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Posts Tagged ‘cooking

“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start”*…

As we noted in an earlier post, Robert C. Baker– “the George Washington Carver of chicken,” a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame– is best-remembered for his invention of the chicken nugget. But on his home turf, he’s remembered for something else entirely…

In 1950, Robert C. Baker, a professor at Cornell University, published Cornell Cooperative Extension Information Bulletin 862, which changed summer in upstate New York forever. Entitled “Barbecued Chicken and Other Meats,” the bulletin describes a simple vinegar-based sauce that can be used to turn broilers—chickens raised for their meat rather than their eggs—into juicy, delicious barbecue heaven.

At the time, this was an innovation. When Americans ate meat, they preferred beef and pork, and the poultry industry was just beginning to increase production. As an agricultural extension specialist, part of Baker’s job was to convince Americans to eat chicken. Before he passed away in 2006, he invented chicken bologna, chicken hot dogs, chicken salami, and, most famously, a prototype chicken nugget.

Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce, though, was his first great triumph, and what he is best known for in upstate New York. All summer, every summer, Cornell Barbecue Chicken features at backyard parties and family get-togethers. Younger generations of Finger Lake residents don’t even recognize this as a regional specialty so much as the default way to cook chicken outdoors. “Every fund-raising event, every fire department cookout, every little league barbecue, must serve this recipe or nobody would come,” writes barbecue expert Meathead Goldwyn

The way Baker told the story, he first came up with the idea of the chicken barbecue when he worked at Penn State and the governor came to visit. When he went to Cornell a short while later, he started putting on barbecues regularly, enlisting his family and the young men who worked with him at Cornell as basters and turners.

“My father was quite a promoter,” says Dale Baker, the eldest of Baker’s six children. “He would have me and others go out in high school and cook for groups.” Roy Curtiss, who worked with Baker as a Cornell undergraduate, remembers killing and butchering chickens in the basement of Rice Hall, on campus, freezing them, and using them all summer long to create barbecues for 50 to 100 people.

“We’d charge them a buck and half, for a roll, an ear of corn, and half a chicken,” Curtiss says. All summer, they set up for church groups and farm bureaus, toting collapsible grates in the back of a pickup truck, all around the Ithaca area. “It was very popular,” he says. “People would hear about this, and think it was a great alternative to hamburgers and hot dogs.”…

Perhaps the most ambitious use of the sauce, though, has been at Baker’s Chicken Coop, the barbecue stand Baker started in the 1950s at the New York State Fair. (His daughter still operates it today.) “We would cook, when I was younger, 22, 23,000 half-chickens in 10 or 11 days. It was a pretty big thing,” says Dale Baker. When he finished college, he and his dad estimated how many half-chickens they had cooked up until that point in time. It was more than a million…

The recipe (* today, many use less salt)

The true legacy of the Cornell professor who invented the chicken nugget: “Why All of Upstate New York Grew Up Eating the Same Barbecue Chicken.”

* Anthony Bourdain

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As we baste, we might recall that on this date in 1982 Saturday Night Live viewers decided the fate of Larry the Lobster. In an early example of interactive television, Eddie Murphy held Larry, a live lobster, aloft and declared that the show’s audience would determine whether he lived or died. He read two “900” phone numbers, one for those who wanted to spare Larry, and another for those who wanted to see him cooked. Calls cost $0.50 each.  (Murphy tended to read the number to save Larry very quickly, as opposed to his giving the number to cook Larry very slowly and clearly.)

Updates on the voting were given by other cast members over the course of the episode, and in the span of 30 minutes, viewers made nearly 500,000 calls, sending phone traffic soaring– indeed, the heavy phone use stood as a record or near-record for many years.

Larry was spared by about 12,000 votes; 239,096 callers voted to save him and 227,452 voted for him to be boiled. (Though on the following week’s show, a lobster– reputedly Larry– was eaten on-air.)

To this day the sketch is cited in discussions of classic comedy routines, cruelty to animals, and in rosters of famous animals.

