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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

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

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Tip Of The Day

TIP OF THE DAY: Asian Pears

In the spring, when the blossoms fall from the Asian pear trees, the nascent pears are the size of peas. Now, at harvest time, many are as large as croquet balls, some varieties the size of softballs (and yet low in calories—about 50 per 4 ounces).

If you see a red and white Subarashii Kudamono, the fruits haven’t crossed the Pacific Ocean: They’re grown in Pennsylvania.

While on business in Japan in 1973, American inventor Joel Spira received a gift of Asian pears. Upon returning home, he tried to obtain more of the crunchy, juicy fruit but couldn’t find it. So, he decided to grow his own.

Spira and his wife Ruth (who has a botany degree) purchased orchard land in the fertile Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, and set about growing traditional varieties of Asian pears as well as creating new varieties. They named their company Subarashii Kudamono, Japanese for “wonderful fruit.”

Today, thousands of their trees yield numerous varieties of Asian pears. The 2014 harvest has begun, and the fruit is now available at gourmet grocers from New York and New Jersey down to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, and nationally online at WonderfulFruit.com.

   

AsianPears_bluebowl_230

A simple yet elegant dessert. Serve with an optional drizzle of honey. Photo courtesy WonderfulFruit.com.

Asian pears are also grown in California, Oregon and Washington, in addition to orchards worldwide.

So today’s tip is to try Asian pears.
 

ARE ASIAN PEARS PEARS, APPLES OR A HYBRID?

“Asian pear” is the generic name for more than 25 different varieties of a pear species that originated in Asia. The fruit was first cultivated in what are now China, Japan and Korea, beginning as far back as 330 B.C.E.

Although the shape is reminiscent of some varieties of apples and has the crunchy flesh of apples, the Asian pear, Pyrus pyrifolia, belongs to the same genus as European pears, Pyrus communis. This means you can eat them in the same way, in recipes or as hand fruit, with the skin or peeled.

Don’t expect a creamy European pear texture, though, or any apple flavor from the fruit that is also known as apple pear, Korean pear, Chinese pear and sand pear, among other names.

And unlike European pears, Asian pears don’t soften when ripe. They remain crunchy, even when cooked.
 
HOW TO SERVE ASIAN PEARS

This fruit is very versatile, pairing well (no pun intended) in savory and sweet recipes. For starters, consider:

  • Breakfast: Sliced as your morning fruit, atop cereal, baked like a baked apple.
  • Lunch/Dinner: Sliced into a green salad with blue cheese or feta; diced into chicken salad; julienned into cole slaw; added to stuffing; cooked and puréed into soup; in stir-fries or Asian dishes seasoned with curry powder, five-spice powder, ginger, soy sauce and/or star anise; instead of sautéed apples with ham, pork chops and other proteins.
  • Dessert: Poached, using your favorite poached pears recipe, baked in tarts, with a cheese plate, served plain with a drizzle of honey.
  •  
    There are dozens of Asian Pear recipes at WonderfulFruit.com: desserts, salads, slaws, spreads, combined with favorite proteins, even Asian pear fries!

     

    Asian_Pear_PA_sticker-230

    If there’s no sticker, ask the produce
    manager about the variety and provenance
    of the Asian pears. Photo courtesy
    WonderfulFruit.com.

     

    RECIPE: SALAD WITH ASIAN PEARS

    You can turn this side salad into a main course by topping it with a grilled protein: chicken breast; fish fillet, scallops or shrimp; lamb, etc.

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 4 cups of mixed baby greens
  • 1 head radicchio
  • 2 medium Asian Pears, diced
  • Blue cheese, feta or goat cheese, crumbled, diced or sliced
  •  
    For The Dressing

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. TEAR the radicchio into bite-sized pieces and combine with greens in a salad bowl (also tear greens if not using baby greens). Add the diced pears.

    2. WHISK the vinegar and mustard, then whisk in the olive oil. Add honey, salt and pepper. Toss with the salad.

    3. ADD cheese to top and serve.
     

    TRADITIONAL ASIAN PEAR VARIETIES

    Depending on the variety, Asian pears can range from medium to large to extra large. Most colors vary from yellow to tan-brown; some have green or russet hues. Their skin may be smooth or speckled. Some of the most popular varieties grown in the U.S. include Hosui (Golden Russet Brown), Kosui (Golden Russet), Nijiseiki or Twentieth Century (Yellow-Green), Shinseiki (Yellow) and Shinsui (Russet Brown).

