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GIFT: Handmade Candy Canes

Handmade candy canes are available in five
flavors. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE


Most of us are used to sugary candy canes with intense mint flavor.

But Laughing Moon Chocolates turns out artisan candy canes that dial down the sugar and the intense flavor, reinterpreting the candy cane as an elegant confection.

Even better is the flavor selection: Cinnamon, Maple, Peppermint, Spearmint or Wintergreen.

They make delicious party favors (tie one up with the napkin for Christmas dinner).

Candy Canes are available in different shapes and sizes. A 6″ candy cane in the traditional shepherd’s crook shape is $4.50.

Laughing Moon can create candy canes in the shape of initials or hearts.

Order online at

Check out the history of candy canes, plus six ways to use candy canes.




TIP OF THE DAY: Try A Different Tea

At this moment, somewhere, the kettle calls. Somewhere the cup waits. Somewhere a person smiles, watching the leaves unfurl.

We grew up in a “tea family”; coffee was brewed for special occasion meals. A “cuppa” was our go-to respite. So we love this sentiment from the Republic Of Tea.

Over years of tea-drinking, we honed our preferences—Assam, Dragon Well, Earl Grey, Jasmine—to the point where we don’t spend enough time with other great teas.

And there are many of them. While all tea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis, the terroir (pronounced tur-WAH), growing season and finishing technique yield hundreds of varieties. Think of wine grapes: the same Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay grape produces very different wine in different locations and in the hands of different vintners.

Terroir comprises altitude, soil composition, aspect, hours of sunlight, rainfall and humidity, among other factors. The same rootstock will produce different tea flavors, aromas and quality when grown in different places.


Oolong tea. Photo by Shizhao | Wikimedia.


As with coffee, elevation is key: whether the plants are low-, medium-, or high-grown. Although good teas are grown in lower elevations, the highest elevations produce the greatest teas. The higher the altitude, the thinner and cleaner the air is and the closer to the sun the tea plants are.


In our quest to expand our tea choices, we purchased some quality oolong, a tea developed in China more than seven centuries ago.

Called wulong in some dialects and meaning “black dragon tea,” oolong is a traditional Chinese tea. Depending on terroir and processing, it can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, woody with roasted aromas, green and fresh with floral aromas or somewhere in-between.

Some oolongs famously have the aroma of orchids. Subvarieties produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian Province are among the most famous and sought-after Chinese teas (look for Da Hong Pao).

Oolong teas occupy a unique place in the tea spectrum: They are neither black nor green, but are oxidized to a point between the two, in a unique roasting process that can last from 12 to 36 hours, starting with withering the leaves under the strong sun and oxidizing them before curling and twisting. The degree of oxidation can range from 8% to 85%, depending on the roduction style.

The leaves are formed into one of two distinct styles. Some are rolled into long curly leaves (the traditional style), while others are wrap-curled into small beads.


1. Heat fresh water to a rolling boil. Use filtered water if your local supply isn’t clean tasting.

2. Use one teaspoon of leaves per six ounces of water. Steep tea for 5 to 7 minutes.

3. The leaves may be infused multiple times—keep infusing until the flavor wanes. It brings down the cost per cup!

Learn more about tea in our Gourmet Tea Section. You may enjoy browsing through the Tea Glossary.



FOOD HOLIDAY: National Nachos Day

Homemade nachos. Photo by Chee Hong | Wikimedia.


Who doesn’t enjoy a hearty plate of nachos for a snack, or even for a main course? They’re the easiest Mexican dish to make at home.

At the most minimal, you can simply cover tortilla chips with shredded Cheddar or other semihard cheese, with or without salsa; then use the microwave or broiler to melt the cheese. Serve the nachos with a beer or a Margarita, of course.

You can get creative with your nachos, adding anything you have on hand. Our favorite add-ons to nachos:

  • Adobo sauce
  • Black beans and corn kernels—or use a bean and corn salsa
  • Chili (bean, meat or combination)
  • Chopped chives, cilantro or parsley
  • Chopped gherkins
  • Diced avocado
  • Sliced jalapeños, fresh or pickled
  • Sliced olives
  • Shredded chicken or pork or crumbled ground beef (a great use for leftover hamburger)
  • Sour cream

    For visual and flavor interest, use a mix of yellow and blue corn tortillas (for Independence Day, use red, white and blue).

