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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: Blue & Purple Potatoes

The All Blue variety of blue potatoes.
Potatoes can be blue or purple, depending on
the soil in which they are grown. Photo
courtesy Burpee.com.

 

Naturally blue and purple foods are relatively rare.

Blue Foods. In the blue group are blackberries, blueberries, blue cheese, blue corn, Concord grapes, pale blue oyster mushrooms and edible flowers like bachelor’s buttons. And there are exotica like decaisnea, an Asian plant known as dead man’s fingers, with a blue pod and edible blue pulp.

Purple Foods. In the purple group: black currants; black rice; eggplant; elderberries; figs; red cabbage; purple artichokes, asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower, grapes “green” beams, and kohlrabi; plums; prunes; raisins; and some microgreens.

But our favorite in the blue and purple group are blue and purple potatoes and yams, which have both blue/purple flesh and skin. More flavorful than many starchy white potatoes, they tend to have a slight earthy and nutty flavor. Look for them in specialty produce markets or better supermarkets.

The blue or purple color comes from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that create red, blue and purple colors, depending on the pH of the soil and other growing factors.

 

There are numerous varieties with commercial names such as All Blue, Congo, Lion’s Paw, Purple Peruvian, Purple Viking, Purple Majesty and Vitilette. Specialty Produce magazine notes that there are 700 purple varieties in Peru, the birthplace of the potato.

They are generally harvested young, which is why they tend to be smaller and rounder. Leave them in the ground and they’ll grow larger and oblong.

According to Web MD, they’re a heart healthy vegetable, helping to lower blood pressure. What better reason to go out and buy some!

 

A Versatile Potato

Blue and purple potatoes have a medium-starchy texture. They keep their shape when baked but also mash and blend easily—for example, into potato soup, shown in the photo at right.

The pop of color is a delight in potato salads and a surprise in dishes like blue/purple potato soup.

Make fun dishes like purple potato chips or potato latkes. Mix purple potatoes with orange-fleshed squash. Try a purple potato pizza with smoked salmon and salmon roe, or with caramelized onions and rosemary.

For Easter, how about this purple potato soup from Family Spice? Here’s the recipe.

Purple mashed potatoes are also stunning on the table. If your tradition is roast lamb with rosemary potatoes, make those potatoes purple—or a mix of purple and white.

 

purple-potato-soup-familyspice-230

Purple potato soup: a treat for Easter dinner—or anytime. Photo © Family Spice.

 

Think of how you’d use blue or purple potatoes and let us know.

One suggestion you shouldn’t pass up: red, white and blue potato salad for Independence Day!

  

Comments

TIP OF THE DAY: Nogent Knives

nogent-serrated-w-bread-230sq

If you use your serrated “bread knife” to slice
much more than bread, check out the
Nogent line of knives, where the other knife
styles are microserrated. Photo courtesy
Nogent.

 

Some people use their serrated knives, often called “bread knives,” for slicing bread.

Other people have discovered that, beyond bread, a serrated blade cuts tomatoes, meat and other foods better than the chef’s knife, utility knife or other choice from the cutlery set.

We’re one of those “other people.” We used our bread knife for much more than bread.

And then we discovered Nogent, a French cutlery manufacturer founded in 1923.

The bread knife (photo at left) has a familiar serrated edge; but all of the other knives are micro-serrated.

Almost invisible to the naked eye, these precision edges comprise 100 micro-serrations per inch and are terrific for anything—chopping, dicing, mincing and slicing. We can slice a tomato thinner with our Nogent chef’s knife than with any other knife we own.

 

We only have one Nogent knife—a gift received at a trade show. But we use it almost exclusively, ignoring the fine cutlery we own for many times the price.

The knives never have to be sharpened! We’ve been using our knife for three or more years, and it’s as sharp as ever.

The blades are handcrafted of molybdenum, a compound that is used in high-strength carbide steel and carbon stainless steel.

The handles are molded polymer of an design. The polymer feels good in the hand, as does the ergonomic grip.

 

If there’s anything to mar perfection, it’s that the handles are plastic and “authentic hornbeam wood” that looks like plastic.

Our chef’s knife is two-toned ecru and what looks like faux wood but is actually real (see photo above). To us it looks very dated, like those beige and faux wood station wagons from the Eisenhower era.

