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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

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

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Archive for Salts/Seasonings

TIP OF THE DAY: Why Use Sea Salt?

Bid adieu to one of food’s icons, the Morton Salt Girl, whose highly refined, iodized salt is too salty for table use. Instead, accent your food with the far more vivid flavors of sea salts.

Sea salts are dehydrated from ocean water. They are not refined like table salts, so contain traces of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc and natural iodine present in the waters from which they were harvested. These individual ocean “terroirs” (tur-WAH) give each sea salt its own unique flavor and appearance.

This makes them more healthful as well as tastier. And many sea salts are beautiful, sprinkled atop foods for visual as well as flavor notes. (Garnishing salts cost more. Inexpensive sea salts are available for cooking—we use La Baleine.)

Imported from all over the world, there are scores of different sea salts available in the U.S. Each has its own flavor and beauty.


Alaea, Hawaiian sea salt, in fine and coarse grinds. Photo courtesy, which sells beautiful sea salts from all over the world.


Some of our favorites are elegant grey Celtic salt from France; coral-hued alaea, a volcanic Hawaiian sea salt (with a mellower flavor than other sea salts); the crunchy crystals of Angsley salt from Wales; the pyramid-shaped crystals of Maldon salt from England; and Himalayan pink salt.

For table use, sea salt grains are generally too large for most salt shakers. Just treat yourself to a salt mill. This stylish salt mill from Oxo Good Grips also has a matching pepper mill.


Many of us were taught in school that it is important to consume iodized table salt to prevent the development of goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by iodine deficiency

American salt manufacturers began iodizing salt in the 1920s, in cooperation with the government, after people in some parts of the country were found to be suffering from goiter due to an absence of iodine in their diets.

Humans require fewer than 225 micrograms of iodine a day. Seafood, cruciferous vegetables*, and sea salt contain iodine naturally and iodized salt is unnecessary if there are sufficient quantities of these items in one’s diet.

*The cruciferous vegetable group includes bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens and turnips, among other veggies.


Take a look at all the lovely salts in our Salt Glossary. You’ll be inspired to run out (or click) for some.


Love food? Love history? One of our favorite food books is Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History.

Mark Bittman fans should also pick up a copy of Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with 50 Bittman recipes that showcase the different aspects of salt.



TIP OF THE DAY: When To Use Fines Herbes Vs. “Big Herbs”

Chervil has been called “the gourmet’s parsley.” A more delicate flavor than parsley, it has a faint note of licorice. Photo courtesy SXC.


THE NIBBLE’s Chef Johnny Gnall advises: When it comes to cooking, not all herbs are created equal. Some have more delicate flavors and can be lost if cooked the wrong way or paired with foods that are too bold. Conversely, some herbs are so flavorful and strong that if used in excess, they can overshadow proteins and produce alike.

Centuries ago, French chefs initiated the term “fines herbs” (pronounced “feen erb”), to designate the more delicate herbs. The category generally includes chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon, though it has been known to also include marjoram, savory and a few others, depending on whom you’re asking. This designation is widely acknowledged by chefs around the world: If a recipe calls for “fines herbs,” you can assure it will include the aforementioned four.

Less official, though no less helpful, is a designation used by chef Jan Birnbaum of Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco, among others. He designates the term “big herbs” to refer to those herbs whose flavors can stand up to heartier meats and vegetables. These “big herbs” include sage, rosemary and oregano, herbs that are very much at home in a roast house such as Epic.


To be consistent with the American term, “big herbs,” we’ll now switch from the French fines herbes to fine herbs.


These herbs, be they “fine” or “big,” are best used in their fresh states to enjoy their truest flavors. Dried herbs tend to have more concentrated flavors, stronger on the palate than their fresh counterparts. You can typically add them to a recipe earlier in the cooking process, as their concentrated strength will stand up to the heat of cooking.

When cooking with fresh herbs, on the other hand, it is typically best to wait until as late as possible to add them to a recipe, when the cooking process will have a greater effect on their flavor and what chefs call “brightness”—generally the reason one cooks with fresh herbs in the first place.

