Going Nuts for Hazelnuts

U.S. sales of chocolate products with hazelnuts have increased 37% since 2003, according to IRI data from InfoScan. Total hazelnut chocolate product sales were approximately $64 million in 2002, and, though the numbers took a slight dip in 2003 and 2004, they have been on an upward trend from 2005-2007. Hazelnut products currently account for more than 20% of the total gourmet chocolate market. Mintel’s “2008 Chocolate Confectionery” report predicts the overall chocolate market will continue to grow during the next six years. Several companies have recently introduced new hazelnut chocolate products to meet growing demand. Dove launched a Roasted Hazelnut Milk Chocolate bar; Theo Chocolate, a premium chocolate manufacturer, released its Hazelnut Crunch Milk Chocolate bar in March. The product is likely to quickly become the number-two seller in its popular line of gourmet chocolate products. The Hazelnut Council, www.hazelnutcouncil.org

Mushroom Mania

A gourmet foods manufacturer introduces sautéed, ready-to-use frozen mushrooms. Phillips Gourmet’s proprietary process allows a freeze/thaw cycle without destroying the mushroom cell structure, thus maintaining rich flavor and fresh-like texture. Phillip’s frozen mushrooms are all-natural, use no hydrogenated oils and are seasoned with garlic, salt, parsley and pepper to provide flexibility in applications. Use with proteins, in sandwiches, pizzas, pastry dishes, sauces, dips or fillings. No prep labor is required. Portabella and white mushrooms are available sliced and diced in 5lb pouches with a shelflife of 18 months. Phillips Gourmet, 847-587-3103, www.phillipsgourmet.com

Customized Creativity

Now, there are culinary flavor systems that can be relied upon to deliver authentic taste to signature dishes. Master’s Touch® Sauce & Gravy Concentrates are crafted by a team of culinary professionals and are made of only the finest, freshest, highest-quality ingredients available. Master’s Touch Sauce & Gravy Concentrates offer unparalleled consistency and versatility guaranteed to keep customers coming back for more. For more than 55 years, Custom Culinary Inc. has been a trusted partner, providing the most authentic, consistent and reliable food bases, sauces, gravy mixes, concentrates and flavor systems in shelf-stable, frozen and refrigerated formats. Custom Culinary Inc.,866-TRUETASTE, www.customculinary.com

Nuts About Nuts

Almonds are a simple choice that can make a big difference. Whether interested in taste or healthiness, a 1oz serving of almonds is both nutrition-rich and tasty. Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium and also offer protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Plus, that same serving contains only 160 calories and no cholesterol. Research has shown that almonds can help lower LDL cholesterol levels and people find them very satiating. Almond Board of California, 209-549-8262, www.almondsarein.com

More on Mushrooms

A variety of powdered, natural mushroom flavors meet the needs of the most creative and demanding chefs in the foodservice industry for soups, sauces and vegetarian applications. Nikken Foods USA Inc. offers flavors featuring champignon and shiitake mushrooms used in Nikken’s Mushroom Extract Powder (2103), Shiitake Powder (2106) and Mushroom Bouillon (2340). Nikken Foods also provides a complete list of fermented soy sauce powders, seafood powders, dried Oriental vegetables and continuous vacuum-dried natural flavor bases to the foodservice industry. Nikken Foods USA Inc., 502-292-3285, www.nikkenfoods.com

Precious Peppers

The poblano pepper, originating from Puebla, Mexico, is known as the “bell pepper of Mexican cuisine.” It has mild heat and tough skin and is usually roasted and peeled to deepen the flavor and soften the flesh. Now, poblano pepper offerings from Van Drunen Farms make it easy to enjoy this spicy, summer vegetable year-round. IQF Fire-roasted Poblano Peppers are cleaned and flash-roasted over a live flame, then individually quick-frozen (IQF). The finished product provides consistent color, flavor and size. Van Drunen offers the specialty peppers in several dice sizes, and customization is available. Van Drunen Farms, 815-472-3100, www.vandrunenfarms.com

Say Cheese, Please

Cheese can add flavor and texture to any application, as well as functionality to convenient, bite-sized foods. Kraft Food Ingredient Corporation’s Hi-melt, innovative cheese ingredients are perfect for new, ethnically inspired appetizers or hand-held appetizers. With KFIC’s Restricted Melt Swiss; Restricted Melt American; Creamery Exceed Plus® and Fancy Shred and Grated Parmesan Cheese blends; and Old English™ pasteurized process Cheddar cheese dices, the possibilities are endless. Kraft Food Ingredients Corporation, 901-381-6533, www.kraftfoodingredients.com

