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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.

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Carla Hall Petite Cookies

Most fans of “Top Chef” Chef love Carla Hall, a finalist on her season and a subsequent Top Chef All Star, winning the “Fan Favorite” award.

She went on to become a cohost on “The Chew” and to start Carla Hall Petite Cookies, an artisan cookie company that specializes in teeny cookies.

A brilliant idea for people who need just a bite, the cookies are either half-inch cubes or one-inch drop cookies, depending on the nature of the dough.

They’re meant to pair “boldly and beautifully,” according to Carla, with beer, wine, tea and coffee.

For home, entertaining and gifting, we’ve been charmed by these little cookies. Made in small batches, every step from mixing the dough to packaging is done by hand.

Of course, only the finest ingredients are used: European-style butter, unbleached sugar and flour, couverture chocolate, artisan cheeses, fresh nuts, premium spices and, says Carla of her most important ingredient: love.

Focusing on familiar flavors with a twist, choices include:

   

Harissa Spiced Nuts and Cookies

Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies, teeny bites of heaven. Carla Hall Petite Cookies.

 
Petite Cookies

  • Almond Ginger Cherry Shortbread
  • Black Forest Crinkle (our favorite, a cherry-chocolate delight)
  • Chocolate Hazelnut Praline
  • Mexican Chocolate Chip
  • Lemon Black Pepper Shortbread
  • Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate
  • Pecan Shortbread with Vanilla Salt
  •  
    There’s one savory option:

  • Cheddar Pecan
  •  
    There are also cakes and regular-size cookies (including the best Magic bar we’ve ever had):

  • Cakes: Apple Walnut Bread, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cinnamon Tea Cake, Lemon-Glazed Five Flavor Pound Cake, Salted Caramel Banana Bread
  • Cookies: Magic Bar, Oatmeal Cookie Sandwich, Triple Layer Cookie Bar
  •  

    gift-box-230

    A gift box for any cookie lover. Photo courtesy Carla Hall Petite Cookies.

     

    WHAT SHOULD YOU GET?

    Most definitely, the Sweet Collection Gift Box, which includes six of the seven varieties of sweet petites. It’s $25.00; there’s a smaller box with three varieties for $12.50.

    If you want to include a signed copy of Carla’s cookbook, Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World—you can add it to the Sweet Collection gift box for a total of $45.00.

    There are other gift options, other goodies, and of course, you can buy individual packages of whatever you like.

    Head to CarlaHall.com to get yours.

    Or, find a retailer near you.

     

    CARLA HALL TRIVIA

    Fans of Top Chef may remember that Carla spent several years working as a model on the runways of Paris, Milan and London. It was in Paris that she fell in love with the art of food.

    But what most people don’t know is that before heading to Europe, Carla spent two years as a CPA at Price Waterhouse.

    When she returned from Europe, she attended L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland where she completed her culinary training and began her career as a professional chef.

      

    Comments

    COCKTAIL: Coffee & Cream (& Tequila)

    Love coffee, tequila and heat? Here’s a cocktail called The Spicy Bee, from Patrón Spirits. It uses Patrón XO Cafe Dark, a rich coffee liqueur. If you want to use what you have, feel free to substitute.

    RECIPE: COFFEE & TEQUILA COCKTAIL

    Ingredient For 1 Drink

  • 1 ounce Patrón XO Cafe Dark
  • ½ ounce Mike’s Hot Honey*
  • ½ ounce heavy cream
  • Garnish: crushed red pepper
  •  
    *Mike’s Hot Honey infuses honey with hot chiles and a splash of vinegar. You can buy it or infuse your own. It’s delicious in/with barbecue sauces, biscuits, cheeses, fruits, glazes, salad dressing, in a cup of tea, even as an ice cream topping.

     

    patron-spicy-bee-230

    A Spicy Bee, for lovers of coffee, tequila and heat. Photo courtesy Patrón.

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the coffee liqueur and honey, shake, and strain into a chilled glass.

