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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,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Valentine’s Day

PRODUCT: Belvoir Non-Alcoholic Cordials


Individual-size bottles of Belvoir Elderflower Cordial and Elderflower & Rose Lemonade. Photo courtesy Belvoir Fruit Farms.


Instead of a Valentine mocktail, head straight to the delicious nonalcoholic cordials from Belvoir.

While Americans use the word as a synonym for fruit liqueur, in the U.K. a cordial is a carbonated, fruit-flavored soft drink.

Belvoir Fruit Farms is nestled in the English countryside in the idyllic Vale of Belvoir, in Leicestershire, in the English Midlands. The name is French for beautiful view.

Belvoir Castle, a tourist attraction, is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland. But the name may be more familiar to Americans from the non-alcoholic fruit cordials the family sells, a business developed by the current duke’s father to generate income for the continued upkeep of the castle.

The duke’s mother infused elderflowers, grown on the estate, into a delicious beverage. Her husband saw a revenue potential, and the family business has been pressing and cooking fresh flowers, fruits and spices since 1981, combining them with local spring water. The line expanded, and is currently exported worldwide.

Delicious and all natural, they are a refreshing alternative to other soft drinks. While they are a wonderful mixer for cocktails (and in sweet and savory recipes), they are absolutely delicious simply chilled.

The line of cordials includes Apple, Plum & Cinnnamon; Blueberry & Blackcurrant; Blackcurrant & Cox Apple; Elderflower, Ginger; Honey, Lemon & Ginger; Lemon; Lime; Raspberry & Lemon; Raspberry & Rose; Rhubarb & Strawberry; Spiced Apple & Ginger and Spiced Winterberries. As if this isn’t enough to fit on the grocer’s shelf, other flavors pop up,like Elderflower & Rose Lemonade.

The Elderflower, Raspberry & Rose and Rhubarb & Strawberry are especially nice for Valentine’s Day. The latter two are in beautiful rosy hues.

Large bottles (750ml) and individual size (25cl/8.45 fl.oz.) are available at specialty food stores and better supermarkets. Most are sold on Amazon.

For more information visit



TIP OF THE DAY: Make Marshmallows

As a treat for friends and family, try your hand at making marshmallows for Valentine’s Day. These chocolate marshmallows, by Christina Lane of, are dipped in melted chocolate for a double-chocolate treat. They take only 15 minutes to make!

Since this is “dessert for two,” the recipe makes 12 mini marshmallows. Make the first batch to see how you like them, and then make a larger batch


Ingredients For 12 Mini Marshmallows

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light (clear) corn syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons cool water, divided
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons special dark cocoa powder*
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
    For Dipping

  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
  • 1½ teaspoons coconut oil


    Dipped chocolate marshmallows. Photo courtesy

    *You can substitute regular cocoa powder. A darker, more intense cocoa powder delivers more chocolate flavor.


    1. LINE a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper or foil. Spray with cooking spray.

    2. COMBINE the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and 2 tablespoons of the water in a medium sauce pan. Clip on a candy thermometer, and turn the heat to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil without stirring and continue to cook until it reaches 238°F. Meanwhile…

    3. PLACE another 2 tablespoons of the water in a medium bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let sit to dissolve for 5 minutes.

    4. ADD the last 2 tablespoons of water to a small dish and microwave for 25 seconds, until hot. Remove from the microwave carefully, and whisk in the cocoa powder. Stir the cocoa powder mixture into the dissolved gelatin.

    5. SLOWLY STREAM the hot sugar (238°F) into the gelatin mixture while continuously beating with a hand mixer on medium-high. Be careful not to pour the hot sugar near the sides of the bowl because it will stick and harden immediately. Beat the mixture for 10 minutes, until light and fluffy; then beat in the vanilla.

    6. POUR the mixture into the loaf pan, and let set for at least 3 hours. Then lift the parchment paper or foil out of the pan, and cut the marshmallows into squares with a well-greased knife. Grease the knife between each cut. If the marshmallows are too sticky, roll them in extra cocoa powder.

