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This week, your favorite apples get ranked, mercilessly. Find out which apples comedian Brian Frange deems “horse food” and “indigestible filth,” and which crisp, glorious apples rise to the top of the heap. Plus, reporter Katie Thornton joins us to discuss the history and ingenuity of the Frankfurt Kitchen, the blueprint for space-saving kitchen design; Adam Gopnik revels in the alchemical wonder of stovetop cooking; and we make Indian-Spiced Smashed Potatoes.
Questions in this Episode
“I previously called Milk Street about my haunted well. I'm following up with how I've learned to bake using well water."
"Am I able to preserve cranberry sauce for year-round use?"
"I have a question about how to inject more flavor into the dry biscuit recipe I use on camping trips."
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Is there such a thing as the perfect kitchen? Well, one model may have come close it was called the Frankfurt kitchen. It was designed in the 1920s. In Germany, it was sleek, it was supremely functional. And they even chose a paint color and unconventional blue on purpose.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez: That's like the one unappetizing color. So, imagine making this beautiful food and then it's an a blue kitchen. But the reason it's blue is because it was thought to repel flies.
CK: That was Jennifer Komar Olivarez, curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Later on in the show, we'll get a tour of the Frankfurt kitchen. But first, it's time for a lesson in apples, The Good, the Bad, and the just plain, inedible.
Brian Frange: McIntosh, the National Apple of Canada, this dense curling stone has the refreshing tart kick of an icy northern winter. Unfortunately, this tumor swollen reindeer nose has perhaps the thickest most intractable skin of any apple this side of the prime meridian final score 45 out of 100 horse food
CK: That's comedian and self-proclaimed applest Brian Frange. He joins us now. Brian, welcome to Milk Street.
BF: Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.
CK: You run a website called Apple Rankings. So just to give our listeners a taste of your style. Here's what you've written about the Lucy Glow Apple quote: The Lucy glow is a circus freak apple with yellow skin at a red interior that shocks skeptics into submission. And here's the good part. Most would expect this to taste like an unhealed surgical wound since each bite resembles a freshly picked scab. So, before we go any farther, I think this deserves some amount of explanation on your part don’t you think?
BF: Oh, well yes, I mean, the Lucy Glow I wanted to depict how freakish it looks because it tastes so good. The Lucy Glow apple I rank 85 out of 100 which is excellent even though it looks so insane.
CK: The Opal apple quote “while the outside may be stained with a toddler's accident, in an ironic twist, the interior of the apple does not brown for quite some time’. You actually rated this at 83 points and excellent.
BF: Oh, yes. This is one of my favorite new apples. And I have to say this is a controversial opinion. But I 100% believe yellow apples are greater than green apples.
CK: Okay, so your rating system (yes) you actually despite the way you write about your apples, you do take this seriously?
BF: Oh 100%. I take my apple ranking seriously. So, I created the 100 point ranking system to give a definitive delineation for every single apple I had. So, there'll be no question as to how I felt about a certain apple.
CK: So, let's back away up. I mean, the obvious question is why? Why are you obsessed with apples? I'm glad you are because nobody else is willing to say what you say. But what, what was the motivation here?
BF: Well, yes, I do appreciate the fact that you are recognizing me as a trailblazer, speaking truth to apples across the world. But I was just fed up with the apple selection that was available to me in grocery stores, particularly obviously, the Red Delicious apple, which I call coffee grind in a leather glove. It is a 25 out of 100. It's a disgrace. And it's sad. It's really sad because there was a time back in the turn of the century, when the Red Delicious apple was considered the number one apple.
CK: So, what's happened to apples? I mean, what my take is that apple growers have really gotten into the super sweet like in corn. They're less interesting. There's less apple flavor. I not happy with the Gala’s and the Fujis and the Cosmic Crisp because they're just too sweet and they're not complex enough. Are you going to agree with me or are we going to have a food fight here?
BF: I think we might have a little bit of a food fight. But I do think that the people who grow apples are following what the market demands. And up until the I'd say the 80s people cared more about locally grown apples that had a specific flavor and attitude towards their region. And then growers started to mass produce certain apples and the number one feature is how it looks. A beautiful, handsome apple that has a waxy glow is purchased more often, then an old beat up one that might actually taste better. The second thing is Christmas. People want Christmas. It's like taste has become an afterthought in the apple world where it's like, okay, does it look good? Does it crisp, then I don't care what it tastes like.
CK: Well, I love making apple pies. And I have to say, if you make an apple pie with Macs and grannies, which is sort of a typical 50-50 deal, right? I mean, it's okay because the Granny holds its shape. Although I have to say I just want to, you know, for the record say, you cannot eat a Granny Smith out of hand. It is a vile, wretched, horrible flavor. It's not juicy. The skin is tough.