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“A Genuine ‘TV’ Brand Dinner”*…

In 1925, the Brooklyn-born entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye invented a machine for freezing packaged fish that would revolutionize the storage and preparation of food. [see here.] Maxson Food Systems of Long Island used Birdseye’s technology, the double-belt freezer, to sell the first complete frozen dinners to airlines in 1945, but plans to offer those meals in supermarkets were canceled after the death of the company’s founder, William L. Maxson. Ultimately, it was the Swanson company that transformed how Americans ate dinner (and lunch)—and it all came about, the story goes, because of Thanksgiving turkey.

According to the most widely accepted account, a Swanson salesman named Gerry Thomas conceived the company’s frozen dinners in late 1953 when he saw that the company had 260 tons of frozen turkey left over after Thanksgiving, sitting in ten refrigerated railroad cars. (The train’s refrigeration worked only when the cars were moving, so Swanson had the trains travel back and forth between its Nebraska headquarters and the East Coast “until panicked executives could figure out what to do,” according to Adweek.) Thomas had the idea to add other holiday staples such as cornbread stuffing and sweet potatoes, and to serve them alongside the bird in frozen, partitioned aluminum trays designed to be heated in the oven. Betty Cronin, Swanson’s bacteriologist, helped the meals succeed with her research into how to heat the meat and vegetables at the same time while killing food-borne germs.

Whereas Maxson had called its frozen airline meals “Strato-Plates,” Swanson introduced America to its “TV dinner” (Thomas claims to have invented the name) at a time when the concept was guaranteed to be lucrative: As millions of white women entered the workforce in the early 1950s, Mom was no longer always at home to cook elaborate meals—but now the question of what to eat for dinner had a prepared answer. Some men wrote angry letters to the Swanson company complaining about the loss of home-cooked meals. For many families, though, TV dinners were just the ticket. Pop them in the oven, and 25 minutes later, you could have a full supper while enjoying the new national pastime: television.

In 1950, only 9 percent of U.S. households had television sets—but by 1955, the number had risen to more than 64 percent, and by 1960, to more than 87 percent. Swanson took full advantage of this trend, with TV advertisements that depicted elegant, modern women serving these novel meals to their families, or enjoying one themselves. “The best fried chicken I know comes with a TV dinner,” Barbra Streisand told the New Yorker in 1962…

Thanks to the pandemic, Thanksgiving’s most unexpected legacy is heating up again: “A Brief History of the TV Dinner.”

* The Swanson “promise” on every package

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As we peel back the foil, we might send clearly-outlined birthday greetings to Irma S. Rombauer; she was born on this date in 1877. An author of cookbooks, she is best remembered for The Joy of Cooking, one of the most widely-published and used cookbooks in the U.S. Originally unable to find a publisher, she privately printed an edition in 1931. But in 1935 a commercial edition (the first of nine) was released by Bobbs-Merrill.

Written in a plain but witty style, including basic techniques and simple dishes, not just the complext recipes that were the staples of most cookbooks of the time, it found a broad and loyal audience among the American middle class. Indeed, Julia Child credits The Joy of Cooking with teaching her the basic techniques of the kitchen, and (along with Gourmet Magazine) teaching her to cook.

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“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something”*…

 

rice cooker

 

Rice is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s population, especially in Asia and Africa.  It is the third most widely-cultivated staple crop worldwide, after maize/corn and wheat… and it is notoriously difficult to prepare correctly on a stove…

Cooking rice on a stovetop can be fraught. Add too much water and you end up with porridge. Without a keen sense of timing, you end up with undercooked [pellet-like] grains…

The automatic rice cooker is a mid-century Japanese invention that made a Sisyphean culinary labor as easy as measuring out grain and water and pressing a button. These devices can seem all-knowing. So long as you add water and rice in the right proportions, it’s nearly impossible to mess up, as the machines stop cooking at exactly the right point for toothsome rice. But creating an automatic rice cooker was not so easy. In fact, it took decades of inventive leaps, undertaken by some of the biggest names in Japanese technology…

How the biggest names in Japanese technology fought to make rice easy: “The Battle to Invent the Automatic Rice Cooker.”

