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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Salts/Seasonings

PRODUCT: Oregano Indio From Mexico

If you’ve traveled to Mexico and enjoyed the cuisine, you can find most of the ingredients you need to recreate the recipes back home.

But there’s often a certain something that’s missing. Steve Sando, proprietor of Rancho Gordo specialty foods, believes it’s the different oreganos of Mexico. “Each one seems a little different,” says Steve, “but they all seem a little earthier than their European [counterparts].”

Rancho Gordo now imports Oregano Indio, also known as Oreja de Raton, or Mouse’s Ear. It is grown by the Oregano Caxtle Cooperative in Tlahuitelpa as part of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project that helps small farmers in Mexico to continue to grow their indigenous foods.

 

Treat yourself to more exciting oregano. Photo courtesy Rancho Gordo.

 
“It’s less citrussy than the standard Mexican oregano,” says Steve, “but there’s an indescribable [difference] that makes it infectious. I just can’t stop using it on almost everything.”

Customers agree, with comments like “amazing stuff” and “very complex flavor.”

Steve advises to leave a bowl out for inspiration in the kitchen: Rub it into any meat or fish; add it to salsas, marinades, salsas, soups and stews; add to eggs, beans, Greek yogurt and of course, to Mexican recipes.

In addition to perking up “all sorts of salsas,” Steve mixes the oregano with garlic and olive oil as a rub over pork tenderloin. “The flavor of the oregano is strong but not overpowering,” he explains, “and permeates the whole loin.” He also adds it to a salad dressing of olive oil and pear vinegar; you can also use pear balsamic vinegar.

At $3.95 for a half-ounce glass jar or a two-ounce plastic bag, Oregano Indio is easily affordable. Consider the jars as stocking stuffers or party favors. They’ll be appreciated by both people who like to cook and people who order a lot of pizza.

Get yours at RanchoGordo.com.

  

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TIP OF THE DAY: 10 Things To Do With Extra Herbs

There’s nothing better than fresh herbs to add flavor to your cooking—and herbs are virtually calorie-free. They enable you can use less salt, too.

Beyond what is called for in recipes, we add them to every meal of the day, from breakfast eggs and grits to salads (snip fresh herbs onto the greens or into egg salad, tuna salad, etc.), to yogurt (including dips and salad dressings) to grains and potatoes.

You’d be surprised how much better your favorite sandwich or burger tastes with fresh basil leaves, chives and/or other favorite herbs. We grow a pot of basil, our favorite go-to herb, on the kitchen windowsill.

But what if you end up with more herbs than you can use before they fade? Here are 10 of our favorite ways to use those extra herbs.

EVERYDAY COOKING

1. Infuse honey, maple syrup, salad oil, vinegar. If you have more than one herb on hand, you can mixed them.

 

Add rosemary, basil or whatever you’ve got to olive oil or other cooking oil. Photo courtesy FlavorYourLife.com.

 
Use your freshly herbed condiments on salads, as a bread dip, on pasta and rice, etc. Consider homemade basil honey, tarragon vinegar and rosemary oil. NOTE: Use these infused condiments within five days (put a “use by” label on the jar) because bacteria can multiply. Commercial infused oils sterilize the herbs to prevent this.

2. Make herb butter. Stir chopped herbs into softened butter. You can keep it in the fridge for several weeks to enjoy as a bread spread and for cooking. Or freeze the butter for future use. One trick is to place the butter in plastic wrap and roll into a sausage shape. Freeze until it starts to firm; then cut into tablespoon-size slices and return to the freezer. Remove slices for as you need them for sauteéeing, to melt atop potatoes, rice and vegetables, etc.

Herb butter is one type of compound butter. Check out these compound butter recipes.

3. Amp up conventional condiments. Add chopped herbs to mayonnaise for a more flavorful sandwich spread. Similarly, add them to ketchup and mustard.

4. Make herb ice cubes for cooking. Add the herbs to an ice cube tray and fill the tray with olive oil, stock or white wine. They’ll be at the ready to pop into sauces, soups, stews, stir-frys, etc.

5. Make pesto. Basil is a traditional pesto base, but anything can be made into pesto, and you can blend different herbs, along with arugula or spinach. Store the pesto topped with a thin layer of olive oil, in an airtight jar; it will keep for months. Homemade pesto recipe.

 

The old-fashioned way to dry herbs. Photo
© Michaela | The Gardener’s Eden.

 

BEVERAGES

6. Make herb ice cubes for drinks. Add herbs, chopped as finely or coarsely as you like, to the compartments of an ice cube tray and fill with water. Once frozen, you can pop them out and store them in a freezer bag.

7. Infuse vodka or other spirit. While there are endless fruit-flavored vodkas on the market, delicious herb- and spice-infused vodkas, which are popular in Russia, haven’t taken off with American consumers.

