In other news, the predictive memo I'm working on is almost done, and finals are approaching quickly. Mindbogglingly so. If you need to be humbled, may I recommend law school?
I will try and post some actual, real, food posts during Thanksgiving, and tons during Christmas. The six burner Viking Range is going to get more of a workout than Richard Simmons on Oxy Contin.
"Don't ask me to make a cake, I won't."
Having analyzed the surrounding context of this phrase, and having also pondered the possible latent or subconscious meanings behind it, I have come to the conclusion that it signifies that I hate cake. This was also the overt and explicit meaning of the phrase. Go figure. Does it reveal something about my inner psyche? I believe that my inner psyche also hates cake. So there you have it.
What else is new? Just had a birthday sushi party. About 20 of my fellow law school classmates showed up, as well as some of my sister's friends from USAID, and I taught a number of them how to make sushi, then let them do most of the roll-making while attended to some potato croquettes. It was a grand old time, with much (perhaps too much) sake and wine ingested. We will be finding little bits of sushi rice stuck to chairs, tables, and cats for weeks to come, but it was worth it.
And just in case there are any doubts about the subtext behind this last paragraph let me be explicit:
Friday, August 9, Washington D.C.
A monkey sits alone at his laptop, marveling at the fact that law school starts in little over a week. He wonders to himself many things. One thought surfaces again and again. What the hell is he doing here? There are, of course, many answers to this. Many of these answers are very good. Convincing. Some of them are even noble. But of course anyone who enters law school without any shred of doubt or ambivalence probably has serious underlying psychological problems. Watch for tics.
But lets backtrack a little, then we'll get straight to the food. A lovely family in a lovely neighborhood in Northwest Washington DC (near Friendship Heights) left for a year to three years for Austria, where the father works for the IAEA. To keep their house in order and make a few bucks ($36,000 to be precise) they decided to rent out their house to Kitchen Monkey, his sister, two friends from Florida, and another 1L at AU Law. The house is beautiful, and living in what is certainly the nicest house I've ever lived in or will live in for many many years at the moment of my life in which I am the most financially strapped...well, let's just say the irony is not lost on me. There is a fish pond with real fish (the turtle is fake) tons of flowers in the yard, a nice big porch with not one but two porch swings, a deck with nice big grill, and of course the amazing kitchen with lots of counter space, a breakfast nook, and this big fat six-burner gas stove. I actually got goose bumps when I first saw it. That's how much of a dork Kitchen Monkey is. Anyway, check out the goods:
That's beef liver and shallots sauteeing away, eventually to become a paté, in the way my friend Nick makes it (though I think he usually uses chicken livers).
That night I went all out for the roommates and a couple guests. I made my special caesar dressing, but the real work went into the raviolis. Loosely based on a Marcella Hazan recipe I made a filling of bay scallops, asapargus, herbs, breadcrumbs, and parmesan. The dough I made with my pasta roller and the raviolis were stuffed by hand, boiled, then dressed with little more than butter, fresh basil, and fresh parmesan. So GOOD. Here they be, just filled:
First though, my last week in Florida couldn't have been better. A friend of mine took me out to Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, where I had a 10 oz. delmonico steak that was so tender I could almost have gummed it, had I not had teeth. The menu was more like a short novel and the wine list was the size of a coffee table book. The interior decorations were lush, reminding me somewhat of the room Alisdair Cooke used to sit in when he hosted Masterpiece Theater. They also have a separate dessert room upstairs where I ate bannana chocolate cheese cake, and drank cognac while the piano player amused himself with lounge versions of Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and the cantina song from Star Wars. You really should check out their website, its nothing if not thorough.
I also cooked quite alot during that week. The "last supper," if you will, was coq au vin, and it was fabulous. The recipe was gleaned from It Must've Been Something I Ate, by Jeffrey Steingarten, the Harvard-trained-lawyer-turned-food critic for Vogue. I'm told that Steingarten is often reviled in the food blogosphere, and I suppose I can see why some might not like him. He is, at times, almost laughably elitist. Even the occasional self-deprecating comments come off as staged. That said, the man clearly knows how to turn a phrase, and his passion for food is unmatched by any writer I'm familiar with. The recipes in this book tend to be either astoundingly complex or to include ingredients that are difficult to find outside of, say, a small village in southern France or the Baja peninsula. His hyper-authentic recipe for coq au vin fulfill both categories. First, you have to find a rooster; second, you'd best start 5 days in advance.
I cheated on both accounts. A whole free range, dry-packed chicken plus a bunch of thighs was good enough for me. I did start in advance, but only by three days. The chicken marinated for two days in a combination of pinot noir and cognac, along with onions, celery, and carrots. I won't go through the recipe or all the steps, since there were so many, but suffice to say it involved nearly every piece of cookware I own, and took about 4 hours of vigilance for the final preparation. My favorite step is the placing of the chicken (coated with flour and browned in bacon fat) on top of the vegetables and bacon, whereupon a 1/2 cup of cognac is poured on top and lit. The blue flames lick the sides of the pot and eventually subside, producing a wonderful smell. The final remaining sauce is unbelievably good. I'm actually thinking about making it again this week (a slightly truncated version), then shredding the chicken and stuffing it into raviolis. We'll see.
During the first Paris leg of my trip I stayed in a great part of the Latin Quarter, on Rue Mouffetard, which is full of great little shops, markets, bars, and bistros. Here's a picture of one fantastic seafood market. Keep in mind that this is only the shellfish section of it. They had everything you could want and more.
Speaking of shellfish, there were a number of occasions in both Paris and Montpellier when I ordered something with crevettes, expecting shrimp. I love shrimp. Oh boy do I love shrimp. But more often than not what I got were the little salad shrimps that, in the States at least, are sold in cans. So be aware of this, and when dining in restaurants be prepared to specify what it is you're looking for.
One of the restaurants on Rue Mouffetard looked interesting, and we decided to spend the 16 Euro prix fixe which included an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. Bear in mind that on French menus, entree means appetizer, and what we consider an entree will be called un plat.
My two friends both had an awful salmon with dill sauce, not complimented by the side of boiled potatoes. My appetizer was avacado with salad shrimps and a sauce that tasted vaguely like ketchup and mayo. Disappointing. The main course was even worse. Two relatively flavorless lamb chops with an ultra-heavy garlic sauce and a side of overcooked green beans. The creme brulee was good, but by this time I was so disenchanted with the meal that I didn't even bother to write down the name of the place. I wish I had, to warn you away from it.
On top of this, the music was an annoying mix of house music interspersed with Rod Stewart's greatest hits. This leads me to another odd fact about France (after which I'll stop ranting and get back to the good stuff). The French popular taste in music is hard to figure out. I'm told that a law prohibits radio stations from having less than 35 percent of their playlists consist of French music. I felt this law seemed a bit oppressive, ridiculous even, until at three different points during my trip I heard store radios or club DJs playing the theme song from Friends. The law seems quite justified to me now, and I support increasing the restriction.
Enough curmudgeonry, on to the real fine dining. Two of the Paris chow highlights, apart from Sapporo Ramen, were Royal Couscous, and Au Trou Normand. Both are highly satisfying, mid-range restaurants near the Place de République. I would also recommend at this point staying at the nearby Hotel de Nevers. This hotel is not for those requiring luxury, but it is comfortable, affordable (35 euro for a single room, and if you share a room with two friends it will cost you about 22 euro each: less than many of the city's hostels), and the owners are incredibly nice, especially for being Parisian. A husband and wife own the place and work the desk most mornings, and you will often find one of their three grey cats wandering the halls. Very friendly cats too.
In any case, Royal Couscous is, of course, a Moroccan restaurant, located on the Boulevard du Temple. The atmosphere is great; intricate traditional wood paneling and nice lighting. I had an incredible lamb, onion, and olive tagine. Though it was just a tad too salty, it was some of the most succulent lamb I've ever had. Expect to spend about 12 to 16 euro.
