National Corned Beef Hash Day

I’ve got no beef with today’s food holiday. September 27 is National Corned Beef Hash Day!

Corned beef hash is essentially a fancy way of using up leftovers. Corned beef is chopped up, seasoned, and combined with potatoes and onions. The name comes from the French word hacher which means “an actress who played Lois Lane.” Whoops, strike that. It actually means “to chop.” Corned beef hash gained popularity during World War II, when meat became scarce – particularly in Great Britain and France. Hormel decided to capitalize on this popular trend and introduced canned corned beef hash to the U.S. around 1950. They can hardly lay claim to this invention, however, as different forms of hash had been a staple of the American diet since at least the 19th century. In fact, “hash houses” were quite popular in the 1800s. Other countries have their own variations of hash: in Denmark it is called biksemad (“tossed together food” – I love that!) and includes pork and pickled red beet slices. Sweden has a similar dish but substitutes beef for the pork and adds cream. In Slovenia, haše is made with minced pork and veal, potato sauce, onion, garlic, and flour and served atop spaghetti. It’s also used as a pasta sauce in Brazil and Portugal, and as a filling for pancake rolls.

We didn’t get quite as fancy here. Instead, I heated up a can of Hormel corned beef hash and served it with breakfast. Good stuff!

National Corned Beef Hash Day

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351/365: National Maple Syrup Day

I’ve got a sticky proposition for you: how’s about you come help us celebrate today’s food holiday? December 17 is National Maple Syrup Day!

By maple syrup, I don’t mean Aunt Jemimah or Mrs. Butterworth. We’re talking real maple syrup – the sap from maple trees (usually sugar, red, or black maples). These species store starch in their trunks and roots; this is converted to sugar that rises in the sap during springtime. The trees can be tapped by boring holes in the trunks and the sap harvested; this is then processed to evaporate most of the water, leaving the concentrated sap behind. European settlers learned this trick from Native Americans, who were the first to collect and use maple syrup in this fashion. Originally used as a concentrated form of sugar, maple syrup became a popular topping for pancakes, waffles, and french toast, and is used to flavor everything from fritters and ice cream to fruit, sausages, baked beans, squash, and hot toddies.

To be classified as true maple syrup in the United States, the product must be made almost entirely from maple sap. A number of less expensive imitation syrups sprung up over the years, giving consumers the flavor of maple without the cost. By law, these cannot be labeled as maple syrup but are called, instead, “waffle syrup,” “pancake syrup,” “table syrup,” etc. They are usually made with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, are artificially thickened, and contain no real maple. As much as I enjoy Log Cabin, it’s not really maple syrup at all. A Rhode Island man was recently sentenced to two years probation for trying to pass off an imitation syrup as genuine maple syrup.

With such a strong emphasis on what constitutes genuine maple syrup, there was no doubt we would have to buy a bottle of the real stuff to complete today’s challenge. Which we did. Tara got up early to make us pumpkin pancakes (another wonderful Trader Joe’s find this season). Topped with real maple syrup, they were a sweet and filling start to the day!

National Maple Syrup Day

Categories: Breakfast, Too Weird to Categorize | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

348/365: National Biscuits & Gravy Day*

Today’s food holiday celebrates a hearty breakfast duo. Bacon and eggs? Nah. Pancakes and sausage? Guess again. December 14 is National Biscuits & Gravy Day!

It’s also National Bouillabaisse Day. This one-pot fisherman’s stew that originated in France sounds satisfying, but we didn’t feel like going to the trouble (and expense) of making it or ordering from a restaurant. No need to knock ourselves out with just a couple of weeks left, right?

Biscuits and gravy are two distinct foods that are delicious on their own. But together, they take on splendid new flavors! Kind of like what happens when you mix peanut butter and chocolate…only much more savory. They consist of soft dough biscuits covered in a thick “country” or “white” gravy that usually includes pan drippings, flour, milk, and crumbled sausage. It is often seasoned with black pepper and sometimes called “sawmill” gravy. The dish originated in the American South following the Revolutionary War. At that time food was in short supply, and breakfast was usually the most substantial meal of the day, providing energy for a long, hard day of work on the plantations. Because pigs were a popular and cheap source of livestock, sausage became a key ingredient. This filling morning meal was enough to get people ready for a busy day ahead.

