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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: Favorite Gourmet Chocolate

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Wildflowers & Hearts chocolates (the box is
in the photo below). Photo courtesy John &
Kira’s.

 

One of our favorite chocolatiers, year in and year out, is John & Kira’s. Using Valrhona couverture, the exquisite flavor, beautiful design and a touch of whimsey make us want box after box.

We love the Chocolate Bees and Lovebugs (chocolate ladybugs). Our favorite product, perhaps because there’s nothing like it elsewhere, are the Chocolate Covered Figs, filled with a whiskey-accented chocolate ganache.

But for Valentine’s Day, the Wildflowers & Hearts box seem spot-on. Order yours at JohnandKiras.com. A nine-piece box is $29.

Red Chocolate Hearts are dusted with a golden sheen and filled with cinnamon-accented pistachio ganache. Wildflowers are 66% cacao chocolate ganache.

A nine-piece gift box is $29.00.

 

 

VALENTINE’S DAY HISTORY

The holiday named for the Christian saint Valentine had its beginnings as the raucous annual Roman festival of Lupercalia, held on February 15th. Men stripped naked and spanked maidens with whips with the goal of increasing their fertility. It was a wildly popular event.

In the fifth century C.E.—at least 150 years after Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire—church leaders sought to convert popular pagan festivals into Christian festivals. (Christmas is another example of this.)

Conveniently, there was a legend about St. Valentine to which Lupercalia could be pegged. According to the story, in the third century C.E. the Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. The priest Valentine helped lovers by performing marriages in secret. For his defiance, Valentine was executed in on February 14, 270.

 

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The nine pieces go quickly—but very happily. Photo courtesy John & Kira’s.

 
THE FIRST VALENTINE CARD

The first Valentine note on record was a couplet penned in the 15th-century by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife. The earliest surviving Valentine notes in English were written in 1477.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that cards became popular. Handwritten cards gave way to mass-produced greetings. By the mid-20th century, tokens of affection extended to other gifts, including flowers and chocolates.

The first heart-shaped box of chocolates in North America was produced by Ganong Bros in Canada (founded 1873). The boxes were originally used during the Christmas season but subsequently remained for Valentine’s Day (source: Wikipedia).

Today, we know enough about chocolate to care about what’s in the box. Hold the cardboard heart; send us John & Kira’s.

  

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VALENTINE GIFT: Chubby Wubby Cookies

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Raspberry Chubby Wubby cookies. Photo
courtesy Cake Chicago.

 

Gifted cake maker Mary Winslow of Cake Chicago also turns out “Damn Good Cookies” and “Ugly Truffles.” Everything is primo quality and delicious.

Mary calls her chocolates and cookies “laid back luxury sweets.” The wedding cakes are anything but laid back: both classic and modern designs. If you like looking at wedding cakes, there are dozens in the photo gallery. We picked up a few ideas.

But before you pop the question (or are the popee), send someone some Chubby Wubby for Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing Valentinesque about them, but anyone who’d rather have chocolate cookies than chocolate candy will be thrilled.

For gluten sensitive Valentines, there’s a gluten-free version (along with gluten-free brownies and chocolate chip cookies).

 

Chubby Wubby sandwich cookies are soft, rich, chubby chocolate cookies—about two bites worth—studded with chocolate chips. The sandwich layer flavors are universal favorites:

  • Chubby Wubby Chocolate Cookie—gluten free
  • Chubby Wubby Hazelnut Cream Cookie
  • Chubby Wubby Mint Cookie
  • Chubby Wubby Caramel Cookie
  • Chubby Wubby Peanut Butter Cookie
  • Chubby Wubby Raspberry Cookie
  •  
    A 12-piece box is $25, a 16-piece box $34. Get yours at Cake-Chicago.com.

     

    peanut_butter_chubby_wubby-230

    Peanut butter Chubby Wubbies: a new way to enjoy chocolate and PB. Photo courtesy Cake Chicago.

     

      

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    VALENTINE GIFT: Heart Shaped Donuts

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    We [heart] Valentine donuts. Photo courtesy
    Dunkin’ Donuts.

     

    Have a heart…or a dozen hearts. Dunkin Donuts is helping to make Valentine’s Day more festive with the return of its heart-shaped donuts.

    This year there are two varieties of heart-shaped donuts,:

  • The new Cookie Dough Donut, a heart-shaped donut with cookie dough buttercream-flavored filling, topped with chocolate icing and chocolate chips.
  • The popular Brownie Batter Donut, a heart-shaped donut filled with chocolaty brownie batter flavored buttercream filling, topped with chocolate icing and heart sprinkles.
  •  
    More good news: You don’t have to wait until Valentine’s Day. The seasonal specialties are available now at participating Dunkin’ Donuts shops, through the end of February.

     

    If you can’t personally deliver the box of donuts to that special someone, Dunkin’ Donuts Cards gift are available from $2 to $100. In participating shops, they’re available in a variety of seasonally-themed designs.

    Or head to the DD website, where you can personalize a gift card with a favorite photo and a message.

      

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    VALENTINE GIFT: The Best Toffee

    We taste a lot of good toffee. But if you like very buttery, buttercrunch-style (dusted with crushed almonds) with more almonds inside, our favorite is Enstrom’s.

    The company sells toffee in different sizes and shapes. For Valentine’s Day there’s a special assortment of milk- and dark chocolate-covered “Petites,” bite size toffee enrobed in chocolate, in a hearts and kisses box.

    The 25-piece assortment, 12.5 ounces, is $16.95. Get yours here.
     
    AMAZING SUGAR FREE TOFFEE

    There’s a sugar-free box of toffee in the classic “break-up” format, $20.95 for a one-pound box (in a standard gift box).

    You won’t believe how delicious it is: You can’t tell the difference from the conventional toffee. More information.

    The difference between toffee and buttercrunch.

     

    enstrom-valentine-toffee-230

    Your Valentine will hug and kiss you. Photo courtesy Enstrom.

     

      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Special Caramels For Your Honey

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    Salted honey caramels. Photo courtesy
    Droga.

     

    For the lover of gourmet caramels, something special for your Valentine:

    Put Your Money On Honey salted caramels from Droga Chocolates of Los Angeles.

    The luscious bites are the result of a bet that a caramel couldn’t be made without corn syrup. Seeking a solution to the challenge, Droga says:

    “Inspiration stung us—honey was the answer! The first honey caramel came to bee, and people have been abuzz ever since.”

    And you should make a bee-line for them! So soft and redolent of fine honey, each taste makes you want another. And another.

    The small-batch caramels are:

  • Made with California creamery pure cream and butter
  • Sweetened with raw California wildflower honey
  • Enrobed in premium dark chocolate from Guittard
  • Sprinkled with delicate French fleur de sel sea salt
  •  

    The nine caramels in the gift box ($16.95, two boxes for $29.95) will disappear quickly, but leave such happy memories.

    Droga confections are certified kosher by KOF-K.

    Get yours at DrogaChocolates.com.

    There are caramels in other flavors that also hit the spot. Here’s our review.

      

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    VALENTINE GIFT: Chocolate Covered Potato Chips

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    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

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    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

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    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.

      

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    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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