Savory Cocktails – Trend or Fad?
September 14th, 2010

Blogs are exploding with reports of meaty cocktails on the menu. I’m not going to lie – my first reaction is “ewwww.” I want bacon with my morning OJ, not in it.

But then I let it simmer a little (sorry, it was one of the only puns not taken), and thought about the savory drinkables that have been around for a while. There is, of course, the Bloody Mary, with its sweet, spicy and savory components. Then there is the age-old Chelada cocktail that uses Clamato juice – a product that has always made me run away (but then again, I don’t exactly like clams). And recently, modern bartenders (a.k.a. bar chefs or mixologists) have reverted to hand-crafted cocktails from real fruit, herbs and spices, rather than relying on mixes (admittedly moreso in higher-end establishments and independents).

Considering these elements makes the savory cocktail seem like a no-brainer – so why the buzz? Oh, maybe it’s the term “fat-washing” that has us talking. Mixologists are adding fat (as in, bacon fat) to whiskey, popping it in the freezer, then cutting out the solidified fat. Bacon flavor infused – greasy fat in the trash.

And ok, I’ll admit it. With the extreme love for bacon I see on a daily basis, and the versatility we’ve been opened up to in the past few years, maybe this could work. After all, bacon is amazing in chocolate, so why not in my chocolate martini?

But how about salmon-flavored vodka? Now you’re cringing, right? Yes sir, one distiller has added a salmon flavor to their line-up. I’m all for shaking things up, but…

So, the question remains – is this a growing trend, or just a fad? Well, the thing about a fad is that most of the time, it has some basis in a functional long-term trend. Take leg warmers for instance – a fashion fad, but not for those in the dancing world. And in food, fads may fizzle, but they tend to stick around in one way or another. In other words, while the liquor store of the future may not stock the makings for a Philly cheesesteak cocktail, what we are seeing is a slow move away from overly sweet, candy-coated cocktails. We’re scaling back the sweet for a more balanced drink, be it savory, fruity or otherwise.

There are elements in the meaty drink craze that are shaping the future of drink. And focusing on those nuances, the driving forces, will help us determine future flavors for this category. Just please, don’t let it be salmon…


A Trip to the Times Square Pop Tarts World Café
September 10th, 2010

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.

Pop Tarts World - Times Square - New York, NY

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.

Pop Tarts Sushi

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.

Pop Tarts S'mores Stick and Frosted Strawberry Pop Tart

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!


Eat Your Peas!
August 24th, 2010

I was a picky kid, skilled in the art of avoidance. When Mom tried to make me stay at the table and eat my peas, or try just one bite of the sweet potatoes, I didn’t exactly make it easy on her.

Try as she might, my stubbornness persevered and I entered adulthood with a meager diet. Throughout college I found myself tempted to try new things – after all, my metabolism was slowing down, and avoiding veggies wasn’t doing me any favors. For the most part, I enjoyed what I tried. And then I met the cucumber. I tried it, it failed, and I set it to the side of my salad plate for a few more years.

Eventually, I came across an article on how a child must be exposed to a new food 15 times before accepting it. Realizing I was as picky as a nine year-old, I conducted an experiment. I chose to revisit the friendly cucumber. I had inexplicably disliked it, even though it seemed perfectly harmless (those peas are another story).

Fifteen times I hesitantly ate those cucumbers, through the gags and the wrinkled faces. Amazingly, as I approached number 12, it didn’t seem so bad. But I still thought, eck, this won’t keep. Wrong I was…

Today, cucumbers are one of my favorite foods. I like cucumber slices in my water. I pile my salads high with them. Heck, one of my favorite snacks is cucumber slices dipped in tzatziki, a sauce made from yogurt, garlic, and, get this, more cucumbers!

So, why this stroll down memory lane? A colleague sent me a blog post from The Guardian (UK), in which the writer overcomes a similar aversion to horseradish. (She also notes a popular hatred for cilantro – something I never could understand as I tend to eat it by the bucketful.)

It made me think that my own child-inspired method wasn’t far off the mark – aren’t we all cranky nine year–olds when we really don’t like something?

I’m proud to say that over the years, I’ve developed an “I’ll try anything once” philosophy when it comes to food. (I mean, I’m not the next Andrew Zimmern or anything, but I am a bit more adventurous than your av-e-rage bear.) But, this article has me thinking I should give some things a second shot. First stop – those putrid peas.


The 2010 Summer Fancy Foods Show Review – Part 3
July 21st, 2010

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.


