Season One - Episode One
September 11, 2018
Nicole: 00:00 Welcome to BFF with the Chef. I'm your host, Nicole Schwegman. Aloha, fellow friends and foodies. I'm excited today to interview my first guest, Ben Myhre. Ben is a prior soldier that runs Ramshackle Pantry, a blog dedicated to taking deep historical dives into the recipes that we all know and love. Ben shows you not only how to make the recipe, he also gives you the story of how that recipe was created and developed throughout the years. Ben's immersive approach is an effort to help us enjoy the recipe more, and is also an attempt to show us the commonalities in food history that can bring us all together. Hi, Ben. Welcome to the show.
Ben: 00:46 Hi, Nicole. Thanks for having me.
Nicole: 00:48 Thank you so much. I'm excited to talk to you. I've been roaming all around your blog, kind of following you for about six months, and I got to tell you, I really like what I see.
Ben: 00:58 Awesome. Thank you very much.
Nicole: 00:59 Well, Ben, so I like to start this show with three questions, so are you ready?
Ben: 01:04 I am ready.
Nicole: 01:06 Alright. So, talk to us about the last meal that you cooked for yourself.
Ben: 01:09 Well, the last meal that I cooked for myself was last night. I'm the cook in my family, so that's kind of my nightly duty. We had vegetarian tacos last night. It really wasn't anything special. Our shopping day is usually on Friday, but it got delayed, so I kind of just had to make due with the stuff we had available. I had some Beyond Meat Feisty Crumbles, which I think are the best kind of crumbles there are...
Nicole: 01:38 Ooh, I've had those.
Ben: 01:40 ...and just add a bunch of stuff from our garden. Yeah, tacos.
Nicole: 01:43 You have a garden? Oh, wow.
Ben: 01:45 Oh, yeah.
Nicole: 01:45 Oh, that's the best. I had a garden once, alright, and I can tell you it's hard. I found it hard to garden, so I'm impressed. Anytime someone tells me they have a garden and they've grown stuff, and they can actually eat it, super rad.
Ben: 01:56 Now, to be clear, my wife has a garden. I don't like picking weeds.
Nicole: 02:04 Oh my goodness. That sounds like my husband. He's like, "No, that's all you girl." Alright. So, what's a meal that brings you back to your childhood?
Ben: 02:15 So, there's a local, well it's not really local, a German soup called Methla Soup. Have you ever heard of this?
Nicole: 02:22 No. I haven't.
Ben: 02:24 So, it really, all it is, is a dumpling soup that has more butter, more cream, and potatoes, and a chicken dumplings soup. Now you've heard that's carrots and celery and I just...I have a fond memory of cooking that with my grandma on a few different occasions so that's just kind of one of those things that's known in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota area, and I have kind of that sort of feeling for it just because I cooked it with my grandma. So, that brings me back to my childhood, hanging out in North Dakota with my grandma, Doris.
Nicole: 03:07 Oh, wow. So, like is that something that you'd like dip bread in? Sounds like you'd make a homemade bread with that too.
Ben: 03:13 No. So, the dumplings usually cover kind of that starch. Usually I make enough for leftovers because it's usually better the second day, maybe the third day.
Nicole: 03:24 Oh, wow. Sounds delicious and I love the idea, like butter's one of my favorite ingredients. If you have soup with butter, it's ridiculous. I love it.
Ben: 03:33 Yeah.
Nicole: 03:39 Alright. And then, final question is, give us an ingredient that you can't live without?
Ben: 03:41 Garlic. We go through probably a clove a week, I don't know, maybe more. It's only two of us so it's not like that much, but yeah. Garlic. I am a garlic fanatic actually. As a garlic fanatic, I use it all the time.
Nicole: 03:57 Oh, man. So, do you guys grow your own garlic?
Ben: 04:02 We have not tried garlic. Well, I take that back. Actually did grow garlic, but it's kind of...it's a plant, I think in my region, that you have to plant in the fall time and then it has to winter and it's best coming up the next year. So, we don't plant it. We also have this CSA so we get vegetables delivered to us too, and usually, usually they have garlic.
