Monthly Archives: March 2012

5 Has-Been Trends and Some New Ideas

Last week I listed 10 Of-The-Moment Trends in food.  Someone asked what trends these new ideas replaced.  I don’t think one trend necessarily replaces another, but in order for creativity to flourish, old ideas must give way to new.  And so, without further ado, 5 food-related trends that have reached their saturation points, or even started to recede.  Also, for good measure, 5 foods and ideas that I would love to see gain ground.

On Their Way Out

  1. Gourmet food trucks– Mostly, this is a matter of function.  Food trucks require a certain population density.  Weather, too, plays a role.  Certainly, food trucks are alive and well in certain venues  (New York, cities along the West Coast), but let’s face it: Most areas of the country cannot support a thriving food truck culture.  Those that can, have them.  Those that cannot… Well, let’s just say the trend has gone about as far as it can go.
  2. Artisan Chocolates–  Artisan and small-batch food, generally, is very much in vogue. This includes carefully made small-batch chocolates.  But in many places, the number of specialty chocolatiers that the community can support has reached a saturation point.  The chocolate shops aren’t going away, but the rate at which new shops are opening is definitely slowing.
  3. Cupcakes– Enough already.
  4. National Coffee Houses– People still drink coffee, but today they are much less likely to run to Starbuck’s or Pete’s than they might have been a few years ago.  Instead, they are heading to smaller, local coffee houses or, yikes, even making their coffee at home! The big names aren’t closing up shop, but their dominance is in notable decline.
  5. High-End Teas-  Yes, we now drink green tea and white tea and chai, but our interest in further tea exploration seems to have waned.  I’ve tried, but 9-out-of-10 times when I’m drinking some top-of-the-line tea, I’m wishing for my stand-by, grocery-store brand. Expensive teas just don’t seem to consistently deliver a big enough bang for the buck.  I certainly understand why our flirtation with them is passing.

Really ought to be Up-and-Coming

  1. Macarons
  2. K-12 Food Education
  3. Waldorf Salad
  4. Herb Salts
  5. Dates

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Les Macarons de San Francisco

While in San Francisco this past weekend, I made two mouth-watering discoveries at La Boulange on Columbus Avenue.  The first was house-made potato chips sprinkled with coarse sea salt and very fresh herbs de Provence.  The hints of fennel and lavender were irresistible, and I can’t wait to try my own potato-and-lavender dish here at home.  Equally inspiring were the bakery’s Macarons de San Francisco.  These thick, soft, not-too-sweet cookies tasted like fresh hazlenuts, and their crumbly-but-chewy texture was addictive.  I couldn’t resist bringing a package home.  I found both of these worth-the-trip delights at La Boulange in North Beach, though they are undoubtedly available at any of the cafe’s locations.   Love San Francisco.  Would take years to eat one’s way through it!

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Spider Cornbread

At our local farmer’s market they sell maple cream, maple syrup that has been heated and churned until it is the consistency of frosting.  This time of year, I start to crave it smeared on another New World staple, warm cornbread.  Originally, corn bread was made without flour, and the recipe I grew up with follows this tradition.  Early american cooks also put a premium on finer white cornmeal, but yellow works too.  I usually make two batches of this, as my kids scarf one pan down within minutes.   I slice any leftovers into individual servings and wrap with foil.  They rewarm beautifully in the oven this way.  Try splitting and filling each piece  with pb&j before throwing them into to reheat.  Makes for a great breakfast.  Enjoy!

2 T. butter
1.5 c. white cornmeal
1 T. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, well beaten

Place butter in a 10” cast iron skillet and place in a cold oven. Turn oven to 450°F to preheat. (Alternatively, you can use a glass 8×8” pan and 425°F.)

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and add buttermilk and eggs. Remove warmed pan with butter (now melted) from oven and tilt to grease the bottom and sides. Pour remaining butter into batter and quickly mix. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.*

*Note: You may also use cast iron corn stick molds, but you will need to use additional butter to grease them prior to preheating. Melt the 2 T. butter called for in the recipe in the microwave and add to the batter as above.
Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes.

