Top a glass of hot apple cider with a gourmet cinnamon marshmallow from Plush Puffs.
Gourmet News & Views
Trends, Products & Items of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods
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Walnuts Trump Olive Oil As Heart-Healthy. Move over, olive oil. A new clinical study
published in the October 17, 2006 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that walnuts, rich in polyunsaturated fats, may protect the body’s arteries from the harm associated with eating a meal high in saturated fat. Adding olive oil, known for its monounsaturated fats, does not appear to provide the same type of vascular benefits. Consumption of a meal high in saturated fat (including favorites like fine beef, cheese, steak, butter, ice cream) typically causes an inflammatory response in the body that negatively impacts the ability of the arteries to carry necessary blood to tissue and organs and promotes the formation of artery clogging plaque. This response was limited by adding walnuts to such a meal. Walnuts, unlike olive oil and other nuts, contain significant amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential plant based omega-3. They also provide antioxidants and L-arginine, components identified in past studies as potential nutrients that improve artery function. The findings of this study should not give consumers the green light to consume a diet high in saturated fat. However, switching from snacking on peanuts to walnuts could help. Also, try using walnut oil as a salad dressing. It’s a gourmet delight; but like all nut oils, its very costly, so you can blend it with olive oil or grapeseed oil. Quickie ways to add walnuts to your diet: as a snack, mix walnuts, dried fruit and dried cereal and carry in a baggie; add to salads and soups; stir into yogurts and puddings; add to smoothies; chop with tomatoes and parsley and add to pasta and mac and cheese; serve with cheese platters. For more information visit Walnuts.org.
No one puts more passion into seasonal ice creams and sorbets than Capogiro Gelato. Chef/owner Stephanie Reitano searches out the fresh ingredients of each season and turns them into delicious gelati and sorbetti. For fall, you can get a “6 pack” of three gelati: Lancaster Country Neck Pumpkin Gelato, Sweet Potato with Pecan Praline and Chestnut; and three sorbetti: Quince, Pear and Wild Turkey and Heirloom Apple and Cranberry. Read our full review of Capogiro Gelato Artisans, and if you’re in Philadelphia, stop at the shop in person to eat your fill of fifty or more daily flavors from the hundreds in the ever-changing repertoire. CapogiroGelato.com.
Fair Trade coffee currently accounts for only 2.2 percent of beans sold in the United States, but it is a phenomenon of the specialty-coffee market, where it sells at substantially higher prices. The fair-trade concept aims to lift farmers out of poverty, and it appeals to young and higher-income coffee drinkers. In Seattle, the coffee trendsetting capital of America, the Fair Trade logo has begun appearing in mainstream outlets as well, including grocery stores, some McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Seattle is also the home of America’s most visible specialty coffee buyer, Starbucks, which purchased 300 million pounds of coffee in fiscal 2006, beating its goal of buying 12 million pounds of fair-trade coffee according to an article in the Seattle Times. Last year, the company bought 21 percent of the fair-trade coffee imported to the U.S. Starbucks will not disclose the range of prices it pays farmers, but in 2005, the Seattle company said it paid 23 percent more on average than the conventional market for arabica coffee beans. The conventional market was priced around 84 cents to $1.36 a pound in 2005, based on New York Board of Trade futures. Learn more about Fair Trade coffee.
Hershey Buys Dagoba Chocolate. The Hersheys shopping spree continues. The Fortune 500 chocolate giant acquired boutique chocolate producers Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and Joseph Schmidt Confections in 2005. Last week, it purchased America’s first organic chocolate producer, Dagoba Organic Chocolate as part of its strategic focus on the high-growth premium chocolate segment. Dagoba has been a darling among organic lovers, both because of its commitment to the organic space and sustainable agriculture and its charming product line. It was the first national company to offer an extensive line of chocolate bars with “nouvelle” flavors such Chai, Lavender, Latte, Lime, Mint/Rosemary and Xocoatl (Chillies and Nibs). For more information about the company, read our profile of Dagoba Chocolate.
