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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 Tip Of The Day

TIP OF THE DAY: Baby Purple Artichokes (Fiesole)

In season now, these little artichokes are a treat for artichoke lovers and a lovely shade of vegetable for Easter dinner.

Called fiesole (fee-YEH-so-lay) in Italian, the baby purple artichoke—the size of a large egg—belongs to the botanical genus and species, Cynara scolymus, which includes the green globe artichokes and purple globe artichokes.

Artichokes are the immature flower heads of an herbaceous perennial thistle plant in the Compositae botanical family. The cardoon, or artichoke thistle/wild artichoke, is a different species: Cynara cardunculus. Here’s more about artichoke varieties.

The tulip shaped baby purple artichokes have the same great flavor as their large green and purple kin and are easier to eat because they haven’t developed the fuzzy portion of on top of the choke. They are bright violet in color; the colors fade only slightly when they are cooked.

The only thorn in the flesh is exactly that: The leaves still have sharp tips.

   

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Baby purple artichokes. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

 
Harvested young for tenderness and rich flavor, baby purple artichokes typically have intense fruity and nutty flavors and grassy tones, and are considered to be the most flavorful of all baby artichoke varieties.

If you can’t find the artichokes locally, you can buy them from Melissas.com.

HOW TO BUY BABY ARTICHOKES

Look for firm, thin, compact leaves (called a tight core) that are bright without discoloration. If you squeeze the artichoke and it squeaks, it is fresh!

Store the, unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Here’s a photo spread on how to prepare artichokes for cooking.
 
HOW TO SERVE BABY ARTICHOKES

Baby artichokes are easy to prepare. They may be baked, boiled, braised, marinated, poached, roasted or steamed. When slow-cooked, artichokes become tender and more flavorful, absorb the flavors with which they are cooked. [Source]

Artichokes pair well with both fatty and high acid ingredients: anchovies, bacon, basil, butter, cheese (especially goat and feta), cream, garlic, lemon, hollandaise, mushrooms, pepper, sausage, thyme, tomatoes, vinaigrette, white wine and truffles.

You can find many recipes online, but here are two thoughts:

  • Appetizer: Simmer in olive oil, then fry at until ther leaves open. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and serve.
  • Main: Slice in half and braise the artichokes in olive oil, white wine, garlic and herbs. Serve them with risotto.
  •  

    purple-artichoke-friedasFB-230r

    A purple globe artichoke. The variety is called “Sangria.” Photo courtesy Frieda’s.

     

    A BRIEF ARTICHOKE HISTORY

    Artichokes were first cultivated in the Mediterranean region thousands of years ago in Maghreb, the region of North Africa west of Egypt, where they still growing wild. They spread through the Mediterranean region.

    The Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.E.) wrote of artichokes being grown in Italy and Sicily.

    The Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 C.E.), a surgeon with the Roman army of Emperor Nero, wrote about artichokes at the time of Christ.

    Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In the ensuing centuries, they were grown in France and other areas of Europe.

    In America, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century recipe entitled “To Make Hartichoak Pie.” In the early 1800s, French immigrants settling in the Louisiana Territory planted artichokes.

     

    In 1922 Andrew Molera, a landowner in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, California, lease land to Italian immigrant farmers and encouraged them to grow the “new” vegetable, as artichokes were fetching high prices. [Source]

    Fiesole artichokes are named for the city of Fiesole, Italy, an ancient Etruscan town located in the hills above Florence. They were initially bred from the Violetta de Provence artichoke, a purple variety native to southern France.

    As for its botanical name, Cynara scolymus: The genus name comes from the Greek kynara, artichoke. Scolymus derives from the Greek word for thistle.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Leftover Grains As A Soup Garnish

    When we have leftover cooked grains—barley, bulgur, kasha, quinoa, rice, etc.—we start using them the next morning in breakfast omelets. By the time lunch comes, we’re ready to make grain salad.

    If we don’t have enough for a salad, we add the grains to soup. They can make quite a handsome garnish, and most grains go with any type of soup.

