Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pierogi, Champagne Ketchup and Vegan Gummies: Fancy Food Product Reviews

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 6:05 AM

  • Specialty Food Association
Last month, the winter Fancy Food Show was held in San Francisco. The event — a trade show for purveyors of specialty food items held twice a year by the Specialty Food Association — showcases some of the most unique and interesting food and beverage items imaginable, as well as new foods trying to gain a foothold in the retail marketplace.

In advance of the show, the emails came in from exhibitors lobbying for a visit to their booths. I wasn’t able to attend, but that certainly didn’t mean I didn’t want to try some fancy foods! And reading updates on Twitter throughout the show was a bit like staying home with the flu while your friends are all at a party Instagram-ing all the shenanigans. A few of the companies were kind enough to send some free samples my way, since I was stuck here in the snowdome. Here’s the scoop.

Polska Foods Pierogi. Tennessee is not known for being a major consumer of pierogi, but co-owner Bridget Piszczek noted that interest has been moving south from a Midwestern base for some time. Pierogi lovers in the south are generally given only the option of Mrs. T.’s, and while good (and quite extensive in flavor options), they’re not as good as homemade (or, rather, restaurant-made). Polska’s pierogi are organic, all-natural, preservative-free, and made from Piszczek family recipes, using only high-quality ingredients (like you’d use at home). All that adds up to a big flavor difference. Despite being from the freezer, they tasted as good as the fresh pierogi I’ve had. Even better, they offer a variety of flavors, including vegan pierogi. The vegan flavor (mushroom and cabbage with caramelized onions) was actually my favorite. I plan to request that the local Whole Foods Markets begin carrying them so I can have them again soon. If you're interested, they're currently hosting a contest for a case of free pierogi.

Victoria Amory Condiments. Victoria Amory is a cook and author with a line of foods extending from her recipes, which are heavily influenced by her European upbringing. I was intrigued by the piri piri, a chili sauce of African and Portuguese origins, but I received a sample of champagne ketchup and classic lemon mayonnaise. I wasn’t overly excited about the ketchup, but soon after opening, it was nearly gone. It is really bright and sweet, but because the sweetness comes from brown sugar (instead of high fructose corn syrup) and is balanced by champagne vinegar, it’s not too sweet. We ate it on the Masala Veggie Burgers from Trader Joe’s, on sweet potato fries, and by the spoonful. It’s really tasty. The mayonnaise, however, remains unopened. The list of ingredients does not include sugar, so it’s likely to taste like homemade or Duke’s. You may remember how I feel about Duke’s. Regardless, Victoria Amory condiments aren’t currently available locally (as far as I’m aware), but you can purchase them online via the Victoria Amory website. I'm eyeing the Piri Piri Collection myself.

Vegan candy from Surf Sweets and TruJoy Sweets. I also received a couple of packages of vegan candies to try out. The first, Surf Sweets Organic Fruity Hearts was a healthier alternative to gummy candy. A lot of gummy candies contain a list of unsavory ingredients, such as gelatin (do I need to tell you what gelatin is?), beeswax, and artificial flavors and dyes. And the sugar-free gummy bears are even less appetizing (unless you need to lose a few pounds). The Surf Sweets gummy candies are all-natural and mostly certified organic, however. Nothing dodgy in there at all. And they taste fantastic. Even better, they’re already available locally at The Turnip Truck, Whole Foods Markets and most Publix stores.

The other vegan candy I received was a package of TruJoy Sweets organic fruit chews. That’s code for “vegan Starbursts,” which, of course, they are not able to advertise. Starbursts are probably the gelatin-filled candy I miss most since becoming a vegetarian, so I was excited to try these. Unfortunately, they were not really a substitute for my beloved Starbursts at all. The flavors were closer to Tootsie Fruit Rolls (which I actually like quite a lot), but the candy was a little too hard. More like a Now & Later fruit chew. As in, you really shouldn’t chew it or you risk breaking a tooth. On the upside, I wouldn’t be able to binge on the TruJoy Sweets fruit chews like I used to with a package of Starbursts. And again, the ingredients list doesn’t contain any tongue-twisting, possibly-life-threatening chemicals or boiled-down critter bits.

