I Grew Up in a Chinese Takeaway: Angela Hui Tells All | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 705
February 23, 2023

I Grew Up in a Chinese Takeaway: Angela Hui Tells All

I Grew Up in a Chinese Takeaway: Angela Hui Tells All

Angela Hui tells the story of her childhood growing up in her family’s Chinese restaurant—there are flaming woks, short tempers and zero privacy. Plus, we’re joined by journalist Jenn Harris to learn how influencers are making their mark on the restaurant industry; Alex Aïnouz speeds up beef bourguignon; and we make Italian Wedding Soup.

Questions in this episode:

"What is white pepper supposed to taste like?"

"How do I get my gluten-free cakes and muffins to rise more?"

"Since I moved to a new house my challah bread hasn’t been turning out the same. What should I do to get it to rise like it used to?"

"I’m making an old chocolate cake recipe that calls for margarine. Can I reverse cream with margarine?"

    Angela and her parents outside the takeaway on the last day of service in 2018

    Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Author Angela Hui started working at her family's takeaway restaurant when she was eight years old. Today, she shares her best stories and the takeaways inner workings, like how this very small restaurant handled their very large menu.

    Angela Hui: My dad had almost like a periodic table on the side of the wok. And you can see all the like bullet points of like the basic recipe, so you can like just whack it out under pressure in like under five minutes.

    CK: That's later in the show a peek behind the takeaway counter with author Angela Hui. But first, it's my interview with LA Times food columnist Jenn Harris, about her article, How Food Influencers can make or break Restaurants. Jenn, welcome to Milk Street.

    Jenn Harris: Thank you for having me.

    CK: I love classic restaurant reviews. I'm a big fan of like the New York Times, LA Times, because I like the fact that it's someone you know, as a reviewer, maybe not personally but you get to know their style. And I think the writing if they're really good. They actually write a story about a restaurant, not just tell you what they like and don't like. So, I'm old school, probably old school about everything. But you're telling me those days maybe over and restaurants are now turning to influencers. And that's what's really driving the restaurant business less so than the classic individual reviewer, right?

    JH: I think it's a mixture of both. I think the reviews that you love are definitely going to stick around but as a reader, and as a consumer of media, you just have so much more to choose from now.

    CK: So, let's divide these into different categories. So, you have the classic restaurant review, or let's say the New York Times, you have the Yelp reviews, which are just people going to restaurants and leaving reviews. But then you also have a third category which are influencers for whom this is a real business. So maybe we should start with Joel Gonzalez restaurants Moriscos Corona in Van Nuys once you tell that story because it was pretty surprising.

    JH: Sure. So, Joel Gonzalez has a restaurant in Van Nuys called Moriscos Corona. It's a small place. It's been there for years. He told me about a specific Friday, where there was a line out the door. It was unlike anything he and his sister who runs a restaurant with him had seen and he ended up running out of food that weekend and having to close on Monday because there were so many customers and they were ordering two dishes in particular, a burrito and a seafood dish. And he just kind of was scratching his head as to what was going on. And he asked one of his customers, you know, how did you hear about us? And he said, well, I saw you guys on TikTok. Joel a couple of weeks prior had reached out to a food influencer named Ashley Rodriguez. She goes by the handle At First Date Guide on both Tik Tok and Instagram. And he asked her if she could come in and do a video. And he agreed to pay her $1,500 for a single post, but he had no idea when she was going to post or what she was going to post. And apparently earlier that day, when that line started to form that's when Ashley decided to post this 42 second video to TikTok of her eating at the restaurant.

    TikTok voice: Have you guys heard of the spot that serves ____chilies in an avocado boat? This is Moriscos Corona in Van Nuys, California. Trust me, ___chilies is way better than ceviche’s . Well, if you like spicy that is

    JH: and you know, Joel said that this was the best money he could have spent.

    CK: Well, it's like I guess hiring an ad agency back in the day, right?

    JH: Yeah. So, I look at them as part of the restaurants marketing plan. They're hired to promote the restaurant. It's very calculated, it's planned out. It's not spontaneous. And in the case of Ashley and a couple other influencers, who she works with, you know, the restaurants they work with, they're in on those quarterly meetings, they are making suggestions for menu changes or additions. Their opinions are valued as part of the actual team for the restaurant.

    CK: But to continue with my old school upbringing. I mean, okay, she got paid for this. So, look, I understand if somebody naturally comes out and says, you know, I love this restaurant, but she was paid to love the restaurant. Is that something that was made clear?

    JH: Yeah, so that's the thing. There are specific guidelines for influencers and not just for food for any influencer. You know, the FTC has very clear guidelines on what they're supposed to disclose in their posts. If they receive anything. You know what that'd be money or, you know, any sort of goods in exchange for a post, you're supposed to make that clear and say something like hashtag add or hashtag sponsored.

    CK: Yeah. You mentioned the FTC, I went and got the guidelines. So, they're really clear that if you're posting, you need to reveal any kind of familial connection, yes, or financial relationship and, of course, I would assume almost nobody does that.

