The Times had a great article about a matzo company called Streits that has been in business since the 1916 and hasn’t changed a thing about how they work. What’s especially interesting is why matzo is a tough business for your average food company to get into:
So it’s actually the big snack brands that are stuck. To get in the matzo game, they would have to make a huge investment in new machinery, Jewish law expertise and worker training. Alternately, they could make a nonkosher flatbread knockoff and lose out on that significant kosher-loving base. In either case, Manischewitz would have to become a huge business before it attracted any real competition, and by then the company would be so rich that it probably wouldn’t mind.
For awhile I was reading this restaurant trade magazine religiously and I loved it. There’s something about the food business that fascinates me. I think it has to do with the connection to the American palatte, there is something very basic and real there.
Anyway, the Wall Street Journal had a good piece on how Olive Garden (and other casual dining restaurants) design menus. The gist:
Americans are more adventurous eaters than ever thanks to the popularity of the Food Network, among other TV cooking programming, and the visibility of celebrity chefs. “People will say their favorite fruit is a blood orange,” not just an orange, says Shannon Johnson, executive director of culinary innovation and development for Applebee’s, which is owned by DineEquity Inc.
But for chains that aim to entice almost every demographic group through their doors, there are limits. In several years of tests, Olive Garden diners often deemed pesto too oily, bitter or green. Capers, with their salty, pickled flavor, are too unexpected for many customers, says a spokeswoman.
Gizmodo has a super interesting wrapup on a Nature paper about why Asian and Western food taste so different:
According to the study, Western cuisines have a tendency to pair ingredients that share many of the same flavor compounds. East Asian cuisines, however, do precisely the contrary, avoiding ingredients that share the same flavor compounds. The more flavors two ingredients share, the less likely they would be paired together in Asian kitchens.
Boy, the creation story for breakfast cereal doesn’t make the stuff sound so appealing:
The [Kellogg] brothers developed breakfast flakes by accident in 1893, when Will abandoned a pot of cooking wheat to attend to business matters. He returned to find a mixture with a stale and hard consistency. Unwilling to waste the food, the brothers forced it through rollers with the hope of forming long sheets of dough. Instead, they created wheat flakes, which they toasted and served to the San’s patrons as a breakfast cereal.
I always ask friends of mine who play the guitar who their favorite guitar players are. There’s something fun about hearing from knowledgeable people about why they look up to someone else who is talented in their field. For the same reasons, I really like this roundup of favorite meals from chefs and foodwriters. You get stuff like this from the owner of the restaurant Porchetta:
Porchetta sandwich at a butchers in Bevagna, Umbria. As the owner of Porchetta I feel it is my duty to eat as much porchetta as I can when visiting Italy just so I can make sure I remember what its supposed to be. In recent years however I am sad to say that the environment usually blows away the product. Like everything else the truck stands I loved as a child seem to have become industrialized shadows of their former selves. The bread is dry and tasteless the porchetta even more so. But stumble into the dark butcher shop in Bevagna where the ceiling is covered with house-made hams, guanciale, pancetta and lonzo and in the back behind the case is a glorious porchetta. The skin is crisp and crackly, the tender moist meat perfumed with all the aromatics that it was stuffed with, sliced thick with ample pieces of crisp skin its placed into bread from stone ground wheat fired in a wood fired oven. This is where the inspiration comes from, this is what it used to be and this is still something for me to strive to reach.
Most Americans have heard the story of Benjamin Franklin fighting for the turkey as the country’s national bird. However, I assume few know the reasoning (I certainly didn’t). In this week’s New Yorker Adam Gopnik explains:
Franklin is arguing hard about whether there ought to be hereditary legacies in American life, and he makes the keen point that there are two kinds of honor in the world: the Old World’s “descending honor,” in which people pass on their goods and their status to their children, and the New World’s “ascending honor,” in which children strive to impress their parents by moving up in society on their own. For Franklin, ascending honor—what we would now call meritocratic advancement—is the American goal, and descending honor the American danger. The eagle is to him an avian example of descending honor in action: looking classy but swooping down to feed on the helpless. The turkey is the bird of ascending honor: silly and vain, pluming itself too much on the small stuff but sharing the feed with the other birds in the yard and ready to give hell to anyone who tries to make trouble.
Happy Thanksgiving. (With a special Thanksgiving shout out to my mom, who makes a killer turkey and is the biggest Benjamin Franklin fan I know.)
Great list of places to eat the country’s most popular airports. I’m sort of surprised I’ve been to so few of them. The three picks that pop to mind for me (all in American Airlines terminals): Brooklyn Deli @ JFK (it’s nothing special, but they’ve got real eggs in the morning … which is way more than you can say for the rest of the restaurants in that terminal), Pappadeux’s in DFW (they have another Pappas restaurant listed for Dallas) and Pinkberry in SF (I only mention it because it’s over by the gates and I always forget it’s there and then get excited to have some before the flight).
Congress is fighting back on school lunch nutrition guidelines: “The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to only count a half-cup of tomato paste or more as a vegetable, and a serving of pizza has less than that.” To some extent I understand the worries about government dictating personal choice, but we’re talking about public schools. Is it any wonder that obesity is a problem if we’re teaching kids that pizza is a vegetable?
An amazingly detailed and strange piece from The Awl about the mystery that is the McRib. Apparently the sandwich comes on the market in amazing rhythm with hog prices:”What makes the McRib different from this everyday horror is that a) McDonald’s is huge to the point that it’s more useful to think of it as a company trading in commodities than it is to think of it as a chain of restaurants b) it is made of pork, which makes it a unique product in the QSR world and c) it is only available sometimes, but refuses to go away entirely.”
I like coffee quite a bit (I have three coffee preparation devices on my kitchen counter) and I’ve always been under the impression that freezing coffee was a bad idea. Turns out, according to this incredibly detailed experiment, it pretty hard to tell the difference if frozen for less than two months after roasting:
When the results were examined according to the three scored parameters, the overall preference, the crema, and the intensity of the taste and aroma, no statistically significant differences were noted among the coffees studied or the other variables of the study. What this means is that none of the tasters could consistently differentiate among the shots made with previously frozen or never frozen coffee. Similarly, none of the tasters could consistently tell the difference based upon whether the shots came out of the newer rotary pump driven or the older vibratory pump driven espresso machine, nor between the two grinders, one of which had brand new burrs and the other with more heavily used burrs.
In case you were worried this wasn’t taken seriously enough, here are the storage instructions:
If you are concerned about what sort of container you should use for freezing coffee, it obviously needs to be something that is relatively airtight and that can tolerate the conditions present in a freezer, and the temperature stress in going from room temperature to very cold and back again to room temperature. I generally use Mason type canning jars or recycled jars from grocery products that will close with a tight seal; I fill them up as full as possible to minimize the remaining air that is present. I have also used certain types of commercial plastic coffee bags that can be sealed and if valves are present I tape over them. If you purchase coffee that is already packaged in a sturdy valve bag you could simply tape over the valve and toss it directly into the freezer. I would however suggest that whatever container you choose, it be sized to allow you to consume all of the contents within a reasonable period, say 1 week, without having to open the bag and return some of the contents to the freezer; doing so risks condensation on the beans which could theoretically cause damage.
This all came via an excellent Lifehacker post busting food myths. Also, if you’re still reading, I’ll assume you like coffee and suggest you check out the cold-brewed iced coffee recipe I posted last year.