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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

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.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Things To Freeze In Your Ice Cube Tray

    Now, holiday ice trays like this Valentine cube
    tray
    can be used year-round. Photo courtesy
    Lekue.

     

    We have long been advocates of making ice cubes from coffee, tea, juice, wine and soda, so as not to dilute our iced coffee, iced tea, cocktails, punch and soft drinks (original article).

    You can add mint leaves to water to create mint ice cubes for Mojitos, basil leaves in water or tomato juice for Bloody Marys and berries in water for any sweet drink.

    But the versatile ice cube tray has other uses as well. We use ours to freeze:

  • Fresh herbs (recipe below)
  • Lemon and lime juice (for recipes or to flavor glasses or pitchers of water)
  • Pesto (drop a cube to the water when you make rice)
  • Stock concentrate
  • Anything in liquid or semi-solid form that we want to store in small portions
  •  
    Depending on the recipe, you can simply pop the cube into the pot.

     

    You can transfer the cubes to a freezer bag after they’re fully frozen, or keep them in a covered ice cube tray (if your tray doesn’t have a tight-fitting cover, use plastic wrap).

    When you’re ready to use them, remember that each cube is approximately one teaspoon; eight standard cubes comprises roughly one cup.

    Having alternative uses for ice cube trays has enabled us to buy seasonal ice cube trays—hearts, stars, Christmas trees and pumpkins—without the guilt of taking up storage space with “one-use gadgets.”

    We often give seasonal ice cube trays as gifts, along with our list of things to use them for year-round.

    HOW TO FREEZE HERB ICE CUBES

    1. CLEAN. Wash and pat dry. Decide if you want to freeze whole or chopped herbs, and chop as desired.

    2. CHOP. The objective is to have the water cover the herbs, so fill the ice cube tray sections with a tablespoonful of chopped herbs or as many whole herbs as fit. Tamp down whole herbs.

    3. FILL. Fill the tray halfway, using enough water to cover the herbs (though the herbs tend to float). Freeze.

    4. FREEZE. Once the ice cubes are largely frozen, finish filling the tray with water and freeze completely. Remove from the tray and store in freezer bags.

    5. USE. Toss frozen cubes directly into the pot or pan. The heat will defrost the cube. If you need to eliminate the water, add the cube first and let the water evaporate.

    Never again toss out unused, wilted herbs!

      

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    PRODUCT: Benne Wafers (Cookies)

    Benne wafers are small brown-sugar cookies seasoned with sesame seeds. They’ve been popular in the South since the 18th century. How did sesame, which many Americans associate with Asian cuisine, end up in the American South?

    Before we get to the cookies, here’s:

    A HISTORY OF SESAME

    The plant, Sesamum indicum grows wild in Africa; some varieties also grow wild in India. Today, thousands of varieties are cultivated in tropical regions worldwide. The seeds grow in the pods (the fruit) of the plant.

    Sesame seed is the oldest oilseed crop known to man, domesticated more than 5,000 years ago. It has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. The seeds are also rich in calcium, iron, vitamins B and E and zinc, high in protein and cholesterol-free.

    The nutty, buttery taste, which becomes even nuttier when toasted, led to the use of sesame seed by cuisines around the globe.

    Now on to America:

     

    Benne cookies, a.k.a. sesame cookies, from Charleston Cookie Company. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    In Colonial times, a small amount of benne—the Bantu word for sesame—arrived in Charleston, possibly in the pockets of enslaved Bantu who considered the seeds to bring good luck (irony noted). The seeds were planted, and by the 18th century the crop became cultivated extensively throughout the South.

    BENNE WAFERS EMERGE

    According to Southern Sisters Bakers, which makes benne wafers, when plantation owners had large parties, they sent their guests home with benne wafers as a good luck party favor.

    Benne wafers have a richer, less sugary flavor than many cookies, thanks to the use of brown sugar instead of hite sugar. Some recipes add 1/4 teaspoon salt for a subtle salt counterpoint; the salt adds nuance and also makes the wafers pair well with cheese. If you like sesame honey crunch—those small rectangular candies of sesame seeds in a base of honey (we love them)—you’ll like benne cookies.

    You can get a gift tin with a Charleston watercolor on the lid from Byrd Cookies.

    If you want to bake your own benne wafers, here’s a recipe. Like chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies and many others, there are endless recipe variations. You can search online to find one that best suits your tastes.
     
    Find more of our favorite cookies and cookie recipes.

      

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    PRODUCT: Chili Flakes Grinder

    Some people use chili flakes—a.k.a. red pepper flakes or crushed red pepper—as frequently as they use salt and pepper. The spice a popular table condiment in countries as dispersed as Hungary, Korea and the Middle East. In the U.S., you’re more likely to find the liquid equivalent, a bottle of hot sauce.

    A pinch of heat enhances the taste of dishes from pizza and pasta (the classics are Pasta Puttanesca and Seafood Fra Diavolo) to dips, eggs, salads, soups and cooked vegetables. You can make barbecue sauce, hummus and salsa spicier to taste.; you can create spicy mashed potatoes, spicy rice and spicy yogurt.

