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?