Welcome to Bangkok—An Experiment IN Pad Thai

Have you ever received a meeting invite from a colleague entitled “Welcome to Bangkok”?

No? Must be an IN Food thing.

Ok, or maybe it’s a Caroline thing. Hey, I’m Caroline, Content Strategist & Copywriter in residence here at IN Food Marketing & Design. I never pass up the chance to take a title from utilitarian to intriguing—lucky for my colleagues, that philosophy is all-inclusive. Even meeting invites aren’t spared…which explains why everyone at IN Food found an invitation to “Bangkok” in their inboxes this winter. As part of our IN Food Soup Day tradition (originally a sharing of soups that’s become a sharing of whatever dish you’d like to whip up in large quantities) I brought a wok pan to work and set about making Pad Thai.

Our office of food marketing professionals is passionate about creating experiences around food. We do it for our clients, and we do it for each other! Last year I spent some time in Thailand and had the opportunity to learn to make authentic Pad Thai—deliciously satisfying but slightly lighter than the syrupy noodles often served here in the States—and my desk mates convinced me there would be no better way to share these new skills than on my “soup day.”

Of course, I’ve never tried to make batches of Pad Thai on any sort of scale, but as with most challenges here in our office, it wasn’t so much of question of “if” but rather of “how.”

Throw Down IN the Kitchen:

First thing’s first, I gathered ingredients—many were sourced from United Noodles, Minnesota’s largest Asian grocery store.

Next came the prep.

Garlic, tofu and green onions.

(Among other things.)

The wok was fired up.

Tamarind, oyster sauce and fish sauce were added.

Finally, soaked rice noodles, bean sprouts and green onions joined the mix.

Topped with cashews rather than the traditional peanuts (an explanation for which you can find here), lime wedges and plenty of red pepper flakes, the finished product was styled and shot by Alyssa and Ciara—because who are we kidding? None of us can resist  getting a drool-worthy beauty shot!

In the end this was just one of many delicious dishes our team has enjoyed over the course of a frigid Minnesota winter. But preparing it for my colleagues reminded me exactly what’s so fascinating about working with and thinking about food all day: the unique way that it brings people together. My Pad Thai was served with a pair of chopsticks and eaten with a side of laughter at our conference table. Food is never just “food” for our team of passionate marketers and creatives—talking about it, sharing it and savoring it never seems to get old.

 

Holiday Biscotti

Hygge [pronounced “hue-gah”], the Danish practice of finding coziness, well-being and contentment in life’s simple pleasures, is trending.

But while more and more brands try to promote things you can buy to make your life more “hyggelig”, native Danes say that misses the point entirely. In an interview with The Washington Post, Niels Malskær insisted that “it’s physically impossible” to purchase hygge.

So how can you get some hygge for yourself? Bake it up! Below are two delicious biscotti recipes, and we can attest: baking and eating them will make your holiday season measurably more hyggelig.


Choco-Cherry Matcha Biscotti

Recipe adapted from The Food Network

A new take on the timeless classic: satisfyingly crunchy matcha-flavored biscotti with bits of dried cherries, white chocolate and almonds. Suggested pairing: fuzzy socks and fireside company.

Ingredients

2 ½ cup flour

2 Tablespoons matcha tea powder

1 ½ teasoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ cup white chocolate, chopped

½ cup dried cherries, chopped

¾ cup slivered almonds

Optional: egg wash

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  2. Stir flour, baking powder, matcha tea powder and salt together in a bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter and sugar. Beat until mixture is pale, light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time and then vanilla. Add in dry ingredients in 2 parts while mixing on low speed just until combined.
  3. Fold in white chocolate, dried cherries and slivered almonds.
  4. Divide dough in two equal portions. Roll into 2 logs, then flatten the top to resemble long rectangles, 2 inches wide and 12 inches long
  5. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and brush logs with egg wash.
  6. Bake logs 2 inches apart in the center rack of oven until logs are firm to touch and bottoms are beginning to golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
  7. Once logs are cool enough to handle, place them on a cutting board. Slice each log into 1-inch thick pieces on a slight bias. Lay the cut side down on prepared baking sheet and bake 9 minutes. Flip cookies over and bake second side 9 minutes.
  8. Cool and drizzle with melted white chocolate, if desired.

