Category Archives: Food News

Stop the insanity: Ridiculous kitchen tools (and saner alternatives)

Stop the insanity: Ridiculous kitchen tools (and saner alternatives)

Who needs knife skills when you can hack your food to bits with the Slap Chop? (Image: vxla via Flickr Creative Commons)

Single-use kitchen tools, or “unitaskers,” are one of my biggest pet peeves as a cook and culinary instructor. Why waste money on multiple gadgets that only do one thing when you really only need a few (including your own pair of hands) to do a multitude of tasks?

I expected to find a good amount of stupid kitchen tools when doing research for this piece, but even I was surprised at the volume of crap that’s out there. And you know what perplexes me the most? That people buy these things!

Without further ado, I give you my top picks for the most inane, least useful kitchen gizmos and simpler, more sane alternatives to them:
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Top food truck spots of SXSW 2012

Top food truck spots of SXSW 2012

Coolhaus' mobile gourmet treats include this red velvet ice cream sandwich.

The following is an article I wrote for the newspaper that I freelance for, Creative Loafing Tampa. There were plenty more of my favorite food trucks that I could have added to this list, but I unfortunately had the restraint of a 650 word count. Check back later for more musings on the fabulous food trailers and my culinary adventures here in Austin, Texas!

The food truck revolution was late rolling up to the Tampa Bay area, but here in Austin, Texas, it has its roots firmly planted and is one of the city’s main attractions — besides the amazing music scene, of course. Like most things in Texas, the food truck community is big here — one of the biggest in the country, actually, right up there with Chicago and San Diego as the top spots to find mobile eateries. Having moved to Austin from the Bay area almost a year ago, I’ve missed out on the great new food trailers I keep reading about that have been popping up in Tampa and St. Pete, but luckily I can get a taste of trailer food here — and plenty of it.

Like their compatriots in Tampa Bay, Austin’s food trucks aren’t just serving up hot dogs and hamburgers. Fusion food, ethnic eats, American diner classics, gourmet ice cream sandwiches and doughnuts and so much more are available at the “around 1,350″ food trucks and trailers in and around Austin as of today. (That’s according to MSNBC.com, which based its count on the number of permits given out by the Austin/Travis County Department of Health.)

Since there are way too many rolling restaurants to sample during the South By Southwest (SXSW) music/film/interactive festival going on in downtown Austin this week, I’ve compiled a list of a few of my many top spots that had either fantastic fare or free munchies (which are not mutually exclusive in all cases). So read on and pay some of these trailers and restaurants a visit the next time you’re deep in the heart of Texas.

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Shades of green: Green garbanzo beans are a fresher, tastier chickpea

Shades of green: Green garbanzo beans are a fresher, tastier chickpea

I’m sure most of you have eaten — or at least seen — garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) in your lifetime. The small, beige, dried legumes are soaked and boiled (and are often packaged in a can) and used in a variety of dishes from all over the globe — most notably hummus and falafel — or tossed in vegetable salads and pasta dishes.

But you might want to forgo the dried and canned mature garbanzos for their younger, tastier counterparts: the green garbanzos. Green, or “fresh” garbanzos are little legumes that have been picked earlier than their older sibings, blanched and flash-frozen instead of being matured on the vine and then dried.

Green garbanzos are fairly new to the American food scene, having been introduced to consumers in 2010 by Clearwater Country Foods, and can now be found in some grocery stores in the frozen aisle for a few bucks a bag. I recently discovered these verdant beans and am in foodie heaven, as they have a wonderful flavor and a number of culinary applications.

The flavor of these little green beauties has been compared to that of fresh peas; the taste is nutty and more buttery than that of their dried counterparts. The green garbanzos are also higher in protein, folate and fiber, and they’re chock full of antioxidant vitamins A and C, phytonutrients, iron and minerals.

“It’s just an immature garbanzo bean that is picked in its fresh state, and consequently its nutritional values are higher and it’s much more flavorful,” Doug Moser, founder of Clearwater Country Foods told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “The simple reason is that the natural sugars haven’t turned to starch.”

Green garbanzos can be used in place of standard garbanzos, peas and edamame (soy beans) in a variety of dishes, like the green garbanzo hummus recipe I’ve shared below. They’re fine being heated up on the stove top or in the microwave — just make sure not to overcook them, as they’ll lose some of their wonderful color and texture — or simply thaw them and throw them into a dish as is.

My prediction is that green garbanzos will make their way into home kitchens and onto restaurant menus in a big way this year because of their uniqueness, flavor and nutritional benefits.

Here’s my recipe for green garbanzo hummus with Asian flavorings. It’s a quick, easy and incredibly tasty addition to any party spread, or great as a simple snack with some crudite and crackers. If you’re feeling really ambitious, whip up some fried or baked wonton chips to accompany it.
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Tasty trends: Food and drink predictions for 2012

Tasty trends: Food and drink predictions for 2012

Will gourmet doughnuts overtake the cupcake craze this year? (Pictured: bacon-maple "Flying Pig" doughnut from Gourdough's food truck in Austin. Credit: pagetx via Flickr.)

That gold, strapless cocktail dress adorned with feathers that Versace put on the runway last season will almost assuredly be reproduced by both high- and low-end designers this year, to be seen everywhere from small boutiques to Forever 21. Just like that celebrity chef’s gourmet doughnut shop in Manhattan, which will spur a monomania for sweet, yeast-risen breakfast treats topped with everything from bacon to squid.

