Harold McGee Busts Food Science Myths | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 507
February 26, 2021

Harold McGee Busts Food Science Myths

Harold McGee Busts Food Science Myths

Food science expert Harold McGee helps us separate food science fact from fiction and explains why smell can reveal more about food than taste. Plus, we learn about 30-foot longevity noodles from Jason Wang, the co-founder of New York’s Xi'an Famous Foods; Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette tell us who lobster Newburg and chicken tetrazzini were named after; and make pork in Veracruz sauce.

This episode is brought to you by Sleep Number.

Questions in this Episode:

“I've always wondered why cooks don't take the internal temperature of cakes and breads to figure out when they're done. Is internal temperature a good reference for doneness? If so, what temperatures should I aim for?”

“Onions don't seem to agree with my stomach, but I can't imagine cooking without them. Do you have any advice for adapting my cooking?”

“I like to take cake and bread recipes and make mini muffins with them. Is there a temperature and/or time adjustment rule of thumb for downsizing?”

“I would like to know why frozen pizza is so bad. Is there anything I can do to make it better?”

”I'm calling back to report back about a carrot cake recipe you helped me with last year. I made the cake again and had surprising results!“

Milk Street Radio Harold Mc Gee

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX I’m your host Christopher Kimball. In 1984, Harold McGee published on food and cooking, which quickly became the go to reference for understanding food science from the chemistry of marshmallows to why onions make you cry. Now he's turned his attention to the science of smell with his latest book called Nose Dive. Today, he tells us why smell may be more important than taste.

(clip) Harold McGee: Well, I guess the advice I would give to cooks would be simply pay attention. You know, cooking as with everything else in life, there's just so much more going on than meets the eye.

CK: Also coming up, I share a secret for pork and tomato caper sauce from Mexico City. And we learned about the namesakes of lobster Newburg and peach Melba. But first, it's my interview with Jason Wang. He's the CEO of Sean Famous Foods, a chain of restaurants that started with his father's bubble tea stall in Flushing, Queens. They now have nine locations across New York City.

CK: Jason, welcome to Milk Street.

Jason Wang: Thank you, Chris. Great to be here.

CK: Your family moved from Xi’an China when you were eight. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of Xi’an?

JW: Of course, Chris Xi’an is actually a pretty well-known city for its history of being the capital of 13 dynasties of ancient China. It's located in the middle of the current modern country, but Xi’an on literally means Western comfort, or Western tranquility, because that's where the extent of most of the ancient Chinese empires ended. So, you know, the ancient Silk Road carrying all sorts of goods all the way towards the middle east and even beyond, you know, that that's basically where it started is from Xi’an. So, it's a very historic city. It's all about the flow of different cultures. And of course, part of culture is food.

CK: So you end up at first in Michigan, you're eight years old, you live your whole life in Xi’an what were those first few months like?

JW: oh, man, it was, uh, you know, I couldn't help but feel a little bit swindled, because I really thought I was going to live somewhere where I'm just like, a walk away from Disneyland. I had a map in my room in China before I came to US and I noted exactly where Disneyland was in California. Because it was a big, you know, Mickey Mouse ears on the map. So, I was like, that's where I'm going to go. But then I failed to grasp how large the US is. So, I was a little disappointed, you know, but at the same time, it was, it was beautiful. Back when I was in China, as a kid, everything my impression was like, everything was dusty, and concrete, not much green. But when I got to Michigan, it was just evergreen trees the whole way.

CK: But you also wrote in your book, you say, quote, but I've come to terms of the fact that the Xi’an I knew was gone. So, there must have been things from your childhood you missed when you got back, right?

JW: Yeah, definitely. I mean, the places that I grew up it they've changed instead of like small old houses or buildings, they've turned into skyscrapers, malls, developments, you know, I am starting to sound old, but it's losing what I remembered. And from a food perspective, a lot of the old dishes are very hard to find. For example, our spicy cumin lamb skewers, when I was a kid, they served them in like tiny, tiny slivers on metal sticks. So, you could eat like maybe 100 of them and one sitting now it's just like these gargantuan big globs of meat and also these like cold noodles, the buckwheat noodles, it that smell of them being invented from these little holes in the walls. It was like, oh, man, that smell of childhood. It just couldn't find it anywhere. You know.

CK: Xi’an is famous foods 2005 your dad started a bubble tea franchise decided to start serving food like cold skin noodles. So, he started with just what a couple $1,000 to get started with his first shop. Right?

JW: Yeah, I mean, he had just enough money to buy a franchise hoping to sort of rely on the easy money quote, unquote, that comes from selling bubble tea, which is like who doesn't love bubble tea, you know, and then he started introducing other dishes in order to supplement the sales. And, you know, after a while, those dishes actually became more of the attraction when people went to the store. They didn't care for the bubble teas. They just wanted their noodles.

