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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

RECIPE: Pasta e Fagioli Soup

If you’ve watched enough “Abbott & Costello” reruns, you’ll hear Lou Costello wanting a dish of “pasta fazool.” That’s Neapolitan Italian dialect for pasta e fagioli, correctly pronounced pasta ay fah-JOE-lee.

Pasta e fagioli, pasta with beans (typically cannellini beans), is a popular Italian peasant dish.

Some Americans call it bean and macaroni soup, but “pasta fazool” seems to have captured the public’s imagination:

  • “Pastafazoola,” a 1927 hit song, beckons “Don’t be a fool, eat pasta fazool.” The catchphrase became that era’s version of “Where’s the beef?” Here are the song’s writers, Van and Schenk, performing it.
  • Dean Martin’s 1952 hit song “That’s Amore,” advises: “When the stars make you drool, just-a like pasta fazool, that’s amore” (watch this video of his performance).
  •  

    This version of pasta e fagioli is made with conchigliette—baby shells—instead of the conventional tubetti (see photo below).

     

    How about some pasta fazool for National Soup Month (January)? Here’s an easy recipe for Pasta e Fagioli from Patsy’s restaurant in New York City.

     

    Tubetti pasta: “little tubes” used in soup.
    Photo courtesy Sabato.co.nz.

     

    RECIPE: PASTA E FAGIOLA

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 1/2 pound (2 cups) tubetti pasta, elbow macaroni or other soup pasta, cooked to package directions
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 3 cups (24 ounces) marinara sauce
  • Garnish: fresh basil chiffonade
  •  
    Preparation

    1. HEAT olive oil in a deep skillet and sauté the onions until lightly browned.

    2. ADD stock, beans and marinara sauce; bring to a boil. Add the cooked pasta.

     
    3. REDUCE heat and simmer for 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    TYPES OF SOUP PASTA

    Italians have long made very small cuts of pasta called soup pasta, or pastini (“little pasta”). Pasta in brodo—soup in broth—is a popular dish. Types of soup pasta include, among others:

  • Acini di pepe (peperini), shaped like peppercorns
  • Alphabets (alfabeto)
  • Anelletti, small rings
  • Conchigliette, baby shells
  • Ditali/ditalini, small tubes and even tinier tubes
  • Farfalline, small bow ties (tripolini are a small bows with a rounder shape)
  • Grattoni, tiny diamonds
  • Orzo (rosamarina), pasta shaped like grains of barley
  • Risi (risoni, pasta a riso), rice shaped pasta
  • Seme di melone, melon seed shaped pasta
  • Stelle (stellette, stellini), star shaped pasta
  • Stortini, tiny elbow macaroni
  • Tubetti, small tubes
  •  
    Each region of Italy made its own shapes before the days of mass communication. Thus, there are very similar shapes with different names (for example, orzo, risi and seme di melone).
     
    CHECK OUT THE MANY TYPES OF PASTA IN OUR PASTA GLOSSARY.
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Pizza

    Pizza dough, so much fun to knead. Photo by Mariha Kitchen | IST.

     

    It’s National Pizza Week. If you’re not already making homemade pizza, here’s an incentive to start.

    For the easy way, buy a pre-made crust, raw dough (we get ours at Trader Joe’s—delicious!) and add your favorite toppings. It’s healthier if you use a whole wheat crust.

    For those who like to bake, here’s how to make your own pizza dough and a championship recipe from chef Bruno DiFabio, a six-time winner of the World Pizza Games / Pizza World Championships.

    You may be a pure pepperoni person, or prefer a grilled veggie pizza. The most popular pizza toppings in America, according to one survey, are (in order) pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, sausage, bacon, extra cheese, black olives, green peppers, pineapple and spinach. (What, no anchovies?)

