Black Lava Salt

I got my hands on a very expensive packet of Black Lava Sea Salt from a specialty spice shop in Erfurt. At 4 euros 60 for 60 grams of the stuff, it is very pricey. According to the packet, it is harvested from the island of Molokai in Hawaii. All I know about Molokai was from Religion Class, that there used to be a leper colony there and the priest who cared for them and became a leper himself was canonized as a saint.

Apparently, this is just normal sea salt with activated charcoal added to it. It supposedly adds a nutty flavor to the salt.

I tried it today with hard boiled eggs, it added an interesting, sweetish undertone to the eggs. Does anybody have experience with this salt? I was told that it is excellent on steak.

What Makes Good Mustard?

mustard

 

My projects and obsessions seem to run a similar vein. I’m very interested in the processes of creating something. So thanks to David Leibowitz, I’m starting to experiment with making my own mustard.

I was lucky enough to get horseradish, which supposedly grows like a weed here but have yet to find, and a bag of mustard seeds.

I followed the recipe described in the link, except that I used apple cider vinegar mixed with honey, and used a stick blender to crush the seeds.

The result? First, I was frankly surprised at how much heat mustard is packing. My eyes watered at my first tasting. Second, I discovered why horseradish is added sometimes to mustard.

The spiciness of mustard seemed very one-dimensional to me. It hit a high note on my palate, then disappeared. Chiles, in compariso, burn the tongue even minutes after ingestion. Horseradish kind of “rounds out” the spiciness by adding depth to it.

It was used by the boy’s father on the grill and confirmed my opinion–that he has tasted better mustards.

Now what makes a good mustard? I already have a basic understanding why mustard is produced the way it is made. But I never really thought about what makes mustard great. I guess that is what I now have to find out.

Mediterranean-Style Roasted Chicken

If you are the lazy or busy sort, I’ve got the perfect, let’s impress the in-laws recipe for you: Roasted Chicken with herbs and Potatoes. Fairly typical recipe from Mediterranean countries like Italy or Greece, it is so easy you can make it up as you go along.

With this year’s herbs planted on my balcony, it was time for me to rid my shelf of last year’s dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary. What better way to get rid of them than Roasted Chicken? I bought a 400g packet of chicken legs and got to work, although to be quite honest, any kind of chicken part will do.

Peel four medium-sized potatoes, slice them into quarters. rub salt, pepper, and herbs onto the skin and into the nooks and crannies of the chicken. Place everything into an 8 inch by 12 inch pan. Crack some salt and pepper over the potatoes with a mill  Drizzle over 5 tablespoons of cooking olive oil on everything. Bake in a pre-heated oven in 200° C for 20 minutes, until the chicken and the edges of the potatoes turn brown. Enjoy the low-fat crispiness of the chicken skin on top, and the savory oil sauce that emerges from the bottom.

Easy Pasta and Pear Salad

Living in a household where half of the one-and-a-half would have noodles with tomato sauce every day if he had his way means that I have to deal with a lot of leftover pasta. Thankfully, unlike rice and potatoes, you don’t need to re-heat or cook pasta to make it palatable.

I have always had good results using Nigella Lawson’s Mortadella Pasta Salad, but I didn’t have any Mortadella. Scrounging up stuff in the kitchen, I was able to whip up something just as good based on Nigella’s recipe, using leftovers and the Italian parsley growing on my balcony.

For a single serving, use 150 g cold, leftover fusilli pasta.

The dressing: 2 Tablespoons good-quality extra-virgin olive oil for salads, 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt or Maddon salt (if using sea salt or table salt, add more. I agree now that sea salt just isn’t as salty),  1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard (I confess, however, that I always have Gaumenfreude’s wild garlic infused mustard in stock. I swear by their stuff. Buy local!), a spritz of lemon.

To fill your pasta,  cut a slice of ham into squares, half a pear, diced into chunks, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese flakes (easily done with a potato peeler), 1/2 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley, either the curly or flat Italian variety, and pepper to taste.

Mix the ingredients of the dressing in a bowl, and scramble it with a fork. Add the noodles and all of the ingredients, then toss. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper according to your liking.

It is the perfect light lunch. The saltiness of the salad is balanced well by the sweetness of the pear, and rounded by the olive oil. Great for potluck parties. Guten Appetit!

Sugar

Although I’ve been baking for years now, I have to admit that until a few months ago, I was still completely confused as to the different sugar varieties out there.

Muscovado sugar is quite easy to distinguish from brown sugar, and brown sugar is also easy to differentiate from washed sugar.

But how about Caster sugar vs. Confectioner’s sugar? I completely thought that it was the same thing until I educated myself on different sugar varieties in Germany. (link in German)

As it turns out, it isn’t. Let’s start with Granulated White Sugar

Granulated Sugar, also known as Raffinade Zucker, is normal sugar for our everyday needs. It is used for coffee.  It can also be used for baking, provided that you’re not baking something where the sugar needs to dissolve fast, like meringue or any recipe that states you cannot stir it too much. In Germany it carries the code EU Qualität I.

This is Caster sugar. It is also known as baking sugar, Backzucker, and Feinster Zucker. It is used in recipies where you couldn’t stir the mix/batter too much. Südzucker and Nordzucker sell it under the name Feinster Zucker. It can also be created by blitzing normal granulated sugar in a food processor for a few minutes.It is categorized as Raffinade EG Kategorie I.

