Archive for category chocolate

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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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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Deals, Deals, and More Deals

One day you wake up to find an offer too good to be true. Your inbox entices. You buy; you subscribe. After all $15 for $30 worth of Mediterranean food at a place you frequent makes good sense; the math simply computes. That’s how the addiction begins. Before long you find the corollary services and pop your email into the location box and you’re off and running.

Then, the impasse. Your email is filled with offers. Deals, bargains, two-fers; you name it. They’re there. What happened? How did we get to this point, and why was no one offering us these “bargains” before? Marketing organization is the strategy that convinces businesses to take advantage of online energy. It’s simple for the companies, especially small companies, but no one should forget how well big players such as Gap (Groupon deal) and Amazon (Living Social deal) did with their offers!  Small businesses, on the other hand,  see the advantage of possibly getting 1,000 new customers. Will they have stickiness is the big question or does the purchaser only visit the place on his special deal visit?

Look at the possibilities that I awoke to this morning: Half-off a burger, $15 for $30 worth of food from a large selection of Asian and European restaurants, $25 for $50 at an American spot…I could continue, but it is rather alarming how these deals multiply. Subscribers are divided into only two groups: The Addicted and the Never Again. The fine print often gets the Never Again as they missed the expiration date or the deal was not what they expected.

The Addicted, a group I might claim chairmanship, means a daily scroll through the possibilities and some serious personal, private conversations about how many deals should one have floating in their cloud at any one time? I do have self-control, as in, I did not buy $20 worth of candy which looked like jelly beans for $10. Yet, a good chocolate offer…BTW, companies are sprouting up all over the country. New online contenders continually seem to offer a deal a day. Deal categories continue to expand from cooking classes to clothing to home decor and activity trips or vacations. You name it; there’s a deal site.

What’s one to do? Of course, cancellation would be an option, but then you’d miss the hot new restaurant that’s trying to get your attention. After all when you scan through sold out past deals, you see what you missed!

Just to show you the popularity of these programs, try to take advantage of the offer to get “free” money with a referral. Everyone you send it to seems to respond, “already subscribe.”

The obvious solution: Invest in the companies when they go public. They know how to make a deal.

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A Heightened Taste Profile

Have you noticed how flavors are moving from one ethnic group into mainstream dining? Well, they have as in tamarind which has become more universally found; not just in Thai and Vietnamese dishes but as part of a flavor taste that strives to bring out the bold. After all, California boasts multiple locations of a top tier burger spot: Umami Burger. That’s the taste chefs and home cooks alike strive for: The fifth taste.

New research from the Center for Culinary Development in their Culinary Trend Mapping Report showcase how we have become more adventurous diners. Just take a common Latin American inspired combination, chocolate and chiles, and stroll down a market’s chocolate aisle. Yes, plenty of sea salt and caramel treats, but the heat potential from the chiles combined with a high percentage dark chocolate has become an interesting best seller.

Other trends that signify a move to mainstream eating include the use of wasabi. No longer just a green presence on a packaged market sushi carry out order or at the Japanese restaurant, but a true flavor enhancer in a variety of snack foods. Japanese yuzu, a member of the lime family, makes regular menu appearances as a marinade or a sauce as the citrus brings out a broad range of taste.

Let’s not forget the cocktail meisters who have taken these flavor-rich ingredients and foods to create unique, new timely, of-the-moment drinks. Basil is so last year!

Diners are ready to be willing players. Bring on the challenges.


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The Day After Guac

What a weekend it’s been with everyone enticing us to take a dip. OK, just dip once. Now, today we pay. How many chips equal  a loaf of bread? That is the question.

The national consumption tallies may not be totally accurate, but you know how you indulged. Was it more about the score or the opportunity to taste a variety of wings, strips, fingers, or great looking guacamole begging you to try it?  Let’s be honest when a store plans ahead so well as to offer perfectly ripe, good sized avocados for $1 a piece that you’re game to try the process yourself. (Lime; not lemon is the secret weapon.) Not every avocado needs to be mashed up. Perfect slices bring life and color to a morning omelet, and no one is shrieking about the negative health benefits of an avocado. This is a good fat.

