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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Entertaining

TIP OF THE DAY: Plate Decorations

If you admire the fancy plate decoration done by fine chefs, here’s a tip: It’s easy to makes everyday food look quite spectacular!

There are three easy steps:
1. Consider placing a bright-colored sauce or purée atop the plate, under the food. If you’re not using a sauce, try a circular or zig-zag drizzle.

2. Add a garnish/garnishes around the rim of a plate.

3. Top with herbs (chiffonade, leaves or sprigs), microgreens or sprouts.

Just decide on what you want to garnish your plate. Choose from:


  • Capers/caperberries
  • Caviar/roe: lumpfish, salmon roe, whitefish (plain or flavor-infused)
  • Citrus zest
  • Cress, microgreens or sprouts
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Minced herbs
  • Spices—chili flakes, mustard seeds, pink peppercorns

  • Balsamic or flavored vinegar
  • Flavored or plain olive oil
  • Gourmet mustard


    Grilled fish garnished with a bit of everything: balsamic droplets, pomegranate arils. Photo courtesy Rock Center Café | NYC.

  • Seasoned mayonnaise or aïoli
  • Vegetable or fruit purée


    A simpler version: roast lamb on a bed of sunchoke purée with red sorrel and tatsoi. Photo courtesy Pom Wonderful.



  • Chopped or diced vegetables, raw or cooked
  • Sauces or coulis (strained purée)
  • Grains and legumes (look for color: red rice, yellow lentils, e.g.)
  • Grain and legume/vegetable blends (rice and beans, succotash)
  • Mashed or puréed vegetables

    Collect photos and keep them in a file in the kitchen.

    Check out our many garnish ideas for both sweet and savory dishes, and a separate article on soup garnishes.





    FOOD HOLIDAY: A Scotch & Chocolate Tasting For National Tartan Day

    It’s National Tartan Day, which recognizes Scottish-Americans’ contributions to America.

    Tartan, familiar in Scottish kilts, is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. Originally woven wool, it is now made in many other materials, and can even be found as wallpaper.

    Nineteen of the 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence came to America from Scotland or were Ulster Scots, who had been living in Ireland. Others, like Thomas Jefferson, had Scottish ancestors.

    Today, more than 11 million Americans claim Scottish and Scotch-Irish roots, making them the eighth largest ethnic group in the U.S.

    You don’t have to be of Scottish ancestry to celebrate. Our family celebrated every holiday that involved food), a tip for food-loving families.

    You can celebrate with traditional Scottish foods like haggis, Scottish pie (filled with ground mutton), smoked salmon or tatties (mashed potatoes) and herring.

    Or you can kick back at the end of the day with a glass of Scotch, or a Scotch cocktail.


    chocolate-scotch-LaszloRakoskerti IST. 230

    Chocolate with Scotch? Absolutely! Photo by László Rákoskerti | IST.

    Among the many options, you can replace the vodka in a Bloody Mary with Scotch, creating a Highland Mary a.k.a. Bloody Scotsman.

    But we suggest a Scotch and chocolate tasting.



    Not into Scotch and chocolate? Celebrate National Tartan Day with an appetizer of Scottish smoked salmon. We like ours with a sprinkling of capers, some snipped fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon or lime. The onions are also welcome. Photo courtesy



    Paiing chocolates with wine and spirits is even more enjoyable than drinking the Scotch—or eating the chocolates—by themselves. If you haven’t already seen our wine, spirits and chocolate pairing guide, take a look.

    While we like Scotch from all over Scotland—the flavors vary substantially due to the local water and microclimate—it’s easiest to pair chocolates that have flavor notes similar to the Scotch, for example, smoky, peaty Laphroaig single malt Scotch, paired with single-origin chocolates that have smoky notes.

    Here’s what you need to know to have your own party.

