nina | April 16th, 2012 - 9:00 am

Most grilling experts would probably agree that there is an art and science to becoming a true grilling guru.  While some decisions – like whether to use a charcoal or gas grill – are a matter of personal preference, understanding the finer points of food preparation over open flames comes only from education. Getting to know the grill itself, as well as learning how to manipulate the heat and create a variety of flavors, will make this grilling season the most enjoyable yet. Below are a few key points to help you make the heated decision between using a charcoal or gas grill, and noted why it’s important to consider the benefits of each.

Tools of the Trade – Charcoal vs. Gas Grills
In its simplest form, this debate is a matter of taste and convenience. The primary benefit of a charcoal grill is that it enables the food being grilled to take on a more authentic, smoky taste, while a gas grill saves time with the ease of simply flipping a switch to ignite the fire.  Consider the following factors before you gear up to grill:

Where – A small patio or covered area is not conducive to a large charcoal grill.  Charcoal grills are best used on a large outdoor deck or in a backyard.  Without available space, a gas grill is a better option.

When – If weekend afternoons are dedicated to grilling, then charcoal is the way to go. Set aside extra time to assemble the coals, light the fire and wait for the coals to heat. However, if you are short on time or looking for a quick way to cook a weeknight meal, then the quick start of a gas grill will better suit your needs.

What – When grilling small cuts or smaller quantities of meat, consider using a gas grill to provide fast and efficient direct heat. If you are grilling large pieces of meat, or larger portions, a charcoal grill will help create a slow-cooked, smoky taste using indirect heat.

Method to the Madness – Grilling Techniques
Once you are equipped with a grill, learning about direct and indirect heat – the two main methods of grilling – will help you make informed decisions when preparing grilled foods. These methods have less to do with the type of grill being used, than with the thickness and volume of the meat being grilled. 

Direct Heat
Direct heat – the most common method – is grilling the food directly over the hottest point of the heat source.  Grill pork chops, burgers, kabobs and anything less than 2 inches in thickness, over direct heat. Follow these simple tips when grilling using direct heat:

    * For charcoal grilling, arrange coals evenly throughout the grill.
    * When using a gas grill, turn on all the burners to the desired temperature.
    * Flip food once to ensure even cooking.
    * Use the following descriptions of coals to check cooking temperature when using charcoal:
       — Low – Ash coat is thick, red glow less visible 
       — Medium – Coals covered with light-gray ash  
       — High – Red glow visible through ash coating

Indirect Heat
Indirect heat requires the “fire,” or heat source, to be built off to the side, or around the area where the cooking takes place.  Follow these meat grilling strategies to grill larger cuts of meat, like ribs and roasts, using indirect heat with either a charcoal or gas grill.

    Charcoal Grill
Arrange the coals along the perimeter of the fire grate, or bank on one side.
    * Place an aluminum foil drip pan in the center of the fire grate, or to the side opposite the coals.
    * Add the grill grate and place the pork in the center.
    * To adjust the temperature, partially open the vents on the bottom of the grill.
    * Cooking time will vary depending on the cut of meat and the quantity of food being grilled, but plan for about an hour for a 2-pound loin roast and 1½ to 2 hours for a slab of ribs.

    Gas Grill
    * For a two-burner grill, preheat only one burner. For a three- or four-burner grill, light only the outside burners and place the meat in the center.
    *  When hot, place the meat over the unlit burner and close the lid to trap the heat inside.
    * Most gas grills come equipped with a catch pan, or grease collector, so there is no need for a drip pan.

The Smoldering Effect – Adding Smoke for Flavor
For both charcoal and gas grilling, adding smoke to the meat is a fantastic way to create an authentic barbecue flavor.  The most ancient and time-honored method for enhancing the flavor of grilled food – smoking – can be achieved by following these simple steps:

    When using a gas grill, put presoaked wood chips in a cast-iron smoker box or wrap them in aluminum foil and punch small holes in the foil to release the smoke. Do not put wood directly on burners or it will burn too quickly and leave ash in the grill.

    When using a charcoal grill, place wood chips directly on heated coals after the flames have subsided and the coals are gray in color, or place wood chips in a smoker box. 

    Start with small amounts, especially if experimenting. The recommended amount is 1/4 cup of wood chips. 
    Always add the wood chips when you are ready to start cooking, and not before you place the food on the grill



nina | April 13th, 2012 - 9:00 am

Coffee and tea remains a key foodservice industry growth driver, buoyed by aggressive menu innovation and a strong foothold in the breakfast daypart, according to Coffee and Tea Foodservice Trends in the U.S.