    In the photo, Brazilian steakhouse chain Texas de Brazil topped a mound of rice with a shrimp garnish.

    But you can use the grain plain, with a simple sprinkling of green herbs or something equally colorful (halved cherry tomato, sliced jalapeño or bell pepper).

    Or, take the occasion to use up leftover proteins to top the grain: bacon, fish, seafood, poultry, steak. It’s a great way to repurpose small bits of leftovers you can’t do much else with.

    Vegetarians can substitute a cube of grilled tofu, a cherry tomato, olive or leftover steamed vegetables.

    And, you can use leftover beans and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, peas) instead of the grains.

    Whatever you choose, a sprig of green—shredded basil (called chiffonade) or a small basil leaf, rosemary or parsley sprig, cilantro, chives, chopped green onions (scallions) or microgreens–is the final crown on what started out as a conventional bowl of soup.

     

    lobster-bisque-rice-garnish-texasdebrazil-230

    Turn rice into a base for even more garnishes. First mound the grain in the center of the bowl, then carefully pour the soup around it. Photo courtesy Texas de Brazil.

     
    It’s a nice change from croutons.

    Here are 20+ more ways to garnish soup.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Grilled Fish Garnish

    mahi-mahi-garnish-spin-crumbs-crab-bonefishgrill-230

    Dorado (mahi-mahi), garnished with
    creamed spinach, toasted breadcrumbs and
    crabmeat. Photo courtesy Bonefish Grill.

     

    You may be eating more grilled, pan-sautéed or poached fish for health or for Lent. But it doesn’t have to be dull.

    The photo at left shows “Dorado Rockefeller,” a riff on Oysters Rockefeller, which tops oysters with creamed spinach and toasted breadcrumbs.

    At Bonefish Grill, a piece of dorado (mahi mahi) gets a similar treatment. But because Bonefish Grill is a seafood palace, they crowned the dish with crab meat.

    Since most fish is bland in color, use the garnish as an opportunity to add brightness to the plate.
     
    PLACE THE FISH ON A BED

    Instead of—or in addition to—garnishing the top of the fish, create visual interest by placing grains or vegetables under the fish:

  • Asparagus, string beans, carrots
  • Lentils or other legume or pulse (beans, chickpeas, peas, etc.)
  • Mashed potatoes or cauliflower
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Ratatouille
  • Succotash
  •  
    CHOOSE A COLORFUL SAUCE

  • Diced, seasoned canned tomatoes
  • Red pasta sauce, from mild marinara to spicy puttanesca
  • Salsa, red or green
  • Sautéed, steamed or creamed spinach (standing in as a sauce)
  • Sliced cherry/grape tomato vinaigrette with minced fresh herbs (see photo below)
  •  

    GARNISHES FOR FISH

    When you use a lightly-dressed salad as a garnish, the vinaigrette serves as a sauce.

  • Baby greens salad
  • Diced green, orange, red and/or yellow bell peppers
  • Fresh herbs or herb salad
  • Fruit: halved grapes, lemon or lime slices, olives, pink/red grapefruit segments
  • Lemon-lime slices
  • Toasted bread crumbs (recipe below)
  • Sliced grape/cherry tomatoes with fresh herbs
  • Sautéed red jalapeño slices (remove the seeds and white pith)
  • Thin-sliced vegetables: chiles, cucumber, sauteéd mushrooms with herbs, summer squash, tomato
  •  

    steamed-cod-asian-sauce-salsa-bonefishgrill-230

    Steamed cod, citrus Thai sauce, tomato salsa. Photo courtesy Bonefish Grill.

     

    RECIPE: TOASTED BREAD CRUMBS

    These taste best with a rustic or sourdough loaf. The bread can be fresh or day-old. The recipe can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups fine bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. REMOVE the crust and cut or tear the bread into chunks approximately one inch in size. Pulse in a food processor to desired consistency.

