Food Fete Summer 2015
Food Fete Summer 2015 was here once again on Tuesday, June 16th, this time back at the 4th Floor Gallery at the Metropolitan Pavillion. A great thank you to Director Jeff Davis for the invite. Key trends this time around: a well-balanced array of savory and sweet, and a continued focus on wholesome, organic, and non-GMO products. Let’s get started on the recap.
First stop is…CHOCOLATE! Sheryl and I often eat (or cook) with Scharffen Berger products, though we both couldn’t recall that Dagoba was a brand extension. I took an Orange Ginger sample for myself, though the star of the table was their newest offering â€” Dark Chocolate with Raspberries & Sea Salted Almonds â€” reminding me of earlier that week when Sheryl and I ate all of Mikey’s raspberries (and blackberries) off his belated birthday tart from his great aunt. When you mix in the dark chocolate, you get a more mature and complex taste. If you love the berries/dark chocolate combination with a higher cacao percentage (72%), you need to go out and try it…you can get the 0.32 oz, the 1 oz, or the 3 oz if you really love it.
My second stop was for almonds…this time a few different ways but not with chocolate. I polished off the roasted and the cinnamon take-home ones already. Not only did they offer their stylish branded bags along with the almonds and press kit, but also included a tin perfect for a single serving of almonds. My dad actually turned me on to almonds as a protein boost instead of other snacking alternatives during drives or the Clearwater Festival. Now I can safely snack at work without going overboard on my servings.
No one in our household has celiac, but we know a few people who are or at least have a sensitivity. Lucky for them, the gluten-free offerings have really improved over the past few years (also see Rudi’s Organic Bakery further in). Udi’s offers a line of frozen meals, bread, burritos, and other products. Their mini-brochure is chock full of not only some of their products, but recipes and facts concerning celiac and a healthy (and sometimes) gluten-free lifestyle. I took some Salted Caramel Cashew cookies for the road in addition to their gluten-free granola sampler.
At Food Fete Winter, I tried a new variety of apple; this time, I got to indulge with a new kind of cherry. Sheryl and I often buy a bag of cherries, which we usually finish within a short time after it gets home. The delicate balance of tart and sweet is an excellent treat. Stemilt, out of Washington and California, grows apples, pears, cherries and other summer fruits. Skylar Rae Cherries are named after an infant daughter in the family, and are definitely the sweetest cherries I have ever had but still very delicious (and addictive). Major metropolitan markets should look out for them, but since Stemilt are the sole growers the supply may be fairly low. Get them while you can! I would likely just eat them as is, but they would also make a great berlinerweiss syrup.
Beans, beans, are good for your heart…you know the rest. What you may not know is that part of the reason why gas often results from the ingestion of beans is due to the freshness. Better Bean Company makes seven varieties of skillet-sauteed fresh beans â€” gluten-free, ready to eat or heat in a variety of flavor inspirations. Mexican is a clear preference of most, so I tried the spicy bean taco and the nachos of course. I found that there was an immediate texture difference along with an extra unctuousness that I don’t usually get from a canned product. You can find these in the refrigerated section, and the packages have an 11-week shelf life thanks in part to their use of vinegar as a natural preservative. Don’t be self-conscious…eat more beans.
Whenever there is cooking hardware of any sort, it’s very easy to start drooling as much over it as we do food. WÃ¼sthof is no different to this end. They had three different lines on display: Classic, Gourmet (already added to my Chanukah list!), and the new Pro 2015, which is crazy comfortable, heavy duty, and perfect for any heavy user or in food-service/commercial kitchens (and surprisingly affordable). If you are in the market for a new knife or set, go and feel the different product lines in your hands. They were very kind and actually put a sample paring knife into the hands of some attendees.
Hot off of knife worship, Meyer Corporation had a fleet of kitchenwares, guaranteed to fulfill many of your culinary needs and desires. The stoneware and bakeware were all quite impressive, though the BonJour Salad Chef for mixing your dressing was really neat. The gift here was a loose tea strainer in the shape of a peapod…utterly adorable and useful at the same time. Would look great on anyone’s counter or sticking out of your favorite tea cup.
