Wine is intrinsically related to the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Can you imagine a romantic V-Day dinner replete with an array of IPAs, porters, and stouts? How about some shots of añejo tequila or smoky Mezcal? Not quite what you had in mind, huh?
Libations of all types are said to release endorphins, boost our happiness levels, and loosen our inhibitions, and you know what that means. But what is it about wine specifically that speaks to the romantic voice in us and can instantly put us in the mood? (more…)
In 2012, the hamburger is prominently woven in the fabric of our day-to-day lives. Whether it be in your local family restaurant, your fast food favorites, or your higher end sit-down establishment, the hamburger has a place everywhere. It wasn’t always so. When looking at the history of the hamburger, a few key dates defined its role in modern society. (more…)
According to the Food Timeline Web, food historians have yet to pinpoint exactly where the name of the cupcake originated. There are two theories. One, the cakes were originally cooked in cups. Cupcakes were convenient because they cooked much quicker than larger cakes. When baking was done in hearth ovens, it would take a long time to bake a cake, and the final product would often be burned. A practice soon developed where the cakes would be baked in a variety of small containers, including tea cups. Gem pans, early muffin tins, soon became common in households around the turn of the 20th Century and cupcakes were eventually baked directly in those as well.
The second theory is that the ingredients used to make the cupcakes were measured out by the cup. Some say that the first “cup cakes” weren’t even baked in cupcake pans — they were simply regular-sized cakes. It was all about the measuring, but there was a shift from weighing out ingredients when baking to measuring out ingredients. It has to do with the way ingredients were measured in late 19th century America.
Back then, most ingredients were measured by weight on a balance scale, but measuring ingredients by cups replaced that system when it was found that cup measurement saved time. A cup could just be dipped into the flour or sugar instead of having to go to the trouble of weighing each ingredient. Interestingly enough, cupcakes were sometimes called “number” cakes, because they were easy to remember by the measurements of ingredients it took to create them: One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, four eggs, one cup of milk, and one spoonful of soda.
Would a cupcake by any other name taste just as sweet? It would if it were called a fairy cake. In Great Britain however they are known as fairy cakes because they are the perfect size for a group of fairies to pleasantly enjoy. Since their creation, cupcakes have become a pop culture trend in the culinary world. They have spawned dozens of bakeries devoted entirely to them. While chocolate and vanilla remain classic favorites, fancy flavors such as raspberry meringue and espresso fudge can be found on menus. In the end, who cares who they came to be. We’re all just thankful that they are!
Looking to get your cupcake fix? Then check out some of these cupcake bakeries that will hopefully put a smile on your face.
2 Girls and a Cupcake
140 SE 1 Ave
Miami, FL 33131
Little Cupcake Bakeshop
9102 Third Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11209
407 NW 17th Ave
Portland, OR 97209
Sweet Pockets Cupcakes
4338 Paces Ferry Rd
Atlanta, GA 30339
Vanilla Bake Shop
512 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
In late May, I got invited by Taco Bell along with other food bloggers for a behind the scenes look at a company that along with the McDonald’s Brothers, started in Downey in the 1960’s. 47 years later, it’s still going strong. Our visit was hosted by Deborah Bell, Lauren Lloyd and Will Bortz and while the primary goal was for us to preview their expanded Volcano Menu, what fascinated me more is how this company got its start and that’s where I want to start my post.
Our visit at the Taco Bell Headquarters really began in the lobby where the company history was literally on display. On one of the large side walls, there were light boards that showed the Taco Bell company time line. Each board represented a certain period and included dates, information, photos and even samples of the food packaging as well as plastic mockups of the food itself for that particular era.
That timeline was pretty helpful, but it wasn’t until I read the Taco Titan, the biography of Taco Bell Founder, Glen Bell, that I developed a better appreciation of what a dynamic man he was and how much influence he really had on the fast food scene in Southern California. Before I talk about the Volcano menu and what I saw, did and tasted while we are at the Taco Bell Headquarters, I wanted to give you a peek into the early history of Glen Bell and what it took for him to start Taco Bell.
Inside the Large Presentation Lab which included a Taco Bell kitchen, we were greeted by Kat, the Volcano Menu Product Manager and Meghan, who handled Food Innovations. The discussion started with a couple of points about spicy food in general.
The Volcano Taco which had launched initially on 05/18/2008 was quite successful with Taco Bell customers. Its key component was the Lava Sauce, which on the heat scale has 800 Scoville Heat Units. If you taste the Lava Sauce on its own, the heat will definitely hit your tastebuds. One thing to note about the Volcano Taco is that the red taco shell is red primarily to give you the visual cue that you will be eating a spicy food. Its redness is due to food coloring.
