cook + dine

National Burger Survey: The Results are In

How do you want your burger?
Burgers are our national craving. We love the flat, griddled old-school style patties of classic burger joints and the fresh grinds of prime beef dressed up on high-end menus. Last year we purchased 50 billion of them served every-which-way—that’s about a burger a week for every man, woman, and child. The Zagat survey took a recent look at what’s between our buns.

$295 Guinness record holder for priciest burger served at New York’s Serendipity Restaurant


How much are you willing to spend on a burger?

less than $10: 29%
$10 – $14.99: 50%
$15 – $19.99: 14%
$20 or more: 8%




How do you like your burger cooked?
Medium Rare: 38%
Medium: 36%
Medium Well: 16%
Well Done: 6%
Rare: 4%





image via The Burger Joint, New York

Where do you typically go for a burger?

Specialty Burger Restaurant: 15%
General Restaurant: 18%
Fast-Food Spot: 14%
Diner: 3%
Make at Home: 14%

69% reported that they have at least once indulged in a super-premium burger with ingredients like truffles or foie gras


Toppings menu via 5 Guys, recently named America’s Favorite Burger Chain in Zagat’s survey of fast food customers

Which Toppings Do You Like Best? (choose multiple): 

Cheese: 82%
Lettuce: 59%
Tomato: 59%
Onions— Grilled: 56%; Raw: 43%
Bacon: 54%
Pickles: 48%
Mushrooms: 33%

And Your Least Favorite Topping? (choose one):

Jalapeños: 20%
Raw Onions: 15%
Mushrooms: 13%
Guacamole: 12%
Pickles :12%

60% of diners say they  prefer a specialty  roll while 23% prefer a standard bun

Another survey from the market research firm Technomic found a generation gap in burger customization with nearly twice as many 18-35 year olds willing to pay extra for premium toppings than those who are 35+.

vintage condiment set via Etsy

Favorite Condiment (choose multiple):

Ketchup: 66%
Mustard: 47%
Mayonnaise: 44%
Barbecue Sauce: 27%
Thousand Island Dressing: 17%

Least Favorite Condiment: (choose 1):
Relish: 20%
Mayonnaise: 19%
Hot Sauce: 18%

When it comes to cheese, cheddar is the clear favorite at 38%. American is second at 15%; blue cheese is a surprisingly strong third at 13%, followed by Swiss (12%, and Monterey Jack (6%).

image via SnackoClock


 Do You Mostly Eat Burgers for…? (choose 1 or 2):

Dinner: 75%
Lunch: 60%
Late-Night Snack: 9%
Breakfast: 2%




image via University of Pennsylvania Vegan Society

Pick your patty:

Beef: 85%
Bison: 5%
Turkey: 4%
50% of women and 33% of men also said they occasionally opt for a vegetarian patty

Grass-fed and/or organic beef registered as an important choice for just 15%; another 43% said it’s a consideration, and 42% said it’s not a factor.

6% prefers little sliders to full-size burgers.

image via Side A Fries, Detroit, MI


Favorite side:

French fries: 63%
Onion rings: 16%
Tater Tots: 6% 

(note that Tater Tots were favored at the same rate as sliders. Mere coincidence or overlapping survey populations?)

Posted in diversions, fast food, sandwiches | 1 Comment

We ♥ Pie

We’re eating more pie than ever.
Pie consumption has been steadily rising for nearly a decade. We’re eating pie in restaurants and cafés, buying pie fresh from the bakery and frozen from the supermarket. Fruit pies, cream pies, nut pies, custard pies— we love all kinds of pie.

What’s not to love?
Pie is edible nostalgia; a big slice of Americana. Seniors and baby boomers never lost a taste for it, and younger generations are drawn to its simplicity and authenticity. It’s straightforward value in a wayward economy. And if you have it à la mode, it’s like you’re getting away with two desserts in one.

What? No banana cream?
Apple pie is the perennial, overwhelming favorite. But there are plenty of shockers in the Pie Slice of Life Survey brought to us by the makers of Mrs. Smith’s frozen pies (you’ll find the survey’s corresponding favorite pie pie chart below). Pumpkin makes a mind-boggling appearance in second place, while cherry pie is relegated to a middling fourth place. Key lime and peach, the southern states’ favorites, both have strong showings. But where’s the strawberry-rhubarb or maybe a little something from the custard family?


You don’t have to agree with the survey to show your love for America’s favorite pie with an Apple Pi decal.

We have Luxirare to thank for the pastry insanity that is Pie Pops.

Is pie the new wedding cake?

This is my kind of pie chart.

pie chart of pies via Robyn Lee


Are you looking for some good pie (and really, who isn’t)? 
Click on your state to find pie recommendations and reviews submitted by the discerning members of the Pie-of-the-Month Club.

Map  of the U.S.


Fighting the good fight:
The American Pie Council works tirelessly to raise awareness, enjoyment, and consumption of pie. It’s the only organization committed to preserving America’s pie heritage and promoting American’s love affair with pies. 


Posted in dessert, food trends, funny | Leave a comment

Little Desserts are a Very Big Deal

mini s’mores via Cutest Food


Forget about ordering one dessert with four forks.

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

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

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

O.K., but just a sliver.

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

For the true fan of bitty foods, you can get an eyeful at Cutest Food, which promises a daily fix of cute.


It lost the light bulb but it’s still baking little cakes. Revisit the original mini dessert trend:  Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven.


image courtesy of


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

Posted in dessert, food trends | Leave a comment

Horse Meat Comes Off the Menu at NYC Restaurant

image via


I’m so hungry I could eat a…

Horse meat is off the menu at New York’s M. Wells Dinette. The restaurant’s celebrated French-Canadian chef-owner scuttled plans to serve horse meat tartare in response to outrage from animal rights advocates and concern about legal and health ramifications.