    JH: Yeah, it's very self-regulated at the moment. And, and a lot of the influencers who I spoke with for the story did say that they think that it's assumed that they got whatever goods there, you know, showing on Instagram or TikTok, for free, and that when they have posted like, hashtag ad or sponsored that they've noticed that the engagement on the post isn't as high. So, they make it a point not to do that unless the brand they're working with specifically asked that they do it.

    CK: So, influencers come in all different types. I mean, you have the low end of the scale people just getting started. I guess if you’re a restaurant owner people are asking you all the time for free food. There was a case, a Chinese restaurant in St. Louis called Corner 17 and that didn't work out so well. For for either party, right?

    JH: Yeah, t was an influencer based in Los Angeles. And he reached out to this restaurant saying, here's my page, here's what I do. Here are the videos I work on, would you be willing to give me $100 towards my meal, and I'll do a video for you. And the restaurant said no, thank you. And he went in any way and posted a review. Some of the review was complimentary, some of it reLLY wasn’t.

    CK: The influencer, wrote worst dumplings ever. The food honestly wasn't good. The service was great. And then I wouldn't recommend this place to anyone. Sorry.

    JH: It wasn't very complimentary. And the restaurant took that as him retaliating against them for not being willing to put $100 towards his meal. The restaurant then went on social media accused him of doing that. And yeah, it didn't, it didn't work out well for either of them. But that is something that I feel that a lot of restaurants do have to deal with. A lot of the publicists I talked to said that they're constantly fielding requests for free meals, or collabs, which is kind of the term for an exchange of a free meal for a post.

    CK: There was another one here, which I really liked, eat whatever you want, is the handle on Instagram.

    JH: She yes, she traveled with a car full of props, her big thing is, you know, what do I need to do to make this look good. So, she plans these things out months in advance, she plans out the outfits, her business plan and media kit are very professional and impressive. This is a full-time job for her. And she's very good at it.

    CK: So you've been a food journalist for obviously, several years. So what do you think? I mean, how do you view it given all of your background?

    JH: I mean, the reason I did this story was because I was fascinated by this world, I was not familiar with. And I just was really curious about the inner workings. And whether or not people could actually make money doing this and kind of how it all worked. You know, food influencers and restaurants are basically gambling, you can post something on the internet, you have no idea whether it's going to go viral or take off or not. So maybe you paid $1,500, and it only got 100 views, you know, so I'm more still just fascinated and amused by the entire thing. And just, I'm just curious to see where it goes next.

    CK: Jenn has been a pleasure. And I'm glad I don't own a restaurant right now because it sounds pretty complicated. Thanks.

    JH: You and me both. Thank you for having me.

    CK: That was food columnist Jenn Harris. Her article for the LA Times is called How Food Influencers Can Make or Break Restaurants. 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 Moulton: All right, Chris, before we take a call, I'm very, very jealous to hear you've been in Paris. And I want to know what was the best thing you ate?

    CK: The best thing I ate. Firstly, let me just say something about Paris. You know, when you get into the outer arrondissements the 13th and other things. They're great neighborhoods. They're really interesting. They're changing a lot. We found this wonderful Bistro. And one of the things they make a stuffed cabbage. But it's not like anything you've had before. I wouldn't say it's light, but it's not heavy. It has some ground-up sausage, lots of other things in it. The rumor was they also threw some foie gras and I'm not sure that's true. But it was absolutely delicious. That was one the other thing I had we also went around looking for Vietnamese restaurants or Southeast Asian restaurants and we went to one place really on the outskirts of Paris and he made a Vietnamese version of chicken wings. (umm) Well, he fried the wings. And then he had a sort of half size wok. And he had lemongrass and fish sauce, etc, etc. And he took the wings out, drained them and threw him in the wok and just tossed him for a couple minutes. And I don't love chicken wings.

    SM: Oh, I do

    CK: Well, I've never been one of my favorite things. I could not stop eating these. I mean, they were so good and so much better. Crispy. Yeah, they're crispy and the sauce was light, you know, but obviously with fish sauce and some other things that had a lot of flavor (Yummy). Absolutely. Delicious. Well, now, those are two things.

    SM: I'm even more jealous.

    CK: Yeah. Anyway, okay, onto a call.

    SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

    Caller: Hi, this is Bobby from Burlington, Vermont.

    SM: Okay, Chris territory. How can we help you today?

    Caller: I had a question about white pepper. Every once in a while when I have something with white pepper. I noticed these pronounced off flavors that I can only describe as being barnyard like and flavor. And so, I'm wondering, is this something that everyone experiences or is this something that people only sensitive to these chemical compounds experience?

    SM: Well, that's a very good question. Yes, I think that it is known that white pepper can be a bit funky, unrelated question, how do you feel about goat cheese?

