Paella (Kitchen Monkey Style)

The other day I was reading the most recent issue of National Geographic. Four of the articles featured animals (bats, salmon, lions, swans) and each focused on how these animals are up sh*t creek (in the case of the salmon, pretty much literally) because of human behavior.

In other words, an excellent, thought-provoking, and phenomenally depressing issue. One article, however, is about Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. The article itself is short, but the graphics that accompany it are beautiful and fascinating. Thinking about Spain always gets me thinking about food. In that sense, Spain has a lot in common with many, many other things.

In particular, my mind turned once again to paella. The missus and I received a paella pan for our wedding, but until last week I hadn't used it. That explains why there was still a label on the bottom of the pan. A label I didn't know about or see until the pan had been sitting on a medium high burner for a couple minutes. It took a few seconds to figure out why the entire house suddenly smelled like burning chemicals. The label was charred, but the pan was OK. I wish we had been filming. It would have made an excellent contribution to my show, which I plan on pitching to the Food Network. It's called Cooking While Stupid. It has been running in my kitchen for years now and includes such famous episodes as "Entire Bowl of Gazpacho All Over Floor!" and "Eccchh, That's Not Sugar!"

In any event, this paella turned out real nice, with local Chincoteague clams and all. Hearty and delicious. The spanish chorizo is really one of the best parts. Not only because the grease from frying it is great for sauteeing and flavoring the rice, but because any extra chorizo pieces you fry make for addictive appetizers while you wait. Enjoy.

Paella a la Cucina Mono

Feeds 4 to 6

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large (or 2 small) carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 bunch of fresh parsley, washed and chopped small
1/2 large (or 1 small) red bell pepper, diced

32 oz. chicken stock
12 strands saffron

1/4 cup olive oil
1 can of whole San Marzano (or regular old plum) tomatoes, chopped into large pieces
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1/2 lb. spanish chorizo, sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1/2 cup of frozen green peas

2 cups arborio rice (traditionally use bombo rice. I have no idea where to get bombo rice).
1 cup dry white wine

6 jumbo shrimp or 12 large shrimp, peeled
12 large hard shell clams, scrubbed well

Note: add any kind of seafood you want, and omit the chorizo if you want, using olive oil in its place for the rice. That would leave you with a paella de marisco. Adding the chorizo and any other meat leaves you with a paella mixta. The allegedly original version is paella valenciana, which often has beans and snails. Mmmmmm, beans and snails.


(1) in a medium saute pan, heat olive oil. Add carrots, onion, and parsley and sautee, stirring, for about 4 minutes (this makes the soffrito). Add the red pepper, stir for a few more minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
(2) in a medium sauce pan, warm up the chicken stock (don't boil) and add the saffron, stir. Keep warm but out of the way.
(3) In same pan in which you sauteed the vegetables, place 1/4 cup of olive oil and bring to medium high heat.
(4) Add tomatoes (but only about 1/4 cup of their juice) to the olive oil, along with chopped garlic. Keep over medium heat for about 15 minutes or more, until the flavors and juices are condensed.
(5) In the meantime, in a large sautee pan (without oil) over medium high heat. Spanish chorizo is already cured and doesn't need to be cooked, but frying up the pieces will release their beautiful and delicious orange fat.
(6) After the chorizo has fried for a few minutes, remove the pieces with a strainer and set aside. Place the rice in the sautee pan and stir to coat with the chorizo fat, for about four or five minutes, stirring frequently.
(7) Add white wine to rice, and stir until wine has cooked off. Turn off heat.

Now, to assemble.

In your paella pan (or other large, shallow, oven safe pan), spread the rice in an even layer on the bottom. Then spread the tomato/oil mixture in an even layer on top of that, and the soffrito mixture on top of that. Then do the same with the peas and the chorizo. Once that's done, pour the chicken stock in slowly. If your pan isn't big enough, I can't help you.

Put in the oven at about 350 degrees, for 15 minutes. Remove and test the rice. It should still be somewhat firm--not ready to eat yet. Arrange the seafood how you like. Place back in oven, and turn heat up to 400 degrees. It should be read after 10 minutes or so (or when the clams and/or mussels have all opened). As always, avoid the shellfish that don't open.

Good with crusty bread and Spanish red wine.


Bouillabaisse - Perfect Seafood Stew for a Chilly Night (Recipe)

D.C. has been cold lately. Yes, yes, it's all relative. We haven't the thick blood of you Minnesotans, Canadians, and the like (and a shout out to Akron, which I hear just got a bunch of snow). But even after five years in D.C., Florida hasn't completely left my blood. In any event, it's the kind of wind-whipping cold that keeps sensible people indoors to nestle on the couch on a Friday night with a movie and a bowl of something hot and delicious. Recently we did just that, with an incredible bouillabaisse. I urge you to make this.

Bouillabaisse is a traditional seafood stew that originated in Marseille, and I had a great bowl of it during my summer in France (but no picture of it, so no post). But until last week I had never made it. Now you can add to my growing list of food obsessions. The flavors are complex and aromatic. The rouille is a garlicky mayonnaise that is spread on toasted baguette rounds and served as described further down.

