cook + dine

Junk Food Jargon

collage via images from The Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge

collage via images from The Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge

 

Great literature is like a great meal.
In the hands of a talented writer, simple words are carefully chosen and combined into something transcendent. A master chef can do the same with basic ingredients, mixing and transforming them into a sublime dish.

Junk food has its own literary equivalent.
The language of junk food isn’t lyrical or poetic. It’s not crafted by a master of the literary arts but by the folks who brought us Funyuns® and Uncrustables®. It’s processed and assembled just like the food it describes: it’s conceived in a boardroom, designed in a laboratory, fabricated in a factory, and given a spin by marketers. It’s manufactured language for manufactured food.

Junk food isn’t trafficking in proteins and carbohydrates, and certainly not fruits and vegetables. Its building blocks are sugar, salt, and fat, known in the business as the three pillar ingredients.

Food manufacturers are on a continual quest for products with a perfect sweet-salty-fatty balance of the three pillars. That optimal mix is called the bliss point. If they hit it just right, a product is irresistible. It tastes so good that it lulls consumers into passive overeating, which happens when they keep eating after they’re full, or auto-eating, which takes place when they weren’t even hungry in the first place.

Sometimes a manufacturer tips the flavor balance too far and runs into the dreaded sensory-specific satiety. That happens when the flavors are just too big and bold. They overwhelm the taste receptors and trigger a mechanism in the brain that tells you to stop eating.

Food technologists also manipulate other features like shape, size, texture, and consistency. An appealing mouthfeel—the way an item feels pleasingly crunchy or creamy or fluffy or juicy in the mouth—is key. Flavor bursts can take mouthfeel a step further with salt and sugar crystals that are strategically positioned for targeted mouth contact.

Vanishing caloric density is like the holy grail of junk food science. A snack food with vanishing calorie density would go down so quickly and sit so lightly in the stomach that the brain would vastly underestimate the amount consumed and the snacker would just keep on snacking. When the food technologists achieve it, you can bet that they’ll push the new product up-and-down-the-street, which means you’ll find it in every supermarket, drug store, and corner market, from the chains to the mom-and-pops.

Ultimately it’s all about the junk food industry’s battle for something they call stomach share.
The World Health Organization coined their own word for it: they call it globesity.

 

Posted in food business, snack foods | 1 Comment

Cookbooks: Where to View the Reviews

 

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe print cookbook is indomitable.
The post office, the music industry, network television—all decimated by the internet. And book publishing? Forget about it. Cookbook sales are one of the few bright spots. Take the 50 Shades trilogy off the bestseller list and you’re basically left with titles from celebrity chefs, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and the latest from Gwyneth Paltrow.

Cookbooks are evolving in ever more interesting ways.
They’ve learned to transcend their function. It’s no longer enough to be a vessel for instruction and recipes. The internet’s got a lock on that. Cookbook authors are experimenting beyond the traditional narrative structure of a recipe collection organized into categories like ‘Soups,’ ‘Main Dishes,’ and ‘Bar Cookies.’ They’re dazzling us with new visual formats and finding their literary voices.

Not that we don’t still need the internet.
By the time you finish reading this another independent bookstore will probably have bitten the dust, and national chain stores just don’t cut it when you want to do some heavy browsing. I’m talking about the old-fashioned kind of book browsing, well beyond the glossy, the popular, and the predictable titles; the kind of browsing that takes you on a journey of discovery, deep into the category where things get interesting.

There are a handful of places to go online for thoughtful, knowledgable reviews that look beyond the bestseller list. If you love cookbooks, you’ll want to bookmark some of these:

If I hadn’t found Cookbooks We Love, I would have never been introduced to Pork and Sons. Part cookbook, part travel guide, with a family scrapbook and great piggy pics thrown into the mix, Pork and Sons’ author comes from a long line of French pig farmers and butchers, and recipes are scattered throughout a very personal tale of small town life in his family’s home village. It’s the kind of obscure gem of a cookbook that we never know to look for but are thrilled to stumble across.

Food porn meets book reviews at CookBookKarma. It starts with extensive, professional reviewing, and I do mean extensive–the 100+ reviews from this past month included an all-gummi candy cookbook and recipes for midwives. Readers then try out recipes from reviewed titles and submit photos of the results along with their own reviews and other commentary.

The cook behind Cook that Book is not a professional chef. She is a home cook preparing family meals in a home kitchen. She tries recipes from old and new cookbooks and writes her reviews based on the nuts and bolts of index navigability, clarity and detail of instructions, and ultimately the overall appeal and success of the dish. Judging a cookbook on the cooking—how novel is that?!

Sadly we bid farewell this week to The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf. The review site, a collaboration between a small, international team of contributors, had a commendable five year run covering a wide range of global titles on food, wine, and gastronomy. The editors were knowledgable, their taste was quirky and eclectic, and there’s nothing else quite like it out there. Check out their parting lineup of reviews and you’ll see what I mean.

 

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Will 3D Printers Really Be Making Our Dinner?

Jetsons image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera

Jetsons image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera

 

Jane Jetson pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. No shopping, no chopping, no sauté pans to wash.
We got a little closer to that futuristic fantasy last week when NASA announced funding for the construction of a 3D food printer. NASA has scheduled the delivery of its first 3D printer to the International Space Station for late 2014. Initially it will just be running experiments on printing in a microgravity environment, but eventually the astronauts will use it to fabricate their own meals.

How is it possible to print food?
A 3D printer works a lot like an inkjet printer. Instead of ink, a food printer sprays edible liquids out of the print nozzles, and it keeps spraying layer upon layer until it’s built up a solid object. Take pizza, which the NASA contractor plans as the first printed meal in space: the ‘ink’ nozzles start the recipe by printing consecutive layers of liquid pizza dough; a switch to sauce cartridges and the printer applies layers of a tomato base; then cheese and toppings are printed on top of the crust and tomatoes, and the whole thing bakes on a heated surface of the printer.

