Confection Section: Tips and Trick-or-Treats

Because I’m a first-year teacher (for this blog, not in real life – at least not yet), I’m subject to a lot of in-service time off, which I spend on researching and planning my next lesson, which is why the time between my first and second lessons was very long. On top of that, I have writing work over at another food blog called munchbrothers.org, so balancing between time here and time with the Munch Brothers is hard, but I manage.

Anyway, I’m back. I was planning on continuing my “Take Back the Basics” lessons (it was going to be about appliances and what you need if you’re a first-time cook), but it’s Halloween weekend and, really, what food blog would be complete without a blog about Halloween and Halloween candy, so I brought back Confection Section.

Even if you’re too old to trick or treat and going to costume parties isn’t your (trick-or-treat) bag, you can still make your own candy (it’s kind of too late to do it now, but, hey, you’ll have something for next year) – either to give to trick-or-treaters, as part of a spooky house party, or just to have as a change of pace from bingeing on M&Ms, Snickers, and Milk Duds.

As I said before in the first Confection Section (https://phillyfoodie85.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/confection-section-salt-water-taffy/), making candy by hand seems like one of those old-fashioned traditions that went out with typewriters, spats, and seeing women as little more than housewives and broodmare (Okay, it’s not in those exact words, but it’s close), but most candy shops that specialize in “from scratch” confections (particularly the boardwalk candy shops and any shop owned and operated by Amish farmers and their wives at the Reading Terminal Market in Center City) do keep taffy pulling and making candy by hand alive while kitchen supply and craft stores such as Sur La Table and Michaels’ have candy-making molds, tools, and guide books, so you can make confections of all kinds at home.

Before we get to how to make some Halloween treats, I’d like to tell you a spooky tale on how this holiday came to be. You probably never really sat down and asked yourself, “What’s up with this holiday? What’s with the bobbing for apples and dressing in costumes to bilk the neighborhood out of candy (and, on some unfortunate occasions, mini-toothpaste, pennies, floss, reflective tape, apples with razor blades in them, gift certificates to McDonalds [or any fast-food place near you], written advice, expired medication, or worst case scenario, nothing)? Who came up with it?” Asking that makes you look like you’re an alien, from a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, or socially ignorant (like, Aspergers’ syndrome-level socially ignorant), so you just go along with the tradition. And besides, who are you to turn down free candy (unless it’s from a local creepy pedophile)?

Well, I got the answers for you on what Halloween is and why we have these crazy traditions. So hit the lights and hand me the flashlight so I can put it under my chin:

Halloween and its traditions have strong roots in three autumn celebrations: Samhain, Pomona, and All Saints’ Day (or All Soul’s Day, depending on where you live). If you’re Catholic (or know anything about Catholic holidays), you probably have some idea of what All Saints’/Souls’ Day is (I’ll still go over it for the benefit of the curious/non-religious), but not the first two holidays. Samhain? Pomona? Separately, they sound like the names of second-rate state universities, and together, it sounds like the name of an Irish-Italian supermodel/actress (“Samhain Pomona” – I gotta get that down for one of my stories). Well, they’re neither. Samhain and Pomona are ancient autumn harvest holidays from Europe.

Samhain (meaning “summer’s end” in Gaelic) is an ancient Celtic festival that marked the end of summer and the harvest season and the upcoming arrival of winter. Celts living in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England, and Northern France (specifically the Brittany region) got their food from herding and hunting, and when summer came to a close, the healthiest animals in the herds were taken to a winter shelter, while the rest were cooked and eaten. Samhain was also seen by the Celts as a time when the spirits of their deceased ancestors were free to roam among the living. These spirits were thought to possess powers of fortunetelling, warning the living of trouble ahead*. The villagers made offerings of food and wine to their ancestors, hoping to make contact with their departed family members. To avoid visits from any unwanted spirits, the living would wear “ghoulish disguises” so they can fool others into thinking they’re the spirits. The costumed villagers would then form a parade as a way to lead the unwanted spirits out of their village.

Pomona, in contrast, didn’t have any macabre undertones. In fact, Pomona was a wood nymph who was worshipped as the Roman goddess of bountiful abundance, especially when it came to growing crops. November 1st was the day when ancient Romans celebrated her with offerings of nuts, apples, and other orchard fruits, as if to say, “Praise Pomona for keeping us mortals fed and prosperous.”

So far, you’re seeing the “tricks” and the pageantry behind Halloween and the importance of fall harvest celebrations, but how did Halloween as the modern age knows it come to be?

Well, because of the Pomona festival’s proximity to Samhain, the two holidays converged after the Romans invaded Britain in 43 A.D. The Romans and Celts intermingled over the following centuries, turning Samhain and Pomona into a single holiday.

When Christianity began to grow throughout Europe, the previous harvest holidays became a Christian celebration known as “the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.” 835 A.D. saw the Roman Catholic Church officially making the first of November a religious holiday to honor the saints. Instead of offering food and wine to the spirits of ancestors, villagers baked “soul cakes,” spiced biscuit-like cakes offered to the poor, who, in turn, would pray for the deceased to find peace in the afterlife…unless, of course, they were doomed to burn in Hell.

As the tradition grew in later years, young men would travel door-to-door singing songs in exchange for money, food or ale, which, to me, sounds more like a Christmas tradition than a Halloween/fall festival one, because who among you hasn’t wanted to give Christmas carolers money, food, or booze just so they’ll stop singing? And, before you ask, yes, this tradition is the ancestor to trick-or-treating. The practice of wearing costumes while doing this was a way to honor the saints, rather than warding off unwelcome spirits**. The more extravagant churches would display relics of the saints on All Saints’ Day, while poorer churches would encourage the parishioners to dress up as saints in lieu of displaying relics. I remember my Catholic school doing something like this when I was enrolled there. I don’t know the specifics, sadly, but my second grade class was involved with it.

Several of the ancient traditions associated with Samhain, Pomona, and All Saints’ Day were brought to the United States when Irish immigrants came to the United States in the 19th century. The tradition of pumpkin carving stemmed from Irish immigrants carving faces onto potatoes and turnips as a means to welcome in spirits of deceased family members. Yes, I know it sounds like a stereotype, but it is true. Besides, carving faces into potatoes and turnips sounds more like Europe trying to copy voodooism. The pumpkin just feels more right. I don’t want to have to re-imagine the legend of The Headless Horseman with a turnip for a head. It’s not as scary as a flaming jack-o-lantern.

Halloween as an American holiday finally became what it is today in the post-World War II world, when the holiday was aimed at the younger crowd and people put out cookies and cupcakes — as well as whatever candies were popular back then, like Atomic Fireballs, Charleston Chews, candy corn, and Candy Cigarettes [now changed to Candy Sticks or not sold at all due to worries over tobacco companies encouraging minors to smoke] – to kids roaming the streets dressed as witches, vampires, or Frankenstein’s monster***, among other things.

Halloween tradition has evolved from a fall harvest/occult celebration to a children’s celebration to a holiday for all ages, whether your taking your younger sibling through the neighborhood to get candy or you’re shaking it in your hospital hottie/naughty nurse costume at an all-night costume party.

But it all boils down to…the treats.

The amount of candy eaten on Halloween has long outnumbered the amount eaten at Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Heck, even Easter has nothing on Halloween when it comes to candy consumption. In 2011, $2.3 billion was spent on Halloween candy and the entire Halloween candy industry is worth eight billion. It has grown significantly since then. A recent survey from the National Confectioners Association states that 72% of all money spent on candy this Halloween will be on chocolate. Last year, more than $12.6 billion was spent on chocolate in the United States, which is 3.8% more than the year before. Americans spent $3.9 billion to buy 3.5 billion chocolate bars, bags and boxes under 3.5 ounces, the standard size consumers pick up at a grocery store checkout. Reese’s candies (peanut butter cups, pieces, and their ilk) and M&Ms (all kinds) each accounted for more than $500 million in sales.

The chocolate industry is extremely concentrated among just a few competitors. Hershey and Mars are the two heavyweights in the chocolate industry, not just in America, but throughout the world. The nation’s oldest top-seller, Hershey’s brand chocolate, has been available since 1900 (that’s 114 years of soaring blood sugar and chocolatey goodness) while Mars has been around since 1911 (which is 103 years of the same thing as Hershey’s). These brands not only compete for customer dollars at the checkout line, they also sell their products in snack sizes (those miniature versions of full-size candy bars and packs that are usually seen in Halloween candy bags). While most of the top standard size brands also rank among the highest for sales of snack-size chocolate, there are some exceptions. M&Ms and 3 Musketeers are relatively less popular in snack size than in the standard size****.

So, how are you gonna compete with Hershey’s and Mars to get trick-or-treaters’ attention? You probably won’t, but with quality ingredients, trial and error, and a lot of imagination (especially when it comes to packaging), you can make Halloween treats that will have all the little witches cackling and werewolves howling.

