Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30: National Raisin Day and National Oatmeal Cookie Day

National Raisin Day

Raisins are just dried grapes and you can find them in any grocery store where you can find them in boxes as small as one ounce (which are perfect for packing in a school lunch or carrying one in your purse for hunger pangs) or in huge containers f or when you're baking.  I think most people are familiar with dark raisins.  Maybe you've also seen golden raisins?  But did you know about Sultans, Dovines, Fiestas, and Black Monukkas?  I had never heard of those until I read "Raisin Grape Varieties," hosted by UCDavis.  Intriguing stuff.

I like raisin bread, especially raisin challah, but I have yet to successfully make raisin bread.  For some reason, my raisin breads always seem subpar to those I can buy in the store  .No, it's not because the store bread has high-fructose corn syrup and mine doesn't (I avoid HFCS, especially in breads) but because mine never seems to reach proper fluffiness.  (Maybe I'm too impatient with my yeast, the poor overworked little beasties.) The local bakery that supplies Whole Foods makes a really good raisin bread and even the bread that Whole Foods finishes onsite is extremely tasty, if a bit rustic.  Dudley's Bakery in Santa Ysabel is always the place to stop when driving to Julian from San Diego.  Dudley's makes an amazing Raisin Cinnamon.  (You can find Dudley's breads in some San Diego stores.) Raisin challah remains my favorite raisin bread in the US, because it is so similar to Japanese raisin bread.  Japanese raisin bread is sweet and fluffy, and raisin challah comes pretty close to it.  They are shaped very differently - raisin challah is usually braided or coiled while Japanese raisin bread is usually in small buns or in bread sticks.

I also like to eat raisins- no baking them into cookies, or using them in salads, or stir-fries - raisins are great just by themselves.  So, to celebrate today, I ate some golden and dark raisins, trying to discern the subtle flavor differences.  Ok, not really.  I just went, "Raisins!  Om nom nom."

And for a bit of nostalgia, The California Raisins.  Oh, yeah.... "I heard it through the grapevine..."

National Oatmeal Cookie Day

When making oatmeal cookies, the default for most people seems to be "Add raisins!"  However, you can also add cranberries, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, carrots, dried apples...  The list goes on.

To celebrate National Oatmeal Cookie Day, I opted to make this plain oatmeal cookie recipe.  Be aware- it's a lot of cookies.  The original recipe states that it makes 2 dozen cookies, but I halved the recipe and still made three dozen cookies.  The first dozen were plain, just like the recipe intends.  Then I found out that my roommate (who loves oatmeal cookies) liked golden raisins (I already knew about her dislike of black raisins) so, because today is also National Raisin Day, I added about a half-cup of golden raisins to the remaining dough.  It was a little hard working in the raisins, because the dough was so stiff.  Still, I managed and the cookies came out well.  I baked each batch for 10 minutes and then followed instructions to let the cookies sit on the sheet for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

First batch, no raisins, stacked on the left.  Second batch with
added golden raisins on right, in single layer as they cool.
It's a good recipe - the cookies came out very tasty.  Not super moist, but not crunchy either.  Just right.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Now, you can buy oatmeal cookies, but they're so easy to make and they fill your house with an amazing scent, why wouldn't you bake your own?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29: National Shrimp Scampi Day

What is scampi?  I know what shrimp is and I think it's pretty tasty, but until today I had no idea what scampi was.  And, truth be told, I'm still not sure I understand what "scampi" is.

Apparently, I'm not the only one - the BBC reports that "what is scampi?" was one of the most popular Google searches of 2011.  And in response, the Fish Society posted a video explaining what scampi is - the tail portion of a type of lobster, not a prawn like most people assume.  (Prawns are crusteaceans that look like large shrimp.)  Okay, so now I'm more confused than before - are we making a dish using both shrimp and lobster or is there something else entirely?  Scampi and Chips, which bills itself the "No. 1 Scampi related site in the world," answers that question by pointing out that Americans are wrong to call the dish "shrimp scampi."  (That site also points out that the French are wrong about everything.  Trying to figure out what French scampi was just led to more confusion, mainly involving translations, so I gave up.)  Food Timeline provides quotes (some as early as 1964) that tried to explain what shrimp scampi was.

When looking up the definition of "scampi," the result is, "1. Large shrimp or praws, esp. when prepared or cooked 2. A dish of shrimp or prawns, typically sauteed in garlic and butter and often topped with bread crumbs."  But how can it be shrimp if it's actually lobster?  Ugh, I have other things that need my attention.

At this point, I think it's best to just acknowledge the fact that the definition has changed and "scampi" can also refer to a cooking method.  This seems to be supported by the fact that there is Oyster Mushroom Scampi and Chicken Scampi.

So, back to shrimp scampi.  Judging from these recipes from the Food NetworkAll Recipes, and Simply Recipes, shrimp scampi is shrimp cooked in butter, garlic, olive oil and white wine.  Seasonings vary by recipe.  Seems easy enough - I'd probably make it, if I was more of a shrimp fan.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 28: National Blueberry Pie Day

Pie with topping ready to be used
Oy.  Another day I feel is out of place!  I think it's a little too early for blueberries - I associate late summer with blueberries.  Still, I decided I'd try to honor today's food observation.  I spent most of the day at an art show, so I thought I'd just stop at the store and buy either a prepared blueberry pie or frozen pie to bake in the oven.  Not surprisingly, since blueberries are not in season right now, there were no ready-to-serve blueberry pies.  There was only one brand of frozen blueberry pie and, well, frozen blueberries were on sale so I decided I'd make my own, even if it might not be cooled off enough to eat today.  I had a ready-to-use deep dish pie crust still in my freezer, so the most time consuming part of pie prep (the crust) was already taken care of.

I didn't want to have to make a pie crust for the top, so I decided to go with this Crumble Berry Pie, using the frozen blueberries.  It's a very easy recipe, the filling is tasty, and it didn't require me to run back to the store to get anything.  I followed the directions - the only deviation I made was waiting longer than 10 minutes after pulling it out of the oven.  I've had other berry pies that ooze out and make a mess if you don't wait until they're completely cooled. 

The pie, fresh from the oven, with a gap where a knife
was used to check the filling.
I couldn't wait for it to completely cool, though - the tempting aroma of blueberry pie kept interrupting my thoughts.  So I cut into the pie while it was still a tad warm and, of course, the filling oozed out. My roommate liked the pie and kept making, "Mmm" sounds as it disappeared from her plate.  I thought the bottom crust was undercooked but my roommate didn't notice, possibly because the filling soaked it.  It's a good recipe, but I'll probably bake the crust before hand and use fresh blueberries next time.