The recipe below is primarily taken from one of my favorite cookbooks. It's called "The Secrets of Success Cookbook." Nearly everything I've tried from it has been flat-out great. Published in 2000, it gathered favorite recipes from all types of restaurants in San Francisco. All that said, I have tweaked the recipe below a bit (particularly the rouille, which I found way too garlicky, and I really like garlic). I also used a different variety of seafood and made the fishstock from scratch. This recipe is for six people, but you can easily halve it and have very hearty portions for two people.

The Fish Stock

2 quart stock pot
1 lb. of fish bones or heads (make sure it's white fish. I used two pollack heads)
2 garlic cloves, smashed with the edge a knife and peeled
1/4 of a medium size onion
5 cups of water

(1) Place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil
(2) reduce to a simmer and continue simmering for about 20 minutes
(3) strain ingredients and reserve stock after it has reduced down to about 4 cups

The Rouille

1/4 red bell pepper
3-5 cloves garlic
1 egg yolk
juice of 1/2 lemon
10 threads of saffron
salt and pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

(1) In a food processor combine all ingredients except the olive oil and process
(2) while processor is on, add olive oil in a slow drip, until done. The rouille should be emulsified. If you didn't do it right and it's watery, well, I'm just not in the mood to help you right now. Google "homemade mayonnaise" or something and try again.

The Bouillabaisse

Large saute pan
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/4 garlic head, peeled and crushed with edge of knife
10 saffron threads
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced leek
1/2 cup diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup peeled and diced red potatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups of good diced tomato
zest from 1/4 of an orange
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
6 fresh basil leaves
1 fresh rosemary sprig
2 cups dry white wine
3 Tablespoons Sambuca (original called for Pernod, Pernod being French, but Sambuca is what I had and it worked just fine)
the 4 cups of fish stock from above
12 clams
18 mussels
6 large or 12 medium shrimp
1 lb. red snapper, cut into large chunks

(1) Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add garlic, onion, and saffron, and stir for 2-3 minutes
(2) Add carrot, leek, fennel, and potato, saute for 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper
(3) Add the tomatoes, zest, fennel seeds, basil, and rosemary. Stir for 3-4 more minutes
(4) Stir in wine and Sambuca (or Pernod). Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fish stock, cover pan, and simmer for 20 minutes.
(5) Add the clams and cook for about 10 minutes.
(6) Add the mussels and cook for 1 minute. Remember that if the clams or mussels don't open, they were dead before they made it in the pot. They need to go!
(7) Add the red snapper and shrimp and cook for about 3-4 minutes until snapper is firm and the shrimp are pink. Remove from the heat.

If you want to serve it traditionally, take out the seafood and place it on a platter. Then pour the remaining broth and vegetables into individual bowls. Slice a baguette into thin slices, toast, then spread the rouille on each one. Place the toast rounds floating in the broth and serve. People can select what seafood they want.

We just spooned the seafood into our bowls along with the stock, and had the toasts on the side (dipping them into the stock, of course).

Labor intensive? Yes, a bit. But trust me, this one is worth the effort. Especially on a cold night.


Panko Jumbo Shrimp Salad & Ginger Avocado Dressing

Oh the gluttony. The blissful, blissful gluttony. I ask you, verily, why content yourself with one Thanksgiving Dinner? You may have already read of our first in D.C. (see previous post). The next morning, the Missus and I drove up to Akron, Ohio for a nice long weekend with her family. Her parents were gracious enough to delay their Thanksgiving dinner by a day, which meant that we had two full turkey dinners in a row, each of them amazing.

But did we stop there? Oh no, dear readers. The following night we were generously treated by her grandparents to yet another amazing meal at an old school Akron steak house called the Diamond Grille. I'd link you to the restaurant's website, but apparently they're old school enough that they don't have a website. It has been open and in the same family for decades and decades. The steaks were large, and delicious. The martinis were perfect. The home fries were disturbingly good.

The night after that, Kitchen Monkey got to cook for the Missus' whole family (by request, I am very, very honored to say). The main course was a ragu Napoletano. You can see the bubbling goodness in the photo below. The Missus made some home made linguini to go with it. Ragu Napoletano is the southern cousin of Ragu Bolognese, and while I've perfected my Bolognese, I'm still not completely happy with my Napoletano. Ergo, no recipe here. I'll post one once I get it up to snuff.

The salad, on the other hand, was up to snuff. The shrimp were enormous. These were beyond jumbo. They were behemothic shrimp. We're talking maybe a 1/3 pound each. I deep fried them with the usual breading (flour --> egg --> panko crumb) and then arranged them on a salad comprising mixed greens, red peppers, hearts of palm, and cherry tomatoes. Yes, behemothic is a word.

The salad dressing was rather stand-out, if I may say. Sadly I didn't keep track of the proportions, so the below recipe is (I feel like I've been saying this a lot lately) only my best guess. The important thing is the ingredients though. You can play around with the proportions to your own taste.