BF: I have to warn you because you're treading in dangerous territory. The Granny Smith apple has an incredible fandom, rivaling the Taylor Swift Eras tour. If you disparage the Granny smith apple, you're inviting a torrent of hate, which I have experienced firsthand. People love the Granny Smith, and I don't understand it.
CK: for eating out of hand?
BF: Eating out of hand. I don't even people who bake in pies go ahead, it's a great baking apple but a Granny Smith apple is thick skinned, dense and it makes your gums bleed. There have been studies showing that the granny smith acidic profile will make your gums bleed if you eat too many of them.
CK: You obviously are not scared of the torrent of hate, because you've now
BF: No, I'm numb I am in it. I am deep.
CK: So, to enumerate your criteria taste, crispness, skin, flesh, juiciness, density, beauty, branding, consistency, and cost availability. Well, what does branding mean? I don't quite understand that.
BF: Branding has been incredibly important. Ever since the Pink Lady Apple was trademarked. Apple companies have been focused on making sure that their apples are proprietary. And now it's become a multimillion-dollar marketing industry. Like for example, there's an apple out there that you've probably seen in stores. It's been around for a few years now called the Rocket Apple, they’re these little, tiny apples that are prewashed like an astronaut's prefab lunch and placed into a little bottle rocket container that you can open up and snack on without even washing it. Now, that is an incredible amount of marketing for an apple.
CK: Now what about if you got to Cosmic Crisp, and you wanted to grow some and you took the seeds out of an apple that would not produce a Cosmic Crisp, right?
BF: No, that is the coolest apple fact that anyone will ever hear. Every single seed and every single apple will produce a brand-new variety of apples. So if I took a seed out of a Granny Smith and planted it a tree might grow that produces a red apple, because basically every apple tree has been the equivalent of sleeping with the mailman, or really every mailman in town because every Apple comes from a flower which is pollinated by a bee whose pollen packet comes from God knows where so no seed will ever resemble the parent. It's a mauri episode every single time. But that's not even the cool fact this is if you can never get the same Apple using seeds from that Apple than how do you get more of the same apple?
CK: You graft. (Yes) you take rootstock and graft on, right?
BF: Yes, you have to clone it by cutting off a little branch or shoot and grafting it onto a living apple tree. In fact, you can graft multiple different apples to the same tree. So that means that every single Granny Smith or Macintosh or Pink Lady, whatever apple you eat today came from the same exact tree as the first and only one that ever existed.
CK: I never thought about that. Now I I've grown Macoun’s, and you say “that any flicker of a long-term relationship is quickly dashed, as this actually quite disgusting dirtbag. Geez, turns into a mealy tasteless flush sack within days of being brought home. Yeah, but if you pick a fresh off the tree, it's a pretty spectacular apple, I think.
BF: Yes, it is 100% But you have to get it like the day it ripens on the tree and just if I'm ranking apples for the average consumer, they're going to get usually a mealy flush sack that is not worthy of being eaten.
CK: So, what are a couple of apples you think most people can find that are to eat out of hand or probably make the grade?
BF: Yeah so, I mean first thing I would say is if you're going after a Pink Lady, you like a sweet tart makes a little more on the tart side. That's great. But don't be fooled by grocery stores who are selling you Crips Pink and telling you it's the same thing as a Pink Lady. It is not the Crisp Pink, or the B team of Pink Lady apples. But you know you can never go wrong with the worldwide favorite available in every grocery store. The Honey Crisp, I mean, the Honey Crisp is a great apple. The downside of the Honey Crisp, is that it can be a little expensive, especially because a lot of them are huge.
CK: You know, this reminds me of a discussion I had recently in Italy about saltless bread, which goes back to the 15th century and the Pope put a tax on salt and everybody in Umbria decided to not put salt in bread. Saltless bread is is vile, I'm sorry, is just awful. But if you talk to people in Italy who grew up with it, they defend it to the very bitter end. Yes, but I finally realized that trying to explain why people should not like something they grew up with is really a fruitless exercise. (Yes fruitless), I mean, if you grew up with a New Town Pippin, or Macoun good luck telling people, the Cosmic Crisp is on its way.
BF: Right. I mean, that's, that's why people love the Granny Smith so much. If you try to attack the Granny Smith apple, it is as if I am attacking a person's identity that they develop from childhood. You can't fight against people's emotions when it comes to apples and any type of food. But I'm trying to take the emotions out of the equation. I'm making this a scientific ranked numbered system. There's no category for did your grandma use it in a pie when you're at your happiest.
CK: Brian, thank you for your worldwide tour of apples and especially for your writing, which makes all this worthwhile. Brian, thank you.
BF: Thank you very much. It was great to be here.
