kottke.org posts about food

Custom burgers at homeAug 28 2014

Advice from Tom Mylan, The Meat Hook's head butcher, about how to create your own custom burger blend for top notch burgers at home.

Don't believe the "bedazzled blend" burger hype. Using fancy cuts of beef is not important and kind of a bullshit move, according to Mylan. What is important is making sure the meat is high-quality and comes from mature animals, and that your blend has the right fat content.

Use cheaper cuts of beef from harder-working muscles, like chuck or round. Why? These cuts have more myoglobin, Mylan says, and myoglobin is what gives beef its "beefy" flavor and red color. Each cut will contribute its own flavor and textural nuances, and you can play around with different cuts to bolster the flavors you prefer.

And holy cow! (Ahem.) He suggests using a hamburger patty maker, which I didn't even know existed. $13! I'm totally getting one and trying this.

Why the increase in food allergies?Aug 28 2014

Hmm, this is interesting. Recent studies suggest that food allergies may be caused by the absense of certain intestinal bacteria...in part due to increased use of antibiotics in very young children.

Food allergies have increased about 50% in children since 1997. There are various theories explaining why. One is that the 21st century lifestyle, which includes a diet very different from our ancestors', lots of antibiotic use, and even a rise in cesarean section deliveries, has profoundly changed the makeup of microbes in the gut of many people in developed countries. For example, the average child in the United States has taken three courses of antibiotics by the time he or she is 2 years old, says Martin Blaser, an infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at New York University in New York City. (See here for more on the reach of microbiome research these days.)

Cathryn Nagler, an immunologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, has spent years probing links between the immune system, intestinal bacteria, and the onset of allergies. Back in 2004, she and her colleagues reported that wiping out gut bacteria in mice led to food allergies. Since then, Nagler has continued trying to understand which bacteria offer allergy protection and how they accomplish that.

How to eat sushiAug 27 2014

I wasn't expecting too much of this video about how to eat sushi, but it's actually pretty good. It features Naomichi Yasuda of the highly regard Sushi Yasuda in Manhattan making sushi for a newbie and telling him how it should be eaten.

This Old House + Jiro Dreams of Sushi = this video.

The Chef SaysAug 13 2014

The Chef Says

From PA Press, the latest book in their Words of Wisdom series, The Chef Says. The book features quotes about food and cooking from the likes of Escoffier, April Bloomfield, Julia Child, and Grant Achatz.

[DRUGDE SIREN BUT FOR STEAK]Aug 11 2014

According to testing by the folks at America's Test Kitchen, you should not be thawing out your frozen steaks before you cook them. Mind. Blown. Into. Tiny. Pieces. Sweep. Me. Up. Pls.

Conventional wisdom holds that frozen steaks should be thawed before cooking, but we wondered if steaks could be cooked straight from the freezer. Cook's Illustrated Senior Editor Dan Souza explains our cooking experiments.

They also apparently more-or-less deep fry their steak? Is that a thing that we should be doing? (via digg)

Milton Glaser, foodieAug 06 2014

Today I learned that iconic designer Milton Glaser co-wrote a column for New York magazine (which he co-founded) about where to find cheap-but-good food in NYC. It was called The Underground Gourmet. Here's a typical column from the October 27, 1975 issue, reviewing a ramen joint in Midtown called Sapporo that is miraculously still around:

Underground Gourmet

Glaser and his co-authior Jerome Snyder eventually packaged the column into a series of books, some of which you can find on Amazon...I bought a copy this morning.

I found out about Glaser's food enthusiasm from this interview in Eye magazine about The Underground Gourmet and his long collaboration with restaurateur Joe Baum of the Rainbow Room and Windows on the World.

We just walked the streets ... When friends of ours knew we were doing it we got recommendations.

There were parts of the city where we knew we could find good places ... particularly in the ethnic parts. We knew if we went to Chinatown we would find something if we looked long enough, or Korea Town, or sections of Little Italy.

More then than now, the city was more locally ethnic before the millionaires came in and bought up every inch of space. So you could find local ethnic places all over the city. And people were dying to discover that. And it was terrific to be able to find a place where you could have lunch for four dollars.

In 2010, Josh Perilo wrote an appreciation of The Underground Gourmet in which he noted only six of the restaurants reviewed in the 1967 edition had survived:

Being obsessed with the food and history of New York (particularly Manhattan), this was like finding a culinary time capsule. I immediately dove in. What I found was shocking, both in the similarities between then and now, and in the differences.

The most obvious change was the immense amount of restaurants that no longer existed. These were not landmarked establishments, by and large. Most of them were hole-in-the wall luncheonettes, inexpensive Chinese restaurants and greasy spoons. But the sheer number of losses was stunning. Of the 101 restaurants profiled, only six survive today: Katz's Delicatessen, Manganaro's, Yonah Schimmel's Knishes Bakery, The Puglia and La Taza de Oro. About half of the establishments were housed in buildings that no longer exist, especially in the Midtown area. The proliferation of "lunch counters" also illustrated the evolution of this city's eating habits. For every kosher "dairy lunch" joint that went down, it seems as though a Jamba Juice or Pink Berry has taken its place.

Man, it's hard not get sucked into reading about all these old places...looking forward to getting my copy of the book in a week or two.

Update: Glaser's co-author Jerome Snyder was also a designer...and no slouch either.

Do you have a reservation?Jul 24 2014

Alexis Madrigal wonders: when did the idea of the dinner reservation come about?

Reserving a table is not so much an "industrial age bolt-on" as it's a slippage from the older custom of reserving a ROOM in a restaurant. As my book explains, 18th-cy "caterers" [traiteurs] either served clients in their homes or in rooms at the traiteur's, the first self-styled restaurateurs borrowed from cafes in having lots of small tables in one big room. Throughout the nineteenth century, many big city restaurants continued to have both a (very) large public eating room with numerous, small (private) tables AND a number of smaller rooms that could be reserved for more private meals. (Much as some restaurants have special "banquet facilities" or "special occasion" rooms today.)

See also: the first NY Times restaurant review circa 1859.

The true cost of a cheeseburgerJul 22 2014

Mark Bittman on the true cost of producing a hamburger, after accounting for externalities like carbon generation and obesity.

Cheeseburgers are the coal of the food world, with externalities in spades; in fact it's unlikely that producers of cheeseburgers bear the full cost of any aspect of making them.

This made me think of something I wrote for Worldchanging several years ago about a True Cost rating:

Wealth doesn't just magically materialize into your bank account. It comes from the ground, human effort, the flesh of animals, the sun, and the atom. The global economy is driven by nature, and yet it's not usually found on the accountant's balance sheet. Perhaps it should be. I'd like to know the true cost of the stuff I buy. Embodied energy and carbon footprint calculations are a good start, but it would be nice if the product itself came with a True Cost number or rating, like the nutritional information on a cereal box or the Energy Star rating on a refrigerator.

When True Cost is factored in, conflict diamonds become a morally expensive choice to make when they're fueling turmoil in the world. Likewise clothing made in sweatshops. Organic tomatoes flown in from Chile may be less expensive at the register, but how much carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere flying/driving them to your table? What's the energy cost of living in the suburbs compared to living downtown? Do the people who made the clock hanging on my wall get paid a fair wage and receive healthcare? Just how bad for the environment is the laptop on which I'm typing?

(via subtraction)

The anti-Wonka candy factoryJul 21 2014

In 2011, Magnum photographer Martin Parr visited the Teddy Grays candy factory near Birmingham, England that makes old-fashioned candy with Wonka-esque names -- Mint Humbugs, Nutty Brittles, Spearminties. The result is this ultra-charming 20 minute film profile of the company and its candy-making process.

Charmingness evidence, exhibit A: When asked if the company would ever modernize, company director Teddy Gray responds, "Imagine coming to work in the morning and looking at all them faxes, oh no." Even his modernization references need modernizing.

Charmingness evidence, exhibit B: The lingerie calendar behind Gray as he talks on the phone, and the beefcake calendar behind his daughter in the very next scene.

Charmingness evidence, exhibit C through exhibit ZZZ: Every other scene in the film.

I know 20 minutes for a web video sounds daunting, but it's worth the while. At the very least, skip to 14:00 and watch how they make "lettered rock", hard candy sticks with words written on the inside of the candy. As shown in the video, the individual letters start out 3-4 inches high, are arranged into words when rolled up into a massive tube of candy a foot in diameter, and end up a fraction of an inch tall when pulled out into small sticks, like so:

Lettered Rock

And you thought laying out type for the web was difficult. (thx, nick)

Elevating bread and butterJul 18 2014

Bread and butter is often an afterthought at restaurants...the bread can be meh and bland butter served too cold to spread. Chef Dan Richer takes the bread and butter offered at his New Jersey restaurant as seriously as any of the other items on his menu.

Cultured butter is delicious...Per Se serves it as well. (via digg)

How ramen noodles are madeJul 17 2014

Sun Noodle makes the ramen noodles for a host of the top ramen shops in NYC, LA, and elsewhere (Ivan, Momofuku, etc.)...here's a look at how the noodles are made in their New Jersey factory:

See also how to make hand-pulled noodles and Sun Noodle's fresh ramen kits are available for retail (via devour)

World's fastest pancake flipperJul 10 2014

Everyone has a superpower. This guy's superpower is that he can flip mini-pancakes faster than I thought humanly possible.

I love watching stuff like this...here's a guy chopping lemons in half 20 times quicker than Superman himself would.

ps. This is still the world's best pancake recipe.

AffinageJul 08 2014

A short film about how Neal's Yard Dairy, a top seller of cheese in London, works with producers to make cheese.

I had a tour of the caves below Murray's in the West Village where they do the same sort of thing as at Neal's Yard. Pretty cool to see the process in action and to taste the same cheeses at different ages.

American CatchJun 23 2014

American Catch

Paul Greenberg has an excerpt in the NY Times of his new book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.

As go scallops, so goes the nation. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported.

But it's much fishier than that: While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.

The seafood industry, it turns out, is a great example of the swaps, delete-and-replace maneuvers and other mechanisms that define so much of the outsourced American economy; you can find similar, seemingly inefficient phenomena in everything from textiles to technology. The difference with seafood, though, is that we're talking about the destruction and outsourcing of the very ecological infrastructure that underpins the health of our coasts.

The article and book focus on three formerly American seafoods that we now mostly import from elsewhere: salmon, oysters, and shrimp.

In 2005, the United States imported five billion pounds of seafood, nearly double what we imported twenty years earlier. Bizarrely, during that same period, our seafood exports quadrupled. American Catch examines New York oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon to reveal how it came to be that 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign.

In the 1920s, the average New Yorker ate six hundred local oysters a year. Today, the only edible oysters lie outside city limits. Following the trail of environmental desecration, Greenberg comes to view the New York City oyster as a reminder of what is lost when local waters are not valued as a food source.

Farther south, a different catastrophe threatens another seafood-rich environment. When Greenberg visits the Gulf of Mexico, he arrives expecting to learn of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill's lingering effects on shrimpers, but instead finds that the more immediate threat to business comes from overseas. Asian-farmed shrimp-cheap, abundant, and a perfect vehicle for the frying and sauces Americans love-have flooded the American market.

Finally, Greenberg visits Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to the biggest wild sockeye salmon run left in the world. A pristine, productive fishery, Bristol Bay is now at great risk: The proposed Pebble Mine project could undermine the very spawning grounds that make this great run possible. In his search to discover why this precious renewable resource isn't better protected, Greenberg encounters a shocking truth: the great majority of Alaskan salmon is sent out of the country, much of it to Asia. Sockeye salmon is one of the most nutritionally dense animal proteins on the planet, yet Americans are shipping it abroad.

