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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

VALENTINE GIFT: X.O. Cognac

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It’s a beauty—and it has a just-as-lovely gift
box. Photo courtesy Hennessy.

 

We sign our letters to friends with “X.O.,” short for a hug and a kisse.

The abbreviation for “hugs and kisses,” XOXO, has been used for centuries to express love or good friendship at the end of a written letter or card (and these days at the end of an email or text message). The X stands for kiss and the O for hug.

What is the history of this custom? Why not HKHK instead of XOXO? There’s more about that below.

First, we’d like to suggest a luxurious Valentine’s Day gift: X.O. Cognac, a divine aperitíf or nightcap.

This style of Cognac was created in 1870 by Maurice Hennessy, to be enjoyed with his circle of friends. The bold, intense and complex flavors are based on much longer aging. Some of the 100 eaux-de-vie* assembled to create X.O were aged for 30 years. M. Hennessy gave it the name X.O to signify “extra old.”

It’s a Cognac for connoisseurs, served neat, on ice or with a splash of still or sparkling water. Don’t even think of mixing it in a cocktail!

 
By the way, it was Maurice Hennessy, great-grandson of company founder Richard Hennessy, who created the Cognac classification system. He used varying numbers of stars to designate different quality, first producing Hennessy’s Three Star Cognac, today known as V.S (Very Special). His classification system was adopted by the entire industry.

When he was the Prince of Wales, King George IV of Great Britain asked Hennessy to create a “very superior old pale Cognac.” It was designated V.S.O.P—Very Superior Old Pale—and since then, a letter system evolved to replace the stars (see below).
 

LUXURIOUS VALENTINE GIFT IDEA

Deliver your hugs and kisses with a bottle of X.O. Cognac. In addition to Hennessy, it is made by a number of Cognac houses including Camus, Courvoisier, Martell, Rémy Martin and others. They bottles cost $150 and up.

While a bottle of Hennessy X.O., at the top of the price scale, can cost upwards of $200, we found it “on sale” at WineAnthology.com for $165.

If you’re not looking for a bargain, you can get a custom-engraved bottle directly from Hennessy. Your message is engraved on the back of the bottle, making it a lovely keepsake (see the photo below).

We also like to give an engraved bottle of X.O. Cognac as a wedding gift or anniversary gift.

 

COGNAC CLASSIFICATIONS

  • V.O.: Very Old, aged a minimum of four years.
  • V.S.: Very Special. The youngest brandy in the blend has been aged for at least two years in cask. Also called Three Star.
  • V.S.O.P.: Very Superior Old Pale; the youngest spirit in the blend is aged four years in cask but the average can be 10 to 15 years.
  • X.O.: Extra Old. The youngest brandy is aged for at least six years but the average is 20 years or more. In 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be 10 years.
  • Extra/Napoleon/Vielle Reserve: While regulations designate a minimum of 6 years of age for the youngest brandy, this average is usually older than X.O.
  •  
    There are other age designations, but they are smaller productions and are not typically imported to the U.S.
     
    Other terms to know:

     

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    Engrave a personal message on your X.O. Gift Photo courtesy Hennessy.

  • Hors d’Age: Meaning “beyond age,” this is a rare Cognac that is off the designated age scale.
  • Varietal: Made using only one type of varietal grape
  • Vintage: Aged and was put into the bottle in the year of the vintage
     
    ABOUT X’s AND O’s

    The custom of placing X’s on envelopes and at the bottom of letters notes, signifying kisses, dates back to the Middle Ages. At that time, a Christian cross was drawn on documents or letters to indicate faith, honesty and sincerity. A kiss, indicated with an X, was then placed upon the cross by the signer as a display of his or her sworn oath.

    A similar practice dates back to early Christian history. Since most people could neither read nor write, an X was used as their signature on documents, and an actual kiss was placed upon it as a show of sincerity. [Source]

    What about the “O?” Current speculation is that it is of Jewish derivation, since Jews would not use the sign of the cross.

    In terms of how the two symbols came together in the very non-legal “hugs and kisses”: Alas, dear reader, the answer is lost to history.
     
