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Archive for Christmas

TIP OF THE DAY: Strawberry Wreath

No matter how many pies, cakes and cookie platters were served at Christmas dinner, our mom always put out one more dessert: fresh fruit salad.

It always had takers, from calorie counters to healthy eaters to people avoiding lactose, gluten, refined sugar, whatever, to people who were too full to eat something rich.

But as much as we treasure memories of mom sectioning all types of citrus for her fruit salad, this strawberry wreath is an even better idea.

Buy four or more pints of strawberries with fresh green crowns (your grocer may have jumbo value packages). Wash and pat dry, leaving the crowns intact. If the crowns are dried out, remove them and accent the berries with some green grapes instead.

Lay the berries out in a wreath shape on a tray or cutting board. Cover with plastic wrap to keep in the moisture until you’re ready to serve the wreath.

Provide a low-calorie yogurt dip, such as:

  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt sweetened with agave and a pinch of cinnamon
  • Siggi’s Icelandic Style Strained Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt*

    Strawberry Wreath

    This is the easiest Christmas fruit dessert. Photo courtesy California Strawberries.

  • Dannon Oikos Nonfat Yogurt in Strawberry or Strawberry Banana

    Strawberry Heart

    For Valentine’s Day, make a strawberry
    heart. Photo courtesy


    You’ll get oohs and aahs plus voices of appreciation.

    If the berries aren’t sweet enough, provide a bowl of sugar and noncaloric sweetener, or a squeeze bottle of agave or honey.

    We actually sprinkle Splenda over the berries before plating them, which solves the problem. But not everyone likes the idea of artificial sweetener.

    We wish you a berry happy holiday!
    *You can use any vanilla yogurt, but Siggi’s is one of the lowest sugar vanilla yogurts on the market.




    RECIPE: Bacon & Sweet Potato Biscuits

    Bacon Biscuits

    Cooked & Raw Bacon

    TOP PHOTO: Bacon and sweet potato biscuits from BOTTOM PHOTO: When you cook bacon for the biscuits, you can make extra for your eggs.


    Is there a better breakfast bread than warm biscuits? This recipe, from, seems especially right for Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings. If you want, you can use a biscuit mix instead of combining everything from scratch.

    Prep time is 20 minutes, cook time is 45 minutes. Split leftover biscuits in half horizontally and add sliced ham or other sandwich fixings.


    Ingredients For 12 Biscuits
    For The Biscuits

  • 6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 medium or 2 small orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (14 to 16 ounces total), peeled
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder*
  • 1 tablespoon sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda*
  • 1 teaspoon salt*
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1 cup buttermilk (regular or lowfat)
    For The Honey Butter

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Salt
    *You can substitute the flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda and salt for 3 cups of biscuit mix.

    1. WRAP the sweet potato with a damp paper towel and microwave on high until very soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, mash with a potato masher and set aside to cool. Meanwhile…

    2. COOK the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until golden and crisp, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, then set aside to cool. Carefully set aside 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings from the skillet.

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

    4. COMBINE the flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, salt and allspice in a food processor, and pulse a few times. Add the cubed butter and pulse to make a coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and gently mix in the bacon, buttermilk and 1 cup of the mashed sweet potato (save any remaining potato for another use—including folding into an omelet to go with the biscuits).

    5. TRANSFER the mixture to a floured work surface and knead a few times to form a dough. Pat the dough to about 1-inch thick, then gently fold in half. Gently repeat 4 more times. Roll the dough out to 3/4-inch thick, then use a floured 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter to cut dough into biscuits, arranging them on the prepared baking sheet. Gather the scraps and repeat to make a total of 12 biscuits. Bake until the biscuits are browned and a tester comes out clean, 15 to 18 minutes. While the biscuits bake…

    6. COMBINE the softened butter, honey, and reserved bacon drippings, mixing until smooth. Add salt to taste. Serve the biscuits with the honey butter on the side.



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Yellow Tail Sparkling Rosé

    If you’re buying sparkling wine for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, you may be tempted to buy Champagne. But unless your guests are wine connoisseurs, you can have just as pleasant an experience with other sparkling wines, for a third to half of the price of the least expensive bottle of Champagne.

    Champagne is a name-protected sparkling wine that is made only in the Champagne region of northeast France. Every other wine that has bubbles is called sparkling wine.

    You can find sparklers from other regions and nations in the $10 to $12 range that are very satisfying in the glass. When mixed into a cocktail, no one can tell the difference.

