Desserts

National Chocolate Éclair Day

I do d’éclair, today’s food holiday is very rich and very sweet. Just like the citizens of its country of origin. June 22 is National Chocolate Éclair Day!

Last year on this date we celebrated onion rings. The summer months were full of sweets, and we jumped at the chance to indulge in something savory instead. Which is not to say we don’t love chocolate éclairs. After all…who wouldn’t?

Éclair is the French word for lightning. There are two theories over how it got its name: either because of the way it “sparkles” when confectioner’s glaze is sprinkled over the top, or the fact that it is so delicious it’s eaten quickly (in a “flash”). If that second fact were true, we might be calling pizza an éclair instead, so I’m not sure about that. The original name was pain à la duchesse, but this was a pain à la ass to say, so in 1850 it became simply an éclair. As with many foods, we don’t know exactly who invented the dessert, though many speculate it was the brainchild of Marie-Antoine Carême, a well-known pastry chef in France around the turn of the nineteenth century. A true éclair is a long, thin pastry made with choux dough, filled with cream or custard and topped with icing. There are many different flavors of cream and icing that can be used, but the most common one, at least in these parts, is filled with a vanilla cream and topped with chocolate icing. Hence, the name of the holiday. In some parts of the country éclairs are called “long johns,” but the only long johns I know are worn in the frigid winter months to protect your legs from freezing.

I was buying fresh produce from a market across the street today, and picked up an éclair from their bakery section. As you can imagine, it was all kinds of awesome.

National Chocolate Eclair Day

 

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National Frozen Yogurt Day

We’ve got a special treat froyo today: a new food holiday to celebrate! June 4th is National Frozen Yogurt Day.

It’s also National Cheese Day, and that’s what we chose to celebrate last year. Tara’s mac ‘n cheese is bomb-diggety! It’s also National Cognac Day, which means in 2015 we may be celebrating yet another food holiday on June 4. Incidentally, some sources list Frozen Yogurt Day as February 6, but that makes about as much sense as celebrating cotton candy in December!

Oh, wait…

People have been enjoying yogurt (sometimes spelled yoghurt, though that just yoghurts my eyes) for thousands of years, mostly in the Middle East and India. To make yogurt, milk is fermented by bacteria known as yogurt cultures. These cultures turn lactose into lactic acid, which gives yogurt its distinctive texture and – like Hank Williams – tang. 

No, wait. That’s twang. My bad.

Yogurt was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s, and quickly gained popularity as a health food. Even though there seems to be a TCBY or Menchie’s on every street corner now, frozen yogurt wasn’t actually created until the 1970s. It failed spectacularly at first; people were put off by the sharp taste, much preferring the sweet flavor of ice cream. TCBY came along in 1981 with a sweeter version, and sales took off. People loved eating “fro-yo” while rocking out to Wang Chung! Especially when they could add their own toppings (which included items like M&Ms, granola, and fruit). But the American public, being fickle, decided once again that you just couldn’t beat high-fat ice cream, and frozen yogurt sales dropped off in the 90s. As did Wang Chung record sales. A possible correlation? By the mid-2000s tastes had changed again, and suddenly the too-tart frozen yogurt that was shunned in the 70s became all the rage. Sales in 2013 were higher than ever.

Visiting a frozen yogurt shop in the 80s was a rite of passage every bit as popular as grabbing a VHS movie from the video store. However, much like the latter pursuit, I hadn’t been to a frozen yogurt place in years. That streak remains intact, but Tara stopped by the local Menchie’s and picked us up small cups of vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio to share. I’m an old-fashioned guy and liked the vanilla best, while Tara preferred the chocolate. In fact, it was so enjoyable, we just might have to add frozen yogurt back into our routines as an occasional treat.

National Frozen Yogurt Day

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Review: Dreyer’s/Edy’s Outshine Bars

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Especially when you’ve got a tasty frozen treat to take the edge off the heat. If said treat contains natural ingredients and won’t pack on the pounds, all the better.

