Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bashing McDonald's 101 - BUSINESS

I mentioned in my very first posting that I was interested in the business and marketing aspect of the food industry just as much as I am in actual cooking. I don't try to reconcile the two, I just accept my fascination and go with it.

I realize though that many who read this blog may not care about this portion, so from now on, when I have a blog dedicated to the business of food, the last word of the title and the first line of the blog will have in full caps BUSINESS. That way, those of you here for the recipes can skip that particular posting, but be warned, you might miss a fun personal story or two, maybe even a rant. So let's get down to it.

It's trendy to bash McDonald's. It's politically correct to bash McDonald's. In fact, it's required for acceptance within the cool "change the world" crowd to throw derision at McDonalds.

Let's face facts, folks. It's mentally lazy and just plain silly.

Seems like once every few months, somebody somewhere makes a big deal out of reperforming that same experiment. "Oh, I put some McDonald's Chicken Nuggets on a shelf in my classroom/lab/kitchen five years ago and they still haven't decayed/rotted, etc. etc blah blah blah"


The book Fast Food Nation (2001) by Eric Schlosser and the documentary Super Size Me (2004) by Morgan Spurlock fueled the trend. Schlosser at least took the steps to fully research and investigate the topic. Spurlock, on the other hand, was chastised by scientist and even a few nutritionists for purposely creating a biased film intended to solely capitalize on the "bash McDonald's" trend, and then using that momentum to promote his wife's (now divorced) book detailing the detox diet she had developed. Translation: Spurlock's movie was nothing more than a promotional stunt and told us nothing we didn't already know -- eating at McDonald's for 30 days straight isn't good for you. (The documentary Fat Head by Tom Naughton shows that it's actually possible to lose weight eating only fast food and that Spurlock had to purposely over eat to obtain his predetermined results).

The catch is: McDonald's never claimed or advertised that they offer healthy food. They offer fast food cheap. That's it. That's their business model. And keep that in mind --- McDonald's is a business. They have no responsibility to make sure you eat well balanced healthy meals. That's your job.

McDonald's has fired back with a number of videos posted to their website, they included "healthier" choices to their menu, and have made efforts to debunk many of the claims that have been leveled at them.
Don't get me wrong. I understand the marketing aspect of any business. I know McDonald's isn't innocent. But they aren't the Great Satan either. Propaganda runs both ways with both sides painting themselves as a "good guy." I find marketing fascinating, and enjoy watching the trends and videos, etc. that businesses employ to entice customers to buy their food products. And I find McDonald's particularly fascinating because of their successful business model and how they've continued to thrive over the years when so many other fast food restaurants have failed. (In the spirit of full disclosure, when I was 16 I worked for McDonald's for three weeks, but quit after I was offered another job for more hours and money. That has been my only professional contact with the franchise. All other contact has been as a customer.)

I'll be tweeting a couple of McDonald's marketing videos I discovered on their website, but I thought I'd post them here as well for convenience.

Until Next Time...
You can watch this trailer for the film Fat Head so you make up you own mind about the claims made by Schlosser and Spurlock. 
Nuggettly Yours,

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Salmon Patties disguised as a greasy mess

Salmon patties are a staple of many American home cooked dinners. The Boss mastered them years ago, but I had never made an attempt. I figured it was time. I knew the basics from The Boss, but I didn't want to assume anything, so when buying the salmon, I picked up a brand that had the recipe on the back.

On the Black Top Pink Salmon can is this recipe:

1 can of salmon (obviously Black Top Pink Salmon)
2 cups soft bread crumbs (I substituted oyster crackers I already had)
1/3 cup freshly minced onions
1/4 milk (I always use 2%)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon each of salt and dill weed

1. Drain salmon, reserving two tablespoons liquid
2. Combine all ingredients, including liquid
3. Shape into eight 1-inch thick patties
4. Pan fry on both sides in two tablespoons oil (I used EVOO) or butter until golden brown

Excited, but a little anxious, I pulled out the frying pan, the mixing bowl, and dived right in. Since I was going to make two cans worth, I doubled the recipe, expecting to make 8 or more thin patties. When it came time to pat out the first patty and place it on the plate, the salmon wasn't holding together. The damn thing fell apart as I placed it down. I pieced it back together and tried to form a second patty but got the same result.

