Summertime Barbecue, Vegan, and Gluten-Free Recipes: Cookbooks to Stay Cool

It’s hot. Unbearably hot, and the kitchen seems to be at its broiling point. Simple solution: Start the grill and heat the coals. Take the heat outside and solve the barbecue craving. We’ve come a long way from simple burgers and dogs to a new cookbook, Wicked Good Barbecue from two Northern guys who showed the southern entrants at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue Competition that they could cook. They traveled south after numerous New England and New York state wins.

Andy Husbands and Chris Hart came up with a whole cookbook of recipes to move you from indoor stir-fry to outdoor solace. Name your protein and watch how it becomes transformed on the grill. There’s “Hickory Smoked Beef on Weck,” which uses a beef chuck shoulder roast.

For the Brisket aficionados, there’s their 1st place, “American Royal, Beef Brisket. ” They take you step-by-step starting with a 16-18 pound untrimmed whole brisket. You’ll learn to trim it, find the delicious flat side, and use the rub recipes and the marinade before you add the sauce that turns this almost unmanageable slab into finger licking goodness. Plenty of beef rib recipes and the other obvious protein players, chicken, fish, and pork. Maybe the book’s greatest strength is in its pictorials and tips to turn the simple, as an ear of corn, into a cheesy grilled veg.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats cookbook by Allyson Kramer which solves numerous allergic issues whether the cook or diner is classified as G-F or Vegan or just an individual who wants to control several food issues. Here you can follow a plant-based lifestyle and at the same time eliminate the gluten. The book begins with the essential logic: How to have a pantry that meets gluten-free and Vegan needs.

You’ll learn about gluten-free flours and which are adaptable for which recipes. Then there’s the egg, dairy, and honey substitutions that make going Vegan an easier process. Whatever the route, the instructions are clear to keep you in more of an allergy-free food environment. What I like most about this book is the ease of preparation that helps  eliminate the gluten and move toward a plant-based lifestyle. Name a meal part and you’ll find plenty of recipes to turn a standard favorite into one that meets dietary needs.

Having guests over has become complicated as every individual seems to be on a different planet in relation to foods that are acceptable and those that are on a “watch list.” Following the guidelines in this cookbook makes everyday cooking and entertaining easy.

 

 

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Going Meatless: One Step at a Time

As more chefs talk about Meatless Mondays and adapt their menus into mainstream choices for vegetarians and vegans, it becomes easier for home chefs to follow this creative path toward healthier living. There have been an explosion of books that touch on part of this universe, but one of the latest, The Healthy Voyager’s Global Kitchen by Carolyn Scott-Hamilton makes the process easily achievable. Her philosophy about plant-based recipes takes the anxiety out of making recipe changes.

She begins with a kitchen initiation course which helps anyone who is considering trying these recipes (150 of them) not be overwhelmed by product substitutions. She devotes several pages to the new vocabulary that is inherent in a plant-based approach. For instance a product called seitan may prove to top the list of unfamiliarity, but may become a true protein friend. A lot of people complain that they cannot find the right substitutions for beans and rice, but Scott-Hamilton explains the basics of making easy changes.

Those who are looking for gluten-free choices or who avoid soy will have little trouble managing this new recipe guide as she explains the simple purchases that translate one of her basic recipes into a relevant one for that food requirement. Which recipes do the trick? Let’s look at just a few that are appealing to the masses. Name a country or a region of the world and she has developed an easy-to-follow recipe that will quickly convert you into a fan.

For instance if you’re worried you’ll miss croissants, no fear there’s the Buttery Croissant recipe that calls for vegan heavy cream which is available in markets or by following her recipe for a homemade version. Wiener Schnitzel comes to life by ursing coconut oil for frying and seitan as the meat substitute. She even includes a Kugel recipe with silken tofu working with the potatoes to make a dish that will fool many a traditional kugel lover.

The list goes on but the strongest takeaway remains that a plant-based diet is achievable with the help of a recipe collection such as this. The shopping lists and product descriptions are well spelled out.

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Food Inspections: So Many Misses

It seems that we take one step forward and six backwards when we talk about food safety. Yes, the Food Safety Modernization Act, great name, became law at the beginning of the year, but are we believers? Is our food supply really being inspected or are we the ad hoc inspectors when we become ill from something we ate? Certainly food handling plays a role in many foodborne illnesses, but those numbers are far smaller than those that result from products never having been properly inspected.

Maybe an early positive to the Act is the formation of the Sprouts Safety Alliance (SSA). You do not need to jigger your memory buttons too much to recall how frequently sprouts have been linked to major food outbreaks. When we can feel safe ordering sprouts again or purchasing them, we’ll know that this government-sponsored effort helped put a food back at the salad bar and on the sandwich.

