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Archive for Food Bars, Buffets, DIY

TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches & An Ice Cream Sandwich Social

Ice Cream Sandwiches
Adapt the concept of an ice cream social to a DIY ice cream sandwich social (photo courtesy King Arthur Flour).

Vanilla Milk
This vanilla milk is made with honey. Here’s the recipe from A Well Fed Life. You can use your sweetener of choice (ours is Splenda).

Coffee Milk

An easy way to make coffee milk: Just add coffee syrup, as in this recipe from Cocktail Crafty.

 

July is National Ice Cream Month. In our neck of the woods, gourmet ice cream sandwiches have been the rage for a while.

What makes them “gourmet,” beyond the super-premium ice cream, is the sandwiching—usually homemade cookies in chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter and snickerdoodle.

When we make our own cookies for homemade ice cream sandwiches, we make chocolate-dipped graham crackers. When people ask what they can bring, we assign them a batch of cookies.

There’s plenty of time to invite friends and family for a casual ice cream social* this weekend or next. You set out the fixings, and let guests make their own sandwiches.

Then, make up your menu:

  • Cookies: 3″ diameter, plus mini-cookies if desired*
  • Waffles, quartered*
  • Ice cream
  • Sprinkles, mini-chips, chopped nuts
  •  
    Limit the cookie, ice cream and garnish choices the first time out. See what gets consumed most; then you can vary the choices next time.
     
    UTENSILS

  • Ice trays/bins for ice cream
  • Scoops, spoons, spatulas for ice cream
  • Large plates or trays for adding garnishes
  • Paper plates and napkins
  • Tablecloths
  • Trays
  •  
    BEVERAGES

    What beverages go best with ice cream sandwiches?

    Youngsters might clamor for soft drinks, but coffee and tea, hot and iced, go best.

    You know your guests: Are they insistent on beer and wine, or would they be happy with an iced coffee—with a shot of vodka or coffee liqueur?

    Consider these options, each of which can be enjoyed plain or with a shot:

  • Iced coffee
  • Iced tea
  • Vanilla milk and/or coffee milk (recipe follows)
  •  
    RECIPE: VANILLA MILK or COFFEE MILK

    Ingredients Per 8-Ounce Glass

  • 1 cup milk (0%, 1%, 2%) or nondairy milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon sugar or substitute
  • For coffee milk: black coffee to taste
  • ________________

    *To estimate how many cookies or waffle quarters you’ll need, multiply 2 cookies/sandwich times 2 sandwiches/guest.

     
    ICE CREAM SOCIAL HISTORY
     
    An ice cream social is a party where people come to eat ice cream.

    Ice cream socials date back to 18th-century America, long before the dawn of electric freezers—not to mention electric ice cream makers. The ice cream was hand-cranked.

    While a laborious undertaking, ice cream socials were very popular, traditional gatherings. According to Wikipedia:

  • The first ice cream social in America was in 1744, when Maryland governor Thomas Bladen served ice cream for a dinner party.
  • The first ice cream social in the White House was in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson.
  • When ice cream became more available to the middle classes in the mid-1800s, schools and churches began to host ice cream socials. Those held outdoors by the well-to-do became known as ice cream gardens.
  • Some churches and communities still hold ice cream socials today, but an ice cream social is an easy party to throw at home—no “community effort” required.
  • If you have neither garden nor other outdoor space, you can still host a delightful ice cream social.
  •  
    ICE CREAM TRIVIA: THE FIRST FLAVOR

    Many people would guess that vanilla was the first ice cream flavor, but that is far from the case.

    You have to think back to the origins of ice cream, around 2000 B.C.E. in China, when the first ice cream was made from snow, flavored with fruit syrups.

    The concept reached the Middle East via traders, and Alexander the Great brought it to Greece after conquering Persia in 331 B.C.E., where it became a treat for the nobility, who had the servants to fetch snow and ice from the mountains and turn it into dessert. The shaved ice and snow were combined with fruit toppings, honey and nuts—the first sundae, perhaps.

