cook + dine

Could This Be The World’s Most Perfect Coffee Mug?

 

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Scientists call it the Goldilocks Principle.
It comes from the children’s story The Three Bears in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by a family of bears. Each bear has its own porridge bowl, chair, and bed. Goldilocks tests out all three examples of the items, always finding that one of them is too extreme in one direction (too hot, too large) or the other (too cold, too small), and the one in the middle is just right.

In science, the Goldilocks Principle states that something must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes. Astronomists call Earth a Goldilocks planet because it’s not too near or too far away from the sun, but it’s just right to support life. In medicine the Goldilocks Principle defines the ideal dosage of a drug—too small and it’s ineffective; too large and side effects will harm the patient. And now a chemical engineer and an industrial designer have applied the Goldilocks Principle to coffee cup technology. They’ve created what could be the world’s most perfect travel mug.

The Temperperfect mug makes use of a phase changing material sandwiched between thermal walls. It alternates between a liquid and a solid as it absorbs, stores, and dissipates heat. Dean Verhoeven, one of the mug’s inventors who spent the last 15 years making, testing, and improving prototypes, describes its groundbreaking temperature regulating mechanism:

This project was born of my frustration with not being able to drink my carefully-brewed, but too hot, coffee right after I made it, and it then getting cold before I had time to enjoy it. I wanted it just right.
I thought about this problem and had an inspiration: why not take the excess heat out of the too-hot coffee, store it in the wall of the mug, and then use it later to keep the coffee at a pleasant drinking temperature? I realized that this could be done simply by adding an extra layer of what I call active (“Temperfect”) insulation to a standard mug. This extra insulation layer absorbs the excess heat from your drink, and brings it quickly to a comfortable temperature. Later, it slowly releases that heat back into your drink to keep its temperature just right.

It seems that the world has in fact been waiting for hot—but not too hot—coffee.
The creators found an enthusiastic audience when they turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. They were hoping to raise $23,500 to cover the cost of the production tooling that’s need to manufacture the mugs. Instead, that amount was pledged 10 times over by more than 4,000 backers and it’s allowed them to move straight from tooling to production.

The first Temperperfect mugs are planned to ship next summer. The company’s website can hook you up with a pre-order.

Temperperfect: a prototype

Temperperfect: a prototype

 

 

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, coffee, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

Standing Out From the Crowd With the $450 Starbucks Metal Card

status mug available at Zazzle.com

status mug available at Zazzle.com

 

The Starbucks card is the most ‘gifted’ item in America.
Last December, 1 in 10 adults received one as a holiday gift. This season, the company expects it will be closer to 1 in 5. And then there’s the Starbucks Metal card. For the second year in a row  Starbucks is rolling out an ultra-limited edition gift card just in time for holiday giving. For the low, low price of $450 the card gets you $400 worth of coffee.

That’s not a typo. $450 gets you a card preloaded with $400 in store credit. Oh, and you also get a gold-level Starbucks card membership, a frequent buyer perk that gets you some freebies like drink refills and a birthday frappuccino, but those benefits are already free to regular customers who sign up for the My Starbucks Rewards program. Still, they plan to sell 1,000 of the cards through the luxury goods website Gilt.

Why stop at 1,000? Did they forget that there’s one born every minute?
Starbucks calls it the Metal Card and it really is made of metal. Watching someone pay for coffee with a slab of etched steel is a little like seeing Fred Flintstone buying his brontosaurus burgers with a stone credit card issued by the Bank of Bedrock. Conspicuous? You bet. Isn’t that the point? Last year’s Metal Cards sold out in less than a minute and then immediately popped up on sites like eBay and Craigslist where they were flipped for as much as $1,000. It was a tidy profit for Gilt shoppers while the new buyers ended up with a couple hundred dollars worth of vastly over-priced lattés. Clearly it’s not just about the coffee.

5,000 Metal Cards were sold in 2012, but this year Starbucks plans to limit the offering to a mere 1,000.
While that just about guarantees that the next guy in line won’t have the Metal Card in his wallet too, it’s hard to see how the card confers some kind of insider status. Starbucks lost its aura of exclusivity the minute it opened its first shop outside of the Seattle city limits. You can’t be an insider to something that you can buy on every street corner, turnpike rest stop, and hospital cafeteria.

It might not be exclusive, but the Starbucks Metal card will be scarce. But who really wants a $12 cappuccino anyway?

 

 

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The Family Dinner. It’s Not Just for the Holidays.

Dinner with the Andersons: Jim, Margaret, Princess, Bud, and Kitten

Dinner with the Andersons: Jim, Margaret, Princess, Bud, and Kitten; via Screen Gems

 

The reality of a family dinner bears little resemblance to its mythical counterpart.
It’s the rare household with mom, dad, and kids sharing the events of the day over meaty roasts and noodle casseroles. There is probably more texting to outsiders than sharing with family. And a weekday roast? In your dreams.
But that’s okay because family mealtime is not just about the warm and fuzzies of the cultural ideal.

A regular shared meal can pay huge family dividends.
Study after study points to the same thing: regular family dinners lead to happier and healthier kids. They’re less likely to smoke, drink, abuse prescription or illegal drugs, or develop eating disorders, obesity, or depression. They watch less television, delay sexual activity, and get better grades in school. 
Clearly there’s something to this.

Whatever it is, it’s not just about the food.
The ‘secret sauce’ of a successful family dynamic is not in Mom’s meatloaf. Obviously there are plenty of other factors that contribute to a family’s well-being and anchor its values. A common mealtime is just one piece, but it seems to be the bellwether.

Go heal the planet, but don’t be late for dinner!
Since producing the environmental crusade An Inconvenient Truth, Laurie David has been advocating for family well-being. The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time doesn’t have Al Gore’s narration, but it does have child-care experts, writers, artists, and chefs sharing their personal dinnertime rituals. Participants include Maya Angelou, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, Alice Waters, Arianna Huffington, Nora Ephron, Judge Judy, Michael Pollan, and Sheryl Crow.

The differences between families that eat together frequently (defined as eating five or more family dinners per week) and infrequently (fewer than three times per week) are striking. The definitive studies have been conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Read the full report: The Importance of Family Dinners VI.