Nicole: 04:28 Oh my goodness. I also love garlic. My husband does not like garlic. He doesn't hate it. It's not the thing that he wants to taste the most. He's more of an onion person. I'm like, "How can you..." I didn't know there were onion people and garlic people until I met my husband. He's like, "I'm more of an onion person."
Ben: 04:47 That sounds crazy to me.
Nicole: 04:48 That's what I think. That's what I think. I'm like, "What's wrong?", but he's just...I mean, he doesn't...he's not like, "No garlic, don't do garlic. ", but he is like, "Oh, can you like lower the garlic just a little bit?" It's so frustrating to me because I also love garlic. I'm like the more, the better.
Ben: 05:05 He's a lucky guy because that would be a deal breaker for me.
Nicole: 05:10 And they're like, no marriage.
Ben: 05:14 This is a hurdle we cannot get over.
Nicole: 05:16 It's like, sorry. I don't take anyone who smokes or does drugs and if you don't like garlic, we can't be together.
Ben: 05:23 Yeah. That's right.
Nicole: 05:25 The foodie mantra. Alright. So, talk to me. Ramshackle Pantry, first, I love the layout and I love what you've done and I've seen it evolve. So, your logo is really cool, but talk to me about like that very beginning, what made you want to start a food blog?
Ben: 05:45 Food blogging is something that has been on my mind, maybe, for quite a while and really what inspired me to start Ramshackle Pantry is I don't think that there's a huge... there's a huge area for food history and dive in deep into recipes. That's something that I've kind of done for a long time, just not in an organized manner. If you look at my about page on Ramshackle Panty, I talk about pizza, right? So, I love pizza. I mean pizza, to me, is one of the perfect foods and I started cooking a sauce for my pizza and then I started working on dough and, before you know it, I'm making cheese to try and put on my pizza. So, I really...
Nicole: 06:37 Wait a minute. Did you just say you make cheese?
Ben: 06:40 I make cheese. I'm not very good at it, but yeah, I make cheese to put on to my pizza.
Nicole: 06:45 Wow. I have to diverge. Can you tell us about that? You make cheese, like mozzarella, like what are you talking about? Get in to that.
Ben: 06:55 So, I've tried making a little bit of a farmhouse cheddar as well, but kind of the entry level cheese making, which is actually pretty easy to make is mozzarella. You just need some whole milk and you need some rennet, and cheese cloth, salt and thyme. That's it. It really isn't that difficult. I'm just...I'm not very good at it, but I do like trying to make it. I like diving deep into these things so that's what I do.
Ben: 07:21 And then, I did the same thing for like lasagna. Before you know it, I had constructed this whole lasagna where I've made the lasagna noodles, started off with tomatoes and I just...I love diving deep in this stuff and the history element kind of interested me as well. I enjoy researching so I kind of put these things together and Ramshackle Pantry. Talk about the history and stuff, talk about like what is an item, like pizza. What is pizza? Where did it come from? How did it get there? And then, I make several different recipes about too.
Ben: 07:59 There's room for fun in pizza making and, if there isn't, why would you do it. So, I like to try, and find that perfect thing or, as best as I can do, and then expand on that a little bit. So, like with pizzas, I did a Chicago deep dish and before you know it, I was making different kinds of pizzas and talking with different kinds of pizzas, or I think you'd mentioned before we started recording the Sazerac. Make the classic Sazerac, but then what else can I do. I made a Po Boy that's kind of just riff off of that New Orleans theme.
Ben: 08:34 And the history part is awesome to me because it really brings...it's an opportunity for me to talk about food in a way that we can all relate to. Every recipe has a history and most, more often than not, it's a global history and there's a story about how oranges came to the U.S.. or tomatoes, how they sent to Spain and then to the U.S. It's a way to bring people together like we might do at dinner time every night except in a more kind of community oriented manner.