    But if you’d like to consider more creative ingredients, including those that you rarely find at a pizza restaurant. You can also use your leftovers. For your consideration:

     

    Proteins

  • Alternative cheeses: Brie, blue, feta, Gruyère, etc. (pick out something special in our Cheese Glossary)
  • Bacon in all its forms (types of bacon)—instead of four cheeses, consider four different types of bacon
  • Chicken, including BBQ or fried
  • Fried egg (crack the raw egg onto the pizza and let it cook in the oven
  • Lamb (ground—delicious with feta)
  • Seafood: clams, crab, scallops, shrimp, tuna
  •  
    Veggies

  • Artichokes, avocado
  • Broccoli rabe, broccolini
  • Capers
  • Chiles: fresh, dried
  • Fresh herbs: basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme
  • Greens: arugula, radiccchio; fennel (sautéed); chard, kale, mustard greens (including mizuna and tatsoi), spinach (sautéed)
  • Onions: caramelized, cippolini, leeks (sautéed)
  • Potatoes: roasted, sautéed, mashed (all delicious with rosemary); sweet potatoes (especially with sage and Gorgonzola)
  • Tomatoes: fresh, sundried
  • You can make pretty much anything work.

     

    DESSERT PIZZA
    You can also make dessert pizzas with bananas and other fruits, chocolate sauce, Nutella, nuts and raisins, and other ingredients you enjoy. Check out:

  • Piña Colada Pizza Recipe
  •  
    PERSONAL FAVORITES

    We enjoy making these “fusion” pizzas, incorporating ingredients from other cultures into the iconic Italian food:

  • Asian: roast pork, scallions, water chestnuts, hoisin sauce
  • Greek: anchovies, dill, feta, fennel seeds, ground lamb, sliced grape leaves (see the different Mediterranean-inspired recipes below)
  • Russian: sliced roasted potatoes, smoked salmon and salmon caviar
  •  

    How creative can you get? This “taco pizza” is topped with ground beef, salsa, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and tortilla chips. From Due Forni | Las Vegas.

    MORE RECIPE IDEAS

  • Andouille Sausage Pizza With Onion Confit
  • Bacon & Walnut Pizza
  • BBQ Chicken & Buffalo Chicken Pizza Recipes
  • Bacon, Chicken & Ham Pizza Recipe
  • Gorgonzola Pizza With Caramelized Onions or with Pear & Walnuts
  • Greek Pizza Recipe: kalamata olives, spinach, onions, feta, sundried tomatoes
  • Middle East Pizza: lamb, Kalamata olives, feta
  • Potato & Pancetta Pizza, with asparagus, brick cheese, garlic and thyme
  •  
    THE HISTORY OF PIZZA

    How did the crust, tomatoes and mozzarella get together, especially when tomatoes were considered poisonous for their first 200-plus years in Europe?

    Check it out!

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Matcha Shortbread Cookies

    Bake ‘em or buy ‘em: matcha shortbread
    cookies from Tea Aura. Photo by River Soma
    | THE NIBBLE.

     

    January 6th is National Shortbread Day. Coming on the heels of new year’s resolutions, where many of us have resolved to eat better, what’s a cookie lover to do?

    Make matcha shortbread (or as a default, buy some).

    While it isn’t health food, matcha shortbread includes a very healthful ingredient—matcha tea. (See the nutritional benefits below).

    This shortbread recipe is from the Republic Of Tea, which sells matcha tea among hundreds of other varieties. They call the recipe “emerald shortbread” because of the green color. This recipe also includes ground almonds (protein—more nutrition!).

    You can use a shamrock cookie cutter for St. Patrick’s Day, a flower cookie cutter for spring or a Christmas tree cookie cutter for Christmas.

    RECIPE: EMERALD SHORTBREAD (MATCHA
    SHORTBREAD)

    Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 6 tablespoons finely ground almonds
  • 2 teaspoons matcha tea
  •  

    Preparation

    1. CREAM together the butter and powdered sugar. Mix in the egg yolk. In another bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds and matcha. Add to the first bowl and stir until the mixture forms a ball.

