Wednesday, January 28, 2015

10 Delicious Things from the Winter 2015 Fancy Food Show

If I had to make a shopping list based on what I tried at the Winter 2015 Fancy Food Show, here is what I would recommend buying.

I thought I knew something about maple syrup, but now after talking to Dori Ross of Tonewood Maple I know so much more. Tonewood Maple has gotten some serious attention for their solid maple cube that you can shave to create maple sugar, but it was their single estate varietals of maple syrup that blew my mind. When processed separately (something that doesn’t happen everywhere) you get amazing differences in the flavor. Each bottle is labeled with the actual sugarbush it came from. Some are sweeter, others earthier or even a little spicy. They also make a maple cream, which is something I discovered in Canada. On the East Coast it’s fairly common, but I’ve never seen it out here. It’s a creamy spread made only from maple that you would swear has butter in it. It’s great on toast, pancakes or waffles. They also have a maple tree adoption program that gives you an opportunity to support small maple producers and sustainable farming practices, and bottles of four grades of syrup.

Some years I see a lot of fancy ketchup, this year I didn’t, but a few unusual ones stood out nonetheless. Traina Foods makes ketchup with sun dried tomatoes. They are richer, less sweet, more intense and fresher to me than conventional brands, but can definitely be used the same way you’d use any other ketchup. This year they released a sun dried tomato and sriracha ketchup. Their ketchup has higher concentrations of lycopene and less sugar and salt than other varieties, and is gluten free.  I tried it on a spoon but can’t wait to experiment cooking with it.

Blackberry Patch is now offering fruit ketchups. I tried the raspberry chipotle, blackberry and blueberry. These can also be used just like regular ketchup, but have a much more sophisticated flavor. They are tangy and you really taste the fruit. I would use them as a glaze on lamb, pork or even chicken. The company is owned and operated by two farmers and everything is made in small batches.

I’ve been a fan of Sonoma Syrup for ages. I particularly love the lavender simple syrup with sparkling wine. They also make my favorite vanilla extract and "crush", a combination of Tahitian and Madagascar beans. Their latest product is a mixer, the Olive Mary Mix, which is basically a bloody mary mix but with olive juice, from a dirty martini. It’s briny and spicy and combines the best of two great cocktails in one! 

Glossops is new simple syrup company and I particularly liked two of their flavors. One was Hibiscus Ginger and other was Smoked Sugar. These both scream to be used in cocktails. They are unusual and a bit exotic, but easy to love. 

I sang the praises of Mother In Law’s kimchi from them moment I tried their wares at the Fancy Food Show a few years ago. This year they are introducing gochujang which is a fermented chile sauce used in lots of Korean dishes. I have some in the refrigerator but I’ve never been a big fan. Until now. Mother In Law’s gochujang varieties in tangy, sesame, and garlic are out of this world! I could eat these "everything sauces" with a spoon. They aren’t sticky but smooth, luscious and robust. These will become your go-to Korean sauces. 

I’ve tried a lot of flavored hummus but none that impressed me as much as the organic ones from Hope Foods. They use high pressure processing which allows for 2-4 times the shelf life of other products and they use no preservatives. My favorite is their Thai Coconut Curry hummus, but I also really like the spicy avocado, kale pesto and jalapeño cilantro varieties. Each had just the right amount of kick. They also make some very good black lentil dips. I will be trying to recreate those at home.  

I tend to prefer plain Greek yogurt so I can add my own flavorings. But Fage does make some really good flavors. This year I tried their split cup with blood orange and also their fruyo blackberry lime which comes premixed. They were not too sweet and really bright. I really do like a bit of sour with something sweet.

Frutta Rustica is a brand of citrus preserves. There is orange, clementine and citrus medley (oranges, clementines and lemons). The orange is good, but the clementine and citrus medley are outstanding. These preserves are thicker with much more fruit than marmalade, up to 82% fruit, all gathered from within nine miles of the facility where it’s processed. All the preserves are made with only fruit and sugar, made within 24 hours of the fruit being picked from the trees in Calabria. The freshness  really shines through. Use it on toast or with cheese. 