Nicole: 09:14 I love that. I've gone, just having the career that I have, I've been able to go around the world and one of the things I love finding is there's kind of the same variation of foods. There's different ingredients. The ingredients are local. What might be a taco in Mexico, might be a schwarma in the Middle East. I mean, I can't tell you how many times I've run across a variation of a tortilla. I think it's called lefsa. It's a polish version of, I call it like a potato tortilla.
Ben: 09:47 Lefsa.
Nicole: 09:47 Yeah. Yeah. I never heard of it. I lived in Wisconsin and some of my colleagues showed me how to make Lefsa and I was like this is a potato tortilla. This is basically a tortilla, but it's made with potatoes, mashed potatoes, and it's delicious.
Ben: 10:00 Just so you're aware, in North Dakota and Minnesota and South Dakota, that is served at every holiday.
Nicole: 10:06 When I had it, I was like this is delicious. I think there's a picture of me somewhere like just downing lefsa like you would not believe. I couldn't believe it. A mashed potato taco? You guys, if you don't know about that, get on that. A mashed potato taco, basically what I call it, it's delicious.
Nicole: 10:26 And so, I love that you dive deep in to the history of things and kind of show those commonalities. I specifically want to talk to you about your series on the Sazerac. I love New Orleans. That city is...it's one of my top 10 cities that I love to go visit and I feel like you did a really great job in not only talking about the history of the drink, but tying it around the history of New Orleans. I just love that series. What inspired you, specifically, to go into that drink?
Ben: 11:00 I love simple cocktails and I think that...
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:11:04]
Ben: 11:00 I love simple cocktails, and I think that Sazerac is a simple cocktail. I mean, there really isn't much to it, right? It's basically just a simple whiskey drink. It was kind of made around the same time as old-fashioned, Manhattan, these kind of early or mid-1800 timeframes. I sort of went into it with just that, and you know, that's kind of where I always start. I just have an inkling of what I want to do. Then, I find out more, you know? Prior to my series, I don't think I had ever made a Sazerac. I may have tried one. I know I've never been to New Orleans, so that you said I did that well makes me very happy, because that is one of the places that I want to go.
Nicole: 11:55 Oh, I felt like you've been there. I love that.
Ben: 12:01 The history in New Orleans is awesome. I mean, I didn't even know this, but you know, we think about America and we think about is Britain and all of that kind of colonial America, but New Orleans really was kind of the real melting pot of what happened in America in many ways, because it had the French. If I remember correctly from my history article it was never in the control of Britain, never.
Nicole: 12:35 What? Really?
Ben: 12:37 Yeah, it was never under British control. It was France and Spain.
Nicole: 12:43 Wow, I didn't know that. It kind of makes sense. A lot of times you can kind of tell who owned what by the food history, like if you go up in New England you see a lot of fish and chips. You see a lot of British influence on your food, whereas when you go down to New Orleans, and this may seem pretty obvious, but if you look at what people are eating you can see that rich immigrant history in there and what those influences were, so I completely understand the culture behind New Orleans is definitely French-focused. When you visit there it feels like history. That's one of the things I often say is New Orleans feels like I'm going back in time.
Ben: 13:34 Well, now I need to go there. I really need to go there.
Nicole: 13:40 I went there with my best friend, and she's a person who she can't quite eat everything. She can't eat gluten. It really does actually make her sick, but we still, even with those restrictions, we still had a great time, and we ate like queens. It was so good. One of my favorite meals was at this restaurant called ... I hope I don't butcher it. It's La Compere Lapin, which is brother rabbit in English, and it's a restaurant by Nina Compton. She's a Top Chef competitor. I can't remember which season, but she opened up this restaurant in the warehouse district, and one of the best dishes I've had thus far, it's still in the top 10, is she makes a curried goat and a plantain gnocchi, and it is just divine.
Nicole: 14:34 It was so good that I made my husband drive us to New Orleans on my way to moving to Texas to stop in New Orleans to have that dish again, so you got to go.
Ben: 14:45 My mouth is watering. It sounds awesome.