Try it, even if it’s just a takeout pizza and nobody has anything to say.
There’s no guarantee that the food is any healthier just because we eat together as a family. It doesn’t guarantee meaningful conversation, much less moments of genuine intimacy.
But the ritual of the family dinner at least makes these things possible.

 

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A Hacker in the Kitchen

image via Beauty Through Imperfection

[image via Beauty Through Imperfection]

 

Hackers have a bad reputation.
We think of disaffected teenagers looking to circumvent security measures and wreak a little havoc on society, and of bottom-rung hoodlums in former eastern bloc countries trolling online for passwords and credit card accounts. 
Actually, that kind of nefarious tampering is not hacking. It’s more properly referred to as cracking.

Hacking is in fact a higher calling.
In the classic sense of the term, a hacker is a fixer, a tinkerer, a lover of processes. The original Internet Users’ Glossary defined a hacker as ‘a person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.’ Wikipedia’s definition goes so far as stating that ‘Hacking entails some form of excellence.’

Hackers are everywhere.
The term has been co-opted by groups outside of the tech community to describe any kind of clever, non-traditional improvement to process and productivity. Pick a noun, follow it by ‘hack,’ Google the combination, and you’re bound to find a community sharing tips and hints and suggestions.

Kitchen hackers are hacking in the pure sense of the word.
They devise elegant solutions to clumsy processes. 
The following is a sorted, selected, and edited list of websites offering food, cooking, and kitchen hacks. Think of it as a kind of list hack.

Life Hackery claims to ‘hack your life into shape.’ It offers up time-tested kitchen wisdom with its list of 50 Amazingly Helpful Time-Tested Tips for the Kitchen.

Tip Nut has 34 Handy Kitchen Measurement Hacks & Tidbits that free you for improvisational cooking.

Instructables offers step-by-step instructions for esoteric projects like making rainbow vodka with Skittles and edible shot glasses from gummi bears.

DIY Life will whip your kitchen into shape with its instructions for things like stove top tuneups and new uses for aluminum foil.

Cooking for Geeks and Cooking for Engineers are full of clever cooking shortcuts. Both are pitched toward the seriously enquiring mind as they delve into the why along with the how.

Food Network Magazine rounds up the best hacking advice from the network’s roster of television chefs.

Did you know that you can make perfect hard-boiled eggs in the oven or that a rubber band can keep apple slices from turning brown? Kitchen Hacks is brimming with pragmatic saves and shortcuts about buying, growing, cooking, preserving, and eating food.

Table Matters hacks into kitchen appliances and equipment, breathing new life into muffin tins, crockpots, and immersion blenders.

The granddaddy of life hacking sites is, of course, Lifehacker, which tackles a wide range of food, cooking, and kitchen topics.

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Rice Cooker Owners: What do they know that you don’t?

 

image by anomalous4

image by anomalous4

 

Few things divide the cooking community like the rice cooker.
If you don’t own a rice cooker…
You can’t imagine why any self-respecting home cook would. We’re talking about rice– boil water and you’re there. Why squander precious counter space on a single-purpose appliance that takes over such a basic function? And doesn’t even do it any faster than the stovetop?

If you already have one...
You smile knowingly, patiently. You remember when that was you.

It’s true, it’s a glorified water-boiler.
Manufacturers add in all manner of functions and features and upgrades, but at its core, every rice cooker is a bowl to hold rice and water that’s set inside a housing with a heat source and thermostat. The cooker heats the water to boiling, and when the temperature reaches 212° F, it switches to  a prolonged simmer. The thermostat recognizes a second temperature change when all of the water has been absorbed, and it switches to a lower setting that holds the rice in a perfect state at the perfect temperature for serving.

Perfect rice?
Perfect. Short-grain, long-grain, sushi, and brown rice; grains like quinoa and barley; beans and lentils; all perfect. In countries like China and Japan, where they know a thing or two about rice, you’ll find a cooker in every kitchen. Every Asian restaurant everywhere has a huge commercial version in its kitchen. You can even get a travel rice cooker that plugs into a car’s power sockets.

Rice cooker advocates will speak of its versatility in the kitchen, its ability to cook so much more than rice. Think dumplings and fish, custards and hot cereals, soups and stews. They’ll praise its safety and ease of use, with no open heat source and an automatic shut-off, so well-suited to children, seniors, and dorm rooms. They’ll tell you how it doesn’t heat the kitchen in the summer, humidifies it in the winter, and is easy to clean.

All true. But that’s not why I love my rice cooker.
There are so few certainties—in the kitchen as in life. Cakes don’t always rise and toast can burn. Phone calls aren’t returned, cars don’t get the mileage they should, and children don’t always listen.
But I can always count on the rice that comes out of my rice cooker. It might only do the one thing, but it does it perfectly.

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, cooking | 2 Comments

The More We Spend On Our Kitchens, The Less We Cook In Them

Julia Child in her pegboard kitchen

Julia Child in her pegboard kitchen

 

Are you looking or are you cooking?
According to Remodeling Magazine, the average cost of a midrange kitchen remodel in 2013 was $53,931 and the average upscale project cost $107,406. For all that expense, we’re not cranking up the six-burner Viking rangetop very often. About half of our food spending is in restaurants, and as incomes rise, cooking drops off even more. Just 11% of Americans eat two hot, home-cooked meals a day, and in households earning more than $120,000 a year, a mere 2.4% have those two hot meals at home. And presumably the higher earners represent the households with the pricey remodels.

We salivate over acres of gleaming granite and stainless steel and 22-slot blocks of Japanese knives from a hot new bladesmith, even when the dual door Sub-Zero is stocked with nothing more than red-boxed Stouffer’s, Trader Joe’s burritos, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Kitchen square footage has doubled over the last 30 years to give ample space for high-end appliances and specialized cookware. We spend giddy hours online drooling over the design possibilities on display at Houzz and Pinterest, and we’re consumed by choosing among the 55 different shapes and sizes of whisks for sale at Sur la Table. We love everything about our kitchens except for the actual cooking.

