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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 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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TIP OF THE DAY: Be Color Blind To Olive Oil

Olive Oil
Don’t judge an oil by its color. Different varieties of olive produce different colors of oil.
  Don’t judge an olive oil by its color. Many of us have been led to believe that the darker and greener an olive oil is, the better the quality. It’s not true: The dark green color is just a characteristic of some cultivars (varieties) of olives. Other top olive cultivars yield lighter-colored, and equally delicious, oils. Plus, knowing how people are attracted to the dark green oils, some producers add color to lesser oils (shocking, but true). Color is so unimportant that in judging competitions, oils are drunk from blue glasses to mask the color! Now that you know the “color trick” doesn’t work, how can you find the best oils? Try to research brands before buying, and buy at specialty stores where you can taste the oils. There’s plenty of information about olive oil, and reviews of 100 brands, in the Oil & Vinegar Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine. You can have hours of fun with:
– Our Olive Oil Glossary
– Understanding the Flavors & Aromas Of Olive Oil
 

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NEWS: Lindt Chocolate Owner/Chair Dies

Last week, one of the titans of chocolate entered into eternity. Rudolph R. Sprüngli, owner and chair of the largest prestige chocolate company in the world, Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli A.G., passed away in Geneva at the age of 88. If you have noticed the pervasiveness of Lindt chocolate throughout your town, it is thanks to the leadership of Mr. Sprüngli. He took the company from being another Swiss chocolate manufacturer to the world’s largest producer of prestige chocolate, with a work force of 4,000. (The most expensive category of chocolate. In the confection industry, chocolate is categorized by its price per pound at retail. The categories include Mass Market, less than $15 per pound; Mass Market Premium, from $15 to $25 per pound; Gourmet, from $25 to $40 per pound; and Prestige, at $40 per pound and higher.) Mr. Sprüngli kept the family firm, established in 1845, from being acquired by a mass-production multinational corporation. He listed Lindt & Sprüngli on the Swiss stock exchange in 1986.   Lindt Excellence
The 85% cacao bar from the Lindt Excellence line is one of the finest 85% bars in the world. Read our full review of Lindt Excellence chocolate bars.
Rodolphe Lindt revolutionized the chocolate industry in 1879 when he invented conching, the process that smooths chocolate into the velvety, aromatic product we know today. While Lindt was arguably the most famous chocolatier of his day, his business in Berne, Switzerland remained a small though high-quality one. In 1899 it was acquired by the larger Sprüngli chocolate company of Zurich, and Lindt & Sprüngli has been a major player in the quality chocolate business ever since. However, it took Rudolph R. Sprüngli, who was born in 1920 and spent his entire career with the firm, to build the brand overseas. Today, the U.S. eats so much Lindt chocolate, there’s now a production facility in Vermont! Rest in peace, in chocolate heaven, Mr. Sprüngli.

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s Chocolate Cake Day

Chocolate Cake
Satisfy your chocolate yearnings with this cake, made from the Triple Chocolate Cake Mix and Milk Chocolate Frosting from The King’s Cupboard.
  Today is Chocolate Cake Day. There are many who opine that every day should be Chocolate Cake Day. Some days, we’re with them. Then we remember that there is too much of a good thing. And if every day were Chocolate Cake Day, when would we have lemon tart, pumpkin pie, apple crumble, etc.? So, you’ve got to watch what you wish for.

If you have a refined palate, you may have noticed that it’s not easy to go out and buy a great chocolate cake. We experience quite a bit of frustration when we bring home something that looks good—for which we have paid quite a handsome price—and the taste just isn’t there. It isn’t as if the bakery used (zut alors!) margarine instead of butter. The two biggest shortcomings are anemia in the chocolate department, and/or overly sweet, in both cake and frosting. You should never be able to taste the sugar in a recipe, any more than you should taste the salt.
So, aside from baking your own favorite recipes from scratch, what’s a time-pressed person to do to celebrate Chocolate Cake Day?

– Keep a few boxes of the most excellent chocolate cake mixes from King’s Cupboard on the shelf.