    7. DIP the marshmallows: First place the marshmallows in the freezer for 5 minutes, on a baking sheet. While they are chilling, combine the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium heat in 30-second pulses until melted, stirring between each pulse. Stir until chocolate is evenly melted and smooth.

    8. REMOVE the marshmallows from the freezer and dunk half of each marshmallow in the melted chocolate. Place each marshmallow back on the sheet, and refrigerate until the chocolate sets, about 5 minutes.



    FOOD FUN: Red Waffle Cones & Love Potion Ice Cream


    Valentine treat: red waffle cone filled with
    Love Potion #31 ice cream. Photo courtesy Baskin-Robbins.


    If you’re ready to start celebrating Valentine’s Day, head to Baskin-Robbins for a red waffle cone and a couple of scoops of the flavor of the month, Love Potion #31. (That’s for B-R’s 31 flavors; there are no Love Potions #1 through #30).

    Love Potion #31 features white chocolate and raspberry ice creams, a raspberry ribbon, chocolate chips and raspberry-filled chocolate hearts. We love chocolate and raspberry, so thanks, B-R: This is right up our alley.

    Customers can enjoy a free red waffle cone with the purchase of any double scoop of ice cream at participating Baskin-Robbins shops nationwide.

    The Valentine offerings also include ice cream cakes in the shape of “conversation hearts,” with messages including Be Mine, Love You and XOXO. You can order the cakes online for pickup at your local Baskin Robbins.




    VALENTINE GIFT: Shiny Chocolate Hearts


    Pretty to look at, these shiny chocolate hearts are filled with luscious raspberry-infused ganache. Photo courtesy Kohler.


    These lovely hearts, from Kohler Chocolates, are beautifully crafted:

    The dark chocolate shells are filled with a delicate raspberry-accented chocolate ganache.

    The dark chocolate is then enrobed with a thin layer of red-tinted white chocolate, which is hand painted with pink dots, and glazed to a very dazzling shine.

    Choose from four sizes, gift-boxed and tied with a lovely ribbon. The smallest size makes a great wedding favor.

  • 4-Piece Box, $9.99
  • 9-Piece Box, $18.99
  • 32-Piece Box, $59.99
    Get yours at




    RECIPE: Red Velvet Raspberry Truffles

    Surprise your Valentine with a beribboned box of homemade red velvet chocolate truffles with luscious raspberry flavor. The insides are the color of red velvet cake.

    McCormick, which contributed this recipe, specifies baking chocolate; but these will taste so much better if you use couverture—higher quality chocolate that chocolatiers and pastry chefs use. Look for 60% to 70% couverture from Guittard, Valrhona and other brands in cbaking supply stores or specialty food stores.


    Ingredients For 24 Truffles

  • 1 pound semi-sweet baking chocolate, divided
  • 4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red food color
  • 1 teaspoon raspberry extract
  • Optional: sprinkles or other red, white or pink decorations; or white chocolate for a contrasting drizzle


    Make your own Valentine bonbons. Photo courtesy McCormick.


    1. MELT 8 ounces of the chocolate as directed on package; or in a double boiler.

    2. BEAT the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, food color and raspberry extract in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended and smooth. Add the melted chocolate; beat until well mixed. Cover. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or until firm.

    3. SHAPE into 24 balls (about 3/4-inch). Place on wax paper-lined tray. Refrigerate until ready to dip.

    4. COAT and decorate only 12 truffles at a time (so the chocolate doesn’t harden). Melt 4 ounces of the remaining chocolate in small microwavable bowl on MEDIUM (50% power) for 1-1/2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute. Using a fork, dip 1 truffle at a time into the chocolate. Tap the back of fork 2 or 3 times against edge of dish to allow excess chocolate to drip off. Place the truffles on a wax paper-lined tray. (If there are any “bald” spots on a truffle, cover them with the melted chocolate that remains on the fork.) Repeat with the remaining 4 ounces of chocolate and the remaining truffles.

