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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.

TIP OF THE DAY: Veggie Skewers, Veggie Grilling Tips

We discovered these nifty grill combs from Fusion Brands at Sur La Table. What better way to get everyone to eat more veggies than to skewer and grill them?

Americans are woefully behind when it comes to eating the recommended 3-5 servings of vegetables a day; and no, spaghetti sauce and ketchup don’t count.

So make it fun by grilling skewers of veggies while you’re cooking your proteins. Aim to build skewers of 70% veggies, 30% protein; or make all-veggie skewers.

BEST VEGETABLES FOR GRILLING

Many different types of vegetables can be grilled, but start with a selection from these:

  • Asparagus: If you loose them between the spokes of the grill, get a grilling basket or a shaker basket.
  • Bell peppers: Grill whole, char and peel, or cut into chunks and grill until just charred around the edges.
  • Corn: Some people leave corn in the husks for grilling. Others like the char that comes from grilling the husked corn. Try both and decide.
  •    

    veggie-skewers-comb-SLT-230

    A fun way to cook and eat veggies. Photo courtesy Sur La Table.

  • Eggplant: Slice then into 1/4” pieces and briefly marinate in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and basil.
  • Green beans: Few people think to grill these. All you need is a grilling basket/shaker basket.
  • Mushrooms: Marinate whole portabellas in balsamic vinaigrette for 1 hour; grill over high heat for 10 minutes. Smaller mushrooms can be skewered or grilled in a basket.
  • Onions: Cut crosswise into half-inch slices, skewer and grill over medium heat.
  • Potatoes: Parboil fingerling or new potatoes until they are al dente thread and finish them on the grill.
  • Radicchio or Endive: Quarter, leaving the core in, and serve warm with a vinaigrette.
  • Tomatoes: Cut in half and grill cut-side down; flip halfway through (3-4 minutes), top with pesto and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Zucchini And/Or Summer Squash: Use the eggplant marinade above.
  •  
    GENERAL GRILLING

    Karen Schultz and Maren Jahnke note in their book, Vegetarian Grilling, that vegetables contain far less fat than proteins. They thus require added fat so that they don’t dry out.

    This is done both by marinating and by brushing often with olive oil or other oil. “Be heavy on the brush,” they recommend.

    For more on how to grill vegetables, John Kennedy, in an article on SteakBytes, the blog of Omaha Steaks, offers these tips:

     

    grilling-basket-mr-bar-b-q-amz-230r

    How to keep small veggies from slipping
    through the grill: Use a grilling basket. Photo
    courtesy Mr. Bar-B-Q.

     

    VEGGIE GRILLING TIPS

    1. USE skewers. Skewers are the best way to keep vegetables from rolling around on the grill, and to easily flip to ensure that each side is getting equal contact with the heat. If you don’t want to invest in skewers, you can wrap the vegetables in a sheet of foil, then place the packet on the grill. Use nonstick cooking spray on the foil before adding the vegetables to help prevent sticking.

    2. BRUSH the vegetables with olive oil or canola oil to prevent them from sticking to the grill. Avoid the temptation of butter, to keep the cholesterol/saturated fat levels low.

    3. SEASON with dried or fresh herbs instead of salt. You’ll add great flavor without increasing sodium levels.

    4. SLICE the vegetables thickly since they will cook fast (unless you want thin, crisp slices). However, denser vegetables take longer to cook: Potato slices require a lot more time than zucchini slices, for example.

     

    5. COOK vegetables directly on the grill at medium-high heat and turn over halfway through cooking.
     
    Do this often, and you’ll eat better while enjoying the superior flavor of grilled vegetables.

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: BerryBreeze Refrigerator Air Purifier

    Even if you don’t need an air purifier for your home, you may need one for your fridge.

    BerryBreeze is a 21st-century improvement on the open box of baking soda, left in the refrigerator or freezer to filter migrating aromas from raw and cooked foods.

    But BerryBreeze does more.

    The same process that neutralizes odors also preserves produce, by destroying harmful bacteria and mold that cause fruit and vegetables to decay. The manufacturer claims it will keep produce fresher for up to 10 days, or two to three times longer. The benefit: less waste of food and money, less to toss into the landfill.

    BerryBreeze is a rebranding of a machine called the Ozonator, which you may have seen on TV.