Toss your herbs into a bottle of vodka and enjoy the infused vodka in shots or savory cocktails, like Bloody Marys and Martinis. Infuse chiles, cilantro, rosemary, sage, thyme: The alcohol kills bacteria growth, so you don’t have to remove the herbs (just be sure they are completely covered by the spirit when you infuse them).

 

The method is easy: Crush the herbs in your hand to help release the oils and add the herbs to a bottle of vodka (you’ll have to consume some of the vodka if the bottle is full). Don’t use a bargain brand: The higher the quality of the vodka, the smoother and more flavorful the infusion. Place the bottle in a dark place and infuse for at least three days and up to two weeks.

Look at other alcohol-herb pairings: bourbon with mint or basil, Limoncello with thyme or whatever inspires you.

BAKING

8. Add to breads, muffins and biscuits. Chop the herbs finely, and don’t hesitate to combine fresh or dried fruit with the herbs. Our favorite combinations: blueberry-rosemary muffins and cheddar chive muffins.

9. Make pie crusts. From quiche to fruit pie, a little basil, thyme or rosemary in the crust can be a most welcome surprise. Use sweeter herbs with fruit pies. For savory pies, add whatever herbs appeal to you: chives, dill, oregano, etc.

10. Dehydrate the herbs. You don’t need an electric dehydrator. The photo above shows what everyone did in the days before dehydrators: Tie the stems with a string (or elastic band) and hang upside down to dry for a few days. You can hang the bunches on pegs, on a makeshift string or rope line, even clothespin-clipped to a hanger.

When dry, remove the stems and store in an airtight container. If you like, you can grind them with a mortar and pestle before storing.

What’s your favorite way to use extra herbs? Let us know.

  

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PRODUCT: Hot Chili Pepper Seasoning

Shake it, shake it baby! Photo by Elvira
Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

 

Jilli Pepper is an Albuquerque-based company known locally for its Red Chile Pineapple Salsa, Green Chile Salsa, Red Chile Salsa Mix and Hot Fiesta Pepper.

The company sent us some of its Scovie Award-winning* Hot Fiesta Pepper, which we find to be a delightful alternative to cracked red pepper or other heat.

The recipe is a mix of red chili powder, crushed pequin chiles, dried onions, cilantro, garlic and salt—a complex layering of flavors. An all-purpose dry spice, you can use it instead of salt on any number of foods.

Shake it onto pizza, pasta or rice. Season your eggs. Sprinkle it onto fish, meat or poultry in it prior to cooking. Mix it into dips. Make an olive oil bread dipper or spicy butter or cream cheese spread. Use it to make salsa hotter.

We enjoyed it on everything from cucumber slices to cottage cheese and yogurt.

 

Hot Fiesta Pepper is available online by the case of 12 four-ounce shakers. We like them for small gifting, party favors and stocking stuffers. Get yours at JilliPepper.com.

This $4.00 gift packs a lot of heat!

 

*Hot Fiesta Pepper is a 2010 Scovie Winner in the hot and spice condiments category. The Scovie Awards are given annually to hot and spicy in a wide variety of categories, from barbecue sauce an salsa to beverages and snacke. the name is derived from the Scoville Scale, long used to measure the heat levels of chiles.

  

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TIP OF THE DAY: Ingredients For Dazzling Desserts

Dessert lovers: This one’s for you. Today’s tip is adapted from an article by Ann Pietrangel on Care2.com. To get recipes attached to the tips, see the original article.

Pietrangel interviewed Chicago-based pastry chef and restauranteur Malika Ameen, a Top Chef Just Desserts contestant and proprietor of By M Desserts.

Ameen recommends five ingredients that she always has on hand to give her desserts that extra something special. They happen to be popular with us as well:

1. Candied Citrus Peel

Candied citrus peel—grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange—adds brightness, freshness and texture to cakes and cookies. The peel of the fruit is julienned and boiled in sugar syrup, which preserves it. Here’s a recipe (along with a delicious lemon chiffon cake).

  • Chop and mix candied peel into baked goods: muffins, sweet breads, cakes, sugar cookie dough, shortbread, etc.
  •  

    Candied red grapefruit peel, served with a mascarpone dip. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

  • Garnish sorbet, ice cream, lemon meringue pie, even chocolate mousse and chocolate tarts.
  • Garnish citrus-based cocktails.
  • For a simple yet elegant dessert or tea-time treat, serve the peel with a chocolate dip or some lightly sweetened mascarpone (see photo above).
  • As the finale to a fine dinner, serve candied peel with coffee or tea.
  •  
    2. Dried Lavender

    “Used sparingly, dried lavender enhances food with a mysterious and distinctive flavor,” says Ameen. She steeps it in cream to pair with berries, makes lavender-infused simple syrup syrup for lemonade and iced tea, and combines it with a crunchy sanding sugar to garnish cookies and pound cake. Here’s our recipe for lavender whipped cream.

