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Stephanie Li and Chris Thomas travel around China in search of the best recipes and techniques for their YouTube channel Chinese Cooking Demystified. Today we learn the secrets to perfect fried rice, how to cook with chopsticks and why the best KFCs are in China. Plus, Abigail Koffler helps us navigate food in the metaverse; we make Mexican-Style Corn with Chili and Lime; and Adam Gopnik cries tears of joy.
Questions in this episode:
"I recently wanted to make some lavender sugar cookies, and instead of getting a cookie cutter, I ended up buying a cookie press made for spritz cookies. Could I modify my sugar cookie recipe to work with this press?"
"Bone-in short ribs are increasingly hard to find, so I’ve found myself combining bone-in and boneless in my braises. At what point should I add the boneless ones in?"
"I’ve been experimenting with homemade oat flour. It works well in cookies, but in brownies for example, there’s a distinct graininess. Any way to overcome this?"
"Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. At restaurants, it’s charred, silky and smoky, but at home, it’s dry and tough. What am I doing wrong?"
"I’ve been culturing and making my own butter, which means I’m left with buttermilk. My question is: How do you know when buttermilk has gone bad?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. And this is Supreet Raju, co-founder of One Rare a food Metaverse game.
Supreet Raju: So, the One Rare are basically focused on a very simple idea how we cook at home is exactly replicated onto the blockchain. So, let's say at home you're craving French fries. Now to make French fries the most basic things we need are cooking oil, potato, and salt. In One Rare, you can simply claim the French fry NFT by collecting the ingredient NFT’s of these three particular things. So you come into our food worse, you can farm for them, or you can buy them from the farmers market. And once you have the cooking oil, potato and salt, you can head to our kitchen, check out the French fry recipe. And then in your wallet automatically, these ingredients would be taken away and what you will be left with is your French fry NFT.
CK: That was Supreet Raju, co-founder of One Rare so what exactly is a French fry NFT and what does food in the metaverse really mean? So, to help us better understand I'm joined by Abigail Koffler. She's the author of the Bustle article How Will We Eat in the Metaverse, Abigail, welcome to Milk Street.
Abigail Koffler: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: So, before we get into the interesting and confusing topic of eating in the metaverse, let's define a few terms. What is a metaverse?
AK: So, the definition varies depending on who you talk to you but it's basically kind of a virtual world that has a lot of different components. So, it could include virtual reality, augmented reality, and often when people are talking about it now there's an element of cryptocurrency that people are using to participate in it. And that's kind of the digital economy of the metaverse.
CK: Okay, so what about NFT's? You know, non-fungible tokens? I think most people know what they are. But maybe we should start with a clear definition.
AK: Yeah, so it's a way to record who owns something virtual. So that could be, for example, an old tweet or a piece of digital art, or it could be a certificate to a specific food item, which we'll talk about. And that's something that you can trade, you can sell, and it's recorded that you're the one who purchased it.
CK: Going through your article, it seems to me there are two categories. There's a category where the metaverse interacts with real life in some way, where you actually do get to eat a meal, (right) instead of having a non-fungible token for you know, a Singapore curry that you can’t eat. And then there are versions of the metaverse that exist entirely in the metaverse with no real-world connection. And that's the theme I'd like to follow up on as we go along. Because it seems to me when you connect to the real world, it seems to be more interesting to me, but in any case, (I agree) So let's do the dinner club. (Yes) this one has a real-world connection; how does it work?
AK: So, this is called Dinner Dao. And just to define another term, a Dao is a decentralized autonomous organization. And it's an organizational model that's used a lot in this space. And what I think is interesting about this is that it's basically a supper club, except instead of, you know, venoming a friend or someone puts their card down to get the points, you purchase your membership in cryptocurrency, and then that amount of money that everyone puts in, I believe they're eight slots. That's what the money that you use to buy your meals.
CK: Okay, let me just call this out okay. You don't need an NFT to do this (no) or a blockchain or anything else. I mean, you could just have a supper club. You could have done this using a telephone, (right) So why is the NFT or discord central to this idea? It just seems like, it's an old idea of a supper club, and someone's kind of making it, you know, sexy?
AK: Absolutely. I think for a lot of the members, at least, so far, they're already interested in this space. And it's a great way to meet different people. Because sometimes, let's say you start a supper club through an alumni of a school or everyone who has a child at a certain school, you know, it would already be people in your network, whereas the rule for this one is you can't invite more than one person, you know, in real life. So, it's supposed to sort of use that like third degree network connection, which of course, there are other ways to do but I think the appeal is that it's a way to experiment with this technology and kind of a low stake’s way. Because you can try out new apps, you can try out new crypto currency, but it's only a six-month commitment. People are paying the equivalent about $300 for a couple of dinners. It's kind of low risk.
CK: Okay, now, let's get to an example that’s a bit more virtual One Rare we heard from the co-founder Supreet Raju earlier about creating a French fry NFT (Yes) and I I have to say I just don't get this. Virtual restaurants and virtual farmers markets can you just explain this to me, does this really have a future?
