Reliving our honeymoon one plate at a time

Boy oh boy, have things changed in the past year. I had a great day off yesterday, and I had invited my mother and her husband over for a tapas dinner because hey, any chance for a visit right? When I woke up yesterday I realized that a year ago I woke up on a plane descending into Madrid with Mrs. Primate on the first day of our honeymoon. I figured it was a sign that I should probably make something for dinner on days that I cook that would remind us of where we were on our honeymoon at this time a year ago. Well, dinner number one was already in the bag.

Last night I finally cracked open the Spanish cookbook that Mrs. Primate gave me for my birthday and made a couple typically Iberian delights, a tortilla with potatoes and onions, and albóndigas with a tomato salsa. In addition I added in a memory of our trip to Hong Kong (where I had my first tapas dining experience) with asparagus roasted under a blanket of manchego cheese. It turned out beautifully, and we had just enough little plates to even serve it in an authentic fashion. Things weren’t 100% Spanish though.

This #homemade lemon #gelato has me pretty excited for #dessert tonight. #food #foodporn #foodstagram

A post shared by Charlie (@daddyprimate) on

For dessert I made gelato. Why? Well, memories of how good the gelato in Rome was as we walked through the streets on a hot spring day have been going through my head like freight trains as the weather has started to heat up. I logged onto trusty old Pinterest, searched for a lemon gelato recipe, and came up with this. It took me about an hour, and this was only my second experience with the ice cream maker my sister unloaded on gifted to us a few months ago. Well, let’s just say the second attempt went MUCH better than the first. So much better that I’m planning to make a little straciatella when we run out of this wonderful lemon batch.

Simmering up a syrup for limonata.

A post shared by Charlie (@daddyprimate) on

I also made a syrup with lemon and basil to make homemade limonata, you know, the Italian version of lemonade? Something about the tartness of the lemon with the aroma of the basil really works together, and the basil was grown in our own garden. Talk about a fresh flavor! I found that one part Limonata mix and two parts carbonated water make for a really refreshing lemonade. If only it had a shot of limoncello…

These naked #lemons are making my first batch of #homemade #limoncello. #booze #drinks #picstitch

A post shared by Charlie (@daddyprimate) on

Well, it will have a shot of limoncello, in about 30 days when this vodka I recently poured over the zest of 8 lemons is finished infusing, and simple syrup is added. But I digress.

The Spanish bit of the meal was absolutely fabulous, and it did in fact remind me of sitting at a table in Plaza Mayor in Madrid, watching street performers, hawkers, and families mill about as we enjoyed our tapas and wine. That was the point. I’d better save some Italian stuff for a week or two until I need to remind myself of Italy. 😉

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

A post shared by Charlie (@daddyprimate) on

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!

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

Cacio, Pepe, cacio e pepe #food #foodporn #italianfood #cooking #delicious #foodstagram #picstitch

A post shared by Charlie (@daddyprimate) on

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

A post shared by Charlie (@daddyprimate) on

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.

Kimchi Fried Rice: Because I miss Korea a little

It’s freaking cold outside. For whatever reason (POLAR VORTEX OMG!) South Texas has become quite cold for the past few days. It reminds me of Korea. Well, almost. I enjoyed the winter in Korea quite a bit, unless I had to go outside, and you know how life is, right? You need to go outside to go to work, the grocery store, anywhere. So yeah, I enjoyed winter in Korea, but I didn’t enjoy the slipping on the ice and such. At any rate, the cold snap here made me a little “home”sick for Korea, I guess. Combine that with the ridiculous craving I’ve felt for all foods Asian and you have a shopping trip in the making.

Saturday was kinda nutty. We went to Whole Foods, where I nailed down some ingredients I needed for ramen broth (kombu, nori, etc) and then headed over to Trader Joe’s where I purchased a bag of kimchi. Why kimchi? Why now? Why ever? I don’t remember really going out of my way to eat kimchi while we were in Korea. I liked it well enough, but damn, at every meal? It’s been a long time. Almost a year. It was time to get a little kimchi back in my system. After all, “Kimchi is good for your body condition.” et al. We also stopped at the “Oriental Market” down the street (I guess it was opened when “oriental” was the preferred nomenclature), where we picked up some danmuji, fish cakes, various frozen bau and fish balls (heh).

Wanting to use some of the kimchi right away, and needing to make something to take to work this week I figured I’d do kind of my classic “how do we use all of the crap in the fridge and cupboard” thing and make fried rice. But add kimchi, ssamjang (half Korean pepper sauce, half Korean style fermented soybean), and red pepper flakes and you’ve got yourself some KIMCHI FRIED RICE. It made my house smell a little more like “home” I guess, with the funk of fermented food products and pepper flakes in the air.

