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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: Apple Crisps Are Easy To Make

You may not make homemade pie because you don’t like crust that much—or just don’t like wielding it.

You can enjoy the same baked apple flavor with a betty or crisp (a.k.a. crumble). The differences, along with dough-topped variations such as cobbler, grunt, pandowdy and slump, are below.

BEST APPLES FOR BAKING

When you bake apples, you need a variety with balance of sweet and tart flavors and, more importantly, flesh that doesn’t become mushy when cooked. These include:

  • Braeburn, with firm flesh and spicy-sweet flavor, also great for applesauce.
  • Cortland, related to the McIntosh (which is better for applesauce), both an eating and baking apple.
  • Fuji, sweet and juicy, good for eating and baking.
  • Gala, great for eating and baking, is sweeter than other apples, so you can cut back on added sugar.
  • Granny Smith, one of the most popular eating and baking apples.
  •    

    Apple_Pear_Crisp-mccormick-230

    Apple crisp: With a crumb topping, it is easier to make than a pie. Photo courtesy McCormick.

  • Honeycrisp, an all-around apple we love for eating, with a crispness and firmness that works for baking.
  • Jonagold, a cross of the Jonathan and Golden Delicious varieties; also great for applesauce.
  • Melrose, a cross between Red Delicious and Jonathan varieties.
  • Newtown Pippin, crisp with sweet-tart flesh.
  • Rhode Island Greening, very tart and distinctively flavored.
  • Northern Spy, harder crunchy and a great baking apple.
  • Rome Beauty, mildly sweet and tart, with a milder flavor than others.
  • Winesap, a tart-and-spicy apple that was our Nana’s favorite for baked apples.
  •  

    apple-streusel-betty-crocker-230

    Apple crisp à la mode. Photo courtesy Betty
    Crocker.

     

    RECIPE: EASY APPLE CRISP

    Ingredients

  • 7 cups apples peeled cored and sliced (you can substitute Asian pears)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup water
  •  
    For the Cinnamon Topping

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2-1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  •  
    Plus

  • Optional garnish: crème fraîche, mascarpone, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Combine apples, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon in a large baking dish. Pour water over apples.

    2. PREPARE the topping. In a separate bowl, using a fork, cut the butter into the other listed ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

    2. SPREAD the topping over fruit mixture. Bake in a 350°F preheated oven 50 minutes or until topping is golden brown. It’s that easy!
     

    CRISP, CRUMBLE, COBBLER, ETC.: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

    A crisp is a deep-dish fruit dessert made with a crumb or streusel topping and baked. Similar dishes include:

  • Betty, a crisp topped with buttered bread crumbs instead of streusel. Some later recipes substitute graham cracker crumbs.
  • Buckle, a baked, bottom cake-like layer with the fruit mixed in, topped with a crumb layer (alternatively, the cake, fruit and crumbs can be three separate layers).
  • Cobbler, with a pastry top instead of a crumb top. The pastry is dropped from a spoon, the result resembling cobblestones.
  • Crisp, baked fruit filling covered with a crunchy topping which is crumbled over the top.
  • Crumble, the British word for crisp.
  • Grunt, a spoon pie with biscuit dough on top of stewed fruit (fruit which is steamed, not baked).
  • Pandowdy or pan dowdy, a spoon pie with a rolled top crust that is broken up to allow the juices to come through.
  • Slump, another word for grunt, which can be baked or steamed, and can be made upside down.
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Medjool Dates, Nature’s Candy

    Foodies who like lusciousness—not to mention fitness fans looking for a natural source of post-workout muscle recovery—may want to reach for one of the world’s oldest-cultivated fruits: Medjool dates.

    Sure, they’re delicious. But dates and other foods rich in potassium are linked to reduced exercise-induced muscle soreness and connective tissue damage, and enhanced athletic performance going forward. Nutritionists are touting the health and muscle-recovery capabilities of dates as a natural replacement for sports drinks and energy bars that are loaded with processed sugar.

    According to Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness and Eat Your Way to Sexy, dates are one of nature’s best recovery foods.

