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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Holidays & Occasions

FOOD FUN: Pie Crust Cutters

Surrounded by luscious spring and summer fruits, it’s hard not to want to bake a pie—or to learn how to bake one, if you’ve never dipped a toe in the oven.

Two pie gadgets from Williams-Sonoma make even a novice seem like a sophisticated pie baker.

LATTICE PIE CRUST CUTTER

Like lattice crusts but lack the time or patience to make them?

Williams-Sonoma offers this solution: a lattice pie crust cutter. It quickly and easily cuts a lattice-like crust from rolled-out dough.

You simply place the lattice insert in the bottom of the gadget’s frame, then lay a sheet of rolled dough on top. To create the pattern, use a rolling pin to press the cutter into the dough. Lift off the insert and invert the latticed dough onto the pie.

It’s not as dramatic as a hand-woven lattice, but it’s certainly more interesting than a solid top crust!

   

lattice-pie-crutter-230sq-WS

Press a lattice-style pie crust in 1-2-3. Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.

 

Get yours at Williams-Sonoma.com, $19.95.

 

american-flag-pie-cutter-WS-230

A patriotic pie, indeed! Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.com.

 

AMERICAN FLAG PIE CRUST CUTTER

What we really love is this American flag pie crust cutter, also from Williams-Sonoma and also $19.95.

While we try to avoid bringing single-use gadgets into our small kitchen, we made an exception for this one. Now, a patriotic pie will be our annual contribution to July 4th festivities.

Get yours at Williams-Sonoma.com.

Both inserts are designed for use with a 12″ diameter pastry crust.

 

  

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RECIPE: Rocky Road Truffles

Today is National Rocky Road Day. The original Rocky Road was an ice cream flavor invented in 1929 by William Dryer. He chose the name to describe the bumpy appearance of ice cream packed with chocolate, marshmallows and walnuts. Since the Great Depression began in October of that year, it was also a tongue-and-cheek reference.

Pastry chef and cookbook author Emily Luchetti has taken Dryer’s original flavor profile and added her own twist, to make Rocky Road Truffles, developed for the California Walnut Board.

Chocolate ganache surrounds walnuts and marshmallows, with a light dusting of cocoa powder. The truffles melt in your mouth.

Make them for a family treat or for a special occasion like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day. The truffles can be made a week in advance. The better quality the chocolate, the tastier the truffles. (We used a Valrhona chocolate bar.)
 
RECIPE: ROCKY ROAD TRUFFLES

Ingredients For 30 One-Inch Truffles

 

Here, the rocky road is welcome. Photo courtesy California Walnut Board.

  • 6 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup mini marshmallows cut in half (use scissors)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips or chocolate bar chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WARM the cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until hot and bubbling around the edges, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Swirl the pan lightly so the chocolate is covered by the cream. Cover and let sit 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth.

    2. WHISK occasionally until the mixture is at room temperature. Then stir in the marshmallows, walnuts and milk chocolate chips. Spread the chocolate cream in a 9-inch pan or pie plate. Refrigerate until hard, at least 1 hour.

    3. PLACE a heaping teaspoon for each truffle in a single layer on a pan. Refrigerate until hard.

    4. PUT the cocoa powder on a plate or in a small bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. One at a time, place the chocolate balls in the cocoa powder. Dust your palms with cocoa powder and lightly roll the truffles between your palms until round. (The cocoa powder keeps them from sticking to your hands.) Finally, roll the round truffles in the the cocoa powder. (If at any point the chocolate gets too warm and the truffles become difficult to roll, refrigerate the chocolate for 30 minutes until it firms up.)

    5. REFRIGERATE until ready to serve. For gifting, you can wrap the truffles up in tissue paper and tie the bundle with a ribbon.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Grilled Chicken Or Fish With Pico De Gallo

    There are many different types of salsa, but our favorite is the finely chopped fresh salsa called pica de gallo.

    Pico de gallo, pronounced PEE-coh-deh-GAH-yo, is Spanish for “rooster’s beak.” How did it get that name? It once was eaten between the thumb and finger in a way that resembled a pecking rooster. (Salsa as finger food?!)