    But the difference in price is substantial. The most affordable Champagnes tend to be in the $35 range. If you’re buying several bottles, do the math.

    We do buy Champagne and look for values—both the houses we know, like Pol Roger Brut Reserve, $35, and smaller houses that the wine clerk recommends. Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte and Jacquart are $35, the better-known Mumm is $40.

    A number of years ago, on a recommendation from wine expert Robert Parker, we purchased and went crazy for the $35 Egly-Ouriet, a smaller producer we’d never heard of. Today you can find bottles from $38 to $65, depending on the vintage and the retailer.


    Yellow Tail Bubbles

    We buy Yellow Tail Bubbles Sparkling Rosé by the case! It’s also available in Sparkling White. Photo courtesy Yellow Tail.


    When multiple bottles are required, we turn our sights elsewhere, to sparkling wine varieties that are $8 to $15 a bottle. Prices will vary by retailer, but keep an eye out for:

  • Asti Spumante from Italy: Martini Asti is about $12; the sweeter Cinzano Asti, $13, is great with dessert.
  • Australian Sparklers: Our favorite is Yellow Tail Bubbles in regular and rosé, $10.
  • Cava from Spain: For $8, look for Cristalino Brut and Cristalino Brut Rosé; Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut is $12 and Freixenet Cava Carta Nevada Semi Dry (sweeter) is $9.
  • Crémant from France: Numerous labels of this Loire Valley sparkler sell for $12-$15.
  • Prosecco from Italy: Good sparklers are available for $9-$10.
  • California Sparklers: In the lower ranges, look for Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge Brut, $10 and Moet et Chandon’s Chandon Brut, $17.
  • Other American Sparklers:: Domaine Ste Michelle Brut from Oregon ($10) and others from New York to Texas.

    NOTE: If you’re checking prices online, make sure they’re for standard 750ml bottles, not half bottles or splits.


    Moet et Chandon Champagne

    Yellow Tail sparkling wine from Australia
    (photo at top of page) is $10. Moet et
    Chandon Champagne from France (photo
    above) is $40. Photo via Pinterest |



    It’s a question of supply and demand. The supply is limited because by law, Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of northern France. There’s no more land that can be planted with grapes.

    The demand began around 1715 in Paris, when Philippe II became the Regent of France. He liked sparkling Champagne and served it nightly at dinner. The cachet was taken up by Parisan society. Winemakers in Champagne began to switch their products from still wines—the majority produced at the time—to sparkling.

    Throughout the 18th century, new Champagne houses were established. Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Piper-Heidsieck and Taittinger were among the major houses founded during this period.
    Is Champagne Better Than Other Sparkling Wines?

    Champagne has the most complex flavors among sparkling wines, and the greatest aging potential, which deepens the complexity.

    Its unique flavors—toasty and yeasty—are due to the layers of chalk underneath the region’s soil.

    A vast chalk plain was laid down in the Cretaceous period, 145 to 66 million years ago (it’s the same huge expanse that created the White Cliffs of Dover in England). The chalk provides good drainage and reflects the heat from the sun, two factors that influence the flavor of the grapes.

    Champagne makers perfected the méthode champenoise, adding a dosage of sugar that generates a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This creates the bubbles.

    While producers the world over use the méthode champenoise to make sparkling wines, only the vine roots in Champagne grow down into the chalk, creating the prized flavors and body.

    However, not everyone likes yeasty, toasty wines. Other regions produce lighter bodied wines with citrus and other fruity flavors and floral aromas. The only way to discover what you like is to taste, taste, taste.



    RECIPE: Peppermint Mocha Coffee


    Peppermint Mocha Holiday Coffee. Photo courtesy Tylers Coffee.


    You could spend $5 at Starbucks for a Peppermint Latte, or make this over-the-top cup from Tylers Coffee, a Tucson-based specialist in USDA organic, acid-free coffee.

    It’s one of Tylers* most popular seasonal recipes.

    The culinary term mocha refers to a mixture of coffee and chocolate flavors. But the original mocha did not have have anything to do with chocolate.

    It was a term that referred to the fine coffee (what we now call arabica) that was traded in the once-vibrant port of Al Mokha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen.

    Al Mokha was the major marketplace for coffee from the 15th century until the early 18th century, selling beans that were grown in the central mountains of Yemen.

