All Posts In News

The Problem with “Sell-By” Dates

by in News, April 1st, 2014

The Problem with When you clean out your fridge or pantry, some things obviously need to go. That old cheese that’s sprouted a greenish-black tuft of hair? That ancient container of broccoli that smells like something you’d rather not describe — or ever smell again? Those clearly belong in the garbage can — outside — several yards away.

But what about the foods that look and smell fine, but have “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by,” “best-before” or “enjoy-by” dates that have come and gone? You should probably pitch those, too, right?

Not so fast. While most of us probably treat the dates on our food packaging as gospel, they are, it turns out, highly unreliable indicators of freshness. “Basically made up,” Smithsonian Magazine says. “Unclear” and “useless,” the Washington Post sniffs. “Inconsistent and confusing,” Climate Progress notes.

In a report released in September 2013 by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America,” the authors point out that dates on food labels that purport to tell us whether its contents are fresh, or — uh — not so fresh, are “surprisingly under-regulated.”

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National Something on a Stick Day: It’s Not Too Late to Celebrate

by in News, March 29th, 2014

National Something on a Stick DayDiscerning eaters probably never need an excuse to eat something on a stick, but if they did, it was provided on Friday, March 28, when our proud nation celebrated National Something on a Stick Day.

If you missed this important annual holiday, you may be forgiven. There were no parades, no politicians giving speeches about the proud history and cultural importance of food on a stick, no days off from school or work — though of course there ought to have been all those things.

But even though skewered food’s official day has slipped past without the tremendous fanfare it deserved, the desire to consume the comestibles it honors has stuck. Because food is just more fun when it’s stuck to a stick.

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Cupcake ATM, Artisanal Ice Cubes, Why Beer Belongs at Your Barbecue

by in News, March 28th, 2014

CupcakesCupcake Lovers’ Dream Come True: Sprinkles bakery, which has installed 24/7 cupcake dispensers in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Beverly Hills (celebs apparently love ‘em), has now brought the sweetly convenient concept to the city that never sleeps (and consequently never stops craving baked goods). New York’s first Cupcake ATM opened for business Tuesday on the Upper East Side, dispensing frosted treats to the hungry hordes for $4.25 a pop. On Tuesday night, David Letterman used the news as grist for his Top 10 list, sharing “things overheard in line for the Cupcake ATM.” No. 7: “My PIN number is also my cholesterol level.” Ba-dum-bum. [Gothamist]

No Ordinary Ice Cube: There’s a new trend in the cocktail biz: artisanal ice cubes. The Half Step cocktail bar in Austin regards the ice in its drinks as a work of art, hand-cutting every piece of ice it serves using special equipment and storing the “harvested” ice in a dedicated shed. The bar’s founder, Chris Bostick, tells Zagat that a well-cut cube is the key to making “a three-ingredient cocktail memorable.” Watch the Half Step’s handcrafted ice take shape here. [Zagat]

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The Casserole Takes Its Turn in the Spotlight

by in News, March 26th, 2014

Chicken Noodle CasseroleCasseroles have gotten such a bad rap in recent years, dismissed with sneers about soup cans, that those who love casseroles (and who, secretly, doesn’t love a good casserole?) may have felt compelled to keep their comfort-food cravings to themselves.

Now, finally, casserole fans can come clean: The humble one-dish meal has found a champion to defend its honor and bring it the respect it needs.

New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark writes that the casserole, though cozy, is not, inherently, “dowdy in its DNA,” nor must it be “bland or one-note,” and it “does not have to contain even a single strand of melted cheese, or be dusted with crushed potato chips.”

In fact, she suggests, “The casserole can be nuanced and urbane, with room for fresh ingredients, clever details and a vivid palette of flavors,” adding that “there’s nothing wrong with baking assorted ingredients together in a dish” and that “when done just right, the elements merge in the oven’s heat, building on one another until the flavors unite into a delicious whole, preferably one with a golden top and appealingly moist center.”

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Ode to Alabama Barbecue, $1,000 Ranch Dressing and Here’s to the Cookie Lady

by in News, March 26th, 2014

Ranch DressingSweet Home Alabama: Archibald’s, a family-owned barbecue joint in Northport, Ala., near Tuscaloosa, has famously served up pit-smoked ribs and sliced pork butt since 1962. While slow-cooking and hickory smoke from the carefully tended fire give the meat its sweet flavor and plain white bread adds to the down-home style, the true secret ingredient in this barbecue is love. In a new short documentary film, Archibald’s, part of Southern Foodways’ Southern BBQ Trail series, director Wes Wages pays tribute to the modest Alabama food landmark. Watch it here. [Southern Foodways Alliance]

$1,000 for Ranch Dressing? When a Redditor using the handle Brostach posted a picture taken at Dallas pizzeria Cane Rosso, which showed a bottle of ranch salad dressing behind glass and a framed sign reading “Side of Delicious Ranch Dressing $1,000,” some commenters accused the VPN-certified eatery of elitism and arrogance; others rose to its defense. Proprietor Jay Jerrier wants both sides to know he was just kidding. “Dude, it’s a joke. Relax,” he recently told Eater, adding that he doesn’t get many requests for ranch dressing on pizza, a combo he says “seems weird” to him, but he deals kindly with those who ask. “It was pretty funny how people did take it really seriously and were super offended,” Jay added. “I guess it’s the Midwest. They love them some ranch.” [Eater]

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Calling Guinness: Biggest Hot Dog Ever?

by in News, March 25th, 2014

Calling Guinness: Biggest Hot Dog Ever?Trying to make something bigger — not to say better — than the next guy is almost as American as hot dogs. So there may be little quite so American as the gargantuan frankfurter served up Friday at the Miami-Dade County Fair with the goal of grabbing the Guinness record for the world’s largest commercially available hot dog.

