We talk with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss about why foods such as Cheetos and Oreos can be more addictive than cigarettes. | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 518
July 2, 2021

Is Junk Food Addictive? The Science of Food Cravings

Is Junk Food Addictive? The Science of Food Cravings

We talk with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss about why foods such as Cheetos and Oreos can be more addictive than cigarettes. Plus we explore the history of West African cookbooks, J. Kenji López-Alt teaches us different ways to use alcohol in the kitchen, and we learn to make Glazed Sour Cream and Brown Sugar Bundt Cake.

This episode is brought to you by Sleep Number.

Questions in this episode:

"I want to make a recipe for yeasted waffles, but it calls for dry yeast––specifically not instant. I can only find instant dry yeast at the store. How do I use it in this recipe?"

"There's this dark chocolate bar that I tried years ago and wasn't so fond of. I tried it again when I made a recipe that called for a lot of chocolate. The next day, I tasted the leftover melted chocolate that had hardened and thought it tasted much better than the original bar. Do you know why that might be?"

"What's the difference between a professional chef and a home cook? Are there things the average home cook can do to be more like a professional?"

"I was given a cured leg of ham recently. I find it really hard to get thin, prosciutto-like slices without investing in a fancy deli slicer. What's the best way to get the meat off the bone?"

"When is the right time to use a blender versus a food processor?"

Michael Moss Daniel Sheehan

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Moss joins us today to talk about his latest book Hooked, which explores the science behind why so many of us find processed foods addictive, and how this has changed our relationship with food as consumers.

Michael Moss: It's just kind of this feeling of having lost the beauty and ritual of like home cooked meals with family and friends having fallen so hard for these companies who are telling us what we should value in food rather than letting us establish for ourselves what we value in food.

CK: Also coming up J Kenji Lopez Alt teaches us different ways to use alcohol in the kitchen. That is besides drinking, we put a spin on an old school Bundt cake but first it's my interview with Ozoz Sokoh. Sokoh recently launched Feast Afrique, the first online database of West African cookbooks, and now contains nearly 250 books. Ozoz welcome to Milk Street.

Ozoz Sokoh: Thank you, Chris

CK: Feast Afrique, which I love your digital library. When did you start it? What were you trying to do? just describe it if you could.

OS: So, Feast Afrique currently has about 240 books, and the books explore West African culinary and food heritage from around 1828 till modern times. And the idea was, there's so many eBooks and digital resources that would be nice to have in one place. That reference little known West African culinary history and that could be useful to deepen people's knowledge. I want there to be scholarship around West African food and culinary traditions.

CK: So, I actually looked up a couple these books. One of them was Practical West African cookery, published in 1910. And, I mean, it was a cookbook for, as they say, to enable the white man to obtain well cooked and varied food. I mean, they weren’t making any bones about it. But some of the menus in there were cold fish with mayonnaise, tornados of beef, or mutton roast duck with applesauce. I guess they weren't really that interested in the local cuisine.

OS: I don't think there were. But but there are some glimmers of Nigerian cuisine documented, which is what drew me to the book as a resource of sorts. So there's a recipe for jollof rice. There's also a summary of native traditional northern Nigerian ingredients that's listed in in the glossary or one of the starting pages. But you know, they say that they wrote the book for fellow British or countrymen of theirs, using a lot of French techniques and inspiration. Some of the books are written by black people with West African heritage, but not all of them are. And it's interesting to bring all this pieces together, to understand the times, and to understand what those times meant and what you know what it took to document and to preserve these aspects of culinary heritage, food culture, but there's definitely a sense of taking back and understanding and kind of rebuilding knowledge, piece by piece, there's still many pieces not quite reconciled.

CK: Well, you spent many years in your career as an exploration geologist, you wrote geologic theories guide my work, the theory of super position, things are laid down and you can trace them the present is the key to the past. Could you just take us on that journey a little bit so when you go back and look at the history of Nigeria, the culture, the food, what's being superimposed as a different cultures, different influences?

OS: You know, what I think about food I, it's always as more than eating, you know, there's so many influences, and the journey to on earth to kind of retrace the steps. You come across geographical changes, influences colonial in this case, but there's so many aspects of Nigerian cuisine that are a mix of things. So, take jollof rice for instance. You have the influence of Senegal but in terms of seasoning, you have a more colonial seasoning because you have curry powder, which is a British construct that isn't a part of the original food canon of Nigeria. So, there are just so many influences, right? So, with the combination of reading those books, knowing what I know of history, speaking to people, you're able to establish a timeline of sorts. By looking at elements of the past, you can see how they go together to create things we see on the table today. And it's, it's just interesting to see how culinary practices have been sustained through time. So, there are differences, but they also things that have stayed the same.

CK: Let's do some digging here. So, give me some examples of bedrock, Nigerian cooking things that really go to the heart and soul of what you define is Nigerian food.

