It’s a tough job…but someone’s gotta go out there and taste the 80,000-plus specialty food items that will be competing for your precious dollar in 2009.
Here are some of the “best bites” that I found at this week’s 34th Winter Fancy Food Show, held at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. (For an overview of the annual food-fest, please see yesterday’s post, below.)
CHOC-O-LAIT is a swizzle stick with a luscious cube of Belgian chocolate and creamy ganache at one end. Said to be the original way to make hot chocolate (funny, I thought Nestle’s Quik got that honor), the Choc-o-lait is designed to be plunged into a cup of steamed milk, and swirled around ‘til the cube turns the milk into haute cocoa. It comes in four flavors (dark, milk, nut and Cointreau). The elegant cubes are just coming into the American marketplace (from England). You can find them on-line at ChocolateSource.com for about $2 each.
JOSEPH BANKS CASSAVA CHIPS Introduced to the marketplace last summer, these root chips are terrific. Impeccable crisp texture. Excellent vitamin C and fiber profile. Four flavors, including an irresistible “Chilli and Kaffir Lime.” But there are a couple factoids about the chips worth noting. First, they’re cooked in palm oil, which a spokesperson said makes the extreme crispiness possible. Also, the chips come from Indonesia, a part of the world not particularly known for strict quality control and one with plenty of problems these days. I’m not saying the Indonesia passport would keep me from buying a product…but it seems to me that there might be an equally good product made elsewhere?
B. T. MC ELRATH CHOCOLATE BARS. Brian McElrath, one of my favorite chocolatiers, has “reinterpreted” his best-selling truffles into bars. Unlike the truffles (pictured here), the bars contain no cream and have a longer shelf life. I loved the simple, sublime Salty Dog Chocolate Bar of dark chocolate, toffee bits and salt. Let it melt slowly on your tongue and you’ll be amazed at the many layers of flavor and texture sensation. The Passion Fruit and Tangerine Chocolate bar is delicious, too. The new bars are due in markets and specialty stores on February 16th.
HOT SQUEEZE SWEET HEAT CHIPOTLE SAUCE. Nothing fancy. Just a well-made, sweet-smoky-spicy sauce that makes everything taste better. About 7 bucks in such stores as Metropolitan Market, Whole Foods, Krogers and Cost Plus.
BALSAMIC HONEY VINEGAR is, first off, not really balsamic vinegar, the best of which comes from Italy. Rather, this tasty product is made right here in the US of A by a fifth-generation family of beekeepers. It’s made from pure honey in the style of balsamic vinegar which involves fermentation and aging in oak among other steps.
I tasted it plain and loved the hint of sweetness and the sassy tang. It’s very smooth, without the “catch” in the throat of other vinegars. It’s available on-line for about $12 (8.5 ounces) at HoneyRidgeFarms.com and at Amazon.com.
BELLA CHI-CHA TORTAS With these layered cheese-and-pesto concoctions on hand in the fridge, impromptu happy hours get a lot happier. Six flavors are offered including a three-layered affair with fresh basil and sun-dried tomatoes and, my favorite, a gorgonzola wonder with figs, honey and balsamic vinegar.
SILVER MOON LIQUEUR-INFUSED ICE CREAM & SORBETS will not be on store shelves until March. I’m planning to be first in line to get another slurp of the Orange Creamsicle ice cream made with crème fraiche, Cointreau and swirls of candied orange peel. That happened to be my favorite at the show, but I’m not likely to turn down a bowl of Bourbon Vanilla Bean, Lavender Limoncello or Crème de Mint Chip either.
VOSGES BLACK PEARLS are as elegant as classic white pearls on a little black dress. Made by the high-profile Chicago chocolatier Vosges, the Black Pearl Bombolinas are dark chocolate-covered cashews with wasabi and ginger. I also loved the Naga Mango, thin wisps of dried mango dusted with sweet curry and enrobed in 62 percent dark chocolate. They cost about $9 a box at Vosges.com
FIGAMAJIGS. One of the most interesting of the many figgy items on display, these bars are made of ground figs, cocoa, and a bit of rice flour. They’re delicious, filling and good for you, thanks to a desirable amount of calcium, fiber and minerals in the fruit. Available in four flavors: almond, mint, raspberry and original. They cost about $1.75 each.
HAZELNUT OIL from Pariani. One of the most opulent products at this year’s show, this elegant oil will dress up everything from melon and prosciutto and risotto to fresh peaches, chocolate ice cream and shaved sunchokes. The folks at the Manicaretti (importer) booth couldn’t tell me the price but I’m guessing it will be wildly expensive. Check it out at Manicaretti.com.
FIELD ROAST GRAIN MEAT CO. Doesn’t exactly make your mouth water, does it? But folks who eschew meat as well as those who’d just like to try something different, will be thrilled with the “vegan grain meats” from this Seattle company. I especially liked the coarse texture and bold flavors of the Italian Sausage which is made with eggplant, fennel, garlic and red wine. The Mexican Chipotle (with chilies, garlic, onions, cumin seed and oregano) will make a mighty fine breakfast burrito. Widely available in supermarkets.
MARBLE POP. Economic wobbles notwithstanding, this year’s show featured start-up companies fervently hoping that the marketplace might make room for yet another chip, cheese torte or Chukar cherry. One dramatic example is the Marble Pop, a glass bottle of soda pop that is guaranteed to captivate kiddies and parents alike. Modelled after a popular Japanese soda pop, the bottle has a glass marble embedded in the top, said to be held in place by the carbonation within the bottle. Remove the plastic safety cap. Press it firmly on the marble. The marble pops and drops into the bottle. The soda flows out and the marble rattles around in the bottle. At about 2 bucks a bottle, it’s not going to replace Pepsi or Dr. Pepper. But it might make for fun birthday party entertainment….and it’s cheaper than pony rides! A box of 16 bottles is $32 on Amazon.com.