Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mac and Cheese: One of life's simple pleasures

Photo credit: dalboz17

Macaroni and cheese is like the gateway drug into the world of pasta. Think about it. Most people fall in love with this savory dish as children long before they're really aware of what pasta is, and it's when they get older that their palates begin to develop a taste for more sophisticated fare such as fettucine alfredo, gnocci, and spaghetti bolognese. But that's not to say that mac and cheese is the Plain Jane of pasta dishes; the simple amalgamation of noodles and cheese can be utterly divine and oftentimes all you really need, which explains why macaroni and cheese is often thought of as comfort food. Here's the skinny on the classic dish:

• It has been rumored that President Thomas Jefferson created the dish that we today know as macaroni and cheese after he designed a macaroni machine. Jefferson biographer Jack MacLaughlin refutes this claim, stating that Jefferson merely duplicated a recipe he had enjoyed while in France. While it's hard to determine just how mac and cheese originated, this Jefferson story seems to be the most popular explanation.

• There's a restaurant in Manhattan's East Village named S'MAC that serves nothing but macaroni and cheese. Yes, they do deliver.

• Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was first introduced in 1937, and its popularity at the time can partially be attributed to the rationing of milk and dairy during World War II. Kraft says that now they sell over one million boxes a day!

• There's a Mac and Cheese Love Flickr group! Talk about your food porn.

• Like with a lot of things, there's a science to making good mac and cheese. I'll let my man Alton Brown of Good Eats explain how to go about it.

Here's Part 2 of the episode.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekly Poll: Mac and Cheese pizza, Y/N?

Here's something to whet your appetite before our mac and cheese-centered article goes live within the next few days:

Nearly everyone will agree that cheese, and plenty of it, is an essential ingredient to a great pizza. But who would’ve thought to put macaroni and cheese atop a pizza pie? Apparently somebody at Cici’s Pizza Buffet felt that it’s enough of a hit to be a regular menu item. They allege that it’s intended for the kids; however, there are no doubt countless adults who indulge in this rich and creamy marriage two of America’s favorite foods. Is topping a pizza with mac and cheese a stroke of genius or a culinary disaster? Vote in our new poll and discuss.

Photo credit: abbamouse

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Dreams of My Cheese, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Photo credit: arbyreed

Before I begin, allow me to apologize for the lack of updates these past few days. Things have been a bit hectic, school-wise.

The last time I checked in, I mentioned that I would conduct my own cheese and dreams experiment. True to my word, I had a slice of Swiss cheese (Sargento brand to be exact) every night before bed for three nights in a row, and then proceeded to record any dreams I might have had.

Before I disclose my findings, I should probably offer this disclaimer: For as long as I can remember, my dreams have always been fragmented, little snippets that have no relation to what came before or what is to come after. Now that you know, be aware that the dreams I'm about to describe won't be elaborate yarns but rather nonsensical bits that my sub-conscience was kind enough to cook up while I slept. Now, on to the dreams:

Night 1: One minute I was at school, then I was at work, and then finally I was reading a hybrid novel/comic book in which one of the characters looked just like John Krasinski.

Night 2: My dream on this night was rather meta in that I was telling a family member how different cheeses can affect what dreams you have. Weird.

Night 3: I got into a catfight with some unknown gal in a backstage dressing room, and fittingly enough, J. Alexander from America's Next Top Model made a small appearance. Shortly afterwards I found that one of my front teeth had grown to the point where it was four times the size of all of my other teeth. To make things even worse, it was threatening to fall out, which would in turn leave a massive gap between my front teeth.

