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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 September, 2011

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Flavored Challah Bread

Chocolate-stuffed babka and olive-
stuffed challah from Motzi. Photo by
Sue Ding | THE NIBBLE.

 

Challah was the type of bread tithed to priests* in ancient Israeli temples. A portion of the challah loaf was sanctified and the rest was consumed. Challah became the customary bread to serve with Sabbath and holiday meals.

Motzi has updated the traditional plain challah by stuffing it with delicious things: sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives, pumpkin and chocolate (not all in one loaf, of course).

With the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, commencing on Wednesday, September 28th, it’s a perfect time to try these delicious stuffed challahs, or send them as gifts (just $5.00 a loaf).

When we sat down to try our order, we never dreamed that five loaves of bread would disappear so quickly.

Fortunately, the products freeze well, so on our next order, we paced ourselves.

  • Read the full review.
  • Discover a world of delicious bread types in our Bread Glossary.
  •  

    The line is certified kosher by OU.
     
    *Where were the rabbis? Long before rabbis were in charge of Jewish congregations, priests were in charge of the temples. The roots of Judaism date back to the Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 B.C.E.). Rabbinic Judaism (today’s Judaism) developed during the 3rd to 6th centuries C.E., after the codification of the Talmud (the central text of Judaism that covers customs, ethics, history, law and philosophy). “Rabbi” means “teacher of the Talmud.”

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Different Types Of Potatoes

    It’s National Potato Month.

    Millennia ago, potatoes grew wild in the foothills of the Andes Mountains of Peru. They were cultivated around 3,000 B.C.E. by the Incas and discovered by Europeans when the Spanish conquistadors reached the shores of Montezuma’s empire (modern-day Mexico) in 1519.

    Now a staple in many national cuisines, potatoes are the third most important food crop in the world (preceded by rice and wheat). Hundreds of different varieties are grown globally.

    The different varieties range from the size of a grape to the size of a grapefruit. Potatoes come in many shapes, from round to oval to twisted. While most Americans have seen only white potatoes and sweet potatoes, there are varieties in a rainbow of colors: black, blue, brown, green, orange, pink, purple, yellow and the ubiquitous white potato.

    Specialty markets often carry blue and purple varieties. Check farmers markets for the more unusual potato varieties.

     

    Purple Peruvian potatoes, a delight at the
    table. Photo by Mona Makela | IST.

     

    Even among white potatoes, the texture and flavor vary widely—from the Russet potato most commonly used for baking, to fingerlings and Yukon Golds. The creamy flesh and delicate flavors are analogous to tasting different types of oysters: There’s a commonality, but enough of a difference so that each of us can develop clear preferences.

    For National Potato Month, try different varieties.

  • Check local markets or look on Melissas.com. If you see something different, buy it. That’s how we discovered Russian banana potatoes.
  • Browse through our Potato Glossary. You’ll find types of potatoes and famous potato dishes that are begging you to celebrate National Potato Month.
  • The Potato Glossary also has cooking, nutrition and potato storage information.

      

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    PRODUCT: Favorite Brownie Gift, Back From Hiatus

    These moist, fudgy brownies are crowd-
    pleasers. Photo by Claire Freierman
    | THE NIBBLE.

     

    All summer long, fans of Geoff & Drew’s moist, fudgy brownies lamented that the chocolaty treats were “on hiatus.”

    The premium bakery wants its products to arrive in peak condition—not to languish in steamy-hot delivery trucks.

    Now that things cooling down a bit, you can treat yourself or your favorite friends and family to a mixed box of eight brownies. The assortment contains two each of:

  • Chocolate Chip Brownies
  • Toffee Brownies, with a subtle caramel topping
  • Chocolate Candy Brownies, topped with M&Ms
  • Mint Brownies, topped with a large chocolate peppermint patty
  •  
    Geoff & Drew’s also has some of the perkiest gift boxes we’ve seen, in your choice of blue, green, pink or yellow polka dots.

    Brownie happiness is just a click away.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How Not To Burn The Coffee

    You may notice that as it sits on the warming plate, the flavor of brewed coffee deteriorates. Some call it burned coffee.

    Owners’ manuals state that coffee can sit on the warmer for up to two hours. But we say don’t let it sit for more than 30 minutes—the standard observed by good restaurants and coffee shops.

    If your coffee ends up with a scorched or burned flavor, the obvious answer is to make fewer cups. The industry measures “cups” in six ounce portions, so four cups fills two large mugs.