    2. ROLL into a 2-inch-wide log. Wrap and place in the freezer for 40 minutes until firm.

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut the log into 1/4-inch slices and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 9 minutes, or until the cookies just begin to turn golden at the edges. Let rest for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

     

    WHAT IS MATCHA TEA

    Matcha is a powdered green tea with the consistency of talc that is used in the Japanese tea ceremony, or cha no yu. The leaves for matcha are ground like flour in a stone mill. The powder is then whisked into water. (Here’s the whisk [chasen] that you can use to make your own.

    Powdered tea is the original way in which tea was prepared in Japan. The steeping of dried tea leaves in boiling water didn’t begin until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

    Matcha tea has a wonderful aroma, a creamy, silky froth and a rich, mellow taste. It contains a higher amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, L-theanine amino acids, polyphenols, chlorophyll and fiber) than other teas, including steeped green tea.

    Matcha tea is expensive, but worth it if you love the flavor of matcha tea.

    According to MatchaSource.com, the price is a function of production costs.

     

    Matcha tea with the chasen, or whisk, used to stir it into a frothy beverage. The greener the matcha, the higher the quality. Photo courtesy Tafu | New York.

     

    Only the youngest, sweetest leaves are used. Covering the fields with bamboo mats (tarps) to create the shade-grown tea weakens the tea plants, and a longer recovery period is needed before they can be harvested again.

    At the factory, the stone grinders work slowly in order to maintain the nutrients in the tea, including the amino acid, L-theanine, which focuses the brain; it may help the body’s immune response to infection. Each grinder produces only about 40 grams of matcha in an hour.

    That being said, there are varying qualities of matcha tea. The deeper green color, the higher quality the matcha.
     
    TO GO WITH THE COOKIES

  • Matcha latte
  • Matcha ice cream and other recipes with matcha tea
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: 11 Exciting Bloody Mary Garnishes

    New Year’s Day is also National Bloody Mary Day. So today’s tip is: Find a new garnish for your Bloody Marys, and change it up every year.

    A celery stalk garnish and optional lemon or lime wheel was de rigeur 20th century. Savvy hosts replaced them with a fennel stalk for the new millennium (there’s a word you haven’t heard in a while!).

    But that was 14 years ago! So here are 10 groups to consider for your “signature garnish.” You can mix and match them as you wish. And yes, you can even match them with a celery stalk and any form of lemon or lime.

    Creative types can get out the vegetable cutters and transform cucumbers, carrots, jalapeños, etc. into edible sculptures.

    BLOODY MARY GARNISHES

  • “Antipasto” Pick: an assortment of goodies such as cheese cube, cocktail onion, deli meat cube, grape tomato, pickle, pickled garlic, shrimp or your favorite ingredients
  • The Bacon-Jerky Group: bacon strips, your favorite jerky or a “BLT” (grape tomatoes and bacon on a pick with a curly lettuce leaf replacing the celery)
  • The Citrus Group: curly lemon or lime peel, blood orange wheel, grapefruit wedge, any exotic citrus from the farmers market
  •  

    A modern and easy Bloody Mary garnish: a gherkin and pepperoncini on a pick with a salt and pepper rim. Photo courtesy AGWA.

  • The Fresh Vegetable Group: cherry tomato/grape tomato (chose yellow for contrast), cucumber slice, green onion/scallion, snow pea, zucchini spear/slice
  • The Herbs Group: basil leaves, cilantro sprig, dill sprig, parsley sprig, rosemary sprig
  •  

    Bloody Mary “salad”: cherry tomato, celery,
    cucumber, dilly bean, lime wheel olive. Photo
    courtesy Arch Rock Fish Restaurant | Santa
    Barbara.