We love to watch others cook.
There’s a tv set in 35% of American kitchens and it’s probably tuned to a cooking channel. When it comes to our own cooking, we spend an average of 27 minutes a day on food preparation —less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of Top Chef. Even when we do cook, the Viking’s 30,000 BTUs of firepower are sitting idle. In fact the stove is only our second favorite kitchen appliance with first place going to the microwave. Entrées are prepared from scratch just 59% of the time, down from 72% in the 1980’s, and we’ve even decreased the number of ingredients per dish, from a 1980’s average of 4.4 to a current 3.4. One in ten adults will literally never turn on their stove or oven.

Who wouldn’t want a spacious, good-looking, well-equipped kitchen? But real cooks know how to make the most of whatever they’ve got, and some of the best cooks work their magic with the least impressive batterie de cuisine.

Author, cooking tool expert, and home cook extraordinaire Michael Ruhlman shares his equipment recommendations in My Essential Kitchen Tools
Food writer Mark Bittman, formerly of the ‘Minimalist’ column in the New York Times, gives us the flip side, sharing his picks for 10 non-essential kitchen items in A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks.

 

 

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Barrel Aging is This Year’s Pickle

ManWearingBarrel

Put the jar down. Step away from the beets. 
Pickling is so over. Sauerkraut and kimchi can stick around, corned beef and herring are forever, but trendy pickle plates on every menu and dare-you-to-try-it pickleback cocktails need to go. A mason jar and a vinegar cure are not always the answer. Today’s overzealous briners remind us of the We Can Pickle That! duo spoofed by the sketch comedians of TV’s Portlandia:  “Too many eggs? We can pickle that! Dropped your ice cream cone? We can pickle that! Broke a heel on your shoe? We can pickle that!” Before the opening credits had rolled on the segment they had pickled an old CD jewel box case, Band-Aids, a parking ticket, and a dead bird.

Barrel-aging is the latest down-home technique to get a hip, upscale boost.
Barrel-aging is usually associated with wine and whiskey, and sometimes beer and vinegar. The contents mellow and mature during the aging period and they take on some of the compounds found in the wood. In the case of whiskey, it actually goes into barrels as a colorless liquid with just a hint of flavor and fragrance from its grain and alcohol, but emerges with its aroma, color, and flavor transformed.

Mixologists have latched on to the technique to create barrel-aged cocktails.
Essentially these are pre-mixed drinks that spend some time in a small cask. Fruits and juices, sodas, bitters, and other mixers are all in there, which puts a lot of neighborhood bars on shaky legal ground with both the local liquor authority and the health department, but craft cocktail fans are swooning.

Barrel-aged condiments were the buzzed-about category at this summer’s gathering for the specialty food industry.
Salt, pepper, paprika, teriyaki sauce, salad dressings, soy sauce, fish sauce, worcestershire sauce, and especially hot sauce are all getting the barrel treatment, picking up complexity, a hint of smokiness, and even boozy notes if they spent their time in recycled wine or whiskey barrels. If you balk at the premium prices charged by the boutique condiment producers, you should know that good ol’ Tabasco is, and always has been, aged in oak for up to three years.

There are hints of a We Can Pickle That!-style frenzy that threaten to turn barrel-aging into the next culinary cliché.
The process turns sweets like cane sugar, sorghum, vanilla extract, and maple syrup into a bitter, charred, sticky mess. Barrel-aged milk and ricotta cheese are sour, smoky, funky-smelling abominations.

And most troubling, mostly because of its self-referential gratuitousness, is the appearance of whiskey barrel-aged pickles.

 

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McDonald’s: Savior of Diverse Food Cultures?

mcdonaldsglobal

I’m the last person you’d expect to praise McDonald’s.
I hold the fast food chain responsible for childhood obesity, animal cruelty, environmental degradation, union busting, and the decline of the family dinner. 
Not a bite has crossed these lips since I read Fast Food Nation, and short of a gun to my head, it’s unlikely that one ever will again.
Still, credit where credit is due.

McDonald’s first steamrolled its way into overseas markets as an exporter of American culture. Its standard-issue menu of burgers and fries famously transcended boundaries and borders so that customers everywhere were assured of the same Quarter Pounder whether they were in a McDonald’s in Mozambique, Malaysia, or Minnesota. It was seen as the worst form of globalization, corrupting cultures, adulterating diets, and trampling on local culinary traditions. And it did those things. The hamburger has truly become a global food, and you can find them not just at McDonald’s but on menus everywhere, from Greek tavernas to Egyptian mataams.

McDonald’s is truly a victim of its own success. Now that you can find burgers at cafés, cantinas, brasseries, and biergartens, their own version doesn’t register the same excitement it once did. When McDonald’s brought its first restaurant to Kuwait in 1994, the opening day line of 15,000 customers stretched for seven miles; when the 70th Kuwaiti outlet opened this year, it elicited a yawn.

McDonald’s has shown itself to be surprisingly mutable.
They’ve abandoned their goal of standardized globalization for one of internationalization. Instead of bringing the same cookie cutter menu items to every foreign locale, the chain adapts its offerings to local tastes, preferences, and available ingredients.

While America’s McDonald’s adhere to a proscribed menu of commoditized, mass-produced burgers, foreign franchisees are only required to stick with a short list of standard items and are encouraged to tinker with the rest of the food. Hamburgers come on patties of sticky rice in the Philippines and on flatbread in Greece. In India, where much of the population doesn’t eat beef, there’s a potato-patty McAloo Tikki burger and Israel has the kosher McFalafel. You can order cheese quiche in Brazil, red bean pie in Hong Kong, and traditional Caldo Verde soup (made with cabbage, kale, onion, potato and chorizo) in Portugal.

The overseas McDonald’s are often held to a higher standard.
They conform to local laws and sentiments by sourcing GMO-free ingredients, and beef is often lean, grass-fed, and hormone-free. They source locally, buy cheeses with no artificial dyes, soft drinks with no added corn syrup, and grill meats over charcoal fires. Even the workers’ pay is often better than in the U.S.

Ironically, McDonald’s, the world’s best exporter of American culture has become a champion of global food cultures.
But make no mistake about it, this is still fast food. It’s loaded with sodium, preservatives, and cheap fats, pre-cooked and kept wiltingly warm under the glare of heat lamps, and served in an excess of packaging. 
It’s a cold comfort to think that the world’s culinary traditions are being preserved at food court kiosks. 

