New Pastry Generator

With the advent of the cronut, humanity has entered a new golden age of pastry. Freed from the shackles of tradition, patissiers can now start a craze by pouring any number of unrelated recipes straight into the deep fryer. Uninspired? Let the random pastry generator do the work of original human thought.

You should go cook:

pretznada

Press reload for more new pastry ideas.

When fried chicken went awry

He still puts on a white linen suit every morning, rides in a chauffeured white Cadillac, visits Kentucky Fried Chicken’s white column headquarters and plugs his “finger lickin’ good” chicken around the country.

But Harland D Sanders, everyone’s favourite Kentucky colonel, is disturbed about what has happened to his chicken and to America’s dining habits.

While it sounds like an alternate history from Adbusters archives, it’s from an interview with Sanders in The Milwaukee Journal, 1975. You know something has gone terribly wrong with food when the mascot starts decrying it.

Did McDonalds cause the decline of violence in America?

Violent crime has been on the decline in the US since 1990, and largely, the reasons for the decline have been inexplicable. Steven Leavitt (of Freakonomics fame) and John J. Donohue III argue that around 50% of the reduction in crime is the result of earlier introduction of legalised abortion (PDF). I’ve got a theory – and it is just a theory at this stage – that McDonalds in the US was also a causal factor in the decline of violence.

Over the last decade Cdr Joseph Hibbeln has been researching the link between violence and the consumption of omega 3 fatty acids. From the Guardian:

Over the last century most western countries have undergone a dramatic shift in the composition of their diets in which the omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to the brain have been flooded out by competing omega-6 fatty acids, mainly from industrial oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower. In the US, for example, soya oil accounted for only 0.02% of all calories available in 1909, but by 2000 it accounted for 20%. Americans have gone from eating a fraction of an ounce of soya oil a year to downing 25lbs (11.3kg) per person per year in that period. In the UK, omega-6 fats from oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower accounted for 1% of energy supply in the early 1960s, but by 2000 they were nearly 5%. These omega-6 fatty acids come mainly from industrial frying for takeaways, ready meals and snack foods such as crisps, chips, biscuits, ice-creams and from margarine. Alcohol, meanwhile, depletes omega-3s from the brain.

To test the hypothesis, Hibbeln and his colleagues have mapped the growth in consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils in 38 countries since the 1960s against the rise in murder rates over the same period. In all cases there is an unnerving match. As omega-6 goes up, so do homicides in a linear progression. Industrial societies where omega-3 consumption has remained high and omega-6 low because people eat fish, such as Japan, have low rates of murder and depression.

[note: link added by me]. Apart from flaxseed oil, canola oil has the lowest ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 of the vegetable oils at about 2:1. Beef tallow has a omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 6:1. In 1990, when violent crime hit its peak in America, McDonalds stopped using beef tallow in its fryers and switched to (mostly) canola oil – and as far as I know – almost all American fast food chains followed suit. This certainly increased the total intake of omega 3s and the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 amongst all Americans who eat a french fry-heavy Standard American Diet.

Exactly the same trend followed in the UK. McDonalds replaced beef tallow in the mid-90s, and and since then, the UK has seen the number of victims of violent crimes halve.

They’re interesting correlations but I can’t find (or at least, don’t have the time to find) better data to come up with anything approaching causality.

Any economists want to pick up the baton from here? Anywhere that I can get good datasets on per capita canola oil consumption?

Sausage sizzle or popup charcuterie?

Photo Credit: Wooster Collective

I worked in a food truck for a few months in 1996. The truck parked at automotive parts swap meets and out the front of the cow pavilion at the Royal Easter Show. I cooked hundreds of frozen hamburgers, industrial soy-beef patties defrosting on the grill for families with matching mullets in the real need of a Cortina alternator. The jam donuts, chips and battered hotdogs in the roiling deep fryer, which by the end of the day tasted indistinct from each other, downed by men who smelled sweet like bovine.

The boss was happy insofar as I wasn’t a junkie and nothing caught fire. They paid cash, daily. It wasn’t the worst of food industry jobs that I’ve been involved in. It wasn’t noble. Apparently any non-addict could do it.

Australia has hundreds of similar food trucks and mobile food businesses from Mr Whippy vans to the sausage sizzles in front of hardware retailers. At the moment, there are nine food vans parked in Melbourne’s CBD alone, as shown on the below map. As far as I can remember, they’re all icecream vendors and donut vans.

