelize Meat on the Grill

Alrighty then. Now I have been told I can mesquite fire cook shoe leather that you would enjoy eating. And I do like to make a fine barbecue sauce. Though I would rather taste the meat than the sauce. But how do I get that crispy type of texture on a more consistent basis? More sugar?

Mesquite. Pork or whatever hits my fancy.

I am really looking for some advice that my mom would give me about making that sauce "caramelize?" That place where the sauce is crispy but the meat not burnt.

Eric, that's a really good question, but before I launch into a complete tutorial on barbecuing, it might help to know a few things such as what is your source of heat--gas or charcoal?

What is your preferred meat on which to slap that great sauce? Are we talking chicken, beef, or pork?


Eric, your question is outside of my pay grade. I went to my friends at for a lengthy (but amazingly wonderful, in my humble opinion) answer to your question which is here.

And for those of you who are curious, but not quite ready to jump into the barbecue pool, here is the Readers Digest version:

  • Brown is good. Black is bad.
  • If using a dry rub, be careful with the amount of sugar.
  • Keep things dry. (Mr. Amazing Ribs is not in favor of wet sauces until the very end).
  • Keep things oiled (the gap between the meat and the grill).
  • Keep stuff at the right temp.
  • Turn frequently.

So my friend, I think the advice from Mr. Amazing Ribs is to cook your meat per his directions with a dry rub (or none at all) until almost the very end, and then slather on the sauce.

Scroll to Continue

Last week my friend Bill Holland asked for a recipe for State Fair scones. That prompted a question from Mary:

And a Bit More on the Topic of Scones

Looking forward to trying your recipe for scones, how thick do I roll it?

My scones are always short even though my baking powder is well in date so I needed a change of recipe.

The scone dough should be shaped into a disk about an inch high in the middle, and tapering to about 1/2 inch at the edges. If you are having a problem with leavening, you might try using buttermilk or sour milk--it helps activate the baking soda part of baking powder.

How to Butterfly a Chicken Breast

I found a recipe for Chicken Piccata that calls for "butterflied chicken breasts." The recipe sounds good; I'd love to try it, but I have no idea what butterflying means. Can you help?

I covered this topic in my book. Here is a brief explanation, a video (for those who are visual learners), and (for those who are wondering about Chicken Piccata), my favorite recipe.

How To Butterfly a Chicken Breast

  • Notice that the chicken breast has a flat side, and a side that is more rounded or plump. Place the chicken breast on your cutting board, plump-side up.
  • Place the palm of your hand on top of the chicken breast to hold it in place. WIth your other hand horizontally slide a sharp knife through the breast. Don't cut all the way through; stop within about 1/2 inch of the edge. Imagine that the chicken breast is a book. The uncut edge is the spine of the book.
  • Open the chicken breast (again, thinking of a book). Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Pound the breast with a meat mallet, a rolling pin, or the edge of a plate to create an even thickness.
  • You now have a thin chicken cutlet that will cook quickly and be incredibly tender.

Chicken Piccata


Chicken Picatta


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour for dredging
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced


1) Butterfly each chicken breast and then cut in half to make four thin cutlets. (Not sure what to do? Don’t worry; full instructions are given on the next page). Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge with flour and shake off excess.

2) Place 2 tablespoons of the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. Melt over medium-high heat. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate.

3) Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the butter and oil start to sizzle add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in the same manner as described above. Remove your pan from the heat and place the chicken on the plate.

4) In the same pan add the lemon juice, broth, and capers. Return to the stove and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning.

5) Return all chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a platter. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

The Mailbag is Now Empty

That's it for today. Ask me anything food-related; I promise there's no judgment here. You can be anonymous if you wish. Your secrets are safe with me. You can post your questions in the comments section below, or feel free to write to me at

See you next week, same time, same place.

© 2017 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2017:

Lawrence, I believe the "technical" name for that butterflied whole bird is spatchcocking (sounds shockingly nasty, doesn't it?). It's not the same thing. I'll discuss that next week. By the way, your comment on beer for the cook is spot on.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 13, 2017:


Did I read it right? using SUGAR as a dry rub for meat?

The meat on my Barbeque doesn't get that treatment!