Enter Dreyer’s (or Edy’s, depending on whether you reside east or west of the Rocky Mountains). Their (sorta) new Outshine bars live up to their name, outshining the competition in terms of both flavor and nutritional value. Quite frankly, these are some of the best frozen treats (don’t call them Popsicles!) we have ever tried.

Dreyer’s has been making frozen fruit bars for 18 years, relying on simple and all-natural ingredients. They’ve recently rebranded their product with a new name and expanded flavors, and added combination fruit/vegetable bars to the lineup. Flavors are diverse, and include the usual suspects (strawberry, grape, raspberry) alongside some rather unique ones (creamy coconut, lime, pineapple, pomegranate). There are even seasonal varieties such as blood orange and grapefruit. Especially intriguing are the fruit and veggie combos. Tangerine carrot, strawberry rhubarb, and apple & greens are the stars here. Nutritionally, you can feel pretty good eating any of these bars. They all contain real fruit, fruit juice, and vegetables. In addition, they are low in calories (most range between a paltry 25-60 calories per serving) and fat-free (with the exception of the creamy coconut). Sugar and carbohydrates aren’t too outrageous.  strawberryrhubarb-tangerinecarrot-blueberry

The important question is, do they taste good? The answer is an emphatic yes! We tried a couple of variety packs – one fruit, one fruit/veggie. We actually like the latter best. The tangerine carrot is smooth and citrusy with a perfectly balanced sweetness, while the strawberry rhubarb has a little more “bite.” The fruit flavors are more pronounced than the vegetables, as they should be. Less impressive is the blueberry medley, though I’m impressed you can now actually find a blueberry “popsicle.” It’s not that this bar doesn’t taste good, but after having the other interesting combinations, it just seems a bit boring. On the fruit side, we tried the variety pack that contains strawberry, wildberry, and lime. Of those three, we all enjoyed the lime best. It’s lightly tart and amazingly refreshing. What we like best about the Outshine bars is their emphasis on fresh, natural ingredients. This commitment to quality is completely evident in the taste.

The bottom line? Dreyer’s lineup of Outshine bars are tasty, refreshing, and a lot better for you than ice cream. You really can’t go wrong with any of these flavors!

Our rating? 4 knives!

4 Knives

 

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Review: Tillamook Tillabars

Most of us have enjoyed an occasional Eskimo Pie over the years. What’s not to love about vanilla ice cream coated in chocolate and eaten off a stick? Since their invention in 1921 there have been plenty of imitators, some lousy and some great. Tillamook’s new line of Tillabars definitely falls into the latter category.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tillamook, then you have my pity. Technically known as Tillamook County Creamery Association, this dairy cooperative located on the Oregon coast began producing cheese in 1946. Over the years, their product line has expanded to include butter, sour cream, yogurt, and ice cream. Tillamook is a little pricier than some brands, but worth it; I refuse to buy any other brand of cheese, and usually opt for their other products, as well, for the simple fact that they taste better. So when Tillamook introduced a line of ice cream bars known as Tillabars a few months ago, I was eager to try them out.

Tillabars1

Tillabars come in four different flavors: Old-Fashioned Vanilla, Mooocha Latte, Salted Caramel Swirl, and Lemonilla. We tried the Old-Fashioned Vanilla and Lemonilla flavors, and both were rich, creamy, and delicious. Once again, it’s the quality of the ingredients that sets Tillamook apart. Their vanilla ice cream is already decadent, so enrobing it in chocolate only increases the “mmm” factor. This is a pretty basic ice cream bar, but for those whose motto is “why mess with perfection,” it’s the perfect choice for a warm summer night. Or a cool spring morning. Whenever you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, as a matter of fact, clocks be damned! But Tillamook really nails it with the Lemonilla bar. It’s lemon sorbet surrounded by vanilla ice cream and coated in white chocolate. The first bite is sinfully sweet, but when you reach the tart lemon sorbet in the center, the flavors mingle and provide a perfect contrast. It’s sweet! It’s tart! It’s….heavenly.

