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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 Food Holidays/History/Facts

FOOD HOLIDAY: National Cold Cuts Day

cold-cuts-230sq

Cold cuts, an American favorite (but not a
nutritionist’s). Photo courtesy iGourmet.

 

Sliced beef and turkey are not cold cuts.

The term refers specifically to precooked or cured meat, often in loaf or sausage form, that are sliced and served cold on sandwiches or on party trays.

Today they are ubiquitous, pre-sliced in vacuum packs at the supermarket. Or, they can be sliced to order at a delicatessen or the market’s deli counter.

The good news: Most people like cold cuts, and they’re easy lunch and party fare.

The bad news: Most cold cuts are higher in fat, nitrates and sodium. In fact, the prepackaged kind have even more of these bad ingredients, as the larger exposed surface requires stronger preservatives.

 
A COLD CUT BY ANY OTHER NAME

Cold cuts are also known as deli meats, lunch meats, luncheon meats, sandwich meats and in the U.K., cold meats, cooked meats and sliced meats.

  

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TIP OF THE DAY: Make Beignets For Mardi Gras

Celebrating the Carnival season, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) has been a state holiday in Louisiana since the 19th century. So evoke Mardi Gras and New Orleans with a batch of homemade beignets.

WHAT’S MARDI GRAS?

The Carnival season begins on or after the Epiphany or Kings Day (January 6th) and culminates on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday refers to the practice of eating richer, fatty foods the last night before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning “confess.” But the idea of rich foods is far more appealing.

Why “Carnival?” Centuries of years ago, Catholics in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. It stuck, engendering huge Carnival events elsewhere, including New Orleans and Rio de Janiero.

 

pineapple-beignets-orsay-230

Beignets should be enjoyed warm, with a cup of strong coffee. Photo courtesy Orsay | New York City.

 
WHAT’S A BEIGNET?

A beignet (pronounced bayn-YAY, the french word for bump) is deep-fried choux pastry dough.

It’s a fritter similar to the German Spritzkuchen, the Italian zeppole and the Spanish churro. It can take on different shapes and flavorings depending on local preferences.

  • In New Orleans, beignets are like doughnut holes, typically sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. They’ve caught on at stylish restaurants nationwide, which serve them as dessert with a dipping sauce.
  • In France, the term refers to a variety of fried-dough pastry shapes with fruit fillings.
  • Beignets made with yeast pastry are called Berliners Pfannkuchen in Germany (the equivalent of an American jelly doughnut) and boules de Berlin in French.
  •  
    Beignets were brought to Louisiana by the Acadians, immigrants from Canada,* whose fritters were sometimes filled with fruit. Today’s beignets are a square or round piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar. The fruit (in the form of jam) is now served, optionally, on the side.

    The beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans are worth going out of your way for (they taste best at the main location). After buying their mix and making them at home, we were unable to match the glory of the original, although we admit, we did not use cottonseed oil as they do.

    In New Orleans, the beignet is also known as the French Market doughnut, and it is the Louisiana State doughnut. (How many states have an official state doughnut?)

    At Café du Monde, beignets are served in orders of three. The cafe is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for Christmas Day.
     
    HOW TO EAT A BEIGNET

    In New Orleans, beignets are served with the local favorite, chicory-laced coffee.

    You can enjoy them plain, with fruit curd or jam or with chocolate sauce.
     
    *The Acadians are the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who settled in Acadia. That colony was located in what is now Eastern Canada’s Maritime provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island—as well as part of Quebec and present-day Maine to the Kennebec River. Acadia was a distinctly separate colony of New France (which became Canada); the Acadians and Québécois developed two distinct histories and cultures. (Source: Wikipedia)

     

    beignets-duplexonthird-230

    Without the confectioners’ sugar. Photo
    courtesy Duplex On Third | Los Angeles.

     

    The recipe below is from Nielsen-Massey, manufacturer of some of the finest extracts in the world, including the vanilla extract used in the recipe.

    RECIPE: VANILLA BEIGNET BITES

    Ingredients For 6 Dozen Beignets

  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE warm water, yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar n a small bowl; set aside to activate yeast. In a medium bowl, add butter, half-and-half and vanilla extract; stir and set aside. In a small bowl whisk eggs; set aside.

    2. COMBINE flour, sugar, salt and cardamom in a bowl of a free standing electric mixer. Place bowl on mixer stand which has been fitted with a dough hook. Turn mixer on low speed and combine dry ingredients. Turn mixer to medium speed then add activated yeast mixture. Add half-and-half mixture, then add the whisked eggs. Mix until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl when necessary. Dough will be slightly sticky.

    3. PLACE dough on a lightly floured surface and knead, about 2-3 minutes; add additional flour if needed. Lightly coat a large bowl with cooking spray and place dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and keep warm until dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours. After dough has risen, place on a lightly floured surface and gently knead. Roll dough into a rectangle, about ¼-inch thick. With a pizza cutter, cut dough into small rectangles, about 1 x ½-inch pieces.

