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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 February, 2011

PRODUCT: Egg-Free Cookies & Brownies

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that some 12 million Americans have one or more food allergies.

Ninety percent of food allergies are caused by the “big eight”: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soya and wheat (gluten).

There are some great allergen-free mixes for those who want to bake for allergic loved ones. See our reviews of Cherrybrook Kitchen and Pamela’s Gluten Free.

If you don’t have time to bake, consider ordering from Egg-Free Epicurean.

The bakery banishes three of the big eight from its handmade, tasty, ready-to-eat cookies and blondies: no eggs, peanuts or tree nuts.

Cookie loving kids and grownups now have access to something sweet and satisfying that’s as good as what everybody else gets. No one would suspect that the eggs are missing. We not only ate every crumb, we’d gladly eat more (and we have no allergies).

 

Celebrate with egg- and nut-free treats
from Egg-Free Epicurean. Photo by River
Soma | THE NIBBLE.

The products can be ordered separately (in packages of 12 cookies, 8 blondies) or in a sampler box. There’s a large “I Want It All” sampler box for especially good girls and boys.

Order yours at EggFreeEpicurean.com.

The more the word gets out, the more Egg-Free Epicurean will be tempted to make even more varieties.

  • For more allergen-free baked delights, try Mariposa Baking Company.
  • Allergic to wheat and other gluten-laden grains? See all of our gluten-free product reviews.
  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Add Colored Food

    Dark green spinach leaves, yellow tomatoes
    and red radicchio turn a sandwich from blah
    to wow. Photo courtesy Royal Rose Radicchio.

     

    You don’t have to read too many food magazines or watch “Top Chef” too often to see how important presentation is.

    “Top Chef” judges regularly comment on a bland presentation, telling cheftestants that the dish needs color.

    It’s up to you, the home chef, to decide what kind of colorful vegetable or fruit complements your dish.

    Take a quick scan of the produce aisle: The fruits and vegetables that catch your eye are one way to start.

    Easy choices:

  • Red, Orange & Yellow: bell pepper, carrot (use curls for garnish), chile, grape, kumquat, pattypan squash and other miniature vegetables, radicchio, tomato (conventonal, cherry, grape, sundried)
  • Green: Many choices in lighter and darker hues, from vegetables to fresh herbs
  •  
    You’re adding more than color. Each ingredient adds flavor to the dish, whether as a garnish or a principal food (serve a side of rainbow chard, delicious and stunning).

    No time to acquire colored fruits, vegetables or fresh herbs? Look at your spices and dust the plate with a pinch of basil, curry, paprika, turmeric or other colorful favorite.

    Comments

    NATIONAL MARGARITA DAY: What Is A Margarita? How About A Guavarita?

    Yesterday was National Margarita Day.

    We get lots of pitches—story ideas—from public relations (PR) firms. Their job is to get coverage for their clients’ products. Brands of spirits are always at the ready with cocktails for every celebration: New Year’s, Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day, Academy Awards and National Margarita Day—and that’s just in January and February.

    One of the things that surprised us about this year’s National Margarita Day pitches was how many tequila companies were calling their recipes a Margarita. The only kinship most had to a Margarita was tequila. Simply adding tequila does not a Margarita make (see the history of the Margarita and the original recipe.)

    Margarita ingredients include silver tequila, Cointreau or triple sec (orange liqueur) and lime juice, with a salted rim. So substitute raspberry liqueur for the orange liqueur and call it a Raspberry Margarita. Or use grapefruit juice instead of lime juice and call it a Grapefruit Margarita. Or coat the rim with crushed salted nuts or even pepper (hmm, must try a Pepper Margarita).

    But give it some logic!

     

    The Margarita: keeping it real. Photo by
    Eugene Bochkarev | BSP.

     
    One would really have to question the logic of the people who proposed these “Margarita” recipes. We’ll protect the guilty; but our least favorite contestant was an Apple Margarita mixed from tequila, apple schnapps and cinnamon sticks. No orange liqueur, no lime juice. One might get thrown out of Mexico for insisting it’s a Margarita. No doubt, we’ll be sent the same recipe in October called something like a Harvest Margarita, and again in November as a Pilgrim’s Margarita.

    Or hold them for National Tequila Day, July 24th.

    Enjoy creative mixology; but don’t call something by a name it’s not, just to get the sale. That’s huckstering.

    To show that we’re down with variations, here’s a Guavarita recipe, courtesy of 1800 Silver Tequila. It keeps the structure of the Margarita (tequila, fresh lime juice and fruit liqueur), substituting raspberry liqueur for orange and flavoring the rim. We don’t know why it doesn’t use guava liqueur.

