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Archive for Food Facts – Food History

TIP OF THE DAY: Back To Butter, Now OK To Eat

Butter - Lard

Butter A Rich History

Bowl Of Butter

Bread and Butter

[1] Butter and lard: out of the shadows and back onto the table (photo courtesy A Canadian Foodie). [2] Butter lovers will enjoy Butter, A Rich History. Also check out Nourishing Fats: Why We Need Animal Fats for Health and Happiness.

 

If your new year’s resolution includes cutting back on butter, you might re-think it. After years of being shunned as a contributor to heart disease, butter is in again.

Recorded use of butter dates to 2,000 years B.C. (the history of butter).

At butter’s peak in the 1920s, annual per capita consumption in the U.S. was 18 pounds about 72 sticks. At its nadir, in 1992, with research reports giving it the thumbs-down, per capita consumption dropped to 4 pounds.

As recently as 2006, margarine sales outpaced butter’s. For those on a budget, margarine was/is $1 to $2 per pound less expensive.
 
THE HISTORY OF MARGARINE

In 1913, French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul discovered margaric acid; but it was not turned into a foodstuff until much later.

Commercial margarine was invented in France in the 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III offered prize money to whomever could find a cheaper substitute for butter, to feed the army and the poor.

A French chemist, Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés, took the prize by inventing oleomargarine, an imitation butter made from refined vegetable oil and water. He patented it in 1869.

Yet, while margarine was served to the army, it never took off in France: The French knew which side their bread was buttered on (the history of margarine).

The good news: He sold the patent to the U.S. Dairy Company in 1871. Butter became very expensive during the Great Depression, and World War II rationed the supply, as dairy farmers went off to war. Margarine came into its own.
 
LEAVING BUTTER BEHIND: THE 1980s

Margarine never passed through the doors of our mother’s house. Her palate would only accept the best creamery butter, plus lard for her lauded pie crusts.

When we first tasted margarine on bread in the college cafeteria, we agreed: Better no bread spread than one of vegetable oil.

To those who can taste the difference, there is no substitute for butter in baking. We could tell at first bite if a cookie or cake was not made with butter…and tossed it.

But it was the attribution of heart disease to animal fats that caused many people to back off of butter. Beginning in the 1980s, Americans were programmed by mass media reports to equate butter and fat with heart disease and poor health, and to head to low fat diets.

Fortunately, research pointed to heart-healthy olive oil as an alternative, and many of us decamped to EVOO.

But over the past few years, new research has deflated the biggest myths about cholesterol. It’s OK to eat an egg every day, and to butter your bread. And you need at least a tablespoon a day of butter or oil for skin and hair health. Add a second tablespoon of EVOO for heart health.

These studies have shown that consuming butter (within reason, as with any food) is not bad for you, but is actually beneficial (source).

Butter is full of vitamins and healthy fatty acids that help prevent tooth decay, cancer and even obesity (!). [NOTE: THE NIBBLE is not a medical expert. Consult with yours if you have questions or issues.]

Animal fats are no longer demonized, at roughly the same time as plant-based trans fats were removed from the marketplace. The result: an animal fat renaissance.

Americans have responded to the news. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per capita consumption rose to 23 sticks of butter, the highest quantity since World War II.

And many restaurants never left it behind. Today, animal fats are more popular than ever. Chefs are cooking with not just butter, but with beef tallow, duck fat, even schmaltz—rendered chicken fat that was a mainstay of European Jewish cooking.

Yes, chefs know that the secret to great flavor often lies in animal fat. So consult with your healthcare provider, and safely enjoy your share in the new year.
 
OUR FAVORITE BUTTERS

Do your own taste test; but in ours, the winners were, in alphabetical order:

  • Cabot Creamery (Vermont)
  • Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter (imported)
  • Plugrá (European-style butter made in the U.S. with 82% butterfat vs. the standard 80%)
  • Organic Valley (U.S.)
  • Vermont Creamery Cultured* Butter (our personal favorite)
  •  
    Depending on your preference for unsalted or salted butter, your favorites may vary.

