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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: 8 Ways To Reduce Sodium Intake

Not your friend! Photo by Ramon Gonzalez |
SXC.

 

While recent government initiatives have eliminated trans fats and have us eating more whole grains, two villains hidden in prepared foods have been relatively quiet on the media radar. More often than not, too much salt and sugar are hidden in recipes and prepared foods.

Some salt is needed for normal functioning, but the American Heart Association recommends that you cap your intake at 1,500 mg of sodium (salt) per day. That’s 500 calories per meal, not allowing for snacks.

But within a meal, one item—a sauce or a prepared vegetable—can contain more than 500 mg of salt. That’s why the average American’s salt intake is more than twice the recommended limit: 3,436 mg sodium daily.

Even good recipes and good restaurants can use too much salt. Prepared foods are overly laden with it—just read the labels.

 

Dr. David Katz, founder/director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, recommends a 1:1 ratio of sodium to calories. If the ratio is higher, the food has too much sodium. Most people’s recommended daily calorie intake is around 2,000 calories, so the formula provides more salt than the American Heart Association recommends. But it’s still less than what most of us consume!

What’s Wrong With Sodium?

Too much sodium can increase blood pressure, for starters. The Mayo Clinic explains why “just a pinch” of salt here and there adds up to unhealthy levels. Even if you feel young and healthy, you may want to take notice now.

It’s not difficult to make small adjustments. So we’re passing on these tips from John Bosse, of USANA Health Sciences:
 
1. Be an educated consumer. Read nutrition labels and choose foods that are low in sodium. Ideal foods have 5% or less of the daily recommended value of sodium per serving. Try your best to avoid foods containing 20% or more of the daily recommended value.

2. Savor the flavor. Flavor food with spices and herbs instead of salt. Use chile, curry, garlic, lemon and lime juices, onions, oregano, paprika, pepper, vinegar, wine and other favorites. THE NIBBLE’s favorite addition to savory dishes is fresh herbs—from basic parsley to fragrant fresh basil.

3. Consider a sub. Lite salts and salt substitutes offer an alternative that, when used in place of salt, will lower sodium intake and increase potassium intake, while still providing the desired saltiness. Always consult your physician before using one of these products as they are not appropriate for individuals with certain conditions or on certain medications.

4. Look for low sodium options. Look for lower sodium alternatives. Some manufacturers have created sauces and soups with half the sodium of their original recipes. Here are the differences between low sodium, reduced sodium and other terms. We also love raw almonds and other nuts; most nuts can be found without salt (see the health benefits of nuts).

5. Ask and you shall receive. Many restaurants are happy to make modifications to satisfy their customers. Many sit down restaurants can provide olive oil, vinegar, and lemon wedges as a dressing substitute; you just have to ask. Ordering pizza? Ask them to put half the amount of cheese on it. You might find the pizza still tastes just as good and probably has the same amount of cheese it would if you made your own. Not only will you have greatly reduced the sodium you consume, but also the calories and saturated fat.

6. Make a trade. We all know that fruits and vegetables are healthful foods, but most of us don’t eat enough of them. Packaged snacks and deli meats are high in sodium. If you consume salty snacks, make a daily effort to sub out one with fruit—an apple, banana, orange or pear, for example. If you don’t like fruit, choose vegetable alternatives such as baby carrots. At THE NIBBLE, we make salt-free potato chips and other veggie chips in the microwave, using this clever device. Swap out processed cereal for a bowl of sodium-free oatmeal (not the instant kind, which has added salt).

7. Switch the sandwich. If you enjoy a daily sandwich, in most cases, cooked chicken or turkey breast will be lower in sodium than ham and other deli meats. To change it up, use different condiments and salad vegetables, and look for pickles and other pickled vegetables that are low in sodium (or make your own—it couldn’t be easier).

8. Tip the potassium balance. Professional consensus supports aiming to consume potassium at roughly double the recommended sodium intake. Be sure to eat foods that are rich in potassium, such as low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and unsalted or low-salt nuts and seeds. These are also solid sources of calcium and magnesium. Potassium, along with calcium and magnesium, help to rid the body of excess sodium.

