Celebrate with Béquet‘s Salt Chocolate Caramels, shown here with Espresso and Mocha.
Today is National Chocolate Caramel Day. No arm twisting needed! While the traditional caramel flavoring is vanilla, the buttery bites have been variously flavored with chocolate, coffee, maple, lemon, habañero—whatever appeals to the imagination of the candy maker and palate of the buyer (and, let us tell you—the habañero caramels from Cowgirl Chocolates are the bomb—and a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week). We went crazy for caramels last summer and nibbled on every one we could find, culminating in a review of our favorite caramels. People keep sending us more to taste, but we haven’t yet found any that we want to add to the list. Quality caramels are made with sugar and brown sugar, butter, heavy cream and the best flavorings (sea salt versus ordinary salt, the best maple or chocolate flavor, etc.). Like anything else, you can’t scrimp on the quality of your ingredients. It needs to be real vanilla, the freshest butter, etc., etc., etc.
Caramel is sugar that is melted into a syrup and cooked until the sugar crystals turn into a dark amber liquid. In this form, it can be used to coat nuts (that’s what pralines are) and popcorn (called “toffee popcorn”). Whisk in some butter, remove it from the heat and add cream, and you have a delicious caramel sauce. Cook those ingredients to what is known as the “firm ball” stage (245°F), and you get buttery, chewy caramel candy. Keep cooking the caramel to the “hard-crack” stage (290°F) and you’ll get crunchy toffee. Read about more of our favorite caramels in the Old-Fashioned Candy Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
We like oatmeal cookies, so we need no excuse to bake up a batch to celebrate Oatmeal Cookie Day. Our favorite variations are oatmeal chocolate chip, and oatmeal raisin, where we substitute dried cherries for half of the raisins. But other people (specialty food companies, to be specific) have done a darn good job of baking their own variations on the oatmeal cookie. Here are some of our favorites:- Try the oatmeal cookies from Najla’s Kosher Gone Chunky. They arrive frozen, to be baked up whenever you need one or more. We must admit, they were so good, we ate the frozen dough from the freezer.
– The makers of our favorite chocolate chip cookies, Levain Bakery, also make an oatmeal raisin cookie—huge, moist and delicious.
– Yee hah, these spicy Ancho Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Sparx are good.
– If you need a sugar-free oatmeal cookie, Curious Cookie has good ones.
– And if you want a whoopie pie made with two oatmeal cookies and a creamy filling between them, Wicked Whoopie Pies will oblige (photo above). Find more of our favorite cookies in the Cookie Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
Alaea red lava salts from Hawaii are colored and flavored by clay in the local water. Photo courtesy of Saltworks.us.
Bid adieu to one of America’s food icons, the Morton Salt Girl, whose iodized salt is too salty. Instead, accent your food with the far more vivid flavors of sea salts. There are dozens, each with its own flavor and beauty. Some of our favorites are grey Celtic salt, coral-hued Hawaiian sea salt, beige and ochre smoked sea salts and Himalayan pink salt. These are general categories: Each type of salt can be found under different brand names. Sea salts are not as refined (processed) as table salts, so contain nutritious traces of calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc (that also add to the color). They have bright, pure, clean flavor and the flavor subtleties from the minerals. The grains are generally too large for salt shakers, so take pinches from salt dishes, like great-grandma did. It makes it all the more a gourmet experience, and you’ll notice flavors in your food you never have before. You’ll have a great time perusing our glossary of artisan salts in the Salts & Seasonings Section on THE NIBBLE online magazine.
Ravioli lovers, dinner-party givers, and foodies of all inclinations: It doesn’t get more exciting than this. The word “ravioli” typically conjures up the image of pleasant pasta pillows stuffed with some vague meat or cheese. Not any more! Be prepared to be blasted to a higher level of ravioli consciousness by the artisans at Nuovo Pasta. For years we have lusted after Nuovo Pasta’s visually stunning, palate-tantalizing ravioli. We have longed to introduce them to you, dear NIBBLE reader. Heck, we have longed to get our own hands on them, but have been limited to tasting them at trade shows. The unmovable obstacle has been that Nuovo sells its gorgeous products only to restaurants, caterers and distributors. But now, we all can buy the same amazing ravioli that the professionals do, and wow our families and guests in the way that diners are wowed at top restaurants. Our good fortune is thanks to Marx Foods, a distributor of gourmet products to fine food establishments. They’ve made their wares available to consumers nationwide, through their online store.
A trio of gourmet raviolis: from the top, a regular round ravioli, a girasole (sunflower) and a pansotti (trainagle).
As we sit here eating giant ravioli (a.k.a. ravioloni—a single piece is an entire first course), one stuffed with osso bucco and one with Point Reyes blue cheese (a prior NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week), we are eternally grateful. There are plenty of regular-sized ravioli, too, but there is nothing “regular” about these beautiful pastas—triangular, round and rectangular, flecked, striped and marbled. They are stuffed with veal Bolognese, crawfish and andouille sausage, Grand Marnier roast duck, portabella mushrooms and Asiago cheese and dozens of other wonders. They’re irresistible, and will make your dinner parties the talk of the town. Read more and see all the photos in the full review. Pick your favorite and order a memorable first course for Easter dinner. And find more of our favorite pastas and sauces in the Pasta Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine. Want to know the difference between ravioli, ravioloni, girasoles, pansotti, sacchette and a hundred other types of pasta? See our Pasta Glossary.
We just selected the winner of last week’s Gourmet Giveaway, who is now the proud owner of a delicious Easter ham (at least, it will soon be on its way to her). So if you’d like to win the Key lime tart at the left—which, owing to the strangeness of Easter falling this Sunday, will be your post-Easter gift from THE NIBBLE—enter this week’s Gourmet Giveaway and answer a few trivia questions about limes. The Q&A isn’t exactly trivial: You’ll learn fun facts about the tart green fruit (although some varieties are as sweet as oranges), without which there would be no Margaritas, either.
There’s a special bonus this week: 10 MORE PRIZES! In honor of National Chip & Dip Day, March 23 (coincidentally, that’s Easter Sunday this year), Tostitos® is giving ten lucky winners second prizes of Tostitos Chips & Dip gift sets.
So, if you’ve refrained from entering the Gourmet Giveaway in the past because you think your chances of winning the one big prize aren’t so great: Now we may pull your name out of the hat (actually, it’s a computerized random selector) for one of 11 prizes. See our favorite fruits in the Fruits & Nuts Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine…or check out the chips in our Snacks Section.