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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 March, 2008

TIP OF THE DAY: Pesto Trick

There’s nothing better than a fresh basil plant on the windowsill, that you can snip whenever you’d like some fresh herb garnish. However, if a green thumb isn’t one of your talents, keep a jar of versatile pesto sauce in the cabinet for plate accents. Drizzle a bit across the plate, or use a medicine dropper to apply “polka dots” around the perimeter of the plate. You can also use it, of course, with pasta, hors d’oeuvres and as a bread spread. If you don’t use the entire jar, keep it fresh by pouring a layer of olive oil on top of the pesto and capping it tightly. The opened jar will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Pour off the olive oil before using the pesto, and use it to make a delicious salad dressing. Read all about pesto, reviews of some of our favorite pestos and our homemade pesto recipe. Find more of our favorite pasta sauces in the Pasta Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.   Pesto
Make an instant hors d’oeuvre from pesto, a bocconcini (small mozzarella ball, and some roasted red pepper.
 

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Chocolate Caramel Day

Bequet Caramels
Celebrate with Béquet‘s Salt Chocolate Caramels, shown here with Espresso and Mocha.
  Today is National Chocolate Caramel Day. No arm twisting needed! While the traditional caramel flavoring is vanilla, the buttery bites have been variously flavored with chocolate, coffee, maple, lemon, habañero—whatever appeals to the imagination of the candy maker and palate of the buyer (and, let us tell you—the habañero caramels from Cowgirl Chocolates are the bomb—and a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week). We went crazy for caramels last summer and nibbled on every one we could find, culminating in a review of our favorite caramels. People keep sending us more to taste, but we haven’t yet found any that we want to add to the list. Quality caramels are made with sugar and brown sugar, butter, heavy cream and the best flavorings (sea salt versus ordinary salt, the best maple or chocolate flavor, etc.). Like anything else, you can’t scrimp on the quality of your ingredients. It needs to be real vanilla, the freshest butter, etc., etc., etc.
Caramel is sugar that is melted into a syrup and cooked until the sugar crystals turn into a dark amber liquid. In this form, it can be used to coat nuts (that’s what pralines are) and popcorn (called “toffee popcorn”). Whisk in some butter, remove it from the heat and add cream, and you have a delicious caramel sauce. Cook those ingredients to what is known as the “firm ball” stage (245°F), and you get buttery, chewy caramel candy. Keep cooking the caramel to the “hard-crack” stage (290°F) and you’ll get crunchy toffee. Read about more of our favorite caramels in the Old-Fashioned Candy Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s Oatmeal Cookie Day

We like oatmeal cookies, so we need no excuse to bake up a batch to celebrate Oatmeal Cookie Day. Our favorite variations are oatmeal chocolate chip, and oatmeal raisin, where we substitute dried cherries for half of the raisins. But other people (specialty food companies, to be specific) have done a darn good job of baking their own variations on the oatmeal cookie. Here are some of our favorites:- Try the oatmeal cookies from Najla’s Kosher Gone Chunky. They arrive frozen, to be baked up whenever you need one or more. We must admit, they were so good, we ate the frozen dough from the freezer.   Oatmeal Whoopie Pie
Wicked Whoopies’ Oatmeal Whoopie Pie: creme sandwiched in-between two crunchy, cinnamon-flavored oatmeal cookie.
- The makers of our favorite chocolate chip cookies, Levain Bakery, also make an oatmeal raisin cookie—huge, moist and delicious.

– Yee hah, these spicy Ancho Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Sparx are good.

– If you need a sugar-free oatmeal cookie, Curious Cookie has good ones.

– And if you want a whoopie pie made with two oatmeal cookies and a creamy filling between them, Wicked Whoopie Pies will oblige (photo above). Find more of our favorite cookies in the Cookie Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TIP OF THE DAY: Re-Think Your Salt

Alaea Hawaiian Sea SaltAlaea red lava salts from Hawaii are colored and flavored by clay in the local water. Photo courtesy of Saltworks.us.   Bid adieu to one of America’s food icons, the Morton Salt Girl, whose iodized salt is too salty. Instead, accent your food with the far more vivid flavors of sea salts. There are dozens, each with its own flavor and beauty. Some of our favorites are grey Celtic salt, coral-hued Hawaiian sea salt, beige and ochre smoked sea salts and Himalayan pink salt. These are general categories: Each type of salt can be found under different brand names. Sea salts are not as refined (processed) as table salts, so contain nutritious traces of calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc (that also add to the color). They have bright, pure, clean flavor and the flavor subtleties from the minerals. The grains are generally too large for salt shakers, so take pinches from salt dishes, like great-grandma did. It makes it all the more a gourmet experience, and you’ll notice flavors in your food you never have before. You’ll have a great time perusing our glossary of artisan salts in the Salts & Seasonings Section on THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Nuovo Pasta Gourmet Ravioli

