Are your lights on? It’s Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights which started on the 7th this year. I recently had an opportunity to take these Indian spiced potatoes to a Diwali pot luck hosted by the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance in honor of this annual fête. I am not going to lie – although I feel quite confident in the tastiness of this dish – it is a bit daunting to take my spin on classic Indian cuisine to a culinary celebration that includes many Indian professional women chefs. Cultural appropriation is a big thing these days and the culinary world is not exempt. I tried to slide my dish in unnoticed, but it’s lack of “nametag”, sparking a few “what IS this???” comments, and those cute little bell-clad picks that I snagged in Mumbai’s Crawford Market ruined any chance of fading in the background. Oh, and I used habanero flakes instead of plain ole red pepper flakes!! These Indian spiced potatoes are no shrinking violet. Apologies to native Indian chefs for any pirating of their cuisine. And for Pot Lucky fans, rest easy. I already had an Indian feast on the docket for early next year. More taste treats in this flavor palate are on their way soon!
Diwali is a highlight of the Hindu calendar, celebrated in the fall here in the northern hemisphere. It is a triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. Sounds like something we could all use these days. “Light” has roots in most all world religions. While Diwali is celebrated for five days, the third day – today, as I write this – is the pinnacle, as it marks the darkest night in the Hindu calendar. Friends and family gather throughout the five days, and food is king.
I spent about a month in India ten years ago with a group from Women Chefs & Restaurateurs. We covered all things food along the entire west coast of the subcontinent, from Thiruvananthapuram to Mumbai. While very enlightening and informative, with stops at so many wonderful spice markets, it is not where this recipe derives its inspiration. I came by this recipe, if not with cultural integrity, with honor. It was handed to me maybe 30 years ago by Louise Spicehandler. If you can’t get spiced potatoes, with cumin, coriander and cardamom from a spice handler, then from whom? While I NEVER LOSE ANYTHING, this tattered print copy is, shall we say, temporarily indisposed. I suspect the original might have been copied from the NY Times, but since I can’t currently locate it, I am not positive. Louise was a great source of recipes and encouragement in my pre-professional days, as I dipped a toe in the culinary stream. As usual, Louise meticulously noted her adjustments in the margins of this recipe, and I meticulously followed them, until I didn’t. I think the ginger and the fresh herbs are my own, but to be honest, I never make it the same way twice. What do I have on hand? That’s the way I like it!!
Indian Spiced Potatoes (Khatte Aloo)
Khatte Aloo, or sour (khatte) potatoes (aloo), are often made with diced, possibly boiled, big potatoes. I can’t resist the cute little mouth-poppable rounds that are now found easily in your supermarket thanks to The Little Potato Company. They are multi-colored, one-bite wonders, serving as a delivery system for a whole lotta spice. And, I like to roast the potatoes, coated in spices, to further release the spices’ aroma.
I have always used lemon juice, but I asked one of the Indian chefs at the pot luck, and she uses lemon and lime. That sounds amazing. However you chose to make them, don’t overthink it. Large & diced or whole & small; spiced then roasted or boiled then spiced; whatever choices you make, Indian spiced potatoes are a great dish to serve with a pick as an hors d’oeuvre or even as a side dish at an Indian feast. I have also served them skewered with brats and peppers, both grilled first, then assembled for serving and topped with a tomato.
This dish is so quick and easy you might have time to run out and get yourself a henna tattoo! Then don’t forget to light the candles. Enjoy!
Khatte Aloo (sour potatoes) traditionally are diced, possibly boiled, potatoes. I like to roast tiny multi-colored, one-bite wonders and dose them with a whole lotta spice! Taste buds…you have been warned!!!
1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 1/2 pounds small (large marbles) potatoes
Zest of one and juice of 1/2 lemon, juice reserved
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Preheat oven to 425oF.
Pulse cumin, coriander, and cardamom about four pulses in a food processor or spice grinder until coarsely ground.