    It runs on four D batteries. The device converts the oxygen in the fridge to ozone (activated oxygen), a powerful oxidizing agent that destroys surface molecules of bacteria and mold. It also defuses ethylene, a gas emitted by numerous fruits (including apples and melons) which speeds up the ripening and rotting of foods.

     

    berry-breeze-230

    The same process that purifies the air helps produce last longer. Photo courtesy BerryBreeze.

     
    We tried it and it did seem to extend the life of fragile raspberries. The fridge smelled better, but the machine isn’t a miracle worker: You have to do your part to tightly cover odorous items and police for rot.

    BerryBreeze is available at retailers nationwide, including Bed, Bath & Beyond and Whole Foods Markets. You can also buy it online at BerryBreeze.com.

    The retail price is $49.95; you supply the batteries.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

    cheesecake-bites-driscolls-230

    How about some cheesecake-stuffed
    strawberries? Photo courtesy Driscoll’s.

     

    Here’s another no-bake recipe from Driscoll’s berries. Strawberries filled with a simple cheesecake filling are a bite-sized treat and better-for-you option than, say, a slice of strawberry cheesecake.

    For ease of preparation, make the filling and prep the strawberries ahead of time; then assemble just before serving.

    Prep time: 20 minutes, cook time is 5 minutes.

    RECIPE: NO BAKE CHEESECAKE STUFFED STRAWBERRIES

    Ingredients For 20 Pieces

  • 2 packages (16 ounces each) fresh strawberries
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon graham cracker, vanilla wafer or shortbread
    cookies
  •  

    Preparation

    1. LINE a baking sheet with waxed paper. Cut the top off each strawberry and core out the center with a melon baller. Place on the baking sheet and set aside.

    2. BEAT the cream cheese, yogurt, sugar, vanilla and salt with an electric mixer until creamy and evenly blended. Place the cream cheese mixture in a pastry bag or a self-sealing plastic bag with a corner cut off. Pipe the cream cheese mixture into the strawberries.

    3. MELT the chocolate chips in microwave on 50% power or in a bowl set over simmering water. Place the melted chocolate in a pastry bag or a self-sealing plastic bag with a small hole cut in the corner. Pipe the melted chocolate over the strawberries. Chill in the fridge to set, at least 15 minutes.

    4. TOP with cookie crumbs and serve on a plate or tray.
     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Sea Asparagus & Other Sea Vegetables

    Today’s tip is: Keep your eyes open for new foods. Then, share them with foodie friends.

    Hannah Kaminsky of Bittersweet Blog discovered sea asparagus—a vegetable that grows in or adjacent to salt water—on a recent trip to Hawaii. Sea asparagus grows in warm salt marshes and on beaches, there for the foraging. It is harvested wild, and also cultivated.

    What Is Sea Asparagus

    Sea asparagus (Salicornia europaea), also known as glasswort, samphire or sea beans, is a tender, green, spindly stalk that resembles tiny land-grown asparagus (although they are not related). It is a member of the Amaranthaceae family, which includes everything from amaranth, a high-protein grain, to ornamental cockscomb and picturesque tumbleweed.

    Sea asparagus can be purchased fresh in areas where it is harvested, and packaged in specialty food markets. You can purchase it fresh, frozen, pickled (this year’s stocking stuffer?) and in other forms (sea pesto, powdered seasoning) from Olakai Hawaii. The season in British Columbia is currently “in full swing,” according to West Coast Seaweed, another e-tailer.

    Fresh sea asparagus can be eaten raw, pickled or steamed (and then tossed in butter or olive oil); in a salad, as a side dish or a garnish (see the sushi photo below). Dried sea vegetables can be added directly to soups or stews and to the cooking liquid of beans or rice.

       

    sea-asparagus-salad-kaminsky-230

    Invite a new vegetable to lunch or dinner. Sea asparagus photo © Hannah Kaminsky | Bittersweet Blog.

     
    No Extra Salt Required

    “Absorbing the sea salt like a sponge, sea asparagus can be quite salty if not thoroughly rinsed, and should never be salted no matter what else you add to it,” says Hannah. “Slightly crunchy when raw or par-cooked, it’s an exotic delight, and a surprise given my experience with flat, gelatinous, and/or stringy sea vegetables. As long as I can find sea asparagus, you can be sure that this salad will find its way to my table.”

    Hannah’s recipe was inspired by the serving suggestion printed on the label for Olakai sea asparagus, purchased in Hawaii. Hannah combined them with other local pleasures: tiny currant tomatoes, a local product even smaller than grape tomatoes, and sweet Maui onions.

