French Laundry-Inspired Huevos Rancheros with Poached Egg and Pureed Roasted Poblano

Clearly the picture you see above is not huevos rancheros. It is, rather, pan-roasted scallops with morel mushrooms and aspargus puree, which is what the Missus and I had for dinner Friday night. The recipe came from Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry Cookbook," which I recently purchased. Keller is a bona fide culinary genius according to everyone. Some day I will eat at the French Laundry, or Per Se. Until then I'll have to content myself with whatever humble approximations I can eke out from his book, our tiny kitchen, and a relatively limited selection of sources. Could I make every recipe in this book? Depends. Want to sell me an entire pig's head?

I'll not be posting Keller's recipe, in keeping with my loosely-kept policy of not posting others' recipes without direct permission. So you'll settle for a consolation prize, perhaps?

You see, browsing through the book's large and elegantly-designed pages I was inspired to try something new with an old favorite. My obsession with huevos rancheros goes back to my youth in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is known to anyone who has either read this blog regularly, or known me since 1990. Even after three years of cohabitation and 1 1/2 years of marriage, the Missus still largely feigns support of this obsession, but I suppose I shouldn't blame her for the occasional "can we just have pancakes for breakfast today?" I'm also sure that at least two of my readers (which I believe constitutes 1/3 of my readership) are thinking to themselves "is he seriously writing about huevos rancheros again? Yes! But I must say, the Missus gave this iteration her full support.

A number of Keller's recipes contain purees, and I wanted to see what I could do along those lines. The only thing this recipe shares with traditional huevos is some basic ingredients, but the preparation is unique. The measurements below are only approximate, but this is the sort of thing you can and should experiment with.

(1) The green stuff you see above consists of roasted and peeled poblano peppers pureed with salt and olive oil (delicious by itself).

(2) The brown stuff is my traditional beans, but pureed. It consists of sauteed onions and garlic mixed with spices (cumin, coriander, oregano, smoked paprika, and mace or allspice), san marzano tomatoes, and a bit of chicken stock. Stew all of that for about 20 minutes, then puree.

(3) The potatoes I sliced on a mandoline for uniformity, then cut into the wedges you see below. I boiled them for a few minutes to soften them up, then put them in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking. I then drained them, and coated them in a mixture of 3 parts flour to 1 part ground cumin and 1 part ground coriander. I then fried them in about 2/3 inch of vegetable oil and put them on a paper towel to absorb the oil.

(4) The egg was poached, then garnished with fresh chives and diced shallots that had been sauteed in olive oil in which I soaked annatto seeds (the seeds impart a wonderful orange color and rich flavor to the olive oil).

Serve with really good coffee! And for a more decadent experience, a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.



Now that summer is over and good tomatoes are getting harder to find, I'm finally getting around to posting my gazpacho recipe. It holds no claim to being particularly original or different, but several people who say they don't normally like gazpacho have praised it, and I certainly like it.

Like any gazpacho, this one wins or loses entirely on the quality of the tomatoes you use. In other words, don't skimp. You want big fat heirloom tomatoes. When possible, I use at least three different kinds, which gives the soup a nice complexity.

The other thing to know about this recipe is that it's an approximation. Gazpacho is one of those things I tend to wing. But I've also written it so that you can add the base a little at a time to taste.

Serves 6

1 medium shallot
1 garlic clove
6-8 fresh chives
1/4 bunch of fresh parsley
1 red bell pepper
1 cubanelle pepper
3 Large Heirloom tomatoes (cut into large pieces)

(1) Roast the peppers over an open flame until the skin is completely black. If you don't have a grill going or a gas stove, you can cut the peppers in half, remove the stems and seeds, and lay them flat on tinfoil beneath a toaster oven broiler or your oven's broiler until the skin is black. Run the peppers under cold water, removing the seeds and stems if you haven't already, and peel the skin off. Set the peppers aside.

(2) Peel the shallot and garlic, then place the first four ingredients in a food processor. Process until finely minced. Spatula the mixture out of the food processor and set aside in a bowl.

(3) Add the roasted peppers to the food processor and puree.

(4) With the peppers still in the processor, add the tomatoes and process to the consistency you like. Add salt to taste.

(5) Add the shallot/garlic/herbs mixture to the tomatoes a little at a time--in the food processor if you're going for a smooth gazpacho, or in a bowl if you're going for a chunkier texture. Add the mixture to the tomatoes until you have the balance you want.

