Sunday, January 25, 2015

GINGER GULP

LAST WEEK'S TASTE-OFF feature on the topic of ginger brews that ran in the San Jose Mercury News caught the attention of more than one fan of ginger beer. Several readers were disappointed that I did not include Maine Root in the lineup. Well, I was disappointed too. I couldn't find it in the Bay Area stores I visited -- all 6 of them -- and when I contacted the company, they ignored my request. Oh well.
The good news is that I did manage to pinpoint some awesome ginger brews for that next Moscow Mule. Top picks are Fever Tree and Q, both packed with authentic ginger flavor, including the citrus, spice and heat. They're bot made from a trio of ginger varieties, which may be one of the secrets to great ginger brew.
Other wins include the bargain-priced Gosling's and Reed's, which has a tame flavor profile compared to some of the others. The worst of the bunch, in my opinion, is the Stoli ginger beer that's sold in cans -- it tastes like sugar water -- and Barritt's. I know that Barritt's has some fans, but I am not one of them. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

FOOD COMA

IT HAPPENS EVERY January. I get so excited about attending the annual Fancy Food Show in San Francisco... and I go... then I get so overwhelmed that I enter a food coma that lasts for days. The show, a chance for food purveyors to serve up bites of their best and most popular, is like a circus, a carnival and an edible theme park ride all in one.
The best chocolate, the best oil, the best cracker, the best ice cream, the best cookie, the best cheese, the best yogurt, the best nut, the best energy bar, the best salami... The list goes on. Every year, I think that I will be able to find all of the above and more. But it's just not possible.
What is possible is to pinpoint some really special, fun and new (or new-to-me) bites to share with you. Here are details on a few:
BLUE HILL YOGURT savory yogurts. Think butternut squash, tomato, beets, parsnips, sweet potato. I know it sounds odd, but this Colorado company knows what it's doing. The yogurt is not yet widely available, but look for it. It's more delicious than you can imagine. $2.99 for a 6-ounce cup.
REPUBLIC OF TEA HI CAF CINNAMON TOAST BLACK TEA tastes like cinnamon toast in a cup, has no calories, and delivers all the caffeine you need to start your day. I can't think of a more perfect tea. A tin is about $13.
THE BACON JAMS are exactly what lovers of bacon want. It's little bits of toasty bacon stirred into sweet jam. You would think it would be a fatty mess -- or be made from fake bacon, but it's not. It's real bacon with the fat cooked out and while it's a little odd, I have to admit that it wakes up your palate. It comes in a range of flavors. The original is my favorite. It's $13.99 a jar.
CITRIBURST is a fruit that I have never heard of, let alone tasted. They are funny finger-shaped limes that are filled with caviar-like bits of lime. The little balls are crispy and sour -- a super-fun addition to any dish that needs a citrus kick. These fall under the category of: Who knew?
MOONSHINE TRADING COMPANY APRICOT HONEY SPREAD that tastes like bonifide dried apricots actually exists, and it's made in the tiny town of Woodland, CA. This spread tastes like the best dried apricot you have ever eaten (not those tasteless Turkish ones.) This wouldn't last a week in my house. I'd eat it straight from the jar as dessert.
 
 

Friday, January 9, 2015

NEW YEAR: NEW BITES

CHILLY WINTER NIGHTS are a perfect excuse for shelving the car keys and opting to crank up the heat on your oven a stove, and cook up something worthy of 2015. Thankfully, chefs and cookbook authors are at the ready, offering up a multitude of books packed with fresh ideas for putting a great meal on the table. Here's a rundown on some interesting titles.
Sheet Pan Suppers ($15.95, Workman) by Molly Gilbert
If you have a sheet pan, you are set to cook through this book, which includes inventive meals that require little more than a sheet pan and some fresh ingredients. Recipes range from flatbrerads to French toast, ratatouille to roasted chickpeas. The recipes are simple and fast, with flavors all over the board.
 