CK: So this is like a cultural testing lab. Right? I mean, what were the surprises the things that really took off? You didn't think what are the things you thought that would people like and they didn't like?

JW: Yeah, no, I it's definitely been a ride in terms of getting to know people's preferences over the years. You know, when we came out of Chinatown out of Flushing into Manhattan for the first time we thought that, you know, our biggest hits were going to be the ____noodles and the burgers. But what ended up happening is our hand pulled noodles, which was more of a I don't want to say afterthought, but they weren't really the main things we were focused on. But when we came to my hand, you know, people enjoyed seeing the noodles being pulled in front of their eyes. And those actually became the main thing for us over the years. But there hasn't really been anything that I enjoy eating myself or my father likes to eat that hasn't been popular in our stores thankfully.

CK: One of the things you said was particularly interesting was you said that Xi’an food tends to use cold spice for fragrance flavor and depth.

JW: Yeah, I mean, when people hear the word spicy, right, they just think heat. But in Xi’an you know, the spice is not supposed to be that overbearing, the taste profile of foods in Xi’an is Shangla. So fragrantly spicy, is what it means and it's all about sort of enjoying the taste of the peppers, rather than just have it burn so much that you can't taste anything. They're like little triggers and little levers that you can tweak in order to make something tastes more desirable.

CK: Let's talk noodles. Longevity noodles, cold skin noodles, hand ripped noodles, is a lot of technique here. Just go through it like longevity noodles. Let's start with that.

JW: Well, all the noodles that we do all the hand ripped or longevity noodles, they're all very simple to make in terms of the dough, right? They're both made from just playing wheat flour, water to the right consistency. And sometimes a little bit of salt just for flavor. But the difference is longevity noodles is it's probably better for a person with a big appetite, or a group of people. Because the longevity noodles is one piece. It's basically I think I measured it to be 30 something feet. That's why it's called longevity noodles. The noodles are supposed to represent a long life. So, you never break the noodle you just keep pulling it and pulling it until it's 30 something feet.

CK: Ok, wait, wait. You just said I'm sorry. I’ve got to stop you a 30-foot-long noodle for someone who's never done that before does seem a bit awe inspiring, so could you just paint a picture for us about how how do you stretch it to 30 feet please?

JW: Absolutely. Yeah, no, it's definitely intimidating when you just hear the 30 feet, right. So basically, the dough, you have a piece of dough, start rolling it with your hand, kind of try to roll it into a snake, and then you coil it up. So, when you're ready to go, you got the water boiling, you have the coils, you start tugging it, basically you make a cat’s cradle with your two hands. So, you're grabbing one strand, maybe like a couple of feet down and alternate alternate until you have all the noodle in your hand. And at that point, you start pulling it apart. And while slapping against the counter, the noodle strands become skinnier and they become longer. That's how you reach the 30 something feet.

CK: So if I wanted to get a job working for you, is this the recipe you give people as the test?

JW: Oh boy, we wouldn't subject people to that recipe on the first go. But definitely will earn you some bonus points if you are able to do it.

CPK: Its jaw dropping. Jason it's been fun. It's also been an education. Next time I have to make the noodles with you.

JW: Absolutely It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

CK: That was Jason Wang. He's author of Xi’an Famous Foods, the cuisine of western China from New York's favorite noodle shop. Right now, my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One. And she also stars in Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.

Sara Moulton: Chris before we take any calls, I have a question for you. Are you a fan of hot dogs?

CK: Of course I love hot dogs you know in different places in the world like in Denmark you know that they're bright orange you know the other things are pretty crazy. But I love a good hot dog, but the hot dog is really about everything else around it like a hamburger right it's I like the bun to be toasted and buttered and there was a place in Fairfield, Connecticut I used to go to that used to boil the dogs in hot oil

SM: ooh wow

CK: and that and then griddle them afterwards.

SM: Oh jeez that sounds so good.

CK: You could have a cheese topping or chili topping but boiled in oil and griddled was the best hot dog I've ever had in my life. So yeah, I love hot dogs.

SM: Wow

CK: There's actually a place near me on Saturdays that do half pound hotdogs. I could go through a half pounder that’s pretty good.

SM: Nice. Anyway, moving on. Take a call. Welcome to Milk Street, who's calling

Caller: Hello, this is Rebecca from Montgomery, New Jersey.

SM: Hi, Rebecca, how can we help you today?

Caller: So, I've traveled perfectly cooking my baked goods like cakes and breads. And I was wondering why recipes don't use internal temperature as an indicator for doneness. Is it possible to use temperature or do you have any other tips and tricks to help?

SM: No, I think it's absolutely possible. And I think it's just because it's relatively new technology for people to be using thermometers. So sure, what are you looking to take the temperature up just like a regular chocolate cake?

