Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saucy Monkey


This month, the Daring Cooks got a little saucy! Jenni from the Gingered Whisk taught us the basics of how to make the five mother-sauces and encouraged us to get creative with them, creating a wide variety of delicious, fresh sauces in our very own kitchens.

Selecting a challenge for the Daring Cooks is an almost impossible task, because you sort of have to be all things to all people. A fairly basic recipe may be appealing to the novice, but not of interest to the experienced cook; conversely, a complex and challenging dish that poses a true challenge to the experienced cook may be just frustrating and demoralizing for the novice. Moreover, the Daring Cooks hail from all over the globe – so what is commonplace for one may be truly exotic for another.

It was, then, a delight to find Jenni’s challenge awaiting us – in my opinion, something to teach, entertain and challenge anyone interested in the culinary arts. We were preseted with recipes for the classic French ‘mother’ sauces – Bechamel, Veloute, Espangole, Holandaise and Tomato. The mother sauce can be either incorporated into a dish as it is, or turned into any one of an array of derivatives.

Of the five sauces, I probably make bechamel and tomato most frequently, so decided to embark on Sauce Espagnole – the classic French brown sauce. Moreover, I made my own beef stock from scratch. This was pretty much an all-day affair, but the end result was a remarkable mushroom sauce. My only regret was not making more sauce! I also made a tomato sauce and incorporated it into a favorite pasta dish. Read on for all the gory details…

Sauce Espangole/Demi-Glace from scratch


1lb beef bones
1 small onion
1 celery stick
2 small carrots
Tomato puree
Olive oil
Thyme, parsley, bayleaf
4 Black peppercorns
1 clove

(Since this is quite the performance, I recommend you scale this up by a factor of at least 2, preferably 4 or 5 if you have a big enough stock pot…)

Beautiful beef bones. Look at all that marrow!

The mirepoix…

Roast the bones in a little oil for 30 minutes in a 400 F oven. Roughly dice the onion, carrot and celery and add to the pan; continue roasting for 30 minutes more. Towards the end of cooking time, slather some tomato paste over the bones:


Add everything to a stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and immediately turn down to a slow simmer. Add a sachet containing the herbs and spices (I confess I just added them to the pot, knowing I’d strain them out later. Cook for 4 hours, adding more water if necessary to cover the bones. I ended up with maybe 2½ – 3 cups…

Strain the stock – it should be brown but fairly clear (if it’s not, you probably let it boil too much…)


Now for the sauce espagnole…


1/4 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons diced carrot
2 tablespoons diced celery
½ oz butter
½ oz flour
1½ cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato puree
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter and saute the mirepoix (onion, celery and carrot) until it starts to color. Stir in the flour and cook 5 minutes until lightly brown.


Add the stock and tomato puree, cover and simmer 1 hour. Strain out the vegetables and voila, Sauce Espagnole! I took this a step further and made demi-glace, by adding back another cup of beef stock then reducing until thick.

For the mushroom sauce, I pan-fried some mushrooms with a tablespoon of finely chopped onion, and added the demi-glace along with a splash each of sherry and lemon juice. (I am not sure how many mushrooms, but I am sure I followed the Monkeyshines Rule of Mushrooms: There are never enough mushrooms…)


This may be the best sauce ever! I served it over a nice fillet steak…

Spaghetti Milanese with fresh tomato sauce

For my second attempt at the challenge I turned to a familiar recipe – the decidedly un-French Spaghetti Milanese. This was one of two spaghetti dishes that were part of my Mum’s regular repertoire growing up – the other, of course, being Spaghetti Bolognese. First the tomato sauce, for which I used some beautiful San Marzano tomatoes from the farmers market:



½ small onion
1 small carrot
1 rasher bacon (homemade!)
¾ – 1lb tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tablespoon flour
½ cup chicken stock
lemon juice
sugar, salt and pepper

Finely dice the onion and carrot, and saute together with the bacon for 5 minutes (adding a little oil if the bacon isn’t particularly fatty). Add the flour, stir to coat the vegetables, then add the chopped tomatoes. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, add chicken stock and simmer 30 minutes. Add a dash of lemon, pinch of sugar and some pepper. If you use commercial chicken stock, you probably don’t need to add more salt.

