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Archive for Christmas

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Jeff’s Famous Jerky

We’ve had Top Pick jerkys before, but they are few and far between. Even small-batch artisan brands can be too tough for us, and/or leave remnants of gristle.

Not so with Jeff’s Famous Jerky. Each variety we tried was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with exquisite flavor. When you can say jerky has exquisite flavor, you know you’ve hit the motherlode.

Jeff’s Famous Jerkey, of Mission Viejo, California deserves to be famous, especially for its eye-opening bacon jerky. Bacon or beef, the meats are marinated in deep, layered marinades.

Jeff’s produces more than a dozen flavors (below).

The beef jerky has lower sodium than most brands, with no added MSG or nitrates. The bacon jerky has less sodium than pan-fried bacon.

The only caveat with jerky in general is that it’s high in sodium (don’t buy it for anyone on a salt-restricted diet).

But it’s almost fat free, and it’s solid protein: One ounce has about 23% of one’s daily value of protein. Before we continue, check out:

TRENDS IN JERKY

And America wants more of this high protein, low-fat, grab-and-go snack that’s naturally gluten-free*.

America’s consumption of meat snacks has increased by 18% over the past five years, according to recent data from The NPD Group, a market research company.

House-made jerky can be found more and more on the menus of fine casual restaurants.

  • At Pakpao Thai in Dallas, the Salty Thai Jerky is one of the top-selling shareable starters, paired with a crisp lager or pilsner. The Massaman Curry jerky pairs well with wheat beers.
  • The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, makes a jerky plate which includes smoked andouille jerky, pork curry jerky, black pepper beef jerky, dehydrated maple syrup and sriracha chips.
  • At Chapter One restaurant in New York City, house-made jerky is used to garnish for duck wings and Bloody Bull cocktails (a Bloody Mary with added beef broth).
  •    

    Jeff's Famous Bacon Jerky

    Jeff's Famous Maple Bacon Jerky

    [1] Oh so delicious: Jeff’s Maple Brown Sugar Jerky. [2] Hot and sweet: Jeff’s Honey & Jalapeño Jerky. (all photos courtesy Jeff’s Famous Jerky).

     
    Jeff’s Famous Jerky is so tender and tasty, you can bring it to the dinner table and pair it with fine foods.

  • We really enjoy it with oysters on the half shell, and with ceviche or pan-fried scallops.
  • You can lie it across or at the side of a protein, crumble it on top as a garnish, or mix it into other dishes like vegetables and pasta.
  • Consider Spaghetti Carbonara (which has bacon in the recipe), Fettuccine Alfredo (bacon is a delicious addition to the cream sauce), or pasta simply tossed with olive oil, bacon jerky and shaved Parmesan cheese.
  • With beer or a hearty red wine, it’s a natural.
  •  

    Jeff's Famous Beef Jerky

    Jeff's Famous Beef Jerky

    Jeff's Famous Jerky Maple Bacon

    [3] Jeff’s beef jerky. [4] and [5] Packages of Jeff’s Jerky.

     

    JEFF’S FAMOUS JERKY VARIETIES

    Jeff’s makes so many flavors of delicious, tender jerky that you won’t know where to start. (We suggest a build-your-own mixed box.)

    The flavors are variously spicy, sweet, hot, and combinations thereof. More importantly, they are clean, clear and natural, beautifully layered to imbue the meat with complex flavors.

    All are hormone-free, without added MSG or preservatives, made from American meats.

    Bacon Jerky Varieties

  • Honey Brown Sugar
  • Honey Jalapeño
  • Maple Brown Sugar
  • Sweet Cinnamon Roll
  •  
    Beef Jerky Varieties

  • Black Pepper Sea Salt
  • Cajun Style
  • Cranberry Jalapeño
  • Habanero Heatwave
  • Jalapeno Carne Asada
  • Korean Barbecue
  • Orange-A-Peel
  • Old Fashioned Original
  • Pacific Red Hot
  • Sriracha Ghost Pepper
  • Sweet & Smokin’ BBQ
  • Sweet Teriyaki
  •  
    GET YOURS NOW!

    Single-flavor packages are $6.99 at JeffsFamousJerky.com. The beef packages contain 3 ounces of jerky; the bacon packages have 2 ounces.

    Build-your-own variety packs offer a 20% savings; and there are gift boxes with personalized notes.

    For Easter treats, tie a ribbon through the punch hole on top of the bag, and maybe add some bunny stickers.

     
    SOME JERKY HISTORY

    The word jerky comes from the Quechua language of the Incas, who called their dried meat “charqui.” But they were hardly the first people to make it.

