Archive for the ‘Food and…’ Category

A young family member tried her first root beer float this past week. She preferred straight ice cream, in the end, but it got me thinking about the complex history of what appears to be a fairly simple treat.

From a societal standpoint, the road to such a dessert requires an understanding of the science of crystallization as well as carbonation, plus the ability to package and distribute the ingredients while maintaining temperature and freshness. 

From an entrepreneurial perspective, who came up with the idea of merging frozen dessert with thirst-quenching beverage in the first place?

A lot of folks, it seems.

Meet the people who claim to have invented (some version of) this classic dish:

  • Robert McCay Green, 1874, Philadelphia

The Delicious History of the Root Beer Float

As he was serving soda to his costumers, he ran out of ice to put in their drinks, so he decided to put ice cream in them to make them cold.

The Root Beer Float Was Invented In 1893 By A Gold Miner In Colorado – South Florida Reporter

The full moon that night shined on the snow-capped Cow Mountain and reminded him of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. He hurried back to his bar and scooped a spoonful of ice cream into the children’s favorite flavor of soda, Myers Avenue Red Root Beer. After trying, he liked it and served it the very next day. It was an immediate hit.

Whether these somewhat fanciful stories reflect the full truth we can’t know. What we do know is that by the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. was awash with ice cream floats.

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Why so many instances of similar inventions, all around the same time? That takes us back to the bit about this particular creation being part of a complex system of social, technical and economic factors. Simultaneous invention happens all the time, with ideas big and small. 

In the Air | The New Yorker (Malcolm Gladwell)

The history of science is full of ideas that several people had at the same time.

So don’t worry that your idea for a vampire story or cake recipe or video game or mousetrap has already been done. The world needs new creations, and new versions of old inventions, all the time. Learn from what’s gone before, of course, but if a project captures your attention, pursue it.

It hasn’t been done your way. And your way may be exactly what the world needs right now.

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The purple cow (with grape juice and vanilla ice cream) has always been my favorite. Photo by Ryan Song on Unsplash

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Time for a Nap

Today: mushrooms. That is all. (Literally. Eighteen pounds of mushrooms and 8 quarts of mushroom soup is a Lot.)

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Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

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Worth It

Mr Man: “What do you say we go for a bike ride?”

Me: “Good plan. Let’s head over to that ice cream shop that’s just a little too far away for a walk.”

Mr Man: “Wouldn’t that undermine the point of exercise?”

Me: “It’ll be great, we’ll earn our calories!” (Secretly thinking, “It will be great, we won’t have to earn these calories!”)

/delightful interlude involving a low-key afternoon ride, a dipped hazelnut praline cone (his), a very large cotton candy milkshake (mine, they were out of strawberry), and a complete lack of guilt despite the fact that we consumed much too much sugar. It was a perfect way to say goodbye to summer.

Me, leaving the ice cream place: “Um, pretty sure your front tire is flat. How far do we have to go?”

Mr Man: “Walking? About an hour.”

And that, folks, is how we paid for that ice cream.

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Photo by Svitlana on Unsplash

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I tested out yet another version of my tofu pudding recipe, hazelnut chocolate this time. It’s a little sweet, but I may try layering it with passionfruit whipped cream and see what that’s like. Because half the fun is in the making.

Ok, maybe not half. But it is fun.

In honor of the connection between food, experimentation and the evolution of humanity (by humans or… not), check out this short story by CB Droege in Nature.

Alfie’s ice cream
It was almost time. After months of calibration and fine tuning. After dozens of years of research, theory, testing and production. After centuries of anticipation and dreaming. The SCS Alfred Nobel, Alfie as he called himself, was finally going to try some ice cream.

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Photo by Andres Molina on Unsplash

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Lots to Do!

Oh, hey there! I’m in the middle of baking a new recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie and working on a bunch of other fun things. Have a happy day!

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Photo by Ilana Grostern on Unsplash

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I’m at the start of a brief vacation from the day job, and it feels good. My plan for today included making bread, testing an experimental hazelnut chocolate pudding, working up a new soup recipe, and enjoying a cold glass of sangria in the warm afternoon sun.

I am happy to report that I have accomplished the most important thing on that list.

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Photo by Whitney Wright on Unsplash

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I love that there are still so many things to learn. Take fox nuts, for example (the food, not the, well, you know). If you have more than a passing familiarity with Indian cuisine you’ve probably heard of them, but I had not. I ran across a reference today and thought, “Fabulous! What the heck are those?”

Where do Makhana (fox nuts) come from?

Fox nuts, or makhana, are seeds from the prickly water lily (euryale ferox). When cooked they puff up, a little like popcorn (if all the action happened inside the shell and required a blow with a wooden mallet to release the final product). It is a very popular Indian food for snacking and other dishes.

Fox Nuts: How They Are Grown and Prepared

I wonder what they taste like? Time to head over to the local South Asian grocery and find out. 