Ginger Garlic Avocado Dressing

2 cloves garlic
1 piece of peeled ginger about the size of an average male thumb
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 to 4 Tbsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 to 3 Tbps. soy sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 to 2/3 cup of vegetable oil (or peanut oil)

(1) mince garlic and ginger in food processor, then add the avocado and process that
(2) add the lemon juice, vinegar, soy sauce and mayonnaise, process that
(3) while food processor is still going, slowly drizzle the oil in so that it all emulsifies.

This dressing was good enough that I will definitely make it again. When I do, I'll keep track of the measurements and update this post. Until then, try it! Obviously the ginger and soy give it an Asian bent, but it would work just fine on about any salad.

And now, here is the ragu, in its third hour of simmering.


Deviled Eggs - Kitchen Monkey Style

Deviled eggy-weggs: I love deviled eggy weggs. This year my sister hosted Thanksgiving dinner. Her and her husband are about to leave to work in Nigeria for two years, so we were happy to joined them and a group of good friends for a true Thanksgiving Miracle. The missus and I brought a delicious stuffing and I made the deviled eggs.

Apparently, the term "deviled" in reference to food dates back at least 1786, and was often used to refer to stuffed and/or spicy food.1 Also, apparently many church functions in the South and Midwest refer to them as "salad eggs," obviously to avoid honoring Satan through the power of mayonnaise.

Now I like the standard deviled egg just fine, but Kitchen Monkey is no Bittmanesque minimalist, not around the holidays anyway. So, looking around the kitchen and coming with up with various odds and ends, I came up with a pretty interesting sauce to match with some delicious toppings for a unique and addictive deviled egg.

Main ingredients:
12 eggs
2 heaping spoonfuls quality mayonnaise
2 ripe avocados
3 scallions
1/4 cup chopped black olives

Ingredients for the Chili-Cherry Sauce:

2 Tbsp. olive oil (for sauteeing)
1/4 of a habanero pepper (chopped)
1 serrano pepper (chopped)
1 cherry pepper (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/2 cup dried cherries
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. sweet vermouth (I imagine port wine could also be good here)
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

(1) the quantities above were estimated from memory, and may not be accurate. Deal with it. Adjust however you like.
(2) sautee the peppers in 2 Tbsp olive oil for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and sautee for a couple minutes more, then add the dried cherries and the water. Once the water has cooked off and the cherries are hydrated, remove from heat and add to your food processor.
(3) add the thyme leaves and the vermouth and puree.
(4) once fairly smooth, begin to add the olive oil slowly until it reaches the consistency you like, add salt and pepper to taste.

(5) Boil a dozen eggs, peel them, split them in half, spoon out the yolk, and mix the mayonnaise into the yolk. Go as easy as possible with the mayo, while getting a consistency you can spoon. Spoon the yolk mixture back into the eggs, but only enough to come up to top of the yolk hole, not heaping as one normally would.
(6) Cut the avocado into chunks and mash with a fork--mix with a bit of salt and pepper--until you get a chunky, not-quite-quacamole mix. Spoon a small spoonful of the avocado on top of each egg.
(7) Chop the ol and scallions and sprinkle some of each on top of the eggs.
(8) Spoon a small amount of the chili-cherry sauce on top of each egg.
(9) Eat.

[1] - Wikipedia: "Deviled Eggs"


Tuna Tataki - 2010 Update (Endangered Food!)

Hello readers! Just a short post today. It turns out that one of my most continuingly popular posts is one I did years ago about tuna tataki, which you'll find here. It still gets about 30 to 50 hits a day. So, I thought it time for a very quick update. First, now that I live in D.C., the prices I mentioned in the old post are sadly inaccurate--at least, for D.C., where sushi-grade tuna can easily run $22 per pound.

Second, and more importantly, some species of tuna (in particular the mighty bluefin and yellowfin tunas) are tragically endangered. You can see this site for a bit more information. As much as it pains me, I have stopped eating tuna unless I can find one of the non-endangered and eco-friendly varieties, and they aren't always readily available. Sigh. Sadly, it's the Japanese (who invented many of my favorite foods, including tuna tataki) who are largely responsible for the state of the bluefin tuna. They eat the vast majority of the bluefin tuna consumed in the world. And if you're Japanese, don't get all defensive on me. I aint preachin'. We Americans specialize in making species endangered or threatened. Anyway. Do your part. Enjoy tuna (and every other species) responsibly.

Yeah, OK, I am preaching. Big deal.


A Mad Men Cocktail Party - Fondue, Gimlets, & Gourmet Hot Dogs of Yore

Last night was the season premiere of Mad Men, and to commemorate the occasion we--along with some fellow SASOU'ers--joined for a circa-1964 cocktail party. Apart from the new episode itself, the evening was made by two things: a vintage Betty Crocker Cookbook, and some serious fondue. We'll address the fondue later, but first get a load of this:

And you thought hot dogs were low-brow American cuisine! Learn the techniques above and you'll wow everybody at your next backyard BBQ! Impress the hell out of the boss and his wife, and maybe even land a date with Darlene, that hot little number from accounts receivable.

So the very tattered Cookbook, from whence the above photo was taken, was an heirloom handed down from our host's mother to him. The book is full of seriously dated recipes that slant heavily toward jello salads and casseroles. You'll find a couple more excellent photos from the cookbook at the bottom of this post.