Maybe it sounds better when you’re in orbit 230 miles from Earth.
An astronaut’s mother could transmit a favorite recipe to the Space Station’s pantry of powdered and pureed foods and flavorings that would be 3D printable in infinite combinations. Sure, the ingredients are limited to reconstituted liquids and other sprayable and extrudable consistencies, and the ground beef in Mom’s meatloaf has been replaced with a laboratory-cultured, 3D printable meat stand-in known as ‘shmeat’, but with their tiny larder of freeze-dried foods and only occasional access to fresh ingredients, it gives the astronauts a taste of home to break the tedium and cabin fever.

It won’t be replacing Pizza Hut anytime soon.
I’d hang on to those takeout menus. Nobody expects that 3D printed food will replace the real deal for most of us, but there are some promising Earthbound applications.
CMYK_color_swatches.svg150px-SubtractiveColor.svg3D printers can match nutrition like regular printers match colors.
Think of the way that CMYK four color printing takes four ink colors-cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black)-and applies them in pre-set proportions to create a a particular palette. A 3D printer can use nutrients like colors, and print them in specific proportions to create customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals. Data-driven food can factor height, weight, body mass index, and exercise regimens to tailor calories, proteins, enzymes, and minerals to dieters or athletes, or use health records and lab results to create sterile printed meals infused with medication for hospital patients.

steakMeat can’t sustainably feed the planet, but printable meat substitutes can.
A steak doesn’t have to be printed from beef protein. The ‘inks’ could be made from other protein sources like algae, insects, or lab-grown meat analogs that don’t take the same environmental toll as raising cattle. The meat ink is also shelf stable for years and can be shipped anywhere on the planet where need exists.

Solving world hunger and customizing nutrition are still a long way off.
For now 3D printed food is just a novelty used to create previously unachievable food textures and shapes. There’s an edible desk lamp and a bacon mobius strip; you can get a full body scan to replicate yourself in gummy bear candy or render your beloved’s face in chocolate for a Valentine’s Day bonbon; and Google’s employees can order any shape or flavor of pasta printed in the kitchen of the company cafeteria.

When the 3D printing revolution comes, you’ll be able to eat it.

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, Science/Technology | 1 Comment

Music, Food, & Molecules

cupcakes via Enjoy! Bespoke Events

cupcakes via Enjoy! Bespoke Events

 

It’s true that there’s no accounting for taste, but some foods just seem to go together.

It’s like that with music. There are notes that sound good together and other combinations that make you cringe. And we know that it’s based in science. The vibrations of sound in the air create sound waves, and when the math and physics of different waves are a good fit, you’ve got music.

We all know foods that go together better than others. Bacon with cheese, pickles with deli meats, sushi with ginger, tomatoes with basil—they seem to create their own harmonies. And just like music, there’s math and science behind the fit of flavors.

The science of food pairing
Scientific flavor analysis has only been with us for a few years. It’s based on the molecular analysis of ingredients that identifies the odor and flavor compounds. Ingredients are sliced and diced with liquid and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, and then an algorithm is applied to the compounds to come up with a unique flavor profile for each food. Compatible pairings happen when ingredients share enough compounds.

The molecular basis of pairings takes chefs away from recipes, intuition, and tradition to inspire the new and innovative dishes that you find on the menus of cutting-edge restaurants. Some of the new combinations that have worked their way into modernist cooking are chocolate and pink peppercorn, cauliflower and cocoa, and salmon with licorice. Some are better left in the laboratory like liver paired with jasmine and chocolate with smoked fish. And it’s said that caviar is molecular perfection with white chocolate, but I’ll just take it on faith.

There are clearly limits to molecular pairing. 
That’s because we experience food in ways that transcend flavor. Preferences are also shaped by a dish’s appearance and texture, and the eater’s individual taste thresholds, culture, memories, traditions, and even inbuilt defense mechanisms that guided prehistoric eaters away from poisonous foods. The most complex genetic map in the entire human body is the one that controls the olfactory bulb that processes information sent to the brain about the food that we eat. Taste is far too complicated to boil down to a single, molecular rule of thumb.

Food, like music, can thrive on contrast as much as harmony. 
In music it’s called dissonance; the jangle of tones that deviates from neat sound waves to create harmonic tension. It can sound harsh and unstable but dissonance has also given us Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, and pretty much every movie soundtrack worth its salt. In food a kind of dissonance is found in East Asian cuisines that are based on contrasting tastes combined in a balancing act of sweet and sour, hot and cooling. Garlic with sesame oil, shrimp with ginger —these are food pairings that are completely incompatible on a molecular level, but without them there’d be no Pad Thai, Vietnamese spring rolls, or Japanese gyoza.

Don’t just guess:
Foodpairing.com
 has more than 1,000 pairing trees. These are interactive visualizations that give you all the possible combinations you can make with a chosen ingredient. Your selection is placed at the center and you can see all the molecularly compatible matches grouped on the branches around it. The closer to the center, the better the pairing.

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Stay Hydrated. Drink Beer Cocktails.

 

beerbottle martini glass

 

Forget everything you’ve been told about mixing your alcohol.
You should drink beer with cocktails. In fact you should drink beer in your cocktails.
Beer cocktails have been popping up with greater frequency for a few years, and this summer, as warmer temperatures settle in, they’ve really taken off.

There’s nothing new about beer sharing a glass with spirits and mixers.
Visitors to Mexico are familiar with the Michelada (and its regional Chelada variations) which is beer mixed with lemon or lime juice, salt, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Germans have the Gose mit Kümmellikör with a shot of spiced Kümmel liqueur in a glass of beer. The Shandy, popular in the U.K., covers a lot of territory combining beer in equal parts with ginger ale, lemonade, cider, or just another type of beer, like a stout and ale Black and Tan. And of course the U.S. has the Boilermaker, a long-time staple of working-class bars combining beer with a shot of whiskey.

