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SaltSo, you thought salt was salt, right? Well, all salt is still sodium chloride, but salt comes from different sources in the world and have different textures and subtleties of flavor. There are three main types of salt: table salt, pickling salt, and rock salt. A cheap non-food grade salt, rock salt comes in bigger crystals and is used to melt ice quickly when making ice cream or for clearing your sidewalk. Pickling salt is used to make dill pickles or other brine vegetables.  It is similar to table salt, except it will cake and clump. 

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Salt CellarSalt has been with us for thousands of years. The Egyptians used salt to preserve mummies 3,500 years ago, and the Chinese were using salt some 5,000 years ago for medicinal purposes.  Salt was used in pottery making, preserving meat and fish, dying cloth, and cleaning a variety of objects. Our grandparents knew that their livestock needed salt and provided large blocks of salt, called salt licks, for their cattle. Today, it has 14,000 known uses, including seasoning our food.

In various times in ancient history, salt has been used for currency.  In ancient Greece, slaves were bought with salt. Therefore, if someone acquired a lazy slave, it was said that the slave “wasn’t worth his salt.”

Salt also has been the cause of social unrest and even warfare. In England, British monarchs gained revenue for their treasuries through taxes on salt. These were often steep for a commodity that was so essential that made a loyal subject turn smuggler, bringing in shipments of plain salt. Even Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary War journalist and political activist, wrote of the high British salt tax shortly after the Revolutionary War.

In many cultures, even today, it is polite to offer guests bread and salt. Giving the bride and groom salt on their wedding day is considered good luck.

Salt ShakersSalt shakers were invented in 1858 by John Mason, the guy who invented the screw-top Mason jar.  He made little screw-top jars to keep salt in at the table and keep it from caking from the humidity.  But these were short-lived. Just over a decade later, salt was more finely milled and ceramic containers with perforations in their tops were invented.  In between these two salt containers, C. P. Crossman patented an agitator in his shalt shaker in 1871 that broke up the clumps that always formed so the salt would always be free-flowing.  Before these inventors, there were salt mills like pepper grinders, that ground up the salt into small bits.

The salt cellar, also called the open salt, was a special dish that held salt. These were bowl-shaped dishes without lids. As early as the middle ages in well-to-do households, the head of the house was given a salt bowl called a master salt with a tiny silver spoon. He would pass it around the table to his guests, and each would help themselves. This custom continued until WW II in some households, but has since passed by the wayside.

Today, however, you can still find salt cellars, but these now have lids. These salt cellars come in porcelain, glass, or wood, but aren’t usually placed on the table for service during a meal. They are used at the stove or on the counter so that modern cooks can grab a pinch of salt as they prepare food.

No, that’s not some obscure reference to the Revolutionary War. It’s a real proposal by the AMA. If this organization of doctors had its way, salt and the products that are made with it will come with a warning label, and sugary products will have an added tax. At the national convention this past June, the American Medical Association announced a manifesto against salt and sugar, two products that physicians have said contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. The AMA wants salt removed from the federal dietary guidelines as a safe food, equating it with saccharin and the cancer scare decades ago. These physicians also want restaurants to be regulated and monitored for the amount of salt added to foods during preparation.

True, Americans do consume too much salt and sugar, but to regulate these natural food additives as the government regulates tobacco and alcohol seems like overkill. Will that really keep Americans from reaching for the salt cellar at home, instead of the Mrs. Dash or stocking their fridges with soft drinks? 

Knife SteelWash your knives immediately after use to avoid food build up on the knife edge. Don’t put them in the dishwasher since the blade may become damaged. Handwash and dry on a soft towel. Do not store you knives in a drawer (unless it’s a knife drawer with a built in wooden block). Store your knives in a wooden block. An angled knife block makes retrieving the proper knife easier.
Avoid cutting food on hard surfaces like glass cutting boards. These can dull your knives quickly. Instead, use a cutting board with some give such as those made of wood or polyethylene.

Remember: A dull knife is a dangerous knife. Use a steel or diamond to keep your knives sharp. Each time a knife blade cuts through something, its edge is malformed microscopically. A few strokes of a knife across a steel or a diamond removes these microscopic bits of metal and re-establishes a sharp edge. Run your knives over the steel before every use. And, if you are planning a marathon cooking session and will be chopping veggies all day, use the steel often.