At this point I wondered if maybe this was normal and maybe I just hadn't noticed before. Determined to forge on, I tried to place them in the pan. Disaster there as well. Within a few moments, the grease popped. This wasn't a normal pop, it was more like a solar flare and EVOO splattered everywhere - stove top, counter, floor, me. As The Boss had warned me before I heated it up, I had way too much EVOO, but I was committed and wanted to "learn from my mistakes." Lesson learned.

When I tried to flip that first patty, it completely fell apart. As I tried to flip the second patty, same ugly result. I placed them on the papertowel lined plate, and they fell apart even more (see picture).  Obviously I had done something wrong. So I went back and reread the directions.

1. Drain salmon, reserving two tablespoons.


Hm.... so now, with the mixture in the bowl, with the pan hot with oil, how do I salvage this wet disaster?

From that point on, I scooped out a good portion from the mixing bowl, squeezed the bejesus out of it over the sink, and then formed the patty. Ah, much better results. A little thicker than optimal, but hey, the damn thing held together so I wasn't going to complain. At that point, everything went as it should, except because I had formed them so thick, I only got seven and a half patties from two cans of salmon (If you recall the recipe said I should be able to make eight patties per can).

They tasted absolutely wonderful, and the onions were a perfect touch. Neither The Boss nor I had had salmon patties in a while, so I was immediately ordered to learn from my idiocy and make another batch soon (I was reminded to accept a little advise from time to time as well, it just might save me hours of cleaning up hot oil afterwards).

Until Next Time...
Here's a video of a big hairy guy with a bit of personality and a sense of humor making salmon cakes. He includes a great looking sauce with sides.

Fishily Yours,

Monday, February 22, 2016

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe... recipe Coming Soon

I figure it's time to post a recipe, and I think it's best if I start with something easy -- a grilled cheese sandwich.

Growing up as a latchkey kid, I taught myself some basics to cook so I could survive that long, grueling fast between when school let out at 3:10 pm and Mom got home at 5:30 pm. It was simple: two pieces of bread, a little butter on both sides of each piece of bread, and some American cheese (which, by the way, was the only cheese my parents ever bought). Easy peasy, and all I had to do was make sure I didn't burn it and to turn the burner off when I was done (or Mom would yell at me when she got home about burning the house down).

Flash forward to today, and those occasions when I make a grilled cheese sandwich I don't much stray from that basic combo. Until now...

My next project after my failed attempt to make the perfect Chorizo queso was to make a more complex version of a standard grilled cheese sandwich. I decided to include some different types of cheese and maybe a few additional ingredients. With my first attempt, I threw some slices of ham lunch meat on there as well. Which means technically, I created a hot ham-n-cheese sandwich instead of a strict grilled cheese. Considering the ratio of cheese to the skimpy amount of lunch meat I added, many could successfully argue that it still remained a grilled cheese, but I'm not going to pick a side on that debate. In the end, the ham wasn't as hot as I would have liked, and I was so overly full (a sign of too much cheese) that I was miserable for the next hour.

My second attempt was a cross between a breakfast sandwich and grilled cheese. The plan was to use the concept of this video recipe (Inside-Out grilled cheese sandwich) which encompasses cheese on the outside of the sandwich as well as inside, but I had a little too much action going on and my timing was off. The first batch of fried eggs stuck to the pan and burned. The second batch went better, but the sandwich was still overly difficult to manage and The Boss had to use a fork and knife to eat portions of it. The taste was wonderful, but the sandwich was unmanageable.

The Boss has said that she'd like me to master the art of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, so I'm going to keep trying. She's my full-time guinea pig anyway, which means I will definitely get some honest feedback, but I don't want to burn either one of us out, and since I'm watching my weight, I can't afford to make too many of these calorie bombs.

