In some alternate world in my mind, I am going to be making these meat-filled pies for my dad.  He’ll sneak into the kitchen after his afternoon nap, grabbing a pie before he’s really supposed to, consuming it while it is still impossibly hot, and grin in that way I hope I will never, ever forget.

This week, I was given the opportunity to write a Father’s Day post for Desi Living, a Houston-based blog dedicated to exploring the Indian-American experience.  It was, as it always is, powerfully difficult but tremendously rewarding to write about my dad.  Between that piece and the first longer essay published here on the blog, it’s been quite a week for sharing writing; it feels so good, in no small part thanks to enthusiastic responses from so many of you.

And while I wish so badly that I could celebrate with my own father today, I have to say there is no shortage of incredible men in my life: some who have eagerly and chivalrously served as my surrogate fathers, many whom I admire tremendously for being thoughtful and dedicated in their parenting, a handful who are about to become dads for the first time!, and a group that we are counting on to serve as father figures for the child we hope to bring into our life soon.

I know not everyone has a rosy relationship with their own dad, but I hope that everyone can think of at least one man they know who is a father or father-figure worthy of acknowledgment.  Call him up, and tell him so.  Happy Father’s Day out there!


If you, like me, are always looking for something new to do with ground beef—voila.  The flavors in keema are fantastic and addictive; if you like, you can add some frozen peas at the end of the cooking process for a traditional take.

What to do with your keema once you’ve made it?  Well, you can fold it into scrambled eggs, serve it with naan or rice, spoon it on top of baked potatoes, combine it with wanton wrappers and fry some samosas, or make meat pies like I did.

I used this Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe for pie crust, subbing in half whole wheat flour for added heft.  I rolled the dough out ¼” thick, cut it into rectangles, filling one with keema, then topping it with a corresponding dough piece.  A crimp along the edge with a fork, a brush with egg wash, and a decorative studding with sunflower seeds, then 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Admittedly, Beranbaum’s recipe is pretty fussy, but if it does yield fantastically flaky pastry.  If you’re not up for the trouble, you might try this empanada dough or (shh, I won’t tell!) use pre-made pie or pizza dough.

Last but not least, if you’d like some chutneys to go with your meat pies, I’ve got a couple of recipes for you (one for cilantro chutney, the other for tamarind) over here.


1 lb. ground beef or lamb
1 medium onion (red or yellow), diced
2 T ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup tomato sauce
1 ½ tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. cayenne, if you want some heat
pinch turmeric
vegetable oil

fresh cilantro

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Once the oil is shimmery, add the cumin seeds and listen for the hiss that means they’re cracking.  Toss in the pinch of turmeric, then the onion, ginger, & garlic.  Turn the heat down a bit to medium-low and sauté until translucent.

Add the ground beef and break up large clumps with the back of a big spoon or spatula.  Up the heat to medium-high and cook until the meat browns, no traces of pink remaining, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the ground spices and turn the heat down to low.  Add the tomato sauce and stir, cooking until the sauce is completely incorporated into the meat mixture and looks “dry.”

Remove from heat and garnish with chopped cilantro.


Within forty-eight hours of me tossing out the idea of guest blogging to my friend Marynelle, she had sent me her first post  That’s just the kind of woman she is—capable, generous, incredibly witty and wicked smart.  She’s been my friend for a l-o-n-g time and I am thrilled to have her blogging for me this week!

Not only is her writing voice fantastic, this pork chop recipe is, too.  For the photographs, you’ll see that I use boneless pork cutlets, which are thinner than chops, but the taste was still delicious.  As a side, I cooked some Farmers’ Market chard, adapting this recipe from Sprouted Kitchen.

There Will Be Other Pork Chops

I’ll be straight with you up front—I have no culinary credentials.  I am the Novice of Beginners.  My favorite thing to make is dip, because the preparation generally involves only chopping and stirring, thus evading the “applying heat” step of cooking that could result in undercooking (AKA salmonella) or overcooking (AKA burning down the house).  While Nishta ending up with her own Food Network show is a colorable possibility, my doing so is not.  Not least because I can’t chop fast enough.

Now that I’ve been sufficiently self-deprecating, you’re probably wondering what exactly I’m doing here.  It’s like a headline from The Onion:  Ivy-League-educated lawyer manages to cook herself a pork chop without setting off smoke alarm.  So what?  How does this earn me a guest blogger spot on an award-nominated food blog?  The point is that I have started to cook.  Regularly.  And my food usually tastes good.  I’m here to give a nudge to those of you who are, like me, at the preschool stage of cooking and might like a little hand-holding.

I have the worst personality type for cooking:  I’m a Type-A perfectionist who is a stickler for precision and has logged far too many hours watching cooking shows.  This means that I attempt to following recipes to the letter, even if I have to make three trips to the grocery store (substitutions are scary) and measure things like how much parsley I’ve chopped.  I want all pieces of my diced onion to be exactly the same size.  I want to know precisely how many minutes I should sauté the onion.

I had lots of other reasons for not cooking.  It’s a pain in the ass to cook for one person.  The leftover ingredients go bad and then I have to throw them away, which is a waste of money.  There’s not enough room in the refrigerator because I have three roommates.  My kitchen tools are cheap.  I’m in law school.  I’m never home.  I don’t have time.

