Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stuffed cabbage rolls with mushroom sauce


December’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge had us on a roll! Olga from challenged us to make stuffed cabbage rolls using her Ukrainian heritage to inspire us. Filled with meat, fish or vegetables, flexibility and creativity were the name of the game to get us rolling!

This was a timely challenge for us. In the week before the challenge was published, we had remarked to each other that the cabbages in our local farmers’ market looked particularly good, so on our weekly grocery shopping expedition we picked one up. We were therefore delighted to find that the December challenge was to make stuffed cabbage rolls! We stuck with the recipe that we had planned to use (outlined below), but were grateful for one of the tips in Olga’s challenge instructions, namely boiling the cabbage whole and separating the leaves in situ. In the past, we used to separate – or rather, try to separate - the uncooked leaves, and often the assembly of stuffed cabbage rolls was more of an exercise in patching together torn pieces of cabbage rather than wrapping up the filling. By pre-cooking the whole cabbage, the leaves separate out nicely and we also appreciated how the core remained intact – we used this in a second recipe during the week.

Here, then, is our stuffed cabbage recipe:

For the cabbage and filling:IMG_1390

1 green cabbage
2/3 lb ground turkey
1/4 cup uncooked white rice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons caraway seeds        
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Salt and pepper to taste           

Mix all the ingredients to form a meat/rice stuffing mixture. Bring a pot of water to the boil (the pot needs to be big enough to hold the cabbage!) Simmer the cabbage, core facing up on low heat for about 5 minutes, until the leaves can be easily separated from each other. It’s easiest to stick a large fork in the core while you’re doing this…

Wrap the stuffing up inside neat parcels of cabbage, and place in a baking dish:


For the sauce:

1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 oz butter
1 oz flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until they give off their liquid and get soft.

Make a roux with the butter and flour, then gradually mix in the milk to make a white sauce. Add the sour cream and season to taste.

To assemble, pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls, cover with foil and bake at 375 F for ~1 hour.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Turkey Ballotine

Encouraged by our success in the Daring Cooks ballotine challenge back in April this year, we decided to attempt a ballotine of Turkey for Thanksgiving. It was a bit of a gamble: we were expecting guests, and although they were all family or friends who would be forgiving of a culinary debacle, we obviously wanted the day to go well. Thankfully (hah!), with a little help from Jaques Pepin’s excellent Youtube video we were able to remove the turkey bones without tears (either pronunciation/definition works – neither ripping nor sobbing was involved…)
Here, then, is a summary of our Turkey Ballotine adventure. The stuffing is made of parsley and lemon, a classic combination. The following quantities prepared enough stuffing for our 15lb bird: it can be scaled down according to the size of your fowl, though larger birds will still only need this quantity as their cavities do not get much larger than those of a 15lb bird.

Parsley and Lemon Stuffing

12oz fresh breadcrumbs
Grated zest of 3 lemons
3/4 cup chopped parsley
6oz melted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the breadcrumbs, lemon zest and parsley in a food processor, and season to taste. Mix in the melted butter with a fork, then mix in the eggs. (We prepared everything in advance except for the egg, which was added just before stuffing the bird)
1. Our beautiful Diestel turkey (from Guerra’s of San Francisco, of course). We rubbed the skin with salt the previous day and air dried it in the refrigerator overnight, then rinsed off the salt before making the ballotine:
2. Deboned and ready for stuffing! AS Jacques Pepin puts it, we have rearranged Mother Nature – the turkey tenderloins fit nicely in the gap between the breasts and the legs:
3. With stuffing in place:
4. Ready for the oven – we rubbed some herb oil over the skin before roasting at 350 °F for about 2 hours. We made a little platform from potatoes and carrots, so that the turkey wouldn’t sit in its fat/juices.
5. Et voila! The rendered fat was used to make the roux for our gravy, and the pan juices made a wonderful natural gravy browning.
The carved bird can be seen at the top of this post. Thanks to Jeff, Myint, Phil, Deepa, Luke and Jack for sharing Thanksgiving with us this year!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Crepe Expectations

Banh Xeo 112713

We love going out for Vietnamese food – Ben Tre in South San Francisco being a particular favorite. Our go-to orders are usually either the bun (cold vermicelli noodles with various meat and vegetables) or the pho, which we have also made at home on several occasions, including a Daring Cooks challenge back in 2009.

