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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A "Real" Food Adventure

My New Year's resolution is the unachievable kind.  I'm good with that; I intend to renew it.  It's my intention to move out of my comfort zone in the kitchen.  That zone has become too restrictive now that I am relying more on plants for protein.  I'm on a quest to broaden my approach to seasonings.  What better way to start than with a firsthand experience with one of the world's oldest vegetarian cuisines? 

So, I spent two weeks last month in India on a "real" food adventure with Intrepid Travel.* The trip exceeded my expectations every day.  Here are three quick luncheon scenarios to give you some idea of where our itinerary took us:  


On our first full day in Delhi we joined hundreds of guests that were served lunch in a Sikh temple. First we removed our shoes, and sat with worshipers for a few minutes.  Our guide then led us on a quick tour of the adjacent kitchen containing a row of bubbling cauldrons and a griddle the size of a double bed.  Teams of volunteers were cleaning, cutting, cooking and serving lunch to a steady stream of diners all seated cross-legged on the floor in the temple’s large dining hall.  We joined them and received ladles-full of curry served with warm chapati.   


At lunchtime two days later we standing up around a table in an open market on the corner of a busy intersection in Jaipur hungrily snarfing up the street foods our guide brought us.  (The sweets were just as tasty.)  We had another memorable lunch three days later at the end of a morning Jeep safari through a village and surrounding farm land in rural Bijaipur.  The setting was a lake resort where the resident chef demonstrated an elegant smoked mutton (aka goat) curry.  

Soon after returning home, I made a pilgrimage to Chicago’s Little India which occupies a strip along Devon Ave on the city’s far Northside.  There I purchased the most important piece of equipment in a North India kitchen: a spice box.  Mine holds seven metal cups filled with seasonings essential to North India cooking: ground chili, cumin, garam masala, coriander and turmeric as well as green cardamom pods and cumin seeds.   (There is a photo of a complete spice collection at the top of the page.  It was taken in a private home home in Jaipur where we observed our hosts prepare a thali dinner.)

With my new spice box and recipes saved from the trip at my side, I am attempting to recreate the meals we prepared.  The results have been good enough, but something is always lost in translation.  The differences in equipment is not an issue.  The meals prepared for us were cooked on portable gas burners in heavy, handle-less round pots for which we have good replacements.  Sauces were puréed in blenders less modern than our own.  The most time-saving device I observed was a pressure cooker which was used to cook chickpeas and dals.

The basic techniques of North Indian cooking appear easy to learn. A curry begins with the addition of garam masala spices to what we would consider a copious amount of hot oil.  Chopped or sliced onions and a paste of garlic and fresh ginger follow.  Beans and vegetables go into the pot or are prepared on the side and in added later.  Small amounts of various powders and seeds are added at specific times, and this is the hard part of mastering Indian cooking.  Secrets are hiding in plain sight as each cook chooses which and how much of a seasoning to add.  Learning to use Indian spices is akin to learning a new language.

The flavors of India are slowly working their way into my cooking.  It has become my habit when making oatmeal to first drop garam masala spices into boiling water.   Mustard oil sometimes replaces olive oil in my salad dressings. My granddaughters are learning to roll out chapatis and paratha dough filled with chopped curry, fenugreek and mint leaves.  

This Saturday's knife skills class at the Alliance Francaise in Chicago will also benefit from my experience in India.  The class will make a Vegetarian Cassoulet with a garam masala of French seasonings.  Is that even possible?  Come join us to find out, and stay tuned to this blog!


I highly recommend the Intrepid Travel’s tour called, India “Real” Food Adventure (HHZM)

Request Tour Leader: Ghanshyam Singh Rathore. 

If you have questions about travel to India, feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel



Every year in early January I file away copies of the recipes I’ve prepared over the holidays.  The following December these smudged pages are a pleasure to review for the memories and inspiration they provide.  I then throw most of them away.  

The truth is, I rarely repeat holiday meals. As Tina Turner says in ‘Proud Mary’, “I don’t do nothin nice and easy”.  The major components of the meal don’t change much, but my need to reinvent them is a constant.   



Take the small, homespun cranberry.  It’s an ideal ingredient for conjuring new flavors in a holiday kitchen.  Almost as if by design, this native  American vine bears fruit in late fall just when it’s most needed to complement rich roasted meats and super sweet holiday desserts.  Cranberries are uncompromisingly tart, loaded with pectin and a stunning red (color counts).  They are the perfect foil both fresh and dried in a sauce, compote, preserve or as solo addition for any number of holiday dishes. 



Two new cranberry recipes joined my growing collection this year.  One is the Cranberry Pecan Upside Down Cake pictured above.  It’s my take on a recipe for the more traditional pineapple version that appears in Thomas Keller’s book Ad Hoc at Home.  

The other addition is an Orange Marmalade with Cranberries.  Just one thinly sliced orange and a few ounces of cranberries will produces three cups of ruby red preserves.  The naturally high pectin level in both fruits insures a firm gel in record time.  While oranges and cranberries are a common pairing, it’s a cinnamon stick simmering with the fruit that provides delicious synergy.  Please pass the brioche!

Happy Holidays from my kitchen to yours!





  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel


 The old saying, ‘never say never' certainly applies to food tastes.   Here is a case in point.  If told I would one day publish a recipe for Quebec’s signature dish, poutine, my response would have been an emphatic, "Never!”.  I wouldn't blog about French steak frites either.  Both are iconic dishes but poutine has always sounded 'over the top'. Just the thought of French fries covered with cheese curds and a ladle of gravy gives me indigestible.  But, what do I know?

It took the intervention of my my son-in-law, Amid, and a recipe from the Sikh candidate for Prime Minister of Canada to cure me of my 'never poutine' attitude.  In an unlikely sequence of events, Amid, who rarely cooks, watched parliament member Jagmeet Singh prepare a curried poutine in a Tweet to his many followers.  Amid made his poutine; loved it and offered to show me how to show me how to make it while I was in Montreal.  I couldn't refuse and followed him into the kitchen.


The backstory gets better.  Singh had chosen October 14, Thanksgiving Day in Canada, to Tweet his poutine describing it as his favorite holiday dish.  As he expertly sliced onions and stirred the curds, he riffed on how a poutine with curry seasonings symbolized the integration of his Punjab origins and his present life in Canada.  It was a brilliant but insufficient campaign tactic.  A week later Justin Trudeau narrowly won reelection as Prime Minister.  Jagmeet Singh who placed third in a field of six remains a member of Canada’s Parliament and leader of the New Democratic Party. 

Jagmeet posted a photo of his handwritten recipe for Punjabi Poutine two days after the Tweet.  It reveals poutine’s vast                  potential for substitution.  In his recipe cubed and fried sweet potatoes replace French fries.  A spicy tomato sauce stands in for gravy.  The constant is cheese curds.  

Canadians appear to be addicted to these virtually tasteless blobs of white cheese.  Small bags of curds sit next to the cash register in many Montreal food shops.  Their dryness allows them to remain stable at room temperature. The best curds are so dry they squeak when you bite into them.  That is one of the pleasures of eating poutine.


I like to imagine that the first poutine was created in 1950's Quebec by an inventive short-order cook in a small roadside diner along a snowy two-lane highway.   It’s early on a frigid Saturday morning and his bleary-eyed customers are revelers looking for a hangover cure and exhausted long-haul truckers.  Poutine, with its hot, crisp fries, squeaky cheese and mouth-coating meat gravy filled the bill and continues to satisfy to this day.