    There are other great butters made in the U.S., including regional and artisan butters such as Kate’s Homemade Butter from Maine. But they are made in small quantities and hard to get ahold of.

     
    MORE “BUTTER IS BETTER”

  • Check out the different types of butter in our Butter Glossary.
  • European-Style Butter, an even richer version.
  • Butter Conversion: How to substitute salted butter for a recipe that calls for unsalted.
  •  
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    *After each milking, the cream is set aside and natural, lactic bacteria ripens it into cultured cream, a.k.a. crème fraîche.

     

      

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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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    TIP OF THE DAY: Blood Orange Season, Sorbet & Upside-Down Cake

    Blood orange season runs now through May, offering the different types of blood orange.

    Blood oranges are believed to have originated in either China or the Southern Mediterranean. They have been grown in Italy, Spain and elsewhere since the 18th century, and are now the principal orange grown in Italy.

    California is the number one grower of blood oranges in the U.S. California is the number one grower of blood oranges in the United States. Arizona, Florida and Texas also grow the fruit.

    The main varieties grown in California—the Moro, Sanguinello and Tarocco—vary by the amount of rosy color inside and intensity of raspberry flavor. Some have some blush on the orange rind, some have conventional orange rind color.

    Enjoy your fill of these wonderful oranges, in:

  • Beverages: cocktails, juice, lemonade-blood orange mocktail or blood orange spritzer with club soda
  • Desserts, including fruit salad
  • Green salads: add segments* and/or use the juice in a vinaigrette
  • Pan sauces
  • Other recipes: anywhere you jneed citrus juice
  •  
    Here are recipes for cocktails, salads and mains (fish, lamb) and desserts (cheesecakes, soufflés).

    This recipe from The Circus Gardner goes a step beyond, and adds fresh herbs.
     
    RECIPE #1: BLOOD ORANGE & THYME SORBET

    One of our favorite ways to enjoy blood orange juice is in a sorbet.

    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 25 ounces/750 ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice (9 to 10 oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, very finely chopped
  • 5 ounces/150 ml maple syrup or sugar syrup (simple syrup)
  • Optional garnish: raspberries, candied orange peel
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the orange juice, maple syrup and chopped thyme leaves in a large jug and stir or whisk to combine. Chill in the fridge for a hour.

    2. POUR the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and churn. Once it is starting to set, tip the sorbet into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours.

    3. REMOVE the sorbet from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

    RECIPE #2: CANDIED CITRUS PEEL

    Ingredients

  • 3 lemons or limes, 1 grapefruit or 2 oranges
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups white sugar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WASH the citrus, pat dry and remove the fruit pulp and as much of the white pith as you can. Cut peel into slices 1/4 inch wide.

    2. BOIL water in a small pan; add peel strips. Boil for 5 minutes, until tender.

     

     
    Blood Oranges

    Moro Blood Oranges

    Blood Orange Sorbet

    Lemon Sorbet Blood Oranges

    [1] The Moro variety of blood orange has less color and less raspberry sweetness than the [2] Sanguinello variety (both photos courtesy Good Eggs). [3] Blood orange sorbet with a thyme teaser (recipe at left; photo courtesy The Circus Gardener). [4] The easiest way to enjoy blood orange: as a garnish for lemon sorbet (photo courtesy Little Park | NYC.

     
    3. REMOVE peels from water and whisk in sugar until dissolved. Return water to a boil; add peels and boil until syrup absorbs into peel.

    4. DRAIN cooked peel on paper towels. After they dry, you can store them in an airtight jar for a week.
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    *SALAD RECIPE: One of our favorite salads: baby beets, shaved fennel, mesclun and a touch of baby arugula (use baby spinach if you don’t like arugula), topped with a circle of goat cheese and optional toasted nuts. For the vinaigrette, you can reduce blood orange juice with white wine vinegar. Or, adapt the classic, dividing the acid into mix half vinegar, half blood orange juice with olive oil or nut oil in the proportion of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. We especially like hazelnut or walnut oil with this recipe, but olive oil is just fine. If you have a French nut oil, which tend to be very dense in flavor, you can mix it with olive oil.
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    HISTORY OF UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

    At the beginning of the 20th century, James Dole set out to have canned pineapple in every grocery store in the country. He sold both fresh and canned pineapple grown in Hawaii, but the canned fruit wasn’t perishable, tasted great, and could be sold everywhere.

