Curious Kitchen Tools from History | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 609
April 1, 2022

Curious Kitchen Tools from History

Curious Kitchen Tools from History

The best tools and techniques for making food. Corinne Mynatt shares history’s most fascinating kitchen tools, from the dog-powered rotisserie spit to the Victorian ice cream slicer; Meathead shares his favorite ways to cook a burger; and Adam Gopnik tells us about the most iconic kitchen appliances of the last few decades. Plus, we make Chicken Soup with Ricotta Dumplings from Italy, and Chris and Sara take your calls.

Questions in this episode:

“I’m trying to make a tomato sauce with less sugar—what are my options?”

“I have bushels of lemons. What can I do with all of them?”

"Is there a reason to use kosher salt rather than other salt?"

“I can no longer eat walnuts. For my favorite cake recipe, can I substitute pretzels for walnuts?”

Tools food grid plain 2

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. The mechanical apple peeler looks like something invented by Rube Goldberg.

Corrine Mynatt: It was sort of crazy, elaborate object with all of these cogs and wheels that you put the apple in and you can peel it

CK: and you can still buy that today, by the way,

CM: Yes. I've seen some vintage ones online. Have you seen some brand-new ones?

CK: I mean, this is showing my age, but I've used them, and you can actually buy them new. Yeah.

CM: I've always wondered if these people having this need to peel so many so many so many apples.

CK: That's Corinne Mynatt. And today she'll tell us about history's favorite and most fascinating tools for making food. But first, I'm joined by BBQ expert Meathead to learn the secrets to the juiciest and by the way, the safest burger Meathead. Welcome back to Milk Street.

Meathead: Oh, I love talking to Milk Street.

CK: So, you know I refuse to eat a well-cooked burger. I just don't want to eat it unless it's medium rare. So, what is the risk here?

Meathead: Well, you've said the magic word risk. And that's something that we're all measuring with these different techniques. The US Centers for Disease Control says 173,000 Americans fell ill last year from the pathogenic strains of the bacteria, E. Coli. That's all E Coli illnesses, many of which are burger related but we don't know that for sure.

CK: As someone once told me, I said, you know, what's the big deal? And they said, there are two kinds of people in the world people who've gotten foodborne illness, and people who haven't. And if you've ever gotten sick from food, you will never do it again,

Meathead: You don't want it.

CK: So, before we get into your solutions here, if I go up to questions, if I go to a butcher shop, is that going to be safer,

Meathead: You know, butcher shop, where the butcher is conscientious and takes good care of the meats, the risk does lower, but you know, the real problem can incur in the slaughterhouse. And then, if they leave the box of meat sitting on the loading dock too long, or the refrigerator in the truck doesn't work all that well, there's chances for bacteria to grow.

CK: But if I grind my own meat, then I get rid of some of that risk, right?

Meathead: Well, you can, but if there's bacteria on the surface of that steak, it's getting to the inside. Now there is a solution if you're into grinding your own meat. And that is a technique that I call hot tub your steak, take your steak and dunk it in boiling water for 10 - 20 seconds and pull it out. Now that sounds crazy. Sure, it does. But I'll tell you what happens it will turn the surface to the state gray, but you've killed any bacteria that's on the surface. You've pasteurized it, you've made it perfectly safe. Now you can grind it. And that little bit of gray on the surface is just not going to affect the quality of the burger. Heck, you can eat it raw.

CK: I'll never get into a hot tub again. Thank you for really appreciate it. Okay, what's next?

Meathead: Well, sous vide is a really good solution. You can take any kind of meat like a burger and put it in the sous vide machine at 131 or higher and leave it there for three or four hours. And it will slowly kill all the bacteria. And now you can have 130 is medium rare. You can have a perfect medium rare burger that is just absolutely safe as can be

CK: This can be well when I want a burger. I don't have a four-hour waiting. Like I might about 10 minutes. Okay, so if I don't want to wait three or four hours, just slowly sous vide my burger. What do I do?

Meathead: Well, you know, you said you be darned if you're going to eat a well-done burger. But a lot of what we consider moisture is not just water. A lot of it is fat. A lot of it is saliva. I mean nothing like a sizzling burger to get the saliva going in your mouth. That makes a burger juicy, but fat is what much of the flavor and much of the juiciness in a burger comes from. So don't get lean burger meat. A lot of people go down and they'll get a lean burger because they're worried about the calories. Well, how many burgers are you going to eat a week? Do yourself a favor and get one that's at least 20 to 30% fat. The higher the fat, the more juice and if you cook a burger well done. That's 70-30 70% Lean 30% fat. You're not going to notice that it's well done.

CK: Years ago, I remember going to a food conference and there was some Guy, they're about a radiation and it was the way of the future and blah, blah, blah, and we all kind of, you know, roll their eyes. But doesn't a radiation, forgetting about any other possible downside? Doesn't it solve this problem?

Meathead: Yeah, absolutely. Except most of us don't have gamma ray machines in our house. That's coming probably, who knows, you know, I mean, what Goodness gracious, all these gizmos in our kitchens nowadays, but there are irradiated burger meats out there. It's not the same radiation that will make the meat glow in the dark. This stuff just goes right through the meat, kills all bacteria, and comes right out and doesn't do any harm to it.

