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Archive for November, 2012

RECIPE: Mistletoe Margarita, A Christmas & New Year’s Margarita Cocktail

The mistletoe plant has ovoid green leaves with small white berries. Why is it associated with Christmas? Here’s one explanation:

The Druids of Britain (think Stonehenge), circa 100 C.E., thought that mistletoe had magic properties: a cure for disease, a fertility aid, protection from witches and so forth. In a special ceremony held in late December or early January, priests would cut pieces of mistletoe from oak trees* and people would hang them in their homes.

Over the centuries, the custom of hanging mistletoe at home endured, and around 800 C.E. it may have become joined with a Viking legend.

In that legend, the god Balder is killed with a poison made from mistletoe (mistletoe is, in fact, poisonous). He is brought back to life by his mother, the goddess Frigga, who is able to reverse the effects of the poison.

Overjoyed, Frigga then kisses everyone who walks under the hanging mistletoe. Fast forward another 13 centuries: We’re still kissing people under the mistletoe.


Enjoy a Mistletoe Margarita—just don’t use real mistletoe! Photo courtesy Hornitos Tequila.


You can simulate mistletoe in a cocktail with a few mint leaves; but never let real mistletoe anywhere near edibles if you want to avoid acute gastrointestinal problems.

*Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. It grows attached to the branches of a tree or shrub, from which it absorbs nutrients.


Ingredients Per Drink

  • 1-1/2 parts Tequila
  • 2 parts pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 part sour mix (see discussion and recipe below)
  • 1/2 part triple sec
  • 1 squeeze fresh lime
  • Mint or sage leaves for garnish (sage leaves more closely resemble mistletoe)
  • Optional: 1/2 part grenadine for more intense color
  • Optional: sugar and lime wedges for rim
  • Optional garnish: pomegranate arils or two cranberries

    Why buy artificially colored, artificially
    flavored, HFCS- and preservative-laden sour
    mix, when you can make your own from
    simple, honest ingredients?†



    1. COMBINE all ingredients except garnishes and sugar in a pitcher. Chill.

    2. RIM the glass with sugar before pouring in the cocktail: Simply run a lime wedge around the edge of the glass and then dip the rim of the glass in a plate of sugar.

    2. POUR and garnish each glass with 2 mint leaves and/or other garnishes. Serve on the rocks or straight up.
    Find more of our favorite Christmas cocktails.


    That specialty product called sour mix—also called Margarita mix, sweet-and-sour mix and whiskey sour mix—is simply a lemon/lime flavored simple syrup (also called cane sugar syrup), a sweetener that dissolves easily in cold beverages.

    Simple syrup can be flavored. When it is citrus flavored, it is called sour mix or sweet and sour mix—sweet from the sugar, sour from the citrus.

    Commercial products abound; but as with many prepared foods, you can make a better, less expensive version by just using sugar, water and citrus juice.

    In fact, if you mix up your fair share of cocktails, you should always have some simple syrup at the ready. When you need sour mix, just stir in the citrus juice.



  • To make simple syrup, mix one part sugar and one part water, stirring over a low heat until the sugar dissolves, about five minutes. If you like things less sweet, use 2:1 water: sugar instead of 1:1.
  • You can use warm or lukewarm water and shake it in a jar for a “no cook” recipe.
  • Store simple syrup at room temperature in a repurposed jar, wine bottle or other tightly-capped container that is pour-friendly.
  • Add citrus juice to make sour mix: 1 cup of juice per cup of water. Half lemon, half lime is conventional; but if you have a passion for one over the other, you can use it exclusively. If you like to experiment with flavors, make grapefruit or yuzu simple syrup; or experiment with different varieties of lemons and limes.
  • Fresh sour mix will keep in the fridge for two weeks or longer (we’ve kept it for months). Simple sugar doesn’t need refrigeration, but once you add the citrus juice, it needs to be preserved.
  • LOW CARB/SUGAR-FREE OPTION: Juice 6 large lemons and 6 large limes; mix juice with 3 cups Splenda and 6 cups water.

    †You’ve seen the three ingredients of natural sour mix in the recipe above. Here’s what’s in a commercial brand like Mrs. T’s: water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium hexametaphosphate, gum acacia, potassium sorbate (preservative), polysorbate 60, natural flavor, ester gum, sodium metabisulfite (preservative), calcium disodium EDTA (preservative), calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, yellow color 5, yellow color 6.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Holiday Cocktails To Use Up Spirits

    Do you find yourself with bottles of spirits you don’t use often: the Limoncello you bought on impulse, the cachaça you used once to make Caipirinhas, the saké you never get around to drinking with take-out sushi?

    Could you use the space they take up to store something else?

