Whether the decor is faux '50s silver and neon or authentic greasy spoon, diners are classic Americana, down to the familiar menu items. Rich, poor, black, white--all rub shoulders in the vinyl booths and at formica counters. We explore the enduring appeal and nostalgia of the diner.
From the Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve to Barbecue on Fourth of July — we’re talking holiday food traditions familiar and obscure.
- Pati Jinich Cooking Instructor, Food Writer and Chef, Mexican Cultural Institute
- Todd Gray Chef and Restaurateur, Equinox Restaurant
Chef Todd Gray talks about the food and philosophy at Equinox:
“The Splendid Table” host Lynne Rossetto Kasper and chef, writer and television host Pati Jinich talk about Mexican cuisine, the history of some popular dishes, and cooking by feeling rather than by sticking closely to a recipe in a book:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world, it's Food Wednesday. Gather the family or friends for any holiday and well loved traditions flood the table and the memory. Some holidays come built in with food rituals like when Jews eat matzah or drink wine on Passover. Others are created for good luck like the southern or African or African-American tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFood and holiday traditions are interlocked in so many ways, they might be found in the Bible, descended from cultures that predate it or simply created by communities to celebrate anew. So what's your holiday food tradition? Call us now, 800-433-8850, share your stories. You can go to our website kojoshow.org or send us email to email@example.com or a tweet @kojoshow to share your favorite holiday food tradition story and find out which world culture features fried chicken and strawberries on Christmas Day. That's just one of the questions you can answer by calling 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFried chicken and strawberry shortcake on Christmas Day. What culture are you aware of that celebrates that? Joining us in studio is Pati Jinich, cooking instructor and food writer. She's the chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute and she hosts her own PBS cooking show called Pati's Mexican Kitchen. Pati Jinich, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. PATI JINICHThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. Also joining us in studio is Todd Gray. He is co-owner and chef of D.C.'s Equinox and Watershed restaurants. He's also culinary director for Sheila Johnson Salamander Hotel and Resorts. And earlier this year, he launched Todd Gray's Muse at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Todd Gray, good to have you in studio.
MR. TODD GRAYGreat to be with you, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIPati, I'll start with you. Your bio reads and I'm quoting just a bit here "I come from a family of accomplished cooks and food maniacs, absolute maniacs." I'm guessing you have maniac memories dating back...
JINICHI do, Kojo, and I just wrote a post about buñuelos and I don't know if you're familiar with buñuelos? They come from Spain, got to Mexico a long time ago, and I was very lucky to be able to mix Buñuelos with sufganiyot, with turkey, with tamales, you know, all sorts of traditions in the same table. And the funny thing about holiday foods for me, Kojo, is that we choose to make the most time intensive, high maintenance demanding foods right when we're supposed to relax.
NNAMDIAnd be enjoying yourselves.
NNAMDISufganiyot, that was one of the questions we were going to ask. What goes with the following food or drink? Our Food Wednesday quiz, sufganiyot. What goes with sufganiyot?
JINICHWell, sufganiyot, the ones I grew up eating are -- they have these yeast dough base that gets fluffy and fluffier and fluffier as it fries. And they have different fillings. Fruit jams in Mexico are modern twists to dulce de leche and chocolate. I don’t know. What do you do with them, Todd?
GRAYWell, you know, we've always stuffed them other than the traditional way with the sort of winter fruits things that we find in the winter season and kind of keep them seasonal, from using apples and maybe substituting quince where, you know, we do a little interesting turn on it or blueberry or something along those lines. Some little persimmon's always nice.
NNAMDIOkay. You've answered that question. Now, you can answer for us, that is the members of our audience, what goes with wassail? 800-433-8850. Todd, do you have any first food and holiday memory dating back to your childhood?
GRAYAny -- what foods do I remember?
NNAMDIFirst. First food holidays.
GRAYOh, first special -- first experiences.
GRAYWell, I mean, you know, I was talking about this with the team on the show before I came on and it's, you know, for me I grew up in Fredericksburg, Va. My father was in the James River. And as a child, the grilled oyster was always something that was a big tradition for us around Thanksgiving and it has become a tradition around all holidays for us whether it's Thanksgiving or whether it is...
NNAMDIOh yeah, big oyster roasts on 4th of July.
GRAYWell, you know, listen, I'll take oysters on the grill anytime of the year, but especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas. That was something I remember as a child that was very -- it always brought the family together and I think that's what holidays are about is bringing the family together. And it would happen to be over a grill with lots of Chincoteague oysters.
NNAMDIWhat's your favorite...
JINICHOh, that sounds nice.
NNAMDI...childhood memory of food holiday -- food at holiday time?
JINICHWell, I think the most comforting and more festive thing that I can remember are tamales, of any sort. You know, sweet tamales, spicy tamales, oaxacan square flat tamales, fluffy round tamales, colundas (sp?), they are just comforting and festive and whenever there's a get together and there are no tamales in the Mexican gathering, people look at each other like, what went wrong?