GoodCheapEats ($16.95, Harvard Common Press) by Jessica Fisher
If you're into simple recipes that promise good food with little fuss, this is a good pick. The recipes skip fancy techniques and ingredients and focus on basic, yet good dishes that are likely to appeal to kids and other mainstream eaters.
America's Test Kitchen Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution ($26.95)
If you are ready to put that slow cooker in your cupboard to work this year, this is the book you need. It doesn't offer short-cuts to healthy, home-cooked meals, but it does extend convenience for those who like to cook but have lots of places to be at various times of the day. There are recipes for everything from enchiladas to mashed potatoes, all of which require a bit of prep and pre-roasting or sauteeing. But the results are a healthy meal at the ready when the family is hungry.
Cooking Light Cooking through the Seasons, ($29.99 Oxmoor House)
Think American favorite -- with a creative twist. The recipes in this book are guaranteed to make you hungry -- and to entice you back into the kitchen to cook up a feast. A sneak preview of the recipies: Nectarine-Radish Salsa, Pumpkin and Yellow Pepper Soup with Smoked Paprika, Roasted Sweet Potato and Orange Salad, Gaarlicky Lima Bean Spread, Braised Leeks with Warm Pancetta Dressing... I want to make and taste every dish. As an added bonus, this book has great pictures and lots of tips about dealing with fresh produce.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

CRUNCHABLES

GOOD THING SUPER BOWL follows on the heels of December parties. I was supposed to share opinions about a host of crunchy snacks several weeks ago -- but for the last few weeks, my fingers have been stuck together with either tape or chocolate -- or both.
So, at long last, here's my report on some pretty delicious crunchables that came across my desk this season:
Stacy's Salted Caramel Pita Chips
Wait until all of the holiday sweets are out of the house -- then bring in a bag of these. They are so crunchy and delicious. They're sweet and salty -- exactly what you want. I was surprised that they are a relatively healthy snack -- 130 calories per serving. Find them at most grocers -- but find them quick! They are limited release -- so whatever is on the shelf is all they intend to make (so they say.) A 7.33-ounce bag is about $3.99.
Stonefire Naan Crisps
I saved both bags of these crisps -- the empty bags -- because they were just so delicious. They call them flame-baked, which is probably why they have such a nice crunch. I love that they are packed with lots of different grains and flavors that are baked into the cracker bread -- not dusted on the outside so that they quash the goodness. www.stonefire.com
Near East Multigrain Chips
Tasty chips with a good blend of grainy flavors that are not so hearty that mainstream friends won't like them. They have just the right crunch -- AND they are made with a range of grains and legumes that boost nutrition in a huge way. These are some of the best I have tried -- and I have tried many. A 7-ounce bag is about $3.99. www.neareast.com


 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

NOTEWORTHY SIPS

DIETS AND EXERCISE are great New Year's resolutions. No argument. But here's another: Drink better wine in 2015. Just in case you agree, here are a few picks you might want to add to your wine cellar:
Photo of harvest season in Umbria courtesy Perticaia.

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2011, $29

This is the kind of wine that makes me want to book a flight to Italy: It's bright, full and bursting with red fruit flavors that are balanced by earthy notes and stout tannins. The wine is great right now, but I suggest buying a four-pack and cellaring the other three for another year. The wine is distributed by Wine Warehouse in California.www.winewarehouse.com


Perticaia Sagrantino di Montefalco 2008, $47

Layers of dark cherry and plum, a hint of forest and just a touch of spice make this ultra-elegant, perfectly aged Italian red from Umbria a solid pick for a special occasion. The wine, made with primarily Sangiovese grapes, is the perfect bridge between bold and restrained; it's big but in a refined way.The wine is distributed by Maximilian Schweisfurth in California. Find it online at: http://www.buywineusa.com/Perticaia.aspx
 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

EYEBALL JUICE

I HAD MY FIRST swig of chia juice thanks to samples of Mamma Chia, and while I couldn't quite shake the idea that I was swallowing a mouthful of guppy eyeballs, I have to admit that it was more than just OK. I actually liked it. The fruity flavors are great -- especially the Blackberry Blast and the Raspberry Razz -- and they are not too sweet.
Flavor aside, the real reason to drink these wacky chia beverages found in the deli case of natural supermarkets are the health benefits. They are loaded with Omega-3's, have lots of fiber, a bit of protein, and (Yay!) a hit of natural caffeine -- and just 120 calories. Impressive. A 10-ounce bottle is about $2.99 and can be found at gourmet and natural supermarkets. www.mammachia.com