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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for December, 2008

TRENDS: Restaurants Go Greener

According to Chinese Restaurant News, there are almost one million restaurants in the U.S., each generating an average of 50,000 pounds of waste annually, and using an average of 300,000 gallons of water. A quarter of restaurants say they are planning to go green(er) in 2009, showing the environmentally conscious diner that they are more eco-friendly.

Perhaps the most challenged are the nation’s 45,000+ Chinese restaurants, where the demand for, and the nature of, take-out food utilizes disposable containers, many of which include non-recyclable plastic and styrofoam. On January 5th, at the Annual Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the USA Awards Show & Conference, a “Cooking Towards a Greener Future” educational seminar will discuss why it’s important for Chinese restaurants to create a sustainable business that is good for all stakeholders—the environment, employees, diners and the neighborhood—while saving energy and improving profits.

Next time you order Chinese take-out, forgo the
non-recyclable styrofoam and plastic containers
and silverware.

We have a suggestion: Ask if the customer wants soy sauce, duck sauce and mustard, and how much. Ask if they need utensils: Why does food going to a home require plastic forks and spoons? How many millions of these items get thrown out unused each year? We ask for these items, and the complimentary fried noodles, to be left out. (Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.) We’ve asked our restaurant not to pack the salad in a styrofoam bowl, but to choose something recyclable. While waiting for your restaurateur to get greener, you can let your voice be heard! It may not have great impact, but at least you’ll have done your part. Now we can hope that Chinese Restaurant News will publish some actionable checklist for restaurateurs.

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FREEBIE: Cascadian Farm Organic Chocolate Chip Granola Bar

chocolate-chip-chewy-granola-bar Cascadian Farm is giving away free sample-sized organic Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars through January 30, 2009, while supplies last. It’s the company’s top selling snack bar, and a nice little treat made from healthy ingredients such as organic rice syrup, organic rolled oats, organic chocolate chips and organic whole milk (see the complete ingredients list on the website).

Just visit CascadianFarm.com and click on the FREE SAMPLE box. In order to share the wealth, there’s a limit of one free sample per person. You must be 18 years or older and reside in the U.S. You can buy the bars online, and there’s a retail store locator (both are in the Products section of the website).

Cascadian Farm is one of the country’s leading brands of organic foods. Therer’s a real 28-acre working farm where it all started, 35 years ago, in the foothills of the Washington’s North Cascades mountain range. You can visit if you’re in the area.

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Best Gourmet Foods 2008

We wish you a happy and healthy New Year. In fact, you can start 2009 with a pantry full of some healthy Top Picks Of The Week from 2008. These delicious foods will not only meet with your approval; they’ll get the nod from your doctor, nutritionist and trainer, too.

- Cool Beans Dip. Leave the mayonnaise and sour cream dips behind in 2009. Keep the good taste as you trade up to the heart-healthy olive oil base and good nutrition of white beans. Cool Beans is a winner of THE NIBBLE Outstanding Artisan Award.

- French Meadow Bakery. This fine organic baker makes it easy to get your whole grain quota of the day. Just switch to their bread and bagels.

- Holly’s Oatmeal. Even if you think you don’t like oatmeal, give Holly’s a try. It’s a mix of several different whole grains; just one serving has 38g of your 48g daily whole grain requirement. Holly’s Oatmeal is a winner of THE NIBBLE Outstanding Artisan Award.

- Rick’s Picks Pickles & Pickled Vegetables. No sugar, no salt, just delicious farm-fresh vegetables and artisan brine seasoned with fine spices and herbs. Great as snacks, garnishes and low-calorie treats for dieters. Rick’s Picks is a winner of THE NIBBLE Outstanding Artisan Award.

Is a bagel “healthy” food? Yes, when it’s a whole
grain bagel like this one from French Meadow
Bakery
. Top it with 0% fat, thick Greek yogurt
instead of cream cheese (we like Chobani, FAGE
and Oikos brands).


- Sauces ‘n Love Tomato Sauces. There’s no need to add sugar to a tomato sauce when you use tomatoes that are so naturally sweet. These low-calorie sauces are not just for pasta, but for vegetables, tofu, meats, dips and more.

