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Posts Tagged ‘cooking

“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”*…

 

Casual dining chains — industry parlance for economical sit-down restaurants like Fridays, Applebee’s, Chili’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings — have subsisted in a dismal and persistent state of decline for about a decade. But in the last two years, things have gotten worse, with the number of people eating at casual dining chains overall falling every single month since June 2015; they are now the worst-performing segment of the entire restaurant industry. In recent months, Applebee’s has said it will close 135 locations this year; Buffalo Wild Wings will shed at least 60. Ruby Tuesday closed 109 restaurants last year, and put the whole company up for sale in MarchFriendly’sBennigan’sJoe’s Crab Shack, and Logan’s Roadhouse have all filed for bankruptcy.

Whatever your feelings about casual dining chains, they have been a vital part of the way that many Americans eat since the 1930s, when Howard Johnson began blanketing the highways with his trademark orange-and-teal restaurants — temples to affordable, quality fare in a wholesome setting. After plodding along for some 50 years, the genre exploded during the 1980s, as America entered a period of sustained economic growth and chains like Fridays, Olive Garden, and Applebee’s saturated suburban landscapes with their bland, softly corporate vision of good times and good food. While the brands and the fads have changed — RIP fried-clam sandwich, hello baby back ribs and buffalo sliders — the formula has remained more or less unchanged over the decades: middlebrow menu, solid value, and friendly service, consistently executed, from Pasadena to Tallahassee. Until recently, it was a formula that worked across cuisines, state lines, and demographics…

TGI Fridays and Applebee’s and their ilk are struggling as the American middle class and its enormous purchasing power withers away in real time, with the country’s population dividing into a vast class of low-wage earners who cannot afford the indulgence of sit-down meal of Chili’s Mix & Match Fajitas and a Coke, and a smaller cluster of high-income households for whom a Jack Daniel’s sampler platter at Fridays is no longer good enough. At the same time, the rise of the internet, smartphones, and streaming media have changed the ways that consumers across the income spectrum choose to allocate our leisure time — and, by association, our mealtimes. In-home (and in-hand) entertainment has altered how we consume casual meals, making the Applebee’s and Red Lobsters of the world less and less relevant to the way America eats.

As casual dining restaurants collapse in on themselves, TGI Fridays remains — unfortunately for it — an emblem for the entire category: In 2014, after years of slipping sales, the chain was sold to a pair of private equity firms, Sentinel Capital Partners and TriArtisan Capital Advisors, which swiftly began offloading company-owned restaurants to franchisees, essentially stripping the business for parts. Meanwhile, the chain’s beleaguered management has attempted to turn things around with a series of highly publicized initiatives, like delivering booze. Most notably, last year, Fridays unveiled a new concept restaurant in Texas — a stunning reversal from the tchotchke-laden image savagely memorialized in Mike Judge’s 1999 cult classic Office Space — that’s heavy on neutral tones, pale wood, brick walls, and exceedingly mellow, indistinct furniture; it looks like a neglected airport lounge in Helsinki…

A fascinating consideration of a restaurant that is both an avatar and a bellwether of the American middle class: “As Goes the Middle Class, So Goes TGI Fridays.”

See also: “Applebee’s Deserves To Die,” which explores the millennial dimension of this phenomenon:

The media-created meme that’s arisen about millennials killing things — beer, napkins, Hooters, cereal, casual dining establishments, and motorcycles, and golf, to name a few — is fascinating, again, because of what it reveals. Young people’s generally decreased standard of living and the preferences they have developed as a result are destroying established industries, and older people don’t like it. But these are rational responses to economic anxiety. Everything from high rates of homeownership to Hooters came out of a middle-class prosperity that doesn’t really exist anymore, because the middle class doesn’t really exist in America anymore, especially not for the millennials who had to grow up without the comfort of the American Dream. Chains united America, but things were different then, and for millennials at least, they’re irreparably broken now…

* Steven Wright

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As we avail ourselves of the Endless Appetizers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that a self-taught engineer named Percy Spencer applied for a patent for a “microwave cooking oven”; he had been working in a lab testing magnetrons, the high-powered vacuum tubes inside radars.  One day while working near the magnetrons– which produced microwaves– Spencer noticed a peanut butter candy bar in his pocket had begun to melt — shortly after, the microwave oven was born.