The 2010 Summer Fancy Foods Show Review – Part 2
July 19th, 2010

Probably the most innovative product I spotted at this year’s Fancy Foods Show was the Brazilian import, Bacon Krisps. Distributed by Acme Import Co., Bacon Krisps are very interesting little snacks. A minute in the microwave, and voila, these little wheat nuggets puff up into perfect little red, white and tan striped bacon-flavored snacks (you know, the kind of striped coloring you wish your at-home bacon actually looked like). And bonus: they’re vegetarian! And on a side note, this was just one of many air-popped snacks for kids and adults on display.

Danielle’s Crispy Veggie Chips sells a line of exotic dehydrated fruits and veggies, including jackfruit, roasted coconut, spicy carrot and okra. What I most surprised by was how popular the durian was at the show. If you’re not familiar with this tropical fruit, the durian is a highly prized fruit of Southeast Asia – even though it is actually banned in most public places due to its pungent odor. But, durian lovers (and there are many), are more than willing to withstand the smell to get to the custard-like filling of this spiny, football-shaped pod. Apparently, Fancy Food Show goers couldn’t wait to taste it either – by the time I made it to the booth, it was all gone…

And speaking of Fancy Food hits, I was lucky enough to sample from the last pint of Vosges’ Bacon Toffee Ice Cream. I’m a HUGE fan of their bacon chocolate bars, so I was pretty excited to sample this new, not-yet-available-in-stores treat. The verdict? Smoky, caramel, and a little meaty. Not sure I could eat a whole bowl, but I imagine a scoop melting atop the right dessert would be pure heaven.

And speaking of chocolate – my main source of sustenance at the show – an unexpected favorite was the Toasted Corn chocolate bar from Philly’s own Eclat Chocolate. And I don’t even like corn-flavored things! But this was excellent – crunchy, toasty and tasty.

Next up – granola chips, maqui berry, drinkable vinegar, and my personal show favorite!


The 2010 Summer Fancy Foods Show Review – Part 1
July 15th, 2010

Ah, the Fancy Foods Show – 331,000 square feet of chocolate, cheese and sauce. A playground of flavor for food industry peeps and bloggers alike. A global adventure that takes you around the world in eight hours. In short – practice your competitive eating skills beforehand, wear your comfiest of comfy shoes, and be ready to take a lot o’ notes.

Lollibons® – ice cream filled truffles on a stick – caught my eye first. I was reminded that everything tastes better on a stick, as was the thinking behind our own Pie Pops (pies on a stick) showcased at the 2009 Innovation Roadshow®.

Of all the trends lining the aisles of the Javits Center, “real” ginger – whether it was ginger soda/ale or ginger beer – seemed to be the strongest. With too many to count, one that really made an impression was Belvoir Fruit Farms’ Organic Ginger Beer. Strong does not begin to describe the kick of this carbonated soda – but it had me wanting more. Their elderflower juice was pretty darn tasty too – and both ginger and elderflower are hot on cocktail menus right now.

Our flavor chemists recently developed a line of honey flavors from Australia and New Zealand, so I was pretty excited to spot the Manuka honey line from Honey New Zealand. The twist? The number of active enzymes in each jar are called out on the package – from 5+ to 25+. According to the manufacturer, enzymes in honey have natural healing properties and do not dissipate when heated. Each batch is independently tested for its activity level, and marked as such.

Last year, the Peruvian pavilion was the place to be. Even though Peruvian cuisine is still on the rise, Korean cuisine is beginning to steal the spotlight as the next big thing. At the Korean pavilion, The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) joined forces with the Korean Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation for a demonstration of fusion foods, like Bibimbap Mini Tacos and Kimchi Pancakes.

Next up – Bacon, bacon, and durian?


The Country’s Most Famous Garden
July 1st, 2010

I’ve talked on this blog, from time to time, of my fondness for fresh produce. I volunteer at my local farmers’ market. And I make use of what little sun I have on my deck for a potted garden of tomatoes, herbs, and new this year, peppers (their success is yet to be seen).

My interest in gardening is new – only within the past six or seven years – and has grown progressively. And my interest in vegetables, well let’s just say that still shocks my parents after all these years. I was that picky of an eater as a child.

For Father’s Day weekend, my dad, sister and I took a little road trip down to Washington D.C. to do some museum hopping. With the immense heat, we had committed to air conditioned activities only, until my sister decided that we couldn’t leave town without stopping by the White House. Since this wasn’t my first trip, I was less than excited (not much changes on the outside), until I spotted the White House Garden.

The White House Presidential Garden

From the sidewalk, it appeared smaller than I would have expected (even though it is actually about 1,100 square feet). Last year, the garden produced over 1,000 pounds of food, feeding not only the Obamas, but dinner guests and local homeless shelters as well. This year, the size of the garden has been increased. And in the garden you will find everything from broccoli and rhubarb to tomatillos and Japanese eggplant.

