Friday, July 20, 2018

Crabcakes and Coke Life

Soul Food Sessions is a non-profit out of Charlotte, North Carolina, with the goal of acknowledging and supporting people of color in the culinary arts. One of the ways they do this is by organizing pop-up dinners that not only showcase the diverse talents of the chefs involved, but also bring people together to discuss equal opportunity in the food industry. They've partnered with Coca-Cola Consolidated for their current pop-up series, The Table is Set; A four-city tour served with a Coke. The tour started in Charlotte, hits DC next week, followed by Baltimore that weekend, and finishes in Charleston, SC. Yes, I did say Baltimore was a stop on the tour, and I know you want more details on that.

When: July 29th, 5:30pm
Where: The American Brewery, 1701 N Gay Street, 21201
Tickets can be purchased here.

One of the dishes that will be featured at the event is an appetizer created by Charlotte, North Carolina Chef, Jamie Barnes. The recipe features crisp-coated crab cakes loaded with summer vegetables and topped with a fresh and creative watermelon rind slaw. As fellow Marylanders know, crabs and crab cakes are a way of life in this state. People here are very opinionated about both, but especially crab cakes. One filled with as much vegetables as crab and without crab seasoning of any kind, plus sugar, is going to raise some eyebrows. However, I was excited to recreate this dish at home--because I'm always up for trying a new twist on familiar foods--and to serve it with the pop-up's official beverage pairing, Coca-Cola Life.

I went shopping at my local Harris Teeter store to buy all of the ingredients for the recipe: white corn; lump crab; scallions; and a cute little watermelon (that did double duty as dessert). I also picked up some Coca-Cola Life, the low-calorie, Stevia-and-sugar-sweetened Coke with a green label. The Coke Life paired well with the natural sweetness of the watermelon rind and brought out the more complex flavors of the crab cake. I also used the cola to make the dressing for the slaw (recipe below).

If you can't make it to the event, you can still make the Charred Corn Crab Cakes with Watermelon Rind Slaw at home, just as I did. A word of advice though: be careful of projectiles while standing near a pan containing hot oil and crab cakes that are full of corn. I had a couple of kernels leap out at me with a loud bang! If popcorn hadn't already been invented long ago, I'd have something great on my hands (and in my hair)!

Sweet Red Pepper Vinaigrette

1/3 red bell pepper, cut into small dice
1 8-oz bottle of Coca-Cola Life
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the bell pepper and the Coke Life into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, watching carefully, until most of the cola has evaporated and the bell peppers are coated in syrup, about 10 minutes. Remove peppers to a medium bowl and set aside to cool.

Once cool, add the remaining ingredients and season to taste. Use as dressing for watermelon rind slaw.

* 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. 


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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Atelier de Culinaire

Rack of Lamb
The Stratford University School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts in Baltimore has officially opened its own restaurant, Atelier de Culinaire, which translates to "culinary workshop." Located in Little Italy, the restaurant is an off-campus vehicle for their students to have hands-on, real-life, restaurant working experience. 

Atelier de Culinaire is running a grand opening special: three courses, plus a non-alcoholic beverage for $25 (plus tax & gratuity). The menu includes starters such as chilled lobster salad, beef carpaccio, steamed mussels, or spinach salad. Main dishes include halibut, wasabi ginger-crusted salmon, rack of lamb, crab cakes, duck, pork chops, and a whole sizzling catfish. Finally, indulge in a sweet third course; all dessert selections are made in house and vary from day to day. There's a full bar and a la carte menu as well.

This special will run through Friday, August 3rd. Be sure to mention the soft opening special when making your reservations and upon your arrival.

Margarita Tart
Additionally, Atelier de Culinaire will serve the public Wednesdays through Saturdays from 6pm-10pm. They will be adding a Sunday Champagne Brunch as of August 12th from 11am-4pm.

Lobster Salad
Along with food and beverage choices, the menu includes a rather unique option, “Atelier de Culinaire is proud to showcase a staff of Stratford University students about to finish their internships and seeking employment opportunities. If you are interested in speaking with any of our interns about future employment, please let us know.”

Atelier de Culinaire
806 Stiles Street
Baltimore MD 21202
Reservations: 410-528-2710
Open Wednesday – Saturday (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Twitter & Instagram: @Atelier_806

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Chez Hugo

While walking through downtown on my way to meet Mr Minx after work one evening, I noticed that Chez Hugo was on the way to his office. We hadn't yet been there, so I suggested that its convenient location to our already-parked car meant that we needed to check the place out. 