What’s new is the craft.
The twin movements of craft beer and craft cocktails have given new life to beer cocktails. Today’s drinkers crave quality and variety. They’re always on the lookout for new ingredients and flavors, and the craft brewing and distilling industries are happy to oblige. Innovative mixologists are finding new ways to use them, creating original cocktails from high-quality spirits, house-made syrups, spices, fresh squeezed fruit juices, and craft-made beer with plenty of character.

Canny flavor combinations or abominable crimes against beer?
Purists argue that beer is already a perfectly crafted cocktail of barley, hops, yeast, and water. They see no gain in plonking more booze and fussy mixers into a well-made brew. Mixologists counter resistance by arguing that well-chosen additions will complement rather than disguise a beer’s flavor. The more complex the beer, the more avenues of taste opportunities it offers: a touch of citrus will cut through the heaviness of a pale ale; a light and sweet wheat beer is balanced by the bite of Vermouth or Campari; and the botanicals in gin can accentuate the lightly-hoppy nuances of a lager.

Cocktail traditionalists also balk at tampering.
Any addition to spirits, even ice or a splash of water, is sacrilege to a certain type of aficionado. Beer cocktails are probably not for them, and indeed none of us should be messing with a 21 year-old Macallan. But there are plenty of spirits that will benefit from beer in the same way that any well-chosen mixer can transform them into a cocktail that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A splash of beer will add effervescence without watering down a cocktail like club soda or sweetening it like ginger ale; the malt and yeast can cut the sugar in fruity drinks and stand up to the spice in pepper-spiked cocktails. When well-matched, even the beer-averse can appreciate the finishing touch of flavor and complexity.

An open mind and palate can pay off with some intriguing flavors.
Bartenders love experimenting with beer’s endless array of tastes and styles, and drinkers appreciate the novelty as well as the larger glasses and thirst-quenching power it brings to mixed drinks. The union is not for everyone, but you’re going to be seeing a lot of beer in cocktails this summer.

Buzzfeed shares 26 Drinks That Prove Mixing Beer Is A Great Idea .

Just don’t test out any of those 26 drinks in Nebraska, the only state where it’s illegal to serve cocktails that combine liquor and beer. The law is a holdover from Prohibition when Nebraskans were known to spike their legal, non-alcoholic beer with liquor.

 

 

 

 

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The 10 Most Hated Foods (and how they made the list)

broccoli

It’s not true that everything’s better with bacon.
There are foods that we simply loathe.

Some tastes are hardwired at birth for our protection and survival. We like sweet and dislike bitter— sugar means energy and bitterness can be a warning sign of toxicity. Savoriness signals protein, and an appealing saltiness helps our bodies get necessary sodium. Your genetic makeup plays a role in taste: everyone perceives flavors a little differently, with different levels of intensity.

That’s the nature; then there’s the nurture.
Context and experience influence how we taste by shaping how we feel about what we eat. Our perceptions and biases are influenced by sociological and cultural factors like ethnicity and economics, and there are also the psychological associations we make with foods that are based in our personal histories and memories of meals gone by.

Flavors can be polarizing, like blue cheese and black coffee—they are as beloved by some as much as they are detested by others. There are foods like spinach and brussels sprouts that elicit a child’s knee-jerk response, and many will carry it into adulthood. And then there are foods that are just plain difficult, like organ meats and odd sea creatures. It’s not that the taste is so objectionable, but the texture, aroma, or even the mere thought of these foods can cause queasiness in a wide swath of eaters. The Journal of Psychology surveyed more than 75,000 participants to come up with a list of the most hated foods in America, and they found that polarizing tastes, childhood prejudices, and the odd, nasty bits are all represented.

Disgusting or delicious? These are the 10 most hated foods (in order of revulsion):

      • Liver
      • Lima beans
      • Mayonnaise
      • Mushrooms
      • Eggs
      • Okra
      • Beets
      • Brussels Sprouts
      • Tuna
      • Gelatin

 

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Fussy Finicky Compulsive Persnickety

 

image via Kakitee

image via Kakitee

 

It’s the dinner guest from hell.

You know the one. He’s not a vegetarian. His diet is not restricted by religion. He doesn’t have food allergies or a medical condition. He’s  just plain fussy.

We think of picky eating as a childhood phenomenon, but there are adults among us– otherwise sensible, well-adjusted men and women– who somehow never outgrew their fussiness. They are perversely choosy, banishing from their diets specific foods and entire food groups. Adult picky eaters might have given up the high chair histrionics of the toddler years, but otherwise haven’t ‘grown out of it,’ as everyone predicted.

While a typical omnivore enjoys thousands of flavors and combinations, a picky eater might tolerate a few dozen.

Meals for them can be minefields of phobic flavors and textures with no discernible logic guiding likes and dislikes: raw mushrooms but not cooked; cooked tomatoes but not raw; they gag on all dairy except for sour cream which magically makes everything taste better.

Theories abound.

Picky eaters have always puzzled clinicians. At various times over the years, picky eating has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorders, a dulled sense of taste, a childhood trauma centered around food, and the heightened perceptions of a supertaster, There is no known diagnostic category; traditional eating disorders are all organized around weight, appearance, and body image. Yet the behavior around a severely limited diet can interfere with social and professional relationships, which is a hallmark of a true psychiatric disorder.

Fussy-Finicky-Compulsive-Persnicketyin the spotlight.

Now the psychiatric community is considering recognizing Selective Eating Disorder as a medical condition that could apply to adults and children. A task force has been convened to study and categorize finicky eating in adults (known as the Food F.A.D. Study). Researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have launched the first public registry of  picky eaters that has already attracted thousands of respondents .

Join the national registry and participate in a survey of eating preferences and habits at DukeHealth.org.

Picky Eating Adults Support(PEAS) is a large online community of fussy eaters  with chapters in the U.S. and the U.K. You’ll find information, support groups, forums, and other resources.

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Ricotta: Never an Expiration Date

ricotta

There’s ricotta and there’s ricotta.
If that means nothing to you, then you’ve never had ricotta. 
The good stuff doesn’t come with an expiration date.

