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Melissa Clark Knows What You Want to Cook for Dinner Tonight

The NYT Cooking guru looks back on a decade of recipe development

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Melissa Clark is setting the gold standard for internet recipe writing. In her NYT Cooking column, Clark explains how to make familiar dishes with surprising upgrades or simplifications, and her recipes are meticulously tested, so they actually work. Even when Clark’s dishes require some special ingredients or technique, they’re always worth that extra effort. In addition to her column and videos for the Times, Melissa has worked on nearly 40 (!) cookbooks over the last two decades, spanning a wide range of cuisines.

Clark recently swung by the Eater Upsell studios to chat with Helen and Greg about her new book Dinner: Changing the Game, the enduring legacy of her 15-year-old story about fried Twinkies, and how her recipe for pea guacamole kicked of a nation-wide debate about what really belongs in avocado dip.

As always, you can get the Eater Upsell on iTunes, listen on Soundcloud, subscribe via RSS, or search your favorite podcast app. You can also get the entire archive of episodes — plus transcripts, behind-the-scenes photos, and more — right here on Eater.

Read the transcript of the Eater Upsell Season 3, Episode 5: Melissa Clark, slightly edited for clarity, right here.


Greg Morabito: Today in the Eater Upsell Studios, we have Melissa Clark. You certainly know her if you look at the New York Times Cooking section — she's this recipe guru. She's written so many cookbooks, I couldn't even keep track of them.

Helen Rosner: 40,000, is that the number?

Melissa Clark: Something like that, yeah. We might be up to 38,000.

Helen: A lot of cookbooks.

Melissa: Yes.

Helen: You've written so many cookbooks.

Melissa: You could actually reach the highest shelf if you stepped on all of them.

Helen: Have you done this?

Melissa: No, but I think I will.

Greg: Melissa has a new book coming out probably as you're listening to this called Dinner: Changing The Game. And it has a beautiful cover, I have to say. What is the dish on the cover of this book?

Melissa: Isn't it pretty?

Greg: Yeah.

Helen: But also welcome to the Eater Upsell.

Melissa: Oh, thank you for having me.

Greg: Yeah, welcome to the Eater Upsell.

Helen: Beautiful cover.

Melissa: It is a beautiful cover. It’s harissa chicken, a sheet pan chicken dish. And it has harissa and olive oil and garlic and potatoes and leeks and yogurt and cumin, and you cook it all at the same time on your sheet pan so you're only dirtying one sheet pan. And it is so delicious and easy. Everybody should make this recipe.

Helen: I want to make this recipe.

Melissa: And then there's a dahlia in the corner.

Helen: I was going to ask about that — there's a beautiful pink dahlia in the lower corner. And Dahlia is your daughter's name.

Melissa: Exactly. So I asked the photographer, very specifically. We had a great photographer named Eric Wolfinger, the pictures are beautiful. And I said, "Can we please put a little splash of color in the photo, like a dahlia perhaps?” And he did.

Helen: So do you have dahlia Easter eggs in many of your photos?

Melissa: It should be! It should be a theme, except you can only get dahlias in the fall. So, no, but it should be a code. I should start doing that.

Helen: Who's that famous caricaturist who wrote his daughter's name —

Melissa: Oh right, I know who you're talking about.

Helen: Al something.

Greg: Oh, yeah. Al something.

Melissa: And his caricatures are everywhere in restaurants —

Helen: He has a Broadway theater named after him.

Greg: Yeah.

Helen: His daughter's name is Nina, which fortunately is all these beautiful vertical lines, and he puts her name into —

Melissa: Nina, into every single caricature, I know. I love it. I love looking for the Nina.

Helen: Yeah, so you should start putting Dahlia in everything.

Melissa: I wanna do secret Dahlias everywhere.

Helen: Al Hirschfeld!

Greg: Al Hirschfeld! I just looked that up. Yeah.

Melissa: I never would have gotten that. I would have been Googling when no one was looking.

Helen: And we would have like edited in like, our producer Dan’s voice just being like “Al Hirschfeld” or whatever.

Greg: So Melissa, Dinner: Changing The Game. What's the hook for this book? How did it come together? Is there a big idea behind it? Or is it just more of your favorite recipes?

Melissa: There is a big idea behind it, because it's changing the game. It's not just dinner. You know, having written my New York Times column now for 10 years, I've written a lot of dinner recipes. And no matter how many I write, people still have a dinner problem. People, you know, they get home after work and they make the same 10 things, maybe if they're really accomplished cooks. And if they're not, they make the same five things. You know, that thing you do with the chicken, or the thing with that pasta.

Greg: Yeah.

Melissa: And they're great dishes, probably, but you get stuck in them and you get tired of them. So what I tried to do in this book is to take the simple techniques that you're already using to do your chicken thing or your pasta thing and then add interesting ingredient combinations to make it new.

Helen: Do you think there's a reason that dinner has always been the problem meal?

Melissa: Yes. We have to do it every single night. You know, it's like lunch is optional. Lunch, you can get a sandwich, you can get a yogurt. Breakfast, I mean — I don't even eat breakfast. But dinner, especially if you have a family, you have to make dinner.

Greg: It's the one meal that should be cooked.

Melissa: Yes, that's right. People expect you, as a grown-up, especially if you have a family or if you're caring for other people — you're supposed to actually cook dinner, or at least you don't want to order in all the time.

Helen: I have a pretty extensive collection of really old cookbooks and old household management books from like the 1800s.

Greg: Household management, is that the term they used?

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: Yeah. It was weird to have just like a flat-out cookbook, it was also about how to, you know, fire your maid and milk the cow. Well, the very famous one is Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, which is a doorstopper of literally just how to run your home, and cooking was part of this. It’s sort of equal parts actual recipes and how to instruct your cook. But anyway, the point I was going to make is that it seems like often, when we talk about the anxiety of making dinner, I think there's a sort of implied “This is a post-World War II, women-entering-the-workforce” problem, but everybody has always been anxious about making dinner. I think, unless you have a cook — even in these 1860s, 1870s collections — it's like “the trial for the wife of feeding her family every day can be quite arduous.” It's always been a problem.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly. Because, you know, it is the thing that you are expected and have always been expected to do. But I do think it's probably a pretty modern thing — modern being like let's say, post-18th century — right? Because before that, you ether had a cook because you're rich, or you're poor and you could barely get it together. I mean, there wasn't a lot of the middle class people making dinner themselves. So it's a pretty new construct in, you know, the history of eating. But I think you're right, Helen, it's always been this weight, on usually the woman’s shoulders — the mom, the head of the household. And we're really lucky in that, you know, we don't actually have to go to the cow to get the milk, you know? We don't actually have to make sure that we sow the peas at the right time so that we actually have the right ingredients when they're in season. We have it easy.

Helen: I love your approach in this book, which is very much in line with how I cook dinner when I do, because I don't do it that often.

Melissa: Really?

Helen: This is the great secret anxiety that I think everybody has. Like, I don't even have kids. I'm feeding myself and my husband —

Melissa: That's why you don't it that often because, because you don't. Once you have a kid, everything changes. And then you really have to, because every single night, she's got to eat. You know, you can kind of fend for yourself. Your husband, he's a grown guy, he can fend for himself.

