Friday, February 15, 2013

Kosher Salt!

My "Salt Pig", always sitting by my oven
filled with Kosher Salt!
Many of you have probably seen me list "Kosher Salt" as an ingredient in (practically all) of the recipes I've shared with you.  It is definitely my preferred version of salt to use while cooking. (I generally do not use it when baking.  Not because it doesn't work, but because most baking recipes are fine-tuned formulas based on the use of granulated table salt, so you don't want to mess with that unless you're a professional baker!)  At any rate, if you've never used kosher salt in your savory dishes before, you are probably wondering "What is the big deal?"  I'm excited to tell you about it, as well as where you can find it here in Mexico City!

First things first, Kosher Salt did not get its name because it is "kosher".  It is actually the salt used for the koshering process, which is the preparation of meats according to Jewish dietary laws.  Due to its coarse shape, it draws out blood when sprinkled on meat and it removes impurities.  So why do we used it for regular cooking?

1)  Kosher salt is relatively pure with no added iodine or other additives.  (In the U.S., we first started adding iodine to salt beginning back in the early 1920's as a way to prevent goitre, a thyroid condition caused by iodine deficiency.  Iodine deficiency is still a huge problem throughout the world as it causes other physical and mental impairments as well, but our traditional diet in the U.S. and other developed countries is such that we receive enough iodine through our foods--like milk, potatoes, turkey, shrimp, fish and eggs--that most of us no longer need to supplement our iodine intake through salt.)  In addition to iodine, granulated table salt also often contains up to 2% of other additives, including aluminum, silicon compounds, silicon dioxide and magnesium carbonate, all of which are necessary to prevent the crystal surfaces of regular salt from absorbing moisture and clumping.  All of these additives are not only entering your body, but also don't dissolve readily, affecting appearances (such as in brines), as well as contributing some undesirable tastes.

2)  You actually need less kosher salt than regular table salt to achieve the same level of flavor in your dish.  The biggest reason for this is the salt's shape.  Because it is fragile, hollow and pyramid shaped, it dissolves much more quickly in our foods, which is particularly helpful when you're seasoning something with a low moisture content like meat.  Kosher salt does an AMAZING job flavoring meat.  (And don't worry about moisture being drawn out by the salt; it's negligible, particularly when compared with the flavor the salt provides.)

3)  Kosher salt is very easy to use and dispense by the hand. You've seen chefs on cooking shows sprinkle their steaks with ease, right?!  It is very popular with chefs. 

Kosher salt is, in fact, the salt I most commonly used while studying at the Culinary Institute of America as well as while working at Fine Cooking Magazine for all of the reasons listed above.  I urge you to give it a try if you are hoping to take your cooking to the next level, and please let me know what you think!

This is what you're looking for...
So where can you get Kosher salt in Mexico City?  They sell Kosher salt at many of the grocery stores here, but most places only have small containers and the salt therein is much coarser than what I prefer to use, namely Mortons or Diamond brands.  If you're just looking to try it out, try these small containers first.  But since this is the main type of salt that I use (and because I cook so much) it is not economical for me to buy the small, expensive containers and I prefer the large 3-5 lb boxes that are very common in the States.  For this type of salt, you have a couple of options.  Locally, I have only found large boxes of Kosher Salt at one kosher-style store (although I've only really been to about five), and that is "La Selecta Kosher Style" located in Polanco at Julio Verne #90-H.  (Phones for delivery are 5281-1468/1390.  Email them here.)  They have a good selection of other Arabic and Jewish-style foods as well.  Also, living in Mexico, we have the good fortune of quick deliveries from Amazon and other online merchants, who will be more than happy to send you your beloved Kosher salt.  I like Amazon because I get free shipping, since the Kosher salt usually comes in large boxes!

Have you ever tried making your own pickles?  Kosher salt is a main ingredient.  Try it...it's fun!  This is especially useful if pickles are not readily available at your post for those of you outside Mexico City!


Homemade Pickles
Photo Courtesy of www.menshealth.com
  • 1 lb. cucumbers of your choice, sliced (smaller, seedless work best; in Mexico they're found at Costco or pre-packaged in bags at stores like Superama)
  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 1/2 oz (a heaping 1/3 cup) sugar
  • 4 fl oz (1/2 C) white wine vinegar
  • Dill/Dill Seed, pickling spices, garlic, crushed red pepper, chiles, etc. optional
  1. Combine the cucumbers, onions and salt.  Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. In a small saucepot, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar over medium heat.  Add any extra seasonings you're using.  Allow mixture to cool.
  3. Drain the cucumbers and onions and rinse.
  4. Combine the vinegar mixture with the cucumbers and onions.  Refrigerate until cold before serving.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Community Service Overseas

[Please pardon my departure from my usual topics of food and Mexico.  I wrote this post for The Hardship Homemaking blog, for which I am an occasional contributor and thought some of you might like to see it.]

