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Archive for Salts/Seasonings/Herbs/Spices

TIP OF THE DAY: Bitters In Your Coffee

Many “cocktail households” have a bottle of Angostura bitters, to splash into a Manhattan or other recipe.

In fact, you can add bitters to still or sparkling water, regular or diet soda, hot or iced tea and coffee.

If you follow food and beverage trends, you’ve no doubt seen the Renaissance in artisan bitters. In America, bitters had traditionally meant the ginger-tasting Angostura* bitters (it’s actually made with gentian root, a different botanical family) and the sweeter and more aromatic Peychaud’s Bitters (also gentian) used in the Sazerac cocktail of New Orleans.

In recent years, flavors of bitters have been introduced by specialty foods companies, ranging from Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Cocktail Bitters, Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Cocktail Bitters, Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters, Hella Bitters Smoked Chili Cocktail Bitters, Stirrings Blood Orange Cocktail Bitters and dozens more flavors producers. So…

WHAT ARE BITTERS?

Bitters, which date back to ancient Egypt, are liquids consisting of water, alcohol and botanical extracts.These botanicals—aromatic herbs, barks, flowers, fruits and roots—were known for their medicinal properties.

Popular botanicals included cascarilla, cassia, gentian, orange peel, and cinchona bark.

The word bitters derives from Old English biter, which evolved thousands of years earlier from the Gothic baitrs, “to bite,” describing the taste of numerous botanicals.

The Middle Ages saw an increase in the development of medicines that combined botanicals with alcohol to create tonics, often used to aid digestion (hence the term, digestive bitters, as opposed to the modern “cocktail bitters”). Available “over the counter,” they came to be used as preventive medicines.

By the turn of the 19th century, the British practice of adding herbal bitters to wine had become very popular in the U.S. as well.

What happened next? By 1806, there are American references to a new preparation, the cocktail, described as a combination of “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”

 

WHAT ABOUT BITTERS IN COFFEE?

It is well known that the people of New Orleans (the actual name is New Orleanians) add chicory to create a bitter flavor in their coffee. Why not try some bitters?

A drop of bitters perks up the brew whether you drink your coffee black or with milk and/or sugar. Try it and see!

Start with just a few drops (we began with one drop). You can add more to taste. Here’s a recipe for iced coffee with bitters from Hella, using its standard aromatic bitters.

Yes, start with the traditional before moving on to Aztec Chocolate or Smoked Chili bitters. Consider topping an iced coffee with bitters whipped cream!
 
RECIPE: ICED COFFEE WITH BITTERS

Ingredients Per Cup

  • 8 ounces chilled coffee
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 4 dashes aromatic bitters
  • Ice
  • Optional garnish: whipped cream, bitters whipped cream
  •  

    Old Bottle Of Bitters

    Bitters

    Thai Iced Coffee

    Top: An old bottle of German bitters (photo Axarus | Wikipedia). Center: The classic, Angostura bitters (photo Restaurant Manifesto). Bottom: An iced coffee with Hella bitters.

     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients in a glass. Stir gently, taste, and adjust the sugar or bitters to your taste.

    2. GARNISH as desired and serve.
     
    MORE USES FOR BITTERS

    Check out this article from BonAppetit.com, which includes everything from baking and fruit salad, ice cream, floats and whipped cream.

     
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    *Despite its name, Angostura brand bitters are not made from the bark of the angostura tree but from the gentian a root. The name comes from the town of Angostura, Venezuela (known today as Ciudad Bolívar). There, in 1824, a German physician, Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert compounded a cure for sea sickness and stomach maladies. It worked, and Dr. Siegert subsequently formed the House of Angostura to sell his bitters to sailors.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Hibiscus Salt & Ways To Use It

    Hibiscus Salt Rim

    Chocolate Cupcake With Salt Garnish

    Cherry Tomato Salad With Hibiscus Salt

    Fried Egg & Asparagus With Hibiscus Salt

    Hibiscus Blossom

    Top: Margarita rim. Second: Cupcake garnish. Third: Salad garnish. Third: Eggs. Photos courtesy Hibiscus-Salt.com. Bottom: Hibiscus flower. Photo courtesy TypesOfFlower.com.