     
  • The Fruit Group: apple wedge, melon balls, pineapple spear
  • The Olive Group: stuffed olives (cheese, chili, pimiento, etc.), mixed pitted olives
  • The Pickle Group: dill spear (the whole spear or cut into chunks on a pick), gherkins,
  • The Pickled Vegetables Group: asparagus, carrot, dilly bean, okra, peppadew
  • The Seafood Group: crab leg meat, cooked shrimp,
  • The Seasoned Rim Group: cracked pepper, seasoned salt (buy it or make your own, including a salt-and-pepper rim of coarse sea salt and cracked pepper)
  •  
    KNOW YOUR BLOODY MARYS

  • Bloody Mary History
  • Bloody Mary Recipes: the classics plus Danish, Mexican Scottish, Russian and Spanish Marys
  •  

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Don’t Toss It, Transform It!

    We love the food at Petrossian in New York City. It doesn’t have to be caviar (the restaurant’s most famous offering) to be wonderful, as we discovered when we ordered crab cakes.

    The chef stuffed sections of the crab legs with fresh crab and sea urchin and topped them with caviar: very upscale sashimi!

    We’ve ordered crab cakes countless times at countless restaurants, but no one ever served us the stuffed legs of the crab with our crab cake. We loved it, and it inspired today’s tip:

    Before you toss out shells—be they crab legs or shells, lobster claws or shells, scallop shells, juiced citrus halves, de-seeded pomegranates or other fruits or vegetables—consider how to repurpose them. You don’t need caviar to make it fun.

    IDEAS FOR STUFFING THE SHELLS

     

    Petrossian turned the empty crab legs into gourmet sashimi. Photo courtesy Petrossian Restasurant | NYC.

  • Condiments: chutney, dipping sauces, mustard, etc.
  • Dessert: fruit salad, ice cream/sorbet or pudding in fruit shells
  • Garnishes: chopped chiles, herbs, onions, nuts and other items that people can choose to add or not
  • Salads: chopped greens, egg salad or protein salads (chicken, shrimp, etc.), slaws, vegetable salads
  • Sides: applesauce, fruit compote, mashed potatoes, rice or grains, vegetable purée
  •  

    What kind of leftover shells do you typically have, and what would you do with them?

    NOT ENOUGH SHELLS FOR EVERYONE?

    Simply freeze them until you have enough.

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Popcorn Snowman

    Take a bite of Frosty. Photo and recipe courtesy Popcorn.org.

     

    Make these today for Christmas Eve, or to enjoy instead of traditional Christmas popcorn balls.

    RECIPE: POPCORN SNOWMAN

    Ingredients For 5 Snowmen

  • 10 cups popped popcorn
  • 1 package (16 ounces) large marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Decorations: sprinkles, licorice shoelace, gum drops, cinnamon candies, etc.
  •  
    Preparation
    1. MELT marshmallows and butter in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Let stand for 5 minutes. Pour over popcorn and stir.

    2. COVER your palms with butter and shape the popcorn into balls. Decorate as desired, using royal icing to affix candies. Let set.

     

    HAT TRICK

    You can make the snowman’s hat from:

  • A miniature cookie and a large marshmallow
  • A nonpareil an a Rolo chocolate caramel candy
  •  
    Stick the pieces together with some royal icing, and use the same icing to affix the hat to the snowman.

      

    Comments

    GIFT: Gourmet Cocoa And Hot Chocolate

    Winter Hot Chocolate is a classic cocoa mix
    with a touch of vanilla. Photo courtesy Lake
    Champlain Chocolates.

     

    “Forget Christmas gifts this year,” said our friend Gerard, when he called to invite us to his annual party and gifting frenzy. “At this point in our lives, none of us needs another scarf, another basket of Kiehl’s products, another tzotchke, another random book.”

    “Can we bring some gourmet cocoa?” we suggested. “Sure,” he responded.

    That’s why we love food gifts. They can readily be consumed by the recipient, his guests or his family members.

    And you don’t have to go far to find something good. Any upscale supermarket has gourmet chocolate bars, fine olive oil and gourmet hot chocolate.