I also discovered some very high quality and luscious French preserves from Lucien Georgelin imported by KL Foodways. The apricot is 65% fruit and the orange, lemon and grapefruit preserves is 55% fruit, both were outstanding. I cannot begin to tell you how fresh and bright these jams are. They come from Lot-et-Garonne, in Aquitaine and are made very traditionally in copper pots, in small batches. You can find them at Market Hall Foods

And another thing—KL Foodways is also bringing honest to goodness mustard oil into the US that is specifically for culinary use (it's also available at Market Hall Foods). If you’ve looked for it in the past you may know it has been nearly impossible to find. It’s a key ingredients in mostarda and also some Indian recipes. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Christmas Lima Bean & Butternut Squash Stew Recipe

One of my new year's resolutions is to use more of the food stored in my pantry. My shelves are overflowing with packages of grains, heirloom beans, dried pasta, Asian sauces, jams, mustards, sardines, cans of tomatoes and more. My goal is to cook with something that is languishing in the pantry or my equally stuffed-to-capacity freezer, every single day. Yesterday I chose some Christmas lima beans to transform into a vegetarian main dish. Eat less meat and more vegetarian food! That is yet another new year's resolution.

Christmas lima beans are sometimes called chestnut lima beans. When uncooked they are beautifully speckled like a calico horse, and when cooked they are more uniformly brown like chestnuts--but they really don't taste like chestnuts, despite what you may have heard. They have a texture a bit like russet potatoes and a mild earthy flavor but none of the characteristic sweetness or dry crumbly texture of chestnuts.

Beans are often used in salads or soups, but Christmas lima beans are the perfect bean for making a stew because not only are they large and "meaty" but the liquid they soak and cook in becomes a rich brown gravy when reduced. I combined the beans with silky sautéed onions and chunks of sweet squash to make a satisfying meatless main dish. It's a mild but hearty dish and the toppings jazz it up considerably.

Note: I get Christmas lima beans from bulk bins at Rainbow Grocery, you can also get them online.

Christmas Lima Bean & Butternut Squash Stew
Serves 4 - 6


2 cups Christmas lima beans
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced into thin half moons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon red chili paste or harissa
1/4 teaspoon minced peeled ginger

Extra virgin olive oil
Wedges of lemon
Crumbled soft goat cheese, optional
Chopped cilantro, optional


Place the beans in a large dutch oven and cover with water. Water should rise at least one inch over the top of the beans. Let soak overnight.

Do not drain the water! Simmer the beans gently until tender, probably an hour or so. Add the butternut squash and more water if necessary, cover and gently simmer for 15 minutes or until the squash is cooked.

Meanwhile in a separate skillet heat the olive oil and add the onion. Add the salt to the onions and cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the cumin, chili paste and ginger. When fragrant, add the onion mixture to the beans and squash. Simmer without the lid until the remaining liquid thickens to make a velvety gravy. Taste for seasoning.

Top each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon and any other toppings you like. 


Monday, January 26, 2015

Winter Fancy Food Show 2015 Trends: Turmeric, Beef Jerky & Fermented Foods

Attending the Winter Fancy Food Show (which is a trade show for the specialty food association) is a terrific opportunity to see what's new and happening in the world of speciality food. The biggest trends I noticed this time around were teas with turmeric, beef jerky and fermented foods, which included kombucha, probiotic drinks (most dairy based) and raw live active culture salsas, pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut. 

Interestingly enough, they each have a health angle to them. Fermented foods provide probiotics which are healthy bacteria and yeasts. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Beef jerky can be a high protein and low carbohydrate food that fits with low carb and Paleo diets. 

Fermented Food & Drinks
There are lots of different kinds of fermented food and drinks. One is kombucha, which is a fermented tea, usually combined with fresh fruit juice to make a healthful and tangy beverage. I noticed at least three exhibitors offering kombucha to enthusiastic crowds perhaps because a couple swigs of it is particularly refreshing after lots of sampling and tasting of rich food. Kombucha is a natural product and the flavor can vary greatly from one brand and one flavor to another. I like a balance of sweet and tangy. One brand I particularly liked was Health Ade. All their products are organic and made with local seasonal farmers market fruit. The flavors vary seasonally. I tried several flavors liked the pink lady apple and the pomegranate. 

