WBEZ | Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Turkey and latkes share the same plate in unique Thanksgivukkah celebration http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/turkey-and-latkes-share-same-plate-unique-thanksgivukkah <p><p dir="ltr">This year&rsquo;s Thanksgiving menu may get a new twist in Jewish households, due to the holiday&rsquo;s once-in-a-lifetime convergence with Hanukkah.</p><p dir="ltr">The impending convergence of Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah has become such a cultural phenomenon that it has its own Facebook page,&nbsp;<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgivukkah">Wikipedia entry</a>, and a major Manischewitz marketing campaign. Not to mention a whole new Jewish-American fusion vocabulary.</p><p dir="ltr">At<a href="http://templejm.org/"> Temple Judea Mizpah</a> in Skokie, Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler was trying out words like &ldquo;Thanksgivukkah&rdquo; and &ldquo;Menurky&rdquo; (menorah-shaped turkey)&nbsp;for the first time. She said the convergence was a cosmic fluke.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Thanksgiving was formally established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Thanksgiving would have overlapped with Hanukkah back in 1861, except for the fact that the formal Thanksgiving was not established yet. So actually, this is really the first time that it&rsquo;s overlapping, and it will not overlap again until the year 79811.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">In a nutshell, Thanksgivukkah means that never again will the chance to stuff yourself with stuffing overlap with the chance to stuff yourself with latkes, the traditional Hanukkah dish of crispy potato pancakes fried in oil and served with sour cream and applesauce.</p><p dir="ltr">At<a href="http://kaufmansdeli.com/wordpress/"> Kaufman&rsquo;s Delicatessen &amp; Bakery</a>&nbsp;around the corner from the synagogue, customers didn&rsquo;t seem the least bit intimidated by this culinary and caloric challenge.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll just eat more cholesterol,&rdquo; one man said with a laugh. &ldquo;You notice there are no signs here saying, &lsquo;watch your cholesterol.&rsquo;&quot;</p><p dir="ltr">But for the owners of Kaufman&rsquo;s &mdash;&nbsp;daughter-and-mother team Bette and Judy Dworkin &mdash;&nbsp;the menu questions are challenging. Hanukkah actually begins at sundown on the night before Thanksgiving and lasts eight nights. And since both holidays are major catering events for their business, they&rsquo;re trying to guess whether customers will celebrate them separately, or look for creative fusion dishes that give the holiday that once-in-a-lifetime spin.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We think,&rdquo; Bette said, &ldquo;and I&rsquo;m going to stress that we think, that people are not going to celebrate both holidays Thursday.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I hope,&rdquo; Judy added.</p><p dir="ltr">Bette said melding their menus might mean doing something different this year with her mother&rsquo;s signature turkey.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My mother has always made turkey for family events that was made with Manischewitz wine, blackberry Manischewitz wine,&quot; she said. &quot;So we&rsquo;re going to try and brine in blackberry wine &mdash; provided it doesn&rsquo;t turn the turkey purple, &lsquo;cause that really won&rsquo;t go over really well.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Distinct from other foods important in Jewish tradition, Hanukkah foods specifically pay tribute to oil.</p><p dir="ltr">Hanukkah commemorates an event more than 2,000 years ago, when the Jews won back the temple that had been seized by their oppressors. When they re-lit their menorah, there was only enough oil to make it burn for one night, yet miraculously the oil lasted for eight nights. That&rsquo;s why Hanukkah foods, like latkes, are traditionally cooked with oil.</p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/thanskgivukkah%203.JPG" style="height: 400px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Executive Chef Laura Frankel works at Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, which hosts a fully kosher division of Wolfgang Puck Catering. (WBEZ)" />At Chicago&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.spertus.edu/">Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership</a>, which hosts a fully<a href="http://www.spertus.edu/about/catering"> kosher division of Wolfgang Puck Catering</a>, Executive Chef Laura Frankel said that this is a great excuse to re-think the Thanksgivukkah turkey.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So I&rsquo;m approaching it from kind of an American point of view where I&rsquo;m going to have my turkey and I&rsquo;m going to eat it too,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And I&rsquo;m still going to put it in oil because I love the oil, and that is what Hanukkah&rsquo;s all about.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">She demonstrated her suggested menu for me. Instead of a roasted turkey, she showed me how to make turkey breast schnitzel. She pounded it out thin and dredged her cutlets in panko bread crumbs flavored with fresh sage. Then she fried them up quickly in extra virgin olive oil &mdash; which, by the way, actually helps lower cholesterol.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So it&rsquo;s golden brown on one side, and now I&rsquo;m going to flip it over,&rdquo; she said as it sizzled deliciously in the pan. &ldquo;And look how quick this is. You can basically have dinner on the table in half an hour on Thanksgiving. It&rsquo;s crispy, it&rsquo;s fried, I&rsquo;ve got my olive oil. I&rsquo;ve got my turkey thing going. I&rsquo;m an American Jew on Thanksgivukkah.&rdquo;\</p><p dir="ltr">Frankel&rsquo;s Thanksgivukkah latkes combine the traditional russet potatoes with grated sweet potato, a great fusion because sweet potatoes alone aren&rsquo;t starchy enough to hold together well. &nbsp;These she also fried in extra virgin olive oil.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Actually, I like to use duck fat too,&rdquo; she confessed. &ldquo;But you know, we&rsquo;re celebrating the miracle of the oil on Thanksgivukkah, we&rsquo;re not celebrating the miracle of the mallard.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Let&rsquo;s not forget one thing about the traditional Hanukkah latke, though: It&rsquo;s already a Jewish American fusion food.</p><p dir="ltr">You can bet that potatoes weren&rsquo;t on the menu at the first Hanukkah more than 2,000 years ago, any more than the pilgrims ate that green bean casserole with the French&rsquo;s fried onions on top at the first Thanksgiving. Potatoes were indigenous to the Americas, and didn&rsquo;t even spread to Europe until the 16th century. (Kind of like the corn the Native Americans gave the pilgrim settlers at Plymouth.)</p><p dir="ltr">The traditional Hanukkah celebration as we know it would be impossible without the discovery of the New World &mdash; a fact for which American Jews can always be thankful. For that, and for the invention of Alka-Seltzer.</p><p dir="ltr">&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;&mdash;</p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/thanksgivukkah 1.JPG" style="float: left; height: 271px; width: 300px;" title="Thanksgiving meets Hanukkah on the same plate for many this year. (WBEZ)" /><strong>THANKSGIVUKKAH RECIPES&nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Here are the recipes for&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cheflauraskosher.com/">Chef Laura Frankel&rsquo;s</a> suggested Thanksgivukkah dinner dishes. The sneaky secret tip she shared for both the schnitzel and the latkes is don&rsquo;t use whole eggs, just the whites. Yolks will generally impart a cakey texture to either, whereas using the whites only makes them much crispier.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Turkey Schnitzel&nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Quick, easy and you don&rsquo;t have to wait four hours to eat your turkey.</p><p dir="ltr">Serves 8</p><ul><li>1 boneless, skinless turkey breast, cut into 1-inch-thick medallions</li><li>4 egg whites, whisked with a tablespoon of water</li><li>1 cup of flour</li><li>2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage</li><li>2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley</li><li>1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme</li><li>1 tablespoon lemon zest</li><li>2 cups panko breadcrumbs</li><li>Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper</li><li>Extra virgin olive oil for frying</li><li>Preheat oven to 350</li></ul><p>1. Place a turkey breast medallion in a plastic storage bag with a tablespoon of water (this keeps the meat from tearing) and with a mallet, pound the turkey until it is about &frac12; inch thick and even all around. Repeat with the other pieces of turkey.</p><p>2. Place the eggs whites in a large pie pan.</p><p>3. Place the flour in a pie pan.</p><p>4. Mix the fresh herbs and lemon zest with the panko breadcrumbs and place in a pie pan.</p><p>5. Heat about &frac12; inch of oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.</p><p>6. Season each turkey schnitzel with salt and pepper.</p><p>7. Dredge the turkey schnitzel in the flour, then the egg whites and finally the seasoned panko.</p><p>8. Place the schnitzel in the hot oil, be sure not to overcrowd the pan.</p><p>9. When the schnitzel is browned on one side, carefully turn the schnitzel over and brown the other side. Transfer the browned schnitzel to a parchment lined baking sheet. Continue browning.</p><p>10. The schnitzels can be frozen at this point or stored, covered in the refrigerator for up to two days.</p><p>11. Before serving, place the schnitzels, uncovered in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes to finish cooking and to crisp back up.