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Episode 529
October 28, 2021

Alice Waters on Life, Love and Lunch

Alice Waters on Life, Love and Lunch

We chat with Alice Waters: chef, restaurateur, and philosopher. She tells us about the French film that inspired Chez Panisse and explains why good lunch and good conversation are the keys to her career. Plus Chris McDade shows us how to make great food from tinned fish, Dan Pashman tells us about his favorite Halloween candy, and we bake Liberian Banana-Rice Bread.

This episode is brought to you by Matter of Fact.

Questions in this episode:

"I have a question about a goat cheese cheesecake I made that curdled. I've made the recipe before and never had a problem. The only change I made was using a local chèvre with vegetable rennet. Is that the culprit or is there something else going on?"

"I roast a lot of vegetables, but sweet potatoes have proven to be a special challenge. They often burn before they’re cooked the way I want and they also seem to absorb oil like a sponge. Any tips?"

"We are a big fan of Milk Street’s Mujaddara recipe. Recently, when I doubled the recipe, I opened up the lid and found that the rice and lentils were the consistency of a porridge. Is there a secret to doubling the recipe for things like rice and lentils?"

"I’m looking for a good fried steak taco. How could I make that at home?"

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Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball.
Alice Waters is a chef and the restaurant tour. She believes in a meaningful life and it good sit-down lunch with an equal helping have good conversation. This week we catch up with Alice Waters, the philosopher.

Alice Waters: We're not just eating food that is produced by the industrial food system, and that may not be good for us. But we're eating the values that come along with the food.

CK: Also coming up we go to Liberia to learn a recipe for a delicious rice flour, banana bread, and Dan Pashman tells us about his favorite Halloween candy. But first is my interview with Chris McDade, the chef and owner of Pina in New York, this new cookbook The Magic of Tin Fish, Chris explains why tin fish should be part of your culinary repertoire. Chris, welcome to Milk Street

Chris McDade: Thanks for having me.

CK: Okay, so I've given people lots of advice over the years about buying vegetables or buying meats, etc. I've never given people advice about how to buy sardines in a can. So, there's water pack, there's oil pack, there's salt. Could you give us just a quick consumer guide before we get into specific items, how to buy or what to look for in canned fish? ‘

CM: Yeah, so I think the first way to start as most of the time, like you said, it's either water or olive oil. So I would start with anything in olive oil first and just forget about the stuff in the water.

CK: And why is that?

CM: Well one oil add flavor. And if it's coming from a good producer of tin fish, whatever that fish might be, they're going to use a high-quality olive oil. And the water can kind of make it soggy, right? It's like fish just sitting in water for a long time. The second thing I would think about is price, right? If it's super cheap, it's going to taste cheap. I'm not saying it's got to be at $85 can of sea urchin, but like you're sorting into, you know, five or $6 range, which I think is good. Something like an anchovy, there's a huge difference.

CK: And so, what give me an example like what is a bad can of anchovies like versus a great can, ‘’

CM: For instance, like you have, a can of roll in anchovies, you know, open them up. They're going to be very thin, extremely salty. And they're going to taste like bad anchovies on a pizza. Where for instance, if you if you take like the tin of Don Bocarte, anchovies and Don Bocarte anchovies, to me are the best in the world. They're a little bit expensive, and you get them in they're like meaty and plump. And they're not very fishy and there's not a lot of salt to them. It's just I would never cook with them. I would we use them at the restaurant, just butter and anchovy on toast or like folding them into a salad or anything like that.

CK: So that there's some obvious things. I mean, there's like spaghetti commissar with sardines. There's anchovy butter, which people have heard of. But there are some things here that are quite different beer battered sardines with harissa. I kind of like that mixture of grilled broccoli with anchovies, pistachios, and Green Goddess dressing. So just talk us through some of the more interesting ways of of using anchovies or other canned fish.

CM: Yeah, so like I said, I love anchovies. And they can be delicious at their simplest just on a piece of toast, but they're also great as like a seasoning agent, right so, there's a recipe in the book where it's basically just like a lamb roast. They get stutted with all this anchovies, garlic, and rosemary. And as it cooked, the anchovies basically melt into the meat so it becomes more of a flavoring agent as opposed to, you know, just not like you would call it anchovy lamb it's just, it's part of that umami that secret.

CK: And let's talk about the notion of anchovies you know, providing umami that is a foundation of flavor. It's not necessarily about the fish it's just about foundation. So, do you view anchovies that way as well?

CM: Yeah, for sure. So, we like to use them a lot as these little umami bombs are like a back pocket secret that chefs use that guests never know are in there, you know, it's like they don't know why something tastes as good as it does, but they also don't know they're eating anchovies. Like people don't understand like anchovies are in some of their favorite sauces, right? It's like, Caesars, an obvious one. But even like, what's your Worcestershire sauces and you know, you're, you're putting A Seven on your, your steak, you're eating anchovies.