What is a consumer to do? At this time of the year, it’s prudent to consider a home-grown vegetable garden or participation in a local CSA. Even trips to small farmers markets may yield a more trusted crop than that coming from big suppliers who admit their products have not been inspected for quite some time.

The question remains, no matter how many times we blog it or read about it, is our food safe? Some of it. Could it be safer? Yes. In the time I wrote, edited, and sent this blog out, food safety announcements came in. This is just one example! Everyone knows there’s a problem.

Agency cutbacks are necessary to trim the budget, but to take the fat out of an inspection program that keeps us all safe makes little sense. Time to hire. Time to inspect.

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Hot Words/Products: Winter Trends

It’s that wonderful time of the year when the majority of the country is waiting for it to happen. The “it” would be record cold or snow or some major weather event. Late January and February are heavy with that level of anxiety or anticipation (if it’s for skiing conditions, I get it), and the food world is no different. This is the perfect time of the year to tease tastebuds into a new sphere as relatively short days require a little extra nourishment. We have a panoply of food terms to warm the chilly burners of these months.

Look at GINGER. Once not that long ago it was just a spice in a container. Then fresh ginger came into vogue as we learned to give our food a little boost. Now it has its own elevated position in the beverage world not just as a stand-alone ginger ale, as it seems to be a compatible, healthy flavoring for any number of drinks whether hot or cold. As for snacking, ginger and chocolate are the darling of combo treats!

A parallel is the flower, HIBISCUS. Yes, its fragrance and compatibility make it a charmer again for beverages and plenty of flavor enhancers. Look at how pomegranate drinks have become more palate pleasers with the addition of ginger and hibiscus!  Somehow dishes and beverages seem to have a more chef-fueled flavor when you add something that some would consider exotic, something such as hibiscus.

Maybe the current number one trend-setting position goes to SORGHUM. In the summertime we enjoy the bounty of color from the fields of sorghum and appreciate how farmers are turning those fields into profitability. Now we see a different side to this grain as the growing gluten-free market space has heartily embraced the flavor of sorghum beers after several early rollouts of G-F ales that were less than enticing. Not only the beverage world but the chef-driven universe has embraced this sweetener with some top-tier creative moments.

Let’s end our discussion today with two food words that are making the rounds.
-Meatballs are everywhere and seem to have found a place at every tier of dining. They can quickly be fancified or presented as the alternative to the spate of burger spots.

-Parm. Eggplant has long championed its association with parm-topped dishes and now poultry-inspired foods are grabbing plenty of menu headlines. Sure, chicken parm has been a popular dish for a long time, but it now seems to be a pervasive special!

All these words and products speak the same language: Versatility as they are compatible with a range of pairing options. Time to uncover some of these foods and avoid total food hibernation.

 

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Upselling is Back

In the old world, as defined as a few years ago, the economy was flush and diners happily supported the restaurant industry without a blink about fancy meals and high price tabs. It was the world, and upselling was a prevalent theme. Make that “a problem.” Yes, waiters never seemed to tire of the million strategies to drive the bill. Then the recession hit and waiters, too, were happy to serve tap water or let diners share an entree. With the first visible positive signs of economic change or potential stability, waiters have returned to the 1000 ways to enhance your dinner or drive up the tab; your call as to how to define the strategy: rhythm or an incessant drumbeat from an earlier era?

Take a recent outing where the waiter quickly moved himself into the annoying corner as he seemed to meet resistance with his every ploy. Sparkling water became a spigot that was never shut off. You know how I feel about the restaurant versions of still and sparkling without a cost to the consumer.

When the waiter moved to a more profitable part of the menu as he  tried to sell truffles a thousand ways, he lost everyone at the banquette. The group preferred a conversation rather than a lesson in pricing or slicing. He was unstoppable as he moved through menu gyrations with the almost musical tone, “we could just add a thin truffle slice to make the dish purr.” Seriously, uninterested and turned off by this overpowering display of in-your-face possibilities. Let us dine. Let us relax and chat and welcome our dining choice rather than secretly dread the restaurant decision.  Did he mention the cost? No need; there were no bites at the table. He quickly tried another approach, also an unsuccessful strategy as he encouraged additional courses. He asked, “Is that it?” Not smooth; not impressive, and not a winning tool.

Yes, dining out can be complicated and expensive with rising food costs and creative plating as chefs struggle with all matters of pricing.  Yet, the annoyingly, cloying waiter needs to remain a caricature and not make a visible presence tableside. Let the diners’ imaginations go wild and let them initiate as in, “could I have the truffle atop that salad, or…”.  You get the picture. Food is expensive enough at high-tiered restaurants without the nagging upsell that has again entered the market space.