AK: Yeah, so One Rare is kind of billed as the world's first food metaverse. And they tried to really capture a lot of aspects of the food world. The restaurants will have dishes from an actual restaurant, there's a digital farmers market where there's ingredients,
CK: Wait, wait ,wait, wait, way. Have dishes, these are virtual dishes
AK: Right, but they do correspond to actual menu items. And while it's not necessarily practical, for example, if I'm on One Rare and I purchase a dish from a chef in Singapore, you know, I'm in Brooklyn, that doesn't mean I get a free flight to go to Singapore and try it. That would be cool. But it means that theoretically, if I do go to this restaurant, I would be able to use my token to get that dish.
CK: So, okay, so I get the token, I don't go to Singapore, right. But I have a token, what does it actually get me?
AK: So, it would be kind of added to your wallet. And it's just a way for you to appreciate a cuisine or a specific dish, you can also trade it or sell it. So perhaps there's someone that you meet in one way or browsing the farmer's market who does live in Singapore or has plans to travel there. And then they might have something for, you know, a restaurant in the US. So, there's that opportunity for exchange. But unless you actually show up at the restaurant, you don't get anything tangible. But I do think there's a gaming element too, so you don't have to purchase things all the time. You could also just kind of bop around and visit different areas. And, you know, the founders really want people to (1) kind of learn about global food culture, that's a big passion of theirs. And then the other thing is, they want people to learn about the blockchain and get comfortable in this space, you know, how does it work to buy something with this technology, etc.
CK: But what about the Norwegian wine company? This one actually makes sense to me. But you want to explain how it works?
AK: Absolutely. So, with WIV is a Norwegian wine NFT company, they work with vineyards in Europe to sell NFT's that correspond to specific wine vintages. So, it's almost a pre-purchase to a specific vintage of wine. And then they securely store the wine. So again, it corresponds to real wine. And it you can trade it while it ages, or eventually, you know, consume it or own it. And their big pitch was that you know, winemaking is a super expensive endeavor, you're spending years growing the grapes fermenting without ever seeing a dollar and a lot of winemakers struggle to get financing from traditional banks. So, this is a way that they can get funding get capital from people who are interested, and it doesn't have the same structure or collateral requirements, as you know, a conventional loan.
CK: You know that, well, it provides cash flow in the early years, and it provides something you know, it's my bottle of wine (totally) And the NFT is the perfect way to assure you that you haven't. So, let's back up a few layers and talk about the metaverse a bit. I guess my question is, what do you think is the primary emotional motivation of people who who think that the world wants to live at least in part in a metaverse?
AK: So, I think it really varies. I think some people use it as kind of a get rich quick scheme, or, you know, just oh, I have to get in this gold rush. So that's not really something that compelling to me. But I do think that when people talk about, there's the phrase, web three, so it's sort of web 2.0 is like you have a Facebook profile, and you have your Gmail and all those things. If you look at it, that's you're filling out a form that some company designed, whereas all these projects are very much starting from the ground up, you get to decide which things are important to me. So, I think there's a creativity that I heard about and a desire to experiment that I heard about from a lot of the people in this space, or even Dinner Dao you know, it's a fun way to meet people, there's a low barrier to entry and for the people who are part of it. It's a really valuable community. So, I think kind of experimentation and community are two of the driving forces from people who are active in this space.
CK: So, is there one thing in all of this, you're really excited about? Where if this Metaverse thing really does work out? Is there something you think is is really helpful to humanity in all of this?
AK: So I spoke to Andrea Hernandez, who's a food and beverage forecaster with Under the Snapshot, and she's based in Honduras, and she was talking about how it'd be really cool if NFT is because it's harder to get traditional bank loans there are crypto could help, let's say farmers or agricultural workers have an ownership share of the work they're doing or similar with restaurant workers that you have some type of equity. And I think that's a very ambitious project and it's not going to be as lucrative which is why fewer people are working on it. But I think just from like a worker empowerment perspective, you know, unions are obviously having a big moment. I think that's a big area of interest for the food world is, you know, labor obviously. So, if there's a way to improve working conditions, via giving people some control or ownership via this technology, like I mean, there's a lot of kinks to work out. A lot of logistics and skepticism and risk. But I think that that would be something that I would potentially be very excited about because it would just address something really urgent.
CK: Yeah, that's interesting because stock ownership is complicated. This would be an easy way to bring people into ownership. Abigail, thank you so much. I'm not sure I'll be visiting the metaverse anytime soon. But maybe I should. Thank you.
AK: Thank you so much.
CK: That was Abigail Koffler author of the Bustle article? How Will We Eat in the Metaverse and founder of the newsletter, This Needs Hot Sauce? One corner of the food Metaverse that's rapidly growing is Dinner Dao. Those are separate clubs where folks organize online and then meet in real life for dinner. We spoke with one dinner down member Amber's Case, who told us about the joys of eating dinner with strangers.
