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Archive for Giftable

TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Food Gifts

Cranberry Bark

Cailler Chocolate Bar

[1] Chocolate bark with holiday accents (photo courtesy Close Encounters Of The Cooking Kind). [2] Use a quality chocolate bar like Cailler for the best flavor (photo courtesy Cailler—pronounced kiy-YAY). The Swiss chocolate bars in their festive boxes also make great stocking stuffers.

 

For those moments when unexpected guests arrive for Christmas, or when acquaintances give you an unexpected gift—we have a strategy:

Make homemade bark or fudge in advance. They have a long shelf life; it’s easy to carry a small tin with you for chance encounters; and even people who don’t eat sweets will be pleased to have something nice to serve their own guests, or to regift.

It’s also a sweet gift to take on casual visits over the holidays.

Here, two holiday-accented options:

RECIPE #1: CHOCOLATE ORANGE PISTACHIO BARK

Using salted pistachios gives this bark the popular sweet-and-salty profile. We adapted this recipe from one by the Florida Orange Juice.

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 16 ounces quality semi-sweet chocolate (Callebaut, Lindt, etc.)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup salted pistachios, chopped if desired
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the orange juice in small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce to ¼ cup and cool.

    2. MELT the chocolate over in boiler. While the chocolate melts, stir occasionally as you…

    3. LINE a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment to a ¼-inch thickness. Swirl in the cooled orange juice with a spatula, creating thin channels in the chocolate.

    4. SPRINKLE the cranberries and pistachios over chocolate and lightly press. When the chocolate is completely hardened…

    5. BREAK into pieces and package. For home gifting, a simple box or gift bag with a ribbon is fine (wrap the pieces in wax paper for protection). For toting around, consider something more durable. For longer storage, keep in an airtight container.

     

     

    RECIPE #2: WHITE CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY FUDGE

    We adapted this snowy holiday fudge from Mom On Timeout (love that name!).

    It’s just the thing to take over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house…or to the neighbors next door.

    Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup regular sour cream
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped white chocolate (we use Lindt* chocolate bars)
  • 1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme/cream†
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces dried cranberries
  • Optional garnish: green sprinkles or candied mint leaves
  •  
    How To Measure Chopped Chocolate

    Six ounces of chocolate chips equals 1 cup. If you chop the chocolate the size of chips, this conversion will work.

    Unless dry ingredients are finely ground, like flour and sugar, so they completely fill the cup measure, it’s difficult to get a precise measurement (e.g., one cup of blueberries). This is why professional recipes give measure in ounces, not cups.
     
    ________________
    *You can use white chocolate chips, but you’ll get better chocolate flavor from a premium chocolate bar.
    ________________
     
    Preparation
    1. LINE a 9″ x13″ baking dish with parchment or foil; lightly spray with cooking spray.

    2. COMBINE the sugar, sour cream, butter and salt in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, to the soft ball stage (238°F on a food thermometer).

    3. REMOVE from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until completely melted. Stir in the marshmallow cream and vanilla extract until completely blended. Next, blend in the dried cranberries. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and cool to room temperature. If you want a green accent, add it now. Then…

    4. PLACE the pan in the fridge for several hours or overnight, before cutting into squares.

    5. STORE in an airtight container. For home gifting, a simple box or gift bag with a ribbon is fine (wrap the pieces in wax paper for protection). For toting around, consider something more durable. For longer storage, keep in an airtight container.

     

    Cranberry Fudge

    Craisins

    Candied Mint Leaves

    [3] Snowy Christmas fudge from Mom On Time Out. [4] Dried cranberries from Ocean Spray. Their Craisins are simply branded dried cranberries. [3] Want a garnish? Make candied mint leaves—the smaller the better. You can chop them after they’re candied. Press them into the fudge when it has cooled (photo and recipe from Emjay’s Imagination).

     

    †CREAM VS. CREME

    What’s the difference between creme and cream? Why do you see “creme pie” and “cream pie” for the same thing? The answer: error which evolved into common usage.