Caramel Apples

My first recipe is a Halloween/fall traditional treat: caramel apples. They’re hard to eat, will rot your teeth (or cause you to lose a baby tooth – or a permanent one), and do take a little time to prepare, but they are good…for some people. I don’t like the taste of the buttery caramel mixed with the tart Granny Smith apple. I like caramel and Granny Smith apples, but not together. On top of that, those type of apples are already sweet. Adding sugary stuff to it just serves to increase your waistline, but I know there are people out there who don’t care and like caramel apples regardless. So here’s the recipe, courtesy of CookingLight.com (it’s 221 calories, even if you try to make it healthy):

Ingredients

small apples, chilled (green/Granny Smith apples preferred, though you can experiment with Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, whichever you like)

2 cups granulated sugar

½ cup light-colored corn syrup (or simple syrup)

½ cup water

2 cups half-and-half

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

Supplies Needed

Wooden sticks

Candy thermometer

Large saucepan or Dutch oven

Teaspoons

Measuring cups

Wooden spoon for stirring

Bowls for hot water bath

Baking sheet lined with wax/parchment paper

Preparation

1. Push wooden sticks into the top of chilled apples. Return apples to the refrigerator until caramel is ready for dipping.

2. Place sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan; boil, stirring until dissolved. Boil, without stirring, 9 minutes or until light golden.

3. Combine half-and-half, vanilla, and salt; slowly stir into pan. Boil until candy thermometer reaches 235° (45 minutes), stirring frequently.

4. Pour caramel into a bowl sitting in a hot water bath. Swirl apples in caramel, and place on baking sheet lined with wax paper.

The next candy recipe is a favorite of mine and one of many reasons why I wanted to start this blog: to show that it is possible to make store-bought foods from scratch. This is the recipe for homemade Reese’s peanut butter cups. They make look hard to make, but they’re really not. Credit goes to www.fifteenspatulas.com


Homemade Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Ingredients:

2 (12 oz.) bags semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Supplies Needed

Muffin tin

Paper muffin cups (12 large or 24 miniature)

Small spoon or cookie scoop

Airtight container for storage

Double boiler or large saucepan filled with boiling water with heatproof bowl on top (or microwaveable bowl)

Electric hand mixer

Directions:

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Melt one (12 oz.) bag of chocolate either in a double boiler or by microwaving in short increments, stirring after 30 seconds, for about 2 minutes.

With a small spoon or cookie scoop, evenly distribute melted chocolate into each muffin cup. Drop pan repeatedly on the counter to help chocolate flatten and smooth out. Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine peanut butter, powdered sugar and butter. Whip with an electric hand mixer until smooth. If your peanut butter mixture is not completely smooth, stir in an additional teaspoon of melted butter or vegetable/canola oil.

Remove pan from freezer and place small spoonfuls of peanut butter mixture on top of each chocolate layer. Drop pan repeatedly on the counter again, to help flatten peanut butter layer. Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes.

Melt remaining 12 oz. bag of chocolate. Working quickly, portion small spoonfuls of chocolate into each cups, three cups at a time, immediately dropping the pan repeatedly on the counter to flatten cups (or the 24 mini). Freeze whole pan for 15 minutes to set the top layer of chocolate.

For a peanut butter cup with a firmer texture, serve chilled. For a softer, creamier texture, serve at room temperature. Store refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days. Don’t fret if they don’t look exactly like a Reese’s cup. That’s how they’re supposed to look.

This final candy recipe is another chocolate delight, hailing all the way from Brazil. It’s called a brigadeiro. I have had Brazilian chocolate before (it was a chocolate bonbon whose name meant “Dancing and Dreaming” in Portuguese, which, like Spanish, is different in Europe than it is in South America. I’m not all experienced at speaking Portuguese, but I can recognize what it looks like. The same can also be said for the following languages I have seen and tried to learn: Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Greek, Polish, Thai, and Swedish) – very creamy mouthfeel, is better than American chocolate, but it was not as decadent as Belgian or French chocolate. Of course, that’s not what they look like originally. This is what you can do with them to freak out trick-or-treaters.

Olho Brigadeiros

Ingredients

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 oz. (one bag) white chocolate chips or white chocolate melting chocolate

1 teaspoon red food coloring, or as needed

1 teaspoon blue food coloring, or as needed

1 teaspoon black food coloring, or as needed

Supplies Needed:

Medium saucepot

Rubber spatula

8″x8″ baking dish (greased)

Double boiler or boiling saucepot of water with heatproof bowl fitted over it

Tablespoon

Thin paintbrushes

Instructions

1. Combine sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter in medium saucepot over medium-low heat.

2. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick and rubber spatula holds its line across bottom of pan, about 25 minutes. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ baking dish and refrigerate until cooled, at least 30 minutes.

3. Working with approximately 1 tablespoon pieces at a time, roll into 1-inch balls. Set aside

4. Melt white chocolate chips or discs in double boiler or in bowl over boiling saucepot. Stir until thoroughly melted.

5. Dip 1-inch balls in white chocolate. Freeze until hard (anywhere from an hour to four, depending)

6. Paint white chocolate-dipped balls with food coloring to make it look like an eyeball.

7. Freeze again, this time for 30 minutes or until food coloring does not run

NOTE: If you really want your candy eyeballs to raise eyebrows (and some people’s lunches), use colored royal icing for the eye detail to make it more realistic. If you’re putting them in a bowl, I recommend smearing them in strawberry or cherry jelly/preserves, for that pulpy, bloody look.

Well, that’s it for my Halloween candy lesson. Good night, happy eating, and, if you’re out partying and need a 2:00am spot to eat, stop on by the Diner of the Living Dead…if you dare!

==================================================================

*Irish/Celtic culture has a lot of stories about spirits warning mortals of death and future misfortune. Ever hear of banshees?

**And I’ll bet the ancient peoples who did this didn’t have to deal with people wearing sleazy, moronic, or insane costumes like people today do – or, at least, knew how to publicly humiliate the ones who had the sack to do so

***A little literary trivia: even though Frankenstein’s monster is known as Frankenstein, his name in the actual novel by Mary Shelley was Thomas [pronounced “Toe-ma,” because he was French]. Frankenstein was actually the last name of his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

**** As someone who has eaten both M&Ms and 3 Musketeers in standard and snack sizes, I can tell you snack sizes just isn’t enough for M&Ms and 3 Musketeers…and neither are Snickers bars or 100 Grand bars.

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Take Back the Basics: Kitchens – Designs, Layouts, and Appliances

Good morning, class. I hope you had a great summer and are prepared to learn this year.

For those who are new, I’m the Culinary Arts and History teacher, Ms. Young. A little backstory about myself – I’m a culinarian by trade (as in, “I actually was part of a vocational program – the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Corps program – in which culinary arts was one of the options”). I studied and worked in culinary arts in both Kentucky (as part of my basic culinary training) and California (as part of the advanced training). In Kentucky, I volunteered in a city soup kitchen and at my Job Corps center’s cafeteria. In California, I was a greeter and a server for two wine-tasting events, a server for the Mayor of San Francisco’s (Ed Lee’s) campaign dinner, did line-cooking work for several casual- and fine-dining events at Treasure Island Job Corps Center, and I was chosen for an externship with Three Stone Hearth, a community kitchen/organic food store in Berkeley.

Some of my most memorable teachers/figures I’ve worked with include a front-of-house teacher who looked like Larry David from Seinfeld if he were shorter and more of a nebbish, a garde manger teacher who was a former soccer player from Brazil, a baking teacher from Germany who fled to America to escape Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime (and will fly into a rage if anyone casually tosses that word around), a Chinese-Texan pastry/confections teacher whose work with cakes and centerpieces are the stuff of elaborate, star-studded events, an International Cuisine/Bistro teacher who hates The Food Network with a passion and first met me when I took the bus into San Francisco for a Friday-afternoon out (and knew I wasn’t exactly cut out for the kitchen, but had some potential to teach), a Russian fine-dining teacher who was surprised when I (an African-American woman) knew a little bit of his mother tongue, and a career counselor who turned the last few weeks of my stay into a modern-day career woman take on My Fair Lady.

Outside of my culinary studies, I’ve taught myself how to write fiction and nonfiction since I was at least eight years old. I even went to school to become a screenwriter (University of the Arts, Class of 2007). I’m with Philadelphia’s Screenwriting Club, and am currently compiling a portfolio so I can take my talents to either New York City (as I want to write for Saturday Night Live) or back to California (this time, in Los Angeles, but San Francisco is only six hours away by vehicle). My Television History teacher was an executive for The Family Channel (back before it was called FOX Family and then ABC Family) and the head of the Writing for Film and TV department worked on my sister’s favorite soap opera Guiding Light.

My favorite colors are blue, white, silver, and purple; I prefer Coke over Pepsi (though I’m weaning myself off soda for health reasons); I actually like anchovies on my pizza, and I am the oldest of my two sisters, but younger than my brother, who sadly died of a heart attack before I could meet him. I teach because I want to pass my knowledge onto others the same way most men pass their DNA to unsuspecting women, because passing knowledge to others doesn’t result in me ending up on those “Who’s My Baby’s Daddy?” episodes of The Maury Povich Show.

Just so you know, you don’t need to know my backstory for a pop quiz or a final exam. I just thought you’d like to know a little bit about me since I never really introduced myself when I first started this blog.

Anyway, that’s my story. I hope through the comments section either on this blog or on any of the social media sites I post this on, I can learn about you, but probably not.

