Braised Beef Short Ribs & Gnocchi with Tomato Saffron Sauce

Today Kitchen Monkey returns to present a most savory dish that he made, with the help of his family, on Christmas Eve Eve. The ribs recipe is adapted from one of Charlie Trotter's books, and for the gnocchi, I consulted Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking. The key to the short ribs is cooking time, which should be at least 4 hours, but I let it braise at a low temperature for 8 hours. It was unbelievably succulent, quite literally falling off the bone, and the braising liquid was reduced into a delicious sauce that would have been fine on the gnocchi, but I don't get to cook for the family very often, so I had to increase the fancy. Hence the tomato saffron sauce, also quite good. Best thing about short-ribs? These little puppies are cheap. See the comments for the ribs and sauce recipe. The gnocchi recipe will be posted later. My sister Kelly's boyfriend, Jean-Jacques, helped by making the gnocchi. The spot of flour on his face was staged, I'm afraid, by my sister, who thought it would make it seem like he had been harder at work.



What is this? Yes, another dessert. I still insist that I'm not much of a dessert person, despite recent posts to the contrary. Nick was making dinner, a delicious curried snapper soup with curried potatoes and home made paneer, an Indian cheese, and I felt I should bring a dessert. I don't do much Indian cuisine, but I make a good basbousa, which is a Middle Eastern dessert (cake-like, but definitely not a cake) with coconut and a whole lot of sugar. Oh, and those white thing sticking in it? Blanched almonds of course. It's simple, delicious, and odds are good you have most of the ingredients already. See the comments for the recipe.


Leek and Mushroom Soup

Sorry, no pictures of the soup, only the mushroom/shallot sauteeing stage of the leek soup.

This was another test run for an upcoming holiday feast. A couple weeks ago I made several quarts of chicken stock, which I thought would last forever, but somehow I've managed to use almost all of it already. But that's OK, it gives me an excuse to make more. This soup was delicious, but a little too salty, so go easy and let people add salt if they want more. Whole Foods finally opened here in Sarasota, which has thrilled all of us. My roommate got a job there today, so I smell a sweet 20% discount coming down the pike. Anyway, that's where I bought the chantarelle mushrooms and organic leeks, and Liz contributed some imported, dried porcini mushrooms. Shallots too! Check the "comments" for the recipe.

And because there haven't been any monkey pictures lately:

He looks a little bit like Shane MacGowan from The Pogues. Don't believe me? Check out this picture.

Here are some very interesting facts about proboscis monkeys, courtesy of animalplanet.com:

Proboscis monkeys are only found in the islands of Borneo in Malaysia.

They are also known as "Dutchman monkeys," in a somewhat irreverent nod to the region's former colonial rulers. Locals thought the two groups resembled each other — both had large, red noses and potbellies!

Their partitioned stomachs are equipped with fermentation chambers in which the digestion of leaves is facilitated by special bacteria.

Adult males sometimes reign over harems of 10 or more females.

Well, you know what they say about guys with big noses.


Key Lime Mascarpone Cocannolis

I'm beginning to enjoy the making of desserts. I think its temporary, and I will never make a cake. I hate cake. Except carrot cake, which I like about as much as the lesser members of the pie family. Don't ask me to make a cake. I won't.

These were concocted in preparation for a five course meal I'm planning to cook for the family around Christmas. The recipe comes from Bon Appetit, I certainly can't take credit for it, but I did make some changes after the first batch didn't turn out quite to my liking. Also, the magazine refers to them as Key Lime "Cannolis". My favorite dessert is the almighty cannoli, and I should stress that these are NOT cannolis. They are similar in shape, maybe, but the "cookie" that forms the tube is completely different, and comprised mainly of flaked cocoanut. That is why I call them Cocannolis. I'm not saying its clever, just more appropriate.

That said, they are really good. The key lime tartness counterbalances the intense sweetness of the shell, and the shell itself has a really fragile texture--it almost disintigrates in your mouth. Yum.

Now, to save space on my main page, I'm going to start posting the recipes as comments. So if you wants to make the things you sees, click on "comments" below this post. Sometimes I'll be lazy and won't post the recipe right away, and then maybe I'll even forget. So, if you want a recipe and don't see it, just ask!

Oh yeah, the orange stuff, that's mango, diced and sauteed with a little water.



One of my favorite foods of all time. I would gyoza far as to say that they’re on my top ten list.* You can keep your fried wontons and your bland American dumplings. Gyoza have three things going for them. 1) they taste like little pieces of heaven 2) you can get your friends or family involved in stuffing them, saving you time and making them feel important 3) they have a nice balance between fried and steamed, so they don’t feel heavy, meaning you can eat 10 of them and not regret it. This time around we made between 80 and a 100 gyoza: they freeze nicely. But most packets come with 40 wrappers, so this recipe should make about 40-60 gyoza. If you have leftover filling, its great scrambled with eggs for breakfast.

*Credit (or blame) for this pun goes to Nick, who is a master of culinary wordplay, and whose garden I envy deeply.

