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TIP OF THE DAY: Halloween Cakes With Nordicware

Add even more fun to Halloween festivities for family and friends…for party hosts…for your workplace:

Make a Halloween cake with a NordicWare cake mold. It requires no more time and talent than pouring a cake mix batter into the mold.

The molds are artfully embossed, creating “cake sculptures” that need no added decoration. Of course, you can add your own touches with icing, edible glitter, spider candies, etc.

Beyond Halloween, the skull molds also work for El Dia De Los Muertos. In photo #4, one home baker created a classic decorated skull design.

NordicWare’s Halloween cake pans include:

  • Ghost centerpiece (photo #3)
  • Haunted manor centerpiece (photo #2)
  • Skull cakelets and centerpiece (can be decorated for Dia De Los Muertos—photo #4)
  • Tombstone cakelets (photo #1)
  •  
    The pans have a nonstick finish that guarantees easy release, and a lifetime guarantee.

    There are also cookie stamps: a set that includes a black cat, pumpkin and spider.

    They’re available at many retailers including Williams-Sonoma, plus online at Amazon and NordicWare.com.

    You can use any cake recipe you like. Particularly seasonal:

  • Applesauce cake
  • Dark chocolate (for the black spooky effect—add some black food color)
  • Pumpkin Cake
  • Red velvet cake (for the “bloody” effect)
  • Spice cake
  • White cake for ghosts and skulls
  •  
    But sure, go for the brownie batter, the chocolate ghost with white icing, or other family favorite.
     
    ADD A SAUCE

    You can add a sauce for a more elaborate dessert:

  • Bourbon or rum sauce
  • Caramel sauce with scotch
  • Crème anglaise
  • Hard sauce
  • Sabayon, the French version of zabaglione sauce
  •  
    The best approach is to put the sauce on the plate first, then set the cake on top of it. You won’t cover up the design elements.

    Have fun with it!
     
     
    MORE USES FOR THE CAKE PANS

    Use the cake pans to mold other foods:

  • Custard
  • Dips and spreads
  • Gelatin
  • Ice cream
  • Pudding
  •  

    Tombstone Cake Nordicware Halloween
    [1] Tombstone cakelets, individual portions (photo courtesy NordicWare).

    Haunted House Cake - Nordicware
    [2] Haunted mamor centerpiece (photo courtesy NordicWare).

    Ghost Cake Nordicware
    [3] A ghost centerpiece (photo courtesy Nordicware).

    Skull Cakes Nordicware

    [4] Skull cakelets, decorated for El Dia De Los Muertos (photo by Nozomi | Williams-Sonoma upload.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Individual Squash Bowls For Soup, Grains & More

    This make-ahead beauty (photo #1) is a stunning first course or, turns into a dinner with a light saladr. You can make it vegetarian or add meat: chicken, ham, turkey or sausage.

    This squash soup is packed with shiitake mushrooms, sausage and red chard, and topped with a fresh sage chiffonade. There are no right or wrong ingredients: Use whatever sounds good to you.

    The soup bowl in photo #1 is from Olmsted restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. The photo, along with the availability of so much squash in the markets—had us spending a week trying different recipes that used small squash as individual edible bowls.

    The result: delicious baked squash filled with other delicious things, from breakfast eggs to baked fruit sides.
     
     
    WHAT SQUASH SHOULD YOU USE?

    While stuffed squash has served as edible bowls for millennia, our concept was to expand the squash bowl for soup (broccoli soup, butternut squash soup, mushroom soup, etc.) to other uses.

    Small acorn squash squash (photo #1) are the most available; but you may be able to find eight-ball zucchini (photo #2), carnival squash (photo #6) or golden nugget pumpkins (photo #5). A farmers market is your best bet.
     
     
    WHAT SHOULD YOU PUT IN YOUR BOWL?

    Use whatever filling you want.

    Soup is most popular: not just butternut squash soup, but mushroom and any but that’s because most people haven’t thought further. Here are 20 options, including two for breakfast.

    You can serve the squash bowl as a side, or add as a main with a protein (chicken or turkey, sausage, tofu).