I've picked up a few tip and tricks from various resources, and once I develop a workable recipe that passes both my standards and The Boss's I'll post it here first.

Until Next Time...
Be sure to watch this woman nail it (!!!) when it comes to making the perfect grilled cheese. And remember,
I'll always be Cheesely Yours,

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Great Parmesan Cheese Scandal of 2016

In my debut posting to this blog, I mentioned that the business of food and the food industry interests me just as much as actually cooking does. It should be no surprise then that I've been glued to the buzz surrounding the latest breaking story about grated parmesan and how multiple food manufacturers have been duping the public about the ingredients in their product.

So...... Fresh off the Great McDonald's Mozzarella Sticks Scandal of 2016, I give you The Great Parmesan Cheese Scandal of 2016! (Seems like, as a country, we're having cheese issues so far this year)

This all started with a tip to the FDA that Castle Cheese Inc. was doctoring its parmesan cheese with too much cellulose, which is used as an anti-clumping agent and is derived from wood pulp. By law a certain amount is acceptable, but whistle-blowers said that Castle Cheese Inc. was putting just a little bit too much in. In fact, by the time the FDA finished its investigation, they reported that Castle, who makes Market Pantry brand 100% grated Parmesan Cheese sold at Target Corp. stores, contained “no parmesan cheese." Castle also supplies Always Save Grated Parmesan Cheese and Best Choice 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, sold by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc.

This inspired the FDA to investigate other producers of grated cheese, and as a result of this investigation, the supermarket chain Jewel-Osco removed all of its Essential Everyday 100% Parmesan Cheese from shelves, which contains 8.8% cellulose, and Wal-Mart removed its Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, which registered 7.8% cellulose. Other brands, including Kraft, came in within the legally acceptable 2-4% levels of cellulose.

The lesson from this is quite simple - Business is business, and many food producers have no problem cutting a few corners, especially when just a little change here or there can save them millions of dollars and the consumers are unable to tell the subtle difference. That's why I buy block parmesan, which is less susceptible to the cellulose and fillers. Note, I said "less susceptible," not "completely immune" to.

I've never liked grated parmesan cheese. I've thought its odor was over-powering and its texture just odd. Maybe companies add that extra flavor and odor as a way to mask the blandness of the actual product (see the book The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth about Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker for more details.) I've always liked freshly shredded parmesan on my salads, and I've recently begun cooking with it as well. Yeah, it can be a pain shredding it by hand, but I think the small amount of effort is worth it.

There are still many claims and phrases companies put on their labels to tempt us to buy their product over their competitors. For instance, the word "organic" is still being brandied about a lot lately but there is no clear definition what it means, and the FDA hasn't tackled that issue as of yet. "All natural" is another term, and while it is technically defined, the definition is so vague it's useless.

Are these companies evil for intentionally deceiving us? It honestly depends on your point of view and your philosophy on the whole matter. It's important to remember, these companies don't exist to make sure you have a well balanced healthy diet. These companies exist to make money and to satisfy their hungry stock holders. Yes, they chose the food industry to conduct their business and have a legal obligation to be honest in product labeling and delivery, but don't ever forget who they're really loyal to and who they're willing to bend the rules for --- it's not you. I've understood that from the beginning, and maybe that's why I'm surprised that other people are surprised when stories like this break. (For instance, did Fast Food Nation tell you anything you didn't already suspect?)

So I'll keep an eye on this story to see if anything new comes of it, and in the meantime, your homework is to buy your kitchen a cheese shredder and from now on, only buy parmesan in blocks.

Until next time...
Here's a short video from Gourmet Magazine on different shredding/grating tools you can buy and the results of each tool.

Cheesely Yours,

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sushi - It's What You Crave...

I used to think that sushi was a Great Divider of people - either you loved it, or you hated it. But the more I learn about it, the less I believe that's true. Like many things in life, there is plenty of grey area, and when it comes to sushi, you'll find as many different opinions about it as you do people.

