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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 Top Pick Of The Week

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Old-Style Chocolate & New Learning Opportunities

americanheritage_hotchocolate_hand-230

A sip into the past. A cup of drinking
chocolate with two chocolate sticks. Photo
courtesy American Heritage Chocolate.

 

Turn the clock back 400 years. You’re in colonial America. You can’t have a chocolate bar, because solid chocolate bars have not been invented.* But you can have a cup of luscious hot chocolate.

In the 1700s, the chocolate making process (like most cooking) was very time consuming. Chocolate, made from the cacao beans grown in the Caribbean and Latin America, became a favorite drink among the colonists.

American Heritage Chocolate, a division of the chocolate giant Mars, has recaptured the sophisticated flavors of that early hot chocolate, as well as the “eating chocolate” that was first created in 1847.

The division focuses on historically authentic chocolate. The company sends educators to historical sites around the country to demonstrate early chocolate making: roasting the cacao beans, winnowing off the shells, breaking the bean into nibs and flavoring them with sugar, salt and spices from around the world: annatto, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel, red chile and vanilla.

 
*Solid chocolate was invented in 1847 in England. Here’s a historical timeline of chocolate.
 
IN NYC ON PRESIDENTS DAY?

On Presidents Day, February 17th, American Heritage Chocolate will be at the New York Historical Society in New York City, demonstrating the drink that was enjoyed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The kid-friendly demonstrations (held from 12 to 4) begin with the imported cacao beans, to the extraction of chocolate from the beans, to the finished hot chocolate. Attendees get to sample it, although the 21st century Cocoa Latte machine they employed sure beats the 18th century hand-whipping with a stick in a chocolate pot.

The entire process is on display, including all of the spices, plus the fascinating experience that even food writers will cherish: tasting the component parts of chocolate (the cocoa butter, the chocolate liquor and the milk powder that creates milk chocolate).

Participants also get to taste “chocolate sticks,” cylinders of chocolate that look historic but wouldn’t have been available until the second half of the 19th century (in time for Lincoln, but not for Washington and Jefferson).

 

AMERICAN HERITAGE CHOCOLATE PRODUCTS

The American Heritage Chocolate brand was developed in 2006 by Mars Chocolate North America to help educate consumers about the history of chocolate in America. The delicious products are sold exclusively at heritage sites and museums†, an exclusive revenue opportunity for those worthy organizations. You can find the site nearest to you online or online, including Colonial Williamsburg website.

The chocolate recipe was created from an ingredient list from 1750, and represents a true taste of the chocolate our ancestors would have enjoyed. The product line includes:

  • Chocolate Sticks: Individually-wrapped single serving chocolate sticks
  • Chocolate Bites: Individually-wrapped, bite-size chocolates in a keepsake muslin bag
  • Chocolate Blocks: Two chocolate blocks, perfect for grating, chunking, shaving or baking
  • Chocolate Drink: A canister filled with a bag of finely grated chocolate for drinking or baking
  •  

    chocolate-stick-2-230

    Individual portion chocolate sticks are 63% cacao and excitingly flavored. Photo by River Soma | THE NIBBLE.

     

    And aside from being a bit of history, the products are truly delicious—and special. The spices wake up the palate in a way that the typical chocolate bar Americans enjoy cannot hope to do. Connoisseurs will love it, too.

    The products are so special, they’re our Top Pick Of The Week.

    This morning, we woke up and prepared a cup for Valentine’s Day.

  • It’s so rich, an espresso-size cup is perfect. A 12-ounce mug could do in the most enthusiastic hot chocolate lover.
  • We personally prefer to make it with milk, rather than water. Try both and see which you prefer.
  • The recipe recommends a 1:1 ratio of liquid to chocolate. If it’s too rich and spicy for you, add more milk/water, and use less chocolate the next time.
  •  
    †It is sold at more than 130 fine gift shops at historic sites, museums and historic inns across the U.S. and Canada.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Éclat Chocolate

    hearts-eclatchocolate-230

    Chocolates to fall in love with. Photo courtesy Éclat Chocolate.