Au Trou Normand, located at 9, rue Jean Pierre Timbaud, is a bit more expensive, but if you can judge from just one dish, worth the price. The decor is nonassuming, the staff reasonably friendly, and the menu full of interesting dishes. I went for the canard au miel (duck served with a honey sauce garnished with chives) which was so juicy and delicious that I could have eaten twice the amount. Even the mashed potatoes and vegetables served on the side tasted fresh and perfectly cooked. An appetizer, a plate, and a carafe of wine will set you back about 20 - 25 euro. My mouth waters just remembering it.
sausages. It's "Saveurs d'Antan." Great stuff.
Another great highlight of the trip came toward the end, on a Saturday when we were roaming around north Paris and happened to see a sign listing the various bands that were playing jazz in the Parc des Fleurs, near the Chateau de Vincennes in southeast Paris. That day there happened to be an American jazz trio playing called The Bad Plus.
First of all, the park is astoundingly beautiful, with countless types of flowers, a large pond and an interesting fountain all serving as the backdrop for a large outdoor amphitheatre. The band was incredible. If you haven't heard them, they play mostly their own compositions--jazz ranging from avant garde to straight-ahead and everywhere in between--but pepper the set with great interpretations of songs by artists such as Aphex Twin and Bjork. They played tightly and with a lot of enthusiasm. I suppose its easy to play with enthusiasm when you're in a country where people actually give a damn about jazz.
The weather was beautiful, we drank wine on the banks of the pond and gave pieces of our baguette to two little girls so they could feed the bizarre-looking red-billed ducks. Being surrounded by people who are simply and naturally enjoying the hell out of life is contagious. And I'm moving to Washington D.C. in less than two weeks. Sigh.
That's it for now. If other good stories about the trip spring to mind I'll post them in the coming weeks, but for now its time to get back to some cooking. And packing. Lots of packing.
A bientot mes singes.
A nice view of the Pantheon as seen from the Jardin du Luxembourg. I think it might be a statue of Dionysus, saying to tourists "Please, drink wine in the park, for we French have no uptight anti-public-consumption-of-alcohol laws such as the Americans have." I was only too happy to take this advice. Several times.
Some friends of mine recommended a great Belgian brasserie on Rue Soufflot, which runs right between Luxembourg and the Pantheon. It's called La Gueuze, and for about 8 Euro they serve giant dishes of moules marinere, which, for the uninitiated, is simply mussels steamed in wine, butter, shallots, and herbs. You can also order it with creme added. Delicious. For a few euro more you can get a plate of fries on the side, a combo that is quite common in France and often seen on menus as "moules frites." La Gueuze also serves large glasses of various beers, the best of which is a Belgian ale called "Lucifer." Very strong and very delicious.
One interesting part of the meal was our extremely close proximity to a large and very boorish Russian man, who was unable to speak without bellowing. For over a half hour he dominated the conversation at the next table and occasionally overpowered ours, as he stuffed mussles and fries into his festering gob, mussel juice running down his chin and his hands, his face growing redder as he drank more and more ale. Finally, when the waiter cleared the table and asked if anyone wanted dessert, this same Russian pounded on his chest with one fist and grunted "creme brulee!" I should mention that his companions, also Russian, were quite well behaved. Wouldn't want to perpetuate any stereotypes, would we?
From a Slavic bear we move to French sparrows. A few breadcrumbs in any park in Paris will instantly make you a hit with the fat and ubiquitous pigeons. Perhaps to compete with these greedy oafs the sparrows have shed any fear of humans they might have and are perfectly willing to eat straight out of your hand--if you like that sort of thing. My two companions stripped the chocolate from a number of Malteasers, crumbled the malted candy within, and soon had a swarm of sparrows perching on their fingers and pecking crumbs from their palms. The two of them were delighted. As the swarm grew in numbers, all I could think of was Hitchcock.
And now for the ramen. If you've read Kitchen Monkey for any amount of time, you're probably aware of my obsession with great ramen. From my first pitiful attempt, to a pilgrimage to Minca Ramen Factory in NYC, to a subsequent and much better attempt, I have sought out great ramen restaurants and recipes for the better part of a year now. In this vein, I present to you Sapporo - Restaurant Japonais, which can be found in easy walking distance from the Tuileries at 276 Rue St. Honoré. They even have fiberglass or plastic models of each of their ramen dishes in the window so you can see what your options are (don't be put off by these, since none of them look very appetizing).
As far as ramen restaurants go, it's always a good sign when you see a lot of Japanese people eating there, and such was the case with Sapporo. The chashu ramen was so good I ate there twice, ordering the same dish both times. Its fun to hear French spoken with a Japanese accent, but greet the already friendly hostess with a "konichiwa" and say "arigato" when she brings your meal and she'll be even nicer. This hospitality can be refreshing after eating in a series of Parisian French restaurants.
Sadly, I did not get a picture of the ramen itself this time, but to tell the truth it was not as picturesque as the Minca ramen. The taste, however, was every bit as good. The only ingredients apart from the taro, the broth, and the noodles were some shitake mushrooms, a bit of spinach, and five heavenly slices of slow-braised pork butt. If you go for lunch you can get an order of gyoza and a bowl of ramen for about 10 euro; a pint of Asahi Superdry beer will cost you another five but will be well worth it.
Since I was sitting at the bar, right in front of the main kitchen area, I got to watch the chefs at work, and given the transcendence of the broth I was determined to get a picture when no one was looking. The dim lighting left it a bit blurry, but I'll be damned if I don't see two apples floating in the huge stock pot that contains the broth. Apples! It never would have occured to me, but next time I make stock for Japanese dishes I'll definitely throw in a couple.
I feel compelled to mention one other event. As my friend Liz and I were walking through the park toward an obligatory rendez-vous with the Eiffel Tower (which at that point bore a large neon sign reading "Paris 2012!") we passed by a curious sight. A very well dressed man was kneeling in the grass before a very beautiful woman, who was wearing a stunning peach-colored dress. He held in his hands the edges of the bottom of her dress, as what appeared to be a professional photographer focused a lens on the couple. Then, as quick as lightning the man lifted the dress up past the woman's waist to reveal her derriere, in all its stark, bare-assed nakedness. The camera flashed, and just as quickly as it began, it was over. As we passed beneath the steel spiderweb of the Eiffel tower, I thought to myself, "ahhh, Paris!"
Tomorrow we resume our time in The City of Lights with a great Morroccan restaurant as well as some cuisine from Normandy. Not to mention a great fishmarket and some sweet jazz!
Chenonceaux is an hour or so southwest of Paris (if you take the TGV). As you can see from the pictures above and below, the major part of the chateau is built over the Cher river.
Here is a view of the Cher from the chateau's library:
Desperate Castlewives: Chenonceaux was a focal point for the dramatic soap opera between Henri II, his queen, Catherine de Medici, and his mistress (20 years his senior, the grand dame of all cougars) Diane de Poitiers. All three of them lived in the chateau at the same time, an arrangement that caused Catherine some distress. I can't imagine why.
At one point the jealous queen had a hole drilled between her room and Henri's so she could see what the randy king was up to. Voyeurism? Emotional masochism? Who can say--maybe both. In any case, Henri II died in a fairly stupid jousting accident, after which Catherine booted Diane out, taking over Chenonceaux and ruling France from its tranquil surroundings for many years.
At one point Mary Stuart visited from England. As she worshiped in the chapel that forms the east wing of the chateau, her guards carved, in renaissance English, a bit of graffiti in the chapel walls which you can still see today--graffiti of a religious nature. If you're going to tag God's house (or even God's personal wing of someone else's house) it had better be about God.
Catherine de Medici died at the (then) ripe old age of 70. Chenonceaux then went to her son, Henri III, who was quite gay, in both the 16th century and modern senses of the word. His wife was nonetheless so devoted to him that when he was murdered (kings of France tended to have bad luck) she vowed only to dress in white, and, being by now a queen, became known as "the White Queen." She must have been quite a sight moping around the castle, which was no longer a very gay place to be, in either sense of the word.
La Cuisine: I found all of this very fascinating, but you might easily imagine that my favorite part of the tour was the kitchen.