CK: That was comedian Brian Frange. You can read more of his apple rankings at Apple Rankings.com. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television, also author of Home Cooking 101. Sara here’s my question, are we going to get over French cooking? And by that I'm not dismissing French cooking, because I think it's fabulous. But do you think we're headed into an age when we finally cut the final bonds with culinary education and restaurants being rooted in that tradition? Or do you think that that will endure forever?
Sara Moulton: I think what you're referring to is that French cuisine was considered the reading, writing and arithmetic to every other thing you did. So, all the rules, how to use a knife, all that sort of stuff. Well, let me just say this, we both know, we both agree, particularly with what you're doing with Milk Street that every country has its own way to approach things and they're all equally valid. I don't think French cuisine, listen, I love it. I think it's fantastic. There's a reason why it's been popular. I don't think it's going to continue to dominate. I think everybody's looking for new taste’s, new excitement, new places to go. New toys to play with in the kitchen. So no, I don't think it's going to continue to dominate. I still love it, though.
CK: You know, I'll say two things. When I travel the world. So many times, I ask people that question and 90% of time, they said they were trained at a French restaurant, (which which is what has been) but the problem with French cooking, it seems to me is it's devoid of spices. It's devoid of chilies. It's devoid of fermented sauces. It has an ingredient list that's fairly finite. And therefore, it's cooking was appropriate for that. But if you go across the world people have so many more tools to play with you know. (it’s true) So with what the techniques are still solid. Yeah. Okay. All right. Let's take a call. Yeah. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Tom Egan in Lambertville New Jersey.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: So, after our last chat about my baking problems with my well water,
CK; You're the guy with a haunted well, right?
Caller: I am the guy with the haunted well (Okay)
SM: Fill us in a little more. What is it you're trying to make and having a hard time with
CK: Yeah, give us a recap.
SM: Yes, give us a recap.
Caller: The recap is that I've been baking for a number of years but just in the last year moved to a new house. And it's the first-time I’m baking with well water, particularly hard water and so water softener. So, the water chemistry is very different than anything I've used when I've lived in a city with a municipal water supply. (Right) Our first few bakes. We had very under fermented dough. Based on our last conversation, I basically took the yeast recipe that I usually use which is 330 grams of flour, 30 grams of water and a pinch of yeast, right? And trying that with three different water sources. So, because I was only making one loaf of bread like wanted to divide it into three. So divided the flour by three I did 110 grams of the well water with the softener, the well water with the softener bypass so the hard water and then another one with bottled water. (And?) My findings were all different than I expected them to be. The last thing I had to divide by three was my pinch of yeast. When I grabbed my pinch of yeast, I said, well, how the heck do I divide this by three? So, I started doing a little more research on how much is really a pinch. Right? Long story short, what I realized is, you know what I'm doing in my typical ferment is I'm grabbing a physical pinch of yeast from the jar of yeast, whereas that seems to be by the measure of what a pinch is, seems to be pretty light.
CK: A half teaspoon you should use right something like that.
Caller: The most consistent answer I found was a 16th of a teaspoon is a pinch. When I basically used more yeast in each of these experiments by the next morning, they all had risen the same.
CK: Didn't we mention that as a possibility? Adding more yeast
Caller: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
CK: Well, you know, when I do poolish, I use, you know, cup each water flower and I use half a teaspoon of yeast. That's obviously a lot more than a pinch. So that's what I'm used to. But let's get to the good part. So, you had the water that was to the softener. Does that add salt to it?
Caller: It does, yes, it adds sodium.
CK: And then how did that do versus the hard versus the bottled water?
Caller: In my little experiment, they were all the same. And what I've realized since when I've done my preferment now when I've done the poolish, I got one of those goofy little sets that has little measures for became a dram and you know, whatever other old timey measures are out there. And I've basically found that by using a little more it ferments just fine now. So, my suspicion is that at that very low amount when I was using like a physical pinch, it's possible that the amount of sodium added, it killed on the softener.
CK: Right. Yeah, as you know, when you make bread, you leave the salt out in the first part, because it will retard the actual yeast. (Yeah) I think that's yep, yep. I don't know if that's true. But it sounds right to me, Sara.
SM: That’s a happy ending, I’m just sitting here listening. Yeah
CK: Nice test
Caller: one way or another I got an answer. Right.
CK: I think the point is that you didn't need us.
Caller: You've given me way too much credit here.
CK: We’ve got lots of credit to give. Thanks for calling.
Caller: Bye, bye.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're stuck in the kitchen, give us a call anytime the number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843. Or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hey, this is Elizabeth calling in from New Orleans.
SM: Oh, we love New Orleans, you lucky woman. But how can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I'm actually calling with a question about cranberry sauce of all things. (Okay). I was thinking about how much fun it would be to have it throughout the year. And I was looking at the ingredients in the recipe and it reminded me an awful lot of the preserve something that could be canned, or jarred, or maybe even frozen. So, I was wondering if you had any ideas on how I could take just the basic cranberry sauce recipe and turn it into some sort of preserve I could have your round?