Something new this year in addition to the kimchi and kraut, were some fantastic spicy pickles and sauces both of which I’d recommend. The pickles I liked were from Dan Fruin’s company Genuine Grub. Dan was born in Korea, but adopted by Irish and Irish German parents. He makes spicy crunchy pickled cabbage, radishes and cucumbers without a vinegar brine. They have a better crunch and fresher flavor than other pickles. While I love spicy flavors, he also has a mint and dill cucumber pickle that had plenty of flavor without any heat. 

I also enjoyed Cultured & Saucy products. They make raw fermented salsas, sauces and condiments that are juicy and fresh. Created by a sisters in Santa Barbara. I particularly liked the lemon, garlic, dill condiment. It had a pleasing sour tang and would be great as a base for a salad dressing or on fish. They also make their unique products in flavors like citrus ginger curry  and lime chile cilantro. Some of the products are called salsas, some chutney and another just “topper.” The names can be a bit confusing, these are all raw, fresh, fermented sauces that can be used in a variety of ways. Right now they are only available in Southern California. 

Turmeric Tea
I wasn’t aware of the turmeric tea trend until I attended the show and saw it at practically every tea booth. Some tea companies have had a turmeric tea for a while and others were just introducing it. A top supplement, it has anti inflammatory properties and a mild somewhat earthy flavor. There are probably tons more out there, but these are the ones I noticed at the show. 

Numi introduced four all organic turmeric teas, Amber Sun with rooibos, honeybush, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla, Fields of Gold with chamomile and lemon myrtle, Golden Tonic with lemon verbena and lime and another Three Roots with ginger and licorice. The turmeric plays more of a background note, so the tea you like best will depend on the flavors. 
Choice Organic Teas makes Easy Digest, a tea with organic ginger, organic licorice root, organic lemongrass leaf, organic turmeric. 
Stash makes Gold Cup Chai which is an herbal tea with organic cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, orange peel, cardamom and clove. The main flavor here is really ginger. It’s nice as a ginger tea, but I didn’t get much of the other spices. 

Spicely Organics makes Sweet Turmeric with organic turmeric, organic ginger, organic pure vanilla powder, organic cinnamon true and organic stevia leaf. I particularly liked this drink, the warm ginger, vanilla and cinnamon were enhanced with a bit of sweet stevia. Sorry I don't have a photo of it.
The Republic of Tea has has turmeric teas in their line since 2010. They sell a biodynamic organic turmeric cinnamon tea, organic turmeric ginger green tea an a herbal blend called “Get Limber.”

Those are the ones I saw but it's possible there were even more...

Beef Jerky
Blame it on the low carb and paleo diets. Beef jerky is not just something you find at gas stations anymore! I couldn’t believe how many companies were exhibiting beef jerky. I also couldn’t believe how much of it was positively dreadful. Some was too chewy and tough, some was not chewy but dry and mealy like sawdust. But there were a few notable exceptions. The ones I found most tasty were the following three.
Epic is specifically geared towards the Paleo diet and uses grass fed and organic beef in mixes that include things like nuts, coconut, dried berries or apples. They also make savory bars that are combinations of meat, nuts and berries. They come in flavors including beef, habanero and cherry, turkey with almond and cranberry and lamb with currant and mint. These were surprisingly good, tender with good texture and a savory and sweet flavor that was odd but tasty. 

Field Trip makes classic beef jerky, but it’s the perfect texture and the flavors are bold but not overwhelming. It’s lower in sugar and sodium than a lot of other brands. It's all gluten free and was created by three partners who wanted a better quality product without msg, corn syrup, preservatives, nitrates or artificial ingredients. The quality shines through. 
Uncle Andy’s Jerky has the most unusual flavors including Bandito Loco’s Spicy Coffee Beef, Lumberjack Maple Bourbon Beef and Southern Gent Lemon Mint Beef. All the flavors were a big hit at the show and created a lot of buzz. Andy wants to keep the price affordable and is looking into different means of distribution. For now you can check out the location finder or purchase it online

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Juice & Smoothie Books & Giveaway

After the indulgences of the holiday season come the resolutions of the new year. And when it comes to food, there's a popular belief that you can atone for the sins of the past with repentance in the form of detoxing, cleanses and juicing. Juice is a delicious thing to drink, but relying on it instead of actual food can be downright dangerous to your health; this isn’t just my opinion, but what nutritionists say—you can read more in articles like Juice Cleanses: Not healthy, Not Virtuous, Just Expensive and Juice Cleanses: Health Hocus Pocus. Also you can't detox your body, it's a myth

I actually love making and drinking juices and smoothies, I just don’t recommend getting caught up in believing they are a cure all or will lead to weight loss. Because they can often be high in sugar and carbohydrates, I think of them more as a treat, to enjoy instead of something like ice cream or frozen yogurt. Juices and smoothies are very easy to make at home and are becoming more and more available on-the-go as well. If you want to incorporate juice in your diet in a short term but healthy way, you might consider Jamba Juice’s sensible 3 day juicing routine, which includes food and juice. 

