Relax, Honey — Butter Chicken Schnitzel from Vij’s Restaurant Vancouver


Knowing how I swoon at the merest whiff of Indian spices, my mostest bestest dearest friend sent me a cookbook I’d never heard of from a restaurant I’d never heard of. Vij’s at Home: Relax, Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking, written by husband and wife team, Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij, who together run two notable restaurants in Vancouver. (Their third cookbook was published earlier this month.)  “Relax, Honey”: How irresistible is that sub-title, anyway?

After examining the  beautifully designed and gorgeously hued front cover, I flipped to the back flap photograph, and saw a familiar cherubic face:  “Dude!  I know you! You were on Chopped Canada, eh?” I Googled Vikram Vij and sure enough, he was one of the first judges on that show. The warmly beautiful yet unpretentious-looking woman snuggled in his arms in the same photo is Meeru Dhalwala.


I had other plans for this post, but I was so enticed by the beauty of the book, so intrigued by the innovative recipes, and so drawn in by its generous spirit that I immediately looked for something to cook right now.  I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I would at long last find a recipe for the wonderful buttery tomato sauce that comes with Indian butter chicken or murgh makhani in every Indian restaurant (except, as it turns out, at Vij’s). This is a sauce that is often so delicious that I want to lick my plate. At home I have no compunction, but Indian restaurants maintain such high standards in the dignity and formality departments that I fear my naturally indecorous behavior would find me banned for life.  A risk not worth taking. When it comes to food, I am not civilized. No, I will eat bacon with my fingers; I will tuck my napkin into my shirt; I will lick my fingers; I will use a hunk of bread to sop up gravy; I will stick my nose right up and into a dish to better identify a mystery ingredient; and I absolutely refuse to leave a little tid-bit on the side of my plate as so many people do out of “politeness.” Frankly, any guest who offends me with such faux-politesse will never be invited back. Yeah, and I don’t do those dainty little dabs with a napkin at the corners of my mouth either:  Life is too short!


Homestyle butter sauce.

In looking for that buttery tomato sauce, I hit upon Butter Chicken Schnitzel, and did a double-take:  Was I having a Ruth Prawer Jhabvala moment?  It reminded me of my fabulous Mittel-European mother’s fabulous Mittel-European Wiener schnitzel.  Of course, in those days, we ate veal, because who knew? Although not normally a fan of “fusion,”  I read the recipe and was so charmed by the back story (and the prospect of schnitzel) that I had to try it. Spoiler alert:  the back story has to do with chicken nuggets, which resonated with me, because when Popeye was a little boy, all he would eat was chicken McNuggets.  No matter what I did, he would  swallow food only from McDonald’s. There was much Sturm und Drang — his and mine. There were many desperate calls to the pediatrician  who finally convinced me that Popeye would live and thrive, and to let him eat at McDonald’s. I did. He did. But my feelings are still hurt.

As for the Butter Chicken Schnitzel recipe,  I was bewildered by the fact that there was no butter in the butter sauce’s list of ingredients.  What am I missing?  I checked my  Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, and she uses butter. I sniffed high and low all over the internet like a pig hunting for truffles. I found recipes that smugly boasted of no butter or no cream, no butter and no cream, but I could find no explanation of a butter sauce recipe that doesn’t even mention the fact that it doesn’t contain butter. So, I Googled the restaurant, and sent an e-mail cry for help:  “Is this an editing failure or am I just an ignoramus?”

And that, dear reader, is why God invented cyberspace. Help came from none other than Meeru Dhalwala herself:

Butter Chicken refers to a traditional name of a type of chicken curry that is very rich and creamy. .  . . The “butter” in the title really refers to cream.


Butter Chicken Schnitzel
(adapted from Vij’s At Home; click this link for original version)


Buttery Tomato  Sauce

¼ cup canola oil
6 to 9 medium garlic cloves, pushed through a press or minced
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
2 tsp. garam masala
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 ½ cups water
2 cups non-fat Half & Half

Chicken Schnitzel
(Note: In order to spare our arteries, I baked the schnitzel instead of frying it.)

2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced in half horizontally, and pounded lightly to uniform thickness with a meat mallet
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp.  salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
Canola oil spray



  • Heat oven to 350°;
  • Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray well with canola oil;
  • LIne up three dinner plates in FEB order:  Flour, Eggs, Bread crumbs;
  • Take the chicken slices, one at a time, and dip into the Flour, then the Eggs, and then the Bread crumbs, shaking off any excess after each dip;
  • Lay each slice on the prepared sheet pan;
  • Holding the can of canola oil spray a good two feet above the cutlets, spray the cutlets lightly but thoroughly;
  • Bake on middle oven rack for 30 to 45 minutes or until golden;
  • Turn the cutlets and bake another 15 minutes or until golden;
  • Remove and let rest;
  • When ready to serve, slice each breast piece crosswise in one-inch slices, or leave whole.