- SAVU Smoker Bags. How can you make food taste new and wonderful without adding a single calorie? Here’s the answer! Smoke meat, fish and vegetables in your oven or on the grill.

- True Natural Taste Artisan Organic Mustard. Save calories and enjoy the health benefits of mustard. Make your New Year’s resolution: more delicious mustard, less mayonnaise.

- Vermont Butter & Cheese Company. Goat cheese has less fat and fewer calories than cow’s milk cheese, and is more easily digested, too. Eat more goat cheese in 2009!

Read the reviews of all of these products by clicking on the links above. And watch for THE NIBBLE’s January “health month” issue, online January first.

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TOP PICK: Demitri’s Bloody Mary Mix

No matter what the season, Bloody Mary is
one of America’s top three favorite cocktails.

Despite those ubiquitous Martinis and Cosmos, Bloody Marys remain among the country’s most popular cocktails. Depending on the market, Mary is the number one, two or three best-seller at restaurants and bars, and generally the most commonly served cocktail at home.

And it’s a healthy drink—at least, it is when you use a good mixer that doesn’t add sweeteners other than those in the Worcestershire Sauce. Just for starters, there are antioxidant lycopenes in the tomato juice,* antioxidants in the citrus juice (vitamin C and others) and a mild antibiotic benefit from the horseradish. An ocean’s worth of Bloody Mary mix is sold each year. Even bars buy mixers rather than take the time to make their own.

*Lycopene may prevent prostate cancer and some other forms of cancer, heart disease and other serious diseases.

While we do mix our own, seeking out the best tomato juices, we also keep tabs on the best Bloody Mary mixers. Recently, we tried three from Demitri’s: Classic, Extra Horseradish and Chilies & Peppers. Demitri Pallis was a frustrated bartender who noted that, “from bartender to bartender, day to day, a customer couldn’t count on a consistent and delicious Bloody Mary.” He developed his mixers for bars; now you can buy them, too. Add two ounces of Demitri’s seasoning to one quart of tomato juice, mix with vodka and toast to the holidays. Read the full review.

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NEWS: Best Coffees Of 2008

If you’re a coffee lover who didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas, perhaps you can treat yourself to one of the world’s best specialty coffees—a no-calorie treat at that! The Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2008 Roasters Guild Coffee of the Year Competition took place in May. We’ve been meaning to get the top 10 winners to have our own judging, but the year just flew by and we’re still coffee-less. So we can’t give you our own analysis, just the results.

More than 30 coffee professionals selected the winning coffee by cupping, a systematic method of evaluating the aroma and taste of coffee that is used by growers, buyers and roasters to evaluate the quality and flavor profile of coffee. As with wine tasting, a small amount of coffee is slurped and swirled over the palate, then spit out without swallowing.

The judges specifically assessed six distinct attributes of the coffee samples, including fragrance, aroma, taste, flavor, aftertaste and body. While a Columbian coffee took top honors, Guatemala had more entries in the top 10 than any other origin.

The highest-ranked coffees included:

1. C.I. Racafe & CIA S.C.A., Colombia
2. Hacienda La Esmeralda, Panama
3. Volcafe Specialty Coffee (Exported by Alanheri), Ethiopia
4. Sidama Coffee Farmers, Co-Op Union, Ethiopia
5. San Rafael Pacun/ Cafetalera El Tunel S.A., Guatemala
6. Agropecuaria Salfar S.A./ San Sebastian, Guatemala
7. Agoga Plantation Limited, Papua New Guinea
8. Finca La Ilusion-Café de El Salvador, El Salvador
9. Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, Colombia
10. San Jose Ocana, Guatemala
11. Big Island Fine Coffee, Guatemala
12. Kona Coffee Plantation, Hawaii
13. Consejo Dominicano Del Café (Natura Bella), Dominican Republic

– You can download a PDF of all the contestants.

– Learn how to make good coffee.

– Learn coffee terminology in THE NIBBLE’s Coffee Glossary.

– Study the aromas and flavors of coffee.

– Read the history of coffee.

– Take our coffee trivia quiz.