    Vanilla, which originated in Mexico and was used to flavor the cacao drink, didn’t become a flavor in Europe until the 1600s. As in Mexico, only the wealthy could afford it.

    Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing vanilla to the United States in the late 1700s. He became familiar with vanilla at the court of King Louis XVI, while serving as U.S. minister to France (from 1785 to 1789). When he returned to the U.S., he brought 200 vanilla beans with him, and his cook had learned to make ice cream.

    Here’s the history of vanilla.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pimm’s Cup, The Classic British Summer Drink

    Pimm's Cup
    [1] A bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and an approximation of the original drink, with a Mason jar standing in for the tankard. Here are recipe variations from Brit.co.

    Pimm's Cup
    [2] A modern interpretation, with so much fruit that it rivals sangria. Here are more variations from Chilled Magazine.

    New Orleans Pimm's Cup
    [3] Here’s the recipe from Joy The Baker.

    Pimm’s Ice Pops

    [4] Fans have turned Pimm’s Cups into ice pops and Jell-O shots. Here are recipes from Brit.co.

     

    Gin and tonic may be the British cocktail best known in the U.S., but we’d like to introduce you to Pimm’s Cup.

    Pimm’s is a line of liqueurs, called fruit cups* in the U.K., first produced in 1823 by James Pimm (1798–1866).

    A tenant farmer’s son from Kent, he studied theology in Edinburgh, but moved to London in his early 20s and became a shellfish monger. Not long after, he opened Pimm’s Oyster Bar in London, which grew to a chain of five restaurants.

    He served oysters with a “house cup,” a gin sling with his proprietary mix of liqueurs and fruit extracts. (Slings were a category of drink that, at the time, combined a spirit with soda water or ginger ale).

    The English gin of the time was not the smooth, botanical spirit we enjoy today, but a rough drink that had departed from its Dutch roots. It was often distilled into a crude, inferior but cheap spirit that was more likely to be flavored with turpentine than the juniper berries of the Dutch jenever from which it evolved.

    So Pimm, ahead of the curve, doctored the rough gin with a “secret mixture” of liqueur, herbs and fruits. He served it in a small tankard known as a No. 1 cup; hence, the name of the drink: Pimm’s No. 1 Cup.

    Reddish-brown in color with subtle notes of spice and citrus fruit, the Cup was a big hit. He sold bottles to other establishments.

    In 1851, he expanded the line† to include Pimm’s No. 2 Cup, made with a Scotch base; and Pimm’s No. 3 Cup, made with a brandy base. He initiated large-scale distillery production to supply his wholesale customers.

    ________________

    *A fruit cup, also known as a summer cup, is a traditional English long drink, most commonly based on gin, with the addition of a soft drink such as lemonade or ginger ale. The drink is a summer drink, garnished with fresh fruit (apple, cucumber, lemon, lime, orange, strawberry) and/or herbs (mint, borage). Other classic British drinks include Dubonnet Cocktail and Regent’s Punch.

    †Over the years, under subsequent owners, Pimm’s created other cups, some using spirits other than gin. After World War II, Pimm’s No. 4 Cup, based on rum was invented; followed by Pimm’s No. 5 Cup, based on rye whiskey. Cups 2 and 5 were discontinued, and Pimm’s No. 6 Cup, based on vodka, debuted in the 1960s. There have been special editions, such as Winter Cup and a Blackberry & Elderflower variant of No. 6 Cup. The first shot was the best: Pimm’s No. 1 cup remains the overwhelming favorite.
    ________________

    PIMM’S CUP HISTORY: FROM FRUIT CUP TO DIGESTIF TO BRITISH STAPLE DRINK

    In 1840, Pimm created what is today known as a Pimm’s Cocktail, as a digestif—a drink that purportedly helps with the digestion of food. It was conceived as a tonic to aid the digestion of customers who had eaten too much (which must have been a common problem among those who could afford it, given the proliferation of digestif liqueurs and wines).

