THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods
Also visit our main website,

Archive for March, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: How To Keep Bread Fresh Longer

In the old days, bread was baked without preservatives and Grandma kept the leftover bread in a metal or wood “bread box” on the kitchen counter (our grandmother’s looked like this).

Did it help the bread stay fresh? Not really, although historically, it did help to keep mice away in homes that had critters (not Nana’s home, of course).

While there are some airtight plastic bread boxes today, the box is still full of air, a staunch enemy of baked goods.

Fresh-baked bread begins to lose moisture in a continuous process known as starch retrogradation, a hardening of the starch molecules as the water that was absorbed during baking begins to dry out. Without preservatives, a loaf of bakery bread will harden to the point of staleness in 24 to 48 hours.

Toasting, microwaving or otherwise reheating bread brings back some moisture—briefly—because the hot bread reabsorbs some moisture.

If you buy branded supermarket breads, they typically contain preservatives that retard starch retrogradation and mold growth for three weeks or more.

For all-natural bakery breads, made without preservatives, we rely on bread storage bags.


It’s moist and delicious today, but what about two days from now? Photo courtesy


  • We’ve had great success with Bread Armor Debbie Meyer bread bags.


    Short-Term Solution: Airtight Plastic Bags

    If you’ll eat the bread within two or three days, keep it in an airtight plastic bag on the counter. By day three it may need some freshening in the microwave (5-10 seconds), or you can toast it.

  • If you have an unsliced loaf, keep it that way and cut slices as needed.
  • Some breads, like baguettes, go stale very quickly and won’t last until the third day. If you have excess bread, secure it in plastic bags (cut into shorter lengths as necessary) and toss it in the freezer.
  • Or, you can let it go stale and use it to make bread crumbs. Pulverize chunks of bread in the food processor.
  • Or make bread pudding, bread salad, French toast or fondue—recipes that were invented to use up stale bread.
    Breads that are enriched with dairy, eggs or sugar stay fresh longer, as those ingredients both trap moisture and interfere with starch retrogradation.

    Longer-Term Solution: Freeze It (In Airtight Plastic Bags)

    Freezing prevents the growth of mold and stops starch retrogradation. You can store bread, bagels, baguettes—almost any bread—in the freezer for a couple of months.

    While bread will keep frozen longer than that, it’s one of the first foods to pick up unwanted flavors from a less-than-pristine environment.

  • Sliced frozen bread can be quickly restored to room temperature in the microwave—one of the advantages of freezing bread in slices.
  • Half or whole loaves can be thawed in the microwave to the point where you can slice off what you need. Then, reheat it, toast it or allow it to come to room temperature.
    How Many Different Types Of Bread Have You Had?

    Check out our photo-filled Bread Glossary.



    VIDEO: Alton Brown’s Secret Ham Crust


    Contemplating how to cook the Easter ham? Consider Alton Brown’s favorite way, with his grandmother’s “secret” ham crust recipe.

    The secret is now out of the bag: brown sugar, mustard, bourbon and pulverized ginger snap cookies.

  • Brush on a layer of mustard (we prefer deli-style or Dijon)
  • Pat on a layer of brown sugar
  • Spritz bourbon in a spray bottle (we repurposed a small pump spray, instead of the large one Alton uses in the video)
  • Pat on a layer of ginger snap cookie crumbs
    Watch Alton do it!



  • Want a different ham crust? Take a look at these ham glaze recipes.
  • How much do you know about ham? Here are the different types and cuts.
  • Take our Ham Trivia Quiz.
  • After tasting 20 “gourmet” hams, our favorite hams.
  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Adjust Your Oven Racks

    Ever wonder why recipes specify that you bake your item on the top, bottom or middle rack?

    Most items bake evenly in the middle of the oven.

    When it’s important to brown the bottom of the food—like a fruit pie where the crust can get soggy—the lower rack is required. It puts the pan or baking sheet closer to the heat source, on the bottom of the oven.

    Conversely, if you want more browning on the top—a meringue topping, for example—place the pan on the top rack. The meringue will brown without heating the fruit curd underneath.