Note: For a truly smooth gazpacho, use a blender. I start off with the food processor, and after the five steps above I put it in a bowl and use a hand blender.

Note: Most cubanelle peppers are not particularly spicy, but if you're a wilting violet, you may want to test it out before adding it. It can always be replaced with an even more benign pepper.


Grappa Italian Cafe - Park City Utah

The Missus and I spent the past week in Park City, Utah, at a vacation rental home on a hillside overlooking Main Street. As many of you know, Park City is a beautiful town nestled in the Wasatch Mountain Range. It is a ski mecca, home of the Sundance Film Festival, and all-around fantastic place to be at any time of the year. And it has some great restaurants. We mostly cooked, but on the last night of our vacation, the Missus and I splurged at Grappa, the Italian restaurant you see above. The best thing by far was the location. The staircase you see to the right side of the photo goes up the hillside about 100 yards, and our vacation home was at the top--so it was a short and convenient walk. They sat us on the white-canopied balcony, seen in the above photo on the third floor. Here is the view from the balcony:

This photo shows that we were right at the tree line, and the wind blowing through the leaves of the aspens made for a wonderful soundtrack to our meal. The photo also shows you the excellent osso bucco I ordered. I love a good osso bucco, and it's one of the few dishes I set aside my ethical qualms for (it being veal and all). It was served with a creamy polenta, brussels sprouts, and crispy pancetta. It was wonderful. I enjoyed it with a glass of full-bodied '05 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

While in Park City we also enjoyed time spent with family, viewed a Main Street 4th of July parade, made a side trip to Lagoon (the amusement park I grew up going to) and had a good old fashioned water fight.

Back to the real world. Sigh. Maybe I'll make some osso bucco this weekend. Keep the memories alive.


First Anniversary Trip - the Shenandoahs and the Joshua Wilton House

The Joshua Wilton House - Fantastic Restaurant in Harrisonburg, VA

That's right . . . Kitchen Monkey and the Missus have been married a year now, and I'm happy to say it has been a wonderful year, and I look forward to many more. I've been wanting to let her do a guest post or two for a while now, and this seems as good an occasion as any, so without further ado . . . to tell you about the amazing food ate this past weekend, I now present Ms. Monkey. . .

I've officially been "The Missus" for a year. To celebrate our wedding anniversary, KM and I spent a weekend at a B&B in Harrisonburg, Virginia, nestled in the Shenandoahs. The B&B was fine, but as KM and I have come to say of pretty much any place we've stayed since our wedding night - this was no Hay Adams.

It was a beautiful weekend, with a hike in the Shenandoah Mountains past several waterfalls, and a morning stroll through the local farmer's market (complete with Civil War reenactors and old fashioned blacksmiths). There was morning coffee on the porch swing and - of course - there was food. So I'll spare you the mushy stuff that no one cares about but me and KM and skip straight to the cuisine.

You might not think there'd be much to hope for in the way of a memorable meal in a town of 45,000, where 40% of the population is comprised of university students. But Harrisonburg's restaurants get it right by sourcing their meats and produce locally, emphasizing freshness and simplicity. The first dinner of the weekend took place at the Local Chop House & Grille. One thing to know about me is that I was a vegetarian for 8 years - until I met KM. I'm still picky about my meat - I do my best to eat only local and organic and the appeal of cutting into a big juicy steak is still lost on me. When I ordered the chicken though I knew this was going to be a very special chicken. My dinner was raised at Polyface Farms - made famous by Michael Pollan in his renowned Omnivore's Dilemma and hailed as a model of agricultural sustainability. A happy chicken it was, lightly salted with crispy skin and a creamy tomato dipping sauce. A small pool of cheesy grits complimented the tang of local mushrooms in a thick balsamic.

The Chop House was overshadowed by Saturday night's dinner at The Joshua Wilton House which was built not long after the Civil War. We were surprised when we arrived to be shown to a table set in a gazebo on a charming patio behind the house - special treatment for our anniversary. We began with the appetizer special - calamari stuffed with risotto and Spanish chorizo and topped with a squid ink sauce. The owners recently took a trip to Spain where they were inspired to create this dish - and inspired it was. After we had finished cleaning the plate with a half dozen freshly baked rolls, there was a salad of delicate watercress with fresh, crispy asparagus and buttermilk dressing. KM says that the Polyface Farm hard boiled egg on this salad was the best egg he's ever eaten.* For the main course, KM had the grilled duck with sweet potato puree, sweet chili glazed beans and finished with a maple balsamic sauce. I had plump scallops nestled in a buttery cream sauce, risotto and maple glazed carrots. Both dishes paired well with a light Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley, from a winery called "Alphabets." And because we can't help ourselves, we finished it off with an apple gallette complimented by a piece of salty peanut brittle.