    These conventional varieties are grown by Subarashii Kudamono:

  • Atago, often heart-shaped,is exceptionally flavorful. Ripening late in the season, it has a lovely butterscotch colored skin. This fruit is juicy and crunch, with subtle tropical flavors of mango, kiwi and passionfruit plus notes of citrus and melon.
  • Hosui has a mild, clear, sweet flavor. This crisp and juicy fruit is golden tan in color with a slight conical shape. In Japanese Hosui means sweet water.
  • Niitaka is a golden light brown in color with a distinctive peaked top. Another very crisp juicy variety, it is sweet with a hint of a nuttiness.
  • Olympic is very round, khaki (brownish-green) color with a blush of dark red. It has a rich flavor, is lightly crisp and displays a delicate amount of juiciness.
  • Yoinashi is very sweet, with a hint of butterscotch. It is golden-orange in color and is slightly oval in shape.
  •  
    The company has also bred and patented five additional varieties: It’s an Asian pear lover’s paradise. One of them, Asaju, is grown artisan-style in a wax-lined bag, so the skin is wafer thin and very crisp.

    You can buy them online for yourself or as gifts. A 5-pound gift box is $29.95; a 9-pound gift box is $39.95.
     

    MORE ABOUT ASIAN PEARS.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Millet, A Gluten Free Whole Grain

    Today’s tip comes from Bob’s Red Mill, where there’s always something new and delicious to discover. Our recent discovery: millet, a gluten free, ancient whole grain.

    Easily used as a replacement for rice and bulgur wheat with millet in a salad with dates and pistachio to benefit from the whole grain, gluten free and high protein goodness. The nutty sweet flavor is an added bonus!

    Millet, an ancient grain, was first farmed some 10,000 years ago in East Asia. A staple crop in Asia and Africa—then and now—it was revered as one of five sacred crops in ancient China. It’s mentioned in the Old Testament, the writings of Herodotus and the journals of Marco Polo.

    Millet grows well in poor, droughty and infertile soils, and are more reliable than most other grain crops under these conditions.

    It fell out of fashion in the cuisines of America and Europe, but it’s always been available in health food stores. A small, round, yellow seed, you also find it in natural food stores like Whole Foods Market, and in many general grocery stores.

    Millet has a mild, sweet flavor and cooks quickly, making it a tasty, convenient whole grain for sides, salads and stir fries. Its light flavor enables it to be prepared as a sweet or savory recipe. In addition to fiber, it’s packed with B vitamins, iron, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus.

    The most widely cultivated species include, in order:

       

    millet-horiz-bobsredmill-230r

    Millet, a grain to discover. Photo courtesy Bob’s Red Mill.

  • Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), what you’re most likely to find in the U.S.
  • Foxtail millet (Setaria italica)
  • Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), also called broom corn millet, common millet, hog millet and white millet)
  • Finger millet (Eleusine coracana)
  •  
    Easy Ways To Enjoy Millet

  • Breakfast: Substitute millet for a bowl of oatmeal; bake raw millet seeds into breads and muffins for a healthful crunch.
  • Salad: Substitute millet in any grain salad; add a scoop as a garnish for a green salad or cooked vegetables.
  • Side: Serve millet with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh-cracked pepper and an optional sprinkle of grated Parmesan. We also enjoyed a side of millet, chopped dates and pistachio nuts.
  •  

    millet-spring-roll-salad-bobsredmill-230L

    Millet salad: Serve it as a side or top with a
    grilled protein. Photo courtesy Bob’s Red Mill.

     

    RECIPE: MILLET STIR-FRY

    Use this recipe from Bob’s Red Mill to turn a simple stir-fry into something special, replacing rice with millet. You can add an optional protein (chicken, tofu, etc.).

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup millet
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup sliced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 large head of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced carrot
  • 5 ounces canned water chestnuts
  • 1/4 cup cashew pieces
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  •  

    Preparation

    1. BRING water and salt to a boil in a pot. Add millet and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 35-40 minutes.

    2. COMBINE soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey and cornstarch. Set aside

    3. HEAT oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; cook for 1 minute. Add broccoli, carrots and water chestnuts. Cook until vegetables are al dente to tender, depending on preference, 7-10 minutes. Add millet and cashews.

    4. POUR soy sauce mix over the stir-fry and cook until the sauce is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.
     
     
    MORE MILLET RECIPES

    Here are three delicious recipes from Bob’s Red Mill:

  • Millet Salad, a combination of grain and crunchy veggies (recipe)
  • Sweet Millet Congee with apples and bacon, for breakfast (recipe)
  • Spinach and Lemon Millet Arancini, fun party fare (recipe)
  •  
    Let us know what you think of millet!

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Scuffins

    apricot-scuffin-230

    Surprise: a center of apricot conserve. The
    black flecks are flaxseeds. Photo courtesy
    Frog Hollow Farm.

     

    Today’s tip comes from Frog Hollow Farm, a beloved grower of organic fruit in Brentwood, California, an hour east of San Francisco in the fertile Sacramento River Delta.

    Before there was the cronut, there was the scuffin. Necessity was the mother of invention.

    Some five years ago, Frog Hollow Farm began to make frozen purées from fruit that wasn’t cosmetically attractive enough to sell to consumers. They then set about creating products from the purées, and the winner was the scuffin.