We stopped by our favorite neighborhood mom ‘n pop restaurant for breakfast this morning, and shared some biscuits and gravy. Bonus points for this meal: it’s perfect hangover food!

National Biscuits & Gravy Day

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332/365: National French Toast Day

There are many things to be thankful for today; among them, a sweetened breakfast dish made with bread and beaten eggs. November 28 is National French Toast Day!

It’s also Thanksgiving, of course. We’d like to wish a happy holiday to all our readers and their families!

Thanksgiving is probably the most filling day of the year, with so much food served most people feel like they are going to burst at the seams if they take one more bite. We certainly don’t need to celebrate food on this foodiest of food days, but at least it’s a breakfast dish that will take the bite off our hunger while waiting for turkey and all the trimmings later in the day.

First, let’s dispel any myths about the name. French toast was not invented in France. The earliest recipe appears in Apicius, a Roman cookbook dating to the 4th century. It mentions soaking bread in milk (but not egg) and calls the dish aliter dulcia which flows off the tongue nicely, but simply means “another sweet dish.” Hardly an inspiring name. It was first called “French toast” in a 1660 cookbook called The Accomplisht Cook. Written by somebody who was not an accomplisht speller, apparently. It’s called pain perdu in some parts of the world. Anybody who has ever watched Chopped has seen a struggling chef enter the dessert round and cheat his or her way out of it by making French toast and calling it pain perdu, but in France it actually IS considered a dessert, so I suppose we can let it slide. French toast, or whatever you call it, is easy to prepare: soak a couple of slices of bread (it can even be stale) in a mixture of beaten eggs and milk (or cream), fry on both sides until brown and cooked through, and top with maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar, or some other concoction of your choice. Wikipedia’s list of toppings includes Vegemite, ketchup, baked beans, cheese, cold cooked meats, and gravy. I think whoever wrote that was smoking crack.

To celebrate, we whipped up some French toast for breakfast. Because we don’t have enough cooking to do today! At least French toast is simple to make, and took the edge off our hunger.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The syrup spelled out 332 until it all kind of ran together.

The syrup spelled out 332 until it all kind of ran together.

Categories: Breakfast | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

319/365: National Raisin Bran Cereal Day*

You may be raisin hell if you skip breakfast today. November 15 is National Raisin Bran Cereal Day!

It’s also National Bundt Day, but I’m not much of a baseball fan, and when I am I like to swing for the fences rather than gently tapping the pitched ball with my bat to make it more difficult to field. What’s that? Wrong kind of “bunt”? Doesn’t matter. We’re celebrating cereal today.

Raisin Bran cereal was first introduced in 1926 by U.S. Mills, under the brand name Skinner’s Raisin Bran. The name was originally trademarked, but in 1944 the District Court of Nebraska ruled the name couldn’t be used as a trademark because A name which is merely descriptive of the ingredients, qualities or characteristics of an article of trade cannot be appropriated as a trademark and the exclusive use of it afforded legal protection. The use of a similar name by another to truthfully describe his own product does not constitute a legal or moral wrong, even if its effect be to cause the public to mistake the origin or ownership of the product. In other words – minus the legalese – if your product contains raisins and bran, you don’t own the name Raisin Bran any more than if your product contained chocolate and milk and you trademarked the name Chocolate Milk™. Not gonna happen, folks. As a result, a number of companies sell their own versions of raisin bran cereal, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Post. The cereal is naturally high in fiber, but is sometimes criticized for containing too much sugar.

Raisin Bran was a favorite cereal of mine growing up, but I don’t eat it much anymore these days. It’s too sweet to me, and I agree with Tara that it gets too soggy in milk too quickly. Still, it made for a decent enough breakfast before work this morning!

