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Archive for August, 2011

TIP OF THE DAY: Grow Your Own Herbal Tea

Tea leaves are herbs. Photo by Zakir Ghouse | Fotolia.


We use the term “herb tea” to specify a tea made of caffeine-free herbs. But black, green, oolong and white teas, which come from the plant Camellia sinensis, are also herbs themselves.

According to Chinese legend, in 2737 B.C.E., Emperor Shen Nong discovered tea by accident. While boiling drinking water in the garden (a standard safety practice in the millennia prior to safe water systems), a leaf from an overhanging wild tea tree drifted into his pot—inadvertently brewing the first pot of tea. (More on the history of tea.)

While you probably can’t grow a tea tree or bush in your home or garden,* you can grow other herbs that steep into delicious “herbal” teas.

*If you live in a hot, moist climate, you can try it. Tea grows in temperatures ranging from 50 to 86°F, in areas with an average yearly rainfall of 787 inches and an elevation of between 2000 and 6500 feet above sea level.


Herbs To Grow For Tea
Most herbs have some type of homeopathic quality—but grow and brew the flavors you prefer. Take a look at:

  • Basil or lemon basil
  • Chamomile
  • Fennel
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemongrass
  • Lemon verbena
  • Mint (apple mint, orange mint, peppermint, spearmint)
  • Rose hips
  • Rosemary
  • Sage (we love sage tea; look for pineapple sage in addition to regular sage)
    How To Brew Fresh Herb Tea
    1. Pluck and rinse the herbs.
    2. Crush them in your hand to release the essential oils.
    3. Add the leaves to a cup or pot and cover with boiling water to steep, for three minutes or longer. Use 3 teaspoons of herbs per cup of water (if the herbs are dried, 1 teaspoon per cup of water).
    4. Enjoy the tea hot or iced.

    Suggestions From Experts

  • Harvest the herbs in the morning, after the dew has dried.
  • Most herbs are at peak just before they flower.
  • Harvest all your herbs by the end of the season, before the first frost. Dry them whole and store in an airtight container away from heat and light.
  • In addition to making tea, you can use the herbs as seasonings.


    FOOD HOLIDAY: Celebrate National Water Quality Month

    August is National Water Quality Month.

    Whether you rely on tap water, bottled water or both, celebrate it by learning more about this substance without which no life form can live. Clean drinking water (called potable water) is essential to humans and other life forms.

    However, about a billion people around the world have no access to potable water. The unhealthy water they drink results in every tragedy from blindness to mortality.

    You may wish to celebrate National Water Quality Month by making a donation to Just $20 means clean water for one child or adult. You can also support the cause by purchasing an attractive Gelaskin for your phone, iPod or laptop.

    Learn more about the water you drink:

  • Bottled Water Issues
  • The Health Benefits Of Water
  • Municipal Water Vs. Bottled Water
  • The Origin Of Water
  • How To Evaluate Water
  • Water Purification Systems Vs. Bottled Water
  • Water Types Glossary

    Don’t take it for granted. Photo by
    Davide Guglielmo | SXC.




    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Beanitos Bean Chips

    Healthful and flavorful, Beanitos are a
    better-for-you chip. Photo by Jaclyn
    Nussbaum | THE NIBBLE.


    Looking for something different for your Labor Day feast?

    Serve Beanitos Bean Chips.

    We first wrote about this flavorful bean chip—think bean dip in a chip form—some 18 months ago. They’ve become a favorite snacking chip at THE NIBBLE, so much so that they’re our Top Pick Of The Week.

    For Labor Day, serve them with black or refried bean dip, tomato salsa or black bean salsa.

  • Read the full review.
  • Here’s the original review.
    Dip Recipes To Serve With Beanitos

  • Black Bean Salsa (video recipe)
  • Watermelon Salsa With Corn & Black Beans
  • White Bean Dip

    Find more of our favorite snack chips.



    Product: Colatura Di Alici, The Secret Sauce

    As ketchup is to Americans, as soy sauce is to Chinese, the favorite condiment in ancient Rome was garum, an anchovy sauce.

    While the Roman Empire is long gone, a form of garum is alive and well. Today it’s called colatura di alici, or juice of anchovies. (It’s also called anchovy sauce or anchovy syrup; the latter is inaccurate, as a syrup is a thick, viscous liquid.)

    As strange as “anchovy juice” may sound, colatura is an aromatic condiment that enhances any dish, adding flavor without fuss.

