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TIP OF THE DAY: Create Ice Cube Art (Designer Ice Cubes)

We have long made “designer ice cubes” for cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks by:

  • Adding fruit to the ice cube for sweet drinks.
  • Adding herbs to the ice cubes for savory drinks.
  •  
    You simply fill the ice cube tray with water and drop a piece of fruit or an herb into each compartment. Here’s our original article.

    We also use two techniques that don’t dilute the drink:

  • Freeze juice or other liquid into ice cubes; for example, tomato juice or bouillon for a Bloody Mary, pineapple juice for a Piña Colada, coffee ice cubes for a Black Russian or Irish Coffee.
  • Use frozen fruits or vegetables. You can buy them or make them.
  • For sweet drinks, whole strawberries or melon balls are our go-to fruits.
  • For savory drinks, use larger vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower florets instead of frozen carrots and peas or corn, which are small and will defrost quickly. You can also freeze thick cucumber and zucchini slices.
  •  
    WHAT’S NEXT?

    The artiest ice cubes yet, from Let’s Mingle Blog. We just love the look, and have so much fun mixing and matching the ingredients.

    Ingredients

  • Fruits, vegetables, herbs and whole spices of choice
  • Liquid of choice: water, flavored water, coffee, tea, juice or soft drink*
  •  
    Preparation

    1. FILL the ice cube compartments one-third or halfway with your liquid of choice: coffee or tea, juice, water, etc. Place the trays in the freezer until the ice is partially frozen (fully frozen is OK, too).

    2. ADD the fruits, herbs, spices, whatever, and return to the freezer for 20 minutes or more, so the fruit will stick and not float to the top.

    3. TOP with the final layer of liquid, and freeze fully.

    Here’s the entire article from Let’s Mingle Blog, with many more design ideas.

     

    Designer Ice Cubes

    Fruit In Ice Cubes

    The best-looking ice cubes we’ve seen, from Let’s Mingle Blog. Read the full article.

     
    ________________
    *For example, cola ice cubes for a Rum & Coke.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Honor The Cranberry With Cranberry Drinks

    Cranberries are a group of low, creeping evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines, that grow in acidic bogs in the cooler regions of the U.S. and Canada.

    The plants belong to the heather family, Ericaceae, along with the bilberry, blueberry, huckleberry, azalea and other rhododendrons.

    NAMING THE BERRY

    Native American tribes from New England Pequod and Wampanoag to the Leni-Lenape of New Jersey to the Algonquins of Wisconsin variously called them sassamanesh (very sour berry), ibimi (bitter berry) and atoqua in their local tongues.

    The English name derives from kranebere, German for crane berry, so called by early Dutch and German settlers in New England who saw the flower, stem, calyx and petals as resembling the neck, head and bill of a crane.

  • Some New Englanders called them bearberries, as bears were fond of feeding on them.
  • Northeastern Canadians called them mossberries.
  • In the U.K., it’s the fenberry, since the plants grow in a fen (a marsh).
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    CRANBERRY HISTORY

    The Wampanoag People of southeastern Massachusetts had been harvesting wild cranberries for 12,000 years by the time the Pilgrims arrived. The Leni-Lenape of New Jersey and other tribes in the East also were blessed with cranberry bogs.

    Native Americans used cranberries for grits and pemmican—deer meat, mashed cranberries and fat, pressed and dried as a convenience food for travel. Cranberries mashed with cornmeal were baked it into bread.

    While maple sugar and honey were used to sweeten the sour berry, some souls with a palate for the super-tart even ate them fresh.

    Non-food uses included dye, fever-reducers, wound poultices and seasickness remedy.
     
    Cultivating The Cranberry

    The first cultivation of cranberries took place in Dennis, on Cape Cod, around 1816. After that, landowners eagerly converted their peat bogs, swamps and wetlands into cranberry bogs.

    Farmers developed a process called wet harvesting: flooding the bog with water so the cranberries floated to the surface, where they are collected.

    Cranberries found their way across the northern states to the Pacific Northwest, and were first shipped to Europe in the 1820s. From England, they were brought to the cold-appropriate countries of Scotland, Russia and Scandinavia. They’re now grown commercially in Chile as well.

    Today, U.S. Farmers harvest approximately 40,000 acres of cranberries each year (source).

    The fruit is turned into jam, juice, sauce and sweetened dried cranberries, with the remainder sold fresh to consumers for cooking and baking.
     
    CRANBERRY TRIVIA

    A fresh cranberry will bounce, due to the pocket of air inside (photo #3). That’s also why they float.

    The cranberry is one of only three fruits native to North America that were not known in Europe*. The others: the blueberry and the grape.

