Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reasons Behind The Top Food Trends of 2011

Pies: the next big thing, sweet OR savory
I like to keep up on retail trends, being that I work in fashion, and this week I was catching up on my Retail Wire newsletters piling up in my inbox. There was a discussion article from January 10th called "What's the Next Cupcake?" that caught my eye. The food world is becoming more like fashion every day, and similiarly follows a trend cycle of it's own - so I was naturally attracted to this information.

In the article, Tom Ryan outlines the rise of the cupcake from Sex & the City's Magnolia Bakery visits to Crumbs Bake Shop going public this year - "The Year of the Cupcake". He went on to list the next up-and-coming food trends: Pies, Hot Dogs, Meatballs, Korean street food and fast-food salads. So far, readers have voted pie and Korean street food as the most-likely contenders for the top food trend of 2011.

My husband and I hate cake - so we cut pie at our wedding instead
Funny enough, the same morning I read this, there was a spot on PIX 11 news about new food trends with Everyday Rachel Ray Magazine's lifestyle editor Sonal Dutt. She exposed that the cupcake craze is over... not going away, just being "thrown off the pedestal"... and that it would be replaced by PIE. If you know me at all, you would know I HATE CAKE, so this is very exciting news. I had apple pie and mango ice cream at my wedding - and no cake. We cut and fed each other pie, and it was lovely.

In this news spot, Sonal was referring to artisan pies such as the apple-cheddar pie at Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn and small pies from Hill Country Chicken - a small next-door brother to Hill Country's buy-it-by-the-pound BBQ on West 26th street. There must be some reason they've singled out fried chicken, but maybe they missed the memo that FRIED FOOD IS BAD FOR YOU! However, they may be on to something with the small pies. Discussion participants on RetailWire highlighted the fact that many of the hot food trends are something that can be quite luxurious OR quite simple and made at home, as well as portable. Small pies seem to have that potential.

Things with real benefits should not be replaced, like Zico. (photo via Zico)
Ms. Dutt also touched upon other food trends, like airport food options (um, duh, Wolfgang's has been hangin' out there quite some time), artisinal hot dogs (um, gross!), and cherry juice as the replacement for coconut water as the health beverage of choice. I've never gotten into the superfruit juice craze, and other sources (i.e. Eating Well) will claim it's actually down-trending. However, I am a willful addict to coconut water. So I checked out the new cherry juice Cheribundi site, and as I suspected it has almost as many calories and sugar as soda. I don't know how she can claim that this will replace my beloved Zico, since the pure coconut water has twice the potassium, and half the calories and sugar of the cherry juice. Oh, unless you look at "Skinny CherryTM"- but it's got alternative sweetener and 35% water - WTF? If you have to add sweetener to a fruit juice, and water to make it "skinny" - what's the point? I can water down my own juice, and pay 35% less. I still choose coconut water after yoga, for a hangover, or when recovering from the stomach flu - and would recommend any diabetic do the same.

There is now a wealth of information out there on food trends, almost as much as fashion. Much the same, there are many different interpretations and forecasts. If you want an idea what will stick in either category, you have to look beyond the lists and think about WHY.

Most of what we wear and eat is subconsciously controlled by the cycle of what's happening in society. We are subject to a very natural human tendency to follow the pack and respond to emotional stimuli. And to come back to the underlying theme of this blog - it's all about finding balance within and without.

Applesauce is so simple and easy to make from scratch, why would you buy it?
Take for example the return to simple living that is evolving.  By simple living I mean farming, moving out of cities to the suburbs, cooking from scratch, and crafting at home. This is happening for two reasons. The emotional reason is that we are so overwhelmed and underimpressed by what the masses and "experts" are telling us to do, that we've turned inward. Fashion has become a sea of personality-less sameness, with a lack of utility and purpose. Food has become aisles and aisles of pre-packaged and frozen nonsense. Both of the above are also priced beyond our current means, not worthy of our hard-earned dollars. Which brings me to the second reason for seeking simplicity: the suffering economy. Without jobs and money, we move from expensive cities, learn to can and preserve the produce we grew from inexpensive seeds, drive cars with better mpg (or bike), sew our own drapes, and gather at home with friends for entertainment. Remind you a little too much of our parent's need to tinfoil the leftovers and play bridge with the neighbors? It's all part of the cycle, and we just have to go with it.

In food, there may be many trends, but the ones that stick should all have the common themes of SIMPLE and HEALTHY.
And to break it down further, here's why:
1. The cycle of processed prepared foods has maxed out. We are now educated consumers and want to know what's in our food. A short ingredient list or endorsed benefits are key.