CK: Then you you get on to mackerel. And you say it's richer and milder in taste than tuna. So for the rest of us who have no experience with canned mackerel, sell me on it

CM: I would almost guarantee that if I blind tasted you on a tin of tuna and a tin of mackerel, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. But it's no secret that the tuna stock had just been overfished to the point where it's really struggling around the world. You know, it's like, there are some right like you have the small skip jacks, and the albacore’s that run up and down the East Coast. That, you know, people catch them in a sustainable way. But in most of the world, the tuna stock is just is rapidly decreasing, where the small fish like mackerel or herring or sardines are almost like the rabbits of the sea. Right? It's like, they come back so quickly, the population regenerates so quickly, where you take a big something like tuna, and it takes a long time to get it back to where it needs to be for us to eat.

CK: You know, when I was young, a lot of canned food was gourmet food, right? I mean, gourmet food was more can than fresh, like canned, you know, white asparagus, for example. But at some point, I guess canned food got a bad name. Is that over now? I mean, we've gone through the canned food was expensive and wonderful than canned food was not and now can tin fish is is is going back up again. Is that what's happening?

CM: Yeah, I mean, I think tinned fish is definitely like the height of its popularity. I do think when people from Europe first started immigrating to the United States. They saw America and like success as like eating steak, steak and potatoes, large chunks of meat, which obviously costed money. And so, where they may have in their cultures eaten tinned fish, and it was completely normal. And, you know, just something you did every day. I think once they came to America, it seemed cheap, pour. And that's not what they came here for. And that's not what they wanted to be. So, I think it basically they just everybody just put it on the back burner. So, then all you got was canned tuna salmon, Chicken of the Sea, Sunkist. And now you're seeing a resurgence. Like if you look at your Instagram feed, there's people posting tinned seafood all over the place. But I think people care more now about where their food comes from than ever. I think they are concerned with global fish stock and just sustainability in general. So tinned seafood is like one of the most sustainable things you can eat. It's healthy, and it's delicious. So, I think for those reasons, it's maybe it's a trend now, but I think it's going to be here to stay.

CK: Chris all the best with your restaurant Popina and your book. Thank you.

CM: Thanks, Chris

CK: That was Chris McDade the chef and owner of Popina in New York. His new cookbook is The Magic of Tin Fish:Elevate Your Cooking with Canned Anchovies, Sardines, Mackerel, Crab, and Other Amazing Seafood. Now it's time for my co-host Sara Moulton and I to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One. She also stars in Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.

Sara Moulton: So, Chris, I have a theory recently because I keep coming across this that people who are in one area of the arts oftentimes cross over and do something else in the arts. So, for example, Jack Pepin does the most amazing paintings of mostly chickens, roosters, I myself have taken up watercolors and I'm not bad. I'm not saying I'm a genius, but I'm pretty good. In the past, I always noticed that chefs ended up being in bands and playing instruments and music. And my mom was a writer, and a painter, and an amazing cook. What do you think about that? If you're sort of creative as a cook that it sort of translates into other areas?

CK: We'll find out that Jacque Pepin has been depressed all his life because he really wanted to be a painter. I mean, for me, it's music because I've played music all my life

SM: and see there you go.

CK: I've had a couple bands, etc.

SM: Okay,

CK: But you know, every cook wants to be a rock and roll star and every rock and roll. Well, maybe that's not true. No,did Mick Jagger really wanted to be the head chef.

SM: No, but I do think that when real Anthony Bourdain came out with that book, I know for a fact the guy who played drums and Mink Deville went to cooking school to become a chef because he read Anthony Bourdain’s book.

CK: Well, Jamie Oliver, when I interviewed him a while back, I did some research. He's a drummer.

SM: Yeah.

CK: And he had a band and he he's really talented.

SM: You’re supporting my theory here.

CK: I'm supporting a theory. But I think the question is, why are we desperate or love doing something else in the arts? I guess we're not fulfilled with what we do. Or maybe we just have excess artistic energy.

SM: We've got the art gene. We're hard-wired art. That's what I think.

CK: Okay, that's a good theory. Let's take some calls.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, it’s Sally Tucker.

SM: Hi Sally, where are you calling from?

Caller: I’m calling from Batesville, Virginia.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: I had a question about goat cheese cheesecake that I made that curdled. I have made this recipe many times before and never had the problem. And I used all the same ingredients. But the only thing that was new was I used local chef that had vegetable rennet in it. And I'm assuming that the other goat cheeses that are bought in the grocery stores had had regular rennet. And when I mixed everything together, it curdled and gave me a consistency of sort of water.

