It's a new year, and so a clean plate for all food nerds is in order. We can forget the memories of past food flubs and start this year fresher than a bowl of baby spinach (triple washed, of course.) I've been studying other food forecasts for 2013 -- including those that stretched through Cafe Society last week -- and I found some trend predictions that I not only agree with, but I will enthusiastically trumpet until my tooter runs dry.
Here are the top five food predictions that I agree with. And praise the lard, "awesome" new weight-loss strategies are not included.
5. Being artisanally cheesy.
When you were a kid, cheese was uncomplicated: there was the yellow one, the white one, the kind that came in slices and string cheese. And that was it -- unless you were raised in the Midwest, where there was also squirty cheese in a can. But when you became an adult, people began to slip you melted Brie on ham sandwiches, restaurants put goat chèvre on the starters menu and Maytag blue cheese dressing on your salad, and before long your C-card was officially stamped.
You aren't a virgin anymore, so why not resolve to satisfy your cheese lust and take this relationship to the next level? It's predicted that the interest in artisan and upscale cheeses won't slow down, so jump on this trend and ride it.
Anyone who thinks that eating cheese couldn't possibly be as good as really good sex hasn't tried enough cheeses. Try a mouthful of Spanish Caña de Cabra with its bloomy rind and rich, milky, salty quicksand center, or a bite of French Ossau-iraty with its firm, creamy, bright hay-colored paste that tastes like grass and sweet honey. Or a smidge of a savory artisan cheese like Lagrein, which is soaked in wine and rubbed in spices to produce a beautiful garlicky, wild onion flavor. Or perhaps a thin slice of one of the holy grails of cheese: Oro Italiano; a super-rich cow's milk cheese made with saffron and black truffles.
Feeling intimidated by all the fancy-schmantzy choices? Make your first pick Drunken Goat -- it's a perfect gateway cheese.
4. Making meatless Mondays matter.
The campaign to make Mondays meatless was started in 2003 by a marketing whiz named Sid Lerner -- remember that "Squeeze the Charmin" ad back in the day? -- as an initiative to get people to do a hard reset after weekend indulgences and begin each week with a healthy zap of veggies and tofu. Contrary to popular belief, vegetables and soybean curd are just a small part of the options available for meatless meals, and the popularity of going meat-free one day a week will offer the chance to do what all good food nerds adore doing: experimenting.
Crazy and delicious things can be constructed from seitan, eggplant, avocados, nuts and potatoes, and tucking shreds of carrot or a handful of greens into a sauce will add both nutrition and depth. Root vegetables are predicted to be the new go-to veggies for both meatless meals and side dishes, which comes with another bonus: root veggies are generally cheap. With the price of a nice roast of beef these days necessitating two trips to the plasma center AND hocking your plasma screen TV, taking one day out of the week to cook turnips, parsnips, rutabagas and carrots will lighten both cholesterol and wallets.
3. Thank you, India.
It's been suggested that Indian spices and seasonings are going to hit as a hot trend in 2013, bringing curry to the masses.
But that's just the start. I would love to see more use of cardamom than the occasional Turkish coffee. Star anise has an exotic, licorice flavor and is quite decorative; tamarind lends a distinctive tangyness; adding mint can completely change a dish in a good way; and if you've never had a dessert like ice cream, custard or cake made with rose water, then you are coming late to the party -- but will be welcomed nonetheless. I'm especially looking forward to seeing asafetida, or hing powder, become more mainstream -- kinda like how Sriracha used to be mysterious, and now you can buy it at Wal-Mart.
Hing powder is a dried gum extracted from the root of an herbaceous plant native to Afghanistan, and the powdered form smells like a hundred pounds of oniony, garlicky sh*t. But when cooked into soups, rice or vegetable dishes, it adds a layer of flavor that resembles fine leeks and aromatic vegetable matter. And hing powder makes you fart less, which is another thing for which we can all thank India..
2. Smoke if you got 'em.
Apparently the medieval ages are making a comeback in the form of smoked things. Our Middle Ages predecessors smoked foods out of necessity -- no refrigerators, freezers or King Soopers -- but nowadays those of us who don't live in the Ozarks can still smoke meats, fish, cheeses, sauces and even sugar just for the hoobly-heck of it. I have a short list of things I'd like to see smoked: bananas, spinach dip, pumpkin soup, peppercorns, butter, cinnamon desserts and my wish-list favorite, mashed potatoes.
I am 100 percent behind this trend re-re-re-re-revamp for no other reason than a smudge of smoke makes even boring ears of corn taste like sweet, roasty goodness, and I will qualify my enthusiasm only by clearly asking for this trend not to include too many mesquite-smoked items, since this backwards time-traveling trend need not make a pit stop in the 1980s.
1. Oh yes; it CAN and SHOULD be pickled!
I can never, ever say enough nice things about pickles. If pickles were a person, I'd take them out on a date, get them knocked up, trick them into marrying me, and then never let them leave the house. I have seen various and sundry pickled vegetables and fruits creep on to restaurant menus and do stealth-slips into shops and grocery stores, but I'm hoping this trend leads to a a veritable pickling revolution with pickled everythings --- pickled sausages, upscale pickled eggs, a bump in beets, a return to radishes, spiced pickled asparagus and eggplant, lemons, limes and perhaps some random stuff soaked into salt and vinegar like cantaloupe slices, cubes of sheep's milk cheese, fishes that aren't herring and green apples. Pickles are fairly inexpensive and easy to make, and restaurant owners and staff who have already put housemade pickles on their menus are smart.
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I like the trend slogan, "Pickles! You Can Make Them Before You Become a Retired-But-Industrious- Grandparent!" Or just use the ready-made slogan from Portlandia, "We Can Pickle That!" Or maybe "Give Those Pickles Some Long Mouth-Tickles!"