Friday, October 02, 2015

Flashback Friday - Tomato Garlic Parm Soup

I know this isn't a particularly old post, but it's never to early to add another soup dish to your fall/winter repertoire.

This post was originally published on November 17, 2014.
Tomato Garlic Parm Soup

Hey - it's cold. It's fall. Soup is the perfect meal, for lunch or dinner. And in a lot of cases, it's pretty easy to throw together. Like this creamy and rich tomato soup flavored with lots of garlic and enriched with heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. It's inspired by the lovely tomato garlic parm soup that my friend Don makes at Cajun Kate's.

Before I started cooking, I did a little Internet search to see if there was anything similar already out there, and there was. Multiple blogs seem to be posting a variation on the same recipe. Must be a good recipe, huh? But...boring to see the same ingredients posted 10 different places. I decided to wing it. It's not *that* different, but it involves less chopping and fewer ingredients.

This is turning into a soup and dip blog, isn't it? Seems like every recipe I post is for either a soup or a type of dip (usually involving eggplant). I hate to bore you all yet again, but here's more soup. Hey - I like soup and it's my birthday,

If you don't want a creamy soup, feel free to omit the cream, or just add a little bit. And do use fresh basil (available pretty much year-round at grocery stores) or that Gourmet Garden stuff in a tube; dried basil just won't cut it. (Or maybe it will for you. I just don't like dried basil.) And don't skimp on the garlic!

Creamy Tomato Garlic Parmesan Soup

1 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon butter
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2-15oz cans diced tomatoes
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
Salt and cracked black pepper

In a 2 quart saucepan, cook the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt over medium heat until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or two, stirring regularly, until very fragrant. Dump the onion and garlic into a blender with the two cans of tomatoes and about 3/4 of the basil and blend to a puree. Pour the tomato/onion mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and cover pot. Simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Add most of the Parmesan (save some for garnish) and stir well to combine. Add the cream or half and half and stir well. Season with salt and fresh black pepper.

Serve garnished with reserved cheese and basil.

Serves 4.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

World of Beer Towson

The newest addition to the Towson Square complex on Joppa Road at Virginia Ave in Towson (duh) is World of Beer. It is also the noisiest addition, at least it was on the night we were there. It was the beer emporium's first day open and when we arrived at 6pm, it was half-full of loud rowdies. They may well have been perfectly normal people, but the acoustics of the place turned them into shouting idiots. (Or, they could have been shouting idiots to begin with.)

By the time we left, it was 3/4 full, and I was so glad to have had a pair of earplugs in my purse. Sadly, the din, with or without the plugs, prevented any conversation with my spouse, apart from pointing to the various foodstuffs on the table and mouthing, "good?" So you are forewarned that World of Beer is not the place to go for a romantic date, nor if you want to have any conversation at all that doesn't require shouting. For some odd reason, there was a couple there that felt a restaurant with the word BEER in the name was the ideal place to bring their three small children. Fine parenting. If the kids hadn't been getting up and running around, as the children of fine, fine parents are wont to do, it wouldn't have bothered me. It was so damn loud in the place, I couldn't hear their typical childish whining/squeals.

That said, the food was pretty good, and one cannot fault the beer selection.

Although there were so many beers, we had difficulty deciding from the lengthy list. Mr Minx eventually decided on the "Batmobile" from the mixed draught section. A combo of Guinness and hefeweizen, it was like a sorta-banana-flavored black and tan. I had a Full Tilt Patterson Pumpkin, mostly because of the name, and also pumpkin. Later, hoping that the more we drank the less we'd be able to hear, we also had a Brooklyn Oktoberfest and an RAR Nanticoke Nectar.

Now, we only went to World of Beer on the opening day because we thought that, as media, we'd get a tour, and perhaps some free food. Otherwise, it's always better to wait a few weeks before trying a place so the kinks have been worked out, both food- and service-wise. An owner and a manager came over separately to shake our hands (one of whom had a nasty, limp, wet fish handshake...shudder), but neither offered anything in the way of telling us about the establishment, about its infusion tower, its partnership with Jail Break Brewing Company and special Monkey Hefeweizen + banana infusion, or the Heavy Seas firkin tapping that occurred earlier in the day. I only know these things because we received a press release a week before the event. Hey, but if an owner didn't care, or think we were important enough to bother to share this information, we shouldn't care either, right?

