Saturday, December 8, 2007

Have yourself a merry little endive

Where's all this endive coming from suddenly? I've been to three schmantzy holiday parties and all three served spreads on endive rather than on crackers or breads. Endive leaves provide nifty little canoes for food: they variously carried a chicken salad, a nut concoction and a seafoody mix. They're perfectly engineered for the task and make everything taste fresh. Bring on the endives and stuffing!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Where you will eat next Black Friday

In Chico, California this Thanksgiving weekend, the streets seemed empty until Friday evening. Then, suddenly, crowds formed outside a small restaurant whose food was the antithesis of turkey, stuffing and pie. Sushi, what else? You had to wait an hour to get into the Rawbar on Main St.. How do I know? I had the same idea.

What became the substitute we could all agree on? Why, tapas at a wine bar. That filled up, too, but later--probably after sushi hopefuls had given up on getting in.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Eating goose liver pate in Chicago

My favorite hideaway, Café Bernard has sold paté for decades. Now they don't because it's outlawed in Chicago--but that doesn't mean you can't eat it. Now you order the cornichons and they GIVE your the paté.

A perfect French solution, no laws are broken but neither are they followed.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two Chicago food CEO's

With Brenda Barnes in the CEO spot at Sara Lee and Irene Rosenberg now running Kraft, Chicago boasts two respected women CEO's in the food world. Kraft has added a health and wellness program and limited food marketing to children, Sara Lee will be bringing out lots of new products next year.

They probably both love to shop at Target--which also represents their worst nightmare. It has brought its impeccable nose for trends into the exploding world of store brands. Witness the cover of today's circular --Archer Farm's brand BLUE Corn Tortilla Chips, Spinach and Artichokes Purses, High Protein Cinnamon Cereal.

Whatever can Mac & Cheese or Pound Cake do to keep up?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Raw Chocolate?

Jessica Turano tells me that raw chocolate is big in Europe and full of healthy properties. You can't find it here in Chicago unless you're her friend. She makes it herself with secret ambrosial ingredients.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sepia in Chicago, yum

In an unlikely neighborhood in the west loop, a little restaurant has appeared. It manages to be both exquisite and unpretentious. And it has unpasteurized Manchego cheese! But fine dining is Maggie's area, so I'll take her there when she's back from school and let her write about it here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Aquapod on the loose!

Stepping out of a "paint your own pottery" party on Armitage this morning, an eight-year-old girl lost her grip on her small, fat-bellied Aquapod of Nestlé Water. It rolled down the sloped sidewalk till her mother made a diving save. Nice to see that a company has made water festive enough to be a party drink!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Technorati Profile

cross-dressing your package

It's Back-to-School time and that means new clothes--for food products trying to elbow their way into lunch boxes. Slim Jim turns up in a small stick pack usually favored by candy and coffee. These come inside a canister like a Pringles pack. Brilliant! I also tip my hat to LiveActive pineapple/cottage cheese that appears in a yogurt cup. And let's pay homage here to bagels and pita and pretzel "flats" that New York Style has tranformed to chips. May the best costume win!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

offering food to kids who aren't hungry

The airport on Thursday reminded me of the Farmer's Market I told you about, in that when I was picking up my water for the flight i heard mothers asking kids if they wanted cookies, chips. The kids weren't thinking about food, they were excited to watch the airplanes--a sight that bored the mothers.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Mott's for Tots

Mott's gets a thumbs-up for its simple and smart product line for young toddlers. Bright colors, rounded shapes, and fruits with facial features (faces are the first things that babies recognize). Babies will light up when they see the boxes, which will make moms happy, which will make this product a big success.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kellogg's: United Through Reading

Through an touching promotion, military parents in Iraq can read to their children back home--and Kellogg's will transmit the video for free, so the child can watch the parent tell a bedtime story.

If you love Raisin Bran and Frosted Flakes, you may have a chance to earn a free book and a "visit" with your loved one.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Paisleys and portion control

Maggie says that she's asked to create beautiful plates. What a great place to start in the quest for sensible portions--painted paisleys (or planets) rather than heaps of food! Prepared Foods magazine provides these stats about the growth of portion sizes.

Calories: portion. 20 years ago/ today

Bagel 140/ 350
Spaghetti/Meatballs 500/ 1,025
French Fries 210/ 610
Soda 88/ 250
Turkey sandwich 320/ 830
Popcorn 270/ 630
Pepperoni Pizza 600/ 950

Today at the farmer's market, I saw another toddler eating a giant muffin (was 210, now 500). I wish Maggie could have turned it into sumptuous desserts for three by dividing it artfully and adding tiny chocolate culicues.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Getting back to the roots

Freshly inspired by a Horticulture class and a stint as a pottery painter at Terra Cottage, I began an internship as a pastry cook at a Mediterranean restaurant and have been surprised by how often I am called on to use my newly acquired environmental knowledge and artistic ability.

No matter how many restaurants change their menu based on food trends (pomegranate vinagrette one day, kumquat the next), mine bases theirs, not on what is popular with foodie magazines, but on what is current with Mother Nature. Origins gain importance: we don't serve Just Vanilla ice cream, we serve Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream. As people become more environmentally-concious, they become more concerned with how and where their food is made. Yesterday, we received an idyllic bushel of fresh-picked peaches from a friendly local farmer. The kitchen revelled in the freshness, the unbearable sweetness and the sheer purity of the fruit. But there was one dilemma that I imagine many chefs must struggle with: how can one possibly improve upon a ripe summer peach? It's not an option to charge a patron $7 for a plain piece of fruit, but we can't go too far before we miss the point of using fresh produce.

With this new and almost provincial attention to the value of home-grown food, many chefs are reverting to the classics--the dishes that exhibit the flavors of their carefully chosen ingredients. A few years ago, architectural feats of presentation were popular but now chefs seem more understated. A little powdered sugar or an elegant chocolate curl is all the dessert plate requires; they want no more of that old-fangled fussiness. The fanciest I was allowed to get was a simple paisley pattern made of raspberry sauce (a pattern I had painted on a dipping bowl earlier in the day) next to a molded white chocolate mousse with berries arranged on top. Although the rules of baking are strict, the chef encourages us to experiment with the plating. In keeping with the foodie morals he keeps up in the rest of the restuarant, he tells us to make it as beautiful as we can--but not to get carried away.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Apple Dippers slip into stores

As if to prove the previous post, Dominick's finer foods in Chicago has begun to offer a big platter of pre-sliced apples along with a little cup of dipping caramel. It super-sizes McDonald's little single-serve Apple Dippers.

Last Tuesday evening a group of six kids, ages 9-13, dove into the apples with gusto, even though their statistically favorite food, pizza, was in arm's reach. What a boon for a mom with a birthday party coming up!

A perfect example of a food trend launched by a restaurant that's followed closely in grocery (quite profitably, this time, without the help of a package goods company).

Monday, July 9, 2007

From restaurant chains to grocery shelves

Here's a trend lesson I learned from Chicken McNuggets: when a new food gets popular in a restaurant, consumer packaged goods soon follow. That's not true the other way around. Three of today's examples are 1. burritos 2. ready-to-drink specialty coffees 3. smoothies. Restaurants benefit from quick feedback--especially quick-serve restaurants. Which came first, the Happy Meal or the Lunchable?