Last year Congress lifted a ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption. Until the ban went into effect just five years earlier the U.S. was one of the world’s largest horse meat producers, mostly shipping it to overseas markets, and had been for more than a century. But we’ve never been much for eating it.

Horse meat has long been taboo in the U.S., mostly for sentimental reasons.
It’s like the pets-or-food problem we have with rabbit; we don’t want to eat potential companions. There have been two notable exceptions in horse meat history: a widely mocked government promotion as a beef substitute when meat rations became scarce during World War II (earning Truman the nickname ‘Horse Meat Harry’); and the chicken-fried horse meat cutlets served at the Harvard Faculty Club until 1985.

Animal protection groups pressed Congress for the 2007 ban, but animal welfare was also one of the reasons for the ban to be lifted. Incidents of horse neglect, mistreatment, and abandonment had soared in the following years—animal welfare organizations have reported as much as a 60% spike—with most blaming the recession, since the proper maintenance of a horse is such a huge expense.

Even so, a horse slaughterhouse is a tough sell, and not just to New Yorkers. A new slaughterhouse has yet to open since Congress cleared the way; one application was withdrawn when a Missouri community protested, another is languishing in New Mexico with strong opposition from legislators; and in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that bans not just slaughterhouses, but even the transport of slaughterhouse-bound horses on his state’s roads.

Even with its new legal status, there is virtually no U.S. market for human consumption of horse meat. Horse meat is not kosher, questionably halal, and it’s forbidden by some Christian sects going back to the 8th Century when the Pope declaimed it as a “filthy and abominable” pagan custom. Its cause isn’t helped by the lack of a culinary cognate—meat from a pig is called pork, from a cow it’s called beef or veal, but meat from a horse is horse meat (although the practice of horse-eating is called hippophagy).

In case you’re curious, horse meat is said to taste similar to beef only sweeter and gamier with a mineral finish.

You might be surprised to learn that beyond horse meat, you can legally buy everything from camel to yak to zebra. Read all about it in Gigabiting’s How to Cook a Lion.

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

News and Booze


Newspaper and magazine wine clubs
The first time you saw one, it struck you as a bit odd. Then you saw another one. And another.
This is no ordinary brand extension. It’s not like selling crossword puzzle books or sponsoring a lecture series. It doesn’t flow naturally from the core business; in fact it can pair as jarringly as a big Cabernet with your sole meuniere.

The Wall Street Journal was the first major newspaper to offer a wine club membership, launching its Discovery Wine Club in 2008. Today there are dozens of publishers in the wine business, from the Dallas Morning News to Rolling Stone. Most of the clubs are open to readers and non-readers but offer special deals and promotions to their subscribers. The more successful clubs, like the Wall Street Journal’s, come from publications appealing to an affluent demographic with an affinity for fine wine; some, like USA Today’s, have been a total bust.

Some are natural pairings.
A wine club was a natural extension for Touring & Tasting, a lifestyle publication based in California’s wine country that can claim cozy, insider access to some of the area’s producers. Sunset Magazine has been writing about food and wine in California since the 19th century and sells the ‘kitchen-tested’ expertise of its wine club’s curation. And of course the club from the magazine Food & Wine comes from Food & Wine.

Rolling Stone and Playboy are two publications that are looking to build their lifestyle branding with wine clubs.
Rolling Stone calls its club Wines That Rock, with bottlings like ‘Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon,’ ‘The Police Synchronicity Red Blend,’ and ‘Woodstock Chardonnay,’ explaining that “Each wine we deliver is a reflection and interpretation of the music itself, inspired by legendary artists and the rock ‘n roll mythology behind these classic albums.”

Playboy has dipped its toe into the wine business before. There was a successful 2006 collaboration with Napa Valley’s Marilyn Wines that produced a Merlot with a peek-a-boo peel-off label based on Marilyn Monroe’s 1953-centerfold photo from the inaugural issue of the magazine. In 2008 Playboy sold a different high-end bottle each month with photo labels featuring vintage magazine covers from the 1960’s and ’70’s. A press release from Playboy Enterprises stresses the lifestyle connection of the new wine club:”We carefully select a handful of wines that represent the essence of the Playboy brand – delightfully jovial, indulgent and carefully crafted — while catering to the consumer’s desires to celebrate life and live it with a little style.” The wines are offered in themed ‘encounters’ like Blind Date (surprise selections), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (white varietals), and the Mansion Collection (a vertical tasting of Bordeaux).

For all their talk of ‘lifestyle,’ newspaper and magazine wine clubs are really about money, plain and simple. Paid circulation is down, advertising is going the way of the web, and newspapers and magazines haven’t quite cracked the monetization model for online content. Most of the publishers are just looking for a cork to plug the flow of red ink. With challenges to the traditional publishing business model coming from every direction, the hope is that this new revenue stream from wine clubs can help the old-line publications age as gracefully as the wines they are pushing.

Wall Street Journal Discovery Wine Club   Rolling Stone Wine Club   Playboy Wine Club   Dallas Morning News Wine Club   Touring and Tasting Wine Club   Sunset Wine Club  Food & Wine Wine Club


Posted in beer + wine + spirits, Entertainment, media | Leave a comment

Slower than a Canadian, Faster than a Swede

image via Harvey Ralph

Americans spend less time eating than just about anyone else on the planet. We’re also among the most overweight.

A graph has been making the rounds.
Taking data from a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it plots minutes spent eating per day versus national obesity rates (based on a body mass index of 30 or more). In the U.S. our eating and drinking add up to 75 minutes a day. We edge out portly Mexicans and Canadians, but don’t come close to the 2+ daily dining hours of the slender French.