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2012 Ideas, Ingredients & Philosophies

Ok, so I’m a little behind the New Year, but these things are always evolving… Now that holiday excess and New Year’s resolutions have… well, resolved themselves, most of us have settled back into our usual patterns of eating. Looking around, I’ve noticed certain food-related trends— Some of them are broad and well-established, others just starting to gain ground. All of them deserve a little consideration, for they are coloring our views and impacting our choices. Here are 10 of-the-moment ideas, ingredients, and philosophies that definitely provide food for thought.

1. Small-batch, Artisan, Local– This is more a movement (evolution? revolution?) than a trend. We’re obsessed with thoughtful, intentional, conscientious food– the more carefully, caringly produced, the better. This new ideal has begun to change the way we eat (and shop!). This, in turn, is having an effect on the billion dollar food industry: Bigger is not necessarily better—Good news for cheese, heirloom vegetables, charcuterie, marshmallows, chocolate, coffee, spirits and beer, to name a few.
2. D-I-Y- What happens if you carry the idea of small-batch, local food a few steps further? An burst of interest in D-I-Y foods. Evident for a while (think brewing, canning), this trend has exploded in the last twelve months or so, with books and kits for everything from curing your own bacon, to making your own Mozzarella, to growing (and drying) your own mushrooms. I’ve tried a few such projects myself. While I cannot unequivocally profess that D-I-Y always results in better food, I can adamantly state that a few such undertakings will help you appreciate all those small-batch and artisan entrepreneurs who put time and energy into crafting something wonderful (so that you don’t have to!). Still, the D-Y-I trend is present and growing. And it is causing people to venture out and try new foods, reason alone to encourage more of it.
3. Organic – This trend, too, relates to the emergent concept of mindful, intentional food. Gone are the carefree days when we assumed that all corn, strawberries, beef… were created equal. We are increasingly aware that even if we cannot taste a difference (though sometimes we can), the environmental and global effects of conventionally raised food are troubling. Many of us have additional concerns about the health impact of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals prevalent in large-scale farming. Statistics don’t lie. Even in this economy, Organic is growing. 😉
4. Lower-alcohol wines– I heard an NPR piece on the ascendency of Muscat wine, and it got me thinking. Lately, I’ve noticed people discussing the virtues of lower alcohol wine. No one is saying, I’m drinking this wine because I don’t want to get crocked. Rather, the idea seems to be more that lower alcohol wines are refreshing, appealing, and easier to drink with a wider variety of food. And yes, you can drink more at one sitting. It is not that the big, New World juice bombs are out of style, it is just that we seem to want sleeker, less temperamental options for those times when wine is an accompaniment, not center stage. Look for more Old World wines, especially whites, as the weather turns warmer and more people discover their allure.
5. Greens, esp. All Things Kale There seems to be resurgence of interest in greens. One sees them featured in restaurant menus, published recipes, even in smoothies (!). Greens are at the convergence point of several trends: They are a perennial favorite of organic farmers, grown locally in many places, and prominent in various traditional cuisines. They are also undeniably healthy. Look for greens to move beyond traditional preparations (braising, stir-fry’s, soups) and into more innovative dishes, like the coleslaws, croquettes and the kale “chips” we have started to see.
6. Comfort Food– Yesteryear’s Slow Food Movement seems to have evolved into something broader. Our collective trepidations (the economy, chronic disease, food safety) seem to have turned our attention backward, to dishes that nourish body and soul. Unlike the comfort food of the 1950’s, which is clearly around, just not dominant, the comfort food that is gaining momentum is steeped in tradition. It is often peasant food or food of scarcity, of turning vegetables and (sometimes just a little) meat into something savory and satisfying. We are rediscovering how to eat real food, and coming with that is a new appreciation for the traditional, reassuring foods that are lodged in our collective memory. Look for us to broaden the cuisines we pull from, so that our definition of comfort food comes to include more foods born of other cultural traditions.
7. More Veggies, Less Meat– You can see this trend at every turn– cookbooks, magazine articles, even at high-end restaurants. Meat is starting to take a backseat. Maybe it is a concern over the environmental inefficiency of raising meat, or an objection to factory farming, or even a growing awareness of diet’s impact on health, but vegetables are taking center stage again, or at least dominating many of the acts. Financial concerns could also be playing a role in our food choices, but Meatless Monday is giving a way to meatless entrees 2-3 times a week, at least in some homes. And as this practice becomes habitual, look for synergetic effect: More meatless options at restaurants and for special occasions, more acceptance of eating meatless at home.
8. Whole Foods– Lynne Rosetto Kasper of APM’s The Splendid Table uses the phrase, “eating close to the ground.” She seems to mean food that is less expensive, lower down the food chain. I love the phrase, but for me, “eating close to the ground” means eating food in its simplest, most natural form. I hesitated to include “whole foods” as its own trend. Yet, it is hard to have a discussion these days about food or the philosophy of good eating without running into the phrase. For many, it is the cornerstone of how to eat. And it seems the more thought someone gives to eating, the more likely s/he is to embrace the idea that minimally processed food is often the best food. Look for the trend to continue, as our society becomes more educated and more people come to understand the undeniable connection between the quality of our food and health.
9. Honey– It seems strange to include a food that has been valued for thousands of years on a list of “current” trends, but after decades of taking a back seat to sugar, honey is making a comeback. Long valued for certain “traditional” uses (warm milk, tea, cornbread), the proliferation of artisanal and specialty honeys on the market seems has inspired a new appreciation for the gooey, sticky substance. I see it more on the coasts, at this point, where honey drizzled over cheese plates or featured in artisanal yogurt is quite common. Look for this trend to move inland and for honey to inspire even greater reverence, especially if bees continue to decline. Honey cakes, anyone?
10. And lastly, Eggs– Now that we all understand the role eggs don’t play in most people’s cholesterol levels, we are increasingly turning to eggs for quick, healthy, satisfying meals. Even organic and pasture-raised eggs are a relative bargain, and the possibilities are almost endless—We’re rediscovering frittatas, tortillas and tians, making bread puddings, baking soufflés, and layering fried eggs on top of vegetable skillets and Asian-inspired rice dishes. Nothing seems to make a meal come together faster. These preparations are adaptable, so eggs are a delicious and economic option for using up odds and ends. People also love eggs every meal of the day. Any food this versatile is here for the duration. Watch for eggs to become even more prevalent at dinner, especially as meatless and whole-food-eating gain further ground.