    What sounds like a cross between a scone and a muffin is actually a triple hybrid, which includes the center of a jelly donut— substituting conserve, jam or preserve for the jelly. (Here are the differences between jelly, jam, conserve, etc.)

    A hearty, sconelike dough formed into a muffin shape, a scuffin is more dense than a muffin, with a texture that goes from a crisp exterior and crumbly scone interior to center of smooth fruit filling, made from the purée. It eliminates the need to choose between a scone and a muffin. They can be breakfast bread, snack or dessert.

    Served at the Frog Hollow Café in San Fransicso’s Ferry Building, the scuffin was an instant hit. The whole grain flour and flaxseeds, add healthful elements and a nuttiness that pairs well with the jam.

     
    Total prep and baking time is 1 hour.

    RECIPE: SCUFFINS

    Ingredients For 12 Scuffins

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 ounces), plus 2 tablespoons for buttering muffin cups
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour (4 1/2 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal or wheat germ (1 ounce)
  • 3 tablespoons light brown or raw sugar (2 ounces), plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup fruit jam, conserves, preserves or fruit butter (do not use jelly or marmalade)
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a microwave or over very gentle heat. Using a pastry brush, butter the cups of a standard-size 12-cup muffin tin (3-1/2-ounce-capacity). Let each coat of butter cool, then apply another coat; continue until the 2 tablespoons are all used.

    2. COMBINE dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, add to the dry ingredients and mix with a fork until just combined.

    3. WHISK together the egg, milk and cream in another bowl. Add to the dry ingredients and mix to combine (the dough will be quite sticky).

    4. RESERVING about a quarter of the dough for topping, scoop 2 tablespoons dough into each cup. Using the back of a spoon, press the dough gently down into the cups. The dough will move up the sides, and there should be a shallow well in each dough cup. Don’t worry if the dough doesn’t come all the way up to the top; there should be about 1/2 inch of space between the top of the dough and the rim of the cup.

     

    nectarine-scuffin-froghollowfarm-230

    Scuffins filled with blueberry preserves. Photo courtesy Frog Hollow Farm.

     
    5. SPOON about 1 tablespoon of jam into each well. Using your fingers, pinch the remaining dough into small clumps and scatter evenly over the jam in each cup, making a bumpy topping. Sprinkle sugar over the tops.

    6. BAKE 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned. Let cool in the pan on a rack; run a blade around the sides of each scuffin before turning out.

    Variations

  • Try different flavors of jams and preserves.
  • Use different spices—nutmeg, ginger or allspice, for example, instead of cinnamon or cardamom.
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Try A New Apple

    apple-cider-230

    SweeTango juice and apples, now in stores
    nationwide. Photo courtesy The Next Big
    Thing.

     

    While October is National Apple Month, today, September 20th, is International Eat An Apple Day. There are so many varieties of apples, our tip is to step outside of your apple comfort zone and try something new.

    Our favorite apple, Honeycrisp, has an offspring: SweeTango. Introduced in 2009, SweeTango combines the best qualities of the Honeycrisp (released in 1991) and Zestar (released in 1998) varieties. It has the crisp texture of Honeycrisp and the juiciness of the Zestar, with notes of citrus, honey and spice.

    The SweeTango was born at the University of Minnesota, where expert apple breeders, using time-honored horticultural techniques, struck gold by marrying the Honeycrisp and Zestar varieties. If you were about to ask, the brand tells us that Honeycrisp was the bride, Zestar the groom, both varieties with crisp flesh.

    The offspring of marrying the rootstocks created the Minneiska, a hybrid tree. But since “Minneiska” doesn’t have a commercial ring to it, the apples were christened (and trademarked) SweeTango.

     

    A growers cooperative was formed, includes some of the best apple growers in the world and called Next Big Thing. They are the only farmers who can grow SweeTango—an arrangement that allows the breeders to maintain top quality.

    A seasonal apple harvested in early fall, SweeTango is available during apple season across the U.S. and Canada. Enjoy it as a hand fruit, or with stronger cheeses such as blues and Cheddar.

    For more information, visit SweeTango.com. Use the store locator to find a retailer near you.

     

    DOES AN APPLE A DAY KEEP THE DOCTOR AWAY?

    According to HowStuffWorks.com, the first printed mention of this saying was in the February 1866 issue of the British publication Notes and Queries, still in print and still focused on reader questions about the English language and literature, lexicography, history and scholarly antiquarianism.

    The publication printed the proverb thusly: “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” But does it, really?

    No more so than many other fruits. Most ailments cannot be cured by diet alone, and nutritionists would recommend a varied selection of fruits: citrus fruits, tropical fruits like mangos and a variety of berries, which pack a nutritional punch.

    Here’s what the nutrients in apples can do for you.