Caller: Yeah, I was like for chocolate cake, especially because I can't tell if it's golden brown.

SM: Roughly, you're looking for 200 to 205. And you put the instant read into the center of the cake not touching the bottom, you know, right. Yeah.

Caller: And how about like a sourdough loaf?

CK: Yeah, sourdough. Typical white bread, like an enriched bread is like 190 to 195. I'd say 195. I used to make a sourdough all the time. It was about 205. I found that if it was under 205, the bread was a little sticky inside, you know, I wanted to so 205 to two away with a rustic bread and 195 with a typical enrich like white bread is what I use. Yeah. And by the way, it's a great question. And I've asked the same question for years. Like why not use internal temps and you can cheesecake, for example, which everybody over bakes like 145 right to one 145 to 150 is sort of the sweet spot, but that's a great cake to use with thermal thermometer because you can’t press the top to see if it's done, right. No. All right. Ok, great.

Caller: Thank you so much. Yeah, right here,

SM: Rebecca, we're glad we were able to help you so quickly.

Caller: Yes, thank you. Ok.

SM: Take care. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Oh, Hi, Sarah and Chris. This is Andrea from Phoenix.

SM: Hi, Andrea, how can we help you today?

Caller: Onions in my stomach don't seem to be getting along very well, they cause a little bit of bloating. So, my question is, is there a variety of onions that is better for this or a way of prepping it that I'm doing it wrong? And it's making it worse?

SM: Well, unfortunately, no, it there's not a different kind of onion, meaning most of the alliums cause the same kind of bloating, it's because they've got this collection of short chain carbohydrates that create this kind of distress. And it's even worse when it's raw. But you know, it doesn't completely go away when they're cooked. I mean,

Caller: I did notice that with the raw onions. It seems worse.

SM: Much worse yeah. I mean, the trouble with onions is they're part of so many recipes, but they're not absolutely essential. I

Caller: I know, I just can't even I can't imagine cooking without onions. Everything I make has onions in it. So

SM: I know. I mean, what they provide is a little bit of a depth of flavor, a little bit of a sweetness. I mean, scallion tops and chives don't have this problem. But that's not what you're you know. So that's nice to finish a dish with, but it's not going to substitute the onions in your recipes.

Caller: What about scallions are those?

SM: The white part of scallions yes. also create this shallots, same thing. So, the white part I'm sorry.

CK: Well, what you can do is do what the Italians do with garlic, which is they cook garlic cloves or smashed cloves and then they remove the cloves before they serve the dish. And that's a great, that's a great way to get flavor. So, you could take onion and cook it in oil, you know fair amount of oil in a skillet and then remove the onion and then you have flavored oil and that that might actually work ok, it works great with garlic. I do it all the time. So yeah, that's a great idea. There's also an Indian ingredient asafoetida. It's used in place of onion and garlic.

Caller: Oh, I've heard of that

CK: Yeah, yeah. And that is something is not quite the same, but it's often used as a substitute.

SM: would warn you though, Andrea that asafoetida has a very strong aroma. Don't be scared by it if you should decide to go this route, but it it cooks out very nicely. So, it might be fun new ingredient to play with.
(Caller) Yes, I I love bringing new stuff into the kitchen.

CK: All right. Well, at least you could try the cooking oil removing the onions. give that a shot, right.

Caller: Yes thank you. I will do that. Thank you so much.

CK: Ok, ok. Thanks. This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help with a recipe, give us a call anytime that number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at milk street radio.com Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Mimi Schott

CK: How can we help you in the kitchen?

Caller: Well, I first of all, I love your show and I love both of you. And, you know, I lost a lot of weight a number of years ago. And so, I, I tend to use portion control and I do a lot of what I call cooking small and baking small. And one of the things that I struggle with is, when I have a recipe like that wonderful lemon recipe French cake, how can I take that and make it into mini muffins, because then what I do is I freeze it, and then I pop out one or two, and have that instead of eating, you know, I don't know, a six-inch slice.

CK: My problem is, if I did that, I would like eat four muffins worth. I just keep going. But I guess if you go to the freezer and take out just one or two, then you're stuck. Yeah, we do this all the time. It's really easy. Same recipe, don't adjust the recipe at all, put it in the muffin tins, fill it about two thirds of the way, and reduce the oven temperature instead of 350 or 375 which most quick breads or cakes have a 325 is probably better. If you're going to shorten the baking time that depends on the original cake pan size. You know, if we call for a huge cake Baker's muffin, it could be five or 10% faster, could be 50% faster it just depends on the original recipe. But it's it's one of those things everybody should know how to do and there's really nothing to it just reduce the oven to 325.

Caller: Well, you've given me the magic that I didn't have which is reducing the temperature. I never thought about that. And that's why I think there may be over cooking.