I have always been intrigued by the menu description and picture of bánh xèo – a sort of cross between an omelette and a pancake. Yesterday I had most of the ingredients lying around in the kitchen, so decided to give it a try. The recipe is from the latest issue of Lucky Peach, and comes from New York Vietnamese chef Jimmy Tu. I won’t reprint the recipe here (buy the magazine!), but here is a general outline:

- Make a crepe batter using rice flour, colored with a little turmeric
- Cook some bacon and small shrimp in a skillet, then add the batter and cook until set
- Drizzle an egg over the batter and continue to cook until the egg is done and the pancake pulls away from the pan
- Pile some bean sprouts on one side of the crepe and fold the other half over. Serve with lettuce leaves, herbs (I used cilantro) and some nuoc cham, a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

Delicious! Thanks, Lucky Peach! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A different sort of challenge #tributetolis


Since most of our readers are (we assume) fellow Daring Cooks, you will already know the shock and sadness we felt when we visited the Daring Kitchen website last week. Expecting to read about the latest DC creations, we instead learned that Lis (Lisa Cifelli), co-founder of the Daring Kitchen, had passed away. Although we never met in person, we communicated by email – in particular when we hosted a challenge and later wrote a book review for the website. Her enthusiasm, humor and friendliness always leapt from the page (screen?), and she will be sorely missed by us all.

We wanted to make a dish and raise our glasses to the memory of Lis, so we bought a couple of nice steaks and paired them with Horseradish Souffle - a recipe from the challenge that we hosted almost exactly 3 years ago. I’m sure we would never have contemplated creating a dish such as this were it not for the Daring Kitchen and the opportunity to host a challenge for our fellow cooks.

They weren’t the puffiest souffles that we’ve ever made, and the photo above isn’t our most artistic creation. They were, however, made with fond memories of Lis. Thanks, Lis, for your boundless enthusiasm, infectious humor and tireless efforts to make the Daring Kitchen the wonderful community that it is.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sopa de Ajo


Our November Daring Cooks’ hostess was Begoña, who writes the beautiful blog, Las recetas de Marichu y las mías. Begoña is from Spain and didn’t want to go with the more common challenges of paella or gazpacho, she wanted to share with us another very popular recipe from Spain that we don’t see as often called Sopa Castellana which is a delicious bread soup!

We make bread almost every week, so looked forward to incorporating it into our Daring Cooks challenge recipe. Since our bread is based on the recipe from the Tartine cookbook (Tartine being a much-lauded bakery here in San Francisco), we decided to use one of the recipes in that book for Sopa de Ajo – Garlic Soup. It’s similar to the challenge recipe for Sopa Castellana, but without the ham or red peppers.

The bread:


The rich chicken stock:


One whole head of garlic (!), chopped and fried:


And the assembled soup, cooking on the stovetop. We used smoked paprika instead of regular sweet paprika, because we like that smoky flavor.


Optionally served with an egg yolk (see top of page), the soup was rich and delicious, but boy was it garlicky! Probably not the thing to make when you have a client meeting the next day. (Oh wait… one of us did have a client meeting the next day…)

Thanks, Begoña, for a delicious and different challenge!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Choose to be daring!


This month’s Daring Cooks challenge was to delve into the archives and pick a past challenge of our choice: what’s more, the entire Daring Kitchen was available to us, so we also had the option of selecting a Daring Bakers challenge.