SM: Well, it is sort of a preserve to begin with, right? I mean, you tell me your recipe.
Caller: Sure, it's just a standard package of fresh cranberries about a half cup of water. You bring the cranberries to a boil after you've cleaned and sorted them, and then after you hear the popping, you put in about a half a cup of granulated sugar and let it sit.
SM: Yeah. Well, all the things you said before would work, meaning it certainly would freeze nicely. Just freeze it in smaller amounts. And you could also can it, now I'm not going to tell you that I'm scared to death of killing people. But there's all sorts of wonderful websites, you could just go to the government USDA website or the Ball Jar website, you know, get a good counting book. And absolutely, there's no reason you shouldn't. You should you know, that's one of those things. We're so spoiled. We're used to getting our fruits, you know, 365 days of year or berries or whatever, but cranberries have a season and then it's over period and sentence. And you can freeze them in bags. So, you could do that too. But you've already made this delicious sauce. Why not have that handy? I met It's good with so many things. But anyway, let's see what Chris has to say.
CK: It's the only food where I use the recipe at the back of the bag.
SM: I do too.
CK: And I add a quarter teaspoon of salt you should always put a little salt in (Yes) but the one thing you said it was I don't think would make a big difference but you I always cook the sugar with the cranberry water. I don't add it at the end. Okay, you would probably dissolve fine, but I think if you heated the sugar, it might change the viscosity of the preserve when you're done, and you could definitely freeze it. And there's no problem at all with it. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, no problem.
SM: I agree with you.
CK: All right. Take care.
Caller: Fantastic. Thank you so much.
SM: All right. Bye bye, Elizabeth.
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Bruce,
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: I have a recipe for these dry biscuits that I use on camping trips. And the dryness the biscuits is an essential element, because that's what allows them to keep good for weeks, part of the cooking process is actually leaving oven for 12 hours to 200 degrees, they're really dry. And there's a good bit of fat and protein in them in the form of eggs and butter, milk and butter. And the flavor comes from vanilla and anise extract, or vanilla and almond extract, cinnamon, it's another version. But both of them the flavor is kind of weak. I've tried doubling the quantities of those key flavor things and it doesn’t seem to change it. And I've been trying to figure out if there's some way I mean, I'm guessing that the weakness the flavor comes from the lack of moisture, or maybe the drying process evaporates it out. I'm trying to figure out if there's some way, I could sort of give them a bit more flavor, because they're otherwise quite good.
CK: Yeah, I think you're onto it. The problem isn't with your ingredients. The problem is if something's in the oven for 12 hours at 200 degrees, whatever it was, those flavor molecules are long gone. You know, they'll extract for examples 35% alcohol, you just getting rid of all those flavor molecules and ending up with a product that will last for weeks. But if you would under bake those biscuits, right and you weren't worried about how long they would last, they probably have a ton of flavor. But you're sacrificing flavor for longevity, Sara?
SM: I wonder if it would make a difference. If you use vanilla paste, you can get seeds from the inside of the vanilla pod and scrape them out. So that's one thought but then another thought was maybe instead of using anise oil, use aniseed or toasted fennel that's been ground like toast your spices and grind your spices to up the flavor before you ever put them in. I don't know if that will make a difference, but I think it's worth a shot.
CK: I think that's a very good idea. I think if you had toasted spices grounds and then put them in with your batter your dough somebody like cardamom for example. It would be really wonderful on this. Yeah.
Caller: Toasted Cardamon and then grind it up.
CK: Yeah, grind it up into mortar and pestle or a little coffee, you know, grinder. I think that's an excellent idea.
Caller: Cardamom is wonderful flavor and would taste quite good.
SM: Yeah, I think so
CK: It goes really well the baked goods.
SM: So, Bruce, let us know how it goes.
Caller: Sounds good. I will give it a try and see what happens.
CK: Thanks Bruce. Appreciate it.
Caller: Yeah. Thank you.
CK: Yeah, take care.
SM: Bye. Bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up the history of kitchen design that's up right break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. So, let's talk about kitchens. You know, they're hardly ever designed with a cook in mind. And efficient kitchen should offer solutions for common cooking problems. Like the step saving kitchen introduced in 1949.
US Dept of Agriculture clip: To the left of the mixing counter is the vegetable preparation and dishwashing center. With knife rack and utensil cupboard at the right, vegetables in front of her and think of the left. This worker has a step saving setup for preparing vegetables.