    Caller: I love goat cheese. I mean, it also has a very, like pronounced sharp flavor, but I don't pick up

    the funkiness

    SM: the funkiness. Okay, so different kinds of funky, so it isn't you anti funk, it's the funk of the white pepper. Okay, very briefly. So white pepper, you know, green, black, white are all related. Green is is unripe and black is allowed to stay on the vine till the very end, and then it's taken off and aged, it gets as large as it's going to get. And then it gets harvested and dried, white stays on till the end, and then it's soaked in water to lose sort of the flesh part of it. And that goes on for a while, and it decomposes. And that's sort of the fermentation part of it. And then eventually, all that flesh comes off and it's dried. And during that process, there are some oils in white pepper that can provide that, quote, unquote, barnyard aroma.

    Caller: Is this a default in the production process of white pepper? Or, I mean, is this something that only happens when that fermentation process goes wrong or with pepper that may be aged a little too long?

    SM: You know, I honestly don't know. That sounds like two very likely assumptions. Chris, what's your thoughts?

    CK: In places like Thailand, they don't really use black pepper. They use white pepper, (many, many Asian countries). And it's because it's not as strong and it has a sort of fruitier flavor, which I like to I think it's just because some of the volatile oils in the pepper have a stronger flavor. I don't pick that up. And maybe it's because the white pepper is produced differently in Southeast Asia or it's a different genis I don't know, I just get a fruity or somewhat lighter flavor than you would with black pepper. And that's why they use it. It's really nice with food. I don't know if it's the different pepper it may be. I haven't picked up that barnyard smell when I've had food there with that white pepper. So, I don't know the answer that.

    SM: You know, I think since you want to avoid that funk, maybe what you need to do is I would buy small batches of white pepper corns, right from different and just decide which brands you like the best.

    Caller: Yeah, and it's not necessarily that I want to avoid it, it's just that I never really know what I'm going to get purchase products of white pepper

    SM: I think you might have to do a little experimentation on your own.

    CK: It could be that the white peppercorns you get are old because you know, spices can be sitting around for up to two years before they get to you from the grower. They may go through 10 or 12 different hands, distributors, wholesalers. So very often the spices you buy at a supermarket are old. Yeah. So that could be the problem.

    SM: Yeah.

    Caller: Okay. Well, this was very interesting. And thank you for addressing the issue and answering the question.

    SM: Okay,

    Caller: thank you.

    SM: Bye bye.

    CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help with breakfast, lunch or dinner, give us a ring a 855-426-9843 That's a 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

    Caller: Hi this is Norma Jane from Decatur, Georgia.

    CK: How can we help you?

    Caller: Well, about 2008 I was diagnosed with celiac disease so ever since then, I've been cooking gluten free, and I love to bake. So that's kind of become my specialty. But I have some issues that I hope you can help me with one of them being I can't get my cakes or muffins or donuts or you know whatever I'm making to rise very high. They always tend to be a little on the flat side.

    CK: Are you using a gluten free cookbook? What are the recipes.

    Caller: So, I like to use a flour blend that came from a cookbook, and it has a nice blend of things. It doesn't come out tasting gritty. It has xanthan gum to it I believe.

    CK: Xanthan Gum and then some starch like a potato starch or cornstarch of some kind probably rice starch,

    Caller: a little bit of potato starch and has a little bit of tapioca. A little bit of powdered milk.

    CK: And so, are you using a traditional, let's say, muffin recipe, substituting the flour out?

    Caller: No, I like to, you know, find a gluten free recipe. But I'm just not sure what's the ingredient in baking that makes things rise the highest, you know,

    CK: Years ago, I worked on a gluten free cookbook. The thing we found is that every recipe is different. If you're doing a white bread, if you're doing a muffin, if you're doing a cake, if you're doing a cookie, they all had their peculiarities, you had to go really test all that out. Every single type of recipe was a different problem to be solved. The flour mixture with a white rice and brown rice and cetera, is the starting point. But there are lots of other things you have to think about, like you know, moisture content, how much liquid to how much flour, how much you fill it up, what temperature you use. It's not just a function of leavener. It's a function of everything.

    SM: I haven't done a ton of gluten free cooking, but that makes complete sense. Because with regular wheat flour, you have a structure that you know you can work with that you can leaven in a predictable way. But when you're dealing with all these other kinds of flours that aren't wheat based, it's much harder.

    CK: One thing I have noticed is there are recipes as a Spanish almond cake. For example, I make all the time you know it's almond flour. I find recipes based on almond flour to be pretty easy to work with. You don't need special flour. So that's one category of baking I think is really predictable.

    Caller: I really like to make cake doughnuts. And I mean you can only fill the doughnut pan so high, right? And then when they bake, they rise up but there's a gluten free bakery that I go to and theirs are just huge. And I just can't figure out how they're getting those guys so big.

    CK: Did you ask them?

    Caller: No.

    CK: I find 95% of the time if you just walked in and said look, I have to eat gluten free I love your doughnuts Could you help me out? I'll bet you almost anything they'll help you

    SM: Yeah, just flatter the bejesus out of them that always work

    CK: I mean people like to share what they know.

    Caller: all right, I'm going to be brave I'm going to do that

    SM: Do it and let us know what you find out.

