How at-home cooking from coronavirus quarantine has screwed up the American agriculture industry

In much the same way that the toilet paper industry was overwhelmed by the coronavirus quarantine, so, too, is the agriculture industry dealing with a sudden and unexpected shift in their priorities.

I suppose that makes sense; after all, what goes in must come out.

Bloomberg has a short but interesting piece that looks at how the agriculture industry has been upended from planned trajectories of the restaurant supply chain. It just makes you think about all the unsustainable ways our capitalist country had been structured to glide on empty all these years:

U.S. consumers, whose previous food preferences were stable enough that farmers could often make reliable planting decisions years in advance, have shifted their habits at a torrential pace during the coronavirus pandemic. That includes cooking more at home, buying more organic food, purchasing in bulk, forgoing brand-name treats and eating smaller meals due to fewer trips to restaurants with their often oversized portions.

[…]

“The entire food supply chain has been put on its head,” said Kevin Kenny, chief operating officer at Decernis, an expert in global food safety and supply chains. “Nobody can really do a post-mortem because we are still in the middle of it.”

[…]

Before the pandemic, Americans spent more than half their food budgets on dining out. Over the next 12 months, 70% of consumers plan to significantly decrease spending on restaurants, according to a Bank of America survey.

That spells bad news for farmers who’ve already suffered through low prices and a trade war with China in recent years.

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Disfranchised Pittsburgh McDonald's demolished instantly, avoiding fate of disfranchised Pittsburgh Burger King

My local McDonalds, in Pittsburgh's Strip District, recently closed without notice. One day it was serving burgers, then next it had shut up shop. "McDonalds in the Strip closes without explanation," reported Trib Live, which noted McDonalds was still paying rent to the landlord but was not renewing the lease. The landlord has no clear plans for what to do with the plot: it's not because a cookie-cutter development is getting stamped in.

The restaurant was immediately debranded, and now the entire building has disappeared completely, an efficient and rapid demolition leaving a smoothed field of light rubble. The sheer speed with which the structure vanished has locals startled. In Pittsburgh, a building hasn't even gotten started until it's been abandoned to begin a new life as a dilapidated navigational beacon. But look at that! It's as if aliens beamed it right up into the fucking mothership.

I cannot help but recall, however, that Pittsburgh was also the longtime home to a Burger King that lost its franchise but remained in the Burger King building, calling itself Burger King and serving all sorts of fake Burger King meals. For months.

The menu evolved, optimizing the Burger King pantheon of foodstuffs to local tastes and available substitutes. There was at one point, according to local folklore, a quintuple Whopper on offer. The legendary "Open Sauce" Burger King of Pittsburgh continued in business for some time until local reporters cottoned on and ruined it for everyone:

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Just a cat hanging out while grandmother makes dumplings

The cats of kagonekoshiro.com live a good life. Here, one of the cute piebald shorthairs is hanging out in the kitchen while grandmother makes dough for dumplings. Looks delicious.

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KFC closes dining rooms in Florida over coronavirus spike

The fried chicken chain KFC is closing dining rooms at the restaurants it owns in Florida because of the state's accelerating outbreak of COVID-19.

Today, Florida is reporting 12,600 new coronavirus cases. Read the rest

Post office evacuated and workers treated for durian exposure

Police and emergency services evacuated a post office in the Bavarian town of Schweinfurt after employees reported a horrible smell emanating from a suspect package. Turns out it was a small shipment of durian, the horrifically pungent fruit popular in southeast Asia. From CNN:

"A total of twelve postal workers who complained of nausea had to be taken care of on site," police in Schweinfurt said, adding that six were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Six ambulances, five first-responder cars and two emergency vehicles attended the incident. Three different fire departments were also involved.

The fruit was eventually delivered to its intended recipient.

image: مانفی (CC BY-SA 4.0) Read the rest

Russian cake shop builds life-sized Putin cake bust for Russia Day with 'mystery filling'

Okay, so what's the mystery filling? Read the rest

Watch this baby laugh while eating an ice cream cone for the first time

Pure happiness. Read the rest

Homemade sourdough is so April. Try your hand at home-cured meat!

We’ve all been spending a lot more time in the kitchen over the past couple of months, some of us more successfully than others. But if you’re feeling ambitious, aren’t afraid of power-packed spice blends, and have a place to hang raw meat in your home for a few days, consider upping your Covid-19 culinary game with an Armenian appetizer that’ll make you weak in the knees.

For the uninitiated, basturma is a salt and spice-cured tenderloin encased in a deep red crust of paprika, fenugreek, allspice, black pepper, cumin, cayenne and lots of fresh garlic. Some call it Armenian salami. It’s not very pretty, but what dried meat is really, and you’re unlikely to find a more addictive match when placed alongside olives, Armenian string cheese, and lavash.

The sumptuous new book, Lavash, by food writer Kate Leahy (of Burma Superstar fame), chef and food stylist Ara Zada, and photographer John Lee finally gives Armenian food the culinary and cultural fetishization it so rightly deserves, and demystifies the process of transforming fresh beef into razor-thin, almost translucent slices of zesty piquant basturma.

The book’s central focus, lavash, is only a jumping off point for the dozens of other recipes—while somewhat arcane, many are also surprisingly simple—all exquisitely photographed and accompanied by thoughtful and intriguing histories and editorial.

