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TIP OF THE DAY: Decorate Snacks With Candy Melts

With Easter coming, you may want to get a bit craftsy.

We’re not suggesting that you mold your own chocolate bunnies, make rocher nests of almonds and chocolate filled with your own truffles, or take on homemade Peeps.

Rather, just decorate some of your everyday favorite snacks with drizzled candy melts in seasonal colors.

It is as simple as:

  • Heating a drizzle pouch or two of candy melt drizzle (photo #1) in the microwave.
  • Laying cookies, potato chips, pretzels or other snacks on a baking sheet.
  • Snipping off a corner of the pouch and drizzling the color(s) over the snacks.
  • Chilling until set, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  •  
    That’s it!

    As with chocolate, candy melt brands vary by quality and price. Merckens* and Wilton are two quality brands.

    You also want to use fresh melts—nothing that’s been sitting in a cupboard (or on a retailer’s shelf) for a year.

    Here are some examples of colors to play with:

    WILTON CANDY MELTS

    Colors – Vanilla Flavor*

  • Bright Green
  • Bright Pink
  • Bright White
  • Red (vanilla flavor)
  • Turquoise
  •  
    Other Flavors† & Colors

  • Light Cocoa flavored (dark brown)
  • Mint Chip flavored (lighter green)
  • Peanut Butter flavored (light brown)
  • Salted Caramel (light brown)
  •  
    Wilton drizzle is $1.99 for a 2-ounce/56g pouch. One package covers 3 dozen mini pretzels, as shown in photo #1.

    You can buy them online or check the Wilton store locator for a retailer near you.

    Don’t buy candy melts way in advance to keep until you need them: Fresh candy melts work better.
     
     
    ________________

    *All colors of Merckens wafers are flavored with artificial vanilla, as are the vanilla-flavored colors from Wilton. Candy melts are great for decorating, and people, and some people melt the wafers into colored bark and other candy. But flavor-wise, they are no substitute for chocolate—or for hand-tinted white chocolate.

    †These are artificial flavors as well. The chocolate varieties are flavored with cocoa.

    ________________

       

    Pretzels With Candy Coating

    Drizzled Chocolate Potato Chips

    Homemade Cracker Jacks

    Flower Bites With  Pretzels & M&Ms

    Recipes for [1] [2] and [3] from Wilton: drizzled pretzels, drizzled potato chips and colored peanuts-and-popcorn. [4] Flower bites made with pretzels and Easter M&Ms, bound together with white candy melts. Here are instructions from Two Sisters Crafting.

     

    Merckens Candy Melts

    Merck's Candy Melts

    [5] Candy melts come in a rainbow of colors, that can be blended together to make still other colors. [6] These may look like chocolate wafers from a fine chocolatier, but they’re candy coating—candy melts—without any cocoa butter (both photos courtesy Merckens).

     

    WHAT ARE CANDY MELTS?

    Candy melts are not quite chocolate, but they look like it.

    They are made in two formats: disks/wafers to melt and then use to decorate confections (used to adhere the M&Ms in photo #4 and larger projects like these), and microwaveable pouches to drizzle (the used in photos #1, #2 and #3).

    Candy melts have several other names: compound coating, confectionary coating, decorator’s chocolate, pâté glacée and summer coating.

    Candy melts are an imitation chocolate product that substitutes vegetable oil for all or part of the cocoa butter in chocolate. In milk chocolate-flavored melts, whey powders, whey derivatives and dairy blends can be used instead of powdered milk.

    Thus, the flavor of candy melts is not as fine as chocolate. If you bite into a piece of “chocolate” that doesn’t taste as rich or velvety on the tongue, it may well be made from candy melts.

    People who think they “hate white chocolate” may have experienced white candy melts instead: artificial chocolate flavored with artificial vanilla. Sometimes, the most beautiful creations are crafted from candy melts that don’t taste as good as they should.

    In the U.S., commercial products made with confectionary coating must be designated “chocolate-flavored.”

    Why do people use candy melts if it isn’t as tasty?

  • It is significantly less expensive than chocolate (and kids likely won’t notice the difference).
  • For color, it is easier than tinting white chocolate.
  • It does not require tempering, but melts easily.
  • It can be thinned out to make as delicate a decoration as the user wants.
  • It hardens quickly, and once hardened, does not melt in the heat like chocolate.
  •  
    Before universal air conditioning, chocolatiers used confectionary coating to create their summer wares, including chocolate-dipped fruit.

    The white coating was often tinted pastel pink, blue and green. The products were called “summer chocolate,” not artificial chocolate.

    Again, that’s why so many people dislike white “chocolate.” Give the best white chocolate a try.
     