I unfortunately failed to get a good shot of the massive oven, but I did enjoy the butcher's room, complete with a row of 17th century butcher knives and hooks for hanging rabbit, duck, lamb and other carcasses. One part of the kitchen was actually built into the first two archways that span the Cher, and a dumbwaiter system was constructed next to the window so that boats delivering supplies down the river could simply pull up next to the wall and have crates and boxes hoisted up.
A tour of the grounds will take you to the winery, and you can also tour the vast flower and vegetable garden, but more tangible treats await you in the nearby village of Chenonceaux.
Walk across the railroad tracks from the chateau entrance and immediately you're surrounded by picturesque little cottages with ivy and flowers covering everything. Immediately to the west of the train platform (on the village side of the tracks) walk up Rue de la Roche. Not too far in you'll pass this cottage:
Keep walking north up Rue de la Roche, you'll pass on your left a small patisserie that sells great baguettes and bottles of regional wine. Continue a little further up Rue de la Roche, turn left on Rue du Grand Clos, and you will find an amazing little shop filled with local products. You'll recognize it by the large fake wild boar's head out in front. Stacked majestically on a table, arranged by type, are dozens and dozens of dried sausages (saucissons secs), each about the size of André the Giant's thumb, which, incidentally, grew to its enormous size in the village of Moliens, 150 miles north of Chenonceaux.
Sadly, we only purchased two of these sausages, both of them made from wild boar, mine encrusted with black pepper. They were quite unlike any other sausage I've ever had. They were deliciously full of fat, for starters, and naturally air dried. Apart from that the process of making these little beauties is, to me, a complete mystery.
With our baguettes, our bottle of Touraine that we found to be really really really good (take a moment to admire my facility with describing wine!), and our saucissons secs, we found a cobblestone path that led us between cottages to a small rustic gazebo. We took shelter beneath it, surrounded by flowers and trees, and as we swigged the fruit of the vine from the bottle, and munched on the artisinally crafted flesh of a once carefree porcine animal, it began to rain softly. My primary thought at this point was: "life is good."
So without further ado, for all you meatlovers--and here I'd like to give a special shoutout to Dr. Biggles from Meathenge--I present a lovely if somewhat blurred picture of said saucissons:
You can see larger versions of most of these pictures by clicking on them. Tomorrow, we resume the adventures in Paris with steamed mussels, some underground jazz, and yes, RAMEN!!!!
As French cities go, Montpellier is not the most beautiful, nor the most exciting, but that's not to say I regret going. The size of the university there guarantees an enormous population of students and, consequently, a huge number of relatively inexpensive cafes and kebab shacks. I did eat at a couple nice restaurants there, but nothing that blew me away. Some of them were overpriced but had nice atmosphere. On the west side of St. Anne's cathedral is a charming salon de thé (I believe it's called Le pré verre) that serves a wide variety of teas as well as some breakfast and lunch dishes. The outside dining area is very peaceful, falling as does in the shade of the cathedral and a huge tree. Expect to pay for this atmosphere though. However lovely the presentation, 6 Euro was a little much for a cup of tea and what was essentially a glorified pancake.
The real highlights of my time in Montpellier involved perusing the local markets. I lived in a student residence very close to the center of town, and within a very small radius I could walk to a fish market, a butchery, several produce stands, and a number of patisseries, where you can buy a fresh baguette for .60 Euro or a perfectly breakfast-sized quiche lorraine for 2 euro.
The room where I stayed had its own kitchenette, and I had a great time cooking for some of the other students at the Institut Linguistique. One night I made a honey glazed salmon dish, another night I made lamb stew provencal. Much pate, saussicon, and cheese was eaten. Much wine was drunk.
I got a bit of a tan at the beach, Palavas les Flots, but after living in Sarasota for several years you start to demand a lot from your beaches, and crowded beaches with sticky grey sand don't really cut it. For all the natural beauty, I could have been at a beach in New Jersey, except that every once in a while a vendor would walk by selling beignets. On top of this, the only semi-naked people were fat, old, or both. Not that I begrudge them their nudity; I very much look forward to the day when I am too old to care about such nonsense as "dignity".
Still, we did find a nice seaside restaurant that served huge steaming pots of moules mariniere (more about this when we get to Paris).
And because it looks cool, here is a picture of the Roman aqueduct in Montpellier.
Tomorrow, a visit to a beautiful Loire valley chateau, and some wicked good wild boar sausages.
Let's start, or resume, with San Sebastian. San Sebastian must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and is certainly one of the greatest meccas for foodies. The above picture is the view from the Monte Urgul, looking toward Monte Igueldo, the two mountains that stand as sentries to the port of San Sebastian (along with the small island you see between them, graced with a light house). From the top of either mountain you can see the city of San Sebastian spread out to the south, and the Bay of Biscay to the north. A hike to the top of Monte Urgul will bring you to Castillo de la Mota, a fortress built by Napoleon's army to guard the city (after they had taken it). Here is Kitchen Monkey checking out one of the original cannons still at the fort.
For those of you who don't know, San Sebastian is in the Basque country, which envelops both southwestern France and northern Spain. The Basque identity is particularly strong in Spain, where a small but very vocal minority of Basques support separation from Spain, and while most of them don't support the terrorist tactics of ETA, there is plentiful evidence of the Basque effort to maintain their identity. The face of one building that bore a large Spanish flag had been splattered with red and yellow paint.
Below is the tapas menu, or pintxos if you're Basque (pronounced "peen-choes,") at La Cuchara de San Telmo, which my friend Liz, who grew up in San Sebastian, swears is the best tapas place in town. Between myself and my two companions, we tried almost everything, and some of the items, especially the lamb paté croquetas, were nothing short of amazing. Also good was the roasted rabbit slices and the duck with pato asado (I don't remember what pato asado means).
Liz had been going on about how good fried fresh anchovies were, but that they weren't currently available because of overfishing (if I remember correctly). However, the next day we found a great restaurant, La Cepa, which had them on the menu. For my first course I had a very creamy crab mousse (pastel de txangurrol) served with a delicious home made mayonnaise. The anchovies (antxoas fritas) were fried in little more than garlic and olive oil, and bore almost no resemblance in flavor to the canned salty affair that occasionally adorns American pizzas. So tasty.
Finally, on my last night in San Sebastian, Liz's father took us out to dinner at a fantastic restaurant called Aita Mari (which means Father Mari in Basque). We all shared a couple bottles of delicious regional wine, some succulent jamon iberica that far outdid any prosciutto I've ever had, and for the main course I had the angler fish, also very good. But what really excited me about the meal was a complimentary starter, a very small but unbelievably rich and tasty nettle bisque. I've never cooked with nettles before, but I'm determined to locate some and find a recipe so that I can try (and, I assume, fail) to replicate what is really probably the best soup I've ever had.
If you're lucky enough to ever go to San Sebastian, I reccomend all three places, especially La Cuchara. Also, if you eat at Aita Mari, try to get a table with a view of the port. Tomorrow, a bit about Montpellier & Avignon.
La Cuchara de San Telmo
C/31 Abosto, 28 Bajos, (Trasera)
San Sebastian, Spain 20003
Bar La Cepa
31 de Agosto, 7-9, Parte Vieja
San Sebastián-Guipúzcoa, Spain 20003
C/ Puerto 21-23
San Sebastian, Spain 20003
The train East to the Bay of Biscay was 6 hours long and railed past some amazing scenery. I especially liked the Pyrenees region of souther France, where the buildings perched on tree-covered hills are broken up intermittently by a castle or a medieval stone wall.
Arriving in Hendaye, France, just across the border from Spain, I met up with a friend, who grew up in San Sebastian but has lived in the States for the past 10 years. Her father has a really nice apartment on the top floor of a building that looks out over a river that leads to the Bay of Biscay, and from his rooftop terrace you can see the ships coming in and out. With another friend from Sarasota, her and I went into the center of San Sebastian for some great Basque food (I had squid in ink sauce) followed by tapas, which in the Basque region is called pintos (don´t know if I´m spelling that correctly). By midnight we were exhausted. Today we´ll take a day trip up to Biarritz, France, then back down to San Sebastian until Tuesday, when we take the train to Paris. Hopefully we´ll see Mont St. Michel. I´d like to post some pictures of San Sebastien and Montpellier, but this computer is having trouble uploading them to Photobucket, so it may have to wait.