In a medium bowl, combine potatoes, lemon zest, and ginger. Drizzle with olive oil and stir to coat the potatoes. Season with cumin, coriander, cardamom, salt, and pepper flakes, stirring until the potatoes are spice-crusted.
Transfer to a sheet pan and spread out in one layer. Roast for 15-18 minutes until cooked through.
Transfer to a serving dish, scraping up additional spices left behind. Drizzle warm potatoes with lemon juice.
Serve warm or at room temperature, as a vegetable side dish or as an hors d’oeuvre. Before serving, toss with chopped mint and cilantro.
This Fig Prosciutto Pizza is a far cry from those sticky Newtons you grew up on. Sweet jammy fig butter, with crispy and salty Prosciutto, creamy rich Cambozola and fresh luscious figs let this pizza span a meal from appetizer to dessert, while achieving rock star status along the way. If you are like me, your first exposure to figs was the famous Fig Newton. Can’t say I was really a fan. It was kind of gummy and way too seedy for a kid. But yet, against all odds, the Newton became a fan favorite. Must be all that sugar. What really surprises me though is that Newtons are almost always the end of the line for the poor fig. After childhood, we fickle feasters don’t look back and all too often have never seen a fresh fig, much less tasted one. I ran across them in the garden when staying with friends in Italy some thirty years ago. My hostess was not a fan of the texture, and I get that, especially if you pull it from the tree and chomp into it, apple-style. But the flavor!! Oh my. It is a perfect foil for a creamy rich blue cheese and some salty Prosciutto. Hmmm…let me think what else? Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Pizza dough? Now we’re cooking with gas!!!
Fresh figs have a fairly short season – found both in the spring and the fall, or if you are in Cali maybe a bit longer. They date back to 9000+ BC and were cultivated more than 1000 years before wheat or rye. Their existence is well documented from Aristotle to the art world. I mean, where would we be without fig leaves? Spanish missionaries brought them to the US in the late 1700s, where the Mission variety thrived in the California sunshine. To this day, Black Mission figs are among the most popular and that is what I used here.
Dried figs used to be a bit tough and required soaking (brandy wouldn’t be so bad) to use. But today there are unsulfured, wonderful, juicy varieties available in resealable pouches. Valley Fig offers organic dried Mission figs and Made in Nature offers dried Smyrna figs that are velvety and have “hints of honey, jam and butterscotch.” If you can’t find fresh figs, try chopping some of these in place of the fresh. As Made in Nature’s package says, “… congrats, nature. You really nailed it on this one.” They’re “figgin awesome.”
For the cheese, I used Cambozola, but there is a wide range of blues from which to choose, especially Stilton or Roquefort. I like the creaminess and richness of Cambozola as an offset to the salty meat and juicy fruit. This cow’s milk cheese, made in Germany, is a triple crème-ripened blue cheese and you might liken it to a cross between a blue and a brie. You would not be all wrong. While the name appears to be a portmanteau of Camembert and Gorgonzola given its similarity to the rich creaminess of Camembert and the blue bite of Gorgonzola, the name is also a nod to its terroir. It is made in Kempten (in Bavaria), whose Roman name is Cambodunum.
Fig Prosciutto Pizza
This is really another non-recipe recipe, which I know y’all love. Proportions are not essential when topping pizzas. Actually, even choosing the ingredients is not critically important. Just remember to aim for a balance of sweet, salty, fat and acid and a mix of textures, and if you dare, a contrast in temperatures. As written below, the jam provides sweetness; the cheese and meat are salty; the cheese adds creamy fat and richness; the vinegar add acid and serves as a light (just a drizzle) dressing for the arugula. The textures range from creamy to crispy, and the temperature is hot pizza with cold salad. Done and Done!
Let me know how it goes, and – as always – I love to read your comments on the website and see your photos on Instagram.
This Fig Prosciutto Pizza is a far cry from those gummy Newtons you grew up on. Sweet jammy fig butter, with crispy and salty Prosciutto, creamy rich Cambozola and fresh luscious figs let this pizza span a meal from appetizer to dessert.