    Ask any great Italian chef, and you’ll probably find that colatura is their secret ingredient (it’s an umami food). Chef Lidia Bastianich told the Wall Street Journal just that. She uses a touch of colatura instead of salt.

    Colatura (the word comes from the Latin colare, to strain) is made by curing anchovies with salt and extracting the free-run liquid that drains from them. It’s a laborious and painstaking process to create a truly artisan food.


    The secret sauce: colatura. Photo courtesy


    The clear amber liquid is as highly prized by Italian cooks today as it was back in ancient Roman times. Back then, dinner guests would bring a bottle of colatura as a house gift, as one would bring a bottle of wine today.

    In fact, prior to the 20th century, Italian families would make their own colatura for home use and for gifts.

    Today, they can use this time for other pursuits thanks to Cetara, a small fishing village on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The town produces colatura as an heirloom food.

    Is colatura a great secret waiting to be discovered? We think so. Even if you’re not an anchovy fan, colatura is a wonderful blending ingredient, adding a briny, zesty flavor that isn’t fishy. Unlike anchovy paste and Southeast Asian fish sauces such as nam pla and nuoc mam,* the flavor is briny (so use less salt in the recipe).

    Pick up a bottle of colatura di alici online for yourself or your favorite cook.

    *Colatura is the free-run juice of salted anchovies, a richer product than most southeast Asian fish sauces. The latter is brine in which fish (or fish parts) have been pickled.


  • Create a sauce for pasta (a favorite use in Italy): Combine 3:1 olive oil and colatura, sautéed garlic, lemon zest or red pepper flakes and parsley.
  • Add a spoonful to perk up the flavor in soups and sauces.
  • Add a teaspoon to sautéed greens (escarole, spinach, Swiss chard) or potatoes, with some crushed or minced garlic and a dash of chile flakes.
  • Make a simple salsa verde: Blend colatura with lemon juice, fresh herbs and garlic for fish dishes, as a salad dressing or as a dipping sauce.
  • Add a splash to Caesar salad dressing or other salad dressings.
  • Mix with the pan juices of grilled fish to create a sauce.
  • As a drizzle on sliced tomatoes, instead of salt.
  • Add to mashed potatoes (mash the potatoes with extra virgin olive oil and season with colatura and chopped flat-leaf parsley) or hot potato salad (sliced potatoes dressed the same way).
  • From Lidia Bastianich: Drizzle on roast lamb or chicken before serving; distribute with a brush.
    Tell us your favorite uses!


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Gourmet Marshmallows

    Luscious blackberry marshmallows from
    artisan confectioner Gateau Et Ganache.
    Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel | THE NIBBLE.


    It’s National Toasted Marshmallow Day, but today’s supermarket marshmallows are nothing to celebrate.

    Over the decades, what was once a melt-in-your-mouth confection has acquired the personality of a cotton ball—but not as soft.

    In the early 1950s, Kraft Foods developed a technique to make vast quantities of marshmallows commercially. The process drastically changed the delicate texture of handmade marshmallows, and the use of artificial flavors made the airy delight much less delightful. While mass-produced marshmallows are fun to pop into hot chocolate or toast for s’mores, how many of us enjoy eating them straight from the bag?

    So today’s tip is: Seek out handmade gourmet marshmallows from a marshmallow specialist.

    Think of gourmet marshmallows as you would fine chocolate. They’re an all-occasion gift with the bonus of being fat-free and gluten-free.

    If there’s no artisan confectioner near you (or in your specialty foods store), check out our recommendations for the best gourmet marshmallows.

    Brush up on the history of marshmallows.



    Marshmallows get their name from the marsh mallow plant (Althea officinalis), the root of which contains a sticky, white, almost jelly-like substance. The Egyptians combined it with honey as early as 2000 B.C.E., to make a candy.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Purple Green Beans & Other Farmers Market Finds

    Food can be fun; and unexpected food finds are especially fun.

    Take these purple green beans, known as Royalty Purple Pods. While they were introduced in 1957, have you ever seen them? The trick is to arrive at farmers markets early in the day, before the unusual veggies sell out.

    While the skin of the Royalty Purple Pod is purple, there’s a green bean underneath. The purple skin turns green when cooked. To retain the color, you can butter baste them in a pan. If you boil them, a pinch of baking soda in the water will help a bit.

    Losing the lovely purple color is no fun. So we like to serve these unusual green beans raw:

  • On crudité platters
  • In green salads, potato salad and macaroni salad
  • As a crunchy side with a sandwich
  • As a raw veggie snack
  • As a plate garnish

    These green beans are purple. Photo
    by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    Generally, purple green beans (and yellow green beans) have the same taste and texture as conventional green green beans.