National Raisin Bran Cereal Day

National Raisin Bran Cereal Day

Categories: Breakfast, Fruit, Grains | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

269/365: National Pancake Day

Today’s food holiday is flat out delicious. September 26 is National Pancake Day!

We knew when embarking upon this pursuit that there were sure to be some challenges coming our way, commitments that might make completing the challenge tricky or difficult. You know, like camping trips and weddings and stuff. What I didn’t foresee was a three-day work symposium that would have me out of the house some 17 hours a day. Fortunately, the timing works out in my favor: the three food holidays we’re celebrating during this stretch – pancakes, chocolate milk, and beer – require little prep and are easy to consume on the go. Whew! Had roast leg of lamb or escargot or baked alaska landed somewhere in here, we’d be in trouble. (Tara and I also have a weekend trip to Denver planned in a month, but again, it looks like we’ll be able to handle those challenges easily from a few states away).

There is some debate over exactly when National Pancake Day lands. IHOP created its own National Pancake Day on February 5, advertising it heavily and offering free pancakes that day, but they went outside of the system and didn’t bother to get their day “officially” recognized, so we never believed that counted (February 5 was National Chocolate Fondue Day on our calendar). Pancakes are also popularly consumed on Shrove Tuesday, which is the day before Lent, a floating holiday every year. Not a big deal, since we knew we’d have the opportunity to celebrate pancakes later on in the year. Later on is now.

The ancient Greeks made the first pancakes, known as τηγανίτης. If that’s too tricky for you to pronounce, it’s simply the Greek word for “frying pan.” These “tagenites” were made with wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk (yum!) and date back to at least the 5th century B.C. The word “pancake” first appeared in the 1400s. There are many regional variations of this flat breakfast dish including crepes, blinis, latkes, and Dutch babies. They were an important food source in Colonial America, where residents enjoyed “Indian cakes” and Johnnycakes. They are also known as hotcakes, griddle cakes, and flapjacks. Aunt Jemima introduced the first boxed pancake mix in 1889; its ease of use and convenience helped pancakes become a staple of American breakfasts in the 20th century.

To celebrate, Tara made pancakes this morning. What a perfect stack – they turned out to be some of the best I’ve ever had!

National Pancake Day

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106/365: National Eggs Benedict Day*

We’ll consider you a traitor if you don’t help us celebrate today’s food holiday. April 16 is National Eggs Benedict Day! (It’s also National Day of the Mushroom. We love mushrooms, but Eggs Benedict feels more exotic. Besides, National Mushroom Day also occurs on October 15. We’ll revisit the fungus then).

Eggs Benedict is one of those dishes that is delicious and feels upscale despite its relative simplicity. Take an English muffin, split it in half, top with ham or Canadian bacon, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce. Voila! Breakfast is served.

There are two separate origin stories for Eggs Benedict. According to one claim, a patron of Delmonico’s in New York – the first restaurant ever opened in the U.S. –  by the name of Mrs. LeGrand Benedict was bored with the same old menu choices, and wanted to try something new for lunch. So she conferred with the chef, Charles Ranhofer, who created Eggs a’ la Benedick in her honor. He published a cookbook in 1894 that included his recipe: Cut some muffins in halves crosswise, toast them without allowing to brown, thn place a round of cooked ham an eighth of an inch thick and of the same diameter as the muffins on each half. Heat in a moderate oven and put a poached egg on each toast. Cover the whole with Hollandaise sauce.    

Version #2 appeared in the December 19, 1942 issue of New Yorker MagazineIt must be true, because it’s in print! According to the article, Wall Street broker Lemuel Benedict, suffering from the mother of all hangovers after a late-night bender, ordered “some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of Hollandaise sauce.” It’s unclear just how drunk he still was, ordering a hooker in public like that, but the Waldorf Hotel’s chef, Oscar Tschirky, complied, and was so impressed with the results he added Eggs Benedict to the menu after making a few substitutions (English muffin instead of toast, Canadian bacon instead of crisp bacon, no hooker).

