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updated: 4/10/2012 1:18 PM

Symposium explores Midwest cuisine and culture

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  • Michael Stern, author of the

    Michael Stern, author of the

  • Don't be tempted to buy a late model pressure cooker at a garage sale or thrift shop. Today's cookers have better safety features.

    Don't be tempted to buy a late model pressure cooker at a garage sale or thrift shop. Today's cookers have better safety features.


Ever wonder how the breaded pork chop sandwich got to be such a favorite in the Hoosier state or which Illinois wine might pair best with a Wisconsin cheddar?

All those answers and a whole lot more will be answered later this month during Road Food: Exploring the Midwest One Bite at a Time, a three-day symposium at Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and other locations in and around in Chicago.

The conference, sponsored by the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, a group dedicated to celebrating, exploring and preserving unique food traditions and their cultural contexts in the American Midwest, kicks off Friday afternoon April 27 and runs through April 29. Events include a food truck dinner, a full buffet of speakers ("Roadfood" author Michael Stern and Glen Ellyn chef Kelly Sears of Marcel's Culinary Experience among them), authentic Midwestern eats, a Midwest wine and Wisconsin cheese tasting and tour of the Maxwell Street market.

Tickets for the Friday and Saturday programs (combined) cost $85 (food truck dinner is pay-as-you-go); Sunday's a la carte events cost $10 to $20. Details and tickets at or call (847) 432-8255.

Myth busters: Thanks to the several readers who wrote in after my March 28 story about pressure cookers. In the story I noted that I've never personally talked to anyone who witnessed such a culinary catastrophe first hand. Were exploding pressure cookers an urban myth?

Apparently not.

"It happened to me," wrote Doris Aussin of Lake in the Hills. "I use my pressure cooker frequently to make my Mexican black beans. I forgot to turn it down one time and it exploded. The gauge flew off and black beans sprayed straight up to the ceiling, not to mention over the stove, cabinets, floor, etc. We cleaned immediately, but no matter how many times we did the ceiling, the stain would not come off. We had to paint the ceiling. Believe me, they do explode. Hope it never happens to you."

Terry Swanson of Huntley adds, "Just want to let you know it's not a rumor but true and happened in the very late '50s. I witnessed my mother's cooker explode with a pot full of chop suey. The lid and the contents of the pot hit the ceiling and wall across the kitchen. All the goopy stuff went on the newly painted kitchen ceiling and walls, the fridge, behind it ... We were lucky we didn't get hit with the lid as it flung itself all the way across the room. My mother tossed out that pressure cooker and we never spoke about that event again."

The late 1950s was the setting for Francis J. Horkavi's ordeal as well. "It was break time from engineering school and when I walked into the kitchen there I found my mother and sister at the table, the top of the stove crushed in, and a good bunch of ham, along with a hole, at the ceiling. Apparently the ham was too large for the pot and blocked the safety valve. I ran a Hoop strength analysis on the pot and came up with about 3,000 psi generated to blow the lid."

Let these stories serve as cautionary tales but not as reasons to dissuade you from picking up a pressure cooker. Modern cookers have multiple safety features to prevent mishaps and instruction manuals dictate how to safely fill a pot.

I used mine again just the other day to make Citrus Corned Beef. We liked this recipe so much the first time around I picked up two packages of corned beef on sale (99 cents a pound!) after St. Patrick's Day and served one for Easter dinner.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.

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