Our fascination with hybrid food soared to a whole new level on May 10, 2013 – the fateful day that the Cronut™ launched on New York’s bakery scene. Created and trademarked by Chef Dominique Ansel, the Cronut combines everything you love about a croissant and a doughnut into one indulgent hybrid pastry.
This past weekend, I took my niece to New York for her 13th birthday. It was a day of firsts for her – first time in New York, first Broadway show, first cab ride, and first Pop-Tarts Café. OK, well that last one was a first for me too.
Being the food nerd that I am, I made sure that a stop at the new Pop Tarts World in Times Square was included on our itinerary. I’ve been reading about the shop for a few weeks now, and couldn’t wait to check it out for myself.
Inside, is a Pop-Tarts lover’s dream – tote bags and coffee mugs emblazoned with the brand logo, both new and retro. A “Varietizer” at the center of the store allowing customers to create their own variety packs – this area proved to have the longest lines.
But the area I was most focused on for this trip was the café. Having read countless “ewwws” and “ahhhs” for Pop-Tarts Sushi (minced Pop Tarts wrapped in a Fruit Roll-Up) and Fluffer Butters (marshmallow spread between two fudge tarts), I couldn’t wait to try for myself.
I chose the S’mores Stick – dark chocolate covered marshmallows on a stick, dotted with small cubes of s’mores flavored Pop-Tarts. Indulgent, delicious and decidedly adult. My niece was enamored by the Pop-Tarts Sushi, but in that crucial moment of ordering, caved in to her fears of weirdness, and ordered a toasted frosted strawberry Pop Tart – that she ate cold on the train ride home.
To me, the store appeared to be more for grown-ups than the kiddies. It was us, the adults, acting like kids in a candy store, while the kids were mildly impressed. It was the adults ordering the Pop-Tarts sundaes, sushi and sandwiches, while the kids stuck with the traditional tarts, and clung to the Varietizer.
What I also noticed, was that the café really focused on extending the Pop-Tarts brand, beyond the toaster. All summer, we’ve spotted the ad campaign in which a mom helps her kids set up a Pop-Tart stand where they sell various frozen treats, including Pop-Tarts ice cream sandwiches (an awesome idea, by the way). The café brings those ideas to life along with so many more – supported by a generous recipe section on the Pop-Tarts website. Like Rice Krispies before it, the Pop-Tarts brand is leaping into snacks and desserts – and the results are pretty awesome.
And lest you think that only sugar-laden treats can come of this, take a moment to enjoy Pop-Tarts Ants on a Log – celery sticks filled with peanut butter and dotted with squares of wild grape flavored Pop-Tarts!
So much food, so little time…
I was pleasantly surprised at the 479° Popcorn booth. How exciting can flavored popcorn be? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Me too. But their flavors –Vietnamese Cinnamon Sugar, Madras Curry Coconut & Cashews, and Black Truffle & White Cheddar – were both creative and delicious.
And speaking of creative, I just loved the breakfast pitas, with real fruit pieces, from Ozery Bakery. Available in apple cinnamon, cranberry orange, and breakfast muesli, they make a fabulous substitute for your usual morning bagel, toast, etc. (I’m thinking the cranberry orange wouldn’t be too shabby with a lunchtime turkey sandwich either!)
Granola Flats weren’t much more than an ultra-thin flattened granola bar (Nature Valley type), but they were darn tasty! Plus, they’re sold as a “chip” rather than a bar which means I have something to snack on now when hubby dives into the Fritos during a baseball game.
When it comes to food, I’ll try anything once. (Whether I’ll try it again is a different story.) But there is the occasional product that my brain just won’t allow past my lips. That’s been true in the past of vinegar drinks brought to me by my wonderful co-workers at David Michael Beijing. I love vinegar – so much, that I load it up on my salads to the point of mouth numbing. But the idea of drinking it, like juice – I just couldn’t get past that. So, when I spotted Hong Cho’s pomegranate vinegar drink, I decided to go for it. And you know what? It’s pretty good! The vinegar is noticeable, but not overwhelming. Since there are a number of health-benefits linked to vinegar drinks, I’m officially adding this to my radar. With the right marketing (a downplay of the word “vinegar” I’m thinking) this could be a future trend to watch.
