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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 Valentine’s Day

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.

       

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    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 BakeByMelissa.com. For Valentine’s Day delivery, shipping orders must be placed by 3 p.m. on Friday, February 13th.

     

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

     

    CUPCAKE HISTORY

    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).

      

    Comments

    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 BlackDinahChocolates.com.

    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 BlackDinahChocolatiers.com.

     

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

     

      

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    VALENTINE GIFT: X.O. Cognac

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    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).
     

    LUXURIOUS VALENTINE GIFT IDEA

    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 WineAnthology.com 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.

     

    COGNAC CLASSIFICATIONS

  • 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:

     

    valentine-engraved-bottle-230

    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.

      

  • Comments

    VALENTINE GIFT: Crème Yvette

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    Crème Yvette violet liqueur, worth getting to know. Photo courtesy Cooper Spirits International.

     

    This old-fashioned-looking bottle with an unfamiliar name hasn’t been around in more than 40 years. Purple-hued and violet-scented, it was enjoyed since the 19th century in cocktails and as an after-dinner digestif.

    Alas, it was one of many old-fashioned liqueurs that went out of style and ceased to be produced; in this case, it went defunct in 1969. But it recently caught the fancy of the creator of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (another favorite for Valentine’s Day or any day), who has resurrected it.

    Crème Yvette, also called Crème d’Yvette and Crème de Yvette, is made from parma violet petals*, blackberries, blackcurrants, red raspberries and wild strawberries, along with honey, orange peel and vanilla.

    Currently, it seems to be available in New York and California, but you can see if your local liquor store can order a bottle for you.

    There are cocktail recipes on the brand’s website, CremeYvette.com. We enjoyed mixing it with sparkling wine (we also layered St. Germain into one variation).

    And it’s delicious atop raspberry sorbet—an easy Valentine’s Day dessert.

    (By the way, exactly who Yvette was has been lost to history.)
     
    *The same exotic flower used to make those violet pastilles.

     

     
      

    Comments

    VALENTINE’S DAY: Send A Cake To Your Valentine & To A Veteran

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    Send a gift to a loved one and a veteran. Photo courtesy Bake Me A Wish.

     

    BakeMeAWish.com’s Valentine’s Day Freedom Cake is a Valentine gift with real meaning. When you send a cake to a loved one, Bake Me A Wish will also send a cake to a veteran in a VA Hospital in the U.S.

    It’s $75 for both cakes; the cake is normally $39.95 plus $15 shipping.

    If you’d rather buy something else: When you spend $25 or more at BakeMeAWish.com, use the code VETERAN. Bake Me A Wish will automatically donate 20% of the purchase price toward sending a cake to a veteran in a VA Hospital.

    The initiative is in partnership with, Soldiers’ Angels, whose motto is “May no soldier go unloved.” The non-profit organization provides assistance to families of enlisted soldiers.

    BakeMeAWish.com sends gift-boxed cakes nationwide, and includes a personalized card. If you’ve forgotten a special occasion, the cake can be delivered overnight.

     

    To order your Freedom Cake or other cake gift, visit BakeMeAWish.com.

     
      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Cherry Almond Rugelach

    Cherry-themed recipes work both for Valentine’s Day (February 14th) and Washington’s Birthday (February 22nd, celebrated nationally on President’s Day, which falls this year on February 16th).

    There’s nothing better with a cup of tea or coffee than homemade rugelach. Try this recipe from QVC’s David Venable.
     
    RECIPE: CHERRY ALMOND RUGELACH

    Ingredients For 64 Cookies
     
    For The Dough

  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter
  • 7 ounces almond paste
  • 2 cups flour
  •  
    For The Filling:

     

    cherry-almond-rugelach-davidvenable-230

    Cherry Almond Rugelach. Photo courtesy QVC.

  • 6 ounces dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup cherry-flavored brandy, kirschwasser, or 1 tablespoon brandy extract
  • 1/2 cup water (if using brandy extract, add an additional 1/2 cup water)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  •  

    Additional Ingredients

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • White sparkling sanding sugar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the dough: Cut the cream cheese, butter and almond paste into bits. Pulse the cream cheese, butter, almond paste and flour in a food processor until crumbly. Place the mixture onto a working surface and knead the dough together. Shape it into 4 equal disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours or up to 2 days.

    2. PREPARE the filling: Place the cherries, brandy and water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, place the cherries, sugar and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a small mixing bowl and fold in the almonds. Set aside.

    3. MAKE the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a well-floured work surface, roll 1 disk into a 12″ round (be sure to keep the other disks chilled until ready to roll). Spread a quarter of the cherry mixture over the dough, leaving a 1/2″ border. With a chef’s knife or pizza cutter, cut each round into 12 wedges. Roll the wedges from wide to narrow, so you end up with a point on the outside of the cookie. Repeat with remaining discs of dough.

    4. PLACE the cookies on ungreased baking sheets and chill the rugelach for 20 minutes. Brush each cookie with egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

    5. COOL and store in an airtight container.

      

    Comments

    VALENTINE GIFT: Maggie Louise Chocolates

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    White chocolate Valentine delights. Photo courtesy Maggie Louise Confections.

     

    We love this special white chocolate set for Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s for the ladies (or girls), but chocolatier Maggie Louise has other items chocolate-loving men (and painted chocolate dinosaurs for chocolate-loving boys).