    He combined his No. 1 Cup with lemon juice and a topper of ginger ale or sparkling lemonade, served over ice with mint and fresh fruit—and thus an iconic British drink was born.

    In 1865, the year before his death, Pimm sold the business and the right to use his name to a Frederick Sawyer, who sold it in 1880 to Horatio Davies, a future Lord Mayor of London. A chain of Pimm’s Oyster Houses was franchised in 1887. Today the brand owned by spirits giant Diageo.

    Sidebar: The Scoop On Digestifs

    Taking a liqueur after a meal has long been thought to aid digestion due to its alcohol content. While it may seem to skeptics a opportunity for another drink, there’s some truth to the tradition (but note that heavy-alcohol drinks like brandy and whiskey have an adverse effect on digestion).

    A smaller amount of alcohol stimulates the stomach’s production of the enzyme pepsin, the enzyme that helps digest proteins. It also increases secretions of the pancreas and gall bladder, which similarly break down food for use as energy.

    In actuality, it’s the bitter herb- and spice- based digestifs that work best to help digestion. Ingredients such as caraway seed, fennel seed and savory are thought to be especially beneficial to digestion. If you want an after-dinner drink with benefits, look to Chartreuse, Fernet Branca, Jägermeister and Kümmel.

    Fortified wines such as cream sherry, port, madeira and vermouth are traditional digestif wines; but these days, take a trip to the medicine cabinet for Alka-Seltzer, Pepto-Bismol, Tums, etc., the best cure(s) for what ails your digestive system.

    In our opinion (since we’ve had the drink but don’t know the secret Pimm’s Cup formula), a Pimm’s Cocktail is more of a pleasant summer sipper than a digestif.

     
    RECIPE: PIMM’S CUP COCKTAIL

    There are actually two approaches to Pimm’s Cup Cocktail.

  • The first is the original English style, a long drink combining Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and carbonated lemonade or bitter lemon.
  • A Pimm’s Royal Cup cuses chamagne or other sparkling white wine instead of the lemonade.
  • Pimm’s Winter Cup combines No. 1 Cup with warm apple cider (which is an alcoholic beverage in the U.K.).
  •  
    Garnishes include as much sliced fruit as you like. The conventional fruits are apples, cucumber, oranges, lemons and strawberries, plus herbs such as borage or mint (for a modern twist, try basil).

    Ginger ale is a common substitute for the carbonated lemonade or bitter lemon; but we very much like Sanpellegrino’s Limonata, which has less sugar than other carbonated lemon drinks.

    The second approach was devised in New Orleans. It uses regular lemonade, a top-off of 7-Up or Sprite, and a cucumber garnish. If this sounds more appealing to you, here’s the recipe.

     
    Ingredients For A Pitcher

  • 1-1/2 cups Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
  • 1 navel orange, cut crosswise into thin slices
  • 1 lemon, cut crosswise into thin slices
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed mint leaves and tender stems
  • 1-1/2 cups carbonated lemonade, ginger ale or lemon-lime soda, chilled
  • 1 cucumber, cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
  • 3 cups ice
  • 1 apple, quartered, cored, and cut into thin slices
  • 1/2 pint strawberries, halved
  • Ice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the Pimm’s, the apple, orange and lemon slices, and mint in a large pitcher. Chill until ready to serve.

    2. ASSEMBLE: Add the soft drink and stir gently. Pour over ice in tall glasses. Garnish with cucumber, strawberries, or as you wish.

    PIMM’S CUP PARTY BAR

    Pimm’s Cup is one of the two staple drinks (along with Champagne) at the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the Chelsea Flower Show, the Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. It is the standard cocktail at British and American polo matches. It is also extremely popular at summer garden parties in the U.K…so why not enjoy one in your own garden?