What you need:
1 pack of 40 or 50 gyoza wrappers. They are round and very thin. Square wonton wrappers aint gonna cut it bub. Find a good Asian market if you haven’t already.
2/3 pound of ground pork
½ pound of shrimp, peeled, any kind will do
½ head of nappa cabbage (if you can’t find nappa, green cabbage is fine)
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 or 3 scallions
fresh, peeled ginger root, about the same amount as the garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sake
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Here’s what you do:
1) A food processor is very helpful here. You want everything to be very small. Separately food process the cabbage (cutting it into pieces first helps), the garlic, the ginger, and the scallions. The shrimp you may want to dice with a chef’s knife. I should also mention that shrimp are optional, and your gyoza will be perfectly delicious with just pork.
2) In a large bowl mix all the ingredients (not the wrappers, please) including the soy sauce, sake, and lemon juice. Use more or less of the three liquids according to your taste, just make sure the mixture is solid enough to be formed into wee lumps. Set up your wrapping area, with a clean flat space, a platter, several spoons, and a bowl of water.
3) The folding: A) lay out a gyoza wrapper and use your finger to wet the outer rim of one half of the wrapper. B) Spoon a small amount of the mixture into the center of the wrapper, about 2/3 a spoonful. C) Fold the wrapper over so the outer rim of the two sides meet, you should have about a third of an inch around the filling, press down around the semicircle. D) set the gyoza on its “base” and begin crimping the outer edge, starting in the middle and then down the sides, folding the ridge in on itself. The base should be rather flat now. Begin process anew.

4) Use a nonstick pan. Trust me. I know that gyoza are akin to Chinese “potstickers,” but the right pan will make your life easier. Put about 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I usually throw in a little pure sesame oil too) in the pan, over medium high heat, and rapidly set about eight to ten of the gyoza in the pan, on their bases. Rotate them with tongs if necessary so that they all brown at the same time. You want the bases to be a good crispy brown color, not dark brown or black. Once they have achieved this color on the bottom, quickly add about a half cup of hot water to the pan. The water will cook off in a couple minutes and steam the remaining part of the little gyozas.

The sooner you eat them after removing from the pan, the better. Don’t burn your mouth.

I almost forgot! The Ponzu sauce! Very important for dipping. This is actually a little different than many ponzus, because I like it a little bit sweeter and use more OJ. Grapefruit is also good.

Ponzu Sauce

½ cup soy sauce
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1 lemon

That’s it. Platter those gyoza up, serve with a side of ponzu, and watch them disappear. They may not look quite as pretty as restaurant gyoza, but here’s a dirty little secret: a lot of restaurant gyoza are frozen and come from a factory. True.


Chocolate Taffy: How to Mess up Your Kitchen and Ruin Your Teeth

The other day Senorita Palomo and myself were watching a Halloween episode of Good Eats that implored us to make chocolate taffy. As I mentioned previously, I have no real sweet tooth, unless it’s for, say, cheese cake, dutch apple pie, or good cannoli. But I have nothing against fun, and pulling taffy seemed like fun.

So Sunday was devoted to taffy (and chicken stock and gyoza, but those are for later posts). All I can say after the experience is: follow the recipe. Our hubris was our downfall. How foolish we were to believe that heating the chocolate mixture to 230 degrees would be sufficient. After letting it cool a bit on the parchment paper, the attempt to fold and form it into a long snake went horribly awry. Dig:

Liz vs. the tar baby

We thought maybe once it was worked a little the mixture would solidify a bit more. No. A subsequent attempt to get the goo back in the pot turned into an embarrassingly cartoonish fiasco. We lost about half the chocolate and it took me a while to scrub the kitchen to its former state, but eventually we did bring it up to 260 degrees, after which it formed quite nicely. Tasted good too. Like extra hard tootsie rolls. I’ll post the recipe as a comment soon. Follow it.

Liz pulling the taffy


Pocky, Muscat Gummi, and Sport Balls

At the Korean market in Manhattan I picked up these two candy items. For Liz, not for me, I really don't have much of a sweet tooth. They are both from Japan, which is the mecca of strange candies. The one on the right is a bag of Muscat Gummy, made by Kasugai, who also makes many other flavors. They are quite good as gummy goes, and you will also be treated to some classic Japanese "Engrish" marketing. Behold the text on the front of the bag: "It's translucent color so alluring and taste and aroma so gentle and mellow offer admiring feelings of a graceful lady." This is far preferable to Kasugai's Sardine Gummy, which offers the annoyed feelings of an ornery old man.

The one on the left is a berry variation of Pocky, the popular baked wheat cracker, which, according to the box, "has been loved throughout the world for many years." No humble claims for this wheat cracker. Men, are you craving Pocky, but find yourselves unable to be seen in public with the foo foo-looking box or wrapper? I understand your dilemma. Fortunately, Glico also makes "Pocky for Men".

And lastly, with no explanation as to the bottle's origin, we woke on Monday morning, our host Ian gone to work, to find a note saying farewell and offering us one of these:

If anyone can explain Coconut Sport Balls, please do.


Jumbo Shrimp Scampi - Oyster Mushroom Salad

This was my sister Kelly's birthday dinner, but somehow she paid for the groceries. I'm not sure how that happened. I must be a real jerk. Anyway, I made it in D.C., the day after T-Day, and it turned out rather well I think. A trip to Whole Foods endowed us with the most beautiful jumbo shrimp, really fresh produce, a bottle of my favorite white wine, and truffles! The scampi is very simple, but use the best ingredients you can find and you'll be more than pleased.

Jumbo Shrimp Scampi

8 Jumbo Shrimp, washed, but with shell left on
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 shallots, sliced
3 large tomatoes, diced or chopped then salted lightly
dry white wine
fresh thyme
fresh parsley, chopped
olive oil

After preparing all the ingredients, heat a liberal amount of olive oil in a good size skillet. Add the shallots and allow to sautee until translucent, add garlic and sautee for one minute more. Add tomatoes and about a third of a cup of wine and allow to cook for 10 minutes or so over medium heat, letting the wine reduce. Add the herbs and the shrimp at the same time and let cook until the shrimp are done. I served it over a mixture of egg linguini and spinach linguini.