    5. DECORATE: Garnish the truffles with colorful sprinkles immediately after dipping in chocolate. The sprinkles will adhere to the truffles as the chocolate coating sets in the refrigerator. Or, decorate truffles with a swirl of white chocolate. You can use a fork to drizzle white chocolate over the truffles.

    6. REFRIGERATE for 1 hour or until the chocolate is set. Store the truffles between layers of wax paper in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week.



    White cake with raspberry cream cheese frosting and filling. Raspberry extract is clear and won’t color the frosting by itself. Red food color was used to make the filling pink. Photo courtesy McCormick.



    Some people hesitate to purchase a bottle for only one recipe. Here are other uses for that raspberry extract:


  • Club soda/sparkling water
  • Hot chocolate
  • Hot or iced tea
  • Shakes and smoothies
  • Soft drinks, e.g., add to cola or ginger ale

  • Cake and cookies
  • Frosting
  • Raspberry brownies
  • Syrup for shaved ice



  • 6 ounces white baking chocolate
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons raspberry extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon red food color

    1. MELT the chocolate in a double boiler or a bowl placed over a pan of gently simmering water. Take care that the chocolate does not get too hot or it can scorch. Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.

    2. BEAT the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and raspberry extract and mix well.

    3. GRADUALLY BEAT in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Add the food color and blend well.



    PRODUCT: “Breakfast” Chocolate Bars

    If you know someone who would gladly eat chocolate for breakfast, [s]he may be able to justify it with these new chocolate bars from Chuao Chocolatier:

  • Cinnamon Cereal Smooch, milk chocolate mixed with bits of cinnamon toast cereal.
  • Strawberry Waffle Wild, milk chocolate mixed with tart dried strawberries and crispy waffle pieces.
    They join an existing line of 14 palate-pleasing and imaginative chocolate bars, including Baconluxious and Potato Chip.

    The chocolate bars sell for an SRP of $6.00 (but are on sale for $4.00), and can be found online at as well as at major retailers nationwide, including Bed Bath & Beyond, REI and Whole Foods Markets.


    For about the same price, you can make your own chocolate bars at This fun company utilizes a process that lets you place your choice of some 70 different ingredients—fruits, nuts, candies, spices—atop a dark, milk or white Belgian chocolate bar.



    “Breakfast chocolate,” embedded with cereal. Photo courtesy Chuao Chocolatier.

    Cereal options include Caramelized Rice Krispies, Teddy Grahams, Vanilla Granola and Waffle Crunch. Non-cereal options include from Potato Chips and Real Bacon.

    For Valentine’s Day, there are Candy Sugar Hearts, Message Hearts and LOVE plaques in white chocolate, along with Lavender Petals, 24 Karat Gold Flakes and Pink Pop Rocks.

    You can create your own bar or send a gift certificate so the recipient can customize excactly what [s]he wants. (In fact, the gift certificates are one of our favorite Valentine gifts.)



    VALENTINE GIFT: Tonja’s Toffee, With Or Without Nuts


    Tonja’s Toffee. Photo by Hannah Kaminsky |


    Not everyone wants a box of bonbons or chocolate hearts for Valentine’s Day. Some of us would love the buttery crunch of toffee.

    When we received samples of Tonja’s Toffee, we were happy, happy, happy. The style is very buttery, which is how we like it. And, this considerate family business makes nut-free varieties too.

    Choices include:

  • Almond Toffee: topped in dark, milk or white chocolate with a fine dusting of almonds.
  • Butter Toffee: nut-free, also in dark, milk or white chocolate.
    The toffee is sold in quarter-pound, half-pound and one-pound bags. The small bags make great stocking stuffers or party favors.

    The company also makes peanut butter bon bons and peanut brittle. We haven’t tried them yet, but as soon as we finish eating all our Valentine candy, they’re on our list.