Our experience with the Daring Cooks over the past few years has been that, whilst we almost always enjoy doing the challenges, they fall into several categories:

  1. Things that we’ve already made before
  2. Things that we’ve never made before but, to be honest, will probably never make again
  3. Things that we’ve never made before, and which get added to our regular repertoire

Of course, #3 is usually the most fun, since not only do we get to try something new, we discover a new favorite dish and get to try variations on it in the future. A great example is the April 2013 challenge where we got to make a ballotine; not only is this something that we would never have dreamt of trying on our own, we were delighted to find it was not as intimidating as it first seems, and there will definitely be more ballotines in our future. (I’m still trying to convince Mrs Monkeyshines that we should have homemade Turducken for Thanksgiving this year…) We also loved the pate challenge (and have made several more batches since), and we made gumbo for dinner last week.

Enough rambling – on with this month’s challenge. Since we are not participants in the Daring Bakers, we decided we had to select something from their archives, and moreover it would have to be something that we have never done before and the prospect of which we found positively terrifying. This didn’t narrow it down a lot! – there are so many intricate pastries that the DB’s have made. We eventually decided to try our hand at making puff pastry and selected the Mille-Feuille challenge from October 2012. Not only did this require us to make puff pastry from scratch, but we also had to prepare a crème patisserie.

Fortunately, challenge host Suz provided excellent instructions, and we were soon on the way to making our very own puff pastry. Detailed directions can be found at the Daring Kitchen.

1. First we made the dough, crumbling flour, salt and a small amount of butter together until it resembled fine crumbs. Separately, we made the ‘beurrage’ by mixing butter with a little flour. We splashed out on some good quality European butter, which is more suited to this sort of pastry due to its higher fat content compared to regular American butter.


2. Here is our ball of dough, which we rolled into a square and layered together with the refrigerated beurrage.


3. We folded the dough/beurrage into a neat parcel, rolled it out and then performed the first of several fold/roll cycles. All in all there were 6 cycles of rolling and folding, in 3 sets of 2 with 30 minutes refrigeration in between each set.

folded copy

4. We divided the finished dough into 2 batches to roll out and bake, which was just as well since the first batch turned out to be overcooked and a bit burnt (on the left of the right-hand picture below.) We were much more careful with timing of the second batch.


5. Finally we were ready to put to all together! The crème patisserie came together after one false start; initially we didn’t heat it for long enough and it turned out a bit runny. Happily, we were able to simply reheat while stirring in order to thicken it up. The icing was also a little runny (see it dripping over the side in the second picture below!) but it all worked out OK in the end.


It was very rewarding to make those patterns on the top of the pastry, and to see that it turned out to look pretty much like the ones you see in pastry shops. The finished slice can be seen at the top of this post. Thanks to the original challenge host Suz, and to Lisa for posing this ‘pick your poison’ challenge for the Daring Cooks!

In a "celebration" of past Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers challenges, Lisa challenged all of us to search through the Daring Kitchen archives and pick any one we'd like! The REAL challenge was picking which delicious recipe(s) to try!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Gnocchi alla BLT


We were happy to learn that the September Daring Cooks challenge was to make potato gnocchi. We’ve already documented some of our adventures with gnocchi, including potato and butternut squash, and so since we were familiar with the product we wanted to make something a bit different. After putting our heads together and surveying the current contents of our refrigerator, we came up with BLT gnocchi.

What’s not to like? In its ideal incarnation, the sandwich form of BLT combines that crispy smoky bacon flavor with the fresh crunch of lettuce and the sweetness of fresh tomato, so we wanted to bring the same sort of idea to gnocchi. We used some bacon that we cured ourselves (in The Monkey’s latest gadget, the Bradley Smoker), a butter lettuce and some cherry tomatoes fresh from the farmers’ market. Our recipe is as follows:



1/4 lb smoky bacon, cut into cubes and fried until crispy, then chopped finely

Lettuce puree


1 head butter lettuce, leaves picked and washed
1/2 medium onion, chopped
A few sprigs of parsley
1 oz butter
8 fluid oz chicken stock
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
Salt and white pepper to taste

Gently saute the onion in butter for about 5 minutes until soft but not browned. Chop the lettuce roughly and add to the onion along with the parsley, then when it starts to wilt add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil then puree (using a hand blender is easiest). Simmer until reduced by half, then stir in 2 tablespoons crème fraiche and season to taste. The puree should be fairly thick.

