THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods

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REVIEW: Matiz Olive Spreads

Tapenade is a versatile ingredient—here, used with chopped tomatoes to make a quick bruschetta.
  We used to have lots of time to make tapenade: to purchase olives, anchovies and capers (we put tuna in our recipe, too), blend everything in the food processor and serve the dip freshly-made with wine, beer and cocktails. These days, we’re lucky if we get home 15 minutes ahead of our guests. That’s why we were happy to run across these olive spreads from Matiz España, a company that specializes in sourcing and importing specialty gourmet products from Spain. They’ve scored three artisan olive spreads from the Catalan region: Traditional Olivada, Hot Olivada (just a bit of heat) and Sweet Olivada. They’re great for hors d’oeuvres, dips, bruschetta, enhancing sandwiches and more (we’ve used them to fill omelets and to accent goat cheese). The products are all natural, free of preservatives or chemical additives, gluten free and non-GMO. Read the full review.
Tapenade is the word given to olive spread in Provence, the region of southeastern France that is adjacent to Italy. The olives can be puréed or finely chopped, with capers and olive oil; some recipes, like ours, add tuna. The name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapéno. Serve it with slices of baguette and/or crudités. Read more about our favorite dips in the Salsas, Dips & Spreads section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Rich Design Cookies

It’s not easy to find artisan fancy cookies these days. Aside from needing the requisite talent to make perfectly, uniform cookies (uneven drop cookies like oatmeal and chocolate chip are much easier), the high rents, low margins, inability to find good help and the willingness of customers to settle for more prosaic cookies have driven many would-be fine cookie artisans away from such a labor-intensive enterprise. Claire Rich has persevered, finding a way to practice her craft without the overhead of a storefront bakery or café. Her cookies are handmade in small batches, using top-quality ingredients. An assortment of cookies, about two inches in diameter, comprises refrigerator cookies, rolled cookies, sandwich cookies and yes, a couple of drop cookies because people want their oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip (read about the different types of cookies).   Chocolate Cookies
The Chocolate Cookies are simple and elegant.
Their handmade yet elegant visual appeal denotes something special, whether for a personal gift or party fare. Or, consider them an educational gift, for people whose cookie experience has been limited to sad, commercial fare. Read the full review in THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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CONTEST: Win Solomon’s Gourmet Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate peanut butter chip cookies (or your favorite chip flavor) are this week’s prize.
  This week, THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet Giveaway is giving away two dozen of America’s favorite cookie—chocolate chip! These yummy cookies are from Solomon’s Gourmet Cookies of Chicago (certified kosher by CRC—read our full review). The jumbo cookies are available in regular (no nuts), chocolate chip pecan, peanut butter chip, chocolate peanut butter chip, white chocolate chip and chocolate white chocolate chip. The winner can choose two dozen of the same flavor or an assortment. What do you have to do to enter? Simply click over to THE NIBBLE online magazine, to our weekly Gourmet Giveaway, and take the Chocolate Chip Cookie trivia quiz—four quick questions. You don’t have to answer correctly to be eligible to win—everyone who answers the four trivia questions will be entered into the prize drawing.
You can read the history of the chocolate chip cookie, and find more of our favorite cookies, in the Cookies & Brownies Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TRENDS: Umami, The Fifth Taste

The weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal devoted a lot of space to an article called “A New Taste Sensation,” umami.

However, this was news two years ago when Anna Kasabian and David Kasabian wrote their seminal book on the topic, The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami. It was the talk of gastronomy circles, and THE NIBBLE wrote a long article on umami.

But, like sous vide and Gewürtztraminer, the concept didn’t trickle down to most fine food enthusiasts. It’s just a bit too east of mainstream.

We have often thought about teaching a course on umami, because the fifth taste is not as easy to understand as the other four: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

  • Want to taste sweet? Sugar is unmistakable, and you can find that same taste in baked goods, fruit and other sweet substances.
  • It’s the same with salt, the sourness of lemon juice or vinegar, and the bitterness of arugula.
    But there is no one umami flavor. The word itself means “deliciousness” in Japanese; it is also described as “brothy” and “savory in English.”