CK: The last thing is never trust baking temperatures for any recipe even mine or Sara's I mean, your ovens different than ours and your baking pans are different. So, when you go into this, I would start checking like at 30 or 40% of the prescribed baking time in the original recipe and then check check frequently.

Caller: Oh, that's great. Well, thank you

SM: There you go. Give it a shot.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next its Food Science expert Harold McGee. That and more after the break.
(music)

CK: This is Milk Street radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with food science writer Harold McGee. His latest book Nose Dive examines the science behind the smells of the universe, from fresh baked bread and ripe fruit to rotten eggs and oysters. Harold, welcome to Milk Street.

(Harold McGee) Thank you, Chris. Great to be here.

CK: So let's start early on you completed a PhD on the romantic poetry of Keats at Yale, supervised by Harold bloom. (HM: yes). What was that, like? (HM: yes) Harold bloom is a controversial figure who died not too long ago. in the annals of literary criticism?

HM: Yeah. Well, of course, back then this is beginning in 1973. He was controversial, but not for the reasons that he is now, he had come up with this idea of the anxiety of influence the idea that poets are really deeply affected by and afflicted by the great poets that came before them, and that much of their work has to do with trying to deal with that affliction, and to overcome it and overcome their predecessors and that kind of thing. So, he was very well known at the time for that kind of thing. What really struck me becoming his student was just the capaciousness of his mind. I mean, I don't think he ever forgot a line of anything that he ever read.

CK: So let's talk about smell and taste. Given your latest book Nose Dive. Smell is more versatile than taste. This Is your writing, it's more open ended broader, more specific and more sensitive. So, smell is vastly more important attribute of our senses than taste correct?

HM: Well, mostly, I would agree with that. But it is true also that when it comes to foods, aromas in the absence of the sense of taste, are very different and not nearly as satisfying as they are when they're coupled with taste. So, in understanding the world and countering the world, I would say that smell is much more versatile and regulatory than taste is, when it comes to food, though it's really important that both be involved

CK: Is smell connected to an individual's memory, and experience and therefore, is not set in stone? It's in the eye of the nose sniffer or the nose of the sniffer? Or is there such a thing as the smell of raspberries? This is a very Buddhist question. Uh huh. Regardless of who is actually smelling it.

HM: Yeah, that's, that is a wonderful question and a difficult one. And I think the safe thing to say is that, and this is why I chose to write the book the way I did, it's safe to say that there are molecules in raspberries that give rise to our perception of them. And that perception is largely aroma. How that information is processed by a given person with that person's particular set of olfactory receptors, which is unique to that person. And then the gray matter, which is full of past experience and anticipation and expectation and emotion and association. All that is very much a difficult thing to circumscribe and to draw comparisons among people. Ultimately, it comes down to, you never know what it is that you are perceiving compared to the person next to you sharing the same ice cream cone.

CK: Why? What is parmesan tastes like pineapple oysters like cucumber, Sherry like soy sauce, and corn tortillas like honey, you talk about unrelated foods often tastes similar, for some strange reason.

HM: Yeah, that's really what kind of led me off the track from writing a book about flavor into writing a book about the smells of the world, is that not only do foods and drinks have their particular flavors, but they remind us of other things. And sometimes they remind us of things that are not other foods. And the reason comes down to the fact that in order for us to be able to smell something that something has to be presented to us in the form of small light molecules. And most things in our world, us included, are built of large, complicated molecules that don't have smells. So, what we're often detecting are the products of those larger molecules being broken down into smaller smellable molecules. And it turns out that living things have a lot in common with each other, even plants and animals. And so that's, that's why we get these, these echoes and resonances across different things in the world.

CK: So, you spent your career writing about food science, you're the preeminent expert on the topic, I think that's fair to say. And I have a question, which is, you know, I've done a lot of food science in my career. And here's my experience. If I ask someone who knows a lot about it, I get an answer and then, six months later, I say, well, could you explain that a little more fully, and then I get another answer. And then and then you get deeper and deeper and deeper to the point where I it's clearly beyond my level of understanding of chemistry or whatever. And then I really don't understand that it all. So, what do you think about everyone running around talking about food science and you know, how much science is useful to the average cook? And at what point should we just stop asking questions because it's irredeemably complex.

HM: Ah, that's that's a good one. Well, I would say, you know it, everything depends on the cook. But there are people out there who only want to know, a recipe, you know, give me tell me how to make a delicious loaf of bread. And then there are other people who really want to understand why it is that the last loaf they made wasn't exactly the way they were imagining it was going to be. And they really want to know what's going on in there. And so, they really geek out on it. And I think there's another problem these days, which is that because food science became fashionable, a lot of times, it's kind of thrown into writing about food, as kind of a, you know, a dollop of something that is expected. And the person who's writing the piece really doesn't know. And actually, hasn't done the due diligence that you described yourself doing, which is going down to the point that you really don't quite understand anymore, because it's it's getting so complicated.