    And for a more legitimate main course, here’s a recipe for Nacho Stuffed Shells, “nacho pasta.”


    Nachos are an example of necessity being the mother of invention.

    As the story goes, in 1943 a group of Army wives from Fort Duncan, in Eagle Pass, Texas, had gone over the border to Piedras Negros, Mexico, on a shopping trip. By the time they arrived at the Victory Club restaurant, the kitchen was closed.

    But the accommodating maître d’hôtel, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya (Nacho is a nickname for Ignacio), threw together a snack for the ladies from what was available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese. He cut the tortillas into triangles, added shredded Cheddar cheese, quickly heated them and garnished the dish with sliced jalapeño chiles.

    When asked what the tasty dish was called, he answered, “Nacho’s especiales,” Nacho’s Special.


    In Mexico, nachos are called totopos, the word for tortilla chips (totopos). French fries, potato chips and even popcorn are sometimes substituted for the tortilla chips.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Spice Tea

    Many people buy spiced tea as a fall and holiday favorite; perhaps the most popular is Constant Comment.

    But you can make your own with the tea and spices you already have in the kitchen. In addition to black tea, you can make green spice tea or white spice tea, or rooibos (caffeine-free) spice tea, exactly as Ruth Bigelow did when she created Constant Comment tea in 1946.

    We’ve seen a lot of recipes for spiced tea made from instant powdered tea, a can of Tang and a can of powdered lemonade, mixed with nutmeg and cinnamon.

    With all due respect to the first three ingredients: Yuck! Make your spice tea with whole-leaf tea and real lemon juice.



  • 2 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

    It’s easy to make spice tea without special tea bags like these. On the other hand, a tin of spice tea bags makes a nice seasonal gift. Photo courtesy Republic Of Tea.

  • Optional: 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 3 tea bags or 3 teaspoons loose tea
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Garnish: lemon wedge
  • You can keep playing with the spices until you have your perfect recipe. Consider adding cardamom, chocolate, ginger, licorice and/or peppercorns.

    Then, you can fill pouches with your signature tea blend (using loose tea, not bags) and give them as gifts to tea-loving friends.

    1. COMBINE water, cinnamon and cloves in a medium pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

    2. ADD tea bags; steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and spices.

    3. SERVE the tea hot or iced with a lemon wedge and choice of sweeteners, although the spice flavors are so exciting that no sweetener is necessary.
    Find more of our favorite teas and recipes in our Gourmet Tea Section.



    COOKING VIDEO: No Cook Freezer Jam


    Who knew you could make jam without cooking it? That you could set it in the freezer? That it could be such a fun activity?

    And that freezer jam is low sugar, with just one-fourth of the sugar and fewer calories than conventional jam (it’s less thick and sticky, too)?

    The next time berries or any other favorite fruit are at a good price; pick up four cups’ worth. Then, you just mash it into a purée, mix in the sugar and a special pectin, No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin.

    While we haven’t tried it yet, we’re planning to mix in Splenda and see how we do with sugar-free freezer jam.

    See how easy it is in the video below. Try it and let us know how you like it.



    For the differences between chutney, jam, jelly, marmalade, preserves and more, check out our Jam Glossary.


    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Chicken Cacciatore Day

    Chicken cacciatore. Photo by Evan Joshua
    Swigart | Wikimedia.


    October 15th is National Chicken Cacciatore Day. Chicken cacciatore (cah-cha-toe-ray) is Italian country fare. Cacciatore means hunter, so the dish is “hunter-style” (in Italian, pollo alla cacciatora).

    The game that the hunter brought home was braised in olive oil with local vegetables—a light tomato sauce with garlic, herbs and onions, plus wild mushrooms, bell peppers and a bit of wine (white wine in the north, red wine in the south).

    The dish has its roots in in central Italy in the Renaissance and has many variations, both there and throughout the country. One of the more unusual is salamino cacciatore, made with a small salame.

    Chicken cacciatore has been called a “hunter’s solace,” with poultry from the yard or market replacing the pheasant or hare that got away. The wild mushrooms were foraged in the forest by the hunter.

