Salt: Magic in the Kitchen and Beyond, Part 1

Salt is one of our greater gifts in the kitchen, an incomparable condiment, an everyday necessity and perhaps the most precious and valuable of our kitchen staples.

James Beard

Salt. One of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen. Salt. One of the most valuable commodities throughout time. Salt. It sustains most of the life on Earth and yet too much can be harmful or even kill us. Salt is a simple ingredient and yet it has so much power in the kitchen and in our lives. No wonder James Beard was so enamored of it.

Salt has been so valued throughout time because our bodies can’t live without it. The human adult male body is composed of as much as 60% water and the human adult female body is composed of as much as 50% water. We need that water but there is something that helps us retain it. Too much can be harmful. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mgs a day (1 teaspoon) and says that 1500mgs (just under 3/4 of a teaspoon) a day would be ideal for a healthy adult. And yet the average American adult eats as much as 3,400mgs a day. Cooking fresh, unprocessed food can help you significantly bring that number down.

In Ancient Times Salt was so valuable that it was traded as if it were gold.  Romans actually paid their soldiers in Salt instead of currency.  Some kinds of Salt, even today, are so special – Fluer de Sel comes to mind – that they can be as expensive as Caviar.  Some chefs carry Salt around in snuff like boxes so that they have it when they are eating outside their kitchens.

Salt has so many uses outside the kitchen but until the 19th Century it was used almost exclusively for the preservation and flavoring of foods. Traveling long distances, before refrigeration, by boat or horse made that necessary. Salt Cod and Pickles come to mind as prime examples of this.  Today Salt is also used in industrial settings such as de-icing roads, walkways and runways at airports. It’s also used in water treatment plants, pharmaceuticals such as Epsom Salts, glass making, ceramics and more.

Salt is a naturally occuring substance.  250 million years ago the entire planet was covered in oceans.  As those oceans dried up they left Salt deposits, now known as Salt mines or caves. In Europe large and elaborate mines were carved into these deposits – including chandeliers – for Emperors and Kings to feast in. Salt is still mined in these deposits.

You may have heard of Himilayan Salt.  Of course, there are no oceans in the Himilayas and yet it is still mined from ancient deposits.  Himilayan Salt Lamps are amazing.  They bring a special glow to a room and help with relaxation.  They are also air purifiers and help to reduce dust, cigarette smoke and pollen and they can even reduce the negative effects of looking at your computer, tablet or phone all day – but I digress….

Salt is still removed from the ocean.  Water is collected in pans and left in the sun to evaporate, taking several months, leaving the Salt behind.  The climate must be sunny and dry of course.  Fleur de Sel and Fluer de Gris are collected on the shores of France.  Celtic Sea Salt is collected in the same way on the shores of Ireland and Britian.

When Salt comes out of the oceans or mines it also contains minerals that are bitter in taste and need to be removed.  The minerals are removed at various degrees depending on the salt and where it comes from.  Fluer de Gris is called Gris – it’s gray in color because some minerals are left benind.  Table Salt is refined even more, leaving a fine texture and a bright white color.

Salt is mysterious, powerful and an essential ingredient in our lives.  In my next post I will tell you how and why to use it in the kitchen.  Follow The Urban Foodie so that you will be notified about all of my posts.

CREDITS

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, Penguin Books, 2002.

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Howard McGee, Scribner, 2004.

Kingdom of Salt: 7,000 Years of History in Hallsttat: https://youtu.be/Tvl3xzGMk8c
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Chickpea, Corn, Avocado and Dill Salad

I just invented a recipe that is so divine that I had to share it with you. I needed a little more fiber in my life and nothing does it for me like chickpeas – not to mention that I love them.

One of the ingredients in this salad is corn. Believe it or not, I actually use Frozen Corn Kernels. Some times it’s better to use Frozen Vegetables because they are flash frozen at the peak of freshness. The only Vegetable I don’t like frozen is Carrots. They always seem to have a fake taste to me. Probably because they are cooked prior to freezing. When buying Frozen Vegetables make sure that they are not previously cooked. If they are cooked they will turn to mush or taste fake when you cook them.

