Urban’s Go To Dry Rib Rub

Whether you grill, smoke, or bake your ribs, this is a great rub if you’re looking for something that’s not sugar based. We prefer to put the sweet note for ribs on a glaze, rather than in the rub – If that appeals to you, this is a good choice.

It works well with a 2-1 cooking regime, (2 hours in foil, 1 hour unwrapped then a quick broiled glaze), or a 2-1-1 scheme if you’re smoking them.

This blend stores well – since it doesn’t have sugar, it doesn’t clump up. Works great on chicken or beef as well.

Urban’s Go To Dry Rib Rub

Urban’s Dry Rib Rub
1/4 cup Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Mild Hatch Chile Powder
1 Tablespoon granulated Garlic
1 Tablespoon Powdered Mesquite Smoke
Combine all ingredients thoroughly, Rub in to the ribs thoroughly and deeply, and give them about 15 minutes to get to work before you cook.
Here’s ribs with the rub and a Blueberry-Chile glaze.

Clay Cooker Chicken & Veggies with Besar

Cooking in clay is one of those things you’ve got to do to truly get the gist of. Like cast iron, clay adds a certain je ne sais quois to a dish that you can’t get any other way – it’s a subtle earthiness and added depth that’s truly captivating.

Romertopf cookers are a great way to get into clay, and there’s no better dish to make in one that chicken. It’s truly difficult to end up with anything other than one of the juiciest, most delicious things you’ll ever cook – that alone is worth the entry price.

Romertopfs are great cookers, and can often be found used.

While the inside of the body of a Romertopf is glazed, the lid is not – The porous, soaked clay and higher oven heat, (425° F rather than 325°) combine to provide a steam/roast cook – the secret behind that super juicy bird.

The next joyful surprise is this – literally no oil, stock, or water need be added to end up with a succulent chicken. Same goes for veggies you to add to the dish – the steam/roast process will generate copious quantities of juice and rendered fat without help.

Fact is, you can add nothing but salt and pepper and still come out with stunning results, but for this dish, I wanted more – a nod to Middle Eastern cuisine was in order, since clay cookery is ubiquitous there – as are stunningly delicious spice blends. Besar (also Bzar and Bezar) was the perfect choice.

Besar – Savory, sweet, and heat.

There are variants of besar in several cuisines, of which I favor the Emirati style – it’s a stunningly aromatic blend with deep notes of warm spices and a touch of heat. Besar is wonderful with chicken, but might even be better with fresh roasted veggies – a win-win for this dish. Often used to spice ghee, it’s fantastic dry on everything from squash to soups, stews, and flatbreads. This is my swing at the blend.

Urban Besar

2 Tablespoons whole Black Peppercorns

2 Tablespoons whole Cumin seed

2 Tablespoons whole Coriander Seed

2 teaspoons stick Cinnamon, (about 1/2” or so)

2 teaspoons whole Green Cardamom pods

2 teaspoons ground Ginger

2 teaspoons ground Hatch Chile (hot or mild as you prefer)

1 teaspoon whole Fennel seed

1 teaspoon Turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast spices until golden brown and deeply fragrant, stirring steadily with a fork to avoid scorching.

Remove blend from skillet and return to a bowl to cool – allow 30 minutes or so for things to marry further.

Leave the blend whole and store in airtight glass until you need it – that’ll keep everything fresh. I prefer making smaller batches like this more often, rather than storing larger quantities long-term.

Urban’s Clay Cooker Chicken & Veggies with Besar

3-4 fresh Chicken Leg Quarters

3-4 Gold Potatoes

2 Carrots

2-3 stalks fresh Celery with Leaves

1/2 small Sweet Onion

3 Tablespoons ground Besar spice blend

3 finger pinch of Kosher Salt

Soak your clay cooker to get the most out of cooking process, and protect it from cracking.

Soak your clay cooker (including the lid) for 30 minutes prior to use. (If this is your first use of the cooker, follow makers directions for seasoning to the letter!)

You will start with a cold oven, to avoid thermal shock and cracking of your clay cooker.

Rinse and peel potatoes, then halve or quarter, depending on size.

Rinse, end trim, and cut carrots into roughly 3” chunks.

Peel, end trim, and quarter onion.

Rinse, end trim and cut celery stalks into roughly 5” chunks – remove and reserve leaves.

Arrange veggies in a solid base layer in your cooker.

Sprinkle very lightly with salt, then with a teaspoon of besar.

Arrange leg quarters evenly across the top of the veggies, skin side up.

Toss on the celery leaf, then lightly sprinkle with salt, and liberally dust with the remaining besar.

Clay cooker chicken & veggies with besar, ready to rock.

Cover the dish and slide into a middle rack position in a cold oven.

Set oven temp to 425° F and let ‘er rip for 45 minutes.

Carefully remove the hot cover from your cooker and check internal temp on the chicken – you should be around 150°-155° F.

Cook for 10-15 minutes more, uncovered, to allow things to brown and crisp up a bit.

Clay cooker steam/roast magic

Carefully remove cooker from oven and allow a 5-10 minute rest.

Clay cooker chicken and veggies with besar

Serve piping hot, with just some flatbread, or rice, or couscous, or whatever you love best.


Old Bay Seasoning – The Rest of the Story

Do you know Old Bay seasoning? If so, it’s not unlikely that you have some in your cabinet for use specifically with crab or shrimp boils. If you don’t know if it, ya aughta, ‘cause it’s a venerable mix – and if you do, you aughta let it out to play more. Old Bay is hugely popular on the east coast, from New England to the gulf, with an epicenter in Baltimore, where it was first made. The story of its creation is one of great triumph over adversity, to say the least.

Gustav Brunn, a German Jew, founded the Baltimore Spice Company in 1939, with the Old Bay seasoning blend as his flagship – Yet his epic journey didn’t start there, it landed there. Brunn had owned a wholesale spice business in Worthheim, Germany since shortly after WWI, but the rapid rise of fascism and the Nazi party forced a move to Frankfurt. There, on Kristallnacht, he was arrested and sent to Buchenwald. His wife paid a massive bribe to get him released, and they immediately fled to the U.S.

With his broad experience, he was hired by McCormick, where he worked for a grand total of two days – when it was discovered Brunn was Jewish, he was fired. That was the impetus for his founding his own company and the blending of Old Bay, the ‘Delicious Shrimp and Crab Seasoning,’ named after a passenger liner that plied the Chesapeake Bay. It’s beyond ironic that the rights to his iconic seasoning blend were bought out in 1990 by none other than McCormick. Personally, that’s all that I need to know to want to honor the blend at home.

As mentioned, many an Old Bay user hauls it out exclusively for crab or shrimp – While Gustav won’t roll over in his grave over that, we could all get a lot more creative with this stuff, and on the eastern seaboard, they do – You’ll find Old Bay seasoned beef, chicken, pork, fish, soups, stews, peanuts, popcorn, corn on the cob, deviled eggs, potato salad, tuna salad, pasta salad, bean salad, scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, potato chips, a raft of dips and sauces, bloody mary mixes, and the rims of margarita glasses – and that’s just for starters.

