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GIFT OF THE DAY: Just Spices, Extra-Fresh Spice Blends

Usually THE NIBBLE doesn’t review spices, salad dressings and other categories where it’s difficult to describe the differences or superiority of one brand over another.

After all, if you tried garlic powder from three different producers, what would you say? Once the garlic is cooked in the recipe, any brand will taste good.

But when we met up with Just Spices, and the contents were so fresh, beautiful and aromatic (see photo #1) that we couldn’t resist them, both for our own kitchen and as stocking stuffers.

There’s something for everyone on our list—not just spices, but herbs, too:

  • BBQ Popcorn Seasoning
  • BBQ Seasoning
  • Extra Spicy Seasoning
  • Flavors Of Italy
  • Flavors Of Mexico
  • Guacamole Seasoning
  • Hickory Rub
  • Murray River Salt (beautiful apricot-hued crystals)
  • Oatmeal Spice Blend
  • Pancake Blend
  • Pizza Seasoning
  • Pork Rub
  • Savory Eggs Blend
  • Seafood Rub
  • Smoothie Boost
  • Spicy Garlic Blend
  • Spicy Popcorn Seasoning
  • Steak Rub
  • Sweet Potato Seasoning
  • Tellicherry Pepper
  • Texas BBQ Dip
  • Vegetable Broth Seasoning
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    Just Spices Savory Eggs Blend

    Just Spices BBQ Popcorn Seasoning

    Just Spices Gift Box

    [1] Savory Eggs Blend, a beautiful selection of aromas, flavors and colors. [2] There are two popcorn seasoning blends: BBQ and Spicy. [3] Give individual spices or a box of six Kitchen Essentials (all photos courtesy Just Spices).

     
    Prices range from $5.49 to $6.99.

    A Kitchen Essentials gift box of six spices is $34.49, and includes BBQ Seasoning, Flavors of Italy, Murray River Salt, Spicy Garlic Seasoning, Tellicherry Pepper and Vegetable Broth Seasoning.
     
    WHAT TO GIVE

    We’re giving Oatmeal Spice Blend to our oatmeal-eating friends, BBQ and Spicy Popcorn Seasonings to our popcorn-popping friends, Spicy Garlic Blend to our garlic-loving friends, and so on.

    Just scan the list above to pick what will be loved by your family, friends and colleagues (and don’t forget to buy your own).

    The bright, hip packaging is terrific: “a gift waiting to happen” we thought, the first time we saw them. The color and aroma of the contents are unmatched by other brands we’ve purchased.

    In fact, the brand was started by three college friends who couldn’t find what they wanted at the supermarket.

    Take advantage of their inspiration and travels around the world to buy from the best small growers. Because they buy and produce in small batches, the spices are so vibrant and fragrant, we spent quite some time inhaling each one.
     
    Order yours at JustSpices.com.

      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Bacon Sea Salt

    Bacon Sea Salt

    Sprinkle bacon sea salt on everything (photo courtesy Food Shed Exchange).

     

    Bacon, bacon, everywhere: That’s what you’ll have with a container of bacon sea salt. Crumbled bacon is blended with crunchy sea salt and a hint of spices.

    There are countless ways to use it. For starters:

  • Eggs
  • Hors d’oeuvre
  • Mac & Cheese and other pasta dishes
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes
  • Rice and other grains
  • Sandwich spread (add to mayonnaise)
  • Vegetables (corn, tomatoes, everything)
  •  
    A four-ounce container is $9.73. Larger sizes are available.

    Get yours at FoodShedExchange.com.

     

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spices & Dried Herbs As Plate Garnishes

    Pork & Cabbage Salad

    Round Squash Ravioli

    Dessert Plate Garnish

    Spice Cocktail Rim

    [1] Chef Eric Levine adds a ring of flavorful spices around a circle of salad. [2] At Obicà, a Neapolitan-focused restaurant, Chef Erind Halilaj adds a dramatic spice stripe over butternut squash ravioli. [3] They’re not spices, but crumbs, used here by Chef Daniel Eddy of Rebelle, are lovely garnishes. [4] Spice blends make tasty rimmers for cocktails, too (photo courtesy Pompeian).

     

    For festive occasions—or simply to dress up an everyday meal—make your plates sing with a scatter of spice.