    “A serving of dates speeds recovery after exercise, replacing needed potassium and other electrolytes, and helping to restock glycogen stores,” explains Somer. “In addition, the potassium and manganese help balance blood-sodium levels that support muscle contraction, reduce fatigue and stimulate recovery.”

    Who knew? We’ve been eating them plain and with cheese simply because we love them. But now, we’ll look at them a guilt-free sweet snack! For those watching their sugar intake, Medjools rate low to low/medium on the Glycemic Index (GI).

       

    bowl-dates-beauty-230

    A great anytime snack. Photo copyright Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association.

     

    ABOUT DATES

    Among the sweetest fruits in the world, with a concentration of natural sugar that has earned them the sobriquet “nature’s candy,” dates are one of the earliest crops to be cultivated, in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East.

    Dates are the fruit of the date palm (photo below), a tree that thrives in desert conditions—including the Bard Valley of Southern California, which produces premium Medjools.

    Several varieties are easy to find in the U.S., but the best are Medjools, larger, plumper, moister and more tender, with caramel notes. They are are considered the best-tasting, most luscious dates in the world, and have long been called the “Fruit of the Kings.”

    You may also come across Deglet Noor, Halawy and Khadrawy, all chewier varieties. We like them all, but prefer the larger, softer Medjool.

    In addition to sweet recipes—cakes, compotes, cookies, fruit breads, ice cream, puddings, smoothies, etc.—dates add a sweet accent to braises and roasts, and can be substituted for prunes. (Unless otherwise specified, date varieties are interchangeable in recipes.)

    One serving of Medjool dates (two whole dates) provides 8% of the daily recommended value (DRV) for potassium, 12% for dietary fiber and 4% for magnesium, as well as important vitamins and minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and vitamin B6.

     

    date-laden-trees-230

    Here’s how the fruits grow on the Date Palm.
    Photo copyright Bard Valley Medjool Date
    Growers Association.

     

    HOW TO BUY DATES

    Dates are harvested according to stages of ripeness. Once fully ripened, they need to be picked: The longer they stay on the tree, the drier they become.

    Delicate, just-ripe dates are sold fresh at some farmers markets and Middle Eastern grocers, but they’re most commonly sold partially dried, often with the pit removed.

    Choose dates that are plump and glossy. They can look wrinkled, but shouldn’t feel hard. A thin coating of sugar on the outside is okay, provided it’s not crystallized. If the dates smell sour, pass them by.

    Like dried fruits, dates have a long shelf life and will keep at room temperature for about two months if sealed in plastic.
     
    The Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association (BVMDGA), a consortium of family growers in the southwest, is responsible for more than 60% of the Medjool dates grown in the U.S. For more information, visit NaturalDelights.com.

     

      

    Comments

    GADGET: Olive Stuffer

    Olive connoisseurs: If you’re disappointed with the quality of commercial stuffed olives—rubbery blue cheese, cheap and fishy anchovies, chewy jalapeños—you can now stuff your own premium ingredients with the Swissmar Olive Stuffer.

    Anchovies, feta, garlic, goat cheese, pecans, plus fresh herbs: Have fun creating your own stuffed olive creations. The spring-loaded olive stuffer lets you fill large pitted olives with anything.

    Simply load the stainless steel device with the stuffing(s) of your choice, place the plunger into the pitted olive, and release.

    Buy it at Williams-Sonona.com for $14.65.

    If you don’t have an olive pitter, you should pick one up, too.

     

    olive-stuffer-WS-230

    Become a master olive stuffer. Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.

     

      

    Comments

    FOOD 101: Food Fillers

    white-bread-Aaron-Bobrow-Strain-230

    Avoid puffy white bread, made with
    potassium bromate. And read this book!
    Photo courtesy Beacon Press.

     

    The website Healthcare Management Degree sent us the 411 on food fillers, and we’re happy to pass it on. You can also view it in infographic form.

    Their article, called “Food Isn’t Food Anymore: The Frightening World of Fillers,” explains the types of fillers found in prepared foods at grocery stores and restaurants. Fillers are also called additives. The goal of the fillers is to add a cheaper ingredient to a costlier one to help bulk up the weight of the food, thus lowering the overall cost.

    Fillers are mostly found in processed meats, and can lower the cost of meats by 10%-30%. The ground beef you buy likely contains filler, they write.

