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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 July, 2012

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Nonna Iole’s Soffritto

Soffritto is a mixture of minced vegetables and aromatic herbs cooked in extra virgin olive oil. The name means “fry slowly,” although you might think of it as “yummy flavor.”

This healthful cooking ingredient enhances the flavor of many everyday dishes, and is waiting to be your new best friend in the kitchen. The basic recipe combines carrots, celery, garlic, onions, salt and sometimes a splash of white wine vinegar.

You can make your own soffritto and store it in the fridge (we’ve included the recipe in the full review). Or you can buy a jar of Nonna Iole’s Soffritto. It’s a quick, easy and delicious solution to amping up your food. It’s also a nice party favor, stocking stuffer and small ”thank you” gift.

In fact, you can buy boxed gift sets as well as individual jars on the company website. You’ll also find a store locator.

Check out the full review.

 

Soffritto: Your new friend in the kitchen. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

 

  

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COOKING VIDEO: How To Mince An Onion

 

Many recipes call for minced vegetables and herbs. Unless you’re a committed chopper, it can be annoying to cut things so small.

Yet, there’s an easy way to create those tiny pieces—the way professional chefs do.

Here, chef Jim Davis shows us the correct way to mincing onions. It’s well worth your time to watch the video: You’ll use the technique for the rest of your life!

   

   

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TIP OF THE DAY: Tobiko Caviar Garnish

How many ways can you think of to use this
crunchy, colorful garnish? Photo courtesy
Bemka.com.

 

If you’re a sushi fan, you’ve seen tobiko (also spelled tobikko). They’re the tiny, crunchy, nutty beads of flying fish roe.

They’re served in a gunkan-maki (battleship roll), on uramaki (reverse rolls) and as a sashimi garnish.

Originally available in orange, the popularity of tobiko has led to a rainbow of options: flavored tobiko in black (colored with squid ink), green (wasabi), pale yellow (yuzu) and red (ume plum), as well as spicy orange.

Tobiko is an asset in the kitchen, where you can use it to add instant festivity:

  • To sauces
  • To garnish chicken/shrimp salad, fish and seafood (including ceviche—and we love it with scallops), soups
  • In risottos
  • On poached eggs, in omelets
  • In a plethora of other savory applications—you can even float some on a Martini
  •  

    Even smaller than tobiko eggs is masago, called capelin roe or smelt roe in English. You’ll also find the larger, more flavorful and pricier ikura, salmon roe.

    Tobiko caviar comes from the flying fish of Iceland and the Pacific Ocean. It’s available at better supermarkets, at specialty food stores and online.

    So for special occasions, pick up a jar. You’ll get a lot of bang (or is that crunch) for the buck.

    Check out other types of caviar in our Caviar Glossary.

     
      

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    PRODUCT: New York Style Mini Bagel Chips

    New York Style is known for its bagel chips, available in seven flavors.

    The company has recently launched mini bagel chips, in BBQ, Cheddar, Garlic and Sea Salt.

    For us, the standout is Garlic: a buttery, garlicky chip that’s delicious:

  • Plain, with a beer
  • With a dip
  • Atop or aside soup or salad
  • Crafted into a tasty snack (we topped ours with cream cheese and [variously] sliced olives, salsa and jalapeño jam)
  • As a base for canapés
  •  

    The line is certified kosher by OU.

    Find the store nearest you with the company’s store locator.
     
    Find more of our favorite crackers and snacks.

     

    Mini bagel chips in four flavors: We like Garlic the best. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cold Infusion Tea

    There’s no need to boil water to home-brew iced tea. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.

     

    If you brew pots and pots of iced tea to get through the summer heat, here’s a way to do it that requires no hot water.

    Instead of brewing tea the conventional way, in boiled or near-boiled water, do it via cold infusion. The tea steeps in cold water—really!

    The process might sound strange, but it works and can produce even more highly-flavored tea.

  • Instead of the conventional steep in very hot water for three to five minutes, cold infusion steeps the tea in cold water over eight hours or overnight.
  • The process draws out the natural sweetness in the tea leaf. And since it’s such a gentle process, it’s hard to over-brew and draw out the bitter tanins as steeping in boiling water can.
  • To make a batch, add a generous two teaspoons of tea (or two tea bags) to 8 cups of cold water. Refrigerate for four or five hours. Strain as needed and serve.
  •  

    Results are more noticeable depending on the type of tea used. Cold infusion shows Darjeeling tea to better advantage, for example.

    INFUSE OTHER FLAVORS

    You can add another layer of flavor by infusing herbs or fruits with the tea.

