Cool Yule, volume 2

December 2, 2009

Struggling with gift ideas for the cooks on your list? Here are two great ideas — one a bit extravagant and one less expensive -– that are sure to make the grade and not likely to be in their cupboards already:

‘I like you!” gift idea: Cupcake pens can be used to decorate all kinds of baked goods whether you’ve got artistic flair or two hands worth of thumbs.

“I love you!” gift idea: Yogurt makers aren’t just for people who wear sandals and socks (They used to be but things have changed now – I checked.) and this one is the Mac daddy of them all offering flexible timing options and the ability to make up to 8 flavours at a time! Seriously, 8 flavours.

If you’re an avid cook, what’s on your wish list this holiday season?

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Topline Trends Tuesday: Is less more?

December 1, 2009

For a few decades, food product manufacturers had a lot a fun tossing all kinds of special ingredients into their products. People liked it. In fact, they bought crazy stuff like freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for their kids as a fun treat. It was good to be a food manufacturer with a chemistry set. And then, it wasn’t.

People finally decided that weird stuff in their food might do weird stuff to their bodies and they started to make it less fun to be a food chemical maker or one of the food producers hooked on chemicals.

In fact, recent research shows that:
• 63% of consumers want to recognize all ingredients on a label
• 34% want as few ingredients on a label as possible

The good news is that food companies are pretty resilient. Already a lot of them are putting away their chemistry sets and giving people what they want.

It’s true. Consider Haagen Dazs Five and Pillsbury Simply Cookies (available in the USA) and Back to Nature Nut Blends. Each is produced by a huge company (Nestle, General Mills and Kraft to be exact) and all of these products have ingredient labels where every ingredient is familiar. It’s so retro, it’s modern.

Would you pay more for a similar product that offered you less additives and manufacturing ingredients?

Love learning about food trends? Subscribe to my Topline Trends newsletter now to receive my 2010 Food Trends Predictions when they go live on December 15th.


Uh oh!

November 30, 2009

Photo: James Tse

According to a study by Ketchum that was reported in the February issue of Canadian Grocer magazine, 78% of Canadians would like to get their food from local farms or companies by 2020.  Regrettably, this isn’t likely since as Rebecca LeHuep, executive director of the  Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance pointed out in the September issue of that same magazine, “by 2012, more than 60% of farmers and farm managers will be retiring. The average age of a farmer is about 57 and he doesn’t have a succession plan for his farm.” In an email correspondence Rebecca shares another grim stat that between 1991 and 2001 Ontario lost 135 of its farmers.

Beyond the fact that these stats reveal a disappointing gap between Canadian consumer aspirations and the reality of farming situation, LeHeup’s comments point out that we may be en route to becoming a society almost solely dependent on other countries for food.

Would you ever consider being a farmer?  Or, if you are a farmer, is it a career choice you’d make again?


If I had one dollar

November 26, 2009

Shredded Money Taco Too

I just love Twitter. I know it sounds lame and I used to scoff at it, but seriously, it’s turning into such a useful tool.

Just the other day, @jambutter tweeted about how many calories a US dollar could buy. I tweeted back and asked for source info and he passed on a note that the stats came from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This “research” took about 45 seconds.

I did a little further digging and I found this Time Magazine article that summarized the source data well but I’ve put it in my own format:

$1US = 1200 calories of potato chips
$1US = 875 calories of soda
$1US = 250 calories of vegetables
$1US = 170 calories of fresh fruit.

Now, the obvious point is that potato chips and soda drinks are more calorie dense than fruit and veggies so you get more calories for your dollar; however, they are not more nutrient dense and that means you eat more of them to feel satisfied.

To put these stats into perspective, I turned to my colleague professional home economist Amy Snider-Whitson who always has something to say about nutrition:

“This is why we have an epidemic of obesity and people suffering from chronic diseases that healthy diets could help to prevent (…and, no wonder people can’t grasp portion control when you buy a cheap snack and end up eating half a day’s calories!).

Unfortunately, the way we produce food today makes the nutritious choice often much more expensive. So, people choose calories over content. While many, many people consume too many calories on a daily basis, not one of us can say that we are getting too many essential nutrients. One consolation is that if we invest today in choosing nutrient dense foods, we might save health care dollars in the future.”

When you’re shopping, do you consciously plan how much of your budget is spent on nutrient dense foods? Or do the ‘chips’ (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) fall where they may?


Cool Yule

November 25, 2009

Christmas is one month away as of today. I’m stunned, to be honest. I really can’t believe that the year is almost over (life is moving so fast that I almost feel like it’s flashing before my eyes!)

Given the symmetry of the date, I’ve chosen today to launch my holiday gift guide series that I’m calling Cool Yule. Anyone can toss a bottle of wine in gift bag and make a gracious offering; however, giving gifts that are on trend and show off your good taste is so much better, don’t you think?

At about $300 I’ve chosen a high ticket item to kick off Cool Yule 2009; however, it’s just so perfect for the oenephile (that’s a wine lover, btw) on your list. This wine essence set features 40 aroma flasks that can be used to help train your nose and isolate the aromas in wine.

Besides being a great gift for a wine lover, it’s also fun to pull out at a wine tasting, so if you’re planning one during the holidays, it might make a good gift for yourself, too.

Smaller kits featuring 12 aromas commonly noted in white or red wine are also available at a considerably lower price.

Contact Browne & Co. in Canada for information on availability in your area.


Topline Trends Tuesday: Ramen

November 24, 2009

Photo credit: http://www.japundit.com/tag/robots

For most North Americans the word ramen is synonymous with super salty, MSG-laced cups of noodles eaten in funky smelling dorm rooms, but that perception is changing.

In cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, ramen restaurants that treat these convenient noodles with care and respect are becoming popular; meanwhile, in Japan, ramen joints are so popular that ramen-making robots are tirelessly employed producing bowls of noodles all day long (that’s a ramen robot pictured above in fact.)

According to National Post restaurant reviewer Gina Mallet (who wrote about Toronto’s Liberty Noodle in her column last week), ramen is a big part of Japanese culture today with “5000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone, small places mostly, where you buy a ticket and stand to eat.” She elaborates that “when the Japanese are not scoffing instant ramen in a Styrofoam cup, they are watching ramen shows on TV, ramen award shows, or they’re scouring the neighbourhood for the newest rave. Japanese are ruthless gourmands.”

I admit to having eaten my fair share of low rent ramen when I was younger. What’s your experience? Have you had ramen in a restaurant? And, if you eat the instant ramen, is it a guilty pleasure or a proud pop-culture statement?

Hungry for more food trend info? Sign up for the Topline Trends newsletter. It will nourish your brain!


It’s perfect weather for…

November 5, 2009

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Now that I’ve been blogging for so long (over two years!), it’s becoming harder to post about my favourite fall comfort foods since, at least at this time of year, I like to rediscover my favourite fall dishes. It’s not until later in the autumn that fatigue sets in and I start to experiment.

So, in case you missed them the first time or in case you’re new here, today and tomorrow I’m featuring a glossary of my favourite fall food posts from the last two years.

On the roster today:

Savoury autumn favourites:
Double cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese
Zesty lasagna
Roasted Chicken broth for soup
Lemon parsnip soup
Sausages with onions, apples and Swiss cheese

What savoury recipe epitomizes autumn for you? Feel free to add links to your own posts and favourite sites so that it’s easy for us all to try out your ideas.