About Me

I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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indian-spiced pulled pork sandwiches with tamarind “bbq” sauce

This sweet, tangy sandwich stuffed with shredded pork has me reaching with sticky fingers for extra napkins. But each bite, dripping with zingy tamarind sauce, is worth the mess.

I first spotted an Indian-spiced pulled pork recipe in Suvir Saran’s charming and eminently cookable Masala Farm. Saran’s recipe intrigues with its exotic spices but offers no sauce. A pulled pork sandwich with no sauce is like a wedding with no bride. It’s the point of the occasion.

In the world of barbecue, the sauce that crowns pulled pork can turn roadside establishments into landmarks. Indoor cooks face the challenge of getting the pork shoulder tender enough, and creating a sauce with just the right tangy flavor. Saran’s concept inspired me to delve into Indian flavors and create this recipe, which employs a pressure cooker to ensure fall-apart tender pork, and then smothers the shredded pork with classic Indian sour-sweet tamarind chutney.

Anyone who’s ordered samosas at an Indian restaurant will recognize the sauce. Tamarind chutney has been called the “ketchup” or “BBQ” sauce of the East. Made from the tamarind tree's sour, pod-like fruit (prominent in Asian, African, and Latin American cuisines and featured in Worcestershire sauce), the silky, sweet sauce pairs beautifully with slow-cooked pork.

Recipes for tamarind chutney vary widely in their ratio of sugar to water. Some are sickly sweet, asking for as much as two and a half cups of sugar to two cups of water. Mine dials it down to a happy medium of a half cup of sugar, blending date sugar with brown sugar to emphasize the earthy tang while offering just enough sweet to balance the fatty pork. 

Served with serrano lime slaw, this dish was so addictive and delicious that when Paul finished his last bite, he turned to me and patted my arm. “Thanks for the slider, honey. Can I have another?”

Indian-Spiced Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Tamarind "BBQ" Sauce

Pulled Pork
4 pounds pork shoulder 
Hamburger buns          

Braising liquid
1-1/2 cups pineapple juice (not from concentrate, with no sugar added, such as Lakewood)
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup diced canned tomatoes in their juices
1-1/2 TB Asian garlic chili sauce
2 TB soy sauce
1 TB apple cider vinegar

Dry rub
2 tsp garam masala
1 TB onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
3 tsp brown sugar

The night before you want to serve, coat the pork with the dry rub and refrigerate overnight. The next day, when you're ready to cook, combine the braising liquid in a pressure cooker. Lower the pork into the pot (shaking off any excess rub), lock the lid, and bring up to high pressure. Once the pressure is reached, cook on "high" for 55 minutes. While cooking, make the tamarind sauce, below.

When the pork is finished, let the pressure release naturally for at least five minutes before releasing the rest of the pressure manually.

Shred the pork with two forks or your hands. Top each bun with pork and drizzle with tamarind sauce. Serve the serrano lime slaw on top or on the side.

Tamarind “BBQ” sauce

3 TB tamarind paste concentrate
1/2 tsp garam masala
1-1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 TB canola oil
1/4 cup date sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups water

Heat the oil in a sauce pan. Add the spices, stir to combine with the oil, and let simmer for two minutes. Add the tamarind, water, and sugar. Stir until sugar lumps disolve. Simmer on medium-low for 30 minutes until reduced by one-fourth. The sauce should be just thick enough to coat a spoon.


braised eggs with pancetta over parmesan polenta: in praise of normal 

When I saw Paul step out of his gate at the Baltimore airport, he raised his arms and started toward me in a joyful burst of leaping and skipping, arms out, fingers fluttering in the air as we drew closer to one another. I didn’t even see his face up close before his body, nearly twice my size, wrapped around mine. His trip was only a week, but I missed him more than I care to admit. Without him, I let dishes pile up in the sink. The kitchen trash nearly overflowed. I drove home at night once with no headlights. I forgot my wallet at the checkout line. I felt like I was living life with one hand tied behind my back.

