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Archive for Holidays & Occasions

VALENTINE’S DAY: Sparkling Wines For Gifting & Drinking

Brachetto d'Acqui Banfi

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui: a wine that says “Be My Valentine.”

 

If you’ve taken a look at Champagne prices, you’d like a recommendation on which way to go.

Our recommendation: Steer away from Champagne and look at other sparkling wines. Here are two of our favorite affordable bubblies for Valentine’s Day. Both are crowd pleasers. One is a perfect dessert wine or an apéritif; the other can be enjoyed anytime, with any course.

Drink them yourself or give them as gifts. As with all sparkling wines, serve them chilled.
 
BANFI ROSA REGALE BRACHETTO D’ACQUI

This sweet sparkling wine from the Piedmont region of Italy is a vivid rose red. The color is natural!

It’s made from the Brachetto df’Acqui grape, which grows in the area of Acqui Terme in rocky, calcareous soil (tough soil makes better wines).

 
The bouquet is very aromatic, with hints of raspberries, strawberries and rose petals. You’ll taste hints of fresh raspberries, with crisp acidity.

In addition to dessert—cakes, tarts, ice cream—it pairs well with seafood, cheeses, spicy fare and yes, that box of Valentine chocolate.

One of our friends calls this wine “love at first sip.” It’s pretty romantic stuff.

The price: $17-$20 per bottle. The pronunciation: bra-KET-toe d’AH-qwee.

There’s more on the brand’s web page.
 
YELLOWTAIL BUBBLES SPARKLING ROSÉ

A recent Top Pick Of The Week for the holidays, this sparkling wine from Australia makes everything more festive—at just $10-$11 per bottle. It’s not a sweet wine, but crisp and refreshing, so it can be paired with anything.

The fragrant nose promises cherries and strawberries on the palate. Unlike the deep red of Brachetto d’Acqui, it’s a pale pink color, similar to a rosé Champagne.

Depending on the retailer and promotion calendar, the bottle may come with a resealable, plastic cap that allows you to seal in the bubbles for the next day. If not, and if you don’t have one, pick up a Champagne resealer. It’s inexpensive, and really does keep that wine sparkling for days.

And it can be the part of the gift that remains, when the wine is long gone.

Here’s our full review of the wine.

And here’s the Yellowtail Bubbles Rosé web page.

 
  

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VALENTINE’S DAY: Sweets We’d Like To Receive

If you’re on the hunt for Valentine chocolate, you probably don’t have to hunt too hard. Even our drugstore looks like a chocolate shop.

But here are some yummy items we enjoy, year after year.

CHOCOLATE CHERRIES FROM CHOCLATIQUE

Most of us grew up hoping to get the chocolate covered cherry in the box of mixed chocolates. At Choclatique, you can get an entire box of cherries!

These are not the overly-sweet chocolate cherries of our youth. They are Grade A maraschino cherries that are marinated and then wrapped in a white chocolate-butter ganache. Next, they’re enrobed in premium dark chocolate shells (64% cacao).

The bonbons are allowed to to cure, so that the ganache centers liquefy. The result is a delicate liquid center with just a touch of white chocolate ganache—and a memorable chocolate cherry.

The chocolates are all natural and you can pick either a bright red ribbon for Valentine’s Day.

  • 12 Piece Box, $30.00
  • 24 Piece Box, $50.00
  •  
    CHOCOLATE CARAMEL CRISP FROM GARRETT POPCORN

    Garrett Popcorn, known for its high quality popcorn gift tins, has two suggestions for Valenetine’s Day:

  • Lover’s Mix, a combination of Dark Chocolate Covered Caramel Crisp and regular Caramel Crisp. Note to caramel corn lovers: This regular Caramel Crisp is the best caramel corn you can buy, with a “burnt caramel” flavor that’s so much better than the ubiquitous one-dimensional sweet corns out there.
  • Spicy CheeseCorn, for those who prefer spicy to sweet. We’ve also recommended this corn for the Super Bowl. It’s a perfect blend of cheese and spice.
  •  
    Tins start at $39 for a one gallon and $69 for 2 gallons. The one gallon pink tin of Lover’s Mix is $47.

