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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 The Nibble

TIP OF THE DAY: Get Some Gourmet Crackers

Dr-Kracker-melodylan-230

Dr. Kracker is packed with different types of
seeds: good looking and good for you! Photo
by Melody Lan | THE NIBBLE.

 

Soup and crackers was a popular dish at my mother’s table: animal crackers, oyster crackers, Royal Lunch Milk Crackers*, saltines, Uneeda Biscuits* (water biscuits) and Ritz crackers made frequent appearances. Our favorites were Nabisco’s Triscuits and Stoned Wheat Thins, imported from Canada.

The gourmet cracker market didn’t exist then. Sesame seed breadsticks were a rare specialty that we had to seek out in Italian markets in Little Italy. The handful of gourmet food stores and cheese stores sold the bland yet purportedly elegant Carr’s Water Biscuits, imported from England, and long flat rectangles of Middle Eastern lavasch.

But today, there are more fancy crackers than we could desire, serving up interesting flavor profiles and alluring appearances. You can find some in supermarkets, some at natural grocers like Whole Foods and some at specialty food stores. Look for:

  • Asian rice crackers in many flavors, which happen to be gluten free (we especially like San-J’s Black Sesame Crackers).
  • Super-seeded crackers, like those from Crunchmaster, Dr. Kracker and Mary’s Gone Crackers.
  • Olive oil crackers like taralli from Italy, available plain or flavored.
  • Gourmet flatbreads like Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps and assorted gems from Rustic Bakery, pricey but worth it.
  • Flatbreads/crispbreads like La Panzanella’s Croccantini and Primizie, delicious and more affordable.
  • Fricco, an Italian cheese cracker now baked in the U.S. by Kitchen Table Bakers, made 100% from cheese so gluten-free and carb-free.
  •  
    We could go on and on, but the tip of the day is to go on a cracker hunt and find some new and exciting varieties. Look for Daelia’s, Effie’s and 34 Degrees, among others.

    Then, enjoy them with a bowl of soup, a plate of cheese or a craft beer, with or without an accompanying spread.

    *Uneeda Biscuits and Royal Lunch crackers were Nabisco products that were discontinued after Kraft Foods acquired Nabisco.

     
      

    Comments

    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.

       

    peanut_butter_pretzel-230

    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.

     

    vday2015_giftbox-230

    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.

     

    kiss-a-frog-blackdinah-2014-230sq

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

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Non-Ketchup Dips For Fries & Onion Rings

    baconnaise-firebox-230

    Baconnaise, bacon-flavored mayo, is good
    stuff (but stick to the regular, not the Lite).
    Photo courtesy LiteBox.com.

     

    When Chef David Venable of QVC wrote us to suggest Beer-Battered Onion Rings with Horseradish Dill Dipping Sauce—the recipes are below—we thought: What else works as a condiment with French fries and onion rings instead of ketchup?

    For a change of pace or a special occasion, try these condiments, dips and sauces:

  • Aïoli (garlic mayonnaise), the classic for Belgian frites (recipe)
  • Bacon mayonnaise like Baconnaise
  • Blue cheese dip (here’s our favorite)
  • Chipotle ketchup, curry ketchup or sriracha ketchup (recipe)
  • Ginger-sesame sauce (recipe below)
  • Homemade lemon or lime mayonnaise (recipe—grate zest into the mayo to taste)
  • Korean dipping sauce, based on tofu, red pepper paste, soybean paste (recipe)
  • Ponzu sauce
  • Saffron mayonnaise (recipe)
  • Salsa, red or green
  • Spicy mayonnaise (like chipotle or wasabi mayo)
  • Vietnamese dipping sauce, sweet and tangy, with lime juice and Thai chiles (recipe)
  • Yogurt dip—tzatziki or raita
  •  
    RECIPE: GINGER-SESAME SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WHISK together the ingredients in a small bowl.

     

    RECIPE: HORSERADISH DIPPING SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoon horseradish
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WHISK together the mayonnaise, ketchup, horseradish paprika and dill in a small bowl. Set aside and cook the onion rings.
     
    RECIPE: FRIED ONION RINGS

    Ingredients

  • Canola oil, for frying
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) beer
  •  

    onion-rings-horseradish-dipping-sauce-qvc-230

    Onion rings with horseradish dipping sauce. Photo courtesy QVC.

  • 3 large onions, preferably Vidalia, sliced into 1/4-inch rings and separated
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CLIP a deep-frying thermometer to the side of a deep, heavy pot. Add 2 inches of canola oil to the pot and slowly heat the oil to 350°F. While the oil is heating…

    2. WHISK together the flour, egg, garlic powder, oregano, cayenne, salt and black pepper in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the beer, stirring until a thick batter forms.

    3. DREDGE the onion slices in the batter. Using tongs, add four or five onion rings to the hot oil and fry for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown. Turn them halfway through cooking. (Cook the onion rings in batches or the oil won’t stay hot and the onion rings will be soggy rather than crisp.)

    4. USING tongs, remove the fried onions to a wire rack or paper towels to drain. Cook the remaining batter-dipped onion rings. Serve hot with the dipping sauce.

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Turkey Bacon Pancakes

    turkey-bacon-pancakes-jennieo-230r

    The longest pancakes ever. Photo courtesy Jennie-O.

     

    Ladle pancake batter over strips of bacon, and long, fun pancakes result. This recipe from Jennie-O uses the company’s turkey bacon, but you can use any bacon you wish.

    Jennie-O uses better-for-you whole wheat flour in this recipe, but you can substitute refined white flour.