    This recipe serves 6.




  • 4-pound chicken, cut in pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 or more cloves garlic, to taste
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms*, sliced
  • Optional: 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine, white wine or sherry
  • 1 can (six ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes, drained
  • Herbs: basil, bay leaf, fennel seeds, oregano, rosemary, thyme; plus chili flakes for a spicy sauce
    Although it isn’t a tradition, we like to add olives to this dish.


    1. SEASON. Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, pepper and flour.

    2. BROWN. Brown the chicken in olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside. Add onion, garlic and mushrooms. Stir until onion turns yellow.

    3. COMBINE. Return the chicken to the pan. Add wine or sherry. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove garlic. Add tomato paste.

    4. ADD. Add crushed tomatoes and herbs. Simmer for 45 minutes. If the sauce is to thick, thin with chicken broth, tomato juice or water.

    Serve atop noodles or rice.

    Find more of our favorite chicken recipes.

    *Use wild mushrooms if possible. You can also use dried wild mushrooms, reconstituted.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Non Fat Mashed Potatoes

    If you want your mashed potatoes laden with
    butter, cream and sour cream, here’s a recipe
    from Williams-Sonoma. Photo courtesy


    Lovers of mashed potatoes have to be cholesterol-hearty: There’s lots of saturated fat-laden butter, cream and sour cream in each delicious forkful.

    But you can make an alternative version with nonfat versions of Greek yogurt, labne (kefir cheese) and/or sour cream.



  • 2 pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on
  • 1 cup of nonfat Greek yogurt, nonfat labne or 1/2 cup each yogurt or labne plus 1/4 cup nonfat sour cream (use a total of ½ cup of yogurt/labne/sour cream per pound of potatoes)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil or dill, snipped
  • Optional to spice it up: chipotle or red pepper flakes*
  • Optional: Milk for consistency

    *Use 1 teaspoon minced canned chipotles in adobo sauce, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (instead of the basil or dill.


    1. SKINS ON. Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water; water should cover the potatoes by 2 inches. Why keep the skins on the potatoes? Because in addition to the nutrition they contain, potatoes boiled whole in their skins absorb less water and produce lighter, fluffier mashed potatoes.

    2. BOIL. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork (about 15 minutes). Drain.

    3. MASH. Mash the potatoes (we use a potato ricer or a food mill, over a bowl). Depending on the size of your ricer/food mill, you may have to process the potatoes in batches.

    4. STIR. Add the yogurt/labne/sour cream and stir until smooth. If the mixture is too thick for your preference, add some nonfat milk until you reach the desired consistency. You can stir the herbs into the potatoes or sprinkle them on top as a garnish.
    Find more of our favorite potato recipes.
    How many different types of potatoes are there? Thousands, worldwide; but here are dozens of varieties you can find in the U.S.



    ENTERTAINING: Toys & Food

    Today we received this photo of a 1,100-pound car. But it can’t be driven: It’s a cake. Really.

    The life-size baked race car was created by the Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman, for a NASCAR promotion at Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, North Carolina. NASCAR star Kasey Kahne unveiled his new No.5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet alongside the life-size replica baked by Goldman and his team at Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes.

    The cake car took five full-time Charm City Cakes designers and decorators more than two weeks of engineering, fabrication, carving and decoration.

    The cake was fully equipped with actual spinning wheels and smoke (from a fog machine). More than 80 company logos were reproduced using layered gum paste—a painstaking task. Goldman calls it his “best cake ever.” The price was not revealed (but we’d sure love to know!).


    Bring a fork: This car’s a cake. Photo courtesy Time Warner Cable.


    We love cake. Although we were far from North Carolina at the time, we had just as good an invitation: to TOY Restaurant and The Oyster Bar at the Hotel Gansevoort in New York City’s Meatpacking District.

    The area used to hold New York City’s meat packers, where beef, lamb and pork sides were broken down into retail and foodservice cuts. Today, the old red brick buildings have been turned into very chic and trendy shops and restaurants—gleaming expanses of glass windows brighteni up the old buildings and reflect the old cobblestone streets.


    Use your toys as serving pieces. Photo courtesy TOY Restaurant | New York City.


