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Gourmet News & Views
Trends, Products & Items of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods
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The Freshest Olive Oil. It’s no secret that one should use up olive oil while it’s fresh: the longer it sits on the shelf, the more the flavors fade until it becomes stale. Yet, most newly-purchased bottles can be up to a year old. By the time the oil is pressed, bottled and goes into the wholesale system, is imported, warehoused, gets to the store, sits on the store shelf and is and ultimately bought by you—it’s no longer “fresh.” A once-a-year opportunity to experience the taste that distinguishes truly fresh, pure extra virgin olive comes from Aralia Olive Oils. Their ALÍA is the freshest extra-virgin olive oil you can taste, short of visiting a grove during pressing. It is available just once a year, pressed from estate-grown olives on the island of Crete, one of the finest olive oil-producing regions in the world. This exceptional oil is a treat for the olive oil connoisseur, bottled immediately after harvest and delivered just weeks after the olives were picked from the trees. The price, $75.00 for a 16.9-ounce bottle, includes delivery. As this is the holiday season, you can be generous to yourself, or to your food-loving friends. Your gift will be acknowledged with an elegant, personalized card (shown in photo at right), mailed during the holiday season, and the bottle of ALÍA will be delivered directly to the recipient’s doorstep in early 2007. The deadline for ordering is December 15, at AraliaOliveOils.com, or telephone toll-free, 1.877.585.9510.
The Wackiest Sodas/Holiday Gift. They’re baaaaak. If you missed prior years’ Jones Soda Company’s holiday packs, including the flavor that put the company on the world map, Turkey and Gravy Soda, it’s your chance to indulge. But Jones doesn’t rest on its laurels. In year’s holiday pack, the soda chefs replace Green Bean Casserole Soda with Pea Soda and Mashed Potatoes Soda with Sweet Potato Soda. Dinner Roll Soda replaces last year’s [normal] Cranberry Soda. Replacing Fruitcake Soda is Antacid Flavored Soda (and in all honesty, you need it—the box even announces, “Also included: medicinal cup for accurate servings!”). Those who aren’t jonesing for Antacid Flavored Soda can opt for the fairly tame Dessert Pack in Cherry Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Key Lime Pie, Apple Pie and Blueberry Pie. The Dessert Pack is exclusive to Target stores, and the goal is to raise $50,000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, a center for the research and treatment of childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Click on the link for a store that sells the Jones Soda Holiday Pack. If you’re looking for that quirky holiday gift, you can have custom-labeled Turkey & Gravy Soda, $34.95 for a 12-pack case (plus shipping and handling). Order on the myjones.com website, and be ready to upload the photo you want on the label (our choice would be Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving table portrait, which is titled “Freedom From Want”).
Supersize That Turkey! If you ate a lot of turkey on Thanksgiving, you may believe that the average American eats 16.6 pound of turkey a year. That includes including turkey meat, like your Thanksgiving dinner, plus turkey in other forms like ground turkey and sausages. Due to interest in leaner meats, we eat 70 percent more turkey than we did in 1980.The turkeys of today look nothing like those of 20 years ago: the birds have been engineered to grow faster, larger (and therefore, cheaper) than their ancestors. And yes, with a much bigger breast to provide more white meat (the wild turkey has a small breast and a high percentage of dark meat). Most turkey comes from Minnesota’s 600 turkey farms, which last year grew 45 million birds last year. While the number of birds produced was the same as in 1990, 15 years ago, the total weight of the flock was 50 percent more. The 1.2 billion pounds of turkey was worth $540 million, making Minnesota the turkey capital of the world. While a hen weighs in at around 12 pounds, a tom turkey today grows to 40 pounds in 20 weeks, sometimes more. The turkey industry does not use hormones or steroids, but uses genetic screening and cross breeding to design heavier turkeys that grow faster. As a result, the industry has added a pound a year to the finished weight of toms, and this growth rate is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, according to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribute. The bird’s health is considered, along with its ability to hold its own weight. How big can a turkey get with cross-breeding? Consider the tomato. The original tomato, from Peru, was a yellow cherry tomato. Compare that to today’s huge beefsteaks! If the turkey follows the same course, the challenge may be finding a roasting pan and an oven large enough!