NNAMDITodd, becoming a chef requires a certain degree of precision in the ability to repeat the same process to perfection each time but it also takes creativity. What's your approach to making a holiday meal, something that's been done over and over again, yet you want to seem new?
GRAYYeah. Well, I think it's important that you always keep foundation and tradition. I think that that's important. And I think we've always based our cooking off of tradition and foundation and that's -- those are good building blocks. But I think you have to integrate some creativity into it. And whether you're roasting turkeys or you're doing something -- even, you know, the turkey seems to make itself pretty visible around Christmastime as well.
GRAYYou know, taking the classic stuffing and alternating it with -- whether it is chestnuts or whether it's a new fruit or whether you introduce dried figs as opposed to cranberries or something along those lines. I think that's the creative bone inside of most chefs that we like to push it a little bit, but we like to still keep our foot, sort of, in that foundation. But you got to stretch it out, as we say, just a little bit.
NNAMDIShare the family food traditions you remembered from childhood, 800-433-8850. We'll start with Adam in Rockville, Md. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADAMHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I got a -- my Mom lives in an area outside of Philadelphia. It's a little more rural and we come from a Jewish background. And there aren't a lot of Jewish people there and for some reason, every time there's a Jewish holiday, the grocery stores all put out matzah.
NNAMDIFor some reason, you say?
ADAMI guess they assume we eat matzah on every holiday. I don't know.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that Pati?
JINICHWell, because matzah is a -- supposed to be eaten only on Passover. But, you know, that's a funny remark you were saying because every time there's a Jewish holiday, I sing the same song, you know, (speaks foreign language) , and my husband looks at me and says, Pati, that doesn't go with Rosh Hashanah. That doesn't, you know, go with Yom Kipper. And I think, you know, it's a nice gesture for them, even though matzah is not eaten on every Jewish holiday. It's a nice gesture for them to think that it's something that Jewish people may want to have when they're celebrating.
NNAMDIHey Adam, thank you very much for your call. We move onto Greg in Washington, D.C. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GREGHi, yes. You asked the question about what culture did fried chicken and strawberry shortcake for Christmas?
GREGAnd I think that's the Japanese culture.
NNAMDIBingo. You're absolutely correct, Great.
JINICHReally, I had no idea.
NNAMDIFried chicken and strawberry shortcake is a Christmas feast in Japan. It usually includes fried chicken, often from Kentucky Fried Chicken which launched a successful campaign linking its specialty dish with the holiday in the 1970s and sponge cakes layered with whip cream and strawberries. How did you know this, Greg?
GREGWell, I've had an interest in Japanese culture for a while and I read a Japanese culture newsletters and I belong to the Japan-American society of Washington, D.C.
NNAMDIOK. Well, thank you very much for being on the case for us, Greg. Thank you very much for your call. You too can call us, 800-433-8850. You can answer our next question. What goes with wassail? Here now is Glenn in Vienna, Va. Glenn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GLENNYeah, for me inside of my family, our tradition that we have is that we always have turkey ala king for Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. It's connected to the fact that when my grandparents first got married, they didn't have any money so they went to down to an A&P nearby and picked up a can of turkey ala king and they made that over bread. That was their thing that they had and over years, it's been something that we always have to remember where we come from.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, Glenn. Back to you, Pati. Same question I asked of Todd earlier, what's your approach to making a holiday meal, something that you want to be creative with, yet it's been done.
JINICHYeah. You know, I think one has to have a combination of making people happy, giving them what you know that they're going to crave one holiday after the other. And it's -- there's also a beautiful sense of repetition and knowing what you're going to get, you know, the next year round. But you also want to do something new. I happen to be stuck with a turkey for Thanksgiving, Kojo. I started making these turkey ala (word?) . You know, Mexican style with a shyota (sp?) and dobble (sp?) .
JINICHWhen some friends invited us years ago, we didn't understand the concept of Thanksgiving when we first moved to the U.S. They invited us, we made the turkey and I've been making it ever since. And now every Thanksgiving, when we get together and they tell me, Pati, bring your Mexican Turkey. I want to try new things and I can't, I'm stuck with it. But so, we play with the stuffings, we play with the sides. But I think, you know, it's nice to have something that gets repeated.
NNAMDIIt certainly is. Onto Kevin in Washington, D.C. Kevin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEVINYeah, Kojo, I wanted to share with you a tradition I brought to Washington with me from New Mexico. It was posole and it's something -- and I'm probably not pronouncing it quite right, posole, I think they say it. But it is a pork, hominy and chili stew that is very traditional at the holidays, especially New Year. And I'd like to share a story.
KEVINWhen I first came to town, I would have a Christmas party every year and I'd make this and make posole. And the first few years, it was -- people tried it and didn't really know what to make of it. By the fifth or sixth year, it's where's that stuff? We've got to have that stuff that you make every year. So it is wonderful and I -- it really takes me back to a wonderful time in my life in New Mexico.
NNAMDIWhat do you know about posole, Pati?