SM: Wow, can you tell me a little bit more about how you make the recipe.

Caller: The filling has goat cheese, cream cheese, butter, milk, sugar, eggs, lemon, lemon zest, and also add red currents to it.

SM: It's sort of sweet with a little bit of savory in there.

Caller: Yeah. And it has a togarashi spice over the top of it.

SM: Very nice.

CK: Oh that sounds

SM: Chris is excited

Caller: With a gingersnap crust.

CK: Oh, I like that

SM: I have to admit, I am completely stumped. I don't think it's the rennet.

CK: I'm not even sure what vegetable rennet is. I guess you could make it from some sort of vegetable instead of a stomach lining. But it may be just doesn't hold together as well under heat. I don't know the answer.

Caller: Actually.

CK: There's no cooking here.

Caller: No. Well, mixing up it curdled. And so, my answer to that is I threw it in the in the blender and blended the heck out of it. And it was like water consistency. And I figured I spent all this money on this fancy cheese. And I just went ahead and cooked it. And it actually turned out normally. So I mean, I don't have a complaint about the recipe. But I just had this a weird experience of this curdled consistency to the batter.

CK: You know, before answering questions. It's always helpful to ask questions. So okay, you're mixing this with a stand mixer with a paddle and (yeah) it looks like you're making a pound cake batter that starts to look curdled. Yeah, well, that's that can happen. Because I think I know the answer. The ingredients are too cold. So, when you do a pancake, for example, it was everything at room temperature when you started?

Caller: It definitely was yes.

CK: I was so close,

Caller: Except for the butter milk, except for the buttermilk

CK: Okay, well, okay, there you go. My sense is with cheesecake and with other similar things. Room temperature is really important but as you said, and I've done this with pound cake, many times I've made it and I didn't take the eggs out in time or whatever. It looks curdled and you bake it, and it comes out fine.

SM: Well also the other thing that you said you transferred it to the blender. (um hm) Essentially, you really beat the bejesus out of it is what you did

CK: But it didn't look better in the blender, did it?

SM: Did it look better?

Caller: It did not look curdled. But but strange consistency that was really thin was still there. Hmm. But it no longer looks curdled.

CK: I think it's all about temperature. It's the buttermilk. And you're right. You can look curdled. But you've thrown in the oven. It's fine. So, I don't think it has anything to do with a rennet in it

SM: I don't either

CK: Just try it with a buttermilk at room temperature. So, try that.

SM: I think that's it sounds like you had a happy ending. Anyway, we should have started there. Yeah. Good for you.

CK: Anyway, thanks for calling.

SM: Yes. Thanks, Sally.

Caller: All right. Thank you. Bye. Bye.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a kitchen mystery, put me and Sara on the case. Just give us a ring anytime. Our numbers 855-426-9843 one more time 855 426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Mike Akil in Davenport, Iowa.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I have a question about roasting sweet potatoes. I roast a lot of vegetables. My family loves them, but sweet potatoes have proved to be a special challenge. They often burn before they're cooked kind of the way I want them. The other issue I have is they seem super absorbent I put some oil on them. When I go to stir them in the pan in the oven. To the pan is bone dry. They seem to react kind of like an eggplant when I cook eggplant it just absorbs oil like a sponge and so I don't know if you've got any ideas or tips for how you prepping them?

CK: Are you cutting them into chunks.

Caller: You know I usually cut them maybe half inch squares you know it's hard to cut it sweet potato perfectly square. And then usually a little salt and pepper. I'll blend often maybe vegetable oil with olive oil and salt and pepper. I've tried different temperatures you know anywhere from 350 to 425 and just haven't quite unlocked it yet.

CK: It sounds like your preps fine. I might use slightly like one-inch pieces not half inch pieces.

Caller: Little bit bigger.

CK: Yeah, a little bit bigger, you can toss it with oil and salt, pepper, whatever, for 425 for a while, like half an hour, you know baking sheet, you might use parchment paper under it, and then crank the oven, toss it, and then crank it to 500. I think the problem is you don't have enough heat. If you're dealing with 350 to 425, you should be dealing for 425 to 500. And you're right, that'll help drive out some of the moisture and I'll solve that problem being soggy. So, 30 minutes at 425 and then another 500 degrees for 10-15 minutes, whatever till it's right. (Okay) I do it all the time, the outside should be dry, and the inside should be very creamy and soft.

Caller: And there's no need to preheat the cookie sheet is there?

CK: You know, I don't think so. For example, oven fries. We do that for oven fries because you want that really crisp exterior. I don't think you have to do that here. Now. You could try it. I don't think it's necessary. Sara?