But it was really about the perfectionist thing.  I get frustrated when my version doesn’t look like the one on TV.  I do not like it when I am not innately good at something.  What if it doesn’t taste amazing the very first time I make it?  Well, clearly, I have failed as a human being and should be smitten from the earth.

I decided a few months ago that cooking for myself was within my grasp.  I mean, I graduated from law school with honors.  I passed the bar exam.  I should be able to cook a pork chop.  All those reasons I had for not cooking started to resolve themselves.  I finished law school, I no longer spend weekends at my now-ex-boyfriend’s place (where preparing anything other than pasta and scrambled eggs required considerable effort and big trip to the grocery store), and I work from home.  I buy staple ingredients and basic proteins and then figure out what to do with them, rather than buying stuff to make one particular recipe.  (Recipes from Blue Jean Gourmet are exceptions.)  I cook for my roommates instead of just for me, which creates the added bonuses of dinner-table company and confidence-boosting compliments as well as constructive feedback.  (For the record, we’ve had no problems with salmonella to date, and the house is still standing tall.)  And since I spend many, many hours a day staring at a computer screen, the TV screen is a lot less appealing than it used to be.  Doing something with my hands while singing along to Bruce Springsteen is more fun.

But what if I didn’t chop the parsley fine enough?  What if I put too much oil in the pan?  What if it doesn’t taste amazing?  Most of the time, it still tastes pretty good.  And if not—there will be other pork chops.


This recipe comes from the Whole Foods Market website, the result of intrepid Googling.  I generally figure out what to do with my proteins by running a search on Tastespotting, Food 52, Epicurious, etc. and look for a recipe that consists primarily of ingredients I already have and looks relatively simple.  “Relatively simple” for me usually translates to (1) chopping (2) mixing/stirring, and (3) cooking in one pan or dish, either on the stovetop or in the oven.  Also, don’t be embarrassed to measure, even though you know the amount doesn’t have to be precise.

You’ve got to learn what half a cup looks like somehow.


1/3 cup flour
Salt & pepper to taste (for me, about ½ tsp. salt & ¼ tsp. pepper)
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
1 T water
¾ cup Panko bread crumbs
2 T finely chopped parsley (or 1 tsp. dried parsley)
1 T fresh thyme, chopped (or ¾ tsp. dried thyme)
[Note: 1½ tsp. herbes de provence would work too]
4 boneless pork chops
2-3 T canola oil (enough to cover the bottom of a large skillet)

Combine flour, salt, and pepper on a plate.  Combine mustard, honey, and water in a bowl – you’ll be dipping the pork chops in it, so add a little extra water if it seems thick.  Combine bread crumbs and herbs on a plate.  Line the plates up in that order—flour, mustard, breadcrumbs—and put an empty plate at the end for the breaded chops.

Dredge pork chops in seasoned flour to coat, then shake off excess.  Dip pork chops in mustard and drain excess.  Dredge chops in breadcrumb mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.

Preheat a skillet large enough to fit all four pork chops.  (I don’t use nonstick for this, partly because it doesn’t brown as well and partly because my nonstick skillets are too small.)  Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, about 1-2 minutes.  Cook pork chops 6 minutes per side.  If the coating starts to look a little dark, lower the heat to medium.


This side dish originally calls for a topping of breadcrumbs, but given that I was serving them with crumb-crusted pork, I opted out.  I also substituted buttermilk for half-and-half, because that’s what I had on hand, and I really liked the tang that it brought to the greens.  Just be sure to keep the heat very low so you don’t curdle the liquid.


1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves rinsed & rough-chopped (save the stems for pickling!)
1 ½ T Dijon mustard (or any spicy, whole-grain mustard)
¼ cup buttermilk or half & half
salt & pepper

Wilt the chard in a large skillet, using a bit of water and a lid.  As soon as the chard has wilted down, remove the lid and cook off any remaining water.  Turn the heat down to low and add Dijon mustard and buttermilk/half & half.  Stir and cook everything together just a few minutes to thicken.  Remove from the heat, season with salt & pepper, and serve.



Marynelle Wilson was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, where she and Nishta attended the same high school, took in midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and devoured many pints of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream.  A graduate of Columbia University and American University’s School of Law, she works as an Intellectual Property attorney in the District of Columbia.



Y’all.  I’m so out of control.  So far this weekend, I have: baked these scones, this brioche (which yielded two hella-good hamburger buns and one bundt pan’s worth of sweet bread fortified with Amaretto-soaked raisins) and my new favorite banana bread, made a fresh batch of yogurt and these really tasty oatmeal pancakes, assembled kickass homemade hamburgers, baked sweet potato fries, prepped a few things for this week’s lunch, and rendered lard and made tortillas for the first time.

Are there other things I could be (six months ago I would have said “should be”) doing?  Of course.  But I can’t remember the last time I had this much time in my kitchen, nor do I know when I will have this much again, and right now it feels really, really, really good.