CK: Any other ideas?

Meathead Well, one of the things I like to do is I like to chop up some bacon and put it in with the blend when I grind my own, or even butter. You can take a little bit of butter and grind it in there with the meat. The idea here is you want to boost the fat content. There's no way around it. Look it folks, you're going to eat 80,000 meals in your life if you live to be 80 you can have a really fatty burger every now and then.

CK: Okay, what about the one you didn't mention, which is my always go to method, which is the Pernod I mean, the old Italian method of taking white bread and milk and making a paste and putting that in. I just made some Neapolitan meatballs this weekend which used that technique. You're making weird noises?

Meathead: No, I'm nodding because I learned about Pernod from you. I think it's marvelous. Little white bread. A little milk. Now you're adding water moisture, milk being water moisture. But the the white bread binds it and you actually get a gelatinous character. And I'm sorry, I forgot that on my list, but it's a good answer. Oh, and one other thing we missed here is don't put salt in your blend. When you're mixing it up net and not in the blend on the burger. (Why?) When you mix it in with the ground meat, it compacts the meat makes it tougher.

CK: So, you're saying that compact meat gives you the feeling of drier meat?

Meathead: Yes. And it also squeezes out juices when muscle fibers can express, they squeeze out juices. Now that's different than with a steak. You want to get the salt on a steak early so that it can penetrate. But with ground meat. Put the salt on the surface just before you cook. That'll amp up the flavor. And it's going to be good and juicy.

CK: Meathead. It's always a pleasure from the hot tub to the hot grill. Thank you.

Meathead: Always good talking to guys.

CK: That was Meathead founder of Amazing also author of The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling. Now my co-host Sara Moulton I are ready to solve your culinary mysteries. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One and she stars in Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara, let's talk about food movies Babette’s Feast, obviously, would be one of our favorites. But is there a movie that is sort of under the radar that you really love as a food movie?

Sara Moulton: Oh, I'd like to say under the radar, but no, I watched all the same ones that everybody else did. And you know, Big Night was one of them that I loved along with Babette's Feast, Babette’s Feast of course, because it was French. But the trouble with Big Night is it it's one of those things that always makes me sad. When you don't know for restaurants kind of make it you walk past a restaurant that's newly opened and nobody's in there. So, I just felt such ____watching that. But I have to say movie that didn't make me happy. And this will give you no surprise was Julie and Julia.

CK: I never saw it.

SM: What?

CK: No, I'll tell you why. Julia told me many years ago that she never read the book. And she was not a fan.

SM: Okay, well, let me tell you

CK: As a result, I boycotted that movie

SM: You are very loyal boy, and I applaud you for that. But let me just tell you something interesting that you'll agree with. I think. You're right. Julia was mad that Julie Powell wrote a blog because she felt like Julie Powell was capitalizing on Julia's name and maybe going to make money and Julia never endorsed any product because she thought that was too commercial. So, she didn't want anybody using her name to do the same. And she was very against it becoming a blog. And then of course, it became a book and then of course, the book was made into a movie. But what I will say to you about that loyalty, and I appreciate it is if that blog hadn't turned into that book hadn't turned into that movie. Julia wouldn't be as famous as she is today. The Julia half of that movie was based on Julia's book My Time in France, which was a phenomenal book written by Alex Prud’homme. I know you have. I do believe that Meryl Streep did a fantastic job. And that Stanley Tucci was great (as Paul) as Paul, you know, her passion like the first time she had the fish at La Couronne on the sole meunière and it just, she just fell in love and also all the nervousness on Julie Powell’s part, you know, the actress, you could just feel how that felt not being able to do what she was doing. So, I love that movie, mainly for the Julia part.

CK: There's a story by the way, Julia, it was in one of her books, but she also told me, they used to go every summer to the place she had, and I guess Simone Beck’s area Châteauneuf-de-Grasse. They used to have lunch at the airport in Nice. And they would have sole meunière and a glass of wine. She always looked forward to that, which I thought was so charming, it’s not some famous restaurant,

SM: I wonder if it also reminded her of that very first experience, which she said in her book was indeed the epiphany.

CK: Yeah, the only thing I'll end with is I'm not sure Julia ever wanted to be famous, per se. I think she always wanted to teach people, but she never seemed to be somebody who was interested in personal fame

SM: No, she wasn't. But boy did she enjoy it (she enjoyed it.) Not that she ever flaunted it. She was the nicest person on the planet was we both know was stranger come up to her and say I love your book. She asked them all about them and have a long conversation

CK: Did they train in France and

SM: she was very sweet with a home cook. You know

CK: We'll never see the likes of her again, I suspect

SM: No, no Yeah. So anyway,

CK: God bless her. Okay, time to take some calls. Yes. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Katie.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: Okay, well, my husband's newly diabetic and I've been trying to take the sugar out of the cooking, and I've been trying to make a tomato sauce. And whenever I don't put the sugar in it is incredibly acidic, (right) not tangy, acidic, and I was looking for alternative ways to tone down the acid

CK: I'm not a doctor but I do put sometimes a little sugar in because I noticed that a lot of canned tomatoes are very acidic, like a teaspoon. I don't know if that amount of sugar is problematic, but you can add very little to balanced acidity.

