food trends

Small Indulgences: bite-sized desserts

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image via Show and Tell

Forget about ordering one dessert with four forks.

What’s big in desserts right now is small. We’re scooping itty bitty spoons into tiny tureens of tiramisu and downing shot glass shooters of passion fruit soufflé. Already precious cupcakes have morphed into the cake ball trend, and little pies are appearing atop lollipop sticks.

Restaurants are happy to accommodate the baby sweet tooth. They find that average checks are higher when small desserts are on the menu; customers that wouldn’t typically indulge are lured by the novelty and smaller commitment of the miniatures, and while they’re at it, they’ll order a coffee, a tea, maybe an after-dinner drink.

We are more adventurous with tiny desserts. We want a big taste in the small package and are willing to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients and preparations. The stakes are low– we’re committing to just a few bites at a lower price point than for standard desserts. […]

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Lazy Food

image via BBC News

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Fast food for slow cooks.

Have you looked around the supermarket lately? The garlic has been peeled, the pineapples have their cores removed, and the onions are already chopped. There are pre-cooked slices of bacon and shrink-wrapped potatoes— washed and poked and ready to bake.

The ease and convenience are undeniable, as is the waste: a minimally-packaged, shelf-stable food is transformed into a product that is now encased in plastic and requires refrigeration. It has lost nutrients and gained preservatives, and its price has risen exponentially. […]

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The Epicure’s Farm-to-Table Artisanally-Crafted Post of Over-Used Food Terms

[image via Madison Magazine]]]

They are trendy or inane, over-worked or over-wrought, misused and abused. These are the words that grate on our nerves.

Artisan

Wheat Thins artisan crackers? (Can’t you just picture them painstakingly rolled out and hand-cut by the master bakers of Kraft Foods Global, Inc.?) How about artisan flatbreads from DiGiorno’s Frozen Pizza? Like you’re back in the piazza in Naples. And pre-washed and bagged artisan salads? We’re not sure how lettuce can be artisanal, but leave it to Fresh Express, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chiquita Brands, L.L.C., to figure it out.

Mixologist

It’s true that a well-mixed drink is the result of a kind of happy alchemy. But bartending as a scientific discipline? We don’t tip the guy that runs the particle accelerator at the FermiLab, and we aren’t looking for the next Appletini that will cure cancer.

Veggies

Just say the whole word. It’s not all that onerous. Ditto for sammies (sandwiches), resto (restaurant), breakie (breakfast), chix (chicken), and apps (appetizers).

Nom nom for foodies

Let’s add to the list any word that sounds like it was coined in a nursery school (crispy, yummy, comfy, et al.).

Restaurant reviewer jargon

Toothsome; mouth-feel; authentic; playful; sauces that are napped; and dishes that are tucked into— does anybody speak like this? Can we make them stop writing like this?

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Culinary cliches: which ones bug you?

Read Gigabiting’s take on the cringe-inducing “F” word.

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Donuts on the Verge

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Be cool, people.

It’s happening again. Another humble, familiar snack is getting the upscale treatment. This time, let’s try to keep our wits about us.

Donuts are definitely having their pop culture moment. Pastry chefs are experimenting with unorthodox forms and flavor combinations. They appear on upscale restaurant menus, dressed in high style. Trendy brides are requesting donut towers in place of wedding cakes. […]

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The New Culinary Hot Spots

logo via United Arts

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Gastro-diplomacy: Winning hearts, minds, and stomachs.

More countries are elbowing their way to a place at the American table. It’s hard for them to resist the draw of a big country with deep pockets: last year we spent more than $60 billion on specialty foods— $300 million on hummus alone.

The U.S. is not an easy market to break into. Aspiring global brands can’t just slap English language labels on their products. If they make it past the FDA, there is a byzantine network of interstate commerce regulatory agencies. Once they get it in the country, they go up against a juggernaut of large-scale, multi-national producers that are cozy with the nationwide  chains of markets and superstores.