There are cheeses that improve with age. Ricotta is not one of them.
Technically, ricotta isn’t even a cheese. It’s a by-product of the cheese making process. Ricotta is made from whey, the milky water that’s left after the real cheese is pulled out. The whey sits and ferments at room temperature for a day, and fine, fluffy curds of ricotta form when it’s heated. It’s a second heating since the milk was heated once for the original cheese making—hence the name ricotta, which means ‘recooked’ in Italian.

Ricotta’s age should be measured in hours, not days. 
The curds are ready to eat as soon as they’re strained from the water, and that first scooping is best of all, when the curds are at their airiest and most quiveringly delicate. After just a few minutes the fragile curds will compress a bit under their own weight forcing out moisture. As the minutes and hours tick away they’ll continue to drain, becoming increasingly drier and firmer, eventually becoming like the dense pebbles you find in the supermarket.

Ricotta’s taste has a similar trajectory.
The freshest ricotta is sweet but with a grassy lilt, lush and powerfully milky, but over time the vividly fresh flavors fade away.
Even at its peak, ricotta charms through subtlety, which is one of its great virtues: it’s a utility player in the kitchen able to play both sweet and savory, both raw and cooked. And it’s a great carrier of flavors, making it ideal as a stuffing for everything from chicken to rum cake.

Don’t mistake mild for bland
Ricotta will never bowl you over with taste and complexity like the tang of a farmstead cheddar or the pungency of Stilton. But find it made fresh and eat it fast and it will win you over with simplicity and freshness.

Posted in cook + dine, food knowledge | 1 Comment

Online Wine Shopping: Let the Algorithm Do the Picking

image by Jomphong via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

image by Jomphong via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Would you trust a computer to choose your wine?
There’s a new generation of wine sellers counting on it.

Wine has been a tough sale online.
Wine shopping is daunting even in a traditional, bricks and mortar wine shop, where most customers wander the aisles a while and then end up grabbing an old favorite, an eye-catching label, or whatever’s on sale, with finger’s crossed that it won’t disappoint. It can be even more overwhelming online where the selection is inexhaustible and you don’t have store displays to cue you. Add to that a regulatory maze of interstate shipping laws, and by 2007, online sales were a piddling 3% of retail wine sales.

In the last few years, the internet has blossomed into a virtual vineyard.
Wine has benefited enormously from the rise of social media. There are thousands of online wine groups sharing tasting notes, alerting members to flash sale sites like Lot 18, and holding virtual wine tastings where on the count of three everybody uncorks and sips the same bottle. You can order wine for your Facebook friends through that site’s birthday reminders, and even Amazon, twice burned by failed wine-selling ventures, has jumped back in.

To succeed online, wine sites have to be more than just digital catalogs. Wine is consumed experientially, and in that sense its purchase has more in common with music or movies than with, say, a pair of shoes. That’s why the new generation of wine sellers looked not to Zappo’s but to Netflix for their sales model. And the secret sauce of the wildly successful video service is in the predictive algorithms that fuel their recommendations.

Online shopping has always run on recommendation engines.
The innovation was pioneered by Amazon, where now you’ll find them integrated into every inch of the shopping experience. From the home page through to the last click at checkout, Amazon beseeches you to consider ‘Frequently Bought Together’ items, ‘Customers Who Bought this Item Also Bought,’ and the less persuasive ‘Customers Who Viewed this Item Also Viewed,’ as well as ‘Sponsored Links,’ ‘Product Ads from External Websites,’ and a sidebar of  ‘More Buying Choices.’ Amazon’s algorithms skew toward building recommendation lists from items ordered by similar customer profiles. All the come-ons feel a bit like a traveling salesman with a foot stuck in your front door telling you about the vacuum cleaner your neighbor just bought.

Wine, like DVDs, requires more finesse.
Using its peer-to-peer comparative algorithms, Amazon derives a reported 10% of its book sales through recommendations on the site, while at Netflix recommendations drive 75% of the video viewing. Netflix accomplishes this through its algorithms, which turn an infinite buffet of data into a highly personalized, user-friendly experience. Instead of comparative recommendations, it builds individual profiles based on each customer’s individual preferences. It’s constantly throwing DVD titles at you, always asking your opinion about what you watch both on the service and elsewhere. Like Netflix, the new wine recommendation engines run on ratings. They build taste a profile based on what you’ve enjoyed in the past, and continually tinker with the profile as you rate your new wine purchases. And unlike Netflix, where the queue can get clogged with the entire Toy Story oeuvre, you don’t have to share this with your kids.

I’ll have what the MacBook Pro is having.
Try one of the new digital sommeliers:

Wine start-up Taste Factor, which compares the complexity of its recommendation engine to NASA, is like a custom wine-of-the-month club. Sign up for the subscription service and you get a starter pack of wine to rate. Your feedback establishes a tasting baseline, which is refined after subsequent monthly shipments, each of which is uniquely chosen for you.

Instead of NASA, Club W feels more like an online dating service. You start with a questionnaire—not about wine but lifestyle questions and details like how you take your coffee. The screen fills with potential matches, and you choose the ones that look good to you.

WineSimple also starts with a quiz to build each individual consumer taste profile. The geo-servicing phone app doesn’t sell wine, but it lets you know when you’re in a shop or restaurant that carries one of your recommended bottles.

 

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, cyberculture, shopping | Leave a comment

Kids Drinking Coffee. Why Not?

[image via the New Yorker]

Of course kids are drinking coffee.
What else is left?
Soda is out—high fructose corn syrup, you know. Sports drinks are, as the British press put it, just lolly water. Ditto for juice boxes. Certainly not milk with all that lactose-intolerance going around.
Coffee it is.

And what exactly is so wrong with that?

Coffee doesn’t stunt anyone’s growth. That turned out to be a giant fallacy.
And it has health benefits, reducing the risk for Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, and gallstones. Not exactly pediatric ailments, but it can’t hurt. More intriguing is growing evidence to support years of anecdotal claims from parents that the caffeine in coffee actually calms down children with ADHD.