With the success of the Volcano Taco, it was decided to introduce it back to the Taco Bell menu and this time with the addition of the Volcano Burrito. There was also talk about a third Volcano menu item coming in August, so you’ll have to stay tuned for that. As for the Volcano Burrito, that is definitely a meal in itself. The ingredients consist of double the beef, double the lava sauce, Mexican rice, sour cream, red tortilla strips and wrapped in a 12 inch tortilla. Depending on your appetite or you could share with a friend, you could even order the Volcano Box and get a regular taco, a Volcano taco, a Volcano burrito, churros and a drink. Bon appetit!
Other interesting Taco Bell info include:
After the Volcano presentation, we were invited to go into the kitchen to try out some of the appliances, the kitchen tools and make our own food. One new addition is what they referred to as the Taco Tower where you could heat tortillas without frying them in 10 seconds, 5 seconds on each side.
What was interesting was the kitchen tools themselves. They were all manufactured to handle specific measurements of food, whether it’s a spoonful of exactly 1.5 ounces of product a one once squirt of sauce from a squirt bottle or pump. It’s almost no think food preparation. As long as you know what the exact measurements are for each food, you’re good. By the way, I did a soft taco with deep fried potatoes, cheese, red tortilla chips, pico de gallo, cheese and hot sauce.
Throughout our time there, we were allowed to ask questions. One question I had was that would they ever consider a Mexican sandwich like a torta as an addition to their menu. The reply was that they’re always trying new things and that a torta has been considered; however, there are a lot of factors going into introducing new products. Namely, is it a product that can be accepted nationally (e.g. Middle America) and also is it a food that can be prepared fast and in an assembly line. Testing the market is why they do Limited Time Only (LTOs) menu items to see if something could sell on a more permanent basis. Apparently, they do 25-30 LTOs a year. That’s how the Volcano Taco got its start, after all.
My time at the Taco Bell Headquarters was fun and interesting. While I’m not a Taco Bell regular, I can truly appreciate how one man’s single vision and determination created a fast food taco empire. I can also appreciate the hard work, testing and marketing that goes into launching a new product, from the food scientists all the way to the marketing department. So thanks Taco Bell for this informative behind-the-scenes look at your company. I definitely learned a lot.
On a gray day in April 2006, I embarked on the McDonald’s History Tour led by McHistorian Chris Nichols. For many, the McDonalds were thought to be fictional characters and that Ray Kroc was the actual founder of McDonald’s. In actuality, Richard (Dick) and Maurice (Mac) McDonald were real people and they truly started the McDonald’s legacy. This tour tells some of their story.
The day started with over 50 of us meeting at the McDonald’s in Downey, which is currently the oldest working McDonald’s in the world, but is actually the 4th McDonald’s ever opened. To start off our tour, we had breakfast of what else but an Egg McMuffin, hash browns and a choice of OJ or coffee.
From there, we took our tour bus to Sierra Madre, the sleepy little town that first drew the McDonalds brothers from New Hampshire in 1920. In the 1920’s, Sierra Madre was a land of citrus trees and farmland. In fact, to get a taste of what Sierra Madre would have looked like in those times, we stopped at E. Waldo Ward Ranch, the only working orange grove in Los Angeles County. On this 3-1/2 acres of land, you will see the original red barn, built in 1902, which also houses old equipment and utensils of days gone by as well as a small grove of orange and kumquat trees. The fruit from these trees are made into various kinds of marmalades, jellies and jams all of which can be purchased at the farm.
Tired of working 9 to 5 jobs and inspired by the lush Southern California citrus industry, the McDonald’s opened up their first restaurant called the Airdrome, which sold orange juice, hot dogs, coffee and tea in 1937. This restaurant was adjacent to the Monrovia Airport, which used to be on Huntington Drive. In fact, the Albertson’s store across the street depicts murals in remembrance of the airport that finally shut its doors in 1953, which we passed by on our way to San Bernardino. On our bus ride to San Bernardino, we learned even more about the McDonalds brothers.
In 1940, the McDonalds brothers moved the Airdrome to San Bernardino and converted it to a BBQ restaurant. This BBQ restaurant had a 25-item menu, 20 car hops and made the McDonalds brothers a very comfortable living.
However, eight years later, it was time for a change. While studying the menu and tracking orders, Dick McDonald discovered that hamburger sales generated 80% of their business. Looking to simplify how their business was run and to maximize profits, the McDonalds brothers came up with their “Speedee Service System”.
