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TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Crostini Bar

If you’re going to kick back this weekend with friends and some lovely libations, or have a group over for brunch, you may need a snack idea.

Here it is: DIY Crostini.

The crunchy little toasts are great with wine or beer, and a fun food when people add their own toppings.

Set out all kinds of sweet and savory toast toppings and let your guests help themselves. We’ve got flavor combo ideas galore, but let your imagination run wild.

You decide how many options you want to offer. Here’s are some options, plus a recipe for White Bean Dip & Spread below.


Guests start by choosing a spread for the crostini:

  • Bean spread (recipe below)
  • Hummus
  • Flavored cream cheese
  • Flavored ricotta or other spreadable cheese
  • Pesto
  • Pimento cheese

    Offer as many or as few as you like:

  • Anchovies or sardines
  • Arugula, baby
  • Avocado, mashed
  • Bacon, chopped
  • Basil, julienned
  • Berries: blueberries, diced strawberries, raspberries
  • Caramelized onions
  • Chicken mousse (paté) with fig jam
  • Eggplant salad, chopped
  • Grapes, halved
  • Grape tomatoes, halved, roasted or marinated
  • Mini cucumbers, sliced
  • Pimento or sundried tomatoes, sliced
  • Piquillo peppers
  • Prosciutto or charcuterie
  • Scallions or red onions, chopped


  • 1 can (14unces) cannellini beans
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • Loaf of French or Italian country bread


    [1] Crostini topped with white bean spread and a selection of garnishes (photo © DeLallo Foods).

    Tea Party Crostini
    [2] Crostini with ricotta topping. Here’s the recipe from topping ideas from Honestly Yum (photo © Honestly Yum),

    Crostini Pimento Basil
    [3] Crostini with hummus and pimento and basil (photo © Gaea Olive Oil).

    1. COMBINE all ingredients in a food processor and purée until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon or salt as desired.

    2. MAKE the crostini. Heat the oven to 400°F. Slice the bread and drizzle with olive oil on both sides. Bake for 10 minutes or until the bread is golden brown.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Lettuce Crudites

    Mixed Greens Crudites
    [1] Green goddess: a crudité plate of green lettuces (photo © Empellon | NYC

    Castelfranco Chicory
    [2] California-grown Castelfranco chicory (photo © Good Eggs).

    Variegated Radicchio
    [3] Variegated radicchio, radicchio variegato di castelfranco IGP. IGP is an acronym for indicazione geografica protetta, meaning it can only be grown in a specified region—In this case, the Castelfranco Veneto region of Italy. It is the terroir* of this region that produces the ivory color (photo © Lavanda Peperina).

    Treviso Radicchio
    [4] Treviso radicchio. It is easy to confuse this radicchio with red endive, which looks similar but is a hybrid of Belgian endive and Treviso radicchio (photo © Good Eggs).


    In the U.S., for decades upon decades, ladies setting a fine table began dinner with a crystal, porcelain or silver “relish tray.”

    This typically consisted of raw carrots, celery sticks and radishes, plus gherkins and olives. No dip, just veggies.

    The relish tray, often made with sections to separate the items, was meant as a quick bite until the first course arrived.

    It was an Americanization of the French dish called crudités, which could comprise raw vegetables of every description, artfully cut and arranged on a platter.

    There was no creamy dip, as many Americans serve today, but a vinaigrette with minced fresh herbs.

    In the U.S., the concept has evolved to include much of which is in the produce department.Many of us even call our raw vegetable plate crudités (CROO-dih-tay).

    In our home, where “more is more,” this meant quite the spread:

    Bell pepper strips, broccoli and cauliflower florets, carrots and celery (of course!), cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, endive, green beans, mushrooms, radishes, scallions, snow peas or sugar snap peas, zucchini and/or yellow summer squash.

    In essence: it meant (and still means) anything that tastes good raw and can easily be picked up and dipped.

    We’re happy to have leftovers for the next day. If you have too many, steam some of them.

    Here’s more about the history of crudités in America.