    *Eau de vie (eaux is the plural), pronounced oh-duh-VEE, is French for “water of life.” It’s a clear, colorless fruit brandy. After the brandy is aged in wood, it takes on its amber color. Cognac is a region in northern France; only brandies produced there can be called “Cognac.” The artisanship and strict production regulations in Cognac creates a superior spirit. Generic “brandy” can be produced anywhere.

      

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    VALENTINE GIFT: Crème Yvette

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    Crème Yvette violet liqueur, worth getting to know. Photo courtesy Cooper Spirits International.

     

    This old-fashioned-looking bottle with an unfamiliar name hasn’t been around in more than 40 years. Purple-hued and violet-scented, it was enjoyed since the 19th century in cocktails and as an after-dinner digestif.

    Alas, it was one of many old-fashioned liqueurs that went out of style and ceased to be produced; in this case, it went defunct in 1969. But it recently caught the fancy of the creator of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (another favorite for Valentine’s Day or any day), who has resurrected it.

    Crème Yvette, also called Crème d’Yvette and Crème de Yvette, is made from parma violet petals*, blackberries, blackcurrants, red raspberries and wild strawberries, along with honey, orange peel and vanilla.

    Currently, it seems to be available in New York and California, but you can see if your local liquor store can order a bottle for you.

    There are cocktail recipes on the brand’s website, CremeYvette.com. We enjoyed mixing it with sparkling wine (we also layered St. Germain into one variation).

    And it’s delicious atop raspberry sorbet—an easy Valentine’s Day dessert.

    (By the way, exactly who Yvette was has been lost to history.)
     
    *The same exotic flower used to make those violet pastilles.

     

     
      

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    VALENTINE’S DAY: Send A Cake To Your Valentine & To A Veteran

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    Send a gift to a loved one and a veteran. Photo courtesy Bake Me A Wish.

     

    BakeMeAWish.com’s Valentine’s Day Freedom Cake is a Valentine gift with real meaning. When you send a cake to a loved one, Bake Me A Wish will also send a cake to a veteran in a VA Hospital in the U.S.

    It’s $75 for both cakes; the cake is normally $39.95 plus $15 shipping.

    If you’d rather buy something else: When you spend $25 or more at BakeMeAWish.com, use the code VETERAN. Bake Me A Wish will automatically donate 20% of the purchase price toward sending a cake to a veteran in a VA Hospital.

    The initiative is in partnership with, Soldiers’ Angels, whose motto is “May no soldier go unloved.” The non-profit organization provides assistance to families of enlisted soldiers.

    BakeMeAWish.com sends gift-boxed cakes nationwide, and includes a personalized card. If you’ve forgotten a special occasion, the cake can be delivered overnight.

     

    To order your Freedom Cake or other cake gift, visit BakeMeAWish.com.

     
      

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    VALENTINE GIFT: Maggie Louise Chocolates

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    White chocolate Valentine delights. Photo courtesy Maggie Louise Confections.

     

    We love this special white chocolate set for Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s for the ladies (or girls), but chocolatier Maggie Louise has other items chocolate-loving men (and painted chocolate dinosaurs for chocolate-loving boys).

    The set in the photo, called the XO Make-Up Box, includes:

  • 4 white chocolate lipsticks
  • 2 white chocolate letters: X.O.
  • 4 dark chocolate lips, painted red or pink and filled with cream caramel and chocolate nougat
  • 4 white chocolate hearts filled with chocolate caramel and sea salt
  • 4 white chocolate dots (squares) filled with cream caramel and sea salt
  •  
    While there’s always a great box of chocolate to be found somewhere, this collection will last and last in chocolate memories.
     
    It’s $56, beautifully gift boxed. Check out the other awesome chocolates at MaggieLouiseConfections.com.

     
      

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    RECIPE: Make Your Own Gummies

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    Fun project: Make your own gummies. Photo
    courtesy ChooseCherries.com.

     

    Gummy fan? We admit to a gummy habit.

    We were happy to discover that in 15 minutes, we could make our own gummies, with top-quality ingredients (including honey instead of refined sugar) and for less expense than purchasing them.

