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Monthly Archives: September 2011

If you cook much, you’ve probably noticed that nearly every recipe, whether sweet or savory, calls for some salt. A pinch here, two tablespoons there, the mineral seems to make everything better. Bacon wouldn’t be nearly as ambrosiaesque if it wasn’t for its saltiness. Like sausages? Without salt they’d just be ground meat. The sweetness and complexity of caramel and chocolate are highlighted when some large grains of sea salt are sprinkled on top.

Like most Americans, I grew up knowing salt as something that came in a shaker that got liberally shaken over nearly every dish. Whenever that shaker was empty it was refilled from that iconic blue cylinder that has the girl holding the umbrella on it.

Once I started cooking for myself, I discovered that salt is a lot more complex that just salt. There was sea salt and kosher salt to be experimented with. Large granules of sea salt were put on green beans; nearly ruining the dish because I didn’t realize that sea salt is more salty that table salt. I now rub prodigious amounts of kosher salt on most of my meats, its delicacy working to bring out the flavors of lamb and beef.

Thanks to gifts and gift certificates my wife and I got at our wedding we were able to expand our salt collection. At the Springfield alternative grocery store, Food Fantasies, I found something almost magical while my wife perused the goat cheeses– smoked salt.

“It smells like burning leaves in the best way possible” was how Jamey described it after first smelling the stuff.

Sitting next to it was a pink Himalayan salt. “If we’re going to get one weird salt, might as well get the other,” I thought. I’m not sure how to exactly describe the stuff, but it is different. Maybe lighter than your standard table salt.

We’re still experimenting with how best to use the stuff.  Green beans and smoked salt? Pretty good. Throw a little of the pink stuff on roasted veggies? Don’t mind if I do.

Now I find myself seriously contemplating getting the book Salted: A manifesto of the world’s most essential mineral by Mark Bitterman. This guy is a salt apostle. Reading how Bitterman came to appreciate salt reads much the same way as Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus. A blinding light, a voice from above and both had been converted.

Bitterman now owns a store that sells nothing but salt, and it ain’t cheap. It might smack of the latest culinary gimmick; salt is NaCl, sodium chloride, no matter where it comes from, right? I guess. But say that about wine, olive oil or anything else that has a devoted following and you might be burned at the stake.

In the sample I’ve read from Salted, Bitterman argues that each salt has a unique flavor depending on where it comes from, much like wine. It’s the terra that gives each salt a unique flavoring. It’s an interesting concept, and one I’m more than willing to test.

We bought an abundance of apples for the wedding party, thinking that they’d like some healthy snacks throughout the day. Wrong. It seemed pumpkin beer was the snack of choice come mid-afternoon, at least among the groomsmen.

Having a relatively new and well-documented obsession with canning I decided to make something out of the apples that could be preserved. I’m not sure what to call what I made. It’s not exactly apple butter. It’s not exactly apple sauce. What it is is delicious. All measurements are adjustable to your preference.

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 apples
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • pinch o salt

Equipment:

  • peeler
  • knife
  • melon baller
  • cutting board
  • blender
  • cans, lids, funnel, all your standard canning equipment, if you want to can.

The first thing to do is peel the apples.

Next, you need to get the seeds and cores out. Cut the apple in half

I found a neat trick on the internet of using a melon baller to get the core out. It seemed to work just fine, though you need a pretty tough baller or else it’ll just bend.

Now the fun part, wielding the knife. Cut your halved and cored apples into pieces about the size of Lego bricks and toss them in the pot.

Add the rest of the ingredients, plus an extra shot of bourbon to replace the sip you took before adding it to the pot.

Bring the whole mixture to a boil, then turn it down low and go watch an episode or two of your favorite show. I generally let it simmer without a lid for 45 minutes to an hour.

Once everything is all soften and mixed up, add the stuff to the blender. (I totally forgot to get a picture of this step, but I’m sure you can figure it out.) Blend it until it’s pureed. Add it back to the pot, bring it to a boil and you’re good to go. It’ll last in a refrigerated airtight container for a few weeks. Or you could add it to cans, give it a 5 minute treatment, and it should be shelf stable for a while.

 

I got married, again, this weekend to my wife. It wasn’t a renewal of vows, or our anniversary. We first got married this summer in Carle hospital in an amazing and intimate ceremony. It wasn’t what we planned, but it was still great. What we planned happened this weekend at Hill Prairie Winery 30 miles north of Springfield

The wine was decent, the weather was good, and the ceremony and following celebration were better than I could have imagined. After Jamey and I exchanged vows and posed for pictures, we got to scarf down some pig. After this feast, eating pork any other way is going to be hard.

The smokey, fatty flavor soaked into each piece of meat was delicious. The sauce was good too, and all to easy to drown the pork in. Everyone seemed to really like Hickory River’s production, and they were great to work with. Beyond the centerpiece there was cornbread, scalloped potatoes and green beans.

For dessert we had 16 dozen cupcakes from Cafe Moxo. My personal favorite was the PB & J.

We also had Pumpkin, Apple Spice and Chocolate Bombe. All were good.

Now we face the great problem of eating the leftovers. Forget diets, forget calories, forget waistlines. We’ve been feasting on some combination of pork, cornbread and cupcakes in every meal since. We’ve frozen 15 pounds of pork and I’m not sure how much cornbread. We’re thinking about combing the two for cornbread dressing.

What we don’t eat we’ll try a give away. If you are in Springfield let me know if you enjoy cupcakes or Hersey Kisses and I’ll try to hook you up.

Be on the lookout for posts brought to you by our array of wedding gifts.

*Thanks to Monique Garcia and Raw Sugar Photography for the pics.

Twenty years ago I would have been publishing this on paper and mailing it to each subscriber. If you don’t think I would have gone to that trouble, there are several readers who can attest to my attempt at a mailer several summers ago.

If you’re not a hoarder of words on paper like I am, you would have likely pitched the newsletter and it would have eventually wound up in a landfill. The internet has certainly cut down on that waste, but according to Illinois Issues*, in recent years the economic downturn has helped Illinois be more green.

[O]ne industry expert said the recent dip in waste production could be an indicator of the state’s economic woes. “I think for the time being, we’re fine. The economy has not been booming, so we haven’t seen a big increase in waste production,” said David Hartke, president of the Illinois Counties Solid Waste Management Association. Hartke noted that the amount of waste going into landfills has dropped every year since 2006, and he said it is directly related to residents’ levels of consumption.

Less waste means less landfills means more undisturbed land, which is always a good thing. If the land is able to dodge the bastardization known as suburbia, it could even be used for agricultural, MAYBE even sustainable agriculture.

Even if that’s not the case, people being more conscious about what they buy and what they pitch is always a good thing.

*The blog was written by my wife, Jamey Dunn-Thomason. Nepotism? Nope, just a link to an interesting article.