    The arrival of canned pineapple and recipes to use it engendered the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. It was once America’s most popular cake. It was also known as a skillet cake because it was baked on the stove top in a cast-iron pan.

    The fruit is placed on the bottom of the skillet (or today, the pan); the batter was poured over it. The baked cake is inverted, and the fruit that was once at the bottom forms a decorative topping.

    Read more at: http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/cookies/cakes/glossary8.asp#u

    Today, some cooks still prepare the cake in a skillet, as with Recipe #3, below. but is baked in the oven for a more even result.

    Nordicware makes a special pan with indentations to hold the pineapple rings in place in the oven, as well as a pan for individual upside-down minis. The pans have curved bottoms [not angular] to provide a pleasant shape to the inverted cake.

    The recipe below is for a good old-fashioned skillet cake—with blood orange, pineapple or whatever fruit you like. Use apples and you have a Tarte Tatin, an accidental upside-down tart from 1880s France.

    No one can pinpoint exactly when upside-down cake appeared, but 1920s America is the best guess. Cookbooks and magazines published then confirm that canned pineapple was readily available and the maraschino cherry had become popular to garnish the center of the pineapple rings.

    Let’s bring the upside-down cake into the 21st century. RECIPE #3 (below) is a stunning blood orange upside-down cake—nothing retro about it. But first…

     

    Blood Orange Upside Down Cake

    Strawberry Upside Down Cake

    Peach Upside Down Cake

    [5] The beauteous Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake and a [6] Strawberry Upside-Down Cake with buttermilk and brown sugar (here’s the recipe; both photos courtesy Good Eggs). [7] Use any seasonal fruit in an upside-down cake. In the summer, make a Peach Upside-Down Cake (here’s the recipe from Zoe Bakes).

     

    RECIPE #3: BLOOD ORANGE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

    Pineapple Upside Down Cake is so retro. Put a modern spin on it with this recipe from Good Eggs.

    This cake is best eaten within a few hours of baking. Another note: Good Eggs left the rinds of the orange slices since the result is so pretty. Most people may want to slice them off, so give everyone a fork and knife (a butter knife is fine).

    This gorgeous cake from Good Eggs is beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.Rich with the flavors of nutty polenta and blood orange, it’s a dazzler.

    Prep time is 10 minutes, active time is 60 minutes.
     
    Ingredients For 8-10 Servings

  • 2-3 blood oranges, thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • ¼ cup blood orange juice
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (do not melt!*)
  • ½ cup polenta
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup of light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup whole milk
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Whisk the flour, polenta, baking powder and a pinch of salt together in small bowl. In a larger bowl…

    2. CREAM together 8 tablespoons of butter and the granulated sugar with an electric mixer, to a fluffy, creamy consistency. Turn the mixer to low and beat in the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time.

    3. ADD half of the flour mixture to the sugar-butter-egg bowl and combine with the mixer on low. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and milk. Gently fold in the blood orange juice with a spatula.

    4. MELT the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a 8-10″ cast iron skillet and mix in the brown sugar. Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes until the sugar has melted.

    5. REMOVE the pan from the heat and arrange the blood orange slices in a circular pattern in the bottom of the skillet. Pour the batter on top of the orange slices and smooth the top of the batter into a uniform layer with a spatula. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out dry.

    6. REMOVE from the oven and let the cake rest for 10 minutes. To invert, use a sharp knife to loosen the sides of the cake from the skillet and fit a large plate over the top of the skillet. Hold either end of the skillet and plate together (with pot holders!) and flip the cake over onto the plate.