Other fun finds at this year’s show? I was excited to spot macqui berry at Honest Tea’s booth in the new Macqui Berry Mate – keep your eyes peeled for more of this superfruit. There was lots of prickly pear and blood orange flavored goodies, mostly drinks. I found Parisian macarons at a number of booths, including the frozen macarons at Galaxy Desserts – perfect for foodservice. The Naan Pizza at Tandoor Chef was awesome – it’s about darn time we had something like this on the market. And, Chobani Greek Yogurt now offers Chobani Champions, said to be the only Greek yogurt made for kids.
And my favorite product of the show? Nothing too crazy here – my personal favorite were the falafels at Falafel Republic. Lightly fried balls of ground chick peas, falafels are typically served in a pita from your favorite street vendor. This version needs only seconds in the microwave to heat up, and the falafels are satisfyingly savory and filling. Served with tzatziki sauce, I could eat them every day, with or without the pita.
When I was a little girl, my grandfather would take me to visit his older sister – Aunt Lillian. I was very young when my aunt died, and I don’t remember a lot about her. What I do remember, is that I always felt very close to her. I also remember that she was short, she liked to wear house-dresses, and she was always in the kitchen. But what I remember most, were the Chocolate No-Bake Cookies that she would always make for me. I still remember the red tin that she would place in front of me – and I would get so excited!
Eventually, she gave me the recipe, and my grandfather and I made them once – successfully. Shortly after, my Aunt Lillian passed away, and the recipe, somehow, was lost forever.
For years, I would ask my grandfather if he had the recipe, but he’d insist that he gave it to my mom. And Mom would insist that my grandfather still had it. Friends and family members would make recipe suggestions – but they weren’t quite right.
A few weeks ago, I brought the cookies up at dinner – yet again, in what seemed like a futile attempt. But this time, a light seemed to flash on in my grandfather’s head – and he directed my grandmother to a small box in the corner of a kitchen cabinet (where, by the way, he apparently hides his secret recipes for pitzels and wedding soup!). And there it was – on a thin piece of yellowed notepaper, transcribed from memory, in my Aunt Lillian’s handwriting.
Now, I am told that my aunt was a tremendous cook and baker – and by no means were these cookies the greatest thing in her repertoire. But, to me they were. And when I smelled the combination of cocoa, peanut butter, oats and coconut on the stove, it didn’t matter. That first bite brought me back 25 years – to my favorite flavor in the entire world.
I always find it amazing how smells and flavors can unlock memories from long ago. This year, for Christmas, I’m sharing these “cookies” with my friends and family. And as a little holiday gift to our blog readers, I’ve included it below – exactly as Aunt Lillian wrote it.
Enjoy – and Happy Holidays!
Aunt Lillian’s No-Bake Chocolate Cookies
Put into a pan…
¼ lb butter
½ cup milk
½ cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
Stir over low heat until butter is melted and comes to a boil. (Note from Erin: This may seem like it takes forever, but they will not thicken otherwise!) Remove from heat and add…
2 tablespoons peanut butter
3 cups oatmeal (Old fashion)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup coconut flakes
Stir until everything is mixed well and oatmeal is all coated – drop heaping teaspoon on reynolds wrap or waxed paper. Let stand until dry.
Another product that caught my fancy at this year’s show is healthDropzTM. Called a “Beverage Booster,” the company claims that by adding six drops to any beverage, you get the benefit of the supplement, free of flavor or calories. Available in energy, focus, and green tea, I decided that I was in grave need of a kick and tried the energy in water. There really was no flavor. I was truly surprised – it just tasted like plain water!
But since I am here to talk flavors, I was very pleased to find a line of flavored dulce de leche from the Argentian company el Semillero. Also a producer of chimichurri (yum), the dulces were available in mint, orange, and, I believe, cinnamon and coconut, aside from original, of course. I sampled the orange which was delicious. What a fabulous idea!
While walking the aisles of the show, I found inspiration for a friend’s baby shower at the Sutter Home booth. Alcohol Removed Fre® Wine tastes just like the real thing, and is available in all the classic varieties – Merlot, White Zin and Chardonnay, just to name a few. The Fre website also boasts “cocktails” using the wines. And at the booth, a few “Preggatini” recipes were available too – “cocktails for the mom-to-be.”