Helen: Yeah. But I already feel incredibly deep anxiety and feelings of failure and inferiority because I don't make dinner often enough, and it doesn't even matter, and like, it's going to get so much worse if I ever have kids.

Melissa: But it's going to get so much better as you cook through my book! How do you like that? There’s a little sales pitch. But, no, I think a lot of it is also the way we think about dinner. You know, I think we're still stuck in that post-World War II dinner, where dinner means a protein and two sides. And that's a lot of cooking. You know, you've got to roast your chicken and you have to sauté your green beans and you have to mash your potatoes and you have to do all of that while you are helping your kids with your homework or answering emails, or doing something else.

So what I tried to do in this book is to make every single dish one thing that you can eat for dinner, so that you don't have to balance, you don't have to think, you just follow the recipe or you can put your own spin on it. And by the end of it, you have one really yummy thing that is satisfying, that’s different from maybe something you've made before, and that isn't hard.

Helen: Would you call these “one-pot meals”?

Melissa: Many of them. I mean, sometimes, you might have to use two pots. One of my favorite things is, you know, I love the sheet pan. So I'll use a sheet pan and maybe I'll use a little saucepan on the stove, and if I'm gonna make a salad, I'll have to toss it in a salad bowl. But they're mostly one pot.

Helen: So the one-ness is not really in the preparation, it's on the plate. It's like this is not one for your segmented high school cafeteria-styl, TV dinner plate. This is just like a bowl or plate of one consistent, awesome thing.

Melissa: Right. And then I'll see you get the interplay of flavors and textures and colors.

Helen: I'm flipping through the book while we're talking, and I just opened to the recipe for pea guacamole. Finish your thought, and then we're gonna get to this.

Melissa: Right. So dinner — it's not any harder to make it colorful, to make it flavorful, and to make it absolutely delicious, than it is to make something that's sort of meh and not that pretty. So we might as well take it to its best potential.

Greg: I almost feel like culturally we're moving more toward this idea about, like, really good food is one thing. It's a bowl, it's a sheet pan that has all these lovely things on it, as opposed to, like, it's like the TV dinner, where it's like these little compartments of stuff, you know?

Melissa: Yeah, I think that's true. I think we're evolving culturally. I really do, because, you think about the way you feed a kid, and you keep everything separate because they don't want everything to touch, you know? And then we get more adventurous in our taste, and I think culturally that’s happening as well. We are trying so many more flavors than we ever have, and we are exposed to so many more flavors. It's amazing. My mother never would have been comfortable enough cooking a Korean meal to then riff on it, you know? And that's amazing, the fact that we are starting to learn about really enough cultures that we can start to take it in and, you know, do our thing to it. I think that's great.

Helen: Okay. Let's talk about the controversial pea guacamole, which I totally, by accident, opened to. You call it the “controversial pea guacamole” right here — it's the name of the recipe.

Melissa: Yes, yes. Might as well just take it on.

Greg: Got to be the most famous or notable guacamole recipe of the last three decades, I'd say, or probably of all time.

Helen: Probably of all time. I think, if you ask anybody to say name a specific guacamole recipe —

Melissa: Or name a guacamole recipe that got in the media’s attention —

Helen: That was surrounded by scandal.

Greg: I got to say, as soon as there was the scandal, which was what, like, a year ago? Two years ago?

Melissa: A couple of years ago.

Helen: Two years ago.

Greg: Two years ago. Okay, so I’d had the dish that, you know, served as its inspiration, the ABC Cocina pea guacamole. And, you know, I had it and thought it was completely in line with the concept of that restaurant. And you know, when I started seeing people talk about this recipe that was published in the New York Times popping up on Twitter and Facebook and stuff, I was like, "Yeah, I know, I know I’ve had that.” I didn't connect to what the point of tension was, because I saw it as more, like, this is the chef's recipe from this restaurant that's been sort of reinterpreted.

Helen: Well, Melissa, do you wanna give us a recap of the controversy in case any of our listeners were not filled with rage?

Melissa: Well, the funny thing is, I originally published the recipe — when did ABC Cocina open? I think it was, like, 2012 —

Greg: I would say 2013, but yeah.

Melissa: So I published the recipe in 2013. I had a column at that point, which was called “Restaurant Takeaway” where I would write up a chef's recipe. And I published them in the paper, and in 2013 nothing happened, you know? There was a recipe. It was great. We photographed it. Then two years later —

Helen: Just to interrupt for a second, the recipe is, flavor-wise, a fairly traditional guacamole.

Melissa: Absolutely.

Helen: But it substitutes green peas for a portion of the avocado.

Melissa: Exactly. And this is from a restaurant that is next to the farmers market. It is all about farmers market cooking. So using fresh peas makes perfect sense. And what the peas do to the guacamole is, well, first of all, they add sweetness, they add a different texture. You know, avocado is very soft, so they add a slight crispness. They add a chunkiness. They are beautiful. They add a great color. So I think it's a great dish.

Now, is it the only guacamole I'd ever want to eat? If someone put me on a desert island and said you have one kind of guacamole, I would go with traditional. But I believe that there are many ways to enjoy guacamole. Anyway, I wrote about it in 2013 — not a peep, nothing. Then the New York Times on Twitter, they've tweeted two years later, they were just, you know, going through their archives, I think. Maybe it was around the Super Bowl? No. It was some other supporting event thing, because I remember it was warm out. When I heard, I was walking down the street, and it was warm.

Greg: I think, as I recall, that it was around like the Fourth of July, when it was a news dead zone.

Melissa: Oh, yeah. Maybe that's right.

Greg: It was July. Yes. There was an Eater post about this.

Helen: Greg is fact checking!

Melissa: All right.

Greg: It was July 1, 2015.

Melissa: Okay, there we go. So I was outside on July 1, 2015. So two years after the original recipe, they tweeted it and they said something like, "Put peas in your guacamole. Trust us." Now, first of all, the wording of that tweet is very provocative, you know, "Trust us."

Helen: That's a good tweet. It's asking for engagement.

Melissa: Exactly. And that's what they got. And then readers were livid. They're like, "How dare you put peas in guacamole? Peas in guacamole is a travesty.” First of all, they all thought it sounded gross. It's delicious. And they didn't like that we were mucking with tradition — guacamole should only be one way. And as a food writer, as a recipe developer, I fundamentally disagree with that. Now, I mean, it got to the point where President Obama was tweeting about this pea guacamole. In fact he tweeted that, “Peas in guacamole, no. Guacamole should only have onion and garlic.” Now, of course —

Helen: Garlic? That's bullshit.

Melissa: Yes, exactly.

Greg: No, no garlic in guacamole.

Melissa: Well, duh. So Obama got it totally wrong.

Helen: This is part of the great history of tension between the President of the United States and the New York Times.

Melissa: Yeah. But then, George Bush, I think, also tweeted.

Greg: Jeb Bush, I see, yeah.

Melissa: Jeb Bush. Yes, Jeb Bush tweeted and he agreed with Obama. I mean, he didn't acknowledge Obama, but Obama and Bush totally agreed that peas and guacamole was a bad idea.

