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Celebrate summer with new treats

By J. Scott Wilson, Food columnist, food@ibsys.com
Published On: Aug 03 2012 09:04:15 AM CDT
Updated On: Aug 23 2013 05:10:57 AM CDT
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When culinary anthropologists write their history of the early 21st century, one of the things they'll have to include (along with molecular gastronomy, bacon obsession and the fact that Bobby Flay is a goober) is the Internet. Thanks to that magical gateway, those of us with a taste for rare and exotic foodstuffs no longer have to wait for our local grocer to carry them or try to get a friend to buy them and send them to us. With a few keystrokes, the world is brought to our doorsteps.

Of course, not everything out there is worth buying. A pretty website and an efficiently designed ordering system is not always indicative of food you have any business actually trying to eat. This is especially true, in my experience, of mixtures like salsa, piccalilli, chow chow, chutney and the like. The fact that you love the mango chutney from one site does not in any way mean you'll like a similar product from another site.

That's where I come in. I fearlessly throw myself on potential culinary grenades every week and let you know which ones belong in your arsenal and which ones should be left for the bomb disposal unit.

This week, I've got two very different but completely fantastic finds to tell you about. One will make your Labor Day cookout a real standout, and the other will keep you covered for everything from movie-watching time to after-school snacks.

First on the list is Slawsa, a condiment that's good on everything from brats, dogs and burgers to grilled cheese sandwiches and tortilla chips.

Slawsa, brainchild of Justin Odom, of Chattanooga, Tenn., is a hybrid of slaw and salsa (as the name implies). It’s crisp and light, but it’s got a flavor punch that overshadows ordinary relish or other dog toppings. I’ve yet to find a single grilled meat, from dogs and burgers to fish and chops, that doesn’t play nicely with it. It’s got less salt than most other similar products, and it’s fat- and cholesterol-free.

It goes fantastically well with mild cheeses, as well. I was making grilled cheese sandwiches with brioche bread and American cheese, and added a spoonful of Slawsa to mine. The heat of toasting brought out more flavors in the mix and really made the sandwich sing.

Like salsa, Slawsa can be eaten straight from a bowl. At my Fourth of July shindig, I put two bowls of Slawsa on the table intending them to be part of the hot dog and bratwurst fixings. By the time the sausages hit the table, only one bowl was left. Someone had found a bag of tortilla chips in my pantry and put paid to the other bowl.

Slawsa is the spiritual kin to the chow chows, relishes and salsas you’ll find at town markets all over the country, family recipes that someone decided to try selling on a small scale. Thanks to the Internet, these sorts of things are now available to the general public. If you live in the Southeast, you may be lucky enough to have a grocery store in your town carrying Slawsa. If not, you can order it online.

<h3>Earth-Friendly Popcorn</h3>

It's less than a month until the kids go back to school in a lot of places, and some of my friends with year-round programs have already sent their offspring back to class. As ever, it's not long before the demand for after-school snacks begins, especially for parents of those robotic eating machines known as "teenagers."

Microwave popcorn has long been a favorite, since it's easy to prepare, fairly filling and tasty. And now, it's earth-friendly and a lot better for you thanks to Quinn Popcorn.

Quite simply, Quinn Popcorn is microwave popcorn reinvented. Kristy, who worked for the company behind the Rock Band and Dance Central video games, and her better half, Coulter, an engineer, named the company after their son and were determined to design a product that would taste great and break the processed-food mold.

Kristy is a hard-core foodie. As Coulter says, "With Kristy at the helm even a sim­ple meal results in every mea­sur­ing cup, mix­ing bowl, uten­sil, etc. spread across our tiny counter." The results, of course, are worth the effort.

Coulter brings an engineer's analytical skills to the equation, and with the two of them working together the end product is a concoction of simple flavors and ingredients combined in a way that will have you tossing out all other, lesser, microwave popcorn.

Quinn Popcorn is totally free of the synthetic chemicals and subpar ingredients that have plagued microwave popcorn since its inception, and is the first microwave popcorn to use a chemical-free compostable bag. Every ingredient Quinn Popcorn uses is non-GMO. The popcorn is organic. The cheese is rBGH-free. The maple sugar is harvested in Vermont. Their oils are expeller-pressed and low in saturated fats. They never use preservatives or any other additives. The flavors (Parmesan & Rosemary, Vermont Maple & Sea Salt, and Lemon & Sea Salt) are like nothing else available, and will delight even the most jaded snacker.

The popcorn pops in the bag without any oils or flavors. Those are added after it's finished, by a process my own sons have come to call the "double-shake," the first one for the oil and the second for the seasoning. By the time the second shake is done, the aroma coming from the bag (or bowl, if you like to get adventurous and toss it) will have everyone in range reaching for a handful.

You need this in your snacking arsenal. Just imagine kids' movie night with bowls full of the maple popcorn, or a football-watching party with bowls of each! Go to the store locator to find a vendor near you, or order it online.

And keep an eye on Kristy and Coulter. Something tells me they're not done inventing just yet.

Got a question? Comment? Product you'd like to see reviewed? Drop me a line, anytime!