    If you want to bake two cake pans at once, advises Lauren Chattman, author of The Baking Answer Book, two nine-inch pans can be placed side by side. But for even baking, you’ll need to rotate them after the cakes begin to set.

    With cookie sheets, you can place one on the bottom and one on the top, rotating them midway. Advises Lauren, “I recommend this only for items like cookies that require a relatively short baking time. With longer-baking items, the risk of burning is greater and not worth the savings on time.”


    A meringue-topped pie needs to be baked on
    the top rack of the oven. H.D. Connelly | Dreamstime.


    These directions don’t apply to convection ovens, which have an even circulation of air that avoids hot spots and cold spots of traditional ovens.

    Find our favorite cake and cookie recipes.



    PRODUCT: Biscoff Spread, Now In Crunchy

    Biscoff spread sweetens a bagel. Photo
    courtesy Lotus Bakeries.


    One of our favorite products of 2011 was Biscoff Spread, a creamy, all-natural bread spread that looks like peanut butter but is actually made of ground Biscoff cookies and is nut-free. (Read our review.)

    Now, a crunchy version is rolling out across the U.S., at Central Market, Cost Plus World Market, The Fresh Market, Market Basket, Schnucks, Shop Rite, Walmart, Wegmans and Winn-Dixie. We even saw a private label brand at Trader Joe’s, called “Cookie Spread.”

    Crunchy Biscoff Spread takes the original creamy caramel spread delight and adds chunks of caramelized Biscoff cookies. The combination of creamy and crunchy is even better than the original. Imagine the possibilities:

  • Crunchy Biscoff Spread on toast or on pancakes and waffles
  • Luscious frosting layers or fillings in cakes and cupcakes

  • A filling for cookie sandwiches—and of course, regular sandwiches and tea sandwiches, with or without some apple slices
  • Just licked off the spoon
    Biscoff Spread Creamy is available at Central Market, Cost Plus World Market, The Fresh Market, Giant Carlisle, Giant Landover, Hannaford, Kroger, Market Basket, Safeway, Schnucks, Shop Rite, Stop & Shop, Walmart, Wegmans, and Winn-Dixie and others, as well as through Biscoff’s website.

    A complete list of retail locations is available at

    Or, you can buy it online now.

    Find more of our favorite bread spreads: product reviews, recipes and more.


    Find it on your grocer’s shelf or online.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Dessert Tea

    Have some dessert tea: with dessert or
    instead of it. Photo courtesy


    Many people enjoy a cup of tea with dessert. But what exactly is dessert tea?

    Dessert tea is a relatively new addition to the tea repertoire. It sprouted up with the green tea and white tea push a decade ago. Many non-tea drinkers wanted the antioxidant benefits of tea but didn’t like the taste of plain green and white tea (which don’t taste great with milk and sugar).

    So tea blenders started blending green tea, and then white tea, with any number of ingredients that provided flavor and a hint of sweetness: fruits and nuts; butterscotch, caramel and chocolate extracts; flowers (hibiscus, jasmine, rose, saffron); plus cinnamon, mint, vanilla and other flavorings.

    At a certain point, one producer saw these nearly-calorie-free flavored teas as appropriate for dessert or as a guilt-free sweet beverage; and “dessert teas” were born.


    Dessert teas are made with black, green, oolong, puer and white teas, and rooibos (herbal “red” tea). You can drink them with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time of day, plain or with milk and/or sugar.

    Flavored Teas Are As Old As “Tea”

    Dessert teas are seen as expanding the tea-buying market by appealing to the non-tea-drinker with mass-appeal flavors common in soft drinks and flavored lattes. The concept is not new—only the name and the marketing of the tea for “dessert.”

    Since the dawn of man-made fire and vessels, teas were steeped from many barks, berries, leaves and roots. Before tea arrived in Europe in the 17th century (coffee also arrived then, in 1615, along with hot chocolate), this is what was drunk.