Greg: So when you saw that, when you saw the president tweeting about your recipe —

Helen: Negatively.

Melissa: Yeah, negatively.

Helen: You have been chastised by Barack Obama.

Melissa: I know.

Helen: That should be the top line of your author bio.

Melissa: “The woman who wrote the recipe.” But it wasn't even my recipe. But here's a thing. I'm the reporter. It wasn't my recipe. I was reporting on someone else's recipe. So it was very hard to feel personally affronted by all of the attention. I wasn't that upset. I mean, it was a lot. I had to go on some new shows to talk about it.

Helen: The angle, as a serial dieter, that I feel like was not sufficiently expressed is that if you read any of those low-fat cookbooks, or if you get involved in the weird cycle of self-loathing that is Weight Watchers, pea guacamole is a big part of your life. For decades. pea guacamole has been this like tragic fat-woman diet food.

Melissa: Okay, I had no idea.

Helen: Do you want all of the fun of guacamole without any of the deliciousness of avocado? Just use peas!

Melissa: Wow.

Helen: I've made pea guacamole, like, when I have been actually caring about losing weight. And it's fine. I had not done what this recipe does, which is very smart, which is combines the peas with the avocado, so it's not just all tragic legume.

Melissa: I did not know that was a thing. And that adds a whole other layer to the story, which I didn't realize.

Helen: Yeah. And then that sent me down the sort of interesting semiotic and semantic path of: What is a guacamole? And at what point on this smooth-food continuum does something stop being a guacamole and start being a hummus?

Greg: Oh, yeah.

Melissa: Oh, interesting. And then we have the whole hummus problems. So, yes, why is butternut squash hummus not offensive? Why is pea guacamole offensive, but not butternut squash hummus? Tell me that.

Helen: Yeah. And why is butternut squash hummus even identified as a hummus instead of a guacamole?

Melissa: Because of tahini, right? So it's like, tahini and lemon and garlic, I would say would be the —

Helen: Hummus-maker.

Melissa: The hummus-maker. So then what's the guacamole-maker? Is it the cilantro, lime, and jalapeño?

Helen: That seems right. So if I put cilantro, lime, and jalapeño in a puree of chickpeas, would I have to say it’s hummus, or maybe chickpea guacamole?

Melissa: Oh my god, chickpea guacamole! Oh, wow.

Helen: And could you make avocado hummus?

Melissa: You know what? All of this sounds really good. I'm just gonna go home and make it and not actually stress out about it.

Greg: You know, we could do like a Facebook poll about this and be like, What is this?

Melissa: Exactly.

Helen: Well, I mean, this is a famous logical philosophical paradox, right?

Melissa: Yes, exactly.

Helen: The paradox of the heap. Like at what point do you draw these lines? And, of course, they're completely arbitrary. And avocado has very little in common with a pea biologically, right? What is an avocado?

Melissa: It's a drupe, right?

Helen: And a pea is a legume.

Melissa: I think, right.

Greg: So it's a drupe because it has a seed?

Helen: Yeah, because it has the big central pit.

Melissa: It's a stone fruit.

Greg: That’s so weird.

Helen: Yeah. And then you also have things like white bean spread, which is called a bean spread even though it's kind of a hummus, but it's a bean.

Melissa: And then it doesn't have the tahini.

Helen: Right. This is very important triangulating work that we're doing right now.

Melissa: I think so.

Helen: This is so much better than, “Is a taco a sandwich?”

Greg: So Melissa, you write a lot of recipes. How do you decide what to pick, what to zero in on. What is that process like?

Melissa: Well, it's collaborative. You know, it's collaborative if I’m writing for the Times. It's different from a cookbook — well, I mean, it's a little collaborative because my editor is somewhat involved, although she's not as hands-on as my editor at the Times. So I spend a lot of time going over ideas with my editor at the Times. It always starts with: “What do I feel like cooking? What do I feel like eating?” That's the place it starts. And then, we go to: “What would fill out the section. What don't we have in our database? What makes sense seasonally. What haven't we done in a while?” No more lamb. We're done with it, as my editor said.

Greg: No more lamb. Why?

Melissa: Well, we're taking a lamb hiatus. She said, "You know, the number of lamb recipes that we have in our database far exceeds the interest in lamb that we get." So in other words, we’ve overdosed on lamb for a while, so we’re taking just a little break. We'll come back to it because it's delicious.

Greg: That's like the recipe writer's recipe or something, lamb.

Melissa: I love lamb. It's so true. I was really pushing lamb this spring. So Easter, come on? Easter, Passover, lamb, lamb, lamb, lamb. And, you know, instead, we ended up with pork tenderloin. So then it's a compromise. Then, you know, my editor might come back and say, "Well, you know, we haven't done pork tenderloin." And then I will say, "You know, I'm not so into pork tenderloin, but maybe there’s a way, I can get into it.” And then I'll run home and I'll play with pork tenderloin, and then I'll realize, "Oh my god, if you stuff it, and you keep it juicy, it's delicious." So I would live and learn something new, and there will be a recipe for pork tenderloin coming up in the next few weeks.

Helen: It sounds like the internet has changed the way the Times thinks of recipes.

Melissa: That is very true, because we have the database now. And when I say the database, I mean, NYT Cooking which is, you know, it's a whole other site.

Greg: Yeah. You all are crushing it. It looks beautiful, and it's super easy to use.

Melissa: Thank you. Yeah, it's a good site. It really makes sense. And, we are working really hard to keep it fresh and, you know, keep it good. But it's true — it has changed the way we think about recipes. It used to just be: How do we fill out the section week by week? And now it's: How does this live in an entire universe that we are creating? So it's a heavier lift, but it's good. It's more things to think about.

Helen: I think the tension between the print publication world and the digital publication world, one of the hinges of it, is that exact thing. I remember talking to a friend who used to work for a wedding magazine. And she said that basically, they were on a 10-month cycle. Their average reader would only read Happy Bride or whatever it was called for about 10 months, from when she got engaged to when she got married. And then they would have a totally new reader. So just the churn was incredible. And they basically would just keep running the same stories over and over again, they had a whiteboard where they track all of the stories. And they said, "Okay. It's time for the ‘What to do when your best friend is being a bitch’ story, and it's time for the ‘How do you dress your mom in something that matches your centerpieces’ story." And they would make slight tweaks, like vaguely rewrite it.

Melissa: Right, modernize it, yeah.

Helen: But, you know, and I think back in the day, when there wasn't an internet, if you were a newspaper, if you were a recipe magazine, you could say, “It's spring, it's time for a lamb recipe,” because people were primarily engaging with it through the physical object, which is pieces of paper landing in their hands.

Melissa: Exactly, yeah.

Helen: And now it's like, "Well, man, we have a database with 45 lamb recipes that are pretty similar to each other, and nobody wants to make them.” That's the other tragic part.

Melissa: And then the other thing is that, in fact, they are not our most popular recipes. People should eat more lamb. But, yes, so that's how we come up with the overall concept for what each recipe is gonna be, is this kind of compromise and discussion. And then in terms of flavoring it, I always say that it's like I have my protein and then I dress it up. You know, it's like when you were a kid and you had your little doll and you changed the dressing. I do that to my chicken, like "Little chicken, you know, I'm gonna put you in harissa today and you're gonna look so pretty." That's where I get to really have fun, and then I test the heck out of it. That's a part of what I do is I test my recipes more than once.