       

    Cranberry Flower

    Cranberry Bush

    Cranberry Inside

    Fresh <br />Cranberries” width=”230″ height=”230″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-87513″ /></p>
<p><font size=[1] The cranberry flower (photo courtesy University of Wisconsin. [2] Cranberries on the branch (photo courtesy University of Minnesota). [3] The air pockets in cranberries enable them to bounce and float (photo courtesy Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association). [4] Fresh cranberries (photo courtesy Ocean Spray).

     

    Mulled Cranberr & Tequila Drink

    Cranberry Punch

    [1] Cranberry Toddy (photo courtesy DeLeon Tequila). [2] Cranberry punch (photo courtesy Ocean Spray).

     

    DRINKING CRANBERRIES

    In Colonial days, a drink known as the Hot Toddy was created as a way to cure ailments (or at least, that was the excuse given).

    Made with rum from the Caribbean, it was also called Hot Buttered Rum: rum, hot water, spices and a pat of butter.

    Today, cranberry juice is drunk as:

  • Cocktails: Cape Codder, Cosmopolitan, Crantini, Toddy and Sea Breeze, among others
  • Juice Drinks
  • Mocktails
  • Smoothies
  •  
    You can create your own drink, mixing cranberry juice with lemon, vanilla, seasonal spices and seasonal fruits.

    We adapted this cocktail recipe from one sent to us by DeLeón Tequila.
     
    RECIPE #1: CRANBERRY TODDY

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 1½ ounces white/silver tequila
  • 6 ounces cranberry brew
  •  
    For The Cranberry Brew

  • 1 part fresh unsweetened cranberry juice
  • ¾ part fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ part simple syrup
  • Cinnamon, clove and nutmeg to taste
  • Garnish: orange slice (optionally studded with cloves)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SIMMER together the cranberry brew ingredients. Combine with tequila in glass mug.

    2. GARNISH with the orange slice.
     
    RECIPE #2: CRANBERRY PUNCH WITH OR WITHOUT SPIRITS

    How can you resist this holiday punch, with a cranberry wreath in the center?

    The wreath is actually an ice mold to chill the punch, filled with fresh cranberries and leafy herbs.

    The recipe, from Ocean Spray, is for an alcohol-free punch; but you can add spirits to taste.

    Ingredients For About 15 Six-Ounce Servings

  • 1 64-ounce bottle Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups lemon-lime soda or club soda
  • Optional: spirit of choice (we used gin and cranberry liqueur)
  • Garnish: ice ring with cranberries (substitute orange and lime slices)
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    Preparation

    1. MAKE the ice mold. Fill a ring mold with cranberries and “leaves” (herbs or other leaves) and water, and place in the freezer.

    2. COMBINE the cranberry juice cocktail, orange juice and optional spirits in a large punch bowl. Gently stir in soda just before serving. Garnish and serve.

    TIP: To keep the punch cold, store the juice mix, soda and optional spirits in the fridge until ready to serve. We used two large pitchers, which fit easily into the fridge.

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    *Strawberries and raspberries were also known to Europeans; and many other fruits, such as the pawpaw and the saskatoon, are native to North America, but are not commercially important.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Spiced Tea

    Spiced Tea Spices

    Constant Comment Spiced Tea

    Spiced Rooibos Tea

    [1] It’s easy to make spice tea without special tea. Just blend your own (photo courtesy Republic Of Tea). [3] Constant Comment, America’s favorite specialty tea (photo courtesy Yankee Magazine).

     

    Many tea lovers buy spiced tea as a fall and holiday favorite; gift tins are popular holiday gifts.

    For home, perhaps the most popular spiced tea is the first major commercial brand, Constant Comment. A longtime favorite of ours (and the most popular specialty tea in the U.S.), the original black spiced tea bags are now available in decaffeinated black tea and green tea. It’s also available as loose tea.

    But if you’re home and hankering for a cup of spiced tea, with none in the house, the solution is simple:

    Just make your own with the tea and spices you already have in the kitchen.

    In addition to black tea, you can make green spice tea or white spice tea, or rooibos (caffeine-free red tea) spice tea, exactly as Ruth Bigelow did when she created Constant Comment Tea in 1946.
     
    SPICE TEA VS. SPICED TEA (IT’S SPICED!)

    A bit of a grammatical note on spice vs. spiced:

  • Spice tea would be an infusion of spices in boiling water, with no tea leaves. It’s analogous to herbal tea, where herbs are steeped in boiling water with no actual tea (Camellia sinensis). We know of no spice teas, however. While herb leaves steep into a liquid like tea leaves, spices do not.
  • Spiced tea is tea with added spices; the tea is spiced—the correct adjective.
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    EASY SPICED TEA RECIPE

    Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 3 tea bags or 3 teaspoons loose tea
  • Optional: 3/4 cup sugar
  • Garnish: lemon wedge
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    Variations

    You can keep playing with the spice mix until you have your perfect recipe (see more ingredients in the section below).