That being said, each has its place in the cooking process; even if you are cooking with fine herbs, using a more delicate protein will allow you to cook them without losing their flavor. With bigger herbs, on the other hand, you can more or less throw caution to the wind: they can handle being roughed up a bit. Here are two recipes, one for fine herbs and one for big ones, utilizing the strengths of each to help crate a delicious dish:



Sole is a more delicate fish and will be complemented nicely by fine herbs. Moreover, the use of the herbs in both stuffing and basting in this recipe will give them even more help in holding up to cooking: strength in numbers, one might say.


  • 4 sole filets (6-8 oz each)
  • 1 bunch fresh marjoram
  • 1 bunch chives
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 1 bunch tarragon

    Marjoram: another of the “fine herbs.” Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilián | SXC.

  • 1 cup aïoli (garlic mayonnaise—you can substitute regular mayonnaise)
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt/pepper
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

    1. Chop herbs and whisk into aïoli, reserving a teaspoon of each. Add lemon juice to taste, until you achieve desired acidity and brightness.
    2. Lay sole filets on a foil-covered baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.
    3. Using a spoon or spatula, place a generous dollop of herb aïoli at one end of each filet.
    4. Roll up filets so that the herbs are in the center, and secure with a toothpick.
    5. Add your reserved herbs to the melted butter and brush each filet generously.
    6. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes. Baste with herb butter once or twice throughout the baking process.
    7. Remove toothpick before serving.


    The crust you get on this lamb recipe is absolutely scrumptious. If seasoned and seared properly, it will be crunchy and herbaceous, giving way to tender, medium-rare lamb beneath. This is the beauty of big herbs: they can stand up to lamb’s flavor as well as the searing process. Some of the herbs may char a bit here and there, but overall it works quite well with the dominant flavors in the dish.


  • 1 boneless lamb loin (roughly 2 pounds)
  • 1 bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter + 2 tablespoons olive oil, combined
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or grapeseed oil
  • Salt/pepper
    1. Chop garlic and all herbs, combine, and set aside.
    2. Using your hands, rub the loin generously with the olive oil and butter mixture, making sure to coat the entire surface.
    3. Spread your herb/garlic mixture on a cutting board and roll the lamb loin around in it to create a crust. The better you cover the loin, the more flavor you will get.
    4. Season all sides generously with salt and pepper.
    5. In a large sauté pan on high heat, heat the oil; sear lamb loin on all sides. This will take roughly 5 minutes; do your best to leave the lamb alone as it sears in order to achieve a nice, crispy crust. A little smoke is okay, as the herbs may burn slightly; just don’t allow it to get to a point where smoke is pouring from the pan. (This step can also be done on a grill.)
    6. Finish the lamb in the oven, baking at 400°F for 20 minutes. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Why & How To Use Miso Paste

    White miso paste. Photo courtesy Nagano.


    Challenge yourself in the kitchen this year by trying a new ingredient each month. To start the year off, here’s a suggestion from our consulting chef, Johnny Gnall: miso paste.

    Miso, a thick paste most often made from fermented soybeans,* is a traditional Japanese seasoning with which most Western cooks are unfamiliar.

    If you’ve eaten at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve likely enjoyed a bowl of miso soup. If you make fish recipes, you may have tried a variation of the exquisite miso-glazed cod that chef Nobu Matsuhisa made so popular in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

    But miso rarely finds its way into American home kitchens. This is a shame, because it is a versatile and complex ingredient that can add depth and flavor across the culinary spectrum.


    *In addition to soybeans, rice and barley can be used. Salt and the fungus kojikin complete the recipe.

    Savory and salty, miso paste is low in calories and fat yet rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, making it an important part of Japanese cuisine. This healthy ingredient was a favorite of the Samurai, the noble warrior class that existed from the 12th century until pre-industrial times.

