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Archive for Gourmet Foods

TIP: Asian Dumplings & Italian Ravioli, The Difference

While the historical record is scant, it is believed that the pasta Marco Polo brought back from China in 1295 was pillow pasta: stuffed and crimped sheets of pasta dough, a.k.a. dumplings.

And a.k.a. ravioli, too. The difference is largely local ingredients.
 
ASIAN DUMPLINGS & STUFFED PASTA: FRATERNAL TWINS

Noodles (spaghetti or other “long cut” pasta) had been introduced to the West centuries* before Marco Polo.

Arab traders brought the long noodles back home over the Silk Road, and then to Sicily during the Arab invasions of the 8th century.

In addition to being an everyday food, dried pasta was a boon for travelers, including soldiers. It was lightweight and required only boiling water to turn it into a hot meal. As in Asia, pasta was also added to soups.

In Italy, Chinese dumplings evolved into agnolotti, cannelloni, mezzalune (crescents), ravioli (plus the smaller raviolini and larger ravioloni), sacchette (beggar’s purses) and tortellini.

Instead Asian sauces made from soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, rice wine and/or hot sauce, among other ingredients, Italian pasta was accented with sauces made from local ingredients: cream, olive oil, Parmesan and tomatoes.
 
Pillow Pasta/Stuffed Pasta

Pillow pasta is stuffed pasta (pasta ripiena in Italian), but not all stuffed pasta is pillow pasta. In addition to the stuffed “pillows,” the other stuffed category includes large tubes and other shapes that are stuffed and baked, like cannelloni and jumbo shells. Other tube pasta, such as penne, rigatoni and ziti, are too small to be stuffed.

Pillow pasta can be stuffed with almost any kind of filling, either a single seasoned ingredient or combinations of different meats, cheeses, vegetables, seafood and herbs.

Here’s a brief history of pasta.

 
RECIPE: PORK & GINGER RAVIOLI…OR ARE THEY DUMPLINGS?

This recipe, from Chef Eric B LeVine could be ravioli. But because of the dough used (wonton wrappers) and the Asian ingredients—soy sauce, fresh ginger, lime, scallions—it could be a dumpling.

But wait: There’s also basil and Parmesan cheese, two Italian specialties.

This recipe, a fusion of Asian and Italian, illustrates how close Italian and Chinese (and other Asian) pastas can be; and not just in stuffed pasta, but in long cuts as well (mai fun = angel hair, chow fun = pappardelle, etc.).

Check out Chef Eric’s book, Small Bites, Big Flavor.
 
Ingredients

  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg, grated
  • 1 egg
  • 32 wonton wrappers
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the dipping sauce: Combine the lime zest, juice, honey, soy sauce, canola oil, sesame oil and pepper flakes. Whisk or shake well to combine and set aside.

    2. WHISK together the Parmesan, basil, ginger, garlic, scallions, nutmeg and egg in a large bowl. Add the pork and mix very gently with your finger tips until just blended. Place the pork mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm.

    3. MAKE the dumplings, one at a time. Brush the flour side of the wrapper with water. Place a heaping tablespoon of the pork mixture in the center of the wrapper. Place another wrapper on top and press the edges together to seal. Use a pastry cutter† or ravioli stamp otherwise trim the edges with a zigzag pastry wheel. Repeat with the remaining filling and wraps.

    4. COOK: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt and cook the ravioli for 6 minutes.

     

    Ravioli With Cherry Tomatoes

    Edamame Ravioli

    Pork Ravioli Recipe

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/tortellini mezzaluna eatalychicago 230 1

    Chinese Potsticker Dumplings

    Top: classic ravioli (photo courtesy Delfino Restaurant). Second: round ravioli (photo courtesy Ristorante Morini. Third: The recipe below: Pork-Ginger Ravioli…or are they dumplings? (photo courtesy Chef Eric LeVine. Fourth: Italian mezzalune pasta (half moons or crescents) plus tortellini. Photo courtesy Eataly Chicago). Bottom: Chinese potstickers (photo courtesy Mackenzie Ltd).

     
    ________________________

    *The oldest written reference to noodles is in a Chinese dictionary from the third century C.E. However, these noodles were not made from what we know as noodle dough, but from bread dough. The dough was shaped into little bits and cooked in a wok of boiling water. Called mian pian, they are still eaten in China. [Source]

    †If you need to buy a pastry cutter, consider the double-wheel type that cuts both straight and zigzag edges.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Rhubarb, A Spring Favorite

    Rhubarb

    Trimmed Rhubarb

    Top: Rhubarb with its leaves. Don’t eat the leaves—they’re mildly toxic (photo courtesy OurOhio.org). Bottom: Trimmed rhubarb, as it is most often seen in stores (photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco).

     

    To many foodies, the beginning of spring means asparagus, fava beans, morels, ramps, scapes and shad roe.

    We add rhubarb to that list. In North America it grows between April and June, paralleling asparagus season.

    Nana was so fond of stewed rhubarb, she made it once or twice a week during rhubarb season. She served it in a dish, like pudding, with or without heavy cream; in a compote; in a parfait; on pound cream (with whipped cream); and as a topping on ice cream.

    Her daughter, Mom, was an inveterate pie baker, turning out Rhubarb Pie, Raspberry Rhubarb Pie and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. We have a Strawberry Rhubarb Tart recipe below.
     
