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Archive for October, 2011

TIP OF THE DAY: Make Radish Eyeballs For Adult Halloween Food

How about some “eyeball” nibbles with your Halloween cocktails?

This healthy hors d’oeuvre or snack uses a radish base for the white and “veins” of the eyeball. The pupil and iris are a pimento-stuffed olive. All you have to do is peel the radishes and insert the olives (buy large radishes and small olives).

Fun to look at, crunchy radish eyeballs are a low-calorie and healthy food. (Yes, fun, delicious and healthy do co-exist!) Serving ideas:

  • Relish Tray: Serve the eyeballs as part of a retro relish tray, with celery and carrot sticks or other favorite crudités (our favorites include broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, grape tomatoes and zucchini), plus gherkins or pickle slices. We also like to add spiced apple slices and pickled pears.
  • Cheese Plate: Add radish eyeballs to a platter with Halloween cheeses.
  • Halloween Platter: Present the radish eyeballs on a Halloween plate, perhaps with some plastic spiders (check out this tarantula) or a more standard garnish (parsley or a bed of shredded lettuce). Or, treat yourself to a Halloween platter where the “garnish” is the built-in design.
  • Ice Cubes: Freeze the eyeballs in ice cubes and use to create a Halloween Martini (a regular Martini with eyeball ice).
  • Pasta: Garnish a dish of “blood and worms” pasta (spaghetti with tomato sauce).
    Add your ideas to this list!

    The video below uses a blueberry to create the iris, but we prefer a pimento-stuffed olive, as shown in the photo above.


    Bloody Eyeball Martini

    Use a radish eyeball garnish to create a Halloween Martini (photo courtesy Kim Plaszek).




    PRODUCT: Tabasco Reserve Pepper Sauce (Grab It While You Can)

    Tabasco has been a table staple since 1868, when the McIlhenny Company first produced it (read the story).

    Over the past few years, the company has expanded its line beyond Original Red Tabasco to Green, Garlic, Habanero and Chipotle Tabasco and Sweet & Spicy Sauce.

    Few people know of a seventh product that the company has produced since the early days, available only to family and close friends: Tabasco Family Reserve Pepper Sauce.

    Each year, a portion of the finest peppers grown on the company’s property on Avery Island, Louisiana are hand-selected for their superior color, texture and robustness. These special peppers are mashed with premium white wine vinegar and a small amount of local salt. The mash is placed in white oak barrels and aged for up to eight years (compared to three years for regular Tabasco sauce).

    This year, a small batch of Tabasco Family Reserve Pepper Sauce is available to the public. You can pick up a bottle (five ounces) for $24.95 (the regular five-ounce bottle is $9.00).


    The 2011 Family Reserve Tabasco sports a
    medallion. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    The company calls this special release a “collector’s item.” The expiration date on our bottle, 4/14, suggests that you have a few years to decide when to consume it. You’ll have to pry through the green wax seal to get to the sauce.

    How does it taste? We can’t tell you: We’re keeping ours as a collector’s item! Is it 2.7 times as good as the $9 bottle? If you’ve tried it, please weigh in. The company press release is mute on how Family Reserve tastes compared to Original Red. Aging produces rounder flavors, honing the rough edges. In general, the more a product ages, the more mellow it becomes and the more complex the flavors become.

    The special edition is available only at the Avery Island gift store and online. Let your Tabasco-loving friends know, before it sells out.

  • Get the Tabasco 2011 Family Reserve.
  • Try all the flavors of Tabasco.
  • Want to make your own hot sauce? Here’s the Tabasco recipe.
    As with most pantry products, hot sauce will keep better in a cool, dark area.


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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Halloween Brownie Gifts

    Harvest Pumpkin is like a pumpkin pie
    crossed with a blondie. Photo courtesy


    Last week we presented our favorite Halloween candy.

    This week, it’s Halloween brownies.

    They’re not decorated with ghosts or tombstones, and only one brownie—Pumpkin Harvest Blondie—has a related Halloween theme.

    But all 15 flavors of these delectable round brownies and blondies—called Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties—are a welcome addition to any celebration, party or gift fest.

