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Archive for October, 2011

TIP OF THE DAY: How To Finish Soup In Blender

The correct technique for blending hot soup.
Photo courtesy Cuisinart.


Yesterday we discussed how easy it is to blend soups and sauces with a hand-held immersion blender.

Today, we share a tip for using a conventional upright blender. This tip should be part of every recipe that tells you to blend hot soup, but it isn’t.

That’s why some of us have ended up blowing the top off the blender and spattering soup on the ceiling. Perhaps it’s a rite of passage when first learning to make soup—but it doesn’t have to be.

When a hot liquid is put into a sealed container like the blender carafe, steam builds up inside. Turn on the motor to agitate the liquid and there’s no place for the steam to go—except out through the top.

That’s one reason why blenders have a removable plug in the lid—the focus of today’s tip.


Accident-Free Puree Soup

1. Pour soup into the blender carafe.
2. Remove the plug in the center of the lid and cover the opening with a folded kitchen towel.
3. Keep one hand on the towel-covered lid; operate the blender with the other.

Yes, you’ll need to wash the soup-spattered towel, but that’s a lot easier than hauling out the ladder to clean the kitchen ceiling!

Now that you know the trick, make some soup! Check out our Soups & Stocks Section for some new recipes.


So many people use a blender when making soup that Cuisinart created the Blend and Cook Soup Maker.

This unique blender has a patented cooking technology that lets you cook the soup in the blender from scratch—from sautéing chopped vegetables; to boiling, simmering and blending; to keeping the soup hot until ready to serve.

The Cuisinart Blend and Cook Soup Maker performs all standard blender functions as well. Here’s more information.



PRODUCT: Certified Angus Beef

We may be in a recession, but America hasn’t cut back on fine beef.

For the fifth consecutive year, Certified Angus Beef LLC has reported record sales. The brand, which sells its beef through fine markets and restaurants, hit new heights: 807 million pounds of beef, compared to 2010’s record of 777 million pounds. That’s beaucoup de moo!

The demand for top-quality beef during a period of significant economic downturn shows that consumers are still treating themselves to affordable luxuries.

One may have to refrain from the big expenditures—deluxe vacations and home renovations, for example. But a steak dinner is still within reach for many who are cutting back on the finer things.


What America wants: more fine beef.
Photo courtesy Certified Angus Beef.


The Certified Angus Beef Program was formed in 1978 to provide consumers with an assurance of consistent beef flavor, tenderness and juiciness. The name is licensed to breeders and ranchers who adhere to the strict standards of the program to produce superior beef.

Today, the brand sells more than 1.8 million pounds of product daily. It is the largest, most successful brand of beef in the world.

Certified Angus Beef can be purchased at more than 13,600 restaurants and retail stores in 47 countries.

Learn more and find recipes at


What’s the difference between a boneless strip steak, a New York strip steak, a Kansas City strip, a shell steak and a top loin?

Only the name is different: They’re the same cut of beef. Other names include boneless loin, boneless club steak, Delmonico, strip loin and sirloin strip (which is confusing because it’s not really part of the sirloin).

Learn your cuts of beef in our Beef Glossary.



TIP OF THE DAY: Immersion Blender Uses To Save Time & Effort

An immersion blender can take the place
of a hand mixer, upright blender and
food processor. Photo courtesy Waring.


We own a food processor, stand mixer, hand-held beater, upright blender and immersion blender. We gave away our mother’s 1970s-era hand-cranked egg beater* a month ago. We may have used it for scrambled eggs decades ago, until we realized that the hand-held beater was easier to use and clean.

More recently, we replaced the hand-held beater with an immersion blender, our current favorite for many kitchen tasks. It’s compact, easy to store and transport (e.g., to make whipped cream for the dessert you’ve brought to a party) and easy to clean.

The immersion blender was created by a Swiss inventor, Roger Perrinjaquet, who patented it in 1950. It was first used by professional chefs in Europe and was then discovered by chefs worldwide. A home version arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s.

