The simple reason your food might taste too salty

What kind of salt do you keep in your kitchen?

Morton-style salt, left, and Diamond Crystal salt are both sold as “kosher salt,” but the salt on the left is twice as salty as the one on the right, which can cause problems if you are using recipes developed with one kind of salt or another. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

When I was a kid, there was really only one kind of salt: Iodized table salt. It was in the salt shaker and in the round cardboard container in the pantry. No one pinched or sprinkled it, salt bae-style, on the food while cooking. We always used the salt shaker and not our fingers, and because my mom wasn’t a pickle-maker or ice cream-maker, we never thought twice about kosher salt or knew that there were other kinds of salt.

As an adult, I’ve purchased various sea salts and even Himalayan salt grinders over the years. I’ve had Morton kosher salt in my spice cabinet for years, and I’ve slowly started to use it almost exclusively.

But here’s the deal: It’s the salty version of kosher salt.

Morton, which is sold in a blue box, and many other store-brand kosher salts, including H-E-B’s, which also comes in a blue box, are twice as salty as Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

This bears repeating: A tablespoon of Morton (or H-E-B) kosher salt equals two tablespoons of Diamond Crystal.

Many chefs prefer using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, but it’s not widely sold in Central Texas. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

See how fine those flakes are? They aren’t quite as fine as iodized salt, but it feels more like iodized salt than kosher salt. I’m used to using the heavy stuff and salt accordingly, but when I was cooking from a cookbook recently, I realized that this too-salty salt might be causing many cooks to oversalt their food without realizing it.

In part, that’s because some cookbooks are developed using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, so if you use Morton’s, your food will be twice as salty. But even if you aren’t using a recipe, the kind of salt you use can definitely make a difference in the salinity of your food.

It can be difficult to find Diamond Crystal kosher salt in Texas, but Central Market carries it. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The good news: When you’re just pinching salt from an open container, the difference between the different salts isn’t that much. All weighed less than a gram, but what does matter when you pinch salt is how many fingers you use to do it. As you cook more, you’ll notice the difference between two- and three-finger pinches of salt and adjust accordingly.

 

All the ughs: Why are Trader Joe’s salads so sad?

I had the saddest salad yesterday.

Trader Joe’s is known for a lot of good things, but it’s also known for sad salads. The store’s distribution and thrifty retail strategy might have something to do with it. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

After a morning meeting near the Trader Joe’s in Rollingwood, I stopped by the store for some snacks, flowers for the house and something quick to eat for lunch. I’d been cooking at home for the month of January and was craving one of those prepared salads. I knew Trader Joe’s would have lots to choose from.

I’d forgotten that Trader Joe’s salads are simply awful. I’m sure they don’t start that way, but it always seems that every salad on the shelves is a day away from expiring. Every. Single. One.

I noticed it when I was shopping in the store yesterday and had a sense of deju vu that I’d already learned this lesson before. I continued in my grocery shopping denial and I bought one anyway, the Mexicali with Chili Lime Chicken. It comes with roasted corn and a tangy dressing. The pepita seeds stayed crunchy in a little plastic container, but by the time I opened that salad on my desk, the wilted greens were the very definition of a “sad desk lunch.”

About a year ago, I finally learned not to buy baked goods at Trader Joe’s after a package of English muffins molded the day after I bought them, and yesterday was the moment I think I finally learned the salad lesson, too.

I tried to make the best of it and at least eat the chicken, corn and pepitas, but I couldn’t even choke down half of it. Frustrated that I’d fallen for yet another disappointing Trader Joe’s prepared food item, I asked around online to see if anyone else was ready to give up on TJ salads altogether. Kristin Sheppard confirmed that this isn’t just a one-off experience:

And she’s not alone:

https://twitter.com/philyuck/status/673255306126712832

But the question at the top of this post remains: Why are they so bad?

Like many grocers, Trader Joe’s relies on a distribution network with a centralized kitchen. (The closest one to Austin is in Irving, near Dallas.) But unlike many grocers, Trader Joe’s has not figured out how to reduce the time from that kitchen to my shopping cart.

My gut tells me that the Austin grocery market is saturated, which leads to lower turnover rates at some stores and more stale salads on the shelves. But I also think that enough casual Trader Joe’s shoppers like me just aren’t buying their salads anymore.