    CK: People like to share their recipes. Yeah, yeah.

    Caller: Okay I will. All right thank you so much for taking my call.

    SM: All right,

    CK: Take care, bye. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we go behind the takeaway counter with author Angela Hui, that's up right after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with author Angela Hui. In 1988, her parents opened a takeaway restaurant in Wales called Lucky Star. Her new memoir about the restaurant is Takeaway Stories from a Childhood Behind the Counter. Angela, welcome to Milk Street.

    AH: Hi, Chris. Thank you for having me.

    CK: I love your book Takeaway. I just wanted to read a couple sentences and ask you about it. You wrote, ‘I desperately wanted to hide the kind of person I wasn't home at the Takeaway, impatient, selfish and a stick of dynamite waiting to go off. I became paranoid that I was shouting all the time, like my parents trying to speak above the deafening sounds of the kitchen. So that experience, you know, people usually write books about how it was so wonderful working in a restaurant is child. This This had a dark side to it, I guess as well, right?

    AH: Yeah, I mean, I wanted to show the not the dark side, but just how hardworking and tenacious, like the hospitality industry is, especially the immigrant businesses, the smaller takeaways, I don't get as much, you know, recognition as like Michelin stars, or like the big-name restaurants that, yeah, I feel like it was a unique experience. Like I started working in the takeaway when I was eight years old. And I would like stand on a plastic stool struggling to, you know, hold like a big like, massive bottle of Coca Cola serving customers being on the phone, and I wasn't like tall enough to reach over the counter. So, it's a very odd experience being in a takeaway when you work and live in the same place. And I really wanted to show the blurred lives of like working and living in the same space.

    CK: So maybe you could just paint a picture for us how big is the Takeaway? How many people were cooking? It just physically, what was it like?

    AH: It was tiny, I don't know how the five of us fit. So, I've got two older brothers and my parents, and I'm the youngest. But as you walk in, there's like a big waiting room counter space, which is probably the biggest room in the house. And like underneath the counter, no one really sees behind the counter but honestly, it's like full of junk. It's like, it's a mishmash of like our personal things because we just didn't have enough space, but also some professional things. So, there'll be, you know, crates of cans, and there'll be like packaging for like chopsticks or like soy sauces. And then you'd have like the big kitchen. I say big but it's not that big. It's just the red floor, anti-slip tiles. You have a lot of silver worktops. And then there's Island and then a row of woks. So normally, my dad would be on the wok. So, he'd be like stuck in the corner, he can't really get out. So yeah, it was just very cramped living quarters. And we would always constantly, you know, be climbing over each other knocking into each other and just wanting some privacy, and like we never had any privacy because everything was you know, everything was shared.

    CK: So, after World War Two in the UK, many Chinese families took over the old fish and chip shops. And then they converted them to Chinese takeaway restaurants. Is that right?

    AH: So, a lot of them did. So, in the I think it was from the 60s to the 80s it was like a really big Chinese takeaway boom in the UK after the war. And a lot of fish and chips shops used to be Jewish owned, and they started to retire. And so Chinese takeaways took over a lot of fish and chip shops. And they were kind of double up. So, there'll be like egg fried rice and noodles, but with like fish and fried chips. So, it was this beautiful mishmash of the two. So, I guess it was very much like an Anglo Cantonese fare. That's what you would get.

    CK: You mentioned once like you said, my mom was even working with crutches on her arms working the deep fat fryer. Just give us an example of what it was like in that kitchen cooking.

    AH: I appreciate having my family and I think we wouldn't be so close if we didn't have the takeaway. But yeah, like, you know, I it's it's an odd place to be kitchens. You kind of love it or you hate it and (or both simultaneously) Well, yeah, but it's like a roller coaster. It's the highs are very high, and the lows are very low is what I'm saying. It's like when you're flat out busy and everything goes smoothly. The customers are really happy, and you managed to bash out all your orders. Like you feel euphoric. Like it's such a great feeling working under pressure to get everything done. But when you know it's like a domino effect when one thing goes wrong say I don't know like you're missing this order, or the customers are unhappy because I was like the peppers were missing or like there was peas in it. What I didn't ask for peas like it can be very chaotic and it's a very difficult environment to be in.

    CK: Let's talk a little bit about recipes Four Seasons is sort of, I guess, probably a poor description but sort of like a surf and turf. It has a little bit of everything in it. Yeah, what's Four Seasons?

    AH: So, it's a Chop Suey, essentially but that was our take on a chop suey and chop suey is. It's very Asian American dish. It was a lot of the Asian people that settled in America that was kind of the first and most like ubiquitous Chinese takeaway dish. It was essentially just like odds and ends. It was like bits of cabbage, with bean sprouts, carrots and bamboo shoots and

    CK: Was it based on an actual recipe in China or was it completely made up for a western audience?