But, Nogent has since moved to modern, if nondescript, black polypropylene handles, among other choices. They’re a much better look.

 

knives-tomatoes-230

You can still find some of wood handles, but the new handles are a preferable “basic black.” Photo courtesy Nogent.

 

WHERE TO FIND NOGENT

Nogent makes a complete range of cutlery, from peelers and paring knives to boning and carving knives. The challenge is to find them!

We found the chef’s knife on Amazon.com for $58.99.

The utility knife is $25.74.

The paring knife is $15.20; we also spotted the boning knife, bread knife, carving knife, steak knife, peelers and other pieces of the line.

The prices vary based on the line, which seems to be differentiated by handle material.

Looking for a gift for someone who likes to cook—or is starting to learn? One or more Nogent knives will make cooking so much more pleasurable.

Just as important, treat yourself to the chef’s knife. Then, book a vacation to France, and bring home knives instead of less useful souvenirs.

  

Comments

FOOD FUN: Peeps Dunkin’ Donuts

dunkin-Peeps-donut-horiz-230sq

Peeps donuts, new this year. Photo courtesy
Dunkin’ Donuts.

 

Why did it take so long, we wondered, as we read the press release about Dunkin’ Donuts’ new Easter donut topped with a real Peeps marshmallow chick.

The yeast donut, shaped like a flower, is available in two flavors: strawberry flavored icing with pastel green icing drizzle, or pastel green icing with strawberry flavored icing drizzle.

The Peeps that top the donuts are slightly smaller than the normal Peeps chicks.

Gather ye donuts while ye may: They’re available at participating Dunkin’ Donuts locations nationwide for a limited time only.

Worldwide, Dunkin’ Donuts sells 2.5 billion donuts and annually. In the U.S., Dunkin’ Donuts offers more than 70 varieties of donuts. Favorite flavors include Boston Kreme, Glazed and Chocolate Frosted.

 

Find the store nearest to you at DunkinDonuts.com.

  

Comments

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Gakwiyo Provisions Jams & Jellies

Gakwiyo means “good food” in the Cayuga Indian language. A few years ago the Cayuga Nation, headquartered in Seneca Falls, New York, began an initiative to can and preserve the fruits and vegetables that are grown on its ancestral lands.

Patti Costello, manager of the initiative, explains that her goal was to make popular foods healthier. “There are approximately 500 members of the Cayuga Nation across the United States,” she notes, “and quite a few of them have problems with weight, diabetes and other heath issues.”

Plus, members of the Nation “also love getting products that have been grown on their ancestral lands!”

While they’re not reduced-calorie products per se, the ingredients are excellent. We tasted the samples that Patty sent, and particularly love the conserves, jams and jellies. Be sure to try the “sweet heat”—jams and jellies made with jalapeños.

We’ve already laid in a supply for Mother’s Day party favors.

The products include:

  • Conserves
  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Pickled Vegetables & Fruit
  • Salsas & Sauces
  • Jams
  •  

    strawberry-jalapeno-jar-230s

    Fruit and jalapeños combine to make exciting jams and jellies. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Everything we tried was delicious; the Green Tomato Raspberry Jam, an old-fashioned standard that is hard to find these days, is a knockout. We were so sad when the last drop was gone; but we can say the same about the Blueberry Rhubarb Jam, Strawberry Jalapeño Jam, and everything else we tried in the jam-jelly group.

    You can see the full line at GakwiyoProvisions.com.

     

    habanero-gold-bread-2-230

    It’s delicious on everything from bread to ice
    cream. Here, Habanero Gold Jelly. Photo by
    Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    SERVING SUGGESTIONS

    If you need guidance on how to use “hot” jams and jellies, here’s how we enjoy them:

    1. Breads & Crackers. Use them on anything and everything: from toast and bagels to biscuits and muffins to flatbreads and crackers. Hot pairs well with dairy; the jams are terrific with cream cheese.

    2. Breakfast Foods. Dab some on pancakes, waffles and French toast; use as a condiment with eggs or in an omelet; mix into a spicy fruit yogurt.

    3. Sandwiches. Replace your regular jam—including on peanut butter sandwiches.

    4. Hors D’Oeuvres. Top a block of cream cheese or a log of goat cheese and serve with crackers or sliced baguette; top a baked Brie (optional: sprinkle with sliced or chopped toasted almonds).