Most of us have been hearing about this correlation for decades. Doctors and diet books have always warned us about the health hazards of eating too quickly;  your own mother probably used to plead with you to slow down at the dinner table. Now we see it playing out on a global level.

With hunger and fullness, like every other sensation and experience, we need our brains to tell us what our bodies are feeling.
It turns out that it’s not our stomachs telling us when we’re full, but our intestines. It takes a while for food to work its way down there—about 20 minutes from the time we start eating until the fullness trigger is tripped. The faster we eat, the more likely we are to overshoot the point of satiety. By the time our brains catch up, we’re stuffed.

Our bodies have a second mechanism built in to prevent overeating. It’s a hormone called leptin that drops when we’re hungry and rises when we’re full, also with a lag before the signal reaches the brain. When we eat quickly, the leptin hits our bloodstream too late to control our appetites; do it enough and we become resistant to its effects. The problem is that we still respond to the hunger cue of low leptin levels, so it becomes a constant cycle of overeating.

Breakfast to go, fast food drive-throughs, lunch at the keyboard, dinner in front of the television. It’s not that our brains  are out of synch with our bodies. The problem is that our lifestyle is out of sync with healthy eating.

Posted in fast food, health + diet | Leave a comment

Wine and Liquor Prices Are Falling, But Not On Menus

A restaurant wine list honestly translated via


$1 out of every $100 of American consumer spending goes to alcohol.
That number has held steady for decades.
What’s changed is where we spend it.

We’re spending less at wine shops and liquor stores but more in bars and restaurants. And it’s not that we’re going out so much more. Adjusted for inflation, the retail price of alcohol in stores has actually been dropping—by 39% since 1982—while bar and restaurant prices for wine and cocktails have risen by 79% during that same period. In 1982, less than one-quarter of our spending on alcohol was in bars and restaurants; today it’s closing in on one-half. (Inflation-adjusted beer prices and spending patterns have remained virtually unchanged since 1982, with spending equally divided between consumption at home and away).

To understand these two trends, we need to look at what happened during those years in the two sectors: bars and restaurants; and wine and liquor retailers.

Upward pricing pressure on bars and restaurants
Liquor prices have dropped but nearly everything else has gone up, like labor costs, real estate and rent, and liquor licensing. Bars and restaurants typically operate on very slim profit margins, and since there’s a limit to the number of tables that can be squeezed into a dining room, and bartenders can’t really mix drinks any faster, bar and restaurant owners have had little choice but to raise prices.

America’s increased interest in wine and high-end spirits helped pave the way for higher prices. In 1982 there were few sommeliers in American restaurants. More recently they’ve been instrumental in building pricier wine lists and selling costly bottles to a more knowledgeable base of customers. And restaurateurs know that there is little price resistance at the upper end of a wine list, where deep-pocketed customers are less likely to blink at the higher mark up added to special bottles. Contemporary cocktail culture mirrors wine with its emphasis on connoisseurship and rare, small-production labels, and has similarly pushed up prices for mixed drinks.

Downward pressure on retail prices
Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate calls this the ‘Age of the Buyer.’ There are favorable fundamentals: the recession and its lower disposable incomes for many has encouraged American producers of wine and spirits to keep a lid on prices. Then the Eurozone mess resulted in more favorable exchange rates, driving down the price of European imports and creating even more pricing competition. And in the 30 years since 1982, the federal excise tax on alcohol has only been increased once, effectively shrinking it by more than 80% in current dollars.

And the biggest squeeze of all has come from the internet.
The proliferation of online retailers has turned us into savvy shoppers, comparing prices across hundreds of sites and hunting down deep discounts through flash sales. Access to high-quality vintages and single barrel single malts used to require a personal relationship and an invitation to the back room; now it’s a wholly democratized affair, and nobody needs to pay the sticker price.

Restaurants and bars continue to treat us like a captive audience. Price markups haven’t wavered from a standard three times wholesale for a bottle of wine (more for a single glass) and five times the wholesale price of ingredients for cocktails. But all that will change as more of us walk in armed with a bargain-hunter’s mentality and mobile apps for cocktail and wine lists.


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

20 All-Time Greatest Food Inventions

Electrolux Refrigerator Ad, 1931 


What’s the greatest thing since sliced bread?
The Royal Society— the UK’s national academy of science whose Fellows include Prince Charles, Stephen Hawking, and more than 80 Nobel laureates—betters that by 20.

The Royal Society Fellows challenged themselves to answer the question What are the most important inventions and innovations in culinary history?
They looked at discoveries and developments that changed the way we eat, but to make the list, an invention also needed to change the way we live.

Based on contributions to accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health, these are the Royal Society’s picks for the top 20 innovations in the history of food and drink, from the dawn of time to the present:

  1.  Refrigeration
  2.  Pasteurization/sterilization
  3.  Canning
  4.  The oven
  5.  Irrigation
  6.  Threshing machine/combine harvester
  7.  Baking
  8.  Selective breeding/strains
  9.  Grinding/milling
  10.  The plow
  11.  Fermentation
  12.  The fishing net
  13.  Crop rotation
  14.  The pot
  15.  The knife
  16.  Eating utensils
  17.  The cork
  18.  The barrel
  19.  The microwave oven
  20.  Frying

I do hate to quibble, especially with the eminent scientists and technologists of the Royal Society Fellows, but clearly there are more Nobel laureates than cooks in that group. The microwave oven? The cork?

Personally, I can’t imagine life without my immersion blender, although I do recognize that it’s not exactly a building block of civilization. But even using the standards of the Royal Society, based on the criteria of accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health, I would juggle the list to make room for the thermometer, recipe standardization, the advent of restaurants, and maybe coffee brewing.

Think about the ways in which the personal computer and the internet have transformed modern cooking and eating in just the last decade. Only time will tell which of our modern innovations will really matter in the larger scheme of things, and which will be relegated to cluttering the kitchen cabinets of culinary history.