    RHUBARB: A VEGETABLE, NOT A FRUIT

    Technically, rhubarb is a vegetable, a member of the sorrel family. Fruits are not necessarily sweet. Tomatoes are fruit, avocados are fruit, hot chiles are fruits, cucumbers and squash are fruits.

    By botanical definition, fruits have their seeds/pits, on the inside, contained in the fruit’s ovary sac*.

    Fruits carry their seeds inside; vegetable seeds scatter in the wind. You see seeds in an apple, avocado, cucumber and tomato, but not in broccoli, carrots or lettuce. Lacking sweetness doesn’t make it a vegetable.

    Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, is a vegetable in the Polygonaceae family. The leaf stalks (petioles) are crisp like celery with a strong, tart taste. Rhubarb looks like rosy-pink celery, but is no relation (celery is a member of the Apiaceae family).

     
    Even for a vegetable, rhubarb is very tart. Before it was served sweetened, it was added to soups (try it in lentil soup) and sauces: in the Himalayas, in Moroccan tagines and in Middle Eastern stews. Be sure to cook only the stems; the leaves are mildly toxic (they contain oxalic acid).

    But for most of us, rhubarb needs a sweetener. It’s absolutely delicious as stewed rhubarb, rhubarb ice cream, rhubarb pie and its variation in this recipe, strawberry rhubarb pie. Some people eat the stems raw by dipping them into sugar.

    Rhubarb grew wild in northwest China, and was cultivated about 5,000 years ago for medicinal purposes. It made its way west via Turkey and Russia, and was first planted in England by an apothecary in 1777. Once sweetened, it became popular for jams, sauces and crumbles.

    The thinner and darker pink the fresh rhubarb stalks are, the less tart they will be. Look for stalks that are crisp, bright pink, thin, and unblemished.
     
    _______________________
    *The only exception is the strawberry, which is not a botanical berry but an accessory fruit. True vegetables have no pit or seed sac.
     
    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB GALETTE

    This French-inspired pastry is the perfect balance of tart and sweet, prepared with fresh strawberries and peak season rhubarb enveloped inside a buttery, hand-formed crust and garnished with a touch of sparkling sugar.

    It’s a spring specialty at Hewn, an artisanal bakery in Evanston, Illinois, which advises that this pastry makes a brief appearance only during the late months of spring, when rhubarb season is at its peak.

     
    What’s A Galette?

    In the pastry world, a galette is a rustic, open-face fruit pie. It is flat, with a flaky, turned-up crust that wraps around the filling to creates a “bowl.” The Italian word is crostata.

    A galette is a pie instead of a tart because it uses a pâte brisée crust, instead of the dense, crumbly and sweet pâte sablée used for sweet tarts.

     

     
    Ingredients For A 6-Inch Galette

    For The Filling

  • 1 pint ripe strawberries, cut in quarters
  • 2 stalks of rhubarb, skin removed (use a knife to peel off the dark outside layer)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean (the other is used in the dough)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/16 teaspoon sea salt
  •  
    For The Dough

  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 sticks chilled butter, cut into tiny cubes
  • ¾ cup chilled cold water
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • Optional: fresh thyme or tarragon, chopped, to taste
  • 1 egg (whisked and used to brush the dough before baking)
  •  
    Preparation

    Make the Filling

    1. CHOP the rhubarb into ¼ inch strips. Toss the rhubarb with the quartered strawberries.

    2. ADD the sugar, vanilla bean and sea salt to the rhubarb and strawberries. Toss until it is coated.

    3. ADD the flour and mix the filling.

     
    Make the Dough

     

    Rhubarb Tart

    Stewed Rhubarb

    Top: Rhubarb Galette from Hewn; recipe included, Bottom: Nana’s favorite: stewed rhubarb. Photo courtesy Fast-Ed.com.au.

    The easiest way to make the dough is to use a food processor—but you have to make sure to not overwork the dough.

    1. USING a food processor add the salt and flour and pulse for 5 seconds. With the food processor on…

    2. SLOWLY DROP butter in, in a continuous stream. You should be able to have all the butter added within a minute. Once all the butter is added, let the processor run for 10 more seconds. The dough should look very shaggy and the butter should still be visible. Add the optional herbs.

    3. TURN to the the pulse setting and slowly pour the cold water. This is where the dough can get overworked. Once the water is added, the dough will still be shaggy and should NOT form a ball. The shaggier it is, the flakier the dough will be.

    4. SCOOP out the dough and form into a flat disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and let the dough chill for 2 hours before rolling it out.
     
    Assemble And Bake

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F (325° for a convection oven).

    2. ROLL the dough out and use a ring or bowl to trace a round. The size should be about 6 inches. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper, lay the dough ring on it sheet pan and spoon ¼ cup of the filling in the center. Fold the edges of the dough up, so it creates a pocket to contain the filling. Add the rest of the filling.

    3. BRUSH the edge of the dough with the egg wash and bake the galette for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes check: The crust should be deep golden and the filling should not be runny.

     
    ABOUT HEWN ARTISANAL BAKERY

    Founded by partners Ellen King and Julie Matthei in 2013, Hewn is a cozy neighborhood spot in a historic space. Ellen is a classically trained chef, Julie is the business director.

    Hewn sources local and seasonal ingredients from small, local farmers. The bakery’s name refers to the craftsmanship associated with making something by hand For more information, visit HewnBread.com.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cider Tasting For Mother’s Day

    Hard Cider & Food

    Drier ciders work better with meats. Photo courtesy Angry Orchard.

