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.
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.
As a leader in foodservice manufacturing, it’s our job at Foothill Farms to stay on the forefront of what people crave. So we took a look at which of our products have been flying off the shelves, where the overall industry is moving and what our customers are requesting most. Here are the five trends that bubbled up to the top for this year.
1. Reinventing Ranch
Ranch is the “girl next door” of dressings. Friendly and familiar by day and surprisingly irresistible when prepped for a night out. “Ranch has an incredible opportunity to be redefined and made (or modified) in house. It can be completely reinvented and used to spice up an old favorite or familiarize a new concept,” Jorge Cespedes, research and development chef at Food IQ, told Flavor & The Menu. And it’s not just about taking salads to the next level. An upgraded ranch dressing can be your signature sauce offered on sandwiches, as a pommes frites or kale chip dip, drizzled over soups or as a taco topping.
The possibilities for ranch dressing mix-ins are endless, but going with of-the-moment flavors is an easy way to get noticed. Add some locally grown mint for a refreshing twist, or blend in a superfood like avocado. Give it a hot hit of wasabi or go bold with regional barbecue sauce. Find inspiration and recipes for Curry Ranch, Thai Ranch, Mango Habanero Ranch and more here.
2. Comfort Meets Adventure
Asian and Latin cuisines have trended for years. Why? They infuse a sense of comfort with an invitation to explore. Brothy pho soothes. Slow-cooked carnitas are the epitome of soul food. Meanwhile the exotic marriage of spicy and sweet or smoky and herbaceous lures our palates east and south. In 2015, look for the breakout of Korean, mainstreaming of Vietnamese and upscaling of ramen noodles, according to Technomic. And ever-popular Latin flavors will see in uptick in breakfast offerings, predicts the National Restaurant Association.
It won’t just be ethnic restaurants capitalizing on this love affair with Asian and Latin flavors. They’re hitting the mainstream with huevos rancheros on breakfast menus and ramen nights at corner restaurants. Any operation can get in on this trend with the right sauces and seasonings. Get tips on easily adding Sweet Thai Chili condiments, Mandarin Orange Chicken and more to your menu here and find Charro Beans, Orange Chile Brownies and others here.
3. DIY Health
“What do you have that’s healthy?” Is this person looking for something that’s gluten free? Fat or preservative free? Farm-to-table? Made with whole grains or superfoods? Low sodium or high nutrient? Real food? Today what is considered healthy can vary drastically from person to person. It may be about food they think is good for their bodies or food that makes them feel good about themselves. That’s why 2015 is all about a DIY approach.
According to Food Genius, the better-for-you movement has yet to lose steam and is now being complemented by another Millennial-driven trend: customization. So let diners choose from a variety of offerings that cover one or more health concerns. Some of the dishes you already serve may work perfectly as-is. Just start calling out their benefits on your menu (eg, That mac and cheese is already vegetarian). Another quick way to get (and stay) on the radar of today’s health-conscious guests is using sauces and seasonings like Flavorwise to help meet health concerns without sacrificing flavor.
4. Back to Scratch
Get ready for a sweeping movement back to scratch cooking. It’s all about balancing food and labor costs with preparing home-style dishes back of house. Particularly look for schools to go in this direction as they cut back on reheating processed foods and do more themselves. The challenge will continue to be labor restraints.
There are various schools of thought on overcoming this challenge. Some believe that it’s about investing in new equipment. Others, like the principal of Food Systems Solutions LLC Kate Adamick, say “Most school district food service departments don’t need a bigger labor force to return to scratch-cooking, they need a better trained labor force.” Some combination of equipment, labor, training and the right products is likely where the sweet spot lies. Check out Foothill Farms sauces and seasonings to quickly and affordably transform whole foods into mouthwatering, scratch-made dishes.
5. Think Small
From tapas to dim sum, small plates are still big news. Diners will continue to order them instead of entrées this year, making their meals three plates instead of one. The low-commitment, high-flavor bites satisfy cravings for variety and create a social, sharing experience. They also allow chefs to stretch their legs and dabble in a variety of global flavor palettes.