Jill is having surgery on Friday; we are done with chemo (for right now and hopefully forever) which means it’s time to remove the tumor that chemotherapy did manage to shrink down a bit.  Her procedure, which necessitates the opening of the chest and the cutting of the breast bone, is common in the broad sense, but of course completely uncommon, to us.  And in moments completely terrifying.

Here’s the thing about terror—it’s real.  It’s real, and it can mess you up.  But it can also, I think, be useful.  The thought of losing Jill, of living my life without her, of her no longer existing in the world?  Probably the worst thing I can imagine.   Actually, after my dad died, all I did was imagine it.  Endlessly, as I sat talking to her over the phone, I would disappear it all in my mind: her voice, her being, our conversation, our togetherness.  That terror kept me at arm’s length from her for some months.

But eventually you have to choose: arm’s length or terror.  So while I swirl around in this kitchen, while we invite friends out for “We’re Going to Be Boring For a While So Come Do Fun Things With Us Now” dinners, while we eat and laugh and even manage to watch a Netflix DVD we’ve had since January, you’d better believe that terror is along for the ride.  He’s not the focus of our conversation; every once in a while we acknowledge that he exists.  And while he may not be the most glamorous houseguest, his presence can morph the most ordinary day into the most extraordinary one.

adapted from Ruth Reichl

Because, let’s face it, noodles are wonderful.

As the original recipe states, the key to making this successfully is to have all of your ingredients assembled ahead of time.  After that, things move quickly and you’ll have big portions of an intensely satisfying, tangled dinner ready to serve in about twenty minutes.


1 package thin rice noodles
1 lb. ground pork
1 bunch scallions
2 eggs
½ cup crushed peanuts
¼ cup each: sugar, fish sauce, white vinegar
3-4 limes
2-3 cloves garlic
red chile flakes
peanut or canola oil

Cook the rice noodles, then drain and rinse with cool water.  Set aside.

Dice the scallion whites, but mince the greens; keep the two separate.  Mince the garlic.  Combine the sugar, fish sauce, & vinegar.  Mix in the juice of one lime.

Now, to start.  Coat a large wok with a thin film of oil and heat until it shimmers.  Add the pork, scallion whites, and garlic, stirring until the pork is cooked and no longer red.  Toss in the cooked noodles, stir gently, then pour in the fish sauce mix and cook over high until the liquid has been absorbed (5-7 minutes).

Add the eggs one at a time, cracking them directly into the wok and stirring quickly until the egg is fully cooked.

Remove the wok from the heat, and top the noodles with the scallion greens, chile flakes, and crushed peanuts.  Serve with wedges of lime & Sriracha.



I’ve wanted to make these for a long time.

In July 2008, Gourmet magazine published a very fine piece of food journalism from Ian Knauer and Alan Sytsma.  In it, the men visited Madani Halal, one of our country’s many halal butcher shops, which carry out the slaughtering and processing of animals in strict accordance with Islamic law.

Halal is a kind of equivalent to the Jewish system of kashrut, or kosher, both signifying what is “permitted” or “clean” to eat.  In accordance with halal standards, all animals must be treated humanely in life—grass-fed only—and slaughtered swiftly in death, one quick cut of the carotid artery coming on the heels of a prayer of thankfulness to Allah for the nourishing gift of the animal’s flesh.  It is a dignified, compassionate, and demanding way of doing things.

The men who run Madani Halal are a father-and-son team, Riaz Uddin and Imran Uddin.  In the article, Imran asks the chefs to choose a goat, which he then slaughters himself, falling silent for prayer beforehand and sweating afterward.  “Do you ever get used to that?” the visitors ask.  “No,” he responds.

Imran goest on to tell Knauer & Sytsma that he hopes halal can become a bridge by which Americans can learn about and accept Islam.  Though their client population is only 65% Muslim, the rest overflow from other immigrant communities, he admitted “We lost a lot of customers” after 9/11.  They faced skepticism from the neighborhood when they acquired more property to expand the shop.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Jill and I both know Muslims; she has worked with many closely.  She has traveled to countries with large Muslim populations, like Egypt and Jordan and Turkey.  We have been invited to many a beautiful dinner spread, breaking bread with our Muslim friends as they break their Ramadan fasts.  And so, for me, there is a huge crevasse of cognitive dissonance between these people I know and the very loud screaming voices I hear about all Muslims can’t be trusted, are of the devil, who hate America, should made to be carry special ID cards.

Someone please explain to me how we manage to so easily lump together a religious group that constitutes a population of 1.5 billion people.  Who constitute practically every ethnic group and nationality, who are spread all over the globe living radically different lives from each other.  How on earth can anyone justify writing off a mass of people this way?  As if they all thought and acted in exactly the same manner, because they fall under the same religious umbrella.  I sure hope I’m not expected to claim the world’s population of Hindus as representative of my thoughts & beliefs.