  • An apple a day can reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and many types of cancer. Various studies show health benefits when participants eat an apple between three and five times a week.
  •  

    sliced-apples-shropshireblue-230s

    Sliced SweeTango apples with Shropshire Blue cheese and almonds. Photo courtesy The Next Big Thing.

  • The pectin in apples is a soluble fiber than lowers both blood pressure and glucose levels. It can also lower the level of LDL, or bad cholesterol. Like other forms of fiber, it helps maintain the health of the digestive system.
  • Boron, an abundant nutrient in apples, supports strong bones and a healthy brain.
  • Quercetin, a flavonoid (antioxidant), may reduce the risk of various cancers, including breast and lung cancer. It may also neutralize free radical damage, which has been implicated in a variety of age-related health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The phytonutrients, including vitamins A, E and beta carotene, also fight free radical damage, reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and asthma.
  • Last but not least, the vitamin C boosts immunity, which helps maintain overall health.
  • Other fruits have specific benefits.

  • Bananas are loaded with potassium, which is important for a healthy heart and proper muscle function.
  • All berries are good for you. Apricots, fresh or dried, are high in beta-carotene. Blackberries are loaded with fiber. Blueberries and cranberries help prevent and fight urinary tract infections. Strawberries contain lots of vitamin C and fiber.
  • In terms of juice, apple juice is at the bottom of the top 10 beverages in antioxidant power. Pomegranate juice, wine and purple grape juice at the top, with apple juice in the tenth spot, right behind tea. One of the healthy benefits of apples—the high amount of fiber—is lost during juicing.
  •  
    So why the adage, and why has it been passed from generation to generation for 148 years?

    First, at the time the expression emerged, understanding of nutrition profiles was not what it is today. Next, apples were a bountiful crop in England; once harvested, they could remain in storage for nearly a year, providing one of the few sources of fresh fruit during the winter months.

    And, within that longevity is truth: Recent studies have shown that, unlike many fruits and vegetables, the nutritional benefits of apples remain relatively stable as long as 200 days after harvest.

    So by all means, enjoy an apple a day. It’s still one of the better sweet things you can munch on.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Leeks

    When was the last time you cooked leeks?

    Leeks are closely related to onions and shallots, although they are not interchangeable in recipes, as their flavors and intensities differ.

  • Leeks look like jumbo green onions (scallions). The long, thick stalks are mild. Leeks are hardier than onions and shallots, and are also more difficult to clean and cook. Unlike onions, leeks don’t produce bulbs or grow underground.
  • Onions come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and tastes, from sweet and mild to pungent, spicy and even acrid. Easy to grow, it is used in cuisines worldwide. The bulb grows underground, revealing itself by a single, vertical shoot above ground.
  • Shallots look like small yellow onions, a bit more oblong in shape. They grow underground. Their flavor is onion-like—sharper when raw but much more sweet and delicate when cooked, an onion-garlic hybrid. Like garlic, the bulbs grow in cloves. Unlike onions, shallots normally bloom white or violet flowers.
  •  
    Leeks are often called “gourmet onions” because they are harder to find and costlier than onions. They can be prepared easily—boiled, braised, fried, sautéed or poached—or in elaborate recipes, or served raw as a milder substitute for onions.

       

    roast-leeks-latourangelle-230

    Roasted leeks are delicious, low in calories and easy to make. Photo courtesy La Tourangelle.

     

    The only rub is cleaning them. Leeks grow in sandy soil and don’t have a protective skin cover like onions and shallots; so you’ve got to be sure to get the sand out. Here’s a video showing how to clean leeks.

    Leeks are available throughout the year, although they are in greater supply from the fall through the early spring. Purchasing tips:

  • While larger leeks may look more impressive, they are generally more fibrous in texture. Select leeks with a diameter of one and one-half inches or less.
  • In a recipe where the leeks are cooked whole (like the one below), select leeks that are of similar size to ensure consistent cooking.
  •  
    Try this easy recipe from La Tourangelle, producers of the finest culinary oils and a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week. The recipe tastes extra-special using their Roasted Walnut Oil or Roasted Hazelnut Oil, but is certainly delicious with EVOO. You can serve it as a side or a first course.
     
    RECIPE: ROASTED LEEKS WITH MUSTARD-TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE

    Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds small leeks, trimmed, rinsed and halved lengthwise
  • 2.5 tablespoons walnut oil, hazelnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh tarragon
  •  

    leeks-organic-goodeggs-230ps-r

    Leeks, fresh from the field. Photo courtesy
    GoodEggs.com.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Prepare an ice bath in a bowl.

    2. BRING a 2-quart pot of salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the leeks to the ice bath. Let chill completely, about 1 minute. Transfer the leeks to a paper towel-lined plate to drain about 3 minutes.

