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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.

APÉRITIF WINES

  • 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.
  •  

    amontillado-glass-olives-MattSaundersWiki-230

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

     

    red-vermouth-cocktail-buzzle-230

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

     
  • 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.
  •  
    WHAT ABOUT DIGESTIFS?
     
    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.

      

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    VALENTINE’S DAY: Last Minute Gift

    Dark-ChocolateBouquet-230

    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 Chocomize.com. (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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    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.

    RECIPE: RUSTIC APPLE TART

    Ingredients
     
    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
  •  

    Filling

  • 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
  •  
    Glaze

  • 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 |
    Dreamstime.

     

    Preparation

    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 BellaBaker.com.

      

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    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.

    HOW ABOUT THAT PLATE!

    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
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    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.

    STRAWBERRY AVOCADO SALAD RECIPE

    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)
  •  
    Preparation

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

     

    A delicious summer salad. Photo courtesy GimmeSomeOven.com.

    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 GimmeSomeOven.com makes a similar salad with a poppyseed dressing. Check it out.

    Find more of our favorite salad recipes.

      

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    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 CookieLadyTreats.com and treat yourself.

      

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    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.

    RECIPE: KAHLÙA ICE CREAM FLOAT

    Ingredients

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

    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.

     

    PARTY TIME

    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.”

      

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    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.

    HOW TO MAKE ICED TEA ICE CUBES

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

    Ingredients

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

    Preparation

    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.
     
    YOU CAN ALSO MAKE ICE CUBES FROM COFFEE, LEMONADE, JUICE & WINE.

      

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    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 YumSugar.com, 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.

    MATCHA GREEN TEA MARSHMALLOWS

    Ingredients

  • 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 YumSugar.com.

  • 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.

     

    Preparation

    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.
     
    NOTES

  • 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!
  •  

    DISCOVER ALL THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEA IN OUR TEA GLOSSARY.

      

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    GIFT: Handmade Candy Canes

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

     

    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 LaughingMoonChocolates.com.

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

     

      

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