    RECIPE: TURKEY BACON PANCAKES

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 12 bacon slices, cooked according to package directions
  • Maple syrup
  • Optional garnish: berries or other fresh fruit
  •  

    Preparation

    1. HEAT the griddle pan to medium-high. In medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

    2. WHISK together the buttermilk, egg and butter in small bowl. Add to the flour mixture. Stir until combined, do not over stir.

    3. PLACE two strips of bacon together every 4 inches apart on greased griddle. Ladle ¼ to ? cup of the pancake mixture over the bacon to form long pancakes. Cook for 2 minutes or until bubbles appear over surface of pancakes. Flip and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer or until golden brown.

    4. SERVE with maple syrup and optional fruit.
     
      

    Comments

    SUPER BOWL: Garrett Popcorn

    For Super Bowl munching, how about some Spicy CheeseCorn? The limited edition flavor from Garrett Popcorn is a welcome gift: a yummy blend of cayenne pepper and chili powder mixed with freshly melted Cheddar cheese corn.

    Combine with a cold beer, and you may not care who wins or loses.

    Send Spicy CheeseCorn as a gift or send some to yourself, at GarrettPopcorn.com.

    You can choose from an array of tin sizes and six different tin designs, from 1 gallon to 6.5 gallons ($31 to $135). And if you don}t like things spicy, you can choose from Garrett’s other flavors:

  • Almond CaramelCrisp
  • Buttery
  • CaramelCrisp
  • Cashew CaramelCrisp
  • CheeseCorn
  •  

    spicy-cheesecorn-beauty-230

    Spicy CheeseCorn; BYOB. Photo courtesy Garrett Popcvorn.

  • Garrett Mix (sweet CaramelCrisp with savory CheeseCorn)
  • Macadamia CaramelCrisp
  • Pecan CaramelCrisp
  • Plain
  •  
    You can order single flavors or combine three flavors in one tin. Details are on the company website.

      

    Comments

    VALENTINE GIFT: X.O. Cognac

    hennessy-xo-230

    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

    TIP OF THE DAY: Greek Layered Dip

    greek-7-layer-dip-foodnetwork-230

    This variation, from Cameron Curtis | The
    Food Network
    , uses artichoke hearts. Photo
    courtesy Food Network.

     

    How many times have you had a Mexican layered dip—a.k.a. Seven Layer Bean Dip or Seven Layer Taco Dip—a layering of chopped black olives, diced tomatos, grated Cheddar, guacamole, refried beans, sliced green onions and sour cream, served with tortilla chips?

    Sure, it’s popular. But for this year’s Super Bowl, how about a different spin: a seven layer Greek-style dip with pita chips? That’s what we’re making.

    Yo don’t need seven layers: You can choose as many or as few layers as you like. The one thing we personally insist on is layering the ingredients in a glass salad bowl, so everyone can enjoy the pretty layers before the chip-dippers get busy.

    PICK YOUR SEVEN LAYERS

    Spreads/Dips

  • Babaganoush
  • Hummus
  • Tzatziki
  •  
    Dairy

  • Feta cheese, crumbled
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  •  
    Vegetables

  • Artichoke hearts, well drained and chopped
  • Cucumbers, diced and seeded
  • Kalamata olives, chopped
  • Fresh tomatoes, chopped and seeded or sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • Red or yellow bell peppers, small dice
  • Chopped red onions or thinly sliced green onions
  •  
    Plus

  • Optional garnish: fresh dill, mint and/or parsley, snipped
  • Pita chips
  •  

    INDIVIDUAL LAYERED DIPS

    Here’s a simple recipe from Stacy’s Pita Chips. If you don’t have verrines (the small glasses in the photo), clear juice glasses or other appropriate vessels, you can buy plastic rocks cups (9 ounces).

    Ingredients

  • Hummus (you can use flavored hummus for one of the layers)
  • Tzatziki
  • Diced tomatoes (you can substitute red bell pepper when tomatoes are out of season)
  • Toppings: crumbled feta cheese, sliced black olives, minced red onion
  • Garnish: chiffonade of mint, pita chip
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE a layer of hummus at the bottom of the glass, followed by a layer of tzatziki. Repeat.

     

    mini-layer-dip-stacyspitachips-230

    You can make layered dips as individual portions—a fun appetizer idea. Photo courtesy Stacy’s Pita Chips.

     

    2. ADD a layer of diced tomatoes. Top with the feta, olives, onion and mint. Crown with a pita chip.

      

    Comments

    VALENTINE GIFT: Crème Yvette

    creme-yvette-2-230

    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

    TIP OF THE DAY: Celebrate Burns Night Tonight

    When you sang “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve, did you recall that it was first a poem from Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland (1759-1796)?

    His birthday, January 25th, is celebrated in Scotland as Burns Night. Family and friends gather for an evening of good food and company—a warm and happy event much like our Thanksgiving. A traditional Burns’ Supper is served. Here’s the supper format, if you want to plan ahead for next year.

    But you can have a much smaller event tonight, as brief as enjoying a tumbler of Scotch and reading a poem. Burns’ complete works are available free online. Some suggestions: A Red, Red Rose (“My luve is like a red, red rose…”); To a Louse; To a Mouse; Tam O’Shanter.

    If you’d like to do something a bit more elaborate, call around and invite a group for a Scotch tasting (here’s how). Everyone can bring whatever brand they have at hand…along with any bagpipe music.

    Then, there’s a Scotch and chocolate tasting. While solid chocolate wasn’t invented in Burns’ lifetime, he was a bon vivant and we’re sure he’d approve.

    Here are more food ideas for Burns Night.

     

    scotch-cheese-wisconsincheesetalk-230

    Celebrate Burns Night with Scotch and a poem. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     
    Heid doon arse up! (That’s Scottish for Get on with it!)

      

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