    2. TOAST the crumbs in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

    3. TOSS the breadcrumbs frequently until golden brown and crunchy, about 5 minutes,. Season with a bit of salt to taste.

      

    Comments

    TIP: Dip Sweet Chips On National Chip & Dip Day

    sweet-potato-chips-strawberry-dip-tablespoon.com-230

    Cinnamon sweet potato chips with
    strawberry yogurt dip. Photo courtesy
    Tablespoon.com.

     

    March 23rd is National Chip and Dip Day. When we think of chips and dip, salty chips pop into mind, with creamy dips, guacamole or salsa.

    But today’s tip is: For snacking or a fun dessert, go sweet with cinnamon-sugar flavored chips and a sweet dip.

    Just a quick glance of some of the better brands on store shelves:

  • Bare Cinnamon Apple Chips (a NIBBLE favorite, and gluten-free)
  • Cabo Chips Churro Tortilla Chips
  • Glenny’s Apple Cinnamon Low Fat Soy Crisps
  • Glutino Cinnamon and Sugar Gluten Free Bagel Chips
  • Kay’s Naturals Cinnamon Toast Protein Pretzel Sticks
  • Popchips Cinnamon Twist Sweet Potato Chips
  • Popcorners Whole Grain Chips
  • Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips
  • Terra Cinnamon Spice Sweet Potato Chips
  •  

    WHAT DIP SHOULD YOU USE?

    Here are some suggestions from Cabo Chips and THE NIBBLE:

  • Caramel Sauce: Cinnamon and caramel are a delicious combination. Simply warm a bowl of caramel sauce in the microwave.
  • Chocolate Sauce: Melt chocolate chips or a chopped chocolate bar in the microwave for 45 seconds. You can dip chps in the warm chocolate, or dip the chips and place on wax paper until the chocolate sets.
  • Dulce de Leche Sauce: As with caramel sauce, simply warm a bowl of dulce de leche in the microwave.
  • Mexican Fried Ice Cream: Warm the chips in a toaster oven for 5 minutes on low heat. Place in individual bowls and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Garnish with chocolate or caramel sauce a drizzle of honey. You can also add fresh berries.
  • Nutella: Place a few spoonfuls in the microwave for 30 seconds, then drizzle over the chips or simply dip them.
  • Sweet “Nachos”: Warm the chips, drizzle with warmed sauce, and garnish with butterscotch or chocolate chips or mini marshmallows.
  • Yogurt Dip: Use fruit or vanilla yogurt straight, or augment it with mini chocolate chips or other inclusions.
  • Your own recipe for a sweet dip. Cheesecake dip, anyone?
  •  

    apple-chips-salted-caramel-dip-dizzybusyandhungry-230

    Apple chips with a salted caramel dip. Photo © DizzyBusyAndHungry.com. Here’s the recipe.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Fish Fillet Vs. Fish Steak

    salmon-filet-dailyperricone-230

    A salmon fillet: no bone, but skin on the
    bottom. Photo courtesy DailyPerricone.com.

     

    You’ll note that some fish recipes, like the one below for Pretzel-Crusted Tuna, call for fish steaks. Other recipes call for fillets. What’s the difference?

    It’s all about the cut.
     
    FISH FILLET

  • To fillet (it’s a verb as well as a noun), the flesh is cut whole away from the backbone of the fish by cutting lengthwise along one side, parallel to the backbone.
  • Fillets do not contain any pieces of the larger bones, but some species have smaller, intramuscular bones (called pins) within the flesh.
  • Butterfly fillets are a specialty cut, produced by cutting the fillets on each side in such a way that they are held together by the flesh and skin of the belly.
  • The skin may be removed before the fish is filleted.
  •  

    What’s the difference between a fillet and a filet?

    Just the language, which impacts spelling and pronunciation. Fillet (FILL-it) is English and filet (fee-LAY) is French.