    GUAVARITA RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • 2 ounces silver tequila
  • 1 ounce Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
  • 2 ounces guava juice/nectar
  • .5 ounce (3 teaspoons) fresh lime juice
  • Sugar or rimming sugar (make your own by mixing sugar and lime zest)
  • Ice
  •  
    Preparation
    1. Rim glasses with sugar.
    2. Shake ingredients with ice until chilled and strain into an ice filled.
    3. Garnish with a guava slice.

    Consider today National Guavarita Day.

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Java Bites Coffee Cookies

    Have some espresso cookies with your
    espresso. Photo by River Soma |
    THE NIBBLE.

     

    Some people love the aroma of a cup of coffee, but not the taste of it. Others don’t drink coffee, but happily devour coffee ice cream, chocolate-covered coffee beans and other coffee-flavored foods.

    And then there are those who love all things coffee.

    Java Bites cookies, made with espresso roasted beans, will appeal to all three groups.

    The all-natural cookies, handmade at the foothills of the Rockies, sound like a coffee bar menu: Almond Mocha, Chocolate Chip Espresso, Cinnamon Cappuccino, White Chocolate Mocha Latte and White Chocolate Vanilla Latte. Each variety is delicious.

    The cookie box is reminiscent of Cosmo Kramer’s coffee table book on coffee tables. For those who haven’t seen every episode of “Seinfeld,” the coffee table book had fold-down legs that enabled it to stand: an attempt at emulating a coffee table.

    Here, a handle pulls out of the cardboard box, emulating a coffee cup.

    We love the fact that the cookies are cello-packed in 100-calorie two-packs. In addition to the freshness factor, the packaging creates a reasonable snack portion and prevents us from devouring the entire box.

  • Read the full review.
  • Love coffee cookies? Check out Biscoffee coffee-flavored shortbread, another NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week.
  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Cornmeal Instead Of Polenta

    If you read history or old literature, you encounter cornmeal. A flour ground from dried maize (corn), it’s been a staple for millennia, feeding the native populations of the Americas and, later, the Colonials. Ground to fine, medium and coarse consistencies, cornmeal is used to make everything from tortillas and cornbread to cookies and cakes. Like other flours, fine-ground cornmeal is also used to thicken sauces.

    Polenta—the Italian word for cornmeal and a cooked dish made from it—has become popular in America through Italian and Continental restaurants. The introduction of polenta to American diets brought it back into the American kitchen, from which many decades ago it was replaced by refined wheat flour.

    But polenta is also refined: It is degerminated cornmeal, with the germ and endosperm removed. As with all refined grains, the protein, iron and vitamins are left on the factory floor.

    So what can you do if you love polenta?
     

     

    Cornmeal is a whole grain, unlike refined
    polenta. Photo courtesy AnsonMills.com.

    Substitute stone ground whole grain cornmeal—no recipe adjustments needed to make polenta or any other recipe.

    Be sure to read the package label, though: Some stone ground cornmeal is degerminated to extend its shelf life and is no longer a whole grain. (Store whole grains in the freezer if you don’t use them up.)

    You can find whole grain cornmeal from one of our favorite brands, Bob’s Red Mill, at natural food stores nationwide (including Whole Foods Markets). Substitute it for polenta in any recipe: to make cookies and cakes (nifty texture!), cornbread and corn muffins, hushpuppies and spoonbread. Old-fashioned cornmeal mush sounds great on this cold day, as we contemplate breakfast options.

    If you’re not near a store that sells cornmeal, check out the beautiful heirloom grain products at AnsonMills.com. If you love to cook and eat, be warned: You’ll probably want to order everything.

  • More about whole grains, and why they’re so important for good health.
  • Comments

    PRESIDENT’S DAY: Why You Should Have Hot Chocolate Today

    George Washington’s favorite drink. Photo
    courtesy Mars Inc.

     

    You may have imagined our Colonial forefathers drinking wine, buttered rum, beer or a cup of tea. But hot chocolate?

    George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin enjoyed chocolate on a regular basis, according to Mars, the Historic Division of which produces American Heritage Hot Chocolate. The company says that chocolate was Washington’s favorite drink, served during mealtimes.

    For most of the history of chocolate, it was drunk as a beverage. Solid chocolate wasn’t invented until 1847.

    According to Mars, makers of the American Heritage brand of chocolate products, chocolate figures prominently in Early American history. With a rebellion against tea and everything British, our forefathers chose hot chocolate and coffee as symbols of freedom.