    You can make it by the pitcher, fully garnished. Or, just mix the liquid ingredients and the sliced apple, lemon and orange, let guests garnish their own with the other fruits and herbs.

    You can find more Pimm’s cocktail recipes at AnyoneForPimms.com.

     

    COCKTAIL CATEGORIES

    If you like to understand what you consume, here’s a partial taxonomy of cocktails. The list of categories can be quite extensive—frozen drinks, mulled and other hot drinks, nogs and other egg- and dairy-based drinks, layered drinks, etc. But here are some basics, starting with this basic divider:

  • Short Drinks are served in short glasses, called lowball glasses or rocks glasses, even though they may not contain rocks (ice). A short drink can be on the rocks or straight up (no rocks/ice).
  • Tall Drinks are served in highball glasses, also called collins glasses after the Tom Collins, an early, popular tall drink. Tall drinks typically are served with rocks and contain more mixers, usually in a 1:3 or 1:4 proportion.
  •  
    The differences between categories and sub-categories can be as minor as switching lemon juice for lime juice.

    While this may seem like splitting hairs, remember that in the days before broadcast media, people had more time on their hands. One of our favorite examples of this is nouns of multitude.

    1. Ancestral Cocktails. These are the original, early 19th century cocktails. These can sound generic, such aw “whiskey cocktail” and “gin cocktail.”

    The goal, back in the day, was to make spirits more palatable by sweetening it, with a teaspoon of sugar or a sweet liqueur. Often, aromatic bitters were included for complexity, and the drink was served either straight up or on the rocks. Two enduring examples are the Old Fashioned (without the muddled fruit and club soda found so often in today’s bars) and the Sazerac.

    2. Champagne Cocktails. These are fizzy cocktails, made with champagne or sparkling wine. The champagne can be the principal ingredient, as in the Champagne Cocktail; or can be used to top off a sour or other drink, such as a French 75.

    These drinks, originally served in coupes like champagne, are now largely served in flutes or other narrow glasses.

    3. Highballs. Simple highballs combine a spirit and a carbonated mixer (club soda, cola, ginger ale) plus ice in a tall (highball or collins) glass. Pimm’s Cup and Rum and Coke are examples.

    Replace the mixer with juice or liqueur to make a complex highball: a Dark and Stormy or Screwdriver, for example.

  • A Buck or Mule combines a basic spirit and citrus juice with ginger ale or ginger beer. The Moscow Mule is an example.
  • A Collins is a highball with added lemon juice and sugar, such as a Tom Collins (a.k.a. a gin sour with club soda).
  • A Fizz is a short drink straight up: a complex highball with a different preparation. The spirit and any other ingredients, except for the soda, are shaken with ice and strained into a rocks glass, then topped off with soda. Examples include the Ramos Fizz and Silver Fizz.
  • A Rickey retains the club soda, eliminates the sugar, and substitutes lime juice for the lemon juice. The most popular is the Gin Rickey.
  •  
    4. Juleps. A julep combines a base spirit with sugar, fresh mint and ice. The Mint Julep, made with bourbon, is the best known today; but in earlier eras, juleps were also made with most other spirits.

  • A smash is a julep with middled fruit, and optionally, mint or other herb. Whiskey Smash is an example.
  • A cobbler is a julep with wine or sherry as the base spirit.
  •  
    5. Sours. Add lemon or lime juice (sometimes, grapefruit) and sugar to the spirit and you have a simple sour. They are usually shaken with ice and served straight up in a rocks glass.

    In some sours, an egg white is added for body and a foamy top, as in the Daiquiri and Whiskey Sour.

    Add another sweet ingredient—liqueur, fortified wine or syrup—and you have a complex sour. Examples include the Cosmopolitan and the Margarita.

    If you love details like this, check out our…

    WHISKEY GLOSSARY: The different types of whiskey and related terms.

     

    Old Fashioned
    [5] From the Ancestral group, an Old Fashioned (photo courtesy Angus Club Steakhouse).

