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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

TIP OF THE DAY: Champagne Recorker (Resealer)

We have been using this indispensable gadget since it first came onto the market, back in our college days. Yet, when we use it in front of guests, most look on with amazement—they’ve never seen a Champagne recorker before.

So today’s tip is: Get one for anyone who enjoys a bottle of bubbly. They’re less than $10 in chrome, and we received a plastic version freebie from Yellow Tail that works just as well.

And for the price, it’s painless to include one when you give a gift of Champagne. Or give them as wedding or anniversary party favors.

A Champagne recorker (also called a resealer) creates a tight seal at the mouth of the bottle, so the bubbles stay in. A rubber “cork” under the chrome cap fits the mouth of the bottle, and two “wings” clamp down to create the seal.

It works like a dream, and makes us wonder why it wasn’t created centuries before. (Champagne has been around since the early 1700s, and rubber has been manufactured since around 1820.) We use it:

 

A champagne recorker keeps it sparkling. This one is available from the Wine Enthusiast. Photo courtesy The Wine Enthusiast.

  • To keep the fizz in the bottle in-between pourings.
  • If we want just a glass or two but not the whole bottle.
  • If we need just a cup or so for a recipe.
  • If we have “leftovers” at the end of the evening.
  •  
    You can buy a Champagne recorker wherever kitchen gadgets are sold; online; and depending on your state of residence, in the store where you purchase the bubbly.

    The Champagne recorker keeps the wine fizzy for several days. The fuller the bottle, the fizzier it stays (i.e., if there’s only an inch or two of wine at the bottom of the bottle, there’s a lot of air into which the effervescence can evaporate). We just finished a bottle that was opened six weeks ago to taste just half a glass—and it was “like new.”

    CHAMPAGNE TRIVIA

    According to Wikipedia, the Champenois (residents of the Champagne region) and other French who bought the wine drank it as a still wine (it’s made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes). Bubbles were considered a defect. They are the result of a secondary a fermentation process which takes place in the bottle, as yeast devour the grape sugar and create carbon dioxide.

    But the British—major customers for the wines of France—developed a taste for the unique bubbly wine, and the sparkling version of Champagne continued to grow in popularity, especially among the wealthy and royal (as opposed to the locals). More Champenois wine makers attempted to make their wines sparkle deliberately, but didn’t know enough about how to control the process or how to make wine bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure.

    In the 19th century these obstacles were overcome. Advances by the house of Veuve Clicquot in the development of the méthode champenoise made production of sparkling wine profitable on a large scale, and the modern Champagne wine industry was born. The house of Bollinger was established in 1829, Krug was in 1843 and Pommery in 1858.
     
    Do you know the different types of Champagne?

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: White Hot Chocolate For A White Christmas

    Tis’ the season for white hot chocolate. No matter what the weather is like where you live, you can have a white Christmas with a cup of it.

    Here are two recipes that give a gourmet twist to hot chocolate. The second recipe, for hot chocolate on a stick, can be given as party favors and stocking stuffers.

    The first recipe from the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel outside Chicago, which has been serving up the Christmastime concoction to guests in their fireside lounge. The blend of whole milk and half and half makes it very rich, indeed.

    RECIPE: WHITE HOT CHOCOLATE

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups half and half
  •  

    White hot chocolate is made with top quality white chocolate disks. Photo courtesy Schaumberg Renaissance Convention Center Hotel.

  • 10 ounces quality white chocolate (we use these Callebaut white chocolate disks)
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • Optional garnish: shaved chocolate, cocoa powder and/or whipped cream (try this candy cane whipped cream recipe)
  •  

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE milk and half and half; heat to a slight simmer.

    2. SLOWLY whisk in chocolate and vanilla until the chocolate has fully melted.

    3. GARNISH as desired and serve.

     

    Hot chocolate on a stick: fun party favors
    and stocking stuffers. Photo courtesy
    McCormick.

     

    Here’s a fun project: Make your own hot chocolate on a stick. This recipe from McCormick creates a fudgy square of peppermint-flavored white chocolate and a marshmallow on a lollipop stick. You swirl it into a cup of hot milk until it melts into rich, creamy and minty hot chocolate.

    You can wrap them in cellophane bags, tie with a ribbon and give them as gifts. The chocolate squares can be made up to two weeks in advance and assembled up to 2 days in advance.