Cheese chartsJun 18 2014

Camembert chart

In France, pie charts are called "le camembert" after the cheese. Or sometimes "un diagramme en fromage" (cheese diagram). In Brazil, they are pizza charts. (via numberphile & reddit)

Restaurant ticketing systems are a hot ticketJun 09 2014

Alinea stats

For three years, Nick Kokonas's trio of eating/drinking establishments in Chicago (Next, Alinea, and Aviary) has been using a ticketed reservation system. In this epic piece, Kokonas details why they started using tickets and what the effect has been (emphasis mine):

Our ticket implementation strategy at Alinea was to create a "higher-touch" system than we had previously used at Next. Every customer buying a ticket at Alinea must include a cell phone number where we can reach them. About a week before they dine with us we call every customer to thank them for buying a ticket to Alinea, ask if they have any dietary restrictions or special needs, and generally get a feel for their expectations and whether it is a special occasion. We can, in fact, spend more time (not less) with every single one of our customers because we are only speaking with the customers we know are coming to dine with us. Previously, we answered thousands of calls from people we had to say 'no' to. Now we can take far more time to say 'yes'.

The results on Alinea's business are staggering. Bottom line EBITDA profits are up 38% from previous average years. No shows of full tables are almost non-existent and while partial no-shows still occur they are only a handful of people per week at most. That allows us to run at a far greater capacity with less food waste and more revenue.

Will be interesting to see if more restaurants adopt this model...I bet a bunch of restaurateurs' eyes lit up at the 38% increase in profit. But not every restaurant is Alinea and not every restaurateur is a clever former derivatives trader.

The history of ramenMay 29 2014

The New Yorker and First We Feast each has an account of a talk given by NYU professor George Solt, who presented some of his research on the history of ramen.

World War II all but destroyed ramen's first wave of popularity. Thanks to food shortages and famine, the government placed tight regulations on food supplies, and earning a profit via restaurants or pushcarts was strictly prohibited until 1949. Some wheat flour made it onto the black market, though, and many of the country's unemployed turned to hawking ramen. Which means, Solt points out, that selling future all-nighter fuel could and did land people in jail.

Holt is the author of The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze.

Beating the whiskey shortageMay 20 2014

If distillers can't keep up with the current and growing worldwide demand for bourbon, we may have to turn to rum instead.

You can buy some old-ass rum, which, after being distilled from molasses or sugar cane, has sat around in barrels for long periods of time, for relatively small sums of money: El Dorado 15 is, as you might expect, made with a blend of rums that have sat in a barrel for at least fifteen years. Is it slightly sweet and rounded with a "full nose packed with dark coffee, candied orange, almonds, dark chocolate, pepper and rich vanilla." It is only thirty-six dollars. Barbancourt 15 is kind of soft and woody and fruity and other things you might say about a bourbon, but instead of corn it's like molasses. It's about forty bucks. Ron Zacapa 23, which is a blend of rums between six and twenty three years old, is probably the first rum that made a lot of people go, "Oh, rum isn't just that stuff that goes in a daiquiri or a mojito or that made me vomit pieces of my intestines into a urinal while I was wearing a silver crown." Here are some tasting notes for it: "Nose full or apricots, citrus fruits, vanilla, cocoa and bourbon."

Chipotle Cup Stories: Beyonce and SolangeMay 16 2014

Beyonce is mad at Solange for not sticking to the plan. What plan? I don't want to say too much, but it involves Chipotle.

"You just stood there. I was defending you."

"Do I need defending?"

"That's not the point. He is a monster."

"He is my husband."

Beyoncé looked away, out the window at the people and the buildings, as they sped across 59th St. "I know who I married. That was my decision and I'll live with it."

"Of course you take his side."

"Excuse me?" Beyoncé turned to face her sister. "Beyoncé is on Beyoncé's side. Always. Trust that."

(via @ftrain)

Meet the doodiesMay 07 2014

"Doodie" is a portmanteau of "dude" and "foodie" and a good word to describe the phenomenon of (mostly) male foodies I've observed with increasing regularity in the past few years. Jessica Pressler coined the term in Help! There's a Doodie in My Kitchen.

You see; these are the things you deal with when you live with a food dude. Or, as I have come to call them, doodies. I know, it's an unfortunate term, but like its antecedent, the dreaded foodie, it is also extremely useful for summing up the characteristics of a certain breed of food enthusiast, the kind whose culinary preferences are intrinsically, classically male.

You know the type. Has Heat or Fergus Henderson's Complete Nose to Tail on his bookshelf. Can sustain a remarkably long conversation about knives. Is super into his grill. Likes pour-over coffee. Is, at this moment, really excited about ramps. I could go on, but I won't, because I am sure you know one. New York City in 2014 is rife with doodies: You can find them stalking around Smorgasburg, attending knife-skills classes at the Meat Hook, writing lengthy, tumescent odes to the Bo Ssam Miracle in the paper of record.

(via @fanelli)

Update: Michael Hoffman of Food52 has another name for doodies: assholes.

The food dude is nothing new. He's just a jerk who learned to cook. He's taken what could be a force for good -- feeding loved ones well -- and made it into yet another thing that he can claim to be better at than his wife or girlfriend. (Apparently, food dudes are all heterosexual, too.)

Here's what the food dude doesn't do: He doesn't spend his Sunday afternoon planning practical dinners for the week; he doesn't make sure there's milk in the fridge; he doesn't make something the baby is going to eat. He might as well be building train sets in the basement. Even for people like us who love doing it, getting dinner on the table is, among many other things, a chore. And guess who's doing the chores at Food Dude's place? Women.

The 38-page bread recipeApr 28 2014

Tartine Bread

In his cookbook, Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson lays out, over 38 pages, the recipe for what might be the best bread in the world. The first time through, the recipe takes two weeks to make.

To Chad, bread is the foundation of a meal, the center of daily life, and each loaf tells the story of the baker who shaped it. He developed his unique bread over two decades of apprenticeship with the finest artisan bakers in France and the United States, as well as experimentation in his own ovens.

A streamlined version of the recipe is available from the NY Times. (via smithsonian)

How to drink all night without getting drunkApr 25 2014

Jim Koch is the co-founder and chairman of The Boston Beer Company, brewer of the Sam Adams beers. Part of his job is to drink professionally and he does so without getting completely sloshed. What's his secret? Eating a packet of dry yeast before tying one on.

You see, what [expert brewer] Owades knew was that active dry yeast has an enzyme in it called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH). Roughly put, ADH is able to break alcohol molecules down into their constituent parts of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Which is the same thing that happens when your body metabolizes alcohol in its liver. Owades realized if you also have that enzyme in your stomach when the alcohol first hits it, the ADH will begin breaking it down before it gets into your bloodstream and, thus, your brain.

"And it will mitigate - not eliminate - but mitigate the effects of alcohol!" Koch told me.

Could have used this tip last night. Does this mean no hangovers as well?

Update: I got two kinds of feedback about this post:

1) What's the fun in drinking alcohol if you're not getting drunk? (Good point.)

2) Yeast doesn't really work. What does seem to work is Pepcid AC and Zantac. From Shenglong on Hacker News:

Again, I'm not a chemist or a doctor, but from my preliminary internet research and anecdotal testing (though I have quite a few different data points), Famotadine (OTC) [Pepcid], and higher levels of APO-Ranitidine (can be prescription) [Zantac] seems to slow the rate of ethanol -> acetaldehyde, balancing out the drunkness effect more, and giving you more time to process the acetaldehyde -> acetic acid. I typically go from maxing out at 2 drinks / 3 hour period, to about 11 drinks / 3 hour period on Ranitidine, given favorable conditions. I've had lower levels of success with Famotadine.

And it goes without saying, I don't recommend trying any of this at home. At the local bar on the other hand Nope, not there either. (thx, @natebirdman)

How Japan copied American culture and made it betterApr 15 2014

American favorites (blue jeans, whiskey, burgers) have been embraced by the Japanese, who have been turning out improved versions of the originals.

In Japan, the ability to perfectly imitate-and even improve upon-the cocktails, cuisine and couture of foreign cultures isn't limited to American products; there are spectacular French chefs and masterful Neapolitan pizzaioli who are actually Japanese. There's something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. "What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery," says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. "It's true in traditional arts, it's true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it's true of restaurateurs all over Japan."

It's easy to dismiss Japanese re-creations of foreign cultures as faddish and derivative-just other versions of the way that, for example, the new American hipster ideal of Brooklyn is clumsily copied everywhere from Paris to Bangkok. But the best examples of Japanese Americana don't just replicate our culture. They strike out, on their own, into levels of appreciation and refinement rarely found in America. They give us an opportunity to consider our culture as refracted through a foreign and clarifying prism.

Another example, not mentioned in the piece, is coffee. From the WSJ a couple of years ago:

"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos."

Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.

EggApr 13 2014

Egg

New from Michael Ruhlman: a cookbook about the mighty egg, "A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient".

For culinary visionary Michael Ruhlman, the question is not whether the chicken or the egg came first, it's how anything could be accomplished in the kitchen without the magic of the common egg. He starts with perfect poached and scrambled eggs and builds up to brioche and Italian meringue. Along the way readers learn to make their own mayonnaise, pasta, custards, quiches, cakes, and other preparations that rely fundamentally on the hidden powers of the egg.

Ruhlman shares a bit about the book with NPR:

But often, Ruhlman argues, we don't treat our eggs very well. Take scrambled eggs. "It's one of the most overcooked dishes in America," he says. "We kill our eggs with heat."

Instead, we need, in most instances, to give the egg gentle heat. "When you cook them very slowly over very gentle heat, the curds form. And as you sit, the rest of the egg sort of warms but doesn't fully cook and becomes a sauce for the curds. So it should be a creamy and delicious and delicate preparation."

What makes you hungry?Apr 11 2014

Recent studies show that our physical level of hunger, in fact, does not correlate strongly with how much hunger we say that we feel or how much food we go on to consume.

As Maria Konnikova reports, a lot of things can make you hungry -- a song, a book, a smell, even a study.

Being genuinely hungry, on the other hand -- in the sense of physiologically needing food -- matters little.

In other news, Tater Tots.

Leadership from withinApr 10 2014

In recent years, Chipotle has worked to promote their managers from within the company. And the tactic seems to be working.

The common element among the best-performing stores was a manager who had risen up from crew. So Moran started to outline a program that would retain and train the best managers, and reward them to the point where they would be thrilled to stay on.

After Flores expressed his frustration, Moran showed him his early notes for the restaurateur program, which is unique among fast food restaurants in that it ties pay and promotion to how well you mentor people, rather than store sales.

"It was a great meeting but I didn't know what was going to happen. At most companies you meet the top execs and then you never hear from them again," Flores says.

A few weeks after the October meeting, while vacationing in Houston, Flores got a call on his cell from Ells and Moran letting him know that he had been promoted to restaurateur and was getting a $3,000 bonus. Rather than waiting until he returned to Milwaukee to get him the check, it was delivered to him in Houston the following day. At the time his salary was around $38,000, and the bonus was meaningful.

"That's when I knew the company was special," Flores said.

Interesting bits of business wisdom throughout this piece.

The all-crust hamburgerApr 01 2014

Kenji Lopez-Alt and the folks at the Harlem Shake restaurant have invented a burger that's all delicious brown crust.

See, by placing a ball of meat on a hot, un-oiled griddle and smashing it down firmly into a flat, thin disk, you greatly increase the contact points between the meat and the griddle, which in turn increases the Maillard reaction. That's the series of chemical reactions that creates the rich brown crust that makes our steaks and burgers taste so freaking good. Maximum crust = maximum flavor = maximum craving.