Like many a proprietary spice blend, they’re not giving away an exact recipe you can follow – McCormick claims 18 ingredients in the mix, so figuring those out, plus ratios, is quite a job – which is why you’ll be far happier leaving the heavy lifting to idiots like me. We know that 3 or 4 ingredients in the commercial blend are preservatives and anti-caking agents that they don’t have to list (and we don’t need), so the sweet spot is 14.

Spice blends don’t need to follow the List Ingredients In Order of Percentage of the Whole Mix rule like most foods do, so long as what they include are GRAS ingredients, (Generally Accepted As Safe), hence we see ‘spices’ instead of specifics.

What they do admit to has varied over the years with packaging – the most common version is, ‘celery salt, spices (including red and black pepper) and paprika.’ An older version offered, ‘celery salt, spices (including mustard, pepper, laurel leaves, clove, pimento, mace, cardamom, cassia) and paprika.

Taste it and the major players are fairly well evident – celery salt, paprika, and pepper are definite top notes, with mustard and bay laurel as majors, and the warm spices – clove, cinnamon, cardamom, mace, and so on, are minors. Take a look at the color of the blend, and it’ll substantiate that list and my ratios.

You can use ground or whole spices – either way, you’ll need to grind the whole stuff (leaves, etc) prior to blending. Make sure your ingredients are fresh, of course. This blend is what I think is very close to the original – and what I like best – You get to tweak yours as you see fit.

Urban’s Faux Old Bay

1 Tablespoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Sweet Paprika (Smoked or Hot are fine if you prefer)

1 Tablespoon dried Celery Leaf (celery seed will do)

2 teaspoons Black Pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons Dry Mustard

5-6 Turkish Bay Leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon Chile Powder (mild or hot)

1/2 teaspoon ground Ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground Cloves

1/8 teaspoon Black Cardamom

1/8 teaspoon Allspice

1/8 teaspoon Mace

Grind whole spices and leaves, then blend all ingredients thoroughly.

Store in an airtight glass container, away from heat a d bright light.

What does bay leaf do for our cooking, anyway?

When you make soup, or stew, or any number of sauces at home, you add a bay leaf or two, right? Ever wonder why you do that – I mean, really give it some thought? I’ll be honest – I hadn’t, so I guess it’s time to ask – What does bay leaf do for our cooking, anyway?

Full disclosure, a social media acquaintance sent me a link to a new-agey treatise on bay leaf. This thing claimed that, ‘recent scientific studies have proven’ that bay leaf converted triglycerides to monounsaturated fats, eliminates heartburn, acidity, and constipation, regulates bowel movements and blood sugar, makes the human body produce insulin, eliminates bad cholesterol, protects the heart from seizures and strokes, relieves insomnia, anxiety, kidney stones and cures infections – No freakin’ wonder we put them in soup!

Most if not all of those claims are, at best, gross exaggeration and distortion of facts. The real dead giveaway was this line – ‘Do you know that if you boil some bay leaves in a glass of water and taste it, it will have no flavor?’

My answer to that is, ‘do you know that this statement is complete bullshit?’ Either the author has never actually done the experiment, or did so with bad bay leaves. Had they done it properly, they’d have discovered a much more potent and nuanced result.

Sweet bay laurel tree

Before we dive into that, let’s define what exactly the bay leaf in our pantry is – it’s Sweet Bay, AKA Bay Laurel, or Lauris nobilis. It’s native to the Mediterranean, and cultivated commercially all around that region, as well as France, Spain, Mexico, and Portugal. Now for the record, the other bay we see in a lot of pantries is California Bay, and that’s a whole different beast, Umbullularia californica – it’s far more potent than sweet bay, with longer, narrower leaves.

Dried Sweet Bay leaves Dried Sweet Bay leaves
Dried California Bay leaves Dried California Bay leaves

Problem is, a lot of purveyors just call their stuff ‘Bay Leaf,’ and that can make things tough on us home cooks. Different growing areas produce leaves with subtle differences you may or may not like. In any event, it’d be nice to know from whence yours came, wouldn’t it? Good outfits like World Spice and Penzey’s will tell you that. 

It’s good to keep both the sweet and California versions on hand, by the way. While California bay is intense and medicinal, the sweet, (often called Turkish), is lighter, more nuanced and savory. The latter is far and away my personal go to, for the record. California bay is nice, in moderation, in low and slow soups and stews where time and temperature can simmer out the lion’s share of the more volatile constituents that spring forth early on in the cooking process. In any event, you’d be well advised to find out what variety you have, and like best.

Sweet Bay is complex, with dozens of volatile compounds onboard each leaf. The heavy hitters are cineole, pinine, linalool, and methyl eugenol. Interestingly enough, most of those compounds are also found in basil. California Bay is a bit different, packing cineole, pinine, and sabinine – that last one is responsible for things like the spiciness of black pepper, nutmeg, and carrot oil. Cineole, linalool, and pinine are terpenes, a rather volatile chemical family that has much to do with a wide variety of powerful scents in the natural world. Their highly reactive nature makes them some of the first things we smell when bay leaves are used in cooking. Methyl eugenol is a phenolic found in over 450 plants, and plays a vital role in pollination – how about that in your spaghetti sauce? These compounds are fascinating, especially when we think about how they’ve made that journey from chemical warning sign, or pollination attractor, to our dining table.

On to that experiment then, since that’s the best way to ascertain that what you’ve got in your pantry is packin’. Set a small pan of water to boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Toss in a couple bay leaves of your choice, let them do their thing for 3 to 5 minutes, and then stick your nose down there.

The first things you get will be those fleeting terpenes. If you’ve got California bay, those notes will be the big medicinal ones, menthol and camphor. If you’ve got sweet bay, you’ll still get some hefty initial notes, like camphor from the cineole, but as simmering time progresses, you’ll catch a sort of floral skunkiness – that’s the linalool’s influence. Piney, sagey notes come from the pinine, while the methyl eugenol might remind you of general earthy, savory notes. If you let that simmer go for 45 to 60 minutes, as you would for a soup or stew, and then taste your bay leaf tea, you’ll get hints of all these things – If you don’t, then what you’ve got is old, or old, crappy bay leaf – and that’s not at all uncommon.

Bay leaf’s contribution to your cooking is subtle – it’s a background stalwart, not a lead singer. What makes a sauce, soup, or stew great is the layering of flavors, and for that, a solid aromatic base is critical. Bay lends a raft of minor notes that, while perhaps not missed in and of themselves, certainly will be if they’re absent from the mix.

So what to do in your kitchen? Start by finding your bay leaf, opening the jar and giving it a big sniff. Do you get a nice, complex but subtle whiff of the stuff discussed herein? Do you remember where and when you bought those leaves? Does the container say anything about provenance? If the answer to those questions is, ‘no,’ then trash what you’ve got and get some fresh stuff. World Spice is a great go to for bay leaf – They carry both Turkish and California, and they’re always top notch quality. 

Bay does just fine as a dried herb, by the way. If you keep them in a clean, airtight glass jar, out of direct sunlight and wide swings of temperature, they’ll be good to go for 6 months, easy. If you want more from your bay, store them in your freezer and they’ll last for years.