Other highlights from this year’s Fancy Foods Show included Jelly Belly’s new Superfruit mix, featuring acai, Barbados cherry, blueberry, pomegranate and cranberry flavors – a delicious mix, especially if you’re a red fruit fan like myself. Another fave, Brownie Pops take brownies, dip them in chocolate, and put ‘em on a stick – HELLO!
At the Winter Fancy Foods Show in California, hibiscus seemed to be all the rage, but in NYC it was all about the blood orange. In fact, quite a few blood orange flavored items (confit, juice, marmalade) took home Sofi Awards.
With over 2,300 exhibitors on the show floor, I had a tall order for this one-day jaunt. But once the feet start aching, and too much sampling leads to a thousand-yard stare, it’s easy to miss a great product. That’s why it’s always helpful to check out other show reviews – because we all see something different!
A few of my favorites this year are Bobby Flay’s review from the CBS Early Show (check out the video), New York Daily News (check out the mini-melon), Sara Moulton on ABC’s Good Morning America, and Slashfood’s day-by-day highlights.
Plus, you can revisit our reviews from the January Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco!
Just a quick note to let everyone know that today is National Strawbery-Rhubarb Pie Day!! Seriously! Celebrate with our recipe of the month – Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie!
A few months back I wrote about the comeback of head-to-tail eating. Inspired, but not quite so adventurous myself, I’ve attempted a little total utilization on my own, sans-animal innards.
More and more, I’ve been breathing new life into leftovers – not just reheating, but creating new meals from them. When recipes called for egg whites, I tried desperately to find something else to bake that would use the yolks. But a few weekends ago, my practiced methods came together like kismet!
On Mother’s Day weekend, I decided to bake an Angel Food Cake for mom – her favorite. My first, and successful, attempt (thank you Good Housekeeping cookbook!) used a dozen(!) egg whites. I sat the yolks aside, determined to find a use for them as I prepared my next concoction – limoncello.
The making of limoncello is a weeklong endeavor, and with a friend’s birthday the following weekend, it was time to peel the lemons to steep in grain alcohol for his homemade present. Of course, once the lemons are peeled, they must either be juiced and used immediately, or trashed. So, I juiced the lemons, initially with plans to freeze said juice, and again, set it aside.
With the cake baking, and the booze brewing, I flipped through my favorite cookbooks for an idea, and found the answer in my ever-trusty Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. Huzzah – lemon curd!! The recipe called for exactly 12 egg yolks (hooray) and a cup of lemon juice, along with lemon extract. With no lemon extract in site, I figured the 1¼ cups of lemon juice would suffice. It could not have turned out more perfect!!! For Mother’s Day, we indulged in Angel Food Cake with Lemon Curd…but my story is still not quite over.
The following weekend, while finishing the limoncello recipe and getting ready for the party, I realized I still had some residual lemon curd that needed to be consumed STAT! Well, I had just enough left, combined with exactly the amount needed of heavy whipping cream from my husband’s Tres Leches birthday cake (also from the week before), to make a Lemon Icebox Pie to bring along. Thank you again Magnolia Bakery!
Phew! Yeah, it was a lot of work. And while I realized why I probably hadn’t conducted a kitchen marathon such as this before, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and pride that not one ingredient went to waste in my refrigerator, and I made a lot of people happy.
When I was a little girl, my mom and her fellow teacher friends loved to take summertime day trips to Lancaster, Pennsylvania (a.k.a. “Amish Country”). We’d get lost on country roads filled with slow moving buggies. Walk idly through textbook warehouses, searching for the latest teacher editions. And stare at patchwork quilts for hours. Since the water slides and smorgasbords were reserved for when dad made the trips, you may be wondering why a young gal would want to tag along on these excursions. Two words – whoopie pies!
While lost on those country roads, we’d inevitably stop off at a farm or two, and raid the little shed-like shops where Amish wives would sell their wares. There amongst the fresh eggs, rhubarb and homemade root beer, lay my salvation.
