National Meatball Day

Today we honor a 1979 Ivan Reitman comedy starring Bill Murray as head counselor of a summer camp! Wait…that doesn’t sound right…

Ahh. Meatballs, not Meatballs. March 9th is National Meatball Day! And the first food holiday we’ve celebrated in some time.

MeatballsThe exact history behind the invention of the meatball is unknown, but because meat was scarce and expensive, it was probably the brainchild of some well-to-do caveman with a “waste not, want not” mentality when it came to leftovers. Whether this was woolly mammoth or beef is up to debate. Meatballs most likely originated in Persia, where the word koofteh refers to “pounded meat.” Presumably this is not a vulgar euphemism but an actual literal interpretation of the cooking method. In any case, the first meatballs were probably lamb or pork, as koofteh spread to China, North Africa, and eventually around the world. Plain, boring meatballs disappeared once they hit the shores of Italy, where the Venetians – masters of the spice trade – got around to seasoning ’em up. When not eating salad, Caesar enjoyed a variety of meatballs including peacock, pheasant, rabbit, chicken, and suckling pig. An early meatball recipe credited to Pelligrino Artusi is as follows:

Do not think for a moment that I would be so pretentious as to tell you how to make meatballs this is a dish that everyone knows how to make, including absolute donkeys.  Indeed it was probably the donkey who first suggested the basic shape of the meatball to humans.  My sole intention is to tell you how to prepare them when you have leftover boiled meat.

Meatballs remain popular around the world, with each country or region incorporating native touches into their cuisine. Ground beef and pork are most popular, though the Finnish enjoy reindeer, the Chinese are fond of fish balls, and in the U.K., meatballs are often made from a mixture of pig’s heart, liver, and fatty belly meat. These are known as “faggots.” No telling whether the Brits are able to eat them with a straight face.

Italian Wedding Soup

To celebrate National Meatball Day, we made one of our favorite dishes: Italian Wedding Soup. I use ground pork for my meatballs, and I always make a ton of them because leftovers are a hot commodity. Tonight, I ended up with 116. In addition to meat, they contain (wheat) breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, salt, and pepper. I simmer them in homemade chicken stock (easy to do and far superior to store-bought) with thinly sliced carrots, celery, baby spinach, and a small pasta such as orzo. Delicious!

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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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National Salami Day

Looking for a cure for the late-summertime blues? We’ve got just the ticket. September 7 is National Salami Day!

This is one of those rare food holidays whose lineage can easily be traced. It got its start in 2006 in Henrico, Virginia thanks to the efforts of the Salami Appreciation Society. Yes, that’s a real group. Salami is a cured sausage that has been fermented and air-dried. Once it has been sliced, it can be left out at room temperature for up to 40 days. This was a big draw for Southern European peasants, who could not afford fancy refrigerators with water and ice dispensers built into the doors. Also, fancy refrigerators with water and ice dispensers built into the doors did not exist at the time, but that’s neither here nor there. Salami represented an inexpensive and ready source of meat to supplement a diet that was otherwise lacking in protein. The word salami is derived from the Italian salame which originates from the word sale, meaning “salt” (and not half-priced shoes, sorry to disappoint the ladies (or the men who like inexpensive footwear. Eat My Words can never be accused of sexism)).

Salami is traditionally made from marbled pork or beef, though it has also been prepared with venison, turkey, goose, donkey, and horse. Common ingredients include salt, pepper, garlic, vinegar, wine, herbs, and spices. The whole shebang is left to ferment for 24 hours before being stuffed into a casing and hung up to cure. Curing time varies depending on the climate and type of casing. Once fermented, the salami is dried, and nitrates or nitrites are added to prevent bacterial growth and improve the color. There are many varieties of salami available including chorizo, cotto, Genovese, Milanese, Lardo, Nduja, pepperoni, soppressata, and Saucisson.

To celebrate, I picked up a pound of hard salami from the grocery store deli. This variety usually contains more beef than pork and is smoked. I should clarify, it is smoked in a smoker before being sold. You do not roll it up, light an end, and inhale. We stuck ours between two slices of bread, added American cheese, mustard, and mayo, and called it a sandwich.