CK: That's a clip from a US Department of Agriculture ad for their steps saving kitchen. The mid-century was a big era for kitchen innovation, but it turns out some of the first functional kitchens were actually designed in Germany back in the 1920s. We're joined now by Katie Thornton to share the story of the Frankfurt kitchen, which she originally reported for the 99% Invisible podcast earlier this year. Katie, welcome to Milk Street.
Katie Thornton: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. I'm happy to be here.
CK: So, before we get into all the details of this Frankfurt kitchen, let's back up and talk about the German kitchens of the late 1800s. So, what did a middle-class kitchen actually look like at that time?
KT: Yeah, that's such a great question because I think in order to understand how the Frankfort kitchen comes around, we really need to understand kind of what it was in response to. And in truth, we don't know very much about kitchens before the World War One era, you know, kitchens, they were sort of hodgepodge’s of whatever surfaces you could slap together in a room, it was often a big open fire, or possibly a wood stove, a big wash basin, you would have to haul into the room to sort of wash dishes, possibly also do laundry, it was kind of just another room in the house where all of this really unpleasant work happened. And all of this, of course, is not really a coincidence. You know, at this time, kitchens were primarily the domain of women and of laborers, household laborers, and so they did not receive much attention from architects and designers.
CK: So, let's get to the inventor who finally did pay attention. Who was she?
KD: Margaret Schütte-Lihotzky was an Austrian architect. And she designed the Frankfurt kitchen largely considered the first modern kitchen, she had worked on some public housing projects in Austria when she was in her 20s. And in her late 20s, she was called by Ernst Mei, who was in charge of what was called the new Frankfurt. It was a large municipal project after World War One that was intended to get people housed and get them housed quickly. And so, she was tapped to come over to Germany and spearhead the design of the kitchen. And her whole idea was that if she wanted to work to advance women's equality, women needed to be able to get their housework done as quickly as possible and move on with their lives. And so, what she did is she designed motion studies. And she ended up laying out the design of the kitchen, such that every movement was as streamlined as possible.
CK: So, let's talk about some specifics. I mean, let's be honest, it was a very small kitchen, at least the one model I've seen pictures of. So, no matter how you designed it, you weren't taking a lot of steps to get from one part to the other. But there's some really cool things here, the cook box, which is sort of like a crock pot, but you could use it to keep food warm, but you could also use it to actually cook food very slowly, right?
KD: Yeah, exactly. To slow cook grains, to slow cook meats. You know, a lot of the Frankfurt kitchen used electronic appliances. And that was quite a new phenomenon at the time, it was also quite expensive. And so, there were all of these little sort of design techniques that were used to save on the cost of electricity. So, if you were to use your stovetop to cook, you know, an item in the short term, you could use the residual heat in the cook box to slow cook meats or to slow cooked grains that you could then have for later, there's another element of electricity saving design that I thought was really interesting. If you look at the top of the Frankfort kitchen on the ceiling, there is almost like a like a track light. And the single light bulb could be moved throughout the kitchen. And so, it enabled you to have your one light bulb do a lot of work for you.
CK: And the measuring cups, 12 identical cups with spouts, that fit into cubby holes in the wall. I love this, each labeled with the name of a different ingredient.
KD: Yeah, rather than having a large bag or a large bin of flour on the ground that a woman working in the kitchen would have to then lift up out of this, you know, presumably low storage place where it would be susceptible to mice and other things like that. It had, you know, a squared off storage bin for different grains and different foodstuffs that also had notches within the unit itself to show you how much you have poured out. So, all of a sudden, you go from having a bag and a measuring cup and a secondary bowl and all of this sort of back breaking work to pulling one storage bin out of the wall in front of you and just pouring the contents into your single bowl.
CK; Yeah, it was two things about it was beautiful. I mean, (it is) it reminded me of the old post office little boxes with the windows. (Yes) exactly. And the other thing is I said like why don't we do that now? I mean, that was what a great idea. I mean, I have to go find my rye flour, my whole wheat flour and my corn starch and everything else. They're all in bags in different places. And, you know, it's that's the story of history like two steps forward four steps back.
KT: Right? It's so funny. I mean, the Frankfurt kitchen, in many ways, is both sort of revolutionary and at this point very mundane, because so many of its components really were so seminal that they became quite normalized. But there are some things that I would absolutely love to have in my IKEA kitchen, which is very much of the descendance of the Frankfurt kitchen.
CK: And then this is a nice little Jetson’s touch, there's a button on the floor that closes the pocket door.
KT: There are so many little Jetsons features like there's one or the other ones that I really wish we still had, in addition to those 12 identical cubby storage containers slash measuring cups, was there's a shoot into the countertop. First of all, I should just say, the entire idea of a single height, long continuous countertop was really revolutionary at this time. But within that countertop, near the sink, there's a gap a small hole, where you can slide your food scraps in and on just below the surface of the counter is this small rectangular box, you can pull it out from underneath the counter, and just pour your food scraps directly in the trash.