OS: I'd say that there are few national Nigerian dishes, and many regional Nigerian dishes. So, a national dish might be jollof rice, which is not only national, but as sub-continental, you know, everywhere across Sub-Saharan West Africa. Things like akara. A fritter made from black-eyed beans, similar to a falafel akara is one of these dishes that is at the heart of Nigerian cuisine, at least over the last 300 400 years. And I say that with confidence, because there are records that are traced back to the transatlantic slave trade and to Nigeria. And then you have the Nigerian soups made from proteins with greens, and thickness that are typically not seeds, gels. So, there's a classic defining Nigerian foods I’d say.

CK: So, we've talked about the old Nigerian kitchen, I guess, in some ways, and now the new Nigerian kitchen. What does that What is that? What does it mean?

OS: The Nigerian kitchen. It's an approach that wants to celebrate all aspects of Nigerian cuisine. It's an approach to treating Nigerian ingredients as ingredients, not only confining them to their traditional users, so like the approach to using jaji beyond Suya spice, it's it's a call to embracing the diversity of Nigerian ingredients, but also forging new paths and new users. You know, a lot of times when people hear new, they think it's only focused on the contemporary, but for me, it's the integrity it's how about we bring this new appreciation this new respect for Nigerian cuisine beyond it'll be out beyond the traditional but not you know, negating that or dismissing that

CK: Ozoz it's been a real pleasure speaking with you, you know, I just learned so much I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

OS: Thank you for having me on.

CK: That was Ozoz Sokoh her online database of West African cookbooks is called Feast Afrique. Right now my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101. She is also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Yeah, Sara, you know, I recently interviewed Nigella Lawson. her new book is Cooking Repeat. She did a gratin, a fennel gratin with cream and I realized that I hadn't used cream and a savory application you know, in deserve but in a savory application in years. I started wondering why not? Back in the 70s I did a lot of dishes like that were cream was used not just in desserts, but it was an ingredient of course in a lot of savory dishes. And I think I want to start doing that again. And I know that your background you probably did a lot of that. What's happened to cream and savory foods, it seems like they've gotten a divorce, right?

Sara Moulton: I don't know except when it comes to potatoes. I know you've done potato, potato gratin so have I but you're right I mean I have French training and I used to use cream a lot more. I think it's because we all got healthier for a while also because Julia's not not in our ear saying more cream or butter more cream or butter. So, I think we all find ourselves reaching for the olive oil a lot more than the butter and for the chicken broth rather than the cream

CK: but I'm going to make I'm going make case, I think cream can be added like half a cup or a quarter cup, which is it isn't much fat per person, right? It really isn't. And a little bit of cream can transform a sauce or transform a casserole or gratin just a little bit, but it's like having cream in your coffee instead of milk. It's a totally different experience. I'm all for it

SM: I agree and with the added benefit that cream when you reduce it thickens naturally so it means that you don't have to add a thickener, you know, like corn starch or flour. So yeah, bring back cream. Let's do it.

CK: Got cream? That's the poster

SM: Julia’s smiling up in heaven.

CK: Okay, let's take your call. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hello, this is Erin. I'm calling from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I've lived here about four years. And I'm finally trying to figure out how to make one of my favorite raised waffles. And I can't figure out how to do it with what my options are for yeast in the Netherlands.

CK: So, the recipe calls for what?

Caller: Dry yeast and it's very specific, it says not instant or rapid rise yeast (right) all I can find here is instant yeast or fresh yeast

CK: Forget what the instructions said use is to use, you can just use the same amount of yeast, you don't have to change the amount. Add the instant or rapid rises directly to the dry ingredients. You don't have to soak it or sprinkle it on warm water first and don't change the liquid amounts. That is the water you would have used to hydrate the yeast would just go into the formula. Don't do anything different except instead of sprinkling the yeast or water, just put it in with a flour.

Caller: Okay,

CK: and you should be good to go.

Caller: This recipe says to leave the batter over night out on the counter. You add milk, butter, salt, sugar, flour, in addition to the yeast and then you leave that whole thing to stand overnight at room temperature.

SM: That's weird.

CK: Yeah. Thank you, Sara. Have you made this recipe before using the yeast they called for active dry in the recipe?

Caller: Yes. I made it like regularly when I lived in the US. And I followed the instructions to the letter.

CK: Well, so Sara, and I think it's weird. But what do we know? Usually, you leave it out overnight. If it's a starter, your question is what to do with rapid riser instant yeast and the answer is just add the same amount to the flour. And then all the liquid goes in when it normally goes into the recipe.

Caller: Thank you. Thank you so much. I have a plan.

SM: Well, Erin thank you.

CK: Thanks, Aaron.

Caller: Thank you. Bye.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Yes. Hi, my name is Ari. And I'm from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

SM: Oh, how nice. How can we help you today?

