November 29, 2011


I love Indian food. My husband loves it. My son loves it. But I hardly ever cook it. 

Why? Because if I make a dish and it doesn't taste exactly the way it does when my mom or mother-in-law make it, then I'm disappointed.

My husband finds this frustrating. He'd rather eat perfectly good (but not perfectly authentic!) Indian food than no Indian food.

So I've tried to uncover the secrets. I've stood in the kitchen with both my mom and mother-in-law, measuring out the exact amounts of spices they use, taking copious notes on technique, asking tons and tons of questions to make sure I get every nuance. But does my final dish taste like theirs? No.

So I've decided to take a different approach. I'll take a little bit from my mom's recipe, a little bit from my mother-in-law's recipe, a little bit from a good cookbook, and a little bit from my own experience. That way I won't have a clear expectation of what the final product should taste like.

That's what I did with this kheema recipe. Kheema is a traditional Indian preparation of minced meat. I've tried (and failed) to make it exactly the way my mom and mother-in-law do. So now I go a third way. My way.

And it turns out my husband is right — perfectly good kheema really is better than no kheema at all.

Add red chili powder, ginger paste, turmeric, cumin/coriander powder and salt to the ground turkey.

Mix thoroughly and set aside. (I keep the turkey on the counter while I prep the rest of my ingredients, to take the chill off the meat.)

Keep your whole spices ready -- cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom and peppercorns.

Heat the oil in a large pot. When it's shimmering, add the whole spices.

Once the oil is fragrant with the spices, add the chopped onions.

Cook the onions until they are deep golden brown. Be patient. This may take 15 or 20 minutes or even longer. Don't rush this step or you will end up with flavorless kheema.

When the onions are ready, add the turkey mixture to the pot.

Cook the meat, breaking it up into small pieces.

Add warm water and let the turkey cook for 30 minutes.

Add peas and cook for a few more minutes.

Now ready your garam masala. Garam masala is a mixture of ground spices. Recipes vary but usually contain some combination of coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns and cardamom. It's intensely flavorful, but not spicy.

Add the garam masala and lime juice to the kheema and stir. Taste the kheema and add more salt and red chili powder if needed.

Serve with naan, flatbread or rice.


1.3 pounds ground turkey (or ground chicken, beef or lamb)
1 1/2 tsp red chili powder (you can start with less and add more later)
2 Tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin/coriander powder (or use 1 tsp of each)
2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp canola oil
3 cloves
4 small pieces of cinnamon stick
1 brown cardamom pod
5 black peppercorns
2 medium onions, chopped
2 1/4 cups water, heated
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 tsp garam masala
1 Tbsp lime juice

1.      Put the ground turkey in a large bowl. Add the red chili powder, ginger paste, turmeric, cumin/coriander powder, and salt. Mix well with your hands. Set aside.

2.      Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and peppercorns. Heat for minute or two until the oil becomes fragrant.

3.      Add the onions to the oil and heat until the onions turn a deep brown. Don't rush this step or your kheema will turn out thin and flavorless.

4.      Add the turkey mixture and heat for about 8 minutes until the meat is cooked. Break up the meat into little bits as it cooks. You don't want large lumps of meat in your kheema

5.      Add the warm water to the pot and gently simmer the meat for 30 minutes.

6.      Add the peas and cook for about 7 more minutes.

7.      Turn off the heat and add the garam masala and lime juice. Taste and add more salt and red chili powder if needed.

Serves 4

November 22, 2011

Bacon Jam

Thanksgiving has always been a big deal in our house. As soon as Halloween is over, we dive into our trove of cookbooks and archived Bon Appetits

Then the emails begin. At first it's just a soup suggestion here, a dessert idea there. Before we know it, the emails are flying fast and furious. "Help me choose one of these seven recipes for green bean casserole." Or "Do you guys want cranberry jelly, sauce, or chutney -- I've attached three recipes for each."

Sometimes egos get bruised (why don't you think I'll be able to pull this off?) and old insecurities come to the fore (you guys NEVER listen to my ideas!).

Finally, the winnowing begins. We eliminate the recipes that don't make us drool. Or we come up with a theme "International twist on the classics" or "Classics with the volume turned up" and go from there.

Ever since my sister and I got married, the logistics have become a bit more challenging. There's a little more negotiating about where to have the big meal. And more cooks who want to be in the kitchen. There are a few more dietary restrictions to deal with. And a lot more opinions to navigate. (On the other hand, there's my new baby nephew who makes everyone smile, no matter the level of tension in the kitchen.)

