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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 January, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Entertain With Tapas


Entertain with tapas: Start with a good
cookbook. Photo courtesy Knopf.

 

Is there a tapas bar in your town? About 20 years ago, this style of eating from Spain—which consists of grazing on several smaller plates of food instead of an appetizer and a main course (like dim sum)—began to take hold in parts of the U.S.

You can serve a multicourse dinner of small tapas plates. It’s the opposite of our recent tip on buffets, but is just as much fun.

Spain is full of tapas bars, which feature a wide variety of hot and cold appetizers and snacks. From foods as basic as a bowl of mixed olives and a plate of cheese to fried baby squid, what was originally a menu of Spanish bar foods evolved into an entire meal.

Mixed seafood; ragouts of meat, sausages and beans; colorful salads; tortillas (Spanish omelettes) with ham and peppers; banderillas, or Spanish skewers; and empanadas, savory filled pastries, are just a few items found at a typical tapas bar.

 

But tapas aren’t limited to Spanish specialties. They can be Asian- or Greek-inspired, or gourmet dishes with foie gras and escargots. Goat cheese and arugula join Spanish Manchego cheese and olives. Pretty much any food you like can be served tapas style: a small portion on a small plate.

Tapas are an exciting eating experience for people who like a variety of foods, but don’t want the temptation of a buffet meal.

TAPAS COOKBOOKS
To get started, peruse a tapas cookbook:

  • Classic: Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain, by Penelope Casas
  • Modern: Tapas: A Taste Of Spain In America, by José Andrés and Richard Wolffe
  • Mediterranean: From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the Mediterranean, by Joanne Weir
  • Asian: Asian Tapas: Small Bites, Big Flavors, by Christophe Megel and Anton Kilayko
  •  
    TAPAS: THE NAME

    The word “tapas” comes from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover.” Why a “cover”?

    According to the leading interpretation, a piece of bread would often be placed on top of a drink as a cover, to protect it from fruit flies. At some point the bread was covered with chorizo, ham or other food. Soon, drinkers would order a glass of sherry or wine specifically “with a cover.”

      

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    ENTERTAINING: An Instant Plate Pedestal

    Pedestal plates and bowls are very festive, but require extra storage space that many of us lack.

    Thanks to an innovation from Fusion Brands, you can now elevate a cake plate or fruit bowl with Serveitup, a white porcelain base with a suction cup that provides a secure lift.

    In an instant, you can put a fancy or everyday plate or bowl, up to 12 inches in diameter, atop the Servitup pedestal and serve with panache. There are two sizes: You can stack a smaller plate atop a larger one for a multi-tiered plating presentation.

    Want to put your food on a pedestal? There’s a store locator on the website. Or, head to Amazon.com for the:

  • Large cake stand, $29.99, for plates from 10 to 12 inches in diamter
  • Small cake stand, $19.99, for plates from 6 to 8 inches in diameter
  •  

    Showcase desserts, hors d’oeuvres, even bagels at brunch, with the Servitup snap-on pedestal stand. Photo courtesy Fusion Brands.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Try New Ingredients, Like Piquillo Peppers

    Roasted piquillo chiles stuffed with tuna,
    crumbled Manchego cheese, capers, parsley
    and a touch of lemon juice. Photo courtesy
    DeLallo Foods.

     

    Today’s tip is an easy way to expand your culinary horizons: Try a new ingredient each month (if you’re ambitious, each week). Work it into different recipes and decide if it deserves a place in your everyday or special-occasion repertoire.

    We’ll start you off with a suggestion: piquillo peppers. They’ve been a favorite in Spain for centuries, for tapas, stews and other recipes. We picked up some piquillos from Roland and Delallo.

    Delectable and easy to use straight from the jar (DeLallo) or can (Roland), their vibrant color and piquant, roasted flavor make piquillos a welcome ingredient to enliven winter cooking.

    Use them instead of roasted red bell peppers—they’ll bring an extra depth of flavor. The wall of a piquillo is much thinner than a bell pepper, with a richer, sweeter flavor and a hint of spiciness. When purchased in cans or jars, they’ve typically been fire roasted, adding a touch of of smokiness.