The service, as is usual on a first day of operation, was a bit off. We were approached at various times after entering by employees who welcomed us and told us to sit anywhere. After we picked what we hoped would be a relatively quiet location (near the open front), a few more people came by to say hi (and ask if we had ever been there before, and when we said no, still didn't bother to tell us about the infusion/firkin/etc.) before the person who would be our actual server showed up. She seemed nervous yet eager to please, but spoke too quietly to be heard over the screaming in the background. I originally wanted to order a flight of IPAs, but after realizing there were too many choices coupled with my inability to hear her recommendations, I gave up.

Though I would rather have left, we ordered food. Fortunately, it was generally pretty good. I had two ahi tuna tacos, which were generously-sized and fresh-tasting. Mr Minx ordered a pesto grilled chicken sandwich. It also was huge, filled with nicely moist and juicy chicken breast, and good amounts of pesto and cheese. The steak fries on the side were cooked properly and both dishes were overall pretty well done.

Except we had ordered appetizers, which hadn't arrived yet. After reminding our server, she ran off to set things right. She had recommended their mac and cheese, which is made with spiced pepperjack cheese and topped with crisp bacon and herbed breadcrumbs. The textures were nice --super gooey cheese, crispy crumbs--but apart from being properly salted, the dish was bland. The bacon wasn't even particularly bacon-y.

We also tried the fried pickles. Another huge portion, the pickles featured a melange of shapes and some Peppadew peppers, all lightly battered and fried to a nice crispness. They were well-seasoned and didn't necessarily need a dip in the accompanying sweet-ish dipping sauce (which was maybe a tad too thick).

Limp-fish-hand presented us with our bill, saying he had comped the mac and cheese because it had come to the table so late. But we apparently had to pay for the pickles, which were even later. And everything else, too. But the prices are very reasonable for the portion sizes and the bill wasn't that bad. If we hadn't ordered beers (I know, at a place called World of Beer), it would have been downright cheap.

We sucked down our second beers and beat a hasty retreat. I couldn't help but notice that al fresco diners at the restaurant next door had to put up with the noise emanating from World of Beer, which by that point in the evening also included live music. I wonder how it will end up affecting the adjoining businesses.

World of Beer
125 Joppa Road
Towson, MD 21204

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Parsnip Hummus

Once again the end of the month showed up and that meant another stitch-n-bitch get-together with friends. Regular Minxeats readers know that I like to make both something dippy and something sweet for the ladies. Dippy, because it keeps the hands relatively clean, and knitters need clean hands. Sweet, because we all seem to have a sweet tooth.

This month's dippy component was homemade hummus, as it often is. I wanted to try something really different this time and leave out the beans completely. I had a bag of parsnips without a purpose in the fridge, so decided to use them. They were already hummus-hued, so why not?

It's best to par-cook the parsnips until they are quite soft, so the food processor doesn't have a hard time breaking them down (especially if  you use a Cuisinart mini-prep, like me). Parnips are denser and dryer than beans, so you'll need to use a bit of water to help in the processing, as well.

The resulting texture is much smoother than a hummus made with beans, but the flavor was somehow quite hummus-y. I was too lazy to cut up vegetables so I served it with Wild California brand Twice Baked Apricot Ginger Crisps. I had picked up a bag at the fancy food show in July and was waiting for the perfect occasion to serve them. Parsnip hummus seemed to be it. The light sweetness of the crisps worked well with the light sweetness of the hummus. The chips are also quite nice on their own, or eaten with cheese. If you've tried the Trader Joe's brand of crackers with fruit bits in them, then you already have an idea of what the Wild California ones are like.

This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of hummus. We put a dent in it, but we absolutely demolished the bag of crisps.

Parsnip Hummus

1 lb parsnips
Extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons almond butter
Lemon Juice
Garlic powder
Harissa powder or cayenne

Peel the parsnips and cut into chunks. Put into a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until parsnips are very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain parsnips, but reserve some of the cooking water.

Allow parsnips to cool to room temperature and put them into the bowl of a food processor with a few tablespoons of cooking water and a glug of olive oil. Process to a fairly smooth texture, adding a few more spoonsful of water or olive oil, if needed, to move things along. The consistency should be thick, not runny. Add the almond butter and process until completely incorporated. Season with a fair amount of lemon juice, plus garlic powder and cumin to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon each). Salt and pepper, of course, also to taste, and if you want a bit of heat, add a bit of harissa powder or cayenne.

Scrape into a bowl and drizzle on some olive oil. Serve with crudite of your choice, crackers, pita, whatever.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Flashback Friday - Prune

The menu at Prune is pretty simple, and I was a bit skeptical of all the kudos the restaurant had received--until I ate there myself. Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef and her cookbook, Prune, are must-reads for any serious foodie. And for those lucky enough to have been able to dine at Prune, the cookbook has recipes for just about everything ever served there.

This post was originally published 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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