    Pico de gallo is made with finely diced raw tomatoes, onions, lime juice and cilantro. Jicama and other raw ingredients can be added. It differs from salsa fresca and salsa cruda in that the ingredients are uniformly chopped; but the terms are often used interchangeably. Another term is salsa mexicana.

    Most Americans not of Mexican ancestry limit their use of pico de gallo to Tex-Mex recipes—chips, nachos, tacos, tortilla chips, quesadillas, etc.

    But this better-for-you condiment provides great flavor and nutrition to everyday better-for-you foods, like grilled chicken and fish.

    Those in the know use fresh salsa to complement grilled meats—especially pork and steak—egg dishes, rice and other recipes.

       

    chicken-breast-pico-de-gallo-QVC-230

    Grilled chicken breasts topped with pico de gallo salsa. Delicious and good for you! Photo courtesy QVC.

     
    We make a lower-calorie dip by blending it into nonfat Greek yogurt, and serve it with crudités as well as chips. When people hesitate to eat salad, we mix it into a vinaigrette.

    This recipe is from QVC’s chef David Venable. Serve it with a large salad, other sides of choice, and a few tortilla chips for crunch.

    If you’re pressed for time, buy the salsa (it’s in the refrigerator case). Then just grill, top and enjoy!

     

    A bowl of pico de gallo surrounded by tortilla chips

    Pico de gallo is delicious with so much more than tortilla chips—and low in calories, too. Photo © WayMoreAwesomer | Fotolia.

     

    RECIPE: GRILLED CHICKEN OR FISH WITH PICO DE GALLO

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

    For The Pico De Gallo

  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Optional: tortilla chips
  •  
    For The Chicken Or Fish

  • 4 (5–6 ounces) boneless, skinless chicken breasts/fish fillets
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Preparation

    1. MAKE the pico de gallo: Toss all the ingredients in a medium-size bowl until evenly combined. Place into an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

    2. PREPARE the chicken or fish. If chicken, place the breasts between 2 pieces of wax paper. Use a meat mallet to pound them to a 3/4″ thickness.

    3. PLACE all the ingredients into a large zip-tight bag. Gently toss so the marinade evenly coats the chicken/fish. Place in a bowl in the refrigerator and marinate at least 8 hours, or up to 12 hours.

    4. PREHEAT the grill to high. Place the chicken breasts onto the hot grill and cook for 4–5 minutes until char marks appear. Flip the chicken and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the chicken reads 165°F, about 4–5 more minutes. Top each chicken breast with pico de gallo before serving.
     
    HOW TO GET CROSSHATCH GRILL MARKS ON THE MEAT

    Most people are happy with simple horizontal grill marks. But if you’d like to get fancy and create crosshatch marks, just rotate the meat.

    Position the piece(s) at a 45-degree angle (the 1 o’clock position), sear, then turn 90 degrees (back to about the 11 o’clock position). Flip and repeat.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Salsa For National Salsa Month

    Five_Pepper_Salsa-melissas-230

    Salsa fresca, made with raw ingredients. Other salsas are cooked. Photo courtesy Melissa’s.

     

    Salsa, which has been America’s favorite condiment since 2000 (when it supplanted ketchup),actually has been a favorite condiment for thousands of years.

    The chile was domesticated around 5200 B.C.E., and tomatoes by 3000 B.C.E. both in Central America. The Aztecs combined the two, often along with other ingredients like beans and squash seeds, into a condiment, which the Conquistadors named “salsa,” or sauce. Here’s the history of salsa.

    May is National Salsa Month. If you’ve never made salsa at home, now’s the time.

    Basic salsa couldn’t be easier: salsa fresca, “fresh salsa” made with raw ingredients, is a combination of chopped tomatoes, onions, chiles and lime juice.

  • You can customize your salsa with beans, bell peppers, cilantro, corn kernels, and fresh herbs.
  • You can vary the texture: uncooked salsas can be puréed until smooth, chopped finely like pico de gallo or be served semi-chunky, in which case it is called a salsa cruda.
  •  

  • You can include Old World ingredients like garlic and olives.
  • You can add fruit—mango, nectarine, peach and pineapple are the most popular—for sweet heat.
  • You can make salsa verde, green salsa, by substituting tomatillos or avocado for tomatoes (guacamole is avocado salsa; the tomatillo is not a small green tomato but a relative of the gooseberry).
  • You can vary the chile flavor and strength, from mild to hot, from green and vegetal to smoky chipotle.
  •  
    If you want to make a cooked salsa, another world of ingredients opens, including roasted vegetables and sweet potatoes to.
     