Fortunately it started after a few days in Paris, so at least I got that in. Paris is fantastic. I was lucky enough to meet up with some friends there who were staying at a student residence in the Latin Quarter, the roof of which had a garden terrace that looked over the entire city, from the Sacre Coeur to the Montparnasse Tower. We sat there drinking wine while the sun set and the lights of the Eiffel Tower glimmered on the skyline. We told bad jokes (How do you titillate an oscelot......you oscillate its tit alot")
The night was beautiful. I'm really going to miss being able to buy a good bottle of wine for about 5 dollars.
I spent a good while sitting in the Jardin du Luxembourg, listening to Mozart on the IPod, watching people of all kinds. Little kids playing chess with Arab men, Japanese tourists with cameras taking pictures of eachother in front of the fountain. Joggers everywhere. Leaving the jardin we saw a guy wipe out on his motorcycle. He wasn't hurt thankfully. But motorcycle wipeouts in big cities are always a little unsettling.
But the lack of sleep got me. By the time I arrived in Montpellier, on the southern coast of France, I knew something was up. After a day or so I began getting the chills. The snot came next, and my god was there plenty of it. I think I have issued (or tissued) my body weight in mucus over the past week. I managed to make it to the beach, and went to a music festival, but when you live in Sarasota you tend to be a bit jaded for beaches, and the music festival would have been more fun if I hadn't been sneezing constantly. Mostly I laid in bed and tried to read French magazines.
A couple days ago the sickness broke. I'm still a bit sniffly, but I finally got to drink wine last night, and yesterday I went to Avignon for the afternoon. Avignon is geographically pleasing and historically interesting. In case you don't already know, I was a History major in college, and in fact I concentrated primarily on French history. As you can imagine, I was thrilled by things that most people might not give a damn about.
In the 14th century the Catholic Church got a little crazy for a while. Various competing factions in the church hierarchy became more and more vicious, and eventually there was a great schism. The head of the Church was moved to Avignon, to the Palace des Papes. For many years there were two popes, and at one point there were three. One in Rome, one in Avignon, and one in Las Vegas. OK, I don't really know where the third one was, but the important thing to know is that the Chuch was in crisis.
The Palace des papes became a center of corruption, venality, and intrigue, which may be why it is more of a fortress than a palace. It is situated on top of a rocky hill called le Rocher des domes, which stands 100 ft. high over the Rhone river, and standing in the garden above the palace and its nextdoor neighbor, Avignon's Notre Dame cathedral, one can see the towers of an old monastery and vineyards to the north, and the city to the south. A small garden pond at the top is full of ducks and geese to feed, and a path winding down the rock and through the medieval towers and walls leaves you back on the banks of the river.
I may write more later about Montpellier. I can't say I'm in love with the town, but I have enjoyed finding little cafes, restaurants, and shops. So much great food, so little time. In two days I'll be eating tapas in San Sebastian, Spain. I'll try to post more at that point. Then its back up to Paris, hopefully with a trip to Lyons somewhere in there.
A bientot mes singes.
So - Kitchen Monkey is going to become a travel blog for the next month or so. Yes, there will be plenty of food-related stuff, but rather than starting a new blog for this adventure, I decided to muddy the thematic waters a bit.
My apologies for not posting much in the past weeks. I've been incredibly busy with travel plans and tying up loose ends. In just over a week from now I'll be arriving in Paris, meeting up with a couple other people who will be entering the same class (2008) as me at American University Washington College of Law. After a couple days, I'll take the TGV down to Montpellier for two weeks of language classes, sun, hiking in the Cevennes, and kayaking in the Mediterranean. After that, I'll be meeting two friends in San Sebastian, Spain, where I'll eat plenty of tapas. Finally, I'll be spending the last week in Paris, eating as much excellent food and drinking as much good cheap wine as possible. I'll be in NYC for a day or so when I return, and hopefully will be able to go back to Minca Ramen Factory. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
I'm quite lucky to able to take this trip, despite the fact that I will be nearly broke by the time I return. Hopefully you'll delight in sharing whatever adventures I may have. I hope to post at least every few days while I'm there, and if anyone cares to recommend good restaurants in Paris or Montpellier, please do!
Au revoir, mes singes
I know almost two weeks have past since I posted last, but I hope to make up for it by bestowing upon you, the reading public, one of my favorite meals to make. This is a Kitchen Monkey Fusion Original (one of very few) that developed through a process of continually tacking on menu items and ingredients that probably shouldn't work together but somehow do.
I tend to make it a few times a year, and it's great for summer. If you don't live in a state with a sizable hispanic population, you may have trouble finding Boniato, in which case you can substitute a combination of regular mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes, which works out alright since Boniato could perhaps best be described as a cross between a potato and a sweet potato. Still, the texture is slightly different, and i think it goes great with the salmon.
Without further ado...
Curry-Glazed Salmon with Black Bean Orange Salsa and Mashed Boniato
2 lbs. salmon fillet, scaled, with skin ON, sliced into 4 pieces
2 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. curry powder (or 1/3 tsp each of turmeric, garam masala, and coriander)
salt and pepper
1) Salt and pepper the salmon, combine olive oil and curry spices, baste top of salmon with curry and set in refrigerator for at least a half hour
2) Set salmon pieces in a broiling pan, set oven to broil, and place on the oven rack 2nd to the top. Fish should be done in about 7-10 minutes. Keep checking to make sure top of fish doesn't burn.
1 large navel orange, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup black beans, cooked (or canned) and rinsed
1 fresh tomato, chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 jalapeno, diced
1 small handfull of chopped fresh cilantro
1) Combine above ingredients in, hmm, let's see, a bowl. Yeah, that sounds good. A bowl.
2 large Boniatos (each approximately the size of a nine-year old's shoe), chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
3 Tbsps. butter
2 Tbsps. sour cream
salt to taste
1) boil enough water for the boniatos, with salt
2) drain water when cubes are soft, mash and mix boniato while adding butter and sour cream. Add more salt if necessary.
Simply scoop upa big wallop of mashed boniato onto a plate, lay a salmon fillet on top, then spoon the salsa on top of the salmon. I also served mine with some zucchini wedges sauteed in olive oil. Very tasty indeed.
This osso buco was delicious, and even though I made it, I feel like I had very little to do with it. I was really nothing more than a conduit for a meal that owed most of its existence to an old friend, a new friend and a minor local celebrity transplanted from Italy via New York.
For those of you unlucky enough never to have had it, osso buco is simply veal shanks slow braised with a soffrito (sauteed onions, celery, carrots, parsley and lemon peel) white wine, tomatoes, and stock.
The old friend of whom I speak would be Nick (of I'm Cookin' Here), who introduced me to osso buco over a year ago when he made a batch that smelled so good I was compelled to cheat on my non-beef-eating standards (which disappeared completely last November). Nick, as you may know from a past post, also lent me Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which has the osso buco recipe I used here, and which I still have not returned to Nick. Lastly, the fine Le Creuset dutch oven you see above is also Nick's, and I had to borrow it because I do not yet have one of my own. Did I also mention that Nick introduced me to my wife and once pulled me from the burning wreck of a Norwegian schooner? OK, I made the last two up. I have never been on a Norweigan schooner and am not married.
The minor celebrity would, of course, be Marcella Hazan, whom epicurious.com calls "America's matriarch of Italian cooking." You simply can not go wrong with any of her recipes, and I highly recommend the book mentioned above (see also on Kitchen Monkey Ragu alla Bolognese and Baked Polenta). If I haven't already mentioned it, she now lives in the neighborhood, having moved last year to Longboat Key, just across Sarasota Bay. She also looks like my grandmother!