Over at Yankee Magazine, there's a recipe adapted from a historical New England blueberry pie recipe.  Or if Southern is more your style, you can try this New Orleans blueberry pie recipe.

Growing up on the West coast, I think of Oregon and Washington when I think of blueberries.  (Possibly due to all my Seattle friends practically going into throes of ecstasy when blueberry season rolls around and they can pick wild blueberries and gorge themselves.) Surprisingly, in 2003, OR and WA together made up about 20% of the US produced blueberries.  California entered the blueberry market in 2005, and all three West Coast states out-perform the other blueberry states by quite a bit when it comes to blueberries produced per acre.  CA produces 8520 pounds of blueberries per acre, OR 8420 pounds per acre and WA 8000 pounds per acre.  MI produces 6880 pounds per acre, and then you're dropping into the 5000s with NC(5950), In (5610), and ME (5350).  (Admittedly, Maine should get a pass on this as it appears to be the only state that doesn't cultivates blueberries but instead harvests wild blueberries.)  In terms of sheer numbers, though, Michigan has every single other state beat by a landslide.  In 2009, MI produced 99 million pounds of blueberries.  (The number now appears to be over 100 million.)  Yet, because we want blueberries year round, we also import nearly 100 million pounds of blueberries each year, mainly from Chile. According to the USDA, the US leads the world in blueberry production, with Canada and Poland being the other two major suppliers. (Every other country in the world just gets lumped together.)   This makes sense to me, as blueberries are native to North America.

If you have a yard or a patio, blueberries are pretty easy to grow.  Just remember to have two or three plants for pollination purposes.  And be on the look out for birds - my family put up netting around our blueberry bushes because the birds would brazenly snatch the berries, even if we were out there next to the blueberries.
Mmm...pie.  Blueberry pie.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27: National Prime Rib Day

When I saw what today's food observance is, I asked myself, "Have I ever eaten prime rib?  What is prime rib?"  After a little research, I don't believe I've ever eaten prime rib - I just don't think I can stand to have such a huge slab of meat on a plate in front of me.

Technically, prime rib does not have to come from USDA prime-grade meat.  Don't believe me?  From the USDA's Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book: "PRIME RIB OF BEEF OR STANDING BEEF RIB ROAST FOR PRIME RIB: These products do not have to be derived from USDA prime grade beef."

Okay...  To complicate it even further, prime rib is really standing rib roast and is called prime because this is supposedly the most desirable section of ribs (ribs 6 through 12 of the bovine.)   Once the standing rib roast is cooked and cut, the meat that is served is then called prime rib.  However, if the meat is cut before it is cooked, the resulting pieces are called rib steaks and they contain the rib eye. At least, that's how I understand the explanation.

What's Cooking America seems to be a great resource on prime rib.  WCA gives us instructions for picking the right size roast, how to find the best quality, how to age it, prep it, cook it, and serve it.  Plus, there's a bunch of recipes that are traditionally paired with prime rib.  WCA is definitely gives a lot of information.  It's a huge page of information, including comments from people who have used the advice and information provided.

Serious Eats also has a lot of information about prime rib.  Like the WCA page, there's instructions on choosing, cooking, and serving the meat, along with comments from readers.  I think anyone wanting to cook prime rib needs to read both the What's Cooking America and Serious Eats pages thoroughly.  I think prime rib might be one of the few foods that require a great deal of pre-prep in the form of extensive reading. 

Randomly, in Washington DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore, there is a high-end steakhouse known as The Prime Rib.  I wonder if anyone ever goes and orders a salad as the entree.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26: National Pretzel Day

When I saw that today was National Pretzel Day, I thought, "Perfect!  I'm going to the mall - I can get a soft pretzel there.  Which is even more perfect, since April is National Soft Pretzel Month!"  Unfortunately, I did not get my pretzel.  The two pretzel places at the mall I went to today were out of the pretzels I like (plain or jalapeno).  I will have to be satisfied with attempting soft pretzels this weekend.  The LA Times tells me they're easy to make, so I should be able to do it, right?

Pretzels are pretty awesome.  Pretzels come in so many shapes (sticks, rods, twisted), can be whole wheat or not, sometimes come in sizes as small as bite-size and sizes as large as bigger-than-your-head, can be stuffed with peanut butter or cheese or dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts or candy.  Kim & Scott's Gourmet Pretzels even come in a gluten-free version.  Pretzels are a pretty versatile food- the Cheesecake Factory even uses pretzels in one of its spiked shakes. The crunchy pretzels are popular bar snacks, but some bars are starting to serve the soft pretzels as well.

Snyder's of Hanover, well known for their pretzels, gives us the history of pretzelsAuntie Anne's has a video for those who buy the Auntie Anne's pretzel making kit.  I wish I had known about the video a couple of years ago, when somehow the pretzels my family attemped using the kit came out...odd.

Here's hoping my next attempt at pretzels works out!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25: National Zucchini Bread Day

Seriously, what is up with all these food observance days that seem out of place?  I consider zucchini a summer vegetable, and in August I expect the stores to be overflowing with zucchini.  If you grow zucchini in your garden, come end of summer you'll have a hard time keeping up with all the zucchini your plants are throwing at you.  You can't even give it away at this point because everyone is giving it away.  Right now, though, in the end of April, zucchini gets a small little section at the grocery store and is crazy expensive.

This is why you make zucchini bread.  Use up all that extra zucchini.  My only complain about zucchini bread has been the prep- shredding zucchini can be very time consuming.  This year, though, I have a food processor so hopefully that makes things a little easier.

Looking for zucchini bread recipe?  Try this highly rated one from All Recipes.  Or maybe this one from Smitten Kitchen.  Or you can always experiment and try substituting zucchini in various fruit and vegetable recipes.   

Because experimenting with recipes is always fun, even if it's not always successful.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April 24: National Pig-in-a-blanket Day

I'm an American, so when I hear "pig-in-a-blanket," my first thought is a hot dog wrapped in crescent roll dough.  In the UK, apparently a pig-in-a-blanket is a sausage wrapped in bacon.  Did you know there's a Bacon Wiki?  Well, I didn't, but according to the Bacon Wiki, pig-in-a-blanket is a Christmas food in the UK.  When you use the small cocktail sausages, pigs-in-blankets make great appetizers. Just stick a toothpick in each one, set out some melted cheese for dipping, and watch them disappear. 

