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TIP OF THE DAY: Cider Tasting For Mother’s Day

Hard Cider & Food

Drier ciders work better with meats. Photo courtesy Angry Orchard.

 

Skip the Pinot Grigio and taste some cider for Mother’s Day. It’s more novel than wine, and will suit any guest:

Cider is equally popular among men and women, whereas beer is significantly more popular among men*. Cider is also gluten-free and less filling than beer.

While many people think “autumn” when they hear “cider,” that is true for non-alcoholic cider, which is fresh-pressed.

Hard cider is fermented for eight weeks after the juice is pressed. The cider then matures for several months, is blended, filtered and carbonated. So the “freshest” hard cider is on the market now, not in the fall.

Another note: In the U.S., alcoholic cider is called hard cider and apple cider/apple juice (the terms are interchangeable in the U.S.) is simply called cider.

In the U.K. it’s the reverse: “Cider” is hard cider.

While most cider is made from apples, you’ll also find pear cider, known in the U.K. as perry.

 
CIDER & FOOD PAIRINGS

Hard ciders pairs with the same foods as beer and white wine. Styles range from very dry to sweet “hard apple juice.”

  • The sweetness of cider allows you to serve desserts with it, too, especially apple desserts (pie, crumble, bread pudding).
  • For nibbles, serve hearty cheeses and charcuterie.
  • For main courses, consider barbecue, chicken, pork and sausages (beer and brats, meet cider and brats); plus soups, stews and one of our favorite pairings, cheese fondue.
  •  
    TIPS

  • In recipes, you can substitute hard cider for wine.
  • Hard cider is best served chilled or over ice.
  •  

    CIDER TASTING PARTY: WHERE TO START

    1. Gather up a dozen brands or so, and invite friends over for a hard cider tasting. You’ll find hard ciders from the U.S. and England†. Get apple cider for the kids.

    2. For serious foodies, conduct a blind tasting. Serve them in order of alcohol content, lowest to highest. Either cover up the labels with paper (we used a removable glue stick) or place each one in a paper sandwich sack (the size of a take-out coffee bag, which you can get at the nearest deli [offer to pay for them and you’ll likely get them for free]).

    3. Mark each label or bag with a number, and provide each person with a tasting notes sheet. If your group is accustomed to evaluating beer and wine, you can adapt this professional scoring sheet. We put all the descriptors in the left column of that sheet onto one piece of paper, with one for each guest. For notes, we made up a simple sheet with designated areas for rating ciders 1 through 12 (or however many ciders you’re serving) on a second sheet.

    You can also print out this Cider Tasting Wheel.

     

    Cider Goblet

    You can use any glass you like for cider; this one is popular in Europe. Photo courtesy Crispin Cider.

     
    4. Decide on the food and how many bottles of each cider you’ll need for your size crowd.

    5. Start with small pours: An ounce each of 12 cider becomes 12 ounces in relatively short order. At the end of the comparison tasting, people can go back for more.

    6. Provide “dump buckets” so participants can toss what they don’t like. These can be large tumblers or other vessels (we’ve used short vases!).

    7. Have a great time.
     
    _____________________________
    *Beer is preferred by men in terms of market penetration (+10% for men), frequency (+35% for men), and servings consumed (+33% for men).
     
    †Magners Irish Cider is the only hard cider imported from Ireland.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: The Best Oven Mitts

    When you’re working with hot oven pans, stove pot handles, steaming pasta pots and the like, you need more protection than a cloth oven mitt. Otherwise, be prepared to say “Ouch!”

    We tossed our cloth oven mitts 15 years ago when the first Orka silicone oven mitts debuted. No matter pleasing the design—or the ability to wear a matching apron—cloth mitts didn’t provide enough burn protection.

    Beyond protection against burns, cloth mitts are neither waterproof nor oil-proof—and get pretty stained pretty fast.

    If you haven’t yet heeded the call, it’s time to toss your cloth oven mitts and bring in the heavy hitter: silicone.
     
    THE SOLUTION: SUPERFLEX GLOVES FROM THE TRIUMPHANT CHEF

    While there are numerous silicone mitts on they market, we recently gave our older ones away in favor of what we think is the new best: the Silicone Flex Mitt from The Triumphant Chef.

    They’re the latest generation of silicone: super-flexible, yet still heat resistant up to 450°F.

  • The no-slip silicone grips better than cloth—and even better grip from the circle-and-spoke pattern.
  • You can flip chops, steaks, hot dogs on the grill without tools.
  • You can easily hold down a turkey or roast while you carve it.
  • You can fully clean them in the sink with soap and hot water—or in the dishwasher.
  •  
    A couple of decades ago, Playtex Living Gloves promoted themselves as “so flexible, you can pick up a dime. We didn’t easily pick up a dime with Flex Mitts, but it was a cinch to pick up a quarter.

    Like those Living Gloves, they have a soft cloth liner, here quilted. They’re currently on sale at Amazon.com for $13.83 a pair, plus a bonus silicone basting brush. The gloves are available in:

  • Black
  • Canary Yellow
  • Dark Red
  • Lime Green
  • Royal Blue
  • Royal Purple
  •  
    Get them for your favorite cooks for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, summer grilling weekends…and think ahead to Christmas season.

     
    THE HISTORY OF OVEN MITTS

    For much of man’s history, hot pots and pans were handled with cloth. One source notes that mittens have been in use for more 1,000 years for a wide range of protective purposes, including protecting hands from hot ovens.

    If so, they were abandoned somewhere along the line for the presumably more effective potholders.