Amber Case: You know, sometimes if you're really into a specific thing, you know, maybe you go on the conference circuit. And there's a speaker dinner for all the speakers. And you sit down, you get this nice free dinner, and you get to meet each other. And here are these pre-determined people for you. But what about in your own city? You know, who's actually there in your city that you can meet, or you didn't know, I think if you just have your friend group, it's less likely to be, you know, a totally random group of diverse people. But when you're having dinner with some strangers, I think it’s really exciting because it would be very hard to do that on your own. It's just It's just harder to do that to get outside of your social group. And so, you have these kind of unexpected dinner groups.
CK: That was Amber Case, a core member of Dinner Dao Portland, Oregon chapter. Now my co-host Sara Moulton and I are ready to solve your culinary mysteries. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking one on One, also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara, how are you?
Sara Moulton: I'm good, Chris.
CK: So, here's the deal. I make pizza a lot like and all these recipes are like use half a teaspoon of yeast. You mix up the dough knead it, put in the fridge for cold ferment for three days. And it's really important to develop the flavor. My deal now is like why not use a ton of yeast, right? I use massive amount of yeast. And just do it the same day and you get this bubbly, wonderful lively dough. And you throw it either on the grill or you throw in the oven, and it bubbles up and it's got a great crust. So, I'm in the massive yeast category, this whole little bit of yeast and three days in the fridge. I mean, I'm sorry, it's just like come on
SM: I mean, I hear you. You want to know how I make my pizza dough?
CK: You buy it from the pizzeria.
SM: No, I could never live that down. No, heck no. I use the rapid rise yeast and I throw it in the food processor with some flour and then you add hot water because it's rapid rise and I add a little bit oil for flavor. Whiz it up, let it rise for an hour and then it's good to go.
CK: Do you use a whole package?
SM: No, you don't need to use that much more. I mean, you are looking for a particular texture.
CK: I like bubbly.
SM: Yeah, then go for it. Do it
CK: I even did one once with two packages of yeast.
SM: You’re a wild man.
CK: I'm going to go for three next week.
SM: Do it.
CK: I think the American yeast council should pursue this absolutely hire me as a promoter
SM: There you go
CK: All right, let's take a call.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Jessica from Columbus, Ohio.
SM: Hi, Jessica. How can we help you today?
Caller: I recently wanted to make some lavender sugar cookies for my cousin for her birthday. And I didn't like any of the cookie cutters or the stamps that I was finding. I did come across a cookie press. And so, I thought well, the shapes and designs are really cute. Let me try that. So, I found out the hard way that cookie presses are made for spritz cookies. The batter is I presume, thinner than sugar cookie batter. So, I tried it with the sugar cookie better did not work. And so, I was comparing the recipes and I noticed that the ingredients seemed to be more or less the same just in different proportions between a spritz cookie recipe and the sugar cookie recipe. But the spritz cookie recipe had milk in it and the sugar cookie recipe did not. And so, I was wondering, can I add milk to a sugar cookie recipe so that it'll thin it out enough so that I can use the cookie press? Or is it really just a matter of the cookie press is made for spritz cookies.
SM: I would tend to say find a good spritz recipe and then you know just how are you going to add the lavender to it?
Caller: I was just blend it up and mix it into the batter.
SM: I just think why try to adapt something. You said the proportions are different too. And that's relevant here also, baking is pretty exact I'm not saying you can't adjust it, but that would be my inclination it just find a really good spritz cookie. But let's see what Chris has to say.
CK: I think the problem is spritz cookies have a higher proportion of fat to flour. (Yeah) they have to have just the right texture to get through the little plate at the bottom. You know, when you press them through, in some spritz cookies have milk, some don't. So, it's just a fat to flour issue. So, I totally agree with Sara just get a spritz cookie, the sugar and the cookie. I would throw in a food processor and add the lavender to that and just process for about 45 seconds. And that's a good way of distributing the lavender flavor in the cookie. But I would do spritz cookie because it's just a different animal than a sugar cookie.
Caller: Okay, right
SM: Okay. There we go. And let us know how it goes.
Caller: All right. Absolutely.
SM: Yeah, we like to hear back.
Caller: Okay. Yeah, absolutely.
SM: Thanks, Jessica.
Caller: Thank you.
CK: Thanks for calling. This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, give us a call anytime the number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 Or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Amy from Cincinnati, Ohio.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, oh wise one’s I have a question for you about short ribs. Bone in short ribs are increasingly hard to find, and of course, very expensive. So, when I was trying to find the five pounds that I needed to cook, I could come up with about three pounds bone-in and then an additional pound without the bone. My question is, at what point in time in the cooking music can be braised in red wine, do I add the boneless pieces the same time do I wait?