While the chicken is baking, prepare the Buttery Tomato Sauce:

  • Heat the canola oil and cook on medium heat for 1 minute;
  • Add the garlic and cook until golden, but do not allow the garlic to brown or it will make the sauce harsh and bitter;
  • Add the tomato paste, stir and lower the heat;
  • Stir in the salt and the spices, keep stirring and cook for 4 minutes;
  • Add water and Half & Half, and remove from heat.

Basmati rice, chicken schnitzel, and buttery tomato sauce. Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Confession:  Mr. Darcy liked the sauce but found the spices a little too strong for his palate, so I added a little margarine to his serving to smooth it out. And this time it was he who licked the plate! No doubt had I used the whipping cream called for in the original recipe instead of Half & Half, the “butter” would never have been necessary, but heavy cream has 50 calories a tablespoon as opposed to the 10 calories in non-fat Half & Half. It’s hard to unring that bell!


Chickpeas in Star Anise and Date Masala called to me next. While I am not a big fan of chickpeas, they are healthy, so I eat them. However, I am a very big fan of dates and star anise, and this is an amazing dish.  It’s fast and simple to make with subtle and complex sweet and savory flavors. It’s almost a dessert and I imagine it would be delicious over ice cream.  It goes well with rice, with lettuce, or just out of the pot.  Serve it hot, serve it cold.


Delicious as an appetizer, a side dish, a main dish, or a snack, it’s simply impossible to stop eating these chickpeas. Just ask me; I’ve tried!


Dinner of Butter Chicken Schnitzel with basmati rice and Chickpeas in Star Anise on a bed of lettuce dressed with just olive oil and salt. So happy that there is more in the freezer!

There are many restaurant cookbooks that promise restaurant recipes for quality home cooking. Vij’s At Home, or as I like to call it, Relax, Honey, actually lives up to the promise without condescension, without having to buy restaurant equipment, without long lists of recherché ingredients, and without having to hire either a sous-chef, a line-cook, or a dishwasher for mountains of pots and pans. Be warned, though: once you start cooking from Relax Honey, you will not be able to stop. Just ask me; I’ve tried!

Beet Greens Sautéed in Ginger, Lemon and Cumin, anyone?

Yes, please!

Wherein, dear reader, Mr. Darcy becomes addicted to Pork Shoulder Steaks in Red-Curry-Braised Watermelon from Vivian Howard


Watermelon and Pork from Deep River Roots.

At last, it’s here:  The long-awaited, eagerly anticipated cookbook from Vivian (A Chef’s Life) Howard.  And it’s just what we knew it would be, only even more so.  Like Vivian herself, it’s warm and engaging; it’s honest and generous. It’s full of charming stories and an astonishing variety of mouth-watering recipes. This is one of those cookbooks that you can read with enormous pleasure even if you’ve never even wanted to boil water.

Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South is a heavy book, and it is meant to be read not skimmed.  The photos are beautiful, but not slick and glossy food porno.  Even the design and layout reflect the charm and personality of the author. Deep Run Roots is divided into sections by ingredient, such as corn, figs, pecans, watermelon, rice, sausage, and blueberries. At the top corner of each page there is a charming little iconic drawing of the ingredient featured in that section.

For those of us who follow A Chef’s Life on PBS (damn PBS makes it so hard with their constant schedule changes and no notice), Vivian is the antidote to the Food Network and its cult of [chef] personality. Ironically, unlike the Food Network “Stars,” who are such non-entities, Vivian actually has a personality. With most TV cooking shows, you end up asking yourself, as Pam Frier notes in Laughing With My Mouth Full, “wait a second — wait a second! The guy’s just making soup. Why am I here?”  Not so A Chef’s Life. There is no gleaming spotless kitchen, no gleaming spotless Le Creuset pots and pans that look as if they are replaced new for each shoot, and no rows of glass prep dishes already filled with ingredients. Most importantly, there are no pan-flips, so reminiscent of the snotty SoCal blond hair toss, that make being a chef look easy, fun, and glam. So, even though she is more than smart and pretty enough to make it look all of the above, she is honest enough not to. (Note: She is honest without “sharing,” thank the Lord.}


Vivian Howard

And, bless her heart, she can write, reinforcing my notion that the best U.S. writers, including the best cookbook writers, are from the south. (Ask me some other time, and I will explain why Edith Wharton is the exception that proves the rule!) Furthermore, unlike most of the big-name celebrity chefs/cookbook writers, I will bet dollars to donuts that she actually wrote this book.  It sounds just like her. I will be working through the recipes and reporting on them, but I have no doubt that they will all be every bit as lip-smacking as the ones I’ve tried so far — both from her TV show and from the book.

