If you really want to know what food trends to expect in 2012, ask 57 million passionate home cooks. And the only one with its oven mitt on the pulse of that many American families is Taste of Home, the world's largest food and entertaining brand. So while others in the food industry think they know what's going to be hot or not, here's what next year really looks like:
- We're eating at home, five to seven nights a week. Sure, the stalling economy has driven the nation to tighten our collective belts. But the upside is that it has reinforced what really matters: family. So while cooking in the confines of your cozy kitchen is a sure-fire money saver, it also allows for quality time with loved ones around the dinner table. Our readers are asking us in record numbers for more meal ideas, including for Sunday dinners, a tradition being rapidly rediscovered.
- We're more creative about money-saving. Just waiting for sales isn't enough any more. We are buying food in bulk—especially inexpensive cuts of meats previously ignored, such as chicken thighs and flank steak—and asking for recipes and advice on how to prepare these in delicious new ways.
- Baking is shaking, baby! From homemade cookies to birthday cakes (such as the Marvelous Cannoli Cake, which recently rocketed to the number one dessert on tasteofhome.com), people are allowing themselves to indulge in dessert more and more. Bread is on the rise, too. Especially feel-good goodies such as homemade pretzels, served warm with homemade sauces.
- Comfort makes a comeback. Fried chicken, homemade ice cream, breakfast for supper: If it solicits warm fuzzies and happy memories, it's fair game, says Erin Puariea, general manager of Taste of Home Cooking Schools. And thank (or blame) our neighbors to the north for poutine, the ultimate comfort food. A Canadian favorite that's gaining popularity here, it's made with fries, gravy and cheese curds.
- Learn the term "speed-scratch." Home cooks are busier than ever: If it can't be made in 30 to 45 minutes, they won't bother. "More than ever, our readers are basing recipes on mixes and other prepared items that save time without sacrificing flavor," says Karen Berner, Taste of Home's food editor. "Think refrigerated biscuit dough, pie crusts and cookie mix, as well as ready-made deli items like rotisserie chicken, pesto and olive tapenade."
- We worry about our glutes. Only about 1 percent of Americans have to eat gluten-free (that's how many have celiac disease, according to the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center, which cause gluten intolerance). But many, many more want to, largely for perceived health benefits. While not a rare condition, it's one that has still managed to spur perhaps the biggest health bandwagon in recent years. Evident in the thousands of reader-submitted recipes Taste of Home receives each month, home cooks are experimenting heavily with gluten-free alternatives.
- Classics merge with modern. Move over shredded cheddar—holiday cheese balls (no, not your brother-in-law) are getting punched up with cheeses such as feta and queso fresco. And that's not all: Raspberries and rhubarb are used in salsa switcheroos. Fig jam or sun-dried tomatoes give baked brie a modern makeover. And sweet potato side dishes get a kick in the pants with cilantro and lime.
- Book clubs become dinner clubs. Since Taste of Home is built on a massive community of home cooks, we're getting a firsthand look at how people are deepening their connection to family and friends through food. Example number one: At-home dinner clubs. Exotic cuisines and new ingredients are often explored through exciting themes picked by the group. But lucky for the hostess, the pressure isn't entirely on them—potlucks are becoming the preferred way to host a club meeting.
- We Thai one on. Once only known in certain metropolitan neighborhoods, Thai flavors are appearing in even the tiniest towns and remotest kitchens. Hot chili sauce, coconut milk, Thai basil, fresh ginger and cilantro come through in fresh, light offerings such as lettuce wraps and handmade spring rolls.
- Go-to ingredients get healthy. One biggie: Greek yogurt, used in lieu of sour cream. The draw? It's perceived as healthier because it's higher in protein than plain yogurt. Plus, many home cooks prefer its thick texture, says Peggy Woodward, one of Taste of Home's registered dietitians. Another favorite is chicken sausage, which is becoming widely available, and comes in a variety of flavors—cooked and uncooked. And it's significantly leaner than traditional sausage.
- The Make-It-Yours movement takes off. With comfort food in full swing, classics such as meatloaf and burgers are hotter than ever. The difference is that home cooks are adding their own signatures to dishes. Meatless meatloaf in Montana, anyone?
- Rethink the drink. Beverages, alcoholic and not, are a new source of inspiration for those looking to get creative in the kitchen. Unusual combos like cucumber and jalapeno make for one killer margarita, while lemonade gets an extra punch from additions like fresh kiwi or lavender. And garnishes? Peppermint sticks, candied bacon, spiked whipped cream—the sky is the limit.
- Get your geek on. And proud of it! Digital platforms such as the iPad, Nook and Kindle Fire are changing the way families cook. Kitchen-friendly recipe applications and digital versions of their favorite food magazines and cookbooks are not just viewed as bonus offerings, they're expected. From recipes to grocery lists to nutritional information, readers want it now and want it at their fingertips.
Top 100 Recipes of 2011
We're sharing the most popular recipes on tasteofhome.com in 2011—including the top recipe of the year voted on by our Facebook fans!
Top 100 Recipes of 2011 >
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