Perusing the salad section at Trader Joe’s, you’ll often notice that the salads all expire within the next day. This could be more of an issue in the Austin area, which is somewhat saturated with grocery options. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The store always seems to display the just-barely-not-expired salads first. Yesterday, every single salad expired today. I imagine that the store had fresher salads in the back, but in an attempt to sell the back stock first, allowed those fresher salads to sit out of reach.

The good news is that all the local Trader Joe’s stores donate the still-edible but not sellable food to Keep Austin Fed, so all those salads are being donated. But let’s be honest, an expired salad is an expired salad. It can be a health risk, especially for people with compromised immune systems.

Trader Joe’s has a passionate shopping base and doesn’t seem to be struggling for sales, but they really need to fix this salad problem. I threw out half of what could have been a really great lunch yesterday, and I’m less likely to visit the store, in general, if I can’t trust the freshness of the goods.

Next time, I’m grabbing one of those Bistro Ready Pac salads from HEB’s produce section, which are usually at least a few days and up to a week from their expiration date. In general, high-volume grocery stores tend to have the freshest produce, prepared foods and meat, so if you’re at a low-volume store or an uber-thrifty one like Trader Joe’s, pay extra close attention to the expiration date on all your foods, including milk.

This brand of ready-to-eat salads, which are now prominently displayed in most H-E-B stores in the area, always seem to be fresher than the salads you find at Trader Joe’s.

It’s worth noting that Trader Joe’s parent company is Aldi Nord, which now has an Aldi in Pflugerville. I’m not familiar enough with that store to know if they have similar expiration date problems on fresh produce, meat, dairy, etc.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve figured out how to get fresher salads at Trader Joe’s or if Aldi or other local stores have similar issues.

 

 

 

 

Who makes the best rotisserie chicken in Austin? We put ’em to the test

When grocery stores started carrying rotisserie chickens, most Americans stopped roasting chickens ourselves.

We taste six rotisserie chickens from Austin-area grocery stores. From top left: Fiesta, Whole Foods, HEB. Lower left: Costco, Central Market, Sprouts. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Why bother when you can buy an already roasted chicken for not much more than it would cost to buy a raw one?

Rotisserie chickens are now sold in nearly every grocery chain, right up near the front where busy shoppers can pick one up in a hurry.

That’s what I did on Wednesday morning, trekking to six local grocery stores to buy seven rotisserie chickens for a livestream taste test at the office. My colleagues tried all six of them and ranked them. To my surprise, they had an unequivocal favorite, which you’ll see pretty quickly into this video we made.

The bonus bird was clearly identified as a specialty smoked Cajun flavor from Whole Foods, which is rolling out new rotisserie chicken recipes that will entice customers to buy them more frequently. Later that day, we also tasted the new flavors of Diet Coke.

Which store makes your favorite rotisserie chicken? Do you ever roast your own? Let us know in the comments below or on the Facebook video!

 

How to buy bulk meat without a Costco membership

At a Costco, many shoppers head straight for the meat and produce aisles.

Instead of going to a warehouse store, thousands of home cooks are buying meat through a direct-to-consumer company called Zaycon Fresh, which is based in Washington state but has more than a dozen pick-up sites in Central Texas. Contributed by Zaycon Fresh

That’s where you’ll find mega packs of ground beef, chicken breasts, fish, sausages and pork chops that cost less per pound than what you typically find at regular grocery store.

Buying large quantities of meat can save you money, but you usually have to use the freezer to take advantage of the savings. That’s why a direct-to-consumer company based in Washington called Zaycon skips the middle man and sells large quantities of already frozen meat — we’re talking 40 pounds here — at more than 1,200 pick-up sites around the country. A few of the products, including the chicken breasts, are sold fresh/not frozen.

(Protip: You can order from Costco without a membership through Instacart, but there is a mark-up on the products you buy.)

Zaycon Fresh sells bulk meat, including beef. Contributed by Zaycon.

Zaycon, which was founded in 2009, has several large pick-up days planned for the Austin area. The company offers more than a dozen pick-up locations around Central Texas, and some of the sites have fewer options than the others.