Fresh Sweet Bay leaves Fresh Sweet Bay leaves

You can use fresh bay leaves in cooking, but know that their potency is quite a bit higher than dried leaves, so adjust accordingly, and again, be sure you know what you’ve got – A freshly crushed leaf of fresh bay from our garden smells subtly savory and complex, just as described, whereas, at least to me, fresh California bay smells like a medicine cabinet – an overdose of the latter will ruin a meal really quickly.

Grow your own bay leaves

Finally, you can grow your own if you’re living in a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7 or thereabouts – We’re a 7+ here in the northwest corner of Washington State, and our little sweet bay plant is doing fine, even with a couple of hard frosts under its belt. Granted, it’s a small bush and not a tree – in its native turf, it can reach over fifteen meters in height. Here’s a very nice primer on doing so.

Time to explore some salt-free seasonings

For most of us, Salt is a must in the kitchen. When the term ‘season lightly’ is bandied about, it almost always means add salt and ground pepper to taste. As I’ve noted here in many, many times, one of the major differences between home cooks and Pros is the judicious use of salt and pepper throughout the cooking process – Seasoning lightly in layers. If you often read electronically as I do, take any of your cookbooks and do a word search for salt – Guaranteed it’ll come up more than any other term in most, if not all of them you own and use. In other words, the influence of salt in cooking is felt damn near everywhere – So what to do when you simply can’t have that mineral any more? Time to explore some salt-free seasonings. 

Salt’s ubiquity in cooking isn’t a mistake. In addition to being used as a preservative for thousands of years, salt does yeoman’s duty in waking up or suppressing certain flavors. Ever wonder why something like a cake recipe often calls for a pinch of salt? Its presence rounds out how we taste, smell, and feel food in our mouths – Even sweet stuff. Taste a fresh batch of soup or stew without salt in it, and the vast majority of us will note something to the effect of, it tastes bland, off, flat, no backbone, and so on. A dish that we expect to note the presence of salt within, and doesn’t have it, will seem incomplete or out of balance. As oft noted in the food world, we eat through our sense of smell as much as we do taste, and here again, salt plays a pivotal role – It enhances the volatility of many aromatic components, making their presence much more notable to our schnozes – It does this by freeing aromatic scents from the foods in question, thereby making them more intense to our perception. It wouldn’t be out of line to state that our brains have salt receptors – When it senses salt where we think it should be, it’s a happy brain, and vice verse when it’s not there – That’s powerful stuff.

Sodium chloride is a mineral, which is fairly unique, food-wise. Given its broad power in the kitchen, salt becomes an imposing thing to do without, or to adequately compensate for the absence thereof. An old friend contacted me yesterday, asking for salt free seasoning blends. Her Hubby recently suffered a serious medical setback, and as such, his Docs say no mas with salt. Medical and dietary restrictions are the primary reasons folks are forced to give the stuff up. When it’s medical, it’s serious – a guy really can’t cheat and expect to recover fully or quickly. The current trend in medical thinks says too much salt isn’t good for your blood pressure, heart, liver, or kidneys, and can lead to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. But absolutely no salt isn’t that great for you either – The indication being that moderate salt intake affords some protection from those ills, while an absolutely zero salt diet probably does not. It has some critical functions, acting as an electrolyte to balance fluid, as well as aiding nerve and muscle function. But again, that’s moderate use. 

The WHO calls moderate less than 5 grams daily intake, but that’s for sodium as a whole, not just salt. If one’s diet includes regular doses of fast food, and/or highly processed foods in general, chances are good you’re taking in far, far more than that – Often two or more times that RDA, in fact – The FDA claims that roughly 11% of our sodium intake in this country comes from an actual salt shaker, while over 75% of it is derived from packaged, processed food. Let that sink in for a sec…

In other words, it’s not at all out of line to say that most American’s problems with sodium doesn’t come from seasoning, but from eating shitty food. That’s easily remedied, in a way – Get rid of the junk, and you’re mostly good – Or as I used to teach in first aid classes, just go around the outer ring of the grocery store. That way, you’ll get produce, protein, dairy, and beer – And most of what’s in the inside probably ain’t all that great for you, anyway… Of course, just stopping eating a high sodium diet, and still enjoying what you eat, isn’t as easily said as done – Doing that takes some help – and that’s where low or no salt spice blends come in.

If you’ve poked around here, then you know most of the blends I’ve offered do contain a fair amount of salt. Many commercial seasoning blends contain salt first and foremost, for the reasons detailed herein, so how should we compensate? Salt free or damn near is an obvious step, but not a fulfilling one necessarily – Perhaps we should rephrase the question as, how do we compensate with something that will adequately fill the taste and flavor enhancing qualities of salt? The quick answer is acid and umami.

When reviewing the ingredients in commercial no salt seasoning blends, (and how many of us actually do that, by the way?), it becomes readily apparent that the most popular contain at least an acidic constituent, usually powdered citrus or vinegar. Yet quite a few have no viable salt substitute at all. To me, this is a no brainer – If we’re out to successfully replace salt, there must be something effective in its place. Flavor balance among the primary tastes, (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, and possibly kokumi, described as mouthfulness or heartiness), is a key to great overall taste, and a key to many cuisines, especially Asian. Simply removing salt without compensating for and considering the other primary taste factors is unlikely to yield a satisfying result. Again, acidity and umami are the primary candidates to fix that.

Umami is often regarded as being closely associated with MSG, monosodium glutamate, the sodium salt of glutamate. Contrary to a lot of common myth, MSG is not unnatural – It occurs in many foods, (It’s why we dig Parmigiano-Reggiano and tomatoes, among others), and it’s found in our bodies as an amino acid. Granted, there are some folks who don’t tolerate it well, but there are also, to my knowledge, no viable studies that tie MSG to nerve damage, as has been broadly claimed in the past, and many of the studies that found it deleterious to health involved people ingesting quantities far above anything us relatively sane folk would do. MSG contains appreciably less sodium per weight than regular salt, and as such certainly can be considered as a viable constituent of a low salt seasoning blend. Pure MSG is available readily, as are MSG powered seasonings like Maggi. The latter is a good candidate for a spice blend, (it comes in cube form as well as liquid), as a very little bit added to an herb blend packs a big umami/salt punch. Maggi has a bunch of other things in it, herbs, aromatic bases, and the like, depending on where it’s made – Swiss in origin, there are variants made all over the world, and they’re all unique. All that said, if MSG just isn’t on your list, then consider acids.

When it comes to salt free home made spice blends, citrus or vinegar are excellent salt substitutes. Both can be bought powdered, as can lime, lemon, and orange, and all of those in very pure form – These are spray dried, and contain nothing but dried citrus juice. You can also buy, or dry at home, citrus and citrus peel, albeit they won’t have nearly the punch, weight per weight, that dried juice will. As stand alones, or perhaps with the tiniest touch of MSG or regular salt, acids can be effective and satisfying salt replacements.

