Tag Archives: artisanal

American is the New Ethnic

photo via Meat America

There’s a culinary frontier right in our own backyard.

We spent the past few decades mastering the fine points of regional cooking from all around the globe— we know our Szechaun from our Cantonese, our Burgandy from our Provençal, and can spot a Neapolitan pizza at fifty paces. It’s time to come home.

America’s regional cuisines are getting their due. Finally.
For years, American food was ridiculed abroad and ignored at home. American food was what we ate in diners and fast food joints; fine dining was synonymous with French cuisine and Continental restaurants.

Not anymore. Seriously credentialed and pedigreed chefs are exploring the foods of every region and sub-region from every corner of the U.S. They’re treating our regional dishes with the respect previously reserved for the imports, elevating both the cuisine’s stature and our pleasure.

Chefs are combining contemporary aesthetics and local ingredients into modern incarnations of regional cuisines. They’re exploring indigenous flavors and products from the well-known regional cuisines of  New England, New Orleans, and the Southwest; fast-rising regions like the Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest; and newly emerging sub-regions like Hawaii and Florida’s Panhandle.

Of course we’re still a big, old melting pot. We have a vast and complex culinary heritage that continues to be renewed and enriched as new ethnic groups and generations add to the mix.

Regional American food is constantly evolving and will never truly reach its fullest enunciation. Some are troubled by the notion of a cuisine that defies a tidy definition, wondering if there is a true American cuisine. But that’s just culinary semantics. American food is in a constant cycle of rediscovery and renewal, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

Open Table has just released its 2011 Diners’ Choice Awards. They culled over 10 million individual reviews to name the top 100 restaurants serving American cusine.

The all-American food marketplace Foodzie offers carefully curated tasting boxes that let you choose representative regional products from small-batch producers.

 

 

Posted in cook + dine, local foods | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Don’t Hold the Mayo

[Nine Badass Mayonnaise Jars via Marc Johns]

Nobody’s holding the mayo these days.
According to research by Bloomberg Businessweek, six of the top 15 best-selling condiments in the U.S. are different varieties of mayonnaise. While we’ve been musing about population trends and watching salsa and ketchup duke it out, we failed to notice that mayonnaise has been living large at the top of the condiment heap.

Mayonnaise love is kind of embarrassing. We’ve always thought of mayonnaise as a little low-rent, a little trashy. Every negative stereotype hanging over American food is encapsulated in each white, bland, fatty dollop. It’s been falsely mythologized as the spoilage-prone scourge of picnics and potlucks, and doubles as a common treatment for head lice.

Like bacon before it, trend watchers think that mayonnaise’s down-market, all-American image gives it the hallmarks of a foodie cult-favorite in the making.

Mayonnaise goes upscale.
36 new supermarket varieties have been introduced in recent months in trendy flavors like chipotle and lime. All the big commercial brands have added a line of olive oil mayonnaise replacing some of the standard soybean oil with that culinary darling, and Hellmann’s is transitioning its whole product line to cage-free eggs.

A sure sign of its overhaul is the appearance of mayonnaise on fine dining menus. Of course chefs have always tinkered with various flavorings added to the basic mayonnaise emulsion of egg yolk, oil and and acid (usually vinegar or lemon juice). But it always left the kitchen labelled as rémoulade, rouille, or aïoli. Now, they’re able to hold their heads up high and say mayonnaise.

This month we’ll see the opening of the world’s first world luxury mayonnaise store. Empire Mayonnaise Co. is shooting for the artisan stratosphere with seasonal flavorings like white truffle, Indian lime pickle, fennel, and black garlic, and will include emu and quail eggs as the base for some batches. Naturally, the new shop is located in Brooklyn.

Haven’t you always wondered…http://printablecouponsanddeals.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Hellmans-mayo-new.jpg
Why the great mayonnaise divide—Best Foods in the western half of the U.S., Hellmann’s in the east?
Best Foods has owned both since 1932 (and the company has been a division of Unilever since 2000), but decided early on that both brands had such commanding market shares in their respective halves of the country that the distinct names and recipes should be preserved. The two products are made in the same plant and contain all the same ingredients, but there are slight variations in relative quantities of those ingredients. Best Foods is the tarter and tangier of the two, and is presumed to contain more lemon juice, but the company isn’t talking.

 

 

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Head Cheese (WTF?!)