    2. SHAKE the heavy cream and layer on top of the cocktail.

    3. GARNISH with a dollop of crushed red pepper in the glass.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Use More Fresh Herbs

    asian-basil-siam-queen_bonnieplants-230-L

    Asian cooks add basil to summer rolls. Add
    them to your own wraps and sandwiches.
    Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants.

     

    The first week in May is National Herb Week, a time to focus on using more fresh herbs in your cooking.

    Fresh herbs offer tons of flavor and good nutrition with virtually no calories. The flavor they provide lets you cut back on salt. They can be used in any savory dish (and some sweet ones).

    So, why not use more fresh herbs?

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HERBS & SPICES

    The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences.

  • Herbs are the leaves of a plant (although stems may also be used). They grow in any climate warm enough to grow vegetables.
  • Spices are from the seeds, roots, fruit or bark, and typically used in dried form. Most originate in tropical or semi-tropical regions.
  •  
    It’s possible for one plant to contain both herb and spice. For example:

  • The coriander plant’s leaves are the herb cilantro, while coriander seeds are a spice in their own right.
  • Dill weed, an herb, and dill seed, a spice, come from the same plant.
  •  

    TIPS FOR COOKING WITH FRESH HERBS

  • Remove any twiggy, wiry or woody parts of the herb. Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, you can chop up soft stems. At any rate, don’t throw them away: They add deliciousness to soups and stews.
  • Avoid over-chopping herbs into teeny pieces. The diameter should measure between 1/8 and 1/4 inches.
  • Strip the leaves off of rosemary branches, but don’t throw the branches away. Freeze them for when you need a skewers. Cut the bottom at an angle to better skewer the food.
  • Plant some basic herbs; they grow well indoors and outdoors. For starters, plant basil, parsley, spearmint and English thyme. Avoid pre-planted pots that contain an assortment of herbs; their need for water varies.
  • Use flat-leaf (Italian) parsley for cooked dishes: It’s more strongly flavored than curly leaf parsley.
  • Add delicate herbs (basil, dill) to a hot recipe towards the end of cooking.
  •  
    Converting Dry Measures For Fresh Herbs

    In recipes, if dried herbs are specified, a larger quantity of fresh herbs is required. Here’s are the equivalents:

  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried herbs
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground dried herbs
  • 1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs
  •  

    EVERYDAY USES FOR FRESH HERBS

  • Breakfast: A must in omelets, frittatas and baked egg dishes.
  • Lunch: Add punch to grain salads, green salads and protein salads (egg, chicken, tuna, etc.). Place a few basil leaves in a sandwich or wrap. Garnish soups with fresh-snipped herbs.
  • Dinner: Add herbs to everything you cook! Just a few: Toss cooked pasta, rice and other grains with flat-leaf parsley. Add dill to roasted vegetables. Snip chives onto baked potatoes and vinaigrettes.
  • All Meals: Sprinkle or snip herbs as garnishes for just about everything. If your herbs blossom, use the blossoms as well.
  •  
    POPULAR HERB & FOOD PAIRINGS

  • Basil: pasta sauce, peas, pesto, tomatoes, zucchini
  • Chives: dips, potatoes, tomatoes
  • Cilantro: salsa, tomatoes, plus many Asian, Caribbean and Mexican dishes
  • Dill: carrots, cottage cheese, fish, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes
  • Mint: carrots, desserts, fruit salad, parsley, peas, tabouli, tea
  • Oregano: peppers, tomatoes
  •  

    chive-blossoms-moreguefile-230

    When herbs blossom, like these chive blossoms, don’t cut and toss them. They’re beautiful plate garnishes. Photo courtesy Morguefile.

  • Parsley: egg salad and other protein salads, potato salad and other vegetable salads, tabouli, sandwiches
  • Rosemary: chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes
  • Thyme: eggs, lima and other beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash, tomatoes
  •   

    Comments

    RECIPE: Coffee Shortbread Cookies

    coffee-shortbread-tasteofhome-230

    Coffee shortbread with a chocolate glaze to pair with a fine cup of java. Photo courtesy Taste Of Home.

