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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: Grilled Portabella Salad

Whether you’re planning for meatless Monday or looking for something tasty to grill on any other day, how about a meaty grilled portabella salad?

Grill not only the mushrooms, but red and yellow bell peppers and anything else you’d like to add to it, including polenta (see photo below).

Place the grilled veggies atop your favorite greens, with an optional garnish of crumbled feta or goat cheese and a vinaigrette.

PORTABELLA? PORTABELLO? PORTOBELLO?

How can one mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, have three different spellings? After all, carrot is carrot, tomato is tomato, zucchini is zucchini.

The answer: When Americans began to grow and sell them in the 1980s, it was a very small output. The growers, initially Italian Americans who grew the creminis they liked from the old country (creminis are the young form of portabellas), named it. Portabella means “beautiful door; portobello means “beautiful port.”

   

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A grilled portabella salad on baby greens, with grilled bell peppers, balsamic vinaigrette and a garnish of crumbled feta. Photo courtesy Davio’s Boston | Boston.

 
Or perhaps, as you’ll read below, someone with marketing chops realized it needed a glamorous name in order to sell the mushrooms.

According to Food Timeline, food experts generally agree on these points when it comes to the history of portabellas:

  • The mushroom was developed in southeastern Pennsylvania from the Italian cremini—which, we must point out, is also spelled crimini, and also called the brown mushroom, Italian brown mushroom and Roman mushroom. Newer “marketable” names including baby portobellos, mini bellas and portabellinis. “Baby Bella” is a trademarked name.
  • A 1996 article in Nation’s Restaurant News noted that many of the mushroom farmers were of Italian origin. While they originally produced the creminis they knew from Italy, there was no market: The public wanted pristine white mushrooms. The back-to-earth movement of the 1960s and 1970s opened the door for the growers to make another stab at selling creminis.
  • By accident, growers found that creminis that weren’t harvested grew into extra-large mushrooms. These large mushrooms are here today despite early efforts to thwart them. In a 1996 article in Nation’s Restaurant News on the growing popularity of portabellas, Wade Whitfield of the Mushroom Council, an industry trade group, noted, “They are really culls. You didn’t want them in the mushroom bed. [Growers] would throw them away. There was no market. Growers would take them home.”
  • Whitfield then noted: “This thing has gone from nearly zero in 1993 to a predicted 30 million pounds this year. It’s a major item. It will be the largest specialty mushroom.” Both cremini and portobello mushrooms are first mentioned in the New York Times during the mid 1980s.
  • According to The New Food Lover’s Companion, “‘portobello’ began to be used in the 1980s as a brilliant marketing ploy to popularize an unglamorous mushroom that, more often than not, had to be disposed of because growers couldn’t sell them.”
  • There is no definitive spelling. According to Food Timeline, an un-scientific Google survey at one point showed that portobello got the most searches (169,000), followed by portabella (33,100) and portobella (3,510). Wade Whitfield noted The Mushroom Council preferred “portabella”; we use “portabella” because we prefer how it rolls off the tongue.
  •  

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    Grilled polenta and portabellas are a delicious pairing. Add arugula, shaved Parmesan and a balsamic vinegar reduction Photo courtesy Urban Accents.

     

    RECIPE: STUFFED PORTABELLA MUSHROOMS

    Ingredients For 8 Side Salads

  • 8 large portobello mushrooms, stemmed* and brushed clean
  • Olive oil for grilling, plus extra virgin olive oil for dressing
  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 2 large red yellow bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary for dressing
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 package (4 to 5 ounces) baby greens
  • 1 large handful baby arugula (substitute baby spinach)
  • Optional garnish: shaved Parmesan cheese or crumbled feta
  •  
    *Save the stems for an omelet or another salad. To clean mushrooms,
    first use a mushroom brush (much more delicate than a regular vegetable brush) and remove any remaining dirt with a slightly damp paper towel.

     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the grill to medium. Brush both sides of the mushrooms with olive oil. Halve and seed the bell peppers.

    2. PLACE the mushrooms and bell peppers on the rack and grill until tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Transfer to plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.

    3. CUT the peppers into strips. You can also cut the mushrooms into strips, but they make a nicer presentation whole.

    4. MAKE the dressing: Combine 1-1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil in a blender or food processor with the balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and chopped fresh rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    5. CREATE a bed of greens on individual serving plates. Place the mushroom in the center, surrounded by pepper strips. Place some arugula in the center of each mushroom. Garnish as desired with cheese. Drizzle with dressing serve.