    By the early 19th century, Yemen been supplanted by Ethiopia as the principal trader of coffee. (The coffee plant originated in the highlands of Ethiopia.)


    Ingredients Per Cup

  • 5 ounces espresso or French Roast coffee
  • 1 ounce chocolate shavings
  • 1 ounce candy cane powder (grind up candy canes or striped peppermints)*
  • Garnish: whipped cream
  • Optional garnishes: mini candy cane, chopped candy cane, holiday sprinkles
    *In terms of why Tyler leaves the apostrophe out of is name: You’ll have to ask them!


    1. POUR the coffee into an eight-ounce glass or mug. Add the chocolate shavings and stir until dissolved.

    2. STIR in the candy cane powder. Finish with whipped cream, a mini candy cane and/or chopped peppermints and holiday sprinkles.
    *If you don’t want to grind candy canes you can use a drop of peppermint oil.
    Here are recipes for other peppermint-mocha beverages.


    RECIPE: The Best Fried Calamari (Squid)

    Every year on Christmas Eve we have a Feast Of The Seven Fishes. We’re not of Italian descent, but our mother believed in celebrating every holiday that had good food.

    We’ve previously shared some our past menus:

  • 2014 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2010 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2009 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
    This year we’re adding a new dish to our feast repertoire: fried squid (calamari). Why such a basic preparation?

    We love cornmeal-crusted fried calamari. Sadly, we haven’t seen it on a restaurant menu in several years. Even eateries that are more creative with their food use all-purpose flour.

    So, much as we’re not keen on deep frying in our apartment kitchen with no exhaust fan, we’re jonesing for some cornmeal.

    Our favorite flour for frying is cornmeal; our favorite breadcrumbs are panko, which we use instead of the fresh breadcrumbs in the original recipe. We also use the cornmeal-panko combination for fried chicken.

    If you have corn flour instead of cornmeal, use it. The difference is that corn flour is ground to a much finer texture than cornmeal.


    Ingredients 6 Servings

  • 2 pounds small squid, cleaned
  • 1 cup plain or cornmeal flour
  • Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups breadcrumbs (see recipe below to make your own)
  • Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • Optional garnish: minced fresh parsley (highly recommended)
  • Condiment: sriracha aïoli or other flavored mayonnaise, sriracha ketchup or other flavored ketchup, marinara sauce, tartar sauce or cocktail sauce
    Before you start preparation, here are two important tips from the Sydney Fish Market to fry superior squid:



    Cornmeal-Crusted Squid

    Fried Calamari

    Top photo courtesy Sydney Fish Market. Middle photo courtesy CB Crabcakes. Bottom photo courtesy Bull & Bear.

  • Removing the membrane on the inside of the squid tubes is the key to tender squid.
  • If you’re frying squid in batches, let the oil temperature recover between batches. Otherwise, the coating will absorb too much oil and will become soggy. You can alternate between two fryers as a solution.

    1. SLICE the squid tubes into two or three sections, turn them inside out and wipe firmly with a clean, damp cloth to remove any membrane. Then slice into rings. Cut the tentacles (a delicacy we love!) in half.

    2. SEASON the flour well with salt and pepper and place in a bowl. Place the eggs in another bowl and the breadcrumbs in a third bowl.

    3. DUST squid in flour, shaking off any excess. Then dip into the egg, drain well and coat in breadcrumbs. Place on a plate, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

    4. HEAT the oil oil in a wok or deep-fryer to 360°F/180°C. Deep-fry squid in batches, for 1-2 minutes, until golden and crisp (frying for more than two minutes will toughen the squid). Drain on paper towels. Cool the oil between batches; skim it to remove any loose crumbs.

    5. SPRINKLE the cooked squid with salt and optional parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.

    1. PULSE day-old (or stale) bread in a food processor until finely crumbed.

    2. STORE in an airtight container in the freezer to use whenever breadcrumbs are required. You can mix crumbs from different types of bread, and always have a crumbs on hand while finding a good use for old bread.


    Raw Squid


    Top photo: Don’t discard the tentacles;
    they’re delicious. If you don’t want to fry
    them, save them and blanch them later.
    Photo courtesy Ultimate-guide-to-greek-



    In The Beginning: Taxonomy

    While “calamari” has become a culinary term that encompasses calamari, squid and even cuttlefish, they are “different species,” as the popular term goes. Literally, they are in different orders; and below the order level are hundreds of genuses of “squid” worldwide, differing in size, skin color and other features.