    AH: I think it was completely made up like I actually think it was completely made up but took essence from Chinese techniques, so yeah, so it'd be like very western ingredients using what was around so using, because it was like after the war, right, so there wasn't that much like fresh produce readily available. So, there was a lot of like tin bamboo shoots or like water chestnuts and green peppers. And I guess like for my parent’s dish, they kind of added their own take to it. So, they added chicken out a duck, they added woody mushrooms and prawns to the dish. And that was our take on Chop Suey, I would say.

    CK: Any other recipe that comes to mind that was particularly interesting at the Takeaway?

    AH: We had a dish called a chicken Merryland, which was essentially just like, chicken breast, but it was breadcrumbed. Deep fried.

    CK: This is the dish she referred to isn't as annoying, right?

    AH: Yeah, we call it a toy because it was just like fussy to make. But yeah, it was actually very, very Western it wasn't Chinese at all, I would say but people loved it. But yeah, it's all fried things. And I think it was a very Welsh appetite. And then we get a lot of like variety meals where you get a bit of everything in one tray. And people love that.

    CK: So, you have a tiny little kitchen with all these people in it. And you said you had over 100 items on the menu. What's the trick for people who are not in the restaurant business? What's the trick to turn out 100 different dishes in a small kitchen?

    AH: I don't know, you might have to ask my dad. My dad had almost like a periodic table, like graph on the side of the wok. And you can see all the like bullet points of like the basic recipe. So, for example, like Four Seasons, which will be number one on the menu that it just says like prawn, fish and chicken scintillators. Whack it out under pressure in like, under five minutes.

    CK: We'll have to after 30 years, you probably Yeah, you didn't have to look at that chart anymore. Yeah. So, the Takeaway gets sold in 2018. And in the book, you ask a really interesting question, which is who am I without the shop? So, did you ever answer that question?

    AH: I don't know. Like, I'm still figuring it out. Because it's such a huge part of my life. You know, I worked there until I was 26 years old. And I think the Takeaway has kind of shaped who I am as a person, like, in a way like I had to grow up, me and my brothers had to grow up quite quickly, we had to parent our own parents, because they couldn't really speak English. So, we had to look after them. And we had to, you know, translate everything and translate letters, translate bills, or speak to customers. And I still do now like in our family, WhatsApp, and my parents will still send her a blurry electricity bill and I can't read it. Oh, well, I buy the car insurance. It's like little things like that. And, you know, in a way, like, I'm really grateful for everything that they've done. And I'm, you know, very glad that I've grew up in a takeaway of when changing for the world.

    CK: Did it change your how you cook now, all the things you may have to take away, you just never want to eat again, or, oh, no, like some way influence your current menus.

    AH: No, like, I absolutely love takeaway food. It's such a treat, it's treat food, it's not healthy to eat everyday but there's a really great Chinese takeaway where I live down the road. And I always try to go to support and like, it just brings back so many nostalgic memories for me. And I love Chinese take away food and it has helped me become a better cook. You know, as much as I didn't want to be involved within food, especially, you know, growing up when you're surrounded by food. And when you leave the shop, you're trying to find your own way you want to do something completely different. But it's more about like coming to food on your own terms. And I guess like through this book, it's definitely brought me and my family closer, like developing the recipes, where my mom learning about her past learning about the history, and it's definitely made me a lot more confident in the kitchen. That's okay if it's not perfect. You know, I think that's the mentality I've taken on with cooking.

    CK: Angela, it’s been just a great pleasure. Thank you so much.

    AH: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.

    CK: That was Angela Hui. Her memoir is Takeaway Stories from My Childhood Behind the Counter. Working at a takeaway provided fond memories for Angela Hui. Despite the heat the long hours and the demanding customers. My father who fought in World War Two used to sing old army songs with great enthusiasm Bless Them All made popular by Vera Lynn was a favorite during their cocktail hours. Although I was not aware of the more don't lyrics until many years later. Scientists say that we are personal archaeologists, we reconstruct the past with a mixture of imagination and memory to make ourselves happier in the present. So even the worst restaurant job will over time be remembered with more than a hint of nostalgia and fondness so when it comes to memories bless them all. You're listening to Milk Street Radio now it's time to check in with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe. Italian wedding soup. J M how are you?

    J M Hirsch: I'm doing great.

    CK: You know, if you said Italian wedding soup to me, and we just have this image of meatballs floating in chicken stock. Yeah. But I gather because you've actually been to Italy to taste this and make it that would be incorrect.

    JM: Absolutely. You know, the conventional wisdom about Italian wedding soup, which is in Italian called Minestra Maritata is that it's all about the marriage of meat and broth and greens. And that is true. But it's not meatballs. And conventional wisdom is that it's not actually served at weddings. But we're wrong. As usual. It is served at weddings in Italy. And it's a very festive meal. And I was in Compamia. And I was about 100 miles inland from Naples, and I was at a farm and this woman Antonietta di Gruttola told me that not only did she served at her wedding and her daughter's wedding, but her parents insisted she learned how to make it before she could even get married. That's how ingrained in wedding culture this soup is. And so that was the first thing the second thing is yeah, in Italy, no meatballs in America, meatballs, but not at least in Campania.