Mocha Nut Latte Biscotti

Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Have your coffee and eat it too! Deliciously crisp mocha-flavored biscotti with plenty of chocolate and handfuls of toasted hazelnuts. Suggested pairing: Hot tea and a good book.

Ingredients

2 cups + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (plus more for your hands)

1 Tablespoon unsweetened dutch processed cocoa

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

3 large eggs

2 Tablespoons instant coffee dissolved in 2 Tablespoons warm water1

1 Tablespoon coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup chocolate chips or chocolate, chopped

½ cup white chocolate, chopped

1 cup hazelnuts, chopped

½ cup pistachios, chopped

egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water

Topping

½ cup chopped hazelnuts

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, instant coffee mixture, oil, and vanilla together. Pour into the flour/butter mixture and gently mix with a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula until everything is just barely moistened. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, knead lightly until the dough is soft and slightly sticky, about 8-10 times. If it’s uncontrollably sticky, knead one more Tablespoon of flour into the dough. With floured hands, divide the dough into two and place each half onto a baking sheet. Shape each half into an 8-9 inch long roll, patting down until each is about 1/2 inch thick. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top and sides of each biscotti slab with egg wash.
  4. Bake for 25-26 minutes, or until the top and sides of the biscotti slabs are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, but do not turn off the heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Once the slabs are cool enough to handle, cut each into 1-inch thick slices. Set slices cut sides upright, ¼ inch apart, on the baking sheets. Return to the oven to continue baking for 9 minutes. Turn biscotti over and bake other side for 9 minutes. The cookies will be slightly soft in the centers with harder edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before dipping in chocolate. As the biscotti cools, it becomes crunchy. Save the baking sheets for the next step.
  5. Process the chopped hazelnuts in a food processor or blender until finely chopped. Alternatively, you can chop them up into smaller pieces with a knife. Set aside. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Dip one side of each biscotti cookie in the melted chocolate and immediately sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts. I do this over the sink to avoid a mess! Use any leftover chocolate to drizzle over the nuts. Place the dipped biscotti back onto the baking sheets and allow chocolate to set in the refrigerator or at room temperature, about 30-45 minutes.

How we stay creative in an industry known for burnout

Ready for a hot-take from the IN office?

Creativity isn’t an inherent characteristic, but rather a practiced skill—like riding a bike, typing on a keyboard or driving a car.

We know. It’s a departure from the general assumption that creative people are just born creative. But before you start protesting that you “don’t have a creative bone in your body,” hear us out.

The results of creative thinking are broader and more widely applicable than say, successfully pedaling from point A to point B, but the principle is the same. If you practice stretching your brain in different ways and throwing away preconceptions to make room for wild new ideas, that sort of thinking eventually becomes as natural as pedaling a bike. Sure, you’ll always have to put in effort, (bikes don’t pedal themselves,) but the motion is gradually more comfortable.

Here at IN Food we encourage our team members to treat creativity as a practice inside the office and outside of it.

You’ve seen the results of this approach if you’re familiar with our work. (And if you’re not we recommend clicking over there STAT. Darn cool stuff coming out of our office these days!) However, what you wouldn’t know unless you have an “IN,” is the way that many of us cultivate creativity outside the office. Of course, the added bonus is that these “extracurriculars” keep our minds limber, our neurons firing and our creativity practice fresh.

Curious about the things that add value to our lives and our work? Here’s a sampling:

Maddy painting a mural of the stone arch bridge in Minneapolis, MN

Maddy working on a local mural

Maddy, Painter, oh and Graphic Designer

Maddy is an incredible visual artist. In fact, this summer she was selected by a juried panel to be 1 of 12 Emerging Artists showcasing their talent at the Des Moines Arts Festival, one of the nation’s most decorated art festivals! Her skill with a brush and canvas translates directly to her skill as a graphic designer—if you’re looking for gorgeous food illustrations, Maddy’s your gal.


Caroline playing a recital at a beautiful church in Minneapolis, MN

Caroline in concert

Caroline, Cellist who happens to write things too

Caroline holds a degree in Cello Performance and maintains a fairly rigorous concert schedule outside the office. She has played in chamber music series throughout the Midwest, and on top of writing compelling copy and scheming about content, she performs as a soloist and with different area ensembles. Music and writing are both essentially modes of creative communication after all, and Caroline finds that practicing one benefits the other.


