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.


Caldo Verde – a hearty green soup perfect for a cold night

I’ve watched almost every episode of Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations at this point. It’s like comfort television for me. I think that a T.V. show can become comfort television in one, specific way. You have to be sick. Really, really, sick. Like, too sick to get up off of the couch. For me it gets even worse, because certain specific episodes become invaluable panaceas that are somehow comforting on a bad day after that.

Anyhow, what I’m getting at is that a few years back I was sick. Really sick. With the freaking flu. A coworker had thought it was funny to cough in people’s faces after returning to work from his bout with it, and what do you know, fever, cramping, vomiting, terrible. I was home for four days after seeing a doctor. I spent those four days curled in a tiny ball on my tiny IKEA couch watching TV, and two episodes of No Reservations became instant-feel-better TV. The episodes talked about the local foods of The Azores and Osaka.

I guess Mr. Bourdain has a special affinity for Portuguese cuisine, as he’s worked alongside a lot of Portuguese immigrants. Portuguese cuisine was even a central point of his episode featuring Macau, and as you might have noticed, we did our best to find a little restaurant in a colonial building selling Portuguese food when we visited. The one thing we didn’t order that I knew we should have was caldo verde, the traditional Portuguese soup involving Kale, potatoes, garlic and various proteins depending on whose grandmother is cooking it for you. It was just too warm out for soup.

After our flight back to Korea, we bought a ton of vegetables to make up for our sins in Hong Kong and Macau, and we just so happened to have kale. We made a soup, and it was pretty good, but it didn’t take us long to discover that we were two ingredients short of a caldo verde, so literally the next night, I tried again. Now, we looked at a few recipes on the interwebs, but they’re all kind of different, and I have a way that I like to do things when I make a soup. I’m not Portuguese myself, but this caldo verde kinda tasted like what I would have expected to get in Macau. At any rate, this is my caldo verde, an easy to prepare green soup that will warm you up from the inside out on a cold night. Did I mention it was cheap?

The Primate’s Caldo Verde:

Buy this stuff:

  • Four large kale leaves – vein and mince these
  • Four garlic cloves – minced
  • Two large carrots – diced
  • Four stalks of celery – sliced
  • One medium onion – diced
  • Two medium potatoes – diced
  • One can butter beans, drained
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I guess vegetable stock if you want it to be vegetarian)

The chopping, dicing, cooking, and stuff

  1. We’re going to get all the vegetables ready to go before we turn on the stove. Get to mincin’, dicin’ and drainin’.
  2. What the hell do I do with these leaves? It’s simple. Cut the vein out, roll them up tight like cigards, and slice them like you would a whole carrot. The thinner you slice, the better, and I’m going to suggest going ahead and rotating your cutting board 90 degrees and just kinda chopping the hell out of the resulting pile of what looks like freshly cut grass. The smaller the better. You don’t want long chunks of kale slopping up against your chin, do you?
  3. Get some oil heating in your soup pot, and toss in your garlic until it’s light brown.
  4. Add the celery, carrot, and onion. Okay, so this is pretty French, but I really love the way a mirepoix (the combination of celery, carrot, and onion) gets a strong aromatic flavor going for a soup. Let this saute for just long enough to get a little bit of a sear on the edge of the carrots, and until the onions are translucent.
  5. Add the potatoes. Saute until they get just a tiny hint of gold on the edge.
  6. Add chicken stock, and then cover everything with water. Bring this to a boil. Salt and pepper to taste, because at this point it’s going to be kinda bland and vegetable-y.
  7. You can let this cook until everything is nice and tender. Need to vacuum? Cool. Video games? That would work too. Just give it a stir every once in a while.
  8. 10 minutes before you want to serve, add the kale. Stir it in, don’t just let it float on top. It’s going to take a few minutes for this to get tender. Your soup should be quite green. Check the flavor again, the kale has a strong flavor and you might want to add more salt and pepper.
  9. 5 minutes before you want to serve, add the beans. They just need to heat up. Once it’s all back to a simmer, serve it up.

This soup is filling, hearty, and tastes great, but wait, there’s more! It’s even better on the second day! You know what would make this more amazing? If you tossed some Portuguese chorizo in the soup, and served it with some quijo fresco on a hot piece of bread, this would be a perfect meal.

A simple Korean curry for a cold night

This delicious Korean style curry will warm you up from the inside out.

This delicious Korean style curry will warm you up from the inside out.


