Monthly Archives: June 2012

Food Show Finds

Do you insist on serving only homemade goodies to your guests? Me, too. But I’m here to report that there are time- and effort-saving prepared products that taste as good as homemade-maybe even better. I know because I’ve tasted them.

I spent two days in Washington, D.C. last week attending the Summer Fancy Food Show, a Mecca for retailers and restaurateurs seeking the latest and greatest in specialty foods. Run by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT), the event is billed as “the largest marketplace for specialty foods and beverages in North America,” and it is BIG! I spent hours walking seemingly miles of aisles there, sampling from the 180,000 specialty products on exhibit (cheeses, cured meats, condiments, oils, vinegars, spices, prepared foods, desserts, and more).

There was food on display and there were chefs demonstrating dishes as far as the eye could see. As you might imagine, I was in foodie paradise. Here’s just a small sampling of my favorites. I’ll mention others as I experiment with them at home.

Pimento Cheese from Callie’s Charleston Biscuits –Southern specialties are becoming popular everywhere, so you may want to introduce your guests to a trendy southern treat from this family-owned supplier. It would be good with crackers on the cocktail table or on the breakfast table along with Callie’s fabulous featherlight, readymade biscuits.

Lobster Potpies from Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co.- Everything I’ve tried from this lobster specialist from Maine seems like it just came out of my own kitchen. No wonder they keep winning NASFT awards. The latest introduction is a nifty little frozen lobster potpie, which would make an impressive meal starter, I bet, but there are a dozen other classics, including two that are gluten-free–Lobster Corn Chowder and Lobster Mac & Cheese.

Humm! from Fountain of Health-Sure, there are a lot of packaged hummus products in the stores, but so many are disappointing. This one isn’t, perhaps because it’s made from better ingredients (as the company claims) or because it’s topped with olive oil. Humm! comes in nine flavors, among them caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and roasted pine nuts.

Kitchen Table Bakers ™ Parmesan Crisps- Wheat-, gluten-, sugar-, and transfat- free, these all-cheese crisps made from aged Parmesan, would be great on the cocktail table as guilt-free nibbles, especially for the carb-watching crowd, or as soup or salad toppers, or even instead of melted cheese or bacon on a burger. They’re available in 10 varieties (newest: Flax Seed)

Kimkim Korean Hot Sauce- Another hot sauce, you say? Yes, but one with incredible depth of flavor. It took the Gold medal against five competitors in the show competition’s Cooking Sauce or Flavor Enhancer category.

Delicate Cucumber & Shallot Artisan Vinaigrette from Lucini Italia-Earned Gold in the salad dressing category. It’s unusually elegant, tasting fresh from the garden, not the bottle.

Sukhi’s Samosas-Indian food is catching on nationwide, and these appetizers (many of them vegetarian or vegan) make it easy to add an exotic touch to your next dinner party. Actually, you could put an excellent Indian meal on the table in no time with the company’s comprehensive line of fully prepared entrees and sides.

Merguez Sausage from Trois Petits Cochons-This spicy sausage made from lamb, beef and harissa paste, part of a line of handcrafted pate and charcuterie products, was a silver finalist in the show’s award competition.

Bacon Schnecken from Queen City Cookies- These salty/sweet buns would work especially well on the breakfast or brunch table. They fit into the trend to savory sweets and are remarkably hard to resist.

Berry Good

To create a simple fruit sauce for pound cake or ice cream, hull and slice fresh strawberries and sprinkle them with sugar to taste. Cover the bowl and let the berries macerate (absorb the flavoring) for as little as 15 minutes or as much as 24 hours, which will release the juices and make them saucier the longer they sit. Add more sugar, if desired.

Have a Sauce Up Your Sleeve

Master the recipes for some basic sauces and you’ll be able to instantly glamorize all kinds of simple summer foods. As I pointed out in a recent post (“Versatile Vinaigrette,” May 3), once you learn the basic recipe for vinaigrette, you can vary it in numerous ways. The same is true for mayonnaise.

The main purpose of Melissa Clark’s recent New York Times column, “Mayonnaise: Oil, Egg and a Drop of Magic,” (May 23, 2012) was to pass along a tip for repairing a broken homemade mayonnaise by whisking in a few drops of water. But she also extolled the many mayonnaise variations possible by adding flavorings (among them, garlic, Sriracha, olives or capers, and anchovies), and the many uses of mayonnaise that can expand a cook’s repertoire of meals (including sugar snap peas with walnut mayo, chicken brushed with rosemary black-pepper mayo and grilled, and pasta dressed with bacon mayo and served with Parmesan curls and lemon wedges).

With just a little practice, homemade mayonnaise is easy to make. It’s just a mixture of an egg yolk, Dijon mustard, a little lemon juice or other acid, salt and pepper, and oil. The exact proportions vary slightly depending on the chef, but you can find a recipe in any general cookbook. Both How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, and The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl, include mayonnaise recipes.

Just make sure that your ingredients are at room temperature and be patient, especially when whisking in the oil. It should be added one drop at a time until the mixture begins to emulsify.

There’s no question that homemade mayonnaise is heavenly. But for a speedier and still satisfactory result, you can start with best-quality jarred mayonnaise.