    If you’re buying lavender outside of a food store (at a farmers market or general merchandise store, for example), be sure that it is organic. Lavender that is grown for ornamental display or potpourri can be coated with chemical pesticides. You want culinary lavender.

     

    A vanilla-cardamom-filled whoopie pie.
    Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy
    McCormick.com.

     

    3. Ground Cardamom

    This aromatic and slightly sweet spice, a relative of ginger, is one of Ameen’s favorites. While it is known for its use in Indian cooking, it is a popular addition to Scandinavian breads and breakfast pastries, as well as to Middle Eastern desserts.

    Cardamom pairs beautifully with chocolate: Use it to accent anything from chocolate pudding to brownie batter; add a dash or two to a chocolate milkshake. You can use cardamom pods to brew a delicious cardamom tea.

    Cardamom plants grow wild in the monsoon forests of southern India. They had been gathered and traded for 1,000 years until the British began to cultivate it in the 19th century. Cardamom was called the Queen of Spices. Black pepper, also Indian in origin, was the King of Spices.

     
    4. Vanilla Sugar

    Vanilla beans are expensive, but they have a second life. Used vanilla beans can (and should) be used to make vanilla sugar.

    Use vanilla sugar instead of plain table sugar to add a lift of flavor as an ingredient or a topping. Try it with baked goods, berries, beverages, cereal and grapefruit, for example.

    To repurpose vanilla beans, simply place one in a sealed pound canister of granulated sugar for at least week. It can remain there infinitely; just shake the jar occasionally. You can add more used pods and can give containers of your artisan vanilla sugar as gifts.

    If you don’t use vanilla pods, you can buy ready-made vanilla sugar as a gift for your favorite baker.

    NOTE: Vanilla powder is not the same as vanilla sugar. Vanilla powder is a combination of sugar and ground vanilla that is used in recipes where a dry ingredient is preferred, instead of vanilla extract. More about the different types of vanilla.

    5. Fleur De Sel

    Sweet and salty has emerged as a flavor hit (although everything old is new again). Salt helps to lift the flavor of other ingredients. That’s why cookies, cakes and other sweets all have a pinch of salt in the recipe.

    Fleur de sel (“flower of the sea”), a fine French sea salt is simply delicious with chocolate. That’s why there are so many artisan brownies, chocolate bars and chocolate chip cookies garnished with it.

    Sprinkle a few crystals of fleur de sel sprinkled over any chocolate dessert to add a burst of flavor and crunchy texture.

    Here’s more about fleur de sel in our Artisan Salts Glossary. Who knew there were so many wonderful salts?

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Garnish With Dried Herbs & Spices

    A sprinkle of parsley adds garnish glamour to
    this plate of pasta. Photo courtesy Galli
    Restaurant | New York
    City.

     

    We love garnishing dishes with fresh herbs: We snip them onto everything from breakfast eggs to soup, salad and sandwiches to main courses and sides. But what if you don’t have any on hand? Reach for the dried herbs and spices.

    If you frequent finer restaurants, you may notice that the chef sometimes sprinkles dried herbs or spices as a garnish around the rim of the plate or bowl.

    Why? It ads artistry and color as well as flavor; you can dip forkfuls of food into the garnish.

    You can use fresh or dried herbs or spices, chopped nuts or seeds. How many of the following do you already have in your pantry?

     

    TAKE YOUR PICK

  • Basil, Caraway, Cardamom
  • Celery seed, Chili Flakes, Chili Powder
  • Chives, Cilantro, Cinnamon
  • Cracked pepper, Pink or Green Peppercorns, Cumin
  • Dill, Fennel, Garlic Chips
  • Lavender, Marjoram
  • Nuts: any chopped nuts; pistachios have the best color
  • Oregano, Paprika, Parsley
  • Rosemary, Sage
  • Seeds: Poppy, Pumpkin (Pepita), Sunflower, Sesame
  • Tarragon, Thyme. Za’atar
  •  

    Tomato soup with a very light rim garnish, and more garnish glamour in the center. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     
    A side benefit of garnishing with herbs and spices: You use them up more quickly, so the flavor doesn’t fade on the shelf.

    FOOD 101: GARNISH

    To garnish means to provide something ornamental; to adorn or decorate.* With food, it means something that adds flavor or decorative color. One of the classic food garnishes in America: boiled potatoes garnished with chopped parsley.

    MORE WAYS TO GARNISH EVERYTHING

    See our article, Garnish Glamour, for many ways to garnish both savory and sweet foods.

