Category: Basics

Descriptive Food Adjectives

Click here to download the complete list of adjectives on our sister site,

We eat regularly. Whether you’re a snacker who barely eats anything but small meals throughout the day, or a trucker or charter bus driver who eats big meals to endure the longer drives, or an athlete or a member of the military who eats larger and more specific meals to achieve various physical goals, food is a part of our everyday lives. We then go to eat at a restaurant, take a bite of food … and the server invariably appears just then to ask “How is everything?” After chewing that bite of food and finally swallowing, do you honestly know how discuss what you’re eating? If you’ve watched the countless competitions on various food channels you might have an inkling of what to say. But like anything else, it takes practice.

Consider the popular Chicken Pot Pie. There are variations that some might also mention, such as the salmon, lobster, and pork pies popular in New England, the Cornish pasty of Minnesota and the upper peninsula of Michigan, and other local specialty pies. Going with the basic version, a Chicken Pot Pie, be it from a Southern cook, a pie shop in Maine, or a Grandmother in the midwest, has some characteristics which you may expect but haven’t actively thought through. The crust can be a light and flaky butter crust such as the ones found in fruit dessert pies. The more common crust is a shortening crust, although lard is once again becoming popular. These crusts are more robust and dense than their flaky, buttery counterpart. In either case the baker needs to protect the edge of the crust to prevent excessive browning or singing during cooking as this makes the crust edge unpalatable. The sauce in the pie should be rich and thick, creamy and well-seasoned, with a robust chicken flavor. It shouldn’t be thin or watery, or be floury or starchy in flavor or texture. The vegetables should be firm and have a good bite to them, being well-seasoned and flavorful, certainly not soggy or bland. There should be ample chicken that’s well-seasoned, moist, fork-tender, and has a good bite to it, not soggy, bland or fatty whatsoever. Overall the pie should look appealing, have ample filling to be the robust comfort food the diner expects it to be.

In the above discussion there are certain adjectives used in describing the various parts of the dish:

  • Chicken Pot Pie: Appealing, Ample, Robust, Comfort food
  • Crust: Light or dense, Flaky or Robust, possibly Buttery, not Browned, Singed or Unpalatable
  • Sauce: Rich, Thick, Creamy, Well-seasoned, Robust, not Thin, Watery, Floury or Starchy
  • Vegetables: Firm, good Bite, Well-seasoned, Flavorful, not Soggy or Bland
  • Chicken: Ample, Well-seasoned, Moist, Fork-tender, good Bite, not Soggy, Bland or Fatty

What diners expect to find in a good Chicken Pot Pie is now condensed into this relatively short list of adjectives, including both pros and cons. This becomes a method for determining if your own pies are acceptable, or if those made by others or served at restaurants you visit are acceptable. What’s right or wrong with a given pie can then be discussed and any adjustments can be made. The list can also be used to develop cards for judging Chicken Pot Pies at competitions. Learning to talk about food can be that versatile.

In menu descriptions the Chicken Pot Pie can be described in similar manners. But in menu descriptions there are rules that have to be followed:

  • Simple: Ensure any diner can understand the menu description without much further explanation by the server.
  • Accurate: Preparation methods, personnel quality certifications, and other descriptors have to match how the dish is made.
  • Truthful: Point-of-origin or source, ingredient certifications, and related information cannot cause a “bait and switch” situation.

Menu descriptions for a Chicken Pot Pie might read as follows:

  1. “Chicken Pot Pie, a great comfort food.”
    • This can be baked and served from whole, frozen pies without possible issues.
  2. “Handmade, just like Grandma used to make! Rich and creamy, with large chunks of chicken, lots of veggies, and a golden, flaky crust.”
    • The pie crusts, chicken and vegetables might be from frozen and the sauce might be from a can, as that’s how Grandma might have made it. But the pie has to be assembled and baked in the restaurant’s kitchen or in a supplying commissary.
  3. “Our handmade pie, made with fresh hand-cut vegetables and whole chicken, and a thick flavorful sauce in a golden-brown crust.”
    • Only the vegetables have to be fresh, the rest can be as in the first example, including the chicken being from frozen.
  4. “Handmade pie, made with tender, slow-roasted free-range local chicken, with organic vegetables cooked to perfection, a rich and creamy sauce made from whole local milk delivered daily, and our own robust and flavorful lard crust. Our most popular comfort food! Topped with a slice of our fresh, handmade mozzarella and additional sauce on request.”
    • All of this has to be absolutely true for each and every pie. If, for example, local chicken isn’t available for some pies, or anything else in the description cannot be fulfilled, it’s better to 86 the pie off the menu until the described ingredient is once-again available than it is to possibly become embroiled in claims or court judgements of false advertising.

A Deli Slicer Size Chart For Printing

Updated December 16, 2018

Download (PDF, 83KB)

How many times have you gone to the deli to get meat or cheese sliced, they ask how thick you want it, and it still takes three or four tries to get it right? Or if you own or work in a deli, how frustrating can it be to be on the other side of the same conversation? There have been many times I’ve actually given up and taken whatever thickness they’ve cut, regardless of whether or not it’s suitable for the purpose, and had to make do.