Gunning their little engines with caffeine.
Coffee does of course rev kids up, and it can leave them with jittery nerves and insomnia. And children are already getting plenty of caffeine from sources like soda, candy, hot chocolate, ice cream, and even cold medicine.

Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the younger they are, the less coffee they probably should drink. The United States hasn’t developed dietary guidelines for kids and caffeine, but Health Canada recommends no more than 45 mg/day for 4 – 6 year olds;  62.5 mg/day at 7 – 9 years; and 85 mg/day for 10 – 12 year olds— compared with moderate adult intake of around 400 mg. (about 3 coffees’ worth).

The real problem isn’t even the coffee.
It’s the fat and calories of the vanilla syrup and the caramel drizzle, the steamed milk and whipped cream. It’s all the frozen, blended mochafrappacappalattaccinos that masquerade as coffee. There are coffee concoctions that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For a child, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup. And there aren’t many kids who take it black.

Best is to watch the sugar and keep a tally of caffeine from all sources.
And at four bucks a pop for a fancy latté drink, no one should be in a hurry to cultivate their kid’s coffee habit.

 

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A Little Microwave Magic

image via Cargo Collective

image via Cargo Collective

 

The microwave oven is entirely redundant.
It does nothing more than duplicate cooking processes, and it almost never performs them as well as other appliances.
It’s known as a coffee warmer, a butter melter, a popcorn popper, and a leftover heater-upper. Yet 95% of us have one.
Because when it comes to convenience, it’s tough to top the microwave oven.

The following shortcuts play to the oven’s strengths. They’re are all about convenience. There’s nothing here that can’t be done elsewhere in the kitchen. But all of them rely on the microwave oven for ease, speed, and minimal cleanup afterward.

Make skinny potato chips: Lay thin potato slices in a single layer on a plate. Season (salt, pepper, vinegar- whatever you like). Microwave for about 5 minutes until they reach the desired point of brown and crispy done-ness. You can also revive soggy chips with a few second blast on a paper towel.

Dry fresh herbs or grated citrus peels: Spread herbs or peels on a paper towel. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or until dried, stirring every 30 seconds. Cook another 1-2 minutes for thicker peels and herbs.

Make scratch chocolate pudding: Mix 1/3 c. cornstarch, 1/4 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 c. sugar, pinch of salt, and 2 1/4 c. milk. Cook for 2 minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir in 1 t. vanilla and 2 T. butter. Let stand for about 5 minutes until it’s pudding-thick.

Get twice as much juice from a lemon: Give it 30 seconds in the microwave and then roll it around a few times on the counter. Double juice.

Roast a whole head of garlic: Put a whole, unpeeled bulb of garlic on a paper towel. Microwave on high for 1 minute, turn it upside down and give it another minutes. The soft, roasted cloves will squeeze right out.

Need some melted chocolate for a recipe? Snip the corner off of a bag of chips. Microwave for 20 seconds and knead the bag to mix. Keep repeating in 20 second increments (you’ll need a potholder as it heats up) until fully melted. Squeeze the chocolate out of the cut corner for a completely bowl-less, spoon-less experience.

Peel tomatoes for sauce: 30 seconds of cooking plus a two minute rest and the skins slip right off.

Cook corn on the cob right in its husk: Put unshucked ears of corn on damp paper towel. You can microwave 4 or so at a time, adding a little under 2 minutes cooking time for each ear. Let the corn stand for 5 minutes before serving. The husks and silk will slip off easily.

Make a little cake in a mug: Coat the mug with nonstick spray. Add to the mug 4 T.  flour, 9 T. hot chocolate mix, and a pinch of salt. Give a stir and add an egg, 3 T. water, and 3 T. oil.  Mix it up well and microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise to alarming heights and then settle back into the mug. It’s not the best chocolate cake you ever tasted, but not-the-best is better than no chocolate cake.

Steam an artichoke: Place a rinsed and trimmed artichoke in a dish deep enough to hold it, cover it with a damp paper towel and top with a sheet of waxed paper. Cook on high for 7 minutes.

Clean-Microwave-Wall-Sign-SE-1723_buUse the microwave to clean your microwave: Boil a bowl of water with a few added splashes of vinegar for five minutes, then wipe. The acidic steam removes odors and loosens any stuck-on bits.

 

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Fun Facts About Guns in Bars and Restaurants

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz

 

There’s a lot of talk about gun control at the state and federal level. Let’s talk about guns on a personal level that affects all of us: in bars and restaurants.

  • Fun Fact: Red state or blue—it makes no difference. Nearly every state throws its bar and restaurant doors open to gun-toting customers.

There’ve been some changes in the wake of December’s tragic shootings in Newtown; just not the kind you might expect. With bills pending in a number of state legislatures, we’ll soon see a majority of states explicitly allow residents to bring concealed and open-carry guns into bars and restaurants, while another 20 states continue to allow them by default.

  • Fun Fact: Tennessee State Representative Curry Todd served time this year for drunk driving and possession of a handgun while under the influence of alcohol. He had previously worked tirelessly as the sponsor of the nation’s first guns-in-bars law, which Tennessee passed in 2009.

These laws are the latest wave in the country’s gun debate, and represent progress made by the gun lobby as it seeks, state by state, to expand the realm of guns in everyday life.

Mixing guns and alcohol: this is truly the logic of the madhouse.
A very large body of research tells us that people who abuse alcohol are far more inclined to engage in risky behaviors, and gun owners are more likely to fall into that group:

  • Fun Fact: Compared to people who don’t keep guns in the home, gun owners are twice as likely to down five or more drinks in a single sitting; they’re nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to get behind the wheel of a car when drinking; and they consume 60 or more drinks per month at more than double the rate of non-owners.