I was born and raised a Hindu, inheriting a group of folks who have clashed with Muslims in India for years, each group lobbing back-and-forth their irrational hatred, their violence, their fear.  Of course, the irony is that if my parents had been born just some forty or fifty miles to the West, I might well be a Muslim myself.  And then what?


adapted from Gourmet

To make this recipe, I had to find my own halal butcher, which was easy to do here in Houston.  I wondered but did not have the courage to ask aloud if it was difficult for the proprietress of the shop to be in the presence of food all day as she fasted for Ramadan.   I got myself a goat leg.  I drowned it in a smoky tomato-chile sauce and baked it off for three hours, shredded it as it cooled, wrapping it in tortillas alongside my friends.  I recommend you do the same.

This recipe is a project, certainly, but the results were as delicious as I had hoped.  I will certainly be making it again, most likely as a dinner party dish, since everything can be prepped ahead of time.


3 ½ to 4 lb. goat leg, bone-in*
3 dried guajillo chiles, stems removed
2 dried ancho chiles, stems removed
1 lb. tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. vinegar
½ tsp. cumin seeds
5 whole peppercorns
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves

oven: 350˚

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, dropping in the chiles.  Simmer until the chiles are soft & pliable, 10-15 minutes.  Drain the soaking water and drop the chiles into a blender.  Add the rest of the ingredients (except the goat leg!) and blend until smooth.

Place the goat leg a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with salt.  Pour the sauce over the goat meat, turn to coat, then cover the entire dish with foil.

Braise for 3 to 3 ½ hours or until the meat is very tender.  Remove from the oven and cool.  Once the meat has cooled enough to handle, shred with forks and return it to the sauce-filled baking dish.  Discard the bones.

Now whole dish goes back in the oven, covered again, to cook for another half hour.  Towards the end of the half-hour, wrap the tortillas in foil and toss them into the oven to warm.

Serves a crowd (8-10) and keeps well.  If making ahead, reheat in the oven to serve.

* Ask the butcher to cut the leg into pieces if you don’t have a roasting pan big enough to fit it.


corn tortillas
crumbled queso fresco
salsa verde
cubed pineapple
sliced radishes
lime wedges



Jill is the world traveler in our family.  Given the nature of her work, she finds herself among the air-mile elite, logging thousands of miles a year for book tours, speaking engagements, and a few times at the behest of Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan.  She has been four times to Turkey, to Israel, Jordan, & Egypt, and all over Europe—at the moment, as the scholar-in-residence on a group trip to Macedonia & Croatia.

There are things I don’t love about the frequency of her travel.  Our dog, Dolly, who is convinced that Jill is God & I am God’s secondary consort who will do if God is not around, pouts from the moment she sees Jill pack a suitcase to the moment Jill walks back through the front door.  Selfishly speaking, it’s inconvenient to go from a two-person household to a one-person.  I enjoy my alone time, but I hate doing all of the dishes, all of the cooking, all of the chores, all of the dog-attending.  And I miss Jill.  She is my favorite person to spend time with, my beloved, my sounding-board.  I feel a bit thrown when she’s away; I worry.

At the same time, I wouldn’t put a stop to her travel even if I could.  When I signed up to live my life with Jill, I did so with the understanding that it’s my job to broaden her, to cheerlead the pursuits to which she is so clearly suited, to celebrate the work about which she is so passionate.  To push her to be her biggest and most expansive self.  And that she would, as she so gracefully does, do the same for me.

Of course, there are tremendous benefits to Jill’s travel.  Frequent flier miles, a thousand stories and hundreds of photographs, and the sense of having contributed to the growth and expansion of all those whom she meets and inspires on her travels.  Not to mention—exposure to all kinds of food.  Jill has been lucky to eat at some incredibly drool-worthy places, from river cruises on the Nile to the humble kitchens of local hosts and hostesses, who generously treat her to sumptuous home-cooked meals.

Now Jill loves food, but she’s not obsessed with it the way I am.  She has, though, in one of those non-ostentatious but incredibly meaningful displays of affection, altered her travel habits to include regular pictures of and notes on the food she eats.  And she’s learned that the presents that thrill me most—like this Scandinavian honey—are food related.  (I’m still hording the homemade, mystery fruit preserves from her last trip to Jordan and a tiny bottle of mystery liquor from Latvia.)

We’ve also, as a family, adopted many of the tastes and preferences she brings back with her from various countries.  It pushes us to seek out restaurants, grocery stores, & home cooks here in Houston with whose help we can attempt to replicate the good stuff she has eaten, allowing me to taste along with her.  Lahmajun, a classic Turkish dish, is one of our favorites and I am proud to say that Jill declared my version “just as good” as the best ones she had eaten abroad.


These make for a perfect weekend lunch or light dinner, especially when served with a green salad and cold, pale beer or white wine.  A bit labor intensive but well worth it—these flew off the serving platter on blog-recipe-test day!

Many recipes for lahmajun topping will call for the addition of pomegranate molasses or syrup, which you can pick up at most Middle Eastern grocery stores.  I didn’t have any on hand that day, so I substituted preserved lemon to add a similar tart edge to the dish.


1 cup bread flour (substitute all-purpose if need be, but bread flour truly does yield better results)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup warm water
1 T olive oil
1 tsp. yeast
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt

Sprinkle the yeast & sugar over the warm water and leave five minutes.  If the yeast hasn’t bloomed, throw it out and start over.  If not, add the flours & oil and knead by hand or with the dough hook on a mixer.  Knead until dough is smooth and elastic.