    *In the law, garnish means to attach money due or property belonging to a debtor.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Season Chicken

    You don’t want a bland chicken, so dig out
    the spices and season away! Photo courtesy Butterball.

     

    Barbecue sauce is the number one food that THE NIBBLE receives over the transom (and old publishing expression that means unsolicited). Barbecue sauce is expensive and totally unnecessary. Our mother rotisseried a wonderfully delicious, plump bird several times a week, using only garlic salt, onion salt and pepper. No bottle of barbecue sauce ever crossed her threshold.

    Of course, there are many options between those two extremes: numerous different ways to season a chicken, drawing from just about every cultural influence. It can be as simple as trussing the bird, then sprinkling or basting with your favorite flavors. Or, you can be as imaginative as you like. Here are some suggestions that leave out the sugar, so you can enjoy a broiled, grilled or roasted chicken as the lower-calorie protein it is.

    Here are tips from Chef Johnny Gnall, starting with a…

     

  • Basic Roast Chicken. If you prefer a simple bird, just sprinkle salt and pepper over it. But not your mother’s S&P: Use sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, with one of these varietal peppercorns. Basting the chicken with melted butter during roasting will also add a lot of flavor; and drizzle some fresh lemon juice on the cooked bird to add a bit of freshness and lightness (and counterbalance the rich butter. For added flavor, stuffing the cavity with half a peeled onion and a lemon that has been cut in half. (You can use this trick for any roast chicken recipe.)
  • Asian Seasoning. Stuff the inside cavity of the bird with a half a head of peeled garlic and a 1-inch knob of ginger. Baste the skin with your favorite Asian marinade or dressing (we like the Palcha line of Thai-fusion dressings), or make your own with this easy recipe.
  •  

  • Southwestern Seasoning. Take 4 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (here are 10 barbecue rub recipes) and mix in 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground coffee. The ground coffee flavor will not be prominent; in fact, few people will know it’s there. Yet, it will enhance the other flavors while adding a delightful earthiness, as it does in a good chili recipe.
  • Spicy Seasoning. If you enjoy your foods heavily spiced, simply add some dried herbs along with your favorite spice combinations. For example, mix equal parts (or your preferred proportions) of chili powder, cumin, dried oregano, dried thyme and paprika. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can blend in a stick of melted butter or oil to create a wet rub and basting paste.
  •  
    MAKE YOUR OWN SPICE RUB

    If you want to use a spice rub but don’t have one on hand, it’s easy—and far more economical—to create your own out of the spices you have in your pantry. You can use a simple ratio of two parts salt to one part each of any other spice(s). Johnny’s favorite is two parts salt to one part each of chipotle chili powder, coriander, cumin and light brown sugar.

     

    There’s need to buy spice rub: It’s a combination of the spices you probably have in the cabinet. Photo by Elena Elisseeva | IST.

     

    WE’RE NOT ANTI BARBECUE SAUCE, by the way. Find our favorite barbecue sauces and rubs in our Rubs, Marinades, Sauces & Glazes Section.
     

    HOW MANY PARTS OF THE CHICKEN CAN YOU NAME?

    Check out our Chicken Glossary, which covers the different parts of chicken, the history of chicken and much more.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking With Black Garlic

    Chef Johnny Gnall takes on a relatively new ingredient, black garlic, which originated in Korea. It’s a fermented…If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    Sometimes you can dramatically alter the flavor profile of an ingredient simply by leaving it alone; such is the case with my new favorite ingredient, black garlic. By letting raw garlic ferment for a month at high heat under specific conditions, it can be transformed into what appears to be something completely new and unique. Think of the process of caramelizing onions: the flavor, color, and texture of the onion are changed so dramatically by the end that if you didn’t know better, you might think you were dealing with a completely different ingredient.

    Since garlic is even sharper and more acrid than onion when raw, the resulting metamorphosis is that much more dramatic and contrasting. Cloves of black garlic have a rich black hue and are soft enough to squish between your fingers. Tiny pockmarks and imperfections across its otherwise sleek, black surface give it the appearance of freshly laid tar on a blacktop. Its flavor, however, is where you can really taste the magic. With notes of dark beer, caramel, molasses, fig, and balsamic vinegar and an umami similar to that which you taste in soy sauce, black garlic could not taste more different than its raw garlic origin.

     

    As with roasted garlic, you can spread the cloves on bread. Photo by Katharine Pollak | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Where before there was acrid bite, there is now sweetness; the soft fruitiness is a sharp contrast to raw garlic’s pungent, often unpleasant odor. In essence, all the work of “taming” raw garlic has been done for you, so there is no need to roast, or sweat, or sauté, or blanch, or whatever other method you might choose to soften the potentially overpowering flavor of garlic. Make no mistake, however: garlic, when cooked and applied properly, is pure heaven (I think most people would agree). In fact, the makers of Black Garlic go out of their way to make it clear that they do, indeed, love regular garlic; they just also love black garlic. I can’t say I blame them.