All in all, my tastes of the Fancy Food Show made me want to visit the show even more (or, perhaps, open up my own Fancy Food Store). The next show is the summer event in New York at the end of June, and I'm seriously interested. I'm all about some fancy foods. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for wrap-ups from the show, including this list of the top five food trends observed at the winter show as well as the show favorites of Jolene Thym from the San Jose Mercury News.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Inside the New Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Factory in East Nashville

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 12:49 PM

The first public tour of Olive & Sinclairs new factory location.
  • The first public tour of Olive and Sinclair's new factory location.
This past Saturday, Olive and Sinclair started up public tours of their newly opened chocolate factory on Fatherland Street. As noted by Steve Haruch last week, tours run on Saturdays, every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I had a chance to check it out last week and found it quite interesting.

The tour follows the creation of Olive and Sinclair chocolate "from bean to bar." It begins in the room where cacao beans arrive primarily from Ghana and the Dominican Republic (all are fair-trade and single-source, meaning from a single farm). The beans are first hand-sorted to remove any number of items that you would not want in your chocolate. (Tip: ask about the most unusual items ever found in the bags of beans.) Then you get to see the beans roasted, winnowed, stone-ground into a paste and then conched, tempered, flavored and poured by hand into molds. The chocolate is then frozen to set, and wrapped by hand for sale.

The “flavoring” portion of the process is minimal. If you’ve ever looked at the ingredient list for Olive and Sinclair chocolate, you know it’s very short. No lecithins, emulsifiers or artificial ingredients. Cacao beans, brown sugar, cacao butter plus whatever flavor (salt and pepper, coffee, cinnamon and so forth) is added to that variety of chocolate bar. The brown sugar is non-GMO and vegan (not processed through bone char). And with no soy or milk added, most flavors are vegan and allergen-free. It’s pure chocolate.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Product Review: Stonefire Artisan Flatbreads

Posted By on Tue, Jan 28, 2014 at 8:15 AM

Stonefire Authentic Flatbreads
  • Stonefire Authentic Flatbreads
I have a confession: I don’t like to cook. I do like to eat, though, and that’s why I cook. But anything that will get me to a good meal with as little effort as possible makes me very happy. Aside from ordering takeout, that is. So I like shortcuts, particularly if it means less clean-up at the end of a meal. I think I’d rather spend time and effort on prep instead of clean-up, which is why some meals that are mostly the sum of frozen parts are as much of a pain as making from scratch — I still end up with three or four pots and pans to scrub after dinner. No, thanks.

One of my favorite shortcuts is to use a flatbread as a pizza crust. But they’re not all great. I’ve used a certain kind of popular pre-made crust that was just not very good. But a few weeks ago, the folks at Stonefire sent me a package of their breads to try out. The first one was the multigrain Italian Artisan Pizza Crust. I used it to make a very simple arugula and goat cheese pizza to go with some lemon garlic orzo soup, and it was delicious. It’s got a great flavor; it’s neither bland nor too heavily herbed. A quick look at the nutritional information revealed the reason: a straightforward list of ingredients without a bunch of scary preservatives. Plus a generous amount of calories per serving. Eh, that’s the price of good-tasting bread, particularly when it’s also hearty and filling.

I’ve also tried the Stonefire naan and whole-wheat pita pockets. While the naan was not quite as good as it is fresh from the Indian restaurant, it is still very good (better than frozen naan I’ve had). I was most surprised by the whole-wheat pita; I’ve never had one I’ve actually enjoyed eating before. Even from the best local bakery here, wheat pitas tend to be kind of bland, dry, and cardboard-ish.

