National Caesar Salad Day

Holy Caesar! The 4th of July marks independence from boring salads. It’s National Caesar Salad Day!

Last year, we celebrated National Barbecued Spareribs Day. Seemed appropriate, given that Independence Day is traditionally associated with barbecuing. But there’s a very good reason it’s also been declared National Caesar Salad Day: it was on this date in 1924 that Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant operating a restaurant in Tijuana, invented the dish. Cardini actually lived in San Diego, but crossed the border every day in order to avoid Prohibition. Because let’s face it, what is Mexican food without tequila? On that fateful July 4 Cardini ran out of the ingredients needed to make a proper salad, so he used whatever supplies he had on hand in order to keep his customers happy. These included whole lettuce leaves, Italian olive oil, and coddled eggs. For dramatic effect – or perhaps to distract diners’ attention from the fact that they were basically eating scraps of food hastily cobbled together – he prepared the salad tableside. And ended up with a surprise hit on his hands. People began trekking to his restaurant not for the booze, but for his namesake salad. Other staff members took credit for inventing the salad, and Caesar’s own brother, Alex, claims Caesar stole the idea from his “Aviator’s Salad,” named because it was served to airmen stationed at the naval base in San Diego. Alex’s recipe was similar, but contained anchovies. Nothing like a little family drama to cloud a happy moment, huh? While nobody can say for certain who came up with the first Caesar salad, Julia Child claims she enjoyed a Caesar’s salad while dining at Cardini’s restaurant in the early 1920s. Ha! Take that, Alex!

Today, Caesar’s salad is usually comprised of romaine lettuce, croutons, parmesan cheese, lemon, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and black pepper. It is often topped with grilled chicken, steak, or salmon. I happen to love a good Caesar salad…even when it comes out of a bag. And that’s where today’s did. It was delicious nonetheless!

National Caesar Salad Day

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Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

National Chocolate Éclair Day

I do d’éclair, today’s food holiday is very rich and very sweet. Just like the citizens of its country of origin. June 22 is National Chocolate Éclair Day!

Last year on this date we celebrated onion rings. The summer months were full of sweets, and we jumped at the chance to indulge in something savory instead. Which is not to say we don’t love chocolate éclairs. After all…who wouldn’t?

Éclair is the French word for lightning. There are two theories over how it got its name: either because of the way it “sparkles” when confectioner’s glaze is sprinkled over the top, or the fact that it is so delicious it’s eaten quickly (in a “flash”). If that second fact were true, we might be calling pizza an éclair instead, so I’m not sure about that. The original name was pain à la duchesse, but this was a pain à la ass to say, so in 1850 it became simply an éclair. As with many foods, we don’t know exactly who invented the dessert, though many speculate it was the brainchild of Marie-Antoine Carême, a well-known pastry chef in France around the turn of the nineteenth century. A true éclair is a long, thin pastry made with choux dough, filled with cream or custard and topped with icing. There are many different flavors of cream and icing that can be used, but the most common one, at least in these parts, is filled with a vanilla cream and topped with chocolate icing. Hence, the name of the holiday. In some parts of the country éclairs are called “long johns,” but the only long johns I know are worn in the frigid winter months to protect your legs from freezing.

I was buying fresh produce from a market across the street today, and picked up an éclair from their bakery section. As you can imagine, it was all kinds of awesome.

National Chocolate Eclair 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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Face Off: Boxed Macaroni & Cheese (Part 1)

If you’re like us, you grew up eating Kraft macaroni & cheese. (Actually, if you’re like us, you still eat Kraft macaroni & cheese). The little blue box is ubiquitous with childhood, much like Saturday morning cartoons and Big Wheels. But Kraft is hardly the only boxed mac ‘n cheese on the market, and we began wondering how it would stack up against other brands. So we’ve decided to find out! We’ll have a bracket-style challenge pitting two competing brands against one another, with the winner of each round advancing in order to square off for the title of Best Boxed Macaroni & Cheese. This is something that will take awhile, so don’t look for a winner on Thursday. unnamed

Our first two contenders: Kraft v. Trader Joe’s.