    Umami foods are characterized as having a high level of glutamate, an amino acid. MSG (monosodium glutamate), a manufactured form of natural glutamate. Glutamate adds flavor to food, just as sugar adds sweetness, salt adds saltiness and vinegar and lemon juice add tartness. All of these heighten the flavors of the foods they enhance.

    Yet, back to the argument: We can identify sweet, salty, bitter and sour. What does umami taste like?

    Somewhat like the flavors ascribed to a particular wine varietal, you have to taste and taste until you “get it.” We can name foods and dishes that contain umami flavor, but cannot point to any single, easily-recognizable flavor attribute. There is no umami equivalent of sweet, salty, sour/tart and bitter.

    According to the experts, here are some of the cornerstone products that showcase umami: anchovies, dried mushrooms, fish sauce (including Worcestershire sauce), ketchup, konbu*, MSG, Parmesan cheese and soy sauce.

    What do they have in common? This question takes us back to the beginning.

  • If you asked what ice cream, chocolate, orange juice, cherries and marzipan have in common, one might say “sweetness” or “sugar.”
  • What about anchovies, mushroom stock, Parmesan cheese and soy sauce? One might describe them as salty. The same with bacon, ham, salt pork, sausage, smoked fish and so on.
  • If someone had you taste arugula or watercress, it wouldn’t be too hard to classify them as bitter.
  •   Parmigiano Reggiano Wedge & Grater
    [1] For the best flavor, grate a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano as you need it. It’s cheesy, yes; but it’s also umami—brothy and savory (photo © Yin Yang | iStock Photo).

    Mixed Dried Mushrooms
    [2] Dried mushrooms are an excellent source of umami flavor (photo © Caviar Russe | NYC).

    Umami Food
    [3] Soy sauce, a major umami food, and the the soybeans from which they are made (photo © Bush Beans).

    But try as we can, we still can’t match umami flavors to konbu and tomato until they are made into broth or other recipe—and then the commonality is the salt added to the recipe. Both are mild, even delicate in flavor until they join other ingredients.
    We might describe a vine-ripened tomato as sweet, or seaweed as briny/salty. But, umami claims them as well.

    None of this is addressed by The Wall Street Journal article or any other article we’ve read. The answer must be that umami double dips.

    It seems to us that every food that umami claims as its own can fall within one of the four existing classes, whereas sweet, salty, sour and better are completely discrete. For much of umami, we take it on faith, and that we’ll find the path sooner or later.

    And this is why umami, the fifth taste, has not “broken out” in the West. You can train people how to combine ingredients for heightened umami flavors, you can hand out umami-enriched recipes, you can print lists of umami-rich foods for people to memorize, but you can’t train them to identify them “umami taste.”

    *Konbu is a type of kelp, a large seaweed used to make dashi, a soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisines. Miso soup is made with dashi stock.

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    NEWS: Healthy Eating, Not For The Price-Conscious

    Salad Mix

    Save money on low-calorie food: Buy and cut
    your own romaine instead of pre-cut salad mixes.
      This will come as no surprise to those who strive to cook healthy meals, but researchers at the University of Washington have found that junk food not only costs less than fruits and vegetables, but it is also less likely to rise in price as a result of inflation. As reported in The New York Times, the study compared the price per calorie of 370 different foods in the Seattle area. The results are somewhat alarming: The higher-calorie, energy-dense foods (e.g. candy, pastries, baked goods and snacks) cost an average of $1.76 per 1,000 calories, while low-calorie, nutritious foods averaged at $18.16 per 1,000 calories. Moreover, these low-calorie foods grew 19.5% in price during the course of the two year study while the high-calorie foods dropped 1.8%. According to the study, a 2,000-calorie diet of junk food would cost a mere $3.52 per person, per day; a 2,000-calorie diet of low-calorie, dense foods costs a whopping $36.32.
    The data indicate that it is easier for low-income individuals to sustain themselves on junk food rather than healthier alternatives. In response to angry posts from many healthy eaters who make do on food budgets of $15 to $20 a week, Tara Parker-Pope, who wrote the story, responded that it showed “…extreme examples to make the point of the price disparity between energy dense food and more nutritious food….The average American spends about $7 a day on food, while low-income people spend $3 to $4 a day.” Read all of the responses. For our favorite healthy foods, check out our NutriNibbles section in THE NIBBLE online magazine—the products may cost more than a bag of potato chips, but your body will thank you.

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