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Archive for April, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking A Ham

Don’t overheat your ham! Photo courtesy Snake River Farms.


Cured hams come fully cooked, but need to be heated (that is, if you want your meat to be warm or hot).

Micheale Muse, culinary expert for Snake River Farms, producers of “the world’s best” Kurobuta hams, shares this advice:

  • USE MODERATE HEAT. To ensure that your ham stays succulent, heat it in a moderate oven (325°F) in a shallow roasting pan until it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F on a meat thermometer.
  • TAKE IT SLOW. Don’t be tempted to rush this process: A higher oven temperature will dry out a ham and the marbling and sweet rich flavor will be lost.
  • USE FOIL. If your ham starts getting too dark on the surface while heating, simply place a tented piece of foil over the top of it. Do not cover the ham tightly with the foil, however; keep it loose.

    The final tip:

  • SHARPEN YOUR KNIVES. Always carve your ham with a sharp knife for beautiful, juicy slices. If you don’t have a knife sharpener, pick one up—they’re not expensive.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Better-For-You Easter Baskets

    If you’re running out today to buy all the fixings for Easter baskets, here’s some advice:

    Buy half the amount of candy and fill up the other half of the basket, bag or box with Easter- and spring-themed non-edibles. The temptation is to give a filled-to-the-brim basket of Easter sweets, but no one needs that much sugar.

    We love delicious Easter candy as much as anyone, but know that we aren’t doing anyone a favor by overloading someone with it.

    So here are some additional ways to fill the Easter basket.


  • Smaller baskets. There’s no need for Titanic-size gifts.
  • Hollow chocolate bunnies and eggs instead of solid ones.
  • Peanut butter-filled eggs instead of less nutritious fillings.
  • Easter-color beverages, like bottles of specialty diet sodas (look for Boylan’s) and Vitamin Water.
  • Sugar-Free jelly beans (available from Jelly Belly and Russell Stover).

    Instead of an open Easter basket that shows how much it holds, look for boxes or other containers to hold the Easter loot. This bunny box is from The Art Of Appreciation.


  • Mini fruits like clementines, miniature bananas and pineapples (kids love miniature fruits). Pomegranates are fun, too.
  • Nuts and dried fruits in grab-and-go bags (check out Peeled Snacks).
  • Easter themed apparel: socks, tee shirts and whatever else you find.
  • Kids’ favorite booty, such as stickers, soap bubbles and stuffed animals.
    Who says the Easter Bunny only brings candy!



    PASSOVER: Our Favorite Treat For Everyone

    Matzo “toffee”: white chocolate with pistachios and dark chocolate with almonds. Photo courtesy


    Passover food and beverages (including wine) are a $2.5 billion to $3 billion industry. It sounds unbelievable, but according to, some 30,000 different kosher-for-Passover products were produced specifically for Passover 2012. You may see shelves at the supermarket filled with a few dozen items—matzos, matzo meal, coconut macaroons, chocolate-coated jelly rings and other foods. But the ingredients for every kosher-for-Passover food recipe is also included among the 30,000.

    There are approximately six million Jews in America, of whom an estimated 70% celebrate the holiday. Jewish law forbids the consumption of fermented grain products and related foods. For the eight days of Passover, there are no bread products except matzo and potato bread, no pasta, no beer, no year-round favorite treats.


    Except that we do have a favorite Passover treat that can be enjoyed year-round. Variously called Matzo* Brittle, Matzo Buttercrunch and Matzo Toffee, it transforms bland boards of matzo, an unleavened flatbread, into a crunchy chocolate confection.
    Here are two variations:

  • Cookbook author (A Treasury Of Jewish Holiday Baking) Marcy Goldman’s iconic recipe, which she calls Vanilla Matzoh Caramel Buttercrunch
  • A variation by Cindy Coyle, who calls it “Passover Crack for Easter,” an interfaith treat.
    We recommend making more than one batch: one for the home, one for a seder gift, one to treat friends and co-workers who have never tasted this addictive confection—which of course, can be made year-round.

    *Variously spelled matzo, matza, matzoh or matzah.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Marshmallow Peeps

    Marshmallow Peeps are an Easter tradition in many homes. Even people with very refined palates reach for them, a grasp at childhood nostalgia.