    We passed by all of them at Whole Foods yesterday, including these gifty hot chocolate canisters from Lake Champlain Chocolates (also available directly from Lake Champlain Chocolates). They’re just $10.50 for a festively-designed one-pound canister (one pound makes approximately 21 eight-ounce servings). You can package the gifts with some handmade marshmallows in the confections section.

     
    Lake Champlain’s hot chocolate is certified kosher by Star-D, and is Fair Trade Certified, which means that it’s a feel-good product, right for the holiday season.

    Fair trade certification allows farmers to receive higher prices than they would in the conventional market. It means that the farmers are paid a fair price for their product and are not exploited by middlemen who pay them less than their crop is worth.

    Read more about Fair Trade.

     

    25 WAYS TO GLAMORIZE A CUP OF COCOA

    From adding flavors—banana, cinnamon, chai, hot spices, mint—to liqueurs, we’ve got 25 ways to make an already delicious cup of cocoa even more memorable.

    Check ‘em out.
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COCOA & HOT
    CHOCOLATE

    December 12th is National Cocoa Day. What’s the difference between cocoa and hot chocolate?

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

    Cocoa is a drink made from cocoa powder.

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

     

    Enjoy Peppermint Hot Chocolate for the holidays, with hints of vanilla and cinnamon. Photo courtesy Lake Champlain Chocolates.

     

    To make any cup of cocoa or hot chocolate richer, you can:

  • Use half and half, or half milk and half cream.
  • Stir in a pat of unsweetened butter—really! It’s a chef’s secret trick.
  •  
    Visit our Cocoa Section for brand reviews, recipes and more about man’s favorite chocolate drink.

    Or take our Cocoa Trivia Quiz.

      

    Comments

    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Lager Day & The Different Types Of Lager

    A lager on tap. Photo courtesy Samuel
    Adams Brewery.

     

    December 10th is National Lager Day (see all the food holidays).

    Enjoy a cold one as you read through these lager facts, compiled by the brewers at Samuel Adams.

    1. History. Alhough beer has been made for more than seven millennia, the first lager wasn’t brewed until the 16th century. America’s first lager was brewed in 1838, when Bavarian brewmaster John Wagner brought lager yeast across the pond from Europe.

    2. Science. Lager yeast, as opposed to ale yeast, ferments (eats sugar to produce carbonation and alcohol) at cooler temperatures. When the fermentation is finished, lager yeast settles to the bottom of the fermentation tank while ale yeast remains on top. Lager yeast also takes a longer time to condition the beer than ale yeast.

     

    3. Character. Due in part to their clean, crisp character, lagers are labeled by some as plain or boring. That might be so with some mass-marketed beers, but craft lagers are flavorful and complex. There are also different styles of lager: Baltic Porter; Bock, Double Bock and Wheat Bock; Oktoberfest; Rauchbier and Vienna Lager, among many others, as you’ll see below.

    4. Cold. Before modern refrigeration, brewers needed a way to keep their lagers cool during the brewing process. Before the advent of modern cooling tanks, German lager brewers often cooled their beer in Alpine caves or in cellars dug deeply into hillsides (the latter technique used by immigrants German-American beer makers).

    5. Meaning. In German, Czech and Polish, to lager means to store, keep, preserve or keep safe.

     

    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LAGER

    Amber Lager, loosely based on Vienna lager (see below), can range from amber to copper in hue. It is generally more fully flavored than a standard pale lager, with caramel malt flavors. While hop levels vary considerably among breweries, amber logers tend to be hoppier than Vienna lagers. Samuel Adams Boston Lager is an amber lager.

    Baltic Porter is a very high alcohol, sweet, robust porter that originated in the Baltic states. It melds both the character of original British Porters and the sweeter, highly alcoholic Russian Imperial Stouts.

