Maldon Salt

When asked about her thoughts on using expensive gourmet salt,  Julia Child once responded, in her down to earth way, that “salt is salt.”   Well, she was right—to a point.  Sodium chloride, also known as salt, common salt, table salt, or halite, is an ionic compound with the chemical formula NaCI.  It is present in all types of salt—sea salt, rock salt, kosher salt, iodized table salt, etc.  Dissolved into a liquid, most salts taste much the same although sea salt has additional minerals, some table salt is “Iodized” by adding  a minute amount of various iodine-containing salts, which can theoretically change the taste.  When is Julia’s theory that all salts are basically equal not true?  In the finish…..

When using salt to finish a dish, the salinity is a given—you put salt on something to impart a salty flavor—but what you also give the food is added texture, crunch and visual appeal.  That is when all salts are not created equal.  My favorite salt to use to finish food is Maldon Salt which consists of crispy flakes of pure sea salt made since Roman times in the eastern coast of England.  According to their website, they have been operating out of the same traditional black Essex weather-board buildings as they did back in 1882, and Maldon Salt remains an enduring symbol of English manufacturing. It is one of only a few family-run businesses with a global reputation and its sights set on being around for another 200 years.  Because Maldon Salt is still hand harvested in the traditional manner, there will always be a limit to the amount that can be produced. Frequently production is outstripped by demand as its popularity with chefs grows.

There are other fine sea salts on the market: the French Fleur de Sel with its distinctive gray tint, the Portuguese Flor de Sal and a host of others all have devoted followings. I, however, have exclusively used Maldon salt ever since I was introduced to it in England years ago. My sister-in-law who lives only a few miles from the town of Maldon in Essex never sends a package from England without including a box of Maldon Salt (thank you, Rhonda!).  Unlike some sea salts that can actually be slightly damp, Maldon Salt is large, white dry flakes that can be sprinkled on whole, or crumbled between the fingers for a finer flake.

While I almost never use it cooked into food (after all, “salt is salt” and I’d hate to waste it) I love to use it as the final touch before sending a dish to the table.  A sprinkle of Maldon Salt over freshly roasted, balsamic-drizzled asparagus is delicious.  Similarly, freshly sautéed vegetables, pasta dishes, eggs and grilled meats all benefit from the crunchy texture and salty finish that a sprinkle of Maldon Salt imparts.  In England you can get pottery holders called “salt pigs” to hold your salt, keeping it fresh but handy—you reach in to the open pig’s snout to get to your salt.  Keeping with the British theme, I keep mine in an old ceramic jar from Boot’s and it always out on my kitchen counter. I should point out that I do not believe in over-salting food, preferring to leave that to the discretion of the diner.  Maldon Salt also comes in a smoked version.

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Edible Roasting Rack

What do you do with a stale baguette?  Use it has a roasting rack for a whole chicken.  Just tear up the baguette and put it in a roasting pan, place your chicken on top and roast.  The baguette lets air circulate under the chicken to roast it evenly.  You can also do this with potatoes and root vegetables.

Reynolds Wrap Release NON-STICK Foil

I love Reynolds Wrap® Release Non-Stick Foil.  It has a special food-safe non-stick coating. Reynolds Wrap® Release Non-Stick Foil is perfect for lining pans and freezer storage. I use it all the time, especially when I am catering large parties.  There is nothing worse when food sticks to the foil.  I also use it because I then don’t have to wash my pans!

No need to spray pans, just place food on the non-stick side (dull side) of the foil. Foods like cheesy casseroles and barbecue lift right off so there’s no messy residue to scrub off your pans. Frozen items easily separate.

Sfongo (Spinach & Potato Pie)

Kosher for Passover

This is a recipe from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food. The dish is served as a dairy meal accompanied by hard-boiled eggs for Passover. I must admit, my main motivation for posting this recipe today is to try out a new tip that I heard on Melinda Lee’s radio program this weekend. To squeeze the water out of spinach, use a potato ricer! Brilliant!

Sfongo (Spinach & Potato Pie)

Serves 6

2½ lbs potatoes
3 Tbs butter
½ cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1½ lbs spinach
½ tsp nutmeg
2 Tbs olive oil

Boil the potatoes in their skins until soft. Drain, cool, peel and mash the potatoes with a fork. Add the butter, milk, salt, pepper, eggs and 6 tablespoons of the grated cheese. Beat until well blended.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and drain the spinach and press dry. Cook over low heat in a covered, nonstick skillet for 1 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the nutmeg and mix well.