If You Use Salt, Use The Tastiest Salt

Check out our Salt Glossary. While all salts have similar sodium and nutritional values,* sea salts and other culinary salts have more flavor than refined sea salts.

*Sea salts have trace minerals that are removed from refined table salt.

  

Comments

TIP OF THE DAY: 10 Ways To Use Nutmeg

There’s nothing like fresh-ground nutmeg. The pre-ground product is pallid in comparison.

You may use nutmeg in baking—custards and pumpkin pie, spice cakes and cookies—and it’s de rigueur in egg nog. But what about savory uses?

Following the demise of our decades-old nutmeg mill, we’ve been enjoying our new chrome nutmeg mill from William Bounds. We’ve been adding daily grinds of fresh nutmeg to coffee, eggs and greens.

We asked THE NIBBLE’s chef Johnny Gnall how he uses nutmeg. Here are his favorite uses, along with some musings on nutmeg:

Nutmeg is a bit of an unsung hero. It’s used in a surprisingly large number of recipes and dishes, but it’s rare that you notice it, especially up front on your palate. In fact, that’s kind of the point. Nutmeg is a spice often used to accent other flavors, the same way a recipe uses salt to bring out the flavor of other ingredients.

 

Nutmeg. Photo courtesy Spice Islands.

 

Nutmeg is often perceived as a “holiday spice,” but it’s delicious year-round. As with other spices, use it up as quickly as you can. Even a whole nutmeg in an airtight jar will dry out in a few years. If you’ve had the nutmeg for a while, pierce it with a pin. If you get a droplet of oil, the spice is still lively.

10 SAVORY SHOWCASES FOR NUTMEG

In desserts, nutmeg is often combined with allspice, cinnamon and clove. But nutmeg on its own is a pretty delicious flavor.

Nutmeg is also a strong flavor, so you only need it in very small doses. Even a pinch can pack a punch that will kick things up a notch.

Here are 10 ways to give new punch to your recipes with nutmeg. Remember to use it sparingly: Start with a tiny bit, taste often and pump the brakes as soon as its flavor gets to the front of your palate.

1. Bacon & Pork Belly
Bacon fans find it practically perfect in every way, virtually impossible to improve upon. It can be amplified, however. The next time you have a recipe with bacon as a primary ingredient (a quiche, perhaps?), try complementing it with a touch of nutmeg. Bacon and nutmeg are at very different ends of the flavor spectrum, but they share earthy roots. You may even start dusting your bacon strips!

2. Béchamel
A classic béchamel sauce is made with a dash of nutmeg early in the cooking process. In most fine-dining restaurants, béchamel is usually the start of mac ‘n cheese and other creamy pasta dishes. If you up the nutmeg just a touch, the new angle on a familiar flavor will surprise you. Just be sure to think ahead: If you are adding béchamel to a dish along with other cheeses or ingredients, be sure the flavors complement one another. Nutmeg doesn’t always play well with others (seafood, yes; mushrooms, not really).

 

William Bounds nutmeg mill. Photo courtesy
William Bounds.

 

3. Carrots
Roasted carrots with nutmeg is easy and will knock your socks off. Just toss roasted carrots in a bit of melted butter and season with fresh-ground nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

4. Dough
Bread dough, cookie dough, pasta dough, pie/quiche dough: Any of these can benefit from the kick a little nutmeg supplies. As with béchamel, however, make sure that whatever else you are putting in or on that dough does not clash with nutmeg.

5. Goat Cheese & Burrata
Take ordinary goat cheese and add a pinch of nutmeg to make it extraordinary. Add the seasoned goat cheese to salads, use chunks to garnish soup or just spread it on a slice of toasted baguette. Along the same lines of cheese enhancement, go for pure indulgence with burrata: A tiny drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of nutmeg create fireworks in your mouth.

 

6. Hazelnuts
A bowl of warm, toasted hazelnuts sprinkled with nutmeg is as perfect a holiday party snack as you can find. But don’t wait for the holidays: Serve them year-round with cocktails, wine and beer.

