Black Licorice: The Confectionary Whipping Boy

image via Pammy Shep


It’s the candy we love to hate.
In a candy land of sugary, fruity, creamy, chocolatey, there’s licorice. It’s herbal, salty, medicinal, and barely sweetened; and doesn’t apologize for it.

We are of course talking about black licorice; the only true licorice. Red Vines, Twizzlers, and the like rely on mostly fruit flavorings; there is not a drop of licorice in them. The red-black connection is limited to a similar extrusion process in their manufacture.

Licorice haters spend their days picking the black ones out of the jelly bean bowl, immune to the charms of the jumbo-size box of Good & Plenty. They gather online, congregating in places where they can bash black licorice in the supportive environment of like-minded licorice loathers; places like The Official Black Licorice Hate Thread and the I Hate Black Licorice Facebook page where it’s referred to as the devil’s candy.

And then there are the celebrants.
There’s the Licorice Lovers blog and newsletter, which takes a look this month at what makes licorice the perfect summertime treat (it’s versatile and doesn’t melt) and features a dress made entirely from nine pounds of licorice whip;s and The Magic of Licorice, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the many health benefits of licorice (it’s been prescribed to treat coughs, ulcers, and constipation; it’s also one of the most sexually arousing scents around.)

Whether you love it or loathe it, a good place to explore your deepest emotions is Licorice International, the web’s most complete licorice resource. It offers the largest selection of European licorice varieties available in the U.S., with more than a dozen countries represented. A downloadable tasting guide will match your taste and texture preferences with suitable licorice varieties.


Posted in candy | 2 Comments

Three Little Words: Strategic Pork Reserves

Earlier this summer it was reported that China’s Commerce Ministry would release part of its strategic pork reserves in hopes of capping rising food prices. Reaction from the U.S. ranged from WTF? to I want one.

There are nation’s that keep strategic oil reserves, and some stockpile grain, but a national pork reserve?

China is a porcine superpower. With a pig population of 446 million, China is home to half of all the world’s pigs, with one pig for every three citizens. China has more pigs than the next 43 countries combined, including the U.S. at number two with about 60 million pigs.

Pork is serious business in China. It makes up more than half of the meat consumed, and as living standards rise, so does consumption, which has quadrupled in the last 20 years. This crushing demand for pork has made it susceptible to price fluctuations due to weather, disease, and grain price inflation.

There was nationwide panic in 2006 when an epidemic of blue-ear disease struck the Chinese pig population. The disease was eventually brought under control, but left in its wake supply shortages and runaway price inflation. Clearly unacceptable in a country that runs on pork, the next year the Chinese government made it a national priority to ensure a reliable supply of pork. Throughout the country, icy warehouses hold 220,000 tons of frozen hogs, and pre-payments are made to farmers to maintain herd levels. With pork prices up 38 percent since the start of the year, this summer, the Chinese government has been digging into the stash to help stabilize prices.

Here in the United States, we have a bit of wheat saved up, and the world’s largest petroleum reserve, but alas, no strategic pork reserve. And we call ourselves a superpower.



Posted in food policy | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Best of YouTube Cooking

Type ‘cooking’ into the YouTube search engine and you get 27,900,000 results—way out ahead of ‘gardening’ (1,380,000), and almost as many as the results returned for ‘Obama’ (30,700,000). Granted, the number is dwarfed by the search results for ‘Justin Bieber’ (203,000,000), ‘naked’ (51,600,000), or even ‘cats’ (47,400,000), but still, it’s pretty impressive.

With those kinds of numbers, there is obviously something for everyone, from the entertaining to the solidly instructive, plus plenty of quirks, niches, and the gratuitously not-ready-for-prime-time. Sure, there are times when you just want to gawk at an enormous-breasted women slicing ginger or the 11-year boy who will eat anything on a dare. I’m not judging. But this is about cooking, for those times when you are looking for the prosaic and practical. Guidance, advice, and inspiration. YouTube never disappoints.

High quality production, an extensive library of recipes, and an easily navigable website for recipe backup, YouTube cooking channels don’t get any better than Food Wishes. It’s the first place we go for a crash course in homemade mayonnaise or duck butchery, and a reliable source of inspiration when we want to pay homage to the foods of Provence, throw a Salvadorean-themed dinner party, or use up the too-many spring greens we bought at the farmers market.

Novice cooks swear by the videos from Start Cooking. They cover the most basic of cooking basics (how to fry an egg, steam rice, or make English muffin pizzas in a toaster oven), and advance to the merely basic (roast a chicken, bake brownies). There’s plenty of detailed instruction, but it’s never preachy or tedious.

The video hosts of Delectable Planet want to see you eating lower on the food chain, and they encourage you with a chipper earnestness and not even  a hint of condescension. It doesn’t hurt that the plant-based recipes are seriously tasty.

There’s something about Dave. Dave Can Cook is not the slickest show out there. The segments are loose and unscripted, the recipes lean toward hearty, homely, countrified dishes, and Dave’s grasp of the technology is shaky at best. But he’s a natural cook and host, relaxed and affable, with genuine enthusiasm for the whole process. In other words, he’s the real deal. And if you want to know how to season your new cast iron pan, he’s your man.