Catch the Wave

With interest in whole grains running at a heightened pace, commercial bakeries, food manufacturers and foodservice culinarians are exploring unique flavor combinations to optimize the appeal, nutritional profile, functionality and sensory properties of their food and beverage formulations. From whole-grain orzo to fiber-infused yogurts, this changing landscape has spurred ConAgra Mills to reintroduce a collection of exotic, specialty grains from far-off places that boast irresistible appeal. Thanks to ConAgra’s new line of Ancient Grains flours, multigrain blends and seed inclusions, product developers can incorporate these long-lost grains into their next-generation product formulations. The flavors, textures and undisputed nutritional credentials of grains like amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff are anything but old-fashioned. ConAgra Mills, 800-851-9618, www.conagramills.com

Nice Rice

U.S. rice accounts for over 80% of the rice consumed in the U.S., and its popularity is increasing in foodservice, with 80% of operators considering rice to be an essential ingredient on their menus. USA Rice Federation’s research with 350 foodservice chefs/operators found the top reasons for preferring U.S.-grown rice were to support American farmers (86.6%), support the U.S. economy (84.5%) and a preference to buy local (59%). USA Rice Federation, www.MenuRice.com

Southwestern Pepper Cups
Ingredients:
5 medium red, yellow or green peppers halved and seeded
1⁄3 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1⁄2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups cooked rice
1 10 1⁄2-oz can diced tomatoes with chiles, undrained
1 8 1⁄2-oz can whole kernel corn, drained
Vegetable cooking spray
1⁄3 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Procedure:Blanch peppers in boiling water 2-3 minutes. Drain; set aside. Cook onion and garlic in oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Combine rice, tomatoes with chiles, corn and onion mixture; mix well. Spoon into pepper halves; place on baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until hot. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350° 5-10 minutes or until hot and cheese is melted.

Yield: Makes 10 servings.
Source: USA Rice Federation

Reason to Celebrate Raisins Recipe

The following recipe for empanadas comes from the California Raisin Marketing Board. California Raisin Marketing Board, 559-248-0287, www.calraisins.org

Ingredients:
Filling:
1 tbsp olive oil
1lb lean ground beef
1⁄2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tomatoes; peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cooking apple; peeled, cored and chopped
1 serrano chile pepper, chopped
½-cup California raisins, plumped in warm water
¼-cup green olives, chopped
½-tsp dried oregano leaves
½-tsp dried thyme leaves
½-tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper

Dough:
3 cups masa harina for tortillas
¾-tsp salt
1 tbsp lard
2-3 cups warm water

Procedure:
Filling: Heat oil in sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add beef and sauté, breaking up any chunks until nicely browned. Add onion and garlic; continue to sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes more. Season to taste and cool.

Dough: In a large bowl, mix masa, salt and lard. Gradually, add enough water to form a smooth, soft dough. Divide into 30 walnut-size balls. Place a ball of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and flatten into 6in circle with a tortilla press. Remove top layer of plastic and place 1 tbsp of filling in center of dough. With fingertip or pastry brush, brush edges of dough with water. Fold over and seal. Remove from plastic and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat for all. Pan-fry or deep-fry in hot oil until nicely browned.

Yields: 30 appetizer-sized empanadas
Serves: 30

Three Cheers for Red, White and Blueberries

The following recipe, from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, is slightly adapted from one intended for consumers. U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, 800-824-6395, www.blueberry.org, bberry@blueberry.org  

“Wave the Flag” Cupcakes Recipe
Ingredients:
18oz of a standard formula for yellow cake mix
1⁄3-cup applesauce
3 egg whites
3 cups fresh blueberries, divided
8oz reduced-fat cream cheese
½-cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 roll red-colored, rolled fruit snack

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, beat cake mix with applesauce, egg whites and 1¼-cups water for 30 seconds on low speed, then 2 minutes on medium speed. Spoon batter into 24 (2½-in) aluminum or paper-lined muffin cups. Evenly divide 1 cup of blueberries onto tops of batter; do not stir. Bake cupcakes following package directions; remove to a wire rack and cool completely. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until smooth. Spoon onto cooled cupcakes; spread to the edges. Unroll fruit snack and, with a sharp knife, cut into strips 1⁄8-in wide by 2in long. On half of each cupcake, arrange strips, trimming each to fit. Arrange remaining 2 cups blueberries on the frosting on other halves of the cupcakes, about 10 blueberries per cupcake.

Yield:  24 cupcakes