Pork Shoulder Steaks with Red Curry Braised Watermelon
(click to see original recipe)


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder or blade steaks (4 8-ounce steaks, or whatever your butcher will do for you)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons red curry paste
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 5 cups watermelon, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes, seeds removed.

Next time, I’m going to double the amount of watermelon!


    1. Preheat oven to 350°.
    2. Trim the pork of as much of the fat as possible without cutting into the flesh.
    3. Season the steaks with salt and pepper on both sides.
    4. Heat the vegetable oil in a 12-inch casserole over medium-high heat until almost smoking and place steaks in a single layer.
    5. Brown the pork on all four sides to get as much caramelization as possible.
    6. While the meat is browning, whisk together the vinegar, honey, red curry paste, and fish sauce.
    7. Once the pork is well-caramelized, remove the meat to a platter, and drain the excess fat.
    8. Return the meat to the casserole, and place the watermelon over it. 
    9. Pour the vinegar mixture over the watermelon.
    10. Cover the casserole and place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
    11. Then bake another 30 minutes without the lid.
    12. Serve with rice. Don’t skimp on the broth.

Coming out of the oven — looks like tomatoes!

The watermelon resembles and has the texture of tomatoes, and the broth is the hands-down star of the show.


This recipe serves four. After eating both tonight and tomorrow night’s portions, Mr. Darcy looked up from his dish, announced the meal “addictive,” and asked for more. I held on to my plate for dear life.

Less Sugar: Dipping into ATK’s “Naturally Sweet”


Honey Buns are a lower sugar form of sticky buns. From Naturally Sweet.

America’sTest Kitchen has been publishing a lot of  new cookbooks lately. In fact, there seems to be a new one every week.  Naturally Sweet:  Bake all your Favorites with 30% to 50% Less Sugar is one of the most recent, and it is chock full of sweet and tasty desserts.  As the editors of Naturally Sweet acknowledge, sugar may be bad for you, but would life be worth living without birthday cake?


Pistachio Spice Biscotti. A big winner. Wonderful flavor and texture.

But let’s be perfectly clear: In Naturally Sweet, less sugar does not mean fewer calories, less fat, or that these desserts are healthier. It means less sugar. Period. In fact the word “calories” does not appear in the book except in a nutritional information chart in the back. Naturally Sweet makes no medical claims and offers no medical advice. They leave that to the M.D.s and the R.D.s. If you want to cut down on sugar, the recipes work well and taste good.   The results are definitely less tooth-achingly sweet than standard recipes with tons of sugar. As a general rule, Mr. Darcy found them sweet enough to his sweet-tooth taste, and I found them less sugary and more flavorful.


Chocolate Pudding Cake. No sugar at all; just chocolate!


The Chocolate Pudding Cake before the pudding is scooped up looks like a moon landing!

There are many good reasons to be concerned about the consumption of sugar — tooth decay, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes come to mind. There is also the addictive nature of sugar. It’s a thing. The more sugar you eat, the more you crave. Unlike fat and sodium consumption, which, experts agree, should be monitored for general good health, or, which, in some cases, must be restricted for medical reasons, there is no modern-day existential need for sugar. (Unless you count the existential emotional need for chocolate!) But humans like sugar, and, there are adaptive and evolutionary reason for that: for one thing, sweetness signaled to our ancestors that a strange substance was not poison, and, therefore, was safe to eat.


How dangerous are Chocolate Chip Cookies anyway?

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is 4 times more than what the World Health Organization recommends.  What is most worrisome to nutritionists is that most of that sugar is consumed passively.  If you want to reduce sugar, it’s obvious:  eat fewer cookies,  less ice cream and candy, and drink less soda pop.  But, have you ever taken a close look at your box of breakfast cereal, your milk carton, your yogurt container, or your bread wrapper?  If you want or need to reduce your sugar intake, the first thing you should do is start reading and comparing labels. Talk about sticker shock!


Chai-Spiced Pound Cake. I learned from Mary Berry that is not only OK for that rift to be there, it is supposed to be there. Whew!

To make matters worse, whenever a food product is advertised as low-fat or non-fat, what is not advertised is how much sugar has been added to boost flavor.  “Fat carries the flavor,” as they say, so reduced-fat products have to find another vehicle to carry the flavor load — and that’s where sugar comes in.