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>White Wine Pan Gravy</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Can&rsquo;t be Thanksgivukkah without gravy, right?</p><ul dir="ltr"><li>2 shallots, minced</li><li>2 cloves garlic, minced</li><li>&frac14; cup flour</li><li>&frac12; cup dry white wine</li><li>2 cups homemade chicken stock</li><li>1 bouquet garni of: 1 bay leaf, fresh sage, parsley stems, 1 celery rib, 1 rosemary sprig, fresh thyme sprigs</li><li>1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (optional)</li><li>Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper</li></ul><p>1. Using the same pan to cook the turkey schnitzels, drain off all but &frac14; cup of oil.</p><p>2. Return the pan to medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sweat until the shallots are translucent.</p><p>3. Add the flour and cook in the fat for 3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour flavor.</p><p>4. Add the white wine and stir constantly. Allow the alcohol to burn off (about 1 minute). Add the chicken stock and whisk.</p><p>5. Add the bouquet garni and dried mushrooms if using and reduce the heat to a simmer.</p><p>6. Simmer for 15 minutes, pour the gravy through a strainer and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Apple-cranberry ginger sauce</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This is a beautiful garnet-colored tart applesauce. It is a perfect complement for the crispy latkes. The addition of ginger adds a deep citrus spice flavor that balances the vegetables in the latke.</p><ul dir="ltr"><li>6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped</li><li>1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries</li><li>1/3 cup sugar</li><li>1 whole cinnamon stick</li><li>2 teaspoons chopped crystallized ginger</li><li>&frac12; cup apple cider or juice</li><li>Pinch of kosher salt</li></ul><p>1. Place all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook uncovered over medium heat until the cranberries pop. Continue cooking until the excess moisture evaporates.</p><p>2. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir to combine.</p><p>3. The applesauce may be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for up to 2 months.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Chef Laura&#39;s latkes</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I like really crispy latkes that are only slightly creamy inside. I don&rsquo;t use yolks in my batter as egg yolks make dough and batters tender. Egg whites hold the ingredients together but don&rsquo;t make it soft or cakey.</p><ul dir="ltr"><li>2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded (after shredding the potatoes, place them in a large bowl with ice water - they won&rsquo;t oxidize and turn rust colored)</li><li>Extra virgin olive oil for frying</li><li>1 large Spanish onion, peeled and grated</li><li>3 egg whites, beaten with a whisk until frothy</li><li>3-6 tablespoons flour</li><li>1 cup shredded sweet potatoes</li><li>2 teaspoon kosher salt</li><li>1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper</li></ul><p>1. Place the shredded potatoes in a large clean towel and squeeze out all of the moisture; make sure the potatoes are completely dry.</p><p>2. Place all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and add the potatoes. Mix all of the ingredients together until thoroughly combined.</p><p>3. Heat a large skillet with 1&frac12; inches of oil. Drop spoonfuls of latke batter into the oil. Flatten it slightly with the back of a spoon. Brown the latkes on both sides. Remove to a platter lined with paper towels.</p><p>4. To re-heat: Place the latkes on a cookie sheet and heat in a 400 degree oven until hot.</p><p><em>Nina Barrett is a James Beard Award-winning food contributor. Follow her on her blog, <a href="http://fearoffrying.ninabarrett.com/">Fear of Frying</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 20 Nov 2013 16:32:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/turkey-and-latkes-share-same-plate-unique-thanksgivukkah Oysters were the 'peanuts of the 19th century' http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/oysters-were-peanuts-19th-century-109100 <p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Oysters 1871 (5)-scr.JPG" style="float: left; height: 533px; width: 400px;" title="Shuckers prepare oysters at GT Fish &amp; Oyster. (Nina Barrett)" />Today when we think of an oyster bar, we think of a place like <a href="http://gtoyster.com/">GT Fish &amp; Oyster</a> on North Wells Street.</p><p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s the kind of place where over the course of a year, connoisseurs can sample 90 different varieties of oysters on the half-shell, and the only guy you can pour out your troubles to is a shucker.</p><p dir="ltr">On a recent afternoon, though, guests were being asked to imagine an era in Chicago history when an oyster bar was more like &mdash; well, your average guy&rsquo;s bar.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Back in 1871 when the fire happened, there were hundreds and hundreds of saloons, and lots of what we might call microbreweries today. And at those breweries, they would serve oysters,&rdquo; said Sean O&rsquo;Scannlain, president and CEO of Fortune Fish Company, which supplies fresh seafood to many of Chicago&rsquo;s finer retailers and dining establishments. &ldquo;It was a good appetizer and certainly one that would encourage people to drink a little bit more.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">O&rsquo;Scannlain&nbsp;said oysters were the peanuts of the 19th century &mdash; a salty bar snack saloons sold cheaply or even gave away to get their customers to drink more beer.</p><p dir="ltr">And this particular bit of history is personal to O&rsquo;Scannlain, whose family has survived for five generations by adapting to Chicago&rsquo;s ever-changing food-and-drink scene.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My great-great-grandfather, a man named Peter Fortune, came to the United States from Ireland,&rdquo; O&rsquo;Scannlain&nbsp; said.</p><p dir="ltr">Having learned a thing or two working at Guinness in Dublin, Fortune and his brother John started a business in Chicago called the Fortune Brothers Brewery. And besides beer expertise, the Fortune Brothers apparently came equipped with a bit of that famous &ldquo;luck o&rsquo; the Irish.&rdquo; While the Great Fire of 1871 wiped out the area once known as &ldquo;Brewtown,&rdquo; it literally skipped right over Fortune Brothers. The company even managed to stay afloat during Prohibition. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At that time my relatives made pasta,&rdquo; O&rsquo;Scannlain said. &ldquo;Spaghetti, macaroni, all these Irish guys making Italian pasta. I can&rsquo;t vouch for the quality, but that&rsquo;s how they managed to get through Prohibition. Now I don&rsquo;t know what they were doing without the authorities looking, but at least to the general public we were a pasta company back then.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, pasta was their story, and they stuck to it. Because the third gift the Fortune Brothers brought with them to America was the famous Irish gift for storytelling. That was on display at GT Fish &amp; Oyster, where Fortune Fish was serving up heaping platters of its newly launched <a href="http://www.old1871.com/">Old 1871 Oyster</a>, along with an extremely charming story about how the Old 1871 came to be. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The day before the Great Chicago Fire, said Fortune&rsquo;s marketing director Mark Palicki, there was another huge fire down on Randolph Street, and most of the city&rsquo;s firefighters had spent the day battling that. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;And what do they do after the fire? They go drink a couple beers and have a bunch of oysters, and then they sleep it off and wake up and what do they go into? The Chicago Fire of 1871.</p><p dir="ltr">Palicki said the company spent two years working with oyster farmers in Virginia to develop the kind of plumper, meatier-style oyster that would have been served up back in the time of the Great Fire. You might even call it: manly. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;What&rsquo;s going on right now in the oyster world is they&rsquo;re growing smaller, petite, they&rsquo;re cocktail oysters,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And since this is a 3-inch oyster, it&rsquo;s a little bigger than what the normal oyster is right now.&rdquo; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Chef James Ross, who was sampling them, thinks the Old 1871 really is an oyster with some regular-guy potential. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So many people are, it&rsquo;s TOO seafoody for them,&rdquo; Ross said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s too soft for them. It&rsquo;s almost snotty -- I hate to use that word.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Did you just say what I think you said?&rdquo; I asked.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I said snotty,&rdquo; Ross replied. &ldquo;Some people are freaked out by that. But these oysters just have such a nice texture to them. It&rsquo;s a good training-wheel oyster. But it&rsquo;s also an oyster that a connoisseur would eat and say, yes, I think that covers every single base.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The bit about the firefighters was a big hit, too. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;And also the story behind 1871,&rdquo; said GT Fish &amp; Oyster Executive Chef Giuseppe Tentori. &ldquo;These oysters represent Chicago, bottom line. So these oysters here ... GT will have ALWAYS on the menu.