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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

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Archive for Tip Of The Day

TIP OF THE DAY: Make Cake Pops & Cake Balls

baby-cakes-pop-maker-230sq

Baby Cakes cake pop maker. Photo courtesy Baby Cakes.

 

If you’ve never made cake pops but would like to if it were easy, the Babycakes Pop Maker is a fool-proof, inexpensive appliance that make round balls of cake.

The original cake pops recipe involves baking a cake, crumbling it into a large pan, adding frosting to stick the crumbs together, and then forming cake balls with your hands.

The Baby Cakes cake pop maker delivers a similar result with less effort. Simply pour 2 tablespoons of cake or brownie batter into each hole, close the lid and bake for about 7 minutes. Dip the cake balls into melted chocolate or other flavor or peanut butter chips, or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

You don’t even need sticks: Eat the cake balls like doughnut holes. You can inject a filling—jam, chocolate sauce, custard or pudding—into the balls with the injector tool provided.

 
The machine can also be used to make wonderful baked hushpuppies and potato balls (which you can make on a slow day and freeze), and bread balls, like cornbread.

One box of mix makes 4 dozen balls.

Make cake balls for an Easter treat, an anytime sweet, and a last-minute treat if someone drops by for coffee. By the time you brew the coffee, the cake balls can be ready. With Baby Cakes, it’s always party time.

It’s also a fun gift for teens and tweens, who can make cake pops and cake balls for their friends.

And, you can make “cake” in hot summer months without turning on the oven.

 

The cake pop maker, which bakes 12 cake balls at a time, is $25.20 on Amazon.com. It includes:

  • 75 cake pop sticks and a filling injector
  • Recipes, a plastic cake pop stand and a fork tool for removing the balls without tearing them.
  •  
    You can buy a more elaborate cake pops serving tray for parties, and this much more glamorous cake pop tower.

    BAKING TIPS

  • Let the cake mix sit in the bowl for a few minutes, so it can start to rise.
  • Even though the baking plates are nonstick, lightly grease/spray the pan before adding the batter.
  • It may take a couple of tries to learn how high to fill the cups before baking in order to achieve perfection.
  • Be sure the lid is closed straight (or the balls can come out lopsided).
  • Save the styrofoam packing to hold cake pops as you dip them. Just make holes with an ice pick.
  •  

    175-best-babycakes-cake-pops-230

    Treat yourself to a recipe book like this one for decorating inspiration.

     

    There are several cake pops recipe books that show many ways to decorate cake pops—even if you’re not particularly dextrous.

    Then, you’re set for many hours of food fun.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Coffee Milk

    coffee-milk-davescoffeesyrup-230

    Coffee milk is a simple and delicious union of milk and coffee syrup. Photo courtesy Dave’s Coffee Store.

     

    Coffee lovers, and especially iced coffee lovers: Have you had coffee milk, the official* state drink of Rhode Island?

    Like chocolate milk, coffee milk is made by adding coffee syrup to cold milk. If you like iced coffee with sugar and a lot of milk, coffee milk is the easy way to make it at home. There’s no brewing, no need to keep a container of iced coffee in the fridge. Just pour a glass of milk, add coffee syrup and stir.

    It also works for people who prefer alternatives to cow’s milk.

    Top quality coffee syrup is a sweetened coffee concentrate made from fresh-roasted coffee beans. It is produced by straining water and sugar through ground coffee. (Supermarket brands tend to be artificially flavored.)

    While the precise origin of coffee milk is unclear, several sources trace it back to the turn of the 20th century in Providence’s immigrant Italian population.

    The first coffee syrup was introduced by the Silmo Packing Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1932. In 1938, Eclipse Food Products of Warwick, Rhode Island began to promote a coffee syrup product; Autocrat Coffee of Lincoln, Rhode Island came to market in the 1940s.

     
    In addition to the syrup form, coffee milk can be found ready-to-drink in store dairy cases, at diners and in university dining halls. [Source: Wikipedia]

    USES FOR COFFEE SYRUP

    In addition to coffee milk, you can use the syrup for:

  • Baking
  • Cocktails and mocktails
  • Dessert sauce
  • Glazes (check out this list of recipes for fish, meat, poultry and veggies)
  • Granita
  • Hot coffee drink
  • Shakes and smoothies
  • Pancake/waffle syrup
  •  
    *Rhode Island named coffee milk its official state beverage in 1993, after a competition with Del’s Lemonade, another Rhode Island specialty.