Posted in appliances + gadgets, Science/Technology | 2 Comments

Starbucks Promotes Its New Coffee That Doesn’t Taste Like Coffee

roasted and unroasted coffee beans image via .


Customers have long complained that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt. Apparently, the company has been listening. Maybe a little too well. Starbucks is rolling out new beverages made from unroasted, green coffee beans.

What, you might ask, does unroasted coffee taste like? Apparently not much. According to Starbucks’ vice president of global beverage Julie Felss Masino, “It’s coffee that doesn’t taste like coffee.” In fact, the company refers to the green coffee extract as ‘flavor neutral.’ It also doesn’t have a coffee aroma, and contains a mere fraction of the caffeine. And the point of this new beverage is…?

Starbucks is selling two flavors of the iced, green coffee beverage called Refreshers. Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus get their flavor from added fruit juice and are sweetened with stevia.

Green coffee bean beverages aren’t exactly new. Like green tea, green coffee beans are  the youngest and least processed form that, on their own, produce a grassy, astringent brew. And like green tea, they have a longer history in Eastern cultures where they are prized mostly for medicinal uses. Recently, green coffee and its extracts have been available in weight-loss aides, and Nestlé has been selling its Nescafé Green Blend, containing one-third green beans to two-thirds roasted, which it promotes for the health benefits provided by high levels of naturally-occurring antioxidants.

Next time you want a cup of coffee that doesn’t taste like coffee, smell like coffee, or pack much of a caffeine punch, you know right where to go.



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Shouldn’t Robots Be Serving Us Dinner By Now?

(Rosie from The Jetsons; WA-7 from Dex’s Diner, Star Wars II Attack of the Clones; robot Woody Allen from Sleeper; Mr. Waiter concept design)

Where are our kitchen robots?
From Isaac Asimov to The Stepford Wives, there’s been the fantasy of an anthropomorphized household domestic to make our lives easier.
Then last week we watched while a robot performed a daring, elaborate landing sequence that put us on Mars. Since then the Mars Rover has been scoping out the planet and sending pictures and status updates from its own Twitter account (@MarsCuriosity).
I’m just looking for a little help around the house. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Here in the U.S. we’ve kind of stalled at the Roomba vacuum and the dancing robot mouse at Chuck E. Cheese. There is far more enthusiasm for the kitchen robot concept in Asia.

Harbin, China’s Haohai Robot Restaurant has 18 robot waiters and cooks that perform nearly every task in the restaurant. Most are single purpose: there are dumpling bots and noodle bots, a host bot that greets and seats, and a bot that scrubs the pots. Each can work a five hour shift on a single battery charge. takes just two robots to run FuA-Men Restaurant in Nagoya, Japan. But then again, the menu has just one item—a bowl of ramen in pork broth. Named for its Fully Automated Men, the owner claims that it’s a perfect bowl every time because of the robots’ “accuracy of timing in boiling noodles, precise movements in adding toppings and consistency of the taste and temperature of the soup.”

At the MK Restaurant chain in Thailand, about a dozen of the franchise owners opted to staff their restaurants with Yumbo. The Linux-based robot simulates a young teenager with an after-school job; he’s shorter than average with a youthful voice and big bright eyes on a video screen head. He carries trays of food from the kitchen and buses tables afterward. Dalu Robot Restaurant in China’s Shandong province didn’t need a traditional serving staff but just a delivery system to get the raw food to the tables. It’s a hot pot eatery where diners select their ingredients and cook their own meals by dipping various vegetables and meats into pots of broth, oil, and chilis. The robots, which resemble a gold-plated Klaatu from ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ circulate through the dining room on bicycle-powered food carts, pausing for deliveries when diners flag them down.

A robot in every kitchen? If these restaurants are any indication, I’d say not so soon.
At this point, robots are no different than bread makers and pasta machines—nice to have, but they’re still just the one-trick ponies of the kitchen. Like all too many appliances and gadgets, they’re uni-taskers. I’m sure electric crepe pans and strawberry hullers have their devoted fans, and they make perfect sense for a restaurant with strawberry crepes on the menu, but they have no business squandering space in most people’s kitchens.

Give me a humanoid version of the smartphone and an app store stocked with dishwashing, table setting, and onion chopping. Then we can talk.
Until then, I’ll stick with my Twitter relationship with the Mars Rover.




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

The Frozen Drinks of Summer: More Fat than a Pint of 1/2 and 1/2

We used to know where we stood with our frozen drinks:
A milkshake
was a stand-in for an ice cream dessert when you didn’t feel like a cone.
Smoothies were a nutritious meal replacement for the health and fitness crowd.
Slushies were strictly for the playground set.

Now it’s not so clear. Today’s frozen drinks can be all of those things rolled into one Big Gulp-sized cup. Take a look at the Dunkin’ Donuts Frozen Coffee with Cream, a cup ‘o Joe that is as calorie-dense as a spaghetti and meatballs dinner, with the fat content of two cups of half-and-half, and more sugar than an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.

Here are some of the most popular summer sips posed next to desserts that contain the same amounts of sugar as the beverages.