Looking for a 3-star gun-free bistro for Saturday night?
Restaurants are free to post signs banning weapons, and recommendation sites like Yelp now include ratings for gun-free dining. Of course concealed weapons make compliance kind of iffy. Unarmed Tennessee residents rely on the listings at not-for-profit Gun Free Dining Tennessee (their motto: Eat in peace) while the NRA crowd visits GunBurger.com (protecting the Second Amendment one bite at a time).

For all the fun facts, there’s nothing trivial about the dangerous mix of alcohol and firearms.
Americans own more than 300 million non-military weapons. There are more than 40,000 gun-related deaths every year, and one in three involves alcohol.

Are there guns in your local restaurants? The NRA website has an interactive, state-by-state map of current firearm laws.

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, community, food policy | Leave a comment

Food Myths and Misconceptions

 

Adding salt won’t make the water boil any faster.
You can take mayonnaise on a picnic.
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.
We used to call them old wives’ tales but word of mouth has moved online. Blogs, tweets, like buttons, repostings—these are the new enemies of truth. 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 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; at least it would if you added enough, and it takes a heap of salt before there’s any effect on the boiling point. Just add salt because it will make whatever you’re cooking 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.

Forget the myths, legends, misconceptions, polite fictions, old school notions, and ‘wisdom’ passed from parent to child.
It’s time for the truth to go viral.

 

Posted in cook + dine, food knowledge | 1 Comment

The World’s Most Expensive ____________(fill in the blank)

[image via TrustedHealthProducts.com]

[image via TrustedHealthProducts.com]

Who else is fed up with the world’s most expensive food’ trend?
I’m talking about the $450 pizza (topped with lobster thermidor and black cod) or the $295 hamburger (made with white truffle butter-infused Japanese Wagyu beef and black truffles served on a gold-dusted roll capped with creme fraiche and caviar).
What a waste. Such fine ingredients are assembled but the goal is not to offer a magnificent dining experience but merely a budget-busting one. It’s doubtful that the dishes even originated with a chef. These are shameless stunts perpetrated by restaurant publicists, and most don’t even taste good.

The restaurateur as P.T. Barnum.
The more gimmicky and outrageous the stunt, the more it’s re-posted, re-pinned, and re-tweeted. And not just by the hype-hungry Buzzfeeds of the world: last December’s Most Expensive Christmas Dinner (a gold leaf-wrapped turkey served with 100-year old wine decanted through a filter of diamond dust) got plenty of column inches from traditional media like Time, ABC News, and the Washington Post. This kind of fleeting fame propels ever more short-sighted restaurant owners into the fray of culinary one-upsmanship.

There’s no question that the world of the one-percenters can be a fascinating place of lavish spending and culinary indulgence that the rest of us can only dream of. But this current fascination is not about elite and refined dining; it’s meals for one percenters with 99-percent tastes. It’s pub food like a $760 Scotch egga $1,565 rendition of the peasant chicken stew coq au vin, and even a $17 ‘Diva’ corn dog made with sweetbreads, bone marrow, truffle, and foie gras. And it’s impossible to keep up with the high-stakes most expensive hamburger category where there seems to be a revolving door to the title from all the jostling for preeminence.

Let’s say you want to set a new world’s record.
To make it official you need to go through the ‘Set a Record’ service on the Guinness World Records website. Once the category and methodology have been approved, verification of the feat requires signed statements from two witnesses plus photographic evidence, or the record-setter can pay for the presence of an official Guinness adjudicator. You can see the appeal from the restaurant’s standpoint: it’s a small investment, a quick and easy process, and if they hit it just right it’s a public relations bonanza.

These stunts have worn out their welcome.
Even at their best they’re one-offs based in novelty. Now, absent the novelty we’re left with a joyless can-you-top-this desperation. That plus a bad taste in the mouth from the realization that the world’s most expensive kebab costs as much as the per capita income of a Ugandan.

 

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Finish Your Dessert or There’ll Be No Broccoli!

[Callis dessert plates]

[Callis dessert plates via Getty Museum]

 

We have it all backwards.
A slew of new research has come out telling us to eat more desserts. It’s good nutrition, good for your teeth, and even good for weight loss.
It’s like a childhood dream come true.

A little dessert does a lot of good at mealtime.
The problem with a very low-fat diet is that many nutrients can’t be adequately absorbed. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, and the carotenoids in green, leafy vegetables are examples of fat-soluble nutrients; they’re virtually useless if they land in the digestive tract without some fat. That’s where dessert comes in—eggs, butter, creamy fillings—we can always count on desserts to provide the fat.

Dessert can help you stick with a diet. 
A diet is a constant tug-of-war between desire and will power. Studies show that dieters who ease up a little will have greater self-control in the long run, while a single-minded focus on the effort to avoid sweets entirely can create a psychological addiction to the very foods they want to avoid.

Eat dessert first.
The best compliance came from dieters who had dessert before dinner. The gratification comes first, making it easier to stick with the healthy foods that come later. Dessert first also causes you to feel full more quickly, and the sense of satiety lasts longer. It’s no illusion: the denser, fattier dessert will settle heavily in the gut and stick around longer than the diet foods that follow.

Dessert for breakfast. 
The old adage instructs us to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper. That’s because a big and balanced breakfast fires up the metabolism for better fat burning throughout the day. Add a dessert to the meal and it seems to give the metabolism an extra boost. It also suppresses the production of ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger, and less ghrelin means fewer late-day cravings.

Sweets for breakfast, dessert before dinner—some rules really are made to be broken.

Summaries of both the ‘dessert first study‘ and the ‘dessert for breakfast study‘ can be found in Science Daily.

 

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How Much Will That Beer Cost You?

price_of_beer_button_red-p145996141209409970q37f_400

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 threat to the American way of life.  
Last week the Obama administration filed a lawsuit in Washington’s district court to block a proposed beer industry merger. 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 more than 70% of the U.S. beer business. The Justice Department has made a pretty compelling case against it, 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 the Justice Department predicts higher prices for everyone.

Never overpay again. 
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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French Fries are Not the Enemy

fries

 

We top everything that doesn’t move with bacon and trip over cupcake bakeries at every corner.
So why are french fries the nutritionists’ whipping boy?