    Once upon a time, professional chefs and the home cooks who copied would use a piece of parsley or other green herb to garnish the plate. Since most foods fell into the brown-beige color family, the plate garnish would “give it some color.” Few people actually considered eating the parsley.

    Today’s chefs are much more innovative. The paltry parsley has evolved into colored swaths of sauce, brushed onto plates; polka dots of sauce; drizzles of coulis; swirls of olive oil; condiments splattered like Jackson Pollack.

    But the easiest way—no steady hand required—is to scatter herbs and spices onto the plate.

    All you need to do is select flavors and colors that complement the food on the plate.

     
    RECOMMENDED DRIED HERBS & SPICES FOR GARNISHING

    This is not a comprehensive list; we went mostly for textured items rather than finely-ground powders. But you can use the latter if they work with your plate decorating concept.
     
    Savory Dried Herbs & Spices

  • Black: black lava salt, nigella seeds, peppercorns (crushed/cracked), poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds
  • Brown: allspice, caraway seeds, grains of paradise, nutmeg (crushed/cracked), smoked sea salt and other flavored gourmet salts, urfa biber
  • Green (pale): aniseed, fennel seeds, garam masala, green peppercorns, herbes de provence, lime peel, matcha salt, oregano, rosemary, za’atar
  • Green (deep): basil, chervil, cilantro, dill weed, epazote, fenugreek, fines herbs, matcha, parsley, tarragon
  • Orange: orange zest, shichimi togarashi (Japanese Seven-Spice)
  • Pink/Purple: Himalayan pink sea salt, lavender buds, Merlot sea salt, pink peppercorns, rose petals
  • Red: achiote, alaea red lava salt, aleppo or other chile flakes, annato seeds, gochu garu (Korean chile flakes), piment d’espelette, sriracha salt and other red gourmet salts
  • Tan: celery seeds, Old Bay seasoning,
  • Yellow: aji amarillo powder, curry salt and other yellow flavored salts, fennel pollen, grapefruit zest, lemon zest, mustard seeds, turmeric
  • White: coarse sea salt (especially flake salt like Maldon or Cypress), flavored coarse white salt (garlic, lemon, lime) sesame seeds
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    More Savory Options
    You may also have some of these in the cupboard:

  • Crumbs: bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, pretzel crumbs
  • Savory drink rimmers
  • Spice blends, from Italian herbs to shichimi togarashi, Japanese Seven Spice (don’t overlook Mrs. Dash)
  • Meat rubs
  • Smoked and flavored salts (for ideas see SeaSalt.com)
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    Sweet Dried Herbs & Spices

    For desserts and other sweet dishes, consider:

  • Colored sugars: coarse sugar, decorating sugar, decorative sugar (shapes), sanding sugar, sparkling sugar
  • Conventional sugars: dark brown, demerara, light brown, muscovado, turbinado
  • Crumbs: cake crumbs, cookie crumbs
  • Flavored sugars: blueberry, cinnamon, espresso, green chile, raspberry, etc. (here’s the selection at EssentialCane.com, plus how to make your own)
  • Sweet herbs: basil, chervil, lemon thyme, garam masala, marjoram, mint, pink peppercorns, sage, sweet cicely, tarragon
  • Sweet spice blends: apple pie spice, chai spice, mulling spice, pumpkin pie spice
  • Sweet spices:
  • +Black, brown and tan: allspice, anise seed, brown sugar (dark, light, raw, turbinado, cacao nibs, cardamom, cassia buds, chia seeds, cinnamon (crushed sticks), coffee beans (crushed), cloves (whole or crushed), nutmeg (freshly ground), poppy seed, vanilla bean pod (crushed)
    +Green: lime peel or zest, matcha powder
    +Pink and purple: dried rose petals (crumbled), lavender buds
    +Yellow and gold: bee pollen, ginger (crystallized or cracked), granulated honey, peel or zest (grapefruit, lemon, orange)
    +White: sesame seeds

     
    MORE HERB & SPICE TIPS

  • Don’t toss “end of the bottle” spices and herbs to make room for new bottles. Instead, combine them in an empty bottle to create your own “garnishing blend.”
  • If an herb or spice has lost its flavor, you can still use it for garnish. In fact, it’s a great use for past-their-prime seasonings.
  • If you don’t like a spice you’re purchased, use it for a plate garnish. Some people don’t even attempt to taste the spices; and those who do dip a fork in it may like it.
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    WANT TO ADD A DRIZZLE?