CK: Give me an example, when you hear someone give a scientific explanation for something to do with cooking, that you realize, is really far from a real understanding. That is it's it's sort of true, but actually, they have no idea what they're talking about.

HM: Well, let's see. I mean, the thing that comes to my mind, off the top of my head actually has to do with with drinks. And with the idea that was prevalent for a long time and told Dave Arnold came along and and disproved it definitively that the kind of ice and the temperature of the ice made a big difference in the final temperature and dilution and flavor of cocktails. And I still remember somebody who was very well known at the time in the cocktail world, writing a piece about how using one of these particular special, you know, very, very cold ices brought the temperature of the drink, close to absolute zero on your taste buds. And then at that flavor would lock in there and persist and give you a sensation that you would never had before.

CK: So even on the surface, that sounds pretty ridiculous. But yeah, yeah. What about the grill, barbecuing and grilling, are there any false notions, you know, all these old wife’s tales you'd want to blow up right now?

HM: Well, I would say about grilling what I say about pretty much every form of cooking, which is that there are many different routes to a good result. When it comes to grilling, I like to remind people that not only the grill temperature, the coals whether you have one or two zones, the the height above the the coals, all those things do matter. But so does your your attention to the food that you're grilling down to the number of seconds between the times that you turn whatever it is you're cooking. And this is something that I didn't think of until I started doing some just for fun, some computer modeling of heat transfer with a couple of Silicon Valley friends of mine who happened to have the software that made that possible. And we were just fooling around with it and discovered by accident really, that the more often you turn a piece of food on a grill or in a frying pan, you know something that's hotter than the food itself, the more often you turn it, the faster it cooks, and the more evenly it cooks. And that goes down to every 10 seconds. So, most of us don't want to sit there turning food every 10 seconds over the grill. It's already hot, hot enough. And you know, you want to be talking with your friends and having a sip of beer or wine. But it turns out that the more often you turn a piece of food on the grill, the more evenly and the quicker it'll cook.

CK: If you were to give a listener any one piece of advice that's based upon your career in the science of cooking, is there one thing you would tell people that's just extraordinarily helpful?

HM: Well, I, I guess the advice I'd give to cooks would be the advice that I've tried to give in this book Nose Dive which is simply pay attention. You know, cooking, as with everything else in life, there's just so much more going on than meets the eye. I remember a chef in France telling me years and years ago that he was interested in what I was doing, because he really did want to understand what was going on. But then he said, you know, I still every time I peel a carrot, I'm interested, I'm looking at the grain. I'm wondering why this one has the depth of wrinkles that it does so that I'm losing that much more to the peeler. There's there's just so much to get out of life if we'll only pay attention to what's going on under our noses.

CK: You've ended it as any true philosopher with Harold McGee. It's been. It's been fun and it's also been a pleasure. Thanks for being on Milk Street

HM: Thank you very much, Chris. Great for me too.

CK: That was Harold McGee. His latest book is Nose Dive a Field Guide to the World Smells. You know, Food Science eight for amateurs. For example, gluten forms when you need bread, it also forms when the proteins in wheat flour. Those are gluten and gliadin come in contact with water which allows them to bond forming gluten. And that's what makes no knead bread possible. But if you look up gluten and on Wikipedia, you learn quote, gluten ins or protein aggregates have high molecular mass and low molecular mass subunits with motor masses, etc, etc, etc. So, the next time you think you understand the science of food, just remember that food science is in fact a real science. Now it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. It's pork in Veracruz sauce. Lynn, how are you? (LC: I'm great. Chris) I was in Mexico City about a year ago and I loved going to the markets especially early in the morning when they're just getting started up and it was cold actually it was about six in the morning went to the con market very well known. I don't know if you've ever been to one of these markets. But you know, you can buy socks, you can buy mole paste, you can buy just about anything you want. You can buy, you know hanging skeletons, whatever. But we went to a restaurant and they all have little eateries in them at the back of the ___market. Now this was pretty fancy. Adriana Luna is the chef and she made pork and Veracruz sauce or puntas de la Veracruzana. And it was quick, and it was delicious. So, I thought you know hey, that would that would be a great dish for us here.

Lynn Clark: Absolutely. I it's, as you mentioned really quick, really flavorful. It all happens in one skillet and our version which is great puntas just means tips. So that's those thin slices of meat. Allah veracruzana is in the style of Veracruz, Veracruz is a state on the gulf coast of Mexico. It's where the Spanish first arrived in Mexico, so the sauce has a lot of Mediterranean flavors in it. There's olives and capers, parsley, bay, garlic, and lots of it.

CK: Yeah, I remember standing there next to her and it was like half a cup of chopped garlic was some huge amount I just, I just just going I I'm not eating this, you know, it's going to be too much, but it was actually it was delicious.