    Tom Collins
    [6] From the Highball group, an Tom Collins (photo courtesy Tanqueray).

    Whiskey Sour
    [7] From the Sour group, a Whiskey Sour (photo courtesy The Mercury | Atlanta).

    Mint Julep

    [8] From the Julep group, a Mint Julep (photo courtesy Distilled | NY).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Bruschetta From The Grill

    Firing up the grill this weekend? Make bruschetta (pronounced broo-SKEH-tuh).

    We love a DIY bruschetta bar. Just rub the bread with garlic, brush it with extra virgin olive oil, grill, and place the slices on a platter along with all the fixings.

    Even easier, brush the bread with garlic olive oil! You can buy it, or infuse your own in advance by dropping halved garlic cloves into a cup of olive oil (or however much you think you’ll need). Any leftover oil can go right into a vinaigrette.

    Bruschetta originated in the Tuscany region of Italy, where it is commonly served as a snack or appetizer. It may have been the original garlic bread.

    Plus, we have our own invention dessert bruschetta, below.

    BRUSCHETTA VS. CROSTINI: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

    There are two factors:

  • The size of the bread slice.
  • The cooking technique: grilling versus toasting.
  •  
    Bruschetta slices are larger, three or four inches in diameter) and grilled. Crostini, cut from a ficelle, a thinner baguette about two inches wide (the word is French for “string”).

    You can use bread of a different diameter; but if it isn’t grilled, it isn’t bruschetta.

    Here’s how to remember the difference:

  • The verb bruscare is Roman dialect meaning “to roast over coals.” But there’s something simpler.
  • Think of crostini as crust or crouton (which is its literal meaning). Toast has a crust. That’s how we taught ourself to recognize the difference.
  • While Italians serve bruschetta as a snack, the smaller crostini can be served plain with soup and salad, like the original melba toast.
  •  
    Note that some American manufacturers and others in the food industry misuse the term, selling jars of “bruschetta.” To be accurate, it should be labeled bruschetta topping). Bruschetta is the grilled bread, not the topping.

    RECIPE: DIY BRUSCHETTA BAR

    The simplest bruschetta topping is salt and pepper (i.e., seasoned garlic bread), but that’s for a bread basket.

    Almost any cheese, fruit, meat, spread or vegetable can be a topping. Toppings can be cooked, marinated, pickled, raw or smoked.

    For a DIY bar, offer at least three different toppings. We like everything, so tend to go overboard: Our toppings look like a buffet. Regarding bread, we prefer a crusty sourdough or rustic loaf.

  • Be sure the loaf will give you slices of a workable size.
  • If you’re not familiar with the particular loaf, ask to ensure that it doesn’t have holes for the toppings to fall through.
  • We have the loaves sliced at the store, then we cut the slices in half.
  •  
    Along with the bread, make sure you have fresh garlic and check your olive oil for freshness.

    Ingredients

  • Baguette or other loaves of bread
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper and peeled, halved garlic cloves
  •  
    For The Toppings

  • Avocado, mashed and seasoned (garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, etc.)
  • Caprese: quartered cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, balsamic glaze
  • Charcuterie: pâté, prosciutto, salume, etc.
  • Cheeses: ricotta, ricotta salata, soft goat cheese
  • Fresh basil, julienned/shredded
  • Fruit: sliced figs
  • Garnishes: capers, chopped herbs, chopped mixed olives
  • Greens: baby arugula or watercress
  • Heat: raw jalapeños slices, grilled chile peppers
  • Marinated artichoke hearts (chopped)
  • Mushrooms, marinated
  • Onions: caramelized, chives, chopped green onions (scallions)
  • Peppadews, sliced
  • Pimento, chopped or sliced
  • Raw and cooked veggies of choice: asparagus, grilled vegetables, sliced radishes, etc.
  • Spreads: bean, hummus, pimento cheese, tapenade
  • Tomatoes: sliced plain or marinated in oil and vinegar
  •  
     
    More options: shredded mozzarella or other cheese such as thinly-sliced Brie, fish (we have a passion for anchovies and herring salad on bruschetta), other marinated vegetables, mostarda.