It was a weekend filled with the flavors of delicious food, adventure and warmth - all things I talked about in my wedding vows as things that KM brings to our partnership and which I appreciate very deeply. So here's to the next year and many more as The Missus!

*KM's note: I say this about a lot of foods while I'm eating them, but this really was the best egg I've ever eaten. And thanks to the Missus for the post. A very memorable weekend.


The Amazing Chesapeake Bay Oyster (it's hopeful comeback and it's deliciousness in risotto)

While D.C. itself is short on notable regional cuisine, we are lucky to live not too far from the Chesapeake Bay, which has given us crab cakes and the like, and a particular favorite of mine--oysters. This past weekend we indulged in a rich and creamy risotto made with local bluepoint oysters. I'm a bit of a risotto fanatic, and if I could eat oysters every day I would, so this recipe is basically (to paraphrase Ron Swanson) my fifth favorite food cooked inside my second favorite food.

The recipe came from For Cod and Country, Barton Seaver's new seafood cookbook. Since meeting Seaver and acquiring his book a month or so ago, the missus and I have eaten a good deal of seafood, all of it sustainable, and much of it local. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a free Seafood Watch smartphone app that has made shopping for sustainable seafood far easier.

The oysters you see above were local bluepoints, from the Maryland based Choptank Oyster Company. The vast majority of oysters you can buy have been farmed, and Choptank has a focus on sustainable farming practice. Oysters such as these get a "Best Choice" rating from Seafood Watch, while their wild-caught cousins in the Gulf rank not quite as high. The farming methods are fairly low-impact, and because they filter the water as they feed, they play a crucial role in their ecosystem, particularly in the now-blighted Chesapeake Bay.

Until fairly recently, the Chesapeake Bay oyster population was at the bottom of a severe population decline. Efforts by Maryland and Virginia officials and the Army Corps of Engineers have seen the beginnings of a comeback, though their numbers are still a fraction of the billions of oysters that filled the bay in the 1800s. Apart from the efforts to establish wild oyster preserves, oyster aquaculture companies such as Choptank are aiding in that effort. Although these oysters will be harvested and sold, during their lifespan they are filtering the water. Increased demand for oysters would lead these companies to expand their efforts and convince new companies to get in the game. In other words, start eating more oysters. Right now! Do it!

Anyhow . . . Seaver's recipe is great. My shucking skills have gotten rusty, but were soon up to snuff. I've made many risottos, but never with creme fraiche. It was decadently rich, and I really enjoyed the blend of flavors that included the oysters, their liquor, orange juice and zest, butternut squash, onion, fresh parsley and fresh tarragon. I've given you most of the ingredients, but not the recipe, as I'm feeling a bit lazy. In any case, buy the book, download the app, think about the fish you eat, so we can all keep eating fish.


The Huevos Rancheros Post to Rule Them All

(click to see larger pic)

Some people have a lifelong obsession with one particular food or dish. A favorite example of mine is Allen Ginsberg's passion for making soup, at which he excelled. I feel similarly passionate about huevos rancheros, and have spent years improving my recipe and trying endless variations. In it's truest and original form huevos rancheros is extremely simple and plain, having the same basics: eggs, tortilla and beans.

Within those three ingredients there are many options. Another usual ingredient is a tomato/chili sauce. I tend to combine those elements with the beans (see below). You'll sometimes see the addition of rice (but never on my huevos rancheros plate) and more frequently, potatoes (which I always use). There are countless other possible additions to those basics. Rather than post one recipe, here is a rundown of how I vary the basics to create dozens of versions of my favorite breakfast/brunch (and sometimes dinner). If anyone out there has a favorite version or addition, I would definitely like to know about it.

One more thing: I've had some comments on KM in the recent past about how some of my dishes aren't "authentic" (I'm looking at you anonymous Spanish hater of my paella). I am definitely not striving for authentic here, or really ever. Going for tasty and interesting. It doesn't mean I don't have respect for the original. If you don't feel I should be calling this "huevos rancheros," you're welcome to let me know. But I aint gonna stop.

The Tortilla

It is more traditional in Mexico to use corn tortillas, which I typically pan-fry, briefly, in a very small amount of vegetable oil. I occasionally use flour tortillas, but the corn tortillas are healthier. I suppose you could use low-fat wheat tortillas, but why ruin such a great dish?

