Monday, September 25, 2017

Le Bistro du Village

Anyone who had ever been to Crepe du Jour on Sulgrave Avenue in Mount Washington realized that while they had a wide selection of sweet and savory crepes available, they also had a full menu of French favorites like soupe a l'oignon and coq au vin. Those who had never been there, however, probably thought it was just a crepe shop. Mais non! To end seventeen years of possible confusion, owner Mustapha Snoussi changed the name of his French restaurant to Le Bistro du Village. A bit of truth in advertising, as their web site notes.

To help spread the word about the name change and the menu they've always offered, the restaurant invited a select group of local media influencers in for a lovely three course dinner. I was happy for the opportunity to sink my teeth into some duck confit and escargots.

The menu at Le Bistro du Village is divided into several parts. Hors d'oeuvres, les salades composer, les moules maison, and les soupes du jour are essentially appetizers, although many dishes could be a meal unto themselves. Plats Principaux are entrees; there are also sides and, of course, crepes. Desserts, too, for those who don't want to end their meal with a sweet crepe.

We started with four apps for the table. My favorite was the seafood vol-au-vent, a puff pastry shell filled with a mixture of shrimp, scallops, and mushrooms in a tomato-based Provençal sauce. The seafood was tender, and the sauce was simply delicious.

I also enjoyed the moules marinières, a classic preparation of mussels cooked in white wine, with tomatoes, garlic, parsley, & shallots. The mussels were small (a good thing - I find large mussels to be tough) and tender, and the sauce begged for lots of crusty bread with which to mop it up.

We also sampled a salade Niçoise, a classic composed salad usually (but not always) involving tuna, tomatoes, eggs, and green beans. This dish especially would make a nice light supper on its own.

And what's a French dinner without escargots in garlic butter? A travesty. These were classic all the way. Honestly, more restaurants should use escargots. They are really delicious.

For my entree I chose the duck, which included a confit leg and duck breast that was cooked a la sous vide before the skin was browned in a pan. It came with potatoes, spinach, and an orange sauce. At first I was worried that the orange sauce would be too sweet (my first experience with duck a l'orange came at age 11, with cold duck and cloying sauce) but was happy to find that the one at Le Bistro du Village is light and well-balanced. And the dish is beautiful, no?

Also lovely was the carré d'agneau aux herbes, herbed rack of lamb to you and me. The perfect pink chops came with asparagus, roasted potatoes, and a Dijon mustard sauce.

Others at the table ordered the perfectly cooked salmon filet and the unphotogenic but tasty coq au vin, which came over a bed of noodles. There are also plenty of other classic French dishes on the menu, like boeuf Bouguignon and chicken cordon bleu, but also a burger topped with Brie and bacon, for those not wanting to venture too far into the unfamiliar territory of a foreign cuisine. (I am being facetious. Some people just like burgers.)

Our dessert choices were between crepes Suzette and chocolate mousse. All but one of us opted for the crepe, which was not flambeed for us at tableside (the number of crepes would have created quite a blaze!) but still had the classic citrus/Grand Marnier flavor. The crepe was so light and tender, despite its size, most of us had no problem polishing off the whole thing.

Le Bistro du Village is open 7 days a week for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. The space is cozy and inviting, and the staff and owner are delightful. I will definitely be visiting more often, and you should, too.

Le Bistro du Village
1609 Sulgrave Ave
Baltimore, MD 21209-3617

* 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, September 22, 2017

Flashback Friday - A Quick Trip to NY

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This post originally appeared on on August 2, 2011.

Earlier in the month, I had a crazy week scheduled in which I was pretty much booked solid: Fancy Food show Sunday through Tuesday, media dinners on Wednesday and Thursday, and a trip to NJ-DE-PA on Saturday. Then I received an e-mail from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Felicia, whom I had not seen in about eight years. She was visiting her sister in New York and could I possibly get together with her? During that crazy week? After I explained my schedule, she resorted to bribery: a trip to the Met to see the Alexander McQueen show and dinner at Prune, an East Village restaurant that I've wanted to visit for a while now. I thought about it for 30 seconds or so and put in a leave slip to switch my days off work. When I got home, I ran my rearranged schedule plans past Mr Minx, who advised me that I would have more fun with Felicia than I would have at a food show.