The 26 year old Canadian author of  McDonald’s Around the World has eaten at McDonald’s outlets in more than 50 countries (the trick, he says, is to cram as many layovers as possible into every travel itinerary). His blog chronicles the highs and lows of global eating at the Golden Arches.

 

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Eat Your Veggies–For Dessert!

image via A Thousand Words

image via A Thousand Words

 

Sweets lovers, you may want to avert your eyes.
Vegetables are sneaking away from your dinner plate and landing on the dessert menu. Carrot flan, eggplant tiramisu, black olive madeleines, and celery sorbet are charming and confounding us in equal shares, and forcing us to recalibrate our tastebuds.

Forward-thinking chefs have been playing with a sprinkle of salt and the bite of hot pepper for a while now. Chile-spiked chocolate barely raises an eyebrow anymore and sea salt caramel has become a culinary cliché. Bacon desserts have gone so far past outré that even Burger King lards up a vanilla soft-serve sundae.

The vegetable-based dessert trend has a certain logic.
It takes diners along the same continuum as the salty-savory sweets, but at the same time, they’re new enough to dazzle. And it taps into all things seasonal and farm-to-table.

Vegetable-based dessert are hardly a new invention.
Think about sweet potato pie, carrot cake, and corn pudding. But where the classic vegetable desserts are intensely sweet, the trend is toward fresher, vegetal flavors. The sugar is toned down to play up the ingredients’ natural sweetness, and savory tastes are front and center.

As an added bonus- you can forget the old adage about finishing your vegetables before you get dessert.

The Centers for Disease Control have a Nutrition for Everyone tool that calculates recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables for your age, gender, and activity level.

Condé Nast Traveler rounds up 20 of the most interesting vegetable-based dessert menus around the country.

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Welcome to the Grocerant

supermarketmenu

 

It’s 4 PM. Dinner is just a few hours away. Do you know what you’re having?
Studies show that 81% of Americans aren’t sure.

A Hungry Man Salisbury Steak dinner? Mac and cheese from a box? Those days are gone. Today you can kick things off with a cup of Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup or maybe some of Hooters’ chicken wings. Are you in the mood for a burger? Choose from T.G.I. Fridays sliders, L.A.’s  famous Fatburger, or the cultish White Castle. And don’t forget to save room for a slice of the Cheesecake Factory’s Oreo Dream Extreme.

Eating out while staying in.
Restaurant brands are gaining traction in the supermarket. Ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat meals that bear the name of your favorite casual or quick-serve outlet are blurring the line between eating in and dining out. The industry’s name for this hybrid is grocerant, where grocery shopping and restaurants collide.

Restaurant, supermarket, and consumer trends have all pushed us toward grocerants.

Restaurants were hit hard during the recent economic downturn.
Customers weren’t coming to them so they developed products that they could bring to the customers. Franchisees worried that the grocerants would cut into their dining-in sales, but the restaurants learned that if they developed licensed supermarket products that were a good fit without seeming identical to menu items, it could actually help the brand.

Supermarkets have also embraced the grocerant model.
They’ve been scrambling for years to keep up with the ever-expanding category of prepared foods. Shoppers are looking to bring the restaurant experience home. Grocers have tried to replicate that experience by installing pizza ovens, rotisseries, and stir-fry stations, but it’s quicker and easier to relinquish the space to licensed grocerant products. For all the effort it takes to create a store brand from scratch, they know that consumers are more likely to purchase a brand they already like over one they don’t know.

Consumers are cash-strapped and time-crunched. 
The supermarket might be a necessary downgrade from dining out, but restaurant-branded grocerants help soften the blow. They know that a frozen or pre-made version of the freshly-served restaurant counterpart is an inferior product, but for the savings and convenience it’s a compromise they can live with.

 

 

 

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Éclairs: A Choux-In as the Next Dessert Craze

Eclair-de-Genie-1-Paris-Select

image via L’Éclair de Génie

 

You heard it here first.
At least that’s true if you don’t follow the international food publications.
There’s plenty of buzz in Asia and Europe where éclairs are shaping up as the latest ‘it’ dessert, and the trend should land on these shores by winter.

The éclair is actually an unlikely candidate for fashionable status.
We think of it is a rather highfalutin treat, but to the French, it’s the first thing they reached for as a 10-year old in a patisserie; a beloved taste of childhood that as adults they’d rarely choose, and then mostly out of a sense of nostalgia.

There’s nothing wrong with the classic recipe of feather-light choux pastry, vanilla pastry cream, and a swipe of bitter chocolate, but the new éclairs have gotten a modern makeover. Stylish restaurants and boutique bakeries are creating innovative versions that bring some 21st century ingredients to the table. In Paris you’ll find éclairs with colorful icings and imaginative fillings flavored with fresh fruits, exotic spices, and varietal coffees and chocolates. Bakers are experimenting with mini savory versions stuffed with smoked salmon and dill or foie gras and fig jam, and even full-sized main course éclairs.

Éclairs are crossing the Atlantic to give us our next sugar high.
We’re already teed up for the next food frenzy. Donuts, whoopie pies, and especially cupcakes have all had their pop culture moment. First the trend watchers chased them down in gentrified urban enclaves, then outlets sprouted up in suburban malls and neighborhoods, and pretty soon they were on the menus of such cultural forces as Starbucks and Applebees.

Each has had a good run, but we’ve had our fill.
What was trendy is now passé. Macarons, cupcakes, cake pops, et al. have become too eye-rollingly common. Our greedy, sugar-riddled souls have already begun casting about for the next treat, and here come the éclairs. If they follow the familiar progression of food faddism, by this time next year éclairs will be on every menu from Michelin-starred restaurants to airport food courts, and trendy brides will be opting for éclair towers in place of wedding cakes. By then, we’ll probably start to look longingly at rice pudding and bundt cakes, but for now it’s éclairs. And if I’m right, pretty soon we won’t have to look very hard to find them.

