The cooking Journal
Salt – Health or Hazard?
Recently I read a post by Maldon Salt that every cell in the body contains salt, and that an average adult contains about 250g of salt, which is the equivalent to a box of their delicious sea salt.  This got me thinking about salt.  As a food scientist and chef I use it all the time and when teaching, often I am challenged by clients about the amount of salt I’m putting into a recipe.

Salt is essential to human life, and our bodies cannot produce it.  We need salt for our bodies to function properly, regulating the amount of fluid in our bodies and maintaining our nervous system.  Literally our blood, sweat and tears are salty.

Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes.  For millennia we have been using salt to preserve and flavour food.  Wars, revolutions and freedom movements have started over salt.  It is used in many religious rituals and is a symbol of friendship.  Salt is part of our everyday speech in words such as salary and salad or phrases such as “the salt of the earth”.

However government information advises us to only consume 6g of salt a day – that’s just over 1 teaspoon, as that is the recommended daily amount (RDA) an adult needs for their body to function.  Too much and you can be susceptible to high blood pressure and stroke, too little and our blood thickens and affects our nervous systems, thyroid function and blood pressure… so what is right?

To cut out salt completely in our diets is almost impossible as most foods (meat and vegetables) have approximately 12% naturally occurring salt.  We can reduce the amount we consume by how much we add during cooking and at the table.  It is processed foods that are the danger zone, which often contain a higher salt content to improve the flavour and shelf life of the product.   Everyday ingredients such as stock cubes, pasta sauces, cheese and bacon includes salt where it is added by the manufacturer for preservation.  Always check the label and use in moderation and try and cook from scratch – it’s much healthier all round.

When cooking, be practical about the amount of salt you use and think about the ratio of the quantities you are using, e.g. a teaspoon (5 grams) in a dish that will serve 4, will be less than 1 gram per serving.  When researching this topic I realised that many recipes, rather than specify an amount of salt, are using alternatives such as Worcestershire sauce or stock cubes - so take care with the amount you use.  In all cases, as a chef teacher, I would advise you to taste as you cook and add the seasoning, always adjust to suit your palate.

For some recipes the amount of salt is a definite requirement for a successful outcome.  For example, when making bread, a recipe usually requires 1 teaspoon ie 5 grams.  Salt is essential when bread making, not only for flavour but to retard the yeast otherwise you get a dough that looks like an extra in a Science Fiction movie!  5 grams dispersed across an 800g-1kg loaf will not be very much – much less than a ¼ gram a slice.

In hot weather or when we exercise, we need to replace the salt as well as the liquid we lose through sweat – this is particularly important for children and older people.  If we don’t then our blood thickens and affects our blood pressure. By just drinking water the levels of salt in our bodies are diluted and can cause the body to be less responsive.

Children and babies need much less as their internal organs need to develop to process salt.

So in conclusion- Salt - is it fundamental to life, or a health hazard?  We need salt to stay healthy and like many things in moderation.  By avoiding processed foods we can easily cut down the amount of salt we eat.  Cutting it out entirely is risky, so a pinch of salt will definitely make food more palatable and healthy.

 

The Cooking Academy provides a variety of courses and our chef tutors provide advice and information on the nutritional benefits of ingredients and seasoning.

www.maldonsalt.co.uk

www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/salt-nutrition/

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other info.

  • The word salary is based on salt; therefore “worth one’s salt” refers to the salary of a Roman soldier.

  • Salad, comes from the Roman’s custom of salting leaf vegetables.

  • “Salt of the earth” means the perfect, the worthiest and most honest (quoted in the Bible Matthew 5:13)

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Double chocolate brownies
These delicious brownies are very easy and quick to make for a treat.  Use good chocolate with 70% cocoa solids to get a really good chocolately taste.  They should be fudgy and slightly gooey in texture so keep an eye on the timer!

Ingredients:

250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
3 free range eggs
125g plain flour
50g cocoa powder

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/gas 3. Line a rectangular baking tin with baking parchment.  Make a bain marie, by putting a few centimetres of water in a saucepan and use a mixing bowl that fits well on the top of the pan, ensuring the water doesn’t touch the bowl.  Bring the water to a simmer.

  2. Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in the bain marie. Stirring occasionally to ensure it is melting evenly and becoming a glossy mixture.

  3. In medium sized bowl whisk the sugar and eggs together until it is smooth and creamy. You can either use a balloon whisk or an electric hand whisk.

  4. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggy mixture, using a spatula to get every last bit out of the bowl! Mix together well with the spatula.

  5. Sift together the flour and cocoa powder into the eggy chocolate mixture, and stir well until it is incorporated and there are no flecks of flour visible.

  6. Pour into the prepared baking tin, smoothing the mixture so it fills the tin.

  7. Bake in the oven, on the middle shelf, for 20 minutes. A skewer or knife should come out a bit smeared with mixture.

  8. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares and enjoy.


