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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 Trends

NEWS: Americans Making Better-For-You Food Choices At Restaurants

We met our brother for lunch this weekend at California Pizza Kitchen.

As we both ordered from what we considered to be the “better-for-you” salad menu, Brother, an attorney, looked at the small print.

“Yikes,” he said, “My Cobb Salad has 941 calories. I thought salads were supposed to be low-calorie!”

Well, er, not when topped with blue cheese, bacon, avocado and 1/4 cup of dressing (which is 400 calories in and of itself).

But we are still perplexed as to how our Thai Crunch Salad added up to 1089 calories. It had lots of Napa and red cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers and scallions, with perhaps two ounces of grilled chicken and modest accents of edamame, wontons, rice sticks and peanuts. The lime-cilantro dressing was minimal.

It seems that if we wanted to count calories, we should have gotten half portions. But we left full of fiber and protein, and grateful that we hadn’t ordered the BBQ Chicken Pizza.

This morning, we read a Food Channel Trendwire email which announced:

 

At 550 calories, a better-for-you entrée.
Photo courtesy Applebee’s.

 

Restaurant Diners Actually Starting to Make Healthier Choices

The article led with the bad news: A report issued earlier this month by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that the national obesity epidemic continues to worsen. Only one state showed an obesity rate below 20% (and just barely): Colorado at 19.8%. Twelve states have obesity rates over 30%. Mississippi was number one at 34.4%. Seven states have seen their rates double in the past 20 years.

But there is some good news: This year, a number of leading restaurant chains are finding significant growth in the better-for-you menu options.

  • Applebee’s. For the first time in the restaurant’s history, the top selling entrée on the menu came from the under-550 calorie menu: Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Sauce. Applebee’s president, Mike Archer, remarked, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re seeing a sea change in consumer behavior.”
  • IHOP. The pancake powerhouse reports that its Simple & Fit menu, offering a range of under-600 calorie choices, now accounts for 8% of entrées sold. At 330 calories, the Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Omelet is now a best seller.
  • Friendly’s. Four of its under-550 calorie limited time offers have sold so well that they’ve been moved to the permanent menu this summer.
  •  
    Of course, the reports don’t count any beverages, bread, appetizers and desserts, but America is finally off to a good start.

      

    Comments

    TRENDS: Eat Hemp & Support Hemp Farming

    The second Annual Hemp History Week ended yesterday.

    The national grassroots education campaign aims to renew support for hemp farming in the U.S. Although illegal today, hemp was traditionally grown in the U.S. by many farmers—including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper!

    In addition to edible hemp seed, hemp has long been used to make fiber for rope and textiles.

    The growing of hemp as a food and textile crop was banned in 1957, due to federal confusion over industrial hemp and marijuana.

    While there is pending legislation to change the situation, currently no live hemp plant (specifically, leaves and stems) can enter the U.S. But the seeds and end products containing them can be imported.

     

    Shelled hemp seeds are a delicious addition
    to salads. Photo by Elinor D. | Wikimedia.

     

    Hemp seeds are one of the most nutritious foods around. Hemp, along with quinoa, is one of the few plant foods that are a complete protein (containing all the essential amino acids). Hemp seed is packed with protein, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (the highest levels of any plant source) and magnesium. The flavor is mild, similar to sunflower seeds.

    If only hemp were legal, it would add inexpensive protein to our diet. Instead of appearing only in niche health foods, large manufacturers would use it to add protein to cereal, milk and other foods.

    Currently, Americans can purchase hemp seed powder to add to smoothies and other foods; shelled hemp seeds to sprinkle on salads, soups, veggies, yogurt and hot and cold breakfast cereals (very tasty!); and hemp seed oil for salads.

    Beyond nutrition, an excellent reason to legalize hemp growing is that it can be a salvation to many of America’s farmers.

    It is difficult for many American farm families to earn a living from farming. Farmers earn $25/acre for growing corn. Hemp would yield $200/acre, giving them the income they need to keep their family farms.

    Now that you know, support hemp farming. Write to your state and federal representatives. Not only does the federal government need to legalize hemp farming, but each state must also legalize it in order to allow its farmers to grow hemp.

    Learn more at VoteHemp.com and follow the link to send a pre-written email, fax or letter to your legislators to let them know how you feel about the status of hemp in the U.S.

    And don’t forget to enjoy the benefits of hemp as a high protein nutritional supplement. Start with sprinkling the tiny seeds onto your salads. If you typically eat a low-protein vegetable salad for lunch, it’s just what the doctor (or nutritionist) ordered. Two tablespoons of hemp seed provides 11 grams of protein, as much as a chicken drumstick.