     

    Oh, how lucky the people of West Chester, Pennsylvania are. Seven days a week they can stroll into Éclat Chocolate at 24 South High Street and select tempting confections.

    Everyone else can order the chocolates online or by phone (1.610.692.5206). Some items are available at Dean and Deluca (New York and California) and DiBruno Bros. in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.

    But the temple to the marriage of great chocolate and art is located 25 miles west of Philadelphia, close to Valley Forge; and 17 miles north of Wilmington, Delaware. And it is close to our hearts.

    For Valentine’s Day we want:

  • The beautiful bonbons, both hearts and classic shapes
  • The exquisite caramels, round domes of chocolate filled with buttery liquid caramel)
  • The glamorous, modern mendiants—disks of beauty
  • The melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles
  •  
    There’s more, but Easter is coming.

     
    Chocolatier Christopher Curtin is the first American to be awarded the honor of German Master Pastry Chef and Chocolatier in Cologne, Germany.

    He honed his skills in the finest chocolate houses of Belgium, France, Germany, Japan and Switzerland, and the results will please the fussiest connoisseur.

    In French, éclat (pronounce ay-CLAH) can mean:

  • Great brilliance, as of performance or achievement.
  • Conspicuous success.
  • Great acclamation or applause.
  •  
    We applaud all three.
     
    Head to EclatChocolate.com. Just looking at the beautiful photos is a most satisfying experience.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Jícama

    If you hadn’t read the headline, would you be able to name this vegetable?

    Botanists might call it Pachyrhizus erosus, but we know it as jícama (HEEK-uh-muh) or alternatively, the Mexican yam or Mexican turnip, although, as it is so often in popular nomenclature, jicama is not related botanically to either the yam or the turnip (except that are tree all root vegetables).

    The flowering vine is native to Mexico; it is the tuberous root of the plant that is eaten.

    You’ll find it most often in Latin American cuisine, although Spanish traders brought it to the Philippines, from which it was brought to China and other parts of Southeast Asia. It‘s now in popular dishes of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

    WHAT’S IT LIKE?

    Jícama is white and crunchy, not unlike a water chestnut. The flavor is mild, sweet and starchy—like some apples that aren’t sweet enough. Some people liken the flavor to raw green beans.

     

    Jicama: tuberous roots. Photo by Eric | Wikimedia.

     
    Jícama’s best use is to add crunch to salads, salsas and slaws, or to join in with other crudités. At 86%-90% water, it’s a hydrating snack on a hot day. (Jícama is high in vitamins A, some Bs, and C, with nice hitd of calcium and phosphorus.)

    The jícama at most grocery stores is coated with a thick wax, for extended shelf life. The yellow, papery skin is first peeled with a paring knife, revealing flesh that looks like a potato. It can then be diced into cubes or sliced into matchsticks or batons.

    Uncut jícama can be stored at room temperature for a week or so, or refrigerated a bit longer. Once cut, it should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated, where it will last for another week.

     

    Jícama fries. Photo courtesy Annaliisa’s
    Organic Kitchen. Here’s the recipe.

     

    HOW TO SERVE JÍCAMA

    Once you’ve peeled a jícama, what do you do with it?

  • Raw. Enjoy itas a snack, like carrots or celery—plain, with salsa or other dip. A classic Mexican preparation is to thinly slice jicama, then sprinkle with lime juice, chili powder and salt. Or, add to fruit salad.
  • Salad. Toss with your favorite ingredients—avocado, carrots, edamame, fennel, jalapeño, onion, mushrooms, etc. Make a luncheon salad by adding chicken, seafood or tofu. Prepare an easy dressing of olive oil, lime juice and cilantro, with a pinch of salt. Mix into coleslaw along with the cabbage. Add to egg salad, tuna/seafood salad, etc., for a sweet crunch.
  • Cooked. Jícama can be steamed, boiled, sautéed or fried. And so long as you don’t overcook it, jícama retains its pleasantly crisp texture (think fresh apple) when cooked.Add to soups and stir frys. Make “jícama fries” by tossing with lemon juice, salt and seasonings.
  •  

    Why not try some jícama fries tonight? Here’s a recipe.