With that, we can now start our lesson, as seen on the blackboard. I do allow you to take notes (whether on paper or electronically), but if you can’t or don’t want to, listen carefully and don’t come crying to me when test time comes and you can’t remember the essentials I’ve taught you.

Quantity cookery has been around for as long as there has been multiple food sources, a means to prepare it, and large groups of people to feed (quality cooking, on the other hand, had to wait awhile before people could discover and refine it. For those who want to hear about Boulanger, Escoffier, and Careme will have to wait until next time).

Ancient Greece had an atrium arranged around a central courtyard for women in which a covered but otherwise open patio served as the kitchen (I could picture a lot of upscale homes — in The United States and abroad – these days with a modified version of that design) and was usually next to a bathroom (so that both rooms could be heated by the kitchen fire, even though there’s that old adage of “Don’t shit where you eat”) and had a separate storage room in the back for food storage and kitchen utensils. If you were a commoner during the time of the Roman Empire, you had to do all of your cooking in a community kitchen (similar to what I did as an externship in Berkeley) which came equipped with bronze stoves. If you were wealthy around that time, you had a kitchen-type atrium in your house, similar to how it was in the days of ancient Greece.

The kitchen remained largely unaffected by architectural advances throughout the Middle Ages. Open fire remained the only method of heating food. European medieval kitchens were dark, smoky, and sooty places, whence their name “smoke kitchen.” Early medieval Europe and the Iroquois Indian tribe of America had longhouses in which an open fire was under the highest point of the building and the “kitchen area” was between the entrance and the fireplace. In place of a chimney, these early buildings had a hole in the roof through which some of the smoke could escape. Wealthier homes had upwards of three kitchens and were divided based on the types of food prepared in them. If you were a European noble back then, the kitchen was in a separate sunken floor building to keep the main building. For social and official purposes, it was free from indoor smoke. Leonardo da Vinci invented an automated system for a rotating spit for spit-roasting: a propeller in the chimney made the spit turn all by itself. This kind of system was widely used in wealthier homes. Beginning in the late Middle Ages, kitchens in Europe lost their home-heating function even more and were increasingly moved from the living area into a separate room. This (along with Japan inventing the first known stoves around the time of the Middle Ages) was the point when the kitchen as we know it today would evolve.

The evolution of the kitchen is linked to the invention of the cooking range (“stove”) and the development of water infrastructure capable of supplying water to private homes. Until the 18th century, food was cooked over an open fire or in some kind of area were fire was allowed to burn in a closed space (similar to the Indian tandoor or a brick oven seen in many a pizzeria that touts itself as bringing an authentic Italian style to the masses). Technical advances in heating food in the 18th and 19th centuries, changed the architecture of the kitchen. Before the advent of modern pipes, water was brought from an outdoor source such as wells, pumps or springs.

Technological advances during the era of industrialization brought major changes. Iron stoves, which enclosed the fire completely and made it safer to work in the kitchen, appeared. Benjamin Franklin’s “Franklin stove” appeared around 1740, though that was for heating, not cooking. Over in England, Benjamin Thompson designed the Rumford stove 60 years after the Franklin stove. This stove was more energy-efficient than earlier stoves. It utilized one fire to heat several pots, which were hung into holes on top of the stove and were thus heated from all sides instead of just from the bottom. A lot of kitchens, particularly the commercial ones seen in restaurants and some culinary classrooms still have sections where pots are hung over the stove. Now you know that it’s not just for design.

However, Thompson’s stove was designed for large kitchens and was too big for domestic use. The Oberlin stove was a refinement of the technique that resulted in a size reduction. This one was patented in the U.S. in 1834 and became a commercial success with some 90,000 units sold over the next 30 years. These stoves were still fired with wood or coal. Although the first gas street lamps were installed in Paris, London, and Berlin at the beginning of the 1820s and the first U.S. patent on a gas stove was granted in 1825, it wouldn’t be until the late 19th century when gas stoves would be commonplace (mostly in urban areas, because if American and world history has taught me anything, it’s that urban areas are always the first to introduce something to mainstream society, whether it’s gas cooking or any type of music or fad originated from ethnic or sexual minority groups that have often been marginalized, overworked, or screwed over by the white, heterosexual majority).

Urbanization in the second half of the 19th century induced other significant changes that would ultimately change the kitchen. Out of sheer necessity, cities began planning and building water distribution pipes into homes, and built sewers to deal with the waste water. Gas was used first for lighting purposes, but once the network had grown sufficiently, it also became available for heating and cooking on gas stoves. At the turn of the 20th century, electricity had been mastered well enough to become a commercially viable alternative to gas and slowly started replacing the latter. Like the gas stove, however, the electric stove had a slow start. The first electrical stove had been presented in 1893, but the technology wouldn’t be stable enough for commercial use until the 1930s.

Dry storage space in early 19th and 20th century kitchens was also a concern at that time. In the 1920s, The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. of Indiana adapted an existing furniture piece, the baker’s cabinet, which had a similar structure of a table top with some cabinets above it (and frequently flour bins beneath) to solve the storage problem. By rearranging the parts and taking advantage of modern-at-the-time metal working, they were able to produce a well-organized, compact cabinet which answered the home cook’s needs for storage and working space. This is what it looked like:

 

Looking at this should bring back memories of those life-sized toy kitchen playsets that a lot of us at one point in our lives had as children. It does for me, anyway.

In all of this talk about kitchens and stoves and evolving social and scientific trends, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t said anything about the refrigerator or refrigeration in general. While it is true that refrigeration has been around for as long as quantity (and quality) cooking has, the refrigerator had a long ways to go before it’d be a kitchen staple. Artificial refrigeration’s history began when Scottish professor William Cullen designed a small refrigerating machine in 1755. Cullen used a pump to create a partial vacuum over a container of diethyl ether, which then boiled, absorbing heat from the surrounding air. The experiment even created a small amount of ice, but it had no practical application at that time. The first practical vapor compression refrigeration system was built by James Harrison in the 1850s when he emigrated from Great Britain to Victoria, Australia.

The first gas absorption refrigeration system using gaseous ammonia dissolved in water was developed by Ferdinand Carré of France in 1859 and patented in 1860. Carl von Linde, an engineering professor at the Technological University Munich in Germany, patented an improved method of liquefying gases in 1876. His new process made possible the use of gases such as ammonia, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and methyl chloride (CH3Cl) as refrigerants and they were widely used for that purpose until the late 1920s, though wouldn’t be until 1913 when refrigerators (referred to back then as “ice boxes”) would become a staple in the American home kitchen. If you know anything about early 20th century history (whether through media consumption or family history), then you’ve probably seen this contraption:

The icebox was a compact non-mechanical refrigerator-type kitchen appliance. Before the development of safe powered refrigeration devices, this device was considered common. Iceboxes had hollow walls lined with tin or zinc and packed with various insulating materials. Most common materials used were cork, sawdust, straw, and seaweed. A large block of ice was held in a tray or compartment near the top of the box. Cold air circulated down and around storage compartments in the lower section. The exteriors of iceboxes were made of wood for ease of construction, insulation, and aesthetics. Many were handsome pieces of furniture back in the day and, for those who love and collect antique furniture, still are.

Finer models had spigots for draining ice water from a catch pan or holding tank. In cheaper models a drip pan was placed under the box and had to be emptied at least daily. The user had to replenish the melted ice, normally by obtaining new ice from a deliveryman who brought ice for the icebox. The horse-drawn ice wagon and the daily occupation of the iceman who made regular door-to-door deliveries of block ice, was as much a social institution as the milkman, right down to the claims that the housewife often found sexual comfort in him instead of her husband (if she was still married).

Sadly, all things (good and bad) must come to an end. With widespread electrification and safer refrigerants, mechanical refrigeration in the home became possible. With the development of the CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), along with the succeeding hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), that came to replace the use of toxic ammonia gas that cooled a lot of early home refrigeration appliances, the refrigerator replaced the icebox. However, because of the prevalence of the icebox in recent human history, “icebox” is still used (mostly by older people) to mean “refrigerator” in some American English dialects. The iceman’s job isn’t as prevalent now as it was back then, but the job still has a niche market in Amish communities, where modern technology is considered taboo by their religion and simplicity is a virtue.

It wouldn’t be until during and after World War II that the kitchen would really transform into how we have it now (or at least what we think of when we think of the word, “kitchen”). The idea of the standardized kitchen was first introduced locally with the “Svensk köksstandard” (translated: Swedish kitchen standard), formerly “The Frankfurt Standard.” The equipment used remained a standard for years to come: hot and cold water on tap, a kitchen sink, and an electrical or gas stove and oven (as I mentioned before, the icebox/refrigerator would be added later). This concept was refined again using unit furniture with wooden fronts for the kitchen cabinets. The concept was amended again by the use of smooth synthetic door and drawer fronts – first in white, recalling a sense of cleanliness and alluding to sterile lab or hospital settings, but soon after in more lively colors, because, hey, if you’re going to be at home cooking for your husband and kids, you might as well make the kitchen less depressing. The 1930s and 1940s America saw electrified small and large kitchen appliances such as blenders, toasters, and, later, the microwave oven.