     

    FISH STEAK

  • With a steak, the flesh is cut crosswise (perpendicular to the spine), cutting through the bone. The resulting steak may include a piece of bone and skin, or it can be boneless and skinless, especially with larger fish.
  • Steaks are usually cut with fish that are larger than 10 pounds.
  • With very large fish (a swordfish or tuna can be hundreds of pounds, if not 1,000 pounds or more), a cross-cut is too large for a single serving. With such large fish, the steaks are cut into smaller pieces that resemble fillets, but are more even/rectangular.
  •  
    IS ONE BETTER THAN THE OTHER?

    Considered more elegant in appearance than steaks, fillets have been traditionally used by restaurant chefs. More casual eateries are more likely to use salmon steaks these days; and of course, they’re in your grocer’s fresh and frozen fish cases.

     

    salmon-steak-tbilisi.all.biz-230

    A salmon steak. Photo courtesy Tbilisi.all.biz.

     

    However, more than a few people claim that bone-in beef steaks taste so much better than boneless cuts. So why wouldn’t it be the same with bone-in fish?

    This article does a very good job of explaining why the argument for bone superiority may be specious.

    There are also recipes that require one or the other by definition. Fish and chips, for example, requires fillets.

    A final consideration: Because they are thicker than fish fillets, fish steaks are less likely to fall apart when cooking. Cod, dorado (mahi-mahi), tuna, larger varieties of salmon, and swordfish are typically cut into steaks.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Spring Beer Styles

    Yesterday was National Bock Beer Day, coinciding with the first day of spring. It’s a holiday declaration that makes sense: bock beer is a spring beer.

    There’s a lot of media attention to eating seasonally; less so to drinking seasonally.

    So today we’re starting the first in our seasonal beer recommendations. By the end of the year, you’ll have them all, including summer beer, fall beer and winter beer.

    Some people drink the same beer year-round. But aficionados know to look for the “seasonals,” as they’re known in the trade. America’s craft brewers have made plenty for you to choose from.

    Spring beers are brewed with brighter flavors, sharper textures to bridge the gap between the stronger cold-weather beers and the lighter summer styles. Brewers use different hops, malts, spices and brewing styles to create fresh flavors and crisp textures.

    It takes 3 months to assemble the ingredients, brew the beer and let it mature before release. So these are beers that are brewed in the winter, to be released and in the spring:

     

    blue-amber-ale-TBD-230

    Irish ale, brewed to be ready for spring.

  • Blonde Ale
  • Belgian Wit/White Beer
  • Bock Beer (including Doppelbock and Maibock)
  • Fruit Beer (framboise with raspberries, kriek with cherries, etc.)
  • Green Beer novelties for St. Patrick’s Day (typically lager with food color)
  • India Pale Ale/American Pale Ale
  • Irish Ale and Irish Stout
  • Saison, a Belgian ale
  • Wheat Beer, a.k.a. Hefeweizen, Weisse and Weizen
  •  
    Thanks to brewer Greg Smith of Beersmith.com for his guidance.

    Now, how about a tasting party to share the different spring styles with your pals?

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Eat Sunny Food

    It’s no fun looking out the window on the first day of spring, waiting for the snowfall to begin. So to counter the gray skies and eat something bright and sunny.

    Anticipating the weather, we acquired a ripe papaya and other fruits for this recipe from Hannah Kaminsky, who is wintering in Hawaii.

    “At the Salted Lemon Smoothie & Juice Bar,” she writes, “they’ve perfected the art of building an unsinkable papaya boat. Local orange and pink-hued fruits, more brilliant than a sunrise in paradise, are hollowed out and stuffed to the brim with granola, yogurt, banana slices and blueberries, and finished with a light shower of chia seeds.

    “The contrast between creamy yogurt and crunchy cereal, flavored with the ripe and juicy fresh fruits, is so simple yet so satisfying,” she concludes.

    And on a day like today, in the gloomy Northeast, it provides something bright that says “Happy spring!”

    RECIPE: PAPAYA BOAT

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 1 medium or large papaya, peeled and seeded
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1 6-ounce yogurt, fruit, plain or vanilla
  • 1 medium banana, sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries or raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  •    

    papaya-boat-hannahkaminsky-230

    Have papaya as part of a sunny breakfast or lunch. Photo © Hanna Kaminsky.