     

    A number of years ago, hibiscus flowers became a trendy ingredient for mixologists and pastry chefs, with the import of Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup from Australia’s Wild Hibiscus Flower Company.

    It took us this long to try the company’s second hibiscus product, Wild Hibiscus Flower Pyramid Salt Flakes. Salty, fruity-zingy-tart and beautiful, it’s become the latest “it” gift for us.

    WHAT IS HIBISCUS SALT?

    First, what is hibiscus? It’s a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae—the same genus that gave us marshmallow. The genus contains several hundred species that are native to subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world.

    The flowers often have vivid colors and fragrances. The blossoms are used as a flavoring for everything from beverages to ice pops (we highly recommend hibiscus iced tea. The flavor is fruity and floral, with a tart, red fruit backbone.

    The blossoms are also used to make a gourmet finishing salt with a pyramid shape similar to England’s Maldon salt and Cyprus Sea Salt. Hibiscus salt is a blend of dried, ground hibiscus flowers and Australian pyramid salt flakes.

    Finishing salts are top-quality salts that are known for their unique textures, which allow them to quickly dissolve when applied to finished dishes. These include flake salt, fleur de sel, and French sea salt.
     
    Flake salt is a light crystal salt reminiscent of snowflakes. Seawater is are evaporated by the sun and wind producing salt brine that is slowly heated to the point where delicate pyramids shaped crystals of salt appear. The finished product is light, flaky sea salt.

    Flake salts are harvested all over the world: the Maldon River in England, Anglesey off the island of Wales, New Zealand, and Australia. The pink flake salt shown here comes from Australia’s Murray-Darling River Basin, where a red pigment, carotene, is secreted by algae.

    The crystals are small, fine, flat and pink; combining with the hibiscus yields a salt with violet hues.

    In addition to delicate flavor and eye appeal, the salt is rich with calcium and magnesium, among other minerals.

    The product is call natural, certified kosher (by Kosher Australia) and gluten free.
     
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SALT IN OUR SALT GLOSSARY.

     
    HOW TO USE HIBISCUS SALT

    Hibiscus salt can be sprinkled as is, crumbled for a finer presentation or used in a salt grinder. It can be used with sweet and savory foods and beverages.

  • Avocado toast, cream cheese, etc.
  • Cake and cupcake garnish
  • Chocolate bark
  • Cocktails and mocktails
  • Eggs
  • Fish, smoked salmon
  • Glass rimmer
  • Goat cheese log (roll the log in an elegant combination of the violet salt and chopped green pistachios) and other fresh cheeses
  • Hot chocolate
  • Ice cream, sorbet and other desserts (go for a salty contrast, or mix the hibiscus salt with some decorating salt for sweet-and-salty)
  • Melon
  • Plate garnish
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes, rice and vegetables
  • Salad
  • Yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Lots more (including gifts)
  •  
    Get yours today.

     

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Herb & Spice Grinders

    Some recipes instruct you to grind herbs or spices. In our grandmother’s day, that meant using a mortar and pestle. In our mother’s day, it meant using the coffee grinder for herbs and spices.

    Mom, a purist, had a second grinder for that purpose. Other folks had to first grind uncooked rice in their coffee grinder to remove minute particles of coffee, or else suffer coffee-accented spices.

    Today, manufacturers are doing more to meet the needs of home cooks. McCormick, for example, sells four popular herbs—basil, Italian blend, oregano and parsley—in non-refillable glass grinder bottles (center photo).

    On the spice end, McCormick has grinders for peppercorns and peppercorn-herb blends, seasoned salt blends and plain salt grinders.