7. Lamb
Lamb is a protein that loves nutmeg—perhaps more than any other. If you season the meat with salt and just a teaspoon or so of nutmeg, as opposed to pepper, you will discover a delightful flavor profile. If you’re going to stew lamb, you’re in for a real treat with nutmeg. Remember, though, that with lamb, the “less is more” rule especially applies.

8. Scalloped Potatoes
A little nutmeg in the dish adds depth of flavor, while a dusting over the top will give you an up-front hit of nutmeg that then fades into creamy potato.

9. Spinach & Collard Greens
If you’re braising, add nutmeg early; you may want to re-up as the vegetables cook. If sautéing, a quick sprinkle when your greens start to wilt should do the trick.

10. Squash & Squash Soup
The nuttiness of squash, from acorn to zucchini, is accentuated by a sprinkle of nutmeg.
 
FOOD TRIVIA

The nutmeg tree produces two different spices, nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit that grows on the tree, and mace is made from a red substance that covers it.

  

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TIP OF THE DAY: Adding Flavor With Flavored Sea Salt

Photo courtesy Saratoga Olive Oil Co.

 

Caravel Gourmet, based in Lynnwood, Washington, is one of a handful of artisan salt companies that sells flavored sea salts—from Citrus Fennel to Saffron (one of our favorites that’s delicious on just about anything).

Flavored sea salt is a way to add a light essence of a favorite flavor, by substituting it for regular salt. The only difference is that, instead of salting the food prior to cooking, the pinch of salt goes atop it when it’s ready to serve.

If you love smoky flavor, for example, you can add it by substituting smoked salt for regular salt. There are also layered flavors, such as bacon sea salt and bacon sea salt with seasonings—chile, garlic and so forth. The blend of naturally smoked bacon flavor and sea salt, smoked naturally over alderwood and infused with chipotle pepper flakes, will enhance the flavor of meats, vegetables, baked potatoes, salads, or anything else you would enjoy eating using natural bacon flavor.

 

Chef Johnny Gnall takes advantage of every opportunity to use Smoked Bacon Chipotle Sea Salt: “First, there’s bacon (which is already a home run); there’s sea salt smoked over alderwood, which has its own tasty and complex flavor profile; and to top it all off, there are chipotle flakes, which add just a touch of heat. It’s a smoky, warm, umami-rich topping for anything. Since it’s salt, you can wield and measure it the same way you would regular sea salt.

“The list could stretch into infinity, but here are 20 for starters.”

If you can’t find the version sold in a grinder, add the salt to any salt or pepper grinder.

  • Avocado: For a quick and nutritious snack on the go, top an avocado half with a few grinds of the salt and grab a plastic spoon. Not only are avocados high in good fat and potassium, but they contain nearly twenty vitamins and minerals. Best of all, their buttery texture just screams for salt, and this is one heck of a salt to answer with.
  • Baked Oysters: Put a tablespoon of roasted garlic, a splash of cream and a twist or two from the salt grinder into a mortar and pestle to make a topping for sensational baked oysters. If you can, use a sweeter, less briny varietal of oyster to balance out the salt, like the Kumamoto (the different types of oysters).
  • Baked Potatoes: Whether you use it in addition to other fixings or on its own with a touch of butter or olive oil, this salt turns an ordinary potato into something that you’ve never tasted before.
  • Bloody Mary: Flavored salt is the ultimate signature move in personalizing a popular drink. The heat, salt and smokiness are terrific in a Bloody Mary. Wait until you see people’s reactions when they taste bacon in their cocktail. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Feel free to garnish with a slice of crisp bacon instead of a celery stick.)
  •  

