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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 August, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Cheese For Lactose Intolerant People

Cabot Cheddar labeled “Lactose Free.” Photo
by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

 

The other day, at a social gathering, one twentysomething guest turned down a Godiva liqueur-spiked milkshake, announcing he was lactose intolerant.

“So am I,” said another guest. “Me too,” chimed a third. “And cheese was my favorite food.”

We can develop lactose intolerance at an early age: After being weaned, roughly 70% of the world’s children begin to lose the ability to make lactase, the enzyme which breaks down lactose in the intestine. This lack of lactase causes lactose intolerance. Much of it is undiagnosed, brushed off as a generic stomach ache.

Today’s tip is for anyone who may have noticed some type of digestive upset after eating cheese.

Most cheeses are 98% lactose free, but the 2% that remains can cause severe digestive problems.

There’s good news here, though: Most aged, hard cheeses are naturally lactose free, including the popular and versatile Cheddar. You might not be able to enjoy fresh goat cheese, Brie and mozzarella without side effects. But don’t lament what you can’t have: Rejoice in what you can have.

 

That list starts with Cheddar. In the cheese-making process, the whey, where most of the lactose resides, is drained from the curd in the milk. With hard, aged cheeses like Cheddar, the remaining 2% of the lactose is consumed in the aging process.

Since most people don’t realize this, Cabot Cheese, a Cheddar specialist, has been labeling one of its products as “Lactose Free.” That’s like labeling olive oil “Cholesterol Free,” but it’s part of the education process for the majority of people, who just don’t know.

Other cheeses to try: Colby, Swiss, Parmesan or other hard grating cheeses such as Asiago, Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano.

Note, however, that people who have zero lactase activity (are completely lactose intolerant) may not be able to eat any kind of dairy product unless it has undergone an extra step in production: a specific enzymatic process that predigests all the lactose into galactose and glucose. Green Valley makes excellent lactose-free yogurt and sour cream. More products like this are coming onto the market, but be prepared to pay a bit more for the extra time and effort required.

Do you like cottage cheese? It can range from 0 to 4 grams of lactose per half cup. You can contact the producer to see where a particular brand ranks; or you can try different brands to see which you tolerate.

Like American cheese on your burger? Switch to Cheddar or Swiss: A 1.5-ounce slice of processed American cheese can contain up to 6 grams of lactose!

 

LACTOSE IS HIDING IN YOUR FAVORITE FOODS

While you might expect to find milk derivatives in processed foods such as blue cheese dressing, cocoa mixes, cream soups and frostings, you may find them in unexpected places.

It’s used in breads, candies, cold cuts, cookies, dry cereals, frozen breaded fish and chicken, hot dogs and—surprise—packets of sugar substitutes, where it is used to bulk up the packets. The spoonable versions—what you’d sprinkle on cereal—have even more of it.

Beyond giveaways such as buttermilk, cream, half and half and milk, words to look for and avoid:

  • Lactose
  • Malted milk
  • Margarine
  • Milk solids
  • Nonfat milk solids
  • Sour cream
  • Sweet cream
  • Whey
  •  
    Read the labels carefully.

     

    Hard grating cheeses are lactose free. Enjoy! Photo by Yin Yang | IST.

     

    Here’s a collection of lactose education materials from the National Dairy Council.

    Find more of our favorite cheeses—including lactose-free cheeses—in our Cheese Section.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Prometheus Springs Spicy Juice Drinks

    Fruit drinks, doubly spiced. Photo courtesy
    Prometheus Springs.

     

    Prometheus Springs is an exciting new line of juice drinks. You might call it the hottest line around, thanks to delectable blends of fruit juice, hot spices and capsaicin, the component that gives the heat to hot chiles. As a bonus, it’s certified organic and kosher.

    There’s a big market of people who love spicy foods. They’ll love these terrific, refreshing, spicy drinks, which make great cocktail mixers as well.