    Get yours at




    VALENTINE GIFT: Mini Cupcakes From Baked By Melissa

    These itty bitty cupcakes (about half the size of the photo) will delight kids and adults equally.

    The Valentine Collection from Baked By Melissa—a pioneer in tiny cupcakes—includes three varieties. Packaged in a gift box with a pink ribbon, the Valentine Collection includes:

  • White Chocolate Pretzel Cupcakes: white vanilla cake, Bavarian cream stuffing, vanilla icing, white chocolate covered pretzel and chocolate drizzle topping.
  • Red Velvet Pretzel Cupcakes: Red velvet cake, cream cheese icing, milk chocolate covered pretzel and chocolate drizzle topping.
  • Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes: chocolate cake, peanut butter stuffing, chocolate icing, dark chocolate pretzel and chocolate drizzle topping.
    The round ball at the top is a chocolate-covered pretzel, adding crunch and a hint of salt to the sweet cupcakes. The cupcakes are bite-size: slightly larger than the diameter of a quarter, one or two bites.

    In the words of Melissa, a little cupcake equals a lot of love.

    The cupcakes, which are kosher-certified by OK, can be shipped nationwide and can be pre-ordered starting today. A 25-piece gift box is $25, plus shipping.



    Shown here about twice the actual size, the cupcakes have the diameter of a quarter. Photo courtesy Baked By Melissa.

    To place an order, head to For Valentine’s Day delivery, shipping orders must be placed by 3 p.m. on Friday, February 13th.



    The Valentine gift box, tied with a pink ribbon. Photo courtesy Baked By Melissa.



    Before the advent of muffin tins, cupcakes were baked in individual tea cups or ramekins. The first reference to the miniature cakes dates to 1796, when a recipe for “cake to be baked in small cups” appeared in the cookbook, “American Cookery.” The earliest documentation of the term “cupcake” was in “Eliza Leslie’s Receipts cookbook” in 1828. [Source]

    Cupcakes were convenient because they cooked much faster than larger cakes. It took a long time to bake a cake in a hearth oven; cupcakes baked in a fraction of the time.

    Muffin tins became widely available around the turn of the 20th century, and offered new convenience to bakers. Paper and foil liners were created for easier removal of the cupcakes from the pan.


    They evolved into children’s party fare, but in the last decade have taken a more sophisticated turn. First, some younger couples began to choose “cupcake trees” instead of conventional wedding cakes. This prompted a flurry of cupcake articles and recipes, and ultimately the opening of boutique cupcake bakeries nationwide, offering everyday treats.

    Each Baked By Melissa cupcake has 70-90 calories, but that’s a workable daily treat. An average-size cupcake from Crumbs, Magnolia, Sprinkles and the like will run you 450 calories or so (here’s a calorie comparison).



    VALENTINE GIFT: Kiss A Frog Chocolates

    If you know a woman who is still waiting for the frog to turn into the handsome prince, here’s an idea for Valentine’s Day:

    A box of Kiss A Frog chocolates, frog-shaped chocolates. The chocolates include 26 solid chocolate frogs and 6 frogs filled with peanut butter. They’re nestled in a chocolate brown, heart-shaped box tied with a gossamer green ribbon.

    The box of chocolate frogs, a total of 16 ounces, is $39.00 at

    Black Dinah Chocolates, handmade in Maine (on a remote island offshore), are a favorite at THE NIBBLE (here’s our review).

    The confectioners also make beautiful bonbons, bark, salted caramels and other beguiling confections.

    Discover more at



    Chocolate frogs will have to do instead of a handsome prince. Photo courtesy Black Dinah Chocolates.






    It’s a beauty—and it has a just-as-lovely gift
    box. Photo courtesy Hennessy.


    We sign our letters to friends with “X.O.,” short for a hug and a kisse.

    The abbreviation for “hugs and kisses,” XOXO, has been used for centuries to express love or good friendship at the end of a written letter or card (and these days at the end of an email or text message). The X stands for kiss and the O for hug.

