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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

TIP OF THE DAY: Easy Snacking On Chestnuts

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New School: Buy chestnuts ready to eat. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

 

In the old days, winter meant chestnut vendors on street corners. We’d buy a bag, hot off the embers, and burn our fingertips in our eagerness to devour the toasty treats.

Then we learned how easy it was to make our own (recipe below).

But these days, we buy bags of whole cooked chestnuts, peeled and ready to be popped into the mouth, tossed into recipes or microwaved to make them toasty. What you miss in the smoky flavor nuance, you gain in moistness.

Chestnuts are delicious cold or hot in various recipes or as a garnish. There is no need to add anything to them; they are full of flavor and ready-to-eat. (In fact, you can eat chestnuts raw, but they are sweeter and have a better flavor when cooked).

WAYS TO SERVE CHESTNUTS

You can eat chestnuts as you would any other nut. Versatile, they work in savory or sweet recipes.

 
SAVORY CHESTNUT USES

  • In an omelet
  • In breads and muffins
  • As an appetizer wrapped with bacon
  • Pureèd into pestos and dips
  • In soup—try this (cream of chestnut soup recipe)
  • As a garnish: meat, poultry, seafood—whole, diced, mashed or puréed
  • In stuffing: for duck, pheasant, pork, turkey, quail, veal.
  • In salads, whole or quartered
  •  

  • With vegetables: Brussels sprouts, carrots, mushrooms
  • With grains (risotto, pilaf), diced
  • In casseroles
  •  
    SWEET CHESTNUT USES

  • Candied (marrons glacées)
  • Puréed and added to hot chocolate
  • In ice cream—puréed or diced
  • In a sweetened bread spread
  • Mousse or Mont Blanc, sweetened chestnut purée in a meringue shell, topped with whipped cream (here’s a riff on Mont Blanc: dessert pasta)
  • Cakes (here’s a chestnut loaf cake)
  • Chestnut soufflé and a multitude of other desserts
  •  

    roasted-chestnuts_histomil-230

    Old School: Buy raw chestnuts, cut an X, roast them, peel them. Photo courtesy Histomil.com.

     

    HOW TO ROAST CHESTNUTS

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F. Wipe the chestnuts with a damp paper towel.

    2. PLACE the chestnuts on a cutting board, flat side down. Use a small, sharp knife to cut an X on the top (rounded) side of each chestnut. This allows the steam to escape and also makes peeling the cooked chestnuts a lot easier.

    3. MOVE the chestnuts to a baking pan or sheet with the X facing up. Roast for 20-30 minutes until the shells burst open at the X.

    4. COOL a bit until the chestnuts are comfortable enough to touch; peel while they are still warm.

    Note that chestnuts can begin to rot inside the shell, and you won’t know it until you’ve roasted and peeled them. So if you need a certain number, buy 20% more to be on the safe side.

    CHESTNUT HISTORY

    Chestnuts were eaten by prehistoric man, and have been cultivted since about 2000 B.C.E.

    The chestnut tree, Castanea sativa, was introduced to Europe via Greece and Asia Minor. The majority of the chestnut trees currently found in America are of European stock, but Native Americans ate an American genus, Castanea dentata, long before the European tree came to America.

    In 1904, a fungus on diseased Asian chestnut trees that were planted in New York spread and nearly wiped out the American chestnut population. While there are some domestic groves in California and the Pacific Northwest, today most chestnuts are imported from China, Italy, Japan and Spain.

      

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    GIFT: Fika Gourmet Malted Milk Balls

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    Gourmet malted milk balls with a seasonal look. Photo courtesy Fika New York.

     

    Forget Whoppers: Lovers of malted milk balls know how to search out the best malted milk balls. Our reigning favorites are the Mint Chip Maltballs from Marich, malt centers encased in dark chocolate and a mint cookie coating.

    But there’s a new entry for your consideration from Fika. Under the snowy surface of confectioners’ sugar are sweet milk chocolate-covered malt balls. The malted milk balls are handmade in Fika’s New york City facility.

    At $12 for a clear gift box of 10 ounces, they’re available FikaNYC.com, along with many other treats.

    For a respite, drop in at one of Fika’s 10 locations in New York City for coffee, pastry or a light repast.

     

     
      

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    STOCKING STUFFER: Cowboy Toffee Co. S’Mores Toffee

    For toffee lovers, here’s a delightful variation: S’mores Toffee from the Cowboy Toffee Company of Oakdale, California.