The Stonefire pita was soft and pillowy and made a great sandwich; I had some leftover Tex-Mex Pimento Cheese Dip that Leah of So, How’s It Taste made that I used as a filling with some arugula (I really like arugula). The pita was also great with Tribe’s new extra smooth classic hummus. The hummus was so good that I almost emptied the container in one sitting. Oops.

In addition to how I used the breads, the Stonefire website has a lot of great ideas. Most recipes are for pizzas and pocket or wrap sandwiches, but there are also desserts as well. Regardless, it should give you some inspiration for new quick and easy lunch and dinner ideas. These flatbreads are also a good way to get kids involved in dinner. Getting kids to help with dinner is one way to get them more interested and more adventurous at mealtime.

Stonefire Authentic Flatbreads are available in most local grocery stores, often near the produce section. Check their store finder for the location nearest you.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Tea and Tea Accessories (and Spices!) at Stardust Tea and Spices in West Nashville

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Tucked into a little corner of a L-shaped shopping strip near Nashville West is a treasure of teas and spices. I mentioned it in this year’s gift guide, but Stardust Tea and Spices has so much going on that it deserves more than just a casual mention.

I first noticed the sign earlier this year, but it seemed I never had the time to stop in; some other errand was always more pressing. But when I was the one in charge of picking up a Jet’s pizza recently, I decided to stop in and see what it was all about.

First things first, I asked about the sign, which simply reads, “TEA SPICES BEADS.” Turns out, the store began as a bead store (and the sign just read, “BEADS”), which served the needs of people who make jewelry and crafts. Then the owners, Phillip and Mitzi McCartha, decided to expand the business to include loose-leaf teas, herbs, and spices for sale. The back rooms of the store still carry the beads and jewelry, but the front is devoted to edible gems.

On one side is a large selection (more than 60 types) of teas — black, green, white, rooibos, chai, yerba maté, herbal and so on — and on the other is a large selection of spices (more than 100!); a wall at the back has a selection of herbs. The spices include a variety of salts, peppers, cinnamon (including Vietnamese cinnamon) and spice blends (such as curries). And all are housed in easily opened sealed containers so you can sniff and test as you like. You can buy in bulk by the ounce or choose one ounce pre-packaged bags.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Gift Locally with Mountain Jim’s Tennessee Tea Cakes

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2013 at 7:55 AM

If you’re still contemplating a locally based food product to give for holiday presents, might I make another suggestion? Jeff Stewart has been making a successful line of ice creams under the name of Mountain Jim’s for a few years now. You can find them at The Produce Place and Whole Foods, but unfortunately ice cream doesn’t mail very well, so the odds of Aunt Madge enjoying her pint of frozen treats intact are pretty slim.

However, Stewart has released a new product under the Mountain Jim’s umbrella that would make a very appropriate gift. Like many of us, Stewart remembered Tennessee T-Cakes, a local product that blew up crazy-large after Oprah included them in her list of Favorite Things in 2006. Unfortunately, Tennessee T-Cakes was a one-woman operation, and when Frances Ann Barkley passed away a few years back, she took the recipe and the operation with her.

So Stewart took to his kitchen and started to experiment with recipes to re-create the flavors of the beloved little confections. After a lot of trial and error, he has developed Mountain Jim’s Tennessee Tea Cakes, which if my palate has a decent memory, are pretty darned close to the original. Crafted in small batches from natural ingredients and no preservatives, Mountain Jim’s Tennessee Teacakes come in four varieties: Original, Lemon, Key Lime and Chocolate Truffle.

More accurately, the base of all the varieties is the Original, a vanilla-flavored cake dusted with powdered sugar that has a delightful texture somewhere between a brownie and a cupcake. The other varieties are made bay adding glazes or a big chunk of chocolate on top.