Ethnic cuisines, with their often unfamiliar ingredients, equipment, and techniques, can be especially well-served by the video format.

We like to get our Indian cooking lessons from Chef Vah of VahRehVah. The recipes vary from the somewhat dumbed-down and Americanized to wildly exotic and challenging.

The Japanese chef-host cooks and narrates while Francis the poodle provides French-accented English translations. It’s the inimitable Cooking with Dog, and you’ll have to see it for yourself, because you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that it works.

The dizzying camera work and fast cuts of Maangchi’s Cooking Show make high drama of Korean home cooking. Host Maangchi barely breaks a sweat while manhandling 10 pounds of cabbage for the kimchi segment, but you might need a nap afterward.

Italians turn to Giallo Zafferano for their pizza and pasta primers. The English-language version, Yellow Saffron, is no less authentic, but a lot easier to follow.

An 80-something Jewish bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother) prepares classic Jewish foods like brisket, kugel, and borscht, as the host of the wildly endearing Feed Me Bubbe.

For classic French dishes and techniques, it doesn’t get any better than  Julia Child . Enlightening, entertaining, accessible, and undiminished by the years, her timeless PBS shows are finding a new audience and reconnecting with the old one on YouTube.



Posted in cook + dine, Entertainment | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Ethical Carnivore: Pleased to Meat You

It’s not like you’re suddenly going to go cold turkey, if you’ll pardon the pun. We humans didn’t claw our way up the food chain so we could eat quinoa.

Meat-eating and ethical eating don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways to eat meat that are sensitive to the environment, to our health, and to the animals involved.

All meat is not created equal.
We all know that factory farming is a grotesquery. It’s basically institutionalized animal cruelty and it creates a product that is unfit and unhealthy for human consumption. It depletes resources and is destructive to the environment.

Then there’s grass-fed or pasture-raised beef.
These animals are raised in open, humane, sanitary conditions. They conserve resources by passing on a diet of grains grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Better for your health, grass-fed beef contains fewer antibiotics and hormones, is leaner than grain-fed and grain-finished beef, and has a more favorable ratio of omega fatty acids.

The well-managed pasture system sustains natural resources by reducing erosion and water pollution, conserving carbon, and preserving biodiversity and wildlife. Their sales methods—either operating as an independent, selling directly from their own property, or selling through small, locally focused producer groups—help support local communities, promote local foodsheds, and earn a fair price for the producers.

The industrialization of the calf.
We took an earth-friendly, solar-powered ruminant and turned it into a fossil-fuel powered machine.
The problem with banishing all meat from the dinner table is that ranchers of conscience are caught in the sweep, demonized along with factory farmers. These ethical producers should be celebrated as the vanguard of a growing revolt against industrial agriculture, not penalized by association.

Let’s face it, we are not heading toward a meatless society.
But we can be a society of ethical carnivores. We need to eat meat in moderation and avoid animals raised in confined spaces and fed an unnatural diet. Choosing grass-fed beef can have a lasting impact on our health and the health of the planet.



Posted in sustainability | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Everything (and then some) Bagels

image via chris

The everything is not the most popular bagel—that would be plain, closely followed by sesame. But for some, it’s the only bagel that will do. Salty, seedy, and pungent with onion and garlic, it’s the true bagel lover’s bagel.

The everything bagel also has its detractors. They complain that the everything’s yeasty, stinky goodness befouls its milder brethren in the paper sack on the way home from the bagel shop. They whine about garlic breath and the way poppy seeds tuck themselves into the spaces between their teeth. I say knock yourselves out with a blueberry bagel [sic].

And there’s controversy.
In a promotional post for his 516Ads blog, web entrepreneur David Gussin claims to have invented the everything bagel as a teenager in the early 1980′s. Working an after school job at a Queens bagel bakery, he was inspired to reuse the tasty, toasty, seedy debris he swept out of the oven at the end of a shift. The shop’s customers went crazy for the concoction, and the rest, as he says in a New Yorker Schmear Dept. profile, is history.

Not so, says modern marketing guru Seth Godin. He claims to have originated the everything bagel at least three years earlier, back in 1977 when he was a teenaged bagel shop employee. Godin figures the oversight comes from the fact that the bagel shop of his youth was located in Buffalo—too far off the radar of the bagel elite. Despite a compelling argument from Godin (“…you add the seeds when the bagels are on the wet burlap…the burnt seeds in the oven get pretty incinerated and you wouldn’t want to use em.”) the New Yorker has yet to publish a retraction.

The everything is hands-down the funniest bagel.
There is so much online riffing on the boastful hyperbole of the appellation that blogging pioneer Jason Kottke hypothesized, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought Twitter was built specifically for the purpose of cracking wise about the lack of everything on the everything bagel.” His blog,, rounded up some of the best:

–This “everything bagel” is great. Has onions, poppy seeds, garlic, cheese, q-tips, Greenland, fear, sandals, wolves, teapots, crunkin… @JohnMoe
–The “everything bagel” really only has like three things. Just what I want for breakfast. Lies. @missrftc
–You might want to scale back on calling yourself an “everything bagel.” I mean, right away I can see there are no M&M’s on here. @friedmanjon
–Flossing after an everything bagel is important b/c as the name implies, you don’t just have *something* in your teeth, you have every thing. @phillygirl

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

You can make everything taste like an everything bagel with a sprinkle of Everything Bagel Spice Mix.