Chocolate Pound Cake

You’d think that, if sugar is added when fat is reduced, then fat would be added when sugar is reduced.  Not necessarily. In Naturally Sweet, most recipes call for more liquid and more leaveners rather than more fat.  The book discusses the science of sugar, the various processes of sugar production,  and exlains why the ATK staff chose certain sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, sucanat, coconut sugar, for example) and not others (artificial sweeteners, agave nectar) . Happily, each recipe carries ATK’s signature “Why this recipe works” introduction, which is usually the most interesting portion of the recipe.


Chai-Spiced Pound Cake, sliced.

I like these recipes, because I don’t like American-style “sugar cake.”  But that’s just me.  I’m not a sugar person. Except for sticky buns. Sticky buns are my annual birthday gift to myself, and these are exceptional. Light as a feather, sweet but not too sweet, and with a hint of orange.


More sticky bun porn!

stickybuns2 stickybuns4






Not being someone who craves sweets, I found that there was very little in Naturally Sweet that really tempted me.  It seemed that there were tons of muffins and quick breads, which I find very uninteresting, and a lot of fruit crumbles that don’t necessarily have all that much sugar anyway.  There is a significant variety of treats, but, surprisingly, there are no recipes for either a simple birthday cake or a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. So, harrumph, you really can’t “bake all your favorites with 30% to 50% less sugar.”Maybe this cookbook is for people who routinely eat dessert? Maybe ATK is overextending itself without the Bow Tie at the helm to reign in overweening ambition? Maybe the answer is that we shouldn’t be eating so many baked desserts?  I don’t know, America; you decide. I’m going to polish off my sticky buns!

Home Again Cooking


Tomato, Leek and Chicken Pie

The best thing about getting away from home is to return. After a week in a hotel and eating out three meals a day, I was very happy to be back home eating my own food.  After all, how many chicken Caesar salads with dressing on the side in a row can you eat? There were some culinary highlights.  For example, grilled salmon with spinach, gigantes, and tzatziki at Eos, an outstanding Greek restaurant. Not to mention tuna “pizza” at Soosh, the Kosher sushi joint in our hotel. Yes, Kosher! Yes, in the hotel!


Sushi Tuna “Pizza”

We were away for an entire week while our bathroom was being renovated and Popeye’s room was being painted.  An entire week of no cooking and no cleaning. An entire week of maid service. An entire week of a breakfast buffet: HB eggs and English muffin for me — made me think of the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera (“and two hard-boiled eggs”). And for Mr. Darcy? Eggs (scrambled or omelet), cold cereal, OJ, cinnamon buns, pancakes, yogurt, English muffin and a banana. And that’s just the first round! An entire week of long walks, reading, knitting (well not for Mr. Darcy), crossword puzzles, and no appointments.  The hotel was clean and comfortable, and there was a Barnes & Noble nearby.

We established our own daily routine. Right after breakfast, a 20-minute walk to the local Convenience Plus at the strip mall to pick up the paper. Then another 10-minute walk down to Cafe OoLaLa in the local shopping center for a second cuppa plus a sweet snack for Mr. D., and to read the paper. Away from home, the news is not nearly so depressing.

Speaking of depressing, this is all I have to say about Election 2016:


Anybody old enough to remember this one?

As we put our home back together from all the construction and painting, we are eating down the freezer. Lots of chicken soup, bean soup and the like. Soups and stews taste much better when they’ve been in the freezer a few months — the flavors are much more intense than if eaten right away.

I’ve taken to keeping crusts handy in the freezer just so I always have one if the mood moves me: pizza, pie and, more recently, Vivian Howard’s savory crust. The other night, I decided to use a savory crust to make a pie for dinner, and this is the result.


Tomato, Leek and Chicken Pie


1 savory pie crust, or pizza or flat bread dough sufficient for a 9” pie plate
8 plum tomatoes
1 large leek
¼ cup whole milk
3 large eggs
8 oz. chicken breast (I used leftover grilled chicken), cubed
2 tablespoons cream cheese or any soft cheese you have handy, like fontina or American
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
½ tablespoon dried tarragon (fresh is better)
Pinch salt
Dash of harissa (optional)


The chicken and the vegetables can be prepared in advance:  Heat the oven to 390°. Thinly slice the tomatoes and lay them out on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with olive, tarragon and salt.


Wash the leek and slice.


Add to a sheet pan and sprinkle with olive oil.


Roast the vegetables for about an hour, but start checking after 40 minutes.  When roasted, but not dried out, remove from oven.


Meanwhile, prepare the crust and the custard filling. Place the crust in a 9” pie pan and put it in the refrigerator while you work on the custard.

For the custard, beat the eggs lightly and add the milk.  In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese with a fork, and add the parmesan cheese.  Add the egg and milk combination, and add the cubed chicken, mixing well to distribute the cheese evenly.

