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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.

Archive for December, 2007

FOOD TIP OF THE DAY:

Today is National Champagne Day. Most people bring a bottle of Champagne as a gift to New Year’s Eve parties. Add a book about Champagne, and your gift will be remembered long after the bubbles are gone. This is one of our favorites. (Find more of our favorite books in the Books Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.) Happy New Year from all of us at THE NIBBLE!   4000 Champagnes
No one expects to get through all 4,000, but there’s lots of educational information about Champagne itself.
 

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: A More Entertaining New Year

You can spend more time with friends and family in the New Year by entertaining more often and more easily. Don’t focus on a formal event that takes time to plan and costs a lot of money. Think casual, and simply set aside 2 hours a month to catch up with people you don’t see often enough, or with those you’ve met but haven’t had the chance to see again. Make it a regular event and set aside the second Friday evening or third Sunday afternoon of the month, for example. Invite four to eight people over for a mini-tasting: Try different teas, mineral waters, Spanish cheeses, single-origin chocolate bars—whatever you’d like to learn more about. The group will enjoy mixing and discovering new specialty foods; small groups are easier and less expensive to manage and guests mix more easily. THE NIBBLE is full of ideas—almost every food category section has suggestions for tastings. See the Main Nibbles index of 70 categories of yummy foods in THE NIBBLE online magazine—and decide whether to start in alphabetical order (craft beer?) or healthy, low-calorie food for your new year’s resolutions.   Green TeaInvite friends for a green tea tasting party in January and discover a favorite new green tea to pack in the antioxidants all year long. Read more about high antioxidant foods.
 

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Go Nuts For Fresh Nutmeg

Whole Nutmeg

Whole nutmeg: Once you try it freshly-
grated, you’ll never go back to pre-grated.

  Just as freshly-ground pepper bears no resemblance to the bland, pre-ground powder, freshly-ground nutmeg is a vibrant spice that perks up sweet and savory dishes alike.

We use it to flavor apples and other seasonal fruits (pies, compotes, sautéed sliced fruit), to make cookies and pastries and in custards. We love it in egg dishes and vegetable purées. It’s our favorite seasoning with spinach in any form, and on pasta with broccoli rabe.

For beverages, use it in addition to (or instead of) cinnamon on hot chocolate, coffee, cappuccino, mulled cider, warm milk, cold milk, chocolate milk and of course, eggnog!

While some cooks grate the whole nutmeg against a fine plane kitchen grater, we value our skin and use a nutmeg grinder or mill—the same principle as a peppermill, but accommodating the larger nutmeg, which is the size of an unshelled hazelnut.

If you’ve had the nutmeg for several years, you can check the quality by piercing it with a needle. If the skin pierces slightly and a drop of oil flows out, the nut is still fresh. If the skin won’t pierce, it’s dried out. (See how to check your other spices for freshness.)

The nutmeg is the seed of an evergreen tree fruit. The tree, botanically known as Myristica fragrans, is indigenous to tropical southeast Asia and Australasia. Mace is the milder-tasting dried hull of the nutmeg—the part you peel off to get to the nut.

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Deluxe Deviled Eggs

If you’re making deviled eggs for New Year’s Eve, serve them in flavors. Fresh dill, curry, infused tobiko roes and wasabi are popular choices.

Just divide the mashed yolks mixture after you’ve added the binder (mayo, dijon, sour cream) and salt.

But filling the eggs—even just one flavor—can be a devilish chore. Instead of struggling to spoon in the filling, do what caterers do and put it in a Ziploc-type bag. Cut off a corner of the bag and simply squeeze the filling into the egg whites.

Now that you know the easy way, here are more favorite flavors to try: bacon (“bacon and eggs”), chopped chives, chutney, crab, crumbled blue cheese, jalapeño, kalamata olives, lemon herb and smoked salmon.

 

See our recipe for these deviled eggs, topped with caviar from The Little Pearl.

 

We also have a favorite caviar deviled egg recipe. It has a cap of caviar, but you can also mix tobiko into the filling.

See our recipe for these deviled eggs, topped with caviar from The Little Pearl.