     

    The piquillo originated in Northern Spain and was named for its conical shape, which reminded people of a bird’s beak. Piquillo means “little beak” in Spanish.

    Use piquillos on sandwiches and in salads; with drinks, cut and rolled onto a toothpick (you can add an olive, caperberry or cube of cheese to the toothpick); and by all means, stuffed. The shape makes piquillos ideal for stuffing; the Spanish stuff them with everything from seafood to vegetables. We’ve been filling them with everything from leftover rice and other grains to potatoes, goat cheese, feta and tabbouleh, to tuna, egg and potato salads. Delicious! They also add a sweet touch to chili.

    TIPS FOR USING PIQUILLO CHILES

    Roland Foods suggests:

  • Drain the piquillos and blot them with paper towels; they’ll be easier to slice.
  • Don’t rinse piquillos from a jar or can; you’ll rinse away flavor.
  •  
    RECIPES

  • Here’s an easy recipe for a flavored sandwich spread or dip: Process piquillo chiles until smooth with 1 cup of mayonnaise and 1 grated garlic clove.
  • Try this delicious recipe for Chicken Stew with Piquillo Peppers and White Wine.
  •  

    DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENT CHILES?
    Check out our Chile Glossary.

      

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    FOOD HOLIDAY: Hot Buttered Rum Recipe With Caramel

    A hot toddy is a warm cocktail made with boiling water, sugar and spices, plus other ingredients—hot buttered rum is one such variation. (Read the History of Hot Buttered Rum.) Celebrate National Hot Toddy Day on January 11th with a luscious cocktail from Ron Abuelo, a dark oak-aged rum from Panama.

    This Hot Caramel Buttered Rum recipe combines smooth aged (añejo) rum with Van Gogh’s Dutch Caramel Vodka. It’s a fine drink to sip as you relax at the end of the day.

    Or, have it at the end of dinner: It’s a cocktail and a dessert in one.

    HOT CARAMEL BUTTERED RUM RECIPE

    Ingredients Per Cocktail

  • 1/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 ounces Ron Abuelo Añejo rum
  • 1 ounce Van Gogh Dutch Caramel Vodka
  • Boiling water
  • Cinnamon stick for garnish
  •  

    Mmm, hot buttered rum—with caramel! Photo courtesy Ron Abuelo. Like these glasses? Here’s something similar.

     

    Preparation
    1. Combine first six ingredients—butter, sugar, honey and spices—into a large mug, Irish coffee glass, or other handled vessel. Mix together with a spoon.

    2. Add rum and vodka.

    3. Pour in hot water (1/2 cup to 1 cup, to personal taste) and stir vigorously until the mixture has dissolved. Garnish with cinnamon stick.

    Find more of our favorite winter cocktail recipes.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Consider More Buffets

    Even six or eight people can enjoy serving
    themselves buffet-style. Photo by Nancy
    Louie | IST.

     

    In the catering and restaurant worlds, food serving styles are classified as table service or buffet service. Both styles are used in the home, as well.

    Many of us tend to think as the professionals do: table service for fewer people and buffet service for larger groups. The number of guests is usually the main factor in determining the serving style.

    But think of buffets for smaller groups, whether a small cocktail event or tea party or a small gathering of as few as six friends or family members. Guests enjoy serving themselves. You, the host, can set all the food out at once and spend more time with your guests.

    A REVIEW OF SERVING STYLES

    Table Service

    With table service, the food is served individually plated or family style, where communal platters and bowls are passed. A variation is when a parent or other adult prepares a plate for each diner from the head of the table.

     

    The formal variation of this is French service, where dishes are brought to the table to be shown to the diners, and then carved and portioned at tableside by a butler or maitre d’.

    Buffet Service

    Buffet service is a self-service style where guests serve themselves from a sideboard or table. It can be a formal setting, a picnic table at a backyard barbecue or something in-between.

    At a formal restaurant or catered buffet, there can be staff on hand to serve guests from behind the table (which takes the fun out of it, in our opinion), or simply to carve and serve roasts.

    As with family-style service, guests have the ability to take only what they really want, and in the quantity they want it. (The down side is that people may also reach for seconds and thirds, “because it’s there.”)