  • Optional: sweetener to taste* (agave, honey, maple syrup)
  •  

    *If the fruit isn’t sweet enough.

     

    papaya-cut-hannahkaminsky-230

    A halved papaya with a fanciful cut. Photo ©
    Hannah Kaminsky.

     

    Preparation

    1. DIVIDE a half cup of granola between two plates to set up a “foundation” for the papaya boat. This will help prevent it from capsizing when you eat it, and it also provides a layer of crunchy cereal to enjoy.

    2. PLACE the remaining granola inside the papaya halves (1/4 cup inside of each) and top that with the yogurt, spooning equal amounts into the two boats.

    3. ARRANGE the sliced banana and berries as desired. Top with a sprinkle of chia seeds.

    4. FINISH with a light drizzle of syrup as desired.
     
    HOW TO BUY PAPAYA

    1. When papaya ripens, the green skin will turn mostly yellow with patches of red. Smell the fruit at the stem end; a ripe papaya will be fragrant.

     
    2. Squeeze the papaya gently; it will give a little if it is ripe. Avoid papayas that are overly soft. You can ripen the papaya on the counter in a brown paper bag overnight, or place it in a sunny spot for a day or two.

    3. You can refrigerate a ripe papaya in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 3 days.
     
    CAN YOU EAT PAPAYA SEEDS?

    You can use papaya in any number of recipes, or simply eat it like a melon. Wash the outside, cut the fruit lengthwise and discard the seeds.

    But do the seeds have any other use?

    While there is no scientific evidence, in some circles the seeds have caught on as a potential health food. They are nontoxic, should you want to try them.

    You can eat papaya seeds whole, or can grind them up. Here’s how to do it from WikiHow, which claims that the taste is “fairly similar” to ground pepper.

    The skin should not be eaten.
     
    MORE SUNNY FRUITS & VEGETABLES

  • Yellow/Orange fruits: apples, apricots, cape gooseberries, cantaloupe, golden kiwi, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, nectarines, oranges/mandarins, papapyas, peaches, pears, persimmons, pineapples, tangerines, yellow figs, yellow watermelon.
  • Yellow/Orange vegetables: acorn/butternut/pumpkin/other squash varieties, beets, bell peppers, carrots, corn, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, summer squash, Yukon gold/other yellow potatoes, yellow tomatoes, yellow winter squash varieties.
  • Red/pink fruits: apples, blood oranges, cherries, cranberries, grapes, grapefruit, pears, pomegranates, raspberries, red pears, strawberries, watermelon.
  • Red/pink vegetables: beets, bell peppers, radicchio, radishes, red onions, red potatoes, rhubarb, tomatoes.
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: The Joy Of Cheddar

    We love cheese, but cheese doesn’t love us. After a lifetime of eating it three times a day, we developed lactose intolerance—no cause and effect, just one of those things that can happen when the bloom of youth fades away.

    Depending on how lactose intolerant you are, you can eat aged cheeses. The older the cheese, the more the lactose has dissipated, to just 2%, depending on the cheese. But for the truly afflicted (including us), that’s 2% too much*.

    The only cheese that is naturally lactose-free is Cheddar. Through the process of cheddaring†, the last bit of lactose is consumed in production. We can eat it to our heart’s delight.

    We always liked Cheddar, but our cheese passions lay elsewhere: blues, chèvres, double- and triple-crèmes. So we went on a Cheddar safari, first trying the dozen different Cheddars in the cheese case at Trader Joe’s.

    These included plain Cheddars—mild, sharp and extra-sharp—and flavored Cheddars, variously blended with bacon, chive, horseradish, jalapeño, onion, scallion, wasabi, wine/spirits and other inclusions. There’s also goat Cheddar.

