Osso Buco - or, The Only Way I'll Eat Veal

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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.


Another Legal Monkey in the Making

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.

- 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.



Mussels with Thyme and White Wine Cream Sauce - Recipe

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Wine, cream, and butter. The holy trinity of the devout epicurean. Together they produce a magic strong enough to bless many a dish, and this is probably my favorite. AKA "moules mariniere" without the cream, or "moules a la crème" with it. Famous at Belgian and French bistros, you'll spend significantly less if you make it on your own.

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)

serves 2

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)

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Weekend Trip to Twin Cities (Tom Yam Redux & a New Fish Sauce)

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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:

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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:

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Tilapia (and reminiscing about my bygone days of fishing)

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I have been fishing only two or three times in the past ten years, but for me, growing up out west with a father who worked for the US Forest Service, fishing was an inevitable pastime. We were not real fishermen. It was never approached with the intense seriousness you find in some fishing enthusiasts, the kind of intensity that is matched only by those who devote most of their thoughts to golf. Fishing for my family was one of many activities that were part of the camping "package," such as hiking, roasting marshmallows, playing capture-the-flag, and yelling at each other.

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.


Turkey en Escabeche

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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.