Chicken wings have their own story to tell. This may be the first year I’ve seen them dressed as kung pao wings! Why not? How many people know how to make a true Buffalo wing anyway? BTW,  I’ve heard that upwards of 100 million pounds of chicken wings make an appearance on a Super Bowl weekend! That’s an impressive number.

Now that you’ve dipped and scooped and eaten your way thru the pre-game events and the crunching after-game statistics, this may be the week to focus on all the news that actually came out last week: Eat less and cut down on your sodium, the newly revised USDA Dietary Guidelines. Most of us probably inhaled enough salt over the weekend to do a marathon cleansing.

Rest up. We move from the mash-up to the sublime. This coming week promises the allure of chocolate. After all Valentine’s Day Weekend approaches. Time to trade the green for the heart-love red. Buy a good chocolate, melt, and dip away!strawberriesresultsIMG

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Trends, trends, and more trends

It’s that time of the year when the Fancy Food Show rolls out the latest products for its West Coast audience in San Francisco. It’s always fun to see what’s on the showroom floor as these products will be lining our gourmet shops before too long. Some, of course, have already met a wonderful audience, and the companies are at the show to line up new sales venues.

Let’s just look at desserts and see if there is anything tantalizing our taste buds. It has been a year when manufacturers understood the dark chocolate numbers. As we saw more such high cocoa bars, we also started to see more flavor intensifiers such as sea salt and citrus. Yes, ironically as citrus prices have escalated due to extreme weather conditions, it is the year of citrus as a major add-on for the confection industry. Lemon and orange continue to lead the flavor profile.

As we’ve noted, the gluten-free market has expanded beyond the specialty store into the everyday market as well. G-F desserts are becoming an important go-to section that recognizes man cannot live by protein alone. Lemon, by the way, has become a major player for this market shopper, too. G-F desserts are becoming more adventuresome, such as chocolate fudge cake or cheesecake making a noble statement. choccake

Don’t forget the explosion in chips as veggie chips continue to demand more market shelf. When was the last time you tried to go into a market to grab a chip snack of sorts only to stand and stare and read labels for what seems to be an interminable time? Welcome to the long, evolving chip aisle as sea salt and vinegar dominate the possibilities. Little companies are entering the space, too with specialty products that announce their flavors and the all-important phrase: Gluten-Free.

One fact about these types of trends, they are not outlandish nor far-stretched; they appear to be survivors.

These are concepts we can live with!

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Candy Love and Lore

Having been born with a natural sweet tooth, OK, make that set of teeth, I have a great appreciation for candy, but I am particular. With a broad range from Thin Mints to (my expensive, but worth it) Neuhaus Chocolate with plenty of love for See’s Candies, and an occasional Frango Dark Mint (Marshall Field”s, now Macy’s), I am all about dark chocolate. Not just the essence of dark flavoring, but true dark chocolate from 60% on upwards is my goal!NEUA0005

For every rule, there is an exception. At this time of year, candy corn grabs me as it fulfills so much of childhood memories even with the new harvest colorations. I indulge. When I travel I find it difficult, if not impossible, to walk past a candy shop, especially an old-fashioned shoppe. Did I mention that dark fudge and truffles pull me inside, too? Yet nothing is more disappointing than waiting for that special treat and discovering there’s nothing special about it. I just made that mistake with chocolate fudge recently. Major disappointment. Go for the good stuff.

It’s Halloween and candy choices are everywhere, and I’m happy to report that research acknowledges a candy eater as a happier and healthier person. Whoohoo!

Let’s examine the facts so that this weekend’s activities can be put to good use. Let’s start with a super one:

People who regularly eat candy live longer than those who don’t. Need I say more? OK, the facts from a multi-decade study from the Harvard School of Public Health indicate that individuals who consumed candy 1-3 times a month did well in longevity, and daily candy eaters had better survival rates than those who abstained!

