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.
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. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Search for General Tso: Movie Review

New Year’s Day is a traditional time to go see a movie, but if you can wait a little longer, I highly recommend checking out The Search for General Tso, which begins a theatrical release as well as being available on video on demand January 2nd, 2015. It’s a documentary about the origins and popularity of General Tso’s chicken, a dish that has practically become as American as apple pie. But even if you know the basics about the dish—where it came from and why it’s named after the general—this documentary is well worth watching.

The film covers Chinese immigration to the US, a bit about Chinese American culture, Chinese American food and has interviews from noteworthy authors and Chinese food experts like Fuchsia Dunlop and Jennifer 8. Lee (author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles and also producer of the film) and iconic restaurateurs including Philip and Cecilia Chang, Michael Tong of Shun Lee and Chef Peng, who actually originated the dish. 

It’s a very entertaining film, but it also touches on more serious topics like authenticity, discrimination and politics. It’s about a dish that’s popular in the US, but the filmmakers travel to China and Taiwan to get the whole story. The movie is full length, but fast paced and there are fun little animated bits as well. Just plan on going out for Chinese food afterwards, because I can guarantee you will be craving it after seeing the film! 

A side note, many people may know about the tradition of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas, but this year some really wonderful articles covered the phenomenon in detail. I particularly enjoyed reading Why Do American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas? in the The Atlantic and also The War on Jewish Christmas Must Be Stopped in Washington Post.

Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Culinary Reference & Resource Books

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Flavour Principle  but I've decided it's a keeper. Each chapter has a different flavor profile—bitter, herbal, smokey, eatery, sweet, spicy etc. The first page of each chapter has a list of ingredients that typify the flavor so for example next to earthy you get potatoes, beets, mushrooms, eggplant, black beans, truffles, leeks, bison, etc giving you a preview of the recipes. There are drink recipes and full menus that emphasize the flavor. The menus each have a theme like Sophisticated Vegetarian Dinner, An Argentinian Odyssey or Icewine Extravaganza. Yup, this is a Canadian book and the authors are the weekly food columnist and wine and sports columnist for The Globe and Mail. 

There are also drink pairings for most of the dishes and a discussion as to why it pairs well. There are lots of added features such as how how to flame an orange peel, glassware 101, a primer on different kinds of curry (Indian, Thai, Malaysian and West Indian) and how to compose a cheese plate. The book is well over 450 pages so there is no skimping on information, discussions of wines and cocktails or photographs. The recipes are great, but I think it’s also a wonderful reference book because of the wine pairings and flavor profiling. Some sample recipes? Watermelon Gazpacho, Shaved Cauliflower and Swiss Chard Curry, Sweet Spicy Garlic Chicken, Tea Smoked Salmon, Hazelnut Meringue Roulade, Caramel Pecan Popcorn.

After reading about The Flavor Thesaurus  on Dianne Jacob’s blog, I immediately purchased a copy for myself. It’s not a traditional cookbook, nor is it really a thesaurus. The book begins with a flavor wheel, it outlines flavors much like The Flavour Principle does—for example Earthy lists mushrooms, eggplant, cumin, beet, potato and celery. Then in the Earthy chapter there are listings for each of those ingredients. The listing pairs the ingredients with other ingredients. So for example with eggplant you get an introduction to the ingredient then listings for eggplant & bell pepper, eggplant & chili, eggplant & garlic, eggplant & ginger, eggplant & lamb, eggplant & nutmeg, eggplant & prosciutto, eggplant & soft cheese, eggplant & tomato and eggplant & walnuts.These are interesting pairings but perhaps not as groundbreaking as I was hoping. 

Of course some chapters do have more unusual pairings such as rhubarb & cucumber or goat cheese & chocolate. With some of the pairings there are recipes written in an informal way, but not as a general rule. The book reads like someone’s kitchen notebook with lots of trivial about ingredients and recipes. It’s not as useful as The Flavor Bible, but it’s an interesting book nonetheless. 

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is a follow up to The Flavor Bible, a book I use frequently when creating recipes, so I was excited to learn that Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg were publishing a vegetarian version. If you grew up like I did, eating vegetables steamed and plain, this book will be a revelation. It takes hundreds of vegetarian ingredients and outlines the season they are available, their flavor, their volume, their nutritional profile and calories, techniques used to prepare them, tips and botanical relatives. Then comes the fun part, a list of ingredients that they pair well with, some notable dishes from restaurants using the ingredient  and “flavor affinities” that combine 3 or more ingredients. 

There are also some great quotes from and interviews with chefs and some surprises too like seasonal guides and information on some crucial vegetarian cooking tools like the Vitamix and spiralizer and the primary ingredients of different cuisines. If you want to create your own recipes using vegetarian ingredients this book is simply a must have. 
The Kitchen Decoded is organized by cookware, tools and appliances and is intended to help less experienced cooks figure out how to use that KitchenAid mixer or what too cook in a Le Creuset dutch oven. Those brand names and several others feature prominently in the book. It’s got a lot of really solid basic recipes that frankly, you can probably find elsewhere with the exception of the baked goods. There are recipes for things like Black Bean Patties, Mussels with Sausage, Guacamole, Whole Roasted Chicken and Coconut Rice but since one of the authors was a bakery owner, you’ll also find about a dozen Buttercake Bakery recipes for things like pecan snowball cookies, brownies, cheesecake, and coffeecake. 

This book would be particularly good for someone setting up a kitchen or registering for wedding gifts and is wondering how they will use some tools. But I do disagree with the usage of some appliances, for example I’m not convinced you need a food processor to combine the lime juice, jalapeƱo, garlic, tomato, onion and cilantro for guacamole, likewise I wouldn’t bother using a food processor for making biscuits. 

Disclaimer: Some of these books were review copies, this post includes affiliate links