In-progress cross-stitch project resting on a furry blanket

Ciara’s latest cross-stitch project

Ciara, Cross-Stitcher, also good at Digital Marketing

Ciara’s latest creative endeavor? Cross-stitching! Her approach takes your grandmother’s embroidery up a notch and allows her to make beautiful and unique pieces while practicing tangible creativity. A useful prerequisite to have in your tool belt when you’re tasked with delivering creative solutions in an intangible digital landscape.


Pencil sketch of coffee mug that reads "Duluth Minnesota Est. 1876" with coffee inside

Anita’s interpretation of her Sunday morning coffee

Anita, Budding Artiste (and IN Food President!)

You might never guess that our very own President and Account Director spends the occasional hour with a sketchpad in hand, but then again Anita is full of surprises. She’s been quietly cultivating her skill for a while now and enjoys the way that sketching is an ongoing exercise in critical thinking, audience perception and innovation—skills that just happen to be invaluable in marketing, too.


Cream sweater, grey screen-printed t-shirt, brown boots and blue jeans arranged on a wooden floor

A t-shirt Nina screen-printed

Nina, Screen-Printer, great at managing projects

Nina’s attention to detail and knack for guiding projects to fruition is widely acknowledged in our office, and it’s no wonder that her creative pursuits follow this theme. Outside of work she is passionate about screen printing and once in a while we have to ask: “Hey Nina, did you make that T-shirt?”


Platter of hors d'oeuvres

An hors d’oeuvres platter Lori whipped-up

Lori, Chef de Cuisine, straight-up-creative

Ok, so Lori’s not actually a chef de cuisine anywhere, but she might as well be. As Vice President and Creative Director, it’s quite literally Lori’s job to think creatively about our projects every day. So how does she keep herself from falling in a rut? You can often find Lori whipping up something delicious in the kitchen—ours, hers, a friend’s or family member’s. She is an unparalleled chef, comfortable in all sorts of cuisines and categories. It’s a different kind of creative exercise, but Lori says that’s exactly why it keeps her engaged, inspired and ready to innovate at her desk.

Why Giving Back is Part of Our Business Model

Food is our passion and our expertise, but it should never be our unique privilege.

At IN Food Marketing & Design we believe good business includes social responsibility. That’s why we invest a portion of our time, money and energy in combatting problems like food insecurity, poverty, illness and unnecessary food waste in our community.

Paul Newman, American actor, philanthropist and co-founder of the food company Newman’s Own once said “I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Our team here at IN Food agrees: Paul was onto something.

Here’s where we’ve concentrated our efforts lately.

The Jeremiah Program

Last winter we rolled up our sleeves and traded our keyboards for cutting boards to cook dinner for families at the Jeremiah Program. This program, headquartered in Minneapolis, helps determined single mothers excel in the workforce and prepare their children to succeed in school. It also reduces generational dependence on public assistance—all around a wonderful organization to be involved with and a great excuse for us to cook together (as if we don’t already take every chance we get here at IN Food…)

Second Harvest Heartland—Click for Lunch

Our 7th annual Click for L.U.N.C.H campaign received enough clicks to donate 4,830 meals to Second Harvest Heartland’s Summer Food Service Program!

More than 40% of K-12 kids in Minnesota rely on free or reduced-price lunches, and our partnership with Second Harvest Heartland helps keep these kids fed even when school’s not in session. 

#NationalSandwichDay traditions

For the second year in a row, we celebrated National Sandwich Day by making and donating over 100 sandwiches to Minneapolis Recreation Development, Inc., a local nonprofit serving homeless and disadvantaged youth and families in our community.

The cheese for these sandwiches came entirely from a client photoshoot. We didn’t want the delicious Cady Creek Farms cheese left in our fridge to go to waste, and since we couldn’t use it all ourselves we made sure it went to people who could.

Open Arm’s Turkey Drive

This Thanksgiving we participated in Open Arm’s Turkey Drive, and in doing so helped provide Thanksgiving dinner to families in the Twin Cities facing life-threatening illnesses.