      

    Comments

    FOOD HOLIDAY RECIPE: Creamsicle Cheesecake

    August 14th is National Creamsicle Day. How about a “Creamsicle” Cheese Cake?

    First, a bit of food history, and why we put the word Creamsicle within quotation marks:

    The Popsicle® was invented by a 29-year-old husband and father working in the real estate industry in the Great Depression. Frank Epperson made what he called Epsicles for a fireman’s ball.

    They were a sensation, and Frank obtained a patent for ”a handled, frozen confection or ice lollipop.” His kids called the treat a Popsicle, after their Pop. So Frank created Popsicle Corporation, which developed the Creamsicle® and collaborated with the Loew Movie Company for the nationwide marketing and sales of the product in movie theaters.

    Here’s the history of the Creamsicle. Today, Creamsicle® and Popsicle® are registered trademarks of the Unilever Corporation. Any company wishing to use the name for a product must get a license from Unilever.

    We adapted this recipe from Krista of BudgetGourmetMom.com. Check out her other delicious recipes!

    Krista recommends that you make the cheesecake a day in advance; but you can get by with a few hours of chilling.

       

    orange-cream-cheesecake-230

    Bake one or order this Orange Cream Cheesecake from Sweet Street Desserts.

     
    Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time time is 40 minutes, plus a minimum of 3 hours for freezing/chilling.

    RECIPE: “CREAMSICLE” CHEESECAKE

    Ingredients
     
    For The Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  •  
    For The Cheesecake

  • 2 eight-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  •  

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    Want Creamsicle flavor without the calories? We love Diet Orange ‘n Cream from Stewart’s, also available in regular (with sugar). If you can’t find it locally, order it from Amazon. Photo courtesy Stewart’s Restaurants.

     

    For The Orange Creamsicle Layer

  • 1 three-ounce box orange flavored gelatin
  • 1-1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 eight-ounce container of whipped topping such as Cool Whip
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F.

    2. COMBINE combine the butter, sugar and graham cracker crumbs in a mixing bowl. Stir until combined. Pat into a 9″ springform pan. Set aside.

    3. WHIP the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time; then beat in the sour cream.

    4. POUR the filling into the crust. Bake for 40 minutes. Turn of the oven and crack the oven door for 30 minutes. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow to cool completely. Once cooled…

     
    5. MIX the “Creamsicle” layer by stirring the gelatin with the boiling water until it dissolves. Gently whisk in the whipped topping until it’s completely combined. Set the cheesecake on a plate or dish to catch any dripping, and pour the “Creamsicle” mixture over the cheesecake.

    6. PLACE in the freezer for an hour. Remove from the freezer and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve, at least two hours; but it is preferable to chill it overnight.

    7. TO SERVE: Run a sharp knife around the inside of the pan to separate the gelatin layer from the side. Unhinge the pan and gently lift the bottom from the cheesecake.

     
    FOOD TRIVIA: THE CHEESECAKE IS A PIE!

    A cheesecake is not a cake, but an open face custard pie. Unlike a cake, there is no raised layer made with flour.

    Rather, like a pie, it has a bottom crust into which a filling (a cheese custard) is poured and baked.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Try The Best Cheeses In America

    If you passion is great cheese, why not try the best on your pizzas, sandwiches, entrées and salads? The winners of the 2015 American Cheese Society Competition, held last month, are worth seeking out.

    Here are the first place winners in the top 5 categories (based on the volume of cheese sold in the U.S.), including sub-categories:

    MOZZARELLA

  • Brick, Scamorza Or String cheese: Farmer’s Rope String Cheese, Crave Brothers (Wisconsin)
  • Fresh Mozzarella, 8 Ounces Or More, Balls or Shapes: Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese (Wisconsin) and Bella Casara Buffalo Mozzarella (Ontario)
  • Fresh Mozzarella Under 8 Ounces: Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Bocconcini (Wisconsin)
  • Burrata: Calabro Cheese (Connecticut)
  •  
    CHEDDAR CHEESE

  • Aged Cheddar, 12 To 24 Months: Face Rock 2-Year Extra Aged Cheddar, Face Rock Creamery (Oregon);
  • Cheddar Aged Up To 12 Months: Tillamook White Medium Cheddar, Tillamook County Creamery (Oregon)
  •    

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    The best string cheese in America: Farmer’s Rope String Cheese from the Crave Brothers of Wisconsin. Photo courtesy EdibleMadison.com.