All this talk of ‘nose to tail’ eating, but still we don’t cozy up to the head cheese.

Let’s start by getting the ‘head’ and ‘cheese’ business out of the way.
Yes, it’s made with a head; usually that of a pig, but sometimes from a calf, cow, or sheep (good to know if you keep kosher); no, there isn’t any cheese involved (the lactose intolerant can relax). The name evolved from the Latin word forma—a basket or box used as a mold—most often to compress and form cheese curds but also for meat terrines; as forma, and then fromage, became the word for cheese, the molded meats were swept along.

Said head is plucked and shaved, the earwax is cleaned out, and it’s simmered for hours— skin, snout, eyeballs, tongue, and all. The cooked meat is seasoned and packed into a mold along with the collagen-enriched stock (from all the bone and cartilage) which gels as it cools.

Looking at a well-constructed slice of head cheese can be like peering through a stained glass window with its mosaic effect of shimmering aspic dotted with suspended jewels of braised pork bits. At its finest, a slice of head cheese is tender meat and wobbly gelatin that melts on the tongue. Bad headcheese can be grayish, dry, and pasty, studded with the occasional bristle or tooth missed in straining, but that’s another story…

Any cuisine that cooks with pork has a version of head cheese, since when it comes to the pig’s head, it’s pretty much head cheese or toss it. In Germany it’s called sülze, it’s queso de puerco in Mexico, giò thủ in Viet Nam, and formaggio di testa in Italy. The Brits call it brawn and in the southern U.S. it’s known as souse. You probably eat more head cheese than you realize a slice can be snuck into a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or served as a salumi alongside its charcuterie cousins.

Your kitchen will look like the set of a slasher flick, but it’s otherwise not that difficult to make your own head cheese. So if you ever find yourself in possession of a whole pig’s head and a dozen or so friends willing to share in the results (that’s why they’re your friends), you’ll be amply rewarded with pounds of the stuff.

You’ll find recipes for head cheese and other ‘nose to tail’ cooking at The Rooter to the Tooter.

Posted in cook + dine, food knowledge | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Let’s Make a Deal

My This for Your That.
You did it as a kid. You had an innate sense of the relative value of a bag of Cheetos and could broker a win-win lunchroom exchange.

Swapping is back.
Combine the DIY ethic with social networks, add in a shaky economy, and the table is set for cashless food exchanges.

If you’ve ever made your own pickles or jam, the appeal of a swap is obvious. You spent a small fortune and an entire weekend on the project, leaving you with enough jars of a single condiment to last you two lifetimes. Connect with a dozen or so nearby DIYers and everyone gets to strut their culinary stuff and go home with a varied pantry’s worth of foodstuffs. Since swaps are held privately and no money changes hands, they are generally out of the purview of health and commerce regulatory agencies.

When a swap is dedicated to a single product the trading is self-evident—cookies for cookies, soup for soup. It gets fuzzy when there is no common food currency. I’m sure you make some kick-ass blueberry muffins, but they can seem awfully pedestrian next to Buddha’s Hand limoncello or confited duck legs. As the trading goes on around you, you might feel like the last kid left after the captains choose up sides in a neighborhood kickball game.

Putting your creation out there is inherently personal. Kitchen egos and credibility are at stake. At its best, with a community of like-minded home cooks with shared food sensibilities, a food swap ends up like a town hall meeting crossed with a village marketplace and a hint of the local pub. And you get to go home with your haul of lovingly-made, hand-crafted foods.

The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking guides you through hosting your own food swap, and provides links to ongoing events around the country.

 

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Food Sovereignty: One town goes it alone.

The town of Sedgwick, Maine has done something that no other place in the United States has dared to do: its citizens voted, unanimously, I might add, to declare food sovereignty. They have given themselves the right to control their own food supply; “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing,” without government intervention. The local ordinance overrides the authority of state and federal health codes, regulations, inspections, and restrictions. This means that raw milk, foraged foods, home-cured meats, and goods produced in unlicensed kitchens can be freely bought and sold.

In recent years, we’ve seen a flowering of small culinary start-ups. Cost, scale, and access keep them cooking at home instead of in the commercially licensed kitchens required by mainstream distribution channels. That then bars them from purchasing sales permits and liability insurance, driving many of them underground. Some state and local governments have chosen to relax regulations while others are cracking down on unlicensed operations, forcing them to comply or shut down. This has led to incidents like last year’s so-called pie-gate, when the elderly, pie-baking church ladies of St. Cecilia’s Parish were harassed and shut down by a state inspector in the midst of an annual bake sale fund-raiser marking the first Friday of Lent.