I've already discussed the basic ins and outs of smashed burgers in the past, but after writing that article, I found myself wondering, what if I were to take this to the extreme? Is there a way I can pack even more flavor into a burger?

Spoiler alert: the answer is a big fat (or should I say short smashed?) yes.

Milton Glaser reviews beer bottle artMar 28 2014

Legendary designer Milton Glaser (of I❤NY fame) critiques craft beer labels.

Glaser Craft Beer

(via @bn2b)

Taco Bell's new spokesman: Ronald McDonaldMar 27 2014

Errol Morris has directed a new series of Taco Bell commercials where a bunch of ordinary men named Ronald McDonald review Taco Bell's new breakfast menu. Here's one of the spots:

The scourge of coffeeMar 20 2014

Khoi Vinh tells us how he really feels about coffee.

In the West, and particularly in urban centers of the United States, we've turned coffee into not just a daily habit, but a totem of conspicuous consumption. They are "rituals of self-congratulation" (a choice phrase I believe I read from Sam Sifton, but which I can't seem to source) wherein we continually obsess over certain coffee purveyors or certain methods of brewing coffee - each new one more complex, more Rube Goldbergian and more comically self-involved than the previous brewing fad.

I don't drink coffee either (don't even like the smell), but as someone who regularly indulges in other addictions and "rituals of self-congratulation", I don't take issue with other people's enjoyment of coffee...as long as I'm out of earshot when the "perfect grinder for pulling a great shot" discussion starts.

Coffee, like almost everything else these days, is a sport. Everyone has a favorite team (or coffee making method or political affiliation or design style or TV drama or rapper or comic book), discusses techniques and relives great moments with other likeminded fans, and argues with fans of other teams. The proliferation and diversification of media over the past 35 years created thousands of new sports and billions of new teams. These people turned hard-to-find nail polish into a sport. These people support Apple in their battle against Microsoft and Samsung. This guy scouts fashion phenoms on city streets. Finding the best bowl of ramen in NYC is a sport. Design is a sport. Even hating sports is a sport; people compete for the funniest "what time is the sportsball match today? har har people who like sports are dumb jocks" joke on Twitter. Let people have their sports, I say. Liking coffee can't be any worse than liking the Yankees, can it?

Food mapsMar 14 2014

Henry Hargreaves and Caitlin Levin favor food as a medium for creating art. Their country maps made from native foods were cute at first glance, but in many cases the maps also reveal a link between a country's food and its culture that I'd never really thought about before. For instance, the maps of India and British Isles feel very representative of their respective cultures to me:

Food Map India

Food Map British Isles

Making a Japanese rolled omeletteMar 10 2014

A master chef from a Hokkaido sushi restaurant shows how to make dashimaki tamago, a Japanese rolled omelette.

Watching people who are good at what they do never gets old. (via swiss miss)

There are lots of fish in the seaMar 05 2014

A group of marine biologists that has been recently studying mesopelagic fish ("fish that live between 100 and 1000m below the surface") believes that 95% of fish biomass is unknown to humans. Marine dark matter. The problem lies with how fish have traditionally been counted and the enhanced visual and pressure senses of these fish.

He says most mesopelagic species tend to feed near the surface at night, and move to deeper layers in the daytime to avoid birds.

They have large eyes to see in the dim light, and also enhanced pressure-sensitivity.

"They are able to detect nets from at least five metres and avoid them," he says.

"Because the fish are very skilled at avoiding nets, every previous attempt to quantify them in terms of biomass that fishing nets have delivered are very low estimates.

"So instead of different nets what we used were acoustics... sonar and echo sounders."

A not-so-difficult prediction to make is that humans will find a way to catch these wary creatures, we'll eat most of them, and then we'll be back to where we are now: the world's oceans running low on fish. (via @daveg)

Celebrity meatMar 04 2014

Eat Celeb Meat

Have you ever wanted to taste Kanye West's meat? Then what is wrong with you and what is wrong with these people?!?! They want to take tissue samples from celebrities like James Franco, Kanye, and Jennifer Lawrence and make artisanal salami out of them.

It all starts with your favorite celebrities, and a quick biopsy to obtain tissue samples. Isolating muscle stem cells, we grow celebrity meat in our proprietary bioreactors. In the tradition of Italian cured meats, we dry, age, and spice our product into fine charcuterie.

Note: BiteLabs might be completely fake. But fake is the new real so... nope, this is just fake.

US obesity rate for young kids down sharplyFeb 27 2014

According to an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the obesity rate of American 2- to 5-year-old children has dropped from 14% in 2004 to 8% in 2012.

Children now consume fewer calories from sugary beverages than they did in 1999. More women are breast-feeding, which can lead to a healthier range of weight gain for young children. Federal researchers have also chronicled a drop in overall calories for children in the past decade, down by 7 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls, but health experts said those declines were too small to make much difference.

Barry M. Popkin, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has tracked American food purchases in a large data project, said families with children had been buying lower-calorie foods over the past decade, a pattern he said was unrelated to the economic downturn.

He credited those habits, and changes in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, for the decline in obesity among young children. The program, which subsidizes food for low-income women, reduced funding for fruit juices, cheese and eggs and increased it for whole fruits and vegetables.

Kevin Drum calls the drop "baffling".

Always buy the bigger pizzaFeb 26 2014

Planet Money: always buy the bigger pizza because geometry.

The math of why bigger pizzas are such a good deal is simple. A pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius.

So, for example, a 16-inch pizza is actually four times as big as an 8-inch pizza.

And when you look at thousands of pizza prices from around the U.S., you see that you almost always get a much, much better deal when you buy a bigger pizza.

Whole Foods, temple of pseudoscienceFeb 24 2014

And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there's really no better place to go.

In The Daily Beast Michael Schulson provides a alternate view on Whole Foods: America's Temple of Pseudoscience. (The first time I read this, I nearly spit out my probiotic-infused kombucha, kale, quinoa, coconut water shake.)

Bar talkFeb 19 2014

I don't care if all of this vocabulary of NYC's best bars is made up (it sure sounds made up), I still loved reading it. You can totally tell which places are about the drinks, which are about hospitality, which are bitchy, and which are all about the benjamins.

Sipper: A small pour (typically Mother's Milk) gifted to a colleague, loved one, regular, etc.

Amuse-booze (experimental term): A tiny sipper to acknowledge a guest an reassure them they will be served soon.

The Cousins: Affectionate term for other cocktail bars (after the British secret service's name for the CIA in Le Carre's Smiley novels).

Even if it's fake, it's real.

How to buy great extra virgin olive oilFeb 06 2014

On his site Truth in Olive Oil, Tom Mueller tells us how to buy great olive oil and, more usefully, which brands to buy at the supermarket.

Unlike many wines, which improve with age, extra virgin olive oil is perishable: like all natural fruit juices, its flavor and aroma begin to deteriorate within a few months of milling, a decline that accelerate when the oil is bottled, and really speeds up when the bottle is opened. To get the freshest oil, and cut out middle-men who often muddy olive oil transparency and quality, buy as close to the mill as possible. If you're lucky enough to live near a mill -- common around the Mediterranean, and more and more so in other areas of the world with a Mediterranean-like climate, like Australia, S. Africa, California, Texas, Georgia -- visit it during the harvest to see how olives are picked, crushed, stirred, and spun into olive oil.

Mueller is also author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, which was published a few years after his olive oil exposé in the New Yorker.

In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.'s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force. ("Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks," one investigator told me.) The E.U. also began phasing out subsidies for olive-oil producers and bottlers, in an effort to reduce crime, and after a few years it disbanded the task force. Yet fraud remains a major international problem: olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but it is costly and time-consuming to produce-and surprisingly easy to doctor. Adulteration is especially common in Italy, the world's leading importer, consumer, and exporter of olive oil. (For the past ten years, Spain has produced more oil than Italy, but much of it is shipped to Italy for packaging and is sold, legally, as Italian oil.) "The vast majority of frauds uncovered in the food-and-beverage sector involve this product," Colonel Leopoldo Maria De Filippi, the commander for the northern half of Italy of the N.A.S. Carabinieri, an anti-adulteration group run under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, told me.

How McDonald's makes their Chicken McNuggetsFeb 05 2014

McDonald's Canada continues their series on how their business works with a video on how Chicken McNuggets are made.

Best part of the video: the casual reveal that McNuggets come in four standard shapes: the ball, the bell, the boot, and the bow tie:

McNugget shapes

I had a McNugget over the weekend, the first one in probably more than 10 years, and it tasted and felt like chicken. Not bad for fast food. See also how McDonald's fries are made and how McDonald's photographs their food for advertising.

The Instagram cooking showFeb 05 2014

Fish Tales is billed as the world's shortest cooking show. Episodes are about 15 seconds long and in each one, you learn how to cook a complete fish/seafood dish. Here's the latest one, on cooking razor clams:

The best nachos in NYCJan 31 2014

I was just wondering this the other day...where can you get good nachos in NYC? Serious Eats investigates.

Not only are they delicious (when made right, and we'll get to that), but they practically create their own conversation. Everybody has an opinion on how chunky the guacamole should be. We all have feelings about whether chili or beans make a better topping. Who hasn't considered whether or not they'd ever prefer a fresh jalape~no to a pickled one, and who hasn't considered de-friending a friend who dares to express a preference for fresh over pickled? And then there's the ever-raging debate of cheese sauce vs. melted cheese, a subject you might actually consider not broaching in mixed company.

Say hello to Big MapleJan 21 2014

Scientists at the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center have made an interesting discovery. It seems that the sap used to produce maple syrup doesn't flow from the tops of trees, it gets sucked up from the trees' roots. Which means that maple syrup makers can use saplings instead of fully grown maple trees to produce syrup.

They realized that their discovery meant sugarmakers could use saplings, densely planted in open fields, to harvest sap. In other words, it is possible that maple syrup could now be produced as a row crop like every other commercial crop in North America.

In a natural forest, which varies in maple density, an average 60 to 100 taps per acre will yield 40 to 50 gallons of syrup. According to the researchers' calculations, an acre of what is now called "the plantation method" could sustain 5,800 saplings with taps yielding 400 gallons of syrup per acre. If the method is realized, producing maple syrup on a commercial scale may no longer be restricted to those with forest land; it could require just 50 acres of arable land instead of 500 acres of forest. Furthermore, any region with the right climate for growing maples would be able to start up maple "farms". The natural forest would become redundant.

(via @youngna)

The story behind the artisanal toast trendJan 15 2014

This is undoubtably the best story you'll ever read about the Bay Area's latest food craze: $4 artisanal toast.

Trouble's owner, and the apparent originator of San Francisco's toast craze, is a slight, blue-eyed, 34-year-old woman with freckles tattooed on her cheeks named Giulietta Carrelli. She has a good toast story: She grew up in a rough neighborhood of Cleveland in the '80s and '90s in a big immigrant family, her father a tailor from Italy, her mother an ex-nun. The family didn't eat much standard American food. But cinnamon toast, made in a pinch, was the exception. "We never had pie," Carrelli says. "Our American comfort food was cinnamon toast."

The other main players on Trouble's menu are coffee, young Thai coconuts served with a straw and a spoon for digging out the meat, and shots of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice called "Yoko." It's a strange lineup, but each item has specific meaning to Carrelli. Toast, she says, represents comfort. Coffee represents speed and communication. And coconuts represent survival-because it's possible, Carrelli says, to survive on coconuts provided you also have a source of vitamin C. Hence the Yoko. (Carrelli tested this theory by living mainly on coconuts and grapefruit juice for three years, "unless someone took me out to dinner.")

Fancy $4 toast seems like something to chuckle at or cluck your tongue about, but this story takes an unexpected left turn about halfway through and is well worth the read.