World’s Largest Candy Apple. People who can’t have sucrose (table sugar) have traditionally been unable to enjoy one of the most fun treats of the Halloween and harvest season: the bright red candy apple. But renowned pastry chef Bill Yosses has created a recipe using SPLENDA®, plus a bit of honey. (High fructose honeys, such as Black Sage, metabolize slowly and can be used by many diabetics). Yosses created the World’s Largest Candied Apple in New York’s Bryant Park on October 19. The giant apple, 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide, was created using 10,000 apples which were then coated with 100 gallons of candy coating made from 800 pounds of Splenda. If consumed, the candy coating alone would amount to 1,228,800 calories—a caloric bargain, since using sugar would have pushed it up to 2,457,600! Following the event, the 10,000 apples were donated to City Harvest, which provides food to the needy. Consumers can help City Harvest by taking part in an eBay auction for celebrity chef-autographed editions of the first official Splenda cookbook, called The SPLENDA World of Sweetness: Recipes for Homemade Desserts and Delicious Drinks. The auction runs through October 29. The recipe for the SPLENDA Candied Apple, which is in the cookbook, is reprinted in the Diet Nibbles section.
A Good Steer From Twin Hens. Our favorite comfort food, Twin Hens Chicken Pot Pie, has hatched a Beef Pot Pie. The new pie is a heavenly mixture of antibiotic-free beef in a red wine and tomato ragout, surrounded by organic peas, carrots and onions and topped with a creamy, cheesy polenta crust. The Twin Hens Beef Pot Pot Pies are available in an 11-ounce individual size, for $8.00. The pies come frozen and are baked at 425°F for 35 to 45 minutes. They are available at fine retailers, and also can be ordered online from TwinHens.com. Whether for yourself or as a gift (thank-you, sick friend, new parents, hungry college kids), this is one gift that delivers happiness as well as a good meal.
Forget The Pigs In Blankets. For your holiday entertaining, don’t bring out the same old artichoke dip. Hoo Roo Foods’ Exotic Australian Game Meat Dumplings North American-based distributor of Australian victuals, Hoo Roo Foods, is now distributing Crazy Dragon imports. Crazy Dragon blends native Australian wild game with native Australian bush foods to create exotic dumplings for the food service and gourmet retail markets. How about some barramundi and shiitake mushroom dumplings? The freshwater barramundi live in slow-flowing rivers in Australia, and can reach about three feet in length. People come from all over the world to taste them. Perhaps some succulent kangaroo with lemon myrtle, or delicate crocodile meat with wattleseed, a native Australian spice that has coffee and chocolate notes? For more information, visit HooRooFoods.com.
Organic English Muffins. Rudi’s Organic Bakery, the top-selling brand of USDA organic bread and a NIBBLE favorite, has introduced USDA-certified organic English Muffins in Whole Grain Wheat, Multigrain with Flax and Spelt. Not just for breakfast, English Muffins are used for mini-pizzas and peanut butter sandwiches—we like ours with smoked salmon, creme fraîche and dill. Those watching their bread calories should note that Rudi’s English muffins are just 120 or 130 calories, as opposed to 600 calories for a large bagel, and provide five grams of protein plus two grams of fiber. Learn more about Rudi’s and find a store near you at RudisBakery.com. If you’d like to learn the history of the English muffin, click on the link to read about Samuel Bath Thomas, who invented them in New York City in the 1880s.
Nothing To Whine About. Pop culture endorsements tend to spur product sales, as proved by the 2004 hit film “Sideways.” Its Pinot Noir loving hero, Miles, spoke paeans, and sales of Pinot Noir have risen since—70 percent in supermarkets according to ACNielsen, a firm that tracks sales information from 3,000 U.S. stores nationwide. The firm did not mention what has happened to Merlot sales. The poor wine was the subject of invectives from the Merlot-hating miles—although most people enjoy a nice Merlot. Merlot growers: get working on product placement!
Menu Trends: Asian food is the largest ethnic food category, and Asian citrus is hot. Calamansi, kaffir lime, kumquat and yuzu are Asian citrus fruits gaining popularity in America’s French, and American and international cuisine restaurants. According to an article in Nation’s Restaurant News, chefs are using the fruits in both sweet and savory dishes. Yuzu is about the size of a tangerine with a bright yellow rind. It has large seeds and the pulp is yellow with a tart flavor. Calamansi is the size of a small lime with a thin, orange peel and sour orange pulp. Kaffir limes (photo at left) are tiny green fruits with bumpy skin. The leaves of the plant are aromatic and traditionally used in Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines in mostly savory applications. Kumquats resemble miniature, oblong oranges with sweet-tasting skin and tart pulp. A survey of restaurants turned up these tempting dishes: candied kumquat and mascarpone parfait, kaffir lime tart with steamed yuzu soufflé and coconut ice cream sandwiches with tropical fruit and kaffir lime dust. On the savory side of the menu: lobster carpaccio with vanilla sea salt, marinated fennel and kumquat; spicy tuna tartare marinated in yuzu juice and sweet soy sauce; octopus ceviche with yuzu-red chile granite; and a skirt steak glazed with ginger-calamansi sauce. Look for the fruits at your local market. Kaffir limes and kumquats make nice houseplants.