1-pound fresh pizza dough (see notes)
11-ounce jar of Fig Butter (or fig jam) – may have leftovers
Favorite oil for drizzling on crust (I wouldn’t be mad if you used truffle oil once it comes out of the oven, but brush the crust with something less delicate before baking. Lemon oil is nice)
8 fresh figs, about 1/3 pound, sliced
1/2 pound Cambozola cheese, or other creamy blue like Gorgonzola
Flaky sea salt to finish – like my beloved Maldon’s
Preheat oven and pizza stone to 425oF. Check pizza dough directions to confirm this is best for your dough.
Lightly flour a work surface and stretch or roll the pizza dough into a 12” diameter round. If you are using the roll-out dough that comes in a popping-fresh canister, follow those directions and roll into a rectangle, but plan on using more topping ingredients. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled pan.
Spread the fig butter to create a thin layer, leaving a 1/2 “ border of dough around the outside. (See notes.) Brush the exposed outer ring of dough with a favorite oil.
Set the pan on the pizza stone and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the crust is set.
Carefully remove from oven, adding the figs, some dollops of Cambozola and the Prosciutto. I like to take a half-slice of Prosciutto and twirl into a rosette, but some prefer to chop it and distribute the flavor more uniformly. Maybe you should be making two pizzas?
Return to oven and bake for 10 more minutes or until the crust is golden and the Prosciutto starts to crisp. The cheese should be melty.
Remove from oven and top with the arugula. Drizzle with a balsamic reduction (or Crema di Balsamico) and sprinkle with a flaky finishing salt.
Dessert Pizza or Appetizer? Actually, I have served it both ways. Spread the fig butter according to taste and purpose. If you use the whole jar (don’t judge) it will be pretty sweet. But it will also be nice and jammy. Depending on your taste, you might want to load up a bit more on the salty items like the cheese and Prosciutto.
Trader Joe’s makes a great fresh pizza dough, stashed in the cheese and prepared food refrigerator case. You can find it made with white flour, whole wheat and even gluten-free.
Stonewall Kitchen makes a lovely Fig & Walnut Butter and Valley Fig offers three flavors of fig spread. For this test, I used the Trader Joe’s Fig Butter.
I have had a tattered copy of the grandmother of this meat pie recipe since I first moved to New York – and I always read the faded title as Kulebvaka. Shared with me by an older Jewish woman who was very adventurous in exploring international flavors even in the 70s, the copy was covered in her handwritten notes. I assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that the vaka had something to do with beef, the main ingredient in this recipe. All those years of having the name wrong prevented me from making the connection to coulibiac, one of my earliest catering days’ fancy puffs. The coulibiac I made was filled with salmon and – oh yes – crammed full of eastern European flavors, like dill and sometimes horseradish. Coulibiac. Kulebyaka. “Yaka”, not “Vaka”. The name had nothing to do with the beef that fills the pie. Color me surprised – years and years later.
It turns out the word Kulebyaka comes from the Old Slav verb kulebyachit which means to make with hands – nothing to do with what was inside. It can be stuffed with fish, meat, mushrooms, rice, hard-boiled eggs and so much more. The traditional meat pie recipe calls for a yeast-based dough (I am just using a store bought pre-rolled pie crust), but it was elevated to haute cuisine status (and the pastry became more delicate) during the 19th century when French chefs started appearing in Russia. The tradition continues as the Hennin twin brother chefs that I trained under in Paris spent time in Russia. One showed up here with a vat of caviar as his carry on. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!
That meat pie recipe I received so long ago did in fact have sieved hard-boiled eggs in it, and I kept that intact, making good use of one of my favorite tools, the potato ricer. It helps bind the mixture and is a nod to its Russian roots. I changed all the spices and added fresh dill and an entire bottle of prepared horseradish, because we like our flavors a bit more assertive here in ‘Murica.
There are no real secrets to make this a perfect party addition, and it’s also great for a cozy night at home, served with just a simple salad. Serve it cold, serve it hot; make it an app, make it an entrée. I used a springform pan here, but I have also made it in a scalloped-edge tart pan which gives it a great look. Take some of the extra dough scraps and create flowers or leaves to decorate the top. Just make sure you have a removable-bottom pan for easy removal. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think!