I’m something of a curry nut, I guess. The mix of spices and flavors makes my taste buds dance like so many fat hippos in tutus in some ancient Disney movie. That is to say, the flavors of a curry hit hard, but they do it with grace. A few years ago I was a fat schlub watching the Food Network on Friday nights wanting to make exciting exotic foods like curries and noodle bowls and not bothering to look up a recipe on the internet and do it. At the time Asian foods in general seemed super fancy and stuff.

It wasn’t long after our arrival in Korea that we were introduced to Korean style curries. For the first year we ate lunches in the school cafeteria (before we became wiser and more health conscious) and curry day was always great, because it wasn’t completely disgusting it was actually served hot and tasted like something you might actually want to eat. We started making curries at home the Korean way and it didn’t take long to learn how to make a good, Korean style curry that tastes just like the ones served at the cheap Korean food stalls.

The Primate’s Korean Curry

Buy this stuff:

  • One Korean Curry Powder Packet (Ottogi brand is good for this, Golden, Bekse, or Vermont Curry varieties all work)
  • One large potato (or two small ones) – cubed
  • Two carrots – cubed
  • One zucchini – cubed
  • One package of tofu
  • Two eggs
  • Two tablespoons white flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • canola oil
  • rice

The cookery

  1. Coat the bottom of a large-ish pot with canola oil, heat to medium-high.
  2. Dump all those cubed veggies in. Stir occasionally. I like to get a sear on them. Salt and pepper lightly.
  3. Cover the veggies with water, bring to a boil. Cook until tender.
  4. When the vegetables are tender, stir in the curry powder and drop the heat to a simmer. It’ll thicken up pretty quickly after this step.
  5. Coat the bottom of a skillet or sautee pan with oil and bring to medium heat.
  6. Beat the eggs and flour together to form a batter,
  7. Slice the tofu into about 1 cm thick slices, dip in the batter, and fry until golden brown. Flip and fry until the other side is golden brown too.

Plate it up

A Korean clay bowl would be great for this, but anything will do. Slop the curry on top of your rice, then neatly arrange some of the fried tofu on top. Pow! You’ve got a dinner that will impress any date. Especially a vegetarian date. You certainly won’t miss the meat in this dish, because the flavor of the curry and the volume of the vegetables and rice will keep you plenty full, but if it is a date night dinner, have the toothbrushes and toothpaste ready before you put on the moves.


Here’s a green curry recipe, because your house should smell like Thailand


Thai curries are some of our most frequently repeated meals now. They’re super easy to make, taste wonderful, and make our whole apartment smell like Thailand. I sound like an over emotional late twenty something lady in search of her true love and passion that takes a year long trip to Italy, India, and Bali when I say this, but cooking Thai food and the accompanying aroma magically transports me back to a hot afternoon in Phuket. It’s fun for me to make a curry for more reasons than how freaking awesome it tastes.

Green curry is probably the most popular curry consumed by western tourists in Thailand. essentially, if you make a red curry, or a Penang curry without the peanuts, and swap out the paste from red to green you’ve made the switch. The process is the same. The flavor, however, is not. The green chilis in the green curry paste are substantially spicier than the red chilis. The higher spice level seems to really set off every individual flavor of the other ingredients in the curry, and the flavors of lemongrass, galangal, and shallots become bigger and louder. Green curry is a blast of flavor that is certain to please the palate.

The Primate’s “I can’t find all the right ingredients” green curry recipe

This isn’t exactly the green curry recipe that I learned and tasted in Thailand, but it’s easy and gets me back to Thailand, if even only in my mind.

Buy this stuff:
Green curry paste
Chicken breasts
Bell pepper
Coconut milk

The process is identical to any other Thai curry.

1. Heat up a wok or saucepan with canola oil. Fry your curry paste for a bit.

2. Add your chicken and vegetables and cook it for a bit.

3. Add your coconut milk, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until you’re ready to serve.

Oh yeah, I forgot that you should have started steaming your rice before all of this. Sorry dude.

*This green curry recipe was adapted from Pum’s Lazy Thai Cuisine to suit my available ingredients. Her recipe is far superior, and should you ever visit Thailand you would be remiss to not learn to cook from her.

Korean Soul Food: Doenjang Jjigae

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Doenjang jjigae for dinner #koreanfood #cooking #food

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Have I mentioned lately that it’s cold in Korea? Of course I have. What’s better on a cold night than a hot bowl of stew? I can’t really think of any good answers to that question. Doenjang Jjigae is is my ultimate Korean comfort food, and it tastes even better when the weather outside is frightful.