Caller: I have a question about chocolate. And that is about the flavor of chocolate. My friend suggested I try the Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar like a couple of years ago. And I tried it and I wasn't so fond of it at the time. And then years later, I had a recipe that needed a lot of chocolate. So, I thought oh, I'll try it again. And I melted the chocolate for the recipe and cooked with it and the dish was great. And then the next day, I tasted the melted chocolate that was leftover, and it is cooled. And it was really good. And then I tasted it next to the pieces from the original chocolate bar. And again, it was not as good, just like I remembered. So, I bought a couple more bars and tried the process again. And again. The recooled chocolate tasted better. So, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why that might be why the chocolate would taste better after recooling?

CK: You want a job at Milk Street? I mean, that's pretty good. I have an idea. When commercial chocolate manufacturers make chocolate, what they're trying to do is to get the right crystalline structure right in the right, you know structure of the atoms like Legos right in the chocolate. The reason they do that is because they want the chocolate not to melt at body temperature 98.6 they want it to hold and be solid. Once the chocolate melts, it loses that structure, and it no longer has that property which they think is important. It may be that the structure that they want. So, the chocolate bar doesn't melt too easily, is not as conducive to the best mouthfeel the best taste

SM: So, the tempering thing is you melt the chocolate to a certain temperature and then you call it down and then you take it back up. You know it's a process that great chocolatiers know how to do the thing that Chris was talking about. And it makes the chocolate you know it snaps has a really nice texture. Chris, I agree with you. I'm thinking that once you've melted it, maybe the flavor is more accessible.

CK: I applaud your testing chops. So, I'm going to go I’m going to try it

SM: Well, hey, listen, you're trying to Cambridge, go find Chris knock on his door and tell him to give you a job.

CK: Did you graduate MIT or something you sound like you have

Caller: No but I will say I also tried cooking it slow over a double boiler and then microwaving it quickly to see if the speed of cooking affected and it did not.

CK: In other words, if it was melted, it was better than if it was solid. Yeah. Okay. I'm going to go check on that with, you know, Food Science friend of mine, but I think that's right. Yeah. All right. Take care.

Caller: Thank you. All right. Thank you so much. I love the show. Thanks. Hey, everybody.

CK: This is Milk Street radio. If you need culinary inspiration, Sara and I are here to help. Give us a ring anytime at 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: This is Karen.

CK: And where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm calling from in Metro Detroit just outside the Motor City.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I've been looking at cookbooks from the 1940s and 1950s. And I'm trying to figure out what is the difference between the person who is trained as a home cook, and someone who's a professional chef. Never seems like I'll ever be able to reach that kind of professional level and wonder if you had any thoughts or tips.

CK: I think the big difference is a chef does the same thing over and over again so, you get really good at doing very specific things revolving around a specific menu. The home cook, on the other hand, is doing lots of different things, especially these days, you might make you know Singapore noodles one night, and then you might make something from Peru, and you might make a tinga from Mexico City. A few quick tips though, having the right knife and a sharp knife is critical. Because food prep is 90% of cooking, the actual cooking is easy. It's the prep, that's actually hard. Find a knife you really like and make sure you have a sharpener. Two salt is critical. And restaurant chefs use lots of it, home cooks don't. And that makes the difference between great food and good food or bad food. Balancing fat with acid is critical. That's why there's a lot of vinegar or lemon juice or other things. And finally, chefs know how to adjust a dish before serving. And I find home cooks don't do that very well. So, before you serve a soup or stew or sauté, taste, it tastes it again. Adjust salt, adjust acid, sweetness, whatever. You can put fresh herbs in at the end the same herbs used the beginning, you could add some grated ginger, you could add a little bit of garlic, balancing out the flavors right before serving is the most helpful thing. That's what a chef does. But since I'm co-hosting the show with a chef Sara, you might actually have some more relevant take on us.

SM: Well, I agree with a lot of what you said. But I'm going to start by saying herons you know who was the most famous home cook ever? Julia Child.

Caller: That's very true.

SM: The way she became good was by repetition. just cook. There's no better way to learn. Repeat recipes, take notes. Chris is absolutely right about the knife. If you're going to take one class, take a knife class, I agree with Chris about the salt. You need to season as you go. And if you season as you go, you'll use less salt. And finally, I agree with him. Also, when you're done, it's very important to taste and there's four things I reach for, to balance out something salt, acid heat, or sugar.

CK: I don't think technique at home is as important. Around the world are different ways of thinking about what cooking is, in most places. It's not about technique. Really. It's about flavors and combinations of flavors, which for me was a big, you know, awakening. And at that I rest my case, your Honor.

Caller: That is fantastic. I think I will give in on my desire to purchase a Damascus knife and maybe find something a little bit more upscale and go at it again.

SM: Oh, absolutely. And don't be hard on yourself. Just keep cooking.

CK: Yeah, I agree.