The wine we had with dinner was one of my favorites, a Pouilly Fuisse from the Dubois vineyard.

I also made a light salad: spring mix with salted tomatoes and oyster mushrooms sauteed in a little olive oil. Delicious! The dressing was a simple mixture of olive oil and lemon juice.


Food Adventures in DC and NYC

Kitchen Monkey has returned! A few pounds heavier and many many dollars poorer! Let's have some highlights of the trip's many dining experiences.

Thanksgiving: A delicious, traditional Thanksgiving dinner prepared by Kelly's coworker Erin and her aunt & uncle. If Erin wants to post her very tasty poppyseed dressing/strawberry salad recipe, she should do so!

Birthday dinner: I made a jumbo shrimp scampi for my sister Kelly that will be documented in the next post. Keep yer eyes open.

Sushi: We took the Chinatown bus to NYC and ate at West Side Sushi in Midtown Manhattan. Not the best sushi I've had, but not bad either.

Ramen!!!!!!! For me this was the dining pinnacle of the trip. I had read about a ramen shop in the NY Times: a small, out of the way joint in the East Village called Minca. If you already know how I feel about good ramen, you'll understand how much I enjoyed what you see in the picture above. Usually the pictures I post on this website are of food prepared by myself and friends--but I had to make an exception here. The pork slices were so tender that they almost dissolved on the tongue. The seaweed had more flavor than any I'd tasted before. The shitake mushrooms had a wonderful smoky flavor, and the noodles were perfect, a nice bite and good flavor. I lost all sense of time and place while slurping the broth, which was almost a meal in itself. The price was out of sight too: $8.50!

You should sit at the bar, so that you can watch the chefs prepare the ramen. After we had finished, Kelly and I watched in gluttonous awe as the head cook hoisted, one at a time, four enormous and beautiful pork loins from a dark steaming broth where they had been simmering. They looked and smelled so good we were transfixed, and only after a couple minutes did we notice the cooks and the waitress smiling and laughing at us (good-naturedly). I'm quite certain they see that particular hypnotic stare on a regular basis.

Korean BBQ and karaoke: For Sunday dinner my friend Ian took us to a Korean/Japanese place in "Korea Town" called Wondo. I had Korean BBQ'ed beef, with lots of accoutrements. Dear lord do I love me some kimchi! We washed the grub down with Korean vodka, which has a strength and taste somewhere between vodka and sake.

After dinner we went to a dive karaoke bar in Chinatown called Winnie's. Kitchen Monkey sang Neil Diamond's Love on the Rocks, but Ian brought the house down with a fiery rendition of Lionel Richie's All Night Long. Below, witness Ian and my sister doing a rendition of Pump Up the Jams. Does it get any funkier than this? Yes, but not in Chinatown on a Sunday night.

Too much injera: Back in DC we ate at a great Ethiopian joint called Addis Abbaba. An enormous spread of lamb, chicken, and veggies all scooped up with a sponge bread called injera. Despite a warning about the expanding properties of injera, I ate a lot and paid for it with more than my American Express.

Yes, we were struck by the irony of stuffing ourselves silly at an Ethiopian restaurant, and yes, the guilt of living in an overindulging country does settle on me on a somewhat regular basis. Make up for being an overconsuming American by giving to Amnesty International, USA for UNHCR, and UNICEF. Great organizations doing hard work.

I promised early on to make this blog free of politics, and for the most part it will be. But there is a real difference between a partisan diatribe and a simple reminder that we are damned lucky to be able to enjoy the food we're eating, and that there are millions of people who do not have our luck. So forgive this quick stepping onto the soapbox. Check out the sites for the organizations I mentioned or others like them, see what's going on, see what you can do. We owe it to each other. That's all.


Flying Monkey

After tonight's karaoke at Memories Lounge, Kitchen Monkey is going away for the holidays. If he stumbles upon any wireless internet zones in DC or NYC there may be a post or two before Sunday, but otherwise expect the full rundown somtime next week. Thanksgiving dinner will probably be sushi in D.C.- there are a number of decent places. Saturday we'll hit Minca, a little Ramen place in NYC, and Saturday night, sushi at Masa! Just kidding. I not only don't have the reservation that you have to make over a month in advance, I also lack the $300 that gets you in the door.

In the meantime, I leave you with another monkey picture. Drink your OJ - the sick is going around!


Golden Boy and the Errant Summer Rolls

These were not the best summer rolls. Where did we go wrong? Maybe the wraps were to blame, they didn't seem to have as much stickiness as last time. They definitely should have been tighter. The mediocre shrimp didn't help, purchased because they were on sale, but lacking in flavor.

In any case, the peanut sauce, which I'm proud to say I winged, was really good. The salad was tasty too: a few leftover shitake mushrooms sauteed in sesame oil on a bed of spring mix with avocado and a potent ginger/garlic dressing.

So no recipe this time, not until I get the summer rolls straight. This post was really just an excuse to introduce you to this: (Cue angels singing...)

This is Golden Boy Fish Sauce, and it's very useful. It goes into all manner of Asian dishes, especially Thai and Vietnamese. This is by far my favorite fish sauce, and not because I'm some kind of connoisseur of fish sauce, but simply because the picture on the label is so freakin' bizarre. Look at him! This is the baby of your nightmares. His right foot bent into an impossible position. Why is he giving the thumbs up sign? Is it because he likes his fish sauce? Does the "thumbs up" signify the same thing in Thailand as it does here, or is it something sinister?