    You can add a protein to turn the recipe into a luncheon salad. Consider grilled or smoked salmon (which makes the Hawaiian recipe lomi lomi), tofu, canned tuna, grilled fish or seafood. We used raw scallops: delicious!

    RECIPE: SEA ASPARAGUS SALAD

    Ingredients For 2-3 Side Dish Servings

  • 4 ounces fresh sea asparagus
  • 1 ounce sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces currant tomatoes (substitute halved cherry or grape tomatoes)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SNIP off any brown ends on the sea asparagus before rinsing them thoroughly under hot water. Toss them in a bowl along with the diced onion, oil and lemon juice.

    2. MASSAGE the vegetables with your fingers for a minute or two, just to tenderize the stalks slightly. Add the tomatoes and mix to distribute throughout the salad.

    3. SERVE immediately or chill. The salad will keep for up to two days. Don’t be tempted to add any salt, since sea asparagus is already infused with sodium from the sea.

     

    sea_asparagus_inari-tastyislandhawaii-230

    Sea vegetables as a garnish, here on inari
    sushi. Photo courtesy TastyIslandHawaii.com.

     

    WHAT ARE SEA VEGETABLES

    Vegetables don’t grow only on land. If you’re a fan of Japanese food, you’ve probably had one or more types of seaweed—a salad of hijiki or wakame, the nori wrapper of sushi rolls or a bowl of dashi (clear soup) made from kombu (kelp).

    Sea vegetables are loaded with of chlorophyll, dietary fiber and vitamins and minerals from the ocean, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamins A and C and trace minerals such as iodine and vanadium. Many health food advocates eat them for the nutrition (details).

    Sea asparagus, in particular, is an excellent source of calcium, iron and vitamins A, B2, B9 (folic acid), plus dietary fiber, amino acids and minerals.

    Look for sea vegetables in natural food stores in dried form. Just soak them in water for 10 minutes and they’re ready to use.

    If you like seaweed salad, you’ll like a mixed sea vegetable salad—say, arame/hijiki, dulse, sea palm and wakame. Try a mirin-tamari-ginger juice-soy sauce marinade, or a simple rice vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil vinaigrette.

     
    POPULAR SEA VEGETABLES

  • Agar Agar. Also called kanten or Japanese gelatin, agar agar is a clear, tasteless alternative to animal or chemical-based gelatin. It is sold in opaque flakes and dissolves in hot liquid. It thickens at room temperature and is used to firm up confections, jellies, pies and puddings.
  • Arame. These thin, wiry black shreds of seaweed have a sweet, mild flavor. In Western cuisine, they can be added to green salads, omelets, pasta salads, quiches and stir-fries.
  • Dulse. This reddish brown sea veggie is sold as dried whole stringy leaves or a powdered condiment. The leaves have a chewy texture and can be eaten like jerky; or, they can be pan-fried in sesame oil and added to salads or sandwiches. It is not reconstituted, but used as is.
  • Kombu. Thick, dark purple kombu is sold in strips or sheets. It’s the principal ingredient of the Japanese broth, dashi; and can be added to Western recipes in the liquid for beans, rice or soup.
  • Nori. Nori can be dark purple to blackish green in color. It is best known as the thin, flat sheets of toasted seaweed used to make sushi rolls (the sheets are not reconstituted, but used as is). It’s also available untoasted, and plain or flavored snack strips have become quite popular. We use julienned nori as a garnish for rice, soups, salads, casseroles or grains either crushed into flakes or cut into strips. Nori is also available in a flakes with a seasoning mix of sesame seeds, salt and sugar, called nori komi furikake. If you like nori, get some: You’ll enjoy it.
  • Sea Palm. This vegetable, brownish-green in color, looks just like a miniature palm tree. It’s also called American arame and is harvested from America’s Pacific Coast. Sweet and salty, it can be enjoyed it raw or sautéed, in soups or in salads.
  • Wakame. We always look forward to a bowl of silky, tender wakame-su, wakame seaweed marinated in rice vinegar. It is also a popular addition to Japanese soups.
  •  
    Ready, set: Enjoy discovering the world of sea vegetables.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Select The Best Fresh Cherries

    Cherry season is fleeting—just a couple of weeks in some locations. It is also frustrating, because we’re not having a good cherry season this year. Every cherry we’ve sampled has been bland. They look good, but don’t deliver on the palate.