He was right.

We met at Momofuku Milk Bar Midtown and started off the day with some blackberry Kaffir lime soft serve before heading up to the Met. We waited in line for 45 minutes, but it was well worth standing around. The show was magnificient; I loved seeing both the genius of McQueen up close and the amazing curation. For more info, and photos, check out the Met's blog.

After the show, we went to Mario Batali's all-Italian food court, Eataly. While perusing the various mostardas, fresh and dried pastas, sauces, and other imported products, we sipped glasses of Prosecco. I managed to control myself and come away with only two bags of pasta and some brown carnaroli rice. Unfortunately, the fizzy wine + lack of food made me a bit dizzy; suffice it to say that this did not make for a fun rush-hour subway trip to our next destination: Prune.

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has been in the news recently because of her well-received memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, which is on my must-read list. After settling ourselves at a two-top in the front of her tiny restaurant, Prune, and guzzling down a couple of glasses of ice water, I was ready for some sustenance. The menu at Prune is short and sweet, but it still made for a difficult decision. Because Felicia is a vegetarian, we tried several veg dishes, all of which were simple yet fantastic.

Dandelion greens with mastic and feta
Smoky eggplant with flatbread
I'm not sure I actually tasted the mastic in the dandelion dish, but the combination of olive oil-drenched greens and creamy feta was completely delicious. As was the eggplant dish, although it could have been smokier. The flatbreads were corrugated, which made for lots of crispy surface area, and I loved their toasty flavor.

Suckling pig with pickled tomatoes, black eyed peas, and chipotle mayo
I was torn between ordering the grilled quail and the suckling pig, and when I realized that I'd probably have to eat the quail with my grubby NY-ed fingers (despite having been thoroughly anointed with hand sanitizer), I went for the pork. The meat was simple, well-seasoned, tender, but the standout item on the dish was the pickled tomatoes which were redolent of chile and coriander. Oh, and the chunk of crackling. Mmmmm!

Parmesan omelette
Felicia enjoyed the Parmesan omelette, which she said was fluffy and cheesy. I took her word for it because I'm just not a fan of browned egg yolk. While the dish looks austere, she gussied it up a bit with the leftover mastic-flavored olive oil from the dandelion dish.

Celery salad with bleu cheese
While I'm not a huge fan of celery, the celery salad served with a hunk of brie-style bleu cheese on buttered bread was a lovely bridge to dessert. The cheese was outrageously creamy and I wish I had noted the exact brand and variety (I'm thinking Cambozola). Finally, we had dessert - a simple scoop of very firm mascarpone ice cream topped with lightly candied shreds of lemon zest and a shot of espresso, meant to be poured over top, on the side.

Mascarpone ice cream with espresso and candied lemon
This is known as "affogado" or "drowned," and what a way to die!  I loved the combination of coffee and candied lemon (a proper espresso should be served with lemon) and thought this was the perfect ending to the meal.

Compared to other somewhat exotic New York restaurants in which I've dined, Prune is a plain Jane, but in the best way possible. All the dishes we had were very well thought-out, perfectly seasoned, and a meal there was a pleasant way to end a perfectly lovely day in New York.

54 E 1st St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 677-6221

Prune on Urbanspoon

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Chocolate Strawberry Naked Cake

Sometimes I am too ambitious for my own good. I've never been much of a baker, excepting the occasional tray of brownies and cookies at Christmastime. There's also the annual cake for Mr Minx's birthday, but that's usually a simple chocolate bundt. This year, I wanted to do something fancier. I was desperate to make a "naked cake," a cake with exposed layers, popularized by Christina Tosi at NY's Milk Bar. I've seen a lot of them on Instagram, and they look so cool. Also, they didn't seem all that difficult to make. Frosting the sides of the cake always seemed like the most fidgety part, and making a cake naked eliminates that whole messy ordeal.

My idea was to use the same super moist recipe that I use for the bundt cake, with the addition of roasted strawberries, and a simple stabilized whipped cream frosting. It would be like a strawberry shortcake, only not short and with the added goodness of chocolate.