    It endures as a common ingredient in Japanese dishes, from pickled foods, sauces and spreads to the dish Americans know best, misoshiru or miso soup.

    But miso can be an important culinary tool beyond Japanese cuisine. Chef Johnny often uses it simply to add umami to dishes that would otherwise lack that certain something.



    The most common characteristic of miso, and arguably its defining attribute, is that elusive fifth taste: umami.

    Umami refers to that taste in foods that is often described as a “brothiness” or earthiness on the palate. Mushrooms and meat are the best-known ambassadors of umami. Here’s more to help you understand umami.

    Despite the difficulty one may have in describing it, umami plays an important role in cooking. Often you taste something and notice it lacks “strength” or seems “flat.” That absent quality you can’t seem to put your finger on is, quite often, umami.


    Red miso paste. Photo courtesy Nagano.


    The umami in miso can play an important role in perking up just about any world cuisine, requiring only cooks who are bold enough to try it.


    Miso is available in different forms or flavors, such as red or white miso paste.

    The differences depend on exactly which ingredients were used in its fermentation (such as rice or barley), the amounts of such ingredients, and how long they were fermented. Red miso paste, for example, is often fermented for a year or longer, whereas white miso paste is fermented for a much shorter period.

    You can make your own homemade miso soup, of course, but try it in American recipes. The beauty of miso is its versatility. It can be the star, providing its own unique flavor out front, or it can be one of many ingredients, lending that umami quality to a dish in need.

  • Add miso paste to create a delicious marinade.
  • Add a spoonful to enhance a vinaigrette or other salad dressing.
  • Add some to a stir fry.
  • Use it to enhance a sauce instead of salt, MSG or our mother’s favorite flavor enhancer, Kitchen Bouquet Sauce, a blend of vegetable stock, salt and parsley.
  • Try it as a spread on canapés, or for a salty snack.
  • Use it to top fresh pickled vegetables.
  • Toss with pasta. Add your own favorite ingredients, or try anchovies, sautéed bell peppers and chopped green onions.
  • Even simple steamed or blanched vegetables can get a shot of flavor from miso: Add a tablespoon of miso paste to some stock (or even water), whisk to blend, and add your veggies to cook for a minute or two.


    The flavor and umami from miso can be unbelievably satisfying, which makes it a great tool to have on hand. Yes, its sodium levels can be high; but compared with salt, you get far more flavor and complexity with less overall sodium, as well as bonus healthy minerals, beneficial bacteria and protein. You’ll even pick up some antioxidants.

    So the next time you are at the grocery store, head to the international foods aisle and locate the miso paste. There may be several varieties to choose from; choose any one to start. Different brands and types will have different levels of salty and/or sweet.

    Then, add it to anything you feel could use a boost of umami flavor and won’t hurt from a bit of saltiness.

    Get to know miso as more than just the soup you eat before the sushi. It may just be the secret ingredient you’ve been looking for: You just may become mad for miso—and that’s a good thing.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Check Your Spices, Dried Herbs & Canned Goods

    Happy New Year!

    Some people we know spend New Year’s Day in bed with a book. Others go out to brunch or a movie, watch football or go ice skating. One couple hosts an annual Bloody Mary party (January 1st is National Bloody Mary Day).

    We check our dried herbs and spices for freshness (and then head to the party).

    Rather than waiting for “spring cleaning,” start the new year by cleaning house in the spice cabinet.

    After they are harvested, spices and dried herbs do not spoil, but they do lose their strength. Older seasonings will not flavor foods the way you want them to. That’s one reason why those jumbo club store spices are often no bargain.

    Herbs and seasoning blends have a shorter shelf life than spices. Although they may look fine, dried oregano, parsley and other herbs will age to the point where they still provide a visual evidence of herbs, but no flavor.


    Even if it looks good to you, use the sniff-and-taste test to check your herbs and spices for freshness. Photo courtesy McCormick.


