When To Use An Unclaimable Cheese Sauce On School Menus

I must admit that I used to be firmly in the “if it doesn’t count towards something I’m not using it camp” and then two things happened – I came face to face with high school students and I started writing recipes for Child Nutrition. That is where my transition started.

Secondary students are basically adults that can eat more than we can on any given day, which makes them hungry all of the time. Look at a serving of macaroni and cheese using a 2 M/MA sauce and 2 whole grain ounce equivalents it is underwhelming in size. However if you use a flavorful cheese sauce that doesn’t count you have the same portion size but then add 2 M/MA such as diced ham, fajita chicken or BBQ pulled pork and you have something worthy of their appetites with little added cost. The same goes for vegetarian options. Change up the spice profile and add peppers and beans and you have something new and different to offer.

Another option, staying with the mac and cheese example, is to use it simply as a grain. When the menu calls for another whole grain it is easy to just add a dinner roll or breadstick. However a side of mac and cheese using a non-claimable cheese sauce accomplishes the same thing and works wonderfully, for example, if serving bone in chicken. Looking to the South, pulled pork doesn’t have to be served on a bun. Imagine a plate with pulled pork, mac and cheese, and greens. It all fits into the guidelines and you have a terrific comfort food lunch!

Do I hear “what about the added sodium?” Foothill Farms has cheese sauces that are moderate in sodium – around 220 mg per serving – in their Flavorwise line of products. Since the sodium target is weekly, with planning, these cheese sauces can fit into your menu. In elementary programs sodium is occasionally an issue but I don’t find the struggle when working with secondary programs. Since students would enjoy the addition of cheese sauce it takes some planning but isn’t anything to shy away from.

Getting Creative with Cheese Sauce

There are so many ways cheese sauce can enhance menu items. The simplest being as a dip for raw or cooked vegetables. There are vegetables that your students prefer and it is a struggle to present them in a different way so that they continue to eat them every day. I am not saying to offer cheese sauce every day however it is an alternate to Ranch Dressing. By adding Sriracha or chipotle to the cheese sauce you have a new dipping sauce that will get kids talking.

Getting creative, another example that comes to mind is the Chicken Nachos. It is a simple recipe with tortilla chips, diced chicken, cheese sauce and salsa and check out the sodium – 498 mg. You can easily offer toppings without negatively changing the overall nutritional profile such as diced red and green peppers, green onions, black olive slices and, if you wanted to add a vegetable component, either black or pinto beans – whole or refried. As you can see very doable!Chicken Nachos.png

And for the possible doubters out there here is a full day’s menu including the refried beans so, yes,FHF.png it can be done! While you may want some additional fruit and vegetable choices, it shouldn’t impact the sodium noticeably.

Another option that I really like – Mexican pizza! Layer on top of the whole grain crust refried beans mixed with salsa as the “sauce” and top with taco meat. Bake and, immediately before serving, top with chopped lettuce and tomatoes and drizzle with cheese sauce. Excellent flavor with crisp vegetables and the cheese sauce completes the entrée with a splash of color and flavor.

I could keep throwing out ideas but you can see that I have become a believer! Everything you use does not have to count toward the meal pattern. To me, it is more important to bring students back to our programs with interesting, tasteful foods that show we can meet the guidelines while being innovative!

 

Getting Back to Scratch Cooking

Learn the three steps that will help get you a head-start with the scratch cooking trend.

At culinary school or technical college, none of us made big plans to fill our menus with pre-made foods. We didn’t dream about one day microwaving our way to the top. We also never could have known just how impractical it is to make everything from scratch with real-world time and labor constraints. Bravo to those who do, but for the rest of us, we’ve learned to pick our battles and find secret weapons that help us get close to scratch.

Step 1: Experiment with Speed-Scratch Products

It’s not a new term, but as “house made” and “scratch” continue to pique diners’ interest it’s good to remember that there’s help at hand. According to Mintel, creating exclusive menu items is a key strategy, since they provide consumers something they cannot get elsewhere. Over the past three years, menu item claims such as “signature” (15%), “original” (10%), “homemade” (25%), and “house” (67%) have all risen. From par-baked crusts to pre-mixed seasonings, cooks can find convenience ingredients that are either partially prepped, pre-measured or primed-for-use that simplify turning out signature, house-made dishes. It’s just a matter of finding the products that do enough of the work without encroaching on your creativity.