After years of being relegated to the back of the house, post-World War II housing often placed the kitchen front and center. The U-shaped kitchen (seen to your left), with its sink-range-fridge work triangle and the cook at center stage, blossomed, as did kitchen islands, double ovens, and separate cooktops, which are still around in a lot of modern kitchen models (and what I want in my dream kitchen, as I’m used to working with double ovens, kitchen islands, and oven ranges that aren’t relegated to the stove), as seen below:

 

The kitchen hit an aesthetic low point in the late 1960s and all throughout the 1970s. The appliances and fixtures were there, but…the colors, man:

These don’t apply to all kitchens, but the color schemes and sizes are accurate for most suburban homes. Lots of bright, clashing colors, the room was smaller (at least compared to places like the living room, which did get an upgrade when TV became a bigger deal), and everything seemed very Barbie Dreamhouse. James Lileks’ website and book Interior Desecrations takes a funnier, more informative look at how kitchens (and other rooms in the house) looked awful during the 1970s. I recommend that for a laugh and a look back at a truly ugly era.

The 1980s and 1990s were when kitchens not only started to become beautiful again, but also something out of a high-class restaurant kitchen, while at the same time, staying true to its 1950s roots. However, 1980s and 1990s kitchens were also home to a lot of pretentious and unnecessary-unless-you-have-the-money-and/or-skills-for-it additions, such as wine racks, cookbook shelves, water coolers like the ones you see and chat around in most offices, granite countertops, and cabinets that cost more than you spend on food and/or necessary kitchen repairs (a lot of which are either empty or serve as hiding spots for appliances you’ve only used once). There’s nothing wrong with wanting a kitchen that looks like the one you saw on a TV show, but most houses aren’t equipped for that (similar to how women – and men – strive for the perfect body and will often resort to unhealthy and dangerous means to get it, from eating disorders disguised as crash diets to low-rent plastic surgery).

So, now we’re in the 21st century. We have come a long way from the days of underground rooms covered in soot from the makeshift open-fire stove. Kitchens these days range from the small and simple to the sleek and professional-grade. These days, cooking calls for you to coax the Brussels sprouts out of their climate-controlled produce drawer, mince celery in a high-speed food processor (or with professional-grade knives), and upload a cranberry relish recipe on your laptop or tablet computer. You don’t have to worry about losing family recipes these days as long as they’re in your hard drive or saved on the cloud (whatever that means), and I’m sure Grandma or Great-Grandma would have loved to have had that in her time, but the low-tech kitchens of her day have their charm, too – and had a lot of values that still live on today. The 1920s kitchens taught us the importance of cleanliness while preparing food; the 1930s kitchens introduced us to electric appliances, such as toasters and blenders; the 1940s kitchens taught us the importance of homecooked and homegrown meals (as well as canning and preserving foods); the 1950s and early 1960s kitchens made cooking a family affair and a social event; the late 1960s into the 1970s gave us cheap and convenient ways out of cooking, such as microwave meals and take-out; and kitchens from the 1980s to now show us that we can look like we’re skilled in cooking, even if we’re not.

That’s the lesson today. Next time, we’ll get into food and food trends. Good night, and happy eating!

That’s The Way the Potato Chip Crumbles

A few months ago, I participated in the Lays Do Us a Flavor contest where people submit new flavors for Lays potato chips (if you live in the UK, you probably know them best as Walkers) and was excited that I might come up with that one flavor that could net me $50,000 (runner-up prize) or $1,000,000 (grand prize).

Sadly, this just didn’t happen for me (even though my mother thought I submitted Wasabi Ginger. I didn’t, though that does seem like something I would devise). While I am upset that people will never know such potato chip flavors as General Tso’s Chicken (I really thought this would be a winner. Next time, I’ll go with Chow Mein Fun, since my sister is crazy for that), Bruschetta, Caprese Salad, Avocado and Cream (this one was a joke), Figs ‘n Feta, Gyro, Pepperoni Philly Cheesesteak, and Salted Chocolate Caramel, I do applaud this year’s entries for being likelier candidates to win than last year’s Cheesy Garlic Bread, which I thought was unimaginative. The fact that it won was what drove me to enter this year’s contest. Besides, I was rooting for Chicken and Waffles (or, at the very least, Sriracha, even though the sriracha fad was starting to fade).

This year’s finalist can be found on the main website: https://www.dousaflavor.com/#!/. The cappucino-flavored one seems like it will be this year’s Chicken and Waffles, as it’s a bizarre choice that everyone will predict is the winner, but will only get runner-up. So far, my favorite one is the Mango Salsa (another flavor I should have come up with, as I made mango salsa in Chef Luis’ Garde Manger class and that goes great with chips — mostly tortilla, but potato works just as well), but if I had to predict a winner, it would probably be Bacon Mac and Cheese, as that has a very Middle American appeal to it and caters to the bacon obsession that seems to be everywhere these days (mostly online).

So what can be said about all of this? Nothing much. There’s no recipe to learn, no interesting food history bits. Not today (maybe tomorrow). I just want to congratulate the people who were picked and hope they win the million.

Thanks, and happy eating.

UPDATE: The winner of the Lays Do Us A Flavor contest for this year is the woman (a nurse from New Jersey) who came up with Wasabi Ginger. I am surprised that that was such a hit with people. Bacon Mac and Cheese seemed a sure thing, the cappucino one was too gimmicky and didn’t taste good, and mango salsa was good, but I can see that being a “Limited Time Only” special flavor (which it kind of was). And, in the words of Colin Jost from Saturday Night Live, “[Wasabi Ginger] sounds less like a potato chip flavor, and more like something Joe Biden would accidentally call the Chinese ambassador.”

Confection Section: Taffy Duck

Confection Section is a new recurring piece, focusing on the history of candy and confections and how you can recreate these sweet treats at home, no matter what time of the year it is. Want to surprise trick-or-treaters with gummi spiders you made yourself? Want next year’s Valentine’s Day candies to come from the heart and not from a heart-shaped box? Ever want to make your own Reese’s cups or the kind of candy your parents/grandparents enjoyed in their youth? This recurring piece is for you!

If you live in the Southeast Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware area, summer isn’t summer without a trip to Atlantic City and a box of salt water taffies from a boardwalk candy or souvenir shop. Of course, if you hate the sand between your toes and all the pain that comes with organizing a beach trip or don’t live in or near a coastal state, you can order some salt water taffies from an online bulk candy company and enjoy your balmy, sunny days lounging in a cheap beach chair or an inflatable kiddie pool in nothing but your swim trunks/a cheap, ill-fitting Speedo/thong bikini bottom and a flimsy, brightly-colored T-shirt with a risqué slogan (“F.B.I.: Federal Bikini/Booby/Booty Inspector” or one where it has an arrow pointing down and some lewd command for women to perform oral sex on whoever’s wearing the shirt), a parody of a TV show/cult classic movie/Internet meme (those “Keep Calm and…” shirts or a spoof of Breaking Bad), or the last place you went on vacation (usually Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; New York City, New York; or Williamsburg, Virginia), but it’s just not the same. On top of that, you will get neighbor complaints over public indecency and/or bring down property values, like on the season four Simpsons episode “New Kid on the Block,” when an interracial couple goes to buy a new house next to The Simpsons, but turn it down after seeing Homer naked in a kiddie pool, fishing out a half-eaten hot dog and passing out from drinking Duff.

Salt water taffies, much like the Philly cheesesteak and the Coney Island hot dog, has long been associated with East Coast food – in this case, salt water taffy has been associated with Atlantic City, New Jersey. The confection got its salty taste from a flood that soaked candy store owner, David Bradley’s, supply of regular taffy (Fun fact: the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest out of the four major oceans in the world, but the Red Sea in the Indian Ocean has the saltiest sea water in the world, courtesy of the Dead Sea, which is so brackish, you can easily float in it – unless you’re so fat or inexperienced at swimming that you can sink right through, like Selma Bouvier on The Simpsons episode where Moe steals Homer’s idea for a fiery cocktail and Aerosmith becomes the first band to guest star on the show as themselves).

You’d think a disaster like this would ruin Mr. Bradley’s livelihood, but you would be wrong. When a young girl came into his shop and asked if he had any taffy for sale, he said he had “salt water taffy” instead. The girl didn’t understand the sarcasm behind it. She thought it was a new confection he created. David Bradley’s mother was in the back and overheard the conversation. She loved the moniker for Bradley’s ocean-soaked treats and, thus, a beachside sweet that’s not tanned and in a sexy swimsuit was born.

Though a flood accidentally created this candy and David Bradley sold it, it was Joseph Fralinger who popularized the salt water taffy as a souvenir for tourists and Enoch James refined the recipe, making it easier to unwrap (though I’ve unwrapped salt water taffy and there are times where it still sticks to the paper – or, the paper becomes part of the taffy and I get an untentional dose of fiber), cut the candy into bite-sized pieces, and is credited with mechanizing the process of taffy-pulling.