    Look for holiday cocktail recipes that use those ingredients, and clear those bottles from the shelf.

    Jason Oh, Beverage Manager of the Haru Japanese restaurant chain, shared his recipes for some of Haru’s holiday cocktails, including a Cranberry Caipirinha. It’s helping us use up the cachaça, while looking colorful and tasting great.

    Have Limoncello? Here’s a recipe for a Limoncello Cranberry Spritzer.



  • 2 ounces cachaça
  • 1 ounces cranberry juice
  • 2 dashes cinnamon sugar (half cinnamon, half sugar)
  • 3 teaspoons cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 lime wedges
  • 1 orange slice
  • Cinnamon sticks for garnish

    Christmas is in the air and on the palate with this Cranberry Caipirinha. Photo courtesy Haru Sushi.



    1. MUDDLE limes, cranberries and orange slice in a shaker; mix in brown sugar.

    2. ADD cachaça, cranberry juice and cinnamon sugar. Shake and strain into a rocks glass.

    3. GARNISH with one or two cinnamon sticks.

    Find more of our favorite holiday cocktails.


    If you have more than a few bottles that need to be drunk—and no occasion in sight—simply give them as “party favors” to the people who come over for the Cranberry Caipirinhas.

    Your white elephants are someone else’s celebration!



    PRODUCT: Bill’s Best BBQ Sauce

    The sauce is delicious, and a percentage of
    sales do some good in the world. Photo
    courtesy Bill’s Best BBQ Sauce.


    Barbecue sauce is the number one product we receive over the transom. Living in an apartment with no outdoor space to barbecue, it’s not a product we used much—until it started to arrive in droves a few years ago.

    The majority of the products we taste are perfectly fine, but not special enough to write about. Most are made from ketchup or tomato paste, vinegar, a sweetener (often high fructose corn syrup—HFCS), salt, onion powder and other spices (including cayenne or other chile), molasses and maybe some mustard.

    Then Bill’s BBQ Sauce showed up.

    Bill Fehon created the “secret family recipe” for what is now Bill’s Best Original Organic BBQ Sauce in the early 1990s. He gave jars to family and friends. The sweet and tangy flavor, combined with a mild kick, says Bill’s family, appealed to everyone.

    Unfortunately, in the fall of 2009, Bill was diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration and was no longer able to do everyday tasks like making the sauce.


    In his honor, his family now makes it and donates 10% of the profit to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. Learn more at

    So if you’re looking for an inexpensive food gift that combines the spirit of generosity, consider this delicious barbecue sauce. Even if there were no story of hope, the sauce stands on its own.

    As an organic product, it’s made with quality ingredients and has no HFCS.

    An 18-ounce bottle is $6.99, with discounts for multiple orders, on

  • Original, which has a gentle kick
  • Spicy
    Find more of our favorite barbecue sauces and recipes.



    TIP OF THE DAY & GIFT: Kahlúa Midnight Coffee Liqueur

    Some people think of Kahlúa as one single type of coffee liqueur, to be used in Black Russians, White Russians, Espresso Martinis and Mudslides.

    The brand is actually a delicious family of coffee liqueurs, including Kahlúa Especial, Kahlúa French Vanilla, Kahlúa Mocha and Kahlúa Hazelnut, among other flavors.

    There have been limited holiday additions such as Gingerbread Kahlúa and Peppermint Mocha Kahlúa. Last year we loved the debut of Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice, and gave it as holiday gifts.

    This year, Kahlúa Midnight is on our gifts-to-give-to-coffee-lovers list.

    A combination of 70 proof rum and black coffee, Kahlúa Midnight was designed to be served as a chilled shot. But Kahlúa and other liqueurs are much more than a liqueur or cocktail ingredient. We’re been enjoying Kahlúa Midnight:

  • Added to hot and iced coffee.
  • In a “coffee milkshake”—just add to milk, an adult version of the Fox’s U-Bet Coffee Flavored Syrup of our youth (still available).

    New Kahlúa Midnight was designed for shots…but you can also shoot it into a cup of coffee or on top of ice cream. Photo courtesy Kahlúa.

  • As an ice cream topping—either straight or mixed into a jar of chocolate or caramel sauce.
  • As a dessert drizzle, on anything from pound cake to pudding.
  • As a substitute for vanilla extract in many recipes (or just add the liqueur as a new ingredient).
    Last night we finished dinner with the ice cream approach: Kahlúa Midnight over a melange of vanilla, chocolate and coffee ice cream.

    How’s that for a very special—and very easy—dessert!

    Kahlúa Midnight is available at retailers nationwide.

    Find more of our favorite liqueurs in our Cocktails & Spirits Section.



