The Princeton Packet

  IN THE KITCHEN

What's new: Fancy Foods 2009

Exotic citrus,
salted chocolate,
fermented teas ...
By Pat Tanner
Special Writer

You might think that in this struggling economy the annual extravaganza known as the Summer Fancy Food Show would be a bit downbeat, or at least not as well attended this year. Yet the number of food buyers and other trade professionals was up — 25,000 over three days at the end of June. And although the number of exhibitors was down slightly, I still found trawling the aisles of the Javits Center to be a Herculean task, and quickly OD'd on chocolates, cheeses, cookies and confections of every order, salad dressings, snack foods, salts, and other swank savories.

I suppose that the reason the specialty food sector does not seem to be suffering is that these are considered small indulgences, enjoyed without the guilt that major splurges incur. At least, they don't for me, so I am happy to pass along a few of my favorite finds and to note some of the recent trends in these so-called fancies.

Exotic citrus flavors are really big — particularly blood orange and yuzu. Gold award winners in 32 categories included fresh squeezed blood-orange juice, caramelized onion and blood-orange confit, yuzu citrus tea, yuzu marmalade, and Sarabeth's Kitchen Blood Orange Marmalade. Congratulations go to New Jersey's own Ciao Bella Gelato Company, whose new key-lime graham-cracker gelato won in the category of outstanding perishable food-service product.

Chocolate is a perennial favorite, of course, and this year many chocolatiers jumped on the chocolate-and-sea-salt bandwagon, often with the addition of caramel, making a most tempting trifecta. Honeys — single-flower, infused with other flavors, or still in the comb — have been growing in popularity in recent years, but this year I noticed a new twist: honey grilling sauces, such as one by my favorite producer, Savannah Bee Company. These days honey has new competition in the natural-sweetener category with the increasing presence of agave syrup.

Tea lovers might want to check out the class of long-fermented teas known as puerh — considered to have special health benefits — from popular organic brands such as Numi and Rishi. And if you haven't yet switched from synthetic sponges and paper towels to their all-natural biodegradable, compostable, and reusable counterparts, you might want to seek out those of Skoy Cloth or Twist. The latter brand is available at the Whole Earth Center, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and other locations in the area.

Sampling the wares at shows like these results in as many clunkers as winners. Here are my picks for best-of-the-best:

  • Edward's Surryano Ham. You've read about it in The New York Times and if you're a customer of Heritage Foods USA (as I am), you've been tempted to buy it. Sure, it's made from Virginia peanut-fed, certified humane Berkshire hogs with no antibiotics or added hormones, but the No. 1 reason to buy it is the sumptuous taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Silky, tender, and not too salty, it's pork perfection. If the Surryano is beyond your means, the cooked ham and the dry-cured bacon are out of this world, too.

  • Effie's Homemade Oatcakes and, starting this summer, corncakes with the texture of oatcakes. The company pushes both as ideal accompaniments to farmstead cheddar and other cheeses (and these crackers/biscuits/cookies are carried by Cow Girl Creamery and Grafton Village Cheese), but I can't stop eating them unadorned. I buy them at Whole Foods.

  • Somebody's Mother's Chocolate Sauce. OK, so the company's name drew me over to the booth, as well as its silver-awardwinning caramel sauce, but it was the compelling personal story that most enchanted me. Lynn Lasher of Houston told me she had hoped to inspire her children, including daughters Hayden and Reese, to someday support themselves with their own business, so this mother began producing jars of her family's 100-year-old recipe and the rest is history. All three female Lashers were at the show dispensing three delectable dessert sauces, available online to New Jerseyans.

  • Rick's Picks Smokra. OK, so not everyone is a fan of okra, but I am, so this company's pickled okra in brine that includes smoked Spanish paprika proved irresistible. I'm on my way to Whole Foods to pick up a jar now.

  • Tastybaby Frozen Organic Baby Food. I am well past my baby-rearing years, but if I weren't I would load up on these portable, re-sealable, single-serving goodies, if the banana-and-mango is any indication of the quality. Available at McCaffrey's, Whole Foods, and Pennington Market.

  • LeGrand Pestos and Tapenades. Maison LeGrand's cold-processed sauces have been huge sellers in Canada for 11 years, says Tatiana Bossy, the company's president. They're delicious and fresh tasting, but beyond that they come conveniently packaged in 6-ounce, stand-up plastic (but recyclable) pouches that sport re-sealable caps. They're available at Whole Foods, Zabar's, and online.

  • Muirhead of Ringoes. This local producer of fruit butters (pumpkin pecan is its best known) and specialty chutneys, mustards, and salad dressings grew out of the erstwhile fine-dining restaurant of that name that was opened by Doris and Ed Simpson in 1974.

This year the company introduced Roasted Rhubarb Compote at the Fancy Food Show. The compote, and the recipe below, are good enough to convert even the rhubarb-reticent. If you're partial to strawberry-rhubarb pie, a jar of the compote with fresh sliced strawberries makes easy work of it.

There was a unique and touching feature at the Muirhead booth this year. Ed Simpson passed away last year and, as a tribute, Doris and daughter, Barbara, who now run the business, exhibited the cherry-condition 1930 Chevy Sedan that Ed had worked on restoring.

MUIRHEAD'S ROASTED RHUBARB DESSERT CRISP
www.muirheadfoods.com


1 jar Muirhead roasted rhubarb compote (available online)

For a review of Pho 99, the Franklin Park restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese cuisine, please see TIMEOFF, Page 14.

Doris and Barbara Simpson


Smokra Above, Muirhead of Ringoes' Doris Simpson and daughter, Barbara, paid tribute to the late Ed Simpson by exhibiting the cherry-red 1930 Chevy Sedan that he had restored during the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City. Left: Rick's Picks Smokra (pickled okra in brine): Wow.


Edward's Surryano Ham


Above, Edward's Surryano Ham, offering 'sumptuous taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture ... the cooked ham and the dry-cured bacon are out of this world, too.' Right: Somebody's Mother's Chocolate Sauce, based on a 100-year-old family recipe. Somebody's Mother's Chocolate Sauce


Effie's Homemade Oatcakes

Effie's Homemade Oatcakes and, starting this summer, corncakes with the texture of oatcakes. 'I can't stop eating them, unadorned.'

  2 cups fruit of choice (chopped apples, strawberries, other berries)

For the topping:

  1/2 cup flour

  1 cup oatmeal, uncooked

  1/2 cup sugar

  1/2 cup butter, softened

  1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine filling ingredients. Place in an 8"x8" baking pan. Mix together topping ingredients until crumbly. Top fruit mixture with topping. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm, with ice cream (if desired).

Serves 6 to 8.