SM: Kenji Lopez Alt, you know, who is somebody who's been on this show and is very good at the science and he said, to get that really sweet flavor out of sweet potatoes, it's a good idea to cook them first. Well sort of cook them get the water hot, you know, like a sous vide situation, but it doesn't have to be sous vide. Get it to like 151 160 put the potatoes cut into wedges in it and cover it leave it for about an hour and that will bring up the temperature then drain and pat them dry and then roast them in a hot oven. And that did bring out the nice sugar and sort of give it a nice caramelization. So that's a thought.

Caller: That didn't add too much moisture when you're trying to brown them up?

SM: No, actually it didn't. (Okay) Pat them dry.

Caller: Yeah, I have a recipe from Ottolenghi where he puts a little cornmeal on them. (Ah) that adds a nice crunch but it didn't solve the kind of core problem of the cook. Yeah, yeah. But I'll try the higher temp.

CK: Yeah, it's the higher temp would really help.

SM: Yeah, I think so too. Yeah. All right.

Caller: All right. Thank you so much for your help.

CK: Take care. Bye.

Caller: Bye.

CK: You’re listening to Milk Street Radio. up next I'm chatting with Alice Waters owner of Chez Panisse. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Alice Waters. Alice, welcome back to Milk Street.

Alice Waters: Thank you so much delighted to be here.

CK: You're celebrating your 50th anniversary at Chez Panisse. You know, I was doing a little homework. And I gather that one of your favorite films is say Cesar from the 1930s. And there was a character in it who actually dies off fairly quickly in the movie on Honoré Panisse. And I think his wife was Fanny Panisse, as well. So, I guess that's where the name came from. Is that right?

AW: That is where the name came from

CK: You know, it's an interesting movie because I know why you love it I think because a lot of people spend a lot of time around tables having conversations with a sense of humor and some of them fairly serious conversations. And there's a lot of enjoyment of the details of life you know, when Panisse at the beginning of the movie dying in bed. He talks about what he's going to miss you know, shaving by the open window in the morning, the corn on his foot, which tells him if the weather's going to change. He even laments you know the hairs on his chest he will miss because he will not be around. Are those things you know the details of life sitting around a table having conversation those just seems like that's such a part of what Chez Panisse is really all about

AW: Well, it is, not quite in that specific way but, but in paying attention to everything that's on your plate, and not just the food, actually, it's the feeling of the room. And you want it to reflect the values that you cherish. And so, you want it to be about seasonality, so you have big branches of fall leaves, turning color in September, and even, you want it to smell good always. You want it to be awakening your senses, that's very important to me. And that is what gets you to pay attention to everything you're doing all the little things that are in that film.

CK: Well, you also said, beauty and meaning are human values, that we have taken these away from the public. How have we taken them away what's happened?

AW: Well, I've just written a manifesto about this, and it's called we are what we eat. And I thought about that wonderful quote from Brillat-Savarin the philosopher in France, who said, the destiny of nations depends on how they nourish themselves. And so I thought about that, that big change that has happened in the last 60-70 years, when we've gone from slow food to fast food and I realized that we're not just eating food that is produced by the industrial food system and that may not be good for us. But we're eating the values that come along with the food. And the values that have changed the world really like uniformity, everything should be the same. That more is better. That time is money, that it's okay to eat in your car. That food should be fast, cheap, and easy. The idea that cooking and farming are drudgery. Imagine that.

CK: Do you think that? I mean how did this happen is my question. Well, well, I mean, did do you think that humans for some reason this is just deeply appealing to us, that is fast food and lack of beauty on some level? Or do you think he got sold to us by a really smart group of people on Madison Avenue?

AW: I think the later. The industrial food system understood the power of advertising during World War Two, you know, we were very effective in persuading people to help with the war effort. Just think of those victory gardens that we got going and, and thinking about all the recycling we did saving things so that they could go to feed hungry troops. Or that they could be part of the building of of munitions or whatever they were doing. But they were very effective at convincing us at that time.

CK: Yeah, we were talking a few weeks ago about because I think the question is, how does one lead an intentional life? That's a loaded phrase. But and I asked you that question in the in the example you gave me was striking, I've been thinking about every day since you said one of the things that was really critical for you early on, was to have lunch at a table, you know, with good food and conversation. And that was critical for your happiness in your life, and you designed a life around that, among other things. Other people would say they want to be an astronaut or, you know, investment banker or whatever but you but you want to have lunch at a table. Could you describe how one lives an intentional life and what kinds of things are on your list of critical aspects to be happy?