    But if you like to hedge your bets and make a larger amount of coffee, here are other options:

  • Thermal Carafe. Get a coffee maker that has a thermal carafe instead of a glass carafe (shown in the photo). There’s no warming plate. The double wall, vacuum-insulated carafe (essentially, a thermos) keeps coffee hot for at least an hour, and warm enough to drink for up to two hours.
  •  

    We like a coffee maker with a thermal carafe, like this Bunn Velocity Brew.

     

  • Unplug. If your coffee brews into a conventional glass carafe, unplug the appliance after 20 minutes. If you want a hot cup later, you can reheat it in the microwave for 15 seconds. If you use milk, first heat it for 30 seconds. Then combine the hot milk and the coffee. If this sounds like a lot of work, it isn’t: It takes just 45 seconds. Coffee purists recoil at the idea of reheating. But people who add milk and/or sweetener won’t notice a difference. We drink our coffee black, and it works for us.
  •  
    Alternative Coffee Makers

  • Single Cup. If you only need one or two cups and repeatedly toss leftover coffee, consider a single-cup coffee maker. (Of course, there’s no need to toss leftover coffee. Pour it into a bottle and stick it in the fridge for iced coffee.)
  • French Press. Consider a French press. It’s a manual device that coffee experts believe makes the tastiest coffee. You can buy a three-cup press from Bodum that makes enough coffee for 1-1/2 large mugs. A French press enables you to use any coffee bean you like: You’re not limited by what’s available in K-cups and sachets.
  •  
    Find everything you want to know about coffee in our Gourmet Coffee Section.

      

    Comments

    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Chocolate Milkshake Day

    Celebrate with a chocolate milkshake.
    Photo courtesy Cherry Marketing Institute.

     

    Today we know a “milkshake” as a cold beverage made from milk, ice cream and often, syrup, served in a tall, fluted glass with a straw (the classic milkshake glass is known as a Y glass). Some establishments top the drink with whipped cream and other garnishes.

    The Random House Dictionary describes a milkshake as an American creation, “a frothy drink made of cold milk, flavoring, and usually ice cream, shaken together or blended in a mixer.” And it states that the word dates to 1885.

    That’s when the word “milkshake” is first found in print. But that original milkshake was not suitable for children or teetotalers. It was an alcoholic drink, a “…sturdy, healthful eggnog type of drink, with eggs, whiskey, etc., served as a tonic as well as a treat.”*

    By 1900, the whiskey and eggs were out, and the term “milkshake” referred to “wholesome drinks made with chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla syrups.”*

    Yet, the milkshake still contained no ice cream.

     

    The modern milkshake was born in 1922, when an employee at a Chicago Walgreens, Ivar “Pop” Coulson, was inspired to add two scoops of ice cream to malted milk. Malted milk was a drink made by blending milk, chocolate syrup and malt (malt was invented in 1887—as a nutritional supplement for infants).

    The malted milkshake shot to stardom nationwide. By the 1930s, soda fountains were known as “malt shops.” In 1937 two milkshake-worthy events occurred: A superior blender was invented by Fred Waring, and the flexible straw was invented by Joseph Friedman.

    But not all milkshakes were malted milkshakes. Many people preferred their milkshakes malt-free.

    By the late 1930s, the term “frosted” was being used to describe maltless milkshakes that blended ice cream and milk into one smooth drink, while a “float” had scoops of ice cream “floating” in milk.

    Soda fountain owners also came up with their own names. In New England, milkshakes were variously called frappes (Massachusetts), velvets, frosteds and cabinets (Rhode Island, referring to the freezer cabinet from which the ice cream was scooped). Someone in a drive-through restaurant in St. Louis invented the concrete, a milkshake so thick that it was handed out the order window upside down for a wow factor. (We’ve had a few, and would argue that the concrete is not really a milkshake, but ice cream that’s been blended with just enough milk to turn it into a malleable form. It needs to be eaten with a spoon: It’s so thick it can’t be drunk through a straw).

    No one knows what the next milkshake evolution will be, but we recommend going back to the original. Hold the egg, but add some Godiva Chocolate Liqueur to celebrate National Chocolate Milkshake Day (or a shot of whiskey, perhaps).

    Don’t like chocolate? Mark your calendar for June 21st, National Vanilla Milkshake Day.

    *Source: Stuart Berg Flexner, Listening to America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982) p. 178.

