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Archive for Entertaining

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Aldi For Christmas Entertaining

Recently, we went to our neighborhood specialty food store to buy appetizers for a get together with wine.

Sure, the cheeses we picked were $25 a pound; our favorite crackers from La Panzanella and Raincoast Crisps aren’t inexpensive. And we do tend to buy too much.

But when the cashier said, “$146.76 please,” we were floored.

For this weekend’s entertaining, we took a car service to ALDI (we live in Manhattan, where most people don’t own cars). We paid $70 for a the same amount of food; so even with transportation we came out ahead. (And this group of friends doesn’t care about the difference between Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar and Cabot (our everyday brand).

If you’re inviting friends and family, ALDI is the place to save big bucks on quality foods.

From cheese and charcuterie to chocolate and desserts to an entire cooked ham, turkey or roast beef dinner: Everything is delicious.

  • There are also food gift items and wines, as permitted by state.
  • Weekly specials include dozens of food and non-food products at a great value: everything from small kitchen appliances and seasonal items to outdoor furniture and gardening tools.
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    All are carefully curated and are backed by a double guarantee. If you’re not 100% satisfied, bring it back for a refund and a replacement product.
     
    ABOUT ALDI

    ALDI launched in 1961 in Germany, the world’s first first discounter. In 1976 they opened a U.S. store in Iowa, and how have more than 1,500 stores in 34 states, expanding to 2,000 stores by 2018. Worldwide, there are some 10,000 stores in 18 countries.

    Forbes Magazine calls ALDI “A Growing Menace To America’s Grocery Retailers.” The store is family-owned, and also owns Trader Joe’s.

    Everyone loves the low, low prices, which Aldi achieves through a no-frills approach to food retailing:

  • Basic inventory displays. As with Costco, merchandise is displayed in their shipping boxes to help save resources in restocking shelves.
  • Selective inventory: the basics, but not the universe (e.g., the 10 most popular cheeses, 1 brand of ketchup or yogurt instead of several choices). There are gluten-free and organic foods.
  • No credit cards: cash or debit cards only.
  • BYO bags or pay for them. As with Costco, you can take empty stock boxes as you find them.
  • Private label products. More than 90% of the inventory comprises store brands, guaranteed to be as good or better than national brands.
  • No non-essential services: no overhead of banking, check-cashing, pharmacy, etc.
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    There is no e-commerce, but you can visit the company website, get the lay of the land and use the store locator to find the ALDI nearest to you.
     
     
    What Does ALDI Mean?

    The discount food business was founded by the two Albrecht brothers. The name is an acronym for (AL)brecht and (DI)scounter.

     

    Carved Ham

    Cheese Board

    Mini Linzer Tarts

    [1] Want an entire catered dinner? You’ll save a lot getting it at ALDI (photo courtesy ALDI). [2] From cheese and charcuterie to other nibbles, you’ll find what you need at ALDI (photo courtesy Cupcakes And Cutlery). [3] For dessert, there’s everything from the classics to the seasonal, like these mini linzer tarts (photo courtesy Aldi).

      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Gourmet Dinners From Babeth’s Feast

    Babeth's Feast Dinner

    One of the many dinner combinations you can order from Babeth’s Feast.

     

    What to get for the fine food lover who doesn’t cook?

    As long as someone has an oven and knows how to turn it on, we suggest a gift of Babeth’s Feast.

    There are more than 300 dishes, flash frozen, that heat up as if they were just prepared fresh. People in France regularly entertain this way: buy the main meal and make a salad. That’s why Babeth, who had moved to New York, brought the concept to the U.S.

    Foods can be sent anywhere. There are options for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and everything from haute cuisine to burgers and simpler meals.

    But what we love is the opportunity to have an elegant dinner at home, as is Babeth’s custom. Buy the main dinner—fine hors d’oeuvres and a four-course dinner—soup, fish course, meat course with sides and dessert.

    All you do is make a fresh salad and provide the wine and after-dinner coffee.