Nicole: 14:49 It's pretty ... I don't often ... It's hard to find goat in the U.S. I don't eat it very often. My father is Haitian, so growing up I got a lot of goat, but I haven't had it recently, so it was the first time I had goat in a long time, and the goat melted in your mouth. The curry sauce, it was not too much. It was perfect, but the plantain gnocchi I've wanted to try to make that myself. I don't know how she got the plantains, because plantains can suck a lot of water, so gnocchi needs to be a little bit dry, so I don't know how she got the plantain to turn into a gnocchi. It's delicious, so yes, you've got to go, and considering your post on Sazeracs, I mean, that's a perfect way. In fact, there's a bar called The Sazerac bar in the Roosevelt hotel, and they claim that they were the original makers of the Sazerac, but after reading your post I'm not buying it anymore. I kind of felt a little disappointed.
Ben: 15:55 Well, you know, that's one thing that's interesting about cocktail history, particularly cocktail history, and food history as well, but there's a lot of myth and marketing that goes on in cocktail history. There's some clear ones where it's pretty obvious who invented it, like the Moscow Mule was invented by Smirnoff, but the Sazerac sort of probably was just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Then, somebody decided that was going to be their shtick, and it could be accurate, it could not be accurate. The Manhattan is another big one. The thing about hold history like that, especially when it comes to food and cocktails, people didn't keep records of it.
Nicole: 16:42 They didn't know later on that two people would be talking on a podcast and going, "Well, technically." You're just like let's make a drink.
Ben: 16:52 When I was looking at the Manhattan I actually pulled out a map, an 1860's map of Manhattan, and I was trying to narrow down what bars could have existed in those spots, so technically-
Nicole: 17:10 That is deep. That is deep. I've never gone that far. Thank God for you, because I wouldn't have known that. We're definitely [inaudible 00:17:20] someone like ... everybody needs a foodie friend like that who will seriously go and find a map to find which bar the Manhattan was made in. God bless you, man.
Ben: 17:30 I might be the worst friend too, because who was it, have you ever watched The Office?
Nicole: 17:35 Yeah.
Ben: 17:37 The episode with Oscar where they call him actually Oscar? That could be ... Actually. I don't know. Maybe I'm not. Probably a terrible friend.
Nicole: 17:47 Oh, well you're great to have over at dinner. While you're eating at dinner you could give the complete history of, "Well, technically." Actually. So what did you think when you started this blog? What did you think it would be like, and what has been the most surprising thing about doing it?
Ben: 18:06 I knew right away that I was just going to make content, get it out there, and move on, and make things better each time. What I didn't know is how much there is to it. One would think you just should be able to make a recipe, click a few pictures, bippity, boppity, boop, put it on the internet, and you're good to go, but there's a lot of things and skills that are needed to pull this together if you want to do it well in my opinion. I'm still trying to figure stuff out. I'm still every day trying to do a little bit better. It takes time, and it takes work.
Ben: 18:55 I'm far from where I want to be with Ram Shackle Pantry, so I guess the most surprising thing is how much work it can be.
Nicole: 19:07 That sounds like a labor of love.
Ben: 19:09 It is. Well, it is a labor of love. I feel like I'm doing something a little bit special that adds an eye dropper of value to the universe maybe, but at the same time, at some point, because I'm doing this full time right now.
Nicole: 19:30 It seems like it, yeah.
Ben: 19:32 I need to eat too.
Nicole: 19:35 The garden's not going to sustain you alone. Loving the garden.
Ben: 19:38 That's right, so this is absolutely a labor of love. I'm so happy that I'm doing this, and I want the need for it to work out within my runway, and if it doesn't, then I got to start doing other things, which I'll never quit Ram Shackle Pantry, but you know.
Nicole: 19:59 I hope not. I love all the different historical things I learn from you, so it's been really fun to read your blog.
Ben: 20:06 Thank you.
Nicole: 20:06 So tell me about, you know, because it's a food blog, what are some of the meals that you cook over and over, like your go tos? I think people always wonder food bloggers just make these amazing, beautiful meals and that's how you eat all the time, but there are these tried and true go tos that everybody has. They're not maybe the most beautiful things to photograph, but they taste delicious, and you know you nailed it every single time.