    Order yours at GarrettPopcorn.com.
     
    CLASSIC CHOCOLATES FROM LI-LAC

    Li-Lac Chocolates is one of our favorite munching grounds. This chocolate shop specializes in old-fashioned chocolates of top quality—the kind it’s become hard to find.

    Take a look at the choices at Li-LacChocolates.com.

       
    Chocolate Covered Cherries

    Chocolate Caramel Popcorn

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/pink striped popcorn tin 230

    Top: Gourmet chocolate cherries from Choclatique. Middle and bottom: Lover’s Mix and the Valentine tin from Garrett Popcorn.

     
    Whether a mixed box of chocolates or an entire box of our favorite chocolate-covered marzipan rolls, we hope our Valentine reads this message. (Please send both!)

    The chocolates are certified kosher.
     
    For those looking for kosher chocolate, LakeChamplainChocolates.com is another favorite chocolatier. Let us emphasize that, kosher or not, these to companies make excellent chocolates.
     
    MORE FAVORITE CHOCOLATES

    We’re happy with anything from John & Kira’s or Burdick Chocolate, two of America’s great artisan chocolatiers.

     

    Gimbal's Chocolate Cherry Chews

    Cherry Chews from Gimbal’s are available in
    several sizes, and are very affordable if you
    like to give something to many friends.

     

    CHERRY CHEWS FROM GIMBAL’S

    For something fun, affordable and not chocolate, try Gimbal’s Cherry Chews. They’re all natural and made with real cherry juice. They were created to have a cherry shape, but as you can see in the photo, they also resemble Valentine hearts.

    And they also double as celebratory sweets for George Washington’s Birthday.

    Bags in several sizes start at $1.39 to give out to friends and colleagues. A 38-ounce jar is just $13.99.

    Get them at GimbalsCandy.com.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Bibimbap, A Korean Classic For The Lunar New Year

    We love bibimbap (bee-bim-BOP), a signature Korean dish. It’s a variation of our currently trending rice bowl. The word literally means “mixed rice”—rice mixed with several other ingredients.

    We’ve written about bibimbap previously, but for the eve of the lunar new year (this year, it’s Sunday, February 7th), it’s especially appropriate. It’s what Koreans traditionally eat on their new year’s eve.

    It also happens to be Super Bowl Sunday; if your friends are foodies, this is a good dish for a crowd.
     
    WHAT IS BIBIMBAP?

    A bowl of warm white rice is topped with seasoned vegetables*; sliced beef, chicken or seafood; and a raw or fried egg. The yolk of the egg (or the entire raw egg) binds the ingredients when they are mixed together.

    Chile paste, fermented soybean paste or soy sauce are served as condiments. After the ingredients are blended each individual diner, condiments added at the table.

    For visual appeal, the vegetables are often placed so that adjacent colors complement each other.

    The recipe below, from Good Eggs, requires 15 minutes of active time, and a total of 35 minutes. It doesn’t require you to be handy with a knife: Instead of thin slices of beef, you use ground beef.

    If you like bibimbap as much as we do, you can experiment with other grains. Quinoa bibimbap with kale, anyone?

    RECIPE: BIBIMBAP RICE BOWL

    Ingredients For 4-6 Servings

  • 2 cups of sushi rice
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 4 tablespoons of mirin (rice wine†)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce, plus a little more for seasoning
  • 1 cup kimchi
  • 4 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch radishes, shaved thinly
  • 1 bunch of scallions, both green and white portions, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Raw or fried egg for each serving
  • Optional: other vegetables as desired
  •    

    Bibimbap

    Bibimbap

    Top: Bibimbap served with a raw egg at Kristalbelli | NYC. Bottom photo: The ingredients mixed together. Photo courtesy Good Eggs.

  • Optional: chili paste/red pepper paste (gochujang), sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds
  • ____________________________________
    *Commonly vegetables used include bean sprouts, julienned cucumber, julienned or shredded daikon (Japanese radish), julienned zucchini, nori (dried seaweed), shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms or whole enoki mushrooms, and spinach. Diced tofu, either uncooked or cooked, can be added.