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RECIPES: Cocktails For Christmas

Haven’t thought of a special Christmas cocktail yet? There’s still time to get some cranberry juice cocktail and add it to vodka, gin or rum. Pick a Martini or Mojito (the martini is easier) and make a cranberry version as your house “Christmas cocktail.”

Cranberry Martini recipes (simplest version: cranberry juice, vodka or gin, lime)
Cranberry Mojito recipe (cranberry juice cocktail, mint leaves, brown sugar cubes, lime and ideally, sugar cane swizzle sticks)

Mint sprigs and fresh cranberries for garnish help with the green and red holiday theme. Merry Christmas from all of us at THE NIBBLE!

cranberry-martini-230

Deck the halls with a cranberry martini. Photo by Penny Burt | IST.

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TRENDS: 2009 Restaurant Directions

In a down economy, discretionary restaurant meals are one of the first things to get cut by conservative consumers. Food industry consulting and research firm Technomic sees five trends looming large in 2009, as restaurants try to coax customers to come out and spend:

1. Experimentation and innovation—with new menu items, delivery services and price/bundling schemes.

2. Continuation of ethnic flavors, with a highlight of regional cuisines such as regional Italian and Jalisco-style Mexican fare.

3. “Local” food sourcing and a menu emphasis on the foods of the region.

4. Goldilocks serving sizes: big, little and just right. More small-plate, prix-fixe and bar menus, in addition to more family-style entrées that can feed two or more.

5. Up-scaled and expanded kids’ menus, beyond standard kids’ menu items to items that reflect the restaurant, for instance, a crab cake at a seafood restaurant—along with more specialty beverages and smoothies. (Editor’s Note: Makes good sense to help develop the foodies of tomorrow.)

Hmmm…interesting, but we’re not certain that a kid’s crab cake or delivery service is the hot button when money is one’s chief concern. “Price/bundling schemes,” whatever they are, sound promising. What would make us spend money at restaurants when we think we should exercise restraint are financial incentives. Our suggestions include:

1. The “new menu items” should include more affordable dishes across categories (appetizers, entrees, desserts). There should be some comparatively inexpensive choices in each group. If your goal is to fill seats, this can be done—at least on certain nights of the week.

2. Offer more affordable wines, meaning, more reasonable markups. We’d show up to eat more often and buy wine if we could pay $20 for a $10 retail bottle instead of $35. Paying $12 or $15 for one glass of average wine is like pouring money down the drain.

3. Allow a BYO for a corkage fee on slow nights.
We understand that much of a restaurant’s profit has come from those $12 wines-by-the-glass and the bottle markups; but when people can buy the entire bottle for $12, they’re staying home and grilling or ordering a designer pizza in these penny-pinching times. We’d like to suggest that restaurants find other ways to improve their margins, including:

1. Charging for the bread basket. How many people really want that bread, and how much of it gets wasted (or how many of us fill up on it before the food arrives)? No one needs those carbs (or the fat from the butter). Few of us serve a bread basket at home; at the restaurant, it’s a bad-food temptation we don’t need put in front of us. Charging for it is a way for restaurants to save (and earn) money.

2. Serve smaller portions of dessert. Most of those who want a little something sweet at the end of the meal could do with half the calories, carbs and fat of what we’re typically served—that’s why “sharing a dessert” is a standard calorie-cutting recommendation. In addition to earning higher margins from smaller portions, there’s probably a market for a selection of mini-desserts sold to people who would normally decline dessert (similar to selling an “appetizer portion” of a main course).

It’s food for thought!

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PRODUCT: Wine Cellar Sorbet For Christmas Dinner

There’s still time to have Wine Cellar Sorbet at your Christmas dinner—as a palate-cleanser between courses or a light dessert for adults who still want something sweet but have no room for anything else. Yes, the sorbets are for grown-ups: They are 5% alcohol and are distinctly—and delightfully—alcoholic. You need to order by midnight tonight for delivery by 12/24 (or, check the website for a retailer near you).