As for the "blanket?"  It can be crescent rolls, filo dough, pastry dough, pancakes....  Pretty any much bread or pastry is fair game as use as the blanket.

Quartered sausages
To celebrate today's food observance, I decided I'd make pigs-in-blankets for dinner.  Finding the pigs was surprisingly hard.  I gave up on regular hot dogs years ago, but I do like sausages, so I decided to go with a gourmet sausage.  Surprisingly, most of the sausages were not pig - they were chicken, turkey, and beef.  I was a little surprised to realize that what most people use for pigs-in-blanket is not actually a pig-based product. 

Strips of biscuit dough
I finally decided on two pork andouille sausages from the deli counter.  I cooked both sausages until they had an internal temperature of 170 degrees.  (Always cook meats, especially ground, to the appropriate temperature.)  I cut the sausages into quarters.  For the blanket, I opted to go with a homemade biscuit dough.  I used this Alton Brown biscuit recipe which I've used before.  For today, I used 1 cup regular flour, 1/2 cup cake flour, and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and added a tablespoon of Tuscan Sunset seasoning.  Instead of cutting the dough into rounds for biscuits, I cut the dough into strips.  I wrapped those biscuit strips around the sausage quarters as well as I could.  For half of the pigs, I added a strip of cheddar with habanero pepper.

Ready to go in the oven
The result?  My Pigs-in-Blankets were somewhere between "meh" and "awesome."  I suppose the best way to describe them would be "good, but not excellent."  Next time, I'll just halve the sausages - quartering them meant I had slightly dry sausages after all the cooking.  I really liked the addition of cheddar for the extra kick of spice and will have to try it with pepper jack sometime. 

I'll also have to try pigs-in-blankets, UK-style.  Because, well.... bacon.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23: National Cherry Cheesecake Day and National Picnic Day

National Cherry Cheesecake Day

Cheesecake!  Mmm...  Then topping it with cherries?  Yes, please!  Cheesecake is a pretty tasty, rich treat.  Personally, I love not only the taste of cherry cheesecake, but also the lovely contrast of the bright red topping and the creamy yellowy-white of the filling; not only is cherry cheesecake delicious, it's visually pleasing.  Nigella Lawson offers up this tasty looking recipe.  Or you can try making bite-sized pieces.  Normally, I'd use crushed graham crackers and butter for the crust, but I am tempted to try this recipe from Real Simple which uses gingersnap cookies instead.  On a diet?  Try this recipe from Weight Watchers.  Or try this "fake" cherry cheesecake made with yogurt.

And for anyone who isn't sure what cherry cheesecake is, Wise Geek comes to your rescue.

National Picnic Day

It's too cold, dreary and wet to enjoy a picnic right now.  I suppose, I could've just sat on the floor and called that a picnic, but...nah.  Still not the same. 

Did you know you can get some seriously fancy picnic baskets?  Or do you already have a picnic basket and need something to put in it?  NYTimes offers up 101 recipes that are perfect for picnics.

Of course, then you have to consider where you have your picnic.  Assuming your weather is nice, outisde is really the place for a picnic.  Parks, arboretums/gardens, zoos, beaches, lakes, waterfalls, ponds, art museums....all are great for picnics.  (Personally, I like to hike to good picnic locations; one of my favorites is Maidenhair Falls in Anza Borrego. ) The Huffington Post seems to agree that picnics are best outdoors and provides the top places for a picnic in various cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22: National Jelly Bean Day

Did you know that there is a National Confectioner's Association?  I didn't, until I tried to find information about the history of jelly beans.  The history of jelly beans seems a bit murky, but most sites agree that jelly beans are probably related to turkish delight.  Jelly beans are a candy store staple, but seem to be everywhere during the Easter candy sales.  There's also a YouTube video about the history of jelly beans.

Personally, when I think of jelly beans, I think of Jelly Belly.  This is probably because I used to live near the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA, and I would visit the factory anytime I had visitors in town.  Sometimes I would drag non-visitors to the factory for the factory tour.  I've been there when candy is being made and when candy isn't being made.  Obviously, I enjoy the tour and I highly recommend it to everyone.  There's also a Jelly Belly factory in Illinois that isn't open to the public, but the Wisonsin warehouse is open for public tours or you can take a virtual factory tour

Jelly Belly is known for their many delicious flavors of jelly beans.  There are the 50 official flavors, then there are such things as the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.  If you go to the factory in Fairfield, you can get the flavor guide in a multitude of languages.  Every year, I'd get a large gift box, add the appropriate guide to the box, and send it to relatives and friends overseas. 

Looking for an inexpensive Christmas gift for everyone in the office?  One year, after I dragged my parents to the Jelly Belly factory, my parents were amused by Belly Flops, the poor little "irregulars" of the Jelly Belly world.  Back in the day, a bag would cost about $2 at the factory, but Jelly Belly got smart and now a bag is about $9.  Still, it's a pretty good deal for two pounds of jelly beans.  Anyhow, my parents were so taken with the Belly Flops that they bought 20 pounds of the beans, bought a bunch of candy bags,  scooped about a cup of Belly Flops into each bag, tied the bags with ribbons, added a card explaining what Belly Flops are and gave them away to everyone they worked with for Christmas.

So, yeah...I think of jelly beans, I think of Jelly Belly.  Plus, I really, really like the art gallery.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 21: National Chocolate Covered Cashew Truffle Day

When I looked at my list of food observance days and saw today's honored food, I thought, "Wow, that's very specific."  I think most of the other foods have been vague enough that you can do so many variations on each.  This, though, it has to be cashew truffles covered in chocolate.  Oh, I suppose you can make variety by using different kinds of chocolate. 

Today was a day of Earth Day celebration (even though it's on Sunday, most places celebrate on Saturday) so no spending time in the kitchen making truffles for me.  Next time I need to make chocolate covered cashew truffles, I'll probably try this recipe from Garden County Cooking.  Or, if I want to do something different, I could make the bar version of today's treat.  Of course, I could always go the vegan route.

I suppose if you look hard enough, you can find a variation on even a very specific food.

April 20: National Pineapple Upside Down Cake Day and Lima Bean Respect/Appreciation Day

Erk!  Missed another day this week!  At least I realized this before I went to bed, so it's kind of like I wrote it in on the 20th, right?  Right.....  Moving along.

National Pineapple Upside Down Cake Day

I love pineapple upside down cake - even though I sometimes switch my words around and call it upside down pineapple cake day.  Not sure why I do that, but sometimes I do.  I think it has a fond place in my memory because it was the closest thing to cake from scratch my mom would make.  Cake was not something my mom made before coming to the US, so she didn't make it that often while I was growing up.  Even now, if she can, she makes me or my dad bake the cake and then she decorates it, as she's the only who has taken formal decorating classes.