Helen: You test them in your kitchen?

Melissa: In my home kitchen. I have a recipe tester who I work with, so I’m not the only one cooking, because it's always good. You need to have someone else, I believe. At least, for my process you need to have someone else test the recipes, because I want to make sure that I don't take things for granted — because I tend to take things for granted — and to make sure that it's all clear, and that it all makes sense, and that when you get it, it works. And the worst thing is when a recipe doesn't work because you've gone out and you spent your money and you put all this effort into it, and then you get something, and you're like, "Eh, that was all right." Yeah, yeah.

Greg: Yeah. It's like dating someone, and everything is going great, and then you're in their car, and you see a Nickelback CD or something. You're like, "What? I can't trust you anymore."

Helen: I've invested the best years of my life in you and your horrible secret taste in music. It's what it feels like.

Melissa: Well, did someone give them that? What if it's a gift?

Greg: Yeah, that's a good point. Yeah.

Helen: I like that you're defending our hypothetical horrible boyfriend. I'm sorry, I just assumed it was a boyfriend, our hypothetical situation.

Greg: Yeah. I was just assuming it was a boyfriend as well, but I guess there's some lady Nickelback fans then out there, I don't know.

Helen: So I imagine by this point in your career, your hit rate is pretty high, and you start the recipe development process, and you have a pretty good sense of where you're going. But do you still, occasionally, just run into something where you’re like, “You know? This is garbage. I'm this done. We're starting over.”

Melissa: Oh, yeah. No, that was all the time. But it's never a total failure, because I usually learn something from it. What did I do recently that was just not going to work? I can't remember. It was something where I was using tahini where I really shouldn't have been using tahini —

Greg: Great title for a book.

Melissa: Using tahini where you shouldn't. So then I'll think, “Okay, it's too rich. It's not creamy enough.” And then I'll think, “Okay, maybe I'll use yogurt or maybe I'll use cream.” I mean, I will keep working on the recipe, and I will hopefully learn that, you know, that use of tahini is just not a good idea — you need to have a better structure.

Helen: So what do you order when you go to restaurants?

Melissa: The weirdest, most unlikely thing. Whenever I see a dish on a restaurant menu, and I think that is a bad idea, I'll order it. Because if it's a good idea, then it's amazing. And I'm like, "Oh my god. I never would have thought to pair, I don't know, squid and tahini."

Helen: Sure.

Melissa: Which actually doesn't sound very good to me. But if someone did that, and it was great, I'd be so happy because I learn it from it. So that's the first thing. And then if everything on the menu looks good, I don't know. I have a really hard time with two people at the table ordering the same thing. I hate that.

Helen: Oh, I totally agree.

Greg: Yeah, yeah.

Melissa: So I will be the last person to order always. So I'll kind of go with the “what’s leftover” thing.

Greg: Yeah, that's so funny.

Melissa: And then if it has anchovies in it, I will order it.

Helen: That depends, of course, on your tablemates being people who are willing to share bites of food.

Melissa: They have no choice. I don’t eat with people who [don’t share]. I mean, I do — that’s not fair to say. But I don’t enjoy it nearly as much. I don't have to stick my fork in their plate. They can give me a little bit on a bread plate.

Helen: Yeah. I am with you. I don't understand people who don't want to share.

Melissa: I haven’t met any non-sharers in our line of work, thank god.

Helen: You couldn't survive.

Melissa: No, because then you would also look at them, and you're like, "Really? Really?”

Helen: Well, I mean, you couldn't make it. And back to Greg's point about this small plates explosion, like you would not be able to live in the restaurant world if you couldn't share plates with people.

Melissa: You would order your three small plates, and you'd put a barrier of napkins, water glasses, and sugar packets around you.

Greg: So, it sounds like you go for the outliers on the menu, or just the things that are kind of unusual?

Melissa: Yeah, I do.

Helen: And I love that you mentioned that if it's got anchovies, you'll absolutely go for it. I think about this all the time, like, I think of them as kind of my menu trigger words. Where I'm just like, "Oh if something has the word artichoke in it, I am just definitely going to order it. There's no question."

Melissa: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's true. Greg, what are your trigger words?

Greg: Anything that's Sichuan whatever, that's not at a Sichuan restaurant. When somebody is using some spices like that. Nduja.

Melissa: Yeah. Love it. Love it.

Greg: Yeah, I guess I like the applications of very potent spicy things in places where I would not necessarily expect them.

Melissa: That is why you and I get along culinarily. It's why you like my recipes, because it's like that little surprise of like, “Hey, let's put, you know, some chile there. Slice up a jalapeño and throw it right on top.”

Helen: I think everybody has that, too, like the things that they'll see on a menu or they'll see in a recipe, and they're just like, "Oh, that's one is for me."

Melissa: Yep.

Helen: Yep. Along with artichokes for me, it's preserved lemon and capers.

Melissa: Oh, yeah.

Helen: Because, I want things that are really salty, I guess. I just want salt.

Melissa: Yeah, two of my favorite ingredients. Capers are great.

Helen: They're magical. The jars of capers are fairly small as jars go, but there are so many more than you need in any given application. Then it's just like, we should be using them by the pound.

Melissa: It's funny, actually, I buy them in bulk. And I always have a pint of capers in the fridge, so I really use them. I love them. And then, you know what? It's great, which we don't get here, but in I think it's in Greece, right, these caper leaves.

Helen: Wow.

Melissa: Pickled caper leaves are amazing. Can we please get more of this?

Greg: I've never thought of that before. Pickled caper leaves, huh?

Melissa: Exactly.

Helen: I had my mind blown by the realization of what capers actually are, which is, they're unopened flowers.

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: They're flower buds.

Melissa: And then caper berries are the berries from the flower.

Greg: Can you fry them like popcorn, if you put them in hot oil?

Melissa: They don't get totally crispy — they'll crisp on the outside, but the inside, they're so marinated. They don't get totally crisp. So they're not popcorn crisp, but they do get nice and crunchy on the outside.

Helen: And you can make capers out of other flowers! Like nasturtium capers.

Melissa: You can?

Helen: Sean Brock’s cookbook Heritage has a recipe for nasturtium capers, from unopened nasturtium blossoms.

Melissa: Wow, that's brilliant. Of course, why not? Yeah.

Helen: Right. It's just like the universe expands. It's that guy with the mind-blowing emoji GIF thing.

Greg: Speaking of the mind-blowing emoji, Melissa, you and the New York Times team just released a really cool thing, the New Essentials of French Cooking, a really amazing bundle of stuff.

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: You basically wrote a cookbook.

Melissa: It was basically, yes. A small cookbook, but yes.

Greg: It's gorgeous. And I'm just kind of curious: What was the process behind something like that? Were you just eating French food for like four months?

Melissa: Pretty much. I mean, these same 10 recipes. We decided at the Times to create the ultimate guide — you know, this sort of beautiful immersion into one thing. And we talked for a long time about what that thing would be. And so we decided on French food. I was pushing Korean food, you know, because I wanted to learn more about it. But, we decided on French food. We went classic. I think that was the right choice. We spent seven months on this thing, so I was behind the recipes and the text.