What exactly is doenjang jjigae, you ask? A simple description would be a fiery hell-broth of a soup that warms you up with heat and spice. The main punch of flavor comes from Korean red pepper and doenjang, a fermented paste of soybeans. As I’m assuming everyone’s recipe for this is a little bit different, I’m going to tell you how I made mine and allow you to disagree with my cookery as much as you like.

We started out by eating the doenjang jjigae at the restaurant next door to our apartment for about 18 months. Every time we ate there we tried to identify every little bit of chopped vegetable in the pot and every flavor we could pick out of the broth. We decided that there must be green onion, gochujang (red pepper sauce), and doenjang in the stock, “beefed up” with tofu and zucchini. It’s always served with rice, as well.

After months and months of talking about making it, I finally bought a tub of doenjang after work one day, and let it sit in the fridge, taunting me for about another two weeks. We took the plunge the day the Korean high school students took their SAT, because hey, it’s a day off and when is there ever a better time to cook something new? It tasted great, so I’ll be happy to share my experience with you.

The Primate’s Doenjang Jjigae

Buy this stuff:
Doenjang (fermented soybean paste)
Gochujang (Korean red pepper sauce)
Green Onions

1. Start out by rinsing the rice once, and only once. Save the rinse water, because you’re going to use this for the base of the stock. Make about 2 cups of this cloudy white water, and toss them in your soup pot. Set your rice up to cook whatever way you like and press the start button.

2. Add a tablespoon (or two) of the doenjang to the pot. This stuff likes to stick together, so smash it up against the bottom of the pot with a spoon, stir, do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight, and whatever the heck else you need to do to get it incorporated into the stock. This stuff is pretty salty, so you might want to stick with just one tablespoon.

3. Add a tablespoon or so of the gochujang too. Repeat the smashing, stirring, dancing, and whatnot until it’s incorporated. You now have a salty, stinky, spicy mess. Congratulations. Turn on the stovetop to about a medium heat.

4. Chop a few of the green onions. How green oniony do you want it to be? I used about four of the big Korean ones, so you might want to use three or four little North American ones. Toss them in the hell-broth you have starting to heat up.

5. Slice your tofu into about 1×2 inch squares rectangles that are about a half-inch thick each. toss these into the pot, too.

6. Chop that zucchini up into small bites, dump it in the pot, and cover everything with about an inch of water. Give it a stir, because that mix of doenjang, gochujang, and ricewater really needs to become a homogeneous solution with the water you just added.

7. Crank the heat up to high. Let it boil pretty violently for a few minutes. Taste the broth to make sure it’s salty/spicy enough for you, adjust with more doenjang, gochujang, or both, and serve up a big bowl of doenjang jjigae.

8. Serve the rice on the side. The best part of this whole thing is dipping your rice into the soup, spoonful by spoonful.

9. Let the burning sensation in your gut take over and warm you up from the inside out.

When I think of typical Korean flavors served in the most homestyle way, I think of doenjang jjigae. I’m not Korean, and I’m no professional cook by any means, but if you follow these steps you’ll be well on your way to making a stew that resembles the doenjang jjigaes I’ve grown to love here in Korea.

Penang Curry: My ultimate comfort food


Of all the places that I’ve been in my life, I think that Thailand was the most delicious. This was a big question in my head after we visited Japan a month and a half ago. Japanese cuisine is undoubtedly delicious and among the finest in all the world. Thai food, though, is a completely different animal. At home I always thought of Thai food as a super spicy and explosive cuisine but to my surprise my favorite dishes were the ones that featured the most subtle flavors.

One of these more subtle dishes is Penang Curry. Penang curry is, in my experience, a red curry with a subtle infusion of peanut flavor. It’s remarkable how a tiny bit of peanut flavor changes the profile of a dish that gets its main punch from red chiles. Luckily for me, it’s super easy to make at home. Here is my recipe for a super easy Penang curry. It’s a bit of a dude recipe, so feel free to add whatever you like to fancy it up. It’s not super necessary, but julienned red Thai chile and kaffir lime leaves would go along way towards taking this from single man slop to sexy and elegant date night cuisine.