JINICHWell, posole is one of Mexico's most famous one stop meals. You have everything in the same bowl. There's, you know, the huge giant hominy which is meaty and delicious and so filling and then it is cooked sometimes with pork, sometimes with chicken and then you have the basic one which is the white one which for me it's perfect for rainy days. And then you have the red one.
NNAMDIIt's going to rain later today. I mean...
NNAMDI...go look for some posole.
JINICHGo look for some posole. But then you have the red posole, which adds a delicious sauce that's made with ancho guajillo chilies, onion, garlic and it is what my husband and I had at our wedding and it is a traditional dish for New Years. And, you know, our friend is right, people don't understand it when they see it because if they don't know it because you get these big bowl that's steaming hot and then you have the garnishes that are cold. You have shredded lettuce, you know radishes. People say Mexican food is not wholesome. Just think about that.
JINICHYou know, you have a salad on top of a soup and it's a clashing combination of hot and cold, of already cooked and soft and crispy and fresh and it is fabulous and it's very festive especially because it has so many garnishes that people see when they get to the table, then you get a sense of, oh, I'm going to play, you know, with my food and add, you know, as you go. So it feels special.
NNAMDIKevin, thank you very much for your call. Todd, you revealed to me that you will be leaving town to prepare a meal in the Dominican Republic, sometime over the holiday season.
NNAMDICan you share with us what you're planning?
GRAYYeah, sure. Well, on December 28th, next Wednesday night, we'll be doing a dinner down at one of our new resorts in the Dominican Republic at the Sanctuary in our Grand Resorts of Cap Cana that Sheila Johnson and Salamander Hotels with (sounds like) Prim Devidas has -- we've put great people down there and myself included, are going in and doing some work on some menus and taking the properties and doing some great things there.
GRAYSo we're doing a sort of a seaside holiday menu where we're going to be doing some tropical influences on some classic holiday dishes and even doing a little Baked Alaska sort of seaside. It's going to be really neat. And so should you find your way to the Dominican on December 28, come see us at (unintelligible) .
NNAMDII'm searching for tickets, I'm searching for tickets even as we speak. We're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We're talking about family food tradition for the holidays. If your family has a specific food tradition, we'll be happy to have you share it with us. Call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a Tweet at kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on family food traditions for the holidays. We're talking with Pati Jinich, cooking instructor and food writer. She's the chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute. She hosts her own PBS cooking show. It's called Pati's Mexican Kitchen. Also joining us in studio is Todd Gray. He is co-owner and chef of D.C.'s Equinox and Watershed Restaurants. Equinox is in the 800 block of Connecticut Avenue. That's just a block from the White House. Watershed is new, having recently opened at First and N Streets Northeast.
NNAMDIWatershed and Equinox. Todd is also culinary director for Sheila Johnson's Salamander Hotel and Resort. You heard him talk a little bit about going down to the Dominican Republic on the 28th, I'm trying to get a ticket, to prepare a meal there. He launched Todd Gray's News at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Todd, everyone who gets married finds out what it's like to bring two different family cultures together. But in your case, you also had to negotiate different religious backgrounds. How has that generally affected your family life?
GRAYWell, it's been exciting. You know, I married into a Jewish family and it's been a phenomenal experience for every bit of 17 years being married, and even three more behind that. And, you know, marrying a family you -- marrying a woman, you've married her family and it's -- I'm sure she should say the same about my family.
GRAYAnd it's been a cultural experience for me because where I was, you know, cooking, we met -- I was working at Galileo and I was very classically trained and working in this European kitchen and I met Ellen and her father, Ed Casshoff (sp?) . And he has been a huge influence as I was learning how to do latkes and make brisket and was being very properly corrected that, you know, latkes don't have sweet potatoes in them.
GRAYBut on the creative side, as we were saying before, you know, I was always trying to push things a little bit. And so it's a marriage of cultures. And it's very rich and very deep. And it's -- for food it's always learning something new. So it's always great to take from another culture and integrate it into your life and into your style. Especially someone that cooks every day, it has a really huge impact on the way you lead your life every day in the kitchen.
NNAMDIPati, Mexican Cultural Institute is a great destination not only for the décor but for a lot of people especially for the food that you get at the Mexican Cultural Institute. Tell us a little bit about what you do there.
JINICHWe work very hard there, Kojo, to make every single event that we do. I run a culinary program and every event has a topic. So we may have a class on vanilla and the origins of vanilla. And I developed a menu that goes not only through time -- you know how the (word?) use vanilla (unintelligible) to modern spins. Classes in regions, the food from (sounds like) Mojacar. We just had a class on posales and the different kinds of posales, vegetarian, pumpkin seed-based, green with poblano chilies or red in the Jalisco style.
JINICHSo it's opening the eyes and the hearts and the minds of people, you know, into Mexican food. And one thing that you're talking about now, we thought about the cultural influences. It is so fascinating to find how the cultures and their religions intertwine so beautifully in the kitchen. You know, you have -- look at the Mexican food. You have genuine ingredients that are the bastions of this wonderful cuisine. But what would Mexican food be without onion or without garlic or without rice or, for god's sake, without pigs?