SM: Well, Karen, thank you very much

CK: Karen, thank you.

Caller: Thank you for your time and expertise.

CK: Sure

SM Take care.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next. It's my conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Moss. That and more after the break. This is Milk Street Radio, I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with journalist Michael Moss about his latest book Hooked. Michael, welcome to Milk Street.

MM: Thank you so much for having me.

CK: I thought we'd start with the problem, which is, I guess, obesity, the number of fast-food restaurants growing quickly. Maybe you just want to set the stage for what the problem is here.

MM: Yeah, I guess we can use obesity although that’s kind of a crude measure of and I think the bigger problem is our kind of having lost control of our eating habits to these well, to be frank, this cartel of this trillion dollar you know industry called the processed food industry. And you can, you can kind of measure that loss of control on a spectrum, and on one hand, are people who just have you know, severe eating disorders, like binge eating, in the middle might be people who have that nagging 3pm craving for cookies that they can't resist, and then kind of the rest of us down at the other end, it's just kind of this feeling of having lost the beauty and ritual of like home cooked meals with family and friends having fallen so hard for these companies who are telling us what we should value in food, rather than letting us establish for ourselves what we value in food.

CK: So, when you did the book, are you taking it from the point of view of how companies are trying to get us quote unquote, addicted to their products or are you taking it from the point of view is why are we falling for it? Or both?

MM: It's, it's a little bit both. So, one of the things that makes these products so powerful, is that they're using our own biology, our own sort of basic instincts against us in our in the way that kind of makes us unwitting conspirators. So, half the book is about our evolutionary biology that set us up for this mismatch between our genetics and the modern food environment. And then the other half is about how the companies not only did that, but also exploit our attempts to regain control of our eating habits.

CK: So, I think we need to talk about addiction and define it because that's, I guess, at the center of this discussion, you quoted this famous quote from a tobacco company executive who defined it as a repetitive behavior that some people find difficult to quit. Do you agree with that? Is that your definition?

MM: Yeah. I mean, if we'd had this conversation five years ago, and you suggested to me that Oreo cookies were addictive as heroin, I would have like scoffed and thought that's like nutso. But it was really helpful for me to look at the tobacco industry, because for decades, they vehemently deny that smoking was addictive. And then suddenly, in the year 2000, Philip Morris just completely did an about face and said, oh, you're right, sorry, smoking is addictive. And at that time, Philip Morris was also the single largest producer of processed food, through its acquisition of the old company, General Foods and then Kraft and then Nabisco, which makes Oreo cookies. And in reporting out hooked, I got to meet the former chief counsel, top lawyer for Philip Morris, Steve Parrish, in his explaining to me how he was one of those people who could smoke one cigarette a day, put the pack away, and never have any, any compulsion to pull it out until the next day. But he said to me, you know, Michael, I couldn't touch one of our bags of Oreo cookies for fear of losing control and eating half the bag. So that also sort of had me reflecting on that definition of addiction as this repetitive behavior that some people find difficult to quit. Because addiction, these products don't affect everybody in the same way.

CK: One of the most interesting things you book say that a researcher discovered that the faster something reaches the brain, the greater the brain's response. So, the phenomenal success of processed food is owed in large part to the speed that marks its every aspect. You want to talk about that because I found that fascinating.

MM: Yeah, yeah. So, it was discovered in the 90s. Nora Volkow, who's now at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was one of the first people to realize that the faster a drug hits the brain, the more apt it is to seduce us and cause us to act compulsively. So, smoking a cigarette takes about 10 seconds to kind of fully engage the brain, alcohol or drugs are somewhat less than that. But there's nothing faster in the way that it's able to hit the brain and get excited then things like salt, sugar, fat, and other aspects of processed food. And so, the speed with which these foods hit is sort of opened my eyes and sort of puts the whole into the term fast food in a whole new light. I like to call these actually fast groceries because everything about the processed food industry is designed for speed, whether it's the manufacturing process to get the cost down, knowing that cheap food is one of those basic instincts we have that they can exploit to the packaging, making it so it's opened as fast and easily as possible to the speed with which the products hit our tongue. And then that the speed with which we can chew them. One of the definitions of kind of ultra-processed foods is that you hardly have to chew these foods.

CK: You mentioned that sugar with fat is much more potent than either fat or sugar on their own. Why is that?

MM: Yeah, so some recent research showed that when you combine sugar, with fats, a couple things happen, right? One, we're less apt to be able to tell how many calories there are in that fat. For example, think about your drinking from a carton of half and half versus a milkshake, I think you're going to be much more apt to stop drinking that half and half and continue drinking the milkshake, which has lots of sugar in it. But the other thing that researchers discovered is that when fat and sugar is mixed in these formulations, which aren't found in nature very much, but they're found in a lot of these processed food products, is that they excite a part of the brain called the striatum, where habits are formed, where compulsive behavior lives. So, it's the in tandom-ness of those two additives, that makes them more apt to lead you into doing that again, and again, as a habit.