    7. SERVE ASAP with a side of whipped cream.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Lasagna Soup

    Lasagna is one of our favorite foods, but if we make a lasagna, we eat the whole thing. Not to mention, we spend the whole day making it.

    If we had a slow cooker, we’d try Crockpot Lasagna.

    But one way to get a quick lasagna fix is ravioli lasagna, with layers of purchased ravioli replacing the lasagna noodles (and adding the flavor of their fillings, from cheese to pumpkin). Just add sauce, mozzarella and more cheese.

    You can make something similar with angelotti, tortellini and other stuffed pasta; and also with rigatoni, penne or other tubular pasta: Anything to avoid wrangling those lasagna noodles (here are the different types of pasta).

    You can make gluten-free lasagna with GF noodles, or with zucchini ribbons or potatoes (white or sweet).

    And then, there’s this lasagna soup recipe from Eat Wisconsin Cheese. Prep time is just 10, minutes cook time is 30 minutes.

    Are there other ways to enjoy lasagna? We’ll keep looking!
     
    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 1 pound bulk sweet/mild Italian sausage
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) chicken stock
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 8 ounces lasagna noodles (not no-boil), broken into 1-2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, plus additional for serving
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, packed and roughly chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) parmesan cheese, shredded
  •  
    Preparation

    1. HEAT a Dutch oven or large pot over high heat. Brown the sausage for 5 minutes, breaking it up as it cooks. Add the onions; cook 3-4 minutes, until the onions are softened and the sausage is cooked through.

    2. ADD the garlic and red chile flakes; cook 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the stock, 1 cup water, lasagna noodles, basil and pepper. Bring to a boil.

    3. REDUCE the heat to medium-high; cook at a gentle boil 10-12 minutes, until noodles are cooked through, stirring occasionally to prevent noodles from sticking to pot.

    4. STIR in the spinach. Add salt to taste. If the soup is too thick, add the additional 1 cup of water or portion thereof. Remove from the heat.

    5. SERVE: Divide the mozzarella among 6 serving bowls and ladle the soup over it. Top with spoonsful of ricotta, parmesan and additional basil.
     
    THE HISTORY OF LASAGNA

    When the military might of Rome overthrew Greece in 146 B.C.E., they recognized Greece’s superior culture, and took much from it, including fine food.

    The classic Italian pasta dish, lasagna, did not originate in Italy but in ancient Greece!
     
    Lasagne, the modern plural form of the individual lasagna noodles, is derived from the Greek laganon, the first known form of pasta. The dish it was baked in was a lasagnum.

    Laganon was not the modern-age lasagna we know, made with traditional Italian ingredients. It was composed of layers of noodles and sauce and baked. The noodles were flattened dough, sliced into strips and baked without boiling.

    Today, laganon remains the Greek word for a thin flatbread. And “Greek lasagna” is pastitsio, with very similar ingredients to Italy’s lasagna bolognese, tomato sauce with ground meat).

    It survives today as the Greek dish, pastitsio, with ground beef and béchamel sauce.
     
    THE ROMANS IMPROVE GREEK LAGANON

    The Romans served pasta-like layers with other fillings between these layers, and this is how modern lasagna came to be. The first known lasagna recipe of the modern age (or at least, the Middle Ages, a.k.a. the medieval period) is in a cookbook published in Naples in 1390.

    Also a layered dish, it was laboriously crafted by the cooks of the wealthy, with many more ingredients between the layers than sauce and cheese, including meats, offal (such as chicken livers), vegetables and hard-boiled eggs. It was a special-occasion dish.

    Regional variations ensued: besciamella (the white sauce béchamel—here’s a recipe) and seafood on the coast. Where meat was plentiful, it was ground into a sauce; when meat was scarce, there were layers of vegetables.