NNAMDIIt wouldn't be food.
JINICHIt wouldn't be food.
NNAMDIThe Mexican Holiday most familiar to Americans may be Cinco de Mayo. It's my understanding that for you a Mexican cowboy dish from northern Mexico is what you enjoy on that day.
JINICHWe do. My boys love eating that. It is called Chilorio.
JINICHChilorio. And it is a feast. It is meat -- it's pork butt or shoulder that is cooked in fresh squeezed orange juice until it's completely tender and it practically falls off the bone. And then, it's finished off in an Ancho chili sauce and then -- until it's moist, and it has some spices. And then -- that's what goes in Mexico, either that or the machaca or some dried shredded meat, that's what goes into a burrito or burrita. You know, simple, one deliciously prepared ingredient. Not, you know, a thousand things.
JINICHAnd it is cowboy food. It used to be cooked with lard so it used to be preserved for a long time. So women used to pack their men with flour tortillas, which is what's usual to eat in the northern states with the burritos or tamales which (unintelligible) that just lasted for days and days and days. And Cinco de Mayo, Kojo, is such a small celebration inside of Mexico and it is mostly celebrated in Puebla. But ironically, outside of the U.S., it's become these huge feasts that, of course, every Mexican jumps onto it. You know, why not celebrate? But it is not so big inside of Mexico, which is sort of ironic.
NNAMDINow, you can get it in a can, can't you?
JINICHYou can. Really Chilorio has transcended boundaries. You can get it in a can.
NNAMDIHere's Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, thank you for waiting. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERHey, Kojo, how's it going?
NNAMDIIt's going well.
PETERWell, great. I just wanted to say two things really quick. I come from a family that's half Greek and half Irish and so we have some strange kind of things that we'd do. When we were kids, we kinda wanted to eat American food like all the other kids did, like pizza and stuff like that. So Greek food is a little weird for us. But then, the older we got, the more we developed a taste for it. So now our holidays have all kind of become a combination of Irish food and Greek food, which sounds kinda strange, but my...
NNAMDIOh, lost Peter. Can't hear...
NNAMDIGo right ahead, Peter. You dropped off for a second there. If you are...
PETERSorry about that.
NNAMDI...if you're on a speaker phone, it would be better if you were not and you could just put the phone to your ear. But go ahead.
PETERIs that better? Sorry about that.
PETERAll right, great. We're back. So my mom makes this dish called (word?) . It's Greek food that's like kind of a beef-based stew. And she also makes mashed potatoes. And we use the stew to kind of be a topping on the mashed potatoes. My dad makes a Greek style green beans. It's kind of tomato-based as well. So we kind of mix it all together.
PETERAnd the other thing I wanted to say was that I don't like cake. I never liked cake growing up and sweets. So my mom was always determined to make me a birthday cake so I never liked it. So one day I came over to the house and she came out of the kitchen with a heaping plate of mashed potatoes with cheese on it and birthday candles. So...
JINICHWhat mothers will do.
PETERYeah, so she just had to make me a cake no matter what. So she figured I'd eat that so we call it the Irish birthday cake.
NNAMDIMashed potatoes and cheese with a candle in it. Well, you go, Peter. Thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIHere's Ethan in Arlington, Va. Ethan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ETHANGreat. Thanks for having me, Kojo. I love the show. I have two very brief questions. The first is one tradition, it ultimately involves my grandmother who was Polish. She used to make a lot of sausage for the holidays, every holiday. I was wondering where in the D.C. area you can get sausage casings for making your own sausage. The second question is the other dish she would make was a dish called czernina, which is duck blood soup.
ETHANAnd so when she died we kinda lost the recipe for it. It was like a sweet and sour soup and it had actual duck's blood and it had raisins and plums and other stuff. It was delicious. It sounds really disgusting, but it was great. I was wondering if you'd ever heard of it or if your guests have ever heard of it and where I can get duck blood.
NNAMDII have never heard of it and I don't know if either of my guests have. Have you heard of it, Todd?
GRAYWell, first I'm gonna tell you about the casings for your sausage, okay. I think if you're serious about making them and, you know, you need just more than casing, but if you make that great fresh meat you want to go -- probably go talk to your local butcher and tell him that you're looking for casing. But you don't need to specify whether you're looking for hog casing, lamb casing or just exactly the circumference that you're looking for. But I know that your butchers could probably get to that. If you give him some time, they'll procure that.
GRAYAnd as far as something like duck blood, I think that that's something you're not going to find every day, that that's gonna have to be probably procured from some small producers. But it is out there and it can be -- you have to be a little diligent in your search, but you can definitely get it.
NNAMDIAny additional advice that you can give to Ethan, Pati?