Let’s all be hospitable and relax.

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Try Out These Food Trends

The lists keep on rolling in as food trends are an easy exit discussion for 2011 and a hopeful wish into 2012.

A Mintel survey indicates we’ll be thinking more about “home” even at quick service and fast food restaurants. They anticipate this restaurant tier to start using more “comfort” words in menu descriptors. They also expect significant growth in this market space. “Homespun” goodness will pervade menus implying that careful preparation is at work in the kitchen regardless of the restaurant’s price point! Other prospective trends include:

Regional foods will win over the menu as more restaurants work to bring in popular dishes from areas well-known for their specialties, such as Memphis Barbecue.

Menus will have a section devoted to healthier dishes with lower-calorie foods. This concept will become more prevalent across price points.

Restaurants will move more to customized ordering systems to give consumers more dining options that they will be able to impact.

Not to be left behind when we talk of trends, The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,800 chefs, members of the American Culinary Federation, to get their input for their list, “What’s Hot in 2012.” Here are some headliners with the word “local” making its way into 3 of the top 10 trends:

Locally sourced meats and seafood, and locally grown produce. A little further down the trend list is locally produced wine and beer.

–”Healthy” makes its presence felt with healthful kids’ meals, whole grain items in kids’ meals, and Gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items.

They see a continuation and growth of food trucks, the continued importance of the farmer in bringing products to market, and more fruit and vegetable side dishes on kids’ menus.

What’s interesting about these lists is the greater emphasis on product sustainability. It appears our emphasis is more on the practical, rather than the outlandish: All trends that have a chance of surviving and becoming more commonplace rather than single shots at fame.

Fun to follow these concepts as many are homespun ideas that have already had an impact on our food universe.

 

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‘Tis that Time: Food Trend Outlook

The best part about early December articles is watching everyone trip over himself trying to figure out the “definite” food trends for the coming year. Today we look at two such lists, and then we’ll have plenty of time to revisit and watch. Maybe we should start with a startling fact: Eating out is now cheaper than cooking at home. Think about that a little and you’ll understand the issues facing all food purveyors. Food costs have skyrocketed, over 6%, but most restaurants are afraid to spike prices. They favor a little less food on the plate. Hey, not a problem, we have the obesity issue to contend with anyway. So watch your dollars and follow the trends.

According to Andrew Freeman, (Andrew Freeman & Co) a great food guru with a major hospitality background, this is the year of  the potato. No complaints from me as potatoes have been my friend for years. He says expect to see menus wrapped around the food such a:

–French Fry Menus: Choose Your Cut, Color, Sauce (like the French Fry Menu at Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco)
–Mashers with Mix-ins
–Custom Cut Chips and You-Pick Dips

Or, Grilled Cheese, which he calls the next burger as in:

–Signature Sandwiches
–Gourmet Interpretations, Creative Variations, Old-Time Classics
–Artisan Ingredients (or Not), or:

Produce-ing Desserts, Vegetable Desserts

–Experimentation with Flavors
–Innovative Creations Combine Savory and Sweet

They, of course, have numerous additional ideas and let you look back at prior food trend lists to see how well they did!

Supermarket News approaches the food trend list from an entirely different perspective and lists the number 1 trend which will impact everything as food prices. They do not believe prices will lessen much as production costs continue to increase, but they see grocers coming up with clever ways to entice the consumer including bonus points getting used toward lay-away programs for bigger purchases as coupon use continues. They expect to see more grocers joining the “farm to fork” philosophy as food origin has become an important factor in purchasing. Likewise, they expect grocers to cater more to the largest population of shoppers, the baby boomers, 76 million of them, “will control 52% of the total $706 billion spend on groceries by 2015 – making them the largest food influencers and purchasers.”

Regardless of which approach you follow, that of a marketer or that of a purveyor, in looking at upcoming trends, be certain that food issues will continue to dominate headlines.

 

 

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Holiday Cookbook Planning Time

With the heightened attention to a Vegan lifestyle, including that of former President Bill Clinton, it’s natural that we will see a bounty of new cookbooks making their way onto our holiday lists. The latest one that should make planning easier for the hectic holiday period is the Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas. Atlas, a well-known author and chef has published numerous vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, but with the concentration on recipes for a holiday celebration, this one is sure to make life easier during the otherwise hectic period.

What makes this book a welcome bookshelf addition and a hostess planning guide is the bounty of recipes that will be welcome additions for any holiday meal. Thanksgiving has come and gone, but this year for the first time there was a considerable amount of newspaper and blog ink devoted to vegan recipes. Clearly an understanding of how many people have made lifestyle changes rather than just thinking of these dishes as a passing trend.