Use 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to grease a 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Use a spatula to press half the mashed potatoes into the bottom of the dish, layer in the spinach, top with the remaining potatoes, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and oil and bake for 50 minutes.

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

There are many ways to hard boil eggs.  I think my method is food-proof! 
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Put the desired number of eggs in a sauce pan, cover them with cold water.  Turn the heat on high until it’s boiling.  Let the eggs boil for 1 minute.  Next, turn off the burner and cover the pot and time it for exactly 13 minutes.  Put the eggs in and ice bath to cool and drain. 

This method ensures that the outer part of the yolk does not turn green, unless your name is Sam!

Keep on Truckin’

The new craze – gourmet trucks driving around Los Angeles.  They use Twitter to let their fans know where they can be found.   It’s happening in San Francisco, New York, Portland, etc.

I have been patronizing a certain taco truck in Pasadena for years.  I have been there at 2 am wearing a black tie dress and pearls eating tacos off the bumper many times.  This particular truck, which is called El Taquito Mexicano, is one of my all time favorites. My brother David has been a die-hard customer for years.  I have stained many a blouse at this particular truck!  They have wonderful al pastors and carne asadas.

I have often dreamt of owning and driving around in my own truck.  It would probably be an hors d’oeuvres truck, since it’s my favorite thing to eat.  I would also install a customized horn to alert potential customers – maybe The Girl From Ipanema or The Lady is a Tramp by Frank Sinatra.  Any thoughts?

Here is a sample of trucks that are driving around now….

Green Truck
A bio-diesel-fueled and solar-powered truck prepares organic fare.

Sprinkles Cupcake Van
Cupcakes…

Coolhaus
Organic hand-made ice cream sandwiches truck.

Don Chow Tacos
Mexican-Chinese fusion. Choose traditional carne asada or kung pao in your tacos or tortas truck. (Hey, Mexican and Chinese food  have no right to be mixing it up, in my opinion!)

Barbie’s Q
BBQ ribs or hand-pulled pork, chicken or beef in buns or tortillas truck.

Let’s Be Frank
Grass-fed beef hot dogs and brats from a bright red catering truck. (These are good!)

Marked5
Japanese-style burgers, as in exotic concoctions with a Japanese flavor piled on a rice bun truck.

Calbi BBQ
A Korean-Mexican BBQ truck.  (Another bad idea!)

Fish Lips Sushi Truck
Fresh sushi, specializing in rolls truck.

Dosa Truck
East Indian food focused on dosa, a crispy sourdough crepe made with rice and lentils filled with a variety of fillings from Indian to Greek to Italian truck.

Could we get any more esoteric here people?  I guess I need to start looking for investors or rent a truck for a weekend.  The only problem is that I would need a special truck driving license and I am not SETTING FOOT IN ANY DMV FOR MANY YEARS!

Baking Debunked

My daughter, Zoe, got this amazing book called Baking by James Peterson.  The book features over 300 recipes and 2000 illustrations.  Good technique combined with thousands of step-by-step photographs set James Peterson’s Baking apart from other dessert books. Unlike so much work done in the kitchen, baking demands perfect chemistry and precision, and Peterson provides the tools and recipes for homecooks to master this delicious art form.

I may even take a crack at it!

2010 Restaurant Menu Trends

This is from the  Food Product Design website.

Locally grown produce, locally sourced meats and seafood, sustainability, mini-desserts and locally produced wine and beer top the list of nearly 215 culinary items in the “What’s Hot in 2010” survey. Rounding out the top 10 trends are nutritious kids’ meals, half-portions, farm-branded ingredients, gluten-free/food-allergy conscious meals and sustainable seafood.

Balsamic Vinegar Glaze

Balsamic GlazeBalsamic glaze has become popular over the last ten years.  It is a fancy, schmancy way of saying reduced balsamic vinegar.  It is sometimes referred to as Balsamic Cream.

It is deliciously sweet and wonderful to drizzle on so many things.  You can put it on strawberries, ice cream, mozzarella & tomatoes.  It is available at Trader Joe’s, Fresh & Easy, Whole Foods and most gourmet type markets.