    †Mirin and saké are both called “rice wine.” Both are fermented from rice; mirin has a lower alcohol content and higher sugar content (as an analogy, thing of sweet and dry vermouths. If you have saké but no mirin, make a substitute by adding a half teaspoon of sugar to the saké, and warm it slowly to dissolve the sugar.

     

    Bibimbap

    Dolsot bibimbap, bibimbap served in a very
    hot stone bowl (our favorite way to enjoy
    bibimbap at restaurants). Photo courtesy
    Souschef.co.uk.

     

    Preparation

    1. RINSE the rice a few times in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear. Add the rice to a pot and cover with water. Let it soak for 20 minutes, then strain it again. Add the rice back to the pot and add 3 cups of water. Bring the rice and water to a boil, uncovered. When the water reaches a rolling boil…

    2. TURN the flame to low, cover the pot and let the rice simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn the heat off and let it steam for 10 minutes with the cover on. After 10 minutes, fluff the rice with a fork: It’s ready. While the rice cooks

    3. HEAT 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add the meat and break it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Turn the heat down and add the soy sauce and mirin, and stir. Cook for another 5-6 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Remove from the heat.

    4. SERVE: Spoon some rice into a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds, a splash of mirin and a little bit of soy sauce. Top with beef, cilantro, scallions, radishes, cilantro and a spoonful of kimchi.

     

    BIBIMBAP HISTORY

    Bibimbap was traditionally eaten on the eve of the lunar new year, to enable households to use up all of their leftovers before the start of the new year. All of the leftovers were put in a bowl of rice and mixed together.

    Use up your leftovers, or buy fresh ingredients. Or plan a party: Like paella and other rice main dishes, bibimbap is a good dish for a crowd.

    Of course, bibimbap can be made from scratch with chosen ingredients. Each region and each cook has a preferred mix of ingredients.

    At Korean restaurants you can get dolsot bibimbap (stone pot bibimbap), served in a stone bowl so hot that the ingredients sizzle. The raw egg cooks as soon as it’s mixed in.

    Before the rice is placed in the bowl, the bottom can be coated with sesame oil, which makes the bottom of the rice cook to a crispy state, like the soccorat at the bottom of the paella pan.

      

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    FOOD FUN: Football Fries (French Fry Footballs)

    If you have kids and like to make special treats for them, head to HungryHappenings.com and sign up for the emails. Even if you don’t make them, you’ll enjoy the creative ideas.

    Here’s one that adults can enjoy, too: French fries shaped like footballs. The Football Fries recipe is on the Hungry Happenings website.

    If you don’t want to be frying or reheating during the game, these recipes can be made in advance:

  • Chocolate Caramel Fudge Footballs (recipe)
  • Microwave Football Caramels (recipe)
  • Super Bowl Popcorn With Chocolate Football Almonds (recipe)
  •  
    And don’t forget the Football Calzone.

     

    Football Fries

    Football fries for the big game. Photo courtesy HungryHappenings.com.

     

      

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    VALENTINE’S DAY: Low Calorie & No Calorie Gifts

    Keurig Pantone Red Brewer

    Rick's Picks Assortment

    Top: The Keurig 2.0 H200, which makes single cups as well as carafes. Bottom: Rick’s Picks: Great flavor, few calories.

     

    As you eye the sea of Valentine chocolates, what can you get for loved ones who can’t have (or don’t care for) chocolate?

    Some people don’t want the calories, others can’t have the caffeine or the sugar, and rarely, a few are allergic to chocolate.

    For those who avoid caffeine and chocolate, there are scrumptious macarons, artisan (“gourmet”) marshmallows, creamy fudge, fine red licorice and other confections. But they’re still packed with sugar.

    But what if you need to avoid the sugar entirely?

    There’s sugar-free candy, but it’s pretty unexciting. Here are what we’d like to get for Valentine’s Day.
     
    FOR COFFEE LOVERS: KEURIG 2.0 K200 SINGLE CUP BREWER

    This new model comes in seven colors, including red for your Valentine. It not only brews a single cup, but a 4-cup carafe, with a single touch.

    There’s a separate setting for specialty beverages such as chai, hot cocoa and mochas. And with more than 500 varieties of coffee, tea, specialty beverages and iced beverages, your Valentine has lots of choices.

