The inaugural edition of After Hours visited the world unto itself that is the Summer Fancy Food Show, which took place in NYC from June 29-July 1. This month we return to that cornucopia of culinary delights to sample a few of my favorite things. Be on the lookout for these in specialty stores, high-end supermarkets, and Internet stores.
ìMove over, Orangina!î was my actual, unpremeditated response on first sip of orange Fizzy Lizzy. (Given the binges to which I have been known to fall prey while living in Orangina-deprived parts, the compliment is stellar.) The brand features six flavors of all natural juices blended with sparkling water. Sweetness is extremely restrained, which makes for extremely refreshing drinking.
While the elegant presence of Miss Jamaica was drawing traffic to Reggieís Roast Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, what made me linger at the booth was the happy convergence of socially conscious business practices with a great-tasting product. Owner Reggie Chung Loy is a New Jersey surgeon who originally hails from Jamaica. Since buying property in the Blue Mountains a few years back (he now owns two farms), he has become acquainted with the locals and the nature of the medical clinics available to them. Before founding the roastery, he began sending drug samples and unused products to his island neighbors. His company now supplies two types of assistance: taking a group of doctors to Jamaica several times a year to provide health care to Blue Mountain farmers and their families, and returning a percentage of net profits for their health care and education.
The Tao of Tea showcased teas that have been aged 20-40 years, which puts the leaves through a fermentation that reduces their acidity. Three were knockouts: Orange Pu-er, which is blended with orange peel oil; Ceylon Gold Super Fancy, one of the highest priced teas on the market, which contains gold-colored bits and tastes so smooth itís not recognizable as black tea; and certified organic White Earl Grey, which has a pleasing herbal perfume that overcame my usual aversion to Earl Grey.
Tazo Tea got marks for innovative hybrids that successfully blend tea with other beverages (some of which I wouldnít have expected). One is a line of ready-to-drink tea lattes, of which the créme caramel is especially appealing. Another is juiced teas, which takes the Southís bent for fruit-flavoring tea into all manner of interesting territory. The tea lemonade is noteworthy for containing half the sugar of Snapple (Tazo contends) and still tasting balanced, while the brambleberry offers the illusion of encountering freshly baked fruit.
The Republic of Tea was introducing its herbal Earth Tea Collection, which spotlights five bioregions and sends five per cent of the proceeds to the Nature Conservancy. The flavor combinations are not ordinary in the least. Standouts are Alpine Flowers, which has a delicate mix of botanicals and fruits, and Rainforest, which has an allspice-and-berry sweetness.
Before leaving the category of teas, itís worth noting that Numi Tea was showing off elegantly rustic, affordable gift boxes of its line of teas, which went all-organic earlier this year.
Iím not normally a packaged-mix cook, but two companies provided exceptions I embrace. One is Caley & Cobbís new mixes, which supply deeply flavorful bases for mushroom bisque, sun dried tomato bisque, and asparagus bisque with lemon and dill. (You heat them in oil to make a paste, which you cook in milk and finish with cream.) Yes, cream is a caloric and cholesterol splurge and these bisques are to be savored sparingly ñ but the taste of the sun dried tomato in particular will toss any notions of caution into the wind. (The order page was down the last time I visited Caley & Cobbís site. If that happens to you, phone; the site gives the number.)
I like to make tamales but canít always put my hands on dried corn husks now that I no longer live in the Southwest. Specialty produce and spice importer Melissaís spoke to my plight with a kit that supplies a dozen pre-soaked husks (thereby removing the time required not just to locate the husks, but to soften them so they are more malleable) and seasoned corn masa mix. The kit also provides illustrated directions with canít-miss clarity and recipes for a couple of fillings. (If youíd like a good carne filling, I can recommend the picadillo [spiced ground meat] recipe available from the Goya Foods website.) Besides handing out samples of its tamales, Melissaís was also displaying some of its more unusual produce from around the world. My favorite was a South African baby pineapple, a pint-sized, coreless and incredibly sweet variant of the fruit, which you peel with crown intact and eat by holding the crown as a handle.
An entire new line of products based on the cookbook Texas On the Plate was the big surprise from Fischer & Weiser, a Hill Country company that made a name for itself doing wondrous things with peaches (salsa, even; you ought to try it) and is currently blazing a trail into big box retailers, of all places, with its spectacular Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce. The line hit the market with customer demand on impact; in fact, customer demand is the reason it exists. Cookbook author Terry Thompson-Anderson, who is the executive chef for the Halliburton Corporation, took samples along to book signings, and people started asking for her products instead of her recipes. The line runs the gamut from sauces to condiments to jellies, and theyíre bold characters all. The grilled vegetable marinade is a dazzling reduction of balsamic vinegar. ìIt makes a hell of a hot dog,î Ms. Thompson-Anderson quipped as I tasted the thin, liquid Chipotle Chile Ketchup, which is made from scratch, with a hint of maple syrup. The sweet, hot, tomato-ey Hellfire & Brimstone BBQ Sauce is not quite as tongue-damning as the name suggests (the label does offer the qualification ìPurgatory Levelî). I had no truth-in-labeling quibbles with the Seeing Double Chocolate Sauce. Itís light, whipped smooth, and finished with cream sherry. I wanted to drink it from the bottle.
Special note to fans of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a legendary restaurant-cum-blues joint in Syracuse and Rochester, NY: Dinosaur pulled pork, chili, and baked beans are now available in the frozen food sections of selected supermarkets in the Northeast. The pulled pork may be ordered online from Gianelli Sausage.
Pantry Staples You Didnít Know You Need (But You Do)
O Olive Oilís new rice vinegars are versatile and compelling. Sweet, tart Yuzu rice vinegar is made from a small green Japanese citrus with an aroma that crosses lime with pine; the intriguing taste complements anything that takes to a lime accent. Ginger rice vinegar is a ginger fiendís dream, potently flavorful and begging to be added to fish, seafood, slaws, and vegetables.
Wild Thymesí Toasted Sesame Wasabi Vinaigrette is smooth and savory, without the harsh jolt that wasabi often unleashes. And the upstate New York farmís exceptionally mangoey Mango Vinaigrette deserves a wider fate that fixing salads; it would also make a terrific tuna or shrimp marinade.
Likewise, the Sonoma Syrup Companyís botanically infused simple syrups are good for being more than just the bartenderís friend come cocktail hour. Steeped with spearmint, lavender, vanilla bean, or Meyer lemon peel, they inspire an array of culinary uses, such as flavoring icing and sorbets, drenching poundcake, and adding flavor to non-alcohol beverages. Sonoma Syrupís website is still in the works; look for the syrups at Williams-Sonoma stores (not online) around the country.
Alright, Already ñ Whereís the Chocolate?
Ah, yes. Chocolate was in abundance, to be sure, just not in many new or unusual guises. Ralph Laurenís ex-personal chef Ilene C. Shane was showing her SweetBliss line of handmade chocolate candies, which range from Belgian chocolate-coated pistachio brittle to Belgian chocolate-covered potato sticks to recreations of chocolate and marshmallow treats from childhood. Manhattan restaurant/gift shop/Warhol hangout Serendipity 3 was dishing out samples of its signature Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, which has such companion products as unisex perfume, lip gloss, nail polish, foot cream, and body gel. B.T. McElrath Chocolatier taunted me with stunning ginger infused English toffee and a holiday ganache ablaze with cardamom and other chai spices ñ taunted, I say, because the small batch, artisan chocolates are distributed outside my stomping grounds, mainly in the northwest and midwest.
The novelty in the chocolate department was finding a sugar-free product that tasted...right. If youíre avoiding refined sugar and use artificial sweeteners, The Kingís Cupboardís no-sugar added sauces are a worthy dessert option. SPLENDA brand sucralose sweetens the thick, rich dark chocolate, raspberry chocolate, and coffee chocolate sauces, which impart no sense of loss.
Iíll have more forays into the world of food for you next month. If thereís a topic that particularly interests you ñ or a product youíre having trouble locating ñ send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Erratum: The previous edition of After Hours initially mis-identified the pita chip manufacturer that was using sales assistants dressed as harem girls. The company was Regenieís. I deeply regret the error.