They don’t have to like us to feed us.

A host of far-flung nations, many with histories of hostility toward the U.S., and all with largely unfamiliar culinary traditions, have been hawking their wares through cultural delegations in our embassies, and elaborate pavilions at trade events.

The Balkan Peninsula, already responsible for the Balkan burger phenomenon that has captivated New York, was well represented at last month’s fancy foods show, selling cakes from Bosnia, feta cheese from Serbia, and ajvar, a spicy eggplant and pepper dip from Kosavar. Over at the Palestinian Territories’ pavilion, there were dates from Jordan, chocolates from Jericho, and olive oil from Palestinian farmers, who are already shipping millions of gallons into the U.S.

Sub-Saharan Africa is on a roll, following up the success of its roobios tea with the peppadew; a sweet pepper flavoring that Heinz will be adding to its Tacquitos brand of chips. Russia  might embargo goods from Georgia, but we’re buying up their hazelnuts, jams, wine, and the wildly popular Borjomi mineral water.

Detente for dinner.

Have a hankering for Iraqi-style kabobs or North Korean malgeunguk soup? Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen serves dishes exclusively from countries that the United States is in conflict with. Every four months the take-out restaurant refocuses on a different cuisine. The menu. decor, and the storefront’s facade all get a make-over. In its current iteration, Conflict Kitchen is currently operating as Kubideh Ktchen. Up next: Afghanistan.

Thailand is the model for many of the would-be gastro-diplomats. Its many restaurants around the world have served as cultural outposts, raising Thailand’s profile, attracting foreign investment and migrant workers, and stimulating interest in travel to Thailand. Read about Thailand success and the branding strategies of other emerging nations at Nation-Branding.com.

Read how the ‘Starbucks’ of Taiwan is looking to take on the American coffee market.

Bite by bite, dinner by dinner, let’s eat our way to world peace.

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The Coolest Post Yet

[image courtesy of the Onion]

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Move over, frozen water.

Ice used to be a colorless, tasteless addition. It chilled a drink as it melted, and lowered the alcohol level to a palatable strength. In today’s current renaissance of cocktail culture, bartenders have become mixologists, dilution is a dirty word, and every aspect of a mixed drink is subject to fetishistic scrutiny.

Now we have artisanal ice. Yes, I said ice.

Regular old cubes just won’t do. Instead, the ideal form is matched to each cocktail; the size and shape custom-fitted to each glass. You might find a single tennis ball-sized sphere for scotch on the rocks, gin and tonic in a highball glass chilled by height-appropriate tube-shaped ice, and hand-chipped bits crushed in muslin (to capture the rogue particles) for the perfect julep. An ice- and shaker-free martini might be made with a spritz from a vermouth atomizer and a bottle of gin pulled from the freezer.

The water that goes into the making of the perfect ice can be distilled, boiled, infused with minerals, or put through a reverse osmosis process. It is double- and triple-frozen to remove gases  and  aged 48 hours for extra hardness. The goal is ice that is colder, denser, clearer, slower-melting, and longer-lasting than typical cubes. Bars and restaurants that can’t support their own ‘ice programs’ are turning to a new breed of luxury ice makers that can charge a dollar or more for a single ice sphere.

The new thinking is that drinks should be kept as strong as possible. Dilution has become a dirty word. This means in a few of the world’s more epicurean watering holes you may witness young bartenders shaking drinks without ice or loading in large hand-hewn chunks, with less surface area to melt, then shaking furiously but briefly and “double straining” through fine mesh to remove any rogue ice particles.

The devil is in the details.

The ice in your cocktail could just be the best thing you’ve never tasted.

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Heady Times For Craft Beer

image via New Brew Thursday

It’s a great time to be a beer lover.

