Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Into the briny deep with the Daring Cooks


Audax Artifex returned as a host of the Daring Cooks this month and challenged us to brine then roast meat, vegetables or seeds. In true audax fashion, he gave us very clear instructions on how to properly brine and cook our food as well as excellent detail on the advantages of doing so.

Brining isn’t new to us; in fact we brined a chicken breast in tea for a challenge about a year ago. We also brine our Thanksgiving turkey each year – once you try it you won’t go back to dry turkey!

Still, this is a tool we rarely pull out of the arsenal – I think there’s something about planning in advance that we just fail at every time. So the challenge was well positioned to remind us that brining isn’t just for turkey and that it doesn’t have to be an overnight/multi-day affair.

To try to prove this to ourselves, we brined pork chops for a simple weeknight dinner. When we got home from work, we simply popped the pork into a bath of salt, brown sugar, a couple of drops of soy sauce, a piece of star anise and a few coriander seeds and pepper corns for good measure. And no, i didn’t measure any of it.

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An hour later, we broiled the pork chops in the oven and 10 minutes later dinner was ready. (your actual time may vary).

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While the pork cooked, we sautéed green beans, cooked up a bed of mushrooms and boiled rice. And we swear to take the moment to brine again on an ordinary night like this. It really does make a difference.

The beauty of a brine is that you can add a subtle flavor without a lot of prep time – at least not hands-on prep, which is the only kind I really count. Tea makes a great brine, herbs and juniper berries are wonderful. And just plain salt water will still add moistness and a depth of flavor to your dish. Go lightly with the spiciness and saltiness – you want to be careful not to have an unpleasantly salty meal, but to be able to get a modest amount of flavor all the way through it.

Audax of Audax Artifax was our November 2012 Daring Cooks’ host. Audax has brought us into the world of brining and roasting, where we brined meat and vegetables and roasted them afterwards for a delicious meal!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More Pork – Feijoada with the Daring Cooks


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Rachel Dana was our October 2012 Daring Cooks' Challenge hostess! Rachel brought Brazil into our lives by challenging us to make Feijoada and Farofa along with some other yummy side dishes traditionally served with Feijoada, which is a delicious black bean and pork stew.

The Feijoada challenge was a treat - only one of us Chez Monkeyshines had ever had it – and that was many years ago. We have no idea whether we came close, but did enjoy the savory stew – perfect for the cooler days of autumn and winter.

This meal took the better part of a day to put together, but then we had leftovers for several days (delicious lunch!) so it really was worth it. It’s sort of a Brazilian cassoulet – beans and meats cooked slowly in a cauldron. The thing is where cassoulet is a one-pot meal you can’t just make feijoada; you also make collard greens, farofa, rice and vinagrete to serve with it. The dish really did taste best with a little bit of this and a little bit of that so we’re happy we did (mostly) follow the recipes and make the whole kit and caboodle.

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2 cups (1 lb) dried black beans (produces about 6 cups of cooked beans)
12 oz chunk bacon (half will be used in the farofa)
2 pounds of mixed meats, we used:
   1 ham hock
   8 oz Spanish chorizo
   6 oz ham
4 bay leaves
3 tablespoons onion-garlic base (actually, I just chopped an onion and added a couple of cloves of garlic to the beans though we later made the onion-garlic base and used it in the rice)


Wash thoroughly, and soak overnight. I rinsed and refreshed the water several times, then later noticed that the recipe said not to (in order to preserve the inky black color). No harm done, the taste is what counts!

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I chopped the onion and added it to the beans along with 4-5 garlic cloves, the bay leaves and the ham hock in a dutch oven and cooked a few hours until the beans were tender. the water level when you start cooking should be about an inch over the beans – not much more or you’ll end up with a watery stew.

When the beans were cooked, I removed the ham hock, removed the meat from the bone and returned the meat to the pot of beans.