Yes, they are made from high-glycemic, low fiber white potatoes. Yes, they are high in fat and sodium. No, they do not belong on the lunch trays of our school’s cafeterias. But enough with the demonizing.

The french fries are not, in themselves, the problem.
The real problem is the ubiquity of french fries. Back when we had to wash, peel, slice, deep fry, and clean up the mess ourselves, french fries didn’t stand a chance of becoming America’s favorite ‘vegetable’. Return them to special occasion status.

And no super-sizing. Your mother was right all along: everything in moderation.

Everyone loves french fries, even though some people do ungodly things to them.

  • Albania Albanians eat their patatis lukewarm in a puddle of congealed grease. Albania only comes first only alphabetically.
  • Australia French fries, aka chips, are usually eaten with ketchup (known as tomato sauce), gravy, barbecue sauce, or vinegar. Most restaurants offer a choice of regular table salt and a seasoned but poultry-less blend known as chicken salt. Between neighborhood chip shops and french fry vending machines (fried to order in 90 seconds), Australia is plagued by American-style overload.
  • Belgium Ahh, the mother ship, creator of the french fry, known here as frites, and the country with the most deeply ingrained fry culture. Frites stands, stalls, and trucks blanket the country dispensing freshly fried potatoes in paper cones. When it comes to condiments, mayonnaise rules.
  • Bulgaria They call their french fries persiski kartofi (persian potatoes) and like them gaggingly salty.
  • Canada Let’s talk about that poutine. Fries are topped with cheese curds and brown gravy; perhaps its popularity can be attributed to poutine’s ability to set Canadians apart from the rest of us North American’s. It is otherwise inexplicable.
  • France (and Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Spain, and most of the rest of Europe) They eat their frites pretty much as we do: thin and crispy with salt and sometimes ketchup.
  • Mexico Lemon juice and hot sauce, singly or in combination, beats out ketchup.
  • Namibia Namibians call their french fries slap chips. No one seems to know why.
  • Poland When it comes to their frytki, it’s all about the garlic: Poles top their potatoes with garlic cream, garlic sauce, and minced beef with garlic.
  • United Kingdom The Brits do love their chips, usually with salt and malt vinegar and a few newspaper-wrapped slabs of fried fish.
  • United States Regional variations abound: gravy fries, thick-cut steak fries, cheese fries, chili fries, curly fries; in Utah the fries come with a Russian dressing-like fry sauce; Minnesotans like to dip theirs in sour cream; Oregon fries come with Miracle Whip; and mid-Atlantic states will serve boardwalk fries with Old Bay seasoning.

Let’s celebrate the wondrous treat that is the french fry. Sparingly. And be thankful that we don’t live in Albania.

Posted in diet, fast food | Leave a comment

Double Dipping: Fondue Makes a Comeback

fondue

So there you are at a dinner party.
The crowd is sharp, the charcuterie is local, the cocktails hit all the right notes with their craft bitters and small-batch whiskeys, and there’s a docked iPod playing the latest buzzed-about band from SXSW.
Dinner is served. It’s fondue?!

Yes, fondue.
That relic of the 1970’s that you thought had gone the way of streakers and shiny polyester shirts. It’s like a flashback to a decade that most food lovers would rather forget. While the roots of a new cuisine were sprouting in a handful of restaurant kitchens in places like New York and Berkeley, for most Americans, a Tequila Sunrise and water chestnut rumaki were the height of sophistication.

You’re not sure how you should respond.
You could laugh and say something clever about postmodernism. Treat it like an inside joke that you are hip enough to be in on, because you know that no self-respecting foodie would serve fondue without a side of irony.

Maybe it’s supposed to evoke loving nostalgia.
You could say how much you enjoyed Argo and that Ben Affleck was robbed by the Academy. Maybe share a childhood memory of spying on your parents’ cocktail party with its highballs and mini quiches and your mother presiding over it all in her elegant palazzo pants.

Or you could enjoy cheese fondue at its face value.
It’s not tough to do. The cheeses available are a lot better this time around. The bread too.

So many people are rediscovering the pleasures of fondue that we have the makings of a full-fledged revival.
Vintage fondue pots are a hot commodity on sites like Etsy and eBay. Roshco, one of the largest brands of fondue sets, saw sales increase by 40% last year, and expects to see another 50% rise in 2013. The wedding and gift registry site TheKnot.com is rushing to expand its assortment now that fondue pots are among its top selling items. And the media (yes, all of us) are having a field day with punny headlines about ‘dipping into’ the latest ‘cheesy’ fad.

Fondue pots for the 21st century
Sterno’s gone green with plant-based bio-fuel and zero carbon emissions; otherwise there’s not much that’s different this time around. A fondue set is still just a vessel over a heat source. Here are a few modern twists:

lazysusanfondue

 

 

Cuisinart makes a most undemanding fondue set. It’s an electric cheese melter that rotates on a Lazy Susan. It even goes in the dishwasher.

fondueUSB

 

The world’s first desktop fondue set warms your lunchtime fondue by tapping into a computer’s power supply with a fireglow USB cable.

fondue-mugs

 

 

 

We think of fondue as a communal dish, but you can go solo with a fondue mug for one.

nuwavefondue

 

As seen on TV: the NuWave induction cooktop comes with a fondue set. It heats fondue by generating a magnetic field that warms the pot while the heating element stays cool.

 

 

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, food trends | Leave a comment

Crowdsourcing: You Pick the Flavors

you-decide

Crowdsourcing is bigger than ever.
Pepsi, Lincoln, and Dannon all used it for their Super Bowl ads. We recently saw an indie music star crowdsource his tattooYahoo’s CEO crowdsourced her baby’s name, and an online mob of Monopoly fans convinced Hasbro to dump the iron, a game piece since the beginning, and replace it with a cat.

