Monthly Archives: February 2013

Fun with Numbers!

Freed of the burden of reporting on a presidential election, respected research firm Public Policy Polling has released the results of a poll on the most important subject of all: food. It’s called Americans Pick Ronald McDonald over Burger King for President, and it’s fascinating. Let’s see what we can learn!

1. Men are from Krispy Kreme; women are from Paris. One question asked respondents which breakfast food they’d pick: a donut, a bagel, or a croissant. 30% of women chose croissants, but only 19% of men did–they were distracted by the sugary frosting of donuts, the favorite of 37% of men but only 29% of women. Would you like to make broader assumptions about men’s preferences for frosted sugar bombs? Be my guest, but a butter croissant isn’t health food either.

2. All your beer stereotypes confirmed! Poll data doesn’t get easier to interpret than this:

beerorcoke

I’d like to buy the ladies a Coke, and live in harmony

3. Liberal African-American ladies who lunch. The study found that women and Democrats are more likely to choose lunch as their favorite meal of the day, although admittedly not by that much. On the other hand, being black seriously enhances your passion for midday meals: only 11% of the general public picked lunch as their favorite meal, but that number leapt to 26% in the African-American community.

4. People have Chick-Fil-A figured out. The gay-hating evangelical-owned chain is cited as the “least favorite” chicken chain by 28% of Democrats but only 11% of Republicans; it’s the favorite of 48% of Republicans, but Democrats prefer KFC and Popeye’s.

5. Only 3% of people switch between regular soda and diet. Isn’t that kinda weird?

6. Republicans don’t like vegans, but they are more likely to be vegan. Get this: vegans have a 41% disapproval rating from Republicans (31% approve, 29% don’t care), but fully 10% of all Republicans surveyed are vegan. That’s against just 7% of Democrats and 3% of independents. In fact, two-thirds of all vegetarian Republicans go all out and opt for the vegan diet.

7. Nobody likes Church’s Chicken. The favorite of 5% of people, and least favorite of 20%. Interestingly, black people are much more likely to love it (12%) and even more likely to hate it (33%).

8. Parks and Recreation half-captures the American zeitgeist. The best sitcom on television has one character who’s spot-on and one who’s more of an anomaly. Ron Swanson lives: men overwhelmingly choose breakfast as their favorite meal, look down on vegetarians, and prefer alcohol to soda. On the other hand, Leslie Knope’s passion for waffles is something shared by African-Americans, me, and nobody else. Among the general public, asked their favorite breakfast foods, waffles somehow came in dead last. This despite the well-known fact that “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

Tragically, PPP didn’t think to test the approval rating of calzones.

9. So you think vegetarians are all rich white people. Surprise!

vegetarians

Must be the rice and beans? Or something?

I don’t know if it’s the product of a tiny sample of respondents, or what, but an insane 26% of Hispanics told PPP that they’re vegan, compared to 4% of white people. Gotta be the sample size, right? They only asked 500 people, but they do think the margin of error is just plus-minus 4%. If they’re right, the odds of fewer than 22% of Hispanics being vegan are the same as the odds that there are no white vegans in existence. Yeah, that seems weird.

10. Burger King is uncool. A plurality of respondents aged 18-29 singled it out as their least favorite, while it was the top choice of those 65+. Similarly, youngsters are much more likely to choose beer over Coca-Cola.

11. Everyone agrees: stupid questions are stupid. As you saw, the title of the poll was “Americans Pick Ronald McDonald over Burger King for President.” And while that’s technically true, the runaway winner–with 42% of the vote in a three-way race–was “Not sure,” which tells me nearly half of respondents thought the question was too stupid to live.

12. The western United States likes beer more than everybody else. Almost twice as much as Midwesterners, in fact. But that’s not surprising, since the western states have many of America’s best breweries.

13. Independent voters can’t decide on anything else, either. Click this image to expand it:

wackyindependents

But if you don’t want to click to expand, here’s a summary: the independents voted “Not sure” on everything.

This is fascinating. Independents refuse to choose a political party, but they also refuse to choose everything else. They’re more likely to be unsure about Pepsi/Coke preferences, vegetarian people, the authenticity of Olive Garden, and their favorite fast food joints. They’re more likely to hate soda and liquor, and less likely to go vegetarian than Republicans. And literally all the people who couldn’t decide on a favorite soft drink were political independents.

To summarize: have we learned anything here? Probably not. Have we had fun? Probably yes! Aren’t pointless polls the best? Yes, yes they are.

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Operation Bacon Makin’

Whew! It’s been nine months since I last posted on this blog, but a lot has changed in the interim: I now live in Dallas, for one thing, at a new job in a new home with a new car (after a careless driver pulled in front of my last one). But today I’m going to talk about a very different, but equally essential, part of becoming an independent young man in today’s society.

Knowing how to make your own bacon.

