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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: Chocolate Covered Potato Chips

chocolate-covered-potato-chips-sharisberries-230sq

Oh so good! Photo courtesy Shari’s Berries.

 

Some people would like box of creamy chocolates for Valentine’s Day.

Others would gladly trade for a bag of chocolate-covered potato chips.

Savory meets sweet when crunchy, salty potato chips are drenched in quality chocolate—in our humble opinion, the greatest improvement to the potato chip since it was invented (potato chip history).

While you can find chocolate-covered chips at Trader Joe’s, more giftable versions come from Shari’s Berries, shown in the photo. A bag of 14 ounces of divine chocolate-covered potato chips is $24.99. The chips are certified kosher (dairy) by OU.

 

For a more formal presentation, Neuchatel’s Swiss Chips, dipped in milk chocolate, are packaged in a purple and gold can, $8.00.

Swiss Colony sells 8.5 ounces in a gift tin for $17.95.

Enjoy them from the bag, can or a serving dish. Use them to garnish ice cream and other desserts. And hold us harmless from any addiction to chocolate-covered potato chips that may develop.

  

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PRODUCT: Super Bowl Macarons, Valentine Macarons

danas-super-bowl-macarons-230

The battle of the macarons. Photo courtesy
Dana’s Bakery.

 

In addition to the Super Bowl, we’re celebrating the Mac Bowl: the battle between two macarons for the title of tastiest.

Dana’s Bakery, a wonderfully creative maker of delicious macarons (a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week—here’s the review), has created two flavors for the occasion:

  • Denver Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons
  • Seattle Sea Salt Caramel Macarons
  •  
    In vibrant team colors, each bite is a victory. Get yours at DanasBakery.com. The line is certified kosher.

    Who needs chicken wings, guacamole and pizza? We’re set with our Super Bowl macarons. Game on!

     

     

    VALENTINE MACARONS

    For Valentine’s Day, Dana has transformed the classic Sweethearts candy, also called conversation hearts, into macarons.

    Sweethearts are made by the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO), makers of Necco Wafers. Each hard heart-shaped candy is printed with a romantic message: “Be Mine,” “Kiss Me,” “Adore Me,” and “Crazy 4U” are some of the messages.

    WHO INVENTED SWEETHEARTS CANDY?

    Sweethearts date all the way back to 1866. In 1847, 26-year-old Boston pharmacist Oliver R. Chase invented a machine that cut lozenges from wafer candy—similar to Necco Wafers.

     

    danas-valentine-macarons-230

    Macarons for your Valentine, atop a bed of Sweethearts candy. Photo courtesy Dana’s Bakery.

     
    While it turned out to be the world’s first candy-making machine, the original intent was to create lozenges to soothe the throat or to settle the stomach. The line between “losenge” and “hard candy” is pretty slim.

    In 1866 Oliver’s brother, Daniel Chase, designed a machine that pressed designs onto the wafers, and began printing sayings on what had become “candy.”

    Sweethearts were launched by NECCO in 1901. In 2010 the recipe was changed to allow for bright modern colors; contemporary sayings have been added, such as “Email me” (no doubt soon to be “Text Me”) and “LOL.” NECCO receives hundreds of suggestions a year on new sayings.

    Sweetheart macarons are available from DanasBakery.com.

      

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    VALENTINE GIFT: Red Moka Pot

    moka-pot-red-imusa

    The classic moka pot dons a red coat.
    Photo courtesy IMUSA USA.

     

    Here’s a no-calorie Valentine gift for someone who loves strong coffee: a red moka pot.

    You can purchase the six-cup version at Macy’s for $14.99; it also is available in pumpkin orange and cobalt blue. A three-cup version is available at Kohl’s.

    Bialetti, originators of the moka pot, make six-cup versions in solid red, orange, blue and violet.

    Up until few decades ago, before the introduction of electric-powered espresso machines for the home, people with money made espresso in a moka pot, a manual Italian espresso maker. People without money, space or a frequent need for an electric espresso machine still do.

