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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 TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Giftable

PRODUCT: Sandra Lee Cocktail Time Margaritas

You could bring a bottle of wine as a house gift, or you could bring a bottle of ready-to-drink Margaritas.

We really enjoyed the new Sandra Lee Cocktail Time Margaritas, in Key Lime or Strawberry. We’ll be buying more to bring to our Memorial Day hostess—and to enjoy ourselves, at home.

The ready-mixed Margaritas taste like freshly-made, top-self drinks. A blend of premium blue agave silver tequila and triple sec liqueur, infused with real Key limes or strawberries, these open-and-pour Margaritas hit the spot with us.

We prefer the classic (Key Lime) to the Strawberry, but if you want a strawberry Margarita, Ms. Lee’s is delicious.

The cocktails, which are 13% ABV/26 proof, have fewer than 150 calories per 4-ounce serving.

The suggested retail price is $15.99 per 750ml bottle. Learn more at CocktailTime.com.

 

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A great-tasting Margarita, poured straight from the bottle. Photo courtesy Diageo.

 

  

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Carla Hall Petite Cookies

Most fans of “Top Chef” Chef love Carla Hall, a finalist on her season and a subsequent Top Chef All Star, winning the “Fan Favorite” award.

She went on to become a cohost on “The Chew” and to start Carla Hall Petite Cookies, an artisan cookie company that specializes in teeny cookies.

A brilliant idea for people who need just a bite, the cookies are either half-inch cubes or one-inch drop cookies, depending on the nature of the dough.

They’re meant to pair “boldly and beautifully,” according to Carla, with beer, wine, tea and coffee.

For home, entertaining and gifting, we’ve been charmed by these little cookies. Made in small batches, every step from mixing the dough to packaging is done by hand.

Of course, only the finest ingredients are used: European-style butter, unbleached sugar and flour, couverture chocolate, artisan cheeses, fresh nuts, premium spices and, says Carla of her most important ingredient: love.

Focusing on familiar flavors with a twist, choices include:

   

Harissa Spiced Nuts and Cookies

Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies, teeny bites of heaven. Carla Hall Petite Cookies.

 
Petite Cookies

  • Almond Ginger Cherry Shortbread
  • Black Forest Crinkle (our favorite, a cherry-chocolate delight)
  • Chocolate Hazelnut Praline
  • Mexican Chocolate Chip
  • Lemon Black Pepper Shortbread
  • Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate
  • Pecan Shortbread with Vanilla Salt
  •  
    There’s one savory option:

  • Cheddar Pecan
  •  
    There are also cakes and regular-size cookies (including the best Magic bar we’ve ever had):

  • Cakes: Apple Walnut Bread, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cinnamon Tea Cake, Lemon-Glazed Five Flavor Pound Cake, Salted Caramel Banana Bread
  • Cookies: Magic Bar, Oatmeal Cookie Sandwich, Triple Layer Cookie Bar
  •  

    gift-box-230

    A gift box for any cookie lover. Photo courtesy Carla Hall Petite Cookies.

     

    WHAT SHOULD YOU GET?

    Most definitely, the Sweet Collection Gift Box, which includes six of the seven varieties of sweet petites. It’s $25.00; there’s a smaller box with three varieties for $12.50.

    If you want to include a signed copy of Carla’s cookbook, Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World—you can add it to the Sweet Collection gift box for a total of $45.00.

    There are other gift options, other goodies, and of course, you can buy individual packages of whatever you like.

    Head to CarlaHall.com to get yours.

    Or, find a retailer near you.

     

    CARLA HALL TRIVIA

    Fans of Top Chef may remember that Carla spent several years working as a model on the runways of Paris, Milan and London. It was in Paris that she fell in love with the art of food.

    But what most people don’t know is that before heading to Europe, Carla spent two years as a CPA at Price Waterhouse.

    When she returned from Europe, she attended L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland where she completed her culinary training and began her career as a professional chef.

      

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    GIFT: Cake In A Jar

    When you can’t be there to bake a cake, send a cake in a jar. Jar’d Cake from one of our favorite bakers, Cake Chicago, offers four delicious varieties to send as a Mother’s Day gift, or give as party favors.

