Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Salted Caramel Band Wagon

Sometimes food trends sneak up on eaters, wiggling their way into the cracks and crevices of culinary pop culture, before we even realize they're upon us.  The early to mid 20th century saw sweetened bowls of milk drenched cereal slowly, but surely, replace eggs, bacon, and pancakes as typical breakfast fare.  The 80s saw the rise of micro brews, which would eventually horn in on Budweiser's & Miller's virtual monopoly on the American beer market.  Today eaters find themselves surrounded by foods flavored to taste like salted caramel.

Photo courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.

When I first heard of the trend, I figured chefs & food manufacturers were trying to capitalize on the long running popularity of Cracker Jacks, candy-coated popcorn and peanuts, well known for being packaged with a prize of nominal value inside.

As it turns out, the famous salty/sweet snack, registered in 1896, has nothing to do with the current fad.

According to a New York Times article, America's love affair with the flavor of salted caramel was imported directly from France. Heavily salted butter caramels are, apparently, a traditional treat in the coastal town of Brittany, France.

With this tradition in mind, Pierre Herm, the Parisian pastry chef known for his experimentation, invented a salted caramel macaron, an almond meringue cookie with a salted caramel filling. The cookie quickly inspired a loyal following among American foodies who became intent on producing their own salted caramel something.

Today, multiple products feature this flavor combination, including, but not limited to:

  • Boxed Sea Salt Caramels,
  • Lean Protein and Fiber Bar - Salted Caramel,
  • Monin Gourmet Flavoring Syrup - Salted Caramel,
  • Salted Caramel White Chocolate Bars,
  • Torani Sugar Free Syrup - Salted Caramel,
  • Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Sticks,
  • Kind Nuts & Spices Bar - Caramel Almond & Sea Salt,
  • Funky Chunky® Sea Salt Caramel Snacks,
  • Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels,
  • Sea Salt Caramel & Chocolate Dipped Strawberries,
  • Snyder's of Hanover Salted Caramel Pretzel Pieces,
  • Smucker’s Simple Delight Salted Caramel Topping,
  • and BEN & JERRY`S Salted Caramel Core Ice Cream.

  • My good friend, Sarah B., even made salted caramel popsicles for her kids, the recipe for which, I'm still waiting to receive, by the way.

    Perhaps the most surprising incarnation of this flavor profile was Buffalo Wild Wings’ use of it as a wing sauce on their recent summer time menu.   One doesn’t often think of candy coated chicken.  However, when coated in the sauce, the wings deliver the initial taste of sweet BBQ.  After three or four bites though, I noticed a pleasing burnt caramel taste on the back of my palette.

    The flavor of salted caramel will undoubtedly find its way into dishes and commercial products for some time to come.  One day it may even be considered to be a run of the mill flavor alongside chocolate and vanilla.

    What’s your favorite salted caramel flavored food?
    Supplemental Note Added 09/05/14:

    Since posting this blog, Sarah B. has provided me with the following recipe.

    Salted Caramel Popsicles

    Mine take about three cups of liquid to fill, so I play around with the proportions, but it's typically just simple syrup and fruit. The fruit can be left raw, roasted in the oven or stewed in 1/2" of water, then it gets puréed. These have 3/4 cup of simple syrup, 1/2 cup of salted caramel sauce and 1 3/4 cups of apricot purée. They are by far my favorite of any pops I've made, but I've also done strawberry-rhubarb, strawberries and balsamic vinegar, ginger-peach, raspberries & cream, vanilla bean-pear, roasted nectarine and basil.

    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    The Scooby Snack Cocktail versus The Piña Colada

    My friend, and right hand, Dani was at a bar recently, when she heard someone order a "Scooby Snack."  Certain the patron wasn't ordering a dog treat, she asked the bartender what was in the
    Piña Colada with key ingredients
    Subject: Piña Colada with key ingredients | Date: 09/18/2012 | Photographer: Achim Schleuning | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Germany license.
    cartoon inspired cocktail.  The drink apparently consists of Melon Liqueur, Coconut Rum, Pineapple Juice, and Half & Half.

    When she told me about the drink I thought it sounded vaguely like, the cruise ship drink, the Piña Colada, another rum based cocktail with similar flavors.  Curious about the difference, I decided to do some research on both drinks.

    Ramón 'Monchito' Marrero Pérez claims to have made the first Piña Colada at the Caribe Hilton Hotel's Beachcomber Bar in San Juan on 15 August 1952. Yet, Ricardo García, who also worked at the Caribe, says that it was he who invented the drink, while Ramón Portas Mingot says he created it in 1963 at the Barrachina Restaurant.

     I couldn't find a history of the Scooby Snack, but its sweet flavor profile, and occasional addition of whipped cream, makes me think the drink was probably invented by a cruise line or a gaggle of giddy sorority sisters.