CK: I’d throw them in same time. First of all, it's the internal temperature and the collagen breakdown that's going to determine the cooking time. With a bone it will change cooking time a little bit but you're not dealing with, you know a large bone and a lot of meat. And so, what I would do is put them in at the same time and then I'd start checking maybe 45 minutes or half an hour before they're supposed to be done. I would just temp the boneless ones to see if they're done. If they are you can just take them out. The other thing is it's pretty hard to overcook short ribs. I mean, they're just going to keep getting tender. So, if they get to 195 or 205 or whatever, it doesn't really matter that much. (Okay) you can braise short ribs for an extra half hour, it's not going to hurt them, and you very often do that when you reheat them anyway. So, I put them at the same time, maybe half an hour before they're supposed to be done. tempt them with a fork tender. If they're fork tender, you can take them out and then finish cooking the others but by the way, boneless short ribs are now at Milk Street sort of our go to stew meat. They're really delicious. They cook up really well. You can actually cut them in smaller pieces. You can even actually stir fry it sometimes if they're small enough pieces are sauté it so it's a great cut. So, Sara?
SM: I agree. They are different though. As Chris said they're cut from the chucker shoulder. And they're not generally as fatty as the bone on short ribs. So, there is going to be somewhat of difference in flavor and texture between the two. I agree put them all in together and then just see how tender they are. The thing about the boneless ones is they don't have as much fat.
CK: Well, that's why I like boneless too it’s less fatty, which is really nice
SM: Yeah, but fat has flavor. You can always remove the fat later.
Caller: This is the Midwest we're not afraid of fat.
CK: Yeah, but if you cook a whole thing of bone-in short ribs, you're going to get a ton of fat
SM: Of course, and then you save it.
CK: Save it put it in the freezer and you cook your potatoes.
SM: Yes, thank you. Okay, there we go. I know. Yeah. Oh, dear. I can't do this anymore. I'll pretend next time. I'm Chris. You pretend you're Sara.
CK: We know all the answers.
SM: We do. Any rate, yeah,
CK: Boneless short ribs are just a great cut.
CK: Amy, thank you.
Caller: Thank you have a great one.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio, next up a lesson in Chinese cooking from Chris Thomas and Stephanie Li. That's coming up right after the break.
This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. In 2017, Chris Thomas and Stephanie Li started their YouTube channel, Chinese Cooking Demystified. They travel around China in search of the best recipes and techniques, such as hot dry noodles from Wuhan. And egg wrap potato from Goya. Chris and Stephanie, welcome to Milk Street.
Stephanie Li: Thank you for having us.
Chris Thomas: Yeah. Thanks for having us, Chris.
CK: Pleasure. I love your YouTube channel. I love your work. We actually have a friend in common Kenji Lopez Alt. He was just telling me about your scrambled egg method, which I watched by the way, I was really interesting, because I like we share the same kind of preferences. You like eggs that are moist, rich, and silky. I think the French refer to it as snotty eggs because they're, they're not dry and overcooked. But could you explain how you do your eggs, It's really an interesting method.
SL: Chris is the egg guy between us. I'll let him tell this story.
CT: Yeah, so the specific kind of way it's called ____. There’re a few different approaches to it, the one that we did in our video, basically, we just kind of added the eggs to like a hot wok, and then waited until there's just barely bubbles forming around the edges, and then just kind of scooping it up over itself. And the nice thing about ____ is that you can put a bunch of different things in it. I believe in that video, we put a chassis BBQ pork in it, but you can put beef and a number of different things.
CK: But there were two other things about it. That struck me you separate the eggs to start and two you use cornstarch in the mixture.
CT: Yeah, the cornstarch thing is actually a little bit less traditional. It's a little bit a little bit of our own thing there. But yeah, the separation especially because there's one dish called ___how do you say that in Cantonese though? _____. Yeah, ____ and that one, the separation is incredibly important. It's basically a more traditional version, where it's just eggs, and that's about it. There's a lot of apocryphal stories about it that some people say that you need to even whip the egg yolks so much that it basically creates stiff peaks. The point where like a real pair of chopsticks can sit in it, but there's yeah, there's a bunch of different ways to approach that dish.
CK: You did a wonderful video on chili oil, which just drives me insane because I get totally confused and yeah, thank you ended up with like more than a dozen bottles and explaining the different varieties. So could you just give us a short course and how to buy chili oil and what the basic differences are.
SL: I think right now from what I saw in supermarkets in the US the major type are the ____ one, which is like the Lao Gan Ma style type the Quadro style, which is like toasted chili flakes that's a fried in chili oil. Generally speaking, I would recommend sticking with like the more reputable like tasty brands like Naga __ and another one that I've seen recently. It's called soy ____that's a pretty famous brand from Sichuan that makes really decent Sichuan style pure chili oil like the Chili oil without chili flakes in that, but it's already seasoned with spices and aromatics. This will be the two major brands that I will look fort at an Asian supermarket.
CK: Let's talk about cooking rice. You have this great method you're talking about stir fried rice, and you talk about you don't have to refrigerate it overnight. If you steam it, you can stir fry right away. Could you describe that because that was really really interesting.
CT: Sure, yeah. So basically, the idea of steamed rice is that you're going to be first par cooking it so you're basically just doing that for three minutes or so. And then what you'll do is you'll transfer it to a steamer and then steam it for 10 minutes thank you. And traditionally what it would be is if you go to the southwest of the country, where there is a little bit more of a culture of steamed rice.