Photo courtesy of Kaipara Coast Plant Center.
Free Dale and Thomas Popcorn During Popcorn Month. October is National Popcorn Month, and popcorn specialist Dale and Thomas wants every American to experience the joy of chocolate-covered popcorn. They are giving away up to two bags of their delicious Peanut Butter & White Chocolate DrizzleCorn, Chocolate Chunk N' Caramel, Dreamy Chocolate DrizzleCorn or Cinnamon Creme DrizzleCorn per person. That’s right—FREE. Just pay $2.95 per bag for shipping and handling. Enjoy it yourself, or share with a friend (including kosher friends). It’s a great deal, and an opportunity to try different flavors of the delicious popcorn. Visit DaleAndThomas.com until the end of the month. According to the Popcorn Board, Americans munch through more than 17 billion quarts of popcorn a year. That’s 54 quarts per person, with about 30 percent eaten at movie theaters, ball games and amusement parks. The rest is eaten at home. A cup of air-popped corn is about 30 calories. Oil-popped corn is about 55 calories. And with that delicious Dale and Thomas chocolate on top...just enjoy it.
Chocolate Trends. What’s hot in chocolate? Origin chocolates—where all of the beans come from a specific location and also may be of a single bean, mirroring coffee origins such as Hawaiian Kona or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. No one does them better than Chocolat Michel Cluizel, a recent NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week. Now, even Hershey’s will be bringing out origin chocolate in December. Salted chocolate has been growing in popularity for the past couple of years (we love it all—our favorite is Poco Dolce) including salt caramels (photo at right of Fran’s Salt Caramels). If it sounds strange, remember that salt is added to cookie and cake recipes—it enhances the flavor. And dark milk chocolate will prove to people who have never liked that overly sweet stuff that milk chocolate can be truly great. Try Michel Cluizel’s 47% and 50% cacao milk bars or the divine LatteNero bars from Italian chocolatier Slitti, with cacao contents of 45%, 51%, 62% and 70% cacao. The 70% bar looks as dark as any 70% bittersweet bar, but contains milk and has the milky flavor and smoothness, without the sugary sweetness. Tasted as a group, the bars are an amazing experience. Valrhona’s Jivara Lait, at 41% cacao, is more readily available, and a lovely milk bar. Bonnat makes three origin milk bars, each clocking in at 65% cocoa content. Those who have grown up on 30% and 33% milk chocolate are in for a delightful change. It’s like moving up to better wine.
Doggie Bag Culture. The doggie bag is an American invention*, and Americans embrace it. Perhaps originally the leftover steak was brought home to Fido, but today most people look forward to having an extra lunch or dinner. A 2002 survey by the American Dietetic Association found that 91% of Americans take leftovers home at least occasionally, 32% of us regularly. The Wall Street Journal recently dispatched reporters on seven continents to see how other cultures responded to requests for doggie bags, and found that in many parts of the world it’s a little-known or frowned-upon convention. Based on the small test (one visit to one restaurant in each country), the verdict is that Asian countries embrace it, except Japan, where the request was refused on the grounds that it was against the mall’s hygiene policy to remove food from restaurants. While there’s no law against doggie bags in Japan, the health ministry advises against them. The American Dietetic Association also warns that takeaway food isn’t safe to eat unless it's refrigerated and then heated to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, China, Bangkok and Singapore were more than accommodating, with the Singapore branch of Morton’s of Chicago steakhouse even offering to wrap up the bread. Rio de Janeiro was equally agreeable, but reception in Europe was cooler. London offered a polite raised eyebrow but complied agreeably, the Parisian server looked taken aback but did likewise, and the Moscow server asked, “Are you joking?” before reluctantly acceding. Perhaps, like other American trends, the doggie bag will travel westward. In the mean time, enjoy it as another American birthright.
