Tuscan Garlic & Herb Salt 

Herbs and Spices enliven your cooking without added fat. Simple herb salts like this one can play well with lamb, beef, chicken and pork. It's also terrific on roasted potatoes. Mix it into softened butter or olive oil to roast a chicken or sprinkle over barley. You're getting the picture, right? True utility player.

One of the best ways to perk up your cooking is with fresh herbs and spices. But what about dried? We always worry they’ve been kicking around the spice cabinet too long. Often, we are correct.

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Here’s a post with tips on various spice blends as well as links to some great resources. One of my new favorites, is inspired by Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s Splendid Table.

I call it Tuscan Garlic & Herb Salt. I use quite a bit less salt than her recipe calls for and it’s heavenly on a roast chicken (place a little with butter under the skin), with pork, or potatoes. It’s so simple to make, and your hands and house will smell divine in the process. Try it with these proportions and adjust to your own tastes.

The technique could not be simpler:

  • Take one bunch of fresh rosemary, one of fresh sage, about 4-5 good sized cloves of garlic and about 1/4 C of Kosher salt.
  • Peel the garlic cloves, removing any green sprouts (they indicate the garlic is a bit old and they’ll add bitterness.)
  • Pick the sage leaves from their stems, zip the rosemary leaves off their woody stems by pinching and dragging in the opposite direction from how the grow (tip backwards).
  • Give your garlic a few rough chops and begin adding herbs and salt. Chop, chop, chop with a good sharp knife, holding the tip down with one hand and bringing the handle of the knife up and down — much like one of those old school paper cutters.
  • Dry out on the counter on a cookie sheet for a couple of days or overnight in the oven with the light on/or if you have a dehydrating function set to low.

It’s done when it’s no longer moist. This time will vary depending on the method you use and where you live.

Store in a pretty little jar, or any old jar, but just try it. I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

Sparkling Cranberries, AKA "Thanksgiving Vitamins"

This is a fun and delicious holiday treat. They look beautiful around a large roast or cake, alongside cookies in a gift box or plate, and the only problem is how fast they go.

I got the basic recipe from Heidi Swanson, she of 101 Cookbooks. In the old IACP days, years ago when blogging was still new and a thing, I was introduced to Heidi. At that time, she was already a demi-god in the Pantheon of star bloggers. She greeted me so warmly, I'll never forget it. Just lovely. As are her cranberries. 

  • 2 C fresh whole cranberries
  • 2 C cider (love to use fancy stuff, or even mix of apple cider and water)
  • 2 C sugar

Rinse, stem cranberries. Place in heatproof glass container or bowl.

In a medium saucepan bring cider and sugar to simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. I add a few broken bits of cinnamon stick, a couple cloves. When syrup is smooth, remove from heat. 

When syrup has cooled a bit, pour over cranberries, cover and refrigerate over night.

To sugar them:
Get out two shallow bowls, place 1 C raw or large grained sugar in one. Place finely grained sugar in the other.

With a small strainer, dip into your cranberries, shaking off as much excess syrup as you can. Toss a small bit, maybe 1/3 C or so at a time into the large grained sugar. Shake bowl about to ensure they're covered. Place on lined baking sheet to air-dry.

After a couple of hours, return to the second shallow bowl and roll cranberries in the finer grained sugar. Return to the baking sheet to air dry again.

Reserve that spiced cider simple syrup. 

Use in cocktails (pairs well with Mezcal) or in a hot toddy. Use in quick brining chops.


Chinese Five Spice Nuts 

Ingredients: 

  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 TBSP + 1 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 4 tsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp 5 spice powder (use my DIY version: How to Make Chinese 5 Spice Powder here, includes coriander)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 C pecan halves
  • 1/2 C walnut halves
  • 1/2 C pepitas

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. Combine all ingredients but nuts in a medium saucepan. When sugar dissolves and begins to bubble, add nuts and stir until the nuts are thickly coated.
  3. Spread coated nuts on lined baking sheet.
  4. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp kosher or a large flake sea salt - bake for 8-10 minutes until crisp.

These nuts are perfect for cocktails, for back-to-school care packages, for holiday gifts. They also make an excellent topping for this Blueberry Wheat Berry Salad.

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Homemade Tonkatsu Sauce 

Tonkatsu is a Japanese fried cutlet, usually made from pork, dredged in panko and deep fried, it gets served with a sauce that is widely called "bulldog sauce" after the popular brand of tonkatsu sauce. Bulldog sauce or tonkatsu sauce is drizzled over the cutlets and the shredded cabbage that typically accompanies katsu. Think of American fried chicken and coleslaw as a rough analog. 

 

It's the winter-without-end here in Boston this year and one of the best things about winter is cabbage. I'm sure you hear that all the time. Seriously though, this time of year you can get some of the tastiest, sweetest, crunchiest cabbages. I can't get enough. Purple, napa, green, savoy...bring on the brassicas! Cabbages are loaded with Vitamin C, they're probiotic (which means they help your gut generate the good bacteria that supports immune health) and they're satisfyingly crispy crunchy with a bittersweet flavor that is a perfect foil to many of our winter braises. 

Coming off the Seafood Expo I brought home a salmon skin from a whole side of salmon we were sampling. Today's lunch was rice, miso soup, roasted crispy salmon skin with grated daikon, shredded cabbage and homemade tonkatsu sauce. 

 

This sweet and savory sauce is perfect for fried cutlets or something roasted or broiled. It would also be fantastic on a hamburger. Drizzle over cabbage and tomato slices for a Japanese "sarado" (salad). 

If A1 sauce and ketchup had a beautiful baby, it would be this sauce. With a tomato base, some fruit, some fish sauce, it's packed with umami. It's sometimes described as Japanese barbecue sauce but I've never seen it used that way here. Now that I think of it, though, could be great.

With any simple dish, the quality of the ingredients is paramount. Here I include the brands I like for reference. This has so much umami, I'm sure it would be great with regular supermarket brands, too. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C organic ketchup
  • 3 TBSP apple butter
  • 2 TBSP worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBSP Mirin (go with the best you can find)
  • 1 tsp Red Boat fish sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce (Kishibori is fantastic, check Dean & Deluca)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp horseradish (Bookbinders)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk to blend thoroughly. 
  2. Store in jar for a month or so, if it lasts that long.

Drizzle over cabbage, fried cutlets, serve on burgers. Maybe bake some chicken legs with this as a basting sauce.