So for the longest time, I thought to make pineapple upside down cake all you had to do was drust the bottom of a cake pan with brown sugar, line the bottom of a pan with pineapple rings, place maraschino cherries in the center of each pineapple ring (and outside if you had extras), then pour yellow cake batter prepped from a box on top.  I liked it.  (Then again, pineapple can be added to anything and I'll eat it.)  Plus, since it's a very easy and quick way to make pineapple upside down cake, I'll still make pineapple upside down cake like that.

This recipe makes it clear my family isn't the only one that makes pineapple upside down cake like that, but if you're looking to make it from scratch, try this recipe from Betty Crocker or this one from Smitten Kitchen.  As for the history of pineapple upside down cake, I turn to Trinigourmet to teach me about the cake.

Lima Bean Respect (or Appreciation) Day

I really can't find any information about this day, other than a bunch of bloggers going, "Whoo!  It's Lima Bean Respect Day!" and cracking some Rodney Dangerfield jokes.  (Yes, I'm old enough to know who that is and to have seen some of his works.)

I don't eat very many lima beans; still, I was curious about them.  I eat a fairly plant-based diet so beans are always going to be of interest to me.  This University of Delaware site gives some information about the pollination requirements of lima beans.  (I am fascinated by bees so I found this interesting.  Others may not.)  Both the New York Times and National Public Radio make the argument that lima beans are easy to love.  Just remember to never eat lima beans raw -  as the CDC reminds us, raw lima beans can kill people.  Some beans, including lima beans, contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin that can really make a person sick or even kill them.  This is why dried beans are soaked for many hours and boiled for at least 10 minutes.  Never eat raw kidney or lima beans.  It's okay to eat raw green beans, but, again, never, never eat raw kidney or lima beans.  Also, don't cook them in a slow cooker if they haven't been cooked earlier at a roiling boil for ten minutes.  According to the FDA, the beans will not reach a high enough temperature if cooked in a slow cooker alone.  In fact, cooking dried beans in a slow cooker actually increases the toxicity of the beans

So, yeah.  Respect the lima bean.  Or one day there may be a lima bean uprising.  I mean, we already know they can kill us, so let's not give lima beans any reason to.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19: National Amaretto Day and National Garlic Day

National Amaretto Day

Amaretto is an Italian almond-flavored liquer.  I don't think I've ever had a drink with amaretto or have ever used amaretto in baking.  Hrm... I feel like I've missed out!

As I'm not going to run out and buy alcohol right now (still one more project to go, plus studying for finals, trip planning, etc, etc), I'm going to celebrate National Amaretto Day by learning a little about the liquer.  I absolutely adore this illustrated history of amaretto. (Seriously check it out!) Tree gives a little more dry history of amaretto, as well as some recipes to use amaretto in.  Kindred Cocktails does the same.

I'll be surprised if my
garlic survives.
National Garlic Day

Mmm, garlic!  I do love garlic. It's so versatile - raw, cooked, pickled...did you know you can buy it fermented?  I've seen the fermented garlic at the grocery store a couple of times now, but I still can't bring myself to buy it.  (It's a little pricey.)  Maybe I could try making it.  I'm currently trying to grow garlic, but I'm not sure if my garlic will make it.  Did you know you can grow over 70 different kinds of garlic?

The garlic I currently have on hand.
Personally, I try to buy organic garlic.  And I always, ALWAYS make sure my garlic is from California.  NPR has a story about California garlic growers worrying about imported garlic.  I've driven through Gilroy, CA, too many times to not be loyal to California garlic.  For the unaware, Gilroy, CA, is the Garlic Capital of the World and hosts the Gilroy Garlic Festival every year.  If you're driving along the 101, you know when you're driving through Gilroy- you smell it.  You'll see stores such as Garlic World all along the 101.  They're great places to stop for a gift.  I usually pick a different place to stop at each time I drive through and buy a few jars of pickled garlic or other culinary treats for friends and family.

Interested in the agricultural aspects of garlic?  Check out this report about the state of garlic production in the US from UCDavis.  According to that report, China is the number one producer of garlic globally, with the US second.  In the US, California produced the majority of US garlic, followed by Oregon and Nevada.

If you're in Southern California or in the SF Bay Area and you love garlic, check out The Stinking Rose.  (Just make sure to not to schedule any important meetings after a dinner there.)  And check it out - there's a website for National Garlic Day

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18: National Animal Crackers Day

Oh, animal crackers.  To many, myself included, they are a fond part of childhood.  Maybe you only got them at the circus, to match the packaging.  Maybe you have fond memories of using the box as a Christmas decoration.  Or maybe, like me, you eat the plain cookies and, for no particular reason at all, experience a general feeling of a happy childhood. 

When I think of animal crackers, I think of one brand: Barnum's Animal Crackers.  With the signature box packaging and the circus theme, those are the iconic animal crackers. For those of you who read the label, a standard box is 240 calories and the cookies don't appear to have any animal byproducts so I believe they are vegan,  but they do have HFCS.  So if HFCS is a concern for you, you'll want to avoid those cookies.  You can always try making your own. 

I'm not the only one that loves animal crackers - there's a tumblr tag for them and there are quite a few posts about animal crackers.  Be sure to check out 15 facts about animal crackers.  Or check out a comprehensive history of animal crackers.  Apparently, Barnum's Animal Crackers are only made in one place - Fair Lawn, NJ.  I can't find anything official about touring he Fair Lawn, NJ, bakery but reports online are that the factory gives tours and at the end of the tou, you get a box of animal crackers.  I will check this out if I'm ever in NJ.

There's always one that's broken, no matter how carefully you open the box.
And if you use your imagination, you can guess what the animals are.

April 17: National Cheeseball Day

Whoops!  With all the papers and projects I have due this week, I completely forgot to update yesterday!  So here's the post for yesterday and here's hoping that I don't get so bogged down with a paper tonight that I forget to update again for today.

Yesterday was National Cheeseball Day.  I've always thought cheeseballs were  a clever way to serve a cheese dip with chips.  Somehow, it's classier than just sticking out a bowl of dip next to the vegetables and chips at a party. I particularly like this turkey-styled cheeseball from Taste of Home.  The Cooking Channel rounds up some other cute holiday-themed cheeseball stylings.  Chicagoist provides us a with a little history of the cheeseball and a cheeseball recipe using dried cranberries and walnuts.  Basically, it seems like you can take your favorite soft cheeses and mix them with whatever nuts, herbs, dried fruits and vegetables you want to make a tasty dip for sturdy crackers.