Caller: Okay,

CK: Grated onions is another trick. I often make a marinara with that and use yellow onions, yellow onions, although they're strong raw, they end up being much sweeter when they're cooked. A quarter cup or half a cup is great. The last trick is try a quarter teaspoon of baking soda. It's alkaline and balances acidity just like a wood, you know and making buttermilk biscuits. So, a quarter teaspoon of baking soda. You can add more if you need it. But that'll probably balance off the acidity and fourth. You know there are such thing as canned cherry tomatoes, which are phenomenal. I think they're much better than the large tomatoes if you can find those. Those are sweeter to start with.

Caller: That sounds like a wonderful idea. I'll have to see if I can find them in the mountain town in Colorado.

CK: Well, you may have to have them shipped in get a case of them. But I found them to be so much better. Anyway. Sara?

SM: Yeah, no, I agree with everything Chris said but another thing is carrots because they're naturally sweet. But I don't know if that's still an issue for your husband.

Caller: Oh, carrots are not an issue.

SM: Okay, well, then I would add some carrots. And here's another idea. And I would grate those too

CK: And I would grate those too.

SM: Yeah, but I would also sauté them first. But another thing that's, again, I don't know if this is an issue is to finish it after you've cooked it for quite a while is to add some cream.

Caller: Cream’s not a problem. That's just something completely new. I'd never heard of

SM: Adding the cream in the end cream tamps down acid. So does butter. You know, you could throw in some butter at the end,

CK: Butter and tomato sauce actually works. But the other thing is when I finished a tomato sauce marinara, I add a generous helping of olive oil at the end. Use sort of a sweet olive oil. Yeah, like a yellow unfiltered one. And add a few tablespoons of that in the end. And I find that also gives you a much less acidic flavor.

SM: Right, the fat will to the fat will tamp it down.

CK: That's maybe my best answer.

SM: Yeah, and also, it's so yummy olive oil is so yummy.

CK: And even if it doesn't taste better.

SM: Okay, well, Katie

CK: That’s all we know about that.

Caller: Thank you so much.

SM: Thanks for calling.

CK: Take care. Bye.

Caller: Bye

SM: Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a cooking question, just give us a ring any time 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Melissa from White Springs, Florida.

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

Caller: I'm drowning in lemons. Drowning

SM: That would make me happy. You have lemon trees?

Caller: Yes, we do, and you know you don't get one, you get bushels. And we like lemonade to a point. But I tell you the one thing I really love is the lemon zest, which I learned from watching your show once. I'd like to know how to freeze lemon zest and still have some taste.

SM: Well have you tried that already and it hasn't worked?

Caller: Well, I froze it in a little water, which took all the life right out of it. Right. I tried freezing it in some olive oil, and it was greasy, and it just did the power is gone.

SM: Right. Freeze it naked. If you're a big fan of lemon zest and its hands down one of my favorite ingredients. You should get something that's called a citrus zester. I can't remember the brand that I like, but there's quite a few that are really perfect because they don't grab the white pith underneath

Caller: Right To be stripped are going to look like wet sawdust when I'm done.

SM: You know it's a little wet naturally. But then you spread it out on a sheet pan and freeze it.

CK: You're talking about strips

SM: Oh, no, I'm talking about grated grated. I'm sorry. Thank you, Chris. Okay, grated I, that's what I would do, you can do both actually. And then, you know, pack it however you want in a container that you know to try to get the air out and then understand there will be some ice crystals. So, use perhaps a tiny bit more, but I think you'll get much more flavor out of that in recipes than you would if you'd put it in oil or water. The other thing is you can grate it, spread it on a sheet pan and dry it for a couple of days and then store it dried and that will have some nice flavor too. I would tend to go with the fresh frozen and then package it.

Caller: Okay

SM: So that's what I would do if you want to just use the zest straight up of course, there's other things that you can do with lemon rind. You could make candied lemon peel, you could make preserve lemons, that would be the whole lemon.

Caller: But isn't a salty because I read the recipe. It was so much salt in there.

SM: Well, that is true.

Caller: It just didn't sound appealing.

SM: Well, it's actually really yummy. It's like a pickle. It's like any other pickle. It's salty and acidic and wonderful. But I should hand the mic over here to Chris to see what he has to say.

CK: Yeah, the only trick with preserved lemons is use a small piece of lemon when you're cooking. Don't use like half a lemon because it's really overpowering. So, you might use little slices of it. Like an eighth of a lemon in a dish or something like that.

SM: This is after you preserve it yeah.

CK: Right after you prescribe it. So yeah, they are powerful and can be salty, but use them in as Julie said in moderation.

SM: Yeah. And then they'll add both acid and salt to your recipe as well as the yummy lemon flavor.