    Here’s some tartan trivia from Laphroaig & Wikipedia to share at your festivity:

  • Tartan is often called plaid in North America, but in Scotland, a plaid is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket such as one would have on a bed.
  • The best-known tartan patterns are the Black Watch and Royal Stewart.
  • Until the mid-19th century, tartan designs were associated with regions or districts, rather than any specific Scottish clan.
  • Tartan became popular throughout the English-speaking world after Queen Victoria expressed her fondness for all things Scottish.
  • The world’s first color photograph was of a tartan ribbon.
  • The English word tartan derives from the French tiretain, from the verb tirer which references woven cloth, as opposed to knitted cloth.
  • The word plaid derives from the Scottish Gaelic plaide, meaning blanket. The word was first used to describe any rectangular garment, including tartan. In time, plaid was used to describe blankets themselves.
  • A belted plaid is a blanket-like piece of fabric that is wrapped around the body with the material loosely gathered and secured at the waist by a belt. A portion of the fabric is wrapped up around the upper body and a portion hangs down to the knees (see it here).
  • The belted plaid was a standard item of men’s Highland dress from the late 16th century until the middle of the 18th century, when it began to evolve into the modern tailored kilt.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Cook Fish

    Lent began yesterday, the 40-day period from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (this year on April 2nd). During Lent, observers recognize Christ’s sacrifice by giving up something pleasurable. Around the world, the most common Lenten practice is to give up meat. In the U.S., seafood sales soar during the six weeks of Lent.

    Whether you’re a lent observer, or simply want to eat more healthfully, here’s inspiration from, a magazine and website for professional chefs.

  • Baked fish: salmon wrapped in phyllo dough with dill and lemon sauce; quiche; en papillote; Salmon Wellington
  • Cured/pickled/smoked: ceviche, gravlax, pickled herring; smoked bluefish, cod, salmon, trout, tuna fillets; smoked fish pâté
  • Deep-fried fish: battered, tempura or breaded; calamari, fish and chips, fritters, nuggets, shrimp
  • Dips and spreads: pâté, taramasalata, whitefish
  • Grilled fish: whole fish or fillets; kebabs or skewers; cod, sardines, shrimp, snapper, whitefish


    It couldn’t be easier: Pan-sautéed fish topped with a light salad. Photo courtesy Whole Foods Market.

  • Pan-fried or sautéed fish: Trout, soft-shell crab, salmon or trout patties
  • Poached fish: crab legs, salmon, shrimp cocktail, whitefish
  • Raw fish: carpaccio, sashimi, sushi, tartare, tataki
  • Roasted fish: fillets, steaks, whole fish
  • Steamed fish: fillets, steaks or whole fish; mussels, gefilte fish
  • Stews and casseroles: bisque, bouillabaisse, chowder, cioppino, curry, gumbo
  • Stir-fried and sautéed fish: Asian-style stir fry, blackened, with pasta
  • Specialty: caviar, crêpes, flan, mousse, pancakes, poke, risotto


    You can make this nicely-plated restaurant dish. Just place grilled bass or other fish atop a bed of grains or vegetables and surround with broth or sauce. In a pinch, you can make a sauce from a can of creamed soup. Photo courtesy Chef Scott Conant.



    These three related cooking techniques are both healthful and easy. Here are the nuances:


    Poaching is a gentle cooking method used to simmer foods in a hot, but not boiling, liquid. Water is often used as the poaching liquid but its flavor is often enhanced with broth or stock, juice, vinegar or wine.

    Typically, vegetables (carrot, celery, onion), citrus (lemon, lime, orange), herbs and/or spices are added to the liquid for additional depth of flavor. Chicken breasts, eggs, fish/seafood and fruit are good candidates for poaching.

    Boiling is more intense than poaching. Foods are cooked in rapidly bubbling liquid, most often water. Poaching is best suited to foods such as starches and vegetables that can withstand the high heat and the agitation of rapidly moving water.

    Beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower hearty greens (collards, kale, turnip greens), pasta, potatoes and rice are some of the most frequently-boiled foods.


    With this technique, foods are cooked by steam generated from boiling liquid. Water is most often used because little to no flavor is transferred to the food from the steam. Since there’s no direct contact with water, steaming retains the shape, texture and bright color (e.g., of asparagus or other vegetables and fruits) without becoming water-logged or soggy.