    While the packages have expiration dates, the longevity of the seasonings varies depending on exposure to air (keep those bottles tightly capped!), heat (never keep spices next to the stove or oven) and light (countertop spice racks and carousels are the enemies of freshness).

    Use this freshness checklist to ensure that your spices and herbs still have the punch you expect.

    Also check out the shelf life of foods.

    When we’re done with the spices, we start with our top cabinets and toss out foods that have expired, those we bought but will probably never eat, and so forth. If you’re not going to eat it or don’t want the temptation (we found six jars of fudge sauce), stick it in a shopping bag and drop it off at a food bank or with friends or neighbors.

    The Difference Between Herbs & Spices

  • Spices are the dried seeds, buds, fruit or flower parts, bark, or roots of plants, usually of tropical origin.
  • Herbs are the leaves and sometimes the flowers of plants, usually grown in a climate similar to the Mediterranean.
  • For culinary use, both herbs and spices fall into the category of aromatics.
    See more of our favorite seasonings.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Use Only Freshly Ground Pepper

    Pepper has been the world’s most popular spice for some 3,000 years. It has been treasured for its ability to add a kick to bland foods and, in pre-refrigeration days, to salvage food that turned rancid. (Salt, even more popular and essential than pepper, is not a spice. See the * footnote below).

    Until the invention of the pepper mill† in 1842, peppercorns were freshly ground with a mortar and pestle.

    Pepper begins to lose flavor as soon as it’s ground. Pepper gets its spicy heat from piperine, a chemical compound that’s found in both the outer fruit and in the seed (the peppercorn).

    Once the pepper is ground, the piperine is exposed to the air and begins to evaporate. That’s why commercially ground pepper is a bland product.

    And that’s why today’s tip is: Always use whole peppercorns, and grind the pepper as you need it. If you don’t have a pepper mill, get one. Here’s a good, basic pepper mill that’s battery operated, so you don’t have to twist it to grind the pepper.


    Use only whole peppercorns, ground as
    you need the pepper. Photo by Adam Kozlowski | IST.


    *Spices are aromatic seasonings obtained from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of a plant or tree. Herbs are the leafy parts of the plant. Some plants yield both a spice and an herb. For example, the coriander plant provides coriander seeds, a spice, as well as cilantro leaves, an herb. Why aren’t cilantro leaves called “coriander leaves?” Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander, and we adopted the Spanish word for the herb.

    †The pepper mill was invented by the Peugeot company in 1842. A family venture begun in a small village in eastern France around 1793, the company manufactured tools, coffee grinders and even bicycles. (A member of the family broke off to manufacture automobiles.)
    Why Not To Buy Peppercorns In Bulk

    Given the higher cost of whole peppercorns, why should you avoid buying them in bulk?

    As pre-ground pepper quickly loses its piperine kick to evaporation, the piperine in whole peppercorns also evaporates over time.

    Plus, most pepper is grown as a commodity, to be sold at a prefixed price per ton. Margins are slim and there’s no bonus paid for quality. The berries are picked as soon as they form on the vine, resulting in meager little peppercorns whose flavors have not had a chance to develop—like tomatoes that are picked from the vine before they ripen.

    So, peppercorns sold in bulk to consumers are not likely to be the best in the first place. And after they’ve been sitting on your shelf for two years, they become as dried-out and bland as pre-ground pepper.

    Introduce yourself to the world of fine peppercorns. Here’s everything you need to know about pepper. It’s hot stuff!


    There is no relationship between black pepper, which originated in India, and chile peppers, which originated in South America. They are from completely different botanical families and their heat comes from two different chemical compounds.

    Black pepper (and white pepper, which is black pepper with the outer skin removed), is the genus and species Piper nigrum from the family Piperaceae. As noted above, their heat comes from the chemical compound piperine. Chiles are from the genus Capsicum and the family Solanaceae. Their heat comes from the chemical compound capsaicin.

    So why do we call chiles “peppers?”

    You can thank Christopher Columbus for the confusion. When he first encountered chiles in the New World, he related the heat in the fruit to the heat in peppercorns, and combined the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word for them, chilli, into chilli pepper.