As we waited for his bag at the carousel, I attached myself to him like I was one big button on his overcoat. He looked down at me, “What’s for dinner?” he said. “I cannot wait to eat your food.” That’s all he has to say, ever, and I’m his. But this time I didn’t know. I usually plan something extravagant for dinner when he returns from a business trip (steak au poivre! Moroccan lamb shanks!). But his flight landed early and I didn’t have time to shop.  

He heaved his giant suitcase off the carousel, and we rolled through Skywalk B to the parking garage, hopped in our new Nissan with perfect temperature levels  (I cannot tell you how happy this makes us), and drove straight into a traffic jam. While the engine hummed on I-95 behind a sea of taillights at a perfect 75 degrees, I detailed the plot points and twists of the last two movies I saw. Together with Paul, I felt balanced, and like daily rhythms and routines could begin again.

When we arrived home, I opened the fridge and spotted four brown eggs, pancetta, and a half full jar of tomato sauce. I knew then what I was going to make for dinner: Italian braised eggs in tomato sauce. Ending our mutual emotional and physical journeys with humble ingredients from the fridge seemed ‘back to normal’ and exactly right.

Braised Eggs with Pancetta over Parmesan Polenta

Serves 2

4 eggs
1 ounce pancetta (1 thin slice per person), diced
1-1/2 cup tomato sauce
4 garlic cloves, crushed with the back of knife
red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup polenta
2-1/4 cup water
2/3 cups grated parmesan
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add the red pepper flakes, crushed garlic, and pancetta. Let simmer on medium-low heat for 3 – 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add a little water or chicken stock if the sauce dries out too much. Season the sauce with salt to taste.

Meanwhile make the polenta by bringing water to a boil, then adding the polenta and stirring until thickened about 5 minutes. Add the parmesan and season with salt. 

Crack the eggs into individual ramekins and gently slide into the red sauce. Cover the pan with a lid and let cook for about 7 minutes until the eggs yolks have just turned translucent white.

Spoon the polenta onto the plates and top with eggs and sauce.


Jamaican jerk chicken with serrano lime slaw: bringing the Caribbean home

Certain foods trigger vivid memories. Mexican mole reminds me of spending Christmas with my college exchange host family in Queretaro. A croque madame with a gooey yolk brings me back to my honeymoon in France with Paul. And spicy jerk chicken rushes me back to my days working as a wire service reporter in Port of Spain, Trinidad. 

There, in the congested Caribbean city, I lived in a spacious rented house near the top of a stretch of road dotted with tamarind trees. The street unwound like a lazy measuring tape down a long slope onto the city’s Queen’s Park Savannah, a giant roundabout lined with prestigious government buildings. The nearest grocery store, stocked with staples as well as my coveted imported wine and dark chocolate, taunted me from a mile down the hill where the sidewalk occasionally disappeared into dirt and rocks. I owned no car at first, so hiking to the store and back required time and energy that, in the hot tropical sun, left me pooped for the day.

I muscled up the hill bottles of red wine, chocolate bars, and chicken thighs, distributing the weight evenly between two plastic bags so they didn’t dig into my palms. Luckily, a bottle of Walkerswood jerk sauce added little weight and lasted a week. I slathered the marinade – loaded with scotch bonnet peppers, nutmeg, and thyme – on the chicken pieces. As the chicken baked, I sipped my hard-earned red wine and watched small, green lizards scurry across my kitchen walls (welcome to the Caribbean!). Eventually, I plunked down a few hundred bucks to buy a used car and could drive to the store whenever I wanted. Still, I made that jerk chicken every week.

I later learned that authentic jerk chicken is barbecued, usually over pimento (allspice) wood, to instill a smoky flavor into the meat. My version brings the job inside to the oven just like I made it in Trinidad, and turns the Scoville rating down by a few clicks by swapping scotch bonnets for serranos, making this dish more wine friendly. If you like your mouth on fire, use scotch bonnets or habaneros. The serrano lime slaw cools your mouth slightly while holding court with a touch of heat and loads of lime flavor.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken 

8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on


1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon backed brown sugar
3 serrano chiles, stemmed and seeded
4 scallions
6 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2-1/2 tablespoons grated lime zest (from two limes)
1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and diced

