Eating Trends Change with Crappy Economy

The state of the US economy has been on my mind a lot lately – let’s face it, it has been on everyone’s mind lately – and this has led to scary conversations with just about everyone I know. It is incredible to step back and really get the full scope of how bad things have gotten (so bad that I can no longer blame George W. Bush for everything that is wrong with the world as has become customary). Everywhere we look, there are sacrifices people have to make from business to their personal lives. I was just reading this about the restaurant industry:

Menu prices in July were on average 4.2 percent higher than they were a year ago, according to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services at the National Restaurant Association.

Raising menu prices can be an especially tricky move since the restaurant business relies largely on the amount of cash in consumers’ bank accounts.

If diners have less money to spend or they perceive that it could cost more than usual to eat out, they typically head to the grocery store instead…

Meanwhile, with gas staying near $4 a gallon, consumers are less likely to spend money on any discretionary item, whether it’s a meal out, a new outfit or a flat-screen TV. *

With the state of our economy people are being forced to/taking pleasure in eating at home. This made me start thinking even more about the role that CooksCompass.com can play in these hard times. I hope people take advantage of this tool that is out there so that we can share secrets/thoughts/hints/advice on the exploration of different cuisines. I’d like for it to be a useful tool in getting people to fully enjoy their time in the kitchen.

*The Clarion-Ledger

Square Milk Jugs – ‘Green’ Solution or Spilt Milk?

Costco and Wal-Mart (in their Sam’s Club locations) have started selling new square jugs of milk. Made of recyclable plastic, this new design allows for tight stacking translating into more milk in less space in trucks and in stores (at Sam’s Club 224 gallons of milk can now fit in coolers that used to hold 80) meaning only 2 deliveries a week is needed instead of 5.

The traditional design requires milk crates for delivery which get filthy and take up too much space in delivery trucks. With the new design, the jugs are stacked on dividers made of cardboard and shrink wrapped. The cardboard and shrink wrap are recycled (good for the environment) and do not take up extra room on the trucks allowing for more milk to be delivered on a single trip (thus effectively reducing carbon emissions; great for the environment). Also, eliminating the crates means that they don’t have to be cleaned – estimates say water use could be reduced by 60 to 70 percent.

Now, there are concerns with the spillage that people seem to encounter when pouring out the milk with these new jugs – I think the solution to this would be to change the spout design to be more like the ones used with liquid detergent bottles – but for the benefits we could see, we should all try to re-learn how to pour milk.

Cook’s Compass tries to high-light the rare and exotic ingredients in you area, but this time I just had to give kudos to the corporate giants for taking a chance and making a change. Hopefully, in time, we will start to see these square jugs in a store near you. Reduced water use, reduced carbon emissions, big fuel savings… works for me!

Stats from article on: http://www.nytimes.com

CSA Time!

Veggies from the first delivery of CSA from Red Fire FarmGetting my first delivery of veggies from my CSA was as exciting and interesting as I had hoped. The season starts out fairly light with a lot of leafy salad greens, some turnips and radishes, and herbs. In the photo to the right (from top to bottom) is cilantro, Hakurei Turnips, Chives with flowers, and radishes.

I have to admit, there aren’t a whole lot of ‘recipes’ from this first batch – the veggies and herbs were so delicious that I just chopped them up into a salad and ate them straight!! (ok, a little balsamic & olive oil dressing, but that’s it!). The radishes really caught me by surprise, they are quite a bit spicier than any radish I’ve had before.

CSA_1Hakurei Turnips were new to me (and to my spell-checker), and I am definitely a fan. (My spell-checker, however, is not) They are light and crisp with a very mild peppery bite that’s reminiscent of a radish. While you can definitely eat these straight, I decided to slice them thin and lightly sauté the turnip part in olive oil along with the greens. I only added a small pinch of kosher salt to enhance the flavors. Then I just served it over sticky rice.

Another surprise was to see an old friend from high school picking up veggies from my location. I hadn’t seen Margaret in years, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that she is a food blogger trying out alterations of recipes and comparing the results at alteRecipes ( www.alterecipes.com )!

Flavor-Tripping with Miracle Berries

There was an article in the New York Times a few weeks ago about this amazing little berry that numbs your sour and bitter taste buds for up to 2 hours. The idea of eating something that could completely change the flavor of everything else that follows has stuck with me ever since I read about it.