    5. Savory Sauce Or Marinade. Add to marinade or basting sauce for meats or fish; deglaze the pan by adding jam plus water, stock or wine to make a sweet-and-sizzling sauce.

     

    6. Meat Or Fish Condiments. The jams are a delicious accent to pretty much any grilled or roast meat, poultry or fish. The first night we tasted them, we enjoyed them with a Certified Angus Beef strip steak, grilled outdoors over coals. Delicious!

    7. Dessert Sauce. Serve over ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt, cheesecake, or pound cake (with whipped cream).
     

    Gakwiyo makes some 35 different products, and have recently started to sell them online and at farmers markets and festivals, to a great response.

    Try some and you’ll see why!

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: April Fool—It Isn’t Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese

    We’re cooking up some food fun for tomorrow, April Fool’s Day. This year, it’s trompe-l’oeil food.

    Trompe-l’oeil (pronounced trump LOY), French for “deceive the eye”, is an art technique that creates the optical illusion that a piece of two-dimensional art exists in three dimensions. You may have seen some amazing sidewalk art that fools you into thinking you’re about to step into a hole, a pool, etc.

    We’re adapting the “deceive the eye” reference to “food trompe-l’oeil”—food that looks like one thing but is actually another. Serve this “grilled cheese and tomato soup” dish, which is actually orange pound cake and strawberry soup.

    Thanks to Zulka Morena sugar for the recipes and fun idea. If you’ve got a great palate or simply preferred less processed sugar, try it. The top-quality sugar is minimally processed and never refined. You can taste the difference!

     

    strawberry-soup-orange-pound-cake-zulkasugar-230

    April Fool’s food: Standing in for tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich are strawberry soup and pound cake. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar.

     

    RECIPE: ORANGE POUND CAKE

    Ingredients

    For The Pound Cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  •  
    For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract or juice
  • 2-5 drops natural orange food color
  •  

    zulka-morena-cane-sugar-2-230

    Zulka makes less processed, better tasting
    sugar. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a standard loaf pan.

    2. CREAM together in a medium bowl the butter, sugar and orange zest until fluffy. Add the eggs in 3 parts, combining well after each addition. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture until just combined. Add the sour cream and orange juice and mix well.

    3. POUR into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top, and bake for 1 hour or longer, until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean. If the top starts to brown too much before the cake is done, tent with a piece of foil.

    4. REMOVE from oven; cool in pan for 10 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

    5. MIX the frosting ingredients together until well combined. Add more food color as needed to reach desired color.

    6. ASSEMBLE: Slice the pound cake into 1/2 inch slices. Spread a small amount of butter on one side and grill on a griddle or skillet until toasted looking, being careful not to burn. Let cool completely. Repeat with remaining slices. Once all are cool, cut them each in half to make the two halves of each “sandwich.” Spread about a tablespoon of frosting on a non-toasted side of the cake, spreading some to the edges to make it look like melted cheese, and then top with the other half. Repeat with remaining slices.

     

    RECIPE: CHILLED STRAWBERRY SOUP

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 2 pounds strawberries, stems removed and hulled
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice
  • 1-1/2 cups plain or vanilla yogurt
  • Optional: yellow food color
  • Optional garnishes: 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream, fresh basil leaves
  •  
    Preparation

    1. DICE the strawberries, sprinkle the sugar over the top and let sit for 15 minutes. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Let chill completely. If you want the color to be more orange, like tomato soup, add a few drops of yellow food color.

    2. DIVIDE among 6 bowls. Drizzle a little heavy cream over the top and garnish with basil leaves.

    APRIL FOOL’S DAY HISTORY

    The origin of April Fools’ Day, sometimes called All Fools’ Day, is obscure. The most accepted explanation traces it to 16th century France.

    Until 1564, the Julian calendar, which observed the beginning of the New Year in April, was in use. According to The Oxford Companion to the Year, King Charles IX then declared that France would begin using the Gregorian calendar, which shifted New Year’s Day to January 1st.

    Some people continued to use the Julian Calendar, and were mocked as fools. They were invited to bogus parties, sent on a fool’s errand (looking for things that don’t exist) and other pranks.

    The French call April 1st Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is discovered.