The new friend would be Kim, who is a professor at New College of Florida. Her role? She hosted the dinner party and footed the bill for the osso buco, the milanese saffron & pancetta risotto (see this post--the only difference this time from that time was the use of beef stock instead of chicken stock), and a good chianti, the name of which escapes me.
A former political science professor of mine and his wife also joined us, and while he himself is Jewish, he grew up surrounded by Italians and knows a thing or two about Italian food. Since the osso buco got his seal of approval I was willing to overlook his mocking me for pronouncing gnocchi "nyoki" instead of "noetch" (or some phonetic approximation thereof) as he insists it is pronounced.
I told him he has to bear in mind that I spent my childhood in Utah, surrounded not by Italians, but by Mormons, where the epitome of local cuisine is not a beautiful dish of lasagna or slow braised veal shanks, but rather green Jello with carrots and raisins.
You think I'm kidding, don't you? Ask any Mormon who grew up in Utah. They'll tell you.
- Mark Twain in Eruption
With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, Kitchen Monkey announces that he has made his decision. Starting in August 2005, after a month-long trip to France, he will be starting law school at American University's Washington College of Law, in the nation's capital, where one in every 12 people has a law degree--a city that could truly be said to be Poo-Flinging Central in matters concerning religion and politics.
I am excited by, fascinated with, and somewhat repelled by the three years of law school ahead of me. This also describes my feelings about DC, but in the end, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to study in a town so rich with history and diversity, which so many NGOs call home. Its going to be a crazy three years.
As you can imagine, and as I've said before, posts to Kitchen Monkey won't happen as frequently starting in August, but they will happen, so please keep reading. And I apologize in advance if, once I have started law school, the tone of my writing gets crankier or less colorful.
Difficult? Hardly. Expensive? Not really. Where I live, mussels are about $4 a pound. It really depends mostly on the type of wine you use. It is also quick (the whole shebang can be ready in about 15 minutes). Finally, it is delicious--perfect for sitting outdoors on your balcony while the sun sets. Eat while drinking a good white wine (I'm usually more of a red wine guy, but with this, a good pouilly fuisse is my favorite, or fume blanc). Enjoy with friends or a loved one and you are liable to see your entire life in a new, more optimistic light, at least until you have to do the dishes and dispose of the mussel shells.
I heartily recommend buying a good loaf of crusty bread to dip in the addictively delicious sauce. Fresh linguini is also a great option. As another alternative, if you have the wherewithal and motivation to make your own french fries (Belgian-cut, please), these too are delicious dipped in the sauce, and, of course, make up the traditional "moules-frites."
Mussels with Thyme and White Wine Cream Sauce
(aka Moules à la crème)
1 lb. mussels (de-beard if necessary and keep refrigerated until use)
5 shallots, sliced (or 1/2 large onion, sliced thin)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 handful of fresh thyme on stem
1 1/2 cups white wine
1/4 cup cream
4 Tbsps. butter
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
1) De-beard the mussels if necessary and keep them cold until ready to use. If any of them are open they might well be dead. If they are only slightly open, rap them on the side of a bowl or the counter. If they close up again, they're edible, if not, they are DEAD. If they are dead prior to cooking, do NOT eat. Dispose of immediately or possibly pay the horrible horrible consequences.
2) In a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat the olive oil and melt the butter. Sautee the shallots and/or onions until translucent, then add the garlic, sautee for a couple minutes more, then add the wine and the thyme, stirring everything around.
3) Once the wine is bubbling, add the mussels. Put the lid on, and shake the pot a bit to coat them. Let stand for 5-7 minutes. By this time the mussels should have opened up. Those that haven't, you should discard. Add the cream, a bit of salt and pepper, and stir everything. Leave out the cream and you've got "moules mariniere."
4) Add some cooked, fresh linguini to a bowl (this is optional) spoon several mussels over the top, then ladle a generous amount of the delciously fragrant sauce over it all. Mop sauce up with crusty bread or frites!
And, in closing, I thought I'd post this somewhat zen-like bit of "engrish," brought to us from a chinese restaurant I went past in Minneapolis. Wouldn't you prefer this over "sameness soup"? I would. (click on pic to enlarge)
This past weekend's trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul yielded some great culinary adventures. U of Minnesota Law School was truly impressive, and I already feel a bit of an attachment to the city after having been there only twice. That said, I have not made a decision yet. I will spare you the long list of factors that I've been weighing together and against eachother in trying to pick between U of M and American University in DC. Suffice to say, I'm more than a little torn, and will ultimately have to go on some sort of gut feeling that has yet to manifest itself. Hopefully this gut feeling will arrive by this Friday, when I will be forced to decide.
As you can see, I made Tom Yam soup and Larb Gai salad again. The soup was hotter last time, but the flavor of this batch was great. Unfortunately the recipe to which I linked before (for the Tom Yam) no longer exists, so I had to kind of wing it, but I found this recipe, and its pretty close. We were lucky enough to find this Asian market in Minneapolis:
It was huge, with anything you could want - Japanese, Korean, South Asian. They had tons of produce, fairly inexpensive seafood, and lots of meats you don't typically find at whitey markets. Including giant beef hooves. I found everything I needed for the soup, including kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, black chili paste, and thai chilis. If you follow the recipe I linked to above, the heat is going to be entirely dependent on how hot your chilis are, and how hot the chili paste is. If you like it really hot, buy a really hot chili paste, or use much more than 5 thai chilis.
If you can't get to a good Asian market but are really craving this amazing soup, many supermarkets have "Thai Kitchen" red curry paste, which you can substitute for the chili paste. If you can't find kaffir lime leaves, just add extra lime juice. If you can't find galangal, you can use fresh ginger (though it really won't be the same), but use less, since ginger is more potent than galangal. There is no subsitute for fresh lemongrass.
Also, you may know that I have a special interest in fish sauce, more particularly the labels. With that in mind I present a new discovery in the fish sauce market:
One fishing trip stands out in my mind, as much for its epicurean aspects as for the fact that recalling it makes me feel cool, rugged, and authentically western, despite the fact that I have been on the East coast for over 10 years now and only occasionally make it out of the city.
I was about fifteen years old, and I idolized the neighbor across the street. He was a Mormon, like all the other adults I knew, but he was different. He was a professor of English literature, he raised huskies, went bow hunting, listened to Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, and, best of all, occasionally swore in church. One winter he took me and a couple friends ice fishing on Utah Lake. Dressed for warmth, poles in hand, we waited as he hefted the augre out into the middle of the lake and drilled a hole the size of a dinner plate. We gathered around the hole and before long began popping small white bass out of the freezing water.
At one point he reached into his large pack, and, asking if we were hungry, removed a Coleman stove. We thought he was going to fry the bass, but watched as he removed a large ziploc bag filled with peppered venison, butchered from a buck he personally had felled with his compound bow earlier that winter. It was delicious. After filling up on venison and thermoses (thermosi?) of hot cider, we resumed the bass-a-thon, catching our limit within a couple hours. I'm afraid to say I don't remember eating the white bass, it was the venison that imprinted itself in the flavor zones of my brain. I definitely recall with a heavy dose of nostalgia how good it felt to be out on the ice that day, doing something that humans in colder climates have done for thousands and thousands of years.
Pardon that little reverie. You were wondering about the tilapia?
It turned out quite well. I made a marinade of cilantro, garlic, chiles, lime juice, and vegetable oil, which I slathered on both sides of the whole fish. The two fishes were then baked at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, and served with mashed yucca (with salt & butter) and some cuban-style black beans, which were cooked with bacon, onions, garlic, chili pepper, and chicken stock. All of it enjoyed with a nice Tetley's Cream Ale. So good.
As Biscuit Girl noted, I haven't been posting all too frequently. This is mostly because I've been spending my evenings as "Justice Monkey"-- fighting crime in the gritty streets of Sarasota with my trusty sidekick Gibbon Boy, trying to rid the world of my evil nemesis, The Organ Grinder. If he gets his way, you'll all be wearing stupid decorative vests and dancing for money in a bleak, dystopian future.