Miracle fruit, miracle berry, magic fruit are some of the names that this little berry goes by (apparently the name ‘miracle’ berry comes from the glycoprotein that can be extracted from it called miraculin) and it has become the inspiration for Mr. Aliquo’s “flavor tripping parties” in New York where guests can go and experiment with this fruit. This is how it goes; you pop a berry, chew for 30 seconds to a minute and swallow. Miraculin binds to the tongue altering your taste buds so that a lemon tastes sweet, Tabasco sauce tastes like donut glaze, and lemon sorbet dropped into some Guinness tastes like a chocolate milkshake. HOW COOL IS THAT!

Now, there is probably a reason why things tastes sour and/or acidic – it’s probably not a good idea to make a habit of chugging vinegar; I’m sure it would wreak havoc on your stomach. That said, it would be great to be able to experience an ‘alternate universe’ where goat cheese tastes like cheesecake and bananas taste like… well, bananas. Yet most of us may never have the chance to because this berry is so hard to find.

Thanks to the NY Times article, a couple of places in New York City have already been added to Cook’s Compass as locations to find Miracle Berries and I’m sure there are many people out there who would be interested in finding them in their area. If you know where to find some, let everyone know at www.cookscompass.com. We’d all be grateful.

Reducing Our Carbon Food-Print

Andrew wrote an entry a few months ago about the distances produce may travel before arriving on our plates for consumption. I was just reading an article about reducing our carbon footprints and the picture that was painted for me just blew me away – so I thought I’d share…

In the article, Maribeth Crandell describes the trip that the beans for your coffee may have taken. She says:

Say you have a cup of coffee in front of you right now. Where did that coffee come from? Did you grow the beans yourself? Not likely. Let’s trace it backward from the grocery store shelf to the truck that brought it from, say, a field in Colombia. (Coffee is the second largest legal export commodity after oil. The United States drinks about one fifth of the world’s coffee.) After these beans are crushed and dried, they’re transported by freighter using Venezuelan oil to New Orleans, where the beans are roasted using natural gas from Texas. Then they’re taken to Seattle in an 18-wheeler which gets six miles per gallon of diesel at $4.50/gallon. A smaller truck takes the beans to the grocery store where you bought them.

(To read the whole article here is the link: http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/opinion/19030804.html)

Now, the reason this had such a strong impact on me was because of the amount of fuel needed for the transport of these coffee beans. With the global fuel crisis that we are currently in, it seems like a good idea to reduce how much fuel we consume, directly, and in this case, indirectly (not to mention the effects we would have on lowering fuel emissions.) It’s amazing to think about the power each of us has.

Anyway, getting to my point, if we buy our produce from local farmers, we can go a long way towards limiting how much we depend on ‘well-traveled’ goods. Obviously, we can’t get our coffee from local growers (if you can, you have to let me know about that), but there is such great produce being grown close by. Granted, sometimes people simply don’t know when or where these farmer’s markets (or any other sellers of locally grown produce) are. We hope that people will share their insights on Cook’s Compass and use some of the power they have to literally make huge changes for our planet.

A few recent developments

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, apologies for the intermittent nature of these posts! We’ve been working on a lot of cool new features, and generally getting the word out about Cooks Compass. Farmers markets are starting up and we are working on the best ways to include them in our search results.

Buying from farmers markets not only gets you the absolute freshest produce possible, but also supports local farms, and typically uses significantly less energy than buying from the grocery store.

Free listings for food store owners

One of our main goals at Cooks Compass is to bring the owners of good and interesting food stores and local markets together with our users — potential customers! So we’ve created the store owner section – it’s free to use for anyone who would like to promote their food store (pleass – only food stores for now!). If you own a food store, and would like to create a free web page that you can edit, please visit our free publicity for food stores section and create an account. We are a rapidly growing new site that has a feature that NOBODY else on the web offers — the ability to list the types of ingredients you sell and even the individual ingredients! We’ve developed some tools to make this task as easy as ever.

Some people have asked why we are doing this, and that it seems too good to be true – so there must be a catch. Well, there is no catch – it’s totally 100% free, but we both benefit from the listing. You (the store owner) tell us about your store. As more store owners use our site to describe their store, the more people who are looking for good stores come through. And that is how you help us grow as a site, and we help you grow your business.

So get started with your free online listing today!

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