Stracciatella gelato, whimsy, words

I think I might have found my standard contribution to family gatherings. You see, my sister brings this spinach dip to every family gathering, and everyone always acts surprised and delighted and showers her with compliments about how <insert superlative here> that spinach dip is! I never knew, until recently, that I wanted a standard contribution too. I make a lot of things that no one else in the family does. I make delicious Thai curries and curry pastes. I make delicious ramen broth. I also make a damn fine cacio e pepe. None of those dishes really go with everything though. You can’t just show up to someone’s house for a dinner gathering with a big pot of curry and a rice cooker. I guess you could, but no one would act surprised and delighted when you do.

Anyhow, we were getting together for mother’s day yesterday, and earlier in the week my sister mentioned that mom wanted me to bring some lemon gelato (because mom was over at the house the first time I made it and was surprised and delighted!). It was like a light bulb going off. OMG I can take gelato to nearly any family event! GELATO IS MY SPINACH DIP! People will be genuinely surprised by my genius flavor combinations! So I made a stracciatella gelato. I used a vanilla bean instead of extract. I made my own chocolate syrup to drip into the churning vat of delicious. I managed to drip the chocolate in so gingerly as to create chocolate chips, not chocolate ice cream. I carefully packed it, made a cute label, and showed up quite proud and excited, and everyone was surprised and delighted! Why? BECAUSE MY SISTER BROUGHT A LEMON ICE CREAM PIE.

I genuinely found this hilarious. I do intend to dominate the ice cream and gelato arena at family gatherings from here forward. No, I don’t really see it as a competition. I do somewhat feel like I’m at the point in my life where I should carve out a niche for such events that involves more than taking a seat in front of the chips and dips and watching everyone while avoiding conversation. Gelato is a start.

Happy wife, happy life. 😍😍😍😍😍

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On an unrelated note, since I’m ranting away today. Mrs. Primate just started a new work schedule for the summer. You see, I work 11:30 – 8, and previously she worked 10-7. She has to get up earlier, which means I have to get up earlier if I want to fulfill my morning duties of delivering a breakfast and beverage to her vanity as she gets ready for work. This is a slight modification of waking up slowly together in the kitchen while I sip coffee and deliver her breakfast to the table while we watch YouTube videos. Then she leaves at 7:30 and I have another 3 and a half hours before I have to be at work.

I’m not good at change. I feel a little lost this morning without my breakfast buddy. I don’t know whether to try and get in an hour or two of Grand Theft Auto, or to go grocery shopping. I could also stand to go for a run, but that doesn’t sound like much fun either. Basically, I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes trying to figure out what to do with my life…for the next three hours ;). Times where I don’t have an established pattern drive me nuts. I rely on structure to help me figure out my timing. I’m probably the only person on the planet that could wake up an hour earlier and show up to work late because I just couldn’t figure out when I needed to leave! Whine whine whine, piss piss piss, moan moan moan.

I think I’ll go grocery shopping, that’s always fun in the morning.

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Quick and easy egg casserole

This quick and easy egg casserole happened this morning while I was freaking out about what to eat for breakfast.

Quick and easy egg casserole for Easter morning #food #foodporn #foodstagram #cooking

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Here’s what went into it:

1. Prosciutto

2. Mushrooms.

3. Leftover baked potatoes

4. Eggs

5. Thyme and oregano

6. Cheese

7. Basil

It was pretty good. It was definitely quick, and it’s holding us over until lunch, so I guess it’s a job well done!

“P” is for Pizza, that’s good enough for me

#homemade #pizza with green pepper, mushroom, prosciutto, and #fresh basil. My first from-scratch pizza. Not too bad if I say so myself! #food #foodporn #foodstagram #pizzagram

 

Our evening routine goes something like this. I fall asleep on the couch while we watch an amateur singing competition on TV, Carolyn wakes me up and I put the dogs out, then we go to bed and watch more TV (ostensibly, I roll over and go to sleep at the outset of this part.) The other night though this didn’t quite go to plan. I managed to stay awake and Carolyn put something on that I can’t resist: Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The episode we watched featured a Greek man in Denver who made pizzas. Despite Chef Ramsay’s comments about the pizza, I thought it looked good enough to take a little inspiration from it and said “This week I shall make a pizza!” Except it was probably more like “mumble mumble make pizza mumble mumble.”