Next, let us consider the best herbs and spices to employ. This is where things get fun, because replacing or reducing salt calls for the use of what may be considered somewhat exotic ingredients. While there really aren’t any spices, herbs, or aromatic bases that taste salty, there are quite a few that can add their own unique punch to a blend – Something that can contribute to that sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami balance and fill in the missing pieces. Alliums, like garlic, onion, and fennel can do a lot in this regard. So can chiles, throughout their range of heat and smokiness – everything from cayenne to Piment d’Espelette, urfa biber to pepperoncino, or Szechuan to Thai, and any of a hundred other regional gems in this vein. Then consider some of the warmer spices that may not usually make it into your thinking for every day spice blends – Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and nutmeg come to mind. No, these won’t replace salt, but they can provide a balanced flavor profile that intrigues a tongue dismayed by the lack of a favorite thing – This stuff is all about receptors – in our tongues, eyes, noses, and brains – Whatever we need to do to adequately fill the void is the ticket. Add to this the heady, heavier notes of traditional constituents like basil, bay, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and sage, and you’re in the wheelhouse.

The final consideration is proportion. This really will depend on what you’re building. Let’s say we go for something you’d like to use as an every day blend, something that could go on a wide variety of dishes as a salt based blend might. If it’s me, I’m going allium heavy, with onion and garlic leading the way. How about a Mexican based blend? Chiles are the obvious lead, with pepper as a close second. Speaking of pepper, how about that as a lead? I’d follow it with alliums and sweet pepper notes. Something for poultry? How about paprika, onion, chiles, lemon and some floral herbs? 

I think, and trust, that y’all get the idea. I’ll put a few of my ideas up, but here as always – and especially here, where it may be really important to y’all – I need you to take this and run with it. There are no truly bad choices. If you’re unsure of where you’re going, make a tiny batch and see what you think. Tweak that and get where you want to be, and then, guaranteed, one day you’ll use it and think, ‘this is good, but I should…’ and the answer to that is damn near always, ‘yes, do!’

With all of these blends, combine and mix thoroughly. If you’re starting with whole spices, grind them fine. I transfer blends to a shaker topped glass jar, stored away from direct sunlight. Depending on the gauge of your shaker top, you may need to run the finished blend through a single mesh strainer to make sure it’ll flow well. Caking can be an issue, especially in humid environments. Calcium Phosphate is yet another edible rock that does yeoman’s duty as an anti-caking agent. It’s readily available online, and yes, it’s perfectly fine to use and consume – A teaspoon or two in any of these blends should do the trick.


Urban’s Every Day Lo Salt Blend

2 Tablespoons granulated Onion

1 Tablespoon granulated Garlic

1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika

1 teaspoon dried Mustard

1 teaspoon ground Pepper

1 teaspoon powdered Lemon

1/2 teaspoon Sage

1/4 teaspoon Maggi seasoning


Urb’s Low Salt Pepper Blend

2 Tablespoons ground Black Pepper.

1 Tablespoon ground Red Pepper

1 teaspoon ground Green Pepper

1 teaspoon granulated Onion

1 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1 teaspoon powdered Vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground Celery Seed

1/4 teaspoon Maggi seasoning


Garlicky No Salt Blend

2 Tablespoons granulated Garlic

2 teaspoon powdered Lemon

2 teaspoon ground Tellicherry Pepper

1 teaspoon Urfa Biber

1 teaspoon Vinegar powder


Urb’s No Salt Mex Blend

1 Tablespoon ground Ancho chile 

1 Tablespoon ground Pasilla chile 

1 teaspoon ground Chipotle chile

1 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1 teaspoon granulated Onion

1 teaspoon powdered Vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground Coriander

1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin


Urb’s No Salt Poultry Blend

1 Tablespoon sweet Paprika

1 Tablespoon granulated Onion

1 teaspoon powdered Lemon

1 teaspoon ground Pepper

1/2 teaspoon Chile flake

1/2 teaspoon granulated Honey

1/2 teaspoon Sage

1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme


Urb’s No Salt Italian Blend

1 Tablespoon Basil

1 Tablespoon Oregano

1 teaspoon Rosemary

1 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1 teaspoon granulated Onion

1 teaspoon powdered Vinegar

1/2 teaspoon powdered Lemon

1/2 teaspoon Marjoram


Urban Chinese Five Spice Blend

1 Tablespoon whole Szechuan Peppercorns

3 whole Star Anise

1 stick Cassia Bark (AKA Chinese Cinnamon)

2 teaspoons whole Cloves

2 teaspoons whole Fennel Seed

Allow a dry, cast iron skillet to heat through over medium heat.

Add Szechuan pepper, star anise, cloves, and fennel seed to the pan. Toast the spices until they’re notably fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep the spices moving constantly to avoid scorching.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add the toasted spices and cassia to a spice grinder, blender, mortar and pestle, or whatever you use to grind spices. Pulse the blend to a uniform rough powder.

What makes Lawry’s seasoning salt tick?

What is Lawry’s Seasoning Salt? To tell the truth, I had no idea, and didn’t have any in the house. Then someone told me that this stuff was the seasoning for the dreaded Taco Time Mexi Fries – I happen to like those evil little things, so I bought some Lawry’s to try it out. While it turned out that my source was most definitely mistaken, the blend does have a nice flavor profile, and it’s rather venerable stuff – So I thought, why not dive in and see what makes Lawry’s seasoning salt tick?

Real Deal Lawry’s - Mysterious in several ways
Real Deal Lawry’s – Mysterious in several ways

The blend came to life back in 1938, as seasoning for prime rib beef at Lawry’s namesake restaurant in Beverly Hills, (Which is still around, by the way, and there’s a good few more branches now). Described as a, ‘unique blend of salt, spices and herbs,’ it’s a proprietary blend, (just like the stuff that graces those Mexi Fries). While the company ain’t givin’ it all up, they go so far as to list, ‘SALT, SUGAR, SPICES (INCLUDING PAPRIKA AND TURMERIC), ONION, CORNSTARCH, GARLIC, TRICALCIUM PHOSPHATE (PREVENTS CAKING), NATURAL FLAVOR, PAPRIKA OLEORESIN (FOR COLOR). Contains no MSG.’ It’s an interesting mix, not the least because of the absence of ground pepper.

Now, that paprika oleoresin is nothing more than an oil-soluble extract from chiles – a very common coloring agent, so no big deal there. Of course, if you want to dissect this stuff to recreate it, you need more than just ‘spices, including…’ and ‘natural flavors’ to work from – But that’s not as easy to come by as you’d think – Obviously, companies protect their proprietary recipes carefully, and sometimes they don’t tell you what’s in there because they don’t particularly want you to know – Turns out both are the case with this stuff.

To dissect stuff like this, what I do is open the carton and pour it into a bowl so I can look at it, feel it, smell it, and start getting a better idea of what’s actually in there. With the Lawry’s it wasn’t as easy as some others I’ve dug into – The mix is pretty fine, making it harder to isolate and taste individual components. I’ll do anything from vibrating the blend different ways to encourage separation, to sifting and picking directly from the mix. And on top of all that, I certainly look online to see what others might have found before me.

As far as the latter pursuit goes, it turns out that there are two slightly different wanna be versions of the blend out there – and then a whole lot of people just copied one or the other verbatim. What I got out of it was a pretty good baseline mix, and three very cool little mysteries that absolutely no one had really properly discussed, let alone figured out – So, more about that.