    When I recently got my hands on some black garlic (which comes in the form of whole heads, peeled cloves, and paste), I was excited to experiment. Having eaten it before, but never cooked with it, I wanted to try a variety of cooking methods across a number of different ingredients, both to test its versatility as an ingredient, and also to find the dishes and techniques that best showcased its unique and delicious flavor.

    COOKING CHICKEN WITH BLACK GARLIC

    I got myself a whole chicken and rooted around for a few other odds and ends (some stock scraps, butternut squash, and farro, among others), broke the chicken down into all its parts, and spent the next 6 hours in the kitchen, up to my elbows in black garlic. What follows is a chronicle of my findings as I cooked and ate my way through the discovery process:

    Chicken Wings: Starting with the wings, I seasoned them with salt and pepper and shallow fried them in oil as I melted some butter and whisked in a couple of tablespoons of the black garlic paste. It was challenging to properly emulsify the butter and the all-natural paste, since “all-natural” means it contains nothing but finely smashed black garlic cloves. This is good for whole food purists, but bad for emulsifying.

    Had I deep-fried the wings, it probably would have helped the butter mixture stick better, as would a light dredge in flour prior to the shallow fry. At any rate, I tossed the wings in the butter and drizzled the remainder over the top, then let them rest for a couple of minutes. Sure enough, the flavor got in there, even if the butter’s broken texture wasn’t exactly what you’d want on your wings. As far as the flavor, the black garlic was sweet, sticky, and rich in umami, which is exactly what you want on your wings.

    It’s worth mentioning that you should use restraint with the salt, as you really want to let the black garlic flavor to come through, and chicken wings can get salty very quickly if you’re heavy handed when you season. All in all, they were super tasty; feel free to rub them with the paste and marinate them overnight to really let that flavor sink in.

     

    Look for black garlic in sealed bags that
    protect the product. Photo by Katharine
    Pollak | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Chicken Legs: The next piece I grabbed was a leg. I wanted to braise this one with some red wine, as I imagined the wine’s fruity yet earthy flavor profile would compliment the black garlic’s, their flavors melding and concentrating as they cooked. Unfortunately, I found that while the chicken leg turned a beautiful mahogany color, the black garlic flavor was lost in the wine. The meat was, of course, succulent and juicy, but it tasted nearly all of wine and I barely got the black garlic notes.

    I had used 5 cloves of black garlic, about a cup of wine, and a cup of chicken stock; clearly I needed to up the black garlic content if I wanted to harmoniously blend these two flavors. The chicken now out of the sauce pot it was braised in; I added two heaping tablespoons of the black garlic paste and a few teaspoons of sugar, whisked it into the wine and stock, and set it to a low simmer.

    After about an hour it was reduced by about half, and I tasted it: holy moly. The flavor was absolutely outstanding, sweet and round and full of umami. It was a flavor that would go well on just about anything, a perfect blend of wine and black garlic, and just enough savory to balance the sweet.

     
    In all honesty, it tasted like a nearly indistinguishable substitute for demi-glace, and I immediately thought of French Onion Soup. If one needed a vegetarian version, this reduction, cut with a splash of vegetable stock, stock could replace beef stock and no one would miss a beat. I let mine reduce a bit more, to about a quarter of its original volume, and now I had a luscious, syrupy reduction that I honestly could drink a glass of: pure, sweet, black garlic heaven.

    Chicken Breasts: I attempted a black garlic brine for one of the chicken breasts using a quart of water, ¼ cup of salt, 5 cloves of black garlic, 1 thai chile, and a few pieces of lime peel; after brining it overnight, I seasoned, seared and roasted it. I wanted the preparation after the brine to be as simple as possible so that I could really judge how much the black garlic flavor transferred to the breast.

    In truth, there was not much infusion in the meat; while it was tender and juicy from the brine, it tasted like little more than chicken. Interestingly enough, I did notice that some of the drippings that had fallen as the breast roasted had caramelized on the roasting plan. I dipped my finger in them and tasted, and the favor explosion in my mouth caught me by surprise. Its concentration and richness were like that of the wine reduction, but this time the profile was much more savory, as it had now been combined with the flavors of well-seasoned chicken instead of sugar-rich wine. The caramel-colored goo tasted of umami, its flavors and texture akin to a rich, slightly sweet soy sauce.

    Lessons Learned: I was starting to get a sense of how to cook with the black garlic, from both my misses and successes. It made sense that a very gentle method of developing its flavor wasn’t going to do much; after all, the garlic had already been through a very gentle and mellowed fermentation process to get to its current state. To unlock something even deeper, it was going to take more intense cooking: techniques that involved direct heat might be the key to getting something entirely new out of what is already quite the unique ingredient.