     

    Skip the Pinot Grigio and taste some cider for Mother’s Day. It’s more novel than wine, and will suit any guest:

    Cider is equally popular among men and women, whereas beer is significantly more popular among men*. Cider is also gluten-free and less filling than beer.

    While many people think “autumn” when they hear “cider,” that is true for non-alcoholic cider, which is fresh-pressed.

    Hard cider is fermented for eight weeks after the juice is pressed. The cider then matures for several months, is blended, filtered and carbonated. So the “freshest” hard cider is on the market now, not in the fall.

    Another note: In the U.S., alcoholic cider is called hard cider and apple cider/apple juice (the terms are interchangeable in the U.S.) is simply called cider.

    In the U.K. it’s the reverse: “Cider” is hard cider.

    While most cider is made from apples, you’ll also find pear cider, known in the U.K. as perry.

     
    CIDER & FOOD PAIRINGS

    Hard ciders pairs with the same foods as beer and white wine. Styles range from very dry to sweet “hard apple juice.”

  • The sweetness of cider allows you to serve desserts with it, too, especially apple desserts (pie, crumble, bread pudding).
  • For nibbles, serve hearty cheeses and charcuterie.
  • For main courses, consider barbecue, chicken, pork and sausages (beer and brats, meet cider and brats); plus soups, stews and one of our favorite pairings, cheese fondue.
  •  
    TIPS

  • In recipes, you can substitute hard cider for wine.
  • Hard cider is best served chilled or over ice.
  •  

    CIDER TASTING PARTY: WHERE TO START

    1. Gather up a dozen brands or so, and invite friends over for a hard cider tasting. You’ll find hard ciders from the U.S. and England†. Get apple cider for the kids.

    2. For serious foodies, conduct a blind tasting. Serve them in order of alcohol content, lowest to highest. Either cover up the labels with paper (we used a removable glue stick) or place each one in a paper sandwich sack (the size of a take-out coffee bag, which you can get at the nearest deli [offer to pay for them and you’ll likely get them for free]).

    3. Mark each label or bag with a number, and provide each person with a tasting notes sheet. If your group is accustomed to evaluating beer and wine, you can adapt this professional scoring sheet. We put all the descriptors in the left column of that sheet onto one piece of paper, with one for each guest. For notes, we made up a simple sheet with designated areas for rating ciders 1 through 12 (or however many ciders you’re serving) on a second sheet.

    You can also print out this Cider Tasting Wheel.

     

    Cider Goblet

    You can use any glass you like for cider; this one is popular in Europe. Photo courtesy Crispin Cider.

     
    4. Decide on the food and how many bottles of each cider you’ll need for your size crowd.

    5. Start with small pours: An ounce each of 12 cider becomes 12 ounces in relatively short order. At the end of the comparison tasting, people can go back for more.

    6. Provide “dump buckets” so participants can toss what they don’t like. These can be large tumblers or other vessels (we’ve used short vases!).

    7. Have a great time.
     
    _____________________________
    *Beer is preferred by men in terms of market penetration (+10% for men), frequency (+35% for men), and servings consumed (+33% for men).
     
    †Magners Irish Cider is the only hard cider imported from Ireland.

      

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    PASSOVER: Matzoh Strawberry “Shortcake” Recipe

    Matzoh Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

    Substitute matzoh for the biscuits or cake in this Passover Strawberry Shortcake recipe. Photo and recipe courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     

    In addition to Chocolate Matzoh Crunch and chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, we’ve added anther Passover treat to our recommendations. It’s courtesy of Good Eggs in San Francisco.

    “Shortcake“ is a stretch as a substitute for biscuits or sponge cake, but this no-cook, no-bake Passover dessert is delicious and oh-so-easy to make.

    Speaking of sponge cake, our standard family Passover dessert is Strawberry Shortcake with sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream. Since sponge cakes are not leavened with yeast, they can be eaten during Passover when made with matzoh meal instead of wheat flour.

    RECIPE: MATZOH STRAWBERRY “SHORTCAKES”

    Prep time is 15 minutes.

    Ingredients For 3 Servings

  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 8 ounces mascarpone
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 boards matzoh
  • Optional garnish: mint sprigs
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the strawberries and let them macerate in the orange juice, reserving one tablespoon. Mix the mascarpone with the powdered sugar, half of the zest and the reserved tablespoon of orange juice.

    2. MELT the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the matzoh and fry until crispy and golden-brown, about 1 minute on each side.

    3. ASSEMBLE the shortcakes: spread a generous layer of mascarpone on each piece of fried matzo, then top with sliced strawberries and mint. Dust powdered sugar over the top for an extra touch of sweetness!

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: The Best Oven Mitts

    When you’re working with hot oven pans, stove pot handles, steaming pasta pots and the like, you need more protection than a cloth oven mitt. Otherwise, be prepared to say “Ouch!”

    We tossed our cloth oven mitts 15 years ago when the first Orka silicone oven mitts debuted. No matter pleasing the design—or the ability to wear a matching apron—cloth mitts didn’t provide enough burn protection.

    Beyond protection against burns, cloth mitts are neither waterproof nor oil-proof—and get pretty stained pretty fast.

    If you haven’t yet heeded the call, it’s time to toss your cloth oven mitts and bring in the heavy hitter: silicone.
     