    The king of flavored Cheddars, which we discovered elsewhere, seems to be Yancy’s Fancy of New York State, which makes some 24 flavored Cheddars, including Buffalo Wing, Grilled Bacon Cheeseburger, Pepperoni and Strawberry. One day, we’ll gather them all and have a heck of a tasting party.

       

    amber-onion-cheddar-ig-230b

    iGourmet sells this delicious Cheddar with caramelized onions, also known as Abbot’s Gold. It’s made by Wensleydale Creamery in the U.K. Photo courtesy iGourmet.

     

    *Thanks to Erin Berardinelli, who wrote to tell us of mold allergy, a condition that can generate a bad reaction to the aged cheeses—as “young” as three months. If you’re reacting badly to aged cheeses but not to other dairy, have it checked out.

    †Cheddaring is an additional step unique to the production of Cheddar cheese. After heating, the curd is kneaded with salt, cut into cubes to drain the whey and then stacked and turned.

     
    OUR “CHEDDAR SAFARI” WINNER

    After weeks of tasting the world of Cheddar—from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S. and the U.K.—favorites emerged.

    But our passion of the moment is the flavored English Cheddar With Caramelized Onions, imported by Trader Joe’s. Rich and creamy, full-bodied and redolent of the most delightful caramelized onion sweetness, it is addictive—one of those foods we call “love at first bite.”

    Trader Joe doesn’t disclose which Dorset producer makes this full-bodied farmhouse Cheddar, but it’s a “famed farm” with “more than 40 years of traditional cheese making experience.”

    The addition of caramelized onions was inspired by a classical British ploughman’s lunch pairing—cheese and chutney. The cheesemakers mixed caramelized onion marmalade into the Cheddar. The marmalade itself is made with cane sugar, cider vinegar, red currant juice, lemon juice, clove, cinnamon, sugar, ginger and olive oil.

    The result is a balanced sweet-savory flavor with honeyed notes and a pleasing onion aroma. The marmalade makes it a bit crumbly, like a mature Cheddar.

     

    cheddar-caramelized-onions-TraderJoe-230ps2

    Our new passion: Cheddar with caramelized onions. Photo courtesy Trader Joe’s.

     

    HOW WE USED THE CHEDDARS

    Every Cheddar fan has a favorite use, often on on burgers and sandwiches, including grilled cheese.

    Ours is as a snack or a light meal with with a Honeycrisp apple or other fruit, or a slice or two of Dave’s Killer Bread.

    Given the amount of Cheddar we had on hand, we also shredded it atop casseroles, chilis and soups; made fondue and cheese sauce; served lots of cheese plates to visitors; and had it for dessert with a piece of apple pie.

    We also made Cheddar pizzas, variously with apple, meatball and vegetable toppings. We made Cheddar soup and cauliflower Cheddar soup. And we stuffed shredded Cheddar into grilled portabello mushroom caps, then returned them to the broiler to melt.

     
    A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF CHEDDAR

    Cheddar has been called the “cheese of kings.” Records show that in 1170, King Henry II declared Cheddar the best cheese in England, and purchased more than five tons of it. His son, Prince John, who became king in 1199, purchased a similar quantity in 1184. U.S. President Andrew Jackson (in office In 1829-1837) once held an open house party at the White House at which he served a 1,400-pound block of Cheddar.

    Cheddar is a hard, sharp cheese, with a paste that ranges from off-white to pale yellow to deep orange, depending on the amount of annatto added (more about that in a minute). Originating in the Somerset County village of Cheddar in southwest England, it is the most popular type of cheese in the U.K. and accounts for more than half of English cheese production.

    The cheese is now made worldwide, and only one producer remains in the village of Cheddar itself. The name is not protected‡ under the EU Protected Food Names program; so cheese made anywhere can be called Cheddar. However:

  • West Country Farmhouse Cheddar has a PDO (Protected domain of Origin) that covers Cheddars made in the traditional manner (raw milk, calf rennet and a cloth wrapping) in the southwest England counties of Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Somerset.
  • Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar gained PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status.
  •  
    The rich, nutty flavor notes become increasingly sharp with age. The smooth, firm texture of young Cheddar becomes more granular and crumbly with age.
     