I was in DC last weekend, might be in Gainesville this weekend, will be in Minneapolis the following weekend, and Grayton Beach, Florida the weekend after that for a wedding. A busy month, to say the least, but I will try to post more often during the week.
Due to lack of time and money I've been relying on the handy recipe search box on epicurious. If you haven't made use of it yet I highly recommend it, since you're bound to find something that includes the ingredients you have on hand.
This dish is a variation on traditional escabeche, a Spanish dish that usually features some kind of seafood. I happened to have a turkey breast half (on the bone) in the fridge, and found this recipe for Turkey en Escabeche. It was good, not great, I found that the turkey didn't absorb too much of the flavor. I'll definitely try the same recipe with shrimp or tuna though.
The rice on the other hand was delicious and very simple: Jasmine rice steamed with saffron, then mixed with freshly ground coriander, sauteed onions, garlic, tomato and green pepper.
It was a fantastic weekend for Kitchen Monkey, culinary and otherwise. A trip on Friday up to Tampa to see a friend's MFA graduation art show unexpectedly turned into a free Saturday trip to Busch Gardens. A long day of rollercoastering was followed by a trip to Tampa's Ichiban restaurant, a very decent sushi joint that happened to have fresh uni, pictured above.
Uni is sea urchin roe, and it is not for the novice sushi eater. It has a taste that can be described using a combination of adjectives such as buttery, nutty, and slighlty fishy. But no description can really do the taste justice. The consistency and texture, however, is easier to describe. Think somewhere between a smoke oyster and a big loogie. The texture turns alot of people off, many others don't appreciate the taste. Still others are deterred by the price (I rarely see it cheaper than $2.50 a piece, and in NYC its often $5 a piece or more.) But learn to love it, and you will forever be in search of good uni.
Upon returning to Sarasota, I discovered in the mailbox a letter of acceptance to University of Minnesota Law School, which I didn't quite expect, but am very happy about. Its one of the top 20 law schools in the country, and I have a lot of heavy thinking to do in the next few weeks. For those of you who have been following along, DC suddenly doesn't seem to be quie as certain as I thought. I am going up there this weekend however to check it out. It will all come down to vibes at this point.
But getting back to food: immediately after my return on Sunday I went over to Nick's house for Easter brunch. It was fantastic. He made a frittata, some home fries, Ann made some excellent crepes, AJ made fried plantains, and Mary made some disturbingly delicious chocolate truffles. I brought OJ. After brunch we all played bocci on the back lawn.
That evening I had a few people over for lamb dinner. I marinated a leg of lamb in fresh rosemary, olive oil, mashed garlic cloves, lemon juice, and lemon peel. I also made a delicious salad of cucumber, tofu, and leeks, with a sweet miso dressing. Maybe I'll post the recipe later.
There are things I love about Florida. The laid-back atmosphere, the general and genuine friendliness of most people. The beautiful canopy of trees that covers the hilly streets of Tallahassee, where I spent the first five years. The eye-poppingly gorgeous beaches around Sarasota, where I've spent the last five. Amazing restaurants and fresh fish markets are abundant, and the produce is cheap, beautiful, and delicious. I love the prehistoric quality of Florida's state parks, where it seems as though at any minute Tarzan or a brontosaurus could come crashing through the woods. Or Tarzan riding a brontosaurus. That would be cool. Especially if the brontosaurus could shoot lava from its eyes.
There are things I don't like about Florida. I know that ageism is just another form of bias, but it is one that is difficult to avoid here. At least 1/2 of the cars in Sarasota are driven by old people who are either 1) confused, 2) on medication, 3) unable to see over the steering wheel, 4) trying to find a particular street, 5) yelling at eachother, or 6) all of the above. Also, grocery shopping is a real treat on a busy day, and if you don't want to spend an hour and a half in the store you are forced to navigate your shopping cart through aisles where grannies or grampies staring at rows of canned vegetables are stationed like grouchy obstacles in some Nintendo racing game.
I feel bad when my irritation toward Florida's old ones reveals itself. After all, it is a unique bias in the sense that, while I will never be an evangelical Christian, I will, probably, be old someday. At which point I will shake my fist at the arrogant young men who zip past me with their shopping carts--as though they had something to do that really mattered in the long run.
There are other things I'm not crazy about in this state. Without elaborating, let's just say the state is becoming a little too red for my personal tastes. And while southern culture has a wide array of charms ('cue!) that I never appreciated or recognized before living here, I have to say that, having bartended two dayshifts a week for a year at the ABC Liquor Lounge in Tallahassee (which is really southern Georgia,) a number of the less fortunate stereotypes of the south, do, like many stereotypes, exist for a reason.
Keep in mind that most of this doesn't apply to Miami, which is in many ways another world from the rest of Florida, and one that I've only experienced briefly (including a trip to the Miami Zoo to see some monkeys, most of which were seriously depressed and not half as charming or personable as the monkeys and gorillas in the DC Zoo. I demand happy caged animals, damnit!)
When eating Ramen, struggling with a daily commute, or glooming through the rainy, cloudy murk of DC, I will undoubtably miss Florida and the easy, pleasing life of leisure I've led here.
Florida, we had a good run.
What does all of this have to do with Roasted Chicken with Mustard Rosemary Sauce? Nothing. Here's the recipe:
Roasted Chicken with Mustard Rosemary Sauce (easy and delicious)
3 -4 lb. whole chicken (I used a brand of whole chicken called "Smart Chicken." Its organic, free range, air packed, and very tasty, although if it were all that smart, would it be in a package waiting to be eaten? Hahaha. I slay me.)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup xtra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix the last three ingredients in a bowl. Arrange chicken on a rack in a roasting pan.
2) With half the mustard mixture, coat the sides and top of the chicken. Use a narrow spooon to slide spoonfuls of mixture underneath the skin of the chicken breast. Smoosh around.
3) If you're lucky like me and have an electronic probe thermometer, slide it into the meatiest part of the thigh. When it reads 175 degrees your chicken is ready. With a chicken this size it should take an hour and a half at most. With a 7 or 8 pound chicken it will take up to 2 1/2 hours, the last hour of which you'll want to cover the top of the chicken with tinfoil so as not to burn it.
4) baste occasionally with some of the mustard sauce and the drippings if you like. Or use the dripping later to make a little gravy, but this chicken is succulent enough that it shouldn't need gravy.
4) I also sliced some large potato wedges, carrots, and cut a small onion into quarters, then tossed them in the rest of the mustard mix and arranged them on a baking sheet. About 1/2 hour after putting the chicken in I slid the vegetables in under the chicken. They were delicious.
If you have any chicken left over the day after, its delicious cold tossed with some greens and a light viniagrette.
This recipe came from Bon Appetit, October 2001. I made adjustments to the measurements.
You've all heard of the Chinese egg & chicken dish called "Mother & Child Reunion" (inspiration for the Paul Simon song of the same name--no lie). "Oyakodon" pretty much means the same thing, but its taste is distinctly Japanese, with a sauce made of mirin, soy, caster sugar, and dashi stock. So long as you have these basic ingredients (along with rice vinegar and sake) you can make a host of Japanese dishes, but this is one of my favorite and certainly one of the easiest. Serve over short-grain steamed rice, preceded by a simple salad topped with your own ginger dressing (see recipe below)
For those not in the know:
Mirin: a sweet, low-alcohol content rice wine
Caster sugar: finely granulated sugar. You can use regular refined sugar and put it in the food processor it for a minute or so (thanks to Nick for that tip)
Dashi stock: a stock comprising bonita flakes (skipjack tuna) and konbu (kelp). Homemade dashi is delicious, but can be expensive to make. You can buy insant dashi stock granules --dashi-no-moto -- in many Asian markets.
1 lb. boneless chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large or 2 medium onions, sliced
3 large eggs, whipped
1 1/2 cups dashi stock (if using dashi-no-moto, mix 1 Tbsp. in 1 1/2 cups of water)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce (preferably light soy sauce)
3 Tbsp. mirin
3 Tbsp. caster sugar
1 Tbsp. sake (optional)
1) heat large sauce pan (with lid) over medium high heat. Mix together sauce ingredients and pour into pan. Add onions and spread in an even layer. Let cook for 4-5 minutes until they start to soften.