    The carafe is sold separately; you can also add a Valentine mug (something with hearts?) to express your affection.

    Get yours at Keurig.com. The list price is $109.99.

    If you don’t want to spend that much, head to the nearest housewares department and get a red water bottle or red implements—spatulas, slotted spoons, etc.—to fill a Valentine mug.

     
    FOR PICKLE LOVERS: RICK’S PICKS PICKLE CLUB

    Good pickles are on our list of yummy foods with few calories.

    One of America’s great pickle makers offers a club that delivers four varieties, four times a year. The club is $ 199.95, including shipping.

    There’s also a Top-Seller Pack, $ 48.95, and a Rick’s Picks Sampler for $64.95.

    Order yours at RicksPicks.com.

    For a less expensive gift, head to your nearest fine market or specialty food store, pick up a single jar of Rick’s Picks, and tie a red ribbon around the neck.
     
    NOT INTO PICKLES? TRY STRAWBERRIES

    If your Valentine prefers sweet to tangy, consider Edible Arrangements or create your own strawberry basket. Look for the biggest, freshest strawberries, find a lovely small basket, and don’t forget the red bow!

     

    FOR SODA DRINKERS: SODASTREAM SPLASH PLAY

    There are red SodaStream machines that make calorie-free sodas and flavored waters. The brand has recently released a new machine, the Sodastream Splash Play, designed by Yves Béhar, a Swiss designer and sustainability expert.

    It carbonates water with touch button activation as well as quick snap-lock bottle insertion. It requires no electricity. It has a small footprint.

    Not only is it fun; it saves you from hauling home bottles of soda, and from tossing the empties into the landfill.

    For calorie counters and water enthusiasts, SodaStream also has a new line of waters, made with all natural sweeteners and colors, called Sparkling Gourmet. It has chef-inspired flavors, including Green Apple Cucumber, Blackcurrant Lime, Coriander Apple Blossom, and Lime Basil. All with 45 calories per 8-ounce serving.

     

    Sodastream Play

    Give a Sodastream in Valentine Red.

     
    There are also calorie-free flavored water options, and plenty of diet sodas.

    AND, if you own a Sodastream, you know that there are two different sizes of carbon dioxide tanks for different models, and they aren’t interchangeable. The Splash Play can use either of them! Bravo, Sodastream.

    Get yours at Sodastream.com. It’s $79.99.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Really Good Chinese Egg Rolls

    Egg Rolls

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/egg rolls redstixs 230r

    Top: Egg rolls with BBQ pork and sweet and
    hot chili dipping sauce, from the National
    Pork Board. They’re baked, not fried (recipe).
    Bottom: Egg rolls from Red Stix | NYC, served
    with a mix of rice vinegar and soy sauce.

     

    For the Chinese New Year, why not make your own egg rolls? Serve them as an appetizer, or as a snack with a cold beer.

    EGG ROLL HISTORY

    Like Chinese chicken salad, crab wontons, duck sauce, fortune cookies, General Tso’s chicken and sweet and sour pork—not to mention the pu pu platter—the egg roll is a Chinese-American invention. Food historians believe it was first created in New York City in the early 1930s.

    But over time, what was initially a richly layered roll with a mix of bamboo shoots, roast pork, scallions, shrimp and water chestnuts evolved into a bland cabbage roll—a stuffing of shredded cabbage, flecked with bits of pork and carrot. [Source]

    If you’d like to go back to the golden age of egg rolls, make your own! If you don’t like to deep fat fry, you can bake them.

    This recipe came to us via Melissas.com, from Chef Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook.
     
    RECIPE: CHEF MARTIN YAN’S EGG ROLLS

    Ingredients For 12 Pieces

  • 12 egg roll wrappers
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • ¾ pound ground pork, chicken or beef
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 12 ounces green cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 medium carrot, finely shredded
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • Cooking oil for frying
  •  
    Don’t forget the condiments: hot mustard, jalapeño pepper jelly, plum sauce, ponzu sauce, sweet and sour sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce (sweet and hot) or just plain soy sauce. We like to serve two different options: Colman’s prepared mustard (a better version of “Chinese mustard”) and Thai sweet chili sauce (you can buy it or make your own).
     
    OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS

    You can add just about anything to an egg roll, as long as it’s finely chopped and well drained (don’t add moisture).

  • There are fusion egg rolls that include pastrami (a Reuben egg roll) and corned beef and cabbage egg roll.
  • The menu at Rhode Island’s Egg Roll Cafe features the classic egg roll plus these flavors: Bacon-Egg-Cheese, Cheeseburger, Crab Rangoon, Fajita, Ham-Egg-Cheese, Pizza, Shrimp, Spinach & Feta, Steak & Cheese and Taco, among others.
  • Check out this recipe, featured in the Merced [California] Sun Star, which includes classic ingredients plus peanut butter and cinnamon. The creator, Fanny Go, was born and raised in Southern China (where there are no egg rolls) and now lives in Chicago.

    In addition to her basic recipe, she suggests these optional extras which you can incorporate into Chef Yan’s recipe:

  • ½ cup boiled shrimp, cut into dime-size pieces
  • ½ cup shiitake mushrooms, soaked, squeezed and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup well-drained bamboo shoots, julienned
  • ¼ cup water chestnuts, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup bean sprouts, well drained
  • Editor’s choice: Chinese sausage (if you can get hold of it)
  •  
    Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with your favorite fillings, from vegetarian to Swiss cheese—or anything that goes well with beer or wine.

    Back to Chef Yan’s recipe:

     

    Preparation

    1. HEAT a wok or stir-fry pan over high heat until hot. Add the oil, swirling to coat the sides of the pan. Add the pork, ginger and garlic; stir-fry until meat is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Drain the excess oil.

    2. COMBINE the pork, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil in a medium bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes.

    3. COMBINE the cabbage, carrot and green onions in a large bowl. Add the meat mixture; toss well and let it cool slightly.

    4. FILL the rolls: Place a wrapper on a clean flat surface in front of you so that it looks like a diamond. Place 3 tablespoons of filling in the center. Fold the bottom point up over the filling and roll once. Fold in the right and left points. Brush the beaten egg on the top point. Continue rolling until you have a tight cylinder. Place the filled rolls on a baking sheet and cover with a damp cloth while filling remaining rolls.

    5. FRY: Heat 2-3 inches of cooking oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or wok, to 350°F. Add the egg rolls, a few at a time, and fry until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

    Serve with sweet and sour sauce, plum sauce, hot mustard or jalapeño pepper jelly.

    Recipe copyright Yan Can Cook, Inc., 2014
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EGG ROLLS, SPRING ROLLS & SUMMER ROLLS

    It can be very confusing, but we’ve done our best here to explain the differences.

    While some countries, including China, serve fried egg rolls and spring rolls, the terms are not synonymous. An egg roll has a heavier pastry wrapper of wheat dough that contains eggs—hence the name. The cooked roll can be sliced into sections. Spring roll wrappers are made without egg. A fried spring roll is very fragile and can shatter like phyllo.

  • Egg rolls are deep fried. The wrappers are thicker, making egg rolls more of a filled pastry. They can have a vegetable, egg, meat and/or seafood filling. The filling varies by chef, and can include chopped shrimp, ground beef, ground chicken or turkey, matchstick-sliced pork or Chinese sausage, minced cabbage, carrots, garlic, ginger and mushrooms.
  •  

    Egg Rolls

    Spring Rolls

    Top: Chef Martin Yan’s egg rolls, served with sweet and sour sauce. Photo courtesy Melissas.com | Yan Can Cook. Bottom: Translucent rice paper enables spring and summer rolls to show off the ingredients inside. Photo courtesy Nature Box.