  

Cook’s Tip 1: When melting chocolate, don’t over heat it or stir too often as it will “seize” and split.

Cook’s Tip 2: The brownies are delicious served warm with ice cream. They will keep in a tin for a few days...if they last that long.

#thecookingacademy #chocolatebrownies #darkchocolate #fairtradechocolate
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The value of recognising good work
It’s good to be recognised and rewarded, appreciation is a basic human need.  It’s something managers can do easily – whether it’s just saying “well done” or using a formal reward package.

Recognition isn’t all about bonuses and pay rises.  It has been identified that employees receiving sincere thanks is often more important than receiving something tangible.  Recognition helps employees feel valued and encouraged, their satisfaction, productivity, engagement and motivation goes up and as a result an employer is more likely to retain their staff.

My own experience of recognition has been varied across my career where some managers were great at encouraging teams and individuals.  And others where it was simply not something they did with the result, demotivated and disaffected staff.  Recognition is something I’ve always seen as good management practice and have tried to practise what I preach throughout my career.

The most memorable recognition I received… and therefore the most rewarding for both me and my employer… was following a successful client presentation. I was thanked publically by the department head and was offered a generous bonus in the form of store vouchers.  However, I asked whether I could book an “experience” rather than receiving a monetary reward.

The company agreed and I was booked on a week-long cookery course.  Not only was the course a really enjoyable time away from the office, I had the opportunity of learning new skills which I could apply back at work (and at home!).  I also met like-minded people, gained lots of inspiration, shared ideas and knowledge... as well as having a lot of fun.

I would say the value of that piece of recognition was immeasurable.  Yes, there was a monetary outlay by my employer in purchasing the course and letting me have time off.  However the value returned was increased for them, as I came back with new and transferrable skills, more motivated and highly engaged.

And the value for me personally, as someone who believes in life-long learning, was that I had learnt new skills that I still use today.  It gave me confidence and motivation in pursing my career and helping others pursue theirs in recognising their achievements.

It doesn’t cost a lot to say “well done”.

I'd love to hear your recognition stories.

 

The Cooking Academy offers cookery courses which can be used towards company learning and development schemes or reward and recognition programmes and we are happy to help you facilitate this.
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Caponata
Caponata is a typical Sicilian dish, where a simple local ingredient,  in this case the aubergine, is taken as the basis of the dish, and is then embellished and enriched until the end result is an opulent and almost baroque achievement.

Ingredients

1 Aubergine (about 300g), cut into 2cm dice
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fennel seeds
120g ripe tomatoes, diced ½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
3 tbsp (50g) green olives, stoned and quartered (1tbsp finely chopped)
1 tbsp honey 150ml passata or tinned chopped tomatoes
30ml (2tbsp) red wine vinegar
1 tbsp grated dark chocolate
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 stalk of mint - leaves only – torn

Cooking Instructions: 

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the aubergine chunks and gently fry until golden brown and tender (don't over crowd the pan; you may have to cook them in batches).

  2. Next add the onion, celery and salt, cook gently for 10 minutes or until the celery has softened and beginning to colour.

  3. Now add the diced tomatoes, chilli, fennel and cumin seeds and fry for another couple of minutes.

  4. Stir in the, olives, honey, passata, vinegar and chocolate and bring to the boil. Check the seasoning; adjust according to your palate.  Turn the heat right down, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes checking towards the end of cooking and taking the pan off the heat if it seems to be drying out.

  5. Take off the heat, add the toasted pine nuts and garnish with a few mints torn mint leaves at the point of serving.


Cooks Tip 1: This dish can be served hot or cooled at room temperature the roughly torn mint, just before serving. Serve with Crostini, Cous Cous, Pilaf rice or on toast.

 

 

 
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Staying hydrated in the hot weather
It’s important to stay hydrated, especially during the current spell of hot weather.  We are made up of almost two thirds water and it is essential to life.  Having enough water in our system helps our body and brain function properly.  If you’re not drinking enough, you may find you are subject to headaches, stomach upset and your joints begin to creak!

The recommended amount of water we should drink is 1.5 to 2 litres a day – that’s about 8-10 glasses.  Sounds a lot?  Don’t despair - you take in water in other ways by drinking and eating.

If you don’t like drinking plain H2O then add a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber, a few berries or leaves of fresh mint to the mix.  Fruit juices are good, but beware of drinking too much because of the level of sugar and acid in fruit.  Tea and coffee should be drunk in moderation as they are mild diuretics so drink a herbal infusion instead.  Fizzy drinks also contain a lot of sugar and caffeine and should also be drunk in moderation.

Vegetables and fruit contribute to your liquid intake, as well as helping you reach the recommended 5 a day.  Just adding some salad to your sandwich and a piece of fruit to your packed lunch will help with hydration.

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#thecookingacademy #healthyeating #heathylifestyle #lunch #hydration #fitness #wellbeing #summer #healthtips # fruit
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