The packaging alone sets Trader Joe’s apart from its better-known competitor. “Wisconsin Cheddar,” it proclaims, front and center. Kraft makes no such similar claim. The big difference is in the ingredients: the Trader Joe’s brand uses annatto for natural coloring, as opposed to Kraft’s use of yellow dye (something they have come under fire for). The safety of food coloring is questionable at best. Apparently they are gradually phasing out this additive, but the box we picked up still listed it as an ingredient. Time will tell how long it takes the company to make good on its promise.

Regardless of the use of colored dyes, we’re not here to debate the merits of the ingredients. Each brand’s offering contains plenty of hard-to-pronounce preservatives, after all. We’re reviewing on taste – and even then, we’re not expecting to be blown away.

If you’re looking for authentic macaroni & cheese, you won’t find it in a box, regardless of the brand.

Instead, it’s a quick and convenient side dish when you don’t feel like going to the trouble of grating cheese, making a casserole, etc.

In the interest of fairness, we agreed to follow the exact instructions on each box, rather than doctoring up the preparation. The Kraft calls for milk and butter, while the Trader Joe’s requires only milk (though it is suggested you add 2 tablespoons of butter for a richer, creamier flavor). Both contain the requisite pouches of cheese powder.

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Kraft cooked up perfectly, without fail. The Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, contained clumps of orange cheese that no amount of stirring would dissolve. We finally did add butter, and that helped a little, but we couldn’t get rid of every last bit of cheese like we’d hoped. This made it less than appealing from a visual standpoint. Before even taking a bite, Kraft had the edge.

And after taking a bite? That’s where the difference of opinions settled in. The Kraft was predictably rich and creamy, with its distinctive cheese-like flavor. Trader Joe’s was less gummy, and had a more natural cheese flavor. Tara liked Kraft the best. At first I agreed with her, but I think that was a case of familiarity winning out initially. The more I ate of both, the more I liked Trader Joe’s version, despite a few remaining undissolved flecks of cheese powder. To me, it tasted more “real,” and made every corresponding bite of Kraft taste more processed.

Unfortunately, we ended in a stalemate. Like a hung jury, we were deadlocked. And then my daughter stepped in, and said she preferred Trader Joe’s, as well. So, there you have it. Round 1 goes to Trader Joe’s, though it was really close.

Stay tuned for the next face off, coming soon.

Trader Joe's on the left, Kraft on the right.

Trader Joe’s on the left, Kraft on the right.

 

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National Ketchup Day

Last year, we frequently lamented the fact that there was no food holiday devoted to ketchup. We even vowed to start a petition and get a holiday devoted to ketchup created; that was supposed to be one of our goals for the blog in 2014. But then, when I was gathering information to start the project, I stumbled upon the following Tweet.

Screenshot 2014-06-04 11.28.22

 

Drat. So much for that idea. Even while we were bemoaning the fact that there was no ketchup holiday, we completely missed the first-ever ketchup holiday. We celebrated gingerbread instead. Because nothing screams June like gingerbread cookies! While I’m bummed that we didn’t have a hand in helping to create National Ketchup Day, I’m excited that it finally exists. June 5th is devoted to one of America’s favorite condiments! (Ketchup actually ranks second, behind mayonnaise. But there’s no National Mayonnaise Day. YET. Hmm…).

Ketchup dates back to 300 B.C., although it was nothing like our modern version. Back then koe-chiap was a fermented fish paste made with fish entrails and soybeans. Yum! How would you like that on your Big Mac? This Chinese “delicacy” of pickled fish and spices spread through Asia and Europe, and the name evolved into kecap, or ketchup in EnglishBy the 1800s, ketchup was being made from oysters, anchovies, mussels, mushrooms, walnuts, lemons, celery, plums, and peaches, and finally – in 1812 – tomatoes (or as Philadelphia scientist and inventor James Mease, the first person to create a tomato-based ketchup, called them, “love apples”). Prior to that, people mistakenly believed tomatoes, a member of the deadly nightshade family, were poisonous. Thankfully we discovered the error of our ways, or today’s pizza might be made with fermented fish paste, too. By 1876, when H.J. Heinz introduced tomato ketchup, it was believed to be a sort of cure-all for indigestion, diarrhea, and other ailments. Early versions of tomato ketchup were watery and thin, but when manufacturers began pickling ripe tomatoes in order to eliminate the need for preservatives, “modern” ketchup was born.

An early recipe says, “take the intestine, stomach, and bladder of the yellow fish, shark and mullet, and wash them well. Mix them with a moderate amount of salt and place them in a jar. Seal tightly and incubate in the sun. It will be ready in twenty days in summer, fifty days in spring or fall and a hundred days in winter.”