    RECIPE: Peppermint White Hot Chocolate On A Stick

    Ingredients For 36 Pieces

  • 2 pounds white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  • 4 drops red food color
  • 18 large marshmallows, halved crosswise
  • 36 lollipop sticks
  •  
    Preparation

    1. LINE a 9-inch square baking pan with foil. Spray foil with no stick cooking spray. Place chopped chocolate in large bowl. Set aside.

    2. BRING sweetened condensed milk and cream to simmer in medium saucepan on medium heat, stirring frequently with wire whisk. Pour over chopped chocolate. Let stand 1 minute. Whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

    3. STIR in peppermint extract. Remove 3/4 cup chocolate mixture. Tint chocolate mixture pink with red food color.

    4. POUR remaining (plain) chocolate mixture into prepared pan. Drop tinted chocolate mixture by tablespoons over chocolate mixture in pan. Swirl with knife for marble effect. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight until firm. Cut into 36 squares. (May be made ahead to this point. Store chocolate mixture, tightly covered, in pan in refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before cutting into squares.)

    5. ASSEMBLE: Thread a marshmallow half and a chocolate square onto each lollipop stick. Wrap each hot chocolate on a stick in plastic wrap or small cellophane bag.

    6. MAKE hot chocolate: Stir hot chocolate on a stick into 8 ounces hot milk.

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COCOA AND HOT CHOCOLATE

    Most people use the terms interchangeably, but they’re actually different.

  • Cocoa is a drink made from cocoa powder, which has had a portion of the cocoa butter removed.
  • Hot chocolate is a drink made from actual chocolate, usually ground or shaved into small bits. Chocolate has more cocoa butter than cocoa powder, so it makes a richer drink, all things being equal (the same type of milk, e.g.).
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY & GIFT: Knife Sharpening By Mail

    Want a holiday gift to make any cook happy? Sharpen their knives!

    Well not you, exactly. But for an online payment of $34.99, you can send them a shipping box from USA Sharp that includes four knife guards plus prepaid, insured priority shipping labels for quick and easy USPS turnaround.

    Then, just slip the knives into the knife guards and drop the box in the mail. The company promises a 24-hour turnaround, which means that the USPS will return the sharpened knives within 3-5 business days.

    And sharpen your own knives, while you’re at it.

    USA Sharp is a family knife sharpening service that founded in the 1930s by an immigrant to Massachusetts who hand-wheeled a pushcart around town. His granddaughter has taken to the Internet to sharpen knives from kitchens and foodservice operations nationwide.

    And that’s a good thing, since no matter how good (or average) your knives, if you don’t sharpen them regularly, it’s harder to cut. Worse, you run the risk of the blade slipping off the food and into your flesh. Using a sharpening steel or gadget at home is in intermediate step until you call in the big guns (professional sharpening).

    IT COULDN’T BE EASIER

    While you can get knives sharpened at local establishments and traveling trucks, there’s nothing easier than dropping your knives in the nearest mailbox.

     

    Even if you regularly use a sharpening steel, your knives still need to be wheel-sharpened a few times a year (depending on how often you use them). Photo courtesy Inside Woodworking.

     

     

    Put knives into cardboard box, drop box into the nearest U.S. Postal Service box.

     

    It’s worth noting that hardware stores and kitchen shops often use small tabletop machines—or even the knife-sharpening gadgets you can buy in their stores—in a “one machine fits all” sharpening operation. There’s little or no differentiation among the various types of knives and their unique requirements.

    USA Sharp inspects each knife to determine which a sharpening method will create the finest hard edge.

    Not only can USA Sharp sharpen the knives; they can fix most knives that have been improperly sharpened elsewhere and recondition most blades that are chipped, bent, or have broken tips.

    The company also has a knife recycling program for food pantries and soup kitchens. “Retired” kitchen knives are turned reconditioned to provide the gift of sharp cutlery to the chefs who help to feed the hungry.

     
    So get sharp: Send for your shipping box today at USASharp.com.

      

    Comments

    GIFT: Jose Cuervo Cinge, Yummy Cinnamon Tequila

    Mmm, mmm, good. Photo courtesy Jose
    Cuervo.

     

    Jose Cuervo Cinge, also known as Jose Cuervo Especial Cinnamon (that’s sure to be confusing, but why ask why), is a new expression that’s not even on the Cuervo.com website yet.

    It is, however, in the stores—and that’s a good thing.

    The new flavored tequila is a cinnamon-infused, 70 proof version of Cuervo Especial Silver. There are other “natural flavors,” but if they told us they’d have to kill us.