    Here’s a gadget for people who’d prefer a finer sprinkling than the conventional chunks of crushed red pepper. The find grind creates a more even seasoning:

    The Trudeau Red Chili Pepper Grinder has a ceramic grinding mechanism designed for just for chili flakes. For $19.99, it’s an affordable gift for those who like their heat. You can pick one up at Amazon.com.

     

    Grind chili flakes into a more delicate grain—just as with peppercorns. Photo courtesy Trudeau.

     

    WHAT ARE CHILI FLAKES?

    Chili flakes are made by roasting red chiles—generally cayenne or New Mexico chiles—then crushing them. The heat comes from the seeds, which contain the chemical capsaicin (cap-SAY-sin).

    Check out our Chile Glossary to discover the history, different types of chiles, and why it’s inaccurate to call them “peppers” or chile “peppers.”

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

    When it gives you a bottle of vodka and some vanilla beans, make vanilla extract.

    Commercial vanilla extracts are 35% alcohol, by law. The alcohol is a neutral spirit, like vodka. So imagine how good your extract will be if you use a good-to-excellent vodka: Good enough to give as gifts!

    HOMEMADE VANILLA EXTRACT RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • Vanilla Beans. You need 1 ounce of beans (about 8) per 1 cup of vodka. You can buy 16 beans on Amazon for $7.19. Grade B vanilla beans, called extract grade, deliver the most flavor by weight. To make a larger batch for gift-giving, just double or triple the amounts of beans and vodka.
  • Bottle. Select a glass bottle with a tight fitting cap (or cork, if a wine bottle). A brown or green bottle is ideal; the reason many extracts are packaged in brown glass bottles is because the dark color prevents light from entering and aging the contents.
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    You can buy top-quality vanilla extract, or you can make your own. Photo by Claire Freierman | THE NIBBLE.

     

  • Vodka. Use a good quality 80-proof vodka; it will make a more delicious extract. If you want to give the extract as a gourmet gift, using a prestige-name vodka may cost more, but will make a higher-perceived-value gift when labeled “Homemade Vanilla Extract With Grey Goose Vodka”).
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    Preparation

    1. PREPARE JAR. Clean jar and implements with boiling water, to avoid any contaminants from impacting the extract flavoring.

    2. PREPARE BEANS. With a damp cloth, wipe down the beans. Slit them lengthwise, leaving an inch at the top. The objective is to allow the flavorful seeds inside (the “caviar”) to macerate in the vodka, along with the whole pod.

    3. ADD BEANS TO JAR. If you are using a jar that’s shorter than the beans, you can cut the beans in two-inch segments.

    4. ADD VODKA & SHAKE. Don’t fill the jar to the rim; some water will leach out from the beans.

    5. AGE & EXTRACT. Store the bottle in a cool, dark place. In 4 weeks, the vanilla will be ready to use in a pinch, but the extraction will continue to intensify the flavor for 6 months—the ideal time at which to use it. After that, the vanilla will continue to mature, like a fine wine, for years. The longer it ages, the more flavorful it will be.

    6. BOTTLE. To give as gifts, use a coffee filter to strain into smaller bottles that have been washed in boiling water. Create your own label. You can include the type of vodka and the preparation and bottling dates.

    7. GOING FORWARD. The vanilla beans are fully extracted after 6 months. They will dry out as the extract is used and they become exposed. You can remove the old beans and add new ones for more intense vanilla flavor; or you can start a new batch for gifting,

    BOTTLES FOR GIFTS

    If you start now, you can be giving your favorite bakers a holiday gift of homemade vanilla extract—made with a premium vodka, of course Here are four-ounce brown bottles. Start designing your label!

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Try A New Ingredient Every Month

    Today’s tip is from Chef Johnny Gnall. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    Home cooks can get intimidated by the thought of trying new ingredients. There’s a time-and-money issue of experimenting with something that might not turn out well.

    But cooking is exploration. Sometimes explorers find that the trip yields nothing exciting, other times they happen upon a game-changer. With all the information and recipes on the Internet, you‘ve got all you need to add vivid new flavors to your cooking.

    Ever heard of galangal (pronounced guh-LAHNG-ull, with a broad “a,” also called galanga and blue ginger)? Native to Indonesia, it is best known in America as an herb that flavors Thai soups.

     

    Galangal. It looks like ginger but is used in a very different way. Don’t be intimidated by it! Photo by Piano Non Troppo | Wikimedia.

    A member of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, galangal is similar in appearance to ginger; but instead of ginger’s spice heat, it delivers an earthy, complex favor profile with notes of citrus, pine and cedar (and it’s usually removed prior to serving, not consumed in the same way as ginger). It’s also delicious in stews and stir-fries.

    Once you know what something tastes like—kaffir lime or shrimp paste, for example—you can add it to your favorite recipes to give them new life.

    DON’T BE INGREDIEN-TIMIDATED

    Unleash your inner explorer and plan to try a new ingredient every month. Your supermarket may have enough to start you off—from enoki mushrooms in the produce department, quinoa with the grains, and the spice rack (check out black cardamom, cubeb pepper, fenugreek, grains of paradise, mastic, za’atar and many others).

