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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,
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Archive for Uncategorized

TIP OF THE DAY: Make An Icebox Cake


A variation of the original Ice Box Cake: a
simple yet memorable combination of
chocolate wafers and whipped cream. Here,
pastry chefs at Magnolia Bakery took the
extra step to pipe the whipped cream around
the cookie edges to create a finished look.
Photo courtesy Magnolia Bakery.


The icebox (ice box) cake falls in the blessed category of summer foods that require no heat to cook. Just as good, it can be made by people who don’t cook or those who are just learning. And best of all, it delights everyone.

(For those who hate the heat, pick up a copy of Cool Kitchen: No Oven, No Stove, No Sweat! 125 Delicious, No-Work Recipes For Summertime Or Anytime, a book that’s out of print and can be bought for a song.)


An icebox cake—also called a refrigerator cake—is a no-bake cake, a descendant of the charlotte and the trifle.

  • Trifle is a dessert that dates to the early 17th century. Egg custard is poured over sponge cake that is soaked in fruit and sherry, and topped with whipped cream. Here’s a recipe.
  • Charlotte is a dessert that dates to the early 17th century. Bread, biscuits/cookies or sponge cake or biscuits/cookies are used to line a mold, which is then filled with a fruit purée or custard; an English trifle uses custard and sherry with a topping of whipped cream. It can also be made using layers of breadcrumbs. Some say it was named for Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of the U.K., who was queen from 1761-1814.
  • Charlotte Russe, made in a mold lined with ladyfingers, was created by Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833), the father of French cuisine (who created mayonnaise and many other enduring classics.


    Wikipedia says that the Icebox Cake was first introduced in the U.S. during World War I, but that its popularity took off in the 1920s and 1930s. Different brands of products, from wafers to condensed milk to pudding, began printing “back of the box” recipes. As long as one had an icebox in which to keep the whipped cream cake, it could be made on a hot summer day without turning on the oven or stove (in the era before air conditioning, which didn’t begin to be installed in homes until the 1950s, becoming more common in the 1960s).

    The cake is left overnight in the icebox; the wafers are softened by moisture from the whipped cream so the cake can be easily sliced. When cut at a 45-degree angle, the stripes of chocolate and cream are displayed.

    Nabisco printed a recipe on the back of its box of Famous Chocolate Wafers, called “Famous Chocolate Refrigerator Roll.” In the original recipe, the wafers are sandwiched with whipped cream and stacked to form logs, which were laid side-by-side with more whipped cream to frost the exterior. See the technique in this recipe from Joy The Baker, who cleverly transforms the logs into a Christmas yule log cake.

    The cake can also be assembled in a baking dish—an easy option for novices.

    Ernestine Emanuel of New York, is credited with creating the graham cracker ice box cake, after having a dessert of graham crackers and chocolate pudding. (Wikipedia doesn’t give a date.)

    In recent times, icebox cake connoisseurs have made variations using caramel, fresh fruit (bananas and strawberries are popular), fruit curd, jam, peanut butter, pudding and other fillings; and graham crackers, tea biscuits, vanilla wafers and other cookies instead of chocolate wafers. The whipped cream itself can be made in any number of flavors.



    Just in time for this summer comes Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town.

    The author, Jean Sagendorf, has taken the icebox cake a leap forward by making variations in numerous favorite dessert flavors. Banana Rum, Key Lime, Lemon Caramel, Mexican Chocolate Spice, Peanut Butter Cup, Peppermint Chocolate, Red Velvet, Raspberry Ganache and Salty Caramel are just some of her modern icebox cakes. You can start at the beginning and make the project your summer’s “Julie and Julia.”


    The ingredients are the same as Nabisco’s original recipe, but the instructions have been adapted slightly to provide more options.


  • 2-3 packages of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • Optional garnishes: chocolate chips, fresh berries, shaved
    chocolate or more chocolate wafers (we recently used candied
    orange peel we had on hand, and on another day, chocolate-
    dipped candied ginger)
    To make a Chocolate Icebox Cake, use chocolate whipped cream.