    Save a few slices for your salad!
      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK & GIFT: Macarons From Dana’s Bakery

    White Chocolate Peppermint Bark, a seasonal
    macaron flavor. Photo courtesy Dana’s
    Bakery.

     

    Dana Loia, we want you to be our new BFF.

    Dana is the creative force behind Dana’s Bakery, specializing in macarons. Her macarons rock—even more than other good macarons, because she’s quite the flavor artist as well as a designer, creating beautiful “painted” custom macarons.

    This is the second career for the honors graduate of the Pastry and Baking program at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. Photography’s loss is macaron lovers’ gain. (If you want learn how to bake your own, Dana gives classes in her northern New Jersey bakery.)

    While many macaron specialists stick with the classics—chocolate, coffee, lemon, pistachio, raspberry and vanilla—Dana takes a page from the cookbook of Parisian macaron masters Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, who continue to bring forth new flavors to tempt foodie palates. A Dana’s Bakery bonus: Her macarons are certified kosher (and all macarons are gluten-free, made with almond flour).

     
    FAB FLAVORS

    Dana’s vision was to create an artisanal line of American flavor-inspired macarons. No raspberry and vanilla for her; instead, think of all your favorite sweet flavors, from Banana Split and Key Lime to Strawberry Shortcake and Watermelon.
     
    There are seasonal flavors, too: Imagine Caramel Apple or Candy Corn Macarons for Halloween, the latter with a kernel of candy corn on top of the ganache. (“I could eat these every day of my life, literally,” says Dana.)

    HOLIDAY FLAVORS

    For the holidays, there are Gingerbread Man, White Peppermint Bark and Chocolate Molten Mac.

    In addition to the holiday flavors, the current lineup includes Birthday Cake, Cookie Dough, Cup of Joe, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Fruity Cereal, Red Velvet, Thin Mint, S’mores.
     
    CUSTOM MACARONS

    Dana’s impressive macarons have attracted such prestigious corporate clients as Chanel, Martha Stewart Weddings and Vogue, where she creates custom designs from leopard-spotted macarons to gold or silver beauties. Your corporate logo can grace the top of the macarons.

    Need a wedding favor? Silver macs with Champagne ganache sounds good to us!

     

    TIME FOR A TREAT

    What can we say about these melt-in-your-mouth bites of heaven except GET YOURS TODAY. Head to DanasBakery.com.

  • Give yourself a gift subscription to the Mac of the Month Club 3, 6 and 12 month subscriptions.
  • Send a gift box or a gift subscription to a deserving foodie.
  • Get a MacDaddy macaron tower in Christmas colors (or any other colors) for Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties
  •  
    All macarons are gluten-free, made with almond flour, egg whites, sugar and flavors; the line is certified kosher by KOF-K.
     

    MORE ON MACARONS

     

    Elegant comfort food: PB&J macarons. Photo courtesy Dana’s Bakery.

     

    The history of macaroons and the difference between macaroons and macarons.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Artisan Pickles, The Best Pickles

    Many foodpreneurs are making small batch,
    artisan pickles. Photo by Lindsay Landis |
    LoveAndOliveOil.com.

     

    There are significantly more than one hundred small companies producing pickles all across this great land of ours. They’re small batch, hand packed and much tastier than mass-produced pickles.

    For most of us, pickles have been a commodity condiment: inexpensive, readily available, and something we didn’t spend a lot of time pondering. While most of us familiar with the big national brands—Vlasic, Claussen and Mt. Olive, for example—how many of us can name a small, local pickle producer?