  • Caesar Salad: Some people like to crumble bacon on their Caesar (not the traditional recipe). Opt for this salt instead; the heat from the chipotle is a nice balance to the rich creaminess of Caesar dressing.
  • Chocolate/Caramel: If you’re indulging in a little vanilla ice cream, try drizzling it with chocolate or caramel sauce with a grind or two if this salt stirred in. Like salted peanuts or chipotle chocolate sauce, it creates quite the symphony. Be conservative with your seasoning, because here there’s no trick to fix things if they get too salty.
  • Condiments: An easy one to dress up is mayonnaise: Sandwiches, picnic salads and other foods in mayo’s realm will be forever changed. But don’t stop there: Add variety to ketchups, hot sauces, even jams and jellies. Then take it a step further and use that newly seasoned jam to slather on a piece of meat for roasting.
  • Eggs: Be they scrambled, fried, poached or hard cooked, eggs are an obvious choice to pair with bacon salt. Moreover, you may find that a little chipotle heat is just the kick your eggs have been looking for.
  •  

    Update your pasta with some bacon and
    chipotle flavor. Photo by Trutenka | IST.

     

  • Fish: This is a particularly great condiment for the more mild filets of fish. Sea bass, and many other fish, can be found complemented by pork on countless fine dining menus. This is a way to get that same flavor without the guilt that comes with a slab of pork belly, and the heat is gentle enough that you won’t lose the flavor of the fish.
  • Grilled Peaches: This is the same idea as the aforementioned jam, but far, far better. Simply halve and pit a peach, brush it with olive oil and grill, flesh side down, until you have nice, solid marks. Hit each half with a couple twists of this salt and you’ll experience what may be the most delicious use on this list. It’s a ways until peach season, but write this one on your calendar for August. These peaches make an absolutely killer summer accompaniment to pork chops.
  • Mushrooms: Simple sautéed mushrooms take a smoky, meaty turn with a few grinds. Any type of mushroom will work. Feel free to keep it simple (and affordable) with regular white button mushrooms; they’ll still be fantastic.
  • Nuts: Break away from store-bought flavored nuts and make your own! Simply toss your favorite unsalted nuts (almonds work particularly well) in a little vegetable oil or butter to coat lightly, lay them out on a sheet pan, hit them liberally with the grinder and bake at 350°F for 5-10 minutes (depending on the nut) until you can smell their yummy toastiness. Let them cool and serve them at parties; they’re sure to impress.
  • Pasta/Rice: All you need is olive oil, a few grinds of this salt, a light dusting of Parmesan and maybe some chopped parsley. With just this, you can dine pleasurably, but why stop there? Add almost any vegetables you have lying around (or if you are shopping, broccoli does nicely) and all of a sudden Pasta Primavera is reinvented.
  • Quesadillas: While these cheesy goodies are already simple to make, a few grinds of this salt will really make them stand out. Keep things healthy by going easy on the cheese and filling your tortilla with cooked vegetables.
  • Raw Meat: Use this salt to season your meat before you sear it, and you’ll get a smoky, savory crust with a little heat.
  • Roasted Squash: More often than not, cinnamon is the go-to sprinkle-on for roasting squash, especially in the fall and winter. Switch gears from sweet to savory with a few twists of the grinder and you’re likely to end up with very pleased eaters.
  • Salsa: If you find your store-bought salsa isn’t giving you much, stir in a few grinds of the salt and you’ll add heat and depth of flavor. Just be careful how much you add, as things can get very salty very quickly if you’re too liberal. If you do find you’ve gone overboard, a squeeze of lime may bring things back.
  • Sandwich Meats: Hopefully you’re staying away from processed, nitrate-filled products, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a killer sandwich made with real meat—preferably, meat you cooked yourself. But sometimes cold turkey can be a little bland, especially if you’re having it several days in a row. A few grinds of this salt will change things up nicely, no matter what you have between two slices of bread.
  • Toast: This may sound odd, but a piece of toasted baguette (or whole wheat toast for a healthier option) with a little butter and a few grinds of this salt will turn mundane white bread into wow.
  • Zucchini: Sauté it in olive oil or roast it in the oven, then finish it with the salt just before you serve. The succulent flesh of cooked zucchini works wonderfully with the flavor profile of the salt. Getting kids to eat their vegetables has never been so easy.
  •  

    WHERE TO FIND FLAVORED SEA SALT
    There are salt specialty sites, such as SeaSaltSuperstore.com, and items can be found on Amazon:

  • Pouch Of Smoked Bacon Chipotle Sea Salt: Buy.
  • Smoked Bacon Sea Salt Trio. Three different flavors of bacon sea salts: Smoked Bacon & Onion Sea Salt, Smoked Bacon Chipotle Sea Salt and Smoked Peppered Bacon Sea Salt. Buy.
  •  
    The salt is also sold in gift jars, grinders and other formats and in five flavor variations—plain Bacon, Bacon Cajun, Bacon Chipotle, Bacon Chipotle & Habanero and Bacon Onion.