A pair of Boston eventsJan 15 2014

Aaron Cohen, a frequent contributor to kottke.org famous for his late-night (and, I would assume, drunken) extreme sports posts, is putting on a pair of events in Boston in February. The first is Up Up Down Down, a mini-conference on side projects. Which is such a great idea for a conference.

The second event is Whiskey Rebellion, "a showcase of American brown spirits". The tasting list includes more than 75 whiskies and bourbons. This one is sold out (unsurprisingly) but there appears to be a waiting list. My schedule for that weekend is up in the air, but I hope I can make it to one or both of these.

Every fancy cocktail menu everJan 09 2014

Often, cocktail menus are a little ridiculous.

Cocktail Menu

I am totally going to order some drinks like these at my usual fancy but still cool bar pub speakeasy tonight!

NYC diners in the 90sJan 08 2014

From photographer Greg Alessandrini, a collection of photos of diners in New York City taken in the 1990s. I was pleased to see a shot of Jones Diner, which I ate at several months before moving to NYC:

Jones Diner

It closed shortly before we moved and I never got to eat there again. At the time, word was some condos were being built on the site, but it took ten years for construction to start. What a waste.

BTW, the rest of Alessandrini's site is well worth a look...hundreds and possibly thousands of photographs of NYC from the 80s and 90s. (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Nabisco scientists discover unstable Quadriscuit crackerJan 02 2014

Inspired by the escalating blade count of the razor industry, Nabisco has developed a new snack called the Quadriscuit.

"At the moment, this hyperwafer can only exist for six milliseconds in a precisely calibrated field of magnetic energy, positrons, roasted garlic, and beta particles," lab chief Dr. Paul Ellison told reporters at a press conference outside Nabisco's $200 million seven-whole-grain accelerator.

The last line of the piece made me LOL for real. (thx, meg)

2004: a good food year for NYCDec 31 2013

2004 was a pretty good year for the NYC food scene. Among the openings were The Spotted Pig, Per Se, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and Shake Shack.

If there was a movement taking shape, its key players admit they didn't notice until after the fact. And many of them spent the year struggling. Mr. Chang was desperate for customers in the early days at Noodle Bar, and kicking himself for having failed to apply for a kitchen job at Per Se or Masa. "I remember thinking very clearly, 'What am I doing?' " he said. " 'This is stupid. I should be working at Masa!' "

In some cases, 2004 was an outright fight. At the Spotted Pig, Mr. Friedman and Ms. Bloomfield, who had arrived from England, envisioned the vibrant boite as "a really cool bar that happened to have food as good as any restaurant in town," Mr. Friedman said. "Who made the rule that you can't have a real chef instead of someone who defrosts the frozen French fries?"

A history of the chocolate chip cookieDec 30 2013

Who can resist reading a profile of the chocolate chip cookie when it contains delectable little morsels like this:

Wakefield's cookie was the perfect antidote to the Great Depression. In a single inexpensive hand-held serving, it contained the very richness and comfort that millions of people were forced to live without in the late nineteen-thirties.

Happy 75th, cookie.

Iron ChefDec 22 2013

An epic post on MetaFilter about the original Iron Chef, the cooking show that aired in Japan from 1993-1999. YouTube links to every show are included, so there's your holiday viewing all sorted. Iron Chef is my all-time favorite food show. I learned a lot about cooking watching it.

How to make the perfect chocolate chip cookieDec 20 2013

At Serious Eats, Kenji Lopez-Alt turned 32 pounds of flour and other ingredients into more than 1500 cookies and in the process discovered how to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

You see, I've never been able to get a chocolate chip cookie exactly the way I like. I'm talking chocolate cookies that are barely crisp around the edges with a buttery, toffee-like crunch that transitions into a chewy, moist center that bends like caramel, rich with butter and big pockets of melted chocolate. Cookies with crackly, craggy tops and the complex aroma of butterscotch. And of course, that elusive perfect balance between sweet and salty.

Some have come close, but none have quite hit the mark. And the bigger problem? I was never sure what to change in order to get what I want. Cookies are fickle and the advice out there is conflicting. Does more sugar make for crisper cookies? What about brown versus white? Does it matter how I incorporate the chocolate chips or whether the flour is blended in or folded? How about the butter: cold, warm, or melted?

So many questions to ask and answers to explore! I made it my goal to test each and every element from ingredients to cooking process, leaving no chocolate chip unturned in my quest for the best. 32 pounds of flour, over 100 individual tests, and 1,536 cookies later, I had my answers.

Dang, this is like The Power Broker for baked goods, a cookie magnum opus.

Update: Back in 2007, my wife took a different approach to making the perfect chocolate chip cookie: she averaged the ingredients from 12 of the best cookie recipes she could find. The averaged recipe reads, in part:

2.04 cups all-purpose flour
0.79 tsp. salt
0.79 tsp. baking soda

0.805 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
0.2737 stick unsalted butter, cold
0.5313 stick unsalted butter, melted

The taste of freedomDec 19 2013

People waiting in line for food in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s:

Lines Soviet

The opening day line for the newest outpost of the Shake Shack in Moscow:

Lines Shake Shack

That's nothing, though, compared to the line to get into the first McDonald's in the Soviet Union, which opened in Moscow in 1990.

A year later in Moscow, an estimated 1.6 million people turned out to see Metallica in concert. Look at all those people:

What to do about The Great Sriracha Shortage of Early 2014Dec 18 2013

People are freaked out about the availability of sriracha sauce because a judge in California halted shipments of the trendy condiment until mid-January because of health concerns.

According the LA Times, the California Department of Public Health is enforcing a 30-day hold on the company's products because no ingredients in their sauces are cooked. The idea is that the hold "helps ensure the sauce is free of harmful microorganisms for the duration of its shelf life" explains a DOH rep. While Huy Fong Foods expects shipments to resume normally following the hold, this is extremely bad news for distributors who are stuck without Sriracha.

But while the Huy Fong's rooster sauce will be unavailable for awhile, plenty of other companies make sriracha...it's like thinking you'll have to go shoeless in the snow because you can't buy Nikes for a month. For instance, try some of the other selections from this Serious Eats taste test from earlier this year. The Shark brand is even available on Amazon and will arrive in time for you to make your famous Volcanic Pigs in a Blanket for New Year's Eve.

Let it dough, let it dough, let it doughDec 16 2013

Christoph Niemann uses cookie dough, cookie cutters, and sprinkles to recreate the Bible's book of Genesis. More or less.

Niemann Xmas Cookies

French cafe charges extra for rudenessDec 12 2013

French Rude Cafe

A cafe in Nice, France charges rude customers five times more for a cup of coffee than those who say hello and please.

"A coffee" will set you back €7, according to the sign, while "a coffee please" is a little more affordable, at €4.25.

If you want keep your expenses down, and stay friends with your local barista, however, the best option is "Hello, a coffee please," which will only cost you €1.40.

The manager says that although the pricing scheme has never been enforced, customer civility is up. Cheekiness is on the rise as well:

"Most of my customers are regulars and they just see the funny side and exaggerate their politeness," he said, adding "They started calling me 'your greatness' when they saw the sign."

(via eater)

Hot Dogs on the RocksDec 02 2013

The Rolling Stones favorite American dish is something the band invented called Hot Dogs on the Rocks:

Hot Dogs Rocks

10 frankfurters
5 potatoes, or enough instant mashed potatoes to serve five
1 large can baked beans

Prepare instant mashed potatoes, or boil and mash the potatoes. (Use milk and butter, making regular, every-day mashed potatoes.) Cook the frankfurters according to the package directions and heat the baked beans.

On each plate, serve a mound of creamy mashed potatoes ringed by heated canned baked beans. Over all the top of this, slice up the frankfurters in good-sized chunks.

Emily from Dinner is Served made some Hot Dogs on the Rocks; this is what the finished product looks like:

Hot Dogs Rocks Finished

The recipe is from a 1967 "scene-makers cook book" called Singers & Swingers in the Kitchen (at Amazon). In addition to the Stones' contribution, the book contained recipes like Paul Anka's Party Spaghetti, Crepes Suzette by Liza Minelli, Leonard Nimoy's Cold Soup Nimoy, and Barbra Streisand's Instant Coffee Ice Cream. I dunno...I think I'd take burgers from Sinatra, Dean Martin, or even Hemingway over any of this celebrity fare. (via if charlie parker was a gunslinger)

NYC ramen mapNov 25 2013

From All-You-Can-Eat Press in Brooklyn, the New York Ramen Map.

Attention noodle lovers: this is your lucky day! Our third publication-the New York Ramen Map-is here !! It features 33 of New York's most interesting and delicious noodle shops, plus a special glossary and regional map of ramen in Japan.

Not sure I see my favorite place on there. Same folks also do a New York Doughnut Map and a New York Burger Map.

It's Pappy timeNov 21 2013

This year's allocation of Pappy Van Winkle's cult bourbon was recently released. There's never enough supply to meet demand, which means two things: lines rivaling iPhone release day queues and high resale prices.

Pappy Line

On Craigslist in NYC, bottles of Pappy are for sale for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. One seller is offering a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year for $1,250...that's right around $80 for each 1.5 oz pour (without any markup).

Pappy Prices

Luckily, there are some close-but-not-quite alternatives. As this article on the bourbon family tree notes, the W.L. Weller 12 Year contains the same whiskey as Pappy 15 Year, but aged three fewer years. It can be readily found online for around $26 a bottle. To bump it perhaps a little closer to actual, Bourbonr has concocted what they call Poor Man's Pappy:

Pick up a bottle of both W.L. Weller 12 (90 proof) and Old Weller Antique 107 (107 proof). They will cost around $20-$30 each. Start off with a 50:50 mixture of the two Bourbons. The easiest way to do this is with a digital scale. If you don't have a scale just add a tablespoon from both Bourbons to your glass. With a 50:50 ratio you have a 98.5 proof delicious Bourbon.

Next, try a different ratio. Try mixing 60:40 Antique to 12. The Bourbon blend is now 100.2 proof and much closer in taste to the 107 proof Pappy 15.

Anyone else tried this? Thoughts?

The bourbon family treeNov 15 2013

A chart of where many varieties of bourbon come from, along with five things you can learn from the chart.

Bourbon Chart

Pappy Van Winkle is frequently described by both educated and uneducated drinkers as the best bourbon on the market. It is certainly aged for longer than most premium bourbons, and has earned a near hysterical following of people scrambling to get one of the very few bottles that are released each year. Of the long-aged bourbons, it seems to be aged very gently year-to-year, and this recommends it enormously. But if you, like most people, can't find Pappy, try W. L. Weller. There's a 12 year old variety that retails for $23 around the corner. Pappy 15-year sells for $699-$1000 even though it's the exact same liquid as the Pappy (same mash bill, same spirit, same barrels); the only difference is it's aged 3 years less.

The chart is taken from the Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining.

Written by the founders of Kings County Distillery, New York City's first distillery since Prohibition, this spirited illustrated book explores America's age-old love affair with whiskey. It begins with chapters on whiskey's history and culture from 1640 to today, when the DIY trend and the classic cocktail craze have conspired to make it the next big thing. For those thirsty for practical information, the book next provides a detailed, easy-to-follow guide to safe home distilling, complete with a list of supplies, step-by-step instructions, and helpful pictures, anecdotes, and tips.

(via df)

Convert money to happiness with expensive wineNov 13 2013

Felix Salmon shares perhaps the most reliable technique for turning money into happiness: buying and drinking expensive wine.