    But how can you resist a purple green bean? Even people who eschew green beans can be tempted to take a bite.

    So today’s tip is: Look for something new and different at your farmers market. Make your goal a weekly fun food discovery. Then tell us what you found, and how you served it.

    FOOD TRIVIA: What’s the difference between green beans and string beans?

    The French call them haricots vert (green beans), the Brits call them French beans, and Americans call them green beans or string beans. The term “string bean” refers to the string that ran up the seam of the bean. It had to be removed before cooking.

    The first “stringless” bean was bred in 1894 by Calvin Keeney, in Le Roy, New York, a town in western New York state that is also the is the birthplace of Jell-O.

    Today, just about every bean sold commercially is a stringless bean; but the original name has been passed down through generations and is a legacy.


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    RECIPE: Try Chocolate Raisin Panini

    Chocolate panini: breakfast, snack or
    dessert. Photo courtesy Vosges Haut


    Our favorite breakfast bread is pain au chocolat. Literally “chocolate bread,” pain au chocolat is an oblong breakfast roll made of the same light, flaky, yeast-leavened laminated pastry dough as a croissant,* and filled with pieces of dark chocolate;

    *Pain au chocolat is often called a chocolate croissant in the U.S., but this is incorrect; Croissant means crescent, and pain au chocolat is not crescent-shaped.

    Katrina Markoff, founder of Vosges Haut Chocolat, was inspired to port the concept to Italian panini. From her large repertoire of chocolate bars, she selected her Oaxaca chocolate bar, 75% cacao bittersweet chocolate with guajillo and pasilla chiles. (Oaxaca [wuh-HAH-kuh] is a state in Southern Mexico thought to be the birthplace of chocolate cultivation.)

    Adding raisins evokes Mexicao’s mole sauces. If you want to get even more creative, consider adding other mole sauce ingredients such as cinnamon, peanuts or pepitas.



    Ingredients For One Serving

  • 2 slices of ciabatta or Italian country bread
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1 ounce Vosges Oaxaca Bar (3 squares), chopped, or other Aztec-spiced chocolate†
  • 6-8 plump raisins
    1. Heat a panini press. Lightly butter both sides of each slice of bread.
    2. Spread chopped chocolate evenly across one slice of bread with the raisins; add the top slice.
    3. Grill the sandwich in the press until brown and crispy on the outside, about 4 minutes.

    In addition to breakfast, brunch or snack time, consider this as a “dessert panini,” plain, à la mode or drizzled with chocolate sauce.

  • Beyond crossants and panini: Brush up on all the different types of breads in our beautiful Bread Glossary.
  • What’s the difference between guajilla and pasilla chiles? Learn your chiles in our Chile Glossary.
    †Spiced chocolate bars return to the roots of chocolate, first served as a spicy drink by the Olmec and Maya. Vosges also makes a Red Fire bar: dark chocolate with ancho and chipotle Chiles and cinnamon.



    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Chop Suey Day (What Is Chop Suey?)

    Many people refer to chop suey as a Chinese-American invention, like fortune cookies. But that’s a myth that keeps getting perpetuated.

    Chop Suey is actually is a prominent dish in Taishan, a city of 95 islands and islets in the Pearl River Delta of southeast China.

    A stir-fry recipe, chop suey means “assorted pieces.” These can include beef, chicken, quail eggs or other cooked eggs, fish, pork and/or shrimp, plus vegetables such as bean sprouts, cabbage, celery and snow peas. Starch is added to create a thickened sauce from the oil and wok drippings.

    American variations have included popular vegetables not in the original Taishan recipe (for example, broccoli, carrots, onions and zucchini). Numerous American recipes also “specialize”: beef chop suey or chicken chop suey, for example, instead of a mixture of proteins.

    In China, chop suey is typically served with a bowl of rice. Chow mein is chop suey that ditches the rice and adds noodles* to the recipe. In other words, if your “chop suey” contains noodles, it’s chow mein.


    Chop suey has an assortment of meats
    and vegetables, a thick sauce and no
    . Photo © Dušan Zidar | Fotolia.


    For a moment of beauty on National Chop Suey Day, take a look at the painting of a chop suey parlor (as some such restaurants were called many years ago) by Edward Hopper.

    To receive all of the daily food holidays with tips to celebrate, sign up for our Twitter feed:

    *There are two styles of chow mein: crispy chow mein, which uses fried, flat noodles; and soft chow mein, which uses spaghetti-style noodles. “Chow mein” means stir-fried noodles. “Subgum” means “numerous and varied,” a chow mein that is a combination of ingredients (see chop suey list above) instead of all vegetable, all chicken, etc.