Chefs could easily blend sauces and soups in the pot, without having to transfer the hot contents to an upright blender. We got an IB a year or two ago, after watching chefs use them on cooking shows.

Did we really need another special-use kitchen appliance? No, but the IB does make life easier.


You can use it to blend just about anything in a pot or bowl. It’s a multi-tasker that’s good for smaller tasks and easy to transport.

You can buy one for under $30, or chose a deluxe model with wire whisk and chopper attachments (as we did). The deluxe models typically have twice the motor power and more speed options.

While our original intent was to blend soup, we found that our immersion blender could also gracefully take the place of a food processor, upright blender or handheld beater for many tasks. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Custard. Unless you want the upper arm exercise, for anything that needs to be constantly whisked, the IB with whisk attachment is much easier to hold.
  • Chopping. For smaller tasks that don’t require a large food processor bowl—such as chopped nuts—use the chopping attachment.
  • Drinks. If you’re just making one portion, there’s no need to use and wash a large blender pitcher. Place the IB in a large glass to make malted milk, milkshakes and smoothies.
  • Eggs. Beating eggs is easier—less splatter, less to clean—than with the hand mixer.
  • Gravy. It’s easy to get rid of those lumps!
  • Purées. If you have a stronger motor, the IB can turn out puréed peas and other veggies—even mashed potatoes.
  • Soups and Sauces. The raison d’etre for the immersion blender: Instead of laboriously transferring hot soups or sauces to a food processor or a blender, stick the IB right into the pot and whir away.
  • Vinaigrette. When you want an emulsion to hold for hours—for example, serving vinaigrette alongside an undressed salad on a buffet—the upright blender is overkill (and a lot to clean). Use the IB.
  • Whipped Cream. Use the whisk attachment. We now make whipped cream more often, since it’s so easy and spatters less.

    While there are numerous products on the market, here are two representing the basic and deluxe models:

  • Basic: Waring Pro SB10 Professional Immersion Blender, $29.95.
  • Deluxe: KitchenAid KHB300 Hand Blender with attachments, $87.90.
    *The first egg beater was patented in 1870, by Turner Williams of Providence, Rhode Island, who improved upon an earlier design. The first electric mixer was invented by Herbert Johnston in 1908. It was sold by the KitchenAid division of the Hobart Manufacturing Company.



    PRODUCT: Hellfire Pepper Jelly, Cream Cheese & More

    We love a good pepper jelly—and not all of them are good. Many are just too sugary, throwing the sweet/heat balance way over to the sweet side.

    In eight years of reviewing specialty foods, the only pepper jelly lines we’ve liked enough to review are Aloha From Oregon, Cherith Valley and Diane’s Sweet Heat.

    And now, there’s Hellfire Pepper Jelly—not a line of pepper jellies, but just one variety in the Jenkins Jellies line. The website can be a bit hyperbolic (e.g. the jelly does not contain “psychotically hot peppers”) but perhaps that’s because one of the company’s owners is related to a famous Hollywood family: actors Blythe Danner and her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow; directors Bruce Paltrow (husband to Blythe) and son Jake Paltrow (among other family members in show biz).

    Hillary Danner began making jams and jellies from the bounty of the fruit trees and grape arbor in her Los Angeles backyard. She began to sell her most acclaimed recipe, the hot and spicy Hellfire Pepper Jelly, at farmers markets. Demand exploded, and Danner partnered with Maria Newman and chef Jared Levy to create a line of artisan jams and jellies (we wish we had access to the rest of them!).


    Tasty and hot gourmet pepper jelly,
    Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    Hellfire Pepper Jelly is a very fine example of the genre. The complex flavor comes from a mix of seven different chiles (sorry, we can’t bear to call them “peppers” because of a mistake* made 520 years ago by Christopher Columbus).

    Buy it on the company website. A portion of sales goes to the Bruce Paltrow Oral Cancer Fund.

    What Is Pepper Jelly?

    Pepper jelly is a clear, sweet-and-spicy jelly that contains flecks of hot chile peppers. Different fruits and spices can be added for complexity—for example, pineapple or mango on the sweet side, and tomato or bell pepper on the savory side.

