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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.

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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.

 

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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 JBCupcakeChallenge.com.

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

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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.

SHAMROCK CUPCAKES FOR ST. PATRICK’S DAY

Ingredients

  • 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
Richardson.

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

Preparation
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.

 

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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?

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