Archives for category: Food Philosophy

One more from the Mother’s Day file:   In considering a simple hearty side dish, I wanted flavor and color without a lot of carbs or fat.  Zucchini season is approaching  so it’s an easy find in most farmer’s markets and produce aisles.

Shopping Tip:  For the best tasting and lowest priced produce, always choose something at peak season and farmed locally. Check out this cool website to find out what’s growing in your area: Sustainable Table
Recipe and pics after the jump…
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I recently took a trip to visit an old friend. Despite the time apart and distance, it was nice to see that we still have some common interests. As the author of the excellent Kitchen Courage, the lady knows her way around a plate, and it was wonderful to go someplace I’ve never been. We walked and ate and chatted and giggled our way through the Bitterroot Valley with the occasional husband in tow and meeting new people along the way (Hi David from Chicago!).
Many thanks to B and J for your kindness and hospitality,

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Don’t be surprised if a number of these items re-appear with at StY twist in the next few weeks. I’m inspired 🙂

Warning: This post contains all manner of consumer economics / retail design nerdery.
I love grocery shopping. LOVE IT. Like, way more than I enjoy clothes or shoe shopping. The first person to merge a bookstore with a farmer’s market will be rich because I’ll be there all the time.
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Photo Credit: The American

So I had a lovely Birthday/ Easter dinner with family yesterday, and did a bit of showing off of this here blog. In looking through recipes Dr. Auntie asked a completely valid question: why kosher salt vs. table or sea salt, and what’s the difference. It was a good question, one I didn’t know the answer to.
I don’t like not knowing. It makes my head hurt and my fingers twitch and I kind of flub and fluster my way through until I can make a mad dash to reference material. Luckily, there are people who know such things and are here to teach us.

Here, Let Me Google That For You.  I highly suggest this article from GourmetSleuths which explains the magical world of salts better than I ever could. It also explains why salt substitutes are nasty: they’re potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. Completely different and super gross chemical compound. Go read it, then come back so we can chat.

There are the most common salts; Iodized (aka, Table Salt), Kosher, Rock, and Sea. But then things start to get fancy. Ya’ll know I like Fancy. The first hint that I was missing something special came from this completely charming interview with Christina Hendricks of Mad Men. She makes goat cheese pizza! She watches Top Chef (and just last week got to judge on Top Chef Masters)! She throws dinner parties!  #girlcrush

Christina Hendricks: “Well, he’s kind of the bread guy. He’ll make cheese loafs or Nutella loafs, and, you know, he uses Sel Magique at the end of it, which is this wonderful fleur de sel with herbes de Provence that he puts over the top of it, and it’s mouthwatering. ”

Me: “I don’t understand what’s happening in that sentence but I WANT it! ”

I stand by what I said about salt not being a flavor in and of itself, but I will amend that statement by saying that it can carry and impart additional flavors in addition to enhancing what is already there. New project: gourmet salts (See what’s you’ve started? ). I have exactly 8 months to perfect before next Christmas.

Note: I started this post like 3 months ago but I didn’t want to post another Fun Failure so soon after the Pumpkin Ice Cream Incident. In the meantime I’ve had a chance to redeem myself, so hold on to your hats, this is a long one. Skip to the end of you just want a recipe for a good appetizer / snack.

The first time we discussed Style vs Substance I talked about the importance of food looking good when plated and especially when photographed. Today we’ll talk about the flip side, developing flavors.

A few weeks ago there was canned crab on sale. Being a rather impulsive shopper I snagged a can and picked up a few extra items over the next few weeks until i had the makings of one of my favorite foods, Crab Rangoon. A properly made crab rangoon is magic; you get the crunch of the wonton wrapper yielding to the soft velvet of warm cheese, the tang of scallion and soy cutting through the slight sweetness of crab meat and cream cheese.

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I adore Anthony Bourdain, he’s unflinchingly honest, sometimes to the point of brutality, and his innocent mistakes can reveal how beautifully messed up in the head he is. I found one such mistake in one of his Top Chef blogs (I’m searching desperately for it, link coming) in which he misquoted Nigella Lawson as saying that Sugar, Salt, and Fat are the Holy Trinity of flavor. Close, but not quite Tony. Dear Nigella said that Sugar, Salt and Fat are the UNholy Trinity of Flavor. A small but careful distinction that acknowledges that any excess of the three can be dangerous to your health, your palate, or both.

I just finished making truffles (Yes, I know it’s almost 2am but it’s a project I started almost 3 weeks ago and couldn’t put it off any more). Chocolate is a great example of the elements of flavor coming together to create perfection, and when things go wrong, a terrible mess. This was my first foray into vegan candy making, and I swapped out heavy cream for coconut milk. The taste was excellent, a deeper true-er chocolate flavor but I failed to take into account that the lack of milkfat would cause the ganache to set too soft to roll. Fat (be it from dairy, animal, fruit, or nut) serves a purpose, in that it helps bind other elements to create new textures and flavors, and helps flavors cling to your tongue so your tastebuds have time to engage. But fat is not a flavor unto itself. Let me say it again, it’s important.

FAT IS NOT A FLAVOR

The nastiest thing i’ve ever seen was Paula Deen eating butter flat-out. And one of the nastiest things I’ve ever eaten was a crab rangoon with fat-free cream cheese.  All things in moderation, Friends.

Now, regarding sugar. That’s a bit more complex but the basic idea is the same -sugar is not a flavor, but an enhancer, an element. When used properly it highlights the quality of whatever it is in / on. Find the closest piece of chocolate. G’head, I’ll wait….

Back? Cool. Can you taste the grit of sugar on your tongue, between your teeth? Does it crumble as you chew? Spit it out, it’s shite!

Next time you’re in a grocery store and buy chocolate at the register instead of in an aisle, know that i’m judging you harshly.

Proper, high quality dark chocolate  should melt smooth in your mouth and be difficult to break by hand – that’s a sign that it’s got a high cocoa to sugar ratio, has not been exposed to moisture, and has been properly tempered. Sugar serves to make the natural bitterness of cacao more palatable. American chocolate tends to be excessively sweet. Mexican chocolate has a more coarsely ground nib and often adds spices, resulting in an intense flavor that works equally well in sweet or savory dishes. Good chocolate doesn’t have to be expensive;  the stuff I use for the truffles I get from the dollar store. Budget delicious FTW!

Finally, on to salt. I’ve just started using sea salt and haven’t decided if I like it yet. The taste is too intense, too…. salty. I also have kosher salt, seasoned salt, and adobo, which, yes, is mostly salt with some onion and garlic powders. I try to use them all sparingly and appropriately and have barely made a dent in the supplies i bought when stocking my kitchen 3 years ago.  Sea Salt especially seems to be the new ‘thing’ in confectioneries. By nature it’s not easily water soluble and adds a sharp contrasting flavor and crunch to the chocolate I directed you to just a paragraph ago. It started as a gourmet pairing but just last week i saw Lindt offering it’s own Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar in the supermarket. This is in direct contrast to my personal opinion that salt is not a flavor and many people confuse salty with savory. If you taste salt first and foremost after you’ve added to any food you’ve gone too far. It’s about developing layers of flavor, and about creating the chemical reactions with the food. Example: Kosher salt + onions + low heat = caremalization. The salt draws out the water, leaving only the intense natural sugars of the onion.

Next time you’re cooking and think “hmm, this needs salt” add 1/2 as much as you ‘re inclined to, then add acid. Citrus (juice or zest), vinegar; it can draw out the existing flavor and help your brain recognize the salt that’s already present.

In short. sugar, salt, and fat are all necessary but all alone are not delicious… they just make other things delicious.

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