Taking speed-scratch products for a test drive is well worth the time. Sauces are a good place to start. They can be challenging to make consistently every time depending on your staff. So experiment with good quality dry mixes that allow you to just add water and a couple other back-of-house ingredients to make them your own, like red pepper flakes for heat or roasted garlic for authenticity. You’ll find that you can significantly cut time, elevate flavor and turn out once-demanding dishes easily.

Step 2: Factor in Versatility

Some prepared products can help you get to a finished dish fast, but are one-trick ponies. You’ll want to avoid these in order to maximize your budget. For example, I’ve found that I don’t like using pre-marinated chicken because I can only menu it in one or two ways. If I get that same flavor profile in a seasoning blend or sauce mix, I can use it to create multiple dishes, including chicken, soup, pasta and more.

Customer satisfaction is a top priority which is why using prepared products to turn out quality food and a customized menu are important. But, there’s a sweet spot in the cost-effectiveness of speed-scratch products, and versatility is a big part of it. Dry mixes that you can menu in multiple ways offer significant advantages over scratch and ready to use (RTU) products every step of the way, from purchase and storage to preparation and finish.

ScratchCooking

Step 3: Consider Equipment Investments

Making a strategic equipment investment is another way to leverage the made-from-scratch trend as demonstrated by Chandler Unified School District Food and Nutrition Director Wesley Delbridge who told Foodservice Director, “It’s hard with schools to start literally from scratch, but it’s the perfect setting to do finishing touches.”

After putting pizza ovens in cafeterias and having the staff assemble prepared ingredients and bake off pizzas on site, sales skyrocketed. “It’s the same pizza as before. But the smell and seeing the pizza come out of the oven doubled participation,” Chandler says. While the up-front cost of equipment may be high, consider the long-term impact on sales.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, so don’t shy away from the scratch trend. Get a head-start with smart, multitasking products and equipment.

Find affordable and efficient ways to get closer to scratch cooking with Foothill Farms.

 

Sauce Mix Operator Rebate Good Through September

We are offering a money-saving rebate for 24 of our sauce mixes. This covers everything from cheese sauce to bourbon sauce to stir fry sauce to cream soup base. Operators receive a $5 rebate per case (up to $200).

Today, foodservice professionals feel the pains from a variety of factors facing the foodservice industry. Some of those culprits include: inefficient employee training and skill levels, rising labor and food costs, time management (prep time), food safety regulations, special dietary restrictions, and food consistency goals. One solution to help in these areas is the introduction of dry mixes, especially sauce mixes. The prep is simple – pour hot water in a bowl, start stirring with a wire whisk and gradually add mix until completely smooth. In fact, here is a new cheese sauce mixing video. If you haven’t tried a dry sauce mix, we can tell you that it is a no-nonsense approach to reaching your efficiency, quality and consistency goals.

Beginning this May, we are offering a money-saving rebate for 24 of our sauce mixes. This covers everything from cheese sauce to bourbon sauce to stir fry sauce to cream soup base. Operators will receive a $5 rebate per case (up to $200) and the promotion runs through September 30, 2015. Please visit our website for more details on the promotion and a list of applicable sauce mixes. The downloadable form can be found here.

Move over Meat: Vegetables Take Over the Center of the Plate

It’s apparent that customers want vegetables on the menu for health, ethics, or simply just to indulge in a delicious vegetarian recipe.

Meatless doesn't mean "less"!
Meatless doesn’t mean “less”!

Demand for vegetarian dishes are on the rise.  The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot 2014 Culinary Forecast” says meatless or vegetarian menu items are a growing trend.  Why are vegetables taking a more central role on the plate?  Conversation in the industry suggests that an increased price of proteins have given chefs the opportunity to introduce new vegetable dishes to the menu while Technomic reports the total menu incidence of vegetables has risen over 11% in the last three years.  It’s apparent that customers want vegetables on the menu for health, ethics, or simply just to indulge in a delicious vegetarian recipe.

Bread & Butter is a simple, satisfying vegetarian side.
Bread & butter is a simple, satisfying vegetarian side.

How do you meet this demand? Try an easy crowd pleaser like Mediterranean inspired Hummus served with pita chips or toasted bagel chips.  This smooth, delicious bean based appetizer has long been a staple in a vegetarian menu for its universal appeal. A second appetizer idea is Bruschetta with Italian Salsa. Fresh basil, minced Kalamata olives, red onion, green pepper, and buffalo mozzarella cheese on top of sliced French baguette bread gives those wanting a heavier appetizer a vegetarian choice.