    USING MORE THAN ONE CHILE

    There are many easy recipes for salsa fresca; most use jalapeño chiles. But you can layor the chile flavors by adding other varieties.

    We adapted this recipe from one for Five Chile Salsa from Melissas.com. It adds an Anaheim chile to the jalapeño.

    The Anaheim chile was developed around 1900 in Anaheim, California from New Mexican pasilla chiles. (See the different types of chiles.)

    The Anaheim is not a hot chile. It has a modest heat level, as low as 1,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Jalapeños are about 10,000 SHU, while habaneros are 100,000 SHU or more.

    Bell peppers are also chiles (all chiles come from the genus Capsicum), but they have no heat. Chiles, new world fruits, were mis-named “peppers” by Columbus’s sailors, who compared their heat to black pepper (no relation).

    While much of the world continues to use the misnomer “pepper,” we use it only for bell peppers, calling all other varieties by their proper name, chile.

     

    RECIPE: THREE CHILE SALSA

    Ingredients

  • 3 roma* (plum) tomatoes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1 Anaheim chile
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup red onion
  • Juice of one lime or lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SEED and dice the tomatoes and peppers, chop the cilantro and red onion.

    2. MIX the tomatoes and peppers in a bowl with the cilantro and red onion.

     

    salsa-baked-potato-TexaSweet-230

    Top a baked potato with salsa, with or without sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt). Photo courtesy TexaSweet.

     
    3. JUICE the lime or lemon over the other chopped ingredients, and season with salt and pepper.

    4. MIX the ingredients until well combined, serve with tortilla chips, or as a garnish.

     
    *Named after the city of Rome, Roma tomatoes are also known as Italian tomatoes or Italian plum tomatoes.
     
    WAYS TO ENJOY SALSA

    Breakfast

  • On eggs as a garnish
  • Mixed into frittatas and omelets
  •  
    Lunch

  • As a sandwich condiment—especially with grilled cheese or roasted veggies
  • Mixed into chicken, egg, macaroni, potato or tuna salad
  • With fries, instead of ketchup
  • With anything Tex-Mex
  •  
    Dinner

  • As a sauce for seafood cocktail (add some horseradish!)
  • Atop a baked potato, or mixed into mashed potatoes
  • Made into compound butter and served as a pat atop grilled meats
  • Mixed with cooked rice or other grains
  • With mac and cheese
  •  
    Snacks

  • Mixed into deviled eggs
  • Mixed into a dip with mayonnaise, sour cream or plain yogurt
  • On nachos
  • With chips
  • With crudités
  •  
    What’s your favorite use? Let us know!

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Berry Croissants

    croissant-fruit-cheese-castelloUSA-230

    Berry croissants: a yummy idea. Photo courtesy Castello Cheese.

     

    For Sunday brunch or afternoon tea*, here’s a fun alternative to a chocolate croissant that provides another reason to enjoy seasonal berries.

    RECIPE: BERRY CROISSANTS

    Ingredients

  • Croissants
  • Berries: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries or a mix
  • Mascarpone, fresh chèvre (goat cheese—look especially for the honey chèvre at Trader Joe’s), cream cheese or other spreadable cheese
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SPLIT the croissant and spread the bottom half with cheese.

    2. ADD the berries, whole or sliced, depending on size.

     
    Thanks to Castello USA for the idea (they used blue cheese).

     
    *Who has afternoon tea, you say? Well, THE NIBBLE is a far cry from Downtown Abbey, but we serve afternoon tea daily. Not everyone drinks tea, but it’s our chance to sample some of the many foods that arrive at our doorstep—baked goods, candy, jam, crackers, cheese, pâté and so forth—including coffee, tea and other beverages. If you want to serve a proper afternoon tea, here’s how.