Leave the dough to rise in an oiled bowl, covered with a cloth or plastic warp, for about an hour.  Place the dough in a warm place to help it double in size.


1 lb. ground lamb (substitute: ground beef or turkey)
½ onion, chopped
3 gloves garlic, minced
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 preserved lemon, minced (substitute: juice + zest of 1 regular lemon)
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. harissa paste (optional)
1 tsp. salt

Sauté the onion & garlic in a little olive oil.  When they become translucent, add the lamb and cook until it browns.  Remove from heat, stir in the remaining ingredients.

to assemble:

extra parsley, chopped
3 T melted butter

oven: 425˚

Once the dough has risen, punch it back down and divide into eight pieces.  A bench scraper is very handy for this step; just keep halving the dough until you get to eight.  You can also use a kitchen scale if you are a fanatic for equal-sized pieces of dough.  I’m not.

There are two ways to bake the lahmajun—all at once, on baking sheets or one at a time, on a pizza stone.  I used the latter method because it seems more authentic and because I like the crisp edges it achieves.  However, if you need all of your lahmajun to be ready at once, just assemble them all, move them carefully to greased baking sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.

If you plan to make them in succession, though, I suggest waiting to roll each piece of dough until you’re ready to top it & put it in the oven—it is likely to dry out otherwise.  Keeping the dough pieces covered with a damp cloth will help as well.

Roll each piece of dough into a rough circle.  Top with about a quarter-cup of the lamb mixture, spreading out evenly but leaving a half-inch border of plain dough.  Brush the border with melted butter.

Use a large spatula to transfer directly to a well-preheated pizza stone and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the edges become nice and brown.  Remove from oven and garnish with extra parsley.  Enjoy when warm.



Remember last week’s guest posts from Jessie about baking bread?  And remember when I told you that half of my batch of challah found its destiny in the form of some tasty, tasty hamburger buns?

Now I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but there are few better ways to enjoy the changing season than home-cooked burgers and fries.  Burgers and fries, burgers and fries.  Have two things ever gone so well together?  Even their names have a kind of lulling rhythmic rightness: burgers and fries, burgers and fries.

There are approximately three zillion recipes out there for “the perfect burger,” “the diet burger,” “the California burger,” “the ultimate burger,” etc.  I’m not claiming this burger is any of the above, but it did make for a very satisfying Saturday night dinner.


I will also say that I believe the quality of the ground beef I used had everything to do with how good these burgers tasted.  Jill and I purchase a meat share from a local farm here in Texas, and not only do we feel ethically good about supporting a small operation with well-treated animals, the meat just plain tastes better.  Like, light-years better.

And so if you haven’t, I urge you to check into and support small farms in your area.  You can search here or stop by your local Farmers Market.

for the burgers:

2 lb. ground beef
1 red onion
1 cup cheese of your choice (we used double Gloucester)
½ cup flat-leaf parsley
juice from half a lemon
salt & pepper (more of the latter than the former)

Peel & dice the onion, then sauté in a little olive oil until soft & translucent.  Set the onion aside to cool and in the meantime, grate the cheese & chop the parsley.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well with your fingers.  Form into patties of your desired size, keeping in mind that burgers shrink significantly when cooked.  I usually make my patties very round & tall so that they’ll even out by the time they arrive on a bun.

Grill outside or indoors on a grill pan/stovetop grill.  (You can also refrigerate pre-made patties ahead of time or flash-freeze on a cookie sheet first, transferring them to a freezer bag for future use.)

For an especially tasty burger, brush your buns with a little melted butter & add them to the grill for the last few minutes of cooking.  Garnish burgers with desired condiments: grilled onion, avocado, tomato, lettuce, pickle, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, etc.

for the fries (adapted from Gourmet):

2 lb. sweet potatoes
1 tsp. whole coriander
½ tsp. fennel seeds
½ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
vegetable oil

oven: 425°

Cut the sweet potatoes into wedges—peeling them is not necessary.  Grind the spices together with a mortar & pestle or spice grinder (the latter will, of course, result in a much finer grind).  Place the potatoes in a large roasting pan; use two if need be, you don’t want to crowd the slices because they won’t crisp up.

Toss the potatoes with a few tablespoons of oil to coat, then add the spices, distributing evenly.  Roast for 40-45 minutes, turning the wedges halfway through and rotating the pans if you used two.

Sprinkle generously with salt before serving.  They are delicious plain, with ketchup, Sriacha, or this tamarind chutney.


One of the hardest things about losing my dad is that there are just so many things I’d like to cook for him.

After a certain passage of time, the distinguishable presence of a loved one begins to fade—the distinct quality of their voice, the shape of their face in three dimensions, the particular quirks and habits.  It becomes more difficult to guess what they might have said in a particular situation, how they would react to a comment or a joke, what books you might recommend to them now, or what movies you would take them to.  I find it terrifying, in fact, the way passage of time seems to make it increasingly difficult for me to conjure up my father the way he was, the way he might be now.