National Salami Day

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National Jerky Day

Don’t be a jackass today…but you can be a jerk. June 12 is National Jerky Day!

unnamedJerky is meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, salted, and dried in order to preserve it. The word “jerky” comes from the Quechua tribe of South America, who referred to llama and alpaca meat that was cut into slices, pounded thin, and rubbed with salt as ch’arki (“to burn meat”). They didn’t actually burn the meat, but did smoke it over a fire or let it dry in the sun. Native Americans were doing the same thing with buffalo, elk, and deer, sometimes adding berries and other dried fruits. They called it pemmican, and packed it into rawhide pouches for easy transport across the plains. This method of preservation meant there was always a convenient, high-protein food source available on those rare occasions when the local McDonald’s was closed. Pioneers and cowboys adopted jerky as a staple to go along with their beans and coffee. Over time, various spices were added to enhance the flavor, and jerky became a popular snack worldwide. It can be prepared with a variety of meats; beef is the most popular, but other common ones include pork, lamb, turkey, venison, elk, salmon, buffalo, and ostrich. Kangaroo, caribou, alligator, emu, and camel are not unheard of. In the winter of 1846-47, the Donner Party is rumored to have perfected a recipe using “the other white meat.” And I’m not referring to pork.

Jerky is a surprisingly healthy snack. It’s high in protein, low in fat and carbohydrates, and contains relatively few calories. I almost always have a package on hand, either in my desk at work, in the car during long drives, or in my backpack while hiking. This was an easy (and tasty) holiday to celebrate! I’m fond of the various Jack Link flavors. Speaking of Jack Link, they created a 1,600 pound replica of Mount Rushmore made from beef jerky in order to commemorate today’s food holiday. Check it out here.

Today, I partook in the Carne Seca, which features “fiery jalapeno and chili peppers.” ‘Cause I like it spicy!



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297/365: National Bologna Day*

If you think today’s holiday is full of baloney, you’re quite literally right. October the 24th is National Bologna Day!

It is also National Good and Plenty Day and National Food Day. Good and Plenty is the oldest candy brand in the U.S., dating to 1893, but it’s licorice-flavored and therefore, in our opinion, unworthy of celebration. It’s also National Food Day, but on this blog, every day is a national food day! Besides, this holiday is devoted to raising awareness of healthy, affordable, sustainably priced food, but isn’t linked to any particular type of cuisine. Bologna was the logical choice for us today, so bologna it is!

Bologna is a type of sausage similar to mortadella that originated in Bologna, Italy in the 1400s. It is made of finely ground meat, typically beef or pork, and lard (though by regulation this must be invisible to the naked eye, giving new meaning to the phrase “out of sight, out of mind”). It may also be made from chicken, turkey, venison, or god knows what. The first bolognas were made from pork, studded with cubes of white fat, and flavored with pepper, coriander, anise, and pistachio nuts. A recipe from Robert May, published in 1660, calls for  “a good leg of pork and a lot of lard, flavoured with cloves, nutmeg, mace, pepper and caraway seeds.” I’m not sure why bologna has such a bad rap and is often said to contain lips, snouts, and other unsavory animal body parts; it’s really no worse than any other type of sausage around and was a childhood favorite of mine.

To celebrate, I made a bologna sandwich for dinner. I’m very specific about my bologna: it must be on white bread, with mustard (NO mayo), American cheese, a slice or two of tomato, and pickles. There can be no deviating from this format! Tara is not a bologna fan – surprise, surprise – so she suffered through a bite. Me? I could’ve gone for another!

National Bologna Day

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284/365: National Sausage Pizza Day

Today’s food holiday will appeal to both lovers of circles as well as Italian food. October 11 is National Sausage Pizza Day!

Pizza holidays didn’t show up until relatively late in the year. It was just last month that we celebrated our first, National Cheese Pizza Day. Now we’ve got another, and all I can say is, it’s about time! Pizza is one of those things that everybody loves. Even vegetarians! (Though they probably aren’t falling all over themselves to celebrate today’s holiday. Hey, their loss).

I’ve already discussed the history of pizza, so follow the cheese pizza link for that. A recent (unscientific) poll by The Huffington Post found that the most popular pizza toppings in America are:

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Cheese
  3. Mushrooms
  4. Sausage
  5. Bacon

Which means sausage lovers can proudly declare, “We’re #4!” today. Personally, I prefer sausage to pepperoni. I think it offers more “zing.” Those toppings are downright boring compared to what people in other countries enjoy on their pizza. Eel, green peas, and coconut all made the list.

