Some Faves from the Winter Fancy Food Show

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

There are many ways to develop a 30-minute prep recipe, as you know, if you follow our recipes on Special Fork. Using no-fuss meats like ground beef or chicken is one timesaver. Another is to build a recipe around bold-flavored ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes that pack enough of a punch that few additional ingredients are required.

Still another way to streamline prep time is with specialty foods. Prepared marinades, meal kits and sauce mixes bring the world to your table – making biryani, bulgogi or Thai green curry as easy as opening a package and adding a few fresh ingredients.

The premier place to preview new specialty foods is at the Fancy Food Show, held in the winter in San Francisco and in the summer in New York City. An $88.3 billion industry, specialty foods are ubiquitous in American kitchens. According an online survey conducted by Mintel International in June 2014, 59 percent of U.S. adults purchased specialty food products in the last six months.

I've been to the San Francisco Show at Moscone Center over many years, tracking food trends. A show of this size, with 80,000 products and 1,400 exhibitors, is hard to get your arms around. I skip the chocolates and snacks, cereals and prepared desserts, simmer sauces and salad dressings, looking for ingredients that I think will appeal to the Special Fork audience of busy home cooks.

At last week’s show, I saw a continued push towards healthy ingredients, especially in snack foods, that feature pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, quinoa, lentils, kale, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, beans, nuts and sprouted seeds. And the typical buzzwords: gluten-free, fair trade, raw, organic, natural and superfood. Products made with coconut, seaweed and turmeric were widespread.

There were some promising products that didn't make my list, due to execution. I tasted at least two instant pho broths. And although the traditional pho spices were prominent, the meaty flavors were not. While the broths were being sampled with bean sprouts and noodles, which no doubt helped to enhance the authentic flavor, I sampled mine straight – on purpose – and they didn't hit the mark.

Here's what I tasted that I did like:

  • Pasta in 90 seconds. To accomplish this feat, Rustichella d’Abruzzo, an artisan pasta maker in Italy, developed an exclusive bronze die that scores the pasta along its length during extrusion. This slit allows water to penetrate into the pasta, for faster cooking. Once boiled, the split is not visible. I asked for a sample package of 90” Rapida Spaghetti to try at home. I found, upon draining, that the pasta hadn’t cooked through completely; I bit into a strand and saw a small white core of uncooked pasta. However, by the time the pasta had fully drained, it had cooked in the residual heat and was perfectly al dente, delivering on the 90-second promise. Distributed by Manicaretti Italian Food Importers.
  • Miso in standing pouches with screw tops, and umami salt. I loved the packaging for light sweet miso, dark aged miso and brown rice miso. It’s easy to squeeze out a spoonful to add to a marinade or salad dressing. This company is also introducing umami salt. The umami comes from koji (a seasoning made from rice inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a safe mold, that’s a hot ingredient in trendy restaurants). MUSO Group.
  • Cookie butters. Move over, speculoos spread and make way for Dave’s Gourmet’s Oatmeal Cookie Butter. Top pancakes, spread on toast, or use it as a filling in cookies or cupcakes. In the works are two more American cookie flavors: Snickerdoodle and Chocolate Cookie Crunch. Dave’s Gourmet, Inc.
  • Kitchen-grade matcha powder. Matcha, as a popular flavor, has been around, but I hadn’t noticed the culinary grade before, which is less expensive than the drinking matcha. You can use it to make matcha syrup, whisk it into pancake batter, incorporate it into cookie dough and more. Maeda-En Culinary Quality Matcha.
  • Fruit spreads with 14% less sugar than traditional jams and jellies bring out the true flavor of fruits, such as mango, fig and tangerine. This type of product is not new, but the spreads I tasted were exceptionally fresh and fruity, not masked by an overabundance of sugar. Aside from slathering on toast, the spreads can be used to season pork dishes, blend into a base mix for spritzer drinks, or pair with wine and cheese. Just Jan’s Inc.
  • Canadian Birch Syrup is tapped from birch trees. It’s an interesting flavor with a molasses quality. There are three different varieties: Amber Gold with notes of honey and apricot that can be used as a glaze for carrots, mixed into whipped cream or to create a signature cocktail; Amber can be incorporated into sweet desserts, to drizzle on fruit or Camembert, or to glaze meats or fish. Dark syrup, the most robust, can be added to meats, fish and wild game or used as a finish for root vegetables or as a topping for dessert. I was told that birch syrup is used in Scandinavian countries, and with Scandinavian cooking so prominent on the world stage today, expect to see more dishes with this sweetener. The Canadian Birch Company.
  • Fruit vinegars. Again, not new, but I loved the flavors of these from Napa Valley Vinegar. They’re made by adding fruit puree to wine vinegar. The fruit flavors are bright and fresh and would plus up any vegetable or fruit salad. The Champaign Pear was especially delightful. Napa Valley Vinegar Co.

For more interesting foods from the Fancy Food Show, check out my Instagram pics.

And since Special Fork is a recipe website, here’s a simple recipe that highlights specialty foods beautifully. I picked it up from the Italian exhibit for Prosciutto di San Daniele. This is a delicious prosciutto that comes from the center of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in northeast Italy.

Watercress, Cantaloupe and Prosciutto di San Daniele Salad
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bunch watercress, trimmed
1/3 cup diced red pepper
3 ounces Prosciutto di San Daniele, cut into 1- X 3-inch strips
½ cantaloupe, peeled and sliced

In a large bowl combine lime juice, honey and a pinch of salt and pepper; whisk in olive oil. Add watercress and red pepper; toss gently until coated. Add prosciutto. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide cantaloupe among four salad places. Serve salad over cantaloupe.

Makes 4 servings

Recipe adapted from Prosciutto di San Daniele.

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Posted: Jan 18th by Sandy_Hu