Even though I had stood at the White House fence before, and gazed at the South Lawn (playing spot the Secret Service men), seeing the new garden was extremely exciting. After all, the White House hasn’t housed a garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during World War II.

The White House - Washington, D.C.

In fact, the whole thing got me motivated to consider a plot in my community garden next year – something I had written off this year as too time consuming. (They have a lot more sun then I’ve got in my yard!)

But I’m not the only one. According to the Christian Science Monitor, W. Atlee Burpee & Co (a seed company) saw a 30% jump in vegetable seed sales in 2009 over the previous year. That’s pretty impressive.

And I haven’t even gotten into the real purpose of the garden, which is to encourage more consumption of fresh foods. What started out as a personal mission for her family, has become Michelle Obama’s platform – demanding healthier options and fresh food for our country’s children. This mission is winning favor with parents, and food manufacturers have responded with plans to cut sodium, sugar and more.

I managed to get a picture of the garden, before the Secret Service began to shoo us away. Others in the crowd were certain this meant the presidential motorcade was coming through, or that President Obama was coming out onto the lawn. But, since it was late in the day, I’m certain that it that the high alert was to allow the First Lady, and her girls, a chance to water their garden undisturbed.


Here We Come A-Waffleing
June 14th, 2010

This weekend, while browsing through a department store home sale with a friend, we came upon a rack of on-sale specialty electrics – or what we quickly dubbed, “dust-collectors.”

You know what I’m talking about – the circus animal waffle iron, the mini donut maker, the cupcake maker! (Seriously…why wouldn’t you just use mini-cupcake tins??)

It got me thinking about some of the lesser used items in my own kitchen – the crème brulee torch, the deep fryer, and the Belgian waffle iron. I spent the evening trying to imagine ways to make use of these things beyond the obvious – ok, well, a few minutes at least – and I wasn’t coming up with much.

Then, I spotted a post from last week’s Tasting Table on the very subject (seriously, if you are not signed up for this newsletter, you should be!). My waffle iron being the most perplexing of the bunch, I was thrilled to find their recommendation for waffleizer.com, a blog dedicated to finding 30 new uses for a waffle iron, other than waffles.

Are there 30 uses, you ask? Try it as a panini press or a pizza oven, bake up cookies, muffins and pretzels, or even “fry” up some yummy hash browns. Waffleizer ventures into the sweet and savory – some closer than others to the waffle comfort zone.

Yet another reminder of how a little creativity in the kitchen, or the product development lab, can garner a whole new world of food and flavors!


Vanilla Unveils its Savory Side
May 27th, 2010

In yesterday’s Washington Post food section, I spotted an article revealing that vanilla works just as well in savory dishes, as in an ice cream cone.

Well…with respect to the Washington Post, we’ve known this one for years.

Ask anyone in our labs, and they’ll tell you that their secret ingredient in a pot of chili, is always vanilla. Try it in a pot of spaghetti sauce too.

At past Roadshows, we’ve shown vanilla paired with tomato, curry, peppercorn, and brown gravy – just to name a few.

Thai Twist Salad Dressing with Vanilla
Roadshow 2006: Thai Twist Salad Dressing with Vanilla

Vanilla can modify the heat of many peppery products, while enhancing the flavor of the particular pepper. It can off-set the earthy and “weed-like” character of many herbs to allow a more palatable experience. It can also be used to create a divergent sensation, whereas vanilla stands out at a different time during the eating experience than the item with which it is paired.

Curious about vanilla’s savory side? I’ve pulled a few recipes from our archives to share with you. Enjoy!

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Spinach Salad with Cranberry Vanilla Vinaigrette

Fresh Baby Spinach – Washed    -  6 oz.

Cranberry Juice  -  1 cup

Fresh Cranberries -  ½  cup

Crumbled Blue Cheese  - ½ cup

Olive Oil  -  ¼ cup

Toasted Pine Nuts -   ¼ cup

Sugar   -  ¼ cup

Orange Juice  -   ¼ cup

White Balsamic Vinegar  -   3 Tbsp

Vanilla Extract  -  2 tsp

Shallots finely minced  -  ¼ tsp

Garlic finely minced  -  ¼ tsp

Salt   -  1 tsp

Pepper   -   1/8 tsp

Raspberries – fresh (optional) -   2 oz

Combine fresh cranberries, sugar, cranberry juice and orange juice and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep for ten minutes. Strain the cranberries and save the cranberries and the liquid.

Mix together the spinach, blue cheese and pine nuts. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the vinegar, shallots, garlic, vanilla, salt, pepper and the cranberry liquid. Whisk in the oil. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Dress the salad and toss with the raspberries and poached cranberries.