You can also send this frozen fantasy as a gift. Purchase a gift certificate for a 4, 6 or 12 pack of Wine Cellar Sorbet; the recipient will get an email gift certificate and can have it delivered at the time of his or her choice. (A 6-pack enables him/her to taste all of the flavors.)

The sorbets are made from fine wine—Cabernet Sauvignon, Chanpagne, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Rose and Sangria. Of everything we’ve tasted at THE NIBBLE over the years, Wine Cellar Sorbet remains one of our very favorite foods, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week and winner of THE NIBBLE Outstanding Artisan Award. Even if you don’t have it for Christmas, you should make a point to try it in the New Year. Sorbet also has far fewer calories than ice cream, no fat, no cholesterol. Not that we’re saying it’s health food…

Read our review and order online at WineCellarSorbet.com.

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RECIPES: Name Chefs Feed Your Family For $10

Time Magazine dug into “recession dining” and had six chefs develop dinner for a family of four for $10. Some aren’t brain science, but others are inspired, like Tom Colicchio’s Fennel Pork Loin. The “menu” includes:

* Tom Colicchio’s (Craft Restaurant, NYC) Fennel Pork Loin and Pasta Vegetarienne

* Tyler Florence’s (The Food Network) Roast Chicken With Lemon, Garlic and Fresh Bay Leaves

* David Myers’ (Sona, Los Angeles) Spaghetti With Pancetta and Chili Flakes

* Eric Ripert’s (Le Bernardin, NYC) Rice & Beans, Green Salad and Banana Flambé

* Charlie Palmer’s (Aureole, NYC) Orecchiette Pasta “Risotto” With Pancetta and Goat Cheese

* Suzanne Goin’s (Lucques, Los Angeles) Braised Chicken With Paprika Onions, Cous Couse and Date Relish

Dig in to the Recession Gourmet Recipes.

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NEWS: Oatmeal, The New “Hot” Food?

oatmeal-right-250

A healthy, hearty bowl of Holly’s Oatmeal.

Starbucks began selling oatmeal in portable covered bowls this fall, and it has proven to be one of the most successful food products the company has introduced, according to an article in this week’s Wall Street Journal. Smoothie chain Jamba Juice has launched oatmeal in Chicago, with a rollout to all locations by January. Is the food that so many moms had to struggle to make kids eat becoming hot?

It should. Oatmeal a whole grain cereal. A diet high in whole grain foods (2.5 servings per day) is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke. If you think your current cereal or bread is whole grain, read our article on whole grain cereals)—you may be surprised.

Oatmeal tips:

– Try to avoid turning your bowl of health food into a high-glycemic nightmare. If you crave sweetness, instead of topping it with brown sugar, try an artificial sweetener and fresh fruit, like half a banana or some strawberries (strawberries are pricey right now, but there are bargains to be found).

- The Quaker Oats product most of us have grown up with is rolled oats. A quick lesson: After the outer husk (the chaff) has been removed from the oat grains, the bran-covered grains that remain are known as oat groats. Steel-cut oats are oat groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces and retain bits of the bran layer, that provides flavor, texture and nutrition. Rolled oats have been rolled into flat flakes under heavy rollers, so they lose that texture.

– Don’t scrimp on the quality of your oatmeal. As with any other food, you get what you pay for, and the specialty brands are better than the mass marketed brands. (Try Bob’s Red Mill, which can be found at Whole Foods Markets, natural food stores and other specialty stores.) It you don’t like the “mushiness” of rolled oats, try steel cut oats. They take a while to cook (there’s no “quick-cook” version), but it’s worth it.

– Best of all, try Holly’s Oatmeal, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week and a winner of THE NIBBLE Outstanding Artisan Award. If this textured, flavorful mix of different whole grains, almonds and dried fruit doesn’t convert naysayers into oatmeal lovers, nothing will. The small gift boxes may seem pricey ($6.99 for a 16-ounce box yields 8 portions, or 81¢ a serving—of course, a fraction of what you’d spend on a muffin or croissant). But you can buy it in bulk bags for the same price as any other oatmeal. One serving of Holly’s Oatmeal has 38g of the 48g of your daily whole grain requirement and there’s a gluten-free variety, too.

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