Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Latest Folks to Get Food Envy? Think Meatballs and Salad



Time to share a few food secrets.

One: I obsess more about meatballs and lingonberry jam than I do about shelves and end tables. Thank you Ikea.

Two: I’m far more curious about clever ways to grow robust lettuce and veggies than I am about how to make a smartphone.



Now I’ll explain:

On the Ikea front, it turns out that A LOT of Ikea shoppers like the iconic Swedish meatballs at the in-store cafes more than they give a hoot about the white furniture. As a result, there’s a chance we’ll see Ikea restaurants in the near future. Don’t laugh, the company already tried out some pop-up restaurants in London, Paris and Oslo. 

Ikea sold $1.8 billion in food in 2016, (compared to about $36 billion in total sales.) And almost a third of the people who eat there, including me and my Mom, ignor the furniture and traipse through the maze of aisles just to get the café for a fun   meal.  As a result, stand-alone Ikea cafes are officially on the drawing board.

Along with the regular beef meatballs, they added chicken and vegan versions, which boosted meatball sales 30%. My fave are chicken balls: I’ve shared my somewhat Swedish recipe below.



About my second secret: Panasonic, Toshiba and Fujitsu are expanding beyond electronic gadgets and quietly growing vegetables in giant indoor farms. Toshiba, for instance, started cultivating spinach, lettuce and sprouts in an idle factory in Japan this year. They are selling the vegetables to grocery stores and restaurants, and expect to bring 300 million yen a year (about $2.6 million).

Apparently it costs about the same to grow food in high-tech factories as on a farm, with far less water and fewer bugs. We’ll have to see where this goes, but it sure brings greenhouses to a whole new level.

Back in another era —about 30 or so years ago—my family co-founded a startup in Sonoma County that grew snow peas indoors, without regular soil.   Boy, oh boy, were those peas tender and sweet. And boy, oh boy, was it a tremendous a lot of work. But it looks like we were waaayyy ahead of our time. Now it’s a thing for tech titans. Who would have guessed?

As promised here’s the meatball recipe. Hope you enjoy.



Swedish-American Chicken Balls



2 lbs. ground chicken

2 large eggs

½ cup bread crumbs

½ cup each: chopped parsley, chopped onion

½ tbsp. each: allspice, nutmeg, garlic powder

1 tbsp. each: salt and fresh ground pepper



Heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine all ingredients and roll in tight, golf-ball size balls and put them on a baking dish that has been oiled. Cook for 20 minutes or until a thermometer says 165 degrees. This makes about 2 dozen.








Monday, June 26, 2017

Here's Why Big Food Should Worry About Chobani



We hear a lot about how there are all these extra ingredients in our grocery-market food – to make the food cheaper to package and store in the warehouse. Yeah, yeah. As long as it tastes good and isn’t packed with animal fat, salt and sugar, we’re happy. 

Cruising the natural food aisles, where the organic, healthy pasta, sauces and such cost twice as much, well that’s a luxury saved for that special meal or party. We can’t expect to eat that kind of food every day.

 Welp, I recently talked to a top exec at the massive yogurt maker Chobani and he says: Wrong!


Chobani is that New York company founded by a Turkish fellow who taught America what decent (Greek) yogurt is all about. Its chief marketing officer Peter McGuinness bristles with disdain toward the giant food companies we know so well, like General Mills and Nabisco. His point: food-making shortcuts are BS. Healthy should be affordable, and affordable food should be healthier. Indie startups, he believes, can lead the way.

Here are a few of McGuinness’ uncensored thoughts:


“At Chobani, we want there to be more good food for regular folks as opposed to the kind of crap that everyone can afford but that their bodies don't want. We want startups to be challengers, like us, in their respective categories, to able to go up against the behemoths.”
 

“The food industry, controlled by a few big entities, lags in both technology and innovation. Big Food uses artificial ingredients and preservatives that were introduced in the 1940s to preserve food for soldiers. But now, that is the lazy and cheap way to make food, and is totally unnecessary. To do without [those additives] you have to clean the factory more often. And if we can do it, with less of a budget than the big companies, then why can't they?”
 
“When big food companies invest in young food startups for a piece of the action, they are actually wolves in sheep's clothing. It may seem like they are helping the entrepreneurs but in reality, they marginalize the startup companies and often change the trajectory of the startups' growth. By taking equity, they are preying on entrepreneurs.” 
 

“Keep in mind, the big traditional food companies are in the startup business because their core business isn't growing and they need the startups’ ideas to redirect their product lines. But there are not enough startups in the world to stem the decline that the traditional food companies face.” 


The whole interview is here.
Speaking of thick yogurt, it’s the season for summer fruit and I’m crazy for fresh cherries, almonds and yogurt (including soy, coconut milk or rice milk yogurt for the non-dairy folks). Another favorite is yogurt with mango or papaya along with cashews. Oh and there’s always nice, shapely grapes (of course) with apples, walnuts and yogurt. Just skip the boring granola please—such a cliché.  