The home gardening adventurers at Plantgasm ask the question, “Can you grow anything from the seeds of an everything bagel?


Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge | 1 Comment

A Global Warming Amuse Bouche.

image via World Magazine

How’s that climate change thing working for you?
Not everyone is in agreement on the causes, but the effects are undeniable.
Popsicles and iced drinks can only take you so far. What will you be eating as the planet heats up?

2010 was the world’s hottest year on record; that is, until 2011. The National Weather Service reports that 1,400 records for a high temperature have been broken around the country this summer, and we’re not even through July. The current heat wave is exceptional for its duration, strength, and even breadth, and climatologists are telling us it’s just a taste of things to come.

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Washington and at Stanford University’s Program for Food Security and the Environment analyzed data from 23 climate models. They predict, with 90%  certainty, that by the end of the 21st century, average growing-season temperatures will be hotter than the most extreme levels recorded in the past. Barring a swift and sudden reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, here’s what will happen to our food:

  • Fruit trees will blossom weeks early in the warmer spring weather, before insects arrive to pollinate them. Without successful pollination, small fruit will form and quickly drop off the trees before it can mature.
  • Grapes will wither into raisins before they can be pressed for wine.
  • Dairy cows will experience reproductive failure and produce less milk.
  • Hogs and cattle will go off their feed and take longer to get to market.
  • Chickens will lay fewer eggs.
  • Coffee-growing regions will fade away as growers are forced to either move to higher ground or pack it in.
  • We’ll drink  summer ales year-round—the only palatable brew from weaker, low-acid, warm-weather hops.
  • Fish will flee the southern hemisphere, vegetables will wither in the fields, maple syrup will be just a memory.

We’ve seen food prices rise by 20% as the hot weather torpedoes production, but what if dinner costs 20 times what it did?

The midwestern breadbasket will be redubbed the tropical fruit bowl.
Mashed cassava will stand in for potatoes, we’ll eat french-fried yucca, and scramble the eggy akee fruit for breakfast. It’s already happening across Europe, where England has begun producing bananas, olives, and oranges, and central Russia is planted with fig trees and lemons.

The evidence continues to pile up.
This is not just another summer heatwave but part of a larger trend that is indisputably based on measured concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming as a result of human activity is recognized by the national science academies of  every major industrialized country.

Learn how your personal choices  impact the environment. Read Ten Personal Solutions to Global Warming from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Join, a global, grassroots movement to solve the crisis.



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Your 12-pack Toting Days are Numbered

[image via the Purple Sprout]


Why are we buying all those bottles and cans of soda?
Oceans of corn syrup, mountains of glass and plastic waste, money, fossil fuels; this is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

Americans consume about 50 billion liters of soda a year. That comes to 216 liters for every man, woman, and child, most of it sealed in plastic or aluminum. It’s labeled and packaged and packed into cartons. It’s shipped around the country, passes through distributors and wholesalers and retailers, before it’s toted home in 12-packs loaded into the trunk of a car.

All that for water and flavoring and some CO2 for carbonation. The stuff could come from anywhere, and we’re importing it like it’s lobsters from Maine.

You can (and should) make soda at home.
It’s economical and green and better for your health. The easiest way to go about making soda and sparkling water is with a home system. The newest versions are light years away from the old-fashioned, cumbersome seltzer siphons. All you do is fill a bottle with tap water, pop it into a soda maker, and in 3 seconds you have seltzer. You can make sparkling fruit juice, adjust the bubble size to your preference, or add extracts and syrups to make soda.

The initial investment (machine, carbonation, bottles, a few syrups) starts at around $100, but quickly pays for itself. You only have to give up a few inches of counter space, and it works without electricity.

Slate’s Get Busy with the Fizzy marvels at the home carbonation phenomenon, and details the perfect storm of economics, health concerns, environmental awareness, and nostalgia that shaped it.

You can make classics like homemade ginger ale, root beer, and cream soda, or experiment with herbs and seasonal ingredients like strawberry-rhubarb, chai tea, and orange-lemongrass. The Homemade Soda Expert has tips and links to suppliers and recipes.



Posted in appliances + gadgets, sustainability | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Edible Stay-cation

You haven’t booked your Michelin tour yet?

That’s right, Michelin, publisher of the eponymous hotel and restaurant guides, bestower of stars to the crème de la crème of restaurants worldwide, has created a set of world-wide culinary vacations. The drool-worthy itineraries include cooking classes with renowned chefs, wine tastings in celebrated cellars, and of course plenty of Michelin-starred dining.

Are we forgetting something?

Oh yeah; time and money. But don’t despair. With a little online browsing, you can find recipes and ingredients for any and all of the world’s culinary traditions.

International is a recipe exchange with more than 34,000 members in 90 countries. I’m not sure what this means, but it’s a little disconcerting to see that the most requested recipe from the U.S. is Olive Garden’s tiramisu.

