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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.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make An Easy Rustic Apple Tart

    “You are just seven ingredients away from this apple tart,” says Lauryn Cohen, a.k.a. the blogger Bella Baker.

    “It could be baking in your oven very, very soon. Just seven of the simplest, most standard ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, salt, water, apples, cinnamon) and a few easy to follow steps, and you’ve got yourself a dessert that tricks everyone into thinking you’ve spent hours baking this elegant yet rustic dessert just for them.”

    Yesterday, we picked up some apples at our neighborhood farmers market and did just that.

    Lauren uses a mix of apples; we used all Granny Smiths. She highly recommends an apple corer/slicer for speed.


    For The Dough

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

    When was the last time you baked from scratch? Make this easy tart! Photo courtesy Bella Baker.

  • 2 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 24 pieces
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons chilled water


  • 4 medium sized apples, peeled, cored (reserve the cores for the glaze) and sliced thinly
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon

  • 1/2 cup apricot jam

    You don’t even need a baking pan. The most
    rustic tarts are free form. This one is ready
    to go into the oven. Photo © Jokihaka |



    1. MAKE the dough. Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl; add in butter. Using your hands, mix butter into flour until mixture resembles a mix of cornmeal and peas. It’s fine to have some chunks of butter remaining.

    2. DRIZZLE in water, one tablespoon at a time, and stir until dough just holds together (never overwork dough—it toughens it). Toss with hands, and keep tossing until you can roll the dough into a rough ball. Flatten into a disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove from fridge and let soften for a couple of minutes. Smooth cracks at edges.

    3. ROLL dough on a lightly floured surface into a 14-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Dust off the excess flour from both sides of the crust with a dry pastry brush.

    4. PLACE dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan or simply a square baking dish. Or, make it galette-style without a pan, simply placing the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the fruit in the center, and rolling up the dough to create the edges (see photo at left). This is how pies were baked for centuries, before people had baking pans.

    5. HEAT oven to 400°F.

    6. PEEL, core and thinly slice 4 medium apples into 8 slices (Lauryn used two Pink Ladies, one Golden Delicious and 1 Granny Smith). Further cut each apple slice into thirds, vertically.

    7. OVERLAP apples on dough: in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using a baking pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.

    8. BRUSH melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 5 tablespoons sugar and 2-3 teaspoons of cinnamon over dough edge and apples. (EDITOR’S NOTE: We mixed the sugar and cinnamon with the apple slices before placing the fruit into the crust.) Bake in the center of the oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes). Be sure to rotate the tart every 15 minutes.

    9. MAKE glaze: Put reserved apple cores in a large saucepan, along with the apricot jam and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain syrup through a strainer.

    10. REMOVE tart from oven and slide place onto a cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes. Brush glaze over tart, slice, and serve.

    See the full photo show of preparation on



    FOOD FUN: Strawberry Footballs

    Go team! Jumbo strawberries dress up as
    footballs. Photo courtesy Godiva.


    It takes time and expertise to pipe decorations, so these chocolate-dipped jumbo strawberries from Godiva are priced at $7.50 each.

    If that’s too rich for your pocket, try making your own, and buy icing in an easy-squeeze tube instead of trying to pipe from a bag.

    Here’s how to make chocolate-covered strawberries.


    We found these plates/platters full of football spirit:

  • A gridiron plate, similar to the one in the photo, in ceramic or plastic
  • Referee shirt plate
  • Football platter



    RECIPE: Strawberry Avocado Salad

    Don’t let summer end without making this yummy strawberry, avocado and goat cheese salad. The recipe can be a side salad or a main course.


    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • Fresh salad greens: mixed greens, baby spinach, whatever you like
  • 1 pint strawberries, tops removed and halved
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 small sweet onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 8 ounces fresh goat cheese (chèvre) or blue cheese
  • 1 package almonds, regular (to save calories) or butter toffee glazed; or make this candied nuts recipe
  • Vinaigrette dressing (recipe)

    1. PEEL avocados, halve and remove pits. Slice.


    A delicious summer salad. Photo courtesy

    2. PLACE greens, strawberries, onions and dressing in bowl and toss well.

    3. DIVIDE mixture among 4 plates. Place avocado slices on top.

    4. CRUMBLE cheese and sprinkle salad with cheese and almonds.

    The blog makes a similar salad with a poppyseed dressing. Check it out.

    Find more of our favorite salad recipes.



    PRODUCT: Cookie Lady Treats

    We read in the newspaper last month that the trend among costly summer sleep-away camps was to forbid “care packages” from home. That’s because the one-upsmanship from parents was getting out of hand. (And perhaps, all those calorie-laden treats were offsetting the health benefits of summer camp.)

    But now that the kids are home from camp, you can send them—and adult cookie lovers—some homemade cookies from Cookie Lady Treats.

    Laura Weinstein had two master’s degrees, one in chemical engineering, and couldn’t find a job in her field. So she started to bake cookies, and now sells a thousand of them each week.

    The cookies are made of top ingredients, including Callebaut chocolate chunks and Madagascar bourbon vanilla. The flavors beckon:

    After Dinner Mint, Blueberries & Cream, Caramel Apple, Cherry Cordial, Chipotle Chocolate, Dreamsicle, Fluffernutter Dream…you get the picture.