  • Cheddar Aged Up To 12 Months—Goat, Sheep, Buffalo Or Mixed Milks: Goat Cheddar, Central Coast Creamery (California)
  • Mature Cheddar, 24 To 48 Months: Four Year Flagship, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (Washington)
  • Mature Cheddar, Aged Over 48 Months: Cabot Old School Cheddar, Cabot Creamery (Vermont)
  • Cheddar Wrapped In Cloth, Aged Up To 12 Months: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Cellars at Jasper Hill, (Vermont)
  • Cheddar Wrapped In Cloth, Aged Over 12 Months: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Select, Cellars at Jasper Hill (Vermont)
  •  

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    The best cheese of 2015 is Celtic Blue Reserve from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Ontario. Photo © Misa Me Photography.

     

    MONTEREY JACK CHEESE

  • Southwest Cheese (New Mexico)
  •  
    SWISS CHEESE

  • Baby Swiss, Guggisberg Cheese (Ohio)
  •  
    PARMESAN CHEESE

  • Cello Riserva Copper Kettle Parmesan Cheese, Cello Cheese (Wisconsin)
  •  
    BEST OF SHOW

  • Celtic Blue Reserve, Glengarry Fine Cheese (Ontario)
  •  
    The awards mentioned here represent just a few of this year’s categories and winners. To see the complete list of awards in all categories, visit The American Cheese Society website.

     

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Summer Caprese Salad With Flowers

    We saw this photo on GourmetAttitude.com and thought: We must make this!

    It’s a miniaturized Caprese Salad, with these substitutions:

  • Bite-size mozzarella balls instead of sliced mozzarella
  • Cherry and/or grape tomatoes instead of sliced beefsteak tomatoes
  • Baby basil leaves instead of large leaves
  • A garnish of edible, summery flowers
  •  
    It’s a beautiful summer salad; and since good cherry tomatoes can be found year-round, it’s also a treat for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

    For more food fun, you can serve the salad in individual Martini glasses.

    RECIPE: SUMMER SALAD WITH FLOWERS

    Ingredients

  • Bocconcini, bite-size mozzarella balls, or the tinier pearl-size perlini
  • Cherry tomatoes, ideally heirloom in an array of colors
  •  

    cherry-tomato-mozz-flower-salad-gourmetattitude-230

    We call this salad “Flower Power.” Photo courtesy GourmetAttitude.com.

  • Optional: yellow grape tomatoes for contrast
  • Small basil leaves (if you can’t find any, make a chiffonade of regular leaves)
  • Edible flowers (more information)
  • Good olive oil (infused olive oil—basil, rosemary, etc.—is great)
  • Vinegar, lemon or lime juice (we like balsamic, but anything works)
  •  

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    Cacio di Roma. Photo courtesy Cheese Of The Month Club.

     

    Preparation

    You can dress the salad in oil and vinegar, allow guests to pour their own from cruets, or drizzle olive oil and vinegar on the plate before adding the salad, and allow guests to “swoosh” the tomatoes in it.

    1. TOSS the tomatoes with a small amount of salt. Combine in a mixing bowl with the drained bocconcini and herbs.

    2. SERVE on a platter or shallow glass bowl or on individual plates.
     
    WHAT IS CACIO CHEESE?

    Formally called Cacio de Roma, cacio is a semi-soft Italian cheese originally made in the countryside outside of Rome from sheep’s milk. Cacio simply means cheese in some dialects (formaggio is the word used universally in Italy).

     
    The cheese—not readily found in the U.S.—is made in small rounds called caciotta and aged for about one month. It is a classic sheep’s milk cheese. Like mozzarella, made from the milk of cows or water buffalo, it melts very well for cooking and is enjoyed as a snack, with pasta, pizza and salad.
     
    SOME CAPRESE SALAD HISTORY

    Like most recipes, Caprese salad has evolved.

    The original name originated on the island of Capri, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region of Italy. The island has been a resort since Roman Times.

    But Caprese Salad is a more modern invention, dating (by name, anyway) to the early 20th century. The original salad was made with four ingredients: cacio cheese, beefsteak-type tomatoes called cuore di bue (steer’s heart), whole basil leaves and olive oil.