*Leftovers certainly have been taken home in Europe, in Elizabethan times at least, where restaurants provided extra-large napkins—not only because people eat with their hands, but to wrap them up any remainders. But in 1949, Al Meister, owner of a Chicago-based packaging company called Bagcraft Papercon, developed a neater way—a coated paper bag that was grease-resistant.
Sushi: The Next Pizza? No longer the specialty of fine Japanese restaurants, sushi can now be found at supermarkets, mall food courts, steak houses, delis, department store cafes, coffee houses, ball parks, airport terminals and even Italian groceries. Instead of eating a hot dog at a Mets game at Shea Stadium, baseball-lovers can opt for a hamachi roll from the sushi kiosk. Today, sushi is seen not as an exotic food but a comfort food, nutritious, delicious and fun to eat. An article on sushi expansion in Newsday reports finding sushi in hotel minibars, and a local Italian restaurateur and food store owner, who has installed sushi bars in his businesses, notes that teenagers are eating more sushi for lunch than pizza. The challenge remains finding the skilled labor to make sushi, and the quality fish to keep the eating experiences enjoyable. Then, there’s the perishability factor. No one hesitates to pick up that piece of pizza that has been sitting in the box for hours. There’s always cucumber rolls!
Pumpkin Problems. If the pumpkins haven’t been looking so great this year, blame it on a fungus that has causes this year’s crop pumpkins to develop mold. From New England to the midwest, two types of fungus or rot have affected crops, causing pumpkins to develop mold in some spots and then begin decomposing. The entire inside of the pumpkin eventually rots until the shell falls apart. Some growers report only a 40 percent yield this year. Regular-size pumpkins may run out before Halloween, and jumbo pumpkins may be in short supply. The pumpkins in our local market haven’t looked anywhere near the perfect specimen at the left; but if you wait for prettier ones to arrive, you might be caught short. Look for bright orange pumpkins with strong, green stems, which indicate the fruit was picked recently while the vine was healthy. Also check for moldy areas or soft spots, especially on the bottom of the pumpkins. Pumpkins should be stored in dry, shady areas until carving. And if you can’t find anything that suits your aesthetic...perhaps a nice ceramic pumpkin this year?
Chamomile Tea Ice Cream. Through the end of November, limited-edition Mighty Leaf Chamomile Citrus Gelato is available at Ciao Bella scoop shops on the East and West Coasts. Ciao Bella, the maker of award-winning premium gelatos and sorbets, has partnered with artisan tea blender Mighty Leaf Tea in a seasonal gelato flavor incorporating Mighty Leaf’s herbal infusion. Mighty Leaf Chamomile Citrus gelato joins other Ciao Bella seasonal flavors such as Apple Caramel Crisp Gelato and Cranberry Orange Sorbet. The Chamomile Citrus is refreshing with a hint of citrus. Consider it as an intermezzo at Thanksgiving Dinner.
Vere Good Chocolate. Dark chocolate lovers nationwide can now revel in Vere’s intensely delicious all-dark 75% cacao chocolate truffles. The velvety ganaches are made with fresh, local cream and butter from grass-fed cows, infused with the finest ingredients and covered in dark chocolate from the Ecuadorian Nacional bean. The four flavors include Cream, Cognac, Coffee and Earl Grey Tea (shown in photo). A 4-piece box is $10.00, 16 pieces are $35.00. Read our full review of Vere Chocolate.
Absolut-ly Pear. ABSOLUT VODKA’s 2007 U.S. flavor is pear. The ninth flavor in the ABSOLUT Flavors portfolio, ABSOLUT® PEARS will be available nationally by January 5. It joins recent siblings ABSOLUT® PEACH and ABSOLUT® RUBY RED. Like the other ABSOLUT flavors, the vodka contains all-natural ingredients, is 80 proof, and is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. The first flavored vodka, ABSOLUT® PEPPAR®, was introduced in 1986, followed by ABSOLUT® MANDRIN®, ABSOLUT® CITRON®, ABSOLUT® KURANT®, ABSOLUT® VANILIA®, ABSOLUT® RASPBERRI®, ABSOLUT® PEACH, ABSOLUT RUBY RED and the new ABSOLUT PEARS.