    Crème, pronounced KREHM, is the French word for cream. In America, French recipes were served at the tables of the wealthy, most of whom knew how to write and pronounce French properly.

    As these recipes entered the mainstream, people who did not know French began to pronounce crème (KREHM) as (KREEM), and dispensed with the accent mark: hence, creme. This mashup of French and English became acceptable, and over time, “creme” was used for American dishes like cream pie, because “creme” looked fancier (i.e., French-associated was better).

    To display your erudition when discussing a French dish, e.g. Crème Brûlée, use crème; when discussing an American dish, e.g. Chocolate Cream Pie, use cream.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Red Licorice For Chocolate-Covered Anything Day

    Christmas Twizzlers

    Chocolate Covered Licorice

    Christmas Candy Cake

    [1] These Christmas Twizzlers are available at Target and elsewhere (photo courtesy Candy Warehouse). [2] You can buy the artisan version from confectioners. These are sold on Etsy by Nicole’s Treats. [3] Wowsa: a kid’s fantasy Christmas Cake from Cake Whiz. Underneath: a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.

     

    December 16th is Chocolate-Covered Anything Day.

    We love chocolate-covered apples-on-a-stick, bacon strips, berries, citrus peel, cookies, dried fruit (apricots and figs are our favorites [sorry, raisins]), graham crackers, gummies, ice cream pops, maraschino cherries, marshmallows, nuts, orange segments, popcorn, pretzels and potato chips. You can buy them or make them.

    What we haven’t tried:

    Chocolate-covered baby octopus, calamari, carrots, insects, Cheetos, corn dogs, edamame, garlic, jalapeños, jerky, kimchi and seaweed (from Korea), mashed potatoes (a Paula Deen recipe), onions, pickles, roses (real roses on their stems!), Slim Jims and wasabi peas.

    One source even recommended dipping these latter items in chocolate fondue!

    So today’s proposal, chocolate-covered licorice, should not sound far out. For licorice lovers, it’s quite a tasty variation.

    While it’s the week before Christmas and we propose a red-and-green theme, you can use this easy recipe for any holiday where the licorice stick colors work (black, brown, green, orange, purple, red, yellow-green, etc. (Check out the colors at Candy Warehouse.)
     
    CHOCOLATE-COVERED CHRISTMAS LICORICE

    Twizzlers makes red, green and white twist (photo #1), which you can find at Target, Candy Warehouse and elsewhere.
     
    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE COVERED LICORICE
    (OR OTHER CONFECTION)

    Ingredients

  • Red licorice sticks (soft, not stale)
  • White chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate bar
  • Green food color
  • Optional: red and green sprinkles, confetti or other decorations (we had gold and white dragées at hand)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUT the licorice sticks in half. You can skip this step, but the half-sticks are easier to eat, and more size-appropriate when covered in chocolate.

    2. MELT the white chocolate in the microwave. We used a pie plate, which makes it easy to dip the licorice.

    3. TINT the white chocolate green. If you like, you can keep some of the batch white for drizzling over the green chocolate.

    4. DIP the licorice and set on wax paper to dry.

     
    TIP #1: We used sugar tongs. Ours have a serrated gripping edge.

    TIP #2: If you plan to store the licorice for a few days or longer, cut the wax paper in sizes that fit into the container. Then, just lift the wax paper and pop the sheet(s) into the storage container.

    5. DRIZZLE the optional white chocolate or add the sprinkles promptly, before the chocolate sets. If not using the same day…

    6. STORE in an airtight containe. We used our Le Creuset red rectangular baking dish, which makes a beautiful presentation; but you can use any baking pan and plastic wrap. Store at room temperature.
     
    WHY IS LICORICE PRONOUNCED LICORISH?