Yay for mango season! Though thanks to the National Mango Board, you can now get quality mangoes year-round. When someone offers you fresh mango, you say YES. They also sent people home with some dried mango (also incredibly addictive if you’ve seen me polish off a whole bag). We also talked a lot about craft beer, more specifically about the applications of pairing mango or dropping it into a sour beer recipe.
How many times have you made a salad and taken it with you only to realize you have forgotten a napkin and fork, or that the dressing made it way too soggy by the time you eat it. Enter Dole’s new offering (coming soon) of a to-go salad pack, complete with individually packaged components, and a box that is a shakeable bowl. If you want to eat your lunch outside on a bench or in a park, no worries. Two of the recipes have chicken, while the other two are vegetarian. I tried the Monterey Chicken Caesar, and the white meat chicken fit well in the recipe. Look out for them later this summer in major supermarket chains.
The new fascination with ancient grains is awesome. We have seen a number of products come through Food Fetes past, and each one has been creative and inventive. Three Bridges brought three of their prepared offerings this time, though they also have a full line of additional dinners and sauces. We tried the 5-Cheese Ancient Grain Ravioli, which was almost the size of a raviolo (see picture above). Cooked perfectly al dente, the sauce (similar to vodka sauce) added a nice touch with the cheese/grain mix.
50% less fat, but full flavor? Yes please. In addition, a quarter of the sales go directly to Special Olympics, so you can smile eating your ice cream. Feeling good, eating better, and helping kids at the same time. Sheryl tried the Caramel Chocolate Heaven and I sampled the Mintalicious (Mint Chocolate Chip). Both were good, but what I liked about the MCC was that the mint was not overbearing and it let the flavor of the ice cream itself shine through.
Stoneridge Orchards is no stranger to Food Fete, and I am so glad for it. Most of the time, I eat the sample AND my proverbial doggie bag, or it gets stolen by an extended family member or two (you know who you are, ha-ha). This time? Dark chocolate covered strawberries. Don’t have a chocolate fountain or worried about dripping after dipping? Easy solution right here featuring some of Stoneridge’s prized fruit. Now where did I put my stash of Montmorency cherries?
The bar is an unofficial stop, but Sheryl grabbed a glass of Monterrey Chardonnay and I grabbed a glass of this Cabernet Sauvignon. A distinct dark berry skin on the nose (I got some blackberry and blueberry). The tannins were fairly subdued, and the finish was very dry.
Everyone that walked by was drawn to the small masterpieces on Eleni’s table. Such inventive and kid-friendly designs were on the table along with ginger snaps (our favorite…these were amazing), chocolate, and pink sugar cookies. The other cool thing we saw was a kid with pre-iced cookies with edible ink markers. Instead of making a huge mess with making special frosting or icing, kids can still be creative with their baked goods. Eleni herself mentioned that despite all the delicious items she bakes, her kids always asks for the proverbial blank canvas cookies. An art piece that’s also a treat to eat!
Keeping up with the ancient grains and gluten-free offerings, truRoots cooked up two recipes (and provided take-home recipe cards!) using their products. The sprouted quinoa, cherry, and feta salad was similar to another salad Sheryl and I had made, but the dried cherries (instead of cranberries) added a different dimension to it. The creamy avocado pesto pasta (gluten-free) was also very hard to distinguish from regular pasta.
Both of the truRoots recipes called for Santa Cruz Organic Lemon Juice, so it felt right that they were right next door. In addition to the single serve applesauce (Mikey loves it), we sampled a peanut butter banana smoothie made with peanut butter powder! Ditch the sandwich and drink your way into the same taste profile without the extra carbs and all the protein. We noticed that there was a nifty satay sauce recipe on the back of the package as well, so you can do your chicken, beef or tofu satay with it on the double.
R.W. Knudsen, a family company, makes some great unsweetened juice that simply lets the fruit shine. This time around, they had their cranberry, black cherry, and blueberry (tart cherry was there but not being served). I adored the black cherry and would have loved to repurpose it for cocktails when I wasn’t enjoying it simply on the rocks while sitting outside in the breeze.