     
    TIPS

    There are plenty of videos on YouTube and online articles that explain how to work with the disks. However, since the ideas above use only the drizzling pouches, not much instruction is needed except: Start with a very small cut in the pouch or your drizzle may wider than you’d like.

    Here’s how to read the freshness code on candy melts bags.

     

      

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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
  •  
    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
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    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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    TIP OF THE DAY: Customize Your St. Patrick’s Day Bagel

    Green bagels are a novelty on St. Patrick’s Day. But here’s a more elegant way to enjoy your bagel, with green fruits and vegetables.

    The concept can be applied to any holiday or occasion with theme colors (see the lists below), and can be part of a bagel buffet for brunch. Bonus: It’s a way to add an extra helping of produce to your daily intake.

    On top of the cream cheese, arrange fruits and/or vegetables in your color theme, as demonstrated by Arla Foods, maker of the cream cheese spreads used on the bagel (photo #1 and photo #6 at the bottom).

    Fruit on bagels beyond a raisin bagel? See photo #5, below—and try it on English muffins, too.

    Pick some fruits and/or vegetables from your color list, and get started. The green group has the most options.

    (Note: Specialty colors, such as yellow watermelon or purple bell peppers, aren’t typically found at supermarkets. Head to a specialty produce store or a farmers market.)

    GREEN FRUITS & VEGETABLES

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli (including rabe and rapini)
  • Capers
  • Cucumber
  • Edamame
  • Green apples, figs, grapes, plums
  • Green beans
  • Green bell pepper
  • Green olives
  • Green onion (scallion) tops
  • Green peas
  • Herbs (basil, dill, parsley, etc.)
  • Jalapeño
  • Kiwi
  • Lettuces (everything from arugula to watercress)
  • Pickles/gherkins
  • Sprouts
  • Sugar snap peas, snow peas
  • Zucchini
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    ORANGE FRUITS & VEGETABLES

  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Chiles (aji amarillo, habanero, Thai yellow chile)
  • Dried apricots
  • Kumquats
  • Mango
  • Orange bell pepper
  • Orange cherry or heirloom tomatoes
  • Orange or mandarin segments
  • Orange watermelon
  • Papaya
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    PURPLE/BLUE FRUITS & VEGETABLES

  • Berries: blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries
  • Dried blueberries
  • Eggplant (grilled)
  • Purple figs, grapes, plums
  • Purple olives
  • Red cabbage
  • Specialty varieties: purple bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower, corn, potatoes, string beans
  •  
    RED FRUITS & VEGETABLES

  • Dried cherries or cranberries
  • Jalapeño or other red chile
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Radicchio or red endive
  • Raspberries or strawberries
  • Red apples, grapes, plums
  • Red bell pepper
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Red grapes
  • Red onion
  • Red tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  •  
    YELLOW FRUITS & VEGETABLES

  • Apples (golden delicious and others)
  • Chiles (aji, banana, golden cayenne, lemon, Hungarian yellow wax, pepperoncini, etc.)
  • Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Yellow bell pepper
  • Yellow tomatoes
  • Yellow watermelon
  •  

    Green Bagel Toppings

    Green Bagels

    Green Bagels

    Shamrock Bagels

    Bagel With Fruit Topping

    [1] and [6] The alternative solution from Arla Foods. [2] Conventional green bagels from Einstein Bros Bagels. [3] Fancy (and $6 each!) at the Wynn Las Vegas. [4] The creativity award goes to the shamrock bagels at Sunrise Bagels and Cafe in Wyckoff, New Jersey. [5] Fruit-topped bagel from Number 2 Pencil.

     
    Green Bagel Toppings

    [6] Bagels with a buffet of green fruits and vegetables (photo courtesy Arla Foods).
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Stenciled Cheese For Holidays (St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas…)

    Add a little luck of the Irish to cheese and other foods, by creating a shamrock garnish made of herbs.

    You can apply the same technique to other themes: Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day hearts, stars for Christmas, Independence Day and New Year’s, pumpkins for Halloween, and so forth.

    You also can use edible glitter, which provides no flavor but adds gorgeous color.

    Spices allow you to play with the colors of the garnish, for example:

  • For Christmas, make separate stencils for green herbs and red spices.
  • Red spices for hearts: cayenne, chile flakes, kebab masala, paprika, red tandoori spice blend.
  • Yellow spices or gold glitter for stars: coriander seeds, cumin, curry, fenugreek, ras el hanout, turmeric.
  • Orange spices for Halloween and Thanksgiving: Cajun seasoning, tandoori masala.
  •  
    RECIPE: STENCILED CHEESE

    Select any cheese(s) that’s moist enough to hold the herbs: burrata, cream cheese log, goat cheese log, feta, fresh mozzarella, paneer, queso panela or ricotta salata.