    The Scots pronounce it “licoriss,” from the Old French “licoresse.” In England and the U.S., it is “licorish.” Here are two theories as to why:

  • The phoneme may have shifted from /s/ to /sh/, as happened with the words “pressure” and “sugar.”
  • A 1685 spelling of “licorish” in England leads to speculation is that this pronunciation originated in a regional dialect of English, which changed many final “s” sounds to “sh.”
  •  
    The history of licorice.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Cookie Spread, a.k.a. Cookie Butter

    Biscoff Spread Jar

    Speculoos Spread

    Cookie Butter

    Tumbador Cookie Butter

    Nuts & More Cookie Butter

    [1] The original Biscoff Spread, used for filling cookie sandwiches at Picky Palate. [2] The European name for Biscoff Spread is Speculoos (photo courtesy Dutch Shop). [3] Trader Joe’s three private label versions include original, crunchy and cocoa swirl (photo courtesy Baking Bites). [4] A favorite flavor, from Tumbador Chocolate. [5] Even health food stores sell cookie butter—as a protein boost (photo courtesy Nuts & More).

     

    Where did the cookie butter craze originate? In Belgium!

    THE HISTORY OF SPECULOOS SPREAD (CALLED BISCOFF SPREAD IN THE U.S.)

    Cookie spread or cookie butter began as an entry in a contest sponsored by Belgium-based Lotus Bakeries.

    Lotus is the maker of Speculoos (spice) brand cookies, known the world over (and called Biscoff in some countries). Els Scheppers, a contestant on the reality show The Inventors (De Bedenker), pulverized the cookies and mixed them into “the original speculoos pasta*.”

    It wasn’t that far-fetched an idea, but it was a great one. Belgian parents (including Scheppers) were already making sandwichs of buttered bread, the butter topped with crushed Biscoff cookies.

    She didn’t win the contest, but Lotus Bakeries approached her to obtain the exclusive rights to sell the Biscoff spread.

    They are actually called speculoos (spice) cookies in Europe, but the name was deemed too hard for Americans to pronounce. Because the biscuits were so popular with coffee, the cookies were rebranded as Biscoff for the U.S. market. (It may look like peanut butter, but it’s nut-free.)

    After its arrival on these shores, companies large and small jumped on the bandwagon. Home cooked created Biscoff cupcakes with Biscoff frosting (here’s the recipe).

    Hershey’s and other large companies made cookie spreads. They were made in conventional cookie flavors, plus Chocolate Macaroon and Pumpkin Spice.

    Even health-oriented stores sell it, manufactured from Nuts & More, a company that got Shark Tank funding. Their “High Protein + Peanut Spreads” include Toffee Crunch and White Chocolate, among other flavors.
    ________________
    *Pasta is derived from the Latin word for paste. In Europe it is used to describe foods from spaghetti (a paste of flour and water) to meat loaf (a paste of ground meat and fat to the fruit squares (pâte de fruit) that we call fruit gels.

     
    COOKIE SPREAD/BUTTER VERSUS NUT BUTTER

    Before we go further, let us emphasize that cookie butter is not a substitute for peanut [or other nut/seed] butter.

    They may be touted as alternatives to nut butters, but that’s only in spreadability, not in nutrition. They are better compared to chocolate spreads. To avoid confusing consumers, all of the cookie-based spreads should be called cookie spreads, not cookie butters.

  • Natural nut butters are simply ground nuts and a bit of salt. Supermarket brands often add caloric sweetener, vegetable oils and stabilizers (mono and diglicerides
  • Nut butters have protein and fiber. Cookie butters do not—unless they so specify.
  • Large brands of nut butters have been headed in the direction of cookie butter (actually, it’s vice versa), with chocolate swirl and other flavors.
  • Nutella, a hazelnut and chocolate spread, is not much more nutritious than cookie butter. It has some protein fiber from the hazelnuts but lots of sugar. On their website, sugar is listed as the first ingredient, followed by palm oil. The two “good” ingredients, hazelnuts and cocoa powder, are third and fourth.
  •  
    MAKE YOUR OWN COOKIE SPREAD

    You can use any cookie that can be ground into a powder. This leaves out oatmeal raisin (but plain oatmeal is OK), chocolate chip, anything with nuts or a filling. Don’t despair if this eliminates your favorite: You can add these “textured” ingredients as mix-ins after the butter/spread is blended.