Camden's KetchupProgress is a good thing! When ketchup became synonymous with fast food, individual squeeze packets were developed for dispensing tiny portions. While it’s no longer viewed as a miracle cure, ketchup does contain lycopene, an antioxidant that may help prevent some forms of cancer. Today, whether you call it ketchup or catsup,  it’s ubiquitous, with 97% of American kitchens having a bottle on hand.

Ketchup is so versatile, we had plenty of possible ways to celebrate this long-awaired holiday. In the end, we chose a classic approach: a good old-fashioned all-American hot dog. We stopped by Costco, since theirs are cheap and delicious. But to amp things up, we brought along our own ketchup. We sourced it from Portland’s Little Big Burger over the weekend, where chef Micah Camden’s homemade condiment is the perfect foil for his sea salt and truffle french fries. When you read the ingredients – organic tomato paste and puree, honey, champagne vinegar, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, clove oil, sea salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flake, and – this being Portland, after all – hemp, you’ll understand why.

We topped our Costco dogs with Camden’s ketchup and wolfed ’em down, thrilled to finally pay our respects to this most deserving of foods.

National Ketchup Day

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National Frozen Yogurt Day

We’ve got a special treat froyo today: a new food holiday to celebrate! June 4th is National Frozen Yogurt Day.

It’s also National Cheese Day, and that’s what we chose to celebrate last year. Tara’s mac ‘n cheese is bomb-diggety! It’s also National Cognac Day, which means in 2015 we may be celebrating yet another food holiday on June 4. Incidentally, some sources list Frozen Yogurt Day as February 6, but that makes about as much sense as celebrating cotton candy in December!

Oh, wait…

People have been enjoying yogurt (sometimes spelled yoghurt, though that just yoghurts my eyes) for thousands of years, mostly in the Middle East and India. To make yogurt, milk is fermented by bacteria known as yogurt cultures. These cultures turn lactose into lactic acid, which gives yogurt its distinctive texture and – like Hank Williams – tang. 

No, wait. That’s twang. My bad.

Yogurt was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s, and quickly gained popularity as a health food. Even though there seems to be a TCBY or Menchie’s on every street corner now, frozen yogurt wasn’t actually created until the 1970s. It failed spectacularly at first; people were put off by the sharp taste, much preferring the sweet flavor of ice cream. TCBY came along in 1981 with a sweeter version, and sales took off. People loved eating “fro-yo” while rocking out to Wang Chung! Especially when they could add their own toppings (which included items like M&Ms, granola, and fruit). But the American public, being fickle, decided once again that you just couldn’t beat high-fat ice cream, and frozen yogurt sales dropped off in the 90s. As did Wang Chung record sales. A possible correlation? By the mid-2000s tastes had changed again, and suddenly the too-tart frozen yogurt that was shunned in the 70s became all the rage. Sales in 2013 were higher than ever.

Visiting a frozen yogurt shop in the 80s was a rite of passage every bit as popular as grabbing a VHS movie from the video store. However, much like the latter pursuit, I hadn’t been to a frozen yogurt place in years. That streak remains intact, but Tara stopped by the local Menchie’s and picked us up small cups of vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio to share. I’m an old-fashioned guy and liked the vanilla best, while Tara preferred the chocolate. In fact, it was so enjoyable, we just might have to add frozen yogurt back into our routines as an occasional treat.

National Frozen Yogurt Day

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Review: Dreyer’s/Edy’s Outshine Bars

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Especially when you’ve got a tasty frozen treat to take the edge off the heat. If said treat contains natural ingredients and won’t pack on the pounds, all the better.

Enter Dreyer’s (or Edy’s, depending on whether you reside east or west of the Rocky Mountains). Their (sorta) new Outshine bars live up to their name, outshining the competition in terms of both flavor and nutritional value. Quite frankly, these are some of the best frozen treats (don’t call them Popsicles!) we have ever tried.