    There are classic toffees we like better. Our gold standard is the uber-buttery Enstrom’s, which also is made in a sugar-free version. (It has so much butter, you’re advised to store it in the fridge! It’s also certified kosher)

    We’ve never seen s’mores toffee flavor before. Enhanced with mini marshmallows, mini graham cracker squares and a cover of milk chocolate, it’s something new, different and fun.

    A four-ounce rustic gift box is $9.99. Get yours at CowboyToffeeCo.com.

    (Note that the toffee photo on the website isn’t too attractive. We devoured our sample before it could be photographed. The toffee looks much tastier in person.)

     

    cowboy_toffee_box-230

    Inside the box: S’mores Toffee! Photo courtesy Cowboy Toffee.

     

    WHAT IS TOFFEE

    Toffee is a hard but chewable candy made by caramelizing sugar with water and butter. American recipes can add vanilla and other flavorings, plus milk or cream. The ingredients are boiled together at a high temperature until the mixture is golden brown and stiff.

    The hot toffee is spread onto a shallow pan or countertop to thicken and cool. The slab is then broken into smaller, irregular pieces. Some toffees are poured into individual molds to create individual square or round pieces.

    Here’s more about toffee, including English-style toffee and the difference between toffee, buttercrunch and caramel.

      

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    STOCKING STUFFERS & MORE: Mrs. Prindable’s Caramels

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    A gourmet stocking stuffer. Photo courtesy Mrs. Prindable’s.

     

    We taste many caramels each year, looking for those that are very buttery, easy to chew and bursting with natural flavor.

    Mrs. Prindable’s, the queen of gourmet caramel apples, has applied the company’s knowledge of making fine caramel to bite-size candies, available in sizes from stocking stuffer to principal gift.

    The company’s new confections include:

  • Aleppo Chili Caramels, with a touch of heat from Aleppo chilies.
  • Hawaiian Red Sea Salt Caramels, enhanced by Alaea sea salt, a red/pink salt harvested off the Hawaiian island of Molokai that provides a light crunch along with the salty-sweet counterpoint.
  • Vietnamese Cinnamon Apple Caramel, delivering tart apple flavor paired with sweet cinnamon.
  •  
    Each cube-shaped gift box contains 12 individually wrapped pieces for $9.95. There’s also a box of mixed flavors ($19.99), chocolate-covered caramels ($19.99), and a stocking stuffer of four chocolate-covered caramels ($5.99).

    The line is certified kosher (dairy) by CRC. Get yours at MrsPrindables.com.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cut Back On The Hors d’Oeuvre

    People who love to put out a good spread typically go whole-hog on the hors d’oeuvre. The problem, in advance of a big feast, is that those who have been holding back on eating in anticipation of the big meal may go overboard with the pre-meal tidbits.

    Guests may have eaten very lightly that day in anticipation of the dinner, only to be very hungry when by the time they arrive at your doorstep. They then dive into the platters of whatever you’ve put out: bruschetta, canapés, cheese, crudités, dips and spreads, paté.

    If they arrive an hour or two in advance of sitting down to dinner, by the time the main meal begins, they could be halfway stuffed. The solution:

    1. Let everyone know what time you expect to sit down at the table. Then, whether you plan a cocktail hour or multi-hour get together before serving dinner, everyone will be prepared. (If you’re the guest, call ahead and ask.)

    2. Limit what you serve to little nibbles—the kind most people won’t eat in bulk.

     

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    Mixed olives and caperberries with fresh parsley and pink peppercorns. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     

    LIGHT NIBBLES TO SERVE

  • Olives, either by themselves or as part of an old-fashioned relish platter with gherkins, radishes, carrot and celery sticks (or the modern alternative, baby carrots and fennel sticks).
  • If you want to do something more creative, consider an olive platter with different flavors: plain olives with very distinctive flavors, such as Cerignola and Kalamata; a hot and spicy mix; olives stuffed with anchovy, blue cheese, garlic, jalapeño, etc.
  • Nuts, including spiced nuts, like Planters Pumpkin Spice Almonds; or a selection of different nuts.
  •  
    But forewarned is forearmed. You’ve slaved over that dinner, and the last thing you want to hear are guests groaning that they don’t have enough room for it.

      

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    PRODUCT: Nonni’s Biscotti In Holiday Flavors

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    A holiday treat from Nonni’s. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    We are fans of Nonni’s Biscotti, and even more so with the new holiday flavors.