Participants in this year’s drive collectively:

  • Raised $61,288 thanks to 409 generous donors—a number that both exceeded Open Arms’ goal and set a new record for the drive.
  • Delivered prepared turkey dinners to 188 families on Thanksgiving morning.
  • Offered frozen turkeys and trimmings to 378 families to prepare with their loved ones.

We see time and time again that food is more than just sustenance for our clients and their customers. Open Arms recognizes this too—giving Thanksgiving feasts to families coping with severe illness as a way to nourish their bodies, and their hearts.

Adopt-a-Family

The University of Minnesota Student Parent HELP Center is a program that serves low income undergraduates who are pregnant or parenting children while pursuing their degrees. These hardworking students might not be able to afford holiday gifts for their children after paying for tuition, books, rent, child care, and other family expenses, which is why the HELP Center has set-up Gifts for Little Gophers.

A few of us snuck away from our desks to go Christmas shopping for one of these families—picking out presents for three little girls, one boy and their parents. Back at the office, gifts in hand, we cranked the holiday tunes and carefully wrapped presents, enjoying the knowledge that they would bring holiday cheer to a family in our community.

Cookie Cart

Cookie Cart is a local organization that creates opportunities for Minneapolis youth to gain meaningful work experience and develop leadership skills through food (specifically, cookies!) We love the work they do and were thrilled to design their new van. Keep an eye out for the sleek new cookie-mobile around town.

As part of our partnership, we also welcomed Cookie Cart students to our North Loop office for brainstorming and a Q&A session about our industry. These young people are engaged and inspiring—a wonderful example of the way foodservice organizations can contribute to positive change in our community.

10 Takeaways from 2017: The IN Food Annual Roundup

From the value of programmatic advertising to the wonders of the 21st century (have you tried Slack?!) to activating latent badassery in our office, here are 10 things we’ve learned in 2017.

1. Social media is a great place to test new creative ideas. Trying to decide between two versions of a headline? Two different images? Post them both and see which one resonates better with your audience. Voilà, there’s your answer.

2. Direct mail still works, folks. Call us crazy, but when we have a wild thought with big potential here at IN Food, we like to see where it takes us.

Case in point: We’re not afraid to go retro. Did you hear that direct mail marketing is dead? Certainly not from us. As an element of recent campaigns, we (er, a bunch of US Postal Service employees) took to the streets with some old-fashioned paper-and-ink marketing, and even we were surprised by the results. In campaigns with multiple touch points, we’ve found that direct mail can still out-perform other more “advanced” tactics.

3. Budget a little tighter than you anticipated? Programmatic advertising provides the best bang for your buck. The “golden age” (or not-so-golden-age, if you were a woman…) of advertising recently romanticized by the TV show Mad Men, is ALL about the creative. But today’s placement-driven marketing landscape is pretty darn sexy too—albeit a bit more futuristic. Programmatic advertising uses an automated bidding system to reach targets, resulting in a lot of impressions to a wide audience on a small budget. Employed strategically, a good programmatic ad could take Don Draper’s most creative idea any day.

4. Babies boost office morale. Our office manager, Erin, was between daycare providers for a few weeks this year and brought her son Felix to the office on Tuesdays. Suddenly there weren’t enough Tuesdays in a week for any of us with little Felix scooting around our desks and assisting his mom with conference calls.

A great example of the culture of flexibility and understanding that we cultivate here at IN Food, we’re all secretly hoping Erin might switch daycare providers again. (Although she feels like the arrangement she’s got going now is a good one…you sure Erin?)

5. We are among the smaller agencies in the Twin Cities, but we still play ball in the big leagues. Small can be mighty, especially when you put your whole heart into an endeavor. This year we were selected as the agency of record for General Mills Convenience & Foodservice and reminded just how big a role passion, grit and ingenuity play in success—regardless of the numbers.

6. A little playtime pays off. In 2017, we made an effort to do more things together—inside and outside of work. From dinners to happy hours, retreats, birthday celebrations and taking turns making soup for office lunches, we’ve discovered that quality “team” time really does translate to a near-seamless work environment.

7. All aboard the Slack train! No, really. Bringing this cloud-based messaging and collaboration tool to our office has streamlined communication between colleagues and departments and given us all an excuse to giggle at our screens together (as if we needed another platform for inside jokes…) Slack makes communication fast, easy, effective and fun!