    It’s easy, so try it—perhaps inviting your favorite child to participate in the joy of making sweets. Prep time is just 5 minutes, cook time is 10 minutes.

    The only thing you need to do is buy a candy mold—although you could use a sheet pan/jelly roll pan and cut the solid rectangle into squares. You also can try a mini ice cube tray. This recipe used a sheet mold tray with 64 molds of 3/4″ x 1″.

    This recipe is made with tart cherry juice. If you like the result, you can try it with other juice flavors–apple, cranberry, grape, etc.

    This recipe is courtesy of Mitzi Dulan, RD, of NutritionExpert.com, via ChooseCherries.com.

    RECIPE: HOMEMADE GUMMIES

    Ingredients For 128 Pieces

  • 1-1/4 cups tart cherry juice
  • 1/4 cup unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup honey
  •  

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the juice and gelatin in a small bowl, stirring until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan over low-medium heat and add the honey. Continue stirring until well mixed. Be sure not to boil!

    2. REMOVE from the heat, allowing the mixture to slightly cool before pouring into the mold.

    3. LET cool for about 10 minutes or until it begins to gel before transferring into the refrigerator. Place in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes to allow it to set.

     

    WOW: A GUMMY-MAKING MACHINE!

    As we were looking for candy molds online, we came across this Gummy Candy Maker, $29.75.

    It includes the silicone molds to make gummy fish, worms and small bears—as well as a jumbo bear—with easy-to-use silicone molds. The central heated base holds the gelatin pot with a spout for easy pouring; the entire unit disassembles for easy cleaning.

    Reviews from 60 customers gave it 4.4 out of five stars, with many giving it five stars. If we can convince ourselves that this is an important appliance to bring into our small kitchen, we may be buying one soon.

    We think it makes a great Valentine gift.

     

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    This gummy maker has molds of favorite shapes. Photo courtesy Nostalgia Electrics.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: One Last Christmas Gift

    If you’re finished with shopping for nice-but-not-life-changing gifts for the people you care about, how about helping a family you don’t know, who will be grateful to you forever?

    Perhaps the most important Heifer International, which provides indigent families worldwide with a cow or other livestock: a reliable source of food for the children and a reliable source of income for the household. Extra milk from a cow, goat or sheep, or eggs from a poultry gift, can be sold at the local market.

    You can give the gift in the name of someone else: a double gift, as it were, giving the person who has everything the donation of a food animal to a family that has nothing. This truly meaningful gift will change the lives of a third-world family in need.

    Income from the milk or eggs, coupled with the training in sustainable practices that the family receives, allows them to clothe their families, obtain medical care and send the children to school.

    It’s not a major commitment: While you can give a goat or sheep, a beehive, chickens, ducks or geese, you can give a “share” in a cow, sheep or other animal for just $10.

     

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    The best gift of all: a cow, goat, sheep or
    chickens to a very needy family. Photo
    courtesy Heifer International. You can give a
    share of a goat for just $10.

     

    Take a look at the options.

    It doesn’t have to be a Christmas gift. You can gift through Heifer International year-round. Remember that at Father’s Day, when you’re looking at another tie or set of golf balls.

     

    Your cousin may not need those extra iTunes, but a needy family sure could use that flock of chickens ($20).

    Check out the options.

      

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    STOCKING STUFFER: Wine-Infused Chocolates

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    Delicious wine-infused chocolates. Photo by
    Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Virginia-based Gearharts chocolates Fine chocolates has some irresistible treats for stocking stuffers, party favors or anytime indulgence.

    For wine lovers, an excellent stocking stuffer is Pod and Vine, a box of four bonbons. The pod refers to the cacao; the vine is the wine that infuses the ganache.

    It’s not just any wine: It’s Cabernet Franc from Virginia’s highly regarded Barboursville Vineyards.

    Four boxed bonbons are $8.00 at GearhartsChocolates.com; nine pieces are $20.00.

    We’re also fond of the Pistachio Toffee, eight pieces of buttery toffee with roasted pistachios, enrobed in bittersweet chocolate ($8.00).