Puree the sauce using an immersion blender and continue cooking for 30 minutes.

Beautiful orange color!

To complete the dish, slice some cooked ham, saute some sliced mushrooms (see Rule of Mushrooms above) and serve with the sauce over pasta, with some parmesan cheese.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Monkeyshines Clan Makes Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
- Robert Burns


To the best of my knowledge I don’t have any Scottish heritage. I did grow up in Wales (so arguably have that Celtic thing in common with the Scots), but that’s as far as it goes. So when the June Daring Cooks’ challenge was revealed to be Haggis, it was something I’d never made before – though I have sampled its delights once or twice during New Year festivities while living in Britain.

The first challenge in making haggis was that my better half does not eat any sort of offal/organ meats – however, I was able to take on the challenge when she was out of town for one weekend. The second challenge was procuring the starting materials, including lamb liver, lamb heart and beef suet. I managed to track down the first two at a Halal butcher in San Francisco:

Lamb heart, lamb liver, onions and some sage from my front yard

No such luck with the beef suet, so I substituted some home-cured smoked fennel and pepper bacon. Since we keep this in the freezer, it was hard enough that I could shred it on a food grater:


So, on with the show… here is my recipe, scaled down from that provided by Ruth, our Daring Hostess:

2 lamb hearts
12oz lamb liver
2 medium onions
2 1/2 oz steel-cut oats
2 oz bacon fat, shredded
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
pinch each of allspice and clove

Peel the onions but leave them whole. Put the hearts, liver and onions in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil.


Remove the froth from the top, drain the pan and add more cold water. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes.

Reserve ~1 cup of the pan water. Put the liver, hearts and onions in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and mixed. Add the oats, bacon fat, sage and spices and mix well. Add a little of the pan water so that the mixture is still solid but soft.

Stuff the mixture into 2 sections of beef middle, each ~8” long. (Warning – if you plan to follow this recipe, read on to see how it turned out first!) Simmer the haggises in water for up to 2 hrs.


So what happened? I knew that the haggis would expand on cooking, but the beef middles were not as expandable and resilient as I had hoped. I checked in after about an hour and this is what I found…


Boom goes the haggis! The filling from one of them escaped into my pot of boiling water; I was able to salvage the other one, and continued to steam it until it too started to rip apart some more.

Served with ‘neeps’ (aka turnips in Scotland, swede in the rest of Britain and rutabagas in America), as shown at the top of the page. These were not the best rutabagas in the world – they are a rarity in San Francisco at the best of times, and early summer is not the best of times. Although they were a bit woody, the taste wasn’t bad. As for the haggis – I would say not bad for a first attempt, despite the exploding casing debacle. Although the liver flavor was pronounced, there was a subtle smokiness, which may have come from the bacon. If I make it again I will probably use the steamed pudding technique (fill it into a mould and cook in a water bath/bain-marie) and I think I’d increase the amount of oatmeal – there wasn’t quite enough chewiness for my taste. But then again I didn’t include the suet, which I’m sure would have made a difference in the final product.

The June Daring Cooks Challenge was hosted by Ruth from Makey-Cakey. She brought out the Daring-est of Daring Cooks and challenged us to make real Scottish Haggis.

Thanks to Ruth for an entertaining challenge – it was definitely daring!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Crepes of Wrath

Spring Wild Rice Pancakes
Crepes of wrath? What’s that all about? Truth be told, it’s the first crepe-based pun I could come up with (after Crepe Expectations, which I already used in a pancake-themed post from last year). It’s not like these crepes put me in a vengeful mood – far from it, they were a welcome harbinger of spring.

(Edited to add: I just learned that The Grapes of Wrath was published exactly 75 years ago, on April 14th 1939!) 