CK: I think you may have pointed this out. That Cheetos was designed so that when you bite into them, it's like chewing on air. So, you don't feel you're actually filling up. It was all about so you eat more of them? I think that I think that was something you wrote about.

MM: So, the term for that is the vanishing caloric density, (right) which is what the industry calls this, this phenomena, right? When that cheese product melts in your mouth, and kind of disappears, the brain is getting a signal that the calories in that have disappeared too. And so, you might as well just keep eating all of it, because hey, you're not getting any calories

CK: What about other lenses to look at this through economic, cultural, etc. For people who have to stretch the food dollar. Is this a worse problem than people who don't have to worry about that?

MM: Oh, yeah, and again, if we were, you know, if we were to try to solve obesity, I mean, sometimes I've dreamed of becoming king for the day and taking one zip code and doing 10 things in that zip code to kind of change the food environment. And the first thing you would do is plant that garden in the elementary school to get kids excited about blueberries or radishes, but then, you know, you have to change the food supply the agriculture system, because when they bring the berries home to their parents, and the parents go in the store and try to buy them, that basket of blueberries is going to cost as much as a two pound three cheese four meat frozen pizza that's going to feed the whole family. And so, there's this imbalance in the grocery store where even if you're meaning well buy your own health, or your family's health, it's going to cost you, or it can cost you much more to eat healthy. And so, you'd be looking at subsidies and research and development monies. And you'd realize that most of that goes into soybeans and field corn kind of basic ingredients and processed food and so little goes into making things like broccoli, sweeter and yummier and more accessible and fresher in parts of the parts of the country.

CK: Do you see anything in the last few years in how the fast-food industry or the packaged food industry is using laboratories marketing their products? Have they changed anything lately or is it the same old song?

MM: One of the things I find troubling is that they've begun responding to our concern about their products and even sort of the addictiveness of their products by promoting and changing the formulas in ways that they hope will appease us and so one of the things they've glommed on to is protein. But the food companies have been adding extra grams of protein to things like sugary cereal, which makes like no sense. So that's one way that I actually sort of argue that the food companies are not only kind of exploiting these basic instincts of ours that draws us to eat, but exploiting our efforts now to try to regain control of our eating habits in this this crazy modern food environment we're in.

CK: Obviously, at the center of this discussion is freewill. Like the case against McDonald's that you write about in your book where Jocelyn Bradley sued McDonald's. But the judge concluded, I think that she could appreciate the risk and therefore there was an issue of freewill. So how do you come out with this? In other words, okay, the food companies want to sell as much food as they can at the biggest profit. We understand I think that processed foods are not good for us but yet, we go ahead and buy it for all the reasons you've talked about. Where do you come out on that discussion?

MM: I think I sort of come out thinking that if your goal is to sort of hold the industry accountable in court, you're probably going to have to come up with a different strategy. Although we have to remember going back to tobacco, the thing that caused tobacco problems, they were winning case after case after case from smokers who were getting sick, where juries said, look, there's personal responsibility here, you didn't have to smoke, they started losing when it became established that smoking was addictive, that free will gets ruined, destroyed by the addictive substance, right. But ultimately, the way that attorneys general went after big tobacco was not that smoking was bad or harmful to you, but simply to recover the health care costs of treating people who were sickened by smoking. And there's some notion that maybe one could go after big food in the same way, which is not to hold it accountable for making food that's bad for us, but simply hold it accountable for the health care costs of obesity, because now we know from some recent, sort of clinical trials, that eating processed food will cause you to gain weight.

CK: But isn't that the same as saying you could go after Seagram’s for producing whiskey which costs I don't know $100 billion a year or more in in lost paychecks and destruction of families and healthcare costs? Why is Seagram’s an alcohol manufacturer or distributor different than Kraft?

MM: Yeah, no it again. And so, I would not maybe be in a position of arguing that except that we have to eat, everybody has to eat and everywhere to walk in the grocery store and to make these decisions. And the playing field is so unlevel. I'm actually arguing that these food products, in many ways are more problematic than cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, partly because of the food environment. Two thirds of the products in the grocery store now have some added sugar to them, which is going to make just simply grocery shopping a very difficult thing. I mean, personally, I think the first place I would start is looking for ways to help people change their own eating habits and help how they value foods rather than sort of try to coerce the industry into changing. So I'm you know, I'm not about avoiding all junk food. I've been known to kind of steer a family vacation to one of my favorite potato chip factories in the Shenandoah Valley just so we could like pig out on the free samples. It's more about sort of finding ways to control it rather than than let it control us.

CK: Michael, thank you so much. I'm not sure if I feel better or worse after this conversation, I think worse but I appreciate it anyway, thank you.

MM: Thanks for having me. Really great talking to you. And thank you so much for your work.

