Friday, March 1, 2013

Bento Boxes To Lose Weight

My New Year's resolution is to lose weight and eat more healthfully. Yes, I know it is March 1 but better late than never. In addition to regular exercise I plan to pack more lunches to the office. I purchased The Just Bento Cookbook to get ideas.

I have not yet tried any of the recipes in the book but they look good. I was inspired to create three bento dishes today. At left is tofu fried in a wok with bottled teriyaki sauce and green onions. Next to it is rice with fried egg (eggs beaten with green onions and salt). Behind it is a chicken stir fry made with a packaged stir fry mix in the produce aisle with sprouts, soy sauce, and honey (I didn't have sugar.). The stir fry mixed vegetables helpfully provided the recipe. All three dishes were delicious.

The lunch containers were all available at the 2012 International Housewares Show in Chicago. The red and green Aladdin Insulated To-Go Food Containers were designed to look like deli containers. The white OXO bowl with lid is from their children's collection. I cannot wait to see what I see at this year's show.

Disclosure: I received a sample of the red Aladdin container at the Housewares Show. The other two containers were purchased by me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Korean Gochujang Tasting Menu

I am trying to catch up on blogging which is why I am blogging about the National Restaurant Association Show which took place back in May 2012. At the show, I had the opportunity to enjoy a gochujang tasting menu at the CJ Foods booth. For those of you not familiar with go-chu-jang, it is a Korean hot pepper paste made from red chili peppers, rice, soybeans, and salt that is fermented. CJ Foods, a huge food producer in South Korea, has developed a partnership with Annie Chun's, a California-based all natural pan-Asian food company that markets instant noodles and the gochujang sauce.

At the booth, they served samples of bulgogi (Korean grilled beef) with chapchae (made with sweet potato noodles) and ahi tuna tartare on crispy wonton. They also served a five-course gochujang tasting menu created by executive chef David Yeo. We were also treated to a short visit from celebrity chef Akira Back, a Korean-American chef at Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant and Lounge at the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

The tasting started off with a soju Bloody Mary shooter: soju is a distilled rice spirit and gochujang provided the kick. Steak tartar was the first item: Waygu beef, quail egg, micro sprouts, nori (seaweed) topped with gochujang mustard. Popcorn shrimp was next with jicama, fresh cucumber kimchi, soy bean leaf, and gochujang aioli.

The risotto was my favorite course. They stuffed the gochujang-risotto inside a piquillo pepper and served it with spring vegetables and herbed sesame oil. Cioppino contained shrimp, mussels, clams, seaweed, and kimchi in a gochujang-dashida broth. Pork belly was the final course: doenjang-soju marinated pork belly, salsify, baby carrots with sweet and spicy gochujang sauce. Doenjang is Korean fermented soybean paste, very similar to Japanese miso.

Disclosure: I received a gift bag with product samples from CJ Foods.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Campbell's Go Soup Events

On November 15, 2012, I had the opportunity to attend two Campbell Soup events in Chicago. Both events promoted the company’s launch of Go line of soups – the first soup designed for the Millennial generation. Everything about the soup – flavors, packaging, and marketing has been designed to appeal to 18 – 34 year-old consumers. At 10am, the company held a media event for Campbell Soup’s new Go line of soups. Following a short break, the company hosted local celebrities and consumers for the Campbell’s Go Communal Tables program.

At the media event, several Campbell Soup executives spoke to bloggers and journalists including Miss Lori (@misslori) and Jim Dudlicek (editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer). We had the opportunity to try six different soups including Spicy Chorizo & Pulled Chicken, Golden Lentil with Madras Curry, Moroccan Style Chicken with Chickpeas inside the beautiful Floating World Gallery at 1925 N. Halsted Street. Darren Serrao, VP and General Manager, Innovation and Business Development, talked about how the company assembled breakthrough teams that included chefs, research, package engineer, marketing, and R&D.

Charles “Chuck” Vila, VP Consumer and Customer Insights Department, spoke of how Campbell Soup wanted to design the Go soup to minimize pain points and maximize pleasure points (humor, music, gaming) of Millennials (numbering 65 to 80 million consumers). To figure out what Millennials want, the Campbell team “engaged in immersion with the Millennial generation: We cooked with them, we shopped with them, we played with them.” The consumer insights team went to hipster hubs – Boston, Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C., London. They also went to the less glamorous Millennial Middle America Markets: Des Moines, Iowa; San Antonio, Texas; Springfield, Illinois, and Little Rock, Arkansas.