CK: By the way, you can't do preserved lemons if they've been sprayed or other stuff on the outside. So, make sure they're well washed.

Caller: They're all organic. We just let the deer eat them. Everything eats them squirrels. There's enough for everybody.

CK: Wait, wait, do you have a video of a squirrel eating a lemon because that could go viral. Yeah,

Caller: I have lots of videos.

CK: I’d like to see his little face.

Caller: Yeah, pucker up

CK: Pucker up, right

Caller: I'll give that a try. Thanks

CK: Take care.

Caller: Okay. Bye bye

MK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next; we'll hear about the best and craziest kitchen tools of all time. That's right up after the break.

This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Corinne Mynatt, author of Tools for Food. Corinne, welcome to Milk Street.

CM: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CK: So, Tools for Food some of these things are really extraordinary. But the one thing that really struck me I'd like to talk about first is the dog spit.

CM: So, it comes from a long history of tools for spinning a rotisserie in the earth. So, first it was done manually and then from the 15th to 18th centuries, someone discovered that actually having a dog do the work was a kind of, well, they thought it was a good idea. And the dogs needed walking, and so they might as well be put to use to do that. So, it was a kind of step up and taking away the the human labor. And it was a sort of wheel like any hamster wheel inset into the wall, usually, where a short legged long buddy dog would do the work of spinning the spit for a few hours by walking round and round. Now it said that, as it fell out of favor after the 18th century, after it had been exported to America, actually and the technique was used in some American Hotel kitchens, that it eventually helped start the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And of course, now we have elaborate machines for rotisserie chickens. So, we yes, no longer use the dog spit, thankfully,

CK: Here's a tool I really didn't know about the dough trough. It's for kneading dough. Could you describe what it looks like?

CM: Yeah, so the one in this book is a long oblong wooden bowl, and actually has some repairs on it with metal. Because back in the day, things were valued more and you wouldn't just throw something away, you would repair it within an inch of its life. And a dough trough is where you would put the dough for when it was rising. And yeah, I just love this one in the book because it has that repair on it.

CK: Knives of course a year ago I was out in Los Angeles, making soba actually getting a lesson from Sonoko Sakai and she pulled out her soba Nikiri knife, which which looks a little bit like a Chinese cleaver almost. And the ice cream slicer. Victorian ice cream slicer.

CM: Yes. I love this soba Nikiri. When I borrowed this from a friend shoot it for the book, I had a chance to use it. So, I made some soba noodles and cut with it. And it is this extraordinary feeling. You know, pushing down with this heavy blade was such a particular shape. Yeah. And yes, the ice cream slicer. I mean, yeah, that just shows how things have changed. You know, we don't slice ice cream in that formal way anymore. But put it into nice, beautiful spheres instead.

CK: No, we just take the pint and get a spoon and sit by the TV and eat the whole thing. Or that or that right, which was a few of the items in your book are good examples of changing design over time. Let's start with a peeler. So how did they get started and what were some of the iterations along the way.

CM: So yeah, I like to go to the Industrial Revolution and in particular, the moment of 1851, in the Great Exhibition of London, where there was a real burst of activity in terms of invention. And in the book, we feature an apple peeler, which is mechanical. And it's this sort of crazy, elaborate object with all of these cogs and wheels that you put the apple in, and you can peel it

CK: And you can still buy that today, by the way.

CM: Yes, I've seen some vintage ones online. Have you seen some brand-new ones?

CK: I mean, this is showing my age, but I've used them, and you can actually buy them new yeah

CM: Yeah, they do they do they work?

CK: Well, they actually, if you get the tension right between the arm that holds the blade yeah, it does work.

CM: Yeah. I've always wondered if these people having this need to peel so many, so many so many apples that they need this or so many so many potatoes, maybe potatoes makes sense.

CK: Well, if you go back not too long ago, people came in and bought bushels of apples, right and then they would make applesauce or pies or other thing you buy produce at its peak and you process it and can it, right? Yeah. And today, people go in and buy three apples.

CM: So that will lead me I'm going to go in a little bit of a tangent to talk about labor, because you know, you have this industrial revolution. Well, at the same time, you're having a kind of shift of labor in the household. So, people who might have had help in the household, that whole structure was changing, you know, it was kind of being shifted over to perhaps the woman of the household. And so, there was a sort of shift in that happening at the same time to account for these inventions. So yeah, you have this mechanical peeler from 1851 which leads me to the well-known OXO Good Grips, you know, they basically put a bicycle handle with a swivel peeling blade on the end and that was kind of how the design started and how it exists today but designed very specifically to help people with arthritis or limited mobility to be able to use a kitchen tool effectively. So, the peeler yeah, it has a long history, and it's certainly evolved in many different ways.

CK: Well, OXO, I think OXO originally was designing medical tools, right?

CM: Yeah, that's right.

CK: And they and they obviously wanted the handles were critical and they moved to the kitchen. I mean, you make a very good point about the Industrial Revolution and domestic help. By the 1890s women who in sort of middle or upper middle-class households were now having to go into the kitchen.

CM: That's right.