I don’t know how Koreans make fried rice. Hell, I don’t know how anyone makes fried rice, but basically, I cook rice, let it cool, and then well…fry it. We had a bunch of leftover meaty bits from a chicken I roasted a couple of days earlier, and as Carolyn was baking, 9 egg whites. For vegetables I had some julienned carrots that needed using and of course the kimchi. I kinda just chopped everything up and tossed it in the oil, and after it seemed to meld together I tossed in the rice, pepper flakes, and ssamjang, stirring until it looked like everything was coated.

The results of this experiment weren’t so bad. I had a hot meal for the past two days at work, and I haven’t been nearly as hungry when I get home in the afternoon. Plus, any time you have kimchi at a table full of Americans you have a conversation waiting to happen (e.g. Ew, what’s that?).

At any rate, it’s nice to have a real attachment to something from another time and place. Kimchi does cause me a guttural reaction, and not just in the obvious way. Something about that funky smell reminds me of just how easy life was when we were teaching English in Korea and had just a few cares in the world. Plus it’s good for your body condition.

My life as an amateur fromagier

Cheese kit

This is the little cheese-making kit Carolyn gave to me for Christmas. Pretty cool, eh?

For Christmas this year, my wife surprised me by fulfilling one of my deepest wishes when we moved back to the United States from Korea. You see, there was this one thing that I really, really wanted to try now that all of the necessary supplies and ingredients could be easily had, and I just hadn’t gotten around to it due to the rather hectic year we had in 2013. I mean seriously, moving halfway around the world, getting married, traveling across an entire continent, coming back, moving, looking for work and trying to settle down in NYC, not finding work and moving halfway across the country, then finding work and settling down in Texas made for kind of a busy few months, ya know? So anyway, when I unwrapped a fancy Italian Cheese Making Kit by MadMilie’s™, I squeed a bit and got all kinds of excited because I was finally all set up to make cheese in my own kitchen.

So, now you’re a cheesemaker. How’d that go?

My first attempt was at ricotta. Why ricotta? Because the instruction book implied it would be the easiest. It certainly was not difficult, and with the right equipment (e.g. the ricotta basket and little bag of citric acid) it was super easy. I even managed to screw up a bit by not dissolving the citric acid in water first, and got a great yield. I think next time I’ll add more than the recommended amount of salt, because you know I like my food well seasoned.

The process was simple:

So heating milk up to 95C means constantly checking the thermometer and stirring. Kinda hard to break for a picture.

So heating milk up to 95C means constantly checking the thermometer and stirring. Kinda hard to break for a picture.

1. Heat the milk to 95C

 

The curds are separating!

The curds are separating!

2. Add the citric acid and let the curds precipitate for about an hour whilst enjoying a coffee

The hot curds sit in this basket and drain. You might have to dump the water a few times.

The hot curds sit in this basket and drain. You might have to dump the water a few times.

 

4. Place the curds in the ricotta basket

 

The finished product, about a pound of ricotta!

The finished product, about a pound of ricotta!

5. Drain a couple times

 

Yeah, but what did you do with the cheese?

Now, ricotta isn’t just something that we keep around the house for the hell of it, and I didn’t want my expertly made FROMAGE going to waste in the fridge, so we kinda planned our week’s meals around it. First up was a lasagna with turkey, ricotta, and spinach. It was pretty delicious, but not super photogenic I guess, because I didn’t take a photo.

Delicious stuffed pasta shells from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Recipe.

Delicious stuffed pasta shells from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Recipe.

The next (and final) use for the ricotta was this stuffed shell recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Okay, get ready for an aside here. This cookbook straight up explains thing in a straightforward and easy to understand manner, and somehow manages to avoid all of the downfalls that I regularly find in recipes. In essence, you can read through the recipe once, get your stuff in order, and go, and not find out that as all of your burners are going and grease is popping and the cat is panicking because it sees the house beginning to burn down that you have to dice an onion or something. I can really appreciate the organizational quality therein. Now, that said, the finished product from every recipe we’ve made out of this book has been superb. Completely, totally superb. Not one bit has gone to waste. This is one of those cookbooks that you should certainly have and use if you’re serious about dining in and you’re not a chef or something.

So, as you might expect, cheese-making isn’t so difficult. I’d recommend having a plan for the cheese so that it doesn’t just rot in your fridge, but that’s not really that hard, now is it? You can expect to see some more adventures in fromagerie in the near future.