    Cinge means “sting” and the ads we’ve seen show a menacing scorpion (is there any other kind?) crawling across a bar toward a shot of tequila.

    But the experience is more “Cosmopolitan” magazine than “American Cowboy.” There’s a soft but vibrant cinnamon nose and flavor. It’s not a burning cinnamon experience like Red Hots candy.

    Yet the brand’s copy calls it “a spicy and fiery shot of cinnamon.” Hmmm; perhaps our bottle was from a different batch.

     

    Our Cinge was seductive, and we love it. For $16.99 a bottle, OMG: Last-minute gift problems solved!

    We received a bottle from Jose Cuervo along with some cocktail recipes, but it’s heaven just drinking Cinge straight.

    Or add it to cider, coffee, tea or a toddy—there’s no need to drag out the cocktail shaker.
     
    Find more of our favorite spirits and lots of cocktail recipes.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: An Edible Centerpiece For Christmas

    Flowers are lovely, of course. And arrangements of seasonal fruits and pine—lady apples, clove-studded oranges, pomegranates, pine cones and branches—have been our centerpiece of choice.

    But how about an edible centerpiece that becomes part of dessert?

    There’s nothing more charming than an old-fashioned gingerbread house as a holiday centerpiece. And if the gingerbread is top quality, it’s a joy to be part of the “demolition crew.”

    You can serve it at the end of a big holiday meal with ice cream—a much lighter choice than most cakes and pies.

    We have to give props to the creative bakers who’ve thought “outside the house” to produce these two gingerbread centerpieces.

     

    To grace your table, a gingerbread train. Photo courtesy Mackenzie Ltd.

     

    They’re available from one of our our favorite gourmet food e-tailers, Mackenzie Ltd. If you enjoy looking at photos of luscious foods, you’ll devour every page of Mackenzie’s website.

    ALL ABOARD THE GINGERBREAD EXPRESS

    Destined to become a classic, this three-car gingerbread train (photo above) replaces the traditional gingerbread house with a whimsical choo choo.

    Entirely edible, the train is a memorable holiday centerpiece that will delight children and adults alike. If you know model train enthusiasts, it makes a delightful gift.

    It’s 21 inches long, $59.95, at MackenzieLtd.com.

     

    Gingerbread fantasy: a carousel. Photo
    courtesy Mackenzie Ltd.

     

    OR TAKE A SPIN ON THE GINGERBREAD
    CAROUSEL

    This stunning centerpiece is also 100% edible. It measures almost a foot tall and 15″ across. You can provide some optional old-fashioned carousel music during the dessert course.

    With an impressive amount of hand decoration, the gingerbread carousel is $149.95 at MackenzieLtd.com.

    Both the train and the carousel are made of high-quality gingerbread and arrive fully assembled to immediately grace your table.
     
    Here’s the history of gingerbread, which evolved in 15th-century Germany. The Medieval German Lebkuchen Guild (lebkuchen is German for gingerbread) turned it into a highly-decorated art, crafting fancy shapes decorated with sugar and gold.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Truffle Oil Spray

    It’s truffle season, and while we love the aroma and flavor of truffles, our budget doesn’t afford them often.

    So when we encountered an easily affordable spray bottle of Grand’Aroma Truffle Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Fratelli Mantova, we thought, “Why not?”

    We know that most truffle oils are flavored with “truffle essence”—laboratory approximations of truffle aroma. But some of them are quite passable. In fact, truffle oil made with natural or chemical aroma and flavor—as opposed to infusion with real truffles—has a more assertive truffle flavor. The downside is that some brands, flavored with chemicals, have a hint of artificiality.

    We were willing to invest $9.00 to explore the truffle oil spray. We have a couple of bottles of truffle oil, but were particularly attracted to the spray format (which uses no chemicals, additives or emulsifying agents).

    And we like it—we really like it!

  • Eggs: Spray on the nonstick frying pan before cooking eggs.
  • Pizza: Spray on a white/mushroom pizza when it leaves the oven.
  •  

    Truffle-flavored EVOO and sesame oil sprays. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

  • Grilled Proteins: Spray on grilled or roasted beef, lamb, poultry and seafood.
  • Starches: Spray on fries and other potatoes, pasta, polenta, and risotto.
  • Vegetables: Spray on cooked asparagus, cauliflower, corn, mushrooms.
  • Vinaigrette: Replace some of the olive oil in a classic vinaigrette; use on salads and to make marinated mushrooms.
  • Tartare: Mix into beef, salmon or tuna tartare; on beef carpacio
  • Snacks: Spray on popcorn and potato chips.
  •  

    Mantova Spray Truffle Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil in an eight-ounce spray is $9.22 on Amazon.com. It’s a welcome stocking stuffer or small gift for any cook or foodie.

