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.