So what have we learned? To be honest, the only things I took away from this experiment were that my dreams are either really banal or really fantastical, and that Swiss is not consistent compared to the cheeses used in the British Cheese Board study. But I will say this: Before doing this test, I hadn't had a dream in weeks, but as you can see, I found myself dreaming of something for all three nights during which I had some cheese before bedtime. If anything, this upholds the hypothesis that there is a connection between cheese and dreams, even if the cheese doesn't serve as a reference as to what your dreams will entail.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Dreams of My Cheese

Photo credit: princess_of_llyr

Sweet dreams are made of cheese. No, they really are, according to a study conducted by the British Cheese Board back in 2005. The findings suggest that not only will eating cheese before bed help you get a good night's sleep (cheese contains tryptophan, the amino acid largely responsible for many a Thanksgiving turkey-induced coma), but that the type of cheese you consume can determine what it is you dream about.

Given that this study took place in Britain, it makes sense that the six types of cheeses used were all British cheeses. Here's a breakdown of what they were and what kind of dreams they were said to be responsible for:

Red Leicester: Anything nostalgic, such as memories, old friends, and past homes.

Stilton: This cheese was said to induce the most vivid and absurd dreams, especially among women. If you have some and later find yourself dreaming about "soldiers fighting with each other with kittens instead of guns" or "a vegetarian crocodile upset because it could not eat children", you know what to blame.

British Brie: Women participants reported having calm, relaxing dreams while men found themselves in silly situations such as having drunken conversations with dogs.

Lancashire: Two-thirds of the participants who ate this cheese found themselves dreaming about work, although only 30% of them dreamt of their real-life occupations. Unless you love your job so much that you actually want to dream about it, it's probably best to steer clear of this cheese before turning in for the night.

Cheddar: Cheddar eaters were said to have dreamt of celebrities. One gal even found herself forming "a human pyramid under the supervision of Johnny Depp." So that explains why Cheddar is the most popular cheese in the U.K.!

Cheshire: Last and actually somewhat least, Cheshire eaters reported having few dreams, but I suppose that it matters little given that 76% of them said that they enjoyed good sleep after having a bit of Cheshire before bed.

So... talk about weird results. I unfortunately don't have any of these cheeses on me at the moment, but I do have a bit of Swiss, and I'll make sure to report back on any interesting dreams I may have. In the meantime, here's a funny piece commissioned by BBC Radio about these findings.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Coupez le fromage? Quoi?

Photo credit: Monday Morning Photography

Take a moment to think about the phrase "cut the cheese." Be honest; did you laugh to yourself, even if just for a little bit? Of course you did! No matter what anyone says, jokes about passing gas will never stop being funny. Now think about why your mind automatically thought of flatulence as opposed to a knife slicing through a block of cheese, as depicted above. You can't quite figure it out, can you? While most native English speakers know the saying, it's doubtful that more than a handful are aware of how it came about in the first place. Well, it's time to fix that! That's right, we're going to put on our etymology hats and try to figure out how "cut the cheese" and other oft-used cheese-related sayings became part of our vernacular.

Cut the cheese: According to Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, the phrase most likely originated due to the fact that certain cheeses have the propensity to, well, stink. It apparently dates back to the 1970s, meaning that your grandparents weren't fortunate enough to be able to employ such a "celebrated" saying during their youth, unlike later generations.

Say Cheese: Why do we shout out "cheese!" while we're having our photos taken? The folks over at Ask Yahoo!, who are paid to answer such obscure questions, were unable to come up with a definitive answer, which leaves little hope of me being any more successful. That said, it's suggested that when you say "cheese", your mouth contorts in such a way that it looks like a smile. So, if you find yourself posing for a photo against your will, try saying "feta" instead. You'll look more glum that way, thus sabotaging the photographer's efforts.

Cheesy: If cheese tastes so good, why does the word in adjective form carry a negative connotation? The Online Etymology Dictionary says that in early 19th century British India, people adapted the Urdu word chiz, meaning "thing", in such a fashion where "cheese" was synonymous with "a big thing." But by the 1850s, the term had evolved to mean "showy", which later led to its modern day definition, as in, "This Journey power ballad sure is cheesy."