    Bock Beer is a strong lager first brewed in the 14th century in the German town of Einbeck. The style was adopted by Munich brewers in the 17th century using the new lager style of brewing. Due to their Bavarian accent, citizens of Munich pronounced “Einbeck” as “ein Bock” (a billy goat). The style became known as bock and, as a visual pun, the bottle labels often feature a goat.

     

    Bock beer—dark but still a lager. Photo courtesy WisDairy.com.

     
    Traditional bock is a sweet and lightly hopped with low carbonation. The color can range from light copper to brown. The taste is rich and toasty, sometimes with a bit of caramel. Several substyles of bock beer exist, including maibock or helles bock, a paler, more hopped version generally made for consumption at spring festivals; doppelbock, a stronger and maltier version; and eisbock, a much stronger version made by partially freezing the beer and removing the water ice that forms.

    Doppelbock or Double Bock Beer is a dark, malty brew, rich in body and high in alcohol. It was first brewed in the Italian Alps around 1650 by the monks in the monastery of St. Francis of Paula, for sustenance throughout the Lenten season. A fun note: The monks felt that such a delicious brew might be too much of an indulgence for Lent, so they sent a cask to be judged by the Holy Father in Rome. Tossed and turned during transport across the Alps and then heated under the Italian sun, the beer turned sour. When the Holy Father tasted it, he found it vile and declared it was probably beneficial for the souls of the Munich monks to make and drink as much of it as they could.

    Märzen or Oktoberfest Beer gets its name from the last month in which the beer was traditionally brewed, March (März in German). Before refrigeration, March was the last month in which beers could be “lagered,” or put into cold storage. The beers would age over the summer, to be enjoyed during the fall harvest, Oktoberfest. Märzen lagers have a deep, amber color and a malt-heavy flavor.

    Rauchbier (Smoked Beer). Rauchbier is made using malted barley dried over an open flame, which imparts smoky flavors. They can range from a light smokiness to an intense—and some say acrid—level.

    Vienna Lager, a cousin of Märzen, is a crisp and refreshing style characterized by its medium body, malty taste and amber color. Vienna lager is actually more popular in Mexico than in Austria. It was brought there in 1864 by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria, who was installed by the French as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. He was overthrown and executed by republican forces in 1867; but the Mexicans did like his beer, and continued to make the style. Dos Equis and Modelo Especial are examples.

    Winter Lager. A dark bock beer, winter lager is a style rich in maltiness for a hearty, full body, and low in bitterness. Holiday spices (ginger and cinnamon) can be added.

     
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT BEER TYPES IN OUR BEER GLOSSARY.

    It’s also helpful if you don‘t know a bitter from a hop.

    —Steven Gans

      

    Comments

    BAKERY CAFE: Pomme Palais At The Palace Hotel

    This meringue snowman is hollow: Fill it with
    ice cream, sorbet or mousse. Photo courtesy
    Pomme Palais.

     

    For New Yorkers and visitors to town, there’s a new attraction a block and a half from Rockefeller Center: Pomme Palais, Michel Richard’s bakery cafe in the Palace Hotel. It’s at 30 East 51st Street between Madison and Park Avenues, and is open daily from 6:30am-8:00pm. Since today is National Pastry Day, head there immediately!

    Those who know the French-born chef from his acclaimed former restaurants Citrus, Citronelle and currently, Central in Las Vegas and D.C., might be surprised to hear that he’s a pastry chef.

    The boy who learned to cook at age 7 was advised a few years later by a friend of his mother’s that if he wanted to be a chef, it would help to learn how to bake first. You can question that advice, but by age 14 young Michel was an apprentice baker at a hotel in Reims. His major experience came as a young adult at the famed Maison Lenotre in Paris, helmed by the great French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre. After just a few years, Lenôtre chose the young pastry chef to open a New York branch.