One innate challenge of small plates is that the variety of menu options may mean a need for additional prep and ingredient storage areas. Depending on the complexity of the dishes, more staff may be required too. That’s why sauces and seasonings that bring a big dose of flavor to small plates with little prep or storage will be your best friend in 2015. For small plate ideas, click here.
Melissa is a food and fashion freelance writer currently based in Milwaukee, WI. Since 1998, she has written about up-and-coming food trends, shadowed chefs, participated in focus groups and tasted her way across the country in search of the best bites. If you have a question for Melissa or Foothill Farms, please leave us a comment below.
As a foodservice professional, how do you tap into specific regional dishes that may be unfamiliar to your own local cuisine?
One of the greatest attributes of our great American food nation is the variety and quality of its distinctive regional cuisines. Think of a state and you’ll likely think of a dish for which it is famous. It’s this specific regional appeal that consumers are looking for. What are some great ways to add some regional flare to your menu? Come with us on a trip across the U.S.
Starting in the northeast, explore the many variations of clam chowder with New England Clam Chowder , a cream based soup with clams, seafood, and savory potatoes. Manhattan, Rhode Island and New Hampshire each have their own unique regional flavor. Seldom do you think of Maine without picturing a plastic bib with a giant, red lobster on front. Although traditionally steamed or boiled and presented on a platter, it is also an attractive ingredient in pastas like Lobster Mac & Cheese.
Massachusetts brings us Boston Baked Beans and New Jersey lush cranberries. Side dishes of signature baked beans or foods utilizing cranberries or cranberry sauce are favorites year-round. Cranberry Nut Bread Pudding is a nice dessert to make a guest’s mouth water.
Two foods that want to claim territory are pizza and wings. A special crust, sauce, or topping will add signature to the menu. Up North, the menu features classic New York Style pizza which is a thin, hand-tossed crust pizza with gooey mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. New Yorkers often buy this favorite by the slice then fold it in half and eat it like a sandwich. Buffalo offers its famous hot wings which consist of a deep-fried, unbreaded wing coated in vinegar-based cayenne pepper hot sauce and butter served alongside celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.
Moving your menu to Philadelphia allows you to showcase the popular Philly Cheesesteak sandwich with its thinly sliced steak, grilled onions and peppers, served on a roll and topped with melted cheese. This versatile sandwich can become a favorite anywhere in the nation!
Midwest cuisine brings out the barbeque fan in all of us with its delicious BBQ varieties. Missouri is home to two styles of BBQ: Kansas City and St. Louis style barbeque. Kansas City BBQ uses a variety of meats including pulled pork, ribs, beef brisket, chicken, and turkey that are cooked with sweet tomato and a thick molasses base BBQ sauce. Kansas City’s specialty is called burnt ends, which are the extra crispy tips of cooked beef brisket. St. Louis BBQ features thick-cut pork shoulder steak, which is slathered with a tomato and vinegar BBQ sauce of a thinner and less sweet consistency than Kansas City sauce.
The “Windy City” of Chicago offers a hearty Chicago style deep dish pizza which is made in a cast iron pan dusted with cornmeal. The crust is placed inside to cover the entire bottom and sides of the pan and cheese is sprinkled directly onto the crust followed by meats and vegetables. Smooth tomato sauce is poured over the top before baking and the end result is nothing short of fabulous.
Bring the heart of the South into your kitchen with some Southern regional favorites. Grits, a traditional southern dish made of hominy (ground corn) is made into a porridge. While popularly served for breakfast, grits can be flavored with butter, sugar, or syrup. However, grits are no longer just a breakfast food and have found themselves on the dinner plate, especially when cheese is added. Grits are also commonly used to accompany shrimp as a side dish. Another true Southern favorite is Chicken fried steak or “Country” fried steak, a steak that is breaded and fried like southern fried chicken. Chicken fried steak is served with a country gravy poured over it.
Explore New Orleans cuisine on your menu by featuring the Creole or Cajun styles developed in this area, the history of which helps us understand the differences between the two. Creole cuisine is a blend of French, Spanish, Native American, and African traditions and is seen as fancy, classical cuisine because of the aristocratic lineage. Creole cuisine uses fine ingredients, like shrimp and oyster, as well as ingredients that are not native to the region. In contrast, Cajun cuisine uses a simpler more rustic style of food, with entire meals often made in one pot. Wild game like rabbit, duck, crawfish, and alligator are often used in Cajun cooking as these dishes rely on more of the plants and animals native to the region. Cajun cuisine also tends to be spicier than Creole cuisine.