The gathering was also a perfect excuse to break in the new Cuisinart fondue set (one of many gadgets from the registry).

Ours is a metal, non-stick, electric fondue pot, which provides for very nice control, but ... non-stick interior, sharp metal fondue forks? How is that a good idea? In any event, the cheese fondue was good. Our host's fondue set was made of cast iron, and instead of electricity is heated by the flame from an alcohol burner.

The heat control seemed a bit trickier than on the electric set, but I like the cast-ironness of it. We used his set for the chocolate, coating both strawberries as well as mint-flavored marshmallows that the missus made from scratch (perhaps we can get her to post the recipe in the comments? Hint hint!) (Also, for this blog, we're still waiting on a better name than "the missus.").

The vodka martinis and the gimlets flowed, and the first episode of season four left us grateful that Mad Men is back, disappointed that Salvatore seems to be off the show, but relieved that Thally finally lotht her lithp.

Dora, the Hindu goddess of 1950s suburbian domestic entertainment

This is a recipe for a pineapple cake which our host actually made. And it was good! I'm not so sure I would say the same if he had made the casserole with enormous chunks of (pork?) loin resting in the midst of what seemed to be macaroni mixed with cream of mushroom soup.


Southern Utah and Vegas (Octopus, Slots, Polygamists, and Ponyo Pancakes)

Ahhhh how I miss the desert lands of southern Utah. The sweeping vistas, the towering red rocks, the sunsets, the dry heat, the fundamentalist Mormons. KM grew up in various western states, and spent wonderful days, decades distant, in the canyons near St. George, UT. How great it was to return! Riding through the desert, the top of Pa's convertible Mustang down, I heard Calexico music playing in my head as I watched hawks circle in the sky above and imagined that every RV we passed was a meth lab (the missus and I are big fans of Breaking Bad).

With family in St. George, Utah, a little over 2 hours from Las Vegas, we took a week's vacation that included hiking the slot canyons, a trip through Zion Nat'l Park, a very brief night in Las Vegas, and of course, a lot of excellent food. Let's recap, shall we?

The photo you see here was from the last night of the trip, when we stayed for a night at the Palazzo Hotel in Vegas. The photo just below was taken from our room on the 44th floor, looking down on the hotel pools far below.

We spent most of the day inhaling rum drinks while sitting in those pools. At night, we had a costly but delicious dinner at B & B Ristorante, located inside the long hall between the Palazzo and the Venetian. This is one of Mario Batali's places. I've never been a huge fan of the red-headed, girthful, TV chef, and I'm always very skeptical about restaurants owned by celebrity chefs (particularly ones who wear crocs--I don't give a fig if they're popular in the industry, they're damned ugly), but I have to say the grilled octopus appetizer and the short ribs were pretty good. The place does have possibly the worst view of any higher-priced restaurant anywhere.

Prior to Vegas, we spent a few days in St. George, including time by the pool, and a birthday dinner I cooked for my brother, consisting of fish tacos and (for me and the missus) some delicious Polygamy Porter. The slogan for the brew is "why have just one?" Ahhhh, those cheeky non-Mormon Utahns (yes, "Utahns" is the proper designation).

Prior to that was a trip to the breathtaking Zion National Park. After a day spent hiking, we refreshed ourselves with beer and excellent food at the Spotted Dog. The menu, like many in high-tourist zones, is fairly standard fare, but the food was excellent, and unlike B & B the Spotted Dog has one of the better views of any restaurant:

Incidentally, the photo you see at the very top of this post was from a hike we did in Kannaraville Canyon, one of the many "slot" canyons in southern Utah.

And I almost forgot! My adorable niece, who was also visiting St. George with my brother and his family, is a huge fan of Ponyo, the latest creation of the completely brilliant and unsurpassable Hayao Miyazaki (if you have not seen Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, or Nausicaa, I feel genuinely envious of you. Go rent or buy them NOW!) Anyway, since she was obviously enraptured with the movie and its title character, a young goldfish/mermaid, I ran to the store for a bit of food coloring and made this "Ponyo Pancake," which she devoured immediately, getting syrup in her hair in the process.


Sad Monkey - A brief lesson in trademarking

Yes, I know, I promised a post about the recent food adventures in Utah and Las Vegas, and you'll get that tomorrow, but first I would like to address a little beef (and I'm not talking about veal).

I began looking into registering a trademark for the name "Kitchen Monkey" to protect it from fiendish interlopers, when I discovered that a year and a half ago some internet startup bloke regsitered the name "Kitchen Monki" for a recipe site. Now, I've looked at the site, and frankly, I like it just fine. But WHY....WHY....WHY did he have to use the name "Kitchen Monki"?????? Granted, he altered the spelling. Who knows, perhaps because he saw that this blog has been in operation since 2004 and he might have some trademarking problems of his own.