    There are herb mills and spice grinders, a.k.a. mills, but we especially like the new Kyocera “Everything Grinder” (bottom photo—more about the mill below). Technically, “mill” refers to the entire device and “grinder” to the grinding mechanism inside the mill.

    FOOD 101: HERBS, MINERALS & SPICES—THE DIFFERENCE

    Herbs, minerals and spices are three options to flavor foods.

  • Herbs are parts of leafy green plants, such as leaves and stems.
  • Spices are bark, berries, fruits, roots or seeds of plants. Peppercorns are the berries of a vine.
  • Minerals are solid inorganic substances. Salt is a mineral. Other minerals used in cooking include baking powder, baking soda, citric acid, MSG and tartaric acid. Sugar is not a mineral since it is derived from the sap of a plant.
  • Herbs and spices lose their flavor over time, but salt retains its flavoring.
  •  
    THE KYOCERA EVERYTHING MILL

    Now, one mill grinds everything: dried herbs, pepper, salt, seeds and spices: the Kyocera Everything Mill With Adjustable Advanced Ceramic Grinder.

    The company states that its advanced ceramic burr mill mechanism, close in hardness to a diamond, will outlast any metal-based grinding mill. Is adjusts from fine to coarse grinds.

     

    Marble Mortar & Pestle

    McCormick Oregano Spice Grinder

    Kyocera Everything Mill

    Top: Marble mortar and pestle from RSVP. Center: McCormick Spice Grinder. Bottom: Kyocera Everything Mill.

     
    The mill features a glass body, ceramic grinding mechanism and acrylic top. The glass base is dishwasher safe, and all components are rustproof.
     

    In addition to salt and peppercorns, you can grind celery, cumin, dill, flax, mustard and sesame seeds; any spices including red pepper flakes; and any dried herbs.

    To grind pliant fresh herbs you’ll still need a mortar and pestle (preferably) or a spice mill/coffee grinder with a metal blade. We’ve tried both and strongly recommend hand-grinding with a mortar and pestle for the finest flavor. Metal blades tear the leaves in a way that releases the oil in a different way. You’ll also need the mortar or metal blades stop grind nuts.

    But for most grinding, you can count on the Kyocera Everything Mill. There’s a color for every kitchen: Apple Green, Bright Black, Brilliant White, Candy Apple Red, Translucent Blue and Translucent Maroon.

    At $19.95, they make good gifts for your favorite cooks. All colors are available on Amazon.com.
     
    FUN: The History Of Coffee Grinders.


      

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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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    TIP OF THE DAY: Harvest Topping, A Fall Garnish

    What’s Harvest Topping, you ask?

    As created by Country Crock, it’s a universal topping that can garnish anything from a baked Brie to a sundae to a crumble.

    Not to mention oatmeal, French toast, pancakes, waffles and yogurt. It’s also a salad topping. And we even mixed it into rice!

    Country Crock recommends it with mascarpone cheese on sliced multigrain baguette (toast the slices), garnished with Harvest Topping over top for a delicious snack. It works with cream cheese and ricotta, too.

    Sweet and spicy, it can be your go-to garnish for the rest of the season. The allspice is a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous seasonal cinnamon.

    Harvest Topping is easy to make, and it will keep in an airtight container for a month or more. You can turn it into a house gift with a mason jar and a ribbon.

    Prep time is 5 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.

    RECIPE: HARVEST TOPPING

    Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 1 medium apple, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons Country Crock Spread, unsalted butter or oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  •  

    crop Country Crock_Harvest Topping_dailymeal-230

    One garnish has many uses, from a Brie appetizer to dessert. Photo courtesy Country Crock.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°.

    2. COMBINE all ingredients in a medium bowl, mixing well. Arrange in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are golden brown.

    3. USE immediately, or let cool before storing in an airtight container.
     
    Find more holiday recipes at CountryCrock.com.

      

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