Tomato vinaigrette


6 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon minced shallot
Salt and white pepper

Mix the vinaigrette ingredients together – the shallot and pepper should help emulsify it nicely. Add the tomatoes, mix well and leave to marinate while you prepare the gnocchi.





From top to bottom: baked potatoes drying out in the oven; gnocchi after rolling and cutting; gnocchi in the frying pan

We followed our recipe from here, which originally came from Chef Staffan Terje’s gnocchi cooking class. The only change was to add the finely chopped bacon to the dough and mix with the other ingredients before rolling out.

As with most of our previous gnocchi, we pan fried them. Not that we have anything against the more traditional boiled gnocchi, but there’s something about that crispy browned exterior paired with the fluffy interior that we really like. We also think it’s a bit more forgiving than boiling; just pan fry over medium heat in a little oil, turning occasionally until browned on all sides. We usually do this in several batches and keep them warm in the oven until we’re ready to eat.



Todd, who is The Daring Kitchen’s AWESOME webmaster and an amazing cook, is our September Daring Cooks’ host! Todd challenged us to make light and fluffy potato Gnocchi and encouraged us to flavor the lil pillows of goodness and go wild with a sauce to top them with!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nice Rice with Spice


This month, the Daring Cooks challenge took us to India - land of the Biryani. We enjoy Indian food and were able to make two distinctly different (but both delicious) biryani dishes.

Our first dish was Chicken Biryani. We previously reviewed an Indian cookbook for the Daring Kitchen (My Indian Kitchen, by Hari Nayak) –so we thought it would be nice to use a recipe from there. We made Saffron Chicken biryani, and to cut a long story short it was very tasty. We won’t reproduce the recipe here, but it’s on page 128 if you have the book Smile. However, one point worth making is that the key to getting fluffy, separate grains of rice in your biryani is to soak that rice in several changes of water, for up to an hour or two before preparing it. Here is an outline to give some idea of the flavor profile:

- Make a marinade for the chicken using garlic, ginger, mint. cilantro, green chili, lime juice, yogurt and garam masala. Marinate chicken for a few hours

- Partly cook the (pre-soaked) rice with whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves)
- Fry onions in oil and remove; use the same oil to fry cumin and nutmeg powder
- Add the chicken with its marinade, and cook until browned.


- Add cilantro and mint, then cover with rice, drizzle with saffron milk and bake in a medium hot oven


Serve with the fried onions and cucumber raita:



Our second biryani for the month was inspired by the fresh corn that is currently available at our local farmers’ market (though we have also recently been inspired by moldy corn!) In this case, we reverted to our usual Monkeyshines procedure – look up a bunch of recipes, then make up our own way of doing it…

Corn Biryani


1 cup rice
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1 bayleaf, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves and 3 cardamom pods
1 green chili ( as hot as you like!)
1 tsp ginger/garlic paste (equal amounts of minced garlic and ginger)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
3 ears of fresh corn kernels, sliced from corn cobs
salt and pepper

  1. Soak the rice for at least 1 hr, in several changes of water
  2. Drain the rice and cook in coconut milk + water + 1/2 tsp salt for 10 minutes
  3. Fry bayleaf, cinnamon and cardamom pods in the oil until fragrant
  4. Add ginger paste and fry for another ~30 seconds
  5. Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until on ion starts to brown
  6. Add tomatoes and green chili
  7. Grind the cumin and coriander seed, and add to the pan together with the turmeric
  8. Add the corn and cook everything together with salt and pepper to taste
  9. Mix the rice with the corn mixture and cook, covered, for 6-8 minutes.
  10. Serve garnished with coriander leaves


Grace, one of our talented non-blogging Daring Kitchen members, was our Daring Cooks’ August hostess who shared with us some of her family’s tried and true Bengali Biryani recipes – all of them delicious and all of them prepared fresh from our own kitchens!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Getting Smutty in the Kitchen


Before our more sensitive readers get alarmed, fear not – Monkeyshines in the Kitchen has not turned into one of the more prurient corners of the World Wide Web. The smut that we are talking about is Ustilago maydis, otherwise known as corn smut – and celebrated in Mexico as huitlacoche.