    While the lime green Scooby Snack utilizes a melon flavor, not found in a Piña Colada, and derives its coconut flavor from coconut rum rather than cream of coconut, the biggest difference rests in the way the cocktails are intended to be imbibed.  Served in a tall glass, the Piña Colada is meant to be sipped slowly as cool breezes blow through one's hair.  In contrast, the Scooby Snack is typically served as a shot drink, to be downed quickly while partying hearty.
    Scooby Snack Cocktail
    Click name above to see picture of drink
    1 oz. Melon Liqueur
    1 oz. Coconut Rum
    1/2 oz. Pineapple Juice
    1/2 oz. Half & Half

    Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled shot glass.
    Piña Colada

    2 ounces light rum
    2 ounces pineapple juice
    1 1/2 ounces cream of coconut
    Pineapple wedge & Maraschino cherry for garnish

    Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail or Collins glass. Garnish with the pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry.
    Supplemental Note Added 08/15/14:
    While every article I've read online describes the Scooby Snack as a lime green shooter, the drink Dani saw was milky white, and was served in a twelve ounce beer glass.  Served as a sipping drink would bring the Scooby Snack one step closer to the realm of the Piña Colada, in my mind.

    Sunday, August 3, 2014

    Red Lobster Will Be Going Up Scale

    The popular seafood chain, Red Lobster, has recently been purchased by Golden Gate Capital, which plans to "elevate" the chain into a series of upscale restaurants.  CEO Kim Lopdrup told the press, the overhaul will begin with the rectangular plates their food has traditionally been served upon.  "Entrees used to come with portions spread out in separate corners in a sort of balkanized TV-dinner effect," said Lopdrup.  The new presentation style will be designed to mimic fine-dining, with fish fillets stacked vertically atop the pilaf, with a charred lemon on the side.

    According to Lopdrup, "The actual ingredients aren't changing, but the Red Lobster menu will nonetheless soon boast $30 dishes."  Golden Gate has prioritized the goal of carving out a high-end niche for themselves within the realm of fast-casual restaurants.

    "At the end of the day, people are not going to go a Chipotle for their anniversary or their birthday," Lopdrup says, adding that the low, "low-priced specials that we're not proud of, like 30 shrimp for $11.99, are getting the boot."

    So basically, they plan to rearrange the food on the plate, charge more for it, and axe the discounted affordable options from the menu.

    Yesterday, I decided to visit Red Lobster at 10330 SW Greenburg Rd, in Tigard, Oregon, before the changes take full effect.  The fishnets, rustic wood walls, and historic pictures of oceanic fisherman have already been replaced with urban architecture and modern style art.

    I ordered the Crab & Roasted-Garlic Sirloin (peppercorn-crusted sirloin topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and fresh tomatoes in a roasted-garlic cream sauce, served with mashed potatoes and green beans) from their Crab Fest menu, for $18.95.

    The meal began with their traditional Cheddar Bay Biscuits and a  wonderfully creamy Caesar Salad piled with shaved Parmesan.

    The steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and was seasoned with a blend of black pepper and garlic to produce a nice savory kick.  Additionally, the sweet mixture  of lump crab & tomatoes melded deliciously with the savory cream sauce to compliment the steak.

    As for the sides, the potatoes were seasoned with garlic and herbs, making the buttery, but soggy, beans the only chink in the armor.

    Since I had to shop for my nephew's birthday gift after lunch, I accompanied the meal with a non-alcoholic soft drink.  However, a cold Boston Lager would have paired well with the meal.

    All things considered,  I give Red Lobster's Crab & Roasted-Garlic Sirloin 8.8 out of 10 stars.

    End Note: While I loved what I had, I won't be willing to pay $12 more for it, a year from now, just to have the chef put the steak directly on top of the potatoes.  Red Lobster has never been as basic as a Skipper's, but it's not New York's La Cirque either.  Red Lobster has always been a place where middle class Americans could go for quality seafood at a reasonable price.  If they discontinue their annual Lobster, Shrimp, and Crab Fests, and discard their affordable menu items, they'll lose many of their middle American customers, including me.

    Choosing not to look like a geek, I didn't whip my camera out to photograph my lunch, but you can see picture of this meal, on Red Lobster's own server, by clicking on the name of the dish above.

    Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Butlers Blacksticks Blue Cheese - Micro Blog

    Butlers Blacksticks Blue
    Subject: Butlers Blacksticks Blue | Source: Picture kindly provided by courtesy of the Butlers Specialty Cheeses.
    Having a sister-in-law who sells wholesale gourmet goodies to Portland's finer restaurants allows me to sample the occasional treat.  Most recently, she brought a wedge of Butlers Blacksticks Blue to a weekend get together, and I fell in love.

    Located in the pasture lands of Lancashire, England, Butlers Farmhouse makes this soft, blue-veined cheese from the pasteurized milk of the family's own cows.  The cheese is matured for eight weeks, allowing it to develop a bright orange color, reminiscent of Huntsman & Cotswald.

    Streaked with yummy blue mold, Butlers Blacksticks Blue delivers a salty tangy bold flavor.  Keeping in mind the punch of flavor this cheese brings to the table, I'd pair it with a nice dark stout beer such as Young's Double Chocolate Stout or McMenamins Terminator Stout, which can stand up against the cheese's strong taste.

    With nothing bad to say about Butlers Blacksticks Blue, I give this cheese 10 out of 10 stars.