I recently discovered roasting Frozen Vegetables. So much better than boiling or steaming them. The water dissipates and the flavor of the vegetables deepens. For the Corn in this recipe I put Olive Oil on a sheet pan to make sure it didn’t stick. After I made sure the Corn Kernels were evenly spread on the pan I seasoned them with Salt, Pepper and drizzled more Olive Oil over them for flavor. Salt is important on Corn because it brings out the wonderful natural sweetness of it.

I was slightly inspired by Mexican flavors when I made this recipe because I used Lime Juice. Lime Juice and Corn are wonderful together.

I now am keeping this tasty and fun recipe in the fridge for a daily dose.

Chickpea, Corn, Avocado, Dill Salad

1 12oz package of Frozen Corn

1 large or 2 Hass Avocados – diced

1 large or 2 medium Red Onions – diced

116oz can of Chickpeas (Goya brand preferred)

1 bunch of Fresh Dill – fronds removed and chopped

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350º.  Brush sheet pan with Olive Oil and place corn evenly on it.  Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper and drizzle corn with more Olive Oil.  Roast for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Combine all ingredients and toss with Olive Oil and Salt and Pepper.

Enjoy!

Note: Store this in a tightly seeled glass container in the refrigerator and you can enjoy it for up to five days. The Avocado may melt into the salad which will make it have a wonderfully creamy texture.

Beautiful Salmon

 

Salmon with Dill, Lime and Rosewater Before Going in the Oven

 

We love Salmon. No matter how we make it we can’t get enough. It is a dark flesh fish so it’s anti-oxidant properties are amazing. Especially if you eat the fat and the skin. It is an excellent source of Omega 3s and not to many foods are as rich in Omega 3s as Salmon. When cooked properly the texture is so heavenly. You almost can’t go wrong.

Anything that you can do with Chicken you can do with Salmon. It has a firm texture without being too thick and it’s smooth and soft like velvet. Think outside the box when coming up with ideas.

One of my favorite ways to make it is with Lime and Dill. The last time I made this recipe I added Rose Water which gave it a subtle sophistication. We also love Salmon simply brushed with Teriyaki. Sometimes I’ll mix Dijon Mustard with Honey and just use that. Sometimes I’ll add Ginger and/or Teriyaki to the Honey Mustard and sometimes I’ll use Teriyaki with Chinese Five Spice. One of my favorite things to do is throw some Fresh Basil and Walnuts with a touch of Olive Oil in the Food Processor and create a pesto. Then I spread it on the Salmon. It does
Something amazing to texture.

Two things I do that are essential. The first is to cover a half sheet pan in foil and brush with generous amounts of Olive Oil. If you don’t do that that precious Salmon Skin will stick to the pan and who knows if or when it will ever come off. It may even burn to a blackened crisp. The second thing I do is to cut slits into the Salmon before putting the ingredients on it. It ensures that the flavor gets into the flesh and makes it more divine. Always, always, always season your proteins with Salt and Pepper. It really does make a difference. I’ll write another post soon on Salt so that you have a better idea of how and why to use it.

 

salmonraw
Salmon Before It Goes Into The Oven

Salmon With Dill, Lime and Rosewater

1.5lbs of Salmon cut into 1 1/2 inch slices

1 Bunch of Dill – leaves/fronds removed from stems

1 Lime – cut into wedges

A few drops of Rose Water

Salt

Pepper

Olive Oil – for the panPreheat

1.Preheat Oven to 350º. Cover a half sheet pan in foil, drizzle with Olive Oil and spread it around with a pastry brush.

2.Place Salmon pieces onto the pan. Drizzle each piece with a few drops of Rose Water.

3.Cut slits into the salmon, making sure that the slits are evenly placed but not touching the edges of the Salmon. (You can do this with a pairing knife in a stabbing motion).

4.Dust with Salt and Pepper.

5.Pack the Dill on top of each piece of Salmon and place the Lime Wedges on top.

6.Cook for 15 minutes. Remove Salmon from oven. Remove Dill and Lime Wedges from the Salmon and serve.

Serving Tip: Reserve the Lime Wedges from the Salmon after it’s cooked and place on the side and use some of the Dill for presentation.

 

TIP: If you are spreading Teriyaki or a sauce on the Salmon make sure you do it with a pastry brush and cover all sides.  If you are using Teryiaki there is no need to season the Salmon with Salt because the Teriyaki has enough salt in it.  Do use Pepper and put it on before you add the Teryaki.

Enjoy!

