Talking Sports and Stadium Food with Bridget Lancaster of 'Proof' and 'America’s Test Kitchen'
Slowly and unsurely, live sports are starting to open. Unfortunately, there remains a large chasm in our stomach that still needs to be filled.
In-stadium food is still a long way off for many of us. But we thankfully get an assist from someone who knows a thing or two about cooking and sports.
We are joined by none other than Bridget Lancaster, who you know from the long-running cooking show, “America’s Test Kitchen.”
She also hosts what might be the best food podcast around, “Proof.” Each episode dives deep into a food subject you thought you were an expert in, taking one layer away much like you do when devouring a bloomin’ onion.
But before we get to the interview where we discuss Lancaster’s favorite episodes and cooking tips, “America’s Test Kitchen” helps us create a couple of stadium favorites. Perfect for weekend consumption.
Mexican Corn Salad (Esquites) – as at Dodger Stadium
3 tablespoons lime juice, plus extra for seasoning (2 limes)
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoons mayonnaise
1–2 serrano chiles, stemmed and cut into 1⁄8-inch-thick rings
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
6 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (6 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled (1 cup)
3⁄4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
3 scallions, sliced thin
1) Combine lime juice, sour cream, mayo, serrano chiles, and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Set aside.
2) Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add half of corn and spread into even layer. Sprinkle with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, without stirring, until corn touching skillet is charred, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 seconds, until any popping subsides. Transfer corn to bowl with sour cream mixture. Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, and remaining corn.
3) Return now-empty skillet to medium heat and add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, garlic, and chili powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer garlic mixture to bowl with corn mixture and toss to combine. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.
4) Add Cotija cheese, cilantro, and scallions and toss to combine. Season salad with salt and up to 1 tablespoon extra lime juice to taste. Serve.
Pit Beef Sandwiches – as at Camden Yard
Kosher salt and pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (3-pound) boneless top sirloin roast, trimmed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1⁄3 cup mayonnaise
1⁄3 cup prepared horseradish
3⁄4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
6–8 Kaiser rolls
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
1) Combine 4 teaspoons salt, 1 tablespoon pepper, paprika, oregano, garlic powder, and cayenne in bowl. Rub 2 tablespoons spice mixture over roast, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
2) Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 225 degrees. Pat roast dry with paper towels and rub with the remaining spice mixture. Heat 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add oil and heat until just smoking. Brown roast on all sides, 8 to 12 minutes.
3) Flip roast fat side up, transfer skillet to oven, and roast until meat registers 120 to 125 degrees (for medium-rare), 1 to 1½ hours.
4) Using potholders, remove skillet from oven. Transfer roast to carving board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
5) Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, horseradish, lemon juice, and garlic in bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice roast thin against grain. Transfer sliced beef to rolls, top with onion slices, and drizzle with sauce. Serve.
Ice Cream Sandwiches – as at Oracle Park
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3⁄4 cup (5-1⁄4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
3⁄4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5-2⁄3 ounces) all-purpose flour
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup (3 ounces) mini semisweet chocolate chips, plus 1 cup for optional garnish
3 pints ice cream
1) Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and scraping skillet constantly with rubber spatula, until milk solids are dark golden brown and butter has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Immediately transfer to heatproof large bowl. Whisk in sugar and salt until fully incorporated and let mixture cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir flour and baking soda together in second bowl; set aside.
2) Add egg, water, and vanilla to browned butter mixture and whisk until smooth, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, stir in our mixture until combined. Stir in 1⁄2 cup chocolate chips. (Dough will be very soft.)
3) Using #60 scoop or 1 tablespoon measure, evenly space 12 mounds of dough on each prepared sheet. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until puffed and golden brown, 9 to 12 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and let cool completely, about 45 minutes. Place 1 sheet, still lined with parchment, in freezer.
4) Place 4 cookies upside down on counter. Quickly deposit 2-inch-tall, 2-inch-wide scoop of ice cream in center of each cookie. Place 1 cookie from wire rack right side up on top of each scoop. Gently press and twist each sandwich between your hands until ice cream spreads to edges of cookies (this doesn't have to be perfect; ice cream can be neatened after chilling). Transfer sandwiches to sheet in freezer. Repeat with remaining cookies and remaining ice cream. Place 1 cup chocolate chips, if using, in shallow bowl or pie plate.