    Today, “tea” refers specifically to brewed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, or tea bush. “Herbal tea” is called a tisane in the industry (the word originated with the Greek word ptisane, a drink made from pearl barley).

    More about tea.



    PASSOVER: Gluten-Free Matzo

    Millions of Jews will celebrate a week of Passover beginning Friday, April 6th. The holiday commemorates the biblical story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, after God inflicted the ten plagues upon the Egyptians.

    As the story goes, the Jews had to leave Egypt immediately. They gathered up possessions and livestock but could not wait for the bread dough to rise, resulting in matzo, an unleavened flatbread. Thus, during the week of Passover, no leavened bread is eaten; only matzo (also spelled matzoh, matza and other variations).

    So what if you want to celebrate Passover with matzo, but have gluten sensitivities?

    Two brands are at the ready:

  • Yehuda Matza, imported from Israel, is certified gluten-free. It’s made from tapioca flour, potato starch, potato flour and egg yolks. It looks and crunches like conventional matzo, and the flavor is more than satisfactory. In fact, it has a bit of salt and even more flavor than wheat matzo, which is famously bland. The only nit: It’s more fragile and the boards break too easily. It has a two-year shelf life. Buy it online.

    Gluten-free matzo. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

  • Shemura Oat Matzo is made by a London rabbi, from gluten-free oat flour and water. We haven’t tasted it. It too is available online.
    Seder Idea

    The Passover seder, the ritual feast celebrated on the first two nights of the holiday, is accompanied from beginning to end by a reading of the Haggadah (“telling”).

    This year, participants at our seder are coming as witnesses of the Exodus. Each of us will provide a few minutes of insight into the desires, hopes, frustrations, fears and domestic lives of our characters. Participating will be will be Moses, Pharaoh, a nameless Jewish slave and an Egyptian, along with Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, a first century scholar who appears giving commentary in the Hagadah.

    We are going as a baker, faced with feeding the exodus masses without the time to leaven the bread. The result: matzo.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Potato Croquettes Turn Ordinary Potatoes Into Treasure-Filled Treats

    Stuffed potato croquettes. Photo by AJA
    Photo | IST.


    Last night, Chef Johnny Gnall made potato croquettes for dinner. He liked them so much, he made them a Tip Of The Day. His report follows. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    Potatoes are a food known for their versatility, a good staple to have around. They pair well with virtually any protein, from ribeye to halibut, and can be cooked however you like: boiled, braised, fried or roasted.

    But beyond their role as a go-anywhere side, these ubiquitous tubers can be made into a dough.

    You’re probably familiar with gnocchi, the Italian dumplings whose dough is made up of potatoes and flour. But did you know you that can hold the flour (great for those who want to avoid gluten) and create a dough out of just potatoes?

    With a little patience and bit of whatever ingredients you have lying around, you can turn simple boiled potatoes into stuffed potato croquettes, with the crunch of fries, the softness of mashed potatoes and a delicious “surprise.”


    They impress when served with a special-occasion main dish such as rack of lamb, and they’re also a treat with everyday meals.

    How To Make Potato Croquettes

    1. Peel the potatoes. Figure that one large russet potato will give you roughly two croquettes. Russets are tried and true for this recipe, but there’s no reason you can’t use whatever potatoes you have lying around (check out the different types of potatoes). Once your potatoes are knife-tender (meaning they are soft enough to stick a knife into with no resistance), run them through a food mill, just as you would if you were going to make mashed potatoes.

    2. Put the mashed potato “fluff” back into a pot. Continue to cook for another few minutes at medium heat to eliminate as much moisture as you can. Stir constantly to prevent the potatoes from burning (lower the heat if you begin to see brown), but the more moisture you can take out now, the easier the next step will be.

    3. Shape the croquettes. Once you’ve dried out the potato fluff, cool it down just enough so that you can handle it without burning yourself (feel free to use gloves if you have sensitive hands). In the palm of a cupped hand, press about a half cup of potato fluff to form an open pocket roughly a half-inch thick. Gently press 2-3 tablespoons of filling into the pocket, then cover with more fluff. Use both hands to gently form the croquette into as even and round a shape as you can (perfect spheres are not necessary, and oblong or somewhat cylindrical shapes work well). Your finished product should be the size of a large egg.

