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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s Chocolate Cake Day

Chocolate Cake
Satisfy your chocolate yearnings with this cake, made from the Triple Chocolate Cake Mix and Milk Chocolate Frosting from The King’s Cupboard.
  Today is Chocolate Cake Day. There are many who opine that every day should be Chocolate Cake Day. Some days, we’re with them. Then we remember that there is too much of a good thing. And if every day were Chocolate Cake Day, when would we have lemon tart, pumpkin pie, apple crumble, etc.? So, you’ve got to watch what you wish for.

If you have a refined palate, you may have noticed that it’s not easy to go out and buy a great chocolate cake. We experience quite a bit of frustration when we bring home something that looks good—for which we have paid quite a handsome price—and the taste just isn’t there. It isn’t as if the bakery used (zut alors!) margarine instead of butter. The two biggest shortcomings are anemia in the chocolate department, and/or overly sweet, in both cake and frosting. You should never be able to taste the sugar in a recipe, any more than you should taste the salt.
So, aside from baking your own favorite recipes from scratch, what’s a time-pressed person to do to celebrate Chocolate Cake Day?

– Keep a few boxes of the most excellent chocolate cake mixes from King’s Cupboard on the shelf.

– Bake up some of the King’s Cupboard Molten Chocolate Cakes & Gourmet Chocolate Cake Mixes (lava cakes). The Molten Chocolate Cakes are the “volcano cakes” or “lava cakes” you always order at restaurants…and you can make them at home in nine minutes. The gourmet cake mixes include Triple Chocolate Cake Mix and White Chocolate Hazelnut Cake Mix, with Triple Chocolate Frosting and Milk Chocolate Frosting to match.

– Splurge on our favorite Empire Torte, a dense, flourless chocolate cake that we admit an addiction to.

– Make this Chocolate Macaroon Bundt Cake. If you love Mounds bars, this is your slice of heaven.

If you want to bake from scratch, try this Chocolate Cabernet Flavors Di ‘Vine’ Cake, the 2007 winner of Bundts Across America. You can try it with a fruitier Cabernet Sauvignon; but you might want to take a look at our Wine & Dessert Pairings chart. Our Wine Editor prefers Late Harvest Zinfandel, Lustau Muscat Sherry “Emlin,” Recioto Amarone or Vintage Port with his chocolate cake.

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Truffle Paste

To enjoy some heavenly truffle flavor without breaking the bank, black or white truffle paste can be spread like a condiment on canapés, roasted meat and poultry. Stir a spoonful into risottos and sauces—it works wonders. We toss angel hair pasta with butter and truffle paste (you can use truffle butter to achieve the same effect). The tube or jar has a shelf life of a year and lasts about a week once opened. It’s a wonderful little luxury and a great birthday gift for your favorite foodie. If there’s any left, spread it onto your morning toast.
Try a tube. A tiny tube adds a lot of flavor.

– Read about our favorite, addictive truffle butter.

– Learn more about truffles in our exciting Truffle Glossary.

– Go truffle crazy with this wonderful truffled caviar (made with truffle oil).

  Perigord and Alba Truffles
The most precious of the fungus among us: The black Périgord truffle and the white Alba truffle. Read more about them in our Truffle Glossary.
Any or all make sexy Valentine’s Day dishes. Add some truffle cheese to the cheese plate, while you’re at it.

What about truffle oil? Caveat emptor. One day, we hope to have enough money to buy them all and do a big review in THE NIBBLE. Here’s a quick introduction. There are two types of truffle oil. The better kind is produced by infusing a high-quality oil, such as extra virgin olive oil, with the flavor from truffles. Truffle bits are soaked in the oil until it absorbs flavor and aroma. However, the vast majority of truffle oil is a chemical infusion that approximates the aroma and flavor of truffles. Some companies do it better than others. The oil can be used to add truffle flavor to a variety of foods; however, it must be sprayed or dribbled on, since heating the oil causes the flavor and aroma to dissipate. Similarly, once the bottle is opened, the flavor and oil will fade quickly. So only buy small bottles and don’t save the oil for special occasions once you open it—go truffle crazy and spray it on everything from salads to toast. Truffle oil on vegetables is terrific, and truffled mashed potatoes, celestial (substitute the oil for some of the butter).