There is something deeply amusing about both Sydney and the suburban Melbourne councils considering the need for more food trucks when there is already a well developed ecosystem.

The problem is that it’s not the cool street food ecosystem.

The depressing secret behind street food culture is that it exists because there is nowhere else to eat. In Phnom Penh, a good deal of the street food exists because it is too expensive for the average worker to leave their job and go home for a cheaper meal. Despite the backpacker authenticity myth, the bulk of it is as nasty as it is cheap; good street food is so rare that it is almost a euphemism. In Los Angeles, food trucks, especially the semi-permanent Mexican loncheras, offer an oasis in the food desert for factory workers and locals. If anything, they’re stuff white people like because they’re beacons of actual food in a grove of Olive Gardens or whatever pretend food is served in roadside mass-market chain restaurants. In Kuala Lumpur, street vendors develop symbiotic relationships with a cafe, multiple vendors clinging parasitically to a single coffee shop. In all cases, food trucks and street vendors tend not to compete with existing businesses because there aren’t any other existing businesses nearby. All are the result of local conditions.

Generally that condition is poverty, followed by richer people lionising food that poor people eat.

Australia already has a unique street food culture but it is one that is only celebrated on rare occasions because the rich have no interest in replicating or sampling what poor Westerners eat. The footy frank (PDF). The aforementioned Mr Whippy and his alliterative pseudonyms. The election day sausage sizzle. Preserves and cake stands at church fetes. They’re all temporary but not “pop-up” in the baffling modern parlance. Pop-up is used as obsfucation for expensive or designed or from somewhere else, some place where the poor eat capital-A authentic meals.

The unpopular Australian street foods are also the precursor to building a culture of street food but that hasn’t happened because unlike LA or Phnom Penh in the urban centres in Australia there is no shortage of great, easily accessible meals. There isn’t a footy frank vendor on every corner because good food is straightforward to find. In the absence of Michelin stars, many restaurants are awarded imaginary hats by our food press. There’s not even a shortage of good portable food from upmarket pork belly sandwiches to cheap sushi. Beyond the occasional cone of soft serve or post- donut, there isn’t much of a market for heartier food served streetside when you can get a markedly better meal nearby and somewhere to sit and eat it.

It’s certainly not to denigrate the new wave of Twitter-wielding Roy Choi wannabes around Australia: the food itself serves that purpose. Melbourne’s taco truck’s tacos are almost as good as those that you can get in a shopping mall food court. With any luck, the new trucks and popups might bewilder the rich long enough to lead to new restaurants. There is just no deeper culture to support it forever.


View Food Vans in Melbourne CBD in a larger map

How influential are Australian food bloggers?

Apart from that mythical beast return on investment, the hottest topic in social media measurement is influence. Does anything that happens on a blog or in Facebook or in 140 characters or less drive people to change their behaviour?

I’m banking my current career on it – so I have a small vested interest in saying that it does. While it is easy to make the argument that the totality of social media consumption causes behaviour changes if only due to the volume in which it is consumed, it is currently impossible to judge the influence of any single tweet or blog post with accuracy. There are a few tools out there that claim to be able to do this but they’re extremely easy to game.

Just to separate out food blogs, at a rough guess, there are less than 30,000 people in Australia who actively read a food blog. By actively read, I mean read the homepages and news feeds, revisit a blog at least once a month – rather than visit them as the result of a Google search. Around a thousand of these people are the food bloggers themselves. There are a small handful of Australian blogs with more than 30,000 Australian readers but those visits are certainly not all active readers.

30,000 is just my educated guess: I came to that number by pouring every blog in my list of Australian food blogs into Google Ad Planner, which lets you see an estimate of the traffic to most websites on earth, and looking at the reach figures that were spat out the other side. Ad planner is not accurate: it tends not to measure blogs with less than 15,000 unique visitors a month, which is almost every Australian food blog.

Active readers are important because they’re the people most likely to be influenced (to some degree) by everything that a blogger writes. Everyone else does not see everything. This is of the utmost importance if you happen to be in public relations and prone to throwing out freebies to bloggers. If the blogger does not have an active readership, you may as well give your free meal ticket to a dog because even if the blogger in question writes a ten thousand word dissertation on the power of awesome contained in your generic stock cubes, if their post doesn’t rank in Google then nobody will read it.