    THE SOLUTION: SUPERFLEX GLOVES FROM THE TRIUMPHANT CHEF

    While there are numerous silicone mitts on they market, we recently gave our older ones away in favor of what we think is the new best: the Silicone Flex Mitt from The Triumphant Chef.

    They’re the latest generation of silicone: super-flexible, yet still heat resistant up to 450°F.

  • The no-slip silicone grips better than cloth—and even better grip from the circle-and-spoke pattern.
  • You can flip chops, steaks, hot dogs on the grill without tools.
  • You can easily hold down a turkey or roast while you carve it.
  • You can fully clean them in the sink with soap and hot water—or in the dishwasher.
  •  
    A couple of decades ago, Playtex Living Gloves promoted themselves as “so flexible, you can pick up a dime. We didn’t easily pick up a dime with Flex Mitts, but it was a cinch to pick up a quarter.

    Like those Living Gloves, they have a soft cloth liner, here quilted. They’re currently on sale at Amazon.com for $13.83 a pair, plus a bonus silicone basting brush. The gloves are available in:

  • Black
  • Canary Yellow
  • Dark Red
  • Lime Green
  • Royal Blue
  • Royal Purple
  •  
    Get them for your favorite cooks for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, summer grilling weekends…and think ahead to Christmas season.

     
    THE HISTORY OF OVEN MITTS

    For much of man’s history, hot pots and pans were handled with cloth. One source notes that mittens have been in use for more 1,000 years for a wide range of protective purposes, including protecting hands from hot ovens.

    If so, they were abandoned somewhere along the line for the presumably more effective potholders.

    Apparently, a Texan named Earl Mitt (seriously?) came up with the idea in the early 1870s, after a bad burn while baking. In an effort to prevent getting burned again, he invented the first oven mitt from shoe leather and wool. After experimenting with different materials and designs, he finally came up with the oven mitt style of cooking glove. [Source]

    Today, the outer layers are typically made of cotton or polyester, while the inner layer is filled with an insulator fabric.

    Thanks, Earl; but they’re old technology now. Along with potholders, they provide incomplete protection against high heat, steam and oil splattering. A user can be scalded by boiling water and burned hot pans and steam.

    What are you waiting for?

     

    All Clad pot from Williams-Sonoma. It can be monogrammed!All-Clad Pasta Pot

    Tramontana Deep Fryer

    Super Flex Silicone Oven Gloves

    Super Flex Oven Mitts

    Do you really want to touch a hot pot with kitchen towels or cloth oven mitts? (All-Clad Pasta Pot and Tramontino Deep Fryer from Williams-Sonoma). Bottom: Our favorite protection, Super Flex Oven Mitts from The Triumphant Chef, with a soft quilted liner and a bonus matching basting brush.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Flavored Salt

    Gourmet Flavored Salts

    Flavored Salts

    Szechuan Peppercorn Flavored Salt

    TOP: Flavored salts from Saltopia. Center: Trio of homemade flavored salts from Chef Eric LeVine | Steamy Kitchen. Bottom: Close-up of Szechuan Pepper Salt.

     

    Do you use flavored salt? Is your spice cabinet as packed with different flavors as ours is?

    We have 10 jars of artisan* flavored salts, of which we often use just our three favorites (rosemary, saffron and truffle). The other seven take up a lot of space. It’s not that we don’t like them; it’s similar to shoes and clothing. We own a lot but wear the same three most of the time.

    It’s tempting to reach for yet another exciting artisan salt. Here’s some of what we see when we visit a specialty salt website like Saltopia or US Saltworks:

  • Fruit-flavored salt: caper, coconut, habanero, jalapeño, lemon, lime, orange, peach, pineapple, pomegranate, strawberry, tomato
  • Herb-flavored salt: basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, lavender, lemongrass, mint, peppermint, rosemary, saffron, thyme, wasabi
  • Spice-flavored salt: Aleppo pepper, anise, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, curry, ginger, mustard, sumac, vanilla
  • Smoked salt: applewood, alderwood
  • Sweet-flavored salt: brown sugar, honey, maple
  • Vegetable-flavored salt: mushroom, onion, truffle
  • And beyond: balsamic vinegar, Cabernet Sauvignon, chocolate, rose
  •  
    WHAT DO YOU DO WITH FLAVORED SALTS?

    Says Chef Eric LeVine: “One of the easiest ways to elevate your cooking to another level is to use flavored salts, or finishing salts. I call these ‘finishing salts’ because most of the time, its exactly what I use them for. No recipe is needed, really: Flavor + Salt = Flavored Salt.

    “I like to use these salts in place of regular salt. The flavor I use is dependent on either the type of dish I’m cooking, the ethnic cuisine or a flavor I would like to infuse into the dish.

    “Sometimes a dish just needs a little color after plating. A finishing salt is the perfect complement, flavor-wise and eye-candy-deliciousness-wise.

    Learn from professional cooks—who often serve food on white dinnerware—and sprinkle a bit of finishing salt directly on the food and the plate. The vibrant colors are shown off against the white and your dinner guests can dab as much as or as little of the salt [on their food] as they wish. You can make a batch for less than $1….or you could go to a gourmet shop and spend $12 for an itty bitty jar.”

    Spring and summer grilling are another reason to bring out the flavored salt instead of reaching for Morton’s Little Salt Girl or Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

    “You can also use it as a finishing salt. And you can use it to add a bit of color to all those beige and brown foods.”