    Recently, we came across this photo (photo #1) from Empellón restaurant in New York City:

    An assemblage of beautiful lettuces, including radicchio and chicory, served crudites-style with a dip.

    Note that in addition to categories we think of as lettuce—bibb lettuce, Boston lettuce, iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce and romaine—these are also fall in the lettuce category:

  • Arugula
  • Chicory
  • Endive
  • Frisée
  • Kale
  • Radicchio
  • Spinach
    While watercress is a leafy vegetable, it is in a different family, genus and species from lettuce.


    While the farmers markets still have a beautiful assortment of lettuces, serve it with whatever dip you like—from a light Dijon vinaigrette to chunky blue cheese (recipe below).

    In addition to the familiar, try the unusual. Whatever you pick should be firm enough to dip.

  • Beet greens
  • Belgian endive
  • Chicory (many types available; a rare one in photo #2)
  • Collard greens
  • Curly endive
  • Escarole
  • Kale
  • Lacinto kale, a.k.a. dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale or Tuscan cabbage (cavolo nero)
  • Mustard greens
  • Oak leaf lettuce
  • Radicchio treviso†(long as opposed to round—photo #4)
  • Red endive
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Romaine
  • More (look for unusual cultivars like the ivory radicchio in photo #3)

    This dressing is good enough to eat by the spoonful. Try it on different styles of potatoes, too.

    The better the blue cheese, the more delicious the dip.


  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 5 ounces quality blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • Dash salt

    1. BLEND the milk and distilled white vinegar in a medium bowl. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then stir. [This creates buttermilk—a good tip for when you have a recipe that requires a small amount. To make a cup of buttermilk, add a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar (not white wine vinegar) to a one-cup measure. Fill to the rim with milk and let stand five minutes.]

    2. ADD the blue cheese to the buttermilk, and mash with a fork until the mixture is combined.

    3. ADD the sour cream, mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, black pepper and salt. Mix with fork to combine.

    4. PLACE into a container with a tight seal. Refrigerate and let set for at least 4 hour; preferably overnight.


    *Pronounced tuhr-WAH, terroir is the French expression for sense of place, the unique environment in which something grows—its specific soil composition and microclimate. Microclimate includes temperature, amount of sunshine and rain. The flavor nuances of agricultural products, from grapes to olives to milk to cacao, is a function of its terroir.

    †There are numerous varieties of every green, including radicchio (rah-DEE-key-yo) and chicory. Many of them have common ancestors, and can look similar. With radicchio, an Italian leaf chicory, there are different varieties, each named after the region in Italy where it is grown. The most common variety in the U.S. is radicchio di Chioggia (pronounced key-YO-guh), a round, tightly-packed head of dark maroon leaves with thick white veins.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Heirloom Tomato Salads: Russian-Style & Mediterranean-Style

    Today’s tip showcases luscious summer heirloom tomatoes in two salads.

    Both are European-inspired, both are made without lettuce or other leafy greens.

    Our Russian grandmother used a lot of sour cream, dill and scallions: as salad dressing, in borscht, on boiled potatoes and as a general garnish.

    We grew up loving it, and since then have regularly treated ourselves to the garnish in borscht, boiled potatoes and beet salad or side.

    We made the easy transition to a garnish for baked potatoes and other foods, including fried chicken.

    We even had it on toast and bagels: a worthy stand-in for cream cheese.

    But we hadn’t thought about that salad dressing for quite some time.

    Truth to tell, as one of our annual “eat better” New Year’s resolutions, we gave up sour cream in favor of fat-free Greek yogurt at least 10 years ago.

    We simply didn’t connect that we could make the salad dressing with yogurt.

    Recently, we came across this salad recipe from Vikalinka (photo #1).

    Easy to make yet bursting with layers of flavor, it combines tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, fresh dill and sour cream or crème fraîche.

    It’s so refreshing: tender tomatoes, crunchy cukes, crunchy and sharp scallions and a creamy dressing with sprightly dill. We love it!

    If these ingredients sound good to you, make it tonight. Note that once dressed, the salad doesn’t keep well; so don’t make more than you’re ready to eat.