Greg: Seven months!

Melissa: But then we had producers who did the amazing videos. We had the art director. We had the photographer. And we came up with what I really think is a fresh way to experience a cuisine. What I wanted to do was I wanted to show how historically important French cuisine was in the world, and also how it is still so current and important. I wanted to have a lot of cultural context in it. I wanted to have history in it. And then I also wanted to get down into the nitty-gritty of these 10 dishes, which I think help tell the story of French cuisine. And I really spent a long time making the dishes, breaking them down. What are the tips? What can we learn from them? How do we make them? Are there ways to streamline them? And how do I do that? Or maybe there aren't. And then how do I explain to people that it is worth the time? It was really wonderful.

Helen: How did you decide which 10 recipes?

Melissa: So much discussion, so many meetings, so many emails. So how do you do that? And why 10? I don't know why — so random. We thought, well, 10 is a good number, and so we stuck with it. You know how the numbers are important, you know? It should be 9. Shouldn't it be 11? Oh, no, let's stay with 10.

Helen: I tend to like prime numbers when I have to do these collections of things.

Melissa: So you would have done 11?

Helen: I would have gone with 9 or 11. I probably would have gone with 11.

Melissa: Yeah. 11. We talked about 11 for a long time. In fact, bouillabaisse was on the list for a long time. And then it got cut.

Greg: Sorry, bouillabaisse.

Helen: It's interesting that French food is coming back in this way. And it's actually something I want to talk to you about, which is the relationship between the restaurant world and the home cooking world. It seems like for a very long time, French food was the sort of stodgy, boring older sibling that, you know, everybody wanted to reject. The rejection of French food. We talked about this a little bit when we spoke with Frank Bruni on an earlier episode — the rejection of French food and of the French methods of haute cuisine were such a defining facet of the restaurant revolution of the early 2000s.

Melissa: Yes.

Helen: And I think in home cooking too, it's been this move away from French as the end-all be-all, and more toward an inclusive, more global approach. But now French is coming hurtling back.

Melissa: And as it should. You know, if we're gonna have a global approach to eating, there's no reason that France can't be part of it, because the food there is really good. You know, there's a reason that French food was so adored for so long before it got rejected — it's because it's delicious. Not all of it. You know, some of it doesn't quite hold up to our tastes, like a lot of the mother sauces, but most of it. And also, I mean, when you look at the way people in France are cooking today, it's not like the cuisine has been stagnant. I mean, it's growing too. It's accepting world influences as well. There are five million Arab immigrants in France, approximately. They're influencing the cuisine in an incredible way. So it grows, and we should continue to learn from that.

Helen: So what do you think about the relationship between the restaurant world and the home cooking world? They're the two tracks of food.

Melissa: Yeah, yeah.

Helen: And they don't always intersect.

Melissa: No, they don't. You know, I think we learn a lot from going out to eat. And I think that's great. We should explore different cuisines, and we should try new things. You're more likely to try something new in a restaurant than cook something new for the first time. By the way, I just made that up. But doesn't that sound convincing?

Greg: It's completely convincing. Yeah.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, I don't actually have any stats on that, but —

Helen: Well because of the labor involved, of course I'd rather order a dish where my only loss is money, as opposed to buying all the ingredients and putting in all the work, and my loss is both money and time.

Melissa: Yeah, it's true. And time is money. So it's like double money.

Greg: I mean, it's funny. I have people in my family who think it's more special to make the thing at home than it is to go get it at a restaurant, which is something I don't quite understand. I'm not on the same level as that, you know?

Helen: And then there are some people who are in completely the other side who will say, you know, "It’ll be much more special if I'm eating it out, even if I’m ordering something that is exactly what I cook at home."

Greg: Yeah. That's how I feel, actually.

Melissa: But I think that there is the kind of restaurant that you go to when you want exactly what you would cook at home, except you don't want to cook it. You know, those are your comfort food places. Maybe they're your Italian place that you go to a lot, or your French place or whatever, you know?

Helen: Your neighborhood restaurants.

Melissa: Your neighborhood restaurants.

Helen: Right.

Melissa: And then there are the places that will just take you to a place where you haven't been or where you wouldn't go without, you know, being led there. And I think you need all kinds, and then you need to have many different kinds of restaurant experiences. But what I think is great is if you are a home cook and you love to cook, and so just think about those meals that you had in restaurants and think, "What did I love and how do I apply it in my own kitchen?"

I think a lot of us keep it really separate. There's restaurant meals, and then there's “that thing I do with chicken” that I was talking about earlier. So that great restaurant meal where you had the, you know, that amazing caper sauce with the Korean chile powder or whatever, think about those and try them at home. I mean, that's how I cook. That's what I think about: How do I get more flavor? How do I do more? And restaurants can be really amazing sources of inspiration if you just remember to think about them. Don't get stuck in your rut.

Greg: I love that, yeah.

Helen: The process and eating disconnect with food is a really interesting one, I think. People who love to cook and people who have the luxury to love to cook find so much pleasure in the actual act of it. I mean, we like eating. But I don't know, I find the act of cooking to be very enjoyable for a lot of probably deep-seated psychological reasons about, like, organization and control and feeling like I'm creating something and blah, blah, blah. But like, I think that for some people, it's not pleasurable. Maybe they haven't found the right point of entry, or maybe it's just that they're never gonna like it. And so the point is not the process of cooking. The point is sitting down to like eat the goddam meal.

Melissa: That is part of what I really hope I did with this book and in my life, and just in everything I write. I want people to carve out the time to cook and create an atmosphere in which to cook so that cooking dinner is the best time of your day, or at least one of the best times of your day. It is certainly the best time of my day. I’ve arranged it so that when I’m cooking dinner, I am listening to music, not Nickelback .

Helen: No, that's in the horrible ex-boyfriend's car.

Melissa: No, you know, I'm with my family. I am talking to my daughter. My husband is there with us. Often he'll be reading to me — sometimes he reads me the news.

Helen: That's beautiful. He literally reads to you?

Melissa: Oh, yes. He literally reads. In fact, I think he read all of The Iliad to me.

Greg: Wow.

Helen: That's the most romantic thing I've ever heard in my life.

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: Your husband read you The Iliad while you cook. This is like the level —

Greg: Were you cooking a Mediterranean feast at the time?

Melissa: It was many nights. It was actually when we just had our daughter. But if he's not reading to me, you know, we're chatting about the day, we're chatting with our daughter. I'm drinking a glass of wine. I'm like grooving out. I'm just enjoying the moment. And I'm playing with all these ingredients that I've got, and then I make it a really lovely space of my day. I say in the introduction to my book, that cooking dinner for me is the daily equivalent of a weekend.

Greg: That's awesome.

Helen: Oh, that's really lovely.

Greg: What are your kitchen clean-up strategies? Do you have any?

Melissa: Yeah, Daniel does all of it because I cooked.

Helen: So I have fortunately married into the same situation. I don't know how I have convinced my partner to take, like, the shit end of the stick where I get to do the thing that I really enjoy —

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: And he's like, "Well, you did all that work. I'm gonna do the dishes." And I'm like, "Oh, honey."