    An ice box cake with chocolate whipped cream and built in a loaf pan. Photo courtesy The King’s Cupboard.


    1. MAKE the whipped cream: Beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.

    2. SPREAD a thin layer of whipped cream on a round serving plate. Arrange six cookies in a circle, with another cookie in the center. Spread the layer of cookies with a half cup of the whipped cream, but not over the edge. The whipped cream should be at least a quarter-inch thick between the cookie layers.

    3. REPEAT until the cake is four or five inches high, and top it with a finishing layer of whipped cream. Stagger the cookies in each layer (see the photo above). The cookie edges should be visible on the side of the cake; but if you like, you can ice the sides before serving, creating even more of a surprise when the cake is sliced and served. If you want to ice the sides, whip an extra cup of cream before serving. By waiting until right before serving, the plastic wrap won’t stick to the sides.

    4. COVER with plastic wrap (or a cake dome); a trick is to place toothpicks around the rim of the cake to keep the plastic wrap off of the whipped cream. Refrigerate for at least eight hours; but overnight resting makes the cake even moister.

    5. GARNISH as desired before serving.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Chilled Soup


    Yellow bell pepper gazpacho shooters, topped with a tortilla chip scoop and salsa. Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy Chicken Fried Gourmet.


    A heated bowl of soup may not be your thing on a hot summer day, but a bowl of chilled soup is refreshing—and loaded with nutritious seasonal fruits and vegetables.

    We recently wrote about gazpacho; now we’re expanding the conversation.

    Chilled soups can be savory or sweet, smooth or chunky, thick or thin, creamy or fat-free, flavored with your favorite herbs and spices, garnished with anything from croutons to chopped nuts.

    You can use a base of milk/cream, purée, stock/broth, yogurt, even bread and water or beer.

    You can serve the soup in bowls, cups, mason jars, mugs, wine glasses. You can serve mini-portions in shot glasses or juice glasses.

    You can carry it around in a thermos.

    If you don’t often cook—or if you want to teach a household member to cook—these recipes are pretty foolproof. Most can be made in a blender.

    While soups with meat (beef, chicken) or lots of butter don’t lend themselves to chilling (the fat globules solidify), you won’t notice their absence. Just name your favorites and look for a recipe.

    Borscht, cucumber yogurt soup, gazpacho and vichyssoisse have always been summer staples in our home. We’ve made chilled soups with:

  • Fruits: berry, cherry, lychee, mango, melon, nectarine, peach, plum and pineapple
  • Vegetables: asparagus, avocado, beet (borscht), bell pepper, carrot, corn, cucumber, fennel, lettuce/romaine, pea, potato-leek (vichyssoise), spinach, tomato, zucchini
    The recipes can be as classic as white gazpacho (the original gazpacho) or as modern as iced carrot and orange soup.

    Nothing is easier than blender soup. Try this yummy recipe:



    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 2 large cucumbers (2-1/4 pounds), halved and seeded—1/2 cup finely diced for garnish, the rest coarsely chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed dill
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons loosely packed tarragon leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Garnish: 1/2 red onion, finely chopped; cucumber reserved from first ingredient; plain or flavored olive oil


    Raspberry soup with yogurt. Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy Eat Wisconsin Cheese.


    1. COMBINE all ingredients in a blender; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

    2. TASTE the soup just before serving and adjust seasonings as desired. Serve in bowls garnished with finely diced cucumber, red onion and a drizzle of olive oil.
    Recipe adapted from Andrew Zimmern,




    TIP OF THE DAY: Chef Tips For Exciting Sandwiches


    A porchetta sandwich served with fennel
    slaw, roasted red pepper, crispy fried onion
    threads and sriracha aïoli. Photo courtesy
    Flavor & The Menu.


    What’s trending in restaurant sandwiches?

    Proteins are still a first-round decision: Do you want chicken, ham or roast beef, for example.

    But these days, according to chefs interviewed by restaurant trade magazine Flavor & The Menu, produce makes the sandwich.