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">That history, by the way, is a little bit fishy. The oyster taverns and the fire before the Great Chicago Fire really did exist, but when pressed about the bit where the firefighters go out to fight the Great Fire all stoked up on Old 1871-style oysters, Mark Palicki started to get a little &hellip; slippery. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I am guessing that some firemen on that day probably did do that, with what was going on in Chicago at that time,&rdquo; Palicki said. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;But you&rsquo;re just &mdash; guessing,&rdquo; I said.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Correct,&rdquo; Palicki said. &ldquo;But I&rsquo;m bettin&rsquo; you it happened. If I could go in a time machine back to that day, I bet there are some firemen sitting in a saloon drinkin&rsquo; beer and eatin&rsquo; oysters.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s your story and you&rsquo;re sticking to it,&rdquo; I said.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s my story and I&rsquo;m sticking to it,&rdquo; Palicki replied.</p><p dir="ltr">Well, that&rsquo;s okay. Because everybody knows that the best way to slurp an oyster on the half shell is just to tip your head back, and swallow it whole. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Correction: This article has been updated with the correct spelling of the Fortune Fish Company president and CEO&#39;s last name.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Nina Barrett is a James Beard Award-winning food contributor. Follow her on her <a href="http://fearoffrying.ninabarrett.com/">blog</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 17:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/oysters-were-peanuts-19th-century-109100 Lentils key role in historically bad business deal http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/lentils-key-role-historically-bad-business-deal-108924 <p><p>Lentils are actually one of the first foods to show up in Western literature. The Bible&rsquo;s Old Testament tells us they played a dramatic role in the sibling rivalry of Abraham&rsquo;s grandsons in what may have been the dumbest business deal. Ever.</p><p>I don&rsquo;t think you have to dislike lentils as much as I do to be puzzled by that factoid, which appears in every historical description of these little legumes: Esau traded his entire birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew.</p><p>Esau and Jacob, you may remember, were the sons of Isaac, and grandsons of Abraham.</p><p>&ldquo;So when Esau comes home from hunting, he&rsquo;s very hungry, and his brother Jacob is making this lentil stew, and he says, &lsquo;Gimme some of that red stuff!&rsquo; &rdquo; explained University of Chicago biblical scholar Jeffrey Stackert, who helped me make sense of this story.</p><p>&ldquo;Jacob sees it as an opportunity. He says, &lsquo;Ok, but trade me your birthright for the stew.&rsquo;&nbsp; And Esau says, &lsquo;Yeah, whatever.&rsquo; And Jacob says, &lsquo;Swear to me.&rsquo; And so he swears,&rdquo; Stackert said.<br /><br />Now either this is the most extraordinary bowl of lentil soup ever served, or this was a business deal of monumental stupidity. Bingo, said Stackert.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lentils%202%20stackert.jpg" style="float: right; height: 225px; width: 300px;" title="University of Chicago biblical scholar Jeffrey Stackert tries out a bowl of lentil soup. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" />Far from being an endorsement of the yumminess of lentils, the real point of the story is to explain how Esau&rsquo;s descendants, the Edomites, became known as simpletons.</p><p>&ldquo;Therefore, his name was called EDOM, which is the same word, with a slightly different vocalization, as &lsquo;the red stuff,&rsquo; which shows up twice earlier in the verse,&rdquo; Stackert said. &ldquo;... It&rsquo;s a folk etymology for the name of the Edomites, and a little play on words.&rdquo;<br /><br />Kind of like: Hey dude, how dumb was Esau, father of the Edomites? So dumb he traded his birthright for a bowl of red lentil soup.<br /><br />But you still have to wonder how good that original bowl of soup really was. How good are lentils, ever?</p><p>Professor Stackert shared my skepticism: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s true, I&rsquo;m not the biggest fan of lentils&hellip; I&rsquo;m a bit of a finicky eater.&rdquo;<br /><br />So I scoured the Chicago restaurant scene for a restaurant that might be able to change our shared opinion about lentils. Pars Cove, a Persian restaurant in Chicago&rsquo;s Lincoln Park neighborhood, has a vocal fan base of Yelpers who rave about the lentil soup. Max Pars, the owner, said lentils are as much a staple ingredient in Iranian cuisine today as they were to the ancient Israelites in biblical times.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s nutritious, it&rsquo;s healthy, it has protein,&rdquo; Pars said. &ldquo;And a lot of people they eat unhealthy food, and this is one of the good things I can do for them.&rdquo;<br /><br />His recipe came from an Iranian friend, and it&rsquo;s been on the menu for most of the 36 years he&rsquo;s been in business.</p><p>&ldquo;Gourmet magazine, several times they were after me, they wanted the recipe for the soup,&rdquo; Pars said.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">But the only thing Max Pars is ever going to divulge about his secret recipe is that he buys the finest ingredients he can find.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;If you have the best one, why should you put makeup on it?&rdquo;</div><p>Then the soup arrived.<br /><br />&ldquo;Oh&hellip;so this is it,&rdquo; I said, as I took a bite.</p><p>&ldquo; It&rsquo;s very good!&rdquo; Stackert said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s better than I&rsquo;ve had in the past.&rdquo;<br /><br />The Yelpers are right. It&rsquo;s light and velvety, delicately laced with cumin, garlic and other fresh vegetables. And the best thing about it is, you don&rsquo;t have to sell your birthright for it. Because at Pars Cove, the lentil soup always comes free with the rest of your dinner.</p><p><em><a href="http://fearoffrying.ninabarrett.com/" target="_blank">Nina Barrett</a> is a James Beard Award-winning food contributor.</em></p></p> Tue, 15 Oct 2013 11:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/lentils-key-role-historically-bad-business-deal-108924 Bloody red fruit plays key role in Greek myth, modern customs http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/bloody-red-fruit-plays-key-role-greek-myth-modern-customs <p><p>Once on a New Year&rsquo;s Eve, I happened to be at Taxim, a Greek restaurant in Wicker Park. At midnight, chef David Schneider came striding out of the kitchen and hurled a pomegranate to the floor, where it exploded like a blood-red bomb.</p><p>&ldquo;The juice and seeds spread everywhere,&rdquo; Schneider said. &ldquo;And I always have someone who&rsquo;s not suspecting it, and they get a little of the juice on them, and I tell them, (chuckles) &lsquo;This is good luck, you&rsquo;ll have a good New Year!&rsquo;&rdquo;<br /><br />Today, most of us know pomegranates for their supposedly powerful antioxidant properties. But if you look back in time, for Greeks as far back as Homer&rsquo;s day, those little ruby juice pouches inside the fruit have had even more powerful properties, Schneider said.</p><p>Persephone was chosen for her beauty by Hades to join her in the Underworld as his wife, and he kidnapped her away. Her mother, Demeter, was the goddess of grain and the harvest. Her grief made the whole Earth grow cold and barren. Mankind was on the verge of starving to death.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7384_Pomegranate%20Story%202012%20%2811%29-lpr.JPG" style="height: 400px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Chef David Schneider of Taxim demonstrates how to get the seeds from a pomegranate without creating a bloody mess. (WBEZ/Nina Barrett)" />But then Zeus, who saw that he was about to lose his entire human constituency, gave in and ordered Hades to give Persephone back.</div><p>&ldquo;But he enticed her to eat a little pomegranate prior to her departure from Hades,&rdquo; Schneider said.<br /><br />Zeus said if Persephone had eaten anything while in the Underworld, she&rsquo;d have to stay down there as the wife of Hades forever. But since in this case it had only been a few seeds of the pomegranate, she would only have to go back a few months of every year.</p><p>Since then, every time she goes back for another Date from Hell, her mother gets a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder and makes the earth go barren, which we call: winter.</p><p>To this day, Schneider said, the pomegranate continues to play all kinds of symbolic roles for Greeks.</p><p>&ldquo;Modern customs will have the idea of good luck and prosperity with the seeds &mdash; there&rsquo;s supposedly 365 seeds in the pomegranate, plus or minus a few,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;Have you ever counted?&rdquo; I asked.</p><p>&ldquo;No,&rdquo; Schneider said with a chuckle. &ldquo;Could be, could not&hellip;&rdquo;<br /><br />Another custom involves a memorial food that&rsquo;s shared in honor of the dead.<br /><br />&ldquo;This is something we did for my father,&rdquo; Schneider said. &ldquo;When we had his memorial, we made koliva. We boil the wheat, we mix it with cinnamon, nuts, and raisins, and cover it with pomegranate seeds. And you cover it with sugar, and it&rsquo;s something you offer to his memory at the cemetery.&rdquo;<br /><br />While getting the seeds out of a pomegranate can be intimidating, Schneider was just as comfortable with a pomegranate as he would be with a peach.