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THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods
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PRODUCT ALERT: Leprechaun Bombs For St. Patrick’s Day

You don’t need the luck of the Irish to enjoy Leprechaun Bombs from Cosmic Chocolate. You just have to read THE NIBBLE (or else, live in Oakland, California and wander into this boutique chocolate shop). Part of the shop’s “Cosmic Bomb” series, these bonbons are the bomb: beautifully hand-painted chocolate shells, dappled with edible glitter. The Leprechaun Bombs are filled with a ganache that is infused with Bailey’s mint liqueur, Irish whiskey and Green Chartreuse, an ancient herb liqueur of more than 130 medicinal and aromatic herbs, flowers and other plants (who can even name that many?). Taken from an old alchemical recipe for an “elixir of life,” it was first made in the 1600s by monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the Chartreuse Mountains of eastern France, intended as a medicine.   St. Patrick’s Day Chocolate
You don’t have to be Irish to deserve a set or two of Leprechaun Bombs from the Cosmic Chocolate Shop.
The recipe was enhanced and became popular as a beverage. It’s green in color, hence appropriate to the Leprechaun Bombs. A second Chartreuse liqueur, colored with saffron and milder and sweeter than the original, is called Yellow Chartreuse. The yellow color with the greenish tinge known as chartreuse takes its name from the Yellow Chartreuse liqueur. But back to the chocolate. You can purchase four bonbons for $8.00 in a transparent box, allowing the cosmic glow of the Emerald Isle to shine through (well, not really—but the candy looks great) at CosmicChocolateShop.com—and you can see the other Cosmic Bombs as well. We haven’t tasted the Leprechaun Bombs, but we’ve enjoyed every other Cosmic Bomb that has crossed our lips, so our money is on the Leprechauns. When you order, please tell the Cosmic Chocolate folks that it’s St. Paddy, not St. Patty (you’ll note that error in their website description). No one likes his name spelled wrong, not even the patron saint of Ireland. When your name gets spelled like a girl’s name, even a saint has his limits.
– See our other favorite St. Patrick’s Day chocolate, candy, cookies and more.

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TRENDS: Continued Growth For Craft Beer

Craft Beer
A trio of craft beers from New York State that “competed” in our Super Bowl beer tasting (New York versus New England).
  This Bud’s not for you, if you’re one of the millions of Americans with a finer palate for craft beer, represented by the bottles at the right—all of which are proudly brewed in our home state of New York. (Brooklyn Brewery, which has quite a few exciting brews—of which the lager shown is the everyday basic—is one of our favorites.) The craft beer market again grew by double digits in 2007, leading all other segments in the beer category. The Brewers Association reports that estimated sales by independent craft brewers were up 16% in dollars (12% percent in volume). While craft brewers’ share of the total beer category is just 5.9% of sales and 3.8% of volume, In 2007, the U.S. had 1,449 total breweries in operation, of which 1,406 comprise small, independent, and traditional craft brewers. The other 43 are industry giants— Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser, Miller), Molson Coors, Pabst (also owns Schlitz) and regional brewers like Ballantine of New Jersey, Rheingold of New York, Stroh of Michigan, Stroud of Pennsylvania and Narraganset of Rhode Island.
Since 2004, dollar sales by craft brewers have more than doubled: they’ve increased by 58%, according to the Brewers Association. This correlates with the trend of buying local products, plus a preference for higher-quality, more flavorful specialty foods and beers. While craft brew quaffers are very familiar with labels like Anchor Steam, Brooklyn Brewery, Goose Island, Harpoon and others carried by stores that can carry upwards of 100 craft brands, nearly 70% of craft breweries are brewpubs that make and sell most or all of their beer on-premises. Read more about beer in the Beer Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Mulled Wine Day

