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Reader Service: Reasoning & Seasoning

December 14, 2012

Happy Friday! It seems like a long time ago that I would send you into the weekend with some kind of tale of booze or cocktail thoughts. Even further back was my relatively brief foray into wine writing on the FLB. One day the wine stuff may come back. Maybe France will reignite my passion for the juice.

Originally, I had today slotted out to write about the new Ironweed bourbon. I’ve been on some meds and haven’t cracked open my bottle from batch #2 yet. But I thought I could power through a small glass of the stuff and write down some formal impressions.

As it turns out, there is no more Ironweed bourbon. It’s all sold out. Congratulations to the Albany Distilling Company on yet another product that they didn’t capitalize fully. I’m mostly teasing. Theirs is a small, expensive operation. The partners spent a lot of capital on that still, and they still have product just sitting in barrels that’s not ready to be released yet.

Anyway, there is no rush to get that story out now. I kind of missed the boat. Drat.

However, I’ve been charged by two separate readers today with requests to help them achieve their goals of improving food. The first is to improve food more broadly upstate, and the second is more narrowly in her own kitchen. Hey, I’m here to help. And maybe you have some thoughts too.

One Hand Washes the Other
For the past three years I have engaged in a quixotic effort to improve the results of the Times Union’s annual reader’s choice poll. Maybe you remember hearing about it. Anyway, in the past I felt it was successful around the edges. But this last year we had a couple of notable wins.

None of that could have been achieved without the support of readers like you.

During the campaign I asked everyone not just to vote, but to pass along my message of hope and change, and ask friends, relatives and colleagues to participate as well. The only reason I mention this now is because I was just asked to do just the same by someone who I know supported the effort of the FUSSYlittleBALLOT. And that’s just what I’m going to do.

Today the poll is for the Local Hero Awards at Edible Hudson Valley. And it was Britin at All Good Bakers who is promoting the below slate of people and businesses:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=mnxWEiv7yCPKSHT5dL5vnQ_3d_3d

Chef, Nick Foster
Food Shop: The Cheese Traveler/ Tilldale Farm
Farm/Farmer:Farmer Jons
Food Artisan, Katherine Harang Hunter, Three Smiles Kitchen, seitan creations
Beverage Artisan: The Albany Distilling Company, Inc.
Non Profit: Capital District Community Gardens

Honestly, I might make some different choices if I were to vote my conscience. But I have no intention to do so. I’m going to vote straight down this whole slate.

Why? Well part of it is loyalty and quid pro quo. But the other, larger part is that the Capital Region is far too often left out of consideration when referring to Hudson Valley. And I get why that is. But we’re really starting to get some great places up here, and dammit, they should be recognized more widely in the towns and cities to our south.

Much like the Times Union poll, if we all voted our conscience, our excellent individual choices would split the vote. As the Capital Region, we are already underrepresented in the readership of Edible Hudson Valley. So it’s even more important that we all join hands and vote as a cohesive whole.

Are you with me?! Vote now. Awesome.
Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Oh, and today is the last day to vote. So don’t delay.

Salt. Taste. Repeat.
Yesterday I got an email asking how much salt I would use if a soup recipe that starts with  three quarts of water says, “Salt to taste.” The whole email is short, so I’ll share it in full below:

“I made a different borscht recipe recently and it was great except for the lack of salt at the end. It starts with making a broth out of three quarts of water, soup bones, celery, onions and carrot before I add shredded cooked fresh beets and pickled beets. I have exact amounts for vinegar, but the recipe just says salt to taste. How much would you add in the beginning when making the broth? “

My answer isn’t terribly satisfying because it’s, “Depends.”

Really, I need to know a bit more about the recipe and the techniques it calls for in order to better answer the question. However, this does serve as a great reminder to talk about the importance of salt and cooking, especially around the end of the year when many people venture into their kitchens for the first time in 364 days.

The secret of delicious restaurant food is salt and butter. Chefs use more of it than you use at home, and as a result the food tastes better. Getting the hang of seasoning isn’t rocket science. But it does take patience and practice before one gets proficient enough to eyeball the salt needed at each stage of a dish.

There are a couple of things that can set you up for success.

1) Stick to one kind of salt – preferably kosher
Different salts have varying degrees of intensity and different crystalline structure. So changing up between two different salts (unless a recipe specifically calls for one kind) is just going to foul up your learning curve. Plus kosher salt is a bit more forgiving.

2) Keep the salt out in a bowl by the stove
Then it’s always there. At the beginning you can use a small measuring spoon – say a half teaspoon. Use that to measure the salt into your cupped hand. Learn what a teaspoon looks like. Six of those half-teaspoonfuls is a tablespoon. But you want to have the salt handy, because you should be adding more salt as you go. Unless I’m fastidiously following some recipe, I don’t measure salt, but rather add it by the pinch at each stage of cooking a dish.

Remember, salt added at the beginning and during the cooking process deepens the flavor of a dish and helps bring everything together into a cohesive whole. Undersalted food can be salted at the table, but it’s not nearly the same thing.

The critical piece is to taste as you go. When done right the food shouldn’t taste salty, it should simply taste more like the thing that it is. And remember that it’s a lot easier to add more than it is to take it away.

As far as this reader goes, she’s going to send me more of the details of the recipe, and I’m going to try and help her work out the specifics. Because this is what I’m here for, making the Capital Region more delicious, one person at a time. Seriously. If any of you need help with food or cooking just let me know. I’m happy to lend a hand.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2012 10:44 am

    You’re the best, DB! My slate is admittedly filled with my personal favorites and deliberately self-serving. I too think the CR needs to be included more in HV publications/general awareness! I forgot to add that after the Chef’s name, you’re supposed to enter their place of business, so if you choose to vote, make sure you add AGB or your restaurant of choice after the Chef’s name. Thank you, Daniel, and FLB readers!

  2. Debra permalink
    December 14, 2012 12:25 pm

    Done! Voted – but didn’t read about entering the restaurant name until too late – sorry Britin.

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