    Nonni’s limited-edition holiday biscotti are available in Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice, both with cinnamon icing. The biscotti are individually wrapped for easy grab-and-go.

    Delicious for snacking or for gifting, they also pair well with the season’s pumpkin and gingerbread lattes.

    Be sure to get enough for stocking stuffers!

    If you can’t find the biscotti locally, you can get them online:

  • Nonni’s Gingerbread Biscotti
  • Nonni’s Pumpkin Biscotti
  •  
    Don’t want spiced biscotti? Try the addictive Salted Caramel Biscotti, embedded with chunks of salted caramel.

     

    The biscotti are certified kosher by U.S Kosher Supervision. Learn more at Nonnis.com.

     
      

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    GIFT: “Chocolate” Swiss Army Knife

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    A Swiss Army Knife for the chocolate lover. Photo courtesy Victorinox.

     

    Who knew there were so many styles of Swiss Army Knife?

    We’ve seen them in occasional colors beyond black and the signature red.

    But there are 99 different designs, from animal prints and flowers to camouflage and skateboards.

    For the chocolate lover, the Swiss Chocolate Classic SD Swiss Army Knife is the way to go. There’s a scored chocolate bar on one side; on the reverse side shows the chocolate peeled back from its silver foil.

    The Swiss Chocolate Classic SD Swiss Army Knife is $17.25 and your readers can purchase it at SwissKnifeShop.com.

    Engraving and gift bags are also available.

     

     
      

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    GIFT: CapaBubbles Champagne Cap

    Why recork when you can more easily cap?

    Last year we raved about the Capabunga wine cap, a leakproof, spillproof, reusable silicon wine bottle cap that eliminates the need to shove a cork back into a bottle. We loved it and made it a Top Pick Of The Week (here’s our review).

    Now, there’s a version for Champagne and other sparkling wines, that preserves the fizziness in the bottle. It’s stronger than the Capabunga, to resist any built-up pressure from the bubbles.

    CapaBubbles can preserve Champagne and sparkling wine for up to one week.

    It’s affordable enough so that you can include one when you bring a bottle. It’s a welcome gift for a bubbly lover.

    In four different designs, CapaBubbles is $15.95, gift boxed and the perfect size to sneak into a stocking, at Capabunga.com

     

    capabubbles-230

    Save that bubbly with a CapaBubbles Champagne cap. Photo courtesy Capabunga.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

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    Why run out for one, when you can make Pumpkin Spice Latte at home? Photo courtesy Starbucks.

     

    We know far too many people who have an addiction to Pumpkin Spice Latte. They often require two per day. To them we say: Why spend a fortune on a PSL habit? It’s easy to make Pumpkin Spice Latte at home.

    Sure, it’s easy to brew coffee, steam the milk and add a shot or two of pumpkin-flavored sugar syrup.

    And here’s a better-for-you variation, a recipe that uses canned pumpkin instead of pumpkin-flavored sugar syrup. You get much more pumpkin flavor, plus the ability to customize the amount of sugar, honey, agave, noncaloric sweetener or no sweetener at all.

    Prep time is 10 minutes.

    RECIPE: PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE

    Ingredients For 2 Lattes

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling*)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice†
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
  • Optional garnishes: whipped cream, dash of pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon sticks
  • Preparation

    1. HEAT the milk, pumpkin and sugar in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until hot (do not boil). Remove from the heat. Stir in the pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and coffee.

    2. POUR into 2 large mugs. Garnish each with whipped cream, a dash of pumpkin pie spice and a cinnamon stick.

     
    *Pumpkin pie filling is pre-sweetened and spiced.

    †If you do not have pumpkin pie spice, make your own by combining 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of ground ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg. This will make about 2 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice mix.
     
    MAKE YOUR OWN PUMPKIN SYRUP

    Still want pumpkin syrup in your PSL? Here’s an alternative recipe that uses pumpkin syrup that you make yourself.
     
    WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LATTE & CAFÉ AU LAIT?

    Café au lait is a coffee drink made with regular coffee (typically a stronger roast, like French roast or Italian roast), brewed in a ratio of 1:1 milk to coffee with sugar to taste.

    Latte, also made with a 1:1 ratio, uses espresso—the strongest coffee roast. Espresso is the roast most popular in Italy; French Roast is most popular in France.