Salt water taffy is still sold widely on the boardwalks in Atlantic City, including shops in existence since the 1800s, like Fralinger’s and James’ and the Atlantic Maritime provinces in Canada (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick), but has found its way to places like Salt Lake City, Utah and even the West Coast (the picture of the salt water taffy in barrels is from a candy store at a popular San Francisco tourist spot, Pier 39. I’ve been there a few times during my stay in San Francisco, and I have been at that exact candy store – along with a pizzeria that had the best S.O.S [spinach-onion-sausage] pizza and got me into watching and rooting for college basketball) and comes in an array of flavors, from blue raspberry and banana to guava and maple.

The appeal of salt water taffy is that the taste reminds you a lot of strolling the boardwalk on a July afternoon, taking in the ocean air, the energy of people of all ages enjoying a day out, the seagulls recreating the climax from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as people foolishly throw French fries and other foods on the boardwalk floor…ah, memories. Yours may vary.

Taffy-pulling is one of those activities that many will tell you is a “lost art” in the sense that it used to be done by human hands – both for business and as Saturday night family fun – but now has been handed over to machines for efficiency reasons, but most candy shops that specialize in “from scratch” confections (particularly the boardwalk candy shops and any shop owned and operated by Amish farmers and their wives at the Reading Terminal Market in Center City) are keeping taffy-pulling alive, and you can too, if you want to create your own candy. Go to a place like Sur La Table or those craft stores like Michaels’ and you’ll see a lot of candy-making tools and molds, meaning that, yes, making homemade candy isn’t just for Grandma’s Sunday church socials or the Amish anymore.

The most important instruments in candy-making (especially if you’re making sugar-based candies or any type of sugar sculpting) are quality ingredients (as with any food you cook), a candy thermometer, and a sturdy pot (particularly a double-boiler or large saucepan that can handle high heat), though the candy thermometer can be substituted for a spoon and knowing what happens when sugar syrup boils.

Name

Temperature

What Happens to the Sugar Syrup

What Can You Use It For?

Thread

223-235 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup drips from a spoon, forms thin threads in water

Glacé, candied fruits
, and sugar cages (complete with a marzipan wild animal or a scale model go-go dancer made of fondant, white chocolate, royal icing, and marzipan)

Soft ball

235-245 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup easily forms a ball while in the cold water, but flattens once removed

Fudge and fondant

Firm ball

245-250 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup is formed into a stable ball, but loses its round shape once pressed

Caramel candies
and caramel filling if you’re making homemade versions of name-brand chocolate candy bars, like Twix and Snickers

Hard ball

250-266 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup holds its ball shape, but remains sticky

Marshmallows

Soft crack

270-290 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup will form firm but pliable threads

Nougat (also nougat filling for homemade candy bars) and taffy

Hard crack

300-310 degrees Fahrenheit

The syrup will crack if you try to mold it

Peanut brittle, lollipops
, sugared glass if you want to make a gingerbread house with realistic windows in it (or a gingerbread model of the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California)

Caramel

320-350 degrees Fahrenheit

The sugar syrup will turn golden at this stage

Pralines

 

Above all else, it is imperative that you BE CAREFUL when handling hot sugar syrup. Working with hot sugar is not for the clumsy, the careless, or the easily-distracted (that applies to cooking of any kind, really). A lot can go wrong if you use the cold water method (that’s the method where you use a spoon and your own judgment to test how hot the sugar syrup is), as hot sugar has a tendency to stick on your skin as it burns, so you can’t just rub it off your skin. I don’t know if a hospital trip and a skin graft can be used to mend skin burned from hot sugar, but it seems like the logical conclusion should a sugar burn ever happen to you. I once burned a small part of skin near my elbow on my left arm with hot glue during a high school project. I didn’t go to the nurse about it, because, what was she going to do, give me Tums for it? I decided to cover it up with some tissues and, if anyone asked, just say I fell while walking home from school. My legs, feet, and ankles loved to play “Hey, how can we make Canais/The Philly Foodie a klutz today?” all through middle school and the first half of high school, so a nasty spill resulting in some scraped skin is more believable than “I wasn’t watching what I was doing while handling a hot glue gun.” The point of that is: hot sugar syrup is a lot like the glue from a hot glue gun before it sets, so treat it as if you were working with a glue gun.

As with all cooking projects (whether amateur or professional), keep your hair tied back and/or put in a chef’s hat or cap if it’s long and remove all jewelry before starting. Ideally, you’re only supposed to have a plain wedding band as the only acceptable piece of jewelry to wear when doing kitchen work, but I hate rings [which, if I ever decide to get married, will pose some problems] and wearing them while cooking hot sugar syrup is just asking for either the ring to fall in or the hot syrup to permanently glue your ring to your ring finger, leaving you no chance to either pawn the ring to cover your rent/mortgage/divorce fees or leave it to your children in the will unless you’re willing to have it amputated (or your insurance covers it).

You’re probably restless and waiting for me to give the steps on how to make salt water taffy, Atlantic City-style. Well, here we go. As with all the recipes here at “Take Back the Kitchen,” be sure to find a way to save it for later (print, transcribe, or download).

How to Make Salt Water Taffy

Atlantic City-style salt water taffy starts with these ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

2/3 cup corn syrup

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt flavoring

Lemon, orange, peppermint, lime, strawberry, pineapple or Fireball flavorings.

Pink, green, yellow, or orange color pastes

 Yeah, not exactly the paradigm of healthy eating, but, like with all sugary, fatty, and overall decadent foods, it helps if you only have this once in a while…unless you have blood sugar issues, food allergies (specifically to food coloring, as there are people out there who can’t eat foods with Red Dye #3 or Blue Dye #2 in it), or don’t like salt water taffies. If corn syrup scares your waistline or you can’t find it (it shouldn’t be too hard to find, but you might live in a country where they don’t carry it in stores, like the United Kingdom or Australia), then substitute for simple syrup (which is just sugar and water boiled until it leaves a thin coat on the back of a spoon).

The first thing you do is combine your sugar and cornstarch and place it in a saucepan. After that, add your corn/simple syrup, butter, and water and stir. Next, you heat the mixture. To prevent it from crystallizing, do NOT stir the mixture until it reaches hard ball stage (refer to the chart above) or, if you’re doing the cold water method, until a small portion of it forms into a ball when you drip it into a bath of cold water.

Once it reaches the hard ball stage, add your salt flavoring. Immediately pour the mixture on a greased slab or section of marble table top that has a plastic mat made for sugar work (you can find those at any restaurant/cook supply store). Allow to cool slightly.

Since you’re working with hot sugar, it’s best if you have rubber gloves for this next part, unless you’re like my Pastry/Confections instructor, Chef Kin Joe (a kindly Chinese man from Texas whose cakes and confection work looks like they should be at some bigshot Hollywood celebrity’s wedding/divorce/engagement/sweet 16/finally 18/finally 21/finally got the necessary plastic surgery/TV milestone/just removed that kidney stone party or gracing the page of a food porn mag like Saveur) who can work barehanded with hot sugar and it only mildly annoys him.

As quickly as you can, pull the hot sugar mixture until light and pearl-like in color. Don’t overdo it, or it will end up looking dull.

Divide into separate portions. Color and flavor each portion as desired while it is being pulled. You don’t have to limit yourself to what the ingredients say. Experiment with different colors and flavors.

If you want to make two- three- or four-toned taffy, then layer the colored pieces next to each other. Let them heat up a little next to a heated stove or under a desk lamp (normally, for sugar work, you need a special type of lamp that looks similar to a desk lamp, but takes a higher wattage light bulb). Once the sugar ribbon is malleable enough, stretch it until the two ribbons become one with two or more colors.

Pull out the sugar ribbons to around 1½ inches wide and ¾ of an inch thick. Cut into pieces with a scissors and wrap in wax paper. Twist ends of paper to seal.

Store in a jar, a decorated candy box or dish, or give to friends, loved ones, or anyone with a sweet tooth. Or, if you have some salt water taffy from a beachside candy shop, do a blind taste test to see if you can tell the difference between your homemade taffy and the store-bought.

…And that’s how you make Atlantic City-style salt water taffy without the trip to the boardwalk. Good night, and good eating!

From Minced Meat to McDonalds — The History of the Hamburger

The Fourth of July is upon us – and even though the day is almost over where I am, the barbecues, fireworks, beach trips, and summer fun is still abuzz because Independence Day is on a Friday this year and people are taking advantage of it by extending it to cover the entire weekend. Not that I mind. Celebrating a holiday or a birthday from Friday to Sunday is a lot more fun than celebrating it during the weekday – especially if you have obligations during the week (work, school, or family).

Last year, my Independence Day blog post was about the history of the barbecue and how America has four types of barbecues: Carolina (North and South), Memphis (Tennessee), Kansas City (Missouri), and Texas. This year, I thought I might touch on hamburgers: their origins, how America popularized them, and whether or not the burger is still relevant in a world where people are watching their waistlines and opting for healthier alternatives.

What can be said about the hamburger that hasn’t been said in other food blogs, food magazines, cookbooks, and fast food advertisement? It’s been touted as the perfect food: ground beef (or turkey, or chicken, or chickpeas and black beans, if you want to go vegetarian), seasoned to your liking, mixed with egg, formed into a patty, fried on a griddle or put on a grill (ideally, a propane one, if you’re like Hank Hill), but will settle for being pan-fried or put on a charcoal grill, and either served as is or topped anything from ketchup, cheese, mustard, pickles, relish, bacon, and/or onions (raw or fried) to grilled fruits (usually pineapple), fried eggs, or any kind of fruit-flavored chutney.