Community Service seems to be a well-established expectation in the United States.  Many high schools now require a certain number of community service hours be completed each term, and many colleges are now looking for this sign of selflessness in their applicants.  But when we live overseas and aren't as familiar with the culture and its needs, how do we carry on that tradition of learning about the world around us and helping those in need?  It is a tall order. 

Here is a story from my friend Claire, who is living in Oman.  I want to share her ideas with you as she has inspired me to search for community service opportunities here in Mexico, in order to remind myself of and teach my kids values that I hold so dear.  Please share with all of us the way you've been able to give back to your community to inspire us all!


"When I first moved to Oman, I was slightly negative about the lifestyle here.  For instance, a lot of people don't pick up their trash after a picnic on the beach, there isn't a public library in the capital city, and drivers are reckless.  There are little to no recycling efforts here and that really bothered me because I'm so used to sorting out my trash back home in the States.  I would often find myself complaining to people, like a nagging Seinfeld-esque character, about how disturbing it was to dump out cans and paper everyday.  What I realized was that I kept on complaining and didn't do anything about it.  

So... I went online a few days ago and found ways to recycle paper and plastic bottles.  There are so many creative ideas and soon I'll be volunteering at a public Omani school, reading an English book to first graders, and making a recycled craft afterward (e.g. notepads, origami, papier-mâché, plastic bottle pencil cases).  I'll be borrowing the books from friends and using the recycled papers and bottles that I have collected.  During the craft lesson, I'll also speak to the kids about why we recycle and how we can be creative by saving paper and bottles.  There is value to these items and instead of buying new craft items, kids can "upcycle" what normally be thrown away."

                                             

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Our Garden (With No Help from Me!)

Just felt like taking some photos out in the garden today.  As many of you know, housing (and outdoor living spaces) are one of the big variables in Foreign Service life.  We are so lucky here in Mexico to have a great home and a small yard and garden.  We are incredibly grateful.  I am so excited that I have some calla lilies coming in!  These were a gift from our good friend, April, who luckily has a ton in her back yard and gave me some. I also had the gardener plant my poinsettias from the holidays in the backyard to see how they would do.  Hope you enjoy the photos...and full disclosure, I have a complete brown thumb so don't think this beauty has anything to do with my hard work!  I'm trying desperately right now to grow (and not to kill!) a whole bunch of herbs so I'll let you know how it goes...


Thinking of those in the Northeastern United States dealing with this big storm this weekend.  Sending you warm thoughts and prayers for safety and for your electricity to be restored.



Row of Calla Lilies...
only one blooming in this row...
In bloom...


Closeup of the other blooming Calla Lily (on the other side
of the garden)
Poinsettias







The Pug is certainly enjoying his garden...


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

City Market, Now in Santa Fe!

Many of you are already huge fans of City Market, but being "all the way out here" in Santa Fe, I had never been!  Well, they've finally opened one up here and I just got a chance to go.  I have to admit, it wasn't half bad.  I wasn't like a "kid in a candy store" per se, as there was not an astonishing amount of things I'd never seen in Mexico City before, but there were several things I was happy to find.  And you can't deny that they certainly do have a lot of "higher quality" items, although I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone needs a selection of over 30 types of foie gras....................

That being said, here are a short list of things I found there that I haven't been able to find anywhere else:
  • Bok Choy (previously only seen at Mercado de San Juan)
  • Amazing Cheese selection
  • Dr. Pepper Cherry soda (I know some of you are addicted!)
  • Dry-Aged Meat, aged in-house
  • Duck Breast ("Magret de Pato", a delicacy from the famous Maillard Duck, the same breed from which they make foie gras...I have since seen this in the freezer section at Chedraui too)
  • Fennel
  • Greek Yogurt (although it was Walnut/Caramel flavored)
  • Hot Chocolate, Ghirardelli Brand
  • Large selection of certified/stamped Kosher meats
  • Raddichio (have never seen it here, not even at Costco)
  • Rice Papers with which to make spring rolls and a lot of other Asian ingredients for sushi, etc.
  • Rice Pasta (great for those with Celiac's Disease)
  • Whole Wheat Flour and Gluten-Free Flours
  • Wild Rice (previously only seen at specialty kosher stores in Polanco, although finally saw it at Superama, too)
Still no fantastic tomatoes...and they keep all of their tomatoes (except the Romas) in the refrigerator, which is a big no-no and really disappointing. 

Their prices, however, on everyday items are not ridiculously exhorbitant as you might expect, and they have a truly fantastic bakery.  Their pan dulce, cakes, etc. are much better than what I've found at Chedraui or Superama.  Additionally, their coffee shop serves some amazing "mezclas" of coffee and everytime you buy a cup of coffee you get two free little pan dulces.  Not bad!  I definitely think I'll try out one or two of their "restaurants" in the near future...they have a "Bar do Mar" and a place selling "spiked tapas" called "Pintxos". 

Let me know what you think of City Market, and where is your favorite place to shop.  I have been doing a lot of research on pricing, and Chedraui is, surprisingly, the cheapest I've found so far, although Costco beats them out on many shelf-stable items.  Let me know what you guys think!