    But over the years they’ve tasted worse and worse to us—artificial flavor, and more texture than flavor at that! Perhaps it’s the carnauba wax. The mass production has taken away their good looks, as well. Sorry Peeps, but you look too roughly stamped out of factory molds.

    The “Sugar Mommas,” authors of Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story, offer their own recipe for prettier, tastier homemade Peeps. Pull out the Easter cookie cutters and start mixing. The recipe must sit overnight, so don’t wait until Easter Sunday.

    Peeps® are a registered trademark of Just Born, a candy manufacturer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The original Peeps were yellow chicks; but the popularity of the marshmallow candies led to other flavors and shapes for every season, including jack-o-lanterns, snowmen and Valentine hearts.



  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Colored sugar crystals
  • Easter themed cookie cutters

    Make a tastier version of the iconic Peeps at home. Photo courtesy



    1. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle gelatin over a small bowl filled with 1/2 cup cold water; let stand to soften.

    2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix together sugar, corn syrup, hot water and salt. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, about 240°F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and gently stir in gelatin mixture; set aside.

    3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. With the mixer running, slowly add sugar/gelatin mixture. Add vanilla and continue beating for 10 minutes until the mixture looks like marshmallow.

    4. Transfer marshmallow mixture to prepared baking dish and spread evenly.

    5. Generously sprinkle 1-3 different colors of sugar crystals across the baking dish horizontally, covering any exposed marshmallow.

    6. Spray a piece of parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray and cover marshmallow. Let stand overnight.

    7. Remove parchment paper and invert marshmallow onto work surface.

    8. Generously sprinkle 1-3 different colors of sugar crystals across the marshmallow horizontally covering any exposed marshmallow. Try to match colors on the other side of the Peep (although it’s fine to have mismatched sides).

    9. Use cookie cutters to cut marshmallows into various Easter themed shapes. Spray the cookie cutters with nonstick spray so the marshmallow releases easily. Wash the cookie cutters between colors.

    10. Transfer marshmallows to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; set aside. Repeat process until all the marshmallow is cut into shapes. Use a skewer dipped in chocolate to make eyes, or use chocolate candies such as Valrhona Perles Craquantes for a more dramatic effect. Use marshmallow creme as “glue” to attach candies to your Peeps.

    11. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

    Find more Sugar Mommas recipes at



    TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking With Alcohol (Spray On The Booze)

    This mini spray bottle is a good size to fill
    with spirits. It’s available online. Photo
    courtesy Tolco.


    Last week we published a ham crust recipe in which Alton Brown demonstrated one of the secret ingredients: spraying the crust with Bourbon! We asked our consulting chef, Johnny Gnall, to consider how the spray-on booze technique can enhance other recipes. His report follows. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    Alton Brown has pointed out that a spray bottle is a terrific way to apply Bourbon when roasting and glazing a ham.

  • The sugars in the bourbon caramelize and crisp, creating, a sweet, flavorful crust.
  • The spray bottle is ideal because it creates a balanced dispersement of a little bit of booze at a time. This allows for even cooking as well as excellent control over a very potent product. Too much alcohol can really overpower a dish, so being able to apply a very small amount over a wide surface area is ideal for a recipe like a roasted ham.

    That had me thinking: In what other ways could one take advantage of a spray bottle full of liquor? I came up with ten everyday uses. Before you dig in, here‘s the big picture:


    1. MIST. Make sure your bottle has a setting for mist before you get started. Otherwise, you’ll end up shooting a concentrated stream of alcohol, which is the opposite of what you’re going for.

    2. DISTANCE. Hold the bottle at least 12 inches from the food to get an even spread.

    3. SPRAY LIGHTLY. Avoid over-saturation. Nobody wants their food drunker than they are.


    CLAM CHOWDER. One of the first dishes I learned in culinary school was clam chowder, and I quickly found out that a key to making my chowder exceptional was figuring out the right amount of dry sherry (you want just a hint of the flavor but you want it in the background, not overpowering your palate up front). A fun way to bring this flavor to chowder or other soups is to make homemade croutons and spritz them with a touch of sherry; then float them in the soup immediately prior to serving. The sherry’s flavor should be subtle, and the crispy chunks of bread are a fun vehicle by which to present it. Moreover, its aroma will waft to your nose along with the chowder, creating a lovely and intoxicating (no pun intended) bouquet.