    Some options:

  • Biscoff or other spice cookies
  • Famous Chocolate Wafers or bake your own
  • Ginger snaps
  • Graham crackers
  • Oatmeal cookies
  • Peanut butter cookies
  • Sugar cookies, snickerdoodles
  • Swedish thin cookies (Annas Swedish Thins, Cookie Thins, Moravian Cookies, etc.)
  • Vanilla wafers
  •  
    You can add in anything else that can be smoothly blended or ground:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Flavored extracts
  • Nuts (chopped is better)
  • Purées (e.g. pumpkin for the holidays)
  • Small candies and baking products, e.g. mini chips, mini M&Ms
  • Spices
  •  

    RECIPE: COOKIE SPREAD OR COOKIE BUTTER

    You can keep the spread in the fridge for 14 days, maybe more. If you’re giving it as a gift, note the expiration date on the label.

    If you want to make a homemade version of Biscoff Spread, here’s a recipe.
     
    Ingredients Per 14-Ounce Batch
     
    For The Spread

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) cookie crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated or light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more if desired
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla or other extract
  •  
    For The Mix-Ins

  • 1/2 to 1 cup of whatever you like
  •  
    For Serving

  • Assorted cookies, biscuits, toasts, whatever
  •  
    You can serve just one type of cookie; but a selection is more fun.
     
    For Gift-Giving

  • Mason jar or other tightly-lidded container
  •  
    Preparation

    1. GRIND the cookies in a food processor until very fine. Measure out 2 cups.

    2. ADD the crumbs back into the food processor along with the cream, butter and sugar; process until well combined. If the dip is too thick for you, add cream a bit at a time to thin it.

     

    Oreo Cookie Butter

    Biscoff Cupcake & Frosting

    [6] Make cookie spread gifts and party favors (photo courtesy The Cottage Market). [7] Consider double-cookie-spread cupcakes. Sweet As A Cookie went all the way and created this recipe with Biscoff spread in both.

     
    3. BLEND in your choice of mix-ins. Put in a jar in the fridge. To serve, bring to room temperature spreadability.

    We couldn’t sign off without showing you this Biscoff Cheesecake.

      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: White Chocolate Polar Bears

    White Chocolate Bears

    White Chocolate Polar Bears

    Mom, dad and the kids are adorable…but not too adorable to eat! Photos courtesy Woodhouse Chocolate.

     

    They may be too old for Teddy bears and Winnie The Pooh, but no one is too old for these chocolate polar bears from Woodhouse Chocolate of Napa Valley, one of our favorite chocolate artisans.

    Give just one bar or the whole family—all with your choice of red or blue snowflake medallions around their necks:

  • Five-inch tall chocolate bear, $12.00
  • Ten-inch tall chocolate bear, $32.00
  •  
    To get a bear, point your mouse to WoodhouseChocolate.com

    John Anderson of Woodhouse Chocolate was a vintner for 20 years before he became a chocolatier. So next up:

    WINES TO SERVE WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE

    From California

  • Fruity Chardonnay
  • Muscat
  •  
    From Europe

  • Gewürtztraminer: (Alsatian and German varieties have more sweetness than American versions
  • Liqueurs: cream liqueurs, creme de cacao, or fruit liquer
  • Mas Amiel: Vintage Blanc, from southwestern France
  • Muscat: (French) or Moscato from Italy
  • Riesling:: Alsatian (late harvest) or German Riesling: Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein (ice wine)
  • Sherry: Amontillado, Brown, Cream or Pale Cream, East India, Moscatel, Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez (PX)
  •  
    DON’T FORGET THE SWEETER BUBBLIES

  • Asti Spumante, a sweeter sparkler from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy
  • Brachetto d’Acqui, an Italian sparkling rosé from the Piedmont region Italy
  • Champagne labeled sec, demi-sec or doux
  • Prosecco and Valdobbiadene from the Treviso area of northeast Italy
  • Other Italian sparkling wines labeled dolce or amabile
  •  
    If you need assistance in the wine department, don’t hesitate to ask one of the staff. That’s what they’re there for.
     