    Again, here’s the recipe.

    This salad has a Mediterranean flair.

    Wild figs originated in the Mediterranean* region, from Afghanistan to Portugal.

    Figs are believed to be the first cultivated fruit. Remains have been found in the ruins of a prehistoric village near Jericho, in the West Bank, grown some 11,400 years ago [source].

    Each Mediterranean country has its own seasonings and favorite ingredients.

    Think figs and cheese or yogurt for breakfast, fig and olive stew for dinner, and a dessert of fig cake, or a simple plate of plump fresh figs.

    This tomato salad (photo #2), from Empellón restaurant in New York City, combines fresh figs and cheese with heirloom tomatoes.

    While the upscale Mexican restaurant uses queso fresco as the cheese, you can substitute feta, goat cheese, ricotta or other favorite. Even blue cheese works.

    Use small heirloom tomatoes or heirloom cherry tomatoes (photo #3). Cut them in slices or wedges, cut the figs in wedges.

    Dress the salad with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, with an optional drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

    You can garnish the salad with pine nuts or chopped pistachios.

    And don’t forget sea salt and the peppermill.


    Tomato Cucumber Salad
    [1] A Russian-style tomato salad with a sour cream dressing (photo © Viklinka).

    Fig & Tomato Salad
    [2] A Mediterranean tomato salad with figs (photo © Empellón Restaurant | NYC.

    Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes
    [3] Summer’s bounty includes luscious heirloom tomatoes in regular and cherry sizes.

    We don’t salt the salad before serving, because when the ingredients are right, they don’t need enhancing.

    But just in case.


    *Different fig genuses originated in Asia.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Rambutan, Asian Fruit

    [1] A bowl of rambutans, with some pieces peeled to reveal the white fruit inside (photo © HLB Specialties).

    Rambutan Tree
    [2] Rambutans ripening on the tree. The “haze” around the red fruits are green “hairs,” which have not yet ripened to red (photo © Bonayon).

    [3] A cluster of rambutans cut from the tree. They grow in clusters of 10 to 20 berries (photo © Muhmmad Mahdi Karim | Wikipedia


    Great news for lovers of sweet fruits like lychees: For the next three weeks, from from August 22nd to September 14th, shoppers will be able to find rambutans on store shelves.

    Rambutans are the sweet berries of a tropical tree. The berries have an unusual appearance: The red peel is covered with soft red or green “hairs.”

    In fact, the name “rambutan” is derived from the Malay word rambut, meaning hair. Similarly, in Vietnam, its name is chôm chôm, meaning messy hair.

    Like lychees, rambutans have translucent white pulp (sometimes pale pink), with a large, nut-like, inedible seed. Eat them chilled, if you can resist popping them open before they hit the fridge.

    Rambutan is sweet and refreshing, with a flavor reminiscent of lychee crossed with grape.

    Even though they are satisfyingly sweet, rambutans only have around 10 calories per berry.

    They are also very convenient for grab-and-go: They are easy to peel and eat.

    Look for rambutans at Freshfields Farms, Meijer, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods stores.

    For more information, visit or call (954) 475-8808.

    Rambutans, Nephelium lappaceum, are native to the Malay Archipelago.

    They grow on a tree in the family Sapindaceae or soapberry—so-called because the oil from the seeds of these plants contains saponin, which is used as a natural, low-sudsing detergent.

    The family also includes lychee, longan, guarana, and the horse chestnut and maple trees, among other genuses.

    Growing wild in Indonesia and Malaysia, rambutans have been cultivated for thousands of years.

    Arab traders and others carried the fruits to other parts of Asia, then to Africa, Central America, Colombia and Ecuador and Oceania.

    Seeds were imported into the U.S. from Java in 1906, but the trees, which want hot, humid climates, did not grow successfully in this country.

    Before 2016, rambutans were virtually unknown in the U.S. outside of Asian grocers. HLB Specialties introduced a rambutan clamshell to supermarkets at that time, and the fruit quickly gained a following.

    But it’s only around for a few short weeks, so “follow” quickly.


