January 3, 2012
A new year is here and we are all looking forward to what 2012 might bring—namely with regards to food. (Is there be a condiment revolution brewing? Will it be televised?) But before we get too caught up in looking ahead, let’s look back at the past 12 months here on Food and Think. Lisa recently rounded up a list of her favorite posts from the past year, but now let’s look at the most popular posts among our readers in 2011.
1. Why Don’t Other Countries Use Ice Cubes? Lisa posed and explored the question about why the custom of using those little bricks of frozen water to chill drinks is so big here in the States but not so much in other parts of the world. Perhaps it’s because they take up too much space in a glass that could otherwise be occupied by the actual drink, or because—at least in hotter countries—hot drinks can actually be used to cool a person down.
2. Four Deadly Disasters Caused By Food Be it a flood of molasses crashing through the streets at 35 miles per hour or exploding flour mills, food can be seriously destructive—and deadly. However, in looking at the comments thread, I have to wonder if there was more interest in the verbiage than in the image of people being swept away by a floods of molasses or beer.
3. Five Ways to Eat Persimmons What does one do with those brilliant orange fruits? Sure, you can eat them on their own, but why not up the ante a bit with a few of these ideas—which include salads, mixed drinks and desserts. And be sure to know which type of persimmon you’re buying before you chow down. Unripe hachyia persimmons might completely kill your interest.
4. The Sweet Sound of Vegetables Thankfully, the members of this Vienna-based musical group didn’t listen to that age-old parental admonishment: “Don’t play with your food!” Looking to the produce aisle for inspiration, they find musicality in a variety of veggies which are crafted into instruments and used in live performances.
5. Five Ways to Cook with Pumpkin We’ve all done the pie. It’s great, won’t knock it—but come on, there’s gotta be more that this squash can do. From eating the seeds, to using them in soups and baking, you can show a much broader appreciation for pumpkin in your kitchen.
6. The File Inside the Cake: True Tales of Prison Escape Baking a file inside a cake as a means to get out of jail might sound like the cliched stuff of Saturday morning cartoons. Well, it turns out that jailbirds actually have used baked goods as a means to fly the coop.
7. Five Ways to Eat Cadbury Crème Eggs Those little chocolate eggs with the gooey white and yellow filling are one of the ultimate guilty pleasure foods come Easter. But why satisfy yourself with eating them as is? Deviled, fried or in a McFlurry (in certain markets), there are lots more ways to use these seasonal sugar bombs.
8. Tastes Like Disco To celebrate her husband’s 33rd birthday, Lisa did some culinary detective work to craft a dinner menu straight from 1978. (Seems the heavy cream sauces should remain in the past.) Paired with a playlist including the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and the Bee Gees, a birthday meal doesn’t get groovier than this.
9. Why Did Jewish Communities Take to Chinese Food? A somewhat tongue-in-cheeck sociological study offers insight into the trend of Jewish families dining out at Chinese restaurants. At least in part, Chinese cooking can abide by kosher law and the restaurants themselves served as safe havens for people dealing with antagonism from a largely Christian nation.
10. Hamburger: The Quintessential American Meal Ah, the humble hamburger: where did it come from and why did diners in this country show the little slab of beef on a bun so much love? Between some clever marketing from early hamburger restauranteurs and the fact that the dish is a remarkably versatile creative medium, what’s not to love?
December 20, 2011
If you’re Jewish—and maybe even if you’re not—there’s an excellent chance that you will eat latkes sometime before the end of Hanukkah next week (it starts tonight). I fully support this: Latkes are delicious. It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without them. (I’m going with a zucchini-potato version this year to fit in with my low-carb pregnancy diet.) But are you going to eat them all eight nights of the festival of lights? Probably not.
I’ve been thinking it’s time to throw some new food traditions into the Hanukkah mix. I have a few ideas to propose:
Have a fryapalooza. The reason latkes are so associated with the holiday is that they’re fried, evoking the miracle of the oil that was supposed to last no more than one night but lasted for eight. So why stop at shredded potatoes? Have a fried-food fest that would put the Iowa State Fair to shame.
There are at least two ways you could go here. One is down-home, with fried pickles from Homesick Texan; corn dogs from Average Betty (using Hebrew National wieners, of course); Paula Deen’s Southern fried chicken; and don’t forget your veggies—Grit magazine’s fried zucchini, perhaps. For dessert, if you and your guests aren’t doubled over with stomachaches by this time, may I suggest funnel cakes, those crispy fried dough treats dusted with powdered sugar? Moms Who Think shows you how to make them.