    We love every one of the six flavors:

  • Citrus Cayenne
  • Lemon Ginger
  • Lychee Wasabi
  • Mango Chili
  • Pom Black Pepper
  • Spicy Pear
  •  
    In addition to the spices in each fruit, capsaicin—the heat component of hot chiles—is added for double sizzle.

     

    But the drinks are “mainstream hot.” We prefer mild salsa, for example, and found the heat levels to be just fine.

    Check out the full review, and perhaps send some Prometheus Springs to a spicy-hot loving friend.

    Or, use them to add sizzle to your Labor Day bash.
     
    Find more of our favorite beverages: reviews and recipes.

     
      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Fish Clip Bag Clip

    The clamp-style bag clip is great for bags of potato chips, cookies and other packaging with a long, foldover top. These are generally made from sturdier materials that don’t cinch neatly at the neck—which is why the bag clips were invented.

    But there are other foods in softer packaging—bags of bread, produce bags and such. For these types of foods—anything in bag that you’d twist close—the Fish Clip is the better bag.

    The jaws of the fish open wide, then cinch tight and lock in place. It accommodates a broad variety of package necks, including the smallest (like the bread bag) to the largest cereal bag.

    The clips are magnetic so they can tread water on the fridge until needed. Or, use them for non-food purposes—on filing cabinets, to neaten cable cords—a more colorful substitute for velcro ties.

     

    Fun and really useful: the Fish Clip. Photo courtesy Shrockie.com.

     

    Kids will love them, too. Girls may find themselves appropriating the clips as pigtail holders.

    Think of them as small gifts and stocking stuffers. You can buy them online at Amazon.com.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Party Drink With Berries

    A festive party drink: iced tea with fresh
    berries. Photo © EugeneBochkarev |
    Dreamstime.

     

    How can you turn a plain iced tea, lemonade, soft drink or cocktail into a thing of beauty? With fresh berries!

    Think small: The smaller berries, raspberries and strawberries, work best; you also may be able to find small grapes. If you’d like to add a couple of mint leaves, look for a bunch of mint with smaller leaves.

    HOW TO MAKE A BERRY DRINK

    1. Berries float in liquid, so you need to layer the ice cubes and berries to anchor the fruit.

    2. Add a berry to the glass, followed by a couple of ice cubes to hold the berry down. Keep layering, dispersing the berries evenly around the glass (i.e., not all on one side of the glass).

    3. When you’re finished layering, add the liquid and serve.

    4. Place a few berries on a cocktail pick as the garnish. When people are finished with the drink, they can use the pick to skewer the berries in the glass.

     

    Variations

  • For Memorial Day and Independence Day, make a red, white and blue version with Sprite, gin-and-tonic or other clear drink.
  • For Christmas, use raspberries and mint leaves.
  •  
    What would you layer? Please share.

    Find more of our favorite non-alcoholic drinks and drink recipes.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Gourmet Lemonade

    We recently purchased a bargain-size package of culinary lavender on Amazon.com. Our intent was to make lavender tea,* which we consume by the potfull.

    When a very large pouch of lavender arrived, we had to figure out what to do with all of it. We didn’t want to go the high-calorie dessert route—lavender pound cake, crème brûlée, panna cotta and so forth.

    So lavender iced tea was a no brainer. Then we turned to lavender lemonade, a lovely gourmet twist.

    When we made a four-cup version of this recipe, all the lemonade was gone in a minute. So this larger recipe makes a bit more than a gallon, or 16 eight-ounce servings—two 64-ounce pitchers.

    *Lavender tea recipe: Steep lavender to taste with the tea leaves; start by making just one cup of tea with 1/4 teaspoon per 6 ounces of water, and adjust to strength to taste with a subsequent cup).

    LAVENDER LEMONADE RECIPE

    Ingredients

     

    Make lavender-infused lemonade for a gourmet twist. Photo © Edith Frincu | Dreamstime.