In searching for information about National Cheesebal Day, I came across the site of the Cheese Ball Chick.  Motivational speaker Molly Sanborn, aka The Cheese Ball Chick, goes around carrying a package of the cheesy puff snacks known as Cheese Balls.  I'm always interested in people who have a gimmick to cheer up others.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16: National Eggs Benedict Day and Day of the Mushroom

National Eggs Benedict Day

If I hadn't been at a conference most of the day, I would've made Eggs Benedict to honor today's food celebration.  This is one of the few breakfasts-that-feature-eggs-that-isn't-an-omelette that I like.  Two toasted English muffins with Canadian bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce - pretty tasty stuff.  Granted, I like to dress mine up with a little chopped cilantro or chives on top- it adds nice color to the dish.  When I want to add a spicy heat, I replace the Hollandaise (or just add to it) with Tabasco sauce.  What's Cooking America provides us with the history of Eggs Benedict, including the somewhat murky origins. provides us with information about some of the many variations on Eggs Benedict.

Knowing how to poach eggs is crucial to Eggs Benedict, so take a look at these tips from Alton Brown.

Day of the Mushroom

I like to put mushrooms in everything I can- pizza, spaghetti, soups...  Sometimes, I'll even use mushrooms as a meat replacement.  And Japanese-style simmered mushrooms (shiitake mushrooms simmered in soy sauce and mirin) makes for a tasty dish. 

I only eat mushrooms that I get at the store - you will never see me eating wild-growing mushrooms.  Really, no one should do this unless they have been trained to recognize with confidence edible mushrooms.  The Puget Sound Mycological Society's first rule of eating mushrooms? "1. Always be 100% sure of identification."  Even those who have been eating wild mushrooms for a long time can make a fatal mistake.

Looking to stay local with your mushrooms but not wanting to go wild?  You can try growing your own mushrooms using "Grow Your Own Mushrooms" kits.  They are available online or in Whole Foods or other similar stores. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April 15:National Glazed (Spiral) Ham Day

I like ham and I even like glazed ham, but I have never made glazed ham.  My family is the type that for foods that are something we eat once a year (if that) we just buy it.  I suppose if I were ever to try making glazed ham, I'd try this pineapple-glazed ham.  (I really like pineapple.)  You can also use brown sugar, honey, orange juice, cola, or even bourbon.  So many options!

In honor of today, provides us with five facts about ham.  The Nibble has plenty of information about hams - a whole lot of information, in fact.  And Foodista helps us out by giving suggestions on how to eat glazed ham.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April 14: National Pecan Day

A double whammy day!  See, April is also National Pecan Month, so this day falling in this month is totally appropriate.  When I think of pecans, I think of two things: roasted pecans and pecan pie.  The National Pecan Shellers Association provides all the information about pecans that you may need, including history, recipes, and nutrition facts.

Seems like every state has it's own pecan grower's association:  California, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, New Mexico, Missouri, Okalahoma..  Each site has plenty of useful facts about pecans.  Of course, the USDA serves as the foremost resource of facts about US pecan production.  Although, when looking at the map on that page, one has to wonder why California and New Mexico grow pecans.  Then you look at the map in New Mexico State University's report on US pecan production and a different picture emerges.  With that map you can see very well which region of the US pecans grow well in.  Looks like Georgia produces the most pecans in the US, followed by Texas and New Mexico. 

Well, however you celebrate National Pecan Day, you can be assured you're supporting American agriculature when you purchase pecans.

Friday, April 13, 2012

April 13: National Peach Cobbler Day

Today is another food celebration that just seems to be in the wrong spot on the calendar.  Peaches aren't ready now - they're a late summer fruit.  Oh, I've heard some peaches can be ripe as early as May, but the best ones are those juicy summer peaches that are just rich in flavor and are available in mid-June through August.

Every year at the Georgia Peach Festival in June, the highlight of the festival is the World's Largest Peach Cobbler.  The festival website also provides information about the peach industry in Georgia- in Georgia, peaches are only available for 16 weeks in the summer, from mid-May to August.  Georgia is known as The Peach State, but it's not the state that produces the most.  California ranks #1 in terms of quantity, followed by South Carolina, and Georgia ranks third.  The NYTimes reports on a "feud" between South Carolina and Georgia in regards to peaches.  I still think the best peaches I've ever had came from Harry & David and apparently they source their peaches from around the country and try to pick the closest to where you are.  I suppose that means the tastiest I've had were from California, but I do have to admit loving the East Coast peaches I had last year- they made for some excellent canning.

Okay, away from peaches and back to peach cobbler. provides us with the history of fruit cobblers, as well as information for the different kinds of crusts and various types of peach cobbler.  Looking for a low-calorie recipe for peach cobbler?  Livestrong has you covered.  Of course, you can't go wrong with a simple, classic recipe.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12: National Licorice Day and National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day/Month

National Licorice Day

I like licorice.  Well, I should clarify - I like licorices except true licorice and European licorice.  Confused?  Well, "true licorice" is the black licorice that is made from the extract of the licorice plant's root.  ("Black licorice" is a US retronym- thank you Wikipedia!)  I definitely prefer the strawberry, apple, etc, flavors of licorice.  I'm particularly fond of the soft, flavored licorices of Darrell Lea, an Australia-based licorice maker.  You can find Darrell Lea licorices regularly at Cost Plus World Market.

As for European licorice, I couldn't bring myself to taste it.  Like I said, I don't like black licorice.  My Eurpean friends all think the US is nuts, since to them, the only licorice is black licorice.  Everything else is a different candy.  European licorice apparently also has a slightly salty taste to it.  My European friends swear that Panda Licorice is the only licorice in the US that is anything close to what they consider licorice.  (Which makes sense, because Panda Licorice is a Finnish company.)

International Licorice has a list of ideas for celebrating National Licorice Day.  And apparently, for the third  year in a row, Red Vines celebrates by having a sweepstakes.  KCET has photos that depict various types of licorice.  I Love Licorice serves up the history of licorice before enticing you to order specialty licorices. 