     

    DAVE’S COFFEE SYRUP

    Dave’s Coffee is a certified organic coffee roaster that operates an espresso bar and bakery in Charlestown, Rhode Island. The coffee syrup is an all natural artisan product made:

  • With real sugar—no HFCS or artificial sweeteners
  • With only its natural color from the beans—no added caramel color
  • In Original, Mocha and Vanilla flavors
  •  
    By contrast Coffee Time, the best-known supermarket brand, is made with high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, coffee extract, caramel color and potassium sorbate.

    The syrup is made in small batches to ensure quality. Choice Brazilian coffee beans are roasted by hand in a small, gas fired roaster to bring out nutty, sweet, smooth, roasty and smokey flavors. The roasted beans rest for two days; they’re then ground and cold-brewed for 18 hours in a special stainless steel kettle.

    The brewed coffee is mixed with pure cane sugar, brought to a boil and simmered until the syrup reduces and the sugar begins to caramelize. It’s bottled in amber glass, which protects the syrup from light.

    Get yours at DavesCoffeeStore.com.

     

    bottles-duo-230

    Dave’s Coffee Syrup is available in three flavors. Photo courtesy Dave’s Coffee Store.

     

    It’s a great gift idea for coffee-loving moms and dads, and other deserving family and friends.

    If you need a kosher syrup, you can buy Autocrat on Amazon.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Cinnamon Coffee

    french-press-cinnamon-coffee-mccormick-230

    It’s easy to brew delicious cinnamon coffee
    with any coffee maker. Photo courtesy
    McCormick.

     

    If you enjoy cinnamon coffee, here’s a recipe from McCormick, that adds real cinnamon to your ground coffee for a far more exciting flavor. (Commercial cinnamon-flavored coffee uses an extract to flavor the beans.)

    The coffee is brewed with brown sugar, so no sugar bowl is needed. You can use any coffee maker.

    For dessert, you can top the coffee with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. There are just 36 calories per cup, before the whipped cream.

    For a spiked version, add cinnamon liqueur, coffee liqueur or Irish cream liqueur. If you want to avoid the extra sugar, use whiskey (we like bourbon) or tequila.

     

    RECIPE: BREWED CINNAMON COFFEE

    Ingredients For 6 One-Cup Servings

  • 3/4 cup ground dark roast coffee, (regular or decaffeinated)
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 cups water
  • Optional garnish: whipped cream and sprinkled cinnamon
  • Optional: milk or cream
  • Optional liqueur: 1-2 tablespoons per cup
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PLACE coffee, sugar and cinnamon in a filter in brew basket of coffee maker (or directly into a French press).

    2. PLACE the vanilla in the empty carafe. Add water to coffee maker; brew coffee as usual.

    3. POUR into serving cups; add liqueur if desired. Top with whipped cream or serve with milk or cream. Garnish with an optional sprinkle of cinnamon.
     
    CINNAMON LIQUEUR

    There are more brands than there is shelf space to hold them all. And Bols makes both a cinnamon liqueur and a cinnamon schnapps (see the difference below). Some are more elegant, some are brash and sizzling.

    Cinnamon liqueur can be added to coffee and tea, sipped on the rocks, drunk as shooters and mixed into cocktails.

  • After Shock
  •  

    goldschager-bottle-230

    Dramatic and delicious: Goldschläger cinnamon schnaps with gold flakes. Photo courtesy Global Brands.

     

  • Bols Hot Cinnamon Liqueur and Gold Strike Cinnamon Schnapps
  • De Kuyper “Hot Damn!”
  • Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey Liqueur
  • Fire Water Hot Cinnamon Schnapps
  • Goldschläger, with flecks of edible gold, the most elegant of the cinnamon liqueurs
  • Leroux Cinnamon Schnapps
  • Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice
  • Tuaca Cinnaster Cinnamon and Vodka Liqueur
  •  
    CORDIAL, EAU DE VIE, LIQUEUR, SCHNAPPS: THE DIFFERENCE

    While many people use these terms interchangeably, and they are all flavored spirits, there are differences that are relevant to the consumer in terms of sweetness and color.