    Our favorite hemp food: the hemp bagels from French Meadow Bakery.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Know Your Saturated Fat Foods

    So good to taste, so bad for your heart. Photo
    by Paul Johnson | IST.

     

    Last year, a media blitz let America know that trans fat was bad for us. Some cities legislated that it could not be used in restaurants. Manufacturers reformulated their products and declared “No Trans Fats!” on the packaging.

    Trans fats are no longer the enemy.

    Know what is? Saturated fat!

    Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and which ones don’t is the first step in lowering your risk of heart disease—America’s number one killer. You can’t wait until you’re 50 to change your diet. Your healthy future starts today.

    Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. It is found mostly in foods from animals, plus some plants.

    And darn it, saturated fat is found in America’s favorite foods: beef, lamb, pork, poultry, veal and their fats (chicken fat and lard, e.g.), for starters.

    But there’s more:

  • Butter, cream, milk, yogurt, cheeses and other dairy products made from whole and 2% milk contain dietary cholesterol. That means ice cream and frozen yogurt too. (Sob!)
  • And watch out for the saturated fat in coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils), plus cocoa butter (a key component of chocolate).
  •  
    The American Heart Association strongly advises these fat guidelines for healthy Americans over age 2:*

  • Limit total fat intake to less than 25%–35% of your total calories each day.
  • Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total daily calories.
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day, for healthy people.
  • Limit trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories.
  • The remaining fats you consume should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
  •  
    If your calorie goal is 2,000 calories each day (recommended for sedentary females 21-50), that means no more than 16 g saturated fat and between 50 and 70 grams of total fat each day, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
     
    It isn’t easy to cut back on that delicious saturated fat. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single teaspoon.

    *Conventional thinking, currently being studied by researchers, is that infants need relatively large amounts of fat, including saturated fat, for proper growth and development.

    Comments

    TRENDS: Alcohol Consumption By Country

    With Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day upon us—two holidays known for celebration with alcohol—we found this comparative drink consumption chart.

    America isn’t even in the Top 10.

    That’s no reason to celebrate (or to over-indulge). The better focus would be to move our students up the Top 10 list in math and science.

    In a 2009 study, U.S. eighth graders ranked 11th in science and 9th in math.

    Next question: Why do people in Luxembourg drink so much?

     

    Chart courtesy Grafikdienst.com.

    Comments

    TRENDS: Craft Beer

    Try a spicy beer with your fruitcake.
    Photo courtesy CraftBeer.com.

     

    Here’s an idea for Christmas dinner or New Year’s Eve: Treat guests to a craft beer tasting.

    As we relayed last week, a Wakefield Research survey shows that more than 60% of men would prefer to toast the New Year with beer rather than Champagne. By implication, they wouldn’t mind having that beer at Christmas as well.

    And by further implication, they wouldn’t mind tasting some exciting craft beers instead of the same old, same old.

    So go to your closest depot of craft beer and get six or so different brews for a tasting. If you don’t know where to begin, the sales associate can help you. One place to start is with the same style of beer (pilsner, dark ale) from six different microbreweries. Or, purchase six different styles of beer from the same brewery.

    Serve the beers in order from lightest to darkest style, giving everyone a two-ounce pour. This nets out to one bottle of beer consumed per person. One 12-ounce bottle yields 6 pours. Discuss the aromas and flavors in each beer—they’re complex and much more flavorful and aromatic than mass-marketed megabrands.

    Craft beer continues to be hot. In 2010, craft breweries nationwide were unable to keep up with demand from enthusiastic beer lovers.

    While many of the top-selling beer brands from the large breweries saw a decline in sales in 2010, 200 new craft breweries opened and almost 500 more are reported to be in the planning stages.

    Here are highlights from the ever-changing beerscape, according to the Brewers Association, which represents America’s small and independent craft brewers.

  • Cans vs. Bottles: Full-flavored craft beers in cans instead of bottles continued to gain traction across the country.
  • “Sour is the New Hoppy”: Barrel-aging, which produces interesting tart flavors, has become very popular—even among America’s hopheads who like the bitter flavors.
  • Beer and Food: Craft beer and food pairings continue to be prevalent at the dinner table. From coast to coast, restaurants are offering beer pairings with food. See our beer pairing dinner menu (a great idea for New Year’s Eve) and find many pairing ideas at CraftBeer.com.
  • Cooking With Beer: Craft beer has become a staple ingredient in many dishes, from brines to sauces. Get lots of ideas at BeerCook.com.
  • Nano Breweries: These tiny breweries, with a case output so small that they can’t be called microbreweries, are hot and growing.
  • Brewpubs: The estimated 1,000 brewpubs in the country represents well over half of U.S. breweries. Looks like we want good grub with our craft beer.
  • Support your local brewery. Meet friends at your nearest brewpub for some holiday cheer.

