Auntie Jane’s Potato Gratin: A Singaporean Christmas Casserole

Chinese new year may belong to my grandmother, she of the legendary pineapple tarts. And my Koh family aunties, a stalwart group of women who make mooncakes rather than buy them each year, may own the Mooncake Festival. But Christmas — that will always, always be my Auntie Jane’s holiday.

In Singapore, where Christmas is typically celebrated by people of all races and religions — largely as a secular festival, one squarely centered on getting together to eat and exchange gifts — my family, representing a jumble of religions in itself, would do the same. It didn’t matter whether you were Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic or Jewish — we were united on Christmas Day in our quest to eat well, share gifts and sing along to cheeseball Christmas carols.

The venue for these celebrations was usually my Auntie Jane’s — she always had a beautiful tree, a wonderfully decorated home complete with holiday cards she had received fashioned into a 2-D Christmas tree plastered onto a wall and a large buffet table topped with turkey and ham, fried rice and noodles.

The one dish we truly looked forward to, however, was a potato gratin she whipped together just once a year — filled with sliced chipolata, a skinny British sausage that’s packed with seasonings, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, this gratin was a meal in itself. (And it’s usually a hit with even the pickiest of child eaters.)

Despite my fondness for it, this gratin was yet another family dish that I’d taken for granted and never attempted to make. But when my Let’s Lunch group, a monthly Twitter-fueled virtual lunch-date, decided on sharing a holiday dish from your family or culture this month, I decided it was high time I gave my Auntie Jane’s recipe a shot…

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Spicy Pickled Beets: Holiday Crunch


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I've had the great fortune of not having to worry about making my own lunch recently.

Up in the woods of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., I wake up every day to breakfast and a prepared lunchbox, courtesy of a precious place that graciously gives artists (and misfits like me) space, time and food to create. (You can donate to the cause here. No, really. DO IT.)

I haven't forgotten my Let's Lunch friends, though — so, just for a day, I'm coming out of seclusion to share a recipe for a holiday side that's a true knockout: Spicy pickled beets …

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Broccoli-Slaw Salad: One Tasty Memento


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Every relationship has its souvenirs — a card, a necklace, letters from afar.

I’ve discarded more than I can recall over the years but there’s one that I hold so precious and pull out so often that it’s riddled with the marks of a well-worn life: oil splatters, vinegar stains, bits of grainy powder now glued to its surface for all eternity.

It’s a recipe for broccoli slaw salad — lovingly shared by the very sweet mother of an old boyfriend. I first received it in the 1990s when I was just starting to cook and this was one of just three things I knew how to make.

Years later, my culinary repertoire has expanded, yet I still return to this recipe time and again. It’s incredibly easy to assemble for weeknight dinners and last-minute summer cookouts — and tasty, to boot. And because its ingredients include nuts and seeds, it also makes for an especially lovely fall salad. (Yes, it goes well with turkey, too.)

So, when my Let’s Lunch group, a gang of intrepid cooks spread out from San Diego to Paris who have a virtual lunchdate once a month, decided to do fall salads for October, once again, out came Mrs. Nak’s recipe.

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Paris: Putting The “Ohh” in Aligot


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Like many good New Yorkers, I had come to regard carbs as the enemy.

I’d accepted that Asian noodles were my Delilah. But with a few exceptions — any dish of steak frites that crossed my sight being the main one — I’d been able to stick to this waistline-watching strategy. I would push around (most of my) potatoes on the plate and leave bread (mostly) untouched. 

Paris, however, has ruined me.

There were the perfectly baked breads that just demanded to be devoured. The delightfully salty butters that called to you from the table, insisting on being slathered on said perfectly baked breads and then devoured.

And there was the aligot at L’Ambassade D’Auvergne, a lovely little restaurant that specializes in the super elastic dish of melted Laguiole cheese stirred together with mashed potatoes and garlic.

My breaking point came when I set eyes on the aligot.

Fighting it was futile. I admitted defeat and said, “Just take me.”

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