  • Washington: While residing in Mt. Vernon, George and Martha Washington were well-documented lovers of chocolate. They served chocolate in their white and gold imported porcelain service, in special cups and saucers that were known as chocolate cups (a smaller size than the standard coffee and tea cup). In a letter to his agent, Washington wrote, “She will…thank you to get 20lbs of the shells of Cocoa nuts [cacao beans], if they can be had of the Chocolate makers.”
  • Jefferson: In 1785, Thomas Jefferson wrote that chocolate would prevail over coffee and tea in terms of American preferences, as it already had in Spain. His vision didn’t take; and over time, the wealthy Spanish reverted to coffee service. (Chocolate was expensive, and not a drink of the common man.)
  • Franklin: In 1794, Benjamin Franklin wrote that chocolate should be a part of any provision when going into sea. During the French and Indian War, he also managed to secure six pounds of chocolate for every officer.
  •  
    Compare these recipes:

    HISTORIC CHOCOLATE RECIPE
    Take a Quart of Milk, Chocolate without Sugar four ounces, fine Sugar as much fine Flour, or Starch, half a quarter of an Ounce, a little Salt: mix them, dissolve them, and boil them as before.

    If this seems confusing, watch a video demonstration.

    MODERN HOT CHOCOLATE
    Ingredients per serving: 4 ounces whole milk, 1 ounce finely grated chocolate (or drinking chocolate). Combine both ingredients in a straight-sided one quart sauce pan and bring them to a boil. When the chocolate is melted and well combined, take the pan off the heat. Using a handheld immersion blender, agitate the hot liquid to achieve a foamy top. As an alternative, froth the liquid in a countertop blender. Press a dry towel down over the cover of a standing blender during mixing to prevent burns from escaping hot liquid. Serve immediately.

    Celebrate President’s Day with George Washington’s favorite drink.

  • The chocolate history timeline
  • The detailed history of chocolate
  • 25 variations on a hot chocolate recipe
  • The difference between cocoa and hot chocolate
  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Make Coffee

    Yesterday we attended the Coffee & Tea Festival in New York City (sign up for the newsletter and get advance notice of future shows).

    We had some terrific coffees and teas and will report on our discoveries in future blog posts and product reviews.

    But for today, some notes about how you can make the best coffee at home.

    Coffee flavors start to deteriorate the minute the bean is roasted and/or ground. People with a good palate can taste the difference in as few as 6 hours, and definitely after 24 hours.

    So keep it fresh: Don’t buy more coffee than you’ll use in a week. And preferably, buy whole beans and grind them right before brewing.

  • Keep your beans or ground coffee in an airtight container away from heat and sunlight. Heat and sunlight “cook” the oils in the beans, negatively affecting the flavor and aroma. We use the Friis Coffee Vault for both ground coffee and whole beans.
  •  

    The way you handle your beans is crucial to
    the quality of your coffee. Photo courtesy
    Denby USA.

  • Do not refrigerate the coffee; it will acquire moisture unless it’s stored in a moisture-proof container (like the Friis). Airtight is not the same as moisture-proof.
  • While some “tips” say that you can freeze beans in airtight containers, the containers must be moisture-proof as well. And the results won’t be glorious when you defrost them. Freezing coagulates the natural oils in the beans and crystallizes the moisture inside them, which adversely affects the flavor and aroma. In espresso, those oils need to emulsify to produce the body and mouthfeel of the coffee. So don’t be tempted buy Costco bargains in coffee, unless you’re going to use it up quickly.
  •  
    There’s a lot more to brewing a good cup of coffee. Here’s what you need to know.

    Comments

    ACADEMY AWARDS: A Cocktail For Your Oscar Food

    Starfruit = star cocktail = Academy Awards
    fare. Photo courtesy Moet et Chandon.

     

    A week from today, you’ll probably be watching the Academy Awards. What will you be drinking?

    While you’re watching the stars, nibble on a few with The Starlet cocktail. It uses star fruit to give star quality to any drink.

    The recipe is courtesy Moët et Chandon, the official champagne of the Academy Awards. The limited-edition Gold Award Season Moët & Chandon Impérial is a stunner.

    THE STARLET COCKTAIL RECIPE

    Ingredients Per Cocktail

  • 4 mint leaves
  • 3/4 ounce good-quality silver tequila
  • 1/2 ounce elderflower liqueur (we love St. Germain)
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 3 ounces Moet & Chandon Imperial
  • 1 slice starfruit (carambola) for a rim garnish, four slices for the effect shown in the photo
  • Preparation
    1. In a cocktail shaker, use a muddler or a wooden spoon to muddle the mint leaves. Add simple syrup and lime juice and stir to combine.
    2. Add tequila and elderflower liqueur and fill shaker with ice.
    3. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into a glass and top with Moet & Chandon. Garnish with starfruit.