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Sautéed Pork Medallions with a Wild Mushroom Sherry Vanilla Sauce

Pork Tenderloin cut into medallions -   8

Oil   -   ¼ cup

Flour    -   ¼ cup

Salt   -  To season

Pepper   -   To season

Sauce:

Veal or Chicken Stock   -  2 cups

Sherry Wine   -  ½ cup

Mixed Wild Mushrooms  -   1 ½ cups

Heavy Cream   -   ¼ cup

Vanilla Extract   -   2 tsp

Carrots – minced   -   1 Tbsp

Celery – minced  -  1 Tbsp

Butter   -   2 Tbsp

Sugar    -   1 Tbsp

Shallots – minced   -    ½ tsp

Garlic – minced  -   ½ tsp

Bay leaf    -   1 leaf

Salt  -   To taste

Pepper  -  To taste

Melt half the butter in a large sauté pan. Lightly sauté the shallots, garlic, carrots and celery. Add the sherry and cook reducing the liquid by half.

Add the remaining ingredients except the cream and butter and cook for 20 minutes.

Add the cream and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the butter and adjust the seasonings.

Flatten the pork medallions and dust with the seasoned flour. Sauté in oil. Hold in a warming oven until ready to serve.

Suggested serving: Serve with soft polenta with roasted red peppers. The pork and sauce go well with spaetzle as well.

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Pan Seared Steak with a Vanilla Peppercorn Sauce

Strip Steaks  -  2 lbs

Salt -   To season

Pepper  -  To season

Sauce:

Beef Stock   -   2 cups

Red Wine  -  ½ cup

Heavy Cream   -  ¼ cup

Cooking Oil  -  ¼ cup

Vanilla Extract  - 1 Tbsp

Green Peppercorns  -   1 Tbsp

Butter  -  1 Tbsp

Shallots – minced  -   ½ tsp

Garlic – minced   -   ¼  tsp

Parsley – chopped  -   ½ tsp

Salt   -    To Taste

Fresh Ground Pepper   -   To Taste

Season the steak with salt and pepper and sear in oil until both sides are lightly brown. Remove steak and finish in a warming oven until desired doneness is achieved.

Remove the excess oil from the pan and sauté the shallots and garlic for 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, simmer and reduce the volume by half.

Add the stock, peppercorns and vanilla. Let reduce on medium high heat for 8 – 10 minutes.

Slowly add the heavy cream and simmer until the consistency of the sauce has become slightly thicker.

Finish the sauce by slowly adding the butter and adjust the seasoning with salt & pepper.

Serve over the steak.


Being Adventurous – In Life & Food
April 27th, 2010

This past weekend I was in a wedding…in fact, I was the Best Maid (aka, a female Best Man). Since the groom and I had known each other since birth, it made perfect sense to me, him, and his wife. But others were unsure – it didn’t fit the mold.

The wedding was in “the city” – across the river from the safe New Jersey suburb everyone knew. Guests were nervous.

The reception was held not in a cookie cutter hall, but in a dance studio along a cobblestone street. And, in lieu of assigned seats, we mingled the entire evening throughout a variety of rooms (with ample seating, of course). Free to roam, guests were skeptical. “It will never work,” they said, “it’s going to be a disaster!”

But, it was beautiful. Just as the bride and groom knew it would. Their sense of adventure was just what their wedding needed. Everyone had a fabulous time. Cynicism gave way to acceptance. And acceptance quickly grew into enjoyment, as friends and relatives met each other for the first time, and danced the night away.

Just like life experiences, trying new foods can be a tricky endeavor, and may often require a bit of a push. A vegetable you’ve never heard of, a combination that sounds ridiculous, a preparation that seems foreign. Too often, we decide to play it safe, and just order the chicken fingers. (Nothing against chicken fingers – they tend to be one of my own personal favorites.)

On the menu, language helps. A dish that sounds so amazing, you just can’t resist. And in the grocery store, special promotions and sales are what get customers to say, “oh, what the heck, for a dollar I’ll give it a go.”

But as product developers, we cannot assume that words and discounts are enough. We also have to ease consumers into flavors they never heard of. While launching an exotic flavor for a niche product – something targeted to a specific ethnic group, or even healthy foods niche – can work out well, doing the same on a mainstream launch can prove less profitable. When flavors are still unknown, it is best to blend them with familiar flavors to help introduce the audience to the concept. While the wedding was different than the norm, there were still many elements that were traditional, which kept guests at ease.

There are excellent examples of products, past and present, that have pushed the envelope, while keeping it familiar. A few that come to mind are: the classic Kiwi-Strawberry Snapple, the new Eclipse Breeze gum with cardamom, and the still-catching-on Vosges Mo’s Bacon Chocolate Bar. All delicious. All fun. All adventurous.


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