Confectioner’s sugar, Powder sugar, Icing sugar is known in Germany as Staubzucker or Puderzucker. Used for making icing or decoration.

I’m glad I’ve been able to clear this up for myself! I hope this helps someone out there.

Newsflash: Bitter Aftertaste in Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Good For You

I got this bottle of olive oil in Italy. I got it at an Aldi rip-off across the street from my Italian apartment. A tag at its neck, since discarded, proudly proclaimed that it was unfiltered, and is from this year’s harvest.

I was skeptical. After all, Aldi rip-offs are not known for selling good quality products, especially if the fresh goods section was anything to go by. It was also very cheap. a little under 5 € (4.39) for the bottle.

I opened the bottle when I got back to Germany, and felt that my suspicions were confirmed after tasting a teaspoonful of oil. It had a bitter, then peppery aftertaste a few seconds after swallowing upon reaching the back of my mouth. This taste and sensation has never come up in my years of olive oil buying. I am very particular about olive oils, so it felt like a disappointment. It felt like a rip-off. I got what I paid for.

This bothered me enough to do some research. it turns out that this sensation and taste is completely normal!

According to this website:

There are many attributes of olive oil that indicate poor quality like being rancid, fusty, musty or winey; but having a bitter sensation on the tongue or a back of the throat sting, is not one of them. In fact, it is one of the best indications of an extra virgin olive oil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory value. It is the flavenoid polyphenols in olive oil that contribute to a bitter taste and resistance to oxidation. These polyphenols are strong antioxidants and have been shown to provide a host of beneficial effects from healing sunburn to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of coronary disease.

 

The website also cites a Science Daily article stating that the anti-inflammatiory properties of extra virgin olive oil is at par with ibuprofen. It also says that this bitter aftertaste is a mark of high-quality oil!

Grudgingly, I may have to add this brand to “the list.” I keep a list of good olive oils that I have bought through the years. But that is another blog entry.

 

Re-thinking Salt

Remember when I said that I don’t get salt? I may have to eat my words.

I used pink Himalayan salt in baking these chocolate crinkles. Crinkles are basically butter, flour,  caster sugar, with a bit of salt, rolled in powdered sugar.

I bake them every year. This year I definitely noticed an increased saltiness in these cookies, even if I use the same recipe year after year. It added a nice, salty dimension to the sweet cookie.

And since using this salt, I don’t need to use vegetable or chicken boullions anymore for making gravies, since the saltiness of Himalayan salt is enough.

I really still am learning how to cook!

Vanilla Sugar or Vanilla Extract?

So, we’ve been beset by Christmas cookie baking season. I’m also late in the game, and I plan to change that this weekend.

I grew up in the Philippines using Vanillin, which is artificial vanilla extract. It is quite ironic, since we could grow vanilla in the Philippines. I used it to bake cookies, to flavor drinks.

In Germany, I was able to get my hands on the real thing, at Xenos, of all places. Xenos is a Dutch-owned chain that sells cheap, classy looking Chinese crap (excuse my French, but products aren’t really great), and some exotic food items.

However, Germany is not vanilla extract land. Over here, they use vanilla sugar. in fact, vanilla extract is hard to find in stores in Germany. Over here, vanilla sugar reigns!

Ever since I found a super recipe for making my own vanilla extract, I’ve never looked back. Reformhaus in Germany doesn’t tempt me anymore with its overpriced vanilla extract. A vial of good vanilla beans with 2 pieces in it can set you back 5 euros, way cheaper than 7 euros for 100 ml of vanilla extract. This is literally the never ending vanilla extract. It will last you for years. So when I bake American, I use vanilla extract.

But since I developed full-blown baking fever in Germany, I also have a lot of German recipes that use vanilla sugar. I think this is a great option for people who can’t eat/drink anything with alcohol in it.  I don’t understand why so many people buy vanilla sugar in those 50 g packets, when making your own is so much more cheaper! Many people make their own vanilla sugar by throwing in two vanilla beans in an airtight container full of sugar, but I prefer Jaime Oliver’s recipe.

In Jaime’s book The Naked Chef, he recommends blitzing 4 vanilla beans in a food processor, scraping the black gunk from the sides, and adding 1 kg of white sugar. Blitz it again and sieve. Blitz what remains in the sieve again in the food processor until you get a brown-grayish mass.

Since I have the option of using both, I normally use vanilla extract AND vanilla sugar in my  recipes. wasteful, yes but worth it. 🙂

Himalayan Salt

As cooking fads go, perhaps salt is one of those most basic ingredients of cooking where aggresive marketing, rather than actual science determines its uniqueness (in my perception).

In the market nowadays, the variety of a chemical is so mind-boggling that I sometimes wonder: is NaCl not just NaCl? or maybe NaCl idodide?

One of the trends in German kitchens these past few years is the use of Himalayan salt as a chi-chi gourmet ingredient. According to Wikipedia, there are trace minerals in Himalayan sea salt, but in negligible amounts. Mined in Pakistan, it is mostly pink or orange in color. It is also more expensive than normal salt.

Why? Isn’t Nacl also just NaCl is NaCl? Nowadays there is iodized salt, sea salt, kosher salt, Maldon salt, Himalayan salt, and in the INOGA food fair, there were people selling Kalahari desert salt for 7 euros per 500 g. 7 euros for a freaking bag of salt.

My son’s dad said that Himalayan sea salt tastes more like Maggi seasoning than normal table salt. To be quite honest, I don’t share his opinion. A salt by any other name tastes just as salty.