    3. DRIZZLE the leeks with the oil and toss to coat. Place on a baking sheet or baking pan and roast the leeks until they become slightly golden brown, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl…

    4. WHISK together the vinegar, mustard, garlic and lemon zest to make a vinaigrette.

    5. REMOVE the leeks from the oven and transfer to a platter. Spoon the vinaigrette over the leeks and garnish with the black pepper and tarragon. Serve hot or at room temperature. Enjoy!

     
    MORE LEEK RECIPES

  • Fried Leeks Garnish
  • Leek & Giblet Stuffing
  • Leek Soup
  • Leek & Seaweed Salad
  • Vichyssoise (leek and potato soup)
  •  
    ABOUT LEEKS

    Leeks are a member of the Allium genus, which includes garlic, onions, shallots, and scallions. Their botanical family, Amaryllidaceae, comprises herbaceous, perennial and bulbous flowering plants including the amaryllis, from which it takes its name.

    Leeks look like large scallions, having a very small bulb and a long white cylindrical stalk of superimposed layers that flows into green, tightly wrapped, flat leaves. Cultivated leeks are usually about 12 inches in length and one to two inches in diameter and feature a fragrant flavor that is reminiscent of shallots but sweeter and more subtle.

    Wild leeks, known as ramps, are much smaller in size, but have a stronger, more intense flavor. They are available for a short period of time each year and are often widely sought out at farmers markets when they are in season.

    Believed to be native to Central Asia, leeks have been cultivated in there and in Europe for thousands of years. They were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were thought to be beneficial to the throat. The Roman emperor Nero supposedly ate leeks everyday to make his voice stronger.

    The Romans most likely introduced leeks to Britain; they were so esteemed in Wales that they became country’s national emblem. As the story goes, during a battle against that Saxons in 1620, Welsh soldiers placed leeks in their caps to differentiate themselves from the enemy—and won the battle, of course.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Wine Glass Types

    red-white-champagne-brinvy.biz-230

    Ideally, you’ll have three wine-specific
    glasses for red, white and sparkling. Photo
    courtesy Brinvy.biz.

     

    “Why the different shapes and sizes of wine glasses?” writes a reader. “Can’t I just use one generic glass?”

    The bottom line is: You can serve wine in a juice glass, if that’s what you have. It’s how wine is served in many working class eateries the world over.

    Just as you can drink soup from a bowl or a mug, you can drink wine from a tea cup, a vessel used by some during Prohibition lest the neighbors spot them drinking alcohol.

    But for more elegant consumption that helps show off the qualities of the wine, three different shapes work best. Here’s why:

    Larger Bowl Wine Glasses For Red Wine

    Red wine glasses hold a minimum of 12 ounces. The wider bowl shape allows the wine to breathe more, opening up the flavors of red wine.

    Those balloon glasses at 24 ounces may look impressive and appeal to major imbibers; but they take extra space to store, extra care to wash, and are more showy than useful.

     
    Narrower Bowl Wine Glasses For White Wine

    White wine glasses range between 10 and 12 ounces. The shape’s narrower bowl helps to keep the wine cool longer.
     

    Flutes For Sparkling Wine

    Champagne and other sparkling wines are best served in an 8- to 12-ounce flute. The narrow shape keeps the bubbles from dissipating quickly (which is exactly what happens in a Champagne coupe), and focuses the bubbles to rise in a festive display.

    In some better stemware lines, tiny dimples are etched into the bottom of the bowl, which produce more bubbles and help to improve the way it tastes.

    In fact, the added effervescence increases the volatile compounds that are released when the bubbles burst, enhancing the bouquet.

     

    The Science Of Stemware

    For some time, the design of the best wine glasses has been a matter of science. At Riedel, the pioneer in stemware engineering and the glass of choice among connoisseurs, the bowls are designed to show off the qualities of each style of wine, enhancing the flavors and aromas. It’s scientific, and it works (it’s easy to do a side-by-side comparison between Riedel and a generic glass).
     
    More Wine Glass Tips

    Stems. The stem length will vary based on the designer. While tall stems look elegant, they may not be the most comfortable to hold. Also consider if they will fit easily into your cabinet and, if you hope to wash them mechanically, your dishwasher. On a similar plane, novelty stems—in the shape of cubes or diamonds, for example—are not as easy to hold.

    Bowl designs. Avoid colors and designs. If you’re serious about wine, you need to be able to focus on the subtleties of its color.

    Engineering. Experts look for thinner glass and a lip that curves in slightly to focus the aroma.

    A final tip: Wine glasses should be filled only about two-thirds full, not to the brim.

     

    riedel-assorted-reds-230

    Riedel engineers each glass to show of the quality of the varietal—Cabernet versus Zinfandel, for example. Photo courtesy Riedel USA.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Asian Vinaigrette

    Hungering for a salad dressing served at a local Asian restaurant, we made our own this weekend. It was so easy and delicious, we made up an extra-large batch to keep on hand for regular use.
     