  • Liqueur (lih-KUR, not lih-CURE) is made by steeping fruits in alcohol after the fruit has been fermented; the result is then distilled. Liqueurs are typically sweeter and more syrupy than schnapps.
  • Schnapps (shnops) is made by fermenting the fruit, herb or spice along with a base spirit, usually brandy; the product is then distilled. This process creates a stronger, often clear, distilled spirit similar to a lightly flavored vodka. “Schnapps” is German for “snap,” and in this context denotes both a clear brandy distilled from fermented fruits, plus a shot that spirit. Classic schnapps have no added sugar, and are thus less sweet than liqueur. But note that some manufacturers add sugar to please the palates of American customers.
  • Eau de vie (oh-duh-vee), French for “water of life,” this is unsweetened fruit brandy—i.e.,schnapps.
  • Cordial has a different meaning in the U.S. than in the U.K., where it is a non-alcoholic, sweet, syrupy drink. In the U.S, a cordial is a sweet, syrupy, alcoholic beverage: liqueur.
  •  
    In sum: If you want a less sweet, clear spirit, choose schnapps/eau de vie over liqueur. For something sweet and syrupy, go for liqueur/cordial.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Blue & Purple Potatoes

    The All Blue variety of blue potatoes.
    Potatoes can be blue or purple, depending on
    the soil in which they are grown. Photo
    courtesy Burpee.com.

     

    Naturally blue and purple foods are relatively rare.

    Blue Foods. In the blue group are blackberries, blueberries, blue cheese, blue corn, Concord grapes, pale blue oyster mushrooms and edible flowers like bachelor’s buttons. And there are exotica like decaisnea, an Asian plant known as dead man’s fingers, with a blue pod and edible blue pulp.

    Purple Foods. In the purple group: black currants; black rice; eggplant; elderberries; figs; red cabbage; purple artichokes, asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower, grapes “green” beams, and kohlrabi; plums; prunes; raisins; and some microgreens.

    But our favorite in the blue and purple group are blue and purple potatoes and yams, which have both blue/purple flesh and skin. More flavorful than many starchy white potatoes, they tend to have a slight earthy and nutty flavor. Look for them in specialty produce markets or better supermarkets.

    The blue or purple color comes from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that create red, blue and purple colors, depending on the pH of the soil and other growing factors.

     

    There are numerous varieties with commercial names such as All Blue, Congo, Lion’s Paw, Purple Peruvian, Purple Viking, Purple Majesty and Vitilette. Specialty Produce magazine notes that there are 700 purple varieties in Peru, the birthplace of the potato.

    They are generally harvested young, which is why they tend to be smaller and rounder. Leave them in the ground and they’ll grow larger and oblong.

    According to Web MD, they’re a heart healthy vegetable, helping to lower blood pressure. What better reason to go out and buy some!

     

    A Versatile Potato

    Blue and purple potatoes have a medium-starchy texture. They keep their shape when baked but also mash and blend easily—for example, into potato soup, shown in the photo at right.

    The pop of color is a delight in potato salads and a surprise in dishes like blue/purple potato soup.

    Make fun dishes like purple potato chips or potato latkes. Mix purple potatoes with orange-fleshed squash. Try a purple potato pizza with smoked salmon and salmon roe, or with caramelized onions and rosemary.

    For Easter, how about this purple potato soup from Family Spice? Here’s the recipe.

    Purple mashed potatoes are also stunning on the table. If your tradition is roast lamb with rosemary potatoes, make those potatoes purple—or a mix of purple and white.

     

    purple-potato-soup-familyspice-230

    Purple potato soup: a treat for Easter dinner—or anytime. Photo © Family Spice.

     

    Think of how you’d use blue or purple potatoes and let us know.

    One suggestion you shouldn’t pass up: red, white and blue potato salad for Independence Day!

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Nogent Knives

    nogent-serrated-w-bread-230sq

    If you use your serrated “bread knife” to slice
    much more than bread, check out the
    Nogent line of knives, where the other knife
    styles are microserrated. Photo courtesy
    Nogent.

     

    Some people use their serrated knives, often called “bread knives,” for slicing bread.

    Other people have discovered that, beyond bread, a serrated blade cuts tomatoes, meat and other foods better than the chef’s knife, utility knife or other choice from the cutlery set.

    We’re one of those “other people.” We used our bread knife for much more than bread.

    And then we discovered Nogent, a French cutlery manufacturer founded in 1923.