    GRILLED FOODS. Grilling and spirits have been pals for quite some time. Standing around a summertime barbecue, grilling meats and enjoying the company of friends, almost demands a glass of something spirited in your hand. Moreover, many of the sauces and marinades on those meats use the same spirit, wine or beer as an ingredient. So why not up the ante just a bit more? A few spritzes of a dark liquor, such as rum or whiskey, can add punch and flavor to your favorite grilled meat. Just make sure to use caution when spraying alcohol around an open flame. Maintain a safe distance and don’t go overboard, or your meat may go from “grilled” to “on fire” to charred and inedible.

    MEATS. Alton already showed us what a spray of Bourbon can do to a ham, but don’t stop there! Roasted meats are great with a variety of spirits. You can glaze lamb chops with Cognac, or a pot roast with Cabernet Sauvignon. Just make sure you take the meat out of the oven before you spray it. This will allow you to spay an even coating all around the meat, as well as keep your oven clean.

    SEAFOOD. Most shellfish take nicely to getting a little boozy, no matter what kind of cuisine you’re working with. Even a few tiny spritzes right before serving can work well; but remember to be extra careful about over saturation, particularly with the delicate flavors of certain shellfish. If you’re serving lobster out of the shell, you can hit it with a mist of Champagne, a pairing seemingly perfect for celebrating. (EDITOR’S NOTE: We love sherry with shellfish.) Or try shrimp with a spritz or two of Tequila or mezcal and a fresh pico de gallo. Mezcal has smoky notes, so it works particularly well if you plan on grilling the seafood.



    BISCOTTI. Biscotti and coffee are a just-about-perfect combination. But a good liqueur can make anything just a little more perfect, right? While Italians traditionally have a glass of Sambucca with their coffee and anisette biscotti, instead of drinking the liqueur you can spritz your biscotti with it. If the biscotti have hazelnuts, use Frangelico; if they have almonds, try Amaretto, and so forth. Take a nibble of the biscotto and then sip your coffee. Try not to smile too much.

    CAKES. Cakes and spirits have one big thing in common: celebrations! Add more hip-hip to the hooray of your cake in one (or both) of two ways.

  • First, use the spray to moisten the layers of a layer cake as you build it (vanilla liqueur like Navan, or spiced rum, which has vanilla hints, work with many cakes).
  • Then, when your cake is built and iced, give it an all-over misting to take things to the next level. Kahlua or Bailey’s with a chocolate icing are a match made in endorphin heaven.

    Turn an innocent scoop of ice cream into an adult indulgence. Photo by B. Rebca | CSP.


    CANDIED FRUITS. Creating confections at home is fun. Make candied fruits or candied nuts using simple syrup or this recipe. Or make chocolate-dipped treats (recipe). Then, make them even more delectable with a spritz of your favorite spirits. With candied items you may want to go with a liqueur (Grand Marnier is a great choice). For gin lovers, the juniper notes work nicely with many fruits.

    FRESH FRUITS. A spritz of your favorite cocktail spirit enlivens fresh fruit. Use your boozy fruit to decorate a parfait, as a cocktail garnish, or just snack away. Try white rum with pineapple, Grand Marnier with strawberries, and brandy with cherries.

    ICE CREAM. This one may seem extra naughty, but the next time you’re going for that guilty pleasure scoop of vanilla ice cream before bed, hit it with a spritz of Bourbon or Scotch. Better yet, keep a few whole vanilla pods in a pint of your favorite Bourbon for about a month, then use that in your spray bottle. You’ll do more than scream for this ice cream!

    KETTLE CORN. For a killer late-night snack, spray kettle corn with a complementary liqueur, be it Cognac, Kahlua or other favorite. Remember, however, that different brands of kettle corn can have different flavor profiles. Be sparing and careful when trying one for the first time. If you need help figuring out the right match, eat a piece of the kettle corn and then taste a drop of the liqueur in question; you’ll know right away if they go together. What works best will depend on your preference, but you’re best off sticking to flavored liqueurs, as opposed to hard spirits like rum and whiskey.


    Share your spray-on successes with us.



    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Cordon Bleu Day


    April 4th is National Cordon Bleu Day. Le Cordon Bleu (French for “The Blue Ribbon”) is the world’s largest school for hospitality education, for both cooks, service and management personnel. Originating in France, it now has 35 schools on five continents.