SL: The steamed rice culture remains more in Southwest
CT: So, if you're going to Sichuan, let's say oftentimes, you'll walk into a restaurant and there'll be these big buckets of steamed rice that you can just kind of serve yourself some rice. And there was one video where I literally just took a, you know, kind of like a mesh strainer and put the par cooked rice in that and then just kind of like used that as a makeshift steamer putting some aluminum foil on it also works brilliantly.
CK: You had this wonderful one of your videos, you had a little shot of a New York Times recipe for stir fried rice. And you kind of made fun of it. What was wrong with that picture? In other words, when people do stir fried rice poorly, what are they doing wrong?
SL: Ah, okay, how to put this usually feels like the rice it's it kind of looks wet. A lot of those fried rice recipes I saw they tend to use a lot of sauces and water makes the rice wet and clumpy and the texture is just weird. While a lot of fried rice here in China, you don't use that much sauces, unless the sauces like oil base. You season it that mostly with like the fried rice ingredients, that's also a big part of where the flavor comes from. And you also see the level of salt or some MSG or chicken bouillon powder. Like generally speaking, it's more like dry ingredients that's giving the flavor of the rice.
CK: Now let's talk about chopsticks. You use chopsticks for almost everything and your videos. Maybe you could just give us a short lesson in cooking with chopsticks.
CT: Hmm, yeah, where to begin? I think like, yeah, we use chopsticks as whisks. We also use it quite a bit when stir frying. You know, for example, like whenever you would use a tong in like Western cooking, you can use chopsticks. And then another thing that you can do is you can use it to kind of estimate oil temperature, you know you can basically tell more or less what the oil temperatures looking like based on the intensity of the bubbles that are coming out around the sides of the chopsticks. But yeah, no cooking chopsticks are awesome.
CK: You talk about century eggs or 100-year-old eggs. How would you use 100-year-old egg or a century egg in your cooking?
CT: Yeah, I mean, probably I would say the most classic century egg dish would be having it together with kanji. So, this is something that if you're in China, you can even go to KFC and for breakfast they'll have a century egg rice kanji.
CK: Well, can I ask you about that? Because I saw that in your video. So, they actually sell that a KFC?
SL: Yeah, they do. KFC China does a very great job, localizing. It's very creative. They sell like the ___ deep fried those steaks, they sell Portuguese egg tarts that's from Macau. They sell wraps with like the Peking duck sauce and deep-fried chicken and it's very fun.
CT: They should just have an Asia version of the KFC and reintroduce it back in the United States. I think you put it in like New York or LA or something. I think it'd be quite popular.
CK: That's a good idea. Hot dry noodles. You know what are hot dry noodles?
SL: So hot, dry noodle, dry means no soup, and you eat it while it's like fairly hot. So, it's kind of an interesting component of characters. The noodles because that doesn't have soup. The major flavor comes from sesame paste. In the old days, the noodles, it's mixed with sesame paste and toasted sesame oil and nowadays, people kind of like change the toasted sesame oil into using like a master stock in flavoring it. And that's a really popular classic breakfast item in Wuhan.
CK: You know, one of our regular contributors here at Milk Street Alex Ainouz, he told me that when he researches recipes, he goes onto, you know, local internet sites from China, for example. Everything's in Chinese. And he finds this, you know, huge wealth of people demonstrating how to make authentically make different dishes. And he said now that's really this is his primary source of research. Is this the same type of thing you guys use when investigating a recipe?
SL: Oh, yeah, of course, especially in recent years. There's this boom in Chinese, in ___. That's like people in the village would start filming cell phone videos of them just cooking their daily stuff. And I love ____ this video, so it's like real village life. And you don't necessarily like research a certain specific dish. It's just, for me at least I like to immerse myself into watching people from different areas cook,
CT: Yeah, you know, we kind of talked about, like, maybe researching really shouldn't be that hard, all you really need to do is you Google the dish name, you go to Wikipedia, you find the name of the dish in the local language, then you just go to YouTube, copy, paste, and then you have all of these people that are just making it and, you know, at a very quick glance, you can kind of see the real deal of like how it's made.
CK: So last thing is there, something you could suggest that everybody here at home could include and make part of their regular repertoire.
SL: So, I think, not necessarily the dish per se, but just think of it as like a formula. That's how I learned to cook growing up watching my parents, because like they both work and they’re busy. And one really quick formula that we almost eat every day. It's basically you have some vegetable components, let's say pepper, or onion, or broccoli, or gailan Chinese broccoli, you prep them on the side and you have some meat components like pork slivers or chicken pieces, you marinate it. And what you do is you fry the meat first separately and take it out. And then you just toss your vegetables in and fry your vegetable components. And when the vegetables are done, toss your meat back in. That is a very useful stir fry formula. I'll say you can just mix and match anything you want.
CK: Guys, thank you very much Chris and Stephanie. Love your work. I love your YouTube channel. And I love the fact that we really learn a different way to think about cooking. Thank you so much.
SL: Thank you for having us.