    The bread knife (photo at left) has a familiar serrated edge; but all of the other knives are micro-serrated.

    Almost invisible to the naked eye, these precision edges comprise 100 micro-serrations per inch and are terrific for anything—chopping, dicing, mincing and slicing. We can slice a tomato thinner with our Nogent chef’s knife than with any other knife we own.

     

    We only have one Nogent knife—a gift received at a trade show. But we use it almost exclusively, ignoring the fine cutlery we own for many times the price.

    The knives never have to be sharpened! We’ve been using our knife for three or more years, and it’s as sharp as ever.

    The blades are handcrafted of molybdenum, a compound that is used in high-strength carbide steel and carbon stainless steel.

    The handles are molded polymer of an design. The polymer feels good in the hand, as does the ergonomic grip.

     

    If there’s anything to mar perfection, it’s that the handles are plastic and “authentic hornbeam wood” that looks like plastic.

    Our chef’s knife is two-toned ecru and what looks like faux wood but is actually real (see photo above). To us it looks very dated, like those beige and faux wood station wagons from the Eisenhower era.

    But, Nogent has since moved to modern, if nondescript, black polypropylene handles, among other choices. They’re a much better look.

     

    knives-tomatoes-230

    You can still find some of wood handles, but the new handles are a preferable “basic black.” Photo courtesy Nogent.

     

    WHERE TO FIND NOGENT

    Nogent makes a complete range of cutlery, from peelers and paring knives to boning and carving knives. The challenge is to find them!

    We found the chef’s knife on Amazon.com for $58.99.

    The utility knife is $25.74.

    The paring knife is $15.20; we also spotted the boning knife, bread knife, carving knife, steak knife, peelers and other pieces of the line.

    The prices vary based on the line, which seems to be differentiated by handle material.

    Looking for a gift for someone who likes to cook—or is starting to learn? One or more Nogent knives will make cooking so much more pleasurable.

    Just as important, treat yourself to the chef’s knife. Then, book a vacation to France, and bring home knives instead of less useful souvenirs.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: April Fool—It Isn’t Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese

    We’re cooking up some food fun for tomorrow, April Fool’s Day. This year, it’s trompe-l’oeil food.

    Trompe-l’oeil (pronounced trump LOY), French for “deceive the eye”, is an art technique that creates the optical illusion that a piece of two-dimensional art exists in three dimensions. You may have seen some amazing sidewalk art that fools you into thinking you’re about to step into a hole, a pool, etc.

    We’re adapting the “deceive the eye” reference to “food trompe-l’oeil”—food that looks like one thing but is actually another. Serve this “grilled cheese and tomato soup” dish, which is actually orange pound cake and strawberry soup.

    Thanks to Zulka Morena sugar for the recipes and fun idea. If you’ve got a great palate or simply preferred less processed sugar, try it. The top-quality sugar is minimally processed and never refined. You can taste the difference!

     

    strawberry-soup-orange-pound-cake-zulkasugar-230

    April Fool’s food: Standing in for tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich are strawberry soup and pound cake. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar.

     

    RECIPE: ORANGE POUND CAKE

    Ingredients

    For The Pound Cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  •  
    For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract or juice
  • 2-5 drops natural orange food color
  •  

    zulka-morena-cane-sugar-2-230

    Zulka makes less processed, better tasting
    sugar. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a standard loaf pan.

    2. CREAM together in a medium bowl the butter, sugar and orange zest until fluffy. Add the eggs in 3 parts, combining well after each addition. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture until just combined. Add the sour cream and orange juice and mix well.

    3. POUR into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top, and bake for 1 hour or longer, until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean. If the top starts to brown too much before the cake is done, tent with a piece of foil.

    4. REMOVE from oven; cool in pan for 10 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

    5. MIX the frosting ingredients together until well combined. Add more food color as needed to reach desired color.

    6. ASSEMBLE: Slice the pound cake into 1/2 inch slices. Spread a small amount of butter on one side and grill on a griddle or skillet until toasted looking, being careful not to burn. Let cool completely. Repeat with remaining slices. Once all are cool, cut them each in half to make the two halves of each “sandwich.” Spread about a tablespoon of frosting on a non-toasted side of the cake, spreading some to the edges to make it look like melted cheese, and then top with the other half. Repeat with remaining slices.