    And yes, both chiles and peppercorns are the fruits of their respective plants.



    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Fill The Salt Shaker

    Shake it up, baby. Salt and pepper
    shakers and rack from Tablecraft.


    Need to refill the salt shaker but can’t find the funnel?

    Pouring directly from the box of salt can create a mess. Instead, use an envelope—preferably one of the smaller return envelopes that arrive in the mail.

    1. Fill the envelope with the approximate amount of salt that you need. Seal the envelope.

    2. Cut off one corner to create a funnel. If you need additional salt, just cut the top off the envelope and add more.

    3. When the shaker is filled, place the “funnel” opening in the carton of salt to return any leftovers.

    Why didn’t we mention filling the pepper shaker as well? You’ll find out in tomorrow’s Tip Of The Day.

    Which Shaker Gets The Salt?

    Traditionally, the multiple-hole shaker is for salt and the single-hole shaker is for pepper. The original reasoning is that people want more salt than pepper. But if you find that pepper flows better from the multiple-hole top, feel free to switch.


    Life Before Salt Shakers

    Before there were shakers, salt and pepper were served in small ceramic dishes (crystal dishes for the wealthy) called salt cellars. In the kitchen, a wood salt box* was used. Some have two compartments in order to hold both salt and pepper.

    The word “cellar” doesn’t refer to the basement in this case. It evolved around 1434 from the Anglo-Norman word saler, based on the Old French salier (salt box) and the Latin salarium. Salarium is a great word. There’s more about it below, under Food Trivia.

    Back to the salt cellars: People would simply take a pinch of salt from the dish. But shakers evolved as a more sanitary option.

    The gentry used elegant crystal salt cellars (we still have our great-grandmother’s). Presumably, they all washed their hands before coming to the table and pinching the salt and pepper.


    For most of the history of the world, salt was a scarce commodity and very costly. Few countries had discovered underground salt deposits, and only those with seacoasts could evaporate salt from seawater.

    Yet, as it is today, salt was very important for culinary, medicinal and industrial purposes. People even used it as currency:

  • In Tibet, Marco Polo noted that tiny cakes of salt were pressed with images of the Grand Khan and used as coins (salt is still used as money among the nomads of Ethiopia’s Danakil Plains).
  • Greek slave traders often bartered salt for slaves, giving rise to the expression that a particular individual was “not worth his salt.”
  • In the early days of the Roman army, legionnaires were paid in salt. This “salt money” was known in Latin as a salarium—the origin of the word salary.
    A brief history of salt.

    One of our favorite books is Salt, A World History, by Mark Kurlansky. It’s a page-turner.

    *Lidded salt boxes are back in style, and are now made in split versions to hold both salt and pepper. In addition to the two-section wood salt box, here’s a handsome black marble salt box.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Steak Seasoning

    Ready for seasoning! Photo courtesy
    Allen Brothers.


    Many people season a steak simply, with salt and pepper (see our chef’s technique for sprinkling salt from a height to get an even application). Some may add a bit of onion salt.

    THE NIBBLE’s chef recommends a touch of cumin in addition to the salt and pepper. It adds a slight warmth and earthiness to the steak as it enhances the meat’s natural sweetness.

    There are numerous steak seasonings in the supermarket’s spice rack, and budget-minded cooks make and bottle their own blends.

    Here’s a steak seasoning recipe used by one of THE NIBBLE editors. It approximates the recipe of McCormick’s Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning, a favorite of many people (it gets a five-star rating from everyone on Amazon).

    You can shake it onto just about any meat (including burgers and pork chops) or poultry; plus seafood, potatoes, vegetables, even popcorn, cottage cheese and dips.



  • 4 tablespoons salt (too salty for us, so we cut it by half)
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
  • 1/2 tablespoon dehydrated garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried fennel
    Combine ingredients. Shake or rub 1 tablespoon of seasoning per pound of meat before grilling or broiling.