Difficult, too, because the more time that goes by, the more different I am, perhaps unrecognizable to him.  My dad died before I earned a Masters degree, before I got my first full-time job, before I bought myself a car and did my own taxes and grew my hair out long and then cut it again.

I hate that he has missed all of this, and I have missed him in it.  I have wondered, doubted, that I might be forgetting him, losing him.

But the one place I still feel certain of him is in the kitchen.  I know, instinctively, the dishes he would want, the moment he would sneak a warm treat from the oven, the recipes that would dazzle him and make him proud.  This is one of them.


These lamb meatballs are rich, satisfying, and incredibly flavorful.  They also freeze well, so feel free to make a big batch!


1 lb. ground lamb
½ basin (chickpea flour)
½ cup crumbled paneer*
¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
½ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T garam masala
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. red mirchi (pepper)

Sauté the onion & garlic in a bit of vegetable oil until soft.  Once they cool, toss them into a big bowl with the rest of the meatball ingredients.

Using your hands, form meatballs about an inch in diameter.  (I like to keep them on a sheet pan until they’re all ready.)  Once you’re ready, heat a cup of vegetable oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat.  Fry the meatballs until light brown, approximately four minutes on each side.

If you want to freeze or keep the meatballs separate from the gravy, you can finish them in a 350˚ oven, which should take only 10-12 minutes.  If you’re planning to serve them, just keep them to the side or in a low oven while you make the gravy.

2 large (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
1 pint sour cream
½ cup whole almonds
½ large red onion, sliced
3 T ginger, chopped
3 T garlic, chopped
2 tsp. whole cumin
2 tsp. whole coriander

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat a quarter cup of vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it shimmers.  Add the cumin and wait for it to crack before tossing in the garlic, ginger, & onion.  Cook for a few minutes, then add the almonds and whole coriander.

Cook it all down until soft, and the onions are translucent, adding more oil during the cooking if necessary.  This whole process will take about fifteen minutes.

Toss in the tomatoes and stir everything together.  If you have an immersion blender, go ahead and put it to work.  If you’re using a conventional blender, allow the mixture to cool before blending it in batches.  Process until the mixture has reached your desired texture (I like mine a little bit chunky).

Add the sour sour cream to the gravy, mixing thoroughly until it turns light pink.  Reheat the gravy over medium heat until bubbling—be sure to stir regularly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom.  Add the partially cooked meatballs to the gravy and let them finish cooking there.

Serve over basmati rice, garnish with cilantro.

*Many of you may be able to buy paneer, which is a mild Indian cheese, at a specialty grocery store.  If not, you can make your own (it’s actually very easy!) or substitute a similar soft, mild cheese: farmer’s cheese, queso fresco, or a ricotta.  If you’re using ricotta, which can sometimes be watery, squeeze it out in a cheesecloth first.



Every once in a while, we human beings are bold enough to take an idea, a possibility, a “what if” or a “hmm, could we?” and allow it to germinate in our mind, to take us over, to use us and pull us into creation mode.  Then, if we’re crazy enough, we begin to speak our idea aloud—we tell other people, they tell other people.  And before we know it, we are wed to the thing, we are given by it, we find ourselves sitting at the kitchen table (right, Julie?) in our pajamas, working and working but the work almost doesn’t feel like work.  Or at the very least it feels like the right kind of work to be doing.

For me, I find it’s all too easy to watch the news, to read the paper, to look at the world and think “I wish I could help,” to feel deeply for the suffering of others and then put that all aside and move on.  But not Julie van Rosendaal.  She created something, a beautiful something, something I am very proud to be a part of:

Inside this cookbook, you’ll find recipes and gorgeous photographs from some of the best chefs and bloggers on the internet, a group in which I’m honored to be included.  While the book was put together in record time (just under three weeks!), it’s lost absolutely nothing in terms of quality.  Preview a handful of the pages online; they’re gorgeous.

You can purchase the soft cover edition for $25, the hardcover for $50.  Every penny raised from sales will go straight to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, via the Canadian Red Cross & Doctors Without Borders.

I think the Blog Aid cookbook would make a great birthday, housewarming, wedding, Mother’s or Father’s Day gift.  Or just buy it as a statement of faith, a vote on the side of hope and good work, a testament to the fact that one woman’s idea can become food in a child’s mouth, medicine for a wounded man, glossy cookbook pages you hold in your hand.

GAME-DAY CHILI (among other Superbowl food ideas)

I hardly ever make chili the same way twice—depending upon what’s in my pantry, spice cabinet, freezer, & fridge, all kinds of meats and seasonings have made their way into the pot.  Don’t be afraid to mix meats—pork, venison, beef—and change up the type of beans you use (if you use beans at all).  If you have a crock pot or slow cooker, now is the time to drag it out!  It serves perfectly for chili-making.  Don’t worry if you don’t have one, though, you can still brew up some perfectly good chili the old-fashioned, stovetop way.

Every chili has some “signature moves”—mine are dark beer, cinnamon, & a little cocoa powder.  All three of these do a little something to the flavor…you can’t pinpoint what you’re tasting, but it tastes good.  Mushrooms may seem like a strange ingredient, but they bump up the “meatiness” quotient of the chili without you actually having to add meat at all.  Control the heat to match your own preference, and bear in mind that big pots of chili usually get hotter after a day or two in the fridge!