CK: That was Michael Moss his latest book is Hooked Food Freewill and How the Food Giants Exploit our Addiction. You know Michael Moss believes that process food is addictive much like cigarettes. And he does ask whether food companies ought to be held accountable for the healthcare costs associated with consuming their products. Well, I say no. As long as food companies reveal what is in their products and refrain from secretly designing convenience foods to be physically addictive I think that what we eat is actually a matter of personal choice. The question is not who is going to pay for our poor choices, but how we can start to make better choices. This is Milk Street Radio it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe glazed sour cream and brown sugar Bundt cake. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris.

CK: You know as you know, I love to bake. (Yes) I'm a decent baker, but Cheryl Day from Savannah is a fabulous baker. She wrote the Back in the Day Bakery cookbook, you know, it's very American, but it's to the 10th degree. I mean, everything is just absolutely amazing or chocolate cake and other things. And she makes a brand sugar Bundt cake. And I thought that well you know what's new about Bundt cakes, but this one is actually in a class by itself. So how does she make it.

LC: So, what I love about this cake is the inspiration for this cake is her grandmother, grandmother used to keep a jar of caramels wrapped in wax paper on the table. And that was the inspiration for the flavors in this cake. It's just a basic Bundt cake made in the way that you would make a Bundt cake the basic creaming method, but she uses brown sugar, and she uses sour cream so it's really moist. But one little thing she does, and this is what she does in a lot of her recipes is give a little bit of a modern twist to it. She adds cardamom, her husband is Norwegian. So that's where this comes from. And it just adds a little bit something different to the cake itself.

CK: This is a glazed Bundt cake, right?

LC: Yeah, so a really simple glaze with brown sugar, butter heavy cream, you boil it on the stovetop until you can run a spatula through, make a trail and then let it sit and cool until it gets thick. Once you start putting it on the cake. If you find it's a little too thin, just let it sit a little bit longer. If it's a little thick, warm it up but very gently and then spoon it over adds a really nice kind of frosting that's not frosting on the cake.

CK: So, if you think you're either too old or too sophisticated for Bundt cakes, I think this glazed sour cream and brown sugar Bundt cake is absolutely amazing. Thank you, Lynn

LC: You're welcome Chris. You can get this recipe for glazed sour cream and brown sugar Bundt cake Milk Street Radio.com

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up j Kenji Lopez Altl teaches us new ways to cook with alcohol. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio right now. Sara Moulton. I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Alyssa. I'm calling from Sydney, New York.

SM: Hi, Alyssa. How can we help you today?

Caller: My question is about chipotle peppers and adobo. I have a recipe that I use. It's in the crock pot and it uses just two of those peppers. So, when I buy the smallest can that I can find I still have quite a few left in the can and I was wondering if you have any suggestions of how to use up some of the rest of those rather than going to waste.

SM: Oh my god, I have so many suggestions. For start, what you can do is take them out of the can I always have them in the freezer, they freeze beautifully. So, I put plastic wrap on a sheet pan and put a Chipotle lay down and then a tablespoon of sauce on top of it. You know set them up like that, put them in the freezer and freeze them just like that. And then once they're frozen, you can wrap them up and put them in a bag together. And then when I have a recipe, I just take one out and use it so ways I use it as I chop them up. You know both the chili and the adobo, and I throw into stews, soups. I love it in mayonnaise, or in ranch dressing. I add them chopped up to the dressing for my coleslaw. You know how coleslaw is usually mayonnaise, ketchup, maybe a little bit of vinegar and brown sugar. Well, I put the Chipotle and the adobo sauce in there, chop it up and put it in and it's so good. It sort of balances the sweetness and the brown sugar. It's great in barbeque sauce is great as a glaze. It's wonderful and cornbread. anywhere you want smoke and heat. It just goes beautifully. Chris I I'm sure you have some ideas too.

CK: Yeah, what I do is I put the can back in the fridge for three or four weeks and then throw them out. Because I forget they're there, which is actually what most people end up doing.

SM: Oh, they can't

CK: No, no, I've now taken to the same thing. I use parchment paper on a half baking sheet and freeze them exactly the way Sara suggested. And that works pretty well.

SM: And then what's your favorite thing to add them too?

CK: I make a lot of stews, especially for entertaining. I love adding one or two to a beef stew. You know, for example, I just think it gives that undercurrent of flavor that you can't quite pinpoint what it is. It just adds it's a foundation. It's like anchovies and oil right? It gives you that deep, rich bass. That's how I use it very often.

SM: Alyssa, do you think you'd pursue any of those suggestions?

Caller: Yes, I love the idea of freezing them and just using them as I want to. It definitely takes away the guilt of buying the whole can just use one or two. But I do like the idea of using it to help develop flavor in some other dishes like stews, I could see myself doing that.

SM: Great.

CK: Yeah, you don't need a recipe. You just throw it in. Yeah, that's great.