Chef Scott says: Avoid standard knife sharpeners, especially the high speed electric ones. These machines grind the knife edge down, making it thinner. Once the edge is honed in that fashion, it must be sharpened regularly. 

wine bottlesMost people think of salads as being appetizers or palate cleansers. A simple green salad dressed in oil and vinegar is just that. But summer salads can be your entire meal or half of it if paired with a sandwich or soup. Serving a wine with them can enhance your dining experience.

But which wine? The trick here is to consider the weight of the salad, its ingredients, and the acidity of the salad dressing. If you have a salad with meats or grilled vegetables, serve something heartier like a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir. If your salad has arugula, escarole, or other peppery greens, use a Petite Syrah or Zinfandel.

If you have added cheese, pair the wine as you would a fruit. For example, if you have a blue cheese or Roquefort, you would normally serve it with pears or other sweet, mild fruits. Pair it with a sweeter wine like a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. A smoked cheese in a salad can handle a strong red wine.

If berries or other sweet fruit are in your salad, a Pinot Noir is excellent. Subtle fruits like apple, melon, pear, or mango can be paired with a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, or a Riesling.

To avoid the acid in your salad dressing from competing with the acid in your wine, try using fruit juice (orange or lemon) or a sweet balsamic vinegar instead of regular vinegar.

But most of all, have fun and experiment with different wine choices with your summer salads. Buy a couple of different types of wine. If something doesn’t quite jive, try the other one. Keep experimenting.

Herb MillFresh herbs can add zest to salads and soups or eye appeal as a garnish on an entree, but mincing them fine enough by hand can be a labor of love and can take a long time.  Using a hand herb mill might save you some time and effort.  These gadgets, a little over 8 inches long, have rotary steel blades that can make short work of mincing herbs and produce them as finely as any master chef.

All you do is select your favorite herbs; for example, a sprig of parsley or cilantro or a bunch of basil. Wash the herbs and pat dry on a paper towel. Put them in the hopper of the mill and crank away.

Many herb mills are made of stainless steel and are dishwasher safe. Often the handles can be adjusted for the person who is right-handed or left-handed.  The mill can also be used to chop nuts.

KnivesEvery chef will tell you that you have to have the right tools to cook with, and a good set of knives is essential. If you can’t afford a complete assortment and a wooden knife block, buy a good paring knife, a chef’s knife (sometimes called a cook’s knife or a French knife), and a slicer.  The paring knife should be small enough to fit into the hand comfortably but big enough to do the job it’s intended for. A slicer usually has a long, thin blade and is used to cut cooked meats and poultry. It is sometimes called a carving knife.

A chef’s knife has a wider blade than the slicer and can range from six to twelve inches long.  It is usually heavy and used to cut food by rocking on the pointed end and slicing downward. Smaller chef’s are great for chopping small fruits and vegetables and herbs, and larger blades may be used for bigger items.  For most people, an 8 inch or a 10 inch chef’s knife is the ideal size. It’s big enough to attack a variety of foods yet is not unwieldily. Some home cooks prefer the 10 inch blade because it has enough weight and length to go after celery and carrots and make short work of them.

Serrated knives, called Japanese Santoku knives, are good, especially for the cook who uses a chef’s knife like a cleaver.  These knives, however, are difficult to keep sharp. Though they will retain their edge initially for a long time without having to use a steel, the serrations make it difficult to sharpen. The only exception is the bread knife which is serrated but does not wear down as much because it saws through soft surfaces.

Salad PlateSummer is just the right time to show off your artistic side, not only in an edible collage of colors, tastes, shapes, and textures in your salads, but also in your tableware.  Though a colorful salad will look good on any plate or bowl, sometimes you just want to make a more intense visual splash at the table. Salad plates are just one way to slow off your creativity. Smaller than a dinner plate, salad china can match your dinnerware or they can be bold solid colors that complement your tableware.  Mediterranean designs and rustic stoneware can also add a summer feel to your salad course. But, serving up a green salad on a sunflower-painted plate or putting a pasta salad on a plate that looks like a cabbage leaf will get your guests talking. This is an especially nice touch to do when you are hosting a summer luncheon or tea. And, if you are having trouble getting your youngsters or even your spouse to eat their veggies, put your salads on red or red-orange plates.  Psychologists say that these warm colors stimulate the appetite.

Thai Sesamie DressingThis simple Sesame Thai Salad Dressing recipe requires just four simple ingredients. This one is especially good when poured over leaf lettuce, mandarin oranges, cooked asparagus, and slivered almonds:

Sesame Thai Dressing


  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Hoisan sauce

Put all ingredients into a bowl, add the oil, and whisk together.