LC: So ours has 12 cloves of garlic. We start with our pork in Mexico, I think you can find pre sliced thinly sliced pork. We took a pork loin and sliced it really thin. Best way to do this is to pop it in the freezer for a few minutes. That'll allow you to get those really nice thin slices that goes into the skillet and a little bit of oil. We brown it for just a few minutes because it's so thin, it doesn't take very long. Take that out. Then add your 12 cloves of garlic. You want to add that off the heat because the pan is very hot. (CPK: So, what this is just a basic tomato sauce of some kind?) So, it has tomatoes, it has garlic and has bay leaves. It also has olives. As we mentioned all of that gets added together. We thicken that sauce and then add both the pork back into the sauce along with some of its juices. And then off the heat. We add our capers and parsley.

CK: Yeah, this is one of those great, you know, 20 minutes skillet dishes. It doesn't quite bring me back to the market. Because I you know, I can't get a beer and a skeleton while I'm there. But it's just a great recipe and it's full of flavor. Lynn thank you so much. (LC: You're welcome Chris)

You can get this recipe for puntas de la Veracruzana at Milk Street radio.com

CK: This is Milk Street radio coming up Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette tell us about foods that earned their names from people. We’ll be right back.
(music)

CK: I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street radio right now, Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Mark from Westford, Massachusetts.
SM: Hi, Mark, what's your question today?

Caller: I would like to know, why is frozen pizza so bad? Is there anything I can do at home different from what it says on the box to make it better?

SM: Well, let me just ask you a question. So, you're not talking about pizza dough you get from the freezer, you're talking about boxed pizza, with toppings and cheese? Well, this is tough, because the trouble is that it's essentially like you took a piece of toast with cheese on it and threw it into the freezer, and then came back and reheated it and there's no way I mean, I'm going to be honest with you, I actually agree with you, there's no way to really make it taste much better. You know, I think it helps to put it on a stone or a baking steel in the oven, so you can crisp up the bottom a little bit. You know, maybe put some fresh herbs on top afterwards. You know, I have to confess I have eaten some frozen pizza. Excuse me, Chris, you didn't hear that, during this last year, just because it was convenient. I throw pepper flakes on it. But Chris, go ahead. What do you think?

CK: Well, I mean, I have two young kids and I admit my wife once in a while, does a frozen pizza, which I you know, I look at it and go, boy, that looks good and then I take a bite and realize it's just bloody awful. One problem, though, you can partially solve even though it's never going to be great, is you will get ice crystals on the outside, right of anything you freeze. So, part of the problem is, it's a little soggy sometimes because of that. If you bake them directly on a baking steel, better than a pizza stone steel's actually better on the bottom rack of the oven, you can actually get a slightly better crispy or texture. I mean, you could go by I mean you know pizza dough, and it's really not that hard to work with it. But the frozen stuff just never going to get there. I mean, it could be okay, but it's more like flatbread, right? I mean, that's really what I call it.

SM: No, it's already cooked. So you're just reheating it really sorry, Mark give a I'll give that they can steal the trash. Now there is a recipe we do have a milk Street, which is pouring the pan pizza. So if you have a little time and but you don't want to worry about stretching the dough and shaping it, which is what everybody doesn't do well, could try that as well.

Caller: Okay, I’ll check it out.

SM & CK: Mark, thanks. Thanks for calling

CK: This is Milk Street radio, need some help in the kitchen? Call us anytime. Number is 855-426 -9843 one more time at 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street radio.com. Welcome to milk street Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Galen. How are you, Chris?
CK: I'm pretty good. How can we help you?

Caller: So, I am actually calling back almost maybe a year to the day to report back about carrots in carrot cake and whether I needed to cook them before adding them to the cake. And the recipe I was following from silver palate cookbook is one that I've made. Every year, the recipe calls for cooking the carrots and then running them through a food mill. Last year, I baked the cake. And I thought, Well, you know what, I'm just going to skip this step. So, I didn't cook the carrots. And in our conversation last year. I think the kind of the verdict was it shouldn't make too much of a difference. And then this year, I made the cake again a couple of weeks ago, I did cook the carrots and the difference in taste was almost unnoticeable. But the the actual crumb of the cake was so much lighter. The cake has such a reputation for being dense, but it seems it seemed to make all the difference. It was light and airy, and my my hunch was that cooking the carrots maybe had something to do with it by changing the moisture content. But I yeah, I really wasn't sure if that was a valid theory and if there were drawbacks to cooking them that might be felt elsewhere in the cake that I didn't notice because I don't have the experience or mastery of a professional

CK: Ok, let's start at the beginning. Is this a standard carrot cake recipe that has like half a cup of vegetable oil in it or is it creaming something together? What's the basic method?
Caller: It is, it's it’s an oil cake. So, half a cup of vegetable oil. It's for eggs, they use sift the flour together with the salt and the leavening cup of toasted walnuts. It's got about a cup of grated carrots, almost a cup of shredded unsweetened coconut, and about eight ounces of crushed pineapple. And then the sugar to flour isn't normally one to one. So, three cups of flour to three cups of sugar.

