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Archive for February, 2010

TIP OF THE DAY: Oscar Party Tasting


Instead of generic “wine and cheese,” serve
different wines (or beers) in the same
category and turn your event into a “tasting.”
Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Last week we proposed 10 “Best Picture Cocktails” as party fare for your Oscar party.

But what if your friends prefer wine or beer?

Instead of making a random selection at the store, focus on selecting bottles for a beer or wine tasting.

Pick up to a dozen different kinds of a single beer (amber ale, IPA, stout, chocolate beer and ale) or wines from a particular region (New Zealand, South Africa) or a particular grape varietal (zinfandel, shiraz, semillon).

Guests not only enjoy the Academy Awards, but discover new favorite beers or wines in the process.


RECIPE: Almond Ale Spritzer

Looking for palate excitement this year? Like eating on the cutting edge?

McCormick’s 2010 Flavor Forecast offers 10 new ways to pair food and spices. How does a spice company decide what’s hot? The flavor experts at McCormick team up with leading chefs, food writers and other culinary authorities to identify the top flavor pairings and key trends that are poised to shape the way we eat.

This is the 10th anniversary of the McCormick Flavor Forecast, so join the celebration and try the recipes (THE NIBBLE has been publishing them since 2008). We’ll present one a day for the next 10 days.

The first pairing is almond and ale. You might enjoy nibbling on almonds as you drink an ale; now see what it’s like to put almonds into the ale.

Why does this pairing work?


You like ale, you like almonds; so how about
an Ale Almond Spritzer? Photo courtesy

  • Ale has a mildly sweet, full-bodied, fruity taste from the top-fermenting brewers’ yeast used to make the beer ferment quickly. (Bottom yeasts are used to ferment other beers, such as lager. See our Beer Glossary.) The types of hops used in making in ale also impart a bitter herbal flavor, which balances the sweetness of the malt.
  • Almonds are actually not a true nut, but rather the seed of a drupe, a fruit in which an outer fleshy part surrounds a shell with a seed inside (other examples include peaches and apricots). Almonds possess a bittersweet flavor that leans toward the sweeter side.

The Recipe:

The bittersweet character of both ale and almonds makes a congenial, cozy and hearty match. Invite friends to try this recipe for an Almond-Ale Spritzer, a moderately sweet beer-based cocktail. Enjoy it with a good food-themed movie.

And come up with your own recipes: ale-steamed shrimp with toasted almonds, for example.



TIP OF THE DAY: Hamantaschen For Purim


Make hamentaschen this weekend. Photo

You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy hamantaschen (also spelled hamentaschen), the traditional tri-corned cookie that celebrates the Jewish holiday of Purim. This year it’s celebrated from February 28th through March 1st.

The story of Purim, as told in the Bible’s Book of Esther, tells of the deliverance of the Jewish people from an annihilation plot of the Persian king Haman, who wore a tri-corner hat (hence the shape of the cookies, the name of which translates into “Haman’s pockets”).


ENTERTAINING: The Cupcake Becomes Even More Fetching

The cost of party cakes is out of control: a 1/2″ thick piece of wedding cake for $10 a slice? That’s what wedding cake specialists charge in our town. To add to the pain, hotels charge a “cake slicing fee” to cut and serve the cake.

This, plus the fact that too many guests don’t like the heavy fondant that covers many wedding cakes, means that you’ve just paid a fortune to serve people something they may just pick at—or ignore completely.

But there’s a happy solution:

Cupcake “trees” have been fashionable at weddings and other parties for several years.

You can make the presentation even more exciting with cupcake wrappers—gracefully die-cut outer wrappers into which the finished cupcake is placed—are now offered in so many colors and designs, that there’s a beautiful presentation that elevates the already-charming cupcake.



A wide range of wrappers turn cupcakes
into celebration cakes. Photo courtesy

Cupcake wrappers aren’t inexpensive—they run a dollar or more apiece. But combine the cost of the cupcake and the wrapper, and you can serve something less expensive, more exciting at the table and cake that people are excited to eat.

Next recommended improvement: Make the wrappers edible or collectible. It’s a crime to throw something so lovely away.

Visit the collection at


PRODUCT: Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate Muffin Mix


Muffin or cake? You be the judge. Photo
courtesy Duncan Hines.

New! 100% Whole Grain Triple Chocolate Chunk Premium Muffin Mix.

That message, on a box of Duncan Hines mix, caught our eye.

Sure, we all should add more whole grain to our diets (in this case whole wheat flour replaces the white flour). But are Triple Chocolate Chunk muffins the way to do it?

We used this question as an excuse to bake up a batch. We substituted butter for the oil in the recipe (butter always tastes better, except in a good Mediterranean olive oil cake).

Here’s what we found:

  • This muffin is an excellent substitute for chocolate cake. It’s a bit less sweet, but the batter could have been put in a loaf pan. We enjoyed our chocolate muffins with a side of Breyer’s No Sugar Added vanilla ice cream (hey, you have to save those calories somewhere).
  • The whole wheat flour blends in with the cocoa and chocolate chips. People who eschew whole wheat won’t know it’s there.
  • You could frost these muffins, serve them as “chocolate cupcakes,” and no one would know the difference. In actuality, cupcakes have a less dense crumb and more sugar. If you choose the “cupcake path,” feel free to toss in extra chocolate chips (or nuts for more protein).
  • In terms of psychology, we feel a lot better polishing off four muffins than four cupcakes. “Muffin” sounds healthier—with all that antioxidant chocolate and added nuts for protein and heart-healthy fats. (It isn’t healthier, of course. Caveat edax!*)
  • If you’re going to have chocolate muffins or cake anyway, this is a fine example of how to switch out the white flour and add more whole grain to your diet.
  • Find more of our favorite cakes in our Gourmet Cakes Section.
  • For bread, crackers and muffins, see Gourmet Breads.