Dairy Queen Caramel MooLatté
24fl oz, 112 grams of sugar, 945 calories
equivalent to a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts Bavarian Kreme-filled donuts



Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Soda
28.6 fl oz, 136 grams of sugar, 830 calories
equivalent to
10 Fudgesicles


Krispy Kreme Lemon Sherbet Chiller
20 fl oz, 115 grams of sugar, 980 calories
equivalent to
11 chocolate eclairs



Così Double Oh! Arctic Mocha 
23 fl oz, 240 grams of sugar, 662 calories
equivalent to
41 Oreos (you’re into a second package)



McDonald’s Triple Thick Chocolate Shake
32 fl oz (that would be a quart!), 168 grams of sugar 1,160 calories
equivalent to
 13 McDonald’s apple pies



Smoothie King Peanut Power Plus Grape
40 fl oz, 214 grams of sugar, 1,460 calories
equivalent to 20 Reese’s peanut butter cups



Cold Stone PB&C (peanut butter and chocolate shake)
24 fl oz, 140 grams of sugar, 1750 calories
equivalent to 30 Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies



The next time you quench your thirst with one of these frosty beverages, ask yourself: is it a snack? Dessert?  A meal replacement or a meal enhancement? You decide.

[all images via World Of Mysteries]

Posted in snack foods | Leave a comment

How to Eat Roadkill

Guinea Fowl crossing the road via My Retirement Chronicles


Should we eat roadkill?
In theory, it’s an excellent exercise in ethics, environmentalism, and self-reliance.
Why leave it to rot when you can take it home and cook it for dinner?

According to PETA, roadkill is a better choice than the factory-farmed, shrink-wrapped product you find in the supermarket. The group recommends it from a health standpoint, because it doesn’t contain antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants. And it’s the more humane option because the animals haven’t been castrated, dehorned, debeaked, or suffered through any of the other horrors of intensive animal agriculture.

Perhaps you prefer the term flat meat.
Roadkill is fresh, organic, and free. It was clearly free-ranging, as some unlucky driver knows all too well. It’s sustainable and supportable through an enlightened political ideology, and there’s plenty of it—according to estimates by Animal People Online, the annual roadkill toll tops 100 million animals, and that’s not even counting the species categorized ever so delicately as indiscernible.

The legality of taking home roadkill varies by state.
Alaska considers it state property but residents can get on a waiting list for a moose, caribou, or bear; Illinois says the driver gets first dibs, though the privilege is only extended to state residents; Texas had to outlaw roadkill because of too many not-quite accidents; and in Tennessee, on the day that the legislature legalized the taking of roadkill, the state senator who had introduced the bill was presented with a bumper sticker: Cat—The Other White Meat.

Tastes just like chicken.
Steve Rinella, who collided with and then stewed up a raccoon for an episode of his now surprisingly defunct Travel Channel show The Wild Within says that “[roadkilled] meat is actually much fresher than what you might find in a grocery store.” The wiki How to Eat Roadkill recommends that you “learn the signs of healthy roadkill”: it should be freshly killed, preferably from an accident you witness, although you get some slack time in the winter months; you want a fresh stench, since the impact can force excrement rapidly through the animal’s digestive tract; and fleas are a good sign, maggots are not. And not to worry about rabies—sure, it’s a deadly communicable virus that infects the central nervous system, but the wiki tells us that it dies off quickly with the animal.

Should we eat roadkill?
Waste not, want not, right?

Posted in cook + dine, sustainability, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

Are You a Coffee Person or a Tea Person?

image via Chonostöff


Tea is the most popular beverage on the planet.
But not in the U.S. where it’s way down the list behind soda, coffee, beer, and milk.
Industry experts still point to the Boston Tea Party to explain this cultural divide. While it’s true that prior to that long ago rebellion we drank more tea, maybe we are simply a nation of coffee-drinkers by character and choice.

These are two drinks with a lot of similarities—both hot, caffeinated, and soothing—but two very different cultural identities:
Tea is mild and genteel, evocative of bone china and extended pinkies. It’s white gloves, ladies’ lunches, and fussy rituals.
Coffee is fast-paced and tough-minded. It’s hard work and hard luck, lonesome highways and Hopper’s desolate nighthawks.

A pair of behaviorists and a neurologist drill even deeper. They say that your caffeine fix of choice reveals your psyche and temperament. They’ve dissected the different personalities associated with different coffee drinks.

Black coffee /espresso drinkers are not the easiest of personalities. They can be moody, minimalist, and direct, and they don’t appreciate frills or sugar-coating.

Cappuccino drinkers are passionate and warm but easily bored. They are big thinkers who often flake on the details, are optimistic, and enjoy their creature comforts.

Latte lovers can have a childlike side—maybe a fondness for fuzzy toys or a propensity for baby talk. They are generous in relationships, spend time pondering life’s big questions, and have a hard time making decisions.

Mocha drinkers love to be in love but hate to make commitments. They are insightful and compassionate to those around them, but are short on reliability.

Frappucino drinkers like to mix things up. They seek trendy experiences, big adventures, and never turn down a challenge. They are socially successful, but do best in life when there’s a partner to keep impulses in check.

According to the research, instant coffee drinkers, if there are any of these still around, are straight-shooters who laugh easily and keep their socks on during sex.

And what are tea drinkers like? You could characterize the entire tea sipping population as patient. For years they waited in lines behind the coffee crowd and their tedious orders, then stood by for the all the hissing and swishing while the barista carved a scale model of the White House atop a foamy concoction. Finally they would get to pay $3.00 for a cup of hot water and a tea bag.

But now it’s their turn. Starbucks has announced the opening of its first tea-only cafe with 80 mix-and-match varieties of loose tea leaves and a full menu of tea-based specialty drinks. The hope of course is to make tea the next coffee.
For now there are 17,000 Starbucks coffee outlets and one Starbucks tea shop.



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Intelligent Kids Grow Up to Drink More Alcohol

image via The United Nations of Beer


It seems contradictory, but it’s true.
The smartest kids are the ones who grow up to consume more alcohol, more frequently. They are more likely than less intelligent individuals to drink to get drunk and to engage in binge drinking.