    For lunch we tossed it with a package of shredded cabbage, essentially creating Asian cole slaw to go with sandwiches. Delicious! That evening, we served it with a conventional romaine tossed salad, with bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and red onions (plus some dried cranberries and slivered almonds we wanted to use up).

    This vinaigrette awaits everything from mesclun to Asian chicken salad, steamed vegetables to steamed rice.

    RECIPE: ASIAN VINAIGRETTE

    Ingredients For 1 Cup

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dark sesame oil*
  • 9 tablespoons canola or other salad oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • ½ tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ clove garlic, crushed
  • Optional: dash of sriracha or other hot sauce
  • Optional: 1/8 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
  • Optional: fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
  •  

    balsamic-vinaigrette-33073960-JuanMonino-230

    Asian vinaigrette is delicious on any salad. Photo by Juan Monino | IST.

     
    *About The Oil

    We love the flavor of Asian dark sesame oil. It’s very strong, so you only need a touch. We mix a smaller proportion of it with a larger proportion canola oil; you can use your salad oil of choice.

    Don’t try to solve the problem by purchasing light sesame oil: The ones we’ve had tend to be bland and don’t deliver delicious sesame flavor.

    You can use olive oil instead of canola—but not your best EVOO, since the sesame flavor will cover up its flavor nuances.
     
    Preparation

    1. WHISK the ingredients together in a bowl (or use a blender). Let stand for 30 minutes or more to let the flavors meld.

    2. WHISK again before serving.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Cider Instead Of Beer

    Instead of beer, try hard cider. It’s a natural for quaffing or food pairing, and replaces the flavors of malt and hops with apple or pear (cider made with pears is called perry).

    First, the difference between hard cider and fresh cider.

  • Hard cider is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from the unfiltered juice of apples. The alcohol content varies from a low 1.2% ABV* to 8.5% or higher—some imported ciders can be up to 12% ABV, an average level for table wines.
  • Fresh apple cider is raw apple juice, typically unfiltered. Thus, it is cloudy from the remnants of apple pulp. It is also typically more flavorful than apple juice—although of course, the particular blend of apples used in either has a big impact on the taste.
  • Apple juice has been filtered to remove pulp solids, then pasteurized for longer shelf life.
  •  
    *ABV is alcohol by volume. It is doubled to get the proof. For example, a 40% ABV spirit is 80 proof.

     

    bottle-glass-original-230

    Classic Crispin. Photo courtesy Crispin Cider Company.

     
    While it may not seem so today, America has a history of hard cider. The English who originally settled the country brought their love of cider, and America was a hard cider country until the 19th century.

    Then, waves of German immigration brought the lager makers, and soon enough more Americans were lifting steins of beer instead.

    Prohibition dealt hard cider a final blow from which it is just now making a comeback, with impressive annual growth figures. Aiding the effort is Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams beer and the Angry Orchard cider brand.

    Since Prohibition, “cider” in the U.S. has referred to the unfermented, unpasteurized apple juice; with “hard cider” used to indicate the alcoholic beverage. In the U.K. it is the opposite, with “cider” indicating the alcoholic drink for which special cider apples are used.

    CIDER VERSUS BEER

    Cider is a gluten-free option; beer is made from gluten-rich grains. However, beer is sugar-free, while cider can be quite high in sugar.

  • Crispin, one of our favorite brands, has 15 grams (three teaspoons) of sugar per serving. Angry Orchard’s Crisp Apple jumps to 23 grams (7 teaspoons of sugar).
  • Dryer ciders contain less sugar and carbs, and a higher alcohol content because the yeast have been allowed to consume the majority of the natural sugars and convert them to alcohol.
  •  
    Comparatively, the calories in beer versus hard are similar higher; but cider is higher in carbohydrates due to the higher levels of sugar.

     

    angry-orchard-cinnful-6pack-230

    Angry Orchard’s Cinnful Apple has a touch of
    cinnamon. Photo courtesy Boston Brewing
    Company.

     

    CIDER APPLES ARE DIFFERENT

    Cider can be made from any variety of apple, but the better ciders are typically blends of culinary apples—the kinds we eat—and cider apples, which are not palatable to humans. Cider makers balance the flavors of different apples and different proportions to produce their blends.

  • Culinary apples are fruits with a juicy, luscious apple character. The varieties used contribute sweetness as well as a bright acidity, which provides part of the crisp, refreshing backbone. Examples include Braeburn, Elstar, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonagold and Red Delicious.
  • Bittersweet apples are grown solely for making cider. These apples provide more complexity and wine-like characteristics to a cider, like grapes do to a wine, imparting aroma and contributing to the color. They also provide acidity, tannins that impact mouth feel, astringency, and real fruity cider notes. Bittersweet apples in the blend are often unfamiliar to us. For example, Angry Orchard uses French varieties called Amere de Berthecourt, Beden, Binet Rouge, Brairtot Fuji, Medaille d’or and Michelin.
  •  

    CIDER HISTORY

    In the days before refrigeration, fresh juice would spoil quickly. The only option to preserve it was to ferment it into cider; the alcohol acts as a preservative.