     

    As a gift for your favorite coffee-loving moms, bake coffee-flavored shortbread. These are made even more special with a double chocolate drizzle.

    The recipe, from Taste of Home, is easy to make. Prep time is 15 minutes, bake time is 20 minutes per batch plus cooling.

    RECIPE: COFFEE SHORTBREAD COOKIES

    Ingredients For 60 Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white baking chips, melted (substitute chopped white chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted (substitute chopped semisweet chocolate)
  • 2 teaspoons shortening, divided
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 300°F. Cream the butter, sugars and coffee granules in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

    2. COMBINE the flour and salt in another bowl; gradually add to the creamed mixture.

    3. ROLL the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out the cookies with floured 2-inch to 3-inch cookie cutters.

    4. PLACE the cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 300°F for 20-22 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks to cool.

    5. MAKE the chocolate drizzles. In a microwave, melt the white chocolate with 1 teaspoon shortening; stir until smooth. Repeat with the semisweet chocolate and remaining shortening. Drizzle over the cookies.

    6. REFRIGERATE until set. Store the cookies between pieces of waxed paper in an airtight container.
     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Ice Cream Bar

    How about a make-your-own-sundae ice cream and/or sorbet bar for Mother’s Day?

    It’s easy to put together. The biggest challenge is how to keep the ice cream cold on a buffet table. We use a punch bowl filled with ice, and nestle pints into the ice.

    Use a hot plate to keep caramel and chocolate sauces warm.

    Then, make these decisions:

    SELECT THE ICE CREAM

    For a group of 8, we recommend four pints of ice cream and/or frozen yogurt. If your group includes people who avoid dairy, make one or two of them sorbet. Easy decisions:

  • Chocolate ice cream/yogurt
  • Vanilla ice cream/yogurt
  • Mango sorbet
  • Raspberry sorbet
  •    

    pretzel-sundae-smuckersFB-230

    The most fun dessert: make your own sundae. Photo courtesy Smucker’s.

     

    SELECT THE DRY TOPPINGS

    Easy decisions:

  • Candies: M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, toffee bits
  • Chocolate chips
  • Chopped nuts
  • Sliced strawberries
  •  
    For a more elaborate offering, consider brownie cubes, crushed almond nougat or peanut brittle, mini meringues and other favorites.

    Consider if your guests are the types who’d want maraschino cherries as the crown on the sundae. We prefer these Bahlsen Waffeletten, rolled waffle cookies dipped in milk or dark chocolate.

     

    ice-cream-party-bar-theinspiredroom.net-230

    The Inspired Room knows how to do it up right. They pre-pack the ice cream into hinged jars and keep them cold in a tub of ice. For neatness, the sauces go into syrup dispensers. Check out their article on the topic. Photo courtesy The Inspired Room.

     

    SAUCES

    Easy decisions:

  • Chocolate/fudge
  • Raspberry or strawberry sauce/purée (for the sorbet)
  • Salted caramel
  • Whipped cream
  •  
    SERVEWARE

    You may need to borrow some extra ice cream scoops, or use serving spoons.

    Use whatever dishes you have: bowls, mason jars, wine glasses or the easiest option, 9-ounce hard plastic party cups.

    Check out these hinged-lid storage jars. A set of 12 is $48, which is a reasonable investment if you’re planning on summer entertaining.
     
    Send us your ice cream party tips!

     

      

    Comments

    GIFT: Cake In A Jar

    When you can’t be there to bake a cake, send a cake in a jar. Jar’d Cake from one of our favorite bakers, Cake Chicago, offers four delicious varieties to send as a Mother’s Day gift, or give as party favors.

    Everything at Cake Chicago is made from scratch, including the raspberry conserve a nd salted caramel.

    Choose from:

  • White Buttermilk Cake with raspberry conserve and italian meringue buttercream
  • Chocolate fudge cake with salted caramel filling
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese filling (spiced carrot cake, no raisins or nuts)
  • Banana cake with fudge filling
  •  
    Tied with grossgrain ribbon, the jars are $7.00 each, with a 2 jar minimum.