     

  • 3 cups sugar (or make the recipe sugarless and sweeten to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon culinary lavender (culinary lavender is pesticide-free)
  • 2-1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 15 lemons)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BOIL. Boil one gallon of water plus the sugar in a large saucepan.

    2. INFUSE. Add lavender and simmer for 15 minutes. If you don’t want to strain it out, place the lavender in a mesh spice ball/tea infuser.

    3. ADD. Cool to room temperature. Add lemon juice, strain out lavender and chill.

     

    A bunch of dried lavender. Photo by Ewa
    Dacko | SXC.

     

    VARIATIONS

  • Substitute 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 5 limes) for 1/2 cup lemon juice. Replace 3 lemons with 5 limes.
  • Substitute fresh basil, lemon thyme or mint for the lavender.
  • Use honey instead of sugar.
  • Turn some of the tea into ice cubes so you don’t dilute the flavor with ice.
  • For a party, use whole sprigs of culinary lavender for garnish.
  •  
    LAVENDER SIMPLE SYRUP

    You can make lavender simple syrup in advance; then, just spoon it into unsweetened lemonade or iced tea. You get both sweetener and lavender flavor at once!

     

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried lavender buds
  •  
    Preparation

    1. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar fully dissolves.

    2. Add the lavender buds and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain out lavender and let the syrup cool. Keep in a tightly-capped jar (no refrigeration needed) and use it to sweeten plain iced tea, hot tea, unsweetened lemonade and cocktails.

    3. Consider making extra bottles to give as gifts.

     
    MAKE LAVENDER WATER, TOO

    You can also flavor water with lavender. Simmer the lavender in water for 15 minutes, cool and refrigerate.

    MORE LEMONADE TIPS

  • For a zero-calorie drink, use non-caloric sweetener.
  • For a low-glycemic drink, use agave nectar.
  • You can also use this recipe to make fresh limeade.
  • Varying the garnishes makes the recipe “new” each time.
  • A shot of vodka or gin turns lemonade into a splendid cocktail.
  •   

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Benne Wafers (Cookies)

    Benne wafers are small brown-sugar cookies seasoned with sesame seeds. They’ve been popular in the South since the 18th century. How did sesame, which many Americans associate with Asian cuisine, end up in the American South?

    Before we get to the cookies, here’s:

    A HISTORY OF SESAME

    The plant, Sesamum indicum grows wild in Africa; some varieties also grow wild in India. Today, thousands of varieties are cultivated in tropical regions worldwide. The seeds grow in the pods (the fruit) of the plant.

    Sesame seed is the oldest oilseed crop known to man, domesticated more than 5,000 years ago. It has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. The seeds are also rich in calcium, iron, vitamins B and E and zinc, high in protein and cholesterol-free.

    The nutty, buttery taste, which becomes even nuttier when toasted, led to the use of sesame seed by cuisines around the globe.

    Now on to America:

     

    Benne cookies, a.k.a. sesame cookies, from Charleston Cookie Company. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    In Colonial times, a small amount of benne—the Bantu word for sesame—arrived in Charleston, possibly in the pockets of enslaved Bantu who considered the seeds to bring good luck (irony noted). The seeds were planted, and by the 18th century the crop became cultivated extensively throughout the South.

    BENNE WAFERS EMERGE

    According to Southern Sisters Bakers, which makes benne wafers, when plantation owners had large parties, they sent their guests home with benne wafers as a good luck party favor.

    Benne wafers have a richer, less sugary flavor than many cookies, thanks to the use of brown sugar instead of hite sugar. Some recipes add 1/4 teaspoon salt for a subtle salt counterpoint; the salt adds nuance and also makes the wafers pair well with cheese. If you like sesame honey crunch—those small rectangular candies of sesame seeds in a base of honey (we love them)—you’ll like benne cookies.

    You can get a gift tin with a Charleston watercolor on the lid from Byrd Cookies.

    If you want to bake your own benne wafers, here’s a recipe. Like chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies and many others, there are endless recipe variations. You can search online to find one that best suits your tastes.
     