Questions of safety and liability come to mind.
There are growing concerns about the integrity of our national food system, and criticism of the sometimes arbitrary and wrong-headed nature of health code enforcement. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of six Americans gets sick from food-borne illness, with 3,000 of them dying each year. Sedgwick decided to takes its chances with local producers, taking reassurance from the personal nature of the interactions between producer and consumer. Residents are being encouraged to make informed decisions, especially if they are consuming raw milk products, and to waive liability stemming from transactions.

Maine is governed by “home rule,” which gives municipalities the power to alter and amend their charters on local matters that aren’t prohibited by constitutional or general law. So far, state and federal authorities have been hands-off in Sedgwick, and three nearby towns are in the process of adopting similar measures.

Learn more about the food sovereignty movement. Grassroots International publishes Food for Thought and Action: A Food Sovereignty Curriculum. It’s available as a free download from their website.

 

 

Posted in food policy, food safety | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Salt. Cure. Blog. Repeat (every 30 days).

Saint Antonio Abate, Patron Saint of Butchers

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You know it as 2011. To others, it’s The Year of Meat.
It’s Charcutepalooza, a name that doesn’t exactly roll trippingly off the tongue, but it’s all part of the slightly off-kilter, home-spun appeal. […]

Posted in blogging, cook + dine | Tagged , | 5 Comments

What Are Your Leftovers Worth?

The recipe made four servings but there are just three of you.
All over town there are working singles tucking into their yogurt and takeout burritos.
Could the solution be more obvious?

Book of Cooks is an online marketplace for home cooked meals.
Home cooks (and professionals) post dishes and full meals for sale—it can be something already in the works or planned for a later date. They can include pictures or video and cite licenses, ingredients, and other pertinent details, including customer reviews and ratings. […]

Posted in cook + dine, food business, food safety | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Flavored Brews: Who Wants Beer that Tastes Like Beer?

Is flavored beer a venial sin against the beer gods?
Or is it an homage to a centuries-old European tradition?

The Belgians have their cherry- and berry-flavored lambics, and the British love their summertime citrus-lager shandies. The first wave of American craft brewers followed with seasonal fruit brews based on native ingredients like summer blueberry and autumn pumpkin beer. […]
Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food trends | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Kicking Around Any Ideas?

Are you the kid with the lemonade stand or the one with the quarter?

Kickstarter is the place for both of you.

Kickstarter connects people looking for money for their business projects with people willing to kick in.
It’s not a loan; it’s not an investment. It’s more like micro-patronage with a bit of crowd-sourced business advice.

In a nutshell:
Budding entrepreneurs post a video with their pitch and funding requirements.
Patrons pledge the funds in increments as small as a few dollars and up to $10,000. Pledges are pooled until the goal is met within a specific time frame.

It’s all or nothing. The rejection message is two-fold: the public has weighed in with a poor funding response, telling the hopeful entrepreneur that it’s back to the drawing board for a better concept; and it’s clear that a start-up shouldn’t be launched without sufficient resources.

Patrons are generally rewarded in the form of project mementos or perks—recently a $10 pledge brought a snack bag from an organic nut roaster, and $120 pledged to an occasional spice club (like spice-of-the month but, you know, not as regular) got you a year’s membership, a spice named for you, AND a refrigerator magnet. No less important are the thrill of proximate inclusion in a creative endeavor, and the warm and fuzzy and oh-so-hip feeling that comes from contributing to a worthwhile endeavor.

Kickstarter is open to projects of all kinds, but food is a constant motif. Food is the third most popular of the site’s 19 categories, and one of the most successful, with a 56% funding rate. The proposals  skew heavily toward food trucks, cupcakes, and home canners—a sign of both the times and the company’s Brooklyn location. The average food project has a funding goal of about $5,000, although this summer saw the founding of a North Carolina craft brewer who raised $44,000. Other recent launches include a solar-powered mobile crêperie, construction of a pedal-operated machine that churns butter and powers a toaster, and an Illinois high school class that wants to publish a cookbook (watch the typos in the business plan, guys).

Get in on the ground floor.