  

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NEWS: 2008 Cheese Trends

Goat Cheese Pyramid
A goat cheese pyramid from California’s Cypress Grove Chevre reflects Americans’ growing interest in cheeses that “tell a story.” Read our review of this wonderful artisan cheesemaker.
  ’Tis the season for new year’s projections, so here are five cheese trends for 2008, courtesy of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association:

1. Natural & Artisan Cheeses: Americans are getting better taste in cheese. Between 2001 and 2006, sales of natural cheese increased 10%, while sales of processed cheese declined 9.1%, according to research firm Mintel International. Specialty cheese sales at supermarkets that gross over $2 million per year have grown 8.6%, according to The Nielsen Company.

2. Convenience: Pre-seasoned cheese, along with grated and crumbled cheese, string cheese, stick cheese, cubed cheese and natural cheese slices are growing at an annual rate of up to 17%.

3. Ethnic Cheeses: In 2006, Italian cheeses surpassed American natural cheeses in popularity (note that this popularity is highly influenced by the amount of mozzarella on pizzas). Additionally, Latin American and Spanish cheeses are no longer considered a niche market, since many non-Hispanic consumers incorporate the cheeses into their cooking. Half of the top 10 fastest-growing specialty cheeses at retail are Hispanic cheeses.

 

 

 

4. Probiotics: There is a large increase in cheese products with probiotics, beneficial bacteria that aid digestion that were previously found largely in yogurts. In September 2007, Kraft introduced LiveAction cheese sticks, the first probiotic cheese in North America with national distribution. For more information about probiotics, read our article, What is Probiotic Food?

5. Increased Snacking: According to Mintel International, two-thirds of consumers like the convenience of natural cheese snacks in single-serving packages. Dieters eat more cheese on average than non-dieters, as the snack offers both protein and calcium. (However, they are also high in fat.)

Overall, consumers are interested in cheese that “tells a story.” Rather than boring sliced, processed cheese from a large manufacturer, consumers have turned their attention to cheeses produced in a certain region, or even a single farmstead. Still, convenience remains a top issue, and consumers will pay more for pre-grated cheese, even though freshly-grated is more flavorful. Check out the Cheese Section in THE NIBBLE online magazine for many cheese ideas for 2008.

 

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Flaming Egg Nog

We ring in the New Year with Champagne. But before the clock strikes midnight, we dazzle guests with flaming egg nog.

The key to flaming is 150-proof rum—different from the 80-proof rum most people have in the house for cocktails.

  • MAKE or buy the nog (if you purchase it, spice it up with 1-1/2 ounces of spiced rum per 4 ounces of nog).
  • CHILL and pour into a Martini glass if you don’t have glass cups (but if you decide to invest in glass cups, they’re great for coffee and tea all year-round).
  • FLOAT the rum. Float half an ounce of 150-proof rum on top of the nog.
  • GRIND fresh nutmeg to garnish.
  • IGNITE the drink in front of the guest, using a long wooden fireplace match. It’s holiday magic!
  •  
    Find egg nog recipes in the Cocktails & Spirits Section of THE NIBBLE webzine.

     

    Get ready to light the match and ignite the New Year’s Eve festivities.

     

    *The Mount Gay rum shown in the photo is 80-proof, not 150-proof: 80-proof is for drinking, 150-proof is for igniting.

      

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    NEWS: Olive Oil Consumption At All-Time High

    Olive Oil

    Healthy olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, rich in oleic acid. Photo by Clare Freierman.

      Global olive oil consumption is at an all-time high: 2.9 million tonnes (3.2 million U.S. short tons) in 2006/7 compared with 1.6 million tonnes in 1990/91, according to the World Olive Oil Council. Olive oil, which has been produced for thousands of years, achieved a boost in the 1990s, with medical studies on the “French Paradox”—the apparent contradiction between the relatively rich diet enjoyed by the French (cheese, cream sauces, foie gras) and their lower percentage of cases of cardiovascular problems, compared with other northern Europeans Americans. Researchers named a high intake of fruits and vegetables, wine and olive oil, a monounsaturated fat rich in oleic acid. Scientific studies on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet reinforced the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil. Its use spread worldwide, often replacing butter. Olive plantations multiplied, and places as far afield as Australia became major olive oil producers. Olive oil replaced butter on many American tables and at restaurants, engendering a product category called “bread dippers”—seasoned oils.
    The FDA allows producers of olive oil to place the following health claim on product labels:
    Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about two tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.

    Saturated fats include butter, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, ghee, lard, palm kernel oil, suet and tallow. With the new year just days away, its easy to convert some of that delicous but cholesterol-filled butter to olive oil. Olive oils vary widely in flavor and quality. See the Oil & Vinegar Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine to learn about the tastiest.