Sugar actually gives you energy and helps you through difficult tasks. Sure there are health risks from too much sugar (obesity and diabetes as starters), but if you can handle sweets, then sugar has its benefits. That’s why the afternoon candy bar is such a wonderful option. Nap? Candy?

Gum. Chewing gum can improve your mood and help you focus and lessen your stress levels. What a perfect time to become a gum chewer as flavor options seem to increase with each visit to the counter!

Chocolate. Bet you thought we’d never get there, but the data continues to confirm the health benefits, as in lessening cardiovascular risk, from enjoying chocolate. The best results actually came from individuals who consumed chocolate 5 or more times a week!

What are you waiting for? Dig in. Halloween provides a mere excuse, but data cements the deal.

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Fun, New Product

Every so often something fun and almost unimaginable comes along. Sure you can ask, why? Why do we need it? How is it life-changing? OK, maybe none of these questions fit, but here’s something to enjoy.

How about a one-calorie chocolate you inhale. Yes, merely inhale: Make that Le Whif, a small tube that lets you literally breathe chocolate into your mouth. You even have a choice of flavors: pure chocolate, raspberry, and mint. OK, now the really big news. Yes, chocolate is of special interest, but what about coffee: Le Whif Coffee, a breathable coffee powder with the equivalent caffeine as from an espresso or closer to a double may solve those times when you want a spot of coffee but don’t have time to make one!whifcafe53

Is either product as tasty as having a piece of chocolate or holding a cup of espresso? No, of course not. It’s more like a party trick. Something fun to savor without worrying about a messy cup clean-up or chocolate bar stickiness.

These lipstick-like inhalers do the trick and demonstrate what happens when you combine the talents of David Edwards, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard, with design engineers:  You get a good-looking product that uses particle engineering. This product is part of his artscience labs where creativity has taken on an exciting definition. Pick a flavor, choose a tube, and enjoy.

Take a breather has a wonderful new meaning!

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Health Food/Food for Health

I love days when everything in the health news department affirms much of my thinking. Today was certainly one of those days. Here are three beauties to ponder:

Coffee. I am always on the lookout for the latest positive news about coffee and its potential health benefits. A meta analysis was conducted by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health examining over 700,000 people who are coffee drinkers. They found that having more than six, yes, six 8-oz cups of coffee daily, did not boost the likelihood of getting colon cancer. They found the same effect from soda drinking, but we need to think about the sugar-laden drinks as causing other problems such as obesity. Now the tea drinkers did not receive as big a boost in the clean health department. The jury is still a little unclear on this one. Coffee and soda drinks did not yield an increase in colon cancer.

Dark chocolate. As readers of this blog know, I have a special warm spot for news about dark chocolate. Today’s report from Johns Hopkins University finds that a compound in dark chocolate may protect the brain after a stroke by shielding the nerves from further damage. Researchers hope that this particular property may someday be used to protect people against strokes. So a simple translation means eat and enjoy dark chocolate while at the same time you are insulating yourself from the dangers of getting a stroke. We’ve recognized the heart healthy chocolate benefits so this further validates additional benefit from a little sweet.see's

Vitamin D. So much has been written about the vitamins lately and Vitamin D was last year’s attention-grabbing darling as so many people were all of a sudden diagnosed with a D deficiency. Could it be that we are so dedicated to our sunscreen regimen that the sun has no chance to give us its beneficial D attributes? Now that millions have been told to take Vitamin D, this particular study from the Cleveland Clinic says the optimal time to take this vitamin is with your biggest meal of the day. Figure out that simple calculation and pop your D to protect yourself. It will make a major difference.

Keep in mind that this week, May 9-15, is Food Allergy Awareness Week.

Nothing complex about any of these reports, but they are all simple information solutions to improve our overall health.

Settle in with a hot brew and a piece of wonderful dark chocolate, and don’t forget to include your D with whatever meal has the most calories. We can enjoy ourselves and impact our health.

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