    4. HEAT oil to 375°F. Carefully place dough in hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 45-60 seconds. Turn beignets so that both sides are golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Dust with Vanilla Powdered Sugar (recipe below) while bites are still warm. Serve with plain, with chocolate sauce, lemon curd or raspberry jam.
     
    VANILLA POWDERED SUGAR

    Ingredients For 1/2 Cup

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla powder
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE ingredients in a small bowl.

      

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    FOOD FUN: Surf & Turf Sushi & More

    While meat and seafood have been served at the same meal since since the dawn of plenty, and Diamond Jim Brady (1856-1917) consumed platters heaped with steaks and lobsters, the pairing known as surf and turf originated in 1960s America.

    It became the darling of American steakhouse menus, combining the two most expensive items on the menu: lobster (surf) and filet mignon (turf). It has its own food holiday, February 29th, National Surf & Turf Day.

    But we can’t wait until the next leap year, 2016, to share this treat: surf and turf sushi.

    SURF & TURF HISTORY

    The earliest earliest print reference found by FoodTimeline.org, our favorite reference source on the history of all things food, was published in the Eureka [California] Humboldt Standard of August 14, 1964: “An entrée in restaurants in Portland [Oregon] is called surf and turf—a combination of lobster and steak.”

     

    sushi-tenderloin-lobster-maki-tenprimesteakandsushi-230

    Luxury sushi: a lobster-avocado maki topped
    with torched tenderloin, sweet eel sauce and
    a garnish of togarishi and rice crisps. Photo
    courtesy Ten Prime Steak And Sushi |
    Providence.

     

    Some sources claim that the concept originated on the East Coast, based on a 1966 print citation newspaper article in the Miami News. The columnist says that the restaurant La Hasta has created the best thing since lox and bagels—surf and turf; and that on some weekends the management had to take the dish off the menu, since demand exceeded supply.

    Sorry, East Coasters: 1964 beats 1966.

    Yet a third claim from a food writer couple, without printed proof, that the same dish by the same name was served at the Sky City restaurant in the Seattle Space Needle, at the 1962 World’s Fair. That may be, but documentation is required. If anybody remembers it from the World’s Fair: Please raise your hand. There’s a bonus if you have the menu.

    Fun fact: The beef-seafood combo is called “Reef and Beef” in Australia.

    THE NEW SURF & TURF

    The original may have been lobster and filet mignon; but as long as there’s something from the surf and something from the turf, you’ve got surf and turf! We “invent” a different combination for our monthly surf and turf dinner. The past year’s pairings have included:

  • Clam roll and a hot dog
  • Crab cake and lamb chops
  • Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and Canadian bacon
  • Fish and chips with sliced sausage “chips” (heavy, but fun)
  • Fried oysters with a burger (make it edgier with a fish stick and tartar sauce)
  • Fried oysters with steak (or, garnish the steak with a raw oyster on the half shell)
  •  

    sushi-surf-and-turf-10primesteakandsushiprovidence-230sq

    Two rows of raw tenderloin-topped sushi,
    plated with yellowtail, eel and other seafood
    sushi we had to crop out. Photo courtesy Ten
    Prime Steak And Sushi | Providence.

     
  • Lobster roll and a chicken sausage, both in brioche buns
  • Oysters wrapped in bacon (an oldie, but still “surf and turf”)
  • Panko fried shrimp with chicken-fried steak (too much fried food for us)
  • Salmon or tuna grilled rare with rare filet mignon
  • Salmon tartare and steak tartare
  • Scallops with grilled lamb chop or pork chop
  • Shrimp and beef stir-fry (good but not as festive as the other variations)
  • Shrimp and poached chicken cocktail
  • Shrimp kabobs with grilled skirt steak
  • Shrimp tempura and pork tenderloin
  • Sliced grilled tuna and sliced breast of chicken
  •  
    And now, we’ve discovered surf and turf sushi from Ten Prime Steak And Sushi in Providence.

    Our maki-rolling skills are rusty, but we’ll try it right after we master our March recipe, surf and turf meat loaf. (So far, ground chicken and whole baby scallops are the mix of choice.)

    MIX & MATCH

    You could fill every day of the year with a different option and not run out (and if anyone decides to start a restaurant based on that concept, send a hefty ideation fee here).

    Pick your favorite seafood and meats: crab cake, crab legs, scallops or shrimp with lamb chops or pork chops, for example.

  • Surf: any fish or shellfish. Think outside the lobster box to caviar/roe, clams, crab, crawfish, eel, escargot, grilled tuna, mussels, octopus, oysters, shrimp, squid, sushi/sashimi, uni (sea urchin). Grilled cod or halibut stand up well to beef and pork.
  • Turf: bacon (and the bacon group: Canadian bacon, prosciutto, serrano ham, etc.), beef, bison, exotics (boar, elk, ostrich), lamb, ham, poultry, pork in their many forms: grilled, roasted, ground, ribs, sausage, etc.
  •  
    And props to Allen Brothers, purveyor of prime meats to restaurants and the public, for the idea of creating the surf-topped filet mignon. The company topped filet mignon with a crown of lobster “stuffing” (chopped lobster, fresh herbs (try tarragon or thyme), scallions, cream, butter, sweet onions, bread crumbs and a touch of garlic), as well as a lump crab meat version with mozzarella, chopped spinach, garlic and rosemary. (You’ll have to make your own, though; the company has updated the product with new, non-surf, toppings.)