    WHAT’S A MOKA POT?

    A moka pot is a stove top coffee pot that makes strong coffee. Instead of the more recent drip coffeemakers, where water drips down through ground coffee into a carafe below, the moka pot holds the water in its bottom half. When heated on the stove, the steam pushes boiling water up through the grounds into a top chamber, from which it is poured.

     

    HISTORY OF THE MOKA POT

    The aluminum Moka Express, with its octagonal body, was patented in 1933 by the Italian inventor Luigi De Ponti and acquired by Alfonso Bialetti. It enabled Bialetti, a metals engineer, to transform his company into a leading Italian coffee machine designer and manufacturer.

    Before the moka pot, only people of means could brew café-quality coffee at home, using large and expensive commercial machines that required training. Most people drank their coffee at a café or coffee bar.

    The creation of the small, efficient, user-friendly and affordable Moka Express allowed anyone to quickly brew at home the bold, robust-tasting coffee beloved by Italians. It replaced the more primitive coffee-makers developed in the late 19th century such as the Napoletana.

    Although today there are electric moka pots, it the original survives in its original form—a feat for a kitchen appliance designed more than 80 years ago. The major change has been a move to stainless steel by some the versions, as well as novelty designs like the one above and Bialetti’s cappuccino moka pot with a fun cow-pattern enamel coating (there’s also a plain, elegant cappuccino pot).

     

    WHY IS IT CALLED “MOKA?”

    The Red Sea port city of Mocha in Yemen was the major marketplace for coffee—grown in Africa—from the 15th century through the 17th century. The principal port for Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, it was later eclipsed by the ports of Aden and Hodeida.

    Because the name is transliterated from Arabic letters, there are a variety of spellings: Mocha, Mocca, Moka, Mokha, etc.

    Even after other sources of coffee were developed, Mocha beans (also called Sanani or Mocha Sanani beans, meaning “from Sana’a”) continued to be prized for their distinctive flavor—and remain so today.

     

    moka-pot-red-coffee-imusa-230

    Be my Valentine—have an espresso. Photo courtesy IMUSA USA.

    HOW TO BUY A MOKA POT

    Remember that a “four cup pot” means four wee espresso cups. If you like a double espresso—or a standard coffee cup full—buy the largest pot you can find—typically nine cups. Bialetti’s largest makes 12 cups.

    If you have the option, stainless steel will look better over time than aluminum.

    Typically, Italian roast coffee is used in a moka pot; but you can use whatever you have.

     
    MAKE TEA IN A MOKA POT

    What if you have two moka pots? Use one for tea. See our moka pot tip from ten days ago.

      

    Comments

    VALENTINE GIFT: A Different Take On Chocolate Kisses

    Chef François Payard is making it easier to send kisses this Valentines Day. Check out his Dark Chocolate Raspberry Lips.

    Packaged in a red clutch-shaped box, the chocolate lips are filled with chocolate ganache that has a hint of ginger, and are packaged with with a white chocolate raspberry lipstick—a real lipstick that is both edible and tastes like chocolate.

    Each box of chocolates comes with 18 lips and one lipstick for $55: a gift that’s sure to be remembered.

    Get yours at Payard.com.

    Want something more conventional? While you’re on the website, take a look at the:

     

    rasberry-kisses-2-payard-230

    Chocolate raspberry kisses with an edible raspberry-white chocolate lipstick. Photo courtesy Payard.

     

  • Champagne Truffles, Champagne-infused balls of chocolate ganache, lightly dusted with cocoa powder
  • Valentine’s Day Chocolate Collection, 70% dark chocolate squares, beautifully decorated and filled with salted caramel, raspberry and fresh ginger
  • Valentine’s Day Macarons In A Heart Box: caramel coriander, strawberry basil, lemon thyme and mint chocolate
  •   

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    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.

      

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