     

    In his cookbook Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts, Chef Richard explains why the New York City shop was short-lived:

    “In France, when you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, you often bring a great bottle of champagne and the prettiest pastry you can afford. This is not so much the custom in America. People are as likely to make desserts as they are to buy them. This was bad for Mr. Lenôtre’s venture….”

    Chef Richard invites you to reconsider the French style, and to look at his lovely selection of specialty cakes—exceptional confections to bring to holiday parties, dinners and other special occasions.

  • Michel’s Snowman (photo above) is a memorable holiday gift: a hollow meringue vacherin to be filled with ice cream, sorbet or mousse. It can be enjoyed as a centerpiece before dessert; and unlike cakes, which must be fresh, it can be kept and enjoyed for several days before filling and consuming. The meringue is soft and toothsome, and covered with sanding sugar that glistens like snowflakes. The bakery says it’s “sized for two,” but it can serve four or more, especially after a big meal. We’re buying several for home and gifting: It’s just $20!
  •  
    The other cakes, mostly $42, include:

     

  • Charlotte Cake. This lovely confection, ringed with lady fingers, is topped with fresh fruit and filled with passionfruit yogurt mousse—an inspired choice that adds a tart contrast to the sweetness. Ruby red raspberries and tiny accents of green pistachios made this cake especially Christmassy; the lady fingers are garnished with tiny rice cracker balls that add a merry, confetti-like touch.
  • Lemon Eggceptional Cake. Chef Richard turns the American favorite, lemon meringue pie, into a sponge cake (genoise) with layers of lemon curd filling. It is topped by the airiest meringue imaginable. All will delight in the decoration of white chocolate eggs with yellow-colored yolks.
  • Opera Cake. Chef Richard‘s version of this classic French layered cake of coffee, chocolate and almond flavors is the best we’ve ever had. It’s a coffee lover’s delight, and melts in your mouth.
  •  

    The Macaron Cake, garnished with gold leaf, is one of the festive options. Photo courtesy Pomme Palais.

  • Orange Crème Brûlée Cheesecake. This charming cheesecake is mis-named: The airy orange-flavored cheesecake is topped with the soft caramel topping of flan, not a hard, crackling brûlée. But whatever the name, it’s delicious and elegant—the lightest option.
  • Chocolate Fleur d’Automne and Macaron Cake (photo above). Those wishing a rich chocolate mousse experience should turn to these two beauties. The Chocolate Fleur has layers of chocolate mousse and almond meringue, covered in chocolate and topped with a huge chocolate “flower” that spans the entire top of the cake. The Macaron Cake, perhaps the prettiest of the group, layers chocolate mousse with almond vanilla sponge cake and decorates it with colorful macarons and gold leaf.
  • Tarte au Pomme. To us, the simplest dessert was the most luscious. Paper-thin sheets of puff pastry are slowly baked for a long time, transforming them into super-crisp crust topped by the most delicious pastry cream and caramelized apples. All of the other cakes are more glamorous in appearance and more complex; but this was our favorite, and Chef Richard confided that it is his favorite, too.
  •  
    Far beyond fancy cakes, Pomme Palais has luscious options for every part of the day.

  • On-the-go breakfast options: Have a brioche, croissant or pain au chocolate with cafe au lait or other coffee choice.
  • Light lunch favorites, such as French onion soup and goat cheese Caesar salad.
  • Individual pastries: a large pastry case full of tempting éclairs, fruit tartlets, napoleons and many others, including the wonderful tarte aux pommes and the best Gâteau St. Honoré we’ve ever had, both available by the slice.
  • Sophisticated treats: cookies, dragées, chocolates and a wondrous Christmas pairing of pink and green pistachio tuiles with raspberry meringues.
  •  
    For more information, visit the Pomme Palais website.

      

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    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Gazpacho Day

    Gazpacho made with yellow bell peppers. Photo
    courtesy Chicken Fried Gourmet.

     

    Gazpacho is a soup served chilled or room temperature and usually associated with summer, when few people desire hot soup. So why is National Gazpacho Day on December 6th?