    The term “cherry-pick” is a hint. The expression comes from harvesting the fruit: The pickers are instructed to carefully select the ripe fruit only. Unlike other tree fruits, cherries don’t ripen or improve in flavor after they’re picked.

    Are we getting unripe fruit? Have growing conditions been substandard? Is the fruit mishandled after it’s harvested? We want answers (but more importantly, we want good cherries).

  • Picked too soon, cherries are pale and tasteless; too ripe, they’re soft and watery. According to Produce Pete, the best time to pick seems to be when the birds start eating them (birds have an instinct for ripe cherries).
  • Weather challenges are a fact of life: Produce is at the mercy of the growing season. Fruit needs sufficient heat to develop full flavor and can be harmed by excessive rain during crucial weeks, when water penetrates the skin and dilute the flavor.
  • Bad storage can easily diminish flavor and texture. Fruit doesn’t respond well to changing temperatures. From a warm grove to a hot or cold transport or storage room and back again, varying temperatures can wreak havoc. If you’re in a key cherry growing state (California, Idaho, Michigan, Oregon, Washington State), you’ve got a better chance to get the best fruit.
  •    

    picota-cherries-basket-foodsfromspainFB-230

    Fresh cherries, one of the happy signs of summer. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     

    TRY IT BEFORE YOU BUY IT

    You can’t bite into a peach to see if it’s sweet enough before you buy it, but you can score a cherry. It’s the only way to make sure you’ll be happy with them.

    If the flavor doesn’t deliver, it’s not worth the calories if you’re looking to snack on raw fruit. Find another variety, keep tasting cherries as you come across them, and hope for a successful score elsewhere.

    This is not to say that you can’t use less flavorful cherries to make delicious cherry pies, tarts, jams, sauces or ice creams. In recipes, added sugar compensates for what’s missing in the fruit.

     

    queen-anne-bing-cherries-230r

    Queen Anne and Bing cherries. Photo courtesy Washington State Fruit Commission.

     

    REAL CHERRY PICKING: WHAT TO LOOK FOR

    While these tips don’t ensure that the fruit will be sweet, they’re a good start:

  • Firmness. The most common varieties (Bing, Rainier, Queen Anne) should be firm. However, some heirloom varieties (Black Tartarian is an example) are naturally softer. Be sure to taste them: Some heirloom cherries have the best flavor.
  • Plumpness. Good cherries will be plump and dark for their variety and have fresh, green stems, indicating that they were recently harvested. Cherries without stems won’t keep as well as fruits with intact stems.
  • Size. Look for fruits that are large for their variety and avoid smaller fruits with a higher proportion of pit and skin to flesh.
  • What To Avoid. Shriveled skin, dried stems and dull patina indicate cherries that are over the hill. Leaking flesh and brown discoloration are signs of decay.
  •  
    If the cherries aren’t sweet enough in their natural state, perhaps a homemade cherry tart will put you in the summer grove?

    Our favorite easy tart recipe follows; pâte brisée is our tart crust of preference.

     
    The most demanding part of the recipe is pitting the cherries. You don’t need a cherry pitter.

  • Pit cherries with a paper clip.
  • Pit cherries with a pastry tip.
  •  
    EASY CHERRY TART RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • Pâte brisée (recipe below)
  • 4-6 cups cherries, depending on tart size, pitted
  • 1 jar currant jelly
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE pâte brisée crust.

    RECIPE: PÂTE BRISÉE

    Pâte brisée (pot bree-ZAY), or short crust*, is a buttery tart crust with a crumbly texture. It is used for sweet and savory pies, tarts and quiches. It can be made several days in advance and kept in the fridge, or frozen for a month.

    Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PULSE the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the butter and pulse 15 seconds, until the ingredients resembles coarse meal.

    2. ADD 1/4 cup ice water through the feed tube in a slow stream, until the dough just holds together when pinched (add remaining water as needed). Do not process more for than 30 seconds.

    3. PLACE the dough on a work surface and gather it into a ball; divide ball into two equal pieces, flatten into a disk and tightly wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.

    4. PRESS into tart pan, refrigerate or freeze for later use (defrost in the fridge for several hours or overnight). First spray tart pan with cooking spray if desired.