  • Baked fruit: apples, cranberries pears, quince, with walnuts and/or raisins
  • Beans or lentils with corn, onions, roasted tomatoes
  • Breakfast hash and a poached egg
  • Buffalo chicken
  • Cheese: a bubbling bowl of fondue
  • Cruciferous bowl: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, rutabaga, turnips
  • Grain salad or hot grains: barley, bulgur, kasha (buckwheat), quinoa, rice, wild rice
  • Greens bowl: broccoli rabe, collards, kale, mustard greens
  • Gratins (anything topped with cheese)
  • Kale, sausage and mushrooms
  • Mushrooms, sausage and quinoa
  • Mac and cheese
  • Pumpkin ravioli topped with fried sage
  • Rice and beans
  • Roast vegetables
  • Sausage, zucchini, rice
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Stuffing
  • Tex-Mex fillings (chicken enchilada, taco, rice and beans
  • Turkey, stuffing and gravy (leftovers!)
  •  
    Garnishes

  • Fresh herbs, especially sage and thyme
  • Nuts, or nuts and raisins or other dried fruit
  • Seeds: chia, flax, pepitas (pumpkin)
  •  
    PREPARATION

    1. MAKE the soup or other filling ahead of time, and warm it when the squash bowls are ready.

    2. BAKE the squash: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Halve the squash widthwise and scoop out the seeds and any loose fibers. Discard the fibers and reserve the seeds for garnish, if desired.

    3. SLICE a small piece from the bottom halves of the squash, so the “bowls” will sit evenly. You can bake the top halves and serve them as well; or cut the flesh into chunks to use as a filling ingredient or for other purposes.

    4. BRUSH the cut surface of the squash with olive oil and season lightly with salt, pepper and thyme. Place face down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast until golden brown and tender, 20-30 minutes, until you can pierce the rind with a fork or tip of a knife.

    5. REMOVE any additional center of the squash, until the bowl opening is large enough for your purposes (save the cooked squash for another purpose). Add your filling(s) and serve.

    You can also bake the squash in advance and microwave it when ready to serve.

     

    Squash Bowl With Soup
    [1] A squash bowl with soup and lots of extras, at Olmsted | NYC.

    Soup In Eight Ball Zucchini
    [2] An eight ball zucchini makes an ideal single-portion bowl, at Bittersweet Blog.

    Sausage & Lentils In Squash Bowl
    [3] Curried lentils with onion and carrot at Fried Dandelions.

    Sausage & Apple In A Squash Bowl
    [4] Sausage- and apple-stuffed acorn squash at Cherished Bliss.

    Stuffed Golden Nugget Pumpkin
    [5] A golden nugget pumpkin stuffed with couscous, bacon and sausage, from Good Food | Australia.

    Carnival Squash

    [6] Check farmers markets for squash that work as individual bowls. This is a carnival squash: butternut’s flashier brother (photo courtesy Kitchen Tangents).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Halloween Party Wines

    For a Halloween party idea—or to augment the gathering you’ve already planned—look for holiday-themed bottles of wine. There are dozens of choices available nationwide—typically the winery’s existing wines with special labels.

    The Church Of Halloween presents 51 different wines with Halloween-theme labels. Some examples:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Bat’s Blood, Chateau du Vampire, Freakshow
  • Chardonnay: Bewitched, Ghostly White, Spellbound
  • Grüner Veltliner: Skeleton
  • Malbec: Skeleton, Voodoo Moon
  • Merlot: Bat’s Blood, Black Widow, Dracula
  • Mourvedre: Voodoo Moon
  • Pinot Grigio: Serenya
  • Pinot Noir: The Heretic
  • Riesling: Superstition
  • Rosé: Blackbird, China Doll (no arms or legs), Gothic
  • Shiraz: Kill Bin Bin, Strait Jacket, The Tentacle
  • Syrah/Petite Syrah: Phantom, Sixth Sense, The Tentacle
  • Zinfandel: Boneshaker, Phantom Poizin, 7 Deadly Zins
  •  
    The labels have great graphics. Even if you don’t buy the wines, take a look.

    Elsewhere, we found Evil Demon Bloody Shiraz, Haunting Ghost, Old Witch Cursed Merlot and Slayer Blood Red.

    No doubt there are others, available in a store near you.
     
     
    BONUS TIP

    Save the bottles and refill them next Halloween, without the trouble of tracking them down.

     

    Bone Dry Cabernet Halloween Wine

    Halloween Chardonnay

    Spooky bottle of red, spooky bottle of white (photo courtesy Elk Creek Vineyards).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: A Perfect Fish Dinner

    We’re big fans of one-pan dinners: protein and veggies baked together in a 13” x 8” sheet pan*.

    Sheet pan dinners mean you don’t have to worry about coordinating the cooking of sides and main: They all bake together. For people who are timid about cooking fish, baking is as sure-fire as it gets.

    Here’s an easy recipe from Good Eggs.