I didn't want to attempt to cut round cake layers in half horizontally, pretty sure that would be a disaster. Instead, I made several flat rectangular cakes in a jelly roll pan and cut them into rounds. That ended up looking a bit sloppy. Perhaps my knife wasn't sharp enough, or the cake recipe I used was too moist. In any case, the somewhat jagged layers got stacked between pieces of waxed paper and spent the night in a cake carrier until I was able to assemble it the next day. It would have been too much to try to get it all done on Saturday morning before our annual afternoon birthday crab feast guest arrived.

The roasted strawberry idea I got from a foodie newsletter. The recipe in the newsletter was actually for oven-dried berries, but I liked the idea of cooking strawberries in the oven until they got soft and gave up a lot of liquid. Some of that liquid became a subtle flavoring for the whipped cream frosting that I stabilized with gelatin so it would last longer and not weep all over the cake.

I had used up all the strawberries in the roasting process but wanted to top the cake with something besides whipped cream. Birthday candles were out of the question (as was singing "Happy Birthday"), but I remembered we had a bag of Crunchies freeze-dried strawberries that the company sent me to taste after the Fancy Food Show. I had been nibbling them on their own, but felt they would be the perfect garnish for this cake and a good counterpoint to the squishy roasted berries between the layers. They stood up like sweet stalagmites, adding height as well as color and flavor. They softened a bit as the cake stood, but they never sagged, and I kinda liked the third strawberry texture in the mix.

Crunchies are non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, kosher, and halal and contain no added sugar or artificial flavors. They are just freeze-dried fruit, pure and simple. I also love the Crunchies mango snacks and am contemplating making a similar cake, with yellow cake and mango filling, so I can use them as a garnish, too. That is, if we don't just eat it all straight out of the bag. :)

For someone who didn't really know what she was doing, I did a pretty decent job. Though the cake isn't the most beautiful thing in the world, it tasted so so good. ::::patting self on back:::::

Chocolate Strawberry Layer Cake

For the roasted strawberries:
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved, quartered if large
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the chocolate cake:
1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons liqueur of your choice (I used Kahlua)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla

For the frosting:
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatine
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Crunchies freeze-dried strawberries

To make the strawberries: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the strawberries with the sugar, then with the vanilla. (Don't put the vanilla on the sugar to cut corners; it will just make the sugar clump up and make it hard to toss with the strawberries. No, I did not learn that through experience.) Spread in one layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until strawbs are soft and there's lots of yummy juice on the baking sheet. Allow to cool at room temperature before scraping into a covered container and refrigerating until completely cooled.

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place a layer of parchment in a jelly-roll pan and grease it lightly with butter.

Combine the butter, cocoa, salt, and 1 cup of tap water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook only until butter is melted and mixture is completely combined. Stir in the liqueur.

Place the flour, sugar, and baking soda in a large bowl. Pour in the chocolate butter mixture in 2 or three batches, stirring between each to combine. Beat the eggs with the sour cream and vanilla and stir into the flour mixture. Whisk until fully incorporated.

Here's the tricky part. Depending on the size of your pan, ladle in enough batter to cover the parchment entirely and be no more than 1/2 inch deep. Bake for enough time that the cake springs back when you touch it. I used a 9" x 13" jelly roll pan, which made three cakes with the amount of batter specified, each baking from 13-15 minutes (the first cake took longer and the last cake took less time). An 12" x 17" pan or thereabouts would probably take 18-20 minutes, so start checking at the 16 or 17 minute mark. Just looking at it should tell you if the middle is wet or cooked through. Once your cake or cakes are baked, allow them to cool in the pan for a few minutes. Loosen the edge of the cake with a knife and turn out onto a rack to cool completely. You should peel off the parchment while the cake is still warm.

Once the cakes are cool you can cut them. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, cut each cake in half and make a square layer cake. (Next time, that's what I'm doing!) But if you want a round cake, use a 7" or 8" round template as a guide. Place each cooled cake on a cutting board large enough to hold them, or right on your counter or table if that's easiest. Using the template and a sharp knife, cut your circles. Lift them away with a large spatula and put them on parchment or waxed paper until you're finished cutting. The scraps can be eaten as a cook's treat, or put them in a plastic bag and freeze them for when you're having a cake craving.