AW: I feel like these ideas are available to everyone, we have been told that money is most important. Now, if you make money, number one, then nine out of 10 times, you are sacrificing something that could be very meaningful to you.
You're ready to work in this circumstance, because you can make more money and if they don't have a place to sit for lunch, well so be it, and if there are no windows in that factory, there's no air in it. I mean, it's something that's unacceptable to me. I want to have time to sit down and eat with the people I work with, to see who they are, to see what how we can communicate with each other how we can work collaboratively. But I've never wanted a career, I wanted something that I like to do. And in fact, I believe that that's the real problem of our education system is that we're training people to be part of this corporate world of thinking that we aren't training people to see the potential and, and the beauty of the world around us.

CK: There's a signed photograph on your Instagram account that says we will not go back to normal; I assume this is post COVID, we will not go back to normal, normal never was. What is normal?

AW: For me it really is about simplicity. It's about community for sure. It's about supporting the people who take care of the land for the future. And it's really about that right now. It's about climate. This is something so, so serious, and everyone is so frightened by it. And here we have a solution that's desirable. In fact, delicious. And something that we can all do. We can all plant seed, we can all compost our scraps from our meal. Even if we don't have a place in our backyard, we can take our scraps to the farmer’s market.

CK: You're someone who believes that anything can be done you you have this quote from Amelia Earhart, which I love “never interrupt someone doing something that you said couldn’t be done”. Which I love it’s my favorite quote now.
I mean, you're you're like one of these people who runs around trying to do something that a lot of people say can't be done. So, I guess we shouldn't interrupt you. But

AW: Please don't.

CK: Is that because you have faith in human nature, or you just aren't an incurable optimist. There's faith here somewhere, right?

AW: There is it's definitely I do believe it's deeply in our genes because we are part of nature. And I feel like when you fall in love with nature, you are deeply rewarded. You you have it sense that, you know, she's really your mother.And it gives meaning to your life. But I also believe that having an example having a model of an idea is so, so important right now.
I remember when Jimmy Carter started Habitat for Humanity. And I was part of the rebuilding of a school in San Francisco. And in one day, we painted the school inside and out and planted a garden all around the school. And when I go by the school, I say, oh my god, I helped to make that happen. And this is what has been missing in all of our lives. I really believe we haven't felt empowered. We have been told you can't do this you can't do that it's too dangerous. Don't. When in fact, we can.

CK: Alice, it has been, as always a great pleasure. And congratulations on the 50th anniversary of Chez Panisse.

AW: Thank you so much, Chris.

CK: That was Alice Waters owner of Chez Panisse. Honoré Panisse the namesake of Alice's world-famous restaurant is a character from Cesar, the last movie in Panisse’s trilogy about life in Marseilles back in the 1930s. On his deathbed Panisse talks about what he's going to miss including a corn on his foot, the hairs on his chest, and shaving by an open window with a view of the harbor. He then confesses to his priest with a long litany of sins, each of which he remembers with great gusto. So, what one realizes about the movie is that it's all about the conversation, the everyday back and forth the joys and disappointments that constitute life. Alice Waters realized early on that these conversations best had around the lunch or dinner table, are worth living for even worth designing a life around. And to her great credit that is exactly what she did.
You're listening to mystery radio, it's time to chat with J.M. Hirsch about this week's recipe Liberian banana bread. J.M. how are you?

J.M. Hirsch: I'm great.

CK: So we're going to talk banana bread. I would think everyone in America has made a loaf a week for the last 18 months, right? I mean it’s like chocolate chip cookies and banana bread have gotten me through the last year. But this is a very different banana bread. And it comes from Liberia where you were recently so what is it?

JM: Yeah, well, you know, I can't do anything the usual or expected way so I took myself to Liberia to learn a very different approach to banana bread. Now, to understand this, you have to understand a little bit about the rather troubled past of Liberia. And this country in West Africa, it was created in the early 1800s, pretty much on a misguided notion that the growing number of freed blacks in America could be repatriated, and basically sent back to Africa. As you can imagine, this did not go particularly well and caused generations of conflict. But for our purposes, the interesting part was that obviously we know that a lot of the Southern American food traditions originated in Africa. The other part of that is that when some freed slaves were returned to West Africa, they brought some of those same food traditions back with them. And so, things like Jollof rice and stewed collards that actually began in Africa and became common in the American South went back with these people to West Africa and to the country that became Liberia. One of those recipes, the one that I found really fascinating, banana bread.

CK: So, this is not flour. This is a rice-based bread, right?

JM: Right. You know, the thing that kind of really surprised me is that there's almost no sugar. There is almost never any wheat flour used in it. Some people add some, but most people don't. And it's vegan. There's no eggs, there's no dairy there's no butter. It's made entirely from ground rice and bananas and not a whole lot else.

CK: Could you just describe what it looks like and what the texture is like because I think we think of banana bread. We're thinking about a sweet loaf that you have with a cup of coffee this is very different.