CK: Well, one other question. Yeah, when you measured that cup was it the same amount of carrots both ways? In other words, did you take a cup of grated carrots and then cooked them? Or did you cook the carrots and then measure a cup?

Caller: So, what I did both times is I I weighed the carrot raw and then cooked them. See you the same amount. It was the same raw volume.

CK: I thought I had you you hesitated for a second). And how did you cook them and for how long I was little lazy.

Caller: So I threw them in a Pyrex bowl and put them in the microwave oven and steamed them and then let them cool. And then pureed them.

CK: I would say maybe their moisture is released more so than if you grate them but you also got pineapple.

SM: Maybe those grated carrots were so insulated in the batter they never really got you know, they just got barely soft.

CK: I don't understand why a little more moisture would affect the denseness of the cake. Unless you did something else which is always you know, my reserve here. If something else changed. Was there anything else you did differently? Different kind of flour? Different kind of pan? Was it exactly the same pan?

Caller: It was exactly the same pan all the same equipment.

SM: We’re down for the count here, man. You got us you stumped us.

CK: Yeah, here's where we're going to get the Silver Palette recipe. We're going to make it with cooked carrots. We're going to weigh them at a time versus the raw graded and we're going to see because I can't figure this out, It’s not over yet

Caller: And I can’t wait to hear what your kitchen comes up with. And I get to have carrot cake for lunch. Yeah, that will be part three. The continuing saga. All right. All right.

Caller: Thank you so much Chris and Sara.

SM: Thanks, Galen take care you too. Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street radio. Now it's time for this week's cooking tip from one of our listeners.

Caller: Hi, my name is Jean Donahoe. And here's my tip when trying to press all of the moisture out of finely chopped cauliflower. Rather than using a cotton towel. I put a coffee filter in my potato ricer and squeeze the moisture out that way. It works great and it's much less messy.

CK: If you'd like to share your own culinary tip or secret ingredient on Milk Street radio, please go to 177 milk street /slash radio tips. Next up, it's Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, co-hosts of A Way with Words. Grant and Martha what's going on this week?

Grant Barrett: Well, we're thinking about edible eponyms. These are foods that are named after famous people. Right. And the first one that comes to mind is related to the famous New York restaurant Delmonico's. There is a dish called lobster Newburg, which you may know, do you know this? Have you ever had that? I do. I've made it actually. Ah, so coming up. I've got this right lobster meat egg yolk, cream, sherry, cayenne pepper. Does that sound about right? Yeah, it's extremely rich. Yes. Yeah. extremely rich. So supposedly, this dish was made by Lorenzo de Monaco himself for a friend of his name Ben Wenberg, who was involved in Caribbean shipping. Now another version of this story says that Ben himself brought it back from South America and introduced it to Delmonico’s, who knows. In any case, notice that his last name is Wenberg and not Newberg. So apparently, as the story goes, there was a fight between the two of them and Lorenzo del Monaco got so enraged that he just reversed a name and called it Newberg and said, lobster Newberg lobster a la Newberg, and that's the way that it's been ever since. Now, there are a lot of problems with this story, and we don't need to get into that. But the main one is that a lot of Delmonico’s menus have survived. And the earliest use of Newberg is a description for any kind of food isn't about lobster. It's for terrapins from a Delmonico's menu from 1881 so it's possible the story wasn't even about lobster that it could have been about terrapins that there's another little footnote Martha from Delmonico’s they had a reputation for inventing a lot of different dishes that are in still in cookbooks and still appear in menus today

Martha Barnette: Indeed, yeah. And in so many of these cases, if you have a wealthy patron, or somebody who's really influential coming into your restaurant all the time, it makes sense to name a dish after them. And apparently that happened with chicken Allah King, which was supposedly named for a guy named Foxhall P. Keane, who used to come into that restaurant. Also Baked Alaska supposedly originated there and eggs benedict as well.

CK: Yeah, I've heard about Baked Alaska there, but it Delmonico’s is just to as an aside, had this amazing menu right was just huge. I think people forget at the time Delmonico's was, was world class and incredibly varied with incredible depth. It was, I'm sure an amazing place.

GB: Yeah, if you just want to flavor that you can find those menus at the New York Public Library and they will blow your mind. Everything on the menu is rich, rich for your diet and rich for your budget, because it's not cheap.

CK: Well, I think it's a good business practice to name dishes after your most loyal rich customers.