    Print out the shamrock stencil (or other design) here. Print out a few copies for cutting practice.

    You can make a regular stencil or a reverse stencil, both shown in the photo.

    Ingredients

  • Assorted fresh herbs, finely chopped
  • Cheese(s) of choice
  • Paper stencil
  • Small piece plastic wrap
  • For serving: bread, crackers, fruit
  •  
    ________________
    *Blend two or three herbs: dill, chervil, chives, parsley or tarragon, etc.

     

    Shamrock Cheese

    Herb & Spice Colors

    [1] Shamrock style with a stencil (photo and recipe idea courtesy Vermont Creamery). [2] Spices and herbs provide colors for any occasion (photo courtesy Renegade Expressions).

     
    Preparation

    1. CUT out the shamrock stencil and press it firmly onto the cheese.

    2. PRESS the herbs into the stencil. You can place a piece of plastic wrap over the herbs for easier pressing.

    3. GENTLY PEEL off the plastic and stencil. Clean the lines with a pointed tweezers, as needed.

    4. SERVE with bread, crackers and fruit (apples, grapes, orange/mandarin segments, pears, etc).
     
     
    TIP FOR SLICED FRUIT

    Instead of coating apples or pears in lemon juice to keep them from browning, coat them in calcium-fortified 100% apple juice.

    Here are more ways to keep fruits from browning.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: 10+ Ways To Flavor Meatballs

    Spaghetti Stuffed Meatball

    Lamb Meatballs

    Asian Meatballs

    Vietnamese Pho With Meatballs

    Shanghai Lion's Head Meatballs

    Carrot Soup With Turkey Meatballs

    [1] Spaghetti-stuffed meatballs. Here’s the recipe from Thrillist (photo by Drew Swantak). [2] Lamb and feta meatballs; here’s the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. [4] Vietnamese who with meatballs. Here’s the recipe from Cooking And Beer. [5] Shanghai Lion’s Head; here’s the recipe from Serious Eats. [6] Floating meatballs made from turkey, in carrot soup with spinach. Here’s the recipe from Parade.

     

    MEATBALL TRENDS

    What’s trending as of March 9th, National Meatball Day?

    Flavor & The Menu, a magazine and website for chefs, took a look at what’s happening with meatballs.

    Meatballs have been popping up on menus nationwide—beyond Italian restaurants, sub shops and the emerging meatball restaurants.

    The ideas below may be new to some of us, but most of the recipes go back for centuries, if not longer.

    Meatballs are being made with almost any ground or chopped meat, seafood, poultry, and vegetarian/vegan versions made with beans, grains and veggies.

    Not only are meatballs a comfort food; they’re a canvas for endless versatility in formats, sauces, seasonings, sizes and garnishes.

    Ten flavor trends were spotted by by Joan Lang, who wrote the article.

    How About A Meatball Party??

    The tempting variety of meatballs inspired us to plan a DIY Meatball Party, with a buffet of fixings from breads (pita, Italian rolls) to bases (pasta, cellophane noodles, rice or other grains), to condiments (grated or crumbled cheese) and raw vegetables (cucumber, lettuce, onion, tomato) and fresh herbs.

    For a variety of choices, you can make meatball recipes as time permits, and freeze them until you have what you want for the party. If your guests typically ask what they can bring (and are good cooks), give them recipes to prepare.

    TREND ONE THROUGH TREND FIVE

    Today we present the first five meatball trends. The others arrive tomorrow.

    Whatever types of meatballs appeal to you, you’ll find score of recipes online.

    1. STUFFED MEATBALLS

    Stuffed meatballs require only the simple addition of a tasty filling inside a handful of ground meat. Don’t tell anyone, and let them be surprised when they dig in.

    Different types of cheeses are the traditional stuffings—everything from mild mozzarella and ricotta to tangy blue and feta.

    But we’ve also found meatballs stuffed with spaghetti (photo #1) and with mac and cheese. More examples:

  • Polpetta Napoletana: A meatball stuffed with ham, peas and mozzarella in tomato sauce, at Bella Tuscany in Windemere, Florida.
  • Spaghetaboudit Meatball: A classic meatball stuffed with three cheeses and fusilli pasta, topped with marinara and shaved Parmesan. It’s also garnished with ricotta, at The Meatball Room in Boca Raton, Florida.
  • Brisket Meatballs: An interesting concept, stuffed with blue cheese and accented with a balsamic glaze, at Clark Food & Wine Co. in Dallas.
  •  
    2. LAMB MEATBALLS

    Inspired by Greek recipes, lamb meatballs—keftedes—will make lamb lovers happy. We purchase ground lamb and mix it with crumbled feta and herbs (photo #2). Or, you could stuff them with feta, for the surprise.