And some things never change. For as long as I can remember, I've been in charge of the appetizers. My dad has always made the soup. And my sister prepares dessert. My mom is everyone's sous chef, finding a serving platter here, chopping vegetables there. And over time, the newer additions to our family have claimed their territory too. My husband makes the (usually Bourbon-soaked) sweet potatoes. And my brother-in-law prepares the cranberry sauce, usually one with a spicy kick.

For this year's Thanksgiving meal, I've had a particular appetizer in mind for months. Bacon jam. Yes, that's right. Bacon jam. The food blogger who came up with this recipe, Not Quite Nigella, named her post Bacon Jam -- Your Wildest Dreams Come True. And she's not kidding.

This jam is sweet, salty, smoky, spicy and redolent of bacon. Basically everything you could possibly want in one bite. I'll be serving a dollop of the bacon jam on crostini spread with a thin layer of cheese. 

But I'd eat it on toast, on an egg sandwich, on a BLT on a burger,...Honestly, I'd be happy to eat it straight out of the jar. I think it may become a new Thanksgiving tradition.

Start with good bacon.

Cut the bacon into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Fry in a nonstick skillet until the bacon is just golden brown.

Transfer a little of the rendered bacon fat to a Dutch oven and fry the onion and garlic in the fat until translucent.

Add the bacon to the Dutch oven, along with all of the other ingredients except the water. Simmer for 2 hours over medium heat, turning down the heat to low after an hour if the bacon is starting to burn. If your mixture dries out, add 1/4 cup of water every 15 minutes or so and stir.

This is what your jam will look like after 5 minutes:

After 30 minutes:

After 1 hour:

After 1 1/2 hours:

And when it's done cooking:

Let the mixture cool for a few minutes. Then transfer to a food processor and pulse for a couple of seconds until the ingredients are chopped up, but the jam still has some texture.

Serve simply with crackers or get as imaginative as you like.

Bacon Jam

Barely adapted from a recipe by Not Quite Nigella

1 pound smoked bacon
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion sliced
3 Tbsp brown sugar
Tabasco sauce (according to taste; I added about 2 tsp)
1 cup coffee
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
Black pepper to taste
extra water

1.      Cut bacon into 1 1/2-inch pieces, the fry in a non stick pan until bacon is lightly browned and beginning to crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2.      Put 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat into a heavy Dutch oven. Fry the onion and garlic in the rendered bacon fat on medium heat until translucent.

3.      Add the bacon to the onion and garlic in the Dutch oven. Then add the rest of the ingredients except for the water.

4.      Simmer for 2 hours adding 1/4 of a cup of water every 15 minutes or so and stirring. (I turned down the heat to low after 1 hour of cooking to prevent the bacon from burning.)

5.      When ready, cool for about 15-20 minutes and then place in a food processor. Pulse for 2-3 seconds so that you leave some texture to the “jam.” Or keep whizzing and make it a smoother and more paste-like.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

November 21, 2011

Apple Cake

Many years ago, I worked at a place where a group of us took turns hosting breakfast every few weeks. Most of my memories of these breakfasts involve the people and conversation.

But one breakfast stands out for the food. The apple cake, to be specific. It was so simple. So moist. And

I still don't know why I didn't request the recipe right on the spot. But years have passed and I've long since lost touch with the woman who made that apple cake. And yet I haven't been able to it out of my mind.

I've tried many apple cake recipes over the years and none have come close to my memory (which, at this point, has probably exaggerated the deliciousness of that apple cake well beyond reason). But for all my attempts, I've ended up with apple cakes that are too dry, too heavy on the cinnamon, or lacking in real apple flavor.

This recipe is the closest I've ever come. It's not a perfect match to the apple cake I had all those years ago. But it aspires to the same principles: moist cake, tender crumb, apple flavor front and center.

This recipe is more apple than cake. In fact, it's mostly apples bound by the bare minimum of moist crumbs. The apple flavor isn't overpowered by cinnamon or nutmeg or any other spice. And the cake is delicate and moist, almost custard-like in its taste and texture.

This would make a beautiful addition to your Thanksgiving table, a nice but not drastic (for Thanksgiving traditionalists) departure from apple pie. Serve it warm with some freshly whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Or, if you've got a houseful of guests for the long weekend, serve this cake with a morning cup of coffee or on a brunch buffet.

Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a bowl.

In another bowl, beat the eggs until foamy.

Add the sugar, rum, and vanilla and whisk until well blended.

Alternate adding half the flour and half the melted butter and mixing after each addition. The recipe said to whisk the mixture but I ended up having to switch to the beater blade to mix the thick batter.

Now prepare your apples. It's nice to choose four different apples if you can, to get a nice variety of tastes and textures in the cake. I used Fuji, Granny Smith, Braeburn and Cortland.

Peel and core the apples.

Then cut into chunks or slices.

Gently fold the apples into the batter. It will look like there is barely enough batter to coat the apples.

Pour batter into a buttered springform pan and press down with a spatula to even out the top.

Bake for about an hour, until the cake is golden brown.

Remove the sides of the springform pan and let the cake cool.

Serve simply with a dusting of powdered sugar. Or with a dollop of whipped or ice cream.

Apple Cake

Barely adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/16 tsp cinnamon (not in the original recipe, this will add just the tiniest hint of spice to the cake)
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar (I only used 1/2 cup and I thought it was sweet enough)
3 Tbsp dark rum (this sounds like a lot but the cake doesn't taste boozy)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.      Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.

2.      Whisk the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together in small bowl.

3.      Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks. (I cut the apples into slices instead of chunks.)

4.      In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter.

5.      Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter. (It will looks like very little batter for the amount of apples.) Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it's evenish.

6.      Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

7.      Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren't any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

Notes: The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream.

The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature. However long you keep the cake, it's best not to cover it — it's too moist. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.

Serves 8

November 17, 2011

Roast Chicken

I've read tons of recipes for roast chicken. Most of them make it much more complicated than it needs to be.

Some recipes have you changing the oven temperature three times while cooking. Others recommend repeatedly basting your bird. Still other recipes have you flipping the chicken halfway through cooking to make sure the legs are fully cooked but the breast not overcooked. (I've tried this and believe me it's not easy to flip a hot, steaming chicken!)

Leave it to Ina Garten to come up with a roast chicken recipe that's straightforward and delicious. You put it in the oven and then walk away for an hour and a half. No basting, no fiddling with the oven temperature, and certainly no flipping.

The prep is pretty minimal. You brush the outside of the chicken with melted butter, then sprinkle on some salt and pepper. The cavity you stuff with aromatics. I'll be honest, I'm not convinced those flavors actually permeate the meat.

But oh my goodness, the heavenly smells of garlic, lemon and thyme mingled with the unmistakable, mouth-watering aroma of golden brown, crackling chicken skin! Who could possibly resist it?

I like to prepare all my ingredients before working with the raw chicken. First, prepare the aromatics. Slice the lemon and garlic in half and pull out a large bunch of fresh thyme.

I also put some salt and pepper in little prep bowls. That way, when I'm working with the raw chicken, I don't have to worry about contaminating my larger salt and pepper containers. Also melt some butter.

Wash the chicken, pat it dry, and don't forget to pull the bag of giblets out of the cavity!

Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the lemon, garlic and thyme into the cavity.

Brush the outside of the chicken with melted butter. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over.

Tie the chicken legs together with some kitchen string.

Then tuck the wing tips under the body (you sort of twist them around under themselves until they look like the picture).

At this point your chicken will look entirely unappetizing. But in a few minutes, when the delicious smells start wafting out of your oven, you will forget how ugly your chicken looks right now.

Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, breast-side up. You'll know the breast side is up because the bottoms of the drumsticks will be pointing up at you. Save yourself some scrubbing and line the bottom of your roasting pan with aluminum foil.

Roast the chicken for about 1 1/2 hours. The best way to tell if the chicken is done is to take its temperature. Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the leg. Once it reads 160 degrees F, it's done. This is how beautiful your chicken will look when it comes out of the oven.

Transfer the chicken to a carving board and cover it with aluminum foil for 15-20 minutes.

You can present the chicken whole, and carve it at the table.

 Or carve and then present it. 

Either way, you're in for a treat!

Perfect Roast Chicken

1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter, melted

1.      Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2.      Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry.

3.      Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper.

4.      Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place chicken on a rack in a roasting pan.

5.      Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. (I also check that an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the leg reads 160 degrees F.)

6.      Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve warm.

Serves 6