Another way to go would be a world tour of fried food. Mediterranean appetizers could include Spanish-inspired smoky fried chickpeas from Food52 or Italian fried olives from Giada De Laurentiis. Japanese tempura vegetables have a lighter, more delicate flavor than their Western counterparts; Leite’s Culinaria shares a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s new vegetable cookbook Plenty (which I’m hoping Hanukkah Harry brings me). And, though less famous than the cheesy Swiss version, fondue bourguignonne, where pieces of meat are speared on a fondue fork and cooked in hot oil, lets your guests get interactive. Make your final stop in Israel for a dessert that really is a Hanukkah tradition, the jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot; Chow shows how it’s done.
Whichever way you decide to go, this fatty menu should probably be followed by a juice cleanse. Of course, you could always space these recipe ideas out over the course of the holiday instead of eating them all in one go. But where’s the fun in that?
Dip it, don’t fry it. There’s no rule that says oil is only for frying. In fact, as Italians and other people from around the Mediterranean have long known, some oil is just too delicious to waste by heating away its flavor. You could host an olive oil tasting party with quality oils and slices of good bread, then follow the tasting with a meal of salads and other dishes that highlight the star ingredient. Kim Vallée and Fine Cooking magazine both offer suggestions for pulling it off.
Eat a miracle (fruit). Unlike the Passover story, which requires the whole Haggadah to explain, the Hanukkah story is told succinctly by the dreidel, the spinning top with four sides spelling out in Hebrew, “A great miracle happened there.” Although the name has more to do with marketing than divine intervention, so-called miracle fruit is pretty neat anyway. Miracle fruit is a West African berry that temporarily alters the way you perceive flavors, turning everything sweet—even something as sour as a lemon—for a while. It’s similar, though much more dramatic, to what happens when you eat an artichoke. The berries are available frozen, dried or in tablet form, or you can buy seedlings and grow your own. You could turn the evening into a game, serving an array of foods, some with bitter or sour flavors, and asking blindfolded guests to guess what they are.
October 5, 2011
Every year I try to plan ahead and think up a clever Halloween costume, only to end up rushing around the day before a party trying to scrape up something passable. It helps to have a theme; one year I was invited to a “one-hit wonders” party, to which I went as Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, with leg warmers, an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and a welding mask. The food world is also rife with costume potential. Although you could go as or with a food itself, like a bunch of grapes made out of balloons, I think character-based looks are more fun.
Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing while there’s still time:
Paula Deen: The Food Network’s high priestess of high-cholesterol food is easy to emulate. Just don a white, feathery-coiffed wig, a generous amount of mascara and a pastel-color collared shirt. To complete the look you’ll need some reference to her favorite ingredient, butter—maybe wrap a couple sticks of yellow-painted styrofoam in a butter wrapper (or waxed paper) and turn them into earrings.
The Swedish Chef: If only all cooking shows were as entertaining as this recurring sketch on The Muppet Show. And considering that a new Muppet movie is due out this holiday season, the cheerfully indecipherable chef is newly relevant. You’ll need a chef’s hat and either a chef’s jacket or a pin-striped shirt, bow tie and white apron, a bushy orange wig, mustache and eyebrows. If you ever run out of party conversation, you can always retreat into character, lilting, “Bork, bork, bork!”
Colonel Sanders: The KFC founder’s secret fashion recipe was simple—white suit, string tie, horn-rimmed glasses and a cane. And don’t forget the white hair, mustache and goatee. Bonus item: a classic red and white chicken bucket, which can double as a trick-or-treating basket for the kiddies. In fact, this look works for kids too—I mean, how cute is this?
Wendy and Jack in the Box—the couple: What if two of the burger world’s biggest celebrities got together? One half of the couple could go as freckle-faced Wendy, the other as cone-hatted Jack. The pièce de résistance: their globe-headed, red-braided baby. I thought I was pretty clever for thinking this one up, but it appears others have beat me to it. Oh well, chances are no one at your party will have seen the idea before.
The Unknown Restaurant Critic: The supposed anonymity of critics has been a topic of foodie discussion this year, with one Los Angeles Times writer outed—and kicked out—by an irate restaurateur. You could go two ways with this: either a paper bag over the head with eye holes cut out, à la the Unknown Comic, or a classic nose-mustache-and-glasses disguise. Either way, you’ll need accessories to indicate you’re a food critic—maybe a reporter’s notebook and pen, and a napkin tucked into your collar.
Anyone else have fun food-related costume ideas?
August 26, 2011
Between oddball earthquakes and far-reaching hurricanes, much of the country is in disaster preparation mode right now. But once the windows have been boarded up, a cache of water, food and batteries has been stockpiled and the bookcases have been bolted to the wall, sometimes there’s nothing left to do but have a drink.
That’s always been the tradition in places like New Orleans, where people sought safety in numbers, throwing hurricane hootenannies that were as much about partying down as hunkering down. It should be noted that these festivities are reserved for relatively mild hurricanes—after Katrina, at least, I don’t think too many people are laughing off the seriousness of the devastating storm.