    No matter what the setting, buffet food can be formal or casual—while some people like fancy food, salads and sandwiches are popular buffet items. We like pasta bars for dinner, with guests able to create their own dishes by combining pasta, sauces and garnishes. The same works with burger and hot dog bars, taco bars or any other theme.

    No matter what the food, a buffet is an opportunity to provide more condiments—chutneys, mustards, olives, pickles, relishes, different sauces—than table service. The result: You use up what’s in the fridge and pantry, and provide a larger symphony of flavors for guests.

    For brunch, consider a yogurt bar and a cereal bar, with different types of fruits, nuts, seeds and milks (for example, rice milk and soy milk in addition to cow’s milk). The popularity of chains like Cereality and The Cereal Bowl—where customers top cereals with as many toppings as they like—prove that you don’t have to cook for days to show guests a good time.

    Please share your favorite buffet ideas.

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Somersault Snacks ~ Crunchy, Tasty, Healthy

    These crunchy bites somersaulted into being when some active adults sought a tasty, healthy, grab-and-go energy snack. They investigated and formulated and created Somersault Snacks.

    The action ingredient is sunflower seeds, which provide energy as well as 50% more protein (6 g per serving) than many popular nuts, and more fiber than an apple (3 g per serving), among other nutrition.

    Somersaults found popularity in their hometown of San Francisco, and are now available in limited distribution nationwide and online, in individual and six-ounce bags.

    You can have your Somersaults lightly sweetened, in Cinnamon Crunch and Dutch Cocoa, or salty and zesty, in Pacific Sea Salt, Santa Fe Salsa and Salty Pepper.

    If you’re looking for a better-for-you snack, read the full review and try a bag. You may find yourself with the energy for cartwheels and hand stands, as well as somersaults.

    Find more of our favorite gourmet snacks.

     

    Dutch Cocoa Somersaults. Photo by Elvira
    Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Growing Jalapeños Indoors

    Our first jalapeño. Photo by Elvira Kalviste |
    THE NIBBLE.

     

    Do you use fresh jalapeños to spice up recipes? If so, try growing the seeds.

    We grew our first jalapeño plant by accident.

    We had grown a pot of basil on the windowsill over our kitchen sink, from a packet of free seeds. The basil turned out to be a flimsy strain, however, with unsteady stalks and small leaves. We harvested the few leaves and waited for more to grow.

    One day, what looked like a weed sprouted in the basil pot. It grew into some lovely green leaves but we couldn’t identify the plant. Small white buttercup-type flowers appeared, but they turned into more leaves.

    In several weeks we had an attractive houseplant, and pulled the failing basil from the pot. Then one day: surprise! The plant revealed itself with a one-inch-long jalapeño.

    How?

     

    Through the miracle of nature, a seed from a jalapeño must have landed in the basil pot. Now, we’re having fun growing our own jalapeños indoors. Try it!

    1. Reserve some seeds from a fresh jalapeño. Line the bottom of the plant pot with pebbles to provide drainage and top with a nutrient-rich potting soil.

    2. Lay seeds, spaced about two inches apart, and cover with a final 1/2 inch of soil. Water and place in a window that receives direct sunlight.

    3. Water twice a week. Don’t over-water—jalapeños don’t grow in wet soil. If you have cold winters, remove the plant to somewhere slightly warmer (like the side of the sink) so it doesn’t freeze and stunt the growth of the jalapeños.

    4. Transfer the plants as needed to larger pots. Enjoy your little harvest.

      

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    RECIPE: Chocolate Dipped Apricots

    January 9th is National Apricot Day. We’re not sure why, since apricot season in the U.S. is from May through August (any fresh apricots found in the winter months have made a long trip from the southern hemisphere).

    Yet, you can toast the day with an apricot brandy sour, have apricot jam on your toast or sandwich (cream cheese, goat cheese, ham, turkey), make a pork roast with dried apricots, or use the jam as filling in a Sacher Torte.

    Here’s a quick and easy way to turn dried apricots into something festive. If you don’t want to make your own, you can order chocolate-dipped apricots from Bissinger’s or Lake Champlain Chocolates (the latter are kosher-certified).

