(BPT) - Culinary creativity doesn't require you to be a highly trained chef, and you don't have to be a dedicated 'foodie' to spice things up in the kitchen. It's more about finding ways to deconstruct the traditional rules of cooking and repurposing them in fun ways, whether it be using an ingredient you've never used or finding a new use for an existing one. Whatever the approach, it's easy to find inspiration in the hottest culinary trends emerging for 2014.
Celebrity Chef Elizabeth Falkner, a multiple award-winning chef, restaurateur, Bravo and Food Network personality who currently serves as executive chef of Corvo Bianco in New York City, points to these top food trends to watch in 2014:
Bolder fusions - Earlier iterations of the fusion trend focused on combining ethnic styles of cuisine. In 2014, the trend will focus on unique flavor combinations that transcend ethnic themes. Falkner points to Good Earth Tea's bold new flavors - with their whimsical names like Starry Chai, Matcha Maker, Cocoa Tango and Tropical Rush Organic - as examples of the trend done right. The teas blend diverse but complimentary flavors such as chai spices and cherry or lemongrass coupled with bright pops of pineapple to create fusions that surprise and please at the same time. By incorporating the tea-maker's Sweet & Spicy fusion tea into bread pudding, Falkner pumps up a traditional bread pudding recipe with the tea's signature sweet bursts of orange and exotic notes of cinnamon. Last year, multi-flavored fruit and herbal beverage fusions made their way onto menus. This year, it gets fizzier, with restaurants crafting sodas using unique infusions of flavor. Falkner demonstrates this trend with a selection of gourmet sodas combining ingredients like espresso, fennel and lemon zest or blueberry and cilantro.
A fresh take on tea - Falkner also predicts the culinary world will continue to explore creative ways to use tea as an ingredient in a variety of dishes. Not just for sipping anymore, tea is a natural ingredient that's finding its way into rubs, broths and marinades. In celebration of this trend, Falkner has created six unique recipes inspired by Good Earth's bold tea flavors. The recipes are available at GoodEarth.com as well as the brand's Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube channels.
Upscale comfort food - Grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, tomato soup, franks and beans - foods we grow up with have taken root in the American psyche as comfort foods that warm our souls as much as they fill our bellies. This year, comfort food will continue to go upscale as chefs take basics like mac and cheese and update them by adding high-end ingredients like sauteed salami, peppers, onions and sun-dried tomatoes. One of Falkner's favorite takes on the trend is Grilled Cheese Caprese made with several different cheeses, such as fior di latte and fontina, basil and pickled tomato jam.
Super seaweed - A nutritional powerhouse, seaweed will make its way into more recipes this year, Falkner predicts. Look for varieties like dulse, kelp, combu, hijiki and nori to appear as ingredients in dishes from desserts to main courses. Falkner uses hijiki seaweed to create an Asian-style coleslaw that's super-healthy, easy to make and a great accompaniment to a variety of dishes. Dried seaweed also makes a nutritious gelatin and thickener, without a hint of fishiness, so look for it to appear in desserts.
Beyond beef - Bored by beef? Tired of chicken and turkey? Does duck do nothing for you? Chefs are stepping up to meet Americans' taste for alternative proteins by incorporating a variety of options into their menus. In 2014, you'll find goat (widely eaten in the Middle and Far East), rabbit, quail, sweetbreads and pigeon on restaurant menus.
'Many of my best memories involve moments with friends and family that have taken place around the table,' says Falkner. 'I'm thrilled to be able to share that passion with others. The combination of good food and fellowship is what really makes every meal a special event - and that's one dining 'trend' everyone can embrace!'
You can explore one of 2014's hottest trends with this recipe from Falkner and Good Earth Tea:
Sweet & Spicy Bread Pudding
1 quart milk
2 cups cream
2 tea bags Good Earth Sweet & Spicy, tags removed
4 cups French bread, with crusts removed and cut into cubes
6 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine milk, cream and add tea bags to the mix. Pour over bread and steep for at least one hour. Squeeze out tea bags and discard. Combine egg yolks, eggs, sugar and orange zest in a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Stir this into bread, tea and milk mixture. Add optional chopped chocolate and spoon into a greased baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes at 325 F or until custard is set. Cool slightly. Serve warm.