These are the findings of two highly respected, long-term studies: the National Childhood Development Study from the United Kingdom and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the United States. Both studies defined high intelligence as a childhood IQ of 125 and above; both studies controlled for a huge number of variables in both the kids and their families (including age, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, marital status, social status, education, earnings, political attitudes, stress factors, religiosity, physical and mental health, medications, socialization, and sexual activity). The findings held true: smarter kids drink more as adults, and it appears that it’s their intelligence itself that makes them drink more.

On the face of it, this makes no sense: obviously these very smart people are familiar with the potential dangers of heavy alcohol consumption. The researchers reported the data, but offered no explanations. Hypotheses abound.

Psychology Today theorizes that it’s all about evolution. They argue that alcohol is a relatively recent invention in human history. Until 10,000 years ago, drunkenness was a mostly unintentional state that occurred when our ancestors ate rotten and fermented fruit. In an evolutionary sense, the deliberate creation and consumption of alcohol is a modern invention that has been embraced by the leading edge of highly intelligent early adopters.

Another evolutionary theory posits that people of higher intelligence can take more pleasure from the mind-altering experience of drunkenness. Their brains are equipped to process a broader range of stimuli and novelty than are the brains of the less intelligent.

Addiction expert Stanton Peele suggests that individuals of lesser intelligence are more susceptible to public health and educational messages warning of the dangers of alcohol. They might also have swallowed the myth that alcohol kills brain cells.

The Journal of Advanced Academics links drinking to the difficult adolescence of highly intelligent teenagers. They are more prone than mainstream kids to experience depression and social isolation and commonly use alcohol to self-medicate.

Or maybe, it’s just that once they’ve outgrown those awkward years they want to cut loose and make up for all the high school parties they weren’t invited to.



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It’s Not Beer; It’s Wine on Tap

image via Washington Wine Report


Don’t sneer. Don’t condescend. Just belly up to the bar for a cold one drawn straight from the tap. Proponents of the draft wine trend swear that tasting is believing.

Kegged wine is nothing new.
It’s been common in Europe for centuries, and has been floating around California’s wine-growing regions for a few decades. Now you’ll find it from coast to coast in thousands of restaurants, wine bars, and neighborhood pubs. It has advantages that are economic, environmental, and even quality-related that recommend it to both the high and low ends of the food and beverage industry.

Kegged wine starts out like any wine.
But at the end of the barreling stage, instead of heading to a bottle, it’s transferred directly into stainless steel kegs, usually holding the equivalent of about 26 bottles of wine each. Once tapped, it works like a beer keg minus the pressure required for carbonation; a flavorless gas pushes the wine from keg to tap and occupies the empty space in the keg to prevent oxidation. Once the kegs are empty, they’re returned to their respective wineries to be cleaned and re-used.

The economics of kegged wine are clear.
Skipping the bottling process allows the wineries to save nearly a third of their costs in both labor and materials, and reduces shipping costs. The lower costs are passed to the restaurants that see further savings from easier storage, less breakage, waste, and spoilage, and ease of serving.

The environmental benefits are numerous.
The transported weight of kegs is a fraction of bottle weight, saving fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions. Corks, foils, labels, and case packaging is eliminated, so there is less manufacturing and printing, and a lot less cardboard to recycle.

And then there’s the bottles.
80% of all restaurant wine is sold by the glass generating 600 million empty bottles per year, and less than a third are recovered for recycling. If even a small fraction of that was served from kegs, it would keep tens of millions of bottles out of landfills every year.

Of course it all comes down to taste.
Wines that benefit from bottle aging aren’t candidates for kegging, but the vast majority of wines are ready to drink at the point of bottling. Some wines even benefit from the large format of kegging in the same way that subtle tasting nuances can appear when wine is bottled as a magnum or jeroboam rather than a standard bottle. And there are no quality issues related to storage, corking, or oxidation; the taste is consistent from the keg’s start to finish.

Also, the wine industry has been careful not to keg just any old vinous liquid. In fact the wines available on tap are often an improvement over the typical by-the-glass offerings because the lower wholesale cost and higher profit margin for kegged wines has allowed restaurants to actually upgrade their selection without raising prices.

The only real barrier is consumer resistance.
Remember that a just few years ago wine drinkers were raising a stink over screw caps replacing cork bottle closures. Now the caps are found on the precious bottles of California’s top-tier producers and have even made inroads in tradition-bound France. You’re not sure about wine on tap? You’ll get over it.











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Celebrity Coffee Brands: Not Your Average Joe


Any self-respecting consumer of pop culture knows it: celebrities love coffee.
Peruse the photos of a supermarket tabloid and you’ll find ample proof. Undersized fashion models with oversized lattes, LA actresses cooling off from yoga class with their post-Vinyasa iced chai, and the familiar sight of Britney Spears toting a Starbucks Frappuccino. Now it’s gone from celebrity accessory to celebrity brand as bold names are appearing on bags of beans.

Director David Lynch has the credentials for his David Lynch Signature Cup Organic Coffee. He claims a coffee obsession of long standing; for a period he routinely drank 20 cups a day. He has also famously endowed many of his fictional characters with a love of coffee. Jackman and Leonardo DiCaprio both took inspiration from Paul Newman, the grandaddy of philanthropic celebrity food venturers whose  Newman’s Own has donated millions to charity. Jackman’s Laughing Man Coffee donates 50% of its profits to educational inititatives, while DiCaprio’s Lyon, a proprietary blend from La Colombe Torrefaction coffee roasters gives 100% to his family foundation that works on a variety of environmental and humanitarian issues.


Rob Zombie: scary metal musician, horror filmmaker, and now coffee roaster? The beans are organic and fair trade certified, and you can pick up a bag at the online Rob Zombie Store amid the death skull lunch boxes and lunatic-with-an-axe t shirts.

The band KISS also has a line of coffee, but unlike Zombie’s sustainably-sourced, single origin beans, the Kiss Coffeehouse line comes as artificially flavored ground coffee in varieties like Rocky Road and blueberry coffeecake. Read into that what you will.