* Mitch Hedberg

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As we ponder the pursuit of perfection, we might recall that today is National Potato Day– a celebration of the fourth most-widely cultivated staple crop.

220px-Patates source

 

Written by LW

August 19, 2020 at 1:01 am

“All food is comfort food. Maybe I just like to chew.”*…

 

mac and cheese

 

In January 2015, food sales at restaurants overtook those at grocery stores for the first time. Most thought this marked a permanent shift in the American meal.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, that trend took a U-turn. Restaurant revenue cratered, while shoppers emptied grocery shelves stocking up on food to cook at home. And with sales of pantry items soaring, shoppers found themselves reaching for an old reliable.

In April, sales of Kraft macaroni and cheese were up 27% from the same time last year. General Mills, the maker of Annie’s mac and cheese, has seen a similar bump.

The cheap, boxed meal has long been a poster child for processed food. While it’s often dismissed as stuff for kids, a lot of grownups secretly savor it… It’s also played an important role in kitchen science, wars, and women’s liberation…

How boxed macaroni and cheese became a pantry principal– the story of a staple: “An ode to mac and cheese, the poster child for processed food.”

* Lewis Black

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As we say (processed) cheese, we might send tasty birthday greetings to Ruth Graves Wakefield; she was born on this date in 1903.  A dietitian, educator, business owner, and author, she is probably best remembered as the inventor of the Toll House cookie– the first chocolate chip cookie.

In 1930, she and her husband bought a tourist lodge (the Toll House Inn) in Whitman in Plymouth County. Massachusetts.  Located about halfway between Boston and New Bedford, it was a place where passengers had historically paid a toll, changed horses, and eaten home-cooked meals.  Ruth cooked and served all the food and soon gained local fame for her lobster dinners and desserts.  Around 1937, she first added added chopped up bits from a Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bar into a cookie: “We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream. Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different. So I came up with Toll House cookie.”  Wakefield wrote a best selling cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes. that went through 39 printings starting in 1930; the 1938 edition was the first to include the recipe for a chocolate chip cookie, the “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie.”

220px-Ruth_Graves_Wakefield source

 

 

Written by LW

June 17, 2020 at 1:01 am

“What we need in this country is a general improvement in eating”*…

 

archival-chili

A Mexican official examines chili powder at an American factory, Gebhardt Mexican Foods Company

 

Gumbo. Chile con queso. California roll. Spaghetti and meatballs.

The names are as familiar as household brands. Yet how much do you know about these dishes? Based on the names alone, with their roots in other languages and other cultures, each dish sounds like an import. In some ways, they are. But each dish also morphed and adapted to its new environment, transforming into something uniquely American.

Some transformed through industrialization. Another required the ingenuity of chefs willing to break from tradition. One adapted, and continues to adapt, to the dizzying constellation of cultures that is New Orleans…

How four dishes with roots in other lands tell a story of immigration and transformation: “Made in America.”

* H.L. Mencken (who arguably got, per the article linked above, what he asked for)

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As we dig in, we might send tasty birthday greetings to Ettore “Hector” Boiardi; he was born on this date in 1897.  An Italian immigrant who became a successful chef (at The Plaza and the Greenbrier), he opened his first restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia (The Garden of Italy) in Cleveland in 1926.  The following year he met Maurice and Eva Weiner, patrons of his restaurant and owners of a local self-service grocery store chain; they helped him market his spaghetti sauce in jars… and the heat-and-eat Italian food empire that became known as Chef Boy-Ar-Dee was born.  Boiardi became a wealthy man– and something of a celebrity via his appearances in television commercials for his products.

220px-Chefboyardeepic source

 

 

Written by LW

October 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

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