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What does 'Au Gratin' Mean?

Au gratin is one of many fancy-sounding French culinary terms to enter English during the 19th century, when a taste for French food, especially among the wealthy, developed in America. When you cook something au gratin or simply gratin, you are not, in reality, doing anything fancy at all. In fact, the verb to gratinée, as used today, means simply to give a dish a golden brown top. The word gratin is given many alternative and incorrect definitions. Since most gratin dishes, such as...

Is Swiss Steak Really Swiss?

One of my favorite mom dishes growing up was Swiss Steak. It was a simple affair of round steak, tomatoes, onions, and celery cooked together. My mom would cook it in the oven, but she could just as well have finished it on the stovetop. Although thin cuts of round steak were used, it was more a pot roast than a steak, pure comfort food, served with mashed potatoes. It was also regularly featured in our high school cafeteria, and we had some good school lunches! I have a feeling most of those...

Why Do Waiters Ask You if You Want a Drink First?

Let's be honest, even as we ask this question, we know that we probably don't want to sit at in a restaurant reading a menu without anything to drink. It gives us something to do and in the case of alcohol, it helps us relax, leading to a more pleasant evening as long as we drink in moderation. But, you can bet, if you respond to the question would you like anything to drink with just a water, please, your waiter is going to be a bit disappointed. Even an upsell from tap water to a club soda...

What Is Jackfruit?

The jackfruit, native to Southeast Asia, had the distinction of being the largest edible fruit that grows on trees. It belongs to the family Moraceae or the mulberry family, and of the genus Artocarpus, an important group of about 50 species which also contains breadfruit and other edible starch fruits that can serve as staples. The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam) bears fruit which can weigh up to eighty pounds or even 100 pounds, reaching three feet in length, eighteen inches wide,...

Gochujang Korean Red Chili Paste

Gochujang (or kochujang) red chile pepper paste is a staple ingredient in Korean food. It is a soybean paste mixed with dried red pepper flakes, glutinous rice and other ingredients and seasonings. It came into use in Korea during the later 16th century after red peppers were introduced into the area. The paste is a deep red color and very hot! It is sometimes called red pepper paste, hot pepper paste, or chili pepper paste. Red pepper paste is part of a trinity of Korean fermented soybean...

What Was the First Meal Eaten on the Moon?

Having read more than a few accounts of the first moon landing, I am often surprised by the off-hand treatment of the many 'firsts' that occurred. I read passages like 'the astronauts ate their first meal and then ' I would think the first meal eaten on an extraterrestrial body, even if it's not a planet, would rate more than a passing mention. I'll bet you most people would be at least mildly curious about what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate. Many are curious about space food and you may...

Why Do We Always Have Room For Dessert?

The first Dorito in the bag always tastes the best. The second Dorito is pretty boss, too. Then, your Dorito high goes a little lower with each chip you eat. In fact, the same is true of any food unless it is my coconut cream pie. Did you know that this is a real and researched psychological phenomenon complete with its own scientific term? And, this same phenomenon can explain what most of us think of as our 'dessert stomach.' The Dessert Effect My friend and author Jamie Hale has written...

How to Find the Freshest Loaf of Bread

If you're like me, you probably buy the same brand of sliced bread each time you shop for groceries. You know that some of the loaves are fresher than others, so you try to pick one that is as fresh as possible. You may be able to read a 'best before date' which might be printed somewhere on the bag, but is difficult to locate and hard to read. Even if you can find a date, since there are so many loaves this can be tedious and take too long. So you use the feel test and pick the loaf that is the...

Do You Really Need A Garlic Press?

So many cooking blogs recommend a garlic press. I have a hard time understanding it. Why would you want a clunky pair of pliers to pulverize garlic? It hardly has any other use. Yet, it is one of the most popular kitchen gadgets in existence. In my opinion, it is a silly product. Calling the garlic press a silly product may sound snobby, I know. It is difficult to express a negative opinion about a kitchen tool without sounding snobby, especially one that many people love. My reasons, I think,...

What Is Meat?

Here on CulinaryLore, I have often shied away from writing articles about things that most people take for granted. For example, I would probably not write an article explaining what bread is, as most people take bread for granted, and even if they don't know exactly what makes bread bread, they also don't care. However, I have begun to realize that certain things are not so obvious as they seem at first glance. A recent comment on Facebook, regarding test-tube meat made me realize that meat...

Do Restaurants and Bars Have the Right to Refuse Service?