    You can fill jars with your signature tea blend and give them as gifts to tea-loving friends. For friends who don’t use loose tea, add these unfilled drawstring tea bags.

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE water, cinnamon and cloves in a medium pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

    2. ADD tea bags; steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and spices.

    3. SERVE the tea hot or iced with a lemon wedge and choice of sweeteners, although the spice flavors are so exciting that no sweetener is necessary.
     
    TEA INFUSIONS

    You can also infuse the tea with:

  • Fruits: apple, citrus peel/zest, lemon, orange, pear or other fruit, fresh or dried
  • Herbs: basil, fennel (licorice flavor), mint, sage, rosemary*
  • Spices: allspice, anise/star anise, black peppercorns, cacao nibs, cardamom, chopped dried chiles, cinnamon, fennel seeds, ginger (fresh, ground, crystallized), nutmeg, vanilla bean, turmeric
  • Sweeteners:Agave, honey, flavored syrup
  •  
    Just look around your kitchen for things to infuse.
    ________________
    *Here are 10 herb choices from Garden.org.
     
    WAYS TO INFUSE TEA

    1. With a spice ball. We prefer the new twist-and-lock spice ball style. The closure is less likely to loose with continued use.

    2. Loose. If you don’t have a spice ball, just infuse all of the ingredients in pitcher or a large measuring cup, ideally one with a pouring spout. Then pour the tea through a strainer, into the cup.

    There are many devices for steeping loose tea, from simple infusers to more complex devices; for example, travel mugs and electric tea pots with built-in infusers.

    IngenuiTEA is our favorite device. Tea steeps in the unit, then easily dispenses into the cup.

     

    RECIPE: MASALA CHAI

    Masala chai is Hindi for spiced milk tea (masala = spice, chai = tea). It’s a strong black Indian tea infused with spices—commonly cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorn, clove and nutmeg (chocolate or licorice are sometimes included)—with milk and sugar.

    Traditionally, the milk and tea water are boiled together, then infused. This ensures that both liquids are hot. In the era of the microwave, you can infuse the tea in boiled water and then add heated milk.

    While masala chai is traditionally made from black tea, green tea chai and rooibos chai have become popular in the West, where it is often simply called “chai.”

    There is no one “best” chai recipe. As with any other recipe, the best version has the seasonings you prefer, in the proportions that you want.

    Here’s a basic masala chai recipe that makes eight cups of tea. Take it as a starting point and adjust the ingredients and the proportions next time.

    If eight cups is too much for you, cut back the recipe. Or, refrigerate the remainder, store it in the fridge and and heat it as needed. You can also drink it iced.

    TIP: Some recipes (and store-bought blends) are pre-sweetened. If you may be serving the chai to people who prefer unsweetened tea, or use a noncaloric sweetener, omit the sweetener (the last ingredient) and provide sweeteners at the table.
     
    Masala Chai Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups whole milk (or substitute a lower fat or nondairy version)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 whole nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 vanilla bean, chopped fine
  • 4 teaspoons black tea leaves: Assam or other strong tea
  • 8 ounces honey or 4 ounces agave
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    Masala Chai

    Masala Chai Blend

    [1] Masala chai means milk tea. In its country of origin, India, it’s black tea steeped with spices, with added milk (photo courtesy Charles Chocolates). [2] You can mix your chai spices ad hoc, or keep your favorite blend in an airtight jar (photo courtesy Foodie Underground).

     
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the water and milk to a boil in a sauce pan. Add the remaining ingredients except honey and simmer, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes.

    2. REMOVE from the heat and strain into another pot or bowl. Add sweetener and blend thoroughly.

    3. SERVE from a conventional teapot or a pitcher; or bring pre-filled cups the table.
     
    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEA

    Check out our tea Glossary: the different types of tea, with beautiful photography.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Drinks For Mexican Independence Day

    Tequila & Grapefruit Juice Cocktail

    Bandera Shots

    [1] The Paloma, said to be Mexico’s favorite tequila-based cocktail (photo courtesy TasteCocktails.com). [2] The Bandera comprises shots in green, white and red, the colors of the Mexican flag (photo courtesy FoodNetwork.com). [3] A layered bandora shot with chartreuse, maraschino liqueur (clear) and grenadine (photo courtesy BarinaCraft.com).

     

    September 16th is Mexican Independence Day. It’s also National Guacamole Day. Coincidence? We think not!

    Yesterday, we explained how Mexicans celebrated with shots of Reposda tequila, aged for up to a year.

