The Food Almanac: April 6, 2011

Staff Writer
Get your day off to an appetizing start with food facts and trivia from Tom Fitzmorris.
Arancino, an Italian riceball.
New Orleans Menu.

Arancino, an Italian riceball.

In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Annals of Convenience Food
The TV dinner was introduced by Swanson Foods today in 1954. The genius was Gerry Thomas. He was trying to figure out a use for leftover turkey from the preceding year's Thanksgiving supply. He came up with a pre-cooked, packaged dinner with cornbread dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes in a three-compartment aluminum tray that you could just warm up in the oven. It sold for ninety-eight cents. Swanson thought it would be a hit if they sold 5,000 the first year. By the end of 1954, ten million of them had been were snapped up. We were excited by the idea of TV dinners when I was a kid, but we never liked the flavor. We always figured we were doing something wrong, otherwise it wouldn't taste so bad. The saddest fact was that this stuff we were so excited about could not possibly compare with our mother's home cooking.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
If you're making calas or rice pudding, use brown sugar. Rice needs a little caramel flavor to keep from being insipid as a dessert. Cinnamon wouldn't hurt, either.

Deft Dining Rule #708
If you're in a restaurant where they serve a dish you hardly ever see anymore, order it. You may be the last person ever to do so. Don't expect much from it.

Gourmet Geography
Partridge, Kansas is a small town of 260 people in the south central part of the state. It stands at the junction of US 50 and KS 61, just up the road from Hutchinson, 58 miles west-northwest of Wichita, in the prairies. It stands at the junction of two transcontinental main lines, those of the historic Santa Fe and Rock Island railroads. The people raise a lot of cattle and wheat. The nearest restaurant is the Dutch Kitchen four miles up US 50. Interesting fact: eleven percent of the working women in Partridge are waitresses.

Music to Drink Martinis By
This is the birthday, in 1960, of jazz guitarist, singer, and composer John Pizzarelli. He's a terrific interpreter of standards, with a unique, velvety sound. And he has (more or less) a food name!

Edible Dictionary
gluten, n.
A pair of proteins that occur in wheat (and a few other grains), which, when joined by having water added to flour made from the grain, become elastic. When you stir, stretch, and knead the dough that results, the gluten binds into a texture that captures bubbles from the leavening agent, and causes what you make from the dough to rise, and to get a distinctive "crumb." The formation of gluten strands is desirable in making most bread and pasta; less so in cakes and biscuits. That's why working the dough is necessary for the former, and to be avoided for the latter. Hard wheat tends to form a strong gluten, soft wheat a tender one.