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TIP OF THE DAY: 90-Second Cake Decoration

Strawberry Cheesecake
[1] So simple: Just add some berries to the top of a cheesecake. This cake adds some chamomile blossoms to the strawberries. You can leave the berries plain, or substitute something else, like granola or cookie crumbs. (photo courtesy King Arthur Flour).

[2] This approawch is foolproof: Place the fruit on the serving plate (photo courtesy Maja Chocolat).

Cheesecake With Caramel Sauce
[3] You can drizzle sauce across the top of the cake, or on individual slices (photo courtesy Flavor And The Menu).

Fancy Cheesecake Decoration
[4] Not as hard as you think if you just follow the photo. Buy mini macarons, berries and edible flowers (photo courtesy Alcakemy).


Last night’s dinner inspired this morning’s tip.

We were dining at our wine editor’s house with a particular purpose: to see if the fine wines of our friend Jeannette had suffered in a bizarre accident.

Her home wine storage unit had malfunctioned: Instead of cooling, it had been heating the contents for several days before the problem was discovered.

We tested bottles of different wines—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chinon.

But the point of this tip is the dinner itself. This was an ad hoc event with a simple dinner: just a quick get-together.

  • The appetizers to test the first bottle of wine were frozen heat-and-serve mini-quiches from Trader Joe’s.
  • The main course: roasted chicken, string beans, a salad.
  • The dessert was a cheesecake from the store, served plain (served with a fabulous 1983 Gewürztraminer from Zind-Humbrecht).
    We adore cheesecake: plain, dipped in chocolate or any other preparation.

    As we looked at that plain beige canvas of a cake top, we thought of easy decorations to make it look impressive.

    You can use these garnishes on cheesecakes, layer cakes, flourless cakes, or any flat-topped cake. (The yellow dots among the strawberries are chamomile flowers, but if you want a second texture/color, you can use blueberries or nuts.)

  • Berries: The tried and true. One type of berry is fine (photo #1); two or more create eye-appeal in color and texture.
  • Caramel corn: It’s a winner atop vanilla and chocolate cakes. Try it!
  • Chocolate: Break bars or bark into pieces and create an “abstract mosaic” on top of the cake. If someone gives you a box of Godiva, place the pieces around the rim of the cake (so much better than buttercream roses!).
  • Chocolate chips: Who could be unhappy here? If you have a mix of sizes and colors (dark, milk and white chocolate; butterscotch; peanut butter; chips and chunks), so much the better.
  • Citrus slices: One type is OK; a mix of sizes and colors is better (blood oranges, clementines, mandarine, navel oranges, etc.).
  • Cookie crumbs: It doesn’t have to be Oreos. Place whatever you have in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. If you have two different types of cookies, crush them separately and do a half-and-half topping on the cake.
  • Dessert sauces: Butterscotch, caramel, chocolate, dulce de leche or fruit sauce (photo #3).
  • Granola and/or raisins: These are fine by themselves or in combination, e.g. raisins and nuts or chocolate chips. Trail mix works, too!
  • Honey: See dessert sauces.
  • Nuts: Whatever you have will work. Create a rim around the top of the cake with halved or chopped nuts; or just sprinkle them in the center.
  • Preserves: When you have nothing else on hand, heat a jar of jam or preserves until it gets soft enough to drizzle or dot. Or, go Jackson Pollock.
  • Seasonal candies: Candy corn, hearts, novelty chocolates (mini Santas and trees, e.g.), peppermint bark, seasonal colored sprinkles.
  • Shaved chocolate: Grab a chocolate bar and a vegetable peeler, and peel chocolate curls on top of the cake.
  • Stone fruits: Wedges of peach, plum, nectarine; fresh cherries with stems.
  • Toffee chips: Buy them ready-to-use, or crush a Heath Bar (we crush our favorite, Enstrom’s Toffee).
    Mix and match. It doesn’t have to be photo #4: It can be your own unique artistic splash.

    If you feel you have no skill even in simple cake decoration, check out photo #2. The fruit is simply placed on the serving plate at the bottom of the cake.

    Ready, set, garnish!




    BASTILLE DAY: 25 Favorite French Foods

    [1] Bouillabaisse, a fish soup or stew from Marseille (photo courtesy Mackenzie Ltd).

    Escargots In Shell
    [2] Escargots, a delicacy of snails in garlic and parsley butter (photo courtesy Williams Sonoma).

    Tarte Tatin
    [3] Tarte tatin (photo courtesy

    Fried Egg Ratatouille
    [4] Ratatouille with a fried egg (photo courtesy Elegant Affairs Caterers).


