Following the March Wednesday over Water (aka, WOW) I found myself picking up a couple late night impromptu foodstuffs for my family at Wholefoods; whereupon I had the fortune of running into iconic restaurateur, food writer Crescent Dragonwagon, who was also shopping after hours.  After a few minutes of catching up, chatting, culinary pontificating, I mentioned that I had just completed a WOW show inspired by the Soul of a Nation exhibition at Crystal Bridges, where we served the traditional one pot South African dish, Bobotie.  I pronounced it “Ba-boo-tee” with an emphasis on the second syllable, almost as if to say, “shake your ba-boo-tie” Crescent, smiled and phonetically uttered the word COMPLETELY different than I had just seconds before – she said, “Bah-Ba-Dee” with more of an inflection on the first syllable, with a cadence of “zip-pa-dee” that could be the beginning or end to a funky, cool scat. 

I immediately blushed; and said, “Wait, is that really how you say it?”  And of course, being the socially gracious, well read, published writer that she is, Dragonwagon winked and said, “Oh, I guess, that’s how you say it…”  I realized that more than likely, the famed James Beard award winning cookbook writer that stood before me, was correct; and that I had just spent an hour and half in front of an audience of 200 museum guests mispronouncing the evening’s featured dish.

It seems that I’ve spent a lifetime mispronouncing or misusing words; and not just the culinary variety; at fifteen years of age, I excruciatingly remember telling my parents that my new high school girlfriend was an “intellect” rather than an “intellectual,” and in hindsight, honestly, she was neither, or wait, is it either?  And that’s not even breaking the surface of the scores of artist names and painting titles I’ve butchered during my eight year tenure at Crystal Bridges.  As a chronic “word butcher,” my advice to anyone who accidentally mispronounces or misuses a word in an embarrassing social situation is to either completely “own” your mistake like a badge of honor, or just simply grin and bare it with just a pinch of humility, which I guess is what this blog is when you get right down to it.    



Regardless, the WOW audience swooned over the centuries old South African minced meat dish that is traditionally made with exotic spices, herbs and an egg topping, similar to Greek Moussaka or British Shepherd’s Pie, sans the potatoes.  It’s really a casserole that can be easily made into one pot, then finished in the oven, a perfect dish for entertaining or feeding the family on a weekday, like perhaps, Wednesday.  We served it alongside a delicious, bright citrus slaw and a slightly spicy mango relish designed with fresh mint and medium heat peppers; the chilled slaw successfully cut through the rich, meatiness of the Bobotie, while the mango relish triggered the myriad herbs and brown spices layered throughout.  The recipe listed here will ensure that your next dinner party will impress even the most discriminating, finicky guest…wait, or is it insure?  Either way, they’re going to love it!       


Mispronounced Bobotie 


2 tsp coriander seeds, roasted

1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted 

½ tsp ground allspice 

Pinch of salt

1 tsp curry powder

1 T ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped

1 t turmeric

4 garlic cloves, chopped

½ long green chili, sliced

 1/2 small habanero pepper

2 slices bread

 1/2c milk

 3t vegetable oil

2 onions, finely chopped

 1 ½ lb. ground chuck

 ½ lb. ground lamb

1 green apple, peeled finely diced

1 tbsp. mango Chutney, plus extra to serve

½ c golden raisins, soaked in warm water, drained

½ lemon, juiced

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ c toasted sliced almonds


The Custard

2 large eggs

1 c milk

4 fresh bay leaves


Technique -

Use a spice grinder to ground the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, allspice and salt to a powder. Add the curry powder, ginger, turmeric, garlic and chilies, and pound until a fine paste forms.

Soak the bread in the milk for about 10 minutes, then strain and fluff up bread up with a fork.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5–6 minutes, or until soft. Add the spiced chili paste and cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Increase the heat to high, then add the beef and lamb cook, stirring to break up any lumps, slowly simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the apple, chutney, raisins, lemon juice and mashed bread. Season with salt and pepper and spoon into a shallow baking dish. 