Yes yes, it's my damn fault for not registering sooner. Trademark law rewards the attentive (or may I say, opportunistic). And yes, I could still fill out a registration application and hope that my spelling will make it past some attorney at the trademark office. But if it doesn't--if that attorney thinks it's too similar to "Kitchen Monki"-- I have to eat the $350 non-refundable application fee! Sheesh. I don't have that kind of extra cash laying around right now, so let's take a vote:

(1) continue on as "Kitchen Monkey," hope the person behind "Kitchen Monki" is content to leave this blog alone, hope that no future person trademarks "Kitchen Monkey," and give up any notions of a book deal under that name (ha ha ha).

(2) change the name of this blog and register it with the trademark office so this doesn't happen again. I am loathe to change the name, since I've been Kitchen Monkey for six years now. And I like the banner graphic too. Hmmmmm . . . "Kitchen Velociraptor"? "Kitchen Black-Spined Atlantic Tree Rat"?
On the off chance that I have any readers who are intellectual property attorneys, your opinions are most welcome.



HEAT WAVE - Summer Grilling and Beach Adventures

Kitchen Monkey just returned home from a week-long adventure in southern Utah and Las Vegas, NV (more on that trip next post) to find Washington, D.C. sagging in the haze of record temperatures. Firing up the iMac and longing already for the dry desert heat, I've decided this is as good a time as any to post on some recent summer adventures in and around D.C.

A couple weeks ago KM and the Missus (who will be doing some guest posting and has yet to choose her blogname--suggestions welcome!!) followed some friends to Ocean City, Maryland. I typically go more for the quaint beach villages such as Chincoteague, Virginia over the giant boardwalk, Jersey-Shore, kitsch-fests such as Virginia Beach and Ocean City, but there's no denying this was a great trip.

Our small group split a fifth-floor room overlooking the ocean. Our day was divided roughly into four acts. Act One: scarily gigantic cocktails while watching the ill-fated U.S.-Ghana World Cup Match (a moment of silence please). Act Two: wave-jumping in the Atlantic. Someone swears they saw a shark, and at least three of us were pinched (surprisingly hard) by crabs while swimming. As you can see in the above pic, we had our revenge. Act Three: lunch (on both Saturday and Sunday) at "On the Bay" - a great little seafood shack about a block from the beach. Ignore the fact that it is not actually "on the bay," and ignore the fact (if you can) that they appear to have the same Jimmy Buffet CD playing on constant rotation. They have high quality and reasonably large oysters, which are getting more expensive (just another reason to hate BP). They also have excellent king crabs and shrimp, but the specialty would be the local blue crabs, of which I ate far too many.

Act Four: as night fell, we retired to the hotel and grilled some delicious marinated vegetables and lamb cubes and watched as a red moon rose above the water, which you can see here.

Going further back in time, I wanted to post some pics of a recent grilling. The burger you see here was produced solely with locally grown or raised ingredients purchased at the Mt. Pleasant farmer's market just down the street from us. It includes ground beef and greens from Truck Patch Farms, and my favorite, Monocacy Ash goat cheese from Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Company, which recently won a bronze medal at the 2009 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.

This burger was really truly delicious. The Missus also made her trademark ice cream sandwiches (which she says New Englanders call a Chipwich), with chocolate chip cookies sandwiching home made vanilla ice cream, with the edges rolled in chocolate chips. Perhaps she'll post the recipe here soon.

Hope you're all having a great summer, and feel free to send links to or comment on your own favorite grilling ideas for this summer.

Next up, Vegas, baby.


Kitchen Monkey Done Got Hitched!

That's right folks: June 5, 2010. Any attempt in this blog to describe how meaningful and wonderful it all was would come up short. That said, allow me to set the scene.

It was an intensely classy affair, with the ceremony and cocktail hour held on the rooftop of the Hay Adams Hotel, which is across the street from the White House, with only a brief strip of Lafayette Park in between. The photo you see above was taken from said roof top. If you're going to wed in D.C., I can't imagine a better backdrop than this. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Obama did not accept our invitation, despite being just across the street, but they did send us a card wishing us a happy future together. I'm not even kidding. OK, granted, it was no doubt an intern with pre-singed stationery whose sole job is to answer wedding and birthday party invitations from the lowly masses, but I still think it's pretty cool.

After the ceremony, the Hay Adams served hors d'oeuvres, which I'm told were delicious, but which I did not get to eat, sadly, as I was down in Lafayette Park being photographed with family and the bridal party. This is a good time to mention our photographer, Thomas Graves. We couldn't have been happier with him--he was great to work with. The photos you see below are his. You'll not see better pics than this on Kitchen Monkey, ever.

The reception was held in the Lafayette Room, which is normally a restaurant. The guests were served a lobster bisque appetizer, a caprese-like salad, and for the entree, fillet mignon, sea bass, and a gratin. It was all delicious, though honestly, with all the well-wishing and guest-greeting, I didn't get to eat everything that was served (including all the beautiful desserts seen below, which I missed entirely). In any event, it was an amazing fantastic day that I will remember forever. I'm a very lucky monkey.


Paella (and Boiling Springs, PA)

It's a good feeling to have somebody specially request that you cook a favorite dish. It means that you did it right the last time. It also means you have a chance to outdo the last time.

