Food-savvy dads at the stove

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Food-savvy dads at the stove

LEXINGTON — In mid-20th-century America, TV dads Ozzie Nelson, Ward Cleaver, and Desi Arnaz donned their wives’ aprons and mishaps and mayhem ensued.

Now some dads have taken over kitchen responsibilities, either out of necessity or because they love the inventive aspect of cooking. The bumbling dad has been replaced by some food-savvy home chefs, who enjoy their time at the stove with their kids as assistants.

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“I don’t actually call what I do cooking,” says Durjoy “Ace” Bhattacharjya. “I practice bricolage, putting a lot of disparate things together to create something new.” In his kitchen here, where he cooks for his wife, Usha Shanmugam, and their daughter, Sabrina, 5, the air is scented with roasting masala-dusted chickpeas and potatoes.

Bhattacharjya, 43, founder of a health care software company in Cambridge, is making chaat-style Indian nachos, a reflection of his childhood as a first-generation Indian-American; he grew up in Alabama and Massachusetts. Chaat are Indian street-food snacks that combine sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy flavors, he explains. One of his favorites is papri chaat (papri are wafers), made with layers of chickpeas and potatoes with coriander and tamarind chutneys, and chiles on the crunchy slices.

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Last winter, when he was cooking for the Super Bowl, Bhattacharjya decided to substitute tortilla chips for the hard-to-find papri. He added salsa, Jack cheese, and a spritz of lime juice to complete his savory hybrid.

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The melange of flavors and textures melded into an addictive combination of crunch, heat, and herbs. Sabrina helps wash the potatoes, and tear coriander and mint leaves for the garnish.

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On Saturdays, “It’s weekend specials with Daddy,” Bhattacharjya says. His routine is to wake early, go for a coffee, and work for 2 hours. “Then I come home to make breakfast with Sabrina. We do pancakes together.”

While Bhattacharjya is cooking for the sheer enjoyment, other dads cook because they have to. Katherine Bautze of Sudbury, who grew up in Agawam, was raised in a household where, after her mother died, her dad cooked every morning. Her father, William Walsh, now 95, made her and her seven siblings — all under 15 — breakfast every day.

 

Judge William Walsh in the family kitchen in the early 1970s. Courtesy Katherine Bautze

Judge William Walsh in the family kitchen in the early 1970s.

Katherine Bautze in a recent photo with the Judge

Katherine Bautze in a recent photo with the Judge

Photos provided by Katherine Bautze

“My father and breakfast were building blocks in the foundation of my life,” writes Bautze in an e-mail. She recalls his military-style approach, never wavering from a fixed repertoire. Even today, she associates the days of the week with the assigned breakfasts: Mondays were cream of wheat, Tuesdays French toast, Wednesdays oatmeal, Thursdays eggs and bacon, Friday waffles, Saturdays cold cereal, Sundays eggs again. “The French toast was made with 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk and 8 slices of bread. The eggs were sunny-side up and fried in bacon,” writes Bautze, 54, who remembers the proportions and his methods all these years later.

When her father remarried and had another child, he continued to make an early hot meal for all the children. “After his breakfast shift ended, my father hung the red plaid robe on a hook, drove to work, and donned the robe of a district court judge in Springfield,” writes Bautze.

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Theodore Gilman of Newton also recalls routines in his childhood kitchen in Longmeadow. His mother, Ellen Deborah Stern Gilman, a physician, “stormed in every night after work and made dinner for us four kids,” recalls Gilman. He enjoyed one-on-one time while grocery shopping with her weekly. He continues the activity with sons Ari, 19, a chemical engineering student in college, and Noah, 15, in his second year in the culinary arts program at Newton North High School.

Ted Gilman spent time with his mother grocery shopping every week and has two sons who like being in the kitchen. Noah Gilman assembles mac and cheese with breadcrumbs and cheddar.

When Gilman, 49, executive director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard, was married, he and his former wife divided the household chores and he became chief cook. He knew little about the kitchen.