  • More sophisticated than most candy and neater than cupcakes, each brownie is encased in a round, hard plastic gift box. (You can put a Halloween sticker on the box.)
  • It’s easy to exercise portion control: You can have one-third or half a brownie and store the rest in the airtight box for another time.

    Rich, Moist Brownies In Luscious Flavors

    You may have come across some of these delicious brownie flavors before: caramel, double chocolate, espresso, mint, peanut butter and raspberry. If not, hasten to try these moist, fudgy flavor expressions.

    Blondie lovers can be tempted with exciting flavors we haven’t found elsewhere: cinnamon streusel (with a coffee cake topping), coconut pineapple cashew (coconut lovers will adore it), drunken chunky (with bourbon), PB&J and a “sweet-and-salty” three-nut blondie with sea salt.

    Read the full review to learn why these special brownies and blondies are at the top of our list.

    Place your order now for a 10% discount. Use code BOO at checkout, through October 31, 2011.

    Keep them in mind for teacher gifts, stocking stuffers and anytime you need an impressive gift for less than $5.00.



    HALLOWEEN: Best Candy For Halloween

    What Should You Hand Out On Halloween?

    We’ve already weighed in on what we think is the best Halloween candy for those who enjoy the best.

    For trick-or-treat candy for kids, MSNBC has nominated the five best and five worst of the popular kids’ candies. Their evaluation was based on the saturated fat and sugar content.

  • The Best Halloween Candy: The winners are Jolly Ranchers, Blow Pops, Gobstoppers, Pixy Stix and Candy Corn. We’d add gummi candies, jelly beans and licorice to the list—the first two are fat-free and licorice has just a small amount of fat.
  • The Worst Candy: Mr. Goodbar, NutRageous, Snickers, Baby Ruth and Mounds. So much for thinking that candy with protein-laden nuts is “better” for you!
    As you scan the supermarket aisles, think of the “better” choices.
    Why We Trick Or Treat On Halloween


    Candy corn is fat-free, though high in sugar.
    But Baby Ruth and Snickers have as much or
    more sugar—and lots of saturated fat. Photo
    by Liz West | Wikimedia.

    This custom comes to us from the ancient Celts (who date to 450 B.C.E. and were prevalent in Ireland and Scotland from 1500 C.E. to 1800 C.E.). They believed that on October 31st, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped, and the deceased came back to life and caused havoc. The night was known as All Hallows Even (evening).

    To avoid the ghosts, fairies, demons and other spirits that roamed the countryside that night, people began to wear masks and costumes so they would not be recognized as human by the “walking dead.”

    To keep the spirits away, people also placed candles in their windows, using hollowed-out turnips and other vegetables as the holder (pumpkins are an American tradition).

    In seventeenth- and eighteenth- century Scotland, guisers—people who had disguised themselves from the spirits—would parade from house to house, singing and dancing to intimidate the spirits.

    “Guising” evolved into a masquerade for children, who disguised themselves in costumes and went from door to door for round loaves called soul cakes, fruit and/or coins. They carried candles in scooped-out turnips to light their way. If the guisers were refused a treat, they would retaliate with a prank “trick”—hence the term “trick or treat.”

    According to, traditional tricks in England included stopping up chimneys with pieces of turf, blowing smoke through keyholes and smashing glass bottles against walls.

    Immigrants from the U.K. brought guising to America. All Hallows Even became Halloween.

    The first printed record of “guising” in North America was in 1911. “Trick or treat” first appears in print in 1927.

    And the rest is Halloween history.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Whip Up This Red Candy Apples Recipe

    Candy apples are a Halloween favorite. Photo
    by Margouillat Photos | IST.


    Yesterday we published a recipe for caramel apples, also known as toffee apples.

    Today we present candy apples: the same concept, but with a hard, crackly red candy coating instead of the softer caramel.

    The practice of coating fruit in sugar syrup dates back to ancient times. In addition to tasting good, honey and sugar were used as preserving agents to keep fruit from rotting.

    Who Invented Candy Apples

    According to, food historians generally agree that caramel apples (toffee apples) probably date to the late 19th century. Both toffee and caramel can be traced to the early decades of the 18th century. Inexpensive toffee/caramels became available by the end of the 19th century. Culinary evidence confirms soft, chewy caramel coating from that time.