    Pepper jelly is often made with jalapeños and serranos, which are medium-heat chiles. Habañero is one step up on the Scoville Scale, and Scotch bonnet is at the top of the scale, categorized as extreme. (See the different types of chiles.)

    While on the hotter side, Hellfire Pepper Jelly does not cripple your taste buds. It’s exhilarating rather than searing.

    Bring some Hellfire as a host/hostess gift for Halloween, or keep it in mind for teacher gifts, stocking stuffers and other small holiday gifts.

    How To Use Pepper Jelly
    Pepper jelly is most famously served as an hors d’oeuvre or snack with cream cheese—typically poured over a block of cream cheese on a plate and surrounded with crackers, so guests can help themselves. You can do the work yourself, garnishing individual crackers with cream cheese and jelly for passed hors d’oeuvre. Sweet and tart, hot and spicy, creamy and crunchy: it delivers a spectrum of favorite flavors.

    You don’t need to have a party to serve it: We enjoy pepper jelly with peanut butter or cream cheese on whole wheat toast.

    But don’t stop there: Here are dozens of uses with everything from omelets and yogurt to meatballs and cheesecake.

  • Find more of our jellies in our Gourmet Jams & Jellies Section.
  • What’s the difference between jam and jelly? Between preserve and conserve? Check out our “spread sheet”: our Jams & Jellies Glossary.
    *Chiles were “discovered” in the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus, who called them “peppers” (pimientos, in Spanish) because of their fiery similarity to the black peppercorns with which he was familiar. However, there is no relationship between the two plants, or between chiles and Szechuan pepper. “Chile pepper” is a misnomer, and the term “pepper” is not used in Latin America. There, the term is chili, from chilli, the word in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. More on the history of chiles.



    COOKING VIDEO: Fun Halloween Food


    Eyeball food is fun Halloween food. These Halloween Eyeball Bites will have everyone eating more veggies, too—a counterbalance to all the candy.

    Using favorite veggie slices—cucumbers, carrots and cherry tomatoes, for example—you only need to add cream cheese and olive slices.

    For a more sophisticated flavor, substitute fresh goat cheese for cream cheese.

    The recipe uses canned sliced black olives, which are very bland—they’re more of a decoration than a food. If olive lovers are eating these, buy some quality pitted olives or pimento-stuffed olives and slice them yourself.

    Here’s looking at you—from the plate!




    TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking With Cheese Rinds

    It almost goes without saying: There is hardly an excuse to buy one of those green, cylindrical cans of pre-grated, processed Parmesan “cheese.”

    A good chunk of real Parmigiano-Reggiano (or other Italian grating cheese) can be found in pretty much any grocery store across the country. When it comes to quality and flavor, there truly is no comparison.

    If you don’t already buy your Parmesan in wedges, get some of the good stuff on your next trip to the store and grate it over your pasta. The difference is undeniable.

    With a wedge of hard cheese, you get two uses for the price of one.

    When you’ve grated the cheese down to the rind, don’t throw it away! The rind can be an amazing flavor booster for soups, stocks, sauces and even pasta water.


    Don’t throw away the rind of Parmigiano—or other fine cheeses. Photo courtesy AG Ferrari.


    Simply drop it into whatever it is you’re cooking and let it sit for as long as possible. It can add saltiness, richness, and even a bit of nuttiness to a dish (as do the rinds of other hard cheeses—just remove any heavy wax coating, such as the peelable wax on Gouda).

    Pull the rind out before serving.

    If you’re not planning to cook anything appropriate when you get down to the rind, wrap and save it until you do.

    Or, you can toast the rinds and eat them.


    Anyone in the world can make a cheese called “Parmesan,” using a recipe similar to authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano. While there are some perfectly fine Parmesans made in America and elsewhere, the same name is also used for that dried-out grated cheese sold in cardboard tubes.