    RECIPE: Make A Hurricane Cocktail

    A Hurricane cocktail served at Pat O’Brien’s
    in New Orleans. Photo by Eric
    Schmuttenmaer | Wikimedia.


    Hurricane Irene, working its way up the East Coast, shut down New York City beginning yesterday at noon. Everything is now closed, including things that never close, such as the public transit system and the theaters. The subway is not expected to be up and running until later on Monday. Instead of a “snow day,” we have two “hurricane days.”

    So last night we threw a hurricane party and invited some friends who live in our apartment building for Hurricane cocktails—an appropriate name even though no hurricane was an inspiration for the drink.

    The rum cocktail called a Hurricane was invented by New Orleans tavern owner Pat O’Brien in the early 1940s.

    He had too many cases of rum, because the wholesale distributors required the purchase of numerous cases of rum in order to buy a case of the more popular whiskeys. Scotch and Irish whiskeys were in limited supply because of World War II. There was still a glut of rum due to Prohibition (which lasted from 1920 to 1933).


    Stuck with many cases of rum in the basement, O’Brien did what any businessman would do: He concocted a cocktail to use it. The curvy, footed cocktail glass he used, shaped like a hurricane lamp, was called hurricane glass. That’s how the drink got its name.

    The Hurricane became a fixture in the French Quarter, with Pat O’Brien’s bar a tourist destination. Alas, with the use of cheap mixes to maximize profits, today’s French Quarter Hurricane is likely to be just another sweet, artificially colored drink, even at Pat O’Brien’s.

    So if you want a good Hurricane, you’ll have to make your own.


    Ingredients Per Cocktail

  • 2 ounces dark rum* (we prefer Gosling’s Black Seal or the harder-to-find Coruba)
  • 1 ounce passion fruit syrup (the best one is from Fee Brothers)
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • Orange slice and cherry flag (skewer)
  • Crushed ice
    1. Combine rum, passion fruit syrup and lemon juice in a shaker; shake vigorously until the mixing tin frosts.
    2. Strain into a hurricane glass over fresh crushed ice.
    3. Garnish with an orange and cherry “flag” (skewer) and serve.

    TIP: Try lime juice instead of lemon juice. It makes the cocktail perkier.

    As with almost every recipe, there are myriad variations on the Hurricane. Some use half dark rum, half light rum. Some throw in orange juice. Some substitute grenadine and simple syrup for the passion fruit syrup. Some vary from the spirit of the rum drink: You can find gin and vodka hurricanes and grapefruit juice or cranberry juice substituting for the passion fruit syrup or passion fruit juice.

    The choice is yours.

    *Rum is fermented from sugar cane and molasses. Light rum (also called silver rum or white rum) is fermented in steel and filtered and has a clear color. To make dark rum (also called amber rum or gold rum), the clear light rum is aged in charred oak barrels, acquiring a caramel color and rich layers of flavor. Rich, caramel dark rum is made by aging clear rum in charred oak casks, giving it a deep brown color and a full flavor. Spiced rum, often colored dark with caramel, is not a dark rum.



    TIP OF THE DAY: What To Do With An Unusual Liquor Gift

    You may receive a bottle of unusual spirits or liqueur* that you don’t know what to do with. Think smoked salmon-flavored vodka or chartreuse liqueur.

    Don’t stick it in a closet and forget about it. Our parents’ liquor closet grew and grew for 30 years, until the house was sold and a bar’s worth of over-the-hill drink had to be drained and recycled.

    Here’s a better approach:

  • Recipes. Head to the brand’s website and check out the cocktail recipes. There may be food recipes as well.
  • Invite Friends. Use the bottle as an occasion to have a small get-together—just to taste the product and chat, or in tandem with a televised game or a DVD. If friends ask what they can bring, tell them: Anything that you think goes with smoked salmon vodka.

    What to drink with bagels and lox? A smoked
    salmon vodka Bloody Mary. Photo courtesy Alaska Distillery.


  • Private Tasting. Not up for a party? Just crack the seal and taste your gift. If it’s not something you’ll use up in the foreseeable future, figure out who might like it and immediately regift it.
    As with any product, don’t let it take up space if you wouldn’t buy it for yourself.

    Instead, make someone else happy.

    *What’s the difference? Spirits are hard liquor. Liqueurs, also called cordials, are a flavored, sweet spirit.


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