His mouth - why is it so red? What does it mean that he's sitting on top of the world? Sinister I tell you. However, the best part has to be the potentially infinite number of Golden Boys on this label. If only you had the microscopic vision, you could see the Golden Boy on the bottle that the Golden Boy on the bottle is holding and so on ad infinitum. Golden Boys stretching backward forever. Or at least until 1914.

Anyhow, I do recommend Golden Boy, it is a good fish sauce. Just don't look at the label too long, it might be the thing that finally causes you to lose it.


Pig Jam

No, this is not a recipe.

If you had read yesterday's post like you were supposed to, you would know that Kitchen Monkey and some friends made an hour and a half trek northeast to Plant City, Florida for the second annual Pig Jam BBQ contest. It was a little bit smaller than I expected; still, there must have been at least 50 or more BBQ "teams" vying for the grand prize of whatever. A trophy and some cash probably.

However you feel about the south, you have to admit that it knows BBQ, and for that alone it has the respect of my tastebuds. The gentleman above is a man named Big John, he is from Texas, and he is pulling some pork.

I've recently learned that Texas BBQ is known primarily for its beef brisket. As you can tell I am not an afficianado, but I'm learning, and hey, I only started eating beef again three weeks ago. That said, I had one of Big John's pulled pork sandwiches and it was incredible. A heaping mound of smokey pork on a hamburger bun. That was it. The bun was just a garnish, really. I then had two pork ribs from Bubba's BBQ stand, followed that with two slices of pork butt from Championship BBQ Team. Oh, and some pecan pie. And yes, that much pork all in the space of an hour will present you with many choices. Such as, would it be better for me to pay a visit to the Port-a-John, or just curl up in a corner and cry softly.

One thing I felt compelled to document was the number of signs that played on the different aspects of animal anatomy and their corresponding sexual double-meanings. Perhaps an example is in order:

Lastly, I couldn't resist the need to post a photo of these very relaxed gentlemen. In case you can't make out the sign, it reads "Lazy J BBQ." I have two new personal heroes.

No southern BBQ festival would be complete without a cover band that plays Skynnyrd:

And finally, if you've just eaten loads of pork and suddenly feel the urge to give blood, well...


An Exciting Week Ahead

Hello my fellow primates,

Kitchen Monkey won't be cooking quite as furiously in the next week, but there will still be some very interesting food (and drink) adventures in the coming days. For instance, tomorrow Nick (of I'm Cookin' Here), myself, and several others will be going to Pig Jam for some real southern culture and some awesome 'cue. For Pig Jam is, indeed, a huge BBQ contest. Don't confuse it with this Arkansas pig jam.

You have to love Florida. It's 78 degrees outside, it should be beautiful tomorrow for the contest, and it's mid-November. I'm sorry if I'm rubbing it in.
Anyhow, expect a full narrative and pictorial depiction of Pig Jam by Sunday.

Next week Kitchen Monkey is going up to D.C. to hang out with his sister, and NYC to hang out with friends; so while there won't be many posts during Thanksgiving Weekend, expect to read about his culinary adventures in our Nation's capitol. And if anyone reading this is from NY and knows of a killer, never-fail sushi restaurant somewhere in or near Manhattan (I don't want to, and can't, spend $100, so something reasonable) let the monkey know!



Moroccan Chicken (Mutation)

According to it's official government website, the kingdom of Morocco has, since independence, been undergoing "deep socio-cultural mutations." I like how the translator put this, and it makes me wonder. Was it simply an innocent but odd choice of synonyms by someone who didn't grasp the connotations behind the word--or does the person feel that what Morocco has experienced is not simply a "change", a "restructuring", or even a "revolution", but a mutation?

In any case, this delicious Moroccan chicken dish has undergone some mutations, since I mutated it from what I believe was a Bon Appetit recipe, and there's a good chance they mutated it from whatever traditional form it may once have had.

This dish has a lot of pungent flavors that play off each other really well. The smell is amazing when you add the ginger, cumin, and cinnamon, and the sweetness of the prunes and honey is counterbalanced by the lemon juice. It was served with a really tasty cous cous and vegetable dish that Liz made. On the side we had two popular mezze: hummous and tzatziki.

The origin of the term mezze isn't clear, it's probably from early farsi or arabic, or a combination of the two, but it's meaning is well known across the Middle East and North Africa. Mezze means appetizer. I'm actually a bit proud of my hummous recipe. I've been making it for almost ten years, and small tweaks here and there have made it better and better. You can have my hummous recipe, but not yet. One day soon I'm going to cook a big Middle Eastern spread, with all kinds of mezze, including my favorite: dolma, stuffed grape leaves. You can have the hummous recipe then. The tzatziki is a simple dip made of cucumber, yoghurt, fresh dill, salt, and lemon juice. Toast some pita. Yes!

Without further blathering on and on, the recipe:


6 skinless chicken thighs (chicken breast is fine but dark meat is better for this)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 or 3 large garlic cloves
1 tsp cornstarch (use more if you want the sauce thicker. Flour will work too.)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 can of chicken broth or stock, low salt if possible
1 cup pitted prunes (you can also use dried apricots, or if you're just a little wild, prunes and apricots. Whoa there! Slow down!)
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. honey (spun honey is my favorite)


1)Wash the chicken thighs then salt and pepper them, let them sit for a few minutes.
2)Heat the olive oil in a skillet or casserole and brown the chicken well on both sides. You should probably use tongs and even a splatter screen, since the water released by the chicken will make the oil jump. Remove the chicken after about 3 or 4 minutes on each side.
3)Add the onions to the same oil and saute until translucent.
4) Stir in starch, ginger, cumin, and cinnamon. Aromatic, no?
5) Gradually stir in broth. Keep stirring!
6) Once you've got a nice bubbling going, add the prunes, lemon juice, and honey, and finally, return the chicken. Simmer until the chicken is done and the sauce is reduced. Serve with cous cous or rice and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Mmmmmmm, mutation.


