It’s holiday season, so holiday foods of all stripes are upon us. Leah Zeldes delves into the history of latkes, pointing out that latkes couldn’t have been made from potatoes until they made it into the larders of Eastern European Jews. Such a thing didn’t happen until the late 19th century, so what were latkes made of before? Flour, probably, which is so boring. And not so good with sour cream, which is half the point. Oh wait, the point is really about the oil you fry the things in, to commemorate the temple oil lasting eight days and all that. Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens bah-humbugs all over Hannukah for its putative celebration of fanaticism over reason. Perhaps! But we will eat latkes all the same.
In another where-did-it-come-from story, Tom McNamee looks into the history of the brownie, which may or may not have been born at the Palmer House! Or probably in Massachusetts, or really, in a lot of places simultaneously. But it took until the turn of the 20th century for brownies with chocolate and sugar (as opposed to molasses and powdered sugar, which sounds kind of unappealing) to start appearing on the scene, a lot more recently than we’d have imagined for such a seminal dessert.
Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Chicago last week got a lot of press in the blogosphere, and Julianne Will tackled it for the S-T. Mr. B has given up smoking following the birth of his daughter, which will dramatically improve his palate. He’ll have wished he had a daughter years ago. Also, he likes talking about new baby smell with Mario Batali. (We’re not sure, but we think that means Batali eats babies!) With respect to Chicago, they’ll probably be doing a No Res here in the near future, and Bourdain particularly likes Hot Doug’s.
Denise O’Neal is on top of various food contests going on around the city, including one that RA Sushi held to design and name a new sushi roll. The kicker: all the contestants were culled from reality shows. How many people have appeared on reality shows over the years? Seriously, we would like to know the total figure. It’s got to be in the high four digits, at the very least. The roll that the winner came up with has white tuna, spicy salmon, unagi, scallion and avocado, which is too many thing. But we do like all of those ingredients, so it probably tastes good anyway. 30% of the price of the roll, available at all Ra locations through the end of the year, goes to charity.
Misha Davenport reports on the synergy between the Hearty Boys and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus over fruitcake. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. Wait, yes, it is exactly what you’re thinking: the boys have reinvented the much-maligned holiday treat, and the Chorus sings the recipe while Smith and McDonagh actually make the thing on stage. During intermission, audience members get samples of the cake, which may clear some of the stale air on the subject. Ahh, only in Chicago.
Finally, Lisa Donovan untangles the wild world of chocolate, explaining when and where to use unsweetened, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. Basically, higher percentages of cacao means more chocolate flavor and are appropriate for baking, while lower percentages of cacao means more sugar and are appropriate for eating. But we think sugar in chocolate is for wimps, and we prefer our chocolate to be as bitter as we can stand it. You should too!
[Photo: wow, that is really colorful (Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus)]