     

    RECIPE: CHILLED STRAWBERRY SOUP

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 2 pounds strawberries, stems removed and hulled
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice
  • 1-1/2 cups plain or vanilla yogurt
  • Optional: yellow food color
  • Optional garnishes: 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream, fresh basil leaves
  •  
    Preparation

    1. DICE the strawberries, sprinkle the sugar over the top and let sit for 15 minutes. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Let chill completely. If you want the color to be more orange, like tomato soup, add a few drops of yellow food color.

    2. DIVIDE among 6 bowls. Drizzle a little heavy cream over the top and garnish with basil leaves.

    APRIL FOOL’S DAY HISTORY

    The origin of April Fools’ Day, sometimes called All Fools’ Day, is obscure. The most accepted explanation traces it to 16th century France.

    Until 1564, the Julian calendar, which observed the beginning of the New Year in April, was in use. According to The Oxford Companion to the Year, King Charles IX then declared that France would begin using the Gregorian calendar, which shifted New Year’s Day to January 1st.

    Some people continued to use the Julian Calendar, and were mocked as fools. They were invited to bogus parties, sent on a fool’s errand (looking for things that don’t exist) and other pranks.

    The French call April 1st Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is discovered.

    What a fish has to do with April Fool’s Day is not clear. But in the name of a kinder, gentler world, we propose eliminating this holiday. (Source: Wikipedia)

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Frisée Salad With Lardons (Salade Frisée Aux Lardons)

    One of our favorite salad greens, not served often enough in the U.S., is frisée (free-ZAY), curly endive that’s a member of the chicory family. In France, it is formally known as chicorée frisée. (See the different types of endive.)

    There are many ways to serve a salade frisée, but a universal favorite is frisée aux lardons, Lyonnaise-style frisée salad.

    This salad tops the frisée with a poached egg and lardons—crisp, browned chunks of pork belly—and a sherry vinaigrette. When you cut into it, the runny egg yolk gives the salad a wonderful, silky coat.

    Another favorite variation includes crumbled Roquefort cheese or goat cheese with a fan-sliced pear and a few toasted walnut halves. It’s a great flavor layering of bitter from the frisée, salty and smoky from the lardons, sweet from the fruit and tangy vinaigrette.

    You can serve salade frisée as a light lunch with crusty rustic bread, as a first course, or with soup for a light dinner.

     

    frisee-burrata-ilmulinoNY-FB-230

    An Italian touch: burrata cheese. Photo
    courtesy Il Mulino Restaurant | NYC.

     

    GETTING CREATIVE WITH FRISÉE

    You can create your own signature frisée salad by adding some of these mix-and-match ingredients:

    Fruits, Nuts, Vegetables

  • Apple or pear, red skinned, fan-sliced
  • Arugula or watercress
  • Avocado (pair it with grapefruit)
  • Citrus: grapefruit, orange, blood orange or mandarin
  • Dried fruit: cherries, cranberries, currants
  • Figs (combine with prosciutto)
  • Fresh herbs: chives, tarragon, thyme, parsley
  • Nuts, toasted: pecans, pistachios, walnuts
  • Red accent: diced red pepper, tomato or watermelon; halved grape tomatoes; pomegrante arils
  •  

    frisee-salad-michaelminaFB-230

    Chef Michael Mina varies the frisée salad by
    substituting a Scotch egg for the traditional
    poached egg. Photo courtesy Michael Mina.

     

    Proteins

  • Bacon, pork belly lardons, pancetta, prosciutto, slab bacon lardons
  • Cheese: burrata, fried cheese (recipe), goat cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Roquefort or other blue cheese
  • Chicken or duck breast, sliced
  • Cracklings & sautéed liver: chicken or duck
  • Egg, poached (hen or quail)
  • Fish or seafood: crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp
  •  
    You can also add a touch of the sea with this side of white anchovy bruschetta.
     
    Dressings

    You can use a classic vinaigrette or a Dijon vinaigrette, but consider these special variations:

  • Bacon vinaigrette (recipe)
  • Sherry or red wine vinaigrette with olive oil
  • Truffle vinaigrette, with truffle oil
  • Walnut vinaigrette, with walnut oil
  •  

    For another special touch, warm the vinaigrette in the microwave right before dressing the salad.