    Dinner is ready in 15-20 minutes. And the fish comes out perfectly moist and tender, every time.

    Pick a fish and two vegetables, and a seasoning of choice. Vary the elements and you can use the recipe template over and over again.

    Good Eggs recommends a milder white fish like cod or halibut with this recipe. It will take on the flavors of what you cook the condiment.

    Varieties that are widely available include

  • Bass
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Seabass
  • Sole
  • Snapper
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  •  
    Although it’s pink, we’d add Arctic char to this group. The flavor is mild enough for the recipe.

    We subscribe to the axiom that the best fish is the freshest fish. Plan to cook the fish the night or night after you buy it.

    Pick a peak-season vegetable that doesn’t take too long to roast: broccolini or leafy greens like chard, collards, kale, mustard greens. Make one veg green, and add another vegetable if you like.

    If you want root vegetables, cut them into thin slices, or roast thicker slices for an extra 10 minutes before putting the fish in the pan. You can also mix the vegetables.
     
     
    RECIPE: ONE-PAN DINNER WITH BAKED FISH FILLETS

    Ingredients Per Serving

  • 4 to 6 ounces fish fillets
  • Salt
  • 6+ ounces vegetable(s)
  • Condiment of choice: Dijon mustard, mayonnaise (plain or flavored*), teriyaki sauce – or-
  • Lemon, lime or orange slices to cover the tops of the fish
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 500°F, Coat a sheet pan or baking dish with some oil. Sprinkle the fillets with a pinch of salt on both sides, and arrange on the baking sheet.

    2. ARRANGE the vegetables around the fish fillets, drizzle with a bit of oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    3. SPREAD the condiment or citrus over the fillets and place the pan in the oven.

    4. BAKE 8–10 minutes, or until the fish is tender, and breaks easily when you flake with a fork. If the fish finishes before the vegetables, transfer the fish to a plate until the vegetables are done.
     
    TIP: You don’t need to rinse fish, chicken or any other protein before cooking. Not only does does rising fail to get rid of all the bacteria; it spreads bacteria into the sink. The heat of cooking kills the bacteria.

     

    Raw Cod Fillets Sheet Pan Dinner
    [1] Ready to bake: a one-pan cod dinner with carrots and chard (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

    One Pan Baked Salmon Dinner
    [2] For salmon lovers: salmon teriyaki with green beans and carrots. Here’s the recipe from Damn Delicious.

    One Pan Baked Chicken Dinner
    [3] Prefer chicken? Try this rosemary chicken recipe with green beans and potatoes, from Eat Yourself Skinny .

     
    Just be sure to thoroughly wash the cutting board and utensils that come into contact with the raw protein.
    ________________

    *You can make your own flavored mayonnaise, simply by adding a spoonful (to taste) of whatever you like: chipotle, curry, garlic, horseradish, tomato paste, etc.
    ________________
     
     
    ABOUT SHEET PANS

    A sheet pan, also called a baking sheet or baking tray, is a flat, rectangular metal baking pan. It is usually aluminum or stainless steel.

    It is typically used for baking rolls, pastries and flat baked goods such as cookies, sheet cakes, swiss rolls (jelly rolls) and pizzas.

    Sheet pans comprise a group of baking pans with a variety of edge styles—curled rim (lip), rimless and professional variations like open bead and wire in rim. Professional chefs can further choose from non-perforated, fully perforated and partially perforated, which help make the baked good doughy or crispy.

    Some sheet pans have handles to aid in placing the pan in the oven and removing it.

  • A full-sheet pan is 18”x26”
  • A half-sheet pan is 18” x 13”
  • A quarter-sheet pan is 13” x 9.5”
  • Am eighth-sheet pan is 9.5” x 6.5”
  •  
    Rims are 1″ high.

    The half sheet is the pan most commonly available in supermarkets. There is also a two-thirds sheet or home ovens that is 16” x 22” or 15” X 21”.

    While rimless pans are fine for cookies, pizza and rolls, a rim is needed for recipes like the one above, so that juices from the food don’t drip into the oven.

    Buy a light-colored pan with a dull finish: It will absorb and conduct heat evenly. Dark metal pans (with coating) or glass pans necessitate reducing the oven temperature by 25° and checking for doneness early.

    If you’re tempted to buy a dark pan for its nonstick surface and easy clean-up, use parchment paper on a light pan instead.

      

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    PRODUCT: Teforia, A Revolution In Tea Making…& The History Of Tea Bags

    Man has been brewing tea for thousands of years—using loose leaves (photo #1) until the accidental invention of the tea bag in 1904.