    Infusing butter, brining, and braising didn’t quite work, perhaps because these are slow cooking methods deigned to gently coax the flavors out of ingredients. Roasting, on the other hand, applies direct, dry heat; harsher than a liquid simmer, that worked out much better, even in just a few drops of drippings. Reducing almost all of the water out of the black garlic and wine yielded similar, outstanding results.

    Chicken Legs, Part 2: With this in mind, I rubbed the other chicken leg all over with a paste I’m calling a “Korean Jerk,” made from a tablespoon of neutral oil, a tablespoon of black garlic paste, salt, pepper, and a ¼ of a finely minced habanero (roughly a teaspoon or less), then I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to marinate overnight. The rub was a bit challenging to stick, so you could probably add a bit of corn starch if you wanted, but if you spend a minute really rubbing it in, that and the time marinating in the fridge will do just fine.

    The next day I pulled the leg out and noticed the stunning change in color that it had picked up while marinating: it was now amber all over the skin, with tiny flecks of bright orange from the habanero and sexy splashes of deep black sheen from the paste. I hit it with a touch more salt and pepper and set it to roast at 350 for about 20 minutes, finishing at 450 with a drizzle of olive oil to help crisp up the skin a bit. This result was the best by far. The black garlic provided a nice, soft background for the heat of the habanero, just as you notice in traditional jerk seasoning, and it quite naturally went great with the chicken. All in all, the flavors were infused, balanced, and tasty.

    In retrospect, I probably could have seared it if I wanted to really test my theories of intense heat and get a crispier skin, but I was worried about the black garlic burning. I guess we won’t know until you try it. So try it!

    Next up were the thighs; these I was really excited about: I deboned them completely and stuffed them with a handful of cloves of black garlic and some very thin slices of lemon, rolled them up, tied them, and seared them on all sides. Then I whisked about a quarter cup of the black garlic paste into a cup of particularly earthy cocoa & coffee barbecue sauce I’d made the week prior. I placed the thighs back into the pan in which I’d seared them, added the black garlic barbecue sauce, finished with stock until the thighs were mostly submerged, then braised it, covered, at 350 for about 15 minutes.

    This was another big success. The high concentration of the paste and the thick, rich sauce as a vehicle to carry its flavor meant that everything really came together; it was reminiscent of a red mole sauce, sweet and earthy as it clung to the chicken thighs. Moreover, inside the rolled thighs was another completely different flavor combination of bright lemon, sweet, rich black garlic, and savory dark meat, all keeping one another in check and adding even more overall depth to the dish. A bite containing a bit of everything together was almost indescribable: you got bright, tart, sweet, earthy, salty, tangy, and more, all hitting you at once. It was the veritable surprise party in your mouth that comes only from multiple layers of flavors and ingredients brought together with care.

    On the side I made a simple green salad and dressed it with a black garlic vinaigrette, emulsified in the blender (hyperlink to emulsified vinaigrettes article) and containing 5 cloves of black garlic, about 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, some salt and pepper, and a slow stream of neutral oil (I used neutral as opposed to olive oil in order to let as much black garlic flavor come through as possible). The vinaigrette was subtle and pleasant, the black garlic adding a sweetness that was richer and more complex than if I had simply used white sugar.

    I did notice that, even in the blender, there were still small bits of black garlic that did not blend into the dressing. This was not an issue because the little morsels were delicious, but it was worth noting the continued resistance to easily break down and emulsify. That being said, I think these tiny flavor bursts in the salad were as much a flavor ‘pro’ as they were a consistency ‘con,’ but if you’re not into it, you can always strain them out.

    All the stock I used throughout the cooking process was a black garlic chicken stock I made by rubbing the chicken carcass, thighbones, and wing tips with black garlic paste before roasting them at 375 for an hour and a half; I also added a handful of cloves to the stock as it simmered. The color was absolutely gorgeous, sort of a chestnut brown; and the aroma that filled my entire house was like the combination of a magical forest and a dark chocolate sauna. It was nutty and sweet and savory and gamey, and it brought me several times to stand over the pot, inhaling deeply and smiling as its heavenly, honey perfume wafted about my head.

    Unfortunately it tasted far more like chicken and stock scraps than it did like black garlic, even after it reduced for several hours; it was perplexing to get so much by smelling and so little by tasting, but I have had the same experiences with certain wines. Whether it’s me or what I’m smelling, I think I can pick up more complexity from aroma than I can from taste. It also may have to do with my previously noted observations of gentle versus harsher cooking with this particular ingredient: simmering stock is definitely on the gentler side, and there’s a lot of water, scraps, and bones to dilute the black garlic’s flavor.