    Later, possibly after World War II when American tourists ventured to Capri (it was a Jet Set favorite), sliced mozzarella (fior di latte or bufala) replaced cacio and the recipe spread throughout Italy and overseas with the tourists who loved it.

    In classic style, slices of mozzarella and tomatoes plus the basil leaves were overlapped on a plate, drizzled with olive oil.

      

    Comments

    FOOD HOLIDAY: Carpaccio For National Filet Mignon Day

    For National Filet Mignon Day you have two easy choices: cook it or enjoy it uncooked (yes, raw).

    The easiest ways to serve cooked filet mignon:

  • Whole, plated with vegetables and potatoes
  • Steak sandwich, on a toasted baguette with caramelized onions, or with lettuce and horseradish mayo (blend prepared horseradish into mayonnaise, to taste)
  • Steak salad, sliced and placed atop a bed of greens with blue cheese dressing; substituted for tuna in a Nicoise Salad; or substituted for ham in a Cobb Salad
  •  
    The easiest ways to serve raw filet mignon:

  • Sliced into carpaccio
  • Ground into steak tartare
  •  
    Carpaccio is the absolute easiest.
     
    WHAT IS CARPACCIO?

    Carpaccio is the Italian term for raw beef filet (crudo is the term for raw seafood). Typically made from sirloin, the dish was created in Venice in 1963, at the time of an exhibition dedicated to Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526).

       

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    A traditional carpaccio with basil-infused olive oil. Photo courtesy Atlantic Paradise Hotel | NYC.

     
    The carpaccio dish was based on the Piedmont speciality, carne cruda all’albese, created by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice. Using fine Piedmontese beef (Piemontese in Italian), he originally prepared it for a countess whose doctors had recommended that she eat raw meat. [Source]

    It is a very popular first course.
     
    RECIPE: BEEF CARPACCIO

    To make carpaccio, buy freshly-cut filet mignon or sirloin from the butcher.

    Ingredients

  • Filet mignon or sirloin
  • Fine olive oil (infused oil, such as basil or rosemary, is great)
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese or white truffles
  • Baby arugula (or baby spinach if you prefer)
  • Optional: sliced onions
  • Toasted baguette on the side
  • Optional: lemon wedges
  • Dishes of flake salt (Cyprus, Maldon, Smoked—substitute coarse sea salt) and cracked pepper
  •  
    Ingredients

    1. PLACE the beef in the freezer for 30 minutes (longer if needed) to firm it and make it easier to slice thin. Using your sharpest knife, slice thin pieces. Arrange on individual plates or a platter. You can create a “sunburst” or “wheel spoke” or parallel slices, depending on the plate or platter.

    2. DRIZZLE olive oil over the top of the beef or around the rim of the plate. If using onions (not part of the original recipe), scatter over the beef, along with the shaved Parmesan. Lastly, top with the arugula.

    3. SERVE with optional lemon wedges and pass dishes of salt and pepper (or go the conventional route, with salt and pepper shakers).

     

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    Filet mignon. To make carpaccio, freeze it for 30 minutes to make it easy to slice thin pieces. Photo courtesy Mackenzie Ltd.

     

    FILET MIGNON TRIVIA

  • Filet mignon is the most tender cut of beef. It is cut from the tenderloin, a muscle in the middle of the back between the sirloin and the ribs. Because the muscle is not weight-bearing, it contains less connective tissue. This is why it’s the most tender.
  • The name is French for “tender fillet” or “dainty fillet.” Fillet, pronounced FILL-it, is the English spelling of filet. Americans use the French spelling and pronunciation, fee-LAY min-YONE.
  • Filet mignon is the most expensive cut of beef. That’s not only because it’s so desirable for its tenderness, but because the tenderloin is very small.
  • The tenderloin weighs an average of five to seven pounds. It is not an even width; it tapers on both ends, so filets mignon can only be cut from the center. The center cut of a 5-1/2 pound tenderloin is just 2 pounds or so.
  • The entire center cut can be roasted whole—the dish known as Chateaubriand. For even more tenderness, you can poach the center cut. It’s our favorite dish for entertaining—very easy, requiring no time to check on it as it cooks. We’ll publish the recipe in a future tip.
  • The tenderloin is generally not as flavorful (“beefy”) as other premium cuts of beef (e.g., the rib eye or the strip steak). That’s why it is sometimes wrapped in bacon or served with a sauce.
  • Tournedos are small round pieces of beef cut from the tail and head of the tenderloin, often cooked with bacon.
  • The pieces that are too small to use as steak are often cut into 1-inch pieces for a Beef Stroganoff or other dishes. You can use them in a steak salad.
  •  
    SOME OTHER NAMES FOR FILET MIGNON