    Apparently, a Texan named Earl Mitt (seriously?) came up with the idea in the early 1870s, after a bad burn while baking. In an effort to prevent getting burned again, he invented the first oven mitt from shoe leather and wool. After experimenting with different materials and designs, he finally came up with the oven mitt style of cooking glove. [Source]

    Today, the outer layers are typically made of cotton or polyester, while the inner layer is filled with an insulator fabric.

    Thanks, Earl; but they’re old technology now. Along with potholders, they provide incomplete protection against high heat, steam and oil splattering. A user can be scalded by boiling water and burned hot pans and steam.

    What are you waiting for?

     

    All Clad pot from Williams-Sonoma. It can be monogrammed!All-Clad Pasta Pot

    Tramontana Deep Fryer

    Super Flex Silicone Oven Gloves

    Super Flex Oven Mitts

    Do you really want to touch a hot pot with kitchen towels or cloth oven mitts? (All-Clad Pasta Pot and Tramontino Deep Fryer from Williams-Sonoma). Bottom: Our favorite protection, Super Flex Oven Mitts from The Triumphant Chef, with a soft quilted liner and a bonus matching basting brush.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Have A Malbec

    Glass Of Malbec In Riedel Malbec Glass

    A glass of Malbec in the specially designed Riedel Malbec glass. Photo courtesy Riedel.

     

    Celebrated on April 17th, World Malbec Day is the perfect opportunity to open up a bottle of the wine that is Argentina’s claim to varietal fame.

    Malbec is a black grape that produces red wine—a deep purple-red in color and nearly opaque, similar to Syrah and Mourvedre.

    The original Malbec rootstock came from France, where it was widely planted in the Cahors region in the Midi-Pyrénées region of south-central France, with some in the Loire Valley of central France. Argentina now has 75% of the world’s Malbec acreage.

    Argentine Malbec is very different from its French parent. As is true among all wine grapes (and some other crops), planting the same vines in different terroirs* yield different results.

  • Argentine Malbec is fruit forward, with notes of black cherry, black plum and currant. They have lower acidity, more tannins, and fuller body than French Malbec.
  • French Malbec has moderate tannin, higher acidity and flavor notes of black pepper and spice. Because of their moderate tannin and acidity with lower alcohol, French Malbec wines tend to age longer.
  •  
    World Malbec Day commemorates April 17, 1853, when President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina launched a mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry. To start that endeavor, a French soil expert bought grape varietals from France, one of which was Malbec. During the experiment period, which planted different wines in different terroirs, Malbec proved to be a star. It flourished in the Mendoza region of Argentina, in the northwest part of the country at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
     
    Malbec Is A Very Well-Priced Red

    As a result of the volume produced and the economics of wine production in Argentina, Malbec also proved to be a bargain. It’s a well-priced alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. You can find many good Malbecs for $10 a bottle or less.

    You can also find bottles at twice that price, and even pricier—for example, $95 for a bottle of Cheval des Andes, a joint venture between Bordeaux’s great Chateau Cheval Blanc and Argentina’s Terrazas de los Andes.

  • Some Argentine Malbecs, like the latter, are blended with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Petit Verdot—classic grapes of Bordeaux, to give some Bordeaux style to the wines.
  • But there’s a fifth Bordeaux grape: Malbec is also grown there as a blending grape. Because the varietal has poor resistance bad weather and pests, it never became a top French varietal like Merlot and Caber.
  • Some vintners blend in a bit of Petit Syrah instead. Petit Syrah, now grown largely in Australia and California, is a cross that originated in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France.
  •  
    Three Favorite Malbecs From Argentina

    Our wine editor, Kris Prasad, has a fondness for Altos Las Hormigas and Alamos (one of the wines with Syrah, depending on the vintage). Both can be found for $10 or less, although special bottling (e.g., certain vineyards) cost more.

    He also likes Tinto Negro “Limestock Block,” pricier at around $15. He calls it an “interesting wine”; it is two-thirds Malbec. We haven’t had it, but we do love the label, with part of the name spelled backwards (see the photo of the label above).

     

    PAIRING MALBEC WITH FOOD

    Steak—of which Argentina has a bounty—is a classic pairing (give us a T-bone, please!). But Malbec is much more flexible than a pairing with beef. Try it with:

  • Any grilled red meat or pork (serve with some Argentine chimichurri sauce).
  • Duck and other dark-meat poultry like game birds.
  • Full-flavored fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • Braised short ribs.
  • Burgers and barbecue.
  • Pasta and pizza.
  • Blue cheese, washed rind and other strong cheeses.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Dishes with earthy or smoky flavors.
  • Dishes spiced with clove, cumin, garlic, juniper berry, smoked paprika or sumac.
  •  
    Serve it instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Syrah and other full-bodied reds.

    For an even bigger celebration, put on some tango music—which developed in Argentina—and dance!
     
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    *ABOUT TERROIR: The same rootstock that is grown in different locations produces different flavors; for example, depending on where it is grown, Sauvignon Blanc can have grass or grapefruit notes—or neither. Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH, is a French agricultural term referring to the unique set of environmental factors in a specific habitat that affect a crop’s qualities. It includes climate, elevation, proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type and amount of sun. These environmental characteristics gives the wine its character. Terroir is the basis of the French A.O.C. (appellation d’origine contrôlée) system.

     

    Los Altos Malbecs

    Malbec Label

    Top: Look for Los Altos Las Hormigas Malbecs, a favorite of our wine editor. Photo courtesy Los Altos. Bottom: The quirky label of another favorite Malbec, Tinto Negro.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: First Course, Small Bites

    Ravioli Hors d'Oeuvre

    san-marzano-tomatoes-can

    Fancy Appetizers

    Top: A Swordfish-Ravioli Stack with Mexican garnishes. Photo courtesy Chef Eric LeVine. Center: Canned San Marzano tomatoes. Bottom: Chef LeVine’s delectable cookbook; photo courtesy Lyons Press.