Or, Pass The Tofurkey.The turkey-flavored tofu and wheat gluten poultry alternative known as Tofurkey has been the butt of jokes since the product was hatched in 1995. But this Thanksgiving marks the sale of the 1 millionth Tofurkey roast, according to Business Week. “At first, retailers didn't believe anyone was crazy enough to make a whole Tofurkey roast for Thanksgiving,” recalls Seth Tibbott, founder of Turtle Island Foods, the Oregon-based producer of Tofurkey. “The first one served eight and cost $32. Stores would sell one per season at first, then five the next year.” Today, a Tofurkey retails for $11.99, including gravy. It does taste remarkably like turkey, seasoned with lemon juice and soy sauce, stuffed with brown and wild rices in a mushroom gravy. It’s all “white meat,” and you never worry about it drying out. U.S. sales of vegan products “positioned as analogs to meat and dairy products” grew 63.5% between 2000 and 2005, according to British market researcher Mintel International. The firm estimates that U.S. consumers will buy $1.38 billion of these products in 2006. While the percentage of strict vegetarians hasn’t changed much in the last 15 years (estimated to be 3% of the population by NPD Group, a consumer marketing research firm headquartered in Port Washington, New York), the phenomenon lies in the number of meat-eaters who are choosing to eat vegetarian foods more often, but not exclusively, according to Harry Balzer of NPD Group. Meat-eating households also buy Tofurkeys during the holidays to feed vegetarian guests. Carnivores who do so, and have a taste, may just find that they enjoy a nice Tofurkey dinner as a vegetarian alternative every now and then. It cooks in 15 minutes—quite a bit faster than a conventional turkey.
Fruit Soup Emerges As Fine Restaurant Trend. Dine at enough fine restaurants and you’ll notice something new: fruit soups for the soup course. Long served chilled as appetizers and desserts, fruit soups are heating up the competition with traditional vegetable flavors. According to Mintel Menu Insights, a resource that tracks national restaurant trends, traditional vegetable soup flavors are feeling the heat from more experimental fruit combinations and flavor creations. In the hot soup category, examples include Baked Five Apple Soup, featuring Grafton Village smoked cheddar with an apple fan, served at The Putney Inn (Putney, Vermont); Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup, complete with duck confit, toasted walnuts and spiced crema, at Upstream (Charlotte, North Carolina); and for dessert, Warm Blackberry Passion Fruit Soup and Heirloom Apple Turnover, served with crème brulée ice cream, at the Abacus Restaurant (Dallas, Texas). Cold fruit soup is still a fine way to start or end a meal. Boston’s Clio presents Chilled Cucumber and Yogurt Soup with gulf shrimp, radishes, caviar and oxalis; Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia offers a Chilled Soup Trio of cherry, papaya, and strawberry soups; Janos Restaurant in Tucson serves its signature San Xavier Co-Op Chilled Melon and Ginger Soup with Mango Sorbet and Mint Syrup. Using seasonal and local ingredients, fruit soups are wonderful additions to the menu, and tasty versions are surprisingly easy to make.
Watch Your Weight With Labelman. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) have announced the availability of two new learning tools to help consumers use the Nutrition Facts label on manufactured food products to choose nutritious foods and achieve healthy weight management. The tools are “Make Your Calories Count,” a Web-based learning program, and a new “Nutrition Facts Label” brochure. Make Your Calories Count is an interactive online learning program that is also available in a downloadable format. It is designed to help consumers understand and use the Nutrition Facts label to plan a healthy diet while managing calorie intake. The program guide features an animated character called Labelman (image at right), who expertly leads the viewer through a series of exercises on the food label. Participants and Labelman can explore the relationship between serving sizes and calories, while learning how to limit certain nutrients and get enough of others. Examples include how to saturated fat and sodium, and how to consume in adequate amounts of fiber and calcium. Labelman and his interactive program can be found at www.cfsan.fda.gov/labelman. The downloadable Nutrition Facts Label brochure includes information to help consumers understand the relationship between calories and serving size, which can help use food label to manage one’s caloric intake. It is available at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/lab-gen.html. Even if you have a full grasp of this information, both may be useful learning tools for children and other family members.
Lake Champlain Launches Organic Bars. Lake Champlain Chocolates has introduced four flavors of QAI-certified organic 1.25-ounce chocolate bars and 0.28-ounce squares. The chocolate squares are available as a 6.7-ounce gift box of 24 squares and in bulk. The new organic chocolate line uses recycled paper. The line includes Dark Chocolate, 55% cacao content; Dark Spicy Aztec, 55% cacao content with organic cayenne pepper, pumpkin seeds, and cinnamon; Milk Chocolate, 34% cacao content; and Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds, 38% cacao content with grey sea salt and roasted organic almonds. The chocolates, which are preservative-free and kosher-certified by Star-D, are available online at LakeChamplainChocolates.com, or by phone at 1.800.465.5909. 1.25-ounce bar, $2.50; 24 squares, $18.00, 250 squares, $150.00. There’s still time to order chocolate turkeys for your Thanksgiving table.
