Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lasagna with Celery Root and Mushrooms

While flipping through the November issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, I was struck by the recipe for celery root and mushroom bread pudding. I love savory bread pudding but don't make it very often because it seems a lot of work for what is essentially a side dish. But I thought the combination of mushrooms and celery root could be interesting in a main dish like lasagna.

I love love love the idea of using a celery root puree as a substitute for béchamel. I love love love celery root, period, which is odd, since I'm not a big fan of regular celery. A rich root vegetable puree + mushrooms seems so fallcozy, but maybe too rich, so I added some chard and leeks, just so there was a green vegetable present. I found spinach lasagna noodles to add even more green. The end result was very rustic and pretty darn tasty. But highly non-photogenic. :(

It might seem like this dish has lots of steps, but no more so than regular lasagna (assuming you don't just use sauce from a jar!) I like to make something like this on a weekend and spread out the various tasks during the day. When dinnertime comes, I just pop the pan into the oven and wait for the delicious smells to come wafting out.

Fall Lasagna

1 celery root
2 cups light cream
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cayenne
1 lb mushrooms (I used cremini and oyster)
Olive oil
1 medium leek
1 bunch rainbow or Swiss chard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 package no boil lasagna noodles
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese or Italian cheese blend
Salt and pepper

Peel the celery root and cut into medium dice. Place it and the cream into a 2 quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until celery root is tender. Season with nutmeg, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature, then puree in a blender. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Clean, slice, and finely chop the mushrooms. Saute in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until they have released all of their liquid and have begun to brown, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Slice the leek in half lengthwise and cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Rinse well in cold water to remove any grit.

Wash chard very well to remove any grit. Cut off the stems and chop finely. Remove the center rib and slice leaves into thin ribbons.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the leek and the chard stems. Cook until the stems are tender, 8-10 minutes. Add the greens and the garlic and stir to combine. Cover the pan and cook, stirring regularly, until greens are completely wilted, 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Place leek and chard mixture in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble lasagna: Spoon some of the celery root puree onto the bottom of an 8" or 9" square baking dish. Cover with lasagna noodles. Spread another layer of celery root puree onto the noodles. Top puree with 1/3 of the chard and 1/3 of the mushrooms. Add another layer of sauce, more noodles, and more sauce. Repeat chard/mushroom and sauce/noodle/sauce layers, until all of the chard and mushrooms are used up. Finish with a sauce/noodle/sauce layer. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake.

To bake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place covered baking dish into the oven and heat for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and test doneness of noodles by poking a sharp knife into the center. If there's still some resistance, put the pan back into the oven for another 10 minutes or so. If the knife slides through easily, remove the foil and sprinkle on the 1/2 cup of cheese. Return to oven and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese and top layer of sauce browns.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Serves 4.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Ware House 518

The large townhouse at 518 North Charles Street was once Louie's Bookstore Café, a popular haunt for the artsy and literary set (and us). Then it became Ixia, then Creme, and now Ware House 518. It's still owned by Creme's Ezra Tilaye, who has given the space a bit of a renovation, and hired a new chef, Christopher Vocci, formerly of the late Oyster Bay Grille in Towson.

Ware House's fare is Southern-inspired, with lots of references to New Orleans cuisine. There's also a good dose of Maryland favorites like rockfish and crab cakes.

We were invited to a private media dinner (as in just the two of us) to sample both chef Vocci's food and Bar Manager Pat Raley's libations. I started with the Hulu Hideaway, a combo of honey rum, bitters, and champagne made aromatic with a generous curl of lime peel.

Mr Minx had the Pink Boots, a dry campari, vodka, and sparkling wine combo that was indeed pink.

For starters, he had the fried oysters: three mammoth molluscs, lightly breaded and fried until they were crisp on the outside yet still moist on the inside. They were served with a bit of slaw and house-made cocktail and remoulade sauces.

I went for the cider-braised pork belly, served with caramelized apples, a spicy "autumnal vegetable mash," apple cider jus, and crispy onions. The pork belly had all the right things going on: moist meat, a bit of luscious fat, and a crispy crust. Everything on the plate screamed "Fall," even if the weather outdoors felt more like full-on winter.

The mister chose the Dr Pepper-glazed Berkshire pork chop for his entree. The chop was fat and juicy, still a bit pink inside, and coated with a lightly sweet glaze. The accompanying mashed potatoes were lumpy and homey, and the braised greens were tender and tasty.

I went for the shrimp and grits. The shrimp and the tomato cream were swell, but the real star of the dish was the grits, which were fortified with goat cheese. They were addictively decadent and worth every calorie.

Ezra brought out a couple of desserts for us to try, a decent yellow cake that was topped with a sprinkle of coconut, and an inventive chocolate pretzel bread pudding served with salted caramel sauce and a dollop of Bailey's-infused whipped cream. Pretzel bread is a bit sturdier than challah or other breads typically used in bread pudding, so chef Vocci's version was firmer and less-custardy than what we were used to. Still, quite tasty, especially the whipped cream.

We were happy to have tried Ware House 518, a restaurant we might have otherwise overlooked as we find ourselves in Mount Vernon more and more seldom. We appreciate the quality ingredients, locally-sourced when possible, and the Southern flair. I'm curious to try the gumbo (one of my all-time favorite dishes), and the burger (topped with bacon jam and pimento cheese) sounds like it could be outrageously good. Oh, and the braised brisket with red-eye gravy. Pulled brisket sliders with crispy onions, slaw, and sriracha mayo, too....