A few weeks ago my sister requested that I make a paella for her 29th birthday. So the weekend of April 3, I and the soon-to-be "Mrs. Kitchen Monkey" piled into the car with my other sister, her husband, and my year-old nephew (whose name--Jacques-César--practically mandates a future as an internationally renowned Casanova). We zipped up from Washington, D.C. to Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania for a proper hootenanny and feast.

Joe Baker, who I mentioned in my last post, brought an excellently cooked salmon, and I slapped together the paella you see above. An indecent amount of wine was tipped back and much food was eaten. We pushed ourselves away from the table, and got out the instruments. My sister's friend (and co-worker at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) brought his accordion. My sister played mandolin, I had my guitar, Joe had his harmonicas, and Laura (another friend of lil' sis) had her bodhran (a circular celtic drum, for those not in the know). We played well into the night, and everyone left full and happy.

My paella never turns out the same way twice, since I tend to make it on the fly with a rotating variety of ingredients. But here's the closest approximation. Keep in mind, the following points:

  • I offer no pretenses that this is "authentic" paella. I think it probably started from a recipe in a Spanish cookbook years ago, but over time I've either consciously altered or just forgotten parts of the original.
  • quantities of nearly everything here are very negotiable and should be toyed with according to your personal preferences.
  • I did not have a true paella pan with me, but instead used various pans. If you don't have a paella pan, the important thing is that it go on the range and in the oven.
  • Though I was cooking for 12, I've cut the recipe in half here, so it should make paella for about 5 or 6.
A generous amount of extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup onion chopped
1 red bell pepper (or 1/2 red and 1/2 orange), chopped
1/3 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced

1 link of Spanish Chorizo, sliced into rounds about 1/2 inch thick
1 lb. chicken thigh or breast meat, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sweet paprika (if you only have one kind of paprika, just use 2 Tbsp of that)
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (san marzano if you're serious)
32 oz. chicken stock (I used a veal/chicken stock I made earlier this year and froze--delicious!)
16 oz. fish stock (you could instead make a stock by boiling the shells of your shrimp)

15 to 18 clams
1/3 to 1/2 lb. of squid, cleaned and sliced (use tubes and tentacles)
1/3 lb. shrimp, peeled
15 to 18 mussels

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large saute pan over medium high heat to make a nice soffrito. After about 7 to 10 minutes, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Pull off the heat and set aside for the moment.

In your paella pan (it must be range and oven safe, remember) or cast iron, or whatever you're using, add the chorizo over medium high heat. Cook a few minutes. Spanish chorizo is already cooked, so you don't want to cook them too long, just enough to release some of that delicious grease. Once there is a nice bit of grease, remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon. Add the chicken to the chorizo grease and cook over high heat until the chicken is browned on both sides. Then remove the chicken.

Add a little olive oil to the remaining grease, and then add the rice. Cook for about five minutes over high heat, stirring here and there, until the rice begins to brown.

Add the vegetable mix to the rice, then the chorizo and the chicken. Then add salt and pepper and the paprika. Stir for a couple minutes over medium high heat. Then add the crushed tomatoes and both types of stock. Stir everything well. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes.

Check to see if there is still a bit of liquid left in the pan. You don't want too much left, but you don't want your rice burning either.

Once the rice is about 15 minutes from being done (test it!), add the clams and the shrimp and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Check it. If the clams are just starting to open, that's the time to add the squid and the mussels, both of which will take less cooking time than the clams.

Season with salt and pepper if necessary, and serve with a delicious crusty bread and plenty of good Spanish wine.


Joe Baker's Damn Good Salsa (and Huevos Rancheros Redux)

Finding this salsa recipe was a bit like finding religion, but better! I got both the euphoria and the feeling that I'd been wandering aimlessly for too many years before the discovery--but without feeling judged or having to listen to hymns that sound, perhaps unintentionally, like plodding, joyless dirges.

Now that I've trivialized something that billions hold dear and invited angry comments (there I go again, assuming actual readership exceeding five persons), allow me to apologize and talk about the salsa.

I have made my own salsa since I was a wastrel of a teenager in Albuquerque, New Mexico who couldn't cook a lick. Even as my kitchen skills have improved over the years, my salsas have only occasionally risen above shrug-producing.

A few weeks ago, however, while visiting one of my sisters in the tiny town of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, I was introduced to a real true connoisseure of good food, a scholar of history, and a mean blues harp player: Joe Baker. (You can check out his entertaining blog here, where he posits on a wide variety of subjects).

Joe treated us to some seriously good venison quesadillas. The salsa was addictive, and lucky for me (and now you), he relayed the recipe. I print it below in full in its original form. I've made it three times since, each time with different tomatoes and different combinations of peppers, and all of them have been great, if not as great as the original.