– Bake up some of the King’s Cupboard Molten Chocolate Cakes & Gourmet Chocolate Cake Mixes (lava cakes). The Molten Chocolate Cakes are the “volcano cakes” or “lava cakes” you always order at restaurants…and you can make them at home in nine minutes. The gourmet cake mixes include Triple Chocolate Cake Mix and White Chocolate Hazelnut Cake Mix, with Triple Chocolate Frosting and Milk Chocolate Frosting to match.

– Splurge on our favorite Empire Torte, a dense, flourless chocolate cake that we admit an addiction to.

– Make this Chocolate Macaroon Bundt Cake. If you love Mounds bars, this is your slice of heaven.

If you want to bake from scratch, try this Chocolate Cabernet Flavors Di ‘Vine’ Cake, the 2007 winner of Bundts Across America. You can try it with a fruitier Cabernet Sauvignon; but you might want to take a look at our Wine & Dessert Pairings chart. Our Wine Editor prefers Late Harvest Zinfandel, Lustau Muscat Sherry “Emlin,” Recioto Amarone or Vintage Port with his chocolate cake.

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Truffle Paste

To enjoy some heavenly truffle flavor without breaking the bank, black or white truffle paste can be spread like a condiment on canapés, roasted meat and poultry. Stir a spoonful into risottos and sauces—it works wonders. We toss angel hair pasta with butter and truffle paste (you can use truffle butter to achieve the same effect). The tube or jar has a shelf life of a year and lasts about a week once opened. It’s a wonderful little luxury and a great birthday gift for your favorite foodie. If there’s any left, spread it onto your morning toast.

Try a tube. A tiny tube adds a lot of flavor.

– Read about our favorite, addictive truffle butter.

– Learn more about truffles in our exciting Truffle Glossary.

– Go truffle crazy with this wonderful truffled caviar (made with truffle oil).

  Perigord and Alba Truffles
The most precious of the fungus among us: The black Périgord truffle and the white Alba truffle. Read more about them in our Truffle Glossary.
Any or all make sexy Valentine’s Day dishes. Add some truffle cheese to the cheese plate, while you’re at it.

What about truffle oil? Caveat emptor. One day, we hope to have enough money to buy them all and do a big review in THE NIBBLE. Here’s a quick introduction. There are two types of truffle oil. The better kind is produced by infusing a high-quality oil, such as extra virgin olive oil, with the flavor from truffles. Truffle bits are soaked in the oil until it absorbs flavor and aroma. However, the vast majority of truffle oil is a chemical infusion that approximates the aroma and flavor of truffles. Some companies do it better than others. The oil can be used to add truffle flavor to a variety of foods; however, it must be sprayed or dribbled on, since heating the oil causes the flavor and aroma to dissipate. Similarly, once the bottle is opened, the flavor and oil will fade quickly. So only buy small bottles and don’t save the oil for special occasions once you open it—go truffle crazy and spray it on everything from salads to toast. Truffle oil on vegetables is terrific, and truffled mashed potatoes, celestial (substitute the oil for some of the butter).

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ON OUR RADAR: Interesting Nibbles From The Past Week

Lunch ToteSave money by bringing your lunch to work. Bring it in style with this Built NY Lunch Tote.
  The Urban Vegan lists 25 money-saving kitchen tips for pure vegans. The article starts with the premise that veganism doesn’t have to be expensive, but you don’t have to be vegan to find the tips useful. Some will sound familiar: Pack your own lunch—you can save at least $2,000 after-tax dollars a year. Invest $19.99 in the chic, insulated tote at the left, and you are now cool instead of a brown-bagger. (Shown: The Built NY Lunch Tote, available in black, orange or silver, keeps food and drink separated. Made from the same material as a diver’s wetsuit, it insulates for up to 4 hours with no additional refrigeration necessary.) Some tips are earth-friendly (we do all of them at THE NIBBLE, including using cloth napkins instead of paper napkins and rinsing/reusing Ziplock-type bags). It’s a good list to review. One of our favorites: Borrow rather than buy cookbooks.
 

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