You’ve heard of mulled wine, you say, but you don’t really know what it is? You’re not alone. So we’ll take a moment on National Mulled Wine Day to give you some information to mull over, as well as recipes for mulled wine and its Scandinavian cousin, glögg (pronounced glugg—add Aquivit or vodka along with the brandy, plus almonds and raisins). For those who don’t drink alcohol (or for the kids), there’s also a recipe for mulled apple cider. The basics: Take a modest red wine and add water, brandy, spices and some sugar or honey. Simmer on the stove top (read the recipe) and serve in mugs. Glass mugs are preferable, since, as with any wine, one likes to enjoy the color of the beverage. But any mug will do. (If you’re going to buy glass mugs, we love the double-walled Bistro series from Bodum. They’re beautiful, keep the beverage hot longer and don’t require a coaster because the double wall keeps the heat and moisture raised above your tabletop.)   Mulled Wine
A cinnamon stick for garnish is optional.
The word “mull,” referring to sweetening, spicing and heating of wine or ale, has been traced back to 1610 or so. Wine and ale often went bad; by adding spices and honey (sugar was not widely available for another two centuries), it could be made drinkable again. Almost every European country has its version of mulled wine (even the French make vin chaud), and it is popular in South America as well—today as a comforting drink, not to cover up bad booze. The spicy-sweet aroma of the mulling wine will fill your home—it’s the beverage equivalent of baking cookies. You can buy premixed mulling spices in a specialty food store or spice shop (or even in some supermarkets); or you can measure out a little allspice, some dried orange rind (a.k.a. orange peel) and a few whole cloves into a muslin pouch or spice ball (add peppercorns if you’re into pepper, and star anise if you have it), and throw a few cinnamon sticks into the brew. Historical note: The holiday wassail bowl of yore was a mulled ale, flavored with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, topped with slices of toast (think croutons). The wassail served at today’s Medieval holiday reenactments is likely to be mulled cider, to accommodate modern palates. Find more drink recipes for entertaining in the Cocktails Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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GOURMET GIVEAWAY: Win Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter Chip CookiesLearn about peanut butter, and maybe you’ll win these chocolate peanut butter chip cookies from Solomon’s Gourmet Cookies.   Are you nuts for peanut butter? Or do you simply love chocolate chip cookies? Take the Peanut Butter Trivia Quiz in THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet Giveaway this week, and you may win a prize of two dozen luscious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies from Solomon’s Gourmet Cookies (we reviewed these cookies last year and ate every last crumb—they’re also kosher-certified). Just answer four fun trivia questions about peanut butter—you don’t even have to answer them correctly. Everyone who enters has an equal chance of winning. Take the quiz, from March 3rd through March 9th for the prize, or anytime for fun. You’ll learn great factoids and will be able to impress your friends that you know where it was invented, by whom, and why.
Learn more about peanut butter in the Jam, Jelly & Peanut Butter Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TIP OF THE DAY: Buy Artisan Hams

The Chinese may have been the first to cure hams—or it might have been the ancient Egyptians. Whoever deserves the credit, thousands of years after the fact, we tasted dozens of hams to select a few that deserve the honor of gracing your table. See our favorites in the our review of the best hams in America. The comedian Steven Wright commented, “When you buy a cured ham, do you even wonder what it had?” We found an enormous difference between supermarket hams and artisan hams, which deliver rich meat flavor with much less salt. That said, quite a few of the hams in our tasting that arrived from artisan producers still needed to be “cured” of excessive saltiness, which purchasers tend to counteract by coating and baking them with sweet toppings! Why? We don’t need that excess salt or the sugar.   Kurobuta ham
Kurobuta ham, Japanese black hog, which originated in Berkshire, England, was purportedly discovered by Oliver Cromwell’s troops, and is now one of the best hams available in America, if not the best. It’s produced in Iowa. What a voyage!
Many mass-produced hams are cured simply by injecting them with brine. An artisan ham is immersed in brine or dry-rubbed with spices, then lightly smoked and aged. The quality of the pig is far superior, as well. Baked ham is a traditional Easter dish. This Easter, kick up your tradition by serving the most delicious artisan ham you can find. Read more about our favorite pork products—and find some gourmet ham glaze recipes—in the Pork, Ham & Bacon Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine. You can also take our Ham Trivia Quiz.

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