     

    Today’s tip is that it’s easy to be creative in food preparation. Start with a first course/appetizer/starter (use the word of your choice).

    This recipe may look complicated, but putting it together is easy. The hard part was thinking it up, and that was done by Chef Eric LeVine, Food Network Chopped Champion and ICA* Chef Of The Year.

    He used Mexican seasonings, so think of serving a mini Margarita (in shot glasses or other small glasses) with the course.

    Chef Eric is also author of Small Bites Big Flavor: Simple, Savory, And Sophisticated Recipes For Entertaining. He wrote it for the home cook who wants to make imaginative and fun dishes. It’s a great start on a path to cooking more creative food.

    We’ve created our own version of his recipe.

  • If you don’t eat shellfish, substitute a ravioli of choice. For surf and turf, use meat ravioli.
  • Chef Eric made a spicy shrimp sauce. We took a simpler approach: crushed San Marzano tomatoes with minced fresh herbs.
  • The amount of fish you need will vary based on what portion size you want to serve. You can also serve the recipe as a main, by purchasing a 6-ounce swordfish steak for everyone and adding more ravioli.
  • We purchased the ravioli, pico de gallo and guacamole, making the assembly pretty speedy.
  •  
    RECIPE: TEQUILA-LIME SWORDFISH & RAVIOLI STACKS.

    Ingredients

  • Swordfish steaks, 2-4 ounces per person
  • Shrimp ravioli or substitute
  • Sauce (recipe below)
  • Fresh pico de gallo
  • Guacamole
  • Garnish: lime wedges
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    For The Marinade

  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup tequila
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste
  •  
    For The Sauce

  • 1 can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves (or substitute basil or parsley, if you have them on hand)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the marinade and marinate the swordfish steaks for 30 to 40 minutes, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge. Use a glass or ceramic dish to marinate, or plastic storage bags. While the swordfish marinates, cook the ravioli.

    2. BRING a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the ravioli from sticking. Add the ravioli and stir constantly for 5 minutes, taking care not to break the ravioli. Cook to al dente, since you’ll be reheating it before serving. Remove the ravioli one-by-one with a slotted spoon and place, not touching, on a microwavable baking sheet, tray, or in a glass baking dish. Cover with foil and set aside.

    3. MAKE the sauce: Combine the tomatoes and seasonings and blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

    4. GRILL the swordfish over medium heat to desired doneness, 10 to 12 for medium (we like ours medium rare). Cut into pieces. We cut 6-ounce swordfish steaks into 3 pieces for a portion size of 2 stacks. You may wish to serve only one stack.

    5. MICROWAVE the ravioli and the sauce briefly to warm them.

    6. ASSEMBLE the stacks. Place a small pool of sauce on the plate, topped with a piece of swordfish, a ravioli, and a garnish of guacamole and pico de gallo. Add the lime wedge and serve.

     
    __________________
    *The International Caterers Association
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Farro, The Original Wheat & A Moroccan Chicken Recipe

    With all the focus on quinoa as the “it” grain, don’t hold yourself back from trying other ancient grains.

    Farro, an early, very tasty wheat subspecies, is also known as emmer wheat. Some people also confuse it with spelt (more about that below).

    But it shouldn’t keep you from seeking it out at better supermarkets, specialty food stores, natural foods stores or online. If you don’t like the flavor of quinoa but want more nutrition, this is a must-try.
     
    WHAT IS FARRO?

    An unhybridized ancestor of modern wheat, farro was one of the first grains cultivated by man in the Fertile Crescent, also known as The Cradle Of Civilization.

    Here’s more on the earliest cultivated crops.

    Farro was a mainstay of the daily diet in ancient Rome, and it sustained the Roman legions as they conquered Europe. It was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times.

  • Farro has a mild, nutty flavor, is high in fiber content and nutrients.
  • It can be tolerated by lightly wheat-sensitive people because it has less gluten and the glutenis more easily digested (check with your healthcare provider).
  • It has slightly more protein than modern wheat: 7 grams per 1/4 cup uncooked farrow.
  • Farro cooks like rice and other grains: Rinse, add to a pot with water or stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
  •  
    So Why Did Farrow “Go Away?”

    Because the yields aren’t as high as with other wheat species.

    Over the millennia, the tastier and more nutritious strains of many crops were abandoned in favor of strains and hybrids that produced greater yields and were less resistant to weather fluctuations, diseases and pests. Farro ceased to be cultivated, except in a few remote areas.

    (This selective breeding process was also conducted with animal species, both food animals, work animals and companion animals.)

    The growing interest in better-for-you foods has brought farro back.

       

    Farro

    Farro

    Top: A field of farrow (photo courtesy Institute For Plant Sciences | Zurich. Bottom: Farro from Anson Mills.

     
    FOOD 101: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPELT & FARRO

    It’s easy to confuse farrow and spelt. Farro looks rather like spelt, another early species of wheat; but they are not the same. Farro is emmer wheat, the original wheat. The botanical name for farro and emmer wheat is Triticum dicoccum; spelt is Triticum spelta; the most common modern wheat is Triticum aestivum.

  • Farro must be soaked (except for quick-cook brands), whereas spelt can be cooked directly from the package.
  • Cooked farro is firm and chewy; spelt is soft and becomes mushy when overcooked.
  •  
    But note: To be sure you’re getting whole grain farro, look for “whole” or “whole grain” on the label. “Pearled” or semi-pearled farrow, which is quicker cooking, is not whole grain and lacks the fiber and nutrition from the germ and bran of whole grains.