    Steaming also prevents vitamins and minerals from dissolving into the cooking liquid. Fruits, proteins, vegetables and even desserts—cakes, custards and puddings) can be steamed.

    For instructions on each of these techniques, visit



    FOOD FUN: Oscar Party Sushi

    If your Oscar party will include sushi, how about a platter that looks like a director’s slate?

    This fun idea comes from SushiShop, which isn’t selling the “director’s slate” platters but developed this as part of an advertising campaign.

    You can make it yourself with:

  • 10 pieces of salmon nigiri (fish atop rice pads)
  • 10 pieces of tamago nigiri (egg custard)
  • 24 pieces of pieces of black caviar roll in green soy wrappers (or a cucumber wrap), topped with a dab of green mayonnaise (or a piece of edamame)
    Your local sushi restaurant can create this for you, or work with you to create a different design with different sushi varieties (check them out in our beautiful Sushi Glossary).



    Cut! Eat! Photo courtesy


    Unless you’re a mogul, you can buy affordable black lumpfish caviar or black capelin caviar. We found 12 ounces for $29.99 and $14.95, respectively, on Amazon.

    Check out the different types of caviar.



    SUPER BOWL: The “Bivalve Bowl”

    From January 26th through January 31st, the New England Patriots-Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl match-up will be preceded by a competition between bodaceous bivalves.

    The storied Grand Central Oyster Bar in the heart of Manhattan is hosting “Super Bowl XLIX Oyster Platter,” pitting two New England oysters (Katama and Wellfleet) against two Washington challengers (Discovery Bay and Skookum—note that oysters are typically named for the bodies of water where they are harvested).

    Chef Sandy Ingber has selected beverage pairings to complement the oysters: for Patriots fans, Cisco “Whales Tale” Pale Ale from Nantucket; for Seahawks fans, Washington State’s Chateau St. Michelle 2013 Dry Riesling 2013.

    If you have a supplier of fresh oysters and a talent for shucking, you can serve this gourmet fare during the game.

    If not, call the Grand Central Oyster Bar for lunch or dinner reservations: 1.212.490.6650. The eight-oyster combination is $22.35 with beverages extra.



    Game on: Will these Wellfleet oysters from Massachusetts best the Skookums from Washington? Photo courtesy J.P.’s Shellfish.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Pizza & Beer Flight

    Enjoy different beers with your pizza. Photo courtesy Delancey Hollywood.


    Why don’t all pizza restaurants offer a beer tasting flight?

    Delancey Hollywood has it right: a tasting of four different beers to enjoy with your pizza.

    If you can’t make it to Hollywood, create the concept at home. How about debuting it during the Super Bowl?

    Since most people don’t want to consume four entire beers with a pizza, buy plastic tumblers for shorter pours.

    The biggest challenge is what beers to offer. You can do a tasting of four different lagers or other beer types to compare brands, or mix it up: an ale, IPA, lager and stout, for example.

    We’re so into this idea, we’re going to have it for lunch today.

    Now, the second biggest challenge: What type of pizza to order?




    TIP OF THE DAY: Cranberry Martini Taste-Off

    You can make a Cranberry Martini with cranberry liqueur, or you can use cranberry sauce to make a novelty version of the drink.

    We adapted this recipe from Cooking Channel mixologists Alie Ward and Georgia Hardstark.

    Why not have a Cranberry Cocktail Challenge at your holiday celebration? Mix up a batch of Cranberry Sauce Cocktails and another of Cranberry Martinis (made with cranberry juice—recipe below) and let the guests choose their favorite.


    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 tablespoons cranberry sauce (without whole berries)
  • 2 ounces vodka (you can use gin or tequila if you prefer)
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • Ice cubes
  • Garnish: sprig of fresh rosemary

    1. COMBINE the cranberry sauce, vodka, lime juice and bitters in a shaker.



    Turn leftover cranberry sauce into a cocktail. Photo courtesy Alie Ward | Georgia Hardstark.