     

    Lasagna Soup

    Classic Lasagna

    Ravioli Lasagna

    Rigatoni Lasagna

    Eggplant Lasagna

    Ways to enjoy lasagna. [1] Lasagna soup, today’s recipe (photo courtesy Eat Wisconsin Cheese. [2] Classic lasagna (photo courtesy Carrabas Italian Grill). [3] Ravioli lasagna (here’s the recipe from Gooseberry Patch). [4] It looks like rigatoni lasanga, but it’s Greek pastitsio (photo courtesy Westside Market | NYC). [5] Zucchini and radicchio lasagna (here’s the recipe from PastaFits.org).

     

    At some point, the Italians changed the name from lasagnum, the name of the baking dish, to lasagna (spelled lasagne in the U.K.), the name that denoted a layered pasta dish with wide ribbon noodles.

    The first version that came to the U.S. in the 1880s with the wave of southern Italian immigration was with marinara, a simple tomato sauce (in northern Italy, spinach pasta and besciamella (béchamel) were the preferred ingredients. Finding affordable meat in the U.S., ground beef or pork, and/or sausage, was added to the sauce; and large meatballs, not found in Italy due to the price of meat, became popular with the dish of spaghetti.

    Since then, chefs and home cooks alike have been preparing their signature recipes. Our mom’s included, between the layers of lasagna noodles, meat sauce and ricotta, a layer of mini meatballs (an authentic Italian ingredient), a layer of sliced sweet Italian sausage (with fennel!), and a layer of pesto (just basil, parmesan and oil, no nuts). All layers got a topping of fresh-shredded parmesan, and the whole was crowned with a thick topping of mozzarella.

    We’ve never had a better lasagna.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: A Hard Cider Party For Halloween

    Still looking for a Halloween activity?

    How about a hard cider party? It’s adult, it’s fun, and it’s an opportunity to taste and compare more hard ciders than most of us get to do.

    While in the U.S. and parts of Canada, the term “apple cider” is interchangeable with apple juice, in Europe a glass of cider is not kid stuff. It’s an alcoholic drink that that many prefer to beer—and if you look at the explosive sales figures, Americans are also discovering its charms: It’s the fastest-growing alcohol category.
     
    WHAT IS HARD CIDER

    When apples are pressed and bottled, you have apple juice—also called apple cider in the U.S., although in other countries apple cider refers to hard cider.

    Hard cider is made from fermented apple juice; over a few months, the sugars in the juice turn into alcohol. As with craft beer, each brand has a distinct flavor profile and alcoholic content, generally from 3% ABV (alcohol by volume) or less to 8.5% or more.

  • Hard cider uses a different blend of apples than apple juice. In fact, many more apple varieties are used to create a fine cider. The import Magners Irish Cider is made from 17 varieties of apples!
  • Pears are also turned into cider, called perry in the U.K.
  • The juice ferments for eight weeks after the apples are pressed. The cider then matures or several months, and afterward is blended, filtered and carbonated. The result is a drink with the carbonation and alcohol of beer and the flavor of apples.
  • Many cider apples are sour, and can’t substitute for eating apples.
  • Like wine, cider it has a relatively high concentration of antioxidants; it’s naturally gluten-free and is less filling than beer.
  •  
    PLANNING YOUR CIDER PARTY

    Beyond Halloween, you can also have a cider tasting during Thanksgiving cocktail hour, for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other celebrations.

    1. INVITE friends today: Halloween is eight days away.

    2. PLAN the number of ciders based on the number of people. If you’re serving 8 or more different ciders, estimate one bottle per four proper.

    3. PARE the list. There are many different styles of cider, and ciders from different countries (England, France, Ireland, Spain and others). Each country has its own preferred style, as you’ll see in the Top Artisan Ciders section below. You can’t try them all in one night—but you can have subsequent tastings to try the rest.