How many times have you went into a bar or restaurant and saw a sign that reads, We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone ? I've seen these signs many times. They don't seem like a very friendly greeting and, today, most restaurant or bar patrons tend to emphasize their right to service. Do restaurant and bar owners have a right to refuse service to anyone? The right to refuse service signs are very popular. They are even sold as a novelty for people to hang wherever they'd like....

Cotton Candy Around the World

I used to cringe every time my son would insist on having cotton candy. Not only is it almost pure sugar, and a lot of air, he would never finish it. Cotton candy is a treat the appeal of which I never understood. Talking about not getting your money's worth! Yet, children all over the world have their own version of what we in America call cotton candy. It's still usually just sugar spun with air. But, some version of the wooly confection goes back thousands of years. What we call cotton...

'There's No Such Thing As a Free Lunch' Origin

What Does 'There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch' Mean? When we say 'there's no such thing as a free lunch,' we mean to express that there are few things in life that are truly given to us at no cost or free. There are usually strings or at least expectations attached. The cost of goods or services has to come from somewhere. In other words, you can't get something for nothing, and if something appears to be free, it isn't really. A similar saying is there is no such thing as a free ride. ...

Is There Opium in Poppy Seed Bagels?

Have you ever heard stories of someone testing positive for opiates and almost losing their job, or perhaps getting in trouble with their probation officer? Yet, they swear they never touched any drugs! How could this have happened? Then, it turns out they had been eating a poppy seed bagel every day or gorging on lemon-poppy cupcakes. Those poppy seeds contain opiates! Who'd have thought it? Aren't commercially available poppy seeds made to grow without producing opium? In a word, no. The...

Angus Beef Burgers: Why Quality Cooking Matters

It seems that just about every restaurant that serves burgers, including carryout and delivery restaurants, have at least one Angus Beef Burger in place of honor on their burger menu. Angus beef is supposed to be the best beef. It is not only well-marbled and tasty, it is economical for the beef industry. Yet, when I order an Angus beef burger, I am usually disappointed. If Angus beef is so great, why is my burger dry and tasteless? Certified Angus Beef I could talk about Angus beef and why it...

Are Fajitas Just Do-It-Yourself Tacos?

In the article How Do You Eat Tacos Without Them Falling Apart I stated that many folks claim that much of the food labeled 'Mexican' in America is actually from the Southwest or from Texas, labeled Tex-Mex. They say that the Mexican origins of these foods is exaggerated or is a myth. This is often a myth in itself! For instance, we often hear that fajitas are an American addition to the cuisine. They are so popular on Tex-Mex menus that it makes sense Texans would want to lay claim to ...

When Was the 7-Eleven Big Gulp Introduced?

Chances are when you think of 7-Eleven you think of Slurpees. In reality, 7-Eleven has been selling coffee longer than Slurpees, being the first to sell freshly brewed coffee in to-go cups in 1964. And, neither can equal the company's sale of sodas, equal to over 45 million gallons a year. The company seems fairly proud of this. They've even done the calculations in Olympic swimming pool units, coming to a hefty 68. I've heard many people blame movie cinemas for the giant soda epidemic,...

Did Ronald Reagan Say Ketchup Was a Vegetable?

During Ronald Reagan's terms as president, I was in junior high and then high school. At some point during that time he became a running joke during lunch period. When French fries were served, or anything else involving ketchup, we'd say Good thing Ronald Reagan says ketchup is a vegetable. Did President Ronald Reagan really declare ketchup a vegetable during his term? The process of ketchup becoming a vegetable actually began before Reagan entered office. There had been big changes to the...

What Is Hoisin Sauce?

Hoisin sauce is a sweet and spicy soybean-based sauce that is widely used in Chinese cooking as both an ingredient and a condiment. It regularly accompanies Peking duck in the United States. A Cantonese specialty, the Chinese name of hoisin sauce is haixian (Cantonese hoisin), which translates confusingly to sea-delicious even though it contains no seafood ingredients and is used more in meat dishes or as a barbecue sauce or glaze. Hoisin is made from a paste of yellow soy beans seasoned...

Why Do People Think Julia Child Was a Spy?

You may be quite aware of how many people maintain that our beloved Julia Child was a spy. Was she? No, not really. So why, then, do people keep saying she was? Is it just some weird urban legend that came out of nowhere? Or, does it have some basis? The answer is that it has a quite concrete basis. You see, Julia Child may not have been a spy operative, but she worked for a spy agency. Namely, the OSS or Office of Strategic Services. In fact, you could say that this work directly lead to her...

What is the Origin of the Word Soy in Soy Sauce, Beans, etc.?