But the hamburger is more than just a sandwich; it’s an American culinary icon, much like fried chicken (yes, fried chicken. The old stereotype of African Americans loving it confuses me as white people love fried chicken just as much) and apple pie. In fact, the hamburger is a lot like American history/society: filled with conflicting stories on its origins, can be very cheesy and disgusting to non-American sensibilities (yet most people do want a taste of it just to see if it’s everything they dreamed it would be), known and praised/disparaged all over the world, and associated with wanting everything done fast rather than done right.

Origins

In the 12th century, the nomadic Mongols, led by Genghis Khan  (1167–1227), carried food made up of several varieties of milk and meat (horse or camel) shaped into patties during their journeys. This was to not only extend their supply of meat, but also as a quick way to eat as they were laying waste to and conquering what is now Central Asia (Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, specifically). In the height of the Mongol Empire, it was common to see Mongol warriors following herds or flocks of horses, sheep, or oxen and killing them for food. The explorer Marco Polo recorded these sightings, even pointing out that a single pony could feed 100 Mongol invaders.

Now there’s an idea for the final episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

This recipe for the minced meat patty was passed on the Muscovites when Genghis’ grandson, Kublai Khan, invaded Russia after the Mongol Empire fell in the 1240s. In Moscow, the patty was known as steak tartare (yet the recipe for it was never recorded and, to this day, no one knows when the recipe was first recorded for restaurant use). In the city-states that would later be known as Germany, this ground meat product was refined by adding capers, onions and even caviar to the blend and was sold on the streets.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “This is the part where the ground meat patty gets called a hamburger because it was created in what would later be the German city of Hamburg.”

Well, yes and no. It wasn’t called the “hamburger” right away. It was called the Hamburgh (that’s how the city name was spelled at the time) Sausage. Besides, the sandwich (and the use of bread slices between a meat filling) wouldn’t be known until the 18th century, thanks to English aristocrat John Montagu (better known as The Earl of Sandwich), who came up with a new way to eat so his fingers wouldn’t get dirty while playing card games. There was an episode of the early 2000s Cartoon Network show, Time Squad, that parodied how The Earl of Sandwich came up with this culinary sensation. I uploaded the episode and the storyboards for it for anyone who wants to see it.

Fast forward to the 19th century, which sees Hamburg, Germany as the largest trans-Atlantic hub for freight and shipping. The Hamburg steak, an early ancestor of the hamburger and known at that time as either “Hamburg-style American fillet” or “beefsteak à Hambourgeoise,” is being served to attract German sailors. It was brought back to New York City and became popular on the menus of many restaurants in this U.S. port. This kind of fillet was beef minced by hand, lightly salted and often smoked, and usually served raw in a dish along with onions and bread crumbs.

Now this isn’t the hamburger as we know it yet. It’s actually Salisbury steak, named after American physician and food faddist, Dr. James Salisbury (1823-1905), served with brown gravy, and is a common sight in many an unappetizing frozen TV dinner or mediocre school cafeteria menu. However, it does go great with buttered noodles and your choice of green bean casserole or vegetable medley.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of conflicting stories about how the hamburger came to be. Did the Hamburg America Line in Germany send it over to America? Was it a spontaneous invention by an American? If so, who invented it/made it popular first? Fletcher Davis? The Menches Brothers? Charlie Nagreen? Oscar Bilby? Or Louis Lassen? No one knows for sure, but these facts are certain:

1) The hamburg steak/Salisbury steak’s popularity in America is what led to the popularity of the hamburger,

2) The hamburger is very much a late 19th century-into-the 20th century invention, so the hamburger (and all the other types of burgers derived from it) is fairly new

3) all claims made by the potential inventors of the hamburger occurred between 1885 and 1904, focusing all attention of its creation onto these two decades.

The Hamburger Restaurant

Contemporary American society at the dawn of the 20th century witnessed the creation of new fast food originating from traditional foods from various ethnic groups, such as China’s chop suey (and other take-out favorites that originally were supposed to be for other Chinese immigrants who moved to America, but became popular among those who weren’t Chinese, but were American), pizza from Italy (though that would not gain popularity until after World War II), and hot dogs (invented by German immigrant Charles Feltman, who sold frankfurters on sliced bread at Coney Island).

The dawn of the 20th century also witnessed the need to provide food for people living in highly productive urban centers with high population densities. Food also had to be economically affordable for the working class so they can maintain their labor and industrial production. The hamburger and its derivatives were born in a time when people didn’t have the time or energy to make anything to eat and would rather eat “fast” and “cheap,” a decision that has stuck with the American way of life to this day.

Though there have been plenty of arguments and claims to the contrary, Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut has been credited by The Library of Congress as the very first burger joint. Lassen may have made the hamburger popular in 1895, but it wouldn’t be until 1916 when the hamburger patty (actually, a Salisbury steak patty, thanks to anti-German sentiment during and after World War I) would be served on a bun. For that, you can thank Walter Anderson, who, five years after he invented the burger bun, co-founded one of the earliest hamburger restaurants in America: White Castle. You can also thank White Castle for selling their hamburgers in grocery stores and vending machines, creating the industrial-strength spatula, mass-producing the humiliating paper hat associated with the embarrassing task of working fast-food service, and for birthing the concept of a “greasy spoon restaurant,” in which hygiene suffered in exchange for more inexpensive food (though that’s more the fault of wanting things done fast instead of right).

Like anything remotely successful, White Castle bred a lot of imitators and attempts at capturing the restaurant’s success, with little to no success. One of the most obvious was White Tower Hamburgers of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, whose owners got into many a legal battle with White Castle over copyright infringement.

1937 saw Patrick McDonald and his two sons Richard and Maurice inaugurating a restaurant called “Airdrome” on Route 66 near the airport in Monrovia, California. Three years later in San Bernardino, Papa McDonald and his sons would go on to create the insanely popular restaurant people in America and the world over: McDonalds. The menu initially featured 25 different dishes, the majority of which were barbecued, but 80% of the restaurant’s revenue was made from selling hamburgers. It wouldn’t be until after World War II (due to beef shortages, though that didn’t slow down White Castle) that McDonalds’ popularity would soar, introducing the concept of fast food to the West Coast, working to improve on all of the things White Castle and other restaurants were doing to ensure the fastest service possible, and inventing the concept of “drive thru” ordering. By the 1950s, the concept of drive-in style service had become firmly established and hamburgers and cars had become closely connected in the minds of many Americans, particularly among the teenagers at that time, if pop culture and pointless nostalgia of the era has taught me anything.

As private outdoor social events, often held in backyards and featuring a barbecue, became more widespread during the mid-1950s, the hamburger gained a new culinary and social relevance in America. It became that national symbol that separated the United States from those godless Reds who waited with baited breath to invade the country. It seems silly, but for anyone who still has relatives who lived during that era, it was a reality. You know the hamburger was a popular American symbol during the Cold War when one of the battles in the Vietnam War is named The Battle of Hamburger Hill, because of how the Viet Cong and American soldiers alike were reduced to bloody meat. War is hell, kids.

There was also another war being waged during The Cold War (mostly during the 1960s and 1970s), and that was “The Burger War,” in which McDonalds fought with Burger King and Wendy’s over who had the better hamburger. No lives were lost nor soldiers injured (unless you count the many who have had heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes from all that burger-noshing), but it did cause the prices of their burgers increased, and the days when a hamburger could be bought for just a few cents (a nickel at most) were a thing of the past.

Where Are We Now?

Now, we’re in the era of everyone watching their waistlines and cutting down on the junk so they can live longer to complain about how life isn’t what it used to be. The hamburger, while still being celebrated with haute cuisine makeovers and being positively to neutrally portrayed on such TV shows and movies as Good Burger, SpongeBob SquarePants (with the titular character working at The Krabby Patty), American Eats, Man vs. Food, Bob’s Burgers, and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, has also come under fire for lack of nutritional value and being one of a myriad of causes in the obesity epidemic. There are also environmentalists and animal rights activists protesting on how the big-chain restaurants are killing people with mediocre meat and slashing rainforests for more cattle-raising room.

“All this for a meat patty between two pieces of bread?” you ask. “All of this protesting and change and competition. It’s silly.” To that I say, “Yeah, it’s silly, but when you really think about it, it’s American.”

Thanks, and happy eating.

Accidental Foods

I have heard of how the sandwich, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream cones, potato chips, and popsicles (ice lollies, if you’re UK-born) are a mistake, but the nachos one is a new one. I also have heard that the naming for “chimichangas” was a mistake, as it was from a Mexican mom who was trying to cover up her cursing in front of her child. Another culinary mistake that became popular was the chocolate lava cake. According to food legend, a pastry cook took out a batch of mini chocolate cakes too soon, but since he was in a hurry, he just told the customers that they’re a new dessert made by the kitchen.