    Here are five quick tips and a link to the full article. We’ll tell you what chefs are doing, then offer some easier home solutions.


    Sweet, sour, savory and pungent: Chefs use any number of chutneys, conserves, marmalades, pestos, pickles, salsas and sauces for a creative flavor boost.

    Chefs create special condiments like broccoli marmalade, celery leaf pesto, fried caper aïoli and pumpkin agrodolce*. At home, we make an easy mayo substitute nonfat Greek yogurt, flavored with diced smashed garlic and dill (creating a form of “yogurt aïoli”).

    There are trending condiments that you can buy in the store: bacon mayonnaise, fig Dijon mustard, onion marmalade (caramelized onions) and sriracha ketchup.

    Any of them will add “wow” notes to a sandwich.

    *Agrodolce is an Italian sweet and sour sauce made by reducing vinegar and sugar with other ingredients.


    Forget bland lettuce and out-of-season tomatoes. Chefs are substituting specialties like tempura turnips, fried shallots and Vidalia onion purée, and are also getting creative with veggie sandwiches.

    They’re using root vegetables for bold sandwich flavors. The new tuna melt may just be a roasted broccoli and cauliflower melt.

    Whatever the base, it works with pickled vegetables. From pickled carrot slices to pickled beets, it’s easy to pickle vegetables at home. Don’t forget to pickle your favorite hot chiles!

    Home-pickled veggies can be ready in an hour; but if you have no time, just pick up a jar of giardiniera, assorted pickled vegetables that typically include carrots, cauliflower, celery, red bell pepper and optional hot chiles.

    At home, you may already add sliced avocado or guacamole to sandwiches. But how about:

  • Asian vegetables: Asian pear slices, bean sprouts, blanched bok choy, shiso or water chestnuts.
  • Fresh herbs: Basil, cilantro, dill, green onion†, parsley or sage.
  • Potato: Add lots of fresh herb and onion to potato salad and put it on the sandwich, instead of to the side. Try curried potato salad with currants and sliced almonds. Or, slice leftover plain white or sweet potatoes, season and add to the sandwich instead of tomato.
  • Slaw: Go beyond traditional to Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and other flavors. Try this BLT Slaw recipe with a ham or turkey sandwich.
  • Shaved vegetables: Shave raw asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots and/or celery as a “crudité” addition that adds crunch and flavor.
    While they’re not exactly vegetables, a trending sandwich addition is:
  • Chips: potato, tortilla or veggie chips.
    †Onion is botanically classified as a perennial herb that grows from a bulb. So are other members of the Allium genus, including chives, garlic, leek, scallion and shallot.


    3. ADD FRUIT

    Who says that a slice of fruit doesn’t belong on a sandwich, along with—or instead of—the lettuce and tomato.

    Raw, roasted or pickled, fruit flavors are a perky counterpoint to meaty, salty and savory ingredients.

    Start with apples, pears, plums or other stone fruit in season, and try them alternative raw (sliced thin) and pickled. Both provide a nice crunch.

    If you want fruit without effort, you can default to a jar of fig conserve or red pepper jam. Peruse the shelves of specialty food stores to see what calls your name.


    The explosion of hummus flavors at the grocer’s was the first hint that you can season old standards to deliver new flavors.

    Certainly, use flavored hummus as a spread. But chefs are also mixing peanut butter with Middle Eastern spices, hummus with chocolate and sunflower butters with fruit preserves.



    Roast beef panini with sage pesto and pickled onions. Photo courtesy McCormick.

    Take spreads made from nuts and seeds and enhance them with your own favorite flavors, to deliver new punch to everyday sandwiches.

    One of THE NIBBLE’s first Top Picks Of The Week, back in 2004, was a line of savory peanut butters called Peanut Better (alas, it is no longer produced).

    Think onion parsley peanut butter on turkey or ham sandwiches, Southwestern-spiced PB on roast beef sandwiches, hickory smoked PB with hot or cold turkey, ham, and roast chicken. Go Thai by adding ginger, crushed red pepper and a splash of soy sauce.