     

    cake-in-a-jar-closed-chicagocake-230

    Moist, delicious Jar’d Cake. Photo courtesy Cake Chicago.

     

    Get yours at Cake-Chicago.com.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Mexican Parfait

    southwestern-parfait-FSTG-230

    A savory Mexican (or Tex-Mex) parfait. Photo and recipe courtesy Food Should Taste Good.

     

    This Southwestern Tomato and Yogurt Parfait is made in trendy glass canning jars, but you can use wine glasses, juice glasses or whatever you have.

    It’s easy to make the salsa, but if you’re pressed for time you can buy ready-made corn and bean salsa.

    Happy Cinco de Mayo!

     
    RECIPE: MEXICAN PARFAIT Parfait

    Ingredients
     
    For The Salsa

  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) fire roasted tomatoes (we used Muir Glen), drained, 2 tablespoons juice reserved, patted dry
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped, seeded jalapeño chile
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Optional garnish: cilantro sprig
  • For The Parfait

  • 1 quart plain Greek yogurt
  • Tortilla chips
  •  
    Plus

  • 8 pint-sized canning jars (substitute juice or wine glasses)
  •  

    Preparation

    1. MIX the salsa ingredients in medium bowl.

    2. SPOON into each of the jars 1/4 cup salsa, then 1/4 cup yogurt. Repeat with two more layers. Top with a layer of salsa

    3. GARNISH with a sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Grow Your Own Stevia

    Stevia is a sweet herb from South America, 20 to 30 times sweeter than sugar cane. Yet, it has no calories. It’s been a boon to many people who want a calorie-free sweetener but don’t want the chemically-derived aspartame (Equal), saccharine (Sweet ‘n Low) or sucralose (Splenda).

    (Check out the different sugar substitutes.)

    A wholesome alternative to processed sugar and chemically-derived sweeteners, Stevia is becoming more and more popular among health-conscious individuals.

    The plant Stevia rebaudiana has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní peoples of South America. For hundreds of years, it has been used in Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten teas and medicines, and to chew as a sweet treat.

    It came of notice to Europeans in 1899, when Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni, conducting research in Paraguay, first described the plant and the sweet taste in detail. He named the genus in honor of the Spanish botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Stevus (Pedro Jaime Esteve, 1500–1556).

       

    stevia_rebaudiana_wiki-230

    The sweet leaves of Stevia rebaudiana. Photo courtesy
    Wikimedia.

     

    Stevia is also known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf and sugarleaf. It is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), which includes:

  • Other food products, including artichokes, coffee substitutes, herbal teas, lettuce, sunflower seeds and cooking oil.
  • Flowers such as chrysanthemums, dahlias, daisies, marigolds and zinnias.
  •  

    stevia-sweetleaf-potted-burpee-230

    Grow your own pot of stevia. Photo courtesy Burpee.

     

    GROW YOUR OWN

    Stevia is an easy care plant that grows well indoors in a sunny window (and in the garden, of course), yielding small white blossoms in summer.

    You can dry and grind the leaves into a powdered sugar substitute. Or, do what the South Americans have been doing for generations: Pluck a leaf from the plant and drop it into your hot or cold beverage.

    You can also use it like a bay leaf to sweeten dishes as they cook.

    You can buy the seeds from Burpee.

    The plant reaches maturity, 12-20 inches, in 40-60 days.

    Or, you can buy plants that are already growing. Here’s one online source.

     

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Tahitian Vanilla

    The United States is the largest consumer of vanilla beans, using around 1,200 tons per year. Most of them are made into vanilla extract.

    Most of the real vanilla extract* used in the U.S. is Bourbon† vanilla, also called Madagascar vanilla.

    As a Mother’s Day gift for someone who loves to make desserts, how about one of the world’s finest vanillas?

    Everyone knows about Bourbon vanilla. It’s become standard in the U.S., available in bulk as well as quality brands.

    It comes from Madagascar and although vanilla extract contains some alcohol, Bourbon vanilla has nothing to do with the alcohol Bourbon.

    Rather, it’s named after the Bourbon rulers of France.
     
