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.