5) Remove first 4 sandwiches from freezer. Working with 1 sandwich at a time, hold sandwiches over bowl of chocolate chips and gently press chocolate chips into sides of sandwiches with your other hand, neatening ice cream if necessary. Return garnished sandwiches to freezer and repeat with remaining 8 sandwiches in 2 batches. Freeze sandwiches for at least 8 hours before serving. (Sandwiches can be individually wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, transferred to ziplock bag, and frozen for up to 2 months.)
A Moment in the Kitchen with Bridget Lancaster
(Editor’s Note: Interview took place on April 24)
En Fuego: “America’s Test Kitchen” is now in its 21st season. It’s also the longest-running cooking show. How is production?
Bridget Lancaster: Well, we had originally been slated to start production in May. We obviously had to push back the schedule. Right now, we’re not exactly sure when we’re going to record it, but right now we have four different scenarios mapped out, because we were originally going to record, like I said, America’s Test Kitchen in May and then Cook’s Country, our other cooking show, in September, so it’s a little bit of a domino effect where we’re waiting to see what happens here in Boston with the stay-at-home order and when we can go back outside and talk to other people and how that’s going to affect the TV show.
Our TV show is a little bit different from some others where we always have two people on the set at any given time, so there are already two people cooking together not alone in isolation and then we have to think about people like the camera people, the people behind the scenes, that are cooking all the food that are in close contact. Right now, we’re really pretty confident that we’ll be able to go ahead and do something, but, like I said, we’re preparing for many different scenarios, just like you have to do when you cook I guess.
EF: What is it about sports and stadium food that you miss?
BL: Well, I miss sports in general so much, I think I wrote that to somebody the other day, it was like a desperate call for attention that I miss sports. There’s something so innate about competition that when we can’t get it in a formal form, such as sports on television, we look for it everywhere and I think that’s why we’re seeing people creating races with marbles (laughs). I’m seeing all these Facebook videos of dogs wrestling, I mean, it’s gotten a bit ridiculous but there’s something so normal-feeling about sports, it’s become such a part of our lives, such a part of the American culture for so long.
The stadium itself is kind of, it’s a snapshot of America, because you see all different kinds of people, all kinds of socio-economic levels, everything just coming together to celebrate either a) the team that they’re rooting for, or b) just being together and going outside. And part of that is definitely the food. I tend to eat, I don’t know, a lot of “ballpark” food, I grill a lot and I smoke meat and things like that so, I think that’s part of my upbringing, an Austin part that I went to school where we would eat sausages and peppers and things like that while we were waiting to get into the football stadium.
EF: Now that you mention it, what’s one good tip for an offset smoker?
BL: I love offset smokers. Well, for one thing, you don’t have to spend 10-12 hours outside, you have to spend very little bit of time outside, you just have to be available to go out and check it every once in a while. One of the things that I would say to you is to get yourself a temperature probe that has Wi-Fi on it, that is going to allow you to stay inside and get your work done and it’s going to send you signals when the fire might be going down a little bit.
If you only have a little bit of time, smoke as much as you can and then put it in the freezer, shred it, put it in small packets so you can add it to things like enchiladas or you can add smoked meat to chili without having to make a big meat chili. You can start with a vegetarian chili and just add smoked meat to it. So I would say cook as much as you can out there, if you’re going to do it.
EF: Big fan of Proof, what was the impetus behind it when you launched? And, maybe, what’s one of your favorite episodes where you discovered something?
BL: Well, it’s an interesting start how we came up with the show, I’m known around the office for being that person, that two-year-old toddler that always says “why?” and if you think you’ve answered my question, I’ll continue to say, “well, why is that?” I love to know why we call certain things particular words, I love to know the backstory and often during editorial meetings when we were going over recipe issues, recipe development issues, I would continue to ask “well why is that?" And I would go off on a tangent and everybody would just ignore me and their eyes would glaze over as soon as I started talking. So, the executive producer Kaitlin Keleher and I would often laugh; she would say “oh that’s such a Bridget point that you’re making,” or “that’s such a Bridget question.” And I equate my brain—I think of it as an episode of Seinfeld (laughs)—it’s a brain about nothing, but I’m always thinking about things.