    The inspiration for the school began in 1578, with a group of French knights called L’Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit. Each member wore the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a blue ribbon.

    The knights became known for extravagant and luxurious banquets, known as “cordons bleus.” The order closed with the French Revolution. In the late 19th century, the name was revived by a French culinary magazine, La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu. It offered lessons by some of the best chefs in France, which eventually grew to become a cooking school. Le Cordon Bleu cooking school opened in Paris in 1895 and became one of the finest cooking schools in the world.

    Recipes for Chicken Cordon Bleu and Veal Cordon Bleu emerged: chicken breasts or veal slices sandwiched with ham and Gruyère cheese, dipped in an egg mixture, rolled with bread crumbs and baked or sautéed.

    Here’s a recipe for Veal Cordon Bleu:




    PRODUCT: Time To Switch To Spring Beer Styles

    One of the great things about the craft beer movement is that it enables us to change our beers with the seasons. Just as you don’t want a heavy, wintery Barolo on a fresh spring day, the same goes with your beer.

    Look for a May bock (Maibock), a style that is brewed to celebrate springtime. Hellesbock (light bock), an identical recipe, is brewed throughout the year but gets the special name for springtime. A lager beer, it is light in color, although heavier in body and higher in alcohol, than a light-hued Pilsner.

    Samuel Adams has brewed Apine Spring especially for the season. A bright, citrusy, unfiltered lager, it’s a bit darker in color—golden—than a typical Hellesbock/Maibock. The citrus and spice come from Noble Tettnang hops, grown at the bottom of the Alps. A slightly sweet malt character comes from the German Pilsner and honey malts. The ABV is 5.5%.

    The brewery sees it as “the perfect transition from winter’s heavier brews to the lighter beers of summer…[with] the balanced maltiness and hoppiness of a Helles, the smoothness and slightly higher alcohol of a traditional spring bock, and the unfiltered appearance of a Kellerbier.”


    It’s time for a refreshing draught of Alpine Spring. Photo courtesy Samuel Adams | Boston Beer Company.


    Alpine Spring pairing suggestions include grilled chicken and Italian fare. Here are more food pairing ideas.


    BOCKBIER. Bock beer, a dark lager, has a strong malt flavor and full mouthfeel. It has that “refreshing lager zing” that makes it taste like springtime. Bock is the German word for strong, referring to a strong beer brewed from barley malt.

    DOPPELBOCK. Double bock originated during Lent. Since 1654 the monks of St. Francis of Paula in Munich had brewed bock beer. Sometime after 1799, they began to brew a thicker beer to provide them with nourishment during the Lenten fast. It was called Salvator (Latin for savior). Later, the beer was sold to the general population as Doppelbock. Doppelbock is German for extra-strong—around 7.5% alcohol by volume, or stronger. It is a bottom-fermented beer, tawny or dark brown in color. It’s a southern Germany spring specialty, seasonally brewed in March and April. The monks’ brewery, Paulaner, is still making beer.

    WHEAT BEER. Wheat beer (Witbier in Belgium, Weissbier in Germany) is a lighter style. Some brews are spiced with coriander and orange peel—not unlike the citrus-spice flavors of Alpine Spring—for a sunnier disposition. Wheat beer is brewed with a significant proportion of wheat, which provides a distinctive pale color, creamy texture and a light, sweet flavor, often with fruit and spice notes.

    LAMBIC. Belgium is the home of a variety of fruit beer known as lambic. Lambics are typically wheat beer recipes brewed with fruits ranging from cherries and raspberries (the classics) to mango and peach (the moderns). While most beers are distinguished by their flavors of hops and malt, lambic is an ancient style of beer that is naturally bone dry, acidic and effervescent. It is bottom-fermented. The wort, often kept in ventilated attics, is allowed to spontaneously ferment with wild, airborne yeasts.

    Check out the different types of beer in our Beer Glossary.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Use An Avocado As A Bowl

    Turn an avocado into a bowl for eggs. Photo courtesy Avocados From Mexico.


    We love using avocados as an “edible bowl,” stuffed with salads (bean, chicken, citrus, corn, egg, rice, seafood, tuna), chili, as a shrimp cocktail bowl and as a salsa holder with a side of tortilla chips.