    Find more of our favorite cookies and cookie recipes.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Bacon Makes It Better

    Bacon cole slaw with Wisconsin blue cheese. Photo courtesy EatWisconsinCheese.com.

     

    If you’re looking for a way to change up your summer cole slaw and potato salad, we recommend bacon (or vegetarian bacon). Or, you can substitute the vegetarian, kosher Baconnaise, a bacon-flavored mayonnaise we love. Real bacon or faux flavor, the smokiness adds a level of deliciousness.

    We presented a variation of this “red, white and blue” cole slaw recipe for Independence Day, but we didn’t add the bacon.

    Yesterday we found ourselves with a package of Niman Ranch bacon and this recipe from EatWisconsinCheese.com. We made it and declared it a hit.

    BACON COLE SLAW

    Ingredients

  • 6 cups cabbage, shredded (a large head provides up to 10
    cups)
  • 6 slices bacon, fried, drained and crumbled
  • 3/4 cup (4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 3/4 cup prepared slaw dressing
  • For Slaw Dressing

  • 1-1/4 cup mayonnaise (we really like Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 cup cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon sugar (used to cut the tartness of the vinegar, but if you’re cutting back on sugar, leave it out)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. DRESSING. Combine all ingredients in a jar; cap and shake well. Refrigerate for an hour or longer to let the flavors blend.

    2. COMBINE. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; mix well.

    3. CHILL. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors blend.

    Variations

  • Adapt the recipe to potato salad using the same dressing. We add diced bell peppers (any and all colors) and red onion to our potato salad.
  • Use wasabi mayonnaise (make your own or buy Trader Joe’s or The Ojai Kitchen’s) or other flavored mayonnaise. The Ojai Cook, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week, makes a variety of flavors of lemon-accented Lemonaise, available on Amazon.com. Choices include:
     
    Cha Cha Chipotle Lemonaise
    Fire & Spice Lemonaise (tomato, cayenne and cumin)
    Garlic Herb Lemonaise
    Green Dragon Lemonaise (wasabi)
    Latin Lemonaise With Chiles, Lime & Cumin
    Lemonaise
    Lemonaise Light

  •  

    NIMAN RANCH BACON, NITRITES & OTHER THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

    Niman Ranch bacon costs more, but its money well spent. All Niman Ranch meats support small, family-run, sustainably-managed American farms. The meats have much better flavor and texture than factory-farmed meat. (If you haven’t seen The Meatrix, it will open your eyes).

    The other difference is the cure—a topic filled with misinformation and controversy about nitrates and nitrites. The issues are presented below.

    Niman Ranch bacon has a noticeably lower moisture content than supermarket brands, and thus shrinks a bit less, with less curling, as it cooks.

    Another observation: The bacon is thicker and browns more slowly, so you can make it well done without over-crisping.

     

    Niman Ranch Bacon. Photo by Evan Dempsey | THE NIBBLE.

     
    What Is Uncured Bacon?

    Conventional bacon gets a “quick cure”: The pork belly is injected with brine plus the chemical form of sodium nitrate (which converts to sodium nitrite in the processing). Sodium nitrite extends the shelf life of the meat, prevents bacterial growth and provides the familiar pink or red color.

    Uncured bacon typically uses a nitrate/nitrite-free cure with celery juice, salt and a lactic acid starter culture.

    Then why is it called “uncured?”

    Under federal labeling laws, if a meat product is not cured using the chemical form of sodium nitrate, it must be labeled uncured, whether or not it is preserved by another preservation technique.

    Add this to the mountains of confusing government legislation. It’s easy for most consumers to think that uncured meat is less preserved, and thus more dangerous (the danger is the potential growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism).

    But there’s more:

    Celery is a natural source of sodium nitrate, so nitrites go into the meat anyway. But by adding nitrite-rich celery juice to the meat instead of actual chemicals, manufacturers legally to claim “no added nitrates.”