    While lowering the cost of food can sound like a great idea, here are the pros and cons of food fillers. This is not an exhaustive list, but highlights the most common fillers. And of course, not all brands use fillers: Read the nutrition label!

    CARRAGEENAN

    Carrageenan is a gel extracted from seaweed. It Is used as a thickening agent and emulsifier in dairy products such as chocolate milk, cottage cheese and ice cream. It is also injected into raw chicken and other meats to make them retain water, which makes the meat weigh more. You’re paying for water weight! (A similar trick is used to inject scallops with chemicals. Be sure that you are buying “dry” scallops, not “wet” scallops.)

     

    ISSUE: Seaweed generally has no adverse health effects, but it can trick the consumer into paying more.

    CELLULOSE

    Cellulose is a natural component of many plants. Much of the cellulose used as a food additive is derived from wood pulp, which is used in the production of paper! This cellulose is used in the manufacture of cereal, shredded cheese, salad dressing and ice cream. Cellulose appears in many high-fiber snacks, and eating organic won’t help you avoid it.

    Humans can’t digest cellulose, so adding it to food makes for a no-calorie, nonfat filler. Some may see that as a benefit.

    WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Ingredients like microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), cellulose gel, cellulose gum or carboxymethyl cellulose.

     

    OLESTRA

    Olestra is a fat substitute synthesized by Procter and Gamble in 1968; its chemical name is sucrose polyester. The human body can’t digest its large molecules, so Olestra contributes no calories. It now used in Fat Free Pringles and Frito-Lay Light chips.

    It can have a laxative effect. Products containing Olestra were originally required to warn customers of the risk of “loose stools.” Within 4 years of introduction, 15,000 people had called a hotline set up specifically to take adverse-reaction complaints; however, in 2003, the FDA removed the warning label requirement following lobbying by P&G.

    ISSUE: In addition to digestive issues, Olestra appears to interfere with the body’s absorption of critical nutrients such as beta-carotene and lycopene.

     
    POTASSIUM BROMATE

    Potassium bromate is a chemical compound that helps bread to rise quickly and puff up during baking. Bread made with potassium bromate is fluffy, soft and unnaturally white. It is found in supermarket and fast food breads.

     

    hot-fudge-sundae-230

    Wood pulp in your ice cream? Could be! Photo by Lauri Patterson | IST.

     

    If the bread is not baked long enough, or if too much potassium bromate is added before baking, the amount in the end product can be much higher than recommended. In 1982, Japanese researchers published the first study linking potassium bromate to thyroid and kidney cancer in mice.

    ISSUE: Potassium bromate is illegal in China, the European Union, Canada, Brazil and many other countries. But it is legal in the U.S.

    SOY

    Soy derivatives can be found filling a variety of foods, from frozen yogurt to ground beef, and are estimated to be in almost 60% of the processed food sold in supermarkets. In ground meats, soy acts as a cheap filler, lowering both the price and overall quality of the protein,

    Soy contains high levels of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that actually eliminates important vitamins and minerals from the body.

    WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Soy is often listed as “vegetable protein.”
     
    THE FINAL WORD

    1. A good rule of thumb: The more ingredients are in a product, the less natural it is likely to be.

    2. Educate yourself on what you’re eating. Read those nutrition labels!

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Figgy Blue Cheese Bacon Bites

    fig-blue-cheese-bacon-bites-litehouse-230

    Bacon, blue cheese, figs and…Fig Newtons!
    Photo courtesy Litehouse Foods.

     

    Here’s what we’re making this weekend to go with Olive Oil Martinis: Figgy Blue Cheese Bacon Bites.

    The recipe was developed by Jennifer Fisher for Litehouse Foods. You can see the whole photo spread here.

    These appetizers are simple to make from just four ingredients that you can easily keep on hand. Says Jennifer, “An insanely delicious bacon aroma wafts through the house to alert everyone that good things are about to happen!”

    Prep and cooking time is 35 minutes.

    RECIPE: FIGGY BLUE CHEESE BACON BITES

    Ingredients For 12 Servings

  • 6 strips of hardwood-smoked thickly sliced maple bacon
  • 12 fig cookies (like Fig Newtons)
  • 4 ounces blue cheese
  • 6 dried Turkish brown figs
  • Plus:

  • Toothpicks
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT oven to 375°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil.