    What a fish has to do with April Fool’s Day is not clear. But in the name of a kinder, gentler world, we propose eliminating this holiday. (Source: Wikipedia)

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Frisée Salad With Lardons (Salade Frisée Aux Lardons)

    One of our favorite salad greens, not served often enough in the U.S., is frisée (free-ZAY), curly endive that’s a member of the chicory family. In France, it is formally known as chicorée frisée. (See the different types of endive.)

    There are many ways to serve a salade frisée, but a universal favorite is frisée aux lardons, Lyonnaise-style frisée salad.

    This salad tops the frisée with a poached egg and lardons—crisp, browned chunks of pork belly—and a sherry vinaigrette. When you cut into it, the runny egg yolk gives the salad a wonderful, silky coat.

    Another favorite variation includes crumbled Roquefort cheese or goat cheese with a fan-sliced pear and a few toasted walnut halves. It’s a great flavor layering of bitter from the frisée, salty and smoky from the lardons, sweet from the fruit and tangy vinaigrette.

    You can serve salade frisée as a light lunch with crusty rustic bread, as a first course, or with soup for a light dinner.

     

    frisee-burrata-ilmulinoNY-FB-230

    An Italian touch: burrata cheese. Photo
    courtesy Il Mulino Restaurant | NYC.

     

    GETTING CREATIVE WITH FRISÉE

    You can create your own signature frisée salad by adding some of these mix-and-match ingredients:

    Fruits, Nuts, Vegetables

  • Apple or pear, red skinned, fan-sliced
  • Arugula or watercress
  • Avocado (pair it with grapefruit)
  • Citrus: grapefruit, orange, blood orange or mandarin
  • Dried fruit: cherries, cranberries, currants
  • Figs (combine with prosciutto)
  • Fresh herbs: chives, tarragon, thyme, parsley
  • Nuts, toasted: pecans, pistachios, walnuts
  • Red accent: diced red pepper, tomato or watermelon; halved grape tomatoes; pomegrante arils
  •  

    frisee-salad-michaelminaFB-230

    Chef Michael Mina varies the frisée salad by
    substituting a Scotch egg for the traditional
    poached egg. Photo courtesy Michael Mina.

     

    Proteins

  • Bacon, pork belly lardons, pancetta, prosciutto, slab bacon lardons
  • Cheese: burrata, fried cheese (recipe), goat cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Roquefort or other blue cheese
  • Chicken or duck breast, sliced
  • Cracklings & sautéed liver: chicken or duck
  • Egg, poached (hen or quail)
  • Fish or seafood: crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp
  •  
    You can also add a touch of the sea with this side of white anchovy bruschetta.
     
    Dressings

    You can use a classic vinaigrette or a Dijon vinaigrette, but consider these special variations:

  • Bacon vinaigrette (recipe)
  • Sherry or red wine vinaigrette with olive oil
  • Truffle vinaigrette, with truffle oil
  • Walnut vinaigrette, with walnut oil
  •  

    For another special touch, warm the vinaigrette in the microwave right before dressing the salad.

    WHAT IS FRISÉE

    Frisée is a salad green with distinctive pale, very narrow, curly leaves that grow in a bush-like cluster and are feathery in appearance. The name means “curly.”

    Frisée is often included in mesclun and other salad mixes. It is extremely labor-intensive to grow, and therefore one of the costliest salad ingredients.

    For that reason, it isn’t a conventional supermarket item, but can be found at upscale markets and purveyors of fine produce.

    Frisée has a distinctive flavor and a delightful bitterness—less bitter than its cousins endive and radicchio. Its exotic feathery appearance has great eye appeal. Tips for using it:

  • As with many salad greens, tear it rather cut it with a knife, or the edges may brown. Tear it shortly before use.
  • The tough, external leaves are best used as a plate garnish or fed to the gerbil.
  • Dress the salad right before bringing it to the table, so that it doesn’t discolor or become waterlogged.
  •  
    The chicory genus is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, especially folate and vitamins A and K.
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: The Difference Between Kefir & Buttermilk

    “Kefir tastes like buttermilk,” writes a reader. “What’s the difference?

    Both are cultured beverages—meaning that probiotic bacteria cultures are added to ferment fresh milk. But the “recipes” differ significantly. For starters, kefir may contain a dozen or more different bacterial strains and yeast cultures; buttermilk typically contains only one probiotic strain: lactic acid bacteria.