CK: That was Chris Thomas and Stephanie Li. Their YouTube channel is called Chinese Cooking Demystified. KFC has over 8000 outlets in China more than double McDonald's. Its success is based on adapting food to the local culture. So, for breakfast, you can order minced pork kanji with preserved egg, beef and egg oatmeal or mushroom chicken porridge. Or you might want to try the Six Gods Flowerdew Coffee, which is inspired by a famous mosquito repellent that has a strong mint and floral aroma. One day I expect KFC will adapt its menus here in the states to reflect its experience abroad. Much like pidgin English eventually changed how foreigners spoke back home. Many expressions including longtime no see, are actually based on Mandarin. Both language and food cut both ways what is imported gets adapted and then exported back to where it came from. Now that's real cultural exchange. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Here's JM Hirsch with this week's recipe, Mexican style corn with chili and lime. J M. how are you?
J M Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: So, I went to Oaxaca then I went to Mexico City and then you went to Mexico City. And then I guess you'll go to Oaxaca, right, so we’ll both go to the same place. But we each ate a lot of street food. I had my favorites; you had your favorites. Tell me about the thing you loved the most.
JM: As you know, when you travel, you just stumble upon things. And suddenly your eyes open and the world reveals itself to you in a new and delicious way. And that's what happened with this dish. Walking down the street. This guy shows a cup of something at me, and it was yellow, and it was white and I wasn't sure what it was. Well, it turns out it's esquites which is a form of Mexican street corn, which the corn has been grilled usually or roasted and then the kernels cut off the cobs and simmered with herbs and lime juice and chilies and Cotija which is a salty Mexican cheese and Crema which is kind of like a Mexican sour cream and for creamy are touching a slightly sweet and tangy touch mayonnaise. And I was not expecting to love it the way I did. But when I tasted it, I’ve got to say I was blown away because it hit every single flavor note that I crave. It was sweet. It was creamy. It was savory, it was herbal, it was spicy. It just It was everything and you just eat it by the spoon out of these plastic cups standing on the side of the road. And like I say I did not expect to love it as much as I did because it seemed kind of so simple and unexpected, but it was one of the favorite things I ate on this trip,
CK: Is this one of those recipes that make sense from a cart on the side of the road. But makes absolutely no sense when you do it at home.
JM: You know, I don't think so because here in New England, we get great corn in the summer. And all you do is cut the kernels off the cob, and you simmer them with some lime juice and some herbs. And then you throw in your cayenne pepper and your sour cream and your chilies. And pretty soon you have an amazing way of eating fresh corn. And you can actually do it with frozen corn out of season but when corn is in season, it's so much better. And it's just such a fun, simple and really delicious way to appreciate fresh corn. Yes, if you are eating it on the side of the road in Mexico City, it will taste better just because of where you are and the experience, but you're also going to love it at home.
CK: So, I do have one question, which is Mexican corn, in my experience is a little starch here, then sweet corn in America. Does that change the balance of flavors at all?
JM: You know, they were using a sweet corn for this every time I had it. And so, you know you're right. You know, Mexican corn tends to be a lot starchier. This tended to be a much sweeter side of their corn which does tend to be starcher than ours but not so much so that I noticed it in this recipe.
CK: So, you went to Mexico City you liked the tacos, but you loved the esquites, which is corn with crema and mayonnaise and cotija cheese and lime juice and just sounds absolutely fabulous. Thank you, JM.
JM: Thank you. You can get this recipe for Mexican style corn with chili and lime at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up Adam Gopnik cries tears of joy for seafood in Venice, as well as breakfast in New York, we'll be right back.
CK: I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to take a few more calls with Sara.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Steve. I'm calling from Somerville South Carolina.
SM: Hi, Steve, how can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I've developed kind of a baking habit. And lately, the people for whom I bake have decided they'd like me to try making things that don't have wheat flour in them anymore that don't want to gluten, and I've been experimenting with oat flour that I make by spinning rolled oats in my food processor. And in cookies, that seems to work okay, but in other things like brownies, there's a distinct graininess that is not pleasant. And I'm just wondering if you have any suggestions on how to not have that be a problem.
SM: You grind up your own oats?
Caller: I’m just buying like Quaker Oats and spinning them in my food processor. And I've tried doing it in a blender as well and that doesn't seem to do any better.
SM: What kind of blender do you have?
Caller: It’s an old Hamilton Beach?
SM: Yeah, here's the problem. You need the sort of blender that really would make a milkshake out of meat. They're high speed, they cost about three - $400 I'm sorry to say. But they really that's the kind of blender you need, or you could just buy oat flour. Ah, the problem is it's just not fine enough because you don't have the right tool. Chris any thoughts?
CK: Oats have those little gnarly bits. I mean commercial oat flour will be significantly finer and better. I would also strongly recommend almond flour, which I keep in my refrigerator all the time. It makes great cakes like the Spanish almond cake I make like once a month. It's got a great flavor you know and there's lots of gluten free recipes that are based on almond flour. So, if I was going to pick one flour that doesn't have gluten that would pick almond flour,
SM: But you would buy it you wouldn't make it
CK: Yeah, you buy it and there's plenty you can actually there's a lot of companies out there that make all sorts of flour. Sometimes using almond flour tastes better than just using all-purpose flour
SM: particularly in a brownie I think would be delicious.