    MILKSHAKE RECIPE

    Add 3 scoops of chocolate ice cream, a tablespoon of chocolate syrup, 1/2 cup of milk (and an optional shot of chocolate liqueur) to a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a tall glass and serve. Whipped cream, maraschino cherry or other garnish is optional (and overkill).

    FOOD TRIVIA
    In the 1950s, a milkshake machine salesman named Ray Kroc bought became the exclusive distributor of a speedier milkshake machine, the Multimixer. He inadvertently invented modern fast food with his vision of franchising McDonald’s hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California—in order to sell several Multimixers to each location.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Plan Afternoon Tea With Friends

    Before a political reform movement co-opted the term “tea party” (and blocked out real tea parties from appearing on top in search engine results), the words evoked a charming, leisurely between-meal snack that was created in 1840 by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford.

    In the long stretch from midday luncheon to dinner at 8 p.m., the duchess felt peckish. One day she ordered some refreshments: a pot of tea and whatever was in the kitchen—biscuits, scones, a slice of cake. On subsequent days, she invited friends to stop by, and the custom of afternoon tea* was born (details).

    When was the last time you had afternoon tea with friends? Less fuss than a brunch or dinner party, it can be an elaborate buffet of foods or as simple as a pot of tea and cookies.

    We love finding special cookies, like Tea Aura’s leaf-shaped shortbread. The cookies are enhanced with finely-ground tea, similar to Biscottea, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week.

    Tea Aura cookies are available in Chocolate Mint Tea, Earl Grey Tea, Lavender Currant, Matcha Green Tea and Rooibos Chai Tea.

    Pick a day and invite friends. If you work during tea time, plan something in the office. At THE NIBBLE, we have tea every day at 4:30.

     

    Afternoon tea can be as simple as a cup of
    tea and some charming cookies, like these
    leaf-shaped shortbreads from TeaAura. Photo
    by River Soma | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Even if you have only ten-minutes, the break will refresh you until dinner.

    A year of tea party ideas.

    *Afternoon tea is often erroneously referred to as “high tea.” High tea is a working class supper—far from the elegance of afternoon tea.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Enjoy Your Favorite Counter-Seasonal Foods

    Hot cross buns are warm and tempting: Why
    wait for Easter? Photo © Aimee Herring |
    Amy’s Bread.

     

    Today is National Hot Cross Bun Day.

    “Hot cross buns,” you think. “Aren’t they for Easter?”

    This sweet yeast bun, dotted with currants and topped with an icing cross (originally the cross was simply knife cuts in the dough), is believed to predate Christianity.

    Food historians note that the cross bun was eaten by the ancient Saxons to honor the goddess Eostre. The cross is believed to have symbolized the four quarters of the moon; the name also crossed over to Christianity (Eostre is believed to be the origin of “Easter”).

    While the bun, considered an Easter bread, is traditionally served on Good Friday, once you’ve made them, you’ll want them all year round.

    So make a batch for brunch today and enjoy them as you contemplate today’s tip:

     

    If you really like something, enjoy it more than once a year. A stuffed turkey with sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce is delicious in any season, as is a slice of pumpkin pie. (Almost everyone makes it with canned pumpkin, so the principal ingredient is just as good no matter what the season.)

    Why have egg nog only for Christmas and New Year’s Eve? (Well, there are the overwhelming calories, but perhaps that’s beside the point.)

    We enjoy ice cream on the coldest January day and hot coffee in the dog days of August.

    So even if you enjoy the specialness of gingerbread during the holidays, don’t hold back. After all, National Gingerbread Day is June 5th. The food holiday calendar is begging you to eat outside the box.

    Learn more about all the food holidays, starting with how the holidays get created.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Snack On Dates

    Dates have been called “the world’s first energy snack.” Perhaps the first cultivated fruit (figs are the other contender), dates are as sweet as any dessert. But they’re energy powerhouses for any time, containing nutrients to jump-start the day and nourish us throughout it.

    The date palm tree is believed to have originated in northern Africa. It was cultivated along the banks of the Nile River throughout the “fertile crescent.”*

    *Also known as the “cradle of civilization,” this area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers comprised the lands we now know as Iraq, small portions of Iran and Turkey, the Levantine coast of the eastern Mediterranean (Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank) and Egypt’s Nile Valley.

    Wild dates are not edible, but early horticulturalists discovered how to grow a version bearing sweet fruit. Whatever they did, a premium date has the sweetness of honey crossed with sugar syrup. The flesh is soft and easily digestible. Its simple sugars—fructose and dextrose—replenish energy quickly.