Food and dining trends, like those in fashion, are predicted — or determined — every year by the trade’s influencers. Big-name and up-and-coming chefs, large food companies, restaurant consulting firms and even Food Network are the main culprits.

So what’s the buzz for the next 12 months?
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Mastering the fine art of mashed potatoes

Mastering the fine art of mashed potatoes

Glory Foods via Flickr

Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes? They’re an American comfort food staple, a great addition to your holiday table or a simple Sunday dinner. Their preparation seems easy enough in theory — boil some potatoes, then pulverize them along with some butter and salt — but making the “perfect” mashed potatoes is like the search for the Holy Grail. Many have failed miserably on this quest.

First, you must figure out which type of tuber best suits your needs. After researching “perfect mashed potatoes,” I noticed that Yukon Golds were the spud of choice across the board. Hey, if they’re good enough for the likes of Alton Brown and Martha Stewart, they’re good enough for me.

Yukon Golds — a.k.a. “all-purpose” potatoes — are a cross between the moist new potato and starchier Russet types, making them versatile in just about any culinary situation. You get the best of both worlds: starchy enough to hold up when slathered in butter and gravy, but maintaining just the right amount of moisture to produce light and fluffy mashers.
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Pimp out your kitchen library with these ridiculous celebrity cookbooks

Pimp out your kitchen library with these ridiculous celebrity cookbooks

There seems to be an influx of cookbooks “written” by celebrities (and those who think they are) in the past few years. Maybe it’s because they want us to see that they’re “real” people too, making their own meals for their families, trying to dispel the preconceived notion that the hired help does it all for them. Or maybe it’s because they need to finance a new vacation home.

Either way, for anyone in showbiz with at least a D-grade listing, authoring a cookbook is a requirement for their 15 minutes of fame — slotted somewhere between meeting Leno and releasing a sex tape. Keep reading to find out which ones are the most ridiculous and which one is right for your kitchen (or bathroom) library.
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Make ’em drool: Andrea Acailawen takes food photos that look good enough to eat

Make ’em drool: Andrea Acailawen takes food photos that look good enough to eat

PS022811 Fresh Fruits #221Here’s a piece I did recently for the Photography Issue for the Tampa newspaper, Creative Loafing, that I work for.

Local freelance food stylist and photographer Andrea Acailawen has learned to blend her love of photography and passion for food into a successful career, bringing food to life through her camera lens.

Working for a Northern California ad agency, she styled products and food for a variety of clients: home goods and kitchenware companies, department store and grocery chains, restaurants, wineries, a cherry grower — even a nut manufacturing plant. Now she’s opened her own photography and styling business in Tampa and is “starting from scratch in a new market.”

It’s not surprising that she ended up in this vocation. Her chef/photographer father taught her how to cook and bought her a camera at the age of 6 for a class field trip: a medium-format Hasselblad (one of those old-school, boxy-looking ones with a single lens and film-winding crank).
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Nat’l Peanut Butter Day, molecular gastronomy starter kit, lion tacos and more fun food news

Nat’l Peanut Butter Day, molecular gastronomy starter kit, lion tacos and more fun food news

First order of business: HAPPY NATIONAL PEANUT BUTTER DAY! I can’t believe my day is almost over and I’ve just found out about this! But thanks to Tastespotting and their drool-worthy peanut butter recipe roundup, I have been informed and will be celebrating. Well, I did start my day with a dollop of natural peanut butter in my breakfast smoothie. Maybe I’ll finish off more of those Reese’s cups left over from Halloween. (They don’t have a shelf life, right?)

Ooh ooh, look what I found today: a Molecular Cuisine Starter Kit on ThinkGeek! Because “nouveau-cuisine is so last year.” It includes 5 different food additives (Sodium Alginate, Xantham Gum, etc.), fun little tools (and a syringe in case you don’t already have those lying around) and a DVD with recipe demos. Like Marcel on Top Chef All-Stars, you too can now make all the foam that your little heart desires. Watch the video trailer for it here. FYI: This will be added to my half birthday (April 30th) gift list.
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Around the world for $80: EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival

Around the world for $80: EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival

IMG_1931Last weekend I was fortunate enough to indulge in Disney’s International Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT Center. This marks the 14th year of an event that promises the chance to eat and drink your way around the world without ever having to break out your passport.

After attending this event for the past few years, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a majority of the regional menus had changed (after being exactly the same for the past few go-arounds) and that they’d added a few new cuisines, now up to 25 different international marketplaces. There were also more culinary classes and wine tastings to attend this year, many involving well-known food and wine celebrities like Iron Chef Cat Cora (who has a new restaurant, Kouzzina, that just opened at Disney’s Boardwalk), Andrew Zimmern (host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel), the Deen Brothers (yes, Paula’s boys) and lying TV chef Robert Irvine.
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Chocolate + bacon = candy bar heaven

Chocolate + bacon = candy bar heaven

What is it about bacon that we love? It seems the food world has had an obsession with it lately, from bacon vodka, to Bacon Salt, to the infamous Bacon Explosion. But have you ever thought of pairing bacon with something on the sweeter side? What about bacon in candy?

I dared to go there when I purchased the Mo’s Bacon Bar. I had read about it before on the trusty food porn sites that I peruse and salivate over daily, but had never seen it in stores. “Bacon and chocolate?”, I thought, “What a great combination!” I love the pairing of sweet and salty in food – like SnoCaps and popcorn at the movie theater – and I am a bacon fanatic. This was also the item that spawned the idea for my Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes. I was bound and determined to find this candy bar.
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