CK: So, kitchens went from dark, dirty dungeons, to all of a sudden, they whitewash the walls, and they have bigger windows, and they and they had to create all these tools to help you cook.

CM: Exactly.

CK: So, okay, let's shift gears here. What items did you find that you think should still be in use or be updated?

CM: Well, I'm going to give a kind of funny example only because it's one of the most beautiful objects in the book that I discovered. In the clean section of the book there's this Victorian fly catcher. And it is a completely glass object that's extraordinarily beautiful. It's a sort of bulbous glass form, and it has three glass feet, and it has an opening in the bottom for flies to come in that usually they would put the sort of colored sweet liquids in the fly catcher. And on the top, it's just like a bottle, but it has a glass stopper so that the flies can't get out. And now, you know, we have these blue lights zappers or, you know, other kind of ways of killing flies in the kitchen. You know, the tape that hangs from the ceiling. But this Victorian fly catcher is so beautiful, and I think it would make kitchens more beautiful.

CK: Well, I grew up sometimes in the summers with the long tapes that I still use.

CM: Yeah,

CK: The problem is you're sitting there having noonday supper, and there's this constant buzzing, of flies glued to the strips from the ceiling. So, it really loses some of its charm.

CM: Yeah

CK: Are there other items that really talk about a culture and a time, which say something about the people who designed it?

CM: Absolutely. And I would say that that is the molinillo from Mexico, which means little mill. And it's used for hot chocolate. And actually, when I was just in Mexico, the other month, I went somewhere and when I arrived, they offered us hot chocolate, and they used the molinillo to froth the hot chocolate. And the object can be extraordinarily beautiful. You know, drinking hot chocolate goes back 1000s of years in Mexico, it was always a really important sort of ritual. It was reserved for basically royalty; women actually weren't allowed to drink it at first, they drank it out of gold cups. It was sometimes mixed with cinnamon, and still is today, you know, with different sort of flavors. They made red versions that were colored with annatto or _____ seed and the object yeah, it's totally Mexican. It kind of speaks of that complexity of their culinary history, but also their cultural history.

CK: You said that the dough trough was something that had been repaired within an inch of its life. So, do you think that people's relations to these quote unquote, tools was more intimate and long lasting because as you said they would have the same tool their entire life?

CM: Certainly, I do. But it's not to say that we don't necessarily have that now. I mean, I think of course, we have way more disposable things in the kitchen, a lot of plastic and this sort of thing. But I think actually, for many people, there's some objects that they have an attachment to, or some bit of nostalgia, you know, they bought it in some place that reminds them of going to France or, you know, their their mother or father handed down to them a certain tool that they kind of used lovingly or allows them to make a certain recipe from their homeland, for instance. I mean, I do think a lot of that has disappeared as the example of the dough trough. But I think that there's still a lot of importance that people attach these tools in the kitchen.

CK: Well, let me ask this question. You know, it seems to me that it's easy to fall into the trap of looking into the past with sort of this romantic reverence, right, for how people did things and the tools they use that I remember years ago in college many years ago, being our history class, and there was a wedding mask used in Malaysia somewhere and subsequently read that the masks were thrown out after the ceremony. Because they were just used for the ceremony. They were not objects of art. They were functional to the culture at the time. So, I wonder whether as you go and collect these items, and look back, there's sort of a fine balancing act right between romanticizing these objects, and then thinking well, these were the tools they use to make and prepare food.

CM: For sure. And, I mean, there's always going to be a degree of temporality to things also, it makes me think of a couple of examples in the book of objects that don't last forever like the Shiki zaru in Japan, which is a sort of very delicate basket, used to steam delicate fishes and other items like that did only last for about 15 to 20 uses, or even a goose feather brush from Hungary, which is used to put just the very thinnest layer of egg wash on pastry. You know that’s probably not

CK: Now wait a minute, back in the 70s I had that I bought that goose feather brush, (amazing) and I used it for years. So that's just shows how old I am

CM: Amazing. Yeah. So yeah, there will always be a degree of temporality sometimes.

CK: Corinne it’s been my pleasure. I love talking about tools in the kitchen, and I love your book Tools for Food. Thank you.

CM: Thank you so much been a pleasure talking to you.

CK: That was Corinne Mynatt, author of Tools for Food, the objects that influence how and what we eat. In this digital age, we do pride ourselves on the pace of innovation, but we forget that innovation is mostly a function of the tools at our disposal. So, making a colander out of a sheepskin or a mechanical clock jack that turns a spit in front of a coal fire are as innovative as Facebook or Google. You know, every age has its genius. Elon Musk figured out how to build a better spaceship. But Leonardo da Vinci invented the ornithopter, the clock, the air conditioner, and the hydraulic power saw. So, let's try to be a bit more humble. Modern food scientists invented Pop Tarts, Tang, and TV dinners. While Leonardo was enjoying an organic, locally grown vegetarian diet. Progress is always in the eye of the beholder.

You are listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. Chicken soup with ricotta dumplings. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing well.

