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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 Pistachio Day

We’re the last to make light of Fundamentalist Islam, but we do have better pistachios for it. Prior to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, there was no pistachio industry in the U.S. A series of political events ensued, beginning with the fundamentalist Islamic revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini that ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. It was followed by the Iran Hostage Crisis, in which the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed and 66 hostages were taken. This led to a U.S. trade embargo against Iran. Since a majority of the pistachios eaten by Americans were imported from Iran, California farmers saw the opportunity to plant the crop. A better pistachio resulted, since the U.S. has the benefit of more modern farming methods. When there are delays in processing the harvested nuts, the white shells begin to stain and blemish, which is why pistachios from the Middle East were often dyed a cover-up red. (Later, pistachios were dyed red to stand out in vending machines; today, some pistachios are still dyed red for marketing purposes.)   Pistachio NutsPerfect pistachios from Santa Barbara Pistachio Company.
Now that you have some historical perspective, go nuts and celebrate. Our favorite pistachios come from Santa Barbara Pistachio Company. They have regular pistachios plus wonderful flavors (Crushed Garlic, Hickory Smoked, Red Hot Habañero Lemon Zing and more) plus gift assortments in case your valentine doesn’t like chocolate. Ready about more of our favorite gourmet salty snacks in the Snacks Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Onion Magic

OnionDon’t weep over me: Get goggles!   If your eyes water when you chop onions, the best kitchen gadget is a pair of swimmer’s goggles. They keep the sulfur enzymes away from your eyes like magic! To remove the smell of onions (or garlic) from your hands, squeeze lemon juice on them (or if you’ve squeezed lemon juice for a recipe, rub the squeezed pulp) and then rub your hands against stainless steel—your sink, faucet, a serving spoon. The “kitchen chemistry” works. While swimmer’s goggles may not qualify as kitchen gadgets, you can see some of our favorite traditional (and not-so-traditional) gadgets in the Kitchenware Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Peanut Butter Day

Peanut butter lovers have a day to celebrate—and to try new and different peanut butters. Take a look at this comparison of the two-dozen-plus different flavors offered by our favorite brands. P.B. Loco’s Sundried Tomato PB is one of our favorite flavors; their Asian Curry makes instant sesame noodles, as well as an exotic PB sandwich. Both of these savory flavors can be enjoyed with roast beef or turkey, instead of mustard or mayo, and with vegetable sandwiches (try avocado). We put them in vegetable sushi, too, instead of wasabi. We eat the Raspberry White Chocolate PB from the jar like candy; the Sumatra Cinnamon and Raisin PB is the best of its breed. All of the savory flavors of Peanut Better demand to be tried. The Onion Parsley and Rosemary Garlic are incredible—you’ll make amazing hors d’oeuvres with them, as well as enjoy them on sandwiches with the aforementioned turkey and beef. The Peanut Better line is certified kosher and organic. Read our full reviews of P.B. Loco and Peanut Better, and bake this banana bread recipe with PB.   Peanut Butter
All PB is not created equal: If you love your peanut butter, try these gourmet brands, and their special flavors.
 

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Eating The Rinds Of Cheeses

Camembert
A ripe, runny Camembert shows its bloomy white rind and creamy paste (the interior of the cheese). Photo courtesy of iGourmet.com.
  Recently we were at a professional wine event, and some fine cheeses were being served. We were dismayed to note that most people had scooped out the soft, runny centers of the bloomy rind cheeses, leaving the white rinds as ghostly shells. Cheese fans: The soft, white bloomy rinds are meant to be eaten. If you’ve been cutting them away, try them while they’re still pure and white. Connoisseurs consider them part of the unique character of the cheese, and will eat them even as they age and lose their pure white appeal. You’ll find bloomy rind cheeses made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk, although the most famous happen to be from cow’s milk and are also two of the most popular cheeses in the world, Brie and Camembert. Other bloomy-rinded favorites include triple crèmes such as Brillat-Savarin, Saint-Andre and Pierre Robert. (See the Glossary Of Cheese Terms in the Cheese Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine for more information.)
(CHEESE TRIVIA: Brie and Camembert are essentially the same cheese made in different locations and in different sizes. Camembert, named after its village in northwest France, is made in 4.5-inch wheels and Brie, named for the province in northern France where it originated, is made in 11- to 11.8-inch wheels [although “baby Bries” are now made as well]. Read our full article on the difference between Brie and Camembert.)