Natural Products News. We just returned from Expo East in Baltimore, one of the largest natural and organic products shows in the country (the biggest, Expo West is in Anaheim in March, and the Organic Trade Association Show is in Chicago in May). The trends at the show were:
- Yerba Maté. The healthy holly beverage from South America showed itself to be a burgeoning trend—today largely in health food and natural products stores, but tomorrow, we predict, in supermarkets everywhere, in-between the bottled teas and the Snapple®. In 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois studied 25 different types of yerba maté, or maté for short. They found the tea to contain higher levels of antioxidants than green tea. Based on cell studies, it may help prevent oral cancer. Previously, though, you had to drink some roasty-flavored beverage, similar to barley tea and not to everyone’s taste, to get the benefits. The new products we tasted are nothing like those old-styled matés. By using a variety of unaged and unroasted matés, these delicious hot teas, cold, bottled teas, sparkling soda-type drinks and latte-style drinks bear no relation to traditional matés. They do taste like wonderful contemporary drinks—and they give a similar kick to coffee while being gentler on the stomach. Organic matés are sweetened with organic cane sugar or fructose. Look for these brands: Guayakí (Guayaki.com), which sells loose, bag and bottled teas that are also Fair Trade-certified and certified kosher by KSA (a photo of their Maté Chocolatté tea bags is above); The Maté Factor (www.matefactor.com), which has an extensive line of flavored hot teas; and Sol Maté™, a different company from the sparkling Sol Maté beverage we reviewed last month, that makes a delicious bottled tea in Honey & Lemon, Mixed Berry and Brazilian Orange (SolMateTeas.com).
- Energy Drinks. Most companies specialized in energy drinks, other companies like Inko’s and Steaz, which have other lines of beverages, hopped on the energy train and introduced them, packaged in traditional energy drink aluminum cans instead of their regular glass bottles. Steaz, a specialist in green tea-based sodas, has a traditional-tasting energy drink with a cherry Dr. Pepper flavor. Inko’s White Tea Energy stayed with its delicious lemon-ginger flavor profile, tasting as light and refreshing as their line of elegant, fruit-flavored white teas. Its jitter-free™ tea caffeine picked us up at 4 p.m., after 6 hours of nonstop walking and eating. It will be available soon at retailers or at HealthyWhiteTea.com.
- Energy Bars. There were organic and natural energy bars of every description. If you were visiting from another country, you might conclude that Americans lived on energy bars and energy drinks.
- Pet Food. Who would have thought there would be so much more natural and organic pet food! Sixteen companies dedicated to better food for pets showed products in this category.
- Baby Food. Imagine organic baby food that tastes as good as adult food! We really enjoyed tasting these products, fresh-frozen organic baby meals. In fact, we venture most adults don’t eat vegetables and fruits that are this delicious—chunky, textured and seasoned fruits and vegetables that we’d gladly eat—but in our portion sizes, we can’t afford it. Look for Happy Baby (HappyBabyFood.com), Plum Organics (PlumOrganics.com) and Taste Bud (TasteBudBaby.com) brands.
- Green Tea Concentrates. Many more companies are making green tea concentrates in dropper bottles to mix with water. We felt none was as tasty as the line we selected as a Top Pick Of The Week, Pure Inventions.
- Organic Chocolate. There’s much more good organic chocolate now, with interesting players like Theo Chocolate (TheoChocolate.com) following U.S. category pioneer Dagoba (DagobaChocolate.com) and the U.K.’s Green and Black. Dagoba showed exciting new products flavored with lemon, ginger and a mix of seeds. Great for the holiday are “tinctures” of chocolate and other essences that you drop into your mouth with a medicine dropper—or let someone else drop them in for you. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. We also liked the line of bars from Seeds of Change—Santo Domingo cacao that has natural notes of tangerine, further enhanced with a variety of different flavorings and add-ins (SeedsOfChange.com). We flipped for Keiko’s intense green tea chocolate and confections line (and the teas) from the German-Japanese partnership of Keiko Shimodozono (Keiko-America.com).
- Meats and Poultry. There was much delicious organic beef, bison and chicken. We enjoyed it all, especially bison from Blackwing Meats and the Canadian Bison Association, beef from Coleman Natural Foods juicy chicken from Eberly Farms and Shelton’s Poultry. Good Heart’s pre-cooked, rotisserie-style herb-roasted chicken breasts, cooked with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt were a hit, in Herb Seasoned, Lemon Pepper, Chipotle and Plain. The line includes juicy pulled chicken, off the bone and ready to drop into chicken salad and hot dishes, is a godsend (GoodHeart.com).