    2. CUT bacon in half crosswise so that the 6 strips become 12 shorter strips.

    3. CUT blue cheese into 12 approximate ½ teaspoon chunks.

    4. SLICE dried figs in half lengthwise.

    5. ASSEMBLE: Top one fig cookie with blue cheese. Top blue cheese with fig, cut side down. Wrap with bacon, using a toothpick to secure.

    6. PLACE on the prepared baking sheet. If you have a rack or crisper sheet, set this on top of baking sheet for more even cooking. Place Figgy Blue Cheese Bacon Bites on the sheet and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until bacon is crisped and cheese is bubbling.

     

    fig-bacon-bites-raw-litehouse-230

    Ready to go into the oven. Photo courtesy Litehouse Foods.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP: Ways To Add More Flavor To Food

    caperberries-2-elvirakalviste-230

    Caperberries or capers (capers are the flower
    bud of the plant, caperberries are the fruit
    with seeds inside) are brined and thus
    contribute saltiness as well as flavor to
    dishes. They and other ingredients (olives, soy
    sauce, etc.) reduce the need to add table
    salt. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Today’s tip comes from Flavor & The Menu, a magazine and website for chefs of fine dining restaurants.

    They “employ every trick in the flavor toolbox to get explosive taste and texture,” according to author Pam Smith, co-chair of The Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative. “Creating flavor is no magic trick,” she says, “but certain ingredients and techniques can magically make reduced-calorie dishes satisfying—even indulgent.”

    The advice:

  • Acids. High-acid ingredients lend sharp, bright flavor to replace salt or fat. Reduce wines and vinegars to concentrate their flavor; add a squeeze of citrus to finished dishes.
  • Cooking meats. Spices added to rubs and marinades brings out surface flavor, as does caramelization from grilling or searing meats.
  • Healthful fats. Beneficial fats and oils—nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, avocados—enhance mouthfeel and flavor.
  • Herbs. Savory* herbs (basil, dill, oregano, thyme, sage, cilantro) enable the reduction of salt. Finishing a dish with fresh herbs punches up the flavor.
  • High-sodium ingredients. Replace the salt in a recipe with more flavorful sodium: capers, feta, olives, olives or soy sauce, for example.
  • Onions. Members of the onion family, which also includes chives, garlic, scallions (green onions) and shallots, lend a sharp taste and aroma to dishes, whether raw, caramelized, roasted or grilled (how to caramelize onions).
  •  

  • Spices. Use spice and heat to distract the palate. Make use of strong flavors like cayenne, cumin, curry, ginger, horseradish/wasabi, mustard seed, and peppercorn. Toast whole spices before grinding to heighten the flavor and aroma.
  • Umami. Go for “exponential umami” by combining two nucleotide compounds, such as a burger made with beef and roasted mushrooms or tuna with a dash of soy sauce (more about umami).
  •  
    What are you cooking this weekend? Employ as many of these tricks as you can and see how they improve your recipes.

     
    *As opposed to savory herbs, sweet herbs are typically used to flavor beverages and desserts. Examples include apple mint, lavender, peppermint, pineapple mint, pineapple sage and rose geranium. Savory herbs used in sweet applications include anise, basil, licorice and rosemary. Stevia is a sweet herb that is largely a sugar substitute, adding sweetness without additional flavor.
     
      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Kimchi Fried Rice

    kimchi-fried-rice-eastandwest-yotelNYC-230

    Enjoy this for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
    Photo courtesy Yotel New York.

     

    Kimchi or kimchee is a traditional Korean fermented vegetable dish, the most common side dish in Korean cuisine. It is also a main ingredient in many popular Korean dishes, such as kimchi stew.

    Kimchi has always been made year-round, but in earlier times it was made in larger quantities during the winter months, when fresh vegetables were few. Like many societies pre-refrigeration, pickled vegetables were a winter mainstay. Here’s more about kimchi.

    In addition to Asian markets, you can now find kimchi at natural food stores, including chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

    This fusion recipe from East & West at Club Lounge combines Korean kimchi with Chinese fried rice with a western fried egg.

