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Archive for February, 2011

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Try them and fall in love with the full-flavor taste of these organic heirloom grains: fresh corn flavor, texture, nutrients and richness with

gritz

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

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.

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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.

 

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