The food world is especially cozy with crowdsourcing .
Everyone eats, and everyone has an opinion about what they eat—witness the ever-expanding online universe of food discussion boards, reviewing sites, dining guides, and food blogs. The target market is already doing the work; crowdsourcing campaigns are just a way for food marketers to tap into all that passion, creativity, and collective intelligence.

Crowdsourcing pioneer Ben & Jerry’s has always relied on customer input. Even before the world had taken to the internet the company was selling ice cream flavors born from customer suggestions. In 2009 Ben & Jerry’s made it official with a crowdsourcing contest called Do the World a Flavor. They were looking for the next Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey, or Chubby Hubby, bestselling flavors that were all suggested by customers, and highlighting the company’s use of fair trade ingredients in its ice cream. The winner was Almond Delight, a caramel ice cream with praline almonds and a caramel swirl (later renamed Dulce Almond due to trademark issues), chosen from 100,000 entries.

Beer is social by its very nature, but brewers haven’t quite figured out the fit with social media. The Boston Beer Company used virtual sampling to develop a new beer through its Sam Adams Crowd Craft Project. Budweiser, though, wanted true sensory feedback for its crowdsourced Black Crown brews and combined local tasting events with online feedback through Budweiser Project 12.  Heineken clearly wants to engage online but doesn’t seem to want its customers anywhere near the beer. So far the company has turned to the crowd to create a pop-up nightclub and to design a commemorative anniversary bottle, but it hasn’t relinquished control over what’s in the bottle.

By contrast, Dunkin’ Donuts seems happy to hand over the keys to the donut shop. Their website and Facebook page periodically feature interactive donut-building tools that invite customers to get creative. Dunkin’ even paid $12,000 apiece to the online originators of Toffee For Your Coffee (glazed sour cream with Heath Bar chunks) and Monkey See Monkey Do-nut (banana filling, chocolate icing, and Reese’s Cup shavings).

Glaceau VitaminWater boasted of the first Facebook-created flavor. While not a purely virtual creation, the ‘Flavor Creator Lab’ monitored social media chatter on sites like Google, Twitter, Flickr, and Foodgawker. The application tabulated  tweets, blog posts, images, and searches to create a list of the 10 most buzzed-about flavors, and then let its Facebook followers vote for their favorite. The winner was a caffeinated black cherry-lime blend that was aptly named Connect.

Facebook has spoken. It said Cheesy Garlic Bread, Sriracha, and Chicken & Waffles. What? No Cajun Squirrel?
It’s the final phase of the mother of all crowdsourcing campaigns.
Snack food giant Frito-Lay put out the call for a new potato chip flavor on its Lay’s Facebook page, offering a million dollar bounty for the winner. Within a matter of weeks there were nearly four million submissions; they were whittled down to the three finalists. This week bags of Cheesy Garlic Bread, Sriracha, and Chicken & Waffles chips began shipping to stores nationwide.

From now until May 4th you can vote for your favorite flavor to become a permanent addition to the Lay’s product line. The two runners-up will each get $50,000, and the inventor of the top vote-getter will win the $1,000,000  prize or 1% of this year’s sales of the flavor. So far, Sriracha is looking like the odds-on favorite. You can vote via Facebook, Twitter (with hashtags #SaveGarlicBread#SaveSriracha, and #SaveChickenWaffles), or by texting VOTE to 24477.

The Lay’s campaign is new to the U.S., but in 2008 Frito-Lay held the first of it chip flavor competitions in the United Kingdom for its Walkers brand. Finalists Chilli & Chocolate and the aforementioned Cajun Squirrel were bested by the winning Builder’s Breakfast, tasting of bacon, sausage, and eggs. A 2009 Australian campaign produced the winning Caesar Salad-flavored potato chips, India went for Mango-flavored chips in 2010, and in 2011 Serbians chose Pickled Cucumber.

You can see all the global chip flavor winners at Ad Age.

 

 

 

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, food business, snack foods | Leave a comment

Make Your Own Gin (no bathtub necessary)

 

Homemade-Gin-Kit-4

[image via The HomeMade Gin Kit]

 

Gin is just vodka with some added flavorings.
Sorry, gin aficionados, but it’s true. The gin might find itself retailing for a few times the vodka price in a handblown crystal bottle with a bejeweled stopper, but they both started life as the same, un-aged, flavorless, grain alcohol.

That’s why it’s so easy to make your own gin.Commercial gin producers start by distilling grain into the vodka-esque base. Most producers will put it through a second distillation to get the flavoring in there in vapor form, but some will simply flavor it and bottle it. That’s what you’re going to do, and it makes a perfectly respectable gin, especially since you get to flavor it to your liking.

Home distilling is illegal.
In fact it’s illegal in every single country in the world, with the sole exception of New Zealand. No worries though, because there’s plenty of inexpensive, already distilled, neutral-tasting alcohol to use as your base. In other words, you’re going to start with some cheap vodka.

The basic recipe is no more complicated than making tea. You soak juniper berries, coriander, and citrus peel in the vodka and strain them out when it’s flavored. A funnel and cheesecloth will do, although a Brita-type filter pitcher is even better (and as any budget-conscious cocktail lover knows, an initial run through the Brita does wonders for inferior vodka).

Premium gins are distinguished by subtle differences in their taste profiles—Tanqueray is pungent with juniper, Bombay Sapphire has a hint of licorice, Hendrick’s tastes like cucumbers—but the precise blend of spices and botanicals in each is usually a closely guarded secret. Homemade gin gives you license to experiment. You can spice it up with dried chiles and peppercorns; warm it with spices like star anise, cloves, and cinnamon sticks; and add herbal, fruit, or floral notes.

Aspiring mixologist types that don’t know where to start can buy a gin-making kit complete with a pre-mixed blend of spices, botanicals, flowers, and aromatics.
You can also find plenty of gin-making recipes and other resources at any of the social networks for cocktail enthusiasts like Imbibe, See My Drink, On the Bar, and eGullet’s Spirits & Cocktails Forum.
DIY G&T:  Serious Eats has a recipe for homemade tonic water.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, diversions, home | 1 Comment
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