Cheesehead: I think that this photo says it all.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cheese + bread = genius

Photo credit: hellaoakland

Grilled cheese sandwiches seem to hold a special spot in a lot of peoples' hearts, no doubt because so many grew up eating them as kids. (Yours truly excluded, however, as I didn't have my first grilled cheese until high school or so. I'm a freak, I know.) It's not hard to see why these sandwiches are so popular in households with young children; kids love the cheesy, buttery taste, and they're fairly easy to make. Throw some bread, cheese, and butter in a pan, and voilĂ ! You've got yourself a quick and easy meal.

Or is it really that simple? Participants of the Annual National Grilled Cheese Invitiational don't seem to think so. Here, people use their wits and grilling skills to battle it out in the hopes of being crowned grilled cheese champion. It sounds like a fun and entertaining event, but if you read over the information page, you can see that the event organizers take it Very Seriously. Judging (which anyone is welcome to do, and for free to boot!) is done by the use of standardized ballots, and trophies are awarded to those that place first, second, and third in each catagory, which are as follows:

The Missionary Position: White bread, orange cheese (Cheddar or American) and butter or margarine only.

Spoons: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter and any kind of cheese (or combination of cheeses) but no additional ingredients.

The Kama Sutra: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese (or blend of cheeses) plus additional ingredients.

The Honey Pot: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, any kind of cheese (or blend of cheeses), and any additional ingredients, but a sandwich that is sweet in flavor, or would best be served as dessert.

I have to admit that it never occurred to me to use cheese that isn't Cheddar or American, but my mouth is positively watering at the thought of all of these tasty concoctions. If you've got the same craving and you happen to be in the Los Angeles area on April 19, make it a point to attend the Invitational and have a few sammiches (their loving term for sandwiches). The rest of us will have to live vicariously through you and hope that the Invitational rolls through our towns sometime in the near future.

While we're on the subject of grilled cheese, here are some more links for your viewing pleasure:

10 Tips for the Greatest Grilled Cheese via Yahoo! Food.

• April is National Grilled Cheese Month. I kid you not.

Grilled cheese sandwiches the Benny & Joon way. Can you really make grilled cheese with a clothes iron like Johnny Depp's character?

• A grilled cheese sandwich bearing an image of the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000 in 2004. I don't know about you, but if I had that kind of money, I'd rather use it to buy lots and lots of non-visaged grilled cheese. But that's just me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spinning our (cheese) wheels

I can probably guess what it is you're thinking: Why cheese? To be honest, the answer is rather dull. Cheese was thrown out there during a brainstorming session about potential blogging topics in the hopes of a few cheap laughs, nothing more. The question, on the other hand, is much more interesting: Why not cheese? It is after all a staple in most people's diets, and yet we have a tendency to take it for granted because it's always there. But try to imagine a world without cheese. This means no nachos, New York-style cheesecake, or fettuccine alfredo. Grilled cheese sandwiches would be nothing more than buttered toast. College students everywhere would have to find sustenance in something else besides pizza. (Trust me, I've tried vegan-friendly cheeseless pizza before, and it leaves a lot to be desired.) Let's face it, most meals just would not be the same without that rich, tangy, and often warm and gooey taste we all know and love.

That said, isn't it time that cheese got its day in the sun? This blog aims to make it so. But how? Myself and my fellow bloggers aren't cheese connoisseurs, nor foodies of any sort for that matter. What we have, however, is an appetite for uncommon knowledge, entertaining ephemera, and obscure facts that just might be useful to you in a future round of Trivial Pursuit, all of which (of the cheese variety, of course) we hope to deliver on a weekly basis. We also invite you to come along for the ride as we navigate through the sure to be intriguing world of cheese and tell you things that might catch you by surprise and make you say, "Whoa, that's weird, yet strangely cool!" You never know, such cheese trivia could prove to be a real icebreaker at parties.

For now, I'll leave you with this classic Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch aptly entitled "The Cheese Shop", and dream that someday I too will be as knowledgeable about cheese as John Cleese. (His surname, incidentally, was actually Cheese before his father changed it to Cleese in the early 20th century. See, this is the kind of stuff you can use to impress your friends!)