National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day/Month

Today is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and April just happens to be National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month!  I like to think that everyone knows how to make grilled cheese sandwich, but I have to give directions over the phone on how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.  And, no, using an iron is not the way to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

The bread!
So in honor of today/this month, I opted to make a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.  I know some people like to only have grilled cheese sandwichese with soups, but I figured the one sandwich would be enough for me.  I use whatever cheese I have on hand - I'm not picky, as long as it's good cheese.  Some friends swear that the only way to make grilled cheese sandwiches are with cheddar while others root for American cheese.  Personally, I love pepper jack or habanero jack cheeses as filling.
The cheese!
I did make it a little more trouble than necessary because I used Atlantique Baby Swiss Lactalis (I'm not sure which of that is brand name or some other designation) which is a hard cheese and low in latose.  The cheese didn't melt very well, so I turned the stove down and let the sandwich cook slowly, so I  could have melted cheese in my sandwich but no burnt bread.  I also used homemade 50-50 bread, which is perfect for sandwiches.

So however you make a grilled cheese sandwich, celebrate today with a grilled cheese sandwich as an easy meal or snack.
The sandwich!  (Made with the help of butter, not
pictured.  Poor butter.  No photo.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April 11: National Cheese Fondue Day

Well, my first thought is National Cheese Fondue Day must've been sponsored by The Melting Pot, along with Emmi Roth Kase.  Why?  Well, they own the website and to honor the day, they were giving out 25,000 vouchers for free fondue.  Seems like those vouchers went fast, if you didn't get one this year maybe you can get one next year.  But, hey!  At least this is a day where I can figure out who the sponsor likely is!

FondueBits provies us with the history of fondue, along with a cheese fondue recipe and tips for cooking and serving.  Really, though, I feel the only time you need a recipe for cheese fondue is when you want to try a flavored fondue dip.  I'm more of a fan of throwing a tasty cheese (or many tasty cheeses) into a fondue pot or crockpot and then dipping savory foods into the melted cheese.  One friend takes tasty sharp cheddar, mixes it with a soft white cheese and a bottle of beer, then serves it with such savory delights as bacon-wrapped crescent rolls, cocktail weiners, and roasted garlic for spreading on French toast. 

So in honor of today, melt some of your favorite cheese and start dipping away!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 10: National Cinnamon Croissant/Crescent Day

Today is National Cinnamon Croissant/Crescent Day.  Because I don't want to type "Croissant/Crescent" over and over, I'm just going to stick with "crescent," unless the recipe I link to uses "croissant."  Which, I realize is just being lazy, since some people feel that croissants and crescents are not the same thing.   Sorry, I'm going to be lazy today.  (Also, I think they're different - croissants are huge and super flaky, while crescent rolls come in a can that pops open and are more dense.)

I really can't find anything about how this food observance got started.  Looking at the history of today at Food Resource, I can't see any logical reason why today is National Cinnamon Crescent Day.  There's plenty of information out there about cinnamon and plenty about the history of croissants, but nothing specific about cinnamon crescents.

Looking to make your own?  The easiest way would be to use pre-made puff pastry or Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. (Personally, I'd try this recipe, only because the cook who posted it looks awesome.)  Looking to spend a little more time on your cinnamon crescents?  Taste of Home has a recipe for glazed cinnamon crescents.  Or you can always try cinnamon croissant bread pudding.

Monday, April 9, 2012

National Chinese Almond Cookie Day

When I think of Chinese cookies, I think first of fortune cookies then I think of Chinese almond cookies.  According to the Nibble, I wouldn't actually be thinking of Chinese cookies - I'd be thinking of Chinese American cookies.  The Nibble claims that Chinese almond cookies seem to be a derivation of Chinese walnut cookies and that the Chinese almond cookie was created after the first wave of Chinese immigrants to the US.  This is possibly true, but one can't be certain.  If China didn't grow almonds, I think this origin story would be more likely.  Eatocracy points out that these cookies are popular in some parts of China - the same areas where almonds grow.  (Granted, China almonds account for only 2% of almonds grown in the world.)

You can buy Chinese almond cookies in just about any Asian bakery.  Some grocery stores carry them, too.  If you'd like to try making your own, this recipe seems to be very popular - just know that it uses lard. This recipe calls for shortening and butter.  Step by step instructions can be found in this video, but if you're looking for vegan option, you'll want to watch this video instead.   

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 8: Baked Ham with Pineapple Day &National Empanada Day

Baked Ham with Pineapple Day

Whole Foods didn't have ham with pineapple,
so enjoy a picture of ham with cranberries instead.
Since today is Easter, it is also known as Baked Ham with Pineapple Day.  I have no idea why ham is associated with Easter - or why pineapples got involved.  There are many ideas about why Easter are paired together in the US, none of them are the same, and not very many are backed by historical fact.  (I'm sharing them anyways because I was amused by all these theories.)  All About Jesus Christ says that ham is associated with Easter because it's a holdover from when Christianity absorbed a lot of "heathen" practices and that Easter ham has its origins in the myth of Ishtar and Tammuz.  Goddess Gift provides a slightly different version of the story of Ishtar, puts forth the idea that ham is a Christian meat and that ham is associated with Easter because that would be the last of the cured meats people in the old days would have on hand.  History Channel (probably the most reputable source I could find) seems to agree that ham became associated with Easter because it was ready at the right time.  Over at Chow, the Chowhounds get into discussing ham as an Easter food and Slashfood serves up its own thoughts on ham as an Easter food.

What amused me most while searching for the history of  ham as an Easter food?  Coming across this story about George and Martha Washington and how they were famous for their hams

National Empanada Day

This almost became a "Oh, no, I failed!" day.  I looked up a bunch of empanada recipes and picked a dough recipe.  I messed up that batch of dough and almost gave up.  My roommate came to the rescue with an empanada recipe dating back to her high school days.  I used the dough portion of her recipe, but made my own filling.

Empanada Dough Recipe

1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
0.25 tsp salt
0.25 cup shortening
1 egg
0.25 cup milk

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in shortening until mixture resembles crumbled cornmeal.  Beat egg with milk and add to flour mixture.  Stir until combined, using hands if necessary.  Form dough into a ball, cover and chill in fridge for an hour.  Roll dough out onto lightly floured surface until about 0.25 inch thick.  Cut into rounds (I was able to make 10 using a 4.5 inch diameter bowl as a guide) and use immediately for empanadas.  When empanadas are filled with filling of your choice and sealed (see the rest of this post) brush with an egg wash (one egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water), bake on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until a light golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.