While the beans are cooking, you can first prepare the onion-garlic base, the recipe is below, and then the (rest of the) meats.

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Chop all your bacon into small cubes. Slice your sausages around a ¼ - ½ inch thick. Cut any pork or other meats into 1-inch cubes.

Fry the bacon cubes until nicely crisped. Throw half the bacon into the beans and set the rest aside for the farofa. Pour off and reserve any extra fat – I used some of it in the farofa too.

Next fry the meats individually in the same pan you used for the bacon until well browned then add them to the beans.

Continue simmering until the stew is nice and thick, at least another hours. You can also mash some beans at the bottom of the pot to thicken your liquid. While it cooks, you can prepare the rest of the items. 

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Note: Our stew came out fairly salty (but not unpleasantly so) as we used only cured meats. As a result we added no additional salt to this or any of the other items we served it with. If you use a different mix of meats – it seems like this is one of those dishes where you should really be using whatever looks good/is on hand – then you may want to season it a bit once the beans are cooked.


Collard Greens

Servings: 2-4

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We’d never had collard greens and were a bit nervous. We shouldn’t have been – they were quite tasty, a lot like kale, and a perfect accompaniment to the rich, slightly salty stew.


1 bunch collard greens
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp onion-garlic base
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the greens and cut out the stems. Stack the leaves on top of each other and tightly roll them up together. Keep a good hold to keep everything together and slice thinly.

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When everything else is ready to serve, heat olive oil in a large saute pan over med-high heat. Add 1onion-garlic base, and let soften for a minute. Add all the collards at once, and stir to coat with oil. You can add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for only about a minute, you just want to them to start to soften, evenly, over quick high heat.


Onion-Garlic Base

This is enough for later use as well, if you want, you can halve the recipe. We only made a small amount for the greens and the rice…

2 medium white onions
4 large cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon salt

Roughly chop the onions and garlic, then puree everything in a food processor or blender.



Servings: 2-4

Farofa  is made with farinha de manioca, yellow yucca flour, cooked in butter until slightly toasted. Less butter will leave it drier, and more butter will make a softer farofa. It is also made with farinha de milho, corn flour, or farinha de rosca, ground up dry breadcrumbs.

You can find mandioca flour at many different Latin American markets. It can be called mandioca flour, mandioc flour, yucca flour, cassava flour, but they should all be the same, though a Brazilian brand would be your best bet.

Farofa is best served alongside foods with moisture, such as meats, beans, vinagrete, etc. You can add just about anything to farofa, as long as it doesn’t have moisture, such as any cooked vegetables, meats, or chopped banana.

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We made ours with chopped carrot & mild chile peppers instead of the egg. I know it’s not even a remotely close substitute but given Rachel’s leeway described above, we stick with our decision. We also used about half butter, half bacon fat to give it flavor. the result is dry and a bit weird, but a good accompaniment to the rest of the meal. We used the corn flour rather than yucca flour since we already had it on hand.

¼ cup  butter
2 large eggs (we used 2 carrots diced & 2 small, mild chiles)
½ cup chopped onion (about ½ medium onion)
6 oz bacon, diced and cooked which was set aside during the feijoada
½ cup yucca flour, corn flour or fine ground cornmeal, or dry breadcrumbs

Melt half of your butter over med-high heat. Add the onions and carrots (if using) and cook for a few minutes until they start to soften. If you want to follow the recipe, crack the two eggs (yuck..)into the pan and lightly break the yolk and spread around, but don’t break up too much.

Feijoada 016When the egg has cooked almost fully, break up into med-large pieces. The onions will brown quite a bit under the egg.

Add the cooked bacon, and stir. Add the rest of the butter and stir to melt. Lower the heat to medium, toss in the yucca flour and stir well, it will quickly soak up all the butter and start to stick to the bits.

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Cook, stirring for minute, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and keep stirring and cooking until the yucca flour has clumped together nicely and become golden, about 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to brown too much. It should taste toasty.


