Why Tuesday is Taco Day

Unless you live in the Southwest, you may not be familiar with Taco Tuesday, but it’s a tradition among Mexican restaurants, both large and small, to feature tacos at a discount each Tuesday thus generating more business, and allowing families to dine out for less. (Think of them as Mexican happy hours.) And you may not be familiar at all with the most popular taco, namely the fish taco.

Although many people still think of ground beef and shredded lettuce as the filing of choice, the fish taco tops the hit parade in most restaurants, especially in California and other border states, and traditionally contains shredded cabbage, a piece of fried white fish or grilled mahi mahi, white cheese, maybe some avocado slices and topped off with a creamy dressing. There are a lot of variations, of course, which might add salsa fresca or chile peppers, served up with a wedge of fresh lime (an essential). And of course, there are always the designer and gourmet variations, which may include lobster, shrimp, calamari or salmon, with a melange of fillings. There is almost no end to the ingredients (and prices) depending on where you dine.

Tacos de pescado (fish taco) originated in Baja California, Mexico, where they consist of fried or grilled fish, shredded lettuce or cabbage, pico de gallo, and a creamy sauce, all nestled on top of a tortilla (flour or corn). Historians seem to agree that in the U.S. the first tacos, which were housed in a crisp shell, can be attributed to Taco Bell, where they were served to a receptive dining audience, and contained ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, a bit of cilantro and shredded cheese, but in all likelihood had been served years before in a handful of Mexican restaurants. The hard shell variety is not native to Mexican cuisine but was embraced by Americans as a fun snack or meal, often accompanied by rice and beans, The concept of fish tacos is nothing new. Mexicans have been wrapping fish and other seafood in corn tortillas for centuries but probably didn’t garnish them with pico de gallo or creamy dressing. They ate them in a simple sandwich-style.

And embraced they were. In 2016, Americans ate over 4.5 billion tacos. That’s roughly 490,000 miles of tacos, which would take you to the moon and back or could equal the weight of two Empire State Buildings. Wow, just think of the salsa that would be needed.

There is no question that the king of fish tacos is Ralph Rubio, who as a young college student headed south to San Felipe on the Baja Peninsula each spring break to surf with his college friends, living on beer and the local cuisine, fish tacos. The legend goes that young Ralph could not talk the beach vendor into returning with him to San Diego and opening a taco stand, so he decided to do it himself in the early 80s. California surfers flipped over the tacos, as Ralph’s future was secured. And yes, Rubio’s has Taco Tuesday each week, featuring his original recipe for under $2, packing in hordes of hungry fans.These days, San Diegans consider the fish taco as their official food but may disagree on where to find the best ones. More popular than the ballpark hot dog, you’ll see thousands of baseball fans wolfing them down at Padre games.

Hole-in-the-wall stands can serve up some of the cheapest and tastiest, but many just head for their local Rubio’s knowing they will not be disappointed. Since most Mexican restaurants feature a salsa bar, you can drown your taco of choice with cilantro, several types of salsa, hot sauce and lots of fresh lime juice. Popular chains La Salsa, Chipotle and Baja Fresh have certainly helped spread the fame of soft tacos, along with numerous regional shops.

The carne asada taco, made with shredded beef or pork, also reigns but never quite measures up to the fish version. And of course nothing goes better with any taco than a cold Mexican beer or fresh lime margarita. If you have never tried one, take your first opportunity to enjoy this delicious import from our Southern neighbors.They make for a simple buffet dinner, an easy sports party snack or an inexpensive workplace lunch. Best of all, it doesn’t have to be Tuesday.

Benefit of Peanuts

Whether you are a chunky or creamy fan, peanut butter and its many forms comprise one of America’s favorite foods. Are you a brand loyalist, be it Skippy, Jif, Peter Pan, Smucker’s, or an organic-only consumer? On average, Americans eat more than six pounds of peanut products each year, worth more than $2 billion at the retail level. Peanut butter accounts for about half of the U.S. edible use of peanuts-accounting for $850 million in retail sales each year.