    Kefir (kuh-FEAR, not KEE-fur) is fermented from whole milk using special kefir grains (more about them in a minute). Buttermilk, more formally called cultured buttermilk, is made by fermenting skim milk with lactic acid bacteria, Streptococcus lactis.

    The probiotics enable both beverages to be digested more easily than milk. Both beverages have a yogurt-like tang.

    Modern kefir is made in the original (plain) plus fruit flavors, to capitalize on the popularity of yogurt, and some people think that kefir is “drinkable yogurt.” But the kefir grains and a different fermentation process make it a different recipe from yogurt.

    Both can be drunk straight and used instead of milk or buttermilk in cooking and baking. Some popular uses:

  • To tenderize meat
  • As a leavening agent
  • To make ice cream
  • In smoothies and shakes
  • On cereal
  • As a sourdough starter
  • In salad dressings and sauces
  •  

    buttermilk-cartons-230

    Buttermilk, a staple in great-grandma’s kitchen. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     

    Kefir and buttermilk have almost the same number of calories. An eight-ounce serving of kefir has 162 calories, while buttermilk has 150 calories.

     

    evolve-flavors-emilychang-230

    Kefir is available in flavors that make it
    resemble “drinkable yogurt.” Photo by Emily
    Chang | THE NIBBLE.

     

    MAKING KEFIR & BUTTERMILK

    Cultured buttermilk. Before universal pasteurization, butter was made by letting whole milk stand to allow the cream to separate, rising to the surface; the cream would be skimmed off, leaving “skim milk” below. Natural fermentation would occur, souring the milk slightly.

    Today, nonfat (skim) milk is acidified with lactic acid bacteria, which add tartness and cause the formation of more protein. This is why buttermilk is thicker than ordinary milk, and why modern buttermilk, made with added cultures, is called cultured buttermilk.

    Kefir. Kefir is made with kefir grains—colonies of bacteria, yeast, proteins and sugars that resemble tiny buds of cauliflower—that ferment the milk. These granules of active cultures are strained from the fermented milk before it is bottled. Here’s more on how kefir is made, and a photo of the grains.

    Homemade kefir continues to ferment as it ages. It’s a bit effervescent (bubbly) from the fermentation, where the cultures consume the sugars in the milk and release carbon dioxide. Commercial kefir cuts back on the effervescence.

    You can make both kefir and buttermilk at home; but as with many foods, it’s much more convenient to simply buy a bottle or carton. If you want to try your hand at it, here’s a resource.

     

    HEALTH BENEFITS

    Drinking buttermilk and kefir can be beneficial to one’s health. The bacteria aid in the digestion of food, and consistent consumption can help to resolve certain intestinal conditions.

    Some sources claim that the regular intake of either drink can reduce the risk of colon cancer.

    But if you like yogurt in general, and haven’t enjoyed a glass of buttermilk or kefir, pick up one of each and taste them side by side.

    And if you’re not going to drink all of it or whip up some smoothies, definitely bake or cook with it.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Pillow Pasta

    Butternut-Squash-Ravioli-pom-wonderful-230

    Butternut squash ravioli. Photo courtesy Pom
    Wonderful. Here’s the recipe.

     

    When studying culinary history, you learn lots of fun food facts. For example, in the history of pasta, Marco Polo may have brought pasta back from China—but it wasn’t spaghetti or other “long cut” pasta, and it wasn’t “short cut” pasta like farfalle (bowties) or penne.

    Credit for the spread of boiled pasta in the West is given to Arabs traders who packed dried spaghetti-type pasta on long journeys over the famed “Silk Road” to China. It was easy to reconstitute into a hot meal along desolate trails. They brought it to Sicily during the Arab invasions of the 8th century and planted the seeds of an Italian culinary breakthrough.

    There are records of pasta in Italy before Marco Polo returned from the Far East (he set out in 1271 and returned in 1295). In 1279, in his last will and testament, a Genoan soldier named Ponzio Baestone bequeathed “bariscella peina de macarone,” a small basket of macaroni.

    So what part did Marco Polo play? The record is so scant, we’ll never know; but it is conjectured that he brought back “pillow pasta”—boiled dumplings that evolved into agnolotti and ravioli.

     
    Polo returned from the Far East at the very end of the 13th century. The earliest mention of ravioli appears in the writings of Francesco di Marco, a merchant of Prato in the 14th century, and other 14th century mentions follow. (Source: Wikipedia)

    Here’s a brief history of pasta.