In 1947, Raytheon introduced Spencer’s invention, the world’s first microwave oven, the “Radarange”: a refrigerator-sized appliance that cost $2-3,000.  It found a some applications in commercial food settings and on Navy ships, but no consumer market.  Then Raytheon licensed the technology to the Tappan Stove Company, which introduced a wall-mounted version with two cooking speeds (500 and 800 watts), stainless steel exterior, glass shelf, top-browning element and a recipe card drawer.  It sold for $1,295 (figure $10,500 today).

Later Litton entered the business and developed the short, wide shape of the microwave that we’re familiar with today. As Wired reports, this opened the market:

Prices began to fall rapidly. Raytheon, which had acquired a company called Amana, introduced the first popular home model in 1967, the countertop Radarange. It cost $495 (about $3,200 today).

Consumer interest in microwave ovens began to grow. About 40,000 units were sold in the United States in 1970. Five years later, that number hit a million.

The addition of electronic controls made microwaves easier to use, and they became a fixture in most kitchens. Roughly 25 percent of U.S. households owned a microwave oven by 1986. Today, almost 90 percent of American households have a microwave oven.

Today, Percy Spencer’s invention and research into microwave technology are still being used as a jumping off point for further research in radar and magnetron technologies.  Different wavelengths of microwaves are being used to keep an eye on weather conditions and even rain structures via satellites, and are able to penetrate clouds, rain, and snow, according to NASA.  Other radar technology use microwaves to monitor sea levels to within a few centimeters.

Police are also known to use radar guns to monitor a vehicle’s speed, which continually transmit microwaves to measure the waves’ reflections to see how fast one is driving.

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Written by LW

October 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.”*…

 

“The Kitchen,” 1874, from Prang’s Aids for Object Teaching–Trades and Occupations, a collection of twelve chromolithographic plates issued by L. Prang & Company, Boston

The prolific and flamboyant journalist George Augustus Sala, one of several young British writers who found fame as acolytes of Charles Dickens, rose to become a regular contributor to Dickens’s weekly magazine, Household Words, and, eventually, one of The Daily Telegraph’s most well-known correspondents…  Sala visited the United States twice, first during the Civil War in 1863 and again in 1879. His initial visit was chronicled in the two-volume work, My Diary in America in the Midst of War, and the second trip, a lecture tour, inspired the better-known America Revisited…  In a chapter describing a train trip to Baltimore, he inserted {a] brief digression mocking what was (according to Sala) the uniquely American passion for pie, beginning: “Almost everything that I behold in this wonderful country bears traces of improvement and reform—everything except Pie…”

Dig in at “The Tyranny of Pie.”

* Yogi Berra

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As we agree with David Mamet that “stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie,” we might send beautifully-baked birthday greetings to Cornelius Hoagland; he was born on this date in 1828.  He co-founded (with his brother Joseph Christoffel Hoagland) the Royal Baking Powder Company. With four other companies including the Fleischmann’s Yeast Company, Royal merged to form Standard Brands, the number-two brand of packaged foods in America after General Foods.

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With best wishes to U.S. readers for the Thanksgiving holiday, (R)D is taking the long weekend off.  See you again next week.

Written by LW

November 23, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I got to get this cheese with my crew”*…

 

Cheese curls (or cheese puffs) have been around for 80 years and have been a staple for over 50 (since 1948, when Cheetos achieved national distribution)… not bad for what was originally the unintended by-product of an animal feed-producing process.

The whole tasty story at: “Junk Food’s Happiest Accident.”

* Snoop Dogg

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As we try not to wipe our fingers on our clothes, we might send delicious birthday greetings to Prosper Montagné; he was born on this date in 1865.  Considered (with Georges-Auguste Escoffier) to be one of the two men with the greatest impact on French gastronomy (and thus, on that of the world at large), Montagné was one of the greatest French chefs of all time, and earned a place of honor in gastronomic history by creating Larousse Gastronomique (1938), the basic encyclopaedia of French gastronomy.