What I dissected, tasted, saw, and smelled tells me that the base mix for this stuff is salt, sugar, celery leaf, paprika, onion, garlic, cayenne, turmeric, and cornstarch – A pretty standard dry rub mix, albeit the turmeric and cornstarch are interesting – More on that shortly. The tricalcium phosphate is there to prevent caking, and it’s the exact same stuff I use it all our blends – It’s basically a purified, powdered rock, and occurs naturally in cow’s milk. That pretty much takes care of the spices, so on to those little mysteries I mentioned.

When you look up ‘what’s in Lawry’s seasoning salt,’ you’ll find all the stuff I mentioned, but when you try to dig deeper, you’ll not find very much. Looking into the ‘natural flavor’ thing was the least fruitful of all, but I did get there, and the answer shows in spades why the search was so difficult. A very persistent blogger, who loved the stuff, became concerned enough to start asking uncomfortable questions. She ended up talking to the Consumer Affairs department at McCormick, the maker of the blend. After significant hemming and hawing, they ponied up that the ‘natural flavors’ were in fact partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil – AKA, undisclosed trans fats. Said blogger then went to the FDA to ask how such things could be left undisclosed, or euphemistically termed ‘natural flavors’ – The FDA rep’s response was that ‘the oils are natural.’ When the blogger pointed out how hydrogenation pretty much trumps their initial state, she was told she was ‘free to not buy the product if she wished’ – Your Federal gummint in action, folks… in any case, yes, I think the trick they pulled is bullshit, but it is what it is. So, mystery #1 is basically a great reason to engineer a better analog at home.

The next What’s That In There For item is cornstarch. Innocuous enough, but not a thing you see in a lot of seasoning blends – So what is the deal? Internet musings focused on cornstarch as a thickener, or as aid to developing a nice crust on a protein. Both are true enough for the stuff, but this is not the case in the trace amounts it’s found within this blend. What I believe cornstarch is doing here is much more subtle and a very neat trick indeed – It’s called velveting. In certain Chinese regional recipes, a small amount of cornstarch is added to the sauce for a protein, most often as part of a marinade. When the protein is subsequently cooked, the cornstarch combines with meat juices to form a thin barrier layer – This layer acts to seal moisture into the meat, and results in a notably juicier final product. It’s especially effective for high heat cooking, like grilling, broiling, or stir frying. Cool mystery #2. 

The third cool thing is turmeric. As mentioned, this isn’t an ingredient you see much in seasoning blends, and it may just be the je ne sais quoi that sets Lawry’s apart. Turmeric, Curcuma longa), is a rhizome, like ginger, and in fact it’s in the same family, Zingiberaceae. These days you can sometimes find it in mainstream grocery stores – I’ve found it Fred Meyer more than once. It looks much like ginger on the outside, but when you slice into it, there’s that gorgeous dark orange colored flesh, and a scent that is to me much deeper and more nuanced than its more popular cousin. While ginger is all about heat and power, turmeric is softer and subtler – bitter, peppery, musty, and mustardy beneath the almost carroty primary notes – It’s stunningly good stuff, and it’s been around in Asian medicine and cooking for a long time. While I noted that it’s not common in spice blends, that meant not common here – For my mind, the most glorious example of turmeric in a mix comes from India and North Africa, where you’ll find it mixed with curry, cumin, coriander, cardamom and cinnamon, or maybe black pepper, clove, and nutmeg – Lots going on in those things.

Any way you shake it, Lawry’s is a pretty cool blend. While I couldn’t find who it was who initially developed this blend, I’ll tell you this – Between the cornstarch and the turmeric, I’d bet that the Chef was either Asian, or at least versed in Asian cuisines, and we’re the richer for their contribution. This stuff is well worth using as a basis for experimentation and development into something personal to you, which is exactly what I did. Below you’ll find my swing on the blend, tweaked to my liking, but true to its roots – It’s got quite a bit less sugar, and less salt overall than the original, with a couple of other twists. You’ll notice that the original stuff is quite red – That’s the paprika oleoresin, which again is nothing more than a colorant. I subbed annatto seed, which adds a bit of color, and an earthy note as well. Give it a try and then go wild.

Mine versus the original - The orange is all about the oleoresin coloring, frankly
Mine versus the original – The orange is all about the oleoresin coloring, frankly

Urban’s Lawry-Like Blend

1⁄3 Cup fine Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika

2 teaspoons Bakers Sugar

2 teaspoons dried Celery Leaf

1 1/2 teaspoons Turmeric

1 1⁄2 teaspoons Arrowroot

1 teaspoon Tricalcium Phosphate

1 teaspoon granulated Onion

1 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground Chile (I used Tabasco’s, use whatever you like)

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

My Lawry’s inspired blend
My Lawry’s inspired blend

Pour into a single mesh strainer over a second bowl and run the blend through, discarding anything that won’t pass.

Store in an airtight glass container.

Sugar, and Spice, and Everything Essential

Sugar, and spice, and everything essential. That’s no nursery rhyme – That’s what needs to be in every home pantry, if spontaneity and discovery are to happen in your kitchen. Fact is, without a decent assortment of staples – Sweeteners, flours, herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, and the like, it can be awfully hard to successfully create on the fly. At the same time, its easy, (and pricy!), to go overboard on this stuff. What’s the happy medium, and what are the must haves? Let’s dive in and see.

Here at our kitchen, we have, well, pretty much everything. We have to, in order to do what we do for y’all – researching, creating, and testing recipes requires a ridiculous amount and variety of resources. Thankfully, your kitchen needn’t be quite so whacky to be well equipped. That said, you may want more than you’ve got currently, so how to decide what’s necessary? Let’s use our place as a guide, and pare things down to manageable for the average home kitchen. That should allow a cook to do as much as reasonably possible from scratch, and also encourage spontaneity.

Spice & Herb Overflow - It happens...
Spice & Herb Overflow – It happens…

Before we dive in to specifics, a note on organization. Some manner thereof is, of course, absolutely necessary. How that takes shape is up to you. The most common sense approach is to consider what you use most, and have those closest at hand. As far as I’m concerned, the Season As You Go rule is non-negotiable, so the core stuff needs to be close at hand. We keep our go-to salts and peppers front and center, right on top of the stove. Oils, vinegars, and other common sauces shouldn’t be much farther away, ditto for herbs and spices. Flours, sugars, canned, boxed, and bagged stuff is pantry fodder, if you’re fortunate enough to have one.

The fundamentals, salt and pepper, center stage.
The fundamentals, salt and pepper, center stage.

In any case, make arrangements that make sense to you. Once you establish an order that works for you, keep it – In a professional kitchen, having things in the same place every time is a necessity, given the time constraints under which we cook. That rule really isn’t any different for us at home – Sometimes cooking is leisurely, but more often than not, it’s home at five and dinner needed around six, or some version thereof – So having everything where you expect to find it is imperative for efficiency and peace of mind. All that said, be open minded about change, if down the road your best laid plans don’t thrill you any more. Quarterly reviews of your resources and where you have them is a very good plan to follow. That gets you looking at expiration dates, freshness, amounts on hand, and what you haven’t used in forever on a regular basis – Include your fridge and freezer in that survey as well.

