Take it with a grain of salt.

Salt. Some people are told by their doctors to stay far, far away from it. Some can’t eat anything unless the food is dusted in it. It has become a B-List ingredient as it’s usually haphazardly tacked onto the end of a recipe, “Salt to taste”.

These meager little crystals have earned a bad rap. While it’s true that too much salt in your diet may raise your blood pressure, there is a history behind it’s importance, and ways to use it as a flavor-enhancing and, believe it or not, nutrient-adding seasoning. As cute at the Morton’s Salt Girl is, you can do better.

It has been used for thousands of years to naturally preserve food. The ancient Egyptians used it to preserve mummies. It became something everyone needed, but only a few could mine and produce, so governments actually began to tax it! You can learn more about the history of salt in Mark Kurlansky’s book, appropriately titled Salt, A World History.

As this is primarily a cooking blog, I wanted to talk about why it’s important to switch from plain table salt to a less-processed kind. When I first began to cooking for myself as a teenager, I noticed many of my cookbooks specified using sea salt. I didn’t understand why this was of any importance, other than it looked a little fancier (and thus a little more expensive).

While the minerals that make up various salts are the same – sodium and chloride – the differences lie in taste, texture and processing. To put it plainly, table salt is highly processed and has been stripped of any minerals that it may have once contained. A basic sea salt is made by evaporating the water from which it came, leaving behind trace minerals.

It’s easy: If you are going to cook with salt, you may as well use one that has more nutrients.

If you have never seen “gourmet salts”, you are in for a treat. They do cost much more than table salt, but would make a beautiful gift for someone that loves to cook, or a nice treat for yourself. Different kinds have different flavors.

Hawaiian sea salt, for example, is dark red in color due to the addition of a volcanic baked red clay called “Alaea” which gives it iron oxide, and a mellow salty flavor. Smoked sea salt is black in color and is actually smoked over real wood fires to add that deep, smokey flavor to dishes – certainly a flavor that would enhance grilled veggies!

Sea salt can be purchased in the spice aisle of most grocery stores, and certainly at your local health food stores. A basic sea salt is not very expensive, so don’t let the prices of the gourmet salts deter you!  Get those minerals! And if nothing else, it makes you feel like a fancy-schmancy cook!

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For You, my Loves… Valentine’s gift ideas!

I’ve spent the whole morning organizing, cooking and shooting the very first video! Please check back in a few days to learn to make a beautiful Valentine’s Day meal.

Until Then…

I was cruising around Etsy.com  for some last-minute gift ideas, and found these lovelies. The best gifts are always homemade, but who doesn’t love chocolate or beautiful art? And remember: loving yourself above all else is a good enough reason to get a little something for you!

Let’s start with chocolate, shall we?  I absolutely adore savory chocolate, so this bottle of Cocoas Passion blend of chocolate and chili pepper makes me salivate. Mix some of this cocoa blend with the non-dairy milk of your choice for a yummy and hot (wink-wink) treat. From: Beyond the Grain $5.50

http://www.etsy.com/shop/BeyondtheGrain

Letterpress art is so graphic and beautiful! This gorgeous piece will hold it’s own even after the holiday has passed. Check out the rest of the shop for more equally adorable and sentimental posters. From: Roll & Tumble Press $20.00     http://www.etsy.com/shop/rollandtumblepress

Who doesn’t love a sexy, lip-lock kiss? You’ll probably get a lot more of them if you get this pretty necklace for your sweetheart. (Take a look at the custom pet-tags too! Pierogi would look so handsome with that rocket ship.) From: Ya Betta’ Supa Don’t $30.00     http://www.etsy.com/shop/yabettasupadont

Speaking of smooches, this gorgeous hand-cut silhouette art will always remind you of the sorts of kisses that are so good, you actually want to kick your leg out from behind you. Tina’s shop has many more papercuts, as well as using this image in a beautiful pendant necklace. From: Tina Tarnoff $70.00  http://www.etsy.com/shop/tinatarnoff

I’ll admit, I was searching for a gorgeous retro-inspired apron for myself when I came across these beauties. So cute, so kitschy, and also quite sexy in a very pin-up way. Imagine yourself wearing one of these babies with heels and just, like, mixing cake batter or vacuuming. I thought I read the price incorrectly, but no! they really are that affordable.  From: Apron Queen  $24.95  http://www.etsy.com/shop/apronqueen

Any hot, steamy beverages (it is Valentine’s Day after all, and most things tend to be hotter and steamier than usual) would do well to be served in this absolutely stunning work of art. This handcrafted ceramic mug has typewriter font and the circled letters spell LOVE. Abstract and practical. Be sure to check out the “wall pillows” in the shop for very unique wall decor.  From: Stepanka $34.00   http://www.etsy.com/shop/stepanka

As mentioned, I have a weakness for letterpress art. And like any sappy girl who grew up with the late 1990’s emo scene, I love romantic poetry. Here is a collection of three individual cards, each printed with a poem by Neruda, Creeley and cummings. These would be perfect as a framed collection, or to give to as sentimental, romantic gifts.  From: Lark Press $12.00   http://www.etsy.com/shop/larkpress

I suppose there are many things one can do with chocolate sauce. Dip strawberries, cover your tofutti ice cream sundae, eat it right out the jar. It is Valentine’s day after all, but I want to keep this a family-friendly blog. So anything else you can do with a yummy vegan chocolate sauce is up to you… From: Emmys Organics $6.99 http://www.etsy.com/shop/emmysorganics

There is something inherently cute and fun about regular objects or foods made into candles or soap. In this case, it’s the latter and it looks as delicious as it smells (don’t eat!). Chocolate and pink coconut cream puffs as SOAP made from all natural, vegan ingredients. Every order is a set of three. From: Verbena Custom Blends $14.00 http://www.etsy.com/shop/emmysorganics

Hurry quick if you’d like any of these gifts in time for Valentine’s Day!