     

  • Spring rolls can be fried or not. The fried versions use thinner wheat wrappers and are narrower and more finger-like. They can be filled with pork and/or shrimp. Spring rolls can also be served in an uncooked rice noodle wrapper. These are traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival in China, hence the name; and are also popular in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Thee rice noodle wrappers are moistened into pliancy and translucency, then filled with seafood, bean thread vermicelli, red lettuce or Boston lettuce leaves, shredded cabbage and carrot, plus wonderfully refreshing herbs—fresh mint, basil and cilantro leaves. They are served with a sweet chili dipping sauce.
  • Summer rolls are made in the style of spring rolls, but with more seasonal ingredients. They are always in a rice noodle wrapper and never fried. The ingredients can be cooked, raw or a mixture, and the colors and shapes show through the translucent wrapper. Ingredients typically include pork and/or shrimp or vegetables, rice vermicelli (noodles) and fresh herbs (basil, cilantro and mint). The dipping sauce for summer rolls is typically a blend of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce or tamari, with minced scallions and a splash of toasted sesame oil.
  •  
    The dipping sauces for the different rolls can be mixed and matched. Our favorites include peanut sauce, a blend of peanut butter and hoisin sauce with garlic; sweet and hot red chili sauce; and rice vinegar/soy sauce.
     
    The way to best learn the differences, of course, is to go out and eat them, or make them at home. But note that even restaurants and retail establishments can abel these different rolls incorrectly.

      

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    VALENTINE’S DAY: Chocolate Stout, Sriracha Stout & Moonstruck Beer Chocolates

    Rogue Chocolate Stout

    Special chocolate craft brews for your
    Valentine. Photo courtesy Rogue Ales.

     

    Here’s what to get a beer-loving Valentine: two stouts created specifically for the occasion and some hot stuff.

  • Rogue Chocolate Stout, with a special Valentine-red label on a 750 ml bottle, is Rogue’s platinum award-winning Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout (one of the highest rated stouts in the world), infused with Dutch chocolate.
  • Rogue Double Chocolate Stout is an amplification of its Chocolate Stout, with big, rich flavors of chocolate, rolled oats, and honey. The 750ml bright red bottle is only available through the end of February.
  • Sriracha Hot Stout. If your Valentine prefers heat to chocolate, look for Rogue Sriracha Hot Stout. The only beer officially sanctioned by Huy Fong Foods (makers of the original Sriracha “Rooster” Hot Sauce) the heat is back for a limited time. Ebony-hued, with rich notes of caramelized malts and warm, slow burn on the finish, it’s also in a bright red bottle.
  • Special Stout Glass. To enhance the stout experience, Rogue collaborated with Spiegelau to create a special stout glass. Expertly crafted, it was designed to accentuate the roasted malt and rich coffee and chocolate notes of Rogue stouts.
  •  

    There’s more information at Rogue.com.

     

    CHOCOLATE BEER TRUFFLES

    Oregon’s Moonstruck Chocolate collaborated with top Oregon craft brewers to develop a superb beer truffle collection.

    The chocolate truffles are rich, nutty sweet, dark and intense, and fresh and hoppy, depending on the beer. Each 12-pack collection features three each of:

  • Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter Truffle
  • Full Sail Brewing Co. IPA Truffle
  • Rogue Ales Hazelnut Brown Nectar Truffle
  • Widmer Brother’s Brewing Hefeweizen Truffle
  •  
    Get yours at MoonstruckChocolate.com.

     

    Beer Truffles

    Beer truffles from Moonstruck Chocolate. Yes, they’re shaped like corks.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Stack Cake Party

    Stack Cake

    Stack Cake

    Stack Cake

    Top: Strawberry Jam Stack Cake from Sweet Auburn Desserts, photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn. Here’s the recipe. Middle photo from TheSimpleElements.com. Here’s the recipe. Bottom photo from Maman Bakery Cafe | NYC.

     

    Do you have plans for Valentine’s Day? If you have nothing going on, why not round up a group of friends and neighbors and have a stack cake party?

    What’s a stack cake?

    STACK CAKE HISTORY

    Stack cake is an old-fashioned concept from the Southern Appalachian Mountains. It originated as a wedding cake alternative in that economically-challenged region.

    Each guest or family would bring a layer for the cake, and the bride’s family would provide the filling. The layers would be assembled at the party.

    The result: a rustic layer cake with no icing but lots of heart.

    Beyond weddings, stack cake parties were another way for people to get together to exchange recipes and gossip.

    Many types of cake layers could be brought, from sponge-like layers to cookie-like layers. In order stop the typical seven or eight layers from toppling over, each layer was sometimes pressed very flat.