    Red cinnamon candy apples came later. And, while long associated with Halloween, they were originally Christmas fare, not a Halloween confection.


    According to articles in the Newark Evening News in 1948 and 1964, the red candy apple was invented in 1908 by William W. Kolb, a local confectioner.

    Experimenting with red cinnamon candies for Christmas, he dipped apples into the mixture and the modern candy apple was born. The tasty treat was soon being sold at the Jersey Shore, the circus and then in candy shops nationwide.

    Red candy apples were once popular trick-or-treat booty. Beginning in the 1960s, they became less popular when news reports scared the public into thinking that sociopaths were inserting razor blades or needles into the apples. (This was later exposed as a hoax.)

    As a precaution, newscasters advised parents that their children should accept only factory-sealed, packaged candy. Candy bar companies jumped on the opportunity to advertise their packaged candies as the “safe alternative” for Halloween treats. Parents would sort through the candies kids brought back to discard any unwrapped, loose treats (and they still do).

    You can whip up a batch in just 20 minutes.


  • 8 wood craft sticks/popsicle sticks
  • 8 medium Granny Smith or Gala apples
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup red cinnamon candies, like Red Hots, or 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon oil (which we prefer)
  • Optional toppings: Halloween sprinkle mix, candy corn, chopped pistachio nuts

    1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

    2. Wash the apples carefully and remove any stems. Stick the apples in boiling water* for 10 seconds, then remove and dry thoroughly—moisture will prohibit the coating from adhering properly. You can do this step first; towel dry the apples, then let them air-dry for an hour or more.

    3. Stick the skewers firmly in the stem ends.

    4. Combine the water, corn syrup and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves; then continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 250° degrees on a candy thermometer. Occasionally wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization.

    5. Once the candy thermometer reaches 250°F, add the cinnamon candies or cinnamon oil and stir briefly to incorporate. Continue to cook, washing down the sides, until the thermometer reaches 285°F.

    6. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the candy coating until it is smooth. Hold an apple by the skewer and dip it into the candy, tilting the pan at an angle and rotating the apple to cover it completely with an even layer. Remove the apple and twirl over wax paper to remove the excess, then set it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining apples.

    7. Allow the apples to cool. Candy apples are best enjoyed within 24 hours, when the candy coating will be the most crackly. Over time, ambient moisture and humidity cause the coating to soften.

    TIP: If you have leftover candy syrup, there’s no need to waste it. Spoon it into rounds on a wax paper- or parchment-covered cookie sheet until it hardens into red cinnamon hard candy.

    *This removes any wax from the apples and helps the coating to adhere. Alternatively, you can soak them for a few minutes in hot tap water with a dash of cider vinegar, then remove and polish dry with a soft cloth. You can also purchase Veggie Wash, a spray solution that removes the wax from fruits and vegetables.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Caramel Apple Recipe

    Here’s a different approach to caramel apples (also called toffee apples*): Use pretty twigs instead of the same old predictable wood popsicle/craft sticks.

    The recipe comes from the book Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story, by Kimberly “Momma” Reiner and Jenna Sanz-Agero. The book will be published on October 25th, but you can order it now.

    First, send the kids to the backyard or the park in search of twigs. Look for twigs that are about five inches long, although anything from four to six inches will do.

    Note that this is a quick recipe for busy mommas. If you make caramel from scratch, you’ll notice the superior taste.



  • 5 medium-size tart apples (such as Granny Smith or Pippin)
  • Assortment of twigs
  • Toppings such as Oreo cookie crumbs, graham cracker crumbs, Heath Bar or Skor bits, chopped pecans and mini chocolate chips
  • 1 package (11 ounces) Kraft Premium Caramel Bits† or other caramels
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Wax paper or parchment paper

    Twigs from the yard add artistry to caramel apples. Photo courtesy

      Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story


    *Caramel and toffee are part of a family of butter-and-sugar confections that also includes butterscotch. Here’s the difference. Often, red candy apples, coated with a colored sugar syrup, are called toffee apples. This is incorrect. The terms caramel apple and toffee apple can be used interchangeably.