The peanut plant can be traced back to Peru and Brazil in South America around 3,500 years ago. European explorers first discovered peanuts in Brazil and saw its value, taking them back to their respective countries, where it was a bit slow to catch on but became popular in Western Africa. (And the French just never quite got it.)

History tells us that it wasn’t until the early 1800s that peanuts were grown commercially in the United States, and undoubtedly showed up at the dinner table of foodie president Thomas Jefferson, probably in the form of peanut soup, a delicacy in Southern regions. After all, Jefferson was an enthusiastic gardener who lived in Virginia. Civil War Confederate soldiers welcomed boiled peanuts as a change from hardtack and beef jerky. First cultivated primarily for its oil, they were originally regarded as fodder for livestock and the poor, like so many other now-popular foods. Technically not nuts, peanuts are part of the legume family and grown underground in pods, along with peas and beans.

Peanuts started to catch on in the late 1800s when Barnum and Bailey circus wagons traveled cross country hawking “hot roasted peanuts” to the crowds. Street vendors soon followed, selling roasted peanuts from carts, and they became a staple in taverns and at baseball games. (Throwing the bags to anxious consumers became an art form.)

As with many other popular foods, peanut butter was first introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 but basically still had to be made by hand. Catching on as a favorite source of protein, commercial peanut butter made its appearance on grocers’ shelves in the late 1920s and early 30s, beginning with Peter Pan and Skippy.

Dr. George Washington Carver is unquestionably the father of the peanut industry, starting in 1903 with his landmark research. He recommended that farmers rotate their cotton crops with peanuts which replenished the nitrogen content in the soil that cotton depleted. In his tireless research, he discovered hundreds of uses for the humble peanut.

While it is believed that the Inca Indians in South America ground peanuts centuries ago (we know for certain they weren’t spreading it on white bread with grape jelly), credit is usually given to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of corn flakes fame) for creating the first peanut butter in 1895 for his elderly patients who had difficulty chewing other proteins.

In the U.S. peanuts are the 12th most valuable cash crop and have an annual farm value of over one billion dollars. They are an easy, low-maintenance crop, nutritious, economical, transportable and just plain delicious. Some of our more popular uses include:

Butter
PB&J sandwiches
Brittle + other candies
Crackerjack
Soup
Baking and cookies
Garnishes
Snacks, both boiled or roasted, in-shell or no-shell

Not to be forgotten is peanut oil, which is a highly regarded form of cooking oil, due to its ability to withstand higher temperatures and the added benefit that food doesn’t hold any peanut flavor after cooking.

Sadly, due to a rise in allergies, peanuts are disappearing from sporting events and other venues, and some airlines replaced them years ago with more economical pretzels. But no matter how you enjoy them, in their simplest form, covered in chocolate or mixed into your favorite dishes, this popular snack and sandwich filling crosses all economic and age barriers. We’ve gone nutty, all right. And for those of you who are allergic, you have our heartfelt sympathy.

All About Sports Drink

There’s nothing like chugging a cold sports drink after an intense workout or game. It’s refreshing, has lots of flavors to choose from and its good for you, right? Well, like anything else, there are pros and cons. Read on to know more.

When you get physical-when working out, running or playing sports-all that sweating causes you to lose lots of nutrients and minerals. Your muscles lose protein as well, since they are broken down. A quick pick-me-upper would be a sports drink. It replenishes lost fluids and provides potassium, sodium, and other minerals. But despite their benefits, there are drawbacks.

Since sports drinks are not created equal, there are some with an exorbitant amount of sugar, sodium and certain acids harmful to the enamel of your teeth. There’s also other chemicals like coloring. When your body is deprived of so many things, when you drink or eat something it’s easily absorbed. And you don’t want your body being filled up with unhealthy things when it’s supposed to be effectively recovering. Luckily, you can see the ingredients in the nutritional label, so you can make an informed choice.