Remove the pie pan from the refrigerator and pour in the custard mixture.  Lay leeks and tomatoes all over the top, reserving a few shards of leek for later.


When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400°.  Bake pie for about 40 minutes.  Remove from oven, add reserved leeks to the top and sprinkle with a little grated parmesan.  Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.


Welcome home!

Looking Ahead


Irish Soda Bread from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Bread Illustrated: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home.”

DishnDat will be taking a hiatus for a couple of weeks.

America’s Test Kitchen has just published two new cookbooks, and I will be reporting in full as time goes by.  This week’s post is just a preview in photos of what’s to come.


Monkey Bread from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Naturally Sweet: Bake all your Favorites with 30% – 50% Less Sugar.”


Chocolate Chip Cookie from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Naturally Sweet:  Bake all your Favorites with 30% – 50% Less Sugar.”

Also planned this fall is a test of some of the “we deliver the ingredients and you sweat over a hot stove” services. Are they good? Are they worth it? Are they economical? Fear not. DishnDat is on the case!


Peach and Blackberry Galette from America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, “Naturally Sweet: Bake all your Favorites with 30% – 50% Less Sugar.”

Pickled Watermelon Rind: “I Don’ Wanna Say Goodbye to the Summer” and Summer Food


Pickled Watermelon Rind

Paraphrasing one of the great teenage beach songs of my “yoot” (My Cousin Vinny) that PBS has been playing relentlessly all week long, I don’t want summer to end. I love t-shirts and sandals, watermelon, tomato and corn. But let’s face it, I absolutely cannot wait for the end of the heat and humidity . . .  sometime in October? I am comforting myself with the thought of veggies to come:  parsnips, turnips, beets and the unbeatably scrumptious Delicata squash.


If the vegetables look wrinkled, they are, having just been steamed in the microwave!

In order to take advantage of the very last of the watermelon, Mr. Darcy and I spent two days making watermelon rind. Yes, that’s Vivian Howard’s pickled watermelon rind to you! The whole melon was too heavy for me to lift, so I bought three very large pieces and we proceeded from there.


Mr. Darcy hard at work peeling off the green.



The flesh is then separated from the rind, and the rind is cut into 1″ x 3″ pieces.


The rind is then submerged in a water and salt brine overnight.


Does anyone else remember those pretty Lilly Pulitzer summer dresses? P.S. The pink should not be there, but it was the best I could do!

The rind is rinsed and then placed in a vinegar and spice brine and cooked for 40 minutes. Some goes straight to the refrigerator and some to a hot water bath to be canned for mementos of summer during the cold and the slush of winter.


The rind takes on a slightly orange cast coming out of the salt and water brine. Reason not to leave any pink!

Digression:  What to do with all that leftover watermelon? Well, if watermelons are getting less and less “cherse” (Pat and Mike) as we approach Labor Day, so are tomatoes. Put watermelon and tomatoes together with some feta cheese, and add olive oil and white balsamic vinegar for a refreshing end of summer salad.


As a farewell to corn on the cob, I made a Blue Apron corn side dish, modified with tzatziki instead of crème fraîche, gojuchang instead of shishito peppers, plus lots of lime juice and lime zest. Grazie 1000 to La Bellezza for bringing this recipe and so many other great recipes to DishnDat’s attention!


Back on track:  Vivian says you don’t want the spice and vinegar brine to cook down to a syrup, but Kevin West says you do. I’m kind of with Kevin on that one, but I will let you know when I’ve waited the requisite one to two weeks before eating.  In any event, most likely neither will compare to BFF’s Great-Aunt Florence’s pickled watermelon rind. GAF, or as I like to think of her, “Great Aunt Hortense” from Tom Lehrer’s Smut (“As the judge remarked the day that he acquitted Great Aunt Hortense, ‘to be smut it must be UT-terly without redeeming social importance!'”), who allowed NONE of the pink watermelon flesh and declared that “other people are sloppy about this.” <erp> Guilty as charged, GAF. Guilty as charged.


And now to clean up my sticky counters. Labor Day awaits. Hurricane Hermine lurks, and the heat and humidity are due to return with a vengeance by the end of the week. Happy Holiday!

P.S. If words are sticking together in recent posts, it is not for failure to proofread; I am trying to fix a glitch in the code. Sigh. It’s not going too well!

Summer Squash Casserole


Vivian Howard’s Summer Squash Casserole.

Ah. The annual glut of zucchini and summer squash. Oh.The annual scramble to find recipes. But not for me. As has been well documented in these pages, I am no lover of summer squash and, thankfully, I don’t have neighbors who ply me with their surplus zucchini. No. I am just trolling the internet looking for more Vivian Howard recipes as I count the days before her cookbook is released. Oh yes. It’s been preordered from Amazon!