JM: Rather than than a loaf this looks more like a cake. It's usually baked in a round cake pan actually sometimes lined with banana leaves to prevent sticking, and the texture because it's made from ground rice and some people use white Some people use brown. The texture tends to be a little granular but in a pleasant way it's almost like a semolina flour texture. And even though there's very little sugar, this taste is actually quite sweet because they use a tremendous amount of crushed banana. You know, two bunches I saw sometimes being used per loaf or cake of banana bread. And then a lot of times they'll add some ground ginger and some cinnamon little bit of vanilla. And the result is actually really delicious and very unexpected.

CK: I tasted it, you know, here at MILK street a while back and I loved it. I mean, but you can't think you're eating banana bread. Exactly, call it something else. But it was really really good.

JM: It really is, you know to home cooks showed me how to make Sharon Moba and Yassa Cooper, and they do it old school they have these huge mortars and pestles that they use to bash the rice to really kind of grainy powder. And then they do the same thing with the ginger and the same thing with the bananas, and they mix it all up. And you know, ovens as we know them aren't particularly common in Liberia, so they recreate kind of the surround all around heat of an oven by cooking over coals with a Dutch oven with coals both under and over the pot. And the result is really delicious. You get these crispy edges and this really moist and yet a kind of granular crumb that is really satisfying. I was surprised by how much I liked it because you know when you think of banana bread and you remove all the sugar and you remove all the eggs and you you take so much away you think well what's left? It was actually really fantastic.

CK: So, the version we would make here starts with like what grinding rice in a food processor?

JM: Yeah, since most of us don't have these six-foot-tall pestles and you know three-foot-tall mortars you know, we had to improvise a little bit, but we found that a food processor grinds the rice perfectly you know, you rinse the rice you soak it for a few minutes. And pretty much you put much as in Liberia where they put everything in the mortar and just use the pestle to grind it all up. We replicate that but just by throwing everything into the food processor

CK: And it does a great job and the rest of it's pretty straightforward and into a cake pan

JM: yeah,

CK: JM thank you, Liberian banana rice bread. It's not banana bread the way we know it. I think it's actually much better. Thank you.

JM: Thank you. You can get this recipe for Liberian banana rice bread at Milk Street Radio.com.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up Dan Pashman tells us why Butter Fingers are the most overrated Halloween candy. We'll be right back.

I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Daniel from Virginia.

SM: How can we help you today? mu

Caller: We are big fans of Milk Street’s mudadara recipe we make it with some regularity several times a month. Last week, we were making it for friends and so I doubled the recipe. And I've actually had this happen a few times when I've doubled the recipe after you know cooking it for the allotted amount of time. I open up the lid and the rice and lentils are really more of a consistency like a porridge. Not quite as stew but definitely way more wet than I think the dish is supposed to be. Is there some sort of secret if you're cooking something like rice and lentils if you double a recipe, is there something that you're supposed to do to ensure that you get the same effect as a single batch?

CK: I learned to cook mudadara in Beirut actually, years ago, the guy cooked the lentils and rice together. (Right) but I find when I make it I cook them separately. And the reason is, lentils don't always cook at the same rate. It depends how fresh they are, what type they are, and I can control the texture better. So, I'll cook the rice separately. And the trick of cooking rice is to put the rice in the pot although I use a Japanese ceramic pot, but you can use any pot you want. And then add just enough water so it covers the rice to the thickness of a finger. So that's maybe I don't know half something like that. It doesn't matter how much rice you're cooking; it always works. Cook the rice that way. And then the lentils, you can just cook lentils in boiling water really. So, you just boil the lentils until they're done and rinse them and then marry the two and then the caramelized onions go on top. I think cooking them together is dicey. That's what I would do. That's my quick answer. Sara?

SM: One of the things that you said makes more sense to me than anything else, because I've heard that you just shouldn't when you're making a double batch of rice, you don't just double the water, rice all by itself, because it doesn't need as much water when you double it, because some of the water gets absorbed, some of the water evaporates. And when you double it, right, it doesn't behave the same way.

CK: What's really interesting is that when I got this Donabe it’s this Japanese rice cooker, it's a ceramic pot that has two covers, and inside cover with two holes and outside cover one hole, it gave me the directions with it. And essentially said, for a cup of rice, use a cup of water. Not like a cup and a half or two. And when you do that in a pot, it ends up being the width or the thickness of a finger above the rice. So, all these years I've been cooking rice, the back of the box will say two cups to one right to water one rice. So, I essentially cook a typical, like jasmine rice, one cup of water and one cup of rice. And I think that makes a really fabulous rice.

SM: That's an interesting thing all by itself. But in this particular recipe because of the lentils, it sounds like especially when you're doubling it. It's smarter to do what Chris suggested and cook them separately.