This tasty beef pie is great hot or cold. Easy to pull together and pour into a ready-made crust, it is a real crowd pleaser year-round.
Pastry for a double crust pie
2 pounds lean ground beef
3 Tablespoons butter
2 small onions, minced, about 3 cups
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup beef stock
1 8-ounce bottle prepared horseradish, drained
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon mustard seeds, coarsely ground (pulse in a spice grinder)
1 teaspoon celery seeds, coarsely ground (pulse in a spice grinder)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch fresh dill, stems removed and finely chopped
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon half & half (cream, milk, whatever you have)
Preheat oven to 400oF. Lightly butter a 9-inch, deep-dish, removable-bottom springform or tart pan. Arrange the bottom crust, pressing into the bottom and sides. Refrigerate until needed.
Sauté beef, breaking into small pieces, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a strainer and let fat drain off. Wipe out the pan and add the butter. When melted, add the onions and sauté until golden brown, about 13 – 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, press the hard-boiled eggs through a potato ricer or strainer until finely sieved.
Add the drained beef to the onions, and heat through. Sift the flour over the beef and stir in. Add the stock and stir again, cooking through 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir in the sieved eggs, the horseradish, pepper, mustard seeds, celery seeds, salt, and dill. Let the mixture cool.
Spoon cooled mixture into the bottom crust. Press down with the back of a spoon to compact. Cover with the remaining pie dough, seal edges, and crimp decoratively. Cut several vent holes to allow steam to escape.
Mix egg yolk and half & half in a small bowl and brush the top of the pie. Place pan on a sheet pan to bake.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden brown.
Serve hot or cold, as an appetizer or main.
If you cut the pie straight from the oven it will be a bit loose. Better to let it rest for 10 minutes to firm up.
Even though #NationalShrimpDay is meant to be a 24-hour thing, I feel it’s more like a birthday and should really be celebrated for a week, a month, or even a season! I mean if Bubba can do it, you can too. “Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That…that’s about it.” Wait, Bubba, Wait!! You missed Sriracha & Chipotle Spicy Grilled Shrimp!
Sriracha & Chipotle Spicy Grilled Shrimp
It’s time you rip that cover off the grill and crank up a hot fire. This dish – loosely translated from a visit to the Rhode Island cousins – is great in pretty much any meal category. To paraphrase Bubba, shrimp appetizer, shrimp salad, shrimp entrée, and who doesn’t like shrimp for in lieu of dessert? Especially if it comes with a crisp Pinot Gris!!! Summer wine, I’m coming for you. Serve this with a fresh green salad and, if you’re game, roll back one blog post and whip up a batch of the Edamame and Chickpea Fritters with chili dipping sauce, conveniently linked below. This all simply screams “winter is dead to me!”
I like to keep things simple, especially as the days get longer and the temps heat up. Less time in the kitchen means more time for enjoying the meal. So here we have a classic dump and stir recipe. And like all sea and stream creatures, marinating is kept to a minimum – no more than 30 minutes. If you are building a charcoal fire, the timing is perfect. Start the marinade, then build the fire. When the coals turn white, you are good to go.
Use whatever size shrimp you prefer, but please leave the shells on. Sriracha & Chipotle Spicy Grilled Shrimp is a lick-your-fingers-while-you-peel-the-shrimp kind of dish. Cooking with the shells on not only helps retain moisture, but it adds depth of flavor. Timing will depend on the size of shrimp and strength of your fire, of course, so keep an eye on them. They cook quite quickly, 3 or so minutes per side.
Crack open a loaf of tangy sourdough and pour another glass of Pinot Gris and you are all set. Enjoy!
In this impending season of eating too much – and loving every minute of it – here’s an appetizer that is a real crowd pleaser and won’t bust the gut. Roasted shishito peppers! Super-fast to prep, full of flavor with just an occasional touch of heat, shishito peppers have an “I-want-more-ish” quality to them and are pop-able like edamame, though they have the added benefit of being just as good at room temp.