16 OZ Bag of Possum Coffee - Click Image to Close

The Tennessee-roasted Possum Coffee rests a little awkwardly on the shoulders of country music icon George Jones. Yes, we know that his nickname is Ol’ Possum, but it still makes for an unappealing brand name. Never much of a coffee drinker, Jones is better known for his boozing— legend has it that when his wife would hide the car keys to keep him from bar-hopping he would head out on his riding mower—but at $10 a pound, it’s the bargain of the celebrity brands. want to like Marley Coffee. It’s the product of Rohan, the son of the late, great Bob Marley, the beloved and revered reggae musician who gave a political and cultural voice to indigenous communities throughout the world. But…the roasts are given hokey names referencing his father’s lyrics like Lively Up 5 Bean Espresso and Buffalo Soldier Dark Roast. A multi-pack of single-serve pods is called the One Love Breakroom Pack, and a subscription is known as Monthly Marley. Blasphemy!



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Food Tastes Different in Noisy Restaurants

image via Synergy Consultants


A widely circulated study reported in the journal Food Quality and Preference concluded that background noise affects the taste of food.
We didn’t need a study to tell us.

Drink a glass of wine in a crowded, noisy bar.
Now sit down in a quiet dining room and have another glass.
These are two entirely different experiences. In fact, you’ll swear you’re drinking two different wines.

The study found that loud ambient noise makes flavors lose their intensity. Sweet foods taste less sweet and salty foods taste less salty. The researchers attribute this to the distraction—the noise seems to overwhelm the senses, drowning out the taste of food in the same way as it drowns out conversation.

Bring in ‘da noise
Nothing says fun like clattering dishes, chattering diners, and a pounding bass line. Some restaurateurs will cultivate the noise level to signify that the place has a buzz; it’s busy and lively and happening. Sedate and quiet feels empty. Raucous draws in customers who will want to be there because so many other people feel the same way.

The up-sell of sound
Louder and faster music makes us eat and drink faster. One study found that when music is played at 72 decibels (equivalent to the background noise of a vacuum cleaner), people drink at a rate of one glass of beer or wine per 14.5 minutes. Crank the music up to 88 decibels (equivalent to the noise of busy street traffic) and 4 minutes is shaved off the time it takes to finish a drink. And they’re not just drinking faster to flee the ruckus; consumption increases from 2.6 to 3.4 drinks in the same period of time.

We also chew faster when the music is fast and loud, accelerating from 3.83 bites a minute to 4.4 bites a minute. Of course it’s difficult to talk over the volume, so there tends to be less conversation to slow us down, but it seems that the ambient energy works to energize us. Some restaurants, like Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill, have pre-programmed their sound systems to raise the tempo and volume of music at peak times, when people are waiting and they want to turn tables quicker.

Sound check
Loud background noise is stressful. It changes your heart rate, elevates blood pressure and increases breathing rates. The fallout can linger long after you’ve left a restaurant, intensifying the effects of alcohol and interfering with sleep. And audiologists agree that regular exposure to sound levels above 90 decibels—typical of a bustling bar/restaurant, which can hit brief peaks as high as 140 db—leads to permanent hearing loss.

When Zagat asked its survey respondents “What irritates you most about dining out?” restaurant noise ranked second, just after poor service—that’s more dissatisfaction than reported for food, prices, or any other aspect of ambiance. Restaurant reviewers from publications like the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle now routinely carry sound meters into restaurants, and report decibels along with the stars.

Next time, I’ll have the steak frites and a side of earplugs, please.



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Cool New Cooling Gadgets

How do you cool the drinks when it’s hot outside?
Mankind has wrestled with this one from the beginning of time. From fire and ice, radiation and resistance, to exothermic and endothermic reactions, we’ve tried it all. We’ve put a man on the moon, so why does it still take hours to chill a can of PBR or a bottle of Pinot Grigio?

Here are the latest gadgets to cool down your summer beverages.


Cool on the go with the Koolatron mobile wine chiller. It plugs into a car outlet with a 12V plug and 5-foot power cord, and chills a standard sized wine or champagne bottle down to 40 degrees F in about half an hour.

Japan’s Kirin Brewery has created the world’s first frozen beer foam. It dispenses from a tap like soft serve ice cream. It tops draft beer with an ice cold frothy head and creates an insulating lid that keeps a pint cold for up to 30 minutes. The foam is made by aerating and freezing regular beer to 23 degrees, so there’s no dilution as it melts.

The Instant Wine Chiller cools the wine instead of the bottle. Pull the gadget out of your freezer and attach the pourer to the neck of a bottle. Best for reds, as the wine passes through its internal coil system it’s cooled by 15 degrees— taking wine from room temperature to cellar temperature instantaneously. The chiller is made from the same stainless steel used for fermentation tanks, promising to maintain the wine’s taste and characteristics.

The Corkcicle also targets the wine, not the bottle, and does it a bottle at a time. You pre-freeze the Corkcicle, a BPA-free plastic icicle filled with non-toxic freeze gel and attached to a cork. Open a bottle and replace the cork with the apparatus.

The Beer 90 Chiller promises a cold one in 90 seconds. Fill the chiller with ice and drop in a can. Crank the handle to spin the canister. It creates a whirlpool effect inside the can that accelerates cooling by exposing all the beer to the now-chilled surface of the can. By the time you work up a thirst, the beer is icy cold. Alternatively, you can go with the Tinchilla; it operates on the same principle of thermal conduction, but a pair of AA batteries will do the work for you.


With Wine Chill Drops you can have a glass while you wait for the rest of the bottle to chill. Their manufacturer claims they cool a single glass in one-twentieth the time it takes to chill a whole bottle in the refrigerator. Place one pre-frozen drop in a glass of wine and remove it when the wine reaches the desired temperature.