Today he shares culinary duties with his sons. One dish he and Noah make is Gilman’s grandmother’s macaroni and cheese. Ruth Stern’s recipe, written in his mother’s hand, sits on the counter. The teenager is comfortable in the kitchen, measuring, mixing, and cleaning as he goes. “If you don’t do that, it’s chaos,” he says.

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For the mac and cheese, which seems to be a variation of a Jewish noodle pudding, Noah combines cottage cheese, sour cream, shredded cheddar, and milk in a bowl, adds partially cooked rotini, tips the mixture into a baking dish, and sprinkles the top with buttered breadcrumbs before baking.

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The finished dish is hot with a golden crust, not especially difficult, and nourishing. Gilman began at the stove with minimal skills, his seasoning options “salt or no salt.” Noah’s grown up to be a cook and Ari a baker, says their proud father.

No adventures with Ozzie in this household.

RECIPES

Grandma Ruth’s macaroni and cheese

Serves 6

Similar to the Eastern European noodle kugel made in Jewish families, this macaroni and cheese contains cottage cheese and sour cream. Newton dad Theodore Gilman got the recipe from his grandmother, Ruth Stern. In her dish, the cottage cheese, sour cream, grated cheeses, and milk are mixed together, added to partially cooked noodles, then baked.

Butter (for the pan)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound noodles or short pasta such as rotini, bow ties, or radiatori
1 container (16 ounces) small curd cottage cheese
1 container (8 ounces) sour cream (or use plain yogurt)
12 ounces grated cheese such as cheddar, Monterey Jack, smoked Gouda, Muenster, or mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan or other firm cheese
½ cup milk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted
1 cup breadcrumbs

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9- by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook, stirring several times, for 5 minutes (it will not be cooked through). Drain and return to the pan.

3. In a bowl mix the cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt, cheddar or other cheese, Parmesan, and milk. Add to the pasta and mix thoroughly. Tip the mixture into the prepared dish.

4. In another bowl with a fork, stir the butter and breadcrumbs. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly over the pasta.
Cover with foil.

5. Bake the dish for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 30 minutes or until the crumb topping is browned and the pasta mixture is bubbling at the edges. (Total baking time is about 1 hour.)
Adapted from Theodore Gilman

Chaat-style Indian Nachos

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Serves 8 as an appetizer

Durjoy “Ace” Bhattacharjya of Lexington prepares this riff on the traditional Indian street dish papri chaat by pairing Mexican salsa, tortilla chips, and Jack cheese with garam masala-spiced chickpeas and potatoes, and fruity tamarind chutney. The spicy dish is similar to nachos, but finished here with dollops of yogurt mixed with more chutney, this one coriander, for a cool and creamy touch. Garam masala and chutneys are available at Indian markets, and at other specialty markets. If you like even more heat add chopped green chiles and chaat masala (hotter than garam masala) to garnish.

2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and dried with paper towels
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 ounces corn tortilla chips
¼ medium red onion, finely diced
8 ounces shredded Jack or pepper Jack cheese
tablespoons coriander chutney
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons tamarind chutney
¾ cup mild tomato salsa
Juice of ½ lime
½ cup torn fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup torn fresh mint leaves

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl combine potatoes and chickpeas, olive oil, garam masala, salt, and pepper. Spread the mixture on the parchment. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring twice, or until the potatoes are cooked through and the edges are crisp.

3. Lift the parchment paper off the baking dish and transfer to a large plate.

4. Spread the tortilla chips on the baking sheet. Distribute the chickpea and potato mixture evenly over the chips. Scatter the red onion on top, then add a layer of cheese.

5. Return the tortilla mixture to the oven and continue baking for 6 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

6. Meanwhile in a bowl, mix the coriander chutney with the yogurt.

7. Remove the nachos from the oven. Spoon the yogurt mixture on top in dollops, then add the tamarind chutney, salsa, lime juice, cilantro, and mint.
Adapted from Durjoy “Ace”
Bhattacharjya

 

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