    July 14th is Bastille Day, the national day of France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution.

    Make it an annual celebration of French food and wine. Here are the top 25 French dishes.

  • Baeckeoffe: a casserole from the French region of Alsace, which is situated on the border with Germany. In the Alsatian dialect, Baeckeoffe means “baker’s oven.” The recipe includes cubed mutton, beef, and pork, Alsatian white wine, potatoes, onions, leeks, thyme, parsley, garlic, carrots and marjoram.
  • Blanquette de veau: a veal ragout in which neither the veal nor the butter is browned in the cooking process, which keeps the veal white (en blanquette).
  • Boeuf Bourguignon: a beef stew braised in red wine (named for red Burgundy) and beef broth, with carrots, onions and garlic, cooked with a bouquet garni and garnished with pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon.
  • Bouillabaisse: a traditional Provençal fish stew originating in the port city of Marseille (photo #1).
  • Cassoulet: a rich, slow-cooked casserole containing meat, pork skin and white beans, originating in the south of France.
  • Coq au vin: chicken braised with wine, lardons, mushrooms and garlic.
  • Croque madame: a variation of croque monsieur (below), topped with a fried egg.
  • Croque monsieur: a sandwich of baked or fried boiled ham and gruyère cheese. The dish originated in French cafés and bars as a quick snack. A croque madame is a
  • Duck confit: the duck is cooked in its own fat, for extra richness. It is from the Gascony region.
  • Escargots: snails in garlic-parsley butter (photo #2).
  • Gougère: a baked savory choux pastry made of choux dough (like cream puffs), mixed with gruyère cheese.
  • Gratin dauphinois: a dish of sliced potatoes baked in milk, from the Dauphiné region of southeast France.
  • Moules marinères: Mussels cooked in butter, wine and shallots with thyme.
  • Mousse: a frothy whipped dish of cream and flavors that can be served as a savory dish as well as a sweet dessert.
  • Pan bagnat: is a specialty of the Provence region of France, composed of pain de campagne (whole wheat bread formed in a circle), around a classic salade niçoise—raw vegetables, hard boiled eggs, anchovies and/or tuna, olive oil, and sometimes balsamic vinegar.
  • Piperade: a sautéd vegetable dish from the Basque area, prepared with onion, green peppers, and tomatoes and flavored with red espelette pepper.
  • Pissaladière: a flatbread, usually rectangular, with a traditional topping of caramelized onions, black olives, and anchovies—whole, and sometimes also with pissalat, a type of anchovy paste. It originated in Nice, in Southern France.
  • Pistou: a Provençal vegetable soup into which pistou (a cousin of Italian pesto), is stirred just before serving.
  • Quiche: a savory flan (custard) consisting of a pastry crust filled with eggs, milk or cream, plus cheese, meat, seafood or vegetables.
  • Ratatouille: a Provençal stewed vegetable dish of eggplant, tomato and zucchini, originating in Nice (photo #4).
  • Salade niçoise: From the city of Nice, a salad with local lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, niçoise olives and anchovies, dressed with olive oil.
  • Sole meuniere: A whole sole or fillet, dredged in flour, pan fried in butter and served with the resulting brown butter sauce, parsley and lemon.
  • Soupe à l’oignon: onion soup topped with melted gruyere
  • Steak tartare: raw ground meat mixed with chopped raw onions, capers, Worcestershire sauce, ground pepper and other seasonings,
  • Tarte tatin: Named after the hotel run by the Tatin sisters, who created it as an upside-down pastry in which the fruits are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked (photo #3).

    Whip up something for today, and plan a co-op celebration for next year.

    By co-op, we mean inviting friends to share in making the food. Those who can’t cook can certainly find their way to the French wine section of the nearest liquor store.

    And someone can put together a mix tape of French popular music: Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg, François Hardy, and the immortal Edith Piaf.




    FOOD FUN: The World’s Largest French Fry?

    For National French Fry Day, July 13th, treat yourself to the largest French fry we’ve ever seen.

    Created at Michael Jordan’s The Steak House in New York City, you’ll need a fork and knife—unless you want to eat it caveman-style.

    Each fry (photo #1) is the size of one whole Idaho russet potato (photo #2) and weighs 12-16 ounces.

    Michael Jordan’s executive chef, Cenobio Canalizo, mastered the preparation of huge, crispy-yet-tender fries with a multi-step process.

    Next time you’re near Grand Central Terminal in New York City, head over and try them out yourself. An order of 3 is $19.99.

    And…you don’t have to sit down for the whole dinner. You can order the fries at the bar!