A couple weeks ago, a Sunday brunch gave me the chance to share the salsa with friends, topping as it did a near-perfect batch of heuvos rancheros. I'll freely admit I'm getting further and further away from the old-school standby of simply beans, eggs, and a tortilla. These days I'm crock-potting the beans overnight in a combination of san marzano crushed tomatoes, beer, ancho pepper, cumin, garlic, and parsley. The potatoes are half-boiled, then fried in a bit of olive oil and a good dose of cumin and smoked paprika. Then I serve it all with poached eggs, slab bacon, fresh cilantro, guacamole, flour tortillas, chopped jalapeno, and a good sharp cheddar. I was already entering the upper reaches of Paradiso with my huevos rancheros. Now that I've added this salsa, I can hear Beatrice singing and the Holy Ghost settin' the breakfast table.

Try it yourself, and see the light. And five million thanks to Joe Baker. I'll be making this salsa for years and years to come.

Joe’s Salsa


· 1 whole chipotle or about a tablespoon of chipotle powder (KM's note: I used chipotle in adobo sauce, since it was all I had, but you're better off with a straight chipotle or the powder)

· 1 whole ancho or about two tablespoons of ancho chili powder

· ½ teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seed

· About a cup of fresh or frozen fresh cilantro

· 1 whole fresh jalapeno (or whatever number you like to make the salsa spicy, cayenne’s work OK too) (KM's note: I'm a sucker for habanero, and it tastes good with this too, if you don't overdo it).

· A teaspoon of sea salt

· A heaping tablespoon (more or less) of brown sugar or honey

· 2 cloves of garlic

· ½ medium onion, diced

· 3 or 4 medium sized fresh, ripe home grown tomatoes or a large can of crushed tomatoes

Add everything but the tomatoes to a food processor and blend them thoroughly, then add the tomatoes and blend again. You can also make this by hand. Soak the dried chilies in warm water, then chop them and everything else together in a large bowl. Store in the fridge. Makes about a quart. This salsa has no oil and is not cooked. The garlic will go rancid in about a week. If you freeze it, it will get watery (although it’s still good). I guess that means you should enjoy it within a week! JB


SASOU Chef Competition - 2008/2009

(apologies to Max Von Sydow)

This was no ordinary cooking competition. Iron chef? Mere celebrity twaddle. Top chef? Sniveling amateurs.

This, my friends, was S.A.S.O.U -- "Super Awesome Supreme Overlord of the Universe" Chef.

The idea of having a cooking competition started with my friend Amy some time ago. Organizing eight busy schedules dragged the competition over a period of a year, and we haven't SASOU'ed recently, but it was great fun and there are some good pictures, so I thought it worthy of a post.

A quick overview, then some photos: 8 friends, divided into four teams of two people each. Four separate episodes/meals. Each episode featured a different key ingredient. Each team was responsible for a different course - salad, appetizer, entree, dessert - and each course had the same common ingredient for that episode. The first dinner was based on the pear. The second, sweet potato. Third, ginger. Fourth, hazelnut. Dishes were judged and scored in various categories, including creative use of ingredient, presentation, and taste.

A delicious appetizer based on sweet potatoes, with beets and pistachios

The Prize: the winning team received a dinner at Nage, a great restaurant in D.C. (where our friend Glen Babcock happens to be the head chef), paid for by the other three teams.

It was awful close (and of course, pretty subjective), but in the end, Kitchen Monkey and his fiancee pulled slightly ahead for the victory. I was endlessly impressed with what the other teams came up with. My team's best dish (I think) was our dessert: Triple-ginger Snap Cookies with Fresh Berries, Ginger Zabaglione, and Raspberry Sauce. Check it out. Thanks to Scott for the photos.

Team Kitchen Monkey's Ginger Zabaglione dessert

A delectable hazelnut cake

A pear and goat cheese salad

Sweet Potato Bisque and Scorecard

Team Kitchen Monkey's salad entry, with hazelnut-encrusted tuna tataki and
goat-cheese-stuffed tortelloni made from hazelnut flour

A hazelnut-based mezze selection, including
excellent home-made pickles


Snowmageddon (and Creamed Eggs on Toast, a comfort breakfast))

After almost a week of being snowed in, Kitchen Monkey's D.C. row-house is starting to feel more and more like the Overlook Hotel. We have had some great fun in this surreal, once-in-a-lifetime storm, including homemade pizza and game night with various neighbors, and an epic game of snowball fight/capture the flag (documented by yours truly, here).

Before moving on to the breakfast and the recipe, check out this time delay slideshow taken from the front window of our house, starting before the big storm and lasting until the next day. Pay particular attention to the tree (or bush?) across the street toward the left side as it sags with snow and then springs back up after the snow either fell off (or, more likely, was shaken off by the owner). You can also see berried branches in our yard begin to sag with snow in the frosty foreground.

You can also check out a brief video here of the same scene during the subsequent February 10 blizzard (dubbed "Snoverkill"). Now, onto the grub.

Creamed eggs on toast has always been a comfort food for me, and was one of my favorite breakfasts when I was a kid. It's great for a wintry stay-in and takes only minutes to make. Most recipes I have seen call for hard-boiled and chopped eggs, but my mother always scrambled them, so that's how I do it. Sorry, no picture. In any event, it's nothing to write home about, aesthetically speaking.