Vegetable Smörgåsbord

With all the red meat we've been eating lately it was time for a smörgåsbord of green and yellow vegetables. Maybe it was more of a medley, but honestly how many times will I get to use the word smörgåsbord? Incidentally the word smörgåsbord originates from a combination of Swedish and Norwegian dialects, and means "bread and butter table." Smörgåsbord. Say it aloud, repeatedly, in a Swedish accent for fun, especially if you are at work and there are people around.

Now then, as I said, it was time for a little Vegetable Atonement. The meal was relatively simple, but very tasty and very pleasing to the eye.

We had:
Baked Spicy Yellow Squash & Rosemary Tomatoes
Roasted Green Peppers & Olives
Sauteed Green Beans and Wax Beans with Garlic and Wine Sauce

I started by cooking some basmati rice with a liberal amount of saffron stirred in for color and flavor. While it cooked I prepared a spice mixture for the little yellow squashes. It involved coriander, oregano, dried red chiles, a garlic clove, kosher salt, and peppercorns, all of it ground up in a mortar with olive oil added afterward.

The mixture was spread on the face of the halved squashes and they were set on a baking sheet along with two halves of a tomato. The tomato halves were drizzled with olive oil and sprigs of rosemary. Everything went into the oven to bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes or so.

The wax beans were mixed with the green beans, washed and snipped, and sauteed in butter and olive oil before adding minced garlic and a little white wine.

In the meantime I roasted green pepper slices in our toaster oven, of all places, since I do not have a gas burning stove, yet. Someday. Sigh.
The peppers once finished were mixed with black olives and chopped parsley and drizzled with good olive oil.

Everything was arranged around the rice, and finished off with a slice of avocado.



Meat Binge, Pickles and Moong, Oh My!

So as you can probably see, Kitchen Monkey is still on a meat binge that verges on being, well, primal. It can't last. Not at this pace. I was already thinking of easing off when Marsha from Texas told me about a butcher she goes to in Bradenton called the Chop Shop. It was a small place, charming enough, with very fresh cuts of meat. As you can see I purchased a nice butterflied pork chop, a veal roast, and a sirloin steak. What to do with this much meat? Well, how about another ragu. Ragu Napolitano this time, which in many ways is similar to the Ragu alla Bolognese I made several weeks back, using slightly different ingredients and substituting the ground beef with thick chunks of the meats you see above. I personally liked the Bolognese better, no offense to the people of Naples. Why another ragu so soon? Well it just so happens that I spent Wednesday honoring veterans by purchasing the pasta machine I've been wanting. So it was all I could do to wait until Saturday night to use it.

Saturday began, as many of them do, with a trip to the Red Barn Flea Market in Bradenton, Florida. The Red Barn is an enormous mecca of southern culture, with a little bit of multiculturalism thrown in just to make things odd. Nick from "I'm Cookin Here" has some beautiful pictures of the produce market at the Red Barn in this post.

Once I get some good pictures of my own I'll create a post revealing the majesty that is the Red Barn in its entirety. For now it's enough to say that we loaded ourselves down with good, cheap produce (avacados 50 cents!) and ate some wicked good (and authentic) Mexican food. Did you know that the French word for avacado is avocat, and that the French word for lawyer is also avocat? Hurt on the job? Talk to our personal injury avocados.

Also got a dozen pickling cukes which are now sitting in my fridge surrounded by garlic, fresh dill, red chiles, coriander and salt. Does the fact that I used kosher salt make the pickles kosher? If anybody knows please enlighten me

Actually, before the Red Barn we hit an Indian market in Bradenton, called India Bazaar. Picked up some garam masala and a package of Bombay Mix, which is a crunchy mixture of nuts, fried gram flour noodles, and moong, which is a kind of lentil. Much more savory than any American snack mix. A little spicy and a lot of tasty.

Here is the pasta machine, operated by AJ and myself.

Here are the sheets of pasta, drying on a make-shift rack in the kitchen.

After feeding it through the fettucine slot of the machine, we ate it with the ragu. Not too shabby. Nick made a delicious dessert with custard and pears, as well as a delicious sauce with white wine, sun-dried tomatoes, and leeks, which was to accommodate Page, the lone vegetarian in my circle of carnivorous friends.
Aftwerward we went to the Cock n'Bull, a local beerhall that boasts hundreds of beers from around the world. Chocolate Stout from England? Scottish ale made of seaweed? Honduran lagers and pumpkin lambics? Got 'em all. I had a lager and my usual draught Spaten Optimater, which you must pronounce with a Schwarznegger-like Austrian accent. As in: I vill haff Schpa-ten Ope-ti-mate-uh.


Jambalaya - Kitchen Monkey style

This is the third time I've made Jambalaya in the past two months, and I think I finally nailed it. It is not a traditional recipe by any means. I have no cajun roots. I've been to New Orleans only once, and primarily ate sushi and Thai food. We did get some good late-nite BBQ at a great dive bar called Snake & Jake's Christmas Club Lounge, where you drink for free if you're naked. I did not get naked.