Dreyer’s has been making frozen fruit bars for 18 years, relying on simple and all-natural ingredients. They’ve recently rebranded their product with a new name and expanded flavors, and added combination fruit/vegetable bars to the lineup. Flavors are diverse, and include the usual suspects (strawberry, grape, raspberry) alongside some rather unique ones (creamy coconut, lime, pineapple, pomegranate). There are even seasonal varieties such as blood orange and grapefruit. Especially intriguing are the fruit and veggie combos. Tangerine carrot, strawberry rhubarb, and apple & greens are the stars here. Nutritionally, you can feel pretty good eating any of these bars. They all contain real fruit, fruit juice, and vegetables. In addition, they are low in calories (most range between a paltry 25-60 calories per serving) and fat-free (with the exception of the creamy coconut). Sugar and carbohydrates aren’t too outrageous.  strawberryrhubarb-tangerinecarrot-blueberry

The important question is, do they taste good? The answer is an emphatic yes! We tried a couple of variety packs – one fruit, one fruit/veggie. We actually like the latter best. The tangerine carrot is smooth and citrusy with a perfectly balanced sweetness, while the strawberry rhubarb has a little more “bite.” The fruit flavors are more pronounced than the vegetables, as they should be. Less impressive is the blueberry medley, though I’m impressed you can now actually find a blueberry “popsicle.” It’s not that this bar doesn’t taste good, but after having the other interesting combinations, it just seems a bit boring. On the fruit side, we tried the variety pack that contains strawberry, wildberry, and lime. Of those three, we all enjoyed the lime best. It’s lightly tart and amazingly refreshing. What we like best about the Outshine bars is their emphasis on fresh, natural ingredients. This commitment to quality is completely evident in the taste.

The bottom line? Dreyer’s lineup of Outshine bars are tasty, refreshing, and a lot better for you than ice cream. You really can’t go wrong with any of these flavors!

Our rating? 4 knives!

4 Knives

 

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Review: Tillamook Tillabars

Most of us have enjoyed an occasional Eskimo Pie over the years. What’s not to love about vanilla ice cream coated in chocolate and eaten off a stick? Since their invention in 1921 there have been plenty of imitators, some lousy and some great. Tillamook’s new line of Tillabars definitely falls into the latter category.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tillamook, then you have my pity. Technically known as Tillamook County Creamery Association, this dairy cooperative located on the Oregon coast began producing cheese in 1946. Over the years, their product line has expanded to include butter, sour cream, yogurt, and ice cream. Tillamook is a little pricier than some brands, but worth it; I refuse to buy any other brand of cheese, and usually opt for their other products, as well, for the simple fact that they taste better. So when Tillamook introduced a line of ice cream bars known as Tillabars a few months ago, I was eager to try them out.

Tillabars1

Tillabars come in four different flavors: Old-Fashioned Vanilla, Mooocha Latte, Salted Caramel Swirl, and Lemonilla. We tried the Old-Fashioned Vanilla and Lemonilla flavors, and both were rich, creamy, and delicious. Once again, it’s the quality of the ingredients that sets Tillamook apart. Their vanilla ice cream is already decadent, so enrobing it in chocolate only increases the “mmm” factor. This is a pretty basic ice cream bar, but for those whose motto is “why mess with perfection,” it’s the perfect choice for a warm summer night. Or a cool spring morning. Whenever you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, as a matter of fact, clocks be damned! But Tillamook really nails it with the Lemonilla bar. It’s lemon sorbet surrounded by vanilla ice cream and coated in white chocolate. The first bite is sinfully sweet, but when you reach the tart lemon sorbet in the center, the flavors mingle and provide a perfect contrast. It’s sweet! It’s tart! It’s….heavenly.

In short, Tillamook has done it again. Score: 4 knives.

4 Knives

 

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Review: Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich

True innovations in fast food are few and far between. More often than not, they’re simply the same old recycled ideas with a slight twist. Case in point: McDonald’s comes out with a breakfast sandwich using pancakes instead of bread, and Jack In The Box follows suit but substitutes waffles. Then Taco Bell takes the waffle concept a step further with breakfast tacos. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then every fast food chain in America must be feeling the love. The consumer, however, is not. There’s simply very little originality. Everybody’s got their version of a chicken sandwich, a fish sandwich, etc. So when Arby’s introduced the Smokehouse Brisket last year, the public sat up and took notice: this was a truly innovative new product, one that hadn’t been seen before. Something that never had feathers or swam in the ocean, and while it may have once stood in a field and mooed, it wasn’t ground up and flattened into an uninspiring gray patty.

Bet you’re drooling now.