Believe it or not, as adventurous as I am, I didn't try sushi for the first time until just a few years ago. There were three issues that kept me away: 1) it seemed like it could be a little gross since I tend to like my food cooked; 2) I worried about the potential risk of food poisoning; and 3) the expense of experimenting and not liking sushi seemed too high to risk.

One day though, The Boss's friend took her out to a local sushi restaurant, and quite frankly, created a monster. The Boss, who had never had sushi before either, soon insisted I take her out to sushi even if I had to order from the non-sushi menu (note: many sushi restaurant offer some American-Chinese items for those who do not like sushi and prefer their food cooked). But because I am adventurous and was already committed to the restaurant, I thought, "Why not?"

This is a pivotal moment in any new food adventure - that first sampling. The first few pieces didn't gross me out or turn me away. In fact, they weren't half bad. I had had wasabi before and I loved soy sauce, so that worked in sushi's favor (someday remind me to tell you the story of the first time I tried wasabi - it's good for a laugh.). Upon The Boss's recommendation I picked eel, which is cooked, and I also chose a few pieces of spicy salmon. I loved the malt beer the restaurant offered, and I'd also had saki before, so all in all, that first meal went well. I enjoyed the experience.

Over time though I've learned a few things about myself, though. Unlike The Boss, I don't crave sushi. Sometimes I will a little, but the crave passes. This differentiates me from her in that she craves sushi, demands sushi, and devours it on the level that practically makes her a monster for it. All I have to do is mention the word, and a moment later, she's in the car honking the horn wanting to know what the hold up is. For me though, I don't crave the actual food itself so much as I crave the experience, the presentation, the atmosphere -- all of which The Boss enjoys as well, but not greater than the actual food itself.

The one other thing I've learned about sushi is that there is a lot of information available out there, from its history, how to eat it, how to prepare, and all the little tid bits and rituals in between. Google it, YouTube it, and be prepared to spend hours and hours learning about it. And I promise this won't be the last time I write about it.

Until Next Time...
Here's one of many videos explaining how to properly eat sushi, and of course, it says no matter how you've been eating it, you've been doing it wrong.

Fishily Yours,

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Chorizo Queso Fail

From Young Frankenstein (1974):
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: "No. No. Be of good cheer. If science teaches us anything, it teaches us to accept our failures, as well as our successes, with quiet dignity and grace...Son of a bitch! Bastard! I'll get you for this! What did you do to me? What did you do to me?"

That quote from one of my favorite movies of all time went through my head after my second attempt at the Chorizo Queso dip - Failed again.

The first batch was so thick, it was practically impossible to get on the chip, and each bite seemed to weigh a pound. The taste was there, so I knew it was a matter of perfecting the texture.

The second batch, I used cream cheese and a ton of milk to thin it out. The texture was a little more manageable, but I completely lost the Chorizo taste and had to spice it up with extra jalepenos and Tapatio hot sauce, which left it tasting more like jalepeno dip than Chorizo dip.

My biggest fan and most honest critic, The Boss, liked both batches, but like me saw where it needed improvement. So what modifications will I make for my third attempt? Right now - none. I have no plans for a third attempt anytime soon. I've eaten so much of it the past week, I've burned myself out and have no desire to even think about that dip for a while. Maybe this spring when we have our house warming party I'll give it another shot  - Maybe. If I get it right, I'll let you know. 

Until Next Time...
Here's my favorite commercial from the Super Bowl.

Gracefully Yours,

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hot Sauce Rules

Okay, Class, pay attention and take notes if you must.

When The Boss and I met a long time few years ago, we had a cultural clash in the kitchen. What started as a small thing as a ham sandwich for lunch turned into a pivotal moment. She grew up in a household where you matched the lunch meats with a certain type bread and certain condiments. I grew up in a home where any and all meats went between two pieces of white bread with American cheese, lettuce, and mayo. Being adventurous, I eventually tried her way and learned a lot about The Rules of Making a Sandwich, and was awarded with an expanded palate. (Although sometimes, I must confess, when she's not looking, I revert back to my old way for just for a bit of nostalgia.)