    Everything at Cake Chicago is made from scratch, including the raspberry conserve a nd salted caramel.

    Choose from:

  • White Buttermilk Cake with raspberry conserve and italian meringue buttercream
  • Chocolate fudge cake with salted caramel filling
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese filling (spiced carrot cake, no raisins or nuts)
  • Banana cake with fudge filling
  •  
    Tied with grossgrain ribbon, the jars are $7.00 each, with a 2 jar minimum.

     

    cake-in-a-jar-closed-chicagocake-230

    Moist, delicious Jar’d Cake. Photo courtesy Cake Chicago.

     

    Get yours at Cake-Chicago.com.

      

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    PRODUCT: Tahitian Vanilla

    The United States is the largest consumer of vanilla beans, using around 1,200 tons per year. Most of them are made into vanilla extract.

    Most of the real vanilla extract* used in the U.S. is Bourbon† vanilla, also called Madagascar vanilla.

    As a Mother’s Day gift for someone who loves to make desserts, how about one of the world’s finest vanillas?

    Everyone knows about Bourbon vanilla. It’s become standard in the U.S., available in bulk as well as quality brands.

    It comes from Madagascar and although vanilla extract contains some alcohol, Bourbon vanilla has nothing to do with the alcohol Bourbon.

    Rather, it’s named after the Bourbon rulers of France.
     
     
    *An astonishing 97% of all vanilla products are synthetic, made of paper by-products! Artificial vanilla has been around since the late 19th century. But, tempting as it is to save money, there’s nothing like the real thing
     
    †The term Bourbon applies to beans Madagascar and the neighboring Comoro, Réunion and Seychelles. There is no connection with the liquor produced in Kentucky in the United States. It is called Bourbon after the French House of Bourbon that ruled France from 1272 to 1830, ending with the French Revolution. The island now known as Réunion was named Île Bourbon in 1649 and renamed Réunion in 1793.

       

    tahitian-vanilla-bottle-NielsenMassey-230

    The most trusted name in vanilla. Nielsen-Massey sells beans and produces extract for Bourbon/Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian vanillas. Photo courtesy Nielsen-Massey.

     

    aust-tahiti-beans-230

    Tahitian vanilla beans. Got beans? Make your
    own vanilla extract
    . Photo by Claire Freierman
    | THE NIBBLE.

     

    THE FLAVOR OF DIFFERENT VANILLA BEANS

    Here are the differences from Nielsen-Massey, a family business that has been devoted to vanilla for three generations:

    Bourbon Or Madagascar Vanilla

    Character: sweet, creamy and mellow with velvety after-tones. The vanilla of choice with chocolate and cream.

    Use in: anything requiring vanilla. It’s the benchmark.
     
    Mexican Vanilla

    Character: sweet and creamy with a deep, spicy character. Often selected by chefs for an added level of finesse to chili, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, salsa and other spicy foods.

    Use in: cakes, frozen desserts, ginger snaps and other spiced cookies, hot chocolate.
     
    Tahitian Vanilla

    Character: fruity, anise-like flavor with floral notes. Use in cold or quickly-heated dishes; Tahitian vanilla’s delicate flavors don’t hold up well under extensive heating like baking.

     

    Use in: frozen and refrigerated desserts, fruit sauce, pastry creams, puddings and custards, shakes, smoothies.

     
    MORE ABOUT VANILLA

    Vanilla beans are also grown in Guatemala, Hawaii and the West Indies. Vanilla is a tropical plant, and can only grow 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

    Here’s everything you need to know about vanilla, including types of vanilla products, how to buy vanilla and the best vanilla extracts and beans.

      

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    GIFT: Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free Cheesecake

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    Delicious cheesecake, sugar-free and gluten-free. Photo courtesy Cinderella Cheesecake.

     

    For a cheesecake-loving mother who has given up sugar, here’s a find: sugarless cheesecake from Cinderella Cheesecake Company.

