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Archive for February, 2011

FOOD TRAVEL: Oregon Chocolate Festival

What’s in store at the Festival? Perhaps
some chocolate cappuccino cups. Photo
courtesy Oregon Chocolate Festival


If you need a weekend getaway, and if chocolate combined with the great outdoors rings a bell, consider the Oregon Chocolate Festival.

The 7th annual Oregon Chocolate Festival will be held this weekend, March 4th through 6th. It will showcase more than 40 of Oregon’s great chocolatiers and specialty food producers. Some 1,500 chocolate lovers are expected.

The festival takes place in Ashland, at the south end of the Rogue Valley, home to some of America’s great food producers, from Lillie Belle Farms to Rogue Creamery. It’s just 15 miles north of the California border.

Ashland, with its small-town charm, is located in the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. So if you have time to stay longer, there’s plenty of opportunity to hike off those chocolate calories.

Head to the festival website for more information.


TIP OF THE DAY: Ideas For Decorating Cupcakes

Sorry if our three posts on the topic makes this seems like National Cupcake Day (which is December 15th; October 18th is National Chocolate Cupcake Day).

Despite the predictions of certain experts that cupcakes are on the way out—to be replaced by pie shops—we think that cupcakes will be around for some time. Heck, there wasn’t even enough interest in pies to keep the great show, Pushing Daisies, on the air.

So this tip focuses on how easy it is for you to put stellar cupcakes on the table. You don’t even have to bake. Just focus your talent on decorating cupcakes you’ve acquired. (If you’re having a party, convince someone else to bake the cupcakes for you to decorate and share the kudos).

Then, all you need is a concept. Think of what you can do with:

  • Colored sugars are more sophisticated, but sprinkles do the trick.
  • Crushed hard candies are an easy option. We love peppermints on chocolate cupcakes, butterscotch on vanilla cupcakes and coffee candy on just about anything.

Simple but elegant: A non-pareil and a
light dusting of cocoa powder. Chocolate from
Guittard. Photo by Corey Lugg | THE NIBBLE.

  • Other candy store favorites, from gummies to malted milk balls. Sprinkle malted milk on the icing before planting the malted milk ball.
  • Colorful jelly beans and gumdrops can be used for edging or to make a flower design.
  • Chocolate in its various incarnations is always a hit. You can shave or grate dark, milk and/or white chocolate; use chocolate curls; or take the easy road with chocolate chips (we use them in multiple flavors and colors, including siblings butterscotch, mint and PB chips). Or, make a statement by adding a piece of chocolate—a Hershey’s Kiss, a non-pareil, a square or broken wedge from a chocolate bar, a miniature PB cup, etc.—to the top of the cupcake.
  • Coconut: Shredded or flaked, coconut is delish. You can tint it to any color by shaking it in a sealed plastic bag with a few drops of food color. Spread it on a plate to dry.
  • Fresh berries create an elegant touch; dip them in chocolate for an indulgent touch.
  • Dusting & More: Even if you’ve got nothing else in the house, dust the cupcakes with cocoa powder, cinnamon and/or confectioners’ sugar, using a fine mesh sieve. See what else is in the pantry: marshmallows? Cookie pieces? Fresh flowers (that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides)? You’ve got it covered.

See more cupcake decorating ideas with beautiful photos.



CONTEST: Decorate Cupcakes With Jelly Beans

Our vote goes to these bacon-and-eggs
jelly bean cupcakes by Eileen E. Photo
courtesy Jelly Belly.


Are you ready for The $10,000 Jelly Belly Cupcake Challenge?

The challenge is to create the “world’s most creative cupcake,” using Jelly Belly jelly beans as the decoration.

The winner will receive a check for $10,000, so it’s worth a bit of thought. There are also “instant win” prizes, just for uploading a photo of your cupcake.

The top five cupcakes will be selected by What’s New, Cupcake? authors Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. Fans will then vote to determine the overall $10,000 grand prize winner.

Baking cupcakes from scratch is not a requirement. This is a cupcake decorating contest, so cake mixes or store-bought cupcakes are fine.