A whoopie pie isn’t really a pie. It kind of looks like a giant sandwich cookie, only it’s soft and cakey. I fell in love with chocolate immediately, and grew to love the pumpkin even more. While mom insisted that the chocolate version was actually molasses – an Amish original, she claimed – my nine year-old self could have never dreamed up the possibilities in store for these delectable treats.
Years later, it seems whoopie pies are suddenly, well, hip. In fact, they appear to be the next cupcake. I was catching up on a little late reading on Bloomacious.com and came across a feature on the treats. Not only was I ignorant of the fact that the residents of Maine stake a claim to whoopie pie, as well (I was convinced this was a Pennsylvania Dutch thing only), but I was painfully unaware of a growing number of bakeries specializing in the treat.
In March, the New York Times ran an article on whoopie pies, citing a number of bakeries – from the fancy to the unassuming – that specialize in them. And the flavors! Wicked Whoopies of Maine sells everything from banana crème to CHOCOLATE COVERED for about $24 a dozen. And Cranberry Island Kitchen gets a bit more adult with Chambord and Champagne varieties.
The hopeful success of whoopie pies, as well as the popularity of cupcakes, is proof positive that we as consumers love what makes us feel good. Simple, childhood treats are what really pull at our heartstrings. Of course, there is always room for improvement and variation, which is why noveau classics are so popular.
Hmmm…I’m feeling a trip to Lancaster…
A few months ago, Danielle (our Marketing Coordinator) and I went to Dave & Buster’s for some delicious fried appetizers. When time for dessert came, the “oh no, I couldn’t eat another bite” quickly turned to “we’ll have those!” when we caught site of the donut holes on the dessert menu. Sugar and chocolatey goodness, with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces.
It’s Fat Tuesday today, and I’ve got donuts on the brain (and in the stomach). Did you know, that Canadian chain Tim Horton’s compliments their sandwich value meals with donuts? So, instead of, “would you like fries with that,” yummy breakfast time sweetness rounds out your lunch.
Bear with me and my indulgences, I swear there’s a trend here.
Last week, the New York Times noted a growing trend in offering sweet breakfast items for dessert. Donuts are a casual chain restaurant staple right now, but that’s just the beginning.
The New York Times article notes Panna Cotta from Momofuku restaurants, flavored with milk from the bottom of the cereal bowl. (A concept we’ve tried ourselves in RTD flavored milk.) Then there’s toast flavored ice cream at Tailor. And at Chicago’s Moto restaurant, guests can sample hot doughnut soup with coffee-flavored whipped cream.
Restaurants & Institutions senior editor Allison Perlik also commented on last week’s article, noting the French toast and maple-bacon flavored ice cream with carmelized apple at Lola in Cleveland.
Speaking of bacon ice cream, you may have noticed a bit of bacon love in this blog. The funny thing is, that I wouldn’t consider myself over-obsessed with the stuff, but I’m just loving all of the ingenious ways that restaurants, chocolatiers and bakers are reinventing it. And while the New York Times article notes that bacon flavored sweets are “trendy to a fault,” you have to admit there is something there. Yes, I’m sure the bacon craze will reveal itself as fad, but how could a staple completely fade away? I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of sweet bacon!
But I digress, breakfast for dessert is such a logical move…why have we not thought of this sooner? I know I’m not alone here when I say that pancakes, French toast and beignets, while completely delightful, are a little too sugary for the morning hours. Why not save them for that “I just need something sweet” feeling after a savory meal. Years ago, a friend of a friend would bring his homemade coffee and donuts ice cream to every party he was invited to – in fact, it was so good that I don’t believe he was allowed to attend without it!
With consumers increasingly looking for something just a little bit different, but still approachable, and restaurants and manufacturers looking to set themselves apart in a very competitive market, breakfast for dessert sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Now bring on the blueberry pancake parfait (with maple syrup flavored ice cream, of course)!
For everyone that loves bacon, I have another yummy treat for you. You may remember last month we discussed Bacon Salt and the Bacon Explosion. (And I cannot tell you enough, how fabulous the Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar is!). Now, prepare yourself for the (drumroll, please) Bacon Cupcake!!!
Brainchild of Boulder’s Tee and Cakes, this buttery maple cake is topped with decadent chocolate ganache, and bacon pieces. They’re all the rage, and I imagine fellow trendy cupcake bakeries may be quick to catch on.