- Erythritol No-Calorie Sweetener. There’s a new and wonderful, if expensive, no-cal sweetener on the market: erythritol, a natural sweetener. Erythritol has been made for some time, but not in enough quantity to be marketed to consumers. Like maltitol, it is a sugar alcohol; unlike maltitol, it does not have a laxative effect. Like maltitol, it is also much pricier than aspartame (Equal®) and sucralose (Splenda®). Its components are recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration and found in common fruits and vegetables; it does not chemically alter any natural ingredients. Two proprietary brands showed their products: Sweet Simplicity™, made by Merisant, the makers of Equal®, and Zsweet®. They can be used in any application, including baking, and are certified kosher. We tasted them, and they are very close to sugar (sucrose) in flavor, but, like maltitol, less “sugary sweet” (which is a plus in our book). Other brands will appear, no doubt; but in the interim, you can purchase ZSweet at Whole Foods Markets, and online at ZSweet.com. in a 250-gram shaker for $16.00. Sweet Simplicity is $9.99 for 30 packets (shown in photo above) at SweetSimplicitySweetener.com. There’s more information about artificial sweeteners in our article on the topic.
Free Knife Sharpening. Throughout October, you can bring up to three knives to any Sur La Table store and have them sharpened free of charge. Additional knives will be sharpened for $1 per inch. Note that not all blades can be sharpened. Details are posted in each Sur La Table store (for a store locator, see SurLaTable.com). Wrap your knives carefully before transporting them, to protect both you and the tips of the knives, which can break off easily in transit. We suggest cardboard sheathing—shirt cardboards are just perfect to fold around the knives; then secure with tape, twine or heavy-duty elastic bands. You can also purchase individual rubber knife sheaths at hardware and specialty stores.
“Milking” Kids’ Brands. Kids should drink more milk, but are attracted by sugary beverages that have little or no nutritional value. While regional milk producers have tried to glamorize milk in strawberry, banana and chocolate flavors with cute cow-design containers, Bravo!™ Foods International Corporation has taken a more aggressive “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach that is sure to have kids clamoring for moo-or. Slammers® are 99% fat-free, flavored milks in a vendable, eight-ounce “snowman-shaped” bottle, that are co-branded with names that will endear them to kids, while meeting the new American Beverage Association guidelines. The flavors include 3 MUSKETEERS® Slammers® Chocolate Milk, Cocoa Puffs® Slammers®, Trix® Slammers® and PRO Slammers® Vanilla Rush, Hard Chocolate and Scorchin’ Strawberry. The eight-ounce Slammers are distributed by Coca-Cola Enterprises, and can fill the vending machine slots traditionally occupied by 12-ounce soda cans. The milk drinks are the first vendable milk that meets the new ABA Guidelines for what children can buy in schools. The drinks have no preservatives, do not need to be refrigerated and have a shelf life of six months. Slammers products are available nationwide in retail chains such as 7-Eleven, A&P, Dutch Farms, Giant Food Stores, Jewel, Kings, Pathmark, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Shaw’s, ShopRite, Speedway, SuperTarget, Unified, Waldbaums and Walgreens. Consumers can use the product locator feature at BravoBrands.com to get an updated list of locations using their zip code. The product will be available for online purchase at Jegs.com this fall.
Wine With Tricks. Pronounced Bozo, like the clown, Beauzeaux®, a blended red wine from California’s Beaulieu Vineyards has re-done its previously elegant classic wine label and relaunched the brand to appeal to a popular audience seeking a cool wine for pizza. Beauzeaux a blend of eight different varietals—mostly Zinfandel and Syrah, but with small amounts of Charbono, Grenache, Petite Sirah, and 2 percent Lagrein, an obscure red grape that the company notes is mentioned in the 17th century records of a Benedictine monastery. The wine is said to have a nose of red raspberry, spicy black pepper and cinnamon and a fruit-forward palate of juicy ripe black cherry flavors. Beauzeaux is bottled with four different labels, each featuring an illustration. In keeping with the fun theme, each bottle comes with four easy-to-learn parlor tricks, “perfect pizza night entertainment for wine lovers and their friends,” according to the company. One might suggest that the juggling begin before too much Beauzeaux is imbibed. The tongue-in cheek wine is offered nationally at a suggested retail price of $9.99.