Here’s the upcoming schedule and examples of what they are selling each visit. You can find out more info and place an order at zayconfresh.com:

Monday, February 12: Hickory Smoked Bacon, Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Fillets, Wild Argentine Red Shrimp, Pork Sausage Links
Saturday, March 3: Ground Turkey, Pork Tenderloins, Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs, Sweet Italian Sausages
Saturday, March 24: Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
Thursday, April 12: Ground Beef, Applewood Smoked Ham
Wednesday, May 2: Chicken Tenderloins, USDA Choice Chuck Roast, Kansas City Strip Steaks, Pulled Pork
Friday, May 25: Wild Alaskan Cod Fillets, Hickory Smoked Bacon

Chameleon Cold-Brew now selling DIY coffee kits

Cold brew coffee was one of the big food trends several years ago, and Austin’s Chameleon Cold-Brew was one of the first local companies to get into the game.

Chameleon Cold-Brew launched these coffee kits last summer that include cold-brew pods and a branded mason jar. Contributed by Chameleon Cold-Brew.

Fast forward seven years to last fall, when food industry giant Nestle snapped up this little local company that could.

Even before the sale, Chameleon Cold-Brew fans could find their coffee concentrates and ready-to-drink beverages at more than 10,000 stores across the country, but one new(ish) product caught my eye last week.

A co-worker of mine, Maribel Molina, recently the Chameleon Cold-Brew’s coffee kit, which she found at Office Depot, of all places. You can also buy it at Bed Bath & Beyond. Contributed by Maribel Molina

RELATED: Find more local food product coverage here

A co-worker brought in her Chameleon Cold-Brew Coffee Kit, a set of eight cold-brew pods and a branded mason jar in which to brew them. For $15.99, you can make 72 ounces of cold brew that, according to my work friend, tastes fresher than what you’d usually buy in the refrigerated section.

The company launched these last summer, and you can buy these at Bed Bath & Beyond and online at chameleoncoldbrew.com. My co-worker found them at Office Depot, so there are a few other retailers that carry them.

Austin’s only food co-op raises big bucks for local nonprofits

Wheatsville Food Co-op might be small, but it’s mighty.

Wheatsville donated more than $155,000 to local nonprofits last year, including $11,427 to Caritas of Austin. Contributed by Wheatsville Food Co-op.

The first food co-op in Texas has two stores — the original location just north of UT and another newer store on South Lamar — and from those two stores, customers helped raise more than $155,000 to donate to local organizations last year.

Every month, the grocery store’s co-op members pick a nonprofit to support through its Community Action program, and those donations totaled more than $140,000. That included at least $21,000 in September after Hurricane Harvey.

RELATED:  Wheatsville Food Co-op opens long-awaited second store

Other organizations that have received support from Wheatsville, its co-op members and shoppers in 2017 include American Honey Bee Protection, People’s Community Clinic, SAFE, Urban Roots, Austin Pets Alive!, Worker’s Defense Project, Hospice Austin, Central Texas Food Bank, Caritas of Austin and Meals on Wheels Central Texas.

At 11 a.m. on January 16, the South Lamar location will host an event that is open to the public to honor the organizations they supported last year and the groups slated to receive a little extra money this year.

Is tomato ‘tuna’ the next big thing in 2018? Whole Foods thinks so

Last year, Whole Foods predicted that we’d be eating everything that’s purple, made from coconuts or that fits within a flexitarian diet.

Purple products were all the rage in 2017, according to Whole Foods. Contributed by Whole Foods

Is that true for you? I can’t say I ate more coconut (or purple corn chips or Paleo-friendly bacon) last year than the year before, but I certainly noticed them. Walking around grocery stores of every caliber in many different places across the country, I also noticed the other trends on their 2017 list: Wellness tonics, products made from byproducts, non-wheat pastas, creative condiments, Japanese-inspired ingredients and what they called “mindful meal prep,” where you might buy a whole meal kit one week or simply a prepared sauce and pre-cooked pasta another.

Creative condiments are a perennial favorite on food trend lists, but it does seem to be a trend that’s not going away. Contributed by Whole Foods

At the beginning of 2017, no one could have predicted that perhaps the biggest game-changer in food happened *to* Whole Foods, not inside it. Amazon’s acquisition of this grocery pioneer topped headlines for weeks, and we still haven’t figured out the long-term affects to the industry.