    Try your own hand at the new surf and turf and let us know your favorites.
      

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    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Margarita Day

    What’s your idea of the perfect Margarita? In anticipation of National Margarita Day, February 22nd, Milagro Tequila asked 100 Margarita drinkers, 51 men and 49 women, to share their preferences.

  • Ninety-one percent of them prefer Margaritas made with fresh ingredients over those made with a pre-packaged mix.
  • One third of respondents prefer drinking their Margarita in a rocks glass rather than a big Margarita glass (which actually was invented for frozen Margaritas—see more below).
  • Nearly 2/3 of the survey participants prefer salt on the rim.
  • Seventy percent of respondents prefer drinking from the salted rim rather than through a straw.
  • More than half of respondents take their Margaritas blended, which is the industry term for a frozen Margarita.
  • The majority of people prefer a classic Margarita to a fruit-flavored one (guava, passionfruit, peach, strawberry, etc.).
  • Forty percent like having an extra tequila shot mixed into their Margaritas.
  • Two-thirds of respondents prefer a Margarita made with blanco/silver tequila rather than the lightly aged reposado.
  •  
    Here’s more 411 on Margaritas:

     

    chili-rim-richardsandovalrestaurants

    Something different: a chili powder rim instead of salt. Or, mix the two. Photo courtesy Richard Sandoval Restaurants.

     

    WHAT’S A MARGARITA GLASS?

    A Margarita glass (see photo below) is style of cocktail glass used to serve Margaritas and other mixed drinks. It is also repurposed as tableware, to serve dishes from ceviche, guacamole and shrimp cocktail to sundaes and other desserts.

    The Margarita glass is a variation of the classic Champagne coupe, and was developed specifically for for blended fruit and frozen Margaritas. The capacity is larger than the rocks glass used for classic Margaritas, and the wide rim accommodates plenty of salt.

    There is no need to own Margarita glasses: rocks glasses are just fine for classic Margaritas, and the larger Collins glasses—or whatever you have—do well for frozen Margaritas.

    Why was a different glass created?

    From the Victorian Age until the Second World War, people of means dined very fashionably. Elaborately prepared foods were served on fine tableware with many different utensils—different fork and knife shapes for meat, fish, seafood, and so on.

  • Even in middle class homes, the “good silver” could include a dinner fork, salad fork, fish fork, oyster fork; dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife, butter knife; soup spoon, tea spoon, iced tea spoon, espresso spoon, grapefruit spoon; and so on.
  • Some were truly useful—a serrated grapefruit spoon spared the time of cutting each half with a grapefruit knife prior to serving; a lobster pick is an important aid to removing the leg meat.
  • Others were merely rationalizations, as those of us who eat meat, fish and salad with the same fork can testify.
  •  
    Along similar lines, cocktail, glassware was created for specific drinks.

  • In the tumbler category alone (not stemware) there are Collins glasses for a tall mixed drink; highball glass, taller but not as tall as the Collins; Old Fashioned glass for an “on the rocks” drink; the dizzy cocktail glass, a wide, shallow bowl like a champagne coupe but without the stem; the shot glass and the whiskey tumbler.
  • Then there are the stemmed cocktail glasses: absinthe, cordial/liqueur, Hurricane, Martini (a.k.a. cocktail glass), sherry, snifter and single malt scotch whiskey glasses.
  • Not to mention a dozen different wine glasses, three different shapes for Champagne and other sparkling wines; and ten or so different beer glass shapes.
  • How about non-alcohol glassware: water glass, iced tea glass, juice glass and fountain glass—oversized for ice cream sodas, malts, shakes and now, smoothies.
  • Whew!

     

    dual-margarita_1321375-230

    The Margarita glass, actually developed for
    blended fruit and frozen Margaritas. Photo by
    Eugene Bochkarev | BSP.

     

    WHO INVENTED THE FROZEN MARGARITA?

    The original Margarita began appearing in bars and restaurants along the U.S.-Mexico border in the late 1930s. The first elecric blender had appeared in 1922, and improved upon in 1935 with the invention of the Waring Blender. That device, which could efficiently chop ice, enabled the creation of “frozen” drinks”—a conventional cocktail made in a blender with chopped ice.

    By the 1960s, slushy soft drinks became the craze among kids and adults alike. The machine to make them was invented by Omar Knedlik in the late 1950s. The World War II veteran from Kansas bought his first ice cream shop after the war. In the late 1950s he bought a Dairy Queen that did not have a soda fountain, so he served semi-frozen bottled soft drinks, which became slushy and were immensely popular.

    This gave him the idea to create a machine that made slushy sodas, resulting in the ICEE Company. Yet no one made the leap to using the machine for frozen cocktails.