The teacakes are available in two-packs at The Produce Place if you want to try some out, or if you want to send them in bulk in boxes or decorative tins, you can email orders to or call (615) 485-9335. For corporate orders, Stewart can even personalize your tin with a company logo, or you can just pick one of his standard white or black containers. Here’s his pricing:

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Santa's Little Helper: A Gift Guide With Nashville Flair

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2013 at 5:51 AM

This year, the shopping season is shorter than usual. So short, in fact, that many people have already started (or finished) shopping. Our gift guides from last year and the year before still hold up well (mostly), but there are a few new things to look for.


As we mentioned last week, Third Man Records and Bang Candy Company have teamed up to offer uniquely flavored marshmallows, Electrified Peppermint Bark, and Smoked Spiced Orange Syrup. All are available exclusively at Third Man's store starting this Friday and only while supplies last. More details are available on the Third Man website.

While not local, it's unlikely anyone will complain if you send the gift of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. They have an incredible selection of gifts featuring their ice cream and other specialties available for home delivery.

Looking to give the gift of cookies? Jake's Bakes delivers hot, fresh cookies for a nice surprise all over the city. Coming soon: gluten-free options. Of course, if you need to send cookies anywhere else, Christie Cookies delivers all over the United States. They also have a local courier or you can pick the cookies up directly from the bakery office in Germantown. Check out their Cookie Gift Club for monthly deliveries as well as their brownies, candies, and coffee.

And don't forget Walker Creek Toffee (try their caramels, too) Nashville Toffee Co., Olive and Sinclair (vegan, dairy-free, and soy-free) chocolate, Colt’s Bolts, Goo Goo Clusters, gift tins from The Peanut Shop, Pralines by Leon, and Brittle Brothers. More deliciousness can be purchased from Tennessee Cheesecake, The Nashville Jam Company, Perl Catering's jams and preserves, and award-winning Bathtub Gin Organic Artisan Jam.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Food Find: Curry Ketchup From Germany

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 7:41 AM

When The Pharmacy opened a couple of years ago, my husband and I wanted to wait until the hubbub died down a little and get some recommendations before going out there ourselves. The hubbub never really did die down, but we did get some great tips: Go early or go late, expect to wait, and get the tater tots with curry ketchup.

You don’t have to tell me to get tater tots, but I was thankful to get the tip for the ketchup. I liked it so much, that I packed up my little container and brought it home to re-create it. No luck; though I have both red and yellow curry powders, I couldn’t get the same flavor at home. I may have lacked some smoky flavoring; I’m not sure, but it just wasn’t right.

So I was delighted to find Burkhardt Curry Ketchup in the international foods section at Publix. It’s not quite as good as The Pharmacy’s ketchup, but it’s much better than my own. It’s also authentic; it’s imported directly from Germany.

While curry ketchup may not sound very German, it actually is. Its popularity there can be traced back to Herta Heuwer, a German woman who in 1949 combined Worcestershire sauce, curry powder and ketchup —which she got from British soldiers — with other spices to create a curry ketchup she later named Chillup. She poured the sauce over pork sausages to create the beloved German street food popularly known as currywurst. It’s also a popular topping for frites.

Luckily for me as a vegetarian, the Burkhardt ketchup includes no anchovy-containing Worcestershire sauce (it's vegan, actually). At four bucks and change, it’s a bit pricey as ketchups go, but it’s delicious and a great way to add a little kick to burgers and fries. I particularly like to put it on the Vegetable Masala Burgers from Trader Joe’s.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Let's Talk Tofurky: New Products for Veg*ns on the Go

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 8:16 AM

It’s that time of year again; Tofurky Day is next week! While I strive to make more “whole foods” for my family, I do like and appreciate a Tofurky roast. It’s a great way for a new veg*n to survive the holidays, and it’s also great for those of us wanting a nice turkey substitute on our traditional holiday tables. The Tofurky feasts are really good, and the gravy is delicious (but be sure to follow preparation instructions exactly or you’ll get a dry roast). But there’s more to Tofurky than just, um, Tofurky.

Last year, I wrote about Tofurky’s parent company, Turtle Island Foods (still independent!) and their line of great vegetarian and vegan meat alternatives (most under the Tofurky brand name). This year, they’ve expanded their line to include some new convenience meals: “chick’n” pot pie, eggless quiche, and hot sandwich pockets.

They graciously sent me a sample of several of the new products to try out. I have to say, I was a bit dubious about a vegan pot pie. Not the filling so much, but the crust. Gotta have a rich, buttery crust on a pot pie; otherwise, what’s the point? But this pot pie (including the crust) was delicious. It was actually better than the pot pies I remember eating when I was a kid (and my husband agreed). I was hoping that my daughter (a picky eater) would like it, but once she finished the top crust and was just left with mostly filling, she pushed it aside. But we gladly finished it for her.

The quiche was also quite tasty. I’m not a big fan of really eggy quiches, so because this one is egg-free, I liked it quite a bit. But if eggy quiches are your preference, this version isn’t going to do much for you. The pockets were also quite good and easy to prepare. The pepperoni pizza (with an herbed crust) was my favorite. I didn’t even let my husband have the second pocket in the package. And I feel no remorse.

Now, just because these are vegan foods, don’t think they are “health food.” The pot pie has about as much fat and calories (and sodium) as a standard pot pie of a similar size. Which is why it tastes so good. The pockets, however, are definitely more diet-friendly, with each at 300 calories or fewer per pocket.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Merridee's Breadbasket in Franklin Gets Spot in Daily Meal List of 50 Best Bakeries in the U.S.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 5:58 AM

Do you recognize this bakery?
  • Do you recognize this bakery?
The folks over at The Daily Meal have compiled a list (sorry, a GIF-less list) of the country’s 50 best bakeries. To compile the list, they started with over 1,400 bakeries and applied a number of criteria, including how long the bakery has been in business, originality of menu, if the chefs have received awards, if all the baked goods are made from scratch, and “buzz factor.”

How they got to their initial list of 1,400-ish from the estimated 6,000 or so bakeries in this country, I’m not sure, though at least some bakeries were considered due to a nomination from a panel of experts. These experts (some of whom have bakeries that made the list) contributed additional criteria, including atmosphere, technique, consistency, service, what their “standout specialties” are, and if they can make a good croissant.

Unsurprisingly, New York tops the list with nine bakeries. Massachusetts, Pennsylvaina, and Oregon each have four; California, Florida, and Washington state each have three bakeries on the list. Ultimately, bakeries in just 24 states made it, including a single bakery right here in Middle Tennessee.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unexpected Deliciousness at Yeast Nashville: Sriracha Bread

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 at 5:53 AM

A couple of weeks ago, Chris Chamberlain told you about Yeast Nashville opening. People really seemed excited over their kolaches, so I decided to stop in and check it out. I love kolaches! Well, I thought I did. It seems (it is) that I confused kolaches and knishes. Which I would not have done if I’d paid more attention to Chris’ photo (and words). Regardless, I’m a fan of just about any pastry, so this would not be a trip wasted by any means.

I stopped in around noon and to my surprise, there were still kolaches available, so I got a cherry kolache. But my eyes were immediately drawn to a rolled loaf of bread that had hints of bright reddish-orange peeking through. What is that? Sriracha cheese bread.

Yes, Sriracha cheese bread. As it appeared to me, it was, at first, pizza dough. But then it was lovingly coated with Sriracha hot sauce and very lightly sprinkled with cheese and, finally, rolled into a log and baked. I had to have it. Though I really expected it to be too hot for me, I knew my husband would love it.

Once I got home, I tried it. Delicious. The bread was crispy on the outside and chewy inside like a perfect pizza crust. And then the heat kicked in. Not burn-your-lips heat, but enough to make you aware of what you’re eating (and enjoy it). After several more bites, I set it aside and set about figuring out what to serve for dinner that would go with it.

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