    Our guess is that whoever requested the establishment of National Gazpacho Day was from a warm Southern state. But even those of us facing freezing temperatures today can dig in.

    Gazpacho is a low-calorie, high-nutrition dish, a boon for dieters and people who don’t eat enough veggies. It is one of those recipes that affords maximum customization: Each cook can do his or her thing, and even a favorite recipe can be tweaked each time it is made. The combination of vegetables, herbs, types of vinegar and flavored olive oil, and garnishes is endless.

    Our favorite idea for “winter gazpacho” is from Chef Michael O’Boyle of ChickenFriedGourmet.com.

    He serves a yellow bell pepper gazpacho as a shooter, which can be served from trays at a cocktail party or as a first course at a seated dinner. The garnish on top of the shooter is a tortilla chip cup filled with salsa.

     

    It’s an ideal recipe for winter, when tomatoes are not in season.

    This bell pepper gazpacho recipe was adapted from TheLunaCafe, which also has an e-book for the iPad, 12 Days Of Christmas Cookies.

    RECIPE: BELL PEPPER GAZPACHO

    Ingredients

  • 6 red or yellow bell peppers, roasted, cored, seeded, de-ribbed and chopped (1½ pounds roasted yields 3 cups chopped, roasted, peeled bell peppers)
  • 5 ounces red or yellow grape tomatoes (match to color of peppers)
  • 1/4 red onion, peeled, and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 serrano* chiles, halved lengthwise, cored, seeded, and de-ribbed
  • 2 cloves peeled garlic
  • ¾ cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons excellent sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons smoked hot paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  •  
    *For milder heat, use an ancho, cascabel or poblano chile.

     

    GAZPACHO GARNISHES

    Dairy Garnishes

  • Greek yogurt, plain or herbed (mix in finely chopped fresh herbs)
  • Large crouton/crostini with fresh goat cheese
  • Crème fraîche
  • Sour cream
  •  
    Non-Dairy Garnishes

  • Baby beets or diced whole beets
  • Boiled potato, half or whole
  • Crab meat or other seafood, chilled
  • Diced avocado, cucumber or tomato
  • Croutons (small) or large garlic crouton/crostini
  • Fresh herbs
  • Steamed vegetables (broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, etc.)
  •  

    The more familiar tomato gazpacho, garnished with avocado and crabmeat. Photo courtesy McCormick. Here’s the recipe.

     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the bell peppers, tomatoes, onion, chiles and garlic in a blender. Cover and liquefy. NOTE: Use disposable gloves when handling hot chiles to avoid accidental irritation from the capsaicin in the seeds and ribs.

    2. ADD the stock, orange juice, olive oil, orange zest, vinegar, lemon juice, paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and liquefy. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. If you want a thinner soup, add more stock.

    3. CHILL, covered, for at least 4 hours. Garnish and serve.
     
    GAZPACHO HISTORY

    Gazpacho is a cold raw vegetable soup that originated in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. The name is of Arabic origin, and literally means “soaked bread,” an ingredient of early recipes that made use of the prior day’s stale bread. The term has become generic for “cold vegetable soup.”

    The original recipe came from the Arabs who occupied much of Spain from the 8th through the 13th centuries. Early on, gazpacho was a way for field workers to make lunch from the vegetables at hand. The recipe typically included stale bread, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, onion, tomato, wine vinegar and salt—which remains the Andalusian style. Since the tomato is a New World fruit that was not eaten in Europe until the 1800s*, the earliest gazpacho was made without it.

    There are many variations of gazpacho, depending on local ingredients and preferences. The familiar red tomato-based gazpacho is just one of many possibilities. American recipes tend to leave out the bread, although some garnish the soup with a garlic crouton. White gazpacho is made with olive oil, sherry vinegar, bread, garlic and salt, and substitutes green grapes and almonds for the vegetables.

    —Steven Gans

      

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