    At THE NIBBLE, we use them as in ingredient or a garnish:

  • Baking, especially with lemon salt (lemon muffins, shortbread, garnish a lemon tart)
  • Bread dipper with olive oil and herbs
  • Confections: salted caramels and salted chocolate
  • Cottage cheese, soft cheeses, yogurt
  • Dessert: cobblers, puddings
  • Finishing salt: beef lamb, pork, poultry, seafood, smoked fish
  • Food garnish
  • Fruit salad or grilled fruit (a bit of salt brings out the sweetness)
  • Glass rimmer for sweet or savory salts: Blueberry Mojito, lemonade, Margarita, Bloody Mary, etc.
  • Ice cream or sorbet
  • Pasta, rice and other grains
  • Plate garnish (sprinkle bits on the plate for splashes of color)
  • Popcorn seasoning
  • Potatoes: baked, boiled, fried, mashed
  • Salted nuts
  • Salads and cooked vegetables
  • Any pale-colored food
  •  
    ___________________________
    *Artisan salts are flavored sea salts; as opposed to supermarket garlic salt, onion salt, etc., which are flavored table salts.

     
    SOLUTION: SAVE SPACE & MONEY—BLEND YOUR OWN

    It takes just five minutes to blend salt, herbs and spices in a spice grinder. You can make them on an as-needed basis, or make larger batches for your spice rack.

    At $13 and up retail for a 3.5-ounce jar, you can make your own for perhaps $1 a batch.

    Pick A Base Salt

    If you don’t have sea salt on hand, start with kosher salt or table salt. After you get the hang of blending, you can try more exotic salts, such as:

  • Fleur de sel or sel gris from France
  • Black lava or red alaea salts from Hawaii
  • Pink Himalayan or kala namak salts from India
  • Smoked salt
  •  
    FLAVORED SALT RECIPES

    Here are four recipes, two savory and two sweet. The first three are from Chef Eric; the Blueberry Salt is from THE NIBBLE archives.
     
    Recipe: Szechuan (Sichuan) Peppercorn Salt

    Dry-roasted Szechuan or Sichuan Peppercorn + food processor to grind the peppercorn + sea salt. Chef Eric roasted peppercorns in a hot, dry skillet until they were smoking but not burnt. Let it cool and add to a food processor or piece mill to grind to your preferred granule size. Then add the salt and pulse a couple of times to fully blend the flavors.

    Says Chef Eric: “I like my Szechuan pepper salt a little chunky and not like a fine powder, so I use equal amts of peppercorns and sea salt. You can adjust the proportions based on your tastes. If you are using a very fine sea salt or just regular table salt, decrease the amount of salt.

    “In addition to Asian-accent dishes or for a touch of heat, I also love seasoning my steaks with this salt prior to grilling, instead of the standard salt and pepper. It can also be served as a dipping salt for fried shrimp.”

     

    Recipe: Matcha Salt

    Matcha is Japanese green tea powder made from the highest quality of green tea leaves. It’s very different from simply grinding green tea leaves. It’s a stunning mossy green color, which makes such a pretty finishing salt. Matcha powder + sea salt + couple pulses in food processor if you are using coarse sea salt.

    Chef Eric likes to use it on a chocolate truffle or mousse; you can dip a plain chocolate bar dip in Matcha Salt. Use it with eggs and tofu, and with dishes that are light in texture and flavor, since this salt’s flavor is more delicate and subtle. “Don’t get the super-premium stuff,” says Chef Eric, “It would be a waste to use the expensive powder for the salts.”
     
    Recipe: Citrus Salt

    Peel any citrus and let the peels dry a little bit on a paper towel. Citrus salt is bright, cheery and light, says Chef Eric.

    “Finish your shrimp skewers, any vegetables, grilled chicken breasts or grilled salmon with Citrus Salt. Lighten your risotto or steamed rice.”

     
    Recipe: Blueberry Salt

    For summer, make Blueberry Salt. Start with a small batch (this recipe makes one cup). This recipe takes longer, because you’re drying fresh fruit. Prep time is 35 minutes, cook time is 1 hour to 1 day, depending on whether you choose to oven dry (1 hour) or let dry naturally (24 hours or more).

    After you make this recipe, you can customize it with other ingredients: balsamic vinegar, citrus peel, thyme, rosemary or any of the ideas above. The recipe is courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
     
    Ingredients For 1 Cup

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  •  

    Blueberry Salt

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/blueberry salt saltopia 230sq

    Blueberry salt: You can buy a jar or make your own. Photos courtesy Saltopia.

  • 1 cup coarse sea salt (substitute kosher salt, or for a beautiful flake salt, use Maldon salt, with unique, pyramid-shaped crystals)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. LINE two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

    2. SIMMER the berries and water in a saucepan over medium heat until the berries pop and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

    3. PRESS the blueberries with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon, reserving the juice. Further strain the berries with a fine wire sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Line the sieve with cheesecloth and strain out the finer particles.

    4. RETURN the juice to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer (watching closely so the juice doesn’t burn) until the juice is reduced to a syrup thick enough to coat a spoon. You should have 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice.

    5. REMOVE from the heat. Stir in the salt until the crystals are evenly coated, then spread the salt onto baking sheets. Let it air dry, stirring occasionally, until dry. This will take 4-24 hours, depending on the humidity. Alternatively, bake the salt in a 150° convection oven, stirring frequently until dry, about 1 hour.