    RECIPE: KIMCHI FRIED RICE WITH FRIED EGG

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 8 cups cooked white rice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 cup kimchi vegetables, chopped
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 1 bok choy stem, chopped
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1 teaspoon chili paste (sambal olek)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 fried eggs, sunny side up, crispy edges, salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional garnish: julienned green onion
  • Preparation

    1. SAUTÉ garlic in canola oil and add rice. Stir fry rice for 2 minutes, then add kimchi.

    2. STIR fry for an additional minute; then add scallions, bok choy and sambal.

    3. SEASON with salt and pepper, and portion into four individual bowls or one large serving bowl.

    4. TOP with crispy fried egg(s) and green onions and serve.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Asian Pears

    In the spring, when the blossoms fall from the Asian pear trees, the nascent pears are the size of peas. Now, at harvest time, many are as large as croquet balls, some varieties the size of softballs (and yet low in calories—about 50 per 4 ounces).

    If you see a red and white Subarashii Kudamono, the fruits haven’t crossed the Pacific Ocean: They’re grown in Pennsylvania.

    While on business in Japan in 1973, American inventor Joel Spira received a gift of Asian pears. Upon returning home, he tried to obtain more of the crunchy, juicy fruit but couldn’t find it. So, he decided to grow his own.

    Spira and his wife Ruth (who has a botany degree) purchased orchard land in the fertile Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, and set about growing traditional varieties of Asian pears as well as creating new varieties. They named their company Subarashii Kudamono, Japanese for “wonderful fruit.”

    Today, thousands of their trees yield numerous varieties of Asian pears. The 2014 harvest has begun, and the fruit is now available at gourmet grocers from New York and New Jersey down to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, and nationally online at WonderfulFruit.com.

       

    AsianPears_bluebowl_230

    A simple yet elegant dessert. Serve with an optional drizzle of honey. Photo courtesy WonderfulFruit.com.

    Asian pears are also grown in California, Oregon and Washington, in addition to orchards worldwide.

    So today’s tip is to try Asian pears.
     

    ARE ASIAN PEARS PEARS, APPLES OR A HYBRID?

    “Asian pear” is the generic name for more than 25 different varieties of a pear species that originated in Asia. The fruit was first cultivated in what are now China, Japan and Korea, beginning as far back as 330 B.C.E.

    Although the shape is reminiscent of some varieties of apples and has the crunchy flesh of apples, the Asian pear, Pyrus pyrifolia, belongs to the same genus as European pears, Pyrus communis. This means you can eat them in the same way, in recipes or as hand fruit, with the skin or peeled.

    Don’t expect a creamy European pear texture, though, or any apple flavor from the fruit that is also known as apple pear, Korean pear, Chinese pear and sand pear, among other names.

    And unlike European pears, Asian pears don’t soften when ripe. They remain crunchy, even when cooked.
     
    HOW TO SERVE ASIAN PEARS

    This fruit is very versatile, pairing well (no pun intended) in savory and sweet recipes. For starters, consider:

  • Breakfast: Sliced as your morning fruit, atop cereal, baked like a baked apple.
  • Lunch/Dinner: Sliced into a green salad with blue cheese or feta; diced into chicken salad; julienned into cole slaw; added to stuffing; cooked and puréed into soup; in stir-fries or Asian dishes seasoned with curry powder, five-spice powder, ginger, soy sauce and/or star anise; instead of sautéed apples with ham, pork chops and other proteins.
  • Dessert: Poached, using your favorite poached pears recipe, baked in tarts, with a cheese plate, served plain with a drizzle of honey.
  •  
    There are dozens of Asian Pear recipes at WonderfulFruit.com: desserts, salads, slaws, spreads, combined with favorite proteins, even Asian pear fries!

     

    Asian_Pear_PA_sticker-230

    If there’s no sticker, ask the produce
    manager about the variety and provenance
    of the Asian pears. Photo courtesy
    WonderfulFruit.com.

     

    RECIPE: SALAD WITH ASIAN PEARS

    You can turn this side salad into a main course by topping it with a grilled protein: chicken breast; fish fillet, scallops or shrimp; lamb, etc.