CK: So, what eventually happens to her and what happens to this Frankfort kitchen? Did the innovations she came up with stick around? Did it influence future kitchen designs? You know what happened?
KT: Yeah, so it did absolutely influence kitchen design in the next generation. But the Frankfurt kitchen itself was only produced from 1926 until 1930. This was interwar Germany. And as the Nazi Party gained power throughout the late 1920s, they ended up cutting a lot of the public housing initiatives across Germany. And Margaret Schütte-Lihotzky ended up leaving Germany with Ernst Mei who was the planner and architect in charge of the new Frankfurt initiative, the broader municipal project, along with her husband, who was also an architect, and I believe 15 14 or 15, other architects and urban planners, they ended up fleeing to the Soviet Union. So, in many ways, she was not necessarily given accolades early on as the designer of this very, very influential kitchen. But her designs and her concepts of saving space within the housing unit, very, very much lived on and you see echoes throughout Europe and throughout the US. There were a lot of different kitchen designs that were really sort of premised on this idea of making life easier for the woman who was in the kitchen.
CK: So, she moves to Russia, but then what? Does she spend no, the whole rest of her life there?
KT: No, she has a very, very interesting trajectory. So, she moved to the Soviet Union in 1930. And she ended up working there, the sort of record of her work is a little bit ambiguous in this period, but it seems like she and her husband, Wilhelm Schütte help design collective kitchens in the Soviet Union. And she was also designing nurseries. So other things that were sort of, in at this point, crudely seen as the women's realm. They ended up her and her husband ended up leaving there in 1937 and in 1938, they moved to Istanbul. And ultimately, she joins the clandestine Communist Party, and she works with this Anti-Fascist resistance cell. And so, she actually she sent on a mission to Vienna and she ends up being captured. And you know, this is back to her home country of Austria, where she's from, and she ends up being captured and imprisoned in various prisons and labor camps in Austria and Germany for four years. She's in solitary confinement for a lot of that time. And finally, she is freed by American soldiers in 1945. And a few years after that she she does return back to her home in Austria.
CK: So, what happened after the war?
KT: Yeah, so after the war, there was still deep antisemitism among many Austrian citizens and leaders. And so, she was not necessarily warmly received when she came back. You know, she was somebody who had worked resisting the Nazis. You know, while she was overseas. She also maintained allegiance to the Communist Party of Austria for the rest of her life. And then especially against the backdrop of of the 1950s in the Cold War. She was really sort of shut out from work. So even though she had all of this experience with public housing and kitchen design, and also designed for children and children's well-being, she only got two contracts from the city of Vienna after she returned back. And so, she ends up doing a lot of her work in private homes and doing big public projects in China and in Cuba and in the Soviet Union.
CK: Well, it's just a great example of knowing history is so important because you look back and think, oh, the 1920s somebody sat down and really thought about how to design a kitchen. And most of that has been lost. You know, I mean, I would love to work in that kitchen you know.
KT: Absolutely. You know, like, at the time, there wasn't very many models for efficiency. And so, she looked to ships and she looks to train cars to figure out how to maximize space in the kitchen. And I think that that's really telling of her motivations.
CK: Katie, thank you a fascinating story about the Frankfurt kitchen and what we have forgotten since 1926. Thank you.
KT: Yeah, thank you so much. Thanks for talking with me.
CK: That was reporter Katie Thornton, you can hear more of a reporting on the 99% Invisible episode. The Frankfort kitchen. Have you ever noticed that industrial design just keeps getting worse? Back in the 60s designers knew that dials were the best and easiest way to tune a car radio. Maybe adjust your stovetop burner or even use the thermostat in your house. Today you need a PhD just to set your oven. And please don't get me started on dishwashers. Why are there so many options? And why don't they have a little green light to tell you if it has been run or not? You have to be a kitchen detective to suss out whether the dishes are clean or still dirty. So, let's face facts, there was a time post World War One when designers really did understand kitchens, a chair to sit at a low counter overhead lighting that moved on a track, a cook box for slow all day cooking, wall storage for grains and flours with built in measuring cups, and even a button on the floor to close the closet door. So please, let's be honest. It really is game over. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's head into the kitchen with Lynn Clark to talk about this week's recipe. Indian spiced smashed potatoes. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm doing well. Chris, how are you?
CK: I'm good. I visited London and Paris a few months ago. (fun) And one of the stories I was after was Indian cooking in London, especially the way it's been adapted, which is really interesting. But I went to Dishoom. It's a series of really wonderful restaurants in London. And I met with our head of r&d former Head Chef Rishi Anand and on the menu for lunch were gunpowder potatoes, which are potatoes, which he essentially grills and then serves with gunpowder spices and mix the spices and some fresh juice and herbs. It was delicious. And it was delicious because it was something simple with a great spice mix. It was just transformative.