Chez Hugo bills itself as a seasonally inspired, farm-driven bistro, featuring classic French dishes by Chef Steve Monnier. Baltimore has never been a hotbed for French fare, so rarely has there ever been more than two French restaurants in the city. Petit Louis in Roland Park is usually quite busy, so it seems the need is there. However, I was disappointed to find that Chez Hugo was quite empty when we arrived for our 5:45 reservation. Granted, we eat early, but when we left after 7pm, there was still only one other diner. Give the place some love, people!

We deliberated over the menu for a bit before deciding on the duck liver pate and the server-recommended tarte aux courges.

The pate was rich and smooth, with a flavor a bit more refined than that of chicken liver pate. It came with tangy red currants and lovely grilled bread.

Our server was so enthusiastic about the zucchini tart, we felt we couldn't pass it up. But we should have. It's still on the menu, so someone likes it; personally I thought it was bizarre. The crust was crumbly and sweet, somewhat like the graham cracker crust on a no-bake cheesecake. Then came a layer of onions, which the server said would be perfectly caramelized. They appeared to be cooked only a few notches above sweated (you can see they're still pretty white). Finally came a topping of thinly sliced zucchini that were only barely grilled so they still seemed raw. I love the combination of onion and zucchini, which if cooked together slowly can be fairly sweet. Plop that into a savory tart shell, perhaps with a smidge of cheese, and I'm sold. Chez Hugo's version though, not so much.

Things improved considerably with our entrees. I had the Thursday plat du jour (the daily plates aren't on the menu as of this writing) of merguez sausage with a cous cous salad and black garlic naan. The merguez was fab--salty, lamb-y, spicy, juicy. And generously portioned, so I got to take a bit home for breakfast the next day. The black garlic naan was swoon-worthy fluffy and tender on the inside, with a faint garlicky-ness and extra flavor provided by the aggressive charring.

Mr Minx ordered the leg of lamb, which was succulent and well-seasoned. He said it was the most tender lamb he's eaten in a while. Though the farro and pea accompaniments weren't exactly camera-ready, they also were tasty and fulfilled the starch and veg components required by my husband.

Though the entrees were very good, dessert is really where it's at. I had always wanted to try a Paris-Brest, named for a bicycle race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris again. A donut-sized ring of choux paste filled with decadent hazelnut pastry cream, this dessert was a sweet-lover's dream.

The tangy tarte au citron with tiny dollops of crisp meringue, fruit, ice cream, and even squares of fruit gelee, was a less-sweet but still delectable finish to our meal.

I have heard that Chez Hugo can get noisy, but I have to assume this happens later in the evening or on the weekends, as it was as quiet as a tomb on our particular Thursday night. I'm looking forward to going back; perhaps one day I can sneak over for lunch....

Chez Hugo
206 E Redwood St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(443) 438-3002

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Flashback Friday - Okra

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on October 19, 2012.
Okra is a very maligned vegetable. People who have never even tried it will make a face and say, "eww, it's slimy!" Oh grow up. Give it a chance before you judge it.

I find the texture of lightly-cooked okra is better-described as "creamy." It's really only slimy if you slice it while raw and then rub your fingers in it as it oozes on your cutting board. (Oh, just toss it into a hot frying pan, you wuss.) Yes, okra does contain a bit of goo that binds the seeds together, but so do tomatoes and cucumbers and I've never heard anyone complain about them. Plus, okra isn't eaten raw; once it's cooked, any of the ickiness that makes adults flap their hands in distress completely dissipates.

"But how does it taste?" ask the okra virgins. I think the earthy green flavor is like a combination of mushrooms and corn, both of which rank among my favorite things to eat. Your mileage may vary (I know there are mushroom haters out there, too).

There's no better way to eat fresh okra than to sauté it in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil and butter until the pods are tender (five minutes or so). Add salt and pepper and eat 'em hot. Okra's also good dipped in flour/egg/bread crumbs and shallow-fried until brown and crispy. Stewed sliced okra, cooked with tomatoes and spices is also nice, as is the classic okra-enriched gumbo. And a good gateway experience for some people might be okra pickles. (I've seen Talk of Texas brand in most area supermarkets.) They're crunchy and garlicky and great in a vodka martini.

Besides tasting good, okra is low in calories and high in fiber, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins C and B6. So really, there's no good reason *not* to eat okra.

Okra season might be over (or close to it) but whole and sliced pods can be found in the freezer section of many area supermarkets. Give it a try; you might find yourself liking something new.

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