    Starfruit is a caloric bargain: one cup has just 40 calories. It is very low in fat and Sodium; high in dietary fiber, vitamin C and copper; and a good source of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and potassium. Use it often as a garnish and enjoy it as a snack.

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Kiss My Cheesy Grits

    If your only exposure to hot cereal is instant packages of oatmeal, you’re depriving yourself of a real treat. For us, Cream Of Wheat, Cream Of Rice, grits, polenta and cornmeal mush are some of life’s great comfort foods.

    Today’s shout-out is to grits (hominy grits), a versatile hot cereal or side dish to other breakfast foods, lunch or dinner or as a main dish (shrimp and grits are a match made in heaven).

    If you don’t like grits, you’ve never had the real deal. Anson Mills’ honest-to-the-core organic-certified antebellum sweet Carolina corn grits have no relation to the gluey, pallid, tasteless grits served up at so many diners.

    They’re cold-milled grits, handmade from certified organic whole heirloom seed corn. To our knowledge, they’re the best grits that money can buy. They’re not instant, but they’re terrific: true grits, indeed.

     

    Enjoy cheesy grits or plain grits for
    breakfast, lunch or dinner. Photo courtesy
    AnsonMills.com.

     
    Try them and fall in love with the full-flavor taste of these organic heirloom grains: fresh corn flavor, texture, nutrients and richness with the additional floral flavors from fresh corn germ. This style of grits was popular before the Civil War and was still available until World War II, fresh-ground every Saturday morning in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Fresh-milled hominy grist, right out of the mill, is a food lover’s delight.

    Here’s a basic grits recipe from Anson Mills. Add 1 tablespoon of grated cheese (we use Parmesan) to make cheesy grits/cheese grits.

    You can purchase grits at your local supermarket, too. They’re fine—we use them all the time. But for a special treat, get the artisan version from AnsonMills.com.

  • Read our review of Anson Mills grits, including a “grits vocabulary.”

  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Freezing Cheeses

    Buy eat, eat it, freeze the leftovers.
    Photo courtesy iGourmet.com.

     

    Common belief is that you shouldn’t freeze cheese. Freezing can change the texture, making many cheeses grainy or crumbly. That’s because of the water content of cheese. It turns to ice and breaks apart the curds.

    But you definitely can freeze cheese. If the choice is spoilage versus freezing, there’s no contest.

    Whether or not the cheese has its original wrapper, wrap it tightly in several layers of plastic wrap and then in a freezer storage bag with the air removed. If the cheese has been sliced, separate the slices with wax paper.

    It’s best to use frozen cheese within three months (six months for semi-hard and hard cheeses), so label the bag with the type of cheese and a “Use By” date.

  • Fresh, soft cheeses—cream cheese, goat cheese and mascarpone, for example—may experience some separation when defrosted. Simply stir any liquid back into the cheese. High-water-content cheeses, such as cottage cheese and ricotta, don’t freeze well because of too much crystallization.
  • Soft-ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert can be frozen: We’ve been doing it for decades. Recently, Maxx Sherman of The Marin French Cheese Factory—who had never frozen his own cheeses—tried it and wrote that the defrosted cheeses “were all as perfect as the day that I froze them.” So go ahead: Save money and buy that huge wheel of Brie at Costco. (See the difference between Brie and Camembert.)
  • Shredded cheeses. You can also freeze pre-shredded “pizza cheese.” Given how expensive the supermarket bags are, we bought a bulk bag at Costco to experiment and were pleased with the results.
  • Semi-soft cheeses, like Monterey Jack, Munster, Havarti and Gorgonzola, tend to become crumbly after defrosting. They may not go back onto the cheese board; but are delicious in soups, salads, omelets, grilled cheese sandwiches and other recipes
  • Hard, aged cheeses—Asiago, Cheddar, Colby, Emmenthaler, Gruyère, Manchego and Parmesan, for example—fare the best when defrosted. And you can grate the cheeses while they’re still frozen. We keep a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano in the freezer and grate what we need, returning the wedge to the freezer.
  •  
    Thaw frozen cheese in the refrigerator for 24 hours. If you don’t like the texture, use it in cooking (grilled cheese, omelets, salads, crumbled toppings) or baking (muffins, cheese bread, casseroles), where it won’t make a difference.

    Comments

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