This system was literally a diagram of how to run an assembly line kitchen efficiently and quickly and they actually worked on this system by drawing an exact chalk diagram on their tennis court in front of their home. While occasional rain bursts would wash out the check, it would just keep prompting them to redraw and refine their design until they got it perfect. It is this system that they put in place at the re-opening of their new concept restaurant.
In October 1948, McDonald’s Barbecue Restaurant was no more and in December, 1948, re-opened as McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers13 years later, Ray Kroc buys out the McDonalds brothers for $2.7 million dollars and through him, the McDonald’s Corporation was born.
The site of the original McDonald’s Hamburger restaurant is where our tour picks up again. The Airdrome, which went from, primarily a snack shop to than a barbecue restaurant and finally a hamburger restaurant was finally torn down in 1953 to make way for a building more in keeping with the McDonald’s restaurant in Downey. Finally, in 1972, that building was demolished as well and the current building was constructed in its place in 1974.
After changing hands a couple more times, the original site of the first McDonald’s as well as the current building was purchased in 1998 by Albert Okura, founder of Juan Pollo Restaurants. Mr. Okura converted half of the building to house his offices, but the other half is dedicated to McDonald’s memorabilia. Admission is free and Mr. Okura was even on hand for our tour to answer questions. At this unofficial museum, you’ll see everything from old pictures to a collection of Happy Meal toys to hats, uniforms and costumes. It was quite an eclectic collection.
Once we looked our fill, back on the bus we went. Another place of interest that we passed by was a machine shop where the McDonalds came up with a lot of the inventions that were utilized for speedier service like a hand-held pump that spurted a precise amount of ketchup and mustard on each burger or a lazy Susan allowed 24 buns to be dressed at a time at a staging area away from the grill.
Our last stop before heading back to Downey was the #7 McDonald’s in Pomona. What a shadow of its former self, this #7 store was. Compared to the beautifully restored Downey McDonald’s, this store, now a donut shop, was a bit run down and saw better days. At least, you could see hints of what was once there by the red and white striping of the building and if you can envision the red arch in the sign as yellow, that too, will take you back to days gone by.
This was a long tour, starting at 10:00 am and ending at 5:30 pm. At the same time, it was quite enlightening. Ray Kroc may have played a large part in the McGlobalization of over 30,000 restaurants worldwide and have founded the McDonald’s Corporation, but it was truly Dick and Mac McDonald’s innovative and forward thinking that founded the basic principles that McDonald’s was built on in the first place and for that, they truly deserve their due.
To see all the photos, go to:
10207 Lakewood Blvd.
Downey, CA 90240
Pizza, like so many other foods, did not originate in the country for which it is now famous and in fact, the idea for pizza is older than Italy itself. In its most basic form, pizza in ancient times was more similar to a seasoned flatbread and enjoyed by several cultures including the Greeks and the Phoenicians. Made from flour and water, the dough would be formed into round flat shapes, seasoned with herbs and then cooked by placing it on a hot stone. Referred to as plankuntos, the Greeks would use this flatbread as an edible plate that would be topped by anything from stews and a thick broth to meats and fruits.
Eventually, these plankuntos made its way to Italy and were renamed “pizzas.” The word pizza is thought to have come from the Latin word “pinsa”, which means flatbread. There’s still an ongoing debate as to whether this is true or not. Pizzas were sold on the streets and in the markets as street food to the poor all over Naples. The street vendors (typically young boys) would walk around the city with small tin stoves on their heads, calling out to attract customers. Cheap to make, these pizzas were only topped with olive oil and herbs and yet, they were tasty and filling. Before these pizzas would become more similar to modern day pizzas, two ingredients had to come into play: tomatoes and cheese.
Tomatoes were introduced to Italy in the 16th century by the Spaniards who brought them from Mexico and Peru, but they were thought to be poisonous and were originally grown only for decoration. It wasn’t until the 18th and early 19th centuries that fears were overcome and tomatoes started having more of a presence in Italian cuisine. When mozzarella cheese, which was made from the milk of Indian water buffalo, came to Italy also in the 18th century, pizza with tomato sauce and cheese was truly born.
Eventually, this peasant food started tantalizing the taste buds of the aristocracy which meant that the street vendors gave way to actual shops where people could order a custom pizza with a variety of toppings. By 1830 the “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba” of Naples had become the first true pizzeria and is still in business today. In the 1800’s, the tools of the typical pizzerias included shelves lined with ingredients, a marble counter where the pizza crust was prepared and a large brick oven to cook the pizza in. Pizzaioli (makers of pizza) often assemble the entire pizza on a marble counter right before the customer’s eyes.