The Primate’s Penang Curry

Buy this stuff:
Thai red chili paste (we can’t get the ingredients to make it here, and can only find one brand, so I don’t think the brand matters…just the color)
Coconut milk (1 can)
3-4 chicken breasts, thinly sliced.
Canola oil
Jasmine rice (any rice will do in a pinch)

If you live somewhere with a good Asian market buy this stuff too:
Fresh Thai chiles
A couple stalks of lemongrass
Kaffir lime leaves

The Process

Cooking curry is an easy process. You can use these steps for any if the Thai curries, just change out the paste and proteins.

Before you even start, steam your rice.

1. Coat the bottom if a skillet with canola oil
2. Add the curry paste (to taste). One can of coconut milk makes a butt-load of curry, I’m going to suggest starting with two tablespoons of paste. Or chef instructor at Pum’s Thai cooking school explained it like this..last art with a medium flavor, if you need more oomph just add more curry paste and well, WELCOME TO THAILAND!
3. Use a spatula to break up the paste as it sizzles. I like to continue breaking it up until the oil is a homogenous red color. Add the peanuts and let them cook for just a couple of minutes.
4. Add the chicken, break it up, and press it into the pan with your spatula. Cook it until there are no more translucent bits, but not so long as to give it a char or brown crust.
5. Pour the coconut milk into the pan and give it a few stirs, the milk should go from a white to a red color. Bring it to a boil and let it cook just a few more minutes.
6. Rice goes on plate. Curry goes in bowl.
7. If you want your friends, girlfriend, wife, date, or self to think that you are just too fancy, top the curry with matchsticks of red chile and julienned kaffir lime leaves. Crushed peanuts would be super nice too. Letting just a bit of chopped lemon grass stew with everything else in the coconut milk for a bit would elevate it all a notch as well.
8. Nom.
9. Reap the inevitable compliments.

Thai food isn’t all that complex to cook, from what I’ve learned, and that’s why it’s so damn good to eat. The Shakers (you know, one of those weird religious sects like the Amish and the Quakers) had a whole song that described Thai food.

‘Tis a gift to be simple,
‘Tis a gift to be free,
‘Tis a gift to come ’round,
Where we ought to be,
and when we find our selves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley if love and delight

For me, that valley of love and delight is Railay beach, Krabi province, Thailand; and the quickest way to get there is with a bowl of this simple Penang Curry.

Yes, I’m fully aware that Penang is in Malaysia, but you can sure as hell eat a lot of Penang Curry in southern Thailand…and you should.

Couscous stuffed buttercup squash


It’s COLD in Korea and we wanted something to warm us up from the inside

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s not all that many options as far as produce goes, so we have to improvise a bit to eat the things we really want. We had no idea what we wanted for dinner today before Carolyn made her way through the grocery store on the way home after work. Thankfully she’s quite the resourceful lady and has a nice healthy imagination which led us to this.

Couscous Stuffed Buttercup Squash

This dish made me think of an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show where he visited Istanbul. One of the meals he made was a dish with some dried fruits and nuts and stuff cooked in a savory way. Not that our dinner turned out anything like that, but boy oh boy, I love the texture, flavor, and surprising burst of sweetness you get from raisins in couscous. Anyhow, let’s get going on the cookin’, because I know you get a little grumpy when you’re hungry.

Buy this stuff
One buttercup squash
Two cups of couscous
Borlotti Beans
Fennel seeds
Cumin seeds
Salt and pepper
Canola oil

1. Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and the bit that looks like vomit. Rub the inside with a bit of butter, and stick some cloves in the fleshy part. Sprinkle with coriander and cinnamon.
2. Throw the squash in a 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes.
3. Take a shower, because you just got home from the gym.
4. Boil two cups of water, once it boils add the couscous, turn off the heat, and cover it.
5. Chop almonds.
6. Heat some oil in a skillet, and add fennel and cumin seeds, cinnamon, turmeric, and coriander. Try to add even parts of each, but I don’t worry too much about measurements.
7. Add the chopped almonds and give them a minute to start to crisp up.
8. Add the beans (rinsed and drains) to the skillet, let them get nice and hot.
9. Add the raisins to the skillet. They should soak up some of the goodness working in the pan for a minute or two.
10. Turn off the heat, add the couscous to the skillet and mix thoroughly. You’ll know when it’s thorough enough because everything will be an even yellow color from the turmeric.

Everything is ready! Celebrate! Take the cloves out of the buttercup squash, dish the couscous into the squash bowl and sit down, because it’s time for a couscous stuffed buttercup squash nosh.

I can’t overstate how important it is to take the cloves out. I didn’t remember to do it and I had a few surprises in my meal.