Servings: 6

Vinagrete, like farofa, has many variations and uses. This is a basic recipe, very refreshing and really gives a lift to the final plate.

1 large bell pepper
1 large tomato
1 medium onion
½ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup  olive oil
2 tablespoon  water
2 – 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Dice the bell peppers, tomatoes and onions. Chop your parsley. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and stir well to combine. Press down on the veggies, the liquid should come almost to the top of the mixture, you want everything pretty much immersed.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

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White Rice

Servings: 4

1 cup white long grain rice
3 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons onion-garlic base
boiling water


Wash your rice in a sieve and let it dry. Heat oil in pot and add the onion-garlic base, cook for a minute to soften. Add the dried rice and stir-fry for 2 minutes, constantly stirring so it doesn’t stick to the pot or burn. Add enough boiling water so the water comes up 2 fingers over the rice. Cover and simmer for around 20 minutes and turn off heat. Fluff with a fork, cover, and let rest for another 10 minutes.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Witches’ Finger Cookies


These cookies won the prize at last year’s Halloween party at my company. Of course they did. They were hilarious and just a tad creepy. Honestly, I was a little grossed out while making them, even though I knew full well they were perfectly harmless. More than that, they were actually quite tasty: matcha shortbread. Not too sweet. What’s not to like? I still found it hard to nibble on a crooked finger.

But nibble people did. They are actually quite nice – very nicely flavored with the green tea powder and not too sweet. If you’re a sugar junkie (we aren’t chez Monkeyshines), you might even want to sweeten them up a bit. The recipe is from a much more adult (in the grown up way, not the x-rated way) interpretation from Lovescool’s blog.

Green Tea Cookies

Yield:  Approx 15 fingers

3/4 cup (2.25 oz) Confectioners sugar
5 oz Unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 3/4 cup (8.5 oz) All-purpose flour
3 Large egg yolks
1.5 TBS Matcha (powdered green tea)
10-20 blanched almonds – optionally sliced in half across the width so that they are thinner
1 cup Granulated sugar (for coating)


  • Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • Whisk the confectioner’s sugar and green tea together in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  • Add the butter and green tea/sugar mixture to the sugar in the bowl. Mix until smooth and light in color.
  • Add the flour and mix until well combined.
  • Add the egg yolks and mix just until the eggs are fully incorporated and a mass forms.
  • Form the dough into a disk and chill in the refrigerator until firm (about 30 minutes).
  • Cut the dough with bench cutter into roughly 1 1/2” chunks (they don’t have to be perfectly even, as you want your fingers to vary in size).
  • Roll each chunk out into a rope that tapers smoothly on one end. Pinch the dough to make knuckle shapes. I lightly cut each knuckle with the dough cutter to put in the creases that fingers have. I also lifted some of the fingers at the knuckles just a bit so that they’d curve.

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  • Press an almond half into the end of the dough to form a ‘fingernail’. B esure to press firmly, otherwise they’ll fall out. (If this happens, you can glue them back on with a touch of icing.)
  • Gently roll each cookie in a bowl of granulated sugar to coat.
  • Place the sugar-coated cookie on a parchment lined pan. Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes, or until slightly golden around the edges.
  • Cool on a wire rack

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Happy Haunting!

Baker’s Note: You can purchase Matcha (powdered green tea) from Asian grocery stores or specialty tea shops. In San Francisco, you’ll find it at May Wah grocery, among other places.  Store the cookies in a tin or other container that blocks out sunlight to preserve the color. The green color will fade when exposed to sunlight.

Friday, September 14, 2012



Our Daring Cooks’ September 2012 hostess was Inma of la Galletika. Inma brought us a taste of Spain and challenged us to make our very own delicious Paella!