To make the topping, whisk together the eggs and milk and pour over the meat. Place the bay leaves on top and bake for 20 minutes at 325 or until custard is just set. Garnish with toasted almonds

Lasagna Hurts

Lasagna Bolognese hurts; it’s not just the slippery, wide noodles that are hard to maneuver out of the boiling water, and sometimes only manageable by using the calloused tips of my fingers to move from pot to colander, “Hot, Hot, Ouch!”; but it’s the sauce, the dangerous, beautiful, romantic Bolognese ragù that sets off a chain of dangerous events:

While stirring the rich, amber gravy with a wooden spoon, my knuckle inadvertently scrapes across the inner pot, fiercely hot, forcing an involuntary drop of the spoon as blistered knuckle jerks toward open mouth, followed closely by a large splash of magma ragù (from the dropped spoon, remember?), exploding from the pot up to my chin and cheek, forcing a blind stumble backward as I swat like a man chased by a swarm of bees, knocking over pasta colander (full of steaming, soft noodles), bottle of chianti, and wine glass filled with said chianti.  “{Expletive} OUCH!”

Nevertheless, after a moment of anger, I take a breath, mop up the wine, sweep the glass, and refill a pot for the redux of boiled lasagna noodles.

Yes, the sauce is that good.

Some things in life, including recipes for iconic Italian sauces, are that important.  In this day and age of quick-fix meals and pre-fab eats, it’s critical that we take time to revisit the virtues of food (and art) that refuses to take short-cuts.  And sometimes, the great ones take it a step further by mashing up tried, true, and tested paradigms with new ideas.

Crystal Bridges’ own Chef Melody Lane, while devising a menu for the January Wednesday Over Water, adapted classic ragù, a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy, that is typically used to dress up wide-noodle pastas or to make lasagna.  She certainly used classic techniques and ingredients for her recipe, such as beginning with sofrito, the Italian version of mira poix, or onion, celery, and carrot; as well as familiar cuts of meats such as veal, pork, and lamb. But she also went a bit rogue by incorporating chicken livers, which gave the sauce a wonderful mineral dimension, as well as a whisper of fish sauce at the conclusion that yielded an interesting, briny undercurrent of the sea.  Exquisite and unexpected.

Chef Mel’s recipe is every bit as time-consuming as the original, so engage in this edible endeavor only if you have an afternoon to respectfully devote to the task at hand.  And take it from me—it’s delicious, a marvel of edible culture, an homage to classic ragù that somehow manages to tip a hat to our past while looking forward excitedly to the future—the way good food and art should.

But it also hurts. I have the blistered knuckles and a kitchen floor full of broken glass as wonderful, delicious, awe inspiring proof.  CIAO!

Ragu Bolognese Sauce

1 quart chicken stock
1 28-oz can peeled whole tomatoes
1/2 lb minced chicken livers
3oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb ground beef chuck
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground lamb
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 lb finely diced pancetta
2 large onion, finely minced
2 carrots, finely chopped
4 ribs celery, finely chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced fresh sage parsley and basil leaves
2.5 cups red wine
1 cup heavy cream
4 oz finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or deep skillet/pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally until tender (8-10 minutes). Add the chicken livers and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the livers lose their red colour (2-3 minutes).

Add the pancetta and ground meat in batches, letting it brown before adding more.  Pour off most of the fat. Add the wine, increase heat to high, and boil until the wine is almost gone (10-15 minutes).

Add the broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer; you should see the occasional bubble but not a boil. Cook, uncovered, until the sauce is dark, rich, and thick. Cook 2-3 hrs. You may also cook in the oven at 300°.

At the end, add in the cream, fish sauce, and parmesan cheese to taste.

Enjoy over pasta  

{Taken from Crystal Bridges' CREATE Food Blog - 2018}