Last year, leading up to the Presidential election, Pizza Hut made an offer: free pizza for life to anybody who asked Barack Obama and Mitt Romney whether they preferred pepperoni or sausage on their pizza during the Town Hall debate on October 16. Sadly, nobody took advantage of that offer. If nothing else, it would have humanized both candidates! Who cares about foreign policy and the economy when there are important pizza positions to discuss?

To celebrate, we picked up a sausage pizza from NYC Pizzeria, the same place we went for Cheese Pizza Day. We also added mushrooms, because we wanted our sausage to have some company. Love their pizza!

National Sausage Pizza Day

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228/365: National Bratwurst Day*

Today’s food challenge is one of the wurst yet. And I mean that in a good way. August 16 is National Bratwurst Day! But yo-ho-ho, that’s not all: it’s also National Rum Day. Unfortunately, we’re making an impromptu trip to Ely, Nevada due to a death in Tara’s family. It’s about a 12-hour drive, and obviously alcohol would be a bad idea. Eating bratwursts before hitting the road at 4 AM is tricky enough!

Bratwurst is one of the oldest sausages, dating back to the early 14th century. It is, not at all surprisingly, a German invention (they do love their sausages, don’t they?), derived from the words braten (to “fry”) and wurst (opposite of “best”) (or, in this case, “sausage”). Bratwurst is made of ground pork, beef, or veal, and a distinctive blend of seasons that includes nutmeg, garlic, salt, and pepper. The earliest evidence of this wiener on steroids dates to 1313 and the German town of Nuremberg, still a major sausage manufacturing region to this day. It is typically grilled or pan fried, and often served with sauerkraut or potato salad. German immigrants introduced it to the U.S., and it’s particularly popular in the state of Wisconsin, where (stereotype alert!) locals wearing giant foam cheese heads and speaking in funny accents often cook it in beer. Brats, as they are commonly referred (hey – just like kids!), are so popular in Wisconsin that Miller Park in Milwaukee is the only baseball stadium in the country that sells more bratwursts than hot dogs, and the city of Madison’s three-day Brat Fest over Memorial Day weekend is billed as the largest in the world. Take that, Germany!

We said at the beginning of this project that regardless of circumstances, we would stick with our food challenge, no matter how difficult. Certainly today is one of those days to test our limits, but with a little bit of preparation, we made do. This meant cooking bratwursts the night before and eating them early in the morning, long before the sun was up, with scrambled eggs…and relying on technology to make sure this post appears while we are somewhere in the middle of nowhere (a/k/a Idaho). Is that dedication, or what?

National Bratwurst Day

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225/365: National Filet Mignon Day

Carnivores will have no beef with today’s food holiday. August 13 is National Filet Mignon Day!

Filet mignon is French for “cute” or “dainty” filet, and refers to the small portion size of a typical steak. O. Henry first coined the term in his novel The Four Million, published in 1906. It is derived from the tenderloin of the cow, which runs along both sides of the spine; the small end is typically sliced into 1-2″ thick filets that are nearly round in appearance. Despite its small size, the tenderloin is the most tender cut of beef, and therefore the most expensive. This explains why that cute, dainty little 6 oz. circle of beef on your plate cost the same as your dining companion’s more manly 14 oz. ribeye. Interestingly, a T-bone or porterhouse steak has the tenderloin down one side and a New York strip down the other, so it is essentially two steaks in one. As tender as the filet mignon is, it doesn’t contain much fat, so it is often wrapped in a strip of bacon before cooking for added flavor.

As with most steak, the simplest preparation is usually the best. Sear your filet mignon over high heat after seasoning with salt and pepper, cook to a perfect medium-rare, and let rest before cutting into it. If you work up a sweat trying to saw through the meat with a knife, you’ve overcooked it. If it “moos” when you slice into it, you haven’t cooked it quite long enough.

To celebrate, we grilled up some filet mignons we bought from the store. These were pre-made and already wrapped in bacon. They turned out pretty good!

National Filet Mignon Day

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204/365: National Hot Dog Day*

If you want to be a wiener instead of a loser, you’ll grab a bun and help celebrate today’s food holiday with us. July 23 is National Hot Dog Day!

It’s also National Vanilla Ice Cream Day, but again, there have been close to a dozen ice cream holidays already, but this is the only hot dog day. Fair is fair, you know?

Few things are as quintessentially American as hot dogs. Maybe baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, but those are the biggies. Technically though, hot dogs aren’t an American invention. They are derived from sausages, which date back to at least the 9th century B.C., where they are mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey (“As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted. . .”). A modern version of the hot dog was created in Frankfurt, Germany in 1484, hence the name “frankfurters.” These pork sausages were popular during festive occasions such as imperial coronations. Austrians argue that they invented the hot dog, and point to the name “wiener” (derived from the capital, Vienna, whose German name is Wien) as proof.