    At that time, frozen Daiquiris and Margaritas were made by bartenders in a blender with ice cubes. But it wasn’t a great solution.

     

    A young Dallas restaurant manager, Mariano Martinez, couldn’t master the consistency of frozen Margaritas to the satisfaction of his customers—who no doubt were comparing them to the Slushies from 7-Eleven. His bartenders complained that the blender drinks were too time-consuming to make.

    One day in 1971, Martinez stopped for a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven and saw the Slurpee machine. The light bulb flashed on, and Martinez bought and retrofitted an old soft-serve machine, porting the technology to make frozen Margaritas. The rest is history.

    The frozen Margarita was responsible for the growth of tequila in America, as well as the growth of Tex-Mex cuisine to go with all those frozen Margaritas.

    According to Brown-Forman, in 2006 the Margarita surpassed the Martini as the most ordered alcoholic beverage, representing 17% of all mixed-drink sales. Martinez’ historically significant, original machine was acquired by The National Museum of American History in 2005.
     
    MORE ABOUT MARGARITAS

  • The History Of The Margarita
  • Margarita recipes: original, classic, frozen, non-alcoholic and more
  •  
    Finally, there’s no need to buy “Margarita salt”: It’s just coarse sea salt or kosher salt.

      

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    RECIPE: Crab Stuffed Flounder

    Print

    Crab-stuffed flounder is actually easy to
    make. Photo and recipe courtesy Westside
    Market | New York City.

     

    February 18th is National Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day. The recipe is easy to make, and gives the appearance of a “fancy” preparation. You can stuff any white fish filet with crab meat.

    Before buying crab, note that there are four grades of meat. In order of expense, they are:

  • Jumbo lump crab meat, the largest, snow-white lumps.
  • Lump/backfin crab meat, the same color, flavor and texture of jumbo lump, but is in slightly smaller pieces
  • White crab meat, smaller white pieces ideal for recipes where the size and shape of the crab flake becomes indistinguishable, such as crab cakes.
  • Claw crab meat, the reddish-brown claw and leg meat which is actually more flavorful and is preferred by many (who also and appreciate the lower price) and is the best to use in spicy dishes, where the flavor best holds up to the spices,
  •  
    So the best crab meat to use is this recipe is claw or white, depending on preference and availability.

    Here’s more on the different types of crab meat.

    Thanks to the Westside Market in New York City for this easy recipe.

    RECIPE: CRABMEAT STUFFED FLOUNDER

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley or dill plus more for garnish
  • ½ cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 8 ounces crab meat, picked over
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 tablespoon cayenne
  • 4 8-ounce flounder or tilapia fillets
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 4-8 toothpicks
  • Optional garnish: lemon slice or wedge, parsley or dill sprigs
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT oven to 400°F. Lightly oil 9 x13-inch ovenproof dish.

    2. MELT butter in skillet. Add onion and celery and sauté until soft. Stir in parsley or dill. Remove skillet from heat and stir in breadcrumbs, crab meat, lemon juice and cayenne.

    3. DIVIDE crab meat mixture among fillets and roll up. Hold together with toothpicks. Place fish seam side down in baking dish. Sprinkle paprika over fish.

    4. BAKE for 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with dill and lemon before serving.
     
    CRAB MEAT OR CRABMEAT?

    You’ll see both uses. Which is correct?

    “Crab meat” is more correct, although the incorrect “crabmeat” has eased into acceptance over time (spell or pronounce something incorrectly enough and people accept it as right).

     

    claw-meat-phillips230

    Claw meat and leg meat are darker but more flavorful and less expensive. Use it in recipes where the crab gets fully blended with other ingredients. Photo courtesy Phillips Crab.

     

    Whenever you’re confused about how to write something, think of other uses. For example, lobster meat is the correct form; you’d never write “lobstermeat.”

      

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    PRESIDENT’S DAY: Dine & Drink With George Washington & Abraham Lincoln

    steak-and-kidney-pie-chatterboxenterprises-230

    You won’t often find steak and kidney pie in
    the U.S. these days. But if you want to eat
    one of George Washington’s favorites, here’s
    the recipe. Recipe and photo courtesy
    Chatterbox Enterprises.

     

    Some of us remember life before Presidents Day. Until 1971, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was a state holiday, celebrated in many states on the his birthday—Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in Kentucky in that iconic one-room cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. It was a bank, government and school holiday, not to mention a day of retail sales specials.

    George Washington had a separate holiday on his birthday, February 22nd (he was born on February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, to a wealthy planter family).

    In 1971, both presidential holidays were shifted to the third Monday in February and combined as Presidents Day, to allow federal employees a three-day weekend. The private sector followed. Adieu, Lincoln’s Birthday; and yours too, George Washington’s Birthday. You holidays are now part of a vague Presidents Day celebration.

    DINING WITH GEORGE WASHINGTON

    The planter and surveyor who would become the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Washington was known for keeping a bountiful table. He was fond of fine food and enjoyed fresh fish almost daily (often for breakfast with hoe cakes).