    Want to make fries at home? Michael Jordan’s isn’t releasing the jumbo fry recipe.

    But here are some creative French fry recipes from the Idaho Potato Commission.

    According to the Idaho Potato Commission, potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable*.

    Now, we don’t want to rain on a great food holiday, but as food educators we have a point to make:

    While potatoes are scientifically classified as a vegetable*, they are classified nutritionally as a starchy food.

    This is because when eaten as part of a meal, potatoes are generally served in place of other starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta or rice.

    While starch is an important part of one’s diet, starchy foods don’t count in your 5 A Day servings of fruits and vegetables. Get a side of broccoli with those fries!


    Jumbo French Fry Michael Jordan
    [1] Chef Cenobio Canalizo at Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse, holding his French fry creation (photo courtesy Michael Jordan’s).

    Russet Burbank Potato
    [2] One potato = one fry (photo courtesy Idaho Potato Commission).


    *In the binomial nomenclatureregnum animale), the plant kingdom (regnum vegetabile), and the mineral kingdom (regnum lapideum).



    PRODUCTS FOR CAMPERS: This Week’s Favorites

    Fairytale Brownies Morsels
    [1] Fairytale’s Magic Morsels are “bites,” one-quarter the size of a standard brownie (photo courtesy Fairytale Brownies).

    Honey Stinger Cracker Sandwich
    [2] Tasty healthfulness: delicious by themselves, with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee (photo courtesy Kristin Hostetter | SNewsnet).

    Smart Sweets Fruity
    [3] Are low-sugar gummy bears guilt-free? Pretty much (photo courtesy Smart Sweets).


    When we were away at summer camp, we eagerly anticipated packages of treats from Nana.

    You don’t have to be a camper, or even a kid, to enjoy receiving these melt-proof snacks. Our selection includes good-for-you and better-for-you. You can call brownies better-for-you when they’re one-fourth the normal size: “Just a bite.”

    One-fourth the size of their standard brownies, Fairytale’s Magic Morsels are a great solution for brownie lovers of all ages (photo #1).

    The portion-controlled brownies, made with fine Belgian chocolate, are a favorite with us. The flavors include Caramel, Chocolate Chip, Cream Cheese, Original, Raspberry Swirl and Walnut.

    Keeping away from sugar? There are two sugar-free varieties: Original and Walnut.

    What more do we need to say except:

    Get yours at If you have difficulty finding what you want on the website (there are so many choices, it can get confusing), just call: 800.324.7982.

    Honey Stinger is a brand established more than 60 years ago, for outdoors enthusiasts seeking nutrition that abetted performance.

    The company created snacks using the original energy food, honey.

    You don’t have to be a hiker or an athlete to enjoy their better-for-you treats. Couch potatoes like us are happy to nibble away.

    We’ve previously enjoyed the company’s thin, crisp Organic Waffles snacks, available in regular and gluten-free and in a number of satisfying flavors (caramel, chocolate, lemon, etc.).

    The new Organic Cracker N’ Nut Butter Snack Bars are just as tempting—maybe more so (photo #2).

    The bars contain three nut butter options that delivewr 5g of protein, mixed with organic honey and sandwiched between two multigrain crackers. The bars are covered in organic dark or milk chocolate.

    All this tastiness has just 9g-12g of sugar, and are all natural—nothing artificial. They are USDA Certified Organic and certified kosher-dairy by OU. Varieties include:

  • Almond Butter & Dark Chocolate
  • Cashew Butter & Milk Chocolate
  • Peanut Butter & Milk Chocolate
    The bars are available at natural foods and nutrition stores, and at in boxes of 12.

    We’ve been enjoying them with our morning coffee: so much more energy-enhancing than a bagel!

    We love gummy bears, but not the sugar. We’ve tried the sugar-free versions, but if you eat more than five bears, the sugar alcohols do you in (if you’ve been there, you know what we mean).

    Enter Smart Sweets (photo #3), offering 1.8-ounce bags of fruity gummies with just 3g of sugar.

    Sweetened with stevia (no sugar alcohols, no artificial sweeteners), a bag also contains 28g of fiber from chicory root and tapioca.

    The reduction in sugar (85% less) makes the flavor different from conventional gummies, the latter of which burst forth with fruit and sweetness. But you get all the chewiness of the full-sugar varieties.

    There are two options: Fruity and Sour. The Sour variety is for those who can’t get enough sour. Oh, the pucker!

    The gummies are made in a dedicated gluten-, peanut-, tree-nut-, dairy-, soy- and casein-free facility.