    CK: Wait a minute. Who in their right mind would wear a white dress and eat soup. I mean, isn't that like not a really great thing to eat at a wedding?

    JM: Well, you know, after a few bottles of wine to celebrate, you know, maybe at that point, you don't care anymore. And not only is it served at weddings, but it is actually still a reference to the marriage of the broth and the greens and the meat. So, it's true, but it's more true than we thought. And it's also more delicious than I thought. They if they make it every day, they use chicken. But for special occasions, it will have pork in the form of pancetta and prosciutto oftentimes, as well as beef in it. And then tons of greens and and Antonietta harvested tons and tons of wild greens in her farm. And they did truly marry with the broth and the meats. And it was really very good and very simple but had so much flavor going on.

    CK: We should just stop and say that all over Italy and Sicily, etc. The notion of wild greens, especially bitter greens, oh, yeah, is really important. Especially if you had something like pork in a dish, it would offset the richness, right?

    JM: Yeah. And you know, that is a culture that we just don't appreciate here in the United States. You know, we have wild greens, bitter greens growing in our yards all over the place. And we just don't take advantage of that. But in Italy, they really understand the value not only the value, but how delicious these greens can be. And they put them to great use, in a dish like this.

    CK: So, what do they do about the broth, most of our wedding soup recipes will say two cans of chicken broth. I assume they're not doing that.

    JM: They are not in fact, and that's where the pancetta comes in, you know, they start with water, and they flavor the water with the carrots or celery, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes, pancetta. And by the time they're done, they don't need to open a can because there's just so much flavor in that broth that they've created. And then the meat goes in. And then all those bitter greens go in. And it just truly is a delicious marriage.

    CK: And so, we did the same thing. We use water as well. (We do.) Yep. We should just say though, that in most places in the world, they don't call for broth because they use water and sort of make their own as they go. Right.

    JM: Right, exactly why when you have all these wonderful, simple ingredients that are going to imbue that water with so much flavor. It's going to be so much better than anything you can add out of a can or a box.

    CK: So, water, like water for broth. Yes. In how do they finish off and serve the soup?

    JM: Well, of course you have to have some croutons and it's not Italian if you don't put a bit of parmesan cheese on there.

    CK: And a little basil, I would assume or something.

    JM: A little basil is nice, but you know frankly, you don't need it. With all of those bittersweet herbs and greens in there. It's perfect.

    CK: So Italian wedding soup actually does have something to do with weddings but has nothing to do with meatballs.

    JM: Exactly.

    CK: JM thank you.

    JM: Thank you. You can get the recipe for Italian wedding soup at Milk Street Radio.com

    CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up Alex Ainoux attempts to make France's most complicated dish into an instant meal. That's in just a moment. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

    SM: Welcome to Milk Street. Who’s calling?

    Caller: This is Becky Frank.

    SM: Hi Becky. Where are you calling from?

    Caller: I'm in Oak Park, Illinois.

    SM: How can we help you today?

    c I have been making hallah for about eight years now. And I have tried many different recipes. And I found this one. That is easy enough. And always turns out great light, fluffy the way that we like it. We moved a year ago, and I have a new stove. My previous stove was a Wolf, electric oven gas top. And this stove is gas top gas oven. And every time I make the hallah now, it is so dense and heavy. The other thing that has changed is my other kitchen was always warmer. And this kitchen is not warm. It's like 64 Max.

    SM: Well, definitely gas ovens are different. They have uneven heat, they're more humid. But I wonder if the second thing you said is more relevant here in terms of how the yeast is proofing.

    Caller: It doesn't feel the same when I'm kneading, when I'm braiding.

    SM: Nothing feels the same, is that what you're saying?

    Caller: Nothing, nothing. Yeah.

    SM: Are you using any different yeast?

    Caller: I make it so often that I buy the jar of yeast and I keep it in my fridge. And so, when this happened, I went to the packages of yeast so that it would be more fresh and I just use an instant dry yeast.

    SM: Were you're using instant dry before active dry.

    Caller: Oh my.

    CK: I think if you're buying it in the large containers, it's usually active dry Redstar Active Dry or whatever it's called.

    Caller: Right right. Yeah,

    CK: No, I think you went from active dry to rapid rise or instant there are different animal.

    Caller: Okay

    CK: Are you proofing the yeast like you would with active dry or just throwing it in with the dry ingredients.

    Caller: I do I do proof it, and you know this particular recipe says 10 minutes. And then it says the yeast has dissolved when it's nice and foamy. And it honestly never gets to that nice and foamy.

    SM: That’s the problem right there

    CK: Yeah, that's the proper rapid rise yeast, you know proof because rapid rise or instant, doesn't have those cell walls on the outside that need to be dissolved. So, you can just throw it right into the dry ingredients. If you're proofing the yeast and it doesn't look foamy and active, that's your problem.

    SM: If it's rapid rise, you shouldn't be proofing it all. You put it in with the dry ingredients. And then the general thing is though the liquid should be hotter that you add to the recipe then their liquid you would use with the regular yeast.