     
    Steak and kidney pie, mashed sweet potatoes and string beans almondine were a popular dinner, served with pickles and other condiments, particularly mushroom catsup (tomato catsup came much later—see the history of ketchup). Favorite desserts included tipsy cake (trifle), Martha Washington’s whiskey cake and yes, cherry pie.

    What did Washington drink with his meals?

    Beer was a favorite drink of George Washington, as it was for many people living in 18th century America and Europe. Before municipal water supplies, the water supply was unreliable, with the water from lakes, rivers and wells carrying harmful pathogens. Even young children drank beer.

    Washington was particularly fond of porter, a dark ale, but Madiera and wine were usually present at the table as well. Beer was brewed at Mount Vernon, and hops were grown there. In addition to grain-based beer, persimmon beer and pumpkin beer were brewed in season.

    Washington’s notebooks include a recipe for small beer, which was a weak beer (lower alcohol content) consumed by servants and children. The full-alcohol beer was called strong beer.

     

    WHAT ABOUT THE HARD STUFF?

    In the era before cocktails*, punch was the way to combine spirits, sugar, lemon juice, spices and other ingredients.

    Washington also enjoyed eggnog. His own recipe included brandy, rum and rye, the latter of which was made on the estate. A little-known fact about the Father Of Our Country: At the time of his death, he was the country’s largest producer of rye whiskey. The restored still at Mount Vernon continues to produce un-aged rye whiskey using Washington’s original recipe.
     
    So the choice is yours: Toast to our first president with beer, eggnog, punch or a glass of rye.
     
    Thanks to MountVernon.org for this information. You can read the full article here. And if you’re in the DC area, do plan a visit to this wonderful heritage site.

     

    oyster-stew-wmmb-230

    Dining with Lincoln? You might be served a bowl of oyster stew. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     

    DINING WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN

    Given the choice of a good meal with George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, opt for Washington.

    Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas, was an illiterate farmer. Meals in the family’s one-room cabin comprised simple farm fare.

    Thus, Lincoln was not bred to be a connoisseur of fine food like Washington. His colleagues on the law circuit noted his indifference to the boardinghouse fare. As president, focused on work, he hardly remembered to eat; often, his sustenance was a nibble of apples, nuts, cheese and crackers. Chicken fricassee with biscuits and oyster stew were favorites when he took the time to for a formal meal.

    Lincoln’s favorite beverage was water. He didn’t drink alcohol and it was seldom served at the White House. He did enjoy coffee, perhaps for the energy as much as the flavor.

    A glass of water is fine, but we’d rather have a crisp white wine with our fruit and cheese.

     
    *Cocktails as we know them date back to the early 1800s. Here’s a brief history and some retro cocktails.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Almond Butter Cookies (Chinese Almond Cookies)

    almonds-bowl-niederegger-230

    We buy jumbo packages of raw almonds at
    Costco. Photo courtesy Niederegger
    Marzipan.

     

    February 16 is National Almond Day. Almonds are great for snacking, roasted or raw; and are so flavorful they don’t need added salt or salted seasonings.

    Enjoy some almond triva, and scroll down for a butter-enhanced recipe for Chinese Almond Cookies.

    ALMOND TRIVIA

  • Historians generally agree that almonds and dates, both mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, were among the earliest cultivated foods. The only other nut mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11) is the pistachio nut.
  • Between 600 and 900 C.E., almond trees began to flourish in the Mediterranean, in Greece, Israel, Spain and Morocco. Because of their portability, explorers consumed them while traveling the Silk Road between the Mediterranean region and China.
  • Almonds are actually stone fruits related to cherries, plums and peaches. In this case, it’s the “stone” that is eaten. The botanical name of the almond tree is Prunus amygdalus.
  •  

  • California produces 80% of the world’s supply of almonds. The world’s largest almond factory is in Sacramento; it processes 2 million pounds of almonds a day. California produced 998 million pounds of almonds in 2004. The largest crop on record was in 2002: 1.084 billion pounds.
  • It takes more than 1.2 million bee hives to pollinate California’s almond crop, which spans more than 550,000 acres.
  • Chocolate manufacturers use 40% of the almond crop (and 20% of the world’s peanuts).
  • It takes 1,000 pounds of almonds to make 1 pint of almond oil.
  • There are 5,639 people in the U.S. listed on Whitepages.com with the last name “Almond” (source: Mark Morton, “Gastronomica,” Fall 2010).
  • The Jordan almond, a large plump variety of almond from Malaga, Spain, is considered to be the finest cultivated almond. It is frequently sold with a hard colored sugar coating.
  •  
    ALMOND NUTRITION

  • Almonds are the most nutrient-dense tree nut. One ounce of almonds (20-25 almonds) contains 160 calories and only 1 gram of saturated fat and no cholesterol. The unsaturated fat in almonds is “good” fat, with 13 grams per one-ounce serving.
  • Almonds are also an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, and a good source of protein and potassium.
  • Almonds are highest in protein and fiber of all the tree nuts.
  • The protein in almonds is more like the proteins in human breast milk of all the seeds and nuts, which is why it is the choice of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine as the base for its baby formula.
  • Almonds are known for high satiety, almonds provide the perfect pre-workout boost, are easy to keep in your office drawer stash, for snacking alone or with yogurt or fruit.
  •  

    RECIPE: ALMOND BUTTER COOKIES

    These almond butter cookies are a whole-wheat and almond butter version of the classic Chinese almond cookie. The recipe was developed by Ellie Krieger, author of So Easy:Luscious Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week.