Soups and sides are another great area to innovate. Beer Cheese Soup is a nice menu item to feature especially if you have your own in-house brewed beer or regional preference. Our recipe includes cheese sauce, diced onions, BBQ sauce, pretzels, and works with an ale of your choice.  Serve this with pretzel bread or sticks and you are sure to have a crowd-pleaser. Want a lighter soup? Pair a grilled cheese sandwich with Tomato Basil soup. This soup is easily made with our Instant Brown Gravy Mix, tomato paste and fresh or dried basil.

Corn salsas are easy vegetarian sides
Corn salsas are easy vegetarian sides

What about sides? Think roasted vegetables topped with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce and you’ll be thinking deliciously!  Broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus all become the “center of the plate” stars topped with this easily prepared creamy gorgonzola sauce.  This sauce is so versatile it can be used with your choice of vegetables, prepared in any way desired: grilled, roasted, pan seared, or broiled.  Let’s not forget about Mexican vegetarian side dishes, always popular on the menu.  Charro Beans and Corn & Black Bean Salsa are both a great venue for vegetables and are made of pantry staples which are easily kept on hand.

Vegetable Stir Fry with Asian Stir Fried Rice
Vegetable Stir Fry with Asian Stir Fried Rice

Round out your vegetarian menu with vegetarian entrees. Asian inspired dishes like Vegetable Stir Fry with Asian Stir Fried Rice are good choices because of the variety of vegetables and sauces that can be combined and served over rice or Asian noodles. Italian pasta dishes also fair well for vegetarians. Try offering a Vegetable Lasagna with White Sauce or cheese tortellini tossed in cream sauce with peas and mushrooms.

Vegetables are moving from a side dish to the center of the plate:  make sure your menu is ready to move, too!  Vegetarian diners, or those simply wanting meatless options, are broadening out this formerly niche market.  Bringing new vegetable dishes to the table will keep your food menu on trend and customers coming back for more. Foothill Farms® offers vegetarian recipes you can easily prepare for your guests:  just search “meatless” in our recipes.

 

For the LOVE of CHEESE! New Cheese Sauce Recipes Added

It’s easy to find new cheese sauce recipes from Foothill Farms® by simply entering “cheese” in the search box within the recipe link on our website.

Searching for what’s new in the world of cheese sauce? It’s easy to find new cheese sauce recipes from Foothill Farms® by simply entering “cheese” in the search box within the recipe link on our website.

Our chef at Kent Precision Foods Group (KPFG)  is constantly whisking up delicious recipes and providing new concepts targeting foodservice professionals. He knows what is trending and focuses on helping you reach new heights in the food that comes out of your kitchen as well. (Read more about Chef Martin and his food philosophies.) Some of his recent cheese sauce recipes are Sriracha Jack Queso Sauce, Monterey Spaghetti, and Spicy Creamy Chicken Tortilla Soup. These recipes, as well as many others, were assessed in the test kitchen and will complement many foodservice kitchens.

Cheesy Foothill Farms Recipes
For the love of CHEESE! Sauces, dips, soups, nachos, queso, entrees and sides

Dry mix cheese sauces add value and consistency to your menu by employing the speed scratch concept: make how much you need from a dry mix product with the addition of other fresh ingredients. Speed scratch products deliver the best combination of maintaining product predictability while still delivering your guests remarkable taste every time. Time and money…sauce mixes will save you both by allowing you to easily make only what you need.

Foothill Farms Potato & Cheese Soup Recipe
Foothill Farms Potato & Cheese Soup Recipe

So if you’re looking for new cheese recipes that are crave-able and innovative, we’ve got you covered with our variety of cheese sauce recipes at Foothill Farms®. Remember, just search for “cheese” and our products and recipes will help you do the rest, easily and affordably.

 

Straight from the Chef’s Mouth – A Guest Blog by Chef Martin

Sometimes cooks get hung up on not being able to make a dish properly because they are missing an ingredient. I remind myself and my colleagues that when the dish was made for the first time it was just that person’s impression of how THEY thought it should taste. It doesn’t mean it is set in stone until the end of time! You can selectively omit and recreate!