2. Focus on health care: expensive drugs we can't afford and that do not work have made us realize that health care is all about taking our money - and there are alternatives. Namely diet and exercise, which put us in control. Educated consumers will demand more healthful products.

3. Product overload. Give someone too many choices and they will walk away empty handed. Give us one or two really great options, a simple choice.

4. Unemployment is high. We may not have money, but we have time. Time to learn how to do things ourselves to make and save money. Simple things that cost little or can be made at home will appeal.

5. Lack of money. You can grow your own, make your own, and the experience of excelling at such is rewarding on a deeper level.

6. We are sad when times are bad. We've hit bottom - abstaining from buying anything unneeded. We are on the way back up - economy might be improving, the outlook may be getting more rosy. Anything that makes us happy has added value. This can be done by appealing to our emotions and reminding us of better days - much like grandma's baking style (or Julia Child's for that fact).

Now, I'm sorry if you've read this whole spewing of ideas and feel a victim of information overload. If you're anything like me, you've skimmed through, looked at some pictures, read the numbered list, and probably get the point. All you need to remember is simple, healthy and enjoy - because even if you don't know it yet, that's what you will want.

P.S. Black is the new Black. No, really. It is. How simple is that? I feel patronized.

Some articles for further exploration:

Top Ten Food Trends for 2011 By Pork news source
Food Trends: Canning, men cooking, local By

Food Fads: What's In and What's Out in 2011 By Eating Well on Huffington Post

Top Ten Food Trends for 2011 By The Food Channel

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Only Corn Chowder Recipe You'll Ever Need

As I've mentioned once this week already, I've been yearning for summer flavors. Nothing says golden sunsets and warm breezes like crisp corn on the cob - and you can actually still find it in the store. Maybe not sweet enough to eat straight away, but you can still get a tasty chowder out of it, and it sure beats frozen nubbles of chewy corn that just don't deserve to exist.

Summer is time for the lighter more pure soups, like my "Sunset Sweet Corn", but winter calls for heavier soups that eat like a meal. I figured chowder could pull double duty, since it still makes me think of days eating fried scallops by the seaside in Gloucester, but is hearty enough as a main course on a cold winter day.

Dinosaur in Syracuse (hope they don't mind I stole their facebook pic!)
I've actually had a particular recipe for corn chowder from Dinosaur BBQ in my playbook for years. Being that I am an SU alum, and spent many a happy day at DBQ in downtown Syracuse, I tend to put a lot of stock in anything John Stage comes up with. Long before I earned my reputation as the soup-queen around here, I had this recipe printed, protected, and bound like the word of God.

I made this bacon intensive Dino recipe at a dinner once for my carnivorous friends, and they barely made it to the main course after insisting on 2nd's of the chowder. I think I even made something as delicious as pork chops, but I really can't remember and I'm sure no one else does either - since the chowder was the STAR. No one even seemed to care that we were six of us dining in my 6'x8' studio apartment entryway at a folding table, some of us using my coffee tables as chairs.

Along with my living situation, the years have seen the Dino chowder formula evolve. I've become aware that bell peppers don't agree with me - for which reason you may never see a bell pepper on this blog. When I read a recipe now, I see "celery" instead of "green bell peppers" and "tomatoes" in place of "red bell peppers", and it seems to work just fine. Now the time has come for more revisions, with my vegetarian husband in the picture and the advent of really good tasting fakin' bacon.

 The keys to this amazing chowder that keep you going back for another and another bowl, are cayenne and bacon. The reason I refer to it as "the only corn chowder recipe you'll ever need" is because it tastes as good as the meaty, fatty version, but can please anyone - vegetarian or not. That, and my husband says it tastes "GANGSTA"!

Vegetarian Corn Chowder with Fakin' Bacon
2 T unsalted butter
3 slices Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon strips
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced (about 1 C)
2 large celery stalks, finely diced (about 1 C)
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T flour
4 C organic vegetable stock
4 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces (3-4 C)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced (about 1-1/2 C)
2 C fresh corn, sliced from 2-3 cobs
1 C heavy cream
1/4 tsp cayenne powder (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Kosher salt & ground black pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a soup pot and get it nice and hot. Place the bacon strips into the butter and cook about 1 minute on each side until browned and stiff. Remove, cool and chop into small pieces.

2. Add the onions and celery to the hot butter and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic  and cook another minute. Add the flour and stir to coat everything and absorb the butter.

3. Add the potatoes, carrots and stock to the pot. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer for 10 minutes, checking to make sure the potatoes are tender. Add the corn and simmer another 5-10 minutes. 