    Next step: Get a jar of plain peanut butter and get to work!


    Chefs are spreading sandwiches with mashed curried chickpeas, white bean purée and pickled black-eyed peas.

    Beans and legumes provide velvety texture and lots of extra protein. Turn your leftover beans and legumes into sandwich spreads or fillings—with cheese or grilled vegetables as well as with meats.

    We added leftover lentil salad to a turkey sandwich along with some pickled onions. Delicious!

    Think outside the box, like a creative chef. Every recipe we eat didn’t exist until someone first put the ingredients together.



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Scrub Daddy Sponge



    Scrub Daddy, our new kitchen essential. Photos by Faith Tomases | THE NIBBLE.


    In the beginning, there was the sea sponge, one of the simplest animal organisms, believed to have evolved at least 700 million years ago. With no specialized organs and no locomotion, they attached to rocks on the sea bed, where they eat microscopic plants in the sea water.

    Under the skin is a simple skeleton made of a soft, porous material called spongin. Sponges have been harvested since ancient times and used for cleaning.

    In the 1940s, artificial sponges were developed by DuPont company, made from cellulose. Soon, cellulose sponges replaced natural sponges in America’s household. Today’s synthetic sponges can also be made from foamed plastic polymers.

    But as everyone who uses these sponges knows, they fall apart and worse, collect odors and bacteria—including salmonella and E.coli wiped from cutting boards and kitchen counters. The moist environment of a conventional sponge—wild or artificial—is conducive to bacterial growth.

    We are advised to regularly clean our sponges: in the dishwasher, microwave or washing machine; or by soaking in a solution of ammonia, bleach or vinegar.


    Every so often, someone does create a better mousetrap. In this case, it was Aaron Krause, who created Scrub Daddy: a heavy-duty, scratch-free sponge. It is a champ at scrubbing off just about anything you want scrubbed.

    And it welcomes you with a smiling face, the mouth of which can be used to scrub utensils.

    Krause was washing and waxing cars for a living when he scratched a car. In response, he went home and invented a line of buffing and polishing pads, including the Scrub Daddy sponge.

    His business was bought out by 3M, which didn’t want Scrub Daddy because they had Scotch-Brite (not nearly as effective).

    He tried marketing Scrub Daddy himself, with minimal success ($100,000 in sales in 18 months). Then, he got an investment and assistance via Shark Tank that has generated $18 million in sales in 18 months.

    Scrub Daddy is made of a high-tech polymer texture that changes texture with the water temperature: It’s hard in cold water, for cleaning pots and grills; and soft in hot water for dishes.

    It’s safe to use (non-scratch) on just about every household surface. Like other sponges, it’s flexible to get to the bottom of coffee pots, mugs, vases, etc.

    We are thrilled—THRILLED!—with the cute little guy, who is made in happy colors: blue, green orange and yellow. There’s also a lemon-scented yellow version and a larger rectangle (no face). The company has also released Sponge Daddy, in the size of a conventional kitchen sponge (we haven’t tried it).

    We’ve used ours for a few months and it makes for happy scrubbing. Independent lab test showed it remains odor-free for up to two months. Beyond the kitchen, use it for:

  • Other household cleaning. Scrub Daddy adds fun to any chore.
  • Outdoor cleaning, from grills and swings to pool surfaces and decks.
  • Personal care, from handwashing (kids may like the face enough to use it more often) to exfoliating.
  • Auto care, the use that inspired it in the first place. Use it on your car or boat to clean dashboards, upholstery, wheels, windows, whatever.
    Scrub Daddy is sold in Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, SuperValu and Wal-Mart, with other retailers coming on board. There’s also a website,, but we hate to send you there because it needs work!

    You can also buy it on



    According to the manufacturers of Peachy Clean, the bacteria on a conventional sponge double every 20 minutes A scrubbing sponge is the #1 cross contaminator of food borne illnesses in the kitchen.