    The rambutan fruit is rich in vitamins and minerals, including the antioxidant vitamin C. Eating 5–6 rambutans (easy to do!) provides 50% of the daily nutrition value of C.

    Its flesh provides around 1.3–2 grams of total fiber per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), similar to apples, pears and oranges.

    Rambutan also has a good amount of copper, an essential nutrient*.

    It has smaller amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, as well.

    At only 10 calories per fruit, what are you waiting for?


    *Together with iron, copper enables the body to form red blood cells. It helps maintain healthy bones, blood vessels, nerves, and immune function.


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    FOOD 101: Rum Facts For National Rum Day

    Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum: August 16th is National Rum Day. (Here’s the pirate song, inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.)

    Many thanks to Pat Croce’s Rum Barrel sports bar and grill in Key West (now closed, alas) for much of this information.

    Everyone who knows the word knows that rum is a spirit. But did you know it was a spirit distilled from sugar cane?

    Sugar cane, native to Papua, New Guinea, was brought to the Caribbean by Spanish explorers. It is believed that Christopher Columbus planted it on his second voyage to Cuba and Hispaniola (the latter, now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

    Molasses, from which rum is distilled, is the by-product of sugar refining, the process of turning sugar cane juice into granulated sugar.

  • The sweet juice of sugar cane stalk is extracted by pressing the hard stalk in mechanical mills.
  • The juice is boiled, which produces cane syrup. Eventually, the sugar crystallizes out of the syrup.
  • The remaining dark liquid is molasses.
  • If the molasses is further boiled, it creates different degrees of molasses: light, dark/medium, treacle and blackstrap molasses.

    The pressing of cane to produce cane juice, and then boiling the juice until it crystallized, was developed in India as early as 500 B.C.E.

    In India today, the molasses is used mainly in manufacture of industrial and drinking alcohol, yeast and cattle feed. But we have no record as to what the ancients did with the molasses.

    Certainly, they didn’t distill it into a spirit or the liquor would have made its way to the Caribbean and the Middle East, along with the sugar cane plants.

    When sugar cane began to be grown and refined in the Caribbean, the white plantation occupants didn’t like the molasses by-product.

    So the plantation slaves were allowed to take the strong-smelling, sticky mess. One of them discovered that it could be turned into an alcoholic drink, that we now call rum.

    Scotch is named for Scotland, bourbon for Bourbon County, Kentucky, tequila for the town of Tequila in Mexico, and so on. What about rum? There’s no location by that name.

    The etymology of the word can be traced to this source from 1651:

    The chiefe fudling they make in the Island [i.e. Barbados] is Rumbullion alias Kill-Devill, and this is made of suggar cane distilled, a hott, hellish and terrible liquor. [Source: “A briefe Description of the Island of Barbados,” 1651].

  • Rumbullion means “a great tumult or uproar.”
  • “Fudling” is a misspelling of fuddling, from the verb to fuddle, meaning to confuse or stupefy [someone], especially with alcohol.
  • It also meant “to go on a drinking bout,” after which one’s brain could be “fuddled,” a variation of the modern “befuddled.”
    So: Drink enough rumbullion and you’ll be quite fuddled, among other conditions.

    The are other contenders to the name “rum,” claiming that:

  • The name comes from the large drinking glasses called rummers, used by Dutch (the Dutch word roemer indicates a drinking glass).
  • The name is a contraction of the words saccharum (Latin for sugar) or arôme (French for aroma).
    The name had come into common use by May 1657 when the written record of the General Court of Massachusetts made the sale of strong liquor illegal…

    “whether knowne by the name of rumme, strong water, wine, brandy, etc., etc.”

    Some craft distillers today make rum from the fresh cane juice; but most rum is still made from molasses.