    The set in the photo, called the XO Make-Up Box, includes:

  • 4 white chocolate lipsticks
  • 2 white chocolate letters: X.O.
  • 4 dark chocolate lips, painted red or pink and filled with cream caramel and chocolate nougat
  • 4 white chocolate hearts filled with chocolate caramel and sea salt
  • 4 white chocolate dots (squares) filled with cream caramel and sea salt
  •  
    While there’s always a great box of chocolate to be found somewhere, this collection will last and last in chocolate memories.
     
    It’s $56, beautifully gift boxed. Check out the other awesome chocolates at MaggieLouiseConfections.com.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Heart Shaped Valentine Desserts

    You’ve got time to plan a special heart-shaped Valentine dessert. We cruised through Amazon.com and found these heart-shaped pans and molds for inspiration:

  • Heart-shaped bundt pan
  • Heart-shaped cakelet pan, three-tiered individual cakes and more
  • Heart-shaped 9″ cake pan
  • Heart-shaped 10″ cake pan
  • Heart-shaped donut pan
  • Heart-shaped foil baking cups for cupcakes or custard
  • Heart-shaped giant cookie pan
  • Heart-shaped mini muffin pan
  • Heart-shaped springform pan for cheesecake
  • Heart-shaped tube pan for angel food or sponge cakes
  • Heart-shaped whoopie pie pan
  •  
    HEART SHAPES FOR BREAKFAST

  • Heart-shaped egg poacher
  • Heart-shaped rings for fried eggs
  • Heart-shaped pancake pan
  •    

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    It’s easy to make this elaborately-shaped Valentine bundt cake: No decorating required! Photo courtesy Nordicware.

     

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    Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to make Valentine shortbread, or get a whoopie pie mold to create something even more special. Photo courtesy Wilton.

     

    Of course, you could simply grab the heart-shaped cookie cutter you already have, roll out cookie dough, and bake them plain. You could dip them in melted chocolate or add Valentine confetti or sprinkles.

    Or, you could yield to the temptation of whoopie pies, pick up this heart-shaped whoopie pie pan, and create memories.

    If you’re steering clear of desserts, even on Valentine’s Day, how about some heart-shaped ice cubes for your cocktail or glass of water? You can add some red food color to tint them pink.

     

      

    Comments

    FOOD HOLIDAY: An Ice Cream Cake For National Strawberry Ice Cream Day

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    Celebrate National Strawberry Ice Cream Day! Photo courtesy Waitrose.

     

    January 15th is National Strawberry Ice Cream Day. We love this easy strawberry ice cream cake adapted from British upscale grocery giant Waitrose. The company has a royal warrant to supply groceries, wine and spirits to Queen Elizabeth II and to Prince Charles.

    In this recipe, shortbread cookies substitute for the cake; but if you prefer, you can substitute finely cubed pound cake. You also can use strawberry ice cream instead of the vanilla.

    This dessert is also spot-on for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and summer celebrations. Prep time is 15 minutes plus several hours or overnight for freezing.

    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE ICE CREAM “CAKE”

    Ingredients For 10 Servings

  • 1 pint strawberries, washed, patted dry and hulled
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream
  • 7 ounces all butter shortbread cookies, broken into small pieces
  • 4 tablespoons caramel sauce (or fudge sauce if you prefer)
  • Optional garnish: caramel sauce or strawberry purée
  •  
    Preparation

    1. THINLY SLICE 4 of the strawberries and roughly chop the remainder. Line a loaf pan with a double layer of plastic wrap, allowing for some overhang. Arrange the sliced strawberries on the bottom (it will become the top when unmolded).

    2. ROUGHLY CHOP the ice cream using a large knife, then mix it with the chopped strawberries and the shortbread pieces. Spoon half of the mixture into the loaf pan, patting down firmly so there are no air bubbles.

    3. DOT the caramel sauce on top of the ice cream, then cover with the remainder of the mixture, firmly smoothing over the surface. Fold over the overhanging plastic wrap and place the pan in the freezer for several hours or overnight, until the ice cream very firm.

    4. TO SERVE: Gently lift out the ice cream using the plastic wrap as handles, and remove the plastic wrap. Allow to soften for 10–15 minutes as needed; then cut slices with a large knife.

    5. PLATE the slices with an optional drizzle or dotting (use a squeeze bottle to create dots around the rim of the plate) of caramel sauce or strawberry purée.

     
    More than 5,000 recipes can be found at Waitrose.com/recipes.

     
      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Tiramisu Cocktail

    The popular Italian dessert tiramisu is typically composed of layers of sponge or ladyfingers, soaked in espresso liqueur; then layered with a mascarpone cheese and custard mixture; then dusted with cocoa or shaved chocolate.

    Those jonesing for a rich and creamy tiramisu dessert can now quickly mix up an easy Tiramisu Cocktail, with this recipe from Frangelico hazelnut liqueur. It seems especially festive for New Year’s Eve.

    RECIPE: TIRAMISU COCKTAIL

    Ingredients

  • Frangelico
  • Vodka
  • Irish cream liqueur
  • Cold espresso or espresso liqueur
  • Ice
  • Garnish: grated chocolate*
  •  


    Drink your tiramisu. Photo courtesy Frangelico.

     

    Preparation

    1. Mix equal parts Frangelico, vodka and Irish cream liqueur in a shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled Martini glass.

    2. TOP with espresso and garnish with chocolate. Alternatively, before pouring the drink, set the chocolate shavings in a saucer to make a glass rimmer. Wet the rim 1/4 deep by dipping in a shallow bowl of water; then twist the glass in the shavings.

    3. SERVE. Be prepared for refill requests.

     
    Find more of our favorite cocktail recipes.
     
    *We grate a chocolate bar with a Microplane grater. You can use whatever grater you have.

      

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