Carolyn assured me that we had the stuffs to make a pizza crust, and she picked up some sauce and cheese when she did the grocery shopping, and then she said “the crust recipe is in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook” and told me that we had a green pepper and implied that if I wanted any meat or anything I should get it my own damn self. So I did. On my way home from my Wednesday visit with my dad I stopped at the grocery store and picked up Prosciutto (chopped), mushrooms, and fresh basil. I really wanted to layer thin slices of prosciutto di parma on the top of the pizza with the basil and mushrooms, but I also had some concerns I can discuss at a later time that led me to the chopped kind.

At any rate, I made the crust super easy with the help of the amazing KitchenAid stand mixer we got from Mrs. Primate’s family for Christmas, rolled it out super easy (I generally hate working with flour and I couldn’t believe how easy this went), put it on the pan, and topped the pizza very lightly. Per the instructions in the cookbook, I cranked the oven up as hot as it could go and put the pizza in, keeping an eye on it so it wouldn’t burn. When it was ready we dug in, and you know what? It was really good! I could have gone slightly heavier on the cheese, but it was good nonetheless.

So a new thing has started in the Primate House. Pizza Wednesdays. I have a few ideas for pizzas I want to make (Margherita like we had in Naples, prosciutto di parma like we had in Florence, etc.), but my inspiration is often limited and muddled. So what I’m getting at is this. Please share with me your favorite pizza recipes in the comments below. If you make your own sauce share that recipe too!

Oh, it’s oregano!

I went outside to check on the #herb #garden this morning and thought the oregano looked mighty fine.

 

Last week, or a couple of weeks ago (I can’t really remember, they all blur together) I had a personal culinary epiphany that led to a buying decision this weekend at the local lawn and garden shop. Oregano. It’s not like I was unfamiliar with oregano before, I just never paid it any attention. That was until Mrs. Primate did the shopping while I went to get some prescriptions refilled and planned a meal of chicken souvlaki for me to make (because at that point, which seems like part of the distant past, she worked later than I did) for dinner.

Opah! #homemade chicken souvlaki and Tatziki. #greekfood #imnotgreekbutiwishiwas

I got home from work that day, had my evening coffee (something I did once in the not-so-distant past when my morning started much earlier and my evenings would end far too soon if I didn’t fortify my alertness with a delicious mug of joy. I digress. I pulled out the recipe and realized that the meat needed to be marinated for something along the lines of two hours. OOPS. Well, I had less time to work with so I got cracking. Apparently the secret marinade that the Greeks use on their delicious souvlaki is olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and oregano.

iPhone honeymoon photos

Look up at the photo. This is what flashes in my brain when I catch a whiff of oregano. The flavor of Greek food that I’ve always wondered about? Oregano. The smell that makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a square on an island somewhere with ancient ruins, Ottoman and Byzantine architecture, and bougainvillea everywhere? Oregano. The scent of blissful early summer evenings in the Mediterranean wondering what adventures the next day would hold? Oregano. I instantly realized that I love oregano, I always have. Oregano is my pretty-girl-who-was-right-in-front-of-my-face-but-I-didn’t-realize-it-until-the-end-of-the-John-Hughes-teen-movie of herbs and spices.

When we were picking out herbs for our little herb garden on Sunday, you’d better believe that as soon as I saw the “Greek Oregano” plant I said “oh we have to have that one.” And we do.