Ware House 518 on Urbanspoon

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Crab Country Gourmet

It's always tough to come up with the perfect holiday gift. Some folks are easy to buy for, some others are impossible. But I have found that even the most difficult people like food gifts. Everyone needs to eat! And one of the best food gifts a Marylander can give is...the gift of crab. Especially to friends from out-of-town.

Crab Country Gourmet, owned by Tom and John Knorr, will ship crab cakes, crab dip, and crab soup, all made fresh daily in Maryland, to anywhere in the contiguous 48 states. They recently shipped a box of all of the above to us to sample.

Our "dinner for 2" package, which included 2-5oz crab cakes, 10 ounces of crab dip, and 16 ounces of crab soup, arrived packed in dry ice, along with small containers of remoulade sauce and reheating instructions.

Half the crab dip, a classic creamy concoction of cheeses, crab, and seasonings, was scooped into an oven-proof ramekin and topped with a little bit of shredded cheddar before going into the oven. Pita chips were employed as the ramekin-to-mouth vehicle, and when we ran out of those, we used a spoon. Yummy stuff. It was pretty good cold, too, straight out of the package.

We used the remainder of the dip the next day, mixed with some shell pasta, to make a rich crab mac-and-cheese.

Crab Country Gourmet's tasty crab soup is a lighter version than what we're used to, with a mix of still-crisp vegetables and bacon in a tomato-based broth.

The crab cakes were baked for 10 minutes at 450°F, then put under the broiler for another minute, to get them nice and brown on top. The plump 5oz mounds were mostly meat, lightly seasoned, and with very little filler. We found them to be proper crab cakes, moist, yet firm, and full of crabby flavor. These are the same crab cakes you'll find served at the Red Roost in Whitehaven, MD, on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The Knorr brothers also own Evolution Craft Brewery in Salisbury, and two other restaurants. They should offer a beer-delivery service, too, to wash down all this crabby goodness. ;)

If you'd like to send Crab Country Gourmet products to your kith and kin this holiday season, just head on over to their Web site: Use promo code bmore10 to get 10% off your order.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chinese Cassoulet?

A while back, we tasted a seafood cassoulet made by B&O American Brasserie's new chef, Mike Ransom. While it had multiple proteins and white beans, I suggested that it could do with a bit of sausage, perhaps Spanish chorizo. Of course Spanish chorizo wouldn't be typically used in cassoulet, which is a French dish, but I am no traditionalist. (Neither is the chef, it seems.) That got me to thinking about what other sausages would work with beans. As I was nibbling on leftover dim sum, Chinese sausages came to mind. Cold weather was afoot; why not warm up the house with a cassoulet-style dish of duck and beans and...Chinese sausage?

I've decided that it's a fine idea to keep a package of duck legs in the freezer. We get them at Great Wall, a Chinese grocery store in Catonsville, but you can pick them up at most Asian grocers or a fancy supermarket. They're not cheap, but they take up far less room in the freezer than a whole duck, with the added benefit that they thaw more quickly and are less hassle to roast. Roasting duck really makes the house smell great. Great, that is, to a carnivore. Not sure how vegetarians would feel about the fatty aromas that emanated from my oven not too long ago, but I was a happy camper.

I had originally wanted to try the type of Chinese sausage we normally buy, the long, slender, and wrinkled type that are cured, dried, and lightly smoked, but we were out. Mr Minx popped over to Asia Foods on York Road but could only find stubby, fat, uncured sausages. Fortunately, they turned out to be absolutely perfect for this dish.

While the duck got a head start on roasting, I opened up a couple cans of cannelini beans and added a bit of flavoring. I didn't want to overdo it, so started with equal parts doubanjian (a spicy Chinese bean paste), soy sauce, and black vinegar. If you've never used black vinegar, you're missing out on some amazing caramelized goodness. One tablespoon of each was perfect - the beans were spicy, salty, and tangy, with that lovely molasses-y flavor of the black vinegar. Then I added a bit of sugar to round everything out. Mixed with sauteed onions and scallions, the beans, studded with chunks of Chinese pork sausage, made a tasty bed for the duck legs as they finished roasting to a brown crispness.

Chinese Cassoulet

2 duck legs
1/2 cup duck or bacon fat
Kosher salt
1/2 pound Chinese pork sausages, preferably xiang chang--small, fat, uncured sausages
1 medium onion, chopped
6 scallions, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
2-15 1/2 ounce cans of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 tablespoons doubanjian
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
Pinch sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Pour the duck or bacon fat into the bottom of an 8" or 9" baking pan. Put the legs on top, rolling them around in the fat to get them coated. Sprinkle with salt, cover the pan with foil, and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan. Pour out a tablespoon of fat and reserve; prick the duck skin all over with the point of a knife to help render out more fat. Add the Chinese sausages to the pan. Turn oven temperature up to 350° and put duck and sausages into the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes.

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion and scallions in the reserved tablespoon of duck fat. When they are translucent, stir in the garlic. Add the stock, beans, doubanjian, soy, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.

After the duck has been in the oven for the additional 15 minutes, remove sausages and duck from the pan. Pour out the fat and discard (or, reserve for a later use). Cut sausages into thick diagonal slices and stir into the bean mixture. Pour the bean mixture into the pan, then top with the duck legs. Put pan back into the oven and cook for an additional 45 minutes or so. The duck will get crispy and brown, as will the exposed areas of beans. If you want a saucier cassoulet, you can add more chicken stock. Personally, I like the beans on the dry side.

Serve 1 leg per person, with some of the beans. Garnish with cilantro.

Serves 2, with extra beans for lunch.

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