Although soy sauce comes originally from China, our word for the sauce comes from the Japanese word, shoyu. This has nothing to do with the actual Japanese word for soybeans themselves, which is daizu. The Chinese word for soy sauce, on the other hand, is jiàngyóu, while the word for the beans is dàdòu. So, our English word soy does not come from the word for the beans themselves, but from the Japanese word for the sauce, which first appeared in Japan sometime in the 1500's. The origin of the...

Who Makes Those Plastic Packets of Soy Sauce in Chinese Takeout?

We tend to associate soy sauce with Chinese food first, and with Asian food second. When you order Chinese food, you usually get about 300 or so of those little packets of the black salty liquid. But, what type of bottled soy sauce do you have at home right now? The most likely answer for most of my readers is Kikkoman. It's Japanese soy sauce. Ironically, most of the common soy sauces we buy at the grocery store are Japanese. Does Kikkoman make those little packets of soy sauce? Perish the...

Beer is Better in Chilled Glasses or Frosted Mugs?

I'll admit that a frosted beer mug seems like a great idea, especially on a hot summer's day. Many bars serve beers in chilled glasses or frosted mugs or glasses. Lest you think that a frosted glass leads to a colder beer which leads to a better tasting beer, think again. A super-chilled beer is not necessarily the best tasting beer. An ice-cold beer is a beer you cannot taste as well, and the aromatics will be dampened by the cold temperature. Regardless, though, if you enjoy a beer more when...

Should Restaurants Respond to Personal Attacks in Online Reviews?

It's true: How a restaurant owner or manager responds to negative online reviews can make or break a business. Even if the problems brought up are not real, and even if the problems are identified and fixed, a misjudged, defensive, or insulting response can do long term damage, sometimes spreading far beyond a single review in an online review community. There is an art and a science to responding to one-star and two-star reviews productively. The solution many restaurant owners are most...

Strawberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries are Not Actually Berries: Is it True?

It seems strange that so many of the fruits which actually have berry in their names are not true berries, but botanically, it is true. Understanding how fruits are classified can be difficult, but a simple explanation may clear things up. A berry is a simple fruit developed from one flower which has many seeds loosely embedded in its flesh. Strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are not berries, but aggregate stone fruits or just aggregate fruits. The flowers which develop these fruits...

Is Honey More Healthy Than Sugar?

What is the difference between honey and regular sugar, really? Honey is often promoted as a healthful alternative to refined sugar. Although white table sugar is a source of empty calories and ultimately poisonous to the body, honey, its proponents say, is much more nutritious and even healing to the body. Since honey can be a good substitute for sugar as both a general sweetener and an ingredient in recipes, this seems like a win-win. In reality, there is little nutritional difference between...

Aluminum Foil: Should the Shiny Side be Up or Down When Cooking?

Since aluminum foil has a shiny side and a dull side, many cooking resources say that when cooking foods wrapped or covered with aluminum foil, the shiny side should be down, facing the food, and the dull side up. This is because the shiny side is more reflective and so will reflect more of the radiant heat than the duller side. Is this true? Although most resources still say it is true, the shiny side should be down, some newer sources say that it makes no difference which side of the aluminum...

Is There Titanium Dioxide in Salad Dressings and Other Foods?

Titanium dioxide is something we associate with paint and industrial use, so it seems scary to contemplate its use in the food we eat. Titanium, after all, is a heavy metal. However, some titanium dioxide is used in foods such as ranch dressing and other creamy salad dressings, where it serves as a whitener. Is this chemical dangerous and can it cause cancer or heavy metal poisoning? Use of Titanium Dioxide Titanium dioxide might be found in anything with a bright white color, including paints,...

Is Honey Really Bee Vomit?

Since honey bees foraging for nectar slurp up the sweet stuff from flowers and the regurgitate it back up at the colony or hive, etymologists sometimes jokingly refer to honey as bee vomit. Others pick up this quip for shock or gross-out value. When a honey bee reaches a flower, she slurps up as much of the sweet, floral nectar as she can. Although she does store this nectar inside her body, it is not in her regular stomach, but in a special stomach called a crop. This crop is actually a very...

Did Marie Antoinette Really Say 'Let Them Eat Cake?'

Marie Antoinette, one of the most well-remembered queens in history, is remembered most of a callous statement attributed to her. When the French people were starving, and bread was scarce, she is said to have replied: If they have no bread, then let them eat cake. She is often blamed for being the spark that ignited the French Revolution. The daughter of German Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa of Austria, she was married to future King Louis XVI in 1770. She was, by all reports, quite a...

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