MB: Absolutely. And then there are people in the arts who get dishes named after them. Again, it's a really great marketing device. And that certainly happened with a lot of things that have the name Melba in them like peach melba and melba toast. Both of those were named for an Australian whose original name was Helen Porter Mitchell, but she ended up being this opera diva who had the name Dame Nellie Melba, and the great chef Escoffier supposedly invented this dish that bears her name Peach Melba, which is peaches and vanilla ice cream drenched in raspberry sauce. And then later when she was older in very ill in the 1890s, he supposedly invented this very thin toast that that we now eat, maybe you know if we're not feeling so well or trying to lose weight. But melba toast was supposedly crafted for her and named after her as well.

CK: It's interesting that that practice of naming dishes after famous or wealthy patrons has completely stopped. Has anybody named a dish after after a famous politician or actor or actress

MB: Right. Beyonce burgers or something like that

CK: Yes, a Beyonce burger there you go)

GB: You'll get you'll get the sandwiches at the local sandwich joint right they'll name them after the you know the home run hero of the local team or that sort of stuff. But I don't know that it goes to the fancy restaurants anymore. It's really just the down-home place that’s going to do it. But Martha there was also Louisa Tetrazzini oh yeah, I think I remember that. There was a chef in San Francisco who had a crush on her. And that emitted dish for her, didn't he? Yes, Ernest Arbogast in San Francisco at the Palace Hotel, invented this dish called Chicken tetrazzini. I love her name. It's so musical in and of itself. She was this wildly popular singer in the early 1900s and and she was a coloratura, you know, specializing in these florid ornamental passages and, you know, arpeggios and trills and that kind of thing. But yeah, apparently, he had the hots for her and expressed it with his recipes. (CK: That ok, can I just say, if he was romantically enamored of this opera singer, yeah, here's here's a hot dish. Really?) Right. So, for those who don't know is casserole, so chicken in a cream sauce, mushrooms? Do you put nuts in it when you make it? No, no, no. Okay. Some people do. I've seen it with almonds. served over spaghetti you brown it in the oven, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, that sort of

CK: It’s not even a box of chocolates. So how do you verify because some of these things are probably made-up years later, right?

GB: That's right. So, with the tetrazzini story, we the dish first appears as early as 1909, which really works very well with the story she made her American debut in San Francisco in 1905. She had some problem with her immigration status and Oscar Hammerstein that helped her sort that out. And so, a few years later than she did her big American tour. She was a huge success like enormous success. She did Luci mie tradiitrici, this tragic Italian opera, and she was lauded universally. So, the timing of the disappearing and print as early as 1909 was exactly right. Lobster Newburg. Same story. The time is right. Although again, we don't see lobster with Newberg, we see terrapin with Newberg and the peach melba story is very well documented. (CK: So there there are facts) Yeah, we have newspapers of the time and cookbooks on the time. One that we have a harder time with is the spaghetti Caruso story that is a lot of people claim that Enrico Caruso was the guy who decided that you should put chicken livers and tomatoes on top of your pasta. But the problem with that he is reported to have made sauce with tomatoes, parsley, basil, red pepper and olive oil. But he didn't use the livers and then for himself, despite whatever he made for other people, and Enrico Caruso preferred just plain spaghetti with butter and cheese. And the newspapers and the cookbooks of the time show that the term appears many years after he died in 1920. So, it's a really good chance that spaghetti Caruso was probably named after him in tribute many years later. I mean, there's many more that we could talk about. If you want to give us an hour, sometimes. Two hours. You don't want us cooking for you, but we can certainly talk about. (GB: Well. I do. All right. I could cook for you.

CK: Martha, come over and sing some coloratura and I'll make tetrazzini. There we go. Grant, Martha thank you so much. Enrico Caruso? Maybe not true, but tetrazzini. Absolutely. A fact. Thank you. Our pleasure, Chris. Talk to you next time. Thanks, Chris. Bye bye. That was Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette co-hosts of A Way with Words. What most people know of Luisa tetrazzini as a positive she had she was an international sensation. She began singing at age three and after her debut in Florence in 1890 the streets were lined with fans all the way back to her home. In her fourth season in Buenos Aires, she was paid over 5000 pounds per month, which at the time was a small fortune. In 1910 she sang outdoors in San Francisco to over 300,000 fans. And today well her legacy is a pasta casserole of dubious origin. That's it for this week's show. If you tuned in to later want to binge listen to every single episode you can download milk street radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street.com there you can find all of our recipes, take a free online cooking class or order our latest cookbook Cookish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter and 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.


Christopher Kimball's Milk Street radio is produced by milk street in association with GBH. Executive Producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producers Sarah Clapp and Jason Turesky, production help by Debby Paddock additional editing Sidney Lewis. Audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme Music by Toubab Krewe additional music by Georg Brandl Egloff Christopher Kimball's Milk Street radio is distributed by PRX.

OCTOBER 2021

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