CK: So, this week, it's chicken soup. And we've done chicken soup many times on this show. I love chicken soup because it tells a lot about the culture it comes from this one has ricotta dumplings, which is I think a really interesting twist and says a lot about the culture. So where is it from?

LC: So, it is from Calabria the region in southern Italy. These are really light, delicate dumplings. And we're calling them dumplings, although it's sometimes called Polpette di ricotta, which “polpette’s” usually meatball, right, but we're going to put that in quotes because there's no meat. It's just a mixture of white bread, Pecorino Romano cheese, which is a really salty flavor, full sheep's milk, cheese, ricotta, egg yolks, nutmeg, and salt and pepper, that all gets mixed together in a food processor. And then it's put into the refrigerator for about an hour to firm up before we start building those little polpette.

CK: So, we can just dispense with the chicken and the rest of it right? This is just about ricotta meatballs

LC: It is really the star of this. But there is a really nice broth, a kind of enhanced store-bought chicken broth with some bone-in chicken thighs so those add a ton of flavor, obviously. But we also use that chicken in the soup itself. And then again, carrot, celery, and parsley, all of that gets chopped quite large. And that's because we're just using that to flavor the broth itself, we're going to actually take it out before we cook the dumplings.

CK: So, this is a clear it looks almost like a consommé, right?

LC: That's right, it's just a clear broth with just some dumplings in it. And so when we take that dumpling mixture out of the refrigerator, we can form them into about tablespoon sized balls, and then toss them in a little bit of flour that's going to help them kind of stick together, put it on a sheet tray and then have I mentioned that they're delicate, they go back in the fridge for another 30 minutes to an hour to really firm up before we add them into the broth. Otherwise, they might fall apart.

CK: I have to say there are two surprising things about this. It's Pecorino which has that sort of crazy wild sheepy flavor you know

LC: It really does,

CK: which I love. And two, they really are delicate, I mean they really are melt in your mouth. They're not sinkers, let me put it like that.

LC: No, in fact, when you add them to this broth, you want the broth at a really low simmer you don't want to bubbling away because that's just going to kind of tear him apart. So, you just put them in the broth very gently take them out very gently. When they're finished, they'll float to the top when they're ready. And then put them in the individual bowls. Add the chicken, the broth a little bit more of that Pecorino Romano on the top it's really really nice, flavorful broth, but with those dumplings, they soak up some of that broth because there's that bread in there. And they're just so tender and light really really beautiful.

CK: You know it's a good example of collaborating cooking because most people don't know much about it. You know, it's not been that popular, the sort of the southern part of Italy, deeply southern part. But this is a great example of really wonderful food that you know, maybe you didn't expect to get. So, chicken soup with ricotta dumplings. from Calabria in southern Italy, very delicate dumplings, great flavor and easy to make. Thank you.

LC: You're welcome. You can get this recipe and all of our recipes at 177 Milk

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up Adam Gopnik tells us about the most iconic kitchen appliances from the Mixmaster to the air fryer we'll be right back.

I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to Milk Street Radio right now Sara and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: This is Michelle.

SM: Hi, Michelle. Where are you calling from?

Caller: Houston, Texas.

SM: Okay, how can we help you today?

Caller: I've been looking at a lot of recipes that call for kosher salt. And I've just wondered other than the rabbi blessing it, is there any other reason to use kosher salt rather than other salt? I wanted to know if I could substitute iodized salt or sea salt or table salt?

SM: Oh boy, that is a big question that people ask and have been asking forever. The reason that chefs like Kosher salt let's start there is because it's so coarse because chef season as they go when they cook. So, it's very easy to pick up and drop you know on top of a piece of meat or into a sauce and then it's not on your fingers. And you just can measure it very easily. It's hard to measure iodized salt. So that's one reason people like Kosher salt, also is very affordable. You get a big box as opposed to sea salt, which is the purest of all the salts and you know has different flavors depending on the minerals of the body of water came from. Sea salt is wonderful, but it's expensive and I usually mainly as a finishing salt, iodized salt, as you probably know, years ago had iodine added because of goiter. And it's not the big issue it used to be, and you can taste that iodine, which is another reason that chefs don't like it. The thing about salt for salt for salt is it's not the same. So, a teaspoon of iodized salt equals a teaspoon and a half of Morton's and two teaspoons of Diamond Crystal. Also, the difference between Morton and Diamond besides the size of the crystals, is that Morton has an additive to make it free flowing. There are no additives in the Diamond Crystal. Chris?

CK: You did a pretty good job with that.

SM: Well, thank you.

CK: I think I think Morton’s is 1.2. But we're niggling over details.

Caller: I just wondered if there was a difference for baking. Very good question. We

CK: Very good question. We argue about it at Milk Street all the time. (Yeah) Rose in my kitchen, who does most of the baking will say she always uses table salt in baking because it dissolves more quickly and evenly. And I say, in 40 years of baking I have always used kosher salt and never noticed that it doesn't disperse evenly in a wet batter or dough over time and heat. So, I don't think so but some professional, she's more of a professional baker than I am. She will use table salt, I would just want to add one other thing, this whole iodized salt thing. I think at one time, maybe lack of iodine in the diet.