CK: This dish, this guy had two young kids, it was their favorite dish. And it's just my favorite dish too it's easy to make and it's just great.

Caller: My four-year-old and two-year old just absolutely love it. It's just so fantastic. It's simple, but complex at the same time.

CK: You could put caramelized onions on bananas it would taste good. Right? It's there's so good. Yeah, yeah. Well, Daniel, thanks for calling.

SM: Yes. Thanks, Daniel.

Caller: Thanks so much for the help.

CK: Pleasure. Thanks.

Caller: Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need culinary inspiration, please call us the numbers 855-426-9843 one more time 8554 to 69843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: My name is Deborah Tillson from Denver, Colorado.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I'm looking for a good fried steak taco. So, I'd like to know how to make them at home.

CK: Well, first of all, I was in LA in June, I spent a couple days going around with a guy called Javier Cabral eating tacos. And you know you're absolutely right, a lot of tacos. I've never seen these before they’re all from northern Mexico, the very local, and they have all sorts of fried shells, they have some that are in the shape of cigars that are got to be almost a foot long. And then filled with lamb or pork with a very dark mole a sauce, very smoky sauce. And there were so many variations on that. So, you're right, the fried shell is great. You can do it in a shallow fry in a large skillet. Put the tortilla in, start to fry it on one side, flip it and just as it starts to get fried, you use a long tongs. I've done this at home, and you fold it in half and hold it with the tong, so it doesn't fully close for about a minute or so until it you know hardens up. But you can do that in a shallow frying skillet. And do it yourself. It's a little time consuming. You do one at a time. But you can do it in a skillet.

SM: How much oil would you say Chris? Maybe an inch of oil and what temperature roughly?

CK: 360

SM: Yeah, that's what I would think.

Caller: I have a candy thermometer that I use for a lot of things like that.

CK: Wear a full leather apron.

SM: No, no no. Listen

CK: welding gloves

SM: When you fry at home it you really do have to be careful.

CK: But I agree with you. There's nothing better than a really

SM: crispy. Yeah, so good.

CK: And it's not a style you see that often. Yeah, well, good for you. We're all for that slightly crisp on the edges. soft on the inside. All right. There you go.

SM: Yeah. Okay. Deborah.

CK: Deborah, thank you.

SM: Yes.

Caller: Thank you.

CK: Yeah, my pleasure. This is Milk Street Radio. Next up, it's regular contributor Dan Pashman. Dan, how are you?

Dan Pashman: I'm alright, Chris. I'm, I'm in the mood for some candy.

CK: I'm always in the mood for candy.

DP: Yeah, you know, Halloween is coming and what I've learned in recent years, I feel like you know, of course, I spent a lot of time raiding my kids’ candy, stealing from them. And different years I find that different candies are my favorite. And I just want to get a sense from you. But which are your favorites because I get some pretty strong opinions. Like for instance, you know, there's two Reese's Peanut Butter cups, right? There's the wide flat one that I think it was the original. And then there's the kind of like narrow tall one. Mm hmm. Which one is better and why?

CK: Oh, this is this is philosophical. This is deep. We're going deep today.

DP: Would you expect anything less? Yes

CK: I think I'd like the flat one better because the process of eating it has more geometry and more choices. You can nibble around the sides first; you can just go deep with the first bite. I kind of like the ridges though on the little one. The tall ridges of chocolate, I like the texture of that. But the bigger one is an invitation to individuality when it comes to consuming it.

DP: I think that's the correct answer. Also, you get more perimeter, so you get more of that crinkly edge texture and then you get the center bite with no crinkly edge which is also kind of special and different.

CK: Okay,

DP: Okay, Three Musketeers or Milky Way

CK: Oh, Milky Way

DP: Why?

CK: Three Musketeers just is bland in that. I think I think Milky Way has the the rich caramel layer and the other stuff that’s the big difference

DP: They both have the soft, gooey nougat and chocolate exterior. Milky Way has the caramel.

CK: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah

DP: Yeah, I would mostly take Milky Way for the same reason. But I think that sometimes the Three Musketeers just as a pure expression of gooey. There's something that I respect about its simplicity. It's just like that's a special texture. You don't get it in many foods, it can probably only be made by some sort of mass production equipment. And I just think that sometimes it is worth reveling in it.

CK: So, you'd like to sit down to a giant marshmallow once and a while?

DP: But it's not quite a marshmallow, it’s not quite as sticky.

CK: No, it’s not okay it's fluffy.

DP: Right right. Almond Joy or Mounds both have coconut and chocolate. One has almonds, one doesn't.

CK: Well as I remember it Mounds has dark chocolate, Almond Joy has lighter chocolate, is that right?