 

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Nose to Tail Starts With the Head

HeadCheese

 

Let’s start by getting the ‘head’ and ‘cheese’ business out of the way. 
Yes, it’s made with a head; usually that of a pig, but sometimes from a calf, cow, or sheep (good to know if you keep kosher).
No, there isn’t any cheese involved (the lactose intolerant can relax). The name evolved from the Latin word forma—a basket or box used as a mold—most often to compress and form cheese curds but also for meat terrines; as forma, and then fromage, became the word for cheese, the molded meats were swept along.

Said head is plucked and shaved, the earwax is cleaned out, and it’s simmered for hours— skin, snout, eyeballs, tongue, and all. The cooked meat is seasoned and packed into a mold along with the collagen-enriched stock (from all the bone and cartilage) which gels as it cools.

Looking at a well-constructed slice of head cheese can be like peering through a stained glass window with its mosaic effect of shimmering aspic dotted with suspended jewels of braised pork bits. At its finest, a slice of head cheese is tender meat and wobbly gelatin that melts on the tongue. Bad headcheese can be grayish, dry, and pasty, studded with the occasional bristle or tooth missed in straining, but that’s another story…

Any cuisine that cooks with pork has a version of head cheese, since when it comes to the pig’s head, it’s pretty much head cheese or toss it. In Germany it’s called sülze, it’s queso de puerco in Mexico, giò thủ in Viet Nam,and formaggio di testa in Italy. The Brits call it brawn and in the southern U.S. it’s known as souse. You probably eat more head cheese than you realize a slice can be snuck into a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or served as a salumi alongside its charcuterie cousins.

Your kitchen will look like the set of a slasher flick, but it’s otherwise not that difficult to make your own head cheese. So if you ever find yourself in possession of a whole pig’s head and a dozen or so friends willing to share in the results (that’s why they’re your friends), you’ll be amply rewarded with pounds of the stuff.

London chef Fergus Henderson’s cookbook The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating was an instant classic of  ‘nose to tail’ cooking. The book inspired the blog Nose To Tail At Home documenting the efforts of home cook/blogger Ryan Adams as he bravely cooks his way through the book, one pig knuckle or rolled spleen at a time.

 

Posted in blogging, cook + dine, food knowledge | 2 Comments

Chicken. Just Chicken.

image via BuyingChickens.net

image via BuyingChickens.net

 

Nobody buys just lettuce; it’s Romaine or arugula or Bibb. Beef is Angus, salmon is Sockeye, and a Granny Smith apple is never mistaken for a Honeycrisp. But we buy chicken, just chicken.

Bland, mealy supermarket tomatoes just don’t cut it once you’ve had the juice of a just-picked, perfectly ripe Brandywine running down your chin, and freshly-dug Russian Banana fingerlings are a potato revelation after mass-produced russets. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are old-time varieties grown from seeds that are saved from season to season and handed down through multiple generations of growers. They’ve been saved, sometimes for centuries, because they taste so good .

Modern large-scale agriculture relies on hybrids. Commercial growers have breeding programs that focus on high yields and ship-ability. They need varieties that perform well in the field, can be picked green, travel long distances, and be gas-ripened when they reach their destination. Flavor and nutrition take a backseat to shelf-life and hardiness.

Breed makes an enormous difference to the taste of chicken, just as it does for other foods.
Most of us have yet to discover this difference because we’ve gone our entire lives eating just one chicken: the Cornish X Rock hybrid. The U.S. poultry industry, which cranks out eight billion of them a year, selectively bred the Cornish X Rock to grow quickly while eating as little as possible, and to carry a high ratio of white meat to dark with its giant breasts perched on stubby legs.

Just as tender heads of Little Gems lettuce will ruin you for iceberg, once you eat a heritage chicken, there’s no going back to Perdue.
These birds are more complex, more savory, just plain more chicken-y than what you’ve been eating. Even an organic, free-ranging Cornish X can’t come close. It will always be a flabby prisoner of its genetics, maturing too quickly, and too top-heavy to move. The meat never has a chance to develop any real character.

Each heritage chicken breed has its own ‘personality.’
It’s like apples— there are sweet ones and tart ones, apples for sauce and apples for pie. It’s not the worst thing if you bake with Red Delicious, but Pippins are a better choice. Same with the chickens: a Buff Orpington is a great fryer while the oil would overwhelm the delicate flesh of a Marans, and a meaty Speckled Sussex cries out for a slow braise. There is none of the multi-tasking versatility of Cornish X Rock, but each breed has its own distinctive textural and taste notes and even a sense of terroir. 

Heritage recipes for heritage birds.
Dust off the old cookbooks- you need to go all the way back to the 1950’s to find recipes that don’t presume you’re cooking a Cornish X Rock.
Contemporary cooking of old fashioned chickens is alive and well at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, a pioneering breeder and online seller of heritage chickens. The farm sponsors a heritage chicken recipe competition attracting hundreds of entrants. You can find winning recipes and more at The Heritage Chef.

 

Posted in cooking, food knowledge, recipes | 1 Comment

Psychoactive and Highly Addictive: It’s Your Morning Cup of Coffee

coffee-stain_1

The American Psychiatric Association recently classified caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder.
If you’re scratching your head over this one, you must not be a coffee drinker.

Withdrawal symptoms kick in on the very first morning without coffee.
You’re draggy, achy, and irritable. Your brain feels swampy, but soon the underwater feeling is replaced by a throbbing headache. Nausea and fatigue will have you wondering if maybe you have the flu; but no, it’s your brain and adrenal glands going haywire without their caffeine fix. If you can tough it out with herbal tea for a week or two your body will rediscover its natural, caffeine-less equilibrium. But along the way there will be some seriously rocky days.

A true coffee addict’s brain is physically and chemically different.
When a casual drinker has a cup of coffee, the caffeine crosses the blood–brain barrier and physically enters the brain. It’s not a direct stimulant but instead it blocks the receptors for adenosine, a sleep-producing substance. The brain is alert and energized because it didn’t receive its dose of adenosine, and all the free-floating sleepy adenosine will cue the brain to produce even more of its own natural stimulants like adrenaline and dopamine. The block stays in place for the four to six hours it takes for the body to metabolize the caffeine.