    This technique will probably take a little bit of practice. The key is pressing hard enough to compact the croquette into a stable, solid piece, but not so hard that it cracks or squashes. Pay close attention to how the croquettes behave as you apply pressure, so that you can learn to squeeze them just right. If you ever made snowballs as a child, you’ll have a head start on this process!

    It may also help to work on a floured surface (all-purpose flour is ideal, but if you need to go gluten-free you can use rice flour), and use a bit of flour to keep your hands dry, in case there is excess moisture in the potato fluff. Just don’t go overboard and start smothering them in flour.


    4. Fry the croquettes. Once you have assembled the croquettes, fill a pot with frying oil high enough so that the croquettes can be completely submerged, plus about a half-inch more. (I prefer rice bran oil due to its high smoke point.) Heat the oil to around 375°F, then gently drop in the first croquette.

  • It’s always a good idea to do a tester when deep frying to help give you a sense of how long the process will take.
  • What you’re looking for is golden-brown and crispy all over the surface of your croquette, which will probably take between 3-5 minutes.
  • Once you’ve had a successful tester, fry 3-6 croquettes at a time; overloading the pot will drop your oil temperature, as well as make it hard to move your croquettes around without breaking them apart… so don’t do that.
  • Try to leave the croquettes alone for the most part, stirring gently every minute or so. When they’re golden-brown and crispy delicious, carefully remove them with a slotted spoon or a spider strainer, and rest them on paper towels.

    Photo by Deramaenrama | Wikimedia.

  • Season the croquettes liberally with salt and a little pepper as soon as they’re on the paper towels; doing so while your croquettes are still hot will help the salt and pepper to stick.

    5. Serve immediately.
    Serve the croquettes as soon as possible so that you don’t lose the crispiness; eat carefully, as they’ll be piping hot! If you’re at a loss for filling inspiration, try one of the suggestions below; once you master the technique, however, you can fill your croquettes with whatever you want!

    Fill Your Croquettes

  • American. Start with a nod to the good old US of A! Try diced, cooked bacon, grated Cheddar cheese, sour cream and chopped chives.
  • French. Go French with sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, gruyere and fresh thyme.
  • Indian. Go Indian with golden raisins, chopped cashews, paneer (or fresh farmer’s cheese), sautéed spinach and half a teaspoon of curry powder.
  • Mexican. Go Mexican with cooked, crumbled chorizo, diced raw white onion, cojita cheese and fresh cilantro.
  • Spanish. Go Spanish with roasted red pepper, sautéed yellow onion & garlic, chopped almonds, a half teaspoon of paprika and a few drops of sherry vinegar.
    Find more of our favorite potato recipes.

    And let us know how you enjoy those croquettes.



    FOOD HOLIDAY: World Whisky Day, March 27th

    Enjoy a glass of Scotch: It’s World Whisky
    Day. Photo courtesy Chivas Regal.


    People across the world will raise a dram to Scotland’s national drink on March 27th, thanks to the efforts of a University of Aberdeen Student.

    Blair Bowman, 21, has established the first ever World Whisky Day.

    Unlike other drinks such as beer, tequila and vodka, whisky did not have its own dedicated holiday. When the enterprising young Scot discovered this, he quickly set about creating a “day” and a website, (which is “currently unavailable”). Some 125 events are registered in more than 30 countries.

    To celebrate World Whisky Day, have a shot, a whisky cocktail or this ice cream brownie sundae with Scotch caramel sauce. Here’s the recipe. You can also mix two tablespoons of whisky into a jar of warmed caramel or chocolate sauce.


    Can Anyone Establish A Holiday?

    In our free-speech society, anyone can declare anything they want. In order for it to get noticed outside the circle of one’s friends, however, broader awareness is required.

    There’s an official process for a “sanctioned” holiday. Here are the details, along with all the food holidays in the U.S. (To get the daily holiday, sign up at

    How Many Types Of Whiskey Have You Had?