    Understand the types of beer in our Beer Glossary.

    Comments

    TRENDS: Chefs Predict 2011 Restaurant Trends

    The National Restaurant Association surveyed more than 1,500 chef members of the American Culinary Federation for the bead on what we can expect at restaurants in 2011.

    Things haven’t changed much since last year. Locally sourced ingredients and sustainability top the restaurant trends projections for 2011, and the rest of the Top 20 trends have been around as well. Now, let’s hope they go from “around” to mainstream.

    The Top 20 Restaurant Trends for 2011

    1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
    2. Locally grown produce
    3. Sustainability
    4. Nutritionally balanced children’s dishes

     

    Trend: Avoid out-of-season foods that burn a
    lot of fuel to get to you (and don’t taste
    as good as in-season foods). Photo by Alaina Cherup | SXC.

    5. “Hyper local,” such as restaurants with their own gardens and chefs who do their own butchering
    6. Children’s nutrition
    7. Sustainable seafood
    8. Gluten-free food and being food allergy conscious
    9. Simplicity/back to basics
    10. Farm/estate-branded ingredients
    11. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
    12. Locally produced wine and beer
    13. Smaller portions for smaller prices
    14. Organic produce
    15. Nutrition/health
    16. “Culinary” cocktails, for example ones that have savory or fresh ingredients
    17. Newly fabricated cuts of meat such as the pork flat iron and the beef petit tender
    18. Fruit and vegetables as children’s side items
    19. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items, such as Asian-flavored syrups, chorizo scrambled eggs and coconut milk pancakes
    20. Artisan cheeses

    Thirty percent of chefs said mobile food trucks and pop-up restaurants would be the hottest operational trend in 2011.

    Bon appétit!

    Comments

    TREND: The Next Thing In A Fresh Cookie?

    The Sweet Flour Bake Shop in Toronto is at the vanguard of something we haven’t seen before: cookies and muffins custom-baked with your choice of mix-ins, prepared while you wait—in as little as two minutes. You can create just one cookie or take home a dozen.

    Do the math, and you get 15,000 different combinations—a different cookie for every day for the next 41 years.

    First, you start with a choice of an Original, Oatmeal or Peanut Butter cookie dough (what—no chocolate?) or muffin tops in Original or Bran muffin tops.

    Then pick 2 or 3 mix-ins:

  • Chips: dark chocolate chunks, semi-sweet chocolate chunks, milk chocolate chunks, white chocolate chunks, chocolate mint chips, peanut butter pieces and butterscotch chips, plus sprinkles
  •  

    Cookies made to order in two minutes.
    Photo courtesy Sweet Flour Bake Shop.

  • Candy: M&Ms, mini pretzels, snickers, toffee pieces
  • Dried Fruit: blueberries, cherries, cranberries, figs, raisins
  • Nuts: almonds, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, walnuts

    If you’ve in the mood for ganache, have a sandwich cookies in chocolate, peanut butter or shortbread with chocolate, maple, peanut butter, salted caramel or vanilla crème.

    OK, we’ll start with a chocolate sandwich cookie with salted caramel ganache; then move onto a bran muffin with dried cherries, figs and pistachio nuts. We’ll be back later for an Original cookie with M&Ms, toffee and snickers.

    How about you?

    And when is a Sweet Flour bakery opening near us?

  • Comments

    FOOD TRENDS: Trade Cupcakes For Pie?

    Will pie be the cupcake of 2011? Photo
    courtesy WildBlueberries.com.

     

    Move over cupcakes: pies are on the way.

    Pies, both sweet and savory, will be the top restaurant trend in 2011, predicts restaurant consultant Andrew Freeman & Co.

    “If I had one trend—one trend—of the year that I could predict, [it] would be the trend for pie,” said Freeman. “I think that we’re going to make room for pie shops in the next year. This is not just sweet pies, this is savory pies, bite-sized pies. I’ll eat pie if I don’t get this one right….” (Hey, is that a punishment?)

    While some restaurants are known for their pies—for example, upscale chicken restos like Pies & Thighs and Hill Country Chicken in New York City—we haven’t seen any pie bakeries yet. But they would be a welcome alternative to the still-mushrooming number of cupcake shops.

    Read the full article in Nation’s Restaurant News, which suggests additional food trends.