We were immediately reminded of our first ever Daring Challenge, which was a recipe for rice with cuttlefish, artichokes and mushrooms (I recall that we substituted chicken for the cuttlefish, but were otherwise quite faithful to the recipe for a change). This time we decided to make a mixed paella using the best ingredients that we could find at our local farmer’s market (Alemany market in San Francisco) and butcher’s shop (Guerra’s, also in San Francisco). Our protein elements for the dish were rabbit and chorizo, with a few prawns added towards the end and, to be honest, used mainly as garnish. This was not a seafood paella…

Ingredients (Serves at least 6, I think)

meat and veg copy
top: vegetables and groceries
bottom: rabbit, chorizo and shrimp

1 rabbit, jointed (we didn’t buy it from but I almost wish we had. You have to check this out, including the pictures and the comments…)

Olive oil as needed
1 white onion
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 large tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 small chorizo sausages
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
a few grinds of black peppercorns
2 1/2 cups risotto rice (we used Dacsa, el arroz de Valencia!)
6 cups light chicken stock
Enough shrimp for all of your diners to have at least 2-3 each; the bulk of the risotto is very good as leftovers the next day. but reheated shrimp are almost always disappointing…)

In a large pan (we used our big cast iron cauldron), first brown the rabbit in the olive oil. Remove from the pan, then brown the chorizo in the rendered rabbit fat.


Next, make your sofrito – dice the onion and bell peppers, mince the garlic, and (in a fresh skillet) cook them in a few tbsp olive oil until soft. Add diced tomatoes and cook further until tomatoes are broken down.


Return the rabbit to the pan with the Add the sofrito to the rabbit and chorizo in your large pan, and season with the smoked paprika, salt and pepper. (We LOVE the smoked paprika – it can sometimes be hard to find but I think it really makes this dish shine). Once the spices are incorporated, add the rice and the stock, then cook without stirring until the rice starts to get plump and cooked. Towards the end of the cooking, bury the shrimp in the rice and cook until just done – careful not to overdo it!

Serve the paella with shrimp on top. Our plating unfortunately needs some work, though the flavor was phenomenal. Gracias, Inma!

final dish

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pancake day biscotti


Growing up in Britain, there was only one day of the year when I ate pancakes – on Pancake day, of course. Otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday (or, perhaps appropriately, Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday), this is the last day before Lent, and historically was a time to eat up rich foodstuffs such as butter, sugar and eggs before the time of fasting. In my childhood experience, the only way to serve these pancakes was to sprinkle them with sugar, lemon juice and currants, then roll them up and eat. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that (a) these are also known as crepes in France and in fact throughout most of continental Europe, (b) American pancakes are a different beast altogether, much thicker and fluffier and (c) you don’t have to serve them with lemon, sugar and currants; in fact a wide variety of both sweet and savory fillings are possible.

Anyway, this post isn’t about pancakes, it’s about biscotti. I wanted to recreate the same sweet lemony-curranty flavor of my childhood pancakes, but in a cookie. It appears that biscotti are my favorite cookie to make, since this is no less than the third biscotti recipe to be posted at Monkeyshines in the Kitchen. This recipe contains even less butter than my reduced fat biscotti, so the biscotti are even crunchier and even better for you :-). I also reversed the usual ratio of brown to white sugar, as I thought it would fit the flavor profile better. Hope you like them!

2c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar 
1 oz butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 large eggs
3/4 cup currants

Preheat the oven to 350 ºF. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Soften the butter and cut into small pieces. Using a stand or hand mixer, combine the butter and two sugars and cream together until smooth. Beat the eggs, mix them with the vanilla essence and lemon zest, then gradually add to the butter/sugar, stirring continuously to incorporate the egg. Keep mixing on slow speed and add the flour mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, until well incorporated. Mix in the currants (using a spatula or by hand; the dough will be quite stiff), then turn out the ball of dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two, then shape each half into a long bar, each about 12-14” long and 2” wide.
Place the bars on a large (nonstick or buttered) cookie sheet at least 3” apart and bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325 ºF. After a few minutes, move the bars to a board and cut diagonally into ~1/2” slices. Return the sliced biscotti to the cookie sheet (cut side down) and bake for 8 minutes, then turn them over and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Getting Corny with the Daring Cooks

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This months Daring Cooks challenge was to make something new (to us) using cornmeal. Initially, this seemed a bit challenging, as we do regularly use cornmeal in various dishes. And some of the challenge recipes, which included Caribbean coucou and Malawian nsima really seemed like variants on polenta or other items we’ve made before even if they were called something different.