    Get yours at



    RECIPE: Walnut Spread, A Versatile Spread, Filling & Thickener

    An overly-enthusiastic purchase of a huge bag of walnut halves at a warehouse club led us to think:

    What on earth were we thinking? There are just so many walnut pies, salad garnishes, pasta sauces, cookies and brownies we can eat.

    But we hit the jackpot with what the California Walnut Board calls walnut “cream.” To avoid any relation to dairy, we call it walnut spread.

    It’s like hummus that tastes like nuts instead of chickpeas and tahini. It is also dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan.

    And like hummus, walnut spread has its own arsenal of nutrition, including heart-healthiness.

    Best for our jumbo bag of walnuts, you can turn it into a spread that can be used every day.

    The walnut spread has a rich, velvety texture and a lightly nutty flavor profile. You can use walnut spread in the same way as hummus:

  • A dip for crudités
  • A sandwich or turkey burger spread
  • A salad dressing (diluted with oil)
  • A sauce for chicken, fish, grains, vegetables
  • As a thickener for soups and sauces*, instead of dairy cream or roux
  • As a filling or frosting for cakes and sweet loaves

    This recipe (photo #1) is simply a 2:1 ratio of raw walnuts to water. Walnut pieces are less costly than walnut halves.

    The spread is flavorful and nutty. But like hummus, you can add more dimensions of flavor with everything from chiles to olives.

    Ingredients For 1-1/2 Cups

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional add-ins: chiles, garlic, olives, sundried tomatoes or red bell pepper, etc.

    1. BLEND the optional add-ins first, in a food processor. Add the nuts, pulverize and slowly add in the water.

    2. TASTE and season as desired. It will keep in the fridge for several days.

    Here are more recipes to start you off:

  • African Squash Soup With Walnut Cream
  • Breakfast Quinoa With Walnut Cream & Blueberries
  • Profiteroles With Walnut Filling (also use as a cake filling or a frosting for carrot cake or zucchini bread)
    Here are lots of walnut recipes, from the California Walnut Board.

    And one of our favorites, candied walnuts (photo #4), are great for dessert garnishes, trail mix, snacking and more.


    Walnut Spread
    [1] Walnut “cream,” dairy-free (photo courtesy California Walnut Board).

    Whole Walnuts
    [2] Whole walnuts. You can plant a tree and grow your own (photo courtesy Stark Bros.)

    Walnuts In Hulls On Tree
    [3] Walnuts grow inside green hulls like these (photo courtesy The Sleuth Journal).

    Candied Nuts Recipe
    [4] One of our favorite ways to enjoy walnuts: candied! Here’s the recipe (photo courtesy Babble).

    The wild walnut (Juglans regia) originated in central Asia, spreading in pre-historic times to western China, the Caucasus, Persia, and Europe. Archaeologists have found walnut remains in southern France dating to 17,000 thousand years (source).

    The cultivation of walnuts in ancient Persia dates to at least 7000 B.C.E., in the Neolithic period. There, they were reserved for royalty.

    The Romans called walnuts Juglans regia, “Jupiter’s royal acorn,” after the supreme god of the Roman pantheon.

    Neolithic peoples cultivated walnuts at least 7,000 years ago, but they were not widely cultivated in the Mediterranean until ancient Greek and Roman times. Walnuts were an item of trade, and amphorae filled with walnut residue have been salvaged in Roman ships that sank in the Mediterranean.

    Their significant nutrition made them an important part of the diet. By the first century C.E., Greek and Roman physicians extolled walnuts’ medicinal virtues.

    Walnuts were traded along the Silk Road between the Middle East and Asia.

    Walnut trees flourished throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and from then until modern times, physicians described them for a variety of illnesses.

    When seafaring English merchants traded the product in ports around the world, the nuts became known as English walnuts, although England is not a grower of commercial walnut crops.
    Modern Walnuts

    But California is. The Golden State has become the source of the world’s best walnuts, first cultivated there by Franciscan fathers in the late 1700s.

    California walnuts are harvested in the fall, typically from mid-September to early November. They’re ready to harvest begins when the green hulls (photo #3) split.

    In modern farming, the nuts are removed from the tree using a mechanical shaker, a machine that grasps the trunk and shakes the whole tree. The nuts drop to the ground, are swept into rows (windrows) and gathered up with harvest machinery.

    The green hulls are then removed with a huller, exposing the familiar hard brown shell (photo #2). The shells are cleaned with wet scrubbers and dried in gas dryers.

    While some consumers buy the nuts in the shell, most are cracked, graded and packaged and sold sold to consumers as nutmeats (source).


    *Think of great pairings, like mushroom soup with walnut thickener, or chicken with walnut sauce.



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