    Man has fermented fruit into alcohol since prehistory. But apple cider was raised to an art in France and the U.K. Apple trees were plentiful in both areas. The Romans, arriving in force in Britain in 43 C.E., introduced apple cultivation.

    But it was another group of invaders, the Normans, who improved cider making, following their conquest of England in 1066. Apple juice had been fermented into an alcoholic drink earlier in English history, under the Anglo-Saxons. The Normans (from Normandy, France), improved the drink by using cider-specific apples.

    The beverage grew in popularity, new varieties of apples were introduced, and cider began to replace wine (the English climate favors apples over grapes). Every farm grew cider apple trees as well as culinary apples, and in the 18th century it became customary to pay part of a farm laborer’s wage in cider.

    How did cider get its name? The English word “cider” comes from the Old French sidre, which in turn was adapted from medieval Latin sicera, based on the Greek sikera, from the Hebrew shekar, meaning “strong drink.” What we call fresh cider (not fermented) was known as ciderkin or water-cider.
     

    It’s time to have a glass!

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Delicious Appetizers With Wonton Wraps

    buffalo-chicken-cups-230

    An even more delicious way to enjoy the
    flavor of Buffalo wings. Photo courtesy
    Nasoya.

     

    You may not be ready to take on homemade dumplings, as we suggested yesterday.

    But if you’re looking for easy, impressive hors d’oeuvres for entertaining? Make them with won ton wraps.

    Of course, you’d buy won ton wraps to make homemade won tons. Savvy cooks know you can also use them to make ravioli. Like pasta, the wraps are made from wheat flour, eggs and salt, plus water, wheat gluten, vinegar and cornstarch.

    But did you think of making clever appetizers with them? They’re surprisingly easy. And the crispy baked wontons are far superior to other alternatives we’ve tried, like phyllo cups.

    Nasoya, an American producer of tofu, Asian-style noodles and wraps and Nayonaise vegan sandwich spread, treated us to the recipes below, created for Nasoya by blogger Kris Schoels of TheChicWife.com. We loved every bite.

    Look for the wraps in the produce section, next to Nasoya tofu. The all-natural wraps are easy to use. The line is certified kosher by OU.

    These three recipes are delicious for hors d’ouevres or a first course. Find more delicious recipes at Nasoya.com.

     
    RECIPE: BUFFALO CHICKEN CUPS

    These were so good, we were sorry we hadn’t made a double batch. (The photo is above.)

    Ingredients For 24 Pieces

  • 12 ounces cooked chicken, diced
  • 3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup of wing sauce (mild or hot)
  • 1/2 cup of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup of ranch dressing
  • 24 wonton wrappers
  • Extra blue cheese crumbles for topping
  • Cupcake pan
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Place the chicken and blue cheese in a bowl and set aside.

    2. COMBINEthe hot wing sauce, softened cream cheese, and ranch dressing in a small bowl. Pour the cream cheese mixture over top of the chicken and crumbled blue cheese. Stir until just combined.

    3. PLACE one wonton wrapper in each cupcake opening; press down until it creates a cup. Fill each wrapper cup 3/4 of the way with the chicken mixture.

    4. BAKE for 10 minutes, or until the wrappers are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Top with more crumbled blue cheese for garnish, if you wish. Serve warm.

     

    RECIPE: BAKED AVOCADO & FETA WONTONS WITH
    AVOCADO-LIME DIPPING SAUCE

    We’d never have thought of combining avocado and feta, but the result is delicious!

    Ingredients For 24 Pieces

  • 24 wonton wrappers
  • 2 large avocados, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 4 tablespoons chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic, very finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Small bowl with water for sealing
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

    2. COMBINE the chopped avocado, sun dried tomatoes, feta, garlic, onion, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl, taking care to not smash the avocado pieces too much.

     

    avocado-feta-wraps-230

    A delicious marriage of avocado and feta, for an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre. Photo courtesy Nasoya.

     

    3. FILL the wrappers: Working one wrapper at a time place 1 tablespoon of filling in the top third of the egg roll wrap. Brush the edges with water and roll like a burrito. Seal with more water. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat until all of the filling has been used.

    4. BAKE for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned.

    5. MAKE the dipping sauce (recipe below).
     
    RECIPE: AVOCADO-LIME DIPPING SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 1 small ripe peeled avocado
  • 1/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Optional: hot sauce
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE all ingredients into a food processor; process until smooth. Season with additional salt, pepper and optional hot sauce.
     
    RECIPE: HAM & CHEESE BITES

    Think beyond “ham and cheese”: The flavor of these bites is quite sophisticated.