The online contest runs through July 31, 2011. For additional information, visit

Find our favorite cupcakes and recipes in our Gourmet Cakes Section.


ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Shamrock Cupcake Recipe

You can make these clever shamrock cupcakes for St. Patrick’s Day.

Using Jelly Belly jelly beans in six different green colors and flavors provides lots of variety.

Each large shamrock pulls apart into three mini cupcakes. If you don’t have time to bake the cupcakes, you can purchase them and focus your time on decorating.



  • 45 mini cupcakes, baked in green paper liners
  • 6 thin chocolate cookies
  • 2 cans (16 ounces each) dark chocolate frosting

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with green jelly
bean shamrock cupcakes. Photo from the
book Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan

  • 3/4 cup each (about 6 ounces) Jelly Belly jelly beans in Green Apple, Kiwi, Lemon Lime, Margarita and Watermelon

1. Trim the chocolate cookies with a serrated knife into fifteen 1/2-inch- by 2-inch-long strips for the stems. Spoon 1/4 cup of the chocolate frosting into a small zipper bag. Press out the excess air and seal.
2. Working on one shamrock at a time, arrange 3 mini cupcakes close together in the shape of a shamrock.
3. Spread the tops of the cupcakes with some of the chocolate frosting. Add a piece of chocolate cookie in between 2 of the cookies allowing it to overhang about 1 inch to make the stem.
4. Starting on the outer edge of the cupcakes, press like colored green Jelly Belly beans, lengthwise around the cupcakes to make the shamrock shape. Fill in with more jelly beans as close together as possible.
5. Snip a small corner from the bag with the chocolate frosting and pipe a line on the top of the cookie piece. Add 2 like colored jelly beans on top to make the stem. Repeat with the remaining cupcakes, jelly beans and frosting.



TIP OF THE DAY: Kitchen Gadgets To Avoid

Does anyone need a gadget to remove the
avocado pit and slice the flesh? If so,
here it is.

Have you purchased a kitchen gadget, only to try it at home and wonder why it was manufactured in the first place?

Some tools, like a garlic press, an egg separator, a cherry- or olive pitter and an egg slicer make a difficult job easy. Others, like a vegetable peeler and a mandoline, are indispensable.

However, the vast majority of gadgets we test are such a waste of money and drawer space that we get angry at free enterprise for allowing them to exist. All they do is replace a sharp knife, and often not as well.

Here are some of the time- and money-wasters we’ve tried over the past year.

  • Avocado Pitter/Slicer. Is anyone truly incapable of removing the pit from an avocado and slicing the flesh with a knife?
  • Corn Zipper. It couldn’t be easier to remove corn from the cob with a sharp knife. You don’t need a special device.
  • Herb Mincer. A total waste for us. Our chef uses a knife to mince. Our knife skills are not as strong, but we happily mince herbs by snipping away with a sharp kitchen scissors. It’s fun, too.
  • Herb Shears. The only difference over a normal scissors are circular openings above the blades that can be used to strip the leaves from woody stems like oregano, rosemary and thyme. Using our fingers is far easier than using this feature.
  • Mango Pitter. We actually spent our hard-earned money on this one, because we find pitting a mango a chore. But what a disaster this item is. We’ll have to get hands-on lessons from THE NIBBLE’s chef, a knife-skills pro.
  • Mozzarella Slicer and Tomato Slicer. Please avoid these and use a knife! Last summer, we received a combination unit that sliced both mozzarella and tomatoes, a “Caprese salad maker.” Everyone at THE NIBBLE laughed their heads off, and we donated the item to the thrift store without taking it out of the box. (Most of what we receive is donated after we test it.)
    And so on and so on to the point of sheer skepticism. So don’t get seduced by the fantasy in the aisles of Bed, Bath & Beyond. Don’t impulse buy. Go online and read reviews before buying.

    Save your money. Save your drawer space. And spend your money on a good knife and keeping it sharp.

    Which gadgets have you found to be a waste of space, and which can’t you live without?

  • Comments

    RECIPE: Chocolate Fondue

    February is National Fondue Month, but chocolate fondue is a dessert that can be used to celebrate any occasion. It’s fun served to a group; it’s romantic enjoyed by two.