The humongous wiener tipped the scales at 125.5 pounds, including the huge bun and heaping portions of ketchup, mustard, relish and sliced onions, according to the Miami Herald. Devoid of bun and condiments — “naked,” as the newspaper put it — the dawg weighed 51 pounds.

Created by Juicy’s Outlaw Grill, whose founder already holds the Guinness World Record for the largest commercially available hamburger, the ultra-large link was cooked for three hours on a 100-foot-long, 20-foot-tall, 27-ton mobile grill. (You can see the giant dog, which has yet to be certified by Guinness, cooking on the grill here.)

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Prez’s “Crustmaker” Departs, Chocolate is the Best Health Food Ever and a Smell-Conjuring App

by in News, March 22nd, 2014

Chocolate BarThe “Crustmaster” Moves On: Bill Yosses, who has been whipping up pies (President Obama’s preferred dessert) and other confections at the White House as its executive pastry chef since his appointment by Laura Bush in 2007, is packing up his whisk and leaving his post for new, as yet unspecified, ventures. Bill, whom President Obama affectionately called “the Crustmaster,” is credited with bringing a healthier approach to White House desserts and integrating more seasonal ingredients, including those grown in the South Lawn Kitchen Garden he helped the First Lady create. He has also worked closely with Michelle Obama on her Let’s Move! campaign. She said she was “incredibly sad” to see him go. Bill called the decision to leave for personal reasons “bittersweet.” [Obama Foodorama]

Chocolate — Best Health Food Ever: If you ever wonder who or what to thank for all that is good about chocolate — in addition to the unparalleled joy of eating it — look down at your belly. The bacteria in your gut, NPR reports, are responsible for breaking down the antioxidants in dark chocolate and converting it into the compounds that help our hearts, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and help regulate appetite. The findings, presented this week to the American Chemical Society by Louisiana State University, hold for cocoa powder. Alas, John Finley, the food scientist behind the study, says the results “don’t translate to a Hershey bar.” He notes, however, that “cocoa powder goes well with many foods. I put it on my oatmeal every morning with berries.” [NPR's The Salt]

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New “It” Ingredient, Spoiled-Milk Detectors and a $25 Corn Dog

by in News, March 20th, 2014

Spoiled-Milk DetectorsTrend Watch (for Cooks with Deep Pockets): What’s the the newest ‘it’ ingredient among discerning New York City chefs? Ramp seeds (“not the fawned-over leaves or bulbs”), according to Food Arts, which describes them as “tiny, with a pungent punch and an equally sock-it-to-me price tag.” Often preserved using salt or vinegar, the caper-like green seeds have a taste that evokes garlic and onion, and they are being used to add punch to dishes. One chef calls them “tiny flavor bombs.” But even extravagant chefs are sprinkling them sparingly: Labor intensive to harvest, ramp seeds cost about $120 per pound. [Food Arts]

Spare Your Schnoz: To tell if your milk has spoiled, you probably subject it to the sniff test — which really means subjecting yourself to the sniff test, but is still better than skipping directly to the taste test. (Yuck — yet expiration dates are not always reliable freshness indicators.) Now you can spare your senses such unpleasantness. Chinese scientists have come up with “smart tags“ — small, gelatinous squares — you can stick on containers that change colors to indicate when the food in them has gone bad. [CBS News]

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And the James Beard Award Nominees Are …

by in News, March 19th, 2014

And the James Beard Award Nominees AreThe nominations for 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards — the food industry’s version of the Oscars — were announced Tuesday in Chicago. The awards honor excellence among chefs and restaurateurs, cookbook authors, food journalists, broadcast and media producers and personalities, restaurant designers, architects and other culinary professionals. Winners will be named in a ceremony in New York City in early May.

Food Network’s own Ina Garten was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Broadcast and New Media Award in the category of Outstanding Personality/Host for Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics. The other nominees in that category are Sara Moulton, host of Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS, and Andrea Robinson for The 30-Minute Wine Whiz on Andreawine.com.

Heartland Table, hosted by chef and connoisseur of all things Midwestern Amy Thielen, was nominated in the Television Program, in Studio or Fixed Location, category, alongside Lidia’s Kitchen and Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, both of which air on PBS.

Amy was represented in another category as well. Her cookbook, The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes (Random House), was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award in the American Cooking category. Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes (Ten Speed Press), and John Currence’s Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some (Andrews McMeel Publishing) are the other nominees in that category.

Click here for the full list of nominees. Our deepest congratulations to Ina, Amy and all!

Make Your March Madness Party a Ball

by in Events, News, March 18th, 2014

March Madness PartyThe 2014 NCAA tournament brackets have just been released, and while the sports media is busily parsing the surprises among the selections and seedings — Louisville, last year’s national champ, is ranked only fourth in the Midwest region and Larry Brown’s SMU didn’t even make the cut? — food-focused college hoops fans may be contemplating another question: What should I serve at my March Madness party?

Your guests will dribble — er, drool — over healthy March Madness munchies like Game-Winning “As You Wish” Guacamole (customize the recipe to suit your taste), Crowd-Pleasing Parmesan Chicken Fingers (ultra-simple and great for dipping in tomato sauce), and Olive and Caper Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes. (For more game-day snack ideas and recipes, check out Guy Fieri’s tailgating guide here.)

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