    TIP: For a deeper purple salt, add food color to the blueberry juice in Step 4.

     
    HOW MANY TYPES OF SALT HAVE YOU HAD?

    Check out the different types of salt in our Salt Glossary.

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Tony Roma’s Heat & Eat Barbecue

    Tony Roma's Ribs

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/boneless pork ribs tony romas 230

    Spare Ribs

    Top: We love these meaty boneless ribs. Center: Look for this package in your supermarket. Bottom: Baby back ribs. All photos courtesy Tony Roma’s.

     

    We try to avoid barbecue joints because way beyond the barbecue, we fill up on cornbread, buttermilk biscuits, cole slaw, mac and cheese and banana pudding. We feel overstuffed now, just by thinking of it.

    That’s why it was our lucky day when we accepted Tony Roma’s offer of heat-and-eat pork ribs to consider for THE NIBBLE. They’re available at supermarkets nationwide, and we’re thankful for that! (Here’s a store locator.)

    They’re as good or better than what we get in restaurants…and we don’t face a menu of tempting, high-carb, high-sugar, high-fat choices. And we don’t have to make anyone’s brother’s award-winning recipe.
     
    ABOUT THE RIBS

    The ribs and barbecue are marinated and slow-cooked. Fully cooked and nicely sauced, we microwaved them and they were ready in minutes. We tried:

  • Tony Roma’s Baby Back Pork Ribs
  • Tony Roma’s Boneless Pork Ribs
  • Tony Roma’s BBQ Pulled Pork
  •  
    There are other choices we didn’t taste—but look forward to:

  • Pulled Chicken
  • St. Louis Style Pork Spare Ribs
  •  
    All are available in with either Sweet & Spicy or Sweet Hickory barbecue sauces, and all made us happy. But the boneless ribs are by far our favorite: thick slices of tender meat with no bones to contend with.

    We were in hog heaven, and the boneless ribs have joined our “addiction list”—Top Picks that we continue to buy regularly at the grocer’s.

    Now, we can enjoy delicious ribs without all the empty carb sides and without sticky fingers: We eat them with a knife and fork. We…

  • Ate them with a big, crunchy salad and homemade cole slaw (purchased a package of shredded cabbage and tossed with a light vinaigrette—and sometimes blue cheese dressing).
  • Rolled them in lettuce leaves with shredded carrots, shredded daikon and watercress.
  • Served them with sides of sweet potatoes and sautéed apples* or caramelized onions.
  • Made burritos and tacos.
  • Served three slices atop a bed of [variously] sautéed vegetables, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, grits and San Gennaro polenta.
  •  
    ___________________________
    *We bought a jar of Grandma Hoerner’s Big Slice, delectable and time-saving.
     
    A QUICK PORK RIBS TUTORIAL

    There are two types of barbecue preparation: dry and wet. Dry ribs are rubbed with a mixture of herbs and spices. The rubs don’t require advance preparation; they can be applied just before barbecuing. Wet ribs are basted with sauce prior to and during the barbecuing process.

  • Baby Back Ribs are sourced from the loin area. These ribs tend to be smaller in size than spare ribs, but are considered to be more tender than other rib cuts. Think of them as tender and tasty.
  • Spare Ribs, also called side ribs, are from the belly area. They are longer and fatter than baby back ribs, but less meaty. The mix of meat and fat add to their tenderness and make slow-cooking a great way to enjoy these pork ribs. They’re what you want if you love to chew on the bones.
  • Boneless Ribs are sourced from the shoulder-area of the hog. They are slow cooked at low heat until tender and then portioned into various size boneless rib pieces. Most often, boneless ribs are marinated and seasoned for tenderness.
  • St. Louis-Style Ribs are a particular cut of the pork rib. The shape is almost rectangular and bone has been removed. These are meaty and tasty ribs, typically marinated for tenderness.
  • Pulled Pork is made with meat sourced from the shoulder area. It is slow cooked at low heat until it becomes tender enough to be “pulled” apart. Most often, pulled pork is marinated and seasoned for tenderness and tastiness.
  • Types Of Pork Ribs Chart

     
    Glossary information and chart courtesy Rupari Foods, maker of Tony Roma’s retail barbecue products.
     
    LOVE PORK?

    Check our the different cuts of pork in our Pork Glossary.

      

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    FOOD FUN: Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

    We’re so glad that B and S are in the kitchen! Brother (B) and sister (S) Bob and Carlene Deutscher of Saskatchewan are authors of the food blog BsInTheKitchen.com.

    They’ve inspired us to whip up some mac & cheese—to turn into a special grilled cheese sandwich for National Grilled Cheese Month.

    RECIPE: MAC & CHEESE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

    Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time is 10 minutes.

    Ingredients Per Sandwich

  • 2 slices rustic bread
  • 1 cup leftover macaroni & cheese
  • 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • Generous ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Option: bacon or pulled pork (we bought Tony Roma’s Pulled Pork)
  • Butter, softened or bacon grease
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garnish: ketchup
  •  
    Preparation

    1. GRILL the bacon or heat the pulled pork.

     

    Mac & Cheese Grilled

    Sandwich mashup: Grilled Cheese with Mac & Cheese. Bacon optional. Photo © Bs In The Kitchen.