  • We recommend sticking with American cider brands for the first event. You want to try a good representation of artisan ciders. There are so many different types of local cider: dry , sweet, barrel-aged, At the next event, you can taste the winners against the Europeans.
  • Similarly, save the barrel-aged, flavored ciders (apple pie, cherry, honey, raspberry, orange, etc.), ice cider (like ice wine, it’s pressed from naturally frozen fruit), perry and spiced ciders for next time.
  • Look for Angry Orchard, Crispin, Strongbow and Woodchuck, for starters; they’re national brands. You can create an entire tasting just by gathering up the different expressions of each brand. For example, Angry Orchard features Apple Ginger, Crisp Apple, Green Apple, Hop’n Mad Apple, Stone Dry, plus a fall seasonal cider, Cinn-Full Apple.
  • Artisan ciders tend to be distributed in the limited area where they are produced—not just because small companies lack sales and marketing heft, but because each brand needs to go through approval of each state liquor authority. It’s daunting, but we’ve listed some highly-rated ciders below.
  • Do not mistakenly pick up a flavored apple beer, like Redd’s Apple Cider. These beverages are artificially flavored, and don’t belong on the same table as cider, an all-natural drink.
  • Do have some apple cider (apple juice) for designated drivers. If you buy a few different kinds, they can have their own “tasting.”
  •  
    4. PLAN the eats. You can serve hard cider with any snack or food you’d serve with beer, but the sweetness of cider allows you to serve it with desserts, too.

  • For snacks: charcuterie and hearty cheeses.
  •  

    Angry Orchard Cider

    Crispin Cider

    Woodchuck Hard Cider

    Strongbow Cider

    [1] Angry Orchard, owned by Boston Brewing Company (parent of Samuel Adams beer), is the nation’s #1 cider brand (photo courtesy Boston Brewing). [2] Crispin makes a variety of styles, as well as perry (pear cider) under the Fox Barrel brand (photo courtesy Crispin Hard Cider Co.). [3] Woodchuck, another popular national brand (photo courtesy Fletcher6 | Wikipedia). [4] Strongbow cider is produced by Heineken (photo courtesy Heineken USA).

  • For main courses: chicken, pork, sausages, soups, stews, fondue (you can substitute hard cider for wine in most recipes and drink rest of the cider along with the meal).
  • For dessert: Apple desserts pair beautifully. We like bread pudding, cobbler or crisp (the difference), pie and apple-topped cheesecake.
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    TOP ARTISAN CIDERS

    Here are some of the nation’s top-rated artisan ciders: Brand, variety and style. “Crisp/Dry” is the most common style. “Funky” refers to a style popular in France, with [what we really enjoy] barnardy aromas. They can also be crisp and dry. Off Dry/Semi-Dry is the classic English style: sweetness of fruit followed by a dry finish.

    Dessert ciders are sweet, like dessert wine; although off dry/semi-dry and crisp ciders can also be paired with desserts.

  • CALIFORNIA: Bonny Doon, Querry (sweet)
  • MASSACHUSETTS: Bantam, Wunderkind (off dry/semi-dry)
  • MICHIGAN: Virtue Cider, Lapinette (funky style)
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE: Farnum Hill, Extra Dry (crisp/dry style)
  • NEW YORK: Bellwether Hard Cider, King Baldwin (crisp/dry style), Doc’s Draft, Original Hard Apple Cider (off dry/semi-dry), Eve’s Cidery, Darling Creek (off dry/semi-dry), Redbyrd Orchard, Starblossom (funky style), Wölffer Estate, 139 Dry Rosé Cider (off dry/semi-dry)(
  • OREGON: E.Z. Orchards, Cidre Dry (funky style), Reverend Nat’s, Revival Hard Apple (crisp/dry), Traditions Ciderworks, Riverwood (off dry/semi-dry)
  • TEXAS: Argus Cidery, 2013 Perennial (funky style), Austin Eastciders, Gold Top (funky style)
  • VERMONT: Eden, Sparkling Cider, Dry (off dry/semi-dry
  • VIRGINIA: Foggy Ridge Cider, First Fruit (crisp/dry style)
  • WASHINGTON: Snowdrift Cider Co., Orchard Select (crisp/dry style)
  • WISCONSIN: AeppelTreow, Appely Brut; Bellwether Hard Cider, King Baldwin (crisp/dry style)
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