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 4 cups of mixed baby greens
  • 1 head radicchio
  • 2 medium Asian Pears, diced
  • Blue cheese, feta or goat cheese, crumbled, diced or sliced
  •  
    For The Dressing

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. TEAR the radicchio into bite-sized pieces and combine with greens in a salad bowl (also tear greens if not using baby greens). Add the diced pears.

    2. WHISK the vinegar and mustard, then whisk in the olive oil. Add honey, salt and pepper. Toss with the salad.

    3. ADD cheese to top and serve.
     

    TRADITIONAL ASIAN PEAR VARIETIES

    Depending on the variety, Asian pears can range from medium to large to extra large. Most colors vary from yellow to tan-brown; some have green or russet hues. Their skin may be smooth or speckled. Some of the most popular varieties grown in the U.S. include Hosui (Golden Russet Brown), Kosui (Golden Russet), Nijiseiki or Twentieth Century (Yellow-Green), Shinseiki (Yellow) and Shinsui (Russet Brown).

    These conventional varieties are grown by Subarashii Kudamono:

  • Atago, often heart-shaped,is exceptionally flavorful. Ripening late in the season, it has a lovely butterscotch colored skin. This fruit is juicy and crunch, with subtle tropical flavors of mango, kiwi and passionfruit plus notes of citrus and melon.
  • Hosui has a mild, clear, sweet flavor. This crisp and juicy fruit is golden tan in color with a slight conical shape. In Japanese Hosui means sweet water.
  • Niitaka is a golden light brown in color with a distinctive peaked top. Another very crisp juicy variety, it is sweet with a hint of a nuttiness.
  • Olympic is very round, khaki (brownish-green) color with a blush of dark red. It has a rich flavor, is lightly crisp and displays a delicate amount of juiciness.
  • Yoinashi is very sweet, with a hint of butterscotch. It is golden-orange in color and is slightly oval in shape.
  •  
    The company has also bred and patented five additional varieties: It’s an Asian pear lover’s paradise. One of them, Asaju, is grown artisan-style in a wax-lined bag, so the skin is wafer thin and very crisp.

    You can buy them online for yourself or as gifts. A 5-pound gift box is $29.95; a 9-pound gift box is $39.95.
     

    MORE ABOUT ASIAN PEARS.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Covered Bridge Cookies

    It began in the summer of 1992, when Carl Goulet began making cookies to sell at a local farmers market in Windsor, Vermont. Then employed as executive chef at a local hospital, Carl had been a pastry chef and baker for most of his working life. He had a part-time venture on the side, Christopher’s Cakes & Pastries. His employer allowed him to rent time in the kitchen after hours.

    The cookies expanded in distribution, from the farmers market to local stores, and developed an enthusiastic following. In five years he had outgrown the time and space available at the hospital, and Carl decided to take the plunge to baking full time, investing in a facility and equipment.

    His Covered Bridge Cookies taste of homemade goodness, using the finest ingredients from Vermont producers: butter from Vermont-based Cabot Creamery, chocolate from Barry Callebaut, a French company with U.S. headquarters in St. Albans, Vermont, and unbleached and unbromated flour from King Arthur Flour in Norwich.

    Superior ingredients and small batch production techniques that produce delicious, old fashioned goodness—as if you (or your grandmother) had just baked them.
     
    The line is small, comprising New England favorites:

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Ginger Snaps
  • Hermits
  • Maple Shortbread
  • Shortbread
  •    

    hermits-230

    Hermits: a New England cookie favorite that deserves to be baked more often. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     
    While we love them all, we have to give a shout-out to the hermit, starting with…

     

    ginger-snaps-box-230

    Old-fashioned goodness in a box. Photo by
    Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    WHAT ARE HERMITS, AND A BRIEF COOKIE HISTORY

    English and Dutch immigrants brought cookies to America in the 1600s. The Dutch used the word koekje, while the English primarily referred to cookies as small cakes, seed biscuits, tea cakes, or by specific names, such as jumble (a spiced butter cookie) or macaroon.

    By the early 1700s, koekje had evolved to cookie or cookey, and was well-entrenched in New York City, then the nation’s capital—a factor that resulted in widespread use of the term.