So keep an eye out for those upstart healthy foods creeping onto your grocery shelves. Then scout out your favorite summer fruit…and enjoy!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Taste Buds (if not our Politics) are Getting More Diverse


I find that a great way to foster a glimmer of understanding across cultures is through our taste buds. Since ethnic food is my passion, a cross-cultural experience for me is a traditional meatloaf and macaroni-and-cheese. (And I still feel compelled to spice those up. I guess I still don’t grasp the concept of mac and cheese.) 
It brings back the memory of one of my early visits to my Irish Catholic in-laws. I offered to concoct a noodle soup and asked offhand where the spice drawer was. The response was silence and a puzzled stare. Oops, no points for me.
But I rounded up some seasoned salt, black pepper and lemon and it all worked out.  For later visits I packed my own seasonings, and over the years we got to be great food-friends (curry in scrambled eggs—revolutionary!)

Now, times have caught up.  Interesting and ethnic foods are popping up all over the country, even at chain joints in shopping strips.  And it looks like we haven’t seen anything yet.

Ironic, really. Politics may have gotten whiter, but our food sure as hell isn’t going that way.

South American flavors will influence U.S. eateries and food companies this year more that they already are, according to experts such as the National Restaurant Association. Flavors and ingredients born in Peru, Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil will elbow in on our burger fetish. Ethnic breakfasts, (think breakfast tacos) will get bigger. So will casual and upscale meals inspired by Latin street food. 

In particular, look for these:

Chimichurri: a sauce from Argentina made with garlic, jalapenos, vinegar, cilantro, parley and oregano.

Cuban sandwich: a pressed sandwich made with ham, roasted pork, cheese, mustard and pickles.

Aji peppers: hot, yellow peppers used by Peruvians.

Arepas: Venezuelan cornmeal cakes packed with savory fillings.

Mojo: Cuban sauce made with lemon, orange, garlic, oregano and cumin.

Elote:  Mexican-style grilled corn on the cob brushed with mayo and sprinkled with cheese, cayenne, chili powder and lime juice.

Finally, for dessert, Cajeta: Sweet, tangy caramel sauce from Mexico made from goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk.

Naturally, I can’t wait—here's hoping that eggs and meatloaf will never be the same.

 Sources: National Restaurant Association, Datassential market research, Baum+Whiteman consultants. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why are Venture Capitalists Feeding Us for Free?


Has anyone regaled you with the details, plus pictures, of their latest Blue Apron meal recently?  No? Wait until tomorrow. It’s just a matter of time.

Startup services like Blue Apron that deliver all the ingredients of a meal, plus recipes, are hot, hot, hot!  Venture capital investors are throwing big money at them. (More on that later.)  And since their main marketing tool is offering free trial meals, the VCs are essentially giving away food to anyone who might later consider spending about $10 a person for the groceries to make a meal.

There are tons of these services beyond Blue Apron and by signing up for the free trials of all of them, you could eat some fancy, full-scale dinners for a pittance. Could be the biggest benefit -- besides Uber -- that you personally ever get from techie VCs.

(Find a list of meal kit services below.)

The meal kit phenomenon reminds me of paint-by-the-numbers projects, or buying a shelving unit from IKEA. They give you the instructions and materials and you put the product together yourself.

Seems like the people who really love meal kits after the trial period are busy non-cooks tired of restaurants, who like the thrill of feeling like a Maker.
I know couples in Santa Barbara and the Sonoma wine country who work a lot and are hooked on the convenience and quality. Also, a pair of retired Northern California friends thoroughly enjoy opening their weekly box of  pretty recipes and groceries, like a big Christmas present.  Their only complaint : “No more catfish!”

However, a well-heeled single Silicon Valley friend, who’s both practical and clever, canceled after a week or so because she says the service was too pricey and cookie-cutter for her. 

In my trial with Blue Apron, I fit into the group that happily opens the big box full of surprises, lining up all the cute containers on the counter. But the novelty soon wore off for me. For the amount of time, packaging and dirty dishes, I ended up with just 2 meals at a time.  Plus, the $10-$12 per person would actually take me take me pretty far at the market (Each box has the makings for three meals. Each meal serves 2. Total cost per box: about $60.) And finally, I LIKE to go to my favorite veggie, fruit, meat and bakery vendors and stock up.

Oh yeah, about that VC money. Last year the top  meal-kit companies attracted $477.6 million, more than triple their 2014 haul.

Some meal kit services that want you.
Blue Apron
Freshly
Plated
Sun Basket
Hello Fresh
Home Chef
Munchery
Purple Carrot


Lastly, today's Tasty Tidbit:  Drinkable chilled soup is now a thing.  It’s sold under the brand Zupa Noma only on the West Coast so far. It comes from Sonoma Brands, founded by Jon Sebastiani, yes, he's related to the Sebastiani wine family.
 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What to Plant in Those Hungry Garden Beds? How About Pricey Greens


I think the storms have passed in your town, and everything is growing so fast it takes your breath away. Right?