JINICHWell, my grandparents also came from Poland on my father's side. And they used to make these stews that we called (word?) . He may be familiar with them. And they used to stuff -- they used to do the neck casings of the turkey or the geese or the ducks and stuff them with a combination of mashed potatoes and bread. And then cook them in what our friend is saying, you know, a similar thing of prunes and sweets and carrots and raisins. And so it was -- I hear it's delicious. You know, what he...
NNAMDIIt certainly sounds delicious. Ethan, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Don in Washington. "Could you please let Pati know that I watch her show every weekend? And she is my new TV food crush. Feliz Navidad to all," says Don. And Feliz Navidad to you, too, Don. On to Jennifer in Washington, D.C. Jennifer, your turn.
JENNIFERHi. Happy Holidays. So my -- I'm Norwegian on my dad's side and every Christmas, he would make these little fried donuts that he always said had a special ingredient in them. And they are called (word?). And a few years ago, he gave me this secret ingredient as a gift, I think because he was tired of making them. In his old age, he's slowed down a bit.
JENNIFERAnd so now about three years ago, I started making them. And they're, like I said, fried donuts. And the secret ingredient that he would call (word?) salt is actually ammonium carbonate. And I’m curious to know if either one of your guests have ever heard of these? 'Cause the only time I've ever seen them is, you know, when my dad made them when I was little.
NNAMDIWhat is ammonium carbonate, Jennifer?
JENNIFERI have no -- I don't know. Alls I know is it came in a...
NNAMDITaking me back to my high school chemistry class here. Here's Pati.
JINICHYou know, all of these ingredients, it is fascinating. The bunuelos, which are these traditionally made fritters on December and the New Year's time, the old recipes for them called for either potassium nitrate, which is also known as (word?) and also the water that you get from simmering tomatillo husks.
JINICHAnd the funny thing about these ingredients is that many people shy away from these recipes. You know, you get a recipe for this delicious thing and it says, you know, use potassium nitrate and use tomatillo husks and all of these strange things, you may not want to do them. But all these recipes go down from generation to generation. And the thing is baking soda does the exact same effect as potassium nitrate. You know, it's so fun to do the research behind the recipes and find out why certain ingredients are called for and how we can substitute them and get, you know, the same wonderful results.
JINICHIt would be really good to find out, I mean, if you have the secret ingredient and you have plenty of it, then no need to worry. But if you don't then it's just a matter of finding out what that ingredient did for that peculiar dish. And then find out what you can use to substitute it. In this case the potassium nitrate was used to leaven the dough and to make it more fluffy as it fries.
NNAMDIJennifer, does that answer your concern, question?
JENNIFERYeah, no. I mean, I -- my dad ordered it on the internet -- gotta love the internet, right? From Grandma Girdie's home cooking aids in Pennsylvania and it's labeled baker's ammonia. And just the flavor that it gives it, the closest I can think of is almost like a (word?) breakfast treat almost.
JENNIFERAnyway, they're delicious. And if I make enough of them, I'll send you all some.
NNAMDIOkay, Jennifer. Thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433--8850. What's your favorite holiday food tradition? Share your story, 800-433-8850. None of you have answered the question of what goes with wassail. How about what goes with champurrado? See if you can answer that question. What goes with champurrado? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDITodd, for years, your restaurants have specialized in seasonal cooking. Do you see that as in a way carrying on a certain tradition?
GRAYAbsolutely. I mean, you know, when you think of seasonal ingredients or seasonality, I think that those are things that we all look forward to. I think we always look forward to the first asparagus of late spring. And I think we always look forward to the first corn on the cob. And it segues into the autumnal season with root vegetables and the wonderful flavor of a Kabocha squash or butternut squash.
GRAYAnd of course, you know, chestnuts, one of my favorite things. That, you know, the ingredient can drive so much emotion. And the ingredient can drive so much feeling because, you know, even the -- a phone call can drive emotion that, hey, we've just gotten the first chestnuts. Are you ready for your first hundred pound delivery? It just lets you know that it is the fall and it is time to put away, you know, the corn and the grain from corn. And sort of look at the new fall and look in anticipation of these great ingredients and the root vegetables coming.
GRAYSo, yeah, I think ingredients drive tradition, absolutely and drive traditional emotion.
NNAMDIYou should know that Todd has always worked closely with local farmers to develop fresh organic produce and other ingredients for his kitchen, including custom-grown beef. And one might say that Todd's impact on D.C.'s culinary scene is, well, immeasurable because a lot of the city's most celebrated chefs today trained under him. His background is in classical French and Italian techniques.
NNAMDIHe has a noted proclivity for invention and his unflappable kitchen leadership is also cited. So we're really glad to have you here with us today, Todd. We need unflappable here today.
GRAYI like that word. I'm going to have to use that one again. I'm honored to be unflappably involved.
NNAMDIAnd this we got from Jill in Northern Virginia. "My family hails from Southern Arizona and we traditionally eat Mexican food each Christmas Eve. So, Pati, please tell us, where can I get the best flour tortillas in D.C. and Northern Virginia? The typical grocery store varieties do not cut it."
JINICHYou have to make your own.
NNAMDIThere you go.