Whipping up a little homemade Hollandaise sauce.

Whipping up a little homemade Hollandaise sauce.

It’s unclear which of those stories is true. Or if either of them is true, as there are other theories pertaining to its origin that include Popes and French Commodores, but it really doesn’t matter how the dish came to be. What’s important is, the dish came to be!

There are many variations on Eggs Benedict. At least twenty different varieties exist, with inventive chefs constantly adding new takes. We recently went out to breakfast at a place in Portland that served a version of Eggs Benedict with pepper bacon and tomatoes, and it was wonderful. But I prefer the original version best, and when it came time to celebrate today’s challenge, we decided to make the dish from scratch. A feat we had never before attempted. Slicing the English muffin was a cinch, and the leftover ham from yesterday’s challenge made the perfect topping. But neither of us were familiar with poaching an egg or making Hollandaise sauce. That’s why they invented cookbooks (my inspiration for the Hollandaise was Martha Holmberg’s Modern Sauces) and the internet (thank you, Allrecipes, for the egg poaching instructions). We tag teamed this dinner effort: I made the sauce, Tara poached the eggs, and together we created Eggs Benedict. The result? Absolutely delicious! The leftover HoneyBaked ham was the perfect base, too. This was one of our favorite Eat My Words challenges to date!

Eggs Benedict

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97/365: National Coffee Cake Day

Pour yourself a hot cup of joe, dish up a pastry, and celebrate today’s food holiday before morning gives way to afternoon. April 7 is National Coffee Cake Day!

Coffee cake isn’t an invention so much as an evolution. Any sweet cake meant to be eaten for breakfast and paired with coffee is considered a coffee cake. It may also be eaten on a coffee break, or served to guests on a coffee table. Bonus points if it’s dished up by psychic, medium, and spiritual counselor Chip Coffey. The Danish were the first to come up with the idea of eating cake for breakfast, alongside coffee. Funny, you’d think they’d prefer a danish instead. Most coffee cakes are single layers, square or rectangular, and many feature a crumb-like topping. They often contain fruit, nuts, and cinnamon. Contrary to the name, they do not taste like coffee. Unless, of course, you dip them in coffee. In which case, yes – they taste very much like coffee. Scandinavian, German, and Dutch immigrants brought their favorite coffee cake recipes to America, where early Colonialists often took a break from killing indians to indulge in a delicious, sweet coffee cake and a steaming hot mug of java before it got too hot for murder.

Fortunately, coffee cake is pretty simple to find, even when you’re traveling. Virtually any convenience store in America is going to have it. We picked up a marionberry (no relation to the disgraced former mayor of Washington D.C.) coffee cake from the Fred Meyer in Bothell, and enjoyed that as part of a delicious homemade breakfast.

Marionberry Coffee Cake

Categories: Breakfast, Pastry | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

84/365: National Waffle Day & National Pecan Day*

March 25th is set aside to honor not one, not two, but three separate food holidays. While we’d love to tackle all three, it is a work day, and we have other pressing demands. However, as Meatloaf (the singer, not the food) famously said, “two out of three ain’t bad.” So today we’ll celebrate National Waffle Day and National Pecan Day, but skip National Lobster Newburg Day. Besides, that’s a dish similar to National Lobster Thermidor Day, which we already celebrated in January.

In the Rules section of this blog, I even mentioned today specifically: When there are multiple selections on a given day, we only have to try one. However, if we can incorporate more than one, we will. Using the March 25th example, if it’s Pecan Day and Waffle Day, we’ll make Pecan Waffles!

I guess we’re making Pecan Waffles, then!