To make the frosting: Remove 3-4 tablespoons of the strawberry roasting liquid to a bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the liquid and allow to rest for several minutes until set. If your strawberries didn't give off much liquid for some reason (perhaps because you ate it as you scraped it off the pan), use a few tablespoons of water instead.

Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular bowl, if you're using a hand mixer) and beat for a minute or so. Put the gelatin in the microwave for about 10 seconds to liquify (it might take 15 seconds). Stir well so there are no clumps of gelatin, and with the mixer running on a fairly low speed, v e r y slowly drizzle it into the cream, beating all the time. Once incorporated, turn the mixer speed up and beat until medium peaks form. Don't overbeat, or you'll have butter. Scrape the cream into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, or the tip of your choice.

To assemble the cake: Place a round of cake onto a cardboard cake round or on an aluminum-foil covered springform or tart pan bottom of appropriate size. Eyeball the strawberries. Do the pieces seem too big? Then chop them up a bit. Maybe you should just chop them up a bit anyway. Spread an even layer of strawberry pieces + some of the cooking liquid on the cake. Pipe on a layer of the cream, then top with another cake layer. Add another layer of cream, then another layer of cake. Top this third layer of cake with more strawberries and more cream. (You won't use all the strawberries. Eat them with ice cream or with a spoon.) Add the fourth layer of cake and pipe the frosting decoratively on top. Refrigerate cake until ready to serve.

Garnish with freeze dried strawberry pieces before serving.

* 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, September 15, 2017

Flashback Friday - Baked Mushroom Spring Rolls

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This post originally appeared on on September 29, 2014.

At last year's (2013) Summer Fancy Food Show, I had a taste of The Ginger People's Sweet Chili Ginger Sauce and fell in love. It's a lot like the sweet chili sauce one finds accompanying fried things at Thai restaurants, only better. When I found it at the grocery store (I do believe it was MOM's Organic, but it may have been Whole Foods) I bought a bottle...which then languished in our pantry for at least six months.

Every time I opened the pantry, I spotted the bottle and made a mental note to make spring rolls at some point. Every time I closed the pantry, I forgot that thought. (Hey, I'm old. Memory's not what it used to be.) Except the very last time, when I remembered to write "spring roll wrappers" on the grocery list hanging on the fridge all of 18 inches away.

I decided that vegetarian or vegan spring rolls would be easier than the meaty sort, so mushrooms also went into the shopping cart that day, as did a head of cabbage.

I was making cole slaw for another meal, and after I chopped up the cabbage, I saved a cup of it for the spring rolls. In retrospect, I could have used more cabbage and fewer mushrooms, but I liked the idea of mushroom spring rolls. They would seem meatier, so we wouldn't miss the, er, meat. And a fear of frying (in addition to a fear of absorbing too much cooking oil/not needing those extra fat calories) led me to bake the spring rolls. Baking produces a crunchier eggroll than frying does, but it's also not greasy, so not a bad exchange.

You, of course, can make these the way you like. Heck, put some ground pork in the pan with the mushrooms if you want. I won't tell.

Baked Mushroom Spring Rolls

1 pound of mushrooms (your choice), chopped
2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
Big pinch of salt
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Soy sauce
1 package egg roll wrappers
3 scallions, chopped
Cooking spray

In a large pan set over medium-high heat, cook the mushrooms in the oil with a pinch of salt until they give up most of their moisture. Add the onion and cabbage and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook an additional minute. Season with sesame oil and soy to taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature/refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a baking sheet by topping it with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment. Keep a small bowl of water at the ready.

Take one spring roll wrapper and arrange it so the corners are facing the compass points (the southernmost/bottom point should be pointing directly at you). Place two heaping tablespoons of the mushroom filling in the lower center of the wrapper; top with a sprinkling of the chopped scallions. Fold the bottom point up over the filling, then fold the east and west points in to form an envelope. Dip a finger in the water and apply it to the northernmost tip. Roll the whole thing up and place on prepared baking sheet.

Repeat with the remainder of the filling. I got 12 rolls; you'll get more or less depending on how generous your "heaping" tablespoons are.

Spray tops of rolls with cooking spray. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms have begun to brown. Using tongs, turn rolls over, spray with more cooking spray, and bake an addtional 10-12 minutes, until rolls are crispy.

Serve with your favorite spring roll dipping sauce.

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