    The recipe makes 8.5 tablespoons of seasoning, enough for 8 pounds of meat (and some extra). If you don’t think you’ll use that much, you may want to cut the recipe in half.

    As with all spices and dried herbs, keep the seasoning blend in an airtight container away from light and heat.

    Check out more of our favorite seasonings in our Salts & Seasonings Section.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Seasoning With Salt

    Today’s tip deals with something most of us do every day: seasoning with salt. The tip comes from THE NIBBLE’s test kitchen chef.

    Tip Part 1: Season meat with salt by sprinkling it from a height of roughly 6 to 8 inches.

    This ensures an even layer of salt, with no bland spots. Salt the meat right before or after you remove it from the heat. Otherwise, salt leaches moisture (juiciness) from the meat.

    Sprinkling at the end also preserves the delicate flavor of kosher salt or sea salt, which would dissipate in the cooking process.

    Rather than sprinkling from a salt shaker, take pinches of salt from a salt server (shown in the photo), or use a small, Tupperware-type container (or repurpose a plastic container from prepared food).

    Tip Part 2: Use kosher salt or coarse sea salt instead of table salt. These salts are no different nutritionally from table salt,* but chefs prefer them for their texture. The larger, irregular grains add a bit of crunch and hint of briny flavor.


    We take pinches of salt from this salt server. Photo courtesy RSVP.


    You also need less kosher or sea salt than table salt. Because table salt is processed into a very fine grain, a teaspoon of table salt contains as much salt as 1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt or sea salt.

    *All salt is at least 97.5% sodium chloride. The remainder comprises natural minerals found in the salt deposit (or sea water, if sea salt), or added minerals such as iodine in iodized salt. Table salt also includes a small amount of calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent that prevents clumping.

    See the many different types of salt in our Salt Glossary.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Cinnamon Toast

    Did your mom make you cinnamon toast on school days or weekends?

    Ours did, and we can still smell and taste each piece that she lovingly sprinkled with her blend of sugar and cinnamon – a blend she premixed and stored in the type of specialty jar also used to sprinkle grated cheese.

    Every morning, it was only two shakes from plain buttered toast to festive cinnamon toast. It’s like a streamlined cinnamon bun.

    Use your favorite bread. We’d say go for whole wheat bread, but raisin bread, multigrain, challah and of course, plain white bread work equally well.

    1. Mix 2 tablespoons of white sugar with 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
    2. Toast the bread, lightly butter it and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.

    This comfort food is a delight at breakfast or brunch, or as a snack with afternoon tea (or milk for the kids). And it has far fewer calories than a breakfast pastry, muffin or piece of cake.


    Whole and ground cinnamon. Photo courtesy


  • There are two different types of cinnamon. Check out the differences.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Add Colored Food

    Dark green spinach leaves, yellow tomatoes
    and red radicchio turn a sandwich from blah
    to wow. Photo courtesy Royal Rose Radicchio.


    You don’t have to read too many food magazines or watch “Top Chef” too often to see how important presentation is.

    “Top Chef” judges regularly comment on a bland presentation, telling cheftestants that the dish needs color.

    It’s up to you, the home chef, to decide what kind of colorful vegetable or fruit complements your dish.

    Take a quick scan of the produce aisle: The fruits and vegetables that catch your eye are one way to start.

    Easy choices:

  • Red, Orange & Yellow: bell pepper, carrot (use curls for garnish), chile, grape, kumquat, pattypan squash and other miniature vegetables, radicchio, tomato (conventonal, cherry, grape, sundried)
  • Green: Many choices in lighter and darker hues, from vegetables to fresh herbs
    You’re adding more than color. Each ingredient adds flavor to the dish, whether as a garnish or a principal food (serve a side of rainbow chard, delicious and stunning).

    No time to acquire colored fruits, vegetables or fresh herbs? Look at your spices and dust the plate with a pinch of basil, curry, paprika, turmeric or other colorful favorite.


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