    We also like eggplant caponata, pesto and sautéed mushrooms, but tend to use them more in cooler weather.

     

    Bruschetta Bar

    Rustic Loaf

    Rustic Loaf

    Bruschetta Bar

    Strawberry Bruschetta

    [1] Who needs a burger? We’re heading for the bruschetta bar (photo courtesy What’s Gaby Cooking).[2] Buy bread that has a pretty solid crumb (photo courtesy The Stone Soup). [3] This loaf is beautiful, but not for holding toppings (photo courtesy Bake Street). [4] A bruschetta bar from Countryside Cravings. [5] Dessert bruschetta, here with goat cheese (the recipe from Emily Bites). We use mascarpone.

    Preparation

    1. SET out the toppings and teaspoons for serving. We use ramekins; you can use any bowls you have.

    2. SLICE the bread from 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick. Rub each side with cut garlic clove and brush each side with olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Grill to your desired toastiness.

    3. PLACE the bread on a platter next to the toppings and watch people create their appetizers.
     
     
    DESSERT BRUSCHETTA

    Most people won’t have seen dessert bruschetta. We don’t know if we invented it, but our sweet tooth gave us the idea years ago.

    Start with a loaf of bread with dried fruit, such as cherries or raisins. For toppings:

  • Artisan preserves
  • Flavored peanut butter (chocolate, cinnamon, maple, etc.)
  • Fruits: berries; sliced dates, figs, grapes and stone fruits
  • Honey
  • Mascarpone or sweetened sour cream
  • Nutella
  • Garnishes: chocolate chips, coconut, nuts, etc.
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Éclair Party

    Decorated Eclairs

    Decorated Eclairs

    Cake Decoratijg Pen

    [1] Eclairs decorated by pastry great Johnny Iuzzini for Le Meridien hotels. [2] Decorated eclairs by Master Pastry Chef Michel Richard at Pomme Palais in New York Palace Hotel. [3] The Dsmile decorating pen makes it easy to decorate with designs or writing.

     

    Éclairs are a special-occasion pastry. Only sugar-avoiders would turn down the opportunity to enjoy them.

    Yet, the elongated pastry with the shiny chocolate or caramel top can be even more exciting. Just look at the photos, to see what great pastry chefs do with them.

    While it takes some skill to make attractive éclairs, its pretty easy to decorate ones you purchase. You’ll find the classic chocolate and caramel toppings, but may also find a rainbow of colors and flavors: coffee, currant (pink), dulce de leche, lemon, mango, matcha, pistachio, raspberry

    You can make a DIY party of it. You can make it a Mother’s Day (or other celebration) event.

    The history of the éclair is below.

    DECORATIONS

  • Chocolate batons, curls, disks, lentils, broken bar pieces (check out the selection at Paris Gourmet)
  • Chocolate Crispearls
  • Coconut
  • Gold, silver or multicolor dragées
  • Edible flowers
  • Mini icing flowers
  • Nuts of choice (we like pistachios and sliced almonds) or candied pecans
  • Piping bags of frosting (very thin tips)
  • Raspberries, blueberries or other small fruits
  • Sprinkles, especially gold sprinkles
  • Sugar diamonds
  • Sugar pearls
  • Wild card ingredients, like candied peel, chile flakes, curry powder, maple bacon, toffee bits, pieces of meringues or other cookies
  •  
    FIXATIVES

    Since the glaze (shiny icing) on top of the éclair will be set, you need a bit of something to adhere the decorations, plus utensils or squeeze bottles to dab them on.