They found that Millennials who “grew up with sushi and Mexican”, are “inspired by cuisine from all over the world”, and “want authentic taste, love traditional foods”. This generation also has “an incredible affinity for sharing food, dinner gatherings usually arranged by text”. The Go soup went through 50 iterations. End result: soups with bolder, spicier flavors and a microwaveable pouch instead of a metal can that features close-up photos of Millennials.

Nelson Warley, Senior Brand Manager, Start-Up, spoke about the marketing plan for Go soup. One key element are the Communal Tables which were held in New York City on November 13 and then in Chicago. The Communal Tables are “a way to connect with consumers and passion points” with key influencers coming in to talk. The core target are 25-26 year-olds who are “getting into workplace, highly social, craving adventurous tastes” Campbell Soup wants to provide “bold adventurous tastes that they seek when they are outside the store” – i.e., compete against take-out and fast casual restaurants.

Marketing goals include raising awareness through online advertising, content, and product sampling beyond traditional weekend times. Since Millennials are digital natives, the company decided to focus on social media and digital advertising instead of print and TV advertising to reach this group. Digital and social media initiatives include BuzzFeed (humor, custom content), Spotify (music, custom play lists offering $1 off coupons), Angry Birds and Star Wars (in-game advertising), Facebook, and Tumblr.

During the Campbell’s Go Communal Tables program in Chicago, five Communal Table sessions were hosted by local celebrities. Millennial consumers were invited on Facebook and Twitter (#CampbellsGo) to attend the hour-long, six-course sampling of the Go soups. In Chicago, the local influencers were Chicago Sun-Times’ Splash Editor Susanna Negovan, Second City’s Katie Rich, eDrop Off Founder Corri McFadden, jazz musician Milton Suggs and The Exports’ lead singer Archie Powell.

I attended the 12pm Corri McFadden (@CorriMcFadden) lunch. My group included a student who came in from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; fashion bloggers, and two entrepreneurs involved in social media. We talked about a wide variety of topics – entrepreneurship, value of hard work, fashion, reality TV (Corri is the star of VH1’s “House of Consignment”), and ramen noodles.

You can read even more about the inspiration behind the Go soup at

Disclosure: I received a gift bag with six Go soup pouches.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bethenny Frankel's Skinnygirl Launch in Chicago

Reality star/entrepreneur/author/natural foods chef/mom Bethenny Frankel came to Chicago last Thursday to promote her new line of Skinnygirl vodkas. The star of "Bethenny Ever After" and "The Real Housewives of New York City" launched her company Skinnygirl Cocktails in 2009 and sold it to Fortune Brands' Beam Inc for a reported $120 million. An enthusiastic crowd of her fans (mostly stylish women including moms, a few men) came to pose for pictures with her

(they're on Skinnygirl's Facebook page). She talked about her life (daughter Bryn, her upcoming talk show "bethenny" on Fox, her apartment renovation) while making cocktails using Skinnygirl vodka.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gourmet Chocolates at Walgreens

Chocolate fans visiting downtown Chicago have another choice beyond Macy's State Street lower level which carries a full line of giftable chocolates including its famous Frango mints. Walgreens on State and Randolph has a chocolate wall featuring gourmet chocolates like Chuao panko and firecracker bars, a chai bar, and Wild Ophelia New Orleans Chili bar. In the next aisle are the Hershey and Mars chocolates.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Das Fleur de Sel Caramels

Katie Das of Chicago started her company Das Foods to introduce gourmet and finishing salts such as the Hawaiian black lava salt. She still sells the gourmet salts but has branched out into Fleur de Sel caramels in unique flavors such as chili pecan, ginger pistachio, and orange & honey. Her company exhibited at the Good Food Festival in Chicago in March.

Wild Ophelia Chocolate

I had the chance to meet and talk to the founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolate and its new sister brand Wild Ophelia at the Good Food Festival in Chicago in March. Unique flavors in the Wild Ophelia line include Beef Jerky, New Orleans Chili, and Sweet Cherry Pecan. While Vosges is targeted for the gifting (and self/gifting) market with its gorgeous truffles in beautiful purple boxes, Wild Ophelia is geared for grocery stores and everyday snacking with its bar format. The company exhibited at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in May 2011 and is scheduled to be there again next week in Chicago.