    AMERICA’S FIRST CHEESE

    According to Widmer Cheese, a major U.S. producer of fine Cheddar, prior to 1850 nearly all the cheese produced in the U.S. was Cheddar. Cheddar production in Wisconsin, the leader in U.S. Cheddar production, began in the mid 1800s.

    A yellow food coloring (annatto) was originally added to distinguish where the Cheddar was made. In the U.S., Cheddars made in the New England states traditionally retaining the natural white color. There is no difference in flavor as a result of added coloring.

    Aging is the only difference between mild and sharp Cheddar. The longer cheese is aged naturally, the sharper and more pronounced the Cheddar flavor becomes.

  • Mild Cheddar is generally aged for 2 to 3 months.
  • Extra sharp Cheddar can be aged for as long as a year.
  • Cheddars in the U.S. with names such as “private stock” or “reserved” are aged for 15 months or longer.
  • In the U.K., “vintage” refers to a strong, extra-mature Cheddar aged for 16 months. In the U.S., Cabot’s Vintage Choice is aged for at least 2 years.
  • You can find Cheddars aged up to 10 years. We’ve never had one, but they’re supposed to be magnificent. The price is about double, to pay for the extra years of storage and tied-up cash.
  •  
    Here’s a more substantial history of Cheddar.

     
    ‡Protected Designation Of Origin, or PDO, is a trademark issued by the European Union that guarantees that a product is produced, prepared and processed in a designated geographical area, according to specified practices. There is also Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which guarantees geographical area only. Both designations provide legal protection against imitators, and both can use an EU logo of authenticity on their packaging. Purchasing a PDO product guarantees a consistent product experience and an established standard of excellence; the PGI designation guarantees it comes from the its area of origin (Scotch Whisky, for example, is a PGI). But it seems that there is no guild of Cheddar producers to do the same for all U.K. Cheddars.

      

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    TIP: The New Linguine & Clam “Sauce”

    If you make linguine and clam sauce the way most Americans do—with canned clams—try it the way they serve it at Olio e Piú in New York City.

    Eight whole steamed clams surround a plate of linguine.

    The linguine is cooked and tossed in olive oil with fresh parsley and placed in the center of the plate.

    The clams, lightly cooked in a garlic broth, surround the linguine. EVOO is poured into the other half of each clam shell.

    In our interpretation of this dish, we made clams in garlic broth (vongole in brodetto). We also grilled up a side of crostini; the crunch of the bread is a nice counterpoint to the soft pasta and clams, and the arugula adds some color to the plate. You can substitute your favorite garlic bread recipe.

    RECIPE: LINGUINE & CLAMS

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for tossing with the pasta
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons red chili pepper flakes
  • 8-10 clams in shell per person
  • 1-1/4 cups white wine
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 package linguine (or fresh linguine)
  •    

    linguine-alla-vongole-clam-olionyc-230

    A modern interpretation of linguine and clam sauce. Photo courtesy Olio e Piú | NYC.

     

    For The Garlic Crostini

  • 1 baguette, sliced into 1-inch-thick pieces
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/2 to 1 cup ricotta
  • 1-2 cups baby arugula, cleaned and dried
  •  

    ricotta-truffle-oil-arugula-blackpepper-olionyc-230

    Garlic-ricotta-arugula crostini. Photo courtesy Olio e Piú | NYC.

     

    Preparation

    First, make the clams in garlic broth.

    1. WASH the clams to remove any dirt or sand.

    2. COOK the clams. In a heavy pot over moderate heat, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and sauté until golden brown (about three minutes). Add the salt, pepper and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

    3. INCREASE the heat to moderately high and add the clams, white wine, water and thyme. Cover and bring to a boil. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the clams open (5 to 7 minutes). Discard clams that do not open. Drain the clams and toss with the chopped parsley.