    You can find more almond-based recipes at the Almond Board of California’s website..
     
    Ingredients For 36 Cookies

  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, or regular whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup smooth, unsalted almond butter
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 36 raw whole almonds (a heaping 1/4 cup)
  •  

    almond_butter_cookies-almondboard-230

    Almond butter cookies. Photo courtesy The Almond Board.

     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray.

    2. WHISK together the flours, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. In another large bowl beat together the butter, almond butter and sugars until fluffy.

    3. ADD the vanilla and egg and beat until well combined. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, bending well.

    4. SHAPE the dough into 3/4 inch balls, and place on the baking sheets. Place an almond in center of each cookie and press down lightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

      

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    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Chopsticks Day

    It’s National Chopsticks Day, a reason to enjoy a Chinese meal or two. We’re making homemade dumplings with this easy video recipe.

    As we contemplate the history of chopsticks, the eating utensil of choice in Asia, let’s compare them to the history of the forks, knives and spoons used at table in the West.

    This information is adapted from a wonderful exhibit, The History Of Eating Utensils, at the California Academy Of Sciences, much of which is available online.

    No matter what the country of origin, utensils were historically made in costly materials for the wealthy, and humble materials for everyone else. Table utensils have been made from metals (gold, silver, and pewter—and today, stainless steel), bone, crystal, horn, ivory, lacquered wood, porcelain, pottery, shell and wood. And today, plastic.

    HISTORY OF CHOPSTICKS

    Chopsticks were developed about 5,000 years ago in China. Historians believe that people cooked their food in large pots which retained heat well; hasty eaters then broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food. The twigs evolved into chopsticks.

     

    singapore-noodles-NewAsianCuisine

    Singapore Hokkien noodles. Photo courtesy New Asian cuisine.

     
    By 400 B.C.E, a large and growing population taxed the fuel supply. Food was chopped into small pieces that cooked rapidly, requiring less fuel. Small pieces also meant that knives were not needed at the dinner table—a cost savings, among other benefits. By 500 C.E., chopsticks spread to present-day Vietnam, Korea and Japan.

    Chinese chopsticks, called kuai-zi (“quick little fellows”), are 9 to 10 inches long and rectangular with a blunt end. The English word “chopstick” was likely derived from the Chinese Pidgin English words “chop chop,” meaning fast.

    In Japan, chopsticks are called hashi (the word means “bridge”). The earliest chopsticks used for eating looked like tweezers; they were made from one piece of bamboo that was joined at the top. Known as tong chopsticks, today they are used as “training chopsticks” for children. See them here. Japanese chopsticks differ in design from Chinese chopsticks: They are rounded and have a pointed end. They are also shorter—8 inches.

    Proper Use Of Chopsticks

  • Chopsticks are traditionally held in the right hand, even by left-handed people. This practice prevents a left-handed user from accidentally elbowing a right-handed seated next to him/her.
  • It is a huge breach of etiquette to impale a piece of food with a chopstick.
  •  
    HISTORY OF FORKS

    Forks trace their origins back to the time of the Greeks. The original forks were large service forks with two tines, to aid in the carving and serving of meat. That design survives today in carving forks.

    By the seventh century C.E., smaller forks for individual use appeared in royal courts of the Middle East. They spread to use by the wealthy in Byzantine Empire*; in the 11th century, a Byzantine wife of a Doge of Venice brought forks to Italy. The Italians, however, were slow to adopt their use. Forks were not widely adopted until the 16th century.

    In 1533, forks were brought from Italy to France by Catherine de Medici, bride of the future King Henry II. The French, too, were slow to accept forks, thinking them to be an affectation.

    An Englishman named Thomas Coryate brought the first forks to England from Italy, in 1608. The English ridiculed forks as being effeminate and unnecessary. “Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?” was a refrain. Yes, it wasn’t all that long ago that even “civilized” people ate with their hands, spoons, impaled their food on knives or used bread to scoop it up.

     
    *The Byzantine Empire, which existed from approximately 330 C.E. to 1453 C.E., comprised the predominantly Greek-speaking continuation of the Roman Empire. Its capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), originally known as Byzantium. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe.

     

    beef-wellington-SFA-Allen-230

    Imagine eating without a fork. Yet, it was
    ridiculed and rejected by the British, French
    and Italians. Photo courtesy Allen Bros.

     

    But by the mid 1600s, eating with forks was considered fashionable among wealthy British.

    Early table forks were modeled after kitchen forks with two tines that ensured that meat would not twist while being cut. However, small pieces of food regularly fell through the tines or slipped off easily. In late 17th century France, larger forks with four curved tines were developed to solve the problem. The curved tines—used today—served as a scoop so people did not have to constantly switch to a spoon while eating. And forks were more efficient for spearing food than the knife.