    Caller: That might be the total issue.

    CK: I think the other problem is I have a cold kitchen. And when I make pizza dough, it took me years to figure out what the problem was. And it turns out if the dough is not at the right temperature, it just doesn't end up baking up right. So, I found that if the dose is around 75 It comes out great. But if the dose 65 It doesn't, I think Sara's right, we're both right that the kind of yeast has changed. I would go back to active dry to improve it. And two I would also see if you can get that temperature up in the kitchen. By the way, you can get a silicone pad that plugs in and you put your bowl on top of it. It's very thin, and it will heat the bowl and solve the problem of the cold kitchen. I have one of those and it works really well.

    SM: It seems like it'd be worth it for you Becky.

    Caller: I have one of those heating mats from when I'm starting seedlings. I wonder if that would work.

    CK: As long as it's not too hot. The secret is you don't want to overheat the dough. That's a very good idea.

    SM: Yeah, we like that idea

    CK: jerry rig dough heater thing, right? Anyway. Yeah, give that a shot. Yes. Change your yeast.

    SM: Thanks, Becky.

    Caller: Yeah, thank you so much guys

    CK: Take care.

    SM: Bye bye

    CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're having trouble in the kitchen, Sara and I are here to help. Give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

    Caller: This is Dana and I'm from Chester County, Pennsylvania right outside of Philadelphia.

    CK: How can we help you?

    Caller: Well, I had a question. And I thought if anyone would know the answer to this, it would be you and Sara. My mother and looked at these made a cake that she called her favorite chocolate cake. And it uses a technique that baffled me, because when I make a cake, I usually cream the butter, add the sugar, add the eggs, and then start alternating flour with milk or whatever liquid. Now remember, this is the 50s and for whatever reason, my family always use butter at the table. But when my mother baked, she used a product called N___. And at that point in time, it was made with coconut oil, which is interesting. So, it's states to cream the N___, add flour, salt and sugar, add milk, mix well add eggs, chocolate and vanilla bake in an eight-inch square pan and I thought what this is total heresy, you know, I mean, I just made it this morning. And it makes a very nice small, eight-inch square cake with a chocolate frosting made with confectioners’ sugar. And it's a lovely cake and everyone always loves it. But I wondered if you two had heard of this method, which is called reverse creaming and apparently, dates back to Betty Crocker in the 50s.

    CK: Yeah, reverse creaming is taking relatively soft butter and mix it with flour. And the concept is you're coating the flour with a fat, which means you get less gluten development and get a more tender crumb for a snack cake or something like this it’s not necessary, but it's a perfectly good method. I guess my first question is, did you find N___? Did you use margarines? You butter what did you use?

    Caller: No, I tried to do this as close to what my mom did and I used Bluebonnet and it tastes fine.

    CK: Yeah, I mean, I think margarine or processed oil, or coconut oil etc. or coconut fat will give you a better texture cake as butter tends to dry out and isn't quite as good later on. So, it should last better. So, I personally wouldn't use margarine, but it probably makes a pretty decent cake. So that makes sense to me. What did you do for the chocolate flavor? How much chocolate?

    Caller: I used one and a half squares of unsweetened chocolate.

    CK: That's all?

    Caller: Well, then it tastes great. Almost brownie like in texture. Not quite. But I'm actually measured it baked this cake measures less than an inch high.

    CK: I have two questions. Are you happy with a one-inch-high cake, which seems a little odd and two: Does it have good chocolate flavor because I know a lot of bakers will use cocoa or cocoa and melted chocolate to really give you depth of flavor.

    Caller: Oh, interesting. No, this tastes sufficiently chocolatey to me.

    CK: I think we'd have to categorize this as if it ain't broke. Don't fix it. If you like it, it's your mother's recipe. It works. Who am I to you know, mean Sara, do you?

    SM: No, I mean, I completely agree with Chris with that statement. But you know if you did it, the regular creaming method where you cream the sugar and the butter to begin with, you know, and then you add the eggs one at a time. You would have probably had a lighter area cake. So, it just depends on sort of what you're looking for. But I 100% agree with if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    CK: Yeah, it gives you that more velvety red velvet cake. texture or devil sweet texture if you reverse cream anyway. He works, you know. I mean, I love arguing with people but

    SM: there's nothing to argue about here.

    CK: Unfortunately, there's nothing for me to argue about. Thanks for calling.

    SM: Thanks, Tina.

    Caller: Okay. Thank you.

    CK: Pleasure, right thank you. This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.

    Caller: Hi, my name is Sharon from Pittsburgh. And here's my tip. Whenever I have sticks of butter, I always save like try to save the wrappers. And I keep them in the freezer so that whenever I have to butter a pan or something like that, I just take one of the wrappers out because I've already extra butter on it. And instead of wasting more butter, I just use that and when its down I throw it away.

    CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tips right here on Milk Street Radio, go to 177 Milk Street.com/radio Tips you're listening to Milk Street Radio next up let's check in with our friend Alex Ainouz. Alex, what's going on in Paris?