The April Daring Cooks Challenge was brought to us by Joanna from What’s On The List. She taught us all about Pathiri and challenged us to create our own version of this inspirational Indian dish!
First a confession – there is nothing Indian about what we made  - but in our defense, Joanna’s challenge instructions specified that ‘the crepe batter recipe can be a recipe of your choice, but the filling must be of a savory nature and I “challenge” you to be “as creative as you can be!”’ So we pulled out a wild rice pancake recipe that we’d previously made many moons ago and came up with our own filling depending on what looked good at the farmers’ market. I’m sure we’ll revisit Pathiri some time as we do like Indian food.

Here are our beautiful spring vegetables: baby carrots, asparagus and pioppini mushrooms:
The aforementioned pancake recipe was originally based on one at, though as is our custom we didn’t exactly follow the recipe.

Wild rice pancakes (serves 2)

1/2 cup wild rice
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
2 finely sliced scallions (green onions)
1 large egg
scant 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
vegetable oil
Cook the rice, water and salt for about 45 minutes until tender (we did this the day before so that it would cool completely before we used it). Mix together the egg and milk and combine with the rice. Add the scallions, stir in the flour until smooth and leave to stand for at least 20-30 minutes,
To cook the pancakes: Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-hot heat  and add a small amount of oil, swirling so that it coats the pan. Add a ladleful of batter and gently tilt the pan so that you have about a 6-inch disc of batter:

Cook until the edges start to brown and the batter starts to get firm, then flip and cook the other side. Keep warm while you do the rest of the batch.

For the fillings, we sauteed the mushrooms in butter, pan fried the carrot (cut into thin ‘coins’) with some finely sliced onion and a little balsamic vinegar, and finally cut the asparagus on the bias and steamed it. No more detailed recipes, since we sort of made this up as we went along.

Our one nod to the pathiri recipe was to assemble this into a stack of pancakes with the savory layers in between. You can only really see the asparagus in the photo at the top of this post, but the others are inside the tower and the final result was a fitting start to spring here in San Francisco.
Thanks for the challenge, Joanne!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Arancine revisited


January’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was a ball! The lovely Manu from Manu’s Menu brought our taste buds to the streets of Sicily and taught us her family tradition of making arancine – filled and fried balls of risotto. Delizioso!

We’ve actually made arancine before, way back in November 2010: however, we were delighted to revisit these tasty treats as we rarely get the opportunity to make fried food. This time, our daring host Manu ( provided recipes from her Italian family, and we were spoiled for choice: Arancine al Ragu, Arancine al Burro or Arancine agli Spinaci. We chose the spinach option, because putting those greens in the middle makes it a healthy dish, right?

We made a bit less than the published recipe, using only 2 cups of Arborio rice instead of 3: we still had ample arancine for a party of four and plenty of leftovers as well. First up was the saffron risotto. We used a relatively small dose of saffron but the risotto still turned out to have a delicate yellow color and flavor:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
2-3 cups beef stock
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Heat the stock. Saute the onion in the olive oil until soft and transparent, add the rice and continue to cook until the rice becomes translucent. Add the wine and reduce on medium high heat to burn off the alcohol, then add some stock (to just cover the rice) and turn the heat to low.

Cook until the rice is a bit more than halfway cooked – 13 minutes according to Manu’s recipe – adding stock as needed. After 8 minutes, add the saffron. Then, when the rice is done (but still firm) add the butter and cheese, season and spread on a baking paper to cool (we used a silicone mat):


Make a cup of bechamel sauce (1 oz butter, 1 oz flour, 1 cup milk, nutmeg and salt). Saute a chopped clove of garlic with a little butter, then add 6 oz spinach leaves and cook over low heat until wilted. The spinach does down to nothing! Add enough bechamel and ~2 oz grated mozzarella cheese to make a thick sauce/paste.

greens copy
Before…                                                        after!

Next, prepare the arancine balls by making a little pocket in a handful of the saffron risotto, adding the spinach and cheese mixture and closing it up:

rolling copy

Almost done! Roll the arancine in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs (one after the other, in that order)…

balls copy

… then shallow fry in vegetable oil until the outsides are crisp and golden:


Delicious! Thanks, Manu, for a great challenge.