Food in Every Country covers culinary history, traditional holiday dishes, mealtime customs, and the political, environmental, religious, and economic factors that define each cuisine. The database is broad, although every country is a bit of an overstatement.

In Mama’s Kitchen focuses on authentic, home cooking from around the world.

Soup Song and Rice Gourmet focus narrowly on these two, universal foods.

Say it like a local– Forvo is a pronunciation guide for 258 of the world’s languages.

Sometimes they do things a little differently. Worldwide Recipes has conversion tools that adapts weights, measures, and temperatures for the American kitchen.

Ethnic Foods Co. sells a global selection of spices, pantry goods, prepared foods, cookware, and even some fresh herbs and produce.

Massachusetts blogger Sarah Scoble Commerford began her world tour in April, 2010. She is cooking her way through each of the world’s 193 countries (give or take, depending on the dynamism of national political agendas). Working alphabetically, beginning with Afghanistan, she is preparing a representative meal from each country’s traditions and ingredients. She just started cooking her way through the T’s (goodbye St. Kitts; hello Thailand). She documents one or two meals each week in her blog,  What’s Cooking in Your World? At the current pace, the ETA for Zimbabwe is spring of 2013.

Why not put away your passport, save on airfare, and indulge in some kitchen table travel?


Posted in bloggers, travel | Leave a comment

McDonald’s Israel. But is it McKosher?

You’ve got to hand it to McDonald’s.
The fast food giant is staying the course in Israel. The sands of the Negev are littered with the wrappers of those that have come and gone, like Ben & Jerry’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks; and those that have quietly dwindled to insignificance, like Pizza Hut and KFC.

McDonald’s has only been in Israel since the early 1990′s. All of its 160 restaurants in Israel keep pork off the menu and serve kosher beef, and about a quarter of them are certified kosher—they close on the sabbath, don’t serve cheeseburgers, and for the week of Passover the buns are made of matzah meal. Milkshakes and milk-based desserts have to be eaten in designated dairy-only booths.

McDonald’s Israel caters to local tastes with the McSchwarma, with spit-roasted shaved meat in flatbread, Israeli salad of chopped cucumber and tomato, and the McKebab with tahini served on pita bread. In a rare admission of defeat, last week the chain pulled the McFalafel from its Israeli menus, unable to compete with the thousands of street side falafel stands that do it bigger, better, and cheaper.

In place of the McFalafel, Israel is getting selections from McDonald’s Big America burger promotion, a series of  two-fisted, half-pound, inauthentically themed burgers that play into stereotypical, slightly racist notions of America’s regions : the Big Miami is a hamburger topped with a taco; the Big Texas, has a bean-stocked chili topping that no self-respecting chili con carne-loving Texan could have dreamed up;  the Big Idaho recycles the hash brown patties from McDonald’s breakfast menu; and there’s a gravy and egg-topped Big Hawaii.

McDonald’s Israel has had its share of controversy, from its insistence that Hebrew be spoken by all restaurant staffers to its refusal to open outlets in the West Bank and Golan Heights. The current fatty, beefy challenge to the traditionally light, Mediterranean-style Israeli might be the most contentious yet.

Sarah Melamed is an American writer living in Israel and writing about the local cuisine in her blog Food Bridge. She also provides links to other English language Israeli food bloggers.



Posted in fast food, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

Attack of the Belly Fat Ads

They’re the ads that ate the internet.
You know the ones—crudely drawn, often animated, with cellulite deflating and re-inflating above the waistline of a pair of too-tight jeans, in a never-ending before-and-after of fat to fit to fat to fit. The headline, looking to be hand-lettered, touts a simple, unnamed tip to trim the fat.

To say you know the ads is an understatement. The ads are so ubiquitous that you’ve likely seen them hundreds or even thousands of times. Their sponsors are clients of half of all the ad networks in the U.S., running on the homepages of powerhouse websites like Facebook, CNN, and the Washington Post. They’ve appeared tens of billions of times as banner ads and popups. You read that right—billions, with a b.

The Federal Trade Commission is going after the perpetrators of a hustle.
The FTC has asked federal courts to halt the belly fat ads and freeze the operators’ assets, alleging that the ads are the leading edge of a vast and elaborate con built on false claims and deceptive practices.

Click on the ad looking for a homespun diet tip and you’re taken to a second site. This one looks like news coverage of a reporter’s investigation into the health benefits of diet supplements. The faux news report, named something like Weekly Health News or Health News Beat, typically investigates diet pills made from mangoes or acai berries, or from the human hormone hCG. It might include the names and logos of major networks and news outlets, and because the ads run on their websites, the reporter will falsely represent that the networks have run the news report.

The fake reporting has suckered millions of people into giving up their credit card numbers to obtain ‘free’ samples. It turns out to be not so free when the initial orders obligate them to a stream of $79.99 shipments. There’s a toll-free number for cancellations, and the tens of thousands of people who have filed complaints after their calls went unanswered will be happy to tell you about that one.

We keep seeing the ads because they work. So far, these unsavory businesses have raked in more than a billion dollars in sales—again, that’s billion with a b.

