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Archive for November, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Brew Cardamom Tea

Cardamom, a popular holiday cookie spice and one of the spices in a chai tea blend, can be brewed into a flavorful tea that tastes very “seasonal.”

If you have green cardamom* pods in the pantry, let it multitask: Make cardamom tea. The pods infuse well in boiling water and cardamom tea can be served hot or iced. If you’d rather have full-out chai, here’s the recipe.


Ingredients For Two Cups Of Tea

  • 2 cups water
  • 8-10 green* cardamom pods
  • 2 green tea, black or white tea bags, or two teaspoons loose tea
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rind or fresh orange juice
    *There are two types of cardamom: black (actually brown in color) and green, and both can be purchased in pods or ground (the seeds are removed from the pods prior to grinding). The flavor of black cardamom is too strong for tea.


    Infuse black, green or white tea with cardamom pods. Photo of black tea with cardamom courtesy, where you can read more about the health benefits of cardamom.



    1. BOIL water in a saucepan; reduce to a simmer.

    2. CRUSH the cardamom pods and add to the water; simmer for 2-3 minutes.

    3. REMOVE from heat; let tea and orange steep for 5-10 minutes.

    4. STRAIN or otherwise remove teabags and pods.

    5. REHEAT and serve with optional sweetener(s). You can also add milk, as is done in Indian cardamom milk tea; but we like it straight. It’s also delicious iced.


    Green and black cardamom pods (as you can
    see, the pods are brown, not black). Photo
    by Autopilot | Wikimedia.



  • Baked goods: apple cake/pie, breads, cookies, pound cake, shortbread
  • Coffee: infuse pods in a French press or add ground cardamom to ground coffee
  • Fruit: chilled fruit soup, poached fruit
  • Pudding: custard, panna cotta
  • Ice cream: infused into the cream/milk for chocolate, coffee, lemon or vanilla ice cream
  • Indian cuisine: curries, lentil dishes and rice pilaf
  • Rice: brown or white (add pods to the cooking water)


    Cardamom, a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) is native to Bhutan, India and Nepal. It is used in cuisines throughout the world, from its native region to the Middle East to Scandinavia. The name derives from the Latin cardamomum and the Greek kardamon, which referred to a particular Indian spice plant.

    Cardamom spice is bold: intensely aromatic (some say resinous) with strong flavor. Black cardamom is stronger and more smokey, with nuances that some find to be similar to mint.

    Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice by weight, following saffron and vanilla. But just a pinch is needed in most cases.

    It is a bold spice, with an intensely aromatic (some say resinous) aroma and a strong flavor. Black cardamom is more smokey, with nuances that some find similar to mint.

    As with many spices, cardamom also has health benefits, which range from improving digestion to increasing one’s metabolism.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Spice Water

    For Thanksgiving, infuse the water pitcher with seasonal spices and herbs. Try one or more of the following (we use all of them):

  • Cardamom pods
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Fresh ginger slices
  • Lemon or orange slices
  • Mint leaves
  • Whole cloves
    Refreshing and thirst quenching, the spices and herbs also add a boost of antioxidants to the water. Ginger also helps to stimulate digestion, which makes it a good-to-include ingredient for Thanksgiving dinner spice water.

    You may like spice water so much, that you’ll drink it year-round.


    Add cinnamon sticks and other seasonal
    spices to the water pitcher. Photo courtesy
    Factory Direct Craft.


    You can also buy bottled spice water: Ayala’s Herbal Water, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week. Seasonal flavors include Clove Cardamom Cinnamon, Cinnamon Orange Peel and Ginger Lemon Peel.



    CHANUKAH: Build A Cookie Chanukah House

    Manischewitz’s Chanukah House Kit. Photo
    courtesy Manischewitz.


    For centuries, many children have celebrated Christmas by decorating a gingerbread house. While there’s nothing religious about it, it is a Christian tradition.

    Now, Jewish children have their own holiday house: a vanilla cookie house called—wait for it—Chanukah House.