We have more beer styles and brands to choose from than every before. More and more often they are premium, full-flavored microbrews based on traditional European processes. There are now so many small, independent artisan brewers in the U.S. (nearly 1,600 at last count) that most Americans live within 10 miles of at least one specialty producer.

Even as the industry comes of age, craft brewers are still acting like frisky teenagers. There is plenty of freshness and innovation as they experiment with ingredients and techniques, and dabble with new forms of marketing. Here are some of the trends to look for: […]

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My Kind of Pie Chart

        Pie Pie Chart by Robyn Lee via Serious Eats

We find ourselves in the midst of a pie resurgence.

Pie consumption has risen steadily for nearly a decade. We’re eating pie in restaurants and cafés, buying pie fresh from the bakery and frozen from the supermarket. Fruit pies, cream pies, nut pies, custard pies— we like all kinds of pie.

Pie is a slice of Americana. It’s edible nostalgia. Seniors and baby boomers never lost a taste for it, and younger generations are drawn to its simplicity and authenticity. It’s straightforward value in a wayward economy. And if you have it a la mode, you’re getting away with two desserts in one.

Apple pie is the perennial, overwhelming favorite. But there are plenty of shockers in Schwan’s (makers of Mrs. Smith’s frozen pies) Pie Slice of Life Survey (the corresponding favorite pie pie chart is found below). Pumpkin makes a mind-boggling appearance in second place, while cherry pie is relegated to a middling fourth place. Key lime and peach, the southern states’ favorites, both had strong showings. But where’s the strawberry-rhubarb? Banana cream? Anything from the custard family? […]

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Chewable Coffee, Sushi-on-a-Stick: What will they think of next?

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Have you seen the press coverage of the Candwich?

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News of the Candwich, the latest innovation in sandwich technology, has been covered by everyone from Stephen Colbert and Perez Hilton to Business Week and the New York Times. The sandwiches, in peanut butter or barbecued chicken varieties, are packed in pop-top beverage-style cans. There’s been a little hang-up as the backing company sorts through SEC allegations of fraud— apparently the investors believed their $145 million was funding real estate deals, despite the money manager’s track record with a company that sold rose petals imprinted with greeting card sentiments. But given the excellent shelf-life of the Candwiches, the delay shouldn’t pose a problem. […]

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The F Word: Do you cringe when you hear it?

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When the word first appeared, who would have thought it would be used as a slur? Foodie has a pleasingly egalitarian ring to it with none of the haughtiness of gourmet or the implied gluttony of gourmand. It’s not effete like epicure, and doesn’t suggest the scholarliness of a gastronome.

The first Foodies were rebels. They broke with the old-guard, with its formality and its singular attachment to French cuisine. Appreciation of food and wine was taken out of its context of formality. A Chinatown noodle joint could achieve the same stature as haute cuisine on the Upper East Side. A single peach could be as sublimely pleasurable as a Grand Marnier soufflé. The true foodie could properly enjoy both.

Where did we lose our way? […]

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Breakfast Any Time


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I was at this restaurant. The sign said Breakfast Anytime. So I ordered french toast in the Renaissance.

— Steven Wright

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Breakfast for lunch. Or dinner.

Breakfast is a meal best served all day. Few of us have the time or the inclination for much more than some nibbles of toast with our morning coffee. Better to save the calories and indulgent flavors for a midday break or even dinner when the day is winding down and we can take the time to savor them. […]

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Bigger, Bolder, Spicier: our new-found love of flavor

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We’ve always liked our flavors the way we like our politicians.

A little dull, a little bland. In a world of extremes, America has remained moderate, clinging steadfastly to the middle. But the winds of change have been blowing. Iceberg lettuce has given way to arugula, mayonnaise to garlic aioli, yellow mustard to dijon. […]

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6 Condiments You Might Not Know (but should)

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In the beginning there was ketchup.

Ketchup has reigned supreme for nearly 200 years. At its peak, it was found in 97% of U.S. households.