Read about the 10 legal challenges filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has also posted a consumer alert to warn the public about the proliferation of deceptive claims and fake news sites that pedal weight loss aids.


Posted in cyberculture, health + diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Audible Edibles: Radio food shows online

There’s something about listening to a food show on the radio.

Of course I am endlessly entertained by TV cooking shows: a little pseudo-cooking from a well-coiffed celebrity host in a pristine, Sub-Zero-sponsored kitchen; or maybe the high drama of competitive cooking looking all too easy with flashy knife skills and careful editing. It’s performance television, and most of us view it with the same slack-jawed passivity we assume when watching a CSI marathon.

But there’s just something about listening to a food show.
There’s an intimacy and immediacy to the disembodied voice in your ear, a connection that is rarely found through the high-gloss visuals of television. Fans of the genre claim that at its best, radio taps deep into their memories, pulling imagery from their brains in a way that video never does.

Radio is accessible just about anytime, anywhere: you can tune in the local station through the FM dial, subscribe via satellite service, stream shows live online, or download podcasts to numerous devices. There are shows for every taste from the big city polish of Los Angeles’ Good Food to Eastern Iowa’s recipe-swapping Open Line, with its repertoire of icebox cookies and new uses for canned cream of mushroom soup. Niche podcasters play to cultish audiences with the practical, the edgy, and the strange like the dairy discourse of Cutting the Curd, irreverently feminist Girl on Girl Cooking, and school cafeteria reports from the Renegade Lunch Lady.

Much of the best of food on the radio can be found on the lower end of the dial at NPR stations and The Heritage Radio Network, a relative newcomer that presents an eclectic lineup of live webcasts aimed at the hip, green-leaning, culinary do-it-yourselfer.

American Public Media’s the Splendid Table combines cooking tips, chef interviews, and lifestyle segments.

Cooking Issues brings one of our favorite blogs to life. Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute tinkers with the newest kitchen technologies, techniques, and ingredients.

Brand new to the airwaves, U Look Hungry is long-time blogger Helen Hollyman, who follows the people behind the latest cultural shifts across a broad spectrum of food, arts, agriculture, and activism.

The BBC’s The Food Programme produces thoughtful, in depth explorations of a broad range of culinary topics.



Posted in diversions, Entertainment | Tagged | 1 Comment

Beer Makes You a Mosquito Magnet

As if we didn’t have enough reasons to hate the little buggers.
It seems that mosquitoes like the smell of beer. Beer ranks right up there with stinky feet and limburger cheese, two of the other known mosquito attractants.

It’s always been clear that mosquitoes prefer some people over others. They like us fat and juicy, especially targeting the overweight and pregnant among us. They also like us sweaty and active, going after the movement and the carbon dioxide we’re pumping out. Basically, if you’re outside at a barbeque they’re going to bite you, whether you’re sitting in a lounge chair with a cold one or running around in a volleyball game.

It’s not clear what they like about beer drinkers.
Insects can get drunk, and they do things like fly upside down when they’re inebriated. But they can hold their liquor, staying upright even while taking in vapors as high high as 60% alcohol (If you were wondering, yes, there are tiny little bug breathalyzers called inebriometers).

You, on the other hand, are completely hammered after a half a dozen beers. Your drunken blood alcohol level of 0.10 is a fraction of the alcohol concentration that a mosquito can tolerate. They’re definitely not biting us for the buzz.

Short of moving to Antarctica there’s really not much we can do about mosquitoes biting us. So go ahead and light a citronella candle, slather on the insect repellant, and drink up. Just know that if you drink beer, the mosquitoes will drink you.

[Most of the mosquito research in this country (including the studies referenced here) takes place at the Medical Entomology Center at the University of Florida.]

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, health + diet | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Small Indulgence: Bite-sized desserts


[image via Show and Tell]

Forget about ordering one dessert with four forks.

What’s big in desserts right now is small. We’re scooping itty bitty spoons into tiny tureens of tiramisu and downing shot glass shooters of passion fruit soufflé. Already precious cupcakes have morphed into the cake ball trend, and little pies are appearing atop lollipop sticks.

Restaurants are happy to accommodate the baby sweet tooth. They find that average checks are higher when small desserts are on the menu; customers that wouldn’t typically indulge are lured by the novelty and smaller commitment of the miniatures, and while they’re at it, they’ll order a coffee, a tea, maybe an after-dinner drink.

We are more adventurous with tiny desserts. We want a big taste in the small package and are willing to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients and preparations. The stakes are low– we’re committing to just a few bites at a lower price point than for standard desserts.

O.K., but just a sliver.

A tiny dessert can be perceived as a guilt-free indulgence. Whatever the caloric reality of a flight of wee custards or micro nut tarts, we think of the minis as a lo-cal, portion-controlled treat– kind of like those 100-calorie pre-packed snack bags of chips and crackers. Is it technically even dessert? It almost doesn’t count.

For the true fan of bitty foods, you can get an eyeful at Must Have Cute, a blog devoted entirely to the genre.

The Stir examines the bang-for-the buck of the Starbucks Petites line and Dairy Queen’s Mini Blizzards in Mini Desserts Will Make You Fat and Poor.