 

Just two flavors: Cacio e Pepe – my favorite pasta from Rome

Last spring when we were in Rome, I was bent on finding a great serving of Cacio e Pepe, Rome’s famous pasta dish that uses simple flavors, black pepper and pecorino romano cheese. We did find a wonderful little place on a side street not far from the Trevi Fountain that was not only absolutely the best food we ate in the Eternal City, but also relatively inexpensive. Since then, we moved to New York, then back to Texas, and with our Texas-sized kitchen space I’ve tried to make Cacio e Pepe a few times, but last night I think I finally did it with a measurable level of success. Here’s what I did:

Charlie’s method of making Cacio e Pepe

You need this stuff:

  • long pasta like spaghetti (I saw a Barilla factory from the train in Campania, so I use theirs because I think it’s authentically produced in a factory near Bari)
  • Pecorino Romano cheese at least two cups worth, grated finely
  • At least a few teaspoons of coarsely ground black peppercorns (I use a mortar and pestle as opposed to a pepper grinder)
  • Good olive oil
  • Salt

Here’s how you do it:

Get a pot of heavily salted water boiling and cook your noodles until nearly al dente. If the package says 7 minutes, do 6. Before you drain them, pull off a couple of cups of the starchy pasta water, you need this for the sauce.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat and add a generous amount of olive oil. Once the oil is nice and hot, add your black pepper. It’s going to give off this crazy floral scent that only smells faintly of black pepper but mostly of delicous. Once the pepper is toasted a bit, ladle in about a cup of the pasta water, and put the pasta back in.

Start adding your cheese. Turn that pasta inside and out and stir vigorously, add more cheese, keep turning. You’re looking for an evenly textured pasta sauce made of the cheese and pasta water. If it clumps keep stirring. I use a pasta rake and a spatula. This is going to take a few minutes so keep working at it until it’s even. If it gets too dry, add more of the starchy water. When the sauce is smooth, dish it up and enjoy.

It’s a super simple pasta dish to make, it just requires a bit of work to make it happen. I know that when I took my first bite of my Cacio e Pepe last night that I could picture myself in that tiny little restaurant with a glass of wine and my beautiful bride sitting across from me thinking that we should go toss a Euro in the Trevi Fountain so that we would one day go back to Rome.

A week of soups

Indian spiced chickpea soup #food #foodporn

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It’s been a freaking festival of soups up in here. The weather has been pretty cold by Texas standards, and for whatever reason I’ve had a hard time warming up at the end of the day. I think I got really chilled when I played basketball after work the other day and didn’t have any long pants or a sweatshirt. At any rate, warming up in the evening has been a function of dinner, and nothing warms me up like a bowl of soup. We went out for Tortilla Soup on Monday, and then Tuesday I made a really simple chili (because hey, the easiest kind of meal to make is the kind where you throw a bunch of crap in a pot and let it simmer). Yesterday I made an Indian-spiced chickpea soup with noodles, parsnips, carrots and celery. I figured I’d tell you how I did it.

First, I chopped up the carrots, celery, zucchini and parsnips. I heated up some oil in the bottom of a heavy pot, and added equal parts cumin, cardamom, and paprika. After it started smelling nice and good, I added all the chopped vegetables and let them brown a bit. When that all looked softened up a bit, I added in two cans of chickpeas, water and all, and a whole quart of vegetable stock, salt, pepper, and a bit of garam masala and the zucchini and let it simmer for about an hour, then added the pasta and let it cook. BAM. That’s dinner, and that’s delicious.

It doesn’t remind me of the time I was in India though, because I’ve never been to India. Heh.

Chicken Tagine: A taste of Morocco

I’ve never been to Morocco, so clearly I’m an expert on Moroccan cuisine, right? Uh, right. Anyhow, I do love spices, and the spice trade was (and still is) huge in North Africa, so a classic Moroccan chicken tagine is a dish that lurks right up in my wheelhouse. Here are some questions that I’m certain are lurking in your brain:

  • What’s this all about?
  • Why Moroccan?
  • Where on earth did you ever get the idea that THIS would be a fun thing to do in your kitchen?