    If your plate could still use some filler, match one of these to the food. Note that the oil (or any liquid) should be placed on the plate first, before the food and the garnish.

  • Flavored oils: from basil and blood orange to habanero and wasabi.
  • Colored oils: naturally colored oils include avocado oil (virgin), hot chile oil*, dark sesame oil* and mustard oil*; you also can make your own colored oils).
  • Olive oil—for artistic purposes, the darker the better. You can add green food color—which is what more than a few bottlers [illegally] do.
  • Syrups: agave, dessert syrup, flavored simple syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses.
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    *These oils can be very strong, and may have to be diluted with olive oil or plated in droplets.

      

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    FOOD 101: Vanilla Vs. French Vanilla

    A reader writes: What’s the difference between vanilla and French vanilla? Simply this:

  • Vanilla is the flavoring made from the vanilla bean Vanilla beans themselves are identified in the trade by origin: Indonesian, Madagascar (Bourbon), Mexican, Tahitian, etc. (see the different types (origins) of vanilla beans). Vanilla ice cream without eggs is called Philadelphia-style ice cream, dating back to the 18th century when it was developed as an alternative to French vanilla.
  • French vanilla is a classic French technique to enrich ice cream, by adding egg yolks to the recipe. The egg combines with the cream to create a custard base, which in turn provides a richer flavor, creamier texture, and a yellowish tinge to the color. USDA regulations require ice cream labeled “French vanilla” to be at least 1.4 % egg yolk.
  • Vanillin, artificial vanilla, is a cheaper alternative. It is used in products called vanilla-flavored.
  •  
    Beyond ice cream, French vanilla refers to a vanilla flavor is caramelized, eggy, custard-like.
     
    WHAT IS NOT FRENCH VANILLA

    As with so many other terms, people misuse “French vanilla,” either through ignorance or for marketing. French vanilla, after all, sounds more exciting than vanilla.

    Worse, “plain vanilla” has become an expression for bland and boring, the simplest version of something. It may be “plain vanilla,” but it’s still the most popular ice cream flavor in the U.S.

    Products that have co-opted the French vanilla name include coffee creamers, flavored coffees and teas, vanilla-flavored drinks (shakes, lattes) and syrups.

    It even extends to aromas, such as French vanilla candles and potpourri.

    French vanilla means added eggs, and none of these products contains them.
     
    MORE VANILLA FACTS

  • The small flecks of ground vanilla pod added by some manufacturers do not in of themselves indicate the best ice cream; in fact, the flavor is negligible if at all. They do, however, have eye appeal and may provide a bit of texture.
  • Vanilla bean versus extract: When using top-quality vanilla extract is near impossible to taste whether the ice cream is made from extract or by first infusing seeds from the pod in the cream.
  • Vanilla comes from a orchid variety called flat-leaved vanilla. The fruit of the plant is called the pod, which contains the beans that are used to make vanilla flavoring by extracting the flavor from the beans.
  • Most vanilla is made from Madagascar vanilla beans, also called Bourbon vanilla because the French Bourbons ruled Madagascar at the time. Vanilla is native to Madagascar.
  •  
    ALSO CHECK OUT:

    HISTORY & TYPES OF VANILLA

    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ICE CREAM

    CHOCTÀL SINGLE ORIGIN ICE CREAM, made in four different vanilla flavors using different vanilla beans, as well as chocolate ice creams made with cacao beans from four different origins

    Plus:

  • Tahitian Vanilla
  • Caring For Your Vanilla Beans
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    Vanilla Beans

    Egg  Yolk

    French Vanilla ice Cream

    French Vanilla

    [1] Vanilla beans, from a particular orchid, are most often converted into vanilla extract by soaking the seeds in an alcohol base (photo courtesy Natures Flavours). [2] To make French vanilla, egg yolks are required. They blend with the cream to create a custard, which makes the ice cream richer (photo courtesy ANH-USA.org). [3] Flavors called French Vanilla should have egg yolks, as this one does (photo courtesy Dreyers.com). [4] One of many examples where marketing trumps fact (photo courtesy Bigelow).

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe (he brought the recipe back from France)
  • Make Your Own Vanilla Extract (fun and great for gifting)
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    COCKTAIL RECIPE: Fizzy Lemonade With Sambuca

    Each weekend we try a new cocktail recipe. Last weekend it was Fizzy Lemonade, a fresh lemonade made with club soda and sambucca. The recipe was sent to us by Molinari Sambuca Extra.
     