Get ready for dollhouse-sized cheesecakes. Industry insiders predict that cheesecake is due for its own mini makeover. It’s the original mini dessert maker, and it’s still baking little cakes with just a light bulb. See where it all began:  Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven.

image courtesy of Are you portion savvy? Gigabiting explores portion trends in Mini-Size Me.



Posted in dessert, food trends | Tagged , | 1 Comment

California Legislates the Hot Dog

[hot dog diagram by Alyson Thomas]

Laws are like sausages,’ goes the famous quote attributed to the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, ‘it is better not to see them being made.’

This week saw the two worlds collide—sausages and legislation—and the chancellor was right; it ain’t pretty.

In California, a state where a $4 billion shortfall is called a ‘balanced’ budget, lawmakers have turned to the important work of pinning down the true meaning of hot dog.
The proposed legislation doesn’t speak to food safety or suggest special food handling. It doesn’t address food additives, nutrition labeling, or school lunch programs. The critical hot dog text of S.B. 946 (which also deals with Medicare consultations, access to health care, and HIV reporting) reads:

A whole, cured, cooked sausage that is skinless or stuffed in a casing and that is also known as a frankfurter, frank, wiener, red hot, Vienna, bologna, garlic bologna, or knockwurst, and that may be served in a bun or roll.”

This week, the bill passed the State Assembly Health Committee. Next, it needs funding approval from the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The final legislative hurdle is a floor vote by the full Assembly, after which, god willing, it will be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.


Posted in food policy, funny | Tagged | 2 Comments

Reality TV Casting Calls

Who wants to be a TV chef?

There’s no big secret to getting yourself cast on a reality TV cooking show.
Take a gander at the current crop of performing cooks and chefs; clearly it’s not all about looks.
Think relaxed, witty, self-effacing, totally credible, at the top of your game—your true self, only better, like the Brits on Academy Award night.
The opportunities are out there if you’re willing to regularly check industry websites, send out a bunch of applications, maybe toss in a little home video, and show up at open casting calls.

We seem to have an insatiable appetite for food shows, and it’s matched by the cable channels need for reliable, inexpensive programming.
Be a chef. Or just play one on TV. Here are the new shows that are currently casting:

The people behind the quality Top Chef franchise are casting for a potential new Bravo series. They’re looking for chefs of any level in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin who “have a lifelong love affair with food, a passion for creating visually impressive dishes and a desire for adventure. Email with your bio plus a recent photo.

If Top Chef is at the top of the reality television heap, we have to climb down more than a few rungs for the new show from the Kitchen Nightmares/Celebrity Fit Club producers. Kind of a Kitchen Fit Club. they are looking for overweight food workers from all over the industry—chefs, waiters, school lunch line ladies—you name it. If you work with food and you’re at least 75 pounds overweight and don’t mind flaunting it in spandex workout gear on national television, you can download an application from the production company website.

Not overweight? Not a food industry worker? You might be just right to host a show about healthy cooking. This is a collaboration between the Cooking Channel and Good Housekeeping magazine, and they are looking for the big personality and an individual who has conquered weight issues through healthy cooking and eating. Email your story and pics to

There’s no cooking necessary for a new show featuring inventors and their food-related innovations. You need to have a camera-ready prototype that involves any aspect of growing, processing, preparing, storing, serving, or disposing of food. Pitch your burrito-on-a-stick or carrot-powered flashlight at the Lucky Dog website.

Kristina’s Fearless Kitchen will help the klutzy and inept get past their kitchen hangups. The Kristina of the show is the winner of an Oprah-sponsored host-your-own-cooking-show contest. If Kristina’s life sounds like a dream come true, you can nominate yourself or a friend at

Other new shows in various stages of production include a look at people who eat non-food items like soap and sofa cushions; Taste of Humanity, in which Megachurch pastor Phil Hotsenpiller and his wife, Tammy cook dinner with Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists; and two food shows from the Jersey Shore team. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Instead of 15 minutes of fame, maybe we all get our own cooking show.


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You’re So Wrong! Food Myths and Misconceptions

Adding salt won’t make the water boil any faster, you can take mayonnaise on a picnic, and go ahead and swallow that gum—it doesn’t take any longer to digest than anything else you might eat.

Let’s face it, sometimes common wisdom isn’t all that wise.
Then there are those infernal enemies of truth—of course I’m speaking of tweets, like buttons, and repostings. They carry the misinformation to the masses, and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself a new food mythology.