  • Dutch: ossenhaas
  • English (U.S.): medallions, tenderloin steak
  • English (UK, Ireland): fillet steak
  • English (Australia, New Zealand): eye fillet
  • French: filet de bœuf (the entire center-cut tenderloin is the dish known as Chateaubriand)
  • French (Québec): filet mignon
  • Italian: filetto
  • Norwegian: indrefilet
  • Portuguese: filé or filé mignon
  • Spanish: filete miñón or filet mignon
  • Swedish: oxfilé
  •  
    Source
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Black Mission & Green Kadota Figs

    Summer is fresh fig season. If you enjoy dried figs the rest of the year, go out of your way to enjoy them fresh.

    Last month we wrote about how to use fresh figs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But we’ve been reveling in them in the weeks since then, and want to send this reminder to everyone who has not yet jumped onto the fresh fig bandwagon*.

    This week, a trove of Black Mission and Green Kadota figs arrived from California to our produce market. The Green Kadota figs we purchased are even sweeter than the Black Mission figs. Do your own taste test.

    After enjoying them out of hand, focus on these easy, no-cook uses:

  • For breakfast with cereal, cottage cheese, yogurt and pancakes
  • Instead of fig jam, sliced or diced and mixed with honey or agave
  • For lunch in a green salad with bacon, lardons, prosciutto or other ham; or sliced onto a cheese sandwich with Brie, cream cheese or goat cheese on multigrain or raisin bread
  • With a cheese course, with any cheese from mild to strong (our favorite pairing is blue cheese)
  • For an hors d’oeuvre, spread blue cheese on fig halves
  • For dinner make compound butter (use it on bread, for cooking or toss with pasta or rice)
  •  

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    Fresh Green Kadota and Black Mission figs, shown with their dried versions. Photo courtesy California Figs. The website has recipes for everything from fig muffins to fig pizza.

  • For dessert in a fruit salad; or sliced and marinated in liqueur by themselves or as a topping for ice cream, cheesecake and other desserts
  •  
    *To get, jump or leap on the bandwagon is an idiom from the 19th century. It means to become involved in a successful activity so you don’t lose out on the advantages. There are other expressions of the phrase as well. A bandwagon was a festively-decorated wagon that carried a circus band; the band was part of the showy parade through town to generate excitement for the circus. The term first appears in print in P.T. Barnum’s autobiography, published in 1855. Politicians began to “jump on the bandwagon” to be part of the parade, actually renting seats on the wagon to get exposure to the public during the merry occasion.

     

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    Fresh figs are a delicious summer dessert with cheese and a drizzle of honey. Photo courtesy The French Farm.

     

    RECIPE: FRESH FIG COMPOTE

    Compote, the French word for mixture, is a dessert that dates to medieval Europe. It is made of a mixture of whole or sliced fruits, cooked in water with sugar and spices (cinnamon, clove, lemon or orange peel, vanilla). It can be further blended with grated coconut, ground almonds, or dried or candied fruits.

    Our Nana grew up on compote, and we loved it too. There was always a compote when we visited, served warm (with ice cream or whipped cream) in cooler months and cold in the summer.

    In medieval England compote was served as part of the last course of a feast; during the Renaissance it was served chilled at the end of dinner. Any fresh fruit could be used. Nana’s family recipe included rhubarb, sour cherry, apricot, nectarine and plum in the summer; apples, pears, quince, dried apricots, figs, raisins and walnuts in the fruit-challenged winter months.

    Use the compote as a bread spread and a condiment with sweet or savory foods, in yogurt, with cheese, cheesecake, etc.

    Ingredients For 2/3 Cup

    If the figs are very sweet, you may need only a small amount of sweetener.