In a Cuisinart or blender, blend all ingredients until it forms a smooth paste. Place the chicken in a large, sealable plastic bag along with the marinade and shake until the chicken is evenly coated. Leave to marinade at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place the baking rack in the middle of the oven. Line the broiler pan bottom with foil to make clean-up afterward easier (do not line the top with foil as the fat will not drain properly). Remove the chicken from the marinade and place the pieces on the top section of the broiler pan. Bake for 35 minutes, then switch the oven to broil on high. Broil the tops of the chicken for 5 – 10 minutes, moving the pan around as necessary to ensure even browning under the flame. Keep an eye on it to make sure your chicken gets crispy without turning black (it can happen fast!).

Serrano Lime Slaw

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 serrano pepper, seeded
4 green onions, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
2-1/2 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 store bought package slaw greens (4- 5 cups)

Combine all ingredients, except the slaw greens, in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Place slaw greens in a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and let sit 30 minutes before serving.


honey braised lamb shanks with cinnamon and dates: pressure cooker bliss

When Paul posted to Facebook that we were deploying our pressure cooker for the first time, one friend warned that his mom had used one to make navy beans once when the relief valve blew out. "The beans exploded out all over the ceiling!” Another friend echoed: “My mom had a similar experience. Those old pressure cookers were literally kitchen bombs.” Still another person lamented that we would be missing out on the deep, rich smells produced through slow cooking in a Dutch oven.

Pressure cookers have no legacy in my family, but I still thought of them as mysterious and perhaps a little dangerous. After recently reading a Cook’s Illustrated story on pressure cookers declaring them safe and easy to use – and watching countless Top Chef episodes featuring cheftestants relying on them for tender, moist meat in under an hour – I knew I wanted one. I sat down at my computer, opened my browser, and – one click and two shipping days later – my Fagor 8-quart duo pressure cooker arrived.

After several delicious test runs, I’m enamored. Our pressure cooker produces the most tender, tasty lamb I've ever made. And the smell! It’s even more concentrated and fragrant than lamb cooked in a Dutch oven. The steam jets straight from the cinnamon-infused lamb right into our kitchen. I’m still loyal to my Dutch oven but the quality of lamb from the pressure cooker is superior in flavor, moistness, and tenderness.

I adapted this dish from Saveur magazine’s November 2012 feature “Couscous Royale” showcasing Moroccan tagines and other Maghreb specialties as they are served in Parisian restaurants. My version reduces the amount of honey and water for the pressure cooker and includes dates instead of raisins. Saveur instructs cooks to braise the shanks for three and a half hours on the stovetop. With the pressure cooker, these tender shanks are done in an hour and taste sublime.

Honey Braised Lamb Shanks with Cinnamon and Dates

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 lamb shanks
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup dates
3/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons store bought or homemade ras el hanout (North African spice mix)
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 stick cinnamon
Toasted sesame seeds to garnish

Season the lamb generously. Heat oil and butter in an 8-quart pressure cooker over medium high heat. Brown the lamb on all sides, about 12 minutes total. Transfer the lamb to a plate; set aside.


blueberry coconut almond cake: dessert for any time of day

I nosh on this cake at breakfast with a dollop of Greek yogurt on the side, savor it after lunch with a shot of espresso, or linger over it after dinner with a sip of cognac. Remarkably moist with pops of juicy blueberry fruit and crunchy almond slices in each bite, this cake is delicious any time of day. It's also gluten free with half the carbs and sugar of regular cake but (shhh!)  you'd never know.

Blueberry Coconut Almond Cake

1-1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill almond flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
1-1/2 cup blueberries, washed, drained, and dried of excess water with a paper towel
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup of virgin coconut oil
1/3 cup almond slices

Line a springform baking pan with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 375.