    Whiskey is spirit made from a fermented mash of grain or malt, aged in barrels; the brown color comes from barrel aging. There are numerous types of whiskey—American (Bourbon, corn, Tennessee, rye), Canadian, Irish, Scotch and others. Each is distinguished by the type of grain (barley, corn, rye) used in the fermentation process, as well as the distinct distillation and aging process. The color comes from aging in wood barrels.

    Australia, England, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and Thailand, all strong markets for whiskey, now produce their own. Regardless of the variety or country of origin, a general rule of thumb is that all straight whiskeys must be aged at least two years in wood, generally oak. Each nation has its own rules and regulations about what constitutes a true whiskey.

    Check out our Whiskey Glossary for a quick review of whiskey types and terms.

    Whisky Vs. Whiskey

    In Ireland and the U.S., the word whiskey is spelled with an “e.” Brits, Scots and Canadians usually drop it. Interestingly, a 1968 directive of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms specifies “whisky” as the official U.S. spelling, but allows the alternative spelling, “whiskey,” which most U.S. producers (and we) prefer.


    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: My Dad’s Gluten-Free Cookies

    Can’t have gluten? Or, like a growing number of Americans, are you choosing to avoid it?

    You can still enjoy bakery-style cookies, thanks to My Dad’s gluten-free cookie line.

    A broad selection of tasty cookies awaits—cookies so well crafted that most people will never know they’re gluten-free. We couldn’t tell when we first tasted the cookies!

    Read the full review, and treat yourself or a gluten-free loved one to some lovely nibbles.

    Find more of our favorite gluten-free products.

    How many different types of cookies are there?
    See our Cookie Glossary.


    Delicious and gluten-free! Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Fun With Pearl Couscous ~ Israeli Couscous

    Make a pearl/Israeli couscous salad instead
    of rice salad. It pairs well with just about any
    other ingredients. Photo by Travelling Light |


    Chef Johnny Gnall has been experimenting with pearl couscous sent from Bob’s Red Mill, with delicious results. His report follows. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    When most people think of couscous (KOOS-koos), they think of Moroccan couscous: fluffy piles of semolina, their tiny grains not much larger than coarse cornmeal.

    But pearl couscous (also called Israeli couscous) has been making its way onto more and more menus and supermarket shelves. The beautiful round beads (pearls) of semolina are most deserving of finding their way to your kitchen.

    Pearl/Israeli couscous is larger and toothier than Moroccan couscous. (EDITOR’S NOTE: We prefer the term “pearl” to “Israeli” couscous. Pearl is an accurate description; “Israeli” seems to limit one’s thoughts of the ingredient to Israeli/Middle Eastern cuisine. You can use it to replace orzo or rice.)

    The pearls have a pleasant, chewy texture when properly cooked, giving the couscous a real comfort food quality. Think of macaroni and cheese made with big, thick elbow noodles. That same type of enjoyable, al dente bite is so satisfying, and it’s something that you can’t get out of Moroccan couscous (though you’re probably not looking for it there anyway).


    People often think of pearl couscous as exotic. But it’s made of the same semolina wheat as pasta. You should think of it as any other small cut of pasta, like alphabets; corallini, ditallini and tubettini (tiny tubes); orzo (shaped like grains of rice); and pastina (tiny stars).

    Bob’s Red Mill carries three varieties of pearl couscous: Natural, Tricolor and Whole Wheat.

  • Original couscous is beautiful: The small ecru-white beads are elegant whether in a soup, underneath a protein (see salmon photo below) or in a salad or side dish.
  • Tricolor couscous is fun, visually appealing pearls of white, green and pink (the latter two flavored with spinach and tomato, respectively). It’s especially appealing in a salad, side or dessert (such as a couscous riff on rice pudding).
  • Whole wheat couscous provides a particularly nutritious alternative to rice or pasta (or other couscous). Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pearl Couscous is like other whole wheat pasta that is made with 100% whole grain flour. It contains 7 grams of protein and 25 g fiber per 1/3-cup serving.