     
    *An astonishing 97% of all vanilla products are synthetic, made of paper by-products! Artificial vanilla has been around since the late 19th century. But, tempting as it is to save money, there’s nothing like the real thing
     
    †The term Bourbon applies to beans Madagascar and the neighboring Comoro, Réunion and Seychelles. There is no connection with the liquor produced in Kentucky in the United States. It is called Bourbon after the French House of Bourbon that ruled France from 1272 to 1830, ending with the French Revolution. The island now known as Réunion was named Île Bourbon in 1649 and renamed Réunion in 1793.

       

    tahitian-vanilla-bottle-NielsenMassey-230

    The most trusted name in vanilla. Nielsen-Massey sells beans and produces extract for Bourbon/Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian vanillas. Photo courtesy Nielsen-Massey.

     

    aust-tahiti-beans-230

    Tahitian vanilla beans. Got beans? Make your
    own vanilla extract
    . Photo by Claire Freierman
    | THE NIBBLE.

     

    THE FLAVOR OF DIFFERENT VANILLA BEANS

    Here are the differences from Nielsen-Massey, a family business that has been devoted to vanilla for three generations:

    Bourbon Or Madagascar Vanilla

    Character: sweet, creamy and mellow with velvety after-tones. The vanilla of choice with chocolate and cream.

    Use in: anything requiring vanilla. It’s the benchmark.
     
    Mexican Vanilla

    Character: sweet and creamy with a deep, spicy character. Often selected by chefs for an added level of finesse to chili, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, salsa and other spicy foods.

    Use in: cakes, frozen desserts, ginger snaps and other spiced cookies, hot chocolate.
     
    Tahitian Vanilla

    Character: fruity, anise-like flavor with floral notes. Use in cold or quickly-heated dishes; Tahitian vanilla’s delicate flavors don’t hold up well under extensive heating like baking.

     

    Use in: frozen and refrigerated desserts, fruit sauce, pastry creams, puddings and custards, shakes, smoothies.

     
    MORE ABOUT VANILLA

    Vanilla beans are also grown in Guatemala, Hawaii and the West Indies. Vanilla is a tropical plant, and can only grow 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

    Here’s everything you need to know about vanilla, including types of vanilla products, how to buy vanilla and the best vanilla extracts and beans.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Lobster Guacamole

    In the chips? Add lobster to your guacamole!

    This recipe is adapted from one sent to us by Dos Caminos restaurant in New York City.

    RECIPE: LOBSTER GUACAMOLE

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped white onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced jalapeño or serrano chilies (seeds and membranes removed for less heat)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 2 large ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
  • 1 small plum tomato, cored, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 pound whole lobster or 4 ounces lobster meat, steamed, cleaned and rough chopped
  • Tortilla chips
  •    

    lobster-guacamole-temazcalcantinaboston-230

    Fancy schmancy: lobster guacamole. Photo courtesy Temazcal Cantina | Boston.

     

    Garnishes

  • Optional garnish #1: Japanese pickled ginger (a.k.a. gari or shoga—here’s a recipe to make your own)
  • Optional garnish #2: Diced tomatoes, extra lobster meat
  •  

    mango-lime-bowl-cabochips-230

    Tortilla chips taste so much better when warmed in the oven before serving. Photo courtesy Cabo Chips.

     

    Preparation

    1. MASH 1 tablespoon of cilantro, 1 teaspoon onion, 1 teaspoon minced chile and the salt together in a medium size bowl, using the back of a spoon to mash against the bottom of the bowl.

    2. ADD the chopped lobster to the bowl. Add the avocados and gently mash them with a fork until chunky-smooth.

    3. FOLD in the remaining cilantro, onion and chile. Stir in the tomatoes and lime juice; taste to adjust the seasonings.

    4. GARNISH with the pickled ginger or extra cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortilla chips.
     
    TO WARM TORTILLA CHIPS

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper (optional, for easier clean-up).

    2. ADD the tortilla in a single even layer. Heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until the chips are warm.

     

      

    Comments

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