    WHAT IS FRISÉE

    Frisée is a salad green with distinctive pale, very narrow, curly leaves that grow in a bush-like cluster and are feathery in appearance. The name means “curly.”

    Frisée is often included in mesclun and other salad mixes. It is extremely labor-intensive to grow, and therefore one of the costliest salad ingredients.

    For that reason, it isn’t a conventional supermarket item, but can be found at upscale markets and purveyors of fine produce.

    Frisée has a distinctive flavor and a delightful bitterness—less bitter than its cousins endive and radicchio. Its exotic feathery appearance has great eye appeal. Tips for using it:

  • As with many salad greens, tear it rather cut it with a knife, or the edges may brown. Tear it shortly before use.
  • The tough, external leaves are best used as a plate garnish or fed to the gerbil.
  • Dress the salad right before bringing it to the table, so that it doesn’t discolor or become waterlogged.
  •  
    The chicory genus is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, especially folate and vitamins A and K.
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: The Difference Between Kefir & Buttermilk

    “Kefir tastes like buttermilk,” writes a reader. “What’s the difference?

    Both are cultured beverages—meaning that probiotic bacteria cultures are added to ferment fresh milk. But the “recipes” differ significantly. For starters, kefir may contain a dozen or more different bacterial strains and yeast cultures; buttermilk typically contains only one probiotic strain: lactic acid bacteria.

    Kefir (kuh-FEAR, not KEE-fur) is fermented from whole milk using special kefir grains (more about them in a minute). Buttermilk, more formally called cultured buttermilk, is made by fermenting skim milk with lactic acid bacteria, Streptococcus lactis.

    The probiotics enable both beverages to be digested more easily than milk. Both beverages have a yogurt-like tang.

    Modern kefir is made in the original (plain) plus fruit flavors, to capitalize on the popularity of yogurt, and some people think that kefir is “drinkable yogurt.” But the kefir grains and a different fermentation process make it a different recipe from yogurt.

    Both can be drunk straight and used instead of milk or buttermilk in cooking and baking. Some popular uses:

  • To tenderize meat
  • As a leavening agent
  • To make ice cream
  • In smoothies and shakes
  • On cereal
  • As a sourdough starter
  • In salad dressings and sauces
  •  

    buttermilk-cartons-230

    Buttermilk, a staple in great-grandma’s kitchen. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     

    Kefir and buttermilk have almost the same number of calories. An eight-ounce serving of kefir has 162 calories, while buttermilk has 150 calories.

     

    evolve-flavors-emilychang-230

    Kefir is available in flavors that make it
    resemble “drinkable yogurt.” Photo by Emily
    Chang | THE NIBBLE.

     

    MAKING KEFIR & BUTTERMILK

    Cultured buttermilk. Before universal pasteurization, butter was made by letting whole milk stand to allow the cream to separate, rising to the surface; the cream would be skimmed off, leaving “skim milk” below. Natural fermentation would occur, souring the milk slightly.

    Today, nonfat (skim) milk is acidified with lactic acid bacteria, which add tartness and cause the formation of more protein. This is why buttermilk is thicker than ordinary milk, and why modern buttermilk, made with added cultures, is called cultured buttermilk.

    Kefir. Kefir is made with kefir grains—colonies of bacteria, yeast, proteins and sugars that resemble tiny buds of cauliflower—that ferment the milk. These granules of active cultures are strained from the fermented milk before it is bottled. Here’s more on how kefir is made, and a photo of the grains.

    Homemade kefir continues to ferment as it ages. It’s a bit effervescent (bubbly) from the fermentation, where the cultures consume the sugars in the milk and release carbon dioxide. Commercial kefir cuts back on the effervescence.

    You can make both kefir and buttermilk at home; but as with many foods, it’s much more convenient to simply buy a bottle or carton. If you want to try your hand at it, here’s a resource.

     

    HEALTH BENEFITS

    Drinking buttermilk and kefir can be beneficial to one’s health. The bacteria aid in the digestion of food, and consistent consumption can help to resolve certain intestinal conditions.

    Some sources claim that the regular intake of either drink can reduce the risk of colon cancer.

    But if you like yogurt in general, and haven’t enjoyed a glass of buttermilk or kefir, pick up one of each and taste them side by side.

    And if you’re not going to drink all of it or whip up some smoothies, definitely bake or cook with it.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pillow Pasta

    Butternut-Squash-Ravioli-pom-wonderful-230

    Butternut squash ravioli. Photo courtesy Pom
    Wonderful. Here’s the recipe.