SM: It was in the middle of the country, people who didn't have access to seafood.

CK: It just sounds like one of those things that maybe was really important at one point, but probably not now, maybe that's what's wrong with me. I don't have enough iodine in my diet, but I haven't used table salt in 30 years. So, I'm not really sure for health reasons it’s really that critical way you should get a really coarse sea salt like Morton salt. Yeah. In addition to everyday Diamond Crystal, for example. The crystals are bigger, and they're not used for cooking. They're just used for finishing. It's a finishing salt. And you get this incredibly light burst crunch of salt on a salad, for example, or on vegetables or whatever. So, I would definitely recommend a very coarse sea salt as part of your repertoire.

SM: I agree All right. Thank you, Michelle.

Caller: Thank you.

CK: Yeah, pleasure.

Caller: Bye bye.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, give us a call anytime our number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Nancy Davis.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I tried to redo one of my mother's cake recipes. It's a treasured recipe. And the cake has walnuts in it. And I can no longer eat walnuts. And I had read that pretzels could be substituted for walnuts. So, I tried it. I bought really skinny stick pretzels and chopped them up. And what I didn't realize I was doing until I tasted a very dry cake was that I was adding more flour and a little bit of salt to the recipe, and I hadn't compensated for it. It's a wonderful cake. It has orange zest in it and lemon zest and then you make a hot, kind of a sugar sauce with orange juice and lemon juice in it and you pour it over that at the end. And then you let it sit for a couple of days. And so, it gets nice and moist. But not if you add pretzels and salt. How do you compensate?

CK: I think the big difference is walnuts have a lot of oil in this is like half a cup or a cup.

Caller: It would be a cup of walnuts chopped fine.

CK: Yeah, yeah, you probably have a fair amount of oil in there, right and chopped fine would release that oil in during baking. So, I would say you should add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. Like you would in a chiffon cake for example, three or four tablespoons of oil. And that should solve the problem. But I don't think it's about flour. You could try reducing the flour by a couple tablespoons maybe. But if the pretzels aren't dissolving into the batter, I don't think that's going to be the problem, Sara?

SM: So, the walnuts are like little crunchy bits in there, right?

Caller: Yes.

SM: So, what you're missing really is the texture of the walnuts. And probably the oil like Chris said but let me ask you a question. How about something else crunchy? Like how about

CK: Captain Crunch

SM: I was going to say Rice Crispies.

CK: I wasn’t that far off

Caller: Really?

SM: Yeah, no crisp rice cereal. Add a cup of that. And I would still add a little bit of oil.

CK: That's really weird.

SM: No, I don't think so.

CK: I would Google rice crispy cake.

Caller: Okay.

CK: Somebody thought of this. Right? So, you want to take a look? I don't know. It sounds a little far-fetched to me but

SM: I want you to try it. Try it and let me know how it goes. Don't tell Chris. Just tell me.

CK: Isn’t there something else that's crunchy, though.

SM: Oh Grapenuts. That would be interesting.

CK: Oh, boy

SM: I think some kind of cereal that is in small pieces would be a nice crunch. But I would start with Rice Krispies.

CK: You know, this is one of those callback things. I would like you to try this too

SM: Please.

CK: And I'd love to hear what you think of Sara Moulton after trying this

SM: Alright, thanks, Chris.

Caller: Okay.

SM: All right.

CK: Take care.

Caller: Thank you so much.

CK: Yeah. Bye.

SM: Bye.

Caller: Bye.

CK: Next up, it's Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?

Adam Gopnik: I am very well, Christopher. I am spending the usual amount of time in my kitchen. And I have been thinking lately, something that I think anyone who has millennial children will have noticed, which is that they have but one obsession in the gastronomic world. And that is the air fryer. And I've lately been turned on to the whole world of Tick Tock videos of air frying. Have you gotten involved with the Tick Tock air frying?

CK: No, we did try one a year ago at Milk Street and it does do certain things well, but it doesn't actually fry. I mean, you're not going to get a French fry out of it

AG: No, you're not. Well, I wasn't thinking about it so much in terms of as you have to out of your limitless sense of responsibility. I was thinking about it more as a kind of marker, a cultural token, if I can put it that way. Because I realized that it's something was totally meaningless to me. Our kids got me an Air Fryer for Christmas. And I tried it once or twice. I said, there's no point to this thing. There's nothing that this thing does, that I can't do otherwise. And it got me to thinking about how each decade at least since I've been alive, has one emblematic or iconic appliance that sums up the values at least in America, of the people who are using it. Let me start in the 1950s. There it seemed to me that the iconic or emblematic appliance, the thing you plugged in, to light up your life was the mixer,

CK: the Sunbeam it was the Sunbeam Mixmaster

AG: Exactly, the Sunbeam Mixmaster black and white and plugged in, hugely loud, but it clearly represented for are a whole generation, a particular kind of suburban dream a particular kind of postwar prosperity. And you can't think of the 1950s I think without thinking of the Sunbeam Mixmaster. In the 1960s, the emblematic appliance surely was the blender. The blender I remember making its rodo noises and every kitchen, my parents and I would visit. Now the actual blender is you know, invented by Fred Warring of The Music Man has a much longer history, but by the 1960s. It's summed up that whole world of Mad Men culture in every James Bond fantasy, there's a blender making a daiquiri someplace in the background. The 70s I think we all know what the emblematic appliance of the 70s was

CK: Cuisinart.