This may not seem like an issue to many people, but there are differences in how meats and cheeses should be sliced for a given dish. Roast beef is a relatively thin slice for sandwiches, but raw ribeye for Steak & Onion or Philly Cheesesteak should first be frozen and then sliced as thinly as possible. Bologna for Fried Bologna Sandwiches should be around 1/4″ thick, but for cold sandwiches the meat isn’t more than half that thickness. Similarly, cheese for sndwiches might be 1/8″ thick, but to roll up cheddar for an appetizer it’ll need to be 1/16″ or less.

To assist in this area, here’s a handy-dandy Deli Slicer Size Chart I’ve put together for you, dear reader, to download (the link is under the viewer window), print, fold, and laminate, either to show those deli folks what you want, or for the deli folks to use to ask customers exactly what they want.

There are a few caveats, which are repeated on the PDF:

  1. The rectangles are the indicated thickness in inches, so when printing this card don’t resize or scale it.
  2. Honestly, after all the time meat slicers have been used in the industry you’d think there’d be some kind of standard. But there isn’t. In other words, I can’t promise this will be accurate 100% of the time. I’m not sure, but worldwide that may drop to 45% … I just don’t know. So take your slicing accuracy with a grain of salt. Or not, if you can’t have much salt …
  3. And another thing: The metric measurements are slightly off by about 1.5%, but variations will also occur due to product temperature, ambient temperature and humidity, and blade sharpness. Due to this, all settings are only suggestions. Really, there are so many variables, this whole subject can get a little nuts.
  4. For best results, only shave frozen product. Of that, we can be sure

Recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf

An end piece of Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, with the requisite greens.

Meatloaf is fun to make. Take some ground meat, throw in some bread or cracker crumbs, some chopped onions, and some other spices. You can then bake it as a loaf, grill it as burgers, or bake off individually-formed servings for buffets or catering. It’s simple, filling, and satisfying, and different versions go well with a large number of sides.

At Mary’s request I’ve recently been focused on variations on Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf. Her boss was going to have surgery and I, turning into my mother and doing what she would have done, offered to cook a few meals to get the boss and her family through about the first week. My selections were my Chicken Noodle Soup, a simple BBQ pulled pork from a slow-cooked shoulder (along with the necessary buns), and a good meatloaf. While I was putting the meatloaf together, that’s when Mary suggested wrapping it in bacon.

Because of the size of the family, that first meatloaf weighed just over six pounds. There were two lbs each of ground beef, sausage, and bacon, along with half a box of saltines, eight eggs, and the seasonings.

I’ve since settled on one lb each for the basic recipe, while ensuring the recipe itself is truly scalable for larger needs. But there are a huge number of possible variations.

Choice of meats can vary, but pork and veal seem to be one of the standard combinations. Groceries sometimes sell that combination on a foam tray, while others add beef as a third meat in the same package. Combining beef with lamb would give a good flavor, with the beef needing a higher fat content to give a good juiciness. Combining goat or other meats with beef would be interesting as well. Ground turkey or chicken? Sure, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The basic recipe presented here, outside of the bacon wrapping, is rather generalized. Change the meats, change the spices, use applewood or hardwood smoked bacon, wrap it in prosciutto if you’d like … Whatever. Be creative.

The trick, though, is to slow-cook the loaf, particularly if it gets rather large through scaling the recipe. At some point though, making multiple smaller loaves makes more sense.

Just have fun with it. I certainly do.

Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf
1 lb sliced bacon
1 lb ground beef, 80/20
1 lb sausage
4 eggs
1/4 lb (1 sleeve) saltine crackers
1 medium onion
3 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp granulated garlic
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp ground mustard

Add all but the bacon, onion, and crackers to a medium mixing bowl. Peel and coarse-chop the onion and add it to the bowl. Put the crackers into a gallon plastic food bag, and roll with a rolling pin till the crackers are fine crumbs. Add the cracker crumbs to the mixing bowl. Don’t mix what’s in the bowl yet, just set it aside.

Preheat an oven to 250F. Grease a small cooking rack and set it in a roasting pan, deep casserole, or enamel pot. Lay two slces of bacon next to each other in the middle of the rack.Lay the other slices perpendicular to the first two, five on each side, side-by-side, with the inside end at the far side of the first two slices. If you have more than these twelve slices of bacon, add four more slices, two on each end, to extend the length of original two slices.

Use your hands (with food-handling gloves if desired) to fully mix the meat mixture. Form it into a loaf, which will be about 7 inches long and just over 3 inches in diameter. Lay the loaf in the middle of the bacon over the first two slices. Then, pick up the rest of the bacon piece-by-piece and fully wrap the loaf.

Cover the meatloaf, and bake in the 250F oven for three hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 160F. Then go ahead and bake it for one more hour to crisp the bacon.

Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to rest before slicing with a serrated knife and serving.