U. maydis is considered an unwelcome pathogen amongst corn farmers in the US, since it infects ears of corn and replaces the sweet golden kernels with the greyish blue ‘tumors’ shown in the picture above. In Mexico, however, huitlacoche is prized and used in a variety of dishes. Last weekend, one of the vendors at our local farmers’ market was selling huitlacoche corn, so we figured we’d give it a try.

When you peel away the corn husk, this is what you find:

corn shucked_web

Cross section through the ‘tumors’:

Not the most appetizing sight! However, we chopped up the huitlacoche, stripped the remaining corn kernels from the cobs and set about turning it into something tasty.

Sopes de Huitlacoche

Ingredients (serves 2)

Corn hash
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 green Anaheim chiles, chopped
Huitlacoche from 2 corn ears, plus remaining corn
1 tbsp oil

Salsa verde
3 large tomatillos
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

Salsa roja
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 mild red chile, chopped
1-2 scallions (to taste)

Masa dough mix

Queso fresco (or any other suitable cheese)
Avocado (optional)

Salt and pepper

ingredients copy
Top: onions and chiles, corn and huitlacoche
Bottom: ingredients for salsa roja and prepared salsa verde


  1. Saute the onion and chiles in the oil over medium heat in a large skillet until soft
  2. Add the chopped huitlacoche and corn, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the huitlacoche turns black. Add a little water if the mixture gets too dry and starts to stick to the pan
    corn hash
  3. Meanwhile, make the salsa verde. Boil the tomatillos for about 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Toast the cumin in a small skillet until it gets fragrant, then grind in a mortar and pestle. Halve the tomatillos, then puree them in a blender with the cumin, cilantro and salt to taste.
  4. To make the salsa roja: mix all ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. For the sopes, Prepare the masa dough according to the instructions on the bag, and shape into thick discs about 3 inches (7-8cm) wide. Cook on a hot griddle, flipping as necessary until brown spots appear on each side. Our sopes were more like thick tortillas, although sometimes they are made with pinched sides, so as to form a sort of raised rim. Either way works!
  6. Top the sopes with the corn hash, salsas and garnish with cheese and, if using, avocado. Serve immediately.

The sopes with corn topping:


…and the final plate:


So what did they taste like? We thought they were very good – the huitlacoche flavor was not assertive but it definitely added a richness and umami quality that we really liked. We will definitely be having further culinary adventures with smut!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Goodness Gracious, Great Balls O’ Meat!


This month’s Daring Cooks challenge was focused on meatballs! Some sort of meatballs appear on our weekly menus quite frequently, but, in keeping with the challenge theme of ‘Meatballs around the world’, we thought this would be a great opportunity to explore meatballs around the world a bit more broadly. We  ended up making several diverse recipes, all of which were (in our not so humble opinions) delicious – but ultimately I think one stood out as being our new favorite meatball. Our foray into the world of meatballs begins with…



One of our favorite new cookbooks is Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. This contains a wide array of delicious dishes from the city where the authors grew up – including at least 5 meatball recipes. We started out with Turkey and Zucchini meatballs – a slightly odd-sounding combination, but the addition of the zucchini kept the turkey wonderfully moist. They were seasoned with mint, cilantro, cumin and garlic and also incorporated some green onions. We also made the sour cream and sumac sauce that accompanies the recipe (though our plating technique needs a little work – how do they get those elegant swooshes of sauce that you see in fine restaurants?)