  • Caramel sauce or dulce de leche
  • Chocolate spread
  • Fudge sauce
  • Hazelnut spread (like Nutella)
  • Icing
  •  
    You can give everyone the gift of a cake decorating pen (under $10), which makes it easy to write and decorate with icing. The icing also serves to affix other decorations.
     
    ÉCLAIR HISTORY

    An elongated, finger-shaped pastry made of pâte à choux (puff pastry), filled with whipped cream or custard and topped with a glacé icing (glaze), the éclair originated in France around the turn of the 19th century.

     
    Éclair is the French word for lightning. Food historians believe that the pastry received its name because it glistens when coated with the glaze. We might suggest that it is because they are so popular that they disappear as quickly as lightning.

    The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word “éclair” in the English language to the second half of the 19th century: 1861. In the U.S., the first printed recipe for éclairs appears even later, in the 1884 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln (later editions were under the auspices of Fanny Farmer).

    Many food historians speculate that éclairs were first made by Marie-Antoine Carême (1874-1833).

    This brilliant man, cast out to make his own way at the age of 10 by his impoverished family, became the first “celebrity chef,” working for luminaries: Charles, Prince Talleyrand, the French ambassador to Britain; the future George IV of England; Emperor Alexander I of Russia and Baron James de Rothschild.

    The elite clamored for invitations to dinners cooked by Carême.

    He is considered to be the founder and architect of French haute cuisine; an innovator of cuisine, both visually (he studied architectural to create amazing presentations) and functionally (modern mayonnaise, for example). He also was an enormously popular cookbook author—an big achievement for a boy who had no education, yet taught himself to read and write.

    We can only dream…and live vicariously by reading his biography.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Wedge Salad Bar & Different Types Of Lettuce

    Back in the 1950s and 1960s, restaurant menus offered hearts of lettuce salad with creamy dressings. The head was cut into quarters and plated with a slice of tomato for color.

    Homemakers were fans, too.

  • The iceberg heads were sold fully trimmed, with little waste.
  • It was easy to cut into wedges or slice into shreds.
  • Although some people tore it into pieces, “The Joy Of Cooking” admonished: “Heads of iceberg lettuce are not separated. They are cut into wedge-shaped pieces, or into crosswise slices.”
  •  
    The lettuce’s crunch was very popular, if bland-tasting (solution: lots of dressing!). The heads kept longer in the fridge, so there was no wilted waste.

    Even James Beard was a fan, recommending the crisp texture mixed with other greens.

    Then came the California cuisine movement, introducing us to better varieties to eat. Iceberg was mocked for lacking flavor.

    Instead, foodies filled their shopping carts with romaine plus arugula and radicchio.

    Yet, hardy, crunchy iceberg still accounts for 70% of the lettuces raised in California (down from 80% in the mid-1970s, however). It’s still popular in foodservice (commercial, institutional), at salad bars and casual restaurants.

    And thanks to the retro food movement of the past decade, iceberg has returned to restaurant menus beyond the steakhouse, in the hearts of lettuce salad now known by a trendier name: wedge salad.

    Let the wedge salad add fun and crunch to your meals. If you have a daily dinner salad, feature the wedge once a week. Turn it into a DIY salad buffet for family and guests. An ingredients list is below.
     
    WEDGE SALAD HISTORY

    The crisphead (iceberg) lettuce variety is relatively new in the history of lettuce cultivation (see the different categories of lettuce, below).

    Crisphead lettuce was a mutation: A grower discovered a different-looking, sweeter-tasting head of lettuce in his field.

    Liking its flavor and superior crispness, he teamed with other growers to breed it to be even better. Thus was born what we today call iceberg lettuce.

    The new variety became a top seller, and remains so. It was called crisphead, its given varietal name, until the 1920s. It subsequently acquired the name iceberg because of its ability to be transported for long distances when packed on ice.

    Before the iceberg named settled in, it was also called cabbage lettuce, for its resemblance to cabbage. In 1894, a Burpee seed catalog exclaimed, “There is no handsomer or more solid Cabbage Lettuce in cultivation.”