When it comes to the pizza known as the Margherita, it actually owes its name to Italy’s Queen Margherita. In the late 1800s, the Italian monarch King Umberto and his wife, Queen Margherita were touring the Naples area and decided to make a stop at Pizzeria Brandi. On duty for that visit was Rafaele Esposito and to show his patriotism created a pizza that best represented the colors of the Italian flag: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese and green basil. This pizza became such a favorite of the queen that it was named after her. Pizzeria Brandi, now more than 200 years old, still proudly displays a royal thank-you note signed by Galli Camillo, “head of the table of the royal household”, dated June 1889.
By the beginning of the 1900’s pizza made its way to the inner cities of the United States due to Italian immigrants, most notably New York and Chicago, which already had large Italian populations. Pizza was also sold as street food, similar to what was done in Naples and than small cafes began offering the Italian favorite. In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi, is thought to have opened the first US pizzeria in New York simply called Lombardi’s, which were followed by other pizzerias in other parts of New York, New Jersey and even Connecticut, but it wasn’t until after World War II ended that pizza really came into its own. Returning American soldiers having been exposed to pizza while serving on the Italian front were hooked and they were the ones who really drove up the popularity of this one time Italian only known and eaten food.
In 1943, Ric Riccardo and Ike Sewell opened up Pizzeria Uno in Chicago and in 1948, the first commercial pizza-pie mix called “Roman Pizza Mix” was produced in Worcester, Massachusetts by Frank A. Fiorillo. Chain pizza restaurants were soon on the rise as well. Leading early pizza chains were Shakey’s Pizza, founded in 1954 in Sacramento, California and Pizza Hut founded in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas. Both are now national companies.
While the American pizza business is dominated by companies that specialize in pizza delivery, such as Domino’s, Papa John’s Pizza and Pizza Hut, don’t discount your local pizzerias. Whether take-out only, a Mom and Pop joint or even a gourmet restaurant, pizza is truly a food for the masses and is versatile enough for any palate. So be sure to enjoy a slice or two tonight and below are pizza joints you may want to check out.
Bollini’s Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S Garfield Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
730 N Rush Street
Chicago, IL 60611
32 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
641 N Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Isn’t it fun to learn about the origins of where certain dishes come from? On that note, let’s find out how the Cobb Salad came to be.
In 1937, Bob Cobb, who owned The Brown Derby at the time, was feeling some hunger pangs and also wanting to feed some studio exec buddies who were with him, walked into the kitchen looking for a snack around midnight. Upon opening the refrigerator, he came upon the following ingredients: lettuce, avocado, romaine, watercress, tomatoes, cold chicken, a hard-boiled egg, cheese and some French dressing.
After a bit of chopping, mixing everything together and topping the salad with some crispy bacon that he purloined from one of his chefs, the Cobb Salad was born. This new dish was so tasty that Sid Grauman of Grauman’s Chinese Theater fame, who was with Cobb while Cobb was whipping up his salad, asked for it the next day. Soon after, the Cobb Salad made it on the menu and became a hit with the customers.
To try out the original Cobb Salad at home, check out the recipe below.
Serves 4 to 6
1/2 head (about 4 cups) iceberg lettuce
1 bunch watercress
1 small bunch (about 2 1/2 cups) chicory
1/2 head (about 2 1/2 cups) romaine lettuce
2 medium tomatoes, peeled
6 strips bacon, fried crisp
2 chicken breasts, boiled
3 eggs, hard-cooked
1/2 cup Roquefort cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
About 1 cup Original Cobb Salad Dressing (below)
1. Cut iceberg lettuce, half of the watercress, the chicory, and romaine in fine pieces and arrange in a large salad bowl.
2. Cut tomatoes, bacon, chicken, peeled eggs, and avocado in small pieces and arrange, along with the crumbled Roquefort cheese, in strips on the greens.
3. Sprinkle chives over the salad and garnish with the remaining watercress.
4. Just before serving mix the salad with the Original Cobb Salad dressing.
Original Cobb Salad Dressing
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1/4 cup water (optional; see note below)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon dry English mustard
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1/4 cup full-flavored olive oil
3/4 cup salad oil
1. Blend all ingredients together, except oils. Add olive and salad oils. Mix well.
2. Blend well again before mixing with salad.
Note: The water is used to adjust the dressing’s viscosity.