Operation Bacon Makin’ was a long time coming. The process of buying and curing the proper cut of meat, slow-roasting, and getting it ready to serve requires some prep work.

The first step was realizing that making my own bacon from scratch was not just possible, but desirable. For that (and for the instructions used) I owe Michael Ruhlman, whose book Ruhlman’s Twenty explains: “Making your own bacon is as easy as marinating a steak. When you do, you’ll find out what true bacon is all about, as opposed to the brine-pumped, water-logged versions available at the supermarket.” Now who could resist a description like that? Answer: not me.

Step two was procuring the necessities. Don’t just run out and find a slab of pork. First you’re going to need an extremely large Ziploc/Hefty bag: 2.5 gallons at least. More difficult to procure is sodium nitrite (not nitrate), a powdery salt which acts as an antimicrobial agent. Notice I didn’t say you need sodium nitrite, but you will want it, because it also provides bacon with its color. Think about it: pork chops aren’t bright red, so why is bacon? Because sodium nitrite is pink.

To acquire sodium nitrite, look online. From Butcher & Packer I got basically a lifetime supply for $10 ($2.50 plus a hefty shipping charge).

Now, following Ruhlman, find a grocery store that sells pork belly. This wasn’t easy: I was turned away at Kroger and Whole Foods, and one Hispanic butcher counter guy thought I was asking for stomach. At last I found my quarry for just over $3/lb. at Central Market. I bought five pounds.

Future bacon!

I discarded the slice on the left. Fat makes bacon fun, but this section was literally nothing but fat.

I now had everything required for Bacon Makin’:

Pork belly, crushed garlic cloves, salt, brown sugar, three kinds of pepper (black, red, cayenne), and bay leaves.

Pork belly, crushed garlic cloves, salt, brown sugar, three kinds of pepper (black, red, cayenne), sodium nitrite, and bay leaves. (click to expand)

I combined the various ingredients more or less the same way you would marinate a steak, threw the pork belly into a gigantic Hefty bag, and stored it in the fridge for a week.

The hardest part begins: waiting a week before you can have bacon.

The hardest part begins: waiting a week before you can have bacon.

During this time, I turned the bag and slosh the seasonings around a bit so that one part doesn’t taste way more garlicky (or whatever) than the rest. My pork belly created mad amounts of condensation on the fridge shelf, so my future bacon lived fairly consistently in a puddle. And lo, on the seventh day, it was time to slow-roast the bacon in the oven. The wire rack I have for my baking sheet was small enough I had to further cut the pork belly into smaller pieces, but here’s what slow-roasting does:

Slow-roasting, before and after. Afterwards, a tip: find a corner, tear off bits, and eat them shamelessly.

Slow-roasting, before and after. Afterwards, a tip: find a corner, tear off bits, and eat them shamelessly.

Now the pork belly is ready to wrap up and store in the freezer, or slice up and throw in the frying pan! Since this is 5 lbs. of bacon, I recommend not eating it all at once. I have about three-quarters of my supply in the freezer. With the rest, it’s time to enjoy the delicious results. Homemade bacon really is different: its flavor is fuller, richer, but also subtler, so you’re not so much clubbed over the head with baconness as seduced by it. Using Ruhlman’s rub, there’s a nice hint of pepper and spice without it being excessive or aggressive (the cayenne was my idea). Plus, you can slice each piece to the thickness you want.

And all of a sudden that ordinary turkey sandwich is a turkey club. I’ve also thrown bacon into pasta and served a few strips plain with breakfast.

Left: bacon. Right: bacon. Background: thing that doesn't have bacon.

Left: bacon. Right: bacon. Background: no bacon.

Here’s an abridged version of Michael Ruhlman’s recipe (the book contains much, much more, including more photos of the process and a honey mustard cure which yields a sweeter result):

Bacon at Home

3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon sodium nitrite (optional)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
4 bay leaves, crumbled into little bits
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes [I also added cayenne]
5 pound slab of pork belly

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the cure. Place the pork belly and cure in a large resealable plastic bag, about 2.5 gallons, or in a nonreactive container of the same capacity. Seal the bag or cover the container and refrigerate for 7 days, occasionally rubbing the meat to redistribute the seasonings and turning the bag or the belly every other day.

Remove the meat from the cure, rinse well [remove all bay leaves!], and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the cure. The belly can be refrigerated in a fresh plastic bag for several days if you are not yet ready to cook it.

If roasting the pork, preheat oven to 200F/95C. Place the meat on a rack on a baking sheet/tray. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 150F/65C, about 2 hours. Begin checking the temperature after 1 hour.

If smoking the pork, smoke the belly with the wood of your choice at 200F/95C, until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 150F/65C.

Let the bacon cool to room temperature. Wrap it well in plastic wrap/cling film and refrigerate until chilled. The bacon can be refrigerated for 2 weeks or wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.

When you’re ready to eat, you know what to do.

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