    Mint is the herb standard-bearer for tea; but if you have other sweet fresh herbs at hand (such as basil, lemon basil or rosemary), use them. Crush the herbs in your hand first, to release the aromatic oils.

    Or, slice in some stone fruits—cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums or nectarines.

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COLD INFUSION TEA & SUN TEA

    Sun tea is a similar process: tea made with cold water instead of hot water. The difference is that it is placed in a sunny location to steep, and the warmth of the sun speeds up the steeping process.

    To make sun tea, follow the same instructions as for cold infusion, but let the tea steep in the sun for four hours—on a window ledge, the porch or other sunny spot. Then refrigerate.

    As with cold infusion tea, experts note that the gently slow-brewed, tea has stronger flavor than conventionally hot brewed tea.

    Let us know how you like it!

    Find more iced tea recipes in our Gourmet Tea Section.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Things To Do With Matcha Tea

    Matcha green tea is used in the Japanese tea ceremony. The tender, shade-grown leaves, known as tencha, are stone-ground to a fine powder (here’s a kit to make your own). Whisked into a bowl of hot water, it produces a bright, grassy brew.

    But Americans are more familiar with green tea ice cream is made with matcha tea, one of the finest Japanese teas.

    It’s not just delicious: It’s full of antioxidants. Matcha delivers much more of them: 1385 ORAC units per gram, compared to 253 for goji berries, 105 for pomegranate, 93 for wild blueberries and 60 for açaí (details).

    RECIPE: MATCHA ICE CREAM

    Here’s a super-easy recipe to make green tea ice cream at home, no ice cream maker required:

    1. Soften a pint of high-quality vanilla ice cream until it is malleable.

    2. Place the ice cream in a large mixing bowl. Stir in two tablespoons of matcha tea and blend well with a large spoon.

    3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or refill the carton.

    4. Return to the freezer and chill until set.

     

    Mmm: matcha ice cream. Photo courtesy Republic Of Tea.

     

    MORE TO DO WITH MATCHA TEA

     

    To cut back on expense, matcha can be
    purchased in tins one-third this size. Photo
    courtesy Republic Of Tea.

     

    You can enjoy cup after cup of hot or iced matcha tea, or use it in these everyday foods:

  • Lattes & Smoothies. For a latte, add one-third of a teaspoon to heated or steamed milk, and sweeten to taste. For a smoothie, add 1 teaspoon of matcha into a cup with a bit of hot water, to make a paste. Add the paste to the other ingredients.
  • Baked Goods. Mix a tablespoon of matcha into pound cake and yellow cupcake recipes. Citrus highlights, such as a tablespoon or two of lemon juice/zest or yuzu juice, pair well with matcha.
  • Creamy foods. Mix into crème brûlée, sprinkle on yogurt, add to mayonnaise for seafood salads.
  • Color. Add matcha to light-color purées, sauces and soups to brighten the color and add flavor. We like it in parsnip purées. Add it right before you purée.
  • Oatmeal. Add 1-2 teaspoons to 1 cup oats, before cooking.
  • Finishing Salt. Mix 2:1 sea salt and matcha to add a finishing touch to savory dishes and vegetables. We like it with asparagus and also with hard-cooked eggs.
  • Spice Rub. Add to a spice rub for grilled meats and poultry (especially duck).
  • Ice Cubes. Make matcha ice cubes from cold or room temperature matcha tea. Use them in cocktails, lemonade, sparkling water and to keep iced matcha tea from diluting.
  •  

    WHY IS MATCHA SO EXPENSIVE?

    Matcha tea is expensive, but worth it if you love the flavor of green tea.

    According to MatchaSource.com, Japanese tea, in general, tends to be more expensive than teas produced in other countries. It’s the rule of supply and demand: Japan is a small country (think of how much agricultural land there is in China and India, by comparison). The country only exports about one percent of its teas.

    Production is also more expensive. Only the youngest, sweetest leaves are used. Covering the fields with bamboo mats (tarps) to create the shade-grown tea weakens the tea plants, and a longer recovery period is needed before they can be harvested again.

    And at the factory, the stone grinders work slowly in order to maintain the nutrients in the tea, including the amino acid, L-theanine, which focuses the brain; ir may help the body’s immune response to infection. Each grinder produces only about 40 grams of matcha in an hour.

      

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    NEWS: Chocolate Is Good For Your Health, Really

    Is chocolate good for your health?

    For too many years, we’ve been hearing “health food” claims for dark chocolate—without any support as to what intensity of cacao (dark chocolate can range from 50% to 100% cacao) how much chocolate, and oh, by the way, how the healthfulness is offset by all the sugar (the remaining percentage, that isn’t cacao, is largely sugar).