The Eggs

The traditional way is simply to fry them. You really should cook them sunny-side up, so the yolk can run and mix with the beans. Mmmmmm. Sometimes, if I'm feeling fancy or have company, I'll poach the eggs in stock. I have also done scrambled eggs, or hardboiled eggs chopped small, but fried or poached are best. Regardless of how you cook them, be sure to sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper when done.

The Beans

For me, the beans are the most important part. Traditional huevos are often served with refried beans, or sometimes black beans cooked with a few spices. I don't care for refried beans, and mine are always made with black beans. The traditional dish is also usually served with a kind of tomato-chili sauce. I prefer to combine the chilies and tomatoes with the beans to give it all more substance and flavor. This is how I usually do it:

I start by sauteeing a medium sized chopped onion in olive oil (this is for a 32 oz. can of beans, if you're using more or less, adjust your onion size accordingly). After a few minutes, I add at least a tablespoon each of freshly ground cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and a tablespoon of smoked paprika. Those are the basic spices, but I will often add a 1/4 tsp. of mace and/or a teaspoon of dried mexican oregano. Once the spices have released their aroma through the simmering olive oil, I add three cloves of chopped garlic and sautee for a few more minutes.

I then add about a cup of stock (right now we have a freezer filled with ice cubes of home made beef/chicken stock, which provides me with a mild but frequent feeling of joy), along with two fresh chopped tomatoes. If all I have is canned plum tomatoes, I'll add several of those, chopped, along with about 1/4 cup of the tomato juice.

I drain and rinse the canned beans and add them, then let everything simmer for at least a half hour, until the liquid is reduced. If it reduces too much, just add a bit more stock or water. Sometimes I'll use dry beans slow-cooked overnight in our crockpot, but I too rarely think that far ahead.

Adjust the spices however you like. And of course, add salt and pepper. I will occasionally add peppers (poblano, jalapeno, or simply red or green pepper) to the beans. If fresh, I chop them and add them at the same time as the onions. Occasionally I'll buy the small cans of Hatch green chiles, which are from New Mexico and tend to fill me with fond memories of the years I lived in Albuquerque and ate Hatch green chiles all the time.

The Potatoes / Home Fries

I almost always use red potatoes, which I chop so that they're a bit bigger than dice. I boil them with a generous amount of salt in the water, and drain them just before they're fully cooked. I reserve some of the coriander and cumin I ground for the beans (again, about a tablespoon of each). In a large non-stick sautee pan, I heat some vegetable oil and let the spices cook for 1 minute before tossing the potatoes to coat them. Add salt and pepper and continue cooking until the potatoes get a bit crispy on the outside.

Once everything is cooked, simply lay the tortilla flat on the plate and arrange everything else on top however you wish. Feel free to add whatever you want. Here are some ideas I often turn to:

Bacon: I've eased up on the bacon in recent years, but I love the black forest strips you can buy at Whole Foods, and will sometimes buy just enough for one strip per plate. Delicious.

Dairy: I used to cover my huevos rancheros with cheese, but I'm trying to get in shape and have cut back on this a bit. Still, a small amount of really good sharp cheddar can be a beautiful thing on top of the beans. I also used to add a dab of sour cream, but lately have used the somewhat more healthy Greek yogurt, or sometimes labneh, which has a really pleasant tangy flavor that goes against the beans nicely. That said, this morning I used creme fraiche. Not healthy, not traditional, but very good.

Sauce or salsa: A dab of Joe Baker's Damn Good Salsa goes really well with all these ingredients, but if I don't have a batch, we'll often use a bit of hot sauce on the potatoes. Our fellow SASOU chefs Scott and Amy recently went to Belize and brought us back a bottle of Marie Sharp's Grapefruit Pulp Habanero Pepper Sauce. Really great stuff. Apart from that, our go-to sauce is Tapatio. Tabasco has it's place, but not on huevos rancheros.

Other additions:

Fresh chopped cilantro and/or parsley

Avacado slices or guacamole

Flame-roasted poblano peppers, with the charred skin peeled off and the peppers sliced into strips.

This morning I also simmered 1/4 cup of annato seeds in 1/2 cup of olive oil and 1/2 cup vegetable oil, for about 20 minutes. I then strained the seeds out and discarded them, reserving the oil. I used the oil to fry the eggs, and drizzled a small amount on top of the potatoes. The aroma and flavor are great.