Nearly every supermarket has added some element of delivery, but how will they compete with a company that shipped more than 5 billion items to Prime customers last year? That’s a trend I’ll be watching closely in 2018.

What other trends has Whole Foods predicted for 2018? Here’s a list they released in November, and I’ll be talking more about this in my weekly livestream just after 11 a.m. on Facebook.com/Austin360.

 

Reishi is a high-powered mushroom that is popping up in drinks, smoothies and even skincare. Contributed by Whole Foods

Floral flavors (lavender, rose, hibiscus)
Super powders (matcha, maca, cacao, turmeric, spirulina)
Functional mushrooms (reishi, chaga, lion’s mane)
Middle Eastern foods (harissa, cardamom, za’atar, shakshuka, grilled halloumi)
Transparency (GMO and nutrition labeling)
High-tech plants (“not tuna” made from tomatoes, “bleeding” vegan burgers)
Puffed and popped snacks (puffed pasta bow ties, seaweed fava chips)
Tacos (sweet, savory, breakfast, non-traditional)
Root-to-stem (pickled watermelon rind, beet green pesto)
Bubbly water (La Croix, Topo Chico)

What the heck is that tomato “tuna” mentioned on the list? I hadn’t heard about it either, but as you can see from the photo below, the thin slices of tomato are processed to have a similar taste and texture of ahi tuna in sushi rolls and nigiri.

High-tech plant products are showing up everywhere, even at stores that are not Whole Foods. The “tuna” in the lower part of the photo is actually made from tomatoes. Contributed by Whole Foods.

What do you think about this food prediction list? Are you buying any of these products mentioned or is this Whole Foods being Whole Foods?

Where to buy stollen, challah other holiday breads in Austin

In America, we might associate the holidays with decadent, buttery sweets, but in many cultures around the world, Christmas and other winter holidays are the time to break out the specialty breads.

Stollen is a popular Christmas bread that originates in Germany. This is the loaf you can find at Easy Tiger through Christmas Eve, but other bakeries in town sell it, too. Contributed by Easy Tiger.

Throughout Europe and the U.S., you’ll find families serving slices of fruitcake, German stollen or Italian panettone dotted with candied fruit all month long. In Sweden, where St. Lucia Day (Dec. 13) is one of the most beloved days of the season, saffron buns and vörtbröd are found around every table. 

Where can you buy these baked goods in Austin?

RELATED: Mastering the art of the challah braid

In a hurry? Here’s a pumpkin-spiced French toast to slow you down

Stollen is lighter than the American fruitcake, which might be one reason why it’s so popular here during the holidays. 2007 AP Photo/Jens Meyer

Upper Crust Bakery4508 Burnet Road, is well-known for the challah it sells only on Fridays, but during the holiday months, you can also buy stollen and gift-wrapped stollen.

Sweetish Hill Bakery, 1120 W. Sixth St., sells stollen this time of the year, and it’s also one of the few places that will make the Swedish holiday bread limpa, which you have to call (512-472-1347) in to order ahead of time.

RELATED: If you’ve never baked bread, here’s the absolute easiest way to get started

A boozy bread pudding recipe from specialty food pioneers Fischer & Wieser

Easy Tiger baker David Norman is making these saffron buns this week ahead of St. Lucia Day. Contributed by Easy Tiger.

At Easy Tiger, David Norman is selling stollen through Christmas Eve, and he’s also making Swedish saffron buns until Dec. 13. In the following weeks (Dec. 15-17 and Dec. 22-24), the baker and author of a forthcoming book on European breads will be making vörtbröd, another Swedish holiday rye bread with cloves, ginger, the peel of Seville oranges and “wort,” the malt and hop mixture that would be brewed into a strong porter ale. To order, you’ll have to order them 48 hours ahead of time by contacting specialorders@easytigeraustin.com or 512-614-4972.

The Austin-area locations of Central Market and Whole Foods also sell stollen and panettone that are made in-house, as well as fruitcake.

Does HEB’s $5 curbside service mean you never walk into an HEB again?

[cmg_anvato video=4236568]

You might never have to set foot in an H-E-B again.