    Check out the different espresso drinks in our Espresso Glossary.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

    Italian-American families often have a festive pasta dish such as lasagna at the Thanksgiving table, along with traditional Turkey Day foods.

    We’ve got two options for Pumpkin Mac & Cheese, a treat throughout the holiday season. Both recipes are courtesy of Cabot Creamery, makers of our favorite supermarket Cheddar.

    This first recipe is courtesy of Kristina LaRue, RD, LDN, for Cabot Creamery. It uses better-for-you whole grain pasta and flour. Note that in this recipe, you can substitute white pastry flour and conventional elbow macaroni; but in baking cookies, cakes, muffins, etc., the substitution proportions will differ.

    RECIPE: PUMPKIN MAC & CHEESE

    Ingredients

  • 14 ounces whole grain elbow macaroni
  • 4 slices center-cut bacon
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 cups nonfat milk
  • 1/2 cup 100% pure canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 6 ounces Cabot Alpine Cheddar*, shredded and divided
  • 6 ounces Cabot White Oak Cheddar*, shredded and divided
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  •    

    Pumpkin_Mac_and_Cheese_cabot-230

    Pumpkin Mac & Cheese. Photo courtesy Cabot Creamery.

     
    *The recipe used Cabot Alpine Cheddar and Cabot White Oak Cheddar, but you can substitute Sharp Cheddar or Extra Sharp Cheddar.
     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Coat a 13 X 9 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

    2. COOK the macaroni to al dente according to package directions. Rinse and drain.

    3. LINE a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and arrange bacon. Cook bacon for 10 minutes and blot dry. Crumble and set aside.

    4. MELT the butter in large pot over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and slowly add the milk until the mixture is smooth and the ingredients are incorporated.

    5. STIR in the canned pumpkin and continue to whisk until the mixture is thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the spices, cheese (reserve 1/2 cup for topping) and yogurt, whisking quickly to combine until the cheese is melted.

    6. POUR the macaroni into the prepared baking dish and coat evenly with the pumpkin cheese sauce. Top with the remaining cheese and bacon.

    7. BAKE for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

     

    Mac___Cheese_in_a_Pumpkin-cabot-230

    Your favorite mac and cheese recipe can served in a baked pumpkin. Photo courtesy Cabot Creamery.

     

    RECIPE: MAC & CHEESE BAKED IN A PUMPKIN

    This recipe is baked in a pumpkin, but there is no pumpkin flesh in the recipe. Instead, you can use the recipe above for a pumpkin-in-pumpkin dish.

    Ingredients For 16 Servings

  • 1 large pumpkin, about 11 inches in diameter, preferably with one flat side
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 cups small elbow macaroni
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter
  • 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Large pinch ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cups whole milk, heated
  • 2 pounds (about 8 cups) Cabot Sharp Cheddar or Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar, grated & divided
  • 1 cup buttered bread crumbs
  • Optional garnish: sprigs of fresh thyme
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375ºF.

    2. PLACE the pumpkin flat-side-down or remove thin slice from one side so the pumpkin will be stable. With a sharp knife, cut the pumpkin in half horizontally, slightly above stem, to form a bowl. Remove the fiber and seeds. With a spoon or an ice cream scoop, scrape out some of the flesh so shell has a thickness of 3/4 to 1 inch.

    3. SPRAY the top edge of the pumpkin with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil; then place it cut-side down on a pizza pan or baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until the pumpkin still holds it shape but the flesh is cooked and can be pierced easily with a toothpick. While pumpkin bakes…

    4. COOK the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

    5. MAKE the cheese sauce: Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Sprinkle the flour into the butter and whisk constantly until there is a thick, smooth paste with nutty aroma (about 5 minutes).

    6. ADD the mustard, red pepper and Worcestershire. Gradually whisk in the milk and continue stirring until the sauce thickens and returns to a simmer.

    7. REDUCE the heat to low. Add 7 cups of the cheese and stir until melted. Add the macaroni, stirring until well coated; remove from the heat.

    8. TURN the baked pumpkin over with oven mitts. Place it in a large shallow baking dish (from which you’ll serve it), or leave it on the baking sheet. Fill the pumpkin with the macaroni mixture and top with the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. (Put any mac and cheese that won’t fit into another small baking dish).

    9. BAKE until the filling is puffed and golden, about 40 to 50 minutes longer (a smaller baking dish will be done sooner). Let stand for about 10 minutes to settle before serving. Garnish and serve.

      

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