  • 1 pound fresh figs†, cleaned and trimmed as needed
  • 1 to 6 tablespoons sugar or honey (or half as much agave)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Optional: dried fruits or other fruits, Grand Marnier or other alcohol
  •  
    †Figs do not ripen off the tree, so buy fruit that is soft to the touch. The skin around stem should have begun to twist and wrinkle.
     
    Preparation

    1. CUT the figs into quarters or smaller pieces as desired. Place the figs, sweetener, water and cinnamon in a small saucepan over low heat.

    2. COOK for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding the alcohol near the end (or if using dried fruits in the recipe, you can pre-soak them in the alcohol). To turn into a smooth sauce instead of a chunky dessert or topping…

    3. PULSE, using an immersion blender or food processor, until the desired consistency is reached. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

    TO DEGLAZE A PAN

    Here’s how to deglaze a pan to make a sauce. Include a tablespoon of fig compote (you can also use fig jam).

    To make a sauce without pan juices (terrific with roast duck or pork):

    1. HEAT 1 cup of red wine in a saucepan, and simmer to reduce it by half. Add 1/2 cup of fig compote and a half teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.

    2. BRING to a simmer again, stirring for a few minutes to blend the ingredients. Remove from the heat and finish with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Add a scant tablespoon of butter to smooth out the sauce.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Oven-Dried Tomatoes

    Sun-dried tomatoes are delicious year-round; but according to the USDA, few if any store-bought sun-dried tomatoes are dried in the sun. The original technique, indeed, was to dry the tomatoes in the sun over the course of several days.

    These days, most “sun-dried” tomatoes are oven-dried. However, they taste the same, or even better, when dried in an oven or food dehydrator.

    The drying process gives the tomatoes a long shelf life, since most of the moisture, on which decay-inducing bacteria thrive, is removed (the same strategy as with jerky).

    Sun dried vs. sun-dried vs. sundried? Any of the three spellings is correct.

    OVEN DRYING

    If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, or there’s a big sale, you can use this technique to create homemade dried tomatoes. Freshly made, they’re still tender and succulent.

    Instead of drying tomatoes in the sun, oven drying is a more efficient method. The task is complete in three hours at the lowest heat setting, instead of several days. You can also use a food dehydrator.

    Of course, if you’d like the authentic experience, you can leave the tomatoes in the hot summer sun for two days or more, taking them in at night. (The oven is looking even better now, isn’t it?)

       

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    Sun-dried tomatoes. Photo courtesy Bella Sun Luci, producer of premium sun-dried tomatoes.

     
    WHAT TOMATOES SHOULD YOU USE?

    You can dry any tomato—beefsteak, cherry, grape, or other variety. But plum tomatoes, a type of roma tomato, are the most popular. The walls are thicker, meatier and have less water.

    The tomatoes must be ripe but still firm (i.e., not overripe). While it’s not an exact science, five pounds of fresh tomatoes yield about two cups of dried tomatoes. The tomatoes will shrink to about a quarter of their original size.

     

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    Have extra sundried tomatoes? Bring them as gifts. Photo courtesy Bella Sun Luci.

     

    RECIPE: OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES

    Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil, oregano or thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the tomatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise and remove the tough part on the stem end. Also cut away any soft, bruised flesh. Cherry tomatoes need only be halved; but larger tomatoes should be halved again, into a total of four quarters.

    2. SCOOP out most of the seeds, sprinkle with salt and let them sit skin side up for 15-20 minutes. The excess liquid will drain out, and the oven drying will go faster.

     

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 200°F (some people use a lower temperature, e.g. 150°F, but this will take double the time).

    4. PLACE the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, black pepper and olive oil in a large bowl and gently toss to combine. Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan, lined with parchment. Sprinkle any garlic and oregano in the bowl on top of the tomatoes.

    5. DRY for up to three hours. Flip the tomatoes halfway through. The amount of time will vary, depending on the water content of the tomatoes, the thickness of the slices, and air circulate (expert home cooks place the tomatoes on screens instead of in pans, to abet air circulation).

    6. CHECK for doneness. The tomatoes should be flexible and tender, not dry and hard. Remove from the oven

    7. COOL to room temperature, 20 to 30 minutes. Store in heavy-duty freezer bags, either vacuum-sealed or with the air pressed out. We discovered this technique from PickYourOwn.org:. Don’t overfill the bag, and press out the air pockets. Seal the top of the bag, leaving enough space to insert a soda straw. Suck the air out through the straw. When finished, press straw closed at the insertion point, and finish pressing the bag closed as you remove it.