The physical characteristics of the caffeine addict’s brain is altered by the constant tinkering with its chemistry. Over time the brain will try to balance out the routine bouts of over-stimulation by growing more adenosine receptors, and it will shed some of its stimulant receptors. Caffeine addicts constantly need to increase their coffee consumption to feel the buzz. This also means that when their brains are deprived of caffeine, they crash harder than the rest of us.

Nobody would confuse the true caffeine addict’s withdrawal with the morning fog the rest of us experience when we go without coffee.
The headache pain and general misery are extreme enough to be medically categorized as ‘clinically significant distress,’ and brain functions are impaired to the point that work, home life, and socializing are seriously compromised.

About 30% of coffee drinkers are probably addicts, although most don’t know it until they try to go without.
The addiction rate for caffeine is a little higher than it is for heroin users but less than for nicotine. 
The good news is that compared to those other substances, withdrawal is relatively quick. If the coffee junkie can get through a week or two without caffeine, the receptors in the brain will reset to their normal levels and the spell of addiction is broken.

 

Posted in coffee, Health | 2 Comments

Learn to Speak Conversational Whisky

 

Rocks glasses via Vital Etsy shop

Rocks glasses via Vital Etsy shop

 

Whisky is having its moment. You don’t want to miss out.
Fortunately, a little knowledge can take you far when it comes to parsing the jargon of mashes, malts, and barrels.

Whiskey is…
an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain. Beer comes from fermented grains but isn’t concentrated by distillation, and other spirits like vodka and rum are distilled but can be made from things like potatoes and sugarcane. Usually whisky is made from barley, rye, wheat, or corn, and usually it’s aged in wooden barrels. It has to be at least 40% alcohol by volume, but pretty much everything else is fair game.

Some of them are malt whiskies.
This just means the whisky is distilled from malted grains—grains that are sprouted and dried to give them a kind of sweet and yeasty quality.

Scotch is…
at its most basic, just one of a number of whisky styles. But you see all the fuss and fanaticism surrounding Scotch so you know that there’s got to be more to it. And there is. There are all sorts of technical specifications that define and distinguish Scotch whisky, and if you really need to know them you can pay a visit to the website of the Scotch Whisky Association. For now, you can get up and running with this: a single malt Scotch is bottled from one batch of whisky, is made from one grain (malted barley), and comes from one distillery. More than one batch, more than one grain, more than one distillery—you’re talking about a blended Scotch. Batches might even be identified down to the individual barrel or cask. And the real deal has to come from Scotland.

Does that mean Irish whiskey is …
Yup! Pretty much the same thing only from Ireland. And they like to put an ‘e’ in there.
True fans of Scotch whisky would take exception with the notion, and it’s true that the Irish Whiskey Society gives distillers more leeway when it comes to the variables, but we’re still talking about single malts and blends of wood-aged malted barley.

There’s Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey; bourbon is by definition an American whisky. 
Corn is required to be the predominant grain in bourbon, and it has to be aged in virgin barrels of charred oak. It’s called sour mash if fermented grains from past whisky batches were added to the fresh grains of the new batch before distilling. It’s analogous to sourdough bread where the loaves can contain cultures from an age-old fermented ‘mother dough.’ Sourdough bread, though, really does taste sour, and sour mash doesn’t tart up the taste of bourbon.

Kentucky bourbon…
doesn’t have to come from Kentucky, although Tennessee bourbon does have to come from Tennessee, but they don’t call it bourbon. It’s whiskey, and for some reason the ‘e’ makes another appearance. Got that?

Then there’s rye whiskey.
Rye whiskey used to be known as Canadian whisky, and the terms are still used interchangeably, even though there might not be any actual rye in the multi-grain mash. These days, when someone says ‘rye’ they’re most likely talking about American rye whiskey (there’s that irrepressible ‘e’ again). Except for the grains, rye is identical to bourbon, but the grains make all the difference. Corn gives bourbon a sweetness and fuller body, while rye whiskey has a lighter, fruitier, spicier profile.

Irish Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon and Rye
These are the fundamentals of the whisky lexicon.
Sure, there’s a lot more to it. There are Lowlands and Highlands and peat smoking and vatted malts. There are whiskies from Japan and Czechoslovakia and Australia, and Danish single malts made with water from the Greenlandic ice sheet and Indian whiskies distilled from fermented molasses. 
So you won’t be whisky-fluent, but with this little lesson you will be whisky-conversant.

 

 

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What’s For Dinner? Ask Your Phone.

via Run Wifey Run

 

Our days are filled with decisions. 
From the trivial to the life-altering, it’s been estimated that most of us make about 70 conscious decisions to get through the day, and dozens more that are too mundane and rote to penetrate our consciousness. 

Some really smart people think it’s best to ration out their mental energy. 
Albert Einstein was known for wearing the same clothes everyday, surmising that his brainpower could be put to better use than matching his socks to his shoes. Steve Jobs streamlined with his signature blue jeans and black turtleneck. It’s the same thinking behind Mark Zuckerberg’s uniform of t-shirts, flip flops and hoodies, and Barack Obama says he pares his wardrobe down to only blue or grey suits to avoid making any more decisions than he already has to, even citing research that shows that too many choices can lead to decision fatigue and degrade the ability to make future decisions.

There’s a new wave of decision-making applications that let us outsource the choosing.
You’re probably not launching a tech revolution or laying the groundwork for nuclear fission, but you still might want to take a few decisions off your plate. For the insecure, indecisive, or just plain over-whelmed, there are apps that can tell you what college to attend or stocks to buy or they’ll choose the next novel you’ll read. There’s a decision-maker for drafting a fantasy football team and another that tells you what sex position to use. But for many of us, at the end of a long workday all we want is someone to tell us what to do for dinner.

Most of the apps started out as shopping aids—snap a few selfies from the dressing room and let your online friends pick your new jeans—but creative users quickly turned them into menu planners. There are randomizers like coin tosses or a roll of the digital dice; apps that rely on complex algorithms based on your preferences and history; and crowd-sourcers that collect the opinions of friends or recommendations of strangers from outside of your social circle. Upload a menu, list the contents of your refrigerator, take some photos, or toss out polling questions, and let them decide for you.