8. Giving back feels great. As a food marketing agency we’re passionate about serving our community and helping to combat hunger. In addition to our annual Click For Lunch campaign, this year we also cooked and served dinner for the Jeremiah Program, made over one hundred sandwiches for the homeless, and volunteered at Second Harvest Heartland.

9. Everyone can be a badass. As part of our agency retreat in October we read Jen Sincero’s book You Are a Badass. Her refreshing, realistic and often-hilarious take on life, work and success gave us all a new idea or two to mull over, a little extra swagger in our step, and a reminder of our own badassery.

10. Staying active keeps you fresh. From #PlankTime (one minute planks every hour on the hour, anyone?) to complimentary Sculpt Yoga classes taught by our very own Assistant Account Executive, Emily, we’ve been reminded that a little physical activity throughout the day improves performance, productivity and happiness.

Doing our part to reduce food waste

Stories from the IN Food Kitchen

To say that food waste is a huge problem in this country is an understatement. About 40% of all food in the United States goes uneaten. Seriously. Chew on that stat for a second.

As a marketing and design agency specializing in food, this carelessness around food waste is our problem too—and we’re committed to being a part of the solution. Recently we did a photoshoot for the Cady Creek Farms brand of our partner Burnett Dairy Cooperative, and challenged ourselves to use the leftover (and delicious!) cheese from the photoshoot as creatively as possible. Here’s what we did:

Lori’s Luscious Lasagna

If you know anything about our office, you know that Lori Gerdts, dauntless Vice President and Creative Director here at IN Food, could be just as successful as Chef de Cuisine at a swanky five-star restaurant. (We’re just glad she wants to stick it out in the office with us!)lasagna

Recently, after every mouthwatering shot had been prepped and captured to her exacting standards, Lori went to work on the photoshoot leftovers. The resulting lasagna was like nothing any of us had ever tasted before. Here’s what she used:

  • Perfectly savory-sweet caramelized onions left from sandwich preparations in the shoot.
  • Scrumptious sautéed mushrooms also used for sandwich preparations in the shoot.
  • Deliciously crispy leftover prosciutto.
  • Liberal amounts of 4 different flavors of Burnett Dairy cheese.

To these left-over ingredients she added a dangerously delicious béchamel sauce (made with more Cady Creek Farms cheese of course) and alternated layers of béchamel with layers of Lori’s Secret Red Sauce (a recipe she’ll take to her grave) between lasagna noodles, finishing it all with more cheese and a sprig of herbs.

Grilled Cheese Gala

Grilled cheese became a lunchtime staple at IN Food in the weeks after the Burnett photoshoot—and no one complained about eating rich melty goodness between slices of bread also left over from the shoot on more than one occasion. Cooking together is something we love to do here at IN Food, and what better excuse than making a whole bunch of darn delicious grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch at the office?

#NationalSandwichDay traditions

Even with Lori’s decadent lasagna and grilled cheese sandwiches in the kitchen at lunch, we knew that our small-but-fierce agency couldn’t consume pounds and pounds of leftover cheese fast enough to use it all. So, for the second year in a row, we celebrated National Sandwich Day (November 3rd for those of you ready to mark your calendars for next year) by making and donating 150 sandwiches to Minneapolis Recreation Development, Inc., a local nonprofit serving homeless and disadvantaged youth and families in our community. If we couldn’t use all the perfectly good cheese ourselves, we wanted to make sure someone else could.

Perks of being ‘in’ with the IN crowd

If you’re not already in good standing with one or more of our team members, you may want to move that up your to-do list. Many of our nearest and dearest benefitted from this commitment to using Cady Creek Farms’ photoshoot cheese responsibly: from neighborhood chili cook-offs to birthday blowouts for 3-year-olds, logs of delicious leftover cheese proved—once again—that it pays to be on the INside.


Looking for more ingenious solutions to the problem of food waste in America? Here are some resources we’ve found informational and helpful!

Forbes on the latest food waste solution in the food industry: Wasted Bites Get Culinary Love From All-Star Chefs And Startups.

Hungry Harvest—a non-profit that delivers “ugly produce”, food that is wasted due to aesthetic imperfections or logistical inefficiencies, to subscribers of their market box service and additionally subsidizes and donates this produce to people in need.

TC Food Justice combats food waste and hunger right here at home in the Twin Cities area!