Shishitos are a Japanese pepper, long and slim and a bit twisty, with a tip that allegedly looks like a lion’s head (shishi in Japanese). A bit citrusy and herbal, they are pretty close to the Spanish Padron pepper. Cooking them until blistered brings a smokiness that makes this a veritable party in your mouth.
Not long ago shishitos would have been impossible to source outside a fancy greenmarket, but now they are widely available at the grocery, thanks to Melissa’s, the largest distributor of specialty produce in the country. I love the unique items that Melissa’s carries, ranging from tiny coconuts (coquitos) to dried Bhut Jolokia chiles. And I have a special place in my heart for Melissa’s owner Sharon Hernandez who once blessed me with a gift of culinary history – one of Julia Child’s beloved sandwich presses – the very one that almost took me down.
During the run of the Rosie O’Donnell show, I styled cooking segments with Julia Child on many occasions. This particular day Julia was scheduled to appear live and demonstrate a lovely recipe for a toasted Croque Monsieur sandwich. Rosie, who built her shtick on an alleged pedestrian palate, was making her spin on the famous French fancy. Wonder Bread in place of Pepperidge Farm Toasting White, Bologna in lieu of Black Forest Ham. No Gruyere – just Velveeta. And the plan was that Rosie’s sandwich would not be precious and pressed, but 1-foot high. Bigger is funnier, or so was the show’s mantra.
As the foodstylist for the show, I had assembled all the groceries and props, but awaited Julia’s arrival to make the “beauty” sandwich. She was hauling her prized shell-shaped sandwich iron from her Cambridge home, and with that I could create the final dish. She arrived on schedule, and I made several test sandwiches for her approval. Routine as always, we were good to go.
As the show counted down to its live cold open, I fired up the burner and started browning some butter. Through an epic fail on the part of the special effects department (heads rolled that day) and completely unbeknownst to me, the smoke detector in my make-shift kitchen (better known as a hallway) at historic 30 Rock had not been disabled as was our norm. Being a landmark building, working with open flames and having an unventilated kitchen was strictly forbidden. That had never stopped us before.
No sooner did I turn on the flame than NY’s Bravest stormed the building, throwing my pan against the wall and dragging off with the burners. Silent in the hallway, the alarm was blaring on set with a full studio audience. Mere minutes until the show went live… or would they have to throw to rerun? With just seconds to spare, the alarm was silenced, the audience calmed, and the call was made to continue with a live show. And NYFD was interrogating me as an enemy of State. Well, it wasn’t that drastic, but they did take away my flame.
I found myself with few options. I had minutes, not hours; I had no burners or sauté pans. So, by hand, I smashed the cold bread into the iron to shape it shell-like. I hauled out a Preval paint sprayer and mixed up a combo of bitters and browning agent and lightly spray painted/“toasted” the bread. I dipped the cheese in the Propmaster’s hot tea to melt it. It wasn’t half bad. And, yes, it was the full extent of my equipment and tricks.
And then SHE sauntered from her dressing room, oblivious to the surrounding chaos, and passed final judgment on my creation. “Dear girl, it’s awfully pale.” She had no clue – her dressing room, like my hall, had no blaring sirens!! But she kept walking. And the show went on. And it was just another day in live television.
A few years later, long after Julia went to the big Panini Press in the sky, four sandwich irons came up at a culinary auction. Heavy hitters in the biz got into a bidding frenzy and I was left in the dust. My friend Gerry told me I was out of my league: “That’s some tall cotton, girl.” But not long after, thanks to Melissa’s and Sharon’s generosity that shell-shaped sandwich iron appeared on my doorstep. It is mine, all mine. It’s hanging on my wall, just like Julia used to hang it…well, minus the hospital green pegboard with blue magic marker outlines drawn by her husband Paul, indicating the one and only place each gadget was to be stored. I pull it down every once in a while, but mainly it’s retired out of respect to the woman who made it look so easy and laughed all the while.