Welp, that's the way it is here too.
So my thoughts have turned to flowering trees (the orange blossoms are amazing) and what to put in the garden beds.
Beyond the obvious tomatoes, I've been fascinated this year by greens and herbs, especially the ones that are expensive or rare in the market. In years past I've tried nurturing arugula, my favorite bitter green, to no avail, just wasted space and water. But in the meantime, my experimental French sorrel, the tangy green you can never find, well, it's been taking off. It grows in big bunches yearound and loves to be trimmed back.
So this year I've taken the hint from Mother Nature.  I've given my hardy sorrel more space and gathered up recipes for Springtime sorrel dishes, beyond simple salads.

(And the same philosophy applies to my herbs. Are they expensive, aromatic and tough little suckers? Then are in. Tarragon is on the list. Thai basil is too. I'm on the lookout for more; suggestions welcome.)

So this spring I recommend you look for sorrel seeds or seedlings at the organic herb rack of the nursery. You won't regret it.
Here's a traditional French Sorrel soup from a French cook Eve Hill-Agnus.
You can read about Eve's love affair with sorrel here.

Classic Sorrel Soup 

2 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 large onion
2 potatoes, peeled, diced
2 cups water
1 large bunch chard, chopped 
2 dozen leaves of sorrel, chopped 
1 cup milk
salt, pepper, pinch of nutmeg

Sauté onion and potato in butter or oil about 6 minutes. Add water, chard and sorrel and salt. After greens have wilted, simmer for 10 minutes. Puree and then return to the stove over medium heat. Stir in milk.
Season to taste with pepper, nutmeg and a little more salt. Serves 2-4.

Enjoy with grilled chicken or fish, San Francisco sourdough bread and a delicate Sauvignon Blanc

Oh yeah, and I ended up planting that arugula again, and this really is the last time.
cheers,

Joan 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Vermouth is Better Than Your Wine



You don't have to believe me about Vermouth, just ask Ernest Hemingway. A friend recently gave me a book about Hemingway's writing and cocktail recipes, "To Have and Have Another" by Philip Greene, and between all the reverence for Champagne (his Paris era)  and  rum coconut drinks (his Florida era), something else caught my eye. 

It was the way the American legend used vermouth, both sweet and dry. Native to Italy and France, vermouth is wine that has been mixed with herbs and other botanicals and fortified with unaged brandy. It seems to have all my favorite liquid elements.  Papa Hemingway concocted a drink with both types of vermouth and a dash of bitters (another of my favorite cocktail components.)
So it's like a meal with side dishes, but not the meat.   

Anyway, it's something you can make at home or get in any bar -- if there is no yummy local wine or microbrew around. Or any time you want something different and pretty, that isn't a martini. 

In going along with the no-meat theme, it's particularly nice to sip before enjoying  a hearty vegetable and barley soup with warm, crusty bread. 
So if the mood ever hits you, give it a try and have a healthy evening --- in literary style.

Vermouth Panache

2 oz. dry French vermouth

1 oz. sweet Italian vermouth

1 dash Angostura bitters (or other bitters) 

Lemon peel

Fill a glass with ice, add ingredients and stir.

Enjoy,
Joan


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin Fever -- Wine, Beer, Butter, Whatever


What is up with all the pumpkin excitement this year? Coffee drinks, soup, pancakes, beer, store windows, house decorations spilling from the porch to the walkways....pumpkins of all sizes and strains are everywhere.

I think it is just great.

To get in the spirit I made a pumpkin coffee cake for Halloween night with extra ginger. Yummy.
A few days later, stuck in a raucous airport terminal (JFK, you're better, but why so much fast food and noise?) we calmed ourselves with pumpkin frozen yogurt topped with dark chocolate chips.
Yeah, and my decorations for Thanksgiving are tiny pumpkins.

All that bright orange pumpkin is happily healthy. It's loaded with the minerals and the antioxidant, beta-carotene, which helps our busy bodies fight cancer, heart problems and helps us feel younger than our years. Not too shabby.


So, the burning question is: what types of wine go with pumpkin?
Welp, if the pumpkin is savory with herbs like sage, thyme and onions, a light Pinot Noir is nice.
If it is in a creamy soup, try a Sauvignon Blanc.
And if it is sweet -- in a pie or (yes) bread pudding, you can go with a Sauterne or a delicate Champagne. Or just try a pumpkin beer, if you must.

The thing is pumpkin fever will pass after a month or so, and then what are we going to do? That's   why I make and store pumpkin butter, with lots of sweet spices. Excellent on crusty toast or Greek yogurt, with a big mug of cinnamon tea. Who cares if it's raining outside.

Easy Pumpkin Butter

4 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup honey or maple syrup
1/2 cup apple juice
2 tsp. ground ginger 
1 tsp each -- cinnamon, nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves

Combine everything in a crockpot, cook on medium-low for about 6 hours, with the lid slightly askew to let the steam out.
Afterwards, store in the fridge. 

(BTW: the top photo is courtesy of Smithsonian.com and Flickr user GmanViz.)

Stay warm,
Joan