    If your eyes are starting to glaze over, skip to the next section, “The Source Of The Confusion.” Otherwise, soldier on:

    One step down from the top taxonomy, Kingdom (here Animalia) is the phylum Mollusca.

    Remember your high school biology? After kingdom and phylum comes class, and there are two tasty ones that comprise most of the seafood we eat. Squid and calamari are members of Cephalopoda class; clams, geoducks, mussels, oysters and scallops are in the class Bivalvia. Lobsters, shrimp and other crustaceans differ one level up, at the phylum levele Arthropoda.

    Squid, calamari and cuttlefish are known as cephalopods, mollusks that have lost their hard shells in the evolutionary process. They are members of the class Cephalopoda and subclass Coleoidea. The Coleoidea subclass also includes octopus. They then fall into different families, then species, then genuses within the species.

    After Class is the Order level, where there is a parting of ways: squid and calamari to the order Teuthida and cuttlefish to the order Sepiida. Food geeks who want to know more can check out the full taxonomy.

    Treat cephalopods with the respect they deserve: Scientists believe that the ancestors of modern cephalopods diverged from the primitive, externally-shelled Nautilus (Nautiloidea) some 438 million years ago. This was before there were fish in the ocean, before the first mammals appeared on land, before vertebrates crawled from the sea onto land, and even before Earth had upright plants.

    Cephalopods were once one of the dominant life forms in the world’s oceans. Today there are only about 800 living species of cephalopods, compared with 30,000 species of bony fish. [Source]

    The Source Of The Confusion

    Calamari are plentiful in the Mediterranean Sea; Italians call the live and cooked versions calamari (the singular is calamaro). Since most people in English-speaking countries first encountered dishes called calamari in Italian restaurants, the word is used interchangeably.

    Truth to tell, Italian restaurants in America may well have been selling squid. Wholesalers and retailers blur the lines. Given the scientific complexities, it’s best to let this one lie and use the words interchangeably. Most people couldn’t tell the difference once they’re cleaned and cooked.

    However, if you’re buying raw squid/calamari, you can tell the two apart by the fins:

  • Squid have fins that form an arrow shape on the end of the squid’s body (the body is also known as the tube, hood or mantle).
  • Calamari fins extend almost all the way down the hood.
    Yes, it’s that simple.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Antipasto Platter With Cocktails

    Contemplating what to serve during cocktail hour as guests arrive for Christmas or New Year’s Eve? There are dips, chips, crudités, cheese plates, hot and cold hors d’oeuvre and other possibilities to consider.

    But a recent email from Baldor Specialty Foods rang true: Let people pick what they want from an antipasto table. Just set it out and let your guests help themselves.

    An antipasto platter both pleases foodies and can cover every diet: gluten-free, lactose-free, low calorie, vegan, etc.


    Just because antipasto is an Italian word doesn’t mean every item has to be Italian. If you want to serve Greek feta and kalamata olives, French pâte and Gruyère de Comté: Go for it. Select what you think your guests will like, and select an assortment of colors to make the choices look lively. Here’s a list of possibilities to get you thinking:

  • Assorted olive mix (ideally pitted)
  • Cipppolini onions in agrodolce (sweet and sour marinated onions—recipe)
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Marinated artichoke hearts, bell peppers, mushrooms and/or sundried tomatoes
  • Radishes and carrot sticks
  • Red and yellow cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Roasted red peppers

  • Cherry peppers or pickled jalapeños
  • Cornichons
  • Peppadews
  • Sweet gherkins
  • Other pickled vegetables

  • Anchovies
  • Charcuterie (sausage, salame, pâté)
  • Marinated mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
  • Sliced ham and/or turkey
  • Seafood salad (recipe)
  • Semihard cheese (look for one with something extra: peppercorns, chiles, herbs, olives, etc.)
  • Smoked salmon or gravlax
  • Steamed mussels (recipe)
    Breads & Crackers

  • Breadsticks
  • Mary’s Gone Crackers or other gluten-free option
  • 34 Degrees or other fancy crackers
  • Thin-sliced white or whole-grain baguette

    Antipasto Platter

    Antipasto Items

    Antipasto Plate

    Different presentations of antipasto. Top photo by Spin12. Middle photo by Yulia Davidovich. Bottom photo by Terrasprite.


    The number of items you serve depends on the number of guests. For a smaller group, consider four or five options. For a larger group, plan for eight or more items.