Vivian Howard’s Summer Squash Casserole


Spray for the casserole dish
4 tablespoons cornmeal
2 tablespoons bacon fat
4 cups yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
6- 8 cups medium yellow squash and zucchini, sliced fairly thin and then into half moons
3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups grated Fontina*
2 large eggs, beaten

*I couldn’t bear the thought of all that cheese for just the two of us, so I used only one cup. It was still very good, but it would have been so much better with two cups! I GARONTEE IT. Oh wait. Wrong dialect! That chef was from Looosiana, not EasCarolahna! Oh WELL.


A summer squash casserole!

  • Heat oven to 350°;
  • Spray a casserole dish and cover the bottom and sides with the corn meal;
  • In a large pan, heat the bacon fat, add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent and very soft;
  • Add the squash, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper, and cook about 40 minutes on medium heat, or until the pieces begin to brown*;
  • Remove from the heat and add the cheese and the eggs;
  • Put the mixture into the casserole and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until the top and the sides are brown.
*A treat for the chef:  pour off the pan juices and drink them.  The sweetness of the squash and
onion liquids combine with the richness of the bacon fat and the fragrance of the
sage and rosemary and creates ambrosia. You deserve it!
This was our entire dinner, and Mr. Darcy loved it. Summer squash lover that I am not, I would
certainly make this dish again!  It is creamy, custardy, cheesy and rich, and the corn flour
creates an almost pie-like base. It would be a perfect side dish  with meat, chicken or fish. I was
just too lazy to cook one more thing! And that’s all I’ve got for you on this lazy Sunday!

Fregola and Blueberry BBQ Redux

For those who, like me, cannot get enough of either Blueberry BBQ Sauce or Vivian Howard’s recipes, here is last night’s dinner, Blueberry BBQ Chicken Flatbread.


Blueberry BBQ Chicken Flatbread from Vivian Howard

The DishnDat twist?  Well, it was my own pizza dough recipe.  I made the Blueberry Barbeque Chicken, used a combination of mozzarella and fontina cheeses instead of the smoked gouda. Don’t like smoked gouda, and didn’t have any jalapeños.  Still, absolutely delicious and one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

A new Italian restaurant opened in our neighborhood, which is all it takes to make Mr. Darcy happy.  But when I saw fregola on the menu , I realized that this Italian has a Sardinian accent, and I put it on the list for a lunchtime audition. What they served was not the fregola that I learned at Giuliano Bugiali’s knee. It was much larger, smooth and round, and without the clumps that are characteristic of the fregola that I was familiar with. Subsequent research informed me that this is Fregola Sarda. Think toasted Israeli couscous, and you’ve got the picture.

Basically, fregola, a/k/a/ Italian couscous, is a saffron-scented Sardinian toasted pasta made from couscous. It is perfect for fish and seafood, and just delicious all by itself with a simple summer tomato sauce or caramelized onions and cheese.

You can buy fregola, but that takes all the fun out of it. To make it yourself, all you need is a sheet pan, two measuring cups, and your own two hands. It’s a great rainy day activity with the kiddos or grandkiddos. Or not.



1 pound couscous (not pre-cooked)
1/2 cup cold water
3 jumbo egg yolks
2 generous pinches saffron
1 pinch salt


Preheat oven to 375°

  1. Prepare one cup measure with the water; and another with the egg yolks, salt and saffron, mixed well;
  2. Spread out the couscous on the sheet pan;
  3. Add the cold water, little by little, starting in the center;
  4. Working outward, incorporate the couscous using your hands;
  5. Working slowly, add the water, incorporating more and more of the couscous until the water is gone and all the grains have absorbed the water;
  6. Rub (“fregare” in Italian means “to rub” — that’s the clean version* ) the couscous between your hands to keep the grains separate and uniform;
  7. The grains will swell;
  8. When your hands are completely dry, you are done;
  9. Spread out  the couscous on the sheet pan again;
  10. Repeat the same process with the egg mixture;
  11. The grains will swell once again;
  12. Once again, when your hands are dry, you are done;
  13. Spread out the couscous on the sheet pan and place in the preheated oven;
  14. Bake for 10 minutes or until couscous is dry;
  15. Turn down oven to lowest it will go, and leave the fregola for 3 hours, but don’t let it turn brown;
  16. Let cool completely, and store in a jar, tightly closed.

And here it is:  One, Two, Three!


Rub in the water.


Rub in the eggs.



Now, that was the easy way.  There is a more time-consuming way , one that involves repeating the rubbing and baking three times.  With this method, you will get the characteristic clumps.