Melissa: Yeah, exactly.

Greg: Yeah, all that work, making a giant mess while making delicious food.

Melissa: If you love what you do, you never work.

Helen: We've heard from a lot of our listeners that they listen to the Upsell while they're cooking dinner.

Melissa: That's perfect. That's a perfect thing to do.

Helen: But I think you've now just totally destroyed the legitimacy of that —

Melissa: No, no, no that —

Helen: I mean, if you're listening right now while you’re cooking dinner, you should turn this off, go find your romantic partner — if you don't have one, go get one — and force them to read to you while you cook, which is the new gold standard of love and marriage.

Greg: Yeah.

Melissa: But say that your romantic partner gets home later than you do and you're cooking by yourself and you're gonna make a dinner for the two of you to eat. Isn't listening to the Upsell such a nice way to pass the time?

Helen: It really is.

Greg: So Melissa, you co-authored a lot of restaurant cookbooks over the years. Of all the projects you've worked on, has there been one recipe that comes up a lot?

Melissa: Well, that's funny, no, because I have such a diverse group of cookbooks that I've written. I did the Franny's cookbook. I get a lot of people [saying that they] have been making pizza from that, which is great.

Helen: What's your — I mean, I take us to a very morbid place — but what's the recipe that you hope runs alongside your obituary?

Melissa: Oh, actually, it's not a recipe. It's a reported story.

Helen Oh?

Melissa: I broke the deep-fried Twinkie story. There would not be deep-fried Twinkies, I don't think, in every state fair across the country had I not written about a Scottish chef at a fish and chips place who deep-fried Twinkies back in 2000 and whatever, maybe '99.

Greg: I don't think I've read this. Oh, May 15, 2002. I just Googled it.

Melissa: Right. Before I wrote that piece, there were no deep-fried Twinkies at state fairs. And after I wrote that piece —

Helen: So that's your legacy.

Melissa: That is my legacy. Again, it's not my recipe. I just found the guy, and I wrote them.

Helen: Did you run the recipe?

Melissa: No, I didn't 'cause you don't have to. You just take a Twinkie and you put in a deep fryer.

Helen: Wait. So this is actually a really important question that I did not realize I've been carrying around for years, but I have, in fact, been carrying on for years. They're not encased in butter?

Melissa: Well, so, they are encased in butter.

Helen: Okay. So you make a butter —

Melissa: But just any butter. It doesn't matter.

Helen: And then you just throw it in a deep-fryer, and that is literally all it is?

Melissa: Yeah. Apparently, if you are the deep-fry chef at a fish and chips restaurant in Scotland —

Helen: They use fish oil?

Melissa: They use the fish oil.

Helen: That's horrible.

Melissa: If you're bored, you deep-fry anything that won't move. If it doesn't move, you deep-fry it.

Helen: This makes so much sense.

Melissa: Right. Right. So that's why we have deep-fried Mars Bars and deep-fried Snickers. And if you’re the Scottish chef who's working the deep-fryer and then you move to New York and you go to the bodega, what do they have?

Helen: Twinkies.

Greg: Was this The Chip Shop?

Melissa: The Chip Shop, in Park Slope. I don't think it's still there.

Helen: But they would deep-fry anything. They have this massive menu of things that were deep-fried.

Melissa: Uh-huh.

Helen: And Twinkies have such incredible structural integrity that they stand up to the fryer.

Melissa: Exactly. It's such a perfect thing. I mean, the fact that this guy, I forget his name, deep-fried a Twinkie —

Helen: So that's your legacy.

Melissa: And that's good right?

Greg: My whole sort of internet food understanding has always had deep-fried Twinkies as a part of it. But I mean 2002, that's a long time ago.

Melissa: 2002 is pretty recent.

Helen: And I think we don't give enough credit. Like we talked about how the internet has changed everything, but I don't think we give enough credit to how much the internet has changed the game at state fairs.

Greg: Oh, yeah.

Melissa: Duh, exactly.

Helen: Right? Like this whole, “Like what else can we find and put on a stick, so we can make it into the listicle? Like hell, yeah.”

Melissa: Exactly.

Greg: Right. Well when they talk about deep-fried Kool-Aid, I remember that was a thing a few years ago.

Melissa: Oh, that was a thing. I remember that, yeah.

Greg: Like, how do you fry a liquid?

Helen: I have an issue with that. People who are listening to this, like no, I don't accept that. That's not deep-fried Kool-Aid. That's deep-fried Kool-Aid jello.

Melissa: Deep-fried jello. Yeah, yep.

Helen: And, and I think that this whole game of like frying things and putting them on sticks, or not putting them on sticks, which I respect, like I love that game. I'm really happy that this arms race is happening between like the Minnesota and Texas state fairs. But like you've got to be honest about what it is that you're putting out there.

Greg: Yes.

Helen: It's not a deep-fried liquid, it is a deep-fried gelatin and that’s different.

Melissa: Right. Well it’s like soup dumplings — they're not really soup.

Helen: Yeah. Now, we're hitting this continuum.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly.

Helen: Because it enters a soup state.

Melissa: Right, when you steam it. So, doesn't it become liquid when you fry it?

Helen: I guess that's true. Wait. So with deep-fried Kool-Aid, does it remain liquid inside the shell?

Greg: I think it has a liquid center by the time it’s fried. it's like a soup dumpling.

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: Okay. Then I'll retract my outrage.

Melissa: Yeah. So it's like Jello then, yeah it liquefies.

Helen: Okay. Never mind. You know what? I take it back. I respect it. I embrace it.

Greg: I went to the Minnesota State Fair this past summer, and they had what was advertised as a “deep-fried spaghetti dinner on a stick.” And I was like, "Okay, I'm there." You know what it was?

Helen: Yeah, what?

Greg: It was a fried meatball with a side of sauce. And I was like, that's not that.

Melissa: No, no. Where is the pasta?

Helen: It's bullshit. Yeah.

Greg: The pasta is the batter.

Melissa: Oh, I have an idea. I have an idea. No, this is what they can do.

Helen: Okay.

Melissa: Okay. So you're making pasta and your sauce, and then you take your meatball, and you stuff the pasta and the sauce in the meatball. You get a big meatball.

Helen: Like a Scotch egg.

Melissa: Exactly.

Greg: Yes, see?

Melissa: And then you deep fry it.

Helen: This is amazing.

Greg: That would be great.

Melissa: Okay. Can we go into business?

Helen: Yes.

Melissa: Let's go into business and do this.

Greg: Somebody should really take the state fair thing and, I don't know, put it on St. Mark's in New York or something.

Melissa: Actually, that would be really good idea for, like, a little fast-food restaurant is like state fair food.

Helen: Someone from Minnesota — Andrew Zimmern should add this to his extensive stable of —

Melissa: He would do things with squid, too.

Helen: Oh, yeah

Melissa: Which is underrepresented in the deep-fried on the stick thing, and it's so perfect.

Helen: Yeah, yeah.

Greg: All right. After the podcast, let's go and draw up a business plan for this thing.