  • Arrange the ingredients artistically on a tray, plate or platter, balancing colors and shapes.
  • If you don’t have the right platter, use smaller plates and bowls.
  • Slice sausages and salamis; with ham, roll or fold.
  • You can leave cheeses whole or cut them into chunks. Semi-hard cheese are better than soft or runny ones; the latter get messier as more people slice them.
  • If any of your selections needs condiments—mustard or cocktail sauce, for example—set them out.
  • Don’t forget small plates, cocktail napkins, cocktail picks or toothpicks.
    If there are any leftovers, the good news is that you’ll enjoy antipasto the next day, instead of trying to use up dip and cold pigs in blankets.



    REC: White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn Bark

    White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn

    Popcorn, peppermints and white chocolate: Yum! Photo courtesy


    We enjoyed this confection so much at a holiday party that we asked for the recipe. Turns out it’s from, the consumer site of The Popcorn Board.

    And it’s easy! Make it for gifts, for your guests and for yourself!

    Also take a look at this recipe white chocolate peppermint pretzels.


    Ingredients For 1 Pound (Twelve 3-Inch Squares)

  • 5 cups popped popcorn (purchased or home-popped)
  • 12 ounces white chocolate baking chips, chopped white chocolate or white candy coating*
  • 1 cup crushed hard candy peppermints
    *We use Guittard white chocolate chips or chop Green & Black’s or Lindt white chocolate bars. We avoid white candy coating because it substitutes vegetable oil for the cocoa butter in real chocolate (and that’s the reason many people dislike “white chocolate,” as they’re actually eating white candy coating).


    1. COVER a baking pan with foil or wax paper; set aside. Place the popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.

    2. MELT the chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Alternatively, melt according to package directions. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the crushed peppermints.

    3. POUR the chocolate mixture over the popcorn mixture and stir to coat. Spread it onto the prepared pan and allow to cool completely. When chocolate is cooled and set…

    4. BREAK into chunks for serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
    Variation: White Chocolate Popcorn Crunch (No Peppermint)

    1. OMIT the candy peppermints.

    2. MIX ½ cup dried cranberries and ½ cup sliced almonds with the popcorn. You can also sprinkle chocolate chips over the popcorn. Pour the melted chocolate over the mixture.

    Popcorn was first popped at least 5,600 years ago in Mexico, by throwing corn kernels on sizzling hot stones.

    Although it is an indigenous American snack, it originally was not a snack food, but was pounded into a meal and mixed with water. This same cooking technique was used by the early American colonists, who mixed ground popcorn with milk and ate it for breakfast.

    Popcorn is a whole grain food. Here’s the history of popcorn.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make A Special Christmas Punch

    When we first received this recipe, we thought: Readers of The Nibble won’t want to buy or make the oleo saccharum. Holiday season is busy enough as it is.

    But we loved the recipe, and decided to make it for our own holiday celebration. We tasted the test batch and thought: We’ll be shortchanging our readers if we don’t share this.

    The recipe was created by Masahiro Urushido, an award-winning New York City bartender. He used Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch, Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur and Lejay Creme de Cassis.

    This punch is inspired by traditional Scottish Christmas pudding, made with dried fruits such as raisins and apricots.

    Masa calls his recipe Pepperdier Christmas Punch, adapting the name of a friend. But since that can be confusing to the rest of us (we tried to research “Pepperdier” online), we’ll rename it slightly to Scotch Christmas Punch, acknowledging both the country of inspiration and the Scotch whisky in the recipe.


    Ingredients For 8 To 10 Servings

  • 1/4 cup raisins or sultanas
  • 6 ounces Scotch Whisky
  • 8 ounces Scottish Breakfast Tea (it’s malty Assam tea, but you can substitute any classic black tea)
  • 6 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces Dubonnet Rouge (substitute sweet vermouth)
  • 2 ounces apricot liqueur
  • 1 ounce creme de cassis
  • 3 tablespoons oleo saccharum syrup (citrus sugar syrup—see below)
  • Sparkling wine*
  • Garnishes: rosemary sprigs, whole cranberries, orange slices and bay leaves

    Christmas Punch

    Oleo Saccharum Syrup

    TOP PHOTO: Christmas punch. Photo by Gabi Porter. BOTTOM PHOTO: Oleo saccharum, a big-sounding name for citrus sugar syrup. Photo courtesy Cocktail & Sons.