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ON OUR RADAR: Interesting Nibbles From The Past Week

Lunch ToteSave money by bringing your lunch to work. Bring it in style with this Built NY Lunch Tote.
  The Urban Vegan lists 25 money-saving kitchen tips for pure vegans. The article starts with the premise that veganism doesn’t have to be expensive, but you don’t have to be vegan to find the tips useful. Some will sound familiar: Pack your own lunch—you can save at least $2,000 after-tax dollars a year. Invest $19.99 in the chic, insulated tote at the left, and you are now cool instead of a brown-bagger. (Shown: The Built NY Lunch Tote, available in black, orange or silver, keeps food and drink separated. Made from the same material as a diver’s wetsuit, it insulates for up to 4 hours with no additional refrigeration necessary.) Some tips are earth-friendly (we do all of them at THE NIBBLE, including using cloth napkins instead of paper napkins and rinsing/reusing Ziplock-type bags). It’s a good list to review. One of our favorites: Borrow rather than buy cookbooks.
 

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Pistachio Day

We’re the last to make light of Fundamentalist Islam, but we do have better pistachios for it.

Prior to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, there was no pistachio industry in the U.S. A series of political events ensued, beginning with the fundamentalist Islamic revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini that ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

It was followed by the Iran Hostage Crisis, in which the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed and 66 hostages were taken.

This led to a U.S. trade embargo against Iran. Since a majority of the pistachios eaten by Americans were imported from Iran, California farmers saw the opportunity to plant the crop.

A better pistachio resulted, since the U.S. has the benefit of more modern farming methods. When there are delays in processing the harvested nuts, the white shells begin to stain and blemish, which is why pistachios from the Middle East were often dyed a cover-up red*.

So look for California pistachios and enjoy your fill: They’re a good-for-you nut (pistachio nutrition).

Check out the history of pistachios below; then go nuts and celebrate.

 

Pistachio Nuts
Perfect pistachios from
Santa Barbara Pistachio Company.

 
Our favorite pistachios come from Santa Barbara Pistachio Company. They farm organic pistachios, and sell salted and unsalted pistachios plus wonderful flavors (Crushed Garlic, Hickory Smoked, Red Hot Habañero Lemon Zing and more) plus gift assortments in case your valentine doesn’t like chocolate.

February 26th is National Pistachio Day.
 
 
PISTACHIO HISTORY

Pistachio trees are native to the Middle East, and have been cultivated there for thousands of years. They are mentioned in the Old Testament (Genesis 43:11) as one of the “best products of the land,” along with balm, honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, and almonds.

Pistachios have always been considered a delicacy in the region. Legend says that pistachios were a favorite of the Queen of Sheba, who demanded all of the crops harvested in her land (present-day Yemen) for herself and her court.

Pistachios reached Greece through Alexander the Great (334-323 B.C.E.). Later, under the rule of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (14-37 C.E.), the nut was introduced into Italy and Spain.

During the Persia Empire (present-day Iran), ownership of pistachio groves and trading in pistachios meant high status and riches.

Cultivation expanded with the spread of Islam and the resulting Arab expansion in the Middle Ages. The Venetian Republic had close trade ties with Syria, one of the main cultivation areas for the pistachio. The nuts reached northern and central Italy via the sea trade routes.

North of the Alps, the pistachio remained unknown for a long time. Upon reaching central Europe via Italian sales routes, over the Alpine passes, it was used primarily as an expensive addition to baked goods.

Only after World War II did pistachios become affordable to enjoy as a popular snack [source].

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*Later, pistachios were dyed red to stand out in vending machines. Today, some pistachios are still dyed red for marketing purposes.

 

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Onion Magic

OnionDon’t weep over me: Get goggles!   If your eyes water when you chop onions, the best kitchen gadget is a pair of swimmer’s goggles. They keep the sulfur enzymes away from your eyes like magic! To remove the smell of onions (or garlic) from your hands, squeeze lemon juice on them (or if you’ve squeezed lemon juice for a recipe, rub the squeezed pulp) and then rub your hands against stainless steel—your sink, faucet, a serving spoon. The “kitchen chemistry” works. While swimmer’s goggles may not qualify as kitchen gadgets, you can see some of our favorite traditional (and not-so-traditional) gadgets in the Kitchenware Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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