Hi Food Friends! Last Sunday I went to the 2012 National Restaurant Show, at McCormick Place here in Chicago (site of next week’s NATO Summit – more on that later). My mission was simple: hunt for the coolest new restaurant and food trends I could find. Except it wasn’t so simple! The show is HUGE! More than 58,000 people attend, and the exhibit floor is MASSIVE! Undaunted (and with super-comfy shoes on), I dove into the food fray to bring you my favorite cool food finds. Ready? Here we go!
1) Smoked Basmati Rice. It was so freaky! The aroma of the raw rice was super-smoky, but cooked, it had a very mild smoked flavor – barely discernible, even. It was delicious! Because let’s face it, plain rice can be a little boring. This would add real interest to a meal. Love!
2) Real Ginger Ale. OMG, you have to find this stuff: Fresh Ginger Ale. It is DIVINE! Yes, it’s soda pop and it’s filled with sugar, but it’s made with fresh ginger, and it has an amazing ginger bite – you get the sweetness and heat of ginger all at the same time – so delish. And it comes in several different flavors — jasmine, passion fruit, pomegranate/hibiscus and original. Slightly obsessed. I imagine this would be extraordinary with a shot of good tequila.
3) Grain Chips & Crackers. Wow – this stuff was cool. This company, Mediterranean Snacks, makes (and imports, I think) all sorts of cool snack foods made from non-traditional ingredients. First there were lentil chips in flavors like rosemary, cucumber dill, sea salt and cracked pepper, which are all gluten-free, packed with protein from the lentils (and garbanzo and adzuki beans, which are also in there) and they’re baked, not fried. What’s not to love?
But they also had these really cool crackers, Le Pain des Fleurs, made with quinoa, chestnuts and buckwheat. They’re a French product, and more like a crispbread, with a very light texture. They’re also gluten-free, and they were delish – I think you can find them at Whole Foods, but the Riega Foods web site has more stores.
4) Ubons BBQ Sauce – Okay, so barbecue sauce isn’t new per se, but I’d not seen this family-owned brand before, and the woman at the booth (“Princess Barbecue”) was so delightful, I had to share. The family is from Yazoo City, Mississippi (how can you not love a town called Yazoo City?) and the sauce is really good with a deep tomato-y and vinegar-y flavor, and I thank them for the bottle they gave me. The family is rather famous for competition BBQ events and I can tell there’s a lot of passion for BBQ behind this product. It’d be good on most anything — chicken, burgers, French fries, baked potatoes – and in a bloody mary!
5) Microgreens! Yes, I LOVE microgreens! If you saw my last post about Cuisinart resort in Anguilla, you know I learned a lot of hydroponic farming, and these tiny green beauties are all grown hydroponically (without soil; in just a water medium). So I encountered the guys from Koppert Cress, based on Long Island and we played a fun game: they gave me a piece of microgreen, or cress, and I tried to identify it. It was fun! The Popcorn Shoots? Shut up – tasted just like fresh sweet corn. But it was the Szechuan Button that really blew my mind. I put a tiny piece of this tiny yellow flower on my tongue and let it sit for a few seconds. Then – POW! – it was fizzy, almost Champagne-like, then it was spicy hot - like an acid trip going on in my mouth! Completely cool! They suggest using it in a cocktail, or on top of ice cream or sorbet – which would be awesome – or as a palate cleanser, in between courses. You have to visit their gorgeous web site for more info – I’m a little obsessed with these guys.
6) Tequila Beer. Yes! Tequila (my spirit of choice, always) and beer ( love beer), living together, in the same bottle! WHAT? And to make it even freakier (but in an good way), this Amigos beer comes from the U.K. Now, I give the U.K. plenty of credit for excellent beer, but tequila? What the what?? And it was good! Really good! A little sweet (there’s a hint of lime in here), a little hoppy – overall a beautiful combination. Forgive me, but I cannot remember if they said it’s available in the U.S. yet or not, but if you see it, get it.
7) Kru Vodka. Okay, so I’m a tequila girl when it comes to spirits, but vodka is my back-up. And when I saw these cool aluminum bottles, I had to stop and learn more. It’s distilled in Holland, and it’s got a really great, clean flavor. And the packaging is kind of brilliant – these shatter-proof, reusable bottles keep the stuff super-chilled – and you can re-use it for water or whatever when you’re done. It tastes like a super-premium vodka, but the price is really modest – I think it’s only like, $16 or $17 for the 750-ml size (a standard, full-size bottle). Bravo!
8) Dazbog Coffee. Yep, Russian coffee. What? Well, it’s the product of two Russian immigrants who, yes, fled their motherland for a better life – in the U.S. So they started making coffee. And it’s good. Strong (as I would expect – I mean, nothing wimpy comes from Russia, right?) and rich. They have their own coffee shops in some U.S. locations (Colorado, Wyoming, Maryland), and they said they might have a shop in the Chicago area soon (can they take on my beloved Intelligentsia?). Their colorful, bold packaging drew me to their booth, but once I got the whole Russian thing, I had to know more. I’d definitely buy this at retail.