    *We happened to have a good bottle of Lambrusco—a red sparkling wine—on hand and it went great with this recipe. Most people will use Cava, Prosecco or another sparkling white wine.

    1. SOAK the raisins in the Scotch for several hours or overnight.

    2. MAKE the oleo saccharum if you aren’t purchasing it (recipe).

    3. MIX all ingredients except the sparkling wine in a punch bowl. Garnish with rosemary, cranberries, orange slices and bay leaves. Top with sparkling wine and serve.
    No Punch Bowl?

    If you don’t have a punch bowl, mix all ingredients except the sparkling wine in a pitcher. To serve, pour the punch into individual glasses, top with sparkling wine and garnish with an orange slice.


    Harney Scottish Breakfast Tea

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/scottish breakfast tea blend jenierteas 230r

    Both of these are Scottish breakfast teas, yet
    look at the difference in the blends. The top
    photo is Scottish Morn from Harney & Sons.
    The bottom photo is Scottish Breakfast tea
    blend from Jenier Teas.



    Oleo saccharum is citrus oil blended with sugar. In Latin, oleo means oil and saccharum means sugar. It became prominent in the 19th-century as a way to provide a subtle citrus flavor and aroma to sweetened drinks, instead of plain sugar syrup (simple syrup).

    Oleo saccharum is made from orange and/or lemon peels (lime peels have too much bitterness) that are muddled (crushed) to release the oils. Sugar is added to the muddled peel and mixes with the citrus oil that emerges from the skins. The peel is strained out, leaving sugared citrus oil.

    You can use it to add an elegant citrus note to any cocktail that requires sugar/simple syrup, and can blend it with club soda for a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.

    The bottled oleo saccharum from Cocktail & Sons, featured in the photo above, is a citrus syrup enriched with fresh lemongrass, toasted green cardamom and ginger. You can buy it on

    Or, it’s easy enough to make your own. Here’s a recipe.

    Here’s something that few people outside the tea industry realize: Breakfast teas, notably English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Scottish Breakfast, are simply strong black tea blends.

    The blends have more flavor to stand up to milk or cream, complement British breakfast foods (eggs, porridge, ham, bacon, etc.) and provide heartiness (more body and caffeine) to energize the drinker in the morning. Afternoon tea blends tend to be lighter and smoother, to pair with sweets and tea sandwiches.


    The British first imported tea from China in the 17th century, to great public appreciation. Coffee was available at the time, but otherwise beer and stout were drunk by everyone, including children, because of contaminated water sources.

    The British became avid tea drinkers, and since the 18th century have been among the world’s greatest per capita tea consumers.

    In China tea is drunk plain, but in the 1720s, the British began to add sugar and milk or cream to create a more comforting beverage. Black tea came to exceed green tea in popularity, as it goes better with sugar and milk. (The same pattern occurred in the Thirteen Colonies.)
    The Different Types Of Breakfast Tea

    In order of robust flavor and body:

  • English Breakfast Tea is the mildest of the strong teas. It can be a blend of teas from Africa, India (Assam), Indonesia and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), with a base of Chinese congou tea. Originally, before tea cultivation expanded beyond China, it was unblended congou tea.
  • Irish Breakfast Tea has a good amount of Assam, giving it Assam’s malty flavor notes and reddish color. It often contain others black teas, including Darjeeling, to balance the intense flavors of Assam.
  • Scottish Breakfast Tea is the strongest of the three, with a base of Assam plus the smoother Keemun tea from China, among other teas in the blend.
    It’s important to note that there is no standard formula for any of these blends and no governing body specifying what each should contain. The blends evolved over time, likely as one vendor sought to copy a popular blend offered by another vendor.

    Thus, teas of the same name—English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Jasmine, etc.—can vary slightly in taste, aroma and appearance from vendor to vendor, and country to country. Names can also vary for the same type of blend. [Source]

    For example, fine tea vendor Harney & Sons calls its Scottish Breakfast Tea “Scottish Morn.” Describing the blend, which was made to the specifications of the American Scottish Foundation, Harney says:

    “A mixture of dark brown leaves, the smaller pieces of Assam and Ceylon and [the] CTC (cut, tear, curl) method make for a stronger tea. This is one of our darkest teas, brewing a very dark brown color. Many Scots would lighten it with milk. Aroma is not the point of this tea, so there are only hints of suggestions of malt. It is caffeinated [and] a very full bodied tea…perhaps the strongest tea we offer. Strong and simple, this tea is meant to be drunk with milk.”