    The entire NIBBLE team was treated to a dinner this past summer, and we still haven’t stopped talking about it.

     
    Here’s our original review when Babeth’s Feast was the Top Pick Of The Week.

    Here’s the company website where you get the party started.

     
      

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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.
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    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.
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    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*
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    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.

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

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Crudites, A Gingerbread House Alternative

    Vegetable Christmas House

    Veggie Lodge

    Chocolate Holiday House

    [1] A good-for-you Christmas treat. [2] Start here (photos #1 and #2 courtesy Green Giant). [3] A chocolate house, made with molds from King Arthur Flour.

     

    How about a vegetable cottage instead of a gingerbread house?

    Created by Green Giant; we found it on

    It was originally posted on Green Giant’s Facebook page.

    Here’s the rub:

    The bloggers who re-posted provided the ingredients, but instructed the reader to “Click here for the directions From Green Giant’s Facebook Page.”

    Alas, clicking all those links delivers a “Page Not Found.”

    Conspiracy: Maybe there never were directions! At best, we have some step-by-step photos.

    So you’ll have to put it together yourself. Or delegate it to someone who likes to build.

    If you’re a great food crafter, please make it and send us the instructions.

     
    RECIPE: VEGGIE LODGE

    Ingredients

  • 6 8″ carrot logs (1 front, 5 back)
  • 8 5″ carrot logs (lodge sides)
  • 8 3″ carrot logs (front)
  • 1-1/4″ logs (by front door)
  • 4 1-1/2″ carrot logs (window opening)
  • 3 7″ carrot log rafters
  • 16 6″ roof celery stalks
  • Foam core board gable measures 8″x 6: x 6″
  • Carrot coins for stone path
  • Slice of turnip for window
  • Toothpicks & cream cheese mortar to fasten the cucumbers and celery
  • Bamboo skewers to stack chimney mushroom “stones”
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    For The Surroundings

  • Artichoke “evergreen trees”
  • Broccoli floret “bushes”
  • Boiled baby potatoes
  • Hard boiled egg Santa snowmen (recipe)
  • Cremini mushrooms (brown tops) for more shrubbery
  • Yellow/red cherry or grape tomatoes
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    For The Dip

  • 1 large red bell pepper or other dip holder
  • Dip of choice
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    Ingredients
     
    Or, ditch the healthy house and make this chocolate version from King Arthur Flour.

     
    CAN YOU FOLLOW THESE PHOTOS & BUILD THE LODGE?
     
    Veggie Lodge Preparation

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Wine & Cake For A Dessert Party…Or Just Dessert!

    Want a dessert party that’s different?

    How about a wine and cake tasting? As with any other food and wine, the right pairings enhance the enjoyment of both components.

    So as not to stress the budget, you can make it a co-op party, assigning different cakes and wines to the participants.

    Select five or so pairings for a group of 10-12; more for a larger crowd. We made all of the cakes as sheet cakes, easy to cut into squares or slivers. It’s tough to cut thin slices of layer cakes.

    Place each cake on a platter with a place cards or index cards to identify them and provide cake/pie servers so people can help themselves, and further cut the squares for smaller tastes.

    We set everything on a buffet: the cakes with the matching wines and wine glasses behind them, plus serving plates, forks and napkins.

    Re the cake/pie servers: It’s nice to have a server for each cake. You can borrow from friends, use metal spatulas and other items you already have, or buy this inexpensive set of five for $11.99.

    These pairings were created by Alice Feiring, an award-winning wine writer and book author; and sent to us by Amara.com, an elegant lifestyle website.

    Alice has provided explanations for why these pairings work (the “Why,” below). If your crowd is interested, you can print the information index cards underneath the name of each cake and wine pairing.