By all accounts, the Smokehouse Brisket was a runaway hit for the struggling chain best known for their roast beef sandwiches and “horsey” sauce. Arby’s declared it their most successful new product launch in company history; sales increased 12%, and approximately one out of every five customers tried the new offering. Unfortunately, it was only available for a limited time. Unwilling to look a gift horsey in the mouth, Arby’s has brought the sandwich back this year, though it’s uncertain how long it will be available.

If there is any justice in the world, this will become a permanent addition to their menu, because I’ve gotta say – the Smokehouse Brisket is one of the most delicious fast food sandwiches I’ve ever had. It’s a truly unique product, unlike anything else on the market.

Arby’s describes it like this:

It’s slow smoked for 13 long hours. Which proves we’re pretty passionate about brisket.  Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket is piled high with slow-smoked beef brisket, topped with smoked Gouda cheese, crispy onions, BBQ sauce and mayo, and served on a toasted, bakery-style bun.

My first impression? This sandwich is stacked. True, it doesn’t look like the photo below – these things never do – but it comes pretty close. It’s the rare fast food sandwich with true heft. Bite into it, and a few things are immediately noticeable: the delicious smokiness of the beef, the pleasantly mild gouda (smoked itself, the perfect accompaniment to the brisket), the sweet-with-a-touch-of-tang barbecue sauce, and the fresh, soft chewiness of the bun. The sandwich screams quality: the beef is a cut above anything else out there, and in an industry ruled by American cheese – one in which pepperjack is considered exotic – the use of gouda isn’t just “out of the box,” it’s downright inspired. The bread is especially good: it’s got that “bakery fresh” taste. The finishing touch that truly elevates the Smokehouse Brisket is the addition of crispy onion straws. These offer a nice textural contrast, though they were a bit overwhelmed by all the smoky, beefy goodness. I think you would be hard pressed to find a sandwich this good even if you were in a barbecue joint in the Deep South, one in which everybody speaks in a drawl and peppers their speech with plenty of “y’all”s.

arbys-smokehouse-brisket-brisket-cook-off-featuring-bo-dietl-large-9

Arby’s has a winner here, and if they continue to offer innovative menu additions (a similarly inspiring Roast Beef & Swiss on King’s Hawaiian sweet bread was also well received last year), then Wendy and Jack had better be worried, while the Burger King is going to have a tough time hanging onto his crown.

My rating: 5 knives. This is as good as a fast-food sandwich (or really, any menu item) gets!

5 Knives

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We’re Adding Reviews!

I’ll be the first to admit, this blog has suffered from neglect in 2014. Once January 1st rolled around and our daily food challenge was complete, we struggled to find a new groove. We had – still have – ideas for new food challenges, but without a calendar forcing them upon us, motivation has been lacking. I was all set to start my campaign to get a national food holiday declared for ketchup, but then found out a day devoted to ketchup was added last year, on June 5. Somehow, we completely missed the news. Which raised the inevitable question: now what? Eat My Words is still getting a lot of hits; that’s the beauty with food holidays that reoccur every year. But we want new content. After all, this was such a big part of our lives for 365 days, we can’t just toss it aside like yesterday’s trash.

Today, inspiration struck. And it’s such a simple solution, I’m surprised we didn’t think of it earlier: we’re going to start adding food reviews!

This is the type of food item we'll be reviewing.

This is the type of food item we’ll be reviewing.

We’ll primarily focus on new items, like the latest sandwich from Subway or the newest flavor of Oreos. I don’t foresee actual restaurant reviews, since they’re too local. I’d like to stick with items that most readers will be able to find in their own hometown. Our inaugural review will focus on Arby’s wildly popular limited-time-only Smokehouse Brisket sandwich. Hint: it’s a winner! restaurant_review-5-stars

Because there are hundreds of food review websites out there, we want to differentiate ourselves from the pack a little. To do so, we’re going to incorporate a fun rating system that’s unique: instead of letter grades or stars, we’ll rate products with knives. The idea is, the more knives we’d be willing to use to theoretically consume each product, the better it is. Hence, a 1-knife review is something we didn’t care for (why waste time sharpening the blade?) and a 5-knife review is worthy of the time it would take to finely hone each blade and then wash it by hand. You get the point. 1 knife = bad. 5 knives = excellent. And everything in between varies.

Got it? Good. Now let’s do some reviews!

 

 

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