Heghineh Cooking Show demonstrates the basturma-curing process in a how-to vid (and I do love her Russian-Armenian accent). Videos by the Lavash authors (including a how-to for lavash) can be found here. Read the rest

How to cook a steak from frozen in 30 minutes

I have long been a fan of pan-searing steaks and finishing their roast in the oven. Previously, I'd either thaw the steaks in the fridge overnight or I would sous vide them instead of using the oven, and sear them at the end.

This technique: thawing the surface of the steak enough to hold seasoning and then starting the pan sear is wonderful. I have found that sous vide from frozen to be ok but not my favorite. Read the rest

This french fry board is so perfect

It's a mandala of crispy fried carbohydrates, and I want to worship every bite. Read the rest

FDA relaxes food labeling regulations for pandemic

Food manufacturers will be permitted to substitute ingredients in products without changing the labels. The FDA posted a "temporary flexibility policy" permitting inaccurate labels, claiming it is necessary to "support the food chain" during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The FDA is providing flexibility for manufacturers to make minor formulation changes in certain circumstances without making conforming label changes, such as making a change to product ingredients, without updating the ingredient list on the packaged food when such a minor change is made.

Other temporary flexibilities that FDA has issued address nutrition labeling on food packagesmenu labeling, packaging and labeling of shell eggs and the distribution of eggs to retail locations.

An interesting thing about me not saying what was in the food is you not proving what was in the food. Read the rest

How to improve your fried rice using physics

Apparently a high percentage of chefs at Chinese restaurants suffer shoulder plane from wok tossing. They must rapidly move the heavy pan to launch the food into the air so it cooks but doesn't burn, even though the temperatures may hit 1200°C. Recently, Georgia Tech mechanical engineers studied the kinematics of Chinese restaurant chefs to understand how they actually move and the "optimal regime for making fried rice." According to their scientific paper, they hope their study can not only lead to better fried rice for all but also "inspire the design of stir-fry robotics and exoskeletons to reduce the rate of muscle strain injury among professional chefs." From their scientific paper:

Tossing is a combination of two independent motions, a side to side motion and a see-saw motion, allowing rice grains to slide around the wok as well as to jump off the surface. We identify two critical parameters that chefs can vary: the frequency of tossing and the phase lag between the two motions applied. By filming professional chefs, we found that, at the frequency chosen by chefs, the phase difference performed is optimal for mixing. We suggest that future chefs increase the frequency of motion, which may enable rice to jump further, and promote cooling and mixing.

"The physics of tossing fried rice" (Journal of the Royal Society Interface via Science News) Read the rest

Quarantine food fun: 'I made all the serving suggestions on the Ritz box'

“So how were they? Not bad. Some of them were kind of dry, but for the most part they tasted how you'd expect.” Read the rest

Delightful clip of a pizza-loving groundhog

Pizza Rat has got nothing on this Philadelphia groundhog who casually walked up to a glass door and casually munched on a slice, apparently for more than an hour, as two dogs looked on with delight.

(6ABC) Read the rest

How long can you safely keep condiments in your pantry and fridge?

In a perfect follow-up to Mark's post yesterday about expiration dates on food packaging, here's a piece from The Washington Post on how long it's safe to keep various condiments in your pantry and fridge.

Unless otherwise noted, each category includes how long the unopened product can be stored in your pantry unopened followed by suggested refrigeration time after opening.

Barbecue sauce: 1 year; 4 months (see note above on shelf-stable).

Chutney: 1 year; 1 to 2 months.

Hoisin: 18 to 24 months; 3 to 6 months.

Honey: Consume within 2 years (store in pantry).

Horseradish: 12 months when stored in refrigerator; 3 to 4 months refrigerated after opening.

Hot sauce: 9 to 12 months; 6 months in the pantry after opening, although refrigeration will better retain heat.

Jams, jellies and preserves: 6 to 18 months; 6 to 12 months.

Jarred pesto: 6 to 9 months; 7 days.

Jarred spaghetti sauce: 18 months; 4 days.

Read the rest here.

Image: Allie Smith on Unsplash Read the rest

How To Buy Meat, the record album

In the late 1960s, the US Department of Agriculture released this LP titled "How To Buy Meat." The voice is that of Sandra Brookover, Consumer Meat Specialist. The record, a collection of public service announcements, was meant for radio stations and never saw a commercial release. Due its scarcity, I expect the imminent release of a 180 gram, gatefold reissue of the record. Limited edition, 'natch.

Have a listen: "How can you tell a blade chuck roast from an arm chuck roast?" (MP3)

(Weird Universe)

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Which expiration dates on food packaging should you pay attention to?

This New York Times article has good information about which foods are still safe to eat past their expiration date. One takeaway is that dry food that doesn't have much fat in it is probably safe to eat for years. For example white rice, which has been refined so that the fat is removed, will last a lot longer than brown rice, which will go rancid after several months. Dried beans and lentils will also last for years, but will "become tougher and take longer to cook as time goes on."

Canned fruits and vegetables also have very long shelf lives:

So long as there is no outward sign of spoilage (such as bulging or rust), or visible spoilage when you open it (such as cloudiness, moldiness or rotten smells), your canned fruits, vegetables and meats will remain as delicious and palatable as the day you bought them for years (or in the case of, say, Vienna sausages at least as good as they were to begin with). The little button on the top of jarred goods, which will bulge if there has been significant bacterial action inside the jar, is still the best way to tell if the contents are going to be all right to eat. Depending on storage, that could be a year or a decade. Similarly, cans of soda will keep their fizz for years, glass bottles for up to a year and plastic bottles for a few months. (Most plastics are gas-permeable.)

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class China M. Read the rest

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