2 lb. ground sirloin

1 cup chopped crimini or white mushrooms

1 onion, diced

3 carrots

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 serrano or 2 minced jalapeño peppers (if you like/can handle the heat!)

4 T chili powder

1 T cocoa powder

1 tsp. chipotle chili powder

1 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

½ tsp. cinnamon

4 cups beef stock

1 dark beer (I used Negra Modelo)

1 28-oz. can fire-roasted, crushed tomatoes

2 14-oz cans kidney beans (but only if their presence won’t offend your sensibilities)

2 T Worcestershire sauce

2 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 dried ancho chile (you could certainly use another type)

a few dashes of liquid smoke

vegetable oil

potential accompaniments: white rice, spaghetti, tortilla chips, Fritos, cornbread, cheddar cheese, sour cream, scallions

Mix all of the spices in a small bowl.  Bring a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, then  brown the meat, in batches if necessary.  As you cook the meat, add in some of the spice mixture to each batch.

Once the meat has browned, transfer to a crock pot or large, heat-proof bowl.  Drain most but not all of the accumulated fat—swirl in a little vegetable oil, then sauté the onions and garlic for a 3-4 minutes before adding the carrots & mushrooms.

If using a crock pot or slow cooker, once the vegetables are soft, add them to the beef.  Pour in all of the remaining ingredients and cover, cooking for full cycle or at least two hours before serving.  Check for spices & salt.

If cooking on the stove, return the meat to the pot and add the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least an hour before serving.  Check for spices & salt.



This may be my favorite sandwich of all time.

torta al pastor

I mean, come on.  Chipotle-and-honey-marinated pork tenderloin with spicy mayonnaise, melted cheese, pineapple, avocado, & cilantro clearly equals heaven.

Of course, I’m biased in favor of all things Mexican and Tex-Mex.  It’s in my blood.  My mother perfected the Blue Jean Gourmet margarita recipe while bartending in a Mexican restaurant in the seventies.  My father, who worked for that chain of Mexican restaurants, took the three of us on a Texas road-trip for research purposes when I was a pre-teen; we ate our way through Dallas, Houston, & San Antonio, consuming tortilla after tortilla, trying salsa after salsa, and the night we arrived home in Memphis, decided to make—you guessed it!—Mexican food for dinner.

Now I live in Houston, where I’m lucky to have the chance to taste-test all kinds of Mexican and Tex-Mex food, from high-end, award-winning places to less-fancy-but-still-delicious taco trucks that line the city.  And it was here in Houston, during college, that I fell in love with the cheap-but-filling tortas served up at this restaurant.

The torta is a Mexican-style sandwich, typically made on a crusty, baguette-type roll called a bolillo, with myriad possible fillings, including al pastor, or pork, which I did my best to recreate at home a few weeks ago.

Personally, I think this would make an excellent weekend sandwich, because it’s incredibly satisfying but not very fussy. Marinate the pork tenderloin ahead of time, grill it up outside and you won’t even have to heat up your house (bonus!)

sliced pork tenderloin

While it’s cooking, prep your accoutrement and lay it all out so everyone can make his/her own sandwich.  For an authentic accompaniment, try making elote with the last of sweet-summer corn.  Mexico City without the plane ticket, my friends!  Enjoy.

serves 4


bread (bolillo roll or baguette)

pork tenderloin (1 lb- 1 ½ lb)*

chipotle mayonnaise*

sliced cheese (Mexican-style cheeses with a sharp flavor that will melt well include queso quesadilla, asadero, or chihuahua.  Substitute mild cheddar if you can’t find any of these)

sliced avocado

cubed pineapple

quick-pickled onions*

To assemble, lay the split rolls on a baking sheet and place cheese on one side of each.  Place under a low broiler or on the grill you just used to cook the pork until the cheese melts.

Slice up tenderloin to desired thickness & let everyone “have at” the sandwich making!


If you’ve never used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce before, PLEASE go out and buy a jar now (they’re cheap!)  Chipotle peppers are simply smoked jalapeños but their flavor is amazing.
chipotle in adobo

1 cup chipotle-flavored barbecue sauce
2 T honey
1 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

optional: I had an over-ripe peach which I peeled, pureed, & added to the marinade.

If you don’t have one on hand, throwing in some apricot preserves might make a nice counterpoint to the spice.

Grilling the tenderloin is easiest, searing it first on all sides over a medium-high flame, then moving it off the heat and letting it cook, grill cover down, for about 15 minutes.  Bring the tenderloin inside and let it rest, covered in foil, before cutting into it.

If grilling is not an option, your best bet is to sear the tenderloin on your stovetop, in either a grill pan or other heavy-bottomed pan, then transfer the whole thing to a 425° oven for about 15-20 minutes.


This isn’t rocket science, really.  Mayonnaise + fresh lime juice + a spoonful or two (depending on your heat tolerance) of chipotles in adobo.  Annnnnnd done!


quick-pickled onions

I’m an onion lover.  Absolutely adore them any way they’re offered up, raw, grilled, pickled, fried.  In fact, my mom used to tell me when I was little that I’d better marry someone who loved onions and garlic as much as I do, otherwise I’d have a problem.  Thank goodness for Jill or I’d never get any kisses!