    But we hadn’t considered eggs until we received this avocado poached egg from Avocados From Mexico. It pairs an egg and a heart-healthy avocado with a smoky tomato sauce called Diablo Sauce. Make it as a delicious and fun dish for Easter breakfast.

    The recipe was developed by Chef Ina Pinkney of Ina’s Restaurant in Chicago. It yields two portions.



  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 can (15-ounces) fire roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 large avocado
  • 2 medium eggs, room temperature


    1. Prepare Diablo Sauce at least 20 minutes before starting eggs. In a large skillet, heat oil until hot. Add garlic; cook and stir until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer 20 minutes, stirring frequently. When sauce is almost finished, place a steamer basket over one inch of water; bring water to a simmer.

    2. Meanwhile, cut avocado in half and remove seed. Cut a thin slice from the bottom of each avocado half to create a flat surface. Carefully scoop out about half of the avocado flesh without breaking through the flesh at the base; reserve for garnish, toast spread or later use. Season with salt.

    3. Into each avocado half, crack one egg; season with salt. Place avocado halves in steaming basket; cover until eggs are poached, about 5 to 7 minutes.

    4. Transfer each avocado half to a serving plate. Sprinkle with paprika and serve with Diablo Sauce.

    Find more egg recipes in our Egg Section.

    Find more avocado recipes at



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Kurobuta Ham, The Best Ham

    Kurobuta ham has been called the world’s best ham. It‘s also known as the Kobe beef of ham, because of the fine intramuscular marbling that makes the meat melt-in-your-mouth tender.

    While Kurobuta (koo-row-BOO-tuh) ham isn’t quite as pricey as Kobe beef, it is a special-occasion luxury.

    Snake River Farms, a Kurobuta producer, has created a more affordable “Mini Karver,” a three-pound ham that serves four as a main course or more as an appetizer ($40.00).

    Try one this Easter, or any time you hunger for great ham. It’s also the best Easter gift, with all due respect to chocolate bunnies and buttercream eggs.

    Read the full review.

  • Cuts and types of ham.
  • The history of ham.
  • Ham and ham glaze recipes.
  • Ham trivia quiz #1.
  • Ham trivia quiz #2.

    Three pounds of ham perfection. Photo courtesy Snake River Farms.




    FOOD HOLIDAY: Tofu Chocolate Mousse Recipe For National Chocolate Mousse Day

    A chocolate mousse alternative that can be
    vegan. Photo courtesy


    Allergic to eggs? Lactose intolerant? Vegan? Cholesterol-averse?

    You can still celebrate National Chocolate Mousse Day, April 3rd, by substituting soft tofu.

    While traditional mousse recipes use heavy cream and eggs (high in calories and cholesterol), House Foods America provides a healthier and vegan-optional alternative for you to celebrate National Chocolate Mousse Day.

    House Food’s Soft (Silken) Tofu is a flavorless ingredient that can transform itself into any flavor or texture (find more recipes on the company’s website).

    The recipe delivers a smooth texture that, when blended with semi-sweet chocolate, milk or coconut milk, vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom, creates a luscious dessert that tastes just as indulgent as the traditional version.


    This recipe serves 4-6, and takes only 15 minutes to prepare.


  • 1 package (14 ounces) soft tofu
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup of milk (can substitute coconut milk)
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

    1. Open the tofu package and strain out the water. Remove tofu and blend in blender until smooth.

    2. With the stove on low or simmer, melt the chocolate chips and milk in a pot, stirring until smooth. Add the tofu mixture and stir until it is blended evenly with the chocolate.

    3. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom. Quickly remove from heat, cool in a bowl or individual serving dishes and set in fridge until the mixture becomes mousse-thick.

    You can add your own personal twist to this recipe:

  • Top the pudding with toasted slivered almonds or other nuts, coconut shavings, or cocoa powder.
  • Or, try these 12 mousse garnishes.
  • For a spicy Mexican chocolate mousse, replace the 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom with 1/2 teaspoon of chile powder.
  • Add a half teaspoon of agave nectar for an even sweeter pudding.

    The Classic Chocolate Mousse Recipe

    Here’s Julia Child’s chocolate mousse recipe, and the history of mousse.



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