However, one idea came to mind and just wouldn’t leave: cornmeal pasta. I used to order this each time we visited Laghi, a long-closed Italian restaurant here in San Francisco and have never seen it anywhere else.

The pasta is rustic in texture, perfect for holding on to a thick sauce, but not grainy like you might think it would be. It needs to be cut slightly thicker than a standard pasta because it’s a bit more prone to tearing – we rolled to setting 7 of 9 on our pasta machine.

It’s honestly delicious – definitely will feature regularly in our weekend pasta dinners.

Corn Meal Pasta

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Recipe: We made this using a simple variant on our usual pasta recipe - instead of 2 cups of flour and 3 eggs, we used 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of cornmeal and 3 eggs. Put it all in the food processor, process until it starts to come together in large clumps and then knead until it forms a smooth ball of dough. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, then roll out using a pasta machine. It was noticeably stiffer than our usual all-flour dough, but still make nice fettuccine. Serving suggestion (below) – your favorite thick ragu, preferably simmered slowly for at least 3-4 hours. Ours never seems to be quite the same twice, but usually starts with cooking a mirepoix (finely diced onion, carrots and celery) in olive oil until soft, browning the meat (we usually use at least 2 different kinds – this one was pork and beef) and then add tomato paste, diced tomatoes, some red wine, some herbs (I think it was mostly parsley this time) and seasoning.

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Just for fun, we decided to try something else that we’d never made and had never even considered making (‘til now): corn dogs. I used to always get a corn dog during our annual visit to Disneyland when I was growing up. Just tasting them again after all these year brought back memories.

They were actually quite good – the batter was incredibly light and creamy with a perfectly crisp exterior.

Corn Dogs

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1 cup flour
2/3 cups corn meal
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp oil
1 egg
1 milk

1 dozen hot dogs (we used mini hot dogs)

Corn oil for frying

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Mix the batter ingredients. The batter will thicken as it sits, add a little milk if it gets too thick to easily coat your dogs.

Heat 1 1/2 – 2 inches of oil in a saucepan to 350 F.

Dip the hot dogs into the batter, turn to coat, then fry a couple at a time making sure to give them plenty of breathing room in the pan.

Cook, turning occasionally, until deeply golden about 5 minutes.

Drain and serve, preferably at the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland :-)


Rachael of pizzarossa was our August 2012 Daring Cook hostess and she challenged us to broaden our knowledge of cornmeal! Rachael provided us with some amazing recipes and encouraged us to hunt down other cornmeal recipes that we’d never tried before – opening our eyes to literally 100s of cuisines and 1000s of new-to-us recipes!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Daring Cooks are all wrapped up

Our July 2012 Daring Cooks’ host was Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie! Sarah challenges us to learn a new cooking technique called “Cooking En Papillote” which is French and translates to “cooking in parchment”.

OK, so it’s not necessarily a new technique, but its definitely one worth being reminded of – especially in the summer months when cooking light is a huge priority. And in the winter months for, really, the same reason. When cooking ‘en papillote’ no oil is required – it’s a great way to serve up a dish that is quite impressive, incredibly flavorful, easy, and relatively healthy (depending on what you put inside that papillote, right?)

For our version, we took inspiration from a gorgeous cluster of maitake mushrooms at the farmer’s market.