     
    2. MELT some butter in a skillet over medium heat. While the pan is heating/butter is melting…

    3. MIX the macaroni & cheese, 2 tablespoons of panko crumbs, a couple pinches of cheese in a bowl, with salt and pepper to taste. Form into patties and place in heated pan.
    Cook until golden brown on each side. While the patties cook…

    4. BUTTER the outside of each slice, place the panko on a plate and press the buttered side of each slice into the panko to crust the sandwich.

    5. PLACE about half of the cheese onto the bottom slice. Once the patties are cooked, add them on top of cheese, then top with more cheese. Add the other slice of bread and fry until golden brown on each side.

     
    Photo and recipe © copyright BSInTheKitchen.com.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Spring Rolls

    Spring Rolls

    Vietnamese Summer Rolls

    Shrimp Summer Rolls

    Fried Spring Rolls

    Top: Vegetarian spring rolls with shredded daikon, carrots, cucumber trips and peanuts (photo IST). Second: Vietnamese Summer Rolls (photo courtesy Elegant Affairs Caterers). Third photo: Shrimp spring rolls (photo courtesy Three Ladies Rice Paper). Bottom: Chinese-style fried spring rolls (photo courtesy Davios | Boston).

     

    Spring rolls are one of our favorite appetizers at Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. Even if we buy them at the take-out sushi counter at Whole Foods, they’re still $6 for two vegetarian rolls.

    So why don’t we make them at home?

    Yesterday, a lazy Sunday, we held a Spring Roll Brunch in our home, along with wine pairings.

    You can create a do-it-yourself spring roll buffet, but given the crowd, we enlisted one dexterous friend to help us with the wrap-and-roll.

    That said, they are easy to make and have a very high prep time:delicious factor.

    So first: What’s a spring roll?
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EGG ROLLS, SPRING ROLLS & SUMMER ROLLS?

    Identifying spring rolls can be confusing, and here’s why:

    While some countries, including China, make fried spring rolls, Thailand and Vietnam use the oncooked wrapper.

    The term “spring roll” is not synonymous with “egg roll,” which is always fried. An egg roll has a heavier pastry wrapper that can be sliced into sections; a fried spring roll is very fragile and can shatter like phyllo.

  • Egg rolls are deep fried; the wrappers are thicker, making egg rolls more of a filled pastry (most are vegetable, egg and/or meat or seafood filling). Spring roll wrappers are thinner, the shape is narrower and when fried the rolls are more finger-like. If you want to make egg rolls, here’s how.
  • Spring rolls are an Asian appetizer, eaten either Vietnamese-style, in an uncooked* rice noodle wrapper, or fried Chinese-style. They are traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival in China, hence the name; but also are popular in Cambodia and Indonesia.
  • Vietnamese and Thai spring rolls use rice paper wrappers, which can be found in Asian markets. The dry hard wrappers are moistened into pliancy and translucency, and filled with seafood; red lettuce or Boston lettuce leaves; fresh mint, basil and cilantro leaves and shredded carrot. They are served with a chili dipping sauce.
  • Summer rolls are made in the style of spring rolls, but with more seasonal ingredients. They are not fried.

    Vietnamese spring and summer rolls are like eating a fresh salad roll, more complex in flavor (thanks to the fresh herbs) than fried Chinese spring rolls. They are served with a spicy dipping sauce known as nuoc cham, of which there are many variations.
     
    Spring rolls and summer rolls are made from a rice wrapper: tapioca starch, rice flour, salt and water. They are gluten-free and vegan. Egg roll skins are made from wheat flour and egg.

    The ingredients show through the translucent wrapper and create lovely eye appeal. You can roll anything in the soft rice flour wrappers—the stiff rice wrapper becomes soft after dipping in water. You can find the rice flour wrappers at Asian markets or the Asian products section of a good supermarket.
     
    Customize Your Spring & Summer Rolls

    Vietnamese spring rolls generally contain seafood such as cooked shrimp, accompanied by any combination of rice sticks, carrot, cucumber, daikon, shiitake mushrooms and fresh, leafy herbs: basil, cilantro and mint. Iceberg lettuce or green cabbage can be added for crunch.

    We also like adding toasted chopped peanuts (salty or honey-roasted) to half the batch, to our rolls.

  •  
    How did spring rolls get their name?

    Originally, they were special snacks served to visitors with tea at the Chinese New Year, which is the beginning of lunar spring.

    Both spring rolls and egg rolls date back to ancient China, and both are traditionally served with hot Chinese mustard or a dipping sauce.
     
    _______________________
    *Vietnamese spring rolls, or cha gio, are not fried—although some Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in the U.S. have taken to serving Chinese-style spring rolls as well, catering to the American taste for fried food.

     

    RECIPE: CHICKEN & AVOCADO SPRING ROLLS

    Ingredients For 4 Rolls

  • 4 spring roll skins
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado†, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 chicken breast (4 ounces), pre-grilled or baked and sliced thin
  • 1 cup romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup soy ginger sauce, peanut sauce or other dipping sauce (recipe below)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SEED, peel and slice the avocado.

    2. SOFTEN the spring roll skin in cold water for 5 seconds then place flat on cutting board. Place the sliced avocado and chicken breast, romaine and shredded carrots in the center of the spring roll skin. Gently fold over one side of the spring roll skin, fold in the edges and gently roll to the other end of the spring roll skin as though you are wrapping a burrito.