Everything cooled and waiting
to be put into an empanada.
For my filling, I wanted a vegetarian filling.  (I feel like I've consumed way too much meat and sugar these last few weeks- I need to start making a smaller food footprint.)  I chopped half an onion, a small head of garlic, one large carrot and cooked those in a few tablespoons of oil in a frying pan until the onions were turning golden.  Then I chopped half a red bell pepper and half a green bell pepper and added those to the frying pan.  I finally added one can of drained and rinsed chili beans, 2 tablespoons of crushed red pepper, and 1 tablespoon of chili for some protein and extra spice.  I had some leftover filling but I'll probably use that in a breakfast scramble.

Now, the important thing about empanadas?  Repulgue, the technique for giving empanadas that nice edge.  There are many different repulgue techniques and some restaurants use different techniques to help identify what filling is inside the empanada.  You can just use a fork to get a pretty seal.  I tried the most common one which is similar to the braiding technique used on pizzas.  I didn't quite get it down this time, but I improved as I went along.  (You can easily tell which ones were the first empanadas I sealed.)    This YouTube video, while out of focus for some shots, gives you a good idea of the typical repulgue method.  

There are so many different types of empanadas, you're sure to find one you'd like to try.  Empanadas can be sweet (using fruits as a filling) or savory (meats as a filling.)  Empanadas Mendocinas seem like an intriguing flavor combination - ground beef, green olives, and hard boiled egg?  Definitely not a flavor combination I would have thought of. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

April 7: National Beer Day and National Coffee Cake Day

National Beer Day

Most people of legal drinking age (whatever that may be in your area) are familiar with beer.  I do enjoy the occasional beer and not too long ago attended the Chilibrew Fest in Cary, NC.  It was quite fun and if you're interested in attending a beer festival near you, be sure to check out for a beer festival near you.

I also recommend watching the movie, How Beer Saved the World.  It's available online and I believe on Netflix.  Craft Beer covers the history of beer and, of course, no post about beer would be complete without a reference to Beer Advocate, one of the best online and print resources about beer.

National Coffee Cake Day

When I think of coffee cake, I think of a white sponge cake with cinnamon-y crumble topping that's a sweet start to the day.  Coffee cake is also a perfect featured dish for a brunch party.  Coffee cake doesn't actually refer to a particular type of cake- rather, it refers to the way the cake is eaten with coffee.  As far as I know, there is no coffee cake recipe that uses coffee as an ingredient, but there may well be.  Coffee cake refers to a whole bunch of cakes - some with fruit, some with cinnamon, some with nuts - but all sweet and typically consumed with coffee.  

Thick, chunky batter
To celebrate National Coffee Cake Day, I chose to make the cake portion of this Apple-Cinnamon-Walnut Coffee Cake but for the topping I used the Cinnamon Crumb Topping  and added some of the failed caramel from a couple of days ago.  I also used vanilla soy milk instead of milk.  I baked it for 25 minutes because with a sweet crumble top it's hard to do the toothpick test - the topping will stick to the toothpick.

Fresh out of the oven!
It's a very tasty cake.  At first I thought it wouldn't be enough batter for the 13 by 9 inch pan that it calls for, but it worked out.  The batter was really thick and needed to be spread out using a spatula.  Because such a large pan was used, the cake is somewhat thin.  The crumb topping is really sweet, due to the extra sugar added from the failed caramel. 

If I make this cake again, I think I'll make it without the topping and in a smaller pan so that the cake is a little thicker.

March month roundup

Before I go any further, I need to give a huge "CONGRATULATIONS!" to all my friends and classmates who got Matched.  See, April 1st is known to dietetic/nutrition majors as "Match Day," the day anyone applying to a dietetic internship finds out if they got matched to an internship.  Less than 50% of people who apply get matched to an internship so I find it really awesome that everyone I know that applied got matched!  Way to go!  (I still have a few more classes I have to take before I can apply, so I get to escape the stress of applications for one more year...)  So, to everyone who got matched....congrats!  Now, take a deep breath and go de-stress.

Sorry this post is a week late.  School and work are both in crunch mode right now and I've written a little for this post each night this week.  Seems there's a lot of the month-long celebrations that I missed in March, so this post is going to be extra long. 

So what was March and what celebrations did I miss? 

National Nutrition Month

I touched on this briefly, but didn't talk about it a whole lot.  If you read any of the major news websites or the health section of any newspaper, you probably read something about National Nutrition Month.  Ideally, you swuld pay attention to the nutrition of everything you eat all the time, not just for a month, but I don't think anyone would enjoy that.  The whole point of National Nutrition Month is to raise awareness about making healthier choices when you eat. 

Maybe next year for a challenge, I'll try to find nutritious alternatives to all the non-nutritious foods that are celebrated in March.

National Peanut Month

Well, there was a celebration of some sort on March 8, since that was National Peanut Cluster Day.  Provided you do not have a peanut allergy, peanuts are pretty cool.  You can roast peanuts and try it with different seasonings, making them either savory or sweet.  You can make peanut brittle with them, use peanut oil for cooking or for making salad dressing, dip apple slices in peanut butter, make cookies with peanuts, or add peanuts to a dish like kung pao chicken or to salads for an added crunch. 

Or, you know, you could just eat the peanuts.  I prefer to just crack open a peanut and eat it, but some people like to eat boiled peanuts.  I still haven't brought myself to try that- the thought of soft peanuts just weirds me out.  When I work up the nerve for boiled peanuts, maybe I'll try this recipe, since I like spicy foods. 

Hrm, I wonder if it's a coincidence that National Peanut Month is also the month that Major League Baseball starts up.  "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack..."

National Sauce Month

This is another celebration I think everyone could participate in.  Most people have one or two sauce recipes that is their go-to sauce recipe.  Are you the type who always buys ready-made sauce?  Try making your own.  There are hundreds of super-easy sauce recipes online.  Practical Kitchen does a good job of rounding some up for National Sauce Month. 

National Celery Month

Celery can be hit or miss with me, depending on the soil it grows in and what it's treated with.  Sometimes, celery has a salty flavor and I just don't like to eat those celery bunches raw.  I like to take those bunches of celery, slice them up, and add them to stir-fry vegetables.  In fact, I did that this month.  Having cooked vegetables on hand is a big help on those days when I'm pressed for time.  I added no flavors to these vegetables, just gave them a quick cooking so they wouldn't spoil and then put them away for later use.  One night, I mixed the cooked vegetables with soy sauce, crushed red peppers, fish sauce, and whole wheat spaghetti noodles and made an Asian-inspired stir-fry noodle dish.  Another night, I tossed the vegetables with penne pasta, an Italian herb blend, and some olive oil and paired it with a white wine from Italy.  Extremely versatile, cooked veggie mixes can be spiced up in lots of different ways.