    CHOCOLATE-DIPPED APRICOTS RECIPE

    Makes 2 dozen pieces.

    Ingredients

     

    Make your own or buy them. Photo courtesy Bissinger’s.

  • 24 jumbo whole dried apricots (about 8 ounces—look for moist fruit)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) pistachio nuts, finely chopped
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate*
  • Parchment paper, wax paper or aluminum foil
  • Chocolate tempering machine or substitute
  • *Dark chocolate compliments the apricots best, but you can substitute milk chocolate or white chocolate. The finer quality the chocolate, the better the confection.
     
    Preparation
    1. For best results, temper chocolate in a chocolate tempering machine. If you don’t own one, melt the chocolate in a chocolate melting pot, microwave oven or double boiler.
    2. Place the chopped nuts on a plate or in a shallow bowl, for dipping.
    3. Holding an apricot by the rim, dip about half of it in the chocolate. Give it a quick twist, shake off excess chocolate and tap the apricot against the rim of the bowl if excess chocolate remains.
    4. Before chocolate dries, dip the top of the apricot into the chopped nuts. Place on parchment paper to set up and cool. If the set up seems slow, place in refrigerator for 3 to 5 minutes.

    If you want to sweeten the apricots, glaze them first. Glazed apricots can also be enjoyed without the chocolate dip.

    GLAZED APRICOTS RECIPE

    Makes 2 dozen pieces.

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 24 jumbo whole dried apricots (about 8 ounces)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. Boil water in a medium saucepan. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves and a syrup is created.
    2. Boil until the syrup reaches 310°F on a candy thermometer (do not stir).
    3. Place the pot in a pan of cold water to instantly stop the boiling; then immediately remove the pot and set in a pan of hot water. (This keeps the syrup at the right temperature.)
    4. Using a skewer, dip each apricot in the syrup. Shake off the excess syrup and and place the apricot on wax paper to dry.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: When To Use Fines Herbes Vs. “Big Herbs”

    Chervil has been called “the gourmet’s parsley.” A more delicate flavor than parsley, it has a faint note of licorice. Photo courtesy SXC.

     

    THE NIBBLE’s Chef Johnny Gnall advises: When it comes to cooking, not all herbs are created equal. Some have more delicate flavors and can be lost if cooked the wrong way or paired with foods that are too bold. Conversely, some herbs are so flavorful and strong that if used in excess, they can overshadow proteins and produce alike.

    Centuries ago, French chefs initiated the term “fines herbs” (pronounced “feen erb”), to designate the more delicate herbs. The category generally includes chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon, though it has been known to also include marjoram, savory and a few others, depending on whom you’re asking. This designation is widely acknowledged by chefs around the world: If a recipe calls for “fines herbs,” you can assure it will include the aforementioned four.

    Less official, though no less helpful, is a designation used by chef Jan Birnbaum of Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco, among others. He designates the term “big herbs” to refer to those herbs whose flavors can stand up to heartier meats and vegetables. These “big herbs” include sage, rosemary and oregano, herbs that are very much at home in a roast house such as Epic.

     

    To be consistent with the American term, “big herbs,” we’ll now switch from the French fines herbes to fine herbs.

    FRESH VS. DRIED HERBS

    These herbs, be they “fine” or “big,” are best used in their fresh states to enjoy their truest flavors. Dried herbs tend to have more concentrated flavors, stronger on the palate than their fresh counterparts. You can typically add them to a recipe earlier in the cooking process, as their concentrated strength will stand up to the heat of cooking.

    When cooking with fresh herbs, on the other hand, it is typically best to wait until as late as possible to add them to a recipe, when the cooking process will have a greater effect on their flavor and what chefs call “brightness”—generally the reason one cooks with fresh herbs in the first place.