    Take a look at our review of almost 50 artisan pickle brands. You’re sure to find stocking stuffers, host and hostess gifts, teacher gifts and anything else you need.

    There are sweet pickles and spicy pickles, pickle chips and spears.

    And the best news: pickles are low in calories, a guilt-free gift.

     

    Here’s the full article, including the history of pickles, how pickles are made, terms and buzzwords, and the scoop on whether or not pickles are “healthy food.”

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK & GREAT GIFT: Cinnamon Tea

    A particularly delicious brand of cinnamon tea. Photo courtesy Cinnamon Vogue.

     

    We taste a lot of flavored tea, and find much of it to be, well, meh. Personally, we’d rather have really flavorful, top quality origin tea than lesser tea infused with flavors.

    But we keep tasting, and sometimes we hit the jackpot, as with the outstanding Cinnamon Vogue Ceylon cinnamon tea, a Top Pick Of The Week.

    Made with high quality (premium large leaf) Ceylon tea and Ceylon cinnamon bark oil*, it’s vastly superior to teas we’ve had that blend tiny pieces cinnamon bark with the tea leaves—as nifty as that looks—or flavored with other oils or extracts.

    The “ultra premium cinnamon bark oil” used by Cinnamon Vogue, a Las Vegas-based importer, gives the tea a celestial aroma and a truly sophisticated cinnamon flavor.

     

    Cinnamon Vogue tea has no other additives, and has zero calories. It’s delicious plain, so try it that way before adding milk or sugar.

    At $12.00 per can (20 pyramid tea bags), it’s a wonderful holiday gift for just about everyone. Each bag is wrapped in a foil packet for freshness. One tea bag is strong enough to make two cups (which is true with all top quality tea).

    Get yours at CinnamonVogue.com.
     
    *Cinnamon bark oil is one of the most costly food oils in the world. There’s no oily residue or other evidence of oil—just great flavor.

     

    EVEN HEALTHIER TEA?

    Everyone knows that tea has antioxidants; so does cinnamon.

    Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the dried inner bark of trees that belong to the genus Cinnamomum (here are the different types of cinnamon). Different varieties are native to the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia.

    Cinnamon has been consumed since about 2000 B.C.E. in ancient Egypt, where it was considered to be almost a panacea. Since then, it has been used as a curative in numerous situations: to control blood sugar, to alleviate symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and to treat everything from fungal infections to Alzheimer’s Disease and HIV.

    While you should question health claims made by manufacturers, here’s the scoop from Medical News Today.

     

    No surprise: ground cinnamon from the supermarket is typically made from less expensive Indonesian cinnamon. Photo courtesy McCormick. Look for Ceylon cinnamon from specialty stores like Penzy’s.

     

    ABOUT CEYLON TEA

    Ceylon is the old colonial name for Sri Lanka, a tiny island off the coast of India. The black tea from the mountainous interior of the country has smooth flavor, medium body and a slightly fruity-honey finish. It is a favorite among black tea drinkers as a breakfast or afternoon tea. (Check out the different types of tea.)

    In addition to growing tea, Ceylon is a source of the world’s finest cinnamon. How about that for a marriage made in heaven (or at least, in Sri Lanka)?

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Smoogy Frozen Cheesecake Sandwich

    What should you do when you’re downsized from your job?

    Enter the TV reality show, “Supermarket Superstar,” with your family recipe: a cheesecake ice cream sandwich called Smoogy.

    That’s what happened to Tekisha Collins. The dream came true: she won. The prize is a distribution deal, and Smoogy cheesecake cookie ice cream sandwiches are now available at A&P, The Food Emporium, Food Basics, Pathmark, Superfresh and Waldbaums.

    We’ve become extremely fond of the Chocolate Fudge Smoogy, chocolate-cheesecake ice cream sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies.