SeeSaw’s dinner decisions come from your own panel of personal advisors while Thumb draws on the wisdom of the masses but lets you choose the collective demographic that’s polled for a given decision. Ding! takes the agony and office politics out of group takeout orders, and when all else fails, shake your iPhone and the UrbanSpoon decision-maker spins a roulette wheel to pick a restaurant.

What’s for dinner? It’s a decision that can stymie the best of us.
AppCrawlr has compiled a list of the top 200 decision-making applications, sortable by topic and decision-making methodology.

 

Posted in cook + dine, cyberculture, phone applications | Leave a comment

How Wall Street Is Messing With the Price of Beer

beerfund

It’s been a rough run for the U.S. economy in recent years.
One of the few bright spots is the price of beer. The U.S. has the most affordable beer on the planet.

Americans can point with pride to a study published in The Economist Online.
Based on median hourly wages and average beer prices, it takes just five minutes of an American worker’s time to earn a cold one. Prices are lower in plenty of countries, but their wages are even more so. The average across 150 countries is 20 minutes of work to pay for a beer, and in some parts of Asia it can be close to an hour.

But there’s a proposed monopoly that threatens the American way of life.  
Anheuser-Busch InBev wants to take over Grupo Modelo of Mexico (Corona beer), which would leave the country with just two companies (the second being MillerCoors) controlling half of the U.S. beer business. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to prevent the merger. It has a pretty good case against the proposal, arguing that the marriage of Budweiser and Corona’s parent companies would eliminate competition between the rivals and lead to higher beer prices for Americans.

The brewing industry has already been consolidating like crazy for years. The number of major brewers in the U.S. fell from 48 in 1980 to just two after a mega-merger in 2008. Global Beer: The Road to Monopoly, a study from the American Antitrust Institute, shows how beer price increases started to accelerate immediately after 2008, with Anheuser-Busch leading the charge. Anheuser-Busch has kept prices high for decades by threatening a price war against any American brewer that breaks ranks and lowers prices, and the memory of retail bloodbaths in the 1980’s has kept them all in line. Grupo Modelo has been able to grab a lot of U.S. market share for its flagship Corona brand by keeping its prices stable. If Busch goes through with the purchase of Modelo that competition disappears, and pressure to keep prices down disappears along with it.

There’s also pricing pressure coming from everyone’s favorite Wall Street shakedown artists.
Last week the New York Times reported on an aluminum hoarding scheme perpetrated by Goldman Sachs that is bidding up the price of beverage cans. Apparently some Goldman analysts stumbled across a loophole in the arcane system of aluminum pricing. When they learned that storage times are factored into metal market prices, they realized that a killing could be made by buying up aluminum and lengthening the storage time. But since it’s not entirely legal to just sit on a stockpile of metal, Goldman Sachs designed a massive shell game.

Three years ago Goldman bought up a major storage system of 27 aluminum warehouses. Every day, a fleet of trucks shuffles 1,500-pound bars of the metal among the warehouses. They load up in one warehouse and unload in another, sometimes making multiple circuits with the same bars in a single day, and each time they get to add a little rent charge to the price of the metal. The daily dance of the aluminum has stretched out average storage times from six weeks to more than 16 month. The scheme has earned $5 billion for Goldman Sachs over its three years, and the inflated rent charge ends up added to the cost of every can of beer.

At least we can shop wisely.    
SaveOnBrew 
calls itself the world’s only reliable beer price search engine. Instead of erratic and unreliable crowdsourced data supplied by drinkers, SaveOnBrew gathers its pricing data directly from brewers and retailers and publishes up-to-date, reliable beer pricing data sets for every single zip code in America.

 

 

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Wine + Coca Cola = Quelle Horreur!

 

 

Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via WillowbendCottage Etsy Store

Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via Willowbend Cottage Etsy Store

 

So much for that famous French snobbery.
The ungodly combination of red wine and cola is this summer’s newly popular refreshment. Hausmann Famille, a branch of the French winemaker Châteaux en Bordeaux, has introduced Rouge Sucette—which translates as Red Lollipop—a blend of 75% wine with 25% sugar, water, and cola.

Wine consumption is in a free fall.
Wine was always served with dinner. For generations of French drinkers it was a daily occurrence, the norm for a majority of French citizens. Today the number of daily wine drinkers has fallen to 17%, with 38% reporting that they never drink wine at all.

Wine and Coke is nothing new.
In Argentina it’s known as Jesus juice; South Africans call it katemba; Croatians mix bambus; and in Chile the combination is known as jote. It’s most widely drunk in Spain where it’s a sort of unofficial symbol of Basque culture. It’s believed to have originated there as a cheap method for making rough, local wines more palatable.

To the French, the mixture’s history just serves to compound the indignity.
The country is fighting an uphill battle to preserve its culinary heritage. Earlier this spring the government imposed a ketchup ban on all French school cafeterias, fearing that the nation’s distinguished cuisine is being buried—literally and metaphorically—under a flood of foreign influences. And now wine flavored with sugar and cola has captivated a younger generation’s sweet tooth while masking the true nature of their vaunted varietals.

None for me, thanks, but if you feel the need…
Don’t bother looking for Rouge Sucette on these shores. It retails in France for barely three euros a bottle; hardly worth shipping, especially when we have plenty of our own liters of Coke and Two Buck Chuck.

A better idea is to order yourself a Spodee and Sody, a red wine and Coca-Cola cocktail based on Spodee, the latest of the hip spirits from the makers of trendy Hendricks Gin and Sailor Jerry rum. On its own, Spodee is a rather tasty and strongly fortified concoction of wine, cocoa, and some kind of moonshine liquor. The mix of grape and chocolate flavors end up tasting a little like Raisinets, but with a 36 proof kick.

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food trends, travel | Leave a comment

This is Why FroYo is Trouncing Ice Cream

 

image via LiveStrong

image via LiveStrong

 

Have you seen the new breed of frozen yogurt shop?
Of course you have; they’re like retail kudzu, sprouting everywhere with their happy-hued decor, self-serve flavor lineups, and myriad toppings. We started this summer with around 6,000 frozen yogurt shops, a big jump from the 3,624 at the end of 2010.