DP: I think that's right yes

CK: Yeah, it's it's that dark chocolate with a coconut that sends me I like the almonds. But no, I go with Mounds because it's the dark chocolate yeah

DP: Yeah. I would love to see them at crushed almonds. Yeah, instead of the one whole or a couple of whole almonds. Because then if you like the bites either have no almond or it's all almond and I want I want crunchy bits through

CK: No, no, no, but I'm going to use your philosophy Mounds is a pure expression of a sticky coconut filling.

DP: Yeah,

CK: Covered by dark chocolate. And in the problem of the almonds is it's it's kind of annoying. It's like another thing you have to think about so, I don't know. I'll go for Mounds.

DP: The almond doesn't usually get in my way. I didn't realize that it was such an obstacle for you.
CK: It's a hurdle. It's a hurdle.

DP: Yeah. Nestle Crunch or Kit Kat.

CK: Oh, Kit Kat.

DP: Why?
CK: Aught-oh, now we have an argument. I was a big fan of Nestle Crunch all through my formative Halloween years. It was my favorite thing to get in the the pumpkin. But Kit Kat I don't know. Maybe it's the jingle. You know the ad. (Right) Or maybe it's because they're miniature Kit Kat bars in the office. We have a candy jar. And those are always the things that go first. I just like the the texture of the sandwich part of it. Yeah. The wafer.

DP: I would like the Kit Kat to be more wafer forward. (Yeah) I will say that. I prefer the Nestle Crunch that the small bite sized ones. I think those are a little bit thicker. So, they have more of a density to them. There's more of a depth to that crunch.

CK: That's a close call. That's close call.

DP: Most overrated Halloween candy. What's your vote Chris?

CK: The worst candy in the world is what my kids always like the most. Which are those chalky super sweet things

DP: You’re talking about, like Necco Wafers?

CK: Yeah, Necco Wafers. Candy corn. I cannot stand the candy corn. Oh, no, I'm sorry. But but it's those Necco wafer style subs powdery chalky, sweet, tasteless candies. I don't like those.

DP: I'm actually with you I don't like those either. For most overrated, I'm going to go with Butter Finger. I love peanut butter. I love chocolate and I love crunch. I should love it. It should be one of my favorites but it just it's just never as good as I think it's going to be it kind of makes my teeth shiver, it gets all stuck in my mouth. It's a little bit mano-textural. I want it to be a little bit creamy. And it's not.

CK: Maybe that explains why I've been depressed so many years you've just identified the problem

DP: Butter fingers?

CK: Yeah. My disappointment with Butter Fingers. I didn't realize how important that has been to me in my life. But I agree with you that the packaging the yellow package is great. (Yes) it's terrific package

DP: And it just doesn't deliver. Well now I think we’ve made some real progress here, Chris,

CK: I feel better. I feel better about myself. I feel more confident about Halloween.

DP: What's one ingredient you wish was in more Halloween candy bars?

CK: I'm a huge marshmallow fiend. I like that texture like, like mochi, you know, that kind of thing. I love that slightly chewy, fluffy thing. And that's why I like Easter, because you get the marshmallow eggs, you know? So, anything with marshmallow covered by chocolate would be high on my list

DP: Okay, you're probably like a big Mallomar guy.

CK: Yeah, I like Mallomar’s okay, absolutely yeah. I haven't had them in years. Now you got me.

DP: You got to get some of those. My vote for the thing I wish was in more candy bars. Raisins

CK: Oh, no. You can’t be serious.

DP: Yes. Raisins provide a different texture that the other classic components of these candy bars, there's the gooey Nougat, there's crunch, there's wafers, there's caramel. There's nuts. There are all different kinds of textures. But raisins provide another texture that you don't get from anything else. And that's why we need more raisins.

CK: It's like the fruit in the chunky bar it just throws me off entirely.

DP: Oh, you don't like it?

CK: No, it's just you hit what is it the dried raisin or cherry whatever is in it? You hit that you go like Whoa, no, I think you're I think you and I were simpatico until

DP: Until the raisins well we knew we would get to that point eventually.

CK: So, you'd like Raisinets those little chocolate covered things?

DP: Oh love raisonets, you don't like Raisinets? Now you're you're getting me excited; I haven't had Raisinets forever maybe that's what we should give away at my house for Halloween this year

CK: Okay, well, let's end this segment. I'm going to rush out get a Malabar you get a couple of boxes a Raisinets and we'll go our separate ways.

DP: I'm leaving now. Happy Halloween, Chris

CK: Dan. Thank you. That was Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful Food podcast.

That's it for this week's show. If you tuned into later, just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street.com There you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season of our television show or order our latest cookbook Tuesday Night Mediterranean. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street and association with GBH. Executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. Production Assistant, Amelia McGuire, and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX

DECEMBER 2021
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