    TYPES OF PILLOW PASTA

    Pillow pasta is stuffed pasta, but not all stuffed pasta is pillow pasta. The other sub-category includes the large tubes that are stuffed and baked, like manicotti. (Other tube pasta, such as penne, rigatoni and ziti, are too small to be stuffed but are covered with heavier sauces, which are meant to catch in the hollows of the tubes.)

    Pillow pasta comprises fresh pasta sheets stuffed with a filling. The filling is placed on the flat sheet of pasta, another sheet is placed on top, the shapes are cut and the edges are sealed.

  • The pasta can be stuffed with almost any kind of filling, either single or combinations of different meats, cheeses, vegetables, seafood and herbs.
  • They can be sauced, tossed with butter or olive oil, or added plain to soups.
  •  
    How many of these pillow pastas have you had?

     

    Agnolotti: Small stuffed pasta in the shape of a half moon, similar to mezzalune and pierogi. The term is Italian for “priests’ caps.” Photo.

    Cannelloni: Rectangular sheets of pasta dough that are filled and rolled into tube shapes. The name is Italian for “large reeds.” They can easily be confused with manicotti, which are pre-formed tubes that are stuffed (the word comes from the Italian word manica, sleeve).

    Mezzalune: Literally “half moons,” a crescent-shaped stuffed pasta.

    Ravioli: The original “pillow pasta” can be oval, rectangular, round, square, sunflower-shaped (called girasole) and triangular (called pansotti). There are also specialty shapes, from fish to hearts. The name is a diminutive of rava, little turnip, which may or may not have been an early stuffing.

    Raviolini: Miniature ravioli. They can be served as a pasta dish, hors d’oeuvres or put into soup, like won tons.

    Ravioloni: Very large ravioli. They can be as large as three-inch circles and four inch squares or rectangles. In this photo, you can see that the piece at the right is almost as long as the fork.

     

    sauce-ravioli-2-230

    Giovanni Rana’s tasty ravioli and sauces. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     
    Sacchette: Sacks, or “beggar’s purses.” (More)

    Tortellini: Thin strips of raw filled pasta pinched to form a navel-like shape. A popular dish with sauce, it is also served in soups, as in the classic dish, tortellini in brodo. We serve them as cocktail party appetizers with a dip. More.
     
    GIOVANNI RANA PASTA

    We recently celebrated March 20th, National Ravioli Day by pigging out on a huge supply of Giovanni Rana pasta, along with another fresh pasta brand.

    Hands down, Giovanni Rana was the winner. The venerable Italian artisan producer—who now makes most of the products for the U.S. market here—uses ingredients that are top-knotch; you can taste the difference. We were sent four of the seven varieties ravioli: Artichoke, Cheese “Delicato,” Cheese “Forte” and Spinaci e Ricotta, plus four sauces.

    The other flavors including Caprese (basil and mozzarella), Chicken Rosemary and Mushroom. We’ll be seeking them out. (The company also makes tortellini, long cut pasta and gnocchi.)

    The ravioli, sold fresh in bags, cook up in two minutes—it takes longer to heat the sauce! The sauces are very dense; a little goes a long way.

    Ravioli Vs. Tortellini: A Revelation

    After tasting the prosciutto tortellini at the same time as the ravioli, we’ll probably never buy tortellini again.

    With all due respect to this popular dish and the quality of Giovanni Rana’s product, we had a revelation: It’s too much pasta and not enough filling. Since one eats pillow pasta for the filling, there’s too little of it in tortellini to deliver on expectations.

    Check out all of the delicious pastas at GiovanniRana.com.

    If you’re in New York City, head to Chelsea Market, where Giovanni Rana has a restaurant (cucina) and fresh pasta shop (pastificio).

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: 5 Ways To Separate Eggs

    egg-separator-oxo-bowl-230

    A conventional egg separator (strainer).
    Photo courtesy Oxo.

     

    Everyone has a technique to separate eggs. We’ve tried five:

    1. Hand Method. Crack the egg and pour it into the palm of your hand; let the whites drain through your fingers (this was probably the original technique). It’s a great technique to know if you can’t find the egg separator! If you don’t like the idea of using your hands, you can use a slotted spoon; but you’ll probably need an assistant to hold the spoon.