So if you choose to chug sports drinks, be sure to check the label first. If it seems unhealthy, there are sure to be other options. Thanks the advantage of these commercial drinks, there are so many options in the market. But if you want an alternative, you’ll be surprised that a banana can be enough.

A banana can reduce the risk of muscle cramps because of its potassium content. Its natural sugar content gives your body the carbohydrate content it needs to replenish itself after an intense physical activity.

Now, of course, you have to address the fact that after all that activity you are thirsty and a banana won’t replenish all that thirst. Well, that’s true. So you’re in for a treat. You can make your own shake starring the mighty banana. Just take one medium banana, some crushed ice and a glass or chocolate milk. Yes, you heard it correct, chocolate milk.

The trick here is to provide your body with a carbohydrate to protein ratio or 4:1. This way, your body can replenish the lost energy supply in the form of carbohydrates, at the same time you can feed your muscles with protein so they can recover effectively. There’s also the nutrients from the banana, calcium and other minerals from the chocolate milk. And of course, it tastes awesome. If you’re worried about calories, choose a low-calorie, low-sugar chocolate milk. But do remember that your body will have a high metabolic rate after your workout, so it can easily burn some calories.

Whether you choose sports drinks or a banana protein shake, it’s good that you have viable choices.

The Secret of Mac And Cheese

What did foodie president Thomas Jefferson start? After discovering a cheesy, rich pasta dish in France. he brought it back in the early 1800s and introduced his dinner guests to a delicious new concoction loaded with rich cream, cheddar cheese and baked to a bubbly, crusty perfection. The latest from France, he undoubtedly proclaimed, along with his other creations including ice cream, french fried potatoes, fine wines and exotic fruits and vegetables, all whipped up at his estate kitchen by his French-trained chef (not to mention at the White House), and Colonial foodies dug in. For Southerners, homemade mac and cheese casserole has always been a staple on holiday dinner tables.

Once commercial production began, Kraft Foods harnessed its great potential by mass-producing and boxing it up for busy mothers and hungry children, putting it on the map during the Depression, in 1937. While many cooks still preferred to make it from scratch, it created quite a stir in packaged foods, right up there with sliced white bread and Toll House cookies. In spite of a former First Lady’s campaign maligning it, boxed mac and cheese is a pantry staple.

No question, it has come a long way, and some of its newest versions are just plain outrageous. Seems each restaurant and chef wants to outdo the others, and while perhaps some (maybe) delicious variations, the new combinations could qualify as just plain bizarre. Here is a list of current popular creations:

Mac and cheese bagels (actually baked into the dough) from Einstein Bros.Bagels

Mac and cheese balls, breaded and deep fried for a new experience in hors d’oeurves (Trader Joe’s are especially good)

Pizza topped with mac and cheese is showing up at several major chains

Hamburgers topped or stuffed with mac and cheese

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Mac and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Meatball-stuffed sandwich sliders

Mexican foods (quesadillas, burritos and enchiladas) stuffed with M&C

Hot Dogs topped off with M&C (hold the ketchup)

Rich homemade baked M&C casserole with lobster (and a very hefty price)

Mac and cheese topped with white truffles

Of course, driving up the cost and (sometimes) the taste level, any cheese can be used, including Gruyere (Martha Stewart’s favorite which will run you about $30/pound, but hey, it’s Martha Stewart) and blue cheese, which adds an interesting and new taste for this classic dish, rather than traditional cheddar and Velveeta. Maybe a chunk of butter and some sour cream to up the calories.

And at one L.A. restaurant, truffle oil and a splash of white wine is added for the bargain price of $95 per serving (you read that right). Yikes.

In other words, just about anything you can dream up, you can do with your basic mac and cheese, so get creative if the spirit moves you. But for you purists, nothing beats the creamy goodness of macaroni, rich cheddar cheese sauce and buttery crumb topping baked to gooey perfection in the oven. It may be all grown up, but no doubt about it. Some things are better just left alone.