    4. MAKE the pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt. While the pasta cooks, grill the bread:

     

    5. PREHEAT the broiler or grill to high. Brush the crostini slices on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Grill, flipping once, until golden brown and crisp. While the bread is grilling…

    6. SEASON the ricotta with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the crostini from the broiler/grill and rub each slice on the top side with the raw garlic. Spread with ricotta and top with arugula.

    6. PLATE the pasta in a mound in the center of the plate. Serve clams with the crostini.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Bake Irish Soda Bread

    Having published a recipe for Irish soda muffins for St. Patrick’s Day, we hadn’t planned to feature Irish soda bread this year.

    Then, we received this recipe from The Baker Chick and realized how much we wanted to tear into a warm loaf of soda bread and slather it with Kerrygold butter from Ireland.

    So we bumped our previously scheduled Tip Of The Day for this suggestion: Bake a loaf of Irish soda bread. If you’re already at work, bake it when you get home. It’s delicious with dinner—or in our case, instead of dinner. (We can make a joyous meal of great bread and butter.)

    Traditional Irish soda bread, the recipe below, has just four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. Other recipes add butter, caraway seeds, chocolate, eggs, orange peel or zest, raisins and/or sugar.

    The style of soda bread we enjoy in the U.S. is American-style, developed by Irish immigrants with butter, sugar and raisins.

    We adapted the recipe to meet in the middle: no butter or egg, but a bit of raisins and caraway.

    RECIPE: TRADITIONAL IRISH SODA BREAD

    Ingredients For 1 Loaf

       

    irish-soda-bread-thebakerchick-230

    Traditional Irish soda bread has no raisins or caraway. Photo courtesy The Baker Chick.

  • 1 pound (3-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups buttermilk
  •  
    We couldn’t help ourselves: We added these optional, non-traditional ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raisins, sultanas or dried cherries, currants or cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  •  
    But in the name of tradition, we held back on the butter, egg and sugar.
     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F.

    2. STIR together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and pour in 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk. Use a wooden spoon or your hand to combine the ingredients. You want the dough to be soft, so don’t over-mix it. Add more buttermilk if needed to get the dough to come together.

    3. TURN the dough onto a floured surface and give it just a few kneads (more will result in a tougher crumb). Shape it into a 6-inch diameter disk, about 2 inches high. Use a sharp knife to score a shallow X on the top of the loaf. Transfer to a cookie sheet or pizza stone and bake for 15 minutes.

    4. REDUCE the heat to 400°F and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden, and the bread sounds hollow when you tap it.

     

    kerrygold-brick-230

    For St. Patrick’s Day, spring for Kerrygold butter, made with milk from cows who graze
    on the green grass of the Emerald Isle. Photo
    courtesy Kerrygold.

     

    THE HISTORY OF IRISH SODA BREAD

    Baking soda, called bread soda in Ireland, was invented in the early 1800s. In those days most people didn’t have an oven—they cooked in a fireplace over coals or a peat fire (called turf fire in Ireland). They placed the dough in a lidded cast-iron pot which went right on top of the fire.

    In County Donegal and County Leitrim, there was a tradition of adding caraway seeds to bread. Immigrants brought that recipe to the U.S. In America, the recipe evolved to include butter, eggs, raisins and sugar—ingredients which frugal housewives in Ireland wouldn’t have thought to add to the dough.

    Today, the soda bread recipe options include:

  • White soda bread: all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk and optional caraway seeds.
  • Brown soda bread, also a traditional recipe that substitutes whole wheat flour for part or all or all of the white flour.
  • Irish soda bread with raisins and caraway, the classic Irish-American version also made with sugar, butter, and eggs.
  • Numerous modern recipes, from healthier variations of whole grains, flax and sunflower seeds to walnut soda bread to oat soda bread with browned butter, rosemary and black pepper.
  •  
    Check out these and other recipes here.

    FOOD TRIVIA: The cross cut into the top of the loaf before baking allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread. As a bonus, in a Catholic country it adds the symbolic note of giving thanks.

      

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