For me, the best way is cook slowly, and keep turning the meat,and when you've finished drinking the cold beer 9that has to be on the side for the cook! :) ), then the meat's done! (Juicy, but not crispy)

When Mum was over here in NZ last time I cooked a few 'Butterfly' chickens and discovered Mum had never seen chicken cooked that way, we love it, but I haven't tried just 'Butterflying' the breast before.

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

Leigh - I'm so happy that visitors to this site are taking seriously this column and are asking such good questions! Thank you for reaching out. I don't proclaim to be the Queen of Aubergine, but I will have an answer for you next week.

Leigh on October 26, 2017:

What ideas do you have for cooking eggplant? My garden was way too productive this year when I tried growing this. I tried frying it and the consistency was very soft and mushy. Looking for ideas.

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

Rose, those are all excellent questions. I feel that I could devote almost an entire article to the topic of "flour." I'm sure a lot of people are wondering as well. Thank you for a great prompt. I will definitely address that next week.

Stay tuned.

Rose on October 26, 2017:

Is there a real difference between all purpose flour, bread flour, and cake flour? Do I really need to follow the recipe when it calls for a particular type or can I cheat? What will happen if I just use all purpose (usually the cheapest)? Will it ruin my recipe? Recipes used to call for sifting. Why don't they do that anymore?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 25, 2017:

Mary, please let me know if if works for you, or if it doesn't. I didn't ask but assumed that purchasing masa online is not an option?

Mary Wickison from USA on October 25, 2017:

Thanks Linda, just looking at those tortillas has made me hungry. I will give the recipe a try.

It is one of the simple foods I really miss.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 23, 2017:

Thanks, Kristen. If you purchase chicken cutlets at the butcher shop you are getting butterflied chicken, but boy is it expensive! Once you know how it's so much cheaper to do it yourself.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 23, 2017:

Great mailbag Linda. That chicken piccata looks delicious. I never heard of butterflying the chicken and now I know. Great tips!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 23, 2017:

Shauna - I love chicken--it's such a great platform for just about any flavor profile you want (Asian, Tex-Mex, Thai, Italian, French, etc, etc, etc.)

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 23, 2017:

Diva, I love that you've started this series! I learned about it in Bill's most recent Mailbag. I think it's a great idea. Naturally, I'll have to play catch-up. Your recipe for Chicken Picatta sounds yummy. I'll have to try it sometime. My son loves chicken, so this will be a good dish to make when we're both home at dinnertime.

Ann Carr from SW England on October 23, 2017:

Yes, your tone is definitely friendly, Linda, mixed with humour too - perfect! That'll have to be my mantra - 'I know I can, I know I can..' Wasn't there a little engine that said that, somewhere from my childhood?!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 23, 2017:

Bill, I CAN help you with cast iron cooking. Sorry, but you'll have to wait until next week for the answer. Stay tuned and try to stay dry this week. Good golly it rained hard last night!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 23, 2017:

Ann, thank you so much. I'd like to think that my tone sounds like I'm standing right next to you in your kitchen, a friend helping a friend. Bravo to you on baking a coffee cake. I know you can do anything you set your mind to!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 23, 2017:

Flourish - We eat a lot of tofu in this house. My daughters love it. And yes, I can provide some pointers in how to make it less mushy, AND pump up the flavor too. In fact, I might address those a bit here and then do an entire hub on "Exploring Tofu." Thank you for your kind words. Maybe the editors just haven't seen these posts yet.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 23, 2017:

It's good to see the questions continue to flow. Here's one: how do I seal the surface of a cast-iron pan so things don't stick so badly?

Ann Carr from SW England on October 23, 2017:

An interesting set of questions and answers, as usual, Linda. I like the way you make it all sound easy - that's my sort of cooking. BTW, I'm feeling very proud of myself as I actually made my first coffee & walnut cake the other day and it came out perfectly! My partner even likes it too so I'm chuffed! I can hear everyone else saying, 'well, that's easy to do!'; you don't know my cooking!


FlourishAnyway from USA on October 23, 2017:

All this talk of ribs and chicken is just plain mean when someone like me is doing the Vegan for a Month Challenge! Sigh.

I wonder why in the world your weekly column isn't on Delishably? Some things make no sense.

Here's a question: Can you recommend a flavorful way to cook tofu so that it doesn't taste like bland mush? Something stirfry teriyaki or with a sauce of some kind would be divine.

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