But here's the trick: if you can't buy happiness by spending more money on higher quality, then you can buy happiness by spending money taking advantage of all the reasons why people still engage in blind tastings, despite the fact that they are a very bad way to judge a wine's quality. If you know what the wine you're tasting is, if you know where it comes from, if you know who made it, if you've met the winemaker, and in general, if you know how expensive it is -- then that knowledge deeply affects -- nearly always to the upside -- the way in which you taste and appreciate the wine in question.

The end of the Waffle HouseNov 05 2013

From the Indiana Daily Student, the last days in the life of a Waffle House in Bloomington, Indiana.

Most of the students had stopped visiting years ago. The smoking ban forced out the puffers. Many of the regulars grew so old that they died or went to nursing homes.

Once Bud decided to close, it all slipped away even faster. Some of his staff had taken other jobs. The gumballs emptied out of the shiny red machine. No one bothered to mark the white board with the daily special.

They would close at precisely 3 p.m. Bud checked his watch, ignoring the broken wall clock, its hands frozen for more years than he could remember, stuck in time.

It suited the place.

Care of Google Maps, here's the Waffle House before it got torn down. (via unlikely words)

Take-out place goes as Alinea for HalloweenOct 31 2013

Real Kitchen, a small Chicago eatery that mostly does take-out food, dressed up as Michelin 3-star Alinea for Halloween. Some genuine LOLs here, especially the table-side dessert to-go.

The science of boozeOct 25 2013

Hmm, this looks interesting: an upcoming book on the science of booze written by Adam Rogers.

In Proof, Adam Rogers reveals alcohol as a miracle of science, going deep into the pleasures of making and drinking booze-and the effects of the latter. The people who make and sell alcohol may talk about history and tradition, but alcohol production is really powered by physics, molecular biology, organic chemistry, and a bit of metallurgy-and our taste for those products is a melding of psychology and neurobiology.

Proof takes readers from the whisky-making mecca of the Scottish Highlands to the oenology labs at UC Davis, from Kentucky bourbon country to the most sophisticated gene-sequencing labs in the world -- and to more than one bar -- bringing to life the motley characters and evolving science behind the latest developments in boozy technology.

Rogers wrote the piece about the mystery whiskey fungus I linked to a couple of years ago.

The usual?Oct 23 2013

On the occasion of leaving New York, Rebecca Flint Marx writes about one of her favorite New York City places (Russ & Daughters) and a particular counterman there, Paul.

Being a regular is a funny thing in a big city. Outside, you're just an anonymous schmo. But if you come inside often enough, each visit starts to feel like a family reunion of sorts; like the extended members of your biological family, the people you encounter will likely be happy enough to see you, though they probably have little idea of who you actually are as a person. But there's a beauty in deciding how much of yourself to offer as part of the general exchange of money and goods: You can be the thoughtfully curated version of you -- the one who always smiles and never has any problems. The one who is a good person simply because she says "please" and "thank you," exchanges salty banter with the cantankerous counterman, and bakes a cake for the Yom Kippur rush, as I started doing for the staff a few years ago.

What a lovely piece. See also the joys of being a regular.

Paying it forward in the drive-thruOct 21 2013

You pull up to the fast-food drive-through window and pull out your wallet. But the cashier tells you to put your money away because the person in the car in front of you already paid for your meal. For some reason, that's been happening to more and more people.

Whereas paying it forward in drive-throughs occurred maybe once or twice a year a decade ago, now fast-food operators said it might happen several times a day.

Last December, 228 consecutive cars paid it forward at a fast food joint in Winnipeg. According to one woman who pays it forward at least once a week:

It's about giving, and letting people see not everybody is bad, and there are nice people out there and maybe we can turn it around.

Pretty cool. But these folks ought to pay forward some fruits and vegetables once in a while.

Soho's food machineOct 18 2013

Here's how Balthazar, one of Manhattan's busiest and most-beloved restaurants, serves 1500 meals every single day.

Roughly one in 10 people who enter Balthazar orders the steak frites. It is far and away the restaurant's best-selling dish, and Balthazar can sell as many as 200 on a busy day. A plate of steak and potatoes requires a tremendous input of labor if you're going to charge $38 for it. At a smaller restaurant, cooks are typically responsible for setting up their own mise-en-place -- preparing food for their stations -- before each service begins, but at Balthazar, things are necessarily more atomized. The fries, for example, go through numerous steps of prep, done by a few different people, before they wind up on a plate.

Step 1 begins at about 6:30 a.m., when Diogene Peralta and Ramon Alvino, the prep cooks in charge of potatoes, each grab a 50-pound case of GPODs, from the Idaho company that sources Russet Burbank potatoes, known for their consistency, and place a massive plastic tub on the floor behind them. This morning, Alvino is flying, his left hand's fingers imperceptibly rotating the potato between upward strokes of the peeler, blindly flipping the naked spuds over his shoulder into the tub. I pull up my phone's stopwatch to time him for a minute, treating each potato as a lap: his slowest is 10.7 seconds, his quickest 6.4. Alvino, a shy man from the Dominican Republic, has been doing this same job for 15 years. "Like anything else, it was difficult at first," he says, but he caught his rhythm after a couple of months. Peralta has been at it for 14 years. Today, they will peel and chip about 600 pounds of potatoes. (Since russet supplies are short in late summer, Balthazar stockpiles thousands of cases of potatoes in a New Jersey warehouse.) Next, they will soak them in water that must be changed three times in order to leach out starch. The potatoes that are peeled today won't be fried, actually, until tomorrow, and then refried -- but that's another guy's job.

What an intricately designed system; even the menu is designed to drive profit.

Making cheese with artisan Swiss cheesemakersOct 18 2013

Swiss Cheese Journey

If you're into cheese, you'll want to take this photographic journey into a season with Swiss cheesemakers.

In Gruyeres, western Switzerland, from mid-May to mid-October, the fifth generation of the Murith family produces its distinctive mountain pasture Gruyere cheese. Each wheel of cheese weighs between 25 and 40 kilograms, and takes a minimum of six months to mature. The family produces 200 wheels each year to sell locally, using unpasteurized milk from their own herd of cows. Reuters photographer Denis Balibouse spent time with the Murith family over this past grazing season, capturing days and nights in the alpine pastures of Switzerland.

The McDonald's tasting menuOct 09 2013

McDonald's recently held an event where chefs took the ingredients used to make McDonald's menu items and used them to make dishes that one might find at a nice restaurant. Thrillist has the report.

Fancy McDonald's

The slow-cooked beef with blueberry pomegranate sauce and Mac Fry gnocchi comes from McD's chef Jessica Foust, and was, without a doubt, the best of the night. It's their burger beef before it gets ground, plus blueberries and pomegranates from the smoothies, thinly ribboned carrots, and French fries magically turned into gnocchi.

See also a previous discussion of fast food and fine dining. Dammit, now I'm hungry for a Quarter Pounder... (via @jeb)

Why do we eat popcorn at the movies?Oct 04 2013

Smithsonian Mag goes way back to explain why we eat popcorn at the movies.

About 8,000 years ago, maize was cultivated from teosinte, a wild grass that doesn't look much like the modern corn we know today. Popcorn -- a name mostly associated with puffed kernels of corn -- is actually a strain of corn, characterized by especially starchy kernels with hard kernel walls, which help internal pressure build when placed over heat. It was one of the first variations of maize cultivated in Central America. "Popcorn went north and it went south, but as far as I can see, it really only survived in South America," says Andrew Smith, author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn. Eventually, trade and commerce brought the unique kernels northward. "Most likely, North American whalers went to Chile, found varieties of popcorn, picked them up and thought that they were cute, and brought them back to New England in the early 19th century," Smith explains.

What makes Nacho Cheese Doritos so appealing?Oct 02 2013

The NY Times on how Nacho Cheese Doritos are engineered to get people to eat as many of them as possible.

Despite the powerful tastes in Nacho Cheese, the Doritos formula balances them so well that no single flavor lingers in the mind after you've eaten a chip. This avoids what food scientists call "sensory specific satiety," or the feeling of fullness caused by a dominant flavor. Would you eat a whole bag of rosemary chips? With Doritos, you go back for more.

I rarely eat Doritos (and when I do, it's Cool Ranch), but my mouth was watering just from reading this.

Restaurant ditches tipping, service gets betterSep 30 2013

Jay Porter recently wrote a series of posts about his experience running a restaurant that abolished tipping. Here's part one:

This is a summary of the experiences I had in our no-tipping lab, and in my next few posts I'll dig a little deeper into each of them. Then I'll finish this series by talking about what I've learned this year from a couple new friends who are researchers from the University of Guelph, and who have brought me in contact with some deeper thoughts about the tipping issue, from the social justice side. After seeing what they and their colleagues have uncovered, I've become convinced that thoughtful cultures who value civil rights will make tipping not just optional but illegal; and that this could actually happen sooner rather than later, when courts assess the reality of the situation.

If you want the Cliff Notes version, Porter wrote a shorter piece for Slate.

When we switched from tipping to a service charge, our food improved, probably because our cooks were being paid more and didn't feel taken for granted. In turn, business improved, and within a couple of months, our server team was making more money than it had under the tipped system. The quality of our service also improved. In my observation, however, that wasn't mainly because the servers were making more money (although that helped, too). Instead, our service improved principally because eliminating tips makes it easier to provide good service.

The Ernest Hemingway burgerSep 19 2013

Ernest Hemingway liked a good burger and had a specific recipe he wanted his staff to use when preparing meals. Using his instructions, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan recently recreated the Hemingway burger.

Fingers deep, I kneaded. Fighting the urge to be careless and quick, I kept the pace rhythmic, slow. Each squeeze, I hoped, would gently ease the flavors -- knobby bits of garlic, finely chopped capers, smatterings of dry spices -- into the marbled mound before me.

I had made burgers before, countless times on countless evenings. This one was different; I wasn't making just any burger -- I was attempting to recreate Hemingway's hamburger. And it had to be just right.

Surprisingly, with 11 different ingredients, Hemingway's burger is not as stripped down as his prose. For a more minimalist burger, you have to turn to Dean Martin:

Dean Martin Burger

Frank Sinatra's is perhaps even easier:

Sinatra Burger

One thing is for sure: none of these gentlemen would cotton to the idea of the ramen burger, homemade or no. (via open culture)

Area man brews own beer in gutSep 18 2013

A Texas man was getting drunk without drinking alcohol and his doctors think they figured out why: brewer's yeast in his in gut was brewing beer and making the man intoxicated.

The patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cordell says. So when he ate or drank a bunch of starch -- a bagel, pasta or even a soda -- the yeast fermented the sugars into ethanol, and he would get drunk. Essentially, he was brewing beer in his own gut. Cordell and McCarthy reported the case of "auto-brewery syndrome" a few months ago in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.

Some clever entrepreneur will undoubtedly turn this syndrome into a product...the market opportunity for a pill that allows you to get drunk on spaghetti *and* be the owner/operator of your own microbrewery is too large to ignore. (via ★interesting)

On the regularSep 18 2013

Former NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni writes about the joys of being a regular at your neighborhood restaurant.

What you have with a restaurant that you visit once or twice is a transaction. What you have with a restaurant that you visit over and over is a relationship.

My wife and I eat out at least once a week and we used to travel all over the city to try all sorts of different places, just-opened hot spots and old favorites alike. It was great. But now we mostly go to a bar/restaurant1 around the corner from where we live and that's even better. Bruni covers the experience pretty well, but I just wanted to share a couple of seemingly small aspects of being a regular:

1. Our local is popular and always crowded, especially during the dreaded 7-10pm hours and double especially Thu-Sat nights. But even when I go in by myself at a peak time, when the bar's jam-packed, there's always a seat for me. It might take a bit, but something opens up and they slot me in, even if I'm only stopping in for a drink and they could seat a two-top for dinner at the bar. (A regular in the hand is worth two in the rush.)