    These days, another un-iced cake, called naked cake, is enjoying its moment. Unlike stack cake, the whole naked cake is made by one person, in one flavor. The sides of the cake aren’t iced, although the top usually is.

    Rather than an economical way to assemble a cake, naked cake economizes on calories and labor, by not frosting the sides.

    YOUR STACK CAKE PARTY

    You never knew exactly how the layers would add up. Even if you told everyone to bring an eight-inch layer of yellow cake or chocolate cake…well, what are the odds that they’d match, even if you provided a recipe?

    Besides, isn’t it more fun if to have a pot luck cake with different layers: carrot, chocolate, devil’s food, gingerbread, red velvet, vanilla and, well, we’d like a layer with big chocolate chunks?

    All you have to do is:

  • Tell everyone what size to make their layer cake (eight inches is standard).
  • You can cap the layers at four or five, or make two cakes.
  • You can assign flavors, or let the universe decide what you get.
  • You provide the filling and some icing to decorate the top.
  • Or you can delegate those, too, and just focus on the beverages.
  •  

     
      

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    FOOD FUN: Good Luck Foods For The Chinese New Year

    The Chinese New Year starts on February 8th. It’s the Year of the Monkey.

    It’s also known as the Lunar New Year, since it’s based on the lunar calendar; and other Asian countries besides China celebrate it. The celebration lasts for 15 days, and is celebrated by an estimated 1.4 billion people around the world.

    Families gather to feast and to wish each other good luck in the year ahead. Children may be given red envelopes filled with coins, although the money inside is not as important as the color and symbol found on the envelopes, which signify happiness and good blessings.

     
    FUN FACTS ABOUT CHINESE NEW YEAR

    These tidbits come from Calbee North America, a company that specializes in crisp, natural snacks with popular brands like Harvest Snaps, Saya Snow Pea Crisps and Shrimp Chips.

  • The start of the Chinese New Year varies each year. It depends entirely on the phases of the moon, which is why it is also known as the Lunar New Year. It usually begins sometime between January 21st and February 10th.
  • The Chinese New Year engenders the world’s largest human migration, known as Chunyan. More than one billion people board planes, trains, boats, buses and cars to visit loved ones.
  • Chinese New Year celebrations were born out of fear and myth. Legend spoke of the wild beast Nien (which also is the word for year) who appeared at the end of each year, attacking and killing villagers. Loud noises and bright lights were used to scare the beast away.
  • No meat is eaten on the first day of the Chinese New Year. This is meant to ensure a long and happy life. (Did those ancient Chinese know about cholesterol?)
  • The meal on Chinese New Year’s Eve is the most important dinner of the year. Typically, families gather at a relative’s house for dinner. These days, many families often celebrate at a restaurant.
  • Greet people with the phrase Kung Hei Fat Choi. It means Happy New Year, or May You Have Good Fortune, in Cantonese.
  •    

    Calamondin Oranges

    Pomelo

    Lucky citrus: Both oranges and pomelos are considered good luck for the Lunar New Year. Top photo courtesy FamilyFeedbag.com, bottom photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     

     

    Branzino

    A whole fish is served to ensure a good start and finish to the year. Photo courtesy Eataly.

     

    GOOD LUCK FOODS

    Stock up for Chinese New Year with:

    1. Oranges & Tangerines

    Displaying these fruits, and eating them, is said to bring wealth and luck. The tradition stems from the way the Chinese words for gold and orange sound alike, while the word for tangerine echoes luck.
     
    2. Long Noodles

    Eating the longest possible noodles portends long life. Unless you can buy uncut fresh strands from a pasta shop, look for a box of spaghettoni.
     
    3. Pomelo

    This parent of the grapefruit is thought to bring prosperity and status, because its Cantonese name sounds similar to the words for prosperity and status. (The pomelo was crossed with a variety of orange to produce the grapefruit.)

     
    4. Long Leafy Greens and Long Beans

    Chinese broccoli and long beans are cooked without slicing, to wish for a long life. You can substitute regular broccoli, broccoli rabe or broccolini. As for the long beans: They’re so much fun, so see if you can find them at a Chinese grocer.
     