    But the fork did not become common in northern Europe until the 18th century and was not common in North America until the 19th century.

    See the beautiful forks in the California Academy of Sciences exhibit.

     
    HISTORY OF SPOONS

    Spoons are the oldest eating utensils, in use since Paleolithic times. These prehistoric peoples—the first modern humans—probably used shells or chips of wood as eating and serving utensils. In fact, both the Greek and Latin words for spoon are derived from cochlea, a spiral-shaped snail shell (that also gives its name to the spiral-shaped cavity in the inner ear), suggesting that shells were commonly used as spoons in Southern Europe. The Anglo-Saxon word spon, predecessor of spoon, refers to a chip or splinter of wood.

    In the fist century C.E., the Romans designed two types of spoons:

  • The ligula was used for soups and soft foods. It had a pointed oval bowl and a handle ending in a decorative design.
  • The cochleare was a small spoon with a round bowl for eating shellfish and eggs. As a result of the Roman occupation of Britain (43 to 410 C.E.), the earliest English spoons were likely modeled after these spoons.
  •  
    See the beautiful spoons in the California Academy of Sciences exhibit.
     
    HISTORY OF KNIVES

    Knives have been used as weapons, tools and eating utensils since prehistoric times. Only fairly recently were they adapted for table use.

    In the Middle Ages in Europe, hosts did not provide cutlery for their guests; most people carried their own knives in sheaths attached to their belts. These knives were narrow and their sharply pointed ends were used to spear food and then raise it to the mouth.

    The multi-purpose nature of the knife—weapon and eating utensil—always posed a threat of danger at the dinner table. Once forks began to gain popular acceptance, there was no longer any need for a pointed tip at the end of a dinner knife. In 1669, King Louis XIV of France decreed all pointed knives on the street or the dinner table illegal, and he had all knife points ground down to reduce violence. That’s why today we have blunt-tipped “table knives” and separate “steak knives.”

    At the beginning of the 18th century, very few forks were being imported to America. However, knives were imported and their tips became progressively blunter. Because Americans had very few forks and no longer had sharp-tipped knives, they had to use spoons in lieu of forks. They would use the spoon to steady food as they cut and then switch the spoon to the opposite hand in order to scoop up food to eat. This distinctly American style of eating continued even after forks became commonplace in the United States.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: 28 Fondue Recipes For National Fondue Month

    Fondue-230

    Dip anything you like, including chicken
    cubes. Photo courtesy DairyMax.

     

    February is National Fondue Month, a fitting dish for Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day and the other 26 days of February. There are 28 recipes are below.

    For an overview of fondue, how to cook it and what to dip into it, the history of fondue and more, check out our main cheese fondue article. Head here for chocolate fondue.
     
    CHEESE FONDUE RECIPES

  • Apple Lovers Fondue: Blend 1 cup apple chutney (or to taste) to Cheddar, fondue.
  • Americana Fondue: Melt Vermont Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Maytag Blue cheeses with white wine.
  • Bar Boy Fondue: Melt Cheddar cheese and beer. Be sure to have pretzels and sausage to dip.
  • Blue Fondue: Melt Gruyère, Emmenthaler and Gorgonzola with white wine. Use Roquefort instead of Gorgonzola for stronger blue cheese flavor. If you’re an uber-blue fan, you can use Emmenthaler, Gorgonzola and Roquefort instead of the Gruyère.
  •  

  • California Fondue: goat cheese, Gruyère or other Swiss-style cheese, sundried tomatoes, black olives and fennel pollen.
  • Caraway Fondue: Melt white Cheddar and American muenster with white wine. Season with caraway seeds.
  • Classic Fondue: Melt Gruyère and Emmenthaler with white wine and Kirschwasser (cherry brandy). Season with a garlic clove.
  • Cheddar Fondue: Melt aged sharp Cheddar and Emmenthaler cheeses with beer. Season with fresh black pepper a garlic clove. Be sure to serve fruit along with other dippers.
  • Croque Monsieur: Croque monsieur is a classic French sandwich of ham and Gruyère, grilled to toasty perfection. Add a small dice of ham to Gruyère fondue and toast the bread cubes.
  • Dutch Fondue: While not a true Kaas Doop (there’s no milk to dilute the strength of the cheese), melt Gouda with some beer and brandy, juggling the proportions of the alcohols to your preference. Season with fresh-grated nutmeg.
  • Exotic Fondue: This fondue is made from the exotic-flavored cheese of your choice. It could be Rogue Creamery’s Chocolate Stout Cheddar, the Cheddar With Thai Curry from Coombe Castle of England, or your favorite truffle cheese.
  • Goat Cheese Fondue: Melt goat Cheddar and Jack cheeses with white wine. Season with chopped Portabella mushrooms. (Several companies make goat Cheddar; at least one, Meyenberg, makes several different types of goat Jack.)
  • Italian Fondue: Melt Fontina and Taleggio cheeses. Mix in 1 cup of crushed tomatoes (canned or aseptic boxed tomatoes are better than fresh tomatoes for this recipe). Season with chopped fresh basil and garlic.
  • Nacho Fondue: Mix a cup of salsa (or to taste) with a blend of Cheddar and Gruyère. Anything from mild to hot salsa will do; peach salsa adds sweetness. If you like the heat, add diced jalapeños; and of course, add tortilla chips to the dippers.
  •  