    So they created Peachy Clean Silicone Scrubbers, incorporating a new technology that is anti-microbial and anti-odor, resisting most odors caused by bacteria, mold and mildew.

    These scrubbers are specially designed to be fast drying to help reduce the bacteria, mold, and mildew growth facilitated by a moist environment.

    Also non-scratch, they last on average 3-6 months (they are the only scrubbers on the market that come with a 3 month warranty). Instead of a smiling face, the sponges smell like peaches.

    You can buy them on, and visit the company website,



    Peachy clean has a subtle peach aroma. Photo by Julia Tomases | THE NIBBLE.


    NOTE: Both of these sponges are scrubbers, as opposed to liquid picker-uppers. While they will wipe a counter, for major spills you’ll need a conventional sponge or paper towel.



    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Store Fruits & Vegetables


    Berries are fragile. Don’t buy them unless
    you plan to eat them within two days. Photo
    courtesy California Strawberry Commission.


    We adapted this article from the original on Vegetarian Times because we’re guilty of throwing out a lot of spoiled produce.

    But we’re no different from the rest of America. Back in 2002, researchers at the University of Arizona, working with the United States Department of Agriculture, spent a year tracking families’ food-use habits.

    What they discovered: The average family tossed out 470 pounds of spoiled food per year, about $600 worth, representing some 14% of the food brought into the home. Nationally, we dump $43 billion worth of food every year.

    It seems that intentions were good, because families bought lots of fresh fruit and produce. But every day, researches discovered, these households discarded more than half a pound of fruits and vegetables that had gone bad. The spoiled food represented a staggering one-fourth of all the produce purchased.

    So how can you waste less produce, and equally as importantly, consume the nourishment that gets tossed along with the money spent?

    For starters, you could buy only what you need for a day or so, and then be sure to eat it. Put it front and center on the refrigerator shelf.

    But many of us are too busy to shop that often, so Plan B is: Take better care when you buy and store produce. Here’s what to do:



    Be aware that more than a few fruits give off high levels of ethylene gas, an odorless, colorless gas that speeds the ripening and decay of other, ethylene-sensitive, produce. That’s why you can quickly ripen ethylene-sensitive fruits, like stone fruits, by enclosing them in a paper bag with an ethylene-generating fruit like an apple or a banana. Here’s how to divide and conquer:

  • Ethylene Generators/Refrigerate The Produce: apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, honeydew, kiwi, mangoes
  • Ethylene Generators/Don’t Refrigerate The Produce: avocados, bananas (unripe), nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, plums, tomatoes
  • Ethylene Sensitive/Keep Away From Ethylene Generators: asparagus, bananas (ripe), berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce/leafy greens, parsley, peas, peppers, squash, summer squash, sweet potatoes, watermelon

    For longer life:

  • Keep the ethylene-producing fruits apart from ethylene-sensitive fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep the produce whole; don’t even remove the stem of an apple until you’re ready to eat it. As soon as you damage the integrity of the fruit or vegetable, create an environment where microorganisms start to grow.
  • Never refrigerate potatoes, onions, winter squash or garlic. Keep them in a cool, dark, place, but separate them so their flavors and smells don’t migrate. They can keep up to a month or more.
  • Store cold-sensitive fruits and vegetables on the counter; they’ll lose flavor and moisture in the fridge. These include garlic, onions, potatoes and tomatoes. The first three should be stored in cool, dark places.
  • The worst thing to do is to seal fruits and vegetables in an airtight bag. It stops their respiration—yes, produce does breathe—suffocating them and speeding up decay.
  • Check the vegetable bins for mold and decay. Mold proliferates rapidly and will contaminate other produce.
  • Consider an ozone-generator like BerryBreeze, which reduces the ethylene.


    Apples have great staying power, especially when refrigerated. Stock up; but if the apples are turning soft, turn them into baked apples or compote. Photo courtesy USA Apple.

    We use a Berry Breeze in the fridge, and also place an ethylene gas guardian (E.E.G., also called an ethylene gas absorber) in the produce crisper drawers. These products actually absorb ethylene. Check out Bluapple and ExtraLife.