I already talked about the history of waffles earlier this month, but I didn’t mention Cornelius Swarthout. He is credited with filing the first patent for the modern waffle iron in 1869. His patent (you can take a look at it here – it’s surprisingly detailed and complex) took a cast-iron skillet and added a hinged lid, with a divider for individual waffles. 42 years later, the electric waffle iron was invented by Thomas Steckbeck of General Electric, with a built-in thermometer to prevent the waffles from burning. But perhaps the most interesting waffle-inspired invention of all belongs to Bill Bowerman, track and field coach at the University of Oregon in the 1960s. Bowerman used his wife’s waffle iron to develop a sole for running shoes that was light and grippable. Hopefully he told her this before she made breakfast! Flush with success at the U of O, Bowerman started an athletic footwear distribution company with Phil Knight called Blue Ribbon Sports, which they renamed Nike. His Waffle Trainer (real name) shoe helped catapult Nike to international success in 1974.

Pecan is a species of hickory tree and is the only nut native to North America (other than Phil Spector). It comes from an Algonquin word meaning “a nut requiring a stone to crack.” Doesn’t get much more literal than that, folks. Like other nuts-that-aren’t-nuts (I’m thinking of you, almond), the pecan isn’t a true nut either, but rather the seed of a fruit. Potato, po-tah-to. Native Americans valued pecans as a food source because they provide 2-5 times more calories per unit weight than wild game, and can be eaten as is. Pecans that fall to the ground are still edible the following year, which I guess makes them nature’s leftovers. They were quite popular with Colonial Americans; Thomas Jefferson planted pecan trees at his home in Monticello, and after giving some to George Washington, he in turn planted pecan trees at his home in Mount Vernon. The U.S. grows 80-95% of the world’s pecan crop, with Georgia and Texas the top two pecan-producing states.

We had breakfast for dinner tonight, which allowed us plenty of time to make some tasty pecan waffles. Just a sprinkling of pecans in the batter, and the result was scrumptious!

That’s how you kill two birds with one stone, folks.

Pecan Waffles

Categories: Breakfast, Nuts | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

70/365: National Oatmeal Nut Waffle Day

Today is one of the stranger food holidays this year. Not the ingredients themselves so much as the combination of ingredients. Oatmeal, nuts, and waffles are all celebration-worthy (and each, in fact, has its own national food holiday). But whoever heard of oatmeal nut waffles? It’s an oddly random day to celebrate. But as I’ve said before, we don’t make the rules, we only follow them. So a hearty, happy National Oatmeal Nut Waffle Day to you and yours!

Waffles are essentially communion wafers on steroids. The two emerged at the same time, in the 9th century, and both were initially flavorless discs made with grain flour and water. Early waffle pans were made of iron and depicted images of Jesus and the crucifixion. It took 200 years for folks to realize that waffles might taste decent if they had a little flavor, so ingredients like orange blossom water and honey were added. The first known waffle recipe was published in the 14th century, and read: Beat some eggs in a bowl, season with salt and add wine. Toss in some flour, and mix. Then fill, little by little, two irons at a time with as much of the paste as a slice of cheese is large. Then close the iron and cook both sides. If the dough does not detach easily from the iron, coat it first with a piece of cloth that has been soaked in oil or grease. Hey…why isn’t today National Wine Waffle Day?! Harumph. Modern waffle irons first appeared in the 15th century, with the classic grid shape emerging soon after. Waffle recipes became more sophisticated, with the additions of sugar, butter, and eggs. Dry waffle mix was developed in the 1930s, and the Dorsa brothers from San Jose, California developed a frozen waffle they went on to name Eggo in 1953. Belgian waffles – larger and lighter thanks to the addition of yeast in the batter – were introduced at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, and quickly became popular. Americans liked the texture and the bigger squares and deeper pockets, perfect for holding melted butter, syrup, spare change, and lint.

In researching recipes for oatmeal nut waffles, I discovered something interesting: they are very healthy, made with whole wheat flour, and honey in place of sugar. Flush with my baking success yesterday, I whipped up a batch this morning while Tara was getting ready for work, using pecans for the nuts.The waffles were very dense and not at all sweet, but that’s why they invented syrup. Overall they had a good flavor. Tara and I talk about opening a restaurant someday, and these would be a good addition for the health nut/vegan crowd. I doubt I’d make them again, but they did turn out pretty good.

Oatmeal Nut Waffles

Categories: Breakfast, Nuts | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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