  • Find many types of pies in our gorgeous Pie & Pastry Glossary.
  • See our favorite pies and pie recipes in our Pie & Pastry Section.
  • Comments

    TRENDS: Store Brands

    Do you buy store brands? We do.

    Market research firm The Nielsen Company has released new information regarding store-brand (private-label) buyers.

    While some people think that it is lower-income people with limited funds who buy store brands, it is actually middle-income families ($30,000 to $70,000) who are the primary store-brand shoppers.

    Store brands also have a loyal and growing following among two-person households looking for value—a more affluent and educated shopper who realizes that there’s no appreciable difference between the branded product and the typical store brand.

    Some of the study highlights show that:

    • Store brands have won favor among younger households.

    • The fastest-growing segment for store brands are families making $100,000-plus.

     

    America’s Choice is the store brand of A&P.
    Photo courtesy APFreshonline.com.

    • Younger female heads of household have a propensity to buy store brands—no doubt to the chagrin of branded goods manufacturers, whose conventional wisdom is to target young buyers with advertising to secure their brand loyalty “for life.”

    Those quarters and half dollars saved on store brands add up. Even if you’re not pinching pennies, they can offset extra treats—like that latte tab.

    A $4.00 specialty coffee x five days a week x 50 work weeks a year = $1,000 a year in coffee expenses! So, see how much of that total you can save on store brands. Make a game of it with your friends…and then go out for a latte.

    And have fun with this coffee savings calculator.

    Comments

    TRENDS: Wedding Cakes

    casablanca-plane-230

    We’ll have to get married in Seattle, just so
    we can have one of Mike’s Amazing Cakes.
    Did Rick & Ilse live happily ever after, after
    all? Here’s looking at you, kid. Photo
    courtesy Mike’s Amazing Cakes.

     

    Planning a June (or anytime) wedding?

    As you may have gathered from the parade of wedding cake programs and segments like “The TODAY Show Plans A Wedding,” the cake design is secondary only to the wedding dress.

    No longer content to have an elegant white cake with frosting flowers, brides are looking for fashionable cakes. Here are wedding cake trends for 2010 as reported by Stratford University, a Virginia-based school that offers culinary arts degrees (along with a traditional university curriculum).

    Slightly Different Cakes

  • Initials. Couples are opting to have their entwined initials monogrammed on the side of the cake.
  • Height. Many people are opting for taller cakes—up to seven tiers high.
  • Nature. Nature themes are popular as cake toppings. These can range from fresh flowers and leaves or fresh fruits to pine cones, seashells and other decor.
  • Being Green. Many guests don’t like classic wedding cake, covered in fondant (to be fair, homemade fondant can be delicious, but some cakemakers purchase premade fondant, which is less so). So why waste the cake: Order something people will eat (see next bullet).
  • More Than Cake. Lose the cake and opt for favorite treats: a tiered “cake” of cupcakes or a tree of mini desserts, such as cheesecake, tarts and brownies. If you must have a cake to display, see Rent A Cake, below.
  • Matching Dresses. A big trend matches the cake decoration to the bridesmaids’ dresses. Another option is to decorate the cake with real lace and ruffles.
  • Bold Colors. Who says the cake has to be white…or even chocolate? If your favorite color is red, go for it!
  • Really Different Cakes

  • Artistic. Choose your favorite famous painting and have the wedding cake decorated with it, using edible paints. (It’s probably best to avoid Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and Picasso’s “Guernica.”)
  • 3-D. Another hot trend in wedding cakes is for 3-D accents as part of the cake’s decoration and design. For the ultimate in 3D masterpieces (and an absolutely gorgeous gallery of wedding cakes), check out Mike’s Amazing Cakes in Seattle (designer/baker of the cake in the photo).
  • Saving Money

  • Rent A Cake. In this economy, many people are looking for ways to save on their wedding. A new trend for budget-cutting is to rent a mock wedding cake for display (it’s been decorated with real fondant, rosetts, etc., and looks real, but you can’t eat it—instead of cake underneath the frosting, there’s styrofoam). Then, serve a budget-friendly sheet cake that is cut and plated in the kitchen.
  • Go Faux. Another trend for saving money on the wedding cake, which can typically cost from $600 to thousands of dollars, is to have a faux bottom one or two tiers (frosted and decorated styrofoam, as above). This will allow the cake to look impressive to guests and for pictures, but can help bring the cost of the cake down quite a bit.
  • Cupcakes. Tiers of cupcake-style wedding cakes continue to grow in popularity. They also allow for vegan and gluten-free versions so those on special diets can join in.
  • And now, we’ve got to go find a piece of cake to eat!

    Comments

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