    HOW MANY TYPES OF SALT HAVE YOU HAD?

    Check out the many different types of salt.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Home Dehydrating

    Chef Johnny Gnall hasn’t made kale chips yet (see the review), but he does dehydrate.

    Dehydrated foods are used in a myriad of applications, says Chef Johnny. From Michelin-star kitchens to backwoods cabins full of deer jerky, people have long been removing the moisture from their food in a variety of ways. The technique began thousands of years, initially to preserve meat and other foods.

    You can purchase a dehydrator (they’re reasonably priced—here’s a good model) and dehydrate your favorite fruits and veggies into crisp snacks—with no preservatives, sugar or salt.

    You can also dry meat, fish, granola, herbs and flowers (to decorate cakes or make your own potpourri and sachets). It‘s easy to get hooked on dehydrating.

     

    You don’t need a dehydrator like this one, but it helps! Photo courtesy Nesco.

     

    But unless you plan to make a lot of jerky or dried fruit and veggie snacks, an electric dehydrator may not be worth the space it takes up. If you simply want to experiment at home, just head to the hardware store for a dessicant.

    A desiccant—familiar as the small, white silica gel packets placed in some packages of foods and in boxes of shoes—absorbs moisture. Desiccants are made in a variety of forms but not all are safe near food. So go for the small white packets, which are.

    Then, all you need is some cheesecloth, a plastic food storage container and an airtight plastic bag to place it in.

    What food should you dehydrate? Stick to fruits and vegetables. This simple technique isn’t successful for jerky.

    RECIPE: DEHYDRATED CITRUS RIND

    While dehydrated citrus rind isn’t a snack like dried apple chips or carrot slices, it will provide you with a delicious seasoning that works in certain situations that don’t work with fresh lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange zest.

    A favorite way to use dehydrated citrus rind is to grind it and add it to savory rubs for meat and fish. Try it finely ground in whipped cream: It will add an earthy twist to your favorite dessert. Experiment with your daily recipes to see where it best adds a flavor spark.

    Dried foods have a long shelf life in airtight containers, so you can fill your shelves with little jars of your creations for creative cooking. You may find yourself unlocking some unique flavors.

    Preparation

  • Cut. With a sharp paring knife, remove the rind from the citrus in strips, avoiding as much of the bitter white pith as possible. Lay the strips flat and use the small knife to shave or scrape off any remaining pith, which contains water and will inhibit the drying process.
  • Dry. Place a few of the desiccant packs in the food storage container and stretch a piece of cheesecloth across the top, securing it in place with a rubber band or some string. Lay the strips of rind on the cloth, then carefully place the container into the plastic bag and seal it (don’t use the top of the container).
  • Wait. Set it aside. In a few days, the peels should become shriveled, hard and ready to grind. Success! (In an electric dehydrator, the food will be dehydrated in hours, not days.)
  •  
    The dehydration procedure alters the citrus flavor profile somewhat, concentrating it and adding a slightly different shade of citrus to your kitchen’s repertoire.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Use Fresh Ginger Root

    Today’s tip is from Chef Johnny Gnall:

    Ginger is a terrific flavor, adding exotic sweet and floral notes and a spicy kick to any number of cuisines and recipes. It is equally adaptable to sweet and savory foods.

    In your kitchen, is the ginger always powdered in a shaker jar? Or do you head to the produce aisle for a piece of fresh ginger root?

    Dried ginger has its place, but doesn’t hold a candle to the vibrant flavors of raw, fresh ginger. From Vietnamese spring rolls to slow-cooked stews with braised pork and big hunks of raw ginger (not to mention, pickled ginger with sushi), the root is where it’s at. Dried ginger in the spring roll would be just too sharp; and in the stew it would not have the roundness it needs to develop.