2) Add chicken in a single layer over the onions, cover tightly and let cook for 5 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook for another 5 minutes.
3) When chicken is cooked through, pour the beaten eggs evenly over the top and allow to cook for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow the eggs to cook a little more. You don't want the eggs to harden too much, they should be cooked, but still be ever so slightly runny.
4) Serve over short-grain, steamed Japanese rice (ratio: 1 1/4 cup water per 1 cup rice)
Tasty Ginger Dressing
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
1/2 medium-sized carrot, peeled and chopped roughly
1 clove garlic, peeled, chopped roughly
1 tsp. caster sugar
2 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. sesame oil
3 Tbps. soybean (vegetable) oil
1 tsp. sake (optional)
blend all ingredients except vegetable oil in a small food processor (if you only have a large food processor, quadruple the measurements and have lots of leftover dressing) until smooth, then add the vegetable oil slowly while blending.
This risotto turned out to be the best I've ever made, and you should try making it, or one similar to it--if, that is, you don't mind standing next to a hot stove for 45 minutes making circular motions with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. I find the stirring to be quite relaxing, especially when you assign the task to someone else while you sit down with a good book. When they (inevitably) complain, you may choose to remind them that they, having no kitchen skills beyond the boiling of water, are lucky to be the benefactor of your culinary wisdom and should be grateful of the opportunity to work on their underdeveloped triceps. However, you should resist the temptation of this response, since at best you will have to resume the stirring yourself, and at worst will have to dodge behind the papasan to avoid a hurtling, goopy spoonful of hot risotto.
I was kind of winging it, so the measurements are just estimates. The main thing is to keep an eye on it, add more liquid whenever it boils off, and keep stirring, stirring, stirring. Add whatever ingredients you like, but I have to say pancetta (Italian-style bacon), white wine, and romano all complement eachother excellently and make for a great, creamy-textured risotto.
The risotto was served with red wine-braised veal liver and onions, a request from a friend who mentioned that while it was tasty, it was not quite as good as the liver they ate in her native Kazakhstan, made with some sort of sour cream sauce. We also made some wine braised chicken cutlets for her boyfriend, who, forgivably, doesn't care for liver. No pictures of the liver or the purple chicken unfortunately, since I'm still getting used to the focus features on my new digital camera and the pics came out rather blurry. Visualize the purple chicken on your own.
2 cups arborio risotto rice
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 pound pancetta, sliced into small strips
1 medium sized onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced (or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme)
1/2 tsp. saffron threads
1/2 cup grated romano
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1) Start by heating a sautee pan over medium heat and add the pancetta, stirring occasionally, allowing the fat to cook off, then remove the pancetta to a plate and add garlic, carrot, and onion. Sautee until onion is a light golden brown and set aside.
2) Heat olive oil and butter in a large sautee pan, add the risotto rice and stir to coat. Add about 1/2 cup of white wine and continue stirring until wine has cooked off. Add another 1/2 cup wine and repeat process until wine is gone, then continue process using chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time. It will take roughly 40 minutes for the rice to cook to perfection, and you may not need all of the chicken stock, or you may need more. The rice should be creamy, but with a slight firmness. As I mentioned, you or someone else MUST stir the risotto the entire time.
3) Once the rice is just about cooked, add the thyme, pancetta, onion mixture, and saffron. Stir for about another 5 minutes.
4) At the very end, add the romano (or asiago or good parmesan) and stir for another minute off the heat.
First off, a hearty thanks to Meg of Too Many Chefs for featuring last week's lamb-bit as one of their "posts of the week." The site is a "group" food blog, with a wide variety of topics in the posts. Check it out, great content and a cool, somewhat retro design.
Now then, this little work of deliciousness pictured above was my attempt to use the coarse-ground cornmeal that has been sitting in my cupboard for over a year. I still haven't returned Nick's copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, so I began searching it for polenta recipes. To my delight there was a recipe for this baked polenta (its a bit like lasagna, only with sheets of polenta instead of lasagna noodles), which required ragu alla bolognese. I just happened to have a container of it in the freezer from a batch I made several weeks ago.
The polenta was easier to make than I might have imagined, and turned out quite well. The ragu was combined with a quickly-whipped-up bechamel sauce. The only thing I added to the recipe was the sprinkling of sauteed mushrooms and onions over the top, but I found these to be unnescessary. Distracting even.
I won't post the recipe here. You should buy the book. Its fabulous, and many people feel content to consider it the authority on Italian cooking, and everything I've made from it turned out wonderfully (in fact, I've got a stew cooking at home right now, also drawn from this book--and yes, its lamb stew).
The drawback to me telling you all of this is that Nick is going to want the book back now.
Look at that face. Who could eat something so cute? Well, me for example. Eschewing foods based on their cuteness seems odd to me. Is it any more humane to eat a fish just because most of them are rather ugly and alien-looking? If you had been in the Donner party would you really have gone for craggly Old Man Johnson instead of young, plump Sally Smith? OK, bad example. I'm getting way off track here.
I love lamb, but at this point in my life can't typically afford the ultra-expensive, ultra-tasty rib or loin cuts, which are often $10 a pound or more. Sometimes I'll go for the more cost-effective whole legs, but that requires enough people to eat it all and defray the cost. So, that leaves me with the tougher, fattier cuts such as shoulder blade chops or fore shanks. These cuts are still capable of producing great dishes, but they typically require more trimming and a long cooking time, usually in liquid.
I'm talking about stew here people. Sure, it requires a little more foresight, since minimum cooking time should be a couple hours, but many stews are fairly simple to make, and lamb is perfect for a lot of them.
One of my favorites, and of the easier ones to make, is lamb stew provencal, but I wanted to try something different, and so found this recipe for a Tunisian-style lamb stew in Bon Appetit. It was rather delicious with some adjustments (I used a lot more spice than they did and used chicken stock instead of water--also, they use way too many onions). The dominant flavor is cardamom, which I love. You can use previously ground cardamom if you have to, but add less than you would using fresh. If you use fresh pods, simply crush them open in a mortar and throw the whole shebang in the stew. Once they've cooked for a few hours they'll be tender enough that you can eat them if you like. I like. Served over saffron rice (also with cardamom-no pods this time, just seeds) mixed with toasted pine nuts.
I'll be making more lamb stews in the near future. If you know of one that would knock my socks off, please send it to me!
Tunisian Lamb Stew
1 1/2 pounds lamb, trimmed and cubed
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (or preferably whole cardamom pods crushed)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 hot red pepper, minced (or 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, less if you're heat sensitive)
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 tsp. minced peeled ginger
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1) crush/grind the first four spices and toss with lamb pieces to cover, set aside in fridge for 1/2 hour.
2) Heat oil in large pot on medium high, add onions and sautee until translucent, add lamb and a pinch of salt. Sautee until lamb is brown (5 minutes or so)
3) Add ginger, stir, sautee for 1 minute
4) Add chicken stock, bring to boil.
5) Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for anywhere from 2-4 hours
6) With slotted spoon, remove lamb and onions and set aside. Turn heat to high and boil juices for 10-15 minutes. When reduced, add apricots, vinegar, and sugar, reduce heat to medium high, and cook for 3-4 minutes.
7) Return lamb and onions to sauce and cook long enough to heat them back up.
8) Serve over rice cooked with ground cardamom, saffron, and pine nuts.
As you may have noticed, I haven't been posting much lately. This is due in part to how incredibly busy I've been with work, financial aid applications for law school, etc etc. and partly because most of my recent meals have been rehashes of previously posted recipes (such as the never-fail ragu alla bolognese and lamb stew provencal). I did make some a very large and very tasty homemade batch of split pea soup with lots of bacon. If you want some, I still have two containers of it in the freezer.