    What is the history of this custom? Why not HKHK instead of XOXO? There’s more about that below.

    First, we’d like to suggest a luxurious Valentine’s Day gift: X.O. Cognac, a divine aperitíf or nightcap.

    This style of Cognac was created in 1870 by Maurice Hennessy, to be enjoyed with his circle of friends. The bold, intense and complex flavors are based on much longer aging. Some of the 100 eaux-de-vie* assembled to create X.O were aged for 30 years. M. Hennessy gave it the name X.O to signify “extra old.”

    It’s a Cognac for connoisseurs, served neat, on ice or with a splash of still or sparkling water. Don’t even think of mixing it in a cocktail!

    By the way, it was Maurice Hennessy, great-grandson of company founder Richard Hennessy, who created the Cognac classification system. He used varying numbers of stars to designate different quality, first producing Hennessy’s Three Star Cognac, today known as V.S (Very Special). His classification system was adopted by the entire industry.

    When he was the Prince of Wales, King George IV of Great Britain asked Hennessy to create a “very superior old pale Cognac.” It was designated V.S.O.P—Very Superior Old Pale—and since then, a letter system evolved to replace the stars (see below).


    Deliver your hugs and kisses with a bottle of X.O. Cognac. In addition to Hennessy, it is made by a number of Cognac houses including Camus, Courvoisier, Martell, Rémy Martin and others. They bottles cost $150 and up.

    While a bottle of Hennessy X.O., at the top of the price scale, can cost upwards of $200, we found it “on sale” at for $165.

    If you’re not looking for a bargain, you can get a custom-engraved bottle directly from Hennessy. Your message is engraved on the back of the bottle, making it a lovely keepsake (see the photo below).

    We also like to give an engraved bottle of X.O. Cognac as a wedding gift or anniversary gift.



  • V.O.: Very Old, aged a minimum of four years.
  • V.S.: Very Special. The youngest brandy in the blend has been aged for at least two years in cask. Also called Three Star.
  • V.S.O.P.: Very Superior Old Pale; the youngest spirit in the blend is aged four years in cask but the average can be 10 to 15 years.
  • X.O.: Extra Old. The youngest brandy is aged for at least six years but the average is 20 years or more. In 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be 10 years.
  • Extra/Napoleon/Vielle Reserve: While regulations designate a minimum of 6 years of age for the youngest brandy, this average is usually older than X.O.
    There are other age designations, but they are smaller productions and are not typically imported to the U.S.
    Other terms to know:



    Engrave a personal message on your X.O. Gift Photo courtesy Hennessy.

  • Hors d’Age: Meaning “beyond age,” this is a rare Cognac that is off the designated age scale.
  • Varietal: Made using only one type of varietal grape
  • Vintage: Aged and was put into the bottle in the year of the vintage
    ABOUT X’s AND O’s

    The custom of placing X’s on envelopes and at the bottom of letters notes, signifying kisses, dates back to the Middle Ages. At that time, a Christian cross was drawn on documents or letters to indicate faith, honesty and sincerity. A kiss, indicated with an X, was then placed upon the cross by the signer as a display of his or her sworn oath.

    A similar practice dates back to early Christian history. Since most people could neither read nor write, an X was used as their signature on documents, and an actual kiss was placed upon it as a show of sincerity. [Source]

    What about the “O?” Current speculation is that it is of Jewish derivation, since Jews would not use the sign of the cross.

    In terms of how the two symbols came together in the very non-legal “hugs and kisses”: Alas, dear reader, the answer is lost to history.
    *Eau de vie (eaux is the plural), pronounced oh-duh-VEE, is French for “water of life.” It’s a clear, colorless fruit brandy. After the brandy is aged in wood, it takes on its amber color. Cognac is a region in northern France; only brandies produced there can be called “Cognac.” The artisanship and strict production regulations in Cognac creates a superior spirit. Generic “brandy” can be produced anywhere.


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