    8. STORE in a cool, dry place. Keeping them airtight is key; the dried tomatoes will quickly reabsorb moisture and go moldy. If you see any condensation in the bag or other container, remove the tomatoes immediately and put them put them back in the oven to dry.

    The tomatoes will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks, and in the freezer for up to 12 months. To give them as a gift, place in a sterilized glass jar with regular or infused olive oil, and the instructions to use up within a week.

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: McConnell’s Ice Cream

    California-based McConnell’s Ice Cream has always been a small family company. Founded in Santa Barbara in 1949, the McConnells made everything from scratch, in small batches, with milk and cream from cows who graze on Central Coast pasture. It’s still made the same way—including pasteurizing the raw milk at The Old Dairy creamery (it dates to 1934).

    Happy cows give happy milk, and these California girls graze on green grass under blue skies. If you’re a cow, there’s nothing better. Add the finest local, sustainable and organic ingredients—from the cage-free eggs to strawberries grown down the road. Avoid preservatives, stabilizers, or additives of any kind.

    The result: ice cream that tastes fresher, more vibrant and creamier (the ice cream now has more than 18% milk fat).

    The company is under new management (also a family), the ice cream is even better than we remember. Perhaps that’s because one of the owners is an executive chef-restaurateur, and the other is a veteran of winemaking (who grew up eating McConnell’s). They used their palates to fine-tune the classic recipes and create quite a few others.

    They also spent the better part of two years modernizing the equipment and production process.

       

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    Chocolate With Raspberry Jam.
    Photo courtesy McConnell’s.

     

    And they’re taking their updated line on the road: The brand is branching out nationwide. Look for it in specialty food stores and upscale supermarkets.

    The flavors change seasonally, but a representative sample includes:

     

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    While much is updated and improved at McConnell’s Ice Cream, the classic packaging remains. Photo courtesy McConnell’s.

     
  • Chocolate Almond Brittle
  • Chocolate Covered Strawberries
  • Churros Con Leche
  • Coconut & Cream
  • Double Peanut Butter Chip
  • Dutchman’s Chocolate
  • Eureka Lemon & Marionberries (in stores now and exquisite!)
  • Golden State Vanilla
  • Mint Chip
  • Peppermint Stick
  • Salted Caramel Chip
  • Sea Salt Cream & Cookies
  • Sweet Cream
  • Toasted Coconut Almond Chip
  • Turkish Coffee
  • Vanilla Bean
  •  
    One of this summer’s specials is Boysenberry Rose Milk Jam, an impressive combination (though we’re not one for all those boysenberry seeds). We recently tasted an upcoming fall flavor, Cardamom & Swedish Gingersnaps, that was so good, before we knew it the pint was empty (and we hadn’t gotten up from the table).

    If you can’t wait for the ice cream to show up in your local store, you can order it from the website. For the person who has everything, send it as a gift!

    For more information, visit McConnells.com.

      

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    FOOD FUN: Rainbow Ice Pops

    rainbow-popsicles-theviewfromgreatisland-230sq

    Eat the rainbow! Photo courtesy Sue | The View From Great Island.

     

    We were charmed by these homemade ice pops from blogger Sue of The View From Great Island (the island town of New Castle, New Hampshire).

    She puréed blueberries, kiwis, mango, pineapple, strawberries and watermelon to make rainbow pops.

    When you make your own, you may choose to follow the colors of the rainbow in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Here are some fruit choices:

  • Red (cherry, grape, plum, raspberry, strawberry, watermelon)
  • Orange (apricot, cantaloupe, mango, orange, papaya)
  • Yellow (cherry [Queen Anne, Rainier], golden kiwi*, golden raspberry, nectarine, peache, yellow plum
  • Green (avocado, grape, honeydew, kiwi*)
  • Blue (since there are no naturally blue foods, you can skip this layer or purée white fruits—apple, banana, coconut, pear, white peach—and tint them with food color)
  • Indigo (blueberries)
  • Violet (blackberries, black grapes)
  • Preparation

    You’ll need ice pop molds. Most wide pop molds make only 6 pops. We found one that makes 10 ice pops for not much more money ($18.80 plus free shipping). For all the work you’ll put to make rainbow pops, make as many as you can, whether it’s buying two 10-pop molds or borrowing extra molds from friends.