Now, using that as a segue, let me tell you about The Rules for Hot Sauce I've learned by both experimentation, observation, and basic research. For this first of many lessons, I'm just going to give you some simple basics:

1. Frank's Red Hot is for Buffalo Wings (due to the tang caused by vinegar  - origin - it's also one of the weakest hot sauces on the Scoville Scale)
2.  Srirachi is for any Asian based food (due to the added sweetness - myth's dispelled for those who are fad loyalists to a fault)
3. Tapatio or Cholula is for Mexican based food (neither vinegar or sweetness, just straight hot peppers)
4. Louisiansa Hot Sauce is for Cajun inspired food (obviously)
5. Tabasco is universal.

Easy enough, right? Keep that list handy until you know it instinctively. Eventually you'll find yourself experimenting with others, expanding your hot sauce horizons, and maybe one day you'll be able to handle ghost peppers with the best of us.

My personal favorite is Tapatio, but that's because I tend to favor Mexican food over other ethnic foods. (And I do not mean Tex-Mex, which is nothing more than American food with a cheap sombrero on). Sriracha is probably my least favorite because of the added sweetest that works in conjunction with the sweet-and-sour flavoring (of most Americanized versions) of Asian food. In fact, when the Sriracha shortage scare hit the U.S. a few years ago, I couldn't understand the panic, until I learned of the snobby fad for being a Fan of Srirachi and of those who insist on putting it on everything. (see the link above).

Well, Class, that's the bell. I have plenty more to talk about when it comes to hot peppers and sauces. So save your questions for the next session and be sure to exercise those taste buds based on today's lesson.

Until Next Time...
Watch this crazy video of 11-year-old Nick as he eats about a teaspoon of 14 different hot sauces, reviewing the taste and heat of each. A little father and son bonding with some healthy bragging.

Saucily Yours,

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

DIY Your Super Bowl Food

The NFL is a religion at my house and the Super Bowl this Sunday is always a special event. But unlike others across the nation, I never host a Super Bowl party nor attend one. Why? you ask. Well, unlike many people, I watch the Super Bowl to actually see the game. I don't care about the commercials, the half-time show, the pregame concerts, or all that other crap. I don't care that Lady Gaga is singing the National Anthem, and if the NFL truly wanted me to watch the halftime show, they would NOT have booked Coldplay as the midgame entertainment. I'd rather watch old F Troop reruns than one second of a Coldplay performance.

Too many people gather just for "party" aspect of the event, and I've found that the party people at a gathering make watching the play action on the field difficult to follow. It's a basic problem of two groups of people with two different priorities occupying the same space. As such, I choose my Super Bowl watching companions with great care and the number one priority is that they must want to watch the game first and foremost.

But with all that being said, the traditional foods expected at Super Bowl gatherings must be maintained and easily accessible during the game so that I don't miss a single snap of the ball. Beer, brats, wings, pizza, chips, nachos, etc. These are staples, and you have to prepare ahead of time, because the game starts when all that pregame hubbub is over, and you don't want to miss the opening kickoff.
And when it comes to getting a game spread ready, many choose to order take out. Many choose to DIY.

Obviously I'm a DIY guy.

Note: (The last time I can remember ordering take-out was from KFC. The Boss wanted a specific type of specialty chicken. I got there, got mixed up, panicked, and brought home the wrong stuff. She got stuck with a lot of chicken she didn't want, and I felt super guilty.)
So as a DIY guy, I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now, and decided to put a spin on the traditional nachos snack and make a chorizo sausage dip inspired by the new appetizer item of the Mexican restaurant down the street. I haven't worked out the details yet, and I wanted to get a chance to do a practice batch before Sunday, but time is running out, so I'm going to have to wing it (yes, pun intended) and see what happens. If it's a success, I'll post the recipe online. If not, I'll give a summary and include my mistakes.

Until Next Time...
Here is a really fun and funny video by ProductJunkieXoxo DIY'ing some pizza and hot wings. Even if you don't do this for your party, take ten minutes to give it a watch. It's well worth the time.

Hail Marily Yours,