Favorite New Gourmet Gadget. We dropped in to the International Hotel & Motel Show this past week and brushed elbows with thousands of with buyers looking for the best tidbits, as well as the best tableware, furniture, fixturings etc. Our favorite product in the show was Froth au Lait, an automatic milk frother that makes froth so dense (it’s practically meringue-like), you could eat it for dessert! It’s so easy, a child could use it—and any child would love a big mound of froth on top of hot chocolate or hot milk. We love it for cappuccino, of course, and for lattes, café au lait, and specialty coffee and chocolate drinks. There’s a consumer model for $49.99, and a deluxe professional model that makes both hot and cold foam (for iced coffee) for $180. You can flavor the froth with syrups, too. Froth au lait makes absolutely perfect froth that doesn’t collapse, from any kind of milk you want to use, in just 1 to 3 minutes. Put it on your holiday gift list. We put it on ours! At FrothAuLait.com.
How Do You Compare With Your Thanksgiving Fare? Recent consumer research conducted by Technomic, a food consulting firm (technomic.com), found that consumers are evenly split on where they plan to eat Thanksgiving dinner this year. Forty-one percent will feast at home and 43 percent will dine at a relative’s house. Only 4 percent will have Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s home and 2 percent will go to a restaurant. Five percent aren’t making any Thanksgiving dinner plans. Although roughly half the respondents say they always have a traditional roast turkey dinner, thirty-seven percent say they've tried baked ham on Thanksgiving diners, while 15 percent have had grilled turkey and 19 percent have dined on turkey or ham cooked in other non-traditional ways. Other meats, such as beef, veal pork or chicken have made it to the table for 17 percent of consumers. Other diners reported having meals that strayed even further from the traditional turkey, including wild game (4 percent), Chinese food (5 percent), other ethnic cuisine (6 percent), fresh fish (4 percent) and all-vegetarian (3 percent). Whatever you sup on, we’re thankful to have you as a reader. Very best holiday wishes from all of us at THE NIBBLE.
For Food-Lovers On The Go. The folks at Mobil Travel Guide have given us the 411 on their 2007 edition. It isn’t in stores yet, but you can see the recommended restaurants and hotels online at www.MobilTravelGuide.com. We took a gander at the spots recommended in our home town of New York. All are top-notch and top-dollar. Mobil’s professionals create guides to 25 major cities in North America. Unlike Zagat guides, which have consumer ratings, Mobil’s ratings are created by experts who travel and dine for a living and thus are both more impartial and more discriminating.
New York Chocolate Show. This past weekend’s Chocolate Show attracted thousands of chocolate lovers for three days of lecture-demonstrations, tasting, browsing and buying. We loved the new 91% Nocturne bar from Guittard, had some of our favorite chocolate mice (photo at right) and penguins from L.A. Burdick, bought several mini-pyramids from Chocolats Pralus, nibbled on all the sample bars from Chocolove and loaded up on our favorite lavender salt caramels from Lillie Belle Farms. John & Kira, this week’s Top Pick Of The Week, were there with their delicious chocolates and fig pumpkin bonbons, as were Michael Recchiuti’s fine chocolates, Schokinag’s deluxe drinking chocolates and many others. Our favorite no-calorie chocolate treat was the Once Upon A Tea chocolate and coconut-flavored tea from Serendipitea. Our favorite new discoveries were Coppeneur, a line of bars from Germany that are just beginning to appear in the U.S., and delicious assorted truffles and chocolate bars topped with salt and pistachio brittle from Donna & Company (also kosher—at shopdonna.com)
Best Milk Foamer. The International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show also was in town. While the show is for hotel and restaurant buyers, there are companies that also sell their products to consumers. We found several old friends and some new friends, including different types of chocolate teas in beautiful gift tea sets from Mighty Leaf; Numi Tea’s new gift packaging of its popular blooming tea flower sets; and the best milk frother ever, from FrothAuLait.com.
White Hot Chocolate. Just in time for the holidays, Schokinag has released its Strawberries and White Chocolate hot chocolate. The second white chocolate addition to the Schokinag gourmet hot chocolate line (following the divine Dulce de Leche), it can be drunk on its own, with desserts, or used as a sauce or fondue. The powder mixes with milk and heats up in the microwave in minutes. Made of sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, natural strawberry, natural vanilla and soya lecithin as an emulsifier, it is 100% natural and GMO-free.
Moister Thanksgiving Turkey. Looking for a new way to roast a moist bird this Thanksgiving? Turkey Cannon—good for roasting chickens, ducks and geese as well—provides an innovative way to infuse moisture and flavor deep into the poultry via a patented roasting cylinder. Available at CampChef.com, it guarantees a moister, more flavorful bird every time. You can infuse the bird with wine, beer or bouillon internally, and roast a 12-pound turkey in less than 2 hours.