    3. SERVE on platter and serve with dipping sauce.

     
    RECIPE: DIPPING SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar‡
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce, nam pla (you can substitute soy sauce**)
  • 1 garlic clove minced)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed chilies (you can use red pepper flakes)
  •  

    avocado-spring-rolls-hassavo-230

    Rice Spring Roll Wrappers

    Top: Avocado Spring rolls (photo courtesy Chiquita Brand). Bottom: Spring roll wrappers, made from rice flour (photo courtesy Rose Brands).

     
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the vinegar, water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the fish sauce, garlic, lime juice and chilies.

    2. COOL and serve, or else refrigerate.

     
    _____________________

    †Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. If using smaller or larger size avocados adjust the quantity accordingly.

    ‡Depending on your personal palate, you can reverse the quantities of rice vinegar and lime juice. One good-size lime will yield 1/2 cup of juice.

    **Soy sauce will obviously taste different from fish sauce, but it still works as an Asian dipping sauce.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Have A Malbec

    Glass Of Malbec In Riedel Malbec Glass

    A glass of Malbec in the specially designed Riedel Malbec glass. Photo courtesy Riedel.

     

    Celebrated on April 17th, World Malbec Day is the perfect opportunity to open up a bottle of the wine that is Argentina’s claim to varietal fame.

    Malbec is a black grape that produces red wine—a deep purple-red in color and nearly opaque, similar to Syrah and Mourvedre.

    The original Malbec rootstock came from France, where it was widely planted in the Cahors region in the Midi-Pyrénées region of south-central France, with some in the Loire Valley of central France. Argentina now has 75% of the world’s Malbec acreage.

    Argentine Malbec is very different from its French parent. As is true among all wine grapes (and some other crops), planting the same vines in different terroirs* yield different results.

  • Argentine Malbec is fruit forward, with notes of black cherry, black plum and currant. They have lower acidity, more tannins, and fuller body than French Malbec.
  • French Malbec has moderate tannin, higher acidity and flavor notes of black pepper and spice. Because of their moderate tannin and acidity with lower alcohol, French Malbec wines tend to age longer.
  •  
    World Malbec Day commemorates April 17, 1853, when President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina launched a mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry. To start that endeavor, a French soil expert bought grape varietals from France, one of which was Malbec. During the experiment period, which planted different wines in different terroirs, Malbec proved to be a star. It flourished in the Mendoza region of Argentina, in the northwest part of the country at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
     
    Malbec Is A Very Well-Priced Red

    As a result of the volume produced and the economics of wine production in Argentina, Malbec also proved to be a bargain. It’s a well-priced alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. You can find many good Malbecs for $10 a bottle or less.

    You can also find bottles at twice that price, and even pricier—for example, $95 for a bottle of Cheval des Andes, a joint venture between Bordeaux’s great Chateau Cheval Blanc and Argentina’s Terrazas de los Andes.

  • Some Argentine Malbecs, like the latter, are blended with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Petit Verdot—classic grapes of Bordeaux, to give some Bordeaux style to the wines.
  • But there’s a fifth Bordeaux grape: Malbec is also grown there as a blending grape. Because the varietal has poor resistance bad weather and pests, it never became a top French varietal like Merlot and Caber.
  • Some vintners blend in a bit of Petit Syrah instead. Petit Syrah, now grown largely in Australia and California, is a cross that originated in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France.
  •  
    Three Favorite Malbecs From Argentina

    Our wine editor, Kris Prasad, has a fondness for Altos Las Hormigas and Alamos (one of the wines with Syrah, depending on the vintage). Both can be found for $10 or less, although special bottling (e.g., certain vineyards) cost more.

    He also likes Tinto Negro “Limestock Block,” pricier at around $15. He calls it an “interesting wine”; it is two-thirds Malbec. We haven’t had it, but we do love the label, with part of the name spelled backwards (see the photo of the label above).

     

    PAIRING MALBEC WITH FOOD

    Steak—of which Argentina has a bounty—is a classic pairing (give us a T-bone, please!). But Malbec is much more flexible than a pairing with beef. Try it with:

  • Any grilled red meat or pork (serve with some Argentine chimichurri sauce).
  • Duck and other dark-meat poultry like game birds.
  • Full-flavored fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • Braised short ribs.
  • Burgers and barbecue.
  • Pasta and pizza.
  • Blue cheese, washed rind and other strong cheeses.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Dishes with earthy or smoky flavors.
  • Dishes spiced with clove, cumin, garlic, juniper berry, smoked paprika or sumac.
  •  
    Serve it instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Syrah and other full-bodied reds.

    For an even bigger celebration, put on some tango music—which developed in Argentina—and dance!
     
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    *ABOUT TERROIR: The same rootstock that is grown in different locations produces different flavors; for example, depending on where it is grown, Sauvignon Blanc can have grass or grapefruit notes—or neither. Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH, is a French agricultural term referring to the unique set of environmental factors in a specific habitat that affect a crop’s qualities. It includes climate, elevation, proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type and amount of sun. These environmental characteristics gives the wine its character. Terroir is the basis of the French A.O.C. (appellation d’origine contrôlée) system.

     

    Los Altos Malbecs

    Malbec Label

    Top: Look for Los Altos Las Hormigas Malbecs, a favorite of our wine editor. Photo courtesy Los Altos. Bottom: The quirky label of another favorite Malbec, Tinto Negro.

     

      

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