    That being said, each has its place in the cooking process; even if you are cooking with fine herbs, using a more delicate protein will allow you to cook them without losing their flavor. With bigger herbs, on the other hand, you can more or less throw caution to the wind: they can handle being roughed up a bit. Here are two recipes, one for fine herbs and one for big ones, utilizing the strengths of each to help crate a delicious dish:

     

    RECIPE: FINE HERBS-STUFFED SOLE

    Sole is a more delicate fish and will be complemented nicely by fine herbs. Moreover, the use of the herbs in both stuffing and basting in this recipe will give them even more help in holding up to cooking: strength in numbers, one might say.

    Ingredients

  • 4 sole filets (6-8 oz each)
  • 1 bunch fresh marjoram
  • 1 bunch chives
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 1 bunch tarragon
  •  

    Marjoram: another of the “fine herbs.” Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilián | SXC.

  • 1 cup aïoli (garlic mayonnaise—you can substitute regular mayonnaise)
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt/pepper
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  •  
    Preparation

    1. Chop herbs and whisk into aïoli, reserving a teaspoon of each. Add lemon juice to taste, until you achieve desired acidity and brightness.
    2. Lay sole filets on a foil-covered baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.
    3. Using a spoon or spatula, place a generous dollop of herb aïoli at one end of each filet.
    4. Roll up filets so that the herbs are in the center, and secure with a toothpick.
    5. Add your reserved herbs to the melted butter and brush each filet generously.
    6. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes. Baste with herb butter once or twice throughout the baking process.
    7. Remove toothpick before serving.

    RECIPE: BIG HERBS-CRUSTED LAMB LOIN

    The crust you get on this lamb recipe is absolutely scrumptious. If seasoned and seared properly, it will be crunchy and herbaceous, giving way to tender, medium-rare lamb beneath. This is the beauty of big herbs: they can stand up to lamb’s flavor as well as the searing process. Some of the herbs may char a bit here and there, but overall it works quite well with the dominant flavors in the dish.

    Ingredients

  • 1 boneless lamb loin (roughly 2 pounds)
  • 1 bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter + 2 tablespoons olive oil, combined
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or grapeseed oil
  • Salt/pepper
  •  
    Preparation
    1. Chop garlic and all herbs, combine, and set aside.
    2. Using your hands, rub the loin generously with the olive oil and butter mixture, making sure to coat the entire surface.
    3. Spread your herb/garlic mixture on a cutting board and roll the lamb loin around in it to create a crust. The better you cover the loin, the more flavor you will get.
    4. Season all sides generously with salt and pepper.
    5. In a large sauté pan on high heat, heat the oil; sear lamb loin on all sides. This will take roughly 5 minutes; do your best to leave the lamb alone as it sears in order to achieve a nice, crispy crust. A little smoke is okay, as the herbs may burn slightly; just don’t allow it to get to a point where smoke is pouring from the pan. (This step can also be done on a grill.)
    6. Finish the lamb in the oven, baking at 400°F for 20 minutes. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Try A Homemade Kitchen Cleaner

    Save money by mixing your own household
    cleaners. Spray bottles from Liquid Fence.

     

    Readers of this blog may have picked up the fact that we’re environmentally conscious. We do what we can to minimize our carbon footprint and we look for ways to repurpose everything before tossing the bottle, jar or can into the recycling container.

    As we were cleaning out a cabinet, we came across an empty Windex spray bottle that had been stored, awaiting repurposing.

    Shortly before that, we’d come across Grandma’s recipe for an all-purpose household cleaner. In the early part of the 20th century and for centuries before that, housewives bought the basic ingredients—baking soda, borax, rubbing alcohol, soap (liquid soap was patented in 1865), vinegar and washing soda (a laundry ingredient)—and made their own cleaning products.

    Try this simple all-purpose cleaner, which we’ve been using on counters and appliances:

     

  • Fill an empty, clean spray bottle two-thirds full with water.
  • Fill the remaining space with white vinegar.
  • Shake to blend; spritz away.
  • If you don’t like the smell of vinegar (the aroma evaporates quickly), add a few drops of an essential oil. We had lavender oil on hand. Drugstores and natural food stores should have a selection of popular scents.
  •  
    Not only does it work; the ingredients cost about fifty cents, compared with $3.69 to buy a name-brand bottle.

    If you like the idea of making your own household cleaners, here are recipes for everything from floor cleaner to non-scratch scrubs.

      

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