</p><p>First, he filled a bowl with water. Then he scored the skin of the fruit with a sharp knife from tip to tip and plunged it into the bowl of water. The cuts made it easy to break the fruit apart with his hands. He gently pulled out the seeds, which look like cranberry-colored corn kernels, with his fingers. The bits of membrane that had come loose with the seeds floated to the top of the water, and Schneider scooped those out with ease and discarded them.</p><p>And there was no bloody mess.</p><p>&ldquo;Can we taste one?&rdquo; I asked. We each tried some of jewel-like seeds.<br />&ldquo;That&rsquo;s the seed crunching,&rdquo; Schneider said.<br />&ldquo;They&rsquo;re delicious!&rdquo; I replied.<br /><br />By the way, Schneider actually counted for me, and it looks like the Greeks might be taking a teeny bit of poetic license with that idea about the 365 seeds.<br /><br />Schneider stopped counting at 365, and he had half of a pomegranate left. There were two years of seeds in there.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br />And for the record, of course I didn&rsquo;t end up staying at Taxim for a whole season after I ate the seeds. Though I have to say, when Schneider started telling me about his duck gyros with pomegranate sauce, I was pretty darn tempted.</p><p><em><a href="http://fearoffrying.ninabarrett.com/" target="_blank">Nina Barrett</a> is a WBEZ food contributor. </em><em>Jian Chung Lee produced this story.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Oct 2013 12:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/bloody-red-fruit-plays-key-role-greek-myth-modern-customs Grrls' Meat Camp teaches women fine art and craft of butchering http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/grrls-meat-camp-teaches-women-fine-art-and-craft-butchering <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Kate%20Hill%20%28L%29%2C%20Erika%20Nakamura%20%28Center%29%20and%20Kari%20Underly%20%28R%29%20size%20up%20the%20hog..JPG" title="Kate Hill, Erika Nakamura and Kari Underly size up the hog. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F65723579&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>You might remember making lanyards and mosaic trivets at camp, but at Grrls&rsquo; Meat Camp in northwest suburban Volo, Ill., the Saturday morning activity was Whole Carcass Utilization.</p><div><br />The carcass in question was a 205-pound hog who began the morning stretched out on its back on a picnic table. It had already been emptied of guts, so the first order of business was to saw off its legs, as well as its most distinctively piggy part.<br /><br />&ldquo;What are we gonna do with the head?&rdquo; asked Chicago butcher Kari Underly. &ldquo;Does anybody have some things they want to do with the head? I know you mentioned some head bacon?&rdquo;<br /><br />It&rsquo;s not often that women who work with meat get to, well, meet up. Female butchers are few and far between. And if you want to become one, you have to carve out your own opportunities.<br /><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Pig%20head%2C%20with%20butchers..JPG" style="float: left; width: 385px; margin: 5px; height: 288px; " title="(Photo by Nina Barrett)" />That&rsquo;s why 16 far-flung women packed up their knives, their cleavers, their sausage casings, and a number of lovingly cured prosciuttos and salamis for Meat Camp.<br /><br />For most of the morning, the severed pig&rsquo;s head continued to sit on the picnic table, appearing to watch the campers as they went about turning the rest of the carcass into products you might feel more a little more enthusiastic about finding in your local market.<br /><br />Kate Hill stood at another picnic table literally up to her elbows in pork that had already been put through the meat grinder, and asked someone, &ldquo;Could you pull up my sleeve?&rdquo;<br /><br />She was gently squishing it up the way you do when you make meatloaf, except she was making paté. Hill teaches charcuterie at her house in the south of France, including visits to local farms to see how the meat she works with was raised. &nbsp;<br /><br />Meat Camp was her idea: &ldquo;To get together, to share experiences and learn, and you can see there&rsquo;s a spirit of sharing and showing and telling what you do and how you do it, and that&rsquo;s the premise of it,&rdquo; Hill said. &ldquo;I wanted to keep it fun and light, and that&rsquo;s why I called it Grrrls Meat Camp, instead of something serious, like A Conference about Women and Meat.&rdquo;<br /><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Kate%20Hill%20makes%20pate.JPG" style="height: 375px; width: 280px; margin: 5px; float: left; " title="Kate Hill makes pate. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" />It IS fun and light. But it&rsquo;s also a unique educational opportunity if you happen to enjoy poking around inside a dead animal with a knife. Over at another picnic table, Chicago butcher Kari Underly helped one camper identify and remove the pig&rsquo;s eye of round.<br /><br /><strong>UNDERLY:</strong>&nbsp;So we&rsquo;re gonna grab the knife, and it&rsquo;s gonna start here, so let&rsquo;s release right there.&nbsp;So what are you feeling right now when you&rsquo;re doing this?</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>CAMPER:</strong> It&rsquo;s like, yeah, you can tell where it wants to release a little bit, and that&rsquo;s normal?</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>UNDERLY:</strong> It&rsquo;s okay today</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>(THEY BOTH LAUGH)<br /><br />Underly, who helped organize Meat Camp, is something of a rockstar among American butchers. She&rsquo;s most famous in meat circles for winning an online video contest called &ldquo;Who&rsquo;s Your Butcher?&rdquo; and for her recent James Beard Award-nominated book, The Art of Beef Cutting.<br /><br />Both her grandfather and father were butchers who practiced an artisanal craft that&rsquo;s been nearly wiped out by the industrialization of meat. Her father&rsquo;s shop got put out of business by competition from big-box retailers.<br /><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div>&ldquo;I saw what it was like when my dad came home from work after hanging beef changed to box beef and how it changed something within his soul,&rdquo; Underly said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s like, I wanna bring THAT back to the community. At the core of my heart is training and education, and I have a dream, and I&rsquo;m working on a business plan opening up a school to bring the trade back &hellip; teach them the economics, teach them what to do with the fat, with the jowls, so we&#39;re not going to waste, and they can go back in other environments and build businesses.&quot;<br /><br />There were other lessons these women were learning from that hog carcass, as it went piece by piece into sausage casings and the smoker and the paté molds.<br /><br />For Lilly Baker, who used to work on a goat farm before moving to Chicago, breaking down the pig was one more step in the evolution of her thinking about meat-eating.<br /><br />&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been vegetarian in the past,&rdquo; Baker said. &ldquo;And after being around domestic animals, and participating in the slaughter, and now the breakdown, and seeing how that animal really turns into a finished food product, I definitely have a lot more respect for that myself. And I&rsquo;m more comfortable eating meat that I know has been respected at all points in the process, from when it was born to when it ended up on my table, and maybe less comfortable eating meat that wasn&rsquo;t treated in that manner.&rdquo;<br /><br />And for Rachel Miller, the sous-chef at a super-hip restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., called Bondir, the lesson was about something else. She relished the all-chick vibe.<br /><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Meat%20Camp%20charcuterie%20board.JPG" style="float: right; height: 300px; width: 400px; " title="" /></div><strong>&quot;</strong>I love it,&quot; Miller said. &quot;It&rsquo;s a lot more comfortable. I hate to end up sounding sexist on the other end of it, but, it IS a man&rsquo;s world, in the butchering and the cooking. It&rsquo;s been hard enough findin&rsquo; short-order cooking jobs as a girl. That&rsquo;s what I really love about the energy here, is that it&rsquo;s not domineering, it&rsquo;s not a pissing contest, which gets really old.&quot;<br /><br />What Miller was learning at Meat Camp had everything to do with the sustainability of the butcher &mdash;especially the female butcher.<br /><br />&ldquo;Butchering is not about being strong, about carrying 150 pounds,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s about being smart. It&rsquo;s about knowing where to cut to save yourself the energy. And if you put your knife in the right spot, you can yield the same amount of meat, you can make the same amount of money as any big burly dude.&quot;</div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 01 Nov 2012 13:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares/grrls-meat-camp-teaches-women-fine-art-and-craft-butchering Braving the stinkiest of the cheeses http://www.wbez.org/frying/braving-stinkiest-cheeses-100758 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6007_Limburger Cheese 066-scr_0.JPG" style="height: 450px; width: 600px; margin: 5px;" title="At Baumgartner's, Limburger sandwiches come with a free side of jokes. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" /></div><p style="text-align: left;">A few years ago on a trip to Germany, my husband convinced me to get on a train to the town of Limburg and look for people to talk to about Limburger cheese. Limburger has always been the most hilarious of the cheeses, stinky enough to knock down comedians like Abbott and Costello with a single whiff.</p></div></div></div></div></div></div></div></div><p>But the thing about Limburger, said my husband, who lived in Germany for 20 years and knows a lot of stuff like this, is that it doesn&rsquo;t <em>have</em> to smell and taste like sweaty gym socks. &ldquo;In Germany,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;they sell it freshly made when it&rsquo;s mild and delicious, almost like brie! You could go talk to some farmers or cheese-mongers and do a story on, like, the Lighter Side of Limburger!&rdquo;</p><p>And so I jumped on a train and spent an hour wandering the quaint streets of Limburg, with all my recording equipment at the ready. But something seemed seriously amiss. There were pastry shops and grocers, dress shops, china shops, candle shops, even a French chocolate shop &mdash; but no sign, anywhere, of cheese.</p><p>How could this be, I wondered? Surely no matter how bad it smells, how off-putting it might be to tourists from less cheese-friendly countries, they couldn&rsquo;t be hiding all the Limburger cheese in Limburg!</p><p>Finally I stopped into a boutique whisky shop and asked the owner why I couldn&rsquo;t find so much as a lump of Limburger cheese in Limburg:</p><p>&quot;Because Limburger cheese is not a product from Germany, it&rsquo;s a product from the Netherlands,&quot; the shop owner said. &quot;A lot of people come here, to Limburg in Germany, and want to try some Limburg cheese, and I always have to talk to them. Limburger cheese you only find in the Netherlands, in Limburg&mdash;in the other city.&quot;</p><p>So, having been <em>an entire country</em> off-base, some people might have given up.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6008_Limburger Cheese 068-scr.JPG" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Baumgartner's classic Limburger sandwich with slices of Braunschweiger sausage and the complimentary breath-cleansing mint. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" />But when I spotted a magazine article recently saying that the only town in America where Limburger cheese is produced is just over the Illinois-Wisconsin border, I was SO right there.</div></div></div></div><p>Limburger cheese sandwiches are one of the signature menu items at <a href="https://baumgartnercheese.com/">Baumgartner&#39;s Cheese Store and Tavern</a> in Monroe, Wisc. John Rosa has been serving them up for 10 years and personally, he loves the stuff. But he doesn&rsquo;t try to pretty it up for the customers.</p><p>&quot;My guess is that some cheese maker way back just scratched his feet in the middle of the day and got his hands in the vat, and a few months later, the rest is history,&quot; Rosa said, adding, &quot;I always like to tell people that after they have a free sample in their mouth&mdash;while they&rsquo;re eating it.&quot;</p><p>Baumgartner&rsquo;s makes the same Limburger sandwich that was served by the millions to America&rsquo;s workingmen a century ago at the peak of its popularity. That&rsquo;s runny, room temperature Limburger on rye with slices of Bermuda onion. It comes with a choice of brown horseradish mustard or sweet-hot honey mustard, and a breath-cleansing complimentary mint &mdash; not, Rosa mutters as I start to chew, that it&rsquo;s going to do me any good.</p><p>&quot;Oo, that&rsquo;s a bad face,&quot; Rosa said. &quot;And that was the mustard side or the sweet-hot side? Well, maybe you&rsquo;ll like the other side better.&quot;</p><p>&quot;It&rsquo;s almost not a taste,&quot; I told him. &quot;It&rsquo;s just this mouthful of, like, pungent gas!&quot;</p><p>This is definitely NOT the Lighter Side of Limburger &mdash; unless you count all the Limburger jokes that come free with the sandwich.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6003_Limburger%20Cheese%20023-scr.JPG" style="margin: 5px; height: 225px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Myron Olson, Master certified Limburger-maker, puts the stink on the Limburger in the curing cellar. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" />But if you&rsquo;re willing to get up at 4 in the morning, when cheese making starts at the <a href="http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/wisconsin/artisans/Results.aspx?artisan=16">Chalet Cheese Co-op</a> just outside town, you can get an earful &mdash; and a noseful &mdash; from America&rsquo;s only certified master Limburger-maker himself: Meet Myron Olson, Wisconsin Master Cheese Maker in Brick, Baby Swiss and Limburger.</div></div></div><p>Olson can show you everything you ever wanted to know about the process: from mixing the rennet into 2,000-gallon vats of milk, to pumping the curds into molds, to the real heart of the action.</p><p>You can hear the dripping sound in the background as he takes me into what he calls &quot;Our Limburger Curing Cellar. It&rsquo;s basically where we put the stink on the Limburger.&quot;</p><p>I yell out, &quot;OH MY GOODNESS!&quot; and take another deep breath.</p><p>&quot;It does have an odor!&quot; Olson said.</p><p>&quot;You can smell the Limburger in here!&quot; I tell him.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6001_Limburger%20Cheese%20004-scr.JPG" style="float: right; height: 266px; width: 200px; margin: 5px;" title="Mixing the rennet into a 2,000-gallon vat of fresh, whole milk. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" />&quot;When it&rsquo;s first made it&rsquo;s a bright white,&quot; Olson said. &quot;And what we do in here is, we inoculate them with a bacteria smear-water, the bacteria is a <em>B. linens</em> that grows on the surface.&quot;</div></div><p>Incidentally, the bacteria that puts the stink on the Limburger literally IS the same bacteria that causes human body odor and sweaty gym socks. Ironically, it&rsquo;s not the actual stink but the stigma that handicaps Limburger sales these days.</p><p>&quot;People, when they hear of Limburger, they kind of,&nbsp; &#39;Nah, that&rsquo;s ok, I&rsquo;ve heard all the stories about it, I&rsquo;m not gonna try it.&#39; But if I took my Limburger and put a label on it that said &#39;St. Michael&rsquo;s Reserve,&#39; people would say, &#39;Oh, that sounds different, it&rsquo;s cave-cured, washed-rind, that sounds good, lemme try it. It stinks, but boy, it tastes good,&#39; &quot; Olson said.</p><p>&quot;So have you ever considered doing that?&quot; I asked.</p><p>&quot;You know, I did actually at one time, I thought about it,&quot; Olson said. &quot;But I don&rsquo;t have the big marketing that occurs ... for me, it was kind of like: Limburger is what we do, we&rsquo;ve been doing it a hundred years, we&rsquo;re gonna stay on Limburger.&quot;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Limburger Cheese 011.JPG" style="height: 150px; width: 200px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="Cheese makers Jaimie Castellanos and Ron Boeck. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" /></div>So Olson did something else clever with his label: He added a guide for using the sell-by date to find your own Limburger comfort level. If you can&rsquo;t handle what he calls &ldquo;Die-hard&rdquo; &mdash; the runny, full-strength way they serve it over at Baumgartner&rsquo;s &mdash; try stage one, when the cheese is only a few weeks old and actually has a very mild, yeasty smell and taste.&nbsp; That&rsquo;s what Olson calls &ldquo;Beginner Limburger.&rdquo; At stage two, when it&rsquo;s about two months old, it&rsquo;s just beginning to stink.</div><p>&quot;Now I might wanna have you try a little strawberry jam with that,&quot; Olson said. &quot;There you go.&quot;</p><div class="image-insert-image ">&quot;That&rsquo;s REALLY good! That&rsquo;s shocking! But the sweet and the salty&hellip;&quot; I said.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&quot;And that earthy tone...&quot; Olson said.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6004_Limburger Cheese 034-scr.JPG" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Unwrapping a block of Die-hard, Stage Three Limburger. (Photo by Nina Barrett)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&quot;That&rsquo;s really, really good!&quot;</div></div><p>So it turns out that if you want to discover the Lighter Side of Limburger, you don&rsquo;t have to go off on some wild goose chase to Germany &mdash; oh, excuse me, The Netherlands.&nbsp; Just read the label and dab on a little strawberry jam.</p><p>And if you&rsquo;re feeling brave, go ahead and try it Die-hard. I mean, what&rsquo;s the worst that can happen?</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 11 Jul 2012 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/frying/braving-stinkiest-cheeses-100758 Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares-Baking the Perfect Pie http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-02/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-baking-perfect-pie-87320 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//segment/photo/2011-June/2011-06-02/Gand has a collection of enchanted rolling pins..JPG" alt="" /><p><p>In the series <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frying"><em>Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares</em></a>, food reporter Nina Barrett has done her part to tame some of the tasks that can make entering the kitchen so unnerving. She’s tackled knife sharpening, party throwing and egg boiling. For this installment, Barrett wraps up the series the way you might end a meal: with a slice of pie.<br> <br> Once upon a time, there were three disobedient little pie crusts. Even as lumps of dough, they had behaved badly. This was odd since they had all come from a recipe in the otherwise reliable <em>Joy of Cooking</em>, with only the shortenings varied for experimental purposes.&nbsp; One was too moist and needed to be scraped up off the counter with a spatula. One was too dry and kept needing to be patched together where it fell apart. The third one might have been JUST RIGHT, but since it seems pretty clear that some Evil Pie Crust Fairy stood over my cradle years ago and placed a Pie Crust Curse on me, this one, too, looked a little half-baked.