    The real-deal Parmigiano-Reggiano is regulated by law and must be produced in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, and made by a cheesemaker who is a member of the Consorzio Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium, a self-governing body of dairies). The cheese is produced in accordance with strict regulations: Cheeses deemed not good enough to bear the stamp of Parmigiano-Reggiano are removed from the aging caves and declassified.

    Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the glories of the cheese world—and that includes its rind. Read more on the history and production of Parmigiano-Reggiano.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Gourmet Popcorn At Home

    For better flavor, pop your corn from scratch!
    Photo by Katharine Pollak | THE NIBBLE.


    Everybody loves popcorn. It’s great for watching movies, you can fill a ziplock bag of it for an on-the-go snack and it’s a much healthier alternative to potato chips and other high-calorie snack foods. (Popcorn is a whole grain that helps you eat the recommended 48 grams daily.)

    But with the modern convenience of microwavable popcorn, it seems much of the world is eating popcorn from nuked bags that are lackluster and artificially flavored (not to mention artificial-tasting).

    By making your popcorn at home on the stove instead of in the microwave, you’ll find that it tastes more like popcorn and less like hydrogenated oil.

    How To Get Started
    All you need is a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, some vegetable oil (preferably canola oil, a healthy, monousaturated fat with a good smoke point) and popping corn (which you can find at any grocery store, although we prefer the better flavor of gourmet popcorn kernels).

    To yield about two quarts of popped popcorn, you need roughly half a cup of kernels and two tablespoons of oil.


    1. Start by cranking your stove up to high heat.

    2. Toss the oil in the pot and add the popcorn kernels, then cover with the lid. As everything begins to heat up, you’ll hear the oil start to make some noise.

    3. Keeping the lid on tightly, give the pot a good shake every 30 seconds or so to evenly distribute the heat and keep the kernels form burning. You will hear and see the popcorn start to pop, which is far more entertaining than in the microwave version!

    4. Once the popping slows to one pop every three seconds or so, pull the pot off the heat and let it sit for a moment to let any stragglers catch up. At this point, you have a light, fresh, healthy snack.

    But why stop there?

    How To Make Gourmet Popcorn
    Your microwave is probably jealous at this point, so bring it back into the mix by melting a couple tablespoons of butter to drizzle over your popcorn. (Want to avoid cholesterol? Use extra virgin olive oil or other flavored oil. Our favorite is truffle oil.)

    Want even more flavor? Spend a moment foraging though your spice cabinet to punch up the flavor. Here are some flavor combinations to start with. For best results, start with butter and salt, and then continue to dress up your popcorn to make it:

  • French-Accented Popcorn: a drizzle of truffle oil and some herbs de provence (a blend that can include lavender, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savory, sage and thyme—so if you don’t have a blend, add as many of these as you like).
  • Italian-Accented Popcorn: garlic powder, grated Parmesan or other Italian grating cheese, dried oregano and optional chili flakes.
  • Sweet & Tangy Popcorn: a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
  • Hot & Spicy Popcorn: a drizzle of your favorite hot sauce (we like Valentina, a Mexican hot sauce that adds spices to the chiles).
    While you’re snacking on your delicious homemade popcorn, browse through:
  • The history of popcorn.
  • Why does popcorn pop?
  • More flavored popcorn recipes: cheese, curry, wasabi.
  • Our favorite gourmet popcorn gifts.


    PRODUCT: An Improvement To Household Cleaning Gloves

    We do a lot of cleaning, but we don’t like many household gloves. They’re hot, uncomfortable, and leave a latex smell on your hands.

    Glove manufacturer Clean Ones researched consumer dissatisfaction and launched a new “premium” household glove, the Ultimate Latex Free Glove. It’s odor-free and allergen-free: no BPA , no phthalates and, of course, no latex.

    The gloves are pink, and 10% of proceeds benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. The foundation funds breast cancer research, education, advocacy, health services and social support programs.

    Here’s what else you get with these nifty household gloves:

  • Comfort. The plush lining is a dream—so comfortable, we didn’t want to take the gloves off! This new glove is specially designed to provide the highest levels of comfort, while protecting hands from chemicals, germs and messes.
  • Dexterity. While the gloves are 35% thicker than standard household gloves, they are contoured, not clunky. We were able to use them for delicate tasks.