2. This is a totally minor thing but I love it: more than once, I've come in early in the evening, had a drink, left without paying to go run an errand or meet someone somewhere else, and then come back later for another drink or dinner and then settle my bill. It's like having a house account without the house account.

3. Another nice thing about being a regular at a place that values regulars is that you meet the other regulars. This summer I was often left to my own devices for dinner and a couple times a week, I ended up at my local. And almost without exception, I ended up having dinner with someone I'd previously met at the bar. Routinely turning a solo dining experience into dinner with a friend is an amazing accomplishment for a restaurant.

[1] Something I read in one of food writer Jeffrey Steingarten's books has always stuck with me. He said there are certain restaurants he frequents that he never writes about critically. Those places are just for him and he would never recommend them to his readers. Having written for so long here on kottke.org, there are certain things I hold back, that are just for me. Having a public opinion on absolutely everything you love is no way to live.

So, no, I'm not going to tell you what restaurant I'm talking about. It's beside the point anyway...Bruni's not trying to persuade you to try Barbuto or Charlie Bird, it's about you finding your own local.

Modern ToiletSep 12 2013

When I was just out of college, my dad and I went to Beijing. One of my anxieties about the trip concerned my left-handedness, specifically going against the custom of not using your left hand (aka your bathroom hand) to eat. It turned out fine; the semi-expected reprimand never came.

Times have changed. Now, in Shanghai, you can go to a restaurant called Modern Toilet, which is actually one in a chain of Taiwanese stores that are toilet themed.

Modern Toilet

We are a group of "muckrakers" following our dreams. It all started when one of us was reading the manga, Dr. Slump on the toilet -- and the rest is history. In the beginning, we mainly sold ice cream -- a big pile of chocolate ice cream sold in containers shaped like a squat toilet. This humorous spin became a great success.

Susannah Breslin visited the Shanghai Modern Toilet and offers this report.

Upstairs, I took a seat at a table. My seat was a toilet. The table had a glass top. Under it, there was a bowl. In the bowl, there was a plastic swirly turd. The place mats were decorated with smiling turds.

(via @claytoncubitt)

When legends gatherSep 11 2013

Barber Valentine Terry

I watched a lot of pro wrestling when I was a kid and this photo of Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, and fashion photographer Terry Richardson is just too much for me. If nostalgia truly is death, someone better make some arrangements for me.

(If you're not with me on this whole reminiscing about 1980s professional wrestlers thing, Richardson also recently took a photo of Miley Cyrus eating a salad, so you're basically all caught up on current events and you're welcome.)

Hot Pepper Game ReviewsSep 11 2013

Watch as people review video games after eating hot peppers. Here's Erin Schmalfeld reviewing a Nintendo 3DS game after chewing and swallowing an entire habanero:

(via ★interesting)

The magical Brassica oleracea plantSep 11 2013

The apples that you buy at the market are all from the same species of plant, Malus domestica. Within that species, there are 7,500 different varieties (or cultivars) of apples. The list of apple cultivars includes Red Delicious, Macoun, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, and the like. They look and taste different but are all recognizable as apples.

Brassica oleracea is a species of plant that, like the apple, has a number of different cultivars. But these cultivars differ widely from each other: cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collard greens, and cauliflower. Nutty that all those vegetables come from the same species of plant.

(via @ajsheets)

How cranberries are harvestedSep 03 2013

This video seems like it was made specifically for kottke.org. In the first half of it, you learn how cranberries are harvested. In the second half, there's gorgeous HD slo-mo footage of wakeskating through a cranberry bog.

And with a Tycho soundtrack no less...it's all too perfect. (via ★interesting)

Toast for StanleySep 03 2013

From Stanley Kubrick, instructions to the new guy concerning the preparation of his French toast.

You must understand that without the French toast I am no good to the cast and crew. And I will not eat the French toast if it is not prepared the right way. If I do not eat the French toast, my blood sugar will drop to precariously low levels, and I will be groggy and unable to make the necessary split-second decisions a director has to make in order for a film to be successful. Therefore, it is essential that you understand something about the French toast: it is not only my breakfast, it is the film.

Consider the LobsterAug 23 2013

Speaking of lobster, you could do much worse today than reading David Foster Wallace's classic piece for Gourmet about attending the Maine Lobster Festival. As you might imagine, Wallace quickly veers from the event at hand into something more interesting and unsettling for Gourmet's gourmet readers: do lobsters feel pain and do they suffer for your dinner?

Given this article's venue and my own lack of culinary sophistication, I'm curious about whether the reader can identify with any of these reactions and acknowledgments and discomforts. I am also concerned not to come off as shrill or preachy when what I really am is confused. Given the (possible) moral status and (very possible) physical suffering of the animals involved, what ethical convictions do gourmets evolve that allow them not just to eat but to savor and enjoy flesh-based viands (since of course refined enjoyment, rather than just ingestion, is the whole point of gastronomy)? And for those gourmets who'll have no truck with convictions or rationales and who regard stuff like the previous paragraph as just so much pointless navel-gazing, what makes it feel okay, inside, to dismiss the whole issue out of hand? That is, is their refusal to think about any of this the product of actual thought, or is it just that they don't want to think about it? Do they ever think about their reluctance to think about it? After all, isn't being extra aware and attentive and thoughtful about one's food and its overall context part of what distinguishes a real gourmet? Or is all the gourmet's extra attention and sensibility just supposed to be aesthetic, gustatory?

Consider the economics of lobsterAug 20 2013

There are a lot of lobsters in the sea. You could even call it a glut. Over the past few years, the massive lobster harvests have resulted in a significant reduction in what buyers are paying for a lobster off the boat. So why aren't we seeing major price drops at our local restaurants? Here's part of the reason: A luxury good is considered a luxury good in part because it's priced like one. Cheap lobster could throw the rest of your menu into chaos.

Studies have shown that people prefer inexpensive wines in blind taste tests, but that they actually get more pleasure from drinking wine they are told is expensive. If lobster were priced like chicken, we might enjoy it less.

In The New Yorker, James Surowiecki cracks open the surprising complexity of lobster prices.

Serious Eats MagazineAug 16 2013

And speaking of new iOS apps, Serious Eats has launched a monthly iOS magazine in conjunction with 29th Street Publishing. Here's Kenji López-Alt on the app:

So how do we find content for these magazines? It's a question we wracked our brains on long and hard before deciding that the most valuable service for our readers would be to craft issues around individual subjects -- think barbecue, pizza, or pies -- by combining the most popular recipes and features in our archives into single, elegant collections.

The science of Boston's molasses flood of 1919Aug 13 2013

Boston Molasses Flood

On January 15, 1919 in Boston's North End, a storage container holding around 2.3 million gallons of molasses ruptured, sending a 8-15 ft. wave of molasses shooting out into the streets at 35 mph. Twenty-one people died, many more were injured, and the property damage was severe. In an article in Scientific American, Ferris Jabr explains the science of the molasses flood, including why it was so deadly and destructive.

A wave of molasses does not behave like a wave of water. Molasses is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means that its viscosity depends on the forces applied to it, as measured by shear rate. Consider non-Newtonian fluids such as toothpaste, ketchup and whipped cream. In a stationary bottle, these fluids are thick and goopy and do not shift much if you tilt the container this way and that. When you squeeze or smack the bottle, however, applying stress and increasing the shear rate, the fluids suddenly flow. Because of this physical property, a wave of molasses is even more devastating than a typical tsunami. In 1919 the dense wall of syrup surging from its collapsed tank initially moved fast enough to sweep people up and demolish buildings, only to settle into a more gelatinous state that kept people trapped.

This could just be a Boston urban legend, but it's said that on hot days in the North End, the sweet smell of molasses can be detected wafting through the air.

A brief history of the kid's menuAug 10 2013

Pretty interesting history of how the children's menu came to "grace" restaurant tables around the country.

Children tend to rise to the culinary bar we set for them, and children's menus in America set the bar very low indeed. To look at the standard kids' menu, greasy with prefab items like chicken fingers, tater tots, and mac-and-cheese, you might think that industrial food manufacturers have been responsible for setting it. But the delusion that a child even needs a special menu is a lot older than the chicken nuggets that have come to dominate it. In fact, the children's menu dates back to Prohibition, when, remarkably, it was devised with a child's health in mind.

I hate kid's menus. Our kids would happily order off the main menu but as soon as the promise of hot dogs and chicken fingers arrives with crayons, it's difficult to steer them away.

Spherical cake tutorialAug 06 2013

Spherical Cake

Each layer is different kind of cake which is baked and then pressed into the batter of the next larger cake, covered, and rebaked. The largest of which you bake in halves in two glass mixing bowls.

It's like a dessert turducken. Mmmm.

(via @rustyk5)

In America, the cheese is deadJul 29 2013

Market researcher Clotaire Rapaille was interviewed for an episode of Frontline on advertising and marketing back in 2003. I like what he had to say about the differences in how the French and Americans think about cheese.

For example, if I know that in America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don't want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag. You can put it in the fridge. I know the fridge is the morgue; that's where you put the dead bodies. And so once you know that, this is the way you market cheese in America.

I started working with a French company in America, and they were trying to sell French cheese to the Americans. And they didn't understand, because in France the cheese is alive, which means that you can buy it young, mature or old, and that's why you have to read the age of the cheese when you go to buy the cheese. So you smell, you touch, you poke. If you need cheese for today, you want to buy a mature cheese. If you want cheese for next week, you buy a young cheese. And when you buy young cheese for next week, you go home, [but] you never put the cheese in the refrigerator, because you don't put your cat in the refrigerator. It's the same; it's alive. We are very afraid of getting sick with cheese. By the way, more French people die eating cheese than Americans die. But the priority is different; the logic of emotion is different. The French like the taste before safety. Americans want safety before the taste.

(via @pieratt)

Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato?Jul 19 2013

Today's fun game is: Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato? Let's get started. Is this a creamy bowl of lemon-lime pistachio gelato or the inside of a golf ball?

Golf Ball Innards

Ok, that was an easy one. How about this one...is this half of a crazy-ass golf ball or a delicious bowl of watermelon bubble gum gelato?

Golf Ball Innards

It's gotta be gelato, right? Ok, last one: gelato or cross section of a golf ball from a project called Interior Designs by photographer James Friedman?

Golf Ball Innards

Yum, I can almost taste the blueberries through the screen. Well, that's all the time we have today, folks. You've been a great group of contestants, and we hope to see you next week on Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato? (via edible geography)

Feeding the Tour de France ridersJul 17 2013

Hannah Grant, a chef who used to work for highly influential Noma (among other places), is now the chef for the Saxo-Tinkoff cycling team currently competing in the Tour de France. She cooks for the entire team out of a food truck.

First of all, I set the menu. I mean, they can request stuff, the riders, if they want. I'll note it and I'll do it if it's possible. But, obviously, then there's rules to how to assemble the menu. Today's a rest day, so we do a low-carb lunch for them. They're not going so far, they just want to keep their legs going, so we don't want to fill them up too much. And we don't want to go too hard on the carbs so they don't gain weight.

Then we have a philosophy of using lots of vegetables, proteins, and cold-pressed fats, and then we use a lot of gluten-free alternatives. So we try to encourage the riders to try other things than just pasta and bread. I do gluten-free breads as well.

It's all to minimize all the little things that can stop you from performing 100 percent, that promote injuries, stomach problems, all those things. So that's a big difference (from cooking in a restaurant), because I have to follow all those rules. I can't just cook whatever I think is amazing. It has to be within those guidelines.