Full disclosure: Sheryl and I snagged our first two samples of the new Indulgence line from Kozy Shack early in the night as the rep was passing by. The only new flavor that didn’t make it from the warehouse was the vanilla bean (which is likely amazing), but the caramel, chocolate truffle (Sheryl’s fave), and dark chocolate (my fave) did not disappoint. We regularly keep their rice or chocolate pudding around, but I think I may have to sneak a couple crocks of the Indulgence in when I need a little extra luscious treat.
Having worked in specialty food, I appreciate the need for consumer education in areas where there is little/no common knowledge or many myths about a product type (like cheese from affineurs). Gaea, a very popular Greek brand, is now coming to North America. The fully-covered, dark bottle pictured above is filled and sealed, purging all oxygen. This reminds me a lot of what White Labs has done with their new yeast packaging; it is all done to preserve the contents of what’s inside. The label also contains a unique olive oil sensory profile to better educate the consumer on the specific taste elements they may pick up on when tasting. There is also extensive information about the varietal(s) in use. I received a set of tasters of some single-varietal olive oils, and I intend to do a tasting within a few weeks.
The first time I met the folks at Challenge Dairy, I took home a sample of the salt and cracked black pepper butter. Since last time when I tasted the salsa and strawberry cream cheeses, both new flavors have launched and are available in their footprint. Sheryl was able to try both in addition to the first ever lactose-free butter which I had also sampled pre-launch. I now, once again, dare you to serve this to even lactose-tolerant people to see if they notice the difference. No more do lactose-intolerant people have to resort to chemical-based butter substitutes that lack the texture and flavor of good, spreadable butter.
The minute we walked over to the table, I had a good laugh. One of the products England’s Best is adding are peeled, hard-boiled eggs. Just a little over a week earlier, Sheryl’s two sisters and I were struggling to prep the eggs to be used for deviled eggs at Mikey’s second birthday party. Our egg education showed that the freshest eggs are best for everything except for hard-boiled eggs. Apparently the membrane below the egg shell develops more and more after hatching, which in turn will enable easier removal of the shell if the egg is older. That being said, they should still be kept in a covered container close to the front of the fridge, so they can age gracefully for their final intended purpose. Food science wins again!
Stop #23: Electrolux
So if WÃ¼sthof and Meyer didn’t have enough culinary eye candy, Electrolux had this incredible setup. We didn’t get to handle the immersion blender or food processor, but we did get a really amazing demonstration of the blender. As you can see from a design perspective, it’s very sleek and modern, but take a closer look. The buttons and operating section are built for cleaning; no more will you have to fuss between buttons or ridges to get rid of residue. In addition, there are settings for smoothie, soup, and ice crushing that are methodically timed and control the blender speed to achieve the desired texture. On to some physics now. The blender is not 100% vertical, so don’t think it was you or the picture. This is done on purpose to create an off-center whirlpool so the ingredients can better circulate and be processed by the three-tier blade system. The bottom blades kick ice and other more solid particles back up so the other two can chop or crush accordingly. No margaritas or daquiris this time, but I would have loved to have seen the difference in results and how much quicker the prep would be. BTW, I will be accepting gift cards for my birthday so I can get one later this year.
Stop #24: HALFPOPS
I never thought I would love popcorn that wasn’t fully popped. Taking inspiration from the bottom of many microwave popcorn bags, the owner at HALF POPS took that crunchy texture and made a process to make it a tasty but less messy approach to the movie snack we all know and love. I loved the Chipotle BBQ myself, but the Cheddar was a clear favorite as well.
Stop #25: Rudi’s Organic Bakery
Sheryl and I had Rudi’s gluten-free bread and English muffins from a prior Food Fete, but they disappeared rather quickly between hash, egg, and sandwich recipes. We tried their new seasonal offering of pumpkin bread with spices, but not the traditional recipe; this one is for sandwiches. I so wanted some turkey and cranberry sauce to throw on the pieces there, or just some of that Challenge Dairy butter! They also were sampling their kid-size white and whole-grain gluten-free bread with some good ol’ PB&J. When Mikey gets into sandwiches, this bread is just the right size! Though I can’t promise Sheryl and I won’t steal some for ourselves.
