One of the best parts of being on this quest is that I have people following along. Honestly, on those days when I just don’t feel like doing anything, I always hear from someone who read my blog or saw my post and their encouragement gives me a little boost to do one more day. So thank you all for all the support. Today, somewhat randomly (although she has been a loyal follower of the quest since day one), I heard from my cousin who told me about a podcast from NPR called Planet Money. She sent me the link to their website too. They are essentially a segment that tackles economic issues or happenings but in a fun and relatable way. Today’s segment was on what they called the “Holiday Industrial Complex” and essentially talked about the rise of all these little holidays and national days. Moreover, they tried to trace back some of the more obscure holidays (like National Splurge Day) to find out where it began. It’s worth a listen especially if you are intrigued by all this celebration. It made me feel that I am not the only crazy out there and that this quest has deeper roots than I thought. Also on my cousin’s request, I wrote Planet Money and volunteered my services for any future segments on holiday celebrating. With hopes, I could become the next talking head or the resident holiday expert for NPR. (Thanks Liz!)
When I started thinking about today’s holiday which was National Cheddar Fries Day, it made me realize this was a pretty random holiday. First of all, it could be celebrated two ways with two very different products. Also, it’s not a very common dish. I don’t know too many restaurants that offer cheddar fries, at least by that name. Naturally there are cheese fries and poutines on lots of menus, but something actually called cheddar fries was something new. Inspired by Planet Money, I decided to dig in to where this holiday came from and the answer was actually Dallas. Apparently there is a restaurant in Dallas called Snuffer’s which has been around since the late seventies. Today they have eleven units, all in Texas. They’re pretty proud of their cheddar fries and it’s all over their website and menu. They were the originators, probably riding the coattails of the potato skin appetizer craze which gained popularity around the same time. This was their version and the folks in Dallas sure loved it. It became their signature item and then later, Snuffer’s pushed it through the proper channels to have cheddar fries recognized as a national holiday. That’s how we got there today.
A trip to Dallas to try the official Snuffer’s cheddar fries was not in the cards. It would be a fun way to celebrate the day for sure, but not very practical. Maybe that’s something I can do when I get my own show on Food Network. But making these at home would not be that difficult. I got myself a bag of Nathan’s crinkle cut fries which I baked in the oven for about 20 minutes until they were done. Fries are always best when you fry them, but baking them at home makes more sense. It’s less messy, safer and you don’t have to deal with that smell of frying food that will linger in your kitchen. They do get somewhat crunchy and that was good enough for me. When they were done, I seasoned them with some salt and pepper and then I arranged them on a sheet pan. I topped it with plenty of shredded cheddar cheese. On top of that, I sprinkled on some chopped bacon and diced tomatoes. I put it back in the oven under the broiler to melt the cheese (watching them carefully), then when it came out, I plopped on a dollop of sour cream and garnished with some fresh scallions.
If you don’t like french fries, cheese and bacon, then you wouldn’t like these very much. However, if you do like that stuff, than this was unbelievably good. The fries held the cheese perfectly so each one you pulled out was wrapped in the mild sharpness of cheddar goodness. Bits of bacon found their way into every bite too and added some savory saltiness. The sour cream made a nice little dipping sauce and balanced out each bite with a little cool creaminess on your tongue. Plus the touch of fresh scallions was a boost too – just something about fresh cut herbs that brings out the full flavor of whatever you are eating. Simple to make, easy to eat and delicious. I can see how Snuffer’s built an empire on them.
I really believe the concept of cheese fries (or cheddar fries) comes from a slow night at a restaurant and from the mind of some hungry cooks. When you are cooking in a restaurant, especially in a pub or bar atmosphere, you are always looking for ways to grab a quick snack. Until portion control became a major concern in kitchens, there were always french fries hanging out in kitchens that were cooked but not served. As a cook, you would snack on these until you got bored. Then you would start playing around and looking on how to make it better. I’m sure the first cheese fries were probably the creation of a cook who had worked a long shift, was probably a little hungover, and just decided to top fries with some cheese, fire it in the oven for a few minutes and just see how it tasted. He probably shared it with others and it probably became a special staff order. When the staff started requesting it, guests probably noticed and wanted some too. That’s my theory on how cheddar fries became a thing (based entirely on no evidence). That’s how good things happen some time.
If you are from Texas, then you might be familiar with Cheddar Fries and Snuffer’s. But if you are not, you may think of something else when you hear the words cheddar fries. Something from the snack aisle. Something with the comic strip character Andy Capp on the bag. Yes, cheddar fries are also a somewhat popular snack food that were created in 1971 (predating the Snuffer’s variety). They are billed as corn and potato snack strips and are shaped like french fries. I always thought they were kind of a weird product mainly because the spokesperson is Andy Capp who was always a weird little strip on the comics page. He was a bit of a drunk, he was always fighting with his wife (who was twice as big as he was), and it wasn’t particularly funny to a young boy reading the funnies. Yet there he was, right underneath Peanuts and next to Hagar the Horrible. I could never quite fathom how this dude had a loyal following that would flock to his endorsed snack foods and what about his image made people associate him with good food. Was it his frequent trips to the pub? Were they going for the bar snack food crowd? No matter, he’s still on the bag. Andy Capp the comic strip is still in publication even though the creator died in 1998 and has been in the papers since 1957. He’s more popular in England where it originates and is set, but the snack food is decidedly American.
I was at Benny’s today which is a Rhode Island institution for bargains. I was picking up some leaf bags and just walking around the store to see what they have (you can always find something at Benny’s). In any case, I saw that they had a bag of Andy Capp Cheddar Fries, so I was obligated to pick it up. My checkout was the typical Benny’s purchase: leaf bags, mouse traps and Andy Capp fries. If I was ever going to plan a murder, I would pick up all my supplies at Benny’s because I don’t think any purchases that you make there are particularly suspicious. It’s all so random that even a purchase of rope, duct tape, plastic sheeting, butcher knives and even lye wouldn’t create a smidge of suspicion in the eye of the check out clerk. (I think I’ve said too much). When I got home, I made myself a nice chicken sandwich and poured out some cheddar fries as an accompaniment.
I don’t usually go for cheddar fries so it was a nice change from my usual snack chip. It’s a combo of corn and potato, so it has a somewhat unique flavor that’s part potato chip and part corn chip, but no dominant flavor. Texture-wise they have the whole look and feel of a french fry down and best of all they are airy on the inside with the perfect crunch on the outside. It was similar to the texture of a Funyon, only in stick form. They have a high-residue factor from the cheddar cheese coating so your fingers start to get covered in dust as you work your way through. The cheddar dust brings the most flavor to the party, but it’s actually not overly cheesy. Just enough. It’s a good little snack.
A cheddar fry is whatever you make it. Whether it’s a crispy fry covered in cheese or a crunchy stick dredged in cheese dust, it’s still a good time. I think I did a good job celebrating today although that trip to Dallas would have been a nice addition to the tale. I did discover the origins of this rather unusual holiday and I can attribute the inspiration for discovering that to someone who has been encouraging me throughout the quest. Today I am very appreciative of all those who follow along with my blog. Thankful for all those who offer suggestions, who share their opinions and who just have my back. You guys make it all worthwhile and make me feel like I am doing this for a greater good. That was a good lesson to learn today and a tasty one because it came covered in cheese.
Next up: Chocolate Covered Cashews Day