SM: Yeah. So great.

Caller: That's wonderful. Thank you very much.

CK: Thanks for calling our pleasure

SM: Bye, bye

Caller: Take care

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're looking for help in the kitchen, give us a call anytime the number is 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street. radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street, Whose calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Colin. I'm in Miami, Florida.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I had a question about tools with spinning blades, specifically my blender and my food processor. And the reason I ask is because I recently upgraded my blender to a Vitamix, which is incredible, but the bottom doesn't come out of it so it's a little harder to get out the last little drop. I'm like my food processor where I can get out every little bit because I can take it apart and scrape it really well with a spatula. So that got me to wondering how do you decide when you're cooking or preparing a recipe which tool to use since they are similar?

CK: I think the blender gets underused. And it's particularly good with liquids or when you want to make an emulsion, right? Something very smooth, very emulsified. Also, you know, soups for example, if you make a soup and they want to puree it before you serve it, it does tend to leak out of a food processor, you can't really fill up more than halfway follows my experience. I would say if you're chopping nuts, onions, dry items versus liquids, liquids go in a blender, food processor is good for the other stuff. Also, a very small amount of ingredients, especially if you have a large like 11 Cup food processor. They tend to end up under the blades, you know, and I find sometimes a blender is better for smaller quantities. You want liquids and emulsions are really great in the blender. Sara,

SM: Yeah, I basically agree. I mean, I have a Vitamix too, you will never get that kind of creamy texture in a food processor that you do in a blender, particularly a Vitamix. For people who don't know, it's the Cadillac, it ain't cheap. But what I wanted to say was I agree with you that that blender in particular is very hard to get everything out because others that aren't so high end you can unscrew the bottom and get the stuff out from the bottom. You can't do that with a Vitamix. So, what I've taken to doing is what I'm done as long as whatever I pureed could take a little more liquid, I put water in it, a little bit of water to clean it out. But I would never attempt to make a creamy soup using a food processor. It's just not worth it. You really need that blender to get that creamy texture.

CK: You can also throw it in the dishwasher

Caller: the Vitamix?

CK: You can well well let me put it this way we do. We use it. We use it like three times a week. My wife is still into kale smoothies, even though I think their expiration date is over. But yeah, it goes in the dishwasher seems to still work so

Caller: My concern was more about cleaning it rather than wasting the stuff that's in there.

SM: But that's where if you use a little bit of water, you'll get more out.

Caller: The last drops. Great tip thanks.

SM: All right,

CK: Tom. Thank you.

Caller: Thank you very much. Bye bye

SM: Bye bye.

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

Caller: Hi, this is in Alydia in Atlanta. If you're making a pot of something, there's no need to have a whole jar of tasting spoons like you see on TV. You really only need two, the one you're stirring with and the one you're tasting with if you just take the contents of the stirring spoon and transfer it into the tasting spoon.

CK: If you'd like to share your own culinary hack or secret ingredient on Milk Street Radio, simply go to 177 Milk Street com slash radio tips Next up, it's food science writer j Kenji Lopez Alt Kenji, how are you?

KA: I'm doing good. How are you doing?

CK: Pretty good. What do you been working on since the last time we spoke?

KA: Well, I recently came up with this recipe for my New York Times column for Viennese style schnitzel, which is the schnitzel that has a very sort of puffy crust that looks sort of like sharpe skin where it gets these like sort of puffy, big space between the cutlet and the breading. And my goal was to make that crust puff up as much as possible. And one of the tricks I figured out was, if you brush the cutlets with a little bit of vodka before you apply the breading, that vodka actually, you know, it's more volatile than water so it puffs up more violently than water does. And so it actually sort of inflates it like a balloon. So, it gives you this really extra puffy crust, you know, and so when I did that, it actually made me think of all the other times that I've used vodka in places where you Yes, you're familiar with, I think the first one, which is that pie crust that we did, where you replaced some of the water with vodka. And the idea there is that gluten doesn't really form in vodka, but vodka can still hydrate the dough. So it makes a dough that's very easy to roll out, but still remains nice and crispy and doesn't get tough. The way a pie dough can if you had too much water. I also use vodka frequently. In fact, virtually every time I'm making any kind of batter for frying, you know, so whether it's your battered fish or whether it's tempura, something like that, I'll add a little bit of vodka to it. Again, for similar reasons. Actually, this is sort of a combination reason for first because it limits gluten formation so that your batter doesn't get tough or bready. But also, because it's more volatile and so when you're deep-frying foods that are in a batter, you want that batter to puff out and the gases in it to expand as rapidly as possible. So, adding like a little shot of vodka in there can actually force that to happen.