    CAKE & WINE PAIRINGS
     
    1. APPLE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Off-dry sparkling wine, such as a demi-sec Vouvray from the Loire region of France.
  • Why: Off-dry sparkling wines with a hint of apple or lemon are a perfect pairing.
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    2. CARDAMOM CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Pear cider (an off-dry hard cider also called perry).
  • Why: Pears and cardamom accent each other so well in recipes; the same pairing translates to wine. You can also try this pairing with other spice cakes.
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    3. CARROT CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Ice cider, similar to ice wine, but made with apples instead of grapes.
  • Why: Carrot cake has spicy flavors and creamy frosting, both of which pair well with the intensity, acidity and honey notes of ice cider.
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    4. CHEESECAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Aromatic wine, spicy and exotic, such as Gewürztraminer from the Alsace region of France or from Germany.
  • Why: Aromatic wines stand up to dense cheesecakes. The low alcohol level is right for the creaminess.
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    5. COCONUT CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sparkling, white, gently sweet desert wine, such as Moscato d’Asti from Italy.
  • Why: The light sweetness of a sparkling desert wine complements the less sweet coconut.
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    6. FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Oxidized, fortified wine such as Madeira from Portugal.
  • Why: Fortified wines that have been exposed to heat develop a complex muted, caramel-like saltiness—think toffee, dried fruit and orange rind—which complement the ground nuts in the cake.
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    Carrot Cake

    Cheesecake

    Coconut Cake

    Flourless Chocolate Cake

    [1] Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and filling (photo courtesy Harry & David). [2] A classic cheesecake (photo courtesy Cinderella Cheesecake). [3] Coconut layer cake (photo courtesy Taste Of Home). [4] Flourless Chocolate Cake (photo courtesy David Glass).

     

    Strawberry Shortcake

    Pineapple Upside Down Cake

    Nacho Cheesecake

    [5] Strawberry shortcake (photo courtesy G Bakes). [6] The retro Pineapple Upside -Down Cake (photo courtesy King Arthur Flour). [7] A savory cheesecake (Nacho Cheesecake photo from Taste Of Home; the recipe link is at #12).

     

    7. LEMON POPPY CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Apple mint vermouth (look for Uncouth Vermouth Apple Mint)—semisweet and fragrant.
  • Why: The bitter from the vermouth accents the almost fruity snap of the poppy seeds.
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    8. OLIVE OIL CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sparking white wine, like a slightly sweet Malvasia Dolce Frizzante from Italy.
  • Why: The aromatic lightness of a slightly sweet sparkling wine matches the dense olive oil without being overpowering.
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    9. ORANGE-CHOCOLATE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Dry amber (orange) wine, spicy with notes of orange blossom. Look for amber wines from France, Italy and Australia—they’re relatively new in the U.S.
  • Why: The juicy, slightly tannic wine supports the strong cake flavors without undoing the power of the chocolate orange combination.
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    10. PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sweet white wine such as a Jurançon Moelleux from France—unctuous with good acid and lemon/peach notes.
  • Why: The tropical flavor from the grape, petit manseng, especially from the Jurançon, marries the syrupy fruit. Its extreme acidity keeps the match fresh”.
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    11. STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sparking rosé.
  • Why: The berry fruitiness of sparkling rosé echoes the fragrant strawberries in the cake.
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    12. SAVORY CHEESE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Savory cheesecake is an appetizer or first course rather than a dessert; or it can stand in for the cheese course or a dessert for people who don’t like sweets! Look for a Carignan, Grenache, Syrah or blend. Check out these savory cheesecake recipes:
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    Blue Cheese Cheesecake
    Basil, Lobster & Tuna Cheesecake Recipes
    Nacho Cheesecake Recipe
    Provolone & Corn Cheesecake

  • Why: Deep red wines are a great match for the sharp cheese flavors.
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    MORE DESSERT & WINE PAIRINGS

    Here are THE NIBBLE’s recommendations for:

  • Pairing Desserts & Wine: everything from crème brûlée to mousse to pie
  • Pairing Ice Cream & Wine
  • Pairing Chocolate & Wine
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    HAPPY NIBBLING!

      

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