    †These little caramel balls melt easily and provide the perfect consistency for caramel apples. However, you can cut up and melt full-size caramels, too. We do this with our favorite gourmet caramels, as we prefer the flavor.
    1. De-stem the apples, wash and drop into boiling water for 10 seconds. This removes any wax from the apples and helps the coating adhere. Alternatively, you can soak the apples for a few minutes in a bowl of hot tap water with a splash of vinegar (known as a “vinegar wash”) or clean them with a produce wash such as Veggie Wash, a spray solution that removes the wax from fruits and vegetables.

    2. Remove and polish the apples dry with a soft cloth. You may also wish to let the apples air dry for an hour, to be sure all the moisture is gone. (Moisture hinders the coating from adhering properly.)

    3. Rinse the twigs under water and set aside to dry.

    4. Line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment paper.

    5. Crush the toppings and put them in separate bowls.

    6. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a small “X” in the top of each apple where the stem was. Gently push the twig down into the center of the apple.

    7. Place the Caramel Bits and the water in a medium glass bowl or other microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the microwave (be careful not to burn yourself—it will be hot).

    8. Stir the caramel with a wooden spoon until all the bits are melted. If necessary, heat in additional 30-second increments until caramel is thoroughly melted and smooth. Let the caramel sit 1 to 2 minutes, until it is thick enough to coat an apple. If it is runny like water, the coating will drip off the apple.

    9. Carefully swirl the apple in the caramel, making sure it is completely coated. Tilt the bowl as needed. You may need to spoon the caramel around the top rim. Let the caramel drip off the bottom of the apple onto wax paper.

    10. Then, roll the apples in the desired topping(s). Once coated, place the apples on wax paper to set for a minimum of 30 minutes to one hour. Enjoy your twiggy treat or store it in the refrigerator.


    Take our Candy Apple/Caramel Apple Trivia Quiz.



    PRODUCT: Gourmet Dog Food

    Pheasant, buffalo, duck, rabbit and
    venison…for dogs. Photo courtesy Evanger’s.


    It’s National Roast Pheasant Day. What did we come across when doing some research?

    Canned pheasant for dogs!

    Evanger’s Grain Free 100% Pheasant Canned Dog Food is made with only one ingredient: pheasant, in some pheasant broth.

    The rich food is recommended as a mixed/topper. Not only is it gourmet, but it’s also great for pets with food allergies and sick dogs/fussy eaters.

    And that’s not all: Canine connoisseurs can enjoy buffalo (more accurately, bison—here’s the difference), duck, rabbit and venison.

    While we don’t write about products we haven’t tasted, this is the exception.

    Treat your pup with a can or two. While you’re at it, get a smoked pheasant—for yourself and any other humans you’d like to treat.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Start A Tradition With A Halloween Gingerbread House Kit

    Gingerbread houses have long been a popular Christmas tradition. But they may be more appropriate for Halloween. After all, they were inspired by the gingerbread house belonging to the wicked witch done in by Hansel and Gretel. Witches = Halloween.

    The History Of The Gingerbread House
    At the end of the 11th century, when the Crusaders returned to Europe from the Middle East bringing ginger and other spices, gingerbread became popular in Germany.

    It was baked during the Christmas season as well as for year-round festivals. It engendered a trade guild: Only guild members could bake gingerbread, except during Christmas, when anyone could bake it.

    According to a reference in, the tradition of baking gingerbread houses began in Germany after the Brothers Grimm published their collection of fairy tales in 1812.


    Build it, photograph it and eat it! Halloween gingerbread house available from Wilton.


    Inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel, who nibbled at the witch’s candy-covered gingerbread house, German bakers created miniature houses from the already popular lebkuchen (gingerbread). Artists were employed to decorate the houses, which became particularly popular during Christmas.

    The tradition crossed the ocean with the German immigration wave that began in 1820. But it’s only in recent years that we’ve seen gingerbread houses for Halloween.

    Halloween Gingerbread House Kits
    Halloween gingerbread houses are available in easy-to-assemble kits; Those who just want to decorate can buy pre-assembled houses.

    This week, we tasted two different brands. The Wilton kit we tried was a Victorian mansion—not particularly haunted based on the contents of the kit, but you can add your own touches.