Then I take it as my personal job to take these guidelines and then make an incredible product from it, so they don't feel like they're missing out on things. It shouldn't be a punishment to travel with a kitchen truck and a chef who cooks you food that's good for you.

Grant's cooking seems to be paying off for the team...Saxo-Tinkoff currently has two riders in the top five and is in second place overall in the team classification. (via @sampotts)

Hot IPO: a pasta restaurantJul 02 2013

What has been the hottest IPO of the year so far? Some new-fangled technology perhaps? Or maybe a trend-setting company from one of the coasts set to take their product offering national and then global? Nope, it was a Denver-based, pasta-centric restaurant chain called Noodles & Co. The company's IPO bucked a lot of trends (including, it seems, the war on flour). Here's The Daily Beast on how a pasta chain punked Wall Street.

[That's Dave Pell's take from Nextdraft, but I have to weigh in here. I've eaten at Noodles & Co many times. I ate there last week, actually. The restaurants do well because the service is friendly & responsive, your order comes out quickly, and the food is remarkably good for the money you pay (like at Chipotle). No one would ever mistake the Pad Thai or Japanese Pan Noodles for the authentic thing, but they are both delicious. I like the Steak Stroganoff so much that I crave it even when surrounded by the amazing and varied food choices of NYC. No idea if Noodles & Co would do well in Manhattan, but they'd definitely have one customer. -jkottke]

Feel feel feel feel feel, feel the heatJun 20 2013

Mary Roach travels to the state of Nagaland in India, where some of the world's hottest chili peppers grow, to observe a chili-eating competition, in which contestants see who can eat the most insanely hot chilis in 20 seconds. This guy is dealing with the after effects of competing (perhaps on a vision quest):

Chili Contestant

The event itself is surprisingly low-key. The mood is one of stoic grimness. No one is screaming in pain. No one will be scarred by the heat. That's not how capsaicin works. It only feels hot. The human tongue has pain receptors that respond to a certain intensity of temperature or acid. These nerve fibers send a signal to the brain, which it forwards to your conscious self in the form of a burning sensation. Capsaicin lowers the threshold at which this happens. It registers "hot" at room temperature. "It trips the alarm," says Bruce Bryant, a senior researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "It says, 'Get this out of your mouth right now!'" The chili pepper tricks you into setting it free.

The whole affair is beginning to seem like an anticlimax when I look up from my notes to see Pu Zozam headed my way. I have seen people stagger in movies, but never for real directly in my sightline. Zozam's legs buckle as he tries to keep walking. He goes down onto one knee and collapses sideways onto the floor. He rolls onto his back, arms splayed and palms up. He's making sounds that are hard to transcribe. Mostly vowels.

This story gives me the chance to alert you to one of my favorite units of measure, the Scoville scale, a "measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers". As the article states, the chili used in the contest has been measured at 1,000,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). As a comparison, Sriracha sauce is about 1000-2000 SHU, jalapenos register 3,500-8,000 SHU, and habanero is about 100,000-350,000 SHU. (via coudal)

Caffeine can cramp creativityJun 19 2013

"Sparks shoot all the way up to the brain" while "ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages."

That's how Balzac described the effects of drinking coffee (and it's tough to question his expertise on the topic as he famously downed the equivalent of 50 cups a day). We know caffeine can make us more energetic and increase our ability to concentrate. But does it also prevent the "wandering, unfocussed mind" that leads to creativity? From the New Yorker's Maria Konnikova: How Caffeine Can Cramp Creativity.

Portraits of grandmas and their foodJun 18 2013

Photographer Gabriele Galimberti travelled around the world (Morocco, Philippines, Italy, India) to get these shots of grandmothers and the foods they cook.

Grandma Food

Each pair of photographs includes a recipe for making the pictured dish. Galimberti's other projects are very much worth checking out as well. (via @youngna)

Seven myths about cooking steakJun 12 2013

For the Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt debunks some old wives' tales related to cooking steak.

Myth #2: "Sear your meat over high heat to lock in juices."

The Theory: Searing the surface of a cut piece of meat will precipitate the formation of an impenetrable barrier, allowing your meat to retain more juices as it cooks.

The Reality: Searing produces no such barrier-liquid can still pass freely in and out of the surface of a seared steak. To prove this, I cooked two steaks to the exact same internal temperature (130^0F). One steak I seared first over hot coals and finished over the cooler side of the grill. The second steak I started on the cooler side, let it come to about ten degrees below its final target temperature, then finished it by giving it a sear over the hot side of a grill. If there is any truth to the searing story, then the steak that was seared first should retain more moisture.

What I found is actually the exact opposite: the steak that is cooked gently first and finished with a sear will not only develop a deeper, darker crust (due to slightly drier outer layers-see Myth #1), but it also cooks more evenly from center to edge, thus limiting the amount of overcooked meat and producing a finished product that is juicier and more flavorful.

If you're serious about home-cooked steak, the "Further Reading" section at the bottom of this piece is your new best friend.

Trailer for season two of Comedians In Cars Getting CoffeeJun 10 2013

People love Jerry Seinfeld so much that we will watch him driving cars and drinking coffee with other comedians. Wait, that actually sounds fantastic!

All the season one episodes are available on YouTube, featuring Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin, Michael Richards, and Larry David. (via devour)

The recipe for the cronutJun 04 2013

Cronut

Cronuts are donuts made from croissant dough and they are all the rage here in NYC. They were invented by chef Dominique Ansel and they are only available in limited quantities at his bakery in Soho. Apparently people start lining up for them at 6am and all 200 of the world's daily supply of cronuts are gone within minutes of opening. Naturally, a black market has sprung up, with cronuts selling on Craigslist for upwards of $25/item:

Cronut Craigslist

Kevin Roose has some ideas for Ansel about expanding the reach of the cronut, but in the meantime, Edd Kimber replicated the treat at home with a quickie croissant dough.

Since I wont be in New York any time soon I thought I would see if I could replicate them at home, and you know what? They are pretty damn good! Now the dough I'm using isnt a proper croissant dough, its my quick dough made with just 20 minutes active work which, compared to traditional croissant dough is a snap to make.

Update: Pillsbury has gotten into the act as well with a cronut recipe that uses their crescent dough.

Kim Jong-il's sushi chefJun 04 2013

Kenji Fujimoto spent more than a decade as Kim Jong-il's personal chef and his children's nanny. This is his amazing story.

At a lavish Wonsan guesthouse, Fujimoto prepared sushi for a group of executives who would be arriving on a yacht. Executive is Fujimoto's euphemism for generals, party officials, or high-level bureaucrats. In other words, Kim Jong-il's personal entourage. Andguesthouse is code for a series of palaces decorated with cold marble, silver-braided bedspreads, ice purple paintings of kimilsungia blossoms, and ceilings airbrushed with the cran-apple mist of sunset, as if Liberace's jet had crashed into Lenin's tomb.

At two in the morning, the boat finally docked. Fujimoto began serving sushi for men who obviously had been through a long party already. He would come to realize these parties tended to be stacked one atop another, sometimes four in a row, spreading out over days.

All the men wore military uniforms except for one imperious fellow in a casual sports tracksuit. This man was curious about the fish. He asked Fujimoto about the marbled, fleshy cuts he was preparing.

"That's toro," Fujimoto told him.

For the rest of the night, this man kept calling out, "Toro, one more!"

The next day, Fujimoto was talking to the mamasan of his hotel. She was holding a newspaper, the official Rodong Sinmun, and on the front page was a photo of the man in the tracksuit. Fujimoto told her this was the man he'd just served dinner.

"She started trembling," Fujimoto said of the moment he realized the man's true identity. "Then I started trembling."

The man in the tracksuit invited Fujimoto back to make more sushi. Fujimoto didn't speak Korean, so he had a government-appointed interpreter with him at all times. At the end of the evening, a valet handed the interpreter an envelope.

"From Jang-gun-nim," the valet said.

Perhaps the reason Fujimoto hadn't known he'd been serving Kim Jong-il was because "no one ever called him by his real name," Fujimoto said. "Never."

Small-batch, artisanal high-fructose corn syrupMay 31 2013

Maya Weinstein has created a DIY kit for making your own HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup). You may have already guessed that it's an art project and that the artist lives in Brooklyn.

The DIY High Fructose Corn Syrup Kit (DIY HFCS KIT) begin as a journey to uncover the mysteries of processed food. Often times at the grocery store while reading common food labels one cannot distinguish what certain ingredients are or where they came from. The DIY HFCS Kit is a way to visualize as well as interact with the food science behind industrialized ingredients, it is citizen food science for everyone, everywhere. The ingredient chosen for this particular kit is one that is seen a lot in processed and pre-made foods, it is pretty much everywhere, and it goes by the name high fructose corn syrup. The interesting thing about high fructose corn syrup is that the ingredient pops up in so many foods; from cereal to bread, yogurt to ice cream, frozen dinners to canned soups; but high fructose corn syrup is never actually seen on its own. One of the main reasons for this is because it is a highly processed industrialized ingredient created in large factories behind very closed doors. The method for making for high fructose corn syrup was not easy to uncover, nor were the ingredients, but with a little help from some friends and a whole lotta research and testing the Kit was finally created.

Weinstein was planning a Kickstarter campaign for kit sales but "they didn't really understand what I was doing, they said my business plan was unclear". (via @CharlesCMann)

Restaurant rankings vs. ratingsMay 22 2013

Interesting piece about how the shift in influence from the Michelin Guide to the World's 50 Best Restaurants list has changed the approach of elite restaurants.

Just look at Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant that has over the past few years steadily risen the ranks of the World's 50 Best list (it's currently ranked No. 5). As recently as four years ago, it was just an expertly run restaurant, specializing in luxe ingredients, disarmingly warm service, and lovely meals. It got as many stars as it could from every venue that gave them out, but as a New Yorker story last September made clear, to get a high ranking on the World's 50 Best list, the restaurant had to do something different, so they moved from a standard menu to a "grid" menu in 2010 that was designed to offer diners a greater sense of control over their meals. It ranked 50th on the 2010 list, 24th on the 2011 list, and 10th when the 2012 list was announced in April of that year. In July 2012, the restaurant announced they'd be switching formats yet again, this time to a single tasting menu focused on New York terroir. (Some theatrical service elements that accompanied the meal -- long explanations of dish inspiration, for example -- got a negative reaction and have been more or less excised.) Did any of these changes make the restaurant "better"? Having eaten there a number of times over the years, this author would say that it's not really any better or worse -- it was and still is operating at the highest possible level a restaurant can. But it doesn't matter if the changes made the restaurant better: Every time the restaurant switched up its format, it got plenty of accompanying media coverage that let judges know they needed to return to see what was going on.

(via @Gachatz)

You should be eating more SpamMay 22 2013

For Slate, Anna Weaver argues that Spam aligns quite well with current food trends in America and should be eaten more.

Consider that Spam contains not only ham (meat from the hind leg of the pig) but also pork shoulder. Today, pork shoulder is beloved by chefs and home cooks, but when Spam first hit the shelves, it was an underutilized and underappreciated cut. Hormel took that underrated meat and transformed it into a salty, meaty treat. "It's a centuries-old idea," says Hawaiian chef Alan Wong, who pays homage to Spam in his eponymous Honolulu restaurant. "You get all your trimmings and you turn them into sausage or a meatloaf or pate or a terrine." I've never seen a meat-eater turn up his nose at sausage or pate -- what rational basis is there, then, for eschewing their all-American cousin?

See also fast food as molecular gastronomy.

David Chang cooks space food for Chris HadfieldMay 17 2013

Momofuku's David Chang cooks up some gourmet space food for celeb astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work out so well. Who knew that gravity was so useful? But stay for the best part of the whole thing...right at the end, Hadfield feeds himself asparagus like a fish.