4. Pour in the heavy cream and season with thyme, cayenne, salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in the bacon bits. They almost seem like real bacon in the soup - and give it an amazing smoky flavor that's even better the 2nd and 3rd day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Okra & Tomatoes with Indian spices

A week or two ago, I was still feeling a little chub from the holidays, and a little lazy as well. I was looking for a healthy meal to make that required little effort and didn't rely on a multitude of fresh ingredients.  I'd been looking forward to utilizing this bag of frozen okra because it's my new favorite thing. It has a nice crunch, almost like the beloved pickles, and a mild flavor. It needs very little spicing up.

I looked to Jackie at Pham Fatale to tell me what to do with this, since she does a great job putting easy twists on traditional Indian ingredients like Okra. I started following her blog when I realized her husband is Indian vegetarian and she is not, much like myself.

This  night, I followed her recipe for Bhindi Masala. I made it a little more tomato-heavy by using canned tomatoes, and left out the jalepeños. In this way, it met the "no grocery store trip required" criteria. I do always keep garlic, ginger and onions in the fridge - and ReaLemon in case the fresh ones go bad. My version came out saucier than my mother-in-law's, but still quite good eaten atop some naan (also frozen). I think it helped that I made the ginger-garlic paste instead of just throwing in diced pieces - the smooth consistency works best with Indian gravies. Yup, Jackie's still my go-to gal for non-Indians cooking Indian food!

A bit more about Okra, and one of my recipes HERE
Okra, tomatoes and potatoes

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Balsamic Grilled Zucchini

I've recently found a way to get my husband to eat zucchini, as I've probably mentioned before. He's vegetarian, but gets super peeved when someone interprets "vegetarian option" as a main course of zucchini in any form. But I kinda like it - it's fast and easy as a side dish. So I've been boiling the shit out of it - until it practically turns to mush. He reallllly likes it that way. Indian people and they're smushy veg... go figure.

I'm a little sick of soggy zuc, so tonight I insisted on grilling it for a little more substance. He actually said, and I quote: "If all zucchini was like this, EVERYBODY would eat it!"

And it's very simple:

Balsamic Grilled Zucchini
Zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4" or 3/8" slices
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar (good quality)
Salt (preferably Gray Salt, but any is fine)
Black Pepper
Cayenne powder

Fire up a cast-iron grill pan over medium heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray if things tend to stick to it - the sugar in zucchini will tend to make it burn down, so watch it doesn't get too hot.

In a shallow bowl, mix about 4 parts olive oil with 1 part vinegar - more if you desire, it's not science. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper in and whisk with a fork. 

Bathe each zucchini slice (both sides) briefly in the oil mix. Lay them on a plate in a single layer and sprinkle lightly again with salt, pepper, and a dusting of cayenne powder.

Lay zucchini on the hot grill pan and leave them on the first side at least 5 minutes without bothering them. Make sure the heat doesn't get too hot and cause smoking. (Yeah, my smoke alarm went off)

Turn them once, leave them alone for a while and continue to cook, turning if needed so they get nice grill marks. This might take a while - maybe 10 minutes. When ready, they'll be kind of translucent all the way through and flexible when you pick them up.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow Storm Salmon

Man, it seems like years since summer. I just don't know if I can take another walk home from the Q train in 9 degree wind-chill (yeah, I know, it's really not that far). I've got no vacation coming up, and can't remember the last time I saw a beach... pretty sure it was Puerto Rico last June...

I've probably had worse Januarys. I've probably been fatter. I've probably been paler white. I wouldn't call it cabin fever - yet. Just typical northeastern post-holiday doldrums; the dead of winter.

With thoughts of greener grass and warm sunshine, I've had summer food on my mind. I've tended towards salads a bit more as I tire of roasting roots. And I'm craving fish like crazy. But let me tell you, vegetarians really don't appreciate the smell of fish cooking - so I just about never have it.

Last week my husband decided to hole up in the Marriott close to his current work location, due to yet another snowstorm. So on this rare occasion, I stopped by a store on my way home to pick up something special for dinner. I decided on a nice slice of organic salmon to bake. It was late and I didn't have much time to obsess over how to prepare for my personal salmon party - so I got home and checked the Simply Recipes site to see how Elise would roll with this. Her Panko-Crusted Salmon was just what I was looking for.

I added a little lemon juice to the mustard, but aside from that I followed the recipe pretty closely. The method is pretty simple - just mix up something mustardy and spread it all over the fish. It creates a boundary between the oil of the fish and the crispy crumbs, and seals in juices. It also keeps the crumbs in place. Mixing oil into the crumbs makes sure they all get toasty. I might play around with different glazes and herbs, but this is a good go-to recipe for salmon fillets.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Work in Progress: Experimenting with Vodka Sauce, Penne, Eggplant & Quorn Meatballs

Lunar Eclipse Half Way
December 2010 Lunar Eclipse: via Flickr
Maybe it's the pull of the recent lunar eclipse, or that Saturn is hanging out in Libra, but things in my life have not been moving forward smoothly thus far in 2011. As of this week, it seems my buzz phrase of choice is "work in progress".