    Pearl couscous substitutes seamlessly for rice or any grain. Cook pearl couscous like pasta: Bring salted water to a boil, using 1.5 times the amount of water as pasta (or cover the dry pasta by 2-3 inches). You can also use stock, or toss a bouillon cube into the water for extra flavor.

    Cooking time will vary; test after five minutes. The pearls will absorb some water and should be both soft and chewy. (Remember, it will continue to cook when you remove it from the heat.)

    From there, you can:


    Make A Couscous Salad

    Add diced tomato, red onion, feta cheese and torn basil for a Greek-style salad; use cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes or roasted red pepper when tomatoes are out of season. Or use chopped pistachios, golden raisins and cubed roasted squash for a Moroccan-style salad in any season.

    In fact, you can add just about any three ingredients to make a couscous salad. Try a vegetable, a nut or legume and an herb, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and a splash of acid—citrus juice or vinegar. Proteins are also welcome: cubes of chicken and tofu work especially well. The recipe in the photo at the top uses leftover corn and peas, a bit of oil and balsamic vinegar, and a garnish of grated Parmesan.

    For the best presentation, cut or chop your ingredients into small pieces, so they look at home nestled within the pearl couscous.

    Treat It Like Pasta

    Top couscous with tomato sauce and shredded Parmesan to keep it simple. Or toss it with olive oil, herbs and vegetables for Pearl Couscous Primavera. If you want to indulge, make some Pearl Couscous Carbonara with egg, Parmesan and diced pancetta.


    Salmon atop a bed of couscous. Photo by M. Sheldrake | Dreamstime.


    Go Full-On Comfort Food

    Three words: Mac. And. Cheese. The chewiness of pearl couscous really is wonderful with a gooey cheese like Gruyère or mozzarella, and a topping of crispy breadcrumbs (try panko). The symphony of tastes and textures will have your lids dropping in pleasure.

    Turn It Into Couscous Risotto

    Start by toasting the pearl couscous in a pot over medium-high heat with a touch of olive oil. Then begin stirring liquid in, just as you would with risotto. You can use any liquid that suits you; water or stock with a little white wine are probably your best bets.

    Take It Swimming

    Once it’s cooked, drop pearl couscous directly into soups, stews and chilis. It provides a pleasant texture and adds body to the food.

    To add some extra love, flavor the couscous cooking water with some of the vegetables or aromatics in the main dish. Just drop them into the pot with the couscous as it cooks. Carrots and onions impart a bit of sweetness, herbs add depth and flavor. Even a bone from whatever beast you may be stewing can be a nice touch to build the complexity of your couscous.


    Couscous is more than 1,000 years old. The Berbers, who lived along the northern (Mediterranean) coast of Africa, west of the Nile Valley (modern Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia—the Barbary Coast/Berber Coast), ate wheat as a staple grain. Over generations, they learned that by grinding the wheat and making couscous, it would keep for years—insurance against drought and famine. The result has long been a base for North African cooking.

    Couscous is made from yellow granules of semolina, made from durum pasta wheat, which are precooked and then dried. The pearl grains are the original couscous. They were made by hand-rolling semolina grains on screens, with olive oil, water and salt, letting the small grains fall through, and rolling them again until a consistent size grain was formed. The grains are then coated with olive oil salt and sun-dried, giving them a toasty flavor when cooked. The name is derived from Bhe Berber seksu meaning well rolled, well formed and rounded.

    The term can refer to the ingredient itself or a prepared dish. Like pasta or rice, couscous is versatile and has numerous preparations. It is simple to prepare: Just add boiling water and let it sit. It can be flavored with exotic spices or served plain. North African stews (tagines) are traditionally served over it.

    Couscous is now widely available in most supermarkets. Keeping with food trends, specialty producers such as Bob’s Red Mill sell whole wheat couscous and tricolor in addition to the natural white pearls.



    © Copyright 2005-2016 Lifestyle Direct, Inc. All rights reserved. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners.