Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fancy Food Show: A Closer Look

I returned to the Fancy Food Show on Tuesday, the show's final day, and was able to focus more on local products and some healthier products. No worries, I also spent some time on some tremendous indulgences as well.

Let's talk local first. I immediately ran into a stall for Carlsbad Gourmet staffed by its president Russ Bruhn. He had what seemed to be dozens of products that revolve around, well, strawberries, of course: Strawberry Spread, Strawberry/Lavender Spread, Strawberry/Jalapeno Spread and the like. I enjoyed the strawberry/lavender combination -- it's a natural marriage. I wasn't as fond of the strawberry/jalapeno combo. It just seemed forced to put together the distinctive sweet strawberry flavor with a huge pack of heat. On the other hand, I've been raving to everyone about the Carlsbad Chronic Bar-B-Que Sauce. Made with Carlsbad Chronic Ale brewed locally by Port Brewing Company, the sauce is a stunner -- tangy, hot, sweet, thick. Definitely something to order online.


Another find isn't quite local, but close. Pollen Ranch fennel pollen is located up in Tulare County but their line of eight fennel pollen spice blends was created by the Marine Room's Chef Bernard Guillas. These include M-Ocean for fish and shellfish; Pollen Asian for all dishes; Hog Heaven for poultry, pork and veal; Little Devil for Cajun Creole beef; and Divine Desserts for baking and desserts. I took a few samples and tried out the Divine Desserts this week in an apple pie. The spice blend includes fennel pollen, dried ground orange peel, lemon grass powder, cayenne pepper, sour plum powder, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, ginger, vanilla powder, ground clove and coriander. I substituted a normal teaspoon or so of cinnamon for the equivalent of the Divine Desserts and hoped for the best. It turned out to be a huge success at my book club. The feedback I got was that it elevated the expected flavors and added a bit of an edge. I loved the fact that it melded so well with the apples and gave the pie another dimension. Currently, Jonathan's and Harvest Ranch markets carry the line of spices. The company told me that Taste in Hillcrest will also be carrying it soon.

In answer to the quest for some healthier foods, I tried valiantly and did find some interesting products -- but it really required more willpower than I had to eschew the fabulous in favor of the body friendly. I'm still enthralled with the Popcorn, Indiana products from Dale and Thomas that I wrote about Monday. But, I found another wonderful company called Lesser Evil that sells low-fat kettle corns and low-fat Krinkle Sticks. The latter was a hit on the Gourmet Club radio show yesterday. These are seasoned potato snacks, either Classic Sea Salt or SourCream & Onion. I loved the flavor but found them too salty. The Kettle Corns were simply fantastic in that classic salty/sweet combo. I'm told by the company that their snack bags are equal to two points for Weight Watchers. You can find them locally at Jimbos and the La Jolla Whole Foods.

Another interesting low-fat product is the Skinny Frappe, ice-blended drinks that boast they're low calorie, low in sugar and low in fat. Made by Caffe D'Amore, they come in coffee, vanilla, chocolate and mocha. I tried the mocha, which was delicious and very refreshing. All you need to do to make these is combine a package of the mix, skim milk and ice in the blender for 30 seconds. These can be found locally starting in February at Smart N Final.

As for other low-fat foods, truly most of what was there is already on our shelves and are products you're probably already familiar with. I didn't find much that was both novel and tasty. In fact, one attempt ended badly -- it was a green tea energy bar type of product that simply was foul. Another, a spinach-flavored, fat-free tortilla chip, wasn't much better.

Neither local, nor healthy but tremendously fun were the Soul Sisters from Paterson, New Jersey. These two ladies, Betty and Kathy Dixon, have come up with a wonderfully tasty frozen food: "soulful" egg rolls.


Wrapped in the traditional Asian egg roll dough, these Soul Rolls have several different fillings, each packed with wonderful flavors: sage sausage, Latin-Style Kitchen, Sun-Dried Tomato & Swiss, Jerk Chicken - "Ja Roll," Carne Asada Steak, Latin-Style Chicken and Smoked Turkey. They come four in a box along with a fabulous Jalapeno & Garlic dipping sauce. My favorite was the spicy savory Sage Sausage. It's still unclear what stores here will be selling these so check in on their website in a month to find out if they've made any local distribution deals.

I also enjoyed pear-flavored products from A Perfect Pear in Napa Valley. You can find their Pear Chipotle Grill Sauce, Buttermilk Pancake mix, Pear Fig Jam, Cinnamon Pear Maple Syrup and other items at Whole Foods and Bristol Farms. The flavors are slightly unusual in a good way. Local personal chef Amy Thom developed recipes for the products and made turkey meatballs in the grill sauce. The sauce really turned a low-fat (see, back to our theme) entree into something with a rich, elegant flavor. Also enchanting were pear and sweet potato pancakes using their buttermilk pancake mix, topped with cinnamon pear maple syrup.

If you're working up a good thirst by now, look for lemonade mixes from Urban Accents. I loved the lavender lemonade and the jalapeno lemonade. They also carry cucumber, ginger and spiced flavors. The lemonades are just one line of a variety of products that include spices blends, exotic rices, popcorns, grilling rubs and many other items. The reps couldn't tell me where their products are sold in San Diego, but you can buy them online.

Over by the international foods section, I encountered a young man enthusiastically carving a serrano ham for an engaged audience.


The ham, from a Spanish company called Ilbesa, was a little salty, a little fatty and all around a delightful burst of pork lusciousness. Next to it was a thick chorizo. Both can be found in town at Costa Brava in Pacific Beach.

Portugal also had strong offerings, including a wonderful collection of cheeses with fruit spreads designed to complement them. I tried a couple of sheep and goat cheeses.


The Valle d'Aspe chevre was a little sharp but the edge came off when paired with their Black Cherry with Licorice fruit spread. I also was taken by another goat cheese, gardunha, and was able to find it at Venissimo on Wednesday. This intense cheese is wonderful paired with either sweet fruit or olive tapenade, according to store owner Gina Frieze. Let it sit out at room temperature to get good and soft before eating.

Finally, check out Whole Foods for the Mt. Vikos line of Greek Foods -- superb barrel-aged feta, the herb-spiked Fetiri and a line of appetizers. Next to Mt. Vikos and possibly distributed by the same people at the booth was an interesting product from Spain called Sweet Olive Oil Tortas. These crispy yet fragile, circular pastries are perfect for a cheese plate or just to snack on with tea. You can find them at Whole Foods, Henry's and Bristol Farms.

And that concludes the tour. I don't know about you, but I'm stuffed!

Have some thoughts about the Fancy Food Show in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:




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