JINICHI think I have a post in my blog about how to make your own flour tortillas. It is incredible...
NNAMDIAnd we do have links to your blog at our website, kojoshow.org.
JINICHKojo, it is just incredible the difference of a freshly made flour tortilla. It is soft, it's sweet, it's malleable. Some flour tortillas that you get at the stores are just hard as, you know, cardboard and have no taste. But that being said, it is very time intensive to make flour tortillas. You have to make the dough. And usually to have a little flavor it has to have good lard or vegetable shortening. And you have to roll and roll and roll and stretch and stretch and stretch and make one by one.
JINICHSo it's good to make them for the holidays but on an everyday thing, I think there are really some good brands out there. So I think you should look for flour tortillas that haven't been and do not need to be refrigerated. In some Latino stores, in some Latino aisles in some international or mainstream stores have different brands. So go out there and feel like experimenting and try a couple of brands. And you won't be disappointed. I find that Mission flour tortillas are good and sweet and malleable.
NNAMDISo you would recommend those. You can also find not only links to Pati at our website kojoshow.org, but we just Tweeted out a link to duck blood soup and we're going to post that link on our website also. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. Still interested in you sharing your holiday food tradition? Call us at 800-433-8850 and tell us which culture enjoys fat choy chay or fat choy chai -- I'm not quite sure how it's pronounced -- during holiday seasons. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on family food traditions for the holidays. We're talking with Pati Jinich, cooking instructor and food writer. She's the chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute and hosts her own PBS cooking show. It's called "Pati's Mexican Kitchen." Todd Gray is also with us. He is co-owner and chef of DC's Equinox and Watershed restaurants. He's also culinary director for Sheila Johnson's Salamander Hotel and Resort.
NNAMDIEarlier this year, he launched Todd Gray's Muse at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We got an email from Michelle, or a post on our Facebook page from Michelle. "A holiday isn't a holiday without sauerkraut and turkey. To make it even more unusual, we have Greek sauerkraut with bacon, onions, and tomato sauce. It's a Baltimore thing, I guess." You're from this area, Todd. Do you know that as a Baltimore thing?
GRAYI'm just writing a little note to Pati. She had a question about Muse. Tell me -- ask me the question again, I'm sorry. You got me distracted, Pati. I apologize. I'm embarrassed.
NNAMDIIt's this thing about sauerkraut and turkey with Greek sauerkraut, with bacon, onion, and tomatoes. Sauerkraut and turkey at a holiday time?
GRAYI have to say I've not heard of that before, but maybe that is something...
NNAMDIHaven't been hanging out in Baltimore?
GRAYNo. I would think that there'd be some crab and oysters in there somewhere.
NNAMDII would think so, yeah.
GRAYBut no. I don't know that. I have to say that doesn't sound familiar to me.
NNAMDIYeah. It doesn't…
JINICHBut anything with bacon sounds good.
NNAMDIHere is Kate in Potomac, Md. Kate, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATEThanks, Kojo. This is a great program. I just wanted to share my family's background. I'm from Maine, and my family -- well, my mother's side is French Canadian, and every Christmas Eve we used to have something called (word?) , which is a French ground pork pie -- meat pie. And it's made with ground pork, cooked with onions, diced onions, and mashed potatoes, salt, pepper, and I believe it's ground cloves and sage.
KATEMy mom always used to say that if a French Canadian had cloves, sage, and I think one other spice, it would be perfectly fine in the kitchen. And it was interesting because I was living in Europe one year, and invited a bunch of people over for dinner, and made this. And this Irishman came up and said, ooh, just like me mum used to make. And I was totally surprised that, you know, something that was near and dear to my heart was something that an Irishman would been used to, and he ended up eating almost the whole pie which was kind of an ironic thing.
KATEBut that's something we always would have on Christmas Eve, usually after coming back from midnight mass. It was just a tradition in our family.
NNAMDIAre you from Quebec?
KATEWell, my grandfather was, and my mother grew up in western Maine.
KATEAnd so it's a typical...
NNAMDIKate, thank you very much for your call. Todd, today's the second day of Hanukkah, and it's my understanding that you have made a twist on the plain potato pancake. What do you do and how do traditionalists react to what you do?
GRAYWell, you know, it absolutely is the first full day of Hanukkah, and of course the latke -- must be speaking of latkes, and my wife Ellen and I, who do an awful lot of cooking together, you know, we put together -- I did a dish at the restaurant for years that was a little sweet potato latke. I was introducing -- in the fall, I was introducing sort of some heirloom sweet potatoes into a latke dish, but I wanted to use some heirloom potatoes, and they were from a small farm in Pennsylvania, and I thought this would be kind of a creative turn on a classic dish.
GRAYSo I was going really a sort of a 50/50 ratio of a sweet potato to Yukon gold. I like gold potatoes because they're a little sweeter and they caramelize a little better in the pan. And so that has become sort of our latke of the Gray family and the Casshof family, and I -- my son Harrison made them last night and it's a nice variation, and it still is a classing flavor, but it has a little sweetness to it, and there's a little alternative to it, but we still use the classic -- or the traditional accompaniments of sour cream and apple sauce, and I think last night, Ellen and I actually saw -- I think I saw some little local fruit jam that she had bought at a farmer's market back in the summer that she saved.