 *According to our friend, La Bellezza, “in the NE fregola means ‘crumb,’ but can also mean ‘urge.’ To be ‘in fregola’ is to be in heat.”

How frisqué!

More on Summer Vegetable Pies, Mejadra (Lentils and Rice)


A Ricotta Tart by Yotam Ottolenghi caught my eye, but it was too hot to do any marketing, so I decided to use it as inspiration and to adapt it to whatever was in the pantry. Well, I did have to go out and buy a container of ricotta, but I almost passed out from the heat! They weren’t kidding when they said it would feel like 110°!  I had a supply of roasted tomatoes, leftover spinach, and some baby eggplants that I wanted to get rid of. They had more seeds than flesh and I had no idea what to do with them.

So here is the DishnDat version with tomatoes, eggplant, spinach and phyllo dough.

Vegetable Ricotta Pie


½ package phyllo dough at room temperature
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thin
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped or pushed through a garlic press
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 15 oz. container ricotta
1 knob parmigiano-reggiano, grated
Two large handfuls of chopped basil leaves, chopped
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 cup roasted tomatoes and their oil
1 handful leftover spinach leaves
8 tiny eggplants, roasted, split and seeded
1 small fresh mozzarella ball, cut in half and sliced into half-moons


Lightly brush a 10″ or 11″ pie plate with olive oil;

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, add the sliced onions and garlic and allow to caramelize until deep golden brown;CaramelizedOnions

Gently open the phyllo dough and begin to spread over the pie pan, layer by layer, tucking in the overhang;

  • Lightly brush each layer with olive oil; PreparingPhyllo
  • With a hand mixer beat the eggs until very light and fluffy;
  •  Gently add the ricotta, the onions and garlic, the chopped basil, and the salt and pepper;
  • Pour the entire mixture into the phyllo crust and bake for 45  minutes;
  • Meanwhile prepare the toppings:  using a hand blender mix the tomatoes, parm-regg, spinach, and a pinch of salt until smooth;
  • Remove pie from oven and lower heat to 300°;


Spread the tomato mixture over the top of the pie;tomatoLayer

Decorate with eggplant halves and mozzarella, and return to the oven to bake for 10 minutes.


The pie can be eaten right out of the oven, cooled to room temperature, or cold the next morning if you’ve run out of cold pizza!

Surprisingly, the hit of the weekend was a stab at a homely dish of letils and rice known variously as Majudra, Mujadara, Majaderrah, Mengedarrah, Mejadra, Mujaderra, et al., which we can refer to as “M,” a dish claimed by Jews, Arabs, Indians, and probably many others throughout the Levant and beyond.


“M” is for “Mourning” and Jacob’s “Mess of pottage.”

In traditional Judaism, M is a dish made for times of mourning, like the days preceding the fast of Tisha B’ Av, an annual period of mourning. M is a dish of lentils, rice, fried onions, and sometimes hard-boiled eggs and yogurt. It’s an aromatic, light and fluffy pilaf to which the onions provide a counterpoint of both bitter and sweet. Cinnamon, allspice and turmeric provide a fragrant punch, and the toasted cumin and coriander seeds, in addition to flavor and aroma, give it the same kind of surprising and satisfying crunch you find in a bowl of Bibimbap.

M is an economical dish that is packed with protein. The lentils are not just nutritious, but symbolic of mourning in two ways: First, they are round and signify the circle of life; second, unlike other legumes, they have no opening or “mouth,” just like the mourner who has no “mouth” or words to express grief and must suffer in silence. For this version, I used Sami Tamimi’s recipe for Mejadra from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem. (I also recommend Tori Avey’s recipe from The Shiksa in the Kitchen.) I used black lentils and red basmati rice, and I didn’t fry the onions, but finished off a stash of caramelized onions that was in the refrigerator.  Fried onions are preferable, because they add  welcome texture, and because everything is better fried. Duh. I also added sumac onions, because I add them to everything, and instead of plain yogurt, I like tzatziki. The best. M  is a dish that is very simple and plain, befitting the occasion, yet, once you start eating it, you can’t stop. But go easy, because it should last for a few days. Try if for breakfast scrambled up with eggs. Like any “pottage,” you can pretty much add anything to it as you go along. Without meat, it’s a dish for somber times; with meat, it’s a dish for celebrations. The best part is you don’t have to be either Jewish or in mourning.

Southern Tomato Pie


Southern Tomato Pie from Vivian Howard.

You remember Vivian Howard from last week, right? The blueberry vinegar BBQ chicken chick? If you haven’t watched her PBS program, A Chef’s Life, I highly recommend it. Even Mr. Darcy, who has no interest in where food comes from or how it is prepared, likes it. But, then again, she is a very pretty woman. Bless his heart.