Of course, the quintessential celery snack is Ants on a Log and children love making and eating this snack.  Simply spread peanut butter of your choice on washed and cut celery sticks, then top with a line of dark raisins.  Voila!  Ants on a Log.  Recently, I learned there are quite a few variations of the snack.  Replace the raisins with dried cranberries and you have Fire Ants on a Log.  Replce the peanut butter with cream cheese or cottage cheese and you have Ants on a Snowy Log.  Replace the raisins with M&M's and you have Beetles on a Log.  There are so many possibilities!

And, of course, don't toss out the leaves at the top of the stalks - those are great for soups or omelets.  They have a tangy, almost bitter flavor so the leaves are best cooked.

National Flour Month

There is way too much information about flour for me to touch on this in this post.  Entire chapters of some of my textbooks are devoted to flour.  What's Cooking America has a nice primer on the different types of flour.  BHG gives a little more detailed information and directions for substituting one type of flour for another.  Most people will probably only ever need all-purpose flour.  Currently, there are five different types of flour in my pantry: all-purpose, whole wheat, bread, cake, and rice.  I'm still not sure if the cornmeal we have counts as corn flour, but it is highly likely that it counts as flour #6. 

If you are following a recipe for the first time, use whatever type of flour it calls for to get the best result.

Are you a teacher or just interested in conducting your own experiments?  Science Buddies has a great child-friendly activity for hands-on learning about the different types of flour.

National Frozen Food Month

I briefly mentioned this on Frozen Foods Day.  Again, I'm not a fan of foods you can purchase frozen at the store.  Instead, I like cooking and freezing my own foods.  There are many books that are all abotu dishes that are perfect for freezing half for later consumption.  Or you can always try making freezer jam or popsicles.  Granitas are also a wonderful frozen food you can make that's perfect for those hot summer days. 

Instant noodles can be very convenient -
but be sure to pay attention
to the sodium content. 
National Noodle Month
Argh, I can't believe I missed this!  I love noodles, especially Asian noodles.  I'm a huge fan of pho, chow mein, udon, and Okinawa soba.  (Yes, there is a difference between regular soba and Okinawa soba.)  I'll also eat ramen and use spaghetti noodles.  Noodles are very versatile and you can find noodles in just about every culture.  I've never actually made noodles from scratch but quite a few books make it seem like something I'll have to do at some point.

Of course, instant noodles can be an absolutely delicious meal to stock in a drawer at work for those days when you forget your lunch.  Just remember that they all tend to be very high in sodium.

National Caffeine Awareness Month

I am a tea fiend.  So much so that my doctor ordered me to cut back on the caffeinated tea and drink more decaf because I started having muscle twitches.  I get the majority of my caffeine from tea, since I don't drink coffee or soda very often and I avoid energy drinks beacuse they make my heart race.  (Plus, I think most of them just taste bad.)  You can also get small amounts of caffeine from chocolate.  Not a fan of fizzy drinks, tea, or coffee?  You can also get caffeine in other liquid forms, which you can usually find at any gas station.  Prefer pills?  You can also get caffeine in pills.

The Mayo Clinic has a lot of information about caffeine, touching on such topics as: how much is too much;  the caffeine content for various drinks,  what caffeine does to blood pressure, caffeine as a weight loss tool, and caffeine and blood sugar

Just remember that like any other stimulant, caffeine can affect your body in many ways.  Be sure to pay attention to how your body reacts and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about consuming caffeine.

National Maple Sugar Month/3rd Saturday of March = Maple Syrup Saturday

When I think of maple syrup, I think of the Northeastern US and get an image of a spout drilled into a tree with thick, gooey maple syrup pouring out into a bucket.  Okay, so my mental image might be a little outdated and romantic, but it seems that it does have some amount of authenticity.  Morse Farms in Vermont has a little bit of history on their page about maple syrup and maple sugar.  Apparently maple sugar is made from maple syrup and was used in the war for the US's independence because it was an alternative to foreign sugar (aka cane sugar.)  Currently, maple sugar is quite a bit more expensive than white granulated sugar (maple sugar is ~$17 a pound while white granulated is somewhere around $3 for five pounds) but this is probably likely due to the small scale production of maple sugar and the difficulty of producing maple sugar. 

Want to try making your own maple syrup or sugar?  The University of Maine's Extension has a how-to PDF for those with access to a sugar maple or red maple tree that's at least 10 inches in diameter.  Love to Know Gourmet has instructions for making maple sugar.

National Hamburger and Pickle Month

This is a food observation that I think is pretty unnecessary.  May is Hamburger Month, has Hamburger week, and one of five possible Hamburger days.  And pickles get their own weeks and days at other times during the year.  So doesn't this seem a little repetitive?  And do people really eat hamburgers without pickles?  Well, I suppose if someone doesn't like pickles, they'll eat a hamburger without pickles.

For those that do like hamburgers and pickles, I suppose the debate then becomes: do you prefer having the flat pickles on the hamburger or do you go for a spear/full pickle on the side?  Then of course, the debate goes on to: what kind of pickle is best with a hamburger?

2nd week  of March= Chocolate chip cookie week & National School Breakfast Week

While I mentioned that the 2nd Week of March is Chocolate Chip Cookie Week and I celebrated by making a chocolate chip cookie pie, I didn't talk about National School Breakfast Week.  I'm a supporter of national school lunch and breakfast programs.  One of the things I learned in class that I think is very interesting is that the school lunch program came about because it made for good national defense.  That's right - the school lunch program has its roots in the military.  And then when we learned that children do better in academically if they've had breakfast...well, the school breakfast program was born.  If you're really interested in the history of the school lunch program, the USDA has a lot of information to share about it. 

3rd week of March = American Chocolate Week

I'm not sure what constitutes "American" chocolate.  As far as I know, cocoa plants are not grown commercially in the US.  They are however grown in Central and South America, and since the week isn't "North American Chocolate Week," I suppose you could include Central and South America.  I think the week is supposed to celebrate chocolate creations made in the US, though.

Worldwide Chocolate has a short list of American chocolates and links to where to buy them.  I think a lot of people automatically think of Hershey's when thinking of American chocolate.  (One of these day's I'll make it out to Pennsylvania for a visit.)  The Historic Division of MARS runs the American Heritage Chocolate website, which is full of lots of information about the history of chocolate in the United States.

I also wonder if this is in reference to the old, now-no-longer-made car originally  known as American Chocolate (later known as the Walter).  Maybe this celebration isn't about food at all!