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Belle Chevre Goat Cheese Cheesecake

    This delicious cheesecake is part goat
    cheese, part cream cheese. Photo by Elvira
    Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    When you review food for a living, you never have to worry about scrambling for gift ideas: The products present themselves all year long.

    So we’re coasting into the holiday season, giving luscious goat cheese cheesecakes to our favorite cheesecake lovers.

    Cheesecake is one of those foods that either excites people or doesn’t interest them in the least. We’re part of the excited group, and are especially excited to have discovered Belle Chevre Goat Cheese Cheesecake.

    A mixture of goat cheese and cream cheese, there’s nothing “goaty” about it: just smooth, creamy cheesecake splendor.

    A six-inch diameter cake is $29.95.

    Cheesecake trivia: Cheesecake isn’t cake: It’s a cheese-flavored custard-like pie.

    Read the full review.

    Find more of our favorite cheesecakes and cheesecake recipes in our Gourmet Cakes Section.




    RECIPE: Make Parmesan Popcorn

    Asiago cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano (products made outside the official P.D.O. area in Italy are called Parmesan) are versatile and delicious cheeses that can pop use it pop up everywhere—including on gourmet popcorn.

    Regular old cheese popcorn is seasoned with Cheddar or Parmesan cheese powder, made by removing the moisture from the cheese.

    But you can use Adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis for the Asiago P.D.O. Cheese Consortium.



  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed

    Use popcorn as a soup or salad garnish. Recipe and photo courtesy

  • 1/3 cup finely grated aged Asiago or Parmesan cheese (the difference between Asiago, Parmesan and other Italian grating cheeses)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

    1. COMBINE the butter, garlic and herbes de Provence in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let stand while making the popcorn.

    2. COMBINE the oil and popcorn in a heavy large pot. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until almost all the kernels pop. Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl.

    3. REMOVE the garlic cloves from the butter and discard, if desired.

    4. ADD the salt, cheese and butter mixture to the popcorn. Toss until the popcorn is coated. Serve immediately.


    Parmesan Popcorn Chex Mix. Recipe and
    photo courtesy



  • As a salad or soup garnish instead of croutons.
  • In Chex mix (try this recipe).
  • Atop mac and cheese or other pasta dishes and casseroles instead of bread crumbs.

    Find more of our favorite popcorn recipes and brand reviews.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Whip Up A Wassail Recipe

    Yesterday we discussed that cup of good cheer, mulled wine, as a traditional Christmas drink.

    Today we present the other drink of holiday song, the wassail bowl (pronounced WOSS-ul).

    Wassail is an Anglo-Saxon term meaning “good health.” During the holiday season in merrie olde [medieval] England, a host would invite friends over for a celebratory drink. The festivities began when the host held up the bowl and exclaimed, “Wassail!”

    Punch was drunk, songs were sung. The tradition began in the 14th century in southern England, where the apple groves produced a lot of cider. The first wassail bowls contained hot mulled cider.

    But your wassail bowl can contain whatever type of punch you like, hot or chilled.


    While recipes have evolved, the first wassail bowls contained hot mulled cider. Photo courtesy


    While wassail is a spirited drink, you can make a non-alcoholic versions as well.

    Here’s a video recipe for wassail.

    This non-alcoholic version of a wassail recipe combines apple cider and pineapple juice: certain to be popular with the kids.

    Start wassailing!



    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Bavarian Cream Pie Day

    Bavarian cream. Photo by Massimiliano
    Pieraccini | IST.


    November 27th is National Bavarian Cream Pie Day.

    Bavarian cream is a 19th century creation that seems to have gone with the wind that closed out the 20th. We rarely see it on a menu or in a bake shop.

    Invention of the cold molded, gelatin-based dessert—a custard, not a pie—is credited to the great chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833) in the first part of the 1800s. One of the first recipes in the U.S. appeared in the Boston Cooking School of 1884.

    The connection with Bavaria is obscure; although Carême cooked for the rich and famous and it is conceivable that he may have created this dish for a guest of honor from Bavaria.

    The original Bavarian cream, or crème bavarois, was created in a fluted mold, chilled, umolded and sliced. In these more informal days, the dessert can be scooped from the bowl like mousse.

    Sometimes the mold is first coated with a fruit gelatin, which “glazed” the Bavarian cream. Sometimes it is flavored with chocolate, coffee, fruit or liqueur.


    The mold can be first lined with ladyfingers first, creating a charlotte.

    Individual servings can be garnished with whipped cream (Chantilly) or fruit purée. Here’s a recipe for Bavarian cream from Chef Michael Symon.

    Bavarian cream is similar to pastry cream but lightened with whipped cream and thickened with gelatin instead of flour or cornstarch. Check out the different types of custard.