     

    When studying culinary history, you learn lots of fun food facts. For example, in the history of pasta, Marco Polo may have brought pasta back from China—but it wasn’t spaghetti or other “long cut” pasta, and it wasn’t “short cut” pasta like farfalle (bowties) or penne.

    Credit for the spread of boiled pasta in the West is given to Arabs traders who packed dried spaghetti-type pasta on long journeys over the famed “Silk Road” to China. It was easy to reconstitute into a hot meal along desolate trails. They brought it to Sicily during the Arab invasions of the 8th century and planted the seeds of an Italian culinary breakthrough.

    There are records of pasta in Italy before Marco Polo returned from the Far East (he set out in 1271 and returned in 1295). In 1279, in his last will and testament, a Genoan soldier named Ponzio Baestone bequeathed “bariscella peina de macarone,” a small basket of macaroni.

    So what part did Marco Polo play? The record is so scant, we’ll never know; but it is conjectured that he brought back “pillow pasta”—boiled dumplings that evolved into agnolotti and ravioli.

     
    Polo returned from the Far East at the very end of the 13th century. The earliest mention of ravioli appears in the writings of Francesco di Marco, a merchant of Prato in the 14th century, and other 14th century mentions follow. (Source: Wikipedia)

    Here’s a brief history of pasta.

    TYPES OF PILLOW PASTA

    Pillow pasta is stuffed pasta, but not all stuffed pasta is pillow pasta. The other sub-category includes the large tubes that are stuffed and baked, like manicotti. (Other tube pasta, such as penne, rigatoni and ziti, are too small to be stuffed but are covered with heavier sauces, which are meant to catch in the hollows of the tubes.)

    Pillow pasta comprises fresh pasta sheets stuffed with a filling. The filling is placed on the flat sheet of pasta, another sheet is placed on top, the shapes are cut and the edges are sealed.

  • The pasta can be stuffed with almost any kind of filling, either single or combinations of different meats, cheeses, vegetables, seafood and herbs.
  • They can be sauced, tossed with butter or olive oil, or added plain to soups.
  •  
    How many of these pillow pastas have you had?

     

    Agnolotti: Small stuffed pasta in the shape of a half moon, similar to mezzalune and pierogi. The term is Italian for “priests’ caps.” Photo.

    Cannelloni: Rectangular sheets of pasta dough that are filled and rolled into tube shapes. The name is Italian for “large reeds.” They can easily be confused with manicotti, which are pre-formed tubes that are stuffed (the word comes from the Italian word manica, sleeve).

    Mezzalune: Literally “half moons,” a crescent-shaped stuffed pasta.

    Ravioli: The original “pillow pasta” can be oval, rectangular, round, square, sunflower-shaped (called girasole) and triangular (called pansotti). There are also specialty shapes, from fish to hearts. The name is a diminutive of rava, little turnip, which may or may not have been an early stuffing.

    Raviolini: Miniature ravioli. They can be served as a pasta dish, hors d’oeuvres or put into soup, like won tons.

    Ravioloni: Very large ravioli. They can be as large as three-inch circles and four inch squares or rectangles. In this photo, you can see that the piece at the right is almost as long as the fork.

     

    sauce-ravioli-2-230

    Giovanni Rana’s tasty ravioli and sauces. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     
    Sacchette: Sacks, or “beggar’s purses.” (More)

    Tortellini: Thin strips of raw filled pasta pinched to form a navel-like shape. A popular dish with sauce, it is also served in soups, as in the classic dish, tortellini in brodo. We serve them as cocktail party appetizers with a dip. More.
     
    GIOVANNI RANA PASTA

    We recently celebrated March 20th, National Ravioli Day by pigging out on a huge supply of Giovanni Rana pasta, along with another fresh pasta brand.

    Hands down, Giovanni Rana was the winner. The venerable Italian artisan producer—who now makes most of the products for the U.S. market here—uses ingredients that are top-knotch; you can taste the difference. We were sent four of the seven varieties ravioli: Artichoke, Cheese “Delicato,” Cheese “Forte” and Spinaci e Ricotta, plus four sauces.

    The other flavors including Caprese (basil and mozzarella), Chicken Rosemary and Mushroom. We’ll be seeking them out. (The company also makes tortellini, long cut pasta and gnocchi.)