From the Middle East, we headed North to…



Our meatball trip to Spain was inspired by a recipe for Spanish pork with olives – I have this in an old handwritten recipe book, and I think it originally came from the popular British chef Delia Smith. Rather than use chunks of pork, we made pork meatballs and incorporated one of the more unusual recipe ingredients – pimento-stuffed green olives – into the meatballs themselves. We also spiced things up a bit with some smoked paprika. The dish was served with roasted green beans and patatas bravas: traditionally, fried potatoes, though we made ours a bit more healthy by coating them in some salt, pepper, cumin and  smoked paprika, then roasting them in the oven with a light spray of olive oil.

Here, then, is our version of Spanish Pork Meatballs:

1/4 onion, minced
6 pimento-stuffed green olives, finely chopped
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 small clove garlic, minced
salt and black pepper

3/4 onion, sliced (use the rest of the onion that you used in the meatballs!)
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced to same size as the onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp flour
14oz can diced tomatoes
Generous splash of red wine
1/4 tsp dried basil
salt and black pepper

For the meatballs: mix all the ingredients thoroughly and form into golf ball-sized meatballs. Place in a single layer in a microwave-proof container and microwave for 2 minutes, rolling them around a bit after the first minute.


For the sauce: saute the onion and bell pepper in olive oil over medium heat until soft, about 5-10 minutes, Add the garlic and continue cooking for 2 minutes more. Add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables evenly, then mix in the tomatoes, red wine, basil, salt and pepper. When simmering, add the meatballs and reduce heat to low, then cook (covered) for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.



San Francisco, California


Of course, we couldn’t do a world tour of meatballs without visiting our home city of San Francisco! This is our interpretation of Veal Meatballs with Green Peppercorn Sauce, from San Francisco’s Town Hall restaurant. You can find the recipe online here. The recipe calls for pork and beef in addition to veal, and whilst we often incorporate several kinds of meat for added complexity, we just used veal and pork this time.

The meatballs also incorporate a panade (bread soaked in milk) and some cheese. Instead of frying them as per the recipe, we used our tried and tested microwave technique. Cooking for a few minutes in the microwave always gives us nicely done meatballs without the worry that they are going to stick to the pan.

As you can see from the picture, the sauce is not just green peppercorns, but also includes red wine, port and cream (not to mention brandy!). Served over homemade fettuccine, this was not exactly health food but it was very tasty and the recipe gets the Monkeyshines Seal of Approval.

Back to Jerusalem!


We couldn’t resist trying one more recipe from Jerusalem, so we embarked on making Beef meatballs with fava beans and lemon. We were so glad we did – this recipe is awesome! There are many, many herbs and spices involved – almost too many at first sight – but they all come together in tasty balls of deliciousness. The meatballs are the dry kind (with breadcrumbs instead of soaked bread; pictured at the top of this post) but they definitely didn’t taste dry. In addition to beef, there is onion, garlic, cumin, capers, mixed green herbs and baharat spice mix. Luckily, we had recently prepared this spice mix for another recipe in the book and had some left over. It contains black peppercorns, coriander seed, cinnamon, clove, allspice, cumin, cardamom and nutmeg.

But wait, we aren’t done yet! The sauce consists of garlic, green onions, lemon juicem chicken stock and more of those fresh freen herbs (we were lucky to make this in spring, when the farmers market is overflowing with big bunches of fresh herbs). The fava beans were blanched and added towards the end: although the recipe calls for a mixture of intact and peeled favas, we peeled them all since it was getting to the end of fava bean season and they were a bit big to leave whole.

What a riot of flavor (thanks Yotam and Sami!) – I think we have a new favorite meatball recipe! The only sad part was that we devoured them all in a few minutes…

The June Daring Cooks’ challenge sure kept us rolling – meatballs, that is! Shelley from C Mom Cook and Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to try meatballs from around the world and to create our own meatball meal celebrating a culture or cuisine of our own choice.

Thanks Shelley and Ruth, for a great challenge!