AG: Absolutely. It comes on the American market in 1973 and sweeps right through American cooking. And when you think about it, what did it represent? Why was it so popular now? Of course, it did certain things well, and it cut down your chopping time or seem to though I think we've all learned since that it chops to fine and minces too much. But it was essentially a shortcut to haute cuisine. If you were a Julia Child watcher or a Julia Child reader, the Cuisinart represented the possibility of high-speed high efficiency, haute cuisine, whether you were making pie crust or making a Ratatouille, things that would normally with a food mill and a chef's knife, take you a very long time suddenly could be made right away.

CK: You know, I actually knew Carl Sontheimer, whose (did you?) the man behind the device, right. He used to drive around in the early 70s to gourmet shops and cookware stores. And he'd have one in the back of his station wagon, he’d pull it out and he’d demonstrated it, I mean, he really did a door to door to get that business started.

AG: It is astonishing when you read its history that appears in 1973. And then slowly grows and slowly and then just has this unbelievable boom. The 1980s, of course, has the microwave. Did you know Christopher that in 1980 20% of American households owned a microwave, and by 1986, that figure had quadrupled. And if you think about it, it's very much part of 80s culture. It's the popcorn maker, it's the coffee heater, it's the thing we always used to say you can nuke this right, the 90s I think that the key thing that happened was a rejection of appliances and a return of a certain kind of naturalism. As you probably remember, there was a huge boom in the 90s for Dutch ovens, all those kinds of cast iron and ceramic, Le Creuset and the rest. That's what you wanted to have. It was a kind of pathway into the artisanal and local and seasonal movements. In the 21st century, it seems to me we’ve had two emblematic appliances more or less in sequence, the slow cooker and the Air Fryer. Rather than giving us speed and immediacy, it gives us extension and attenuation that we don't have to attend at every minute.

CK: Yeah, I think I think it's really the Instant Pot, which is a pressure cooker slash slow cooker, you'd have to give that recognition, you know, zillions were sold. (Yes), and it's a combination of convenience, but also does a lot of things pretty well. So, it's sort of in between the high-minded Cuisinart, and the low-minded microwave.

AG: That's downright a Gopnikian statement.

CK: I'm well trained that’s all I can say.

AG: And now finally, is the Air Fryer. That's the latest thing to become emblematic. And I will confess that it is opaque to me as I'm sure the peculiar virtues of the Cuisinart were completely opaque to an older generation of chefs who wanted to know what was possibly wrong with using a sharp knife and a food mill. And I find myself equally baffled by the passion of the younger generation for the Air Fryer because as you said, it seems to fry nothing, it simply heats and warms. And yet, we have the whole world of objects being put in the Air Fryer and then made into Tick Tock videos, and shared by millions and millions of people. And the only guess I can make about its importance is that the Air Fryer is the emblematic appliance of the age of social media. It doesn't do anything very well any more than Twitter or Tick Tock do anything very well. But it does don't do it quickly and in a way that you can share with others. It's a team appliance. I always noticed that that my kids all do it together something that brings people together for however meaningless at least some kind of collaborative effort.

CK: Well, what wait, wait, wait, what do they actually cook in the Air Fryer?

AG: They seem to cook of some version of everything but they particularly like vegetables. That's another element of it. Is that it? It speaks to the new vegetarian consciousness, right because you put in sliced zucchini, and you get some kind of to my mind completely unpalatable version of fried zucchini. But it's close enough to count. Right?

CK: So, so we started back in the 50s with something heavy, noisy, and extremely useful and pragmatic. (Right) and then the blender, and then you finally get to the final appliance and the first name and the appliances air, which tells you something. So, it's you're saying we've gone from practicality in real life to to something else?

AG: Have we not gone from practicality, heaviness, machinery, the giant car with its tail fins to lighter than air? Is that not exactly the Arc of American civilization in the past 60 years, from big, heavy things that did obvious work, to light things that seem to do no obvious work, but yet serve to connect people together.

CK: But I but I would say originally, appliances were designed to do work. And I think now you're saying appliances are now designed to entertain?

AG: Well, I think that's true, and of how many things is that true, right? Nobody anticipated that when we finally had each of us a tiny object in our pockets that would have access literally, to all the knowledge of the history of the world, that we would use it to make videos of people using an Air Fryer.

CK: On that note about the collapse of modern civilization maybe it's cocktail time.

AG: Start up the blender. We are men in the 60s.

CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. That's it for this week's show. If you tuned into later want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast Spotify, wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street com There you can download each week's recipe watch the latest season of our television show and learn about our magazine and latest cookbook Vegetables. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter and 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH. Media Director Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sinsabaugh, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp with 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