    Next, look up international markets and produce stores in your area and go browsing. If there are no local markets, search on the internet. Peruse African, Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern grocery sites.

    Then, make yourself a list of 12 ingredients you want to try over the next year. Here are some ideas to start you off:

  • Kamut, an ancient, high-protein wheat with a nutty flavor. More about kamut, a whole grain.
  • Laver/Nori, the dried sheets of seaweed used to make sushi rolls. Roll something else in it (we’ve used it for seasoned goat cheese and tuna “rolls”) or use matchstick slices as garnishes on salads, seafood or poultry.
  • Mushrooms—not the ubiquitous white buttons, but some of the more flavorful varieties. You can try a “mushroom of the month.” They’re low in calories and very flavorful. Check out our Mushroom Glossary.
  • Nigella seeds, tiny black peppery seeds popular in Middle Eastern and Asian cooking that are just as much at home in chicken salad, omelets and other American dishes.
  • Nopales, prickly pear leaves with a flavor similar to green beans. Popular in Mexican cuisine, they can be added to salads, scrambled eggs and most Mexican dishes.
  • Quinoa, a grainlike seed that’s one the world’s great complete proteins (it contains all eight essential amino acids). More about quinoa.
  • Sweeteners, from demerara to jaggery, try a new type of sugar instead of refined white sugar on your cereal. Check out our Sugar Glossary for the different types of sugar worldwide; then visit an international market and pick up some.
  • Yuzu, a delightful Asian citrus that we use instead of lemon or lime juice in just about everything. (More about yuzu.)
  • Seasonal vegetables and fruits—our favorite spring dish is a combination of fava beans and ramps. We look forward to it every year, during the fleeting weeks when both are available. We feel the same about stewed rhubarb, a dessert we learned at our grandmother’s knee.
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Curry Powder & Chile Oil

    Homemade curry powder. Photo by Magda S.
    | Wikimedia.

     

    Today’s tip is a teaching moment from Chef Johnny Gnall. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    If you produce your own seasonings, you have the discretion to alter them to fit your preferences, whether they be increasing the heat, decreasing the garlic or making whatever changes suit you.

    Here are two Asian seasonings for you to make, store and use: curry powder and chile oil. They’re easy to make, and you can use them in everything from breakfast eggs and luncheon salads to dinner recipes.

    You can give them as gifts, too: delicious ingredients with a personal touch.

    Make them in small batches at first, until you reach a level of comfort with the process. Once you have it down, you can make quarts or more at a time and have them in your pantry for use in specific recipes, or to experiment with—or that last-minute gift.

     

    MAKE YOUR OWN CURRY POWDER

    This recipe is for a very basic curry powder. Curry powders you buy at the grocery store tend to be pretty generic (especially the domestic products made for the “American palate”), so you really are better off creating your own. It will save you money and enable you to bring out the flavors that you prefer. Throughout India and Asia, each household and restaurant has its proprietary recipe.

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup ground coriander
  • 1/3 cup ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
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    Preparation

    1. It’s a good idea to toast your spices in a pan over medium high heat, tossing as you do so; it will make your curry powder that much more aromatic and flavorful.

    2. You can use a food processor or blender to combine the spices, or just mix them thoroughly with a wire whisk. Mix thoroughly and store in a tightly-capped jar or bottle.

    VARIATIONS: Turmeric gives curry powder its orange/yellow color; cayenne, ginger and chili powder provide the heat. As you play around with the proportions, add the spices by the teaspoon. These spices are by no means the only acceptable ones for a curry powder. Try asafoetida, black cardamom, black pepper, caraway, cayenne (red pepper), cinnamon, clove, fennel seed, fenugreek, garlic, green cardamom, long pepper, mustard seed and/or nutmeg. If something smells or tastes right to you, give it a try.

    ADDITIONAL TIP: Save empty spice bottles and refill them with our homemade blends.

     

    MAKE YOUR OWN CHILE OIL

    This recipe is for a fermented chile oil—much more complex than a store-bought chile oil.

    I absolutely love oils like this. The fermentation develops the flavor in a unique way and brings out umami, which makes a recipe that much better.

    Drizzle it into soups for a garnish-with-a-kick; add some to salad dressings, sauces and marinades; use as a dipping oil; finish a sauté. It can substitute wherever oil is used as a condiment, alone or in combination with a mild oil.

    Ingredients

  • 1 pint red chile flakes
  • 1/2 cup of fermented black beans (available in Asian markets or online)
  • 1/4 cup sliced ginger
  • 10 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 quart canola oil or rice bran oil
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    Homemade chile oil. Photo courtesy Caviar Russe | New York City.

     

    Preparation

    1. Combine the flavor ingredients in the oil and heat over medium-low heat, to about 150°F (use a kitchen thermometer).

    2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to a jar or other sealable container and cap tightly.

    3. Let the mixture sit for at least a week, preferably two weeks; then it’s ready to go. It’s interesting to see how the favors develop and change as the fermentation process takes place.

    4. Once you’ve made a successful (to your preferences) batch, you can try versions with other herbs and aromatics. For gifts, tie a ribbon around the neck of a bottle and use your computer printer to create a gift label.

      

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