GRAYSo again, introducing things that maybe not -- might not be associated with it, I don't know if my father-in-law, Ed, might have agreed with some of the sweet potato and some of the other fruit jams outside the apple and sour cream, but it does. It makes it a new twist on a classic, and I think that's what fun and makes tradition fun.
NNAMDIAnd how have traditionalists responded to it?
GRAYOh, let's see here, Kojo. You know, I got -- I'd say the traditionalists, I guess you gotta catch them at the right moment, you know. It depends on what kind of mood they're in. But no, I think it's well -- it's been well received and we've done it at Equinox, and it's a latke of new style, and I think so far it's been enjoyed. The plates always come back empty, so I guess that's a testament to it.
NNAMDIYeah. If it tastes good, hey, forget tradition. No, not really. If it tastes good, we can accept it. Here's this email we got from Deidre from Arlington. "My family makes the Christmas Dip, so named because it's so bad for you, you should really only eat it once a year. Take one stick of butter, an eight-ounce package of cream cheese, four cloves of garlic and lots of chopped fresh dill. Blend it all in the food processor and enjoy. Beware," says Deidre, "it's super garlicky." Sounds like it doesn't it? Yes. Well, enough said about that.
GRAYIt's good for your blood, I guess, huh?
NNAMDIHere is Michelle in Fairfax, Va. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHELLEHi, Merry Christmas.
MICHELLEI always enjoy your program, and especially your distinct enunciation. I never have to say, what did he say?
NNAMDIWell, that's why I distinctly enunciate, so that you don't have to say that.
MICHELLERight. Well, my family -- my mother was a fantastic cook. When she was a little girl she was the oldest in the family, and then there were two more sisters and three more brothers. So she had to cook from the very beginning. And then she went and became a nurse and she was buttonholed to be dietician, so she knew what she was doing. And in the '50s, her friends would come over to the house and we'd have what we call a cooking baking bee.
MICHELLEThere would be about six women, and we would bake pecan shorts, which were like the Mexican wedding cakes, and...
MICHELLE...the Greeks have a cookie like that, and then she would make tea ring which was extremely delicate dough. I mean, you had to eat the whole thing the first day basically, and she put chocolate chips in it and that was wonderful. And then they made dream bars and walnut squares which are somewhat the same with walnuts and coconut and so forth, and then of course the spritz cookies. And she made frosted butter horns, and then we had these red plastic cookie cutters that I still have today that would have, you know, like horses with fancy trimmings all over them, and elephants and ducks and teddy bears and so forth and so on.
MICHELLEAnd then after we had done all of that, we'd split all the cookies up and then the men would come and we'd have a potluck poker party that evening. And then for Christmas Eve we would have a standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding, and a sparkling red burgundy, which dry -- I mean, I don't know where they got this in this dinking little, you know, farm town.
MICHELLEAnd then we would have either cherries jubilees, a, you know, New Orleans recipe, or I think once she made a baked Alaska, and it -- oh, I just loved it.
NNAMDIYes. It does indeed.
MICHELLEIt was just fantastic. It was -- it's really, really good memories.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us, Michelle.
MICHELLENow I'm hungry.
NNAMDISo am I. We got several emails from people who grew in Baltimore who said, yes, we always have sauerkraut with our turkey. It's part of a Baltimore -- it's part of German Baltimore tradition. There you go.
NNAMDIAnd Jennifer from Eldersburg, Md. says, "What goes with wassail? I think it's little pieces of toast called sippits." Well, I am not so sure about that wassail, because what my notes say, and by the way, wassail is an alcoholic-spiced cider with apples and frothy beaten eggs, the pagan winter solstice tradition of wassailing of greeting neighbors with a mug of warm cider or ale thickened with froth eggs dates back to pre-Christian fertility rituals in which crops and trees were sprinkled with spice cider to ensure a good harvest the following autumn. So there you have it. On now to Sally in St. Michaels, Md. Sally, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SALLYHi, Kojo. I'm calling about a Christmas morning breakfast.
SALLYAnd what I've done for years, I got this from my sister-in-law, wow, a long time ago. It's a cheese strata, and in addition to tasting really good, it has to be made at least one or two days ahead.
SALLYSo it's basically line a pan with some bread -- breadstrips, and then you put on some crumbled cook sausage and some cheddar cheese, and pour over some eggs and milk. But over the years my family has developed vegetarians, and people who can't eat bread, so I've adapted that recipe to, you know, be a vegetarian strata. But anyway, I think the real plus about it is that you have to make two days ahead, so that you just pop it in the oven on Christmas morning.
NNAMDIAre you familiar with this, Pati?