Anyhow, I'm really happy about how this Jambalaya turned out. I can't give a recipe with precise amounts, but Jambalaya doesn't seem like something you should make with a precise recipe. I added some of my own variations, such as a roux, which typically goes into gumbo, but not necessarily jambalaya. I used pinot noir, which gave it a nice flavor, brown sugar, and fennel seeds. Other than these items, everything else can be found in most of the Jambalaya recipes out there. Here goes:

Andouille sausage (sliced into 1/4-inch pieces. Use smoked sausage if you can't find andouille)
1/2 pound to a pound of shrimp
3 medium size zuchinni (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 green peppers (chopped)
5 stalks celery (chopped)
5 cloves garlic (minced)
5 small red chiles (minced - I used chile arbol)
1 bunch fresh parsley (chopped)
red wine
1 large can of crushed tomatoes (try a can of imported crushed roma tomatoes...great flavor)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup long grain rice
fennel seeds

Loose Instructions:
1) Heat some veggie oil in a big stockpot or saucier (medium high heat), and toss in the onions, celery, peppers, and zukes. Once the onions are transluscent, toss in the chiles, garlic and the parsley and stir for a few more minutes. Savor the aroma. The amount of chiles to put in depends on the kind of chiles and how hot you like it. I used small, dried chile arbol with most the seeds and the heat turned out perfectly. Your call.

2) In a separate pan, saute the slices of andouille to render out a little bit of the fat and give them just a bit of crispiness. Then add to the veggies.

3) At this point, add the oregano, fennel, thyme, and half the chicken stock, and let everything simmer in it over medium heat until the stock begins to evaporate a bit. Now add the entire can of crushed tomatoes, the andouille sausage, one or two spoonfuls of dark brown sugar, and about 2/3 cup of red wine. Pinot noir works well, but a cabernet would also be good.

4) In a small sautee pan or sauce pan, melt 1/3 stick of butter, more if you want. Once it is melted add a little bit of flour at a time, stirring constantly, until you get a nice thin, gravy-like consistency. Keep stirring, adding more flour if necessary, until the roux takes on the color of cardboard. Sorry, tried to think of a more appetizing comparison. Couldn't.

5) let the roux stand aside and add the rice to the jambalaya mix. The burner should be on medium-low by this time. Give it all a good stir, and go read a magazine for 15 minutes while the rice is cooking.

6) Did you enjoy your magazine? Good. Now you'll want to add the shrimp and the roux. Leave the shells on the shrimp for extra shrimptastic flavoriciousness. Stir the roux in and you sauce will begin to thicken. If it gets too thick, add more chicken stock and/or wine. Once the shrimps are cooked, your jambalaya is done.

7) Put on some Hank Williams Sr., have a cold lager or a glass of pinot noir, a good crusty bread, and allow the party to commence.

Side note: we did not actually have any good crusty bread. The bread you see in the photograph looks good, but it was at least four weeks old and hard as a rock.


Yucca Croquettes!

This was actually an appetizer I made on Sunday to eat before the braised lamb (see below). When I worked at Kitcho, a Japanese restaurant in Tallahassee, we made these killer potato croquettes, so I decided to replicate them. With Yucca. Kind of a fusion thing I guess.

I just happened to have a big piece of yucca in my coolerator, which I peeled, chopped, boiled, and mashed with some diced onion and a bit of milk. I then put it in the fridge to firm it up. In the meantime I prepped the breading, which was your standard flour/egg/crumbs. If you can find them, please use panko crumbs, Japanese breadcrumbs that have a large crumb size, almost no moisture, and a great texture. This gives the final breading a beautiful and very crunchy golden crust that doesn't absorb a great deal of oil. If you're lucky like me, your local supermarket sells panko in the "ethnic" section, if not, you'll have to find an Asian market that has Japanese foodstuffs. I enjoy getting to say "crumb size."

Once firm, form the mash into golfball-sized shapes and then flatten out a bit, so that the pieces are about 3/4 inch thick. Coat in flour, beaten egg, and panko until you have all your pieces ready. Heat about 2 cups of oil over medium heat in a wok or deep pan and fry the croquettes 3 at a time, for a few minutes, until the breading is about the color you see in the photo above.

Serve with whatever dipping sauces you fancy. We ate these with tonkatsu sauce, a Japanese fruit and vegetable sauce that is typically eaten with pork katsu (essentially pork cutlet deep fried with the same breading process as these croquettes). I love katsu sauce, and find that it has a taste vaguely similar to worcestshire, but with more fruityness (Beki claims it tastes like Dr. Pepper, I disagree). The other sauce, always a big hit, was something Nick turned me on to. It is a Thai sweet chili sauce made by Mae Ploy. It is fantastic, very versatile and went perfectly with the croquettes. Here is a picture of a woman enticing you with a bottle of Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce. Do not resist her.


Braised Lamb with Mint Chutney

I'm crazy about lamb. Maybe this is partly because my family never ate it when I was a kid, but I think it's more because the rich flavor lends itself so well to many of the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian spices which I also happen to be crazy about. For this recipe I decided to experiment a little, not following any particular recipe, but using ingredients that occur frequently in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. You could use any cut of lamb for this, but shoulder is often cheaper, even though it does require extra effort to trim the fat. Braising the lamb leaves it extremely tender and the flavor will stand alone, but I'm a huge fan of simple mint chutneys, and a bit on the side or with every bite of lamb enhances its flavor even more. As far as that white dollop on the steamed asparagus: sour cream mixed with a little salt and a little curry powder. (Ashley gets credit for this, and she should tell me where she got the idea. It works with all sorts of veggies but is best with aspargus.) Note that the lamb may not be extremely photogenic, but tastes like a little piece of heaven.

