Olive Garden’s Pasta Pass Is Back—and This Year There’s a Lifetime Option

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The menu at Olive Garden isn't limited to constructs like serving sizes. The soups, salads, breadsticks, and pasta bowls there flow freely, and once a year, the Italian-inspired restaurant chain takes this generosity one step further. As MarketWatch reports, the Never Ending Pasta Pass from Olive Garden is back, and this year, select customers will have the opportunity to upgrade to a lifetime option.

Olive Garden introduced its Never Ending Pasta Pass in 2014, and shortly after the special offer became available, buyers crashed the website. The passes have promptly sold out every year since, and it's not unusual to see them reselling on eBay for multiple times the original price.

The Never Ending Pasta Pass costs $100, and it's good for unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks and unlimited pastas and sauces from Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl menu from September 23 to November 24. This year, Olive Garden fans looking for a pasta pass that's truly never-ending can extend the offer for a few hundred dollars extra. For $500, patrons can purchase a lifetime pass that grants them all the unlimited items mentioned above with no expiration date. Both passes can only be used by the person whose name appears on the card.

On Thursday, August 15 at 2 p.m. ET, 24,000 of the nine-week pasta passes will go on sale at Olive Garden's website. The pass has sold out in seconds in past years, so the company recommends getting to a computer at least five minutes before sale time to increase your chances of snagging one. The lifetime pass is even more exclusive: The $400 upgrade will only be offered to the first 50 people who buy the $100 pass. After they receive the email letting them know they're eligible, they will have just 48 hours to respond. If any of the first 50 people decline, Olive Garden will extend the offer to the next early buyer in line.

Olive Garden's unlimited options may be the chain's M.O., but they can be a headache for employees. The servers providing all those refills and second servings are often making a only single dish's worth of cash—so if you're lucky enough to secure a Never Ending Pasta Pass, remember to tip well.

[h/t MarketWatch]

The Most Popular Christmas Cookie in Each State

Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images
Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images

While opinions about peppermint bark, reindeer corn, and other Christmas candies are important enough to warrant a map of their own, we all know that the real crown jewel of any kitchen counter during the holidays is an enormous platter of homemade cookies.

In a festive endeavor to guess which type of cookie is most likely to be on your counter this Christmas, General Mills collected search data from BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and Tablespoon.com, and created a map that shows which recipes are clicked most often in each state.

Those universally adored Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, known on Betty Crocker’s website as Classic Peanut Butter Blossoms, took the top spot in seven states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, and Wyoming. And people don’t just love peanut butter in blossom form—Easy Peanut Butter Cookie Cups, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cookies, and 2-Ingredient PB-Chocolate Truffles also made appearances on the list.

general mills christmas cookies map
General Mills

Peanut butter treats are definitely a popular choice among holiday bakers in general, and cookie decorators are likely responsible for the prevalence of plain old sugar cookies across the nation. Sugar Cookie Cutouts, Easy Spritz Cookies, and Easy Italian Christmas Cookies all offer a deliciously blank slate for your artistic aspirations.

Apart from peanut butter- and plain sugar-based desserts, the rest of the results were pretty scattered. Iowa most often opts for the figure eight-shaped Swedish Kringla, while Michigan loves a good jam-filled Polish Kolaczki. Surprisingly, Hawaii was the only state to choose gingerbread cookies as their seasonal favorite.

If you’re thinking classic chocolate chip cookies are suspiciously absent from this map altogether, you have great dessert-related detective skills: General Mills decided to omit them from the study, since they’re Betty Crocker’s most-searched cookie recipe all year long, and they would’ve dominated in a staggering 22 states.

Whether you’re looking for a new show-stopping cookie recipe or just wondering how your long-standing family traditions compare to others’, you can read more on the study—and see all the recipes in full—here.

[h/t General Mills]

Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

iStock
iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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