    Pretty in pink, and it contributes to
    the Cure. Photo courtesy Good Ones.


    The gloves are available at major retailers nationwide. Here’s a store locator.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Savory Pumpkin Recipes

    Add pumpkin to your pasta. This delicious
    baked ziti recipe uses sausage and spinach as
    well. Photo courtesy Libby’s.


    Last year, America’s pumpkin growers produced almost 1.5 billion pounds of the colorful winter squash. Pumpkin production peaks in October, with the demand for jack o’lanterns and pumpkin pie.

    Not to mention pumpkin brownies, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin crème brulee, pumpkin crème caramel, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin fudge and chocolate truffles, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin mousse, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin pudding, pumpkin tarts and pumpkin waffles.

    (Are you ready to start cooking? See our recipe resources below.)

    But pumpkin flesh, also called pumpkin meat, can—and should—be used for more than desserts and sweet treats. See how many different savory pumpkin dishes you can put on the table this season.

    “Pumpkin season” doesn’t end with Thanksgiving dinner, either. This nutritious* vegetable is available through the winter. And it’s only 49 calories per cup, steamed or boiled. (Keep the calories down and the cholesterol away by seasoning with salt, pepper and your favorite spices (from cinnamon to chipotle), and using olive oil instead of butter.)


    Savory Pumpkin Recipes
    Pumpkin can be baked, boiled, microwaved, roasted, steamed, stir-fried and stuffed.

  • Mashed pumpkin is as delicious as mashed sweet potatoes (try it with a Gruyère gratin).
  • Make pumpkin fritters.
  • Pumpkin purée can be mixed into bread and muffins, made into soup and dip, and used for savory soufflés (and sweet ones, too).
  • Pumpkin cubes can be added to chili, stew or a medley of roasted fall vegetables.
  • Roasted pumpkin can be added to salads—with or without pumpkin seeds.
  • Pumpkin goes international—from pumpkin curry to pumpkin tempura.
  • Pumpkin pairs beautifully with pasta: from everyday spaghetti and penne to lasagne and ravioli. Try the baked ziti with pumpkin, sausage and spinach in the photo above, add cooked cubed pumpkin to your pasta sauce, or purée pumpkin as sauce, seasoned with salt, pepper and your favorite spices (you can add an Italian grating cheese).
  • And don’t forget pumpkin pizza!
    Sources For Pumpkin Recipes

  •—far more than baking, lots of pumpkin recipes from Libbys.
  • Search through THE NIBBLE’s many pumpkin recipes.
    See the different types of squash in our Squash Glossary.

    *Pumpkin is fat-free, cholesterol-free and an excellent source of vitamin A. The orange pigment is beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body. A diet rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, and offers protection against heart disease and other diseases, including some degenerative aspects of aging. Pumpkins are also a good source of vitamin C, a second powerful antioxidant, and deliver calcium and dietary fiber.



    PRODUCT: Teach Table Manners With Manners Cards

    Need help teaching table manners to kids?

    It can be trying, or it can be fun.

    Golly Gee-pers! Table Manners Cards choose the fun way—one that eliminates nagging and prodding.

    And you can get them just in time to impress relatives and friends at upcoming holiday dinners.

    These easy-to-use “manners cards” make sure that kids are on their best behavior during every dining experience—at home, at other people’s homes and at restaurants. Children learn proper manners via fun games.

    The funny-yet-respectful cards depict 14 different table manners, proper and improper, designated with a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Kids and adults alike compete for Ready To Dine Out awards.


    Elbows on tables are a “thumbs down.” Photo
    courtesy Golly Gee-pers!


    Extra blank thumbs-up and thumbs-down cards can be used to address specific age groups, cultures, family rules, etc.

    And surprise: adults will improve their table manners in the process, too.

    Get your Golly Gee-pers! and have fun learning how to eat genteelly.

    See how easy it is to turn your family into a class act at the table.



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