    Neither were Homo sapiens, we can deduce. Homo erectus emerged 1.5 million years ago, and evidence found five years ago in a South African cave suggests Homo erectus that built campfires.

    The remains of animal bones and plant ash could be dated to a million years ago. [source]

    By the time Homo sapiens emerged, 195,000 years ago, man had been enjoying barbecue, and by extension jerky, for some time.

    Drying food is one of the first three food preservation techniques, along with salting and, in northern climes, packing with snow in ice caves or cellars.

    Meat dried over a smoky fire is protected from egg-laying insects and multiplying bacteria (they need moisture to live). Cutting it into thin strips makes it easier to chew.

    All the fat is trimmed from the meat because fat doesn’t dry. The dried meat could (and can) then be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration.

    While the prehistoric method of drying the meat was used by other ancient peoples, it was not known in Europe.

    The first visitors to the New World found Native Americans making jerky† from the meat of any animal they hunted (that which wasn’t consumed immediately).

    In addition to helping early colonists stave off starvation, later pioneers who headed west quickly learned to make jerky. It was easy to transport, and was an important, high-protein addition to their diet.

    The meat for jerky could be anything from buffalo to whale. Today jerky can be found in proteins as common as turkey, tuna and salmon, to exotics such as alligator and ostrich.

    Today’s jerky eaters have the luxury of enjoying it as a snack rather than a necessity. We also have the pleasure of using tender cuts of meat marinated in a variety of spices, salt and/or sugar—seasonings that were not available to most ancients jerky-makers.

    Modern jerky is dried in low-heat smokers, as opposed to the ancient technique of hanging strips of meat racks to dry in the hot sun. (The campfire could hold only so much.)

    If your only experience with jerky has been dry and tasteless jerky, you deserve some of the good stuff.
    ________________

    *Some brands or flavors within brands may use soy sauce or other glutinous ingredient in the marinade.

    †The pemmican you may have read about in tales of early America was dried meat mixed with dried berries and rendered animal fat. It was invented by Native Americans and used extensively by immigrants in the fur trade. Many years later, it served as a high-calorie food for Arctic and Antarctic explorers such as Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Marshmallow Designs

    Valentine Marshmallows

    Marshmallow Snowflakes

    Heart Cookie Cutter

    Blackberry Marshmallows

    [1] Cut heart shapes for Valentine’s Day (photo courtesy Kavemania | Facebook). [2] Use cookie cutters to create special designs (photo courtesy Martha Stewart and [3] SXC). [4] These artisan marshmallows are delicious, but too tall and pillowy to cut into shapes (photo The Nibble).

     

    If you have an eye out for delicious confections, you may see all flavors of artisan marshmallows—usually super-sized. If you want to cut them into more manageable pieces, don’t use a knife: It sticks.

    HOW TO CUT MARSHMALLOWS

    Instead, use sharp kitchen scissors. Dip them in warm water, or use a paper towel to apply a very thin coat of neutral cooking oil, like canola or grapes.

    You can try both methods to see which you prefer.

    Then, snip away and use the smaller pieces.

    Slices can be placed into petal designs. If your palate and doesn’t like supermarket marshmallows (or prefer vegan marshmallows, sugar-free marshmallows, etc.), this is also the way to get mini marshmallows.
     
    WAYS TO USE MARSHMALLOWS

    Beyond garnishing hot chocolate, you can:

  • Add to pancake batter (how about Rocky Road pancakes?).
  • Add to peanut butter or PB-and-banana sandwiches.
  • Add to whole grain cereals for a better version of Lucky Charms.
  • Create a pie topper: Bake the pie at 400°F for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the marshmallows are toasted.
  • Dip in chocolate fondue.
  • Garnish ice cream.
  • Garnish sweet cocktails.
  • Garnish sweet potatoes.
  • Make ambrosia salad.
  • Make fruit and marshmallow skewers or marshmallows-on-a-stick.
  • Make rocky road brownies or cookies.
  • Make S’mores.
  • Toss coffee-flavored marshmallows into hot coffee.
  •  
    MAKE YOUR OWN MARSHMALLOW DESIGNS

    It’s easy to make flatter marshmallows in the shapes you like, as special garnishes. Use the marshmallows immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

    We adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart. The process is the same if you want regular size marshmallows. Just use fill a baking pan to the height you want, and cut the marshmallows into the size and shape you like.

    Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 2 envelopes (each 1 scant tablespoon) unflavored gelatin
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Optional: food color
  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray
  •  
    Plus

  • 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Offset spatula
  • Snowflake cookie cutter (or shape of choice)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SPRAY the baking sheet with cooking spray; line with parchment paper and spray the parchment. Set aside.