    There are also produce bags are also on the market, such as those by Debbie Meyer Evert-Fresh Green Bags and BioFresh, which absorb ethylene and support respiration.

  • If you’ll be making several stops between the market and kitchen, get a cooler for your car. When you get home, put the produce into the fridge as soon as possible.
  • Shop farmers markets early in the day. Just-harvested greens wilt rapidly once they’ve been in the sun for a few hours.

  • Eat more perishable items first: Berries last only a few days, oranges can last for months. Cucumbers will remain fresh longer than leafy greens. Before you put the item in your shopping cart, think of its longevity and when you will consume it.
  • If your produce has peaked and you still haven’t eaten it, quickly cook it. Make fruit compote or soup, and toss it into the freezer.
  • Produce with the best staying power: apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, potatoes, winter squash.


    PRODUCT: Chocolate Covered Beer Berries

    What the heck are beer berries, one might logically ask. Better yet, what are chocolate-covered beer berries?

    Invented by Moonstruck Chocolate of Portland, Oregon, this innovative treat starts with German roasted malted wheat berries, which are typically used in the brewing process to make dark beers like Guinness and other stouts.

    Moonstruck tumbles the wheat berries in delicious dark chocolate. You don’t have to be a beer lover to enjoy the crunchy texture and coffee (from the roasting) and chocolate flavors.

    But, chocolate-covered beer berries are delightful surprise for those who do enjoy their brewskis. They’re a great gift or party favor; and at $5.00 per bag, very affordable.

    There isn’t anything alcoholic in beer berries—just great flavor and fun. The concept was invented by Moonstruck’s master chocolatier after visiting a brewery and discovering the unique flavors of the beer berries.

    And yes, you can nibble on them while enjoying a glass of stout or other beer.
    Get yours at



    Moonstruck’s delicious Beer Berries. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.




    GIFT: Pretzel Perfection Gluten Free Treats


    Delicious, fun, affordable holiday treats. Photo by Hannah Kaminsky | THE NIBBLE.


    One of the tastiest new things we’ve tried this holiday season are the chocolate-covered pretzel clusters from Pretzel Perfection.

    The pretzels are gluten free, and made by a company that specializes in gluten-free flavored pretzel sticks—Chipotle BBQ, Garlic Herb, Lemon Toffee, Stoneground Mustard and Tomato Basil—and delicious for everyone.

    The sweet variations are seasonal specialties, delightful pretzel stick and chocolate clusters in:

  • Eggnog Holiday Clusters, covered in eggnog-infused white chocolate and finished with white chocolate chips, and dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Peppermint Clusters, covered in mint-infused white chocolate and finished with white chocolate chips and organic peppermint candy pieces.
  • Salted Caramel Clusters, covered in semisweet chocolate and handcrafted caramel, topped with dark chocolate chips and finished with a sprinkling of sea salt.
    At just $6.99 for a handsome container, there’s still time to order a slew of them for last-minute holiday gifting.

    Get yours at




    It’s Been A Week Of Tech Hell


    It’s time to get back to business. Photo


    It’s been Hell Week at THE NIBBLE.

    Starting last Monday, the server at was hacked. No website was “served” for three days; just the message, “server not found.”

    Then, it was our blog’s turn to go crazy. It’s hosted on a separate WordPress server.

    The blog “disappeared” on Friday, with yielding only the message “server not found” or a totally blank page.

    As of ten minutes ago, it’s back.

    We’re sorry for the inconvenience; thanks to all for your patience. After a tall cup of coffee—and a well-deserved cheese danish—we’ll get back to writing and publishing everything we’ve been unable to do since last Friday.




    TIP: Have An Apéritif

    What’s an apéritif? How does it differ from a digestif?

    An apéritif is an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite. It is usually dry and low in alcohol. Some people have a cocktail (a mixed drink), but many modern cocktails are considered by gastronomes to be too heavy or too sweet for pre-dinner. (A gin or vodka Martini, however, is just right.)

