specialty foods

Parker & Otis good for what ails you

Breakfast at Parker & Otis Chasing away the winter blues is easy with a dash of wholesome baked goodness and a cappuccino. 

I like my oatmeal and raisins in the form of saucer-sized cookies rather than in a steaming glob in a bowl. Huge oatmeal raisin cookies for breakfast (or brunch) forever erase the image of poor Oliver Twist holding up his pitifully empty bowl and asking for more gruel.

Luckily for me, I can find oatmeal to the exact saucer-size cookie specification at Parker & Otis (112 South Duke Street, Durham, NC 27701, 919.683.3200).

Parker & Otis is not quite catering, not quite provisions and not quite cafe, but an interesting mix of the three. The specialty foods retail shop-slash-cafe carries filling and fun products both food and food-related all jammed into one outlet.

Housed where Fowler's Market once held court as king of fancy and fine comestibles and wine in the Bull City, Parker & Otis is vastly different from the storied Durham gourmet foods market. Fowler's was where I bought my first bottle of Dom Perignon in the Seventies. It was a serious food and wine shop.

What I like and what you will like about Parker & Otis is its playfulness. The shop's design, the sensibility of its marketing and merchandising, is infused with a childlike sense of wonder and whimsy. Children's old-fashioned penny candy - although a misnomer in 2010 - is cached in a vintage grocery display case.  Cookbooks are arranged cleverly using an old stove. The overall feel is light, bright, shiny and happy.

The shop juxtaposes old fashioned fixtures with trending products ranging from cookware, kids' gear, and household green cleaning products to a small but select wine cellar located just next to seating for breakfast and lunch customers. 

No stranger to cafe society, I found Parker & Otis' cafe not initially user-friendly for a newcomer.  Strictly self-service, it isn't clear at first glance that there is no table service and that you have to order in the store's midsection at the counter.

And I wasn't crazy about the raise-your-hand-when-your-name-is-called solution to getting the food from service counter to table. Still, these are minor quibbles in an overall excellent situation.

Once you know the drill, the cafe is relaxed and unhurried. Order at the counter, raise your hand when your name is called, and you get your meal - perhaps Blueberry and Banana Pancakes for breakfast or a Shrimp BLT for lunch - delivered on an adorable baking sheet instead of an icky plastic cafeteria tray.  Throw in an espresso and some devilish good thing from the bakery loaded with more butter cream or ganache than ought to be legal, and you're set for the day.

Afterward treat yourself to a fun little gift like the quirky mini pins - mine has a drawing of a camera with the word SMILE penciled above it - for $1 or buy a tee-shirt inscribed with the word CAKE to express your devotion to all things baked, layered, frosted and decadent for $14.99

Be sure to leave sufficient time for browsing. You'll leave happier than when you arrived.

Fancy Food Show to donate 100,000 pounds of food to Bay area needy

Exhibitors at the 35th Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco plan to donate more than 100,000 pounds of specialty foods and beverages to Bay Area residents in need.

The donation was announced today by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, the show’s organizer.

The Winter Fancy Food Show will take place from January 17 – 19, 2010, at Moscone Center, where more than 1,400 exhibitors will present 80,000 products from 50 countries. The donation will be made at the close of the trade event, the largest marketplace for specialty food on the West Coast.

For the second year, the NASFT will work with Feed the Hungry to collect and distribute specialty products to a network of community programs. Last year, hundreds of volunteers collected and dispersed more than three tractor-trailer loads of food, including top-quality chocolate, cheese, pasta sauces and beverages.

“With so many Americans experiencing food insecurity today, our exhibitors are especially eager to help alleviate hunger. We are pleased they can supply products that typically don’t flow into food pantries,” said Ann Daw, president of the NASFT.

Stefan Radelich, executive director of Feed the Hungry, an international hunger relief organization, said the food from the Fancy Food Show will be “a beacon of hope and encouragement.”

Last year exhibitors provided enough food to help more than 5,400 area residents. “When they open their grocery bags at home or in a shelter and find foods of the highest quality mixed in, it takes ‘somebody cares’ to a whole new level,” Radelich said.

The NASFT, a not-for-profit trade association based in New York City, has a long commitment to food-related charities.

This year marks the 20th year that the NASFT has worked with City Harvest, one of New York City’s largest anti-hunger organizations. Following its Summer Fancy Food Show, exhibitors donated more than 200,000 pounds of food last June and helped keep one food pantry from shutting down.

The ultimate gourmet marshmallow: Plush Puffs

Caramel swirl Plush Puffs dunked in so-good chocolate fondue

If your notion of marshmallows is old school bags of semi-soft sort of bland Campfires, then we have some serious good news for you.

Plush Puffs are plump all natural marshmallow pillows packed with flavor from Vanilla Bean to Caramel Swirl (my personal favorite) to Peppi Mint and Chocolate Chipetta. 

The plush bags of gourmet marshmallows retail for $6 for 16-18 i -inch cubes of gooey deliciousness.

Eat them straight out of the bag plain, toasted, dunked in chocolate fondue, or afloat in your hot chocolate.

Need more inspiration? Plush Puffs' website has recipes.

Let them eat Fancy Foods

Bella cucina The global economy may be uncertain, but people undeniably need to eat. 

If the turnout at the Fancy Food Show that ended June 30th is any indication, retailers are responding to consumers' desire to eat well - even if it means they're doing more cooking and entertaining at home. 