    But the young brand needs more than a distribution deal: It needs good marketing consulting. Is it an ice cream sandwich, a frozen cheesecake cookie? Collins calls it “the first and only cake in a cookie that you eat frozen.”

    Huh? Where’s the cake?

     

    A stack of Lemon Cheesecake Smoogies.

     

    And what would you call a frozen cookie sandwich with a cheesecake-like filling?

    Hopefully, marketing help will come—and redo the packaging and marketing materials as well. We wish Smoogy all the luck in the world.

    Read the full review.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Bare Fruit Apple Chips

    An apple never tasted better. Photo by Elvira
    Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Our favorite packaged sweet snack, Bare Fruit apple chips has expanded the line to two new “flavored” chips. The lineup now includes

  • Chili Lime Apple Chips
  • Cinnamon Apple Chips
  • Fuji Red Apple Chips
  • Granny Smith Apple Chips
  • Sea Salt Caramel Apple Chips
  •  

    They’re as satisfying as candy—in fact, much more so, since they’re a guilt-free, all fruit and just 50 calories per bag. Each bag is the equivalent of eating an apple, so you also contribute to your recommended daily fruit and fiber servings.

    Caramel Apple is perfect for Halloween; all varieties of these naturally sweet chips (no sugar added but a special baking process caramelizes the apple’s natural sugar) are great for:

  • Dieter Gifts
  • Glove compartment, desk drawer, gym bag, etc.
  • Stocking Stuffers
  •  

    Here’s our favorite packaged salty snack, which also should be on your stocking stuffer radar: HalfPops, fiber-filled half-poppped popcorn that we like even better than conventional full-popped.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Treat House Gourmet Rice Krispies Treats

    Looking for gluten free treats, mini treats, kosher treats or simply something new and fun? Head to Treat House, a sparkling new establishment that serves up a great selection gourmet Rice Krispies treats.

    The flavors include:

  • Kid Delights: Birthday Cake, Bubble Gum (garnished with a piece of Bazooka), Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Pretzel, Cookies & Cream, M&M, S’mores and Red Velvet.
  • Sophisticated Flavors: Almond Cranberry, Cappuccino, Caramel Sea Salt, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Raspberry, Lemon Zest and Salted Caramel.
  • Seasonal Specialties: Fall specials include Pumpkin Spice (topped with a candy pumpkin, for Halloween) and Maple Pecan.
  •  

    An assortment of creative, gluten-free treats. Photo courtesy Treat House.

     

    Read the full review, and think of Treat House for gluten-free Halloween or holiday treats.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: COGO Hot Chocolate

    If you need a caffeine jolt but don’t like coffee (or get heartburn from the acid), we have a delicious solution.

    COGO extra-caffeinated hot chocolate has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. We’ve had caffeinated water and double-caffeinated coffee and caffeinated mints, but COGO is the first hot chocolate or cocoa we’ve come across.

    A six-ounce cup of COCO has as much caffeine as an eight-ounce cup of coffee: 98g of caffeine, compared to 5g in a typical cup of hot chocolate.

    And it’s delicious: chocolaty and creamy, a far higher-quality product than supermarket brands. There’s more chocolate intensity, more milkiness (no added milk needed) and no cloying sweetness.

    Currently sold in boxes of 50 individual packets—just mix with hot water—COGO has become part of our morning routine. We have it at home and in the office kitchen.

     

    We could drink it all day. Photo courtesy COGO.

     

    The box we sent to our godson in college was slurped up in two days—and now the whole dormitory is ordering it.

    Check out more of our favorite hot chocolate reviews, including:

  • Great Hot Chocolate Tricks: 25 Ways To Serve Hot Chocolate
  • Hot Chocolate Trivia Quiz
  • The History Of Hot Chocolate
  • Reviews Of 65+ Hot Chocolate Mixes
  •   

    Comments

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