Why not start with those essentials, your go-to seasonings. As savvy cooks everywhere know, the core secret to great cooking is seasoning as you go. That means that the stuff you rely on for that process should be, as noted, closest at hand. This needn’t be complex. Salt and pepper really are all you need. Were one to pick a single version of each, what should they be? I’ll advocate for a sea salt, one with a moderate grain size – For this, you don’t want either really chunky stuff or super fine – Real sea salt contains a wealth of trace minerals that taste good and are good for you. There’s a bunch out there – I like the Bob’s Red Mill a lot, as well as the Celtic brand. For Pepper, you’re hard pressed to do better than a genuine Tellicherry berry, and that requires a little explanation.

Tellicherry Pepper - Size matters.
Tellicherry Pepper – Size matters.

Contrary to popular culinary myth, Tellicherry Pepper does not come from its namesake city in India. Tellicherry berries are defined by size, not location or heritage, per se. Pepper berries, Piper Nigrum, are harvested in February and March, then dried to become what we recognize as a pepper corn. In order to be called Tellicherry, pepper corns need to be 4.25 mm or larger, (and there’s actually a jumbo version, at 4.75mm and up). In any given crop, maybe 10% to 15% of the berries reach Tellicherry size, so it’s a bit rarer and a bit pricier, but well worth it – You’re getting the literal cream of the crop. As for other pepper, a look through our spice cabinet finds long, Tasmanian, grains of paradise, smoked, Szechuan, Lampung, Aleppo, white, green, and red, so yeah – You can go pretty ballistic on those. As far as I’m concerned, Tellicherry is all you really need.

Culinary Salts now run the gamut from A to Z
Culinary Salts now run the gamut from A to Z

There are many more options for salts these days, as well – and you may or may not want or need them. Some of the legendary ones, like Malden, Sal de Mer, Himalayan pink, Bolivian Sunrise, and the like are truly spectacular, but they’re expensive – Really better suited as finishing salts for a special touch. I counted fourteen salt varieties in our spice cabinet, including kosher, flaked, smoked, and a raft of those fancy varietals – Again, you really don’t need most of those. If I had to pick a must have selection, it’d be sea, kosher, and flaked – That’ll cover the vast majority of uses you’re likely to want to mess with – And if the others catch your fancy, I say try those too, but sparingly. Salt and pepper don’t have an endless shelf life, so buy in small quantities, and use them up before adding more.

Essential oils, vinegars, and sauces get the same storage treatment as herbs and spices.
Essential oils, vinegars, and sauces get the same storage treatment as herbs and spices.

Next up, oils, and here too one can be complex or simple. For eons, what you could get was corn oil and olive oil, and little else. With the rising popularity of home gastronomy, the variety of oils available to cooks has blossomed considerably. For basic cooking, you can now find a number of relatively heart healthy oils in almost any store – canola, peanut, safflower, and sunflower, for instance. As with fancy salts, there are a bunch more fairly exotic oils – walnut, grape seed, coconut, hazelnut, avocado, and infused olive oils. While the latter bunch are delicious indeed, they’re really more for finishing or making vinaigrette than for cooking – And they’re fabulously expensive to boot. What you need is genuine Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for sure, and then a go to veg oil – Those will do the trick for 90% of your daily cooking chores. I’ll add one caveat, and that’s avocado oil. It’s become our go to, for several reasons – It’s got a light, buttery taste, it handles heat well, and is high in monounsaturated fatty acids.

For all thing flour, I’ll refer you to our Flour Power post from a while back – It’ll probably tell you more than you need to know.

Pantry is for bulk storage of staples.
Pantry is for bulk storage of staples.

Sweeteners are a bit more complex than refined white sugar, and should be – There are tastier, more potent options worth your shopping dollar. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have white sugar on hand – You should, and maybe even a couple variants – Regular white is a go to for many things, and the finer cut Baker’s sugar dissolves much faster, for baking or other cooking. Honey, real honey, local whenever possible, not only has greater sweetening power than sugar, it has the added benefit of subtle flavor notes that reflect the terroir your local bees worked to bring you their joy. Regulars here will know we’re also big on agave nectar. In addition to a lovely, light taste, like honey, agave has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, so here again, you can use less to obtain a commensurate level of sweetening power. Other sugars, brown, raw, and the like, carry a molasses flavor note white refined doesn’t, and some folks like that. If you bake, you’ll likely want some of those on hand. Molasses and corn syrup might also find favor with bakers. Alternative molasses, like Pomegranate, sorghum, carob and date, are popular for cooking Middle Eastern cuisine, and can add an exotic touch to many dishes and sauces.

Vinegar is a must as well, for everything from house made vinaigrettes to sauces and shrubs. Depending on what you like to do, you may need one or more variations on the theme. A few years back, I wrote a little primer on the basics – You can find that here. The one caveat I’ll underline is this – Infused vinegars are expensive, and they needn’t be. You can make great versions at home for next to nothing, and you should. Here are some ideas for that project.

There are a bunch of ready made sauces out there, so what do you really need? For my mind, a hot sauce or three is a necessity – A few drops of Tabasco, for instance, wakes flavor much as salt does, and adds a nice backbone note to soups and stews. Jalapeño based sauce has a milder, fruitier profile that goes great with everything from veggies to eggs. What else? Soy sauce is a must, (though beware, there are a slew of gourmet and ‘premium’ varieties that can get really pricy and aren’t really all that spectacular. There are now an abundance of dark and light varieties. Preference comes down to taste, so try a few until you find something you like, and then stick with it – The lighter version, by the way, differs mostly in color, the idea being not to turn things muddy when that’s not appealing. Fish sauce is another must have, and here you do need to be careful – There’s a lot of crap, even among the pricy stuff. Red Boat is the real deal – You can’t go wrong with a small bottle of that, and since this is added literally by the drop, a small bottle goes a long way. Obviously there are a bunch more sauces, and you may accumulate a few over time. Hopefully, you don’t get as crazy as we are, but then you never know…

Oils, vinegars, and sauces will break down in the presence of direct sunlight and heat, so store them in a cool, dark spot, in glass containers, and always read the label to see if something belongs in the fridge after opening.

Herbs and spices need dark, cool temps, and airtight glass jars.
Herbs and spices need dark, cool temps, and airtight glass jars.

And lastly, we come to herbs and spices. Here’s a place where, as you can see from our cabinet, a cook can go seriously off the deep end – That’s a blessing and a curse. Almost everything in a spice cabinet is sensitive to conditions and age – The volatile compounds that make herbs and spices do what they do mean that they can and will break down and degrade if stored improperly or kept too long. For dried herbs and spices, there are important caveats. First, sourcing – All herbs are not created equally – Provenance and proven quality matter. Although things are improving in terms of variety and quality, getting herbs and spices from the average grocery store isn’t what you want to do. A simple test illustrates why – A generic, store bought jar of oregano versus real stuff from a quality source like World Spice, or Penzeys, will prove the point. Open both and take a nice, long sniff. The sheer power and complexity of the good stuff quickly overwhelms the relatively insipid generic version. What you’re experiencing is ‘oregano’ against Mexican or Turkish oregano, with known sources of high quality – Game over. Everything you get from a good purveyor will perform like that. If you needed further motivation, what you get in the grocery is often more expensive than what the good providers charge. You’ll also have a choice as to how much of what you want to buy, and you can opt for whole or ground/mixed as well. Overall, it’s a no brainer if you’re serious about your cooking, (and if you’re here, you are.)