    Now for the holiday:

    For Bavarian Cream Pie, get a pie crust: Bavarian cream in a pie crust is simply a different type of custard pie. And note: Real Bavarian cream does not pipe smoothly because of its gelatin. In the U.S., products called “Bavarian cream” pie (and doughnuts) are actually filled with a version of a crème pâtissière (pastry cream)—so they’re “faux” Bavarian Cream Pie.


    GIFT: Marinelli’s Gourmet Pasta Sauce

    So many holiday gifts are well-intentioned, but end up being things people don’t really need and don’t have space to store or display.

    One of our favorite gifts that’s always well-received is gourmet pasta sauce, with or without a package of gourmet pasta.

    Marinelli’s pasta sauce is a double winner: delicious and beautifully packaged. The new boxes (and jar labels) are such fun works of art, we’re not even wrapping them. (Those who sell packaged products take note: Look at the old, boring labels (just another jar of sauce) and the exciting new design (beautiful and giftable).

    Marinelli sauces are also certified gluten free, certified non-GMO, OU-kosher, sugar/sweetener-free and vegan.

    Handmade in small batches from the very best all natural ingredients, the pasta sauces are healthful and low in calories—and are not just for pasta. On carb-sparing days, we ladle it over spaghetti squash or steamed zucchini.


    Marinelli’s gourmet pasta sauce has both great taste and great packaging. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    The sumptuous sauces are made in nine flavors: Hot & Spicy Sicilian, Meat Ready Bolognese (add your own meat), Mushroom & Onion, Oven Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy Black Olive & Garlic, Sweet Sundried Tomato & Oregano, Tomato & Basil and Vegetable Primavera.

    The sauces are available on in six-packs, about $12.65/jar.

    Learn more at

    Find more of our favorite pastas, sauces and recipes.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Hot Mulled Wine For The Holidays

    You can serve mulled wine in a mug, brandy snifter, wine glass or other vessel of choice. Photo courtesy Spice Islands.


    Mulled wine, a traditional winter drink in northern Europe, is hearty red wine that’s warmed, sweetened and spiced.

    It’s a popular holiday drink. The word mulled means heated, sweetened and spiced. The expression “cup of good cheer” that comes to us from Merrie Olde England refers to hot mulled cider and wine.

    Glögg is the Swedish form of mulled wine, Glühwein is the German variation, vin fieri (“boiled wine”) is Romanian, and so forth. Hot buttered rum (also called rum toddy), the Colonial favorite, uses similar spices and brown sugar (both rum and sugar came from the Caribbean).

    Different countries use different spices (cloves and black pepper versus cinnamon and star anise, e.g.) and sweeteners (sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses). But the end result is the same: fragrant, warm, sweet and comforting.

    While delicious and festive, recipes originated not as party fare but as a way to save wine that had turned (throw in enough sugar and spice and anything tastes good). Ale was/is also mulled.


    You can buy pouches of pre-mixed mulling spices, but it’s just as easy to pull out the cinnamon sticks, measure out a little allspice, mix in some dried orange peel and drop in a few whole cloves.

    You can cook up the ingredients and keep them in the fridge, reheating when friends and family stop by.

    Check out our article on mulled wine, cider and glogg and enjoy a cup of good cheer.

    Tomorrow: how to make a wassail bowl.



    There are as many mulled wine recipes as there are people who make them. This recipe, from Estancia Winery, mixes Estancia’s Pinot Noir with apple cider.


  • 1 bottle pinot noir
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • ½ cup honey or sugar (or more to taste)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 large orange (and the juice)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 whole vanilla pod, cut lengthwise
  • Whole nutmeg for grating

    Hot buttered rum at left, flanked by a Scotch toddy (substitute Scotch for the rum). Photo courtesy National Honey Board.


    1. PEEL long strips of rind from the orange, lemon and lime and place in a saucepan along with the sugar/honey and the juice of the orange.

    2. ADD the cloves, cinnamon sticks, 3 gratings of nutmeg, zest of orange, bay leaves and sliced vanilla pod.

    3. POUR enough wine and cider to cover the sugar and place over medium heat. Stir frequently until the mixture boils and thickens slightly (roughly 5 minutes).

    4. POUR in the rest of the wine and cider and turn the heat down to low.

    5. ADD the star anise and leave the mixture to heat through for about 10 minutes without boiling. Make sure to leave the spices and zest in the pan.

    6. LADLE into glasses or mugs and garnish with slices of orange, nutmeg or cinnamon sticks and enjoy!

    Some American food holidays are on dates that make no sense:

  • Fruits are out of season (National Apricot Day on January 9th, National Strawberry Day on February 27th, National Peach Cobbler Day on April 13th, etc.)
  • National Plum Pudding Day om February 12 (plum pudding is a Christmas tradition)
  • And so forth


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