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TEA BAG

    Ships bearing tea from China first arrived in Britain in the 17th century, and their cargo created a drinking passion among Britons. The first teas to arrive were green teas (photo #2), but by the late 18th century, black tea overtook green tea in popularity. It was discovered that milk and black tea—with a lump of sugar—were a perfect pairing.

    In the 19th century widespread cultivation of tea had begun in India, a British colony, and overtook the import of Chinese tea to the U.K. At that time, all the tea in the world a was prepared as loose tea, necessitating mesh tea balls, tea eggs—perforated metal containers to hold tea leaves—and other strainers to keep the leaves of the brewed tea out of the cup.

    A radical change occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, with the accidental invention of the tea bag. It offered at least four benefits:

  • The tea leaves could be removed from the hot water at the end of the appropriate brewing period, so they didn’t sit in the pot and leach bitter tannins into the remaining brewed tea.
  • Tea could be made in individual cups, instead of brewing in a potful.
  • No lingering, unwanted leaves had to be removed from a poured cup of tea.
  • The convenience of disposing a tea bag, as opposed to scooping wet leaves from the pot into the trash, was a game changer.
  •  
    The Accidental Tea Bag: Created To Save Money

    In 1904 or 1908—or perhaps earlier*—Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, switched from sending tea samples to his customers in the customary metal tins, to far-less-expensive silken bags. Some clients assumed that the bags were supposed to be used in the same way as the metal infusers, and placed them into pots of hot water. It was accidental birth of the tea bag.

    Responding to the customer comments that the mesh on the silk was too fine, Sullivan switched to gauze and created the first purposefully made tea bags. In the 1920s tea bags were widely available commercially, and the grew as the preferred brewing method in the U.S. They were available in two sizes: a large bag for the pot and a small bag for individual cups. A string was attached (photo #3) so the bag could be easily removed. Fabric bags evolved into the less-expensive paper bags.

    By the way, the Brits took far longer to embrace tea bags. Here’s the scoop.
     
    The 21st Century Brings Pods & K-Cups

    The next leap came in with individual pod/cup coffee machines, which offered options for tea. In order to work in the machine, the tea leaves had to be ground as finely as coffee. This instant-brewing did not produce quality results: Tea leaves need to be brewed for several minutes. contained tea, ground for instant-brewing.

    Manufacturers came up with appliances dedicated to brewing tea (but not a lot of them). Seven years ago we bought one of them, the Breville One Touch Tea Maker, happily for a year until the carafe cracked. Turns out there was no replacement carafe. The solution was to buy a new machine for $250, and toss the electric base into the landfill. As the carafe had cracked due to what we believed to be a manufacturing problem (we never knocked it), we declined.

    Why the lag in tea-brewing appliances vis-a-vis all the options for coffee?

    The U.S. and much of Western Europe are coffee-drinking countries†. While interest in artisan tea has exploded over the past 20 years, the volume† still pales next to coffee.
     
     
    THE NEWEST TEA BREWER: THE TEFORIA INFUSER

    This year saw the debut of second edition of Teforia, a high-tech tea infuser that, like the Breville One-Touch, uses algorithms based on appropriate brewing times to craft the richest and most flavorful cups of tea possible.

    The first edition, Teforia Classic, debuted in 2015 at the price of $999. In Silicon Valley, where it was born, that may not be much for an appliance that will sit in a $250,000 kitchen.

    But it was out of touch for most of us; hence the Teforia Leaf, for a more affordable $399 at launch, and comparable to mid-range coffee machines. The price is lower by making the smart technology simpler. “Simple” means a dual-core, dual-threaded Intel Atom CPU, a 32-bit Intel Quark microcontroller, 1GB ram and WiFi connectivity.

    And unlike the Breville, the replacement carafe is affordable.

       

    Darjeeling Tea Leaves
    [1] For thousands of years, all tea was loose tea (photo of Darjeeling tea courtesy The Tao Of Tea).

    Green Tea In Chinese Tea Cup
    [2] It was served in small tea cups, holding about two ounces of tea (photo by Yoko Bates | IST). When tea came to Europe, it was served in the standard six-ounce cups.

    Tea Bat
    [3] The tea bag was invented—accidentally—in the early 20th century (photo courtesy Two Leaves And A Bud).

    Teforia Infuser

    [4] The Teforia Leaf, a high-tec tea infuser that creates the scientifically perfect cup of tea (photo courtesy Teforia).