CK: Yeah, that would be my recommendation.
Caller: Thank you. You just substituted one to one.
CK: I don't think so I think you need to use a recipe that calls for almond flour, oat flour. You know, if you want to substitute then you have to get a gluten free mixture which has cornstarch and or potato starch in it and white rice ground up and brown rice ground up. It has lots of things in it. There are plenty of recipes out there, especially in the Middle East and other places. I'm almond flour user all the time.
SM: The thing about almond flour though is again, I wouldn't make my own almond flour because you tend to end up with almond butter. And it sounds like maybe you'd need to buy the oat flour, but I would use a recipe that was designed to be gluten free. Not try to adapt a recipe.
Caller: Perfect. I really appreciate it I’ll try a…thank you
SM: Okay. All right. Take care. Bye bye.
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Suzanne from Philadelphia.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: So, I have a question about the best way to cook eggplant at home. It's one of my favorite vegetables. And I feel like every time I go to a restaurant I have this delicious eggplant, it’s like charred skin, it’s silky smoky meat. But then when I'm making it at home, it's always kind of dry, tough. I can't get that like good flavor.
CK: How are you cooking at home?
Caller: I usually try to roast it and then I never know should I like press it. Or I feel like it just like slops up the oil.
CK: Are you roasting it whole? Are you cutting it into?
Caller: No, I’m usually cutting it into little chunks.
CK: The easiest way to do it is to roast it whole and I put it on a grill sort of medium heat, but you just cook it to death until it looks like it's collapses on itself. I mean
SM: it looks like it's like a balloon that’s deflated
CK: it looks like you really overcooked it. It looks gnarly.
CK: You let it cool and then you can slice it in half and scoop out and it should be like good babaganoush it's going to be very loose and creamy. And then I love to put tahini in it is really good pomegranate molasses is really good with it, herbs in it, you know, whatever. But it's you just have to cook it to death essentially
Caller: You're doing that in the oven, what temperature would you do that at?
CK: I’d do it probably 425. I do it on a rack over a baking sheet probably.
SM: Another thing you could do, if you don't want to do it whole is to have it lengthwise and then score it. And then you can do that to sear it.
CK: You can do that too
SM: sort of treat it like meat where you do the reverse sear, or you sear first, right so you either cook it lower and get it really really soft and then run it under the broiler. Or you sear it maybe even top of the stove cut side down and then finish it in the oven low and slow. You know, let it totally melt and get tender.
CK: It's one of the great ingredients.
Caller: Yeah, I love it whenever I go out and every time, I try it at home. It's not but I've never cooked it this way. I will definitely try those two ways.
CK: Yeah, cook it till it's ugly. That’s it.
SM: Thanks Suzanne
CK: Thanks for calling
Caller: Perfect. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
SM: Okay, bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help with dinner, give us a ring 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi this is Molly.
SM: Hi, Molly. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from Ireland.
SM: What? Where in Ireland?
Caller: Yeah, West Cork.
SM: Oh, wow. How can we help you today?
Caller: I've really gotten into the fermentation lifestyle. And one of the things that I've been doing is culturing and making my own butter. (Wow) it has been really fun. Yeah. The benefit of that is the buttermilk that you get. My question is, how do you know when buttermilks actually gone? Bad, especially cultured buttermilk.
CK: Good point
SM: Well, let's start at the top. Can you explain to us what cultured butter is? You know the process?
Caller: Yeah. So, you just take regular cream, and then you put a dollop of yogurt in it. That's typically what I do. And then I leave it out until it's all very thick. And then I put it in the refrigerator, and then I whip it.
SM: Okay and then you whip the heck out of it until it separates into butter and buttermilk. You know, it's very tangy, it's quite acidic, because you have already put culture into the original cream. I guess it would keep in the fridge two to three weeks. I think you might even be able to freeze it.
Caller: Okay. Yeah.
SM: And how do you know it's bad? I really believe it will let you know. But let's see what Mr. Kimball has to say
CK: It's not me. It's J Kenji Lopez Alt, a friend of ours did a piece in the NY Times four or five months ago. And it was all about expiration dates. And he said they're all bogus. (Yeah) And he eats things way past the expiration date because the expiration date. There's a lot of reasons for those dates, but they have little to do when things actually are not edible. So, I think Sara's right people say, you know, a couple of weeks in the fridge, but my guess is you're probably good for a month.
Caller: I'm a brave eater. You know, I'm all about, like, scrape off the mold and call it good.
SM: Carry on.
Caller: So, yeah. but I was like, gosh, you know, I just don't even know when this would be bad so
CK: No, it's a good question. Because, you know, how can you tell when something that's naturally sour? Because sourness would obviously be a test of something being past its expiration date.
SM: I think it would smell funky. That's what I think.