Helen: I mean, it's a really fun game. Let's take any food, and how would we turn this into a deep-fried versions of itself on a stick? I feel like we should incorporate this into the lightning round of all of our episodes.

Greg: Yeah.

Helen: I just wanna talk about that. I love this game.

Greg: How would you —

Melissa: Me, too. I think we could do a car game.

Helen: It's a really good car game. Another really good car game that actually you reminded me of earlier in the show is a game that another food writer, a friend of mine, taught me, which is impossible and we're not gonna play it because it will take hours, which is: name three foods, none of which go together with any others. So not just all three together, but like no one goes with any other one.

Greg: Wow.

Melissa: Wow.

Helen: And it is the hardest game in the entire world, and it's really fun. And I encourage everyone to play it during bored moments with your family.

Melissa: Okay. I'm ready. Oh god, Helen, now what have you started.

Helen: Okay. All right, focus, lets get back in. Here's how we'll refocus. We're gonna do the lightning round.

Melissa: Oh, okay. All right.

Helen: Melissa do you know about the lightning round?

Melissa: I do.

Helen: So today's guest question asker is Kendra Vaculin, who's one of the associate producers of the Eater Upsell and a big Melissa Clark fan.

Melissa: Fantastic. Yay.

Helen: All right. Kendra, take it away.

Kendra: Hi, Melissa. This is Kendra. I'm really excited to ask you these lightning round questions today. The first question is: If you could have an infinite supply of something in your kitchen that would never run out, what would it be?

Melissa: Anchovies.

Helen: That feels like an answer that is coming from your heart but not from your brain. Like not that it's a stupid answer, but I think you're saying, “This is the thing I love, and I always want to have it on hand.” But, like, logistically speaking, wouldn’t it be easier for you to —

Melissa: Okay, okay, got it. Fresh ricotta because it will never go bad.

Helen: Okay.

Melissa: You could always have perfectly hour-old, just-made fresh ricotta, the kind with lots of cream in it.

Greg: Yeah. That's making me so hungry talking about that.

Melissa: I know, me too. Oh it gets even better. No, wait. Or maybe it's burrata, freshly made burrata. And it’s never seen a fridge and it will never see a fridge because it's always fresh on my counter, freshly made.

Helen: Oh my god. That's a great answer.

Melissa: Can we all get one now, please?

Helen: Yes, let's do that. We'll just have burrata in the podcast studio.

Melissa: And we can put anchovies on it. It's really a good combination.

Helen: So I love this idea. Okay, sorry, Kendra. I derailed your question. Over to you again.

Kendra: Next question. What are the three recipes that every person should know by heart?

Melissa: Okay. Well, you have to know how to roast a chicken, because, you know, you do — crispy skin. I mean, I was going to say that these are very boring things, but you have to know how to make like an amazing salad.

Helen: That's like a real skill.

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: Salads are not obvious.

Melissa: I mean, and once you get it, you get it.

Greg: Yeah, that's salad.

Melissa: You know, you have to do it without following a recipe, in the salad bowl, without dirtying up another bowl. So you have to be able to put your lettuce in, drizzle it with the right amount of citrus or vinegar, the right amount of salt, and the right amount of olive oil. And then, you know, I always add a little bit of crushed garlic or mustard, but do it right in the bowl.

Helen: So dressing.

Melissa: The dressing right in the bowl. Either on the leaves or before you add the leaves, you have to get all the proportions right. I think if you can do that, you are just so happy. And you have to know how to make — oh god, because I feel like I need a dessert in there, but there is no dessert. I mean, maybe like a really easy hot fudge sauce would be great because you could just put it on anything. Or what else would be really good to know how to make?

Greg: I have a sub question. I don't know if this is top secret information, but what is your most popular recipe?

Melissa: Red lentil soup.

Greg: Red lentil soup?

Helen: Really?

Melissa: I think so. I mean, I don't have actual data on that, but if you look at red lentil soup on NYT Cooking, there are more likes on that thing, I think, than anything else. Can you believe it, red lentil? It's just a simple little red lentil soup, but yet, but yet!

Greg: I might have to check that out.

Melissa: It is a really good recipe for red lentil soup.

Helen: That answer was very in keeping with the philosophy behind your latest cookbook Dinner, because you didn't actually say “recipes,” you talked about techniques and structures.

Melissa: Yes. And once you get those, then you can just do your own thing. I mean, I’m going to stay on brand here.

Helen: That is just great. Your media training has been fantastic.

Greg: Speaking of staying on brand, Kendra, do we have another question?

Melissa: Oh, right.

Kendra: The next question is: What is the most overrated kitchen gadget?

Helen: I love this question.

Melissa: Oh my god. That's a hard one, overrated kitchen gadget. God, I don't even know. I mean, I could tell you the thing I like, but overrated kitchen gadget? Okay, well, here's some crap you don't need: You don't need a garlic press. You definitely don't need a garlic press, because you have your Microplane.

Greg: Microplane, ooh.

Helen: Ahhh.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly. Move over garlic press, Microplane has moved in.

Helen: That's actually gonna change my life.

Melissa: Yeah.

Helen: I love my garlic press and —

Melissa: No. You don't need it. You got your Microplane. It's —

Helen: Holy shit.

Melissa: It's so much easier to clean, too.

Helen: How do you not shred your fingertips to bloody waste?

Melissa: Oh, I tell you how. Okay, so when you peel your garlic clove, you know how you can just cut the end of your garlic clove, that little hard lump?

Greg: Yeah.

Melissa: Don't do it. Just hold onto it. Use that as a little handle.

Greg: Oh.

Melissa: And then go nine-tenths of the way there with a garlic clove, then you're gonna have this little bitty nub. And you know what? Throw the nub out.

Greg: I always hate cutting that thing off anyway, you know?

Helen: Yeah. Man, news you can use on the Eater Upsell. This is changing lives, here.

Melissa: Exactly, exactly. But that's not the question. The question was the most overrated kitchen gadget. I mean, sous vide machines, maybe I'm just not there yet.

Greg: You just do it on your own, you mean?

Helen: Like, use a jacuzzi or something?

Melissa: Why do you have to sous vide? I don't know. I'm not there yet, but maybe one day. Of course, I am a new convert to my electric pressure cooker.

Helen: All I wanna do is talk about electric pressure cookers.

Melissa: Any time.

Helen: They're the best thing in the world. They're so good. And also they have made me realize that slow cookers are garbage.

Melissa: Exactly. Can I just tell you a secret?

Helen: Yes.

Melissa: Okay.

Helen: We're on a podcast that literally thousands of people listen to.

Melissa: Okay. I'm gonna tell everybody a secret. Okay, it's not a secret. All right. It's not a secret, but I'm writing an electric pressure cookbook.

Greg: What?

Helen: Oh my god, I'm in love with you.

Greg: Kablaam-boom.

Melissa: So a year and a half from now, you know, I'll come back on and we can just talk, like, electric pressure cookers.

Helen: It's all I wanna talk about. Like anything you can make in a slow cooker is also perfect for a pressure cooker, except the pressure cooker does it 10 times faster and with infinitely more flavor, and you get to feel really cool.