    Alex Ainouz: Hey Chris, everything's going on over here. Okay, I'm working on a super conditional super iconic and super touchy recipe here in France. I'm working on my version of beef bourguignon. (Oh, no) this is Oh, no, this is what I'm doing right now. I'm trying to write my own legacy.

    CK: This is a rabbit hole recipe, right?

    AA: This is a rabbit hole, but I didn't know that when I started. So basically, video is all about memory for me, so mostly comfort. It started very early with my grandmother, you know, making her Almighty beef bourguignon. This is a dark living room, with like a big, heavy, dark wood table in the center. All the families around it, my grandma would bring an enormous Dutch oven in the center covered with a lid, obviously, and then she would just reveal it with a sense of drama. And then she would serve me layers on layers on layers of beef bourguignon. If I if I want to make my own version of beef bourguignon you know, it has to have some comfort, and that is at the core of beef bourguignon. Now, I thought, I need to go beyond this. So, I started doing a few research on who's doing good beef bourguignon, good and modern beef bourguignon here in Paris, and I found a place called Le Petit Célestin, located right on the river Seine where they claim and also many of their customer claim that this place sells the best beef bourguignon in Paris. So I went to that place, I had beef bourguignon, and my mind was blown.

    CK: So, you sat down and tasted it, and you had an out of body experience is that what happened?

    AA: Exactly, that's what happened to me, but but in all honesty, it's that powerful what they are doing right now. It's the same vibe in terms of comfort, but it's just bringing things to restaurant level to a good restaurant level, meaning that the sauce is darker. It's shinier. But also, they have been working on the visuals, of course, because it's a restaurant, but also on the textures. They are playing with different texture, for example, they are a bit of parsley that they fry at the very end, the carrots and the onions and the bacon, it almost feels like everything has been cooked separately. Not everything in a big Dutch oven, which has some merit to it as well. But here they are doing everything separately so that every doneness is on point, right. Okay, now, I'm a dad, I've got two boys. And I'm pretty busy. So even though I love bourguignon, we knew I could afford to make it like every other day, even though I would love to eat it every other day. So, what did I do? I thought maybe I can prepare everything in advance. Most of the things leave a few things for the end and make some sort of an instant beef bourguignon. I would still be made all from scratch. That was my idea. I was trying to, to come up with something that I could wrap up in one hour and still be called beef bourguignon.

    CK: You’ve got nothing else to do except try to do the impossible. Okay, that’s good

    AA: Exactly. So basically, I thought, okay, I'm going to divide the actions into two parts, the things that I can do in advance and the things that I want to keep for the end, to still have some life in that dish. So, in advance, you can work on the beef, that's what I did, I sous vided big chunks of cheek and chuck for 25 hours. Then for the stock, I made a homemade stock, which I reduced drastically afterwards and I made ice cube from it. And then for the wine, I did something similar. I bought six liters of wine. And then I reduced it down to a 10th of its volume, and I made ice cube from it.

    CK: Yeah, can we just stop there for a second? I totally agree. I find recipes where you pour wine from a bottle into a pot with meat are awful. It just destroys the meat. It drains a bit of flavor and the wine is nasty.

    AA: Exactly. It doesn't have the acidity of the wine is just messing up with the whole recipe. You have to reduce your wine first. So, this is one of the things that I've done. I've got my three prepared in advance elements. So, meat, stock and wine. Now everything is in the freezer. Everything is ready for me to be used. That's great. So, on weekdays, whenever I want to do a beef bourguignon, the only thing that I've got to do is the garnish. So, I use bacon. I use onions, and I use mushrooms but of course you know me it would be too easy if I were to use exactly these so instead of bacon, I use an Italian alternative called guanciale, which I think is superior in so many ways. The onion so traditionally in ____, you need to use pearl onions they are pain to find so I just use shallots and I think that for the money I think they're better. And for mushrooms, the mushrooms needs to be you know stewed usually for beef bourguignon I don't like it. I think water and mushroom don't go well together. So, I just stirred fried it. So, I've got my stirred fried mushrooms. I've got my caramelized shallots. And I've got some guanciale that I've just been rendering in a pan. Basically, what I do, I just assembled the whole thing in one saucepan, and in 30-minute time. I've got a homemade all from scratch beef bourguignon, like for example, on a Thursday night. Who can do this.

    CK: So your two sons? (Yes) you have this wonderful dish beef bourguignon. And they bite into it and they go Dad, this is great. Or do they say something else?

    AA: No, I would be lying if they liked it. I mean, they're just kids. They just go like, Dad, can we go back to I don't know, like something stupid that I made the day before. That just took me five minutes without even thinking about it. I try to please them, but it's impossible.

    CK: Alex, thank you so much a fast-food version of beef bourguignon and hopefully your kids will come to like it. Thank you, Alex.

    AA: Thank you Chris.

    CK: That was YouTube host Alex Ainouz he's also the author of Just a French Guy Cooking. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes at 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 get full access to every recipe. All live stream cooking classes free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. 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 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, Associate 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. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.