    There are plenty of classic flavors as well: Chocolate Lovers, Lemon, Maple Walnut, Mocha, Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk, Triple Chocolate Chip, and more flavors than one could eat in a cookieholic marathon. Check the many luscious flavors and figure out where to begin.


    Red Velvet, Chipotle Chocolate and Carrot Cake join more conventional cookie flavors like Triple Chocolate Chip.Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    The cookies are individually shrink wrapped and packed into your choice of colorful boxes, bags and ribbons.

    Customizable orders are available for special events. We can’t think of anything we’d rather get in a gift bag.

    Visit and treat yourself.



    RECIPE: Kahlùa Ice Cream Float

    Cool off with coffee liqueur and ice cream.
    Photo courtesy Polar Seltzer.


    We’re in for another few really hot and humid days. A cup of hot coffee has no appeal, but we could really go for a Kahlùa ice cream float.



  • Kahlùa or other coffee liqueur
  • Coffee or vanilla ice cream
  • Coffee soda, vanilla (cream) soda or club soda

    1. ADD Kahlùa to the bottom of a tall glass. Add two scoops of ice cream.

    2. TOP with soda, pouring slowly. Serve with a straw and a spoon.



    How about a shot of tequila, rum, vodka or liqueur in your float or ice cream soda? It gives new meaning to the concept of an ice cream social.

    Turn it into a party: Pick a date, choose your “menu” from these recipes and invite the guests! Those who don’t consume alcohol can enjoy their ice cream soda “virgin.”



    TIP OF THE DAY: Iced Tea Ice Cubes

    Iced green tea with green tea ice cubes.
    Photo by Tomo Jesenicnikc | IST.


    It’s National Iced Tea Month, so we‘re repeating one of our favorite tips for iced tea lovers:

    Make your ice cubes from the same tea.

    This way, you can keep your iced tea ice-cold without diluting it. It’s a more elegant solution than brewing the tea extra-strong, anticipating that it will be diluted by regular ice cubes.

    You can also use the tea ice cubes in lemonade, creating an “Arnold Palmer” effect; or use them to add a different flavor nuance to any cold drink, including cocktails.

    And it’s a great use for leftover tea.


    While it sounds like a no-brainer, here’s the recipe:


  • 3 cups water
  • 8 tea bags of your choice (or 24g loose tea—each tea bag has the equivalent of 3g of tea)


    1. BOIL the water and pour over tea in a heat-resistant pitcher. Allow to infuse for the variety’s recommended steeping time.

    2. REMOVE tea bags or loose tea; allow tea to cool to room temperature. Pour tea into ice cube trays and place in freezer.

    3. KEEP ice cubes in the tray or remove to a freezer bag or other container so you can freeze more ice cubes. Make black, green and herbal tea ice cubes, depending on what you typically drink.



    ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Green Marshmallows Recipe

    This recipe for Matcha Green Tea Marshmallows has a provenance: We got it from The Republic of Tea, which seems to have picked it up from, which adapted it from an Alton Brown recipe. In terms of Alton’s inspiration: No doubt it was a confectioner or pastry chef.

    Whether you’re a marshmallow fan, a matcha tea fan or simply want to whip up something green for St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll have fun with this recipe.

    You can use the rest of the tin to make a green tea latte, matcha cookies, matcha ice cream, macarons, madeleines, pound cake, and of course, hot or iced matcha tea.



  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

    Matcha marshmallows are color-appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day and an elegant snack any day of the year. Photo courtesy

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon matcha powder, divided
  • Nonstick spray
  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice-cold water, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

    Fine matcha is a vivid green color. Photo
    courtesy Tafu NY.



    1. SIFT confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and one teaspoon matcha powder together in a small bowl. Lightly spray a metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add a little of the green confectioners’ sugar mixture to the pan and lightly tap to coat the bottom and sides. Return any remaining mixture to the bowl for later. Also lightly coat the offset spatula with nonstick spray and set aside for later.

    2. WHISK together the gelatin and 1/2 cup water into a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the gelatin is dissolved. In a small heavy-bottom saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Cover and cook over medium high heat for three to four minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan, and continue to cook until mixture reaches 240ºF, approximately seven to eight minutes. Immediately remove from the heat.

    3. TURN the mixer on low-speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Increase the speed to medium high and allow the mixture to whip for six minutes. Meanwhile, create a slurry with one tablespoon of matcha powder and one tablespoon of water. Mix until no dry parts remain. If the mixture is too dry, add another teaspoon of water.


    4. TURN speed up to high and whip another six to eight minutes, or until mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm. Add matcha slurry during the last minute of whipping. Quickly pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using the lightly oiled spatula to spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Generously dust the top of the marshmallow with the sugar and cornstarch mixture. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for four to eight hours.

    5. TURN the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and use a pizza wheel to vertically and horizontally cut marshmallows into one-inch-square pieces. Dust the newly cut marshmallows with the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture. Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks. If marshmallows become too moist over time, redust them with any leftover sugar and cornstarch mixture to “refresh” them. Makes about 50 square marshmallows.

  • If you like the flavor of matcha, add an additional teaspoon to the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch mixture. It will also intensify the green color of the marshmallows.
  • Do not attempt to add the matcha powder while the mixer is on high-speed. The powder will fly everywhere, and your kitchen will be coated in green! Making a slurry prevents a mess from occurring, so take the time to do it!




    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.



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