Almost 80% of my readers come via search, thanks to me ranking well for a few very generic words in Google. It’s not to say that they’re a worthless audience (and if I started running ads again, I can use them to take cash from indiscriminate and international advertisers) but they are an audience that is very unlikely to convert into an active reader. They arrive, service whatever question that they need to answer or laugh at some of my deep-fried stupidity, then bounce off into the wider Internet. Traffic from restaurant aggregator Urbanspoon or Tastespotting behaves in a similar fashion: a once-off visit that makes the most cursory scan of the photos and then leaves.

Most often the question that the Urbanspoon/restaurant searcher is looking to answer is “What is the restaurant’s phone number or address?” because restaurants tend to have appalling websites where this vital information is not readily apparent. I AB tested this on my Dosa Hut post after getting a number of phone calls to my personal mobile phone asking for Indian street food.

Put the address at the top of the page instead of the bottom and average time spent on that page drops by around 30 seconds. In either case, none of these visitors have ever returned to my blog and read another post. A handful returned to the Dosa Hut post, possibly to get the phone number again. It would only be possible for me to influence these people’s behaviour if I had something extremely negative to say about Dosa Hut. At the point that they’re visiting my website, they have already decided to contact the restaurant. It’s altogether possible that they have already been there.

Influence in blogging relies on attracting an audience who is in a state of mind to be influenced, not one that is looking for confirmatory advice or whose intent is already set. It’s not to say that influencing that thirty thousand is not important as they’re the people who influence others food choices, have higher incomes and spend more than your average person on eating out. It does however suggest that Australian food blogs are a bad fit as a vehicle for most mass market food products.

French Fry Coated Hotdog vs Molecular Gastronomy

Newley spots a french fry coated hotdog, I cook a french fry coated hotdog, then friends create the sort of french fry coated hotdog that would make Herve This or Ferran Adria cry tears of simultaneous joy and fear. Austin Bush and talented chef collaborator Hock have cooked a sous-vide potato confit with panko crust and hot dog foam.

The lengthy process began by cooking hot dogs and potatoes sous-vide; the hot dogs at a carefully calculated temperature and time ratio of 53.2ºC for 73 hours and 22 minutes, the potatoes at 84.7C for 2 hours 17 minutes (Starch begins to break down at temperatures of 78C and above. Natural pectins, which are the molecular glue holding all plant cells together, do not begin to break down until 85C):

For that bit of extra luxury, the potatoes were prepared confit with the help of the finest street fat available, Crisco.

There was supposed to be a methylcellulose tomato sauce “ribbon” but it failed.

They mock me for my lack of a “modern” kitchen. This is a throwdown, biatches. I know you’re in my country, Austin.

French Fry Coated Hot Dog On a Stick: The Recipe

I shouldn’t be left unattended in the kitchen.

French fry coated hotdog


One thing that struck me about finding the French fry coated hot dog on a stick in South Korea was that they were doing it wrong, the sort of cultural misunderstanding that happens when one culture cooks the food of an unrelated and unattached culture and then impales said food on a wooden stick.

Firstly, the hot dog on a stick wasn’t coated in real American fries but chunks of potato and secondly, the hot dog batter was wheat flour rather than a more American corn dog batter. If Americans had have first cooked this one handed food, it would probably be a very different but equally deadly beast. So I set about cooking myself an American-style French fry coated hotdog.

I cooked the French fries from scratch which is entirely un-American: feel free to use the frozen variety.

Ingredients:

One hotdog
One large russet burbank potato
Plenty of oil for deep frying

For the batter:

100gms of plain flour
75gms of cornmeal
1 egg
2 teaspoons of sugar
half a cup of milk

Method:

Russet Burbank Potato

Find yourself a russet burbank potato, about the length of a hotdog.

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Peel the potato then slice into french fries in a mandolin slicer (or do it by hand). Set aside.

Corndog batter

Mix together the dry batter ingredients, add the egg and the milk. Mix to a thick paste, adding more milk if it is too dry: you’re aiming at the batter being thick and sticky rather than runny like a real corn dog batter, slightly more viscous than a dough. Set aside.

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Fry the french fries in oil until golden. Remove from the oil onto a paper towel.

French fry coated hotdog

Coat the hotdog in the batter, then glue the french fries to the dog as best you can. Drop this monstrosity back into the boiling oil and fry until the french fries begin to brown.

French fry coated hotdog
Le Pogo et frites

Remove from the oil and poke a stick into it. Call your cardiologist to make preliminary enquiries about heart surgery. Enjoy.

And then with the leftovers, I cooked French fry coated bacon.