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Green Smoothie

The “Green and Glowing” smoothie at my local Whole Foods is all the rage at the moment.  Thought I’d pass along my rendition in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  It serves 1-2.  Enjoy!

1/3 c. dried (unsweetened) coconut
1 c. almond milk
2 handfuls baby spinach (about ½ a blenderful)
1 c. frozen mango
1 c. frozen pineapple
2/3 c. water
1 T. maple syrup (opt.)

Place dried coconut and almond milk in a (microwave-proof) glass. Nuke for 1 minute. Let steep for at least 10 minutes to soften coconut.

Put spinach in the blender first, then add all the remaining ingredients. Puree on high until smooth. Serve.

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Roasted Portabellas With Spinach and Feta

These stuffed mushrooms are hearty enough to serve as a meatless entree, but I often use them as a side dish.  Omit some of the butter, if you want, but be sure to pull them out of the oven before the topping dries out. Enjoy!

3 T. butter (or less)
4 Portabella mushrooms, cleaned
Salt and pepper
16 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
½ c. crumbled feta
¼ c. pine nuts, toasted
3 T. finely grated Parmesan cheese
½ freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place butter in a small dish and melt in the microwave. Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Using the edge of a spoon, scrape out the dark brown gills on the underside of each mushroom and place, upside down (like a small bowl) into a greased shallow baking pan. Brush the “bowl” of each mushroom with a little melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 12 minutes, or until they begin to soften. Turn oven down to 325°F.

Meanwhile, place the thawed spinach in a clean kitchen towel and wring to remove as much moisture as possible. Place spinach in a mixing bowl.  Using your fingers or two forks, pull the spinach into soft shreds.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix gently to combine.