Learn more about whole grains and how to add them to your diet.


*Let the eater beware.


TIP OF THE DAY: Garnish Glamour

Add a little color to every dish you serve.

It can be green from fresh basil or other herbs. Or brighten up the plate with red and yellow accents from halved cherry or grape tomatoes or rings of bell peppers.

In the doldrums of winter, or when you have nothing fresh in the house, take roasted red peppers or sun-dried tomatoes from the jar. If you like things hot, keep some cans of chile peppers.

For sweet dishes, a couple of red berries make a world of difference. Buy them fresh in season, or keep a bag of whole frozen berries in the freezer.

A plain plate of food is instantly more appealing with the color—and the color tastes great and adds few calories, to boot!


Some raspberries and a sprig of mint turn a
plain brownie into something glamorous.
Photograph by Hannah Kaminsky | THE NIBBLE.


PRODUCT: Beanitos Bean Chips


Enjoy a healthy crunch. Photo by Hannah
Kaminsky | THE NIBBLE.

Perhaps you converted from potato chips to tortilla chips in the interest of better nutrition. And you went from fried chips to baked chips.

Now, you can go one step further with Beanitos—two flavors of bean chips with more protein, Omega 3s and fiber. And they’re low glycemic, which potato and corn chips can’t claim. Beanitos have a GI of 33 and a GL of 3.

The healthy new snack chips are made from beans and whole grain rice. They have all the crunch of corn chips and an intriguing, balanced flavor.

Beanitos, available in Black Bean and Pinto Bean & Flax, are delicious as a snack chip or served alongside light meals—salads, soup, sandwiches—or with dips.


TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Fine Cheddar

Americans tend to pair Cheddars with apples and grapes. That’s OK with supermarket Cheddars. But farmstead Cheddars—artisan Cheddars—are complex, full-flavored cheeses that go well with a wide range of accompaniments.

  • Try figs and dates or mostarda—glazed fruits in a mustard sauce.
  • In summer months, Cheddar with a sliced vine-ripened tomato (sprinkled with sea salt), celery stalks and crusty bread make a delicious light lunch.
  • Or, combine Cheddar with prosciutto, fruit chutney and fennel sticks, along with crusty farmhouse bread or raisin bread.
    What to drink? Try Cheddar with an India Pale Ale (lots of hops complement the flavor) or a Ruby Port.

    Some of our favorite farmhouse Cheddars:

  • Beehive Cheese Company, in Utah, makes Barely Buzzed Cheddar rubbed with ground coffee beans. This award winner is dynamite for coffee lovers.
  • California’s Fiscalini Farmstead makes a Bandage Wrapped Cheddar that has racked up awards since its inception. The company also combines Cheddar and Parmesan in its San Joaquin Gold.



    Fiscalini Farmstead’s Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar. Photo by Brian Van Sise | THE NIBBLE.

    Cheddar with fruits and nuts has long been popular. A wedge of cheddar has long been popular with apple pie.

    But how about some Cheddar ice cream—great with apple pie? It’s terrific!



    CULINARY EDUCATION: Great Classes At Institute For Culinary Education


    Mad about macaroons? Learn how to make
    thesefab confections at ICE. Photo of Mad Mac
    , a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week,
    by Claire Freiermann | THE NIBBLE.

    Are you in greater New York? Are you planning a trip?

    If so, in-between the shows, restaurants and shopping, plan to take one of the culinary courses available through the Institute of Culinary Education.

    ICE’s Recreational Division (i.e., you’re not enrolled in a professional program to become a chef), has terrific opportunities. You can take a short, intensive “immersion” class in:

    • CULINARY TECHNIQUE: Basic Sushi, Food Technology for the Home Cook, Handmade Pasta, Pizza, Tapas, Spices and more
    • BEVERAGE COURSES: Coffee Expert: From Plant to Cup, Food & Wine Pairing, Green Wines High-Tech Cocktails, Tea Tasting and more
    • PASTRY & BREAD COURSES: Bagels, Baguettes, Breakfast Breads, Chocolate Desserts, Classic Croissants Cream Puffs/Eclairs, Doughnuts/Fritters, Italian Pastries, Madeleines & Macaroons, Parisian Breads, Tarts & more


    We’ve taken great courses there and in the process, have tasted the breads (including croissants) made by baking students. They’re the best in town, so your recipes will be the envy of all your friends.

    You can give a gift certificate, too. With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day on the horizon, how about bonding with your parent while making croissants, pasta or high-tech cocktails?

    Coffee connoisseurs: Check out the two-day intensive seminar created for devoted coffee lovers and industry professionals, students will dissect every detail that goes into crafting a superior brew.

    For more information, visit the ICE Website.


    ENTERTAINING: “Best Picture” Oscar Cocktails

    Still pondering how to make your Oscar party a standout?

    The Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort has an easy solution. Their mixologists developed cocktails in honor of the Best Picture nominees, styled to complement the theme of the film.

    The cocktails are very easy to make, leaving you all the time you need to focus on the Academy Awards.

    It’s no surprise that the aqua-blue cocktail in the photo is for Avatar. But you won’t want to miss the Inglourious Jager Monster or the Hurt Locker Cherry Bomb, either.

    • See all of the cocktail recipes.
    • Or if you’re in the Chicago area, just hang out at the Indian Lakes Resort on Oscar night.


    Find many more cocktail ideas in our Cocktails & Spirits Section.


    Avatar fans can show their support with this
    colorful cocktail. Photo by Ivan Mateev | IST.


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