    Chocolate bars also include fat, but the fat is cocoa butter, a heart-healthy fat.(details).

    And what about that industry-insider knowledge that, using conventional roasting methods, most of the flavanols (the antioxidant compounds) are roasted out of the chocolate?

    There’s hope on the horizon for those who want to see chocolate as a healthy food—but it’s not going to be your basic Hershey bar.

    Barry Callebaut of Switzerland, world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, has received support from the European Food Safety Authority for its claim that cocoa flavanols, the antioxidant compounds that are found in cocoa powder and dark chocolate, can be good for blood circulation (more about antioxidants).

     

    Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate producer, has pioneered high-flavanol chocolate. Photo courtesy Barry Callebaut.

     

    The chocolate tested was made with a special high flavanol cocoa produced by the company. If the health claim receives final approval from the European Commission later this year, European manufacturers that use high-flavanol cocoa may soon be able to make health claims on everything from candy to chocolate drinks, cereal bars and cookies.

    A final decision is expected at the beginning of next year.

    Since 2005, Barry Callebaut has conducted more than 20 clinical studies looking at effects of cocoa flavanols on people. The tests used cocoa powder and chocolate products made through a special process developed by the company. The process preserves up to 80% of the flavanols that normally would be destroyed in the conventional chocolate-making process.

    Flavanols have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and reduce the risk of heart disease by stimulating production of nitric oxide, which relaxes vessels.

    Barry Callebaut submitted evidence from its studies, showing that the intake of 200 milligrams of cocoa flavanols a day contributes to normal blood flow. This amount can be consumed in 10 grams/.35 ounce of the specially-produced high-flavanol dark chocolate. The standard Hershey bar weights four times as much: 43grams/1.5 ounces.

    Here’s the full article.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Trade Lettuce For Shredded Cabbage

    Add anything into the fridge to shredded cabbage for a crunchy salad. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Some weeks, we end up having more meals out than we expected, or get shipments of perishables that we need to consume ASAP (fridge space at THE NIBBLE is always at premium). As a result, the romaine and baby lettuces we purchase for our daily luncheon salad often brown and wilt.

    After throwing out one head too many, we switched to bagged shredded cabbage. It’s hardier, crunchier, anti-carcinogenic and typically less expensive. And while it’s more expensive than buying a whole head, it’s easier to cram into our overstuffed fridge.

    We love the crunch. And, two more bonus: It’s pre-washed, and cabbage is a member of the cancer-fighting cruciferous* group of vegetables.

    Look through the fridge and throw in everything you have, from raw or cooked green beans.

  • Bell Pepper
  • Carrots
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Olives
  • Onion or green onion
  • Pickles—cucumbers or other pickled vegetables (we pickle our own)
  • Radishes
  • Anything you find, from capers and cheese to zucchini
  •  

    You can use a conventional vinaigrette or make a cole slaw dressing by mixing equal parts mayonnaise and white wine vinegar.

    And of course, you can use shredded red cabbage, or a mixture of both red and white cabbage.

    CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD

    You can also turn a cabbage salad into a Chinese chicken salad with the addition of some mandarin orange segments, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a splash of soy sauce in your vinaigrette or a 3:1 mixture of salad oil and sesame oil. If you have bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, daikon and garlic chives, so much the better. But European cabbage has more crunch than Chinese cabbage.

    Find more of our favorite salad recipes.

     
    *The Brassicaceae botanical family, also called the cruciferous group, includes cancer-fighters such as bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens and turnips, among other veggies.

      

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    PRODUCT: B.W. Cooper’s Iced Tea Concentrate

    In our childhood, our mom made pitcher after pitcher of iced tea using a bottled tea concentrate named Redi Tea—at least that’s what we recall. Online searches for “Redi Tea” yielded only that “White Rose Redi-Tea was the world’s first instant iced tea powder, introduced in 1953.”

    Perhaps by our time, they had come up with a concentrate; but it’s no longer made. There are other brands filling the void—in fact, the biggest user of iced tea concentrate is foodservice (restaurants, delis and other businesses that provide prepared food).

    Yes, fellow iced tea lovers: The majority of iced tea served in U.S. restaurants isn’t fresh brewed from leaves. Most of it is made from a tea concentrate: just add cold water to the liquid, toss in some ice and serve it to the customer.

     

    The fastest way to quality iced tea: Just mix concentrate in water and add ice! Photo courtesy B. W. Cooper’s.