CK: Can I stop for a second, you know, a good question I’ve never asked you because your vodka pie crust is amazing. there's so little water that goes like a few tablespoons right into a typical pie crust, like a single pie crust might be three tablespoons. If half of vodka is alcohol, and half is water, you're only taking maybe a tablespoon of water out of the recipe. Is that enough to really change gluten formation? That's a question I've always had

KA: In the tests we did you know, the blind tests we did back then it Did you know, it was a noticeable difference. The idea is that you end up adding about the same amount of water, but you're able to add a little bit extra liquid. So, it's not, it's not so much, you're going to make a crust that's significantly better than if you do it with just water and you just use a little bit less liquid, it's really more about making the crust easier to handle. So rather than using you know, three tablespoons of water, you're using three tablespoons of water plus a tablespoon of ethanol. So, you're increasing the hydration of the dough by an extra 33%. So that actually makes it much easier to roll out without cracking.

CK: So, is that how you write the recipe? Three tablespoons water, one tablespoon ethanol. That sounds really appealing

KA: if you have access to pure ethanol, yeah.

CK: So, let's go back to the column so you know, I've spent some time in Vienna had it there and in Salzburg, and you write it does have that sharpei crust. What exactly is the vodka doing in this recipe to give you that crust?

KA: The idea came because, you know, I watched a bunch of Austrian chefs, I talked to some Austrian chefs and a bunch of like, sort of, you know, recipe writers in Austria, who now have YouTube channels and things like that. And one of the common techniques is to take like a spray bottle like a mister. to spray the color with water before you put it in flour. So, you know, it's this typical breading. So flour, egg, and then very, very fine breadcrumbs. But if you spray it with water before you do that flour layer, what it does is essentially creates like a little moisture layer in there that when you then fry it, that moisture evaporates. So, the eggs and the breadcrumbs set on the outside sort of loosely, and then the water inside puffs out. It's very similar to how dough gets an oven spring the pizza dough for example, when you bake it, it puffs up. It's because the water in there is expanding and converting into steam. So, it does the same thing. But alcohol expands faster and more than water does.

CK: It has a lower evaporation point is that why exactly?

KA: Yeah.

CK: So, so what about now I remember working on this recipe too. And I would jiggle the pan to get sort of waves of hot oil over the surface, is that how you get that interesting texture on the outside?

KA: Well, that certainly helps. You know the reason you want to keep the pen moving, there's a couple things like First of all, there's you know, there's the mechanical action, the oil splashing over and over will help sort of loosen that crust and make sure that it doesn't stick to the meat. It also makes sure that it constantly stays hot. You know, because when you fry something or bake something, there's a little layer of air or oil or water or whatever it is that's at a slightly different temperature than the rest of the oil. So, when you're frying something, the oil right outside the food being fried is being actively cooled by that food. You know you're introducing convection and constantly replenishing that cold oil with hotter oil. You know, it's similar to how like, if you're in like, say a cold pool, if you sit on the side of the pool and hang on to the edge, you'll get used to the water and it'll feel kind of bearable, and then you start to move and suddenly you'll be reintroduced to colder water again and it will start feeling cold again

CK: The answer here is to brush. Are you were you using veal, you're using chicken what were you using?

KA: Well, it works with anything. You know, the recipe I published was actually with pork. I tested this with veal, chicken, turkey and pork.

CK: So you just have a pastry brush or you dip it in a pie plate or what?

KA: Yeah, I do. I do a pastry brush. You know, I thought it was a little bit too much to ask people to get a mister and put liquor in it. Yeah, just a pastry brush and you just give it a little brush and then you dip it in the flour, eggs and then very, very fine breadcrumbs. That was the other trick to the schnitzel is that you grind your breadcrumbs and then sift them through a fine mesh strainer

CK: because the Panko is a much coarser than a wiener schnitzel, right?

KA: really any type of breadcrumbs or even store bought like Progresso work fine as long as you grind them and then sift them so that you have them really, really fine.

CK: I assume when you eat your Kenji schnitzel, you can't actually taste the vodka, right?

KA: No, no you can't you know, similar with the pie dough or you know, a fried fish crust. The alcohol burns off, so you don't really taste it as you know, something like vodka sauce, there's actually alcohol remaining and that's sort of essential to the flavor but with this, it all evaporates away. You do taste it actually though, I tried doing this with bourbon and with tequila. Those do actually leave a little bit of an aftertaste. You know not an alcohol aftertaste, but from the liquor itself, but you know, vodka is essentially flavorless, so you don't really get anything from that.

CK: It’s why I don't drink vodka, Kenji, thank you. Now I have another way to use the vodka that I don't drink.

KA: Alright Chris see you later.

CK: That was j Kenji Lopez Alt he's the chief culinary consultant for Serious Eats, a food columnist for The New York Times, and also author of the Food Lab. That's it for this week's show. If you tuned in to later want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify and wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street com there you can find her recipes. You can take a free online cooking class or order our latest cookbook which is Tuesday Night's Mediterranean. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and 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, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turesky. production assistant, Amelia McGuire and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX