Milk Street Radio’s Thanksgiving Special | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 531
November 18, 2021

Milk Street Radio’s Thanksgiving Special

Milk Street Radio’s Thanksgiving Special

This week, we’re getting ready for Thanksgiving with some help from our friends. Cheryl Day joins us to answer your holiday baking questions, Sam Fore cooks Thanksgiving with a Sri Lankan take, J. Kenji López-Alt explains why he eats lobster for Thanksgiving, Dan Pashman tells us how to eat pie the right way, and we learn to make Yogurt-Roasted Carrots with Warm Spices.

This episode is brought to you by This Is Fine Cheese, Matter of Fact, and All-Clad.

Questions in this episode:

"I have a question about sending baked goods out to people for Thanksgiving. Do you have any tips or recipes for sending a package of goodies to friends and family across the country?"

"It’s a running joke in my family that I’m a terrible baker. I tend to forgo recipes with dairy as I usually don’t keep milk or buttermilk in the fridge. Is it okay to use powdered or shelf-stable substitutes for these ingredients?"

"I have a tres leches cake problem. I make it for the holidays every year, and it always has a sad, sinking center. How can I fix this issue for this year’s gathering?"

"I’m a big bread baker, but I’m trying to learn more about sweet baking. While researching recipes, I noticed that most vanilla and chocolate cake recipes are the same. I also noticed that every chocolate cake recipe called for vegetable oil, while the vanilla cakes called for butter. Why is that?"

"My grandmother always had a very heavy hand with cinnamon and over the years I’ve come to dislike the flavor. How can I evoke the taste and smell of the holidays without it?"

Tea-Rubbed Maple Turkey Story

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're getting ready for Thanksgiving. Cheryl Day from Back in the Day bakery joins us to answer your holiday baking questions and offers new ideas for holiday traditions including cheesecake.

Cheryl Day: Well, let me tell you that tres leche a cheesecake. It's got buttermilk, it's got condensed milk, it will never fail you and it's absolutely delicious. Maybe we can start a new tradition in your house this holiday.

CK: Also coming up, J Kenji Lopez Alt tells us why he eats lobster on Thanksgiving. Dan Pashman shares the best way to eat pie, and we offer a fresh take on carrots with warm spices. But first is my interview with Sam Fore from Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites in Lexington, Kentucky. Growing up Sam for his holiday table was covered in both traditional Thanksgiving fare and food from around the world. Sam, welcome back to Milk Street.

Sam Fore: Thank you for having me.

CK: I have like the world's most boring Thanksgiving. I mean, the food's pretty good.

SF: I would hope so.

CK: But there's nothing about it. That's unusual. Your Thanksgivings, however, were a lot more interesting. So, growing up, just tell us about what those were like.

SF: Oh, yeah. I mean, with my family, there's no table that is big enough. You know, we've got to have everyone in on the fun. But there were three core families as I was growing up to Sri Lankan families, and one that was Japanese and Iranian. You know, the diaspora community is like, once you find each other, you guys are all together your family now. And we would all get together for Thanksgiving. And every year, we would have these massive spreads that were completely multicultural, but also super traditional. If you wanted a Japanese noodle salad alongside your turkey, like we had options, and they were pretty great.

CK: So, I'm of two minds about all of this. On one hand, I'm going like, I want to reduce the number of items and just get to the core. And please don't give me anything different. You know, I one day a year, I'm just going to eat the same mashed potatoes and gravy. On the other hand, I find it enormously appealing to have, you know, the noodle salad next to the mashed.

SF: You know, we always had, we have a turkey, we have the mashed potatoes. And then we'd figure out like the little things that we just love that would carry from year to year, whether it was coconut sambal and there were tahdig most years like it's just

CK: Do you want to explain what that is?

SF: The so Persian rice, when you have that delightful browned, you know sort of crust on the top that everyone fights over, that's tahdig. And so, the Persian patriarch was very into, you know, his traditional foods at home. So, his Japanese wife would learn how to cook all of them. So, she made some incredible _____, she made turmeric chicken every year. And so, I would have this plate of like the, the scented saffron rice with a little bit of crispy tahdig on the end, and a Japanese salad with rice vinegar and lime juice, next to my mom's eggplant curry, and a sprinkling of coconut sambal, which is coconut with lime and chili and a little bit of salt. And it's like a perfect condiment for all those things. So, between having Srilankan parents, a penchant for everything that I would see on Saturday morning television, a Japanese auntie who also cooks incredible Persian food. I don't think that any culture was kind of off limits.

CK: What do you think? You know, how people would be known in the South for their cakes, right? Dishes? (Absolutely) So. And that was true everywhere. People were known for their specialties. Do you think we're starting to lose that as sort of part of who you are is the special things you cook? Or do you think in your family that's still very much part of your, I don't want to use self-identity but but sort of the joy of cooking,

SF: The joy of cooking is definitely part of the family identity and my family like it is it is 1000% in there. It's It's the joy of sharing flavors and all that but you know, what's interesting is that, given what happened through the pandemic, when everyone was kind of forced to slow down and you know, decide, you know, okay, if I might be spending this Thanksgiving alone, what was really, really important to me what made it feel like the special day? I think we're starting to see people's cooking evolve, to adjust to nostalgia and memory. And that is a lot of what I try to do is because you know with with Sri Lanka being, you know, in the middle of a bunch of trade routes and a bunch of different countries and so many different influences, the food is changing, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes that familiarity is what really triggers the value in that moment.

CK: Well, yeah, as I've often said, food never changes food always changes.

SF: Exactly. Definitely.

CK: It does both.

SF: Like with with our families, you know, when I got married, my husband was like, okay, we can alternate Thanksgiving Christmas or we can, you know, each big holiday. I was like, we get Thanksgiving. We're always going to get Thanksgiving because I've never known anything different than this like entirely crazy smorgasbord situation.

CK: So, what is it you actually cooked last Thanksgiving?

SF: Oh, I do the turkey. Now the turkey has become my thing. I make a little miso garlic butter and put it underneath the skin. spatchcock the bird, roast it up nicely and

CK: Is this a slow roast or a high heat?

SF: High heat roast. I want to I want to be able to have be done with my bird in less than three hours if I can.

CK: What, what about dessert?

SF: Desserts, oh, when I was growing up, we had a lady who was taking care of me and helping watch over the house named Francis and she made the absolute best sweet potato pie. And she taught me that recipe and so I'm making sweet potato pie. Sweet potato pies like my love. It's one of my absolute favorites.

CK: I'd love that pie

SF: I know this is probably sacrilegious, but I like it more than pumpkin pie. And so, it's just

CK: I do too

SF: Oh, and then my husband likes blueberry pies. So that's become a thing.

CK: Blueberry pie at Thanksgiving?

SF: Yeah. (Okay) you know, if somebody likes something, we're all about it.

CK: Sam, thank you so much. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

SF: thank you thank you

CK blueberry pies kind of sticking with me for Thanksgiving. I don't know. Sounds like a good idea. (See?) Sam, thank you so much.

SF: Happy Thanksgiving.

CK: That was Sam Fore from Tuk Tuk Srilankan Bites in Lexington, Kentucky. Right now, Cheryl Day the co-founder of Back in the Day bakery in Savannah is going to take your holiday baking questions. Her latest book is Cheryl Days Treasury of Southern Baking. So, Cheryl, I have certain things I always make for Thanksgiving and I'm extremely rigid about it. Are you more flexible? Like year to year, it might change for Thanksgiving, or do you just go by the book?

CD: This might surprise you. I am not flexible. I am rigid as well, especially for Thanksgiving. There are certain things that I just absolutely crave this time of year and there's no flexibility for me at all.

CK: I'm shocked. I know. Just blew me away. So, in terms of desserts, since you’re a professional baker, you probably have your own repertoire, right?

CD: I would say I always make sweet potato pie.

CK: Do you make it with a like pecan layer underneath the sweet potatoes or not?

CD: No, I don’t it's a very simple sweet potato custard pie. If I'm wanting to gild the lily a little bit, sometimes I will add a meringue on top. But most often I will do a simple, perfectly baked sweet potato custard pie with a flaky crust and serve it with a flavored maybe some sort of boozy Chantilly cream or whipped cream. I also love Griff, actually my husband loves an apple pie. And my version of it has rose water. I kind of macerate the apples the night before and it makes a delicious juice and a double crusted pie although Griff really loves anything with a crumb topping as well. And then something I've been doing I guess this has made me a little bit more adventurous is that I do a cranberry crumb pie. Sometimes if it's just us, you know that's kind of our version of cranberry. It's got like oranges and orange zest and spices in it. Those are kind of my top three pies, I would say

CK: Can we go back to the apple pie or macerating them in what lemon juice and the rose water overnight and a little bit of sugar too or you put the sugar in later.

CD: So yeah, it's the sugar. It's a little lemon juice. The apples are sliced, and it's got a little the spices and all of that. And so yeah, it's masquerading overnight and then it becomes really really juicy. And then I pour off some of the juice and I cook that down right and then I make a caramelly you know kind of glue that has a little butter in it. And then that gets poured on top of the apples.

CK: That's a good idea.

CD: Yeah, it's delicious. Well, tell me about your recipe. I want to hear about your apple pie.

CK: Here's what I think I've been making this for years. I don't use any rub on spices. (Oh) a friend of mine runs a big apple orchard in Saratoga Springs, NY

CD: is it multiple apples or one apple? Yeah, an apple. Yeah,

CK: Yeah, he has all these old crazy heirloom apples. Pearlman, and, you know, sheep’s nose (Oh, wow). I find that those old apple flavors, they're not as sweet, right? And if you get like four different kinds, and not too much sugar, maybe a half a cup for like eight cups’ apples. (Yeah) And lemon juice. You just let the apple shine through? (Yeah, absolutely) I could see that for sure. If I'm dealing with supermarket apples. Yeah but if I can get those (Yeah) that's how they used to do it. Right. They used to just mix and match.

c Absolutely. Yeah. Try the rose though because it really does. Even if you did no other spices. The rose water really does bring out the flavors of the apples, like that floral kind of undertone that apples have is (good idea) And I love it.

CK: So, we're going to open up the phone lines. And I can just duck all the hard baking questions. And you can, you can do all the hard work. I'll just go along for the ride. So, let's take some calls.

CD: Sounds great. I love taking baking questions.