    The Manischewitz Chanukah House Decorating Kit includes everything you need to build and design your house: a vanilla cookie base and an assortment of toppings and additions to decorate the house.

    The toppings include blue, white, and yellow icing, sprinkles, mini beads, fondant, sugar and decorative sugar pieces of a Star of David and a menorah. Of course, you can add design elements from your own candy stash.


    If you don’t want a whole house, there is also a Chanukah Sugar Cookie Decorating Kit that contains 4 vanilla cookies shaped like dreidels and menorahs, with a similar selection of sugar decorations.

    The suggested retail price is $14.99 for the Chanukah House Decorating Kit and $9.99 for the Chanukah Sugar Cookie Decorating Kit.



    Through December 15, 2012, you can upload a photo of your hand-decorated Chanukah House to the Manischewitz Facebook page, for the chance to win a cash prize or Manischewitz products.

    The official rules are on the Facebook page.


    If you’d prefer a gingerbread house, Best Cookies makes one in Chanukah colors; you can buy it online.

    Both cookie houses are certified kosher (dairy).


    A gingerbread “Chanukah house” from Best Cookies. Photo courtesy Best Cookies.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Get Help From A Box

    Pacific Organic’s four Thanksgiving helpers. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    Even if you’re a committed from-scratch cook, it can make sense to use some premade foods for a complex meal like Thanksgiving.

    We test-drove these four organic products from the Pacific organic foods line (you can find them at natural foods markets like Whole Foods). Here’s how we used them:


    Our main cranberry dish is a homemade raw cranberry and orange relish, but we can never have too much cranberry.* We took this 3″ x 4″ brick of cranberry sauce and used it:

  • APPETIZER: For hors d’oeuvre, with cream cheese or fresh goat cheese on a slice of toasted baguette.
  • SALAD: In small dice, to garnish a salad.
  • GARNISH: In large dice, on a skewer with green grapes, as a plate garnish.
    Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

  • DIP: Mixed with plain or vanilla yogurt as a dip (add a dash of cinnamon, clove or nutmeg).
  • BUTTER SAUCE: Mixed with melted butter as a sauce for vegetables, potatoes or fish/seafood (we usually serve a scallop or shrimp course).
  • DESSERT: As a topping for sorbet or ice cream, a gluten-free dessert.

    In addition to pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin mousse, consider:

  • BAKING: Make pumpkin bread, cookies, muffins.
  • COCKTAILS: Make a Pumpkintini or other pumpkin cocktail.
  • ICE CREAM TOPPING: Sweeten and add pumpkin pie spices.
  • PLATE GARNISH: We brush a swath of seasoned pumpkin purée on the plate before adding a protein.
  • SOUP: Mix with stock, herbs and seasonings for easy pumpkin soup (milk/cream optional).
  • MORE: Pumpkin recipes, both sweet and savory.


    Most of these ideas work best post-Thanksgiving, but check out the mashed potatoes.

  • BISCUITS & GRAVY: Add diced turkey and enjoy for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving.
  • HOT TURKEY SANDWICH: Smother a cold turkey sandwich in gravy and heat it in the microwave.
  • POUTINE: Canada‘s favorite way to eat fries, with cheese curds and gravy.
  • REPURPOSED GRAVY: Use it over noodles, rice or other grains. You can dilute the gravy 1:1 with water and use it as the cooking liquid.
  • TURKEY MASHED POTATOES: Fun for the kids, mix gravy into the mashed potatoes.

