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Desparately Seeking Optimism

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Food for Thought

I am embarrassed to admit that I watched the first episode of Celebrity Apprentice last Saturday night. (Seriously, we wanted to watch a movie but couldn’t find one worth a darn on the 500 cable channels we have). Yes, I got the reality bug during the first season of Apprentice; but quickly lost it when I felt I was reading a sequel of Daniel Steele novels.

I’ll also say that despite famous actors, models and athletes standing in for annoying characters like Amarosa, the whole celebrity shtick doesn’t really add all that much dimension to the overdone and overrun Apprentice premise.

I will, however, complement the Donald on his continued optimism in pursuing this engagement (of course, if I got paid as much as he did to host a TV show, I could exhibit enthusiasm, too). Something I admire about his performance on the show, at least in the edited cuts, is the amazing constraint he exhibits when someone says something completely out of line or downright stupid. For example, as much as I liked Hershel Walker in his efforts to save his spot in the apprentice line-up after his loss as project manager, he simply couldn’t stop making references to football and ballgames and being part of a team. If I had been the Donald, I might have started laughing hysterically.

Likewise, comedian Andrew Dice Clay was so incredulous in his “I’m too good to do the work” attitude, but Donald maintained his calm and complimented him - even after the “you ain’t got no bagels in our suite” remark and a rude interruption of daughter Ivanka. I won’t even bother with is graceful handling of Dennis Rodman.

Have you ever noticed, though, how “terrific” everything is for Donald, whether he is on the show or interviewed by press in regards to his business dealings? Even this week, as news leaked out about his poor performing real estate portfolio in various locales across America, and specifically a new tower in Vegas, he still maintains an optimistic front and very convincing argument that his properties are actually doing quite well. And if investors lose money in one his many Trump Towers, it’s nowhere near as much as they’d be losing with a competitive property. (Of course).

In times like these, his cocky optimism is actually refreshing. And not that I am a Donald Trump junkie, but it’s nice to hear that life is terrific when stock prices are falling. It’s nice to see the “Good Things in a Bad Economy” segment on the NBC Nightly News. And it’s really nice to hear that Citigroup posted a profit in January and February. Apparently, the market felt this way, too.

With a little injection of optimism, things just might start improving a bit. And if you disagree with me? Well, you’re fired!

Organic, natural and green. What does it mean?

Posted by: Meghann  :  Category: Food for Thought, Marketing

USDA Organic Seal

If a product is natural, does that mean it’s organic? And if it’s organic, is it also natural? Simply put, no. The terms are not interchangeable. I wasn’t actually sure of the definition of either, so I looked it up. According to Associated Content, organic simply means the botanical product was grown in a chemical-free environment. Natural means the final product has been made solely from botanical resources without any use of additives or preservatives. 

To confuse consumers even further, if a food bears a USDA Organic label, it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards and at least 95 percent of the food’s ingredients are organically produced. Foods that are ‘made with organic ingredients’ are comprised of at least 70% organic material. 

Does a natural or organic label make the food product a green one? Is an organic or natural product considered to be health food? And regardless of which label you happened to have found on the box or package, would you pay more for it?

Apparently, cost does play a part in the decision making, as consumers continue to shout “you want me to pay how much?” as the barrier for purchasing more organic foods than they do. Their concern is justified, as organic products can cost 50-100% more than their non-organic counterparts. Ouch! Even though sales organic sales are on the rise, they need to gain even greater momentum if economies of scale are to help drive prices down.

And with the latest trend in health food marketing being edible packaging, it may not be long before we have our cake and eat the plate, too.

Hot Diggity Dog

Posted by: Brian  :  Category: Entrepreneurism, Food for Thought

What do City Grill, Tacabi, Zutto, Franco Latino, Mortimer’s, 8th Street Wine Co., Satchel’s Grill, Andrae’s, Milky Way, A Taste of Memphis, and Gino’s all have in common? They are all members of the Boise restaurant community that did not receive part of the $700 billion bailout package in 2008. So you may be asking, “what does this mean?” Simple. For starters: they don’t exist anymore. Second: I calculated that at this rate the only restaurants that will be left in downtown Boise by the end of the second quarter of 2009 will be hot dog stands. After looking into this phenomenon I learned that hot dog stands have proved to be a solid investment over the years for those who choose to invest in them. There are many reasons why this holds true. To name a few:

·         Most are sole proprietorships resulting in simplified taxes come Uncle Sam’s favorite time of the year.