    Pearling removes the inedible hull that surrounds the grain, but the process also scours off part (semi-pearled) or all (pearled) of the nutritious germ and bran. Whole-grain farro is hulled using a gentler process that leaves the germ and bran intact.

     
    WAYS TO SERVE FARRO

    Today’s demands for better foods are bringing back some of the oldies. You can find:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Organic Farro at Whole Foods.
  • 10 Minute Farro at Trader Joe’s (see note below re pearled farro).
  • Fargo adds heft and, mouth feel and “chew” to recipes, or as a standalone side. You can serve it hot or cold, as a substitute for rice, quinoa, pasta, or other grain or starch.

  • Farro has a nutty flavor and chewy texture, similar to barley.
  • It can be added to any soup or stew.
  • It can be substituted for rice salad or pasta salad.
  • It is more flavorful than pasta.
  • Whole grain farro is high in fiber plus magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E. It has less gluten than other varieties of wheat, making it easier to digest. As with other grains, it can be ground into flour to make bread and pasta.
  •  
    Farro For Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

  • Breakfast: Use farro in place of your morning oatmeal. Top it with apples, maple syrup and cinnamon.
  • Leftovers: Add any type of leftovers to farro to create a new side or salad, as we did in the photo above.
  • Lunch Salad or Side: Combine cooked farro with olive oil, tomatoes, feta and olives for a Mediterranean-inspired salad. Or try this delicious farro and beet salad recipe.
  • Rice Substitute: Cook and serve as you would serve rice.
  • Soups & Stews: Use farro in soups and stews for a heartier, earthier flavor.
  • Soup Meal: Cook farro with vegetable or chicken stock and your favorite vegetables for a warming and delicious light meal.
  •  

    Moroccan Chicken Recipe

    Farro Salad

    Top: Fragrant and flavorful: Moroccan Chicken recipe from Good Eggs. Bottom: A farrow salad can be served hot or cold. Photo © Dreamtime.

     

    RECIPE: BRAISED MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH FARRO-CARROT SALAD

    This fork-tender braised chicken recipe from Good Eggs is packed with flavor and ready in an hour.

    Don’t be fooled by the number of ingredients: This dish is deceptively simple and easy to put together. Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time is 30 minutes.
     
    Ingredients

  • 3 pounds whole chicken legs
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Marash* chile flakes
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems sliced into thin rounds and and kept apart from the leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 bunch carrots, one diced and the rest cut into matchsticks
  • 1 dried espelette chili pepper
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ½ can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups farro
  • Handful of almonds, lightly toasted & roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • 12 Castelvetrano olives, pitted
  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  •  
    ____________________
    *Marash chile flakes are red pepper flakes from Turkey. They have a complex flavor—fruit and smoke—with moderate heat. Marash is both smokier and a bit hotter than Aleppo pepper, but you can use them interchangeably. The flakes can be blended with lemon juice and salt for a meat rub, or added to olive oil to make a vinaigrette, pasta or rice sauce. Blend the flakes with olive oil for a bread dipper, add to soups and stews, chili or any meat dish. See the different types of chiles and the different types of peppercorns.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Combine the spices—cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon and Marash chile—in a small bowl and set aside. Pat the chicken legs dry and season with salt, pepper and about half of the spice mix.

    2. ADD 2 tablespoons of olive oil (more if needed) to an oven-safe pan large enough to fit the chicken legs and all of the vegetables. Turn the heat to medium, and when the oil is hot add the diced onion, carrot, celery and cilantro stems (not the leaves). Add a pinch of salt, the remaining spice mix, the dried espelette chile and the bay leaves. Cook until the vegetables are completely soft and the onion is a bit translucent.

    3. ADD half a can of crushed tomatoes and olives to the pan, then the chicken legs, skin-side up. Pour the chicken broth into the pan until the liquid is halfway up the chicken—you’ll want to leave some skin above the liquid so that it can crisp up in the oven.

    4. BRING the ingredients to a boil on the stovetop, then place the entire pan uncovered on the middle or bottom rack of the oven (to prevent burning) for about 30 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to ensure that the skin is getting crispy but not burnt: The pan can be covered with aluminum foil or a lid if it is browning too quickly. If the chicken doesn’t seem to be browning at all, move it up a rack in the oven, but watch it closely.

    5. REMOVE the pan from the oven after 30 minutes and check for doneness using a meat thermometer. The internal temperature should be 165°F. If not, place the pan it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. When it’s done, set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. While the chicken is braising in the oven…

    6. BRING a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with 2 tablespoons of salt and add 2 cups of farro. Cook according to the package instructions until al dente, then drain and let cool. Toss with a bit of olive oil to help prevent clumping.

    7. COMBINE the carrots, cilantro leaves, farro, almonds, a generous squeeze of lemon and 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a mixing bowl. Toss gently and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the farro salad alongside a chicken leg, with some braising liquid spooned over it.
     
    HERE’S ANOTHER FARRO SALAD RECIPE

    Try this Farro & Beet Salad Recipe.
      

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    TIP: Melt The Butter For Grilled Cheese

    April 12th is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day but all of April is National Grilled Cheese Month. Here are some tips from Sara Lee Artesano Bread: the three “Bs” for the perfect grilled cheese sandwich:

  • Base. The bread you choose guides the personality of your sandwich. Use one that crisps nicely on the outside—ideally not supermarket white bread.
  • Butter. While most recipes direct you to spread softened butter on the outside of the bread slices, Sara Lee recommends melting it in the pan first, then moving the bread over the melted butter. This enables every corner of bread to be coated for an even, edge-to-edge sear.
  • Blend. In grade school, grilled cheese sandwiches were most often American cheese or Velveeta, with a slice of tomato and some bacon on a lucky day. But we have grown-up palates now, and those two cheeses should go the way of Puff The Magic Dragon.
     
    THINK OUTSIDE THE VELVEETA BOX

    We respect anyone’s right to use American or Velveeta cheeses, but here are a dozen better choices: Brie, Cheddar, Emmental, Époisses, Fontina, Gruyère, Havarti, Halloumi, Mozzarella, Pepper Jack, Provolone and Taleggio (among others).

    Our personal favorite of the moment: Beecher’s Flagship—a slightly nutty blend of Cheddar and Gruyère cultures—on raisin-walnut bread; or any of those 12 cheeses on slices of a rustic loaf with tomato* and fresh basil leaves. Our forever favorite: truffle cheese!

    Don’t hesitate to pile anything on top of the cheese, from bacon and ham to condiments (caramelized onions, chiles (slices or flakes), chutney, Dijon, olives, pickles, prepared horseradish, preserves, sautéed mushrooms, tapenade, whatever) to fresh herbs, berries and apple slices. Look through the fridge and the pantry. Got capers? Use ‘em. Pickled jalapeños? Ditto.
     
    ON-TREND GRILLED CHEESE RECIPES

    Sara Lee Artesano Bread has taken three of the top food trends of 2016—Hawaiian flavors, vegetable-centric dishes and fermentation—and turned them into grilled cheese recipes.

  • Hawaiian Grilled Cheese: Pair a sharp, salty cheese with meat and fruit. For starters, try Cheddar with ham or turkey and tropical fruits such as mango and pineapple. Sara Lee’s Aloha Pork Grilled Cheese layers Hawaiian Chili Pepper Havarti (substitute Pepper Jack) with tangy pork, barbecue sauce and pineapple rings. Here’s the recipe.
  • Vegetable Grilled Cheese: Pair a sweet-and-slightly-salty cheese with leafy greens. The sweetness and saltiness of a cheese like Gruyère blends nicely with fresh greens. Try a Farm-To-Table Grilled Cheese with Gruyère, microgreens and a fried egg. Here’s the recipe.
  •  

    Fontina Grilled Cheese

    Gruyere Grilled Cheese

    Top: “Fermentation” grilled cheese with Fontina, pickles and charred red onions. Bottom: “Farm To Table” grilled cheese with Gruyère, baby arugula and cracked pepper. Both sandwiches are made with Sara Lee Artesano bread. Photos courtesy Sara Lee.

  • Fermentation Grilled Cheese: Pair a semi-soft cheese with any type of pickled vegetables. This Zesty Grilled Cheese sandwich combines Fontina cheese with spicy pickle slices, charred red onion and aïoli (garlic mayonnaise). Here’s the recipe.
  •  
    We have many more ideas for grilled cheese sandwiches. Just type into the search box at the top of the page, and get lots of options for National Grilled Cheese Month.
     
    ___________________________
    *When there are no decent tomatoes to be had, we default to sundried tomatoes or roasted red pepper (pimiento).

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: The Best Roast Chicken Recipe

    Our mom was a terrific cook, of everything from the simple to the elaborate. On weekday nights, meals would be more simple: grilled meats and fish, salad, a vegetable, a starch. Once or twice a week she roasted a plump whole chicken in a countertop rotisserie, similar to this one but bigger, and without today’s multi-tasking options. It grilled meat on a spit, period.

    She gave it to us one year, when she upgraded to a new model. But as much as we loved roasting a juicy Bell & Adams chicken, taking up two feet of counter space was a hardship in a typical New York City kitchen. So one day, we passed it on to someone with enviable counter space.

    It’s easy to pick up a roasted chicken in a supermarket these days, and some markets use quality birds with a quite satisfactory result. But it’s not in our DNA to buy a pre-cooked chicken. We tried a vertical roaster from Cuisinart which saved us eight inches of footprint—but that was still too much forfeited counter space for us.

    More recently, we came across a simple broiler-and-oven roasting technique from GFF Magazine. If you have a butcher who can debone the chicken for you—or you like to do it yourself (here’s a video tutorial)—you’ll find that the roasting technique delivers the most delicious chicken: very crisp skin and very moist meat.

    The recipe was developed by Chef Daniel Patterson, whose San Francisco restaurant, Coi, earned two Michelin-stars.

    Chef Daniel finished the dish with fried herbs and an herb vinaigrette. We took a shortcut and sprinkled the cooked chicken with fresh herbs.

    It’s not Mom’s beloved rotisserie chicken, seasoned with paprika and garlic salt that scented the air, but it’s time to move on.

    RECIPE: CHEF DANIEL PATTERSON’S ROAST CHICKEN

    Ingredients For 4 to 6 Servings

  • 1 whole chicken, about 4-1/2 pounds, deboned
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Garnish: minced fresh parsley or other herb of choice
  •  

    Roast Chicken

    Whole Raw Chicken

    Top: Chef Daniel Patterson’s easy roast chicken (photo courtesy GFF Magazine). Bottom: If you have a good palate, it pays to spend extra on the best chicken (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

     
    Preparation

    This recipe was made in an oven with a top broiler element. If your broiler is in a separate unit, preheat your oven to 250°F.

    1. SALT the chicken 1 to 3 hours prior to cooking and place it in the fridge. Remove it 10 minutes before cooking and place it in a rimmed pan, skin side up.