I know most people do not share my love of the onion.  However, pickling red onion is a great way to take the “edge” off of the taste but add flavor & crunch to your sandwich.  Pickled carrots, which you can also find pre-made on the same aisle as the chipotles in adobo, are a good alternative if you really just aren’t an onion fan.

Slice the desired amount of red onion thinly.  Bring between ½ cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to a boil, then add an equal amount of white sugar and a pinch of salt.  Add onions and remove from the heat.  Toss in a little cilantro & a pinch of cumin.  Let the onions sit in the liquid until ready to serve.



If you’re scared of this recipe already, bear with me.  Let me work with you.  I know you’ve been hurt by lamb in the past, but this time things will be different, I promise.  It’s not your fault that the lamb in your life has been over-cooked and served with mint jelly.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

See?  That looks tasty, no?  Can you give lamb another chance?

I’ve made this recipe a few times, with lamb skeptics in the crowd each go-around.  My latest convert is none other than Sonya, our esteemed photographer, who had her first lamb burger last weekend at the end of a marathon cooking-and-picture-taking day.  When I told her I was planning to post about the burgers today, she said “Man, I’ve been craving those all week!”  Guess I’m going to have to make some more soon.

The only complicated thing about this recipe is locating the necessary ingredients. Depending on where you live, this actually may not be so complicated!  Most “mainstream” grocery stores sell ground lamb, and if you don’t see it out front, ask nicely at the meat counter; chances are they can grind some up for you.

Another option to check out is your local halal meat market, should you have one.  Halal is the rough Islamic equivalent of “kosher”–like kosher meat, any meat labeled “halal” has come from an animal slaughtered in a specific  way designed to ease the animal’s suffering.  One unique feature of halal meat is that all of the blood is drained before it’s sold.  This makes it a great choice for anyone feeling a little uncertain about the flavor of lamb, since draining the blood makes the flavor of the meat much more mild.

Continuing down the ingredient list…  545716200_dsc_0266

feta–the pre-crumbled kind is easiest here, but use whatever you like.

pine nuts–I love these things.  I throw them in pasta or serve them with roasted broccoli & fat shavings of Parmesan.  And, they add the perfect toothsome texture to these burgers–really, don’t leave them out.  Store any extras you have in the fridge to keep them from going rancid.

the herbs–fresh really is best (and hey, mint is super-easy to grow!), but if you buy from the store, keep your leftover herbage (to coin an Alton Brown term) in the crisper, nestled into a large Ziploc bag with a paper towel.  I can seriously keep flat-leaf parsley going for a month this way.

allspice–you may not already have this around, but it adds amazing flavor to all kinds of things: jerk-style chicken, chili, baked goods, homemade sausage, barbecue sauce, etc.

Simply put, these burgers are GOOD.  I’ll bet you could make them for people without telling them they were lamb, and the people would eat them, and the people would like them, and then you could surprise the people, but I guess that’s a little bit sneaky/unethical, huh?

Have you ever “converted” someone to liking an ingredient they previously disliked?  Or been converted?  If so, I’d love to hear about it!  Comment away.

LAMB BURGERS  545725282_dsc_0314

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (if you absolutely can’t stomach the thought, substitute ground turkey)

1/2 cup feta (or other goat cheese), crumbled

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup each fresh mint & flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T allspice

zest of one lemon (optional)

salt & pepper

accompaniments: hamburger buns, sliced cucumber, red onion, dill mayonnaise* OR pita bread, cucumber, onion, tzatziki sauce*

Saute garlic & onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until translucent.  Allow to cool a bit before combining with the other ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly–hands are best for this!–and form into patties.  Traditional hamburger-style, I recommend you make your burgers wider than the buns you plan to use, as the patties will shrink when you cook them.  I got six out of my last batch.

Alternately, if you’re serving with pita, make a bunch of small, flat-meatball-ish sized patties (about 12-15) so they’ll stuff into the pocket more easily.

Heat up your grill pan or outdoor grill (I don’t recommend outside if you are making small patties–they don’t skewer well).  Grill over medium-high heat on both sides to achieve a nice, brown crust.  Either turn heat down or move burgers to indirect heat and continue cooking until desired doneness is reached (we like a little pink in the middle).  On my stove-top grill pan, one batch took approximately 8-10 minutes.


Serve immediately with accompaniments.  Enjoy!

Dill Mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 T fresh dill, chopped or 1 tsp. dried
1 clove garlic, minced fine

Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.  Resist the urge to slather this all over everything.  (Or, if you’re me, fail to resist said urge).

Tzatziki Sauce

This is a traditional Greek condiment, so it works best with thick, Greek-style yogurt.  If you can’t find that, use plain, full-fat yogurt.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled & grated
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh dill or 1/2 tsp. dried
juice of half a lemon

Squeeze grated cucumber in a paper towel to remove excess moisture.  Combine the rest of the ingredients–if you make this ahead of time, the garlic flavor will become more intense.