Now the December big ones, Hanukkah and Christmas are quickly approaching. The first holiday would be unthinkable without latkes, potato pancakes, and Atlas has a version that is obviously vegan and with a few minor tweaks can be made soy and gluten-free. She believes that only those who prepare the recipe will notice the shift in ingredients, but everyone will be able to enjoy the finished dish. BTW, she has numerous recipes for the other Jewish holidays that likewise pose a recipe challenge, such as Vegan Matzo Balls!

A large part of the book is devoted to Christmas and what she calls “The Holiday Season.” This, after all, is a time with numerous office parties, neighborhood get-togethers, and an assortment of events that might just require a little hostess gift. If you bring a food for the buffet, then you’ll be assured of having something to eat! Here are some teasers to get you thinking:

Fruit and Nut Chocolate Clusters. Easy to make as no baking is required and they are Gluten and Soy-Free.

“Vegg” Nog. This recipe differs from so many of its predecessors as it is minus the tofu, but the vanilla almond milk and agave nectar combined with cashew butter make a smooth beverage.

Creamy Cracked-Pepper Cheez. Now you can have a spreadable recipe that will highlight a buffet table. If you use gluten-free yeast, then you can appeal to an even wider audience.

Even though the book is divided into holiday sections, there are few recipes that are limited to a particular event. So many creative choices that can liven any meal.

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A Grocery Store Cookbook

Whoa there. I’m not talking about just any grocery store, but the one that packs an international wallop of opportunity. That would be Trader Joe’s. This is a store that has legions of followers and excited future shoppers who anticipate the store’s arrival into their city. Crowds often line up several hours before any such opening event so they can experience the store first-hand. Then the adventure begins.

Yes, the store is quite an adventure, whether the focus is on an international basis or the realistic consumer is just looking for something that has a gourmet flair without a gourmet price tag. Voilà, The I Love Trader Joe’s Around the World Cookbook by Cherie Mercer Twohy is the newest resource addition for those who have become TJ devotees. Devotees know who they are; they exclaim they were able to pull off a gourmet meal without incurring insane expenses.

Take the cheese department, so many choices, and the prices shriek “reasonable.” Even with a food item as simple as cheese that can be enjoyed with a slice of fruit or a basic cracker, the author has created numerous recipes to elevate the purchase into a more upscale cheese experience.

The cookbook has over 140 international recipes put together with the foods from TJ’s. Recipes are categorized by countries and are appealing for their understanding of our busy lifestyles: Good food, simple preparation. Many recipes fall into the new categories of major interest, Vegan and Gluten-Free. To make something as so-called exotic-sounding as Masala Lentil Chicken, the secret TJ solution is a 7-ounce container of Masala Lentil Dip. Pretty straightforward, but well worth the purchase price. Chicken dishes, for example, headline the tutorials as they span through almost all the nationalities.

So the store of mystery can be a focal point in your new recipe file. A simple jar of olive tapenade can turn an ordinary turkey slider sandwich into something with a bit more kick. The options abound.

Trader Joe’s does that for you. They have the ingredients and Twohy has put them to work with this panopoly of recipes.

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A Princess Needs to Eat

If there was a single consistent theme around Halloween, it seemed that most every young girl was some sort of a princess. Maybe a fairy princess came to your door or you saw a frog princess; there were princesses in every guise. Now the big concern is the princess party; it will take more than a few cupcakes. (The author tackled the single cupcake idea in an earlier cookbook!) Not to worry, for the greater complexity of the princess theme, there is The Pink Princess Party Cookbook by Barbara Beery which has taken a simple concept and turned it into a themed adventure!

Instead of listening to whining about the type of princess party, you can turn this book over to the princess and see which direction the party motif takes as this book is written for young readers. Let them leaf through the options before you ever even get involved!

Depending on the season of the party or the pretend party, they can figure out which recipe will be perfect for all the princesses in attendance! Beery has the menu and party ideas all compacted together for the ultimate “P” party. Chapters are divided into the following themes: Snowflake, Spa, Garden Fairy, Mermaid, Enchanted Pony, and the most recognizable one, the Pink Princess party.  This book provides an opportunity to teach young children how to follow a recipe and understand basic measurement principles.

If you are thinking winter themed events then the snowflake one may be the perfect solution as Meringue Cookies will accomplish more than just a response to a themed party. What is not to like about learning how to make meringues! If it’s anxiety about a party favor, then Beery suggests going the rock candy route with a wearable, and edible, crystal candy necklace.

As long as there are princesses, there are opportunities for fun, adventure cooking.

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