SM: I mean, not just sour I don't know, Chris, what do you think?
CK: Well, funky is in (Yeah) What's wrong with funky?
SM: No, but you know what I mean,
CK: I'd say at least a couple of weeks. Yeah. At least then.
SM: Three weeks
Caller: Freezing is possible?
SM: Yeah, I think so
CK: I think you could freeze it for a few months.
SM: Yeah. I think it'd be fine.
Caller: Oh, super. That’s great news
SM: Now, I want to make cultured butter.
Caller: It's so fun.
CK: Sara, you could get a butter cart on like 26th Street in New York and just sell sell butter.
SM: I know. I'll put a little bonnet or something.
CK: Anyway, Molly, thank you so much.
Caller: Well, thank you guys.
CK: Take care. Bye.
Caller: Bye. bye
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Right. Now let's talk to Adam Gopnik about what's on his mind this week. Adam, what's up this week?
Adam Gopnik: Well, I have been thinking about and in fact participating in that extraordinary human emotion that we call crying for joy. When we cry for joy. It's the best kind of crying we do. In fact, it may be the most joyful kind of joy we ever possess. And I have been thinking lately, Chris about when we cry for joy in the presence of food. I should add immediately that I am not an easy crier. I can sit dry eyed through Little Women, or A Christmas Carol without any difficulty. But not very long ago I was in Venice, and I went to the fish market the famous Mercado near the Rialto Bridge. And seeing the tiny little Vandalia and the rich calamari and the countless kinds of shrimp and the bright deep red tuna. I found tears coming to my eyes. I began to cry for joy at the presence of all that beautiful fish. Do you remember Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby cries for joy at the presence of Gatsby's shirts, beautiful shirts? But that's exactly how I felt about all that Adriatic seafood. And I bought the vongole and I took them back to our little apartment and I made a linguini alle vongole for my wife and a friend I was so overcome, literally overcome with emotion. And I began to think, Chris about other times in my life, when I've had that rare and special emotion of crying for joy in the presence of food. And the first one I thought of was on my very first trip to Paris with my wife, and we had gone to a little bistro called Chez Andre and had ordered champagne framboise and the waitress absentmindedly poured the champagne with one hand and the raspberry liqueur, the framboise. The friend was, with the other hand, getting in just the right amount of firm was, and just the right amount of champagne and just kind of shoved it at us. And tears came to my eyes at the casual beauty of what she'd done. And then when I tried to think of a third instance of this, I remember coming back from a trip to Paris one summer, and going out with my then young now fully grown son, Luke at 6am, to get a New York City coffee shop breakfast at my favorite coffee shop, and ordering the usual eggs and bacon and potatoes _ brine, you're those good coffee shop potatoes, and coffee and rye toast and having exactly the same emotion of being overwhelmed crying for joy at the presence of that good breakfast. And so, I tried to think to myself, what did these three things have in common that would bring such emotion to my heart? And I realized, I think, Chris, that each of these things managed to make the rhapsodic routine. They take something that is itself amazing, the the beautiful history of a fish in Venice, or the Parisian combination of sobriety and efficiency, or simply the wonderful American abundance of the coffee shop breakfast, and instead of celebrating them, they just sort of shrugged at them. And then it occurred to me that that's exactly when our feelings are most moved. Even those of us who are not easy criers, the best tears sneak up on us from behind.
CK: Well, I would say one other thing, which is similar to what you said, I think, when you discover perfection in the ordinary, all of a sudden you find the sublime where you don't expect to find it there and you go like, wow, there's something mercurial and wonderful about this thing in a very plain setting. And maybe that applies to many more things in life than food.
AG: I think it does. And it isn't the normal emotion, or one of the normal emotions that we get through the joys of cooking. It isn't the sense of satisfaction or generosity, sharing, all of those positive emotions. It's the thing that sneaks up on us and says, wow, this is really extraordinary, and nobody is making a fuss about it.
CK: I would argue that the things that one thinks should be extraordinary in life, never are, and the ordinary things in life are actually the extraordinary things.
AG: That's exactly right. We went to some nice restaurants in Venice, and I was glad to be there. But I wasn't moved. Seeing all of that beautiful fish laid out casually across all of those countless slabs and counters. That was the overwhelming emotion. It wasn't the one we're prepared for the ones we're prepared for. Always underwhelm us a little bit. It's the ones we're unprepared for. That hit us like a wave.
CK: So, to discover the incredible lightness of being go to your local coffee shop,
AG: Or keep your heart and mind open, it's a reason to travel. It's the reason to do new things. You never know. When that moment is going to sneak up on you. You never know when you'll be knocked sideways by the ordinary
CK: Knocked sideways by the ordinary. Well said thank you, Adam.
AG: Pleasure talking as always.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. That's it for this week's show. You can find every single one of our episodes on Apple podcast, Spotify, Amazon music, Milk Street Radio.com, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about us here at MILK Street. Just go to 177 Milk Street.com. There you can download each week's recipe. Watch our television show learn about our magazine and latest cookbook, The World in a Skillet. We're on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 notes. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX