In episode 7 of the Edible Potluck podcast we talk to farmer Charlie Tennessen about why you should buy fresh local wheat and the gadget Melissa Clark thinks could be the next Instant Pot.
Recommended Recipe: Melissa Clark’s Japanese Omelet
Charlie Tennessen, Wisconsin Farmer and author of the article Immigrant Wheat from Edible Milwaukee magazine, may just give you a different perspective on that bag of all-purpose flour you’ve got in your kitchen.
Melissa Clark is the author of Dinner: Changing the Game, a recent selection for the Edible Cookbook Club, as well as more than 40 other cookbooks. She also writes the weekly A Good Appetite column for the New York Times.
Photo (above) from Dinner: Changing the Game by Eric Wolfinger.
Learn more about Charlie Tennessen and his farm, Anarchy Acres
Our essay about cooking from Dinner
The NY Times video on how to roast whole fish
Melissa Clark’s A Good Appetite column
Piment D’Ville California grown espelette
I’m Joy Manning and this is Edible Potluck, a podcast that gives food lovers a taste of Edible Communities magazines.
Today we’re going to Wisconsin to talk to farmer and writer Charlie Tennessen. He wrote an article called Immigrant Wheat for Edible Milwaukee magazine that just may give you a different perspective on that bag of all-purpose flour you’ve got in the kitchen.
After that, we’ve got a conversation with one of my food heroes, Melissa Clark, author of Dinner: Changing the Game and about 40 other cookbooks. Dinner was a recent selection for the Edible Cookbook Club, and trust me, you don’t want to miss what she has to say on her current favorite ingredient.
Recipe: Japanese Omelet
But before that, let me tell you about a recipe I’ve been making. It’s from Melissa’s book, Dinner, though actually I’ve been making it a lot for lunch, and it could not be easier. It’s a Japanese omelet.
To make it, you beat three eggs together with a little bit of sugar, a little soy sauce, and a little mirin. Then you film a non-stick skillet with some toasted sesame oil, you put it over low heat, and you add the eggs and you cook them until they’re set on the bottom.
At that point, you can either flip it over so that it cooks on the second side (Melissa provides very simple instructions in the recipe where you use a plate to help you flip it over) or even easier, you can just run it right under the broiler until the top is dry.
Then you roll it up tightly and you slice it into rounds and serve it over just your basic cooked white rice. In the recipe, Melissa suggests adding some cooked edamame, which would be delicious. I haven’t had those, so I’ve just been having it over the white rice, but I do take her serving suggestion of adding plenty of spicy Sriracha. It’s comforting, it’s kid-friendly, it’s easy, it serves one or two, and I think this is a recipe you’ll want to have in your back pocket. I’ll post a link to it in the show notes for today’s episode.
Wheat with Charlie Tennessen
Joy Manning: Practically all of us stock flour in our kitchens without giving that much thought to where it comes from, but after I read the article Immigrant Wheat in Edible Milwaukee, I started to see beyond my usual five-pound bag of AP flour from the supermarket. Farmer Charlie Tennessen wrote the story. At Anarchy Acres in Wisconsin, he grows heritage wheat varieties from the state’s agricultural past. Turkey Red is the variety that inspired the article, and he’s here to tell us more about it today.
Joy Manning: Thank you so much for being with us, Charlie. Welcome to Edible Potluck.
Charlie Tennessen: Hi, Joy, thanks for having me. It’s going to be a lot of fun today.
Joy Manning: So I was hoping we could start by you telling me how you got into farming, and why you chose to focus on growing these heirloom varieties of wheat.
Charlie Tennessen: I got into farming through the kitchen, and I think that’s the best way to do it. Specifically, the oven in the kitchen, because I’m a baker, amateur baker. Started that probably at age 10 or 12, and just started trying different things.
Charlie Tennessen: Flour is interesting. Flour comes from wheat, and wheat comes from a field. So one by one, my first step was just milling my own flour at home. I started when I was a teenager. I got grain from my uncle, who was a farmer at the time, and I started to read some more and learn a little bit more. I eventually learned that there are different varieties of wheat, that it’s not all the same thing.
Joy Manning: When you first ground that flour yourself, did you notice a big difference, even with that?
Charlie Tennessen: Oh definitely. Yeah, one of the most interesting things to learn about flour is that, like an apple, it goes stale. In fact, flour goes stale quite quickly, and 99% of people are eating stale flour and not really knowing it.
Joy Manning: Yeah, that’s kind of the thing about your article that I found so fascinating. I use a lot of flour. I’m a very avid home cook, and I bake with some regularity, and I just kept thinking, “Has my flour essentially gone bad?” I guess I’ll have to order some from your farm and find out, or find a local grower here in Pennsylvania.
Charlie Tennessen: Well, flour is an industrial product, too, and it’s important to know that it’s grown up alongside the machines. It has become, at this point, that four-pound bag of flour that you’re talking about is the product of a machine, and it’s built for the convenience of the machine and not the people eating it.
Joy Manning: Well in the article, you describe this specific variety, the Turkey Red, and you called it an immigrant. One that, in fact, has come to America twice. So maybe you can tell us just a little bit about how and when it got to America the first time.
Charlie Tennessen: Yeah, so wheat came to North America with the colonists, with the white settlers from Europe. It’s not a native North American or New World crop, it’s an Old World crop. There’s records from at least 1690, probably earlier, for wheat being grown in North America.
Charlie Tennessen: Turkey Red is associated with the people that settled in Western Kansas after the Civil War, Mennonite immigrants from the Ukraine and the area now known as Turkey in the Old World, and they brought with them winter wheat varieties, and they kind of, as a group, became known as Turkey Red. So Turkey Red is not a variety. You portably know a variety of apple or tomato that you like. Turkey Red is more of a group of wheats from the Old World from the area of Turkey, sometimes also called Crimea. Crimean wheats.
Joy Manning: And can you just tell us, for those who might not know, what exactly is winter wheat?
Charlie Tennessen: Winter wheat has to go through a cold cycle in order to produce a fruit. In other words, if I planted… In fact, a customer asked me this earlier this morning. You could take a winter wheat variety and plant it today. It would make a nice grass… is what it is, wheat is a grass… but you would not get a grain in the fall, and it would just die in the winter. But if you plant it around August or September of this year, it’ll grow a little bit before it gets cold, and then it’ll stay underneath the snow all winter, and then it continues growing in the spring, and then we’re going to harvest it in July. So winter wheat has to go through the winter to produce.
Joy Manning: And what qualities does that give the wheat?
Charlie Tennessen: It’s a quality of convenience. It’s more productive, because the winter wheat is in the ground as soon as the sun comes out in the spring. So for instance, this has been a really wet year. Nobody in my neighborhood has planted any kind of wheats substantially. However, winter wheat is growing nicely because it was planted last fall, and it’s out there. It can gather the sun and the rain of May. Really, that’s what winter wheat gives you. So it’s more productive than spring wheat.
Joy Manning: How did the Turkey Red become so popular? In the story, you wrote about how it sort of is the wheat that made the Midwest the bread basket of the world. How did it catch on? Why?
Charlie Tennessen: Well it was the first winter wheat that was a good bread wheat. The other winter wheats are soft, and they don’t make a very high-volume loaf, and they didn’t work well with the milling systems that were becoming popular after the Civil War.
Charlie Tennessen: Turkey Red is a hard red winter wheat, and hard wheats are good for the roller mill system that got popular after the Civil War, and it also grew very, very well in those circumstances of the western lands.
Joy Manning: And you also write that after World War II, American farmers stopped planting it as much. Why was it phased out?
Charlie Tennessen: That’s a matter of the changes in farming at that time. After World War I, you had lots of cheap fertilizer available, and farmers were encouraged to use fertilizer. Fertilizer that does not work very well on traditional Old World crops, because if you take Turkey Red and you put a lot of fertilizer on it, it tends to grow very, very tall and then fall over… it’s called ‘lodging’… and if it falls over, it’ll probably be spoiled. So they had to make new varieties that could handle lots and lots of fertilizer. Basically, they were shorter stalks, so they cross-bred them with other kinds of wheat that were very short, and the result was a very short stalk with a very large head of fairly tasteless wheat.
Joy Manning: Kind of this is an example of what you were saying, how the wheat that we know today is what is best for the machines.
Charlie Tennessen: Very much so. Very much so.
Joy Manning: It reflected the technology. Interesting.
Charlie Tennessen: For the machines in the field and for the machines in the mill both.
Joy Manning: You wrote a lot about the role that seed-saving played in this particular variety’s history. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Charlie Tennessen: Yeah, winter wheat… wheat in general is a product that’s been saved continuously by the farmers since it was developed about 10 thousand years ago. So when you have what’s called a landrace wheat, like Turkey Red… and that just means that farmers have been saving it and replanting it in an area for a long, long time… you have an unbroken chain for the last 10 thousand years. It’s very special, and it also means that the wheat has adapted itself to the environment that it’s grown in, whereas a modern bread wheat… meaning that it’s been bred for the chemicals it has grown and the place that it’s grown… is coming from a laboratory and not from the environment.
Joy Manning: I wanted to sort of talk about the distinction between what you refer to as ‘modern Turkey Red’ versus the variety… and please correct my pronunciation… Vavilov Turkey Red?
Charlie Tennessen: Yeah. Vavilov is difficult for me to pronounce. That’s how I pronounce it. When I’ve heard a Russian person say it, it’s more like Vavilov. It’s the name of the institute.
Charlie Tennessen: So modern Turkey Red is the name that I give to the Turkey Reds that have been saved in Kansas since the 1940s, let’s say. I first got some Turkey Red from Kansas about 10 years ago, and I compared it with Turkey Red that I got from the USDA seed bank. Now, the USDA has been saving seed since about 1905, and they have 50 thousand varieties. I was shocked and intrigued to see that there were big differences between what the USDA was calling ‘Turkey Red’ and what the people who had kind of revived Turkey Red recently, and I made the conclusion that the stuff that I’m calling ‘modern Turkey Red’ is not very authentic. It’s been mixed over the years, and it’s lost its authenticity.
Charlie Tennessen: I saw shocking and beautiful differences in the old Turkey Red. I saw that it was red, for instance… the modern Turkey Red is not red… and I saw that it matched the historical descriptions much better. It was taller and it had this beautiful color. So I began to think that maybe some good-meaning people had made mistakes about what was really authentic Turkey Red, and that’s when I dug in and discovered Vavilav Turkey Red, which is a fantastic story.
Joy Manning: Yeah, can you tell us a little bit about that history?
Charlie Tennessen: So Turkey Red, like I said, it was already understood to be just a very, very famous wheat the first part of the 20th Century already, and weirdly, the USDA… even though it was 50 thousand varieties that it’s collected over the years… by the 1990s, no longer had Turkey Red in their library. They had somehow lost it. And the story of how any of it got saved is just fantastic, because it was not saved in North America. It was saved in the Old World in Russia.
Charlie Tennessen: What happened was, there was another seed bank in St. Petersburg called the Vavilov Institute, and somebody in the 1920s found authentic Turkey Red growing in North America and took it there to be saved. So that would’ve been really fine, but what was really amazing is how that seed in St. Petersburg survived the siege of Leningrad during World War II. St. Petersburg and Leningrad are the same city.
Charlie Tennessen: There was a huge seed bank called The Vavilov Institute, started by a really special group of botanists in the old Soviet Union. The siege of Leningrad is the deadliest battle in world history. A million-and-a-half people died of starvation, and at the institute was hundreds and thousands of tons of food in the form of seed. There were potatoes, there was wheat, there was rice, there was everything. These botanists chose and thought that it was so important that it needed to be saved, and they actually starved to death guarding this store of seeds instead of eating it and living. And because of that, we have authentic Turkey Red seed today that farmers like myself can rediscover and plant because of that sacrifice.
Charlie Tennessen: I just thought it was an amazing story to be told, and also to understand how important seed is, how important that unbroken chain of a variety is, and we should honor that sacrifice and understand that every time we eat good food, that it’s this unbroken chain from agriculture going back 10 thousand years.
Joy Manning: It’s such a remarkable story, it makes me think more deeply about such a common ingredient. You don’t realize that there can be such history behind something like that. I thought it was really incredible to read.
Joy Manning: At the time of the writing, you hadn’t harvested enough Turkey Red yet to bake a loaf of bread, but you said you expected that by now you would have been able to. So I’m really curious, have you baked with it?
Charlie Tennessen: Yeah, so last year, in the summer of 2018, we had gotten up to about 100 pounds of this, and held back about 10 pounds. We got together, baked about four or five loaves of bread, and I was more than pleased. It was the highest protein wheat that I’ve grown, it was the best-looking loaf of bread, and it tasted fantastic, so I was really, really pleased.
Charlie Tennessen: Now that other 90 pounds, we went out in to the field and planted it in September of 2018, and it’s safe… I want to tell you it turned out okay… however, we got six inches of rain after it was planted last year and we lost about 60% of the crop. So it wasn’t as bad as Nazis surrounding this field and really wrecking things, but it did take a real big hit last year, and we’re not going to get nearly as much out of this harvest as we had hoped.
Charlie Tennessen: Nevertheless, it’s exciting, because we started out with five grams from the seed bank.
Joy Manning: I did look at your website and I saw that you do have some bags of it available to order. Is that still correct?
Charlie Tennessen: Well we have what I call the modern Turkey Red available.
Joy Manning: Oh, okay, that’s not the this more authentic Turkey Red.
Charlie Tennessen: Yeah, not yet.
Joy Manning: Can you say anything about the flavor differences? Is there a way that you could characterize it? How it is different from all-purpose flour, say?
Charlie Tennessen: First of all, you use all-purpose flour and you don’t use whole wheat flour, and I bet the reason is because there’s kind of that bitter tone that, at age 10, somebody handed you some whole wheat bread and you didn’t like. The older wheat, I’ve discovered, just has a smooth, rich flavor that is totally absent from the modern wheat. I’ve never tasted it.
Joy Manning: So you could just substitute it in your favorite recipe for homemade bread, you would say?
Charlie Tennessen: Oh yeah, for bread, for cookies, for pancakes. I eat some of it every day, yeah.
Joy Manning: Wow. I definitely don’t think of whole wheat flour as being a cookie flour.
Charlie Tennessen: That’s because every bag of whole wheat flour sold in the grocery store is rancid. White flour exists because whole wheat is not shelf-stable. whole wheat immediately attracts bugs, and it also grows stale because there’s oils in it that mix with what’s inside the wheat and it becomes rancid. So white flour was created for the transportation system. White flour is good for years and years and years. Whole wheat flour, after two or three months, doesn’t taste that great. And in a society that’s pre-air conditioning, it also gathers bugs very quickly, because bugs love it.
Charlie Tennessen: And that should shock all of us, because you can take a bag of whole wheat flour and a bag of white flour. The white flour is good for years and years and years, and there isn’t an insect in the world that wants anything to do with it. A whole wheat bag will be teeming… if you don’t put it in the refrigerator or something like that, or seal it up well… will be teeming with insects in a few weeks.
Charlie Tennessen: So we’re eating something that no self-respecting insect would eat.
Joy Manning: That’s funny.
Charlie Tennessen: It’s more than funny, it’s bad.
Joy Manning: Yeah, I mean, I guess you should think twice about eating something that insects are too good to eat. They don’t consider it food. It’s kind of disturbing.
Joy Manning: So what advice do you have for me, as someone who loves great food, loves local food, and has been cooking with white flour from the supermarket? What should I do to get flour that’s more like your flour, short of ordering your flour?
Charlie Tennessen: Well there’s more opportunities. There’s often options at local farmers markets, and there’s also the outfit Lonesome Stone Mills in Southwestern Wisconsin, and those folks sell online.
Charlie Tennessen: And actually, the cat’s meow is to order grain and then mill it at home. There’s plenty of home mills. Then you always have fresh flour and you can order all kinds of different grain varieties.
Joy Manning: And I know grain doesn’t grow everywhere in the country, but it does grow in… I think we grow grain here in Pennsylvania, and certainly in the Midwest, so maybe I need to do a little internet research on my closest local grain.
Charlie Tennessen: Yeah, and just understand… If I can just go back to white flour versus whole wheat flour. White flour is what you get when you remove everything that’s healthy from a piece of grain. You take all the bran, which comes from the outside, and you take the germ, that’s the little bit in the middle that’s actually going to grow that has all the vitamins. All the white flour is it’s the powdery starch in between the germ and the bran.
Joy Manning: Right. I know from being a woman in America and reading every article about nutrition that’s been published, that white flour isn’t good for me nutritionally, but I have considered it the must-have ingredient for making cookies or a light-textured pizza crust.
Charlie Tennessen: That’s not true.
Joy Manning: Yeah, that’s really interesting to hear.
Charlie Tennessen: Fresh flour will make fantastic pancakes, cookies, pizza crust. It absolutely will. But it’s got to be fresh.
Joy Manning: Well you’ve really inspired me to up my flour game, Charlie, I have to say. And I think other people will feel the same way when they read your piece.
Charlie Tennessen: Great.
Joy Manning: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today to talk to us about it.
Charlie Tennessen: Thanks, Joy.
Joy Manning: That was Charlie Tennessenen, a writer and farmer at Anarchy Acres in Wisconsin. We’ll link to his article, Immigrant Wheat, from Edible Milwaukee in the show notes for today’s episode.
Joy Manning: Follow him on Instagram @anarchyacres, and visit anarchyacres.com to shop for wheat and learn more.
Cookbooks and Recipes with Melissa Clark
Joy Manning: This is a very special episode of Edible Potluck, because we’re talking with Melissa Clark today. The New York Times columnist and prolific cookbook author has helped define the way we cook at home. We selected one of her recent cookbooks, Dinner: Changing the Game, for the Edible Communities Cookbook Club because it’s one of my personal favorites. She’s with us today to talk more about recipes, ingredients, and home cooking.
Joy Manning: Thank you for joining us, Melissa.
Melissa Clark: So great to be here, Joy.
Joy Manning: Before we get into it, I wanted to thank you for something personal, which is your cooking whole fish video from the New York Times. It was from back in 2011, and even though at this time I had already been a food editor and written a cookbook, I was still really scared to cook whole fish. I remember sitting at my desk, watching the video, and you really gave me the confidence to go to the supermarket after work, pick up some branzino, and just do it. And I think that that’s really the thing about your work that I like best, is this cooking is fun, can-do attitude that helped me do that that day. The way you just sort of pulled the fish off the bone in a kind of messy, homey way, it just really made me feel like it was something anyone could do. So for that, I am really grateful.
Joy Manning: I also still get that feeling of fun and anybody-can-do-it when I read your recipes, which is one of the things that made me love dinner so much.
Melissa Clark: Oh, well thank you for all of that! Oh my gosh, I’m so happy about the whole fish especially. If I can get people to eat more whole fish, that just… to me, I feel like, “Oh okay, well I’ve done good work.”
Joy Manning: The crazy thing is, you taught me this in the video and then I, of course, I experienced for myself, but it’s not hard.
Melissa Clark: Right. Exactly.
Joy Manning: You think it’s hard, but it’s not hard, so I’m definitely going to link to that video, even though it definitely looks a little bit—
Melissa Clark: It’s a little dated.
Joy Manning: Blurrier.
Melissa Clark: It was one of the first we did!
Joy Manning: Oh, really?
Melissa Clark: Yeah. When we started… I think we started doing the videos in maybe 2010, 2009 or 2010, but it was an early one for sure.
Joy Manning: It’s still great, though, and I’m going to link to it because I think if anybody listening is still a little nervous about whole fish, this will give you the jolt you need to get it done. And I think that’s true of a lot of your recipes in general, and in dinner specifically.
Joy Manning: My first question for you is, I understand you don’t have any formal training, you didn’t go to culinary school, so how did you learn to write recipes?
Melissa Clark: Well, I learned to write recipes, I actually worked at a food magazine a million years ago when I was right out of college, and I worked at a magazine that… I mean, I don’t even think it ever published. It was testing. It spent two years testing. It was called Great American Home Cooking. I was working with some of the finest food editors at the time. These people had come from Food & Wine, and they were just super experienced in recipe writing and editing, and I learned from them. So I really learned on the job as an editorial assistant at this food magazine.
Melissa Clark: Cooking, I learned that from a lifetime of cooking. I cooked with my parents. It was a very important part of our family life together. Then I did do some staging in some restaurants.
Melissa Clark: But the recipe writing itself, which is a skill and an art… it’s both of those things… that I learned on the job.
Joy Manning: Yeah, from a magazine that never published.
Melissa Clark: I know, it was really funny. It was this publishing company called IMP, International Masters Publishers, and they had created these six issues of this test magazine, and they kept repurposing them, seeing if they could get into the American… They were from Scandinavia, I think. Anyway, it was this long thing. I worked with them for two years repurposing this same information over and over again.
Melissa Clark: And then they also had a product of recipe cards. Remember recipe cards? You used to get them in the mail?
Joy Manning: Oh yeah.
Melissa Clark: Yeah. So they had them in Swedish, and my job was to look at the picture and create the recipe to match the picture, and then write the recipe card. So it was really a very deep education in recipe writing.
Joy Manning: That’s one way to learn how to do it.
Melissa Clark: Yeah.
Joy Manning: You also went on to collaborate with many famous chefs on their books, which I’ve read that you said that that’s a learning experience, and I imagine that that definitely is.
Joy Manning: What was the best part of all of that, and why have you shifted away from collaborating with chefs on books?
Melissa Clark: The best part of it was the freedom. I learned so much from these different chefs. But one thing that I learned was that no one does it the same way. No chef chops an onion the same way from another, and they don’t saute their onions the same way. They don’t season things in the same way. Everyone has their own style, and they’re all great. So it just gave me this incredible freedom, like there is no one right way to do it.
Melissa Clark: I was raised to think that there was this one technique, this special French technique that you had to learn in order to become a chef, and what these chefs taught me was that no, actually there are many different techniques, and the goal at the end of the day is to get you something delicious to eat. But there are a gazillion paths you can take to get there. So that freed me up to be able to create my own recipes, like, “You know what? I can get us there, too, and they might be not standard technique, but they’re going to work and they’re going to get you something delicious to eat.”
Melissa Clark: Unfortunately, I had to stop working with chefs when I started on staff at the New York Times in 2012 because… I mean, I can still work with chefs, I just can’t do cookbooks with them. And the cookbooks are great. It was like each cookbook was its own tutorial. Each chef had their own way to do it, so I learned their way, and it expanded my way.
Joy Manning: I love that point of view. It feels very liberating to think about it that way. I do sometimes get hung up on the idea that there is one right way or one best way to do something.
Melissa Clark: I think a lot of people do when it comes to cooking. They’re looking for this sort of holy grail of what is the… You know, you see it also, I mean, we promote it. I know all of our food publications, us food writers are like, “The best way to make pasta,” or, “The best way to do this,” and, you know, there’s a great way, and there’s another great way, and there’s another great way, but I don’t believe in the best.
Joy Manning: Now, I read that you develop a mind-blowing 65 recipes a year for the New York Times, and then there’s all of those cookbooks that you write. Is it 40, is it 42?
Melissa Clark: At this point, it’s 42. I know, it keeps changing because I keep writing more of them.
Joy Manning: I know! That’s incredible to me!
Joy Manning: So where do all those ideas come from? I’m asking you this as a recipe developer, and sometimes I just am staring into the produce section and I just feel like it’s all already been done. Where do you get all those ideas from?
Melissa Clark: You know, I go through periods of that, “It’s all already been done.” I’m like, “How many times am I going to make pasta with tomato sauce? It’s been done.” But it hasn’t been done at this moment in time, exactly this way. I mean, think about it. I never cook the same thing twice when I’m making dinner. I take my favorite recipe and then I shift it a little. I’m like, “Oh, I don’t have parsley so I’m going to use tarragon, and if I’m using tarragon, why don’t I throw some fennel fronds in to make it even a little more licorice-y, or a splash of Pernod.” I’m always adapting that, so when I think of a recipe, I’m also doing the same thing, even if the assignment…
Melissa Clark: Okay, here’s a good example. My editors came to me and said, “Can you do a classic pasta salad? Totally classic, tomato, mozzarella, pasta, basil.” I’m like, “Yes, I can.” But then, at the same time, I’m still putting my spin on it. I just can’t help it. I’m like, “What if I use a little balsamic, which is classic, but then I cut it with lemon juice, which is more brighter? And what if, instead of just basil, I use basil, but I also use a bunch of different herbs to make it richer?” I always think, “Here’s the thing and it’s good,” and then my job as a recipe writer is, “How do I make it just a little bit better? What can I do?”
Joy Manning: So would you say you get most of your ideas just from cooking? Just your time spent in your own kitchen, or do you look at other people’s cookbooks?
Melissa Clark: Oh, I look at everybody’s cookbook. Oh yeah. I get inspired from people all the time. I try to eat out… I really love cooking and eating at home, even though I’m cooking all day long for work, I love cooking for myself and for my family for dinner. But I do eat out, and I read menus, and I’m always putting flavors together in my mind. I constantly just keep in touch with what’s going on in the food world.
Melissa Clark: I try to taste it. You know when you’re reading a recipe, you’re like, “What does that taste like?” if you try to taste it in your mind? If I can’t do that, then I put it on the ‘I need to make this’ list.
Joy Manning: Right. Interesting.
Melissa Clark: Because that way, I learn.
Joy Manning: So why did you decide to write Dinner: Changing the Game? I have to tell you, my first reaction to it was, “Do we need to change the game around dinner? Isn’t dinner working out for us?” So I’m just wondering what your thought process was, and how it differs from your other books. It feels like more of like a big book, if you will.
Melissa Clark: Yes, it is a big book. I wanted to do a big book, and I wanted to do a big book on… You know, my joy… I wrote this in the introduction of the book and it’s true… My joy every day is making dinner at night. I call it my weekend at the end of every day. It is my happy place, and I wanted to share that with people, because I know that there’s a lot of frustration. I mean, people who love to cook on the weekends don’t always love to cook during the week. There’s this split, like, “Oh I love to make dinner parties and I love to cook recreationally, but oh my god, getting dinner on the table stresses me out,” or, “I’m running out of ideas,” or, “I just don’t have time to think about it.”
Melissa Clark: What I wanted to do was share my daily love for making dinner, and try to inspire people to find that love on a Tuesday night, when they’re really tired. It’s like, yes, you’re tired, but you know what? Making dinner can be rejuvenating. It can give back to you. It’s not just something that you do because you’re hungry and your family’s hungry. It can be a creative process that could be turned into you time. It can be as meditative as yoga. It can be as regenerating as your own private little dance party, if you just give yourself the permission to take that time when you’re making dinner and make that your time. Make it ‘me’ time, whatever that means for you.
Melissa Clark: For me, I need my family in the room with me, I need to be listening to really great music, and I need to pour myself a little wine, and I need to be happy when I’m cooking, and that is just amazing time. Sometimes my husband will even read the paper to me, or he’ll read a book to me, or my daughter.
Joy Manning: That sounds amazing.
Melissa Clark: It’s so nice! But I’ve created that. I’m like, “Hey you, get up and…” and he’s happy to do it. Or my daughter will be with us and I’ll be helping her with her homework, we’ll be all sitting together. And look, my daughter’s 10, I don’t know how much longer she’s going to sit in the kitchen with me … but I’ve had it good, and I try to make it a fun time for all of us.
Joy Manning: I think that fun really comes across in the book. That’s what I love most about it. It makes me want to cook. It makes me feel like it is a treat for me to be in the kitchen with those recipes, and also because I know I’m going to get something that is really going to be delicious and a fun thing to eat. Which is not always the case when you’re done cooking a recipe.
Melissa Clark: That is true.
Joy Manning: So since you wrote Dinner: Changing the Game, you have two cookbooks on the Instant Pot, if I’m not mistaken. Is that right?
Melissa Clark: Yeah, I do. Yeah.
Joy Manning: And more recently, you’ve written about the air fryer. You know, I live in a small city house, so I have not acquired an air fryer yet, and I read your article, so I think I know your answer to this question, but do you think the air fryer is the new Instant Pot?
Melissa Clark: No. I didn’t love it. I mean, it was fine, but it didn’t… You know, it’s funny, after I wrote the Instant Pot cookbook… I mean, I love my Instant Pot. I absolutely love it—
Joy Manning: I love mine, too.
Melissa Clark: And I can tell you, I’m sort of falling in love with my sous-vide wand. I’m having a little sous-vide wand moment.
Joy Manning: Oh, do you think that’s the next thing?
Melissa Clark: That might be the next thing.
Joy Manning: What do you like most to sous-vide?
Melissa Clark: Well the thing about sous-vide is that it doesn’t… You know, an air fryer is a giant thing. A sous-vide does not take up very much space.
Joy Manning: Yeah, I have one. It’s tiny.
Melissa Clark: It’s tiny! Exactly. I love… okay, salmon… I love anything that’s lean and needs slow, even cooking. It is the best salmon. It makes the best chicken breasts, which are hard to do. It makes amazing pork tenderloin. And I really, really like it for an expensive steak. Like a big rib steak, right? You’ve spent $40 on this big, huge steak, and—
Joy Manning: That’s exactly what I used it for. Things that I’m afraid to ruin.
Melissa Clark: Yeah, exactly! And then you sear it at the end, and you have this perfectly-cooked… So I’m actually writing about this right now. I’m doing a big sous-vide article. I haven’t done eggs yet. This afternoon, that’s my big project is doing eggs. Have you done eggs yet?
Joy Manning: No! It just seems like… I don’t know. I have no beef with my eggs that I make on the stove top, so I haven’t even put eggs in the instant pot yet, which I know everyone is crazy for.
Melissa Clark: Yeah, I make them on the stove. We make eggs every morning. We do little eggs every morning. We just do them in the pot, normal way. I’ve got my system. But this may, I don’t know, I like to play around, so we’ll see.
Joy Manning: I’ll definitely be interested to see what you find with that.
Joy Manning: And I know you are a big champion of ingredients. You love your anchovies. Do you have any pet favorites right now? Things that you just are having a lot of fun cooking with?
Melissa Clark: Yes. Okay, so I have a couple of new favorites. Anchovies will always be the number one dear to my heart ingredient, and anyone who knows me knows that, but I love chili flakes and I found a new kind of chili flake. It’s an espelette pepper, but it’s grown in California. I think it’s grown in Northern California, and of course I’m blanking on the name. But I think it might be the only American espelette pepper, and it’s smoky and it’s sweet, and you can get it at Williams Sonoma, and it is just so good. So look for, I think it might be PVE or something. If you find espelette pepper from Boonville, California
[NOTE: It’s Piment d’Ville.]
Joy Manning: Yeah, I’m pretty sure Google can help me out with this and I’ll put it in the show notes. I’ll run it by you just to make sure I have it right.
Melissa Clark: Okay, and I can send it to you. So listeners, you will be able to get this pepper, because it’s delicious.
Melissa Clark: And also seaweed. I wrote a big article on seaweed for the Times, and I was writing about farmed fresh seaweed… fresh or frozen… which I do think is going to be a future important food in our diets, but it also led me to a lot of just seaweed products that we’ve had on the shelves for a long time, like flakes or using all kinds of dried wakame and all kinds of dried seaweeds. I have been using those, and it’s very similar to anchovy in that you get an umami hit.
Melissa Clark: I made focaccia the other day, and I just took, I have these dulse flakes… dulse is a type of red seaweed, and you can buy the whole dried leaf or you can just buy dulse granules or flakes. It has an impression of saltiness, but it doesn’t have a high sodium content. Minerally, it’s rich, and I sprinkled it on top of my focaccia along with my flaky sea salt instead of rosemary or whatever, and it was so good.
Joy Manning: Without being seaweedy.
Melissa Clark: It’s not seaweedy! It’s not fishy, it’s not seaweedy, it’s just a little bit salty and very, very enriched. Almost like Parmesan crossed with salt. Crossed with an herb that you can’t identify.
Joy Manning: I do like to use a little bit of powdered seaweed in some vegan stuff sometimes instead of a fish sauce. It gives it that sort of quality without the fish.
Melissa Clark: It’s the same exact thing, yes. Exactly. So that’s another favorite ingredient.
Joy Manning: That sounds great. Well, we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for the rise of that in your recipes.
Joy Manning: Well thanks again, Melissa. I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast and talk to us, so thank you for your time.
Melissa Clark: Oh, this was so great talking to you, Joy. Thanks for picking my book! I’m so excited.
Joy Manning: Us, too.
Joy Manning: That was Melissa Clark, author of Dinner: Changing the Game. We’ll link to my article about cooking from the book, and to Melissa’s New York Times columns in the show notes for today’s episode. Follow her on Instagram @clarkbar, and on Twitter @MelissaClark.
Joy Manning: Thank you for joining us today on Edible Potluck. Our podcast producer is David Wolf. If you like this episode, please subscribe on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Please take a moment to leave us a rating or a review. You know it helps other listeners find the podcast. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of your own local Edible magazine. If you don’t know where to get one, find out at ediblecommunities.com. You can find links to everything we talked about today in the show notes for this episode at ediblecommunities.com/podcast. Until next time, remember: eat local.