    It’s sweetened with maltitol, the finest-quality sugar substitute, and has a gluten-free cinnamon cracker crust.

    The classic-style cheesecake recipe also includes cream cheese, eggs, sour cream, natural vanilla flavoring. It tastes just as it should: rich, creamy, wonderful. Sugar-free observers, rejoice!

    Cinderella Cheesecake Company is a family-owned business founded in Riverside, New Jersey in 1965 with a broader product line. But by the early 1980s, the cheesecake business was so rocking that founder Alfred Rezende decided to drop the other baked goods to focus on expanding the cheesecake operation.

    The company sells cheesecakes to distributors, restaurants and non-profit groups for fundraisers, as well as direct to consumers online.

     
    In addition to the No Sugar Added cheesecake, the company makes conventional cheesecakes in Almond Amaretto, Egg Nog, Mango, Pineapple, Plain, Pumpkin, Sampler (two slices of each flavor), Southern Pecan, Washington Cherry and White Chocolate Peanut Butter.

    All cheesecakes are eleven inches in diameter and precut into 16 slices. A four-pound cheesecake is $38.00. It freezes nicely.

    Get yours at CinderellaCheesecakeCoInc.com.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Truffle Cheese

    One of our favorite cheese experiences is truffle cheese. It provides all the pleasure of a shaved truffles dish at a fraction of the price. The cheese makers use bits and pieces that have fallen off the precious truffles during handling.

    Truffle cheeses are typically made from a blend of cow’s milk and sheep’s milk or cow’s milk and goat’s milk. One of our favorites is made from only goat’s milk. Any truffle lover who tries these cheeses gets hooked.

    If you can’t find the cheeses locally, you can get excellent-quality varieties from iGourmet.com, which sells individual cheeses plus a truffle cheese assortment.

    Here are two we’ve been enjoying recently.

    TRUFFLE TREMOR

    Bloomy-rinded, semisoft Truffle Tremor, from California’s Cypress Grove Chevre, is imbued with truffle aroma and flavor, dotted with black Italian summer truffles (Tuber aestivum Vittadini) truffles throughout. Elegant and sophisticated, it is a luxurious table cheese.

    Among its many awards over the years are First Place at the American Cheese Society Awards in 2014, First Place at the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest and the Super Gold at the 2014 World Cheese Awards.

    It’s a perfect marriage of ripened goat cheese and truffles, delivering floral, herb and mushroom notes. Made 200 miles north of San Francisco, it’s an earth-shaking masterpiece.

       

    truffle-tremor-beauty-230

    A slice of heaven: Truffle Tremor. Photo courtesy Cypress Grove Chevre.

     
    Since its creation, Truffle Tremor was only made in a three-pound wheel; you’d buy a wedge—or the whole wheel for $75.00. Now, it’s also available in a one-pound mini ($25.00).

    It’s available at many fine cheese stores, and online at CypressGroveChevre.com.

    For Mother’s Day or other special dinner, we like to serve a slice of the cheese with a green salad (lightly tossed in vinaigrette), or with sweet accompaniments. For a Truffle Tremor dessert plate, for every eight ounces of cheese serve:

  • ½ cup candied ginger
  • ½ cup candied pecans
  • ½ cup candied orange peel (recipe)
  • Optional raisin or walnut bread
  • 1 bottle dessert wine or equivalent dessert beer
  •  
    Or, a simple drizzle of honey (how about truffle honey!) with slices of baguette will do nicely.
     
    Note For Connoisseurs

    Truffleur is another great, semisoft American truffle cheese, produced by Tumalo Farms in Oregon. This is another goat cheese, infused with native Oregon white truffles, then aged three to four months.

    It’s rare to find a white truffle cheese. The flavor and aroma are distinctively different from black truffles. Because the cheese is relatively mild, the truffle flavor really comes through at the finish—wonderful! Since it is made with the local truffle harvest, this cheese is seasonal, usually available only December through February. So mark your calendar.

    Semihard, in addition to the cheese plate it can be used to make a spectacular mac and cheese, or to melt atop a burger.