LC: Yeah, this is a kind of a classic Milk Street recipe, right? It's what we do here. We take something that seems familiar or is simple like potatoes right and give you ways to enhance it or make it much more interesting and exciting. In this case, we're going to actually smash our potatoes. So, we're going to add a lot of textural elements here I think Chef Anand grills his potatoes whole that splits them open and kind of rough some up doesn't fully smash them. We fully smash our potatoes and then we tossed them with spiced butter and that's where that gunpowder name comes from. It’s a spice blend, and there's all different variations on this spice blend. I think Chef Anand version is from the Parsi cuisine, which is Persian Indian. So, there's whole cumin, coriander and fennel seeds that are coarsely ground, two different types of masala, garam masala and chaat masala, which are spice blends in themselves. And then chili powder and then fenugreek. And all of that gets tossed with these potatoes. So that's a lot of spices. So, we found we wanted to kind of pare that down a little bit to highlight our favorite flavors, and that was the cumin, coriander and fennel, and that fenugreek and if you can find the fenugreek, I really, really recommend it. It adds a really distinctive, almost maple flavor to the potatoes really, really different. And kind of adds something just kind of truly unique here.
CK: It's interesting how all of a sudden, you know, spices that you weren't familiar with now sort of become part of the repertoire. And the last thing I'd say is also that coarsely ground spices you know that difference between powdered ground spices and whole or cracked spices. It does make a whole huge difference in flavor and also the feel on your mouth. It's just great.
LC: Right, exactly. I mean, you've got so many textures here we've smashed the potatoes, so you've got creamy and crispy parts of the potato. You've got heat from some jalapeno, and then you've got some crunch from these coarsely ground spices, all of these spices get bloomed in some melted butter to really enhance their flavor. And then that butter spreads all over the potatoes. So, you're getting all of that spice flavor all over the potato. We add in a little bit of fresh scallions and cilantro for some herbal elements. And then I think at Dishoom it was served with the classic raita Indian condiment with yogurt and cucumber. If you don't want to do that, you can just squeeze a little bit of lime juice over the top it really adds a nice kind of tangy balance to the earthy spices just a really nicely balanced dish.
CK: So, something simple something new gunpowder potatoes or Indian spice mashed potatoes, part of my regular repertoire Lynn, thank you.
LC: You're welcome. You can get the recipe for Indian spiced smashed potatoes at Milk Street Radio.com.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio after the break Adam Gopnik experiences culinary alchemy that's coming right up. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
Caller: Hi, it's Dave from Alexandria, Virginia. On a recent episode of Milk Street Radio, I heard a question about how to keep pizza from sticking to a pizza peel. Chris suggested using semolina flour to lubricate the peel. My trick which eliminates the mess of semolina flour in my oven, is to use parchment paper. I form the pizza right on the parchment. Then transfer the pizza and parchment to the baking steel using my peel. After about two minutes, the bottom of the pizza is set releases easily from the parchment that immediately slide the pizza back onto the steel. While holding onto the paper. The pizza slides right off and finishes cooking perfectly since it's now on the steel. And there's no semolina mess.
CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip right here on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk street.com/radio Tips you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's hear the latest from our friend Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?
Adam Gopnik: I am very well Christopher, how are you?
CK: I'm good.
AG: I'm particularly well, I should tell you because I am finally back cooking in my kitchen. And I have been away from it for more than a month, which is about the longest break in cooking that I think I've had in 25 years. And so, coming back to the kitchen after being away from it. I took them kind of new registry took stock in a new way of what it is we love about cooking. And do you know what it is more than anything else, Christopher?
CK: Oh boy, I could come up with 20 or 30 things I would say it's the joy of using your hands to do something useful. That would be my very Vermont ease version.
AG: That's a beautiful one actually and of course is profoundly true. One of the things we love about cooking, especially if we do mind work all day as writers are condemned to is exactly that our attention shifts from our heads to our hands at 6pm. But the thing that struck me when I went back to my kitchen was the pleasure of transformation. Just the way things changed in your pan under the force of heat is genuinely a kind of everyday magic, whose power I had forgotten simply by having become so habituated to it I began making lists as I went back to cooking of what were the most satisfying the most philosophical, and the most mystical, of those everyday kitchen transformations. I wonder if you'd be interested in hearing me enumerate each.
CK: You've turned into an alchemist a dotage, which I like.
AG: Exactly well that is alchemy. That's the alchemy that is available to us. So, the most satisfying transformation in the kitchen I find is, and this will start with you rhubarb. Rhubarb is something that is completely inedible and unappetizing when you get it. And yet, all you have to do is chop it into pieces. You don't even have to add water to it, only a minuscule bit of sugar, and under the pressure of heat, it transforms itself into one of the most velvety, complex and intriguing of all forms in our family. The ideal dessert is rhubarb fool you simply mingled stewed rhubarb, with whipped cream, and there's nothing better in the world.