The H-E-B at Oltorf and Congress in South Austin is one of about 17 H-E-B locations in Central Texas where you can pay for someone else to shop for your groceries. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

For many Texans, not shopping at H-E-B is like not watching the Longhorns or not eating breakfast tacos, but as the grocery delivery industry ramps us, the grocers themselves are coming up with ways to save customers time and money on delivery fees. That means trying to compete with them.

RELATED: Testing Amazon Prime’s new one-hour delivery for grocery goods

Texans always love H-E-B, but especially after Hurricane Harvey

With its H-E-B Curbside service, rather than deliver the groceries all the way to your house, H-E-B is betting that you’re OK with spending a flat $4.95 fee to swing by the store on the way home and pick up your food. You can’t use coupons or in-store discounts, but the prices are otherwise the same as in the store. UDPATE: From an H-E-B rep: “On some items H-E-B Curbside adds a nominal price increase to an item to underwrite this service, but not more than 3% on average.”

There are about 17 H-E-B stores in the Austin area that offer curbside grocery pickup.

H-E-B now offers curbside grocery pick-up at 17 of more than 40 stores in the Austin area, and to encourage new users this fall, the company is offering four free curbside pick-ups, no matter how large the order.

RELATED: How the influx of food delivery options could change the Austin landscape

I tried the service for the first time on Sunday, and it was seamless. It was nice to see familiar prices and packages online, and the set fee makes it easy to understand what I’m paying for. Any extra prices I paid weren’t high enough for me to notice. I picked out the groceries online at lunchtime on Friday, but all the pickup times for that afternoon were taken, so I picked one on Sunday. It took longer than I thought to click my way to a decent grocery cart, but I was relying on my memory of the store and my fridge back home. I know this step will be faster once my order history is set and many of the items I buy week after week will be easy to reorder.

When I went to pick up the groceries at the Oltorf and Congress H-E-B, I parked in one of the spots outside the mural-covered trailer they’ve converted into a curbside building. A sign instructs you to text a code to a number, and then you get a message saying someone will be out to load the groceries into your car. A few minutes later, a store employee came to my window, where I signed for the groceries and then he loaded them in the trunk. I didn’t even get out of the car.

He wouldn’t take a tip. The store’s service saved me about half an hour. That’s worth $5, especially when I’m swamped, but there’s no way I’d give up the pleasure of pushing a cart through a store, looking at the groceries and thinking about what I’m going to be eating the week ahead. I can do that at a computer using my imagination to walk through the store’s colorful, tactile inventory, but where’s the fun in that?

The company has been working on this convenience feature at stores throughout Texas, and by the end of the year, 100 stores will offer it. As they expand and invest into each curbside pickup locations, there’s no doubt that many customers will find it helpful now and then and some who will find it indispensable for everyday shopping.

 

Can Halo Top ice cream compete with an ultra-rich Teo gelato?

I didn’t know much about Halo Top ice cream until this year, when Eric Webb impressed me with a ranking of every flavor of what I only knew to be a low calorie ice cream.

Halo Top is the bestselling pint of ice cream in the country. Téo is a popular Austin brand sold at H-E-B stores throughout Texas. How do they compare? Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

This high-protein dessert isn’t just a diet product. It’s a national phenomenon, now the bestselling pint of ice cream in the country, besting Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs.

Pretty impressive for a company that only started in 2012.

I picked up a pint of Halo Top’s sea salt caramel ice cream, which was just a few doors down from another product I’d been wanting to try: Téo Gelato’s pumpkin pie flavor.

Téo is the Central Austin gelato shop that entered the grocery market a few years ago in partnership with H-E-B. (They won the grocer’s 2015 Quest for Texas Best competition.)

Téo’s pints have also been flying off shelves, and even though these two products don’t claim to compete, this ice cream lover wanted to know if the stevia-sweetened Halo Top was even in the same universe as Téo, which is made with cane sugar and locally sourced milk and isn’t marketed as healthy enough to be consumed in one sitting.

[cmg_anvato video=”4225926″]

I tasted both in my Facebook livestream this week. As you can see — around the 6 minute mark — I was quite surprised when I tasted them side by side.

I’d love to hear what you think about Halo Top and Téo, if you’ve tried them. From what I’ve heard on social media so far, the Halo Top is one of the more divisive foods in the market today.