Melissa: I mean, the only thing that the electric pressure cooker doesn't do that the slow cooker does is you don't have the evaporation where you don't have the concentration of flavors. But you can get it, you can fake it, you just have to compensate for that. I definitely agree with you, but I do find that the slow cooker, because of the evaporation — I mean, it can do really great things. However, my current thinking is: Why would I do that when I could just pressure cook it?

Helen: They're magical, they're magical objects. Is there anything where if you walk into someone's kitchen and it's one of those sort of “I have a lot of money, but I don't really cook” kitchens, you know? The show-off-y Williams Sonoma showroom-style kitchens, where you see a gadget and you're like, "Oh, you suck."

Melissa: Those like wine rabbit thingies! They always break. I mean, they're like, you know —

Greg: Yeah, learn how to use a corkscrew.

Melissa: Exactly. We had one and it broke. And then we had another one, and it broke. I was like, "You know what? I'm done. I'm done." Just my little waiter’s corkscrew is just so much better.

Greg: They’re like $180 or something, too. They're really expensive.

Melissa: Yes, they are. And also the things that suck the air out of your wine — you know. By the way, I have one, I use it. I don't find it makes any difference at all, so —

Greg: I use the old-fashioned way of sucking the air out of the wine: just finishing the wine bottle.

Melissa: That works. We do that in our house, too. That works great.

Helen: I mean, I guess if you're drinking a $400 bottle and you wanna have, like, your one perfect glass. But also if you're that person, I feel less than sympathetic toward you.

Melissa: No, if you're gonna open a $400 bottle wine and not finish it, then you —

Helen: Need more friends.

Melissa: I mean, seriously, what's wrong with you?

Helen: Or invite us over.

Greg: Yes.

Melissa: Yes, invite us over.

Helen: We will drink your fancy wine.

Melissa: You can drink the whole bottle yourself if you start early and you know —

Helen: Believe in yourself.

Greg: Right, yes.

Melissa: Go all night, you can do it.

Melissa: Wait, we're not answering Kendra's question!

Helen: I know. Well, no, I think we got to it — it's the rabbit, right?

Melissa: Yes.

Helen: The rabbit bottle opener is the bullshit kitchen appliance.

Melissa: Yes, there were go.

Helen: All right.

Kendra: What is the best thing that you've watched recently?

Melissa: Oh I just watched the OJ, the five-part —

Greg: Oh, yeah. OJ: Made in America.

Melissa: Oh my god, that was amazing.

Greg: That's good.

Melissa: Amazing.

Kendra: If you had to teach someone how to make, construct, or build something, but it was not food-based, what would you teach?

Melissa: I don't know how do to that. Okay, wait. Dahlia, you know, my daughter, often want me to do crafty things with her. So I've been like trying to sew.

Helen: It's like trussing, but with a fabric instead of an animal.

Melissa: And then you can eat it at the end, so it's really fun. You can —

Helen: But it's probably a very bad idea.

Melissa: So I've been learning how to do embroidery stitches.

Helen: Wow.

Melissa: Because you can go on YouTube and learn anything. It's amazing.

Helen: Interesting to know. This is the theme of our show: the internet is great.

Melissa: But wait, that wasn't the question. The question was, well: What would I show them or how would I show them?

Helen: Yeah, what would you teach us if it can't be food related?

Melissa: Okay, okay. Gardening, right?

Greg: Yeah.

Helen: Is that food —

Greg: Only marginally food related.

Helen: But we'll allow it. I think for purposes of the spirit of Kendra's question, we'll allow gardening as a good answer. Do you grow vegetables —

Melissa: Okay.

Helen: And herbs? Or do you grow flowers?

Melissa: I grow herbs. And I have really beautiful rose bushes. And I learned something really cool about pruning roses. And probably everybody who has roses already knows this, but since I am new to this whole gardening thing, I have learned — you know how to prune a rose? This is really important: You wanna look for the place where the leaves go from three to five. So I'm really bad at describing non-food things. I'm completely not fluent in this. But when the leaves grow, there are these little branches that have five leaves and these little branches that have three leaves. And you want to prune where it has five leaves. Isn't that exciting?

Helen: That's wonderful.

Greg: Yeah.

Melissa: Yeah. I've taught you something.

Helen: I learned so much in this.

Greg: Yeah, for real.

Helen: But Kendra, do you have any final questions for us or are we wrapping up?

Kendra: If you could only drink one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Melissa: Oh, geez. Water, seltzer, wine? Water, seltzer, wine? What it would be? Well, I mean, seltzer over water, but then I could get gassy —

Greg: Assuming that water is always gonna be readily available.

Melissa: Oh water is a given. Oh, okay. Wine, good red wine. You know, I would give up bourbon for it. I would give up aviation cocktails for it. I would give up pamplemousse La Croix.

Greg: Oh, yeah.

Helen: That stuff is good.

Melissa: That stuff is amazing.

Greg: It's the only one I buy.

Melissa: I like the lime and the lemon, too. You know what sucks? The coconut.

Helen: Really strong recommendation for the mango. We've discussed this on an earlier episode, but I am a huge partisan for the mango La Croix. I'm with you on pamplemousse. The only one I think is better than pamplemousse is mango.

Melissa: Wow. Those are strong words. It's a strong endorsement.

Helen: It’s a sleeper hit.

Melissa: Okay. I'm gonna —

Helen: Because, you know, on an earlier episode, Greg and I talked about like my operating theory of La Croix, which is that the citrus-based flavors are vastly superior to the non-citrus ones.

Melissa: Yeah, I agree with that.

Helen: And even though mango is a non-citrus, it is highly acidic fruit.

Melissa: Mm-hmm.

Helen: And so I think it works because really, the through line is how acidic is the flavor.

Melissa: All right, yeah.

Greg: Wow.

Helen: Try mango.

Melissa: I'm going to.

Helen: You can hate it, but you'll be wrong.

Greg: Well, on that note, I wanna say, Melissa, thanks so much for chatting with us today. I feel like I've learned like so much stuff.

Melissa: It's been a pleasure.

Helen: If our listeners wanna buy Dinner: Changing the Game, they can buy it everywhere, right?

Melissa: They can buy it everywhere. Yeah, just go click somewhere — or go to a store actually. It's nice.

Helen: Yeah. And you can meet people.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly.

Helen: And if they wanna find you on the Internet, where can they find you?

Melissa: They can find me at NYT Cooking. There's lots of recipes by me and videos. You can see me, you know, spatchcock a chicken for example, or you can go to my website, if you wanna find out about events and things like where I’m signing books or whatever. It's melissaclark.net because someone else has dotcom, damn it.

Helen: I hate that person. I'm gonna find them.

Greg: Yeah. Not cool, not cool.

Helen: Have them on the show and humiliate them. No, we won't. We'll be loving. We love everybody, but that's not cool. You should have a dotcom. All right. Melissa Clark, thank you so much for joining us on the Eater Upsell.

Melissa: Thank you for having me.


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The Eater Upsell is recorded at Vox Media Studios in Manhattan and Los Angeles
Hosts: Greg Morabito and Helen Rosner
Producers: Patrick Bulger and Maureen Giannone
Associate Producer/Editor: Daniel Geneen
Associate Producer: Kendra Vaculin

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