     

    fromager-d'affinois-truffle-wedge-cheesesoffrance-230

    Fromager d’affinois with Périgord truffles. Photo courtesy Fromagerie Guilloteau.

     

    FROMAGER D’AFFINOIS

    From France, this variety of fromager d’affinois, a Brie-like double-crème cow’s milk cheese, is a beautiful blend of the creamy cheese with the subtle earthiness of the truffles.

    The black truffles are from Périgord—the best truffles in the world. It is a seasonal product that is in store for the holidays from October to January and then again in March through May.

    You can find it now in most gourmet/specialty stores, Whole Foods Markets, Trader Joe’s (as a unit size under their label called the Truffle Brie) and some Costco stores. Learn more at FromagerDAffinois.com.
     
    HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR CHEESE

    These tips should be followed with all fine cheese:

    Forget the plastic wrap: Re-wrapping soft-ripened cheese in wax paper or parchment paper will allow the cheese to breath as it continues to ripen.

    Keep the cheese cold (33°-35°F) and remove from the fridge at least one hour before serving.

     

    BEER WINE PAIRINGS WITH TRUFFLE CHEESE

    These are the favorite pairings from the folks at Cypress Grove Chevre:

    Beers

  • Barleywine
  • Trippel
  •  
    White Wines

  • Gewürztraminer
  • Riesling
  •  
    Red Wines

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel
  •  
    Dessert Wines

  • Demi-Sec Sparkling Wine
  • Moscato
  • Port
  • Sweet Sherry
  •  
    ALL ABOUT TRUFFLES

    Check out our comprehensive article and glossary of the different truffle types.

      

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    GIFT: A Camera Lens Mug

    Here’s a special gift for a mom, dad or grad who’s into photography: This camera lens is actually a mug!

    Totally detailed, it looks and feels like the real thing and holds a hefty 15 ounces of beverage. The lens cap sip top doubles as a coaster or a dish for nibbles.

    A stainless steel lining keeps beverages warm longer (like a thermos), and the screw top lid (the lens cap) provides spill-free transporting. The lid’s sip-top slides and locks to prevent spills.

    The Camera Lens Travel Mug is $29.95 at WhatOnEarthCatalog.com.

    We promise: Everyone will ask where you got it.

     

    camera-lens-mug-whatonearthcatalog-230s

    Drink from the camera lens—it’s a mug! Photo courtesy What On Earth Catalog..

     

      

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    GIFT: Maille Mustard Collection

    maille-4-jar-gift-box-230L

    A gourmet gift for a mustard lover. Photo
    courtesy Maille.

     

    A Maille mustard boutique opened near us recently. If you love mustard, make it a destination stop when you visit Dijon, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris or Sydney.

    They are meccas for lovers of fine mustard, as well as gherkins, vinegars and vinaigrettes. The thrill: tasting some 20 different mustards, all so delicious from the spoon that we could have devoured an entire jar.

    Established in 1747* in Paris, Maille (pronounced MY) is known worldwide for its sublime mustards and vinegars. From the outset, the company supplied the kings of France and other monarchs, including England and Russia.

    The brown mustard seeds are grown in the heart of Burgundy, and most of the mustards are made with white wine. Some are smooth, some are whole grain (delightfully chewy!).

    Each year, the product team explores new combinations of ingredients that achieve a complex taste profile and trending flavors.

    There are more than 30 mustard flavors, some seasonal specialties. You can purchase them individually or in preset gift boxes of four, six and nine varieties. The website currently sells:

  • Apricots And Curry Spices
  • Basil
  • Black Olive
  • Black Truffle
  • Blue Cheese
  • Candied Orange Peel And Ginger
  • Celeriac, Black Truffle
  • Chablis Mustard
  • Cognac
  • Dijon Blackcurrant Liqueur
  • Fig And Coriander
  • Fine Herbs
  • Gingerbread And Chestnut Honey
  • Hazenuts And Black Chanterelle Mushrooms
  • Lemon And Garlic
  • Honey
  • Honey And Balsamic Vinegar
  • Lemon And Harissa
  • Mango And Thai Spices
  • Morel Mushroom And Chablis
  •  