Sales of coffee and tea at restaurant and drinking places are projected to reach $18.7 billion in 2012. Sales spiked 11% in 2011, driven by the return of consumers to the restaurant industry, aggressive coffee and tea menu innovation, increased penetration of coffee and tea among restaurant units, and menu price increases.

Some 173.5 million consumers drink tea and 183 million consumers drink coffee.  These are eye-popping numbers that also imply limited usage growth potential. The challenge for foodservice operators involves expanding varieties and occasions for use while converting home and office coffee and tea users into foodservice users.

“The Big Four” in this market — Dunkin Donuts, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, McDonald’s, and Starbucks — each generate coffee and tea revenue in excess of $1 billion. Led by these Big Four, coffee and tea players continue to outperform restaurant industry growth, with restaurant brands across the foodservice spectrum pursuing incremental profits through improvements in coffee and tea quality and variety.

Data provided in Coffee and Tea Foodservice Trends in the U.S. show that most leading coffeehouse/donut shop brands have grown same-store sales since 2005.

While the percentage of restaurants that offer coffee rose across the board in the 2007-2011 period, especially notable is the increased presence of specialty coffee drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes, Americanos, and Macchiatos. Macchiato penetration has risen by over 50% since 2007.

Correspondingly, the average price for coffee on the restaurant menu has risen 25% since 2007, with the highest increase at quick-service restaurants. However, this price trend reflects operators passing on coffee commodity cost increases to consumers, as has also been the case at retail.

The rise in coffee prices has created significant challenges for industry players. Naturally, coffee commodity prices significantly affect coffeehouse expenditures, as well as those of restaurant operators with a significant coffee stake on the menu. But after rising to record levels in early 2011, coffee prices have begun to trend downward. Tea pricing stability may provide operators with higher margins than they receive for coffee, and, if history proves a barometer for the future, leave them less vulnerable to pricing volatility.

In addition, all regional and national coffeehouse chains now complement their beverages with food, and food platforms continue to expand. Against a competitive backdrop that includes quick-service restaurants offering quality food and beverages, coffeehouses need to supplement their beverages with a quality food selection or risk losing sales to players providing both.

Source:  Packed Facts; 2.13.12


nina | April 12th, 2012 - 9:00 am

To the advantage of the pork industry in the next several years, not only will pork exports stay strong, but also U.S. domestic per capita consumption is poised to recover as the pork industry expands production.

Pork expansion will be ignited by strong profits, which began in the spring of 2011, and by moderating feed prices. A third supporting force will be the very low levels of beef available into 2015.

Feed price moderation depends on a return to normal yields in the United States for 2012 crops. For that reason, the pork industry should still view 2012 as a transition year for feed prices.

Limited competition from beef in the meat case is locked-in for several years.  The current small beef cow numbers means small calf crops for several years, and heifers retained as expansion begins. This means small beef supplies until at least 2015.

The pork industry is well positioned to quickly take advantage of this uptick in market opportunity that is beginning to present itself.  In the next several years, the pork industry will benefit from strong growth in foreign per capita consumption and from some expansion in domestic per capita consumption as well.

Source:, 3.5.12


nina | April 2nd, 2012 - 9:00 am

This meal is clearly an American passion, as many are eating their way through the weekend in restaurants and homes across the country.  Thankfully, brunching tends to be a wallet-friendly endeavor, whether eaten out or cooked at home.  Brunch seems to appeal to people because it’s more flexible than a dinner party.  The meal lasts about two hours instead of four, and you don’t have to exclude the kids.  Plus, it’s cheaper. . . .eggs are one of the least expensive foods you can buy.

It’s a forgiving meal, especially when you’re armed with these tips:

*  A buffet is totally acceptable – and probably more desirable.  Everyone’s happy.  You eat what you want.

*It’s okay to bring in food from a bakery or bagel shop.  Maybe a bagel station with an assortment of bagels and cream cheeses, lox, capers, onions and tomatoes. . .very elegant.

*Brunch can be sweet or savory – or both.  If you had chicken salad for breakfast, people may turn their noses, but when it’s a brunch, all is good!  Serve fruit, danish and an egg dish.  Or if you’d like, do a killer cheese board with good bread and dried fruits.

*Keep the drinks simple.  Instead of an entire wet bar, make a signature cocktail or punch that can be served with or without alcohol.  Pomegranate juice, with lemon-lime soda and sparkling water is perfect.

*Make your own (less expensive) flavored coffee.  Before brewing a pot, simply put a cinnamon stick, vanilla bean or three slices of gingerroot in the filter along with the grounds.

Now you may toast to a delicious brunch.  Enjoy!

Source: 2.14.12

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