    I froze most of the stock, reserving just under a quart to keep on hand for one last use. I ended up using it to make farro the next day, and as the hearty grains of farro took their time soaking it up, the stock reduced to literally nothing, as it goes when you cook most grains. I ran my finger across the bottom of the pan after the farro came out, and when I tasted it, the sweetness was right up front, as if I had added a spoonful of caramel to the pot at some point. The hearty flavor and toothsome texture of the whole grain married with this sticky sweetness, straddling the line between sweet and savory, kind of the way a muffin sometimes does.

    From this point I could have added dried fruit and nuts or fresh herbs and feta and either would been perfect. I went with a squeeze of lemon and some thinly sliced kale, then topped it with chunks of butternut squash that had been roasted in some of the leftover black garlic barbecue sauce, then tossed with a little mascarpone cheese.

    There are literally thousands of other directions you could go with black garlic. Its flavors are very complementary and it’s hard to overdo it, which is most definitely not the case with raw garlic, as I’m sure you know. Plus it happens to be rich in antioxidants (twice the content of raw garlic) and cancer-fighting agents. Bonus!

    Try marinating some Korean style short ribs (or almost any protein) overnight in a black garlic marinade to get the most out of its flavor. Better yet, go uber-simple and serve a pile of whole cloves on a cheese plate to really blow people’s minds. You can put time and love into taking its flavor to the next level, or let let the black garlic speak for its delicious self: both will be crowd pleasers. I’m glad I finally got to know this delicious and unique ingredient. It’s time you did the same!

    THE ORIGIN OF BLACK GARLIC

    It’s one of those things that you’d guess has been around for thousands of years, fermenting in crocks. But it’s quite new, created with a high-heat fermentation process that turns regular garlic into black garlic in 30 days. While it probably developed within the last 10 years in Korea, the American product was invented by a Korean-American named Scott Kim in Southern California, who has a patent pending on the process. He is currently the only supplier in the U.S.

    MORE ABOUT BLACK GARLIC.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Uses For Cardamom

    Green cardamom. Photo courtesy Suvir
    Saran | Indian Home Cooking.

     

    Cardamom, a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), is a highly aromatic and flavorful spice from from a plant native to India and its northern neighbors, Bhutan and Nepal. The name derives from the Latin cardamomum and the Greek kardamon, which referred to a particular Indian spice plant.

    The shell of the pod has very little flavor. The small seeds inside are intense in both aroma and taste. You can buy cardamom whole (pods), shelled or ground, in black, green and white varieties.

    If a recipe simply calls for “cardamom,” use the green variety, which has exotic floral notes. Black cardamom (actually brown in color) is stronger, smokey and resinous. White cardamom, preferred in Scandinavia, is green cardamom that has been sun-bleached for aesthetics; there is no difference in flavor.

    Cardamom, often seen as an exotic spice in the U.S., is popular in numerous cuisines worldwide.

  • In India, both green and black cardamom are important ingredients in meat and vegetable dishes.
  • In Africa, black cardamom is a staple spice.
  • In the Middle East, green cardamom seeds are mixed with coffee beans for a tastier brew.
  • In Scandinavia, white cardamom is added to sausage and baked goods: breads and buns, cakes, cookies, muffins and stollen.
  •  
    HOW TO STORE CARDAMOM

    Store cardamom pods in a tightly sealed glass jar, away from heat and light. They can keep indefinitely.

    WAYS TO USE CARDAMOM

    If you have cardamom sitting in the cupboard, it’s time to break it out. The spice fits into any recipe that calls for allspice, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, mace, nutmeg, preserved lemon or rose. Start by adding a pinch, then more to suit your taste. Beyond curries and other international dishes, use cardamom in:

  • Baking—everything from apple cake, brownies, cookies (cinnamon, chocolate chip, ginger, oatmeal, sugar) and cinnamon rolls to pound cake, shortbread and spice cake
  • Beverages: chai, coffee (add a pinch to the ground beans or add pods to a French press) mulled cider and wine, smoothies/lassi (especially mango)
  • Granola
  • Ice cream: start with chocolate and vanilla, then make lemon-cardamom
  • Lentil dishes
  • Marinade
  • Ground meat: burgers, meatballs, meat loaf
  • Pancakes
  • Fruit: compote, fruit soup, poached fruit
  • Pudding: bread pudding, custard, panna cotta, rice pudding
  • Preserved lemons
  • Rice: pilaf or plain rice (simply toss pods into the cooking water)
  • Yogurt: coffee, plain, vanilla
  •  
    FOOD TRIVIA

    Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice by weight, following saffron and vanilla. But in most cases, just a pinch is needed.