    SODIUM NITRITE DOESN’T CAUSE CANCER

    Here’s the lowdown on this issue:

    Several decades ago, an animal study that got significant media attention concluded that sodium nitrite was a carcinogen. Large amounts of the chemical were fed to the animals.

    But follow-up studies—which did not get hyped by the media—did not show the correlation. According to MeatSafety.org:

    Numerous scientific panels have evaluated sodium nitrite safety and the conclusions have essentially been the same: sodium nitrite is not only safe, it’s an essential public health tool because it has a proven track record of preventing botulism. The National Toxicology Program, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, conducted a multi-year study to evaluate sodium nitrite’s safety. The study found that sodium nitrite was safe at the levels used.

    According to the FDA, sodium nitrite does not become toxic or increase risk of cancer in doses up to 10 mg of sodium nitrite per pound of body weight. This translates to an intake of 19 pounds of cured meat for a 150-pound individual.

    So: Buy Niman Ranch bacon because it’s sustainable and tastes better—not because of “no added nitrates or nitrites.”

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Savory Ways To Enjoy Watermelon

    Watermelon, cucumber and shrimp are a
    great flavor pairing. Watermelon can be a
    base for other savory foods as well. Photo
    courtesy Watermelon.org.

     

    Yesterday we offered dessert recipe ideas for watermelon, including watermelon “cupcakes” and watermelon “pizza.”

    Today, we present savory watermelon recipes.

    SOPHISTICATED WATERMELON RECIPES

  • Canapés. Instead of bread, use rectangles of watermelon. Top with ham, shrimp, cheese, olives, capers and other favorite ingredients.
  • Chutney. Watermelon Chutney is delicious with pork dishes and grilled poultry.
  • Finger Food. There are lots of choices here, including Smoked Salmon & Watermelon Circles.
  • Prosciutto. For an appetizer, serve sliced watermelon with prosciutto, or wrap it to create Prosciutto-Wrapped Watermelon, Brie & Figs
  • Rounds. Use a large cookie cutter or a saucer to cut circles of watermelon, and build a dish on top of them. The photo shows a Shrimp Cocktail built this way.
  • Salad. Try a Sweet & Sour Watermelon & Cucumber Salad.
  • Salsa. Watermelon is delicious in fresh salsa. Check out this variety of recipes, or try this Jalapeño & Shrimp Pico de Gallo.
  •  

  • Sandwiches. Add a slice of watermelon to a grilled chicken, pork loin or smoked salmon sandwich. It works with the protein as well as with the mustard. Really!
  • Seafood Cocktail. Add balls of watermelon to a conventional seafood cocktail. Or make Watermelon Crab/Shrimp Cups, mounding crab or shrimp salad into the center of the cup.
  •  

    FUN WATERMELON RECIPES

  • Caprese Salad. Give a twist to this popular stack of tomato, mozzarella and basil, by substituting watermelon for the tomato: Watermelon Caprese Salad.
  • Creative Cube. If you have the patience, we love this Rubik’s Cube-style Wacky Cube appetizer. You can assign the task to older children.
  • Kabobs: Grill cubes of watermelon with shrimp, scallops or other fish/seafood. Or skewer poached shrimp and watermelon to make Shrimp Satay Skewers.
  • Other Salads. Watermelon is delicious with blue cheese, feta, goat cheese and mozzarella, as we demonstrated in this recent salad recipe. You can add watermelon to just about any salad. We love it in carrot salad with raisins.
  • Party Snack (photo at right): A Watermelon And Cheese Checkerboard is relatively easy to make and sure to delight. Your friends will want to copy this one for game time snacking.
  •  

    Make a watermelon checkerboard with your favorite cheese. We made the checkers from artisan sausage; you can grab the nearest pepperoni. Photo courtesy Watermelon.org.