·         The initial investment of a standard All American Hot Dog Cart can be paid off in the first year if placed in a high foot traffic location.

·         Overhead is minimal. Once the cart is paid off, the only cost is that of the goods sold which can be charged directly to the consumer.

·         Hot dogs can be a bear or bull market purchase. They are enjoyed by most regardless of the economic state of our country. Good times or bad, there is always a cult following for a Hebrew National. Do you think people are eating a lot of $50 filets when their 401K’s have taken a 60% hit? Doubtful.

·         Free advertising: it’s hard to not crave a hot dog after watching professional eaters like Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut engulf 53 ¾ hot dogs in 12 minutes at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition televised on ESPN.

·         Hot dog’s appeal to even the healthiest of eaters by incorporating elements of all of the major food groups.

·         Good hot dog stand attendees can upsell customers on high margin items like soda and chips.

·         Many stands sell advertising space.

·         Some hot dog stands sell unmentionable illegal substances that are tax free, cash only, and no receipt sales.

So as I continue to watch local restaurateurs find their brick and mortar locations falling to the perfect storm of an economic downturn and raising commodity prices, I encourage them to consider trading in their mincing knives and zesters and pick up a four wheeled cart with umbrella. Then take to the streets where they can experience the fruits of their labor in slinging tube steaks to those with empty stomachs and empty pockets.

When in Idaho, Eat Potatoes!

Posted by: Meghann  :  Category: Culture, Food for Thought

With Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, we thought we’d share some of our favoritepotato-laden recipes. We do live in Idaho after all, so not show off the versatility of this hearty native vegetable? Now instead of cringing and rolling our eyes every time someone says, “You eat a lot of potatoes over there in Idaho,” we can tout all the wonderful dishes this vegetable can create.

Meghann’s Sweet Potato Pie

  • Cook 5 medium sweet potatoes covered in boiling water
  • Cover until nearly tender
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Pare and cut the potatoes lengthwise 1/2-inch slices
  • Place in shallow greased baking dish

Season with:

  • Salt and paprika
  • 3/4 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice or 1/8 Teaspoon ginger
  • 1 Cup small marshmallows

Dot with:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • Bake uncovered about 20 minutes, until glazed.

And Wallah deliciousness!

John’s Parmesan Potato Rounds

  • 4 Medium red potatoes; thinly sliced
  • 1 Small onion; thinly sliced, separate into rings
  • 3 Tablespoons butter; melted
  • 1/3 Cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 Teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 Teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:

Preheat over to 540 degrees

Place half of the potatoes in a greased, 2-qt. baking dish. Top with onions and remaining potatoes. Drizzle with butter. Sprinkle with parmesan, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Bake uncovered 25-30 minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown and tender.

Brian’s Cheese Potatoes

Serves 6

  • 6 new potatoes, boiled and cubed
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1 bunch green onions, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Paprika for garnish

Directions:

Mix together potatoes, sour cream, onions, cheese, salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Melinda’s Boursin Potato Gratin (thanks to Stirring Recipes from Memphis Heart and Soul)

  • 2 Cups heavy cream
  • 1 5-ounce package Boursin cheese with cracked black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 Clove garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 Pounds red new potatoes, scrubbed and sliced 1/4 inch thick salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons snipped chives
  • 2 Tablespoons snipped parsley

Directions:

Generously butter a 13×9x2-inch baking dish. In a heavy 1 1/2 quart saucepan, heat cream, Boursin cheese, shallots, and garlic over medium heat, stirring until cheese melts.

Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Arrange half of the sliced potatoes in the baking dish in slightly overlapping rows. Generously season with salt and pepper. Pour half of the cheese mixture over potatoes. Sprinkle with chives. Repeat layering with the remaining potato slices, more salt and pepper, and cheese mixture. Bake about 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown. Sprinkle with parsley.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Melinda’s Sweet Smashies

If you’re serving four or five folks, here’s what I’d do.