    ANISE-FLAVORED LIQUEURS & SPIRITS

    Sambuca (som-BOO-kah) is an anise-flavored liqueur from Italy, one of a family of anise-flavoured alcohol that also includes absinthe (Switzerland), anesone (Italy), anis (Spain), anisette (France) arak (the Levant*), kasra (Libya), mistra and ouzo (Greece), ojen (Spain), pastis (France) and raki (Turkey).

    The base of sambucca consists of essential oils extracted from the seeds from the star anise (third photo) and other spices; some brands use anise or licorice. The blend also contains elderflowers. The oils are added to pure alcohol and sweetened with sugar.

    Sambucca is served neat, on the rocks, with water, and with coffee as an after-dinner drink. When drunk after the coffee, it is known in Italy as an ammazzacaffè; added directly to coffee instead of sugar it is called a caffè corretto.
     
    Sambuca Shots

    The classic serving of sambuca in Italy is a shot topped with seven coffee beans, representing the seven hills of Rome (bottom photo).

    A shot with just one coffee bean is called con la mosca, “with the fly.” Three coffee beans represent health, happiness and prosperity for some; the Holy Trinity for others.

    The shot may be ignited to toast the coffee beans; the flame extinguished immediately before drinking.

    Sambucca shots are delicious year-round; but here’s a refreshing summer samba drink:
     
    RECIPE: FIZZY LEMONADE WITH SAMBUCA

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 1 ounce agave nectar
  • 1 large basil leaf
  • 1½ ounces sambuca
  • Crushed ice
  • 1½ ounces fresh lemon juice
  • Club soda
  • Garnish: lemon wheel, cucumber spear
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    Preparation

    1. MUDDLE the agave and basil in mixing glass. Add the sambuca, a scoop of crushed ice and the lemon juice. Cap and shake vigorously.

    2. STRAIN over crushed ice and top with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a lemon wedge and optional cucumber spear or vertical slice.

     
    WHAT IS STAR ANISE?

    Star anise (Illicium verum) is an evergreen tree native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China.

    The spice star anise, obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of the fruit, ia also called badiam, Chinese star anise and star anise seed. Each “arm” of the star contains one seed.

    Star anise closely resembles the herb anise (native to Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia) in flavor, but they are not related botanically. However, both include the chemical compound anethole, which provides the licorice-like flavor.

    Because star anise is less expensive to produce but provides comparable flavor, it has begun to replace anise in some culinary uses, especially baking.

    Star anise is a component of Chinese Five Spice powder. The spice blend also includes cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds and Sichuan pepper, representing all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and hot. The proportions vary by producer.

     

    Lemonade Cocktail Recipe

    Molinari Sambuca Extra

    Star Anise

    Samba With Coffee Beans

    [1] Fizzy lemonade, with a touch of sambucca (photo courtesy Molinari). [2] Molinari Sambucca Extra. [3] Star anise: The seeds in the “petals” are distilled into essential oil (photo courtesy Farmgirl Gourmet). [4] Samba is traditionally served as an after-dinner drink with coffee, or alone with a garnish of coffee beans (photo courtesy GreatItalianFoodTrade.it).

     
    Star Anise In Cooking

    It is grown commercially in China, India, and most other countries in Asia. It is used whole to sweeten soups and meat stews.

    Ground star anise is used as a spice rub; and to flavor breads, custards, pastries, puddings and strudels.

  • In the Pacific Rim, star anise is widely used in Chinese cuisine; in the preparation of biryani, garam masala and masala chai in Indian cuisine; and in Indonesian and Malay cuisines.
  • In Vietnam, it is an important ingredient in the country’s famous noodle soup, pho.
  • The French, who ruled French Indochina from 1887 to 1954, use star anise in their mulled wine (called vin chaud, hot wine).
  •  
    We use it in fruit compote, and as a cocktail garnish.

    Instead of those coffee beans, how about a sambuca shot with a star anise?
     
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    *The Levant is an English term first appearing in 1497. It originally referred to the “Mediterranean lands east of Italy.” The historical area comprises modern-day Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Among other popular foods, Levantine cuisine gave birth to baklava, balafel, kebabs, mezze (including tabbouleh, hummus and baba ghanoush), pita and za’atar, among other dishes that are enjoyed in the U.S. and around the world.

      

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