    Chocolate fondue is easy prepare, so why don’t we have it more often? You don’t need a special fondue pot: You can use a standard sauce pot and a portable burner to keep the chocolate warm. However, long-handled fondue forks are needed.

    A fondue sidebar: Back in the day, we were big fondue fans, hosting frequent fondue parties. We owned the specialty pots dictated by convention for each type of fondue:

  • Cheese fondue was served in a wide, short ceramic dish with a handle (i.e., a pot) that made dipping into the bubbly cheese easy

    We’re trading in our sterno-heated brazier
    for this electric fondue pot from Rival.

  • Beef fondue was served in a taller metal pot with a narrow mouth, so the cooking oil didn’t spatter and the fondue forks could rest against the mouth while the meat cooked
  • Chocolate fondue required a much smaller than either of the main course pots
    The cheese and chocolate, and the oil for the beef, were heated on the stove. They were brought to the table and placed atop a brazier, a portable metal frame with an underneath heating source: alcohol, Sterno or butane (or the original, less effective heating source, a tea candle).

    Today’s portable electric burners and electric fondue pots are a better solution, but for the electric cord and an extension cord trailing over the dining table.

    We’re actually moving our fondue party into the 20th century, donating our three fondue pots to a good cause and purchasing one electric pot.

    Back to the chocolate fondue:

    Chef Trey Foshee of George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, California, goes a step beyond the traditional chocolate fondue recipe and adds creamy mascarpone cheese (a key ingredient of tiramisu).

    Thanks to Chef Foshee and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for the delicious recipe.

  • Chocolate Mascarpone Fondue
  • Classic Chocolate Fondue and Fondue History
  • White Chocolate Fondue
  • Easy Chocolate Fondue
  • Spicy Chocolate Fondue
  • Comments

    ACADEMY AWARDS: A Themed Cheese Board As Oscars Food

    What the king ate after the speech:
    A Stilton from purveyor Neal’s Yard. Photo
    courtesy Whole Foods Market.


    We’ve received dozens of recipes for themed cocktail recipes for Oscar parties. For example, combine gin with Earl Grey Tea, and call it The King’s Speech cocktail.

    Fatigued at the idea of 12 different “Best Picture” cocktails, we’ve published just two over the past month.

    But the idea of an Oscar-themed cheese board caught our interest. Here are suggestions from, one of the finest online cheese purveyors, on how to create an Academy Awards cheese board:

  • The Fighter: Aged Roquefort (it’s a salty punch)
  • The Kids Are All Right: Goat cheese (goats are kids, too, and goat cheese is always all right)
  • The King’s Speech: Cheddar, Stilton or Wensleydale, iconic English cheeses
  • The Social Network: Any mixed milk cheese—two or more milks connecting socially
  • Toy Story 3: Flosserkäse, an aged Swiss cheese with woody notes
  • True Grit: A washed rind cheese like Epoisses or Livarot, a challenging stinker for turophiles with true grit
  • Winter’s Bone: Comte, the great Swiss mountain cheese, as complex as nature
    Discover the world of fine cheese in our Cheese Section and Cheese Glossary.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Baking Soda, Baking Powder

    Yesterday someone told us she had baked a cake recipe from one of her favorite authorities, and it was “inedible.” We asked to see the recipe.

    While she is an experienced baker, in her rush she grabbed baking soda instead of baking powder. It’s an easy “oops.” Some recipes use both leveners, but if only one is called for, be sure that it’s the right one. Baking calls for very precise chemistry.

    So what’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

    Both baking powder and baking soda are chemical leavening agents that cause batters to rise when baked, by enlarging the bubbles (gases) in the batter. Sometimes you want a little rise (in a cookie, for example), sometimes a lot (in a fluffy layer cake).