    We also picked up a sesame oil spray, a very good way to add just a hint of this heavy oil to stir-frys and other protein or vegetable dishes.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK & GIFT: Macarons From Dana’s Bakery

    White Chocolate Peppermint Bark, a seasonal
    macaron flavor. Photo courtesy Dana’s
    Bakery.

     

    Dana Loia, we want you to be our new BFF.

    Dana is the creative force behind Dana’s Bakery, specializing in macarons. Her macarons rock—even more than other good macarons, because she’s quite the flavor artist as well as a designer, creating beautiful “painted” custom macarons.

    This is the second career for the honors graduate of the Pastry and Baking program at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. Photography’s loss is macaron lovers’ gain. (If you want learn how to bake your own, Dana gives classes in her northern New Jersey bakery.)

    While many macaron specialists stick with the classics—chocolate, coffee, lemon, pistachio, raspberry and vanilla—Dana takes a page from the cookbook of Parisian macaron masters Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, who continue to bring forth new flavors to tempt foodie palates. A Dana’s Bakery bonus: Her macarons are certified kosher (and all macarons are gluten-free, made with almond flour).

     
    FAB FLAVORS

    Dana’s vision was to create an artisanal line of American flavor-inspired macarons. No raspberry and vanilla for her; instead, think of all your favorite sweet flavors, from Banana Split and Key Lime to Strawberry Shortcake and Watermelon.
     
    There are seasonal flavors, too: Imagine Caramel Apple or Candy Corn Macarons for Halloween, the latter with a kernel of candy corn on top of the ganache. (“I could eat these every day of my life, literally,” says Dana.)

    HOLIDAY FLAVORS

    For the holidays, there are Gingerbread Man, White Peppermint Bark and Chocolate Molten Mac.

    In addition to the holiday flavors, the current lineup includes Birthday Cake, Cookie Dough, Cup of Joe, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Fruity Cereal, Red Velvet, Thin Mint, S’mores.
     
    CUSTOM MACARONS

    Dana’s impressive macarons have attracted such prestigious corporate clients as Chanel, Martha Stewart Weddings and Vogue, where she creates custom designs from leopard-spotted macarons to gold or silver beauties. Your corporate logo can grace the top of the macarons.

    Need a wedding favor? Silver macs with Champagne ganache sounds good to us!

     

    TIME FOR A TREAT

    What can we say about these melt-in-your-mouth bites of heaven except GET YOURS TODAY. Head to DanasBakery.com.

  • Give yourself a gift subscription to the Mac of the Month Club 3, 6 and 12 month subscriptions.
  • Send a gift box or a gift subscription to a deserving foodie.
  • Get a MacDaddy macaron tower in Christmas colors (or any other colors) for Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties
  •  
    All macarons are gluten-free, made with almond flour, egg whites, sugar and flavors; the line is certified kosher by KOF-K.
     

    MORE ON MACARONS

     

    Elegant comfort food: PB&J macarons. Photo courtesy Dana’s Bakery.

     

    The history of macaroons and the difference between macaroons and macarons.

      

    Comments

    STOCKING STUFFERS: Conventional & Sugar Free Sweet Treat Favorites

    Sugar free bridge mix, licorice and Gummi
    Bears (inside package) from Nuts.com. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Nuts.com is a third-generation purveyor of nuts, dried fruits, chocolates and other sweets. They offer some 3,000 items sold by the pound, but will also package the wares into snack packs, 3.2 ounce bags sold in packs of 12. The 12-packs range from approximately $18 to $24, creating an inexpensive stocking stuffer that has a higher-value appearance.

    We love the snack packs as stocking stuffers or party favors, the cheery green bags hinting at the goodies inside. There are hundreds of sweet options, that you can search by category (or however you like):

  • Chocolate: bark, gourmet PB cups, chocolate-dipped fruit
  • Classic treats: just about everything you can name, from malt balls to chocolate-covered ginger, grahams and marzipan
  • Gluten-free, organic and raw options
  • Nutritious treats: dried fruits and edamame, energy squares, nuts, trail mix and fun items like freeze-dried chickpeas, broccoli and spinach
  • Nuts: chocolate covered and bridge mix, yogurt covered, candied, sugar roasted
  •  

  • Sugar-Free: chocolate covered nuts, espresso beans, bridge mix, and pretzels; hard and soft candies (jellies, gummies); mini peanut butter cups; licorice; yogurt raisins and more—an impressive sugar-free selection
  •  
    There are also Gummy Sugar Plums for gifting or as a garnish for cakes, cupcakes or other desserts.