Even on bluebird days, though, New Orleans is known for its Hurricane cocktails, the ultra-boozy concoction invented at Pat O’Brien’s, in the French Quarter, during World War II. According to company lore, the fruity, supersized cocktail was born of the need to use up the relative abundance of rum compared to whiskey during the war. Its name comes from the 26 oz. glass, which is shaped like a hurricane lamp.
Though Hurricanes are the most famous drink named for a natural disaster, they aren’t the only one:
A Mudslide—an oozy mixture usually made from Kahlua, Irish Cream and vodka and sometimes served frozen—gets its name from its thick, mud-brown appearance. The inventor, according to LoveToKnow, was a bartender in the Grand Cayman Islands during the 1950s, known only as Old Judd. Drink too many of these rich, sweet concoctions and the slide may reverse course. I know of what I speak.
A Tornado gets its name from its presentation—it’s stirred in between additions of liquor, sugar, cola and ice to resemble a miniature twister—but could just as easily apply to the spinning-room effect that may be caused by mixing whiskey, vodka, rum and tequila in the same drink.
The Earthquake is an absinthe cocktail whose invention is attributed to the Post-Impressionist French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, best-known for his posters for the Moulin Rouge. The name—Tremblement de Terre in French—comes from its effects on one’s head. Noticing a theme? The simplest version of the drink is half absinthe (a favorite of the artist, who was an alcoholic, and others in his bohemian circle) and half cognac, though other recipes call for whiskey, gin or brandy.
During a real earthquake, though, anything goes. I was in college in San Francisco during the 1989 earthquake. After hours of fretting over my missing boyfriend, who had been on his way from the East Bay (over the Oakland Bay Bridge, which had partially collapsed) to visit me, I discovered he had been at a bar on Haight Street, where they were serving free “earthquake specials”—meaning whatever booze bottles hadn’t broken—by candlelight. By the time I found him I needed a drink myself. And a new boyfriend.
August 17, 2011
Between high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and corn-fed meat, most Americans eat far more corn—at least indirectly—than they realize. But the best way to eat the stuff, of course, is fresh off the cob. We’re talking real fresh, as in within hours of being picked, if possible, before the sugars have a chance to turn to starch. (Unprocessed grain corn, the kind that ends up in packaged food or fed to animals, is a different variety from sweet corn and is inedible, or at least highly unpalatable, to humans.)
I could eat an ear or two of corn, simply slathered in butter and lightly sprinkled with salt, every day of summer. But that would be like telling Shaun White he had to choose either snowboarding or skateboarding, despite excelling at both, or limiting Ben Franklin to a single pursuit of inquiry. Why squelch such potential greatness?
Here are five other ways to let corn shine:
1. In salads. Good corn doesn’t even need to be cooked to add sweet, crunchy flavor to salads. Blogger Heather Christo simply tosses the kernels with cut up mango, cherry tomatoes, scallions and a Mexican-inspired dressing. HoneySage’s recipe for Fresh Corn Salad with Spicy Shrimp and Tomatoes calls for only the briefest of cooking. Summer Corn Salad from 101 Cookbooks includes pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sunflower seeds and what Heidi Swanson describes as lemonade vinaigrette. And She Simmers explains a simple Thai snack of fresh corn and raw shredded coconut meat; the recipe is accompanied by a poignant recollection of the author’s late mother.
2. In soup. Most Americans give hot liquids a rest in summer, but fresh corn soup is worth making an exception for, or saving for a cool late-season evening. Especially when it includes grilled poblano chiles, as suggested by the Cooking Photographer. For a heartier bowlful, go for creamy corn chowder packed with potatoes—the Reluctant Gourmet offers a vegetarian version, or add bacon, as demonstrated at Kitchen Catharsis.
3. With sage. Corn and sage, like tomatoes and basil, are a combination that always works well together. Gluten Free Cooking School pairs them in Savory Sage Corn Cakes. Food 52 shares a recipe for Corn Risotto with Anchovy Sage Leaf Bite. And KitchenDaily keeps it simple with Sautéed Corn with Brown Sage Butter.
4. With its sisters. The classic example of companion planting is the Iroquois tradition of the three sisters—corn, beans and squash. These three crops complement each other both in the garden and at the table. The blog Tigers & Strawberries sticks with a dish that also originated with Native Americans (and made famous by Sylvester the cat)—succotash, a simple mélange of corn, lima beans, zucchini and seasonings. A contributor at RecipesTap included international influences in Three Sisters Fritters, combining corn, fava beans and zucchini blossoms with tarragon butter and cayenne yogurt dipping sauce.
5. Don’t forget dessert. Considering its natural sweetness, it’s surprising that corn doesn’t feature in more desserts. Brazilians have the right idea, simmering it in coconut milk and cinnamon to make corn pudding. A recipe at Taste of Home transforms fresh corn into dessert crepes topped with lemon cream and apricot jam. But the perfect summer dessert might be sweet corn ice cream—the Kitchn gives a simple recipe.