    2. ADD the water to the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle with gelatin and let the mixture soften (about 5 minutes).

    3. PLACE the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and the second 1/3 cup water in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove lid; then cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the syrup reaches 238°F (soft-ball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes.

     
    4. TURN the mixer to low speed, whisk the gelatin mixture and slowly pour the syrup in a steady stream down the side of the bowl (this avoids splattering). Gradually raise the speed to high and beat until the mixture is thick, white, and has almost tripled in volume (about 12 minutes). Add the vanilla, and beat 30 seconds more to combine. If you want to color your marshmallows, add a drop or two of food color at this time.

    5. POUR the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and smooth with an offset spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

    6. CUT: Coat a 1- or 2-inch snowflake-shaped cookie cutter with cooking spray to prevent it from sticking. Cut out individual marshmallows as possible, re-spraying the cookie cutter as needed. Use the marshmallows immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week. If they become hard, pop them in the microwave for 2-3 seconds (not longer or they’ll begin to melt).
     
    USING MARSHMALLOWS FOR KITCHEN TASKS

    A marshmallow can stop ice cream cones from dripping, soften brown sugar, steady tapers in candle holders, and more.

    Plus, tips to keep them soft, unstick th em and freeze them, and Check ‘em out.
     
    THE HISTORY OF MARSHMALLOWS

    The ancient Egyptians were the first to use sap from the root of the marsh mallow, a swamp plant, to make candy. (It was also used medicinally.)

    Here’s the history of marshmallows.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Champagne Gelatin (Not Jell-O) Shots

    Champagne Jell-O Shots

    Champagne Jell-O Shots Recipe

    Champagne Gelatin Shots

    [1] Erica’s Sweet Tooth found fancy picks to decorate her champagne gelatin shots. We could only find these at Ali Express, but we did find others with jewel-like accents and these with faux pearls. Plus, instructions to make your own. [2] Coucou Jolie used a star-shape ice cube mold to make stars. You can stir edible gold glitter stars into the mix before setting, or put them in the mold first, so they’ll create a garnish on top. [3] Got Pop Rocks? They do at Shimmy Shimmy Cake, a custom cakery in Austin, Texas.

     

    For conventional champagne to celebrate a special occasion, check out our recommendations.

    For less expensive but perfectly lovely non-champagne sparkling wines, we like these alternatives—great values, starting at just $10!

    But for a side of champagne gelatin shots, check out the recipes below.

    Point of accuracy: When a recipe is made with unflavored gelatin, not flavored Jell-O, it’s a gelatin shot. Jell-O is a brand that makes only flavored gelatin.

    You can make a red version of the gelatin shots with Lambrusco or other red sparkling wine, and present a platter of both red and white options.

    And you cab make a mocktail version by substituting sparkling cider.
     
    RECIPE #1: CHAMPAGNE JELL-O SHOTS

    Erica of EricasSweetTooth.com adapted the first recipe from Bakers Royale.

    Also check out her Funfetti Cheesecake Ball: It was designed to resemble the Times Square Ball.

    Ingredients For 15 Shots

  • 10 ounces plus 5 ounces Champagne (or better yet, Cava, Prosecco or other reasonably-priced sparkling white wine)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 envelopes Knox plain gelatin
  • Optional garnish: white or other color sparkling sugar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the sugar and 10 ounces of the champagne in a saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let it soften for 2 minutes.

    2. PLACE the saucepan over low heat and stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the remaining 5 ounces of champagne, stirring to combine.

    3. POUR the mixture into a brownie pan or other square/rectangular container and chill for at least an hour.

    4. CUT: First dip the pan into warm water and use a knife along the sides to gently release the Jell-O. Use a sharp knife to cut squares. Before serving, dip the tops in the sparkling sugar and serve with a festive toothpick.
     
    RECIPE #2: CHAMPAGNE GELATIN SHOTS WITH POP ROCKS

    Shimmy Shimmy Cake offers this variation, topped with Pop Rocks for some holiday “fireworks.”

    Regarding the Pinnacle Whipped Vodka, she says: “This is the absolute best vodka to use when making Jello Shots—just trust me on this one!”

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup creme soda
  • 1/2 cup sparkling wine
  • 2 envelops of unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup Pinnacle Whipped Vodka
  • Preparation

    1. COMBINE the soda and sparkling wine in a small sauce pan and stir. Sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture and let it sit for 1 minute.

    2. COOK the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin disolves (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir inthe vodka.

    3. POUR into a square baking dish (a cake pan is fine). Refrigerate until firmly set set (you can speed up the process by putting the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes). When ready to serve…

    4. CUT and plate, then top with Pop Rocks. Do not plate until ready to because as the Pop Rocks start to melt the gelatin. Also do not refreeze after plating; they will stick to the plate.