    2. ADD the ice and shake very vigorously for 45 seconds. Strain into a chilled Martini or coupe glass.

    3. GARNISH with a sprig of rosemary.


    Cranberry-Martini-Penny Burt-IST-230

    A classic Cranberry Martini. Photo by Penny Burt | IST.



    At its simplest, the Cranberry Martini, a.k.a. Crantini, is a simple variation of a Cosmopolitan, which combines vodka, cranberry juice, triple sec and lime juice. The simplest Cranberry Martini recipe leaves out the last two ingredients. Whether you like a gin or vodka Martini, there are several ways to approach this cocktail.

    Ingredients Per Cocktail

  • 2 ounces vodka or gin
  • 1/2 to 1 ounce vermouth (optional)
  • 1/2 ounce cranberry liqueur or 2 ounces cranberry juice
  • Fresh, frozen or dried cranberries for garnish

    1. POUR the first three ingredients into a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with 2 ice cubes. Shake for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled Martini glass.

    2. FLOAT 3 cranberries for garnish.


    This citrusy variation showcases the flavor synergies between lime and gin.

    Ingredients Per Cocktail

  • 2 parts gin
  • 2 parts freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 parts cranberry juice
  • Lime wedge or wheel for garnish

    1. STIR the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.

    2. STRAIN into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
    Let us know which recipe wins at your house!



    TIP OF THE DAY: Go A-Wassailing


    Christmas punch bowl. Photo courtesy


    If you live in a community where you can walk from home to home, how about going a-wassailing?

    No one has to sing—that’s caroling. But you certainly can combine the two.

    Line up friends to participate, have everyone make a different punch (or egg nog). Start at one house, work your way down the line and then, if you like, vote on the best. Make it an annual tradition.

    “Wassail” began as a greeting among Anglo-Saxons, early Englishmen. Pronounced WASS-ul from the Middle English wæs hæil, it means “good health.” Centuries later, the term evolved into a drinking toast.

    The wassail bowl tradition began in the 14th century in southern England, home to apple groves galore and a lot of apple cider. The first wassail bowls contained hot mulled cider. When you come across references to “a cup of good cheer,” that’s what you were served.

    How does wassail fit in to these hot mulled drinks?

    During the holiday season in Merrie Olde [medieval] England, a host would invite friends over for a celebratory drink. The festivities began when the host held up the big bowl* of drink and exclaimed, “Wassail!”

    As wine became more plentiful—and there was a need to salvage bad batches of wine—hot mulled wine became an alternative to mulled cider.

    Both are still traditional Christmas drinks in Europe. Mulled wine is called Gløg in Sweden, Glögi in Finland and Glühwein in Germany.

    You don’t have to serve mulled cider or wine in your wassail bowl. There are many, many Christmas punch recipes, made with your favorite spirit or alcohol-free.

    *Today that big bowl is known as a punch bowl, but punch was not to arrive in Europe for three more centuries. Details below.



    If you consult a dictionary, you’d think that mulled wine is one that is studied or pondered. According to Harvard University, the origin of the word “mull” to mean heated and spiced is shrouded in mystery.

    Mulling spices are a blend of allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (what some Americans call “pumpkin pie spices”). The recipe varies, and star anise, cardamom and peppercorns can also be included, along with dried fruit such as apples, orange rind and raisins.

    Thus, a “mulled” drink is one which has been prepared with these spices. The technique is to heat the drink with the spices and then strain them out before serving. Mulling spices may also be added to the brewing process to make spiced beer.


    In the 17th century, merchant travelers of the British East India Company discovered the festive Indian drink, punch.

    The word “punch” is an English variation of the Hindi word, “panch.” Panch was made from five different ingredients: sugar, lemon, water, tea or spices and an alcoholic spirit. The word for “five” in Sanskrit is panchan–hence the name.


    Hot and Bothered-svedka-230

    Mulled cider, with an optional splash of vodka. Photo courtesy Svedka Vodka.


    The concept was brought back to Europe, where it became a mainstream drink at festive occasions.