    And now you know about Scottish Breakfast Tea and its kin, English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast. Enjoy the teas…and the punch!



    RECIPE: Christmas Pancakes

    Orange Cranberry Pancakes

    Artisan Maple Syrup

    Top photo: These festive pancakes taste great even if you don’t stack them. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar. Bottom photo: Start with quality maple syrup and turn it into cranberry-maple syrup. Photo courtesy King Arthur Flour.


    We love this festive pancake recipe for the holidays, from Zulka Sugar. It incorporates an array of holiday flavors: cinnamon, cranberry, orange and maple.

    The pancakes and syrup are made from scratch, so it’s a weekend or vacation day recipe in our home.


    For the Pancakes

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoons salt
  • Zest from 2 oranges (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cool
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    For the Cranberry Syrup

  • 1½ cups fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch


    1. COMBINE the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange zest in a large bowl; whisk to combine.

    2. WHISK the eggs in a small bowl, then add the buttermilk, orange juice and vanilla extract. Add the cooled melted butter and stir again to combine. Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. Let sit for 10 minutes.

    3. MAKE the syrup: Combine 1 cup of the cranberries, the maple syrup, sugar, orange juice and lemon juice in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for 2 minutes. When the cranberries start to pop open, use a spoon to smash some of them against the side of the pan.

    4. COMBINE the cornstarch and a little water in a small bowl, just enough water to make the cornstarch liquid. Pour this into the syrup and bring it back to a boil for one minute. Add the remaining cranberries, turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep warm.


    Cranberry Pancakes Stack

    A stack of festive pancakes for the holidays. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar.


    5. PREHEAT a griddle and grease with butter or coconut oil. Pour 1/3 cup batter for each pancake and cook 2-3 minutes or until the pancakes are covered in bubbles and edges are starting to look done. Carefully flip with a spatula and cook another 1-2 minutes or until browned slightly. Keep the pancakes warm and repeat with remaining batter.

    6. SERVE: Place a few pancakes on a plate with 1/3 cup of the cranberry syrup. Serve hot.

    Zulka sugars are minimally processed from freshly-harvested sugar cane. They are not refined, which helps preserve the fresh flavor and natural properties of the sugar cane. You can taste the difference in a cup of tea.

    Zulka makes granulated, confectioners’ (powdered/10x sugar) and brown sugars. Here’s more about Zulka.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Tree & Wreath Christmas Crudités

    Crudites Christmas Wreath

    Christmas Tree Crudites

    Give the crudités some Christmas spirit. Top
    photo courtesy; bottom
    photo courtesy


    Recently we showed how to Christmas-ize your breakfast, lunch and dinner. But we saved the crudites for last.

    At any holiday gathering, it’s a good idea to have a raw vegetable platter (the French term, crudités, pronounced crew-dee-TAY, sounds much more interesting), along with hummus or a nonfat yogurt-based dip.

    But what can you do that’s special for Christmas?

    Turn the crudités into a Christmas tree or wreath.

    You can do it flat on a platter, or turn into a craft project with a styrofoam base: a cone for a Christmas tree or a ring for a wreath.

    And, you can assign it to the kids for their contribution to the festivities.

    Broccoli florets make the best base because they evoke an evergreen tree; but decorate your tree or wreath with:

  • Celery sticks (for the trunk)
  • Bell pepper strips for garlands (orange, red, yellow)
  • Carrot circles (use a crinkle cutter)
  • Cauliflower florets
  • Ciliegine (cherry-size mozzarella balls)
  • Grape tomatoes (red and yellow)
  • Mini cucumber and/or zucchini slices
  • Pearl onions
  • Peppadews (red or yellow-orange)
  • Pimento-stuffed olives and
  • Red gaeta, niçoise or other red olive variety
  • Starfruit (carambola) or a yellow bell peppers to make a star (an inexpensive mini cookie cutter set is a great asset, with star, heart, raindrop, flower, triangle and other shapes)
  • Water chestnuts
    Provide toothpicks to spear the mozzarella balls, olives, etc.

    For dessert, you can serve a low-calorie wreath or tree of fruit, like this fruit Christmas tree we featured previously.

    But it’s only one of the many options that creative cooks have put together. Here are more designs for fruit Christmas trees.



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