    Numerous varieties of crisphead were developed, including varieties with reddish leaves tinged with green and varieties with scalloped edges. While they did not enter the mass market, you can still buy the seeds from specialty sellers.

    Now about the wedge salad:

    Period cookbooks, newspapers and culinary reference books date the popularity of iceberg lettuce salads to the 1920s.

    But the general consensus is that the wedge salad with creamy dressing became a ubiquitous menu entry in the 1950s. [source]

    Who served the first “hearts of lettuce salad,” as it was then called?

    Likely it was a steak house, given the popularity of that type of restaurant in the 1950s and the [still] ubiquitous presence on those menus. But as with so many things, we can only give credit to “an unknown cook.”

       

    Wedge Salad

    Wedge Salad

    Iceberg Lettuce

    [1] A California Wedge Salad with avocado, prosciutto crumbles and ranch dressing (here’s the recipe from Little Broken). [2] A BLT Wedge Salad from Applegate also has avocado and bacon with ranch dressing (here’s the recipe). Note that these are two different recipe names with the same ingredients. [3] The ubiquitous head of iceberg lettuce: Just quarter it for your wedge salad (photo Good Housekeeping).

     

    Boston Lettuce

    Red Leaf Lettuce

    Romaine

    [4] Boston lettuce, a variety of butterhead. [5] Red leaf lettuce, a variety of leaf lettuce. [6] Romaine lettuce (photos courtesy Good Housekeeping).

     

    DIY WEDGE SALAD BAR

    At THE NIBBLE, we’ve added a lot to the simple wedge salad. Call it a DIY, customized or signature wedge salad, it’s a fun munch.

    The Must Haves

  • Iceberg lettuce wedges
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Creamy dressings: blue cheese, thousand island/Russian, ranch
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    Nice Additions

  • Avocado
  • Bacon, any type (the different types of bacon)
  • Cheeses: crumbled blue cheese or feta, shaved parmesan
  • Croutons
  • Veggies: peppadews or pimentos, red onion or scallions
  • Watercress
  •  
    For A Main Dish

  • Hard boiled egg halves (the quarters tend to fall apart)
  • Ham or turkey, julienned or cubed
  •  
    Garnishes

  • Fried Chinese noodles
  • Frizzled onions
  • Fresh herbs (basil, chives, dill, tarragon)
  • Nuts and seeds: candied walnuts, pepitas, spiced pecans, salted peanuts, any toasted nuts
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    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LETTUCE

    There four basic types: butterhead, iceberg, leaf, and romaine, along with hundreds of hybrids bred from them.

    Iceberg Lettuce: Also known as crisped lettuce, this is the crispest and hardiest of lettuces varieties. It lasts twice as long in the fridge as long as most other varieties. The downside: It’s not as flavorful or nutritious as other lettuces.

     

    Butterhead Lettuce: Comprising Boston and Bibb Lettuces, these are small, loosely formed heads of soft, supple leaves. Boston is a larger and fluffier head than Bibb; Bibb is the size of a fist, and sweeter than Boston. Both are excellent for lettuce cups. The down side: They’re highly perishable and bruise easily; and are pricier than iceberg and romaine.

    Leaf Lettuce: This category does not form a head; the leaves branch up from a single stalk. The leaves are very tender and are often seen in baby lettuce blends. The burgundy tint of red leaf lettuce and the spicier, nuttier oak leaf lettuce adds charming color to a mixed green salad. The downside: Leaf lettuces are more perishable than head lettuces and wilt easily.

    Romaine Lettuce: Second in crunchiness to iceberg lettuce, romaine is a stalk lettuce like leaf lettuce, with a pleasant bitterness. The crunchy center ribs make the leaves sturdy; and when the outer leaves are trimmed, the smaller ones (sold as hearts of romaine) can be used as “boats” to hold protein salads (egg, chicken, tuna, etc.).

      

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