Slow motion video of kids trying new foodsMay 10 2013

Perfect for a slow Friday afternoon. Have a good weekend everyone.

NYC's broken food cart systemMay 07 2013

Adam Davidson on the asinine and broken food truck/cart system in NYC. This short paragraph not only explains what's wrong with the food cart biz in NYC but also with American politics in general:

Economically speaking, the problem is a standard one, known as the J-curve, which represents a downslope on a graph followed by a steep rise. Some sensible changes to the current food-vendor system may have long-term benefits for everyone, but the immediate impact could spell short-term losses for those who now profit from the system. A small group of New Yorkers -- particularly owners of commissaries and physical restaurants -- are highly motivated to lobby politicians not to change things. And most of the potential beneficiaries don't realize they're missing out. Many of the rest of us would love to have more varied food trucks, but we don't care enough to pressure the City Council.

(via @tylercowen)

Throwed rollsMay 02 2013

In Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO, they just throw your bread to you from across the restaurant.

Non-Newtonian noodlesMay 01 2013

You've heard of oobleck, yeah? It's a non-Newtonian fluid made of corn starch and water that doesn't act like a normal fluid. Like, for instance, you can run on top of it:

Cooking Issues ran across a video of a cook preparing noodles made from a non-Newtonian batter. Watch as the batter solidifies when he slaps more batter into the sieve and then drains out of the bottom.

Love the technique here. See also the noodle-making robot, power of noodles, Korean honey candy, and, my favorite, flatbread tossing:

(via @Ianmurren)

How animals eat their foodApr 10 2013

This video would be a lot better without the first 15 seconds (sippy cups? talking? who cares?) but the rest of it is pants-wettingly amazing.

Now vs. then: how potato chips are madeApr 09 2013

NPR's Planet Money talked to Ed Herr of Herr Foods about how potato chip manufacturing has changed since 1946, when the company was housed in a barn on his family's land.

Herr estimates that if they currently made chips the way they did back in the 1940s, they'd cost about $25 a bag.

Healthy fast food?Apr 04 2013

Mark Bittman explores the world of healthy fast food and discovers that's slowly becoming a thing.

Good Fast Food doesn't need to be vegan or even vegetarian; it just ought to be real, whole food. The best word to describe a wise contemporary diet is flexitarian, which is nothing more than intelligent omnivorism. There are probably millions of people who now eat this way, including me. My own style, which has worked for me for six years, is to eat a vegan diet before 6 p.m. and then allow myself pretty much whatever I want for dinner. This flexibility avoids junk and emphasizes plants, and Lyfe Kitchen, which offers both "chickin" and chicken -- plus beans, vegetables and grains in their whole forms (all for under 600 calories per dish) -- comes closest to this ideal. But the menu offers too much, the service raises prices too high and speed is going to be an issue. My advice would be to skip the service and the wine, make a limited menu with big flavors and a few treats and keep it as cheap as you can. Of course, there are huge players who could do this almost instantaneously. But the best thing they seem able to come up with is the McWrap or the fresco menu.

Bees still dying at a fantastic rateApr 01 2013

Despite progress in recent years on causes and cures, colony collapse disorder has wreaked havoc on honeybee colonies across the country.

A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation's fruits and vegetables.

Which is like, yeah, big whoop, it's just bees, right? Except that:

The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees.

How climate change could affect coffeeMar 29 2013

Earlier in the week I posted about how climate change is affecting wine. Turns out that coffee is in trouble as well.

But in recent years, keeping the world's coffee drinkers supplied has become increasingly difficult: The spread of a deadly fungus that has been linked to global warming and rising global temperatures in the tropical countries where coffee grows has researchers scrambling to create new varieties of coffee plants that can keep pace with these new threats without reducing quality.

While coffee researchers can do little to prevent climate change, they're hard at work to keep up as Earth braces for temperature increases of several degrees over the next several decades.

"Coffee is the canary in the coal mine for climate change," says Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. "If you can't think about the long term risk for planetary impacts, think about the short term risk for your coffee. Know that a day without coffee is potentially around the corner."

(via nextdraft)

Man caught with 21 tons of stolen cheeseMar 29 2013

Veniamin Konstantinovich Balika recently used false paperwork to load his 18 wheeler with 42,000 pounds of Muenster cheese worth about $200K. Balika's plan was to sell the cheese to retailers on the east coast.

"There's a black market for everything," said Sissman. "We've seen everything stolen. We've found stolen beer, stolen food, stolen machine parts, but this is the first time, we've found stolen cheese.

I wanted the opinion of an industry professional so I reached out to Aaron Foster, Head Buyer at Murray's Cheese Shop.

I've seen a lot of people wondering how the culprit was planning to unload 40,000 lbs of cheese without raising suspicion. Is there such a thing as a cheddar fence? In my opinion, it really wouldn't be that hard. While the larger retailers and chains -- and, of course, Murray's -- have all become much more conscious of food safety and food security, there remains plenty of retailers who would jump at the chance to buy their product for pennies on the dollar, no questions asked. Literally as I wrote this, I received a vague email with the subject "RE: Special sale - Mega aged WI Cheddar". I'll pass, thanks. Groceries, specialty shops, and bodegas that work with perishables need every edge they can get to scrape by. Think about that next time you order your egg and cheese from the corner store.

And then I couldn't help but find out more about stolen cheese. Cheese theft isn't actually that uncommon. In fact, cheese is the most stolen food item of all with up to 4% of all cheese stolen at some point in it's journey from maker to mouth. A cursory Google search turned up trunks full of stolen cheese in Michigan, 52-year old naked library denizens arrested with knives and stolen cheese, stolen government cheese in 1983(!), stolen cheese spread all over a Hy-Vee men's room, video of brazen cheese wheel thieves, "the crushing authoritarianism of the Crown of England," a cheese thief in Brooklyn, and a shoplifting celebrity chef. (thx, drew)

The Image ToasterMar 19 2013

There's prior art, but this image toaster is still pretty cool.

Toastagram? Toastr? I foresee BERG putting out a smaller version of this, perhaps printing out the day's news on a small-crumb cocktail bread; they'll call it Little Toaster. (via sly oyster)

Early McDonald's menusMar 18 2013

McDonald's started out as McDonald's Bar-B-Q in San Bernardino, CA in 1940. Here's a copy of the menu from that time:

original McDonald's menu

The drive-in BBQ restaurant was a great success:

The restaurant had carhops serving guests and would often see 125 cars crowding the lot on weekends. They quickly saw their annual sales topping $200,000 on a regular basis.

But competitors opened similar restaurants and they were selling more hamburgers than barbequed ham so the McDonald brothers closed their place for three months to retool. They reopened as plain old McDonald's, serving cheap fare (like hamburgers) quickly. This is what an early version of the menu looked like:

original McDonald's menu

The original McDonald's served potato chips and pie, which were swapped out for french fries and milkshakes after the first year; that photo must have been taken sometime after the switch. Ray Kroc got involved in 1955 and opened the first McDonald's franchise east of the Mississippi in Des Plaines, Illinois:

Kroc's first Mcdonalds

The version of the menu currently going around (on Reddit; I found it here) looks like it's from the Kroc era, the arches having been introduced in 1953, shortly before he got involved:

original McDonald's menu

It's interesting to compare these early McDonald's menus to the current menus of places like In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys, especially in comparison with the sprawling McDonald's menu of today:

In N Out Menu

After reading all these menus, you're probably getting hungry. So here's how to make a hamburger that tastes like an original McDonald's hamburger from 1948 (as well as recipes for a bunch of other McDonald's menu items, from McNuggets to the McRib to the dipping sauces). Enjoy!

How our food gets to the tableMar 11 2013

This is a clip from Samsara, a 2011 film directed by Ron Fricke, who was the director of photography for Koyaanisqatsi. The chicken picker machine hoovering up chickens and depositing them into drawers is one of the most dystopian things I've ever seen.

The whole film doesn't look this depressing, but this short clip really gives full visual meaning to the mass production of food. (via @colossal)

Shake Shack coming to JFK airportMar 07 2013

Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality is opening two Shake Shacks and a Blue Smoke in Delta's new Terminal 4 at JFK airport.

No one knows how to make a can of CokeMar 05 2013

In the spirit of I, Pencil, here's how a can of Coke makes its way from the bauxite mines of Australia and the forests of Sri Lanka to your local grocery store shelf.

Coca-Cola is made from a syrup produced by the Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta. The main ingredient in the formula used in the United States is a type of sugar substitute called high-fructose corn syrup 55, so named because it is 55 per cent fructose or "fruit sugar", and 42 per cent glucose or "simple sugar" -- the same ratio of fructose to glucose as natural honey. HFCS is made by grinding wet corn until it becomes cornstarch. The cornstarch is mixed with an enzyme secreted by a rod-shaped bacterium called Bacillus and an enzyme secreted by a mold called Aspergillus. This process creates the glucose. A third enzyme, also derived from bacteria, is then used to turn some of the glucose into fructose.

Reminder: The Mind of a ChefMar 04 2013

In case you missed it a few months ago on PBS, the excellent The Mind of a Chef is out in downloadable form on iTunes and at Amazon. The first episode is available for free on the PBS site for try-before-you-buy purposes.

The science of addictive junk foodFeb 22 2013

Michael Moss is a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist for the NY Times and he's written a book called Salt Sugar Fat.

From a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times comes the explosive story of the rise of the processed food industry and its link to the emerging obesity epidemic. Michael Moss reveals how companies use salt, sugar, and fat to addict us and, more important, how we can fight back.

Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It's no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese. It's no wonder that twenty-six million Americans have diabetes, the processed food industry in the U.S. accounts for $1 trillion a year in sales, and the total economic cost of this health crisis is approaching $300 billion a year.

Moss researched the book for four years, interviewing hundreds of current and former processed-food industry employees and reviewing thousands of pages of industry memos. This weekend's NY Times Magazine has a lengthy excerpt from the book that's well worth a read.

Eventually, a line of the [Lunchables] trays, appropriately called Maxed Out, was released that had as many as nine grams of saturated fat, or nearly an entire day's recommended maximum for kids, with up to two-thirds of the max for sodium and 13 teaspoons of sugar.

When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. "One article said something like, 'If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.' "

Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. "You bet," he said. "Plus cookies."

The prevailing attitude among the company's food managers - through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern - was one of supply and demand. "People could point to these things and say, 'They've got too much sugar, they've got too much salt,' " Bible said. "Well, that's what the consumer wants, and we're not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That's what they want. If we give them less, they'll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you're sort of trapped." (Bible would later press Kraft to reconsider its reliance on salt, sugar and fat.)

And this is classic processed food as molecular gastronomy right here:

I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. "This," Witherly said, "is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure." He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff's uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. "It's called vanishing caloric density," Witherly said. "If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there's no calories in it... you can just keep eating it forever."

(via @bryce)

Hilarious fake Guy Fieri menuFeb 20 2013

Some enterprising genius has registered the domain for Guy Fieri's (famously panned) restaurant in Times Square and put up a fake menu chock full of hilarious foodstuffs. For instance, the Hobo Lobo Bordello Slam Jam Appetizer:

We take 38 oz of super-saddened, Cheez-gutted wolf meat, lambast it with honey pickle wasabi and pile drive it into an Ed Hardy-designed bucket. Sprayed with Axe and finished with a demiglaze of thick & funky Mushroom Dribblins.

Also, "Add a Cinnabon and two more Cinnabons $4.95". Also, "superbanged". Also, "ranch hose".

Update: Copy for parts of the menu were crowdsourced from Twitter. Which doesn't make it any less funny...just that the person who made it is not an "enterprising genius". (via everyone)

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