Let’s separate the facts from the fiction, the science from the silliness.
We’re going to look at those myths and misconceptions, and settle this once and for all.

myth: Add salt to water to make it boil faster.
reality: Salt actually raises the boiling point, so salted water takes longer to boil. It’s moot anyway since it takes way more salt than what gets added to a pasta pot to have that effect. Just add salt because it will make the pasta taste better.

myth: Sushi means raw fish.
reality: Sushi refers to the vinegared rice. Sashimi comes closer in meaning, since the ingredients are always raw, but it’s still not accurate.


myth: A craving is your body telling you it needs something.
reality: Our bodies can tell us physically when we lack a certain nutrient, but specific food cravings are strictly emotional.


myth: Alcohol burns off in cooking.
reality: Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it evaporates more quickly in cooking. But even after an hour of simmering, 25% of the alcohol remains, and 10% after two hours.


myth: There are negative-calorie foods that use more energy to eat than what’s contained in the food itself.
reality: The mere act of existence burns about 62 calories an hour, so in that sense, you can eat very low-cal foods and come out ahead. But chewing and digesting even a tough food like celery won’t bump up the hourly calorie burn enough to compensate for the added calories.

myth: You can’t bring sandwiches containing mayonnaise on a picnic.
reality: Commercial mayo has a high acid level and actually acts as a preservative for other ingredients. The turkey on a sandwich or the tuna in the tuna salad are more likely culprits when it comes to food-borne illnesses.

myth: Slice into rare beef and you get bloody juices.
reality: Nearly all blood is removed from meat during slaughter. Even when it’s served ‘bloody rare,’ you’re only seeing water and beef  proteins.


myth: The avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole will keep it from turning brown.
reality: There is no special magic to the pit. The browning is just natural oxidation from exposure to air, and the pit is big enough to block some air from reaching the dip. Try saran wrap and you’ll cover more area.

Myths, legends, misconceptions, polite fictions, old wives’ tales….
They’re the lessons o f old-school chefs, the ‘wisdom’ passed from mothers to daughter; whatever you want to call them, there are plenty more out there, and now they’ve gone viral.




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Shut Happens: Which Restaurant Will Be Next to Fail?










Restaurant closings. Those are the real signs of the times.
In recent months, Sbarro, Perkins, Marie Callender’s, Fuddruckers, Steak and Ale, Bakers Square, Bennigan’s, Old Country Buffet, Pizzeria Uno, and Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse have all filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Employees, investors, suppliers, and customers are all wondering, who’s next?

Even in the best of times, restaurants are a risky business. In a recession, empty tables and stalled prices cut into thin profit margins; combine that with the rising food costs we’re seeing, and the margins are squeezed on two sides.

The restaurants that went belly-up all had some things in common: all were national chains; all were in the quick or casual dining sector, a cut or a few above fast food; and with the exception of the pizzeria chains, all were marked by mediocrity and a sameness of menus. Each was conceived differently— Bennigan’s was modeled as an Irish pub, Perkins as a bakery/luncheonette, Charlie Brown’s fancied itself a classic, clubby steakhouse—but you could walk into any one of them and order shrimp tempura, a buffalo chicken wrap, and a chipotle-flavored something.

Who’s cooking, who’s flaming out?
The Street, an online media company that covers investing and finance, compiled a Bankruptcy Watch list of the 14 restaurant chains with the greatest likelihood of failure in the coming months. From least to most risky they are:

14. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
13. Sonic
12. Ruby Tuesday
11. Carrols Restaurant Group (operates Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana, and Burger King franchises)
10. Einstein Noah Restaurant Group (Einstein Bros., Noah’s, and Manhattan Bagels)
9. O’Charley’s (O’Charley’s, Ninety Nine Restaurant, and Stoney River Legendary Steaks)
8. Ruth’s Hospitality Group (Ruth’s Chris Steak House and  Mitchell’s Fish Market)
7. McCormick & Schmick’s
6. Bravo Brio Restaurant Group (BRAVO! Cucina Italiana and BRIO Tuscan Grille)
5. Domino’s Pizza
4. DineEquity (IHOP and Applebee’s)
3. Morton’s The Steakhouse
2. Wendy’s/Arby’s
1. Denny’s

Not to worry—even if the worst-case scenario plays out 14 times, striking everyone on the list, we’re still left with plenty of mediocre chain restaurants where we can go to satisfy a yen for nondescript, chipotle-flavored something.

Visit The Street for the details outlining each company’s potential for bankruptcy.


Posted in food business, restaurants | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Tired of fumbling with round fruit? Try a Square Watermelon. first glimpse of a square watermelon was in a cartoon. In Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo, our favorite television family was vacationing in Japan when Homer Simpson squandered so much of their vacation money on Japanese novelties, including a square watermelon, they were nearly stranded there forever.

It took a few more years for Japan’s farmers to catch up with Homer’s prescience.

Leave it to the Japanese to come up with this one. From bonsai trees, to compact cars, to miniaturized electronics, they have demonstrated their mastery of making things work in small spaces, and population-dense Japan is full of them. Homes are compact, the kitchens within them are tiny, and the refrigerators are positively Lilliputian.

Watermelons are big, roundish space hogs that have never fit well in Japanese refrigerators. This has been a particular concern in Japan, where melons hold a special place in society. The rarest and most exotic are sold as high-end gifts in luxury fruit shops. The nation tracks the springtime fruit harvest like baseball stats, when first-of-the season melons sell for astronomical sums—this year, a pair of Yubari cantaloupe fetched the top price of one million yen (about $12,400).

Square watermelons were created to accommodate Japanese refrigerators. While still growing on the vine, a farmer puts each immature melon into a square, tempered glass box that exactly matches refrigerator dimensions. The full-grown watermelon, once it’s removed from the box, fits precisely on refrigerator shelves.