    Mixed with mix with bulgur wheat, it becomes Lebanese-style kibbeh. Add a yogurt sauce.

    Use plenty of Mediterranean spices—basil, cilantro, dill, rosemary, oregano, sage, thyme. Check out the spices: cinnamon, coriander, cumin, nutmeg and za’atar. You can:

  • Shape the meat mixture into small balls like falafel, serve it in pita with yogurt sauce, tahini and hummus and raw veggies: cucumber, red onion, shredded lettuce and/or tomato.
  • Serve them over pasta or grains, with yogurt sauce flavored with dill, lemon or mint.
  • Serve on skewers with a plate of sautéed or roasted vegetables.
  • Make them slightly larger than cherry tomatoes, and serve in a bowl with the tomatoes and an herb garnish as a cocktail snack (with picks), plain with a squeeze of lemon juice or with a yogurt-garlic-dill dipping sauce (recipe).
  • Serve with fresh mint chimichurri and yogurt sauce, as at Mud Hen Tavern in Los Angeles.
  • Make soutzoukakia, grilled lamb meatballs with spiced tomato sauce and Greek yogurt, as at Kokkari, San Francisco.
  •  
    3. ASIAN MEATBALLS

    The meatballs of Asia are typically made from pork or seafood, and to a smaller extent chicken. Consider:

  • Vietnamese/Laotian pho noodle soup with meatballs (photo #4). You can add them to Asian soup or ramen bowls, too.
  • Shanghai Lion’s Head, a dish of large pork meatballs stewed or steamed with cabbage. Here’s a recipe from Serious Eats.
  • Shrimp balls: fried balls of chopped shrimp, drizzled with katsu sauce and/or Kewpie mayonnaise.
  • Tako yaki, deep fried octopus balls.
  • Tsukune, a Japanese chicken meatball most often cooked yakitori style, and sometimes covered in a sweet soy sauce or yakitori tare, which is often mistaken for teriyaki sauce but is its own recipe.
  •  
    We like this Asian Meatballs recipe from Life Makes Simple Bakes. Its served with a hoisin-based sauce, and traditional Asian flavors (photo #3).
     
    Chefs are making:

  • Meatball Spring Rolls: steamed rice paper wrapped around pork meatballs, pickled carrots and vermicelli, served with peanut sauce, at Pho Bistro in Malden, Massachusetts.
  • Tsukune: chicken meatballs with a choice of flavorings, including teriyaki, spicy miso, yuzu, daikon, goma (sesasme), kimchi, curry and cheese fondue—at Tsukuneya Robata Grill in Honolulu.
  •  
    4. FLOATING MEATBALLS

    These are meatballs in soups and stews that incorporate meatballs as the protein, either braised or cooked right in the liquid. Consider:

  • Mexican sopa de albondigas, Bavarian meatball soup, Italian meatball stew or many others from world cuisine.
  • Chickpea Stew with Meatballs and Shrimp, including with garlic, spinach and seasoned basmati rice, at Pasha Cafe, Arlington, Virginia.
  • Steamed Pork Meatball Soup with crispy garlic, bok choy shoots and black soy sauce, at Kin Shop in New York City.
  •  
    5. VEGETARIAN & VEGAN MEATBALLS

    Talk about Meatless Mondays! Of course, they should be called meat-alternative or meat-like balls; but convention calls them meatballs.

    There are many recipes on line, but we like the ones that use vegetables and grains rather than meat alternatives. Try:

  • Mushroom “meat” balls, made with cultivated white mushrooms or more exotic porcini: umami and heft without the meat.
  • Ground cooked potato meatballs with carrots and pea.
  • White beans meatballs with sautéed minced onions and garlic, seasoned and rolled in breadcrumbs.
  • Sauer-Tot Balls: potato and sauerkraut veggie balls served with lettuce and Dijon sauce on a hoagie, at the Barone Meatball Company, a food truck in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.
  • Quinoa “meat” balls and spaghetti squash, served with marinara and basil pesto, at Vine Brook Tavern in Lexington, Massachusetts.
  •  
    Stay tuned for Part 2.

    MORE MEATBALLS

  • Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs
  • Eyeball Meatball Sandwich (for kids)
  • Giant Meatball
  • Gourmet Meatball Sub
  • Inside-Out Spaghetti & Meatballs
  • Korean Spaghetti & Meatballs
  • Spaghetti & Meatball Sundae
  • Swedish Meatballs
  • Veal Meatballs With Vodka
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