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.

Weekend Party Trick: 60-second appetizer

November 20, 2009


The challenge: make a great looking appetizer that tastes fantastic in less time than it takes to wiggle into your party clothes.

The solution: Fruit and Nut topped Camembert

1 wheel Camembert or Brie cheese
Liquid honey
1 handful Back to Nature Raisins, Almonds, Pumpkin Seeds, Pecans and Apricots blend

Place the cheese on a platter and drizzle with some honey. Mound some of the trail mix on top. Drizzle with a bit more honey and serve with grapes, apple slices and crackers.

Need a wine match? Try an off-dry Riesling for white drinkers or a light, fruity pinot noir for a red choice. Can’t decide between red or white? Prosecco is a great match, too!

Now that you’ve seen my favourite party trick, tell me about yours!

Bonfire envy

November 11, 2009

marshmallows toastingGenerally, I love being a Canadian — but when I learned last week that Brits have a Bonfire Night every November 5th to celebrate the capture of renegade Guy Fawkes in 1605, I was bitter. Why don’t Canadians have a bonfire night? Just for surviving our crazy climate we deserve a bonfire. We do! We really, really do!

So, since we have no culturally sanctioned bonfire holidays here, I decided to put my pyromaniac urges to good use by lighting up the charcoal grill over the weekend while I was raking leaves.

During the summer, standing over a smoky, hot charcoal grill can be uncomfortably hot. But, stoking up the coals as you do your yard cleanup in the fall is actually a pretty fantastic way to make an afternoon spent outside in the crisp fall air more enjoyable.

So, why not create a low and slow grilled brisket or flat chicken this weekend? Or, just use the hot coals to make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and to warm your hands after planting bulbs?

Be sure to have lots of marshmallows around and cups of hot chocolate so that you can bribe your helpers to stick around and help for more than a few minutes!

Is your grill kit packed away for the winter or are you still grilling and barbecuing?

It’s perfect weather for…

November 5, 2009


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.

Topline Trends Tuesday: Stats prove more Canadians going nuts

September 29, 2009


Despite allergy fears and warnings that prevent nuts from being available in schools and many other public places, Canadians are eating more nuts than ever before. While general nut consumption in Canada grew by 14% last year, trail mix growth increased by 22% as people discover these foods as healthier snack choices.

Our household certainly reflects these trends. While peanuts, pistachios, pine nuts and hazelnuts are never served at our house due to Martin’s allergy to them, I started to buy lots of dried fruit and nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pecans last spring. My son Oliver is literally always hungry in the evening. He’s still weeks shy of his 13th birthday and already 5’ 10” tall but only around 130 lbs so he has good reason to eat a lot. And, once he’s had his food groups for the day, I’m fine with him eating ice cream and cookies.

Problems arose when I realized that I’d fallen into the habit of buying him chips on a regular basis. Eating high fat, processed, salty snacks is a habit that I don’t want him to develop. So, I started laying out bowls of nuts and dried fruits in our TV room and guess what? Chip consumption plummeted.

We’re also true to trend when it comes to who in our family dips into which bowl. Recent research indicates that 65% of younger snackers opt for fruity blends or candy coated nuts and I must say that Oliver is our biggest dried fruit consumer (although I’ve been eating an awful lot of the Back to Nature chocolate almond and cranberry blend since I discovered it earlier this month!) Meanwhile, Martin and I are like the 54% of older consumers who say they prefer plain or raw nuts.

What about you? Does your nut consumption conform to these stats or are you a maverick?

Note: The autumn issue of my online quarterly food trend newsletter Topline Trends will be live by the end of the day! Read all the yummy details!

Kids stuff

September 23, 2009

caramel appl

The wonderful autumn tradition of caramel apples brings out the kid in all of us. After all, who hasn’t sunk their teeth into a sticky, gooey, messy caramel apple at least once in their life?

I created the following recipe years ago for Gardening Life magazine and it’s still a favourite I pull out and use once every autumn, usually right after Oliver and I get back from Pine Orchard Farms where we pick apples every year.

Caramel Apples

6 unwaxed small granny smith, royal gala, Macintosh or other apples
Popsicle or lolli sticks
1 cup (250 mL) each granulated sugar and light brown sugar
3/4 cup (175 mL) 35 % whipping cream
1/4 cup (60 mL) corn syrup
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
pinch salt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
Chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds or peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, etc

Polish the clean apples with a clean, dry dishtowel until completely dry and smooth. Insert a popsicle or candy stick into the stem end of each apple. Place a parchment lined baking pan in the refrigerator.

In a medium, deep, dry saucepan combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, whipping cream, butter, corn syrup and salt. Place pan over medium heat and stir often until sugar is dissolved and caramel is bubbling. If necessary, brush down the sides of the pan once or twice with water to dissolve any sugar crystals clinging to the sides.

Place a candy thermometer into the saucepan and increase the heat to medium-high. Boil caramel, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 240 F (115 C).

Remove the pan from the heat. Shielding hands with oven mitts, stir in vanilla. Let caramel stand with the thermometer in the mixture until the temperature falls to 200 F (100 C), from 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the baking sheet from the fridge. Place over a baking pan filled with ice cubes.

Dip and slowly turn the apples in caramel until coated all over. Transfer to the chilled baking sheet. Let stand while you dip remaining apples. Fold any caramel that pools under the apples. Dip coated apples into chopped nuts or candy sprinkles, pressing the garnished lightly into the bottom and up the sides of the apples; chill until set. Makes 6 servings.

When’s the last time you had a caramel or candy apple?

PB imposters

September 14, 2009


Remember the seventies? I do. It’s memorable for so many reasons. My mom’s hair was teased almost as high as Marge Simpson’s, I had a drawer full of ‘hot pants’ and my cousin Diane had shiny white go-go boots that I coveted with all my heart even though her feet were 3 sizes bigger than mine. We also ate peanut butter with abandon in those days. You name the place and peanut butter was there: even on school trips and at brownie camp. In fact, it was slathered thickly and generously over bread and crackers just about everywhere kids congregated.

Today, of course, that’s all changed. As I wrote in an article for Canadian Health & Lifestyle that will be out in their fall issue, peanut allergies have one of the highest incidences of producing rapid, life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis, which can lead to cardiac arrest and causes 150 deaths a year.

Needless to say, this problem means that as ubiquitous as it once was, peanut butter is no longer allowed at school or day care. New products are being launched to fill this empty niche so that non-allergic kids and adults can enjoy a peanut butter-style experience away from home. Sabrina and I tasted a couple of these new options last week and offer you our tasting notes below:

No Nuts Golden Pea Butter: while this gluten- and cholesterol-free blend of dried peas has a great texture that mimics peanut butter well, we agreed that it could use a bit of salt to perk up the flavour. While pea butter doesn’t taste exactly like peanut butter and may not satisfy the palates of die-hard peanut butter fans, it can be used as a direct substitute in all recipes that call for peanut butter, which is a bonus for bake sales and lunch box treat-makers.

Blue Diamond Creamy Almond Butter: Although still not appropriate for school use, this product has the texture of natural-style peanut butter. The taste doesn’t mimic peanut butter but delivers a true roasted almond flavour. We both thought this product offered predominantly adult appeal. Although we didn’t try baking with it, our experience has proven that this texture doesn’t usually work in recipes developed for conventional peanut butter.

Are you a peanut butter lover? If so, do you eat the natural stuff or the kind that reigned supreme in my suburban seventies childhood?