    As with many spices, cardamom also has health benefits, which range from improving digestion to increasing one’s metabolism.

    FEEL LIKE BAKING?

    Make this cardamom cookie recipe from Martha Stewart.
     
    Find more of our favorite spices in our Salts & Spices Section.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Poultry Seasoning

    What’s in poultry seasoning? What can you substitute for poultry seasoning? What’s the correct recipe?

    We’ve gotten this question more than a few times. The answer is really simple:

    Make homemade poultry seasoning from the dried herbs you already have on the shelf. You don’t need to buy pre-blended poultry seasoning.

    Premixed poultry seasoning is one of those convenience spices that has emerged in the last few decades. What did Grandma and Great-Grandma use?

    A mix of rosemary thyme, sage, salt and pepper. McCormick’s poultry seasoning makes things a bit more interesting by adding marjoram (a basil relative) and nutmeg.

     

    This yummy roasted chicken uses rosemary and thyme. Get the recipe. Photo courtesy McCormick.

     

    Bell’s Seasoning, popular for use on poultry, is a mix of ginger, marjoram, oregano, pepper, rosemary, sage and thyme.

    You can follow McCormick’s ingredients and add your own notes of interest, from chili and cilantro to parsley and tarragon. There is no one “right” recipe for poultry seasoning.

    If you only have two herbs, that’s enough, as shown in this delicious roast rosemary chicken recipe that uses rosemary, thyme and seasoned salt.

    So the next time you need to season poultry, peruse your options and simply shake them onto that bird!

    Find more of our favorite poultry recipes.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Smoked Sea Salt

    Smoked sea salt ranges from pale, like
    Maldon (in photo), to dark brown. Photo
    courtesy Realfoods.co.uk.

     

    What can you do if you have a gas grill, but crave the smoky flavor of meat grilled over wood chips?

    Michaele Musel, chef of Double R Ranch Co., producers of aged beef, suggests this option for those who grill without an open fire.

    “There’s an easy way to replicate the smokiness of coal and wood, using a gas grill and smoked sea salt,” says Chef Musel.

    Smoked sea salt is available at specialty food stores or online. Get a box for yourself, and a second box or jar as an inexpensive gift for someone who likes to cook. (Put smoked salt on your “stocking stuffer” list.)

    Different artisan salt companies make smoked sea salt. Perhaps the most beautiful is the smoked version of Maldon sea salt, harvested from the Atlantic Ocean off the southeast coast of England in Essex.

    Maldon salt has unique pyramid-shaped flakes which are visually arresting when used as a finishing salt. Here’s more about Maldon salt in our Artisan Salt Glossary.

     

    USES FOR SMOKED SALT

    Use smoked salt on deviled eggs, fish/seafood (yummy on salmon), grilled and roasted meats, pasta, roast chicken and other foods. We even use a pinch on an egg salad or tuna sandwich. It just might get some people to eat more veggies. You can evoke the flavor of bacon in soups and stews by adding this “vegan” smokiness.

    Choose Your Style. In addition to flakes, smoked salt is also available in fine and coarse grain sizes. For the most flexibility, get the flakes or coarse grain, which can be used as decorative salts. If you need a finer grain, crush or grind the salt.

    Make Sure It’s Natural. Before you buy a smoked salt, make sure that it is naturally smoked. A natural salt is slow-smoked in cold smokers over a wood fire, which infuses the salt crystals with delicious, smokey flavor. Companies that take a shortcut use liquid smoke flavoring that can create a bitter taste.

    Taste Before Using. While any smoked salt can be used when a hint of smoke is desired, taste it first to judge the smokiness. Some brands are smoked much more heavily than others.

     

    GET SMOKY FLAVOR FROM A GAS GRILL

    Here are chef’s Musel’s tips for achieving a smoky flavor from a gas grill. The chef likes to grill a tri-tip, part of the sirloin.

    1. PREPARE GRILL. Prepare a gas grill for indirect cooking according to manufacturer’s directions for medium heat.

    2. SEASON MEAT. Season the tri-tip roast or other cut with smoked sea salt and pepper. Place the roast on a cooking grid over direct heat. Grill, uncovered, for two minutes on each side.

    3. INDIRECT HEAT. Move tri-tip to indirect heat. Grill, covered, one hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the internal temperature at center of thickest part of the roast reaches 135°F for medium rare; 150°F for medium doneness.

     

    Photo courtesy Double R Ranch.

     

    4. TENT MEAT. Transfer the roast to a carving board and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Temperature will continue to rise about 10°F to reach 145°F for medium rare; 160°F for medium doneness.

    5. CARVE & SERVE. Carve the roast across the grain and serve on French bread with salsa or other condiments. Chef Musel likes to serve this dish with slow cooked pinquito beans and a green salad.

      

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