Creamed Eggs on Toast
Serves two or three, depending on how hungry you are.
  • 4 eggs, scrambled in a bit of butter (make the curds not too large, but not too small either)
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. AP flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 to 6 pieces of toast
Scramble the eggs as mentioned above. Make toast.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour and salt, to make a roux. Slowly add the milk while stirring, until all milk is added and the sauce thickens. Add the scrambled eggs, a bit of pepper, some sweet paprika, and serve over toast. That's it.


Kitchen Monkey Getting Married! (and Restaurant Daniel, and Other Matters)

Yes, it's true! I'm tying the knot, and there's much to tell about that, along with an amazing engagement dinner at Daniel in Manhattan, but first a bit about the long absence.

Shamefully, it has been around a year and a half since my last post. I've been busy with work, recording music, and yes, cooking. Somehow the blog fell by the wayside, but I'm hoping to change that. Yes, I know I've said that before. No, I'm not assuming that you care.

I want to note one other sad aspect of my long absence. Until the later years of this blog, I was linking all the photos from Photobucket. Well...my Photobucket account went dormant, I didn't do anything about it, and now ALL of those photos are gone. In their place you will see an image saying that my account no longer exists. Bastards. Over time I will replace many of them, but many others are on a long-gone computer, and are therefore forever gone. But enough about the past! Onward to the future!

There have been numerous interesting food adventures in the past year or so--sojourns to out-of-the-way butcher shops and farms; fantastic farmers markets; excellent D.C. area restaurants--but two adventures easily stand out. The first is the SASOU Chef cooking competition/supper club that Kitchen Monkey and seven friends formed over a year ago. SASOU deserves its own post, however, and will have to wait. The second was a truly phenomenal dinner at a truly phenomenal restaurant: Daniel.

That dinner was part of what I would say was a perfect day, the day I proposed to my soon-to-be-wife. Without going into too much detail, I proposed in a secluded part of Central Park in Manhattan, she was surprised, and she said yes. She knew we had reservations at Daniel. She didn't know it was going to be an engagement dinner.

This is the lovely dining room at Daniel. Executive chef and owner, Daniel Boulud, opened this restaurant in 1993 and in 1998 it moved to its current location at Park Avenue and 65th Street in Manhattan. In 2008 renovations were completed to its interior, the one you see above. It has been called one of the ten best restaurants in the world. The President of France has made Boulud a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. The restaurant has three Michelin stars in the 2010 Michelin, the book's highest rating. It is elegant, grand, and any other hyperbolic synonym you can find for those words.

It is also out-of-this world expensive. Kitchen Monkey is not a wealthy man. He has a mountain of law school debt. But obviously this was an extremely special occasion. Was it worth it? YES. Will I be able to go again any time in the next five to ten years? Probably not.

First, I should describe the service, and if in doing so I sound like a hick who just saw his first skyscraper, so be it. First we were seated in the cocktail lounge to await our table and sip perfect (and we're talking 'Platonic Form' here) martinis. Not too much later, we were shown to our table in the dining room pictured above.

Over the course of the evening we were assisted by at least seven different people, each one with a different role, and each one of them like ninjas: their movements smooth and effortless, sometimes too quick to be noticed. Not long after we sat down, my fiancee asked me if I had seen what had just happened. I had not. She explained how she had sat down, placing her pocketbook (a $12 Filene's Basement affair) on the table. Almost before she had even noticed, a waiter/ninja had silently slipped her pocketbook off the table and placed it on a small plush pedestal next to the table. I had not noticed any of this.

Moments later, we looked up to see another man folding my fiancee's scarf (also from Filene's Basement--$20) in crisp, perfect folds, and setting it across the back of her chair, to keep it from touching the floor. In a French accent he said "this is my job...this is all I do...I fold scarves." It turned out later he was the sommelier.

But the food! How was it? I'm not Shakespeare, but allow me to wax poetic: GOD DAMN IT WAS AMAZING.

I started with sauteed foie gras (feel free to hate, all you haters, I understand why it's wrong and actually agree. I am not always a rational being and am aware that I may spend the afterlife being pecked for eternity by angry geese).

My main course was a stunningly tender venison loin that made me want to weep with joy. My fiancee's main course was a fillet of turbot, which was baked on a block of salt from Spain, I think. It was wheeled out to the table still on said block of salt. Another french-accented waiter effortlessly filleted the fish at our table. It was served with pureed parsnips which I have to assume had as much butter as parsnip and were remarkable.

For dessert I had a ganache, and it was decadent and delicious. During the entire meal we were treated wonderfully. I don't know how much that had to do with the fact that the staff knew ahead of time that this was an engagement dinner. Would we get the same treatment on an average visit? Don't know. Don't much care. They also brought us an additional dessert, with the word "congratulations" written in chocolate in fine cursive on the plate. Nice touch.

After dinner, the assistant manager came over and asked us how everything was. He was very helpful when I asked where we might find a cigar bar. There happened to be one the next block down, called Macanudo. It is one of maybe four or five places left in Manhattan that allow indoor smoking. We finished the night there with a cigar and cognac, and happened to sit next to a woman who had just gotten engaged that day. Even the initially-frosty bartender warmed up to us once she overheard that we had just gotten engaged.

In short, it was a wonderful day. One I will never forget.