    Biscuits and gravy. Photo courtesy

  • TURKEY POT PIE: Use the gravy as a filling for turkey pot pies. Add diced turkey, carrots, mushrooms, onions and peas to a pie crust; you can use mashed potatoes instead of a top crust, shepard’s pie-style. Place in a 400°F oven for 30 minutes or until top is browned.
  • TURKEY SOUP: Cook carrots, celery, onions and other veggies like canned peas in stock or water; then add to the gravy with the water. You can add noodles, too.
  • STEW: Instead of endless turkey sandwiches on the days after Thanksgiving, make turkey stew: like the soup but o begin with, you can use this turkey gravy as the base for a stew. It just requires the addition of cubes of leftover turkey.
    *According to the Cranberry Institute, cranberries are a rich source of dietary flavonoids (powerful antioxidant) and other phenolic acids that may provide a variety of health benefits, including the urinary tract health, the prevention of cardiovascular disease, certain stomach ulcers and even cancer.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Veggie Salsa Of A Different Color

    Grilled chicken with tangy veggie salsa.
    Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    Salsa is the Spanish word for sauce.* It can be any type of sauce, but most Americans identify it as a tomato-based hot sauce used as a dip with tortilla chips.

    There is no one classic salsa recipe: Every region of Latin America has its own style of salsa. In Mexico, recipes are divided between tomato based red salsas and the tomatillo-based green salsas. Even in this division, there are many different salsa styles (see our Salsa Glossary).

    We recently received a variety of condiments from Black Angus Saloon, a specialty food company in Lake Ozark, Missouri. The packaged foods are an extension of the local Black Angus Saloon restaurant.

    The first two we sampled were salsas: Veggie Salsa† in Sweet and Tangy (with vinegar) and Sweet & Spicy (with chiles). There’s no tomato or tomatillo, making these “clear” salsas. The minced vegetables and small beans provided a charming topping to grilled chicken and fish.

    You can purchase Veggie Salsa from ($6 per 16-ounce jar) or make your own from our “approximate” recipe, below.


    While we tend not to like sweetness in our condiments (keep that sugar in confections and desserts, where it belongs!), we truly enjoyed the Sweet & Tangy Veggie Salsa—so much so that we made a similar batch the same day and enjoyed it on grilled fish. We also sprinkled the sweetened vinegar marinating liquid on our salad.

    There’s no cooking involved (unless you want to cook the beans from scratch); just chopping.

    We love salsa, so are always looking for a twist to our standards. Salsa is a food bargain: fat free, gluten free, vegan, all natural and low in sodium. Traditional recipes don’t use sugar, either; so they’re low carb, too.

    *The Spanish word salsa derives from the Latin salsa, meaning salty, which itself derives from the Latin sal, salt.
    †The name may seem redundant as all Latin American-style salsas are “veggie salsas”: no dairy, no meat or fish-based stock, just vegetables, spices and vinegar. It would have been more interesting to call these products “clear salsa.”



    Consider how much you want, and use appropriate proportions. This is a very versatile condiment: We also used it on eggs, on steamed vegetables, mixed into mayonnaise as a sandwich/wrap spread and mixed into cottage cheese and plain yogurt. We enjoyed the “salsa yogurt” plain, in a baked potato, and as a dip. And it’s a refreshing topping for bratwurst, burgers and franks (it’s much more complex than pickle relish).


  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup small black beans
  • 1/2 cup small kidney beans (you can use whatever beans you have)
  • 3 tablespoons each shredded carrots, finely diced celery, minced red onion, green bell peppers and red bell peppers
  • Optional fresh herbs (toss in a tablespoon of whatever you have in the fridge)

    Black Angus Saloon’s tasty “clear salsa.” Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

  • Cider vinegar or other vinegar, to cover
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, brown sugar, agave, honey or sweetener of choice (e.g. noncaloric sweetener)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more salt and optional chile flakes or black pepper, to taste
  • Optional spices (we added a shake of clove and nutmeg)
    You can build on the ingredients by adding whatever you have on hand. We added sliced olives and chickpeas (garbanzo beans) to a subsequent batch.


    1. COMBINE chopped vegetables, herbs and salt in the bowl of a lidded container; mix until blended.

    2. COVER with vinegar. Place lid on container and let the salsa marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight (you can actually use it in as little as an hour, but the flavors blend with time).

    3. TASTE and adjust seasonings to taste and add any spices, like the clove and nutmeg we used.

    The salsa will keep in the fridge for two weeks or longer, but we doubt there will be any left after a day or two!

    Find more of our favorite salsas and dips.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Delicious Coconut Yogurt

    It’s hard to find yogurt with coconut added. So we make our own. Photo courtesy Liberté Yogurt.


    For lovers of coconut, there’s So Delicious vegan yogurt, made with coconut milk instead of dairy, for a subtle coconut flavor.

    But today’s inspiration comes from a cup of Liberté Méditerranée Coconut Yogurt, one of our favorite yogurts, with coconut on the bottom. It has lots more coconut flavor, but it isn’t easy to find.

    Fortunately, it’s easy to make luscious coconut yogurt in your own kitchen: Just add flaked coconut from your pantry to your favorite yogurt flavor.

    We add a heaping tablespoon of coconut to banana, chocolate, coffee, plain and vanilla yogurts. For a piña colada effect, add crushed pineapple to plain or vanilla yogurt, along with 1/4 teaspoon of rum extract. Yum!

    It’s delicious for breakfast or lunch, and special enough to be served for dessert. Feel free to garnish with some chocolate chips.


    Find more of our favorite yogurt brands and yogurt recipes.



    GIFT: Cupcakes Without The Calories

    Kids are crazy for cupcakes, so how about cupcakes are made from chalk?

    Handmade to order, they let you “enjoy” cupcakes in a different way: on chalk boards, roll-up chalk mats, chalk board place mats or good old driveways and sidewalks.

    Or, they can be used as objets d’art in kids’ rooms.

    The set of six mini chalk cupcakes is available in your choice of blue, green, orange, pink, purple or yellow. They are 2 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide, just about the size as a real mini cupcake.

    Each cupcake is hand piped and topped with glitter. Each set is packaged for gifting.

    They’re great For party favors as well as stocking stuffers.


    You can’t eat them: They’re chalk! Photo courtesy The Chalk Shop.


    And there’s more of a choice than cupcakes: We love the chalk popsicles, as well as apples, tea cups and some 15 non-food designs from ballerinas, bees and butterflies to dinosaurs, lady bugs and owls.

    The set of six cupcakes is $7.00 from The Chalk Shop, which sells via

    Beyond cupcakes, we love the popsicle chalk as well as the apples and tea cups. In the non-food arena, there are some 15 designs, from ballerinas, butterflies and flowers to circus animals, dinosaurs and owls.



    COOKING VIDEO: How To Ice A Cake


    It’s easy to follow a recipe and bake a delicious cake. Icing it beautifully is the challenge.

    Pastry chefs practice long and hard until they perfect an absolutely smooth icing. And they learn some tricks along the way.

    You can use the holiday season to practice, practice, practice. The people upon whom you bestow your homemade cakes will be thrilled, not critical.

    A rotating cake stand and an angled spatula will be your two best friends.

    Here’s a video demonstration on how to ice a cake from Clarice Lam of The Baking Bean, an online pastry business that delivers delicious desserts straight to your door.


    The difference between frosting and icing is in the sugar:

    Icing is made with confectioners’ sugar (also called icing sugar), frosting is made with granulated sugar (table sugar). The two words are often used interchangeably, but that doesn’t make it correct!



    More on how to frost a cake.

    Find our favorite cakes and cake recipes in our Gourmet Cakes Section.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

    While we enjoy the fall harvest, we really miss the ripe fruits of summer.

    Strawberries are our last link to that sweet summer bounty. Strawberries are grown year-round in California, where numerous varieties have been bred to accommodate the different soils and climates.*

    So while we’re making seasonal pumpkin desserts, carrot cakes and apple pies, we just had to make these summery strawberry shortcake cupcakes:

    Here’s a recipe for yellow cupcakes.

    Here’s a video recipe for whipped cream, loaded with important professional tips.

    You don’t have to use as much whipped cream frosting as shown in the photo—although it is a lovely excuse to eat whipped cream!

    You can make the whipped cream a few hours in advance and cover it with plastic wrap in the fridge; if it has begun to separate, put it in a bowl and mix it back together with a wire whisk.