I am collecting all of her recipes  that I can find on line (Cornbread Coffee Cake with Fresh Figs, and Chocolate Cake with Beets), and will be reporting on same in the weeks to come. Note to Vivian: Hey, girl, hey! I am just sitting here waiting for your cookbook to be released (the day after my birthday!) Pre-ordered on Amazon. I made your Southern Tomato Pie this weekend, and we enjoyed it so much that I made four more crusts for the freezer.

Southern Tomato Pie is a dish I first heard of on my first trip to Charleston, S.C. At the hotel, I asked the concierge where to go to learn all I could about Southern food . . .  in three days. When I told her that I was even willing to eat okra, she leaned over the counter and told me, sotto voce, to go straight to the Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe and eat everything on the menu, especially the tomato pie.  Which I did. Except for the tomato pie. It sold out every day just as soon as I got to the front of the line! But for all other Southern food? They have been the gold standard for me ever since. Shrimp and grits? Oh, don’t even talk to me!

The. Best. Ever. What can I say? The best American literature and the best American food come from the South. American qua American, of course; I don’t wear an onion roll on my head.

So, anyway, when I saw Vivian Howard’s recipe for Southern Tomato Pie, I thought, hmmmm, this is my chance to taste a real southern tomato pie. Well, of course, how would I know? I guess if I like it, it must be authentic!

The recipe is time-consuming, but not difficult. It’s two kinds of tomatoes three ways, caramelized onions (and thanks, Vivian, for not saying that the onions will caramelize in 10 minutes!), two kinds of cheese (fontina and parm-regg), basil, and mayo. Honh? Mayo? Fuggedaboutit. It works. The crust is as thin as a cookie and, even though it is not sweet, it is so delicious and distinctive that it could be eaten just like a cookie. Alone. I kid you not. The blend of tomatoes, cheeses, and mayo is exactly right. The result is sweet and salty, chewy, smooth and crunchy.  All the things that make your mouth happy. This is a dish you will keep eating until it’s all gone (hey, who ate my pie?), all the while looking forward to the next time.


The crust can be made in the food processor:  just keep a couple of extra tablespoons of ice water handy so that the dough comes together quickly.


Blind-baked crust.


Onions on their way to a deep caramel.


Cubed tomatoes draining with sugar and salt.


Cubed tomatoes going into the oven with salt, thyme and olive oil.


Cubed tomatoes coming out of the oven with a nice roast on them.

For the filling, mix the raw and roasted tomatoes, and the onions.  Scoop into the baked pie crust and add the cheeses, the mayo and the basil, which have been mixed together in a separate bowl. Top with thin slices of Roma tomatoes. Bake. This recipe makes even mediocre tomatoes taste as if they have been just picked from the vine.

In a bread-baking mood (and when am I not?). I’ve been tempted for a while now to try King Arthur Flour’s sprouted wheat flour, and the bag arrived a few days ago.  For Mr. Darcy’s snacking pleasure, I made KAF’S Sprouted Wheat Vanilla Chai Bars.  Before you say, “Oh, good. Healthy,” I should tell you that the recipe calls for two (count’ em, 2) cups of sugar. So much for whole wheat healthiness. Every notice that anything touted as low-fat (or lo-fat) never mentions that they are also high- (or hi-) sugar? Whatever is made healthier by reducing the fat, it seems, is made less healthy by far by adding in ton of sugar and other sweeteners. That’s right. You can’t win. Both the dough and the topping contain KAF’s Chai Spice, a blend of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, anise, and black pepper. As a result, the cookies have a gingerbread plus flavor, and the really good chewy texture of a brownie. They go equally well with both coffee and tea. So, dunk alors!

SproutedWheatVanilla ChaiBars

From the side of the sprouted wheat flour bag, I made some sprouted wheat raisin bread.


Nice. Not thrilling.

While on a raisin bread roll, I gave KAF’s Harvest Bread with sweet potato and raisins a whirl. Any old raisin bread satisfies Mr. Darcy, and these were fine, but not terribly interesting.


Love the color from the sweet potato.

And, speaking of women I admire, you must know that my amazingly creative, talented and resourceful niece  — the real chef in the family — started Vermont Amber, a toffee company. You will not believe the flavors she has come up with: salted sesame, cacao nib, ginger cookie, fennel, sun-dried tomatoes, in addition to the usual suspects. This is not the jaw-breaking toffee sugar chunks you probably remember from your childhood, but thin and meltinyourmouth flavor shots. If you are ever at a loss for a gift, or party favors, or you are or know a toffee junkie, check it out. There is even a Toffee-of-the-Month Club. Go. Order on line!


Sun-dried tomato toffee? Yes, please!