Free Range Wines. JuiceBox Wine Company, formed earlier this year “to bring exceptional wines to consumers at reasonable prices” in boxed formats, has released its 2005 vintage FreeRange wines, including Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscadet, Pinot Noir, Red Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc and White Bordeaux. The wines are packaged in innovative, three-liter 4BottleBox™ formats (i.e., the box holds the equivalent of four 750 ml bottles of wine, or 3 liters). The cardboard box has a handle and contains a vacuum-sealed bag with a spout, which keeps the wine in and air out. The wine stays fresh for up to six weeks after opening. The box weighs 90% less than the equivalent four bottles and costs less to recycle. Putting better wine into boxes, and specifically into one larger size box, passes meaningful cost savings to consumers. The suggested retail price of $29.99 for a 4BottleBox equates to $7.50 for a 750ml bottle of wine. From a quality standpoint, the wine is said to compare to bottles that retail for much more. FreeRange is available initially in the New England area and will be available in most of states by the middle of next year. For more information, visit FreeRangeWines.com.
Ikea Smorgasbord. Swedish furniture retailer IKEA will roll out a smorgasbord of prepared foods at U.S. and Asian stores this fall, to give customers a taste of Sweden. IKEA expects the food sales to reach $850 million this year. This would equate to 4.5% of the company’s $18 billion 2005 total revenue. With a small food market and restaurant attached to each of its furniture stores, IKEA already sells a limited number of specialty food items, including Swedish meatballs, salmon, lingonberry jam and apple cake dessert that it also serves at its in-store restaurants.
Target Launches Archer Organic Line. As consumer demand for organic products continues to grow, Target has jumped on the bandwagon, presenting an affordable, private label organics line. The Archer Farms brand, exclusive to Target, will include a variety of organic groceries, from whole-grain pizzas, pastas and complete dinners to dairy products, fruit strips and juices (some products shown in photo at right). The collection, which will continue add products on a regular basis, is available at SuperTarget stores nationwide, and at select Target stores. The stores will continue to offer hundreds of nationally-branded organic products. In addition, the produce department at SuperTarget is now certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Target has 1,443 stores in 47 states.
In The Spirit. Halloween is not just for kids. In a national survey conducted last month by BIGresearch, 34% of adults say they will dress in costume and 30% will throw or attend a party. Most Americans get in the spirit: 73% will hand out candy. Another 43% will carve a pumpkin and 49% will decorate homes and/or yards. Halloween is the sixth-largest spending holiday after the December holiday season ($457.4 billion estimated 2006), Valentine’s Day ($13.70 billion), Easter ($12.63 billion), Mother’s Day ($13.80 billion) and Father’s Day ($9.01 billion). While the average of about $20 spent on Halloween candy generally goes for newsstand chocolate miniatures tossed into trick-or-treat bags, check our Table of Contents for some better-quality treats.
Starbucks Monopoly? A woman who had a now-defunct espresso bar in a Bellevue, Washington office building that included a Starbucks has filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status, accusing the coffee giant of using its dominant market position to create a monopoly that hindered her from operating a competing business. The suit accuses Starbucks Corp. of signing exclusive lease agreements with big office building companies in downtown Seattle and nearby Bellevue that pay more than fair market value, and include provisions to exclude competing coffee companies. According to the story filed by the Associated Press, Steve Berman, a lawyer representing the plaintiff, Penny Stafford, said it is not inappropriate for a company to stipulate in a lease that a competitor shouldn’t be allowed to do business in the same building. But, he said, he believes Starbucks’ extensive presence in those two markets gives it monopoly power, making such behavior anti-competitive. In the lawsuit, Stafford also claims that Starbucks sent employees to offer free drink samples outside the deli where she operated her espresso business, which closed in September 2005, after just four months.