    2. ADJUST the oven rack to 3 inches from the broiler heating element, and preheat the broiler. Place the pan under the heat for 10 minutes. This browns and crisps the skin. Rotate the pan a few times for even browning.

    3. TURN the oven temperature down to 250°F and cook for an additional 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, let rest for 5-10 minutes, cut the chicken into pieces and serve.

     
    CAN YOU NAME THE CUTS OF CHICKEN?

    There’s much more beyond breast, drumstick, thigh and wing. Check out the parts of a chicken in our Chicken Glossary. Cluck, cluck, cluck.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Don’t Let Nettle Season Pass You By

    Green Garlic Soup

    Stinging Nettles

    Green Garlic

    Top: Add nettles to soup, such as this Potato, Nettle and Green Garlic Soup. Center: Nettles. Bottom: Green garlic. Photos courtesy Good Eggs | SF.

     

    A year ago, we wrote about stinging nettles. also called common nettles and wild nettles. Here’s that background article.

    Today’s tip is a reminder not to let the brief season pass you by (it ends this month, depending on your location).

    WHAT ARE NETTLES?

    Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, are slightly bitter green herbs that grow wild in the spring. Other names are common nettles and wild nettles.

    They are members of Urticaceae, family of flowering plants, also known as the Nettle Family. The family includes other useful plants, including ramie, which is used to make fabric.

    Different varieties grow worldwide, many without the sting. Those that are picked with garden gloves (rubber kitchen gloves work, too). The sting comes from chemicals* in the plant. Once stinging nettles are blanched, boiled or soaked in water, the sting is gone.

    In North America, nettles sprout up very briefly in early spring and late fall, growing like weeds at the edges of cultivated farmland. That’s why the best place to find them is farmers markets.

    Why go after something that stings? They have charming flavor, a bit like spinach with a cucumber undertone. You can use as a substitute for cooked spinach.

    You can find numerous nettles recipes online, but we’ll start you off with some soup and pesto.
     
    RECIPE #1: POTATO, NETTLE & GREEN GARLIC SOUP

    This recipe, from Good Eggs, unites two limited spring vegetables: nettles and green garlic. The soup tastes even better the next day. Prep time is 20 minutes, total time is 45 minutes.
     
    Ingredients For 2-3 Servings

  • 2 pound waxy or all-purpose potatoes, rinsed well and cut into 1″ pieces
  • Salt
  • 3 stalks green garlic, white parts minced and green parts set aside
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups nettles, carefully de-stemmed and washed (substitute spinach)
  • Garnish: ½ cup crème fraîche (substitute plain Greek yogurt)
  • Garnish: ½ cup parsley, rinsed and patted dry
  • Garnish: 2 tablespoons chives, chopped finely
  •  
    ________________________
    *In the stinging varieties, hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems called trichomes inject three chemicals when touched by humans and other animals: histamine which irritates the skin, acetylcholine which causes a burning feeling, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to relay signals in the brain. They produce a rash that can be treated with an anti-itch cream, aloe vera or baking soda. But the protective chemicals doesn’t do a good job of keeping us away from nettles: They have a long history of use as a medicine and food source. Further, they need to be eaten before they begin to flower and produce other compounds that cause stomach irritation. (Perhaps serve them with some fugu—blowfish?)
     
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Salt the water generously—it should be salty as ocean water—and add the bay leaves and a handful of the green garlic tops. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 25-30, minutes or until potatoes are soft but not falling apart. Drain in a colander and cool by spreading the potatoes in a single flat layer on a tray. While potatoes are boiling…

    2. SAUTÉ the onion in a large stock pot with a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil over medium-low heat, until soft and translucent. Add the minced green garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes, until soft and aromatic.

    3. HALVE or quarter the cooled potatoes, depending on size, and add to the onions and garlic. Stir gently to combine. Add the chicken stock to the pot until the potatoes are just covered; bring to a boil.

    4. TURN off the heat and purée half the soup in a blender. Use a kitchen towel to hold down the lid of the blender and be careful of steam and hot splashes. You can also use an immersion blender. If you prefer a more rustic soup, you can lightly mash the potatoes with the back of a spoon or a potato masher, instead of puréeing.

    5. USE protective gloves, a kitchen towel or tongs and carefully de-stem and wash the nettles (we cut them from the stems with a kitchen scissors). Drain them in a colander, then chop roughly. Fold into the hot soup and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve hot with a generous dollop of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of chives and parsley.

     

    RECIPE #2: NETTLE & PISTACHIO PESTO

    Nettles make a delicious pesto; here are 20+ ways to use pesto.

    This recipe is from Quinciple.com, a premier meal delivery service.

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup stinging nettle leaves, de-stemmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup pistachios, toasted
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 cup packed Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated (substitute freshly grated Parmesan)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
  •  
    Preparation

    1. DE-STEM the nettle leaves: Hold onto the stem with tongs and use your other hand to carefully snip the leaves with kitchen scissors.

    2. BRING a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the nettles by adding the leaves to the water for 1-2 minutes. Remove them with tongs or a slotted spoon, and place them in an ice bath (a bowl with water with ice cubes) to cool. Once the nettles are cool to the touch, strain and squeeze all water from the leaves.

    3. ROUGHLY CHOP the blanched leaves and add them to a food processor with the garlic, pistachios, lemon juice and zest, cheese, salt and pepper. Pulse into a coarse paste. Then stream in the olive oil to the desired consistency or about 1/3. Serve immediately or store in a jar for up to 5 days.
     
    MORE WAYS TO SERVE NETTLES

    Like most herbs, nettles are good for you, rich in calcium, iron, manganese, potassium and vitamins A and C. They have been called “seaweed of the land” because of their complete spectrum of trace minerals and their soft, salty flavor.