JINICHNo. I love the dishes that you have to make ahead of time, because it's just the perfect excuse to just pop them in the oven right before you're going to entertain or have dinner. In Mexico, we have a lot of casseroles like that, you know, some layered. We forget about, you know, the tradition lasagna, some layered with corn tortillas or some that have the corn though, you know, made for tamales under and then over and then inside.
JINICHI'm making one for tonight, and it has meat that's cooked with onion and garlic and then an ancho and (word?) sauce, and then it has almonds and raisins and olives, and that goes inside of two layers of the corn (unintelligible) that's -- you make it homemade and it's super soft, and you make it ahead of time, and then you just pop it in the oven. Just like that, there are so many, and I just think it is so convenient when one finds those recipes. You get to work on a Sunday, you know, to make them, and then you can pop them in the oven any day of the week.
NNAMDIWriting here, dinner at Pati's tonight.
GRAYI tell you what, that's sounding good.
NNAMDIWe can work with that. Sally, thank you very much for your call. You know, Todd, we were -- she was talking vegetarian, but I'd like to talk meats for a while, because for you, holidays often mean game meats like venison or duck. If someone wants to try a new game food this holiday season, what would you recommend?
GRAYWell, you know, I'm probably partial to venison and game birds around the holidays, and speaking of vegetarian, you know, I -- while she was mentioning, the previous caller, about that the vegetarians for introducing, you know, they were popping up in her family, that's okay, you know. And having, you know, vegan options is good. I mean, I think that's what the creative side of we cooks in the kitchen if we've been tasked to cook for our families, then that is our responsibility.
GRAYSo but I go back to what I lean on for the holidays as far as game meats are concerned. Well, we know -- we think of game -- we think of game in the winter and in the fall, and, you know, venison and bison and Scottish pheasant, and those kind of -- those hearty things that you think of with good burgundies and good red wines, and good Bordeaux and Cabernet. But so, you know, I'd have to say that, you know, for me, around, you know, the Christmas holiday, you know, I like to roast rib racks of venison.
GRAYI think that that that has been something that was sort of a little tradition for us on Christmas Day is to have a nice rack of venison with herbs and roasted with rosemary and garlic and thyme, and sometimes we would almost make a little crust for it with a little, you know, seasoned crumbs and we would, you know, always serve it with some good forest mushrooms and some very pronounced spices, because those big meats always lend themselves to juniper berries and….
NNAMDIPati's complaining you're making her hungry.
GRAYOh, come on now. I don't know about that. This Mexican thing going over here is making me want to drink some Malbec tonight. But yes, the game meats. That, you know, and I think that's the time of year to eat them, because we don't think of those meats in the dead of summer. We think about those meats now. So game birds, ducks and pheasants, and venison are my meats of choice for this time of year.
NNAMDICorey in Reston, Va., you're on the air. Corey, go ahead, please.
COREYYeah, hi. I just wanted to call and talk about my uncle owned a restaurant in D.C. for about 29 years, and over the course of those years he's been improving our Christmas Eve dinner, and the biggest thing has been doing roast Belgian endive and roasted fennel with just olive oil, salt and pepper, and it's -- in the last 15 years it's become a standby for us, and it's probably the thing I look forward to most about Christmas Eve dinner.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Pati?
JINICHYeah. You know it's funny, all of these vegetables and vegetarian options how appealing they've become. I have a sister who became first a vegetarian, and then a vegan, and I'm of course a meat eater. I, you know, anything that has chorizo or bacon or pork, I just dive into it. And it is incredible how tasty, you know, vegan options can be, and how they can open up the menu. And I was just asking Todd about Muse and when he was describing what it was, I am dying to go and try it, all of these options that have no meat. It just makes more options and makes eating meat more special when you do.
NNAMDIMore options. I love more options. Thank you for your call, Corey. Here's Steven in Round Hill, Va. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENHi, Kojo. I'm an American of Russian descent, and I thought I'd share our traditions, and there are a lot of us, believe it or not. There was a great immigration around the turn of the century -- turn of the 19th century to work the coalmines of Pennsylvania. So that's probably the one place in the United States I can go and not be an ethnic minority for a while even to this day.
STEVENBut Russians fast during the Christmas period, or the 40 days before Christmas are considered like minor lent, and so they abstain from meat, no dairy, and on Christmas Eve there is an elaborate meal that's done, oh, evolved over time that I've learned to cook for my father. He learned from his mother and going back to maybe...
NNAMDIAnd you -- we're running out of time, Steven. Will you be continuing that tradition this Christmas?
NNAMDIOh, great for you.
STEVENIt's called (word?) and it's basically a vegan meal with the exception of...
NNAMDISo right now you're in the middle of the fasting period. So good luck to you and thank you for your call. Pati Jinich, thank you for joining us.
JINICHThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIPati is a cooking instructor and food writer, chef at the Mexican cultural institute. She hosts her own PBS cooking show called, "Pati's Mexican Kitchen." Todd Gray, thank you for joining us.
GRAYIt was a pleasure, Kojo. Happy holidays to everyone out there.
NNAMDIHappy holidays to you, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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