While I’m not convinced you need a cookbook for making juices and smoothies, here are some recent ones to consider: 

Juice: Recipes for Juicing, Cleansing and Living Well was written by juice evangelists and juice business owners. While the authors say they aren’t doctors or nutritionists, they are proponents of cleansing, which they claim lets your digestive system rest by eliminating fiber. The also say that acidic foods “build up in your system and lead to symptoms of chronic disease" and offer a chart of alkaline and acidic foods.

The juices at their shops and recipes in the book are divided into three categories, greens, roots, citrus and also nut milks. The recipes don’t include calorie or nutritional information which is a shame.They recommend not disposing of the leftover pulp, but provide just two recipes for using it, carrot bread and almond meal cookies. There are healthy smoothies in addition to juices, which they suggest adding to your “cleanse” program. Savory and spicy juices, an odd mishmash of supposedly “cleansing” recipes including Big Green Detox Salad (Dijon mustard is cleansing? Who knew), Warm Coconut Millet Porridge and Halibut in Parchment with Zucchini, Fennel and Capers. Mostly ingredient photos. About 100 recipes. Who’s it for for? DIY cleanse fans. 

Raw Energy in a Glass focuses on super foods and the author is more of a proponent of blending than juicing, which she rightly points out lack fiber and can lead to serious carbohydrate and sugar intake. The recipes have information about which vitamins and minerals you’ll get, but no actual specifics. The recipes use raw, unprocessed ingredients and don’t rely on “protein powder” or other pre made ingredients. Recipes have evocative names like Everything’s Just Peachy Frappe, Go Go Shot, Garlicky Green Giant, Purple Antioxidant Cocktail. The book also has a recipe for vegan yogurt and it is used in some drinks and shakes.

Unlike some other books, the focus of a lot of the recipes seems to be taste. 126 recipes. Some illustrations, not a lot of finished recipe photos (though I’m not sure why you’d need them). Who’t it for? Someone with a blender and a curiosity about super foods, but not a juicing fanatic. 

100 Best Juices, Smoothies and Healthy Snacks subtitled Easy Recipes For Natural Energy & Weight Control  was written by a popular raw and vegan blogger, this book divides recipes in to juices, smoothies, non-dairy "mylks" and mylkshakes as well as energy bars and healthy snacks.

Frankly I’m concerned when someone with no medical background starts giving advice on what’s healthy or promotes weight loss. There is no solid nutritional information with each recipe, just cheerleader speak like “Get energized, nourished and hydrated all in one glorious glass” and anecdotal tidbits like “Ginger has been proven to prevent diseases associated with the liver as well as cleanse the blood." Yikes! That sounds like a dubious health claim to me. Again because there is no real nutritional information or calorie counts, I am wary of the claim that these drinks, some of which are high in fat from coconut, can help you lose weight. The book comes across in a chatty cutesy way. It features very pretty photographs, though do you really need to know what a finished glass of juice looks like? 100 recipes. Who’s it for? Those who have both a juicer and a blender and believe in the benefits of a vegan diet.

Giveaway! I am giving away a copy of Raw Energy in a Glass  and a Jamba Juice gift card worth $50 to use on their bottled 100% cold pressed juices to enjoy on the go or at home including Orange Reviver, Tropical Greens, Citrus Kick and Veggie Harvest.

In order to be considered to win, please leave a comment telling me what your favorite juice or smoothie combination. You must have a US mailing address to win, and you must include your email in the appropriate field when you leave a comment (your email will only be visible to me). One entry per person. I will choose a winner at random, Friday, January 9, 2015.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Jamba Juice for providing the gift certificate and to the publishers who provided review copies of books. I was not monetarily compensated for this or any other post.