    After carbonated water (soda water) became available in the late 18th century, it became a sixth ingredient, added to the punch for some effervescence. However, the word for six in Sanskrit is shata. “Shat” just doesn’t work, so we’ll stick with “punch.”

    Here’s a video recipe for wassail.

    This non-alcoholic version of a wassail recipe combines apple cider and pineapple juice: certain to be popular with the kids.

    Start planning to go a-wassailing!



    GIFT: Chocolate Tray


    Something special: a chocolate tray to serve chocolate truffles. Photo courtesy Fika NYC.


    Need a unique gift for a chocolate lover?

    How about a chocolate tray, that can be topped with chocolate truffles or other bonbons.

    The handcrafted tray is in the shape of a wine bottle in roughly the same (although two-dimensional) size, 13 x 4.5 inches.

    It’s sure to elicit oohs and ahhs, not to mention a discussion of when the tray itself will be eaten.

    The chocolate tray is $38.00 at




    TIP OF THE DAY: Feast Of The Seven Fishes


    Seven courses mean smaller portions, like
    this taste of grilled octopus. Photo courtesy
    Scrapetta | Beverly Hills.


    You’ve still got plenty of time to plan a Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. Known as Esta dei Sette Pesci in Italy, the tradition was brought to the U.S. by Italian immigrants.

    Some background:

  • The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates back to medieval times, to the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat or milk products on Fridays and specific holy days. Fish, typically fried in oil, was most often substituted.
  • Other traditional dishes included baccalà (salted cod fish), calamari and seafood (oysters, scallops, shrimp, smelts).
  • The tradition is believed to have started in southern Italy, in areas like Naples and Sicily. It is not a tradition in northern Italy.
  • Italian Catholics would receive Holy Communion during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In the spirit of the holiday, there was abstention from meat prior to receiving communion.
  • The seven fishes may have represented the seven days of the week, but some families serve 13 varieties of fish, representing Jesus and the 12 apostles.
  • You don’t have to be a follower of the faith to participate in the feast. Adapt the tradition to your own celebration.



    Anything goes. Italy has a wealth of coastline, so options were plentiful.

    You don’t have to cook it all: Assemble a group of people to bring their favorite fish and seafood dishes (a curated potluck).

    If you want to feast but don’t want to cook, check with local restaurants. For example, Chef Tony DiSalvo of the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, California is presenting this tempting Feast of Seven Fishes menu at his restaurant, Cast:

  • Course 1: Baby Kale Caesar, White Anchovies, Garlic Croutons, Shaved Parmesan
  • Course 2: Kusshi Oysters, Mignonette, Cocktail Sauce
  • Course 3: Smoked Trout and Avocado, “Chips and Dip”
  • Course 4: Dungeness Crab Toast, Yuzu Mayonnaise
  • Course 5: Grilled Octopus Salad, Chickpeas, Olives and Feta
  • Course 6: Homemade Linguine with Clams, Mussels and Shrimp, Chilies and Herbs
  • Course 7: Lobster Risotto, Bisque Emulsion, Tarragon, Chervil and Chives
  • Dessert: Traditional Italian Cookies, Coffee, Tiramisu and homemade Limoncello


    Each course is half the size of a normal portion, and you can make easy-to-prepare appetizers for most of them. Here’s what we’ve served in past years:

  • Crab dip with crudités
  • Oyster shooters
  • Seafood paté or tuna-olive tapenade
  • Seafood chowder
  • Carpaccio or sashimi
  • Smoked salmon or gravlax
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Crab cakes
  • Marinated seafood salad (calamari, octopus, shrimp, green and black olives, onion) over greens
  • Fried calamari


    Lobster risotto. Photo courtesy

  • Angel hair pasta with lobster, scallops or shrimp in a tomato cream sauce
  • Squid ink pasta with scallops and red caviar
  • Seafood risotto
  • Our favorite salmon dish of the moment
    For a kids’ menu, considera California roll, jumbo grilled shrimp, tuna noodle casserole, a seafood pasta dish and seafood-vegetable skewers.

    Here’s more about the Feast Of The Seven Fishes.



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