Creating accidental foods is how I got through some of my culinary classes, like that tomato-flavored cream cheese that I tried to pass for dip (goes great on bagel sandwiches, especially ones with lox or smoked salmon. Not so much the greasy breakfast sandwiches where sausage, ham, a sunny side-up egg, or bacon is your protein). Or that Mexican cheese and chicken dish I did in Chef Wagner’s Bistro class that I made after I successfully made sopas (pictures below).

Sopa and Fried Plantain Platter

This is the sopa platter, decorated with fried plantains, some salsa (homemade, natch), and lime pieces (with kosher salt on them for that bold, sassy virgin margarita flavor).

This below is the chicken and cheese dish I made for fun:

P04-12-12_11.35

Now, if memory serves me correctly, this was made with roasted red peppers, queso fresco, roasted chicken, and refried beans. You can eat it like a cheap casserole or use it in filling for tacos, quesadillas, or homemade Hot Pockets or mini-pizzas.

Thank you, and happy eating!

Rantings of an Amateur Chef

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. I think accidents are the father.

When you think along the pantheon of food, there have been more than a few accidental inventions:

  • Sandwich – The Earl of Sandwich was at a gambling table and didn’t want to get up. I’ve been there and know that feeling. He ordered his dinner of meat to be brought to him between two slices of bread.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies – A baker at the Toll House Inn (yes, that Toll House) was making chocolate cookies one day and ran out of chocolate powder.  Taking a bar of semi-sweet chocolate, she broke it into chunks and put it into the batter, thinking that the chocolate would melt evenly. It didn’t and thank God for that!
  • Ice Cream Cone – At the 1904 World’s Fair an ice cream vendor ran out of dishes. Lucky for him…

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Oreo Day (or The Sieve and the Sandwich Cookie)

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The old packaging I remember from the 1990s.

Another food celebration day has crept up on me. This time, it’s Oreo Day, though I would have gone with “Sandwich Cookie Day” for two reasons: a) Oreos aren’t the only sandwich cookies with a creamy center out there (especially since Nabisco is doing all it can to make Oreos different), and b) you know some overly politically-correct activist is going to get on his or her soapbox and declare that the name is racist. For those who don’t know, “Oreo” is a derogatory name for a black person who “acts white” (read: doesn’t listen to rap, has a good credit rating, isn’t on welfare, has a respectable job, etc). Other variations of this include the “banana” (an Asian who acts white), a coconut (a Hispanic or black person who doesn’t have African roots [like a Brazilian, a Jamaican, or someone from India] who acts white), and a “backwards Oreo” (a white person who acts black). While being called an “Oreo” may be a compliment (because, hey, you don’t follow the stereotypes of your race and cookies are always good), it does have the sting of “You should be ashamed of yourself for selling out to The White Man, the same White Man that enslaved your ancestors and took their sweet time giving us the same rights they have, and still keep us down today, albeit in more underhanded ways, never mind that we’re keeping ourselves down and, therefore, making ourselves look bad.” I guess whoever came up with these was only racist when he or she was hungry and, rather than get something to eat, decided to fan the flames of hatred a little more.

I can’t think of a time when Oreo cookies weren’t part of my life. It’s always been in my pantry, whether it’s the real deal or some discount store knock-off. Even as I’m typing this, there’s a discount store Oreo knock-off in my pantry, called Benton’s Chocolate Sandwich cookies waiting to be devoured by everyone in my family within the span of, oh, say, five days. And even when I couldn’t have the cookie, I’ve always had a dessert with Oreos in it (or flavored like a chocolate sandwich cookie), be it ice cream, cake, pie, or pudding. Oreo cookies are a lot like some of the cartoons I watched when I was younger: kids love them and are the main demographic, but the periphery demographic is mostly adults.

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The competition: 1908-2001, with a brief comeback in 2008

Oreos were created in 1912 (making them a little over 100 years old, 102 to be exact) as a competitor to Hydrox Cookies, which, sadly, aren’t around anymore due to mergers, rebranding, and Oreo kicking Hydrox’s butt in sales. The last time Hydrox were seen was when they were sold as part of the product’s 100th birthday in 2008. Compared to Oreos, Hydrox’s filling wasn’t overly sweet, it was kosher/halal  (Oreo’s original recipe had lard in it, and, as Jewish and Muslim dietary laws will tell you, pork products are verboten, as pigs are seen as dirty, disease-ridden scavengers), and Hydrox’s chocolate wafer could stand its own when being dunked in milk.

When Oreo first started, it was known as the “Oreo Biscuit” (which is somewhat true, as a “biscuit” is what Americans and Canadians call a “cookie” and not a quick bread that’s used in a sausage sandwich for breakfast and served alongside chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, and the product was originally made for British people in mind). It was developed and produced by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) in New York City (Chelsea area) on Ninth and 15th (which is known as “Oreo Way”). The original packaging was in novelty cans with clear glass tops and they sold for 25 cents a pound. Keep in mind that $.25 a pound in 1912 would be $5.86 today when adjusted for inflation, which is how much Oreos are priced in some of the mom-and-pop delis and kwik-e-marts I’ve been to. Okay, maybe not that much, but I’ve seen them go anywhere from $3.50 to $4.99 — minus tax, of course. As for the original packaging, Nabisco probably switched over to the “We Three Sleeves” packaging to keep the prices down and for freshness reasons, though I’ll bet you there’s a farmer’s market out there that has homemade, heart-smart, gluten-free, vegan Oreos in a decorative can (made of recycled materials, because that’s how the fair-food, go-green crowd works) that’s probably somewhere between $1.50 to $2.50 a pound (maybe more).

As mentioned before, the filling to the Oreo cookie had lard (pork fat) in it, making it unsuitable for eating if you were Jewish, Muslim, or just didn’t like pork and pork byproducts (and, unlike today, people didn’t really care if you were any religion other than Protestant or some kind of Baptist or Anglican Christian. Even Catholics were ragged on because they had a pope as their conduit to God and Protestants didn’t…or, if you want to put a modern perspective to it, maybe Protestants knew that Catholic priests did unsavory things to children, but it wasn’t a major concern until the 1990s, the 2000s, and now). Of course, to cover it up, they used vanilla and sugar. There was even a lemon-flavored cream filling in the 1920s, but has since been discontinued (though if you ever go to Japan or to some American markets, you will find lemon cream Oreo cookies, albeit with the Golden Oreo wafers instead of the chocolate ones. Lemon and chocolate don’t really make a good flavor profile, which is probably why it was discontinued).

Sam “Mr. Oreo” Porcello (exact day and month unknown, but the birth year is somewhere between 1935 and 1936 – died May 12, 2012) was a food scientist from New Jersey credited for devising the modern Oreo cookie filling, in which the lard is replaced with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (still not healthy, but slightly better than lard). It wouldn’t be until 2005 that the Oreo would switch over to non-hydrogenated vegetable oil in an effort to rid food of trans fats (which, despite what you’ve heard or read, doesn’t affect the flavor, so those episodes of American Dad (“Live and Let Fry,” season four, episode 11) and King of the Hill (“Trans-Fascism,” season 12, episode 11) where Stan Smith and Hank Hill respectively fight back against the new “no foods with trans fats” laws because the no trans fats foods lack flavor is a fallacy.

The etymology behind “Oreo” is a mystery. Some say it’s partially from the French word “or,” which isn’t a conjunction used to denote a decision or choice in this case (in French, that word is “ou,” without the left-leaning accent. If it’s spelled with the left-leaning accent [où], then it’s the French word, “where,” as in “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”). In this case, “or” in French means “gold,” possibly meaning that this cookie is the gold standard. Another theory is that “Oreo” is from the Greek word “όμορφο,” meaning “beautiful, nice, or well-done” (Quick word: I don’t know Greek all that well, except for the alphabet, and that was back in sixth grade when I was taught about the Greek and Roman Empires and from watching TV shows and movies about college frat and sorority houses getting into trouble that would get real-life frats and sorority members hurt, expelled, arrested, shut down, put on academic probation, or, worst case scenario,  deported. I got the word off Google Translate). A final, and simpler, theory is that the name was made up by the company and it was chosen because it was easier to pronounce and remember.

Through the years, Oreo has become so much more than a chocolate sandwich cookie. Its filling has been everything from lemon to mint to chocolate to peanut butter — heck, if you go to China and Japan, you can get green tea filling in your Oreo, while other countries, like Chile, Argentina, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia have blueberry ice cream filling, orange ice cream filling, strawberry filling, and dulce de leche (a milk-based confection that’s common as muck in the Hispanic world, particularly in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the South American countries that have Spanish as an official language. Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname are the only ones that don’t) filling. There’s been Oreo pies, cheesecakes, regular cakes, brownies, ice cream, and frozen dessert dishes. The wafers, when ground up into crumbs, have been molded into pie crusts (or edible dirt, if it’s Halloween and you want to make a food-based scale model of a cemetery. Someone in my high school senior class did that, and it was amazing) and used as mixin’s for yogurt and ice cream. Basically, if something on the dessert menu says “Cookies and Cream [something],” you can bet that Oreos or an Oreo-inspired chocolate sandwich cookie (whether pre-made or homemade) are involved.