Frankfurters were called “dachshund sausages” when they were introduced to America in the mid-19th century. German immigrants began selling them from push-carts in New York City’s Bowery district in the 1860s, along with milk rolls and sauerkraut. In 1871, a German baker named Charles Feltman opened a hot dog stand on Coney Island, and sold 3,684 dachshund sausages that first year. Yet another German, Antonoine Feuchtwanger, sold sausages on the streets of St. Louis in 1880. Dismayed because his customers kept walking off with the white gloves he let them use so they wouldn’t burn their hands on the hot sausages, he complained to his wife, who suggested he sell them in a split bun to eliminate the need for gloves. He turned to his brother, a baker, for assistance, and the hot dog bun was invented. Hot dogs really took off during 1893 during the Chicago World’s Fair. That same year, the German owner of the St. Louis Browns baseball team, Chris Von de Ahe, began serving hot dogs during ballgames, and this quickly became a tradition. The modern term first appeared in the 1890s at Yale University, where enterprising students could buy “hot dogs” – a sarcastic name meant to poke fun at the meat from which these sausages are made – from their dorm rooms. Hot dogs don’t really contain dog meat, of course; their ingredient list includes meat trimmings and fat (usually pork and beef); flavorings like salt, garlic, and paprika; and preservatives. Nobody will ever claim they’re healthy…but they sure are tasty!

Hot dogs three ways.

Hot dogs three ways.

To celebrate, we decided to sample hot dogs three different ways: boiled, grilled, and fried. Neither of us had ever tried a fried hot dog before. They all had their charms, but I personally liked the grilled best, while Tara preferred the fried. Don’t even get us started on mustard v. ketchup…

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194/365: National French Fries Day/National Beans ‘n Franks Day

If you’ve ever played “one potato, two potato” as a kid (or an adult – hey, I’m not judging your arrested development!), today’s holiday just might ap-peel to you. July 13 is National French Fries Day! It’s also National Beans ‘n Franks Day, and we decided to do something rare and double dip. That is, celebrate both food holidays. I think we’ve only ever done this once before all year.

Despite the name, french fries aren’t really French. These deep-fried potatoes – known as “chips” in the U.K. and certain countries Down Under (which is kind of cute, but also confusing, because they call chips “crisps” and it’s all one big slippery slope into anarchy from there) – were actually invented in Belgium. The Spanish introduced potatoes to Europe in the 16th century, and before long the Belgians were frying up thin strips of potatoes in place of the small fish they could no longer fry when the rivers froze over during the winter. A French army officer named Antoine-Augustine Parmentier began championing the lowly potato in his country, where it had previously been viewed as unfit for human consumption in the mistaken belief that potatoes caused diseases. No wonder the French have a reputation for being snooty!  He began hosting dinners for famous guests like Benjamin Franklin,  King Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette, during which potatoes would be served in an effort to prove that they were not only edible, but delicious. It wasn’t until a great famine in 1785 that the French realized hey, maybe we can eat these, after all. A decade later fried potatoes – called frites – were all the rage. When they were introduced to America, fast-food chains named them “French fries” in an homage to their European heritage, not realizing that the Belgians had actually been making them for a good hundred years longer. Which is all fine, I suppose. Belgian fries just doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know?

Beans ‘n franks is a quintessentially American dish in which hot dogs are cut up and cooked in the same sauce used to make baked beans. The two had been served together for decades, until one day somebody – whose name is sadly lost to history – decided it was too much work to take a bite of a hot dog and then scoop up a forkful of beans, so what the heck, let’s just mix ’em together and save all this time and trouble. Presumably, of course. There isn’t a lot of history available on the origin of this particular dish, and my motto is: when in doubt, make stuff up!

I kid, I kid.

To celebrate, first we opened a can of Beanee Weenees in the morning. Nothing says breakfast like beans ‘n franks! Later in the afternoon, we were visiting Capitol Hill in downtown Seattle (we’re in the Emerald City this weekend) and we dropped by Dick’s Drive In for an order of fresh-cut fries. Both were wonderful!

Beans 'n franks.

Beans ‘n franks.

National French Fries Day

Categories: Meat, Too Weird to Categorize, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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