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These mushrooms are also called ‘Hen of the Woods’, so of course our thoughts ran to pairing them with chicken. We loosely followed a similar recipe by Jamie Oliver to be sure of cooking times.

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We added a bit of white wine, herbs, salt and pepper and fresh thyme and sealed them up in two separate parcels.

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And baked for 25 minutes at 425 F. The only downside of cooking en papillote is that it’s not so easy to poke and prod your dish to test whether it’s done yet. On the upside (there is always an upside!), food cooked this way stays very moist so as long as you don’t go completely crazy, it’s pretty fault tolerant – you might cook the item a bit longer than you might have otherwise, because if you open up the parcel and it’s still raw, you’re going to have to dirty a pan to finish cooking. (bonus upside: your baking tray emerges virtually spotless when cooking en papillote!)

Plate your parcels then slice open for a dramatic presentation guaranteed to elicit oohs and ahhs from your guests. DC_parchment 015

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Down the Tubes with the Daring Cooks


Pasta dishes are perennial favorites in the Monkeyshines household: we make some sort of pasta almost every weekend, and so we were delighted to learn that the Daring Cooks challenge for June was to make cannelloni. (Manu from Manu’s Menu was our Daring Cooks lovely June hostess and has challenged us to make traditional Italian cannelloni from scratch! We were taught how to make the pasta, filling, and sauces shared with us from her own and her family’s treasured recipes!)

Part one: Monkey flies solo

Cannelloni – pasta tubes - are fact Mrs Monkeyshines’ favorite pasta form factor, so it was ironic that our first foray into this challenge was a solo effort from The Monkey while his better half was out of town one weekend. Normally, when we make cannelloni, lasagna, tortellini or ravioli we have a real production line going: he is responsible rolling the pasta, whereas she cooks and fills it. This time, however, I did all of the work myself, which was a lot more work that it seemed – particularly as, in addition to the pasta it involved making the filling, a bechamel and passata from scratch.

I chose to make Cannelloni Rossini, using a recipe from the renowned Welsh-Italian chef Franco Taruschio. (When I was a lad growing up in Wales, I was fortunate enough to visit his restaurant, The Walnut Tree). The filling starts with a mirepoix, to which are added veal, chicken breast and chicken livers - with porcini mushrooms, parmesan cheese, madeira and some egg to bind it together.

filling prep
from top to bottom: mirepoix, meat and chopped porcini mushrooms

The filling is pureed (hence looks a bit like baby food in the photo) but is very tasty. The cannelloni are coated in a bechamel, then topped with some passata and parmesan cheese.

Cannelloni Rossini filling – tastes better than it looks!

The pasta came together quite easily, since as noted above we do this most weekends. We use a ratio of 2 cups of flour to 3 eggs, though sometimes increase the ratio of egg yolk to egg white for a richer product. (For a demonstration of kneading pasta dough, see here).

Top left - ready to mix; top right – kneaded before resting in the fridge for an hour. Bottom left – ready to roll! bottom right – pasta squares ready to be made into cannelloni

Next up – assembly. This was the part of the operation that I don’t usually do, and it seemed to take forever! Fortunately, the filling was quite thick and easy to roll up into nicely packed cylinders.

Top left – boiling for just a few seconds; top right – draining over the sink.
Bottom left – ready to roll! bottom right – In the pan, before adding the sauce

The bechamel and passata were not hard to make, but for one person I wondered if this endeavor would have been worth the effort? It was. This was an incredibly rich and flavorful cannelloni, and I would definitely make it again.


Part Two: Looks just like part one!

For our second cannelloni, we made a variant of the spinach and ricotta cannelloni recipe provided by Manu, our gracious challenge host. We were cooking for company, and when the ricotta and spinach came together we were nervous that it might not be enough, so added some crumbled Italian sausage to the mix. This turned out to be a good move, both from the point of view of flavor and quantity.