Stop #26: California Table Grape Commission
A lovely Camembert and Manchego lay on the table, but the real star was the grapes. The recipe at this table may sound quite odd at first, but I am looking forward to making some as I almost always have California grapes in the fridge. PICKLED GRAPES. Yes, “we can pickle that.” Apparently the recipe is done quite simply â€” simply marinate for a few hours and you have delicious treat.
Stop #27: Londoner Cheese (photo blurry, so omitted)
It’s really a shame that photo came out so poorly, as the display was beautiful. When Sheryl and I dropped by the station, Jeff Davis himself was manning the table. As it turns out, all the supplies arrived without delay, but due to the storms the representatives did not. They had a cheddar, a farmhouse cheddar, and a good old Red Leicester (the orange cheddar that Americans love to mimic when coloring some of their cheddars). All were left out at room temperature to serve, so by the time we got there they were tasting pretty great. I would have loved to have picked the brains of their people, but it will have to wait for another event.
Stop #28: Musical Pairings
While the night was filled with sampling, tasting, talking, and even demonstrations, Musical Pairings was the immersive experience of the night. As shown above, there are arrays of headphones all hooked up to iPods for the purposes of pairing music with food. Fellow blogger Zachary Rosen had done a lot of work with different conceptual pairings with craft beer, so I was naturally excited about this prospect. We first tried a Bailey’s Irish Cream and Nutella cookie, then placed the headphones on and tasted it again while listening to Bobby Darin’s rendition of “Beyond The Sea” before tasting it once more with no music. With the music, I found that there was a certain vibrance that came from the texture of cookie’s topping that was not as apparent without the music. It’s almost as if the music helped heighten certain brain receptors responsible for taste. The second pairing was a Dark Chocolate and Ruby Port cookie with Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, which also had a similar reaction with some of the Port essence, though not as dramatic as the first. The whole operation extends from just these isolated experiences, as they host full five-course dinners complete with beverage pairings at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses. In addition, they have an app which based on a proprietary mathematic algorithm, pairs different types of food and beverages with different musical suggestions. I bet you could spend hours just testing it out and seeing how you “tune up” with your pairings.
Stop #29: Nature Valley
When I had a regular Costco membership, I always picked up Nature Valley granola bars because they had a great blend of sweetness and crispness. When you mix their granola with Greek yogurt? You probably already know the answer…it’s a great breakfast (or snack) in the making. I wish I had gone by the table earlier, as it would have been a good fit as one of the first samples in a la “breakfast is the first meal of the day”.
Stop #30: In The Raw
Those who know me can tell you I take my whiskey neat and my coffee black. As a result, I rarely use sugars or sweeteners (other than honey with tea when I am sick), and so I have not used Sugar In The Raw. As a natural extension of their flagship product, they are now making soft drinks, specifically iced tea, lemonade, and cola. We tasted all three, with the lemonade being the favorite of the group. That being said, all of them had great balance and were not overly sweet like many of their competitors. I believe these will appeal to the sugar-conscious individuals who want to get away from artificial sweeteners and the dreaded corn syrup. Yes, I will be making Arnold Palmers for the record.
Stop #31: Helluva Good!
Last time I met reps from Helluva Good! was at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis a few years ago. (Quick side note: I am attending this year’s conference in Asheville after taking off the past two years in Boston and San Diego.) They had two new flavors to sample: French Onion and Beer Battered Onion Rings. Sheryl preferred the former and I the latter, but either one would likely disappear quickly at your next barbecue or social gathering. Whether you chip it or veg it, you will probably like it.
Final Thoughts on Food Fete Summer 2015
Jeff and his team at Food Fete never disappoint. For the first time in a long time, I managed to visit every vendor! I could have probably shared even longer conversations with everyone, but I am happy I did have a chance to better get to know the brands I was not familiar with as well as the newly or soon-to-be released products. Please feel free to share your thoughts here or with the brands themselves or by using #foodfete on Twitter.
The “good food” trend continues, and I eagerly await the next event while sampling or cooking with the finds from this one. Food is meant to be tasted…so remember: Life’s a tap…drink up ’til it’s dry.
– Daniel Fisher