Onwards to storage – If your spices are in little jars in a spinny thingy on your counter top, and you got that stuff as a wedding gift and are still using it, you seriously need to repent, and soon. Sunlight, oxygen, and warmth are our friends, but for dried herbs and spices, not so much. Your stuff needs to be in a cabinet, out of direct light, away from extremes of temperature, and stored in small, airtight glass jars. That will safeguard your hard won goodies. Even so, age creeps up on us all, and spices are as susceptible as anything. This means that limiting how much and what you store is the best plan. We buy our staple, go to stuff, by the pound, but again, that’s because we do a lot of cooking to make this joint run – There are few, if any things in the spice world that the average home kitchen needs by the pound – An ounce of lemon thyme goes quite a long way, and you can have another in your mailbox in a matter of days. Buy quality, buy enough for maybe three months of use, and you’re good to go.

Of course, some herbs just beg to be used fresh, and if ever there’s an indoor gardening task you should undertake, a fresh herb window box is it. Check out our page on what we call the essentials, here. Between that and an annual herb and veggie garden, you can grow and then dry of freeze home grown stuff – There’s nothing finer, frankly.

This isn’t meant as a comprehensive kitchen analysis, but as a good starting point from which to learn and grow. Always be open to change, embrace what works and tastes good, and you’ll be hard pressed to go wrong. What we’ve outlined here should be sufficient to allow decent spur of the moment creativity on your part.

Two Hour Beef Stew

It's nasty out, which means it's perfect stew weather!
It’s nasty out, which means it’s perfect stew weather!

Dateline, December 12th, 2016. Second snow storm in as many days, most schools closed, accidents everywhere, our little street is a skating rink. Wherever you are, a bunch of you said, ‘Recipe, please,’ when I posted a pic the other day of a Two Hour Beef Stew. Couldn’t ask for a better day than today to delve in, so here we go.

First off, can a stew made in a couple of hours really taste that good? Won’t your crew know it didn’t have proper time to really get good? The answers are, yup, without a doubt, and nope, they won’t. Yeah, it’ll be great the next day, but done right, you’ll fool ’em into thinking you slaved all day if you do things as I’ll show you here.

There are four tricks/secrets/thangs ya gotta do if you want a stew that’s been made quite quickly to taste like it took forever. They’re simple things, and they also happen to define a primary difference between what a professional cook turns out versus the typical home chef. They are as follows –
1. Always start with aromatics,
2. Coat you meat lightly in flour and allow it to caramelize,
3. Deglaze your pan after those are done, and
4. Season as you go.
Do that, in combination with judicious choices of ingredients, and you’re in like Flynn.

The beauty of beef stew lies in its simplicity. Sure, you can add more things than you’re gonna find in a can of Hormel, but you don’t really need to – Beef, stock, carrots, potatoes, onion, a little tomato paste, salt and pepper. Of course, if you want to add more stuff, you certainly can – I like tomatoes, because they add a nice tang to the broth and help cut the richness as well. Here’s what we’ll use –

Beef Stew a la UrbanMonique

1 Pound Stew Beef
1/2 Cup diced sweet Onion
2 Carrots, sliced into rounds
2 Yukon Gold Potatoes
4 Cups Chicken Stock
1 14 oz. can diced, fire roasted Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Wondra Flour
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
Juice of 1/2 small Lemon
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

We start with the aromatics – combinations of veggies and seasoning, sautéed in a little fat. This is the critical first step to building a great stew, soup, curry, stir fry, or house made stock. Onion, garlic, carrot, celery, parsnip, turnip, bay, sweet peppers and chiles, leeks, celeriac, and jicama all qualify. And there’s a reason that some of these combinations have venerable names of their own – Mire Poix from France, with onion, carrot and celery. Sofrito in Spain and Soffritto in Italy – Garlic, onion, tomato, and garlic and/or onion in olive oil, respectively. Garlic, spring onion, and ginger in many Asian cuisines. The Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking – onion, celery, and green pepper. Suppengrün in Germany, powered by carrot, celeriac, and leeks. Sautéed in oil or butter, ghee or coconut milk, these simple vegetables provide a subtle backbone of great flavor. Try building something without them, and you’ll immediately understand why they’re critical to success – Starting your stew with great aromatics guarantees that you’re building from a strong foundation.

Chop your aromatics to relatively uniform size prior to cooking. You needn’t be super fussy about this. For stew, a large dice of about 3/4″ will serve just fine, and if you want to leave your carrots as rounds, go ahead and do that. Cutting things up produces nice bite sized pieces, and provides more surface area for those great flavors to be released from.

In your stew pot, over medium heat, add a tablespoon or two of oil. I like Avocado Oil for its buttery flavor and high smoke point, but Olive will do just fine too. Once the oil is heated through, toss in your onion, carrot, and potatoes, and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion starts to turn translucent. Salt and pepper is all you need for seasoning at this point – Oily, pungent herbs like bay, thyme, rosemary, and oregano will get the flavors sautéed right out of them if they’re introduced too early in the process. When your aromatics have cooked for 3 to 5 minutes, transfer them into a bowl.

Now it’s time for the meat, and here is where things also get done to ensure that we’re making stew and not soup – That means introducing a thickener. Cut stew beef down to roughly 3/4″ chunks if it’s not there already. Flour is the agent of choice for beef stew, and Wondra is the flour you want. Cooked and dried when it’s processed, Wondra is much less prone to clumping than ordinary flour, and makes wonderfully smooth sauces and stocks. A couple of tablespoons added to a pound of stew beef, a pinch of sea salt and a few twists of pepper, tossed by hand to assure a nice, even coat is all you need. Throw the floured beef into the stew pot over medium low heat, and then let it be. Let each side of your little beef cubes cook long enough for a nice, deep brown crust to develop – This means don’t mess with it inordinately – Let each side work before gently turning to the next. When your beef has a nice, even caramelized crust, toss it into the bowl with your veggies. This is a step that is far too often omitted or seriously short changed, and that’s not good – Take the time to do it right, and you’ll be amply repaid with great flavor. And trust me when I tell you that that flour will provide all the thickening power you’ll need.

Caramelization is the key to great stew meat
Caramelization is the key to great stew meat

Now comes deglazing. By this time, the sautéing of those veggies and the caramelization of your beef has left a wealth of dark stuff on the bottom of your stew pot. Amateurs think this will taste nasty and burned. Savvy chefs know that this stuff, called fond, is the source of some serious mojo. Take a good sniff of that pot – Does it smell good, like stuff you want to eat? If so, you’re go for deglaze, (and if not, ah well – wash that pot with a tear in your eye and start fresh, but you’ll be missing out on serious flavor.) deglazing frees up all those wonderful naughty bits to join the stew party. Get a stiff spatula, and a cup of the chicken stock called for in the recipe. Turn the heat up to medium high, wait a minute for the pot to heat through, then splash that stock in there. You’ll get a cloud of heavenly smelling steam and heat. Use your spatula to scrape all that good stuff loose and incorporate it into the stock. As soon as that’s done, add the rest of the stock, turn the heat back down to medium, and let everything heat through.