</p><p>Now, I had heard that somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago lived the Fairy Godmother of All Pastry. So I packed up the three disobedient pie crusts and drove and drove through the River Wood Forest Lake Glens of Chicagoland until I came to her cottage, nestled deep in the woods.</p><p>The Fairy Godmother beckoned me into her kitchen and introduced herself.</p><p>“My name is <a href="http://www.trurestaurant.com/team/gale-gand/57">Gale Gand</a>,” she said. “I’m the executive pastry chef and partner at <a href="http://www.trurestaurant.com/">Tru</a> in Chicago, fancy-pants fine dining and Michelin star restaurant. And I’m also an author and a television personality, and I also have three kids so I’m a mom and wife. And a massive pie-baker.”</p><p>She pulled out a lump of dough she had made that morning, which had been chilling in her fridge. It contained half-butter and half-Crisco for shortening, plus the secret magic ingredient she learned about from her mother—who was, incidentally, the daughter of a chemist.</p><p>“And her secret to having a flaky pie crust,” she said, “is that she used a little bit of vinegar in her liquid. And vinegar is an acid, so it inhibits protein from developing into gluten, which is sort of what the enemy is in pie crust. That protein in wheat, if you agitate it, if you work it, if you warm it, turns to rubber, turns to gluten, which is good for bread and bad for pie. So you’re trying to inhibit those proteins from what they want to do naturally, which is get elastic.”</p><p>Her dough behaved perfectly as she rolled, staying supple and circular without sticking or cracking. Quick as a flash, she peeled six apples with a vegetable peeler and sliced them into chunks with a sharp knife. They happened to be Granny Smiths, but she told me that “my <em>real </em>favorite, and I feel like whispering this, because I judge a lot of pie contests, and I don’t want to give away every secret. But what I think makes the BEST apple, the very very best apple for an apple pie, are Honeycrisps. They’re fantastic! They’re expensive, so buy em on sale. But a lot of my summer apple pies and fall apple pies are made with Honeycrisps, and they’re terrific.”</p><p>She put cornstarch in the filling, along with brown sugar, salt, some spices, and the same <a href="http://www.nielsenmassey.com/">Nielsen-Massey vanilla</a> she uses in her signature root beer line. Then she dotted the mound of apples with chunks of butter, which she said would melt into the filling and give it the same velvety decadence as a fine French sauce. When she draped the top crust over the apples and crimped the edges into waves with her fingers, the pie looked just like the kind of granny cap the wolf is wearing when Little Red Riding Hood gets to her grandmother’s cottage.&nbsp; Then she spread heavy cream all over the top and sprinkled it with sugar.</p><p>“That part you can leave off,” she said. “That’s like the pastry chef in me that you know, wants a little more sparkle on the outside, wants a little more richness just when there might’ve not been enough butterfat. Let’s just add a LITTLE more.”</p><p>When her pie went into the oven for an hour, I brought the three disobedient pie crusts in for her to examine. The one where I had used half-butter and half Crisco was way too crumbly, like shortbread, she said. And the one where I had used half-butter and half virgin coconut oil was too greasy, she said—though the coconut flavor was great. But it turned out that the third one, where I’d used the secret ingredient our grandmothers used to swear by, was pretty magical after all.</p><p>“Thath a nith flake,” she said with her mouth full. “See the difference? That’s a nice flake.”</p><p>“You can see it when you break it,” I agreed.</p><p>“Yeah, it breaks differently,” she said. “See how it’s shearing in layers, kind of like mica? Versus the first one that sort of broke like a rock breaking in half.”</p><p>“I really like this one,” I said affectionately.</p><p>“I do too! We might have to switch,” she said. “That might be the lesson for today.”</p><p>“Lard?”</p><p>“LARD!”</p><p>Then her six-year-old twins, Ruby and Ella, got home from kindergarten just as Gale’s pie came out of the oven: magnificent, fragrant, and golden-brown, like the Princess of All Pies. But it was still too hot to eat, so Ruby began to nibble on the three disobedient little pie crusts.</p><p>“Good,” Ruby said, about the first one.</p><p>“Okay try the next one,” her mother said.</p><p>Ruby tried the second one. “Gooder,” she announced.</p><p>It didn’t seem to bother her that they hadn’t behaved the way they should have.</p><p>“This one and this one together, is even gooder,” she decided.</p><p>So maybe a pie doesn’t have to be perfect to live happily ever after. It just needs to be good enough to make people happy, when they come home.</p></p> Thu, 02 Jun 2011 14:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-02/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-baking-perfect-pie-87320 Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares-Throwing the perfect dinner party http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-26/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-throwing-perfect-dinner-party-87066 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//segment/photo/2011-May/2011-05-26/230.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Entertaining friends and family for a big shingig can often turn into a nightmare. So in the latest installment of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frying" target="_blank"><em>Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares</em></a>, Nina Barrett takes on the dreaded dinner party.</p><p>Whenever I even TRY to think about the housewarming party I still haven’t given 10 months after moving into my new house, I develop a crippling case of Party Panic. In case you’ve never had it before, here’s what Party Panic sounds like:</p><p>VOICE OF MARTHA STEWART: It’s my annual <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-66evipC1Q">Peony Party</a>, and there’s always a LOT to do. From setting the table and making the flower arrangements, to preparing a three-course meal and hors d’oeuvres for all my guests.</p><p>No, that’s NOT the voice of Martha Stewart telling you what a beautiful party you can throw. That’s Martha telling you what a beautiful party SHE can throw, with the help of her five-star chef, her recipe developer, and the head of her Styling Department. At <em>your </em>party, where the napkins haven’t been stenciled to match the tablecloths, your 70 guests are going to be walking around clutching plastic glasses of box wine and nibbling on Chex mix. Unless someone performs a little Party Panic intervention.</p><p>That’s why I turned to Rita Gutekanst. She’s the co-owner of <a href="http://www.limelightcatering.com/">Limelight</a>, a high-end catering company in Lincoln Park, which means party panic is her business model. It doesn’t faze her, and neither does Martha. In fact, she told me, when she moved into her own house 18 years ago, the first big party she threw was a Martha Stewart Tribute Party—on Martha Stewart’s birthday.</p><p>“For me, Martha is those little extra details,” Rita says. “We froze pansies in ice cube trays to make those ice cubes that she makes. So that when you put the ice cubes in your tall highball glass and pour sparkling water and maybe rhubarb syrup in there, you see the beautiful colors of the purple pansies, the orange pansies, the yellow pansies. And it’s just summery, and then you put a cute little straw in there, and it’s adorable, it’s just adorable!”</p><p>But my party, she assures me, doesn’t have to be adorable. I could go sophisticated, but still casual, I could go <em>Rustic Italian Farmhouse!</em>&nbsp; I could serve Prosecco and bruschetta and put a big feasting table in the back yard!</p><p>“And all you need down the center of it,” Rita adds, “you could do mason jars of pickled vegetables, and mason jars of little cut flowers, or just-picked flowers. It’ll be real pretty, and really simple. RUSSSS-TIC!”</p><p>“I can get out my distressed tablecloths for this,” I suggest.</p><p>“Yes you can,” Rita affirms. “Absolutely!”</p><p>“My distressed, un-ironed tablecloths,” I say, hopefully.</p><p>At this, Rita balks. “Alright, we might iron them.”</p><p>Noticing that I’m still not quite on message as far as the importance of sensory details, Rita takes me into Limelight’s kitchen for a little more convincing. The staff is preparing a tasting for a late-summer wedding, and the bride is expected any moment to start making her menu choices. Visually, it’s like stepping into an artist’s workshop, where all the little still-lifes make you want to gobble them up.</p><p>The centerpiece on one big white plate is a bunch of bright green, blanched string beans standing up straight on their ends and tied together with a ribbon made of leek.&nbsp; The shrimp cocktail is served in a tiny cucumber cup, and sake cups of clam chowder, which she calls “shooters,” are lined up photogenically on a wooden plank.</p><p>“It’s very rustic,” I observe. Could we borrow that plank?”</p><p>“Un-hunh,” says Rita. “Actually, one of my waiters is making me these trays. He says the wood take a year to cure and he’s been working on them for about a year now, and he said they should be ready any time now.”</p><p>A lot of this is vintage Limelight style, but Rita says they always try to personalize the details to express something unique about the client’s style and tastes. In this case, she notices a certain theme emerging from the menu, and calls over to Elias Hildebrand, who’s in charge of the account.</p><p>“Lavender crème brulee, lavender mousse…what’s with all the lavender? Hey Elias, what’s with all the lavender?”</p><p>“She’s obsessed with lavender,” Elias answers.</p><p>“The bride is?”</p><p>“The bride,” Elias confirms<em>. “Obsessed</em>.”