Great Finds from 2011

There has been a tremendous amount of cooking and eating going on in the month of December. Now that the smoke has cleared, it’s a good time to pass along some of the food discoveries that improved my cooking in the last year.

J. Martinez & Company Coffee Roasters This boutique coffee roaster from Miami delivers estate coffees and their own excellent blends at reasonable prices. You can order Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee—the rarest in the world from two different estates. Yes, it is 50 bucks a pound, which is, of course, ridiculous. Until you taste it. For half the price you can get Jamaican High Mountain, which despite its name is just coffee. But really great coffee. There’s an excellent estate Kenya AA and Kona, and their private blends are well worth trying at 11 dollars a pound. Plus, you get to choose from 4 grinds and two roasts so you can order coffee just the way you like it brewed.

Marshalls Creek Spices Once you try spices from this small-batch packer you’ll never go back to supermarket bottles. It’s obvious from the moment that you open the box that these actually look like fresh leaves that are dried instead of flakes of unreliable provenance. The prices are actually better than premium spices at your local grocer and they have some blends that you won’t find anywhere else—including a few great mixes that have no salt. While you do pay for shipping, it is a single fee per order, so clear your shelves of your old spices (you should do it once a year anyway) and restock from this site.

Homemade yogurt Without sounding like a granola-cruncher, my sister turned me on to how easy it is to make your own yogurt. It is as simple as heating a gallon of milk to 180 degrees, cooling it to 130 degrees, stirring in 1 cup of plain fresh yogurt, and then dividing it up into Mason jars. I use 8 oz containers, but any size works. Place the closed jars in a cooler, cover with a bath towel and pour a kettle of boiling water onto the towel. Close up the cooler and open it next morning or after about 8 hours, and put the yogurt in the fridge.  If everything works right, you will have a thick custard-like product without additives. The better the milk, the better the yogurt; the longer it stands the tangier the result. Mine usually has a little clear whey floating in the jars; you can pour it off or stir it in. Add fruit or a teaspoon of preserves and it beats anything you can buy in a store at a third of the cost.

The Kobe Beef Store Wagyu Cattle are the source of the best steak in the world. If you know that the best beef in America is labeled Prime, then you should know that the Japanese marbling scale puts Prime as an 8 out of 13 levels, and Wagyu is labeled 1 through 5. The meat is also known as Kobe beef, named for the Japanese prefecture famed for the product. Raising Wagyu in the Kobe style calls for exacting techniques in feeding and handling—the cattle even get massages. Many ranches in the US have begun raising Wagyu, but the meat is ridiculously expensive—sometimes over $100 a pound.

I stumbled on this store on eBay of all places, and took a chance on an order. At $18 a pound it seemed like a worthwhile risk. And the product turned out to be the real deal. Individually sealed one pound steaks are perfect for two people. Now they have their own site, A ten pack of New York strips is $199. Sure, twenty bucks a pound is still plenty expensive, but once you try these, you’ll see they are worth the money. They also sell 10 lb packages of ground Wagyu that make incredible hamburgers and meat loafs.

Butter blanching This is so easy, I can’t imagine why I never tried it before. Blanching greens can help them keep their color, but go a step further, and cook them in a quart of boiling water with the addition of a tablespoon of salt and a stick of butter. Spinach, kale, mustard greens, even broccolini and asparagus will work great using this technique. Just dunk the vegetables in the boiling butter-water, cook until nearly tender (in the case of greens, it could be as little as thirty seconds, and drain over the pot.  You can add a few drops of olive oil or a squeeze of lemon to finish the dish, or a sprinkle of parmesan. It’s much easier than sautéing and scales up for a crowd better, plus the flavors are fresher.

Do you have any techniques or products that made your gustatory life better last year? I’d like to hear about them.

The Spice of Life

This image came in the other day from Florence Sumaray—one of the lucky people who attended the Launch Party and received a bottle of AURAS Spice Mix. Here’s one of the many uses for this versatile blend—sprinkled on popcorn, it adds a kick. The AURAS Spice mix came about as an attempt to create a less-salty and more sophisticated alternative to McCormick’s Season-All, and to balance the flavors of salty, peppery, floral and spicy. It’s a mix of salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, paprika, chili powder and lemon peel, along with a bit of cumin, allspice and cayenne pepper. The AURAS Spice Mix is great on meats and fish, and adds a zing to vegetable sautés. It mates really well with brown sugar to create salty-sweet rubs for chicken or pork.

People have found lots of other uses for the Mix. Add a 1/4 cup to a bottle of ketchup and create a new flavor sensation. Use it as a topping for deviled eggs, or mix it with sour cream to have with latkes. What other good ideas will you discover using the Mix? We would love to hear about all of them.

It’s pretty easy to make the AURAS Spice Mix yourself (as well as the Savory Spice Blend featured on the same page) but we were wondering if it might be good enough to sell as a product all by itself. Sure, there’s no mystery to the recipe, but it is nice to have it ready-to-go. Is this a product that’s good enough for Prime Time? I know it’s great with Prime beef.