Not so many pictures this time, since we didn’t want to abandon our guests to take photographs of our food. However, as you can see from the photo at the start of the post, the finished product looks just like the first one on the outside: cannelloni covered in white sauce with a drizzle of tomato. It’s completely different, honest! Just to prove it, here’s a cutaway:


Thanks again to manu for an excellent challenge!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mystery Basket Challenge


Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!

We had to choose at least one ingredient from each list and create our own recipe:

List 1: Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas

Of course, there aren’t too many recipes out there that call for, say, Parsnips, Chipotle peppers, and maple syrup…

… but we did find one. And we followed it. Just to be perverse, since every time we’re supposed to follow a recipe, we don’t; it made sense that this time when we shouldn’t follow a recipe we did.

Roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette

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It reminded us why we usually don’t follow recipes. It was fine. We love roasted vegetables and eat them all the time. I guess that we just didn’t get any added value from the added work of following a recipe.  Fortunately, we came to our senses and did a bit better with the next two attempts.


Espresso rubbed steak and Chipotle-spiced parsnip and plantain fries

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This was quite simply out of this world. The espresso rub is something we’d made before. Overall we didn’t really care for it. This time. being paired with the sweetness of parsnips and plantains, the dish was fantastic. It was pretty exciting that using items from these crazy lists actually made an improved combination.

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Chipotle-spiced parsnips and plantains

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Eggplant and goat cheese croquettes

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these were a simple blend of roasted eggplant and crumbled goat cheese. We rolled them in breadcrumbs then fried until golden. They’re napped with a maple-miso-balsamic sauce that was vastly improved (like so many things) with a generous squirt of sriracha.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

High Braise with the Daring Cooks

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This month’s challenge was focused on the technique of braising. With a braise, the food (meat or vegetable) is typically seared over high heat, then cooked slowly in wine or stock. It’s a perfect way to cook cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, as the long, slow cook helps to break down the tough fibers and collagen.
Because we are quite lazy, really, when it comes to cooking, and our Northern California climate is usually pretty chilly, braising is perfect – we tend to either roast or braise with high frequency. So, to add to the challenge, we actually tried following one of the recipes, which, if you’ve visited us before, you know that we usually can’t manage to do.  Fortunately, Carol, our hostess, provided a bunch of fantastic-sounding recipes to try and we selected the braised pork belly with caramel miso sauce. Not so surprisingly, it was incredibly delicious.
Later, we made Spanish style short ribs, which had been on our ‘must try’ list for a long time. They were fantastic and we truly regret waiting so long to actually make them. 
First, though, back to the pork belly. Pork belly is certainly a very trendy ingredient – it seems to be on every menu these days. Mrs. Monkeyshines ordered it once for dinner and wasn’t entirely blown away. That pork belly was a bit fatty and tough. Not really all that surprising given the cut of meat, but not something either of us would walk a mile for. So, of course, pork belly seemed like the perfect thing to challenge ourselves with – see if it really is worth all the fuss. It is.
At least this recipe is:

Braised Pork Belly with Caramel Miso Sauce

Servings: 6braise 019
Braised Pork
1 ½ teaspoons  coriander seeds
1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns
3 pounds  pork belly (with rind)
Kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, sliced
5 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of the knife
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (we used 1/2 cup lemon juice)
Canola Oil (optional, in our opinion)