     
      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Asparagus & Prosciutto Wraps

    asparagus-prosciutto-rolls-castelloUSA-230

    We love these delicious, fancy yet very easy Asparagus & Prosciutto Wraps. Photo courtesy Castello USA.

     

    Need something fancy—and easy? Here’s a lovely first course to make with spring asparagus. We serve the wraps individually plated with some watercress salad, to which we add some snipped chives or thin-sliced green onion.

    The recipe is from Castello Cheese, which crumbles their Danish blue cheese as a garnish.

    RECIPE: ASPARAGUS & PROSCIUTTO WRAPS

    Ingredients

  • 8 slender* asparagus per person
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 slice prosciutto or other Serrano ham
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled blue cheese per person
  • Optional: watercress plus chives or green onion
  •  
    Preparation

    1. TRIM the woody ends from the asparagus. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus for 30 seconds (90 seconds for thick spears), until the asparagus just bends. Alternatively, lightly steam the asparagus in a microwave.

     

    2. PLUNGE the asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking. Blot dry with paper towels and set aside.

    3. WHISK together the olive oil, vinegar and garlic and roll and marinate asparagus in vinaigrette 30 minutes at room temperature. Make extra vinaigrette if you are serving the watercress.

    4. GATHER the asparagus into bundles of 8 (if thin, 4 if thick) and wrap each bundle with a prosciutto slice. Arrange on a platter or individual plates. Decorate with crumbled blue cheese.

    5. TOSS the optional watercress with vinaigrette and add to the plate.

    6. PASS a peppermill for fresh-ground black pepper.
     
    THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PROSCIUTTO & SERRANO HAM

    This is a complex question, because the authentic breeds of pig and curing techniques differ in Europe from what is permitted in the U.S. But a simple answer is: Both products are air-cured hams, with some differences in the breed and diet of the pig.

  • Prosciutto, from Italy, tends to be fattier and more mild.
  • Serrano, from Spain, tends to be more flavorful.
  •  
    But it’s hard to state something definitively when you buy the product in the U.S. The best approach: Buy a small amount of each and decide which you prefer. If you’re buying it freshly carved (not pre-packaged), ask the counterperson what the brand is, and keep notes.
     
    *Slender asparagus are easier to wrap; but if you can only find thick spears, use half as many.
      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Brownie Mortarboards

    If you’d like to make a treat for a graduate, how about brownie mortarboards*?

    These, from Sugar Bowl Bakery in Hayward, California, show you how to do it.

    1. MAKE mini round brownies in a baba pan or cut circles with a cookie cutter from a regular pan of brownies.

    2. FIND a rectangular cookie covered in chocolate. We used these, but you can bake your own shortbread or sugar cookies and dip them.

    3. DECORATE with a jelly bean and a piece of licorice whip. Use a dab of chocolate frosting to afix the garnish to the cookie.

     

    brownie-mortarboard-sugarbowlbakery-230

    Happy graduation! Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Bakery.

     

    *A mortarboard is the square academic hat, or graduation cap, so named long ago because of its similarity in appearance to the plasterer’s tool used to hold mortar.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Green (Pesto) Lasagna For Spring

    pesto-asparagus-lasagna-liguria-eatalychicago-230

    “Green” lasagna, made with pesto and spring asparagus. Photo
    courtesy Eataly | Chicago.

     

    Have you ever had green lasagna? We order lasagna every time we see it on a menu, trying to find one that’s better than Mom’s (which has only been bested once). We find them with the mainstay tomato-meat sauce, southern Italian-style; and with béchamel, a white sauce preferred in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna (and preferred by us).

    But in Liguria, the home* of basil, they use pesto for the sauce, creating a green lasagna.

    While basil is available year-round, take advantage of the spring harvest and make a green lasagna with other spring treats: asparagus, fava beans, fiddleheads, morels, ramps, and of course, green lasagna noodles instead of the conventional white.

    Here’s a recipe from chef Mario Batali, an owner of the Italian food experience that is Eataly. In Italian the recipe is called Lasagne al Pesto con Asparagi: Lasagna with Asparagus and Pesto (and anything else you want to add).