    Strawberry shortcake cupcakes can be made year-round. Photo courtesy


    Frost the cupcakes right before serving. Use a piping bag for the effect shown in the photo, or a spatula for a simpler effect.


    Before frosting, we used a melon baller to scoop a well in the top of the plain baked cupcakes and inserted a “surprise” whole strawberry. You can also use lemon curd or other fruit curd, but you’ll have a lemon curd cupcake instead of a strawberry shortcake cupcake.

    Or, split the batch and make both!

    Enjoy this last breath of summer.

    Find more of our favorite cake and cupcake recipes.


  • CHILL. Be sure to chill your metal bowl (stainless steel or copper) and beaters in the freezer for 15 minutes or more.
  • FIX. As Nana always said, don’t overbeat the cream or it will turn to butter. If this happens to you, just add more cream and use a wire whisk to incorporate it. It should bring the whipped cream back to normal.
    *The California Strawberry Commission explains that strawberry production shifts between north and south with the changing seasons. Fall and winter production starts in October in Ventura County and reaches south into Orange and San Diego Counties in late December or early January. Production in the south generally extends into April or May. Staggered planting schedules in the Santa Maria area bridges the seasons, with the harvest beginning in March, and continues into the late fall.


  • Comments


    The perfect cake for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Halloween. Photo courtesy The Sugar Mommas.


    The Sugar Mommas, Kimberly and Jennifer, live in California, an entire country away from us. So if we want a piece of their Thanksgiving Pumpkin Spice Cake, we’ll have to make it ourselves. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to make a cake batter, and the pumpkin cream cheese icing is worth the extra step.

    Switch out chocolate pumpkin and turkey decorations for chocolate pine cones and a reindeer, and you’ve got Christmas Pumpkin Spice Cake.



  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 batch pumpkin cream cheese icing (recipe
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.

    2. WHISK the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and spices together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

    3. MIX the sugars and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Use medium speed until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending on low speed until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and the pumpkin purée. Mix until combined and no lumps are present.

    4. ADD half of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until fully incorporated. Add the second half of the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Use a spatula to fold in the 1/2 cup of nuts; mix until just combined.

    5. POUR the batter into the prepared pans and spread it evenly. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

    6. ICE the first cooled cake layer on a serving platter, rounded side down (upside down). Use a knife or angled spatula to spread icing over the top and sides, being generous on top as it will be the filling layer. (A rotating cake stand is a godsend for icing cakes: well worth the modest cost and storage space.) Place the next layer right side up on top of the first and complete the frosting of the top and sides.

    7. GARNISH as minimally or lavishly as you like. Minimalist: nothing. Typical: crushed amaretti cookies or ginger snaps. Lavish: chocolate medallions (the Sugar Mommas made chocolate pine cones in a mold) with a chocolate turkey, pumpkin, Christmas tree or reindeer at the center.




  • 2 eight-ounce packages pumpkin cream cheese, at room temperature, or regular cream cheese and 1/2 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 2 (16-ounce) boxes confectioners sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Garnish: 2 tablespoons crushed Amaretti cookies or specialty chocolates including holiday chocolate medallions, a chocolate turkey, pumpkin, tree or reindeer (shown in photo)


    We prefer organic pumpkin purée: It tastes better. Photo courtesy Farmer’s Market.


    1. COMBINE the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend on medium speed until smooth.

    2. TURN the mixer to low speed and add the confectioners’ sugar a little bit at a time, until fully incorporated. Beat until light and fluffy.

    3. STIR in the vanilla. This recipe may be doubled if, like us, you indulge in eating the frosting while decorating the cake.

    4. DECORATE the cake by sprinkling on top of the cake. If you enjoy the crunch, go crazy and add in 1 tablespoon of raw sugar for a pretty visual that tastes unique and delicious.

    Watch this video on how to ice a cake.


    It’s a sugar technicality! Icing is made with confectioners’ sugar, frosting with granulated sugar. The consistencies are different, hence different words to identify them. Most people use the terms interchangeably; but now that you know, you can correct them!



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