  • Have them for breakfast, in omelets or scrambled eggs.
  • Add them to soup stocks or stews, where they’ll contribute a rich earthy/briny flavor. Some combinations include nettle-potato soup (recipe above), nettle-garlic, nettle-sorrel and just plain nettle.
  • Use them instead of spinach in a nettle & artichoke dip.
  • Steam and add them to enchiladas.
  • Add them to lasagna or risotto; top a pizza.
  • Purée them as a sauce for chicken, fish and seafood.
  •  

    Nettle Pesto Recipe

    Nettles

    Nettle pesto from Quinciple.com.

  • Combine them with spinach and/or mushrooms as a side, add them to a goat cheese tart, spanakopita, quiche, etc.
  •  
    Until next spring!

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cheese Spreads, Cheese Condiments

    Fig Spread With Cheese

    Bonne Maman Fig Spread

    Top: Crostini with Brie, Serrano ham and Fig Spread (photo courtesy Favor The Moments). Bottom: Enjoy trying the different spreads with different cheeses (photo courtesy Bonne Maman).

     

    What’s a cheese condiment? What’s a cheese spread? you may ask. Here’s the food nerd explanation:

  • Cheese spread is one of the sweet cheese condiments.
  • A condiment is an auxiliary food product that adds flavor to another food.
  • “Condiment” is first found in print in French around 1420, and derives from the Latin condimentum, spice.
  • Mankind has been enjoying condiments for much longer, even before the dukkah of ancient Egypt the ancient Romans’ beloved fish sauce, garum.
  •  
    Chutney, ketchup, mustard and pickle relish are examples of condiments that enhance burgers and franks. Although you may not think of them as such, fudge sauce, marshmallow cream and whipped cream are ice cream condiments.

    Given America’s growing familiarity with fine cheeses, here’s an…

    INTRODUCTION TO CHEESE CONDIMENTS

    What is the difference between a mostarda and a mustard? Why would you put honey on cheese? Can you use the same condiments on a log of fresh goat cheese and an aged Gouda?

    Cheeses are wonderful on their own, but cheese condiments can bring out their nuances. Similar to wine pairings, the flavor and age of the cheese are taken into account when deciding on pairings.

    We have an elaborate chart of cheese condiment pairings, from aged balsamic and mustard to sweet condiments such as chutney, honey and preserves.

    Cheeses served with sweet condiments make delicious appetizers, desserts and snacks.

    Take a look at the newest cheese condiments in town: three fruit spreads from premium jam, jelly and preserves company, Bonne Maman. They are all natural, non-GMO and certified kosher by OU.

     
    MEET THE NEW CHEESE SPREADS FROM BONNE MAMAN

    First, a word about “spreads.”

    There are different types of fruit spreads, including chutney, jam, jelly, preserve and others.

    Aside from the jam and jelly group, some people hear “cheese spread” and think of like Port Wine Cheddar. Not here.

    As regards jam, in the U.S., “fruit spread” is generally a reduced-calorie product, replacing all or part of the sugar with fruit juice concentrate and low-calorie sweeteners. Not the case with Bonne Maman.

    The new spreads from Bonne Mamam are very thick and concentrated preserves that don’t run or dribble: They stand firm, enabling you to use them in more ways. The flavor, too, is more intense—glorious, in fact. It was all we could do not to eat them directly from the jar. (Well, maybe we did.)

    The best pairings are the ones you like. We’ve made some suggestions, but let your palate be your guide.

     

    Black Cherry Spread Cheese Pairings

    Tart cherries pair well with both sharp and creamy cheeses. We pair it with goat cheese, Brie and Camenbert.
     
    Purple Fig Spread Cheese Pairings

    This one is easy: Fig pairs well with all types of cheese.
     
    Quince Spread Cheese Pairings

    For centuries, membrillo, quince paste, has been the classic condiment for aged Spanish cheeses. Cabrales and Manchego are most often found in the U.S., but your cheesemonger may also have Idiazabal, Roncal, Zamorano and others. Italy’s Parmigiano-Reggiano, with nuances similar to Manchego, pairs well; so does aged provolone. The nutty Swiss mountain cheeses are also a match: Appenzeller, Emmental (with the big holes called eyes), Gruyère* and French Comté.
     
    NEXT STEPS

    Plan a cheese tasting with fruit spreads and other condiments. Your family and friends will love it!

    As of this writing, you can download a $2 coupon on the Bonne Maman website.
     
    PARTY FAVORS

    Looking for small Mother’s Day gifts or party favors? Jet.com is currently selling a six-pack with free shipping.

    The spreads are also available at retailers nationwide.

     

    Quince Spread

    Bonne Maman Purple Fig Cheese Spread

    Top: Quince Spread atop a pyramid-shaped cheese (photo courtesy Taylor Takes A Taste). Bottom: A jar of Purple Fig Spread (photo courtesy Jet.com).

     
    ______________________________
    *Switzerland has produced Gruyère for hundreds of years, but after an appeal to the EU, France was also allowed to use the name. French Gruyère must be made with tiny eyes—“between the size of a pea and a cherry”—to distinguish it from the original.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Riced Cauliflower, Cauliflower Rice

    Cauliflower Risotto

    Cauliflower Rice

    Flavored Cauliflower Rice

    Top: No rice involved—this mushroom “risotto” was made by HealthyFellow.com from riced cauliflower. Here’s the recipe. Center: JoyLoop brand is sold at Good Eggs | San Francisco, perhaps the most wonderful food purveyor in the U.S. Bottom: In the U.K., CauliRice.com sells plain cauliflower rice, plus Indian, Mediterranean and Thai flavors.