I will be posting again soon, later this week I plan on making one of my favorite dishes for a group of friends. Its an Iranian dish called fesenjoon, and its outrighteously good.
And one other thing. Dr. Biggles of Meathenge passed along this photograph, which is just too bizarre not to spread around. Somebody please explain.
One of the best chicken dishes I've had. Ever. And its easy too.
But first I want to demonstrate my commitment to making good chicken stock. I was quite thrilled on Saturday when the allegedly bilingual girl behind the meat counter at the Hispanic market said that they could sell me 4 pounds of leftover chicken bones, ribs, etc., if I came back the next day. Upon arriving at the store on Sunday morning (after a 20 minute drive) I was dismayed to find that there had been a miscommunication. They had packaged for me 4 pounds of chicken guts and a few spare parts such as necks. Very few bones. Very few bones = not enough collagen for a good stock.
Why did I choose to study French? Living in Florida (and the United States for that matter) I find myself wishing I knew Spanish almost on a weekly basis. How often does my French come in handy? Jamais. Maybe I should move to Quebec.
In any case, the butcher was none too happy when I tried to explain that I had no use for his bag o' guts. He gave me a look of disgust and muttered something underneath his breath. I don't know what he said, but I'm pretty sure I heard the words "loco" and "gringo." I wasn't about to leave empty handed though, so I purchased about 8 pounds of chicken legs (for only $6!) and some cilantro to make salsa. And I was off, into the pouring rain.
About halfway home I was proceeding cautiously through a blinking yellow traffic light, when out of nowhere a PT Cruiser came firing out into the intersection. I hate PT Cruisers. Slamming on the breaks, I found myself hydroplaning toward the nefarious vehicle, fortunately coming to a stop about four feet away from the cretin, blissfully anonymous behind his or her tinted windows. I couldn't help but think at that moment about the fact that, had I actually T-boned the vehicle hard, the accident scene would have been littered with about 30 raw chicken drumsticks.
Nerves shaken, I made my way home as the rain began to pour even harder. For about an hour afterward I cut the meat from these drumsticks with a dull knife. My hands sore, my kitchen looking like an abbatoir, I cursed my own temerity. And what did I get from all of it? Only 3 gallons of perfect chicken stock! Not to mention a whole lot of trimmed dark meat that will go nicely into some future dish.
Anyhow, you should try this Tarragon Dijon Chicken. It's based on a couple recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, with alterations in measurement and ingredients depending on what was at hand. One of those recipes calls for brandy instead of vermouth or white wine. I have to imagine that would be delicious. No matter which you use though, I guarantee you'll like this sauce.
Tarragon Dijon Chicken
4 chicken breasts w/rib (skin on)
1 bunch fresh tarragon
1/4 cup water
drippings from chicken
2 Tbsps. chopped tarragon
1/4 cup vermouth
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsps. dijon mustard
1) slide a sprig of tarragon between the skin and meat of each breast. Sprinkle with salt. Pour 1/4 cup water into a roasting pan and arrange chicken on a rack. Place in oven preheated at about 375 degrees.
2) The chicken should take about 20 minutes. After about 15 minutes, remove from the oven, remove from the pan, and pour the drippings into a sautee pan. The chicken should then go back on the rack and into the oven.
3) heat the sautee pan over medium high. whisk the sauce ingredients together then add to the pan with the drippings. Stir until the sauce thickens.
4) remove chicken from oven and pour sauce over the top. The sauce also tastes great with broccoli, cauliflower, or rice.
My effort to save $$ on groceries has been a mixed bag, so to speak. While I seem to have splurged on a nice chunk of raclette cheese, a couple lamb shanks, and a good bottle of suvignon blanc, I also managed to get some real bargains today. For starters, the beautiful array of produce you see above, purchased as per my weekend ritual at the Red Barn produce market in Bradenton, Florida, cost a mere THIRTEEN DOLLARS!!! For little more than the price of a movie ticket in NYC, I have enough vegetables to last a week and a half.
We also stopped by a great new hispanic market where my amigo Nick picked up some "instant" masa, and I purchased two whole tilapias, which i might bake with a sea salt crust. Mmmmmm, sea salt crust. They also have great authentic mexican food with the best tortillas I've had since I lived in New Mexico. Two tacos al pastor and a quesadilla con pollo later I was stumbling out into the sunlight thinking about how wonderful life is. The woman behind the meat counter said if I came back tomorrow she'd sell me 5 pounds of chicken carcasses! I see a giant batch of stock in the near future.
We then hit up a nearby Korean market owned by an ebullient man named Yi, whose enthusiasm for his products was infectious. I walked out with some panko crumbs, a jar of Yi's homemade kimchi (deliciously sour!) and a stout called "The Hite," which is brewed and bottled in Seoul, Korea. It's no Guinness (what is?) but it is very smooth and rich.
What to expect from Kitchen Monkey in the week to come? Well last night's chicken tarragon will make an appearance. As soon as I finish this post I'll be making dill pickles out of those tiny cukes you see, and tonight I'll be slow-roasting a pork loin. Tomorrow maybe some eggplant parmesan or babaganoush. Who knows?
Ahhhh, February in Sarasota. Perfect weather for grilling. Must enjoy it while I can; next year at this time I might well be in DC or Minnesota. Can a person even get swordfish in Minnesota? What do people eat up there? Lots of cheese I imagine. And tubers.
I'm not a huge fan of swordfish steaks, but the fishmarkets here often sell the chunks leftover from cutting the steaks as "nuggets." These nuggets sell for about $4.99 a pound and they are perfect for kebabs. One of the best meals I've ever eaten was composed simply of swordfish chunks, onions, and pineapple chunks marinated in homemade teriyaki sauce and grilled on a beach on Lido Key around sunset in late summer.
Same concept here, only I added tuna chunks, two kinds of pepper, and instead of teriyaki I used a marinade of crushed coriander seeds, crushed cumin seeds, diced onion, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I marinated it for about four hours, soaked the skewers in water, and popped the kebabs on the oiled grate of my tiny grill. Very satisfying.
This was part III of the Middle East Feast. Part IV was to be the Egyptian cous cous dessert, but while it looked purty, it wasn't really all that great, so no post.
Starting in August, the blogosphere's own culinary representative of primates everywhere will be joining the already oversaturated ranks of prospective practitioners of the nation's legal profession. Yes, Kitchen Monkey is going to law school.
Top of the list is American University in DC, but also on the list of possibilities: Minneapolis, Boston, and Gainesville, FL.
What does this mean for Kitchen Monkey the Food Blog? Well, in the long term, fewer posts, since I will not be cooking nearly as much during my first year in hell. In the short term, a flurry of posts as I try to get in as much cooking as possible.
What does all this have to do with frittatas? In the coming months more of the posts on KM will be recipes that are simpler, cheaper, and quicker, since I am trying to conserve money for law school and for the June/July trip to France. Expect more dishes like this one and Salmon in a Pouch.
You don't need many ingredients for a good frittata, but I do recommend that you have a good cast iron pan, properly seasoned. You can substitute different cheeses or vegetables quite easily. Its quick, easy, and delicious. It also goes extremely well with Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce.
Asapargus & Tomato Frittata
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. cream
1/2 cup asiago cheese, shredded (parmesan or romano are suitable)
3 shallots, sliced thinly (1 medium onion would also work)
12-15 stalks asparagus, 1 inch trimmed off the bottom and discarded, then chopped in half
1 large tomato, sliced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1) preheat oven to 325 degrees farenheit
2) with fork, whisk together eggs, water, cream, and half the cheese
3) in large cast iron pan (or oven safe sautee pan) sautee the shallots and asparagus in the oil over medium high heat
4) Turn off heat, make sure that the vegetables are evenly distributed across the surface of the pan, and pour in the egg mixture, tilting pan if necessary until surface of the frittata is flat. Place tomato slices on top.
5) place in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the top has started to brown. At this point, remove the pan, sprinkle on the remaining cheese, turn on the boiler, and place the frittata under the broiler for a minute or so.
Goes great with red wine and a nice light salad.