</p><p>Elias has not only worked lavender into the desserts, but into a lavender-pepper crusted ahi tuna hors d’oeuvre, a lavender-lemon martini, and champagne glasses rimmed with a lavender sugar that sparkles like aromatic ice. He’s even soaked the warm towels that will be offered before the meal with lavender-scented water.</p><p>“So am I going to get truffled towels?” I wonder.</p><p>“No, probably not,” Rita says. &nbsp;“I’m not sure if you want a truffle aroma. Well, YOU might.”</p><p>Okay, maybe not truffled towels. But I can definitely see now how a Rustic Italian Farmhouse party with Martha flourishes could be a lot of fun. The question is: is this a party I can pull off?</p><p>So a few days later, I took a deep breath and tried get in touch with my Inner Martha. Rita’s parting gift to me was the instructions for the <a href="http://www.marthastewart.com/348299/floral-ice-cubes">pansy ice cubes</a> and I followed them to the letter. It took hours, and even though I boiled distilled water to eliminate the impurities, the ice cubes were actually cloudier than the ones my refrigerator door spits out on its own. What would Martha do in my position, I asked myself, and I think I know: put those ice cubes in a glass, pour in some gin and some tonic, and then, call the caterer.</p><p><em>MUSIC BUTTON: Pink, “Get The Party Started”, from the CD Greatest Hits So Far, (La Face)</em></p></p> Thu, 26 May 2011 13:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-26/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-throwing-perfect-dinner-party-87066 Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares-getting schmaltzy http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-12/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-getting-schmaltzy-86448 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//segment/photo/2011-May/2011-05-12/207.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>When someone says, &quot;Oh, that&rsquo;s too schmaltzy for me,&quot; they&rsquo;re probably referring to something overly sentimental. That&rsquo;s what the word has come to mean. But schmaltz is a Yiddish word for chicken fat.<br /><br />Schmaltz is also one of Nina Barrett&rsquo;s kitchen phobias. She&rsquo;s working through a number of them in our series <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frying" target="_blank"><em>Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares</em></a>. In the latest episode Nina explores the roots of schmaltz, and her own culinary tree.</p><p>Ina Pinkney, proprietor of <a href="http://breakfastqueen.com/" target="_blank">Ina&rsquo;s</a> restaurant, <em>knows</em> from chicken fat. She knows where to get it, and more to the point, she knows <em>how</em> to get it.</p><p>&ldquo;I have five pounds here,&rdquo; Ina tells me in the kitchen of her Chicago apartment. &ldquo;I called the butcher and I said, &lsquo;I need chicken fat, so when you are butchering the chickens you have in the case&mdash;the thighs, the legs, the wings&mdash;could you please save me the chicken fat that you cut away?&rsquo; And he said, &lsquo;You bet.&rsquo; Sometimes they charge you a minimal amount, sometimes they don&rsquo;t charge you anything. Depends on how much you flirt with the butcher.&rdquo;</p><p>This is the kind of lesson you are supposed to learn from your Jewish grandmother. You certainly can&rsquo;t get it from a recipe. Modern Jewish cookbooks have renounced chicken fat with a vengeance, substituting heart-healthy vegetable oils. But if schmaltz, as it&rsquo;s called in Yiddish, was what put the heart attack in Bubby&rsquo;s cooking, it&rsquo;s also what gave it the heart.&nbsp; It&rsquo;s what added the flavor of an old, lost world that makes Jews of a certain age grow misty with nostalgia.</p><p>Ina learned schmaltz the right way, growing up in a kosher-keeping family in Brooklyn. But my Brooklyn grandmother died when I was four, and we moved from Manhattan to Connecticut, a state that would outlaw fat completely if it could. It&rsquo;s pure faith in my genetic heritage and the wistful recollections of my Jewish elders that steels my nerves as I regard the golden globs of chicken cellulite that glisten in the track lighting of Ina&rsquo;s kitchen.</p><p>&ldquo;Okay, see the pieces are all cut about the same size,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;and we&rsquo;re going to put them in the pan. This is a braising pan, but any big pan would do, and I have water right here. I&rsquo;m just going to cover it. We want it to be able to steam and melt.&rdquo;</p><p>Ina&rsquo;s crash course in chicken fat involves several segments. First, she&rsquo;s showing me how to render it, by melting the scraps she got from the butcher.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to cover it and turn it on medium,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>She says we can&rsquo;t even peek at it for 15 minutes because the steam has to build up in the pan. So in the meantime, we&rsquo;re doing a little experiment. I&rsquo;ve brought along a batch of matzo balls made according to my ancestral recipe, which is the directions on the box of Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix. It calls for two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Ina&rsquo;s made a batch using two tablespoons of schmaltz. We&rsquo;re cooking both batches in the chicken soup I made from scratch last night.</p><p>&ldquo;Now, I&rsquo;m going to use this particular ladle that came from Julia Child&rsquo;s kitchen,&rdquo; Ina announces. &ldquo;This is the first time I have ever used it. It was nice to get a package one day in the mail, when they were disassembling her kitchen to send to the Smithsonian, and her assistant said: Julia wanted you to have these, and sent me three pieces of utensils.&rdquo;</p><p>Julia, she says, would have approved of what we&rsquo;re doing. Of course, Ina <em>knew</em> Julia&mdash;Ina knows everyone, fyi&mdash;and with her blessing invoked, I start to feel that we have the power to conjure something magical from our simmering pots.</p><p>Perhaps because they&rsquo;ve both absorbed the chicken flavor of the soup, the difference between the package matzo balls and the schmaltz-enhanced matzo balls isn&rsquo;t really that pronounced.</p><p>&ldquo;Tastes like a matzo ball,&rdquo; Ina says.</p><p>In fact, pure unflavored chicken fat has a neutral quality that made it the staple shortening of many immigrant families&mdash;even for baking. To prove it, Ina produces a surprise.</p><p>&ldquo;I made chocolate chunk cookies for you this morning,&rdquo; Ina says, bringing out a platter.&nbsp; &ldquo;Instead of a stick of butter, I used four ounces of the clarified chicken fat.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re kidding!&rdquo; I say. &ldquo;I thought you were kidding!&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;No, I&rsquo;m not kidding.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;You made cookies with <em>chicken fat</em>.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I did. Oil is oil. Shortening is shortening.&rdquo;</p><p>Well, I don&rsquo;t know what Ina&rsquo;s normal chocolate chunk cookies are like but Ina&rsquo;s Chicken Fat Chocolate Chunk Cookies are<em> to die for</em>. They&rsquo;re moist, melt-in-your-mouth mounds of chewy cookie packed with rich Blommer&rsquo;s chocolate chunks, and they don&rsquo;t taste chickeny at all.</p><p>But if all chicken fat does is disappear into whatever you cook with it, I still don&rsquo;t get its hold on the Jewish imagination. That is, until Ina pulls the lid off the pan where the fat has been rendering, releasing a steamy cloud of pure aroma.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Look how beautiful!&rdquo; Ina says.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh! Mmmm!&rdquo; I say. &ldquo;And it smells&mdash;<em>it smells like New York</em>!&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s a very good way to put it, it <em>does</em> smell like New York!&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;You know,&rdquo; I say, &ldquo;there&rsquo;s this indefinable smell that you smell in New York when you walk down the street &hellip;and I&rsquo;ve never known exactly what it was&mdash;but this smells just like New York!&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s the Lost World of my childhood coming back in a rush: the land of a thousand delis, a big collective kitchen of America&rsquo;s immigrants, the literal melting pot in which, all of a sudden, I&rsquo;m guessing an awful lot of chicken fat was being rendered into molten gold. It&rsquo;s a sense that&rsquo;s confirmed when Ina hands me one more dish to taste: Onions sautéed in schmaltz and then folded into mashed potatoes. It&rsquo;s the inside of every knish my father ever bought me on the Staten Island Ferry.</p><p>By the time Ina hands me a jar of Artisanal Chicken Fat to take home along with some Chicken Fat Chocolate Chunk cookies, I&rsquo;m imagining a whole new business venture.</p><p>&ldquo;But maybe you could rehabilitate it,&rdquo; I suggest.&rdquo; You know, the way now we have Bacon Fest?&rdquo;</p><p>Ina is skeptical. &ldquo;Chicken Fat Fest doesn&rsquo;t have a ring to it,&rdquo; she says.&rdquo; You know, and they&rsquo;re making bacon cologne now? I don&rsquo;t think chicken fat cologne would attract anybody.&rdquo;</p><p>Cologne, maybe not so much. But I used Ina&rsquo;s Artisanal Scmaltz to make home-made knishes, and I&rsquo;m gonna tell you: it&rsquo;s memory, in a jar.</p><p>For WBEZ, I&rsquo;m Nina Barrett.