Beat the coconut oil and sugar together until smooth. With the beater running, add eggs, one at a time. Beat until smooth and then slowly drizzle in the milk.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt. Whisk into the egg mixture until combined. Add the berries and fold them in with a spoon. Pour into the parchment-lined springform pan. Smooth the top of the cake dough so it's flat. Top with almond slices. Place the cake in the oven, turn down the temperature to 350 and bake for about 40 minutes. (I always heat the oven a little hotter at first because of all the heat that escapes when you open the door). Test it with a toothpick for doneness and cook longer if needed.


fennel fish soup with salami and piment d’esplette: earthy and briny with a touch of spice

On a recent trip to Union Market in Washington D.C., I spotted a single, small plastic baggie of piment d'esplette at the spice shop. “Oh my god,” I called out to Paul. “What? What?” He rushed over. I picked up the baggie, eyeballed it, pressed my nose to it, and breathed deeply. The aroma was complex and sweet with a hint of heat. “Amazing. Smell this.” I lifted it to his nostrils.

The high culinary praise and relative scarcity of piment d’esplette has intrigued me for years. I occasionally see it in recipes but have never seen it for sale.

After he breathed through the plastic and swooned over the same mysterious aroma, I noticed the price sticker: $25. “I’m not paying that.” He grabbed it from me. “We’re getting it.” Paul lives to spoil me. I live to prevent such spoilage (and preserve our collective wallets). But against this precious baggie, I had no defenses. He handed it to the cashier, who placed it in a small paper bag. I squeezed Paul's arm. “Thanks, honey.”

I discovered that the rich-flavored esplette pepper is cultivated in the small French commune of Esplette near the border of Spain, and hung on balconies to dry. An annual pepper festival attracts thousands of tourists, marking the end of harvest season. I pictured French grandmas with pale blue sundresses and big arms wrestling shiny red pepper bundles from balconies and felt better about the $25. (The reality is the AOC-designated spice has spurred an entire industry of hard working farmers with regulated production techniques. Still, I picture the grandmas and smile.)

I sprinkle the jewel-red powder on everything from baked eggs and frittatas to soups and braised dishes. It lends a complex, mild and sweet heat to many dishes. Occasionally, I combine it with a pinch of paprika and a pinch of cayenne to give my dish the full spectrum of pepper flavor.

For this fish stew, I drew inspiration from Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s Sicilian fish soup recipe in her iBook “Italian Holidays.” I admire Rossetto Kasper but found her version lacked heat and acid. Piment d’esplette – and a touch of Pernod (another recent discovery) – was exactly what it needed. My coveted French ingredients transformed this stalwart Italian fare to a remarkably delicious bowl of soup.

When I returned to the spice store at Union Market last week to plop down $25 for another baggie, they were out of stock. The young woman tending to customers said she had never heard of it but she was intrigued. "What does it taste like?"

Fennel Fish Soup with Salami and Piment d'Esplette

2 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup diced spicy Italian salami
3 large leeks, white part only, coarsely chopped
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced into sticks (fronds reserved for garnish)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, bruised with a mortar and pestle
1/2 cup tightly packed Italian parsley leaves, minced
6 garlic cloves, crushed and quartered
grated zest of one orange (reserving a small amount for garnish)
2 cups drained whole canned tomatoes
8 cups fish stock
15 pitted black oil-cured olives (for garnish)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) piment d’esplette (if you can't find it, substitute paprika with a pinch of cayenne)
2 tablespoon Pernod

2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 pounds white fish
1 pound shrimp, shells on, or shelled with tail left intact (if you shell the shrimp, use the shells to enhance or supplement the fish broth by simmering the shells in water or fish stock, and straining out the shells, before adding the stock)

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, sautee the salami in olive oil over medium heat for two minutes. Add the leeks, fennel bulb, and parsley and cook until the leeks are soft. Stir in the garlic, bruised fennel seed, and three-quarters of the orange zest. Sautee for another minute. Add the tomatoes. Cook over medium high heat for three minutes. Add the broth. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then the piment d’esplette and Pernod.

About 30 minutes before serving, add the mussels and fish and cook covered for 2 - 3 minutes. Finally, add the shrimp and cook uncovered for another 2- 3 minutes. Once the shellfish are open and the shrimp have turned completely pink, it’s time to eat. Garnish each bowl with chopped olives, fennel fronds, and remaining orange zest.