 

 

Simple Dessert ala Francais 

platedgalette
Last night I made a wonderful dessert inspired by Melissa Clark of The New York Times. It’s called a Galette and is like a pie but so much simpler and more delicious. My mouth is watering as I am anticipating a slice for dessert tonight.

I’ve made pies before but not as successfully. Getting the dough into the pie plate is always a problem. It was so simple to make the Galette that I had a hard time believing that it originated in France. Wow!

First I made a pie crust recipe from – yes – the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I often find that the basic recipes in this book solve my culinary problems. The original recipe is made with Shortening but I find that dividing it into half Butter and half Shortening makes it flakier and the Butter taste adds a richness to it. A nice Butter flavor. If you want the Crust flakier add more butter. If you want it less flakier add more Shortening. If you have access to (and your diet allows) Lard I understand it’s far above Butter and Shortening but I have yet to try it.

After I rolled out the Dough I put it into a sheet pan and rubbed a mixture of Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmeg into the Dough.

For the filling I used Peaches with a touch of Salt and Granulated Sugar. The Peaches were just slightly under ripe so adding the Salt helped to break them down. I used Salt here to help break down the Peaches and to bring out the natural sweetness.  More on Salt in another post.

After I put the Brown Sugar rub onto the Dough I arranged the Peaches on it, I folded the sides of the Dough over the Peaches, leaving a hole in the center. Don’t worry about your Galette being perfect. It’s impossible and, in fact, the more jagged or less perfect it is, the fancier it will look.  Leave it to the French to come up with something like this.

I brushed the Dough that was over the Peaches with an Egg Wash and sprinkled it with Sugar.  The Egg Wash gave it a nice browned look and the Sugar gave it a sparkle.  I wish I had Sanding Sugar in my cabinet – the grains would have been larger and prettier.  Not to worry, it looked amazing anyway.

After the Galette came out of the oven I served it with Butter Pecan Ice Cream.  The Galette must be served with either Whipped Cream – I always make it from scratch – or Ice Cream. I sprinkled the plate with Confectioner’s Sugar to give it something special.  In the restaurant I worked in we always plated desserts with Confectioner’s Sugar or Cocoa Powder or Cinnamon.  It always makes Desserts look professional and impresses guests.

One more note before I share the recipe with you. If I’m making a pie crust for a dessert – as a pose to a Quiche for example – I always add one Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract. It adds flavor to something that would otherwise be bland.

The Galette came out of the oven 40 minutes later perfectly cooked with a nice brown Crust – thanks to the Egg Wash. I plated and served it to rave reviews from my wife. In fact, she said it was THE best dessert she’d ever eaten. Fortunately, Galette can be made with any Fruit you can think of – although Citrus might be weird – so I will be making Galettes for years to come – especially in the Summer.

NOTE: The Pie Crust was made in my Cuisinart Food Processor with the sharp blades.  If you are making this by hand you will need a pastry cutter.  I’m writing it for the Food Processor though.

GALETTE

CRUST
2 Cups All Purpose Flour

1 Teaspoon Salt, plus a Pinch for the Peaches

1/3 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Shortening

1/3 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

4 to 6 Tablespoons Water

1/4 Cup Brown Sugar

1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmeg (You can add 1/4 Teaspoon Powdered Ginger if you like.  Be careful with the Ginger, it can be spicy).

1 Egg wisked

FILLING
3 to 4 Peaches Cut into Thin Slices

1/3 Teaspoon Sugar

Pinch of Salt

1. Put the Shortening, Butter, Salt, All Purpose Flour and Vanilla Extract into the Food Processor.  Pulse until it starts to come together.  Add one Tablespoon of Water at a time until the Dough forms little Pea sized Crumbs.  Put a large sheet of plastic wrap on your counter and empty the Food Processor onto it.  With your hands form it into a rough disk.  (Don’t worry if all the Crumbs don’t come together. When you close the plastic wrap it will.)  Put it into the refrigerator for 20-45 minutes.

2. Preheat the Oven to 400º. Roll the Dough out into about an 1/8th of an inch thick. Don’t worry about the edges being perfect.  Rough is better here.  Mix the Brown Sugar and Spices together to create a Rub and rub it into the Dough.

3. Toss the Peach Slices with your hands in a Bowl with the Salt and the Sugar. Place the Peaches in the center of the Dough – try to make a design but again, you don’t have to be perfect here.