    For a full-size gift, another great gift is a Top Pick From Last Year, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pups. That’s pups, not cups: The pieces are decorated to look like dog heads.

    The milk chocolate bonbons are filled with silky chocolate ganache, which is lightly infused with handmade peanut butter.

     

    And they’re guilt-free: Five percent of sales of Peanut Butter Pups is donated to Companions for Heroes, a not-for-profit organization that matches rescue pets as companion animals to our nation’s wounded veterans.

    A box of nine pieces is $22.00 at Gearharts’ online store.

     
      

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    BOOK: Red Velvet Lover’s Cookbook

    It’s the best-selling flavor at New York’s Magnolia Bakery, L.A.’s Sprinkles Cupcakes, London’s Hummingbird Bakery and other cake emporia. Since 2005, its inclusion on restaurant menus has grown by more than 500%. It has been used to flavor coffee, tea, waffles, doughnuts, even fried chicken. It’s easy to find red velvet truffles, butter cookies, and even hot chocolate.

    Red Velvet is the flavor that came from—where, exactly?—to grab the spotlight.

    WHERE DID RED VELVET COME FROM?

    “The history of red velvet is not black and white,” says Deborah Harroun, author of the recently published Red Velvet Lover’s Cookbook.

    Stories detail its discovery in the 1870s in Canada and in the 1950s in Pennsylvania. Some give credit to the Deep South, where red velvet cake is topped with cream cheese frosting.

       

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    A gift book for red velvet fans. Send it from Amazon.com. Photo courtesy Harvard Common Press.

     
    One claim is that the Waldorf-Astoria’s restaurant in New York City was the first to serve red velvet cake as we know it today. Harroun writes:

    “According to legend, a woman visited the Waldorf-Astoria, tried the cake, and fell in love. She wrote a letter to the hotel, asking if the chef would send her the recipe. The hotel did send her the recipe—along with a bill for $350. In retaliation, she made copies of the recipe and distributed them high and low.”

    That does sound like a legend; and the truth is, we don’t know where red velvet cake originated.

    SHOULD RED VELVET HAVE CHOCOLATE FLAVOR?

    Before we read the book, we were under the impression that red velvet cake should be a type of chocolate cake with red food coloring. Our mom has baked a recipe called Red Devil’s Food Cake since the 1950s.

    Think again, says Deborah: “The cocoa taste actually appears as just a hint when done correctly. I say that a red velvet cake or cupcakes taste like butter cake with just a hint of cocoa. It may be a hard flavor to describe, but once you’ve had it, you probably won’t forget it!”

    And while many committed bakers deride red velvet for its use of “fake” red food coloring, there are natural ingredients that can be used to achieve the same red hue: cranberries, other red berries, pomegranates. Mom used beets in her Red Devil’s Food Cake.

     

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    Red velvet cheesecake. Photo courtesy McCormick.

     

    A CORNUCOPIA OF RED VELVET RECIPES

    What initially appeared to us as a gimmick has become a bakery staple, like another arrival of the same time, the cake pop. (Their offspring: the red velvet cake pop.)

    In the book, Deborah presents the classics as well as a host of new, inventive uses for red velvet: red velvet biscuits, donuts, cheesecakes, icebox cakes, molten lava cakes, muffins, mug cakes, pancakes and even waffles.

    There are a dozen recipes for bars, brownies and cookies, plus red velvet rolls and breads. Don’t stop there: Make red velvet cannoli, churros, éclairs, snowballs and truffles.

    Even if your favorite red velvet lover doesn’t like to bake, he or she will be entertained just by the recipes and the photos.

    Order yours at Amazon.com.

     

      

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    TIP: Do It Yourself Apple Gift Basket

    We’re coming up on the last shopping weekend before Christmas. Instead of braving the stores, how about heading to your nearest farmers market?

    Top e-tailers like Harry & David will send a basket or box of assorted apples, but you can put your own together and provide even more fun through a greater assortment.