  • Onion Lovers Fondue: Stir a cup of caramelized onions into classic Gruyère fondue. Add green onions to the mix of vegetable dippers.
  • Pesto Fondue: Melt Gruyère and Emmenthaler cheeses with white wine. Season with basil pesto (or, if you’re adventurous, one of the numerous flavored pestos from our Best Pestos article).
  • Philly Cheesecake Fondue: Add diced cubes of steak to a Cheddar fondue.
  • Port & Stilton Fondue: These British classics combine, along with chunks of pear; white Port substitutes for conventional white wine. For a crunchy touch, use raw pear; for a softer touch, lightly poach the pear.
  • Pungent Fondue: Use your favorite “stinky cheese.” You can start with a highly aromatic but mild cheese like Taleggio.
  • Raclette: Raclette is a Swiss cheese conventionally served shaved from the wheel, on a plate with bread, cornichons and pickled onions. You can also melt it in a fondue pot and serve it with its traditional garnishes.
  •  

    fondue-emmi-roth-230

    Classic fondue. Photo courtesy Emmi Roth USA.

  • Royal Fondue: Blend Gruyère, Emmenthaler, Brie and Roquefort with white wine. This “royal” blend features the “king” and “queen” of cheeses, Roquefort and Brie. Season with a garlic clove and some lemon juice.
  • Shepherd’s Fondue: Melt your favorite sheep’s milk cheese (we use Roncal) with some fresh herbs.
  • “South of the Border” Fondue: You have a few options here. (a) Aged Sharp Cheddar and Emmenthaler cheeses with salsa (a cooked, shelf stable salsa is better than a watery fresh salsa—read the difference). (b) For more chile heat, blend Aged Sharp Cheddar and Emmenthaler cheeses with your choice of chopped ancho, jalapeño or smoky chipotle chiles). (c) For built-in heat, melt Cabot’s Chipotle Cheddar or Habanero Cheddar cheese, or other chile-based cheese. Use beer as your cooking liquid in all recipes. See our Chile Glossary for information about the different types of chiles.
  • Smoky Fondue: Melt smoked Cheddar with beer. Serve with smoked chicken, smoked sausage, steamed vegetables and pretzels.
  • Spanish Fondue: Melt Manchego cheese with sherry.
  • Swiss Cheese Fondue: Gruyère and Emmenthaler cheeses with a dry white wine base. Garlic, Kirschwasser and an array of other spices.
  • Triple Crème Fondue: Blend a triple crème Brie, St. André or Explorateur cheese and Gorgonzola Dolce, a sweeter, creamier version of mountain Gorgonzola. If you don’t like Gorgonzola, make a Brie and St. André or Explorateur blend and be prepared to go over the top. Drinking Champagne or other sparkling wine may help take the edge off. Fruit, bread and more delicate dippers pair better with this recipe than do heavier items like sausage.
  • Wild Mushroom Fondue: Blend Gruyère and Emmenthaler with chopped, sautéed morels, porcinis or other wild mushrooms (see our Mushroom Glossary).
  •  
    COMING TOMORROW: Dessert Fondue

      

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    RECIPE: Crunchy Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich

    January 15th is National Strawberry Ice Cream Day. You can have a scoop, a sundae or a shake; but you can have even more fun with this recipe from Pillsbury for Strawberry Marshmallow Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches.

    The crunch comes from Rice Chex cereal, which is gluten free. The prep time 15 minutes; the total time including freezing is 2 hours, 25 minutes.

    RECIPE: CRUNCHY STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM SANDWICH

    Ingredients For 6 Sandwiches

  • 5 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cups Rice Chex cereal (ideally cinnamon or
    chocolate), coarsely crushed
  • 3 cups strawberry ice cream, softened
  •  

    An ice cream sandwich with a crunch. Photo courtesy Pillsbury.

     

    Preparation

    1. LINE the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch pan with parchment paper.

    2. HEAT 4 cups of the marshmallows, the butter and salt in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly for about 8 minutes, until melted.

    3. STIR in cereal until almost coated; stir in the remaining cup of marshmallows. Using a greased rubber spatula, evenly scrape mixture into pan and spread evenly. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until easy to handle.

    4. TURN pan upside down to remove cereal layer; discard parchment paper. Cut into 12 rectangles, 4 x 3 inches each. Working quickly, spread 1/2 cup of the ice cream onto 1 rectangle; top with another rectangle. Repeat to use up rectangles and ice cream. Freeze on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet at least 1 1/2 hours until firm.

    5. WRAP sandwiches individually in plastic wrap and store in freezer.
     
    FIND MORE OF OUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM RECIPES.

      

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