Churros 2.0

The churro has been made new again. As reported in The Arizona Republic (December 21, 2010), the Phoenix area has seen an increase in churro-related menu items and even a churro-only chain (Xooro) open north of the city. 

Usually a staple at amusement parks, ballparks and movie theaters, churros have also been seen increasingly in the frozen-food sections at supermarkets. At Xooro, the California-based company offers churros with many and varied fillings, including peanut butter, Nutella and white chocolate. Coatings are also reinvented, with such offerings as coconut, rainbow sprinkles and maple-bacon. According to Xooro owner-partner Moises Martinez, "It's a matter of sophisticating the product, taking a traditional snack and making it appeal to a wider variety of people by offering different flavors and variety."

Hispanic-focused grocery chain Pro's Ranch Markets has seven Arizona stores and serves traditional churros. "Churros are more of an appetizer here," said Jose Loera, Phoenix Pro's Ranch Market food service director. "You'll see customers grab one and walk around eating it." It is one of the top three sellers at the in-store bakery, according to Leora.

Barrio Café's James Beard-nominated chef Silvana Salcido Esparza remembers eating freshly fried churros from vendors on the beach in Mexico as a child. She currently serves churros rellenos with vanilla bean ice cream.

"The way the sugar and cinnamon coat the outside, eating them is almost like biting into air, but they're full of flavor. There's nothing better in the world," says Esparza.

Taking on Tofu

John Scharffenberger is no stranger to making a success of uphill battles. In the 1980s, he made American-produced sparkling wines popular, under the Scharffenberger Cellars name. In the 90s, he jumped early on the gourmet chocolate bandwagon with Scharffen Berger chocolate rectangles. Now, he is tackling tofu.

According to USA Today (December 29, 2010), Schaffenberger is making tofu a luxury item. He is CEO of Hodo Soy Beanery, a company that turns dried soybeans into that exquisite custard so beloved by the Japanese, but not yet fully embraced by U.S. diners.

In many ways, tofu has the same problems as yogurt, from a formulation perspective. Yogurt did not find its place in the American diet, until it went from an unfamiliar, somewhat "gloppy" health food to an easy-to-eat, smooth snack.

So, while tofu may be healthy and eaten in many other parts of the world, people in America do not readily reach for it. But, once tofu undergoes the transformation and comes in an easy-to-use, prepared food format, it may have a huge audience.

This is exactly what Hodo Beanery is tackling. Forget the white blocks of tofu from yesteryear and imagine, instead, a braised puff, marinated in a tangy five-spice sauce. It is "chewy on the outside and creamy in the middle," and can be popped into a salad or casserole, says Sharffenberger.

The company currently ships products only in Northern California, with plans for Portland, Seattle and Vancouver this winter and L.A. in the spring. However, if Sharffenberger's past successes are any indication, this is definitely one product to