     

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Tea concentrate is a quick and easy way to serve large quantities of iced tea—or make just one glass, if you’re so disposed. It’s not a lesser product: There are good tea concentrates and mediocre tea bags.

    We recently made the acquaintance of four flavors of B.W. Cooper’s Tea Concentrate. Among his other activities, company founder Barry Cooper is the tea master for Gevalia teas.

    Made with organic tea leaves and mostly presweetened (but still just 16 calories per serving*), all four flavors we tried hit the spot. The line includes:

  • Blackberry Concentrate (Unsweetened)
  • Half & Half Lemonade Tea Concentrate
  • Pomegranate Concentrate (Sweetened)
  • Sweet Concentrate
  • Tropical Green Concentrate (Sweetened)
  • Unsweetened Concentrate
  •  
    There are 32-ounce bottles on Home Shopping Network and 64-ounce bottles at Sam’s Club and Coffee.org, the biggest selection we found. If we do the math correctly, the large format makes 16 gallons of tea (if you’re a big iced tea drinker, that goes pretty quickly).

    There are also mini bottles: four ounces of concentrate that make one gallon of tea. We like them as small gifts, party favors and stocking stuffers.

    For more information, check out the company website, CooperTea.com.

    Find more of our favorite teas in our Gourmet Tea Section.

    *The principal sweeteners are non-caloric sucralose and acesulame potassium (ace-K—details about these sweeteners). But there‘s no artificial flavor. There is also a bit of corn syrup (not HFCS), which the company says improves the mouthfeel.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Safe Packing For Picnics

    Forget those picturesque picnic baskets: You
    need an insulated cooler. Shown: the
    Koolatron.

     

    It’s National Picnic Month: You’ve got a few more days to celebrate. How about an impromptu picnic this weekend?

    Every picnic includes perishable foods. If you don’t keep them cool, you could end up with a very different type of memory of the event. Here are food safety tips from Common Ground:

    There is only one way to pack a cooler safely, say the experts at Common Ground, which dispels myths about food and aims to provide confidence about what you feed your family. With picnics, the drill starts with ice.

  • Ice. Most foods need to be kept below 40° Fahrenheit to avoid spoiling. This can only happen with ice (we use reusable ice packs). Heat rises, so be sure to put ice on the bottom of the cooler and pack it tightly around food so that perishable items stay cool.
  •  

  • Cold Meats. Pack perishable foods, like meat and chicken, directly from the refrigerator or freezer. Raw frozen meat acts as another cooling block, helping to keep the cooler temperature lower, for longer. Freezing the meat also reduce bacterial growth on the food and cuts back on dripping inside the cooler.
  • Wrapping and Placement. When transporting food in a cooler with meat or vegetables, wrap food in plastic sealable bags to catch any spills or drips of juice. When raw meat is not bagged and sealed, it can leak to the bottom of the cooler and potentially drip on other foods, causing contamination. If you can pack meat in a separate cooler, so much the better. If you have to pack meat and vegetables in the same cooler, pack meat products on the bottom so they can’t drip onto other foods.
  •  

  • Grilling. If you’re grilling at the picnic site, make sure food is cooked to the right temperature. The proper internal grilling temperatures range from 145° Fahrenheit for beef and pork, to 165° Fahrenheit for poultry. Bring a meat thermometer with you (here’s a special grilling meat thermometer). Leave raw meat in the cooler until you’re ready to grill it. Don’t leave grilled meat out in the heat; put it back into the cooler until someone is ready to eat it.
  • Separate Coolers. When traveling long distances, pack two separate coolers: one with food and the other with drinks. People will be opening the drink cooler more often, which will raise the temperature in the food cooler. Another idea is to freeze some bottled water and other bottled drinks, not only to keep them cooler for later in the day, but to act as extra “ice” for the food cooler.
  • Shade. To maintain cool temperatures, open and close the cooler lids quickly and store coolers in a shady spot.
  •  

    This cooler acts a a mini fridge: it plus into a 12-volt outlet, such as the car’s cigarette lighter. From Koolatron.

     

  • Safe Zone. Discard any perishable food that is left out for more than two hours: It will be at risk for increased bacterial growth. If temperatures are above 90° Fahrenheit, one hour is the maximum time food should sit out.
  • Clean Utensils. Cooking utensil safety is an important of food safety. To avoid cross contamination, use different utensils for cooking and cutting meats and vegetables. Store utensils outside of the cooler in separate plastic bags, or wrapped in clean kitchen towels. Use moist towelettes to clean hands between handling different foods.
     
    And have a great picnic!

      

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