Take:

  • 4-5 sweet potatoes or yams (sweet potatoes are more orange but they both taste good)
  • Bake ‘em about 45 minutes - 1 hour in a 350 degree (or so) oven.

Then:

  • Cut ‘em open and scrape the insides out.
  • In a bowl, mash up the potatoes and add some milk (cream would be even better, but of course more fattening).
  • I’d guess about ¼ to ½ cup.
  • Just stir ‘em up after you add the milk and make sure they’re still pretty thick. You might want to add a little milk at a time to test.
  • I like to add a couple of tablespoons of butter. Again, more butter = better. But, more butter = more fattening, so use your best judgment.
  • Then I add brown sugar to taste. Some folks like it sweet, others don’t. You can taste as you go till you get ‘em like you want ‘em.
  • I probably add about ¼ - ½ cup.
  • Then I pour the mixture into a pyrex dish.
  • What’s really makes ‘em good is to add brown sugar and pecans on the top. I like to mix up enough to cover the entire potato mixture.

At this point, you can stick it in the frig and re-heat before you eat (takes about 30 minutes or so). Or, stick it in the oven and let the sugar melt on top and eat ‘em now.

And wala! A delicious dish for not a lot of effort.

Water Bottle Waste

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Food for Thought, Nice and Green

How many of you opt for a bottle of water at lunch or on a road trip, avoiding yet another Coke or Pepsi (with Southern roots, I still can’t find myself saying “pop” or “soda”)? I suppose on the one hand, it’s good. Water’s better for you and, according to the experts, everyone should be drinking more of it. But there is a bad side effect from all this water guzzling - plastic waste.

I was driving along the highway in Seattle this week and actually heard an ad on the radio about the importance of drinking more tap water, because water bottle waste has gotten out of control. This inspired me to take a look at some startling statistics:

- 8 out of 10 plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or end up in a landfill. (Container Recycling Institute)

- The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes. But refilling you water bottle from the tap requires no expenditure of energy, and zero waste of resources. (PBS Point of View 2004)

- Making all of the bottles for the US requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually. That’s enough to fuel 100,000 cars. (Earth Policy Institute)
http://www.refillnotlandfill.org/

Hey, I was guilty of water bottle compilation, too. I bought a couple of cases of bottled water for our office and then I got depressed when, one week later, we had a mountain of bottles in the recycle bin. There was something that didn’t feel right about the scenario. So I went and bought a water filter system so we could use tap water and good ‘ole wash-em-when-your-done glasses.

I’m no expert when it comes to water filters, but it certainly seems to be a more economically and environmentally responsible approach to H20 consumption. So try filling up that empty bottle with tap water, or a glass when you have one handy, and save the landfill from a little more plastic!

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Cafe Vicino

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Food for Thought

For those of you visiting Boise or living here on a permanent basis, I wanted to share the magnificent meal I had on Saturday night. We ate at Café Vicino, located just across from the Boise Coop in the North End. I had the prosciutto-wrapped Draper Valley Farms chicken breast with a golden raisin and Grappa sauce on crispy polenta. I have prepared a similar prosciutto-wrapped chicken dish out of Jamie Oliver’s recent cookbook, but the flavor did not compare. Why can’t I get my prosciutto crispy like the restaurant did? Any suggestions are welcome.

The Best Damn Okra Period

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Food for Thought

First of all, you have to start with fresh okra. If you take your knife and try to chop through a rigid, tough piece, throw it out. It tastes bad (this is what happened to my entire garden supply last summer).

Next cut into bite sized pieces (about 1/4′-1/2″).

Put in a skillet and add olive oil to coat plus salt to taste.

Cook on medium low heat for about 10 minutes.

Wala! It is fantastic.

Also, if you want to mimic the look and feel of deep friend Southern  okra, throw a little flour and corn meal on top of the okra while it’s cooking (or even coat it beforehand in a bowl). It all tastes good, any way you go at it.

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