  • Parmesan Cheese And Basil
  • Pesto and Arugula
  • Pistachio And Orange
  • Pleurote and Chanterelle Mushrooms
  • Prune And Armagnac
  • Red Pepper And Garlic
  • Roasted Onions And Wild Thyme
  • Saffron And Crème Fraîche
  • Sauternes
  • Shallots, Chervil And Chanterelle Mushrooms
  • Sun-dried Tomato And Espelette Pepper
  • Walnuts
  • White Wine Mustard
  • Wholegrain Chardonnay Mustard
  •  

    tasting-bar-230

    Grab a [disposable] spoon and dig in at the tasting bar. Photo courtesy Maille.

     
    After tasting the 15 or so mustards on the bar, it was hard to pick a favorite; but that day, it was Fig And Coriander, a whole grain mustard.

    Find all of the mustards online at Maille.com.

     
    MUSTARD GIFTS

    A special four jar mustard gift set in an elegant black box includes Dijon Blackcurrant, Morel Mushroom, Saffron and Isigny Crème Fraiche, and Cognac($40). Individual jars also are packaged in a black box.

    The boutiques also have six- and nine-jar sets, not yet on the website.

    If you get to a boutique location, you’ll be charmed by the mustards on tap. Served from old-fashioned ceramic pumps, a choice of three basic mustards and one seasonal specialty draws mustard into old-style stoneware jars with sealed with cork stoppers. Fans buy mustard by the jar and get frequent refills.

    If you’ve never thought mustard could be magical, head to Maille boutique. You’ll be hooked—and will have an ongoing choice of gifts for your foodie friends to use on everything from sandwiches to elegant recipes, of which there’s a selection on the website.
     
    *Since 2000, Maille has been owned by the Unilever Group.

      

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    MOTHER’S DAY: Wonder Woman Cups & Mugs

    wonder-woman-mug-zak-230

    Enjoy your coffee with Wonder Woman. Photo courtesy Zak.com.

     

    Wonder Woman was blessed with a wide range of superhuman powers to help her fight the good fight. Many mortal woman do as much with their own skill sets.

    If you’re looking for a thank-you gift for Mother’s Day, how about a token of all the amazing things moms accomplish Pick something from Zak’s new Wonder Woman line:

  • Wonder Woman Coffee Cup (ceramic)
  • Wonder Woman Juice Glass (glass)
  • Wonder Woman Insulated Cup with Straw (high-quality plastic)
  • Wonder Woman Multi Purpose Plate (high-quality plastic)
  • Wonder Woman Travel Mug (high-quality plastic)
  • Wonder Woman Water Bottle (high-quality plastic)
  •  

    Prices are as low as $2.99 for a 10-ounce glass and $4.99 for a mug—affordable enough for party favors.

    Check out the whole line.

     
      

    Comments

    EASTER: Chocolate Gift Certificate

    Here’s an easy solution to a gift emergency: a chocolate e-gift certificate.

    If you’ve forgotten to bring a gift, or if you receive an unexpected gift and want to reciprocate, you don’t have to sneak out to the nearest store.

    Instead, sneak onto the Internet and send a gift certificate via email. It will be in the giftee’s email box in minutes.

    Chocomize.com sells ready-made and make-your-own chocolates. Our favorite is the customized chocolate bar, where you pick your chocolate (dark, milk or white) and up to five toppings—candies, fruits, nuts, spices and special decorations (crystallized flower petals, 24 karat gold flakes).

    There are more than 70 topping choices. Special Easter toppings include caramel “quail eggs,” carrot cake candy corn, peanut butter speckled eggs and a white chocolate “Happy Easter” plaque.

    Jelly beans are available year-round—along with Junior Mints, M&Ms, mini marshmallows, Oreo pieces, Pop Rocks, Reese’s Pieces, toffee bits and much more.

    Head to Chocomize.com.

     

    chocomize-easter-egg-boxed-230

    A candy-covered hollow chocolate Easter egg with two chocolate truffles hidden inside.

     

      

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