    5. Whole Fish

    The Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for abundance. The fish is served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good start and finish to the year.

      

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    PRODUCT: Mardi Gras King Cake Kit

    King Cake

    King Cake

    Here’s what you can make from the King Cake Kit. You can use the icing and sparkling sugars to create your own special design. Photos courtesy King Arthur Flour.

     

    Egad: It’s a perfect storm of food holidays! The Super Bowl is February 7th, Lunar New Year begins February 8th, Mardi Gras follows on February 9th, and Valentine’s Day is February 14th.

    We’re tackling them one by one. Here, an easy and most delicious King Cake kit from King Arthur Flour lets you celebrate in style. It has everything you need to make a fine King Cake. You can even host a King Cake party, as many do in Louisiana.

    Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are eaten in Louisiana during the Carnival season: at home, in offices and at King Cake parties.

    While people in other parts of the country may order a King Cake from a baking company in Louisiana, making your own with a King Arthur product is likely to be tastier, not to mention less expensive and more fun.
     
    THE KING CAKE KIT

    What’s included:

  • 1-pound box of premium cake mix (an egg- and butter-rich yeasted sweet dough)
  • Almond paste for the filling
  • White icing mix
  • 2-ounce bag of each decorating sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of yellow, green and purple
  •  
    The traditional plastic baby is not included, but you can get one at the nearest party store (in the Baby Shower section).

    The kit is $19.95 at KingArthurFlour.com.

     
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    *The colors were selected in 1872 to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Alexis Alexandrovich Romanoff, whose house colors were purple, green and gold. Purple signifies justice, green represents faith and gold is for power.

     

    THE HISTORY OF KING CAKE

    The King Cake is an adaptation of the French Epiphany Cake. While an Epiphany Cake is subdued—a round of crisp brown pastry—the celebration cakes in New Orleans are decorated in the three official colors of Mardi Gras: purple, green and gold*.

    The cake itself is named for the three Wise Men, also called Magi or Kings. In France the Epiphany Cake is called galette des rois, king cake.

    The King Cake tradition is believed to have arrived in New Orleans around 1870. In France, puff pastry (pâte à choux) is filled with almond cream (frangipane). But in New Orleans, the concept took another direction.

    The first King Cakes for Mardi Gras were simple rings of yeast dough, some braided, with a small amount of decoration.

    The cakes became more festive over time, incorporating the Mardi Gras colors.

    In more recent years, the fillings have followed modern tastes. You can find them in chocolate, numerous fruit flavors, even cream cheese. Royal icing with the three official colors of sparkling sugar decorate the tops.

    Shapes have evolved, too: round, oval, square, and at fine restaurants, deconstructed. There are also cookie and macarons in purple, green and gold.

    The ubiquitous cakes range from garish supermarket options to elegant pastry from the best bakers.
     
    What About The Baby?

    The cake traditionally includes a small plastic baby representing Baby Jesus. The person who gets the piece of cake with the baby is said to have good luck for the next year.

    Note, however, that the lucky trinket has various privileges and obligations, which can include hosing next year’s party—or at least, bringing the cake.

    After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar toppings in the Mardi Gras colors.

    Today, a tiny plastic baby is the common prize. At a party, the King Cake is sliced and served. Each person looks to see if their piece contains the “baby.” If so, then that person is named “King” for a day and bound by custom to host the next party and provide the King Cake.
     
    In earlier days, the baby might be made of porcelain, or even gold in wealthy homes.

    These days, since no one should bake plastic inside a cake, the trinket is typically inserted through the underside of the baked cake.

    In the past, as in France, other trinkets such as coins and charms could be baked into the cake. In humbler homes, a pecan, pea or bean could be baked in.

    Trinket or not, we look forward to a big slice of our King Arthur King Cake.

     

    King Cake

    Glamorous King Cake

    Deconstructed King Cake

    Baby Figurines

    Top: A nicely decorated King Cake from Hudson Valley Chocolates. Second: A glamorous King Cake from New Orleans confectioner Sucre. Third: Chef Ric Tramonto’s deconstructed King Cake at Restaurant R’evolution. Bottom: A baby figurine is inserted into the cake. These are from Wilton, but any party store should have them.

     

      

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