    So today’s tip is: Cook with fresh ginger.

     

    Fresh ginger root. Photo by Jan Schöne | SXC.

     

    To start you off, here’s a delicious recipe for honey ginger carrots. If you have kids, Try baby carrots (actual miniature carrots, not the whittled-down thumbs sold in plastic bags), and serve them like sweet little chicken fingers. We promise they will get gobbled up.

    HONEY GINGER CARROTS RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of baby carrots, peeled or scrubbed
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of grated or minced ginger
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon fresh lavender
  • 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation
    1. Blanch the carrots until fork tender but not soft; plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Set aside to dry in a colander or on paper towels.

    2. In a sautée pan over medium high heat, melt some butter until it begins to brown. Reduce the heat to medium and add ginger. Cook for about a minute, stirring occasionally.

    3. Reduce heat a bit more and add the honey, then the carrots, stirring continuously. If things get dry, reduce the heat and add a touch of butter or a very small amount of water.

    4. Once the carrots are coated and the water has evaporated, remove from heat and transfer to a dish. Toss in the chopped parsley and lavender. Then chow down.

    MORE USES FOR FRESH GINGER

  • Grate some into your salad dressing.
  • Make more stir-frys: Ginger is equally at home with meat, poultry, tofu and vegetables.
  • Drop some sliced ginger into salad oil or cooking oil to infuse.
  • Use as a garnish: grated or minced atop chicken, soup, vegetables, and of course any Asian-inspired dishes.
  • Make your own pickled ginger. Recipe.
  • Add a slice or two to a cup of green or white tea; or simply enjoy the fresh root infused into boiling water.
  •  
    STORING GINGER ROOT

    Fridge. Wrap the ginger in a paper towel, then place it in a plastic storage bag. It should stay fresh in the crisper drawer for up to three weeks.

    Freezer. If you’re not going to use the ginger soon, freeze it. We peel and freeze slices that quickly defrost (or, just pop the frozen slices into the dish you’re cooking).

    Another option is to peel and grate the root with a microplane grater. Set a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and spoon the ginger in a vertical line. Roll up the plastic, twist the ends and freeze. When you want some ginger, unwrap the plastic and break off a chunk. It defrosts quickly.
     
    GINGER FACTS

    Native to Southeastern Asia, ginger has been used for more than 5,000 years in Chinese medicine.

    The oils in fresh ginger cause the stomach to produce more digestive enzymes, which help to neutralize stomach acids and relieve diarrhea, heartburn, nausea and stomach cramps. Slices of fresh ginger in hot water make a very soothing ginger tea that clears the sinuses as well.

    Ginger has also been shown to help in blood circulation and anti-clotting, as well as lower cholesterol levels. It may also be an anti-carcinogen and provide relief from migraine headaches.

    The ginger plant, Zingiber officinale, is a rhizome, a plant with a horizontal, often underground, stem that is edible (although the leaves are often eaten as well). While we call it a root, it’s actually a stem.

    Here’s more on the healthfulness of ginger, one of the seven highest anti-oxidant spices.

      

    Comments

    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 Saltworks.us, 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.

    WHAT ABOUT IODIZED SALT?

    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.

    HOW MANY TYPES OF SALT HAVE YOU HAD?

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

    SPECTACULAR SALT BOOKS

    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.

      

    Comments

    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.

    FRESH VS. DRIED 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:

     

    RECIPE: FINE HERBS-STUFFED SOLE

    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.

    Ingredients

  • 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
  •  
    Preparation

    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.

    RECIPE: BIG HERBS-CRUSTED LAMB LOIN

    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.

    Ingredients

  • 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
  •  
    Preparation
    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.

      

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    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.

     

    MISO & UMAMI

    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.

    TYPES OF MISO

    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.
     
    HOW TO USE MISO PASTE

    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.
  •  

    JUST DO IT!

    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.

      

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    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.

      

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    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!

    FOOD TRIVIA

    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.

      

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