    The ravioli, sold fresh in bags, cook up in two minutes—it takes longer to heat the sauce! The sauces are very dense; a little goes a long way.

    Ravioli Vs. Tortellini: A Revelation

    After tasting the prosciutto tortellini at the same time as the ravioli, we’ll probably never buy tortellini again.

    With all due respect to this popular dish and the quality of Giovanni Rana’s product, we had a revelation: It’s too much pasta and not enough filling. Since one eats pillow pasta for the filling, there’s too little of it in tortellini to deliver on expectations.

    Check out all of the delicious pastas at GiovanniRana.com.

    If you’re in New York City, head to Chelsea Market, where Giovanni Rana has a restaurant (cucina) and fresh pasta shop (pastificio).

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Arrope

    arrope-beauty-mieldepalma.com-230

    Arrope syrup. There’s also an arrope
    preserve with pumpkin (see photo below).
    Photo courtesy Miel de Palma.

     

    Arrope (ah-ROE-pay), a cooking and condiment syrup, is a product that few of us have in our kitchens. Yet, if you’re a serious cook (or eater), it’s an ingredient you should know about.

    If your parents are serious cooks/eaters, it’s an idea for a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift—so much tastier than another scarf or tie.

    And if no one cooks, there’s a delicious arrope pumpkin preserve, a recipe that derives from the ancient use of arrope to preserve or stew fruits. The pumpkin is cooked in the arrope until it is candied. It’s delicious as a sweet-and-earthy bread spread or a condiment with creamy goat’s or sheep’s milk cheeses (see photo below).

    In fact, when you go to purchase arrope, you need to be specific. Otherwise, you can easily be sold the preserve instead of the syrup, or vice versa. Tip: If the word “pumpkin” appears, it’s the preserve.

    WHAT IS ARROPE

    A reduction of grape must, arrope is a condiment that dates to ancient Rome, where it was called defrutum or sapa. It survives as a gourmet Spanish condiment. The name comes from the Arabic word rubb, syrup.

     
    Arrope is closely related to saba (also called sapa, mosto d’uva cotto and vin cotto). This group comprises ancient precursors to “modern” balsamic vinegar, which appeared in the 11th century.

    So if you’re a balsamic vinegar fan, chances are good that you’ll be happy to discover arrope.

     

    Like honey* and saba, in the days before sugar was widely available arrope was used to add sweetness. Today it is used in everything from drinks to salad dressings to sauces to desserts (try it with fruit salad or drizzled over ice cream). We use it as a glaze for roast poultry and meats. It easily substitutes in cooking for sweet wines such as sherry and marsala.

    As civilization embraced massed-produced foods over artisan products in the latter half of the 20th century, the craft of making arrope—which involves carefully cooking down the must into a syrup over a period of weeks—has almost disappeared. It survives among a handful of artisan producers, carrying on family traditions. (Before modern times, arrope was made by the cook of the family.)

    In Spain, the few remaining artisans produce arrope syrup (grape must reduction) and preserved pumpkin.

    While it’s no leap to combine arrope in Spanish recipes, you can port it over to any cuisine—just as with Italy’s saba and France’s verjus.

     

    arrope-jam-forevercheese-230

    A Spanish cheese plate with typical condiments: fig cake, fresh figs, and in the back, a bowl of arrope preserve with candied pumpkin.

     
    *Honey is sweet and syrupy straight from the hive (or straight from the hive and pasteurized). Arrope and saba are cooked to develop sweet-and-sour flavors including notes of cooked caramel.
     
    HOW ARROPE IS MADE

    It starts with a large quantity of grape must, freshly pressed grape juice that still contains all of the skins and seeds and stems. The must is very flavorful with high levels of sugar.

  • The fresh-pressed grape juice can be strained and sold as verjus, where it is used instead of citrus juice or vinegar.
  • Or, it can be cooked down into arrope or saba.
  • To make arrope, the must is boiled until the volume is reduced by at least 50%, and its viscosity is reduced to a thick syrup. There is no added sugar or pectin.
  • Saba is similarly boiled down into a syrup.
  •  
    Ready to try it? Check at your local specialty food market or order it online:

  • Arrope syrup (grape must reduction)
  • Arrope with pumpkin (preserve)
  •   

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