    Ingredients For 30 Pieces

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup cooked ham, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg white (set aside to be used later)
  • 30 wonton wrappers
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WHISK the egg in a bowl whisk and add the cottage cheese, mixing until smooth. Stir in the ham, cheddar, salt, and pepper. Place in the refrigerator until ready to cook the wontons.

    2. Prepare the wontons: Working one wrapper at a time, brush the outer edge of the wrapper with egg white (this will help seal the bites). Place 1 heaping teaspoon of the cheese mixture in the center of the wrap. Fold the wrapper in half into a triangle and seal with more egg wash if needed.
    3. PLACE on a baking sheet until ready to cook (note, these can be frozen and cooked later). Repeat until all of the cheese mixture has been used.

    4. HEAT a large skillet over medium heat, spray skillet with nonstick spray or use 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the skillet is warm, place the wonton wrap in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd it. Do it in several batches.

    5. COOK for 1 minute on each side; the outside will be lightly browned. Place on a paper towel lined plate, keeping warm until ready to serve. Here’s a photo of the cooked dumplings.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Ricotta Salata

    ricotta-salata-ig-230

    Ricotta salata. Photo courtesy iGourmet.com.

     

    Most of us are familiar with ricotta, the fresh cottage cheese-like* Italian favorite used in everything from lasagna to cheesecake to cannoli.

    But what about ricotta salata, a firm, aged sheep’s milk cheese (some refer it ricotta secca). A Sicilian specialty, it is ricotta that has been pressed, salted and dried—very different from ricotta and an exciting and versatile cheese.

    Ricotta salata is mildly salty, with a milky and nutty flavor. It is ideal for grating, shaving, slicing or cubing. You can use it anywhere you’d use feta. It’s typically more affordable than feta or Italian grating cheeses.

    You can crumble it, cube it, grate it, shave it or slice it. You can enjoy it with fruit as your cheese course, or add it to a cheese platter or antipasto plate.

     
    *Technically, ricotta isn’t a cheese but a by-product of the cheese-making process. The name “ricotta” means “recooked” in Italian (from the Latin recoctus). Historically, ricotta has been made from the whey that was left over from the process of making a cooked cheese. What to do with the whey has long been a question in the cheese world; many cheese makers of long ago simply fed it to their pigs, a practice still continued today. But somewhere along the line, someone discovered that the whey contained proteins and milk solids that would coagulate under high enough heat and with the presence of acid, and ricotta was born. In addition to ricotta salata, here’s also ricotta affumicata, an aged cheese that is smoked in the early part of the maturing process. Like ricotta salata, it can be eaten with bread or grated on pasta, gnocchi, and cooked vegetables.

     

    Try it:

  • In a green salad, ideally one with tangy greens like arugula and watercress. We love it with arugula, beets and fresh herbs.
  • On grains, potatoes or rice, whether sides or salads.
  • As a soup garnish.
  • On a sandwich, pannino or burger.
  • Atop pasta, or tossed with it. Check out Pasta alla Norma, made with eggplant and ricotta salata.
  • With eggs.
  • On cooked vegetables; try it with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale or spinach.
  • With eggs.
  • Grated on pizza, flatbread or crostini.
  • In stuffed artichokes or vegetable fritters.
  • Atop fruit salad or grilled fruit. An Italian classic mixes watermelon with ricotta salata, basil, pine nuts and olive oil.
  • Cubed on skewers, with vegetables, meats or fruits.
  •  

    ricotta-salata-southernitaliandesserts-230

    Ricotta salata in a traditional shape. Photo courtesy Southern Italian Desserts.

     

    What’s your favorite use? Let us know!
     
    RICOTTA HISTORY

    Ricotta production on the Italian peninsula dates to the Bronze Age (circa 3200–600 B.C.E. in Europe, and varying dates elsewhere). In the second millennium B.C.E., ceramic vessels called milk boilers started to appear frequently.

    Unique to the peninsula, they were designed to boil milk at high temperatures and prevent the milk from boiling over. The fresh acid-coagulated cheeses produced with these boilers were probably made with whole milk. Ceramic milk boilers were still used by Apennine shepherds to make ricotta as recently as the 19th century. Today metal milk boilers are used, but production methods have changed little since ancient times.

    By the first millennium B.C.E., the production of rennet-coagulated cheeses took over. Unlike the fresh acid-coagulated cheese, aged rennet-coagulated cheese could be preserved for much longer.

    The production of rennet-coagulated cheese led to a large supply of whey as a by-product. Cheese makers created a recipe that used a mixture of the whey plus milk, to make the fresh ricotta we know today.

    Because of its perishability, ricotta was most likely consumed locally, by the shepherds and cheesemakers. It is likely that its short shelf life did not allow broad distribution to urban markets; but even so, evidence from paintings and literature indicates that ricotta was known and likely eaten by Roman aristocrats as well. And at some point, ricotta was pressed and aged into ricotta salata. [Source]

      

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