Chocolate Tortilla Chips. For creative cooks looking for the next fascinating plate garnish—or for people who just like fusion snacks—Vosges Haut Chocolat has introduced Red Fire Tortilla Chips, organic corn chips covered in chocolate and topped with ancho and chipotle chiles. The flavors of toasty corn, sweet chocolate and smoky, spicy chile create a novel taste. Vosges recommends serving the chips with mango, hibiscus and cucumber margaritas; and with authentic Mexican elotes (corn on the cob speared on skewers and rolled in mayonnaise, cotija cheese, a touch of chili powder and a squeeze of fresh lime juice). We propose them as part of a dessert plate, with a dab of plain or sweetened mascarpone or creme fraîche or as a crown on a scoop of ice cream (think of modernizing the old-fashioned fan-shaped wafer cookies). We also like them as a garnish for savory dishes that have sweet sauces—for example, grilled chicken or fish with a mango salsa (or of course, mole sauce). Six ounces, 12 chips, are $20 at VosgesChocolate.com. If you like the idea of chocolate and corn, try Domori Mais, milk chocolate-covered, toasted, salted corn kernels. They’re available at Worldwide Chocolate.com; a 5.28 ounce box is $12.99. As novel as the combination may sound, these two foods are joined in history. Cacao and maize were the main crops of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. Cacao beans were used as currency, and were ground into a beverage drunk only by the elite; maize was the main staple crop.
Wolfgang Puck Announces Frozen Pizza Line. Wolfgang Puck, inventor of the “gourmet pizza,” is making a second run at frozen pizzas. Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which markets the Puck brand, and Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, a manufacturer of frozen foods, announced the launch of Wolfgang Puck All-Natural Pizzas, available in club stores and other retail locations nationwide. Flavors include Cheese, Barbecue Chicken, Four Cheese, Margherita, Pepperoni and Spicy Chicken. Inventor of gourmet pizza some 20 years ago when he launched his first restaurant, Spago, in West Hollywood, Puck created wood-fired pizzas with “nouvelle” toppings like goat cheese, smoked salmon and duck sausage. The concept spread, helping to make Spago and Puck a national name in return. Unfortunately, given the great talents of the chef, the quality of food under his licenses has never been more than just adequate. His Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express fast-casual restaurants are just a shade above other pizza chains in quality, and Wolfgang Puck Self-Heating Lattes were not only average-tasting, but were removed from store shelves after just a year due to packaging defects. A prior frozen pizza venture, launched in 2002 with food giant ConAgra, produced a line of six similar-sounding but ho-hum tasting flavors, including Barbecue Style Chicken, Four Cheese & Pesto, Italian Sausage & Pepperoni with Barbecue Sauce, Primavera Vegetable, Spicy Grilled Chicken and Thai Style Chicken. Given the increasingly high level of specialty foods available in supermarkets—including the spectacular new line of frozen pizzas imported from Italy under the Pizza Romana label (which we will review in next month’s issue of THE NIBBLE), we’d like to see this exceptionally gifted culinary artist make business deals that produce food worthy of his licensed name. That would mean working with a specialty food company that knows how to produce better-tasting food, rather than a mass-marketer. But then, Puck and his licensing company have clearly chosen the road to mass sales over better-tasting products that would be in line with the chef’s reputation.
This is version you CAN afford, for $3.60.
World’s Most Expensive Marmalade. British marmalade maker F Duerr and Sons is celebrating its 125th anniversary in style. They’ve made a jar of orange marmalade priced at £5,000 ($9,358). The commemorative 1kg jar is made with £120 ($224) of edible gold leaf, £348 ($651) worth of 1996 Pol Roger Cuvee Winston Churchill Champagne, £3,450 ($6457) worth of rare Dalmore 62-year-old malt whisky, which sells at £32,000 ($59,891) per bottle, and some of the world’s finest oranges. Such an assembly of ingredients is encased in an equally rare, specially designed hand-crafted crystal bowl by Rockware Glass, the U.K.’s leading glass packaging company. Topped with a silver stopper, the jar sits in a solid crystal base and is valued at £1,100 ($2,059). The bowl and base were hand-made at the Dial Glassworks in Stourbridge, glassmakers since 1788.
Given the cost of the ingredients, the price seems reasonable. However, spreading the contents evenly equates to £80 ($150) per slice of toast, or £11 ($20.50) per bite. If you’re interested, activate your EBay search agent: the world’s most expensive jar of marmalade will be auctioned online for charity later this year. Otherwise, you can purchase a jar of Duerr’s Coarse Cut 1881 Seville Orange Marmalade for $3.60 from The English Tea Store. It contains no gold, Champagne or whiskey, but no doubt has the same delicious Seville oranges, brown Muscovado sugar and lemon juice.
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