     
    Much more sophisticated than the Breville, Teforia’s algorithms have precise settings for:

  • Water temperature and volume.
  • Water-to-tea ratio.
  • Water agitation and aeration.
  • Microinfusions—smaller, shorter infusions that allow extraction of just the right flavors from the leaves.
  • Water quality, via a water filter that “purifies” the tap water in the tank.
  •  
    “It’s a tea master at your fingertips, crafting each cup exactly as it was intended,” says the company. “A tea may require three or four different microinfusions—each with different settings—to bring out its best flavors….The difference is easy to taste.”

    Has any Chinese emperor, or modern billionaire, ever had a better-prepared cup of tea?
     
    ________________

    *Details vary by source, but per Wikipedia, tea bag patents date as early as 1903. They first appearing commercially around 1904, and were successfully marketed about 1908 by the tea and coffee importer Thomas Sullivan of New York, who shipped his silk tea bags around the world.

    †Based on data compiled by Euromonitor International, tea still outsells coffee in populous countries like China and India, as well as the U.K., Russia, Ireland, Chile, Morocco, Turkey, South Africa and Egypt. Here’s a graph on worldwide consumption of tea versus coffee.
    ________________

     

    Teforia Infuser
    [5] The Teforia Leaf uses “sips”—proprietary containers leaf tea that are bar-coded for perfect brewing (photo courtesy Teforia).

    Teforia Infuser

    [6] Our conclusion: Teforia is an item for the wealthy, who want “the best” and don’t mind if, at some point, they can no longer use the appliance (photo courtesy Teforia).

     

    WHAT KIND OF TEA CAN YOU BREW?

    Where does the tea come from? Aye, there’s the rub.

    We can’t imagine why the company removed the option to infuse your own tea. It limits both the options (there is no decaf, for example).

    The tea is brewed with “Sips,” individual portion capsules that contain what the company maintains is the highest-quality loose leaf tea on the planet. Five of the teas can be brewed with either standard or boosted caffeine levels, with just the touch of a button.

    The tea is correspondingly pricey. The tea is brewed into a carafe that holds six ounces: the small-size cup that comes with a formal set of china. A mug can hold double that. For a classic Chinese or Japanese tea set, which has tiny cups, a carafe may fill four cups.

    You can make a carafe of “Daybreak Black” tea or Masala Chai for $1, but better teas go up in price. For example:

  • Earl Grey, $1.75
  • Darjeeling Second Flush Tea, $2.75
  • Genmaicha, $1.75 and $2.50
  • Sencha, $3.00
  • Darjeeling First Flush Tea, black or green, $6.00
  •  
    The company says that the Sips “contain the highest-quality tea on the planet, along with rare, freshly harvested teas never before tasted by the public.”

    But the selection of teas is small. If you want Assam or Jasmine, for example, you’re out of luck.

    And if the company stops producing any or all of the Sips varieties, you’re out of luck.

     
     
    IN SUM…

    The Teforia exists, because, per the company, “Tea is vastly complex, and each varietal requires a different process to brew the perfect cup. Water temperature, steeping time, ratio of tea leaves to water, and number of infusions are all unique variables in the brewing process.”

    Scientifically, this is so; but tea has been cultivated since 1000 B.C.E. or earlier, and many people have enjoyed a well-brewed cup of tea made by hand.

     

    At the finest tea parlors in the world, the modern cup of tea is hand-brewed with a tea thermometer and a watch. Now that science has determined exact brewing temperatures and durations, hand-brewing at x degrees for y minutes does the trick.

    That technology now does this—and adds some bells and whistles, like brewing time algorithms the ability to add another jolt of caffeine—is certainly of interest. But not at the price, except for a small niche market.

    And if you add milk and sugar to your tea, you are likely to discern no difference whatsoever [assuming you are brewing the same tea leaves].

    The Teforia Classic won the 2017 World Tea Award for Best Tea Brewing Device, but it is now sold out on the company website. Will it return?

    Perhaps a professional tea taster will taste the difference, but will you?

    Even if they gave the Teforia away—the razor blade model, where the razor may be inexpensive but the proprietary blades generate a lifetime income stream—the price to brew each cup of tea remains high.

    But more seriously: This is a new product. Who knows how long it will continue to be produced, and how long sips will remain available?

    As of today, the item is “sold out” at its key outlets: Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma, and the Teforia website itself.

    Personally, we really enjoyed the Breville, and if we could get over the fact that the carafe cracked too soon into our ownership (with no warranty), we’d get another one.

      

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