Growers in California and Panama plan to introduce square watermelons into the American market. Even with our big, American-style refrigerators, we can appreciate the space savings—square melons take up less room, and therefore less energy, to cool, transport and display in stores. Less space means a smaller carbon footprint.
If you want round, you can always pull out the melon-baller.

Not just square: one Japanese grower has been fooling around with other shapes. See the watermelon heart, the pyramid, and more at Crown Melon.

Instructables has step-by-step instructions that show you how to grow your own square watermelon.


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These Foods Will Outlive You

This is not about Twinkies. Or Christmas fruitcake, circa 2004. Or leftovers that wear out their welcome. Forget what you think you know about spoilage, shelf-life, and expiration dates.

This is a list of foods that never go bad. You don’t toss them when you clean out the pantry, remodel your kitchen, or move to another city. In fact you’ll be long gone, but that box of brown sugar will live on.

The sweeteners

White, brown, or powdered, sugar never goes bad. Bacteria can’t feed on sugar, so it will never spoil. Corn syrup is also a keeper, but we’re not fans of the stuff. Honey, with its own antibacterial properties, has been famous for its longevity ever since centuries-old honey pots were unearthed from ancient Egyptian tombs, and found to be perfectly edible. Maple syrup has a surprisingly limited shelf life of just a year or so, but who knew you could freeze maple syrup indefinitely?!

The carbs

Unless you’re wild about gravy, that tin of cornstarch could be the last one you’ll ever buy, since it never goes bad. All of the white rice varieties, like jasmine, arborio, and basmati, will keep forever; the higher oil content of brown rice makes those varieties prone to spoilage. Wild rice is another food that will outlast you, even though it’s not a rice at all, but is an edible grass.

The condiments

Salt—kosher, iodized, from the sea, or chiseled from mines—it never goes bad. Its resistance to bacterial growth makes it handy as a preservative for other foods. Like salt, vinegar is also used to extend the shelf life of other foods, and is, in a pure state without added flavorings, eternally self-preserving. Vanilla (the extract, not the beans) doesn’t just last forever; it actually improves with age. The cheaper, artificial extract is no bargain when you consider the cost to replace it every few years when its flavor fades. Spring for the good stuff and your grandchildren will still be baking with it.

Heat, light, moisture, air, and pests; these are the enemies. Keep them away from your pantry, and you can keep these foods forever.

When in doubt, check with the keep it or toss it query bar at Still Tasty.


Posted in food knowledge | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Daily Deal Just for You

[image via ToMuse]

It’s the daily deal battle royale.
Groupon’s success has spawned an entire industry of ‘deal-of-the-day’ clones. The good news: outstanding bargains are out there; virtually something for everyone. The bad news: something for everyone is flooding your inbox, from tequila tastings to pole-dancing lessons, when all you really want is a good, discounted pizza. There are so many of these daily deal startups out there, that now we have daily deal sites aimed at them.

Fortunately, there are sites that stand out from the pack. They are targeting narrow, niche markets, and putting their own spin on the social buying business model.

For the boys gone wild
Thrillist, the online newsletter celebrating the bro lifestyle, has launched Thrillist Rewards, heavy on half-price brewery tours, mail-order meats, and all-you-can-eat spare rib deals.

For the other boys gone wild
The Daily Hookup and Daily Pride are the gay man’s answer to Groupon.

For the foodies
Too tasteful for coupons, Savored takes you into the kind of high-end dining rooms where the discount is kept under wraps. It’s prearranged at reservation time, and then automatically, and discreetly, subtracted from the total at meal’s end. I guarantee you will be amazed by the celebrated and coveted tables to be had through these deals, and it’s all so hush-hush that even your dinner companions won’t know your secret.

For African-Americans
The discount deals offered at the Black Biz Hookup come from black-owned and operated businesses.

For moms
You’ll find half-priced treats aplenty for family-friendly fro-yo shops at Plum Distict.

For the Jews
A dozen bagels for the price of six, or maybe a nice brisket sandwich? Between JDeal and yes, Jewpon, you’re sure to find them.

For suburbanites
You get big city dining bargains and you don’t have to pay for downtown parking with the small town BigTip deal site.

For Hispanics and Latinos
Multiple sites are still duking it out for preeminence in this massive target market; Desceuento Libre, Groupacho, and Social Libre. Each offers a different Latin-flavored oferta del dia.

For the Fox News crowd
Glenn Beck launched Markdown, touting its combination of values (of the shopping kind) and values (conservative ones).

The pizza and beer pong set has CampusDibs, there are Gluten Free Deals for celiac sufferers, and Vegan Cuts is the place to save money and animals. Don’t feel left out if your tribe isn’t represented here; new niche sites pop up regularly.

To help you sort through the deals:
Yipit aggregates all the deals from all the services, and then sends a single, consolidated email customized to fit your preferences. Take a look at the more than 200 deal sites they are currently tracking.
Restaurant critic meets price tracker at The Bad Deal. Check here before you buy.
You have unused, prepaid Groupon and other coupons, and the expiration date is approaching. Impulse purchases can happen to the best of us. Fortunately, there is a robust secondary market for deal coupons at Lasta.



Posted in cyberculture, restaurants | Tagged , , | 1 Comment
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