     

    Find more watermelon recipes at Watermelon.org.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Enjoy Watermelon

    The healthy cupcake alternative: watermelon “cupcakes” with yogurt frosting. Photo courtesy Watermelon.org.

     

    Today is National Watermelon Day. If you’ve only enjoyed watermelon by the slice or in fruit salad—or a Watermelon Martini—here are new ways to enjoy the summer favorite:

  • Chocolate Watermelon. Drizzle a slice of watermelon with chocolate sauce.
  • Coconut “Cake.” Cut 8-9-inch circles from the middle of a large watermelon. Use them as cake layers and fill with coconut whipped cream.
  • Cupcakes. Make watermelon “cupcakes” by adding scoops of fresh watermelon to paper cupcake holders. Ice with vanilla or fruit yogurt, and garnish with sprinkles or chopped nuts (photo at left).
  • Dessert Nachos. Top triangles of watermelon with vanilla yogurt and pistachio nuts or chocolate chips.
  • Dessert Pizza. Top a circle of watermelon, cut into triangular slices, with coconut, raisins, sultanas and white chocolate chips (photo below). To make this your fruit-and-cheese course, replace the coconut with crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese.
  •  

  • Dippers. For a healthy snack, serve watermelon spears with a dip of fruit yogurt.
  • Ice Cream Topping. Purée watermelon and use it as a sauce on frozen yogurt, ice cream or sorbet. It’s a more summery version of raspberry purée. Use any leftover purée to make a Watermelon Martini.
  • Sorbet. Make conventional sorbet or granita.
  • Sundae. Watermelon pairs nicely with pistachio or vanilla ice cream. Top a scoop of fresh watermelon with a scoop of ice cream.
  •  
    These and many other delicious recipes are available at Watermelon.org.
     
    Tomorrow: savory watermelon recipes.

     

    For dessert: watermelon “pizza.” Photo courtesy Watermelon.org.

     

    TAKE A FEW MORE BITES
     
    The History Of Watermelon
     

    Watermelon Nutrition

     
    Watermelon Tips: Buying & Storing
     
    Watermelon Martini & Other Watermelon Cocktails
     
    More Watermelon Recipes

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Herbal Water

    Cucumber and dill give a subtle, delightful
    flavor to a carafe of water. Photo © Maxim
    Shebeko | Dreamstime.

     

    Ayala’s Herbal Water is one of our favorite Top Picks of all time. The calorie-free bottled water is flavored with combinations of herbs and spices. Here’s our review.

    It’s not easy to find Ayala’s where we live, but we do the next best thing: We add herbs and spices to pitchers of water. We don’t get the same flavor extraction that Ayala’s does, but we do get a subtle note of flavor that turns plain water into something special.

    Turn that pitcher of ordinary water into something special with herbs and spices. You may already add lemon or lime slices, berries or cucumber your water pitcher. But try some new flavorings with sweet herbs or spices—in addition to the fruits or by themselves.

    Herbs For Flavoring

  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Mint
  • Rose Geranium
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Before adding herbs to the water, crush them slightly in your hand to release the aromatic oils. Let the flavor infuse for 15 minutes or more. The longer you infuse, the more flavor is extracted.

    Spices For Flavoring

    You can also start with spices, such as:

  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon (stick)
  • Clove (whole)
  • Ginger Root
  • Vanilla Bean
  •  
    Then, try combinations such as ginger-cardamom and mint-clove—and whatever sounds good to you. One of our favorite combinations is cucumber-dill.

    FOOD TRIVIA: LAVENDER

    Lavender derives from the Latin word lavare, to wash. The Romans used it to scent their bathwater.

    The Roman Legion brought the plant to Britain, where it later became popular in homeopathy: to ease stiff joints, battle infections, provide a calming influence and other remedies. Lavender was used for repelling insects, masking odors (potpourri) and was carried in nosegays to try to ward off the plague and pestilence.

    Today, we know that a far better purpose is in baking, condiments, ice cream, iced tea and other recipes—like flavored water.

      

    Comments

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