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Archive for January, 2008

TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Croissant Day

Is there a person reading this who does not enjoy a buttery croissant? (Alas, not all are made with butter…but avoid buying croissants at inexpensive delis, and eagerly seek out new bakeries to see what they have to offer.) Our only complaint is that the flaky puff pastry that is so delightful in the mouth invariably ends up all over our place setting and our clothing. We admire people who can eat one neatly. A good croissant already contains so much butter that it needs no more embellishment. If you get one from a top baker who uses the best butter, enjoying each bite without the interference of additional butter or jam is, in our opinion, the way to go.
Making croissants by hand is very labor-intensive. Much of what is available today is factory-made, pre-formed and frozen, delivered to the bakery, food store or restaurant and “baked on our premises.” In the 1970s, the croissant evolved into a fast food, filled with everything from broccoli to ham and cheese (and in many cases, lowering the quality of the puff pastry itself).
  Croissants
Hold the butter: A truly fine, fresh croissant is buttery enough.
There are several stories about the invention of the croissant, but all appear to be legends. According to the Oxford Companion To Food, no recipe for what we know as the croissant appears before the early 20th century. It thus seems highly unlikely, for example, that the croissant was invented in Vienna in 1583 to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish siege of the city. Bakers, who were up in the wee hours making the city’s bread, are said to have heard the enemy tunneling under the city and were able to warn the army, thus saving Vienna from siege. In honor of the victory, the bakers created the croissant, the shape taken from the crescent emblem on the Turkish flag. (Eat this!) Such a heroic story; you will find it just about everywhere you look for “history of the croissant.” But one of the ways that food historians try to determine the truth is by looking at old recipe books. There are enough cookbooks from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to deprive bakers of their most famous moment in history, alas.

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TIP OF THE DAY: Cocoa Garnishes

Hot Chocolate
For another variation, add chocolate confetti curls to your hot chocolate.
  Place cute character cookies (the gourmet version of animal crackers) on the whipped cream topping of a cup of hot chocolate. Look for small, lightweight cookies with interesting shapes in your specialty food store. But don’t stop there.


– See 25 ways to spruce up your hot chocolate. You’ll also learn the difference between cocoa and hot chocolate—they aren’t synonymous.

– You can also read the difference between natural and dutched chocolate.

– See reviews of more than 70 brands in the Cocoas & Hot Chocolates Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

 

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Corn Chip Day

When we first began to evaluate corn chips, we went to the supermarket and specialty food stores and bought every brand available. The results were staggering. The supermarket brands were—to our sensitive palates, which don’t eat preservatives or mass-marketed brands packed with salt—INEDIBLE. They tasted like salted cardboard. Now, we know that these products (we won’t name names, but some begin with D and F, and they are not the only ones) rack up many millions of dollars in sales. But there’s a lot of bad food out there, and a lot of people who don’t know the difference pay for it. If you like your big-name chips, we do not mean to impugn your value as a lover of fine food. We believe you have not tasted the good stuff, and when you do, you, too will convert to what we think are the best brands or corn and tortilla chips.   blackbeansoup_250.jpgBlue and yellow tortilla chips grom the Garden of Eatin’ garnish a bowl of black bean soup.
What’s the difference between a corn chip and a tortilla chip? They are both made from corn or masa,* vegetable oil, salt and water; but tortilla chips are cut-up wedges from tortillas. Corn chips are processed into a particular shape—curls or scoops, like Fritos. Corn chips were, for the most part, the only known corn-based chip outside of California until the 1970s, when they were popularized by growth of Mexican restaurants.

*You’ll often see masa listed in the ingredients, instead of corn. Masa is corn that has been dried, treated with a lime water solution, then ground.

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TIP OF THE DAY: Souper Gifts

Broccoli Soup
Make a double batch of your delicious soup and share the wealth. We didn’t even start from scratch here, but used our favorite dried soup mix from Frontier Soups (each package makes so much soup, there’s enough to share).
  When you’re cooking your homemade soups, stews and sauces, make a double batch and give the other half as a gift. Delicious home-cooked food makes a welcome gift for birthdays, get well pick-me-ups, tired new parents, housewarmings, and is a nice touch to bring to a party for the host to enjoy the next day. If you want to make the gift even more elaborate, buy a special serving dish, ladle or set of soup bowls; or deliver the food in a handsome thermal container. See some of our favorite soups and soup recipes in the Soups & Stocks Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s Blueberry Pancake Day

While we never turn down a plate of pancakes, this is another one of those holidays where we must question the wisdom: Why have Blueberry Pancake Day when blueberries are out of season? Who wants to make pancakes with highly expensive, not very sweet, fresh blueberries, or with tart frozen ones? The best solution, we think, is to sprinkle tasty dried blueberries onto your pancakes. We also recommend the following diversions:   Blueberries
Why schedule Blueberry Pancake Day when blueberries are out of season?
– THE NIBBLE’s Pancake Glossary, with dozens of different types of pancakes you’ve probably never heard of.

– An understanding of the grades of maple syrup.
– A review of Cherrybrook Kitchen’s allergen-free pancake mix.
Robert Lambert’s Gourmet Syrups for pancakes (and many other uses)—no maple here, but you might enjoy Bergamot or Kaffir Lime.

– The amazing Blender Bottle, perfect for mixing pancake batter without a whisk, egg beater or electric mixer (campers take note).

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