4. Fold the edges of the Dough over the Peaches – it should leave a nice hole in the center revealing the Peaches.  Brush with the Egg and Sprinkle more sugar over it.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until golden brown and serve with Whipped Cream or Ice Cream.  Enjoy!

NOTE: Feel free to change up the Peaches for other fruits like Strawberries and Rhubarb or Mixed Berries.

 

HOMEMADE WHIPPED CREAM

1 Pint Heavy Cream

1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

2 Tablespoons Sugar – more to taste

Whip either in a Stand Mixer or with an Electric Hand Mixer until it forms stiff peaks.  Refrigerate for an hour or more – it will last over night.  Serve with Dessert of your choice.

TIP: Did you know that you can freeze Whipped Cream to make a delicious Dessert on it’s own?  You’ll have to eat it right out of the Freezer though. Defrosting it will give you a mushy mess of liquid.

 

White Bread Success!


I’m so excited. Even though I over proofed the dough I had  success with White Bread. I was too tired to wait for it to proof one last time and bake the dough in the oven. So I left it on the counter and went to bed. The rise was already very exciting…


Just as the recipe said. Almost an inch above the pan. Alas I should have put it in the frig for a slower rise. The dough had accumulated too much carbon dioxide which would normally be a good thing – because it is what creates the crumb inside the bread. It had popped through the top and my poor yeast had suffered from an overdose. The gluten had probably separated a bit. 

Not to worry. I took it out of the bread pan and kneaded it back to life, folded and shaped it again and put it back in the pan. I didn’t get as high a rise but I didn’t want to let my efforts go to waste so I baked it. 
It took 45 minutes just to preheat the oven. I put a sheet pan on the bottom and another on a shelf. When it came time to put the bread in the oven it had to be a precise dance. I quickly put the loaves in followed by five cubes of ice. I rushed to close the oven door because the point of the ice is to create steam. 

It came out 50 minute later looking beautiful and almost store bought but slightly better. I waited for it to cool 100% because if I had cut it right away it would have collapsed the crumb. Then I cut it and gave a piece to my wife. She’s my ‘taste tester’ and the look on her face was exciting and it was followed by a huge YUM!! Then a request for a second slice which she ate heartedly with strawberry preserves.    It was indeed “What Wonder Bread always wanted to be.”


I feel great! Like I could do anything, not only in the kitchen but in life. If I could make croissants I’d be home free. 

Sourdough Adventure: Starting the Bread

So I’m finally, finally starting the second phase of making Sourdough Bread which is mixing and fermenting. This should take up to 48 hours.  First I took The Sourdough Starter out of the refrigerator and took out 1/3 cup and put it in a bowl. Then I added more flour and water to feed what was in the jar. Before I can begin the bread the starter has to be at room temperature so I put the 1/3 cup aside. That’s where it is now. This bread, interestingly enough, is baked in a preheated cast iron Dutch Oven. That insures a wonderful crust and a beautiful crumb. (That’s the official name for that wonderfully chewy inside. Perfect for crostini. I can’t wait. 

While that’s happening I’m making another bread recipe from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Bread Bible. White Bread for toasting and making sandwiches. According to Rose Levy Berenbaum the review was “This is what Wonder Bread always wanted to be.” I can’t wait for it to finish. In addition to yeast and flour it has Honey and Skim Milk in it. The interesting thing is that you have to make a liquid base with Flour, Honey, Milk, Water and Yeast. Into that you add a mixture of more Flour, more Yeast and Salt. Then the dry mixture is gently sprinkled on top of the liquid base and set aside to ferment for one to four hours, kneaded and baked. The oven will be preheated with a baking sheet on the lowest possible rack for forty-five minutes before baking. It will produce a soft bread that is perfect for toasting  and slathering a spread on or making sandwiches. 

Always health conscious, I’m sick of buying and depending on what you can get in the supermarket or bakery. Besides the fact that very often you can’t decipher half the items that are in it, it may have seeds or nuts. My wife has an issue with her kidney and can’t have seeds. So we have to be careful. She loves Cinnamon Raisin Bread and can’t have Raisins. So I will eventually substitute Dried Cranberries for the Raisins. 

Stay tuned for the next few days because I will continue to share my adventure with you.