In short, Tillamook has done it again. Score: 4 knives.

4 Knives

 

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361/365: National Fruit Cake Day

If you don’t take a bite of today’s food, don’t worry: it’ll still be around, in pretty much the same exact form, 10 years from now. Or so the jokes go. December 27 is National Fruit Cake Day!

Fruitcakes are cakes made with chopped candied or dried fruit, nuts, and spices. They are dense and rich, with detractors complaining that they’re rock hard and nearly inedible. We can blame ancient Rome for this monstrosity; the first fruit cakes, containing a mixture of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins – mixed with barley mash – appeared during Caesar’s heyday. They became popular all over Europe, and closely associated with Christmas, when fruit cake was often given out as a gift (and subsequently re-gifted). When made with alcohol, fruit cakes can remain edible for years! These overly preserved monstrosities get such a bad rap that a holiday devoted to getting rid of them – National Fruit Cake Toss Day – has been created (January 3rd). Hmm, this may have to become one of our first food challenges next year!

To celebrate, we bought a fruit cake from the grocery store. Took a couple bites and decided its reputation is well deserved. Blech! Overly sweet and dense pretty much sums it up.

National Fruit Cake Day

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359/365: National Pumpkin Pie Day

Merry Christmas, everybody!

December 25 is the most magical day of the year – even if you’re too old to believe in Santa Claus. And like every other day of the year, it’s got its own dedicated food holiday. Christmas Day is also National Pumpkin Pie Day!

Which makes sense. Pumpkin pie is a traditional autumn/early winter dessert most often served on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It consists of pumpkin custard baked in a pie shell and flavored with a variety of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Most people use canned pumpkin, since it’s easier to work with (and every bit as delicious). Pumpkins, which are native to North America, have been used as pie fillings for centuries; Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion, published in England in 1675, contains one of the earliest recipes. The dish didn’t really catch on in America until the early 19th century, when it began appearing as a dessert course following Thanksgiving dinner.

You’re probably busy unwrapping gifts or spending time with loved ones, so we won’t commandeer too much of your attention with a food-related blog post. We had frozen a couple slices of pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving, and defrosted them to enjoy on Christmas morning. They still tasted surprisingly good. We hope you have a wonderful holiday!

National Pumpkin Pie Day

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357/365: National Pfeffernuesse Day

Feeling tongue tied today? You just might, after trying to pronounce today’s food holiday. December 23 is National Pfeffernuesse Day!

Pfeffernuesse is a small, round cookie with ground nuts and spices that is popular during the holidays in Germany, Denmark, and The Netherlands. The dough is rolled into balls and is initially hard, leading many to dunk the cookies in coffee or milk, similar to a biscotti. Over time, they soften. The name translates to “pepper nuts” in English, though these cookies do not always contain nuts. A National Pfeffernuesse Day is observed by many European countries on the same date.

In Dutch folklore, Pfeffernuesse is closely associated with the Feast of Sinterklaas (December 5 in The Netherlands, December 6 in Germany and Belgium). Children receive gifts (or lumps of coal, depending on whether they’ve been precious little saints all year, or assholes) from St. Nicholas on this day. The cookie has been a part of these European yuletide celebrations since the 1850s.

Pfeffernuesse are one of those cookies you’d recognize if you saw it. Sure enough, they’ve been a part of many a holiday cookie tray over the years. I couldn’t find them in the grocery store, so I looked up several recipes online – the basic ingredients are the same, but the exact spices vary – and ended up combining elements from a couple of different recipes to create my own. Here it is:

Ingredients

    • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 pinch salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 cup butter, softened
    • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup molasses
    • 1 egg
    • powdered sugar, for rolling baked cookies in

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour, salt, baking soda, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves, set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed cream butter, sugar, and molasses until fluffy. Beat in egg. On low speed gradually add flour mixture and beat just until blended. Cover and chill dough for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease baking sheets. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch sized balls. Place balls two inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.
  4. When cookies are cool enough to handle, but still warm roll in powdered sugar. Transfer cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.