    Apples are affordable, delicious, universally loved and always available. Present them in beautiful “keeper” basket for a healthy holiday gift—great for calorie counters, dieters and fitness fans.

    Here are five simple steps for a do-it-yourself apple gift basket from the U.S. Apple Association.

    1. FIND a basket or other container—you may already have some on hand from prior gifts you’ve received. You can buy baskets at craft store, big box retailers and even your grocery store.

     

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    It’s easy to create an apple basket gift. Photo courtesy U.S. Apple Association.

     
    2. FILL the basket with healthy, wholesome apples: the more colors and varieties, the merrier. If the apples don’t have stickers indicating their variety, take a photo of the apple basket and sign at the market and include it in the basket.

    3. ADD a few colorful accents, like clementine oranges, a jar of caramel sauce or honey for dipping, or a small holiday candle.

    4. PERSONALIZE with foods or trinkets the recipient will enjoy—simple stocking stuffers will do—an apple slicer, or a cheese; for a gym person, a stretch band. If you don’t want to add a cheese, which typically requires refrigeration, include a gift card to a store where it can be purchased.

    5. ACCENT with a ribbons and a card or note that wishes the recipient a healthy New Year.

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT & GIFT: Perky Jerky, Now In Flavors

    There’s only a week left until Christmas, but you can click on over to get a boat load of one of our favorite snacks for gifting: Perky Jerky.

    This is tender, flavorful gourmet jerky with a twist: the meat is caffeinated. The manufacturer calls it “the world’s first all-natural performance enhancing meat snack.”

    Anyone who needs a snack along with a bit of energy can simply tear open a portion-controlled package and enjoy a flavorful, nourishment and yes, liveliness.

    The protein-laden beef or turkey jerky has been caffeinated with guarana, a natural energy booster with about twice the caffeine content of a coffee bean. A single-portion bag has less than 100 calories per ounce and is low in carbs, with 5g or less of sugar per serving.

    The products are all natural: no added MSF, no nitrates, no preservatives.
     
    BEEF & TURKEY, ORIGINAL & FLAVORS

    Since it debuted several years ago, Perky Jerky has grown in flavors. Marinating the meat overnight allows the flavors to infuse, and makes the jerky even more tender.

    Beef Perky Jerky and Turkey Perky Jerky are available in Original, Hot & Bothered, Sweet & Spicy and Teriyaki. Additionally, Turkey Perky Jerky is Jamaican Style.

       

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    Delicious and tender jerky with a jolt of caffeine. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

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    Give individual packages or multipack boxes.
    Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    PACKAGES FOR EVERYONE

    From individual snacks to multi-portion sizes, there are:

  • Individual snack bags (1 ounce), $2.99
  • Multi-portion bags (2.2 ounces), $4.99
  • Family-size bags (5 ounces), $9.99
  • Multipack boxes of 6-packs (2.2 ounces) and 12-packs (2.2 ounces), $59.88
  •  
    If you want to try the flavors, pay for four and get the fifth free (2.2-ounce bags).

    You can sign up for monthly deliveries, too, and save 20%-30% with free shipping.

    HOLIDAY SPECIAL

    There’s 40% off plus free shipping on orders over $50. Use code HOLIDAY 40 through midnight on December 21st.

    Place your order for great jerky at PerkyJerky.com.

    Perky Jerky is also available in more than 30,000 retail outlets across the U.S., including GNC, Target and Walgreens.

    JERKY TRIVIA

  • The word jerky comes from the Quechua language of the Incas, who called their dried meat “charqui.”
  • While the prehistoric method of meat preservation was used by other ancient peoples, it was not known in Europe. The first European visitors to the New World found Native Americans making jerky from the meat of any animal they hunted, from buffalo to whale.
  • Today jerky can be found in meats as common as turkey, tuna and salmon, to exotic alligator and ostrich.
  • Perky Jerky was a accidental invention, like potato chips, yogurt and many of our foods. An energy drink spilled over some jerky, drenching the meat. Not about to throw good jerky away, the “inventors” ate it and discovered that it was not only more tender, but a great energy boost. (Today, the process for making Perky Jerky is a bit more sophisticated.)
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