So that’s kind of how “Proof” started, I was just really interested in the stories or little snippets that I would hear that everybody would bypass or a lot of people would bypass and not notice that. Things like, our very first episode is about celery, which has got to be the most boring vegetable ever known, or at least in today’s form. I mean, nobody thinks of celery, except to mix Bloody Marys. It’s just one of those things you never think about and when I heard that there was, at one point, over a hundred types of celery on the market, it blew my mind. I kept thinking OK, well this was the kale of its day.
And why is it that we are fine with living with one type of celery? Why can’t we have at least 20 different types?
So, that’s the type of story that we love to hear. You know about tiki restaurants and things like that. To find out that the Mai Tai was invented in San Francisco, or Oakland, is kind of one of those “well wait a minute, let’s stop there for a minute and do some more research.” I would say my favorite episode so far, I’m always going to go back to the celery one, that was not only an interesting story, but I feel that was the story where the collective Proof team had to prove we could do a story about celery and make it interesting, and I hope that we did that.
There’s one that’s coming out in season 5, I’m going to hint at one for you, but it’s a little known story about a Texas BBQ competition where everything kind of went wrong. That’s my current favorite, but it’s so hard to choose,
I love Sarah Joyner. She’s one of the producers. She has this science mind where she always wants to know why we taste certain things and why music affects taste, so we have her chiming in and she’s able to come up with these amazing stories and brings them to us.
I don’t know if you’ve heard the one about how Jelly Belly developing a jelly bean that tastes like smelly socks, and so, of course, we were thinking OK, well who’s the expert on what smelly socks taste like? Who’s that guy? So we’re always looking for reporters to bring us some cool under-told stories about food.
EF: Onto stadium food. Most of us are at home with a lack of live sports to visit. Any tips on stadium food at home?
BL: Right, well I think one thing is that we are all allowed to experiment right now. So there are no rules, you do in your kitchen what you can get access to and have fun with it. It’s not that it’s a great thing, because this coronavirus is just amazingly terrible, but people are learning how to cook. And not only that, but say that you’ve always been a cook but that your family is so busy and they’re off doing a whole bunch of things. Well now you’re a cook with a captive audience. And that’s where I am, I’ve got two sons and all of a sudden, they have to be at the dinner table all the time, so I get a lot of feedback.
I would say, so there’s a few things. One, I would say be gentle with yourself, when you go to the supermarket, you might have some ingredients in mind, as you mentioned cilantro, but it might not be cilantro. They might only have dill there or they might have no fresh herbs and you might have to deal with dried herbs. That’s OK, there’s certain things you can do: toasting dried herbs in a dry skillet, toasting dry spices on a dry skillet or with a little bit of oil. All of those things can bring about amazing new flavors that you can then toss into a dressing or sprinkle over or spread over say, a big piece of flank steak that you’re getting ready to grill.
I think this is when new dishes are going to be created. And that’s often what happens when people don’t have a certain (item). They have baking soda but they don’t have baking powder or they have cocoa but they don’t have brown sugar, all of these things are going to open our own eyes and allow people to know that experimenting in the kitchen is a lot of fun. Somebody once taught me a long time ago, never name the food that you’re making until it’s finished, that way people don’t know it’s a mistake.
EF: Any parting thoughts for at home cooks, sports fans, and “America’s Test Kitchen” fans?
BL: I will say one thing, I read the other day that there is a glut of chicken wings right now because all the restaurants that usually get the supply of chicken wings, they are not open right now. So, chicken wings are now being sold to the supermarkets and they’re at the lowest price they’ve ever been.
I would say—and to me you can’t eat enough chicken wings, you put 20 in front of me, I’ll eat 40—now’s the time to look at the food that’s in abundance at the supermarket as well that usually isn’t or is lower priced.
Basically, just have fun, watch reruns of a sport that you’ve never seen before, that’s another thing, so it’s all new to me. Like cricket is brand new to me because I’m starting to watch cricket just so I have a new sport to watch. Just have fun, and the ballparks are going to open. We’re going to be allowed inside, I have faith that tailgating will be a thing again. I really hope so, because I love tailgating. It’s all going to be fine.