Last year, according to the show organizers, specialty food accounted for 15.9 percent of all retail food sales, up to $48 billion, an 8.4 percent increase in annual sales. 

While new product production declined last year, there was a significant increase in products made to satisfy cravings.  Chocolate and confectionary products, desserts, ice cream and alcoholic beverage rollouts all grew significantly, show organizers reported.

With 250,000 products representing 81 countries, there was far too much to sample and see in three short days.

The emphasis seemed to be on artisanal products - small batch, hand crafted products running the gamut  from pastas, olive oils, cheeses, and dry cured meats to honey, chocolates and  confections to dry rubs and spices.

From small domestic producers came products as diverse as O Olive Oils citrus based organic oils - blood orange and Meyer lemon - and Edwards Virginia Hams Surryano dry cured ham, a domestic alternative to Serrano and Prosciutto to award-winning John Kelly Chocolates Truffle Fudge Bites - Dark Chocolate with French Grey Sea Salt, which was a sublime melt in your mouthmix of sweet and salty.  

The Italian and Spanish purveyors offered a dizzying selection of cheeses, cured meats. olive oils and vinegars. 

Leonardi, noted for its fine Modena Balsamic vinegars since 1871, introduced a novelty sour-sweet condiment Balsamo Oro, unique for its flakes of gold alimentary leaves. 

Fancy Foods Show predicts hot food trends

The Summer Fancy Food Show starts Sunday. We are hungry already!

For three days, over 600 companies display natural and organic items, including the sofi nominees (and winners) for specialty outstanding food inovation for 2009.

The Fancy Food Show shapes the hottest trends in specialty foods and beverages from the U.S. and around the globe and the popular “What’s New, What’s Hot!” showcase will feature 1,000 offerings.

Filling 316,000 square feet of the Javits Center with 2,300 exhibitors representing more than 70 countries, the show features the world’s finest cheeses, olive oil, spices, teas, chocolate and ethnic specialties.

Finalists for Outstanding New Product of 2009 announced

Tortilla chips with olives and capers, breakfast cheese and organic blood orange soda are among the 11 finalists for the 2009 sofi Award for Outstanding New Product of 2009.

The sofi Awards, presented by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, honor the outstanding specialty foods and beverages of the year in 33 categories. “sofi” stands for specialty outstanding food innovation.

Finalists for Outstanding New Product 2009 are:

    * Belle Chevre -  Belle & The Bees Breakfast Cheese
    * Chex Finer Foods - Laurel Hill Tortilla Chips - Olive and Caper
    * Clotho Corp. -  Haddrell's of Cambridge Rewarewa Honey
    * European Imports Ltd.-  Cucina Viva Roasted Red Tomatoes
    * Grafton Village Cheese Co. - Grafton Duet
    * Koppert Cress USA - Mustard Cress Single Retail Unit
    * New England Herbal Foods -  Danielle Fruit Chips - Roasted Coconut
    * Sonoma Syrup Co.™ - Acai Black Currant Superfruit Syrup™
    * The Gracious Gourmet - Dilled Carrot Tomato Tapenade
    * Theo Chocolate - Theo Limited Edition Collection
    * Vinnedge Distributing Inc.- Vergnano Italian Organic Blood Orange Soda

A national panel of specialty food experts tasted and evaluated 1,997 products over five days at NASFT offices in New York this spring.

They selected 128 finalists across 33 categories, including Outstanding Chocolate, Cheese, Snack Food and Olive Oil. The last two groups of finalists were selected earlier this month, for Outstanding New Product and Outstanding Product Line.

The finalists will be judged by attendees at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. Gold winners will be announced at a special ceremony Monday, June 29 hosted by noted chef Ming Tsai.

Hawaii Kai Kilauea Black Sea Salt

Buy Soul of the Sea black salt

The tiny island of Molokai is producing something big – all natural, sustainable gourmet sea salts in four varietals distinctive for their flavor as well as their health and nutritive properties.

The craft of salt-making has been practiced on the island for centuries and pa'akai or salt is considered sacred.

Harvested only on the island of Molokai and in partnership with local farmers, the salts are available in four varieties: Papohaku White, Haleakala Red, Hanalei Green, and Kilauea Black.

Papohaku White: Named for Molokai's most famous white-sand beach, it is distinguished by its silken texture and rich flavor. It serves as the base for all Hawaii Kai's salts.

Haleakala Red: With a shimmering, earthy sheen, this salt is created with red Alaea clay, revered by Hawaiians for its health benefits.

Hanalei Green: This salt contains certified organic bamboo leaf extract – prized in southern China as a health aid. Abundant in amino acids, antioxidants and vitamins, its perfect for enhancing Asian cuisine.

Kilauea Black: Glistening and dramatic in color, this smoky flavored salt uses the highest premium activated charcoal, which acts as an anti-toxin and digestive aid.

These pure sea salts are made from Molokai ocean water, regarded as among the cleanest waters on the planet. They contain 81% sodium chloride – less than other gourmet salts – and 19% essential and naturally occurring ocean electrolytes and trace minerals.

Hawaii Kai, producers of Soul of the Sea, is invested in the economic vitality of the tiny island as well. By training local farmers in their proprietary process and creating a SaltMasters Guild, the company is putting resources into the tiny island community and creating economic opportunity.

Retails for $35.