And this has been today’s edition of Learning at Lunch.

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This is a different, admittedly more photogenic, type of waterlily. Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

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I recently tested two new recipes. One worked, one (through no fault of its own) not so much. I’ll start with the less good.

Butterscotch Peaches Recipe – NYT Cooking

The recipe is fine, the butterscotch flavor excellent, and it could have turned out great. Emphasis on “could.”

If you don’t have access to the New York Times recipe collection, here are the ingredients I used:

  • 6 medium or 5 large ripe peaches
  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • ½ C. cream
  • ½ C. sugar
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ t. vanilla
  • In sum: peel and chop the peaches, brown the butter and sauté the peaches for three minutes, then let rest. In a second pan, add all remaining ingredients except vanilla. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, then raise heat to medium and let simmer/boil for 12 minutes or until browned. Add to peaches and stir to combine.

The result? My peaches were a bit of a disaster. The first peaches of the season often are, but I held out hope. They were beautiful, I‘ll give them that, but after washing and scoring and boiling and peeling (a pain, I’d skip it next time) and slicing, I had to accept the facts.

The peaches were decidedly mediocre. All but two had at least some internal brown spots, and three were nothing but mush. And eaten fresh, even the prettiest fruit was mealy and low on flavor.

I cooked them up and made the butterscotch. Then, as I was nearing the finish line, I waffled over the final product. Should I go ahead with the subpar peaches or skip the fruit and just eat the butterscotch? While I considered my options, the butterscotch started to harden. By the time I decided to say what the hell, I was on my way to Candyland. As in, the butterscotch was hardening into delicious-yet-difficult-to-mix candy.

I went with it in the end. The final product tasted good, actually, but there were chunks of semi-solidified butterscotch throughout. (It would have made for a delicious addition to ice cream, in fact. Maybe next time.)

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On to the good:

So there I was, stalking Felicia Day’s library on Goodreads (as one does), when I ran across this book:

I picked up a copy last week.

I need to start testing some of the thousand (!) recipes here, but if there is a more perfect type of cookbook for me, I don’t know what it is. I love the ease, reliability and reach of books like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, but this new book’s approach not only tests the many (many) variations of each recipe, it also tells you what they tried, why, and with what results. Then you get the finalized recipe.

I made the banana bread. Mr Man’s double helping for dessert say it was a success.

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Photo by Tusik Only on Unsplash

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I recently had a request for an update on the baked milk situation so here we go.

Short answer: The first version was pretty good.

Longer answer, one that will surprise no one who knows me: I made a few tweaks.

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Here’s my previous post with the original recipe link: Baked What Now?

I kept the proportions but used 2% milk and kefir because that’s what I had. It worked fine, but:

  • the final result wasn’t as caramel colored or flavored as the store-bought version
  • it wasn’t quite as thick as I’d hoped
  • with summer on the horizon, I wasn’t enthusiastic about keeping the oven on for six hours at a time.

Over several iterations, I now have a version that addresses these issues and works for me. Between this, biweekly yogurt, and air-quality concerns, we may have used it as an excuse to pick up a portable induction burner (on sale, totally reasonable!).

The new alternative uses whole milk, kefir plus sour cream, and skips the oven in favor of the induction burner. We have a remote thermometer for yogurt so we use that, but keeping it at temperature can be a bit of a hassle. If you have a slow cooker that will maintain a steady ~210F, try that. (I’ll try that next time if I can find my slow cooker.)

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Baked Milk

4L whole milk

  • heat milk to a simmer, then maintain temperature at ~210F for 6 hours
  • let cool to 115F, add:

7 T. kefir

1 T. sour cream

  • mix well, jar and close with vented lid (cheesecloth, fermentation caps, heck, paper towels would work, whatever you’ve got)
  • let sit on the counter at room temperature for 36 hours or until set; I put mine in an insulated grocery bag but it’s not required.

Is it good? Yes. Keeping the milk around 210F using a burner gave me a better depth of caramelization than 225F in the oven. The process is a bit more of a hassle than I’d like so I’ll continue to look for improvements.

Is it even better when mixed with guava juice and lemonade? Yes, it is.

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Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

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My father’s mother baked from scratch, but she always had a container of Cool Whip in the fridge when we came to visit. Did she always stock it? I don’t know, but it was a special treat for us.

I don’t buy it for myself but even now the taste of Cool Whip reminds me of hot summers and warm smiles.

Last week, I whipped up a bit of cream to go with fresh strawberries from a farm down the road. I usually add a bit of Grand Marnier but this time, I decided to try a slight twist. 

It turns out that heavy whipping cream plus vanilla, sugar and a dollop of sour cream creates a thick whipped topping that tastes a lot like Cool Whip. Not as it is, necessarily, but as I remember it. Fun, flavorful, special.

Let’s call it Cool Whip for adults. All of the memories, none of the additives.

Thanks, Grandma.

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Photo by Tangerine Newt on Unsplash

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