Loosen Up and Experiment with Flavor

Chef Martin
Chef Martin

It took me a while to realize that there comes a time when you stop playing by the rules; following recipes by the book. Sometimes cooks get hung up on not being able to make a dish properly because they are missing an ingredient. I remind myself and my colleagues that when the dish was made for the first time it was just that person’s impression of how THEY thought it should taste. It doesn’t mean it is set in stone until the end of time! You can selectively omit and recreate!

It is important to understand how ingredients complement each other, and then go to town creating your own unique, tasteful memories. Experiment! Obviously there are dishes that are classic in everyone’s mind: pot roast, mac n’ cheese, spaghetti, chicken noodle soup, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and of course apple pie. Comfort foods get their reputation from the whole dining experience, not just the way it tastes. Biting into a slice of apple pie might bring back memories of your grandma’s apple pie served at her dining room table but for someone else it will be a different experience altogether. Don’t let “comfort food” pin you down! In my experience, people like culinary twists to old favorites.

I love to experiment in the kitchen. My wife is always amazed on days that we have nothing in the pantry, or so she thought, and I come up with a dish that she enjoys eating. She will ask me what the dish was called and my response (and dead giveaway that I experimented) is “Anything you like…I made it just for you.” Chefs know the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach!

I love that young chefs are being given “market baskets” as part of their testing. It reminds me of the story of how the first Caesar Salad came to be. I believe in simplicity, I am not overly impressed with chefs putting dishes together with twenty ingredients. That kind of culinary snobbery tends to confuse the pupil in understanding what is complimenting what.

With summer just around the corner, I am reminded of a couple of cool ideas that I have tasted lately that have given me a WOW moment: watermelon and basil and cantaloupe and lime juice. Unique flavor combinations are gaining in popularity. A recent Technomic report asked 1500 consumers how appealing they found 12 different flavor combinations both in 2009 and in 2013. Eleven of the 12 saw rise in their popularity in 2013. Tomato-basil received the strongest reception followed by honey-ginger. The next three top favorites were chipotle-lime, rosemary-orange and mango-habanero.

Chef Martin Experiments with Flavor
Chef Martin Experiments with Flavor

Foothill Farms and I have created new recipes; blending unique flavors to create delicious, appealing dishes, dressings, sauces, and salsas. Food should be fun! You shouldn’t be judge on how close you got to copying someone else’s effort.

Check out these recipes:

Salad Dressings Offer Mixing Alternatives for Creating Unique Recipes

With more than 80 dressing recipes online, Foothill Farms® offers operators unique salad dressing, sandwich spread and dipping sauce inspiration to satisfy patron cravings while allowing operators to make top dressing menu claims including—freshly made, signature and house.

Think of everything that tastes better with Ranch Dressing? Wings, salad, wraps, sandwiches, raw veggies, pizza…The applications are endless. Expand dressing variety to Caesar, Blue Cheese, Italian, Honey Mustard and 1000 Island and you can envision the possibilities! With more than 80 dressing recipes online, Foothill Farms® offers operators unique salad dressing, sandwich spread and dipping sauce inspiration to satisfy patron cravings while allowing operators to make top dressing menu claims including—freshly made, signature and house.

Super Wow Dipping Sauce
Super Wow Dipping Sauce

Recently, Foothill Farms tapped into Pinterest, a popular social media site known for showing off unique ideas, beautiful photography and culinary creations. With over 20 boards and 280 pins, the recipe collection is vast and designed to help chefs find taste-tested recipes quickly and easily with just a couple clicks of the mouse. Just added are recipes using Foothill Farms 1000 Island / Honey Mustard Dressing Mix #V405. Find recipes for Wow Sauce, Super Wow Sauce and Asian Dressing on the Dressings board.

Asian Salad Dressing
Asian Salad Dressing

Most Foothill Farms® salad dressing dry mixes are designed to be mixed with buttermilk and mayonnaise. If a chef doesn’t want to use this ingredient, no fretting necessary! Our dry mixes are versatile and can also be mixed with a combination of sour cream, mayonnaise and water without compromising flavor. Another non-existing compromise is shelf and refrigerated storage space. Dry mix is known for allowing operators to only mix what they need when they need it. The expiration date on the dry mix packaging is 12 months.

We’re slightly biased but we would love to hear your feedback on our dry mixes. Please let us know your culinary experiences with dry salad dressing mix. Feel good making your dressings from “speed scratch”.