Ravioli lovers, dinner-party givers, and foodies of all inclinations: It doesn’t get more exciting than this. The word “ravioli” typically conjures up the image of pleasant pasta pillows stuffed with some vague meat or cheese. Not any more! Be prepared to be blasted to a higher level of ravioli consciousness by the artisans at Nuovo Pasta. For years we have lusted after Nuovo Pasta’s visually stunning, palate-tantalizing ravioli. We have longed to introduce them to you, dear NIBBLE reader. Heck, we have longed to get our own hands on them, but have been limited to tasting them at trade shows. The unmovable obstacle has been that Nuovo sells its gorgeous products only to restaurants, caterers and distributors. But now, we all can buy the same amazing ravioli that the professionals do, and wow our families and guests in the way that diners are wowed at top restaurants. Our good fortune is thanks to Marx Foods, a distributor of gourmet products to fine food establishments. They’ve made their wares available to consumers nationwide, through their online store.   Gourmet Ravioli
A trio of gourmet raviolis: from the top, a regular round ravioli, a girasole (sunflower) and a pansotti (trainagle).
As we sit here eating giant ravioli (a.k.a. ravioloni—a single piece is an entire first course), one stuffed with osso bucco and one with Point Reyes blue cheese (a prior NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week), we are eternally grateful. There are plenty of regular-sized ravioli, too, but there is nothing “regular” about these beautiful pastas—triangular, round and rectangular, flecked, striped and marbled. They are stuffed with veal Bolognese, crawfish and andouille sausage, Grand Marnier roast duck, portabella mushrooms and Asiago cheese and dozens of other wonders. They’re irresistible, and will make your dinner parties the talk of the town. Read more and see all the photos in the full review. Pick your favorite and order a memorable first course for Easter dinner. And find more of our favorite pastas and sauces in the Pasta Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine. Want to know the difference between ravioli, ravioloni, girasoles, pansotti, sacchette and a hundred other types of pasta? See our Pasta Glossary.

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GOURMET GIVEAWAY: Win A Key Lime Tart & Tostitos

Key Lime Tart
This tasty key lime tart could be yours.
  We just selected the winner of last week’s Gourmet Giveaway, who is now the proud owner of a delicious Easter ham (at least, it will soon be on its way to her). So if you’d like to win the Key lime tart at the left—which, owing to the strangeness of Easter falling this Sunday, will be your post-Easter gift from THE NIBBLE—enter this week’s Gourmet Giveaway and answer a few trivia questions about limes. The Q&A isn’t exactly trivial: You’ll learn fun facts about the tart green fruit (although some varieties are as sweet as oranges), without which there would be no Margaritas, either.

There’s a special bonus this week: 10 MORE PRIZES! In honor of National Chip & Dip Day, March 23 (coincidentally, that’s Easter Sunday this year), Tostitos® is giving ten lucky winners second prizes of Tostitos Chips & Dip gift sets.

So, if you’ve refrained from entering the Gourmet Giveaway in the past because you think your chances of winning the one big prize aren’t so great: Now we may pull your name out of the hat (actually, it’s a computerized random selector) for one of 11 prizes. See our favorite fruits in the Fruits & Nuts Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine…or check out the chips in our Snacks Section.

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s Coconut Torte Day

March 13th, Coconut Torte Day, begs the question: What is a torte? Is it just a pretentious word for cake, something to make you think the torte is more special than an everyday cake? Nein, mein freund. While torte is the German word for what the British (and Americans) call cake and the French call gâteau, they don’t refer to identical confections. Different cooking traditions led to different styles of baking. British cakes and German tortes (and Italian tortas) are generally hardier creations than delicate French gâteaux. The French, those keen culinarians, went for light, rich, layered affairs stuffed with custard, whipped cream or butter cream, frosted, and decorated with fresh fruit—oh la la, but very perishable. While British culinary tradition created sturdier, longer-lasting pound cakes and fruit cakes, tortes are rich, dense cakes made with many eggs and little or no flour, using ground nuts (and sometimes breadcrumbs) for texture. A torte is thus easily recognizable because it’s much shorter than a cake, one layer and often no more than 2-1/2 inches high (there’s not much, if any, flour to rise). And it’s wider than a cake—10 to 12 inches in diameter compared to an 8-to-9-inch cake. That’s to compensate for the height, so each short wedge will be a good portion.   Chocolate Torte
We love coconut, but with no time to bake a coconut torte, we’re having an all-chocolate Empire Torte with coconut ice cream.
“Flourless chocolate cakes” are actually tortes. Some are made with neither flour nor nuts, but just chocolate, sugar, eggs and flavorings, like our favorite Empire Torte, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week. It comes in four flavors: Original plus Caramel, Orange and Raspberry. There’s no coconut, but you can have a scoop of coconut ice cream or sorbet on the side, and celebrate Coconut Torte Day in high style. For more cakes, tortes and gateaux, visit the Gourmet Cakes Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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TIP OF THE DAY: Irish Cream Icing

White Chocolate Cake
Make a white chocolate frosting with Irish cream liqueur. Photo courtesy of Equinox Maple Flakes.
 