    If you enjoy a before-dinner drink, consider reviving the elegant custom of apéritif wines. There’s quite a selection, and you can turn it into a monthly or quarterly gathering. Instead of a cocktail party, have an apéritif party, with two or three choices each time.


  • Campari, a ruby red Italian fortified wine, is often mixed with soda to dilute the bitterness.
  • Dubonnet, from France, is available in Blanc and Rouge varieties, made from red or white wine fortified with brandy.
  • Lillet, another French wine, is blended from red or white Bordeaux wines and liqueurs made mostly from the peels of sweet and bitter green oranges. (Lillet Blanc is one of our favorite aperitifs.)
  • Pernod and Ricard are two of the better-known anise-based aperitifs. Licorice lovers: Try them!
  • Pineau des Charentes, a fortified wine from the Charente region of France. It is made from lightly fermented grape must blended with Cognac eau-de-vie. Fans call it “Pineau” for short.


    A classic apéritif for centuries: a glass of sherry. Here, amontillado with a side of olives. Photo by Matt Saunders | Wikimedia.



    Red vermouth with a twist. Red vermouth is
    sweeter than white vermouth, but still a
    good apéritif wine. Photo courtesy

  • Sherry is a fortified wine made from Spanish white grapes, which are fermented and fortified with grape spirit to increase their alcohol content. There are eight different varieties, from dry to sweet. The dry varieties (amontillado, fino, oloroso, manzanillo, palo cortado) are used as apéritifs.
  • Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine flavored with various botanicals—a proprietary blend of barks, flowers, herbs, roots, seeds, spices. They can include, among others, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, lemon balm, nutmeg, orange peel, sage, star anise, vanilla…and wormwood, the base ingredient of absinthe.
    A digestif is the opposite of an apéritif: an alcoholic beverage served after a meal to stimulate digestion (that’s the theory*). Examples include:

  • Amari (Averna Cynar, Fernet) and bitters (Becherovka, Underberg)
  • Brandy (including Alambric, Armagnac, Calvados, Cognac)
  • Cream sherry
  • Dessert cocktails (Black Russian, Brandy Alexander, Irish Coffee, Mudslide)
  • Eaux de vie (fruit brandies) and grappa (pomace brandy)
  • Port
  • Sweet liqueurs (Drambuie, cream liqueurs, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Limoncello the many, many others)
  • Whiskey and other distilled liquors (akavit, ouzo, tequila, etc.)
    Much as we love all of these, we’re usually far to full after dinner to consider a digestif. If we could only give up dessert….

    *Digestifs have not been found scientifically to help with digestion. People feel that they do because the alcohol in the stomach initially widens the blood vessels, generating a positive feeling. But then, the alcohol starts competing with the food to be digested. So in reality, it hinders digestion instead of facilitating it. Instead of a digestif, take a slow stroll around the block—avoid anything too active like jogging or a treadmill. This motion of the body is the best way to stimulate digestion. Another suggestion: a few drops of bitters in a short glass of water may help to alleviate that stuffed feeling.



    VALENTINE’S DAY: Last Minute Gift


    One of many thousands of ways to decorate a chocolate bar. Photo courtesy Chocomize.

      If youve forgotten someone special, send an e-gift certificate for exciting gourmet chocolate bars from Chocomize.

    The giftee can decorate a standard 3.5-ounce or a heart-shaped chocolate bar with the toppings of his/her choice.

    First, the giftee picks the type of chocolate (dark, milk, white), from the fine Belgian producer Barry Callebaut. It can be topped with up to five selections from almost 100 choices:

  • Many types of candy
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sweet and savory spices
  • “Decorations,” including flower petals, gold flakes and Valentine greetings
  • “Other,” a group of favorites ranging from coffee beans to cereals, potato chips and pretzels

    You can send an e-gift card for $10 or more at (And design a bar or two for yourself, while you’re there.)

    Next year, if you plan ahead, you can send all of your Valentines your own custom designs.



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