Mound equal portions of the topping onto each of the par-roasted mushrooms, pressing gently to fit.  Drizzle melted butter over the top. (Mushrooms may be made to this point up to a day ahead. Cover with saran wrap and store in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm.

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Mmm-mmm Meatballs

I usually make a double batch of these and freeze some to cook later.   If there are any leftover after broiling, I pop them into the kids’ lunches.  They are a great source of protein and delicious cold.   A single batch makes about 42 meatballs.

1 lb. ground beef (7-10% fat) or ground turkey (white or dark OK)
2 T. finely minced onion
1 large egg
1 tsp. finely ground sea salt
3/4 c. corn flake crumbs
½ c. finely grated parmesan or very sharp cheddar cheese
2-4 T. pesto (optional)
2 T. olive oil
Cooking spray

Spray a broiler pan with cooking spray and set aside. Preheat broiler.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients just until mixed. Roll into 1 ¼ -inch balls.  (If you are going to freeze some, place those on a cookie sheet and freeze until solid.  Move to an airtight container.  Thaw before proceeding.)

Place meatballs on greased broiler pan. Broil 5-7 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Serve hot or cold.

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Thai-Inspired Peanut Dipping Sauce

The other night I made summer rolls– neat (or not-so-neat!) packages of cilantro, basil, carrots, green onions, radishes, cucumber and tofu wrapped in softened rice paper.  I had hoped to serve leftovers the next day for lunch, but there were none! Thought I’d pass along the recipe for the Thai-inspired dipping sauce.  It comes together quickly, and my kids think it is the best they’ve had (take-out included!). Enjoy!

¾ c. all-natural peanut butter, preferably smooth
½ c. pineapple juice
3 T. tamari sauce
3 T. brown sugar
1 clove garlic
1 4” piece of ginger, peeled
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
½ – 1 T. crushed red pepper flakes

Stir together peanut butter and pineapple juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Add tamari and brown sugar.  Use a microplane or fine grater set over (or into) the pan to mince in the garlic, scraping the garlic and juice off the back of the grater and into the pot.  Do the same with the ginger, discarding any of the fibrous interior that won‘t mince.  Stir in sesame oil and red pepper flakes.  Cook over low heat until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture darkens slightly, stirring, being careful not to burn.  Serve warm.

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Vegetable Beef Soup

Toward the end of the week, I usually make soup out of whatever odds and ends are in the fridge.  I throw it all together, maybe round it out with canned tomatoes or a cup of dried peas. Voilá, I have an easy, economic, no-brainer lunch for the weekend.  Not so today.  Today, I craved something hearty, perhaps meat-based, and guaranteed to sooth.  So I made vegetable beef soup. I cannot remember where this recipe originally came from, but I pretty much make it as is.  I might throw in a handful of cabbage, or my current obsession, kale, but the soup is darn good as written. Why mess with perfection? My only caveat is that it takes some time to cook—It is the long, slow simmering process that melds the flavors together into something that tastes like cozy.  This makes about 8 servings.  Enjoy!

Olive oil
1 lb beef stew meat, cut into ½” chunks
ground celery seed (opt.)
Salt & pepper
2 large onions, diced & divided
6 c. water
2 c. chicken broth
2 bay leaves

2 carrots, sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced
2 medium white potatoes, diced
1 c. chopped parsley
1 large can diced tomatoes (with their juices)
1 small can diced tomatoes (with their juices)
15 oz can Northern beans, rinsed and drained
½ tsp. dried thyme, crumbled
2 pinches cinnamon

1 c. frozen peas
1 tsp. cider vinegar
Red wine (opt.)

Heat oil in soup pot over medium high heat. Season meat with salt, pepper, and ground celery seed. Brown beef in oil with half of the onions. Add water, stock and bay leaves. Bring to boil, turn heat down, and simmer for 90 min.

Add remaining ingredients, except for peas, vinegar and wine (if using). Add water, if necessary, to barely cover veggies. Return to a simmer. Cook until broth is no longer watery, about 2 hours.

Add peas, vinegar, and good pour of wine (about ½ c.), if using. Simmer 5 min. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve.

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