     

    Cauliflower rice, also called cauliflower couscous, is poised for fame. There’s no actual rice involved; it’s a grain-free rice substitute made from cauliflower, that can be used in just about every rice recipe from plain boiled to fried rice to risotto.

    Cauliflower rice—cauliflower chopped in a ricer, became popular with the Paleo Diet, and it is takes time to make it from scratch.

    Fortunately, the Paleo Diet is making people more aware of it, and small producers have begun to cut and package it. It can be found minced or pulverized, fresh and frozen.

    Who invented cauliflower rice? There may be several different “inventors” who first pulverized a head of cauliflower. The Italian supplier who makes other cauliflower products for Trader Joe’s ended up with lots of leftover florets and trim. Rather than toss them, Trader Joe’s says, “We put our heads together and came up with a new product made from this extra cauliflower.”

    Cauliflower is a nutritional powerhouse, a “superfood,” a term that evaluates foods based on their calorie density vis-a-vis their amount/types of nutrients. A member of the Brassica family, it is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants and vitamin C (also an antioxidant). It is low in calories and low on the Glycemic Index (GI). But there’s more:

  • Cauliflower contains more vitamin C per 100g than an orange.
  • It has a range of protective plant compounds (the antioxidants quercetin, beta carotene and caffeic acid) that help to reduce oxidative stress in the body, a key risk factor for cancer.
  • Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and helps to alleviate symptoms of other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel syndrome.
  • Its sulphur compounds support detoxification in the liver, and promote levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • As with cauliflower mashed potatoes, you can pass it off to kids and adult finicky eaters as regular rice.
  •  
    WHERE TO BUY CAULIFLOWER RICE

    Now here’s the rub: Cauliflower rice is not yet available as widely as it should be. But it’s poised for fame and on its way: We recently spoke with a specialty food manufacturer who will be bringing it to market soon. In the interim:

     

  • Trader Joe’s imports it frozen from Italy. It was so popular that as of this writing, it is sold out and the retailer is waiting for a new shipment.
  • Joyloop Foods, in greater San Franciso, sells to some California retailers and online.
  • Paleo On The Go, a meal delivery service, packages it and sells it on Amazon.
  • You can buy Green Giant Cauliflower Crumbles in a Steam In Pack. Although the crumbles are larger than riced cauliflower, you can cook them al dente and rice them.
  •  
    And of course, you can make your own from a head of cauliflower.
     
    ______________________________
    *Brassica is the plant genus of cruciferous vegetables, nutritional powerhouses packed with potent, cancer-fighting phytonutrients (antioxidants). They include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish/wasabi, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rapeseed/canola, rapini, rutabaga and turnips, among others.

     

    RECIPE: HOMEMADE CAULIFLOWER RICE

    Cauliflower rice can be buttered, sauced or otherwise made more flavorful by adding vegetables, herbs and/or spices. This recipe, from CauliRice.com, advises that homemade versions will taste more strongly of cauliflower and less like actual rice, but we have no issue with the homemade “rice.” Light seasoning, butter, etc. will mask any subtle cauliflower flavor.

    Prep time is 10 minutes.
     
    Ingredients For 3-4 Servings

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • Salt and pepper and/or other seasonings (herbs, spices)
  • Optional: cooking oil
  • Chopping board and knife
  • Food processor with an “S” blade, or a hand grater
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WASH the cauliflower and remove any leaves. Remove the main stem and set it aside for another purpose†. The fine stems that hold the florettes together need not be removed.

    2. CUT or break the florettes into chunks so they better fit into your food processor. Attach the ‘S’ blade and place the florettes into the processor bowl. Pulse until the cauliflower is the texture of couscous (course grains) or until all large lumps disappear. Do not over-process, as this will result in mushy cauliflower rice when cooked. If you have a particularly large cauliflower, or a small processor or hand grater, you may have to do this in batches.

    3. MICROWAVE for 3 minutes. Microwaving retains more moisture than dry-frying or oven baking, and is CauliRice’s preferred method. Place the cauliflower rice into a microwave-safe dish. Add a teaspoon of water—no more, or the cauliflower rice will become too wet. Cover the dish with plastic wrap or a lid. Cook for 3 minutes at 900 watts.

    4. LEAVE the cauliflower rice covered, and let it stand for another 2-3 minutes. It will continue cooking in its own heat. Add seasoning to taste and serve.

     

    Cauliflower Rice

    Trader Joe's Cauliflower Rice

    Top: Homemade cauliflower rice from TheKitchn.com. Here’s their recipe and a video. Bottom: Cauliflower rice from Trader Joe’s.

     
    _______________________
    †You can steam and slice or purée it, finely dice or slice and add to salads, add to soups and stews, etc. You can also stick it in the freezer and decide later.

     
    TO DRY FRY

    1. HEAT a tablespoon of your preferred cooking oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the cauliflower bits and spread evenly across the base of the pan. Cover the pan and cook for approximately 7-8 minutes, stirring every minute or so, until the cauliflower is slightly crispy on the outside but tender on the inside. If you prefer a less crispy cauliflower rice, add a tablespoon of water to the pan about halfway through cooking—but be sure to cook this added moisture off before serving.

    2. Add seasoning to taste, and serve.
     
    TO OVEN COOK

    Oven cooking produces a drier, crunchier cauliflower rice that some people prefer, although it gives a less rice-like effect.

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F. Spread the cauliflower pieces evenly across a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, turning the cauliflower every 5 minutes or so.

    2. REMOVE from the oven, add seasoning to taste and serve.

      

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