    2. Shell Transfer Method. You’ve seen chefs do this: cracking the egg, separating the shell and pouring the yolk back and forth between the halves as the whites drain into a bowl. It’s considered the “professional” way; with practice, anyone can do it. Here’s a video.

    3. Funnel Method. Stand a large funnel up in a cup and crack the egg. The white will slip through.

    4. Egg Separator Method. This is the one we use, relying on a gadget that allows the white to easily strain through into a bowl. This one from OXO can also clip to the rim of a mixing bowl. Here’s a video.

     

    5. Plastic Bottle Method. A video circulating the Internet in fun engendered today’s tip. Squeeze some of the air from a clean plastic water bottle or soft drink bottle. Crack the egg in a bowl and, squeezing the bottle slightly, place mouth of the bottle on top of the yolk. Slowly release your grip; the air pressure will push the yolk into the bottle. You can also buy small, attractive yolk extractor (photo at right) that does the same thing.

    EGG SEPARATING TIPS

    Buying

  • Size. Buy large, as opposed to extra-large or jumbo, eggs. The smaller the egg, the thicker the shell, the less likely you are to get shell fragments in the separated egg.
  • Freshness. Fresh eggs separate more easily. The younger the egg, the tighter the yolk. The older the egg, the thicker and more gluey the white. Fresher eggs have stronger proteins, which are needed if you’re making meringues, soufflés or other recipes that require stiffly-beaten egg whites.
  •  

    egg-separator-niceshop-230

    The newest egg separating device: a suction cup. Photo courtesy Niceshop.

     
    Using The Eggs

  • Chill first. The yolk is less likely to break when it’s cold. If you need the whites or yolks at room temperature, just let them sit after separating.
  • Freeze leftovers.You can freeze any unused whites or yolks. Freeze them separated in small containers, labeled with how many whites or yolks are stored.
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    PRODUCT: Crunchmaster Popped Edamame Chips

    bag-bowl-230

    Chips for wasabi lovers. Photo by Elvira
    Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    We love Crunchmaster: The multigrain crackers were a Top Pick Of The Week. They can be used for anything from snacking to garnishing to making a savory crust.

    Crunchmaster crackers are Japanese-inspired, from the rice used to make them to usuyaki, the art of handcrafting, aging and baking rice crackers on open grills. The American versions are made in Illinois and Nevada from California rice.

    Now, in an even more East-meets-West flavor profile, the company has launched Popped Edamame Chips, rice flour combined with edamame (see below) and seasonings. There are two flavors:

  • Wasabi Soy
  • Sea Salt
  •  
    The chips are light in texture and very crunchy. Both are very tasty, but we love wasabi so Wasabi Soy is a slam dunk.

    Ready to try them? The store locator does not come up in the Firefox (Macintosh) browser, but we were able to access it via Safari.

     
    There’s also an online store and a $1 coupon.

    Rice is a gluten-free grain and the line is certified gluten free.

     

    WHAT ARE EDAMAME?

    Edamame, pronounced eh-dah-MAH-may, are baby soybeans, boiled in salted water and served whole as a snack or appetizer. They can be further flavored with rice wine, Szechuan pepper, nanami togarashi or Chinese Five Spice.

    The name is Japanese for “twig bean” (eda = twig” + mame = bean), referring to young soybeans cropped with their twig (i.e., on the stem). You can find them served this way in Japan, but edamame are an imported product. With the exception of a few ultra-premium Japanese restaurants that import them on the twig, you’ll see the “mame” but not the “eda.”

    The green soybeans in the pod are picked prior to ripening (when they turn into the familiar beige soybean color).

     

    edamame-burpee-230

    Edamame, baby soybeans. Photo courtesy Burpee.

     

    A popular snack, the boiled soybeans are eaten by pushing them directly from the pods into your mouth; the shell is not eaten. Frozen edamame are available in the pod or shelled.

    Edamame have become a popular addition to recipes as well. Add them to salads, stir-frys, casseroles, soups and almost any savory food. Make a healthy dip. Edamame are attractive garnishes on any food, from baked and mashed potatoes to steaks and chops. They can be served hot, cold or at room temperature.

    And now, turn them into snack chips!

    Edamame are perhaps the healthiest vegetable you can serve. Check out the health benefits of edamame.

      

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