    More important than the accoutrements in the kit, the gingerbread was delicious. We tried another brand’s gingerbread house kit that was full of Halloween-themed decorations: candy ghosts, candy corn, a spider, black cat and tombstone. But the gingerbread was flavorless, and we declined to take a second bite.

    The assembled Wilton gingerbread house measures 6 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep by 9.5 inches high. It is available at Michael’s Stores and Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores. You can find it online at

    If you want to buy one online, here’s a haunted gingerbread house with all of the aforementioned Halloween decorations. We haven’t tasted it. If you buy one, please send us your opinion on the gingerbread.

    ASSEMBLY TIP: Some of our gingerbread pieces arrived cracked. This is a relatively common occurrence, but not a disaster. The same royal icing you make to decorate the house is a good mortar to “glue” the pieces together.

    Start A Family Tradition
    Decorating a gingerbread house is a family activity that can be carried through the generations. Start the tradition and take a photo of the finished house and the participants. See how the skill at decorating changes from year to year.

    If you don’t have kids but want the tradition, invite your friends to an annual Halloween tea party with the gingerbread house as the centerpiece. Here are tea party ideas for every month of the year.

    Gingerbread Recipes

  • Gingerbread Bars With Cream Cheese Frosting. For Halloween, press a piece of candy corn into the top of each piece. Recipe.
  • Gingerbread Whoopie Pies. For Halloween, leave off the crushed peppermint candy. Recipe.
  • Ginger Snaps. You can make these round cookies and add Halloween decorations: black and orange royal icing stripes, candy spiders, candy corn, etc. Recipe.


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    COOKING VIDEO: Candy Corn Cones For Halloween


    Candy corn is great as a garnish during Halloween season.

  • Cupcakes: Use it as a cupcake topping. Create a circle of candy corn kernels around the rim of the cupcake. You can stand one kernel in the middle of the cupcake. Or create your own patterns. It’s a fun party activity or after-dinner dessert activity for kids.
  • Jack-O-Lantern Cake: Make a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and filling, and cover the sides with a mixture of candy corn and chopped nuts (if it’s a loaf cake, cover the top). Use the nuts to cover most of the cake and press in candy corn at intervals. You can also use candy corn to make the eyes, nose and mouth of the Jack-O-Lantern, on the top of the cake.
  • Sundae: We love a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with hot chocolate sauce and sprinkled with candy corn.
    Here’s a Paula Deen recipe that decorates ice cream cones with candy corn. Ms. Deen uses them as place card holders.

    But after dinner, you can turn the cones right side up and add vanilla ice cream or pudding for dessert.

    Vanilla ice cream or pudding pairs best with the sweet candy corn.




    FOOD 101: The Difference Between Ascorbic Acid & Citric Acid

    Ascorbic acid prevents cut fruit from turning brown. Citric acid provides tart flavor. And dipping apple slices into honey is delicious. Photo by Tova Photography | IST.


    In the previous post, we discussed how to make your own lime juice cordial. The recipe contains citric acid.

    One of our colleagues wondered, “What’s the difference between citric acid and ascorbic acid? Aren’t they both in lemon juice?”

    Yes, but the two products are not interchangeable.

    Citric acid and ascorbic acid are both found in citrus juice, as well as in numerous other fruits and vegetables. But they have different properties.

  • Ascorbic acid is vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. It is the more versatile of the two acids. Among its many uses, it keeps cut fruits and vegetables from turning brown. Another major use is in baking bread: It promotes the growth of yeast, which gives bread a finer texture and greater volume. In commercial food processing, it is used as a preservative. Its chemical formula is C6H8O6 (sorry, we can’t figure out how to turn the numbers into subscripts).
  • Citric acid is a less potent antioxidant. It has one more oxygen atom than ascorbic acid (chemical formula C6H8O7). But it has little nutritional value. Its value is its tartness. Citric acid is used commercially to enhance or provide tart flavor in products from tart candies to soft drinks. So much of it is added to cola that it can soften the teeth of heavy consumers. Some bakers use it in sourdough bread to produce an especially assertive tanginess.

    Now that you know the difference, put it to work.

    Start by serving sliced apples with a honey dip or drizzle. Use ascorbic acid—dip the sliced fruit in a lemon juice-water mixture—to keep the flesh from turning brown.

    For citric acid: make some lime juice cordial!



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