As part of Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Day, I’m going to leave you with a fool-proof recipe for how to make your own Oreo cookies (or, at the very least, the wafers, so you can use them for desserts or just eat that part without worrying about the creamy center). “You can make your own Oreos?” you ask incredulously. Yes, you can. It may seem hard, as the dark chocolate wafers are easy to overbake (their color obscures browned edging, which is an indicator of doneness in most cookie recipes) and the filling is very easy to foul up (coming out either too sweet or not sweet enough. I’ve had enough Oreos and no-brand sandwich cookies to know the difference), but this recipe fixes those mistakes.

The cookie/wafer part is prepared the same way as vanilla icebox cookies, only you substitute part of the flour for Dutch process cocoa (or a mix of black cocoa — which can only be found online or at gourmet grocery stores — and Dutch process cocoa), though you don’t have to bother with the cocoa powder if you’re making mock Golden Oreos. As for the filling, it’s a simple blend of confectioner’s sugar, water, vanilla extract (for best results, try and find clear vanilla extract, as that makes it as white as the actual Oreo filling), and a pinch of salt. That’s it. You don’t need lard or hydrogenated oil for it.

So break out the milk (doesn’t matter what kind. I had my Benton Sandwich cookies with Almond Vanilla Milk. I’m not lactose-intolerant, but everyone else in my family is and I’m open to trying new milks, like when I tried goat’s milk with spiced tea at Three Stone Hearth) and have a happy Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Day with this copycat recipe:

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Black cocoa (found in specialty shops or online) is what gives these cookies their distinctive dark color and deep flavor; if you can’t find it, substitute additional Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Also, if you can find it, clear vanilla extract will make a bright white–colored filling.

COOKIES

2½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup black cocoa powder

¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) all-purpose flour

FILLING

4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2½ tablespoons water

FOR THE COOKIES:

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter, then combine with the cocoa and espresso powders in a small bowl to form a smooth paste. Set aside to cool, about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat the cooled cocoa mixture, remaining 16 tablespoons butter, granulated sugar, and salt together using an electric mixer on medium-high speed until well combined and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour in 3 batches, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until the dough forms a cohesive ball, about 10 seconds.

Transfer the dough to a clean counter and divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a 6-inch log, about 2 inches thick. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Slice the dough into ⅛-inch-thick cookies. Lay the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spaced about ¾ inch apart.

Bake the cookies until the edges begin to brown and firm, 10 to 12 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough using freshly lined baking sheets.

FOR THE FILLING: In a large bowl, beat the confectioners’ sugar and salt together with an electric mixer on low speed, slowly adding the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the water until the filling is uniform and malleable, about 1 minute. If the filling is dry and crumbly, beat in the remaining ½ tablespoon water. Transfer the filling to a clean counter and roll into a log slightly smaller than the cookie dough (about 1⅔ inches wide). Wrap the filling in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. 7. Slice the filling about ⅛ inch thick. Pinch each slice of filling between your fingertips to soften it, then sandwich it firmly between 2 cookies and serve.

Thanks, and happy eating!

To see where your favorite Oreo cookie type places, read this article from the food section of Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/06/oreo-flavors_n_4904442.html?utm_hp_ref=taste&ir=Taste

First World Food Problems: Smooth Like Velveeta (or Process Cheesed Off)

As I was searching the Internet for future food topics on this blog, I came across a story that just screams, “First World problems” (or, if you want to get technical “#firstworldproblems”). Apparently, Kraft Foods announced that, because of high demand (especially around this time, where people are making cheesy, fattening snacks for the BCS [college football] and the Super Bowl), Velveeta may be in short supply. As per usual with a lot of news stories in this day and age, it’s been blown out of porportion. How blown out? It’s been dubbed “The Cheesepocalypse” on Twitter (which I use to get fans for this site, whether or not they actually know me). Don’t believe me. Check it out here:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/101316810

Now what does this mean to me? Absolutely nothing. I don’t like processed cheese at all. There was a time when I did, but that was because the lunchladies at school only had processed American cheese for their burgers, and I nor my mother thought to bring in provolone or mozzarella or write a note to the school, saying I’m allergic to American cheese. Hey, if they can do it for kids who have allergies to peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, walnuts, pecans, shellfish, eggs, and some of the less common foods a person can be allergic to, like strawberries, bananas, pineapples, chocolate — yes, chocolate allergies are a thing and I feel bad for people who will never know the simple joy of a Godiva truffle on Valentine’s Day (or Singles Appreciation Day, if you’re lonely and/or bitter), chocolate coins on Christmas or Hanukkah, Reese’s egg-shaped cups on Easter, or a Halloween jack-o’-lantern bag filled to bursting with the best Hershey’s has to offer — any artificial dyes or preservatives, or, in the case of one girl I knew at my basic Job Corps center in Kentucky, anything that wasn’t steamed chicken, buttered noodles, and steamed vegetables (I’m not kidding. Her food allergies were so bad that that was all she could eat), then my mother could do it for me. But that’s the past.

So why am I reporting on this? Two reasons: one, I find it a bit melodramatic that they’re treating this like it’s going to be an impending famine. This has NOTHING on Ireland’s potato famine between 1845 and 1852. That famine meant tremendous human suffering (the actual death toll isn’t clear, but it’s safe to say that around a million bit the big one due to disease and not, as you would believe, starvation), forever shaped  the cultural and political landscape of Ireland and the United Kingdom, gave considerable impetus to the shift from Irish (Gaelic) to English as the language of the majority since the potato famine affected poor Irish districts and led to the formation of the Gaelic League which works to promote Ireland’s mother tongue, added fuel to the fire of tension between the Irish and the British, and drove many Irish people to emigrate to other countries (most of them did end up in the United States. And if you think Mexicans are treated unfairly because of their emigrating to the United States, look up how the Irish were treated. And, yes, it does explain why, in old cartoons, police officers had red hair and/or Irish accents), and two: it gives me an opportunity to dispense options for those who just can’t live without their processed cheese.

I’ll never understand how eat something that’s made of milk, water, milkfat, whey, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, sodium phosphate; contains less than 2% of: salt, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, sodium alginate, sodium citrate, enzymes, apocarotenal (color), annatto (color), and cheese culture (which, to me, is more of a relic from my junior year chemistry class rather than food), but “Take Back the Kitchen” isn’t about judging you on the foods you eat; it’s about offering healthier options.

“Healthier options for Velveeta?” you scoff, “That’s just a myth, like The Tooth Fairy or a balanced budget.”

“Well,” I retort, “it’s true. You can make Velveeta by hand and it will taste better and be slightly better for you, as my idol,  American Test Kitchen, will show you with this recipe.”

Homemade Velveeta

1 tablespoon water
1½ teaspoons powdered gelatin
12 ounces Colby cheese, shredded
12 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
12 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon whole milk powder (now, this ingredient is going to be a pain in the butt to find in typical grocery stores. Try a gourmet kitchen store that specializes in rare and bizarre ingredients, or look online)
1 teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

1. Line 5-by 4-inch disposable aluminum loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing excess to hang over sides.

2. Place water in small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over top, and let mixture sit for 5 minutes. Pulse cheese, milk powder, salt, and cream of tartar in food processor until combined, about 3 pulses.

3. Meanwhile, bring milk to boil in small saucepan. Off heat, stir in softened gelatin until dissolved, and transfer mixture to 1-cup liquid measuring cup. With processor running, slowly add hot milk mixture to cheese mixture until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed.

4. Immediately transfer cheese mixture to prepared pan, pressing to compact. Wrap tightly and chill at least 3 hours, or overnight.

If you want something more homemade, you can just cut cubes of Colby, Cheddar, and Swiss (now, why these three? Because that’s what the ingredients allegedly are of the actual product, according to a 1980s commercial jingle. I’m too young to remember that, since I was born in 1985 and came of age in the 1990s and the 2000s), add some Gruyère, some flour (or cornstarch if you’re going gluten-free), garlic clove, white wine, cherry brandy (called “kirsch” in Swiss German) [or omit both if you don’t want alcohol], lemon juice, nutmeg, and dry mustard in a fondue pot (or, more realistically, a four quart pot that could pass for a fondue pot if it’s fancy enough), cook until melted and creamy (being super careful not to let it boil. Boiling it will cause a mess and burn it), serve with French bread, raw vegetables, ham cubes, and some fruits that taste great with cheese (the mild, autumn fruits, like apples and pears. Apple slices with melted cheddar and ham makes a great sandwich, especially if the apple is anything but a Red Delicious, as Red Deliciouses are better off being eaten raw out of hand, turned into apple juice, used in reenactments of the Adam and Eve story [even though the Bible doesn’t specifically mention that an apple is “the forbidden fruit” from the Tree of Knowledge], or given to teachers in a transparent attempt to ingratiate yourself to them. When cooked, they taste too mushy), et voilà! You have a classy take on melted queso. A little heavy cream and roux turns it into a cheese sauce that can be served over steamed broccoli or loaded nachos or baked potatoes (which can also be served loaded).

It’s always a concern when your favorite food is in short supply or is about to be discontinued or affected in some way, but in an age where you can find alternate ways and substitutes for it, these doom and gloom stories about it shouldn’t impact this many people (unless it’s especially dire, like with water and certain fruits and vegetables).

Thank you, and happy eating!