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Written by LW

November 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“An army marches on its stomach”*…

 

From Steve1989 MREinfo (“I will eat just about anything!”), a collection of over 70 videos unpacking military meals, from World War II to the present, and from services all over the world.

[TotH to @rebeccaonion]

* Napoleon

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As we dig in, we might send birthday greetings in oyster sauce to Joyce Chen; she was born on this date in 1917.  A chef, restauranteur, author, television personality, and entrepreneur, she parlayed a successful Cambridge, MA restaurant (where she’s credited with creating the “all you can eat Chinese buffet” to perk up slow Tuesdays and Wednesdays) into a collection of restaurants, a cooking school, a series of cookbooks, and a PBS series (shot on the same set as Julia Child’s show).  She is credited with popularizing northern-style Chinese cuisine in America.  Chen was honored in 2014 (along with Julia Child) as one of the five chefs featured on a series of U.S. postage stamps.

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Written by LW

September 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me”*…

 

Although well-known for her massive novels The Fountainhead (about an architectural genius who blows up his own skyscraper) and Atlas Shrugged (about a group of fiercely individualistic anti—union entrepreneurs who band together and go on strike), Ayn Rand was something of a culinary devotee–or so the publication of this hitherto unsuspected book of recipes would suggest.

Written in her trademark “romantic realist” style, this large collection includes recipes unique to its author, such as “I Need No Warrant for Being Green Beans,” “Rational Pumpkin Muffins of the Highest Intelligence,” and “Chicken Baked Only for Itself.”…

More– including a recipe for an old standard, made Objectively better– at “Preparing Eggplant Rollatini With the Highest Competence.”

See also Mc Sweeney’s “Recipes that would be officially approved by the Ayn Rand Institute.”

* Ayn Rand

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As we decide to diet, we might recall that it was on this date in 1992, at 11:00 a.m., that the current world record brown trout was caught on the Little Red River in Arkansas by Howard “Rip” Collins.  At forty-pounds, four ounces, it far exceeded the previous record-holder, a 38-9 brown caught by Mike “Huey” Manley of North Little Rock four years earlier.

Collins and his catch

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Written by LW

May 9, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A Big Mac– the communion wafer of consumption”*…

 

Hiroyuki Terada, the star of the YouTube series “Diaries of a Master Sushi Chef,” (which has racked up over 40 million views) presents “Will It Sushi?”– the story of an ugly duckling 770-calorie double-decker hamburger and fries that became a swan: an appealing roll of beef and fresh veggies…

email readers click here for video

More background at “A master sushi chef makes a roll out of a Big Mac.”

* John Ralston Saul

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As we sharpen our knives, we might spare a thought for Art Ginsburg; he died on this date in 2012.  Better known by his professional name, Mr. Food, Ginsburg was a pioneering television chef (on the air from 1975) and best selling author of cookbooks.  He was an enthusiastic advocate of quick and easy cooking, and laid the groundwork for countless celebrity cooks to come.  His catch phrase, “Ooh! It’s so good!”, with which he ended each show, is a registered sound trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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Written by LW

November 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook”*…

 

 click here for larger interactive version

As your correspondent flies home from the land of lobster rolls, a consideration of the food preferences that set us, state by state, apart…

Every state in the U.S. has a unique flavor, from Chicken Cheesesteak to Chinese Chicken SaladFoursquare analyzed the data to pinpoint which food or drink is most disproportionately popular in each destination, and worked with Mapbox to create [this] dynamic map…

More at “America’s Most Popular Tastes.”

* Julia Child

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As we place our orders, we might recall that it was on this date in 1892 that the Lea & Perrins label was trademarked.  First sold in 1838 by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, dispensing chemists from Broad Street, Worcester, “Worcestershire Sauce” remains a staple condiment.

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Written by LW

May 31, 2015 at 1:01 am

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