Ben: 20:30 So I can't say that I nailed it, because for those kinds of meals I sort of end up winging it quite a bit, one of which is stir fry, right? Stir fry is an easy ... I feel like I've been sort of weighing many different asian sauces, however, you know? They kind of tend to have soy and a sweetener and a spicy part. Then, this time a year I have a garden, so whatever's available, that's just what we use.
Nicole: 21:01 So what is one tip, you know, that you can give to that home cook out there that's been invaluable to you?
Ben: 21:11 q and I don't know how to say it, espagnole.
Nicole: 21:31 I think it's espagnole, yes.
Ben: 21:33 It sounds fancy, but really it's super simple, and as soon as you can get those down it just opens the universe to anybody that is interested in cooking and doesn't know where to start.
Nicole: 21:45 Tell me about bechamel, because I also think if you can make a great bechamel you can make a lot of things. You can take it a lot of different places, but what do you find that you use the bechamel sauce for?
Ben: 22:01 Gravies, pasta. Yeah, I tend to use it quite a bit. Anything that-
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:22:04]
Ben: 22:00 Yeah, I tend to use it quite a bit. Anything that needs a thick sauce with it, I'll make Alfredo. Sometimes, I just start with the sauce and see what happens, I guess if that makes sense.
Nicole: 22:16 It does, and so, of those five, which one because I would tell you so there's people like you and me, and I think there's a lot of folks out here listening that are like, "Of course, of the five mother sauces," which a side tip. If you haven't read Samin Nosrat's articles in the New York Times, she did an article about the five new mother sauces. I'll put a link to that in the show notes.
Nicole: 22:42 And I was kind of like, "Yeah, those are really five new mother sauces." But for those folks who are listening going, "What are you talking about?" what is the one mother sauce? I talked about béchamel, but for you, what is the one mother sauce that you think would be the easiest to learn and something that you would tell maybe a newer home cook that they should try to master first?
Ben: 23:04 I would say béchamel really.
Nicole: 23:06 It's going double down on béchamel.
Ben: 23:08 Yep. We can tomatoes, so tomato sauces are a big thing in our ... We are still working on tomatoes from last year, but béchamel is ... That's to me the tastiest, easiest one to just pull something together and make it nice and creamy and cheesy or yeah.
Nicole: 23:32 Is there a way that you do it that makes it like that you can nail it down? Is there something that makes it easy so that people, "Don't do this, or it'll burn" or anything like that?
Ben: 23:45 Continue mixing it. If it's brown, you've probably done something or let it sit on there too long. I'm probably a terrible person for this because I write recipes, but when I do it for me, I just put butter, flour, cream in there, whatever we happen to have around.
Nicole: 24:04 And then you just start stirring?
Ben: 24:08 Yep.
Nicole: 24:08 Butter, flour and cream everybody, and then, just start stirring. Don't worry. There's probably one person out there who's freaking out right now going, "No, no, no, no, no." But the thing is, is I think one of the things about cooking is it's very personal, especially if you're a home cook out there.
Nicole: 24:27 Don't be intimated about, " Well, my mother sauce is ... It's not quite that way." That's okay. It's about learning. Cooking is very subjective. Baking, maybe not as much, but I think cooking is subjective. It's about figuring out, "Okay, I know on my stove that I have to do this in order for my béchamel sauce to turn out right," or "I know that this butter in my grocery store is better for making that sauce than this other butter." So I always tell people, "Don't be intimated by a recipe."
Nicole: 25:04 That's the one thing I love about your blog is you're not only telling people about the history, you're figuring out, "Why does this recipe work for me?" And so, I really love that about your blog, and that's what I love about being a home cook is I want to be as good as possible, but I also want to encourage other people to get in the kitchen, try it out. It's okay, and if you mess it up, no one's going to know. It's no problem. What do you think?
Ben: 25:32 Absolutely. If it wasn't for mistakes, I would never get better at anything, and that is one of the problems with winging it is sometimes it ends up turning out bad. I used to wing it with my bread as well.