The beverage industry has long considered the self-cooling can to be the holy grail of chilling technology.
Pepsi Cola thought it had cracked the code in 1998 with the Chill Can, but cancelled its plans when the can was challenged by environmentalists over its use of a greenhouse gas-contributing refrigerant coolant. Then in 2006, Miller Brewing launched its I.C. (Instant Cool) can. After much celebrating and fanfare, it was also scuttled due to environment and design concerns.
They’re at it again.

The Chill Can will be re-introduced this spring. West Coast Chill will be shipping its all-natural energy drink in a new and improved version in which the harmful refrigerant has been replaced with an environmentally innocuous process involving activated carbon derived from organic renewable vegetable materials, and carbon dioxide reclaimed from the atmosphere. Press a tab on the can and the temperature of the liquid inside will decrease by 30ºF within three minutes.

West Coast Chill has not publicly released details of its patented technology, but the website has an explanation of the science behind heat exchange units. The company is promising to provide special recycle bins wherever the drink is sold since traditional recycling can’t be utilized.


Posted in appliances + gadgets, beer + wine + spirits | 1 Comment

The Worldwide Vanilla Shortage is Coming

Vanilla, we hardly knew ye.
And now we’re heading into a worldwide vanilla shortage.

Yields are down by as much as 90% in every one of the world’s vanilla-growing regions. Supplies are dwindling and nervous buyers are bidding wholesale prices up into the stratosphere.
You won’t have vanilla to kick around anymore.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!
In a world of chocolate this and chocolate that, vanilla’s always been the quiet one. It’s plain vanilla, a name that’s synonymous with dullness. In finance, vanilla is the most basic investment with no special features; in sex talk, vanilla refers to the straightforward, routine variety. It’s the missionary position of flavors, the Treasury bond paying a reliable 3½%, the mousy girl with glasses that sat in the second row of English class and edited the yearbook.

Vanilla is the girl next door to chocolate’s Casanova.
It’s not a rich, dark seducer that can send you into a swoon, but something sweet and familiar. It can only be fully appreciated with closer attention to nuance and depth. It possesses complexity and exoticism that need to be teased out, but it’s well worth the effort.

Vanilla adds dimension and aroma to recipes. It infuses baked goods with a deep mellow sweetness and pulls out tasty brown sugar and caramel notes. It cuts acidity in savory foods (try it in tomatoey dishes like chili or spaghetti sauce). Coca Cola isn’t Coca Cola without vanilla extract (witness the vanilla-less New Coke debacle), and even chocolate needs vanilla to bring out its chocolate flavor.

What does the coming vanilla shortage mean?
So far, about 40% of this year’s vanilla harvest has shipped, and it amounted to just 1,000 tons of pods. The year’s total will clearly fall far short of the 6,000 tons that shipped in total during 2011. Most of the early crop was sold at prices locked in by contract at $40 per kilo, but prices for much of the remaining crop will float at free market rates. The last time we saw a harvest failure in 2004, vanilla prices climbed from $25 per kilo to $500.

The U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer of vanilla, gobbling up more than half of global production. Even if we could buy up the entire 2012 harvest, there wouldn’t be enough to go around. With maybe 60% of all vanilla expected to ship to us, it will be in very short supply.

Expect to see higher prices for candy and baked goods and more use of synthetic vanillin and other artificial flavors. Ice cream manufacturers are expected to be hit hardest, especially in the premium category where natural vanilla flavoring is crucial. And for all our talk of chocolate, plain vanilla is the perennial favorite, accounting for nearly one-third of all ice cream sold.


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In Pursuit of Imperfection

image via MissOmniMedia


There’s a show on the Food Network in Canada called Dinner Party Wars:

Dinner Party Wars invites you to enjoy a deliciously hilarious hour of wining, dining and undermining as three couples go head to head in a ruthless, no-holds-barred dinner party competition. Hidden cameras capture every detail as testy guests come to blows and taste buds are either tickled or tortured.

A Canadian chef and a British etiquette expert serve as arbiters of taste and style by mocking, critiquing, and choosing an eventual winner from competitions like Gnocchi Knockdown and Chicken Bingo.

This is home entertaining as a full contact sport.
It’s soulless competition, a manifestation of our over-heated pursuit of foodie trophies that has turned dining into an emblem of status and lifestyle. And it’s a far cry from the simple pleasures of sharing a hand-crafted meal with friends.

It’s easy to see where we lost our way.
It started with Martha—the one we love to hate and hate to love. Martha Stewart taught us to sweat the details with her asparagus bundles braided with strands of chive. She instilled in us her mania for perfection and armed us with stencils, X-acto knives, and a carpenter’s level to decorate cookies.

Then the foodies took over. We learned to critique every morsel, abandoning genuine gustatory pleasures as we vet the preparation and provenance of each locally-grown, artisan-crafted, bee-friendly bite. Entertaining is fraught with political correctness and one-upmanship knowing that you’ll be drummed out of polite society if you serve the wrong coffee.

Dinner party perfection should be at most aspirational. We shouldn’t expect to reproduce the slick pages of Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart Living any more than a reader of Playboy expects to date a Playmate.
And in any case there’s always a lot of air-brushing going on.

Our current favorite antidote to dinner host anxiety is Kinfolk.
The magazine, online journal, iPad app, and monthly dinner series celebrate the soul of the dinner party. It’s about artistry, yes, but it’s scaled back to a simple elegance. Like the other publications, you’ll find recipes, table settings, and shopping resources, but it’s more inspirational than instructional. There’s nothing super-human about any of it. Feet on the ground, sleeves rolled up, and you’ll get there by dinner time.


Posted in cook + dine, food trends, home | Leave a comment
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