     
    In this recipe, Chef Batali makes four personal lasaganas in gratin dishes, instead of one large, rectangular casserole as shown in the photos.
     
    *Basil may actually be native to India, where it has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years.
     
    RECIPE: ASPARAGUS & PESTO LASAGNA

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 1 pound asparagus, medium-sized
  • 20 fresh lasagna sheets
  • 2 cups besciamella (béchamel, recipe below)
  • 1 cup pesto (recipe below)
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Sardo† cheese
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  •  
    For The Pesto Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 5 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  •  
    †Pecorino sardo, also known as fiore sardo, is a firm cheese sheep’s milk cheese from the Italian island of Sardinia. It’s sold at Eataly; but if you can’t get it, use Pecorino Romano instead. Here are the main Italian grating cheeses.

     

     
    For The Besciamella

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the pesto. In a large stone mortar, combine the pine nuts, basil, garlic and salt and grind with a pestle until it forms a paste. Add the cheeses and drizzle in the olive oil, beating with a wooden spoon. This can be made in advance and stored in a tightly-capped jar in the fridge, topped off with a layer of extra virgin olive oil.

    2. BRING 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Set up an ice bath next to the boiling water. Boil the asparagus for one minute. Remove the asparagus, retaining the water in the pot, and refresh in an ice bath. Remove the asparagus from the ice bath, drain well, cut into ½-inch to 1-inch pieces on a bias and set aside.

     

    pesto-lasagna-eatalychicago-230

    Pesto lasagna is sold by the piece at Eataly. Photo courtesy Eataly | Chicago.

     

    3. DROP the lasagna sheets into the same boiling water as the asparagus. Cook one minute until tender. (If using dried lasagna, cook according to package directions.) Remove and refresh in the ice bath. Drain on towels and set aside.

    4. MAKE the besciamella. In a medium saucepan, heat the butter until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile…

    5. HEAT the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.

    6. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F.

    7. ASSEMBLE the lasagne. In a mixing bowl, stir the besciamella and pesto together until well combined. Butter 4 gratin dishes and place one piece of 5-inch pasta on the bottom of each one.

    8. TOP the pasta with some pieces of asparagus, followed by 2 tablespoons of pesto, followed by another piece of pasta. Continue with this layering until you have 4 pieces of pasta and 4 layers of asparagus and pesto mixture. Lay one more piece of pasta on top, followed by a spoonful of pesto mixture and sprinkle each of the 4 gratin dishes with bread crumbs and the Pecorino Sardo.

    9. PLACE all 4 dishes in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until bubbling and golden brown on top. Remove and serve immediately.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Mother’s Day Martini

    Make a special Martini for Mom with this recipe from Grey Goose. It’s all in the garnish: microgreens and a caperberry instead of the usual olive or twist.

    Here, the conventional olive or lemon twist is replaced with with microgreens and a large, stemmed caper berry: arty and pretty.

    Use your favorite Martini recipe or this one:

    RECIPE: CLASSIC DRY VODKA MARTINI

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2½ parts vodka
  • ½ part dry vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Garnishes: caper berry, amaranth and shiso microgreens
    (or substitutes)
  •  

    microgreen-martini-greygoose-230

    Make it pretty for Mother’s Day. Photo courtesy Gresy Goose.

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a Martini glass.

    2. GARNISH and serve.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: The Easiest Cupcake Garnishes

    candy-garnish-cupcakes-sweetstreetdesserts-230

    Easy Mother’s Day cupcakes. Photo courtesy Sweet Street Desserts.

     

    If you still haven’t settled on a dessert for Mother’s Day, here’s the easy way out.

    You can make cupcakes like these, from SweetStreetDesserts.com, simply by purchasing plain cupcakes and topping them with a large piece of candy.

    Instead of sprinkles, the idea is to have one chocolate “centerpiece” to top the cupcake. Consider:

  • Baci
  • Bonbons
  • Chocolate-coverd cherries
  • Chocolate disks
  • Hershey Kisses (unwrapped)
  • Non-pareils
  • Toffee or brittle (large piece)
  •  

    Of course, you can bake your own cupcakes from scratch or a mix. But with this concept, the busiest dad or young child can “make cupcakes” for Mom.

     
      

    Comments

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