The Bloomy Rind category of cheese refers to those cheeses with snowy white, downy rinds and soft, creamy interiors. (Bloomy rind, also called white rind or soft-ripened cheese, is one of the major categories of cheese. Along with the fresh cheeses, it comprises the Soft Cheese category. The rind is composed of one of the greatest cheese molds, Penicillium candidum, which grows naturally as the cheese ages. The rind is produced by spraying the surface of the cheese with Penicillium candidum before the brief aging period (about two weeks). The mold grows on the outside of the cheese, breaking down the protein and fat inside, making it soft, runny and more complex.

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FOOD HOLIDAY: It’s Irish Coffee Day

Today is National Irish Coffee Day. Read the history of Irish Coffee and try these Irish Coffee recipes.

This popular drink isn’t for waist-watchers, but everyone should enjoy an Irish coffee once a year on Irish Coffee Day. Combine 6 ounces of hot coffee with 1-1/2 ounces Irish whiskey and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. Stir to dissolve and float heavy cream on top (don’t mix it in). Irish Coffee is traditionally served in a glass-handled mug so you can enjoy watching the layers, but it tastes great in any vessel.

Read more about Irish Whiskey…which can be wonderful to sip on its own, as well as in the cocktail recipes in the article.

  Irish CoffeeCelebrate with an Irish coffee.
 

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FOOD HOLIDAY: It’s National Peanut Butter Day

If you love peanut butter, expand your horizons and try some of the more than two dozen flavored gourmet PBs we’ve had the joy to experience. First, take a look at our article on the different flavors of gourmet peanut butter. Then, Read our individual reviews of P.B. Loco and Peanut Butter (Peanut Better is USDA certified organic and kosher, too). P.B. Loco’s Sun-Dried Tomato PB is one of our favorite flavors, by itself or with turkey, ham, roast beef or cheese. It makes wonderful hors d’oeuvres, too—people can’t believe what they’re eating. Whether you fill celery, fennel, pastry cups or just serve it on crackers with a counterpoint of olive or other vegetable (or even a salty peanut), it’s easy and fascinating. You can do similar things with the Asian Curry PB, but we love to use this flavor to make quick and yummy sesame noodles. On the sweet side of P.B. Loco, the Sumatra Cinnamon and Raisin PB is the best we’ve ever had of the genre, and we can eat the White Raspberry Chocolate from the jar for dessert. If you need a real pick-me-up, try it on a piece of chocolate bar—you’ll forget all about peanut butter cups. Read our full review of P.B. Loco.   Peanut Butter
Even if you think plain peanut butter is delicious as is, try the gourmet flavors.
Moving on to Peanut Better, the savory flavors knock our socks off. You might not consider buying Onion Parsley or Rosemary Garlic Peanut Butter—but you’d be missing out on a taste sensation. Enjoy them in the sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres described above, or an any recipe that calls for PB—the dimension that these nut butters add to peanut soup cannot be described! The Thai Ginger And Red Pepper (also great for sesame noodles), Spicy Southwestern and Hickory Smoked PBs also rock the house. The sweet flavors are also delightful, but the savories blow us away. Read our full review of Peanut Better. They’ll make you look at peanut butter not as a bread spread, but as a gourmet cooking ingredient. Happy Peanut Butter Day!

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking With Kids

  Children as young as five can learn the joy of cooking. Companies like Sassafras and Pelican Bay make junior chef kits that let kids turn out truly delicious cookies, pizzas, pancakes and fun projects like flowerpot cakes complete with gummy worms and chocolate dirt. Share your love of food and empower a kid with a cooking kit. Add the gift of time and be the adult “supervising chef,” too. Visit the Kids’ Foods Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine to see some of our favorite specialty foods products that you can give kids—educate their palates to the “good stuff.”

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RECIPES: And Now For Something Completely Different

Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin SchwabeUnmentionable Cuisine includes recipes for dogs and cats as well as tamer items like horsemeat. Perhaps a gift for Father’s Day?   We come from a family that loves to cook—on our mother’s side, we must hastily add. No one wanted to be at Grandma’s (Dad’s mom) too close to dinnertime. Our mother’s mother also hails from Canada, and we have kin in Montreal and Toronto. One of them sent my mother this compendium of rodent recipes, compiled by Bert Christiansen of Toronto, who recalls reading rat recipes in the New York Times during the Nixon administration. With Nixon’s historic trip to China, much cultural exploration ensued, including reports of a restaurant in Beijing that specialized in lemon-fried rat. “When you’re short of protein,” Mr. Christiansen points out, such things start to look tempting. He notes that rich Southerners reportedly ate rats during the Vicksburg siege. Similarly, we recall reading a passage in “Gone With The Wind,” when Scarlett O’Hara told Rhett Butler that she feared she would be reduced to eating rats. He responded that he would rather have a nice, juicy rat than the questionable fare that was being served at his hotel.
In Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin W. Schwabe notes that “Because of prejudice or ignorance, we Americans now reject many readily available foods that are cheap, nutritious, and good to eat…[and] should be using many forms of protein which are routinely consumed in other parts of the world.” The following excerpts are from a section of the book giving recipes for cooking rats and mice. Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork. And, according to the Larousse Gastronomique, rats are still eaten in some parts of France. In fact, this recipe appears in that famous tome.
Grilled Rats Bordeaux Style (Entrecôte à la Bordelaise)
Alcoholic rats inhabiting wine cellars are skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels. In West Africa…rats are a major item of diet. The giant rat (Cricetomys), the cane rat (Thryonomys), the common house mouse and other species of rats and mice are all eaten. According to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report, they now comprise over 50 percent of the locally-produced meat eaten in some parts of Ghana. Between December 1968 and June 1970, 258,206 pounds of cane-rat meat alone were sold in one market in Accra! This is a local recipe that shows the South American influence on West African cuisine.
Stewed Cane Rat
Skin and eviscerate the rat and split it lengthwise. Fry until brown in a mixture of butter and peanut oil. Cover with water, add tomatoes or tomato purée, hot red peppers, and salt. Simmer the rat until tender and serve with rice.The ancient Romans enjoyed a tasty mouse:
Stuffed Dormice
Prepare a stuffing of dormouse meat or pork, pepper, pine nuts, broth, asafoetida (a pungent Indian spice made of asafeotida sap, gum arabic, wheat, rice flower and turmeric), and some garum (substitute anchovy paste.) Stuff the mice and sew them up. Bake them in an oven on a tile.Instead of chips with your Margarita, try:Roasted Field Mice (Raton de Campo Asado) / Mexico
Skin and eviscerate field mice. Skewer them and roast over an open fire or coals. These are probably great as hors d’oeuvres with margaritas or “salty dogs.”

Canadian author Farley Mowat gives this innovative Arctic explorer’s recipe—which sounds much tastier in French:

Mice in Cream (Souris à la Crème)
Skin, gut and wash some fat mice without removing their heads. Cover them in a pot with ethyl alcohol and marinate 2 hours. Cut a piece of salt pork or sowbelly into small dice and cook it slowly to extract the fat. Drain the mice, dredge them thoroughly in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, and fry slowly in the rendered fat for about 5 minutes. Add a cup of alcohol and 6 to 8 cloves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare a cream sauce, transfer the sautéed mice to it, and warm them in it for about 10 minutes before serving.

Bon appétit!

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Rhubarb Pie Day

Rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit. The giveaway might be that it looks like red celery stalks with cabbage-like leafy tops (some can be dark green like spinach or kale). By the time it gets to market, the leaves have been cut off, and we only see the red stalks. Native to Asia, rhubarb has long been used in Chinese medicine. As anyone knows who has cooked rhubarb, it needs copious amounts of sugar to offset its natural bitterness; thus, its use as a food didn’t come into play until sugar became widely available in the 17th century. But since then, what a joy! Stewed rhubarb is a delight, as is a rhubarb or strawberry-rhubarb pie or crumble. We’ve made rhubarb ice cream too—terrific! The reason you don’t see more stewed rhubarb or pie is that it’s relatively laborious to work with the vegetable. It’s fibrous, so after you cook it, you need to process it through a Foley food mill. But we learned the joys of cooking rhubarb from our Nana, and assure you, it’s worth it.   rhub-230.jpgRhubarb—it’s pretty, and after you add lots of sugar, it’s tasty. Photo courtesy of OurOhio.com.
We’re not certain why today is National Rhubarb Pie Day, since the vegetable isn’t harvested until April/May in the Northern Hemisphere; and Southern Hemisphere readers have missed the October/November harvest. So, enjoy a piece of seasonal fruit pie—apple or pumpkin, perhaps—and start perusing recipes in advance of pumpkin season. Plan to make a pie or crumble for your own Nana for Mother’s Day.

How can you tell the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? Fruits carry their seeds on the inside—think apples, bananas, melons, pears, and plums. The only exception is the strawberry. By the same token, the following “vegetables” are botanically fruits; we just think of them as vegetables because they are not sweet: avocados, eggplants, olives, squash, tomatoes and zucchini. (Avocados and olives are tree fruit, just like apples and oranges.)

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Serving Spicy & Exotic Foods

Baji’s Papadums

Baji’s Mango Chutney Papadums make a special (and easy!) hors d’oeuvre with spicy chutneys or a quieter yogurt dip. Read our review.

  If you want to serve ethnic foods or spicy foods but are concerned that not all your guests will enjoy them, hedge your bets and serve them as hors d’oeuvres, along with other choices. The foodies can feast, and you don’t have to worry about other guests going hungry. See some of our favorites in the International Foods Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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