     
      

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    HAPPY CHANUKAH ~ MERRY CHRISTMAS

    Bagel Tree Ornament

       
     
     
     
    Only 4 times in the last 100 years
    has Chanukah fallen on Christmas Eve.

    Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
    Now, Prancer and Vixen!
    On, Comet! On, Cupid!
    On, Donner and Blitzen!

    Say hello to Chanukah Harry!

     

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: 12 Types Of Christmas Muffins

    We first read Little Women in our tween years. Far into adulthood, we re-read it every few years and watch the showing on TV:

  • The 1933 original with Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Jean Parker, Frances Dee et al.
  • The 1994 remake with Winona Ryder, Kristen Dunst, Gabriel Byrne, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes, Christian Bale, Eric Stoltz, Susan Sarandon et al.
  •  
    The biographical novel takes place during the Civil War—although far away from it, in Concord, Massachusetts. As the novel opens, four teenage sisters, their mother and the family retainer are living in reduced circumstances, while the father is away ministering to the troops.

    The family is struggling to make ends meet, and the sisters are about to sit down to a special Christmas breakfast, when their mother asks if they will give up their meal to a suffering immigrant family whose father [presumably] has passed away. They are living in a shack with no food or firewood, and a broken window to boot.

    In the true spirit of Christmas charity, the girls pack up their breakfast and carry it to the desperate family.

    The passage reminds us that, no matter how poor the Marches may seem, true poverty and suffering is vastly different.
     
    OUR CHRISMAS MUFFIN INSPIRATION

    We were inspired by the Christmas story and began to donate a week’s allowance to the Salvation Army. We also induced our mom to create the March Christmas breakfast for us.

    The novel is scant on details, but mentions cream, muffins, buckwheat [probably porridge] and bread.* Mom made buckwheat blini with sour cream and salmon caviar, omelets and muffins with raisins and pecans. We had cream instead of the usual milk in our tea. It became an annual event until we grew up and moved away.

    Fortunately, NIBBLE readers can afford a fine Christmas breakfast. If you’re not a big breakfast eater, you can still enjoy fresh-baked muffins, and cream in your tea or coffee.

    Here are 12 recipes to consider—one for each of the 12 days of Christmas—beginning with gingerbread muffins from I Heart Eating.

     
    RECIPE #1: GINGERBREAD MUFFINS

    Ingredients For 12 Muffins

  • 2½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk low-fat ok
  • 1/3 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • Optional garnish: 2 tablespoons sparkling sugar
  • Optional: fresh sweet butter† for serving
  •  
    ________________
    *A Victorian breakfast would have included eggs baked in cream, sausages, potatoes, biscuits, fruit and a Christmas pudding.

    †For special occasions, we spring for Kerrygold, Plugrá or our favorite European-style cultured butter from Vermont Creamery.

     

    Cranberry Muffins

    Gingerbread Muffins

    Ginger Fig Muffins

    Strawberry Marzipan Muffins

    [1] Cranberry streusel muffins from Eats Well With Others. [2] Gingerbread muffins from I Heart Eating. [3] Ginger-fig muffins made with fig jam, from Dave Bakes. [4] Strawberry marzipan muffins from Sandra Lee.

     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, or grease with cooking spray.

    2. COMBINE the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl, combine. Set aside.

    3. WHISK together the coconut oil and brown sugar in a separate large bowl. Whisk in the molasses, then whisk in the egg. Add the milk and yogurt and whisk until well-combined. Finally, add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

    3. SCOOP the batter into muffin cups (the cups will be full). Sprinkle the tops with sparkling sugar (a.k.a. decorating sugar, coarse sugar). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.
     
    11 MORE CHRISTMAS MUFFIN IDEAS

  • RECIPE #1: Apple Cider Muffins With Cinnamon Chips
  • RECIPE #2: Apple-Pecan Streusel Muffins
  • RECIPE #3: Cranberry Bliss Muffins With Cream Cheese Frosting
  • RECIPE #4: Cranberry Eggnog Muffins
  • RECIPE #5: Fruitcake Muffins (add an optional tablespoon of orange liqueur)
  • RECIPE #6: Ginger Fig Muffins
  • RECIPE #7: Meyer Lemon, Cranberry & Poppyseed Muffins
  • RECIPE #8: Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Morning Muffins
  • RECIPE #9: Cinnamon Streusel Muffins
  • RECIPE #10: Orange-Cranberry-Marzipan Muffins
  • RECIPE #11: Strawberry Marzipan Muffins
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