  • Yeast is added to the cane juice or molasses, and converts the sucrose to alcohol (fermentation). Typically this takes about a day (some distilleries use yeast that takes as much as 19 days to ferment).
  • The sugar cane wine, as it is called, is distilled by boiling it in a pot still (or the modern continuous still, for mass production), collecting the vapor and condensing it. While the earliest pot stills resembled a tea kettle with a long spout and were capable of distilling.
  • After distillation, the fresh/raw spirits contain small amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas that are formed during fermentation. They give the spirit a hot, harsh taste. While some people enjoy it, most consumers prefer the their spirits aged.
  • Rum is aged in used oak barrels purchased from bourbon or whiskey or distillers. The longer it ages in barrels, the darker the spirit becomes via interaction with elements in the wood. Colors go from pale to deep gold to brown to dark brown (photo #1).
    Aged spirits are often blended before they are bottled. Blending is done for two main reasons:

  • Because they are aged in different barrels, different barrel batches can taste different. Here, blending is done to develop a consistent flavor, particular to the brand.
  • Each agricultural harvest is different. In a light year, spirits from more flavorful years are blended to achieve the house style.
    Once the spirit is bottled, the aging process is arrested and little change occurs.

    See our earlier article on the different types of rum.


  • Anguilla (example: Pryat)
  • Barbados (examples: Malibu, Mount Gay)
  • Bermuda (example: Gosling’s)

    Bacardi Rums
    [1] The longer rum is aged, the darker it gets. Here, three expressions from Bacardi.

    Appleton Estate 50 Years
    [2] If you have to ask, you can’t afford it…but this 50-year-old rum from Appleton Estate is A “regular” bottle of 50-year-old can be found for $499. But a limited edition of 50-year-old was laid down just before Jamaica received its independence in 1962. A bottle is $5500.

    1830 Vintage Rum
    [3] A bottle of rum from 1830 (photo © 109 Gizmondo).

    Rumbullion Rum
    [4] A modern distillallation with a heritage name: Rumbullion is a spiced rum made exclusively for Master of Malt (photo © Master Of Malt).

    Aged Rum On The Rocks
    [5] Aged rum on the rocks. Aged rum is for sipping, not mixing (photo © Appleton Estate).

  • Dominican Republic (examples: Barcelo, Brugal, Cubaney, Matusalem)
  • Haiti: (example: Barbancourt)
  • Jamaica: (examples: Appleton, Myers, Plantation, Sea Wynde)
  • Netherlands Antilles (example: Rum Jumbie liqueur)
  • Puerto Rico (examples: Admiral Nelson, Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Don Q, Old Havana Club)
  • St. Kitts (example: Brinley)
  • Trinidad (examplea: Fernandes, Plantation)
  • Virgin Islands (example: Conch, Cruzan, Sailor Jerry)

  • Colombia (example: Ron Viejo de Caldas (actually a cachaca)
  • Guatemala (example: Ron Zacapa, Zaya)
  • Guyana (example: El Dorado and other Demerara rums (named for the Demerara River)
  • Mexico (examples: Kuya, Porfidio)
  • Nicaragua (example: Flor de Cana)
  • Panama (examples: Cohete Roja, Panama Jack)
  • Venezuela (example: Pampero, Santa Teresa)

  • U.S.(example: Pritchard, Whaler’s Rare Reserve)
  • Rums are also produced in Australia, India and other tropical countries, but are typically not available in the U.S.

    While rum is not standardized among countries in terms of proof, years of age, etc., styles can generally be grouped according to the country of origin.

  • Spanish-speaking islands traditionally produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Rums from Cuba and Puerto Rico are examples of this style. The word in Spanish is ron (ROAN).
  • Dominican rum (Spanish-speaking) is produced through a more natural process of distillation; aging is often done in American white oak barrels. This makes the rum a little heartier and a little less sweet than other rums made in Jamaica (English) and Barbados (English).
  • English-speaking islands are known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retain a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Rums from Jamaica and the Demerera region of Guyana (English), on the northern coast of South America, are typical of this style. Barbados rum is recognized as one of the finest (and strongest) in the world.
  • French-speaking islands are best known for their agricultural rums (rhum agricole). These rums, produced exclusively from sugarcane juice, retain a greater amount of the original flavor of the sugarcane. Rums from Martinique and Guadeloupe are typical of this style. The word in French is rhum (ROOM).


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