The quick answer is simple. I love Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Marrakech Express is often stuck in my head. Plus after dining in Greece and Turkey, I’m pretty sure that Middle Eastern and North African cuisines are the bees-knees. Combine these two important contributors to the fact that my mother gave me a beautiful Tunisian-made tagine for Christmas and POW!, it’s dinner time.

Just what the heck is a tagine, anyway?

Tagine

A tagine is a traditional North African clay cooking vessel used to make delicious and tasty stews.

A tagine is basically a clay pot with a clay hat. You have to do some work to season it before use, and you gotta be real careful not to heat it up or cool it down too fast so you don’t crack it. Mine came from Williams-Sonoma, and a quick look at their prices shows that they sell for around $50ish. Not a bad price for an evening getaway to the Sahara, right? Right.

The cooking part

Ah. I knew you’d wonder about this part. Cooking in a tagine is much like cooking in any other pot, just slower. First you’re going to need a recipe. I used this one:

Michael Ruhlman’s Chicken Tagine

That meant that I needed to buy and prep all of this stuff:

The mise-en-place for my chicken tagine.

The mise-en-place for my chicken tagine.

Instead of his suggested list of spices I used a couple tablespoons of Ras-el-hanout, the typical spice blend of Morocco. I really, really love this spice blend. Mainly because saying ras-el-hanout in my best North African French dialect makes me feel worldly.

Another substitution I made was the use of chicken breasts instead of thighs. While I would prefer chicken thighs any day, Mrs. Primate would prefer breast meat, and I like for her to have what she wants.

Here’s where things got frustrating. You should warm up a tagine slowly, but you have to put enough heat on the burner to warm the damn thing up. I’m sure I’ll figure out how to heat it up fast enough to be practical but slowly enough to not crack the thing at some point. I think i waited an hour for it to heat up. Literally. An hour. By this time it was like 9pm. Oh well says I, people in Spain and France eat late and stuff. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us. Thank god for frozen appetizers.

A TAGINE IS NOT A BOTTOMLESS PIT

Overfilled tagine

So I thought this mountain of stuff would cook down. It did. And out the sides of the tagine!

So, like most cooking implements, a tagine has finite space available. I thought that perhaps stacking all of the ingredients into a pyramid might make the best use of the space, after all, its hat is shaped like a cone, right? As it turns out, things cook down, lose their consistency, and tend to gather in the bottom of the pan. When it runs out of room, it overfills. When it overfills it burns on the burner. When the crud burning on the burner burns, it makes smoke. I guess this is all predictable. PRO TIP: If it’s your first time cooking with a tagine, maybe it’s best not to jump in the shower once the thing comes to a boil. Then your wife might not start screaming in terror as the house fills with smoke.

This is one of those dishes that gets better the longer it cooks. That means you should start prepping everything well in advance of when you want to eat, probably not at 8pm. I only let it stew for about an hour or so and it came out looking like this:

Finished Tagine

Tada!

After the adventures and capers involved with cooking this thing, it turned out surprisingly DELICIOUS. I served it over a mixture of bulgur wheat, wild rice, and some other grains that were a bit more “healthy” looking than perhaps your standard couscous, and we nommed it up like a couple of chubby kids in a cupcake shop.

The Takeaway

Cooking can be nearly as fun as traveling to places with interesting foods. On the plus side there’s no airport security or airplane lavatories. On the minus side, you’re still at home. On the plus side, that means you can watch TV in your own language while you dine. It kinda all evens out. Making this tagine made the house smell good for days, and I must say, the smell of Ras-el-Hanout in the air took me right back to the spice bazaar in Istanbul, and also the fake little spice bazaar in Chelsea Market in NYC. I’m not quite sure anything but food can transport your mind somewhere else faster. ALSO, you can have a great adventure following someone else’s recipe that you printed from the internet. When combined with poor reading and a lack of common sense, it makes for a TRUE CULINARY ADVENTURE!