    CHECK OUT OUR ARTICLE ON PAIRING WINE WITH CHOCOLATE.

     
      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Sturia Caviar, Farmed In France

    Sturia Caviar

    Sturia Caviar

    Sturia Caviar Types

    Sturia Caviar de Noel

    [1] While chefs use the caviar to add glamour to a wide variety of dishes, for us the most glamorous is to eat the caviar from the tin, with a glass of Champagne. [2] Caviar must be refrigerated, but we love the idea of a gift bag full of tins. [3] Three expressions of Sturia caviar. [4] The special holiday edition (photos courtesy Sturia).

     

    France is known for its haute cuisine and haute couture.

    But in some circles, it’s also known for its caviar. Sturia combines the two: fine caviar in stylish packaging.

    Sturia is the flagship brand of Sturgeon SCEA*, the leading French caviar producer. Established near Bordeaux 20 years ago, the company pioneered sturgeon farming in France. It sells its caviar all over the world.

    Farmed caviar, you say?

    THE RECENT HISTORY OF THE GREAT WILD STURGEON

    For those who haven’t followed the tipping point of beluga caviar, here it is:

    Overfishing, poaching, pollution, and damming of the rivers where the famed Baltic Sea and Caspian Sea sturgeon have bred for millions of years, drastically decreased the amount of caviar available, as world demand increased. Ninety percent of beluga sturgeons live in the Caspian Sea. In just 40 years, the beluga was at the brink of extinction.

    The other two Caspian sturgeons, the osetra and the sevruga, were also on the Endangered Species List. The species dates back to the Triassic period, some 245 to 208 million years ago.

    In January 2006, the countries that bordered these seas banded together to exclude exports (more).

    CAVIAR TODAY

    As a result, more than 20 years ago, caviar farms were set up to raise sturgeon in river environments all over the world, from Europe to South America to Asia.

    The result: osestra and white sturgeon caviar, sustainably produced. At 3,300 pounds, the beluga is too huge to farm. The white sturgeon, which can reach 1,799 pounds, and the 440-pound osetra sturgeon, are best for farming (see the different types of caviar).

    Sturgeon farming is a long, painstaking process.

  • After obtaining fry (newly hatched sturgeon), farmers have to wait 3 years before they can determine their sex. The young females are then farmed in ponds diverted from rivers, for approximately 8 years until they reach maturity.
  • At that point, an 8-year-old female sturgeon weighs about ten kilos and yields approximately 10% of her weight in caviar.
  • The eggs are harvested and lightly salted using the Russian Malossol method, which adds a small amount of salt as a preservative.
  •  
    The result: One of the most luxurious foods in the world.

    BUYING STURIA CAVIAR

    Depending on the level of sophistication of the recipient, Sturia guides you to which of their caviars you should consider.

    What particularly tickles us about Sturia is the packaging, in tins screened with art that we would happily display after the caviar is gone. (Or, repurpose them to as packaging for jewelry and other small gifts.)
     
     
    CAVIAR TRIVIA

  • Caviar is a seasonal product. The sturgeon are fished (the eggs are harvested) between September and March.
  • Like any agricultural product, caviar from the same sturgeon will have different nuances depending on the environment where it was raised (terroir).
  •  
    BRUSH UP ON CAVIAR

    Glossary of Caviar Terms

    Caviar Q & A

     
    ________________
    *SCEA refers to the civil farming company, or société civile d’exploitation agricole.

    †In fact, 85% of the 27 sturgeon species are at approaching extinction.

      

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