Celebrate the 17th with Irish Cream Icing. You can bake or buy brownies or a loaf cake and add this tasty homemade topping. Take 1/3 cup Irish cream liqueur (such as Bailey’s) and 8 ounces of top-quality white chocolate. Buy a good chocolate bar instead of baking chips, which can be vegetable oil instead of real chocolate. You can buy Green & Black’s, one of our favorites (it’s organic, too), readily available at Whole Foods Markets and elsewhere. In a small pan, bring the liqueur to a slow boil; then remove from the heat and whisk in the chopped white chocolate until it’s completely melted and the icing is smooth. Refrigerate until it becomes thick enough to spread, stirring occasionally. Spread the icing over the brownies or cake. Keep refrigerated until 30 minutes before serving.

– Make Irish Coffee to go with your dessert.
– Find more cake recipes in the Gourmet Cakes Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

 

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Baked Scallops Day

We love scallops, so National Baked Scallops Day isn’t a hard day for us to fit in to our eating schedule. Scallops are found in all the world’s oceans. They are a member of the oyster family, Ostreida, and have the familiar central adductor muscle that attaches their two shells. The adductor muscle of scallops is larger and more developed than that of oysters, because the little dudes are active swimmers. Not just content to hang around at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be scooped up, they exercise their inner Michael Phelps (or does Michael Phelps exercise his inner scallop?) by rapidly opening and closing their shells. Another fun fact: Scallops are hermaphrodites, and switch sexes. Both sexes produce roe. So, here’s an example in the animal kingdom where dads can give birth (if you call expelling your roe into the water, where it is fertilized by by some other scallop’s expelled spermatozoa, and then sinks to the bottom of the ocean to hatch, giving birth).   scallops-260.jpg
Bake me tonight.
Scallops were traditionally caught by dredging (dragging) the seabed, but scuba divers now catch the quality ones—hence the term “diver scallops” or “dayboat scallops” (the divers go out just for the day) on menus of better restaurants. If you saw or read “The Perfect Storm,” you understand that seafood can spend two or more weeks on ice in the hold of a boat before getting to port. Diver scallops get to market quickly, and thus are so much are fresher and tastier. Now, onto baked scallops: Perhaps the most famous baked scallop dish is Coquilles Saint-Jacques, translated as Saint James’s scallops, a rich mixture of butter, cream, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, baked in a scallop shell. The scallop shell is the emblem of Saint James the Greater. The saint’s association with the scallop shell is based on a legend that he once rescued a knight covered in scallops, or alternatively, that while his remains were being transported to Spain from Jerusalem, the horse of a knight fell into the water and emerged covered in scallop shells. As a result, Medieval Christians making the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, often wore a scallop shell symbol on their clothing. You can easily find a delicious recipe for Coquilles Saint-Jacques online (we use the one from Mastering The Art Of French Cooking by Julia Child. It’s easy to make—pick up the ingredients and enjoy it tonight. You can buy the scallop shells in any cookware store (including chain stores), and they’re useful for serving other foods, from desserts to hors d’oeuvres (olives, for example). And of course, you can serve the dish on any plate—scallop shells not required!

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Callie’s Southern Biscuits

Country ham biscuits
Can’t you taste the goodness of Callie’s Country Ham Biscuits? The Cheese and Cinnamon are also stunning.
  She catered Reese Witherspoon’s and Ryan Philippe’s wedding, and other catering clients have been clamoring for her country ham-stuffed biscuits for years. She couldn’t hand over the secret recipe, of course, so Charleston, South Carolina caterer Callie White did the next best thing: She charged her daughter with opening up a division to sell the bodacious biscuits online. Now, there’s no need for you to imagine what super Southern biscuits taste like. Buttermilk, cheese, cinnamon and the country ham biscuits that started it all will come to you. Get yourself a variety pack for Easter dinner or breakfast. Send some to Mom for Mother’s Day. Each biscuit is handmade with just a bowl and no other equipment (save for the oven, of course). Callie says that the secret to making a great biscuit is to not over-mix the dough. Each batch is mixed by hand, and the expert biscuit makers know by the feel when the dough is ready. It’s art, it’s science, it’s delicious! Read the full review. Visit more of our favorite breads and biscuits in the Gourmet Bread Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
And here’s our Question Of The Week (you’ll find a new one each week on TheNibble.com home page—we usually don’t post them here): Why do the British refer to cookies and crackers as biscuits? It’s because the word biscuit comes from the Latin bis coctum, which means “twice cooked.” This is manifested in biscotti, the hard Italian cookies which are baked twice. Americans get “cookie” from the Dutch word, “koekje,” which means “little cake.” Both terms arrived in America in the 1600s, with their respective groups of Colonists. According to The Encyclopedia of American American Food and Drink, the first American usage of “biscuit” as a soft bread was in 1818, in the Journal of Travels in the United States of North America, and in Lower Canada, by John Palmer.By 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defined a biscuit as “a composition of flour and butter, made and baked in private families.” These small, puffy leavened breads were called soda biscuits or baking-soda biscuits, to differentiate them from the unleavened cracker type of biscuit. These bread-biscuit recipes are ubiquitous in 19th-century cookbooks. In addition to serving up plenty of soda biscuits, Southerners also developed the beaten biscuit, first mentioned in print in 1853. In 1930, General Mills introduced Bisquick, the first packaged biscuit mix. And the rest, as they say, is history. Pass the butter, please.

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