Now toss your sautéed veggies and meat into the pot, add the tomatoes and bay, tomato paste, and lemon juice and stir to incorporate. Season one more time with salt, pepper, and lemon thyme. Turn the heat down to low, and let that magic work for a couple of hours.

2 hour beef stew right after final assembly
2 hour beef stew right after final assembly

What you’ll end up with will taste like it worked all day. Serve it with crusty bread and a nice glass of red wine or a local beer. You don’t have to tell them how fast you did it.

2 hour stew ready to rock - you can see how rich this stuff really is!
2 hour stew ready to rock – you can see how rich this stuff really is!

Go To Seasoned Salt

Everybody has a go-to seasoning or two in their kitchen. My Sis, Ann Lovejoy, is a great finder and sharer of such things. The back of our stove is where our collection lies. There, you’ll find a couple of ground chiles, naturally – our homegrown Texas Tabascos and a smoked blend. There are three different peppers, a four berry blend (red, white, green, and black), Grains of Paradise, and smoked black. Far and away, the most common thing you’ll find are salts. There are two Annie found, from a cottage maker in Oregon, a fennel flower, and a basil variety. There’s also flaked, and kosher, Himalayan pink, house made celery, and our own take on Jane’s Krazy Salt.

Jane's Original Krazy Salt
There really was a Jane behind this cottage industry turned international food producer. Jane Semans, a “tiny white-haired, delightfully wacky grandmother,” mixed seasoning blends in her Overbrook, Pennsylvania kitchen, and began sharing the goods with friends and neighbors. In 1962, she trademarked Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt, and the rest is history.
The company that bears her name now makes a myriad of seasoning blends that sell well all over the world. I like supporting good companies, and we’ve done so with Jane’s for years. Her Krazy salt has been our go-to blend, used every day, from breakfast through dinner. Why is it that salt, in some form, is far and away the most used seasoning?

Sodium Chloride, AKA, table salt, does far more than simply make food taste salty. Adding salt suppresses some tastes as well. It’s generally agreed that humans perceive five tastes, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Salt acts to suppress bitter in many food combinations, making things palatable that might not be otherwise. Some have argued that salt also enhances other favors, but this is somewhat of a misnomer. Scientists who study such things have determined that salt does not chemically enhance anything – that said, it is known that adding salt reduces the activity of water within the ingredients we add it to, which allows us humans greater perception of various volatile aromatics – in other words, salt enhances by suppression, once again.

Here’s a practical example of this trait – Check out just about any jar of lemon pepper seasoning you can find – chances are good that the first ingredient in most of them is salt – that’s done not only because salt is tasty, but because lemon pepper is made with lemon peel, and if you’re not über careful about harvesting peel and not pith, (the yellow as opposed to the white), what you get is in fact quite bitter. Salt tames the potentially off putting bitter notes and generates a harmonious blend.
And then there are the health benefits – Yes, health benefits, of ingesting salt. Humans need water to survive, more than any other element. Salt plays a crucial role in distributing water throughout our bodies. Proper sodium content in our bods, (and potassium too), is critical to everything from digestion to brain function. Go a bit overboard, and your kidneys will excrete excess sodium for you.

On top of that little scientific aside, the profusion of natural salts for cooking available nowadays brings a wealth of trace flavor notes from the various minerals attached thereto. That is the root of why salts mixed with other things we like are so prominent on the back ledge of my stove.

What are your to-to seasonings?
As for that Jane’s, well, I like it a lot, so naturally, I poured a bunch of it into a glass bowl and poked around to see what made it tick. Once I knew what was inside, my gears started turning toward the thought of improvement. There are other analyses and recipes of Jane’s out there, for the record; I read none of them, preferring to let my eyes, fingers, and taste buds do the work. Here’s what I discovered.
Jane’s is, of course, first and foremost salt. What they use appears to me to be coarse kosher, which is perfect for herbed salt blends like this. The larger, jagged grains capture ground or crunched herbs and spices well, making for a blend that remains homogeneous in a shaker. The other ingredients are granulated garlic and onion, ground black pepper, celery salt, crushed red chiles, and sage. Knowing the proper percentages of each ingredient are of course vital to recreating a blend – you’ll see below, both what strikes us as a spot on duplicate of the real McCoy, and our preferred version.

While it might seem like plagiarism to copy such a thing, it’s really not. Sure, it’s somebody’s baby as it stands, but it’s also kinda like a guitar lick – Les Paul’s son Gene related his father’s love of all things Django Reinhardt. He tells of his father sitting at the kitchen table, practicing Django’s licks over and over again. One night, during a performance, the son heard the father unravel that lick in the middle of soloing for another song. When he asked about it afterwards, Les smiled and said, “It’s my lick now.” As a guitar player and chef, I know this to be true. It’s how things work. The fact is that the number of folks who can accurately play that lick, or dissect that recipe faithfully is relatively small. It’s a tribute, a nod, a starting point for other things – I’m sure Jane wouldn’t mind.

House made celery salt

Before we build the full meal deal, let’s address the celery salt that goes into it. You can buy this stuff, of course, but small batches of home made are far superior, and fun to make. Any herb(s), fresh or dried, can be mixed with salt to provide a nice, fresh, custom blend. How much you use depends on your preferred taste. In general, a ratio of salt to dried herb anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1 will work – that ratio depends on the potency of your herbs – for celery salt, you want quite a bit more than you would for, say, Rosemary. You’ll want to experiment a bit to determine the mix that best highlights the herb. If you’re using fresh, as with this celery salt, you’ll need to thoroughly dry the herbs before blending. Depending on what you’re using, you’ll want to prepare quite a bit more of the final volume you’re after – for the celery salt, you’ll see that I used about a lightly packed cup of fresh leaves in order to get an appropriate amount of dried.

House Made Celery Salt
1 Cup fresh Celery Leaf
1/4 Cup coarse Kosher Salt

Fresh celery leaves, ready for drying

Preheat oven to warm.
Trim celery leaves from stalks and excess stems.
Spread leaf on a dry baking sheet.
Allow leaves to dry thoroughly, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Hand crush leaves, then run them through a single layer mesh strainer. Discard the stuff that doesn’t make it through.
Blend leaves and salt in a small mixing bowl, transfer to a glass jar.
If the blend gets a bit sticky, gently tap the jar to loosen things up.

Dried celery leaves, ready for crushing


House made celery salt

Very Jane-Like Salt Blend
This is, for our taste, about as close to the original as you can get.
1/4 Cup coarse Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon granulated Garlic
2 teaspoons ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons granulated Onion
1 teaspoon Celery Salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed Cayenne Chile
1/4 teaspoon crushed Sage

Blend all, and transfer to a glass jar for storage.

House made seasoned salt

UrbanMonique’s Wacky Salt
This is our spin on the original – peppery, smoky, and bold.
2 Tablespoons coarse Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon Alderwood Smoked Salt
1 Tablespoon Four Pepper Blend, (black, white, green, red)
1 Tablespoon Granulated Garlic
2 teaspoons granulated Onion
2 teaspoons Celery Salt
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground Smoked Chiles
1/2 teaspoon crushed Sage

Blend all, and transfer to a glass jar for storage.

House made seasoning salt