The verdict? These were different from any other type of cookie I’ve ever had. They’re warm and spicy, with just the subtlest hint of pepper. The color and consistency – and flavor, even – reminds me somewhat of gingerbread. They were pretty good!

And I might also point out, these represent the final baking challenge of the year. There is nothing else left to bake, and actually, only 1 more thing left to cook. Wow!

National Pfeffernuesse Day

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349/365: National Lemon Cupcake Day

Pucker up, baby! Today’s celebrated food is a little bit sweet, a little bit tart…and a whole lot delicious. December 15 is National Lemon Cupcake Day!

We’ve had multiple cupcake holidays this year, and on other occasions, have substituted cupcakes for cakes, saving us both calories and money. So we feel like we have paid due tribute to these small, individual cakes that – true to their name – really could be served in cups, if so desired. Most cupcakes tend to be very sweet, but I’ve always found the presence of lemon in baked goods to be a nice, light, tangy contrast to all that sugar. It’s no surprise that my favorite type of cake is lemon.

Not much else to say that hasn’t already been discussed elsewhere, so let’s just dive in! Tara made these from scratch. They were moist and delicious!

National Lemon Cupcake Day

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342/365: National Chocolate Brownie Day

If you can’t decide between a cookie or a slice of cake today, why not settle for a cross between the two? December 8 is National Chocolate Brownie Day!

Now, we’ve already celebrated blonde brownies and cream cheese brownies and butterscotch brownies. I was surprised we hadn’t yet paid homage to the most popular of all brownies, chocolate. But it turns out we did, kind of. Tara made chocolate brownies for National Bittersweet Chocolate Day back in January. So, we have definitely been down this path before, and talked about the history of the brownie. It was created at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago and originally featured an apricot glaze and walnuts; this version is still sold there to this day. But there are some enduring myths about how brownies came about, legends that refuse to die. According to various sources, brownies:

  • Were the result of a chef accidentally adding melted chocolate to biscuit dough;
  • Were invented when a cook forgot to add flour to the batter;
  • Were the creation of a housewife who did not have baking powder but decided to serve the flattened cakes to her guests anyway.

Like the Loch Ness Monster, these are nothing but tall tales. Although…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2402134/Could-finally-proof-Nessie-exists-Amateur-photographer-snaps-large-black-object-moving-beneath-waters-Loch-Ness.html

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

For our challenge, we baked a batch of chocolate brownies!  had every intention of baking a batch of chocolate brownies, but were so busy with cleaning and cooking and football watching it was easier just to run to the store and grab a gourmet chocolate brownie from the bakery. Plus that way, we were limited to 1/2 a brownie each, instead of who-knows-how-many we would have been tempted to eat. So, good choice! (It was amazing, too).

National Chocolate Brownie Day

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338/365: National Cookie Day

C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me. And it ought to be good enough for you, too. December 4 is National Cookie Day!

Our food holidays seem to be running out of steam and turning more “generic” as the year winds down. Instead of corn fritters, we’ve had fritters. Instead of German chocolate cake, it was cake. And now, instead of oatmeal raisin cookies, we’re just celebrating cookies. (We also have a generic National Pastry Day coming up. And just wait until National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. The sky’s the limit on that one). On the one hand this is good, as it allows us to get creative and do whatever we want. On the other hand, the lack of direction can leave us scratching our heads at times while trying to decide what, exactly, we should do. The holidays are a busy time of year. Who’s got time to think?!

December is also synonymous with baking in general, and cookies in particular. For some reason, Christmas cookies always seem extra tasty. Plus, you’ve gotta leave some out for Santa, right?

To celebrate, we went out to dinner at our favorite local salad bar/soup restaurant, Sweet Tomatoes. They serve cookies there, and we had a delicious pumpkin snickerdoodle. Very appropriate for the season!

National Cookie Day

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