    1. PURÉE the individual fruits and chill them. Make the darkest layer (violet) first, and work your way up to red at the top. NOTE: When you’re making separate colored layers, it’s important to freeze each layer until set so the layers won’t bleed into each other.

    2. TO REMOVE: Set the mold halfway deep in warm water for 30 seconds, or until the pops begin to release. If you want to remove only a few pops, wrap those individual molds in a kitchen towel dampened with hot water.
     
    *We recommend straining the seeds, which tend to create a “polka dot layer.”

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Fresh Peach Bellini Cocktails

    We were inspired by this photo from Audra, The Baker Chick, to look for the ripest peaches—or plan ahead and ripen our own—for fresh peach Bellinis. In the off-season, you can buy frozen peach purée or (surprise!) baby food puréed peaches.

    You can make the peach purée a day or two in advance of your brunch or cocktail party. Well-chilled purée from the fridge is ideal.

    RECIPE: FRESH PEACH BELLINI COCKTAIL

    Ingredients Per Drinks

  • 2 ripe peaches
  • Chilled Prosecco (substitute Cava or other sparkler)
  • Lemon wedge
  • Optional garnish: peach wedge
  •  
    Preparation

    Plan on two peaches for the cocktail. Cut a wedge from one peach, unpeeled, for the garnish. Peel and purée the remainder of the two peaches. The riper the peaches, the better they are for the purée; but you need a ripe-but-firm peach to slice and notch for the garnish.

       

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    A Bellini made with fresh summer peaches. Photo courtesy TheBakerChick.com.

     
    1. POUR 2 ounces of the purée into a flute, tulip or other stemmed glass. Increase the amount of purée for a sweeter and less alcoholic drink.

    2. ADD a squeeze of fresh lemon.

    3. TOP with chilled Prosecco. You don’t need to stir, but if you want to, do it just once, very gently, so you don’t break the bubbles.

    4. GARNISH with a peach wedge.
     
    Audra, The Baker Chick, makes a more complex recipe, combining the peach purée with homemade vanilla bean syrup for a strong vanilla flavor. Here’s her recipe.

     

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    Prosecco’s traditional bottle shape.
    Photo courtesy Mionetto Prosecco.

     

    THE HISTORY OF THE BELLINI COCKTAIL

    While many people use Champagne to make a Bellini, the original recipe, created in 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, head bartender at Harry’s Bar in Venice, is made with Prosecco. The dry, sparkling Italian wine is lighter than Champagne—and much less expensive.

    Even if money isn’t an issue, save the Champagne and its complex, yeasty, toasty and mineral-chalky flavors, for sipping straight.

    The peachy color of the cocktail reminded Cipriani of the color of the robe of St. Francis of Assisi in a painting, “St. Francis In The Desert” (sometimes called “St. Francis In Ecstasy”) by Giovanni Bellini, commissioned in 1525. Cipriani named the drink in Bellini’s honor. If you’re a Bellini lover and in New York City, the painting is in the collection of the Frick Museum.

    Some sources report that the original Bellini was made with white peach purée. White peaches were plentiful in the area and were often marinated in wine as a dessert.

    If you can’t find white peaches, don’t worry. When mixed with the Prosecco, the flavor difference between white and yellow peaches is indistinguishable. And yellow peaches provide more of the color for which the drink was named.

     
    ABOUT PROSECCO

    Prosecco is the quintessential summer sparkler: light-bodied for hot weather drinking and sufficiently affordable—most bottles are $10 to $12—to enjoy regularly.

    Hailing from the Veneto region of northeast Italy, Prosecco is the name of the village where the Prosecco grape—now known as the Glera grape—originated. Other local white grape varieties, such as Bianchetta Trevigiana, can be included in the blend.

    The wine can be frizzante—just slightly fizzy, sometimes bottled with a regular cork to be opened with a corkscrew—or spumante—very fizzy, bottled with the mushroom-shap cork and wire cage* used on Champagne bottles.

    The wine is often labeled Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene, after its appellation.
     
    *Dom Perignon created an early version of wire caging on the cork. Manyt of bottles were lost during production because the cork on the bottle was unable to withstand the pressure of the effervescent Champagne. The added strength. In 1844, Adolphe Jacqueson made the cage (called a muselet in French) in the shape we know today. Here’s a further discussion.

      

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