    The Hotel Gansevoort is a new edifice, with amenities that include 360° panoramic views of New York City, sunsets over the Hudson River and an Exhale mind/body spa.

    But our favorite amenities are Toy restaurant and the expansive (for New York) outdoor dining spaces that wrap around the north and west sides of the hotel.

    TOY is a “multi-sensory, stimulating fantasy playground, designed to thrill and entertain.” The cavernous space is dramatic day or night.

    The Oyster Bar, a smaller room next door to the main restaurant, is our pet spot: Oysters are one of our passions. We dined outdoors on a balmy October night, enjoying Kumamotos, Pacific and Virginica oysters so fresh, they needed no garnish (the different types of oysters).

    But in TOY restaurant, we had our own racing car, this one filled with ice and Champagne.

    While you can’t recreate the Duff Goldman cake at home, you certainly can repurpose toys, as they do at TOY:

    Pack cars and wagons with ice and Champagne bottles, white wine, soft drinks or beer. Serve sushi or other nibbles on large toy sailboats. Look at your other toys and decide how to incorporate them into your party.

    If that old Radio Flyer needs a coat of paint, consider a color that matches your decor (or keep it Nostalgic Red).

    Many oysters later from The Oyster Bar, sushi from TOY and three glass of Prosecco on the terrace, we felt as if we’d had a mini vacation. Let someone else enjoy the Exhale Mind and Body Spa. We’re headed back to TOY and The Oyster Bar.



    PRODUCT: Fish Clip Bag Clip

    The clamp-style bag clip is great for bags of potato chips, cookies and other packaging with a long, foldover top. These are generally made from sturdier materials that don’t cinch neatly at the neck—which is why the bag clips were invented.

    But there are other foods in softer packaging—bags of bread, produce bags and such. For these types of foods—anything in bag that you’d twist close—the Fish Clip is the better bag.

    The jaws of the fish open wide, then cinch tight and lock in place. It accommodates a broad variety of package necks, including the smallest (like the bread bag) to the largest cereal bag.

    The clips are magnetic so they can tread water on the fridge until needed. Or, use them for non-food purposes—on filing cabinets, to neaten cable cords—a more colorful substitute for velcro ties.


    Fun and really useful: the Fish Clip. Photo courtesy


    Kids will love them, too. Girls may find themselves appropriating the clips as pigtail holders.

    Think of them as small gifts and stocking stuffers. You can buy them online at



    RECIPE: Raspberry Cream Pie

    Today is National Raspberry Cream Pie Day. We’d never had a raspberry cream pie, so we whipped one up. The only baking is of the pie shell or tart crust. The pie is served chilled—refreshing on a hot day.

    You can substitute any berry. We also enjoy a strawberry cream pie, blueberry cream pie, or mixed berries (you can get very artistic arranging the colors and textures).



  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1/2 cup raspberry purée
  • 1 baked pie crust or tart shell
  • 3 pints raspberries, lightly rinsed and patted dry

    A raspberry cream tart, bursting with fresh fruit. Photo by Amber B | IST.



    1. COMBINE. In the top of a double boiler, mix sugar, flour and salt. Stir in milk. Cook 15 minutes over hot water, stirring constantly until thick. Add egg yolks, stir and cook 3 minutes.

    2. ADD. Add butter and allow mixture to cool. Stir in vanilla. Add to pie shell and let set in the fridge for a half hour or more.

    3. VARIATION. You can also add raspberries to the cream filling, for a double raspberry cream pie. Add the raspberry purée along with the vanilla to the cooled cream mixture.

    3. GARNISH. Cover the top of the pie with the raspberries. It’s best to begin at the edges and work your way in. In this way, if you run out of berries, the ungarnished center will look “normal,” not a mistake.


    What’s the difference between cream and creme? Just the spelling.

    Creme is an Americanization of the French word for cream, crème? (pronounced KREHM), most likely adapted to make the dish sound more special. But why mispronounce another language’s word for cream?

    Unless it’s a French recipe, such as Coeur à la Crème, stick to cream.


    We made a raspberry cream tart instead of a pie? What’s the difference between a pie and a tart?

    It’s interesting enough that we created an article about it. Check it out!



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