Ben: 25:46 And like you just alluded to, I think there's a huge difference between baking and cooking on your stove top because I find that whenever I bake, and I don't follow the directions and look at the specific grams that I'm using, things can go bad. But with a béchamel, really, we're talking about butter and cream.
Nicole: 26:12 How bad can it be?
Ben: 26:15 Yeah. Unless if you're not watching it and let it burn or do something crazy like that, how bad can it be if you're talking about butter and cream, and then you'll learn. You had mentioned, it is a personal thing, but everybody's stove top is a little bit different. Everybody's pans are a little bit ...
Ben: 26:29 There's so many little variables that can impact. We just recently moved, and I found out that my new oven is different than my old oven or stove, excuse me. So my stuff has to be cooked a little bit differently.
Nicole: 26:44 Yeah, I think that's like when people are like, "My recipe didn't work." Well, what pan were you using? What ingredients were you using? Where do you live? All those things have an effect on your cooking, and what I encourage people to do and what I have done is keep trying. Keep practicing. Keep learning, and you'll get better.
Nicole: 27:04 And there will come a point where you will just know, okay, I'm up in the mountains in Colorado. I need to change the way I cook, like my cooking times and the way things taste and also my ingredients. I need to be cognizant of that. That's kind of how chefs think. They just know that because they've been cooking for years, but you can get there too. So, Ben, where can people find you?
Ben: 27:29 Well, first you can find me at ramshacklepantry.com. I also exist on Instagram @ramshacklepantryben, and those are probably the two best ways to get a hold of me.
Nicole: 27:40 Awesome. Well, I want to thank you so much for sharing your knowledge today and for just what a fun conversation. I really loved talking to you.
Ben: 27:50 Absolutely. It's been fun chatting with you as well.
Nicole: 27:53 All right. Thanks so much. We'll see you out on the internet.
Ben: 27:56 Have a good day, Nicole.
Nicole: 27:57 You too.
Ben: 27:58 Bye.
Nicole: 28:02 Okay, so you've just heard me talking with Ben from Ramshackle Pantry. His blog is really awesome, and I encourage you to visit. He does a really great job talking about the history of a lot of different foods and drinks, and I really enjoyed reading about the history of the Sazerac.
Nicole: 28:23 So there are a few corrections that I want to make before I leave you this week. The first is that I said lefse was from Poland. That's not true. It's from Norway. Apologies to my Norwegian foodies out there. Hopefully, you can forgive me because lefse is delicious, and I love to eat it. I highly encourage anyone who hasn't tried lefse to give it a try at least once. And to help you get started, I've put a recipe from the New York Times on how to make lefse in the show notes.
Nicole: 28:56 Oh, yeah, and I mentioned that one of my favorite dishes in the United States, the goat curry with plantain gnocchi at Le Compère Lapin. Well, I recently took a look at the menu, and the dish has changed slightly. The gnocchi is now made from sweet potato instead of plantains, but I bet it's just really as good as the first time and the second time that I've had it. And you can bet that if I'm heading to New Orleans in the future, I'm probably going to have that dish again.
Nicole: 29:25 So if you are in New Orleans, and you haven't tried that dish, or you're looking for something interesting and very unique to the city to try but that's not quite so touristy, I really recommend Nina Compton's restaurant. It's delicious. She has such good food there. It's in a beautiful, old hotel that they redid, and I've put a link to the restaurant in the show notes if you want to take a look.
Nicole: 29:50 So I'm sure I've made a lot more mistakes, and you know what? You should tell me about them. Share your knowledge on the Facebook page. There'll be a link to that in the show notes, or just send me a note because, hey, I'm not perfect, and I am far from the most knowledgeable food lover out there.
Nicole: 30:07 So I want to hear about what you know, and you know what? Tell me what else you want me to ask my other guests. What questions do you have for them? I'm interested in hearing.
Nicole: 30:16 Finally, if you liked this podcast, please consider giving me a five-star review. Those reviews really help the podcast be found by other people, and it really helps out the show. So until next week, this is BFF with the Chef wishing you a great week and hoping that you're inspired to go out and make something delicious. Bye.