But global influences have perked up our palates. There’s a big world of flavor out there. Clear out some space in the pantry and push aside the ketchup bottle in your refrigerator. It’s time to make room in your kitchen and your cooking repertoire for six new condiments. […]

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Private Label Beer

House beer makes its move.

We have grown comfortable with the concept of house wines. Gone are the days of wine by-the-glass or carafe whose only virtue was a low price. House wines today are more likely to be high quality bottlings  that are selected for their ability to complement the menu. Now we see restaurants doing the same for beer. […]

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10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving

photo via Los Angeles Times
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Texting while driving gets all the attention these days, but few things are more distracting than a hot cup of coffee in your lap.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified the ten most common and dangerous foods to eat or drink while driving, and naturally, coffee is at the top of the list. Even with a travel lid coffee seems to find its way out of the cup. The other nine on the list are: […]

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Chef Tattoos: food love 4 ever

It’s a new breed of chef.

Unbound from centuries of tradition, they cast off the starched white chef’s jacket and toque. The cooking became daring and experimental; the lifestyle a reflection of the profession. It’s the chef as rock star, replete with fame and fortune, drugs and groupies. And tattoos.

The traditional marks of the profession, the calluses, cuts, burns, and scars, are no longer enough. The contemporary chef flaunts a more personal, ballsier, in-your-face style (regardless of gender— there are plenty of ballsy women working in the industry), that tattoos complement. […]

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Backyard Goats? Think long and hard.

Go to "Raising Goats For  Dummies" page

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Suburban goat-keeping is the latest topic to get the Dummies treatment from the popular series of how-to books. It’s a sure sign that backyard goats have reached critical mass.

This time last year it was chickens. Stories in the press fueled a nostalgia-tinged notion of endearing, pet-like creatures, deliciously fresh eggs, and serious locavore status. The dream ran up against the reality of filthy, shrieking fowl that barely edge out snakes in cuddliness, and are prone to ailments like poultry mites and pasty butt. Egg dreams were dashed by fragile hen health and the surprise of chicks that matured into roosters. Animal shelters around the country are overflowing with last year’s fad. […]

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Street Food Minus the Street

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Food trucks were the darlings of the food world in 2009.

Take the recessionary economy. Add in the food savvy to swap withered hot dogs for trendy dishes like red velvet cupcakes or the Asian-fusion of Korean tacos. Give it a boost of tech savvy with Twittered locations and daily specials. And that’s how street food grew into a full-fledged culinary phenomenon.

Street food has the intrinsic charm of a communal, democratic experience. It’s cheap and casual with no dress code or reservations required. It is also hurried and messy. Instead of a maitre d’ to seat you, you have to cop a squat on a bench or curb. There are squirt bottle condiments, flimsy plastic cutlery, and the ambiance of the streets, with its attendant bus fumes, car alarms, and weather.

Ultimately, street food proved to be a little too street for many of us.

That’s why this year’s trend is the gentrification of street food. […]

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5 Foods to Try. Don’t be afraid!

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Try something new

Stretch those culinary muscles. New food experiences can satisfy your soul while they perk up your palate.

Step out of your culinary comfort zone, but not too far

We are not talking about chancy mouthfuls, unless that’s your thing. This is not about the macho challenge of Anthony Bourdain-style extreme eating. We know that offal is trendy right now, but it’s not for everyone. That special maggot-enhanced Italian cheese? No shame in taking a pass.

This list will ease you gently into the unfamiliar. Deliciousness is paramount. […]

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Cyber Cheese

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Milk’s leap toward immortality.

We do like our cheese. Not as much as they do over in Europe, but here in the U.S. we are eating more cheese than ever. We are also eating better cheese, turning away from highly processed products and toward natural and artisan-made varieties. We are showing a growing interest in style and variety, seeking out regional farmstead cheeses as well as cheese produced organically and from different milk blends.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than online, where age-old traditions meet new technology. […]

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