    5. BAKE. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool completely, about 1 hour before adding fruit.
     
    *Brisée actually is a participle of the French verb briser, which means to break, shatter or smash. We don’t know the origin, but inspired by the store of ganache, we like to think cookware was broken by whomever created the recipe.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Chocolate Blackberry Macarons

    Here’s another delicious blackberry recipe: Chocolate Blackberry Macarons. Blackberry, a summer fruit, is a nice change from the chocolate or raspberry fillings often found in macarons.

    The recipe was developed by blogger Naomi Robinson of Bakers Royal, and contributed to Driscoll’s recipes. Visit Naomi’s blog for more delicious recipes.

    Prep time is 30 minutes, cook time is 15 to 17 minutes, plus cooling time.

    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE BLACKBERRY MACARONS

    Ingredients For 24-30 Macarons

    For The Chocolate Macarons

  • 1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 eggs)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups plus 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups plus ¼ cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  •  
    For The Blackberry Filling

  • 2 packages (6 ounces each) blackberries, puréed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 envelope plain gelatin
  •    

    chocolate-blackberry-macarons-driscolls-230

    A summer flavor for macaron lovers. Photo courtesy Driscoll’s.

     

     

    http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-blackberries-basket-image26804436

    Sweet summer blackberries. Photo ©
    Pretoperola | Dreamstime.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT oven to 330°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

    2. TRACE out 1 inch circles on parchment and set this aside as a “master copy.” Reserve two extra sheets of parchment and set aside.

    3. PLACE egg whites and sugar in a stand mixer bowl and fit mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium low speed until egg whites start to form loose, translucent bubbles.

    4. INCREASE mixer speed to medium and beat until meringue turns foamy and white and starts to resemble well-lathered shampoo, about 2 minutes. Increase mixer to high and beat until meringue holds glossy stiff peaks, about another 2-3 minutes. Turn off mixer.

    5. PROCESS almond meal, powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor and then sift. Add these dry ingredients to the meringue. Using a sturdy spatula fold and smash dry mixture into meringue against the bowl for about 20-25 folds.

    Don’t worry about being gentle; the idea is to knock the air out. The batter should hold its shape when spooned on itself and start to slowly flatten out after about 15-20 seconds. Start checking the batter after 20 folds for readiness. Transfer batter to pastry bag and let rest for 20 minutes before piping.

     

    6. PLACE the master copy of the drawn circles on a baking sheet and then place a sheet of parchment on top. Fill a pastry bag with batter and pipe until the batter reaches edge of circle. Remove the master copy from underneath the piped layer. Place it on a second baking sheet and pipe the remaining batter. Remove the master copy and save for future use.

    7. GIVE each pan a quick hard tap against the counter, turn the pan 90 degrees and give it another quick hard tap. This will deflate any bubbles and prevent cracked shells.

    8. BAKE for 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Leave meringue shells to cool completely on the pan. Shells will cleanly peel away from the parchment when ready.

    9. MAKE the blackberry filling. Place water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir until sugar is melted. Transfer pan to wire rack to cool, 15-20 minutes. Once cooled, sprinkle gelatin on top and leave untouched for 1-2 minutes for the gelatin to bloom.

    10. RETURN the pan to the stove top and over low heat stir the mixture until the gelatin bloom melts and mixture resembles the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat and stir the gelatin mixture into the blackberry purée. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes or until the filling becomes thick and slightly sets.

    11. ASSEMBLE the meringues. Pipe the filling onto one shell, place a second shell on top and repeat.

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Ocean Water

    We love this idea from Spoonful Of Comfort: a soft drink turned into “ocean water.”

    It’s not just for kids! Even adults like the Swedish Fish garnish; and they’ll especially appreciate it with a hit of vodka or other clear spirit.

    RECIPE: OCEAN WATER

    Ingredients

  • 7 Up or Sprite
  • Optional spirit: gin, tequila or vodka
  • Blue food coloring
  • Swedish fish
  • Straw (preferably red or red and white stripes)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. FILL a glass or mason jar with soda. Add spirit to taste.

    2. Using an eye dropper, add one drop of blue food color. Stir. Add more color as desired.

    3. Drop in a Swedish Fish. Serve with a straw.

     

    ocean-water-spoonfulofcomfort

    Turn a soft drink or cocktail into “Ocean Water.” Photo courtesy Spoonful Of Comfort |
    FB.

     

    We’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend Spoonful Of Comfort’s chicken soup. Send it to friends and family: new parents, new homeowners, under the weather, or lovers of chicken soup.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Cucumber Drink Garnish & Types Of Cucumbers

    cucumber-lemonade-hendricks-230

    Cool as a cucumber lemonade. Photo
    courtesy Hendricks Gin.

     

    Hendrick’s Gin sent us a cocktail recipe called Cucumber Lemonade. We enjoyed both the drink and the garnish and thought: Why don’t we use more cucumber garnishes?

    The Cucumber Lemonade recipe is below, but you can also use a cucumber garnish with:

  • Club soda
  • Citrus sodas: Fresca, 7-Up, Sprite
  • Savory cocktails: Bloody Mary, Martini
  • Fruit or vegetable juices and ades
  • Tonic Water
  •  
    Try adding a cucumber spear to these drinks, and you’ll have a crunchy snack to enjoy with the drink.

    RECIPE: HENDRICK’S CUCUMBER LEMONADE

    Ingredients For 1 Drink

  • 3 parts Hendrick’s Gin
  • 2 parts fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 parts simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Sparkling water
  • Garnish: cucumber spear
  • Preparation

    1. COMBINE the first three ingredients in a tall glass. Add ice.

    2. TOP with sparkling water, stir gently and garnish with a cucumber spear or wedge.

     

    CUCUMBER TYPES

    You can garnish with any supermarket cucumber, but why not have fun and look for specialty varieties?

    Growers define cucumbers in five categories: slicing, pickling, burpless, space savers and specialty.

  • Slicing cucumbers include the typical supermarket variety: long and straight with thin, non-bitter skins and seeds. They are bred for slicing and eating. The skin of younger cucumbers is tender enough to be eaten. As the fruit* grows, the skins thicken and more seeds develop. If left on the vine too long, the flesh may become bitter.
  • Pickling cucumbers are shorter and stouter. They are bred to have drier flesh, which allows them to soak up more of the pickling brine.
  • Burpless cucumbers are slicing cucumbers that have been bred to produce less of the bitter chemical that releases gas in the stomach. They were developed because enough Americans had this sensitivity.
  • Space saver cucumbers, also called container cucumbers, are bred to create compact vines that fit into small gardens and deck planters.
  •  

    armenian-cucumber-burpee-230

    You know what conventional cucumbers look like. Check farmers markets for specialty varieties like crystal apple cucumbers, lemon cucumbers and the Armenian cucumber, shown here. Photo courtesy Burpee.

  • Specialty cucumbers are heirloom cucumbers that have less developed disease resistance than modern hybrids, but are appreciated for their different flavors, shapes and/or colors. Long, light green Armenian cucumbers (see photo above) are heavily ribbed—decorative and ornamental—and taste like a melon without the sweetness. Their ribbed shape makes interesting cross-sections when sliced. Lemon cucumbers look like round lemons. White cucumbers Look for them in farmers markets. Crystal Apple cucumbers, heirlooms from New Zealand, have pale green, roundish fruits resembling Granny Smith apples. Suyo Long is a traditional variety from China that delivers burpless, sweet ribbed fruits that can be used for slicing or pickling. Hybrids like Palace King have a ripples of yellow on emerald green skins.
  •  
    Your homework: Go to the farmers market and look for specialty cucumbers. If you have a garden, check out the options and plan to plant at least one variety next year.

     
    *Yes, cucumbers, C. sativus, are fruits. They are members of the same binomial genus as cantaloupe, honeydew, Persian and other melons.

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Pistachio Chewy Bites

    pistachio-tea-3-230

    A favorite snack: chewy pistachio bites.
    Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    While several of us tried to determine the name of the company, we all agreed: These Pistachio Chewy Bites are good stuff.

    Simple and nutritious, they’re a blend of roasted pistachios and dried cranberries, bound in a honey-like mix of two low-glycemic* sweeteners, agave and brown rice syrup.

    The bites are small—2″ x 1-1/2″—but nutrient dense and filling. One is enough, really, although the serving size is two.

    We’ve been enjoying them as an on-the-go snack, for breakfast and at tea time. We have afternoon tea at THE NIBBLE, and these snacks can hold their own with biscotti, cookies and other sweets we sample each day.

    If you need a quick dessert garnish, you can dice the bars as a topping for cupcakes, ice cream or sorbet.

    The only confusion is the name of the company, only visible on the bag in the logo. There’s no URL, no company name in the marketing copy on the bag.

    We don’t have room for a photo here, but look at it.

     

    Is it Seffon Farms? Selton Farms? Setton Farms.

    It’s the latter. We had to Google it.

    The line is certified gluten free and certified kosher by OK.

    Learn more about Setton Farms, a California pistachio grower,

    Buy the bites on Amazon.
     
    *The glycemic index of table sugar is 60-65. The glycemic index of agave is 32, and brown rice syrup is 20. Honey is 58 and pure maple syrup is 54. Agave is 1.4 to 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and honey, so you don’t need to use as much.
     
      

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    RECIPE: Burrata & Fruit Dessert

    We love burrata, and love it all the time since our local Trader Joe’s always has it in stock.

    In this recipe from EatWisconsinCheese.com, burrata provides a different take on a fruit and cheese dessert. It’s more special than simply putting out a platter of cheeses and fruits, but not much more difficult.

  • Using lush summer peaches or nectarines.
  • Instead of burrata, you can substitute fresh goat cheese, mascarpone or ricotta—or a bit of each!
  •  
    RECIPE: BURRATA & FRUIT

    Ingredients

  • Burrata
  • Granola
  • Sliced fresh fruit
  • Honey
  • Optional garnish: pistachio nuts
  •    

    burrata-peaches-eatwisconsincheese-230

    A simple dessert with delicious, fresh flavors. Photo courtesy EatWisconsinCheese.com.

     

    Preparation

    1. SCOOP granola into an individual bowl or onto a dessert plate.

    2. SLICE fruit and arrange atop granola.

    3. TOP with two quarters of a burrata.

    4. DRIZZLE with honey and garnish with chopped pistachio nuts.

     

    sliced-whole-230

    Burrata: a shell of mozzarella with a
    creamy center. Photo by Elvira Kalviste |
    THE NIBBLE.

     

    WHAT IS BURRATA

    Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, creamy and luscious, made in the Apulia region of Italy. The name means “buttery” in Italian. It’s a hollow ball of mozzarella di bufala, filled with panna, cream that contains scraps of mozzarella left over from mozzarella-making.

    How Burrata Is Made

    Small pieces of mozzarella curd are soaked in a bath of hot water and sea salt. The cheese is then cooked and stretched with a wooden spoon until the curds can be stretched to create a pouch. The pouch is filled with a combination of mascarpone cheese, ricotta cheese and heavy cream, and tied off with a knot.

    Some cheese makers use different recipes, but the center is always a rich, oozing cream. When you cut into the ball, the cream oozes out.

    In Italy, the cheese is packed into plastic bags with a bit whey to keep it moist, and the bag is tied with a fronds of an Italian plant called asphodel, a relative of the leek. The cheese is highly perishable, and the leaf is an indicator of freshness. As long as the leaf is still fresh and green, the cheese within is still fresh. Dried-out leaves mean a cheese is past its prime.

    This addictively good cheese was created by a mother (or father) of invention, in the Puglia region of southern Italy. Cheesemakers had curds left over from making mozzarella.

     
    Who Invented Burrata

    Somewhere around 1920 in the town of Andria, a member of the Bianchini family figured out how to repurpose the curds, and burrata was born. It was a local product, premium priced, and remained the delight of the townspeople only for some thirty years.

    In the 1950s, some of the local cheese factories began to produce burrata, and more people discovered its charms. Only in recent years, thanks to more economical overnighting of refrigerated products, did we find it in New York City’s finest cheese shops.

    It was love at first bite.

    Burrata Today

    When we first wrote about burrata seven years ago it was hard to come by, made only in Puglia and flown to the U.S. The limited amount that was imported went straight to top cheese stores; the minute it appeared on store shelves, it was snatched up by burrata lovers on the prowl. (We knew what day of the week the plane set down.)

    But that’s old news. Since then, American cheese makers have been making burrata, and much of it is just as delicious and creamy as the Apulian product.

    Burrata works with sweet or savory pairings. In addition to fruit (figs, pears…any fruit, really), serve it as a first course, cheese course, light lunch or snack:

  • With crusty bread and tomatoes
  • With prosciutto
  • In a “deluxe” Caprese salad
  • With a salad garnished with beets and toasted pecans or walnuts
  •  
    Once, at the end of a trade show, we were given several burratas to take home. We used three of them to top a pizza: a memorable luxury.

    For breakfast the next day, we married the burrata with pan-fried slices of herbed polenta and sundried tomatoes, but it could just as easily have been fruit and honey.

    The memories still resonate happily, whenever we pass a cheese case.

      

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