  • Baking soda, also known as bicarbonate of soda and by its chemical name, sodium bicarbonate, is about four times as strong as baking powder. It’s used to neutralize the acid in recipes that contain an acidic ingredient (for example, brown sugar, buttermilk, chocolate, citrus juice, chocolate, fruit, honey, maple syrup, molasses, sour cream, vinegar and yogurt.) The acid-neutralizing quality is what makes baking soda, dissolved in a glass of water, a cure for upset stomaches.

    Check that label twice to be sure you’re
    adding the right leavener. Photo courtesy
    Clabber Girl.

  • Baking powder consists of baking soda plus cream of tartar (and/or sodium aluminum sulfate, both “acid salts”) and cornstarch. The cornstarch absorbs moisture so the chemical reaction does not take place until a liquid is added to the batter. Baking powder creates a better rise than baking soda. Nearly all baking powder made today is “double acting,” containing two different types of acids that react at different times and make the baked good fluffier. The first acid creates gases when mixed with the liquid in the recipe, the second type creates gases when the batter is exposed to the heat of the oven.
    Using the wrong leavener can cause bitterness and/or toughness and a compact (not fluffy) crumb. Once you’ve made the mistake (and we did, when we started to bake), you’ll never do it again. We still keep checking back and forth from the recipe to the can or box: Soda, soda, check. Soda, soda, check. Only then do we add the leavener to the batter.


    COOKING VIDEO: For Mardi Gras Food, Make A Gumbo


    You don’t have to head to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras on March 8th.

    Celebrate at home with a special Mardi Gras gumbo—a flavorful layering of chicken, andouille sausage, crawfish, okra, diced tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, cayenne, fresh parsley and white rice. It has a chicken stock base and is thickened with a roux (fat and flour—the okra also helps to thicken). Gumbo recipes traditionally include filé powder (pronounced fee-LAY), which is ground sassafras leaves. If you don’t have any, you can skip it.

    Dress up in costume (here’s some inspiration). Wear ropes of beads (they’re unisex during Mardi Gras).

    Don’t limit the festivities to your immediate household. Since a pot of gumbo serves a crowd, have a Mardi Gras party. Ask participants to bring appropriate desserts and drinks.

    And tell everyone to bring their favorite jazz recordings. Give a Louis Armstrong CD or an inexpensive MP3 download as a prize for best costume.

    Back to the gumbo:

    Gumbo, an African word for okra, is a Creole soup originally thickened with okra pods (the French added the roux). Okra came to America with the slave trade and was introduced into Southern cuisine by African cooks.

    As with all recipes, there are regional variations and different styles of gumbo. If you’ve never made a gumbo, see how easy it is in this cooking video with caterer Shelly Everett, a.k.a. The Gourmet Angel:



  • See the different types of soups and the history of soup in our beautiful Soup Glossary.
  • Coming shortly: a Mardi Gras salad with Bourbon-soaked raisins and glazed spicy pecan pieces.
  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Use Unsalted Butter For Cooking And Baking

    Go for the unsalted butter. Photo by
    Kasey Albano | SXC.


    Some recipes call for salted butter, others for unsalted butter. Does it make a difference which you use?

    Yes, and the answer is that unsalted butter produces more consistent results.

    The salt content of butter varies from brand to brand. There can be as little as 1/4 teaspoon salt per four-ounce stick of butter, or as much as 3/4 teaspoon. You can’t tell by reading package ingredients.

    Recipes that specify salted butter use less added table salt. Recipes with unsalted butter make up the difference with added salt.

    But in order to make recipes consistent—especially recipes in which the amount of salt can make a difference, such as delicate cookies and cakes—it’s better to use unsalted butter and add a consistent amount of salt each time.

    To convert salted butter to unsalted in a recipe, do what the dairies do and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt per four ounces of butter.

  • Check out the different types of butter and butter sauces in our Butter Glossary.
  • The history of butter (like yogurt, an accident).
  • Compound butter recipes (so many different ways to enjoy butter!).
    What happened to “sweet butter?”

    This term is often used by consumers to refer to butter that has no salt. But “sweet butter” is a misnomer, because any butter made with sweet cream (instead of sour cream) is sweet butter. The appropriate terms to use are unsalted butter or sweet cream butter; but the latter has disappeared from common use. Stick to unsalted.


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