    Why else should you snack on dates?

     

    Dates are a succulent, sweet and healthful
    substitute for cookies and other refined
    sugar. Photo by Loooby | IST.

     

    With only 24 calories per date (248 calories per 3.5 ounce/100 gram serving), dates are as satisfying as candy and baked goods stuffed with refined sugar and flour (empty calories). Yet dates are high in dietary fiber and contain more potassium than bananas. They are virtually fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. And they contain an impressive number of vitamins.

    The science behind dates is also impressive. The fruit is loaded with different antioxidants that help with cholesterol, inflammation, eyesight and various cancers.

    As with any food, quality makes a big difference. There are luscious dates that are “food for the gods,” and sad, dried-out dates that at best should only be used for cooking and baking. If you can’t find good dates locally (we have this problem), you can buy them online. NutsOnline.com is a good source.

    You can also find pitted dates and organic dates, plus delicious date confections: dates rolled in chopped nuts or coconut, or covered in chocolate.

    TYPES OF DATES
    If you don’t know your dates, start with one type and then try other varieties. Each has its own appeal.

  • Barhi dates, for example, are chewy like a caramel and have a caramel flavor.
  • Halawi dates deliver sweet caramel flavor with a soft flesh that isn’t chewy.
  • Honey dates are soft, creamy and melt in your mouth.
  • Khadrawi dates are very soft and almost pudding-like.
  • Medjool dates, our favorite, are large, sweet, succulent and always a crowd pleaser.
  • Zahidi dates are a smaller and less sugary date, ideal for those who prefer less sweetness.
  •  
    HOW TO ENJOY DATES
    In addition to snacking from the bag:

  • Instead of cookies or other sweets, serve dates with coffee or tea.
  • Make snack skewers, alternating dates and cheese cubes with grapes or other fruits.
  • Chop them and add to salads.
  • For breakfast or a snack, have a few dates with yogurt.
  • Add dates to rice pudding and other puddings, in addition to or instead of raisins.
  • Add whole dates to stews.
  • Serve chopped dates with breakfast foods to start the day with more energy. They’re delicious on hot or cold cereal and you can refrain from adding refined sugar. Or serve as a garnish for pancakes or eggs.
  • For a seductively good dessert, stuff pitted dates with mascarpone and dip the open ends in chopped pistachios.
  • With cocktails, stuff dates with tangy soft goat cheese.
  •  

    Make it a date!

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Planters Peanut Butter

    The creamiest peanut butter ever. Photo
    by Jaclyn Nussbaum | THE NIBBLE.

     

    While some school districts have banned peanut butter to protect highly allergic students, PB consumption is actually on the rise, growing at a rate of five to six percent per year. Adults are responsible for two-thirds of peanut butter consumption in the United States!

    In addition to the protein in peanut butter, here’s a new reason to eat more of it: Planters Creamy Peanut Butter and Planters Crunchy Peanut Butter.

    The famous nut company launched a peanut butter in the 1970s, but then discontinued it. We’re so glad that Mr. Peanut adjusted his monocle and refocused on these new peanut butter formulations.

    We’ve enjoyed many brands of peanut butter, but the new Planters PB has one special quality: It is so silky-smooth that you can spread the thinnest slick of PB on bread to add just a touch (try it with a turkey sandwich) or to save calories.

  • Try this recipe for salted peanut butter brownies, developed for Planters by Chef Marcus Samuelsson.
  • Check out the history of brownies.
  •  

      

    Comments

    COOKING VIDEO: Challah Bread Recipe

     

    Challah, the traditional Jewish bread, dates to ancient Israel.

    The word itself refers to a tithe of bread that was given to the priests, who had no income. A portion of the dough was sanctified, and the remainder was used for ordinary consumption.

    It became customary to serve challah with all Sabbath and holiday meals. Before cutting the bread, a blessing for the food (a motzi) is recited.

    Challah arrived in America with Jewish immigrants. The word is pronounced CHAH-luh, with a guttural ch as in the German word ach (here’s an audio pronunciation).

  • Read our review of Motzi Challah, delicious flavored challah. Our favorite, Sundried Tomato Challah, is an irresistable challah-pizza fusion.
  • Try this delicious honey challah recipe, in addition to the recipe in the video. Most commercial challah is parve, so it can be eaten with meat and other non-dairy foods. Both of these recipes use butter, which gives the challah an even lovelier flavor.
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