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    FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Gourmet Hot Chocolate

    We love those luxury, super-rich hot chocolates that can cost up to $25 a box. Some are simply chopped up bits of fine chocolate, so you can make your own for far less money by chopping up a good chocolate bar. Combine 1 ounce (3 tablespoons) of chopped chocolate with 1 ounce of whole milk in mug. Microwave for 30 seconds and whisk thoroughly to blend. Add another 6 ounces of milk, stir, and heat for 60 seconds. You can use any chocolate: dark, milk, or white, including flavored bars (or add a dash of cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, and chili powder for “Aztec” hot chocolate). You can use chocolate morsels, but the key is, the finer the chocolate, the more delicious the drink. For a richer beverage, don’t use cream: The secret is to add a tablespoon of sweet butter to the milk before you heat it. Don’t try to make luxury hot chocolate with 2% or fat-free milk: The purpose is to enjoy a sumptuous beverage. If you’re cutting back, sugar-free “diet” cocoas are the best route, topped off with some whole milk. Read our reviews of the best diet cocoas, and our reviews of more than 65 gourmet cocoas and hot chocolates, in THE NIBBLE online magazine.   Hot ChocolateBefore you chop up the chocolate bar to make hot chocolate, shave some chocolate curls for garnish.
    WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COCOA AND HOT CHOCOLATE? Cocoa is made from cocoa powder, hot chocolate is made from shaved or ground chocolate bars, or from pistoles, tiny drops of whole chocolate. Hot chocolate is naturally richer, because it contains the cocoa butter that has been removed from cocoa powder.

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: The Top Picks Of 2007

    Tuna Sandwich
    No sandwich will ever taste the same once
    you switch to Ojai Cook mayonnaises.
      Our final Top Pick of the year is actually the Top Picks of 2007, five products we wrote about earlier this year that continue to bring happiness to our table. These are not fancy boxes of chocolate or special foods for entertaining, but everyday foods that have become part of our every day life. One of our goals is to introduce you to foods you might not have discovered on your own. So if you aren’t familiar with these special products, we hope you’ll have the opportunity to try them in the coming months. You can read the Top Pick Of The Week with capsule summaries of each product, or click on the links below to read the full reviews.

    - Cypress Grove Chevre, a northern California cheese maker, creates a broad variety of creative fresh and aged goat cheeses, including the popular Humboldt Fog.
    - Peeled Snacks Fruit & Nut Mixes, of New York City, makes nutritious, grab-and-go fruit and nut mixes in innovative packaging that keeps the fruits moist and the nuts crisp. Better than a candy bar!

    - The Ojai Cook Gourmet Mayonnaises, of California, reinvents mayonnaise into something flavorful, fabulous and worth every calorie. Made in a variety of flavors from lemony to Latin, any recipe that these mayos touch will be vastly improved.
    - Pierre Marcolini Confitures (Jam), the only import on the list (from Belgium), are jams unlike any in the marketplace. Using so little sugar that diabetics can enjoy them (20% or less), these velvety, spreadable fruits have the richness of a curd without curd’s calorie- and cholesterol-laden eggs and butter. Truly a jam miracle.
    - Starr Ridge Bread Sticks, from Phoenix, are so flavorful that they require no embellishment—although a tapenade or other dip makes a splendid hors d’oeuvre. The five flavors—Asiago Cheese, Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese With Black Pepper, Roasted Garlic and Seed—can be served at elegant dinners or for casual snacks.All of the Top Picks Of The Week (dating back to 2004) are archived on TheNibble.com.

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    RECIPE: Cheese Christmas Tree

    When the crowd arrives for holiday revelry, wow them with this wonderful Christmas tree cheese board. The recipe, developed by Cabot Creamery, uses different flavored Cabot Cheddar cheese cubes—Pepper Jack, Extra Sharp Cheddar, Chipotle Cheddar, Tomato Basil Cheddar and Horseradish Cheddar. But you can use any semi-hard cheeses.For those limiting their fat intake, Cabot makes four reduced-fat Cheddars, including Jalapeño (one of our favorite cheeses) and Light Pepper Jack, which are as delicious as the regular Cheddars. All Cabot cheeses can be purchased online at CabotCheese.com. If there are any leftovers, you can make cheese omelets or a mini-fondue. Read the full recipe in the Cheese Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.   Cheese Christmas Tree
    Gouda wishes for a happy holiday! Photo courtesy of Cabot Creamery.
     

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