Braised Lamb

Serves 4
4 Lamb Shoulder Chops, with bone
1/2 Spanish onion, diced

Spice Mixture: 3 dried red chilies, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, minced
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. fennel (ground or crushed seeds)
1/2 tsp. star anise (crushed or powdered)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Braising liquid: 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chicken or lamb broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup milk

1) Trim as much fat as possible from the lamb without decimating the shoulder. Some fat is OK. Accept this and move on to the next step.
2) Lightly salt the lamb. After mixing the spices, lime juice, and olive oil (in a food processer if you have one) coat both sides of the lamb and let it marinate for 1/2 hour.
3) Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, large sauce pan on high heat. Sear the lamb on both sides to lock the moisture in.
4) Once both sides are browned remove the lamb, and pour a little bit of broth into the pan to deglaze it, then add the rest of the braising liquid and bring it to a low boil.
5) Return the lamb to the pot, allowing the boil to continue for a minute or so, then bring the heat down to medium low.
6) Let the lamb simmer for at least 45 minutes, with a tight-fitting lid keeping the moisture in. You can turn the heat down a little bit further if necessary. Serve with mint chutney!

Mint Chutney

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, minced
1 red or green chile, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of salt
2 tsp. sugar
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp. shredded cocoanut

Combine all ingredients. A food processer will give it a smoother, more uniform consistency, but for a more rustic version like the one pictured you can crush the solid ingredients in a mortar and add the liquid afterward.


Ragu alla Bolognese

I fell off the beef wagon and hit the ground hard. For nearly 5 years I've eaten almost no beef whatsoever, just pieces here and there. But a couple nights ago a friend grilled some incredible steaks and I couldn't resist. Since then I've gone a little crazy. Yesterday I came home from the store with Lit'l Beef Smokies, roast beef, and a package of ground sirloin. I expect to be 5 pounds heavier within the next couple weeks, and I expect a Christmas Card from the American Beef Council.

Anyhow, the ground beef found its way last night into an amazing Ragu alla Bolognese. This is basically a meat sauce which has been simmered for a long time. The recipe came from Marcella Hazan by way of the L.A. Times, who adapted it. I didn't change too much, except I added garlic and used crushed instead of chopped tomatoes. Oh, and I also tend to like my sauce on the sweeter side so I added a tablespoon of sugar. We also made tagliatelle, which was labor intensive since I have no pasta machine, but was well worth the effort. Nick helped alot with the pasta as you'll see in the pictures below. I've decided I'm enamored enough of fresh pasta to sink some cash into a machine. Soon. I copied the text from the LA Times article since I don't know how long the link would remain viable. I should mention that the article said it would serve 8. The sauce perhaps, but the pasta recipe is closer to 4-6. Or maybe we were all gluttons. It was difficult to move afterward, though Nick had a nice bottle of Italian bitters to aid with digestion. Please make this recipe.

Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes plus 3 hours simmering time


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter plus1 tablespoon for tossing the pasta
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
3/4 pound ground chuck (I used sirloin)
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, with juices, chopped (I used crushed)
3/4 pound fresh tagliatelle or 1/2 pound dried rigatoni, conchiglie or fusilli
Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil, 3 tablespoons butter and the onion in a large high-sided skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, celery and carrots and cook for about 2 minutes more, stirring to coat the vegetables with the butter.

2. Add the ground beef, a pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper and cook, crumbling the meat with a fork, until it has lost its raw, red color. Add the milk and simmer it gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely, about 15 minutes.

3. Add the nutmeg and stir. Add the wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated, about 25 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down to cook the sauce at the laziest of simmers, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. You will need to add water to the pan occasionally to prevent the meat from sticking.

4. Taste for salt and toss with cooked, drained pasta and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the table.

Fresh Pasta

(I've altered this recipe to reflect the non-machine approach)

Total time: 1 hour

2 cups unbleached flour (or semolina flour)
1/2 - 1 cup flour for kneading
4 large egg yolks

1. Pour the flour onto a work surface, shape it into a mound and scoop out a deep hollow in its center. Break the eggs into the hollow. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork for about 1 minute. Draw some of the flour over the eggs with the fork, mixing it in with the eggs until the eggs are no longer runny. Draw the sides of the mound together with your hands, pushing a bit of the flour to the side and reserving it.

2. Work the eggs and flour together, using your fingers and the palms of your hands, until you have a smooth dough. If it is still moist and sticky, work in more flour. To test the dough to see whether it has enough flour, rinse your hands and dry them, then press your thumb deep into the center of the dough mass. If it comes out clean, no more flour is needed. If it comes out sticky, add more flour from the reserved portion.

3. Knead the dough by hand, using the heel of your palm to press down on the dough, then turning and repeating the motion until you have kneaded the dough for 8 minutes and it is very smooth. You may want to let it set for a few minutes and resume until its quite elastic.

4. Cut the dough ball into 4-6 pieces and roll out until its as flat and long as possible. A rolling pin does wonders, but if you're a glutton for painstaking work you can use a wine bottle. We then hung the long flattend sheets to dry on a clean broom handle. Once they were somewhat dry we folded them up loosely along their length, making a flat roll about 5 inches wide at its sides. With a sharp knife we then cut the roll into ribbons, about 1/2 to 3/4 wide wach. Cut parallel to the original length of the pasta strip so the tagliatelle will be the full length of the strip.

5. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and the pasta and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, until tender but still slightly firm to the bite. Drain and toss with sauce.



I rarely eat tempura for a very simple reason. When I go to a Japanese restaurant, I want sushi. This makes sense. But I do enjoy tempura, and since I happened to have a brand new wok on Saturday, I decided to make up a batch. With a two nice appetizers and the help of Aj and Liz, it turned into a really nice meal.

What we had:
  • Bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms
  • Sunomono
  • Shrimp and vegetable tempura

Serves 3-4

The first appetizer was easy to make and quite delicious, but unfortunately enoki mushrooms can be quite expensive so you don't get a whole lot of bang for your buck. First, take a small bunch of enoki mushrooms, which are mushrooms with long thin stalks and tiny buttons at the top. The diameter of the bunch should be about the same as that of the hole your fingers make with an "OK" sign. Unless you have huge hands. On second thought, if you have huge hands you probably have a bigger appetite, so go for it. And I guess this logic also applies to those with tiny hands, so adjust accordingly.

Cut off the dirty ends of the mushrooms, and while holding the clump together, tightly wrap a strip of bacon around the stems, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top, stopping before the buttons of the mushrooms. Use two strips of bacon if necessary, and drive a toothpick through the middle to hold it together. Repeat for as many clumps as you can afford. If you have a grill fired up, yum. If not, you can do what I did, which is to place them on their sides on a small wire rack set in a casserole dish beneath a broiler for about 10 minutes or so, turning the appetizers once. When done, cut each wrap into two peaces, one with the bottom half of the stems, and one with the top half of the enoki. Remember to remove the toothpicks, unless you are dining with an enemy. The finished product will look something like this:

Next up was the sunomono salad. Sunomono basically means "vinegared things" This is a staple of Japanese restaraunts everywhere, and can range widely in presentation and taste depending on where you go. Usually it is brought to all diners before the meal is even ordered, and often times it will be little more than a tiny saucer with some cucumbers and a baby shrimp or two. Consider my version to be a tastier, mightier sunomono that will put many to shame.

Start by de-seeding a halved cucumber (English hothouse cukes are especially nice here) and slicing into rather thin pieces. Next, add some seaweed. Wakame is already cut into thin salted strips, and benefits from boiling and cooling before addition to the sunomono. It should be noted here that eating wakame makes your hairy shiny. If you only have nori --the seaweed used for makimono (sushi rolls) -- you can cut this into thin strips and add it to the salad. Next, boil 15-20 shrimp and place in the fridge to cool. Meanwhile, make the dressing by mixing:

4 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp shoyu (soy sauce)
1 1/2 tsp. superfine sugar (I use x10 confectioner's sugar)

Add all your ingredients together in a bowl, pour the dressing on, and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds and tiny matchsticks of fresh ginger. That's it! Take a moment to view AJ's lovely presentation, then move straight on to the tempura.

I was very excited to break in the new wok, even if it was just for some deep frying. The best thing about tempura is the lightness of the batter, so you get the taste of fried food without afterward feeling like you ate a bulldog.

First make the all-important tempura dipping sauce by mixing:

1/2 cup shoyu
1/2 cup mirin
1 2/3 cup dashi stock (1 2/3 cup water, 2 tsp dashi-no-moto)

For those of you not accustomed to Japanese ingredients, mirin is a heavily sweetened sake that has been compressed and filtered. Dashi stock is composed traditionally by boiling kelp and bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes. This method produces delicious stock, but can be time consuming and expensive. You can make do, like Kitchen Monkey, with a container of Dashi-no-moto, which is the equivalent of powdered chicken stock or boullion cubes. Many major supermarkets have mirin, but for the dashi-no-moto you'll probably have to find an Asian market that carries Japanese ingredients. Both mirin and dashi are essential for many Japanese dishes, so stock up!

Next you'll want to prep all your veggies and shrimp. There are a wide variety of vegetables you can use, including anything in the squash family, shitake mushrooms, green beans, or asparagus. However, we stuck with just a few essentials: sweet potato, carrots, and eggplant. The carrots should be julienned, the sweet potato cut into 1/4" rounds, and the eggplant cut into sticks a 1/2-inch or more on each side. Next prep the shrimp. Typically you want the shrimp to stay ramrod straight, which means driving a skewer through the top length of the shrimp and frying it on the stick. But having not enough skewers we simply butterflied the shrimp to allow them to hold more batter.

Speaking of batter, you'll want to combine:

1 cup Ice cold water
1 large Egg, beaten
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (with extra for dusting the to-be-frieds)

Don't make your batter too early, because the ice-coldness is essential to the crispyness of the final product. Now you are ready to dip! The Korean woman at the Oreintal Market and Gifts store recommended soybean oil, but the stuff is relatively expensive, so I went with good old vegetable oil--about 2 cups. Once the oil is piping hot dip a handful of veggies and/or shrimp into the batter and ease them into the wok. Ease them in.

I must credit AJ, who bears more frying experience than I, with noting that the easing of too many veggies/shrimp will bring the oil temperature down and result in a less crispy exterior. Tempura should be eaten as soon as possible after frying, but if you want to serve several people at once, you can make those little pieces wait in a warm oven until everything is done. To serve, pile in the center of a plate with a bowl of dipping sauce on the side. I garnished the tempura with a little mound of freshly grated daikon radish and grated ginger for a palate cleanser with a little kick.

The tempura was delicious and golden. The kitchen is still dirty.