To be vague, all areas of my life at this point are a slow moving work in progress - the health of family members, my fitness and sanity, and my career. It is a time to control what I can, and accept what I can not. All I know is that change is happening, and I need to figure out how to manipulate it all to my benefit.

I began to look for evidence of the fated changes by doing a little research into Saturn's effect on Libra and found this great diamond metaphor:

"Saturn rules diamonds, the brilliant jewel that is created when a lump of coal is put under tremendous pressure. This is the perfect metaphor for the way that Saturn works in our lives, and whether we end up with coal or a diamond really depends on us and how well we manage the tests that Saturn puts in our path. Saturn cycles can be depressing and burdensome, or they can be times of material success and wealth."

Everyone deals differently with a bad situation (NYC in a blizzard)
I'm hoping I come out of this year with a pocket full of "diamonds", but it's going to take some time to figure out how. The obvious path would be to simply insist on better compensation for my new Design Director position at the office - a work in progress - but I have a feeling no amount of cash will make up for the resulting lack in creative outlet. I'll have less time and energy to create in the kitchen, since I'll be busy at work (and ideally the gym as well). A Libra with pent up creativity is not a fun person to be around, so I need to find a solution fast.
The bright and shiny calm after the blizzard

Obviously I haven't had much time to write blog posts, not to mention a lack of acceptable content to post due to a mental block in cooking innovation. Most of my kitchen experiments lately have been a letdown at the dinner table, (such as dry and overly spicy black pepper fettuccine with a lack of enough wild mushroom sauce) so I'm trying to get by with a simpler approach.
Quorn Meatballs!

Speaking of which, we've been eating a lot of fake meat lately because it's so easy to build a meal around, out of relatively few ingredients and little preparation. We were in Fairway this week and saw that Quorn brand is now making meatballs. After Gardenburger stopped making meatballs, we haven't found any we like - they all seem dry, crumbly and plastic-flavored. We were excited to see them from Quorn, as it has better meat flavor, and texture. It  is made from a combination of mycoprotein (made from fungus), egg whites and flavorings. I'm in love with their veggie chik'n nuggets, and now the meatballs I think are fantastic as well. They stick together, are moist enough that they don't drink up all the sauce, and actually taste a little like actual meat.

I've made pasta and fake-meatballs a million times, so I decided to experiment a little with the sauce. For some reason, I've never been able to create vodka sauce at home - and I tried again unsuccessfully this time (note-to-self: milk is not an acceptable substitute for cream). But I'm working on being satisfied with my efforts no matter the results, and I think this was still a good dish despite the lack of creaminess I sought. It might not be a diamond of a meal, but I'm accepting it as just another work in progress to be improved upon.

Penne Vodka with Eggplant & Quorn Meatballs
Use your favorite sauce for this recipe, or follow mine. The most important part, aside from using Quorn brand meatballs, is cooking the eggplant with some tomato liquids to absorb, and not under- or over-cooking it.
Red Vodka Sauce
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 C onion, diced
2T unsalted butter
1T olive oil
2 14oz cans diced tomatoes
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1/4 C good quality vodka, such as Rain Organic (made from Corn)
1/2 C milk
1/4 C grated parmesan
salt & pepper to taste

1. In a saucepan, cook onions and garlic in 2T unsalted butter and 1T olive oil until tender.
2. Add 2 cans of diced tomatoes and 1 can of of tomato sauce, and 1/4 C good quality vodka.
3. Boil 10 minutes to evaporate alcohol and then puree with a stick blender.
4. Add 1/2 C milk and 1/4 C grated parmesan cheese over low heat, and season with salt & pepper.
5. Stir frequently to avoid cooking the cheese and milk to the bottom of the pan.
Other ingredients:
Quorn meatballs
Olive Oil, salt, pepper
Eggplant, peeled and diced into 1/2" cubes
Fresh Basil & grated parmesan cheese

Heat the above sauce, or your favorite red sauce, to a simmer over low heat. Add the frozen meatballs and cook about 10 minutes until they are cooked through. Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, sauté eggplant in a skillet with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and stir frequently to avoid browning. As the eggplant turns more translucent (after about 5 minutes), add a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce. * I used the juice from the sauce above before I blended it. Continue to cook until tender, and set aside.

Assemble in bowls by spooning meatball sauce and cooked eggplant over the pasta. Top with cheese, basil and red pepper flakes as desired.

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