Sushi Wine. Wine experts typically advise diners to enjoy sake or beer with sushi: the fruits and tannins of wines just don’t match well with the delicate fish, the umami of the seaweed, the salty soy sauce, the heat and spice of the wasabi, and the sweet-and-sour pickled ginger. But given the global popularity of sushi, winemakers don’t want to give up that revenue. Spain’s Ferrer family, makers of the popular Freixenet sparkling wine, hired a Japanese wine expert, Yoko Sato, who had studied winemaking in Spain, and put her on the case. After a year of experiments, she developed a blend of airén, a fruity grape widely planted in Spain; macabeo, the acidic grape used for the Spanish sparkling wine, Cava; and muscat, which has lush floral aromas and flavors. The wine is said to have the acidity to handle the salt and fish oils, the slight sweetness to balance the wasabi and blend with the sweet-sour flavors, and fruit to balance the savory flavors. Ms. Sato named the wine Oroya, Spanish for a basket used to transport goods across a river, a name symbolizing her personal wine journey from Japan to Spain. At about $10 retail (more at restaurants), the price is right. When you see it, try a bottle and see if it brings out the flavor of the fish, as restaurateurs have said.
Self-Timing Egg. A hi-tech ink may help consumers make perfect eggs, thanks to the U.K. company Lion Quality, which is utilizing the latest heat-sensitive technology to make cooking eggs a breeze. Here’s how it works: The egg goes into a pan of boiling water as usual. When the egg is cooked to its desired doneness, the Lion logo appears—as if by magic. This invisible temperature-sensitive thermochromic print appears in black to indicate when the egg is soft, medium or hard-boiled, dependent on which carton was purchased. The eggs will be available in the U.K. by the end of the year, and hopefully soon afterward will jump across the pond.
Designer Produce. To keep consumers intrigued in the produce section, farmers and seed companies around the world are coming up with eye-catching hybrid, “couture” produce. Some of the items include kiwanos, a spiky or horned fruit with a sweet-tart flavor that has the combined flavor of banana and cucumber; Colorful Harvest’s carrots, which come in red and yellow; Melissa’s/World Variety Produce’s plumcot (photo at left), a cross between a plum and an apricot; and Frieda’s toma bella, a mix of a tomato and a bell pepper. Products of good old-fashioned crossbreeding, there’s no genetic modification, just creativity and marketing sense. There are also quasi-products like Seminis Vegetable Seeds’ and Misionero Vegetables’ Lettuce Jammers (photo below), that we reported on earlier this year. A cross between romaine and iceberg lettuces, they add no new flavor, but create a boat- or taco-shell-shaped leaf that can be filled with sandwich salads, stir-frys or taco fillings and eaten as a healthier alternative to bread products. Healthier eating is a good concept, but when you look at the cost for a bag of “lettuce wraps,” a regular head of romaine can suffice, if a bit less uniformly shaped. Anyone who has had Korean or Vietnamese barbecue knows the fun of rolling up meat, vegetables and condiments in regular romaine leaves. It’s not that we want to stop innovation: we applaud it. We’d rather spend our food dollars buying regular romaine for wraps, and invest the extra money in great cheese and chocolate!
Caveat Egg Nog. We received a news release this week that a popular dairy brand was releasing new egg nog flavors for the holiday season: cinnamon and pumpkin. We’re sure they’re as delicious as they sound. However, egg nog, without any alcohol, can run up to 230 calories per tiny 4-ounce portion. Bourbon, rum and/or whipped cream can add 50% more calories. We love egg nog—we probably consume 1000 calories’ worth every time we come across it. As a result, we offer diet egg nog recipes as an alternative, and just want our readers to be aware that it should be consumed by the shot glass, not by the tea cup.
Sweet Oloroso. Everything old is new again. Sherry, from the Jerez region of Spain, was the apéritif of sophisticates for centuries. Pushed to the side by growth of wine connoisseurship in the 1970s, sherry is ready for a renaissance. This Thanksgiving, consider a chilled fino Sherry, such as Tío Pepe ( $10) or La Iña ($12) with nibbles of olives and roasted almonds. They’re also a great pairing with a first course of smoked salmon as well (or smoked salmon canapés). A sweet oloroso sherry can be an apéritif or a dessert wine. The typical sweet, rich fig and nut flavors can pair with pecan pie, honey, toffee or buttercrunch ice cream; or with blue cheese with figs. For more information on Spanish wines or pairing tips, visit www.winesfromspainusa.com to request a free copy of Wines from Spain: Far From Ordinary Wine Guide.
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