The frozen dessert shop segment as a whole has been holding steady at $6 billion per year, which means that virtually all of the froyo growth represents a cone for cone, cup for cup swap of ice cream for yogurt. Ice cream sales are at their lowest point in decades, and chains like Cold Stone, Baskin-Robbins, and Friendly’s have been shuttering stores by the hundreds.

The name says it all.
The 1980’s saw the first wave of frozen yogurt shops with the popular franchises I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! and TCBY (originally the acronym stood for This Can’t be Yogurt until a lawsuit from I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! forced a name change to The Country’s Best Yogurt). Like selling margarine as an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter stand-in, frozen yogurt was seen as ice cream’s poor relation, and the more closely it mimicked the real thing, the better. After a decade of froyo madness, the market collapsed in the ’90s with the rise of coffeehouses and competition from niche frozen treat alternatives like gelato, Italian ice, and smoothies.

This time around, it’s all about the yogurt.
The new wave of frozen yogurt is defiantly, unapologetically not ice cream. It’s tart and comes in a slew of trendy and nontraditional flavors like green tea, guava, and salted caramel swirl. Plus it’s kinda, sorta, maybe healthy.

In its basic form frozen yogurt is a healthier choice than ice cream.
It contains less fat and sugar than ice cream. Frozen Greek-style yogurt has an especially dense concentration of healthy protein, and the tart flavors can slow down the release of sugar in the body, which stabilizes appetite and energy levels. Frozen yogurt also contains the strains of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics; the National Yogurt Association demands it of any product labeled as yogurt. You’d be fine if you just stopped there, but that’s not going to happen.

The ironic indulgence of the yogurt shop
Neuroscientists study something called ‘vicarious goal fulfillment.’ It happens when a person feels that a goal has been met even if they’ve only taken even a teeny, tiny step towards it: you feel healthier just joining a gym, even before you’ve ever worked out there; and smarter for subscribing to the New Yorker, even when the issues pile up unread. And in the froyo world, you can feel virtuous about your diet simply because you chose frozen yogurt over ice cream.

There you are celebrating your dietary restraint in a self-serve frozen yogurt shop. You pat yourself on the back with one hand while the other fills the oversized yogurt cup and ladles on honey toasted almonds and- what the hell, it’s only yogurt– Oreo crumbles. And here’s the ironic part—the more self-disciplined an individual is, the more powerful the what-the-hell effect. So says the University of Chicago’s Journal of Consumer Research in the study Vicarious Goal Fulfillment: When the Mere Presence of a Healthy Option Leads to an Ironically Indulgent Decision. Maybe this is news to you, but you can bet it’s not to the frozen yogurt industry. They know that the health food halo that sits atop yogurt brings customers in the door, but it’s the guiltless indulgence of the toppings bar that satisfies them.

Ice cream is struggling to regain its cool factor.
Frozen yogurt shops are successfully selling the health angle, the buzz of their hip decor, and the hands-on foodie vibe of customization. They make traditional ice cream parlors and scoop shops feel downright stodgy. Ice cream isn’t going anywhere; it will always be the luxuriant nosh of choice. But if it wants a marketing edge over frozen yogurt, it needs to enrich its offerings and update the customer experience.

Miscellany from the froyo world:

Naming Force will pay you $100 to name their client’s frozen yogurt shop. 
Don’t they all just pick a fruit, pick a color, and add  a ‘Yo!’?

The yogurt shop aesthetic has been described as ‘cool,’ ‘sugary,’ and ‘Tokyo preschool lounge.’ Mindful Design Consulting has assembled a best of gallery of shop interiors.

I wouldn’t say it was bound to happen, but it has: Cups is touted as the Hooters of froyo.

 

Posted in food business, health + diet, snack foods, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Move Over, Frozen Water. Make Way For Ice.

War Department photo, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons

from the records of the War Department, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Mealtime is a little different out there, but traveling Americans are ready to adapt.
They’ll sit on the floor, have cheese for dessert, eat with chopsticks, or follow the main course with salad. Still, most Americans draw the line at room temperature soft drinks. We can assume the locals are refreshed by lukewarm Coca Cola, since that’s the beverage of choice in much of the world, even when the thermometer hits 32° (that would be 90° to you and me). Ask for ice and best case is a few tiny slivers that barely make a dent in the tepid beverage; more likely the request is met with a blank stare.

Here in the land of plenty we take ice for granted. We expect it in our soft drinks and in every glass of water in every restaurant. We can count on an ice machine in the hallway and an ice bucket in every room of every hotel and motel from coast to coast. Our home refrigerators dispense a continual stream of ice and when there’s a party we buy extra bags to fill buckets and tubs.

The current ice age.
Still, we’ve never seen anything like the current fascination with luxury ice. The present-day renaissance of cocktail culture encourages fetishistic scrutiny of every aspect of mixed drinks. We’re drinking single malt and small batch whiskeys, exotically flavored infusions, hand crafted bitters, and yes, artisanal ice.  It’s colorless and tasteless, but it seems that all ice is not created equal. The cubes in your freezer (and many bars and restaurants) are clouded with bubbles and cracks, while the premium stuff is dense and clear, so it melts slower and won’t water down your drink as quickly.

Bars and restaurants now have ice programs and some have turned to a new breed of boutique ice makers like Favourite Ice and Névé that charge 50 to 70 cents per two-by-two inch cube. You might find a single tennis ball-sized sphere for scotch on the rocks, gin and tonic in a highball glass chilled by height-appropriate tube-shaped ice, and hand-chipped bits crushed in muslin (to capture the rogue particles) for the perfect julep.

Then there’s glacial ice, in a league all its own. It’s true that thousands of years of geographic pressure create extremely dense ice that stays cold longer and melts more slowly than man-made, but the premium is really charged for its mystique. Marketers tout the purity of water that was frozen before it could absorb the atmospheric taints of the modern era. They speak of the magic of its hisses and pops as entombed air is released from the core of the melting ice—the pristine air of a lost age, never before breathed in by man. The market for glacial ice is so lucrative that ice poachers have gone after protected glaciers around the globe.

And you thought ice was just frozen water.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge, food trends | 1 Comment
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