Currently seeking funds:

  • Tails and Trotters, a Portland, Oregon chef-farmer partnership, is almost half-way to its goal of $10,000 with 8 days remaining. The team is developing a true Northwest prosciutto produced from pigs fattened on hazelnuts. $100 will get you a ham and a VIP invite to the opening of their retail shop.
  • The clock is seriously ticking for Leo & Co., mother and son organic dog biscuit makers. With one day and just a few hundred dollars to go, they’ll send you a biscuit personalized with your pet’s name when you pledge as little as $1.
  • $40 gets you a screen credit in the forthcoming documentary Pimento Cheese, Please, currently looking for another $1,800 to cover production costs.
  • Help restore a 60 foot long dragon costume for use in the Chinese New Years Parade in San Francisco. 13 days and $2,000 to go, you can pledge as little as $1, but $50 will get you your picture taken wearing the dragon’s head. Not the foodiest of ventures, but the group behind the costume provides funding to the SF Food Bank. And how awesome is that dragon’s head picture?!.

See all the projects pending at Kickstarter.

Do you have an idea kicking around? Learn how to post your own project.

 

Posted in cyberculture, food business | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Gourmet. Upscale. Hot Dogs?

Hot Dog by Roy Lichtenstein
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Fancy hot dogs have arrived.

It sounds like a contradiction in terms.
But it doesn’t have to be.

The so-called haute dogs don’t interest me.
These are the gimmicky, stunt dogs that are beloved by restaurant publicists; the can-you-top-this Kobe beef and foie gras concoctions that attract media attention for their outrageous pretensions and price tags, but that nobody really orders.

What does interest me are hot dogs that are elevated by virtue of careful preparation and quality ingredients; that bring freshness to the genre while hanging on to an essential hotdogginess. […]

Posted in fast food, food trends | Tagged , | 3 Comments

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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Posted in food trends, media | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Underground Food Markets: The New Speakeasies

Pssst… wanna buy some contraband pickles?

First came the informal but still legitimate businesses like food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and CSAs. Now we have the appearance of their unlicensed brethren: the home bakers, canners, pasta makers, meat curers, and foragers that make up an underground food scene that’s gaining steam in cities around the world.

Mmm… that’s so good, I bet you could sell it.

It used to be a compliment. Now it’s a business plan.

Take the growing DIY movement. Throw in a high unemployment rate, some entrepreneurial spirit, the promotional capabilities of social media, and a dash of hipster hype. You end up with something like Anarchy in a Jar (jam maker), Brazelton Price (demi-glace), Bundt (cake baker), and Charcuterie Underground (bacon and sausage). […]

Posted in food policy | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

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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Posted in food trends | Tagged , | 3 Comments

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. […]

Posted in food trends | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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. […]

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food trends | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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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Top Pig: the world’s most expensive ham

 

 

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The world’s most expensive ham went on sale last month.

The upscale UK department store Selfridges is offering the ham for sale in the food hall of their flagship London store. The leg of jamón ibérico de bellota weighs a bit over 15 pounds and is selling for $2,940.

What could possibly justify a price tag of nearly $200 per pound for a ham? […]

Posted in food trends, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Message in a bottle (140 characters or less)

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Twitter is launching a wine label.
The micro-blogging social media site is venturing into wine making as a side project and charitable endeavor. Twitter has partnered with Crushpad, a DIY winery and Bay Area neighbor to produce a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay. Bottled under the label Fledgling Wine, $5 from each $20 bottle sold will benefit Room to Read, a non-profit organization that extends literacy and educational opportunities to children in the world’s poorest regions. […]

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Whatever will you name your bacon?

HouseBacon003-thumb-500x335

A documentary film about ice cream trucks. A graduate student who would rather be making chocolate. A sculptor who wants to cast endangered apple varieties in porcelain.

These are some of the projects that have been successfully funded through Kickstarter, an online funding platform that matches artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs with a pool of patrons. […]

Posted in food business | Tagged , | 2 Comments

What recession? A girl’s got to eat.

photo courtesy of triplepundit.com

 

The economy might be slowing, but not our appetites.
We’re not eating any less, but we have made budget-driven adjustments to what we eat, how we shop, and where we are having our meals. Most of us are eating out less, more often choosing to cook and entertain at home. We still seek variety in our food and dining choices but more often find it in our purchases of prepared foods and specialty grocery items. […]

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