Carmel-Miso Glaze

Easy Carmel-Butter Sauce
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gm/4 oz) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 ml) (60 gm/2 oz) butter
Caramel-Miso Glaze
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pork braising liquid
¼ cup easy caramel sauce
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce.
Directions – Braised Pork
1. Roast coriander and peppercorn in a dry (i.e. no oil needed) sauté pan over medium-high heat until fragrant – 2 minutes – and crush with mortar and pestle.
2. Preheat oven to very slow 250°F.
3. Season pork well with salt, Place it fat side up in a baking dish.
4. Scatter the bay leaves, onion and garlic over the pork – add orange/lemon juice and cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil.
Braise 004 5. Place in oven for 6 hours or until pork is fork tender – you can do plenty of other things in these 6 hours! Enjoy!
6. Allow to cool in juices, then cover, refrigerate, at least over night and up to 5 days.
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7. Remove pork from dish, scrape off fat and seasonings and cut into 12 equal cubes – at this point, it is a basic braised pork that you may use for a stir fry or sautéed until crispy and serve with a salad. We cut off the pork skin at this point because, well, ewwww.. If we’d left it on, it might have cooked more tidily for us.
8. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. We didn’t use any oil, as there was still plenty of fat in the meat.
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9. Sear pork pieces on all sides. Expect it to try to fall apart every time you look at it. Try to eat as many of the crispy bits in the pan as you can while your dear spouse isn’t looking.
10. Add the glaze and coat the pork.
Directions – Easy Carmel Sauce
1. Put sugar in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Do not stir.
2. When edges turn brown – swirl to distribute – a small stir is ok – but make sure your spatula is heat proof or use a wooden spoon. WARNING - sugar is very HOT!
3. When sugar is dark amber, add butter and ¼ cup (60 ml) of water.
4. Stir until bubbles subside – it bubbles quickly – simmer for a minute.
5. Remove from heat and set aside while you prep for the rest of the sauce.
Directions – Carmel- Miso Sauce
1. In a small sauté pan, melt butter over medium-high heat.
2. Add shallot and garlic and sauté till translucent.
3. Season with a sprinkle of salt and some freshly ground pepper.
4. Add pork braising liquid, caramel sauce, miso, red wine vinegar, soy sauce and fish sauce.
5. Bring to a simmer – cook for ½ a minute or so and remove from heat.
Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips:
The braised pork may be made up to 5 days in advance. It may be frozen as well. The caramel sauce will keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator
We served ours with pea sprouts and lemon risotto cakes. It was a perfect combination.
For our next braising adventure, we decided to try a Spanish short rib recipe that includes chocolate, orange and sherry. Another thing you know if you’ve been here before is that Mrs. Monkeyshines abhors mixing sweet stuff with her savory food; even with her dessert, if it really comes down to it. So we’d looked at the recipe for years, but always shied away fearing it would be sweet and un-dinner-like. We needn’t have feared: it was phenomenal. The sauce gained a fantastic complexity after adding the chocolate and orange – it was good before, but incredible after.

Spanish-style Short Ribs
(Original recipe from Insalata's)

 Serves 2 + leftovers
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 1/2 lbs Short Ribs, cut into maybe 2 1/2” lengths
1 yellow onion
1 celery rib
1 small carrot
2 cloves garlic
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 can – 7 oz. tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 sprig thyme
4 cups beef stock (you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock)
1 cup dry sherry
1 1/2 Tbsp unsweetened chocolate
1 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp fresh thyme
Zest of 1 orange
1 Tbsp butter

1. Heat the oven to 275 degrees F.
2. Chop the onion, celery and carrots into 1-inch chunks.
3. Generously salt and pepper the ribs. Heat the oil in a heavy casserole or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the ribs in several batches until browned on all sides.
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4. Remove the meat from the pan and add the celery, onion, carrots and garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes until they start to caramelize. Add the wine, sherry, tomatoes, tomato paste and thyme. Cook about 5 minutes, until the liquid starts to reduce.
5. Return the meat to the pan. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then cover and bake for 4 hours or until the meat pulls easily away from the bones. – check it after 3 hours and see if you need to add more liquid or if you want to remove the lid to reduce the liquid a bit.
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6. Remove the meat to a clean platter. Strain the pan juices, adding the vegetables to the platter with the meat. Stir in the chocolate, thyme, oregano, orange zest and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Return the meat and vegetables to the pan to coat with the sauce.
8. Serve with mashed potatoes and the rest of that dry red wine.
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The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.