TEXAS (The debate is still out – West or South)
Let’s steer our menu over to the great state of Texas and explore Chili con carne. Chili cook-offs are so popular because there are so many ways to prepare and enjoy chili, and everyone seems to have an opinion. The only ingredients allowed in true Texas chili are chunks of slow cooked steak, chili peppers, cumin, and other spices and this version does not add beans. Sweeter spices like cinnamon and allspice, which are common in Cincinnati chili, are not added to Texas-style chili. A cheesy variation of chili is the addition of creamy melted cheese to create Chili Con Queso. Along with chili recipes are Tex-Mex recipes, which are the fusion of American and Mexican cuisine. Combining flavors from both sides of the border, Tex-Mex meals include nachos and fajitas.
California is famous for the avocados grown in the Southern regions and currently produces 95% of the national avocado harvest. This fruit has surged in popularity because of its distinctive flavor and nutritional value, including high dietary fiber and protein. Our Mexi-Cali Cobb Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing recipe is a light, delicious dish that takes advantage of this California gem. Speaking of ranch dressing, the West also boasts the ever-popular Ranch dressing which was invented in Santa Barbara in the 1950s and has become the most popular salad dressing across all states. The creamy dressing, typically made from buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, onions, garlic and other seasonings can not only be used as a dressing for salads, but also as a dip for chips.
We can’t leave California without visiting Northern California’s wine country. Combine a dry, white wine with butter and Monterey Jack cheese for a delightful sauce to adorn fresh caught seafood like sea scallops.
As a foodservice professional, how do you tap into specific regional dishes that may be unfamiliar to your own local cuisine? Foothill Farms® dry-mix, speed-scratch products will help you do just that. From New England clam chowder to Tex-Mex dishes, our products and recipes will help deliver consistent, flavorful dishes no matter what region your menu features on any given day.
The Foothill Farms® K-12 Recipe Challenge kicked off this April and runs until September 30, 2014. Foodservice professionals may submit up to four recipes during the promotional period, earning a $100 airline gift card per recipe submission. This is not a contest, but rather a reward for submitting unique recipes using Foothill Farms® products. The gift cards can be used for any type of travel and is not limited to ANC.
We want to help send more school foodservice professionals to School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference (ANC) July 13-16, 2014 in Boston or July 12-15, 2015 in Salt Lake City . The Foothill Farms® K-12 Recipe Challenge kicked off this April and runs until September 30, 2014. Foodservice professionals may submit up to four recipes during the promotional period, earning a $100 airline gift card per recipe submission. This is not a contest, but rather a reward for submitting unique recipes using Foothill Farms® products. The gift cards can be used for any type of travel and is not limited to ANC.
Foothill Farms® designed this challenge to entice more school foodservice professionals to try dry-blend, speed scratch products. It’s helpful to see how foodservice professionals utilize the K-12 product line in their daily menu planning. Directors, dieticians, managers or other foodservice employees may submit recipes. They do not have to be existing customers. The basic requirements for recipe challenge submissions are: original recipe, recipe name, ingredient list and ingredient measurements, complete preparation/cooking instructions, complete nutritional information, and meal pattern information. One of the ingredients must be a Foothill Farms® product.
Each submitter can choose which airline they would like to use for travel: Southwest, American Airlines, Delta, United or US Airways. The challenge is designed for individual submissions, however, if two people work on the recipe together, Foothill Farms® will split the gift card amount and distribute a $50 gift card to each person. Gift cards are awarded upon receipt and verification of the recipe. The recipes cannot resemble the recipes currently on Foothill Farms® website. For more specific challenge information, please visit the Foothill Farms® website www.foothillfarms.com/k12 or contact customer service at 800-442-5242. Schools that have submitted recipes will be announced via our social media pages. To find out which schools and what recipes, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
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.
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.
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”.