</p><p><strong>Instructions for Ina&rsquo;s Chicken Fat Chocolate Chunk Cookies</strong></p><p>Ina says she just followed the <a href="http://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/18476/Original-NESTL%C3%89-TOLL-HOUSE-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies/detail.aspx" target="_blank">Toll House Cookie recipe</a>, substituting chicken fat for the butter. But she made a few other significant alterations. She also substituted <a href="http://www.blommer.com/signature.html" target="_blank">Blommer&rsquo;s chocolate</a> for the Nestle&rsquo;s chocolate chips&mdash;and the quality of the chocolate was sublime! As someone whose chocolate chip cookies are always flat as pancakes, I was impressed by the way hers were nice, hefty mounds. She told me the secret for that was refrigerating the dough&mdash;preferably overnight, but she&rsquo;d only had time to refrigerate them for a few hours and that seemed to do the trick. Also, she scooped the dough with an ice-cream scoop, which sizes them generously and uniformly&mdash;important to ensure that they also bake uniformly. Good luck, and if you give it a try, leave a post to let us know how it turns out!</p><p><strong>Instructions for Rendering Chicken Fat</strong></p><p>One of my main questions when I started working on this story was: Where does chicken fat come from? Obviously, it came from chickens; we&rsquo;ve all seen that big blob on the south end of a whole chicken and we&rsquo;ve scraped the fatty edgings off chicken parts. But how would you cook with that? Or, I wondered, were you supposed to save the drippings that come off a roasted chicken, or rise to the surface on a pot of chicken soup? Ina&rsquo;s pronouncement on that was that, while you could use the drippings or the skimmings, they would also contain whatever flavorings&mdash;herbs, spices, and other ingredients&mdash;with which you&rsquo;d prepared the dish, and which might not be desirable in whatever dish you&rsquo;re go on to make (for instance, herbs and garlic in your Chicken Fat Chocolate Chunk Cookies).</p><p>So her advice, as noted in the piece, begins with:</p><p>1. Flirt with your butcher. Butchers trim tons of chicken fat off the parts they package for sale, and they&rsquo;ll be happy to save it and sell it to you cheap. For the story, she started with five pounds, which for most of us would probably be a lifetime supply. It does keep nicely in the fridge, but a pound or two would probably be sufficient for most culinary projects.</p><p>2. Rinse the fat and put it in a large, heavy pan, just barely cover it with water, and then seal with a tight-fitting lid. Turn the flame on medium and DON&rsquo;T PEEK for the first 15 minutes. This is when the fat is melting down, and Ina says it&rsquo;s important to let a big head of steam build up inside the pot to do the job.</p><p>3. After 15 minutes, remove the lid and be sure to inhale deeply as the cloud of steam gushes from the pan. This is that incredible New York smell that we talk about in the piece.</p><p>4. Let it simmer for another 45 minutes, or so, till all the water boils off and you&rsquo;re left with a big pool of pure, golden fat. (By now you and your entire house will smell delightfully like the Lower East Side.)</p><p>5. When the fat has cooled, pour it through a sieve to strain out all the bits and pieces. Depending on what you started with, you may have whole chunks of cartilage&mdash;which aren&rsquo;t the same as cracklings (confit skin) and won&rsquo;t taste good, so throw that stuff out.</p><p>6. Whatever you don&rsquo;t use immediately can be stored in a jar or other airtight container in the fridge. It will solidify, but won&rsquo;t harden as fully as butter or ghee, so it remains very easy to use without further warming.</p><p>If you want to share your chicken fat experiences&mdash;either cooking with, or just remembering, we&rsquo;d love for you to leave a post!</p><p><em>Music Button: Don Byron, &quot;Trombonik Tanz&quot;, from the CD ...Plays the Music of Mickey Katz, (Nonesuch)</em></p></p> Thu, 12 May 2011 13:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-12/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-getting-schmaltzy-86448 Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares-Steel yourself http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-05/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-steel-yourself-86099 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//segment/photo/2011-May/2011-05-05/NWCutleryStorefront.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On Thursdays, <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> presents the series <a href="http://www.wbez.org/frying" target="_blank"><em>Fear of Frying: Culinary Nightmares</em></a> – in which various kitchen phobias are explored as well as how to get over them.&nbsp;</p><p>For this installment, Nina Barrett takes on a dangerous assignment: She picks up a knife.</p><p><br> [MUSIC: Julie Andrews from “Sound of Music,“ singing: <em>Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A, B, C…</em>]</p><p>When you cook you begin with [SOUND OF KNIFE BEING SHARPENED]. Every serious cook knows that a super-sharp knife is the absolutely most basic kitchen tool. It not only performs better, but it’s actually less likely to cut you than a dull one, because it instantly penetrates the flesh of whatever you’re slicing, instead of slipping off your target and slicing into your own flesh.</p><p>Personally, it’s not the knife per se that intimidates me. It’s the long, pointed rod that comes with it. The thing a professional wields like a samurai, and I can only wield in a way that makes me feel spastic.</p><p>“I see it all the time,” says Marty Petlicki, manager of <a href="http://www.northwesterncutlery.net/" target="_blank">Northwestern Cutlery</a>. “People come into our store and they say, how do you use this thing, and they hold up the steel.&nbsp; And I go, why don’t you show me what you’re doing and I’ll correct you. And 99 times out of 100, they’re applying WAY too much pressure, they’re going WAY too fast, and their angles are all over the place, and they’re just dulling the knife.”</p><p>Petlicki is the go-to guru of knife-sharpening for the city’s professional meat-packers, but he also see a lot of serious foodies and regular folks just coming in for a tune-up before their annual assault on a Thanksgiving turkey.</p><p>“Now, would you ever get a sushi chef in here, getting his knives sharpened?” I can’t resist asking him.</p><p>“Yup,” he says. “We get that, too.”</p><p>“But isn’t it part of a creed for them?” I ask.</p><p>“It should be, yes,” he says. “But we still get ‘em in.”<br> The fact that in 25 years in the business, he’s obviously seen it all, makes it easier for me to expose the dirty little secret I usually keep locked up in a kitchen drawer.</p><p>“This is somewhat humiliating for me,” I confess, “because this is the set [of knives] I actually use. What I want to know is, can you tell something about my habits from just looking?”</p><p>“You know what?” he says. “I can.”</p><p>“Okay,” I say. “Tell me what you read on the blades of my knives.”</p><p>“Okay,” says Marty. “Well, they’re real dull, and the angle that you’re using to sharpen them is way too high, and you’re flattening the knife.”</p><p>"That’s what I was afraid of,” I tell him.</p><p>But the prognosis isn’t hopeless, Marty says. As in any relationship where things have gotten a little dull, it can’t hurt to ask for a few tips on your technique.</p><p>He demonstrates. “I want to use the full length of the steel,” he says, “and just start off by the handle, right at the top, and you’re going to finish with the tip coming off the bottom of the steel. So you kind of want to get a rhythm going there.&nbsp; And you want to be consistent with your angle. And a good way to know if you’re consistent is to listen to it. If your angle changes, the pitch will change. I’ll show you.&nbsp; See, I changed the angle halfway through, so the pitch changes.”</p><p>Wow! Maria von Trapp would love this! Just like the kids in <em>The Sound of Music</em>, Marty wants me and my knife to learn to sing a little song together.</p><p>“Just go nice and slow,” Marty says reassuringly. “Speed has nothing to do with it.</p><p>I’m not pitch-perfect to start with, but with a little practice there comes a moment when, by George, I’ve got it!</p><p>“There you go” Marty says, as I get my rhythm going. “The more you do it, you’ll relax, and it’s just a lot of muscle memory.”</p><p>While we’re at it, I ask Marty about sharpening stones. Unlike the steel, which is used to maintain an already-sharpened edge, an oil stone or a wet stone can be used to actually sharpen an edge that’s become dull. Think of the abrasive little block you might use to buff your nails. It has a rough side you use first to do the very abrasive work, and then one or two finer surfaces you use to polish things up. Like the steel, the stone can actually do more harm than good to your blade if your technique is off, so you have to listen to what your knife is singing.</p><p>“And again you can hear it,” Marty says, showing me. “You can hear that my angle’s staying the same because of the pitch.”</p><p>“And if you’re doing it wrong, how does it sound?” I want to know, so he makes the knife go <em>waaawowaawo</em>.</p><p>Most home cooks, Marty says, don’t really have to bother with the stone, as long as they get their knives professionally sharpened two or three times a year. His shop has automated belts they use to speed the process up, but they still finish the blades by hand on a series of ever-finer stones. And the result, as Marty demonstrates for me, is literally razor-sharp.</p><p>“I don’t know if you can hear that or not,” he says into my recorder, “but that’s the knife shaving the hair off my arm.”</p><p>Okay, I’m not sure I want to put my knife skills to that kind of a test. But I am convinced that if I can just steel myself to practice regularly, my knives and I can learn to make beautiful music together.<br> In fact, I think we’re ready to rock and roll.</p><p>MUSIC: Bryan Adams, “Cuts Like a Knife”</p><p><em>Took it all for granted, cuz how was I to know, that you’d be letting go. Now it cuts like a knife. But it feels so right…</em></p><p>For WBEZ, I’m Nina Barrett.</p><p><em>Music Button: Bryan Adams, "Cuts Like A Knife", from the CD Cuts Like A Knife, (A&amp;M)</em></p></p> Thu, 05 May 2011 13:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-05/fear-frying-culinary-nightmares-steel-yourself-86099