    During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, most cookies were baked at home as special treats, both because of the amount of labor and the high cost of sugar. Recipes for jumbles, macaroons and gingerbread are found in early cookbooks. Our simple butter cookie recipes are similar to English tea cakes and Scottish shortbread (the term “tea cake” is used to describe that type of cookie in the Southern U.S. as well).

    During the 19th century, affordable sugar and flour, plus the introduction of chemical raising agents such as bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), led to the development of other types of cookie recipes.

    Another explosion of cookie recipes took place in the early 1900s, not surprisingly paralleling the introduction of modern ovens with thermostats. Cookbooks yield recipes for cinnamon-accented Snickerdoodles, raisin-filled Hermits, Sand Tarts and many varieties of butter cookies including Southern-style Tea Cakes.

     
    Hermits Appear

    Cookies called hermits appear in New England cookbooks by 1880. Those first Hermits were made with raisins, spices—cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg—and white sugar.

    Most recipes that continue in use will evolve. It is a rare for a recipe not to change, whether from creativity of cooks, the availability of new ingredients or changing tastes.

    According to NewEnglandRecipes.org. Hermits is a classic example: New York bakers replaced white sugar with more flavorful brown sugar. By the 1950s, the Fannie Farmer Cookbook uses white sugar and molasses in place of brown sugar, providing a stronger molasses flavor than with brown sugar alone.

    A mix of currants and raisins, optional citrons and nuts become Hermit variations. Later versions of Hermits offer the option of dates, figs and dried apricots. Today, the cookies are typically large, chewy molasses cookies with raisins. We wish they were more available in our neck of the woods (or maybe, we should be thankful that they’re not!).

    Covered Bridge Cookies are $6.99 for a 9-ounce box, about 10 cookies. You can buy them online at VTStuff.com.
     
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF COOKIES IN OUR DELICIOUS COOKIE GLOSSARY.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Asian Lettuce Wraps With Steak

    East meets West in these Vietnamese-style steak and lettuce wraps, delicious for lunch, a first dinner course or main course.

    The recipe comes from The Great Pepper Cookbook, one of our favorite new cookbooks from the produce experts at Melissas.com, available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions.

    This recipe was created by Melissa’s chef Tom Fraker. Prep time is 35 minutes; total Time including marinating, is 8 hours, 40 minutes.

    RECIPE: STEAK LETTUCE WRAPS

    Tri-tip comes from the bottom side of the sirloin and can sometimes be hard to find. You can substitute beef tenderloin. The serving size is about 1¼ cups.

    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced (about ½ cup), divided
  •    

    steak-lettuce-wraps-melissas-230

    Steak & lettuce wraps. Photo and recipe courtesy Melissas.com.

  • 4 fresh serrano chile peppers, stems and seeds removed, finely diced (about 3 tablespoons), divided
  • 1¼ cups lime juice, divided (about 8 limes)
  • 1½ pounds beef tri-tip
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 6 green onions, trimmed and sliced
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 red onion, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 8 butter lettuce leaves
  • Optional: 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
  •  

    the-great-pepper-cookbook-melissas-230

    A great cookbook for chile lovers! Photo
    courtesy Melissas.com.

     

    Preparation

    1. WHISK together in a bowl the brown sugar, soy sauce, oil, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, half of the garlic, half of the chile, and 1 cup juice. In a large zip-top plastic bag, combine the beef with the marinade. Seal the bag and turn it several times to mix well and coat beef. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

    2. PREHEAT the grill to medium-high heat. Oil grill rack. Remove beef from zip-top plastic bag; discard marinade. Place beef on grill rack; grill until both sides are marked, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Turn off all but one burner; move beef to cool side of grill rack and partially cover. Grill until desired doneness (125°F for rare, 135°F for medium, or 145°F for well done), about 15 to 25 minutes. Let meat rest 15 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain.

    3. MAKE the sauce. In a bowl, combine the remaining half of the garlic and chile, the remaining ¼ cup juice, cilantro, green onions, tomato and onion. Top the lettuce leaves evenly with beef slices and the chile mixture. Sprinkle evenly with cheese, if desired. Serve.

     

      

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