CK: Well, if I may push back (please) rhubarb is about disintegration zombie like, goes from this crispy, be I think it's gorgeous in the garden. And then it devolves into this gooey mass, which tastes great. But from a visual, it's sort of like what happens after you get buried. You're not going in the right direction with rhubarb. You know what I mean?
AG: I hear you. But nonetheless, I find that hugely satisfying. Now, the most philosophical kitchen transformation is, of course, the classic chopping and sauteing onions, because that's the most essential one, it's the one you can avoid. And it's the most philosophical, of course, because it is the one where you're taking something that is actively and aggressively caustic, and unappealing that brings tears out into your eyes, that you don't like doing and turning it into something that is sweet, and essential. And it left me with a question which you may well have the answer to Chris, which is why is it that with all of the extraordinary breeding and changing and even genetic engineering that's going on, why has no one been able to breed out the substance and onions that makes you cry?
CK: I have an answer to that. (Ah) guess which onion turns out to be the sweetest when cooked, white, red, or yellow?
AG: I'm going to guess the white
CK: Yellow. And the reason is, the more sulfur compounds you have in the raw vegetable, they transform and become sweet. So, the most acidic, the most sulfurous the most objectionable raw onion turns out to be the sweetest when cooked. So, you want to get rid of the one thing that lends itself to the greatest transformational power of the onion, which is those sulfurous compounds.
AG: Well, isn't that exactly
CK: Where we are, that's very philosophical, right?
AG: The onion is the philosophical transformation. Exactly. Because it's you have now explained to me, you have to have sulfurous and caustic onions in order to have sweet sustaining onions. And now what do you do what I think is the most mysterious if not the most mystical of those transformations. I felt as I was going about my everyday work in the kitchen.
CK: Something with eggs, perhaps
AG: That's a good choice. And certainly, there is something about scrambling eggs that is like rhubarb, you can't believe you're going from the raw to the cook state so simply and so pleasingly, but for me, it's mixing anchovies and garlic. Because the anchovy, which is a distinct flavor, and is a powerful little animal you've got in the pan just vanishes, just melts away and turns into this wonderful and mysterious flavor, which no one can quite identify in your marinara sauce or in your puttanesca sauce, but which is absolutely essential to its effect.
CK: Well, yes, the same thing is is using like fish oil or something like that, which, you know, has deep umami to it. Yes, but once it's cooked, it loses the fishiness you know, fish sauce is good fish sauce is not fishy. And the same thing you're right two anchovy filets with the onions. To start a stew or soup is is brilliant way of developing, you know, foundational flavor.
AG: It is and yet people who don't like anchovies will never know that the anchovies were there they are anchovies when they start, and they are then mysterious agents of flavor when they're finished. So, I vote for the anchovy as the most mysterious or mystical of the kitchen transformations. Now, follow me if you will, I realize that the subject that I was on was one of the classical subjects of poetry and myth. And of course, the greatest poem ever written about the act of things changing from one state to another is Ovid’s Metamorphosis. So, I thought, I wonder what Ovid has to say about the transformations of food. It turns out, did you know this? I was unaware of it, Christopher that Ovid was one of the great evangelical vegetarians of antiquity, that he made the case passionately and strongly against meat eating. And yet and here's the fascinating thing. His case rested on the idea that the transformation by fire of all of the vegetable world was intrinsically beautiful, but you couldn't transform by fire the animal world you could only rip it apart with your raw teeth and hands. Are you, are you up to hearing a little Ovid?
CK: Absolutely. You're an actor sir. Go ahead.
AG: I shall this is Ovid is translated by Arthur Golding, you have both fruits of trees and grapes and herbs, ripe, good. And though some be harsh and hard, yet fire may make them well, both soft and sweet. You may have milk and honey which does smell of flowers of time. So, there you see Ovid making the case that the key to being a civilized person is that we take vegetables, and with fire we make them well. Both soft and sweet. Isn't that beautiful?
CK: Adam Gopnik, you are a mysterious agent of change. You seek to transform me every time I speak. I'm not I'm not sure I agree with Ovid about that, because I think meat does get transformed. But thank you so much for this lesson in philosophy.
AG: Thank you, Chris. See you soon.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik staff writer at The New Yorker. His latest book is The Real Work on the Mystery of Mastery. That's it for today. Please don't forget you can find all of our episodes on Milk Street Radio.com or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about Milk Street at 177 Milk street.com. There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe, access to all of our live stream cooking classes, and learn about our latest cookbook Milk Street Simple. Check us out on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and kitchen questions. And thanks, as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.