    Check out all the options (well, maybe not all 3,000) at Nuts.com.

      

    Comments

    GIFT: Daelia’s Honey Nougat (Italian Torrone)

    Good nougat is hard to find. It can be a jawbreaker or cloyingly sweet. But is a Christmas tradition in numerous countries, and good nougat is worth hunting down.

    For at least six generations, Maria Walley’s family has made torrone for Christmas and Easter (torrone, pronounced toe-ROE-nay, is Italian for nougat).

    Her ancestors brought the recipe to America from Viterbo, Italy in 1910. It was made with almonds and hazelnuts and wrapped in pieces of wax paper with the ends twisted.

    Maria has turned the family recipe into a commercial venture, Daelia’s Honey Nougat. She separates the flavors into your choice of Almond or Hazelnut.

    The all-natural confection is made with egg whites, honey and nuts; the almonds come from California, the hazelnuts from Oregon. There is no corn syrup—an ingredient used by many nougat manufacturers that cheapens the flavor and texture.

     

    Daelia’s Nougat in two delicious flavors:
    Almond and Hazelnut. Photo by
    Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    The bars of nougat are formed in wood molds, then cut by hand. A 3.53-ounce bar is $9.99 on Amazon.com:

  • Almond Honey Nougat
  • Hazelnut Honey Nougat
  •  

    A delicious stocking stuffer, party favor or small gift, nougat is delicious with tea or coffee…or just by itself.

    Daelia also makes delicious biscuits for cheese. Check them out.

    —Steven Gans

      

    Comments

    GIFT: Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

    Charming and nostalgic, a lovely family gift. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

     

    How would you like to roast your own chestnuts at home? Just the fragrant aroma of them is enough to make mouths water and fingers itch to peel them for snacking.

    You don’t need a working fireplace to roast the chestnuts. Back in the old days, the fireplace was the only source of heat. Today, we have other options.

    You can roast chestnuts in the oven in a pan, or on the stovetop with a special chestnut roasting pan. The chestnut roasting kit in the photo, complete with two pounds of chestnuts, is $48.99 at Melissas.com.

    Compared to other nuts, chestnuts are composed chiefly of starch; other nuts have a larger percentage of protein. The nutritional composition of chestnuts is similar to that of other starchy foods—corn, plantains, potatoes, etc. Yet, they are a better-for-you snack, a good sources of minerals, vitamins and some high-quality protein.

     

    HOW TO ROAST CHESTNUTS

    1. PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Cut an X on the flat side of each nut using a small, sharp knife. Be careful not to cut into the nutmeat.

    2. OVEN ROASTING: Place the nuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet and roast until the scored portions begin to curl up and the nuts release their fragrance, 15 to 20 minutes.

    CHESTNUT PAN ROASTING: Heat the pan over medium-low heat and add the chestnuts. Cook, tossing the chestnuts frequently, until the shells crack and the chestnuts are cooked through. The timing is 30 to 35 minutes over a gas flame burner or 35 to 40 minutes over an electric or induction burner.

    3. REMOVE the nuts to a plate and eat immediately. Peeling the nuts is part of the fun, and each person may want to peel his or her own (or, you can peel all of them in the kitchen before serving). However, they are hot. Pick up individual nuts using a kitchen towel or other protection; with fingers or knife, peel away the shell. Remove the inner skin, pop a nut into your mouth and enjoy.

     

    THE CHRISTMAS SONG: LYRICS

    “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is the informal name of “The Christmas Song”; it was originally subtitled “Merry Christmas to You.” This Christmas classic was composed by Mel Torme and Bob Wells in 1946. The most popular recording remains the first one, recorded by Nat King Cole. Here’s Nat King Cole on YouTube—the vocal track over a Christmas tree and fireplace visual.

    You can sing along:

    Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
    Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
    Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
    And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

    Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
    Help to make the season bright.
    Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
    Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

     

    A street vendor roasts chestnuts over hot coals. Photo by Achromatic | Wikimedia.

     

    They know that Santa’s on his way;
    He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
    And every mother’s child is going to spy,
    To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

    And so I’m offering this simple phrase,
    To kids from one to ninety-two,
    Although its been said many times, many ways,
    A very Merry Christmas to you.

      

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