    But what if you don’t like drinking straight tequila?

    You can enjoy another tequila cocktail or a non-alcoholic Mexican drink. Here are some of the most popular:
     
    RECIPE #1: MICHELADA: MEXICO’S BEER COCKTAIL

    You can have a plain Mexican beer, of course. Bohemia, Corona, Dos Equis and others are commonly found across the country.

    But if you like a bit of heat, have a Michelada (mee-cha-LAH-dah), a traditional cerveza preparada, or beer cocktail.

    Michelada is a combination of beer, lime and hot sauce served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. Chela is Mexican slang for a cold beer, combined with mixto, referring to the the mix of ingredients added to the beer. Eliminate the hot sauce and you’ve got a Chelada.

    Here’s the complete Michelada recipe.
     
    RECIPE #2: PALOMA COCKTAIL, TEQUILA & GRAPEFRUIT

    This cocktail couldn’t be easier: 3 parts grapefruit soda and 1 part tequila, served over ice cubes in a highball glass, garnished with a lime wedge. You can add an optional salt rim.

    And you can make it by the pitcher-ful, which we’ll be doing tonight.

    Paloma is the Spanish word for dove. In Mexico the soft drink of choice is Jarritos brand grapefruit soda (in the U.S., look for it at international markets or substitute Fresca.

    You can purchase pink grapefruit soda from the premium mixer brand Q Drinks, or combine grapefruit juice with club soda or grapefruit-flavored club soda.

     
    At better establishments, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice is combined with club soda. Use pink grapefruit juice and you’ll have a Pink Paloma (our term for it).

    Here’s the history of the Paloma from TasteCocktails.com, which says it’s the most popular tequila-based cocktail in Mexico.
     
    RECIPE #2: BANDERA SHOTS

    In Mexico the Bandera (flag), named after the flag of Mexico, consists of three shot glasses representing the colors of the flag (photo #2).

    The first is filled with lime juice (for the green), the middle has white (silver) tequila, and the last contains sangrita (for the red), a chaser that usually contains orange and tomato juices. Here’s the recipe from Food Network.

    You can also make layered shooter with liqueurs in the national colors (photo #3). Here’s a recipe.

     

    NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINKS

    RECIPE #4: AGUA FRESCA

    In Spanish, agua fresca means fresh water.

    In culinary terms, it refers to a variety of refreshing cold drinks that are sold by street vendors and at cafés throughout Mexico and other Latin American countries (photo #4). They’re also sold bottled at stores, and are easily whipped up at home.

    Agua fresca is nonalcoholic and noncarbonated. The recipe can include a combination of fruits or veggies, flowers (like hibiscus), herbs and/or spices, cereals (barley, oats, rice), seeds (chia), even almond flour (which is used to make horchata, the next example).

    A traditional agua fresca is an infused, sweetened water, flavored with fruits and/or vegetables—often a more complex layering of flavors than lemonade and limeade.

    Our favorite combinations: watermelon (or any melon), basil cucumber and mint hibiscus. Here’s how to make them.

    As you can see from this recipe template, it’s easy to mix your favorite flavors.
     
    RECIPE #5: HORCHATA

    Agua de horchata—horchata for short—is a very popular recipe, made from ground almonds and rice spiced with cinnamon (photo #5). Other flavors such as coconut can be added.

    Here’s a recipe from Noshon.it.

    It’s not conventional, but, you could add a shot of tequila or rum.

    After all, it’s a day to celebrate!

     

    Watermelon Agua Fresca

    Mexican Soft Drink

    [4] Whip up a pitcher of watermelon aqua fresca with this recipe from Whole Foods Markets. [5] Horchata, made from ground almonds and cooked rice, may sound unusual—but it’s unusually good (photo courtesy Noshon.It).

     

      

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    FOOD FUN: Getting Political With Snapple

    Through Election Day (November 8th), you can drink to your political party with Snapple TEAcision 2016.

    The new limited-edition flavors from Snapple include:

  • Blue Fruit Tea, a blend of blueberry and blackberry flavors
  • Red Fruit Tea, a blend of pomegranate, cherry and raspberry
  •  
    These “political” flavors follow on the heels of of the “patriotic” July 4th special edition, Oh Say Can You Tea, a black tea with strawberry flavor and a hint of mint.

    That flavor had this Snapple Real Fact on the back of the bottle cap: In Massachusetts, it’s illegal to dance to the National Anthem.

    What’s under the caps of Snapple TEAcision 2016?

    You’ll have to try them to find out!

    Stock up for election results-watching.

     

    Snapple TEAcision 2016

    Drink to your party with TEAcision 2016 (photo courtesy Snapple).

     

      

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